Germany's Merkel: Syria must be more secure before refugees return

Photo showing Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri talks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon June 22, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Germany's Merkel: Syria must be more secure before refugees return

  • The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
  • Merkel: Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN.

BEIRUT: The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland can only happen in coordination with the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during her two-day visit to Lebanon.
Refugee returns have been a hot-button issue in Lebanon, a small country that has the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
“We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria, that will allow refugees to return to Syria,” Merkel told reporters on Friday, after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“I confirmed with officials that returns can only happen in agreement and talks with UN organizations,” she added.
Around 500 refugees left southern Lebanon earlier this year for Syria in a return organized between Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and several thousand have gone back to their homeland from towns around the border in recent years.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
Lebanese officials have been increasingly calling for refugee returns with or without a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old crisis.
Merkel said it was “understandable” that the large refugee influx had caused tensions in Lebanon but expressed hope they could be resolved.
Her comments come at a rocky time for ties between Lebanon’s government and the UNHCR.
This month, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil ordered a halt to new residency permits for UNHCR’s foreign staff, accusing them of “intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily.”
The UN has said it hopes Bassil will rescind his decision. The rest of Lebanon’s government has not officially commented.

Hariri, who has been appointed for a third term as Lebanon’s premier, said his country was still seeking refugee returns “as quickly as possible.”
“The only permanent solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner,” he told reporters.
Merkel is also due to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday, before flying back to Germany where she faces intense pressure to curb migrant arrivals.

According to the UNHCR, more than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million are currently internally displaced.
The UN last week said it noted at least 920,000 displacements since the beginning of the year, the highest in that time frame in Syria’s war.
Aid groups have warned that heightened anti-refugee rhetoric and quieting battlefronts in Syria could lead government to force refugees out.


Rouhani warns Trump of ‘mother of all wars’ as US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s regime

Updated 22 July 2018
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Rouhani warns Trump of ‘mother of all wars’ as US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s regime

  • Rouhani warned Trump on Sunday: “Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it”
  • Trump suggested Iranian leaders are “going to call me and say ‘let’s make a deal’” but Iran rejected talks

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday cautioned US President Donald Trump about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying “America should know ... war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” but he did not rule out peace between the two countries, either.
Iran faces increased US pressure and looming sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state-news agency IRNA reported.
“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government.
In Washington, US officials familiar with the matter told Reuters that the Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups.

More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions.

The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department also declined to comment on the campaign specifically, including on Pompeo’s role.

A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website — which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues — shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month.

Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.”

In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.

On June 21, Pompeo tweeted out graphics headlined: “Protests in Iran are growing,” “Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights,” and “Iran’s revolutionary guard gets rich while Iranian families struggle.” The tweets were translated into Farsi and posted on the ShareAmerica website.

Rouhani scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway.
“Anyone who understands the rudiments of politics doesn’t say ‘we will stop Iran’s oil exports’...we have been the guarantor of the regional waterway’s security throughout history,” Rouhani said, cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.
Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for any hostile US action. Separately, a top Iranian military commander warned that the Trump government might be preparing to invade Iran.
“The enemy’s behavior is unpredictable,” military chief of staff General Mohammad Baqeri said, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
“Although the current American government does not seem to speak of a military threat, according to precise information it has been trying to persuade the US military to launch a military invasion (of Iran),” Baqeri said.
Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of new US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere.
Washington initially planned to totally shut Iran out of global oil markets after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries to stop buying its crude by November.
But it has somewhat eased its stance since, saying that it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.