US to continue maximum pressure of sanctions on Iran, says Pompeo

S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he hoped for further dialogue with Iran to free prisoners but announced new sanctions as he vowed no let-up in pressure. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

US to continue maximum pressure of sanctions on Iran, says Pompeo

  • Pompeo said the US will "follow every even tiny opening" to free the at least handful of Americans
  • Iran has also voiced a willingness for more prisoner swaps

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he hoped for further dialogue with Iran to free prisoners but announced new sanctions as he vowed no let-up in pressure.

Iran has also voiced a willingness for more prisoner swaps after the exchange Saturday of Xiyue Wang, a US scholar detained since 2016, for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist detained in the United States since last year.

"I do hope that the exchange that took place will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs. We still have Americans held in Iran -- too many, for sure." Pompeo told reporters.

Pompeo said the US will "follow every even tiny opening" to free the at least handful of Americans known to be in Iranian custody.

"I hope it portends well for this. We have had some indication that may be the case, but I don't want to overstate that and I don't want to give false optimism about that pathway," Pompeo said.

Pompeo, however, said the United States would not deviate from its campaign of trying to strangle Iran's economy through sanctions.

"As long as its malign behavior continues, so will our campaign of maximum pressure," Pompeo said.

In the latest measures, the Treasury Department slapped sanctions on shipping networks owned by Iranian businessman Abdolhossein Khedri.

The Treasury Department said the companies have been used by the elite Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force to send weapons to Yemen's Houthi militia.

The Treasury Department also designated sales offices in Hong Kong and Dubai for Iran's Mahan Air, which is already under US sanctions.

The US says that the airline has assisted the clerical regime by flying fighters and supplies to war-ravaged Syria to support President Bashar Assad.

President Donald Trump last year pulled out of a multinational deal on Tehran's nuclear program and imposed sweeping sanctions aimed at curbing the Islamic republic's regional influence.


Rockets target Libya airport ahead of regional peace talks

Updated 23 January 2020

Rockets target Libya airport ahead of regional peace talks

  • The airport has been hit multiple times since the start of a months-long offensive by fighters led by eastern-based commander Haftar
  • Mitiga airport authorities said late Wednesday they were suspending air traffic “until further notice” after Haftar’s spokesman threatened to attack planes flying over the city

TRIPOLI: The Libyan capital’s only operational airport has closed again after threats by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, dealing another setback to peace efforts as regional foreign ministers prepare to meet in Algeria Thursday.
The airport has been hit multiple times since the start of a months-long offensive by fighters led by eastern-based commander Haftar to seize Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
Mitiga airport authorities said late Wednesday they were suspending air traffic “until further notice” after Haftar’s spokesman threatened to attack planes flying over the city.
“Any military or civilian aircraft, regardless of its affiliation, flying over the capital will be destroyed,” warned Haftar’s spokesman Ahmad Al-Mesmari, adding that such flights would be considered a violation of a cease-fire in place since January 12.
Mesmari said the internationally-backed government was using the airport for military purposes as a base for Turkish soldiers sent by Ankara to support GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj.
The airport earlier Wednesday suspended flights for several hours after it was targeted by six Grad rockets in an offensive the GNA blamed on its rivals in Libya’s five-year civil war. The attack took place just nine days after the facility reopened following a truce.
World powers have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to find a political solution to the grinding conflict, with neighboring Algeria the latest country to host a meeting — set for Thursday — to discuss ways forward.
The Algerian foreign ministry said chief diplomats from Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali would meet in Algiers to advance “a political settlement to the crisis through an inclusive dialogue between all parties.”
Algeria, which has stayed neutral in the Libyan conflict, shares a border of almost 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) with its neighbor, which has been rocked by violence since the 2011 toppling of dictator Muammar Qaddafi by NATO-backed insurgents.
It did not say whether Libyan delegations had been invited to the meeting but the GNA Foreign Minister Mohamad Tahar Siala issued a statement saying he was “refusing” to take part due to the presence of his counterpart in the rival administration backed by Haftar.
The meeting comes after a summit in Berlin which saw world leaders commit to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the conflict.
The summit plans have also seen the formation of a military commission comprising five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates who will seek to define ways of consolidating the cease-fire.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council urged the parties to reach a long-term deal paving the way for a political process aimed at ending the conflict.
Despite repeated appeals from the UN’s envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, Tripoli’s GNA-held airport has been the target of several air raids and rocket strikes since Haftar’s forces launched their offensive in April.
Located east of the capital, Mitiga is a former military air base used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport was heavily damaged in fighting in 2014.
GNA forces spokesman Mohammed Gnunu branded the strikes a “flagrant threat” to the safety of air traffic and a “new violation” of the most recent cease-fire.
Haftar’s forces did not immediately respond to Wednesday’s accusations from the GNA but did say they had shot down a Turkish drone after it took off from the airport.
Haftar’s fighters accuse the GNA of using Mitiga to attack their troops in southern Tripoli, something the GNA denies.
Turkey has backed the GNA, deploying troops to Libya since early January under a controversial November deal with the Tripoli-based administration.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in the Algerian capital on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit also tied to the Libyan conflict.
Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas is also expected in Algiers Thursday, the Algerian foreign ministry said.
The city has hosted a string of foreign leaders and envoys for talks on the crisis, including Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the top diplomats of Egypt, Italy, Turkey and former colonial power France.