Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

With China in Mind, Japan, India Agree to Deepen Defense Ties

September 14, 2017

GANDHINAGAR, India — The leaders of India and Japan agreed on Thursday to deepen defense ties and push for more cooperation with Australia and the United States, as they seek to counter growing Chinese influence across Asia.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived this week in his counterpart Narendra Modi’s home state, skipping the tradition of visiting the capital of New Delhi, for the tenth meeting between two leaders since Modi came to power in 2014.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Relations have deepened between Asia’s second and third largest economies as Abe and Modi, who enjoy a close personal relationship, increasingly see eye-to-eye to balance China as the dominant Asian power.

“Almost everything that takes place during the visit, including economic deals, will in part be done with China in mind,” Eurasia analysts said in a note.

Abe’s visit comes days after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to end the longest and most serious military confrontation along their shared and contested border in decades, a dispute that had raised worries of a broader conflict between the Asian giants.

In a lengthy joint statement, India and Japan said deepening security links was paramount. This included collaboration on research into unmanned ground vehicles and robotics and the possibility of joint field exercises between their armies.

There was also “renewed momentum” for cooperation with the United States and Australia. Earlier this year, India rejected an Australian request to be included in four-country naval drills for fear of angering Beijing.

“Relations between India and Japan are not only a bilateral relationship but have developed into a strategic global partnership,” Abe told reporters in Gandhinagar, the capital of western Gujarat state.

“We (India and Japan) will strengthen our collaboration with those countries with whom we share universal values.”

Abe flew to Gujarat to lay the foundation stone of a $17 billion bullet train project, India’s first, that was made possible by a huge Japanese loan.

Tokyo wants to win other high-speed rail lines India plans to build, to edge out Chinese ambitions to do the same and provide a boost for its high-end manufacturers.

The visit was light on specific announcements, but India said it welcomed proposals for increased Japanese investment into infrastructure projects in its remote northeast, a region New Delhi sees as its gateway to Southeast Asia.

China claims part of India’s northeast as its own territory.

Japanese investment into the northeast “would give legs to our Act East policy,” Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters.

Modi and Abe also said they would push for more progress on the development of industrial corridors for the growth of Asia and Africa.

Analysts say the planned $40 billion Asia-Africa Growth Corridor takes direct aim at China’s Belt and Road project, envisaged as a modern-day “Silk Road” connecting China by land and sea across Asia and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

(Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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The Next Middle East War

September 8, 2017
Israel and Iran are heading for conflict over southern Syria.
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Donald Trump during a news conference with the Emir of Kuwait at the White House, September 7, 2017.

By The Editorial Board
The wall Street Journal
Sept. 7, 2017 7:22 p.m. ET

Israel launched airstrikes on a military compound in Syria on Thursday, and the bombing should alert the Trump Administration as much as the Syrians. They carry a warning about the next war in the Middle East that could draw in the U.S.

Israel doesn’t confirm or deny its military strikes, but former officials said they were aimed at a base for training and a warehouse for short- and midrange missiles. The strikes also hit a facility that the U.S. cited this year for involvement in making chemical weapons.

The larger context is the confrontation that is building between Israel and Iran as the war against Islamic State moves to a conclusion in Syria and Iraq. Iran is using Syria’s civil war, and the battle against ISIS, as cause to gain a permanent military foothold in Syria that can threaten Israel either directly or via its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

Tehran has helped Hezbollah stockpile tens of thousands of missiles that will be launched against Israel in the next inevitable conflict. If it can also dominate southern Syria, Iran can establish a second front on the border near the Golan Heights that would further stretch Israel’s ability to defend itself.

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Israel may have to make more such strikes in Syria because Iran isn’t likely to give up on this strategic opening. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards know they have Russia’s backing in Syria, and the U.S. is signaling that it is loathe to do anything to change that once Islamic State is routed from Raqqa.

“As far as Syria is concerned, we have very little to do with Syria other than killing ISIS,” President Trump said Thursday at a White House press conference with the emir of Kuwait. “What we do is we kill ISIS. And we have succeeded in that respect. We have done better in eight months of my Presidency than the previous eight years against ISIS.”

Great, but the problem is that the end of ISIS won’t bring stability to Syria, and American interests in the Middle East don’t end with ISIS. The danger of a proxy war or even a direct war between Iran and Israel is growing, and it will increase as Iran’s presence builds in Syria. Mr. Trump may not like it, but he needs a strategy for post-ISIS Syria that contains Iran if he doesn’t want the U.S. to be pulled back into another Middle East war.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-next-middle-east-war-1504826567

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Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Iranian woman walks past a wall painting in the shape of Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran on the first anniversary of nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on January 16, 2017.
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Iran has boasted about its ballistic missiles, many of which are on mobile launchers

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

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Europe concerned over Donald Trump’s stance on Iran nuclear deal — American and European interests are clearly diverging

September 7, 2017

Under Donald Trump, Washington is distancing itself from the nuclear deal with Iran. The US president insists Tehran has been violating the agreement, without citing concrete proof. For Europe, it’s a risky move.

Iran nuclear deal (picture-alliance/epa/D. Calma)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been deliberately ambiguous with regard to the Iran nuclear deal. No, she is not in favor of casting doubt on the legal basis of the agreement. But, as she told an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, one thing must be clear: Should Donald Trump decide to do so, then he would have firm ground to stand on.

Haley did not elaborate further on Trump’s reasons for backing away from what, in her view, is a flawed deal. But she left little doubt that she believes it is time to re-examine the agreement. “We should at no time be beholden to any agreement and sacrifice the security of the United States to say that we’ll do it,” Haley said.

Warning against a self-created crisis

Haley’s statements are a contradiction of the information provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last week, it declared that Iran was sticking to the terms of the deal, and that Tehran had not engaged in any uranium enrichment beyond the permitted levels.

US UN ambassador Nikki Haley (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Matthews)Haley said that if Trump backs out of the Iran deal, he would have good reason to do so

Her comments were prompted by the upcoming October deadline for the US senate to certify Iran’s compliance. The president’s skeptical stance on the Iran deal has long been a source of concern in Washington circles. “You can only tear up the agreement one time,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker, warning if that were to happen, the US would generate a self-created crisis. According to a report by the Washington Post newspaper, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have advised the president to leave the deal in place.

‘A bad idea’

Withdrawing from the deal would be “a bad idea,” according Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. However, he doesn’t have much hope that Trump will continue to certify the agreement.

“Here’s an international crisis you can, unusually, put on your calendar ahead of time,” McManus wrote. Describing Trump’s frustration that he couldn’t just walk away from the deal, McManus says the president instructed his staff to come up with the excuses he needs to decertify. And he described that as an “Alice-in-Wonderland approach to foreign policy: Verdict first, evidence later.”

Still, Trump has not had too much trouble finding influential people to support his position. “I don’t think we get much benefit from the deal,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, “so it collapsing doesn’t trouble me all that much.”

Others take a similar view, but are pursuing a different strategy, which would be to decertify Iran while leaving the deal in place. According to Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, simply pulling out of the deal “would allow Iran to play the aggrieved victim and alienate the Europeans.”

Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna (Mehr)The US helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal in 2015

It’s true that the Europeans would be less than happy if Trump were to present them with a fait accompli in this highly volatile issue. That’s why Dubowitz believes in this third way, where decertification could build a sort of “rap sheet” against any of Iran’s small violations of the deal. On this basis, it would become increasingly difficult for Iran to be able to stick to the agreement.

Diverging interests

Europe has no interest in any further upheaval in the Middle East. Cancellation of the nuclear deal could have the undesired effect of reviving other armament plans, including nuclear arms. It would also fan the flames of violence, and with it, the number of refugees. Without the nuclear deal, Iran would have no reason to restrain itself politically, and could likely embark on an even more aggressive course.

And were Iran to resume its nuclear program, this could awaken other regional states’ interest in pursuing nuclear weapons. It would take years to put an end to such an arms race, if indeed that were even possible. And that means that, in view of the Iran nuclear deal, American and European interests are clearly diverging.

http://www.dw.com/en/europe-concerned-over-donald-trumps-stance-on-iran-nuclear-deal/a-40389614

Trump’s Looming Trade Crack-Up

September 6, 2017
  
His fight with Seoul would leave the U.S. a loser. Congress needs to assert its authority to stop him.

By Robert B. Zoellick
The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 5, 2017 7:13 p.m. ET

Donald Trump’s trade policy is speeding toward a shipwreck. Under the Constitution, Congress has principal authority over trade, although it has delegated considerable powers to the executive. Congress needs to reassert control to block Mr. Trump’s crack-up.

The president threatened last week to abandon the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The immediate result would be to increase barriers to American exporters, especially farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service industries. Without the FTA, Korea’s average tariff could be boosted to almost 14%, quadruple the average U.S. tariff. The European Union will retain free access to Korea through its trade deal.

Mr. Trump’s impulses are strategically incoherent. China has been squeezing Korean companies because Seoul has been installing missile defenses against North Korean rockets. When Mr. Trump seeks to cut off South Korea’s trade with the U.S., Seoul’s logical course is to accommodate Beijing to protect ties with its largest trading partner.

Combined with his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the president’s attack on the Korean FTA signals America’s unreliability as an economic partner. Asian countries will inevitably question whether America’s economic retreat is consistent with U.S. security commitments across the Pacific. No one will understand why Mr. Trump would fracture ties with Seoul—and provoke public hostility in South Korea—at a moment when North Korea’s threats necessitate tight cooperation and trust to thwart Pyongyang. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un will proclaim that he is Korea’s true national patriot, having shown his countrymen that America is selfishly thrashing the “running dogs” in Seoul.

The recently appointed South Korean trade minister, Kim Hyun Chong, is the same man who negotiated the FTA with the George W. Bush administration, who patiently renegotiated with Barack Obama, and who worked with Congress during both terms to forge closer links. South Korea’s economic and democratic development has been an incredible success story; Korea grew to become America’s sixth-largest trading partner for goods even without an FTA. But Mr. Kim wanted to lock in an alliance with America in the 21st-century competition for power in the Indo-Pacific. Especially in Asia, where respect and reliability in personal relations are valued highly, Mr. Trump’s shocking slap to America’s Korean friends will be noted and long remembered.

Mr. Trump’s tirade about South Korea is part of a much larger problem. He has repeatedly threatened to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, too. Conventional wisdom has treated these trade tantrums as passing storms, but the rationalizers have misread his purposes. Mr. Trump wants to reverse bilateral trade deficits, which he views as “losing.” In reality, trade deficits with other countries reflect a mix of relative growth rates, differential production advantages, supply chains, savings and investment, and currency exchange rates. The U.S. has a trade surplus with Australia, which has a surplus with China, which has a surplus with the U.S.—each reflecting comparative advantages. I have a “deficit” with my local supermarket, but I offset what I owe by earning money elsewhere, not by stocking shelves at night to pay for my groceries.

The U.S. cannot reverse trade deficits through new agreements. Mr. Trump’s negotiators will try to fix outcomes by having governments set market shares or through arrangements similar to barter, like the Soviet Union’s old Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Neither Mexico, Canada, South Korea nor any other market economy partner will agree to a central-planning trade model. Even if they tried, bilateral trade patterns would still reflect global comparative advantages. Some 60% of America’s imports are for intermediate goods that contribute to U.S. competitiveness. Mexico’s trade surplus with the U.S. primarily reflects integrated auto production, which helps U.S. companies and workers to compete globally.

The administration’s Nafta proposals reveal its own contradictions. The U.S. demands more-open markets for American goods, pressing for provisions from the TPP that Mr. Trump denounced. But the U.S. also wants the ability to ignore its commitments. The administration, for example, wants to abolish neutral panels that apply agreed rules to resolve disputes about subsidies or selling goods below cost. The U.S. also wants to be able to raise new barriers when interest groups demand “temporary protection.” And the administration wants to ignore rules on treating investors fairly. Mr. Trump’s abandonment of investment protections could prove especially self-defeating if a new Mexican government reverses President Enrique Peña Nieto’s move to open Mexico’s energy markets.

Mr. Trump appears oblivious to these realities. His real aim may be to forge a domestic political realignment around matters such as trade protectionism, hostility to immigration and walling off Mexico. As he is unable to achieve simple solutions in North Korea, Afghanistan and the Middle East—and as his frustrations build with Congress and investigations—the danger is that he will lash out. Because his trade policy will not reverse bilateral trade deficits, the president will want to scrap “bad deals” that he can blame on others. He will destroy agreements to keep faith with his own false arguments—and to save himself.

Those in Congress who still want to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt should ask how he plans to enact his new deals. Nafta’s passage in 1993 required a huge effort by President Clinton and relied heavily on Republican support. Mr. Trump is inept with Congress and will never fight for any Nafta. Democratic lawmakers will happily embrace Mr. Trump’s economic isolationism to reclaim voters they lost.

This trade policy will unravel vital ties across the Asia-Pacific region, hurt an ally facing a security crisis, destroy a North American partnership that should be the foundation for U.S. global power projection, and subvert confidence in the U.S. around the world. Congress can no longer wait for Mr. Trump to speak and act sensibly. It needs to assert its constitutional powers over trade to stop this president’s destruction.

Mr. Zoellick is a former World Bank president, U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-looming-trade-crack-up-1504653219

Polish PM rejects ‘blackmail’ on EU migrant quotas

September 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said the country doesn’t agree to “the forced relocation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East”

WARSAW (AFP) – Poland’s rightwing premier said Sunday that her country would not be “blackmailed” by its “largest” EU partners into accepting thousands of asylum seekers under a quota system for spreading them throughout the bloc.”We cannot be blackmailed by the threat that part of our EU funds will be cut off as punishment, because we don’t agree to the forced relocation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East,” Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in an excerpt of an interview with Sieci, a rightwing news magazine, published Sunday on the wPolityce news website.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in July that Brussels was taking legal steps against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland “for failing to meet their legal obligations on relocation” under the quota program.

The three countries could be brought before the European Court of Justice and eventually fined, something Warsaw argues would be tantamount to a cut in EU funding.

“EU funds and cohesion policy are pillars of the European Union just like the free movement of goods and services. We have a right to them… Therefore, we insist that EU treaties must be adhered to and we reject the diktat of the largest states” on migrant quotas, Szydlo said.

Her remarks come as the ECJ is expected on Wednesday to dismiss a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to the mandatory quota program, created at the height of Europe’s 2015 refugee crisis.

The wave of people fleeing the war in Syria and conflict and poverty in the Middle East and many African countries triggered Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.

But of this July, only 24,000 of the 160,000 refugees involved in the EU relocation scheme were moved from frontline states like Italy and Greece to other member countries.

Aside from garnering criticism for its rejection of migrant quotas, Szydlo’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has come under heavy fire both at home and abroad since taking office in 2015 for a slew of reforms that critics say erode democratic standards and the rule of law.

French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that Poland was going “against European interests”, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Poland a “serious issue”.

The EU launched legal action in July against the government over reforms that it fears will limit judicial independence.

In the interview, Szydlo also rejected claims that her government’s actions were gradually pushing Poland out of the EU, calling the allegations “the greatest of lies, a horrible manipulation” and insisting that “we want to be in the EU, we value it”.

Surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Poles support EU membership, viewing it as a major source of funding and development.

Middle East conflicts boost Bulgarian arms exports

August 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Bulgaria, which specialises in the production of light-weight Soviet-style weapons and munitions, exported over 1.0 billion euros’ worth of arms in 2016, nearly 60 percent more than the year before.

SOFIA (AFP) – Conflicts in the Middle East boosted Bulgaria’s arms exports by almost 60 percent in 2016 to record levels not seen since the end of communism, official data showed Thursday.Bulgaria, which specialises in the production of light-weight Soviet-style weapons and munitions, exported over 1.0 billion euros’ ($1.2 billion) worth of arms in 2016 compared to 642 million in 2015 and 402 million in 2014.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia were the main buyers, followed by the United States, Afghanistan, Croatia, Azerbaijan, India, Egypt and Russia, the annual report of the export control committee showed.

Experts believe that many of weapons exported by Bulgaria — and other countries in the region — end up in war-hit Syria and Yemen after being re-exported by Saudi Arabia and the US to armed groups in these countries.

A 2014 study by the British Conflict Armament Research organisation concluded that one quarter of the munitions used by the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and Syria were Bulgarian-made.

Bulgaria’s economy ministry, which greenlights all arms exports, had downplayed the issue, saying that it cannot be held accountable for any re-exports.

Bulgaria makes “Russian models that are not expensive and are easy to use,” expert Tihomir Bezlov from the Sofia-based think-tank Centre for the Study of Democracy commented recently to AFP.

During communism, Bulgaria traditionally exported an annual 800 million dollars’ (670 million euros’) worth of arms to pro-Soviet regimes and movements in the Middle East and Africa.

Iran and Israel are poised for war — in Syria

August 24, 2017

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BY HERBERT LONDON, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR – 

The Hill

When it comes to the Middle East the only surprise is when there aren’t surprises. At the moment, the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa in a force led by Hezbollah and Iraqi troops with U.S. Special Forces has led directly to the elevation of Hezbollah as a military entity since it bore the brunt of the combat burden in Syria and paid the highest price in casualties.

Since Hezbollah is a proxy for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, its enhanced status has given both forces the opportunity for a military buildup on Israel’s northern border. For Israel this emerging reality constitutes a strategic game changer. Ironically the victories over ISIS, have yielded a strategic failure vis-à-vis the Shiites.

In fact, Iran is transferring Sunni populations from areas once held by ISIS and replacing them with Shiites in an effort to maintain territorial continuity between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. Paradoxically, this is being done with either the active or passive complicity of the United States. So desirous is the Trump team for a victory over ISIS that is seems willing to allow Iran to reach Israel’s front lines as a consequence. Among Israeli military sources there is the belief in a disparity between Trump’s rhetoric and his actions.

In fact, the success of Hezbollah has had the added benefit of attracting Shiites across the globe to its revolutionary cause. Moreover, Hezbollah has been able to warehouse up to approximately 150,000 missiles, more than exist in European NATO sites. These missiles are targeted at Israeli cities. To make matters even more complicated for Israel’s military leaders, the United Nations has confirmed that the Hezbollah missiles have been placed in schools and the Israeli military reports that missiles are also placed in hospitals and community centers. These places will ensure carnage if destroyed and likely yield an anti-Israel backlash across European and Northern American media outlets.

This human shields issue has been discussed in the United Nations as well as in talks among Israel, Russia and the U.S., but it tends to be ignored when anti-Israel sentiment has an instrument to clobber the Jewish state. However, this factor cannot be ignored by military planners anticipating a preemptive strike against Hezbollah missile sites.

As far as Russia is concerned, Iran has assisted in establishing and reinforcing its presence in Syria. While there is probably no love lost between the two states, there are mutually reinforcing interests.

Russian presence in the region gives Iran an ally with advanced weaponry and a clear, unequivocal reason for the maintenance of its position in the eastern Mediterranean. It appears as if Russia believes Iran is a stabilizing force in the Middle East, notwithstanding Iranian promotion of extremist organizations. This stance is not dissimilar from President Obama’s suggestion that an assertive Iran can counter the aspirations of the Sunni nations, thereby creating a balance of regional power. The fact that this belief has been rendered nugatory by Iranian actions, seems to be ignored or forgotten by U.S. analysts.

From Israel’s point of view, there is a desperate need to convince the Trump administration it is being outflanked and outmaneuvered by a combination of Russian and Iranian diplomacy. First the Iran deal on nuclear weapons and now the acceptance of Iran on the border of Israel. With missiles that can reach every major Israeli city, the Iranians are effectively saying “checkmate.”

Needless to say, Israel will fight to its last citizen in order to challenge the Iranian scenario. But it is still worrisome when one observes the movement of armed forces across the Levant, as well as the capitulation of the U.S. in negotiation.

When Iran and Iraq were preoccupied with the defeat of ISIS, Israel was generally safe from mobilization against it. That condition has changed as quickly as the weather. And whether one agrees or not, Israel will probably be obliged to act against Hezbollah, increasing the chances of all-out war and increasing the odds blood will flow.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research, which conducts research on national security, energy, and risk analysis. He formerly served on the Board of Governors at St. John’s College, the Board of Overseers at the Center for Naval Analyses and the board of the Hudson Institute.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/347748-iran-and-israel-are-poised-for-war-in-syria

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

Pessimism as Kushner set for Israeli-Palestinian talks — “No deal in sight this year.” — “Trump’s leverage has declined considerably.”

August 24, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Mike Smith | File picture taken on August 11, 2017 shows White House adviser Jared Kushner listening as US President Donald Trump speaks to the press on at his Bedminster National Golf Club in New Jersey

JERUSALEM (AFP) – White House aide Jared Kushner meets Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday with the aim of restarting long-stalled peace talks, but pessimism is high over President Donald Trump’s pledge to reach the “ultimate deal”.The visit comes with both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not in position to make major concessions, some analysts say, and no details have emerged of how Trump’s team would overcome that.

Trump also faces a range of crises in addition to controversies at home that may make it difficult for him to focus on the complexities of a major Israeli-Palestinian peace push.

Jared Kushner and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo on Wednesday. Just a day earlier, the United States cut or delayed nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt. Credit Egyptian Presidency

“President Trump has made it clear that it is a top priority for him to work toward achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” a US official said.

“He remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved.”

The visit is part of a regional tour by Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, Trump aide Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell.

They have also held talks with Egyptian, Saudi, Emirati, Qatari and Jordanian officials.

“I think (Israeli-Palestinian conflict) clearly remains important, important enough that senior officials continue to engage on it, including Jared Kushner,” Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama, told journalists this week.

“But given the very poor prospects of a significant political breakthrough, I’d be surprised it if warrants a major investment by the president.”

Palestinian leaders have grown frustrated with the White House after initially holding out hope that Trump could bring a fresh approach to peace efforts despite his pledges of staunch support for Israel.

Trump aides have held a series of meetings with both sides, portraying them as hearing out concerns before deciding on a way forward, while the US president himself visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.

But Palestinian leaders note that the White House has not even said clearly whether its focus will be a two-state solution to the conflict, which has been longstanding US policy.

The two-state solution envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and has been the focus of international diplomacy for years.

– Dissolve the PA? –

When Trump met Netanyahu at the White House in February, he said he would support a single state if it led to peace, delighting right-wing Israelis who want to annex most of the West Bank, but raising deep concern among Palestinians.

Signalling their frustration, some Palestinian leaders have spoken of taking a harder line in recent days.

Ahmed Majdalani, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation official who is close to Abbas, told AFP on Thursday that one option if no progress is reached would be to dissolve the Palestinian Authority — a threat that has been made in the past.

That would in theory leave Israel with the responsibility of governing and providing services to Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.

But at the same time, Majdalani said they could also unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood.

He said it was an option under consideration because “the American administration has not presented any initiative until now, while the Israelis continue with their settlement activities and refuse to abide by obligations they signed up to.”

Netanyahu is meanwhile under pressure from his right-wing base not to make any concessions to the Palestinians and to continue Israeli settlement building, and there is little incentive at the moment for him to change course, some analysts say.

He is also facing a graft investigation that limits his room for political manoeuvre, Shapiro noted.

Shapiro, currently a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think-tank in Tel Aviv, said the focus should instead be on short-term goals such as improving the Palestinian economy in order to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive.

“I believe (Trump’s) leverage has declined considerably, at least from the point-of-view of getting major concessions or a commitment to a major programme toward two states from the leaders, so that’s why I think the shift should come to the more practical on-the-ground steps,” he said.

by Mike Smith

Netanyahu denounces Iran ‘threat’ in Putin talks

August 23, 2017

AFP

© SPUTNIK/AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 23, 2017

MOSCOW (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said Iran wielded growing influence In Syria that was a “threat” to his country as he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a figure in the Syrian crisis.”Iran is putting in great efforts to fortify its presence in Syria. This is a threat for Israel, for the Middle East and, I believe, for the whole world,” Netanyahu said in remarks translated into Russian posted on the Kremlin’s website.

“Iran has furthered its control and influence on Iraq, on Yemen. In practice, it in many ways has real control over Lebanon,” he said as the two met in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“Where we overcome ISIL and it disappears, Iran comes in,” Putin said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group, also known as ISIS and Daesh.

“We cannot forget for a minute that Iran continues to threaten to destroy Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu said, accusing Tehran of “arming terrorist organisations.”

Putin supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is also strongly backed by Iran.

Since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, Israel has maintained a policy of attacking arms convoys intended for its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime and fought a devastating war against the Jewish state in 2006.

Netanyahu had also opposed a ceasefire agreed by Russia and the US in southwest Syria last month over Iranian presence there.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Around 510 sq. km. remain under Syrian control.

Israel and Iran regularly accuse each other of being a threat to stability in the region.

Related:

© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

U.S., Gulf Officials Hold Talks on Mideast Peace; Qatar-Saudi Rift Not Discussed

August 23, 2017

By REUTERS

AUG. 23, 2017, 3:45 A.M. E.D.T.

DOHA — Senior U.S. officials including presidential adviser Jared Kushner have met with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, the state news agencies of the two Gulf countries said late on Tuesday.

Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, U.S. negotiator Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, then flew to Doha to meet the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Apart from efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, the two sides also discussed encouraging “security, stability and Middle-Eastern-prosperity,” SPA said. Neither of the news agencies mentioned the months-old row between Riyadh and Doha, which has defied Kuwaiti and U.S. mediation efforts.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Bin Salman and the official talked about ways to achieve “a real and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” and stability in the wider Middle East and beyond, the Saudi state news agency SPA said.

In Doha, which hosts the political leadership of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Sheikh Tamim and the envoys discussed “the improvement of the humanitarian situation and living conditions in Gaza Strip,” Qatar state news agency QNA reported.

The White House announced the trip earlier this month, saying it was part of a regional tour including meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The U.S. delegation planned to meet regional leaders to discuss a “path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks”, a White House official said at the time.

Kushner was charged with helping to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians after Trump took office.

The president went to Saudi Arabia and Israel during his first post-inauguration trip abroad and has expressed a personal commitment to reaching a deal that has eluded his Republican and Democratic predecessors.

(Reporting by Noah Browning in Doha and Sylvia Westall in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams)