Posts Tagged Iran
Speaking at his office in Damascus, hours before a new ceasefire plan was announced early Friday by world powers in Munich, Assad said he backed peace talks but that negotiations do “not mean that we stop fighting terrorism”.
Regime forces backed by Russian air strikes have registered major advances in recent days, particularly in northern Aleppo province, where Assad said the army was seeking to sever the opposition’s supply route from Turkey.
The push is one of the most significant regime advances since the conflict began in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s government, before spiralling into a bloody war that has killed more than 260,000 people.
The advances have prompted consternation from opposition backers including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and Assad said he saw a risk that the two countries would intervene militarily in Syria, pledging that his forces would “certainly confront” them.
He also addressed the massive flow of refugees from his country, saying it was up to Europe to stop “giving cover to terrorists” so Syrians could return home.
Over the past week, Syrian regime forces backed by pro-government fighters and Russian air strikes have encircled Aleppo, Syria’s second city.
The advance is one of several for the government since Russia began an aerial campaign on September 30 after a string of regime losses to rebel forces and the Islamic State group.
Dressed in a dark blue suit, Assad appeared bolstered by his recent military gains, and said his eventual goal was to retake all of Syria.
“Regardless of whether we can do that or not, this is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation,” he said.
“It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part.”
Assad said it would be possible to “put an end to this problem in less than a year” if opposition supply routes from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq were cut.
But if not, he said, “the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price”.
The interview with Assad is the first he has given since the effective collapse of a new round of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month.
The talks are officially “paused” until February 25, and 17 nations agreed early Friday on an ambitious plan intended to bolster efforts for new negotiations.
The plan would see a cessation of hostilities implemented in as little as a week, and also demands humanitarian aid access to all of Syria.
Assad said his government has “fully believed in negotiations and in political action since the beginning of the crisis”.
“However, if we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism. The two tracks are inevitable in Syria.”
The Aleppo offensive has been the main focus of Syrian government forces in recent weeks.
The regime has virtually encircled rebels in eastern parts of Aleppo city after severing their main supply line to the Turkish border.
“The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists,” Assad said.
The operation has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis, with some 300,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo facing the prospect of a government siege.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes already, mostly from northern Aleppo province, with many flocking to the border with Turkey seeking entry.
The displaced could join a wave of more than four million Syrian refugees who have left the country since the conflict began in March 2011.
Last year, many of those refugees began seeking asylum in Europe in a major crisis that has failed to slow throughout the winter.
Assad said “any scene of suffering is painful to all of us as Syrians”, but he said blame for the influx lay at Europe’s feet.
“I would like to ask every person who left Syria to come back,” he said.
“They would ask ‘why should I come back? Has terrorism stopped?'”
Instead, he urged Europe’s governments “which have been a direct cause for the emigration of these people, by giving cover to terrorists in the beginning and through sanctions imposed on Syria, to help in making the Syrians return to their country”.
“Let us forget the resentment,” Rouhani said, calling for both countries to take advantage of the “positive atmosphere” following the removal of sanctions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
“We are ready to turn the page” and establish a “new relationship between our countries”, Rouhani told a meeting of business leaders.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls responded that “Iran can count on France”.
“France is ready to use its companies, its engineers, its technicians and its many resources to help to modernise your country,” Valls said.
Rouhani was welcomed to Paris with military honours and national anthems on the second leg of a trip signalling Iran’s rapprochement with Europe since sanctions were lifted.
The real business of the visit will come when Rouhani officially signals Iran’s intention to buy more than 100 passenger planes from European aircraft maker Airbus.
French carmaker Peugeot said it will return to the Iranian market in a five-year deal worth 400 million euros ($436 million) that was announced Thursday.
Peugeot will produce 200,000 cars a year in a joint venture with local manufacturer Iran Khodro, according to a statement.
The French carmaker was forced to pull out of Iran in 2012 as sanctions began to bite.
In another potential bonanza for France, the head of French oil giant Total said his firm would sign a deal to buy Iranian crude.
Although the French state is rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani, the Iranian opposition will hold a human rights demonstration and Jewish groups also intend to protest in Paris.
Rouhani is to hold talks with President Francois Hollande which are expected to include discussions on Iran’s role in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad in a war that has killed 260,000 people.
Talks are due to begin Friday in Geneva to take tentative steps towards ending the conflict.
After arriving from Italy, where he sealed deals for steel and pipelines worth between 15 and 17 billion euros, Rouhani began his Paris visit on Wednesday by unveiling a scheme to guarantee investment by French firms in Iran.
A source involved in the deal to buy Airbus planes said that only letters of intention will be signed at this stage, because some sanctions are still in place.
However, Iran is keen to bring its ageing fleet of mid- and long-haul aircraft up to date, so the deal is widely expected to go ahead soon, giving a huge boost to the European aviation industry.
Rouhani’s meeting with Hollande is also expected to touch on Iran’s bitter feud with regional rival Saudi Arabia.
In a reference to Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president told an audience in Paris that “some countries had wanted to use terrorism for their own means”.
“But this is a hand grenade with the pin removed,” he added.
During his visit to Rome, Rouhani dismissed suggestions that Iran should apologise to the Saudis for an attack on its embassy by demonstrators furious over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.
“Why should we apologise, because Nimr al-Nimr was executed? We are the ones to apologise because they are killing the people of Yemen? Apologise to them because they are helping terrorists?” he asked.
In the Italian capital, Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met at the Capitoline Museum where nude statues were covered up out of respect for the Islamic Republic’s strict laws governing propriety.
But Rouhani denied he had asked his Italian hosts to cover up the statues and Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who accompanied Rouhani on the museum trip, called the move “incomprehensible”.
Rouhani also visited the Vatican for the first time and met Pope Francis.
Washington announced the new sanctions on Sunday, the day after the UN atomic watchdog confirmed that Iran had complied with the measures imposed by the deal with global powers reached in Vienna in July.
World leaders hailed the implementation of the deal, and the subsequent lifting of European and US sanctions, as a milestone in international diplomacy.
But in a sign that tensions persist, the US Treasury announced it was imposing sanctions on five Iranian nationals and a network of companies based in the United Arab Emirates and China in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday decried the new measures as “illegitimate”, with spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari insisting the missile programme has no links with the nuclear issue.
“Iran’s missile programme has never been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” Ansari was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
He said Iran would respond by “accelerating its legal ballistic missile programme and boosting defence capabilities”.
Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan said the new sanctions would have “no effect”, telling the Fars news agency: “We will prove it in practice by unveiling new missile achievements.”
Cooperation on the nuclear programme was moving forward however, with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano in Tehran for talks with senior officials on Iran’s continued compliance with the deal.
Amano met Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, and was to hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani to discuss monitoring and verifying Iran’s commitments under the agreement.
“We talked about future cooperation, especially in the new atmosphere, and we partially drew the roadmap” for continued efforts, state television quoted Salehi as saying after the talks.
Rouhani on Sunday said the implementation of the nuclear deal, negotiated with the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany had “opened a new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.
US President Barack Obama praised the deal as a breakthrough in diplomacy, but noted that “profound differences” with Tehran remained over its “destabilising activities”.
Warming ties between the longtime foes were also in evidence in a weekend prisoner swap that saw Tehran release four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former US Marine Amir Hekmati arrived at a US military base in Germany late on Sunday on their way home from Iran.
A fourth Iranian-American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari was also set free but chose not to leave Iran, local media reported.
Under the exchange, Washington said it had granted clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom were dual US-Iranian citizens, and dropped charges against 14 others.
Rouhani, a moderate whose 2013 election victory helped launch the huge diplomatic effort toward the deal, has promised that the lifting of sanctions will give a major boost to Iran’s economy.
Iran will now be able to significantly increase its oil exports, long the lifeblood of its economy.
Concerns that fresh Iranian exports will worsen a supply glut have helped push oil prices to 12-year lows, and they plunged below $28 a barrel early on Monday.
The Vienna agreement was nailed down after two years of negotiations following Rouhani’s election.
It drew a line under a standoff dating back to 2002 marked by failed diplomatic initiatives, ever-tighter sanctions, defiant nuclear expansion by Iran and threats of military action.
The steps taken so far by Tehran extend to at least a year, from a few months previously how long Iran would need to make one nuclear bomb’s worth of fissile material.
They include slashing by two-thirds its uranium centrifuges, reducing its stockpile of uranium enough before the deal for several bombs and removing the core of its Arak reactor, which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.
Iran has always denied wanting nuclear weapons, saying its activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Tehran has fulfilled its side of last year’s landmark deal with six world powers.
“Iran has carried out all measures required under the (July deal) to enable Implementation Day (of the deal) to occur,” the Vienna-based agency said in a statement.
In return, the United States, European Union and United Nations have lifted a raft of nuclear-related sanctions.
The move will allow Iran to immediately recoup some $100bn (£70bn) in assets frozen overseas.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “I hereby confirm that the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has fully implemented its required commitments… The US sanctions-related commitments… are now in effect.”
Meanwhile, in a joint press conference with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “As Iran has fulfilled its commitments, today multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme”.
“(The deal’s) proper implementation will be a key contribution to improve regional and international peace, stability and security,” she said.
The announcement came hours after the US and Iran reached an agreement on a prisoner swap, bringing an end to 14 months of negotiations,
Tehran confirmed that four inmates with dual Iranian-US nationality have been released from its jails, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian,
US officials say a fifth American, student Matthew Trevithnick, has also been freed, but that his release was not part of the prisoner swap.
Seven Iranians, being held in prisons across the US, have been released in return.
Western powers imposed sanctions on Iran over fears it was planning to use its atomic programme to develop nuclear weapons, although Tehran always maintained its nuclear ambitions were peaceful.
It is thought that since 2012 the sanctions have cost Iran on some £102bn in oil revenues alone.
Iran has the fourth biggest oil supplies in the world and the free flow of Iranian oil into the world market could mean lower prices at the pumps.
Restrictions on Iran’s shipping, energy, banking and automotive sectors will begin to be lifted, along with so-called secondary sanctions, which penalised foreign nationals with large dealings in Iran, being cancelled. Some sanctions not linked to the nuclear deal will, however, remain in place, including European sanctions relating to human rights and US sanctions relating to terrorism.
In comments posted on his official Twitter account, he wrote: “I thank God for this blessing & bow to the greatness of the patient nation of Iran. Congrats on this glorious victory!” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said it would make the world a “safer place.”
“The nuclear deal with Iran, in which Britain played a major role, makes the Middle East and the wider world a safer place,” Mr Hammond said in a statement.
“Years of patient and persistent diplomacy, and difficult technical work, have borne fruit as we now implement the deal,” he added.
There are those, however, who are alarmed at the prospect of closer western ties with Shiite Iran, chiefly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Israel.
According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran “has not relinquished its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons, and continues to act to destabilise the Middle East and spread terror throughout the world”.
The Iran deal with foreign powers operates on a snap-back system, meaning that sanctions would be re-introduced if Iran were deemed to violate the terms of the agreement in any way. Some of the deal’s provisions are also set to run out in 15 years, meaning that Iran could revert to enriching uranium to a higher level at a later stage.
“Iran may test the boundaries of the agreement. It is critical that violations do not go unpunished, or the deal could be killed by a thousand paper cuts,” Kelsey Davenport, of the Arms Control Association, said in a statement.
This year’s US presidential and congressional elections could also spell trouble for the deal, with many Republican presidential candidates likely to take a tougher stance on Iran. While many believe the deal will help boost the reformist camp in Iran, many conservatives have been less receptive to the new relationship with the West.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attacking Saudi Arabia for the second straight day over its execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric, said on Sunday politicians in the Sunni kingdom would face divine retribution for his death.
“The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported Khamenei as saying. It said he described the execution as a “political error”.
Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr and three other Shi’ites alongside dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or members of the Shi’ite minority seeking equality.
Khamenei added: “This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism … based on religious fervour.”
In an apparent swipe at Saudi Arabia’s Western allies, Khamenei criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution.
“Why are those who claim to support human rights quiet? Why do those who claim to back freedom and democracy support this (Saudi) government?” Khamenei was quoted as saying.
While Western human rights groups have condemned the executions, Western government responses have so far been muted.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern that Nimr’s execution could exacerbate sectarian tensions in the Middle East. In Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is on vacation with his family, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has urged the Saudis to show restraint regarding respect for human rights.
Russia’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday he expected a historic nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to be implemented in January, leading to sanctions against Tehran being lifted.
At talks in Vienna, senior officials from those major powers discussed with Iran a text they have prepared that would close the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 12-year investigation of Tehran’s past activities while ensuring the IAEA could still check for signs of suspicious behaviour.
Under the deal, Iran must scale back its nuclear program, including its stockpile of low-enriched uranium – which it plans to do via a swap for non-enriched forms of uranium with Russia, to remove concerns it could be put to developing nuclear bombs.
That swap will be done before the end of the year, the Russian envoy to the IAEA, Vladimir Voronkov, told reporters.
Iran has said it will fulfill all its commitments under the July agreement only if the IAEA’s Board of Governors passes a resolution formally closing its investigation into Iran’s nuclear past when the board meets on Dec. 15.
The draft resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors drawn up by the major powers France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, and sent to other states on Monday contained provisions that both sides could claim as victories.
“(The board) also notes that all the activities in the road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule and further notes that this closes the Board’s consideration of this item,” the text said.
The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, also said the board would eventually no longer be seized of “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, referring to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
That phrase, and a shorter version before the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions were passed, has been the title of the IAEA’s regular reports on its investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities since 2003.
The draft resolution did, however, also provide for the board to tackle a new item covering “implementation and verification and monitoring” of the July deal in Iran, and for the IAEA to provide quarterly reports on Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the accord.
More generally, it requests the head of the agency to “report, in this regard … to the Board of Governors for appropriate action, and in parallel to the United Nations Security Council, at any time if the Director General has reasonable grounds to believe there is an issue of concern.”
Earlier on Monday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, who met with senior officials from major powers in Vienna, after the meetings said he was satisfied with the draft resolution and expected it to be adopted next week.
For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that the Islamic Republic has honoured all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement.
The IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear past, which was issued last week, strongly suggested Tehran had a secret nuclear weapons program before 2003, but, in a sign of the shift in relations since July, Western powers voiced little concern.
Araqchi said Iran rejected the findings of the report about its program before 2003, but added that, in Iran’s view, overall the document showed the peaceful nature of Iran’s atomic activities.
“We believe that based on this final assessment the Board of Governors should close the so-called PMD issue,” he told reporters, referring to the report into what is also known as the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear past.
Assad said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times that IS cannot be defeated with airstrikes alone unless there is coordination with forces on the ground. His comments were carried by Syrian state news agency SANA on Sunday.
British warplanes began launching airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against IS targets there.
Assad has said the only airstrikes that have worked against IS are those carried out by Russia, which is cooperating with Syrian government forces. Syrian troops have captured areas from IS since Moscow began its air campaign on Sept. 30.
Assad mocked British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels on the ground.
“Let me be frank and blunt about this. This is a new episode in a long series of David Cameron’s classical farce, to be very frank. This is not acceptable. Where are they? Where are the 70,000 thousand moderates that he is talking about?” Assad asked.
“That is what they always talk about: moderate groups in Syria. This is a farce based on offering the public factoids instead of facts,” Assad said in the interview, which was conducted before the British Parliament authorized the attacks.
Speaking about the British airstrikes, Assad said they “will be harmful and illegal, and it will support terrorism as what happened after the coalition started its operation.” Assad was referring to the U.S.-led coalition that began launching airstrikes against IS in Syria in September 2014. IS has lost territory in northern and central Syria since those strikes began, while expanding into other parts of the country.
“This is like a cancer. You cannot cut the cancer. You have to extract it,” Assad said.
He said next week’s meeting of Syrian opposition and rebel groups in Saudi Arabia ahead of peace talks with the government “will not change anything on the ground.”
“Before the meeting and after the meeting Saudi Arabia has been supporting terrorists and will continue to do so,” said Assad, whose government refers to all the armed opposition as “terrorists.”
Saudi Arabia has been one of the strongest backers of groups trying to remove Assad from power since the conflict began in March 2011, while its archrival Iran has provided key support to his government.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Assad is “Iran’s red line.” His comments were broadcast on state TV Sunday.
“Iran has no intention to leave Assad alone,” he added