Iran again rebuffs US talk of Trump-Rouhani meeting

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed the United States would maintain its campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019

Iran again rebuffs US talk of Trump-Rouhani meeting

  • Two of Trump’s top lieutenants on Tuesday indicated he was ready to meet the Iranian president without preconditions
  • The Iranian envoy said any meeting must also be held in the framework of the group of major powers that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday rejected the possibility of a meeting between President Hassan Rouhani and US counterpart Donald Trump, after the White House signalled it was open to such an encounter.

Trump on Wednesday left open the possibility the United States could ease sanctions on Iran, adding he believes Iran wants to strike a deal with Washington on its nuclear program.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the possibility the United States would ease up on its “maximum pressure” campaign.

Two of Trump’s top lieutenants on Tuesday indicated he was ready to meet the Iranian president without preconditions, after the US leader sacked his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed the United States would maintain its campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic.

The idea of a Trump-Rouhani meeting was floated last month by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been spearheading European efforts to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the United States.

The arch-foes have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s representative at the United Nations reiterated Rouhani’s position in an interview published Wednesday by state news agency IRNA.

Majid Takht-Ravanchi said a meeting could take place only if Washington ends its “economic terrorism” by lifting all of its sanctions against Tehran.

The Iranian envoy said any meeting must also be held in the framework of the group of major powers that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal.

“As long as the US government’s economic terrorism and such cruel sanctions are imposed on the Iranian people, there is no room for negotiations,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The diplomat said Trump’s decision to dismiss Bolton — a hard-liner accused of pushing Trump toward war against Iran — was a matter for the Americans.

“The removal of John Bolton is an internal affair and we don’t take stands on domestic issues,” said Takht-Ravanchi. Asked about the impact of Bolton’s sacking on long-fraught relations between Iran and the United States, he said it was “too soon” to make any judgments.

“Whether the extremist policy of the US changes or not depends on various factors in US foreign policy,” he told ISNA. Bolton is a controversial figure closely linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and other aggressive US foreign policy decisions.

He had been seen as one of the main driving forces in the White House’s muscular approach to Iran, North Korea and Venezuela among others.


Yemen’s rival powers battle over banknotes

Updated 18 January 2020

Yemen’s rival powers battle over banknotes

  • The Houthis outlawed the use and possession of crisp new Yemeni riyal bills
  • The riyal stood at about 560 to the dollar across Yemen before the ban was announced in mid-December

SANAA/ADEN: Yemen’s warring sides opened a new front in their five-year conflict on Saturday - a battle over old and new banknotes that threatens to create two economies in the same state.

As of midnight, the Houthi movement which controls the capital Sanaa outlawed the use and possession of crisp new Yemeni riyal bills issued by its rivals in the internationally recognised government based in the southern port town of Aden.

The Iran-allied Houthis, who say people should only use the old bills, have defended the ban as a move against inflation and what they call rampant money-printing by the government.

The government has branded the ban an act of economic vandalism. And the population, as ever, have been left stuck in the crossfire.

Yemenis from both sides told Reuters the ban had effectively created two currencies with diverging values, adding to the turmoil in a state already governed by two powers and brought to its knees by the war.

In the one-month build up to the ban, people in Houthi-controlled areas have been queuing to try to exchange their new riyal notes for old, turning the grubby and torn bills into a prized and relatively scarce commodity.

The riyal stood at about 560 to the dollar across Yemen before the ban was announced in mid-December. The rate has since slipped a little in Houthi-controlled areas to around 582, but slumped much further to 642 in the south, an area now awash with new bills.

That relative strength might look like a boon for northerners, if only they could get hold of enough of the old notes in time to keep afloat in the largely cash-based economy.

“We go for the exchange and they won’t take [the new notes] from us. Or say they need three, four or five days,” craftsman Abdullah Saleh al-Dahmasi told Reuters on a Sanaa street a week before the ban came into force.

“The new one isn’t accepted and the old one is worn out, they have to find a solution,” the 27-year-old said.

A few days before the ban came in, around 20 angry men and women were turned away from one exchange which said it had filled its quota for the day. Many had been coming there for three days in the hope of swapping their cash.

North-south trade has become far more expensive as traders have to buy and sell two types of riyal - told apart by the state of the paper and the different sizes and designs.

TWO CENTRAL BANKS

Many people in Sanaa told Reuters they felt the ban was needed to constrain inflation. But they were facing difficulties in the short-term.

“When people saw that new currency come into circulation, they held onto it as it was new and shiny. But now it’s a problem that they have it,” said 28-year-old Abdallah Bashiri, a private sector worker in Sanaa.

In that city, legal exchanges will swap 100,000 Yemeni riyals (around $172) in new notes for electronic currency that can be spent on things like phone credit or electricity bills, for a small fee of around $1.50.

But things get more challenging when it comes to actual paper that can be spent in food markets. Sanaa residents said unofficial exchanges are offering to change 100,000 riyals of new notes into 90-96,000 riyals of the scarcer old.

After the Houthis stormed the capital Sanaa in 2014 and ousted the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s central bank split into two branches - one in Sanaa, under Houthi control, and one internationally recognised branch in Aden, which has access to money printers.

The Aden authorities have defended their decision to step up the printing of new money from 2017, saying it was an attempt to deal with a building cash crunch and pay public sector salaries.

“The Houthis ... did not consider the economic cost to society,” Yousef Saeed Ahmad, adviser to the governor of Aden’s central bank, told Reuters there this week.

“We hope the measures taken are short-term. They cannot be kept up because the economy is one, it is interrelated and commodities flow from Sanaa to Aden and vice versa. This measure will aggregate the living conditions of all Yemenis,” he said.

The Houthis have defended their ban as a way of defending the value of the currency.

“The Sanaa central bank had to take measures to stem the dangerous practices the Aden central bank was carrying out through their monetary policy,” said Sami Al-Siyaghi, in charge of foreign banking operations at the Sanaa central bank.

“The imposition of [Aden’s] monetary stance on us led to the collapse of the national currency against foreign currency ... With each new issuance you notice a commensurate collapse in the riyal against foreign currency,” Siyashi told Reuters.