Trump tightens Iran curbs

A long-range S-200 Iranian missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr in this Dec. 29, 2016 photo. (AP)
Updated 07 February 2017
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Trump tightens Iran curbs

WASHINGTON: Less than 48 hours after US President Donald Trump put Iran “on notice” for conducting a ballistic missile test, his administration responded Friday by slapping 25 Iranian entities and individuals — some based in China, Lebanon and the Gulf — with sanctions. 
The move, while not a surprise, is a departure from the more diplomatic and measured response that Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama pursued for eight years with Tehran.
The sanctions include networks of individuals and companies that allegedly provide support, technology and funding for Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The networks are based in different locations in and outside Iran, spanning as far as China, Lebanon and the UAE. Some allegedly have direct affiliation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Quds Force.
John Smith, the Treasury Department’s acting sanctions official, said in a statement that “Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide and to the US.”
In a conference call with reporters, three senior administration officials stressed that more sanctions could follow and that these are only “initial steps.”
One of the officials laid out the choices for Tehran as such: “We will work positively with Iran if it keeps (its international) commitments ... or aggressively to counter its terrorism activities.”
The officials also held Iran directly “responsible” for actions that its proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen, could take. One senior official said that Iran enjoys “heavy influence” on the Houthis and has granted them access to weapons and training. The same official said the US is “very concerned” about the Houthis’ targeting of Saudi and Emirati vessels and the impact of that on the “freedom of navigation and global commerce” in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait.
The Senate and House Democratic leadership did not have an immediate reaction to the sanctions, while ranking Congress Republicans hailed them.  
“This announcement makes clear that it is a new day in US-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker in a statement. “A coordinated, multi-faceted effort to push back against a range of illicit Iranian behavior is long overdue,” he added.
The Trump administration did not confirm if it has any ongoing diplomatic channel with Iran. The president himself tweeted: “Iran is playing with fire — they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”
Among those hit by the new sanctions were companies, individuals, and brokers the US Treasury said support a trade network run by Iranian businessman Abdollah Asgharzadeh.
Treasury said he supported Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which the US has said is a subsidiary of an Iranian entity that runs Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Three Lebanese companies involved in waste collection, pharmaceuticals, and construction were also listed under the sanctions for being owned or controlled by Mohammed Abd-Al-Amir Farhat, allegedly an employee of Hasan Dehghan Ebrahimi.
Ebrahimi — a Beirut-based official with the IRGC’s Quds Force, which runs the military organization’s operations abroad — was put under sanctions for acting on behalf of the Al-Quds Force, Treasury said.
Treasury said he has facilitated millions of dollars in cash transfers to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Two of his employees and a company he manages were also sanctioned. Treasury said that Ebrahimi and his employees used a Lebanon-based network to “transfer funds, launder money, and conduct business.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted on Friday ahead of the announcement: “Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people. We will never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense”. Zarif led the nuclear negotiations in 2015.
— With input from Reuters


Senior US Diplomat arrives in Pakistan amid frosty relations

Updated 25 min 53 sec ago
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Senior US Diplomat arrives in Pakistan amid frosty relations

  • The relationship between Pakistan and the United States is on a ‘slippery slope’ according to foreign-relations expert
  • Travel restrictions on diplomats likely to top the agenda

ISLAMABAD: Alice G. Wells, the US principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, arrived in Islamabad on April 23 to continue talks amid strained relations between the two long-time allies.
The latest trip follows her visit from March 28 to April 3, during which she met several senior federal ministers, UN representatives, National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua, and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. She also went to Karachi to meet provincial officials in Sindh.
When she arrived for this followup, she was greeted by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.
During the previous visit, discussions were held about Washington’s South Asia strategy, unveiled last year, “Pakistan’s stated commitment to eliminate all terrorist groups present within its borders,” and a “shared interest in building economic and commercial ties that benefit both nations” according to the US Embassy.
In the aftermath of the Tashkent conference on Afghanistan, Wells also noted the growing international consensus on the way forward to achieving peace in that country, and the meaningful role that Pakistan, partnering with the United States, could play in achieving that peaceful resolution.
Her latest visit is a follow-up to a series of clashes between the United States and Pakistan over growing differences that threaten decades-old relations between the countries.
The latest row erupted last week after Washington imposed “reciprocal” travel restrictions on Pakistani envoys in the US. After days of speculation, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week confirmed that US authorities had informed it that from May 1, 2018, Pakistani diplomats would be restricted in how far they can travel within the United States without official permission.
Foreign-relations expert Qamar Cheema said that “relations are on a slippery slope” and the travel restrictions will probably take center stage in this week’s meetings between Wells and Pakistani officials.
Washington remains unhappy that its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are being hindered by Islamabad’s feeble approach to dealing with the Haqqani network of insurgents, which the US says operates from Pakistan, an assertion Islamabad has rejected as it reiterates its commitment to combating all forms of terrorism, said Cheema.
“There are concerns on Pakistan’s long-term strategy to counter terror financing, stop the rise of ISIS recruits and its activity, and its assistance with talks and negotiations with the Taliban,” Cheema added.
The latest travel restrictions are in response to Islamabad’s already imposed curbs on US diplomats, which stems from a trust deficit and a number of damaging incidents. These include the US Navy SEAL raid of 2011 that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, which was carried out without Pakistan’s prior knowledge.
The Trump administration had warned Pakistan of “punitive measures”. The United States Bureau of Industry and Security, which works under the Department of Commerce, has placed sanctions on seven Pakistani firms purportedly engaged in nuclear trade, a move that damaged Pakistan’s attempt to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
A move co-sponsored by the US in February, meanwhile, convinced the Financial Action Task Force to place Pakistan back on its “gray list” of “jurisdictions with deficient anti-money laundering regimes.”
In January, Trump accused Islamabad of taking billions from America and in return giving “nothing but lies and deceit,” and sheltering terrorists. The US withheld $255 million from about $1 billion in assistance. The same month, Washington placed Pakistan on its “special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom.”
“Relations are hanging by a single thread and could free-fall anytime,” Cheema said, but added that the continuation of constructive interaction from both sides at least shows “the belief that cooperation and engagement is the only way forward for peace in the region.”