Posts Tagged ‘US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’

Tillerson says Hezbollah ‘part of political process’ in Lebanon

February 14, 2018

US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018. (AFP)
AMMAN: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday conceded that Iran-backed Hezbollah is part of the “political process” in Lebanon, appearing to soften Washington’s tone ahead of a visit to the country.
“We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Jordan.
“We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon.”
Hezbollah — the only faction to have retained its weapons after Lebanon’s civil war — is a member the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Despite being branded a “terrorist” organization by the United States and targeted with economic sanctions, Hezbollah has risen to play a decisive role in regional conflicts including Syria.
The US Justice Department in January announced the creation of a special task force to investigate what it called “narcoterrorism” by the powerful movement.
The United States levied sanctions in early February against six individuals and seven business with alleged links to Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja.
In the wake of the crisis Lebanon’s political players — including Hezbollah — agreed to stick to the country’s official policy of “disassociation” to stay out of regional conflicts.
Tillerson is due to meet Lebanon’s political leadership Thursday as part of a tour of the Middle East.


US concerns over EU defence pact cloud NATO talks

February 14, 2018


© AFP / by Lachlan CARMICHAEL | NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insists there’s ‘no way’ “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security
BRUSSELS (AFP) – NATO defence ministers gathered for talks Wednesday amid US concerns over the EU’s landmark defence cooperation pact and increasingly strained relations between Washington and Turkey.Washington and Ankara, two of the transatlantic alliance’s most important members, are at loggerheads over Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned was detracting from the fight against the Islamic State group.

The two-day meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels is expected to approve changes to NATO’s command structure aimed at making the alliance fit for the challenges of warfare in the 21st century, particularly cyber tactics and hybrid warfare, as fears grow about Russian assertiveness.

But a working dinner with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini later Wednesday has taken on greater significance after senior US officials voiced fears about the bloc’s defence pact.

Despite concerns from the alliance’s biggest power, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the right balance could be struck.

“Done in the right way, these efforts can make a contribution to fairer burden-sharing between Europe and North America,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for talks with NATO defence ministers on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged allies to increase their share of spending to ease Washington’s burden.

On Tuesday Stoltenberg said efforts to boost EU defence spending were welcome, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans, warning there was “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.

“It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete,” the former Norwegian premier told reporters.

“European allies are absolutely aware that the defence, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO.”

The EU’s so-called permanent structured cooperation on defence agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.

But on Sunday a senior official working with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington had concerns some of the proposed initiatives risked “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO”.

– Turkey row –

And on Tuesday US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison ramped up the pressure, warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shuts US defence companies out of cooperation projects.

“Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we’re going to watch carefully, because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have,” she told reporters.

The US concerns have surprised some European diplomats, with one insisting that EU defence cooperation poses no threat to NATO, adding that “a little explanatory work” is required to clarify matters with the Americans.

Wednesday’s dinner now represents an important chance for Mogherini to reassure the United States, which is NATO’s biggest contributor.

Potentially more serious is the festering row between the United States and Turkey over Ankara’s “Operation Olive Branch” launched last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

While Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist” group, the United States has been working closely with the militia against Islamic State in Syria and giving it weapons, infuriating Ankara.

US ambassador Hutchison said Turkey remained an important ally and the two sides were trying to resolve the dispute.

Mattis is to meet his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of the meeting on Wednesday.

A diplomatic source said that while the row was “a topic of concern for NATO”, it was not a matter for the alliance to resolve.

“The issue will be solved bilaterally between the US and Turkey,” the source said.

The talks also aim to prepare for a NATO summit in July and involve what Stoltenberg called “regular consultations to keep NATO nuclear forces safe, secure and effective.”


Turkey: Relations with US at make-or-break point

February 12, 2018

Turkey claims US forces in Syria are intentionally stalling the fight against the “Islamic State” to justify cooperation with Kurdish fighters. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due in Ankara later this week.

USA and Turkey flags

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday warned that Turkey-US ties were at a “critical point” and Washington needed to take “concrete steps” to regain Ankara’s trust.

“Our relations are at a very critical stage,” Cavusoglu said in televised comments in Istanbul. “Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down.”

Tensions between the two NATO allies escalated after Ankara last month launched a military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the western enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a meetingCavusoglu claimed US forces in Syria were intentionally stalling the fight against ‘IS’

Read moreTurkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

While Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents fighting in Turkey, the US has been backing the Kurdish militia in the fight against the “Islamic State.”

Cavusoglu claimed that US forces are leaving “pockets” with IS militants intact to justify continued cooperation with the Kurdish militia.

Turkey has also warned the US to remove its troops from the YPG-held town of Manbij as it threatens to expand its offensive towards the town east of Afrin.

Read moreThe Middle East’s complex Kurdish landscape

Tillerson to visit Turkey

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due in Ankara later this week in a bid to defuse tensions.

Cavusoglu said the two would discuss rebuilding the “broken trust.”

“We have open and clear expectations which we have repeatedly shared,” Cavusoglu said. “We do not want promises; we want concrete steps to be taken.”

Turkey is also upset with Washington’s refusal to hand over US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who it accuses of masterminding the failed coup attempt in 2016.

ap/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

Russia casts doubt over evidence of Iran-made missiles to Yemen — Russian propaganda?

January 31, 2018


US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks during lunch with members of the United Nations Security Council in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: Russia on Wednesday dismissed evidence presented by the United States and UN experts that Iran had supplied missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels as inconclusive, signaling it would oppose a bid to slap sanctions on Tehran.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was unclear whether missiles and weaponry used by the rebels were Iranian-made or whether they were shipped before the arms embargo on Yemen was imposed in 2015, casting doubt over the findings of a UN panel of experts.
“Iran is vehemently denying it is supplying anything to Yemen,” Nebenzia told two reporters.
Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shake hands prior to the Syria meeting in Sochi, Russia on 22 November 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
“Yemen hosts a pile of weapons from the old days. Many countries were competing to supply weapons to Yemen during the time of president Saleh, so I cannot give you anything conclusive,” he said.
Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen’s leader 1990-2012. He was killed in December by his erstwhile Houthi rebel allies.
Asked whether the case had been made for action against Iran, the ambassador answered “no.”
Nebenzia joined UN Security Council ambassadors on a visit to Washington this week to inspect debris from missiles that the United States says were supplied by Iran to the Houthis.
The ambassadors had lunch with President Donald Trump, who urged the council to take steps to counter “Iran’s destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.
A recent report by the panel of experts bolstered the US claims when it concluded that Iran had violated the arms embargo on Yemen by failing to block supplies of missiles to the rebels.
The Trump administration has said it will seek action at the Security Council against Iran, although it has yet to specify what those measures might be.
“If there is something we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about,” Nebenzia said.
Russia has the power to block sanctions by resorting to its veto power as one of the five permanent Security Council members along with Britain, France, China and the United States.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month presented the missile fragments as “undeniable” evidence that a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at Saudi Arabia in November was Iranian-made.


The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr (front) is displayed during the annual military parade on September 22, 2017 in Tehran. (AFP)

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley briefs the media in front of remains of Iranian “Qiam” ballistic missile provided by Pentagon at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. (Reuters)


US offer of Syria safe zone receives cool reaction from Turkey

January 25, 2018

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2L) speaking as he is flanked by Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces Hulusi Akar (L) during his visit to Operating Base in Hatay on the sixth day of ‘Operation Olive Branch’. (AFP)
ANKARA: Tensions between Washington and Ankara have flared over a presidential phone call that threatens to derail an offer to create a Syrian safe zone along the Turkish border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the US had agreed to a 30-km deep safe zone after meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The offer was one of several gestures from the Americans to calm tensions after Turkey launched an offensive into Syria that targeted Kurdish militias supported by the US.
But the lack of trust was again displayed when Turkey disputed the White House version of a phone call between Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday.
Ankara rejected that Trump shared “concerns about escalating violence” in the Turkish offensive on the north-western Syrian city Afrin.
According to Turkish sources, Trump told Erdogan that the US no longer supplied the YPG with weapon, but this detail was missing from the White House version.
Cavusoglu even accused Trump officials of drafting their version of the call before the discussion took place.
The call came after a series of meetings between Turkish and US officials this week over the “Olive Branch” operation into Syria’s Kurdish-held city of Afrin.
Turkey wants to clear the city of militants from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). But the US has been supporting training, advising and equipping the YPG with weapons for several years as part of their strategy to combat Daesh.
The YPG, and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are considered terror groups by Ankara due to their deep ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
One of the objectives of the Afrin operation is to create a conflict-free area inside Syria’s borders to eventually resettle civilians living in Turkey who wish to return to their homes.
Turkey has pushed the idea of establishing safe zones in northern Syria for years but have failed to secure Western backing, particularly from Barack Obama.
But Donald Trump has offered his support to the buffer zone idea in Syria for refugees fleeing the violence.
The proposal made by Tillerson at a meeting in Paris on Tuesday would to provide a shield to Turkey’s southern border towns against attacks from Syria.
On Wednesday night, two rockets fired by the YPG from the Afrin region hit a mosque and a house in Kilis, killing at least one and injuring 12 people.
But Cavusoglu reacted coolly to the offer, saying on Thursday that Washington and Ankara needed to repair broken trust before discussing a security zone.
Experts remain skeptical about the feasibility of a safe zone, which could only take place once the US has broken ties with Syrian Kurdish militia.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, told Arab News there is a disagreement between Turkey and the US over threat perception.
“Turkey sees the ongoing challenges in Syria as a survival problem from a strategic perspective, while the US degrade it into a tactical case by offering an option to block the missiles that are fired to Turkey’s border towns from Syrian neighboring lands.”
He said the two had to decide whether a safe zone deal will aim to resettle Syrian refugees, or provide a safe haven for Ankara-backed rebel fighters.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant at Sakarya University in Turkey, said a safe zone could let the US administration create a “win-win” situation by meeting the needs of both the Turks and the Kurdish groups.
“It is a strategic move guaranteeing the existence of PYD ‘terrorists’ in northern Syria and a tactical one fulfilling a duty as a leading NATO member,” Ayasli added.

World powers meet to pressure Syria on chemical attacks

January 23, 2018


© AFP / by Valérie LEROUX | The chemical weapons meeting comes a day after allegations of a fresh chemical attack by the Syrian regime on Douma in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta.
PARIS (AFP) – Diplomats from 29 countries including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meet in Paris on Tuesday pushing for sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.Tillerson and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian will also co-host a meeting of ministers ahead of a new round of peace talks in Vienna later this week and again in Sochi in Russia the week after.

The chemical weapons meeting from 1300 GMT comes after allegations Monday of a fresh chemical attack by the Syrian regime on Douma in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta.

The alleged attack prompted a sharp warning from the US to Russia to rein in its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming it for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun which left scores dead.

There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates, with the Islamic State group also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.

A month after his election in May, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that chemical weapons were a “red line” that would prompt a response from France if used again, though he has declined to specify what that response would be.

– ‘We won’t let this lie’ –

At Tuesday’s meeting, countries will commit to sharing information and compiling a list of individuals implicated in the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

These could then be hit with sanctions such as asset freezes and entry bans as well as criminal proceedings at the national level.

The French initiative comes after Russia twice used its UN veto to block an extension of an inquiry by international experts into chemical weapons use in Syria.

“Today the situation is blocked at the highest international level,” an aide to Le Drian said.

“The perpetrators of chemical attacks must know that they can be prosecuted and that we won’t let this lie.”

Ahead of the meeting France announced asset freezes against 25 Syrian companies and executives, as well as French, Lebanese and Chinese businesses accused of aiding regime use of chemical weapons.

The brutal seven-year war has grown even more complex in recent days with Turkey launching a new ground operation against Kurdish militia who it considers an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

After the repeated collapse of UN-backed peace talks, a fresh round are due to be held in Vienna on January 25-26, followed by talks under a separate Russian peace initiative in Sochi on January 30, backed by Iran and Turkey.

Macron has been calling for months for the creation of a new Syria contact group that would bring together regional countries with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

Le Drian’s entourage indicated that his meeting co-hosted with Tillerson later Tuesday is intended to take the first steps towards setting up the new group.

“Those within the Syrian system have found it extremely difficult to establish a path for peace,” an aide to Le Drian said.

The meeting is designed to “find pathways towards and the means for a true political transition with the support of major powers, essentially the P5 and countries in the region directly affected,” the aide added.

by Valérie LEROUX

Rex Tillerson, Jean-Yves Le Drian Condemn Iran’s “Hegemonic Temptations”

December 20, 2017


French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, meets his US counterpart Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Monday. (AFP)

PARIS: France and the US are determined to “vigorously” raise pressure on Iran over its ballistic missile program, including possibly through sanctions, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during a visit to Washington.

Le Drian was in the American capital on Monday to meet US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and US President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner.
Tensions between Iran and France have risen in recent months with both sides repeatedly trading barbs in public, including le Drian accusing Iran of “hegemonic temptations” in the region.
Iran on Sunday criticized President Emmanuel Macron over his tough stance toward Tehran and said Paris would soon lose its international credibility if it “blindly follows” US President Donald Trump.
“They didn’t like the word, but I stand by it,” Le Drian told reporters. “Iran’s hegemonic temptations in the region is a matter of urgency because it’s within the framework of getting peace in Iraq and Syria that we will stop this process.”
Iranian officials have been particularly aggrieved by France’s criticism of its ballistic missile tests and suggestions of possible new sanctions over the program, which Tehran calls solely defensive in nature.
Le Drian, who is due in Iran at the beginning of January, said he would tell them clearly of Paris’ concerns.
“We are fully determined to press very vigorously on Iran to stop the development of an increasingly significant ballistic capability,” Le Drian said, reiterating that sanctions were possible.
Macron, unlike Trump, has reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the deal Iran signed in 2015 with world powers under which it curbed its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.
After talks with the US officials, Le Drian said he believed that Washington was beginning to understand European messages on the need to maintain the accord.

Is Iran Fulfilling the Letter and Spirit of the Nuclear Deal?

November 7, 2017


 NOVEMBER 7, 2017 10:07

After President Trump decertified the Iran Nuclear Deal in October, a new focus has been placed on whether Tehran is in compliance and how that is monitored.

Iran rocket launch

Rocket launch in Iran. (photo credit:FARS)

Over two years have passed since the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), was signed between Iran and six world powers, but officials continue to disagree over whether Tehran is in compliance with the accord.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared in September that Iran is in “technical compliance” with the nuclear deal. The same month, US General Joseph Dunford expressed his position in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations.” In October, US Defense Secretary James Mattis told a hearing at the House of Representatives that Iran was abiding by its obligations under the deal.

Evidencing the divisions within the American administration, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has accused the Islamic Republic of directly contravening the deal. The Iranians are “not just walking up to the line on the agreement,” he asserted, “they’re crossing the line at times.” Likewise, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley recent contended that Trump “has grounds” to declare that Iran is not complying with the JCPOA.

Indeed, Tehran has twice crossed that line, including surpassing the designated limit on heavy water, although some officials and experts have downplayed the violations. Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges is also seen as problematic, as per the accord’s stated restrictions.

Prof. Emily Landau, a Senior Research Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, shared with The Media Line her belief that Iran is not complying with the deal and expressed particular reservations about the Procurement Working Group (PWG), which was set up to monitor Tehran’s nuclear-related purchases.

“While the PWG has in the past announced that Iran is complying with the deal, [the body] is not under the purview of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and therefore it is not their business to determine whether Iran is in compliance or not.” This, she emphasized, “is often misconstrued in the media.”

In this respect, Landau pointed to German intelligence reports detailing numerous attempts by the Islamic Republic to procure military technology that could be used to produce an atomic weapon.

Under a law called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), passed by Congress during the Obama administration without consulting the Republican-controlled Senate, the US president must re-certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.

In a controversial move, President Donald Trump chose to decertify the deal in October, but stopped short of scrapping it altogether. This left Congress with 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.

Can the IAEA fulfill its mandate?

According to the Institute for Science and International Security, “One of the most serious compliance issues concerns the IAEA’s access to [Iranian] military sites and credible verification of Section T, which prohibits key nuclear weapons development activities.”

“Section T,” Landau explained, “relates to ensuring everything Iran does in the nuclear realm is for peaceful purposes. This would require going beyond inspections of nuclear sites to include military sites. But Iran doesn’t allow inspections of its military sites, leaving the IAEA unable to fulfill its mandate.”

Then-US president Barack Obama repeatedly pledged that the JCPOA would allow for broad oversight of Iran’s nuclear program. And in October, Director General of the IAEA Yukiya Amano said that “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime” while stressing that Tehran was implementing all of its commitments under the accord.

But the IAEA itself has demonstrated otherwise. Before the deal, the UN nuclear agency included in its reports details on Iran’s atomic-related activities along with the organization’s ability, or lack thereof, to access suspicious sites.

After the deal, however, the IAEA omitted such data on Iranian compliance.

The latest IAEA report released on August 31 “looks to be a politically motivated document to deflect discussion of problems in the JCPOA, possibly resulting from Iranian intimidation or a misplaced fear about the deal’s survival,” according to the Institute.

Amano has indeed seemingly contradicted himself in the past, conceding that he does not have the tools to carry out rigorous inspections and admitting that the IAEA has proven unable to verify Iran’s compliance with Section T of the nuclear deal.

“There is a gross lack of transparency in IAEA reports since the deal has been implemented,” said Landau. “In fact”, she noted, “the IAEA didn’t even ask Iran for inspections since they expected a refusal.”

By contrast, Dr. Sanam Vakil, an Associate Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at London-based Chatham House, told The Media Line that “the IAEA has repeatedly verified compliance since the deal was signed and they have monitored Iran, ensuring they keep to the deal.

“There is uniform agreement that Iran has complied,” she elaborated. “It would have been brought up in the Joint Commission if there was any tangible evidence should Iran not be in compliance.”

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Threat

Iran’s continued development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) has generated concern. While the 2015 nuclear deal did not place restrictions on the program, United Nations resolution 2231 requires Tehran to grant full access to IAEA inspectors and discourages Iran from advancing its ballistic missile technology.

Iranian ballistic missile development had been prohibited in UNSC resolution 1929, but Tehran pushed hard to rescind the ban and the Obama administration relented, softening the language in UNSC resolution 2231, which replaced resolution 1929.

The new resolution’s ambiguous language essentially paves the way for Iran to develop its delivery system for nuclear payloads without violating the nuclear deal and without triggering any international response.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has insisted that his country is developing missiles for defensive purposes only. Perhaps to reinforce this image of compliance, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently restricted the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), according to an announcement by General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This is speculated to be an effort by Iran to differentiate its missile program from that of North Korea, which has escalated its threats against the United States.

Is Iran violating the spirit of the deal?

In addition to possibly violating the deal itself, Iran has also been accused of violating the spirit of the accord, which President Donald Trump defined as the Iranian regime’s support for terrorism and exportation of “violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East”.

While Dunford said he believes Iran is upholding the technical aspects of the deal, he emphasized that “Iran has not changed its malign activity in the region since the JCPOA was signed.”

When Iran test-launched missiles in March 2016, Jacqueline Shire, a former member of the UN Security Council panel responsible for overseeing UN sanctions against Iran said, “The missile launches are a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of [UN] resolution 2231.”

Last year, former UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council that Iran’s ballistic missile tests were “not consistent” with the spirit of the nuclear agreement signed with world powers.

And Tillerson also admitted that “perhaps the technical aspects have [been met], but in the broader context the aspiration has not.”

Vakil believes that the “spirit of the deal” is subject to interpretation. “President Obama hoped this would result in something transformational, but I do not believe countries change overnight. Whatever is inside the [JCPOA] document—that is the spirit of the deal.”

She suggested that all parties are perhaps guilty of violating the spirit of the deal and that includes Iran, Europe and the United States.

“It’s important to understand each side’s interpretation,” she concluded.


US pledges $60 million to Sahel counter-terrorism force

October 30, 2017


© Jim Watson, AFP | This file photo taken on October 4, 2017, shows US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson making a statement to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC.


Latest update : 2017-10-30

The United States will pledge $60 million to support the new G5 Sahel regional counter-terrorism force, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday, ahead of UN talks on the operation.

“This is a fight we must win, and these funds will play a key role in achieving that mission,” he said, describing G5 members Burkina FasoChadMaliMauritania and Niger as “regional partners.”

Washington has previously expressed support for the force, and has troops and drone operators in the region supporting operations against Islamist militants, but opposes United Nations involvement.

The UN Security Council was due to meet later Monday to look at ways of shoring up the G5 force, with France seeking a multilateral platform to provide assistance to its former colonies.

But US officials have been clear that, while they are ready to support the G5 members directly, they do not want the United Nations to authorize the force or take charge of its funding and logistics.

Tillerson’s statement does not appear to change that position, and he confirmed he would not be heading up to New York to join French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the UN meeting.

“I thank Foreign Minister Le Drian for his invitation, and commend France and all our other partners’ eagerness to win this fight,” he said.

Tillerson said he had asked the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, “to represent the United States and our full commitment to security in the Sahel region in my place.”

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Earlier this month, militants with suspected links to the Islamic State group ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has lost 17 peacekeepers in attacks this year, one of the highest tolls from current peace operations.

Tillerson calls Myanmar army chief over Rohingya crisis

October 27, 2017


© AFP | Myanmar’s army chief senior general Min Aung Hlaing speaks during a ceremony in Naypyidaw on October 15, 2017

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Mynmar’s army chief Thursday to help end the violence in Rakhine state that has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee.

In a phone call with Min Aung Hlaing, Tillerson expressed “concern about the continuing humanitarian crisis and reported atrocities in Rakhine”, according to a statement by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

“The Secretary urged Burma’s security forces to support the government in ending the violence in Rakhine state and allowing the safe return home of those displaced during this crisis, especially the large numbers of ethnic Rohingya,” she added, using Myanmar’s former name.

More than 600,000 members of the minority Muslim group have fled across the border into Bangladesh in an intensifying crisis that began in late August.

Militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine sparked a major army crackdown on the group, who are labelled illegal Bengali immigrants by most Burmese.

Tillerson, who paid a visit to Myanmar’s giant neighbor India earlier this week, urged the military in his phone call to facilitate humanitarian aid for those who have been diplaced.

He also told the army to “cooperate with the United Nations to ensure a thorough, independent investigation into all allegations of human rights abuses and violations and to ensure accountability”, said the statement.

Washington announced on Monday it was pushing for targeted sanctions against officers from the Mynanmar army involved in violence while withdrawing invitations to senior members of the security forces to visit the US, and ending travel waivers.

The move came after Tillerson had said the US holds Myanmar’s military leadership “accountable” for the refugee crisis, drawing a distinction with Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

Tillerson warned last week the world won’t stand and “be witness to the atrocities that have been reported,” adding that the military must be disciplined and “restrained.”

Min Aung Hlaing has consistently defended his forces against accusations of having committed atrocities.

“One-sided statements and accusations against Myanmar and security members over the terror attacks of extremist Bengalis in the west of Rakhine State are totally untrue,” he said in a post on his Facebook page Tuesday.

Supporters say Rohingyas have been systematically deprived of basic rights over decades in majority Buddhist Myanmar.

In the latest crackdown, Myanmar’s security forces have fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence, according to UN investigators.