US sanctions shut off Iranian oil feeding Assad’s ‘murderous regime’

Iran's support for Bashar Al-Assad has helped his regime gain the upper hand in the eight-year conflict. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 12 June 2019

US sanctions shut off Iranian oil feeding Assad’s ‘murderous regime’

  • Syria envoy James Jeffrey says Iran’s presence in Syria is part of ‘hegemonic quest to dominate the Middle East’
  • Action against Synergy SAL and BS Company hit one of Iran’s remaining outlets for oil exports

LONDON: The US moved to shut off Iranian oil supplies to Syria Tuesday as Washington said Iran’s conduct in the country was part of a “quest to dominate” the Middle East.

New Treasury Department sanctions targeted two Lebanese based firms, which have imported tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian oil into Syria.

The sanctions focused on Syria’s most prominent tycoon Samer Foz, who has made a fortune luxury developments during the Syrian war.

State Department officials said the action against Synergy SAL and BS Company hit one of Iran’s remaining outlets for oil exports, which have been reduced to a trickle by a crippling US sanctions regime.

“Some of Samer Foz’s activities involved helping the Iranian regime illicitly ship oil to the Assad regime,” special envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said. “Today’s actions against the Samer Foz network will also put pressure on the Assad regime’s key supporters, such as the Iranian regime and Hezbollah.” 

Iran, along with Russia, has been one of the key backers of Bashar Assad during the eight-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people. Tehran has supplied military muscle, deploying boots on the ground and arming and financing militias in the country.

Its presence in Syria ensures a territorial link from Tehran to the Mediterranean - something that deeply concerns Arab nations in the region, along with Israel and the US. 

America and its allies in the Middle East are trying to make sure Iran will “pull these forces back” from Syria before a UN political solution can proceed, James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, said.

He said this is being done through pressure on the Assad regime and through “talking with the Russians.”

“The Syrian government invited the Iranians in as their allies in the civil war but in addition the Iranians have introduced as they have done in other places, Yemen, Lebanon, long-range weapon systems essentially as part of their hegemonic quest to dominate the Middle East,” Jeffrey said.

The envoy was speaking in Cairo where, as part of a US delegation, he met with Egyptian and Arab League officials to discuss Syria and how to move toward implementing a UN resolution designed to end the conflict.

Meetings between the US and Russia earlier this year offered some hope of progress, but a flare-up in fighting in Idlib province has infuriated the United States.

Donald Trump last week voiced his anger at the offensive by Syrian and Russian forces that has killed more than 300 civilians and driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes in the last six weeks.

Idlib province is the last significant territory held by rebels and extremist groups fighting against Assad. 

The new US sanctions are probably timed to coincide with the spiralling death toll and humanitarian crisis in Idlib.

The sanctions “target those who are profiting from the misery and murder of the Syrian people,” Rayburn, the Syrian envoy said.

“Any effort at reestablishing or upgrading diplomatic relations or economic cooperation with the Assad regime will only undercut efforts to move toward a permanent, peaceful and political solution to the Syrian conflict.”


Kushner: Trump wants fair deal for Palestinians

Updated 25 June 2019

Kushner: Trump wants fair deal for Palestinians

  • Fighting new economic plan ‘a strategic mistake,’ White House adviser says
  • Says plan would double Palestinian GDP in 10 years, create over a million jobs

MANAMA, Bahrain: Donald Trump wants a fair deal for Palestinians, the US president’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said on the eve of the launch in Bahrain of the White House’s $50 billion “peace for prosperity” plan.

The Palestinians are missing an opportunity to participate in the Middle East peace process by boycotting the Bahrain conference, Kushner said. “This is a strong package that has been put together. Fighting it instead of embracing it, I think, is a strategic mistake.”

The plan proposes a global investment fund for Palestine and neighboring Arab states, and a $5 billion transport corridor between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian leaders have rejected it, but Kushner said their criticism was “more emotional than specific.”

“Nobody has refuted our core premise that this would do a lot to stimulate the economy,” he said. “The Palestinian people have been trapped in a situation for a long time and we wanted to show them, and their leadership, that there is a pathway forward that could be quite exciting.”

The Palestinian people have been trapped in a situation for a long time and we wanted to show them, and their leadership, that there is a pathway forward that could be quite exciting.

Jared Kushner, US president’s adviser

Kushner said Trump decisions such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv were evidence that the president kept his promises.

“The Palestinians might not have liked his Jerusalem decision, but he made a promise and he did it,” he said. What the president wanted now was “to give the Palestinian people a fair solution.”

Kushner said the plan would double the GDP in 10 years, create over a million jobs, reduce poverty by 50 percent and bring unemployment to below 10 percent.

“We believe this doable,” he said. “It’s hard, but if there’s a peace agreement and we set up the right structure, we think it could really lead to improving people’s lives in a substantial way.

“I think there is a lot of enthusiasm in the West Bank and Gaza to see if we can find a political solution so that this can be implemented.”

The political element of the White House plan has been delayed by uncertainty in Israel, where there will be elections this year after an earlier vote failed to produce a stable coalition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also face a criminal trial for corruption.