US gives Iraq sanctions waiver for vital Iranian gas imports

The US waiver enables Iraq to avoid penalties while paying Iran billions of dollars for energy imports. (AP)
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Updated 13 February 2020

US gives Iraq sanctions waiver for vital Iranian gas imports

  • The US has applied stringent sanctions on Iran that punish any country trading with it
  • Issuance of the waiver came amid fraught US-Iraq ties following an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general

BAGHDAD: The United States has granted Iraq a 45-day sanctions waiver enabling the country to continue importing vital Iranian gas and electricity supplies.
In a statement Wednesday, the US State Department said the waiver “ensures that Iraq is able to meet its short-term energy needs while it takes steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy imports.”
The US has applied stringent sanctions on Iran that punish any country trading with it.
The issuance of the waiver came amid fraught US-Iraq ties following an American drone strike that killed the top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, near Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.
Washington had expressed willingness to extend the sanctions waiver, which was due to expire this week, Iraqi officials told The Associated Press, on the condition that Iraq provide a timeline detailing a plan to wean itself off of Iranian gas dependence.
The two officials said the US issued the waiver anyway and offered the possibility of a longer time period if Iraq produces the requested timeline. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the matter.
In its statement, the US State Department said: “Iran has proven itself as a highly unreliable source of energy for Iraq. Reducing Iranian energy imports is therefore paramount for Iraq to achieve energy security.”
The new waiver gives Iraq just 45 days to show Americans that it is making good on conditions to boost domestic gas supply or find alternative sources for power, and lessen its reliance on Iran. The previous waiver, issued in October, had given Iraq 120 days.
A senior Iraqi official with knowledge of sanctions negotiations with the US said the period could be extended again once Iraq submits a technical timetable detailing how it plans to meet gas independence.
“It happened that the United States of America gave us a period of 45 days, and it could be extended in the event of us submitting a timetable regarding Iraqi gas investment,” the official said. “Until now, we have not sent them a timetable.”
Iraq remains highly dependent on Iranian natural gas to meet electricity demands, especially during the scorching summer months when imports account for a third of consumption. Late payments by Baghdad for Iranian power and gas have resulted in interruptions in recent years. In the summer of 2018, that was one factor that lead to destabilizing protests in the southern oil-rich province of Basra.
The US waiver enables Iraq to avoid penalties while paying Iran billions of dollars for energy imports. It has been granted successively since November 2018, when the Trump administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran.
The Iraqi Cabinet moved toward placating Washington’s conditions to renew the sanctions waiver in late January, by approving six oil contracts awarded by the Oil Ministry in April 2018 that would boost domestic gas supply in over two years, according to a Cabinet statement on Jan. 23.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”