Syria opposition to visit regime ally Moscow

Turkish armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) are seen driving near the village of Yazi Bagh, about six kilometres from the Bab Al-Salamah border crossing between Syria and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Syria opposition to visit regime ally Moscow

BEIRUT: Syria’s main opposition group said it will send a delegation Monday to regime ally Russia to discuss with officials Moscow’s “real stance” on the Syrian political process.
The visit by the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) comes as Moscow gets set to host peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 30 along with Syrian regime backer Iran and rebel supporter Turkey.
The SNC has said it will attend fresh UN-hosted negotiations before then but has not yet announced if it will also go to the Sochi talks, which dozens of rebel factions have already rejected.
A statement by the SNC said Monday’s visit was “in response to an invitation by the Russian foreign ministry” and that its delegation will hold talks with the foreign and defense ministers as well as members of parliament.
The visit aims at “understanding Russia’s real stance toward the political process, since it is a partner in the conflict, a godfather of talks with Syria and a guarantor of de-escalation zones,” it said.
SNC spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told AFP the opposition wanted “simply to make sure that Russia is serious about the entire peace process,” particularly UN-led talks.
Numerous rounds of UN-brokered peace talks have been held in Geneva, and the last one concluded in mid-December with no notable progress toward ending the country’s war.
They are to resume January 25-26, this time in Vienna, ahead of the Sochi talks.
Key players Russia, Iran and Turkey have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year that have looked to still the fighting.
The Sochi meeting is now part of a broader push by Moscow to start hammering out a path to a political solution to end the war and has sparked concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the UN.
The Damascus government has said it would attend the Sochi talks, which are aimed at setting up a new constitution for post-war Syria.
Syria’s nearly seven-year war, which began as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests, has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left the country in ruins.


Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 min 33 sec ago
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Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.