Archive for August 7, 2018

Iran sanctions: Trump warns trading partners

August 7, 2018

By BBC News Staff – August 7, 2018

Source Link: Iran sanctions: Trump warns trading partners

Time is running out for Iran and waiting for the next US presidential election is not an option. – LS}

US President Donald Trump has issued a strong warning to anyone trading with Iran, following his re-imposition of sanctions on the country.

“Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” the president tweeted.

Some re-imposed sanctions took effect overnight and tougher ones relating to oil exports will begin in November.

Iran’s president said the measures were “psychological warfare” which aimed to “sow division among Iranians”.

The sanctions follow the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, earlier this year.

The deal, negotiated during the presidency of Barack Obama, saw Iran limit its controversial nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Mr Trump has called the deal “one-sided”, “disastrous” and the “worst I’ve ever seen”. He believes renewed economic pressure will force Iran to agree to a new deal.

The European Union, which remains committed to the original agreement, has spoken out against the sanctions, vowing to protect firms doing “legitimate business” with Iran.

What else did Mr Trump say in his latest tweet?

He praised the “most biting sanctions ever imposed” and said they would “ratchet up to another level” in November.

“I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” he said.

On Monday he had said that Iran faced a choice to “either change its threatening, destabilising behaviour and reintegrate with the global economy, or continue down a path of economic isolation”.

“I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile programme and its support for terrorism,” he said.

What are the sanctions?

Mr Trump signed an executive order that brought sanctions back into place at 00:01 EDT (04:01 GMT) on Tuesday. They target:

  • The purchase or acquisition of US banknotes by Iran’s government
  • Iran’s trade in gold and other precious metals
  • Graphite, aluminium, steel, coal and software used in industrial processes
  • Transactions related to the Iranian rial currency
  • Activities relating to Iran’s issuance of sovereign debt
  • Iran’s automotive sector

A second phase is planned to come back into effect on 5 November which will have implications for Iran’s energy and shipping sectors, petroleum trading and transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

What has the reaction been?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the US government had “turned their back on diplomacy”.

“They want to launch psychological warfare against the Iranian nation.” he said. “Negotiations with sanctions doesn’t make sense. We are always in favour of diplomacy and talks… but talks need honesty.”

The foreign ministers of Germany, the UK and France released a statement on Monday that said the nuclear deal remained “crucial” to global security.

They also unveiled a “blocking statute”, which is intended to protect European firms doing business with Iran despite the new US sanctions.

Alistair Burt, the UK’s minister of state for the Middle East, told the BBC: “If a company fears legal action taken against it and enforcement action taken against it by an entity in response to American sanctions, then that company can be protected as far as EU legislation is concerned.”

He said Iran would simply “batten down the hatches” until the next US election.

However, German car and lorry maker Daimler, which announced a joint venture in Iran last year, confirmed this week that it has now ceased activities in the country.

How will Iran’s economy be affected?

Iran has already seen unrest since last December over a poorly-performing economy.

Rising food prices, unemployment and even poor water supplies have led to protests in a number of cities.

Demonstrations in Tehran in June were said to be the capital’s biggest since 2012.

How much they are tied to the new US sanctions policy is hard to determine, but one definite link is the effect on Iran’s currency. It lost around half of its value after Mr Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Iran acted by easing its foreign exchange rules on Sunday, and the rial has strengthened by 20% since then.

Iranians have been hoarding gold as a safeguard, pushing it to a record high in Tehran.

The sanctions may bite hardest in November, when the US blocks Iranian oil sales.

This could halt about half of Iran’s exports of some two million barrels a day, although Iran may look to China and Russia to keep its industry afloat.

The International Monetary Fund said in March that Iran’s net official reserves could decline this year to $97.8bn, which would finance about 13 months of imports. And analysts at BMI Research say Iran’s economy could contract by 4.3% in 2019.

However, Barbara Slavin, of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told the Wall Street Journal that when sanctions hit hard, it often means ordinary people become “totally dependent” on their government and so sanctions do not tend to topple regimes.

What do young Iranians think

As the first tranche of new US sanctions kicks in, young Iranians have been sharing their stories with BBC Persian. Many are already feeling the effects, as the economy had slowed down in anticipation of what was to come.

“I used to work in marketing for a home appliance manufacturer,” said Peyman. “I lost my job as the company can’t import the components.”

Aerospace engineer Ali lost his job of 13 years because his company couldn’t import equipment.

“Now I’m working as a taxi driver to feed my family,” he said. Many people say they’re no longer being paid on time and are finding it hard to make ends meet.

A construction worker, also called Ali, said he hadn’t been paid for 13 months. Omid, a doctor, was doing overtime to pay the rent and save up to get married.

Many people said they were losing hope. Sama said falling exchange rates meant her monthly salary was now worth half what it was six months ago.

“Buying a house or a nice car is like a dream now, she said. “Even buying a good mobile phone soon will be impossible for people like me.”

Netanyahu praises Trump for reimposing sanctions on Iran

August 7, 2018

Source: Netanyahu praises Trump for reimposing sanctions on Iran – Israel Hayom

Cabinet minister says ‘good chance’ Iran will renegotiate nuclear deal

August 7, 2018

Source: Cabinet minister says ‘good chance’ Iran will renegotiate nuclear deal | The Times of Israel

Gilad Erdan slams ‘morally bankrupt’ EU for trying to salvage accord; Israeli intelligence community said optimistic that new sanctions will force major change in Tehran

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad  Erdan attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday praised the US for reimposing tough sanctions on Iran that brought back into effect the harsh penalties lifted under the Iran nuclear deal.

“It would be better if the Iranian regime would disappear entirely from this world, but it would also be a blessing to see Obama’s bad nuclear agreement replaced with a better one,” he told Israel Radio. US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in May.

“In my opinion, there is a good chance of that,” said Erdan, who also heads the Strategic Affairs Ministry. “We can already see positive results from what Trump did.”

Erdan criticized the European Union for trying to salvage the deal by ensuring that economic benefits guaranteed under the 2015 accord continue to flow to the country.

“The EU is morally bankrupt, and we need to remember that next time they try to lecture us,” Erdan said. The EU, along with China, Russia, France, Germany and the UK, was also a signatory to the deal and has not withdrawn.

In Israel, the reimposition of US sanctions was lauded as a historic turning point that could ultimately lead to the Islamic Republic’s downfall.

On Tuesday, Israel Radio quoted an unnamed senior official who said the Israeli intelligence community was optimistic the sanctions would lead to major changes in Iran and force Tehran to renegotiate the deal.

US President Donald J. Trump signs an Executive Order on Iran Sanctions in the Green Room at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“We would like to see a change in policy, but there is no way of knowing how long that will take,” the official said.

“The only hammer available right now is economic, and using that, there is a good change Iran will fall to its knees,” he said. “Right now Iran is weak and hysterical.”

The new sanctions on Iran took effect just after midnight in Washington on Tuesday as part of Trump’s withdrawal from the international accord designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump signed an executive order restoring the penalties on Monday, which he said would put “maximum economic pressure” on the country. The sanctions affect financial transactions that involve US dollars, Iran’s automotive sector, the purchase of commercial planes and metals including gold.

A second batch of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector and central bank are to be reimposed in early November.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic Republic, and called on European nations to follow his lead.

“It symbolizes the determination to curb Iran’s regional aggression and its ongoing plans to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a video released Monday.

A group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 25, 2018. Protesters in the Iranian capital swarmed its historic Grand Bazaar on Monday, news agencies reported, and forced shopkeepers to close their stalls in apparent anger over the Islamic Republic’s troubled economy, months after similar demonstrations rocked the country. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

On Monday, the European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc, as well as Britain, France and Germany, deeply regretted Washington’s move.

“We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran,” she said in a statement.

Many large European firms are leaving Iran for fear of US penalties, and Trump warned of “severe consequences” against firms and individuals that continued to do business with Iran.

The impact of the return of sanctions has ramped up tensions inside Iran, which has seen days of protests and strikes in multiple towns and cities over water shortages, high prices and wider anger at the political system.

Severe reporting restrictions have made it impossible to verify the swirl of claims coming through social media.

Agencies contributed to this report.

IDF shells Gaza post after soldiers come under fire; 2 Hamas men said killed 

August 7, 2018

Source: IDF shells Gaza post after soldiers come under fire; 2 Hamas men said killed | The Times of Israel

Hamas military wing says both dead men were members; 6 other Palestinians said wounded in latest violence on Gaza border

An Israeli army tank patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

An Israeli army tank patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

An IDF tank shelled a Hamas post on Tuesday, reportedly killing two Hamas fighters, after shots were fired from there at Israeli soldiers patrolling the Gaza Strip border.

“In response to terrorists shooting at IDF forces in the northern Gaza Strip, an IDF tank attacked the position belonging to the Hamas terror group where the attack originated,” the army said. “There were no casualties to our forces.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said two Palestinian were killed in the strike. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said both Palestinians were members of the group, and identified them as Ahmad Marjan and Abd al-Hafiz al-Silawi, both 23.

Another six were injured in the Israeli strike, Palestinian media reported.

The IDF released footage showing the Hamas men firing on the soldiers and the shell hitting the post.

The latest IDF strike in Gaza came amid reports that Israel and Hamas could be nearing a truce that would see a halt in the cross-border attacks and the easing of the blockade of the Strip.

On Monday, two Palestinians were injured in an Israeli airstrike targeting a group launching flaming balloons into southern Israel.

Incendiary balloons and flaming kites launched by Gazans have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding Gaza since April, sparking fires that have scorched thousands of acres of farmlands and countryside.

Hamas’s political leadership met on Monday with top officials in its military to discuss its preparedness for battle with Israel, according to a report in the Ynet news site, highlighting the group’s skepticism of reaching a long-term ceasefire.

The meeting came a day after Israeli political and military brass huddled for several hours, but did not release any concrete decisions. Following the meeting, a statement from the cabinet said “the IDF is prepared for any scenario.” It gave no indication if any decision on the truce had been made.

A brushfire near Kibbutz Re’im east of the Gaza border, July 25, 2018. (Courtesy Fire and Rescue Services Southern District)

Palestinian sources told Ynet that the Hamas meeting took place in response to the Israeli statement and that Hamas leaders warned they could inflict casualties that the Israeli public and government would not be able to tolerate.

A senior Hamas source in Gaza said he was unaware of the meeting.

Hamas, a terror group that officially seeks Israel’s destruction, is the de facto ruler of the Strip.

Earlier Monday, the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, reported that the first stage of the potential truce would see Israel fully reopen the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. It added that in return, Hamas official said the Strip’s rulers would commit to halting all attacks against Israel.

The second phase of the deal would include Hamas-Israel talks for a prisoner exchange agreement, and the implementation of long-proposed humanitarian projects in Gaza, the report said.

Despite US sanctions, Tehran steps up quest for dialogue with Trump administration – DEBKAfile

August 7, 2018

Source: Despite US sanctions, Tehran steps up quest for dialogue with Trump administration – DEBKAfile

A key sentence signaled Tehran’s quest for diplomacy in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s bitter diatribe over re-imposed sanctions on Monday, Aug. 6: ”The US must first prove itself willing to solve problems through negotiations after its withdrawal from the JCPOA,” he said

Rouhani spoke in a televised address to the nation hours before the devastating US sanctions went to effect, calling them “psychological warfare against the Iranian nation to create divisions among the people.”

That key sentence, say DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, represented the burden of the reply secret Iranian agents have been carrying to Washington in past weeks. Even in the face of the economic chaos created by the looming sanctions, the Iranians have been seeking terms for direct or indirect talks with the US on a renegotiated nuclear deal.

Our sources report that Washington has neither rejected these feelers nor given Tehran a clear go-ahead – as White House did before Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un last month. The Americans may be waiting for the sanctions to take full effect before agreeing to sit down formally with the Iranians.

Intelligence source: Mossad assassinated Syrian scientist

August 7, 2018

Source: Intelligence source: Mossad assassinated Syrian scientist – International news – Jerusalem Post

A Middle Eastern intelligence official told the “New York Times” that he believed the reason for the assassination was Asbar’s involvement in Syria’s missile program.

BY YVETTE J. DEANE
 AUGUST 7, 2018 08:55
Syrian medical staff take part in training exercise to learn how to treat victims of chemical weapon

The Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency,  was responsible for the assassination of Syrian scientist Dr. Aziz Asbar in a car bomb on Saturday, a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official told The New York Times.

The official confirmed this incident, along with three other assassinations on foreign soil in a report published in the Times on  Monday.

The Middle Eastern intelligence official added that he believed the reason for the assassination was Asbar’s involvement in Syria’s missile program, even before the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.

While Syria and Hezbollah quickly pointed fingers at the Jewish State, Israel, which does not respond to foreign media reports, had no comment on the assassination.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman downplayed the possibility of Israeli involvement, telling Channel 2 news that, “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores. Every time they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”

“Assuming that he was indeed involved in terrorist activity, I welcome his departure from the world,” said Intelligence Minister Israel Katz regarding the New York Times report, in an interview with Army radio Tuesday.

However, according to the intelligence source, the Mossad had been tracking Asbar for a long time.

Dr. Aziz Asbar, one of the directors of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), was killed along with his personal driver as they left Asbar’s home.

According to Hezbollah’s al-Manar news site, Asbar headed Department 4 at the center, which focuses on the development of all of Syria’s ballistic missile and rocket programs. The department is also in charge of Institute 4000 which has several chemical-weapons programs.

Asbar was involved in the manufacturing of chemical weapons including Sarin gas, despite Syria agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, according to Western officials,

Israeli officials have raised concerns in the past about the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah.

Israel reportedly struck the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center several times, most recently on July 22, when Arab media reported that Israeli jets hit the one of the center’s arms production sites.

Israel is also believed to have struck the presumed base of the Syrian Arab Army’s secretive Unit 450, a branch of the Center which works on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program. Western intelligence agencies and Syrian opposition figures alleged that Unit 450 had been dispersing chemical weapons stockpiles around the country, as well as to Hezbollah.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report. 

Has Europe become an Iranian tool to circumvent U.S. sanctions? 

August 7, 2018

Source: Has Europe become an Iranian tool to circumvent U.S. sanctions? – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Comment: Europe loses its moral compass… again

BY CHARLES BYBELEZER/THE MEDIA LINE
 AUGUST 7, 2018 08:33

One could not be faulted for assuming that the leaders of a self-defined progressive continent, on which the worst genocide in modern history was perpetrated only decades ago, would be more predisposed to siding with the United States, the world’s foremost purveyor and guarantor of freedom, than with Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism which repeatedly has vowed to finish off Hitler’s work by eradicating the lone Jewish state.

But one would nevertheless be wrong.

On Monday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in conjunction with the top diplomats of Britain, France and, for that matter, Germany, released a joint statement expressing “deep regret” over the re-imposition of American sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran,” the politicians wrote. “This is why the European Union’s updated Blocking Statute enters into force on 7 August to protect EU companies…from the impact of US extra-territorial sanctions.”

The “blocking statute”—a law enacted in one jurisdiction to obstruct the application of a law enacted in another jurisdiction—essentially prohibits EU firms from complying with US sanctions and provides mechanisms that allow businesses to recover any resulting damages while negating potential foreign court rulings against them.

For good measure, the EU committed to the “preservation and maintenance of effective financial channels with Iran, and the continuation of Iran’s export of oil and gas.”

The EU transformed itself into an Iranian tool after the Trump administration rejected its calls to receive exemptions from the new financial penalties; which, in turn, followed months of EU groveling to Tehran in the form of a “negotiating process” aimed at devising a sufficiently large bribe to entice the Islamic Republic to remain in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

All of this was precipitated when President Donald Trump in May defied the international community by withdrawing Washington from the atomic pact and vowed to reimpose sanctions on the Iranian regime. The first batch was set to come into effect at midnight Eastern Standard Time, barring Iran’s purchase of American dollars as well as its trade in gold and precious metals, among other things. A second installment targeting Tehran’s crucial energy and shipping sectors will take effect in November.

Since President Trump nixed the nuclear accord, Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost half of its value, a major reason for growing civil unrest in the country. Moreover, despite Brussels’ capitulation, European businesses have left the Iranian market en masse, placing tremendous stress on an already fragile economy.

And things are about to get worse for the regime, which continues to sow death and destruction via its proxies in Syria—where the Revolutionary Guard Corps has directed Bashar Assad’s annihilation of his own people—as well as in Iraq and Yemen. Iran is already the effective sovereign in what is known as Lebanon, projecting its rule through its Hezbollah underling that controls the government and armed forces.

While Iran has been on the march since agreeing to the 2015 nuclear accord—for which it received a windfall of about $100 billion—its situation has become increasingly precarious since President Trump assumed office. Now, with protests erupting nationwide and as its economy teeters on the verge of collapse, Tehran reportedly has been conducting back-channel negotiations with the White House through intermediaries in Oman.

On Sunday, Israeli media reported that President Trump may even meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani next month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

In other words, Iran’s back is up against the wall—precisely where it was before the Obama administration and the Europeans threw the mullahs a lifeline in the form of a grossly inadequate agreement that completely ignored Tehran’s past atomic activities and failed to rein in its regional expansionism and illicit ballistic missile program.

And just when the rogue nation is starting to feel the pain again, Europe is once more doing its utmost to bypass the U.S. and prop up the Mullahs.

Essentially, the EU has taken the side of Russia, China and North Korea, and for what?

Iran obviously is a big marketplace and the EU has destroyed its own financial clout through the implementation of socialist policies; but there is no question that the bloc can weather the storm, as was the case when sanctions previously were leveled against the Islamic Republic.

Perhaps, then, the EU fears that turning a blind eye for thirty years to the activities of Hezbollah on its soil may come back to haunt it. Indeed, it became evident last month that Iran’s malignancy has spread across the bloc, when an Iranian diplomat based in Austria was arrested for plotting a terror attack in France.

An equally persuasive argument, though, is that the EU is simply acting out of spite, out of great disdain for President Trump. There is no love-lost between Brussels and Washington, and the American leader has not held back from criticizing traditional U.S. allies.
But acting out of malice when the fate of millions of lives are at stake is the very definition of reckless.

Whereas Europe clearly has not learned the lessons of its past, at least today the U.S.’ moral compass seems intact. For its part, the Jewish people is again at the intersection of the boundaries of good and evil.

This time, it may be Israel that reminds Europe where the line is drawn.