German FM in Iraq to address regional tensions

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sits in the C-160 Transall military plane at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 09 June 2019
0

German FM in Iraq to address regional tensions

  • Maas’s office said European nations must engage with the region at a time of heightened concern
  • Maas is scheduled to meet Iraq’s president, prime minister, and foreign minister to discuss regional security and investment

BAGHDAD: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived in Iraq on Saturday as part of a wider trip to the Middle East seeking to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the US.

In a statement, Maas’s office said European nations must engage with the region at a time of heightened concern following recent US naval movements in the Arabian Gulf.

“We cannot just call for dialogue; we must conduct it — particularly where differences appear unbridgeable and long-standing conflicts run deep. The danger that miscalculations, misunderstandings and provocations in a very tense region could lead to unpredictable consequences is clear there,” his office said.

The German envoy was expected to meet with Iraq’s president, prime minister and foreign minister to discuss regional security and bilateral relations and investment, said Ahmed Mahjoub, a spokesman for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry.

Iraq is courting tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment to rebuild its infrastructure and boost gas, oil, and electricity production, after 17 years of war.

In April, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said German industrial giant Siemens was favored to win a significant portion of some $14 billion worth of tenders to revamp the electricity sector.

Siemens already has contracts worth more than $700 million to build a power station and implement other improvements to Iraq’s failing electricity grid.

Maas’s visit was not announced ahead of time for security reasons. The foreign minister is expected in Iran on Monday. His office says Germany and Europe are determined to preserve the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, calling it a “key factor for stability and security in the region.”

The US withdrew from the accord last year and restored crippling sanctions on Iran. International monitors say there is no evidence that Iran is in breach of its obligations. The sanctions have squeezed Iran’s economy, causing oil exports to crash and contributing to soaring inflation.

Last month the US dispatched an aircraft carrier group and a bomber task force to the Arabian Gulf to counter what it said were threatening moves by Iran.


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

Updated 16 July 2019
0

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.