No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an enhanced honor cordon for Gantz at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on June 3, 2021. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an enhanced honor cordon for Gantz at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on June 3, 2021. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
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Updated 04 June 2021

No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US

No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US
  • Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat”, Gantz tells US leadership
  • Urges US to ensure that any deal "effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons”

ARLINGTON, US: Israel’s visiting defense minister said Thursday that it will stay engaged as the US tries to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, sidestepping what’s long been an area of open disagreement between the United States and the now-jeopardized government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benny Gantz told reporters before a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat” to Israel. “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States,” Israel and other countries, Gantz said.
But on a visit that came as an opposition coalition back home tries to end Netanyahu’s 12 years in power, Gantz — unlike Netanyahu — stopped short of openly opposing the Biden administration’s efforts to get the United States back into a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Sitting across a table from his US counterpart at the Pentagon, Gantz said, “Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons.”
“Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself,” Gantz added.
The Israeli official made clear the change in tone was purposeful. “We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion ... only, not in the media in a provoking way,” he said, calling for “open dialogue behind closed doors.” It echoed Biden’s own embrace of what the administration has called quiet diplomacy when dealing with Israel.
Netanyahu’s years-long fight to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal — struck during the Obama administration in 2015, but rejected by President Donald Trump after his election — included Netanyahu denouncing it to a 2015 joint session of the US Congress as a “very bad deal.”
Netanyahu has continued that open opposition in recent days, saying a deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy” and that the fight against that was worth any “friction with our great friend the United States.”
Biden has pressed for a return to the nuclear deal as the best way to keep Iran from building up what it says is a civilian nuclear program, and to calm a flashpoint in the Middle East. European negotiators expressed some optimism this week as they closed the latest round of talks in Vienna on getting the US and Iran back in the deal.
Gantz also met with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Gantz is part of the coalition pushing to unseat Netanyahu, and he is expected to remain in his post as defense minister if the government changes.
His meetings Thursday underscored US security commitments to Israel as that country weathers its greatest domestic political upheaval in years and the aftermath of last month’s war with Hamas militants in Gaza.
Gantz said he would lay out for administration officials a “complete plan” for a diplomatic end to hostilities with the Palestinians. He gave no details.
A key aim of Gantz’s visit to Washington was believed to be securing US funding to help restock Israel’s Iron Dome, a sophisticated missile defense system that smacked down many of the rockets Hamas militants fired toward Israel last month. More than 260 people were killed, the vast majority Palestinians, in an 11-day war in which Israel struck targets in Hamas-ruled Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes while Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, touring Israel this week in a show of support after the latest Gaza war, said he expected Israelis to seek up to $1 billion from the US for Iron Dome, including for restocking the system’s interception missiles.
US officials made no immediate announcements on funding. Austin noted Biden “has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which saved so many lives.”
“We are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself,” Austin added.
The US partnership in Israel’s Iron Dome has wide bipartisan support in Congress, as does overall US support for Israel’s defense, a tenet of US foreign policy for decades. Last month’s war, however — the fiercest Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014 — has exposed a rift in Biden’s Democratic Party. Progressives and some others demanded a cease-fire by Israel as well as Hamas as Palestinian deaths grew in the crowded Gaza Strip.
Blinken told reporters before meeting with Gantz that Americans also were talking to him about getting aid in to Gaza to help rebuild housing and services damaged and destroyed in the fighting, in addition to discussing Israeli security.


Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex. (Shutterstock)
Updated 2 min 56 sec ago

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
  • One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex, according to state media
  • It gave no details of the cause of the accident.

TEHRAN: Iran’s defense ministry said Thursday that an “accident” in the Parchin area near Tehran, happened at one of its “research units,” and killed one “engineer” and injured another.
“On Wednesday evening, in an accident that took place in one of the research units of the defense ministry in the Parchin area, engineer Ehsan Ghad Beigi was martyred and one of his colleagues injured,” the ministry said.
State media had earlier reported one person killed in an “industrial accident” near the Parchin military complex, which has previously come under scrutiny by the UN nuclear watchdog.
The Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran, is alleged to have hosted past testing of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear warhead, something Iran has repeatedly denied.
The site came under renewed scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015 when Tehran reached a landmark deal with major powers under which it agreed to curb its nuclear activities under UN supervision in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Iran had previously denied the IAEA access to Parchin, insisting it was a military site unrelated to any nuclear activities, but the agency’s then chief, the late Yukiya Amano, paid a visit.
In June 2020, a gas tank explosion in a “public area” near the complex shook the capital, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, but caused no casualties, the defense ministry said at the time.
Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of a campaign of sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations of key scientists that it has blamed on arch foe Israel.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran developing an atomic bomb.
Iran has consistently denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.


Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road
Updated 26 May 2022

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road
  • The negotiations are part of a two-month truce that is due to expire on June 2 but the UN’s special envoy, Hans Grundberg, said working with all parties to extend it
  • He added that also as part of the truce, important progress has been made in efforts to agree the resumption of commercial flights to and from Sanaa airport

NEW YORK: Negotiations began in Amman on Wednesday between Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia over the reopening of roads in Taiz and other governorates.

The talks are taking place under the auspices of the UN. Hans Grundberg, the organization’s special envoy for Yemen, said that they are part of a two-month truce that was agreed in April at the start of Ramadan. He added that it is due to expire on June 2 but he is working with all parties to extend it.

Grundberg called on all of those involved to negotiate “in good faith” and take urgent action to reach an agreement on restoring freedom of movement and improving the living conditions of the people of Yemen.

“Yemenis have suffered for too long from the impact of road closures,” he said. “Opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere is a crucial element of the truce that will allow families divided by front lines to see each other, children to go to school, civilians to go to work and reach hospitals, and essential trade to resume.”

Yemenis protest in Taiz on Wednesday, demanding the end of the blockade imposed by the Houthis on the country’s third city. (AFP)

He added that also as part of the truce, important progress has been made in efforts to agree the resumption of commercial flights to and from Sanaa airport. More than 1,000 passengers have flown so far and the frequency of flights is increasing. Preparations are now under way to resume flights between Sanaa and Cairo, Egypt.

“This will allow more Yemenis to travel abroad to access medical care, educational and trade opportunities, and to visit family,” said Grundberg, who thanked the Egyptian government for its help arranging the flights and its “active support to the UN’s peace efforts.”

Although fighting has abated in Yemen since the truce began, with a significant reduction in civilian casualties, Grundberg raised concerns about reports of continued fighting and civilian casualties in some parts of the country in recent weeks.

“I call on the parties to exercise maximum restraint to preserve the truce and to fulfill their obligations under international law to protect civilians,” said the envoy, who vowed to continue to work with all involved under the terms of the truce to “prevent, deescalate and resolve incidents.”

He added: “We have seen the tangible benefits the truce has delivered so far for the daily lives of Yemenis. The parties need to renew the truce to extend and consolidate these benefits to the people of Yemen, who have suffered over seven years of war.

“The truce has presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past and move toward a peaceful future in Yemen. The parties need to seize this opportunity by implementing and renewing the truce and negotiating more durable solutions on security, political and economic issues, including revenues and salaries, to support a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict.

“The parties have the responsibility to safeguard and deliver on this potential for peace in Yemen.”


UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon
Updated 26 May 2022

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon
  • Members also stressed the need for the urgent implementation of economic reforms, and urged all parties to dissociate themselves from external conflicts
  • They reiterated need for a transparent investigation into the 2020 Beirut explosion to be concluded, to meet Lebanese demands for justice and accountability

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council on Wednesday welcomed the fact that parliamentary elections in Lebanon went ahead as planned on May 15, “despite challenging circumstances,” but called for the swift formation of a new, inclusive government and the “urgent implementation” of previously outlined economic reforms.

In a joint statement, council members said that the reforms should include the adoption of “an appropriate” national budget for 2022 that will enable the speedy implementation of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund “to respond to the demands of the Lebanese population.”

The country’s economy has been mired since August 2019 in a crippling crisis, during which the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value and more than three-quarters of the population have fallen into poverty.

Last month, Lebanon and the IMF had reached an agreement on a plan that could unlock about $3 billion of international funding over several years. However, the deal is subject to approval by the management and executive board of the IMF, and hinges on Lebanese authorities implementing a host of economic reforms, including the restructuring of the country’s collapsed banking sector, improved transparency, and unifying the multiple exchange rates that apply to the nation’s spiraling currency.

The Security Council stressed the role Lebanese institutions, including the newly elected parliament, have to play in the implementation of these necessary reforms and underscored the importance of delivering them, “to ensure effective international support.”

Members also called for steps to be taken to enhance the “full, equal and meaningful participation and representation” of women in Lebanese institutions, including the new government.

“These elections were key to enabling the Lebanese people to exercise their civil and political rights,” the council members said.

They reiterated the need for “a swift conclusion of an independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” into the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, which left more than 200 people dead, thousands injured and many more displaced, as well as billions of dollars in property damage.

The council said the investigation is “essential to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Lebanese people for accountability and justice.”

Members also urged all Lebanese parties to implement a tangible policy of “disassociation from any external conflicts, as an important priority, as spelled out in previous declarations, in particular the 2012 Baabda Declaration.”

The Iran-backed Hezbollah party has sent militants to Syria to fight alongside the forces of the Assad regime.


US calls for more crossing points for delivery of aid to Syria

US calls for more crossing points for delivery of aid to Syria
Updated 26 May 2022

US calls for more crossing points for delivery of aid to Syria

US calls for more crossing points for delivery of aid to Syria
  • During a meeting of the UN Security Council, American envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called for unity for the sake of millions of Syrians in need
  • Her Russian counterpart blamed the stalled peace process on “US occupation” of Syrian territories and American “plundering” of the country’s resources

NEW YORK: The denial of access for humanitarian efforts during armed conflicts is reinforcing a vicious cycle of killings and forced displacements, the US warned on Wednesday.

The result of this can be seen in Syria where, after 11 years of the “Assad regime’s brutal war,” 14 million people rely on humanitarian aid to survive and 6.6 million are displaced within their own country, said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN.

She called for the renewal and expansion of existing crossing points and addition of new crossings to make it easier to deliver aid to the Syrian people.

“Every month, Syrian civilians are attacked and killed by the Assad regime and others,” she said. “And hospitals often don’t have the medicine or supplies to help the injured because humanitarian convoys aren’t able to reach them.”

She was speaking as she convened a meeting of the Security Council, the presidency of which is held by the US this month. It came in the wake of the publication of a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts, which paints a bleak picture of the difficulties humanitarian operations face in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali.

It highlights grave concerns about attacks on humanitarian workers and assets; 143 such security incidents were recorded in 14 countries and territories during 2021, which resulted in the deaths of 93 aid workers.

In a concept note distributed before the meeting, the US mission stated that although international humanitarian law and other legal frameworks provide the necessary foundation to facilitate humanitarian access and the protection of aid workers, the legal principles are often ignored.

Focusing on Syria in particular, Thomas-Greenfield told her fellow ambassadors that the Security Council has the power to provide paths for humanitarian access where it is most desperately needed.

“We did this last year when we unanimously voted to renew the mandate for UN cross-border assistance in Syria,” she said.

“That was an important, lifesaving decision for millions of people. It demonstrated the best of what we can do when we work together.”

The UN estimates that 14.6 million Syrians will need humanitarian assistance this year, an increase of almost 10 percent on last year.

“So we have to renew the mandate again,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And we have to expand it and increase the number of crossing points to meet the rising demands for humanitarian aid in Syria.”

She will visit Bab Al-Hawa, the only crossing point that currently remains open, in the coming days.

Security Council discussions about the issue often prove difficult, with Russia and China consistently insisting that all humanitarian aid deliveries require the consent of the Syrian authorities.

When deliveries of international aid to Syria began in 2014, the Security Council approved four border crossings. In January 2020, permanent member Russia used its power of veto to force the closure of all but one. Moscow argues that international aid operations violate the Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “Despite notable successes in the fight against international terrorism, the establishment of complete peace and stability in the country is hindered by the illegal occupation by the United States of a significant part of the (Syrian) territory.

“Camps with inhuman living conditions for the civilian population continue to operate in the occupied territories. Devastation and total lawlessness reign.”

He accused the “occupying US power” of “openly plundering” Syria’s natural and agricultural resources, and of illegally smuggling oil and grain out of the country, describing it as “the American recipe for dealing with the global energy and food crisis.”

“Despite the protracted serious humanitarian situation in Syria and the economic crisis, the US and the EU continue to apply illegal, unilateral sanctions against the long-suffering people of Syria, with disastrous consequences,” Nebenzia added.

The current mandate for the cross-border mechanism is due to expire in July.


Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks — official

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks — official
Updated 26 May 2022

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks — official

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks — official
  • A natural gas exporter, Egypt takes over presidency of the UN climate talks from Britain
  • Delivering this financing is among Egypt’s priorities for COP27

CAIRO: Egypt will position itself as an impartial arbiter while hosting this year’s COP27 UN climate summit, as it pushes other nations to act on climate pledges while promoting the interests of the developing world, a senior Egyptian official said.
Egypt, where unauthorized public demonstrations are banned, would also welcome protests within the rules of the Nov. 7-18 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, said Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 president.
A natural gas exporter, Egypt takes over presidency of the UN climate talks from Britain. Last year’s summit in Glasgow, Scotland, ended with the nearly 200 countries in attendance promising to strengthen their climate pledges this year.
Wealthy nations also disappointed many in Glasgow by saying they would not deliver the $100 billion per year promised from 2020 until 2023 to help developing countries with their energy transition and with adapting to a warming world.
Delivering this financing is among Egypt’s priorities for COP27. It also wants to focus on securing separate “loss and damage” funds, or compensation payments to climate-vulnerable countries already suffering from climate-related weather extremes, Aboulmagd said in an interview.
“There are issues that are of interest and priority to developing countries, and there are high expectations from us as a developing country to ensure that these issues are taken on board and that they achieve commensurate progress with how important they are,” he said.
But Egypt also would seek to mediate between developed and developing countries that have clashed over issues including carbon emissions and climate financing, as it tries to help steer a move from pledges to action, Aboulmagd said.
“In this particular year it is in the interest of the process that a perception of impartiality and equal distance from everyone is maintained.”
Aboulmagd said Egypt was working to launch about 17 voluntary initiatives in areas including food and agriculture and water management, hoping to inspire ideas and action to help countries meet their pledges.
Egypt is fine tuning its own updated target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC).
“We intend to move even faster, despite very difficult circumstances,” Aboulmagd said, referring to economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
To promote global access and representation at COP27, Egypt has sought to fast track accreditation for under-represented civil society organizations from Africa, Aboulmagd said, adding that he hoped climate campaigners and activists play a constructive role.
“There are certain rules and we’re working with the secretariat to ensure that if there are people who want to protest, they’re entitled to do that, and it’s done in a peaceful manner,” he said.
“It’s good to have people yelling at you — hopefully not throwing stuff at you, but just yelling at you and we’re accustomed to that.”
Egypt’s government had worked with hotels to provide affordable accommodation for participants in Sharm el-Sheikh, a tourist resort on the Red Sea, he said.
“What we have done to the utmost is to ensure that decent hotels and very reasonable rates are made available.”