Trump poised for crucial decision on Jerusalem

A general view of the city of Jerusalem. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2017
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Trump poised for crucial decision on Jerusalem

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump faces a key decision this week on whether to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting a flood of warnings from the Arab world that it could ignite tensions and sink hopes for peace.
“The president’s going to make his decision,” his Middle East peace envoy and son-in-law Jared Kushner said, without denying reports Trump could declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital on Wednesday.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the suggestion Trump could reverse years of US policy has prompted a furious bout of lobbying from the Palestinian leadership.
Most of the international community, including the US, does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved through final status negotiations. Central to the issue of recognition is the question of the US Embassy.
All foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv with consular representation in Jerusalem, but Trump will on Monday have to decide whether to sign a legal waiver that would delay by six months plans to move the US Embassy from the Holy City.
The Arab League said it was closely following the matter, with leader Abul Gheit warning any such move would pose a threat “to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world.”
“It will not serve peace or stability, instead it will nourish fanaticism and violence,” he said on Sunday, noting that the League was closely following the issue and would coordinate a joint position with Palestinian and Arab leaders if Trump took the step.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi also warned that any change to the status of Jerusalem would have “grave consequences,” in a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday.
It was crucial, he said, “to preserve the historical and legal status of Jerusalem and refrain from any decision that aims to change that status,” the official Petra news agency reported.
In 1995, the US Congress passed the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating that the US Embassy should be moved there.
But an inbuilt waiver, which allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on grounds of “national security,” has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, from Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama, meaning the law has never taken effect.
Trump is expected to begrudgingly sign the waiver for a second time this week.
But according to diplomats and observers, he is expected to make a speech on Wednesday announcing his support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claims both halves of the city to be its “eternal and undivided capital.”
But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their promised state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.
Several peace plans have come unstuck over debates on whether, and how, to divide sovereignty or oversee the sites holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In an address to the Saban Forum of Israeli and US policymakers on Sunday, Kushner, who heads a small and tight-knit White House negotiating team, suggested a decision was close.
“He’s still looking at a lot of different facts and when he makes his decision he’ll be the one who wants to tell you. So he’ll make sure he does that at the right time,” he said.
Palestinians have been lobbying regional leaders to oppose the decision and the armed militant movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new “intifada.”
Late on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, with the two agreeing to oppose any shift in US policy.
Saeb Erakat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), also warned that a change in the US stance on Jerusalem would spell disaster, warning that it would amount to an own goal for US peace efforts in the region.
He said in a statement that Washington would “be disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative toward achieving a just and lasting peace.”
Trump has said he wants to relaunch frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in search of the “ultimate deal.”
But analysts warn that any major shift in US policy would make that goal more difficult to achieve.


Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

Updated 20 min 53 sec ago
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Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

  • Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region"
  • A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday

TEHRAN: Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defense purposes — comments that reflect more backtracking after a remark by the top diplomat suggesting the missiles could be up for negotiations.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that aired earlier this week that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."
Iran has long rejected negotiations over its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The foreign minister's remarks suggested a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington.
But the Iranian mission to the United Nations promptly called Zarif's suggestion purely "hypothetical" and said the Iranian missiles were "absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period."
In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Zarif's comments meant to challenge Washington and "threw the ball into the US court while challenging America's arm sales" to its Mideast allies.
Zarif himself on Wednesday backpedaled on the missiles issue, saying Iran has no choice but to manufacture the missiles for its own defense.
He cited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and tweeted that, "For 8 YEARS, Saddam (Hussein) showered our cities with missiles & bombs provided by East & West. Meanwhile, NO ONE sold Iran any means of defense. We had no choice but building our own. Now they complain."
"Instead of skirting the issue, US must end arms sales to Saddam's reincarnations," Zarif also said.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have sharply escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally last year withdrew America from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.
America has also rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast amid unspecified threats from Iran.
Mysterious oil tanker blasts near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran's shooting down of a U.S. military drone in the past months further raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing a region crucial to global energy supplies.

A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.

The UN nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran earlier this month violated the 2015 accord, and Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday said Tehran would keep removing restraints on its nuclear activity in the deal.

In her last major speech before stepping down next week, May said the nuclear deal must be protected "whatever its challenges".

"Whether we like it or not a compromise deal remains the best way to get the outcome we all still ultimately seek – to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to preserve the stability of the region," May said.

Recently, British authorities intercepted the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, and seized it with the help of British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar.
They believed it to be violating European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. Spanish authorities said the seizure came at the request of the United States.
This is not the only issue between Iran and Britain.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran following her arrest in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government, has been transferred to a hospital mental health facility, her husband said Wednesday.
Her family denies the allegations against her.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said in Britain that his wife has been moved to the mental health ward of Iman Khomeini hospital under the control of the Revolutionary Guard.
"Hopefully her transfer to hospital means that she is getting treatment and care, despite my distrust of just what pressures can happen behind closed doors. It is unnerving when we don't know what is going on," he said.
Iran does not recognize dual nationality.
British officials have urged Iranian officials to let her have contact with her family.