Rex Tillerson sacking signals tougher line on Tehran

The dismissal of Tillerson came after a series of public rifts between the president and his top diplomat over hot-button issues such as North Korea and Russia. (AFP/file photo)
Updated 14 March 2018

Rex Tillerson sacking signals tougher line on Tehran

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump’s decision to sack Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may signal hard-line foreign policy shifts on Iran and the Qatar dispute, analysts told Arab News. 
The dismissal of Tillerson, and the appointment of Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, as his successor, came after a series of public rifts between the president and his top diplomat over hot-button issues such as North Korea and Russia — although the president yesterday thanked the outgoing secretary of state for his service.
But it was their disagreement over the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump had pledged to scrap during his election campaign, that the US leader referred to when explaining his decision on Tuesday.
“We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump told White House reporters.
“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same.” 
Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute think tank, said that after Tillerson’s removal, the administration might crack down on Iran and a nuclear deal on which Trump is expected to make his final decision in mid-May.
“This may be the death knell for the Iran deal,” Cristol told Arab News. 
“Tillerson was one of the leading voices in the administration for renegotiating the pact. With him gone, and Pompeo moving things to the right, at the very least we can expect harsher language against Tehran.” 
Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, echoed this on Twitter, saying: “The writing seems even more clearly on the wall as to the fate of the Iran deal” following the State Department reorganization.
The reshuffle may also signal a shift on US policy on the Qatar crisis. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut travel and trade ties with Doha last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran. Qatar denies the charges.
While Trump accused Doha of funding terrorism at a “very high level,” Tillerson tried to ease tensions by signing an anti-terror financing deal with Qatar the following month and was working on a Camp David rapprochement summit of Gulf leaders in May.
That policy divergence last summer came at the same time that Tillerson was reported to have privately called Trump a “moron” after the US leader suggested a 10-fold increase in the US nuclear arsenal. 
Steven Cook, an analyst at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Tillerson’s sacking will be welcomed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which wanted US support to leverage major policy shifts in Qatar.
“I am guessing that the folks in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are pretty happy right now. Tillerson was regarded as pro-Qatar,” Cook said.
Cristol agreed, but said that Tillerson was not a lone voice in the administration seeking to maintain stability in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will ensure that there are no changes and that the US remains committed to Qatar regardless of what the president tweets,” said Cristol, while attending a conference in Doha.
“It was widely understood that Tillerson did not have good relations with Trump and was on borrowed time, so his actual influence on policy was questionable. While we may see a move to the right, Mattis and the Pentagon may ensure policy is reasonably stable.”
The biggest shakeup of Trump’s Cabinet since he took office more than a year ago was announced on Twitter, and came as the administration prepares for key meetings on North Korea and the Middle East.
A senior White House official said Trump asked Tillerson to step down on Friday, but did not want to make the dismissal public while he was on a trip to Africa. Trump’s announcement came only a few hours after Tillerson landed in Washington when the trip was cut short.
The official said Trump works well with Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, and wanted him in place before planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and trade negotiations.
 


EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

Updated 13 December 2019

EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

  • EU is concerned about the rapid speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe
  • Johnson has until July 1 to request for a trade talks extension

BRUSSELS: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned of the tight timing for securing a trade deal with Britain, hours after Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a crushing election victory.
“The time frame ahead of us is very challenging,” von der Leyen said, following a discussion by EU leaders on the way forward after Brexit, now expected on January 31.
On the “first of February, we go to work,” she said.
EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the 27 member states would not accept a deal blindly, stressing that the bloc would insist that Britain respect European norms to win the deal.
“There is no question of concluding a deal at any price, said Michel, who coordinates EU summits, after the talks.
“Negotiations are over when the results are balanced and guarantee respect for the different concerns,” the former Belgian premier said.
“We have a way of doing things based on experience, transparency and maintaining unity” in the EU, he added.
EU is worried about the breakneck speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.
In a text released after the talks, the 27 EU leaders called for “as close as possible a future relationship with the UK” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU’s best interest,” conclusions added.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talks extension.
If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020, with Britain in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, endangering its economy.