Posts Tagged ‘France’

As U.S., North Korea plan to meet, Iran warns against Trump deals — “Speaking to President Donald Trump would be an exercise in futility.”

April 22, 2018

Jerusalem Post and Reuters

NEW YORK – A US push to change the Iran nuclear deal was sending a “very dangerous message” that countries should never negotiate with Washington, Iran’s foreign minister warned as US and North Korean leaders prepare to meet for denuclearization talks.

Speaking to reporters in New York on Saturday, Mohammad Javad Zarif also said that for French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “to try to appease the president (Donald Trump) would be an exercise in futility.”

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Mohammad Javad Zarif

Trump will decide by May 12 whether to restore US economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a severe blow to the 2015 pact between Iran and six major powers. He has pressured European allies to work with Washington to fix the deal.

Macron and Merkel are both due to meet with Trump in Washington this week.

“The United States has not only failed to implement its side (of the deal), but is even asking for more,” said Zarif, who is in New York to attend a UN General Assembly meeting.

“That’s a very dangerous message to send to people of Iran but also to the people of the world – that you should never come to an agreement with the United States because at the end of the day the operating principle of the United States is ‘what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable,'” he said.


Can Macron’s White House visit save the Iran deal?

April 22, 2018


© AFP/File / by Francesco FONTEMAGGI | French President Emmanuel Macron has the tricky task of trying to save the Iran nuclear deal when he meets with US leader Donald Trump at the White House

WASHINGTON (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron seems, as much as any world leader, to have developed some kind of rapport with his American counterpart Donald Trump.But will their apparent bond prove productive as European capitals struggle to save the Iran nuclear deal from Trump’s impulsive wrath?

The idea will be tested Monday when the young French leader begins a state visit in Washington, and European diplomats have a lot invested in what seems a tricky task.

There is not much time. Trump is due to decide by May 12 whether talks with Paris, Berlin and London on tougher anti-Iran measures have advanced far enough.

If he feels the “flaws” in the 2015 deal have not been adequately repaired, he may decide to withdraw his support, opening the way for renewed US sanctions that could torpedo the whole accord.

Europe would see this as a disaster, both in terms of the deal itself — a central plank in their non-proliferation strategy — and in terms of relations with Washington.

If anyone can talk down Trump, it might be Macron, who has better relations with the White House than his British and German counterparts Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Paris was the first European ally to suggest tougher measures against Iran’s ballistic missile programs to “supplement” the nuclear deal — but will that suffice?

Trump also wants to reform the agreement itself to end the so-called “sunset clauses” that would allow Iran to progressively restart parts of its nuclear program after 2025.

But the West cannot unilaterally reopen the text.

Iran has said the deal is final and warned it is ready to relaunch its nuclear program — which the West alleges is designed to produce an atomic bomb — if it fails.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS television’s “Face the Nation” in an interview airing Sunday that Iran would have several options if the US pulls out of the deal “including resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.”

In addition, the agreement was the fruit of months of intense diplomacy between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — under EU auspices.

Only Trump wants to rip it up.

“It’s a dialogue of the deaf,” complained one European envoy. A US diplomat acknowledged that getting Trump to buy in will be the “trickiest” part of the problem.

British, French and German representatives have been in deep talks with the US State Department’s head of policy Brian Hook on what a supplemental deal would look like.

– ‘He hates the deal’ –

But the representatives complain privately that, despite progress with their American counterparts, they have no idea whether they are close to an agreement that the mercurial president would accept.

To appease Trump, European capitals are working on a document that would amount to a political engagement to prevent Iran from returning to the nuclear path after the 2015 deal starts to expire.

Zarif said the original deal included a vow that Iran will never seek a nuclear bomb, and repeated Tehran’s insistence that it had never sought one.

The Europeans could even call such a statement a new “deal,” if it convinces the US leader to stay within the terms of the original and “true” agreement.

Therein lies the rub.

“He hates the deal,” another European diplomat acknowledged.

All Hook can say is that once he comes to terms with his European partners, it will be up to Trump, in consultations with his hardline new National Security Advisor John Bolton, to decide.

“If we can reach an agreement, then that will be presented to the president by the secretary of state and the NSA, and then he will make a decision on whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions,” Hook said.

“We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to engage in it.”

The appointment of Bolton, an avowed Iran hawk, fueled Europe’s pessimism, as did the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to become the next US secretary of state.

But Pompeo, who has always talked tough on Iran, played down the significance of the May 12 deadline in his Senate confirmation hearing.

“I want to fix this deal. That’s the objective,” he told US lawmakers concerned that he might push for war.

“If there is no chance to fix it, I’ll recommend to the president we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and better deal. Even after May 12th, even after May 12th, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”

– No Plan ‘B’ –

As the deadline looms, even some of the more hawkish Washington pundits — critics of the deal when it was signed — have begun to suggest that the return of US nuclear-related sanctions could be postponed until a new fixed date.

But if all the talk fails and Trump follows his clear inclination to tear up the “terrible deal,” there appears to be no Plan B, at least from Europe.

“Anyone who wants to blow up the Iran deal has first to tell us what he will do if Iran relaunches its uranium enrichment program,” France’s ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud tweeted in exasperation.

After Macron’s visit, there is only one from Merkel, whose chemistry with the US leader appears more toxic than productive, and then the ball in Trump’s hands.

by Francesco FONTEMAGGI

Macron, Trump to dine at Mt Vernon, cradle of French-US alliance

April 21, 2018


© AFP/File / by Antoine Boyer and Michael Mathes | Mount Vernon, the colonial mansion of America’s first president and founding father George Washington, is the setting for a private dinner on April 23, 2018 for US President Donald Trump, visiting French leader Emmanuel Macron and their wives

MOUNT VERNON (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – The Trumps, it seems, have not forgotten their intimate meal with the Macrons on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower last July. They return the favor Monday, this time at an American landmark.US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania have invited French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte for a private dinner at Mount Vernon, the lavish Virginia mansion of first president and founding father George Washington.

It is also a symbol of the “special relationship” between France and the United States.

Few details have emerged about the rendezvous. The site — a majestic 18th century colonial estate and one of America’s most visited homes — will close four hours early for a “private event.”

In 1961, the Kennedys and their guests arrived at Mount Vernon by presidential yacht. The state dinner in honor of Pakistan’s president was held on the east lawn, which offers an incomparable view of the Potomac River.

The iconic former plantation, just 15 miles (21 kilometers) from the capital Washington, welcomes more than a million visitors each year.

“It’s a really special place where you can actually feel like you are walking in the footsteps of Washington (and) the leaders of the revolution,” Mount Vernon curator Susan Schoelwer told AFP.

George Washington gradually expanded the property and the mansion over the 40 years he lived there. By the end of his life, his land exceeded 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares), and the house had grown to 21 rooms.

As a working plantation, Mount Vernon had more than 300 slaves in 1799. In his will, Washington mandated that his slaves be freed upon his wife’s death.

– An ‘adopted’ French son –

George and Martha Washington in their day were consummate hosts, and Mount Vernon proved the ideal escape for visiting dignitaries.

“The Washingtons were famous for their hospitality and many of the visitors that they entertained during those years were visitors from France, the most famous of which was the marquis de Lafayette,” Schoelwer said.

The French hero of the American war of independence “became so close to Washington that he was like an adopted son,” she added.

Imprisoned during the French revolution, Lafayette even sent his son, George Washington Lafayette, to take refuge in Mount Vernon.

A prime symbol of friendship between the two allies hangs in the mansion’s central hall: the key to the Bastille prison in Paris.

The heavy wrought iron key was a gift from Lafayette to Washington shortly after the start of the French revolution, “on behalf of the people of France.”

“Even though Washington never traveled to France, it was clearly an important part of his personal history, as well as the nation’s history,” the curator said.

Carole Elbaz, a Frenchwoman living in the United States who came to enjoy a sunny outing at Mount Vernon, said: “We’ve heard about Lafayette. That’s what connects us to our history.” said .

Macron may walk Monday in the footsteps of Lafayette, but he is far from the first.

President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing attended a formal ceremony here with president Gerald Ford in 1976 to mark America’s bicentennial, while President Nicolas Sarkozy was hosted by George W. Bush in 2007.

Former prime ministers Georges Clemenceau and Aristide Briand, as well as general-turned-president Charles de Gaulle, have also visited, while French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau marked his 75th birthday at Mount Vernon in 1985 with a party featuring 2,000 guests.

by Antoine Boyer and Michael Mathes

European MPs warn US over scrapping Iran nuclear deal — “Iran living up to its obligations.” — European Companies want the business — Turning a blind eye to Iranian missiles fired at Saudi Arabia

April 20, 2018

MPs from Britain, France and Germany have warned the US Congress of damage to transatlantic credibility and conflict in the Middle East if Washington pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal. The US may withdraw next month.

Iran nuclear deal (Getty Images/AFP/J. Klamar)

Around 500 lawmakers from Britain, France and Germany on Thursday urged the US Congress to save the Iran nuclear deal ahead of a possible US withdrawal next month.

“It is the US’s and Europe’s interest to prevent nuclear proliferation in a volatile region and to maintain the transatlantic partnership as a reliable and credible driving force of world politics,” European lawmakers from across the political spectrum wrote in a letter to their US counterparts.

The Trump administration has demanded that the 2015 nuclear accord be fixed by May 12, otherwise, the United States may reinstate sanctions on Tehran and effectively kill the accord despite Iran’s compliance.

Read moreWhat are Donald Trump’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal?

Iran nuclear deal (picture-alliance/epa/D. Calma)The letter said the US is moving towards abandoning the nuclear deal despite Iran living up to its obligations.

The lawmakers from the three European countries that were signatories to the deal warned that abandonment of the nuclear accord would end controls on Iran’s nuclear program and create a source of conflict in the Middle East.

Thirteen years of negotiations with Iran allowed the international community “to impose unprecedented scrutiny on the Iranian nuclear program, dismantle most of their nuclear enrichment facilities, and drastically diminish the danger of a nuclear arms race,” they said in the letter published in major newspapers on Thursday and Friday.

“Not a drop of blood was spilt,” they wrote.

A US withdrawal would create “lasting damage to our credibility as international partners in negotiation, and more generally, to diplomacy as a tool to achieve peace and ensure security.”

Read more:What is the Iran nuclear deal?

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Merkel, Macron to lobby Trump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will head to Washington next week to press the Trump administration to stay in the accord signed by the three European powers, Russia, China and the United States.

A US withdrawal would open a deep divided between the United States and Europe, despite common concern over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Read moreEU extends Iran human rights sanctions by a year 

The European MPs said that although they “share the concerns expressed by many vis-à-vis this Iranian behavior, we are deeply convinced that these issues must be treated separately” outside of the nuclear accord.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday warned that Tehran had several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

“Tehran’s reaction to America’s withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant,” he said in New York.

Read more: Iran nuclear deal under pressure as Pompeo heads to State Department

Iranian leaders have signaled that Tehran’s response to a US withdrawal would be dictated by the stance of European powers, especially ensuring that Iran benefits sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord.

European governments led by Britain, France and Germany are considering taking non-nuclear related sanction action against Iran over its ballistic missile program and support for the Syrian regime in order to appease the Trump administration in a bid to save the nuclear accord.

French police evacuate occupied Paris university site

April 20, 2018

Image result for university protests, paris, april 2018, photos

Students protest against Macron’s university reform in front of the Sorbonne university in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) – French police swooped before dawn on Friday to clear out around 100 people who had occupied a Paris university premises in protest against student admissions rules.

It was one of a dozen blockaded campus sites in the country and the clear-out was accompanied by a government message that law and order would be restored as the exam period approaches.

Paris police said one person had been arrested in what was otherwise an evacuation that had happened “calmly and without any incident.”

The head of the university had requested police intervention more than a week ago, saying protesters, at least some of whom are believed to be anti-government activists rather than people studying there, had seriously damaged the premises.

“Law and order will be restored everywhere,” Collomb said in a statement.

The site concerned was the rue de Tolbiac branch of Paris 1 university, a premises in southeast Paris.

Protesters had blocked access for several days, piling up tables and chairs to control who was coming in, setting up communal kitchen and dormitories and organizing non-curriculum classes.

 Image result for university protests, paris, april 2018, photos

The student protests at Tolbiac coincide with wider protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms and the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 Paris student protests.

French rail workers have been holding strikes in protest against government plans to reform the state-owned SNCF railways firm to cut the state’s debt, although a protest on Thursday failed to draw in as many as unions had hoped for.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Simon Carraud; Editing by Brian Love

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)

France’s CGT urges broader anti-Macron protests, other unions keep their distance

April 19, 2018

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A man holds a placard reading “Brussels Macron derailed” during a demonstration against the French government’s reform plans in Paris as part of a national day of protest, France, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit TessierREUTERS


PARIS (Reuters) – France’s far-left CGT labor union sought to broaden resistance to hard-hitting economic reforms on Thursday, urging employees across the public sector to join striking railway workers in their showdown with President Emmanuel Macron.

There was no clear evidence that anything of the kind was about to happen, however, even as rolling stoppages by rail workers halted train services for the eighth day this month.

The CGT’s goal is a “convergence des luttes” or “convergence of struggles” – a storm of public discontent where protests of different origins fuse into one widespread upheaval against government, something like in May 1968 or more recently at the end of 1995.

But a CGT strike call at the Paris subway train and bus group RATP appeared to have little impact: RATP management reported normal service across most of the grid.

More moderate unions involved with the CGT in the industrial action at the state-owned SNCF railway group also kept their distance from the Communist-rooted CGT as it asked others to join the protest action by striking or taking part in street marches.

“This is a political operation, not a union one,” Laurent Berger, one of the most influential labor leaders in the country, said of the CGT initiative.

That not only highlighted the underlying divisions and turf battles for membership subscriptions that permanently plague the labor movement but also more profound divergences between the Communist-rooted CGT and Berger’s more reform-friendly CFDT.

Berger said his union had nothing to do with a day of street marches organized by the CGT on Thursday afternoon.

He said he did not share the CGT penchant for a “convergence of struggles” between rail workers, power sector employees, state hospital staff and even some students involved in very separate protests about university entry criteria.

While his union is backing the rail strike alongside the CGT and other unions, the CFDT is fighting Macron for concessions on debt cancellation and a new collective bargaining deal to cover rail workers when the SNCF reform ends its rail monopoly, and with it the protected job status of all future SNCF recruits.

The CGT opposes the principle of liberalization and a pact under which all European Union governments have committed to start phasing out all passenger rail monopolies from 2020.

Forty-year-old Macron has stood firm and on Wednesday urged the unions to “stop holding the country hostage”.

His government hopes union divisions will ultimately work in its favor, and the lower house of parliament this week approved the bill that enshrines most of the envisaged SNCF reforms.

Public support for the SNCF protest is weaker than for all but one of several dozen major protests over the last 20 years in France, according to an Ifop poll published last Sunday. It showed 42 percent were sympathetic to the strikers.

That compared with much bigger support rates of two-thirds or so when strikes in late 1995 waged by rail workers snowballed into a broader public sector protest movement, forcing the government of the time to abandon rail and welfare reforms.

While polls suggest 60 percent of the French want Macron to pursue his rail shake-up, he is walking on eggs after cutting wealth tax and housing aid and raising pensioner taxes. Those changes, the polls say, have cemented voter belief that Macron is bad for purchasing power and economic equality.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Hugh Lawson)

French students dig in for a bitter battle against Macron’s reforms

April 19, 2018


© Bertrand Guay, AFP | Students block the entrance to Sciences Po university on April 18, 2018 in Paris.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-19

French President Emmanuel Macron faces mass demonstrations Thursday as students join trade unionists and public sector workers opposed to his reform plans. Students are protesting a bid to overhaul the university admission system.

he main entrance to another French university was blocked Wednesday by protesting students – only this time, it was the alma mater of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose reforms the students oppose.

A group of around 70 students are occupying the prestigious Sciences Po university in the sixth arrondissement of the French capital. They are part of a nationwide show of force by students and other groups opposed to the Macron’s  plans to reform the university admission system, making it more merit-based and selective.

Right now, French high school students enter their university choices into an online platform, which then allocates admission spots according to student preferences, or for highly sought-after programmes, at random. While highly egalitarian, this system leads to one in three students dropping out within the first year.

This made no sense, was profoundly unjust, and simply an absurd form of selection. We believe there’s a need to guide, accompany and inform prospective students,” said French Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal, in an interview with FRANCE 24’s sister station, Radio France Internationale (RFI).

Egalité without merit

The reputation of France’s higher education system has been falling in recent years. Only one French university made it into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education 2018 World Reputation Rankings. But at 72, Paris Sciences and Letters – PSL University lagged behind top US, Asian-Pacific and other European institutions.

While French university fees are minimal compared to most of their worldwide counterparts, the lack of selection leads to high levels of failure, which puts satisfaction ratings of French universities for international students at among the lowest in Western Europe.

The Macron administration’s higher education reforms are aimed at tackling the selection process with a proposed bill enabling public universities to rank applicants and accept them based on their academic merit.

Re-enacting May 1968

But student groups opposed to the plan are joining trade unionists, public sector workers and train drivers protesting Macron’s reforms.

Last month, a student protest at Montpellier University in southern France gained national attention when the dean of the school called in masked thugs to break up a demonstration which saw students occupying the law school auditorium. The masked men, who evicted the students, included junior professors and doctoral students, according to witnesses.

While Dean Philippe Pétel defended the actions of the masked men, Minister Vidal disagreed. “The violence committed at the University of Montpellier is unacceptable,” she tweeted, adding that two professors who were taken into custody as part of the investigation had been suspended. French authorities also placed Pétel under formal investigation.

Frédérique Vidal


Les universités sont des lieux de débat pas de violence. Dans leur immense majorité, les professeurs d’université sont là pour accompagner, former les étudiants, pour leur apprendre à débattre sans violence. @franceinfo

Frédérique Vidal


Les violences commises à @umontpellier sont inacceptables. Les deux professeurs qui ont été hier placés en garde à vue dans le cadre de l’enquête sont immédiatement suspendus de leurs fonctions

Meanwhile a French court has ordered protesters occupying the University of Montpellier to clear out immediately or face eviction.

Although Pétel’s actions succeeded in inflaming sentiments, opinion polls suggest the majority of French citizens back Macron’s proposed reforms.

A poll of 16,000 students at the University of Strasbourg, one of several blocked campuses, found 72 percent wanted teaching to resume, bolstering Macron’s view that a minority are behind the sit-ins.

On the barricades and in the streets of Paris though, many of the banners hark back to May 1968, when campus protests snowballed into nationwide strikes. Exactly 50 years after “Soixante-huit” — as the events of May 1968 as known in France — disgruntled students, trade unionist and public sector workers have been marking that milestone in contemporary French history by attempting to re-enact them on the streets of France.

The outcome of this attempt at remaking old history is still to be decided as France is widely expected to experience another summer of discontent.

How Obama’s Lawyers Gave John Bolton the Keys to Armageddon

April 19, 2018

Obama’s lawyers never thought Trump would be the next White House incumbent, or that it would be Bolton whispering in his ear. If they had, maybe they wouldn’t have corroded the U.S.’s commitment to following international law before launching military strikes abroad

In this Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 file photo, Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill
John Bolton, now U.S. National Security Adviser and former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Feb. 24, 2017AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

There has been too little discussion in the U.S. about the legality, under international law, of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Tomahawk and 19 JASSM cruise missiles at suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities last weekend.

Only the UK offered a clear and explicit legal justification for its actions – even if most international lawyers think it is “significantly flawed.” The U.S. and France appeared to argue that Syria’s violations of international law, through the repeated use of chemical weapons, were so self-evidently wrong that it ipso facto gave these countries a right to use force against Syria.

In the opinion of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, the U.S. had to hold “the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.”

Lawyers will search in vain for references to the UN Charter in the arguments advanced by the US, the UK, and France in justifying their strikes in Syria.

As expected, the UK invoked the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” under customary international law, as it did in 2013, before Parliament blocked military action. Customary international law is habitually invoked by international lawyers when they know that they do not have a legal argument to make under the UN Charter.

Although one of the purposes of the UN is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Charter does not give states a right to use force to ensure respect for these rights without authorisation from the UN Security Council.

The lack of reference to the UN Charter is not that surprising. Government lawyers in the U.S., the UK, and France, have been repeatedly side-lining the Charter to justify their military interventions since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.
U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout

The danger this time around is that these states may have corroded the UN Charter beyond repair. Only Russia and China referred to the UN Charter in their categorical condemnations of the strikes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russia Today that the strikes were not only carried out “in violation of the UN Charter and principles of international law.” He also warned that the current escalation of the Syrian crisis was having “a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations.”

For international lawyers this is a very sorry state of affairs. It is as though references to the UN Charter have become the refuge of tyrants.

The view that the UN Charter and whole system of international relations is under threat from repeated unlawful uses of force is not new. Thomas Franck made the argument over 40 years ago. He repeated it after the Iraq fiasco. But I think his argument may have been precipitate.

For example, lawyers argued ad nauseamabout the legality of the invasion of Iraq, as the hundreds of pages of the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry attest. Then government lawyers acted as handmaidens to power when they fixed law around policy and made grandiose claims in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002) in the lead up to the invasion.

Syrian children and adults receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus late on February 25, 2018.
Syrian children and adults receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus late on February 25, 2018.HAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP

But they did not try to rewrite the rules. That came later.

After the invasion of Iraq, and in view of all of the criticisms levelled at the U.S. and the UK, in respect of the legal advicethat was advanced justifying the invasion, it was felt that a more concerted effort was needed to make international law more relevant for the modern world.

Three events had contributed to the view that international law needed reform. The first was the Rwandan genocide. The second was Srebrenica. The third was 9/11.

With regard to the massive human rights violations in Rwanda and Bosnia it was felt that the UN had done too little to stop these atrocities. After the 9/11 attacks, it was thought that politicians were not taking international lawyers seriously when they insisted that a proper reading of the UN Charter required states to take a hit before they could take action in self-defense.

The UN Charter had been drafted for a very different world, when the domestic jurisdiction clause in Article 2 (7) of the Charter was added to prevent criticisms of colonialism and the racial policies of South Africa and the U.S.

But times have changed, and today the UN Charter is being used as a shield by authoritarian regimes to commit massive human rights violations against their own citizens, and by those states that provide sanctuary to violent nonstate actors committed to carrying out terrorist attacks against the West.

Things got out of hand in Iraq when dubious claims were advanced in order to justify regime change in that country – a flagrant violation of international law.

U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez, Mosul, Iraq, November 7, 2008.
U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah’s Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez, Mosul, Iraq, November 7, 2008.AP

Ironically, the lesson from Iraq was not “never again.” Rather, government lawyers set about establishing new rules that would allow states to take into account the threats from weapons of mass destruction in their assessments of when they could take measures in self-defense.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001) had also made new arguments about when states could take measures in response to massive human rights violations when the states responsible for these violations were unable or unwilling to put a stop to them – although the Commission did not go as far as British lawyers in calling for action without authorisation from the Security Council when they justified the NATO intervention in Kosovo.

“Flexibility” became the buzz word. The aim was to make law “policy relevant.”

But the danger was that by making law policy relevant, the lawyers may have inadvertently made themselves irrelevant, as politicians – many of whom are also lawyers – began replacing legal advisers as the ultimate arbiters of what is lawful, and not only what is wise or just or strategic.

Consider President Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor: uber-hawk John Bolton – who is also an attorney who has written widely on international law and international affairs. Bolton has repeatedly argued that Iran and North Korea pose imminent threats to global security that necessitate the preventive use of military force.

In the case of Iran, Bolton’s argument is based on the same rationale that led the U.S. to strike Syria’s chemical weapons facilities. In his article in The New York Times, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” published in 2015, Bolton called on the U.S. to render inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations, the Arak heavy-water production facility, and the uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan in a preemptive strike. He wrote that an attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, just set it back a few years.

UNGA 2015
UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon addresses the 70th session of the general assembly. September 28, 2015AP

He did not mention the UN Charter or offer a legal rationale to support his argument, but he did cite as “precedents,” Israel’s preventive strike on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and Israel’s preventive strike on Bashar Assad’s “top-secret” nuclear reactor in 2007.

All the U.S. has done in Trump’s recent missile strike is to replace the target. Instead of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, it struck Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

The message to the Ayatollahs could not be clearer: the strikes on Syria are a dress rehearsal for future strikes on Iran.

In other words, the latest strikes on Syria were not about the appalling human rights violations in that country, whatever British Prime Minister Teresa May said in Parliament: it was a rap on the knuckles that sent a warning to Iran and North Korea (and also in May’s case to Russia in response to the attempt to kill former KGB agent Sergei Skripal with a deadly nerve agent in Salisbury).

Even more concerning, perhaps, was Bolton’s justification for an imminent strike on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, when he cited the same legal authority that Bush administration lawyers had cited to justify the invasion of Iraq. In an article he wrote earlier this year for The Wall Street Journal, Bolton cited the nineteenth century Caroline “case” that most people will have never heard of (outside the community of international lawyers).

Again, Bolton made no reference to the UN Charter.

The failure of Bolton to mention the UN Charter and his decision to cite the same legal authority that justified the invasion of Iraq, one of the most disastrous foreign policy blunders of the twenty-first century, should be a cause of concern. How did it come to this?

During the Obama administration lawyers came up with increasingly strained readings of the UN Charter by drafting their own rules to provide “authoritative” guidance for when states could employ force in preemptive self-defence. The development of new technologies such as weaponised UAVs or ‘drones’ was one reason they felt new rules were necessary.

A picture downloaded from the US Air Force website showing a B2 Stealth bomber at a base in Missouri in May 2012.AFP

It was thought new rules developed by those states that were leading the development of these advanced weapons systems, including unmanned fighter aircraft, would give them a head start over their rivals and, in time, provide a global legal standard.

Controversially, the lawyers that drafted these rules decided to revisit and resurrect the Bush doctrine even though it had been widely criticized in the UN Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change in 2004.

Although they admitted that mistakes had been made in Iraq, they did not take the UN’s criticisms seriously. They still believed that the legal rationale behind the Bush doctrine was solid.

And this was a view that was held by both Bush and Obama administration lawyers. As John Bellinger III, the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the White House (2001-2005), and the Legal Adviser to the State Department (2005-2009), wrotein The New York Times in 2010, there was going to be “more continuity than change” in the Obama administration.

Government lawyers in both the Bush and Obama administration continued to press for employing new language that would redefine the meaning of an imminent threat in a way that did not focus on the temporality of an incipient or incoming attack but reflected the wider circumstances of the threat.

The threats were never defined, but were understood to include threats from nonstate actors, from states with weapons of mass destruction, and from cyber-attacks. It was argued that an imminent threat of these sorts would provide a plausible legal argument for states to take military action without authorization from the Security Council and without having to suffer an armed attack – as the language of Article 51 of the Charter appeared to suggest.

In other words, never mind the UN Charter. Come what may the U.S. and the UK could strike first so long as the threat of an attack was “imminent.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands former President Barack Obama during the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
U.S. President Trump, left, with former President Obama at the inauguration in Washington in January. Visceral as opposed to rational approaches to the peace process.Carlos Barria / Reuters

The authors of these “rules” did not consult lawyers who disagreed with them. They did not, heaven forbid, consult Russia or China. Nor did they consult the nations of Africa or Asia that almost always oppose the claims of the U.S., the UK, and France to act as the moral wardens of the international liberal order.

In 2017, the U.S. and the UK were joined by Australia in calling for a new definition of an imminent threat, when George Brandis, the Attorney General, announced that Australia would take action in self-defense in response to imminent threats of attack.

While Australia and the UK have been careful to condition their definition of an imminent threat to credible and concrete information of an imminent attack, it is not clear whether this view is shared by Bolton who, judging from his writings, would appear to be willing to employ force against threatsthat are more remote.

The intention to draft new guidelines was noble. Greater clarity about rules is a good thing. But the strategy may have backfired, as the proliferation of guidelines and rules has sowed confusion.

We now have a situation where the permanent members of the Security Council can no longer agree on the basic rules of international law within the Council’s core field of activity concerning the maintenance of international peace and security.

The danger is not when lawyers argue about law or even when the lawyers are ignored by politicians; at least there is a standard by which these politicians can be judged, and perhaps even held to account, when the dust has settled. The danger is when nobody can agree on what the law is.

Perhaps the lawyers back in the Obama days did not want to be left out of the decision-making process. They may have thought it would be safer to have a lawyer present in the Situation Room with the President, the National Security Advisor, and the Chiefs of Staff. Perhaps they thought they were just doing what good lawyers always do, which is to please their clients.

Of course they could never have imagined in the “halcyon days” of President Obama that one day Donald Trump would become their client and their commander in chief. Nor could they have imagined that John Bolton would be ensconced in the West Wing whispering in his ear.

Victor Kattan is Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an Associate Fellow at NUS Law. Twitter: @VictorKattan  

Macron seeks to win over Angela Merkel on EU reforms

April 19, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron is headed to Berlin on a trip aimed at bringing Chancellor Angela Merkel into his corner on EU reforms. But when it comes to European policy, the two leaders remain far apart.

Angela Merkel & Emmanuel Macron in Paris (Reuters/L. Marin)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron address one another as “lieber Emmanuel” and “chere Angela.” They appear friendly — two leaders who trust one another. But they also don’t mince words on issues they don’t agree on. Both know that Europe won’t move forward without close Franco-German coordination. And that’s why Merkel and Macron are still seeking compromise when it comes to European Union economic and finance policy.

Eurozone reform

Macron wants to fortify the eurozone against unexpected financial crises, and is demanding a roadmap for step-by-step progress. Germany’s new government, meanwhile, is pushing for a “new era for Europe” and has even declared a readiness to contribute more to the EU budget.

Read moreGermany’s Angela Merkel faces EU reform pressure ahead of Emmanuel Macron visit

Nevertheless, Berlin is largely skeptical of what Macron is selling. Opponents argue the French president’s plans are not in Germany’s interest as they force the German taxpayer to foot the bill for other countries. A “transfer union” is not compatible with Germany’s constitution, they say, adding that it contradicts the voters’ will as well as that of many northern states in the eurozone.

Alexander Dobrindt (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Geber)Dobrdint says the CSU is opposed to the idea of a European finance minister

If they shared a budget, the eurozone states could counter economic crises and plan future investments, Macron says. It is still unclear who would fill the coffers.

Macron has also repeatedly mentioned creating the post of eurozone finance minister. “We are opposed to an EU finance minister,” said Alexander Dobrindt, a senior politician of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), following Macron’s speech in Strasbourg earlier this week. Before you can even start discussing a budget for the eurozone, he added, the EU summit in June must agree on a budget for the entire bloc — members will be paying more once the UK leaves.

Read moreEmmanuel Macron and his European woes

Macron is pushing for an expanded European banking union that includes a deposit insurance scheme to protect European small savers. Here, too, Germany is hesitant. Just last month, the country’s new finance minister, center-left Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, praised Macron’s plans. This month, he hinted that the insurance scheme isn’t about to be realized in the near future. First, he said, European banks must reduce their risks and get rid of their bad loans — a position held previously by his conservative predecessor, Wolfgang Schäuble.

Is compromise possible?

While Macron can present a relatively unified front in France with regard to his EU proposals, Merkel must always bear in mind her government coalition partners and their positions — her own CDU and the generally more conservative CSU are the main critics in this case, arguing the reforms are not in “Germany’s interest.” They also fear strengthening the opposition — the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) are even more strongly opposed to a transfer union.

AfD campaign van in Münster (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Haid)The far-right AfD, initially known for its euroskepticism, is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag

Germany can also point a finger at other northern European countries less than enthused about Macron’s plans. The Netherlands and Finland, for example, refuse to take on more financial responsibility for southern EU nations, a region for which France is widely regarded as the advocate.

Merkel has stated an EU reform encompasses much more than reforming the eurozone. “By June, we will have found joint solutions with France,” she said, adding the two countries will come up with a “strong package.”

A closer relationship

Franco-German ties are close, but plans are to deepen them even further. The Elysee Treaty signed in 1963 by then-French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was a milestone in relations between the two countries — a sign of friendship between former arch enemies. The treaty called for regular consultations between France and West Germany as well as a youth exchange program that more than 8 million young people have enjoyed so far.

Read more: Is Emmanuel Macron Europe’s new Angela Merkel?

A renewed Elysee Treaty 55 years later is currently being drawn up and could be ready for signing later this year. It foresees closer cooperation on border areas and in education. Put another way, a return to the interrelations between French and German citizens that de Gaulle and Adenauer helped to foster all those decades ago.