Iran candidate: If I win, I would like to meet Biden

Iran candidate: If I win, I would like to meet Biden
Former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, a candidate in Iran's upcoming presidential election, poses for a photo at his office in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Iran candidate: If I win, I would like to meet Biden

Iran candidate: If I win, I would like to meet Biden
  • Ultraconservatives eye easy victory in elections

TEHRAN: An Iranian presidential candidate said on Wednesday he would be willing to meet US President Joe Biden if he wins his country’s election next week, though “America needs to send better and stronger signals” to the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to The Associated Press, former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati stressed that an American return to Iran’s tattered nuclear deal was key to any possible relationship amid the wider tensions in the Mideast.

“I think we haven’t seen anything serious from Mr. Biden’s side yet,” Hemmati said. “They first need to go back to the (nuclear deal) that they withdrew from. If we see the process and more confidence is built, then we can talk about that.”

Hemmati, 64, is one of the seven candidates approved by Iranian authorities to run for the presidency in the Islamic Republic’s June 18 election. Polling and analysts suggest he lags in the race behind hard-line judiciary chief and front-runner Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be a favorite of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Talking to AP journalists at his Tehran office, Hemmati repeatedly said that the signal Iranians hoped to see from the US was Washington’s return to the nuclear deal.

“The Americans have sent positive signals but those signals haven’t been strong enough,” he said. “If there are stronger signals, it will affect how optimistic or pessimistic we are.”

Asked about whether Iran would be willing to accept further restrictions, such as on its ballistic missile program to get sanctions relief, Hemmati said Tehran would refuse such an offer.

“Iran’s nuclear commitments must be inside the framework of the (deal),” he said. “If they are not, neither the (supreme) leader nor the president will accept that.”

Iranians will vote for a new president on June 18 in a poll many see as decided in advance, with ultraconservatives expected to strengthen their grip on power amid record low turnout.

Just seven men have been approved to run — five ultraconservatives and two reformists — to take over from President Hassan Rouhani, who after two four-year terms in a row is constitutionally barred from running again.

With his main rivals excluded from the final list of candidates, judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi is the clear favorite in the 13th presidential poll since Iran’s 1979 revolution. In a live televised debate Saturday, Raisi avoided clashing with reformists, instead focusing on Iranians’ economic woes.

“Inflation is one of the serious problems people are facing today,” along with the “dishonesty of certain officials,” he said.

Iran’s conservative camp has blamed the reformists for having trusted the West — but Rouhani on Wednesday defended his track record after eight years in office.

“It was the nuclear deal that put the country on the path to (economic) development, and today the solution to the country’s problem is for everyone to go back to the deal,” he said. “We don’t know any other way.”

Campaigning kicked off in late May with little fanfare. Few campaign posters are visible in Tehran apart from those of Raisi, who took 38 percent of the vote in the last election in 2017.

The mood has been dampened by coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings, and observers expect many voters to abstain — something that tends to favor the conservative camp.

Last year’s parliamentary elections saw 57 percent abstention and allowed conservatives to dominate the legislature, after thousands of mostly reformist or moderate candidates were disqualified.

In recent weeks, the Iranian press had widely predicted a showdown between Raisi and moderate conservative Ali Larijani, an adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


UK MPs debate Palestinian statehood, sanctions against Israel

UK MPs debate Palestinian statehood, sanctions against Israel
Updated 1 min 20 sec ago

UK MPs debate Palestinian statehood, sanctions against Israel

UK MPs debate Palestinian statehood, sanctions against Israel
  • Labour’s Katherine McKinnell: Palestinians’ ‘aspiration for self-determination is one that we should wholeheartedly support’
  • MENA minister: ‘We’re firmly opposed to boycotts or sanctions against Israel’

LONDON: British MPs on Monday debated implementing two petitions that call for economic sanctions against Israel and for the UK government to recognize the state of Palestine.

The petitions garnered over 100,000 signatures each, which according to British law means they must be considered for debate in Parliament.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but the majority of MPs that took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Chairing the debate, Labour’s Katherine McKinnell said: “I share the deeply held concerns for the plight of the Palestinian people. Colleagues who have visited the region will know that the desire of the Palestinians to live in dignity and in peace in a state of their own is unmistakable. 

“Their aspiration for self-determination is one that we should wholeheartedly support. It’s right for the Palestinian people, and it’s right for the Israeli people.”

She added: “However, I don’t believe that sweeping sanctions of the kind proposed by the second petition would bring the prospect of a two-state solution any closer.”

That petition, which currently has over 386,000 signatures, said: “The government should introduce sanctions against Israel, including blocking all trade, and in particular arms.”

It added that Israel’s “disproportionate treatment of Palestinians and settlements that are regarded by the international community as illegal are an affront to civilised society.”

James Cleverly, the UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, reiterated the government’s position on economic sanctions against Israel, saying: “While we don’t hesitate to express disagreement with Israel whenever we feel it necessary, we’re firmly opposed to boycotts or sanctions against Israel.”

Cleverly also rejected the second petition’s demand — that Britain immediately recognize a sovereign Palestinian state.

“There have, of course, been many calls over the years for recognition of Palestinian statehood,” he said.

“The UK government position is clear: The UK will recognize a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the object of peace. Bilateral recognition in itself cannot and will not end the occupation,” he added.

“The UK government continues to believe that without a negotiated peace agreement, the occupation and the problems that come with it will continue.”

Cleverly did, however, criticize Israel’s continued assaults on Palestinian homes in the occupied territories.

“The UK position on evictions, demolitions and settlements is longstanding, is public, and has been communicated directly to the government of Israel. That is: We oppose these actions,” he said.

Steve Baker, a Conservative MP, said he had made a “mistake” by deprioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian issue during a period of relative calm.

“The problem, of course, is that the conflict hadn’t gone away and has since returned with a ferocity,” he added.

Baker urged the government to actively pursue a two-state solution, a policy that he and other MPs pointed out has been endorsed by the government without ever being actively pursued. 

“I voted to recognize the state of Palestine,” he said. “I think if we’re serious about a two-state solution, it’s important that this Parliament and parliaments elsewhere, governments elsewhere, recognize the state of Palestine.”

Labour’s Naz Shah said she had a message for Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: “Those who support you in the Knesset (Parliament), the mood music is changing, the world is waking up to Israel’s actions, and all those who want to see lasting peace in the region know that to achieve such peace we must end the occupation, injustice and oppression. This starts with recognizing a viable Palestinian state.”

She warned Bennett: “We won’t be silent in pushing for Israel to be tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes if any more Palestinian blood is unjustly spilled under a perverted interpretation of a right to self-defense.”


Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted
Updated 28 min 59 sec ago

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israel's military said on Monday it had stopped an attempt to smuggle weapons along the Jordanian border.

"IDF troops and the Israeli Police just thwarted a weapon smuggling attempt along the Jordanian border in the Arava area," the Israeli Defense Forces said. "Our troops confiscated weapons and apprehended a number of suspects."

An IDF reservist and a suspect were "moderately injured" and taken to hospital.


At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece
Updated 14 June 2021

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece
  • Turkish President is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden
  • Erdogan recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country

BRUSSELS: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that a revival of dialogue with fellow NATO member Greece to resolve long-standing disputes will serve “stability and prosperity” in the region.
Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit, Erdogan also lamented what he said was a lack of support by Turkey’s NATO allies in its fight against terrorism.
It was a veiled reference to Turkey’s disappointment with US military support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Ankara argues are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Erdogan, who is vying to mend Turkey’s battered relations with its Western partners, is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden.
The Turkish strongman has recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country, which has been troubled by a currency crisis and an economic downturn made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Turkey is on the frontline in the fight against terrorism in all relevant international platforms, especially NATO,” Erdogan said, adding that some 4,000 Daesh group fighters were “neutralized” in Turkish cross border operations.
“Turkey is the only NATO ally which has fought face-to-face and gave its young sons as martyrs for this cause,” Erdogan said. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the support and solidarity we expected from our allies and partners in our fight against all forms of terrorism.”
Last summer, a long-standing dispute between Turkey and Greece over boundaries and rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean flared anew after Ankara sent research vessels into waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction.
Diplomats from the two countries have held two rounds of talks in recent months for the first time in five years, while the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey also held reciprocal visits.
“I believe that reviving the channels of dialogue between (Turkey) and our neighbor and ally, Greece, and the resolution of bilateral issues will ... serve the stability and prosperity of our region,” Erdogan said, in a video address to a think tank event on the sidelines of the summit.
Erdogan’s talks with Biden are expected to focus on US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, as well as a dispute over Ankara’s acquisition of a Russian air defense system, which led to Turkey being removed from the F-35 fighter program and sanctions on defense industry officials.
Washington says the S-400 missiles, which Turkey purchased in 2019, pose a threat to NATO’s integrated air defense and has demanded that Ankara abandons the $2.5 billion system.
In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.” Turkey denies that the deportations and massacres that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians amounted to genocide.
In Brussels, Erdogan met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
After his meeting with Erdogan, Macron tweeted that he wants to “move forward” with Turkey.
It was their first meeting since a dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October, after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.
Both men discussed Libya and Syria issues, the Elysee said. Macron has accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria.
During the discussion with Johnson, the two leaders agreed to “work toward the resumption of travel between the UK and Turkey,” according to a Downing Street statement. Turkey has been pushing for a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions to allow British tourists to come to Turkey this summer.


Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya
Updated 14 June 2021

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya
  • Macron was speaking after his first face-to-face with Erdogan in more than a year

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said he had received assurances from Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan that he wanted foreign mercenaries to leave Libyan territory as soon as possible.
“We agreed to work on this withdrawal (of foreign mercenaries). It doesn’t just depend on the two of us. But I can tell you President Erdogan confirmed during our meeting his wish that the foreign mercenaries, the foreign militias, operating on Libyan soil leave as soon as possible,” Macron told a news conference at the end of a summit of NATO leaders in Brussels.
Macron was speaking after his first face-to-face with Erdogan in more than a year as tensions between the two NATO allies worsened especially over the conflict in Libya.
Turkey deployed troops to Libya under an accord on military cooperation signed with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), helping it repel an assault by forces from eastern Libya. It also sent thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya.


UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine
Updated 14 June 2021

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine
  • Penny Appeal’s goal is to ‘break the cycle of poverty at every stage,’ founder tells Arab News
  • CEO: ‘Once again we have had to pivot our efforts from long term sustainable projects to short term emergency response’

LONDON: A British Muslim charity has ramped up its humanitarian work in Palestine, crediting the generosity of communities of all faiths in supporting their emergency humanitarian response to last month’s fighting in Gaza.

Penny Appeal has worked in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank for close to 10 years, and maintains a range of humanitarian projects alongside partner organizations on the ground. 

Following May’s flare-up in violence — which claimed over 250 Palestinian lives, including 66 children — Penny Appeal said: “Once again the slow and painful process of rebuilding has begun.”

By providing cash support, distributed food packs, provisions for babies and women’s hygiene products, Penny Appeal has directly assisted over 77,000 people since last month’s fighting.

Its founder Adeem Younis told Arab News that the charity’s goal is to “break the cycle of poverty at every stage.”

From early-life interventions for mothers and children all the way to the end of life, Penny Appeal runs initiatives that aim to cut poverty and improve quality of life.

However, Younis said the latest round of Israeli attacks on Gaza meant that he and his team have had to focus on providing immediate humanitarian relief and support to victims and their families.

“Sadly, there has been an increase in the number of orphans we’re having to support,” he added, lamenting the cyclical nature of conflict in Gaza.

“We want to provide sustainable solutions that we can empower the community with, but our solutions are sometimes not effective because every year, every two years, it all gets destroyed again, or there’s an emergency situation that takes you back to square one,” he said.

In a statement issued to Arab News, the charity’s CEO Harris Iqbal said: “Sadly, once again we have had to pivot our efforts from long term sustainable projects to short term emergency response. We have been focusing in particular on medical treatment and supplies, working with a network of hospitals and medical organisations, as well as distributing food packs for families displaced by the bombing.”

But while Gazans continue to confront a familiar cycle of progress followed by setback, Younis said he and his team noticed that the external reaction was markedly different this time around.

“We’ve already raised over £500,000 ($705,850) for the most recent emergency. Donations have come from not just Muslims but from all faiths, from all backgrounds. Even today we still have people calling on a daily basis,” he added.

“What we’ve seen is that the compassion and support from the wider community, not just Muslims, has been very, very different.”

He said not only do those donations assist with emergency response on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, but they also make Palestinians — who are largely cut off from the outside world — realize that they have the support of countless people worldwide.

“The recipients tell us all the time that they’re very grateful for the support they receive. They can’t believe the support they receive. They can’t believe that people are thinking about them as well. It means a lot for them to receive the aid, to have that help,” Younis added.

“That gives them a sense that the world is listening … When they receive outside aid, they don’t just feel the aid but they feel the support — it keeps their spirits high.”