Netanyahu To Press Pompeo For More Pressure On ‘Tottering’ Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2019. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Portugal Wednesday to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and call for increased pressure on the “tottering” Iranian government.

The two men will meet on Wednesday night in Lisbon, the US State Department announced.

Speaking before setting off, Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s sanctions against Iran were paying dividends and he would be urging Pompeo to take further steps.

“I think President Trump has placed tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran,” he said.

“We’re seeing the Iranian empire totter. We see demonstrations in Tehran, demonstrations in Baghdad, demonstrations in Beirut. It’s important to increase this pressure against Iranian aggression.”

Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has for years accused Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and strongly opposed a 2015 agreement designed to address the concerns of major powers.

Trump, a strong Netanyahu ally, unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal in May last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life after an indictment on graft charges, has hailed the Trump sanctions.

Israel believes they have squeezed the Iranian economy, prompting the government to raise fuel prices — sparking nationwide protests.

Lebanon and Iraq, both countries where Iran has significant influence, have also seen major demonstrations.

Netanyahu criticised European governments that have signed up to a barter system that would allow Iran to trade without fear of US sanctions.

AFP

Moscow Vows To Retaliate Over New ‘Anti-Russian’ US Sanctions

Russia Flag

 

Russia on Monday said it was “bewildered” by fresh US sanctions and vowed to retaliate following what it called an “anti-Russian attack”. 

The foreign ministry said the new sanctions on several Russians  — including a businessman tied to President Vladimir Putin and a disinformation operation accused of conspiring to manipulate the US 2018 midterm election — “will not go unanswered.”

“We urge American politicians to stop this useless sanctions game, the result of which is zero, and to return to the position of common sense,” the ministry said in a statement.

The financial sanctions, which target Russian financier Evgeny Prigozhin, some of his assets and the so-called Internet Research Agency, are the first to be taken under an executive order signed last year President Donald Trump seeking to punish foreign actors accused of interfering in US elections.

The US Treasury announced the sanctions on Monday.

The foreign ministry said the sanctions were part of an “internal political crisis” in the United States in which “Russian issues are deliberately used by part of the Washington establishment as a tool to achieve their own opportunistic goals.”

The sanctions marked the third time the US had added Prigozhin’s name to its list of foreign nationals formally barred from the US financial system, a move which freezes him out of much of the global financial system as well.

US prosecutors last year indicted the Internet Research Agency as well as alleged employees, charging them with a broad conspiracy to influence the 2016 elections by spreading disinformation in the United States via social media.

The US Treasury said Monday the agency had announced its intention to do likewise in the 2018 midterms by seeking to discredit candidates it viewed as hostile to Moscow.

There was no evidence they were successful in preventing voting, altering vote counts or disrupting vote tallying, the Treasury said.

AFP

Huawei Still Number Two Smartphone Seller Despite US Sanctions

The Huawei logo is displayed at a store in Beijing on December 6, 2018. The chief financial officer of China’s global telecommunications giant Huawei has been arrested in Canada and faces extradition to the United States, officials said, triggering a strong protest by Beijing, which called for her immediate release. PHOTO: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Huawei remained the number two global smartphone vendor in the past quarter despite tough US sanctions imposed on the Chinese technology giant, market trackers said Wednesday.

The Chinese firm managed to boost its sales even as the overall market declined, remaining on the heels of sector leader Samsung and ahead of US-based Apple.

According to Strategy Analytics, overall global smartphone sales fell 2.6 percent to 341 million units in the April-June period.

Samsung increased its market share to 22 percent, helped by a seven percent rise in handset sales, mainly in the mid-range and entry segments. The South Korean giant stayed ahead of Huawei at 17 percent, and Apple at 11 percent of the market.

“Huawei surprised everyone and grew its global smartphone shipments by eight percent annually,” said Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston.

“Huawei surged at home in China during the quarter, as the firm sought to offset regulatory uncertainty in other major regions such as North America and Western Europe.”

The research firm estimated that Apple, which released its results this week without details on unit shipments, saw an eight percent drop in iPhone sales in the quarter.

“Apple is stabilizing in China due to price adjustments and buoyant trade-ins, but other major markets such as India and Europe remain challenging for the expensive iPhone,” said Woody Oh, director at Strategy Analytics.

A separate report by Counterpoint Research offered similar findings, showing Samsung, Huawei and Apple in the three top spots as overall sales fell.

Analyst Tarun Pathak at Counterpoint said however the US ban on technology sales to Huawei will have an impact in the coming months.

“The effect of the ban did not translate into falling shipments during this quarter, which will not be the case in the future,” Pathak said.

Anthony Scarsella of the research firm IDC, which also issued similar findings, said the market is seeing signs of stabilizing.

“A key driver in the second quarter was the availability of vastly improved mid-tier devices that offer premium designs and features while significantly undercutting the ultra-high-end in price,” Scarsella said.

“Combine this with intensified and generous trade-in programs across major markets and channels, and upgrading now makes more sense to consumers.”

The surveys indicated Chinese makers Xiaomi and Oppo holding the fourth and fifth spots, largely due to sales in their home markets.

According to Counterpoint, the combined global smartphone market share of Chinese majors Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and Realme reached 42 percent, the highest it has ever been.

Facebook To Cut Off Huawei In Compliance With US Sanctions

 

Facebook said Friday it would stop allowing pre-installation of its social networking apps on Huawei devices to comply with US sanctions against the Chinese technology giant.

The social media giant said it took the step after US President Donald Trump’s order barring Huawei from US technology exports over concerns that it works with Chinese intelligence.

“We are reviewing the Commerce Department’s final rule and the more recently issued temporary general license and taking steps to ensure compliance,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.

The California company said people with existing Huawei smartphones with Facebook apps will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Facebook.

The move by Facebook is the latest to isolate Huawei, which had become the world’s second largest smartphone vendor despite security concerns voiced in Washington.

Google last month said it would cut ties to Huawei, making it harder to obtain major apps from the US giant.

The Google decision would leave Huawei without the Play Store, the marketplace for most Android apps, and other elements of the mobile operating system.

Facebook – which is banned in China but has more than two billion users worldwide – said its decision would affect its core social network as well as applications such as Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, which each have at least one billion users.

Turkey Ready For US Sanctions Over Russian Missile Deal – Minister

 

Turkey insisted it would go ahead with its controversial decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, saying it was preparing for any possible sanctions from the US.

Turkey’s push to buy the S-400 system has strained relations with the United States, a NATO ally, which worries about integrating Russian technology with Turkey’s Western equipment.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters late Tuesday that Ankara was “preparing” for US penalties under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which prohibits business with Russia’s state and private defence and intelligence sectors.

READ ALSO: Sri Lanka Extends Emergency A Month After Suicide Bombings

He added that Turkey was “fed up” with being just being a buyer of military equipment, and wanted to be involved in joint production and technology transfers.

“The idea that we always buy, you always produce, is finished,” he told reporters in Ankara.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said Turkey and Russia would jointly produce S-500 defence systems after the purchase of the S-400 system.

Turkey has already sent personnel to Russia for training, Akar said, and the system could be delivered as early as June or July.

Last month, he said the S-400 would likely be used to protect the capital Ankara and Istanbul.

In a bid to force Turkey to cancel its S-400 deal, the US offered a renewed proposal in March for Patriots, its own anti-missile and anti-aircraft weapon system.

The US has said buying the S-400 could jeopardise Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 fighter jet programme, for which it provides some parts.

Akar said Turkey was still considering the offer but that there had been “general easing” in negotiations with the US on the F-35s and Patriots.

Relations have been tense over multiple issues, including US support to a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed by Ankara as terrorists, and the refusal to extradite a Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen accused of ordering a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

AFP

Iran: OPEC Determined To Avoid ‘Energy Crisis’ – Barkindo

Barkindo
OPEC’s Secretary-General, Mohammed Barkindo

 

OPEC is determined to avoid a global “energy crisis” as some of its members are facing international sanctions and others struggling with unrest, the cartel’s secretary-general said in Tehran on Thursday.

“As an organisation, we will remain focused on our goal of avoiding an energy crisis that may affect the global economy,” Mohammed Barkindo said on the sidelines of an oil and gas exhibition.

READ ALSO: Nuclear Deal: Iran ‘Playing With Fire’ – Trump

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will pursue this policy “despite current troubles in several of its member countries,” he said.

His comments came as the end of US sanction waivers for purchases of oil from key OPEC member Iran was due to kick in on Thursday.

Venezuela, another cartel member, is also facing sweeping US sanctions and in the throes of political troubles while fighting rages between rival forces for control Tripoli, capital of oil-rich Libya.

Barkindo did not name any country but said some OPEC producers were “currently under unilateral sanctions” — a reference to Iran and Venezuela.

Another country “is also going through transitional challenges with all its potential consequences,” Barkindo said, also apparently about Venezuela where opposition leader Juan Guaido is trying to rally demonstrators against President Nicolas Maduro.

Another cartel member he said, alluding to Libya,  “is fighting day in and day out to avoid an all-out war”.

OPEC is “committed to staying united” and “not slip back into the chaos” it has faced in recent years, Barkindo said.

Iran, as a founding member of the organisation, has regularly slammed some of the cartel’s members for going along with Washington’s policies against Iran and lacking solidarity.

On Wednesday, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh accused OPEC members he did not name of sowing “division” and threatening the cartel’s “disintegration”.

These countries — he said referring to Iraq and oil kingpin Saudi Arabia —  were “exaggerating” their production capacity to reassure markets after the US lifted sanction waivers for buyers of Iranian crude.

The end of the exemptions announced on April 22 has sparked fears of supply shortages and pushed prices up.

AFP

Iran Celebs Launch Petition Against US Sanctions

 

Iranian celebrities including Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi and Grammy winner Kayhan Kalhor have launched a petition condemning US sanctions on Tehran and warning of the impact on ordinary people.

“Once again, the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran… Every Iranian will personally pay the price,” reads the petition, named “Voices Against Sanctions” and posted on change.org on Thursday.

A last tranche of US sanctions were reimposed on Monday following the decision by US President Donald Trump to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this year.

“Politicians will come and go, but the fallout from their disastrous decisions will be a nightmare for generations to come,” said the petition, which had picked up nearly 5,000 signatures by Friday.

It was signed by Iranian filmmakers, musicians, activists and lawyers.

Farhadi has received two Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, while musician Kalhor, a virtuoso on the kamancheh (spiked fiddle), won a Grammy in 2017.

AFP

Iranians Feeling US Sanctions ‘In Their Bones’

Iranians embark on a protest against government’s policies. Credit: AFP

 

The latest round of US sanctions on Iran’s vital oil industry may have just started on Monday but some Iranians say they have already become a basic fact of life.

“I don’t need the news to tell me that sanctions have started, I am feeling them in my bones,” said Farzad, a 65-year-old pensioner.

“Anyone who goes to the market to acquire their basic needs will feel the sanctions straight away,” he told AFP as headed to the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran for his weekly shop.

The last tranche of sanctions hit Iran on Monday, targeting its oil and financial sectors, following President Donald Trump’s decision in May to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Hit by months of economic turmoil since that decision, in part due to US pressure but also to long-standing problems in the domestic economy and banking sector, many Iranians were left nonplussed when the final sanctions hit.

“There have been sanctions forever, almost 40 years now, there is nothing new about that,” said Sogand, a retired college lecturer.

“America has power, so it bullies everyone. Not just us — they even bully the Europeans,” she added.

All over Iran, the mood is a mix of gloom and anxiety, defiance and anger.

“What we do is none of America’s business,” said Mehdi Mirzaee.

Lost cause 

His defiance came in spite of considerable personal hardship after his textiles workshop was forced to close over the rising price of wool.

“America has been hitting at us for the last 100 years, but we will never become their servants,” he said.

Others said they felt naive for having dared to hope their country’s international isolation would end with the nuclear deal signed with six world powers, including the US, in 2015.

“When the nuclear deal was signed, we Iranians were very happy. We thought everything would change for the better,” said Fereshteh Safarnezhad, a 43-year-old teacher.

“But unfortunately we were treated dishonourably by both the American and Iranian governments. The Americans never really committed to the deal and the Iranian government did not spend the cash it got from the deal on the people,” she said.

Iranians were not holding their breath for a quick solution to the country’s economic woes.

“The problem is Iran’s economy was sick anyway. Even if sanctions were lifted immediately, it would take years to cure it,” Safarnezhad said.

For others it is a lost cause.

“You can’t keep on trying to fix things with trial and error,” Farzad said.

“The government has been trying for the last 40 years and they have failed. They are just not up to the job.

“They should resign and allow someone who can do it to take up the job.”

AFP

China To Continue Iran Trade Despite New US Sanctions

China’s President Xi Jinping                                                                     Lintao Zhang / POOL / AFP

 

China denounced new US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and financial sectors as “long-arm jurisdiction” on Monday and vowed to continue its bilateral trade with the Islamic republic.

The measures, which took effect on Monday, follow US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon a multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran, which he said was flawed and does not adequately constrain Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East.

The sanctions aim to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports — which have already fallen by around one million barrels a day since May — and cut it off from international finance.

“China opposes unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.

“We believe that China’s normal cooperation (with Iran) within international law is legal and legitimate, and this shall be respected.”

The US has given temporary exemptions to eight countries — including India, Japan and Turkey — to continue buying oil in a bid to avoid disrupting their economies and global markets.

Asked whether China has been granted an exemption, Hua said Beijing is conducting “normal cooperation” with Teheran within the framework of international law.

China is a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — which includes Britain, France, Germany and Russia — that Trump pulled out from earlier this year.

The remaining members believe the agreement is working as intended and is keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.

“Under the current circumstances, we hope all parties can bear in mind the larger picture and fulfil their duties and choose to stand on the right side of history,” Hua said, adding that China will continue to “uphold the objective and responsible attitude to uphold the agreement”.

AFP

Iran Vows To ‘Proudly Bypass’ US Sanctions

Donald Trump                                                                    Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani 

 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic republic “will proudly bypass sanctions” by the United States that took effect on Monday targeting the country’s oil and financial sectors.

“I announce that we will proudly bypass your illegal, unjust sanctions because it’s against international regulations,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.

“We are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power. I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” he added.

The measures described by Washington as “the toughest sanctions ever” follow US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in May to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.

The latest tranche aims to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports — which have already fallen by around one million barrels a day since May — and cut it off from international finance.

The United States has given temporary exemptions to eight countries — including India, Japan and Turkey — to continue buying oil in a bid to avoid disturbing their economies and global markets.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to push Iran’s oil sales to zero.

“Watch what we do. Watch as we’ve already taken more crude oil off the market than any time in the previous history,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Trump’s administration says it wants a new deal with Iran that curbs its interventions around the Middle East and missile programme — demands that have been flatly rejected by Tehran.

“Constantly they are sending us messages saying ‘Let’s sit and negotiate.’ Negotiations for what?” said Rouhani.

“First, you respect the negotiations we already concluded, so that there are grounds for the next negotiations.”

‘Act on your commitments’ 

Rouhani said four countries had approached him during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly in September, offering to mediate with the US but he turned them down.

“There is no need for mediation. There is no need for all these messages. Act on your commitments, and we will sit and talk,” he said.

Iran’s economy was already suffering from major structural problems — including major banking issues — before Trump walked out of the nuclear deal.

But Trump’s announcement in May helped fuel a run on Iran’s currency that has seen the rial lose more than two-thirds of its value, driving up prices and forcing the government to resort to food handouts for the country’s poor.

Rouhani came to power in 2013, vowing to rebuild ties with the world and attract billions of dollars in foreign investment.

The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have all vehemently opposed the US move and vowed to keep trade going, though they are struggling to convince private companies to stand up to US pressure.

Most of the international firms who lined up to work in Iran after the 2015 deal have been forced to leave, including France’s Total, Peugeot and Renault, Germany’s Siemens.

“Today, it’s not just us who are angry with America’s policies. Even European companies and governments are angry with America’s policies,” said Rouhani.

AFP

Israel Thanks Trump As Iran Sanctions Take Effect

Israeli defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman (C) speaks to reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on July 15, 2018. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed US sanctions that took effect Monday targeting Iran’s oil and financial sectors, calling it a “critical” blow to Tehran’s actions in the region.

“President (Donald) Trump’s bold decision is the sea-change the Middle East has been waiting for,” Lieberman said in a statement.

“In a single move, the United States is dealing a critical blow to Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen. President Trump, you’ve done it again! Thank you.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday also thanked Trump for the sanctions against his country’s main enemy.

The measures described by Washington as “the toughest sanctions ever” follow Trump’s controversial decision in May to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.

They aim to significantly reduce Iran’s oil exports — which have already fallen by around one million barrels a day since May — and cut it off from international finance.

Israel had long opposed the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was too limited in scope and timeframe.

It also said the lifting of sanctions allowed Iran to finance militant groups and its own military actions.

Israel is particularly concerned with Iran’s involvement in neighbouring Syria and has pledged to keep it from entrenching itself militarily there.

The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — opposed the US move and say the accord is working as intended in keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.

AFP

ICC ‘Undeterred’ After US Sanctions Threat

President International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji. (Photo Credit: ICC-CPI)

 

The International Criminal Court on Tuesday said its work would continue “undeterred” after Washington threatened to prosecute its officials if Americans are charged with war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

“The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law,” the tribunal said in a statement.

The Hague-based court’s response comes a day after the United States threatened to arrest and sanction court officials should they move to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton called the Hague-based rights body “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies, and said any probe of US service members would be “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation”.

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said.

The US was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on officials of the court if they proceed against any Americans, he added.

But in response, the ICC declared itself an “independent and impartial judicial institution”.

It also stressed that it would only investigate and prosecute crimes when the states will not or can not do so.

The Hague-based ICC was set up in 2002 with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the world’s worst crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The court, however, does not have the capacity to arrest suspects and depends on member states for their cooperation.

The United States has not signed up to the court and in 2002 Congress passed a law enabling Washington to invade the Netherlands to liberate any US citizen held by the court.

AFP