Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the world would "not accept" US unilateralism just hours after Washington laid out a series of tough demands to be included in a potential new nuclear treaty with Iran.
In remarks carried by Iran's ILNA news agency on Monday, Rouhani said the era of the United States making decisions for the rest of the world was "over".
"Countries are independent ... We will continue our path with the support of our nation," Rouhani said.
"Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?"
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump defied efforts by European allies and announced Washington's withdrawal from a landmark multinational pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed with Iran in 2015 and a decision to impose harsh sanctions on Tehran. In announcing the new US strategy towards Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned that Washington "will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime" unless it complied with a list of 12 conditions, which must be met before any new deal can be reached.
The demands include giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the country's former nuclear military program, withdrawing its forces from Syria and ending what Pompeo described as Iran's "threatening behavior" towards its neighbors.
Also responding to Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the US of a "regression to old habits", saying Washington's diplomatic efforts were a "sham".
"It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions," Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.
Political analyst Jamal Abdi said the US knew that Iran could never agree with such demands.
"[It's a] smokescreen of 'We want to handle this diplomatically', but I think this is all about paving a path towards confronting Iran militarily - whether that's through covert action or an overt escalation in the region."
Pompeo's comments were welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the demands amounted to "the only policy that could ultimately guarantee the security of the Middle East".
"We call on the entire international community to join this American position," Netanyahu said on Monday.
Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates' minister of state for foreign affairs, also said Washington was taking the correct stance on Iran.
"Uniting [our] efforts is the correct path for Iran to realize the futility of its incursions and expansionism ... The Pompeo strategy requires wisdom and a change of the Iranian compass," Gargash said in a tweet on Monday.
Under the 2015 deal with six world powers - China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany, as well as the European Union - Iran scaled back its enrichment of uranium and vowed not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
The IAEA repeatedly confirmed that Tehran has been meeting its nuclear commitments enshrined in the deal fully.
The spat comes after several European companies expressed concern about continuing business with Iran following the US exit, raising further doubts about the viability of the deal.
Danish shipping giant Maersk Tankers, German insurer Allianz and Italian steel manufacturer Danieli have all announced plans to halt, or wind down altogether, operations in the country.
French energy giant Total has also warned it will pull out of a multibillion-dollar project to develop Iran's vast South Pars gas field unless granted a waiver by US authorities.
Despite recent efforts from EU leaders to safeguard the 2015 deal, Zarif has accused the bloc of not doing enough to preserve its future, saying it "needs to take more practical strides and increase its investments in Iran if it is to continue its economic cooperation with the Islamic Republic [Iran]".
Reacting to Pompeo's comments, Boris Johnson - foreign secretary of the UK, which is party to the 2015 nuclear deal - said the "jumbo negotiation" sought by Washington would be extremely difficult to achieve within a "reasonable timetable".
"I think in the end, we will get back to the kind of additions to the JCPOA that we initially envisaged - but it may take a long time," Johnson said on Monday before a G20 foreign ministers summit in Argentina, at which discussions about the nuclear deal are expected to take place.
Britain has vowed to honor the 2015 agreement, which Johnson said had "protected the world from an Iranian nuclear bomb, and in return [given] the Iranians some recognizable economic benefits".
Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, told reporters later on Monday there is "no alternative" to the deal.
On Thursday, the European Commission said it would launch the process of activating a law that bans European companies and courts from complying with US sanctions against Iran.
Jean Claude Juncker, the commission's president, said it has a "duty to protect European companies" from Washington's punitive fiscal measures.
The options being considered by the bloc to keep Tehran in the nuclear deal reportedly include new credit lines, increased energy cooperation and implementing EU laws to block European firms from caving in to US sanctions.
EU trade with Iran has increased dramatically since the sanctions on its economy were lifted as part of the 2015 deal.
Last year, trade between the bloc and Iran totaled over 20bn euro ($23.5bn), with most exports being machinery and transport goods and the majority of imports being energy-related products.

 

A Turkish court handed life sentences to 104 suspects over their involvement in the July 2016 attempted coup, according to state media.
The former military personnel were given "aggravated life sentences" by a court in the western province of Izmir on Monday, state-run Anadolu news agency said, for "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order".
Such prison sentences, which replaced the death penalty in Turkey, carry harsher conditions than normal life sentences.
In total, 280 military staffers are on trial over the failed coup bid.
Among the suspects receiving life sentences were former air force chief of staff lieutenant general Hasan Huseyin Demiraslan and ex-Aegean army command chief of staff major general Memduh Hakbilen.
The court gave 21 suspects a 20-year jail sentence for "assisting the assassination of the president" while 31 were given sentences between seven years and six months and 10 years and six months for being a member of an armed "terror" group, the agency added.
There was an alleged plot to kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the coup while he was on holiday in the Aegean resort of Marmaris with his family. The president says he was saved by 15 minutes from the plot.
The attempted coup claimed more than 240 lives, according to the Turkish presidency, not including the coup-plotters.
More than 2,000 people were injured in the incident.
Ankara accuses US-based Muslim religious leader Fethullah Gulen of ordering the failed coup. He denies the accusations.
Turkish authorities say the movement Gulen runs is a "terrorist" organization, claiming that its members have been running "a parallel state" within the civilian and military bureaucracy and following their own agenda. Gulen denies the claims.
Following the attempted coup, tens of thousands of people have been arrested and public workers have been sacked or suspended over alleged links to outlawed Gulen or Kurdish fighters under the state of emergency imposed in July 2016.
Turkey has come under heavy criticism from its Western allies and activists over the scale of the crackdown and repeated calls for the emergency to come to an end.

 

Zimbabwe applies to rejoin Commonwealth

Wednesday, 23 May 2018 02:17

Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth and has invited the bloc of former British colonies to send observers to its general elections set for this year.
Robert Mugabe, who was pushed out of office last year, pulled Zimbabwe out of the organization in 2003 after Harare's membership was suspended following disputed elections held the previous year.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said in a statement on Monday that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after a de facto army coup in November, made the application on May 15.
"Zimbabwe's eventual return to the Commonwealth, following a successful membership application, would be a momentous occasion, given our shared rich history," Scotland said.
Mnangagwa has vowed to hold fair and free elections, and has pledged to revive the moribund economy by repairing international ties and attracting foreign investment.
Britain said last month that it would strongly support Zimbabwe returning to the Commonwealth.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted on Monday: "Fantastic news that Zimbabwe ... wishes to rejoin the Commonwealth."
"Zimbabwe must now show commitment to Commonwealth values of democracy and human rights," Johnson added.
If readmitted, Zimbabwe will become the fifth country to re-join the association - which has 53 member countries - after Gambia, South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.
The other countries to have quit the organization are Ireland, which left in 1949, and the Maldives, which exited in 2016. The last country to join was Rwanda, in 2009.

 

The head of Malaysia’s anti-graft agency gave an explosive account on Tuesday of how witnesses disappeared and officers were purged and intimidated after they tried in 2015 to charge ex-premier Najib Razak for siphoning funds from a state fund.
Describing the lengths taken to suppress the earlier investigation, Shukri Abdull, who was restored to the agency by Malaysia’s new government following Najib’s election defeat on May 9, said that on one occasion a bullet was sent to his home.
Shukri was addressing a news conference after Najib arrived at the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which has ordered him to explain a suspicious transfer of $10.6 million into his bank account.
Shukri said he had called Najib into the agency to record a statement, not to arrest or charge him.
The MACC action is just the beginning of a new probe into the alleged theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, a scandal that dogged the last three years of Najib’s near-decade-long rule and was a key reason why voters dumped him.
Shukri said his agency had been poised to launch a case in 2015 against Najib but had been stopped in its tracks by the sacking of the attorney-general. Recounting events back then, Shukri gave the most revealing account so far of the cover-up.
“We had our own intelligence sources, that I would be arrested and locked up, because I was accused as being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government,” Shukri said, shedding tears briefly as he made his opening remarks.
“I was sent a bullet to my house. I never told my wife or my family. I never even made a police report.”
He went on to describe how he received police protection during a visit to the United States after suspecting that he was being followed by Malaysian security officials.
“We wanted to bring back money that was stolen back to our country. Instead we were accused of bringing down the country, we were accused of being traitors,” Shukri said.
The shock election result earlier this month upended Malaysia’s political order, as it was the first defeat for a coalition that had governed the Southeast Asian nation since its independence from colonial rule in 1957.
Malaysia’s new leader, Mahathir Mohamad, who at the age of 92 came out of political retirement and joined the opposition to topple his former protege, has reopened investigations into 1MDB and has set up a task force to recover the money.
Since losing power, Najib and his allegedly shopaholic wife, Rosmah Mansor, have suffered a series of humiliations, starting with a ban on them leaving the country, and then police searching their home and other properties.
Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing since the 1MDB scandal erupted in 2015, but he replaced an attorney-general and several MACC officers to shut down an initial investigation.
Najib has said $681 million of funds deposited in his personal bank account were a donation from a Saudi royal, rebutting reports that the funds came from 1MDB.
The initial focus of the MACC’s new probe is on how 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) went from SRC International to Najib’s account.
SRC was created in 2011 by Najib’s government to pursue overseas investments in energy resources, and was a unit of 1MDB until it was moved to the finance ministry in 2012.
MACC has been able to track the money trail from SRC more easily because transactions were made through Malaysian entities, whereas most other transfers of 1MDB funds went through foreign banks and companies.
The new 1MDB task force will liaise with enforcement agencies in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and other related countries.

 

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro won a new six-year term on Sunday, the election board announced in what is being seen as a controversial vote.
According to the results announced by Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), President Maduro obtained 5.8 million votes while his main opponent, Henri Falcon, collected a total of 1.8 million votes.
The turnout was 46.01 percent and the projection was at 48 percent, a total of 8.6 million Venezuelans voted, the CNE reported.
Maduro, an unpopular political heir to the late leftist President Hugo Chavez, hailed his win as a victory against "imperialism," but his main rival refused to recognize the result alleging irregularities.
The country's main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), had boycotted the election, while the two most popular opposition leaders, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez, were barred from running in the vote.
Turnout in Sunday's vote was low compared to the 2013 presidential elections, which had witnessed above 80 percent voting. Polling stations were opened beyond its closing time at 6 pm. Telesur, the state broadcaster, announced they would stay open "as long as there are people in line to cast their vote".
"This was a historic day!.. the day of a beautiful victory," Maduro said outside the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday night.
"They underestimated me," the 55-year-old leader told supporters, as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air.
"Never before has a presidential candidate taken 68 percent of the popular vote," he said. "We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory."
But his main rival, Falcon, called for a new vote, alleging the vote was marred by irregularities and lacked legitimacy. "We do not recognize this electoral process as valid," he told local media. "There must be new elections in Venezuela."
Claudio Fermin, the campaign chief of Falcon's party, said his team documented 900 cases of voting irregularities involving benefits being offered outside polling stations to those who backed the president.
"What we are witnessing is the abuse of power," Falcon wrote. "It's time to remove this cheating government," he added.
The US, which has slapped sanctions on the Maduro government, called the elections a "sham", adding that it would not recognize the results.
Posting on Twitter ahead of the vote, the US mission to the United Nations called the process an "insult to democracy".
President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, tweeted that his country "like the majority of democratic countries," would not recognize the vote, "it does not represent the free and sovereign will of the people, he added.
Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica's president denounced "electoral fraud in Venezuela" and called for the "retreat of ambassadors, and sanctions on members of the regime."
However, back in Venezuela, thousands of Maduro supporters danced outside the Miraflores presidential palace in the capital, Caracas.
"Here at home the process was quiet, organized," Rossana Melendez, an environmental manager and government supporter, told Al Jazeera.
"The result must be respected. I support Maduro's mandate and it's obviously my wish for this process to continue," she added.

 

The US Department of Justice said that it would investigate whether the FBI spied on Donald Trump's presidential campaign for political motives, following the US president's call for an inquiry.
"If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement late on Sunday.
Trump had demanded that the Justice Department look into possible infiltration or surveillance by the FBI or the DOJ itself of his 2016 campaign, stressing that it was essential to probe if someone from his predecessor Barack Obama's administration had ordered such a request.
"I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!," the US president said on Twitter on Sunday morning.
The probe comes amid an ongoing investigation, headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, into alleged collusion between the Russian government and Trump's 2016 election campaign.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Trump criticized Mueller's investigation, calling it a "witch-hunt" and asserting that it had not found any collusion with Russia.
On May 17, Mueller was appointed by the US Justice Department to look into possible Russian interference into the 2016 US elections, which Trump won.
So far, the Mueller team has indicted a total of 22 people and companies.
Bruce Fein, a former US associate deputy attorney general, says there are valid reasons for the Russian investigation as too many people from Trump's campaign team associated with foreign officials.
He told Al Jazeera that Trump's suggestion that the FBI "targeted his campaign because of hostility towards his political ambitions would be a real problem".
"We don't have any evidence at present that suggests that the FBI actually infiltrated the campaign under false pretenses, had somebody working for Trump and had access into getting confidential communication that wouldn't have been obtained if they weren't part of the campaign itself," said Fein, speaking from Washington, DC.
Last year, the Republican president also accused Obama of tapping his phones during the late stages of the election campaign but offered no evidence to support the allegation.
"He's so reckless in his allegations that you can't even sift the wheat from the chaff," said Fein.
In November 2016, Trump defeated rival Hillary Clinton in an election tainted by an email scandal, following claims that the Democratic candidate used her private server while she was secretary of state.

 

The European Union is not doing enough to preserve the benefits for Iran from the 2015 international nuclear pact following the withdrawal of the United States, Iran’s foreign minister told the EU’s energy chief on Sunday.
Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for energy and climate, said Tehran wanted the 28-nation bloc to act fast to preserve its oil trade with Iran, and to consider making direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the US financial system.
“With the withdrawal of America .... the European political support for the accord is not sufficient,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told Arias Canete in Tehran, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.
Since President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, the US Treasury said Washington would re-impose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods, including sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil sector and transactions with its central bank.
The EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing, but conceded that would not be easy.
“We have to preserve this agreement so we don’t have to negotiate a new agreement,” Arias Canete told Western journalists after two days of meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran.
“Our message is very clear. This is a nuclear agreement that works.”
Under the deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. With the threat of new US sanctions looming over them, some foreign firms have already started signaling their intention to pull back from Iran.
“The announcement of the possible withdrawal by major European companies from their cooperation with Iran is not consistent with the European Union’s commitment to implementing (the nuclear deal),” Zarif was quoted as saying.
He appeared to be referring to announcements by several large European companies last week suggesting their activities in Iran would end or be curtailed because of the re-imposition of US sanctions.
A top adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday cast doubt on whether European nations could be trusted to save the agreement.
“The contradictions in the words of European authorities are suspicious. We hope that our government officials will be able to secure the necessary guarantees in their negotiations, as one cannot rely on those who vacillate and speak contradictory words,” IRNA quoted Ali Akbar Velayati as saying.
Following the withdrawal of Washington, Iran said it would remain in the deal only if Tehran achieved its goals - namely being protected from sanctions on key sectors of its economy such as oil - in cooperation with other signatories of the pact.
EU investment in Iran, mainly from Germany, France and Italy, has jumped to more than 20 billion euros since the lifting of sanctions in 2016, in projects ranging from aerospace to energy.
But to improve its oil-reliant economy, Tehran needs to attract $100 billion in foreign investment to boost its oil industry and major western investors have stayed away from Iran, partly because of the remaining US sanctions on Iran.
“The announcement, in cascade, of European companies that will not keep investing in Iran are making the things much more complicated at the moment,” Arias Canete said.
“So what he (Zarif) is asking the European Union is that we have to have concrete solutions in order to implement the European Union commitments, which is something that we fully recognize.”
The options being considered by the EU to keep Tehran in the nuclear deal include new credit lines for Tehran, increased energy cooperation and implementing EU laws to block European companies from caving in to US sanctions.
Arias Canete said Iranian officials were keen to mitigate the impact of US sanctions under a proposal for EU governments to make direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the US financial system.
“The EU will consider it,” he said, adding that the EU needed to deliver fast on preserving oil trade with Iran.

 

Malaysia has set up a special task force that will look into possible criminal conduct of individuals involved in the management of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the prime minister's office said.
The task force, which will include the anti-graft agency, police and the central bank, will also be responsible for identifying and seizing assets acquired using funds allegedly siphoned off from the state fund, which was set up in 2009 by former prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib's near 10-year rule ended in electoral defeat on May 9 against Mahathir Mohamad, a former ally of the ousted prime minister.
"This task force will also be responsible for seeking cooperation of various enforcement agencies in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and other related countries," the office of new Prime Minister Mahathir said on Monday.
All heads of the new task force were part of the investigations on 1MDB in 2015 before they were removed or sidelined by the government.
The news site Malaysia Kini reported on Monday that former attorney general Abdul Gani, who is a member of the new body, had told Mahathir that he was in the midst of preparing to charge Najib when he was removed.
Najib, who is prevented by the new government from leaving the country, is being investigated by the new government of Mahathir over a corruption scandal at 1MDB, from which officials are alleged to have stolen more than $4.5bn.
Some of that money is alleged to have ended up in Najib's personal bank account, according to a civil lawsuit in the US.
In 2016, the US state department filed a case seeking to seize more than $1bn in assets linked to the fund.
The former prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and said the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family, which he had since returned.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Malaysian police seized bags of cash, jewellery and hundreds of luxury handbags during a series of raids at several properties of Najib.
The news comes as prosecutors from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission summoned Najib for questioning on Tuesday, on the alleged transfer of US$7.5m in government funds into the private account of the former leader, according to Singapore's Straits Times.
According to the report, the fund transfers from the state-owned entity SRC International Bhd, happened between mid-2014 and January 2015.
Also, on Monday, Mahathir announced in a public meeting with government workers that the government debt has hit more than US$250bn.
"As administrators, one must put the rule of law above all else and those tasked to carry out their duties must help to clean things up so that Malaysia can be on the road of recovery," he was quoted by Straits Times as saying.

 

A war monitor said buses evacuated Islamic State fighters from an enclave south of Damascus on Sunday in a withdrawal deal, though state media denied the report and said the Syrian army was fighting to finish off the insurgents.
The recovery of the enclave south of Damascus will mark another milestone in President Bashar al-Assad’s war effort, crushing the last besieged rebel enclave in western Syria.
Swathes of territory at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, however, remain outside state control.
Syrian government forces and their allies have been battling to recover the enclave south of Damascus since defeating rebels in eastern Ghouta, also near the capital, in April.
The area is centered around the al-Hajar al-Aswad district and the adjoining Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.
In a live broadcast, a reporter with Syrian state TV said the Syrian army operations in the Hajar al-Aswad area were nearing their end and insurgent lines were collapsing as columns of smoke rose from the area behind him.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier said buses had entered the enclave after midnight to take out fighters and their families. They had left towards the Syrian Badia, a sparsely populated expanse of territory east of the capital that extends to the border with Jordan and Iraq, it said.
Islamic State militants had torched their offices in the Yarmouk enclave, the Observatory said.
Negotiated withdrawals have been a common feature of the Syrian war in recent years as the government, aided by the Russian military and Iran-backed forces, has steadily clawed back territory.
The rebels have mostly been given safe passage to northwestern Syria. In the last two months alone, the United Nations says 110,000 people have been evacuated to northwestern Syria and rebel-held areas north of Aleppo.
The opposition has called it a policy of forced displacement amounting to demographic change to drive out Assad’s opponents. The Syrian government has said nobody is forced to leave and those who stay must accept state rule.
While Assad has vowed to win back “every inch” of Syria, the map of the conflict suggests a more complicated time ahead from now on.
The US military is in much of the east and northeast, which is controlled by Kurdish groups that want autonomy from Damascus. It has used force to defend the territory from pro-Assad forces.
Turkey has sent forces into the northwest to counter those same Kurdish groups, carving out a buffer zone where anti-Assad rebels have regrouped.
In the southwest, where rebels hold territory at the Israeli and Jordanian border, Assad faces the risk of conflict with Israel, which wants his Iranian-backed allies kept well away from the frontier and has mounted air strikes in Syria.

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump held discussions on Sunday to ensure that the North Korea-US summit remains on track after North Korea threatened to pull out of the high-level talks.
Moon and Trump spoke over the phone for about 20 minutes, and exchanged their views on North Korea’s recent reactions, South Korea’s presidential office said without elaborating.
“The two leaders will work closely and unwaveringly for the successful hosting of the North Korea- US summit set on June 12, including the upcoming South Korea-US summit,” the presidential official said.
Moon and Trump are set to meet on Tuesday in Washington before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Trump on June 12 in Singapore.
Although a historic inter-Korean summit in late April raised hopes of reconciliation, North Korea showed a dramatic change in tone in recent days.
North Korea’s chief negotiator Ri Son Gwon said on Thursday it would not hold talks with South Korea unless their demands were met, taking issue with the US-South Korean air combat drills known as Max Thunder. It came a day after it threatened to pull out of the summit with the United States.
Further dampening the mood, a spokesman for North Korea’s Red Cross Society demanded on Saturday that South Korea’s government should send North Korean female restaurant workers back to their home “without delay” to show the will to improve the inter-Korean ties, the North’s Korea Central News agency said.
A dozen North Korean restaurant workers came to South Korea in 2016 from China, and North Korea had urged to send them back claiming they were abducted by the South, even though the South has said the 12 workers decided to defect of their own free will.
Lee Dong-bok, a researcher at New Asia Research Institution, said part of the reason for the North’s demands of the repatriation is to divide South Korea’s public opinion over the 12 workers.
“It is also to pressure the Moon government to agree to its demand so that South Korea can keep up the momentum for the North Korea-US summit meeting,” Lee said.