Posts Tagged ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’

Iran’s foreign minister warns Europe away from ‘unreliability’ of the U.S. — Russia Plays the “Reliability Card”

December 12, 2017


Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pictured. | AP


“As the nuclear deal and the Middle East enter uncharted and potentially combustible territory, it is imperative that Europe helps ensure that we don’t soon find ourselves repeating history,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote. | Ivan Sekretarev/AP

Iran’s foreign minister blamed the Trump administration in an op-ed published Sunday for “tantrums” on issues related to foreign policy, calling on European nations not to follow the lead of the U.S. when it comes to relations with the Islamic Republic.

“Unfortunately, for the past 11 months, the response to Iran’s good faith has been tantrums from the Trump administration. But the unreliability of the United States — from climate change to Palestine— has become predictable,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in The New York Times.

“Our main concern now is cautioning European countries against wavering on issues beyond the scope of the nuclear agreement and following in lock step behind the White House,” he continued. “As the nuclear deal and the Middle East enter uncharted and potentially combustible territory, it is imperative that Europe helps ensure that we don’t soon find ourselves repeating history.”

Earlier this fall, President Donald Trump announced that he would decertify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark nuclear deal struck during the Obama administration by Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. Trump stopped short of asking Congress to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, instead urging new legislation that would trigger fresh penalties down the line.

The nuclear deal had been a regular target of Trump’s during last year’s presidential campaign, with the president pledging on the stump that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal entirely. And while he has yet to fully make good on that promise, Trump has thrust doubt onto the deal that his predecessor championed as a foreign policy triumph that would keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Iran remains listed by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, one of just four nations to be given such a designation. Its officials have often called for the destruction of Israel.

Zarif, in his op-ed, claimed U.S. stubbornness during the administration of former President George W. Bush cost the international community a chance at a nuclear deal. The agreement struck in 2015, he said, “is a rare triumph of diplomacy over confrontation. Undermining that would be a mistake.”

He also defended his nation’s missile program as defensive and its progress predicated on past battles, including the Iran-Iraq war. He claimed the missile program’s advancement has been geared towards accuracy, a capability not required for a nuclear missile.

“Europe should not pander to Washington’s determination to shift focus to yet another unnecessary crisis — whether it be Iran’s defensive missile program or our influence in the Middle East,” he said. “This would repeat the very dynamics that preceded the nuclear deal.”


Russia plays the “reliability” card:



Iran foreign minister defends missile program, asks European support

December 11, 2017


BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister on Monday defended its ballistic missile program and urged European countries not to be influenced by U.S. President Donald Trump’s confrontational policy towards Tehran.

In an op-ed article in the New York Times, Mohammad Javad Zarif also urged European powers to help preserve the landmark 2015 deal under which Iran curbed its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of a number of international sanctions.

In October Trump struck a blow against the deal, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, by refusing to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal despite findings to the contrary by U.N. nuclear inspectors. Trump has also called Iran an “economically depleted rogue state” that exports violence.

“Europe should not pander to Washington’s determination to shift focus to yet another unnecessary crisis – whether it be Iran’s defensive missile program or our influence in the Middle East,” Zarif wrote.

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His remarks seemed to be at least partly aimed at France which has been critical of the Islamic Republic’s missile tests and regional policy, including involvement in Syria’s war, in recent weeks.

Last month French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very concerned” by the missile program and called for talks about it, an appeal rejected by Iranian officials.

Iran’s missiles are for defensive purposes only, Zarif wrote in the op-ed.

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Iran’s Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran. Credit FARS News

“We have honed missiles as an effective means of deterrence. And our conscious decision to focus on precision rather than range has afforded us the capability to strike back with pinpoint accuracy,” he wrote. “Nuclear weapons do not need to be precise. Conventional warheads, however, do.”

While criticizing the missile program, European powers that were party to the nuclear deal – France, Britain and Germany – have reaffirmed their commitment to the nuclear deal and voiced concern at Trump calling it into question.

Zarif also criticized rival Saudi Arabia’s regional policy and military campaign in Yemen but also called for dialogue.

“As Iran and its partners labor to put out fires, the arsonists in our region grow more unhinged. They’re oblivious to the necessity of inclusive engagement,” Zarif wrote.

(Refile with full name of minister, para 2, inserts dropped word “labor” in last para)

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Mark Heinrich



Mohammad Javad Zarif: Europe Must Work With Iran

December 11, 2017

The New York Times
December 10/11, 2017

By Mohammad Javad Zarif

CreditAlex Nabaum

TEHRAN — On a crisp morning in Vienna two summers ago, hours before concluding the nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and five other world powers, I took to Twitter to write that the landmark accord was “not a ceiling but a solid foundation.”

Unfortunately, for the past 11 months, the response to Iran’s good faith has been tantrums from the Trump administration. But the unreliability of the United States — from climate change to Palestine— has become predictable. Our main concern now is cautioning European countries against wavering on issues beyond the scope of the nuclear agreement and following in lock step behind the White House. As the nuclear deal and the Middle East enter uncharted and potentially combustible territory, it is imperative that Europe helps ensure that we don’t soon find ourselves repeating history.

More than a decade before the talks that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran held similar negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. European diplomats, seeking to persuade George W. Bush’s administration to give diplomacy a chance, asked us for a temporary, voluntary freeze on uranium-enrichment-related activities as a confidence-building measure. We agreed.

But placating the Americans proved difficult, and the Europeans took another wrong turn. After two years of negotiation — and under pressure from the United States — Britain, France and Germany suddenly demanded that we abandon all enrichment activities. The talks fell apart and the Europeans ended up neither stopping our nuclear program nor appeasing Washington.

Sporadic talks in the intervening years went nowhere, and by 2013, when we sat down again to negotiate — this time directly with the United States, as well — Iran had increased its number of centrifuges to 20,000 from fewer than 200 in 2005. There was no longer talk of an end to uranium enrichment on Iranian soil.

The nuclear deal is a rare triumph of diplomacy over confrontation. Undermining that would be a mistake. Europe should not pander to Washington’s determination to shift focus to yet another unnecessary crisis — whether it be Iran’s defensive missile program or our influence in the Middle East. This would repeat the very dynamics that preceded the nuclear deal.

Let me reiterate: Iran’s military capabilities comply with international law and are entirely defensive. Our defensive posture stems from sober geostrategic calculations, as well as moral and religious convictions. Our military doctrine is also based on historical experience: During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein rained Soviet-made missiles on our cities, some of them carrying chemical components provided by the West. The world not only kept silent, but also no country would sell Iran weapons to enable us to at least deter the aggressor.

We learned our lesson. We have honed missiles as an effective means of deterrence. And our conscious decision to focus on precision rather than range has afforded us the capability to strike back with pinpoint accuracy. Nuclear weapons do not need to be precise — conventional warheads, however, do.

Our commitment to self-defense is not a slogan. We have deployed our missiles against only a few equally heinous adversaries: Saddam Hussein’s regime and its terrorist allies, and the so-called Islamic State. And our strikes came in response to their merciless killing of Iranians.

No Iranian administration will leave our people defenseless. The international community — and Europe in particular — should realize this and instead focus its efforts on tackling real threats to the world, like the wars engulfing the Middle East.

Iran is proud of taking the lead in trying to bring an overdue end to the bloodshed in Syria. In 2013, I presented a plan to end the conflict there through a cease-fire, the formation of a national unity government, constitutional reform and free and fair elections. But this plan fell on deaf ears. Still, we have continued our efforts. Just last month, our president, Hassan Rouhani, joined by his Russian and Turkish counterparts, took an important stride toward peace at their summit meeting in Sochi, Russia, paving the way for more aid, de-escalation and the convening of a Syrian people’s congress.

In the case of Yemen, only two weeks after Saudi Arabia began its brutal bombing campaign in April 2015, Iran put forward a plan urging an immediate cease-fire and humanitarian assistance, followed by national dialogue to establish an inclusive government. The perpetrators of the humanitarian crisis, and their Western allies, choose war instead.

As Iran and its partners labor to put out fires, the arsonists in our region grow more unhinged. They’re oblivious to the necessity of inclusive engagement. And yet, despite the huge stakes, important stakeholders remain reluctant to hold the arsonists to account.

We urge responsible parties to recognize the need to look forward. And so, let us find hope in a shared vision of a more peaceful future and be brave enough to take tangible action to make it happen. In these pages in 2015 , I presented a proposal for a regional dialogue forum, a way to bring Iran and its neighbors together to work toward peace. We’re hopeful that responsible actors outside the Middle East will focus their efforts on urging their allies in our region to take seriously our proposal. We believe it can be a good start, and we once again invite all of our neighbors to participate.

American diplomat: US looks to counter Iran in post-war Iraq

December 11, 2017

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — As Iraq emerges from three years of war with the Islamic State group, the U.S. is looking to roll back the influence of neighboring Iran and help the central government resolve its dispute with the Kurdish region, the American envoy to the country told The Associated Press.

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman took up his post in Baghdad in September 2016, just weeks before the start of the operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. With IS now driven out of all the territory it once held and Iraq’s declaration that the war against the extremists is over, he says Washington is focused on keeping the peace and rebuilding, and sees Iran’s influence as a problem.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” Silliman said. “The Iranians have — to some extent — assisted the government of Iraq in defeating ISIS,” he said, using an alternative acronym for IS. “But frankly I have not seen the Iranians donating money for humanitarian assistance, I have not seen them contributing to the U.N. stabilization program.”

Iran gained major influence in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led dictatorship and empowered the country’s Shiite majority.

When IS swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran-backed militias mobilized in the country’s defense, providing a bulwark in many areas while the beleaguered armed forces were rebuilt. The now state-sanctioned paramilitaries, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, consist of tens of thousands of mostly Shiite fighters deployed across the country. Victories against IS have made their leaders increasingly powerful.

The Trump administration has called for the paramilitary forces to disband after the IS fight is complete. It has also vowed to take a much tougher line on Iran, threatening to pull the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement and levying sanctions on Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.

Iraq is meanwhile seeking external support for reconstruction after the war, which the government says caused an estimated $100 billion in damage. Some 3 million Iraqis are still displaced, months after major fighting ended.

The Trump administration has made clear that the $14.3 billion military campaign against IS will not be replaced with a similarly funded reconstruction effort. International aid organizations are instead looking to wealthy Gulf states.

“Iraq is coming out of a difficult period where there had been a lot of economic destruction, lots of social disruption and we think that it is important for Iraq to have good, positive relationships with all of its neighbors, and Iran is included in that,” Silliman said.

He said the U.S. was encouraged by recent Iraqi efforts to reach out to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, allies that it hopes will play a bigger role in the country going forward.

The U.S. is also hoping to help calm tensions between the central government and the northern Kurdish region following a September independence referendum that was rejected by Baghdad. Federal forces clashed with Kurdish fighters in October as Baghdad retook disputed territories that the Kurds had seized from IS.

“The relatively modest role we are playing is to help both sides find ways to walk through the door of discussions,” Silliman said, explaining that while both sides support “the idea” of discussions, negotiations to end the crisis have not yet begun.

Macron Tells Netanyahu: Give Peace a Chance, Make Gestures Towards the Palestinians

December 10, 2017

The French president said that he stands by the Jewish state and ‘condemns all terror attacks against Israel’

Noa Landau (Paris) Dec 10, 2017 5:55 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron meet at the Elysee Palace on December 10, 2017.

PARIS — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron held a meeting at the Elysee Palance on Sunday, after which Macron told the Israeli premier that he ought to “give peace a chance” and “make gestures towards the Palestinians.”

Macron spoke at a joint press conference, where he also added that he “told Netanyahu that Trump’s statement on Jeursalem is a threat to peace and we are against it.”

The French president also noted that he thought that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be resolved through a negotiated, two-state solution both the Israelis and Palestinians would agree on.

“We should give peace a chance,” the French president he said.


Netanyahu told him in reply that the sooner the Palestinians came to grips with the reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, the sooner there will be peace.

During the meeting, Macron asked Netanyahu, among other things, about Israel’s intentions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Macron embrace ahead of meeting in France's Elysee Palace on December 10, 2017.

Netanyahu and Macron embrace ahead of meeting in France’s Elysee Palace on December 10, 2017. Avi Ohayon/GPO

Netanyahu and the French president also discussed the regional threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon.

The Israeli prime minister raised concerns about the threat posed by Tehran, saying that it was attempting to set up land, air and naval bases in Syria to target and destroy Israel. “We will not tolerate it,” he stressed.

Macron said that he “condemns all terror attacks against Israel” and “condemns all threats to Israeli security.”

He spoke about the terror attack that struck Jerusalem’s central bus station on Sunday, saying that he condemned the attack on Israel in recent hours.

Netanyahu also raised the issue of the latest rift with Turkey, responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who blasted Israel earlier on Sunday and said it was a “terrorist state.”

“I will not take lectures from Turkey’s president, who bombs Kurdish villages, supports Iran and ‘terrorists’ in Gaza.”

The meeting was originally planned as a friendly lunch, and was to focus on Iran, but in light of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, it is now expected to be a more tense affair.

Last week, shortly before U.S. President Donald Trump gave his speech about Jerusalem on Wednesday, Macron was the first European leader to call him and warn about the potential regional impact of unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital only. On Sunday, Macron will become the first leader to host Netanyahu after the announcement. He intends to take advantage of this to interrogate Netanyahu about how Israel intends to act now, in light of the American declaration. France is especially worried about the decision’s implications for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Their meeting was scheduled last month, before Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem, in response to the crisis sparked by the resignation (since withdrawn) of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Hariri announced his resignation in Saudi Arabia and flew from there to France.

On Saturday, as he took off for Paris and Brussels, Netanyahu lashed out at European nations for condemning Trump’s decision, while failing to speak out against rocket fire at Israel. “I am taking off now to Paris and Brussels for meeting with the EU foreign minister. I will not accept a double standard from them. I hear voices condemning Trump [over Jerusalem] but not for rocket fire. I will not accept this hypocrisy. I will represent Israel with my head held high,” Netanyahu said.

Paris has been very active in recent months in several important Middle East crises, including the ones that most pressing to Netanyahu at the moment: Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon, Iran’s growing presence in Syria and the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal. But while the French have labeled Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization, they have not done so for the organization’s political wing. Moreover, France is leading the charge to preserve the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, France agrees with Israel about the regional threat posed by Iran, especially in Syria, as well as the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles. The latter was therefore supposed to be the main topic of the Macron-Netanyahu meeting.

Now, however, the meeting is expected to focus chiefly on Jerusalem. Other topics Macron is likely to raise, if time permits, are Israeli construction in the West Bank and its treatment of the Palestinians in Area C, the parts of the West Bank that are under full Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords.

Noa Landau
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Boris Johnson Meets With Hassan Rouhani In Iran; Says Trip “Worthwhile” — Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe not released

December 10, 2017


© IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP | A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on December 10, 2017, shows him meeting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the capital Tehran

TEHRAN (AFP) – Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, wrapping up a “worthwhile” visit in which he pushed for the release of imprisoned dual nationals.In a series of meetings over two days, the foreign secretary took flak from Iranian officials for not doing more to build on the nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015.

“Relations between the two countries have not matched the potential expected in the post-JCPOA (nuclear deal) atmosphere,” Rouhani told Johnson, according to a statement from his office.

There was similar criticism from the powerful parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, who met with Johnson on Saturday and said other European countries had put in “much more effort”.

“You haven’t even solved the banking problems of the Iranian embassy in London,” Larijani said, according to the IRNA news agency.

A key focus of Johnson’s visit had been efforts to secure the release of imprisoned British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 39, is already serving a five-year sentence for her part in mass protests in 2009 — which she denies — and was due to face fresh charges in court on Sunday of “spreading propaganda”.

The trial was expected to take place behind closed doors and it was not clear when any verdict would be announced.

“The foreign secretary discussed the full range of regional and bilateral issues, including banking matters and our concerns about the consular cases of dual nationals,” a British foreign office spokesperson said.

“It has been a worthwhile visit and we leave with a sense that both sides want to keep up the momentum to resolve the difficult issues,” it added.

The Zaghari-Ratcliffe case has become a top priority for Johnson after he mistakenly said last month that she had been training journalists in Iran — a “slip of the tongue” used by the Iranian authorities to help justify the new charges.

Iran has been frustrated that the nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions in exchange for curbs to its nuclear programme, has not produced the expected windfall in trade deals — mainly due to continuing US sanctions.

Banking restrictions have also complicated long-running efforts to return an estimated 450 million pounds ($600 million) owed by Britain from a military contract cancelled due to the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The husband of the jailed British-Iranian, Richard Ratcliffe, has claimed she is a pawn in Iran’s efforts to extract the historic debt.

Johnson left Iran later Sunday for the United Arab Emirates.

Iran in slow war with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East — “I don’t believe the Saudis are going to come out winners.”

December 9, 2017

Irab is “winning” the war for dominance in the Middle East a US expert has warned.

Yemen proxy warGETTY

There are fears Iran could dominate the Middle East

The message from Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East adviser, will spark worry in the West with fears that a powerful Iran will intensify military tensions with the US.

Image result for Aaron David Miller, photos

Aaron David Miller

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been fought in Yemen over the past three years which the Saudis are said to be losing.

Mr Miller said: “I don’t believe the Saudis are going to come out winners.”

A number of long-range missile strikes have been launched against Saudi Arabia by Yemeni Houthi rebels against the capital Riyadh and dragging the Saudis into a vicious war.

A total of 87 missile strikes have been launched by the Iran backed Houthi rebels during the war.

Speaking to Newsweek Mr Miller continued: “A sophisticated missile capacity in Yemen is not only going to create a serious security problem for Saudi Arabia.

“It’s also going to make it extremely difficult for much, if any, of the crown prince’s new vision for Saudi Arabia to take place.”

Reforms already taking place in Saudi Arabia include the decision to let women drive and plans to create a new tourist hub similar to Dubai on the coast of the Red Sea.

The most recent attack against the Gulf Kingdom came on November 4 when an Iranian made Qiam-1 missile is said to have exploded near Riyadh airport.

Major General Jafari from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed that Tehran did not authorise the strike or provide the rebels with the military equipment.

He said: “The claim that the missile was delivered to Yemen by Iran is baseless.

“These missiles have been manufactured by the Yemenis and their military industries.”

However, that statement has been rejected by their Middle East rivals, who have argued that the Houthi attacked on the Iranians’ command.

Tension in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran intensify

In a statement they said: “Iran’s role and its direct command of its Houthi proxy in this matter constitutes a clear act of aggression that targets neighbouring countries, and threatens peace and security in the region and globally.”

Tehran’s aggressive actions have worried the US, who fear that the nation is positioning itself to become a regional superpower.

Local media reported last month that Iran’s newly appointed Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi is planning to fly the Iranian flag in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr Khanzadi said the naval expedition into far away international waters would spread a message of peace and friendship while demonstrating its power.

He said: “Our fleet of warships will be sent to the Atlantic Ocean in the near future and will visit one of the friendly states in South America and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Yemen warGETTY

Yemen has been sued as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Trump on IranGETTY

Donald Trump has warned the Iran nuclear deal fearing it does not offer enough protection to the US

The US has recently pulled out of a deal aimed at reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity due to fears that the deal does not offer enough protection to America and could put them at risk.

President Trump refused to certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action originally brokered by his predecessor claiming it “is not a fair deal”.

The UK, US, Russia, France, China, and Germany have all agreed to sign the deal with Iran regardless of whether the move.

Mr Trump has argued that the Iran nuclear agreement is too lenient and called for tougher sanctions to be imposed on the state.

Europe Scolds Trump on Iran, Jerusalem in Tillerson Meeting

December 6, 2017


By Nikos Chrysoloras and Jonathan Stearns

 Updated on 
  • EU foreign policy chief Mogherini warns against unilateralism
  • Bloc’s foreign ministers meet Tillerson in Brussels on Tuesday

A joint press conference by the European Union’s foreign-policy chief and the U.S. Secretary of State descended into a thinly veiled exchange of rebukes, adding to signs of increased strain in the world’s most powerful alliance.

“The Iran nuclear deal is a key strategic priority for European security but also for regional and global security,” the EU’s Federica Mogherini told reporters on Tuesday, emphasizing that the agreement only dealt with nuclear issues. “Dismantling an agreement on nuclear issues that is working — as the International Energy Agency has certified nine times — would not put us in a better position to discuss all the rest on the country.”

That conflicts with U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to pull the plug out of the Iran nuclear deal, which has drawn sharp criticism from the EU. The bloc has been lobbying Congress to overrule the president’s decision, saying that scrapping the accord would endanger stability in the wider region.


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, looks on next to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during a joint press conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Tuesday. (AFP)

“Iran is carrying out a number of destabilizing actions in the region and we’ve seen this recently with ballistic missiles being fired from Yemen, which is our belief are sourced from Iran,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after Mogherini’s comments. Even though the EU says that any such concerns shouldn’t lead to the dismantling of the nuclear accord, Tillerson said that “these issues and activities of Iran cannot be ignored and cannot go unanswered and we intend to continue to take action to ensure Iran understands this.”

Capital of Israel

The quarrel adds to a long list of disputes that have come between the U.S. and the EU — from trade protectionism to environmental policies, and from Trump’s apparent endorsement of far-right groups in Europe to his threat of unilateral military action against North Korea.

The latest episode in the saga is over the possibility that the U.S. might unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “A way must be found, through negotiations, to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states,” Mogherini said in her joint press statement with Tillerson. “We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided.”

Germany’s acting foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said unilateral U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would inflame Middle East tensions.

“That would be a very dangerous development,” Gabriel told reporters on Tuesday at a meeting of foreign ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

After his bilateral meeting with Mogherini, Tillerson was due to meet his EU counterparts, ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. Mogherini and Tillerson didn’t accept questions after the briefing.

— With assistance by Richard Bravo, and Zoe Schneeweiss



‘Iran Has Gotten Away With Murder Since 1979,’ Saudi Arabia Says

December 4, 2017

Haaretz Via Reuters

When Italy organized a conference focused on the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa, it promised to look beyond the turmoil roiling the region and instead promote a “positive agenda.”
But many of the 45 heads of state, ministers and business leaders who attended the event over the past three days saw little future cheer.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, captured the gloom, bemoaning “a lack of wisdom” in the region, with “no hope” on hand for ordinary people hoping for an end to years of conflict, upheaval and sectarianism.

“Maybe I have presented a dark picture, but it is not as dark as I have explained, it is darker,” said Thani, whose country is suffering an economic blockade by its Arab neighbors, which accuse Qatar of supporting

Qatar denies the accusations and the crisis has pushed the tiny, gas-rich state closer to Shi’ite Muslim Iran, the regional rival to Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia addressed the conference, taking turns to trade barbs.

Image result for al Jubeir, photos

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

“Since 1979, the Iranians have literally got away with murder in our region, and this has to stop,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday, accusing Tehran of interfering in the affairs of numerous Arab states, including Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

A day earlier, on the same stage, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of blocking ceasefire efforts in Syria, “suffocating” Qatar, destabilizing Lebanon and supporting Islamic State.

Image result for Mohammad Javad Zarif, photos

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

He also dismissed suggestions that Tehran was meddling in the affairs of its troubled neighbors or that it should stop supporting militia groups, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Casting around for reasons to be positive, most speakers pointed to the defeat of Islamic State, which used to rule over millions of people in Iraq and Syria, but now controls just small pockets of land after months of fierce military assaults.

However, officials warned the group would not die easily.

“It has been defeated as a military force on the ground, but it is likely to go back to cities to create destruction and terror,” said Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, predicting the militant group could still be around in 10 years.

Iraq’s foreign minister bemoaned the destruction it had left in its wake, and called on the world to unite to help rebuild his country in the same way they had come together to fight ISIS.

“The world owes this to us,” said Ibrahim al-Jaafari. “A lot of destruction demands a lot of reconstruction. Mosul is not at all what it was like before. It used to be beautiful. It had a university. Now it is just ruins.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq had come to his country, where an attack on a mosque in Sinai last month had killed more than 300 people. They were also heading to lawless Libya, he said.

Amidst all the talk of war and chaos, there was little mention of diplomatic efforts to restore peace to the region.

“At a time when you have so many sources of tension, so many fuses, so many humanitarian catastrophes, you also have so little diplomacy,” said Robert Malley, vice president for policy at the non-governmental International Crisis Group.

Underscoring this point, no one from the White House administration took part in the conference – a signal some diplomats put down to a general disengagement from the Middle East by President Donald Trump. Last year, the then secretary of state, John Kerry, participated.


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Iran: Chabahar Port promise and nuclear deal threat

December 4, 2017

Al Jazeera
December 4, 2017

President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration of a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar on Sunday [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]
President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration of a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar on Sunday [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]

Iran has launched one of its major post-nuclear deal projects – the port of Chabahar – pushing further for engagement with the global community, days before the US Congress’ expected decision on whether Washington will pull out of the landmark international accord.

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani officially inaugurated the southeastern port in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province with great fanfare as officials from 17 countries attended a ceremony marking the opening of a new extension of the strategic trade corridor.

The Chabahar port’s development was accelerated after Tehran signed the nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with Washington and five other major powers in 2015 to put curbs on its disputed nuclear programme in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions.

In a visit by reporters earlier last week, Swiss-made cranes installed in the first operational jetty were unloading containers bearing the trademark of Iran’s national shipping company – Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – off a vessel that had just arrived from India carrying wheat shipments, which will be trucked to Afghanistan. It was the third consignment arriving this year as part of a contract to transit 1.1 million tonnes of wheat from Indian ports to the landlocked neighbouring country.

Containers are moved to the vast empty area of the Shahid Beheshti container terminal whose construction was recently completed. Equipment financed through an $85m investment by India will be supplied by companies in Europe and Asia to fill the empty lot.

Soon, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co Ltd (ZPMC) will supply four gantry cranes to accommodate large container ships in the first 8.5 million-tonne jetty.

Once two-thirds of this capacity is realised, five other jetties will be built to increase the capacity of the port to 82-85 million tonnes. Planned completion of another under-construction multi-purpose terminal and a 610km north-south railway to Afghanistan and Central Asia will turn the port into a strategic asset to India in the face of its geopolitical rivalry with China and Pakistan.

Those nations are developing the $46bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor that winds down to Pakistan’s port of Gwadar, less than 100km from Chabahar.

“This is a strategic route for India,” Amirhossein Esmaeili, director of Shahid Beheshti Port Terminal’s Development project, told Al Jazeera. “For them to carry goods to Afghanistan via Pakistan is either impossible because of security concerns or it is subject to excessive costs.”

At a press conference last week, the head of Sistan-Baluchestan’s Ports and Maritime Bureau said costs for each 20-foot container were $1,000 lower if transported through Chabahar to Afghanistan compared with the Pakistan route.

Nuclear deal spoils

A few months after the nuclear deal with Iran went into effect in January 2016 and sanctions were lifted, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country where he agreed to open a $500m line of credit to develop the port – nearly half of what Iran is planning to invest. The lifting of embargoes enabled Iran to enter negotiations with India, China, and Europe on investment and supply of equipment.

However, the burgeoning success of Chabahar and other post-sanctions deals Iran has signed are now overshadowed by United States’ opposition to the nuclear deal.

Despite International Atomic Energy Agency saying Iran has fully adhered to the terms of JCPOA, US President Donald Trump – an outspoken opponent of the accord – refused to “certify” that Iran was in compliance. This gave the Republican-dominated Congress 60 days to decide if Washington should put sanctions back in place.

Iranian officials have noted the fact that other signatories to the nuclear deal – China, Russia, Germany, the UK, and France – still stand by it.

Asked whether Iran is prepared for the US to return to sanctions, Mohammad Rastad, Iran’s Deputy Transport Minister in ports and maritime affairs, said: “Nothing’s happened as yet, has it?”

“We have held successful negotiations with international partners following the JCPOA,” Rastad told Al Jazeera. “We think these investments will help further foster our international relations. We hope this will help us bring about better future for our port and maritime activities.”

Billions of trade and investment deals were signed in the wake of the nuclear deal between Iranian companies and those in India, China, Russia, Western Europe and the US itself.

Aside from the United States, all other parties to the nuclear deal have defended it, stressing it has been effective.

Siding with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and arch foe Israel, the Trump administration has accused Tehran and its elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), of creating instability in the region by test firing long-range missiles and trying to increase influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon by supporting militias there.

Iran says its missile programme is for defensive purposes and denies the other accusations.

In late October, the US Treasury Department added major IRGC-linked companies such as the port construction and operation companies Tidewater Middle East Co and Iran Marine Industrial Company to its SDN list. IRGC-affiliated firms have had a significant share in Iran’s port activities.

IRGC’s economic arm, Khatam Al-Anbia Construction Headquarters, has been a big player in the construction of the port of Chabahar in particular.

So far, India has received the go-ahead from the US with regards to its economic activities in Chabahar.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quoted as saying in a visit to India in October that his country does not want to “interfere with legitimate business” done with Iran, “whether they be from Europe, India or agreements that are in place or promote economic development and activity to the benefit of our friends and allies”.

Whether Tillerson’s words still stand remains to be seen.

Is the Iran deal set to unravel?

Includes video:


Is the Iran deal set to unravel?