Iran International report: Zarif accused Soleimani of directing Iranian foreign policy

Iran International report: Zarif accused Soleimani of directing Iranian foreign policy
Qassem Soleimani (left), who led Iran's Quds Force, had a direct role in the regime's broader diplomatic policies, Zarif is reported to claim in an unpublished interview. (AFP/Files)
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Updated 25 April 2021

Iran International report: Zarif accused Soleimani of directing Iranian foreign policy

Iran International report: Zarif accused Soleimani of directing Iranian foreign policy
  • Leaked interview recording hears veteran foreign minister say Iran’s military operations dictated diplomacy

LONDON: Iran’s foreign minister said he was forced to sacrifice diplomacy in favor of operations by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to a leaked audio recording.
The three-hour interview with Mohammad Javad Zarif, which was obtained by the London-based Iran International television channel, reveals the extent of the IRGC’s control over foreign policy.
Zarif said Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Guard’s Quds Force, which is responsible for overseas operations, had a direct hand over broader foreign policy. 
Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad in January last year. As one of Iran’s most powerful figures, he oversaw the regime’s proxy militias in countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
According to Iran International, Zarif said Soleimani’s influence meant he had to further a diplomacy that served Iran’s military operations in the region. 
“On the other hand, I have never been able to ask Soleimani to do something that would serve my diplomatic moves,” he said.
He accused Soleimani of ignoring his pleas to refrain from using the Iranian national airline for transportation to Syria. 
He said Soleimani’s pressure led to a dramatic increase in flights to Damascus.
A number of Iranian airlines have been sanctioned for ferrying fighters and weapons into Syria to support Bashar Assad during the conflict.
The recording was an interview with journalist Saeed Laylaz in March but intended for publication after President Hassan Rouhani leaves office in August, the channel said.
Zarif said Iran prioritized its war operations over diplomacy and that his role in determining Iran’s foreign policy was “nil.”
He added that a visit by Soleimani to Moscow immediately after the 2015 nuclear deal was made was an attempt to destroy the agreement.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region



Kuwait FM: Lebanon ‘should not be platform for aggression’

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah gestures as he speaks after meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon January 22, 2022. (REUTERS)
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah gestures as he speaks after meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon January 22, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 January 2022

Kuwait FM: Lebanon ‘should not be platform for aggression’

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah gestures as he speaks after meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon January 22, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Minister outlines 3 key messages to Lebanese officials in Beirut visit
  • Supporters of former PM Saad Hariri demand he runs in upcoming election

BEIRUT: Lebanon is a “place of hope” and “should not be a platform for aggression,” visiting Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah said on Sunday in Beirut.

On the second day of his visit to the capital, the minister renewed a commitment during separate meetings with Lebanese officials to a “Kuwaiti, Gulf, Arab and international message for Lebanon to not be a platform for any aggression, and for all borders to be controlled by the state.”

The minister met on Sunday with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi.

After his talks with the Kuwaiti minister, Aoun stressed Lebanon’s “firm keenness to preserve the best relations with the Arab countries.”

The Kuwaiti minister held talks with Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday night.

He also met Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, who is expected to visit Kuwait on Saturday.

Kuwait currently chairs the ministerial council of the Arab League.

Al-Sabah said that the visit was among various international efforts aimed at rebuilding confidence between Lebanon and the international arena.

The Kuwaiti minister’s statements had three central themes.

The first was a message of “sympathy, solidarity, synergy and love for the brotherly Lebanese people.”

Secondly, Al-Sabah urged Lebanese officials to adopt a position of neutrality and ensure that the country “will not be a platform for any aggression, while refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries in general, and the Gulf in particular.”

His third message stressed a regional desire “to see a stable, secure and strong Lebanon by implementing international and Arab resolutions.”

Al-Sabah said that Lebanon “will review the messages I have conveyed to the Lebanese officials and ... we will soon receive a response.”

Lebanon’s ties with Gulf states plunged into a new crisis in October after comments by former Lebanese information minister George Kordahi criticizing the conflict in Yemen.

Kuwait was one of several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, that responded to Kordahi’s remarks by expelling the Lebanese ambassador and recalling its envoy to Beirut.

Aoun said in a tweet on Sunday that Lebanon was keen on maintaining “the best relations” with the Gulf states and that the Kuwaiti proposals would be discussed before an appropriate position was announced.

Some linked Al-Sabah’s visit to the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Lebanon, but the Kuwaiti minister denied such a link.

He stressed: “The visit has nothing to do with internal Lebanese affairs. We do not interfere in Lebanese affairs.”

Hariri will announce on Monday his final decision on whether or not he will run in upcoming parliamentary elections.

His media office said that the former premier will deliver a speech at 4 p.m. on Monday from his residence.

For the second day in a row, hundreds of Hariri supporters flocked outside his home in the capital, demanding that he run in the election.

Addressing his supporters, Hariri said: “I have listened to you today and I want you to listen to me tomorrow.

“I assure you that my blood is yours, and this house’s doors will always be open to receive you all.”

He told journalists: “Sometimes one has to take a step back in order to move forward.”

Supporters carried pictures of Hariri along with the Lebanese and Future Movement flags, chanting slogans in support of the former prime minister.

They calling on Hariri to rescind his decision to refrain from running for elections, asking him not to abandon his supporters.

“Hariri and the Future Movement are among the country’s main political symbols, and we will not accept their abandonment,” one supporter said.

His decision is expected to have profound repercussions on the electoral process and Lebanese politics at large.

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi reiterated the importance of Lebanon’s neutrality.

“However, it’s unfortunate that this concept is completely absent from the speeches of officials and Lebanon thus remains hostage to regional axes,” Al-Rahi added.

During his joint press conference on Sunday with the Lebanese interior minister, Al-Sabah said: “We discussed the issue of drug smuggling from Lebanon, and we appreciate what Lebanon is doing."

He added: “We demanded mechanisms to ensure that shipments do not reach Kuwait and the rest of the region, and that Lebanese authorities should do this to restore confidence.

“There is a general desire for all Lebanese borders and outlets to be controlled by the state and for Lebanon to become more secure and stable.”

Mawlawi, Lebanon’s interior minister, said: “I reiterate the position of Lebanon and the Interior Ministry that rejects any verbal abuse of Kuwait. We discussed all issues related to border control and drug smuggling.”

A government source told Arab News: “The messages that Al-Sabah conveyed are the outcome of contact between France, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and they go in line with the principles contained in the Mikati government’s ministerial statement.”

The source added: “These messages will be discussed, and the Lebanese foreign minister will deliver Lebanon’s response during his visit to Kuwait.”

The source also commented on the possibility of Hezbollah ignoring these principles — as it has repeatedly done by insulting Gulf countries.

They said that the Lebanese government’s position “is the only one that matters, because it represents all of Lebanon.”

The government position is based on the ministerial statement that stresses Lebanon’s neutrality and insists on friendly relations with Arab and Gulf countries, the source added.


Standoff near Syrian prison holding Daesh militants continues

Standoff near Syrian prison holding Daesh militants continues
Updated 23 January 2022

Standoff near Syrian prison holding Daesh militants continues

Standoff near Syrian prison holding Daesh militants continues
  • The Kurdish-led forces, with assistance from the US-led coalition have contained the threat, the coalition said
  • Militants remain holed up in a wing of the prison, from where they have been firing at Kurdish forces

BEIRUT: Clashes between US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters and militants continued for a fourth day Sunday near a prison in northeastern Syria that houses thousands of members of Daesh, the Kurdish force said.
The standoff follows a bold assault by the extremists that breached the premises of Gweiran Prison, allowed an unknown number of militants to escape and killed dozens of US-backed fighters who guard the facility.
The Kurdish-led forces, with assistance from the US-led coalition in the form of surveillance, intelligence and airstrikes, have contained the threat, the coalition said in a statement Sunday.
Several dozen militants remain holed up in one wing of the prison, to the north and in adjacent buildings, from where they have been firing at the Kurdish forces.
A spokesman for the Kurdish forces, Farhad Shami, said the militants have used hundreds of minors held in the same facility as human shields, preventing a final assault.
More than 3,000 suspected Daesh militants are believed to be held in Gweiran, the largest facility in Syria housing militants from the group, including over 600 under the age of 18.
“While it is militarily defeated, Daesh remains an existential threat to the region,” said Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Maj. Gen. John W. Brennan. “Due to its severely degraded capability, Daesh’s future survival is dependent on its ability to refill its ranks through poorly-conceived attempts” like the Gweiran prison attack.
The coalition said it was analyzing the situation to determine if the group is still planning other such attacks in Syria and Iraq.
In their attack, the militants had attempted to destroy a new, more secure facility under construction next to the Gweiran prison, and have seized arms from prison guards before murdering them, the coalition added.
The Kurdish forces said militants on Sunday staged a new attack on the prison, also known as Al-Sinaa prison, in an attempt to break the security cordon and support inmates still in control of parts of the prison.
In a statement, the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, said the attack on the northern section of the prison in the city of Hassakeh was repelled and the militants were chased into a nearby residential area.
Another SDF spokesman Siamand Ali said Daesh fighters arriving from outside the city also tried to attack the prison and were repelled.
A resident near the prison said warplanes from the US-led coalition flew over the prison earlier Sunday, breaking the sound barrier. The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the US-backed Kurdish forces were heard calling on Daesh militants in the prison and in surrounding buildings to turn themselves in. A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said helicopters threw fliers over the city, urging residents to report suspicious activities.
The militants have taken cover in residential areas surrounding the prison, including in Zuhour neighborhood which was cordoned off by security forces. Hundreds of civilians fled the area for safety. Ali said between 150 and 200 militants are believed currently holed up in the northern wing of the prison and adjacent residential area.
The attack launched Thursday was the biggest by Daesh militants since the fall of the group’s “caliphate” in 2019. Its demise came after Daesh lost its last territory in Syria in following a yearslong military campaign backed by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.
The terrorist group claimed responsibility for the prison break on its Aamaq news service Friday, describing it as ongoing.
In an ambitious attack, more than 100 militants armed with heavy machine guns and vehicles rigged with explosives attacked the facility aiming to free their comrades. A car bomb was detonated nearby at a petroleum warehouse, creating a diversion and leaving fire and smoke in the air for two days.
A video posted by the militants late Saturday showed vehicles ramming through what appears to be the walls of the prison, creating large holes. Dozens of men were seen walking in the facility in the dark, seemingly escaping the prison. The Kurdish-led forces said Friday they have so far arrested over 100 inmates who escaped but the total number of fugitives remains unclear.
Freeing convicts and imprisoned comrades has been a main tactic of the group. During their 2014 surge that overwhelmed territory in Iraq and Syria, Daesh carried out multiple prison breaks.
In another video posted on Daesh’s news service, the militants showed two dozen prison staff, some in military uniforms, taken hostage, including some who appeared bruised and beaten. One militant read out a statement to the camera and another stood guard with what seemed to be either a saw or a machete. Both militants were masked.
The Kurdish forces said late Saturday the men were probably among the prison kitchen staff with whom they lost contact since the assault began late Thursday.
Ali said about 100 militants attacked the prison but it is not clear how many militants from sleeper cells and fugitives are taking part in the ongoing operation.
In its version of the attack, Daesh quoted one of its militants in a statement posted late Saturday on its news service who said the attack began with two foreign suicide bombers who detonated two trucks at the gate of the prison and along its walls, causing major damage and casualties. Then militants fanned out, first heading to the prison towers and the petroleum warehouse. A second group attacked a Kurdish post nearby while two other groups clashed with nearby patrols and cut supply lines to undermine the prison defenses.
The assault coincided with riots inside the prison, where militants seized weapons and held guards and prison staff hostage, the militant group said, claiming that it freed more than 800 militants, some of whom are taking part in the ongoing operation.

Alarming xenophobic trend on the rise in Turkey

Alarming xenophobic trend on the rise in Turkey
Updated 23 January 2022

Alarming xenophobic trend on the rise in Turkey

Alarming xenophobic trend on the rise in Turkey
  • ‘Hate speech’ by public figures from different political parties criticized by migration expert
  • Lack of international protection for refugees creates a precarious situation for them, migration expert tells Arab News

ANKARA: Amid alarming reports about assassinations of Syrian refugees in Turkey, the trend of violence and the security of foreigners has become a source of concern in the country, where refugees were once welcomed with open arms.
The country’s economic woes, with high rates of unemployment and decreased purchasing power due to inflation, have pushed many to blame foreigners.
The frequent use of anti-refugee rhetoric by politicians has fanned the flames of racism. A Turkish court recently overturned controversial plans by the mayor of the northwestern city of Bolu, Tanju Ozcan, to increase water bills by tenfold for foreigners, as well as charging 100,000 lira ($7,435) for civil marriage ceremonies for foreigners in Turkey.
“They overstayed their welcome. If I had the power, I would use municipal officials to throw them out by force,” Ozcan said. “I know people will talk about human rights and they will call me fascist. I simply do not care.”
Anti-immigrant sentiment has hardened, exacerbated by an influx of Afghans after the Taliban takeover of their country in August 2021.
Last week, Nail Al-Naif, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee, was killed in Istanbul by a group of men when sleeping in his room. Eight people, including five Turkish nationals and three Afghans, were arrested.
Another young Syrian was stabbed walking in a park in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir last week, just a couple of days after a mob attacked a shopping mall frequented by Syrians in Istanbul, allegedly after a Syrian refugee refused to give a cigarette to a Turkish man.
In November, three young Syrian workers were burned to death in the western city of Izmir after a fire broke out at their apartment when they were sleeping.

Police detained a Turkish man, who admitted that he caused the fire motivated by xenophobia.
Muge Dalkiran, an expert on migration issues and a junior fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, said refugees have been scapegoated in Turkey due to ongoing competition over economic resources, concerns over ethnic or religious balances, and security-related worries.
“The tension has also escalated as a result of misinformation in the media, xenophobic discourses and hate speech by public figures from different political parties that represent large and diverse groups in the Turkish society,” she told Arab News.
Dalkiran said that negative attitudes, hate speech, and xenophobia against migrant and refugee groups exist in many countries, but in Turkey a major problem is impunity.
“Due to the lack of (a) clear legal definition of xenophobia and racial discrimination, as well as the lack of the enforcement of law, this leads to the impunity for crimes motivated by racist and xenophobic attitudes.

“In addition to this, the lack of international protection of refugees also creates a precarious situation for them,” she said.
As Turkey has put a geographical limitation on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it cannot grant its main refugee groups, like Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, refugee status.
“Many times, because of the fear of detention or deportation, migrant and refugee groups in Turkey cannot even access official complaint mechanisms when they face violent acts,” Dalkiran said.
The number of Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Turkey is 3.7 million people, most of them living in Istanbul as well as the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
Over 2.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are under the age of 30. Overall, the country is home to about 5.3 million foreigners in total.
Metin Corabatir, president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration in Ankara, said there are many examples of xenophobia that go unreported.
“Syrian refugees in Ankara cannot send their children to school for fear that they could be subject to physical violence or hate speech” he told Arab News.

“They cannot guarantee their own security and children pay it back with their declining enrolment rates,” he added.
In August 2021, tensions rose in Ankara’s Altindag district, where the Syrian population is concentrated in the capital.

After a knife fight between locals and Syrians, several workplaces and houses of Syrians were targeted.
“(Turkish) house owners in Altindag district reportedly began to decline to rent their houses to Syrians,” Corabatir said.

“The municipality abruptly stopped the coal and food assistance to the Syrians in the city without giving any excuse. Opposition politicians began pledging to send Syrians back to their home country,” he added.

“As the date of parliamentary elections is nearing, refugees and foreigners in general have been used for domestic consumption,” said Corabatir.
Advocacy groups also underline the alarming trend of hate speech in the country against foreigners more generally. Recently, a taxi driver in Istanbul beat a French woman after he overcharged her and her husband.
“We cannot send these refugees back to Syria, which is still unsafe,” Corabatir said. “Several international right groups, like Amnesty International, announced that those who returned home were subjected to torture, disappearance and detention.”
In January, a video was posted on social media of a Turkish man in Istanbul breaking the doors and windows of a house he owned because, after he raised the rent of his Syrian tenants by 150 percent and they refused to pay, he wanted to evict them.
Dalkiran emphasized the need for adopting a coherent and integrated approach by political parties and their leaders, the media, academia and civil society for the refugee-related issues.
“Rather than populist discourses to secure the electoral gains, a human rights-based approach should be prioritized,” she said.

“This needs to be accompanied by social awareness raising efforts to combat against racism and xenophobia together with the migrant and refugee rights.”

Coalition in Yemen prepares military operation in Al-Jouf

Coalition in Yemen prepares military operation in Al-Jouf
Updated 27 min 32 sec ago

Coalition in Yemen prepares military operation in Al-Jouf

Coalition in Yemen prepares military operation in Al-Jouf
  • Coalition kills 90 Houthi militants in 17 airstrikes on Marib and Al-Bayda in last 24 hours
  • Yemen’s defence ministry promises retreating Houthi fighters safety amid reports of militia executing them

RIYADH: The Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen said it is preparing a military operation in Al-Jouf, in response to a threat.
“We are monitoring hostile militia activity using drones launched from the Yemeni governorate of Al-Jawf,” Saudi state TV reported on Sunday, citing the coalition.
“We will take operational measures in accordance with international and humanitarian law to protect civilians,” the coalition added.

Later on Sunday, Yemen’s defence ministry said it had received “shocking” information about the Houthi militia executing its fighters who had withdrawn from combat and refused to fight.

“We have given directions to our units to receive the retreating Houthi fighters,” the ministry said.

It promised safety and good treatment to withdrawing Houthi fighters “in accordance with international legitimacy, norms, and laws.”

“Those who have withdrawn are guests whom we will receive, and we will provide them with all help, support, and assistance to return to their areas when they wish,” the ministry said.

Sameh Shoukry asks Omanis to invest in Egypt

Sameh Shoukry asks Omanis to invest in Egypt
Updated 23 January 2022

Sameh Shoukry asks Omanis to invest in Egypt

Sameh Shoukry asks Omanis to invest in Egypt
  • Shoukry touched on the solidarity between the two countries
  • He inaugurated the headquarters of the Arab Specialized Eye, Nose, Throat and Dental Hospital on Saturday

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with the Omani Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs Fahd bin Mahmoud Al-Said in Muscat on Sunday, to discuss bilateral relations and taking advantage of the developmental and economic boom in Egypt. 

Ambassador Ahmed Hafez, spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the meeting dealt with the economic reform Egypt is witnessing, as well as its development boom. It also dealt with efforts to advance bilateral economic and trade relations, in addition to the most prominent Arab and regional issues, stressing Egypt’s firm position in supporting the security and stability of the Gulf states and the Arab region.

He added that Shoukry touched on the solidarity between the two countries, expressing his appreciation for what is provided to the Egyptian community in Oman, and the community’s role as a bridge of communication between Muscat and Cairo.

On Saturday, Shoukry inaugurated the headquarters of the Arab Specialized Eye, Nose, Throat and Dental Hospital, one of the joint Egyptian-Omani investment projects, in Muscat in the presence of a number of members of the Egyptian-Omani Joint Business Council.

He arrived in Muscat on Saturday to chair the Egyptian side participating in the fifteenth session of the joint committee between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Sultanate of Oman, held on Jan. 22-23. 

Shoukry, with his Omani counterpart Badr Al-Busaidi and the Omani Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment Promotion Qais Al-Yousef, called on the country’s private sector to strengthen and increase their presence in the Egyptian market, telling businesses to take advantage of the giant economic and development projects the Egyptian state is currently implementing, which provide many opportunities for investment in various fields.

The Egyptian foreign ministry’s spokesman, Ahmed Hafez, said Shoukry praised the regularity of the business council’s meetings since its establishment in 2019, adding that this reflects the solid will of both sides to expand the fields and frameworks of cooperation between the two countries.

Shoukry commended the effective role played by the council in supporting efforts to increase the volume of joint investments, and in exploring the available cooperation opportunities in the areas in which the two sides enjoy a comparative advantage.

Meanwhile, the minister also expressed his hopes that Syria would be allowed to rejoin the Arab League.

The country was suspended from the Arab organization over its failure to end the bloodshed caused by government crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

“We hope that conditions will be available for Syria to return to the Arab domain and become an element supporting Arab national security,” Shoukry said.

“We will continue to communicate with Arab countries to achieve this, and we look forward to the Syrian government taking measures that facilitate Syria’s return to the Arab League,” the minister continued.