Pompeo piles US pressure on Europe to isolate Iran

In this file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as he listens to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on July 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Pompeo piles US pressure on Europe to isolate Iran

  • Iran’s struggling economy is unlikely to survive such international rejection, say experts
  • Trump warned of an unspecified “escalation” between the United States and Iran

JEDDAH:  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged European nations to get behind American measures to cut Iran off from the world energy markets.

“Iran continues to send weapons across the Middle East, in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” he said during talks in Brussels.

“Iran’s regime wants to start trouble wherever it can. It’s our responsibility to stop it. We ask our allies and partners to join our economic-pressure campaign against Iran’s regime. We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars. There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence and instability in one of our countries next.”

Pompeo also posted a message on Twitter, saying: “It’s time to face the facts about #Iran’s malevolent regime.” The tweet was accompanied by a map of Europe purportedly showing the locations of 11 terror attacks US officials believe Iran, or its proxy Hezbollah, have carried out since 1979.

Also on Thursday, President Donald Trump warned of an unspecified “escalation” between the United States and Iran following his decision in May this year to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“I would say there might be an escalation between us and the Iranians,” Trump said during a news conference in Brussels.

He added that Iran’s economic troubles would force the country to seek a security deal with Washington as a result of his withdrawal from the nuclear pact.

“They’re treating us with much more respect right now than they did in the past and I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing,” said Trump. “But I will tell you this: At a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let's make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. But they’re feeling a lot of pain right now.”

US officials have been traveling the world warning foreign governments to stop buying oil from Iran or face sanctions.

Pompeo also has accused Iran of using its embassies to plot terrorist attacks in Europe.

“Just this past week there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We have seen this malign behavior in Europe," Pompeo said this month during an interview.

He was referring to the arrest of an Iranian diplomat posted to Vienna who allegedly was involved in a plan to bomb a rally by an Iranian opposition group in France on June 30. The arrest of the envoy in Germany came after a couple with Iranian roots was apprehended in Belgium after authorities reportedly found explosives in their car.

Washington’s reinstatement of economic sanctions has further weakened Iran’s already-hobbled economy.

There has been a sharp fall in the value of the national currency, the rial, sparking angry protests in the country and clashes with the police. Workers at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar took strike action towards the end of June, and traders organized a mass gathering outside parliament to complain about the collapse of the rial.

Experts have welcomed the increased US pressure on Europe over Iran.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said Iran’s energy exports depend heavily on European and Asian customers.

“If the EU complies with American sanctions and halts investments, as well as significantly curtailing Iranian oil imports, it is difficult to see how Iran’s economy can survive such international isolation,” he said.

“We’re already seeing signs that the European market is seeking alternative sources other than Iran for their energy needs. If these trends continue, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will eventually find it prohibitively difficult to continue their transnational operations and attacks.”

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh said that in the short-term, some European powers will continue attempts to salvage their business deals with Iran, as well as the nuclear deal.

“Nevertheless, in the long-term Europe will more likely join its old transatlantic partner in containing the Iranian regime and countering its threats,” he added.

“For Europe, the costs of dealing with the Iranian regime considerably outweigh the benefits. The EU has no common interests with the top state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian regime. From geopolitical, strategical, military, security and economic landscapes, the EU-US relationship is significantly greater than EU-Iran ties.”

Rafizadeh said the EU needs the alliance with the US to continue as both sides have common interests in combating radical and terrorist groups.

“When it comes to providing security, the EU is still dependent on the US,” he said. “The EU cannot endanger its geopolitical ties with the US over the Iranian regime.

“For more than six decades, the transatlantic partnership between the US and Europe has been one of the most powerful alliances in the world. Together, they have played a dominant role in making vital global decisions, and determining which direction international politics should take."


Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

Updated 16 July 2018
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Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

  • The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector
  • Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces in the southern oil-rich province of Basra have started arresting protesters who took part in the week-long demonstrations there to demand more jobs and better services, activists said Monday.
Protests in the city of Basra, the provincial capital and Iraq’s second-largest city, are not unusual in scorching summer weather but they boiled over last Tuesday, when security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding five.
Within days the rallies spread to other provinces. In some places, protesters broke into local government buildings and burned the offices of some political parties.
The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector, and an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion) for electricity and water projects. It blamed “infiltrators” for the damages.
The arrests started on Sunday night, with police chasing protesters down main roads and alleys following demonstrations in the city of Basra, and also in the countryside and around oil fields, two activists told The Associated Press.
The activists could not give a specific number for those arrested, saying only “hundreds.” They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Officials were not immediately available to comment.
The activists said Internet was back on after a two-day shutdown, but a heavy deployment of security forces outside the local government building in Basra prevented protesters from gathering there Monday.
Police also closed off surrounding streets with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, authorities reopened the country’s second-busiest airport, in the city of Najaf, following a two-day shutdown after a mob broke into the facility on Friday, damaging the passenger terminal and vandalizing equipment.
Transportation Minister Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamai was at the Najaf airport to announce the reopening on the Iraqi state TV as an Iraqi Airways plane landed behind him. He said 18 local and international flights were to land on Monday.
The shutdown had caused “heavy losses” to the government, the airport and airline companies, he said without elaborating.
Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran’s Aviation Authority suspended their flights to Najaf on Sunday, citing security concerns. The United Arab Emirates’ FlyDubai canceled Saturday’s flights to Najaf and said it was suspending its flights until July 22.
Iraq’s vital Um Qasr port on the Arabian Gulf, and two main border crossings — Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran — were closed to both passengers and goods as protesters had blocked the main roads leading to the sites.
Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Arabian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq’s only hub these days for all oil exports to the international market.