Russia, Iran warn US against new Syria attacks

A week since the US launched airstrikes in Syria, Iranian, Syrian and Russian foreign ministers have met in Moscow. All three countries strongly warned the United States against launching new strikes.

Russland Treffen von Lavrov, Javad Zarif und Muallem in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Hosting three-way talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (pictured above, left), and Iranian counterpart Mohammed Dschawad Sarif (pictured above, right) in Moscow on Friday, Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov denounced last week’s US attack on Syria and warned that any further such action would entail “grave consequences not only for regional but global security.”

Read: US skips out on Afghanistan conference in Moscow

Lavrov also told al-Moualem that Russia and the US have a shared understanding that such strikes would not be repeated.

The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian diplomat revealed this had been “concluded” during Wednesday’s visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow.

Watch video00:42

Lavrov: “Future of Syria has to be decided by Syrians themselves”

US ‘did not rule out any future action’

In Washington, however, the US State Department said Tillerson did not eliminate the possibility of the US maybe undertaking future strikes.

“The secretary explained there were no subsequent targets after the missile strike, but he did not rule out any future action,” State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

“He stressed that Russia is in a position to use its influence over the Assad regime to ensure it is never again necessary for the US to act,” Toner said.

US blames Assad regime

The US launched Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base near Homs last Friday, in response toa chemical attack in the northwestern Idlibprovince.

Washington has blamed Assad’s government for the deadly attack which killed more than 80 people. Damascus, however, has staunchly denied the accusation.

The Syria crisis is also set to be the focus of further talks planned for Saturday between Lavrov and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani.




‘Ahmadinejad challenges Iran’s power structures’

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has registered to run in Iran’s presidential election, against the will of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This provocation harms the entire regime, says Iran expert Bahman Nirumand.

Iran Mahmud Ahmadinedschad Archiv (picture alliance/dpa/P. Foley)

DW: On May 19, presidential elections are set to be held in Iran. Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made an unexpected comeback by submitting his candidacy for the presidential election. Why is he throwing his hat in the ring again?

Bahman Nirumand: Actually, everyone in Iran is asking themselves the same question, as Ahmadinejad already declared in 2016 that he would forgo his candidacy because the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, advised him to do so. In the past weeks, Ahmadinejad has been campaigning for his erstwhile vice-president, Hamid Baghaei, whom he suggested as a candidate. But all of a sudden, Ahmadinejad himself registered as a candidate. It is clearly an act of defiance against Khamenei.

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a realistic chance of being reelected?

I assume that the Guardian Council, which reviews the candidates’ suitability, will reject his application, it did with Baghaei. It is quite detrimental to the reputation of the regime to label a former president as “unsuitable.” But it will take this risk.

Bahman Nirumand (picture-alliance/dpa-Zentralbild)Iran expert Bahman Nirumand

Nevertheless, no one understands this move. He is running even though he must reckon with rejection. Many observers say he is not only harming himself but also the regime’s reputation; he is backstabbing his longtime vice-president Baghaei as instead of supporting him he is running himself. Everyone stands to lose something because of this move. Why is he doing this anyway?

The conservatives have isolated him throughout the years. He was no longer in the game and no longer on the political stage. I have the feeling that he wants to take revenge. He has already hurt Khamenei. Such open defiance of a recommendation made by the Supreme Leader – be it (founder of the Islamic Republic) Khomeini or (his successor Ali) Khameini – has never been seen before. I do not believe that Ahmadinejad expects that he will be admitted to the election or even have a chance of winning the election. He is probably not that unrealistic. But there is actually no plausible or logical reason why he has made this move now.

Iran Kritik an den US Wahlen (picture-alliance/AP Photo)Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei was likely not thrilled at ex-president’s move

The provocation seems to have been successful because his candidacy has certainly caused a stir in Iran.

Yes, he was successful in the way, and I am very eager to see how Khamenei will react. He will probably remain silent, as anything he says about this would harm him.

The question is how will this entire matter affect the elections? Ahmadinejad will surely harm the conservatives. After all, he still has a substantial number of followers in rural areas of the country. When he was president he gave many handouts to the poor in rural regions and he is still popular with certain parts of the population.

It is also possible that many who are against the regime support him because he basically challenges the power structures through his candidacy and because he disregards all the rules of the game. In all the speeches he has held in recent weeks, he has said time and time again that he is striving for a completely new order and that it is unacceptable that the people are not allowed to have their say. He has often made provocative remarks directed at the entire political system. That is why it is quite possible that some people who have long turned their backs on the state now support him as a means of harming the regime.

If Ahmadinejad were admitted to the elections, would he not indirectly help Iran’s current president, Rouhani, because he may be able to take away decisive votes from Rouhani’s main conservative rival Raeisi?

I think so. But the conservatives do not all agree. Raeisi’s candidacy is not without controversy; not all conservative groups support him. If Ahmadinejad were to be admitted, some of the votes for the conservatives could be lost. Rouhani would benefit from this. But that is certainly not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared goal.

Watch video01:21

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants a third term as Iran’s president

Nevertheless, the divisions within the conservative camp seem greater than one thought them to be.

That is certain. That is why there will probably be attempts to cast a veil of silence over this matter.

It would surely be the smartest thing for the conservatives, so as not to trigger any discussions that would last for weeks until the election.


However, this whole matter has not hurt Hassan Rouhani’s chances of being reelected – on the contrary. If there is confusion among the conservatives, he can only benefit from it.

Bahman Nirumand is an Iranian and German journalist and author living in Berlin. He has written several books, including a political biography of Ayatollah Khomeini.

This interview was conducted by Thomas Latschan. 




Iran hints at quitting Syria talks amid spat with Saudi Arabia

Iran has said it might opt out of Syria talks, citing the ‘negative’ role of its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also called on Riyadh to end ‘intrusions’ in Middle Eastern affairs.

Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian

The worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are affecting the ongoing Syria talks aimed at finding a political solution to the protracted conflict in the Middle Eastern country.

For the first time, Tehran was invited to negotiations in Vienna on Friday, but the deputy foreign minister of the Shiite nation said Monday his country’s participation in the second round of talks was doubtful.

“In the first round of talks, some countries, especially Saudi Arabia, played a negative and unconstructive role. Iran will not participate if the talks are not fruitful,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian (photo) said.

Riyadh and Tehran are at loggerheads on the Syrian issue, with Iran supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Arabia insisting that the embattled Syrian leader should have no role in the war-torn country’s future.

The two regional rivals with different brands of Islam are also locked in a conflict in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been launching airstrikes against Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

Trading accusations

Less than 24 hours after multinational diplomatic talks in Vienna on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called a Gulf security conference in Bahrain and attacked Iranian policies.

“We have extended our hand in friendship to Iran,” Jubeir said. “It is up to the Iranians whether they want to have relations with us based on good neighborliness … or if they want to have relations that are filled with tension,” he added.

Responding to Jubeir, Abdollahian warned Saudi Arabia to “not test the limits of the Islamic Republic’s patience.”

“Instead of blaming others, Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs would do better to end his visible and hidden support for terrorists in Yemen, Iraq and Syria,” Abdollahian said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, too, criticized Riyadh for what he called the kingdom’s “intrusion” in the Middle East.

“If Saudi Arabia’s vision on the big regional questions confronts reality and it stops its intrusions, we can solve many problems, especially in our relations,” Rouhani told a meeting of Iranian ambassadors in Tehran on Monday.

shs/jm (Reuters, AFP)



Israelis think Benjamin Netanyahu is doing a pretty bad job on foreign policy

Netanyahu at the UN.(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Israelis are very unhappy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy. A new poll from the Israeli think tank Mitvim shows that 60 percent of Israelis disapprove of his government’s performance on foreign policy — nearly double the number who did so inthe same poll last year.

The poll, first reported by the Jerusalem Post‘s Lahav Harkov on Thursday, asked 600 Israelis to rank the government’s foreign policy performance on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 is bad, 5 is neutral, and 10 is very good. Sixty percent of Israelis responded with a rating between 1 and 4 — varying degrees of “bad.” Last year, the figure was only 34 percent.

Another way to look at this is the average response. Last year, the mean response among Israelis was 5.29, or slightly better than neutral. This year, the average was 3.96, clearly in “bad” territory. Here’s why Israelis are so unhappy with their foreign policy — and why their anger might not actually hurt Netanyahu all that much.

This is about two things: America and Iran

Obama And Biden Meet With Israeli PM Netanyahu At White House(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Obama and Netanyahu meet.

What happened? The answer is fairly clear: Netanyahu got in a giant fight with the United States over the Iran deal, and lost.

The US is Israel’s biggest ally, and Israelis are very sensitive to the tone of their relationship with the US. Netanyahu clashed repeatedly with his American counterparts, both with Bill Clinton when he was prime minister in the ’90s and with Barack Obama during the president’s first six years in office.

But 2015 was really the year the Netanyahu-Obama relationship collapsed, and Iran was the key cause. Netanyahu pushed hard against the Iran deal and meddled in American domestic politics to try to block it.

He gave a speech before Congress orchestrated by Republicans, behind Obama’s back, in a deliberate attempt to undermine Obama’s support for the deal in Congress. He all but registered as a lobbyist against the deal when there was an (ultimately doomed) effort by congressional Republicans to torpedo it. In essence, Netanyahu sided with the Republican Party against the Obama administration — infuriating the Obama administration.

Israelis, of course, noticed this. Netanyahu’s political opponents, particularly on the center and left, have bashed him for undermining the US-Israel relationship. Forty-one percent of Israelis said relations with the US were “not good” in Mitvim’s poll — more than twice as many who said that in last year’s poll.

To make matters worse, Netanyahu didn’t actually stop the Iran deal. The deal is widely unpopular in Israel, and especially unpopular on the Israeli right. The Mitvim poll found that 58 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu failed in his efforts to block a deal. No one was left satisfied with the way Netanyahu’s foreign policy went down on the top issues of 2015.

So it makes sense that a huge number of Israelis would swing against Netanyahu’s foreign policy: He’s essentially failed everyone. “This isn’t surprising at all,” Michael Koplow, the policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, says of the poll results. “He hasn’t gone far enough to mollify either the hawks or the doves, and he sits somewhere in the muddy middle. And nobody’s happy.”

The silver lining for Netanyahu

netanyahu(Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Netanyahu after his March 2015 election victory.

If there’s one piece of good news in the poll for Netanyahu, it’s this: He’s still the most trusted Israeli leader on foreign policy.

Mitvim asked the poll respondents which Israeli leaders stood out on foreign policy issues; Netanyahu came in first, with 21 percent citing him as the standout. Two right-wing members of the Knesset, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, tied for second with 17 percent. The leader of the opposition, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog, received only 5 percent of the Israeli public’s endorsement.

So despite an objectively awful foreign policy year for Netanyahu, Israelis still see him as their country’s best choice for dealing with the world. That illustrates just how little faith Israelis have in their current crop of political leaders.

“This is the same reason [Netanyahu] keeps on getting elected: People think there’s no other viable alternative,” Koplow says. “It doesn’t mean that people are happy with him. They just don’t see anyone else who’s going to do a good job.”

Report: Evidence US Is Backtracking on Iran Stance, Restarting Negotiations With Islamic Republic

SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 10:26 AM 10 COMMENTS

Secretary of State John Kerry shaking hands with his Iranian counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. could be easing its policy on sanctions relief for Iran and restarting negotiations with the Islamic Republic, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported on Monday.

According to the report, the fact that foreign ministers of the P5+1 and Iran are set to meet with their Iranian counterpart in New York next week to “examine the recent developments of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)” is evidence of this potential shift.

At a joint press conference in Berlin on Sunday with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on September 28 – on the margins of the UN General Assembly – to discuss “Iran and other matters.”

This, MEMRI points out, comes on the heels of statements emerging from Tehran, which cast doubt on whether the JCPOA was actually finalized.

For example, on Saturday, the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research, Ali Akbar Velayati, one of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s close advisers, said that the “nuclear negotiations are not over yet.”

Velayati’s assertion was a more diplomatic and abbreviated version of remarks made by Khamenei at the beginning of the month.

In a speech he delivered on September 3 to the Assembly of Experts – the body of Islamic theologians tasked with electing, supervising or removing the supreme leader from power – Khamenei said he did not accept the terms of the agreement as they have been touted by the P5+1 powers, particularly the United States.

“We negotiated [with the Americans] in order to have the sanctions lifted, and the sanctions will be lifted. Now, if we are supposed to uphold this framework… this completely contradicts the reason for Iran’s participation in the talks to begin with. Otherwise, what was the point of our participation in the talks? We would have continued to do what we were doing [prior to the talks]… The fact that we sat down and held talks and made concessions on certain issues was mainly in order to have the sanctions lifted. If the sanctions are not going to be lifted, there will be no agreement… [Our] officials [i.e. Rouhani’s government and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs] should make this clear…

“Freezing or suspension [of the sanctions] is unacceptable to me… If they suspend [the sanctions], we too will suspend [what is incumbent upon us]. If we are to implement what [is required of us], the sanctions must be [actually] cancelled. True, the other side says that some of the sanctions are not [up to them entirely] to be lifted. We say in response that [with regard to those sanctions] we will use our legal rights to freeze them. But regarding [the sanctions that are] in the hands of the American and European governments – those must be totally lifted.”

According to MEMRI, “The apparent meaning of all the above is that the nuclear negotiations, which Iran considers unfinished, will be reopened, with the aim of achieving the complete lifting of sanctions – instead of a mere suspension of them as was agreed in the JCPOA and adopted in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.”

In the immediate aftermath of Khamenei’s speech, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated:

“We’ve been crystal clear about the fact that Iran will have to take a variety of serious steps to significantly roll back their nuclear program before any sanctions relief is offered — and this is everything from reducing their nuclear uranium stockpile by 98 percent, disconnecting thousands of centrifuges, essentially gutting the core of their heavy-water reactor at Arak, giving the IAEA the information and access they need in order to complete their report about the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And then we need to see Iran begin to comply with the inspections regime that the IAEA will put in place to verify their compliance with the agreement.

“And only after those steps and several others have been effectively completed, will Iran begin to receive sanctions relief. The good news is all of this is codified in the agreement that was reached between Iran and the rest of the international community. And that’s what we will be focused on, is their compliance with the agreement.”

But now, with Iran refusing in retrospect to acknowledge the above, “The expected meeting between the P5+1 foreign ministers and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif may be evidence of a shift in the White House position and also evidence that it intends to discuss the Iranian demand for further concessions from the superpowers,” MEMRI stated. “It should be clarified that agreement on the part of the U.S. to lifting the sanctions would constitute a fundamental change to the JCPOA. This is because lifting the sanctions, rather than suspending them, will render impossible a snapback in case of Iranian violations, and the guarantee of a snapback is one of the central justifications for the JCPOA, according to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.”


Oil prices fall further as traders expect rates as low as $30

Crude Oil Prices and Opec

Traders expect further falls amid weaker demand from Asia and continued glut.(Reuters)

Oil prices declined further on 18 August amid expectations of weaker demand from Asia, while oil-rich nations remain adamant about keeping their production goals.

Brent crude is trading down 0.27% at $48.61 per barrel as at 5.48 am GMT, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 0.14% at $41.81. On 17 August, the WTI benchmark fell below $42, its lowest price in six years.

There are indications that traders have taken huge bets on further fall in oil prices. They have been aggressively buying put options, which would enable them to sell an oil contract at a profit if prices fall to a certain level, and they expect oil prices to come down as low as $30 per barrel.

“The amount of queries we’ve received recently about leveraging bets on further price falls has been astonishing,” one broker was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Traders expect the demand from Asia to be weaker as many countries in the region such as economic powerhouse China face a growth slowdown. Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP)shrank in the second quarter, adding to worries.

Meanwhile, producers are not willing to cut down their output. Despite a sharp reduction in drilling rigs, US oil producers are managing to keep their output at high levels. From the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), Saudi Arabia and Iraq have ramped up production in recent months.

In addition, Iran is expected to join the producers with significantly expanded output, resulting in further fall in oil rates. In a survey conducted by CNBC, 23% respondents expect Iran to return to the market in each of the first or second quarters of 2016; another 27% expect it to be in the second half of 2016, and 14% see it happening as soon as the fourth quarter of 2015.

Iran earlier said it would increase oil exports by a million barrels per day, once the sanctions against it were lifted. The country has an estimated 50 million barrels of crude on tankers that could be sent to global markets quickly.


Obama just significantly raised the stakes of the Iran deal

Business Insider

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(Susan Walsh) President Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran at American University

President Barack Obama on Wednesday raised the stakes of the Iranian nuclear deal, saying the multinational nuclear agreement Iran is “the most consequential foreign-policy debate” that the US has had since the decision to invade Iraq.At a high-profile speech at American University on Wednesday, Obama said that anti-nuclear deal sentiments were expressed by the same people who supported the war in Iraq.

“If the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should,” Obama said. “For many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”

Obama repeatedly attempted to illustrate similarities between opponents of the current deal and supporters of the war in Iraq, which he opposed in the Senate.

“Those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak, even appeasers of a malevolent adversary,” Obama said, referencing the march to war in the early 2000s. “More than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq.”

“The same mindset, in many cases offered by the same people, who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United State than anything we have done in the decades before or since.”

Obama said the invasion of Iraq had destabilized the Middle East and empowered Iran, creating conditions for the Islamic State terror group to emerge and eliminating Saddam Hussein, a longtime Iran foe.

Obama has long touted his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a way to demonstrate his foreign policy credentials. Opposition to the war in Iraq helped launch Obama’s national political career, and provided him with political ammunition in his battle against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

The speech on Tuesday came as Obama is attempting to sell the deal to a skeptical Congress, which has until September 17 to either approve or vote to disapprove of the deal.

If Congress rejects the plan, Obama is almost certain to veto the rejection. At that point, opponents would need a significant amount of Democratic support to overcome the veto: if Republicans unanimously reject the plan, they need 13 Democratic Senators and 44 Democratic members of the House in order to overcome Obama’s veto.

For their part, Republicans who supported the war in Iraq were quick to condemn the president’s speech.

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Lindsey Graham

(Brendan McDermid) U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during a campaign event

In a joint statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) blasted Obama for trying to tie the deal to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

“It is particularly galling to hear the President try to defend his nuclear agreement with Iran by claiming that its critics also supported the war in Iraq,” the statement said. “Having presided over the collapse of our hard-won gains in Iraq…the President should not throw stones from his glass house.”

“What we object to is the President’s lack of realism – his ideological belief that diplomacy is good and force is bad, which has repeatedly resulted either in failed deals or bad deals.”

It’s looking less likely that opponents will have the votes to block the deal as more skeptical Democrats announce their support for the deal.

On Tuesday, a trio of Democratic Senators announced that they would vote for the deal, thoughsome more high-profile Democratic leaders have remained silent about whether they’ll eventually come out in favor of the deal.

Obama is also attempting to curb the influence of Israeli opponents, who have attempted to persuade allies in Congress to vote against the deal. The administration announced on Wednesday that Obama will visit Israel to sell the deal in person.

Watch highlights from the speech below:

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