Egypt shares Trump’s concerns about Iran

A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, some 1,200 km south of Tehran, in this October 26, 2010 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 October 2017

Egypt shares Trump’s concerns about Iran

CAIRO: Egypt has stated its support for US President Donald Trump’s concerns regarding Iranian threats to regional security.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry reiterated “Egypt’s deep concern regarding Iranian policies which lead to the instability of regional states and affect Arab national security as well as Gulf security.”
The ministry added that the security of the Gulf was “an extension of the national security of Egypt.”
The statement came after Trump decided to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement signed between Iran, the US, the UK, China, Germany, France and Russia in 2015. Trump asked the US Treasury Department to impose “harsh sanctions” on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), whom he accused of supporting regional terrorist groups.
Trump urged Congress and US allies to find a solution, which guarantees stronger conditions in the nuclear agreement with Iran, in order to ensure its sustainability, to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons, and to limit its destabilizing conduct.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ahmad Abu Zeid, told Arab News that Trump’s announcement contained many factors, which explain Egypt’s concern regarding Iranian policies.
He reiterated how important Egypt feels it is that the Middle East is a nuclear-free zone, and that it remains free from “other weapons of mass destruction.”
He added that Iran should stop meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries. “All of which would enhance the stability of the Middle East and help achieve sustainable solutions for the current crises,” he said.
“Egypt is worried about constant Iranian threats to the security and stability of some GCC countries, like Kuwait and Bahrain, due to the relations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards with some groups which seek to undermine the security and stability of those countries,” Mohammad Abbas Nagi, editor-in-chief of Iranian Selections magazine, told Arab News.
Dr. Mu’taz Salamah, director of the Arabian Gulf program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), told Arab News that he notices a “leap” in the Egyptian statement with regards to the country’s traditional commitment to the security of the Gulf.
Egyptian rhetoric had previously not singled any country out, he explained. But the recent statement specifically highlighted negative Iranian interference.
Nagi explained that lifting restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program after 10 years cold expose the region to danger from both Israel and Iran. “Cairo is concerned about reports regarding Iranian attempts to circumvent the nuclear agreement and preserve a secret military side to its nuclear program,” he said.
However, Egypt is not critical of the 2015 agreement, according to Dr. Iman Ragab, regional security expert at ACPSS.
Ragab said Egypt welcomed the nuclear agreement and considered it in the interest of regional stability. The ministry’s statement, he believes, is an attempt to convince Iran to change its policies toward its neighbors.
Dr. Ahmad Youssef, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Arab News that the Arab initiative is an ideal framework for dealing with Iranian threats.
He added that Egyptian-Gulf awareness of these threats is more consistent than America’s shifting policies regarding Iran, and warned that total investment in any US strategy could be risky.
“We cannot control the results of changing American policies, especially when the US adopts a policy which does not conform with Arab interests,” he said. A sudden change in Trump’s position cannot be ruled out, especially considering the opposition he faces not only from Democrats, but from within his own administration, he added.
Nagi, meanwhile, pointed out that the strategy presented in Trump’s speech has not yet translated into procedural steps on the ground, and that process could take a long time.
Before Trump’s address on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified that Trump’s decertification of Iran’s compliance with the terms of the nuclear agreement would not mean withdrawing from the agreement. Tillerson added that the Trump administration would not ask Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran, as that would be “tantamount to walking away” from the agreement.
Tillerson said that he discussed with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, the possibility of reaching a new agreement “alongside the 2015 accord” dealing with the “sunset clause” (the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program after 2025) and the Iranian ballistic missile program.
While he expected the imposition of additional sanctions against the funding structures of the Revolutionary Guard and some of its elements, Tillerson ruled out the possibility of classifying it as a terrorist organization because of specific dangers and complications associated with categorizing any country’s army in that way.

Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 23 September 2018

Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.