French president arrives in Qatar amid regional isolation

French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani review the honor guard during a welcome ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha on Dec. 7, 2017. (AFP/Karim Jaafar)
Updated 07 December 2017
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French president arrives in Qatar amid regional isolation

DOHA, Qatar: French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Qatar on Thursday for a one-day trip to the small Gulf country as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors.
Macron landed and immediately traveled to the vast Al-Udeid air base, home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command. France also has a contingent of soldiers at the base, which is crucial to the ongoing fight against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria and to the war in Afghanistan.
Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base’s top commanders.
Speaking to coalition soldiers, he said the next few months of battle will determine the outcome of the war against the IS group in Iraq in Syria.
“This military win does not signify the end of the operations and the end of our battle because first we need to stabilize and win peace in Iraq and Syria,” he told troops. “Next spring is decisive in the situation in Iraq.”
Macron also stressed in his remarks at the air base that France wants to avoid partition in Syria and “avoid the domination of certain international elements whose interests contradict peace.”
The French president later will hold talks with Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a multibillion dollar deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. Qatar may announce during Macron’s visit that it will purchase up to 12 more of the French-made Dassault Rafale jets.
Macron’s visit comes just days after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Kuwait failed to bring the standoff any closer to a resolution in the dispute engulfing Qatar. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut relations with Qatar over allegations it supports extremists and has too-close relations with Iran.
Qatar has long denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Also likely to come up during Macron’s visit is President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state.
Before Macron’s arrival, Qatar’s ruler held calls with Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Qatar has, in the past, provided crucial aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant Hamas group, and has helped pay public sector wages in the besieged Palestinian territory.


Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

US this week issued a list of demands to Iran including the pullout of its forces from Syria. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops, a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country.
  • srael has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

MOSCOW: Syria on Wednesday dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad’s government. Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.

Mikdad said in Wednesday’s remarks that Syria “highly appreciates” Russia’s military support as well as “advisers” from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that “we cannot let anyone even raise this issue” of the Iranian withdrawal. “Those who ask for something like that — and this is definitely not our Russian friends — are considering the possibility of intervention in all parts of Syria, including the support of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the region,” Mikdad said.

At a meeting with Assad, who visited Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops.

Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, later commented that the Russian leader’s statement was aimed at the US and Turkey, along with Iran and Hezbollah. It marked a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country. Russia has argued that its troops have deployed at the Syrian government’s invitation, while the military presence of the US and others has been illegal.

Lavrentyev’s statement appeared to reflect a difficult balancing act for the Kremlin, which hopes to maintain good ties with both Iran and Israel. 

Israel has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

During the talks with Assad, Putin also encouraged him to send representatives to a commission in Geneva that would work out proposals for Syria’s new constitution as part of a peace process.

Mikdad said, however, that Damascus is not ready yet to nominate its candidates to the body.

“It is too early to speak about (candidates), but there are many people who are able to represent Syria and the Syrian government in these talks,” he said.

In Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian military’s General Staff, pointed at the Syrian troops’ recent gains, saying Wednesday that “all the necessary conditions have been created for the revival of Syria as a single, unified state.”

He noted the government’s capture of the last remaining opposition enclave in southern Damascus from Daesh militants, which brought the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

The general also said Russia, Iran and Turkey set up nearly 30 checkpoints to monitor the de-escalation zone in the northern province of Idlib as part of a deal the three countries brokered.