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Britain, France, U.S. agree to boost support for Syrian opposition

Monday, September 16th, 2013

British and French foreign ministers, and their U.S. counterpart in Paris. (Reuters)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Britain, France and the United States on Monday agreed to increase their backing for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The three powers also agreed at talks in Paris that Assad would face consequences if he fails to comply with a U.N. resolution setting out a timetable for the handover of Syria’s chemical weapons to international control.

In a statement on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that the allies were “committed to the opposition” and said Assad had “lost all legitimacy to be possible to govern his country.”

“Each of us here today are here to emphasize the same thing, that what we achieved in this agreement has to be translated into a U.N. resolution, it has to be strong, it has to forceful it has to be real, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely, all of those things are critical, and it has to be enforced.

“If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games.”

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced there would be a major international meeting with leaders of the Syrian National Coalition in New York next week.

“We know that in order to negotiate a political solution, there has to be a strong opposition,” Fabius said.

(With AFP)

Israel says won’t sign EU deal under new terms

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Israel is the only non-EU country invited to Horizon 2020, a seven-year Europe-wide research grant program that begins in 2014. But Israel would rather forego hundreds of millions of dollars in EU research grants than accept an anti-settlement clause Europe wants. (File photo: AFP)

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Associated Press, Occupied Jerusalem

Israel would rather forego hundreds of millions of dollars in EU research grants than accept an anti-settlement clause Europe wants written into any new partnership deal, Israel’s deputy foreign minister said Friday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened top Cabinet ministers to stake out a position.

Israel still hopes to soften the terms of Horizon 2020, a seven-year Europe-wide research grant program that begins in 2014, said the deputy minister, Zeev Elkin.

Israel is the only non-EU country invited to the program, worth 80 billion euros. If it joins, Israel would pay in about 600 million euros and likely receive more than 1 billion euros in grants. Israel successfully participated in the outgoing European grant program.

“We want to sign and we are ready to negotiate, but if the conditions are as they are today, which are unprecedented … we can’t sign,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

The new EU guidelines say any partnership agreements with Israel must state clearly they are not applicable to the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. The guidelines were introduced, in part, to show the EU’s growing dismay over Israeli settlement expansion on war-won land the Palestinians want for a state.

The settlements, home to about 560,000 Israelis, are deemed illegal by most of the international community, including the EU. Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem into its capital has not been recognized by most countries in the world.

Negotiations between Israel and the EU on signing Horizon 2020 are to begin in the coming days.

On Thursday, Netanyahu met with Cabinet ministers to try to find a way out of the dilemma.

Netanyahu presides over a center-right coalition that includes prominent pro-settler politicians and would likely find it difficult to accept the EU’s new “territorial clause.” However, turning down the research partnership could cause significant harm to Israeli research and economic interests.

Zehava Galon of the dovish Meretz Party said the government is acting recklessly by endangering Israel’s participation in the grant program.

“This is what a sinking ship looks like when its captains decide to establish the State of Judea (biblical term for the West Bank) while destroying the future of Israel,” she told Israel Radio. “Because this is destroying the scientific future of Israel, Israeli research.”

It remains unclear how much wiggling room, if any, negotiators would have.

Europe might want to avoid a showdown with Israel at a time when Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are finally under way, following a five-year freeze. Negotiations resumed last month.

However, the EU appeared unlikely to agree to the changes sought by Israel, since their new wording “reiterates the long-held position that bilateral agreements with Israel do not cover the territory that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967,” as the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, put it last month.

On Friday, her spokesman Michael Mann said the EU Commission, the 28-nation bloc’s executive arm, is aware of media reports that Israel is planning to seek clarifications.

“We stand ready to organize discussions during which such clarifications can be provided and look forward to continued successful EU-Israel cooperation, including in the area of scientific cooperation,” he said.

EU envoy visits Mursi in custody amid heightened tensions

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks during a news conference in Cairo July 29, 2013. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Al Arabiya

Ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi was paid a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, her spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Ashton met Mursi “for two hours,” her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told AFP.

Other sources told the news agency that Ashton had left Cairo in a military helicopter heading to the undisclosed location where Mursi is being held.

Mursi has not been seen publicly since he was deposed on July 3 after massive protests against his rule.

Ashton pressed Egypt’s rulers on Monday to step back from a growing confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood following deadly clashes between Mursi supporters and security sources at the weekend.

On her second trip to Egypt since Mursi’s fall, Ashton met General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the head of the army and the man behind the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Egyptian Islamist groups said on Tuesday they told Ashton that protests will go on until Mursi in reinstated as president.

“The coalition affirmed the Egyptian people will not leave streets and squares until constitutional legitimacy returns,” a statement said after the meeting with the EU foreign policy chief.

She also held talks with deputy interim president and prominent liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei and interim foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.

During her last visit to Cairo, on July 17, Ashton unsuccessfully requested a meeting with Mursi and urged his release.

“I believe he should be released,” she told reporters. “I was assured he is well. I would have liked to see him.”

(With AFP and Reuters)

Iran slams ‘Zionist’ EU blacklisting of Hezbollah military wing

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Hezbollah members hold a rally in Baalbek, eastern Lebanon. (File photo: AFP)

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Al Arabiya

Iran on Tuesday denounced the European Union for its decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s armed wing as a terror group, Iranian media reported Tuesday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi accused the EU’s move of acting in Israel’s interests,

Iran “strongly denounces the (EU) decision… and believes (it) is in line with the illegitimate interests of the Zionist regime,” Salehi said, according to AFP news agency, citing official media.

“The European Union, due to lack of correct judgement about the regional crisis, took this wrong decision,” Salehi said.

The action, he added, is “against the Lebanese people since Hezbollah has put up a legitimate defence against the Zionists’ aggressions,” he added.

Iran and Hezbollah are both sworn enemies of Israel and the Lebanese Shiite group has received Tehran’s moral, financial and military support since its inception.

Salehi’s comments come after the EU on Monday put Hezbollah’s military wing on its of terrorist organizations, a move the Lebanese Shiite movement slammed as aggressive and unjust.

EU foreign ministers had been working for months to blacklist Hezbollah, after the group was accused of involvement in last year’s attack on an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria.

Hezbollah has denied involvement in the incident.

The decision to put its military wing on the EU list of terrorist groups required approval by all 28 member states.

However, some fear that such a move will destabilize Lebanon further.

The United States applauded the EU’s designation of Hezbollah as terrorist group.

Hezbollah has been already blacklisted in several countries, including the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia.

EU agrees to put Hezbollah armed wing on terror list

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The EU put Hezbollah’s military wing on a blacklist of terrorists. (Photo: Reuters)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Al Arabiya

The European Union declared on Monday the military wing of Lebanese party Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Diplomats said the decision was made following concerns over the group’s activities in Europe.

Blacklisting Hezbollah means imposing visa bans on individuals and asset freezes on organizations associated with it.

However, implementation would be complicated since officials would have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hezbollah’s organizational network, and see who could be targeted for belonging to its military.

EU foreign ministers had been working for months to blacklist Hezbollah, after the group was accused of involvement in last year’s attack on an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria.

Hezbollah has denied involvement in the incident.

The decision to put its military wing on the EU list of terrorist groups required approval by all 28 member states.

However, some fear that such a move will destabilize Lebanon further.

The United States applauded the EU’s designation of Hezbollah as terrorist group.

Hezbollah has been already blacklisted in several countries, including the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia.

The Gulf Cooperation Council - whose members are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates – also agreed last week to blacklist the group.

Iran-backed Hezbollah is Israel’s sworn enemy, and its direct intervention in Syria has dismayed Western powers and Middle Eastern states that back rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

(With AFP and AP)

EU foreign ministers sharply divided over Syria arms embargo

Monday, May 27th, 2013
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague arrives at an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels May 27, 2013. (Reuters)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Al Arabiya with Agencies -

EU foreign ministers were sharply divided on Monday over lifting an embargo to arm Syrian rebels, with Britain’s delegate rejecting the complication of talks.

“It is important to show that we are prepared to amend our arms embargo that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in comments broadcast on BBC television.

Hague then said that if that were not possible, each country could have its own sanctions policy.

“Let’s get people to the table and see if their positions have changed,” he said.

Many EU nations are fiercely opposed to sending more weapons into a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, unlike London and Paris who have been pushing their partners to amend an existing arms embargo.

The countries in support of sending arms believe the move will help tip the military balance in favor of the rebels fighting Assad.

The ministers however are racing against the clock to find a solution before the expiry at midnight Friday of a far-reaching package of EU sanctions against the Assad regime, including the blanket arms embargo.

Britain and France want the embargo maintained against Assad but relaxed against the opposition Syrian National Coalition, but a group of nations including Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic and Sweden want no change, or at least none before a proposed peace conference being pushed by Russia and the United States.

Austria’s Michael Spindelegger said he had talked to Hague before the meeting to tell him that “we have arguments against” easing the arms embargo, according to AFP news agency.

If there has to be an amendment, Spindelegger said he hoped to find a compromise “to (extend) the arms embargo” but still allow time to “see what comes out of” the mooted second peace conference in Geneva.

Several other ministers made similar remarks as they went into Monday’s meeting, suggesting that a wait-and-see approach was best for the moment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian and French counterparts in Paris Monday, pushing the idea for a “Geneva 2” conference aimed at ending the more than two-year conflict, which activists say has killed more than 94,000 people.

With the Syrian opposition deeply divided, Damascus has upped the ante, saying it would attend a new Geneva conference as a “good opportunity for a political solution.”

The opposition’s long-standing position is that it will not negotiate until Assad quits.

EU, Iran to Consult on Tehran’s Nuke Program

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

ABC News

VIENNA May 2, 2013 (AP)

The European Union says its senior diplomat will meet Iran’s top nuclear negotiator on May 15 as a follow-up to the last round of six-power negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program.

That meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ended on April 6 with the two sides still far apart. The six want Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level just a technical step short of the grade used to arm nuclear warheads. Iran says it has a right to enrich for energy, medical and research purposes and insists it does not want atomic arms.

An EU email from Brussels announcing the May 15 meeting in Istanbul offered no details. But the EU’s Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Saeed Jalili will likely discuss whether there is enough common ground to schedule new negotiations.

Some G8 ministers to meet Syrian opposition in London: Hague

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says several G8 foreign ministers will meet senior Syrian opposition members this week in London. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

AFP, London -

Several G8 foreign ministers will meet senior Syrian opposition members this week in London on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday.

His comments came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that he would be among those meeting the rebel representatives in the British capital.

Hague said he had already met Syrian rebel prime minister Ghassan Hitto and two senior members of the Syrian National Coalition on Tuesday and discussed with them the issue of arming the opposition.

“In the two days before the G8 meeting, today and tomorrow, I have invited Syrian opposition leaders, leaders of the National Coalition to London. I met them this morning,” Hague told a briefing of foreign journalists in London.

“They will be able to meet with some of the G8 foreign ministers tomorrow before the G8 fully gathers. Again I will be joining and convening some of those meetings to discuss the urgent humanitarian needs and the urgent need for a political and diplomatic breakthrough on Syria.”

The other rebel leaders he had met were Syrian National Coalition vice presidents George sabra and Soheir Atassi, Hague said.

He did not specify which ministers would meet with the SNC leaders, with Russia being highly unlikely to do so given its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hague said Britain and France would continue to push for the lifting of an EU arms embargo to Syria so they can arm the rebels.

“We certainly believe it is necessary if the situation continues to deteriorate to increase the practical help we give to the Syrian opposition, to the National Coalition — I have been discussing that directly with them this morning,” he said.

Kerry on Tuesday said he would meet representatives of the Syrian opposition in London, speaking shortly before taking off from Israel for the British capital.

“I will be meeting with the Syrian opposition in London,” he told reporters travelling with his delegation before departing from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv after three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Hague said the meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations would also discuss North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Somalia, cyber-security and the issue of preventing sexual violence in warzones.

The G8 foreign ministers — from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — hold a dinner on Wednesday and formal talks on Thursday.

Iran rial hits all-time dollar low: trackers

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Saturday, 02 February 2013

A money changer holds Iranian rial banknotes as he waits for customers in Tehran's business district January 7, 2012. (Reuters)

A money changer holds Iranian rial banknotes as he waits for customers in Tehran’s business district January 7, 2012. (Reuters)

By AFP 
TEHRAN

Iran’s currency plummeted to an all-time low on Saturday, registering a more than 21-percent drop in a span of two weeks against the U.S. dollar, currency tracking websites and money changers said.

The rial was traded at between 39,000 and 40,000 per dollar on the open market on Saturday, down from about 33,000 two weeks ago, according to money changers contacted by AFP.

It had briefly dropped in late January to 37,000 per dollar amid rumors that central bank head Mahmoud Bahmani could be sacked because of his failure to shore up the rial.

The devaluation comes with Iran facing a growing shortage of foreign cash because of international sanctions against its central bank and vital oil sector over its disputed nuclear program.

Uncertainty over stalled negotiations with the U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency and world powers over the nuclear standoff has added to controversy over the rial, according to local media.

The currency was traded at 12,000 in late 2011, prior to the introduction of tough Western sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

The official dollar rate in Iran has been fixed for several months at 12,260 rials, but is reserved for official government business. Parallel to the open market, another rate of 24,550 rials is reserved for a few companies importing food or other goods judged essential.

Iran is suffering from heightened geopolitical tensions over its nuclear ambitions and the effects of draconian Western measures curbing access to its reduced oil exports.

The West fears Iran’s atomic program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists that its activities are peaceful.

In addition to Western sanctions, some analysts and lawmakers blame the government for what they call mismanagement and failure to feed the market with sufficient foreign currency, stoking the currency plunge and high inflation.

The government, meanwhile, has promised to take measures to support the rial but so far there has been no sign of the pressure on Iran’s currency easing.

Sanctions ‘paralysing’ entire economy, says Iranian minister

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

01/10/2013

GVF — The international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme are having a “ paralyzing” impact on the country’s economy, says a cabinet minister.

According to a report by the Ilna news agency, Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Mehdi Ghazanfari conceded that the international sanctions were indeed “paralysing” the economy. He said that the sanctions imposed after December 2006 were “very smart and affect the entire economy,” because they included Iran’s oil exports as well as its central bank, and thus placed a significant strain on financial resources.

“The sanctions are aimed at putting the people under pressure, not at the nuclear programme or the human rights situation,” Ghazanfari continued. The sanctions on Iran’s shipping companies, he added, had worsened the economic situation even further.

The minister said that even though the sanctions did not include the import of food medicine, the sanctions on Iran’s banking had made the purchase of medical equipment and supplies even more difficult.

The plunge in the value of the nation’s currency, a by-product of the sanctions, has resulted in a steep rise in the price of medicine. According to the Associated Press, an imported wheelchair now costs ten times more than last fall, while a blood-sugar test kit has more than doubled to 540,000 Rials, or about $18.

Critics of the crushing sanctions say they ultimately harm ordinary Iranians, in particular the country’s most vulnerable.

Germany and U.S. deploy patriot missiles to Turkey, Russia wavers

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012
Soldiers of the German Air Defence Missile Squadron 2 walking past Patriot missile launchers in the background in Bad Suelze, northern Germany. (AFP)

Soldiers of the German Air Defence Missile Squadron 2 walking past Patriot missile launchers in the background in Bad Suelze, northern Germany. (AFP)

Germany and the United States both agreed on Friday to deploy missiles and army forces to the Turkish-Syrian borders to help guard Turkey against possible Syrian attack as part of a NATO mission.

The U.S. will deploy two Patriot missile batteries to along with 400 troops as while Germany will be positioning its Patriot missile batteries 120 kilometers from the Syrian border in southern Turkey with a mandate that will run until Jan. 31, 2014

Germany’s government coalition parties, the main opposition Social Democrats and Greens had said they backed the move. Only the far-left Die Linke party was opposed.

The German foreign and defense ministries last week said the move was an “exclusively defensive measure, which as a means of military deterrent prevents the conflict inside Syria spreading to Turkey”.

Meanwhile, Moscow backtracked on comments made by a top diplomat admitting that Syrian opposition fighters might defeat its long-time ally Damascus despite Washington’s deployment of 400 troops to Turkey.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman insisted that Moscow’s controversial support for Assad’s regime was unchanged and that Thursday’s remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov did not reflect official policy.

A foreign ministry spokesman insisted that Moscow’s controversial support for Assad’s regime was unchanged and that Thursday’s remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov did not reflect official policy.

But Washington swiftly welcomed Bogdanov’s remarks and announced its troop deployment as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta flew to an air base in southeastern Turkey not far from the frontier where the rebels have rear bases.

The move coincides with rising fears the Syrian regime may resort to using chemical weapons against rebel forces and after Assad’s army unleashed Scud missiles in recent days.

The move was part of a wider NATO effort to bolster Turkey’s air defenses amid growing tension on the Turkish-Syrian border, with Ankara siding with opposition forces battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued the order before landing at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey after a visit to Afghanistan, his spokesman said.

“The secretary, as we are en route to Turkey, has signed an order that will deploy some 400 U.S. personnel to Turkey to support two Patriot missile batteries,” George Little told reporters aboard Panetta’s plane.

“We expect them to be deployed in the coming weeks.”

Turkey is a “very strong ally” and the US government is prepared in the context of NATO to support the defense of Turkey,” Little said.

U.S. and European leaders have warned the Assad regime not to use its arsenal of chemical arms, calling it a “red line” that would trigger international military action.

Turkey has vowed to defend its territory after cross-border artillery fire wounded civilians and following the downing of one of its fighter jets.

EU to consider all options to help Syrian opposition fighters

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

By REUTERS 
BRUSSELS
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference at the EU Headquarters on December 14, 2012 in Brussels, on the last day of a two-day European Union leaders summit. (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference at the EU Headquarters on December 14, 2012 in Brussels, on the last day of a two-day European Union leaders summit. (AFP)

All options are on the table to support the Syrian opposition fighting President Bashar al-Assad, European Union leaders said on Friday, raising the possibility that non-lethal military equipment or even arms could eventually be supplied.

In their strongest statement of support for the Syrian opposition since the uprising began more than 20 months ago, EU leaders instructed their foreign ministers to assess all possibilities to increase the pressure on Assad.

Britain’s David Cameron pushed for an early review of the arms embargo against Syria to potentially open the way to supply equipment to the opposition fighters in the coming months, but Germany and others were more reluctant and blocked any quick move.

But there was widespread agreement that whatever action can be taken under current legislation should be pursued, and the arms embargo would still be reviewed at a later stage.

“I want a very clear message to go to President Assad that nothing is off the table,” Cameron told reporters at the end of a two-day EU summit. “I want us to work with the opposition … so that we can see the speediest possible transition in Syria.

“There is no single simple answer, but inaction and indifference are not options.”

Officials said that Britain and France were keen for further discussion on lifting the arms embargo, to open the way for non-lethal assistance, at least initially.
That could be discussed as soon as Jan. 28, when EU foreign ministers will hold their next meeting in Brussels.

But Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel was far more cautious than Cameron, saying it was too soon to change the arms embargo.

“We are all convinced that there must be a political change in Syria, that the future of Syria is without Assad,” she told reporters. “If it comes to a change of power and departure of Assad, then there must be a respect of human rights and protection of minorities.”
But when it comes to arms or assistance with non-lethal equipment, she said it had not explicitly been discussed at the summit, saying it would be left up to foreign ministers.

“The foreign ministers are to discuss how to help the opposition … Nothing has been decided as far as a loosening of the arms embargo goes,” she said.

The EU’s support for the Syrian opposition comes amid reports of gains for opposition fighters fighting Assad’s forces. Even Russia – an ally and arms supplier to Assad – has conceded there is the possibility of a rebel victory.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers had moved closer towards full recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), after they met leader Mouaz Alkhatib in Brussels.

Pushed by Britain, the bloc decided in late November to review sanctions on Syria every three months instead of every year as previously, in order to make it easier for EU countries to equip the opposition fighters.

The current embargo on the supply of arms to the country was imposed to prevent the flow of weapons to Assad’s forces. The new, shorter review period will allow the EU to look at amendments that might allow the supply of non-lethal equipment to the opposition fighters.

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