Iran welcomes France s efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday as French President Emmanuel Macron s top diplomatic adviser visited Tehran for talks to help ease the crisis. Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the nuclear accord. Tehran has been pushing the European signatories to the accord to protect Iran from U.S. sanctions, which Washington re-imposed after leaving the pact last year. Iran s state news agency IRNA reported that Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi "welcomed France s role in reducing tension and implementing the accord." "The French are part of efforts ... to keep the nuclear deal alive," Mousavi was quoted as saying during the visit by Emmanuel Bonne, Macron s top diplomatic adviser.
Sweden s Supreme Court blocked the extradition of a former Chinese official wanted by Beijing on suspicion of embezzlement, ruling on Tuesday that he could face persecution if sent back to China. While there was reasonable suspicion Qiao Jianjun had committed crimes in China, there was a risk he would be persecuted because of his political activity and treated in violation of the European Convention, the court ruled. "Under these conditions, extradition cannot take place," Justice Council Petter Asp said in a statement. China had asked Sweden to extradite Qiao, also known as Feng Li, on suspicion of breach of trust and fraud relating to the embezzlement of the equivalent of around 100 million Swedish crowns ($11 million). He has also been charged with money laundering and immigration fraud in the United States, which is also seeking his extradition. "Now we have a precedent, that the court has found that China s handling of the juridical system and human rights is appalling and cannot be accepted, at least not by a Swedish court," Henrik Olsson Lilja, Qiao s lawyer, told Reuters. "China can not appeal this decision. There will be no extradition from Sweden." Qiao was arrested in Sweden in June last year under the Chinese extradition request. He was released last month, then re-arrested days later under the U.S. request. The European Convention and Swedish law both bar authorities from extraditing people to countries where they would face political or religious persecution, torture or the death penalty. Lilja said the U.S. case remained open, with the United States having until August 2 to say why it wants Qiao extradited. Qiao has been residing in Sweden since 2013 and applied for asylum in March. A decision is pending.
The European Union on Sunday strongly urged Iran to stop actions that would undermine a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was in touch with other parties to the deal and may set up a joint commission to look into the issue. "We are extremely concerned at Iran s announcement that it has started uranium enrichment above the limit of 3.67%," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement. "We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments ... We are in contact with the other JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the JCPoA, including a Joint Commission," she said. The JCPoA is the deal between Iran and the six powers.
Sudan s ruling generals and protest leaders reached an agreement on the disputed issue of a new governing body Friday, in a breakthrough power sharing accord aimed at ending the country s months-long political crisis. The landmark agreement came after two days of talks following the collapse of the previous round of negotiations in May over who should lead the new ruling body -- a civilian or soldier. "The two sides agreed on establishing a sovereign council with a rotating military and civilian (presidency) for a period of three years or little more," African Union mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters. Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests, with the generals who seized power resisting demonstrators demands to hand it over to a civilian administration. "We want to reassure all political forces and armed movements and all those who took part in the change... that this agreement is all inclusive and does not exclude anyone," deputy chief of the ruling military council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said in a statement. Lebatt did not specify the exact make-up of the new ruling body, but prominent protest leader Ahmed al-Rabie told AFP that it would comprise of six civilians, including five from the protest movement, and five members of the military. The latest round of talks had resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who had put forward a draft proposal to break the weeks-long deadlock. The blueprint proposes a three-year transition period, with the president of the new ruling body to be held by the military for the first 18 months and a civilian for the second. However, it was still unclear if both sides had signed off on the military holding the post first. Lebatt, however, said the two sides had agreed to postpone the forming of a new transitional parliament. Before talks collapsed in May the generals and protest leaders had agreed on forming a 300-member parliament, with two-third of lawmakers to be from the protest movement. Lebatt said that both sides have now also "agreed to have a detailed, transparent, national, independent investigation into all the regrettable violent incidents that the country faced in recent weeks," including the June 3 dispersal of protests. The ruling military council said it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in. For weeks the issue of forming the new ruling body has rocked Sudan, extending the political crisis triggered by the fall of Bashir. Prior to the start of the latest round of talks on Wednesday, Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Drir had said that the thorny issue of the new governing body was "the sole point of disagreement" between the two parties. On Sunday, protest leaders managed to mobilise tens of thousands of supporters in the first mass protest against the generals since the dispersal of protests. On Thursday hundreds of students from several schools in three towns -- Madani, Gadaref and Sinnar -- staged spontaneous protests chanting "civilian rule, civilian rule", witnesses said. Earlier on Thursday a group of 235 fighters from a faction of a Darfur rebel group that is part of the protest movement were released as decided during the talks. *This story was edited by Ahram Online.
British Royal Marines and officials in Gibraltar have detained the supertanker Grace 1 suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria, in breach of European Union sanctions, the government of Gibraltar said. In a statement the government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria. "That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria," Gibraltar s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. EU sanctions against the government of Syria took effect in May 2011. "With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation." The government published regulations on Wednesday to enforce the sanctions against the tanker and its cargo. Refinitiv Eikon mapping indicates the ship sailed from Iran, and if the cargo is confirmed to be Iranian crude, its attempted delivery to Syria could also be a violation of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports. The mapping data shows the ship has sailed a longer route around the southern tip of Africa instead of via Egypt s Suez Canal. The Grace 1 was documented as loading fuel oil in Iraq in December, although the Iraqi port did not list it as being in port and its tracking system was switched off. The tanker reappeared near Iran s port of Bandar Assaluyeh fully loaded. Shipping data shows the ship is a 300,000-tonne Panamanian-flagged tanker managed by Singapore-based IShips Management Pte Ltd.
The African Union (AU) Wednesday condemned an air strike on a migrant detention centre in Libya that killed nearly 40 people and demanded "those responsible for the horrific crime be held to account." In a statement, the chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat called for "an independent investigation to be conducted to ensure that those responsible for this horrific crime of innocent civilians, be brought to account".
China said Tuesday it regrets Iran s decision to exceed a limit on enriched uranium reserves under a 2015 nuclear deal, but said US "maximum pressure is the root cause" of tensions. "We call on all parties to view this from a long term and overall perspective, exercise restraint and uphold the JCPOA (nuclear deal) together so that there won t be further escalation in the tense situation," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.
Afghan security forces on Monday were battling Taliban gunmen who stormed a building in the capital, Kabul, after a bomb-laden truck exploded near the defence ministry at rush hour, injuring at least 100 people, including 35 children, officials said. For hours after the attack, sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard in the area, cordoned off by special forces. At least three gunmen entered a building around the defence ministry after the blast, a government security official said. "Gunmen have entered a building and they are clashing with the Afghan forces after the powerful blast," said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "The target was the defence ministry s technical installation," the Islamist militants spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement. Afghan security officials said the truck loaded with explosives was detonated near the ministry s engineering and logistics department. About 100 wounded people were taken to hospital, said health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar, but there was no immediate word of fatalities. Thirty-five school children were wounded, said Nimatullah Hamdard, the director of a nearby private school. The blast sent a plume of black smoke rising over the city and shook buildings as the wail of ambulance sirens rent the air. Clustered in the area are military and government buildings, as well as an office of the Afghan Football Federation, whose spokesman, Shafi Shadab, said its chief, Yosuf Kargar, was among several members injured. The attack comes as U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad holds a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban Islamist militant group in Qatar, aimed at bringing an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan. The talks, described by one U.S. official as a "make-or-break moment", have focused on issues ranging from counter-terrorism and withdrawal of foreign troops to an intra-Afghan dialogue and a comprehensive ceasefire.
Two suicide bombers attacked security forces in the Tunisian capital on Thursday, killing a police officer and wounding at least eight people including several civilians, the interior ministry said. One attack on the main street of Tunis wounded three civilians and two police personnel, the interior ministry initially said. "Five (are) wounded -- three civilians and two police officers", Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag told AFP, before later saying that a police officer had died of his wounds. Body parts were strewn in the road around a police car on Habib Bourguiba avenue near the old city, according to an AFP correspondent. "It was a suicide attack, which took place at 10:50 (0950 GMT)," Zaag said. The second attack targeted a base of the national guard in the capital and wounded four security personnel, the ministry said. "At 11:00 am (1000 GMT) an individual blew himself up outside the back door" of the base, wounding four security personnel, Zaag said. Civil protection units and police rapidly deployed to Habib Bourguiba avenue, where the interior ministry is located. People initially fled in panic, before some crowded around the scene of the attack, expressing anger against the authorities. Shops and offices were closed by police. Tunisia has been hit by repeated Islamist attacks since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. On October 29, 2018 an unemployed graduate blew herself up near police cars on Habib Bourguiba, killing herself and wounding 26 people, mostly police officers, according to the interior ministry. The Tunisian authorities said the suicide bomber had sworn allegiance to IS group. The attack was the first to rock the Tunisian capital for over three and a half years. In March 2015, Islamist gunmen killed 21 tourists and a policeman at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis. And in June that year, 30 Britons were among 38 foreign holidaymakers killed in a gun and grenade attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse. *This story was edited by Ahram Online
Former Israeli premier Ehud Barak announced the formation of a new political party Wednesday that will compete in the September elections and seek to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s "corrupt" rule. "We are creating a new party to put an end to Netanyahu s power," Barak, 77, told a Tel Aviv news conference. Denouncing Netanyahu s "corrupt" practises, he said Israel had "never experienced such dark days". The party s name would be revealed in "two weeks" at its official launch, he said. A former armed forces chief of staff, Barak succeeded Netanyahu as prime minister in 1999 and served as defence minister under him from 2009 to 2013 before retiring from politics. "I ve known you for 50 years... it s the end of the road for you," said Barak, addressing Netanyahu, who he once commanded in an elite army unit. Netanyahu, 69, is facing possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the months ahead and is reportedly seeking legislation that would result in him being granted immunity. He is up for re-election on September 17 after failing to form a coalition government following snap polls in April. Parliamentary speaker Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday he was considering cancelling the elections -- a proposal hailed by Netanyahu. "I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Edelstein to try to avoid new elections," Netanyahu wrote Wednesday on Facebook. His main challenger, former army chief Benny Gantz who heads the Blue and White centrist alliance, slammed the possibility of circumventing the September polls, saying "there is no turning back". Gantz added that if there was a possibility of forming a unity government without Netanyahu, his party would consider it.
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that "clear, scientific and convincing" evidence was required on recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was speaking in Moscow at a press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergie Lavrov that was broadcast on Al Arabiya TV, also called for de-escalation of tensions in the region.
New U.S. sanctions against Iran s supreme leader and foreign minister have closed off diplomacy, Iran said on Tuesday, blaming the United States for abandoning the only route to peace just days after the two foes came within minutes of conflict. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Monday against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior figures. Sanctions against Foreign Minister Mohmmad Javad Zarif are expected later this week. The moves came after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week and Trump called off a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact, which would have been the first time the United States had bombed Iran in decades of hostility between them. Trump said he decided at the last minute that too many people would die. "Imposing useless sanctions on Iran s Supreme Leader and the commander of Iran s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter. "Trump s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security," Mousavi tweeted. In a televised address, President Hassan Rouhani said sanctions against Khamenei would have no practical impact because the cleric had no assets abroad. Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two elections on promises to open Iran up to the world, described the U.S. moves as desperate and called the White House "mentally retarded", an insult Iranian officials have used in the past about Trump but a departure from Rouhani s own comparatively measured tone. Rouhani and his cabinet run Iran s day-to-day affairs, while Khamenei, in power since 1989, is Iran s ultimate authority. "The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded," Rouhani said. "Tehran s strategic patience does not mean we have fear." Trump s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, visiting Israel, repeated earlier offers to hold talks, as long as Iran was willing to go beyond the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which Trump abandoned last year. "OPEN DOOR" "The president has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran s nuclear weapons programme, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behaviour worldwide," Bolton said in Jerusalem. "All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door." The United States has imposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran since last year, when Trump withdrew from an agreement between Tehran and world powers to curb Iran s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. The crisis has escalated sharply since last month, when the Trump administration tightened the sanctions, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil. That effectively starved the Iranian economy of the main source of revenue Tehran uses to import food for its 81 million people, and left Iran s pragmatic faction with no benefits to show for its nuclear agreement. Washington says the 2015 agreement reached under Trump s predecessor Barack Obama did not go far enough because it is not permanent and does not cover issues beyond the nuclear programme, such as missiles and regional behaviour. Iran says there is no point negotiating with Washington when it has abandoned a deal that was already reached. The downing of the U.S. drone -- which Iran says was over its air space and the United States says was international skies -- was the culmination of weeks of rising tensions that had begun to take on a military dimension. The United States and some regional allies have blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies. Washington s European allies have repeatedly warned both sides of the danger that a small mistake could lead to war. Washington says forcing Iran to the table is the purpose of its sanctions. Tehran has said it is willing to talk if the United States lifts the new sanctions first, although Tuesday s statements appear to toughen that stance. U.S. officials have launched a diplomatic campaign to rally their allies in the face of the escalating crisis. Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East on Monday to meet leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Gulf Arab states that favour the toughest possible line against Iran. The U.S. envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, is visiting Europe, where he is likely to get a frostier reception from allies who support the nuclear deal. They believe Trump s decision to quit the accord was a mistake that has strengthened Iran s hardline faction, weakened its pragmatists and endangered regional peace. Iran says it still aims to comply with the nuclear deal, but cannot do so indefinitely unless it receives some benefits. It has given European countries until July 8 to find a way to shield its economy from U.S. sanctions, or else it will enrich uranium to levels banned under the deal.
Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his policies. Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency - a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago. The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes. “In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning. “We came to embrace everyone,” Imamoglu said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.” The High Electoral Board has yet to announce the formal results, but Erdogan has already congratulated Imamoglu for his victory and Imamoglu’s rival, Binali Yildirim, of the ruling AK Party wished him luck as mayor barely two hours after polls closed. WANING SUPPORT Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago. His AK Party has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fueled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections. But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support, and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters. Turkey’s lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down 8% this year in part on election jitters. It firmed to 5.72 overnight from Friday’s close of 5.8140 but eased back to 5.7750 by 0500 GMT. Imamoglu won support even in the traditionally pious Istanbul districts, once known as AK Party strongholds, ending the 25-year-long Islamist rule in the country’s largest city. “This re-run (election) was one to put an end to the dictatorship,” said Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife in Istanbul’s AKP-leaning Kagithane district. “God willing, I would like to see him as the president in five years’ time. The one-man rule should come to an end.” The results are likely to trigger a new chapter in Turkish politics, with the country’s top three cities now held by the opposition, and could trigger cracks within Erdogan’s AK Party, while bringing the economic troubles more to the center. “This is definitely going to have an impact on the future of Turkish politics given the margin of victory. It’s alarming sign for the AKP establishment,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and former Turkish diplomat. Analysts say the loss could set off a Cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy. It could even trigger a national election earlier than 2023 as scheduled, although the leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down that prospect. “Turkey should now return to its real agenda, the election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said. “Talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.” The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge. Threats of sanctions by the United States if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses have also weighed on the markets.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of an unmanned U.S. drone because it could have killed 150 people, and signaled he was open to talks with Tehran. An Iranian surface-to-air missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone on Thursday. Tehran said the drone was shot down over its territory and Washington said it occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The incident aggravated fears of a direct military clash between the longtime foes. Oil futures rose more than 1% to above $65 per barrel on Friday over worries about possible disruptions to crude exports from the Gulf. Trump’s decision to cancel what he said was a planned attack on three sites suggests he wants a diplomatic solution to end weeks of festering tensions with Iran, which Washington accuses of a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region. “I’m not looking for war, and if there is, it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before. But I’m not looking to do that,” Trump told NBC News in an interview aired on Friday night. Iranian sources told Reuters that Trump had warned Tehran via Oman that a U.S. attack was imminent, but had said he was against war and wanted talks. Washington also requested a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday. The State Department denied the Reuters report. “Reports that a message was passed last night to the Iranians via an Omani back channel are completely false. These reports are pure Iranian propaganda,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Twitter. In a series of early-morning tweets, Trump said he was in no hurry to launch a strike and that U.S. economic sanctions designed to force Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs and its involvement in regional wars were having an effect. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night,” Trump tweeted. “Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” Trump tweeted. Typically, the U.S. military would seek to target Iranian facilities that could be connected to the shooting down of the American drone. The military would not seek to inflict casualties and although Iranian military casualties could occur in an attack, forecasts such as 150 are normally only rough estimates. White House national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel, along with the rest of Trump’s team, favored a retaliatory strike, a senior Trump administration official said. “There was complete unanimity amongst the president’s advisers and DOD (Department of Defense) leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities. The president made the final decision,” said the official. Trump’s decision drew mixed reviews in Washington, with some people criticizing him for flinching while others, notably senior Democrats, praised what they saw as restraint. “A strike of that amount of collateral damage would be very provocative, and I’m glad the president did not take that,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, told reporters. However, Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, a think tank that favors strong U.S.-Israeli security ties, said Trump was undermining U.S. credibility. “Trump has given the impression he lost his nerve,” Makovsky said in a statement. Iran’s destruction of the U.S. drone was the latest among ever more serious incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May. There have also been explosions on six oil tankers that the U.S. suspects Iran or its proxies of carrying out. Iran has denied any involvement. After interviewing Trump for NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, NBC correspondent Chuck Todd said Trump had said he had no preconditions for talks with Iran and was willing to speak to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Security Threats in Iraq U.S. forces are preparing to evacuate nearly 400 people working for Lockheed Martin Corp and Sallyport Global from an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad over potential security threats, Iraqi military sources said on Friday. The sources did not give any details about the threats. Three bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq have been attacked in the past week with no claims of responsibility. Local officials blamed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias for one of the incidents. Trump on Friday spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Middle East stability and the oil market, the White House said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she and fellow EU leaders “are concerned about the situation and support diplomatic negotiations, a political solution for a very tense situation.” Some global airlines are re-routing flights to avoid Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, they said on Friday after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred U.S. air carriers from the area. Trump Message to Iran News of the Trump message to Iran, delivered through Oman overnight, broke shortly after the New York Times reported that Trump had called off air strikes targeting Iranian radar and missile batteries at the last minute. “In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues,” one Iranian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He gave a short period of time to get our response, but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader Khamenei to decide about this issue.” A second Iranian official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision. “However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.” Khamenei has the last say on all state matters and has ruled out any talks with Washington while Tehran is under sanctions. Trump’s decision in May to tighten sanctions to try to eliminate Iran’s oil exports led to the latest tensions. In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from a 2015 accord between Iran and major powers under which Tehran curtailed its path to building a nuclear bomb in return for sanctions relief.
Developing countries, not rich Western nations, are bearing the brunt of the world s refugee crisis and are hosting most of the record 70.8 million displaced people who have fled war and persecution, the United Nations said on Wednesday. Half of the world s forcibly displaced are children and the 2018 total is the highest in nearly 70 years, the U.N. refugee agency said in its annual flagship report, Global Trends. But the global figure, which comprises 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million people uprooted within their homelands, and 3.5 million asylum-seekers, is "conservative", it said. That is because it does not include most of the 4 million Venezuelans who have fled abroad since 2015 as they do not need visas or to lodge asylum claims to stay in most host countries. If the outflow continues, a total of 5 million Venezuelans could have left by year-end, it said. "Certainly if the situation is not solved politically in Venezuela, with a political agreement, we will see a continuation of this exodus," Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news briefing. Venezuelans, arriving mainly in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, formed the second biggest flow abroad last year, after Syrians fleeing to Turkey following eight years of war, the report said. "When you say Europe has a refugee emergency, or the United States, or Australia - no. Most of the refugees are in fact in the country next to where the war is, and unfortunately that means mostly in poor countries or in middle-income countries," Grandi said. "That s where the crisis is, that s need where we need to focus," he told a news briefing. More than two-thirds of the world s refugees come from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, the report said. Asylum claims U.S. President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration along the border with Mexico one of his signature policy pledges. Central Americans reaching the United States after fleeing violence or persecution in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are entitled to request asylum, Grandi said. The United States should give such people a fair hearing and not separate children from their parents, he said, adding that his agency stood ready to help U.S. authorities deal with the challenge. With 254,300 asylum claims lodged in 2018, the United States is the world’s largest recipient of applications, the report said. But Grandi said the United States has a huge backlog of 800,000 cases to be processed and that his agency was also helping Mexico to beef up its capacity to handle asylum-seekers. Asked whether Trump s policies had made the work of UNHCR more difficult, he said: "It s not just in the United States, in Europe as well, and Australia. "This is the crisis of solidarity that I have mentioned. It is identifying refugees and migrants with a problem instead of people that are fleeing from a problem," he said. In Europe, the issue has been heavily politicised, leaving some governments "terrified" to commit to take in people rescued at sea after fleeing Libya or other conflict zones, Grandi said. "So the appeal I make, now that we are in a situation where European (Parliament) elections are behind us, is to stop this electoral agitation. The numbers arriving in Europe are frankly manageable," he said.
Four decades of dealings between China and the United States show that positive outcomes were always possible, China s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after their presidents agreed to rekindle trade talks at a G20 meeting this month. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. China, which previously declined to say whether the two leaders would get together, confirmed the meeting. The world s two largest economies are in the middle of a costly trade dispute that has pressured financial markets and damaged the global economy. Talks to reach a broad deal broke down last month after U.S. officials accused China of backing away from agreed commitments. Interaction since then has been limited, and Trump has threatened to slap more tariffs on Chinese products in an escalation that businesses in both countries want to avoid. Speaking at a daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it was important to find a solution that is acceptable to both sides. "I m not getting ahead of myself, but communication over four decades shows it is possible to achieve positive outcomes," he said. Lu said he could not give an exact agenda for the meeting. "The two leaders will talk about whatever they want," he said. "A deal is not only in the interests of the two peoples but meets the aspirations of the whole world." In another potential sign of a pre-G20 thaw, state television s movie channel, which has in recent weeks broadcast old patriotic films about China s heroics against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War, on Wednesday showed a movie that put the United States in a far more positive light. The channel showed 1999 s "Lover s Grief over the Yellow River", about a U.S. pilot in World War Two who is rescued by Communist guerrilla forces in China and falls in love with one of the young women fighters.
U.S. President Donald Trump criticized European Central Bank President Mario Draghi s comments earlier on Tuesday that further monetary policy changes may be needed by the ECB, saying that would spark unfair European competition against the United States. "Mario Draghi just announced more stimulus could come, which immediately dropped the Euro against the Dollar, making it unfairly easier for them to compete against the USA. They have been getting away with this for years, along with China and others," Trump said on Twitter. Draghi said the ECB might may need to cut interest rates or purchase assets if inflation in the euro zone continued to lag its target range. "In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required," Draghi told the ECB s annual conference in Sintra, Portugal. The comments sent the euro down by a quarter of a percent against the U.S. dollar while stocks erased early losses and bond yields fell further. Trump has repeatedly criticized currency manipulation by other countries with which the United States has large trade deficits, saying weaker currencies abroad give trading partners an unfair advantage and hurts American workers. If a country s currency is artificially low, its exports are more competitive. Higher U.S. interest rates would generally increase the value of the dollar, making U.S. exports more expensive. Earlier in June, Trump criticized China, with which he is engaged in a trade spat, for devaluing its currency and said it created an uneven playing field for commerce. He made similar criticisms of Russia and China in April, remarks that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said were "a warning shot at China and Russia about devaluation." Trump has been critical of the U.S. Federal Reserve for its recent interest rate increases and has pressed the independent central bank to cut rates at a policy meeting this week. But the Fed is expected to leave borrowing costs unchanged on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday that the kingdom will not hesitate to confront threats to its security and joined the U.S. in accusing its bitter rival Iran of being behind the attacks on two vessels traveling near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital trade route for Arabian energy exports in Asia. The U.S. has blamed Iran for the suspected attacks on two oil tankers, denouncing what it called a campaign of “escalating tensions”. The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous. The Japanese tanker’s crewmembers described “flying objects” as having targeted the vessel, seemingly contradicting the assertion that limpet mines were used. In an interview with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Prince Mohammed said Iran disrespected the visit to Tehran by the Japanese prime minister last week and responded to his diplomatic efforts to reduce regional tensions by attacking the two tankers. The crown prince, however, offered no evidence to back up his allegation. “The problem is in Tehran and not anywhere else,” Prince Mohammed said. “Iran is always the party that’s escalating in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks and criminal attacks either directly or through its militias.” Iran rejects accusations it was responsible for Thursday’s attacks, saying it stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of maritime passages. It said the massive U.S. military presence in the region and U.S. sanctions are the main sources of insecurity and instability in the Gulf. In recent weeks, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region in what the military says is defensive posturing aimed at Iranian deterrence. Tensions have escalated since the Trump Administration re-imposed punishing economic sanctions on Tehran and its oil exports after unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which America’s European allies are struggling to salvage. Similar to the recent attacks, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were apparently targeted in acts of sabotage, which U.S. officials have blamed on Iran. Two of those vessels belonged to Saudi Arabia. Days later, Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels claimed they were behind a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline. In his first public comments since the start of these incidents, the Saudi prince, who is also defense minister, said the attacks “confirm the importance of our demands of the international community to take a decisive stance” against Iran’s behavior. “The kingdom does not seek war in the region, but we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, sovereignty and vital interests,” he said. He also touted U.S.-Saudi relations as “essential to achieving regional security and stability.” Last month, an English-language Saudi newspaper close to the palace had called for the U.S. to launch “surgical” strikes against Iran in retaliation for the earlier vessel and pipeline attacks. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming Yemeni rebels known as Houthis, who claimed responsibility for the pipeline attack and a subsequent missile strike on a Saudi airport that wounded 26 passengers. Saudi Arabia has been at war against the Houthis in Yemen since early 2015. “The choice before Iran is clear. Do you want to be a normal state with a constructive role in the international community or do you want to be a rogue state?” the crown prince was quoted as saying. His comments mirrored those made by his father, King Salman, at emergency summits held in Mecca last month that drew heads of state from Arab and Muslim countries to address the sharp rise in tensions with Iran. Thursday’s apparent attacks in the Strait of Hormuz forced the evacuation of all 44 sailors aboard the two vessels. On Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw the crew members of the Norwegian-owned oil tanker MT Front Altair arrive at Dubai International Airport, after spending two days in Iran. The Front Altair, which caught fire after the apparent attack, limped into anchorage Sunday off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates, near the port city of Khorfakkan. *This story was edited by Ahram Online.
Arab League (AL) Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit will visit Sudan on Sunday where he will meet with head of the Transitional Military Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan and representatives of political powers and movements in the country. The visit reflects Aboul Gheit’s keenness to follow up on developments in Sudan and is in line with the AL’s wish see full security and stability in its member states, AL spokesman Mahmoud Afifi said in press statements on Saturday. During the visit, the AL secretary-general will assert the importance of Sudanese parties committing to a peaceful course that achieves democratic political transition, the spokesman added.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Tehran to play a "constructive role" for Middle East peace Wednesday during a rare diplomatic mission to the Islamic republic aimed at defusing US-Iran tensions. Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year. Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions -- which have forced Tokyo to halt its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil -- and launched a military buildup in the Gulf. "It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East," Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran s President Hassan Rouhani. "Today, tension is rising in the Middle East. Some experts point out that the conflict might be triggered accidentally, said Abe. An armed clash "must be avoided by all means", the premier stressed. The "peace and stability of the Middle East is indispensable for the prosperity not only of this region but of the entire world. "Japan wishes to play an utmost role in its capacity to ease the tension. This is the one single thought that brought me to Iran," he added. Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a "very positive change" in the Middle East and the world if the United States stops its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions. "If there are some tensions, (their) roots stem from America s economic war against Iran. Whenever it stops we will witness a very positive change in the region and the world," Rouhani said. "We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response," the Iranian president added. - Lower the temperature - Abe began his visit to Iran on Wednesday, the first by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years, with the stated aim of defusing tensions between Tehran and Washington. Japan stopped importing Iranian crude oil in May to comply with US sanctions against the Islamic republic. The Asian powerhouse has an interest in keeping the Middle East stable in order to ensure the flow of cheap hydrocarbons to fuel its economy. Rouhani said he saw "Japan s interest in continuing to buy oil from Iran and fixing financial issues" as a "guarantee" for the ongoing development of bilateral ties. The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said "both of us are against". Abe, for his part, expressed his "deep respect to the fact that the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei reiterates the fatwa which says nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are against Islam ". The Japanese premier is expected to meet Khamenei on Thursday morning. Abe discussed "the situation in Iran" in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said. The Japanese prime minister won Trump s blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month. "We believe it is extremely important that, at the leadership level, we call on Iran as a major regional power to ease tension, to adhere to the nuclear agreement and to play a constructive role for the region s stability," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. - Substantial obstacles - Iranian newspapers were divided along conservative-reformist lines in their assessment of Abe s visit. The reformist Sazandegi daily ran a front-page cartoon of Abe in full samurai armour, a rolled piece of paper in one hand and a shield on the other. In an accompanying article headlined "A samurai in Tehran," the paper said everyone was waiting to see "Tehran s reaction to Japan s initiative to raise its international standing by mediating as both Washington s ally and Iran s friend." The ultraconservative Javan daily warned that "Iran and Japan minus America" could be a winning formula for Abe, but "Japan as America s intermediary in Iran" would fail given the deep mistrust of the US. Other Iranian commentators said Abe could pass messages between the two sides. "Mr. Abe s visit comes right after meeting Mr. Trump in Japan, so the Americans are interested in using this channel," Ebrahim Rahimpour, a former deputy foreign minister, told Iran s Shargh daily. But while Tokyo has longstanding trade ties with Tehran and a strategic alliance with Washington, experts say Abe has little leverage with either side and mediation will be an uphill struggle. The trip by the Japanese premier "faces substantial obstacles and is unlikely to bear fruit," said Tobias Harris, an analyst at Teneo consultancy group. "While Japan has good relationships with countries on both sides, these relationships do not necessarily translate into influence."
Iran has been racing to step up exports of petrochemicals and tap new markets to compensate for sliding oil sales, Iranian and international industry sources said, but now risks losing that crucial revenue as Washington tightens the screw on sanctions. Tehran has been selling increased volumes of petrochemical products at below market rates, in countries including Brazil, China and India, since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November, according to the six sources who include two senior Iranian government officials. Available ship-tracking data also points to a rise in monthly shipments since then. The scramble to bolster petrochemical sales could be an indication of how successful the U.S. administration of Donald Trump has been in choking off Iran’s oil revenues, which have fallen further than under previous sanctions in 2012. While the November sanctions applied to petrochemicals as well, the four industry sources said there was a degree of ambiguity given the multiple types of products - including urea, ammonia and methanol - which allowed Iran to keep selling. However on Friday the U.S. Treasury moved to tighten the restrictions by prohibiting companies from doing any business with Iran’s largest petrochemical group, Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, citing its ties to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. The measures also apply to 39 subsidiary companies and foreign-based sales agents. The Treasury said it intended to “vigorously enforce” the new petrochemical sanctions, which could deal another hammer blow to the Iranian economy. It is difficult to put a comprehensive figure on Iran’s income from petrochemicals, Iran’s second-largest export industry after oil and gas, but officials said in February that non-oil revenues had surpassed the amount earned by oil exports. This week Iranian media quoted Ahmad Sarami, a member of the Iranian Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Products Exporters’ Union, as saying Tehran received $11 billion from petrochemical exports in the year ending in March. The petrochemicals push comes as Iran’s oil exports fell to around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May, less than half of April’s level and down from at least 2.5 million bpd in April last year, according to tanker data and industry sources. Iran’s annual oil revenue has averaged around $50 billion in recent years. However a senior U.S. official said in March that Tehran had lost $10 billion in revenue since sanctions were reimposed in November. In a sign of the shifting industry landscape, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran in April that Iran should move toward the sale of oil products such as petrochemicals instead of crude. Iranian authorities, who do not recognize U.S. sanctions, dismissed the latest restrictions announced on Friday and vowed to press on with petrochemical exports. Sarami of the exporters’ union described the American measures as “psychological warfare”. A spokesman for Iran’s National Petroleum Company confirmed the ramp-up of petrochemical exports since November, but declined to comment on the destinations. BOUND FOR BRAZIL In recent weeks Iran has been sending test cargoes to Brazil, a new market for Iranian petrochemicals exports, said two separate international trading sources, who like the other sources declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. Carlos Millnetz, a director at chemical company Eleva Química Ltda, based in Brazil’s southern Santa Catarina state, told Reuters they had been importing urea from Iran. “Iran wanted to diversify the destinations, they were looking for a Brazilian partner, and we thought it was a good opportunity,” he said. Millnetz said the company had checked with the Brazilian government before starting the business and established there were no restrictions. “What they told me was that U.S. sanctions applied to oil-based produces, crudes and fuels, etc. Ammonia by-products such as urea are not included, they can be traded,” he added. “I had all the paperwork, all the permits from the government, I would never do something that had any restrictions.” He said the latest sanctions announcement did not affect the purchases. Two Iranian vessels, Bavand and Termeh, made deliveries to Imbituba port in southern Brazil between March and April bound for Eleva Química, publicly available ship-tracking data shows. At least 230,000 tonnes of urea had already been booked for Brazil in recent weeks, which included the two shipments for Eleva Química, the trading sources said. Ship-tracking data showed at least 10 vessels carrying petrochemicals each made at least two voyages from Iran in November, whereas in October four vessels each made one trip. However, the data may not give the full picture because ships can turn off their tracking transponders and there can be limited port reception, including in Iran. Two industry sources, who are based in the Middle East and Asia and are familiar with Iran’s petrochemicals activity, said the country had been selling cargoes into China and India, which are established markets, and had made some overland deliveries to neighboring Pakistan. Iran has been offering discounts in the region of $40 per tonne cheaper than market rates of about $260 to $280 a tonne, saving buyers millions of dollars in equivalent currency, the sources added. Ship-tracking data showed at least 10 cargoes of methanol had been shipped to China from Iran since the start of the year. It was not clear who bought the cargoes. There were separately multiple shipments to India this year to unknown buyers. One vessel made at least six voyages to India from Iran and transported cargoes of ammonia, according to ship-tracking data and sources with knowledge of the matter. The country of origin of petrochemicals is much easier to conceal than that of grades of oil. UNDERCUTTING MARKET The U.S. sanctions imposed in November banned purchases of Iranian petrochemical products which include “any aromatic, olefin, and synthesis gas, and any of their derivatives, including ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, xylene, ammonia, methanol, and urea”. However a separate document by the Treasury’s enforcement division OFAC says “in keeping with the EIA’s (U.S. Energy Information Administration) standard definition, petroleum products do not include natural gas, liquefied natural gas, biofuels, methanol, and other non-petroleum fuels”. This could suggest a discrepancy in the types of petrochemical products that were banned, such as methanol and fertilisers, the industry sources said. Behzad Mohammadi, Iran’s deputy petroleum minister for petrochemical affairs, said in May that the wide diversity of petrochemical products and high international demand for them made the industry unsanctionable. However, Aaron Hutman, Washington-based counsel with law firm Pillsbury, which advises companies globally on sanctions compliance, said firms could still be leaving themselves open to potential penalties by dealing in Iranian petrochemicals. “Companies should not perceive discrepancies or loopholes in U.S. energy-related secondary sanctions,” he added. “The goal of U.S. officials appears to have been a comprehensive warning, and non-U.S. companies or banks would be taking a risk in any attempt to parse words within the petrochemical universe.” Given the uncertainties over sanctions enforcement, Iranian traders said they had been cautious in conducting business. Two Iranian traders said they had struck petrochemicals deals using front companies in Turkey, in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and also other neighboring countries, declining to disclose further details. One of the traders said cargoes were concluded either in cash using non-U.S. dollar currencies or by barter, to avoid falling foul of separate U.S. financial sanctions that bar Iranian companies from the global dollar system. The traders said they used euros and UAE dirhams in transactions and that buyers in Turkey and the UAE were more likely to be middle men who then redistributed cargoes. A senior Iranian government official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said shipments through Turkey had been stepped up since November, with the port of Izmir a favored gateway. A second senior official, who has been involved in meetings with buyers, said there was huge interest in Iranian petrochemical products because of their quality and price. “Pressure by any country cannot stop Iran’s exports,” he added.
The strength of the disease did not prevent him from continuing to preach, but he continued to serve with all vigor and activity until the last breath. He is our teacher Paul the Apostle who considered illness at his young age a blessing for his life. Father John Nassif, Priest of the Church of the Virgin in Chicago, said in his article thorn in the flesh told us about the blessings of the disease as mentioned b