Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey meet UN envoy on Syria

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, and U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend a meeting during consultations on Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2018. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool/Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey meet UN envoy on Syria

  • De Mistura met informally with members of the three delegations on Monday.
  • The talks are set to focus on creating a constitutional committee under Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government

GENEVA: The UN envoy for Syria hosted key diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to discuss work toward rewriting the country’s constitution, amid concerns about a possibly devastating military offensive on rebel-held Idlib province.
The talks led by Staffan de Mistura started and ended with little or no comment to reporters at the UN offices in Geneva, and offered a sideshow to the concerns about a looming battle for the northern province — the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria after 7½ years of war and now home to some 3 million civilians.
De Mistura’s spokesman, Michael Contet, said in an email that any debriefing by the envoy about the meeting will be “reserved” for comments that he plans to make to UN Security Council next Tuesday.
On Monday, the head of the UN humanitarian agency, Mark Lowcock, warned that Idlib could see “the worst humanitarian catastrophe, with the biggest loss of life of the 21st century.”
Iran and Russia have backed a military campaign on Idlib involving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, despite Turkey’s pleas for a cease-fire.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a special envoy for Iran’s foreign minister, said a “good result” could emerge. Asked whether Iran shared the concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, Jaberi Ansari replied: “We are worried too. We are trying to avoid this.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, declined to answer a question on his way into the talks about whether Russia would stop its airstrikes.
De Mistura met informally with members of the three delegations on Monday.
The talks are set to focus on creating a constitutional committee under Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been working together as “guarantors” for a series of talks around ending Syria’s war. Turkey has taken in 3.5 million refugees from its neighbor.
On Monday, airstrikes on Idlib and Hama provinces forced some people to flee their homes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Jordan pushes new IMF-backed tax bill to parliament

Updated 26 September 2018
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Jordan pushes new IMF-backed tax bill to parliament

AMMAN: Jordan’s cabinet on Tuesday sent to parliament an IMF-backed draft tax bill, a main plank of austerity measures to ease rising public debt, an issue that caused street protests last summer, officials said.
The government hopes to push through the new legislation within two months despite opposition from many deputies, saying the law promotes social justice by targeting high earners and combats long-time corporate tax evaders.
Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, was appointed by the monarch last June after his predecessor was sacked in a move to defuse a crisis that saw some of the largest protests in years over tax hikes.
Razzaz withdrew from parliament a tax law that had been put forward by the previous government and said he would hold “broad consultations with civic bodies over a new tax system that will not trample on citizens’ rights.”
Earlier this year, a general sales tax was raised and a subsidy on bread was scrapped as part of the IMF’s three-year fiscal plan that aims to cut the spiralling $37 billion debt, equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product.
Unions and civic associations behind last June’s protests have rejected the new modified tax bill saying it should not have been drafted but have so far stopped short of calling for street protests. They want the government to give priority to fighting corruption and cutting public waste.
The government says the new law softens the impact of the tax hikes on middle class families by raising personal income thresholds and reintroducing personal exemptions.
Razzaz has promised to restore public trust in a country where many blame successive governments for failing to deliver on pledges of reviving growth and curbing corruption.
Razzaz has warned that parliament’s rejection of the bill would risk hurting the debt-laden economy, where annual growth has been stagnant at around 2 percent in recent years.
Any delay would push even higher the cost of servicing over 1 billion dinars ($1.4 billion) of foreign debt due in 2019, raising the prospect of rating agencies downgrading the kingdom’s credit ratings, Razzaz said in a recent interview with state television.
“If we don’t come with a tax law we will face these dangers. It will cost us dearly,” Razzaz said last week.
He said the tax bill would bring an extra 300 million dinars in revenue for the budget and avoid worsening a chronic 1.7 billion dinar budget shortfall. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)