Posts Tagged ‘Rouhani’

Iran to Trump: Our ballistic missile program will grow, no matter what

October 14, 2017

By Bob Fredericks
New York Post

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Hassan Rouhani. EPA

Iran will remain committed to a multinational nuclear deal as long as it serves the country’s national interests — and its ballistic missile program will expand despite pressure from the US, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday.

Responding to President Trump’s speech earlier Friday in which he said he would not continue to certify the multinational agreement, Rouhani said in a live television address that it was full of “insults and fake accusations” against Iran, Reuters reported.

“The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure … Iran and the deal are stronger than ever … Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps will continue its fight against regional terrorists,” Rouhani said.

He added that Trump’s decision to decertify the deal would isolate the US as other signatories of the accord remained committed to it. The deal was not renegotiable, he said.

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China urges US to ‘preserve’ Iran nuclear deal

October 13, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) attends a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – China on Friday called on the United States to maintain its commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump is expected to declare no longer in America’s interest.”We believe this deal is important to ensuring the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and regional peace and stability. We hope all parties can continue to preserve and implement this deal,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a regular press briefing.

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with US counterpart Rex Tillerson in a phone call on Thursday to prepare for Trump’s November visit to Beijing, Hua said.

The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks coordinated by the European Union.

While the deal stalled Iran’s nuclear programme and thawed relations between Tehran and its “Great Satan”, opponents say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence in the Middle East.

US officials say Trump will not kill the international accord outright, instead “decertifying” the agreement and leaving US lawmakers to decide its fate.

UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon the agreement.

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Explaining the Iran nuclear deal 01:21

5 Things Trump Needs To Know About Iran

October 12, 2017

BY SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN/ REUTERS

OCTOBER 12, 2017

 

The record of US-Iran negotiations shows that “dual track” policies of pressure and diplomacy are destined to fail.

 

Not all in the administration seem to agree with Trump’s harder-line approach on Iran. Defense Secretary James Mattis has publicly stated that Trump “should consider staying” in the deal, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly argued against decertification.

Speaking after his first meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Tillerson also seemed to indicate a willingness to take a longer-term view when he told a media conference that the Washington-Tehran relationship had “never had a stable, happy moment in it.”

Trump and Khamenei

”Is this going to be the way it is for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives,” he asked.

Tillerson’s remarks evoked an encounter told to me by Mohsen Rafiqdoost, a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander, of a 1982 meeting he had with Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Rafiqdoost recalled suggesting that the US embassy grounds in Tehran be converted to a Revolutionary Guards base. Ayatollah Khomeini rejected the idea, asking “Why would you go there? Are we not going to have relations with America for a thousand years?”

It’s clear that decades of estrangement have led to a fundamental misunderstanding of Iran in Washington. Notwithstanding the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations, every US administration since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed in its declared objective to contain Iran.

If Trump wishes to free future generations of anxiety over US-Iran tensions, he should pay careful attention to five points in formulating his Iran policy.

First, American officials need to stop speaking about Iran in threatening and insulting terms. The Iranian people are proud of their thousands of years of history and above all else view mutual respect as integral to their foreign relations. However, Foreign Minister Zarif told me that Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month was the “most insulting speech of any American president toward Iran since the revolution” and that it “made any potential for dialogue with the United States meaningless.”

Second, US regime change policies have been self-defeating. The principal reason for lasting Iranian distrust of the United States since the revolution has been US policies aimed at undermining and overturning the Iranian political system.

In June, Tillerson openly declared that US policy towards Iran included regime change – a statement not heard from a senior US official in years and which marked a sharp departure from conventional US rhetoric of seeking Iranian “behavior” change. In stark contrast, Barack Obama told the UN that “we are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”

Consequently, he was able to diplomatically engage Iran on its nuclear program, and reach the July 2015 nuclear deal. The respectful letters exchanged between Obama and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei helped set the process in motion. This would not happen today even if Trump made a similar overture, as the key to successful negotiations with Iran is to first drop regime-change policies.

Third, since the 1953 US-led coup that overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iranians have resented US interference in Iran. The political landscape of conservatives, moderates, and reformists in Iran is in many ways similar to the competition between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

As such, any agreement between Washington and Tehran must be negotiated in a way that transcends the partisan divide in each country – or else it would be inherently fragile. The challenges the nuclear deal has been subject to in Washington by the Republican Party is testament to this need. With respect to Iran too, negotiations must be carried out in a way that respects Iran’s political makeup and hierarchies.

Fourth, the Trump administration needs to accept that Iran, as a large country with immense natural resources and an educated population, has legitimate security concerns and interests in its neighborhood.

Washington must recognize that US policies aimed at isolating Tehran and refusing to accept a legitimate Iranian role in the region have only seen Iranian influence grow in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon while US influence wanes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

From Iran’s perspective, its post-1979 foreign policy has been driven by the aim of deterring foreign aggression and securing the country’s borders rather than the pursuit of regional hegemony. After the revolution, Iran was invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and, for much of the past decade, chaos on its thousands of miles of borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – all factors that have compelled it to play a regional role.

If the United States wants to avoid scenarios where regional states aggressively compete for power it must encourage the creation of a regional security system involving the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries along with Iraq and Iran.

Finally, the record of US-Iran negotiations shows that “dual track” policies of pressure and diplomacy are destined to fail. While Trump appears to be trying to bring Iran to the negotiating table in a position of weakness, Iranian policymakers tend to respond to pressure by retaliating in kind.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted how by the time he entered into negotiations with Iran, after years of sanctions, Iran had “mastered the nuclear fuel cycle” and built a uranium stockpile large enough to make 10 to 12 bombs.” In other words, Iran was already a nuclear-threshold state,” wrote Kerry.

The lesson for Washington here is that if push comes to shove, Tehran will develop its own bargaining chips – not capitulate in the face of whatever threats are made when Trump delivers his next policy speech on Iran.

The author is a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University and a former head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Trump’s threats over nuclear deal muffle Iran’s reformists

October 11, 2017

By Al Jazeera

By Ted Regencia

FAST FACTS

  • US President has until October 15 to certify or withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal
  • Agreement was signed by Iran and six world powers in July 2015
  • Since sanctions were lifted, $100bn in frozen Iran assets have been released

Image result for Shiroudi Stadium, Rouhani campaign speech, photos

It was 10 days before the May 2017 presidential elections in Iran. A fired-up crowd of men in green shirts and women in purple headscarves packed a sports stadium in Tehran from floor to ceiling.

Not far from the former US embassy in the capital, they were waiting for the arrival of President Hassan Rouhani, who was campaigning for reelection.

Outside, thousands more were pushing and shoving, jockeying to get in.

As droves of people in purple armbands streamed into the Shiroudi Stadium, the afternoon heat continued to rise. The swirling exhaust fans were no match for the stifling humidity. Rouhani’s campaign organisers started to distribute bottles of water, while supporters were profusely fanning themselves off.

When Rouhani finally emerged on stage, the crowd roared his name, overpowering the thump of his campaign song. His voice strained from campaigning.

Image result for Shiroudi Stadium, Rouhani campaign speech, photos

Rouhani spoke of the country’s aspiration for “freedom and reform”. At times, he would stop to wipe off the sweat from his face.

Then came the repeated rallying cry of his supporters, even interrupting the president mid-speech. “Ma sabze, sabze, sabzim. Batoom banafshemoon kard.”

“We are still green, but your batons have turned us purple,” they said in unison, referring to Rouhani’s purple campaign colour, the colour green that dominated the reform movement during the 2009 election, and the police crackdown that followed.

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Why do Trump’s threats on the Iran nuclear deal matter?

The chant was a clear sign which side the reformers were on, despite their misgivings towards Rouhani during his first term in office.

Rouhani would ride on that momentum to claim a decisive re-election victory, and then push for social, economic and political reforms.

But fewer than five months after victory celebrations, Rouhani’s supporters are now worried that reforms could stall if US President Donald Trump makes good on his promise to tear up the Iran nuclear deal.

Iranian political observers have warned that Trump’s threat could demoralise reformists and embolden the hardliners, sending the country back to a period of political uncertainty and economic recession, or worse, lead it to a military confrontation.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Reuters file

Political and economic anxiety

Saeid Golkar, an Iran expert at the University of Tennessee in the US, told Al Jazeera that tensions and the threat of conflict help Iranian hardliners to “silence the moderates and consolidate their power”.

Saeed Jalili, a Tehran-based journalist, agreed, saying hardliners “feed on the hostility with the West” to consolidate their influence.

While both doubted the possibility of armed conflict in the event Trump scuttles the deal, they said the US threat is already causing anxiety among many Iranians.

“People are worried of the possibility of the return of the sanctions and economic hardships,” Golkar said.

Jalili added that businessmen, as well as the middle class and educated young people, are concerned that economic progress following the lifting of sanctions would be short-lived should the US and Iran return to political hostilities.

Since the Iran nuclear deal was signed in July 2015 between Iran and six world powers, Tehran has scaled back its uranium enrichment programme.

Iran’s FM Mohammad Zarif: ‘The US is addicted to sanctions’

In exchange, sanctions on Iran’s economy were lifted and $100bn of frozen assets were released. Iran was also allowed to trade its oil and gas in the world market, allowing it to earn over $41bn in the fiscal year that ended on March 2017.

During the same period, tourism has also increased hitting six million visitors, with an estimated revenue of $8bn.

Despite some progress, the US has still prevented American banks from dealing with Iranian businesses, and refused US credit card companies from operating in Iran – actions Tehran said violate the deal.

US companies, including oil and gas firms, are also prohibited from doing business there, and those who have managed – such as the aircraft maker Boeing – are being subjected to strict regulations.

Trump factor 

When Trump took office in January, relations between Washington, DC, and Tehran, took a turn for the worse after a couple years of detente.

Trump, who called the Iran nuclear agreement “the worst deal ever” during his campaign, has repeatedly vowed to end it since becoming president.

In September, during his first address at the United Nations, he called the Iranian government “a corrupt dictatorship” that exports “violence, bloodshed and chaos”.

ALSO READ

Is Trump leading the US on a warpath with Iran?

Since then, he has declared that Iran had “not lived up to the spirit” of the deal, hinting that his administration could withdraw from the landmark pact.

The deadline for Trump to make that decision is October 15. But he could make an announcement as early as October 12.

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Angered by Trump’s threats, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared Iran will not give in to US “bullying”.

In his own address before the UN, Rouhani criticised Trump’s remarks as “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations”.

Golkar, the Iran expert and Chicago Council on Global Affairs analyst, said that Trump’s rhetoric alienates progressive and young Iranians, making it difficult for reformist leaders to open a room for compromise with the US.

‘Dangerous ground’

For Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran expert and professor at Georgetown University, it is puzzling that Trump is escalating tensions with Iran as the US faces a “real crisis” with North Korea.

While the Iran nuclear deal is not perfect, she said it was “precisely designed to remove the urgency” of Iran advancing its nuclear energy programme.

“If we’re looking at US foreign policy priorities, Iran should not be this high up given its actual capabilities,” Tabatabai said.

While unconvinced the US wants war with Iran, she said the Trump administration has no viable alternative if it decides to abandon the nuclear deal.

“The situation we are in is incredibly dangerous,” Tabatabai said.

“You have a situation where the two sides are back to not communicating, and their militaries and allies operate in close proximity to one another in a number of theatres. All this is a recipe for misperception and miscalculation.”

Trump eyes designating Revolutionary Guard as ‘terrorists’

Meanwhile, Golkar warned that apart from the possible termination of the nuclear deal, a more worrying prospect is Trump’s threat to declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “terrorist” organisation.

On Tuesday, a Revolutionary Guard spokesman had already warned that Iran would teach the US “a new lesson”, if Trump goes ahead with that decision.

“If the US labels the Guard as as a terrorist group, and decertify the nuclear deal, Iran can react more harshly,” Golkar said reforming to the special military unit loyal to the Supreme Leader.

“They will see this as a full plan for regime change in Iran,” he said.

“Labelling the Guard can change the game completely. It has many unseen consequences, which can lead to a military confrontation with Iran.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/trump-threats-nuclear-deal-muffle-reformists-171011055025802.html

Iran: 10 Trumps couldn’t roll back nuke deal benefits

October 7, 2017

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Hassan Rouhani — AP photo

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president defended the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers on Saturday, saying not even 10 Donald Trumps can roll back its benefits to his country, state TV reported.

Hassan Rouhani’s comments came as President Donald Trump appears to be stepping back from his campaign pledge to tear up the deal, instead aiming to take other measures against Iran and its affiliates.

State TV broadcast Rouhani while addressing students at Tehran University, marking the beginning of the educational year.

“We have achieved benefits that are irreversible. Nobody can roll them back, neither Trump, nor 10 other Trumps,” he said.

Rouhani warned the U.S. not to violate the deal.

“If the United States violates (the nuclear deal), the entire world will condemn America, not Iran,” he said.

Iran accepted curbs on its contested nuclear program as part of the agreement. In return, Iran has benefited from the lifting of sanctions against its oil exports among others.

Trump is expected to take new action against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

He is set to deliver a policy speech on Iran next week in which he is expected to decline to certify Iran’s compliance in the landmark 2015 agreement that the U.S. and its partners signed with Tehran to rein in its nuclear program.

That would stop short of pulling out of the deal. Lawmakers say Trump isn’t going to immediately announce new nuclear sanctions, which are prohibited by the deal, and instead will refer the matter to Congress.

President Trump has repeatedly described the deal as “bad.” He signed a bill that imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them.

Rouhani is struggling to keep the deal on two fronts. One is with Trump, who always says it is a bad deal, and on the other side, hardliners inside the country.

By the time of his 2017 re-election, Rouhani increasingly criticized hard-liners within Iran who criticized him and the atomic deal for giving too much away to the West, especially the U.S., still the “Great Satan” for some even decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran says Tehran, Turkey to confront disintegration of Iraq, Syria — But Assad Said To Be Winning War in Syria and Iraq “Not Disintegrating”

October 4, 2017

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is seen with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran, Iran, October 4, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Ankara (Reuters) – Iran and Turkey will work together to confront the disintegration of Iraq and Syria to ease tension in the crisis-hit region, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday after meeting with his Turkish counterpart in Tehran.

“We want security and stability in the Middle East … the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan is a sectarian plot by foreign countries and is rejected by Tehran and Ankara,” Rouhani told a joint news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra

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FILE PHOTO: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Assad Said To Be Winning War in Syria

Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday President Bashar al-Assad was winning Syria’s civil war and urged the United States to weigh in as Damascus’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies gain ground.

Avigdor Lieberman’s comments marked a reversal for Israel, where top officials had from the outset of fighting in 2011 until mid-2015 regularly predicted Assad would lose control of his country and be toppled.

“I see a long international queue lining up to woo Assad, include Western nations, including moderate Sunnis. Suddenly everyone wants to get close to Assad. This is unprecedented. Because Assad is winning, everyone is standing in line,” he told Israel’s Walla news site.

In late 2015, Russia helped Assad turn the tide with a military intervention that put Moscow’s forces in the field alongside Israel’s most potent foes – Iran and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah – opposite Syrian rebels.

The United States has focused its Syria operations on fighting rebel jihadis like Islamic State – dismaying Israel, which has tried to persuade both Washington and Moscow that Iran’s expanding clout is the greater threat.

Image result for Avigdor Lieberman, september 11, 2017, photos

FILE PHOTO: Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks during the International Institute for Counter Terrorism’s 17th annual conference in Herzliya, Israel September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

In its decades under Assad family rule, Syria has been an enemy of Israel, with their armies clashing in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982. While largely keeping out of the Syrian civil war, Israel has tried to sway the world powers involved in the conflict and cautioned it could strike militarily to prevent Iran and Hezbollah entrenching further on its northern front.

“We hope the United States will be more active in the Syrian arena and the Middle East in general,” Lieberman said. “We are faced with Russians, Iranians, and also the Turks and Hezbollah, and this is no simple matter to deal with, on a daily basis.”

Lieberman did not elaborate on what actions he sought from the Donald Trump administration, which Israel has been lobbying for reassurances that Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to deploy near its border or set up bases within Syria.

“The United States has quite a few challenges of its own, but as a trend – the more the United States will be active, the better it will be for the State of Israel,” Lieberman said.

(The story is refiled to add dropped source in third paragraph)

Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton

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Iraq forces in ‘final assault’ on ISIL-held Hawija

Hawija is one of only two pockets of territory still under control of ISIL in Iraq.

Al Jazeera

Iraq’s army has launched what it said would be the final assault to capture the town of Hawija, one of two pockets of territory still under control of ISIL in Iraq, the country’s military said in a statement.

Iraqi forces began moving on Hawija two days after capturing the Rashad airbase, located 30km to the south and used by the armed group as a training camp and logistics site.

Iraq launched an offensive on September 21 to dislodge the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) from Hawija, which lies west of the oil city of Kirkuk and north of Baghdad.

The other area of the country still under the control of the group is a stretch of land along the Syrian border, in western Iraq.

ISIL’s self-declared “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, after a gruelling nine-month battle.

Source: Reuters news agency

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/iraq-forces-final-assault-isil-held-hawija-171004054355079.html

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Kurdish referendum inspires Iraq’s Christians to fight for their own independence amid fears of being caught in crossfire

Kurds in Iraq voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of seeking full independence from the central government in Baghdad — setting off a firestorm of international retaliation, including strong objections from the U.S. But the Kurdish quest for their own country has also prodded other minorities in the region — namely the long persecuted Christian community — to vocalize their fears and frustrations about being caught in the middle, and their own ambition for some form of a “safe haven” or autonomy.

“Christians understand the sentiment of self-determination and liberty that drives every man or woman,” Mark Arabo, President of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, told Fox News. “One thing that gives Christians hope is that if Kurdistan is successful in their effort to attain sovereignty, perhaps Christians can successfully carve out a space in the Nineveh Plains that would grant them far greater protection than is currently had.”

There are an estimated 200,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from over 1.5 million prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the majority of whom were forced to flee Mosul and other parts of the Nineveh Plains to the Kurdish-held north in 2014 as ISIS assaulted in on their land.

An Iraqi child works on a temporary mosaic of Pope Francis' face made from wheat, beans and lentils in Alqosh, a village of some 6,000 inhabitants about 31 miles north of Mosul, northern Iraq. (AP)

An Iraqi child works on a temporary mosaic of Pope Francis’ face made from wheat, beans and lentils in Alqosh, a village of some 6,000 inhabitants about 31 miles north of Mosul, northern Iraq. (AP)

Deemed the ancestral homeland of all Christianity — many of these Christian areas in the Nineveh now lie in the disputed areas between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil, and the central government further south in Baghdad.

As a dwindling minority, many Christians view themselves as caught between the crossfire and no longer want to be reliant on either government for security and protection, thus the push to declare their own referendum is only gaining traction. Last month, officials in the few remaining Baghdad churches even called for help in establishing an independent state — similar to that of the Vatican.

Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, stressed that in the wake of the genocide committed against them by ISIS, the only people they can trust are their own.

“When ISIS attacked the Nineveh Plain, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces escaped instead of defending the towns they were assigned to protect, leaving the Christians and Yazidis vulnerable,” she claimed. “What will keep the indigenous people of the land safe and thriving is to have the right to defend and protect themselves. The only way we will thrive as a society and ensure safety is by protecting ourselves.”

Iraq church

A remaining Mosul church after ISIS.  (FoxNews.com )

The increasing tensions between the two governments and threat of military escalation has some Christians on edge that further fighting will only dwindle their numbers further.

“From the beginning, we in the Nineveh Plains asked to be kept away from the referendum because it will create tensions,” said Kaldo Oghanna, director of central media of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, which contends that the referendum does not represent the minorities. “Any problems will cause even more Christians to leave the country.”

And the well-known Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, acknowledged that the future for Christians in the wake of the autonomy push is now more uncertain than ever.

vicar

Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White

“The results of this election have caused huge tensions between Kurdistan and Iraq,” he told Fox News, noting that both Iraq and Kurdistan have become foreign places for Christian communities. “There are a few Kurdish Christians, but not many. They do not see that they have any links with the Kurds there, however there are historic monasteries in places like Dohuk. But most Christians will not go back to Nineveh under any circumstances. Most of them have already fled, or are waiting to leave.”

AFTER VOTE, DEFIANT IRAQI KURDS SAY THEY ARE READY TO FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE

ISIS USED MOSUL CHURCH TO ABUSE YAZIDI GIRLS, WOMEN, IRAQI ARMY OFFICER SAYS

While the referendum was nonbinding, its purpose was to use as evidence that the Kurds – at least 92 percent of the six million in Iraq and in the diaspora worldwide – wanted their own mothership, and to use that card to ignite that process. However, any additional moves for independence are likely to roil the region even further.

Iraq’s Parliament requested that the country’s prime minister deploy troops to the borders of the disputed areas held by Kurdish forces after Iraqi troops abandoned the post when ISIS invaded, provoking concerns of an armed conflict. On Tuesday, joint drills were indeed undertaken by Iran and Iraq forces.

Furthermore, Baghdad has called the vote illegal and halted flights into the main Kurdish airports as well as insisting the region surrender oil revenues.

One Baghdad official told Fox News that they have received “various reports” of Kurdish officials and Peshmerga members “forcing Christians, Muslim Arabs and Yezidis to vote in favor of independence,” of which Taimoorazy concurred.

“Many individuals felt pressured that if they were not to vote for a Kurdish state, they would lose their jobs and livelihood,” she claimed.

A member from the Oil Police Force is seen at Nahran Umran field norh of Basra, Iraq September 8, 2017. Picture taken September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani - RC16F208ACD0

A member from the Oil Police Force is seen at Nahran Umran field norh of Basra, Iraq September 8, 2017.  (REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani)

However, KRG officials have vehemently dismissed such allegations and point out that the semiautonomous region has worked above and beyond to support and safeguard minorities and allow them religious freedom, especially since the majority of them are still being housed as displaced people at a great cost to the Kurdish community.

According to Kelsey Zorzi, New York-based U.N. Counsel for ADF International, whether or not Iraqi Christians — who are generally split between Syriac, Chaldean, Assyrian and Armenian sects — support the independence move simply comes down to which Christian you ask.

“Above all, they are all interested in peace and stability. They want to enjoy their right to religious freedom which the Kurdish government as well as the leadership in Baghdad are willing to grant,” she said. “But given that the Peshmerga were the fiercest opponents of ISIS, Christians living in an independent Kurdistan would not have to fear genocide perpetuated by ISIS.”

Peshmergahighway880

Peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS

Yet Philippe Nassif, Executive Director of the nonprofit human rights group In Defense of Christians (IDC) told Fox News that of the 11 different Christian political parties in Iraq, most of them seem to be divided on the issue of Kurdish independence, but almost all “seek stability and want some form of autonomy over their own affairs.”

“What is important is that Christians are allowed to protect themselves and be given protection by whoever ends up governing these areas,” he added. “It is also important that they are allowed to rebuild their destroyed communities and economy unimpeded.”

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/10/03/kurdish-referendum-inspires-iraqs-christians-to-fight-for-their-own-independence-amid-fears-being-caught-in-crossfire.html

Erdogan visits Iran as ties warm amid shared fears

October 4, 2017

AFP

© Iranian Presidency/AFP / by Marc Jourdier | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) welcomes Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran on October 4, 2017 in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours which both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence

TEHRAN (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran on Wednesday in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours who support rival camps in Syria but both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence.

The two governments fear the secession of Iraq’s Kurds would stoke separatist sentiment among their own large Kurdish minorities and are eager to work together with the federal government in Baghdad to block it.

Erdogan is due to meet both his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state.

He was preceded in Tehran by Turkish armed forces chief of staff General Hulusi Akar, who arrived on Sunday.

Both countries have held military manoeuvres close to their borders with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in recent days to ratchet up the pressure on Kurdish leaders.

Those exercises have also involved forces of the federal government in Baghdad, which has demanded the annulment of the September 25 vote, which returned a 92.7 percent majority for independence.

“Cooperation between Iran, Turkey and Iraq can create stability and security in the region and block moves for secession,” Iranian Defence Minister General Amir Hatami said as he held talks with Akar on Tuesday.

Baghdad imposed a ban on all international flights to Kurdish airports on Friday prompting an exodus of foreigners.

Iran has ordered a halt to all trade in fuel products with Iraqi Kurdistan and has said it will allow Iraqi federal forces to deploy at its border crossings with the region.

Turkey has threatened to close its land border and halt the export of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, an economic lifeline.

Erdogan vowed on Saturday that Iraqi Kurdistan “will pay a price” for the “unacceptable” referendum.

Since 1984, Turkey has battled rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has rear bases in northern Iraq and which initially sought to create a breakaway state.

Two Kurdish rebel groups are active in Iran — the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).

– Pragmatism –

Iran and Turkey have been rivals for centuries but have recently sought to forge a pragmatic relationship, with the Islamic Republic strongly supporting Erdogan after last year’s failed coup.

The two governments have taken opposing sides in the six-year civil war in Syria but relations have thawed this year with them both joining Russia as co-sponsors of peace talks which began in Kazakstan in January.

Those talks have led to the setting up of three safe zones and plans for a fourth, with Iran and Russia keeping the government and its allies on board and Turkey doing the same with the rebels.

Iran and Turkey also both share sympathy with Qatar in a diplomatic crisis that erupted between the Gulf emirate and its neighbours in June.

Qatar, a longtime Turkish ally, hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on Tuesday as the crisis pushes it closer to Tehran.

“We are on an upward and positive path in bilateral relations and regional cooperation between Iran and Turkey,” which is dictated by “reality”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi told the ILNA news agency.

Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper said Erdogan’s visit was an “opportunity to establish the basis for a new regional order and new alliances.”

The two sides are also expected to discuss new economic projects in a bid to meet their goal of boosting bilateral trade to $30 billion in 2018 from $10 billion last year.

The atmosphere for the talks is a far cry from Erdogan’s last visit to Tehran in January 2015 when a speech he gave just days before sparked demands from some Iranian lawmakers for it to be cancelled.

The Turkish leader had accused Iran of seeking to “dominate the region” and demanded that it withdraw its troops from Iraq and Syria.

by Marc Jourdier
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Turkey’s Erdogan in Iran Amid Tensions Over Iraqi Kurd Vote — Turkey asks Iran to take over control of the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan

October 4, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s state TV is reporting the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Iran as Tehran and Ankara weigh how to respond to the Kurdish independence referendum in Iraq.

Erdogan arrived in Tehran on Wednesday and was greeted at the Mehrabad airport by Mohammad Shariatadari, minister of industry and mining.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will welcome him officially at the Sadabad complex later in the day.

Iran and Turkey are among many countries that opposed the Kurdish referendum in Iraq.

Turkey already has several thousand ground forces stationed in northern Syria and Erdogan has stated he will not accept a Kurdish state along his borders.

Ahead of the vote in Iraq, Iran’s army and powerful Revolutionary Guard launched a military exercise in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region.

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Al Jazeera

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to arrive in Iran on Wednesday to hold crucial talks with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.on the outcome of the Iraqi Kurdish referendum and other regional security issues.

Erdogan’s visit to Tehran comes as Ankara continues to seek regional consensus on how to block efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to split from Iraq — a move Turkey fears would have a domino effect on its own 15 million ethnic Kurdish population.

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, the Turkish foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it wants Baghdad to take over from the KRG, the control of the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

OPINION: Is there really a Turkey-Iran rapprochement?

On Sunday, Erdogan told parliament members in Ankara that he expects to draw up an agreement with Iran, on how to respond to the KRG referendum.

Erdogan’s visit to Tehran has been expected since August. But his original agenda focusing on military cooperation to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), and the establishment of a de-escalation zones in Syria, has since been overshadowed by a new regional crisis following the Kurdish referendum.

Turkish and Iranian analysts agree that while Erdogan’s visit is important for both countries, Ankara has much more at stake on its outcome than Tehran.

From a military and security perspective, Erdogan’s visit to Iran is “very important”, as Turkey considers more sanctions on the KRG and its regional capital Erbil, including the shutting of its borders, said Sinem Koseoglu, Al Jazeera’s Turkey-based correspondent and analyst.

She said Turkey could leverage its warming relations with Iran to put more pressure on the KRG to backtrack from its plan to declare an independent state.

On Monday, Erdogan dispatched Gen. Hulusi Akar, the military Chief of General Staff , to Tehran, the first ever visit for a top Turkish military official since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

At their meeting, Akar and Iran’s military chief, Mohammed Hussein Bagheri, condemned the Kurdish referendum as unconstitutional. In August, Bagheri also became the first ever top military official to visit Ankara since 1979.

Akar also held separate talks with President Rouhani, who at the meeting warned that the deterioration of geographical boundaries, in the event of a KRG split from Iraq, would harm regional security and stability.

For his part, Akar said that Turkey and Iran, “will play an important role in the region’s stability and peace with improving cooperation”, following the Kurdish referendum.

On September 25, voters in Iraq’s Kurdish region voted overwhelmingly to back a split from Baghdad, setting off a regional crisis.

Neighbouring Turkey and Iran, as well as Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have opposed the referendum, and have threatened to impose sanctions on the KRG should it decide to go ahead with its decision to declare an independent state.

The United Nations and the US, have also opposed the Kurdish referendum, saying it would distract operations against ISIL, as well as the civil war in Syria.

In the last week following the Kurdish referendum, Turkey has held joint military exercises with Iraq. Separately, Iraq also announced joint military exercises with Iran.

But so far, there have been no agreement reached on military exercises between Turkey and Iran.

Economic ties

Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu said Turkey stands to lose a lot more if its relations with Iraqi Kurdistan deteriorates.

She pointed out that KRG is Turkey’s largest trading partner next to Europe.

Last year trade between the two countries was estimated to be at least $7bn, and it is expected to increase to $14bn this year.

“So what if sanctions is implemented? The businessmen are going to lose, and business is a very important thing in politics as well. That is why until now Turkey has not shut down the borders. ”

During his visit to Tehran, Erdogan is also expected to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [File: AP]

On Iran’s part, even if it shuts down its border with Iraq’s Kurdish region, it will still have other trade corridors going into Iraq, she said.

“So they can still continue to sell their products through the central government in Baghdad. So Iran is not going to lose in this case.”

Within Iran, there are an estimated six to eight million ethnic Kurds, but there have been no significant separatist movement among the ethnic population within its own border.

Iran has also maintained longstanding relations with Iraqi Kurds, supporting Kurdish armed groups during the rule of the Shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The KRG President Masoud Barzani was born in the Kurdish region of Iran.

During the Iran-Iraq war, the Kurds sided with Iran against Saddam Hussein, and Iran opened its doors to the families of Kurdish leaders during that conflict. Saddam also targeted both the Iranian and the Kurds with chemical weapons.

In recent years Iran’s peshmerga fighters fought alongside Iranian-backed militia forces against ISIL.

Uneasy alliance

The Kurdish referendum crisis has pushed Turkey and Iran to set aside their differences for the time being, Rohollah Faghihi, a Tehran-based journalist and political analyst told Al Jazeera.

“There have been no sign of secessionism seen in Iran in the two past decades,” Faghihi said. “But when a crisis occurs next to Iran’s borders, it is natural for Tehran to get worried about them.”

Still he said, that a number of politicians and experts in Iran have argued that Tehran should not react “too harshly” like Erdogan did in recent days.

In response to the referendum, Erdogan warned of military action to stop the KRG splitting from Iraq and “ethnic and sectarian war”.

Faghihi said that despite the warming up of relations, there remains a mutual mistrust between Tehran and Ankara.

“They are actually saying that Erdogan could not be trusted and we shouldn’t follow Turkey’s footsteps for countering Kurdistan, by showing muscles and military power.”

Meanwhile, Sadegh Ghorbani, a Tehran-based analyst, agreed that while the Kurdish issue has drawn Turkey and Iran together, Iran “has the least concern about Kurds”.

“”Unlike in Iraq and Turkey, in Iran many Kurds consider themselves original Iranians,” he said.

“I think the main reason behind Iran’s opposition is that cessation of Kurdistan will harm the integrity of Iraq, and can create a new conflict near Iran’s borders and will also distract everyone from combating ISIL.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/kurdish-secession-tops-erdogan-agenda-iran-visit-171003060210611.html

Mattis, in Afghanistan, Criticizes Iranian and Russian Aid to Taliban

September 28, 2017

Militants mark U.S. defense secretary’s visit with airport rocket attack, highlighting challenges facing the U.S. and its allies

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, on Wednesday during his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, on Wednesday during his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy. PHOTO: RAHMAT GUL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

KABUL—U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday criticized Iran and Russia for continuing to arm and support Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, aid that American officials say provides the militant group with both firepower and added legitimacy.

Mr. Mattis, on his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy last month, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, along with the top U.S. commander there, Gen. John Nicholson.

In a sign of the challenges facing the U.S. and its allies, militants struck Kabul’s international airport in an attack apparently timed to coincide with Mr. Mattis’s arrival. Afghan officials said eight rockets were fired at the airport, while the U.S. military said the attack involved suicide vests and several rounds of high-explosive ammunition, including mortars.

The local affiliate of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault. So did the Taliban, which said it was targeting the defense secretary, who already had left the airport when the attack broke out.

Afghan security forces, with U.S. air support, swarmed the area where the attack was thought to have been launched, and killed four militants, a senior Afghan official said. The airport, which serves both civilian and military air traffic, was closed for several hours afterward.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, salutes Mr. Mattis as he arrives at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday. Gen. Nicholson said the new U.S. strategy has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies.
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, salutes Mr. Mattis as he arrives at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday. Gen. Nicholson said the new U.S. strategy has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies. PHOTO: HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

In a statement late Wednesday, the U.S. military said a missile on one of its aircraft had malfunctioned during the counterattack, causing several civilian casualties. It gave no further details, saying only that the attack and the malfunctioning ammunition were under investigation.

In his comments earlier in the day, Mr. Mattis said Russia and Iran’s continued assistance to the Taliban runs counter to their interests.

“Those two countries have suffered losses to terrorism, so I think it would be extremely unwise if they think they can somehow support terrorism in another country and not have it come back to haunt them,” he said.

Military officials said weaponry and support from the Russians and Iranians serve to strengthen the Taliban, but also bestow a sense of legitimacy. “That’s a lot more dangerous right now than what they’re providing in terms of materiel,” a military official said.

Russia has acknowledged that it shares information with the Taliban in an effort to combat Islamic State, but has denied sending weapons. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, answering a question about the U.S. accusation last month, called it “a campaign based on falsehoods.”

Taliban leaders have described their relationship with Moscow as “just political.” Iranian officials say they have contacts with the insurgent group, but deny providing it with weapons or sanctuary.

Mr. Mattis also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, pictured second from right on a helicopter en route to a Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday. The U.S. has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force.
Mr. Mattis also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, pictured second from right on a helicopter en route to a Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday. The U.S. has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force. PHOTO: THOMAS WATKINS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration’s new approach will add approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to the 12,000 already in Afghanistan. Another 4,000 troops are there as part of a NATO force. The new policy also will pressure Pakistan to seal off havens the administration has said are used by the Taliban and other militant groups to continue fighting the U.S.

The additional troops will reach Afghanistan by the end of the year, officials said. Most will participate in a mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, with fewer than 150 assigned to counterterrorism operations, officials said.

The new U.S. strategy, coming about eight months after Mr. Trump took office, has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies, said Gen. Nicholson. It is based on conditions rather than timelines, meaning the U.S. isn’t expected to draw down its forces until U.S. goals have been reached.

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

“The fundamental difference is in morale,” Gen. Nicholson told reporters.

The Obama administration based part of its Afghanistan policy on timelines, and critics—particularly Mr. Trump—charged that approach signaled to the Taliban that it could just wait out the Americans.

The change by Mr. Trump has had a negative impact on Taliban morale, Gen. Nicholson said, adding that the leadership of the Islamist group has “atomized.”

“For years, they thought we were leaving,” he said, but fresh U.S. and NATO commitments have dispelled that notion.

Islamic State remains a challenge in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. Since at least 2015, the group’s fighters have gained a toehold in eastern Afghanistan, near the country’s border with Pakistan.

The group is resilient, but Gen. Nicholson and other military officials said there were no indications that foreign fighters from Iraq or Syria have escaped that region to come into Afghanistan.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mattis-in-afghanistan-criticizes-iranian-and-russian-aid-to-taliban-1506539364?mod=e2fb

Related:

If you are talking Iran you are talking China….

© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

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Turkey’s Erdogan to discuss response to Iraqi referendum during Iran visit

September 25, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

FILE PHOTO – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 1, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS Reuters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will discuss with Tehran their response to the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum when he visits Iran next week with the Turkish chief of staff, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday.

Yildirim’s comments, in an interview broadcast on multiple Turkish television channels, came after Erdogan spoke by phone on Sunday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and voiced concern that the referendum will cause regional chaos. Erdogan is due to visit Iran on Oct. 4.

Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan