Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

De Mistura: Dividing Syria is catastrophic to the entire region — He agrees with Putin…

March 20, 2018


Syrian pro-government forces enter the main square of Kfar Batna, southeastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on March 19, 2018. (AFP)
DUBAI: United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Syria was heading toward a catastrophic division and could see the return of Daesh if a peaceful settlement was not found, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported.
Speaking to an audience at the Institute of Graduate Studies in Geneva, De Mistura said: “The fact is that Syria’s long-term division, which we are witnessing at the moment in different areas of control, will be catastrophic, not only for Syria, but for the region as a whole.”
He explained that without a political solution that does not exclude anyone, Daesh will return to the sphere.
“This is division, this is in fact a country with areas under the influence of other countries … this cannot continue,” said de Mistura, holding a map of Syria with different colors representing the areas of control of the land, adding that “I think that ultimately Syria must remain united.”
He said neither the European Union nor the World Bank would fund the $352 billion reconstruction of Syria unless a political process involving a new UN-sponsored constitution was found.
He added that without this, any military victory would come at an irreplaceable cost.
De Mistura said there was no country that wanted to divide Syria, and that Russia and the United States shared a common interest in defeating Daesh and were in constant communication.


See also:

The Saudis Take On Radical Islam

March 20, 2018

The crown prince charts a course toward moderation, which prevailed before the 1979 attack on Mecca.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative Conference, Oct. 24.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative Conference, Oct. 24. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The year 1979 was a watershed for the Middle East. Iranian revolutionaries overthrew the shah, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Sunni Islamic extremists tried to take over the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest shrine. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hadn’t been born, but he is fighting the ghosts of 1979 as he dramatically reforms the kingdom.

The attempted takeover of Mecca was a defining event in my country, mainly because of what happened next. Saudi rulers, fearing Iran’s revolutionary example, decided to give more space to the Salafi clerical establishment in hope of countering the radicals. Traditional Salafi preachers are neither violent nor political, but they hold a rigid view of Islam. Their legal rulings and attempts to police morals made the kingdom increasingly intolerant, setting back the gradual opening up that had occurred in the 1960s and ’70s.

In Saudi schools, education was largely in the hands of foreign nationals, many with Muslim Brotherhood backgrounds. In the 1960s and ’70s, Saudi Arabia was more concerned with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism than with Islamist radicalism. Thus the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t much of a worry. But the combination of the brotherhood’s political outlook and the rigid Salafi doctrine injected a virus into the Saudi education system. That virus allowed Osama bin Laden to recruit 15 Saudis to take part in that terrible deed on Sept. 11, 2001. We Saudis failed those young men, and that failure had global implications.

The Salafi clerics and Muslim Brotherhood imports also worked in concert as they were given unsupervised access to private donations to fund mosques and madrasas from Karachi to Cairo, where they generally favored the most conservative preachers.

The policy makers’ idea was simple: Give the political Islamists and their Salafi affiliates room to influence educational, judicial and religious affairs, and we will continue to control foreign policy, the economy, and defense. Saudi rulers were handling the hardware, while radicals rewrote the nation’s software. Saudi society, and the Muslim world, is still reeling from the effects.

Crown Prince Mohammed’s critics describe him as a young man in a hurry. They’re right—and he should be. As he told all of us in his cabinet constantly: “Time is our enemy. We cannot wait any longer to reform our country. The time is now.”

He is clear about the problem. “Political Islam, whether Sunni or Shiite, Muslim Brotherhood or jihadi Salafist, has damaged Muslim nations,” he once told me. “It also gives Islam a bad name. Therefore, it is the role of Muslim countries to face these evil ideologies and groups and to stand with our world allies in the West and East to confront them once and for all.”

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed have already ushered in some head-spinning changes. The crown prince has led the effort to roll back the powerful religious police. These self-righteous moralizers no longer have the right to stop anyone on the street or take matters into their own hands. They have been effectively marginalized.

The king and crown prince have granted women their long-awaited rights to drive and attend sports. Women are no longer required to wear headscarves. I expect to see more women appointed to senior positions in government, even at the ministerial level. Once Saudi Arabia unleashes the potential of women, there is no telling how far we can go.

Building on the past decade’s education reforms, the crown prince has launched the MiSK Foundation to provide young Saudis with world-class skills training. He has also led the way in normalizing life in Saudi Arabia for young people, who are increasingly fed up by social restrictions. The new General Entertainment Authority is giving Saudis foreign concerts, theater and cinemas and soon a Royal Opera House.

He has done something more intangible but also vital: bridged the deep generational divide between ruler and ruled. Like some three-fourths of Saudis, he is under 35. He speaks their language. He uses their apps. He knows their frustrations, including with corruption.

The recent crackdown on corruption should be seen in this light. Business as usual was not working, and the crown prince was willing to pull up the carpet to clean the rot underneath.

At an October 2017 conference for international investors, Crown Prince Mohammed laid out his ideas for moderate Islam. “Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979,” he said. “We want to go back to what we were, the moderate Islam that’s open to all religions. We want to live a normal life . . . coexist and contribute to the world. . . . We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with these destructive ideas.”

During my time in office, I came to realize that while Saudi Arabia will continue to face challenges, for the first time in four decades the ghosts haunting Saudi Arabia are in retreat. Mistakes are inevitable, and there is no universal guidebook on how to reform a country. But leaders like the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore show how far a country can go with the right policies.

Saudi Arabia has a long journey ahead. It will not be without bumps and bruises. Change never comes easy. But the crown prince has raised expectations dramatically. The genie is out of the bottle, and it can’t go back in.

Mr. Al-Toraifi was Saudi minister of culture and information, 2015-17.

Appeared in the March 20, 2018, print edition.

France urges tough EU approach on Iran to save nuclear accord

March 19, 2018

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and suit

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2018. via REUTERSREUTERS


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France urged the European Union on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria’s civil war and its ballistic missile program, as Paris tries to persuade Washington to preserve a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal, which was agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

In response, the three European signatories – France, Britain and Germany – have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria’s government in that country’s civil war and Tehran’s ballistic missile program, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.

“We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, referring to the city where the 2015 deal was signed.

“But we must not exclude (from consideration) Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near- and Middle East,” he said. “That must also be discussed to reach a common position.”

The confidential document cites “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah.

Iran’s foreign ministry criticized Le Drian’s comments, saying there could be no negotiation over what Iran says are purely defensive weapons.

“We were hopeful that after his recent visit to Tehran and negotiations with Iranian officials, he would understand the realities of the Islamic Republic’s defense policies,” Fars news agency quoted Iranian spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.


The United States has unilateral sanctions on Iran over missile tests it says violate a U.N. resolution against developing weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Any EU-wide measures would be the first significant punitive steps since the bloc lifted broad economic sanctions on Iran last year following the 2015 accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

But new sanctions would need the support of all 28 EU member states and could complicate new business deals with Iran.

Some EU countries, including Italy and Greece, are keen to rebuild a business relationship that once made the EU Iran’s top trading partner and its second-biggest oil customer.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected Trump to pull out of the nuclear agreement in May unless European governments “really come together on a framework”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the final stages of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, stressed that there was no formal EU position on new sanctions.

But other foreign ministers in Brussels hinted at discussions that diplomats said were underway in EU capitals.

“We have to explore all the possible measures to have the same type of pressure as we had in the nuclear dossier,” Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Samantha Koester, Alissa de Carbonnel, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Saudi crown prince discusses anti-corruption crackdown, threats posed by Iran, more

March 19, 2018

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

JEDDAH:  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed has said the anti-corruption crackdown he initiated in the Kingdom was “extremely necessary” because roughly $20 billion of state funds was “disappearing” every year.

In a wide-ranging interview aired by CBS television on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the crown prince also spoke about the threats posed by Iran and its proxies across the region and the reforms being undertaken in the Kingdom to fight extremism.
The crown prince said that if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon then Saudi Arabia will too.
CBS anchorwoman Norah O’Donnell interviewed the crown prince in Riyadh two weeks ago, shortly before he left for his visit to Egypt and Britain.
O’Donnell earlier said there were “no time restrictions and no preconditions” and that the crown prince spoke candidly.
The crown prince said Saudi Arabia has recovered more than $100 billion so far in its crackdown against corruption.
“The amount exceeds $100 billion, but the real objective was not this amount or any other amount. The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law,” he said.
During the crackdown last November, the Kingdom detained a big number of incumbent and former government ministers, prominent businessmen, and at least 11 princes who were accused of corruption.
The accused were held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel for some time until they either returned what they have been accused of stealing from the government or proved their innocence.
On reports of human rights abuses in the Kingdom, Prince Mohammed assured that “Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights.”
“In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don’t want to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings,” he said.

Religious tolerance, women rights
Prince Mohammed said that his country was not always like what it has been in the last 40 years. “We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979,” he said.
The widespread perception of the Kingdom as a place with harsh Islamic laws impacted the youth of the country, recalled the crown prince, “After 1979, that’s true. We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal.”
“We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model,” he said.
The prince was asked if women were equal to men. “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he said.
On the issue of women’s dress code and the stipulations of the Sharia, the crown prince said: “Women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”
With a ban lifted on women driving in the Kingdom and women getting ready to sit behind the wheel this June, the crown prince was again asked the issue of women and driving in Saudi Arabia. He said: “This is no longer an issue. Today, driving schools have been established and will open soon. In a few months, women will drive in Saudi Arabia. We are finally over that painful period that we cannot justify.” The crown prince also said work is underway to a new initiative to introduce regulations ensuring equal pay for men and women.
Prince Mohammed promised to eradicate any trace of extremist elements in the Kingdom’s educational institutions. “Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, surely to a great extent. Even now, there are some elements left. It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely,” he said, adding “no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.”
Regional security
On regional security, the crown prince said Iran poses a clear and present danger. He likened Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to Hitler, adding that the Iranian mullah’s expansionist plans poses a serious threat to the security of the Middle East.
“He wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East,” he said.
Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia has no interest in acquiring a nuclear bomb, but “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Crown Prince Mohammed, who is also the defense minister, said Iranian ideology had infiltrated parts of neighbor Yemen. “During that time, this militia was conducting military maneuvers right next to our borders and positioning missiles at our borders,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia that is fighting the UN-recognized Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Houthi militias have launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia’s Makkah region and at the capital, Riyadh. Scores of civilians have also been killed or hurt in these strikes. Most of these missiles have been traced to Iran.
“I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington D.C., New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing,” he added.

He said the catastrophe in Yemen was ’truly very painful’ and hoped the Houthi militia “ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”

On the suggestion that what was happening in Yemen was a proxy war, the crown prince said: “Unfortunately, Iran is playing a harmful role. The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al-Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”
“Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.  Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia,” He said.
Personal wealth
Asked to comment on news reports on his personal wealth, he said: “My personal life is something I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it. If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them. As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia. We own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity. I spend at least 51% on people and 49 on myself.”
The crown prince talked warmly about his father, King Salman’s fondness for history and how he would foster a love of reading in his children’ “He loves history very much. He is an avid reader of history. Each week, he would assign each one of us a book. And at the end of the week, he would ask us about the content of that book. The king always says, “If you read the history of a thousand years, you have the experience of a thousand years,” the crown prince recounted.
When the 32-year-old heir to the throne was posed the prospect of him shaping the Kingdom’s future for the next 50 years, he said “only God knows how long one will live.”
Can anything stop Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? “Only death,” he said.

Iran provides Houthis with European expert to prevent loss

March 18, 2018

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities, on February 2, 2017. (AFP)
DUBAI: The Yemeni military intelligence agency revealed on Sunday that an Iranian expert of European nationality was sent to the Houthi militia to help draw up military plans aimed at protecting its fronts, especially in Saada province, from collapse, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported.
“The Iranian expert presented a plan that includes the restructuring of the militia on the ground and the rearrangement of their positions,” an intelligence source told the national army’s official news site September 26.
This comes at a time when militia losses have increased as the Yemeni army continues to make daily advances.


Foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet To Divide Up Syria: Criticize the U.S., UK and France for Wanting to Divide Up Syria

March 18, 2018

Al Jazeera

Foreign ministers’ meeting in Astana stressed Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]

The foreign ministers of TurkeyRussia and Iran have met in the Kazakh capital Astana and issued a joint statement which emphasised the territorial integrity of Syria.

“Those who, in violation of all norms of international law, in violation of Resolution 2254, obviously seek to divide Syria, to replace the regime so that this important Middle Eastern country is replaced by small principalities, controlled by external players, certainly do not welcome what we are doing in Astana, we are trying to achieve in Astana,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech before the talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Astana.

In an interview with Kazah’s media, Lavrov added: “I do not think that we should even talk about a potential partition of Syria, but it is our duty to demand that these plans be immediately foiled, some bear it.”

“US, French, UK special forces are ‘on the ground’ in Syria. So it is not a ‘proxy war’ anymore, but direct engagement in the warfare.”

Next steps

From his side, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “underlined the need to differ terrorists from civilians,” especially in places where civilians live densely.

“We are also against the going of all terrorists to Idlib [in northwestern Syria]. There, they constitute a threat to the people, opposition and to all of us,” Cavusoglu stressed.

Another summit will be held in Istanbul on April 4.

Astana talks were launched by Russia, Turkey and Iran in January 2017 with the aim of putting an end to the war in Syria, as well as coordinate the exchange of prisoners and the handover of the those killed in the war.

Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream


Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream



Times of Israel

Iran, Russia and Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Gathering of three outside powers with forces embroiled in Syria comes as thousands face hunger in regime forces’ siege in Damascus suburb of Ghouta

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — The foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey were locked in talks on Syria in Kazakhstan Friday, almost a month after the Moscow- and Tehran-backed regime began pounding an opposition enclave just outside of Damascus.

The dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, is likely to be on the agenda as Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey convened in the Kazakh capital Astana Friday.

Speaking at the outset of the talks Friday Lavrov said that “millions of Syrians are looking in the direction of Astana” as the three power brokers work towards an end to the conflict.

The meeting is expected to lay the ground for a summit involving the presidents of the three countries in Istanbul on April 4.

At least 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war started in 2011, with some measures counting an even higher death toll. It has since spiraled into a complex conflict involving multiple world powers.

In recent weeks focus has been on Eastern Ghouta. Nearly 1,260 civilians have been killed there, a fifth of them children, since the Syrian regime’s bombardment of the rebel enclave began on February 18.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has described the former rebel stronghold facing stark shortages of food and other basic goods as “hell on Earth.”

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are now believed to control over 70 percent of the enclave that saw nearly 20,000 civilians flee on Thursday alone according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebel-backer Turkey has called for an end to the siege in Eastern Ghouta but remains embroiled in its own offensive on the northern Syrian town of Afrin that is inhabited mostly by ethnic Kurds.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is missing the Astana talks through illness, his office said Thursday, adding that deputy Ramzi Ramzi would take his place.

Kazakhstan has hosted multiple rounds of talks on Syria since January 2017 backed by the three power brokers, most of which involved delegations from the Syrian government and opposition.

A deal for four “de-escalation zones” thrashed out in Astana last year was credited with reducing government-rebel hostilities but was branded a failure by the United States in the wake of the assault on Eastern Ghouta.


Putin’s Russia Becomes Nation of Denials That Nobody Trusts

March 18, 2018

The next six years will show whether Moscow can continue its current policy of aggression

By Leonid Bershidsky
Published: 17:32 March 17, 2018

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will, with 100 per cent certainty, be “elected” to his fourth official term in power (there was also an unofficial one while placeholder President Dmitry Medvedev was in the Kremlin). Russia enters Putin’s next six years as President committed to a reckless gamble on the absence of any enforceable international rules.

Putin spent the last six years like a player in a shooter video game. He started out with a puny handgun — a Russian military exhausted by half-hearted attempts at reform and only promised modern equipment. He had a thick suit of armour, though: Plausible deniability. When he needed it, he could construct elaborate excuses for his actions cloaked in the language of international norms or conventions.

Throughout his latest term, Putin and his underlings have denied lots of things: That Russian troops took control of Crimea; that Russia intended to annex it; that Moscow fomented the uprising in Eastern Ukraine and backed it with troops and weapons; that the rebels or even Russian troops sent to aid them shot down a passenger airliner in July 2014; that ally Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian President, has used bombs and even chemical weapons against civilians; that Russia had anything to do with the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack in the United States, or with any freelance hacking, trolling and mercenary operations anywhere; that Russia poisoned a former double agent in the United Kingdom week before last with a military-grade nerve poison. It’s been hard to keep track of all the denials — even for Putin himself. During a recent interview with Megyn Kelly, he nodded at his press secretary Dmitri Peskov — the Kremlin’s denier-in chief — and said: “Sometimes he talks up such a storm that I watch it on TV and think, what is he talking about? Who instructed him to say this?”

That’s not to say all the denials are insincere. Whether it’s reports of Trump-Russia collusion or hacked elements of US infrastructure, Putin is right that the public, his and America’s, has the right to see the evidence; it shouldn’t blindly trust intelligence services.

By this stage of the game, however, the armour of deniability is largely gone, worn out from overuse. Putin doesn’t need it so much either; he no longer has a toy gun, but instead wields a modernised military tested in the biggest armed confrontations Russia has faced since Soviet times and fitted with 21st-century technology. Reluctant to change anything domestically and likely at a loss for what to do about the economy, Putin will continue his current game of aggression.

Even so, if Russia is accused of anything at all, its default mode is denial and stonewall. It will not cooperate in good faith with any investigation. Rather, it will try to throw the investigators off track, as it did repeatedly with the Dutch Safety Board’s inquiry into the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. That’s what the Kremlin is trying to do now in the spy poisoning case, too, pointing fingers at other countries that it says could have produced the chemical used in the attack.

It’s also clear by now that no amount of evidence will silence the denials; they can only be abandoned when Putin decides they’re no longer needed, as in the Crimea annexation, glorified in a 2015 state TV documentary starring Putin. The denials have turned into a ritual, and that, to put it mildly, doesn’t inspire trust, even when the evidence of wrongdoing is missing. The Kremlin only bothers to keep denying everything because many Russians choose to buy the line that Russia is the victim of a concerted western effort to paint it black. They want to believe it because otherwise they’d have to be ashamed of their country, and that’s intensely uncomfortable. And, while believing the denials, the same people can also take pride in the way Russia thumbs its nose at the West, grabs historic territory or metes out punishment to a traitor. It’s a psychological paradox made easier by low engagement and state TV’s mind-numbing cultivation of this impossible combination of pride and victimhood.

Putin knows fellow world leaders don’t believe anything he says. So the way official Russia communicates with the outside world today is largely non-verbal. Examples of this one-sided communication include crude videos of rockets flying towards the US, which Putin used in his state of the nation speech earlier this month, real-life air strikes and troop movements, and likely also cyberattacks and assassinations. Friday’s successful $4.5 billion (Dh16.55 billion) government bond sale is also a non-verbal signal, if of a different kind: It shows that, regardless of all the noise, Russia still has the most important kind of credibility — as an investment destination.

Putin says he’d like to have a conversation with the West — on his own terms. Even that, however, requires a modicum of trust, and it’s hard to see how Putin can win it back. The revelation that he isn’t really looking for a partnership with the West, no matter how limited, is probably the most important takeaway from his third presidential term.

That makes the fourth one decisive, in a way. If Putin continues getting away with aggression of various kinds, if it turns out that whatever rules have existed since the Soviet Union’s collapse do not apply to a country as big and militarily powerful as Russia, if the economic damage to the Russian state and companies is as minimal as it has been in the last six years, and if non-western nations continue working constructively with Putin the way Turkey, Middle Eastern nations and China have been doing, Putin’s legacy will be assured. His successors will learn the lesson that thuggishness is no sin if you have the strength, or even just the appetite for risk, to back it up.

If, however, Putin is tripped up by the consequences of a risky move — for example, if Russia’s chemical weapons problem escalates and turns it into a pariah state — the succession battle may get interesting while Putin is still in power. Those who believe Russia can power through any attempts to isolate it will be up against more sensible technocrats. I wouldn’t like to bet on the outcome of that fight; in any case, Putin is taking a massive gamble with the nation’s future.

— Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website

Europe Sees Trump Aggressively Seeking To Kill The Iran Nuclear Deal — Tillerson’s firing a harbinger of Trump’s ultimate withdrawal

March 18, 2018

The E3, Iran and advocates of the nuclear deal in the US saw Tillerson’s firing as a harbinger of Trump’s ultimate withdrawal.

The Jerusalem Post
MARCH 18, 2018 06:46
 How could EU retaliate if Trump quits Iran deal?
Iranian official warns Europeans against imposing sanctions to ‘please’ Trump

Europe sees Trump itching to leave Iran nuclear deal

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini before their meeting at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Britain, France and Germany have grown increasingly skeptical that US President Donald Trump is serious about “fixing” his concerns with the Iran nuclear accord through diplomacy, short of simply scrapping it.

Reuters reported this week that the “E3” powers will propose a fresh round of EU sanctions on Tehran that keep the 2015 nuclear accord intact while addressing some of Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missile work the US believes were emboldened by the deal itself.

In January, Trump said that the E3 – the European powers party to the nuclear deal – has until mid-May to come up with fixes to the agreement.

“This is a last chance,” Trump warned them. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”

Trump’s secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson, promptly launched negotiations with the E3 hoping to find a way forward that would allow the US to keep its commitments under the nuclear deal while strengthening some of its core provisions. But Trump fired Tillerson last week, in part over his views on the deal and his handling of the talks.

“When you look at the Iran deal – I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess [Tillerson] thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same. With [Trump’s intended replacement for Tillerson] Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process.”

The E3, Iran and advocates of the nuclear deal in the US saw Tillerson’s firing as a harbinger of Trump’s ultimate withdrawal. And now they are wondering if there is any point in continuing negotiations.

Allies of the White House view the latest E3-sanctions proposal as short of what Washington called for in its January ultimatum. The Trump administration at that time not only called for new sanctions on Iran over its “maligning” regional behavior and ballistic missile program, but also a reopening of the nuclear deal itself – and a unilateral extension of its most controversial terms, beyond several key expiration dates set to arrive in 10 to 15 years.

Europe refuses to reopen the deal or to make unilateral alterations – actions that Tehran says will be treated as breaches of the accord.

Thus the EU believes that Trump has outlined two bars for success: either he will breach the agreement himself or the EU will be forced join him. But if Trump is forcing the deal’s failure, they will not be a part of it.

Russia says over 5,000 people left Syria’s Eastern Ghouta on Sunday

March 18, 2018


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Syrian civilians evacuate from the town of Jisreen in the southern Eastern Ghouta, March 17, 2018. AFP photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – More than 5,000 people have left Syria’s Eastern Ghouta so far on Sunday, the RIA news agency reported, citing the Centre for Reconciliation in Syria, a body run by Russia’s defense ministry.

Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by Christian Lowe

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian civilians with their belongings, fleeing from fighting between the Syrian government forces and rebels, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Thursday, March. 15, 2018. (SANA via AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian civilians with their belongings, fleeing from fighting between the Syrian government forces and rebels, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Thursday, March. 15, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Europeans propose new Iran sanctions to save nuclear accord in face of U.S. ultimatum

March 17, 2018


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Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general of the European Union External Action Service, Helga Schmid, talk during a meeting between Iran and six world powers to review the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on Friday. | AFP

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, which was signed by world powers and curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The joint paper was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions, which would need the support of all 28 EU governments.

The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.

Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” — which was sealed under President Barack Obama — or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

The document said, “We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role in backing Syria’s government in the civil war.

The steps would go beyond what a U.S. State Department cable last month outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal.

It also reflects frustration with Tehran. “We’re getting irritated. We’ve been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues,” a diplomat said.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said.

Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if Washington pulls out.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struck a defiant note toward Washington on Friday. “If the United States makes the mistake of pulling out of the JCPOA, it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans,” Iranian state television quoted Zarif as saying. The JCPOA is the formal name of the nuclear deal.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Zarif did not refer to the possibility of new EU sanctions.

The commission overseeing the nuclear accord said on Friday in Vienna that Iran was meeting its obligations under the deal.

The joint document by Britain, France and Germany said they were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of U.S. support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12.”