Posts Tagged ‘Rouhani’

Iran threatens ballistic missile attacks on the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in video

September 25, 2018

An Iranian media outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) published a video on Tuesday threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with missile attacks.

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The video tweeted and later deleted by the semi-official Fars news agency comes as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for an attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday.

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

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The video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.

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“The era of the hit-and-run has expired,” Khamenei’s voice is heard in the video, the segment taken from an April speech by the supreme leader. “A heavy punishment is underway.”

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Iran has fired its ballistic missiles twice in anger in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Daesh attack on Tehran, the IRGC fired missiles striking targets in Syria. Then, earlier this month, it launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

 

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Houthi Military Media Unit shows the launch by Iran-backed Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia March 25, 2018. Houthi Military Media Unit-Handout via Reuters

The IRGC, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran’s ballistic missile program.

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Under Khamenei’s orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.

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Saturday’s attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as “Sacred Defense Week.” Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria July 4, 2018. (Reuters)

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Arab separatists in the region claimed the attack and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran’s government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran’s Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, also has seen recent protests over Iran’s nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.

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Daesh also claimed Saturday’s attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as Daesh followers.

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Iranian state TV reported that authorities have detained 22 people linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. Fars also reported that five militants took part in the assault, all of whom were killed. It said two of them were brothers and another one was their cousin.

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On Monday, the IRGC’s acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge against the perpetrators and what he called the “triangle” of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.

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Gen. Hossein Salami

“You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions,” the general said. “We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge.”

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Khamenei said Monday that the attack showed Iran has “a lot of enemies.” He linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives” behind the terror attack, he said.

The Associated Press

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1377556/middle-east

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EU and Iran create ‘special vehicle’ to trade despite US sanctions — Too little too late?

September 25, 2018

The EU hopes the new framework will keep firms doing business with Iran. European businesses have already pulled out and the currency has plummeted as the threat of US sanctions looms.

    
EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif at the UN

The remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear deal announced on Monday that they would establish a channel to facilitate payments for Iran’s exports, including oil, as well as its imports. The decision was reached after high level, closed-door talks at the UN in New York.

“Mindful of the urgency and the need for tangible results, the participants welcomed practical proposals to maintain and develop payment channels, notably the initiative to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports, including oil,” Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU said in a joint statement.

The group said they were determined “to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran.”

An SPV could breathe life into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal, and was sought by Tehran in order to counter the re-imposition of sanctions triggered by the US exit from the deal.

The EU has struggled up until now to devise a workable legal framework to shield its companies from the effects of US sanctions, which are set to come into effect in November, and has tried to deter firms from pulling out of Iran.

Nonetheless, a number of business including French energy giant Total, carmakers Peugeot and Renault, as well as Germany’s Siemens and Daimler have already suspended operations in Iran..

The impending sanctions have also had a debilitating effect on Iran’s economy, helping trigger a slide in Iran’s currency. The rial has lost about two-thirds of its value this year, hitting a record low against the US dollar this month.

Read more: How the EU plans to get around US sanctions on Iran

EU and member state ministers met with Iran's foreign minister in MayEU and member state ministers met with Iran’s foreign minister in May

An EU legal entity

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the countries were still working out the technical details, but explained that member states will create a “legal entity” to ensure legitimate financial transactions can be made with Iran.

“In practical terms, this will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance with European Union law and could be open to other partners in the world,” she told reporters.

Read more: US reimposes sanctions on Iran: What does that mean?

Mogherini stressed that the financial facility could also help preserve the nuclear agreement that is “in the international interest” and that the EU argues has been successful at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapon.

The announcement at the UN comes a day before Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani separately address the General Assembly, where the US leader is expected to take a hard line on Iran.

https://www.dw.com/en/eu-and-iran-create-special-vehicle-to-trade-despite-us-sanctions/a-45623867

Iran’s Terms to Reopen Nuclear Talks? Trump Has to Back Down Image

September 25, 2018

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, visiting the United States for the first time since President Trump exited the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, said Monday that the only way his country would consider new talks with Washington is for Mr. Trump to reverse himself and honor the agreement.

Speaking to a group of two dozen academics, former government officials and journalists, Mr. Rouhani argued that going back “six months ago is much easier than going back six years,” when the first efforts to negotiate an agreement were first broached.

While he declared that Mr. Trump’s strategy of trying to crush the Iranian economy with sanctions would fail, he expressed no anger and portrayed his government as the one that was abiding by international agreements that the United States had tossed aside.

But when pressed on how long Iran planned to play a military role in Syria, Mr. Rouhani was unrelenting. “We will be in Syria until terrorism is completely eradicated,” he said, and as long as Iran remained invited there by the Syrian government.

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran after speaking Monday at a peace summit honoring Nelson Mandela during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  Credit Carlo Allegri/Reuters

“The U.S. sees a right for itself to have a presence in the region,” he said, referring to the Middle East. But it “does not recognize the right for Iran.”

Despite his relentless optimism in his appearances on Monday, Mr. Rouhani arrives at a perilous moment for his government. As sanctions have begun to bite, the Iranian economy is once again under tremendous pressure, its currency plummeting, its oil sales jeopardized. His enemies in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military unit that also oversaw the nuclear program, have been in the ascent, arguing that the United States was an untrustworthy negotiating partner, and that Mr. Rouhani was naïve to have entered the agreement.

On Monday evening, Mr. Rouhani got a boost from the remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear accord. They issued a defiant statement, reaffirming their commitment to the deal and vowing to find ways to circumvent Trump administration sanctions to continue to do business with Iran.

“The participants recognized that Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear related commitments as confirmed by 12 consecutive reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said the statement, which was signed by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and Iran.

The statement was read first in English by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, and then in Farsi by Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering of world leaders in New York.

As part of their effort to save the Iran deal, the ministers agreed to create a special vehicle that would facilitate legal financial transactions with Iran and protect companies doing business with the country from American reprisals. Exactly how the vehicle will function will be worked out in future meetings, the statement said.

In his session Monday evening, Mr. Rouhani deflected questions about Iran’s repression of dissent, its imprisonment of Americans and other Westerners on thin charges of plotting against his government and its support of terrorism. Instead, he noted divisions inside the Trump administration, saying he did not know whether to believe Mr. Trump, who has said he would meet with Mr. Rouhani at any time, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has laid out a list of conditions from ceasing missile tests to stopping support of terrorism.

But Mr. Rouhani, sitting beside Mr. Zarif, his foreign minister and chief negotiator on the nuclear deal, insisted he had “no regrets” about striking the deal with the Obama administration three years ago. He described it as an accord that briefly “built trust,” and described Mr. Trump’s efforts to dismantle it as self-destructive. Picking a single example, he said that cutting off sales of airplane parts “didn’t help Boeing,” endangered Iranian air passengers and ultimately harmed the United States.

He argued that Iran did not exit the Iran deal after the United States did, saying that he did not want to play into Mr. Trump’s designs.

“We have a great deal of patience,” he said, seeming to suggest that he would wait out the Trump administration. But he said Iran could exit the deal “at will” if it determined it was in its interests.

Though Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Trump will be moving through some of the same rooms at the United Nation this week, there appears to be little chance they will meet or talk.

But Mr. Rouhani, on his first day in New York for the annual opening of the General Assembly, went on a public relations blitz, speaking for hours to editors and reporters, appearing on NBC’s evening news, and talking optimistically about future dealings with Europe, China and Russia. He dismissed the effects of new American sanctions scheduled for November, when the United States plans to tell companies around the world that if they want to deal with Iran, they cannot do business with the United States.

“The United States is not capable of bringing our oil exports to zero,” Mr. Rouhani told Lester Holt of NBC. “It’s a threat that is empty of credibility. Perhaps on this path, we will sustain certain pressures but certainly the United States will not reach its objective.”

Iran vows ‘crushing response’ over deadly parade attack, blames ‘foreign regime’

September 23, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed a “crushing” response after assailants sprayed a crowd with gunfire, shooting dead at least 25 people including women and children Saturday at a military parade near the Iraqi border.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the rare assault in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, while Iranian officials blamed “a foreign regime” backed by the United States.

A local journalist who witnessed the attack said shots rang out for 10 to 15 minutes and that at least one of the assailants, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, wore the uniform of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“We realised it was a terrorist attack as bodyguards (of officials) started shooting,” Behrad Ghasemi told AFP. “Everything went haywire and soldiers started running.”

© AFP | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the annual military parade in Tehran on September 22, 2018

“The terrorists had no particular target and didn’t really seem to care as they shot anyone they could with rapid gunfire.”

Ahvaz lies in Khuzestan, a province bordering Iraq that has a large ethnic Arab community and has seen separatist violence in the past that Iran has blamed on its regional rivals.

Iran summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain over their “hosting of some members of the terrorist group” which carried out the attack, state media said Sunday.

“It is not acceptable that the European Union does not blacklist members of these terrorist groups as long as they do not perpetrate a crime on… European soil,” official news agency IRNA quoted foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

After addressing a similar parade in Tehran to commemorate the start of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Rouhani warned that “the response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing”.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the attack was carried out by “terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime”.

“Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks,” he wrote on Twitter.

‘Bloody crime’

IS claimed the attack via its propaganda mouthpiece Amaq and, according to intelligence monitor SITE, said the attack was in response to Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region.

State television gave a toll of 29 dead and 57 wounded, while IRNA said those killed included women and children who were spectators at the parade.

Three attackers were killed at the scene and the fourth died later of his injuries, said armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi.

The Revolutionary Guards accused Shiite-dominated Iran’s Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia of funding the attackers, while Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also blamed Iran’s pro-US rivals.

Tehran-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah condemned the “terrorist” attack, saying that “repulsive Satanic hands” were behind it.

“This operation was a continuation of the other forms of war the United States and its allies are waging, directly or indirectly,” it said.

In a message to Russia’s close regional ally, President Vladimir Putin said he was “appalled by this bloody crime”, while Syria, another ally, neighbouring Turkey and France also expressed condolences.

Khuzestan was a major battleground of the 1980s war with Iraq and the province saw unrest in 2005 and 2011, but has since been largely quiet.

Kurdish rebels frequently attack military patrols on the border further north, but attacks on regime targets in major cities are rare.

On June 7, 2017 in Tehran, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks on the parliament and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — the first inside Iran claimed by IS.

In April, 26 alleged members of the Sunni extremist group went on trial in connection with the attacks.

Rouhani defiant

The attack in Ahvaz came as Rouhani and other dignitaries attended the main anniversary parade in Tehran.

In a keynote speech, he vowed to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, despite Western concerns that were cited by his US counterpart Donald Trump in May when he abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.

“We will never decrease our defensive capabilities… we will increase them day by day,” Rouhani said.

“The fact that the missiles anger (the West) shows they are our most effective weapons.”

The United States reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran last month, and another round of even harsher sanctions targeting Iran’s vital oil sector is set to go back into effect on November 5.

Washington has said it is ready to open talks on a new agreement to replace the July 2015 accord, but Tehran has repeatedly said it cannot negotiate under pressure from sanctions.

Rouhani leaves Sunday for New York to attend next week’s United Nations General Assembly along with Trump, but Iran has repeatedly ruled out any meeting.

(AFP)

Iran asks UN to condemn Israeli threats

September 20, 2018

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations has asked in letters to its secretary-general and Security Council for condemnation of Israeli threats against Tehran and to bring Israel’s nuclear program under its supervision.

(File/AFP)

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Iranian state television said Gholamali Khoshrou has asked the United Nation to force Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and bring its nuclear program under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN atomic watchdog.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1374981/middle-east

John Kerry, Meet George Logan

September 17, 2018

Is it a crime to meet with Iranian officials? It may well be.

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George Logan, call your office. That’s my reaction to news that former Secretary of State John Kerry has, by his own account, been meeting privately with Iranian officials to try to save the nuclear deal.

Logan was the Pennsylvania politician whose unauthorized efforts to end the Quasi-War between France and America led to the Logan Act of 1799, which outlaws freelance diplomacy.

The New York Post has called Mr. Kerry’s conniving a “textbook violation” of the law. President Trump, after all, has pulled out of the nuclear accord and decided on a different course. Iran’s leaders, at least for the moment, are hanging onto the deal. Why not? It has brought billions to their coffers as they expand their military campaigns in the Mideast.

Last week the New York Times quoted “experts” as suggesting that the ayatollahs are “gambling” that Mr. Trump will be “crippled” in the midterm elections or swept out of office in 2020.

George Logan (1753-1821), depitcted in 1800.
George Logan (1753-1821), depitcted in 1800.PHOTO: COURTESY OF HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF PENNSYLVANIA COLLECTION/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

So have the Democrats been colluding with them? Or, as radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Mr. Kerry last week, has the former secretary of state been “trying to coach” Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif?

“That’s not how it works,” Mr. Kerry said. “What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East.” He insisted he’d been “very blunt.” Mr. Kerry also told Mr. Hewitt that the administration appears “hell-bent-for-leather determined to pursue a regime change strategy” in Iran. “I would simply caution that the United States historically has not had a great record in regime change,” Mr. Kerry said. He added that it makes it “very difficult, if not impossible” for Iran to negotiate.

This is Mr. Kerry’s modus operandi. In 1970, as an antiwar Vietnam veteran, he met in Paris with enemy envoys while American GIs were still in combat. Back in Washington, in his notorious 1971 testimony, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if the U.S. set a date for quitting Vietnam, the communists would allow GIs safe passage.

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Sen. George Aiken of Vermont asked whether the North Vietnamese might help carry our bags. “I would say they would be more prone to do that than the army of the South Vietnamese,” Mr. Kerry quipped. The hearing broke into laughter and applause at the expense of America’s allies.

Once Mr. Kerry became a senator himself in 1985, he promptly jetted off, with fellow freshman, Tom Harkin of Iowa, to meet with another Marxist adversary, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. “From my vantage point,” Mr. Kerry writes in his new memoir, “it was far from a simple black-and-white battle of good versus evil. Even then it felt much more like a classic choice between shades of gray.” So the pair brought back a cease-fire proposal. That infuriated the Reagan administration.

Sen. Barry Goldwater suggested Mr. Kerry had violated the Logan Act. No charges were brought. The law hasn’t been used in 166 years—how could one compel foreign interlocutors to testify?—and no one has ever been convicted of violating it. That may be because circumstances are often cloudy, or involve members of Congress, such as calls for Logan charges against 47 senators who warned Iran in 2015 of the weakness of any agreement not approved by Congress.

In 2017 Democratic lawmakers even sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking for an investigation of President-elect Trump for alleged unauthorized diplomacy. They were upset at his phone calls with foreign leaders during the transition.

Yet has there ever been a case as clear as Mr. Kerry? The president tweeted that Mr. Kerry’s meetings with “the very hostile Iranian regime” were “illegal.” Will he take care that the laws be faithfully executed?

Mr. Lipsky is editor of the New York Sun.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/john-kerry-meet-george-logan-1537129799

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Turkey-Russia discord over Idlib defers regime offensive, for now

September 15, 2018

Disagreement between Turkey and Russia over how to tackle the Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib seems to have deferred a looming regime offensive on the province, analysts say.

Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the conflict, but key global allies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian and Iranian leaders Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on September 7 to discuss Syria, just as a major assault by Russia-backed regime forces on Idlib appeared imminent.

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But discord at the summit between Erdogan and Putin, in a rare scene captured on camera, may have prompted Russia to postpone the Idlib strike so as not to provoke Ankara, which is fiercely opposed to a military option.

“I believe an offensive, if there will be one, will not come before several weeks,” a senior Turkish official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkey, which backs rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, co-sponsors — with regime allies Russia and Iran — the so-called Astana talks launched in January 2017 in the quest for a lasting ceasefire.

To date, the dialogue has resulted in the creation of four pre-ceasefire “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including in Idlib.

Idlib is the last major opposition stronghold in the war-torn country. Sixty percent of the area is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, an al-Qaeda branch operating in Syria.

Intense negotiations have taken place between Turkey and Russia since the failure of the Tehran summit, to hammer out a compromise in a bid to avert an assault which Erdogan has cautioned would ignite a “bloodbath”.

Such a compromise could include neutralising the HTS — officially designated as a terror group by Ankara. Erdogan and Putin are expected to discuss the issue when they meet in the Russian resort city of Sochi on Monday.

– Compromise formula –

For Turkey, the stakes are high.

Ankara fears a large-scale assault on Idlib, which lies on its southern border, could trigger a massive flow of refugees onto its soil. Turkey is already home to more than three million Syrians who have fled the conflict.

Abdul Wahab Assi, an analyst at the Syria-based Jusoor Studies Centre, said disagreements at the Tehran summit “rule out a possible offensive in the short run, at least until the end of the year.”

He said a possible compromise from the ongoing talks could take the form of a “limited military operation or surgical strikes” targeting the HTS, or modifying the borders of the de-escalation zones to keep armed rebels from certain sectors.

Russia may be open to such a plan, Assi said, as long as it would secure the Idlib section of the Aleppo-Damascus highway and put an end to drone attacks launched from Idlib against Moscow’s main military base of Hmeimim in the neighbouring province of Latakia.

Some three million people live in Idlib province and adjacent areas, the United Nations says, around half of whom have already fled their homes in other parts of Syria.

Regime forces and Russian warplanes resumed airstrikes on Idlib in September but the strikes fell in intensity this week.

– Turkish ‘defensive’ reinforcements –

Turkish media reported Ankara has sent reinforcements, including tanks, to beef up its border with Syria and its observation posts in Idlib.

Turkish military analyst Metin Gurcan, judges these measures to be of a “defensive” nature, aimed at protecting Turkish observation posts against any possible threat.

Gurcan said the lack of an agreement with Ankara could push Moscow, and thus the Syrian regime, to stage an “incremental operation that will last months” rather than a full-fledged attack.

“Russia is trying to keep Ankara in the game,” he told AFP, saying any confrontation between the two countries was “highly unlikely.”

“Moscow needs Turkey as a Sunni power to balance Shiite militias’ presence in northern Syria,” he said.

AFP

Unease, anger in Tehran as economy worsens

September 13, 2018

Just one shop among the thousands in Tehran’s sprawling Grand Bazaar can offer a tableau of the darkening mood descending across Iran as American sanctions again take hold.

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A salesman who wants to move to Europe for a better life shows off his pots and pans to a mother now struggling to pay for the gifts she wanted before her daughter’s marriage amid the collapse of Iran’s rial currency. Another salesman loudly blames internal politics and corruption for the country’s woes. Muttered curses and even shouts against the government follow the journalists talking to them.

In this Monday, Aug. 13, 2018 photo, people shop for carpets at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

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While only a small moment in a nation of 80 million people, it shows the dangers ahead for the government of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani. His signature nuclear deal with world powers now has become a noose around his neck that hard-liners gleefully tighten. Meanwhile, the sporadic and leaderless protests the nation has seen over its worsening economy threaten to roar back to life at any time.

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That has many expecting the worst is yet to come.

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“It has become more difficult, but we need to lower our expectations,” said Kiana Ismaili, 26, shopping ahead of her wedding.

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For centuries, Iran’s bazaar has been the beating heart of both its economic and political life. While some now go to the Western-style mega-malls of Tehran’s tony northern suburbs, the Grand Bazaar’s narrow alleys, cramped stalls and wandering musicians still draw crowds of thousands.

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Strikes in Iran’s bazaar also have served as political bellwethers.

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Bazaar families opposed the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw him replaced by the Shiite theocracy and elected officials. More recently in June, protesters swarmed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and forced shopkeepers to close their stalls, apparently in anger over the rial dropping to 90,000 to the US dollar on the black market despite government attempts to control the currency rate.

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The rial in the meantime has dropped as much as 150,000 to $1 with many anticipating further drops as the US restores punishing sanctions on Iran’s crucial oil industry in early November. The Trump administration denies it is seeking to overthrow Iran’s government through the economic pressure, though Iranian officials say the link between the two is clear.

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Fear over the economy has brought many to the Grand Bazaar in recent days to buy what they can before their savings further dwindle away.

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“People are buying more because they think they won’t be able to buy stuff with current prices anymore. They are worried about price fluctuations,” said Omid Farhadi, a 25-year-old sales clerk at the kitchenware shop Zomorrod, or “Emerald” in Farsi.

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“You have no price stability in this country. You go to bed and overnight a car that was worth 100 million rials is now worth 140 million.”

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As shoppers looked over his pots and pans, Farhadi said he hoped to immigrate soon to the Netherlands. He said other young Iranians with the financial means want to leave the country as well, while those without, longingly look at life in Europe.

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Farhadi largely blamed Iran’s poor relations with the rest of the world for the faltering economy.

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That’s spearheaded by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

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While the United Nations repeatedly has said Iran complies with the accord, Trump said he wanted a stricter deal that also constrained Iran’s ballistic missile program and its foreign policy while permanently limiting its atomic program.

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While Iranians remain angry at Trump over adding them to his travel ban and pulling out of the deal, many feel even angrier at their own government. That’s due to a steady stream of corruption cases and allegations of mismanagement by officials.

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Farhadi’s colleague at the shop made a point to tell visiting Associated Press journalists he believed Iran’s main problem lay with Rouhani’s administration. The government’s management of Iran’s economy, already hobbled by high unemployment, growing inflation and debt-laden banks, also faces widespread criticsm.

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“Ninety percent of our problems are because of the infighting,” said salesman Alireza Alihosseini. “I don’t know why but the government and the supreme leader have differences. Only 10 to 5 percent is because of America.”

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The mother of Ismaili, the young woman shopping ahead of her wedding, then came up and asked to talk as well. She spoke carefully about how Iran has faced sanctions and international pressure in the nearly 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, calling the recent pressure nothing new.

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Men listening to her speak then started muttering, some cursing her loudly for her comments. A man in the market, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals for his criticism of the government, put his blame squarely on those in charge of the country.

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“For someone like me, a young man, if I’m hungry and I don’t have a job I’ll turn into a thief. I’ll turn into a vampire,” he warned.

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Elsewhere in the market, some even defended Trump, like Mahdirashid Mohammadzadeh, whose small stall in the jewelry section of the bazaar has seen customers eagerly buying gold as a hedge against the falling rial.

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“Once we made peace with Obama, we were never so cheap,” he said.

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Asked what caused the economic woes, Mohammadzadeh blamed Iran’s costly foreign intervention in Syria.

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“This is the people’s money,” he said. “We have done nothing wrong to deserve this, but they are sending all our money to Syria.”

The Associated Press

With little leverage, US mostly powerless as bloody Idlib offensive looms

September 9, 2018

Washington has threatened to respond militarily to a chemical attack, but fate of last rebel-held enclave is in hands of Damascus, Moscow and Tehran

This picture taken in Kafr Ain on September 7, 2018, shows smoke rising as government forces target the city, 4 kilometers east of Khan Shaykhun in the southern countryside of Idlib province. (AFP/ Anas AL-DYAB)

This picture taken in Kafr Ain on September 7, 2018, shows smoke rising as government forces target the city, 4 kilometers east of Khan Shaykhun in the southern countryside of Idlib province. (AFP/ Anas AL-DYAB)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite dire US warnings and fears of a humanitarian disaster, the Trump administration has little leverage to stop Russia, Iran and Syria pressing ahead with a massive military assault against Syria’s northwest Idlib province.

Washington has threatened military action in case of a chemical weapons attack but its mixed messaging on retaining a US presence in Syria and a cut in aid has diminished its already limited influence over the seven-year conflict.

So the administration, which has criticized former President Barack Obama for his inaction on Syria after the war started in 2011, risks appearing powerless to prevent the three nations’ plan to retake Syria’s last rebel-held area. It’s an operation that many warn will cause major bloodshed among a vulnerable population of 3 million people.

And on Saturday, Syrian government and Russian warplanes targeted the province’s southern edge in what activists described as the most intense airstrikes in weeks. More than 60 air raids killed at least four civilians in southern Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rescue workers.

While the new US special envoy for Syria said this week that America will stay in Syria until the complete eradication of the Islamic State group, there’s little assurance that President Donald Trump won’t again seek the withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 US troops in the country. And in a sign of the administration’s shrinking commitment to Syria, it has pulled more than $200 million in stabilization funding for liberated areas, telling other nations they should step up to pay.

Syrian and Russian forces stand guard as civilians enter the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province, on August 20, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / George OURFALIAN)

A summit in Tehran on Friday between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was seen as a chance for a diplomatic solution before a full-scale assault on Idlib. The three nations are all tacitly allied against IS and in support of a unified, stable Syria, but have differing views of how to achieve those ends.

After Friday’s talks, the UN envoy for Syria told the UN Security Council there were indications that the three leaders intend to continue talking to avoid a catastrophe. But above all, the summit highlighted the stark differences among these allies of convenience, with Putin and Rouhani opposing Erdogan’s call for a cease-fire.

Syrian protesters wave the flag of the opposition as they demonstrate against the regime and its ally Russia, in the rebel-held city of Idlib on September 7, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / OMAR HAJ KADOUR)

As they discussed the fate of Idlib, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was talking tough in New York, telling the Security Council that the United States would consider any assault on the province as a “dangerous escalation” of the conflict that has already claimed more than 400,000 lives and forced more than 5 million Syrians to flee the country.

“If (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, Russia, and Iran continue, the consequences will be dire,” said Haley, who was chairing the council meeting. “The Assad regime must halt its offensive … Russia and Iran, as countries with influence over the regime, must stop this catastrophe. It is in their power to do so.”

A handout picture taken and released on September 7, 2018, by the Turkish Presidential Press service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) , Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) joining hands during a trilateral summit in Tehran. (AFP/Turkish Presidency Press Office)

Those remarks capped a week of rising US rhetoric opposing the Idlib operation.

On Monday, Trump tweeted: “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!”

A day later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded on the tweet, and renewed calls for the conflict to be resolved through the UN-led Geneva Process, which has been stalled for years. And on Thursday, the man Pompeo chose to be his point-man on getting the Geneva process back on track, veteran diplomat James Jeffrey, reiterated Trump’s message, saying the US would use all the “tools” it has to respond to a chemical attack.

Another “tool” in the US arsenal is economic pressure. The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on nine people and companies for assisting weapons or fuel transfers to the Assad regime on Thursday. But sanctions have been ineffectual since they first began to be applied during the Obama administration.

A Syrian man walks past a stall in the rebel-held northern Syrian city of Idlib’s central Clock Square on September 6, 2018. (AFP/ Zein Al RIFAI)

Even American airstrikes launched against the Assad government have had limited impact in the past.

Twice before the US has resorted to missile strikes in response to chemical weapons attacks, only to see them used again. As Syrian forces prepare for the assault on Idlib, US and UN officials again see signs that those internationally prescribed weapons are being readied for the battlefield.

In this April 14, 2018 file photo, Damascus skies erupt with surface to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

“There’s lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared,” Jeffrey told reporters Thursday.

Officials and analysts will be watching Idlib closely over the next week ahead of UN-led talks on Syria in Geneva on September 14.

“The Trump administration is really at a Hail Mary moment,” said Nicholas Heras, a Syria analyst and fellow at the Center for New American Security. Idlib is the last opportunity for the US to increase leverage in Syria, he said, and if the province falls before the Geneva talks, Trump administration efforts to re-engage with peace talks will likely fail.

Heras warned that the Trump team is late to formulate a coherent Syria policy.

“It’s like trying to save the house as it’s burning down,” he said.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/with-little-leverage-us-mostly-powerless-as-bloody-idlib-offensive-looms/

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U.S. military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

September 8, 2018

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive on Idlib.

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Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia pose before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 4, 2018. Tolga Bozoglu/Reuters

America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore U.S. warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.

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General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India. Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.

This week, a top U.S. envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.

The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib. President Donald Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.

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File Photo: Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin

Dunford did not say, one way or the other, what he expected Trump to do should Syria use chemical weapons again.

France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.

Dunford declined to comment on U.S. intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.

“I wouldn’t comment on intelligence at all, in terms of what we have, what we don’t have,” he said.

‘DISAPPOINTING’

Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive.

Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”

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Chemical weapons have been used in the past in Syria

“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.

Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.

Turkey says it fears a massacre and it can not accommodate any more refugees flooding over its border.

But Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday a ceasefire would be pointless as it would not involve Islamist militant groups it deems terrorists.

Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there. “There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Robert Birsel

Reuters

See also:

Presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet to Plot Future of Syria Ahead of Battle for Last Rebel Stronghold

Time:http://time.com/5389823/putin-erdogan-rouhani-meet-syria/