Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’

Iran Simmers In Anger

December 8, 2018

It seems that Iran is angry. How else to interpret its most recent ballistic missile tests, which are surely intended more as a retaliation to the United States than as a provocation to the European Union?

Nevertheless, while countries such as France, the UK and Germany are struggling to counteract the withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the missile tests have forced them to stand with Washington in condemning Tehran’s actions.

France and the UK, permanent members of the UN Security Council, have asked for a meeting to review the tests and assess whether Iran has violated UN resolution 2231, which gave effect to the 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the end of sanctions.

Commentary
By Camelia Entekhabifard
Arab News

Iran’s position — stated often by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and most recently by Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi — is that nothing in the nuclear deal or the UN resolution restricts Iran’s ballistic missile program.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, far right, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in happier times

The rest of the world has a different interpretation of the resolution, which requests that Iran refrain from testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. In addition, the sale or transfer to Iran of any missile materials, equipment and technology is prohibited. However since such equipment and technology may also have non-military purposes, a country that wishes to sell them to Iran may file a request to the Security Council, which is required to examine the requests case by case.

The decision of President Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement was the most significant step in undermining the fundamental principle of Resolution 2231, which ultimately undermined the legitimacy of the resolution and its full implementation.

Camelia Entekhabifard

With all these obligations and requirements, it should not be at all easy for Iran to acquire what it needs to build and test missiles. Indeed, on the UN Security Council website there is a special page devoted to the restrictions on the development, manufacture and testing of ballistic missile technology in Iran. There are no complaints on this page.

Nevertheless, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Iran of violating the Security Council resolution that enacts the 2015 nuclear deal.

There is a further complication in that the principle violator of UN Resolution 2231 is not, in fact, Iran — it is the United States. The resolution promotes the achievement of a multilateral agreement to an international instrument whose implementation is mandated by the Security Council. That means not only the signatories, but all the countries of the world, should act on its content.

For this reason, the decision of President Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement was the most significant step in undermining the fundamental principle of Resolution 2231, which ultimately undermined the legitimacy of the resolution and its full implementation.

At this critical time, the Western powers must surely understand that if they leave the agreement because of Iran’s violations of Resolution 2231, clearly Iran will act more aggressively to take revenge for the humiliation suffered as a result of the US withdrawal, and then the EU’s lack of support.

The best thing everyone can do is to hold back and watch the US for the next action.

  • Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
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Paris bomb plot claims cloud Iran president’s hopes of EU help

October 4, 2018

French accusations that Iran was behind a foiled bomb plot near Paris could not have come at a worse time for its moderate president and his hopes of EU support against crippling new US sanctions.

Tuesday’s allegations are a blow to President Hassan Rouhani, and hit just as European governments are working on a mechanism to allow Iran to continue to reap the economic benefits of compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by US President Donald Trump in May.

“Such allegations, whether true or not, at this moment of time will serve only to harm both Rouhani’s government and the Iranian nation, and political moderation in Iran in general,” said Saeed Leylaz, a lecturer at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University.

© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2018 as allegations of Iranian involvement in a foiled June bomb plot near Paris cloud relations

The European parties to the nuclear agreement — Britain, France and Germany — have made no secret of their anger at the unilateral move by Trump and his administration to withdraw and seek to enforce renewed US sanctions internationally.

Iran was quick to deny the French allegations that Tehran was behind the attempted bombing of a June 30 rally held by an exiled opposition group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), dubbed “terrorists” by Tehran.

Iran “completely and forcefully” rejects the accusations, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told AFP.

But the allegations echo the Trump administration’s charges against Tehran — that it is a state sponsor of “terrorism” abroad — and the French government’s response — asset freezes on the intelligence ministry and two of its alleged operatives — mirror those taken by the US administration.

“Any tension between Iran and Europe — especially France — is in line with the wishes of radicals in Tehran and Washington and Tel Aviv and Riyadh,” said Leylaz, who is seen as close to Iran’s reformists.

“I am certain this (the allegation) is a source of worry for the government, because it happened while the Islamic republic needs every single relation and link with the West minus the United States,” he added.

– Iran needs EU –

Rouhani, who was re-elected to a second four-year term last year on the promise of greater economic dividends from his government’s opening to Washington, was already reeling from the economic fallout of Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear deal.

A precipitous slide in the value of the rial against the dollar hit the purchasing power of ordinary Iranians, while an anticipated boost to Western investment failed to materialise, hitting plans to renew Iran’s antiquated infrastructure.

Rouhani had counted on EU governments to work with the other parties to the deal — China and Russia — to mitigate the impact of the US policy U-turn but the French allegation has now put those hopes in jeopardy.

The allegations were swiftly seized on by the Trump administration as vindication of its hard line.

“France taking strong action against failed Iranian terrorist plot in Paris — Tehran needs to know this outrageous behaviour will not be tolerated,” the White House’s National Security Council tweeted.

Rouhani’s government sees the hand of the Trump administration behind the allegations, convinced Washington is determined to undermine European resistance to the US abandonment of the JCPOA, the official acronym for the nuclear deal.

“Some centres of power do not approve of Iran’s good relations with Europe — that it is staying in the JCPOA and that its economic ties with the EU continue,” Ghasemi said.

– Who benefits? –

Prominent conservative analyst Amir Mohebbian voiced scepticism about the French allegations, saying it made no sense for Iran to get involved in an operation that so clearly endangered its own interests.

“There is no logical reason for the Islamic republic to take such actions in the present sensitive situation,” Mohebbian said.

“Iran is acting transparently. It has created transparent and close diplomatic relations with Europe.

“Iran does not want to do something that will damage these good relations.”

Mohebbian said the allegations were deliberately timed to cause maximum damage to Iran’s foreign policy interests.

“The possibility of an intelligence trap for damaging Iran’s relations with the European Union… is not far-fetched,” he said.

“I am not aware of the legal aspects of the allegations, but it is clear that the beneficiary of these events is the MEK,” he said.

Senior members of Rouhani’s government have gone further, accusing the MEK itself of being behind the alleged plot.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was a “false flag ploy” by the MEK, which has been outlawed in Iran since 1981 and was on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist until 2009.

AFP

UN court ruling on US sanctions shows Tehran is ‘right’: Iran

October 3, 2018

Tehran welcomed on Wednesday a ruling by the UN’s top court ordering Washington to suspend sanctions on humanitarian goods, as a “clear sign” that “Iran is in the right”.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice “once again shows that the US government… is day by day becoming more isolated,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

© AFP/File | US President Donald Trump and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani faced off at the UN in September. Tehran has hailed a ruling by the UN’s top court ordering Washington to suspend sanctions on humanitarian goods, as a “clear sign” it is “in the right”

It said the court had found that the crippling sanctions reimposed by Washington after it abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Tehran were illegal.

“World public opinion and all independent countries will, with peace of mind, strive… to keep and carry out the JCPOA,” it added, using the official acronym for the agreement.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the court ruling “another failure for sanctions-addicted US government and victory for rule of law”.

“Imperative for int’l community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism,” he added in a tweet.

AFP

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Iranian president flies to Europe to rally support — Mullahs in a Muddle over economy, Donald Trump, sanctions

July 2, 2018

President Hassan Rouhani departed Iran on Monday for a trip to Europe billed as of “prime importance” after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Rouhani was set to visit Switzerland and Austria as part of Tehran’s ongoing efforts to secure Europe’s continued support for the landmark agreement.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani with Xi Jinping of China.

The Iranian president left Tehran on an early afternoon flight and was due to land in Zurich in the mid-afternoon, Iranian state media reported.

His delegation will travel on to Vienna Wednesday, according to authorities in Austria, where the historic nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.

The trip will be an “opportunity to talk about the future of the (nuclear) agreement,” Rouhani told reporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport before boarding his flight, state television showed.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss officials in Bern.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov

The visit comes nearly two months after US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the agreement, to the ire of the other signatories — China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia — which along with the European Union have continued to back the accord.

Rouhani’s European trip will be of “prime importance” as it could “provide a more precise picture of cooperation between Iran and Europe,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said in comments carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency on Saturday.

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Austria on Sunday took over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency, while Switzerland represents US interests in Iran owing to the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran.

Vienna, where the deal was signed, is also the home of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the accord.

The nuclear deal has been the cornerstone of Rouhani’s policy of greater openness with the West, and the US departure has seen him severely criticised by ultra-conservatives at home.

Even before Trump’s decision, Iranians had long complained that the hoped-for uptick in foreign investment after the deal had not materialised.

Washington’s decision paves the way for new US sanctions against Tehran, which will encompass businesses from third countries that continue to operate in Iran.

A number of foreign firms have already announced they would cease their Iranian activities in light of the looming imposition of sanctions.

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– Failure ‘very dangerous’ –

While in Switzerland officials are due to sign agreements on economic cooperation, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

Rouhani will meet with the Swiss president, Alain Berset, and his two-day visit will coincide with a bilateral economic forum on health and nutrition, although it was not clear whether he will attend in person.

There will be a similar focus on finances in Vienna, where the Iranian president is expected to sign memorandums on economic cooperation according to Austrian media.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he will speak plainly with Rouhani about Iran’s role in the Middle East, as Tehran continues to deny accusations it is destabilising the region.

Kurz will also find “clear words” to discuss the human rights situation in Iran, the chancellor told Austrian news agency APA.

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The European tour is part of a broader diplomatic effort by Tehran to rally support in the wake of Trump’s May 8 withdrawal from the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Last month Rouhani visited China, where he discussed the future of the nuclear deal with his Chinese and Russian counterparts on the margins of a security summit.

Zarif meanwhile embarked on a tour of Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

The foreign minister on June 24 warned that failing to save the nuclear deal would be “very dangerous” for Tehran.

But the Iranian government has also said it will not continue to abide by the agreement if doing so goes against its economic interests.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has demanded Europe provide a number of economic guarantees in order for Tehran to continue its commitment.

Increasing the pressure on Iran’s European partners, he ordered preparations be made to quickly restart nuclear activities in case talks collapse.

AFP

Iran conservatives attack govt over nuclear deal

May 15, 2018

Ayatollah Ali Jannati said the government had already failed to guarantee the country’s interests.

Related imageAyatollah Ali Jannati

As Iran’s foreign minister embarked on a diplomatic tour on Sunday to save the nuclear deal, his government faced mounting pressure from hard-liners at home who say the West should never have been trusted.

Ayatollah Ali Jannati, the ultra-conservative head of the Assembly of Experts whose responsibilities include choosing the next supreme leader, said the government had already failed to guarantee the country’s interests.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the key architect of the 2015 agreement, should “present his apologies to the Iranian people for the damage caused in the cadre of the nuclear deal,” Jannati said.

Rouhani reiterated on Sunday that Tehran would remain committed to its 2015 nuclear deal if its interests can be protected and said the US withdrawal from the accord was a “violation of morals.”

“The US withdrawal … is a violation of morals, the correct way to carry out politics and diplomacy and against international regulations,” Rouhani during a meeting with visiting Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on Sunday. (Reuters)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Beijing for the first stop of his tour of the remaining members of the nuclear deal.

He is due in Moscow and Brussels in the coming days.

Mirroring the line taken by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Jannati said there was little chance the Europeans would provide the assurances needed for Iran to stay in the deal.

The Europeans “have never stopped taking actions against Iran,” he wrote.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, also criticized “certain officials” who “look to outsiders.”

“I hope recent events will lead us ending our trust in the West and the Europeans. The Europeans have repeated on several occasions that they will not be able to resist US sanctions,” said Jafari, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Around 100 Iranian lawmakers have also signed on to a Parliament bill that would set a clear deadline for the government to “obtain necessary guarantees from the Europeans” without which Iran would resume high-level uranium enrichment, according to Parliament’s official website.

Although conservatives have tried to score political points against Rouhani in the wake of the US withdrawal, the president has essentially taken the same line.

Immediately after US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal last Tuesday, Rouhani said he had instructed Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to prepare for “industrial enrichment without limit” unless Iran’s interests were guaranteed by the remaining parties.

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‘Clear future design’

Zarif said he was hopeful of forging a “clear future design” for the nuclear deal facing collapse after Washington’s withdrawal, at the start of a diplomatic tour aimed at rescuing the agreement.

“We hope that with this visit to China and other countries we will be able to construct a clear future design for the comprehensive agreement,” Zarif told reporters on Sunday after talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

In what is seen as a last-ditch effort to save the accord, Zarif has embarked on a tour of world powers.

Zarif will later fly to Moscow and Brussels to consult the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement denounced by Trump. His withdrawal from the deal last week has infuriated Washington’s allies in Europe as well as China and Russia.

US President Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to pull out of the nuclear deal has upset European allies in Europe as well as China and Russia, cast uncertainty over global oil supplies and raised the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

China was one of the six powers — with the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany — that signed the historic pact which saw sanctions lifted in return for the commitment by Tehran not to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran has said it will stay committed to the deal if powers still backing the agreement can ensure it is protected from sanctions against key sectors of its economy such as oil.

As he arrived in Beijing, Zarif said, “we will discuss the decision that Iran should take,” according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

He added: “As the president of the republic has said, we are ready for all option(s). If the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured.”

Earlier, Zarif hailed Tehran’s relations with Beijing, ISNA reported.

“We have had good relations with China before and since the deal,” he said.

“China is by far the first economic partner of Iran. We are certain that today China is by our side.”

Tehran’s chief diplomat embarked on the tour as regional tensions spiked just days after unprecedented Israeli strikes in Syria which a monitor said killed at least 11 Iranian fighters, triggering fears of a broader conflict between the two arch-enemies.

Before leaving, Zarif published a government statement on his Twitter page, slamming Trump’s “extremist administration” for abandoning “an accord recognized as a victory of diplomacy by the international community.”

It reiterated that Iran was preparing to resume “industrial scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe provided solid guarantees it could maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

Trump hit back Saturday evening, tweeting that the accord had failed to contain Iran’s militarism.

“Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40 percent since the Obama negotiated Nuclear Deal was reached… just another indicator that it was all a big lie,” he wrote.

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Zarif’s delicate diplomatic mission was complicated by reports of clashes between Iranian and Israeli forces in Syria on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said Saturday that 11 Iranians were among the pro-regime fighters killed in strikes by Israel, which has vowed to prevent Iran gaining a military foothold in neighboring Syria.

Tehran, which has sought to avoid an escalation in a regional conflict that could alienate its European partners, has not commented on whether its forces were hit.

Israel and its allies have blamed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for initiating Thursday’s exchange by launching missiles into the occupied Golan Heights.

Iran denies the claims, saying the Israeli strikes were launched on “invented pretexts.”

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Meanwhile, European diplomats in Tehran fumed that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal could undermine years of patient work to restore commercial and diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.

“Since the signing of the JCPOA (nuclear deal), we have gone from an atmosphere like a gold rush, to one of utter depression,” said a Western trade diplomat on condition of anonymity.

“We are waiting now for how the decision makers in the European Union will react. If the EU leans toward accommodating the US, all the progress we have made since 2015 will be lost.”

Iranian hard-liners — who have long opposed Rouhani’s moves to improve ties with the West — are already mobilizing against the efforts to save the nuclear deal.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, said the country could not rely on the West.

AFP and AP

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Iran: Commander Threatens To Sink US Ships, Create “Catastrophic Situation” If Trump Kills Deal

April 27, 2018

President Donald Trump offered some of his most bellicose rhetoric yet about Iran on Tuesday when he said Iran would have “bigger problems than they have ever had before” if the country’s leadership dared to restart its nuclear program following a US pull-out of the JCPOA (otherwise known as the Iran deal), per the Times of Israel.

 Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi. (Fars)

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi. (Fars)

And today, a top Iranian general hit back at Trump with an aggressive threat to sink US Navy ships, while warning that the US would find itself in a “catastrophic situation” if it withdraws from the deal and reimposes economic sanctions.

“The actual information that the Americans have about us is much less than what they think they have. When will they figure this out? When it is too late,” the Revolutionary Guard Corps’s navy commander, Admiral Ali Fadavim, told Iranian television on Saturday.

“They will definitely figure it out when their ships are sunk, or when they find themselves in a catastrophic situation,” Fadavi threatened in an interview with IRINN TV, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

On Wednesday, a non-proliferation envoy confirmed that the US isn’t seeking to renegotiate the JCPOA. Instead, the White House would like to pursue a separate agreement like the one French President Emmanuel Macron proposed during a press conference with Trump. And apparently, Macron’s proposal took his European partners by surprise.

Admiral Fadavim’s remarks followed a similarly stern warning from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will react firmly,” Rouhani said.

“If anyone betrays the deal, they should know that they would face severe consequences,” he added.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also reiterated over the weekend his warning that Tehran was ready to swiftly resume uranium enrichment if the US ditches the accord.

Meanwhile, Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, warned that Iran would consider withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the US reimposes sanctions.

Of course, by leaving both the Iran deal and the NPT, Iran would only lend credence to its adversaries’ claims that the Islamic Republic is seeking to build a nuclear weapon – an accusation Iran has long denied. The White House has set a self-imposed deadline of May 12 for deciding whether to pull out of the deal.

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-04-25/iranian-naval-commander-threatens-sink-us-ships-create-catastrophic-situation-if

Times of Israel:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/irans-navy-commander-threatens-to-sink-us-ships/

Iran vows ‘unpleasant’ response if US drops nuclear deal

April 20, 2018

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov

ANKARA (REUTERS) – IRAN warned the United States on Thursday of “unpleasant” consequences if Washington pulls out of a multinational nuclear deal, Iranian state TV reported.

“Iran has several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal. Tehran’s reaction to America’s withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant,” TV quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on his arrival in New York.

Under Iran’s settlement with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program to satisfy the powers that it could not be used to develop atomic bombs. In exchange, Iran received relief from sanctions, most of which were lifted in January 2016.

US President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear deal, or he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran.
Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Gazans ready for new protests after bloodiest day in years

March 31, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Sakher Abou El Oun | A relative of Hamdan Abu Amsha, a Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli forces during large-scale protests along the Gaza-Israel border, mourns at his funeral in the north Gaza town of Beit Hanun on March 31, 2018

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Palestinians prepared for further protests near the Gaza border Saturday, a day after a major demonstration led to clashes that saw Israeli forces kill 16 people in the bloodiest day since a 2014 war.

Protesters began returning to a tent city erected near the border with Israel to resume the demonstration planned to last six weeks in the blockaded enclave.

Thousands were attending funerals for those killed, with mourners holding Palestinian flags and some chanting “revenge.”

A general strike was being held in both the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Israel defended its soldiers’ actions on Friday, when troops opened fire on Palestinians who strayed from the main tent city protest — attended by tens of thousands — and approached the heavily fortified fence cutting off the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military says it opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres at soldiers.

It also said there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was an attempted shooting attack against soldiers along the border that caused no casualties.

But Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, while human rights groups questioned Israel’s use of live fire.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “independent and transparent investigation.”

In addition to the 16 killed, more than 1,400 were wounded, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, according to the Gazan health ministry.

No casualties were reported among Israelis.

– World ‘must intervene’ –

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared Saturday a day of national mourning and in a speech said he held Israel fully responsible for the deaths.

“The large number of martyrs and people wounded in peaceful popular demonstrations shows that the international community must intervene to provide protection to our Palestinian people,” he said.

An Israeli military spokesman said Friday’s events were “not a protest demonstration” but “organised terrorist activity.”

He accused Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, of being behind it and threatened wider military action if it continued.

“If it continues, we shall have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip against terrorist targets which we understand to be behind these events,” Brigadier General Ronen Manelis told journalists.

The six-week protest is in support of Palestinian refugees and the timetable holds significance for a range of reasons that have added to tensions.

It began on Land Day, when Palestinians commemorate the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976, and as Jewish Israelis readied to observe the Passover holiday, which started at sundown on Friday.

Protests will continue until the United States opens its new Jerusalem embassy around May 14, a move that has provoked deep anger among the Palestinians, who see the city’s annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

May 14 will also mark 70 years since the creation of Israel, while Palestinians will commemorate what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the following day.

Nakba commemorates the more than 700,000 Palestinians who either fled or were expelled from their homes in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

– ‘Lethal force’ –

US President Donald Trump has harshly criticised the Palestinians in the past, but the State Department said only that it was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life and urged steps to lower tensions.

Human Rights Watch criticised Israel’s actions.

“Israeli allegations of violence by some protesters do not change the fact that using lethal force is banned by international law except to meet an imminent threat to life,” the New York-based group said, calling the number of killed and wounded “shocking.”

Israel’s arch-foe Iran, a longstanding supporters of Hamas, condemned the “shameful” killing of protesters and mocked the fact that it happened as Israeli Jews prepared to mark Passover.

“On the eve of Passover (of all days), which commemorates God liberating Prophet Moses and his people from tyranny, Zionist tyrants murder peaceful Palestinian protesters — whose land they have stolen — as they march to escape their cruel and inhuman apartheid bondage,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

Israel had deployed troop reinforcements along the border, including more than 100 special forces snipers, saying it would prevent attempts to break through the fence.

Protests along the border are common, often culminating in young Palestinian men throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who respond with tear gas along with rubber and live bullets.

But the “March of Return” protest that began on Friday is larger scale and is intended to involve families with women and children camping in tent cities near the border for weeks.

by Sakher Abou El Oun

Netanyahu says Israel could act against Iran’s ’empire’

February 18, 2018

Reuters

MUNICH (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would act against Iran, not just its allies in the Middle East, if needed, reiterating his country’s position that Tehran was the world’s greatest threat.

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, delivers a speech during the International Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (Sven Hoppe-dpa via AP)

As tensions increase in the Middle East over Iran’s role in Syria and Yemen and as U.S. President Donald Trump presses for a tougher approach on Tehran, Israel is seeking wider support to contain its regional nemesis.

Holding a piece of what he said was an Iranian drone after its incursion into Israeli airspace earlier this month, Netanyahu told the Munich Security Conference: ”Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck.

“We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself,” he said.

In his first address to the annual Munich event, which draws security and defense officials and diplomats from across Europe and the United States, Netanyahu urged his audience to counter Iran immediately, displaying a map showing what he said was Iran’s growing presence in the Middle East.

For its part, Iran pushed back. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also addressed the conference, called Netanyahu’s presentation “a cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response”.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Munich, meeting with UK Labour MP Catherine Ashton

Zarif accused the United States of using the conference to “revive hysteria” against Iran, and denied that Tehran was seeking “hegemony” in the Middle East.

But Netanyahu said Iran was increasing its power as a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was regaining territory from militants.

“The unfortunate thing is that as ISIS compresses and Iran moves in, it is trying to establish this continuous empire surrounding the Middle East from the south in Yemen but also trying to create a land bridge from Iran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza,” Netanyahu said.

“This is a very dangerous development for our region.”

Among Israel’s main concerns is Lebanon, where the heavily armed Iran-backed Shi‘ite militia Hezbollah is part of a coalition government. Israel last fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006. Tension between Israel and Lebanon has increased, including over a maritime border dispute.

Lebanon’s Defense Minister, Yacoub Riad Sarraf, who spoke after Netanyahu, said: “Watch out, we will defend ourselves … we also have friends.”

Image result for Lebanon’s Defense Minister, Yacoub Riad Sarraf, photos, Munich

Lebanon’s Defense Minister, Yacoub Riad Sarraf

Tensions in the region surged on Feb. 10 when anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria.

“PUT OUT THE FIRE”

Netanyahu also reiterated his view, shared by Trump, that world powers needed to scrap or rewrite the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran that curbs Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions in return for economic sanctions’ relief.

“It’s time to stop them now,” Netanyahu said, without specifying any military action. “They’re aggressive, they are developing ballistic missiles, they’re not inspecting, they have a free highway to massive (uranium) enrichment,” he said of the fuel needed for nuclear weapons.

France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, which signed the nuclear deal along with Iran and the United States, say the accord cannot be reopened, that it is working and that Iran is allowing inspections.

Russian senator Aleksey Pushkov said that scrapping the agreement was akin to choosing between war and peace, while John Kerry, the former U.S. secretary of state who helped clinch the agreement, said it was wrong to assume that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon as soon as the 15-year scope of the deal ends.

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John Kerry, former U.S. secretary of state

“If your house is on fire, are you going to refuse to put it out because you are concerned it will light on fire again in 15 years? Or are you going to put it out and use the intervening time to prevent to ever catching fire again?” Kerry said.

Trump’s new sanctions ‘a blow and a warning to Iranian regime’

January 14, 2018

A man looks at Iranian-made missiles at Defense Museum in Tehran on Sept. 23, 2015. (Reuters)
JEDDAH: Tough new sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump on 14 Iranian individuals and organizations are a political blow and a warning to the regime in Tehran, a leading analyst told Arab News on Saturday.
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Among those targeted are the powerful politician Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary and a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Groups facing sanctions include the cyber unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
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The US move is a significant move and “a critical victory for human rights defenders and the Iranian people,” said Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.
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The sanctions on the IRGC cyber unit were also a step toward peace and stability by combating the Iranian regime’s attempts to hack other governments’ systems and organizations, he said.
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Announcing the new action on Friday, Trump said he would continue the suspension of US sanctions on Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal — but only for 120 days. In the intervening time, he has demanded a separate agreement to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is not explicitly covered by the nuclear deal, and to make the 10-year curb on Iran’s nuclear program permanent. If he sees no progress on such an agreement, the president will withdraw from the nuclear deal.
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Trump was sending a message that the Iranian regime “will be monitored not only for its nuclear defiance, development, research and proliferation, but also for its human rights violations,” Rafizadeh said.
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Trump, who has sharply criticized the deal reached under Barack Obama’s presidency, had chafed at once again having to waive sanctions on a country he sees as a threat in the Middle East.
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“Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” he said on Friday. The options were to fix “the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw. This is a last chance.”
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Contrary to the view of his critics, Rafizadeh said, Trump had used diplomacy to address the loopholes in the nuclear deal. “This will give the administration a more robust platform to persuade the EU nations to fix the nuclear agreement or to abandon it.
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“If other parties do not take necessary and adequate action to address the shortcomings of the nuclear agreement, Trump has buttressed his position and laid out the groundwork to reimpose sanctions, as well as withdrawing from the deal.”
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Trump is also giving the US Congress additional time to work on legislation to fix loopholes in the deal, such as requiring Iran to allow its military sites be inspected for nuclear development, research, weaponization and proliferation, Rafizadeh said.
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“Iran is not adhering to the spirit of the nuclear deal due to its heightened interventionist and expansionist policies in the Arab world and to its human rights violations domestically.”
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Rafizadeh said the deal had empowered the IRGC and its militias in the region through sanctions relief. This, he said, had further radicalized, militarized and destabilized the region. “Iran continues to ratchet up its antagonistic policy toward Arab nations, the US, and the West.”
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Iran’s Foreign Ministry said sanctions on Larijani were “hostile action” that “crossed all red lines of conduct in the international community and a violation of international law, and will surely be answered by a serious reaction of the Islamic Republic.”
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Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the nuclear deal was “not renegotiable” and Trump’s move “amounts to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement.”
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James Jeffrey, distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former US ambassador to Iraq, told Arab News: “Ignore the rhetoric. Zarif is simply reflecting the truth about Iran’s refusal to change the nuclear deal, and all other parties including Europeans agree. But what Trump and his advisers, in background talks with me, seem to be looking for is an agreement with France, Germany and the UK to deal with the problems Trump cites — long-range missiles, inspection flaws and Iranian enrichment breakout after 10 years, without necessarily new negotiations.
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“These are real problems that, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron has cited, and do not necessarily require modifying the agreement which, as Zarif says, understandably Iran rejects.
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“Missiles and sanctions related to them are not part of the agreement, but a separate Security Council resolution that Iran did not formally agree to.
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“Inspection problems involve a mix of the International Atomic Energy Agency not using powers the agreement gives it, and inspection procedures and deals outside of the agreement.
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“Unchecked enrichment after 10 years is a serious problem, but could be dealt with through European/US carrots and sticks and cooperation by a future Iranian government, without changing the agreement.”
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Speaking by phone to Arab News, Aaron David Miller, vice president for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former senior US peace negotiator, said that the Trump administration will face “great odds” convincing European signatories of the JCPOA to agree to change the “internal architecture’ of the agreement.
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Miller also maintained that despite the strong rhetoric from the Trump administration, he does not see its policy on Iran as fundamentally different from that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
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Nevertheless, when asked whether he had expected the JCPOA to compel Iran to moderate its behavior in the region or whether he expected it to be emboldened, Miller said the JCPOA was not meant to be “transformational. It was transactional.”

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