Iraqi Airways to resume flights to Syria after 8-year break

Iraqi Airways said that it will resume it first flights to Syria since 2011on Saturday. (File/AFP) 
Updated 16 May 2019
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Iraqi Airways to resume flights to Syria after 8-year break

  • Most airlines stopped flying over Syria after the conflict broke out, with many taking longer routes to circumvent the war zone
  • Jordanian officials have also visited Damascus to discuss plans to reopen Syrian airspace to its Royal Jordanian's commercial flights

BAGHDAD: Iraq's national carrier is to resume flights to the capital of neighbouring Syria for the first time since the war there erupted in 2011, a spokesman said Thursday.
Iraqi Airways will operate a weekly service from Baghdad to Damascus starting Saturday, spokesman Layth Al-Rubaie told AFP.
Rubaie said the resumption of flights between the two neighbours was "important", citing bilateral trade, tourism and "the size of the Iraqi community living in Syria".
The Syrian transport ministry welcomed the decision in a statement on its official Facebook page.
Rubaie said the last flight from Baghdad to Damascus took place in December 2011, before the service was suspended due to the conflict that erupted in Syria that year.
Most airlines stopped flying over Syria after the conflict broke out, with many taking longer routes to circumvent the war zone.
But the conflict has wound down in recent years, after major regime advances against rebels and extremists with Russian military backing since 2015.
Damascus has been largely spared the violence.
In April, the Syrian government said it had agreed to allow Qatar Airways to resume flights over the country.
"The agreement came on the principle of reciprocity, as SyrianAir crosses Qatari airspace and never stopped flying to Doha throughout the war," the Syrian transport ministry said at the time.
The use of Syrian airspace would see "increased revenues in hard currency for the benefit of the Syrian state", it added.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011 as the death toll escalated and several regional powers bet on President Bashar Al-Assad's demise.
But the regime, backed by allies Russia and Iran, has since re-conquered much of the territory it had lost to rebels and extremists, and now controls some two-thirds of the country.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reopened their missions in Damascus.
Jordan reopened a key land crossing with its Syrian neighbour in October last year after a three-year hiatus.
Analysts said the move would help Syria inch its way back into trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that sparked a brutal regime crackdown.
The spiralling violence drew in regional powers and has killed more than 370,000 people, displacing millions.


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.