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.

US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 25 April 2019

US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.