Netanyahu to push hard line on Iran during Europe trip

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a memorial ceremony for the sinking of the Altalena ship, in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 02 June 2018
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Netanyahu to push hard line on Iran during Europe trip

  • Netanyahu will meet in turn with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May
  • The European leaders have been scrambling to preserve the landmark deal after slamming President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to withdraw

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Europe Monday to push his uncompromising stance on Iran to leaders eager to salvage the nuclear agreement after the United States withdrew.
Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the agreement and the Iranian regime, will meet in turn with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Germany, France and the United Kingdom are three of the signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between world powers and Iran, aimed at keeping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The European leaders have been scrambling to preserve the landmark deal after slamming President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to withdraw.
The fallout from America rejecting the accord is likely to dominate the talks, with Netanyahu expected to firmly oppose European efforts to sustain it.
“I will discuss with them ways to block Iran’s nuclear aspirations and Iran’s expansion in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said on Monday of his European meetings, noting the issues were “crucial to Israel’s security.”
After years lobbying against the 2015 deal, the decision by close ally Trump to ditch the accord has been greeted as a major triumph by Netanyahu.
The Israeli leader has brushed aside European insistence that the agreement is the best option to prevent Tehran getting the bomb, claiming that it in fact brought Tehran closer to becoming a nuclear power.
He also argues that a cash influx into Iran following the lifting of international sanctions as part of the accord has fueled the expansion of Tehran’s military influence in the region, especially in neighboring Syria.
But while the US retreat from the deal is a personal victory for Netanyahu, it also represents a leap into the unknown for Israel and the broader Middle East.
While foes Iran and Israel have been kept at bay for decades, an unprecedented May 10 escalation in Syria that saw Israel bomb alleged Iranian targets after blaming Tehran for a rocket barrage, has sparked fears of open war.
“An Iranian departure from southern Syria alone will not suffice,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.
“The long-range missiles that Iran is working to station in Syria will endanger us even beyond the range of several kilometers from southern Syria; therefore, Iran needs to leave Syria altogether.”
The Europeans have acknowledged concerns over Iran’s regional role and its ballistic activities, but sought to maintain the JCPOA while creating a separate arrangement on these issues.
Contrary to what the US and Israel say, Europe insists the 2015 agreement works and Iran has abided by it.
“There is no alternative,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday.
Merkel, May and Macron are still waiting for the Israelis and Americans to present another way to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but are under no illusions it will happen in next week’s meetings, according to a European diplomat.
Divided on other issues, the Europeans have emphasised their cohesion on the JCPOA, fearing that ripping it up could benefit hard-liners in Iran and push Tehran to resume large-scale uranium enrichment.
If that happens, the fear is it will once again make striking Iran a real option for Israel.
On Thursday, a former Mossad chief said that in 2011 Netanyahu had ordered him and the military chief of staff to prepare an attack on Iran within 15 days.
According to Tamir Pardo’s interview on the Uvda television program, such a directive could either mean “he really means it,” or be a means to deliver a message, for example to the US, and perhaps drive it to take action.
Other major issues look set to be left on the sidelines in the talks with European leaders.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the spotlight after the worst military flare-up in Gaza since a 2014 war raised fears this week of yet another full-blown conflict in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
The exchange of fire came after scores of Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops during protests and clashes along the Gaza border.
But along with other subjects, such as bilateral relations or the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, it will likely remain overshadowed by Iran.
Expectations of any progress on the conflict with the Palestinians are low.
Peace prospects remain as distant as ever and the diplomatic process in limbo as the sides wait for a plan long promised by the Trump administration.


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
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Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.