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Pompeo’s tour in the Middle East

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS/USA by

 

On Tuesday 8th January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opens his tour in the Middle East visiting Jordan. The tour originally scheduled nine stops, including Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. However, due to family reasons, Pompeo had to cancel the final leg in Kuwait.

This tour comes at a time when the US is changing his policy toward Middle Eastern issues and his allies are questioning the new approach.

After the President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the nuclear deal signed with Iran and other Western countries during Obama’s administration, on 19th December the US President announced with a video on Twitter that he was pulling US forces out of Syria “now”.

Pompeo’s tour in the Arab countries can, therefore, be seen as an opportunity and means to clarify US position regarding Syria but also more broadly to define US policy in the Middle East.

Here the main points on the table.

–    US withdrawal from Syria does not mean that the US is withdrawing from the fight against the Islamic State, which is still a top priority for the White House. US partnership with the Arab countries, indeed, is essential to achieve some shared objectives in the region: defeating Daesh, countering Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy resources and countering Iran’s aggressive behaviour.

–    Unity among the GCC(Gulf Cooperation Council) is vital to achieving security and stability in the region. As Pompeo stressed, the internal dispute among the Gulf monarchies has gone far too long. Since June 2017, indeed, the Arab Quartet (UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) cut the diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the country of funding terrorist groups and fostering instability in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, this situation hampers the efforts of the GCC to achieve common goals in the region. The GCC is a capillary institution in the Middle East: hence, its internal cohesion is an essential factor for the stability, prosperity, security and peace in the area.

–    The US strongly promotes the institution of a Middle East Strategic Alliance, also nicknamed Arab NATO. This organisation would join the GCC militaries with the militaries of other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. This alliance would mainly counter Iran’s aggressive behaviour and protect the stability and security of the Arab countries.

–    US-Saudi relation is crucial for the stability in the region. In the Khashoggi issue –not clear if and how much Pompeo and the Saudi leader discussed it- President Trump stood by Saudi Arabia and this event –though clarification is still needed- has no hampered the relationship between the two countries. Saudi Arabia is a key actor in the anti-Iranian coalition. Moreover, the value of the arms purchases from Saudi Arabia is still a relevant fact for the US to consider.

–    Last but not least, Pompeo reiterates the need for peace in Yemen and call to boost effort in order to stop the bloody civil war that has been devastating the country for more than 3 years.

 

Trump administration approach in the Middle East has clearly moved away from Obama’s path in the past years, with the president not even trying to hide the criticism toward his predecessor. Indeed, Trump has repeatedly blamed Obama’s administration for his approach in the region, accusing of underestimating threats such as Daesh or Hezbollah.

In the past few months, Trump has withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran and announced the imminent withdrawal from Syria; however, this does not mean a less presence or US interest in the regional issues, but it is a signal of a different posture. If Obama opted for engagement rather than confrontation with a country like Iran, Trump is taking the opposite path.

Note to mention that Iran, however, is not the kind of player that stays still and watches. By contrast, Teheran is strengthening its position in the region, supporting groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Moreover, it can count on some strategic allies, such as Syria, Russia and Turkey.

The risk is that the US might get engaged in a more complex and dangerous conflict that it could seem at first glance. Moreover, thought the US is working to align the Arab countries on the same path and join the effort toward the same goal -stability and security- there is still an important factor to consider. The Middle East is still sharply fragmented -ethnic division, religious schism, political rivalry, etc- and those countries that do not follow the US ideal of Middle East Strategic Alliance , like Iran, Syria, even Turkey or Yemen, play a peculiar role in the game, as their actions or the developments in their territories may considerably affect Washington’s project.

Hence, eyes on Trump and the Arab countries, as the withdrawal from Syria might not be the last twist of Trump’s policy in the Middle East. Moreover, the White House’s decisions may also trigger unexpected reactions of other players, as could be yesterday’s suicide bombing in Syria, the first one after Trump’s announcement, easy to relate to latest developments.

 

Paola Fratantoni

Ayatollah Khamenei stresses muslim world’s scientific progress

in MIDLE EAST/TECHNOLOGY by

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei urged efforts for scientific progress in the Islamic world, voicing Iran’s readiness to share its scientific achievements and expertise with other Muslim nations. The Islamic world’s elites should establish a large-scale intellectual movement and a public demand for scientific growth and reaching the peak of science and knowledge,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a gathering of participants in the Congress on the Role of Shiite Islam in the Emergence and Promotion of Islamic Sciences, held in Tehran on Saturday. Referring to the West’s use of Muslim knowledge to compensate for centuries of scientific underdevelopment, the Leader said Westerners took advantage of the achievements of Muslims to gain wealth and scientific and military power to colonize Islamic nations.

“Such conditions need to change with the scientific progress of Islamic countries, and the Islamic world can once again be at the top of human civilization,” Ayatollah Khamenei added. The Leader also reiterated the call for Muslim unity and avoiding conflicts among Islamic denominations, stressing that any plan helping Muslims gain a better understanding of each other and allowing for synergy will contribute to Muslim solidarity. Ayatollah Khamenei then pointed to reports by international centers that the rate of Iran’s scientific growth in recent years has been 13 times faster than the world average, stressing, “We will continue on this path until reaching the boundaries of science and knowledge.” “Unlike the Westerners, Iran is ready to transfer its achievements and scientific growth to other Islamic countries,” the Leader said.

Rouhani calls Trump’s Iran nuclear deal withdrawal “psychological war”

in DEFENCE/MIDLE EAST by

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Tehran has adopted necessary measures to confront new anti-Iran pressures, saying that his US counterpart is launching psychological war and economic pressure on Tehran by announcing withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. “The Iranian nation will be more united and determined than ever. Trump is exerting economic pressure on Iran and launching psychological war, but we won’t let him achieve what he wants,” Rouhani said, addressing nation right after Trump’s announcement of the US decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Stressing that Trumps decision was a historical experience for Iran, Rouhani noted that the US president has a history of undermining international treaties. “Tonight, it was proved that we were right for decades.

Iran is a country that remains committed to its promises, and the US is a country that has never lived up to its commitments.” He further noted that the JCPOA is not a deal between Iran and the US and the JCPOA has been a multilateral agreement approved by the UN. “The US tonight showed it is not committed to the agreements it signs, as it did on the Paris Climate and other trade agreements.” Rouhani also noted that Iran would remain in the nuclear deal without the US, saying, “From now on, the Iran nuclear deal will be a deal between Iran and five countries. The Group 5+1 has lost one of its parties.” The Iranian president then announced that he has ordered the foreign ministry to start talks with other five parties to the nuclear deal within the coming weeks. “After these talks,” Rouhani said, “If we conclude that we can achieve the results we expected from the deal, the JCPOA will remain in place regardless of the US decision.” Rouhani at the same time said that if Iran’s interests are not guaranteed, “I’ll soon address the nation and share with them the Establishment’s decision.”

Rouhani: “Iran could remain in JCPOA if interests guaranteed”

in DEFENCE/MIDLE EAST by

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said if the US decided to scrap the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the other parties should guarantee that Iran will get all it wants from the 2015 nuclear agreement.  The US will be the real loser if it walks away from the nuclear accord, he added. “We have our own plan. Either what we demand from the JCPOA is fulfilled by the non-American (parties), (and in that case) the US withdrawal will be the removal of a trouble, or we (will resort to) our legal and rational option… if what we expect is not fully accomplished,” the president said.

He warned Washington against the “strategic mistake” of withdrawing from the nuclear deal, reiterating though that Iran has no concerns about the US’s cruel policies and wrong moves. US President Donald Trump in January set a 120-day deadline for US lawmakers and European allies to “fix” his predecessor Barack Obama’s main foreign policy achievement or face a US exit.

Zarif: U.S. must accept consequences if nuclear deal is ditched

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Thursday that Iran reserves the right to respond should the US, as a party to the 2015 nuclear deal, withdraw from the landmark agreement. Zarif compared Tehran’s full commitment to its side of the bargain to Washington’s breach of the deal, which is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Press TV reported. On 11 occasions, he said, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran has implemented all its obligations under the JCPOA, but “the US has consistently violated the agreement especially by bullying others from doing business with Iran.” Zarif also slammed the European countries’ appeasement to US President Donald Trump as a deadline looms for Washington to announce whether it will continue suspending anti-Iran sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear accord.

“In the last year or so, we’ve been told that President Trump is unhappy with the deal and it now appears that the response from some Europeans has been to offer the United States more concessions from our pocket,” he said. “This appeasement entails promises of a new deal that would include matters we all decided to exclude at the outset of our negotiations, including Iran’s defensive capabilities and regional influence. But please understand on both issues, it is Iran, not the West, that has serious grievances and much to demand,” he added.

Iran calls Netanyahu ‘infamous liar’ over nuclear allegations

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi condemned Monday’s remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Tehran and said the Zionist regime sees its existence in demonizing others and using the “shabby” policy of “charlatanism”. In a statement, Qassemi deplored Netanyahu’s comments against the Islamic Republic as “a ridiculous propaganda show” and said his recent television presentation was “one of the latest repetitive episodes of fruitless and shameful shows about Iran’s ‘secret’ nuclear program. The Zionist leaders see the survival of their illegitimate regime, which is based on lies, in portraying others as threats through using shabby charlatanism in the era of ignorance of the world’s public opinion,” the spokesman said. He further emphasized that the futility of the Israeli regime’s policies is becoming more and more obvious to the world. Netanyahu on Monday delivered a televised address in which he accused Iran of violating the JCPOA.

Iran, Russia, Turkey hold talks on Syria situation

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara denounce attempts to divide Syria into parts as unacceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday following a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts Mohammad Javad Zarif and Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We agreed that attempts to split Syria on ethnic and religious grounds were totally unacceptable,” Lavrov said after the trio meeting on Syria. The three countries have been attempting to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict at talks that started last year in Astana, Kazakhstan, in competition with the US and UN-backed Geneva initiative. “We have stated that we will counter attempts to undermine our joint efforts and pointed out that the Astana process is stable,” he said. Lavrov said the recent US-led missile strikes on Syria “seriously aggravated the situation” and that statements about supporting the territorial integrity of Syria “are only words that, apparently, cover plans for reformatting the Middle East and plans for dividing Syria into parts.”

According to him, the attack “not only significantly raised tensions on the international stage but also considerably damaged the prospects for a political settlement.” Lavrov said Russia, Turkey and Iran need to help Syria’s government clear its country of terrorists. In a joint statement, the three foreign ministers said they have agreed to increase joint efforts to help achieve “a lasting political settlement in Syria”. The ministers “agreed to increase joint efforts aimed at facilitating the achievement of a lasting political settlement in Syria envisaged by” a UN Security Council resolution and “through full use of multi-level mechanisms of the Astana format.” They also “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of” the Syrian Arab Republic”.

Iran says Israel policies cause of regional problems

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations reaffirmed his country’s longstanding solidarity with the Palestinian people, saying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is the root cause of all conflicts in the Middle East. In a statement at the UN Security Council open debate on the “Situation in the Middle East,” on Thursday, Gholamali Khoshroo said that no political theater by the US and Israeli regime can cover up the aggressive and expansionist policies of this regime and its behavior towards its neighbors as the main source of threat to the peace and security in this region, IRNA reported. “Indeed, Israel is a rogue regime, by definition – this is an undeniable fact for the international community, except for those who believe illegal occupation, illegal settlements, apartheid, siege, and regular attacks of mass murder are the legitimate actions of a regime that proclaims itself as the only democracy in the Middle East,” Khoshroo said.

He criticized the United States and other members of the council for granting Israel a sense of “exceptionalism” that has allowed Tel Aviv to constantly undermine peace in the region without ever having to worry about the consequences. “The impunity this regime has enjoyed for so long wouldn’t have been possible without the help it receives from the US and certain interest groups,” he added.

Iran rejects US human rights critique as ‘biased by political objectives’

in ECONOMY/MIDLE EAST by

Bahram Ghasemi, the Spokesman of Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denounced, on Saturday, the latest report of Department of State on human rights as a partial, politicized, and rejected report. “The Human Rights report of US Department of State is partial, politicized, and unacceptable,” said Bahram Ghasemi, the Spokesman of Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Saturday. “The Islamic Republic of Iran sees the annual report issued by American Department of State and especially the parts of it with anti-Iran human rights claims as a particle document with political intentions to relay a distorted and unreal image of the conditions in our country,” reiterated the Iranian diplomat denouncing the claims in the report as baseless accusations. “The American government is not only the biggest violator of human rights according to credible reports issued by international entities, but also is the biggest supporter of notorious violator of human rights in our region like the Zionist regime and some reactionary countries of the region; countries whose crimes are still entangling the region,” asserted the spokesman.

Rouhani: Iran-Turkey cooperation must stop escalation of tensions in Syria

in ECONOMY/MIDLE EAST by

President Hassan Rouhani said that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey enjoy ample historical and cultural commonalities and further deepening of bilateral, regional and international relations between the two countries would be beneficial for peace and stability in the region and the world. Rouhani made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci in Tehran on Wednesday, the president’s official website reported. “Fortunately in recent years, relations between the two countries have been developing in all fields of mutual interest and we should continue along this path to serve both nations’ interests,” the president said. “Without a doubt, development of banking relations is very important for deepening of economic relations and ties between the private sectors,” he said.

President Rouhani said the continuation of consultation and coordination between the two countries in regional issues has an effective role in establishing sustainable peace and security in the region. The Turkish economy minister, who is visiting Iran as the head of a high-ranking economic delegation, said Turkey is determined to remove the obstacles on the path of further development of relations between the two countries and take major steps in boosting cooperation. Zeybekci added that Turkey attaches great importance to deepening of relations and cooperation with Iran in all fields and intends to further cement these ties by laying out a roadmap.

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