Arab FMs reject unilateral steps that ‘jeopardize legal status of Jerusalem’

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A photo taken on March 27, 2017 shows a general view of the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south of the Jordanian capital Amman, with the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit (C-L) and chair Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi (C) seated in the centre. (AFP)
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Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south the Jordanian capital Amman, on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 28 March 2017
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Arab FMs reject unilateral steps that ‘jeopardize legal status of Jerusalem’

THE DEAD SEA, Jordan: The Council of Arab Foreign Ministers on Monday approved 17 draft resolutions, including the rejection of unilateral steps that “jeopardize the historic and legal status” of Jerusalem. The draft will be presented to Arab leaders at their summit on Wednesday.
It followed an announcement by Jason Greenblatt, US envoy to the Middle East, that he looks forward to attending the Arab Summit as an observer “to discuss how best to work together against extremism and toward peace and prosperity.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said at a press conference held at the Dead Sea resort that all draft resolutions submitted by the Arab League’s permanent representatives to the Arab League had been agreed upon.
Al-Safadi said the draft agenda prepared by the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers included 17 resolutions addressing all current Arab issues.
In response to a question about the possibility of transferring the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Al-Safadi said that Arabs have repeatedly stressed the need to establish a just and lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with international covenants and resolutions, and within the two-state solution to ensure an independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian national territory with East Jerusalem as its capital. Al-Safadi also said Arab foreign ministers rejected unilateral steps that “jeopardize the historic and legal status” of Jerusalem.
This was an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s previously stated intentions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians seek a capital in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Safadi said the resolution is one of “about 17” to be adopted later this week at the gathering of Arab heads of state. He said the ministers also reaffirmed the need to establish a state of Palestine alongside Israel.
Meanwhile, US envoy Greenblatt tweeted: “The US president believes peace between Israelis and Palestinians might be possible and that the time has come to make a deal and I believe that such a peace agreement will reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”
Last month, Greenblatt met with senior Palestinian and Israeli officials, during which he reaffirmed the US commitment to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.


Iran’s domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters

Updated 12 min 18 sec ago
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Iran’s domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters

TEHRAN, Iran: Across Iran’s capital, rush-hour traffic always grinds to a halt, a sea of boxy Renault four-doors and Peugeot coupes all idling their way through the streets of Tehran.
Soon, however, Iran’s faltering nuclear deal with world powers may be what causes the country’s domestic automotive market to stall out.
As Iran’s currency, the rial, suffers precipitous falls against the US dollar — down some 140 percent since President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord — cars are growing more and more expensive even as tens of thousands clamor to order domestic models online. Meanwhile, Western manufacturers are pulling out of the country and foreign-produced parts are becoming harder to find as Chinese cars fill the void.
“It is clear and obvious that the US is purposefully putting pressure on the people of Iran to instigate discontent” over the auto market, said Mohammad Reza Najfimaneh, the head of the Iranian Specialized Manufacturers of Auto Parts Association.
Iran, one of the Mideast’s biggest countries and home to 80 million people, has a huge demand for automobiles. In 2017 alone, Iran produced more than 1.5 million cars, up some 14 percent from the year before, according to a report by Iran’s Ministry of Industries, Mines and Trade earlier this year.
Some 90 percent of market share is controlled by two local companies: Iran Khodro, which assembles Peugeot-branded vehicles from kits, and SAIPA, which has made Citroens and Kias. Both manufacturers also build Renaults.
Iran’s auto industry suffered under US and Western sanctions, which targeted Iran over fears about its nuclear program. The West worries Iran could use its technology to build atomic bombs. Iran long has said its program is for peaceful purposes.
The 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, provided a needed boost to the industry.
French car-maker PSA Peugeot Citroen reached a deal in 2016 to open a plant producing 200,000 vehicles annually in Iran. Fellow French automobile manufacturer Groupe Renault signed a $778-million deal to build 150,000 cars a year at a factory outside of Tehran. Meanwhile, Volkswagen announced plans to import vehicles into Iran.
Now, however, those firms have pulled back on those plans.
Concern over Iran’s domestic auto industry has been high. That was shown in a visit to Iran-Khodro last week by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
“The enemy in the economic war is after damaging public contentment and the auto industry is one of the front lines in the war,” Shamkhani said during his visit.
More than 100,000 people are employed by Iran-Khodro and SAIPA, while another 700,000 Iranians work in industries related to car manufacturing.
There are fears by some business analysts in Iran that any downturn in the auto industry would further worsen unemployment in the country.
Iran’s official unemployment rate is 12.3 percent, meaning some 3 million people are out of work, but experts believe it is much higher, especially among university graduates. Those unemployed often try to scrape enough money together to work as taxi drivers in the city, meaning they could be doubly hit.
Meanwhile, the drop in the Iranian rial has made buying a car difficult. The rial traded at 62,000 to the dollar before Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal in May. It has gone as high as 150,000 to $1 since.
“I saved some money to buy an Iranian car, but prices jumped and factories do not provide cars on time,” said Mahin Tabrizi, a 45-year-old teacher. “I don’t know what I can do.”
Those prices also have hurt auto parts sales.
“Prices of car parts are crazy, all because of the sanctions,” said Mahmoud Rahimi, a taxi driver. “I bought brake pads for my car for double the price in less than a year.”
Even those who pay for an Iranian car can face delays in having them delivered. Iranian car production reportedly dropped 29 percent in June compared to the same month last year. Analysts blamed that on lack of parts due to currency fluctuation.
Meanwhile, importing a foreign car grows more expensive as the rial drops in value. Iran places import taxes of more than 100 percent on foreign cars. A ban on importing foreign cars also has been in force since April, halting new orders.
“Nearly two years ago, I paid for an imported car, yet they have not delivered it due to upheavals in the rial rate and sanctions,” said Reza Piltan, a retired engineer waiting for an SUV by South Korean manufacturer SSangYong.
In the absence of Western car makers, however, China is already starting to show up in the country. A new dealership for Chinese automaker Chery recently opened in Tehran. Iranian lawmaker Vali Maleki, a member of the parliamentary committee on industry, last month suggested that Chinese companies can take over the share of other foreign companies that have left the Iranian market.
“The Chinese cars are selling very well in Iran,” car dealer Ali Razavi said. “Their dealerships offer a wide range of methods of leasing and financing that enable many customers to buy a new car for just about $2,000 to $4,000.” Those cars are partly assembled in Iran.
Demand is still strong for Iranian-made cars as well, however.
Last week, in less than an hour, 50,000 customers rushed the website of SAIPA to pay nearly $2,000 each to buy cars that the company plans to make in the future. The move is largely an effort by buyers to save on their purchases as the rial continues to fall. Another factory, Iran-Khodro, has a similar plan for selling future cars next week.
Still, anger over quality lurks.
“In other countries people pay small advance fees to buy a standard car based on installments,” said Fatemeh Azari, whose son last week managed to buy a car on SAIPA’s website. “Here, we pay all the money in advance to receive a clunker months later.”