France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

French academics Fariba Adelkhah (left) and Roland Marchal are shown inn this photo posted on Twitter by their colleagues in CERI Sciences Po. (Twitter photo)
Updated 17 October 2019

France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

PARIS: France demanded on Wednesday that Iran immediately release two of its nationals who have been held in prison since June, a situation that is likely to complicate Paris’s efforts to defuse tensions between the United States and Tehran.
France’s foreign ministry confirmed that Roland Marchal, a senior researcher from Science-Po university, was being detained.
French officials and his family had sought to keep the information secret due to the current disputes in the region, fearing it could harm potential negotiations.
Marchal’s colleague, Franco-Iranian dual national Fariba Adelkhah, has been in prison in Iran since June.
“We want the Iranian authorities to show transparency in this dossier and act without delay to end the unacceptable situation,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a briefing.
She added that Marchal had received consular visits and had a lawyer. Iran has refused to offer the same for Adelkhah, citing her Iranian nationality, and has called France’s demands for her release an interference in its internal affairs.
Adelkhah and Marchal were arrested at a time when France and other European powers were caught up in an international standoff over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States abandoned last year.
Marchal, an Africa expert, had sought to spend the Eid religious holiday with his colleague in Iran, but was arrested at Tehran airport upon his arrival, their university association said in a statement.
“Nothing justifies the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal,” the statement said. “Their activities are strictly academic and have no links whatsoever to any intelligence service and (they) do not carry out any political activity in Iran.”
On Oct. 9 France issued a new advisory for Iran warning its nationals to postpone all travel plans, underscoring the risk posed by “the arbitrary arrest and detention practices of the Iranian security and intelligence services especially with regard to the contacts of foreign nationals with the population, notably for those in universities.”
President Emmanuel Macron sought in September to broker a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump as he sought to defuse tensions between the two in recent months and convince Iran to comply with the nuclear deal. Those efforts faltered.
In another incident, Iran said on Monday agents of Revolutionary Guards had captured and returned to Iran a Paris-based journalist they suspect of fueling anti-government street unrest across Iran last year using social media.
Spokeswoman von der Muhll on Wednesday also confirmed Rouhollah Zam had been given political asylum in France, but had no details on the circumstances surrounding his arrest outside of France.
“We recall our commitment to the respect for the rule of law, including freedom of expression and the right of asylum, and strongly condemn the arrest of Mr.Zam,” she said.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”