Future of Iran deal may depend on European intervention

The future of the landmark Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance and its survival may depend on the unlikely success of last-minute European interventions with President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2018
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Future of Iran deal may depend on European intervention

WASHINGTON: The future of the landmark Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance and its survival may depend on the unlikely success of last-minute European interventions with President Donald Trump.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are to visit Washington separately later this month and, barring a sudden trip by British Prime Minister Theresa May, will likely be the last foreign leaders invested in the deal to see Trump ahead of his mid-May deadline for the accord to be strengthened. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the 2015 agreement by May 12 unless US, British, French and German negotiators can agree to fix what he sees as its serious flaws.
Iran has said US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions would destroy the agreement and has threatened a range of responses, including immediately restarting nuclear activities currently barred under the deal.
Negotiators met for a fourth time last week and made some progress but were unable to reach agreement on all points, according to US officials and outside advisers to the Trump administration familiar with the status of the talks. That potentially leaves the Iran deal’s fate to Macron, who will make a state visit to Washington on April 24, and Merkel, who pays a working visit to the US capital on April 27, these people said.
“It’s important to them and I know they’ll raise their hopes and concerns when they travel here to the United States in the coming days,” Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief and secretary of state-designate, told lawmakers on Thursday.
Pompeo’s testimony at his Senate confirmation hearing came a day after the negotiators met at the State Department to go over the four issues that Trump says must be addressed if he is to once again renew sanctions relief for Iran, officials said.
Those are: Iran’s ballistic missile testing and destabilizing behavior in the region, which are not covered by the deal, along with inspections of suspected nuclear sites and so-called “sunset provisions” that gradually allow Iran to resume advanced nuclear work after several years, which are part of the agreement.
Two senior US officials said the sides are “close to agreement” on missiles and inspections but “not there yet” on the sunset provisions.
“Malign” Iranian activities, including its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, were dealt with in a separate session that ended inconclusively, according to the officials, who like the outside advisers were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two officials and two outside advisers said the missile and inspections issues are essentially settled, but would not detail exactly what had been agreed or predict whether it would pass muster with Trump, let alone his new national security adviser John Bolton and Pompeo. Both men are Iran hawks and share the president’s disdain for the deal, which was a signature foreign policy achievement of former President Barack Obama.
Bolton and Pompeo’s voices on Iran could be heard as senior US officials discussed Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria on Friday. In addition to punishing Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons, the strikes were meant to send a message to Iran about its role in the country, the officials told reporters on Saturday.
The officials and advisers said the main sticking point on the Iran deal remains the sunset provisions, with the Europeans balking at US demands for the automatic re-imposition of sanctions should Iran engage in advanced nuclear activity that would be permitted by the agreement once the restrictions expire.
To clear the impasse, one official and one outside adviser said a compromise is being considered under which sanctions would be re-imposed if Iran did enough work to reduce the time it would need to develop a nuclear weapon to less than a year. The current deal aims to keep Iran’s so-called “breakout time” to a year. But the expiration of the sunset provisions, the first of which is in 2024, means that the breakout time could eventually drop.
The Europeans, who along with the Iranians, have said they will not re-open the deal for negotiation, are reluctant to automatically re-impose sanctions for permitted activity, but have agreed in principle that Iran dropping below a one-year breakout time should be cause to at least consider new sanctions, according to the official and the adviser. How that breakout time is determined is still being discussed, they said.
Given the remaining differences, US national security officials are stepping up planning for various “day after” scenarios, including how to sell a pullout as the correct step for national security, how aggressively to reimpose US sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the agreement and how to deal with Iranian and European fallout from such a step.


Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

Updated 24 April 2018
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Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

BAGHDAD: Daesh has threatened to attack Iraqi polling stations and voters during parliamentary elections next month.

In a message posted to the Telegram messaging app on Sunday, Daesh spokesman Abu Hassan Al-MuHajjir called on Sunni Iraqis to boycott the May 12 polls, the first since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December.

Extremist groups in Iraq have targeted every election since the 2003 US-led invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein and paved the way for Shiites to dominate every government since.

Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority.

An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating Daesh are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.

Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.

The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.

The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over Daesh in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.

An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.

As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.

Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq. 

The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.

“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.

Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”

His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating Daesh.

During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.