Iran: Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

Monday, 12 August, 2019 – 11:30
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States in a television interview on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite.”

Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels.

According to Reuters, Zarif said in the interview that the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it”.

“The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are flooding it with weapons,” he said.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, Stena Impero near the Strait for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.

The tanker dispute has tangled Britain in the diplomatic dispute between the EU’s big powers – which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal – and the United States which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.

Also Monday, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri charged that Washington’s unilateralist policies and its emphasis on sanctions threaten the stability of the region.

He was speaking at an economic forum hosted by Turkmenistan.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Was Invited to Meet Trump in the Oval Office

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORKER NEWS)

 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Was Invited to Meet Trump in the Oval Office

Last month, amid a rapid-fire escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, received an unexpected invitation—to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. The diplomatic overture was made by Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, during a meeting with Zarif in New York on July 15th, according to American and Iranian sources and a well-informed diplomat.

With President Trump’s blessing, Paul had been working on the idea for several weeks, in consultation with the White House and the State Department. An intermediary had reached out to the Iranians on Paul’s behalf three weeks before Zarif was due in New York for meetings at the United Nations. On July 14th, the day before leaving for New York, Paul had a discussion about Iran with the President, while playing a round at the Trump golf course in Sterling, Virginia.

On July 15th, Paul and his senior adviser, Doug Stafford, met Zarif at the elegant residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador, on Fifth Avenue, a block from the Metropolitan Museum. In his decades as a diplomat, Zarif, who studied under Condoleezza Rice’s Ph.D. adviser, at the University of Denver, has built a modest rolodex with the private numbers of members of the House and Senate. “I always see people from Congress,” Zarif told me and a small group of journalists later that week, without naming names. But this was his first meeting with Paul, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The two men initially talked about long-standing issues, notably Tehran’s nuclear program, and also recent flare-ups in the Persian Gulf, according to the sources. In May and June, the United States accused Tehran of sabotaging six oil tankers just beyond the strategic Strait of Hormuz. On June 20th, Iran shot down one of America’s most sophisticated drones, claiming that it was flying over Iranian airspace. Trump considered military retaliation, but called it off at the last minute, because of projected casualties. While Zarif was in New York, the U.S. downed an Iranian drone, on July 18th. As tempers frayed, Washington was abuzz with worry about the prospect of a new war in the Middle East. Paul’s mission was to break through the messy layers of conflict and launch a direct diplomatic channel, at the highest level. The overture was a miniature version of Trump’s tactic in circumventing traditional diplomacy by dealing directly with the North Korean leadership.

During an hour-long conversation, Zarif offered Paul ideas about how to end the nuclear impasse and address Trump’s concerns. He later outlined some of them to our group of journalists and subsequently in more detail to me. “As a diplomat, I have to always think about alternatives,” he told us. Among them was the idea that the Iranian Parliament could codify, in law, a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader, originally in 2003 and again in 2010, that forbids the production or use of nuclear weapons. “We consider the use of such weapons as haraam [forbidden] and believe that it is everyone’s duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, in 2010.

But, if Trump wanted more, he would also have to offer more, Zarif suggested. Another possibility was moving forward one of the later steps of the nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015—the accord that Trump abandoned in May, 2018. Zarif said that Iran could bring forward ratification of the so-called Additional Protocol, which is currently due to be implemented by 2023—potentially this year. The protocol, which has already been signed and ratified by a hundred and forty-six nations, allows more intrusive international inspections—on both declared and undeclared nuclear sites in member states—in perpetuity. “The Additional Protocol is a crucial means by which the world verifies that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me on Friday. “If you don’t trust the Iranians, you want inspections in perpetuity.” By ratifying the protocol, Iran would forfeit one of the so-called sunset clauses in the 2015 deal, which had triggered deep skepticism among Republicans, some Democrats, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. In exchange, Zarif suggested, Trump could go to Congress to lift sanctions on Iran, as originally provided under the 2015 nuclear deal but not ratified in legislation. Both sides would then feel more secure in the commitments sought in the original deal.

Paul proposed that the Iranian diplomat lay out the same ideas to Trump in person. The President, Paul said, had authorized him to extend an invitation to meet in the Oval Office as early as that week, the U.S., Iranian, and diplomatic sources told me. A White House spokesperson declined to comment about the invitation on the record.

India: Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India.

BUSINESS Updated: May 14, 2019 23:46 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj informed her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Tuesday that a decision on purchasing Iranian oil in the face of US sanctions will be made after the conclusion of India’s general election, people familiar with developments said.

Iranian oil exports and Tehran’s approach to recent developments in the region, including tensions between Iran and the US over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iranian nuclear deal, figured in the discussions between Zarif and Swaraj.

Zarif arrived in New Delhi late on Monday for a previously unscheduled visit to lobby for India’s support against the backdrop of the Iran-US tensions. He last visited India in January, and the current trip was organised at short notice at Zarif’s request, the people cited above said.

When Zarif raised the purchase of oil from Iran, Swaraj reiterated India’s position that a decision will be made after the general elections while keeping in mind the country’s “commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests”, the people said.

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India. Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

The sanctions were imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Zarif briefed the Indian side on Iran’s approach to developments in the region, including on JCPOA, and also reviewed bilateral cooperation.

The outreach to India, he explained, was part of Iran’s consultations with key countries, including Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Iraq, over the past few days.

The impact of the sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the country’s main revenue earner, prompted Tehran to threaten last week that it would roll back its compliance with the nuclear deal.

Zarif referred to President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement on May 8 about Iran keeping larger amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water, instead of exporting the excess as required under the JCPOA. He also mentioned the 60-day timeline given to the EU3 (France, Germany, the UK) and other parties to the JCPOA (China and Russia) for restoring oil exports and banking channels.

The Indian side, the people said, reiterated its position that New Delhi would like all parties to the JCPOA to continue to fulfil their commitments and engage constructively and resolve issues peacefully through dialogue.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the operationalisation of an interim contract between India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) for the development Chabahar port. They also discussed Afghanistan and agreed to “maintain close coordination on the evolving situation”, the people said.

First Published: May 14, 2019 22:32 IST