Rex Tillerson sacking signals tougher line on Tehran

The dismissal of Tillerson came after a series of public rifts between the president and his top diplomat over hot-button issues such as North Korea and Russia. (AFP/file photo)
Updated 14 March 2018

Rex Tillerson sacking signals tougher line on Tehran

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump’s decision to sack Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may signal hard-line foreign policy shifts on Iran and the Qatar dispute, analysts told Arab News. 
The dismissal of Tillerson, and the appointment of Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, as his successor, came after a series of public rifts between the president and his top diplomat over hot-button issues such as North Korea and Russia — although the president yesterday thanked the outgoing secretary of state for his service.
But it was their disagreement over the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump had pledged to scrap during his election campaign, that the US leader referred to when explaining his decision on Tuesday.
“We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump told White House reporters.
“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same.” 
Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute think tank, said that after Tillerson’s removal, the administration might crack down on Iran and a nuclear deal on which Trump is expected to make his final decision in mid-May.
“This may be the death knell for the Iran deal,” Cristol told Arab News. 
“Tillerson was one of the leading voices in the administration for renegotiating the pact. With him gone, and Pompeo moving things to the right, at the very least we can expect harsher language against Tehran.” 
Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, echoed this on Twitter, saying: “The writing seems even more clearly on the wall as to the fate of the Iran deal” following the State Department reorganization.
The reshuffle may also signal a shift on US policy on the Qatar crisis. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut travel and trade ties with Doha last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran. Qatar denies the charges.
While Trump accused Doha of funding terrorism at a “very high level,” Tillerson tried to ease tensions by signing an anti-terror financing deal with Qatar the following month and was working on a Camp David rapprochement summit of Gulf leaders in May.
That policy divergence last summer came at the same time that Tillerson was reported to have privately called Trump a “moron” after the US leader suggested a 10-fold increase in the US nuclear arsenal. 
Steven Cook, an analyst at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Tillerson’s sacking will be welcomed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which wanted US support to leverage major policy shifts in Qatar.
“I am guessing that the folks in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are pretty happy right now. Tillerson was regarded as pro-Qatar,” Cook said.
Cristol agreed, but said that Tillerson was not a lone voice in the administration seeking to maintain stability in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will ensure that there are no changes and that the US remains committed to Qatar regardless of what the president tweets,” said Cristol, while attending a conference in Doha.
“It was widely understood that Tillerson did not have good relations with Trump and was on borrowed time, so his actual influence on policy was questionable. While we may see a move to the right, Mattis and the Pentagon may ensure policy is reasonably stable.”
The biggest shakeup of Trump’s Cabinet since he took office more than a year ago was announced on Twitter, and came as the administration prepares for key meetings on North Korea and the Middle East.
A senior White House official said Trump asked Tillerson to step down on Friday, but did not want to make the dismissal public while he was on a trip to Africa. Trump’s announcement came only a few hours after Tillerson landed in Washington when the trip was cut short.
The official said Trump works well with Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, and wanted him in place before planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and trade negotiations.

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”