Archive for June 8, 2019

Iran says new US sanctions show offer for talks is ‘hollow’ 

June 8, 2019

Source: Iran says new US sanctions show offer for talks is ‘hollow’ | The Times of Israel

Tehran: Announcement of penalties for petrochemical industry belies Trump’s claim he would reopen discussions if Tehran agreed to give up nuclear weapons

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Saturday that new US sanctions on its petrochemical industry show the hollowness of US President Donald Trump’s claims to be open to fresh negotiations with Tehran.

“Only one week was needed for the US president’s claim that he was ready to negotiate with Iran to be proven hollow,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

His statement came after the US Treasury announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran’s largest and most profitable petrochemicals group PGPIC.

Trump said Thursday he would be willing to reopen talks as long as Iran agreed to give up nuclear weapons. But Tehran ruled out talks until the United States is ready to “return to normal.”

US President Donald Trump waves as he steps off Air Force One after arriving, June 7, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mousavi called the new sanctions another instance of “economic terrorism” and a continuation of US “enmity” against Iran.

“America’s maximum pressure policy is a failed policy tried numerous times before by the country’s previous presidents. This is a wrong path and the US government can be sure that it will not achieve any of the goals set for this policy,” Mousavi added.

Washington began reimposing unilateral sanctions on Iran after Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.

It reimposed a first set in August followed by a second in November.

On April 8, it designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “foreign terrorist organisation,” paving the way for sanctions against their sources of funding.

Announcing the sanctions against PGPIC on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they were intended as a “warning that we will continue to target holding groups and companies in the petrochemical sector and elsewhere that provide financial lifelines to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp.”

The PGPIC group holds 40 percent of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and is responsible for 50% of the its petrochemical exports, the Treasury said.

 

Iran said accelerating uranium centrifuge production, anticipating deal collapse 

June 8, 2019

Source: Iran said accelerating uranium centrifuge production, anticipating deal collapse | The Times of Israel

But Israeli intelligence sources tell Channel 13 news Tehran is also making overtures to Washington to renew talks in bid to deescalate

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

With Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers teetering on the edge of collapse, Israeli intelligence has identified a significant acceleration of work on the production of new uranium centrifuges, as Tehran prepares for the possibility of boosting enrichment activities, Channel 13 news reported Friday night.

The intelligence sources were not named, nor were further details provided on the alleged centrifuge production efforts.

The sources cited by the network also said, however, that the Islamic republic was making back-channel overtures to Washington expressing a willingness to renew talks in a bid to find common ground.

That assessment appeared to agree with statements made by US President Donald Trump on Thursday.

US President Donald Trump (R) talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, northwestern France, on June 6, 2019. (Ian Langsdon/Pool/AFP)

Speaking after talks in northern France with French President Emmanuel Macron, an ardent supporter of diplomacy with Iran, Trump indicated he could consider talking to Tehran.

“I understand they want to talk and if they want to talk that’s fine,” said Trump, who was in France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

“We’ll talk but the one thing that they can’t have is they can’t have nuclear weapons,” he added.

Trump said when he came to power Iran was “undisputed champions of terror” but indicated activity had slackened in recent times.

“They’re not doing that anymore. They’re doing very poorly as a nation. They’re failing as a nation,” said Trump.

Trump referred to the US sanctions against Iran which are battering the Iranian economy especially since Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal.

“I don’t want them to fail as a nation. We can turn that around very quickly but the sanctions have been extraordinary.”

On Friday, Washington slapped Tehran with new sanctions, targeting its largest petrochemical company for providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Although EU leaders were bitterly angered by Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal, the US president said he and Macron did not have differences on how to handle Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the inauguration ceremony of four projects at the South Pars gas field on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, in Asaluyeh, Iran, March 17, 2019. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Macron said the US shared the same four objectives on Iran — to prevent it obtaining nuclear weapons, reduce its activities in ballistics, contain Iran’s operations in the region and promote regional peace.

The French president said that in order to achieve such objectives “you need to start a negotiation” and applauded Trump’s apparent readiness to hold talks.

The comments came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has a warm personal relationship with Trump, plans to travel to Iran next week as Tokyo aims to play mediation role.

However, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at Trump earlier this week, saying “when such a person is the president, this shows the political and moral decline of that country.”

Also on Friday, Iran rejected the notion of reopening nuclear talks, warning that seeking to broaden an existing landmark treaty could lead to its collapse.

Earlier this week, Tehran ruled out new talks with Washington unless it changes its “general behavior,” after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was ready for negotiations with Iran.

Pompeo, too, was reserved, saying Iran must first prove “they are behaving as a normal nation.”

The Trump administration’s hard-line approach with Iran began with the US withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year and continued with punishing economic sanctions on the Shiite state.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the foreign ministry’s guest house Villa Borsig in Berlin, Germany, Friday, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Last month, Iran announced that if a way could not be found within 60 days to shield it from US sanctions targeting its economy and oil industry, it would increase its enrichment of uranium beyond the purity allowed under the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

A few days later, Tehran said it had increased its uranium-enrichment production capacity, though only of the lower-enriched uranium permitted by the agreement.

 

Iran minister: Tehran secretly defying US sanctions with ‘unofficial’ oil sales | The Times of Israel

June 8, 2019

Source: Iran minister: Tehran secretly defying US sanctions with ‘unofficial’ oil sales | The Times of Israel

Bijan Zanganeh scant on details, but says Iran covertly circumventing ‘evil’ American oil embargo through ‘unconventional means’

This photo from March 12, 2017, shows an Iranian laborer walking the platform of the oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf. (AFP/Atta Kenar)

This photo from March 12, 2017, shows an Iranian laborer walking the platform of the oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf. (AFP/Atta Kenar)

Iran is keeping up oil sales through “unconventional” means to circumvent US sanctions, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said in an interview published Saturday.

“We have unofficial or unconventional sales, all of which are secret, because if they are made known America would immediately stop them,” he said, quoted by the oil ministry’s SHANA news agency.

Zanganeh declined to give details on Iran’s oil exports, saying he would not disclose figures until sanctions were lifted.

In May 2018, Washington withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

Washington reimposed oil sanctions on Iran last November, but initially gave eight countries, including several allies such as China, six-month waivers.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh. (CC-BY Wikimedia/tasnimnews.com)

Iran’s oil shipments tumbled to 750,000 barrels per day in April compared to 1.5 million in October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The White House in May ended all the waivers as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. A month later, it designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “foreign terrorist organization,” paving the way for sanctions against their sources of funding.

According to Zanganeh, the US has reached an “evil maturity” in tightening the noose on Iran’s economy using “smart sanctions.”

“The most severe organized sanctions in history are currently being imposed on Iran,” he said.

The remarks came after the US Treasury announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran’s largest and most profitable petrochemicals group PGPIC for allegedly doing business with the IRGC.

US President Donald Trump talks with reporters before departing on Marine One for the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, May 30, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the new sanctions another instance of “economic terrorism” and a continuation of US “enmity” against Iran.

“America’s maximum pressure policy is a failed policy tried numerous times before by the country’s previous presidents. This a wrong path and the US government can be sure that it will not achieve any of the goals set for this policy,” Mousavi said on Saturday.

Last week, US President Donald Trump said he would be willing to reopen talks as long as Iran agreed to give up nuclear weapons. But Tehran has ruled out negotiating with the US until it is ready to “return to normal.”

 

US envoy says Israel has ‘right’ to annex parts of West Bank

June 8, 2019

David Friedman tells NY Times the Trump peace plan is aimed at improving Palestinians’ quality of life, not offer a permanent solution

By AFP and TOI STAFF Today, 3:27 pm 

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-envoy-says-israel-has-right-to-annex-parts-of-west-bank/

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

The US ambassador to Israel said he believes the Jewish state has the right to annex at least “some” of the West Bank, in comments likely to deepen Palestinian opposition to a long-awaited US peace plan.

In an interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Ambassador David Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.

The US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.

Palestinians walk towards the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem to attend the first Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Friday, May 10, 2019.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which are expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.

Abandoning the call for a Palestinian state would end years of US support for the so-called two-state solution, which envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Palestinians have already dismissed the Trump peace plan and said they will not attend the Bahrain summit, rejecting it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.

Friedman’s comments on Israeli annexation are likely to be viewed by Palestinians as the last nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has said any Israeli annexation policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”

‘Failed state helps nobody’

The public comments made by administration officials so far suggest the US plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by the Gulf Arab states, in return for concessions on territory and statehood.

“The absolute last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan,” Friedman said in the Times interview.

“Maybe they won’t take it, maybe it doesn’t meet their minimums.

“We’re relying upon the fact that the right plan, for the right time, will get the right reaction over time.”

Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the Times that the Trump plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians but would fall well short of a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”

He said he did not believe the plan would trigger Palestinian violence.

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.. From left, Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

But he said the United States would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favorable to Israel.

Publication of the plan looks set to be further delayed after the Knesset called a snap general election for September, the second this year.

The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.

During campaigning for the first general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties.

Earlier, in February, Netanyahu told lawmakers he had been discussing with Washington a plan that would effectively annex settlements.

In a rare public show of disunity between the close allies, the White House then flatly denied any such discussion.

In this May 18, 2018 file photo, White House adviser Jared Kushner speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have been dampening expectations about the peace plan rollout. Senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in an interview broadcast Sunday expressed doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves without Israeli involvement. “The hope is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” he told the Axios news site.

On Monday, the Washington Post published leaked remarks made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told US Jewish leaders in a closed-door conversation that the plan might not “gain traction.”