Category: Middle East

President Trump Presides Over United Nations Meeting

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Iran of spreading chaos and China of meddling in US elections at a UN Security Council meeting that laid bare divisions between the United States and other world powers.

Presiding for the first time a meeting of the United Nations’ most powerful body, Trump denounced the “horrible, one-sided” nuclear deal with Iran that he ditched in May, to the dismay of European allies.

A gavel-wielding Trump took a swipe at China, accusing Beijing of working against his Republican Party in upcoming midterm elections as payback for their growing trade war, a charge China’s foreign minister said was “unwarranted.”

Wednesday’s meeting highlighted a rift between the United States and its European allies over the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump vowed that re-imposed sanctions will be “in full force” and urged world powers to work with the United States to “ensure the Iranian regime changes its behavior and never acquires a nuclear bomb.”

Addressing the council after Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron hit back, declaring that concerns about Iran cannot be tackled with “a policy of sanctions and containment.”

Also defending the deal that was endorsed in a Security Council resolution, British Prime Minister Teresa May said it “remains the best means of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

The United States has moved to reimpose sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program and has vowed to punish foreign firms that do business with Iran.

Trump argued that since the deal was signed in 2015, “Iran’s aggression only increased” and that funds released from the lifting of sanctions had been used “to support terrorism, build nuclear capable missiles and foment chaos.”

Iran did not request to speak at the council meeting, but Iranian President Hassan Rohani told a news conference that the United States would eventually rejoin the nuclear deal and pledged Tehran’s continued commitment to the accord.

“The United States of America one day, sooner or later, will come back. This cannot be continued,” Rouhani said.

Turning to Syria, Trump assailed Russia and Iran for backing President Bashar la-Assad in his brutal war in Syria, saying: “The Syrian regime’s butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran.”

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that the “rights of all countries to trade with Iran should be respected” after the European Union said a special payment system would be set up to keep alive business ties with Iran.

-In a blunt attack on China, Trump told the council that China wanted to see him suffer an elections setback because of his hard line on trade.

“Regrettably we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration,” he said.

“They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.”

It remains possible that the Republicans could lose control of the Senate and/or House of Representatives in November’s elections, impacting President Trump’s chances of chalking up legislative achievements.

The Chinese foreign minister responded flatly that Beijing strictly adhered to a policy of non-interference.

“We did not and will not interfere in any country’s domestic affairs. We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China,” said Wang.

Tensions have soared between Beijing and Washington after Trump this week slapped new tariffs covering $200 billion in Chinese goods exported to the United States.

On North Korea, Trump called for sanctions to be strictly enforced against Pyongyang — a message directed at Russia and China which are pushing for an easing of punitive measures to reward North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Without naming countries, the President noted that “some nations are already violating UN sanctions” including illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil and said compliance was “very important.”

His comments came shortly before his top diplomat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signaled Wednesday that he would return to North Korea next month to push forward denuclearization talks.

It was only the third time in UN history that a US president chaired a Security Council meeting. Barack Obama presided over two meetings in 2009 and 2014.

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U.S. Seeks Continued Inspections if Iranian Nuclear Sites

The White House wants intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to continue despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark accord on Tehran’s atomic program, US officials have told America media agencies.

Days after the president walked away from a three-year-old deal that mandated rigorous scrutiny of Iranian facilities, senior administration officials said monitoring should continue regardless.

Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between Tehran and major world powers forces Iran to open any site to inspectors within 24 days at most and introduced 24-hour remote surveillance at some sites.

Supporters of the Obama-era accord argue it provided “the world’s most robust” monitoring regime, allowing access to the Islamic republic’s most sensitive nuclear sites.

Speaking at a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump said tough inspections were still needed.

“We must be able to go to a site and check that site. We have to be able to go into their military bases to see whether or not they’re cheating,” he said.

The White House is demanding the existing inspection regime, however imperfect, continue under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

“We expect Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol and cooperate with the IAEA whether or not the JCPOA remains in place,” one senior administration official said.

A second official confirmed on Thursday that Washington still wanted the inspections.

Other signatories to the Iran deal — including Tehran, China and European powers — have vowed to press ahead with the agreement’s implementation.

But officials are privately skeptical about how long it can survive, particularly if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies doing business in Iran.

And non-proliferation experts have warned that a vital window into Iran’s nuclear activities could be lost.

“If the agreement collapses, Iran is under no obligation to implement any of these provisions, either the Additional Protocol or the deal-specific measures,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“The nuclear deal with Iran put the country’s program under a microscope,” she explained, saying the measures serve as “an early warning system that will set off alarm bells if Iran tries to cheat on its commitments or conduct illicit activities.”

– Are inspections effective? –

Since the nuclear accord was reached in 2015, the IAEA has carried out hundreds of inspections inside Iran.

That includes monitoring at Fordo, an underground fuel enrichment plant inside a base used by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The JCPOA adds an extra layer of scrutiny not found in existing accords, including monitoring of mines and restrictions on multi-point detonation systems and nuclear computer simulations.

The IAEA has so far confirmed that Iran is adhering to its “nuclear-related commitments,” although the US administration questions that conclusion.

“You cannot say that Iran is in compliance unless you are 100 percent certain that the IAEA and our intelligence are infallible,” said US national security advisor John Bolton.

That approach has left some questioning why the administration wants monitoring to continue at all.

“If they don’t trust the inspections, I don’t know why they would be strongly encouraging Iran to comply,” said Corey Hinderstein, a fuel cycle expert who previously worked on implementation of the deal at the Department of Energy.

“The fact is the inspections are and have been effective,” she said.

American citizens are working on the IAEA inspection team, but are based in Vienna, not on the ground in Iran.

Hinderstein said there is every indication that the US is preparing to pull out of other non-inspection mechanisms in the agreement, including converting the Arak heavy water reactor and the “procurement channel” that regulates the import of dual use materials to Iran.

Trump has described the agreement as “the worst deal in history” and vowed to renegotiate it.

He has also warned that Iran will be punished if it returns to military-scale uranium enrichment.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” Trump said.

France & Iran Combine Forces to Defend Iran Nuclear Deal to U.S.A.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron launched a joint defence of the Iranian nuclear deal on Monday but expressed differences on how to move forward as US President Donald Trump weighs up whether to scrap it.

The Kremlin said Putin and Macron were both calling for “strict observance” of the hard-fought 2015 agreement after a phone call between the two leaders.

Macron’s office however said that while the pair agreed on the need to “preserve the gains from the agreement”, the French leader was also pushing for international talks on a potential wider deal.

“The president expressed his desire for discussions on controlling (Iran’s) nuclear activity after 2025, in close cooperation with Russia, other permanent members of the UN Security Council, European and regional powers,” the French statement said.

Trump has a May 12 deadline to decide on whether or not to walk away from the deal, which he has derided as “insane” partly because its restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities begin expiring in 2025.

Moscow has previously said there was “no alternative” to the agreement and that Tehran’s position on the issue was paramount. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has rejected any suggestion of rewriting the deal.

The agreement, thrashed out between Tehran and six world powers after fraught negotiations, saw Iran agree to freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

But Trump has called for it to be altered or scrapped.

Macron has positioned himself as an emissary for European officials seeking a compromise that would keep the deal intact. He has previously suggested an additional deal that extends Iran’s nuclear restrictions.

But after a state visit to the US this week, he admitted he had failed to secure any promise from Trump to keep the deal alive.

Major European powers Britain, France and Germany all remain committed to the pact, saying it is the best way to keep Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb.

– ‘Hi, Vladimir’ –

Along with urging fresh negotiations on Iran, Macron called for international talks on the wars in Syria and Yemen with the support of Russia.

He “indicated his wish for Russia to play a constructive role in all of these questions to avoid tensions mounting in the region”, the statement said, in a nod to increasingly cold relations between Russia and the West.

The French president, who has argued for keeping European communications open with Moscow despite tensions over the war in Syria, is due to visit Russia on May 24 and 25.

A video posted to Macron’s official Twitter account showed him calling Putin from his plane en route to Australia, in which he addresses the Russian leader warmly as “Vladimir” using the informal form of “you”.

“Hi Vladimir, how are you?” he is heard saying. “Thanks for agreeing to this phone call, I wanted to talk to you to take stock of the situation.”

Aside:  Trump and Macron planted a tree — but where did it go?
The photograph was seen around the world: US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron, gilded spades in hand, shovelling dirt over a young sapling.

A week ago, at the beginning of Macron’s visit to Washington, the French president joined his American counterpart to throw handfuls of soil on the roots of a young oak tree as the their respective first ladies looked on

It was a symbolic gesture: the tree came from a northern French forest where 2,000 US Marines died during the First World War.

But a few days later, the plant was nowhere to be seen.

Amid fervent speculation, France on Sunday came through with an explanation: the tree, now not just a plant but a symbol of US-French relations, had been placed in quarantine.

“It is a quarantine which is mandatory for any living organism imported into the US,” Gerard Araud, French ambassador to America, wrote on Twitter.

“It will be replanted afterwards.”

When a follower fired back that the caution seemed a bit late — given that the tree had already been planted — the diplomat went on to confirm that the roots had been enclosed in plastic.

 

Photo: Iran’s Atomic Energy Research Center at Bonab is investigating the applications of nuclear technology in agriculture.

Saudis Destroy New Missile In Attack By Yemen On Saudi Civilians

Saudi air defences intercepted a missile fired by Yemeni rebels at the kingdom’s southern city of Jizan on Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels said, the latest in a series of such attacks.

“The missile was fired at Jizan indiscriminately with the aim of hitting civilian areas,” a coalition spokesman told the official Saudi Press Agency.

“It was successfully intercepted… and the debris fell on a residential neighbourhood… but no casualties or damage was reported.”

A missile was launched from Sadaa, the stronghold of Iran-backed Huthi rebels in northern Yemen, the coalition added.

The attack was claimed by the rebels via their news outlet Al-Masirah.

The strike comes after Saudi forces on Wednesday said they intercepted rebel ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh and the south of the kingdom, where two drones were also shot down.

Yemen’s Shiite Huthi rebels have said their cross-border barrage marked the launch of what their leadership has dubbed “the year of ballistics”.

Saudi Arabia has since March 2015 led a coalition of Arab states fighting to roll back the Huthi rebels in Yemen and restore its neighbour’s internationally-recognised government to power.

Riyadh has repeatedly accused arch-rival Tehran of providing the missiles and threatened retaliation against Iran.

Tehran has denied making any arms deliveries and has said the Saudi accusations are a smokescreen intended to divert attention from its deadly bombing campaign against rebel-held areas.

Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed in the conflict, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Civilian casualties from coalition air strikes have drawn criticism from human rights groups, and in October the UN placed the coalition on a blacklist for killing and maiming children.