Will Syria peace trio succeed given all three have different agendas?

Although Russia, Iran and Turkey have different objectives in Syria, the summit in Ankara showed that they all seek the territorial integrity of the country, experts told RT, warning however that the region is in serious turmoil.

Three of the power brokers of peace in Syria met in Ankara on April 4 in an effort to reduce the violence in the war-torn country: Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani met for a trilateral summit hosted by their Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

RT discussed the results of the summit with Middle East experts.

Asked about the three-way cooperation and how it is going to work, given that Russia, Iran and Turkey have their own plans and are supporting different sides in the conflict, Abdel Bari Atwan, an author and Middle East analyst, said “there is a common ground which makes three leaders work together, especially on Syria.” 

 
© Umit Bektas

“I have looked at the final communiqué of their meeting during the summit in Ankara. It was very clear that they have agreed on a lot of things,” he said.

In particular, the joint statement says that the three leaders “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighboring countries.”

According to Atwan, this means that there is no chance for a Kurdish entity to be established in Syria.

Another important point mentioned in the statement was that “they agreed that there should be stability and security in Syria in order to allow the Syrian refugees to go back to Syria.”

“The third one, which is also extremely important, [is] not to use the terrorist as a pretext to keep foreign forces in northern Syria, which is a clear reference to the American 2,000 troops based there,” he added. 

Emre Caliskan, co-author of ‘The 'New Turkey' and its Discontents,’ told RT that although three countries have different agendas, in terms of the future of Syria, they agreed on one thing: “They all want to respect the territory unification of Syria, they all want not to have American influence in the region.”

Joshua Landis, director at the Center of Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma, argues “it is going to be very difficult” for these trilateral efforts to rebuild Syria, considering US troops are still stationed there.

 
FILE PHOTO: Refugees is a camp near Gaziantep, Turkey, April 23, 2016. © Umit Bektas

“What we are seeing today is that Syria is increasingly being divided into three zones: a Russian and Assad zone, an American and Kurdish zone and a Turkish zone where the rebel militias hold sway,” he noted. Landis said that “this is a period of great turmoil.”

“As we’ve seen, President Trump wants to bring the troops out of Syria, he doesn’t believe that America has long-term interests in Syria. Of course, America’s allies have a lot of interests: Saudi Arabia, Israel, they do not want to see the US leave Syria. They want the US to turn up the pressure on Iran and to hurt Persia as much as they possibly can,” he explained.

“The US holds about 50 percent of Syria’s oil and much of its best agricultural lands. To give those back in a sense to the Syrian government or to allow Turkey and Syria to take over its northern section of Syria would be a blow to those two countries who don’t want to see Syria back on the stage, particularly, now that Assad and Iran still have influence there, and now that Russia has influence there,” Landis pointed out, adding that “they want to hurt Russia.”

“And we saw McMaster, the national security adviser, who was just fired, say the Russia has not paid a high enough price. There are many policy advisers who want the US to make Russia pay a higher price, to make Iran pay a higher price. This confusion goes right through the policy-making community in the US. And it does make the US look very disorganized indeed.”

According to political analyst Seyyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, “the US has grown so weak in Syria and in the region that we heard just very recently that Donald Trump said that they want to pull out unless the Saudis pay for their stay in Syria.”

“The US has grown so weak that they cannot have any major say or any say in Syria, so what they are doing is that they are playing negativism, they are trying to sabotage peace and welfare of the Syrian nation. And they are trying to sabotage the restoration of stability in Syria and in the region in order to be given a part in there,” he told RT.

  • Published in World

Trump knows nothing about Cuba: ambassador

Alexis Bandrich Vega, Havana’s ambassador to Tehran, believes that U.S. President Donald Trump is ignorant of the realities in Cuba.

“This president of the United States is not interested in Cuba, nor knows anything, neither of Cuba nor of the Cubans,” Ambassador Bandrich Vega tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q:  How do you evaluate bilateral relations between Cuba and Iran, especially in the economic area?

A: In the political area they are very good. We were honored to receive the official visit of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in 2016. There is a good level of exchanges of messages and communications between our governments.

Each year the number of Iranians who travel to Cuba increases for different reasons, including tourism.

In the economic area, although there are many MOUs between both countries, neither of us is satisfied with the level of exchanges. Many reasons influence, such as the distance, the asymmetries of our economies and the difficulties imposed by the United States to realize our commercial operations not only with them, but with the rest of the world.

I can assure you that there is the political will of both governments to advance in this field and we will achieve it.

Q:  What about cultural cooperation between Cuba and Iran?

A: The good political relations coupled with economic ones will facilitate the increase of cultural cooperation. Iran has always had a good participation in the International Book Fair in Cuba every year. Iranian films enjoy good acceptance among the Cubans, as well as some programs facilitated by the Spanish-speaking channel Hispan TV.

We have just celebrated a Cuban Culture Week in the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran, which was very well accepted among the attendees.

The cultures of both nations have transcended our borders and there´s no doubt that more and more bridges will unite us.

Q: How about scientific cooperation between Cuba and Iran, especially in the area of medicine?

A: Undoubtedly, this is an area where both countries have experienced important advances and where more opportunities for cooperation have been found.

Cuba has made, and will make, important technological transfers to Iran in the area of vaccine production.

We have developed important medications, some unique as Heberprot P, against diabetic foot ulcers, which helps reduce the need for amputation in more than 70% of treated cases and is registered in more than 20 countries. In the same way Cuba has also developed important vaccines against different types of cancer, which have shown high effectiveness. We look forward to achieve a possible agreement on med´s registration.

We have a vast network of facilities for health tourism, with a growing number of people coming to our country every day to undergo surgical operations and enjoy the hospitality of the Cubans and the benefits of our island.

Recently, a nanotechnology laboratory donated by Iran was inaugurated in Cuba, which predicts a promising collaboration in that area, with mutual benefits.

There is so much to do.

Q:  Would you explain about Iran-Cuba cooperation at international level?

A: In the international arena we have excellent cooperation. Cuba will always appreciate Iran's support for the Resolution against the blockade of the United States. We have always had the Iranian vote and we hope that we can also count on your denunciation in the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations later this year.

We frequently exchange support for the candidatures of our representatives for positions in international organizations.

On several occasions, the Cuban government has expressed its full support for the nuclear agreement, as well as demanding its strict compliance.

Q:  Donald Trump is trying to roll back what Obama did. It is true in the case of Cuba. What is the motivation behind such moves?


A: Totally true. On June 16, 2017, President Trump signed the Presidential National Security Memorandum on the strengthening of the U.S. policy towards Cuba, which increases the prohibitions on economic, commercial and financial transactions of U.S. companies and entities with Cuban companies and entities, restricts the trips of North
Americans to the Island, expands the list of government officials and Cuban citizens who cannot receive visas, remittances or engage in transactions with U.S. entities, and repeals the Presidential Policy Directive for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba (Obama 14.10.2016).

The motivations are purely political, of domestic politics, because this president of the United States is not interested in Cuba, nor knows anything, neither of Cuba nor of the Cubans. The U.S. government ignores the majority support of American public opinion, the international community and Cuban emigration in the U.S. to the lifting of the blockade and the normalization of relations between the two countries, meanwhile satisfies the interests of a small minority of the American and Cuban-American extreme right of South Florida, whose interest is to provoke a confrontation between the two countries.

Cuba is willing to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest, and negotiate pending bilateral issues with the United States on the basis of equality, reciprocity, respect for sovereignty and national independence, without anyone expecting us to make concessions, or renounce one of our principles.

  • Published in Cuba

Rouhani Urges Expansion of Iran-Cuba Cooperation

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is after broadening of ties with the Cuban government," President Rouhani said during the meeting in Tehran today.

The Iranian president said that Tehran-Havana relations have been constructive since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, adding that Iran and Cuba encountered similar antagonistic plots in their post-revolutionary eras and there is no doubt that among the world revolutions, the names of Imam Khomeini and Fidel Castro will be remembered as outstanding revolutionary leaders.

Rouhani stressed that Tehran is against imposing sanctions as an outdated, wrong method, and said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran is against enforcing oppressive sanctions on the independent nations such as Cuba."

The new Cuban ambassador to Tehran, for his part, submitted a copy of his credentials to the president and highlighted the influential role of Tehran in maintaining stability and security in region and the world.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran enjoys a special place in the foreign relations of Cuba and we are determined to expand our relations and cooperation with Iran in economic as well as political areas day by day," he added.

“Cuba believes that engaging in wide-ranging relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran is the best means to oppose unfair sanctions against both countries, and at present, when the US is after imposing its policies on the world by force, the development of independent, free countries such as Iran and Cuba can be very influential,” Bandrich Vega added.

In relevant remarks in earlier this month, President Rouhani in a message to his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro underlined the need for enhancing mutual cooperation between the two countries in different fields.

"I hope relations between Tehran and Havana will expand in political, economic, social and cultural fields soon," President Rouhani said in his congratulatory message to President Castro on the occasion of the 59th Anniversary of the Victory of the Cuban Revolution.

He pointed to the age-old relations between Tehran and Havana, and said that the two countries have worked hard to boost their cooperation in the field of anti-Imperialism cooperation.

The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and its allies against the authoritarian government of the deposed Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on January 1, 1959, replacing his government with a revolutionary socialist state.

  • Published in Cuba

Iran’s Attorney General Names CIA Mastermind Of Iran Protests

Attorney General Montazeri on Thu. revealed that the mastermind behind the eruption of protests in the country was a US-Israeli-Saudi think tank that had been plotting for the rallies since four years ago.

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s Attorney General, revealed the details about a think tank responsible for the week-long protests in several cities across the country, saying “the mastermind of the project was an American named Michael D’Andrea, former Chief of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center [current head of the Agency’s Iran Mission Center], and an operations room composed of three sides, namely the United States, Zionist regime and Al Saud, was formed for leading the unrest. The project was funded by Saudi Arabia and mainly planned by D’Andrea and an intelligence officer affiliated with [Israel’s intelligence agency] Mossad.”

He went on to add that the think tank conducted years of research and finally decided on launching campaigns inside Iran under the titles, ‘no to price hikes’, ‘no to paying bills’, and the campaign of the retired and those who lost their money in bankrupt financial institutes.

The think tank finally decided on executing the Libyan plan, i.e. moving from the margins toward the center, he added. …”

Last June, The New York Times ran an article about Michael D’Andrea called “C.I.A. Names the ‘Dark Prince’ to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance”:

“WASHINGTON — He is known as the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, nicknames he earned as the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the American drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians.

Now the official, Michael D’Andrea, has a new job. He is running the C.I.A.’s Iran operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, an appointment that is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign.

Mr D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants. …

But he has invoked his hard line on Iran in other ways. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has described the deal as a failure, and Mr. Trump has appointed to the National Security Council hawks eager to contain Iran and push regime change, the groundwork for which would most likely be laid through C.I.A. covert action.”

Asked whether Mr. D’Andrea’s appointment was a sign that the C.I.A. planned to take up a more aggressive line toward Iran, Mr. Eatinger said, “I don’t think it’s the wrong read.”

  • Published in World

Houthis take over Yemeni capital Sanaa, announce ‘end of crisis’ – local media

The capital of Yemen, Sanaa is now reportedly under control of Houthi fighters, according to media citing the Interior Ministry. The Iran-backed group has allegedly retaken the city amid reports of the death of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh, who formally renounced his alliance with the Houthis on Sunday, was killed while trying to flee the capital, according to the Houthi-controlled ministry. It said their former ally “was creating chaos by working with militias of aggression” in the country, and “helping extremist militants.”

 

Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. © Khaled Abdullah

Having accused the former leader of betrayal and inciting even more violence in Yemen, the ministry said the Houthi forces have “ended the crisis” and now control “all positions” of opposing militias. There have been reports that the eldest son of the ex-president Ahmad Saleh, regarded as his likely successor, has been arrested.

Heavy fighting has been ongoing in Sanaa in recent days, with the Saudi-led coalition launching strikes on Houthi positions and having bombed Sanaa’s airport. The strikes come amid reports of extreme bloodshed in Yemen’s capital after ex-president Saleh pulled out of an alliance with the Houthi rebels.

Rubble and debris can be seen in a Ruptly video documenting the aftermath of the Saudi-led coalition's attack on Sanaa International Airport on Sunday evening. The footage shows pulverized concrete, burnt-out cars and the airport's abandoned VIP lounge.

Yemen: Saudi-led coalition bombs Sanaa International Airport

The Saudi coalition, which is generously provided with munitions by the US and UK, also targeted Houthi positions west of the capital, as well as in the highlands south of Sanaa, including the hills of al-Rayyan overlooking Hadda city, according to Al Arabiya. However, on Monday, Houthis reportedly made gains against forces supporting the former president.

Yemen: Houthi fighters patrol Sanaa after blowing up home of Ali Abdullah Saleh

In 2015, a Sunni-Arab coalition led by Riyadh launched a military campaign against the Shiite Houthi rebels to prevent them from controlling Yemen. The Saudi-led operation has been a major contributor to the humanitarian disaster currently plaguing the war-torn nation. Some 20 million Yemenis, including 11 million children, are in need of urgent aid, according to the World Health Organization. The UN believes that the civilian death toll from the conflict could exceed 10,000.

  • Published in World

‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’

In a tight-lipped statement, Baghdad rejected a call by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for Iran-backed Shia militias to “go home” after the demise of Islamic State in Iraq.

Earlier on Sunday, Rex Tillerson said at a rare meeting with top Iraqi and Saudi Arabian officials that Iraq’s Shiite militias – also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – and their Iranian advisers need to leave Iraq as the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is nearing an end.

But Baghdad seems reluctant to go along with Washington’s request, judging by a polite but robust remark made on Monday by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” the statement posted on Facebook reads. It added that many PMU members were native Iraqis who made “enormous sacrifices to defend their country and the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi government was surprised by Tillerson’s suggestion, according to the release.

During the Sunday meeting, Tillerson said “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.”

Foreign fighters in Iraq “need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” the secretary of state said, amid US efforts to contain Tehran’s growing presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Tillerson also called on other countries to sever business ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which the US itself recently designated as a terrorist organization.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against Islamic State terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Shiite PMU units were often referred to as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.

Though there are no official statistics, at some point PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to US military estimates dated last year. The forces’ estimates ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, according to military spokesman Colonel Chris Garver. 

READ MORE: Iran-backed Shiite forces in Iraq now estimated at 100,000 – US military spokesman

Iran has secured major strategic gains in the war against IS in Iraq over recent years, as it funded and trained the PMU which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. In contrast, US ally Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom, has been on bad terms with Shiite-majority Iraq for more than two decades, after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, despite attempts to mend ties in recent years.

  • Published in World

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.”

  • Published in World

New Sanctions Show US Insistence on Hostility toward Iran: Senior MP

A senior Iranian lawmaker deplored the US Congress move to pass a bill to impose fresh sanctions on Iran, saying it proves Washington’s persistent animosity toward the Islamic Republic.

“Today, it is no secret to anyone that the Americans are still the Iranian nation’s number one enemy,” Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, the rapporteur of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told Tasnim.

The fresh embargoes signify that Washington keeps on the path of hostility toward Iran and applying pressure on the country, he added.

They show that the Americans are not going to pay any attention to international demands and live up to their commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Naqavi Hosseini said, referring to a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers, including the US.

Now that US officials have demonstrated their disregard for the JCPOA, he said, all related bodies in Iran, including the diplomatic apparatus, should proceed with “revolutionary and decisive” measures against Washington’s breaking of laws and breaches of commitments.

Naqavi Hosseini went on to say that the parliament plans to hold a special session on Saturday to discuss a motion to counter the United States’ adventurous and terrorist activities in the region as well as its recent sanctions on the country.

On Thursday, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly to impose new sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea.

The Senate backed the bill by a margin of 98-2.

The legislation will now be sent to President Trump to sign into law or veto.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives already passed the bill on Tuesday in a 419-3 vote to impose new sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had on Wednesday vowed that the US congressional bill on new sanctions against Tehran will receive the necessary response.

The Islamic Republic of Iran will certainly show a reciprocal reaction to the US Congress’ new measure, President Rouhani said.

“We… withstand the pressures and sanctions, and will take reciprocal action,” he stressed.

  • Published in World
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