US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran. (AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

  • Brian Hook led the Trump administration's unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the Iran nuclear deal
  • Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran

WASHINGTON/JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran, who will head up an 'Iran Action Group.'

Pompeo declared he is forming the dedicated group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Donald Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the country's behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department's director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord.

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as "malign activities" in the region. 

In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran's human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

The administration is warning Iran's oil customers that they will face US sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. 

It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed US sanctions.

In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration's entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump's national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, two leading German firms are the latest to pull out of projects in Iran as the sanctions take a toll on foreign investment. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom said they would end their involvement because firms investing in Iran will be barred from doing business with the US. Oil firm Total, and carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler have said they will also withdraw.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said the regime in Tehran is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions, which came into effect last week, are working.  

“More companies and firms are halting their business deals with Iran,” he said. “Foreign investors are also withdrawing. This is significant due to the fact that many foreign investors have invested billions of dollars in Iran’s debt market as Tehran’s economy is cash-strapped.

“On the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the sanctions as trivial, but Tehran is significantly wary as the sanctions are affecting its economy negatively. If the Iranian regime does not alter its destructive behavior, the sanctions will cripple its economy.”

The first wave of sanctions focuses on preventing Iran from purchasing US dollars and precious metals, and targeting the automotive and other sectors. A second wave in November will target energy, the main source of Iranian state revenues.

(With AP)


Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

Updated 8 min 40 sec ago
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Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

  • Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang
  • Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment

BEIJING: China must come clean about the fate of an estimated one million minority Muslims swept up in a “massive crackdown” in its far western region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said Monday.
Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang.
Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment.
In a new report, which included testimony from people held in the camps, the international rights group said Beijing had rolled out “an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.”
Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and for the possession of unauthorized Qur’ans, it added.
Up to a million people are detained in internment camps, a United Nations panel on racial discrimination reported last month, with many detained for offenses as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media.
“Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, in a statement.
“They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and escapee testimony.
These suggest that Chinese authorities are detaining large groups of people in a network of extrajudicial camps for political and cultural indoctrination on a scale unseen since the Maoist era.
Amnesty’s report interviewed several former detainees who said they were put in shackles, tortured, and made to sing political songs and learn about the Communist Party.
The testimony tallies with evidence gathered by foreign reporters and rights groups in the past year.
Amnesty also called on governments around the world to hold Beijing to account for “the nightmare” unfolding in Xinjiang.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced “awful abuses” of Uighur Muslims detained in re-education camps.
“Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uighurs are held against their will in so-called re-education camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses,” Pompeo said in a speech.
However Pakistan, China’s biggest Muslim ally, quickly denied reports last week that it had criticized Beijing — which is pouring billions in infrastructure investment into the country — over the issue.
Religious affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri told AFP China has agreed to exchange delegations of religious students to help promote “harmony” between Muslims and Chinese authorities.
China’s top leaders recently called for religious practices to be brought in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture, sparking concern among rights groups.
Earlier this month draft regulations suggested Beijing was considering restrictions on religious content online, such as images of people praying or chanting.
State supervision of religion has increased in a bid to “block extremism,” and authorities have removed Islamic symbols such as crescents from public spaces in areas with significant Muslim populations.
Christians have also been targeted in crackdowns, with a prominent Beijing “underground” church shuttered by authorities earlier this month. Churches in central Henan province have seen their crosses torn down and followers harassed.