Trump throws future of Iran deal to Congress

A man holds up a sign during a protest calling for the Trump administration to continue diplomacy with Iran near the White House in Washington, D.C.m on October 12, 2017. Trump is set to deal a blow to the Iran nuclear deal, which the European Union is desperate to uphold. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2017
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Trump throws future of Iran deal to Congress

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump will unveil a more aggressive strategy to check Iran’s growing power Friday, but will stop short of withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal or declaring the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.
During a White House speech at 12:45 p.m. (1645 GMT), Trump is expected to declare the 2015 agreement — which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief — is no longer in the US national interest.
Officials say he will not kill the international accord outright, instead “decertifying” the agreement and leaving US lawmakers to decide its fate.
Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn one of his predecessor Barack Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievements, deriding it as “the worst deal” and one agreed to out of “weakness.”
The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks coordinated by the European Union.
While the deal stalled Iran’s nuclear program and marginally thawed relations between Iran and its “Great Satan,” opponents say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence in the Middle East.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House to set the stage for Trump’s speech, he will rail against Iran’s “destabilizing influence” on the Middle East, “particularly its support for terrorism and militants.”
The strategy will seek to shield Israel from Iran’s “unrelenting hostility” and counter the threat to all US interests and allies from Iran’s proxy forces, ballistic missile development and eventual nuclear ambitions.
But the plan as outlined by the fact sheet does not envisage Washington pulling out of the Iran deal’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Indeed, “the deal must be strictly enforced, and the IAEA must fully utilize its inspection authorities.”
Since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and his own national security team, who argued the deal should remain in place.
In another partial climbdown, Trump is also expected to levy limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, rather than invite retaliation by designating it as a terrorist organization.
The outcome “probably reflects more some of the divisions and debates within the administration,” said former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.
Apart from running swaths of Iran’s economy and Iran’s ballistic program, the corps is also accused of guiding bellicose proxies from Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the Houthi in Yemen to Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria.
Still, Trump’s tough-guy gambit could yet risk undoing years of careful diplomacy and increasing Middle East tensions.
UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement.
“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he added.
And Congress must now decide whether to end the nuclear accord by “snapping back” sanctions, which Iran demanded be lifted in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment.
Many lawmakers are waiting to see how Trump presents the choice before deciding whether to keep or torpedo the agreement.
In a statement to AFP, leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio described the accord as “fatally-flawed” and said he was open to legislation that would “substantially improve America’s ability to counter Iran’s nuclear, terrorism, militancy and regional threats.”
Trump has been railing against the Iran deal since before he was elected in November last year.
In office, he has chafed at being required under US law to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the accord every 90 days, declaring that Tehran has broken it “in spirit.”
Right up until the last minute, the other signatories to the deal have urged Washington not to let it fall apart.
“We believe this deal is important to ensuring the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and regional peace and stability. We hope all parties can continue to preserve and implement this deal,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent much of the week on the telephone, talking through a decision that is deeply unpopular with allies.
Europe fears not only that Iran will resume the quest for the bomb but that the US is relinquishing its leadership role in a stable, rules-based international system.


Syrian regime’s killing spree continues in largest opposition holdout

A member of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group watches as a convoy of busses gets ready to enter the towns of Fuaa and Kefraya to evacuate their residents on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Syrian regime’s killing spree continues in largest opposition holdout

  • Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, and a cease-fire deal was reached in 1974
  • The regime offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces determined to retake the largest opposition holdout in the country’s southwest unleashed an intense bombing campaign, killing at least a dozen people and wounding over 100 in a densely populated town, activists and rescuers said on Wednesday.
The aerial bombardment of the town of Nawa came after talks to cede the town failed on Tuesday, triggering the heavy bombardment.
Separately, some 7,000 civilians were expected to be evacuated from two pro-regime villages in northwestern Syria as part of a negotiated deal with insurgents who have besieged them for three years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “frenzied” overnight bombing in Nawa and the town’s surroundings continued into Wednesday, with at least 350 missiles launched. The Observatory said at least 12 people were killed as rescuers struggled to get to the casualties.
Khaled Solh, head of the local Syria Civil Defense known as White Helmets, said they have documented 14 people killed while Nawa’s only hospital was bombed and rendered non-operational on late Tuesday. Only one ambulance was able to get to the town and civilians relied on their cars to bring out at least 150 wounded. He said one of the last orthopedists in the town was killed in the strikes.
The regime has stepped up its military offensive on the remaining opposition pockets in the southwestern region, which includes the Daraa and Quneitra provinces that straddle the border with Jordan and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In recent days, Syrian forces have turned to the last opposition pockets near the frontier with Israel.
Images from across the frontier in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights showed large plumes of smoke rising over the Nawa area, as the bombing continued on Wednesday.
Hundreds of civilians were seen taking cover in shelters along the frontier, apparently seeking safety in the de-militarized zone between the two countries. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, and a cease-fire deal was reached in 1974.
In less than a month, regime forces backed by Russian air power have been able to seize control of most of southwestern Daraa province, including the provincial capital of the same name. The city of Daraa was the cradle of the uprising against Bashar Assad more than seven years ago.
Alongside the military offensive, the government has struck “reconciliation” deals, essentially a negotiated capitulation in a number of villages that have been in rebel hands for years, to restore government control there.
Talks to hand over Nawa, one of the most densely populated towns in Daraa province, have been ongoing for a couple of days. That has encouraged displaced civilians to return to Nawa, said a local activist who goes by the name Selma Mohammed.
But the talks faltered, triggering the overnight onslaught and a new wave of displacement, with hundreds leaving the town again.
On Wednesday, the bombing focused on towns and villages surrounding Nawa, making the road in and out of town deadly, Mohammed said.
The Observatory said warplanes and ground forces have also targeted the southern tip of the region, which is held by militants affiliated with Daesh.
The regime offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open. Jordan said it will not take in new refugees and Israeli soldiers have shooed away dozens of protesters who had approached the frontier Tuesday, demanding protection.
Meanwhile, about 7,000 Syrians were expected to be evacuated from two pro-regime villages in northwestern Syria, ending a three-year siege by insurgents who control the surrounding area. Dozens of buses arrived in the Foua and Kfraya villages to transport the evacuees on Wednesday, Syrian state media said.
Evacuation deals have been criticized by the UN as forced displacement. A negotiated deal to evacuate Foua and Kfraya villagers earlier this year faltered after the evacuation of only 40 people from a third village. The evacuees’ first stop is the regime-controlled city of Aleppo.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian and Syrian authorities had set up a refugee center in Syria to help refugees return home from abroad.