UN chief’s Israel-Palestine visit brings little hope of peace

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talks to the press in Jerusalem on Monday. (AFP
Updated 29 August 2017

UN chief’s Israel-Palestine visit brings little hope of peace

AMMAN: The visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to Israel and Palestine brings little hope of a resolution of the conflict, local political figures told Arab News.
Guterres held talks with Israeli leaders Monday on his first visit since taking office, making a forceful argument for a two-state solution with the Palestinians and speaking of his “dream” for peace, AFP reported.
“I dream that I will have the chance to see in the Holy Land two states able to live together in mutual recognition, but also in peace and security,” Guterres reportedly said in remarks at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Abbas Zaki, a senior member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told Arab News that Guterres’ visit is unlikely to produce any results. “The UN is not on our radar screen these days and our main goal today is to resolve our internal problems,” he said.
A Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official was also very pessimistic about the visit by the UN chief.
“We have no expectations from any international visitor no matter who it is ... so long as Trump is leading the US these are empty promises,” the official told Arab News.
Advocate Hussein Sheikh, who has been involved in cases involving Israeli settlements, was less pessimistic. Speaking to Arab News, he said the focus must be on ending the occupation.
“As a Palestinian, I welcome the visit but we don’t have high expectations from the UN despite the many resolutions, because Israel has always put the obstacles to implement these resolutions. All we want from the UN is to be fair and help us end occupation,” he told Arab News.
Khalil Asali, a reporter with Radio Sawa, said that the visit has generated very little media buzz. “No one is paying any attention to Guterres or his visit,” he told Arab News.
The UN secretary-general has asked to pay his respects by laying a wreath at the grave of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. He will also visit Ramallah Tuesday to meet with Palestinian leaders as well as civil society activists and technology entrepreneurs.
On Wednesday Guterres is expected to visit the Gaza Strip and he will meet officials from the UN refugee agency UNRWA and check the progress of the rebuilding process going on in Gaza.
On Guterres’ arrival, Israeli officials wasted little time to slam the international agency. Netanyahu criticized the UN, saying that it fails to check Palestinian hate speech, that it “absurdly denies” Jewish connections to Jerusalem, and has not stopped arms from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon.
After arriving on Sunday evening, the UN chief met Jason Greenblatt, a top aide to US President Donald Trump charged with pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, AFP reported.
Greenblatt was part of a US delegation — which also included Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — which earlier this month held talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He remained in the region for further discussions.
Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who took office in January, is likely to try to take steps to keep the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a viable option at a time when it is under threat, AFP reported.


Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

Updated 07 December 2019

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

  • President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States”
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018

TEHRAN: Iran and the US conducted a prisoner exchange Saturday that saw a detained Princeton graduate student released for an Iranian scientist held by America, marking a potential breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the first announcement on the trade via Twitter. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif wrote. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government.”
In his tweet, Zarif confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that a deal was in the works to free Wang.
President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States.”
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks out for America's interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, accompanied the Iranian scientist to Switzerland to make the exchange and will return with Wang, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be released. The swap took place in Zurich and Hook and Wang are now en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said. Hook is expected to return to the US from Germany alone, as Wang is expected to be evaluated for several days.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland. Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims. Wang was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said the school was aware of Wang's release.
“We are working with the family and government officials to facilitate his return to the United States,” Chang said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court tried Wang. That court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine — was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Iran.
Other Americans held in Iran include the 81-year-old businessman Baquer Namazi who has been held for over two years and diagnosed with epilepsy.
Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, also a dual national who has been held for over three years, are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.
An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Also held is US Navy veteran Michael White.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.
“The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones,” Pompeo said in a statement.