Iran threatens to cut cooperation with nuclear body after Trump move

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran could reduce its co-operation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, President Hassan Rouhani told the body’s head on Wednesday, after he warned U.S. President Donald Trump of “consequences” of fresh sanctions against Iranian oil sales.

In May, Trump pulled out of a multinational deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face financial measures.

“Iran’s nuclear activities have always been for peaceful purposes, but it is Iran that would decide on its level of cooperation with the IAEA,” Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying after meeting IAEA head Yukiya Amano in Vienna.

“The responsibility for the change of Iran’s cooperation level with the IAEA falls on those who have created this new situation,” he added.

Rouhani said earlier in the day Tehran would stand firm against U.S. threats to cut Iranian oil sales.

“The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero ... It shows they have not thought about its consequences,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by IRNA.

On Tuesday, Rouhani hinted at a threat to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries if Washington tries to cut its exports.

He did not elaborate, but an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander explicitly said on Wednesday Iran would block any exports of crude for the Gulf in retaliation for hostile U.S. action.

“If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” Ismail Kowsari was quoted as saying by the Young Journalists Club (YJC) website.

Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force, in charge of foreign operations for the Revolutionary Guards, said in a letter published on IRNA: “I kiss your (Rouhani’s) hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic Republic.”

“SELF HARM”

Rouhani, in Vienna trying to salvage the nuclear deal, said U.S. sanctions were a “crime and aggression”, and called on European and other governments to stand up to Trump.

“Iran will survive this round of U.S. sanctions as it has survived them before. This U.S. government will not stay in office forever ... But history will judge other nations based on what they do today,” he said.

Rouhani told reporters that if the remaining signatories - the Europeans Britain, France and Germany as well as China and Russia - can guarantee Iran’s benefits: “Iran will remain in the nuclear deal without the United States.”

Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said on the Iranian oil ministry news agency SHANA:

“Trump’s demand that Iranian oil should not be bought, and (his) pressures on European firms at a time when Nigeria and Libya are in crisis, when Venezuela’s oil exports have fallen due to U.S. sanctions, when Saudi’s domestic consumption has increased in summer, is nothing but self harm.

“It will increase the prices of oil in the global markets,” he said. “At the end it is the American consumer who will pay the price for Mr. Trump’s policy.”

The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, has vowed to keep the 2015 deal alive without the United States by trying to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing. But European officials acknowledge that U.S. sanctions make it difficult to give Tehran guarantees.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatories will meet Iranian officials in Vienna on Friday to discuss how to keep the accord alive.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; additional reporting Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; Editing by Toby Chopra and Robin Pomeroy.

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European Leaders Vow Tougher Action On Chemical Weapons, Spying

Brussels: EU leaders on Friday pledged to crack down harder on chemical weapons and step up efforts to combat spying, as Europe frets about threats from Russia.

Three months after a nerve agent attack in the British city of Salisbury, blamed on Russia, united the EU in condemnation of Moscow, the bloc's leaders said they wanted new measures to stop the spread of chemical weapons.

A summit of EU leaders in Brussels called for "the adoption as soon as possible of a new EU regime of restrictive measures to address the use and proliferation of chemical weapons".

The call came a day after the international community voted to beef up the powers of the world chemical weapons watchdog, allowing it to name those responsible for toxic arms attacks in Syria.

The Salisbury attack, along with repeated gas attacks in Syria's bloody civil war and the assassination of North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un's half brother using VX nerve agent in Malaysia, have led to fears that the century-old taboo against chemical weapons was being eroded.

The European Commission, the EU's powerful executive arm, said Wednesday's decision to boost the powers of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was a "crucial step towards preserving and upholding the global norm against the use of chemical weapons".

And with European nations increasingly anxious about Russian interference in elections across the continent, the summit tasked the commission with coming up with "a coordinated EU response to the challenge of disinformation".

Leaders also urged EU countries to cooperate more closely and in consultation with NATO, to combat the threat from "hostile intelligence activities".

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Cuban FM Bruno Rodriguez in Europe

This Monday, May 14, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez started a visit to Europe that includes:

* Oficial talks in Belgium.
* Participating at European Union Joint Council meeting.
* Presenting National Report of Cuba at Universal Human Rights Periodic Review in Geneva.

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EU offers to assist Cuba with monetary consolidation

The European Union has offered to advise Cuba on consolidating its two currencies, drawing on its experience from introducing the euro, an EU official said on Wednesday during a visit to Havana.

Cuba has had two currencies for more than a decade, the peso (CUP), in which most wages are paid and local goods are priced, and the convertible peso (CUC), used in tourism, foreign trade and some stores carrying imported goods.

The government has vowed to unify the currencies and there have been rumors that it would finally do so this year since President Raul Castro said in December that reform could no longer be delayed.

“We have offered technical assistance to the Cuban government to share our experience,” said Stefano Manservisi, director general of International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, said at a news conference.

Manservisi said the EU had “perhaps the most significant experience worldwide in monetary transformation,” derived from the conversion of a number of European currencies to the euro.

Manservisi’s visit along with a delegation from the European Investment Bank, underscores the bloc’s commitment to strengthening engagement with Cuba even as U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration back off fragile detente resumed under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visited Cuba early in January to help strengthen member countries’ economic and political ties with Cuba.

As US-Cuba rapprochement unfolded in 2015-2016 the EU dropped all sanctions and negotiated a political dialogue and cooperation agreement, the first between Cuba and the EU.

Diplomats in Havana have said that the EU appears to sense an opportunity, with market-oriented reforms underway in Cuba and Castro expected to make way for a new president in April.

“We are in the middle of the modernization and transformation of Cuba’s economy,” said Manservisi.

Cuba has said the peso would remain and the CUC, valued for years at 24 pesos by state-run exchange offices, would become history.

Economists have said the current monetary system and fixed exchange rates obscure inefficiencies in the state sector and make accounting difficult, and that unifying the currencies could be a disruptive market-oriented reform.

The head of Cuba’s reform commission, Marino Murillo, told the National Assembly last December that a group of 200 specialists was working intensely on the issue.

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Iran nuclear deal collapse could spell grave consequences for the Korean peninsula – Lavrov

The potential collapse of the nuclear deal with Iran could set a dangerous precedent and will have serious consequences for the tense standoff on the Korean peninsula, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned.

Tensions between North Korea and the international community have steadily been rising over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. An already volatile situation has been further inflamed by hostile rhetoric and military provocations from both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

The case with Iran, whose own nuclear program is likewise viewed with suspicion by the US, has been soothed, so far, by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – agreed to in 2015 by Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the so-called P5+1.

 
Morteza Nikoubazl ©

"It is evident that the failure of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, especially through the fault of one of the participants in the P5+1 group, will become an alarming signal for the whole architecture of international security, including prospects for the settlement of the nuclear problem of the Korean peninsula," Lavrov said before a meeting of the UN Security Council. Russia's Foreign Minister underlined that scrapping JCPOA will undermine any deal made with Pyongyang.

Last week, Trump announced that he would waive the economic sanctions on Iran, lifted under the JCPOA agreement, which sees Tehran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. He warned America’s European allies, however, that Washington could still pull out of the agreement if its terms were not met. Trump previously referred to JCPOA as the “worst deal ever.”

At the UN, Lavrov reiterated the importance of seeking a peaceful solution to the Korean crisis. He again put forward the “double-freeze” strategy proposed by Russia and China, in which the US and its allies cease major military exercises in the region in exchange for Pyongyang suspending its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
"We reaffirm the relevance of the road map proposed by Russia and China in the interests of an exclusively peaceful settlement of this problem," he said.

Washington has consistently rejected the plan. It did so again at a joint summit with Canada this week, proposing more sanctions on Pyongyang instead. In an interview with Reuters Wednesday, Trump said military action is still very much an option.

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‘Merkel is on a destructive course, refuses to correct her policies’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s momentum is clearly downward, and she is going to be in an even weaker position if snap elections are called. She should step aside and recognize time has been called, political experts told RT.

After talks on forming a coalition government collapsed, Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to seek advice from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president will now try to persuade the members of the failed coalition to rethink their decision and return to talks.

RT talked to political experts about the uncertain future Merkel's currently facing.

RT: Merkel says she'd prefer a snap election to the formation of a minority government. Would that not be a retrograde step?

 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) speaks to media after the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government collapsed in Berlin, Germany, November 20, 2017 © Hannibal Hanschke

Steven Meissner, independent political observer: It will be a step backward for her. I don’t think there is any chance that she will be able to make the 34 percent that she made in September. Her momentum is clearly down. The voting population will be fairly disappointed in the outcome of her negotiations. Her standing has been hurt. She is on the way out. I said this on the eve of the elections that her days are numbered, and it is becoming more and more apparent to other observers that her days are numbered. If they have to go through another election, I would guess a number something like 29 to 30 percent is all she will do. In other words, she is going to be in an even weaker position than she is right now. Ideally, the CDU before they go into another election should have a new candidate and start over with a fresh face, but they are not going to be able to do that very quickly.

RT: Why is she calling for the snap elections?

SM: She is between a rock and a hard place. Where is she going to go? This Jamaica coalition has basically not been doable. A minority government in Germany on a federal level has never been done. Nobody really thinks that that would work or would be stable. In other words, within a year or two, it would probably collapse anyway, and you would have elections. If she had any real honor as a leader, she would have stepped back on election night, and she didn’t. So I don’t expect her to step down now either… she could step back and say I’m giving it up to a new leader of the party, and he or she will go into the election with better chances than she will...

RT: Could you explain the situation with the possible snap elections in Germany? What does it mean? Is it a step back for Merkel?

Dr. Max Otte, professor for general and international business administration at the University of Applied Sciences, Worms: It was very surprising to me. So far, she has always clung to power. I thought she would have sought another negotiated solution, so this is a surprise. Everybody is putting this to FDP. In the end, the Jamaica coalition, comprised of Greens, FDP, CDU/CSU was a very unlikely and strange construct. That cannot work, and we can see that the country is in some turmoil here. This is indeed an unprecedented situation.

 
Migrants take selfies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel © Fabrizio Bensch

RT: The German president has called this an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, and he is calling for fresh negotiations. How likely is it they will lead to anything new?

MO: The FDP is really for a change in the course. The FDP is maintaining its senses. I think it could have the power to bring the CDU back to its senses. It is unfortunate that the FDP was singled out as a culprit in this. I think they have a very sensible direction. We don’t know if there is going to be new elections, but if there are going to be new elections, I am pretty certain the FDP and probably also the AfD - the opposition party that came into a parliament with 13.6 percent of votes - will gain because there is quite silent and significant part of the population that wants a change in the immigration policy. I would be surprised if we had fresh elections, but Merkel has apparently stated that we are going to have them…

The Greens want this immigration policy to continue, and I think this is a big detriment for Germany, so the FDP had to walk out because there was no possibility of a consensus… Merkel is apparently closer to the Greens than to the FDP, which is really not surprising, but it’s a shame for the country. Why not form a minority government with the CDU/CSU being tolerated by the AfD and the other parties? That’s a very sensible option, but nobody talks about that. Everything is in the air, and we just have to wait and see how things develop.

RT: How likely is it that Merkel will win again if there are snap elections?

MO: I was surprised that she actually called for fresh elections because I think that she will lose further. I think she is past her prime and she should step aside. She hasn’t recognized the call of time. And sometime now or later the reality will hit her. I think she should resign, she has completely failed and this is the receipt for it.

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World Leaders Pressure Trump on Climate and Trade at G20

The meeting comes at a time of major shifts in the global geopolitical landscape under Trump's "America First" policies.

World leaders intend to try to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to compromise on climate and trade during the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. 

RELATED: Germany: Protesters Demand G-20 Address Humanitarian, Environmental Concerns

In a joint communique issued on the summit's first day Friday, Brazil, Russia, India and China called on the G20 to push for implementation of the Paris climate accord despite Trump's decision last month to pull the United States out of it.

"We call upon the international community to jointly work toward implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," the communique said.

"We firmly support a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system, implementation and enforcement of existing WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and commitments and oppose protectionism."

The meeting comes at a time of major shifts in the global geopolitical landscape under Trump's "America First" policies. The host of G20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, faces the difficult task of steering leaders towards a consensus on trade, climate and migration — all issues that have become more contentious since Trump entered the White House half a year ago.

Aside from the four emerging market countries, British Prime Minister Theresa May also said G20 leaders would urge Trump to reconsider his decision on Paris.

"I hope they will be able to find a way to come back into the Paris agreement ... I believe it is possible. We are not renegotiating the Paris agreement, that stays, but I want to see the U.S. looking for ways to rejoin it," she told the BBC.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a German newspaper Friday that climate change was a challenge, but also an opportunity to invest. He added that the same was true of global trade. 

"Instead of saying we'll stop trade, we need to create opportunities for smaller companies and protect workers' rights with progressive trade agreements like CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement)," Trudeau said, referring to the EU-Canada trade deal.

The draft G20 agreement acknowledges U.S. isolation on the Paris climate accord, but claims the United States is committed to cutting carbon emissions by other routes, according to The Guardian newspaper. 

“The United States of America will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources,” the draft said.

RELATED: Clashes at 'Welcome to Hell' Hamburg Demos Ahead of G20 Summit

On trade, sources told Reuters that Washington was backtracking on language condemning protectionism that Trump agreed to at a Group of Seven meeting in Sicily in late May.

The final version of the communique will be negotiated overnight by attendants from the 20 participating countries.

Merkel chose Hamburg, the second-largest city in the country, to send a signal about Germany's "openness to the world," including its alleged tolerance for peaceful protests.

Police said violence that erupted during anti-capitalist protests directed at the G20 Thursday continued into Friday. At least 29 protesters were detained and 111 police officers injured, including three officers who required hospital treatment.

"There is quite a delicate balance that Angela Merkel will have to navigate in a way, because it is not clear that being confrontational won't just create even more of a credibility problem for G20 cooperation," Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told the Reuters in an interview.

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In a first, European Parliament approves EU-Cuba cooperation pact

The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved on Wednesday a first-ever cooperation deal between the EU and Cuba.

Lawmakers in the eastern French city of Strasbourg approved the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, signed in December 2016, which is widely seen as a European riposte to US President Donald Trump's hardline stance against Havana.

"Europe has a great opportunity to demonstrate to the United States, which intends to withdraw, that it is possible to maintain the highest level of expectations on Cuba" and normalise relations with Havana, said MEP Elena Valenciano, the rapporteur of the agreement.

With the deal, Cuba joins other Latin American countries with similar agreements with the EU, whose relations with the island had previously been conducted within the so-called Common Position that linked ties to improvements in human rights.

In an effort to placate opponents of the deal, the European Parliament adopted a non-legislative resolution on Wednesday in which MEPs urged the EU to assist "the economic and political transition in Cuba" including towards "democratic standards".

With the vote, the agreement, which also lays the basis for trade relations, will enter into force provisionally in the coming months.

Full implementation will require ratification by the EU's 28 member countries in a complex process that can take years.

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