Iran slams US sanctions push, France warns of further Mideast instability

A file photo of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (Reuters/Yves Herman)
Updated 23 May 2018
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Iran slams US sanctions push, France warns of further Mideast instability

  • France’s foreign minister said the US decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal will endanger the region
  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Pompeo had repeated old allegations against Tehran “only with a stronger and more indecent tone.”

LONDON: Iran on Wednesday kept up a drumbeat of opposition to US demands for sweeping change in its foreign policy and nuclear program, and Tehran’s ally Damascus dismissed out of hand a US call for a withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.
France, one of several European powers dismayed by the US withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear accord, said Washington’s method of adding more sanctions on Tehran would reinforce the country’s dominant hard-liners.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday threatened Iran with “the strongest sanctions in history” if it did not curb its regional influence, accusing Tehran of supporting armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Pompeo was speaking two weeks after President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran that had lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. European powers see the accord as the best chance of stopping Tehran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Pompeo had repeated old allegations against Tehran “only with a stronger and more indecent tone.”
“Mr Pompeo and other US officials in the current administration are prisoners of their wrong illusions, prisoners of their past and have been taken hostage by corrupt pressure groups,” he told state television.
A senior Iranian military official, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, said Iran would not bow to Washington’s pressure to limit its military activities.
“This enemy (the United States) does not have the courage for military confrontation and face-to-face war with Iran, but it’s trying to put economic and mental pressures on the Iranian nation,” state news agency IRNA reported him as saying.

“Endangering the region”​
In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister dismissed the notion of a withdrawal of Iranian forces.
In Syria’s seven-year-old conflict, Iran has provided vital support to President Bashar Assad’s military. Its forces and the militias it backs from the region, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, helped Damascus claw back control of major cities from militants and rebels.
“Whether Iranian forces or Hezbollah withdraw or stay in Syria is not up for discussion because it’s the (business) of the Syrian government,” Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV cited Faisal Mekdad as saying.
In Paris, France’s foreign minister said the US decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and implement a tough strategy on the country would strengthen Tehran’s hard-liners and endanger the region.
“We disagree with the method because this collection of sanctions which will be set up against Iran will not enable dialogue and, on the contrary, it will reinforce the conservatives and weaken President Rouhani. This posture risks endangering the region more,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio.
He said Paris would continue to implement the agreement even if it did agree with the United States that Iran’s ballistic missile activity and regional hegemonic ambitions needed to be curbed.
He said Paris shared Washington’s concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile “frenzy” and regional ambitions, but the 2015 nuclear deal was the best chance of stopping Tehran developing a nuclear bomb.
Deputy foreign ministers of the remaining parties to the accord — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — will meet their Iranian counterpart on Friday in Vienna.
The meeting will assess what can be done to keep the deal and circumvent extraterritorial American sanctions that are impacting foreign business appetite for Iran.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 33 min 51 sec ago
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.