West Vows More Russian Sanctions As Ukraine War Enters New Phase

(COMBO) This combination of file photos created on February 22, 2022 shows (LtoR) US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brussels on February 18, 2022, and French President Emmanuel Macron in Berlin, on February 8, 2022.  AFP

 

The United States and allies agreed to impose more sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday as Russia pushed ahead with its new offensive targeting eastern Ukraine in the latest phase of the bloody invasion.

Russia’s defence ministry said that “high-precision air-based missiles” had hit 13 Ukrainian positions in parts of Donbas while other airstrikes “hit 60 military assets”, including in towns close to the eastern frontline.

Ukraine’s armed forces said fighting had increased throughout the east after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Russia had kicked off the widely anticipated offensive in Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

“The Russian occupiers intensified offensive operations along the entire line of contact,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a report published early Tuesday.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to acknowledge the new offensive, stating that “another phase of this operation is beginning”, during an interview with media outlet India Today.

Following the new push, the United States and European Union agreed on the need to “increasing Moscow’s international isolation”, during a virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and European leaders.

“We will further tighten our sanctions against Russia and step up financial and security assistance for Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

Separately, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the death of thousands of Ukrainian civilians “a war crime” for which Russian President Vladimir bears responsibility.

 ‘Bombed everywhere’

Ahead of Russia’s advance, Ukrainian authorities had urged people in Donbas to flee west to escape, even as officials called off evacuations for a third straight day from frontline cities due to ongoing fighting.

In the Donbas town of Novodruzhesk, Nadya, 65, said “we are bombed everywhere”.

“It’s a miracle that we’re still alive,” she said, her voice trembling.

“We were lying on the ground and waiting. Since February 24 we’ve been sleeping in the cellar.”

Control of Donbas and the besieged southern port of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the Crimean peninsula that it annexed in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of much of its coastline and a major revenue resource.

Russia continued its relentless battle to capture Mariupol, as Moscow issued a fresh call for the city’s defenders to surrender and announced the opening of a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who agreed to lay down their arms.

During an interview broadcast on CNN Tuesday, Pavlo Kyrylenko — who oversees the Donetsk region’s military administration — said Mariupol remained contested.

“The Ukrainian flag is flying over the city,” said Kyrylenko.

Putin has said he launched the so-called military operation in Ukraine on February 24 to save Russian speakers in Ukraine from a “genocide” carried out by a “neo-Nazi” regime.

However, organizers of a ceremony marking the liberation of the Nazi Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria said Tuesday that the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus were asked not to attend as their presence would be against the surviving prisoners’ wishes and their belief in peace and freedom.

 ‘Holding on’

While much of the focus has remained in Ukraine’s east, Moscow has also targeted the country’s west with airstrikes, killing at least seven people in the city of Lviv near the Polish border on Monday.

Lviv has largely been spared bombardment since Russia invaded, and the city and its surroundings had become a haven for those seeking safety from the war zone.

The regional governor of the eastern Lugansk region Sergiy Gaiday said Ukrainian forces continued to hold their ground amid heavy fighting.

“We have positional battles in the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna. The enemy cannot do anything though. They are losing people and equipment there,” Gaiday said.

“Our guys are shooting down drones there. Shooting down planes on the border of the Lugansk and Kharkiv regions, so they are holding on,” he added.

Later Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia’s ongoing offensive as he issued calls for a four-day truce to mark Orthodox Holy Week.

“Instead of a celebration of new life, this Easter coincides with a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Guterres told reporters.

“The intense concentration of forces and firepower makes this battle inevitably more violent, bloody and destructive,” he said, calling for a “humanitarian pause” from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday on April 24.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance.”

As fighting raged, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a grim forecast for the warring nations on Tuesday, while also predicting the conflict would drag down the global economy — hitting the poorest nations the hardest.

The report predicted Ukraine suffering a 35 percent collapse of its economy this year, while Russia’s GDP will drop 8.5 percent — more than 11 points below the pre-war expectations.

AFP

Canada Adds Putin’s Daughters To Sanctions List

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Saint Petersburg governor at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 1, 2022. Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Canada on Tuesday added Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters to its sanctions list, following similar moves by allies, in response to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Those added to the list — which includes the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and 10 other “close associates of the Russian regime” — face asset seizures and travel bans.

Britain, the European Union and the United States have already sanctioned Putin’s two daughters: Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, born in 1985 and 1986 respectively.

Their mother is the Russian leader’s ex-wife Lyudmila, whose divorce from Putin was announced in 2013.

The Kremlin has kept details of Putin’s daughters’ lives a closely guarded secret.

According to the US Treasury Department, Vorontsova conducts genetic research that has been supported by billions of dollars in Russian state funding, and Tikhonova is a tech executive in Russia’s defense sector.

“We will continue to impose severe costs on the Russian regime in coordination with our allies and will relentlessly pursue accountability for their actions,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement.

“They will answer for their crimes.”

Canada has sanctioned more than 750 individuals and entities from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

AFP

France Freezes €850 Million Of Russian Assets

Superyacht Solaris, owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, which is under UK sanctions, sails towards the luxury yacht marina Porto Montenegro, near Montenegrin city of Tivat, on the Adriatic coast, on March 12, 2022. SAVO PRELEVIC / AFP
In this file photo, Superyacht Solaris, owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, which is under UK sanctions, sails towards the luxury yacht marina Porto Montenegro, near Montenegrin city of Tivat, on the Adriatic coast, on March 12, 2022. SAVO PRELEVIC / AFP

 

France has seized around 850 million euros ($920 million) of Russian oligarchs’ assets on its soil, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday.

“We have immobilised … 150 million euros in individual’s accounts, credit lines in France and in French establishments, ” Le Maire told French television as Paris hits Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Furthermore, “we have immobilised 539 million euros in real estate on French territory, corresponding to some 390 properties or apartments and we have sequestered two yachts (with a value of) 150 million euros,” said Le Maire.

“In total that is (almost) 850 millions euros in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs which have been immobilised on French soil,” he added.

The French crackdown means the owners are unable to, sell on or monetise their assets.

READ ALSO: Ten Million Have Fled Their Homes In Ukraine – UN

Notwithstanding, “they are not seized in the sense that the state becomes the owner and could then sell them on. For there to be seizure there has to be a penal offence”, Le Maire stipulated.

“The sanctions are hitting Russia, the state, Vladimir Putin hard,” Le Maire went on.

Since Russian began its war in Ukraine on February 24 Western states have responded with a wide-ranging package of stiff financial sanctions.

On Friday, Russia’s central bank said the extent of the sanctions would make macro economic forecasting “extremely difficult”.

Four days after the invasion began Moscow hiked its main interest rate from 9.5 to 20 percent and the response to the conflict has largely cut Russia’s financial sector off from the global economy.

AFP

Tuchel Says No Excuses From Chelsea Despite Sanctions

Chelsea's German head coach Thomas Tuchel looks on during the English Premier League football match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton, southern England on January 18, 2022. Glyn KIRK / AFP
File photo: Chelsea’s German head coach Thomas Tuchel looks on during the English Premier League football match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton, southern England on January 18, 2022. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Thomas Tuchel says Chelsea will not make “excuses” despite severe restrictions placed on the club as a result of UK sanctions targeting Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

The Premier League club are operating under a special licence after the British government last week froze the assets of Abramovich as part of a set of punitive measures following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The licence is designed to prevent Chelsea and by extension billionaire Abramovich — described by the government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle — from generating new revenue.

Chelsea are banned from selling tickets and cannot spend more than £20,000 ($26,000) per match on travel costs, though the Blues are urgently lobbying ministers for a much-needed hike.

The European champions travel to face French side Lille in the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, well placed to reach the quarter-finals after a 2-0 win in the first leg.

German boss Tuchel admitted Chelsea had been forced to make adjustments.

“There are restrictions and we have to deal with it,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “There are adjustments in our amount of staff who are travelling, how many rooms we have in hotels, how we arrive at matches.

“To my understanding everything is in place now. We can arrive on a professional level because this is not about luxury, this is not about bling-bling.”

He added: “We have a framework to go to Lille and play the game in Lille where there will absolutely be no excuses regarding this kind of organisation.

“It is already a bit more difficult to arrange things in a professional way, in the best way possible for the FA Cup (on Saturday) but we will deal with it.

“As long as we have shirts, as long as we are ‘alive’, as long as we are a team and we arrive with our players we will be competitive and we will fight hard for our success because we owe it to the people who support us.”
– Closed doors –

Chelsea have asked for their FA Cup quarter-final at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors in the interests of fairness after they were blocked from making new ticket sales for the match at the Riverside Stadium.

“It is with extreme reluctance that we are asking the FA (Football Association) board to direct that the game be played behind closed doors for matters of sporting integrity,” the club said in a statement.

“Chelsea FC recognises that such an outcome would have a huge impact on Middlesbrough and its supporters, as well as our own fans who have already bought the limited number of tickets that were sold before the licence was imposed, but we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances.”

But Middlesbrough responded angrily, saying the request was “bizarre and without any merit whatsoever”.

“Given the reasons for these sanctions, for Chelsea to seek to invoke sporting “integrity” as reason for the game being played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme,” the Championship club said in a statement.

“We currently await formal notification from the FA of the next steps but rest assured MFC will resist Chelsea’s actions in the strongest terms.”

AFP

UK Sanctions Russian Oligarchs Alisher Usmanov And Igor Shuvalov

Billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov (Image: MAXIM SHEMETOV/AFP/

 

The UK government said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov and former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov as part of punitive measures over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The pair, who are worth a combined $19 billion (£14 bn) and have “significant interests in the UK and close links to the Kremlin”, are “sanctioned with immediate effect, the Foreign Office said.

More to follow…

Ukraine Urges ‘Tough Sanctions’ After Putin Orders Troops Into Rebel Regions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation following a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council after Russia recognised two eastern separatist regions and then ordered in troops to back up their independence claims, in Kyiv on February 22, 2022. (Photo by Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP)

 

Ukraine on Tuesday urged its Western allies to hit Russia with “tough sanctions” after President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions as independent and ordered in his troops.

Putin’s move — which came with tens of thousands of Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s borders and fears of an all-out invasion — was quickly and widely condemned by Kyiv’s allies in the West.

The United States, Britain and the European Union all moved to announce new economic sanctions within hours, as European and Russian stocks tumbled and oil prices surged over news of the recognition.

Russian troops were meanwhile believed to be deploying into Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, after Putin issued decrees ordering his army to assume “peacekeeping” functions in the separatist territories.

Western officials were not yet describing Putin’s moves as an invasion, but the situation remained deeply strained after weeks of tensions and days of intense shellfire on the frontline dividing the separatists from Kyiv’s forces.

In a statement issued during a visit to Washington, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he was working with Kyiv’s Western friends “to impose tough sanctions against the Russian Federation”.

“Russia is trying to provoke Ukraine. Instead, Ukraine is showing wisdom and endurance to prevent an armed confrontation,” he said.

READ ALSO: World Leaders Condemn Russian Decision On Ukraine

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would be adopting measures from Tuesday afternoon.

“Our response will be in the form of sanctions, whose extent the ministers will decide,” Borrell told reporters in Paris.

The UK was also set to unveil a “first barrage” of sanctions against Russia Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed.

“They will hit Russia very hard and there is a lot more that we are going to do in the event of an invasion,” he told reporters.

– ‘Outrageous, false claims’ –

Washington took its first measures in the early hours of Tuesday, banning US persons from any financial dealings with the breakaway territories, and said more sanctions would be announced Tuesday.

But it was unclear how far the West would go, after warning repeatedly of sanctions that would do severe damage to the Russian economy in the event of an invasion.

Russian troops were already known to be inside the two rebel regions and ordering more to deploy is unlikely to be enough for the West to trigger its worst-case response.

Putin announced he was recognising the territories, which broke away from Kyiv’s control in 2014, in a day of political theatre in Moscow.

After a dramatic televised meeting with his top government, military and security officials, Putin spoke to the Russian people in a 65-minute address from his Kremlin office.

In the often angry speech, Putin railed against Ukraine as a failed state and “puppet” of the West, accusing Kyiv of preparing a “blitzkrieg” to retake the separatist regions.

READ ALSO: Putin Orders Russian Military To Act As ‘Peacekeepers’ In Ukraine Regions

The move to recognise them, Putin said, was “a long overdue decision”.

He was then shown signing “friendship” agreements with rebel leaders that allowed for the official deployment of Russian forces to “maintain peace” and the sharing of military bases and border protection.

Within hours the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting, where US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield described as “nonsense” Putin’s reference to the troops as “peacekeepers”.

“We know what they really are,” Thomas-Greenfield said, saying Putin’s address amounted to a “series of outrageous, false claims” that were aimed at “creating a pretext for war.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya told the meeting that Moscow was still open to a diplomatic solution.

“Allowing a new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do,” he added, referring to the region encompassing Donetsk and Lugansk.

– Russia ‘ready’ for talks –

Moscow said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was still ready for talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as planned for Thursday in Geneva.

“Even during the most difficult moments… we say: we are ready for negotiations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “We are always in favour of diplomacy.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky held telephone calls with several world leaders after the recognition announcement, in a bid to shore up support.

“We expect clear support steps and effective support steps from our partners,” he declared in a late-night televised address, vowing that Kyiv was not afraid of anyone.

READ ALSO: US Announces First Sanctions After Russia Recognises Ukraine Separatists

“It is very important to see now who is our true friend and partner, and who will continue to scare the Russian Federation with words,” he said.

As news of the late-night recognition hit the streets of Kyiv, many were in disbelief but said they were ready to defend their country if called on.

“I am very shocked,” Artem Ivaschenko, a 22-year-old cook originally from Donetsk, told AFP in the capital, calling the recognition the “scariest news” he had heard since he fled the region eight years ago.

“I live here, I already lost a part of my homeland, it was taken away, so I will protect it.”

Russia had massed more than 150,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the West that Russia would invade — claims Moscow repeatedly denied.

Tensions then spiked this week after an outbreak of heavy shellfire in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces have been battling separatists since 2014 in a conflict that has left more than 14,000 dead.

Fighting appeared to have eased overnight Tuesday, with the Ukrainian military saying there had been only three violations of the ceasefire between midnight and 7:00 am. On Monday there had been 84 violations, with two soldiers killed and 18 wounded.

AFP

Iran Renews Call To US To Lift All Sanctions Imposed By Trump

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

 

Iran on Friday renewed its call for the US to lift all sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump, after an offer for talks from new President Joe Biden’s administration.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US “unconditionally & effectively” lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump”.

The Biden administration on Thursday offered talks with Iran led by European allies and reversed two largely symbolic steps against Tehran imposed by Trump, as it sought to salvage a nuclear deal on the brink of collapse.

READ ALSO: Blasphemy: Italian Football Federation Fines Juventus Goalkeeper Buffon $6,000

Ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Iran for it to restrict some access to UN nuclear inspectors unless Trump’s sanctions are ended, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned jointly with European powers that the move would be “dangerous”.

Hours after Blinken’s videoconference with his French, British and German counterparts, the European Union political director, Enrique Mora, proposed via Twitter an “informal meeting” involving Iran — and the US accepted.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear programme,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The P5 — UN Security Council powers Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany sealed the 2015 deal brokered by then-president Barack Obama under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme in exchange for promises of economic relief.

Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions, aiming to bring Iran to its knees.

Zarif’s tweet did not explicitly address the Biden administration’s offer of talks. Iran has demanded an end to Trump’s sanctions before reversing protest measures it took away from full compliance.

A senior US official said the Biden administration was showing good faith and saw a meeting as the start of a “prolonged path” to restoring and building on the nuclear accord.

If Iran declines to meet, “I think it would be both unfortunate and at odds with their stated view that they want to come back if you come back.

“That’s not going to happen simply by one side telling the other one what to do,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Britain swiftly welcomed the proposed talks. “The UK will participate,” a spokesperson said.

– Reversing Trump steps –

Biden has insisted he will not remove Trump’s sanctions until Iran returns to compliance — but the administration Thursday undid two symbolic steps by the last administration.

In a letter to the United Nations, the United States said it no longer believed that the world body had “snapped back” sanctions on Iran.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo last year argued the United States was still a “participant” in the Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear deal — despite withdrawing later — and therefore could reimpose sanctions.

The argument had been dismissed by the United Nations and close US allies at the time.

In his tweet, Zarif said Iran agreed with the Biden administration’s decision.

“US acknowledged Pompeo’s claims” regarding UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “had no legal validity. We agree,” Iran’s top diplomat wrote.

The Biden administration also reversed draconian curbs on Iranian diplomats in New York who were barred from all but a few blocks around the United Nations and their mission.

– Warning over inspections –

Under the terms of a bill adopted by its conservative-dominated parliament in December, Iran will restrict some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency if the United States does not lift its sanctions imposed since 2018 by Sunday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution.

A joint statement by the four foreign ministers after the virtual meeting convened by France urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations for four decades but they began frequent contact to negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear accord was adamantly opposed by Iran’s regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both enjoyed tight partnerships with Trump.

While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Rouhani — a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers — is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure is likely to replace him.

AFP

US Extends Iraq Sanctions Waiver Until Before Biden Inauguration

US President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP
US President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP

 

Washington has granted Iraq a shortened 45-day sanctions waiver to import Iranian gas that will expire days before US President Donald Trump’s term ends, an Iraqi official said Saturday.

Baghdad buys gas and electricity from its neighbour Tehran to supply about a third of its power sector, worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance.

The US blacklisted Iran’s energy industry in late 2018 but granted Baghdad a series of temporary waivers, hoping Iraq would wean itself off Iranian energy by partnering with US firms.

The lengths of the exemptions have become a key tool in US policy towards Iraq, demonstrating the level of satisfaction or frustration with Baghdad.

In May, Washington granted Iraq a four-month extension as a gesture of goodwill towards Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had just formed a cabinet seen as US-friendly.

But when it renewed the waiver in late September, the Trump administration gave Iraq just 60 days.

This time, it went even shorter: 45 days, a top Iraqi official told AFP, expiring around a week before Trump is set to hand over the White House to President-elect Joe Biden.

“They (the Trump administration) wanted the last opportunity to have a say,” the official said.

The shorter waiver comes amid concern by Iraqi and Western officials that Trump could use his final days in office to strike at Iran and its allies in Iraq.

The State Department is drawing up plans for a possible closure of the American embassy in Baghdad, which has been targeted by dozens of rocket attacks in the last year.

And two Iraqi officials have said they expect a “bucket list of sanctions” against Iranian interests in Iraq ahead of the White House handover.

Iran Vows To Take ‘Any Opportunity’ To Lift US Sanctions

 

File photo of the Iranian flag

 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vowed Wednesday to take “any opportunity” to lift US sanctions against Tehran, following President Donald Trump’s defeat by Democratic election rival Joe Biden.

While the outgoing Trump has declared Iran an arch-foe and sought to isolate it globally, president-elect Biden has proposed to offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy”.

“Our aim is to lift the pressure of sanctions from the shoulders of our people,” Rouhani said in televised remarks during a weekly cabinet meeting.

“Wherever this favourable opportunity arises we will act on our responsibilities. No one should miss any opportunity.”

“National security and national interests are not factional and partisan issues,” Rouhani added after conservatives blasted his reformist and moderate coalition for its “over-excitement” for re-engagement with the Islamic republic’s nemesis.

Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed, then reinforced, crippling sanctions.

Those moves torpedoed the deal, Rouhani’s signature foreign policy achievement, and bolstered conservatives who argue that the US cannot be trusted.

The measures have all but deprived Iran of vital oil revenues and isolated its banks, triggering a harsh recession and slashing the value of the rial.

Rouhani acknowledged Biden’s conciliatory remarks during his campaign but said Tehran was prepared for sanctions to remain in place.

“They can choose a new path. And if they do not want to, it is their choice,” he told the cabinet.

He noted that his administration had devised its policies on the assumption Trump would stay in office.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the result of the US election would have “no effect” on Tehran’s policies towards Washington.

-AFP

US, Iran Battle Over Sanctions At World Court

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

The United States and Iran will face off at the UN’s top court on Monday in the latest round of a battle over sanctions on Tehran reimposed by President Donald Trump.

Tehran dragged Washington to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2018 after Trump pulled the US out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran.

They will argue over the coming week about whether the court, set up after World War II to deal with disputes between UN member states, actually has jurisdiction in the case.

Iran says the sanctions brought back by the Trump administration breach the 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between the two countries, signed long before the 1979 Iranian revolution severed ties.

Tehran won an early victory in October 2018 when the ICJ ordered sanctions on humanitarian goods to be eased as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.

The US responded by formally ending the treaty, agreed when Iran was ruled by the Western-oriented shah, and accusing Iran of using the ICJ for “propaganda” purposes.

The United States will first address the court on Monday at 1300 GMT about whether judges have jurisdiction in the case, while Iran will speak on Wednesday.

A decision on that issue could take several months, while a final judgment will take years.

– ‘Unclean hands’ –

Relations between Washington and Tehran have been tense since the Iranian revolution, and have spiralled since Trump unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018.

The deal, involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — had limited Iran’s nuclear programme.

Washington then reimposed sanctions on Iran and companies with ties to it, notably hitting Iran’s vital oil sector and central bank, while major global firms halted their activities in Iran.

Tehran took the case to the ICJ and, in response to Iran’s request for so-called “provisional measures” while the case is resolved, the judges two years ago found that some of the sanctions breached the 1955 treaty.

The court ordered Washington to lift measures on medicines, medical equipment, food, agricultural goods, and airplane parts and services.

The ICJ is also dealing with a separate case over Tehran’s bid to unfreeze $2 billion in assets frozen in the United States.

In February 2019 the court said the case could go ahead, rejecting US arguments that Iran’s “unclean hands” — Tehran’s alleged backing for terror groups — should disqualify its lawsuit.

AFP

EU Trade Sanctions On Cambodia Come Into Force

 

The European Union reimposed customs duties on many of Cambodia’s exports on Wednesday, suspending its trade arrangement over concerns about human rights.

Trade commissioner Phil Hogan stressed that while Brussels stands by Cambodia in battling the coronavirus, “Our continued support does not diminish the urgent need for Cambodia to respect human rights and labour rights.”

“We have provided Cambodia with trade opportunities that let the country develop an export-oriented industry and gave jobs to thousands of Cambodians,” he said.

Now, Cambodia has lost its access to the EU’s “Everything But Arms” trade arrangement for least developed countries, which will hit typical exports such as garments, footwear and travel goods.

These products represent around 20 percent of Cambodia’s exports to the EU and will now be subject to the general tariffs applied under World Trade Organisation rules.

Hogan said he would restore tariff-free access if the EU sees “substantial improvement” in Cambodia’s human rights record.

Cambodia’s textile sector employs 700,000 people. Total trade between the two partners was 5.6 billion euros last year.

AFP

US Threatens Sanctions On Venezuelan Lawmakers Over Bribes

President Donald Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guadio

 

The United States will consider sanctions against Venezuelan lawmakers accused of taking bribes to vote against opposition leader Juan Guaido, an official said Wednesday.

Guaido, recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the United States and more than 50 other nations, was sworn in Tuesday for another term after a chaotic standoff in which troops physically stopped him from entering Congress.

The United States has already imposed wide sanctions aimed at toppling leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and cutting off his government’s key funding source of oil.

Guaido and the United States say Maduro’s government offered bribes to members of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s sole institution controlled by the opposition, in hopes of defeating Guaido.

“There are people who have been engaged in corrupt activity that may have gotten themselves on the radar screen for the first time in the last few days,” a senior US official told reporters in Washington.

He said he was speaking of “people taking money from people that are already under sanctions in the United States.”

“We don’t put sanctions on people for the way they vote,” he said, adding that if individuals “aid or abet or profit from the anti-democratic behavior of the regime, you could be subjected to sanctions.”

Despite a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing Venezuela, Maduro remains in power with support from the country’s military as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.

The US is also “looking at additional sanctions” in response to growing Russian support for Maduro, Elliot Abrams, the State Department’s Venezuela envoy, said on Monday.