Iran says it can discuss other issues if nuclear deal successful

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said the US and its European allies should ensure the 2015 nuclear deal is a success before demanding to negotiate on other issues such as Tehran’s regional activities or ballistic missile program. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 08 February 2018
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Iran says it can discuss other issues if nuclear deal successful

PARIS: The United States and its European allies should ensure the 2015 nuclear deal is a success before demanding to negotiate on other issues such as Tehran’s regional activities or ballistic missile program, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.
“Now they ask Iran to enter discussions on other issues. Our answer is clear: make the (deal) a successful experience and then we discuss other issues,” Abbas Araqchi told a conference.
He said the new US administration’s policy on Iran was “destructive” and violated the terms of the accord with world powers.
With US President Donald Trump warning of a last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated,” Britain, France and Germany are working on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a Euromoney conference in Paris, Araqchi said there was no link between its influence in the Middle East region and the nuclear accord with major powers.
Iran has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile program as demanded by the United States and the Europeans, saying it is purely defensive.
Tehran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.
BLAME GAME
Araqchi dismissed Western assertions that Iran’s regional activities are destabilizing.
“We have always fought against terrorism. Iran has always played a key role in bringing stability and peace to the region ... There is no link between the (nuclear) deal and our role in the region,” Araqchi, also a senior negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks, told Reuters.
Trump’s ultimatum has effectively put the deal on life support until mid-May.
Speaking at the same conference, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said European powers were determined to save the deal and assuage the United States, but he warned that Iran also needed to mitigate Western concerns over its regional activities.
“We and our European partners are absolutely clear. We want the deal to succeed,” Burt said. “We don’t want to see the JCPOA (deal with Iran) go down and are working with our European partners to mitigate concerns the United States may have to ensure it continues.”
Negotiations between Europeans and the US officials to meet Trump’s conditions are ongoing.
The first challenge the Europeans face is dissecting divergent US statements about what Trump wants to keep issuing “waivers” to US sanctions. Without the waivers, which expire May 12, the US sanctions return, effectively killing the deal.
“Iran also needs to avoid taking actions which threaten regional security,” Burt said specifically pointing to claims that Tehran has supplied ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Iran has denied those allegations and has repeatedly said its missile program is purely defensive.
Iran backs Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war, militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“Iran has always played a key role in establishing peace, restoring security and fighting against terrorism across the region,” Araqchi said.


Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

Militants in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

  • Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib: Russia
  • Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization

ANKARA: Turkey has failed to persuade the rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province that was agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib… Militants continued shelling western Aleppo,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Thursday, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on Nov. 19.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, said although there are serious problems with implementation of the Idlib agreement, Russian officials stressed that the process requires time and effort.
“Russia doesn’t want to push Turkey because there’s a much more important thing: Constitutional dialogue between the Syrian opposition and government, where Turkish-Russian dialogue plays a decisive role,” he told Arab News. 
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan publicly undertook obligations to clear the (Idlib) zone from terrorists,” Akhmetov said. 
“Ankara is also having a hard time with the US regarding the Syrian Kurds. I think Russia will find ways to exploit this situation.”
Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization.
Under the Turkish-Russian deal, rebel groups, including HTS, were to withdraw from the demilitarized zone by mid-October.
Ankara has repeatedly indicated its readiness to use force against radical groups if they refuse to withdraw.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Idlib with armored vehicles and equipment. It has 12 military posts in the province.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant and Middle East expert at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the most obvious setback of the Idlib deal is that moderate rebel groups in the province now back HTS if there is a clash between it and Syrian regime forces.
“Their focus is now on repelling regime forces even if it means violating the deal,” he told Arab News. 
“Turkey in this sense seems to have failed to separate moderate groups completely from extremists.”
An intensification of fighting between the regime and extremists may cause the deal to collapse completely, Ayasli said.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increased rate of violations of the Idlib demilitarized zone.