Archive for June 11, 2019

Japanese PM to meet Iran’s Khamenei, Rouhani

June 11, 2019

Source: Japanese PM to meet Iran’s Khamenei, Rouhani –

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Islamic republic’s supreme leader and its president as part of first visit by an incumbent Japanese premier to Iran in 41 years. Tokyo and Tehran have friendly ties and are set to mark the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to meet with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani this week, in a visit aimed at easing regional tensions.

Abe’s trip, scheduled to take place from Wednesday to Friday, is the first by an incumbent Japanese premier to Iran in 41 years, although Tokyo and Tehran have friendly ties and are set to mark the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

“Amid rising tensions in the Middle East, we plan to encourage Iran, a regional power, to move toward easing tensions at the top leaders’ meetings,” said Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who announced the trip on Tuesday.

Abe had spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone to discuss Iran, Suga told a news conference.

On a four-day visit to Japan last month, Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after public broadcaster NHK had said Japan’s leader was considering a trip to Tehran.

Abe is in a unique position, thanks to his close ties to Trump, cultivated since the U.S. leader took office, and Tokyo’s friendly relations with Iran, diplomatic experts said.

“Abe is trying to play the role of messenger and ease the tension,” said Toshihiro Nakayama, a Japan Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington. “It is a bold move. I think it comes from confidence with his personal relations with Trump.”

Japan is keen for stability in the Middle East because it imports the bulk of its oil from the region, although it stopped buying Iranian oil this year because of U.S. sanctions.

Some experts played down prospects for the trip. “The object of the visit is not to mediate,” said former Japanese diplomat Kunihiko Miyake. “It’s basically bilateral issues, and if there is any additional business to do, we will do it carefully.”

The most Abe can probably achieve is to persuade Iran and the United States to resume direct talks, the experts said, adding that both sides may be seeking a way to avoid a confrontation while still saving face.

In his meeting with Maas, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the U.S. for the soaring tensions and called on the European signatories to the deal to “resist the economic war on Iran imposed by America.”


Fear and loathing in the United Kingdom

June 11, 2019

Source: Fear and loathing in the United Kingdom –

The British, it seems, will do everything in their power to avoid making the Iranians angry. Yes, the same Iranians who ordered Hezbollah to build bombs in London.

In the summer of 2015, then-U.S. President Barack Obama and his European allies basked in the warm, intoxicating glow of the nuclear deal with Iran. The sense of achievement was so overwhelming that the mere thought that Iran could continue manufacturing long-range ballistic missiles and sowing terror across the region never crossed anyone’s mind.

In this vein, and in order to avoid tarnishing the festive atmosphere or heaven forbid nip the nuclear deal in the bud, the British chose to conceal the incriminating information from the media about the bomb-making factories Hezbollah had built on Iran’s behalf in the northwest of London. This evidence was hidden not only from the media but from members of parliament, some of whom, it isn’t a secret, wouldn’t have approved the deal.

London is just one of the global terrorist hubs Iran sought to establish at the height of negotiations over its nuclear program. The incriminating evidence provided by Israeli intelligence – and the arrests that followed – were reported on in the United States, Thailand, and Cyprus, but the story was buried in the United Kingdom. And in their desire to avoid making the Iranians angry, it also took the British more than three years, until February 2019, to publicly state that there is no difference between Hezbollah’s military and political wings and to add the Lebanon-based group to its list of terrorist organizations.

What’s sad about this story is that over these past four years the Europeans have not changed their approach to Tehran very much. Iran is straining under the economic sanctions imposed by the United States. The Iranian economy is crumbling. Its oil exports have plummeted from over one million barrels per day to less than 400,000. One U.S. dollar is now worth around 50,000 rials, while inflation has skyrocketed to above 40%.

But instead of exploiting the situation to pressure Iran, Germany’s foreign minister rushed to Tehran on Monday to urge the Iranians not to withdraw from the nuclear deal and to promise they would soon be able to use the mechanism crafted by the EU to bypass the American sanctions.

Iran’s foreign minister reminded his German counterpart that Tehran’s ultimatum for “solving the problem” created by the White House would expire in less than one month. In the meantime, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on Monday that Iran has started accelerating its uranium enrichment, although still to within the parameters of the nuclear deal.

At their joint press conference, the two foreign ministers failed to address the new ballistic missile unveiled by the Iranians this week or the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile program, which continues to operate unabated. Nor any mention of Hezbollah, whose fighters, under Iranian orders, continue helping the Syrian army drop oil drums on the civilian population in Idlib; the rebels in Yemen, who are raining missiles on Saudi Arabia; or the pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq, who are preparing to attack American forces stationed there if and when a conflict erupts between Iran and the U.S.

The British in particular and the Europeans in general didn’t need the information from Israel to understand that Hezbollah is the tip of Iran’s terrorist spear, not just in the Middle East but across the globe. Anyone who wants to stop the Iranians must also handle their messenger.


Netanyahu: Iran’s Zarif lying, Tehran is the one threatening destruction 

June 11, 2019

Source: Netanyahu: Iran’s Zarif lying, Tehran is the one threatening destruction | The Times of Israel

PM says Islamic Republic ‘accelerating its nuclear program,’ warns Israel won’t allow it to develop atomic weapons, hours after Iran’s FM castigated Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back at Iran on Monday after its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed the Israeli leader had threatened to destroy his country and warned that the Islamic Republic would respond to such threats.

“Zarif is once again lying,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Iran is the one openly threatening destruction. The regime’s officials threaten the destruction of Israel on a daily basis.”

He said Iran was “attempting to establish itself militarily in Syria, and just today it was publicized that it is accelerating its nuclear program.

“I’ll say it again: We won’t allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons that will endanger us and the entire world,” he said.

At a press conference in Tehran alongside visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Zarif had said “Netanyahu stands next to the Dimona [reactor], a nuclear weapons site, and says Iran should be destroyed…Of course, no one can act against our people without receiving a decisive response.”

Israel has long maintained an official position of ambiguity with regards to its nuclear capabilities.

According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which provided an English translation of his remarks, Zarif was referring to comments Netanyahu made in August 2018 during a visit to Israel’s secretive nuclear site in Dimona.

At the time Netanyahu warned that those who seek to destroy Israel put themselves in danger of suffering the same fate instead.

The Iranian regime routinely threatens and anticipates the destruction of Israel, and funds and arms anti-Israel terrorist groups in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, frequently refers to Israel as a cancer that must be eradicated, and has set out detailed plans for its elimination.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking a nuclear arsenal in order to destroy it, and Netanyahu has led international opposition to the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Iran has never waged a war against any country and will not do so in future,” Zarif said Monday, but warned that “if any country starts a war on Iran, it would definitely not be the one that ends it.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) receives his German counterpart Heiko Maas in the capital Tehran on June 10, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Though Zarif made a point to shake Maas’s hands in front of the cameras, his comments marked a sharp departure for the US-educated diplomat who helped secure the nuclear deal. They came after Maas spoke in support of Israel.

“Israel’s right to exist is part of Germany’s founding principle and is completely non-negotiable,” Maas said. “It is a result of our history and it’s irrevocable and doesn’t just change because I am currently in Tehran.”

Zarif then grew visibly angry, offering a list of Mideast problems ranging from al-Qaeda to the bombing of Yemeni civilians he blamed on the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia.

“If one seeks to talk about instability in this region, those are the other parties who should be held responsible,” Zarif said.

He also offered a series of threats over the ongoing tensions gripping the Persian Gulf. The crisis, he said, stems from US President Donald Trump’s decision over a year ago to withdraw America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran announced May 8 that it no longer considered itself bound to keep to the limits of stocks of heavy water and enriched uranium that it agreed to as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tehran’s move came a year after Trump pulled out of the deal. Washington has also reinforced economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano at a press conference during the Board of Governors Meeting at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, June 10, 2019. (Dean Calma / IAEA)

Meanwhile, in a report Monday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog did not explicitly say Iran was implementing its nuclear-related commitments, for the first time since the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and said that its rate of uranium enrichment was increasing.

Speaking to journalists after his speech opening the agency’s quarterly board of governors meeting, Amano said the accord was “under tension” and confirmed that Iran’s “production rate (of uranium) is increasing,” although he could not give an exact figure.


US said to mull further Iran sanctions targeting trade with Europe

June 11, 2019

Source: US said to mull further Iran sanctions targeting trade with Europe | The Times of Israel

New measures would single out Iranian financial body set up to enable humanitarian trade bypassing American sanctions

A currency exchange bureau worker, counts US dollars, in downtown Tehran, Iran, June 9, 2011. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

The Trump administration is reportedly considering sanctions against an Iranian financial body set up to enable humanitarian trade with Europe, a measure that would likely end any possibility of European countries maintaining economic and humanitarian trade with Tehran.

The new sanctions would focus on the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which Iran set up to work opposite INSTEX, a European system created to enable continued humanitarian trade with Iran despite existing US sanctions, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Britain, France and German have been striving to maintain some level of economic dealings with Iran in order to keep alive a 2015 nuclear pact that has faltered since the US pulled out last year and then reimposed sanctions on Iran.

A US official said the STFI is considered part of Iran’s central bank, which is already targeted by US sanctions. Washington also accuses the bank of not having applied international measures against terrorism financing and money laundering, noted the official, who spoke to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity.

European nations had pledged to create the INSTEX mechanism, which would allow Iran to continue to trade for humanitarian goods despite American sanctions. However, that program has yet to really take off, something Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman noted on Monday.

“We haven’t put much hope in INSTEX,” spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to Iranian state television. “If INSTEX was going to help us, it would have done so already.”

Iran has said it will only continue to uphold the 2015 nuclear pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, if European countries are able to provide enough trade incentives for it to do so.

US President Donald Trump wants to negotiate stiffer terms for the JCPOA, which saw previous sanctions lifted from Iran in return for it dismantling the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program.

Although the existing US sanctions allow for humanitarian trade with Iran, European countries wanted INSTEX as additional protection against being punished by the US for trading with Tehran.

Europe says INSTEX is needed to keep Iran in the nuclear deal, which it insists has been effective in its stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has set an early July deadline, at which point it says that if it does not see more advantages to staying in the accord, it will abandon some of its restrictions.

However, opponents to INSTEX in Washington are concerned it could eventually become a means to undermine the pressure of US sanctions on Iran, the report said. Iran’s economy has spiraled as it has struggled to cope with the existing sanctions, which particularly target its oil industry.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled this week to Iran, where he met his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Mr. Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran,” Zarif said at joint press conference. “The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war.”

Maas insisted his country and other European nations want to find a way to salvage the deal, but he acknowledged there were limits.

“We won’t be able to do miracles, but we are trying as best as we can to do prevent its failure,” he said.

However, Europe has yet to offer Iran a way to get around the newly imposed US sanctions. Meanwhile, a July 7 deadline — imposed by Iran — looms for Europe to find a way to save the unraveling deal. Otherwise, Iran has warned it will resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.


Iranian attacks on US Mid-East allies continue. US, Gulf states, Israel affect unconcern – DEBKAfile

June 11, 2019

Source: Iranian attacks on US Mid-East allies continue. US, Gulf states, Israel affect unconcern – DEBKAfile

The Yemeni Houthi rebels’ first multiple drone attack on a Saudi air base at Jizan on Sunday, June 9, was the latest of five assaults orchestrated by Iran on US allies in a month. The two rockets fired on June 1 from Syria at Israel’s Hermon positions belonged to the same series.

At Jizan airport, the Yemeni insurgents used a squadron of their Iran-made armed drones to level Saudi drone bunkers and stations. Saudi air defense units were caught off guard and failed to shoot down a single enemy drone. Riyadh did not confirm that the attack took place.
In reference to the rocket fire on the Hermon, the IDF confirmed that it was deliberately aimed at Israel’s military outposts on the slopes overlooking the Golan from deep inside Syria, while declining to name the source. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources can reveal that they were fired by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit on the orders of the Al Qods chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Israel was being warned that it is in Tehran’s sights, along with America’s Gulf allies. The rocket attack on Hermon should be grouped with the attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations and port, the sabotage of four oil tankers off the UAE shore and the rocket fire near the US embassy in Baghdad.

Israel retaliated the next day with a missile strike described by Syrian opposition sources as targeting “Iranian and Hizballah forces near Damascus.” However, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, Israel concentrated mainly on Syrian army sites including its missile stores at the big T-4 Air Base near Homs. The IRGC unit which launched the rockets remained, unscathed along with the launchers.

This Iran-instigated series of attacks were damaging but low key in that they avoided casualties. The Trump administration and US allies have affected an offhand response, citing Iran only indirectly or not at all. President Donald Trump strongly prefers sanctions as his weapon of choice for bringing Tehran to the table rather than military punishment. The Saudis, the Emirates and Israel have adopted this course. The UAE, for example, stated that a “state actor” was responsible for sabotaging the tankers, others “believe” Iran may be involved while claiming to be short of “evidence.”

US CENTCOM chief Gen. Frank McKenzie stated on May 31, while standing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier, that the American military buildup in the region had acted as a deterrent to Iranian aggression.

This was correct only insofar as there were no Iranian attacks on US military forces. However, the policy of nonchalance and non-punishment for five attacks on four Middle East nations, all ordered by Tehran since mid-May, may well galvanize the regime and its Revolutionary Guards into keeping going until the point at which Washington is forced to bend and give way on sanctions and other concessions.