Posts Tagged ‘Persian Gulf’

U.S. Must Suffer ‘Painful Responses’ From Iran After Trump Speech: Guards Chief

September 20, 2017

BEIRUT — The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday that the United States should experience “painful responses” following President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Tehran at the United Nations.

In his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday Trump called Iran “a corrupt dictatorship” and accused it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East. He also hinted he might not recertify a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran when it comes up for a mid-Oct. deadline.

“Taking a definitive stand against Trump is only the beginning of the path,” said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, according to Sepah News, the news site of the Revolutionary Guards.

“What is strategically important is that America witnesses more painful responses in the actions, behavior and decisions that Iran takes in the coming months.”

In recent months, tensions have ramped up between Iran and the United States in the Gulf, with both sides accusing each other of provocative maneuvers with military vessels.

Jafari urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to deliver a definitive response to Trump in his speech at the United Nations on Wednesday.

“With the successive and exhausting defeats that the Americans have faced in the region from Iran, it’s natural that their nervous system and coherence of thought have fallen apart,” Sepah News quoted Jafari as saying.

In Tuesday’s speech, Trump called the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated between Iran and six world powers, and backed by his predecessor Barack Obama, “an embarrassment”. Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its atomic program in return for easing economic sanctions.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)


Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

RELATED: US-Iran relations through time

Slideshow preview image

United States and Iran Relations throughout time

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.


The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.


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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”


(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

Includes videos:


Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

Iran Says It Warned Off US Ship — U.S. Navy issues denial

September 10, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran says it warned off a U.S. Navy warship during a rescue of a boat in the Gulf of Oman, while American officials say there was no direct contact.

The U.S. Navy said Sunday the incident happened Wednesday and involved a small vessel some 75 nautical miles from the USS Tempest, a coastal patrol boat. The Navy says another boat much closer offered assistance, with that vessel communicating with Iranian naval forces.

Iran offered a different version of the incident. Press TV, the English-language arm of its state broadcaster, said Sunday that the Iranian navy “warned off an American warship” while rescuing the stranded dhow, a traditional ship.

The U.S. and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the Persian Gulf.


Iranian warship turns away U.S. battleship as Gulf tension flares: Tasnim

September 10, 2017


BEIRUT (Reuters) – A rocket-bearing Iranian military vessel confronted an American battleship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat, the Tasnim news agency reported Sunday.

The American battleship turned away after the warning from the Iranian vessel, which belonged to the naval branch of the Iranian army, according to Tasnim.

The Iranian military vessel then towed the fishing boat, which had sent out a distress signal after taking on water, back to shore.

The site did not specify when the incident, which happened close to the strategic Straight of Hormuz, took place.

Tensions have been on the rise between the Iranian and U.S. military in the Gulf in recent months.

In early August, an unarmed Iranian drone came within 100 feet (31 meters) of a U.S. Navy warplane as it prepared to land on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf, a U.S. official said at the time.

And in late July, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards (137 meters) in the first such incident since President Donald Trump took office in January, U.S. officials said.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration, which has taken a hard line on Iran, recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the U.S. Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle


Peace and Freedom Note: Reuters seems to have picked up and reported Iranian propaganda, since there are no “American battleships” on active service in the U.S. Navy. All four U.S. Navy “battleships” are retired. Certainly there is more factual information to follow this report….


Iran Land Route Delights Qataris; Irks Saudi Arabia

September 6, 2017
Wed Sep 6, 2017 8:28AM
This photo shows workers unloading cargo of fruits at a Qatari port.
This photo shows workers unloading cargo of fruits at a Qatari port.

A land route from Turkey to Qatar via Iran is now operational, with 200 trucks of food having already arrived in the Persian Gulf peninsula.

The trucks carrying milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and other food products made the journey from the Turkish city of Mardin to the Iranian port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf from where they were carried by Ro-Ro ships to the Qatari port of Ruwais.

Qatar is under a blockade by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt which cut trade and transport links with Doha in June in a diplomatic dispute which has exposed serious fissures in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Turkey and Iran were quick to ease the economic stranglehold on the tiny Arab nation, flying food and other commodities as the diplomatic fallout escalated, and then agreeing on a land route to export goods to Qatar.

The Doha-based Al Sharq newspaper quoted prominent Qatari businessman Ahmed al-Khalaf as saying that the new land trade line between Turkey and Qatar via Iran was reducing the cost of transportation drastically.

Meanwhile, the sea route between Turkey and Qatar initially took 11 days, while a separate land route took 14 days. The new commercial land line via Iran has shortened the duration to less than two days.

The distance between Mardin and Bushehr is about 1,700 km, which can be traveled by trucks in about 22 hours. The route by sea between Bushehr and Qatar’s Hamad Port takes just 8 hours to cover, where the wheeled cargo is carried by roll on/roll off ships.

This means a truck with Turkish goods can reach Doha via Iran in less than two days.

A long line of Turkish trucks are waiting on a road in the Iranian city of Maku in this file photo.

The Iran trade route is “a significant step in tackling the illegal blockade as less transportation time means perishable goods can be transported quickly without damage,” the Qatari daily The Peninsula wrote.

According to board member of Qatar Chamber Mohammed bin Mahdi Al Ahbabi, the new route via Iran has been reducing the cost of transportation by about 80 percent compared to air cargo.

“The cost of air freight is ranging between $1.2 and $1.5 per kilogram, while the cost of road transport (via Iran) is approximately 15 cents,” he said.

Trucks are parked at a terminal in the Iranian port of Bushehr in this file photo.

Iran’s network of road and rail lines

Chairman of Qatar Consume Ali Hassan Al Khalaf, who runs a chain of retail outlets across the country, said the new land route is going to be more sustainable and economically viable in the days to come.

“As more and more importers start using the route, the economies of scale will come into play, which will help further reduce the transportation cost,” he told the Qatari paper.

The businessmen touched on a wide network of road and rail lines which Iran has developed, saying other neighbors of the Islamic Republic such as Russia and Pakistan can also benefit from the new land route to export their goods to Qatar.

Before the diplomatic crisis, Qatar relied almost entirely on Saudi Arabia for imports. Ali Hassan Al Khalaf said unlike the Saudi land route, the Iran trade line will have lesser number of checkpoints, which will ensure a faster movement of trucks.

“This will not only save a lot of time and money, but goods will reach without losing much of their nutritional value.”


Oman is benefiting from the standoff over Qatar — And a loan from China helps too

September 1, 2017

The Economist

As other neighbours seek to isolate Qatar, Oman lets vital supplies get through

THE Omani port of Sohar usually slows down during the summer. But this year it is buzzing. According to a government official, cargo volumes are up by 30% in the past few months, as more ships arrive carrying goods bound for Qatar. Such is the level of traffic that the Qatari ambassador to Oman hails the sultanate’s ports as the new gateway to his country, supplanting the port of Jebel Ali in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Oman sits at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, but beyond the Strait of Hormuz there is discord. On the western and southern shores lie Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have cut diplomatic and commercial ties to Qatar, their neighbour, over its alleged support for extremists and ties to Iran. Oman has stayed out of the dispute. It is helping Qatar to bypass the siege and quietly benefiting from the crisis.

Oman has often acted as a mediator of squabbles in the region. But early in the current crisis, the sultanate showed where its sympathies lie. When Qatar Airways, the national airline, was barred from Saudi airspace in June, Omani aeroplanes (rented by Qatar) ferried stranded passengers from Jeddah to Doha. Since then, ties between the sheikhdoms have strengthened. Nearly 150 Qatari investors showed up for a recent event in Muscat to promote investment in Oman. Only 20 were expected. “A lot of deals were inked,” says an Omani businessman.

“We benefit [from the standoff], but we don’t want to be seen to benefit,” says an Omani official, wary of irritating Saudi Arabia. Oman has a well-earned reputation for pushing back against Saudi dominance in the Gulf. Its ageing ruler, Sultan Qaboos, has stymied big regional initiatives, including efforts to create a single currency. Like Qatar, Oman also has good ties with Iran. So it sees a cautionary tale in the crisis. If Qatar can be punished for its independent outlook, who is to say Oman won’t be next?

Oman’s response has been quietly to reduce its reliance on its closest neighbours. As well as enhancing its ties with Qatar, it has forged new trade links with Iran. A $3.6bn loan from China, signed in early August, helped Oman to fund government spending for the year. In the past, the sultanate turned to Saudi Arabia or the UAE for cash. China is also investing heavily in the port and industrial zone of Duqm, which an analyst describes as “like a Chinese economic city”.

The bullying of Qatar has set the whole region on edge. Mediation efforts by America, Germany and Kuwait have failed to resolve the dispute. Qatar’s decision on August 23rd to re-establish full diplomatic ties with Iran seems to indicate a hardening of its position. For now Oman benefits. But if the feuding continues to undermine the stability of the one part of the Middle East that has been largely free of turmoil, that will not be good for anyone.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “A port in the storm”

France’s President Macron Discusses Fate of Detained Journalist, Syria With Turkey’s Erdogan — Macron May Be Making Others Uneasy

August 27, 2017

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on Sunday with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan about efforts to free a French journalist detained in the country, and the two leaders also discussed the Syrian crisis.

A statement from Macron’s office on Sunday said Macron had demanded the release and return to France of journalist Loup Bureau, who was seized by Turkish border guards on the frontier with Iraq in early August.

“The two presidents agreed to make further contact, and at the ministerial level as well, in order to arrive at a positive outcome,” the statement from the Elysee Palace said of the journalist’s plight.

They also discussed the situation in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf region as well as the battle against terrorism, with France working to create a specialist contact group to discuss Syria on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Susan Thomas)


By Henry Samuel and 

Emmanuel Macron will seek to prove France is taking the lead in Europe on Monday when he hosts a summit with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Italian and Spanish leaders.

The get together between the leaders of Western Europe’s top leaders bar Britain’s comes in the wake of a furious diplomatic row between the French president and Poland, which slammed the 39-year old wunderkindt as “arrogant” and “inexperienced”.

After a faultless start to his presidency in terms of statesmanship, clouds are gathering for Mr Macron.

Three months into his five-year term his popularity has plunged at home and he faces a potential backlash against labour reforms he intends to push through by decree next month – just as French workers and unions return to work after their long summer break.

Mr Macron has been hit by scandals over the role of his wife, Brigitte, and the amounts spent on his make up artist
Mr Macron has been hit by scandals over the role of his wife, Brigitte, and the amounts spent on his make up artist CREDIT: AFP

He also come under fire this week after it emerged that he had spent €26,000 on makeup in his first three months in power. …

Read the rest:


Majority of people in France now dissatisfied with Macron: poll


PARIS (Reuters) – Most French voters are now dissatisfied with Emmanuel Macron’s performance, a poll showed on Sunday, a dramatic decline for a president who basked in a landslide election victory less than four months ago.

The poll, conducted by Ifop for newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD), showed Macron’s “dissatisfaction rating” rising to 57 percent, from 43 percent in July.

Forty percent expressed satisfaction with the centrist leader – down 14 points from July.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said the ruling party was going through a tricky time, but added that displeasing some people was a price worth paying if the government wanted to push through reforms.

“Yes, we are encountering difficulties, but you cannot just spend your time only looking at polls when you’re in government. We are there to transform the country. Our country needs us to take risks, and we are taking risks,” Castaner told BFM TV.

Macron, who is midway through a schedule of official visits to various European capitals, has suffered a number of setbacks since being elected, including tough debates in parliament over labor reform, a standoff with the military and cuts to housing assistance.

Social media commentators and political opponents criticized the president after it emerged he spent 26,000 euros ($31,000) on makeup during his first 100 days in office and his office also backed down on plans to give his wife a formal, paid role after a public backlash.

Bernard Sananes, head of French polling company Elabe, said the latest survey could encourage Macron’s political opponents, after his party won a commanding majority in parliament.

“It could mean, for the government, that the opposition mobilizes itself again,” Sananes told BFM TV.

The Ifop poll showed the cumulative drop in Macron’s popularity ratings since May was bigger than that of previous Socialist president Francois Hollande over the same period.

The poll also showed a drop in popularity for Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, with 47 percent expressing satisfaction with him – down 9 points from last month.

Macron, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, faces a big test next month when the far-left CGT trade union leads a rally to protest against plans to deregulate the jobs market.

“Now is the key time, with the labor executive orders to be presented,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Geneva-based investment firm Prime Partners, who has an “underweight” position on French equities. ($1 = 0.8386 euros)

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Myriam Rivet; Editing by John Stonestreet/Keith Weir

U.S. Shift Boosts Afghans, Risks Pushing Pakistan Toward China

August 22, 2017

Afghan president says move to help counter Taliban, but Pakistani officials believe there is no military solution.

A member of the Afghan security forces fires on Islamic State militants on April 11 during an operation in eastern Nangarhar province.
A member of the Afghan security forces fires on Islamic State militants on April 11 during an operation in eastern Nangarhar province. PHOTO: NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Aug. 22, 2017 1:22 p.m. ET

The Trump administration’s tougher approach to Pakistan bolstered Afghan officials fighting the Taliban, but officials and analysts in Islamabad warned that Washington’s new stance encourages it to deepen ties with China and risks fueling the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

A day after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would expand its military involvement in the country, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday the greater U.S. role would help counter the Taliban, which has expanded the territory it controls in recent months.

“The U.S.-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever in overcoming the threat of terrorism that threatens us all,” Mr. Ghani said. “The strength of our security forces should show the Taliban and others that they cannot win a military victory. The objective of peace is paramount.”

President Donald Trump said U.S. policy in Afghanistan and South Asia will “change dramatically,” adding that he will push Pakistan to fight terrorism more effectively. Photo: Reuters

Three Takeaways From Trump’s Afghanistan Speech
President Trump outlined his new stance to combat terrorism in Afghanistan on Monday night, saying that U.S. troops will continue to stay in the region and that the fight will only become more intense. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib gives us three takeaways from the speech. Photo: Getty

But Pakistani officials believe there is no military solution to the Afghan war and that peace talks with the Taliban are needed, not additional U.S. troops and the “fight to win” position announced by Mr. Trump.

“The policy announced is a recipe for instability. It won’t work. It has been tried, tested and failed,” said Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Senate defense committee in Pakistan’s parliament.

On Tuesday, Pakistani officials also bristled at Mr. Trump’s comments, in which he said that Pakistan continued to harbor “agents of chaos,” and threatened to cut American aid unless that changes.

Afghanistan and its Western allies have long accused Pakistan of providing covert support to the Taliban and harboring the group’s leaders. Islamabad denies the allegations, although it has acknowledged some influence over Taliban officials.

Joining the U.S. war on terror has cost Pakistan tens of thousands of lives and massive economic losses, according to Pakistani officials.

“No country in the world has done more than Pakistan to counter the menace of terrorism,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. “It is, therefore disappointing that the U.S. policy statement ignores the enormous sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani nation in this effort.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, reiterated Pakistan’s “desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan” in a meeting Tuesday with the U.S. ambassador, David Hale, the ministry said. Mr. Asif is due to travel to the U.S. for talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the next few days.

The new pressure on Pakistan will deepen Islamabad’s partnership with China, as will Mr. Trump’s call on Monday for India to “help us more with Afghanistan,” analysts said.

“Pakistan will be telling America, ‘Don’t push us too hard’,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

China has a $55 billion infrastructure-building program in Pakistan. On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said “Pakistan is on the front lines in fighting terrorism and has made great sacrifices and contributions to fighting terrorism. The international community should fully affirm the efforts by Pakistan.”

Islamabad, meanwhile, accuses archenemy India of using Afghan territory to support jihadist and separatist militants that fight Pakistan. In the 1990s, a proxy war between Pakistan and India for influence in Afghanistan tore the country apart in a civil war.

“This is a real apprehension in Pakistan that America is going to use India’s presence inside Afghanistan to wage a proxy war against Pakistan for India’s own reasons and for the reason that they will be able to subvert the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” said Rifaat Hussain, a defense analyst based in Islamabad.

New Delhi said it was ready to help more in Afghanistan. The foreign ministry said India would continue its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, where it has built dams, roads, government buildings and other infrastructure. India provides millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan and trains Afghan security forces.

The ministry said it welcomed Mr. Trump’s remarks on “confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists.”

But India also remains wary of aggravating tensions with Pakistan. Vivek Katju, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul, said India would watch closely for signs of how Mr. Trump planned to implement his tough talk on Pakistan.

The Taliban on Tuesday warned the U.S. against widening its role in Afghanistan, saying they will continue fighting until all American troops have departed Afghan soil.

“If America doesn’t withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the day won’t be far when Afghanistan shall transform into a graveyard for the American empire,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

According to the United Nations, the group now has “significant influence” over, or fully controls, some 40% of Afghanistan’s territory, home to around a third of the country’s population.

In his speech Monday, Mr. Trump didn’t spell out troop numbers. He said conditions on the ground, rather than timetables, would determine his administration’s approach, even as he noted that the U.S. wouldn’t remain in Afghanistan indefinitely or write “a blank check.”

former president Barack Obama’s decision to announce U.S. plans for withdrawal in 2014 was criticized for emboldening the Taliban at a time when the U.S. was seeking a peaceful resolution to the war.

U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, stressed Tuesday that Washington had no timetable for the pullout of U.S. forces from the country.

“Our future presence will be based on conditions and not arbitrary timelines,” Gen. Nicholson said. “This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily. Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile.”

U.S. officials say Mr. Trump’s revised approach will include an increase of up to 4,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops in the country, working alongside about 4,000 troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The U.S. forces both train and advise the Afghan military and fight with Afghan troops against the Taliban and the local affiliate of the militant group Islamic State, which has gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in the past year.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance joined the Trump administration in its commitment to Afghanistan, adding that the alliance would discuss “the way ahead” there—an apparent reference to what Mr. Trump said Monday would be a U.S. request to NATO to send additional troops to the country.

Some Afghans remained skeptical about the Trump’s administration’s plans, calling them vague about the envisioned role of the U.S. military in the country and about how it will win more cooperation from Pakistan.

“What kind of action will he take against Pakistan if it continues to harbor terrorists? What are his pressure tools?,” asked Atiqullah Baryalay, a retired Afghan army general and security analyst. “His policy seems ambiguous and unclear…. Meanwhile the war continues in the country. It intensifies day by day.”

Write to Saeed Shah at and Margherita Stancati at


These Days, All Roads Lead To Beijing

The success of the new Silk Roads depends on delivering win-win scenarios.

Huffington Post

07/28/2017 01:54 pm ET

Tourists ride camels in the Mingsha Shan desert, part of the ancient Silk Roads, during the Silk Road International Cultural Expo in Dunhuang City. Sept. 20, 2016.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, at the beginning of September 2013, few thought it was anything but another ordinary visit. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, had been to the Kazakh capital several times and usually talked about how he welcomed good relations with one of China’s neighbors to the west. But when Xi began his speech, it was obvious that something new was afoot. The Chinese president was offering more than the usual banal platitudes. He was talking about the future, and he was talking about a plan.

For more than 2,000 years, he said, the peoples who live in the heart of Asia had been able to coexist, cooperate and flourish despite “differences in race, belief and cultural background.” It was a “foreign policy priority,” he went on, “for China to develop friendly cooperative relations with the Central Asian countries.” The time had come, he said, to make economic ties closer, improve communication, encourage trade and enhance monetary circulation. The time had come, he said, for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” to be built. The time had come to breathe new life back into the old Silk Roads, a series of trade routes that once connected Asia, Africa and Europe.

Cynics listening to the speech would have been forgiven for thinking this was wishful thinking. Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain, there had been talk of old connections rebooting and new Silk Roads surging to life. Indeed, just two years before Xi’s speech, Hillary Clinton, then U.S. secretary of state, gave an upbeat talk in Chennai, on the southeastern coast of India, in which she outlined her hopes for the future. “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan and India’s growing energy needs,” she said, “and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.”

A map illustrating China’s Belt and Road Initiative at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong. Jan. 18, 2016.

It all sounded positive and exciting. The problem was that nothing ever came of it. As a senior official at the Asian Development Bank pointed out in 2011, it was all very well talking of massive infrastructure projects like roads, energy plants and pipelines. But “unless the job is funded, it ain’t going to happen.” Anyone can have a vision. What matters is turning it into reality. When historians look back at the first two decades of the 21st century, it is unlikely that many will focus their attention on the failure of the U.S. to follow up on the project outlined by Clinton.

It will be another matter when it comes to tracking what happened after Xi left Astana. Barely two months later, in November 2013, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China promised to take matters forward. “We will set up development-oriented financial institution,” the announcement stated, “accelerate the construction of infrastructure connecting China with neighboring countries and regions, and work hard to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road to form a new pattern of all-round opportunities.”

Since then, nearly $1 trillion has been earmarked for projects that form part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The scale of proposed investment is breathtaking, comparable only to the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II when the Marshall Plan provided capital, expertise and energy to pull half a continent devastated by fighting and suffering off its knees.

The scale of the initiative is breathtaking, comparable only to the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II.

The Belt and Road Initiative promises to do more. Tens of billions of dollars have been pumped into the Silk Road Fund and a handful of policy and development banks to push ahead with major investments in Asia, Africa and Europe across multiple sectors. In June, Commerce Minister Zhong Shen said terms had been agreed upon for at least 24 new deals in Kazakhstan alone, with a value of more than $8 billion that included investment in energy, mining, the chemical industry, mechanical manufacturing, agriculture and digital exchange.

Then there is the $55 billion that is due to be invested in Pakistan, of which around two-thirds is to be spent on building 21 power plants that will transform the energy security of a country where outages and blackouts interrupt the work day, reduce productivity and affect family life. Some experts believe Chinese investment might account for 20 percent of the Pakistan’s GDP over the next five years and boost growth by as much as 3 percent per year — an astonishing indication of the potential power of the shot in the arm that might be produced by the re-galvanization of the Silk Roads.

Given the context of forging present and future connections across continents, it is not surprising that much attention is being paid to the past. Precedents and parallels are important in providing intellectual credibility and framing the overarching vision of what is at stake. As Xi put it at a major forum in Beijing in May, the “ancient silk routes embody the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.”

It is not surprising, of course, that the emphasis should be placed on the positive exchanges that were enabled and facilitated along the Silk Roads, rather than pointing out that disease, environmental change and violence also sometimes coursed along the arteries connecting east with west. Nevertheless, it is striking to note that while the rhythms along the Silk Roads were not always smooth, they compare favorably when set alongside those of Europe, whose history was shaped by almost never-ending confrontation and warfare.

The rhythms along the Silk Roads compare favorably when set alongside those of Europe, whose history was shaped by almost never-ending warfare.

The Silk Roads of the past were an abstract series of connections. There was no one single route or road connecting China across the center of Asia to the Mediterranean but rather a criss-crossing spider’s web that linked oasis to oasis, village to village, town to town. Most of the interaction along the Silk Roads was local in nature and involved petty transactions. Movement of high-value, high-status items — silks and other textiles, ceramics, spices, fruit, precious metals and jewels — was smaller in quantity but caught the eye of commentators as well as consumers.

People in the past were as curious about the world as we are today and were keen to try new tastes, consider new fashions and learn about new ideas. What has changed, of course, is the speed at which we are connected in the modern world: news and information moves more or less instantaneously from one side of the world to another, while we are able to travel thousands of miles quicker and more cheaply than any generation in history before us.

The Belt and Road Initiative therefore fits in alongside the paradigm of the old Silk Roads insofar as there is little congruity to which regions, countries and places fall within the geographic parameters of the scheme and which do not. In fact, some 60 countriesstretching across Asia into Europe and Africa are part of the initiative, representing some 60 percent of the world’s population.

As Chinese state media has noted, while the leadership used to talk in terms of China playing an important role in the international community, the language has recently changedto talking of China as a “guide” for others and to Xi as a leader of the “new world order.” Nowhere is this change better illustrated than in the video above, released to mark the Belt and Road Initiative forum in Beijing in May. “Why is there conflict and war? Why is there prejudice and famine? What’s wrong with the world?” sings a mournful cartoon character. “What can we do?” runs the refrain. The answer, set out to comfort those worried by pollution, inequality, warfare and change, is clear: “China has a solution.”

That solution involves building a shared future for mankind — something Xi articulated in the spring of 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he talked of economic and environmental sustainability and of the importance of cooperation. “When encountering difficulties,” he said, “we should not complain about ourselves, blame others, lose confidence or run away from responsibilities. Instead we should join hands and rise to the challenges.”

Few had any doubts who or what he had in mind when he said that or when he warned of the dangers of trade barriers being put up. U.S. President Donald Trump had talked regularly of imposing tariffs on trade with Beijing. Xi was pre-empting potential moves from a new White House administration, noting at Davos that “pursuing protection is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain might be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.” Troubles in developed economies had been caused by the “excessive chase of profit by financial capital and a great failure of financial regulation,” he said.

The first freight train directly connecting China to the U.K. arrived in London on Jan. 18 after a journey of 18 days and roughly 7,500 miles.

One of the key elements behind this massive investment is the preparation for China’s medium to long-term future. With energy needs expected to triple by 2030, securing oil and gas to fuel economic and industrial growth has been a priority. This is one reason why funding has been made available for pipeline construction but also for forward purchases of oil like the massive deal with Russia’s Rosneft, purportedly worth $270 billion.

Wider commercial and strategic aims are also part of the story. Connected by new roads that run through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor up into western China, the Pakistani port city of Gwadar offers opportunities and options for both trade and security. Sending goods overland to Gwadar and onward significantly reduces the cost and time compared to shipping them from ports on the Pacific coast. Doing so provides an alternative to the anxieties over territorial issues in the South China Sea but also reduces the risks of passage through the pinch point of the Strait of Malacca, which handles almost all China’s maritime traffic. It also offers access to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf for Chinese navy ships, which are stationed and serviced out of Gwadar, ostensibly to provide protection for trade routes.

There is growing realization in Beijing that while it may be going too far to claim that China’s future depends on its neighbors, working to upgrade and improve the neighborhood is good for everyone. There are, of course, many reasons to do so. Leadership roles require the assumption of responsibilities— one reason why Chinese diplomats are increasingly active in shuttle diplomacy between Afghanistan and Pakistan, urging both nations to form a bilateral “crisis-management mechanism” to patch up a relationship that is often rather sketchy.

The answer — set out to comfort those worried by pollution, inequality, warfare and change — is clear: ‘China has a solution.’

There is more to this than playing a role, though. Chinese troops have reportedly been operating either just inside Afghanistan, in the Wakhan Corridor, or close to the border the two countries share, which is just under 50 miles long. Several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang by Muslim extremists have raised fears of contagion of militant ideas and activities — leading to a heavy crackdown on the Uighur population in western China that has included putting soldiers on the streets and banning some Muslim names and the sporting of beards.

The attention being paid by Beijing to states beyond its western border has of course had the effect of raising the profile and importance of the provinces in western China itself, which have become among the fastest growing in the country. The Belt and Road Initiative has helped fuel a growth spurt in regions that were falling behind the prime strip along the Pacific coast. One expected side effect of the investment abroad is a rebalancing of China’s own demographic and socioeconomic profile, spread more evenly around the country.

That virtuous circle also lies behind some of the drive to provide credit lines and expertise for projects across Asia and beyond. They offer outlets for excess capacity at a time when China’s industrial growth is slowing down and the economy is shifting toward services. Improving links, making border controls quicker and more efficient, and agreeing on common standards to enable optimal velocity of exchange opens up potentially lucrative — and huge — markets for Chinese manufacturers and businesses.

Only about 6 percent of households in India have a computer, for example, and less than a third have a refrigerator. Countries like Pakistan (population 190 million), Bangladesh (160 million) and India (1.3 billion) are potential gold mines, especially if new infrastructure provides reliable energy and enables improvements in roads, railways, ports and digital networks. Xi talks about the new Silk Roads being a “win-win” situation. He might even be right.

Xi Jinping and Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, at a ceremony celebrating economic cooperation and energy agreements. Sept. 7, 2013.

But he might not be. These are still early days. Given the scale and breadth of what has been envisaged, it is important to recognize that plans will change and reshape over time. Some projects will inevitably work out better than others; some will be more complicated, more troublesome and less rewarding than others. The success of the initiative will depend not only on how lessons are learned from when things go wrong but which lessons are learned: bad experiences can sometimes increase resolve and improve decision-making in subsequent projects. But they can also be off-putting and close doors entirely.

And what sounds exciting to Chinese ears often sounds positively threatening to others. The high visibility of Silk Roads investments has sharpened antagonisms in some quarters. New Delhi has reacted badly to announcements from Beijing about the new Silk Roads, partly due to hurt pride and a sense of being outmaneuvered by a rival. At stake is the long and difficult relationship that India has had with China going back centuries. Competition and animosities still run high, fueled by a long-standing, unresolved border dispute.

Xi talks about the new Silk Roads being a ‘win-win’ situation. He might even be right.

Alarm bells have also gone off, however, because of the proposed investments into Pakistan, an even greater rival to India than China, where upgrades to the army and economy have led to howls of complaint. The Indian government conspicuously avoided the Beijing forum in May, refusing to send an official delegation and instead issuing a sour statement about all that is wrong about the Belt and Road Initiative. “We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality,” read a statement issued by India’s Foreign Ministry. The statement said the Belt and Road Initiative would lead, among other problems, to an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved in Beijing’s plans.

Not to be outdone, India has been working on its own versions of the initiative, spawning multiple schemes to collaborate on projects with Bangladesh, Burma and Thailand — the “Act East” policy, the Trilateral Highway project and the “Neighborhood First” scheme. India has also developed a “Go West” strategy that is centered on creating a port facility at Chabahar in southeastern Iran, to mirror and rival Pakistan’s Gwadar Port.

Robust rhetoric gives the impression that direct confrontation between India and China may not be far away. Memories of the war between the two countries in 1962 still loom large half a century later ― in recent months, a stand-off on the Dolam Plateau has caused military activities to rise sharply and stoke tensions that already run high. The Indian defense minister angrily noted this month that “the India of 2017 is different from the India of 1962,” General Bipin Rawat, the chief of staff of the Indian Army, stated that India “is fully ready for a two-and-a-half front war” — presumably meaning being able to fight China, Pakistan and dissidents in India simultaneously.

Although bluster like this can have consequences, it is also dangerous to let overenthusiastic declarations and denunciations take center stage. After all, there is no reason why India’s own version of the Belt and Road Initiative cannot succeed just as China’s can. And there’s no reason why the two cannot complement each other. Indeed, the fact that attention in Delhi has turned to how to best understand and react to activity led by Beijing should be welcomed and seen as part of a new Asian age where old connections are remade, new ties are forged and mutual opportunities are explored.

An Indian Army helicopter flies over a peak in the Western Himalayas. Oct. 12, 2016.

The development of the Belt and Road Initiative and the responses in India are being watched carefully in Moscow. Russia has been careful to offer warm words of encouragement, with President Vladimir Putin noting that he had “no doubt that we will work together … [to] benefit both the Chinese and the Russian peoples,” welcoming “a new stage of cooperation in Eurasia.”

But Russia has also been keeping its options open. The Kremlin has been conducting vigorous and regular diplomatic activity in the Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia — and also with India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed to St. Petersburg this summer “to discuss a wide range of issues related to strengthening the privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India.” Putin is not just watching from the sidelines — he is thinking about how to best participate during a time of transition.

Hopes are partly set on the Eurasian Economic Union, a free trade area set within a wider vision of joint investment, intelligence sharing and mutual interests. This body, made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, overlaps with the Belt and Road Initiative — at least according to Putin. Rather than compete with China’s plans, he has said, “the main thing we should do is combine our efforts” — suggesting that the EEU is Russia’s own version of how to improve connections across the heart of Asia.

What sounds exciting to Chinese ears sounds positively threatening to others.

Countries from the Pacific through the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean recognize the potential possibilities of the Silk Roads. But many also have limited choices. “Other countries have lots of ideas but no money,” said Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia. “But for China, when it comes with an idea, it also comes with the money.” The lure of possible investment is not welcomed by all, as angry demonstrations in Kazakhstan in 2016 over the possibility of opening up land for Chinese buyers proved. Many in Pakistan are wary about potential suffocation by Chinese investment, both because of its sheer scale and firepower, but also because they worry that they’ll lose control of the entire supply chain, with Chinese farmers using Chinese pesticides and fertilizers to grow crops that are gathered by Chinese workers, transported on Chinese vehicles and sold to consumers in China.

Adding to these problems is the asymmetry of the Belt and Road Initiative. While China is keen to open up new markets abroad, it is not opening up its own domestic market. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is one leader who has been vocal about the need to “increase opportunities for Kenyan goods to penetrate the Chinese markets.” “If [China’s] win-win strategy is going to work, it must mean that, just as Africa opens up to China, China must also open up to Africa,” he said.

This proved a sticking point at the Beijing forum this year, where representatives of the European Union refused to sign a joint statement about the wonders of the Belt and Road Initiative. The EU was not able “to confirm our joint commitment to international trade rules and to a level playing field for all companies,” according to Daniel Rosario, the EU spokesman for trade. As a statement issued by the French embassy in Beijing noted tartly, the initiative’s success depends on “open, rules-based public tenders and reciprocal market access.”

‘If [China’s] win-win strategy is going to work, it must mean that, just as Africa opens up to China, China must open up to Africa.’Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

We are living in a time of change in a world where power, wealth and expectations about what tomorrow will bring are in flux. Eight hundred years ago, a similar massive shift in the center of gravity took place when Genghis Khan and his heirs built the land empire connecting the Pacific coast of China with the Mediterranean. The initial, sudden wave of conquest gave way to peace and to what is sometimes called the Pax Mongolica — the Mongol peace — a long period of stability, rising prosperity and cooperation. The Mongols paid the price for not commissioning historians to preserve their legacy. Today they are synonymous with violence rather than tolerance, with crude use of force rather than sophistication and with haphazard destruction rather than careful planning.

Once upon a time, all roads led to Rome, as the saying goes. These days, all roads lead to Beijing. In the coming years, much will depend on how well China executes its plans for the future and how well it can choose projects that really deliver a win-win scenario not just for business tycoons and political leaders but for local populations. Much will also depend on the ability to explain what is going on and to not seek the best bargain but rather the best long-term deal. Perhaps most important of all, it depends on being able to win goodwill through building relationships that are ultimately based not on commercial and economic interests but on mutual respect.

History teaches us that the cornerstone for this geopolitical alchemy lies in education. Learning about each other’s histories — about what has mattered in the past and what matters in the future, and being able to understand grievances, slights and petty rivalries — is what will ultimately decide how successful the Belt and Road Initiative will be in the long term.


Saudi renews Iraq ties in bid to keep distance from Iran

August 22, 2017


© 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

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of July signalled the Gulf Sunni powerhouse’s ambition to distance its Iranian foe from policy-making in Baghdad.In the wake of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Riyadh severed relations with Baghdad and closed its border posts with its northern neighbour.

Ties have remained strained even after Saddam’s ouster in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, since when successive Shiite-dominated governments in Baghdad have stayed close to Tehran.

But Sadr’s rare visit to Saudi Arabia came at the invitation of Riyadh, which played up his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Two weeks later, Sadr followed up by holding talks in Abu Dhabi with its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, strongman of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and close ally of his counterpart in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

“Hosting Sadr in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi shows regional rivals and particularly Iran that KSA/UAE are capable of tapping into and influencing intra-Shia politics in Iraq,” said Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

For the Gulf monarchies, “Sadr would be a prize catch: authentically Shia-Iraqi, distrustful if not disdainful of Iran and with a genuinely organic and loyal grassroots following.”

– ‘Pulling the strings’ –

The pro-Western Arab states of the Gulf aim to show that Iran no longer holds a monopoly on influencing policy in Baghdad, according to Iraqi political scientist Hashem al-Hashemi.

Tehran “prided itself on pulling all the strings among the Shiites (of Iraq) but it seems that several strings are now beyond its grasp, like that of the Sadrists”, Hashemi said.

In June, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also a Shiite, held meetings in Saudi Arabia, four months after a visit to Baghdad by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, a first of its kind since 2003.

Image result for Adel al-Jubeir, al-Abadi, photos

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (left) and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

For Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute, such interaction with Riyadh could come at a price.

“Tehran will view the Saudi Arabian engagement by Abadi and Sadr as another reason that Abadi must be displaced as premier in the 2018 elections,” said Knights.

“And Iran will work hard behind the scenes with money, media and weapons to make that happen.”

But at the same time, Haddad warned that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi should not count too heavily on Sadr to restore their influence in Baghdad at the expense of Tehran.

“They should moderate their expectations as to how much he will be willing to deliver,” he cautioned.

Tehran has played a major political, economic and military role in Baghdad since the end of Saddam’s rule, during which Shiites were barred from powerful posts and Shiite-majority Iraq fought a 1980-1988 war against Shiite but non-Arab Iran.

According to the Carnegie Middle East Center, Iranian exports, not including fuel, tripled between 2008 and 2015 to reach $6.2 billion.

Apart from military advisers on the ground in Iraq, Iran also sponsors several armed groups, in particular the paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi units that are playing a key role in fighting the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

On his return from Saudi Arabia, Sadr renewed calls for the dismantling of armed groups, a stance which “makes him particularly attractive to KSA/UAE”, said Haddad.

But the firebrand cleric, whose own armed supporters fought fierce battles against US and government forces in the wake of the invasion, has steered clear of openly condemning Hashed al-Shaabi, which was set up at the request of the Shiite religious hierarchy in post-Saddam Iraq.

– Arar starting point –

Furthermore, Haddad stressed, a warming in ties between Riyadh and Sadr cannot be compared to close relations between two states.

“We’re still a long way from Iraqi-Saudi relations coming anywhere near the depth or complexity of Iraqi-Iranian ties,” he said.

But in a first decisive step, Riyadh and Baghdad have announced plans to reopen the Arar desert crossing, their main border post and a potential alternative to Iraq’s posts with Iran that are used for most of its imports.

The border has been shut for most of the past three decades to all travellers except Iraqi Muslim pilgrims heading to and from Mecca in western Saudi Arabia.

The announcement was made during a joint inspection of the Arar post by Iraqi and Saudi officials as well as Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the international coalition fighting IS.

by Ali Choukeir

Iran Sending Warships to the Atlantic Ocean

August 15, 2017

August 14, 2017 2:45 pm

Iran is preparing to send a flotilla of warships to the Atlantic Ocean following the announcement of a massive $500 million investment in war spending, according to Iranian leaders, who say the military moves are in response to recent efforts by the United States to impose a package of new economic sanctions on Tehran.

The military investment and buildup comes following weeks of tense interactions between Iran and the United States in regional waters, where Iranian military ships have carried out a series of dangerous maneuvers near U.S. vessels. The interactions have roiled U.S. military leaders and prompted tough talk from the Trump administration, which is currently examining potential ways to leave the landmark nuclear deal.

Iran’s increasingly hostile behavior also follows a little-noticed United Nations report disclosing that Iran has repeatedly violated international accords banning ballistic missile work. Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and some policy experts also believe that Iran has been violating some provisions in the nuclear agreement governing nuclear-related materials.

With tensions over sanctions and Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement growing, Iranian parliamentary members voted to increase war spending by more than $500 million. This is at least the second recent cash influx to Iran’s military since the landmark nuclear deal that unfroze billions in Iranian assets and saw the United States awarding Tehran millions in cash.

Iranian lawmakers reportedly shouted “death to America” as they passed the measure, which boosts spending to Iran’s contested missile programs by around $260 million.

The bill also imposes sanctions on U.S. military officials in the region. Additionally, Iranian officials are moving to set up courts to prosecute the United States for the recent sanctions, which Iran claims are in violation of the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, following several aggressive encounters with U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf, Iranian military leaders announced that they would be leading a flotilla of warships into the Atlantic Ocean.

“No military official in the world thought that we can go round Africa to the Atlantic Ocean through the Suez Canal but we did it as we had declared that we would go to the Atlantic and its Western waters,” Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying over the weekend.

“We moved into the Atlantic and will go to its Western waters in the near future,” Sayyari said.

U.S. military officials reported Monday yet another “unsafe” encounter with an Iranian drone that was shadowing a U.S. carrier in the Persian Gulf region and reportedly came close enough to an American F-18 jet to risk the pilot’s life.

As with other similar encounters during the past months, the Iranian craft did not respond to repeated radio calls by the United States. While the drone is said to have been unarmed, it is capable of carrying missiles.

Iranian leaders have been adamant that the country will not halt its work on ballistic missile technology, which could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

The United States has issued several new packages of sanctions as a result of this behavior, but U.N. members have yet to address the issue, despite recent reporting that found Iran is violating international accords barring such behavior.

“Little-noticed biannual reporting by the UN Secretary General alleges that Iran is repeatedly violating these non-nuclear provisions,” Iran Watch, a nuclear watchdog group, reported on Monday.

“Thus far, the United States has responded to such violations with sanctions and designations of Iranian and foreign entities supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile development,” the organization found. “However, the U.N. and its member states have not responded. More must be done to investigate allegations of noncompliance and to punish violations of the resolution.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), a proponent of a more forceful policy on Iranian intransigence in the region, told the Free Beacon that the Trump administration must make it a priority to address Tehran’s increasingly bold military activity.

“Iran was emboldened to flex its military muscle after eight years of President Obama’s passivity and his delivery of cold, hard cash to the regime, but they should make no mistake: President Trump was elected to put a stop to rogue regimes pushing America around, and the American people know he will address the world’s lead sponsor of terrorism with resolve,” Duffy told the Free Beacon.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, said that Iran’s recent behavior shows the regime has not moderated since the nuclear deal was implemented. The Obama administration sold the deal in part on promises that it could help bring Tehran into the community of nations.

“Every time the Islamic Republic has cash, it chooses guns over butter,” Rubin told the Washington Free Beacon. “What the [nuclear deal] and subsequent hostage ransom did was fill Iran’s coffers, and now we see the result of that.”

“What [former President Barack] Obama and [former Secretary of State John] Kerry essentially did was gamble that if they funded a mad scientist’s lab, the scientist would rather make unicorns rather than nukes,” Rubin said. “News flash for the echo chamber: Iranian reformist are just hardliners who smile more. Neither their basic philosophy nor their commitment to terrorism have changed.”

Update 6:52 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Rep. Duffy.

Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is