Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
Robert Malley, US special envoy for Iran, waits to testify about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2022

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.

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey
Updated 15 August 2022

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

ATHENS: Greek police said on Monday afternoon they had located 38 Syrian refugees in the Lavara area of Evros, among them one pregnant woman and seven children.

The refugees had been trapped for days on a small islet in the Evros river along the border between Greece and Turkey, according to media reports and activists.

Greece had said on Sunday that after repeated searches it had not located any people on the islet that was outside Greek territory and had alerted Turkish authorities over the issue. The Turkish Interior Ministry declined comment.

On Monday, Greek police said the refugees were located in the Greek area of Lavara approximately four kilometers (2.5 miles) south of the coordinates of their initially reported position.

“Since they were located, Greek police forces and other government services have rushed to their aid, to provide health care, food and water and to transfer them to an area of temporary accommodation,” police said in a statement.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Twitter that they were in good condition and the pregnant woman was being transferred to hospital out of precaution. Greek police had also found a boat near them, he said.

Earlier, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity and other organizations had called for the immediate evacuation of 39 refugees from the islet.

The IRC said that among them was a nine-year old girl in a critical condition. It also cited media reports saying that her five-year-old sister had died after a scorpion had stung her and that the refugees had tried to reach the Greek mainland but had been pushed back.

“This latest situation at the Evros border highlights the brutality of pushbacks, which we know are taking place at borders across Europe,” said Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director.

Greek authorities have not confirmed the information cited by IRC and have repeatedly denied forcibly repelling refugees or migrants at border points. 

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants
Updated 15 August 2022

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities said on Monday they intercepted or rescued more than 650 migrants trying to reach Europe by sea at the weekend, the latest of numerous such cases in the past two months.

Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 140 km from Tunisia’s east coast.

In total, 657 people were rescued or prevented from trying to cross in 46 separate incidents between Friday and Monday, maritime and military officials said.

The coast guard thwarted 10 attempted crossings on Sunday night, bringing ashore 156 would-be migrants, the National Guard said in a statement Monday.

Two-thirds of them were from sub-Saharan Africa and the rest were Tunisians.

The previous night, the National Guard said it had foiled 11 other attempts, preventing 219 people from migrating, including 113 from sub-Saharan African countries.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zekri, meanwhile, said that 42 Egyptians who had set sail from Libya were rescued on Sunday off Kerkennah, central Tunisia, after their boat sank and they took refuge on an oil platform.

After a similar incident in the same zone the previous weekend, 10 Tunisian migrants were feared to have drowned while 20 were saved.

Tunisian authorities also said 15 members of a family from Hammamet in central Tunisia, including five women and four small children, were prevented from heading out to sea on Friday night.

They had paid around 50,000 dinars ($15,900) for a boat, two motors and life jackets, a security source told Mosaique FM radio.

Also on Friday, the National Guard said 225 migrants were intercepted in 23 attempted crossings from different points on Tunisia’s coast.

Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
Updated 15 August 2022

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
  • Turkey will continue to temporarily provide security in some northwestern territories in Syria if they normalize bilateral relations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s revelation that he met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad last October on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit hinted at the possibility of Ankara and Damascus seeking political rapprochement after 11 years of a rupture in ties. 

Cavusoglu reportedly talked with his counterpart in Serbia’s capital Belgrade about the need to come to terms with the opposition and the Assad regime in Syria for a lasting peace. 

The Turkish foreign minister emphasized that his country supported Syria’s territorial integrity as “the border integrity, territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us directly affect us.”

The pro-government Turkiye newspaper recently claimed that Assad and Erdogan may hold a telephone conservation after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed this during his recent meeting with Erdogan in Sochi. However, Cavusoglu denied rumors about any talks between the Syrian and Turkish presidents.

Having conducted four cross-border military operations in Syria since the start of civil war in 2011 to clear its border from terror groups, Turkey also has a significant military presence through observation posts in northern parts of the country. 

Since 2017, Turkey, Iran and Russia have come together through Astana meetings to try to bring the warring sides in Syria toward finding a permanent solution to the war. 

It is not a secret that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services have been communicating. 

However, as Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, the latest signs of a potential normalization of bilateral ties has angered opposition groups who held mass protests in several areas of northern Aleppo to demonstrate their objections, fearing renewed diplomatic contact with the Assad regime. 

Turkey’s bid for peace with the Assad regime might also have repercussions for the fate of more than 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey who have become a domestic politic issue due to the economic hardship the country is facing. 

Before the outbreak of the civil war, Turkey and Syria had close relationships at the top level, often exemplified by the famous summer holiday of Syrian President Bashar Assad with his family at Turkey’s Aegean resort town of Bodrum where he also met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2008. 

“Given the durability of the Assad regime, Ankara has to have a modus vivendi of sorts; in fact, it exists already at the level of intelligence agency chiefs,“ Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, told Arab News.  

“The political risk for President Erdogan of a rapid or warm reconciliation is incredibly high, though, so the understanding is likely to be incremental and limited,” Outzen said.  

According to Outzen, botching re-engagement would mean compromising the viability of the Turkish-protected safe zone, leading to a new waves of refugees, or inviting new massacres by Assad among populations Ankara wants to protect and to remain in place. 

“Yet the lack of a modus vivendi is also not sustainable over the long-term, because inevitably pressure will grow internationally and within Turkey for Turkish forces to have a pathway to withdrawal, even if the pathway is measured in multiple years,” he said. 

For that reason, Outzen thinks that fears of a rash or rapid reconciliation or re-engagement are overstated. 

“Putin, of course, pressures Erdogan to re-engage, but Erdogan will in my view resist any but the minimum measures to maintain his own freedom of maneuver in Syria,” he said. “As this week’s protests in the Safe Zone demonstrate, going too fast in this process can prompt a backlash among Syrians in northern Syria and perhaps ultimately in Turkey.” 

According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, while Turkey’s endgame in Syria is an Erdogan-Assad handshake, Ankara and Damascus are moving northwestern Syria into a frozen conflict.  

“I don’t think that an arrangement between Turkey and Syria will result in a complete reset of two countries borders and border affairs because many of the Syrians who live in the zones controlled by Turkish-backed forces have been already effectively cleansed by Assad, in some cases twice,” he told Arab News.

“There is zero chance that they would stay in Assad regime-controlled Syria if both leaders shake hands or make exchanges of territories,” he said. 

Cagaptay thinks that Turkey will recognize Assad’s sovereignty over the area, but will continue to temporarily provide security as well as law and order in some in northwestern territories in Syria, while also keeping millions of Sunni Arabs Assad does not want and has no interest in making full citizens again. 

“Assad may even come back to border stations with the Syrian republic flag and might begin to provide some of the social services,” he told Arab News. 

For Cagaptay, the big favor that Turkey is doing for Assad is keeping Syrians refugees inside the country and in northwest Syria under Turkish control, and not forcing them to return to Syria. 

“That is a huge favor to Assad because he used the war in Syria for ethnic engineering. Before the war, Sunni Arabs constituted over two-thirds of the Syrian population, but now they are under half. In return for that favor, Assad can propose to re-ingest the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG under his control. It is a good deal for Erdogan and Turkey,” he said.  

Turkey considers the YPG a national security threat and the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. 

For Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based analyst, the possibility of re-engagement with the Assad regime will be used for domestic consumption ahead of the approaching election term scheduled for June 2023 at a time of deepening economic turmoil in Turkey.

“There is significant external pressure to make this reconciliation happen, while the economic burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees inside Turkey and the rising cost of deploying military officers to the observation posts in Syria also make this issue financially important for the internal dynamics,” he told Arab News. 

Turkey has about 5,000 troops within the areas it controls in Syria, along with some 8,000 soldiers around rebel-held Idlib province, whose maintenance is costing Ankara billions of dollars and risks confrontations with Assad and foreign powers over territory violation. 

“Although the rapprochement cannot happen overnight, it is significant that the ruling government as well as the opposition parties have begun discussing it,” Sezer said. 

Erdogan recently hinted at a fresh operation into Syria to create a 30 km-deep safe zone from the border to push back Kurdish militants, but any military activity does not look imminent following several warnings from regional powers.

Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Updated 15 August 2022

Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
  • Israeli warplanes targeted sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus on Sunday

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday condemned “the recent Israeli attack on Syria, and the Israeli enemy’s use of the Lebanese airspace to bomb Syrian territory.”

The previous evening, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported: “Israeli planes bombed sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus, via the Lebanese airspace.”

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry warned of “the consequences of this aggressive behavior and the continuous violation of Lebanese sovereignty in a flagrant breach of international law and treaties.” It added that it “will file a complaint to the (UN) Security Council.”

Israeli airforce jets fly over Beirut while Lebanese parliament members were meeting in downtown Beirut to elect a new president. (AFP file photo)

Aug. 12 marked the 16th anniversary of the approval of UN Resolution 1701, which was designed to end hostilities following Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006.

Marking the anniversary, Fouad Siniora, who was Lebanon’s prime minister at the time, said: “Resolution 1701 protected Lebanon and settled the issue of sovereignty in the south in favor of the Lebanese state in the face of the aggressions and ambitions of the Israeli enemy.

“The implementation of Resolution 1701, 16 years ago, stopped the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, preceded by the unanimous decision adopted by the Lebanese Cabinet based on the National Accord document, the constitution and the seven points document regarding the deployment of the Lebanese army in the entire south, after being prohibited from doing so for more than 30 years.”

Siniora added that the Resolution 1701 “confirmed Resolution 1559 in preventing illegal weapons on Lebanese soil, and Resolution 1680 calling for the demarcation of the borders of Lebanon.”

He recalled the great support his country had received at the time from the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, to help rebuild in record time the infrastructure and public facilities that had been destroyed by Israel.

Siniora also accused Hezbollah, without explicitly naming the group, of “seeking to cause more trouble for the Lebanese and the state, including implicating Lebanon in military confrontations and risks that Lebanon cannot confront or bear.”

The condemnation by Lebanese authorities of Sunday’s Israeli attack coincided with visit to Syria on Monday by Issam Sharafeddine, the Lebanese caretaker minister of the displaced. He was leading a ministry delegation in discussions with Syrian authorities about the repatriation of refugees who have been living in Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war.

He met a number of Syrian officials, including Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf and Interior Minister Mohammed Khalid Al-Rahmoun. The two sides reportedly discussed a plan for the return of Syrian refugees to their home country in “a safe and dignified” way.

Makhlouf said: “Syria’s doors are open for the refugees’ return and the state is ready to provide them with everything they need, from transportation to hospitalization and education. Syrian authorities will secure water and electricity to the liberated areas and will provide shelters for those whose homes have not been rebuilt yet.”

Authorities in Lebanon want 15,000 Syrian refugees to return home each month, a target that will require the cooperation of the Syrian government. The Lebanese government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including 880,000 who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with others who have entered the country, legally or illegally, to work.

The Lebanese government has complained about the “weak” financial aid provided by the UN in comparison to the country’s needs in light of the severe economic crisis it has been grappling with for more than three years.

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands
Updated 15 August 2022

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands
  • The US will provide its views on the EU's final draft to save the nuclear deal privately, Price said

LONDON: The only way to achieve a mutual return to the Iran nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon its “extraneous demands,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.

He added that “if Iran cannot accept a mutual return to the JCPOA, the US is equally prepared to continue vigorous enforcement of our sanctions.”

Price also said the US will provide its views on the European Union’s final draft to save the nuclear deal privately and directly to the bloc’s High Representative Josep Borrell.

Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that Tehran expects a revived agreement on its nuclear program in the next few days.

Hossein Amirabdollahian said three outstanding issues were holding up a new deal but he expected the US to show flexibility in resolving them.