NATO Iraq mission not disrupted by Iran tension: commander

Washington ordered its non-emergency workers at the embassy to leave Iraq out of fears for their safety. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 June 2019
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NATO Iraq mission not disrupted by Iran tension: commander

  • US ordered its non-emergency embassy staff to leave Iraq
  • The commander hopes to create a self-sufficient system of force training in Iraq

BRUSSELS: The head of the NATO mission in Iraq insisted Thursday that the recent increase in tension between the US and Iran has not hampered the alliance’s work in the country.
Washington ordered the evacuation of non-emergency staff from its Baghdad embassy last month due to an alleged growing threat from Iranian-linked Iraqi militias, while Germany and the Netherlands suspended their training missions.
But Canadian General Dany Fortin, who leads NATO’s 500-strong training and advisory mission in Iraq, said his forces had “sufficiently mitigated” the threat and were able to continue working.
“There’s no doubt there’s still risk and as reported in the media in the last few weeks there was a critical threat, cause for concern for the US and for all of us,” Fortin told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“We have force protection measures in place to ensure that we’re vigilant, unpredictable, we change things, but we can continue our activities. So it hasn’t affected our advising, our training activities whatsoever.”
The NATO mission aims to train local Iraqi forces and improve military education centers to try to avoid a repeat of 2014, when the so-called Daesh group seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Fortin said the aim was to create a “self-sustainable” system of forces and training in Iraq, adding that he hoped this could be achieved in three to four years.
The US evacuation order last month came after the Pentagon deployed a carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to deter an unspecified threat from Tehran to US forces or allies.
Washington has also decided to deploy an extra 1,500 troops to the region, while stepping up economic sanctions against Tehran.
The swingeing economic penalties came after the US pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, imperilling an accord that many of Washington’s allies say is the best way to stop Tehran developing atomic weapons.


Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

Updated 16 min 27 sec ago
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Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

  • Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region"
  • A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday

TEHRAN: Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defense purposes — comments that reflect more backtracking after a remark by the top diplomat suggesting the missiles could be up for negotiations.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that aired earlier this week that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."
Iran has long rejected negotiations over its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The foreign minister's remarks suggested a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington.
But the Iranian mission to the United Nations promptly called Zarif's suggestion purely "hypothetical" and said the Iranian missiles were "absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period."
In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Zarif's comments meant to challenge Washington and "threw the ball into the US court while challenging America's arm sales" to its Mideast allies.
Zarif himself on Wednesday backpedaled on the missiles issue, saying Iran has no choice but to manufacture the missiles for its own defense.
He cited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and tweeted that, "For 8 YEARS, Saddam (Hussein) showered our cities with missiles & bombs provided by East & West. Meanwhile, NO ONE sold Iran any means of defense. We had no choice but building our own. Now they complain."
"Instead of skirting the issue, US must end arms sales to Saddam's reincarnations," Zarif also said.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have sharply escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally last year withdrew America from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.
America has also rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast amid unspecified threats from Iran.
Mysterious oil tanker blasts near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran's shooting down of a U.S. military drone in the past months further raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing a region crucial to global energy supplies.

A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.

The UN nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran earlier this month violated the 2015 accord, and Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday said Tehran would keep removing restraints on its nuclear activity in the deal.

In her last major speech before stepping down next week, May said the nuclear deal must be protected "whatever its challenges".

"Whether we like it or not a compromise deal remains the best way to get the outcome we all still ultimately seek – to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to preserve the stability of the region," May said.

Recently, British authorities intercepted the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, and seized it with the help of British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar.
They believed it to be violating European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. Spanish authorities said the seizure came at the request of the United States.
This is not the only issue between Iran and Britain.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran following her arrest in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government, has been transferred to a hospital mental health facility, her husband said Wednesday.
Her family denies the allegations against her.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said in Britain that his wife has been moved to the mental health ward of Iman Khomeini hospital under the control of the Revolutionary Guard.
"Hopefully her transfer to hospital means that she is getting treatment and care, despite my distrust of just what pressures can happen behind closed doors. It is unnerving when we don't know what is going on," he said.
Iran does not recognize dual nationality.
British officials have urged Iranian officials to let her have contact with her family.