Europe set to get tough over Iran’s ballistic missiles

A Qiam missile is displayed during a military parade outside Tehran. Houthi militias have used the same type of missile to attack Saudi cities. (AP/file)
Updated 29 March 2018
0

Europe set to get tough over Iran’s ballistic missiles

JEDDAH: EU ambassadors discussed on Wednesday possible new sanctions on Iran. A decision regarding such action may be taken at a foreign ministers’ meeting next month.
“The idea is to have a final decision on Iran sanctions by — or at — the April Foreign Affairs Council,” one diplomat told Reuters in Brussels, referring to the EU’s next foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on April 16.
According to a confidential document seen by Reuters, Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran because of its ballistic missiles.
US President Donald Trump has taken a tough line on Iran and has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed to by his predecessor Barack Obama. If there is no “fix,” he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran.
The EU envoys discussed possible sanctions at last week’s meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, where they agreed that Iran needed to be held to account for its malign role in the region.
At the meeting last week, France also urged the EU to consider new sanctions on Iran, publicly citing the “proliferation of ballistic missiles and (Tehran’s) very questionable role in the Middle East.”
Another diplomat told Reuters that the discussions in EU capitals were moving in favor of new sanctions, partly because ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi militia killed a man in Riyadh on Sunday.
Leading Middle East experts welcomed the move and said the nuclear deal that the US and other countries made with Iran in 2015 was deeply flawed.
“The so-called nuclear deal signed at the behest of the Obama administration offered Iran a wide berth to continue procuring parts for its missile program,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.
He said a “more stringent” European sanctions regime is crucial to preventing Iran from using front companies in European countries, such as Germany, to advance its ballistic weapons program.
“The Iranian government has been emboldened by the easing of sanctions that the nuclear deal has offered Tehran. It’s one of the reasons we’re seeing more Iranian missile proliferation throughout the region; the missiles are targeting cities throughout the Middle East and placing millions of civilians at risk,” said Shahbandar.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international-relations scholar, said the “screws need to tighten on Iran.”
He said it was a “big mistake” on the part of the Obama administration and European countries to have overlooked Iran’s dangerous and violent interference in the region and its relentless pursuit of ballistic missile programs before it signed the nuclear deal.
“The two should have been linked,” he told Arab News. “By not doing so, the world community allowed Iran to wreak havoc, as we saw two days ago when their militia launched missiles into Riyadh.”
He described the situation as extremely dangerous. “Iran is a big threat to the safety, security and stability of the Middle East and the world at large. Tehran needs to be stopped and Saudi Arabia’s allies in Europe and elsewhere must understand the gravity of the situation.”
Against this background, the European action plan to slap more sanctions on Iran seems to be a logical step, he added.
According to Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, EU sanctions against the Iranian regime are long overdue.
“This development is critical as it sends a robust message to the Iranian regime that the EU will not tolerate Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, violations of international law and UN resolutions, military adventurism in the region and supply of weapons to terrorist groups. This is also significant because it will be the first punitive act carried out by the EU against Tehran and the IRGC since the JCPOA and also since four rounds of UN sanctions were lifted.”
However, Rafizadeh said EU sanctions alone were not likely to change the Iranian regime’s behavior.
“Tehran will more likely escalate its belligerence and disregard for international norms. More forceful measures by the EU, such as suspension of trade with Tehran, re-imposing the sanctions which were lifted under the nuclear deal, and re-negotiating the terms of the nuclear agreement, are required to alter Tehran’s destabilizing behavior. More fundamentally, other EU members such as Italy, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden also need to join Britain and France and take similar measures,” he said.


In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

Updated 45 min 3 sec ago
0

In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

  • Two-day meeting billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process
  • But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event

MANAMA/JERUSALEM: The first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be launched on Tuesday at a conference the White House touts as a bid to begin drumming up $50 billion in investment but which Palestinians deride as an “economy first” approach doomed to fail.
The two-day international meeting in Bahrain, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which will be unveiled at a later date.
But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama.
There will be close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a US plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.
Bahrain, a close American ally and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been making preparations for weeks.
Although the conference is supposed to focus on economics, Gulf Arab states hope their presence will also show their solidarity with the Trump administration over its hard-line against Iran, a senior Gulf diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about $50 billion over 10 years, with $28 billion going to the Palestinian territories — the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip — as well as $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon.
Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5 billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
“I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’” Kushner told Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the past two years.
“This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”
Kushner, a senior Trump adviser who like his father-in-law comes from the world of New York real estate, is presenting his plan in a pair of pamphlets filled with graphs and statistics that resemble an investment prospectus.
But pushing back against critics who accuse Kushner of trying to forge a strictly “economic peace,” he told Reuters last week: “A lot of past attempts have failed. Calm down ... and keep an open mind.”
Even so, expectations for success are low. The Trump team concedes that the economic plan — billed “Peace to Prosperity” — will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.
Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory Palestinians want to build that state.
The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normal ties with the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that predate Israel’s capture of territory in a 1967 war and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees. Israel has rejected some of the initiative’s main provisions.
Hanging over the entire initiative are persistent questions about whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” a long-standing principle of Middle East peacemaking that involves creation of an independent Palestinian state.
But the Trump team has consistently refused to commit to it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has his own domestic problems, facing an election, and possible corruption charges after a long-running police investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
“We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. Although no Israeli government ministers will attend, an Israeli business delegation is expected.
Palestinian leaders have boycotted the workshop, and are refusing to engage with the White House — accusing it of pro-Israel bias after a series of recent Trump decisions. Kushner told Reuters that “some” Palestinian businessmen would be present.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.
“Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important,” he said.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has found itself in rare agreement with its arch-rival Abbas. “The Palestinian people only and no one else can represent the Palestinian cause,” Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri said.
Kushner insists, however, that the economic plan is intended to help draw Palestinians back to the negotiating table by showcasing the benefits a peace deal could bring.
Kushner said that even without the Israeli and Palestinian governments represented, the presence of Israeli business executives and journalists with their Arab counterparts would be significant at a time of rising tensions with Iran.
“People realize that the real threat to that region is Iran and their aggression, and Israel and a lot of the other Arab states have a lot more in common today than they did before,” he said.
David Makovsky, a Washington-based Middle East expert, agreed that although the principal focus of the event was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Iran is higher on the chain of interest right now.”
However, Makovsky, whom the White House has invited as an observer, said of the Trump-Kushner plan: “No one believes you can solve this thing economically without addressing the political issues.”