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Hamas leader: Rafah crossing to be opened intermittently

Despite great expectations raised by politicians and media reports, Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt will only be open “intermittently” and not continuously when renovations on its Egyptian side are finished, according to a senior Hamas leader.

Salah Bardawil, a member of the Hamas political bureau, told Hamas’s Al-Aksa television on Tuesday that Egyptian intelligence is conditioning a complete opening of Rafah on the achievement of “complete security in Sinai” where Islamic State is waging an insurgency against the government and army of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Egypt has in the past accused Hamas of supporting the insurgents and allowing them to use Gaza as a refuge – though in recent months Cairo-Gaza relations have thawed on the understanding that Hamas will meet Egyptian demands for security steps along Gaza’s border with Sinai.

Bardawil termed the Egyptian linkage “frustrating” and “a backtracking”, adding that “no one can guarantee full security anywhere.” He said the Egyptians had made clear in “side discussions” that the crossing would be open intermittently once the renovations are finished.

“We are talking about an intermittent opening every week one or two or three times,” he said. “It’s possible that can happen but that is connected to [completing] the renovation of the crossing.”

“The current pace is slow,” he said, adding that if it continues that way it will take months to complete.

Although disappointing for Gazans who view Rafah as their only lifeline to the world given Israeli strictures at Erez crossing, its opening several times a week would represent a considerable improvement over the current situation.

According to Israeli rights group Gisha, which monitors movement in and out of Gaza, Rafah was closed for five months straight until it was opened last week to allow the crossing into Egypt of Mecca- bound pilgrims. As of last week, it had only been open for 11 days in all of 2017, none of them consecutive. The restrictive Egyptian policy has stemmed from Egypt’s view, until recently, of Hamas as an enemy who should be pressured and toppled because of its association with the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Sisi seized power in 2013.

Last month, Muhammad Dahlan, the Egyptian-backed former Gaza security chief and current bitter rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, said after reaching a cooperation deal with Hamas that was facilitated by Cairo, that the Rafah crossing would be open by late August. “Everyone who needs to travel will be able to travel,” he told the Associated Press.

But in fact, Egypt wants to make sure that Hamas addresses all of its security concerns before it moves to free up the crossing, according to Naji Shurab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

“Egypt wants to see that Hamas has distanced itself far from the Muslim Brotherhood. It realizes Hamas can help combat Islamic State in Sinai by closing tunnels, preserving borders and exchanging intelligence information. When Egyptian authorities realize that Hamas has achieved everything than I think Rafah will be opened permanently.”

One possibility for the opening of Rafah is that on the Palestinian side the terminal itself would be staffed by Dahlan’s people while Hamas officials would have a post outside the terminal, according to Mkhaimar Abusada, also a political scientist at Al-Azhar University. This would spare Egypt from being accused of dealing directly with Hamas in contravention of the international community’s designation of it as a terrorist group.

Egypt’s thaw with Hamas reflects not only its Sinai security needs, but also the realization that its strategy of trying to weaken Hamas simply did not work, Abusada said. “They thought maybe it is time to shift gears,” he said.

In addition, warming relations with Hamas and backing Dahlan’s bid for more influence in Gaza can be understood as emanating from dissatisfaction with Abbas, in Abusada’s view.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hamas-leader-Rafah-crossing-to-be-opened-intermittently-503266

How serious are Iranian nuclear threats?

There are at least two key points to make about Iran’s threat on Tuesday that it could highly enrich uranium within five days if it chooses to pull out of the nuclear deal with the West.

The first is that this has nothing to do with Iran developing a nuclear bomb in a matter of days. Estimates of its ability to breakout to develop a nuclear weapon if it walked away from the deal range from between six and 12 months.

The second, as put forth by INSS Iran expert Emily Landau and others, is that Iran’s threat is a sign of continued noncooperation as the debate about how the US and Israel should view the deal continues.

First, debunking Iran’s threat.

Read carefully:  Iran was not threatening to enrich uranium to the 90% range, which is needed to achieve weaponization.

Rather, it was threatening to enrich uranium from the 3-5% range to the 20% range that it had before the deal.

Twenty percent means that Iran has less to do to get the uranium to 90%, but it is still far from being weaponized.

Also, Iran has depleted its once large stock of already enriched uranium.

While Obama administration figures said the deal would hold off Iran from breaking out for at least 12 months, the Institute for Science and International Security and others have said Iran could breakout in as few as six months. Six months is still not five days.

Why is Iran trying to sound like it can get to a nuclear weapon faster than it can? Landau notes that Iran wants the deal to continue, “because otherwise it would lose economic benefits so it is in their short and medium term interest to keep it…, and it is not a bad deal for them as they can move to get nuclear weapons” when its terms expire “while getting stronger regionally.”

In other words, Iran does not want to lose the deal’s pluses and wants to pressure the West to stick to the deal as is, without tougher enforcement that it is worried about from the Trump administration.

Why are Iran’s threats significant? Landau explains that many of those who are afraid of pressing Iran to change its disruptive regional behavior lest it walk away from the deal, continue to focus on Iran as being technically mostly compliant with the agreement.

In contrast, she said Iran’s threats show that it is not cooperative and gives support to those who say Iran may have secret breakout plans lined up and concealed nuclear activities.

The international community might need to ask Iran how it would enrich uranium to 20% in only five days, which might suggest that Iran could break out faster than the “fast” six-month estimate.

“How does the threat square with Iran’s commitments under the nuclear deal?” asked Landau, contending that more violations might be discovered if inspectors look into Iran’s threat.

Further, it signals that Iran’s mentality is not that of a state which has moved on from seeking nuclear weapons.

Obviously, much of Iran’s latest threat is also part of its back and forth with the Trump administration, which is making plenty of its own threats. But Landau points out that Iran made plenty of threats against the more friendly Obama administration as well.

Ironically then, Iran’s threat to leave the deal both exposes its true desire to milk the deal for the benefits it offers economically without permanent limits on its nuclear abilities, and signals that Iran has not given up on its nuclear ambitions long-term.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/How-serious-are-Iranian-nuclear-threats-503276

Amnesty slams PA, Hamas for clampdown on freedom of expression

Amnesty International on Wednesday slammed the PA and Hamas for what it called a clampdown on freedom of expression in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. “This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine.”

In early August, the Palestinian Authority arrested five journalists, who work for Hamas-affiliated news outlets, for allegedly “leaking sensitive information to hostile authorities,” according to PA-run media in the West Bank.

The arrests came after the PA issued a new cyber crimes law, which permits authorities to imprison anyone “who aims to publish news that would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state, the public order or the internal or external security of the state.”

Palestinian civil society groups, including the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, have called on the PA to rescind the cyber crimes law.

In June, the PA also blocked several websites critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, Hamas arrested two journalists in June and detained other journalists and activists over comments critical of Gazan authorities on social media.

According to evidence gathered by Amnesty, one of the detained activists was likely tortured in Hamas’s custody.

The PA recently released the journalists it arrested in August, while Hamas also set free a journalist it jailed in June.

A 2017 Freedom House report characterized the West Bank as “not free” and gave the territory a freedom score of 28 out of 100. (0=least free and 100=most free) The same report described Gaza as not free and gave the area a freedom score of 12.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Amnesty-slams-PA-Hamas-for-clampdown-on-freedom-of-expression-503271

Saudi crown prince discusses Israeli-Palestinian peace with US officials

DUBAI- Saudi Arabia’s crown prince met senior US officials including presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Jeddah on Tuesday and discussed efforts to bring about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, Saudi state news agency SPA said.

Mohammed bin Salman also discussed ways to combat terrorist financing with Kushner, US President Donald Trump‘s son-in-law, as well as US negotiator Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, SPA said.

The two sides talked about seeking ways to reach “a real and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” and ensuring stability in the wider Middle East and beyond, SPA said.

The White House announced the trip earlier this month, saying it was part of a regional tour including meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The US delegation would meet regional leaders to discuss a “path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” a White House official said at the time.

Kushner was charged with helping to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians after Trump took office.

The president went to Saudi Arabia and Israel during his first post-inauguration trip abroad and has expressed a personal commitment to reaching a deal that has eluded his Republican and Democratic predecessors.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Saudi-crown-prince-discusses-Israeli-Palestinian-peace-with-US-officials-503195

Two killed in mounting clashes in refugee camp in Lebanon

SIDON, Lebanon – Two members of the Palestinian group Fatah were killed in worsening clashes with Islamist groups in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Wednesday, medical sources said, bringing the number of dead to six in nearly a week of fighting.

The clashes at the Ain el Hilweh camp began late last Thursday between Islamist fighters and a joint force comprising the main Palestinian factions, including Fatah, which are responsible for the camp’s security.

Two other Fatah members and two Islamist fighters had already been killed and a total of 15 combatants and civilians have been wounded, a security source said.

The source said clashes had escalated on Wednesday, when gunfire wounded three people, including two Lebanese security personnel, outside the camp.

The fighting was triggered when a leader of an armed faction sympathetic to the Islamist Badr group fired at the headquarters of the joint security force last week.

In April, seven people were killed in clashes in the camp between the Badr group and the joint security force after it deployed there.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Two-killed-in-mounting-clashes-in-refugee-camp-in-Lebanon-503205

‘A weapon against its neighbors’: former Al Jazeera bureau chief speaks out against network

Mohamed Fahmy remembers when it dawned on him that something was not right. He was in an Egyptian prison. There was a group of Muslim Brotherhood students in the same jail. “They described how they were involved in organizing protests and filming them and a lot of their footage was being aired on Al Jazeera and that doesn’t represent citizen journalism.”

He now says he realized his employers were dealing with these students. “They were dealing fluidly with a group that was banned and designated terrorist group, they didn’t, I discovered that in prison.”

Fahmy was born in Cairo in 1974. He reported on the 2003 Iraq war for the Los Angeles Times and spent years covering the Arab Spring and worked for CNN before being hired as Al Jazeera English Egypt bureau chief in September 2013.

He came into the job during momentous times in Egyptian history. Autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak had stepped down in February 2011 when the Arab spring broke out in Tahrir square.

In June 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was sworn in as president after winning elections. A year later, after millions took to the streets in protest, Morsi was overthrown by the military and Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi.

Al Jazeera openly supported not only the Arab Spring in Egypt but also was sympathetic toward Muslim Brotherhood. It was targeted for closure by the new Egyptian authorities almost immediately in July 2013.

In August its local affiliate station named Mubasher Misra, was banned from Egypt. On September 23rd the Muslim Brotherhood was banned as well. Two months later pro-Sisi protesters at the Qatari embassy demanded the government expel the Qataris as well.

Al Jazeera is a state-funded broadcaster, and its role in the Middle East during the Arab spring is viewed suspiciously by many regimes, especially those that think it works either with the opposition or terrorist groups.

This was the complex situation Fahmy came into in September 2013.

Speaking by telephone from Canada where he has launched a 100 million dollar lawsuit against his former employers, Fahmy recalls his three months of employment before his arrest.

“Before taking the job for the English channel I had clear conditions which included being independent and not sharing content on [the Al Jazeera owned] Arabic channels specifically.” He says that the Arabic channel was “clearly biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and had been vilified by the Egyptian government.”

He received guarantees that his employers would respect the demarcation.

“But it turned out later on they were nabbing our English content and rebroadcasting and dubbing and running it on illegal channels.”

He says this placed his channel on the radar of the authorities. “I asked them if we were operating legally from the Marriot [Hotel]… they had set up shop in the Marriot and they said we were operating legally but it turned out they were illegal.”

On December 29 2013, Fahmy, along with Peter Greste and Baher Ghorab were arrested and accused of conspiring with terrorists and operating without licenses.

“We were sent to Scorpion prison hell hole with ISIS members and Muslim Brotherhood and others.”

In 2016 Fahmy published a book called The Marriot Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo’s Scorpion Prison to Freedom about his experience. It was during the Scorpion prison days he became aware of the Brotherhood student activists he says were sending material to Al Jazeera.

His case was “bundled” with the students and no matter how much Fahmy tried to convince the judge he didn’t know them, it didn’t work.

“I have not forgotten who put me in jail but Al Jazeera was unethical and its illegal representations contributed immensely to my incarceration and that is the basis of my lawsuit. I hired lawyers from Canada from inside my prison cell and we collected information to bring this lawsuit.”

Fahmy was initially sentenced to seven years in prison, appealed, got out on bail, was sentenced to three years and eventually released in September 2015.

Since being imprisoned he has frequently spoken out about his case and his feelings towards Al-Jazeera.

“The more the network coordinated and takes directions from the [Qatar] government, the more it becomes a mouthpiece for Qatari intelligence,” he said in a June interview with Bloomberg.

Looking back, Fahmy says he was surprised to learn that Al Jazeera English was not as separate as he believed from the Arabic network’s other interests.

“Qatar continued to eject and influence the upper management, this even reflected on us the English reporters and we had some of the best. I thought they would respect that. I didn’t look at it from a political point of view.”

However it was political.

“The Arabic channel and Qatar using this platform as a weapon against its neighbors left us English reporters as targets, and that is what Al Jazeera does unfortunately, according to the research I conducted for the past two years.”

He says that the network “continues to endanger lives of journalists because of dealings with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood” and other groups.

He asserts that Al Jazeera violated its own agreement with Riyadh about not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I have affidavits from senior staff who left and were never informed about Emir’s signature on the Riyadh agreement, so part of my law suit in Canada is to prove to the judge that the network is a mouthpiece for the Qatari government.”

Furthermore, “it’s a network that promotes democracy and free speech but does not allow a single member of the muffled Qatari opposition to discuss lack of press freedom. Political parties, labor unions, so many of Qatari opposition cannot appear; how can anyone take that seriously.”

Israel’s Government Press Office is in the midst of trying to revoke the press credentials of Al Jazeera correspondent Elias Karram. According to Ynet it granted him a hearing on August 22nd after revoking his press card in mid-August. Communications Minister Ayoub Kara has also sought, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing, to shut down the cable network.

Fahmy says he can understand why.

“People don’t focus on the aspects of the new gathering and what happens behind the scenes and that aggravates security apparatuses around the world. For instance, the Israeli government has the right to stop and warn Al-Jazeera or take a harsh stance when they learn they are dealing in the news gathering with Hamas which is a designated terrorist group.”

He acknowledges they will say it is against press freedom but “they [Qatar] use the press.”

Why is it unethical for a news organization to interview terrorists or even send students with cameras to record protests as a part of news gathering? Fahmy says Al Jazeera crosses the line.

“The difference is between me establishing a line to speak to someone designated as a terrorist, but if I provide money in return for his footage, or if I request a commission for him to do filming for me, then this is not just establishing dialogue.”

He argues this represents a relationship beyond journalism. And this is why security services in the Middle East, whether in Israel or Egypt or other countries have become involved.

The lawsuit is important because it comes at the same time that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries have broken relations with Qatar and have demanded that it stop its relations with terror groups and also close Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera pushed back in a July article, accusing the UAE’s ambassador to the US of supporting Fahmy. Al Jazeera also claimed that one of its former cameramen, who is also suing the network is “linked to Egypt’s security agency,” in an article in July.

Fahmy’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to court in January of 2018, he says.

“It will be the first time Al Jazeera is tried in public in one of the best judicial systems and they cannot say it is politicized… the world will see how this network has broken the Guinness Book of World Records of unethical journalism.”

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/A-weapon-against-its-neighbors-former-Al-Jazeera-bureau-chief-speaks-out-against-network-503206

Tunisian president ‘boldly’ takes on Islam to advance women’s rights

In what was expected to be a routine speech marking National Women’s Day in Tunisia on August 13, President Beji Caid Essebsi sent shock waves through the country and beyond by directly challenging Islamic law and norms in his promotion of equal rights for women.

Essebsi, the 90-year-old head of the secular Nidaa Tounis party, called for revamping inheritance law so that brothers and sisters will inherit equally rather than the Koranic-derived practice that prevails in Tunisian law that gives males twice as much as females.

“It is necessary to develop personal status laws in such a way to promote equality and to keep pace with modern legislation and changing modern times,” the Al-Monitor website quoted him as saying. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, elsewhere in his speech Essebsi said that “the inheritance issue is an issue for humans. God and his Prophet left humans to manage these issues.”

Essebsi also called for changing a 1973 Tunisian law that prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men.

Due to strong secular origins of the Tunisian state, which gained independence under the leadership of founding father Habib Bourguiba in 1956, the situation of women in Tunisia has historically been better than elsewhere in the Arab world.

In Saudi Arabia, women cannot travel or conduct official business without a male guardian, and in Egypt, a man can end a marriage without documentation simply by saying “I hereby divorce you.”

Tunisia’s post-independence personal status law gave women access to higher education, job opportunities and the right to divorce.

Abortion was legalized in 1965, eight years before the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling disallowed many state and federal restrictions on abortion in the United States.

When the 2011 revolution came, Tunisian women were in a strong position to defend their hard-won gains and demand further equality, and society was more receptive to this, including moderate Islamists, according to Tunis-based journalist Khaled Diab, author of Islam for the Politically Incorrect.

Essebsi’s initiative, coupled with the passage last month of a law on eliminating violence against women, “will pave the way to full legal equality between Tunisian men and women,” Diab predicts.

Other observers think the path to full legal equality is not assured, with the constitution ratified two years after the 2011 revolution that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali guaranteeing freedom of religion but also giving the state the role of defending Islam.

And traditionalist sentiment is considerable. In the first election after the Arab Spring the moderate Islamist Ennahda party garnered 37% of the vote, the most of any party, and in the 2014 elections it received 28%.

“Essebsi’s measures, especially inheritance reform, are bold,” says Daniel Zisenwine, a researcher at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute. “His inheritance reform collides directly with religion and religious injunction. We are talking about religious law, not just a custom or tradition. An Islamic cleric can point to verses in the Koran and say, ‘Look, this is what it says.’ In fact, that is already happening. Noureddine Fahmi, former Tunisian religious affairs minister, said last week according to AFP that “inheritance in Islam is clearly explained in the Holy Koran. It can be neither modified nor interpreted.”

Ennahda’s position is less clear, with some women activists voicing objections to the proposed change while the party has yet to take an official position and its leader Rached Ghannouchi has refrained from addressing the issue. Essebsi is betting that Ennahda won’t want to break up its alliance with him over the matter, Zisenwine says. Ennahda has in the past voiced commitment to maintaining the status of women in Tunisia.

“Much depends on how the issue is framed,” Zisenwine says. “Will it be seen as an affront to religious tradition that could backfire or as a step to promoting women’s equality and social justice? “If this backfires and weakens Essebsi’s position, he may not push it,” Zisenwine says.

As for why he opted to go out on such a limb to begin with, Zisenwine says that he may have felt under pressure from within the party, especially from women activists who feel they have not seen enough advancement of a secularist agenda.

Whatever the reasons for it, Essebsi’s proposals have rippled internationally.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo- based leading institution of jurisprudence in the Sunni Muslim world, issued a statement on Sunday blasting any tampering with the laws of inheritance.

“Al-Azhar rejects categorically the intervention of any policy or regulations that affect the beliefs of Muslims or rulings of their Shari’a or tampers with them,” Al-Ahram’s website quoted him as saying. Tayeb added that such ideas “provoke the Muslim masses who adhere to their religion and endanger the stability of Muslim societies.”

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Tunisian-president-boldly-takes-on-Islam-to-advance-womens-rights-503142

Kurds vow to move on independence referendum despite pressures to delay

In mid-August, rumors and reports circulated that the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq may postpone its referendum on independence which is set for September 25. However after a week of talks and debate, including calls and pressure from abroad for the Kurds to consider the postponement, KRG President Masoud Barzani has held firm. “Postponing is not a possibility at all,” he was quoted telling a Saudi newspaper.

Kurdistan set its referendum date two months ago and there is now only a month to go until ballots are supposed to be cast. But an array of opposition to the vote has led to discussion in Erbil about what concessions or agreements might be necessary to put off the referendum.

On August 12, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Barzani and asked the Kurds to reconsider. Barzani’s office stated that “the people of Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future,” if they postponed the vote. On August 17, a Kurdish delegation in Baghdad met members of the Shia National Alliance.

Rudaw reported that the KRG could delay the referendum “if Baghdad, under the auspices of the international community promises to set another date for the referendum.”

In each case the Kurds demand that if they agree to postpone their right to a vote, the region receive something major in return. Kurdistan24 reported on Sunday that Mala Bakhtiar, executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a leading political party in the KRG, said the Iraqi central government should “assist the Kurds in overcoming a financial crises,” among other issues. According to other reports, the discussions in Baghdad centered around other guarantees relating to the Kurdish region’s oil and who will rule over disputed areas in Kirkuk, Sinjar and Khanaqin.

Ceng Sagnic, coordinator of the Kurdish Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University says the last weeks reveal tremendous pressure on Erbil. “These are all adding up to an image that the KRG is under heavy pressure to delay the referendum because there are rumors the US government is concerned that the referendum [taking place] before the Iraqi general elections will empower Iran’s role in Iraq.”

The Americans don’t want Haider Abadi weakened, especially as he has been a key ally with the US-led coalition against Islamic State. He replaced Nouri al-Maliki, who many blamed for allowing ISIS to conquer Mosul and part of the country in 2014. “As of now there is no decision to delay, the KEG High Election Committee is registering voters names and the budget has been allocated,” says Sagnic. He also says that Kurdish leaders in Erbil are “fed up” with promises from Baghdad and don’t have faith in carrying through its agreements.

The Kurds would want an ironclad guarantee from the US that if they postpone the election, they receive US support at a later date. They also want similar guarantees from Baghdad.

According to sources in Erbil, there’s a feeling that if now is not a good time for a referendum, when is? “If it’s not a good time to be independent, is it a good time to [continue being] a servant,” one Kurdish insider said.

However the KRG faces challenges not only from Baghdad and its friends in Washington, but also from its two neighbors, Turkey and Iran. Both countries have major investments in the Kurdish region. Although both have opposed the referendum and Ankara and Tehran recently held talks on cooperation, there is a feeling that economic interests may be more important than verbal opposition.

To allay regional fears, Barzani and the leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, have stressed that the referendum is for a democratic and pluralistic Kurdistan. The region will be governed by federalism. All this is meant to assuage fears by minorities and smaller parties because the KRG has large numbers of Turkmen, Arabs and various religious minorities from Christian and Yazidi groups. For now September 25 is still the referendum date. Baghdad, riding a wave of power from its victory in Mosul over ISIS and its new battle in Tal Afar, doesn’t seem likely to bend on concessions that would lead to a change.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Kurds-vow-to-move-on-independence-referendum-despite-pressures-to-delay-503153

US asks if Iran military sites to be checked under nuclear deal

The United States wants to know if the United Nations atomic watchdog plans to inspect Iranian military sites to verify Tehran’s compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Tuesday.

Haley will meet with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials in Vienna on Wednesday for what she described as a fact-finding mission, which is part of President Donald Trump’s review of the deal Iran made with world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

“If you look … at past Iranian behavior, what you’ve seen is there have been covert actions at military sites, at universities, things like that,” Haley, a member of Trump’s cabinet, told Reuters in an interview.

“There were already issues in those locations, so are they including that in what they look at to make sure that those issues no longer remain?” she said. “They have the authority to look at military sites now. They have the authority to look at any suspicious sites now, it’s just are they doing it?” She said she was traveling to Vienna to ask questions, not to push the IAEA to do anything.

Iran’s top authorities have flatly rejected giving international inspectors access to their military sites, and Iranian officials have told Reuters that any such move would trigger harsh consequences.

“Why would they say that if they had nothing to hide? Why wouldn’t they let the IAEA go there?” Haley said.

Iran’s atomic chief was quoted by state media as saying on Tuesday that Iran could resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the nuclear deal was revoked.

In April, Trump ordered a review of whether a suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal – negotiated under President Barack Obama – was in the US national security interest. He has called it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned last week that Iran could abandon the nuclear agreement “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions.

Most UN and Western sanctions were lifted 18 months ago under the nuclear deal. Iran is still subject to a UN arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the deal.

The IAEA polices restrictions the deal placed on Iran’s nuclear activities and reports quarterly.

Haley said some of the questions she had were: “Are you looking at everything? Are you looking at those places where there has been covert activity in the past? Are you able to get access to these areas? Or are you being delayed? Are you being shut out from those things?” Under US law, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The next deadline is October, and Trump has said he thinks by then the United States will declare Iran to be noncompliant.

“We don’t know if he’s going to certify or decertify the deal,” said Haley, adding that she would report back to Trump and the national security team.

The US review of its policy toward Iran is also looking at Tehran’s behavior in the Middle East, which Washington has said undermines US interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes the Iran nuclear deal is “one of the most important diplomatic achievements in our search for, for peace and stability,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

“Everyone involved needs to do its utmost to protect and support that agreement,” Dujarric told reporters.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/US-asks-if-Iran-military-sites-to-be-checked-under-nuclear-deal-503159

North Korea shipments to Syria chemical arms agency intercepted

UNITED NATIONS – Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent UN experts, which was submitted to the UN Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another Member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” according to the report.

KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. It was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang’s key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. In March 2016 the council also blacklisted two KOMID representatives in Syria.

“The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the UN experts wrote.

SSRC has overseen the country’s chemical weapons program since the 1970s.

The UN experts said activities between Syria and North Korea they were investigating included cooperation on Syrian Scud missile programs and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defense systems.

The North Korean and Syrian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The experts said they were also investigating the use of the VX nerve agent in Malaysia to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in February.

North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the Security Council has ratcheted up the measures in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

During the country’s more than six-year long civil war the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said the banned nerve agent sarin has been used at least twice, while the use of cholorine as a weapon has been widespread. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/North-Korea-shipments-to-Syria-chemical-arms-agency-intercepted-503110