US general says Russia turmoil could spill to Middle East

US general says Russia turmoil could spill to Middle East
Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla testifies before the Senate Armed Services committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, to be general and commander of the US Central Command. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 08 February 2022

US general says Russia turmoil could spill to Middle East

US general says Russia turmoil could spill to Middle East
  • Kurilla got a friendly reception from the panel and was told he would probably be confirmed
  • He was clear that Iran remains the key threat to US and allies in the region

WASHINGTON: The Army general tapped to take over as top US commander in the Middle East warned senators Tuesday that if Russian invades Ukraine, as many fear, it could create broader instability in the Middle East, including Syria. But he was clear that Iran remains the key threat to US and allies in the region.
Lt. Gen. Erik Kurilla also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that China is expanding its power and spending in the Central Command region, including in countries needed by the US to gather intelligence on extremist activities in Afghanistan.
“The United States faces a new era of strategic competition with China and Russia that is not confined to one geographical region and extends into the (Central Command) area of responsibility,” said Kurilla during the committee’s hearing on his nomination. “As the United States rightfully prioritizes competition with China, we must remain engaged in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.”
Kurilla, a combat-hardened officer with extensive experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, got a friendly reception from the panel and was told he would probably be confirmed.
If he gets the job, Kurilla would take over as the Pentagon continues to try to shift its focus to the Indo-Pacific and counter a rising China, and to bolster defenses against Russia in Europe. But Iran and Tehran-backed proxies have kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks on US and allied forces across the Middle East, often hindering plans to shift more troops out of the region.
Kurilla would replace Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who is retiring after three years leading the command. McKenzie has overseen a tumultuous time in the region, with America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the dismantling of Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and escalating threats from Iran and its proxies as they launch more attacks against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and ships at sea.
Kurilla, who is currently the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, told the committee that after the hearing he was deploying to Germany as part of the US effort to reassure allies concerned about Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s borders.
Asked about the potential for repercussions in the Middle East of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kurilla said he believes that it could spill over into Syria, where Russia already has a military base and troops.
“If Russia does invade Ukraine they would not hesitate to be able to act as a spoiler in Syria as well,” said Kurilla, who previously served as a deputy at Central Command.
He added that the US doesn’t believe Russia wants to go to war with the United States.
On China, Kurilla said 18 of the 21 countries in the Central Command region have signed strategic agreements with Beijing, which has increased its development in the Middle East. The US, he said, has to be able to counter China there.
Senators quizzed Kurilla on efforts to monitor Al-Qaeda and Daesh extremists in Afghanistan, now that there are no longer US forces in the country. He said efforts continue to work with surrounding nations to set up “over-the-horizon” capabilities.
The US, which left Afghanistan at the end of August, has been struggling to negotiate with a number of countries in the region to allow overflights, basing or other intelligence gathering from within their borders. Military leaders say it is difficult to monitor extremist groups from afar because doing so requires long drone flights that allow limited surveillance time.
Asked about working with the Taliban, Kurilla said the US should take a pragmatic approach. He said the Taliban also views the Daesh group as an enemy, so that may be a potential area of agreement. He also said the US must find ways to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and that may involve Taliban help with food deliveries.
Kurilla graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1988, and has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanding conventional and special operations forces. He commanded a Stryker battalion in Iraq in 2004, and was shot and wounded.


Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
Updated 56 min 53 sec ago

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
  • Indirect talks in Qatar's capital between Iran and US on reviving 2015 nuclear deal concluded with no progress
  • Iran says a deal could still be reached

TEHRAN: Iran insisted Thursday that a revived nuclear agreement with major powers remains achievable despite a negative US assessment of two-way talks in Qatar intended to reboot the stalled negotiations.
The US State Department said the EU-brokered proximity talks in the Qatari capital Doha had concluded late Wednesday with “no progress made.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the talks had been “positive” and a deal could still be reached.
“We are determined to continue negotiating until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who hosted the indirect talks.
“Our assessment of the recent round of talks in Doha is positive,” he said.
“I insist on the fact that we are making serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
“An accord is achievable if the United States is realistic.”
The two days of talks, in which EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to reboot wider negotiations between Iran and major powers in Vienna which have been stalled since March.
The talks aim to bring the United States back into a 2015 deal jettisoned by the Donald Trump administration in 2018 by lifting the sweeping economic sanctions he imposed in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with the limits set on its nuclear activities.
Washington has “made clear our readiness to quickly conclude and implement a deal on mutual return to full compliance,” the US State Department spokesperson said after the talks wrapped up in Qatar.
“Yet in Doha, as before, Iran raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”
Differences between Tehran and Washington have notably included Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.
The talks in Doha came just two weeks before US President Joe Biden makes his first official visit to the region, with trips to Iran foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials. (File/AFP)
Updated 54 min 18 sec ago

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
  • Madbouly arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening
  • Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials on the advancement of political and economic relations between the two countries during his two-day visit.

Madbouly and the high-level ministerial delegation accompanying him arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening to head the eighth session of the joint higher committee between the two countries.

Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly, expressing Algeria’s pride in the strong relations with Egypt and its keenness to strengthen cooperation with the country.

It is expected that the visit will comprise meetings with senior Algerian officials and will see the signing of a number of memoranda of understanding between the two sides, especially in the oil and housing sectors. The Egyptian-Algerian Business Leaders’ Forum will also be held to review investment and trade opportunities available in the two countries.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune paid an official visit to Egypt last January, during which he met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Tebboune said that his talks with the Egyptian president “presented an opportunity to address economic cooperation” and facilitate investment between the two countries.

At the beginning of this month, Algeria and Egypt agreed on the need to transform their historical relations into “reciprocal partnerships” in the oil sector.

This came during official talks between the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines Mohammed Arkab and the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla, which took place through a remote meeting.


Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group
Updated 30 June 2022

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group
  • Five activists face up to four-year jail terms for engaging in constitutional rights

LONDON: Iranian authorities are facing pressure from a leading human rights NGO to quash the convictions of five activists who face up to four years in prison for filing a complaint against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mehdi Mahmoudian and Mostafa Nili were each sentenced to four-year jail terms and two-year bans from media appearances, while Arash Keykhosravi, Mohammadreza Faghili, and Maryan Afrafaraz face two years, one year, and 95 days in prison respectively.
Human Rights Watch is calling for their release amid a broader crackdown on political activism by the Tehran regime.
Tara Sepehri Far, a senior Iran researcher at HRW, said: “Sending human rights defenders to prison for attempting to hold the government accountable for its dismal mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis is sadly an unsurprising outcome in Iran.
“Iranian judicial authorities seem more concerned with protecting the state from scrutiny than delivering justice for ordinary people.”
The convictions follow the August 2021 arrests of seven human rights defenders, four of whom are lawyers, as they prepared to file the complaint in the court under Iranian law over the authorities’ mismanagement of the pandemic response.
Under article 34 of the Iranian Constitution, “it is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to a competent court” with articles 170 and 173 stating every citizen has the right to complain before a court when the government’s rules and regulations conflict with laws or norms.
The country’s national pandemic task force was specifically identified in their complaint, with the health minister and other officials also facing the scrutiny of the activists.
Of the seven arrested, Leila Heydari and Mohammad Hadi Erfanian, both lawyers, were released without charge after a few hours, with the rest facing charges including “establishing an illegal group” and “propaganda against the state.”
Mahmoudian is already serving a four-year prison sentence he received on what HRW calls “politically motivated” charges of “propaganda against the state,” and “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”
These charges were brought for his support for victims of state repression including for calling for a vigil for the victims of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020.
Sepehri Far added: “Human rights defenders in Iran should be able to carry out their peaceful activities without fear of state reprisal.”
Despite being hit by more than 140,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, Iranian authorities initially banned procuring vaccines produced in the US and Britain, choosing instead to prioritize and promote the production of a domestic vaccine with substantial government resources.


Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
  • Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs support former Conservative cabinet ministers urging changes to the new draft agreement

LONDON: Three former British cabinet ministers are set to warn that a renegotiated Iran nuclear deal would destabilize the Middle East, in a warning shot to government support for the agreement.

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, and former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb are all backing a motion to be debated in Parliament that lists a string of proposed changes to the draft they say will impede Tehran’s drive towards nuclear weapons.

The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity and taking a tougher approach to policing Iran’s “destabilizing” activities.

The motion to be debated today states: “This House expresses grave concern at the imminent prospect of a nuclear armed Iran; calls on the Government in its ongoing negotiations in respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement to seek to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, and expand its scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities in the region.”

The Tory MPs and supporters from opposition parties Labour and the Liberal Democrats are understood to be concerned by the current reworked agreement, which remains subject to negotiations, and is looking to replace the 2015 deal that the US withdrew from under former President Donald Trump.

That original Iran nuclear deal, termed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed with the UK, the US, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU, and saw Tehran agree to curb its nuclear development in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Jenrick said: “The JCPOA was an inadequate response to Iran’s nuclear programme back in 2015. Why would we return to the deal when it has singularly failed to curtail Iran’s uranium enrichment?

“At this critical juncture, the West urgently needs to change tack in its strategy. Weakly tolerating Iran’s aggression and flagrant breaches out of fear of talks collapsing has led us down a dangerous path. It is time for a more robust approach, reimposing snapback sanctions on Iran and tightening the economic screw until Iran is willing to countenance serious proposals.”

He added: “The UK should follow in the footsteps of the US and proscribe the Iranian revolutionary guards corps a terrorist organisation.”


UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
Updated 30 June 2022

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
  • There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria

DUBAI: The UAE has dispatched a plane carrying 52 metric tons of food supplies to support Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria, Emirates news agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.

The aid comes as part of efforts “to alleviate the humanitarian impact faced by Ukrainian refugees” in nearby countries, the statement read.

There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, the UAE sent a plane carrying 27 tons of food and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Since the outset of the war in Ukraine, the country has dispatched six planes to Poland and Moldova, carrying 156 tons of food and medical aid and ambulances, as part of a $5m donation.