‘Rein in Assad,’ Trump tells Russia

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their meeting at the State Department in Washington Wednesday. (Reuters)
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US President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP)
Updated 11 May 2017
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‘Rein in Assad,’ Trump tells Russia

WASHINGTON: In his first meeting with a senior Russian official since coming to office in January, US President Donald Trump underscored to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies.”
Trump’s demand was what US officials have privately been emphasizing on the Syrian issue in recent months.
The White House meeting with Lavrov — the first for Russia’s seasoned diplomat in Washington since 2013 — was clouded with the firing of FBI director James Comey, who just last week called Russia the “greatest threat” to the US Democratic process. He also sought an expanded investigation into the alleged Russian meddling in the US election, just days before he was fired.
The Comey cloud, however, did not appear to have hindered the conversation with Lavrov. Trump described the meeting as “very, very good.”
In its statement, the White House stuck to traditional US talking points and positions on key issues with Russia. The statement said that Trump “emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies.”
Splitting Russia from Iran in Syria, according to US sources, has been gaining traction inside the White House, not out of conviction that it could be realistically achieved.
Sources explained the pitch as a way of expressing US reservations about Moscow’s behavior in Syria.
The Russian-Iranian coordination is seen in Moscow’s latest plan to create “security zones” in the country with Iran as one of the three guarantors.
Washington has several questions about the plan, but the Iran element is a crucial troubling part for the US administration, according to the sources.
Trump also raised the “possibility of broader cooperation on resolving conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere” and “to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.”
Lavrov’s stop at the White House followed a lengthy meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday morning.

The two diplomats “discussed the importance of defeating Daesh, de-escalating the violence in Syria and ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches hundreds of thousands of civilians throughout the country,” the State Department said.
The US made reference to the “UN-led political process in Geneva” for Syria and not to the Astana meetings that Russia has sponsored for the conflict. The statement mentioned Geneva as “central to international efforts to bring about an enduring resolution to the conflict.”
Trump and Lavrov also discussed Ukraine. The US president “expressed the administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict and stressed Russia’s responsibility to fully implement the Minsk agreements.”
Tillerson struck a hard line on Ukraine, stating that “the need for progress toward full implementation of the Minsk agreements” and that “sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered them.”
The Lavrov meetings did not achieve a breakthrough and the two sides “agreed to continue discussions to resolve other issues of bilateral concern, including strategic stability.”  
Trump’s next meeting with a foreign leader will be Monday as he hosts Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer described the UAE as a “key partner” in the region and said the meeting is aimed at deepening cooperation.
US sources told Arab News that the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed was initially planned for mid-summer, but Trump’s highly anticipated visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel sped up the plans for a US-UAE summit. Trump is expected to leave to Riyadh next Thursday.


UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

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UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

  • Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
  • France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.
“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.