Archive for August 25, 2018

Palestinians: ‘We will not surrender to U.S. blackmail’ 

August 25, 2018

Source: Palestinians: ‘We will not surrender to U.S. blackmail’ – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Saeb Erekat denounced the decision as “disgraceful” and accused the US administration of “meddling in the internal affairs of other people in an attempt to impact their national options.”

BY KHALED ABU TOAMEH
 AUGUST 25, 2018 17:25
PALESTINIANS CELEBRATE Nakba Day at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate in 2014

Palestinian officials on Saturday strongly condemned the US administration for its decision to cut more than $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians and said they will not surrender to “American blackmail.”

On Friday, a US official said that President Donald Trump had ordered the State Department to “redirect” the fundingfor programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to unspecified “high-priority projects elsewhere.”

According to the official, the decision took into account “the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat denounced the decision as “disgraceful” and accused the US administration of “meddling in the internal affairs of other people in an attempt to impact their national options.”

The financial aid, he said, was not a “favor to the Palestinians, but a due duty of the international community that bears responsibility for the continuation of the occupation, which is blocking the possibility of development and growth of the Palestinian economy and society.”

Erekat said that by slashing the funds, the US was “insisting on abandoning this international commitment, as it had previously abandoned its commitment to international resolutions, especially with regards to the issues of Jerusalem and refugees.”

Another senior PLO official, Hanan Ashrawi, accused the US administration of using “cheap blackmail as a political tool.”

The Palestinians and their leadership, she said, “will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”

Ashrawi said that there is “no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation.” The US administration, she charged, “has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources.”

She accused the US administration of exercising “economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”

Husam Zumlot, head of the PLO delegation to the US, also condemned the US decision and accused the Americans of “political blackmail.”

The US administration, he said, “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine. After Jerusalem and UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees), this is another confirmation of abandoning the two state solution and fully embracing [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s anti peace agenda.”

Zumlot said that “weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work. Only a recommitment from this administration to the long held US policy of achieving peace through the two state solution on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine and respecting international resolutions and law will provide a way forward.”

The Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s legislative body, said that the US decision was an extension of the “war of financial sanctions practised by the Trump administration against our people and their leadership” to force them to accept the US president’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.

“The American policy of blackmail and pressure will never succeed,” the PNC said in a statement. “The Palestinian people and their leadership are committed to the principles of our cause, first and foremost the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and the establishment of an independent and sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital. The dignity and rights of the people are not subject to bargain. The US administration is proving every day that it is in full partnership with the the Israeli occupation’s policies and crimes.”

Palestinians accuse US of ‘blackmail’ over aid cut

August 25, 2018

Source: Palestinians accuse US of ‘blackmail’ over aid cut | The Times of Israel

Abbas spokesman: Washington seeks to force us to abandon Jerusalem; PLO envoy blasts White House for ‘fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda’

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protestors hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protestors hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Top Palestinian officials accused the United States of engaging in “blackmail” following the State Department’s announcement Friday it would cut $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman said the US decision was meant to force the Palestinians to abandon their claim to Jerusalem.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the move was part of continuing political and financial pressure on the Palestinian leadership. He said the Americans must be fully aware that there will be no peace without East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state.

“This administration is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement.

He charged that following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decision to freeze funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, the decision was “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat called the move “a provocation” and “bullying” by Trump.

The move by the State Department was the ostensible result a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority that Trump ordered in January, following Palestinians’ boycott of the administration over the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as the decision to move the US embassy there.

Dr. Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s General Delegation to the US. (Courtesy)

This is not the first time Trump has cut longstanding aid bound to the Palestinians. It has also cut assistance to the UN relief agency for Palestinians, at a reported total of around $300 million.

Earlier this month, the administration released millions of dollars in frozen aid to the PA, but only for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, an administration source said.

“Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work,” Zumlot said.

“Only a recommitment from this administration to the long-held US policy of achieving peace through the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine and respecting international resolutions and law will provide a way forward,” he added.

Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks during a press conference on February 24, 2015 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Zumlot’s statement was echoed by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, who also accused the US of “cheap blackmail.”

“The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion,” she said in a statement. “There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation.”

“The US administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources,” Ashrawi continued.

“Now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”

The move was also criticized by some in the US, among them Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

“It is the Palestinian people, virtual prisoners in an increasingly volatile conflict, who will most directly suffer the consequences of this callous and ill-advised attempt to respond to Israel’s security concerns,” said Leahy, a Democrat.

The left-wing Middle East advocacy group J Street said Trump’s decision would “have a devastating impact on innocent women, children and families,” arguing that they were intended to “cruelly punish Palestinian civilians and marginalize and undercut Palestinian leadership.”

The funds withheld Friday are directed toward health and educational programs, as well as initiatives to make Palestinian governance more efficient. They are used both in the PA-administered West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Trump administration said the terror group’s control of Gaza was one of the main reasons it wanted to cease its aid to the coastal enclave.

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the State Department official said.

The official did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said it is more than $200 million that was approved in 2017. The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas or returned to the Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Washington’s withdrawal of the aid comes as Trump’s team tasked with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian accord is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy for Middle East peace Jason Greenblatt are expected to roll out the proposal in the near future, though they have provided no timetable for when that might happen.

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.

Under fire for economic hardships, Iranian president calls for unity

August 25, 2018

Source: Under fire for economic hardships, Iranian president calls for unity | The Times of Israel

With even his reformist base against him, Rouhani states ‘now not the time’ to lay blame, says ‘all efforts’ being made to improve economy

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for unity on Saturday in the face of criticism from all sides of his handling of an economic crisis and tensions with the United States.

“Now is not the time to unload our burdens on to somebody else’s shoulders. We must help each other,” Rouhani said in a televised speech at the shrine of late revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini.

“The country’s problems and resisting foreigners’ conspiracies is the responsibility of every one of us,” he said.

With rapidly rising food prices, a dramatic currency collapse and the reimposition of US sanctions after it abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal, many Iranians are in a bleak mood.

Much of his electoral base among reform-minded urbanites has lost faith in him, while working-class areas have seen months of sporadic strikes and protests that have occasionally turned violent.

Some of the most virulent criticism has come from the hardline religious establishment who long opposed Rouhani’s efforts to rebuild ties with the West.

On August 16, an image went viral of a protest by seminary students in the shrine city of Qom, at which one placard warned Rouhani would meet the same fate as former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was found dead in a swimming pool last year.

Rouhani sought to play down the differences, saying: “The clerical, religious institutions and the government are alongside each other.”

But he added a typically cryptic warning: “No one can walk into the sea and not expect to get his feet wet.”

Hardliners have been blamed for stoking economic protests that have sometimes turned against the Islamic system as a whole.

Rouhani still has the support of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who says he must remain in power to avoid further disorder.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader on April 30, 2018, shows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waving to the crowd as he delivers a speech during Labor Day. (AFP PHOTO / Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website / HO)

But Khamenei has also blamed government mismanagement, rather than foreign hostility, for the current crisis.

“We are aware of people’s pain, suffering and problems and all our efforts are geared at reducing these problems,” Rouhani pledged.

Since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran in May, the Iranian rial has slipped to record lows, which has consequently led many in the authoritarian country to explicitly call for an end to the rule of Iran’s Islamist leadership.

Protests have sprung up in several major cities including Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over the economy as well as wider anger at the political system.

Videos have shown demonstrators cry out against “the dictator” in reference to Khamenei.

The numerous protests are a continuation of sorts of a nationwide anti-government movement that started gaining ground in late December and continued protesting sporadically throughout the year.

On Thursday the EU announced a first financial support package to Iran of 18 million euros ($21 million), as part of the bloc’s commitment to keeping the nuclear deal alive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference following his meeting with Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis at the government’s headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, August 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday slammed the move, calling it a “big mistake” and saying it was like a “poison pill” for the Iranian people.

“Giving money to this regime, especially at this time, is a big mistake and it must be stopped. [The regime] isn’t going to use it to solve their water problems, it’s not going to help an Iranian truck driver,” he said. “After all, where is their money going? For missiles, and to the Revolutionary Guard. All countries need to act together to renew sanctions on Iran,” he said.

Where is the U.S.-Turkey crisis headed? 

August 25, 2018

Source: Where is the U.S.-Turkey crisis headed? – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

As Trump and Erdogan dig in, the chances that the two countries can return to a stable relationship is shrinking.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 AUGUST 24, 2018 20:15
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference

‘Turkey buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system would threaten the security of our F-35 aircraft and let Putin collect critical intelligence on us. We must pass my provision in the defense bill this week to block the F-35 delivery until Turkey ends its deal with Russia,” wrote US Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday.

His comments came a day after US National Security Adviser John Bolton, visiting Jerusalem, said that Ankara made a “big mistake” by not releasing US Pastor Andrew Brunson. “Every day that goes by, that mistake continues. This crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release pastor Brunson without condition.”

In Turkey the comments by Bolton were met with anger. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that Turkey’s judicial independence was being challenged by Washington.

“There is a rule of law in Turkey, and the Andrew Brunson case is a legal issue. There is an ongoing legal process related to this individual,” Kalin said.

Turkey and the US face their greatest diplomatic crisis in recent memory as both countries engage in a war of words that has also harmed the Turkish economy. Five years ago $1 was worth two lira. Now you can get six lira for the same dollar. In the last month the lira lost almost a quarter of its value against the dollar.

This has caused a crisis in Turkey, in which Qatar has now pledged $15 billion to support the Turkish economy, further tying Ankara and Doha together. It has also caused Turkey to strengthen its ties to Moscow. Over the last three years Turkey has increasingly grown closer to Moscow, Qatar and Iran on a variety of issues. But Ankara had hoped briefly that Donald Trump’s election in October 2016 would bring warmer relations.

The view from Ankara is that the US has been working with allies of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Syria. The PKK’s Syrian affiliate is named the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG has been the main force fighting ISIS in Syria since 2014, and the US helped the YPG push ISIS back from Kobani in 2015 and then began to work closely with the YPG in its rebranded form as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF liberated Raqqa last year, and the US is increasing its footprint in Syria, sending new special envoys and diplomatic staff, as well as securing hundreds of millions in assistance for stabilization from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

TURKEY’S CONDUIT to Trump’s White House was supposed to be Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. According to the BBC Ankara asked for Flynn’s help in getting a cleric named Fethullah Gulen deported from the US back to Turkey, where he faced charges connected to the 2016 coup attempt. But Flynn was fired by Trump and got snared in the Russia collusion investigation of Robert Mueller.

Erdogan flew to Washington in May 2017 to meet Trump. But the visit turned sour when Turkish security personnel were filmed beating up protesters next to the Turkish Embassy in an embarrassing and unprecedented incident. Things went downhill slowly from there.

Turkish officials repeatedly warned that Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies wanted to move on Manbij in northern Syria, a town held by the SDF east of the Euphrates. Instead, in January 2018, Turkey and its Syrian rebels invaded Afrin in northwestern Syria, a small Kurdish canton held by the YPG. This angered the SDF, which shifted forces from fighting ISIS and warned the Americans that they shouldn’t abandon their friends in Syria. After Turkey took Afrin in March 2018, it set its sights again on Manbij.

In June 2018 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Ankara and worked up a “road map” on Manbij with Ankara. There would be independent patrols around the town, with Turkish and US troops coordinating. These were supposed to lead to “joint patrols,” but in August Secretary of Defense James Mattis said there were more details to be ironed out.

The problems in Manbij were playing out against the larger dispute between Ankara and Washington. The pawn in this dispute became Brunson, who had been arrested in Turkey and accused of being connected to the coup plot.

“A fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted on April 17. “A total disgrace that Turkey will not release respected US Pastor,” he tweeted again on July 18.

According to a report on Ynet, Trump’s team sought out a deal with Ankara where Israel would release a Turkish woman detained for ties to Hamas, in exchange for Brunson. She was released and flew back to Turkey on July 15. But although Brunson was let out to house arrest on July 25, he wasn’t released. Trump, apparently feeling betrayed, announced a doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminum on August 10.

Since then the Turkish economy has been damaged. Average Turks have taken to the Internet to express anger, bashing iPhones, cutting up dollars and encouraging Muslims around the world to support the lira as a form of religious support for Turkey. This is part of the current mood in Ankara that is increasingly one that views the world through the lens of political Islam.

But at the same time that Turkey asserts that the charges against Brunson are just an “independent” judicial issue, a report on The Wall Street Journal website claimed on August 20 that Ankara had proposed freeing the pastor in exchange for the end of a US investigation into a Turkish bank. Probably the story is more complex than that. Turkey also wants Gulen deported. The fact that two “deals” regarding Brunson were reportedly in the works seems to indicate that the story of “judicial independence” is not entirely rock solid. Turkey is willing to negotiate. That calls into question what exact evidence there is regarding Brunson.

The Trump administration has made Brunson the centerpiece of its policy, as opposed to discussing wider issues such as why Turkey is buying the S-400 from Russia and Turkey’s role in Syria.

US media have begun to discuss whether the NATO alliance with Turkey is beneficial. “Time for Turkey and NATO to go their separate ways,” reads a piece in The Washington Post. Another piece at Foreign Policy says “Trump is the first president to get Turkey right.” The rift was already there, says The National Interest. Indeed, the rift has been growing for more than a decade since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Turkey rejected a proposal to base US troops on its soil.

The problem with the Trump administration’s crackdown on Turkey relations is that it could be reversed easily if the pastor is released. It could also change dramatically when Trump leaves office, as the next US administration will seek to do the opposite of everything Trump did.

In US foreign policy circles, there is a vibrant pro-Turkey lobby that argues for “engagement” with Ankara, that worries that any pressure from the US will result in Turkey’s growing embrace of Iran and Russia. It sees the SDF as a temporary ally, a group that was convenient when fighting ISIS but which can be quietly abandoned in the next few years, as Washington maneuvers back to Ankara, which is seen as a 70-year ally since the start of the Cold War.

These voices ignore Turkey’s own agency and independent policy. They don’t see Turkey as a full-fledged country making its own choices. They see it as only reacting to whatever the US is doing.

But Turkey’s crackdown on the press and frequent outbursts in Ankara harshly slamming various European countries or the US are not just reactions; they represent a growing Turkish national wand religious consensus.

Trump could make a deal, but the long-term relationship will likely remain unstable.

Off Topic: Trump calls off Pompeo North Korea trip, blasts China 

August 25, 2018

Source: Trump calls off Pompeo North Korea trip, blasts China | The Times of Israel

US president instructs top diplomat to delay visit to Pyongyang, claims Beijing stalling denuclearization efforts due to emerging trade war with Washington

US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump said Friday he has directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a planned trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization.

Trump put some blame on Beijing, saying he does not believe China is helping “because of our much tougher Trading stance.”

The surprise announcement appeared to mark a concession by the president to domestic and international concerns that his prior claims of world-altering progress on the peninsula had been strikingly premature.

“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted Friday, barely two months after his June meeting with the North’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

Trump’s comment followed a report issued Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining “grave concern” about the North’s nuclear program. It came a day after Pompeo appointed Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with the Ford Motor Co., to be his special envoy for North Korea and said he and Biegun would visit next week.

US President Donald Trump, right, listens to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during press conference after a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

The State Department never confirmed details of the trip, but it had been expected that Pompeo would be in Pyongyang for at least several hours Monday, according to several diplomatic sources familiar with the plan.

White House officials did not immediately comment on what prompted Trump to call off Pompeo’s trip. The State Department had no immediate comment on the matter and referred questions to the White House.

Trump laid unspecified blame on China, North Korea’s leading trade partner, which is widely believed to hold the greatest sway over Kim’s government.

The US and China have been locked in a trade dispute for months, with each side ratcheting up tariffs on imports from the other country in what may be the opening salvos of a trade war.

Trump tweeted that “Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved.” He added: “In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”

After more a year of escalating tensions defined by nuclear and missile tests, new sanctions and “fire and fury” rhetoric, Trump made history meeting Kim earlier this year. In the run-up to the summit both nations engaged in hard-nosed negotiation, with Trump publically calling off the meeting in an effort to push Kim to agree to nuclear concessions. During the summit, the pair signed a vague joint statement in which the North agreed to denuclearize, but which left nearly all details undefined.

“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump declared on Twitter after the meeting.

“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem,” he added. “No longer – sleep well tonight!”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Pool/Andy Wong)

Pompeo would have been hard pressed to return from Pyongyang with anything resembling progress on the denuclearization front.

Although it has halted nuclear and missile testing and taken some unrelated steps — dismantling portions of a missile engine facility and returning the suspected remains of American servicemen killed during the Korean War — its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile development remain intact, according the UN’s atomic watchdog and intelligence agencies.

In addition, recent statements from North Korean officials have ruled out any new concessions until it sees a reciprocal gesture from the US beyond suspending military exercises with South Korea. North Korea has been demanding that the U.S. ease or lift crippling sanctions — something Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have flatly ruled out until the its nuclear program is fully and verifiably dismantled.

Other than sanctions relief, the North, backed by South Korea, has been seeking a declaration of the end of the Korean War. The conflict stopped with the signing of an armistice rather than a peace treaty, meaning the war is not technically over. Both the North and South have vowed to end the open state of hostilities, and Seoul had been hoping to persuade the Trump administration to sign off on a non-binding end-of-war declaration as a goodwill gesture that would give Kim Jong Un domestic cover to proceed with denuclearization moves.

Pompeo and other administration officials have suggested some concessions short of easing or lifting sanctions are possible before verified denuclearization, but have refused to be specific about what they could be. And they have been skeptical about an end-of-war declaration in the absence of any progress on the nuclear matter.

At the same time, lawmakers from both parties, including GOP hawks who generally support Trump, have expressed concerns about such a move, as it could be used by the North to demand the removal of US troops from South Korea and potentially Japan without anything in return.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Kim Yong Chol, right, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, meet at the Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Trump had kept up the positive tone as recently as Tuesday at a campaign rally in West Virginia. There Trump maintained “we’re doing well with North Korea.”

“There’s been no missile launches. There’s been no rocket launches,” he added.

At the same rally, Trump seemed to take a different tone too on China, saying he had withheld some criticism of China because “I wanted them to help us with North Korea and they have.”

Washington slams EU for sending ‘wrong message’ with Tehran aid package

August 25, 2018

Source: Washington slams EU for sending ‘wrong message’ with Tehran aid package | The Times of Israel

Echoing Netanyahu, new envoy for Iran says ‘more money in the hands of the Ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations’ in Europe

Brian Hook, State Department director of policy planning, fields questions from journalists during the announcement of the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department in Washington on August 16, 2018. (Rod Lamkey/Getty Images/AFP)

Brian Hook, State Department director of policy planning, fields questions from journalists during the announcement of the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department in Washington on August 16, 2018. (Rod Lamkey/Getty Images/AFP)

The United States on Friday lambasted the EU for providing financial aid to Iran, amid American efforts to tighten the screws on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program and support for armed groups in the Middle East.

The criticism comes a day after the European Union released an 18 million euro ($21 million) payment to Iran intended to help preserve the 2015 international accord meant to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

In May, US President Donald Trump withdrew from that deal, and began restoring US sanctions. The move has exacerbated a financial crisis in Iran that has sent its currency tumbling.

The State Department’s newly appointed special representative for Iran said the EU aid package to Iran “sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”

“Foreign aid from European taxpayers perpetuates the regime’s ability to neglect the needs of its people and stifles meaningful policy changes,” Brian Hook said in a statement.

“More money in the hands of the Ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries,” he added.

Hook, who is also the State Department’s director of policy planning, was named last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the head of the newly formed Iran Action Group, which is tasked with coordinating and implementing US policy toward Iran following the departure from the nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Brian Hook, special representative for Iran, walk to a podium to announce the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department, in Washington, on August 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as “malign activities” in the region. In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups.

It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran’s human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

“The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government’s corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in foreign conflicts,” Hook said in the statement.

He added that the US and EU “should be working together instead to find lasting solutions that truly support Iran’s people and end the regime threats to regional and global stability.”

Department of State

@StateDept

Special Rep Hook: EU’s new $20.7 million payment to perpetuates the regime’s ability to neglect the needs of its people & stifles meaningful policy changes. More money in the hands of the Ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries.

The statement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the EU’s financial support to Iran as a “big mistake” and said it was like a “poison pill” for the Iranian people.

“I think that the decision yesterday by the EU to give 18 million euros to Iran is a big mistake. It’s like a poison pill to the Iranian people and to the efforts to curb Iranian aggression in the region and beyond the region,” Netanyahu said, speaking during a visit to Lithuania.

“Iran attempted to conduct a terror attack on European soil just weeks ago… That is incredible,” he told a press conference following a meeting with three Baltic prime ministers — Lithuanian Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia.

Netanyahu was apparently referring to a suspected bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally in France in late June that was thwarted by authorities. An Iranian diplomat is suspected of involvement.

“Giving money to this regime, especially at this time, is a big mistake and it must be stopped. [The regime] isn’t going to use it to solve their water problems, it’s not going to help an Iranian truck driver,” he said.

“After all, where is their money going? For missiles, and to the Revolutionary Guard. All countries need to act together to renew sanctions on Iran,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a remembrance ceremony at the Paneriai Holocaust Memorial near Vilnius, Lithuania, on August 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)

Netanyahu added that the Iran nuclear deal threatened the security of Europe, because, he said, it never addressed Tehran’s long-term nuclear ambitions.

He said the Obama-era deal would have eventually allowed Iran to resume its uranium enrichment and “within a few years they would have not only one nuclear weapon, but a whole arsenal.”

A day earlier, Netanyahu praised the decision by British Airways and Air France to end their direct flights to Iran’s capital of Tehran in September, citing low profitability due to the re-imposed US sanctions.

“That’s good. More should follow, more will follow, because Iran should not be rewarded for its aggression in the region, for its attempts to spread terrorism,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Vilnius.

Netanyahu arrived Thursday in Vilnius on a four-day visit, the first to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister.