US rejects French request for Iran exemptions as reinsurer pulls out

Europe needs to react quickly and protect its economic sovereignty, says French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. FIle/Reuters
Updated 14 July 2018
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US rejects French request for Iran exemptions as reinsurer pulls out

  • Tehran’s support for Assad regime key item at Monday’s Trump-Putin summit
  • Most international insurers in Iran are working with the shipping and energy industries in the country

PARIS: The US has rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran that Paris sought after President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the country, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Figaro.

Paris had singled out key areas where it expected either exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy, banking, pharmaceuticals and automotive.
Officials had expressed little hope for securing the waivers, which were critical for oil and gas major Total to continue a multibillion-dollar gas project in Iran and for carmaker PSA Group to pursue its joint venture.
French reinsurer Scor SE said on Friday it will not seek new contracts or renew existing business in Iran, given the US sanctions.
Most international insurers in Iran are working with the shipping and energy industries in the country.
“We have just received Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s response: It’s negative,” Le Maire told Le Figaro in an interview published on Friday.
Le Maire said Europe needed to react quickly and protect its economic sovereignty.
“Europe must provide itself with the tools it needs to defend itself against extra-territorial sanctions,” Le Maire added.
Washington announced in May it was imposing new economic penalties on Tehran after pulling out of a multilateral 2015 agreement, under which Tehran had agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
Trump’s sanctions are aimed at pressuring Iran to negotiate a new agreement to halt its nuclear programs that might include Tehran’s regional activities and ballistics development. In particular, Washington wants to curtail the oil exports that are key to Iran’s economic revival.

Strategic objective
Earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to threaten to disrupt oil shipments from its neighbors if Washington pressed ahead with trying to force countries to stop buying Iranian oil.
As fighting in Syria wanes after seven years of war, the US has made curtailing Iran’s influence in post-war Syria a strategic objective.
When Trump meets Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Syrian conflict will be one of the most immediately pressing issues on a wide-ranging and colorful agenda.
A full withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from Syria is a virtual non-starter.
After years of ruinous civil war, Iran and its proxy militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, have built up a formidable presence stretching from the Iraqi border through central Syria to Lebanon.
President Bashar Assad, with crucial military and political assistance from Iran and Russia, has recaptured around 60 percent of the country, including its main cities, putting an end to any serious talk of regime change in Damascus. And, amid a consistently declining US role, Russia has emerged as an uncontested power broker in the country.
Still, both Russia and the US have an interest in working together in Syria and beyond, and while Russia and Iran have been on the same side of the war, their interests do not always converge.
Russia also has maintained warm ties with Israel and has demonstrated a readiness to take the Jewish state’s security interests into account.


Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

Updated 39 min 16 sec ago
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Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

PARIS: A video showing one of French President Emmanuel Macron’s security chiefs beating a student demonstrator, until now cloaked in secrecy, is drawing a fierce public backlash over what is seen as mild punishment and a possible cover-up.
The video of the May 1 event in Paris, revealed by Le Monde on Wednesday evening, shows Alexandre Benalla in a helmet with police markings, and surrounded by riot police, brutally dragging off a woman from a demonstration and then repeatedly beating a young man on the ground. The man is heard begging him to stop. Another man in civilian clothing pulled the young man to the ground.
Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene. The second man was apparently a gendarme who Le Monde said had worked with Benalla in the past.
The uproar over Benalla’s punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities — forced top French officials to address the issue Thursday. But Macron has remained silent. Benalla, who hasn’t commented on the matter, handled Macron’s security during the presidential campaign.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, responding to questions in the Senate, called the event “shocking,” but stumbled to respond to questions, notably whether all French are equal before the law.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that the two men “obviously had no legitimate (reason) to intervene.” He said he has demanded that a police unit which investigates suspected criminal behavior by officers explain the rules for observers and verify whether they were respected.
Condemning the “unacceptable behavior,” Macron spokesman Bruno Roger-Petit said that Benalla was also removed from his responsibilities of organizing security for presidential trips — though he maintains his office at the Elysee Palace.
In addition, authorities launched a preliminary investigation that could lead to charges against Benalla, a judicial official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Despite this, Benalla has been seen this month on the ground with police at several high-profile events, including the return home Monday of France’s champion World Cup team, an event attended by hundreds of thousands.
Macron, in the Dordogne region to officially launch a new postage stamp, didn’t respond to questions about the scandal. The upstart centrist elected last year had promised an exemplary presidency during his term to break with unending cases of corruption in French politics.
Roger-Petit said the punishment dealt out to Benalla was the “most serious” ever given to a top aide at the presidential Elysee Palace and served as a “last warning before dismissal.”
Opposition politicians expressed shock, with some denouncing a climate of impunity at the top of the French political hierarchy and asking Macron to personally address the issue.
The head of France’s main conservative party The Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, asked on Europe 1 radio if the government was trying to “hush the affair.”
Roger-Petit stressed that Benalla had requested authorization to use his day off “to observe” security forces’ operations on May Day when marches are traditionally held. It was granted.
It was unclear why the young man under attack, who wasn’t detained, was singled out by police before Benalla intervened.
“An observer doesn’t act like that,” said the spokesman for the UNSA-Police union. They are typically equipped and briefed in advance, and the framework is “completely clear,” Philippe Capon told BFM-TV.
He couldn’t say why police didn’t stop Benalla.
The context was “special,” he said. “He was an observer from the Elysee. When police officials hear the word ‘Elysee’ there is a particular apprehension.”