Posts Tagged ‘JCPOA’

Boeing, Airbus Sales Imperiled as Trump Administration Formulates Iran Plan

December 15, 2017

White House’s new approach to 2015 nuclear accord could impact plane makers and stoke tension with Europe

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is advancing a strategy that could derail efforts by Boeing Co. and Airbus SE to sell hundreds of jetliners to Iranian airlines, U.S. officials said.

The two aerospace giants have lined up deals over the past 15 months that have been left in limbo as the White House reassessed its Iran policy and has threatened to walk away from an international nuclear deal if Congress and European partners don’t address concerns, with only a handful of Airbus planes so far delivered.

Any effort to scuttle these deals, by accident or design, could have far-reaching consequences, both for the nuclear accord and the jet makers. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for significant sanctions relief, and supporters of the accord fear it will fall apart if Iran doesn’t see the benefits it was promised.

President Donald Trump’s team hasn’t yet presented him with options for addressing the sales, but months of interagency discussions have grown out of administration concerns that Iranian airlines could use the new jets, or old ones, to ferry weapons and military personnel into Syria, the U.S. officials said.

Boeing and engine maker General Electric Co. are the only major U.S. companies to pursue Iranian business.

The options to be presented to Mr. Trump include banning sales, imposing stringent conditions that could halt any aircraft deliveries, or slow-walking approvals, according to the U.S. officials and other people familiar with the matter.

Since the deal took effect in 2016, Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, has delivered three jets to Iran Air but could be restricted by any U.S. ban because of the large U.S. content on its aircraft.

Boeing and Airbus have announced deals to sell almost 300 planes to Iranian airlines valued at $40 billion altogether before industry discounts. Boeing signed a proposed sale to privately owned Iran Aseman Airlines in April, the only proposed deal since Mr. Trump took office. Boeing, unlike Airbus, hasn’t added Iranian deals to its official order book.

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers allowed for the aviation sales by both companies to go ahead, pending approval from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Those approvals to export planes were granted by the Obama administration. Mr. Trump in October refused to certify to Congress that Iran was complying with the deal, but the administration remains a party to it. Mr. Trump faces a mid-January deadline to extend sanctions relief to Iran, and is expected at that time to again tell Congress that he won’t certify Iran’s compliance with the deal.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council declined to comment on individual licenses issued by the Treasury Department, but said,  “The administration’s position is clear: We will not issue export licenses unless we are convinced the aircraft will be used exclusively for commercial passenger aviation.”


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A Boeing spokesman said, “We are authorized to deliver [aircraft], but we will continue to follow our government’s lead with regards to all of our activities with Iran.” Airbus had no immediate comment but previously said it had U.S. approvals to deliver the plane and would fully comply with U.S. and other regulatory requirements in its dealings with Iran. The U.S. Treasury Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iran Air couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The scrutiny of the planned jet sales is emblematic of the Trump administration’s broader concerns about Iran, with security hawks concerned about the country’s support of terrorism and wider conflicts in the region such as in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“The United States of America should not be in the business of selling aircraft to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” said Rep. Roger Williams, (R., Texas), the vice chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on trade. He sponsored legislation that requires more stringent scrutiny of aircraft sales to Iran before Treasury certifies any deals. The House on Thursday approved the bill, which has backing in the Senate.

Administration officials said they were unsure what Mr. Trump would decide when presented with options. Mr. Trump has forged close ties with Boeing, championing its role as America’s largest exporter. While Boeing wants to tap Iran’s thirst to replace its aging jetliners and not cede the market to Airbus, the urgency has been tempered by its recent success in finding other buyers for its twin-aisle 777 jet. Iran Air wants to buy 15 of the planes.

Losing the Iranian plane deals wouldn’t be financially crippling to either Boeing or Airbus, but both are eager to build a relationship in a country with a large population underpinning potentially major demand for travel. Years of sanctions have left Iran with one of the world’s oldest airliner fleets.

Former officials and supporters of the Iran deal pointed to a January 2016 tweet by Mr. Trump, a day after the nuclear deal was enacted, in which he faulted the deal for disadvantaging American companies, citing the planned Airbus sale.

Any move against the airline deals might also drive a wedge between the Trump administration and Europe if Airbus plane sales don’t proceed. European officials have frequently complained that Europe took more of a hit from sanctions levied on Iran before the deal was reached, because Americans were doing very limited business at that time.

“We were the ones who took all the pain of all the sanctions,” said David O’Sullivan, the European Union’s U.S. Ambassador, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We took the pain on Iran… We didn’t do this deal in order to get rid of the sanctions. We held the sanctions until we could all agree we had a good deal.”

He also warned that the U.S. risked blowing up the nuclear deal. “Nothing should be done that negates that because clearly you cannot expect Iran to stick to the deal if you take away with the left hand what is given on the right hand on the lifting of the sanctions,” Mr. O’Sullivan said.

A senior diplomat familiar with Trump administration discussions said one option under consideration is allowing a slow delivery to ensure Iran isn’t using the planes for illicit purposes, or that the old aircraft, parts and maintenance aren’t being used for other airlines such as Mahan Air, the firm sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for its support of terrorism. Iran Air had also been sanctioned by the U.S. for its support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but was delisted as part of the nuclear agreement.

Mahan Air couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Eric Lorber, a senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, suggested this year before he joinedthe administration that the Boeing and Airbus sales could be structured in a way to keep pressure on Iran, even as many sanctions are lifted under the nuclear deal.

Under Mr. Lorber’s proposal, Tehran could be required to fund aircraft sales via an escrow account, with the delivery of the vehicles over an agreed period. If the U.S. found any evidence Iran Air wasn’t using the planes commercially, the U.S. could cut off the delivery of the aircraft and potentially confiscate funds held in escrow.

—Doug Cameron in Chicago, Robert Wall in London and Asa Fitch in Riyadh contributed to this article.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at and Ian Talley at


As ISIS Recedes, U.S. Steps Up Focus on Iran — Trump administration is retooling its strategy in the Mideast

December 14, 2017

Trump administration is retooling its strategy in the Mideast

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, the head of Iran’s elite expeditionary Quds Force, was sent a warning last month by CIA chief Mike Pompeo that he would be held responsible for any attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq by forces under Iranian control. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—As the U.S. military campaign against Islamic State winds down in the Middle East, the Trump administration is turning its focus to what it sees as a bigger threat: Iran.

U.S. officials are wrestling with where and how to repel what they describe as a significant Iranian military expansion across the region, a development of increasing concern in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

“Our leadership has set as an objective not to allow Iran and its proxies to be able to establish a presence in Syria that they can use to threaten our allies or us in the region,” one senior U.S. administration official said. “There are different ways to implement that, and we are still working through them.”

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is considering giving a policy speech on Syria early next year that would outline the new administration strategy, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Iran's army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking through binoculars on a visit to the front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria.
Iran’s army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking through binoculars on a visit to the front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. PHOTO: SYRIAN CENTRAL MILITARY MEDIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

One major issue the Trump administration has to address is whether to make confronting Iran an explicit new goal for the more than 2,000 American forces currently in Syria.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said troops will remain in the country for the foreseeable future to ensure that Islamic State doesn’t regain a foothold or its remnants don’t morph into a dangerous new threat.

But those troops could also be placed at the forefront of a new effort to prevent Iran from cementing its military presence in Syria or establishing a secure route across the country that would allow Tehran to easily ferry advanced weapons to allies on Israel’s border, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the continuing discussions.

“The military presence in Syria increasingly should be the center of gravity for an Iranian neutralization strategy,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Trump administration. “There’s no political leverage without American military power on the ground.”

Iran has castigated the U.S. for its Mideast presence, saying Washington is backing terrorists fighting against the Syrian regime. Iran didn’t respond to a request for comment on the U.S. shift.

While Mr. Trump sketched out a broad plan in October for combating Iran’s influence, the U.S. military has been focused on eliminating Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq. That project, U.S. officials concede, has allowed Iran to increase its influence, especially in Syria. Administration officials estimate that Tehran and its allies now provide 80% of the fighters for President Bashar al-Assad’s depleted regime there. By some estimates, there are 125,000 Iranian forces currently in Syria.

Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he told Gen. Soleimani that he would hold him and Iran ‘accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.’
Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he told Gen. Soleimani that he would hold him and Iran ‘accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.’ PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Turning the focus from Islamic State to Iran would come with a litany of challenges, including concerns about triggering a deadly backlash from Iran targeting American forces in the region.

That prospect is a paramount concern to U.S. military officials, especially those who fought in Iraq a decade ago and remember the deadly effect Iranian-supplied explosives had on U.S. forces in the country.

To hammer home that disquiet, Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo sent a private warning last month to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite expeditionary Quds Force. In the letter, Mr. Pompeo said recently, the U.S. warned Gen. Soleimani that the administration “will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.”

Iran’s state-media revealed the existence of the letter and said a CIA operative tried to hand-deliver it to Gen. Soleimani while he was visiting the embattled Syrian town of Abu Kamal, close to the border with Iraq. Mr. Soleimani refused to open the letter, according to Mr. Pompeo and Iranian media.

The Trump administration has already shown its willingness to directly confront Iran in Syria. Over the summer, the U.S. military shot down two armed Iranian drones flying near American forces operating in southern Syria. Though tensions quickly cooled afterward, the incidents showed how serious confrontations in Syria could become.

Gen. McMaster has made it clear in recent days that the U.S. is crafting ways to contain that threat in Syria.

“What we face is the prospect of Iran having a proxy army on the borders of Israel,” he said at a public forum earlier this month.

American and Israeli officials are especially troubled about intelligence suggesting that Iran is establishing a military facility in northwestern Syria to make long-range missiles. Israel has carried out more than 100 airstrikes in Syria, most of them aimed at what it says are convoys ferrying weapons to Hezbollah fighters.

After the most recent airstrike on an Iranian military base near Damascus in early December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would “not allow a regime hellbent on the annihilation of the Jewish state…to entrench itself militarily in Syria.”

The Trump administration is seeking ways to prevent the Syrian war from transforming into a new regional conflict between Israel and Iran. The U.S. and its allies are trying to use the expansion of de-escalation zones in Syria to halt Iran’s expansion along the borders with Israel and Jordan. But critics say the agreements have actually shored up Iran’s gains and undercut the goals.

Appeared in the December 14, 2017, print edition as ‘As ISIS Fades, a New Focus on Iran.’

Trump punted the Iran deal to Congress. Congress just punted it back.

December 13, 2017

Trump’s big decertification strategy hasn’t borne fruit yet.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

When President Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal, he was punting the question of whether it should be torn up to Congress. Congress just punted it back to him — and he’s back to square one, with the deal he promised to scrap still in place.

That’s because Tuesday was the deadline for Congress to take advantage of a law that made it incredibly easy to impose the kind of sanctions on Iran that would likely kill the deal. Republican lawmakers didn’t do that. Nor have they made any progress on a bill that would have imposed stricter conditions on Tehran. In other words, the deal remains as it always was, despite Trump’s fiery criticism of it.

The fight over the nuclear deal’s future began in October, when Trump declared that Iran was not complying with all the terms of the Obama administration’s pact with Tehran and that the deal itself was not in America’s national security interest.

But instead of torpedoing the deal himself, he decided to put the fate of the bill in Congress’s hands.

When Trump decided to “decertify” the Iran deal under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, it opened a 60-day window for Congress to easily reimpose old sanctions on Iran that would end the deal. During that time, Republicans were able to use a special expedited process that protects the sanctions bill from being filibustered by opponents.

Analysts say the strategy allowed Trump to avoid taking the blame for the catastrophic effects of the deal’s potential collapse. Yet it also let Trump tell his political base that he had set the stage to pull the US out of a deal that has been massively unpopular in conservative circles since the day it was passed.

But Tuesday marks the 60-day deadline, and Congress did not reimpose any of the sanctions that would end the deal. Now that the window has closed, reimposing sanctions will inevitably require winning over Democrats in the Senate to pass — a political impossibility.

Congress isn’t addressing Trump’s complaints about the terms of the deal either

Congress has also not come close to passing any kind of bill that would “address the deal’s many flaws” that Trump referred to in his speech.

The president has said, for example, that he wanted Congress to look at how the US can potentially get tougher about the Iran deal’s sunset clauses, which allow some of the deal’s limitations on Iran’s nuclear activity to lapse in coming years. The deal’s critics argue that Tehran will then resume its quest for a nuclear weapon, without fear of the punishing economic sanctions it had once faced.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (AR) and Bob Corker (TN) put together a legislative proposal that would have tightened the deal by, among other things, automatically slapping sanctions on Iran if it got within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But that proposal hasn’t gone anywhere.

Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert at the Center for a New American Security and former senior Pentagon official, told me the Trump administration generally “hasn’t been engaged on the Hill” to develop legislation that could potentially strengthen the Iran deal.

The drama over the fate of the Iran deal is far from finished, though. In mid-January, the Trump administration faces two major deadlines on the deal that could again jeopardize its existence.

First, there is the question of whether Trump will issue a waiver around January 15 that keeps old sanctions from being imposed that would violate the terms of the Iran deal. If Trump refrains from issuing that waiver, the deal will essentially be dead.

Second, at about the same time, Trump will have to decide again whether he wants to certify Iran as complying with the deal or not. And if he declines to do so, yet another special 60-day window will be opened during which Congress can easily slap old sanctions on Iran’s nuclear activity.

Candidate Trump promised to end the Iran deal. President Trump has yet to do so. The question now is which Trump ultimately makes the call.

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.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

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.