EU foreign ministers seek to paper over divisions on Syria strikes

US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical weapons development and storage facilities on April 14, but the buildings were mostly empty and the Western trio swiftly reverted to its diplomatic efforts. (AFP PHOTO / CNES / Distribution Airbus DS)
Updated 16 April 2018
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EU foreign ministers seek to paper over divisions on Syria strikes

LUXEMBERG: EU foreign ministers will try to put on a united front at talks in Luxembourg on Monday despite divisions over the strikes on Syria and how to handle the growing diplomatic crisis with Moscow.
Germany’s powerful Chancellor Angela Merkel may have declared the strikes by the US, Britain and France “necessary and appropriate,” but other EU members are resisting any step that could lead to further escalation.
US, French and British missiles destroyed suspected chemical weapons development and storage sites in Syria on Saturday in response to the alleged chemical attack in Douma, blamed on the regime of President Bashar Assad.
While the EU’s 28 members agree the incident was unacceptable and cannot go unpunished, a statement issued by EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini on Saturday stopped short of endorsing the strikes, saying only that those responsible “will be held accountable for this violation of international law.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg unequivocally backed the strikes, saying they would reduce Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.
But EU states are divided — at one end of the scale are France and Britain, at the other are neutral countries and in between various NATO members with differing views on strikes.
“The statement of the 28 is the maximum that could be said,” a European source said.
Some European governments are holding back because they are concerned about the reaction from Russia, which among other things remains a key supplier of gas to the EU.
The day before the strikes Russian President Vladimir Putin warned during phone talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron against “ill-considered and dangerous actions” in Syria which could lead to “unpredictable consequences.”
“The EU has to stick together, we have to avoid each country pursuing its own individual policy with Moscow,” a European official said on condition of anonymity.
Moscow has been keen to exploit fissures within the EU that were laid bare by the response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
After intense lobbying by Britain, France and Germany, all 28 EU leaders signed up to a statement blaming Russia for the poisoning at a summit in Brussels last week, but it took a lot of persuading.
Afterwards, 19 EU countries followed Britain’s lead and expelled Russian diplomats from their territory, five took the more limited step of recalling their own ambassadors, and three did nothing.
“Everyone saw the same thing. Everyone had the same reading of the facts, but not everyone responded in the same way,” an EU diplomat said.
At Monday’s meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers will discuss how to put pressure on Moscow to try to end the seven-year conflict in Syria.
“We must increase pressure on Russia to force it to change attitude. Everyone knows there is only a solution to the conflict in Syria with Russia,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris was ready to work to “combine our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that favors an end to the crisis,” while his boss Macron said on Sunday he wanted to “convince” the Russians to come to the negotiating table.
The EU insists “there can be no military solution” to the war in Syria, which has killed over 350,000 people, and has pushed for UN-led peace talks in Geneva to be given fresh impetus.
But privately some European diplomats already acknowledge that the Assad regime’s military campaign is likely to succeed and they should begin planning for the next stage.


Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 52 min 57 sec ago
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Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.