Archive for January 22, 2020

Macron vows to go tough on Iran as Rouhani warns Europe not to violate nuke deal

January 22, 2020

Source: Macron vows to go tough on Iran as Rouhani warns Europe not to violate nuke deal | The Times of Israel

‘Iran will not have a nuclear bomb,’ French leader says after meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem; Iranian president counters by vowing his country ‘will never seek nuclear weapons’

France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday vowed to be tough with Iran on its nuclear program, as the Islamic Republic’s president warned that it would hold Europe responsible if the 2015 atomic deal collapses.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, the Israeli leader called on Macron to increase pressure on Iran, including the imposition of sanctions following the Islamic Republic’s recent steps back from the pact and its ongoing conventional aggression.

According to Hebrew-language media, Macron responded by saying: “Iran will not have a nuclear bomb. We will not be flexible on the matter.”

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed his country would never seek to acquire nuclear arms, warning European countries not to violate the terms of the nuclear deal, as the United States — and Iran itself — have done.

“We have never sought nuclear weapons… With or without the nuclear deal we will never seek nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said in a statement on his website, according to the Reuters news agency.

“The European powers will be responsible for the consequences of violating the pact,” he added.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Macron kicked off a marathon of bilateral meetings in the framework of this week’s World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is bringing dozens of world leaders to Jerusalem this week.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu (right) hosts French President Emmanuel Macron at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020 (Koby Gideon/GPO)

The two leaders held a breakfast meeting which Netanyahu said “focused on very many different topics — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Libya and a few other subjects,” according to a readout of the meeting provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The prime minister also raised the situation in Lebanon, including Hezbollah’s efforts to produce precision-guided missiles. The two men also discussed Turkey’s recent involvement in Libya.

Tensions have been soaring with Iran since US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.

In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that eight US troops suffered injuries.

The strike exacerbated tensions between the US and Iran, which have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the US administration of Barack Obama, had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

 

Iranian lawmaker offers $3 million to anyone who kills Trump – report

January 22, 2020

Source: Iranian lawmaker offers $3 million to anyone who kills Trump – report | The Times of Israel

Ahmad Hamzeh, a little-known MP from hometown of slain commander Soleimani, doesn’t say who will pay the money; pledge comes month before elections

In this May 9, 2018, file photo, Iranian demonstrators burn a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

In this May 9, 2018, file photo, Iranian demonstrators burn a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian lawmaker on Tuesday offered a $3 million reward to “anyone who kills” US President Donald Trump to avenge the assassination of a top general, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

Ahmad Hamzeh, a little-known member of the Majlis, made the offer on behalf of the people of Kerman, the hometown and final resting place of the powerful Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

“We will give $3 million to anyone who kills Trump,” Hamzeh, who represents Kahnouj county near the southeastern city of Kerman, was quoted as saying by ISNA.

He did not say who would pay the bounty offer, which comes a month ahead of a parliamentary election.

Soleimani, one of the most popular public figures in Iran, was killed on January 3 in US drone strike outside Baghdad airport.

Afsar Ali Shah@AfsarQresidency

Ahmad Hamzeh, Iranian lawmaker from Kerman province, spoke to parliament

View image on Twitter
His successor on Monday threatened that there are “freedom-seekers” all over the world who want to avenge Soleimani’s death, adding that Tehran’s enemies only understand the “language of force.”

“They hit General Soleimani in a cowardly act, but there are freedom-seekers across the world who want to revenge for him with God’s help, and God willing, we will hit his enemy chivalrously,” said Gen. Esmail Ghaani at a ceremony in Tehran.

“Our enemy understands no language but force and therefore, we should stand against them strongly,” he added, according to the Fars news agency.

The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.

In this file photo taken on September 22, 2018 shows members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) marching during the annual military parade which marks the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Soleimani. At the time, Trump said the Quds Force head was planning attacks against US troops in the region, but White House officials have since given different justifications for the killing, including one of deterrence.

In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that eight US troops suffered injuries.

The strike exacerbated tensions between the US and Iran, which have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the US administration of Barack Obama, had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.

 

More US troops evacuated with possible injuries from Iran missiles

January 22, 2020

Source: More US troops evacuated with possible injuries from Iran missiles | The Times of Israel

Small number of soldiers being evaluated for concussion-like symptoms from January 8 attack on Iraqi base, joining 11 other troops flown out for treatment earlier

US soldiers stand at the site of an Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

US soldiers stand at the site of an Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

WASHINGTON — Additional US troops have been flown out of Iraq for closer evaluation of potential concussion injuries from the Iranian missile attack of January 8, US defense officials said Tuesday.

The exact number of troops flown to Germany was not immediately clear, but officials said it was a small number. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because some details were still being sorted out. Last week, 11 US service members were flown from Iraq to US medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait for further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms.

Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, confirmed the additional evacuations but did not say how many were included.

“As medical treatment and evaluations in theater continue, additional service members have been identified as having potential injuries,” Urban said Tuesday evening. “These service members — out of an abundance of caution — have been transported to Landstuhl, Germany, for further evaluations and necessary treatment on an outpatient basis. Given the nature of injuries already noted, it is possible additional injuries may be identified in the future.”

US Soldiers stand at a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

As recently as last Tuesday night, US President Donald Trump said he had been told no American had been harmed in the Iranian missile strike.

Illustrative: An Iranian cleric looks at domestically built surface-to-surface missiles at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The question of American casualties was especially significant at the time because the missile attack’s results were seen as influencing a US decision on whether to retaliate and risk a broader war with Iran.

Trump chose not to retaliate, and the tensions with Iran have eased somewhat.

In the days following the Iranian attack, medical screening determined that some who took cover during the attack were suffering from concussion-like symptoms.

No one was killed in the attack on Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq. The strike was launched in retaliation for a US drone missile strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the most powerful military general in Iran, on January 3 at Baghdad International Airport.

 

Protests in Lebanon continue as new government fails to assuage anger

January 22, 2020

Source: Protests in Lebanon continue as new government fails to assuage anger | The Times of Israel

Demonstrators take to streets to reject cabinet announced Tuesday as failing to live up to promises of technocratic administration, amid deepening economic crisis

Anti-government protesters wave a Lebanese flag and hide behind a wood barrier from a water cannon as they clash with the riot police during a protest against the new government, near the parliament square, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Anti-government protesters wave a Lebanese flag and hide behind a wood barrier from a water cannon as they clash with the riot police during a protest against the new government, near the parliament square, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon ended a painful wait by unveiling a new cabinet line-up, but the government was promptly scorned by protesters and faces the Herculean task of saving a collapsing economy.

More than a month after he was designated with backing from the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah and nearly three after his predecessor Saad Hariri resigned under pressure from the street, Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday announced his cabinet of 20 ministers.

The academic and former education minister, who was little-known in Lebanon until last month, insisted in his first comments as premier that his cabinet was a technocratic one that would strive to meet protesters’ demands.

“This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said.

He said his government “will strive to meet their demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, for the fight against illegal gains”.

Groups of demonstrators had gathered in the streets of Beirut before the cabinet was even unveiled, blocking off a main street in the center of the capital where violent scuffles with the police left dozens wounded over the weekend.

Close to the parliament building, protesters attempted to rip down barbed wire and throw stones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Anti-government demonstrators burn tires and wood to block a main highway in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 21, (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The government, which is scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the first time, includes the country’s first-ever female defence minister, Zeina Akar, and five other women.

The post of foreign minister, which had been held by President Michel Aoun’s controversial son-in-law Gebran Bassil, was handed to respected diplomat Nassif Hitti.

The new cabinet is made up of unfamiliar figures, many of them academics and former advisers, but protesters were quick to argue that the absence of the biggest names in Lebanon’s widely reviled hereditary political elite was but a smokescreen.

‘Not serious’

“We want a new Lebanon, a Lebanon with no corruption,” Charbel Kahi, a 37-year-old farmer, told AFP as fellow protesters beat drums behind him.

“They are not taking the Lebanese people seriously with this government,” he said.

Anti-government protesters hide behind a wood barrier as they clash with the riot police during a protest against the new government, near the parliament square, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Diab admitted that “Lebanon is experiencing a difficult time in its history” and called for stability but within minutes of his address protesters were out in the streets of several cities, including Tripoli, Sidon and Byblos.

Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut, argued that the idea of a genuinely technocratic government in Lebanon was “wishful thinking”.

“Behind every candidate, there is a political party backing their nomination,” he said.

Paula Yacoubian, a former journalist and independent MP, scorned the new line-up as “patches on old clothes.”

“Hassan Diab did not keep his promise of forming a government of independent” experts, she said.

Anti-government protesters throw stones at the riot police, during a protest against the new government, near the parliament square, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Diab, a 61-year-old engineering professor at the American University of Beirut and self-professed technocrat, had come under pressure on both the political and economic fronts.

Every day that passed without a cabinet had fuelled the anger of protesters and tested the patience of foreign donors warning that the quasi-bankrupt state could ill afford further delays.

Mission impossible?

Donors and citizens are pinning their hopes on a new government to spearhead reforms, unlock billions in international aid and help stabilize a plummeting currency.

“The task that awaits any cabinet during this serious period is Herculean,” said Karim Mufti, a political scientist.

“In view of the multidimensional nature of the crisis, it seems difficult to envisage short-term solutions to the country’s financial, economic and social problems.”

A grinding dollar liquidity crisis and informal caps on withdrawals of the greenback have compounded the crisis, leaving Lebanon on the brink of default.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference after his government was announced, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The outgoing government included all of Lebanon’s political factions, but Hariri’s Sunni-dominated movement and some of his allies have opted to stay out of the new cabinet.

This leaves the small country of six million led by a government dominated by the sanctions-hit Hezbollah movement and its allies.

Both the Christian bloc of President Michel Aoun and the Shiite Amal party of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri are political allies of the Iran-backed organization.

Observers have warned that such a lopsided government could struggle to foster enough goodwill at home and abroad to implement much-needed reforms.