Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily)
Updated 26 May 2019
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Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

  • Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias
  • Among these are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: Iran needs to dismantle its proxies and end its interventions in Arab affairs before seeking to normalize relations with its Gulf neighbors, a political expert told Arab News on Sunday.

“The Gulf countries have been calling for normal relations with their neighbors for years, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears on the Iranian side,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said.

Accusing Tehran of “playing games,” Al-Shehri described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s suggestion that Iran wanted to improve relations with its Gulf neighbors as worthless “as long as it continues meddling in the affairs of other countries, and fails to halt its evil militias from sabotaging and destabilizing regional security.”

Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias, which indirectly supports, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

Zarif, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq, told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al-Hakim that Iran wants to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

However, Al-Shehri said that Tehran needs to address three key issues — its nuclear program; its terrorist militias, which have been spreading chaos in the Gulf region and beyond; and its ballistic missile program — before making any such proposals.

“The question is, would Iran be ready to give up all three files? If they want their neighbors to accept them and normalize relations with them, they have to be honest and stop playing games,” he said.

Al-Shehri described Zarif’s regional tour as an attempt to rally support and send a false message that Iran has friends and allies who would stand by them in their crisis with the US.

“Where were these countries when Iran’s terrorist proxies in Yemen, the Houthi militias, launched missiles and drones attacking the holiest Islamic site in Makkah and other Saudi facilities?” Al-Shehri asked.

Zarif said Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.

“We will defend (ourselves) against any war efforts, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.

Strains have increased between Iran and the US following this month’s sabotage attack on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington and other regional allies have concluded that Iran is most likely behind the attacks. 

Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the US has sent an aircraft carrier and extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns over the risk of conflict in the volatile region.


Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

Updated 27 min 23 sec ago

Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

  • Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals

ISTANBUL: Renowned Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart says he has spent as much time in prison and courthouses as he has at work since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power.

His latest stint in jail started in April, after an appeals court upheld his sentence of three years and nine months for “helping terrorist organizations.”

Released last week pending another appeal, Kart told AFP: “For 15 years, prisons and courthouses have become a second home to me.”

Kart, who was recognized last year by the Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, was among 14 journalists and staff from the renowned opposition paper Cumhuriyet convicted in the case.

He was initially arrested in 2016 after Erdogan launched a major crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed coup.

“I have spent almost the same amount of time in court corridors as I spent in the paper. It is very unfortunate,” he told AFP.

Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals, and says he always made an effort to look his best for prison visitors.

“I never welcomed my visitors in a hopeless state,” he said. “I would shave, pick my cleanest shirt from my modest wardrobe and welcome them with open arms. We would spend our time telling jokes.” His morale was boosted by the knowledge he had done nothing wrong.

“If you believe that your position is right, if you have an inner peace about your past actions, then it is not that difficult to stand prison conditions,” he said. Kart has been in and out of trouble since Erdogan took power in 2003.

His first lawsuit came in 2005 over a cartoon portraying Erdogan, then prime minister, as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.

“I have drawn cartoons for over 40 years ... I did it in the past with other political leaders, but I was never the subject of a court case,” Kart said. 

“The frame of tolerance has seriously narrowed today.”

The current case against him claims he contacted members of the Gulen movement accused of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016. 

It also says the 14 Cumhuriyet staffers had conspired to change the paper’s editorial policy to support the Gulenists, as well as Kurdish rebels and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

“Today the accusations of terrorism have gone well beyond a realistic point,” Kart said.

“When you take a look at my cartoons, you see how much I am against any kind of terrorist organization and how seriously and strongly I criticize them.”

Rights advocates including the Reporters Without Borders have called on Turkey to revise its anti-terrorism and defamation laws, which they claim are abused to silence opponents.

Cumhuriyet — Turkey’s oldest daily founded in 1924 — is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation, making it an easier target for authorities.

The paper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fled to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.

It has its own internal problems, too — Kart and some of the others actually quit the paper last year over disagreements with the new management.

But the case has added to the chilling effect that has infected the whole of the media in Turkey, which has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

No date has been set for the next appeal, and Kart has no idea how the saga will end.

“Everyone knows that there has been a political shadow hanging over our case,” he said.

Whatever happens, he said his focus would remain on drawing.

“Cartoons are really a very strong language because you can find a way to express yourself under any circumstances, even under pressure.”