Archive for October 17, 2019

Iran said planning to limit international inspector access to its nuclear sites

October 17, 2019

Source: Iran said planning to limit international inspector access to its nuclear sites | The Times of Israel

Tehran says measure aimed at pressuring European powers to find way around crippling US sanctions imposed after Trump pulled out of nuke deal

IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

IAEA inspectors at Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

Iran on Wednesday warned that it would start limiting international inspectors’ access to its nuclear sites as it continues to move away from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, said that Iran was taking the step because “when the other party doesn’t fulfill its commitments, there is no necessity for us to meet our part of commitments.”

“In the fourth step of reducing JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) commitments, we will probably impose limits on inspections, which means the International Atomic Energy Agency’s surveillance on Iran’s nuclear activities will be reduced,” the Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.

“Europeans have not honored their part of the commitments and we have not seen any practical step taken by the other side,” he said.

Iran has steadily increased its breaches of the nuclear accord as it pushes its European partners to find a way around US sanctions that have kept it from selling oil abroad and crippled the Iranian economy.

Also Wednesday, France urged Iran to stop violating the accord.

“Iran must abstain from crossing an especially worrying new phase of new measures that could contribute to an escalation in tensions,” French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnès von der Muhll said, according to the Reuters news agency.

She was referring to an announcement last week that Iran plans to start using a new array of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, spokesman of the organization Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks in a news briefing as advanced centrifuges are displayed in front of him, in Tehran, Iran, September 7, 2019 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Ali Akbar Salehi, the country’s nuclear chief, told Iranian state TV that an array of 30 IR-6 centrifuges will be inaugurated in the coming weeks.

Under the terms of its 2015 deal — which the US unilaterally withdrew from over a year ago — Iran had committed to not using the array until late 2023.

Salehi also said Iran is now producing up to six kilograms of enriched uranium daily.

“It means we have restored pre-deal” capacity, he said.

In September, Iran inaugurated an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges that can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the IR-1 that Iran was already using.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to about 4.5%. Prior to the nuclear deal, it only reached up to 20%, which is a short technical step away from the weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the 2015 deal, insists that Tehran is seeking a nuclear arsenal, and is hiding parts of its program

Regional tensions spiked last month after a drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility that shook global energy markets. The US said Iran was behind the attack. Tehran denied the charge and said any retaliatory strikes by the US or Saudi Arabia could lead to “all-out war.”

 

Trump in letter to Erdogan: ‘Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!’ 

October 17, 2019

Source: Trump in letter to Erdogan: ‘Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!’ | The Times of Israel

In missive sent 6 days ago and using language shorn of diplomatic niceties, US president again threatens to destroy Turkey’s economy

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

WASHINGTON — “Don’t be a fool,” US President Donald Trump warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an extraordinary letter sent the day Turkey launched its incursion into northeastern Syria — warning history risked branding him a “devil.”

Three days after appearing to greenlight an invasion by pulling US troops from the Kurdish-dominated region, Trump told the Turkish president he would wreck Ankara’s economy if the invasion went too far.

In language shorn of diplomatic niceties, Trump began with an outright threat.

“Let’s work out a good deal,” Trump wrote in the letter dated October 9. “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.”

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First reported by Fox Business.

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“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump said. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.”

The US leader told Erdogan a “great deal” was possible if he negotiated with the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Abdi, whom Turkey has labelled a “terrorist” for his ties to the Kurdish PKK militants in Turkey.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool,” he finished, adding: “I will call you later.”

 

Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in bid to reassure Israel on Syria pullout 

October 17, 2019

Source: Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in bid to reassure Israel on Syria pullout | The Times of Israel

Secretary of state due on Friday after talks in Ankara aimed at achieving ceasefire in Turkish invasion of northern Syria; discussions to also focus on Iran

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel on Friday for talks on Syria following the pullout of American soldiers and Turkey’s launching of a military offensive against Kurdish fighters.

Pompeo will travel to Israel after visiting Turkey with Vice President Mike Pence, the State Department announced late Wednesday.

Pompeo will meet “Netanyahu to discuss developments in Syria and the continued need to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” the statement said.

Pence and  Pompeo departed for Turkey on Wednesday, seeking to secure a ceasefire in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. “Our mission set is to see if we can get a ceasefire, see if we can get this brokered,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Pence and Pompeo, who traveled on different planes, were scheduled to hold talks on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it is not clear if Erdogan will meet them.

Erdogan has also vowed that Turkey’s operation — which was facilitated by the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria — would continue.

US President Donald Trump, facing with mounting criticism over the abrupt pullout, has denied he gave Erdogan a “green light” to launch operations against the Kurds.

Pence’s office said the US would pursue “punishing economic sanctions” unless there was an immediate ceasefire.

After the trip to Turkey, Pompeo will stop in Jerusalem on Friday to meet with  Netanyahu.

The Trump administration last year pulled out of a multinational deal on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and instead slapped punishing sanctions.

Later Friday, Pompeo will also meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, the statement said.

Trump last week announced the immediate pullout of American forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey’s subsequent incursion into the area.

Israeli officials, among them Netanyahu, have condemned Turkey’s military operation and voiced support for the Kurds, but have not criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather outside the border town of Ras al-Ain on October 12, 2019, during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Nazeer Al-Khatib/AFP)

The US pullout has raised concerns of a reemergence of the Islamic State jihadist group, which US-backed Kurdish fighters fought and retook areas of Syria from, as well as the expansion of Syrian regime backers’ Russia and Iran’s influence in the country.

Israel has warned against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria that could be used to attack the Jewish state and carried out hundreds of airstrikes there in recent years on Iran-linked targets.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an ally of Trump, has said the pullout could “ensure Iran’s domination of Syria” and “become a nightmare for Israel,” a sentiment echoed at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Despite international condemnation over the offensive, Erdogan has remained defiant and said the operation won’t cease until the Kurdish fighters give up their arms.

Turkey considers the YPG, a Kurdish militia, a terror group over its ties to the Turkish PKK group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Netanyahu said in 2017 that Israel considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

 

Despite Erdogan’s bravado, his Syrian offensive is squeezed in a US-Russian hug – DEBKAfile

October 17, 2019

Source: Despite Erdogan’s bravado, his Syrian offensive is squeezed in a US-Russian hug – DEBKAfile

US-Russian coordination for holding back Turkey’s operation against Syria’s Kurds goes forward smoothly amid a flurry of talks.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the US secretary of state held talks with his Russian counterpart, as did the two defense chiefs. That night, Turkish President Recep Erdogan held phone conversations with both US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Putin invited him to visit Moscow before the end of October, while Trump informed him that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary Mike Pompeo would be arriving in Ankara on Thursday, Oct. 17.

They would be coming with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and special Syrian envoy James Jeffrey. Erdogan was quoted as refusing to receive the Vice President, but the highly volatile Turkish leader may have backtracked on this snub.

Very little was disclosed about the content of this burst of high wire parleys. DEBKAfile’s sources have learned that Putin warned Erdogan that if the Turkish army attacked the Syrian forces which arrived to defend Kurdish districts against a Turkish onslaught, the Russian air force would intervene.

Trump is believed to have focused his warning against a Turkish assault on the key SDF-held town of Kobani and its environs. He demanded a pledge from Erdogan to stop his forces and allied Syrian militias from entering this town and to halt attempts to seize control of the strategic M4 highway.

The Turkish leader demanded as a quid pro quo that the US president guarantee that the Syrian forces not far from Kobani won’t enter the town. However, since Moscow holds the whip hand over the Syria army, it was necessary for the American and Russian foreign and defense ministers to confer on this.

For now, the SDF retains control of the town, shielded by Russian special forces.

Erdogan finds his troop movements increasingly constricted by the tough dictates coming at him from Washington and Moscow. They are operating in concert in a still unpredictable, inflammable situation.