…UN experts say Iran might want to help end war in Yemen***
Senior Iranian officials and military commanders on Tuesday rejected US President Donald Trump’s offer of talks without preconditions as worthless and “a dream”, saying his words contradicted his action of reimposing sanctions on Tehran.
Separately, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump`s repudiation of an international nuclear deal reached in 2015 was “illegal” and Iran would not easily yield to Washington`s renewed campaign to strangle Iran`s vital oil exports.
In May, Trump pulled the United States out of the multilateral deal concluded before he took office, denouncing it as one-sided in Iran`s favour. On Monday, he said that he would be willing to meet Rouhani without preconditions to discuss how to improve relations. Iran`s foreign minister said that Washington should blame itself for ending talks with Tehran when it withdrew from the nuclear deal.
“US can only blame itself for pulling out and leaving the table…Threats, sanctions and PR stunts won’t work,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
The foreign ministry spokesman said Trump`s offer to negotiate with Tehran contradicted his actions as Washington has imposed sanctions on Iran and put pressure on other countries to avoid business with the Islamic Republic.
“Sanctions and pressures are the exact opposite of dialogue,” Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Fars news agency on Tuesday. The head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards equally dismissed Trump`s tentative offer, saying the Islamic Republic was not North Korea.
“Mr Trump! Iran is not North Korea to accept your offer for a meeting,” Guards commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying by Fars News agency.
“Even US presidents after you will not see that day,” he added.
The head of Iran`s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations said Tehran saw no value in Trump`s offer, made only a week after he warned Iran it risked dire consequences if it made threats against Washington.
“Based on our bad experiences in negotiations with America and based on U.S. officials` violation of their commitments, it is natural that we see no value in his proposal,” Kamal Kharrazi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.
The Strategic Council on Foreign Relations was set up by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to help formulate long-term policies for Iran.
NO MEETING PLANNED
Trump`s move to force Iran into new negotiations has for now reunited Iranian hardliners who opposed the nuclear deal and pragmatists like Rouhani who championed it to Iran`s economically crippling stand-off with Western powers. Ali Motahari, the deputy speaker of parliament who is seen as part of the moderate camp, said that to negotiate with Trump now “would be a humiliation”.
“If Trump had not withdrawn from the nuclear deal and not imposed sanctions on Iran, there would be no problem with negotiations with America,” he told state news agency IRNA.
A senior State Department official said on Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will not meet with his Iranian counterpart during a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in Singapore this weekend.
Israel, which opposed the nuclear deal and encouraged Trump to withdraw from it, seems not concerned with the U.S. offer to meet Iranian leaders. A senior Israeli official told Reuters on Tuesday: “Israel is in continuous contact with the American administration. Senior American officials have stated that there is no change in America’s firm policy on Iran.”
Under the 2015 deal, the fruit of Rouhani`s efforts to ease Iran`s international isolation to help revive its economy, Iran curbed its nuclear programme and won relief from UN and Western sanctions in return.
NUCLEAR PACT IN JEOPARDY
Trump condemned the deal in part because it did not cover Iran`s ballistic missile programme and involvement in Middle East conflicts. He reactivated U.S. sanctions, the most all-encompassing measures against Iran, and warned countries to stop importing Iranian oil from November 4 or risk US penalties.
European signatories to the deal have been searching for ways to salvage it but cautioned Tehran that they may not be able to persuade many investors not to bolt from business with Iran to avoid U.S. punishment. Rouhani said during a meeting with Britain`s ambassador on Tuesday that after what he called the “illegal” U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, “the ball is in Europe`s court now”.
He added, “The Islamic Republic has never sought tension in the region and does not want any trouble in global waterways, but it will not easily give up on its rights to export oil.”
Rouhani and some senior military commanders have said Iran could disrupt oil shipments from Gulf states through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington tries to choke off Iranian oil exports.
Reiterating Tehran`s official stance, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency that the strait would remain open “if Iran`s national interests are preserved”. Iran`s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, told Reuters on Tuesday that Trump was mistaken if he expected Saudi Arabia and other oil producers to compensate for losses of Iranian oil caused by US sanctions.
“It seems President Trump has been taken hostage by Saudi Arabia and a few producers when they claimed they can replace 2.5 million barrels per day of Iranian exports, encouraging him to take action against Iran,” Ardebili said. “Now they and Russia sell more oil and more expensively. Not even from their incremental production but their stocks.”
He said oil prices, which Trump has been pressuring the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to bring down by raising output, will instead rise unless the United States grants waivers to buyers of Iranian crude. Iran’s currency plumbed new depths on Monday, dropping past 120,000 rials to the dollar, but Trump`s expressed willingness to negotiate with Tehran sparked a minor recovery on Tuesday to 110,000 rials on the unofficial market.
Videos on social media showed hundreds of people rallying in Isfahan in central Iran, and Karaj near Tehran, in protest at high prices caused in part by the rial`s devaluation under heightened US pressure.
In the meantime, U.N. experts say Iran might be willing to play “a constructive role” in ending the war in Yemen, though adding in a new report that Tehran still appears to be arming Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels with ballistic missiles and drones.
According to excerpts of a report to the Security Council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, the panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Yemen raised the long-rumored possibility of Iran playing a role in restoring peace.
“The panel believes that Iran might now be willing to play a constructive role in finding a peaceful solution for Yemen, as evident in the country’s, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to broker a cease-fire for the holy month of Ramadan together with some European nations,” the report said.
Iran has expanded its influence far beyond its borders in recent years, sponsoring tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen spread across Iraq and Syria and on to Lebanon. The rivalry between the predominantly Shiite Muslim nation of Iran and Sunni Muslim-dominated Saudi Arabia has torn the region apart, playing out on regional battlefields and fanning sectarian flames in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen, all costly interventions for Tehran.
With the United States set to restore sanctions on Iran next week that were lifted under the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump has abandoned, the Iranian currency has been in freefall, giving rise to fears of prolonged economic suffering and further civil unrest in the country.
The Yemen conflict follows the Houthi takeover of the capital of Sanaa in 2014, which routed the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has fighting the Houthis since 2015.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the coalition intervention, and Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyans view the Houthis as direct proxies of an Iran emboldened by its battlefield successes in Iraq and Syria.
The U.N. and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh. Iran denies supplying any weapons to the Houthis.
But the panel of experts said in the latest report covering the first six months of 2018 that inspection of debris from 10 missiles launched into Saudi Arabia and unmanned aerial drones used by the Houthis “show characteristics similar to weapons systems known to be produced in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
In its previous report in January, the experts said Iran violated a U.N. arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis.
In the latest report, the experts said: “It seems that despite the targeted arms embargo, the Houthis continue to have access to ballistic missiles and UAVs to continue and possibly intensify their campaign against targets in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).”
The panel said there was a “high probability” that the ballistic missiles were manufactured outside Yemen, shipped in sections, and re-assembled by the Houthis.
The experts said their inspection of the debris also turned up power converters produced by a Japanese company and Cyrillic markings on components, suggesting a possible Russian link.
The stalemated three-year-old war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people, left around two-thirds of the population of 27 million relying on aid, and 8.4 million wondering where their next meal will come from and on the brink of starvation.
“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes and the use of explosive ordnance by Houthi forces throughout the first half of 2018 continue to affect civilians and civilian objects,” including schools and hospitals, the panel said.
The experts said the panel also still receives “evidence of widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict.”
“The rule of law continues to deteriorate across Yemen regardless of who controls the particular territory,” the panel said.
The experts said arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture “continue to be committed by all parties to the conflict.”
Zee with additional report from Fox