Gulf states ‘must have role in new US-Iran talks:’ Saudi foreign minister

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud speaks during an interview on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in the Bahraini capital on December 5, 2020. (AFP / Mazen Mahdi)
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud speaks during an interview on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in the Bahraini capital on Dec. 5, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2020

Gulf states ‘must have role in new US-Iran talks:’ Saudi foreign minister

Gulf states ‘must have role in new US-Iran talks:’ Saudi foreign minister
  • Saudi foreign minister hints at resolution to dispute with Qatar

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states must play a key role in any talks between the US and Iran to revive the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, the Kingdom’s foreign minister said on Saturday.

Joe Biden has indicated that when he takes office as US president next month he will return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

“Primarily what we expect is that we are fully consulted, that we and our regional friends are fully consulted vis a vis the negotiations with Iran,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said at the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain. “The only way toward reaching an agreement that is sustainable is through such consultation.

“I think we’ve seen as a result of the after-effects of the JCPOA that not involving regional countries results in a build-up of mistrust and neglect of the issues of real concern and of real effect on regional security.”

Prince Faisal said any new agreement would have to be an improvement on the JCPOA. “I don’t know about a revived JCPOA, although one may look to a JCPOA-plus-plus, something well beyond the JCPOA,” he said.
“Because reviving the JCPOA as it exists now will only bring us to the point where we were, which is a deficient agreement that doesn’t address the full issues.”

Earlier, Prince Faisal hinted at an imminent resolution to the diplomatic dispute with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain severed trade, travel and diplomatic ties with Doha in June 2017 over its closeness to Iran and funding of Islamist terrorism.

A breakthrough would come “soon,” the minister said. “We are in full coordination with our partners in this process and the prospects that we see are very positive toward a final agreement,” he said.

The political analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News that Iran had been taking advantage of Qatar, and would continue to do so unless Doha came to an agreement with the Anti-Terror Quartet.

“First and foremost, Qatar needs to get back to being part of the group in order to play its part in safeguarding the region,” Al-Shehri said. “Qatar’s vulnerable position due to its entanglement with Iran is either out of fear or a show of bold bluntness, both of which came with a cost.”

Saudi Arabia was not responsible for tension with Iran, Al-Shehri said. “We don’t have ballistic missiles, we don’t have proxies across the region, we don’t have a nuclear weapons program. The problem is with the other party involved.

“The structure of power in Iran isn’t political, its ideological, and Iran won’t relent unless by extreme international pressure, which will then pressure them to rethink their priorities and strategies.”

Al-Shehri said it was important that the Gulf states were part of any negotiations regarding the future of Iran’s arms programs because they were the most susceptible to threats from these programs, and also to spare the region from an arms race.

“The messages to Iran are clear, there’s no way out unless through negotiation,” he said. “There are reportsthat the Trump administration will impose new sanctions before the next president takes office. Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s message to the world and Iran is clear, Riyadh is willing to re-engage in talks with Tehran, a credible effort at diplomacy.

“The Iranian regime’s regional aggression is undiminished, and Qatar is in a very difficult position now with a possible reconciliation led by the emir of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia’s keenness on solidarity and unity will put Tehran in a difficult position because it needs Qatar’s support, either financially or by continuing to boost its ideology and propaganda on Al Jazeera.”

The Kingdom believed that dialogue was the optimal solution for a dispute so that it did not develop into a conflict political analyst Mubarak Al-Ati told Arab News.

“The foreign minister’s statements stressed that the Kingdom will continue to exert great efforts to contain any differences,” he said.

“The Kingdom’s response to Kuwait’s mediation is based on the belief that continuing the Gulf dispute will only benefit the enemies of Arabs. The solution should come from within the Gulf states.

“Saudi Arabia and Kuwait worked together for rapprochement between the Anti-Terror Quartet and Qatar to contain the crisis and solve it diplomatically through a real solution that ensures the crisis never occurs again.”


How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
Updated 52 sec ago

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
  • Iran-backed groups willing to kidnap, kill to protect corrupt revenue streams: Experts
  • Iraq ranked 160 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.

At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.

“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”

Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.

At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.

Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.

“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.

“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”

But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.

“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.

Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.

“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.

“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”

Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.

It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”

Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”

Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”

This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.

“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”


Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Updated 18 June 2021

Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
  • The two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19 and deepening cooperation on green technology
  • Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON: Bahrain and the UK vowed to boost economic and security cooperation as Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad held talks with the British prime minister on Thursday.
Prince Salman said relations with the UK continued to evolve toward more advanced and solid partnerships in various fields, based on their close history spanning decades, Bahrain News Agency reported.
“The bilateral partnership between the two countries are based on opening wider horizons for the development of solid relations at all levels, in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the two countries,” Prince Hamad said during his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street.
He praised Britain’s strategic and vital role in maintaining security and stability in the region, and developing cooperation in areas such as military, economic and trade.
“They reflected on the close and historic partnership between the UK and Bahrain and agreed to further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation,” Downing Street said in a statement, adding the two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19, support for international initiatives to combat the pandemic, including COVAX, and deepening cooperation on green technology and the transition to renewable energy.
“They also spoke about regional security issues and defense collaboration, and the prime minister commended the Bahraini government’s steps to normalize relations with Israel,” the statement added.
Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II.


Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains
Updated 17 June 2021

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

DUBAI: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come closer than ever to an agreement, but essential issues remain to be negotiated, the top Iranian negotiator said on Thursday.
The Islamic Republic and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for both sides to take. The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
“We achieved good, tangible progress on the different issues .... we are closer than ever to an agreement but there are still essential issues under negotiations,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as telling Al Jazeera television.
Araqchi said Iran’s presidential election on Friday would have no effect on the negotiations and the Iranian negotiating team will continue the talks regardless of domestic policy.
The sixth round of talks resumed on Saturday with the remaining parties to the deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union — meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
Since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
“We want to make sure that what happened when Trump pulled out of the deal will not be repeated by any other American president in the future,” Araqchi told the pan-Arab satellite TV network.
Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, added a note of caution, saying progress had been made in the last few days but talks were tough.
“Some difficult and time-consuming topics still remain unresolved,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday there were still significant disagreements.
Iran’s new president is expected to name his Cabinet by mid-August. Current President Hassan Rouhani’s term ends on Aug. 3, a government spokesman said.


Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
Updated 17 June 2021

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
  • The Gulf country in February banned entry of non-citizens to limit the spread of the virus
  • Foreign travellers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson

KUWAIT: Kuwait announced Thursday it would allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to enter the country from August 1, after a months-long suspension.
The Gulf country in February banned the entry of non-citizens in a bid to limit the spread of the virus, but has started to ease some of its Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Government spokesman Tareq Al-Mizrem said foreign travelers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of the four vaccines that the Gulf country has approved — Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Passengers must also hold a negative PCR test conducted a maximum of 72 hours before travel, and undergo another test during a seven-day quarantine in the country, Mizrem told a press conference.
Meanwhile, only Kuwaiti citizens who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to travel abroad from August 1, he said, although some exceptions would be made, such as for pregnant women.
Previously, Kuwaitis were required to have had at least one jab in order to travel.
Mizrem also announced that Kuwait would allow access to large shopping malls, gyms and restaurants from June 27 only for those who have been fully inoculated.
“The government has decided to allow those who have received a (full) Covid-19 vaccine... to enter restaurants and cafes, gyms, salons, shopping malls more than 6,000 square meters,” said Mizrem.
Kuwait has officially recorded more than 332,000 coronavirus cases, over 1,800 of them fatal.


US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
Updated 18 June 2021

US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
  • Envoy Tim Lenderking condemns Houthis for civilian attacks, tells Yemen’s foreign minister that his government has Washington’s support
  • Saudi ambassador to Yemen held talks with UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths

RIYADH: The US envoy to Yemen has blamed the Houthi militia for failed efforts to bring peace to the country.
Tim Lenderking made the comments during a meeting on Thursday with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi Arabia, Saba news agency reported.
Lenderking is holding talks in the Kingdom as part of a US push to bring a nationwide cease-fire.
But the Biden administration appears increasingly frustrated by the Iran-backed Houthis and their refusal to engage with peace efforts.
During his meeting with Bin Mubarak, Lenderking repeated Washington’s position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict.
He strongly condemned the continued Houthi attacks on civilians and said an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire was a basic necessity to alleviate human suffering.
He said the US continued to support the legitimate government and the unity, stability and security of Yemen.
Bin Mubarak said: “The Houthi militia’s refusal to agree a comprehensive cease-fire, reopen Sanaa airport, and guarantee the supply of oil derivatives revenues to pay employees’ salaries proves the false pretexts these militias claim and confirms their bargaining on the humanitarian side, in order to continue implementing Iran’s subversive agenda.”
He said the militia’s targeting of civilians and populated areas in Marib with ballistic missiles has not stopped, but rather increased in severity, which exacerbates the seriousness of the humanitarian situation, increases the number of civilian casualties and undermines international efforts to establish peace.”