Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move

From left: Sara and her husband Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and his wife Hilda Patricia Marroquin cut the ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, May 16. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018
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Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move

JERUSALEM: Guatemala inaugurated its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the first country to follow in the footsteps of the US’ deeply controversial move that was accompanied by deadly violence on the Gaza border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales were among officials who attended a ceremony inaugurating the new embassy at an office park in the disputed city, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US and Guatemalan moves break with decades of international consensus. US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
So far, the only other nation with immediate plans to open an Israel embassy in Jerusalem is Paraguay, expected to do so before the end of the month.
Netanyahu profusely praised Guatemala for making the move and noted it came only two days after the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.
The Israeli premier spoke of Guatemala’s early recognition of the state of Israel after its creation in 1948 and said he would visit the country of 16 million on his next visit to Latin America.
“I look forward to assessing with you the practical ways... that we can advance this friendship and this alliance,” Netanyahu said.
“But today, I just want to say how delighted we are to have you.”
Morales called it a “transcendental moment for future generations” who will “remember that friendly countries took courageous decisions in favor of Israel and we do this because you have a special place in our hearts.”
The US embassy move on Monday was accompanied by mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border that saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians.
Israel has faced international criticism over its use of live fire against demonstrators.
It says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the Palestinian enclave, which is run by Islamist movement Hamas.
On Monday, tens of thousands had gathered near the border while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.
Most of those killed were shot by Israeli snipers, the Gazan health ministry said, in the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since a 2014 Gaza war.
Israel’s army said “it appears that at least 24” of those killed were militants, mainly from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
It said explosive devices and firebombs were used, while Israeli soldiers were also shot at.
But there were numerous calls for an independent investigation into the deaths, with Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium among those supporting such action.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have previously called for an independent probe, with 116 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since a campaign of protests on the Gaza-Israel border was launched on March 30.
Morales’s decision to move Guatemala’s embassy has been seen as partly influenced by his evangelical religious beliefs.
Evangelicals want to see Jews rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, which according to their beliefs would facilitate the second coming of Christ.
The move is also seen by some as a gesture to elicit US support at a time when Morales stands accused by Guatemalan prosecutors of accepting illegal campaign contributions.
Former Guatemalan foreign minister Gabriel Orellana has said Morales’s embassy move has the effect of banishing his country “to the fringes of the United Nations.”
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.