Dictatorship? Washington’s Mid East allies are the ones that 'never saw a ballot box' – Iranian FM

Donald Trump believes Iran is a dictatorship, even though Washington’s allies in the region "haven't seen a ballot box in their countries," Iran's foreign minister said, adding that Tehran derives its legitimacy and mandate from the people.

“Maybe President Trump likes to think of Iran as a dictatorship, but it is interesting that all of his allies [in the region] haven’t even seen a ballot box in their countries… Be it as it may,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with the Asia Society, a nonprofit based in New York, answering a question about political processes in Iran and where the country was headed.

Iranian FM: ‘We Derive Our Legitimacy From the Public,’ Not ‘Beautiful American-Made...

What is important is that we derive our legitimacy and our power from our people, unlike our friends in the region,” Zarif told television host Charlie Rose. “We do not derive our legitimacy from the ‘beautiful military equipment’ we get from the United States.”

READ MORE: Tehran could ‘walk away’ from nuclear deal – Iran’s FM

“Our society is not that different, we have the same processes,” Zarif explained. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I know the players, you know the players in the US. But if I ask you who will win the next presidential elections in the US, can you tell me?”

 
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on what is expected to be

Despite an apparent jab at Saudi Arabia – one of the Gulf monarchies Trump has been peddling US weaponry to on his recent tour – Zarif stressed that Tehran was hoping to work together with Riyadh to bolster security in the Middle East.

“We do not have the illusion that we can exclude Saudi Arabia from this region. We believe that Saudi Arabia is an extremely important player in the region whose role needs to be respected,” Zarif said.

“But we expect Saudi Arabia to also recognize that we are an important part of this region and they can never exclude Iran. As we will never try to exclude Saudi Arabia so Saudi Arabia has to abandon this illusion,” he explained.

Turning his attention to Syria, the Iranian foreign minister claimed that Washington has apparently completely shifted its priority from battling the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group to making sure Damascus does not regain control over its border with Iraq.

“Today it seems to me that priorities have changed and for the government of the US it is more important to prevent the Syrian government from taking over the border with Iraq than it is to defeat ISIS,” he said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif on Dealing With U.S.: ‘Don’t Trust — But Verify’

Washington’s plans for Syria remain a mystery, Zarif added, noting that Moscow in the meantime has always been open and clear about its intentions and sincerely wanted to resolve the crisis.

“I talk to President Putin, I know that President Putin wants to find a peaceful solution to Syria because [the conflict] does not serve our interest and it does not serve their interest,” he said. “Whether the US is prepared to do it? Ask somebody who has talked to President [Donald] Trump recently…”

Washington and Tehran have been at odds over the future of the Iran nuclear deal struck under the Barack Obama administration. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the July 2015 agreement between Tehran and six leading international powers stipulates only that the Islamic republic limit its nuclear program for fifteen years in exchange for a relaxation of pre-existing sanctions.

 
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. © Stephanie Keith

While Tehran has repeatedly said the existing terms of the JCPOA are non-negotiable, earlier this year, the US Congress introduced legislation that would require Iran to limit other activities, such as missile testing, which are not covered by the agreement.

Under US law, through, and through a Congress-created mechanism, Trump is required to re-assess the JCPOA every 90 days in order to decide whether the nuclear deal is in the best interests of the US. October 15 is the president’s next deadline.

Last week, Trump, who has also been accusing Tehran of being a dictatorship and the main sponsor of terrorism in the region, once again declared the deal with Iran an “embarrassment to the US” and threatened to quit the agreement if the IAEA is not granted full access to all Iranian military sites.

Iran for its part threatened to quit the deal and resume its nuclear program at “greater speed” if the US continues to breach the terms of the agreement.

“Iran has a number of options, which include walking away from the deal and going back with greater speed with this nuclear program,” Zarif told CNN on Sunday. The minister stressed that Iran’s nuclear program “will remain peaceful,” but “will not address and accept the limitations that we voluntarily accepted.”

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US Coalition Killed 744 Iraqi, Syrian Civilians in June: Report

War monitoring group Airwars claims June was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of Coalition attacks in 2014.

At least 744 civilians were killed in strikes in Iraq and Syria last month by the U.S.-led Coalition fighting the Islamic State group, an independent organization said on Wednesday. 

RELATED: New Cease-Fire Begins in Parts of Southern Syria

“Across Iraq and Syria, Airwars tracked a record 223 alleged Coalition casualty events during June, likely killing a minimum of between 529 and 744 civilians – a rise of 52 percent on May’s estimated totals,” the London-based group of researchers and journalists said. 

“June was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of Coalition actions in August 2014,” according to the report.

The reported death toll is higher than that claimed by the U.S.-led Coalition.

In the monthly report released on Friday, the Coalition said its strikes had unintentionally killed at least 603 civilians between August 2014 and May 2017. The Coalition, battling to defeat Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria, claims it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

The liberation operation of Mosul in Iraq officially came to an end on Monday when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the city, three years after the Islamic State group seized it.

A top U.S. general in Iraq strongly rejected an Amnesty International report accusing the coalition of violating international law in the battle for Mosul. 

RELATED: Syrian Observatory Claims Islamic State Group Leader Is Dead

"I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful or excessively targeted civilians," Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told a news briefing in Washington.

He added that he believed the fight against the Islamic State group was the "most precise campaign in the history of warfare."

Operations are still underway from various fronts to liberate the city of Raqqa in Syria. 

The United Nations has raised concern about the situation of up to 50,000 civilians who remain trapped in the region. 

“Availability of food, water, medicine, electricity and other essentials has been dwindling, with the situation rapidly deteriorating,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva. 

"It is imperative that trapped civilians are able to secure safe passage out — to reach safety, shelter and protection."

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Qatar will not negotiate with Arab states until economic boycott ends – FM

Qatar says it will not negotiate with Arab states which cut diplomatic and travel ties with it earlier this month unless they reverse their measures, the country's foreign minister said.

"Qatar is under blockade, there is no negotiation. They have to lift the blockade to start negotiations," Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters in Doha, as quoted by Reuters. "Until now we didn't see any progress about lifting the blockade, which is the precondition for anything to move forward."

 
Turkish APC drives at their military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. © Qatar News Agency

 

He went on to state that Qatar "cannot just have (vague) demands such as 'the Qataris know what we want from them, they have to stop this or that, they have to be monitored by a foreign monitoring mechanism."

He said that matters which relate to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are subject to negotiation, referring to the body comprising Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman.

"Anything not related to them is not subject to negotiation. No one has the right to interfere in my affairs. Al Jazeera is Qatar's affairs, Qatari foreign policy on regional issues is Qatar's affairs. And we are not going to negotiate on our own affairs," he said.

The reference to Qatar-based Al Jazeera comes after Gulf critics accused the news network of being a platform for extremists – an accusation which the channel has denied.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, the Maldives, and one of Libya's three rival governments severed ties with Qatar earlier this month, over its alleged support of terrorism. Doha has adamantly denied those claims.

 
© Warren Little / Getty Images

 

Al-Thani called the move a "publicity stunt" on Monday, saying “it is unfortunate that our neighbors have chosen to invest their time and resources in a baseless propaganda campaign.”

Meanwhile, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs said on Monday that Arab powers plan to reveal their demands for Qatar in the coming days, and warned that sanctions imposed against Doha could last for years unless those demands are met.

"Qatar will realize that this is a new state of affairs and isolation can last years," Anwar Gargash told reporters in Paris, as quoted by Reuters.

"If they want to be isolated because of their perverted view of what their political role is, then let them be isolated. They are still in a phase of denial and anger," he said.

US President Donald Trump has supported Arab states' sanctions against Qatar, which have disrupted its main routes to import goods by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from the UAE.

However, Qatar was able to find alternative routes in order to maintain business as usual, and al-Thani says Doha has an alternative plan in case the boycott continues.

"We have a back-up plan which depends mainly on Turkey, Kuwait and Oman," he said. "Iran has facilitated for us the sky passages for our aviation and we are cooperating with all countries that can ensure supplies for Qatar."

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UN investigates reports of up to 80 civilians killed by airstrike in ISIS-held part of Mosul

The UN is investigating reports which say up to 80 civilians have been killed by an airstrike in a terrorist-held part of western Mosul. It also accused the jihadists of killing at least 231 residents attempting to flee the Iraqi city.

The airstrike happened in the Zanjilly neighborhood of the war-torn city on May 31, and is one of several reported incidents in which airstrikes caused civilian deaths in Mosul, the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement on Thursday.

The organization said its Iraqi office was seeking additional information on the incidents and called on the Iraqi Security Forces and the US-led coalition to take all measures to minimize civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict.

READ MORE: 100k children trapped in ISIS-held Mosul, some forced to fight for terrorists – UNICEF

Reuters cited a young man in Mosul, who said he was wounded in an airstrike which hit a group of between 200 and 250 civilians collecting water. The witness said the strike apparently targeted a fighter from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) who was hiding among them.

The UN also accused the jihadists of escalating the violence against the civilian population trying to flee the parts of Mosul remaining under IS control. It is estimated that since May 26, more than 231 civilians have been killed by IS fighters, with 204 reported deaths occurring over just three days last week.

WATCH MORE PHOTOS FROM MOSUL

The statement cited several instances of such mass killings by IS, which happened recently in the al-Shifa neighborhood, adding that an undetermined number of civilians have gone missing.

“Shooting children as they try to run to safety with their families – there are no words of condemnation strong enough for such despicable acts,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was cited by the statement as saying.

 
© Ali Arkady/VII/Redux

“I call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that those who are responsible for these horrors are held accountable and brought to justice in line with international human rights laws and standards. The victims of such terrible crimes must not be forgotten.”

The Iraqi forces announced a new push two weeks ago to capture several neighborhoods of western Mosul remaining under IS control, with an estimated 200,000 civilians trapped there. According to UNICEF, 100,000 children are living in harrowing conditions in western Mosul, and some of them have been used as soldiers by the jihadists.

The UN high commissioner also called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate any allegations of human rights violations committed by Iraqi Security Forces, without specifying any particular allegations.

It comes after freelance photographer and filmmaker Ali Arkady began to publish footage and images of the torture of prisoners, executions and other crimes allegedly committed by the Iraqi Emergency Response Division (ERD) in December 2016. Arkady said he was embedded with the unit at the time.

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80 Dead, 350 Injured in Kabul Blast

Health ministry spokesman Ismael Kawoosi said: "They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals."

A powerful vehicle bomb has hit the diplomatic area of the Kabul.

RELATED: Blast Kill 8 near U.S. Embassy in Kabul

The blast reportedly claimed the lives of at least 80 people and injured another 350.

Civilians are said to make up a large number of the casualties. The bomb, which struck near the German embassy in Zanbaq Square, was so strong it blew out windows and doors hundreds of meters away. It detonated in the diplomatic quarter at about 08:25 local time during rush hour.

Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid, told Reuters that the explosion had taken place close to the German embassy but added it was "hard to say what the exact target is." Since there are many other important buildings in the area, including the presidential palace and a number of embassies.

Improvized ambulances transported the wounded away from the scene, as frantic relatives gathered at the site to try to locate loved ones.

Images of the area showed dozens of charred vehicles among the more than 50 that were reportedly destroyed. Health ministry spokesman Ismael Kawoosi said: "They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals." The interior ministry has called on residents to donate blood, saying there was a "dire need."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he "strongly condemned the cowardly attack in the holy month of Ramadan targeting innocent civilians in their daily life".

Indian PM Narendra Modi also tweeted his condemnation, saying: "Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured."

RELATED: The Afghans Are Coming!

The Taliban and the Islamic State are the main suspects. However, the Taliban promptly issued a statement denying any involvement, while the Islamic State remains mum.

The IS claimed last month's suicide bomb attack on the Nato convoy near the U.S. embassy, which killed eight civilians.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban condemned untargeted attacks that caused civilian casualties. Their spring offensive detailed that their main focus would be foreign forces, targeting them with a mix of conventional, guerrilla, insider and suicide attacks.

The U.S. has approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and 5,000 Nato allies.

Recent Kabul attacks

8 March 2017 - More than 30 people killed after attackers dressed as doctors stormed Sardar Daud Khan military hospital

21 Nov 2016 - At least 27 dead in a suicide bomb attack on Baqir ul Olum mosque during a Shia ceremony

23 July 2016 - At least 80 people killed in twin bomb blasts targeting a rally by the Shia Hazara minority in Deh Mazang square

19 Apr 2016 - At least 28 dead in a huge explosion close to the Afghan defence ministry building

1 Feb 2016 - 20 killed in a suicide bomb attack at police headquarters

7 Aug 2015 - At least 35 people dead in separate bomb attacks across the capital

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‘Arab NATO’ reserve force to fight terrorism is ‘myth & propaganda’

The Saudis and the Emiratis would never dare put their troops onto a battlefield in Syria or Iraq for fear the troops would mutiny and join ISIS, says Peter Ford, the former UK ambassador to Syria and Bahrain.

US President Donald Trump on Sunday addressed leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries who gathered for the Arab-Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh.

& 55 Muslim-majority states sign pact pledging 34,000 troops to fight in Iraq & Syria

Washington and Middle East countries signed a new pact that promises to provide extra troops to fight terrorists. The so-called Riyadh declaration says leaders of those Islamic countries are ready to provide a reserve force of 34,000 troops when needed.

RT asked analysts where this "reserve force" of 34,000 troops will be used?

Peter Ford said he thinks “it’s a myth.” In his opinion, the Saudis and Emiratis “cannot count on the loyalty of their own troops.”

Saudi Night Fever: Trump steps out with traditional Arabian sword dance

“It is a symbolic gesture so Trump can look good in the eyes of the American and the wider Western media. Let’s be realistic here: this whole visit was not about advancing the fight against terrorism, or advancing Middle East peace – it was about Trump trying to recover some prestige after his battering back home in Washington. So these symbolic gestures and these pictures of him doing Saudi dancing in Riyadh,” Ford said.

This entire Saudi trip “was designed to restore Trump’s image,” the former ambassador added. “If he were serious, then in his big speech yesterday we would have heard some acknowledgment of the two countries, which are doing most to resist ISIS. That is the government of Iraq and the government of Syria. But Trump did not make any acknowledgment whatsoever of these countries, and he also tried to portray Iran, as the biggest threat in terms of terrorism, while this is a blatant distortion that has not been one single instance that Trump could point to of Iranian-inspired terrorism in the West,” he said.

Independent journalists Rania Khalek said it was specifically said this “reserve force” would be used in Iraq and Syria. She says it is interesting because many of the countries at the gathering on Sunday, “especially Saudi Arabia, have been investing a lot of money in extremist groups operating in Iraq and Syria.”

So, she added, “they are actually responsible for the extremism problem that they are now being tasked with combating.”

Khalek also did not rule out a possibility that this force could be the basis for some kind of an action against Iran, which was not only excluded but also repeatedly bashed at this summit.

“This entire summit was based on not just selling weapons, but on also isolating Iran. When you have a summit based on American-Arab-Islamic understanding, and you exclude Iran, which is a state that’s majority Shia. And you have an audience full of the Sunni leaders from Arab countries, it sends a message. So it is about isolating Iran, as well as it has been sending a message to Iran that 'we’re all against you',” she told RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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Palestinian Leader Warns of US Interference in the Middle East

Damascus, May 12 (Prensa Latina) Secretary-General of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Nayef Hawatmeh, warned today of US interference in the Middle East in an interview with Prensa Latina.

For the veteran leader, the next and first international tour of US President Donald Trump has above all the clear objective of maintaining and increasing attempts to isolate the Palestinian movement.

Preparations for a regional meeting after that tour that includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, since May 19, do not take into account the role of the United Nations nor any other political figure in the region, he stressed.

It is, therefore, a clear objective that Washington is seeking concessions among the various Palestinian organizations, to ignore United Nations resolutions favorable to our cause and to bring together the most reactionary forces in the Middle East, Hawatmeh said.

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Saudi Arabia will be razed except for Mecca & Medina if it attacks Iran – defense minister

Responding to Saudi Arabia’s latest threats to take their conflict inside Iran, Tehran said it will leave nothing standing in the kingdom except for Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina if the Saudis do anything “ignorant,” Al-Manar reports.

 
© Morteza Nikoubazl

“We warn them against doing anything ignorant, but if they do something ignorant, we will leave nowhere untouched apart from Mecca and Medina,” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told Arabic-speaking Al-Manar channel, as cited by Reuters

“They think they can do something because they have an air force,” he added in an apparent reference to Riyadh’s bombing of Yemen, where Iran-affiliated Houthi forces are being routinely targeted by the Saudi Air Force.

Dehghan’s comment followed unusually blunt remarks by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said on Tuesday that any struggle for influence between Riyadh and Tehran would take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

In a rare interview broadcast on multiple Saudi TV channels, the 31-year-old prince, who was named in 2015 by his father, King Salman, as successor to the throne, outlined his vision of modern-day Iran.

Making use of sectarian terms, Prince Salman said Iran is eager “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine, according to AP.

When asked if there is a mere possibility to mend ties with Iran, the prince said: “How can I come to an understanding with someone, or a regime, that has an anchoring belief built on extremist ideology?” 

The prince, who is also in charge of the Sunni kingdom’s economy, argued that the predominantly-Shiite Iran aims to reach Mecca – the holiest site for all Muslims.

 
Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. © Fayez Nureldine

“We will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia and we will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia,” he threatened without elaborating.

Ties between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but tensions began to mount rapidly over the past few years.

Perhaps the most significant flare-up happened in January last year, when Riyadh executed Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite preacher. Massive demonstrations erupted in Tehran, with some protesters ransacking the Saudi embassy and setting it ablaze.

The next day, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran, though Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was no justification for the assault.

The incident took place amid the infamous Saudi intervention in Yemen aimed at restoring the power of ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Riyadh accuses Tehran of waging a proxy war there by arming and supplying Houthi rebels, though Iran denies the allegations. According to UN estimates, the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen killed over 13,000 civilians during the two years of the conflict.

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