Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Updated 21 March 2018
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Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed ways of putting pressure on Russia in opposition to what the US sees as its destabilizing role in the Middle East.
Ahead of talks between the two leaders, in Washington on Tuesday, a senior US administration official said Russia posed a threat to Saudi Arabia’s secuy by aiding Riyadh’s opponents, particularly in Yemen and Syria, and by backing Iran.
“Ultimately, the discussions will center on how can we find joint ways to make Russia pay a price for its activities in Syria and its support for Iran’s missile proliferation into Yemen — all of which risks deepening this crisis and leading to major regional catastrophe,” the official said.
The official, who made the remarks in a briefing to journalists, cited “reckless missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates” and attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, as examples of Tehran targeting Riyadh, then being protected from US punitive economic sanctions by Russian vetoes at the UN Security Council.
Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, to congratulate him on his re-election to another six year term of office.
He said the two leaders would “probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control”. They also needed to talk about Syria, Ukraine and North Korea, Trump said.
Russian-Saudi ties have remained strong, including the first visit by a Saudi leader when King Salman visited Moscow in October.
As a result of that trip, Riyadh agreed to purchase an advanced anti-aircraft missile system from Russia, and made deals on oil production.
Washington has made little secret of the fact that it sees Russia as playing the role of both arsonist and fire fighter in its dealings with Saudi Arabia — aiding Tehran and its proxies to shoot increasingly advanced missiles at Riyadh, and then selling defense systems to counter the threat.
“The Russians are helpful on one hand but, behind the scenes, have ratcheted up the prices and ultimately posed greater threats to the Kingdom in ways that are subtly deigned to undermine the US-Saudi relationship,” the administration official said.
The official said the US president would also remind the Saudi crown prince that Russia had pledged to supply Iran with advanced tanks and attack aircraft, when prohibitions against conventional weapon supplies to Iran, put in place as part of the nuclear program deal, come to an end.
Saudi Arabia, its regional allies and the US have taken an increasingly hawkish stance toward Iran, which they see as a growing threat in the region, with an overbearing influence in Baghdad, Sanaa, Beirut and Damascus.
Russian political and military backing has been central in allowing Iran, Syria and Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon and Iraq to form such a powerful bloc. Ranged against them are the US and its Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Russia drew condemnation from the US and its allies after it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have pressured Iran over the transfer of weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen.
The decision by the Trump administration to directly address Moscow’s role in talks with Saudi Arabia touches on a difficult subject for the White House.
A special investigation is currently under way into Russian interference in the US election, including efforts by Moscow to promote Trump’s candidacy and block Hillary Clinton’s election.
The probe has infuriated Trump, who insists there has been no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who is heading the investigation, has so far secured a guilty plea for giving false testimony to federal agents from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He has also filed charges against Paul Manafort, Mr.Trump’s former campaign manager, and his deputy Richard Gates, and indicted 13 Russians.
The investigation, which has transfixed Washington and hamstrung the US president during his first year in office, appears to be edging ever closer to Trump himself.


UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

Updated 10 min 12 sec ago
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UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

  • Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
  • France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.

The advisory came in tandem with France’s decision to hold off on appointing a new ambassador to Iran, as it seeks clarification over an attempt to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.