Donald Trump will regret it if he pulls out of the nuclear deal with Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday, warning the US president that Tehran’s response would be stronger than he thinks.
US sanctions that were lifted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015 will resume unless Trump waives them again on May 12. Trump has effectively set that as a deadline for European powers to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal.
“The new US president - who has big claims and many ups and downs in his words and actions - has been trying for 15 months to break the JCPOA ... but the structure of the JCPOA is so strong that it has not been shaken by such quakes,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
“Iran will not violate the nuclear deal, but if the United States withdraws from the deal, they will surely regret it. Our response will be stronger than what they imagine and they would see that within a week.”
Iran has warned that it would ramp up its nuclear program if the JCPOA collapses, to achieve a more advanced level than before the deal.
Rouhani was speaking as Tehran marked National Nuclear Technology Day and unveiled what it said were its latest nuclear achievements including a nuclear battery and centrifuges for the oil industry.
Rouhani said Iran has been preparing for every possible scenario, including a JCPOA without the United States - which would still include European signatories, China and Russia - or no deal at all.
France, Britain and Germany are seeking to persuade their EU partners to back new sanctions on Iran, as a way to persuade Trump to stick with the nuclear deal curbed on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
Those sanctions would not involve measures that were lifted under the nuclear deal but would target individual Iranians that the EU believes are behind Iran’s ballistic weapons program and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Rouhani said on Monday that Iran’s missile capabilities were purely defensive.
“We will produce any weapons necessary to defend our country in such a volatile region. But we will not use our weapons against our neighbors,” Rouhani said.
Iran’s currency hit a new low on Monday on continued concerns over a return of crippling sanctions if Trump carries out his threat.
The US dollar jumped in a day from 54,700 rials to 58,000 rials in the open market in Tehran, local media reported. A dollar was 36,000 rials in mid-September.

 

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says the United States under President George W Bush offered his group reconciliation and money on the condition the Lebanese movement relinquish its resistance to Israel.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Nasrallah said the offer, made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, also included removing the group from international terror watch lists and funding to help rebuild southern Lebanon.
He added that the offer was made through George Nader, a controversy-stricken US businessman of Lebanese origin.
"We thought he was a Lebanese journalist, but he turned out to be an American citizen with a message from Dick Cheney", Nasrallah said.
The Hezbollah leader said the offer came on the condition that his movement enhances security cooperation with the US and cease its resistance to Israel.
Nasrallah at first did not mention Nader by name but insisted his identity be revealed so as to prove the veracity of his claim.
"The reason why I want to give the name is to give credibility to my statement because with all the scandals and investigations taking place in America nowadays, this name's being cited in the media over what's happening between Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Americans and Trump.
"It is the American journalist of Lebanese origin living in America, George Nader," Nasrallah said.
An adviser to the UAE's crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed (or MBZ by his initials), Nader has been caught in a media sandstorm following reports he had sought to buy influence in President Donald Trump's White House to advance the Emirati foreign policy agenda, notably in the ongoing Gulf crisis.
Nader, who has been interrogated by investigators as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, was allegedly present at a December 2016 meeting between MBZ and senior Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

The US Department of State’s Senior Bureau Official for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Ambassador Alice Wells has said that United States is not “walking away from Pakistan”, but while Pakistan has taken “initial constructive steps” against terrorists operating on its soil, they aren’t yet irreversible, India’s The Hindu reported.
Wells also welcomed Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s comments on ending proxy terrorist groups.
“I was heartened by the press comments by General Bajwa where he said things like the ‘state must have the monopoly on violence’, and there is ‘no role for non-state actors’.... Those are extremely positive statements and now I think the challenge is to see them implemented. We are certainly in a very good faith conversation with Pakistan,” Wells told The Hindu in an interview during her visit to Delhi.
Her comment comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Friday discussed finalization of Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) committing to closer engagement on fighting terror.
The Hindu reported that when asked Wells denied any US-hand in the Afghan-Pakistan talks, but her ongoing visit to the region, including travels to Tashkent, Islamabad, Delhi and Kabul, dealt with the US’s South Asia policy for Afghanistan.
“I would say, bear with us, this isn’t the end of our diplomatic game. We are continuously engaging in Pakistan because we do see the need for change,” she said when asked about further steps against Pakistan if it fails to act against terror groups.
Wells also touched on Afghanistan’s trade efforts and said “the fact that this region has no regional trade is noteworthy and until we resolve that core conflict and open up the east and west, the potential for South Asia is not going to be achieved. We are deeply appreciative of the Indian efforts to use Chabahar to provide alternatives to Afghanistan to open up a channel to Central Asia. And we need to be creative in the absence of peace to ensure that Afghanistan can stabilize and grow”.
When asked if the US approved of the Chabahar route, in terms of it being owned by Iran, Wells said: “The standard set for Chabahar is that the deals should not benefit IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) members, that’s for sanctions not to be imposed, and for business deals to go through.
“The legislation originally passed (JCPOA) has a specific carve-out for Chabahar and that’s an acknowledgment of the necessary role of giving land-locked Afghanistan access and alternatives it seeks to build its economy.
“We have seen with the shipments of wheat that India has really helped to open up trade with Afghanistan including air corridors. It’s been striking that Afghanistan-Pakistan trade has declined 50 percent in the last year. India has provided options, and Afghanistan now needs the support of India and Central Asia,” she said.

 

A chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held stronghold near Syria's capital, Damascus, has killed at least 70 people and affected hundreds, rescue workers have told Al Jazeera.
The White Helmets, a group of rescuers operating in opposition-held areas in Syria, said on Saturday that most of the fatalities were women and children.
"Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating," Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera, adding that the death toll was expected to rise as many people were in critical condition.
Al-Saleh said that chlorine gas and an unidentified but stronger gas were dropped on Douma.
"White Helmet volunteers are trying to help the people but all that we can do is evacuate them to another area by foot because most of the vehicles and centres went out of service."
One member of White Helmets told Al Jazeera that an entire family had suffocated to death as they hid in their cellar, trying to seek shelter from air raids and barrel bombs.
The United States government has warned of a global response against Syria if reports of the chemical attack are confirmed.
The Syrian government, however, is calling it a fabrication, dismissing talk of the Syrian army using poisonous gas as "farcical".
On Sunday, pro-Syrian opposition Orient television reported that negotiations to reach a final agreement over Douma were underway between the Jaish al-Islam rebel group and the Russians.
There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which controls the city, the last remaining under rebel control in Eastern Ghouta.
Pro-government forces and their allies on Friday launched a fierce air and ground offensive on Douma.
Syria's state news agency SANA said the heavy bombardment, which shattered 10 days of calm, was in response to shelling by Jaish al-Islam on residential areas in Damascus.
SANA reported that the shelling killed four people and caused material damage. Jaish al-Islam denied the accusation.
"Douma has been subject to intense air strikes and much of the city is destroyed," Moayed al-Dayrani, a resident of Douma and medical volunteer, told Al Jazeera, adding that doctors were struggling to reach all the victims.
"We are currently dealing with more than 1,000 cases of people struggling to breathe after the chlorine barrel bomb was dropped on the city. The number of dead will probably rise even further."
The Douma Media Centre, a pro-opposition group, posted images on social media of people being treated by medics, and of what appeared to be dead bodies, including many women and children.
Rescue workers also posted videos of people appearing to show symptoms consistent with a gas attack. Some appeared to have white foam around their mouths and noses.
Symptoms of a chlorine attack include coughing, dyspnea, intensive irritation of the mucous membrane and difficulty in breathing.
Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Association, said that there "are only a few physicians and medical staff" who are still "in Douma to treat the high number of casualties".
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Fresno, in the US state of California, Tarakji said that many families currently in Douma are taking shelter in basements to protect themselves from barrel bombs and shelling.
"Using those chemical weapons like chlorine or similar products, by de facto this gas goes down to the basement and those people ... are getting intoxicated with those chemical weapons and that's why the casualties are high," he added.
In recent years, the Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons as a tool against the armed opposition, an allegation it denies.

 

China’s state media have urged the international business community, including American businesses, to oppose US President Donald Trump’s threats of new billion-dollar tariffs on Chinese goods.
The Chinese ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily urged the US industrial and commercial sectors on Sunday to rally against Trump’s plans for an additional $100 billion in tariffs against Chinese goods.
The daily called on “the international business community, including the United States industrial and commercial circles, to take prompt and effective measures and urge the US government to correct its errors.”
It also said that Chinese sectors would bond together to support any government action against the tariffs.
Trump initiated what has become a full-blown trade war when he imposed heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China in March.
China warned against the implementation of the tariffs, but when the US implemented them anyway, Beijing responded by introducing tariffs of its own on a number of American goods.
Then on Thursday, the US president said in a White House statement that he had directed trade officials to “consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate,” in what was considered a tacit threat against Beijing.
China has repeatedly warned against a trade war but has also consistently said that it is ready to fight one if Trump proceeds with his protectionist measures.
The People’s Daily described the trade war as a US measure challenging free trade and a battle between “bridges and walls” that “China is ready to fight till the bitter end.”
Other countries, including ones in Europe, have also warned against Trump’s protectionists measures, which affect them as well.
Analysts say the trade war will impact America more than China because of differences in the two countries’ governance structures.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said, “Wall Street is not happy, and this is damaging for Mr. Trump at home.” He said that the trade war “will hurt both countries, but in the US, this could hurt the Republican Party in the November midterm elections. China does not have this problem.”

 

Myanmar is not ready for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, said the most senior United Nations official to visit the country this year, after Myanmar was accused of instigating ethnic cleansing and driving nearly 700,000 Muslims to Bangladesh.
“From what I’ve seen and heard from people – no access to health services, concerns about protection, continued displacements – conditions are not conducive to return,” Ursula Mueller, UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said after a six-day visit to Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has pledged to do its best to make sure repatriation under an agreement signed with Bangladesh in November would be “fair, dignified and safe”.
Myanmar has so far verified several hundred Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation. The group would be “the first batch” of refugees and could come back to Myanmar “when it was convenient for them,” a Myanmar official said last month.
Mueller was granted rare access in Myanmar, allowed to visit the most affected areas in Rakhine state, and met army-controlled ministers of defense and border affairs, as well as de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials.
The exodus of Rohingya Muslims followed an Aug. 25 crackdown by the military in the northwestern Rakhine state. Rohingya refugees reported killings, burnings, looting and rape, in response to militant attacks on security forces.
“I asked (Myanmar officials) to end the violence … and that the return of the refugees from (Bangladeshi refugee camps in) Cox’s Bazar is to be on a voluntary, dignified way, when solutions are durable,” Mueller told Reuters in an interview in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.
Myanmar says its forces have been engaged in a legitimate campaign against “terrorists”.
Bangladesh officials have previously expressed doubts about Myanmar’s willingness to take back Rohingya refugees.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. Myanmar set up two reception centers and what it says is a temporary camp near the border in Rakhine to receive the first arrivals.
“We are right now at the border ready to receive, if the Bangladeshis bring them to our side,” Kyaw Tin, Myanmar minister of international cooperation, told reporters in January.
Many in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN has described Myanmar’s counteroffensive as ethnic cleansing, which Myanmar denies.
Asked whether she believed in government assurances the Rohingya would be allowed to return to their homes after a temporary stay in camps, Mueller said: “I’m really concerned about the situation.”
Part of the problem is that, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has bulldozed at least 55 villages that were emptied during the violence.
“I witnessed areas where villages were burned down and bulldozed...I’ve not seen or heard that there are any preparations for people to go to their places of origin,” Mueller said.
Myanmar officials have said the villages were bulldozed to make way for refugee resettlement.
Mueller said she has also raised the issue with Myanmar officials of limited humanitarian aid access to the vulnerable people in the country and added, referring to the authorities, that she would “push them on granting access” for aid agencies.

 

Hackers have attacked networks in a number of countries including data centers in Iran where they left the image of a U.S. flag on screens along with a warning: “Don’t mess with our elections”, the Iranian IT ministry said on Saturday.
“The attack apparently affected 200,000 router switches across the world in a widespread attack, including 3,500 switches in our country,” the Communication and Information Technology Ministry said in a statement carried by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.
The statement said the attack, which hit internet service providers and cut off web access for subscribers, was made possible by a vulnerability in routers from Cisco which had earlier issued a warning and provided a patch that some firms had failed to install over the Iranian new year holiday.
A blog published on Thursday by Nick Biasini, a threat researcher at Cisco’s Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, said: “Several incidents in multiple countries, including some specifically targeting critical infrastructure, have involved the misuse of the Smart Install protocol...
“As a result, we are taking an active stance, and are urging customers, again, of the elevated risk and available remediation paths.”
On Saturday evening, Cisco said those postings were a tool to help clients identify weaknesses and repel a cyber attack.
Iran’s IT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi posted a picture of a computer screen on Twitter with the image of the U.S. flag and the hackers’ message. He said it was not yet clear who had carried out the attack.
Azari-Jahromi said the attack mainly affected Europe, India and the United States, state television reported.
“Some 55,000 devices were affected in the United States and 14,000 in China, and Iran’s share of affected devices was 2 percent,” Azari-Jahromi was quoted as saying.
In a tweet, Azari-Jahromi said the state computer emergency response body MAHER had shown “weaknesses in providing information to (affected) companies” after the attack which was detected late on Friday in Iran.
Hadi Sajadi, deputy head of the state-run Information Technology Organisation of Iran, said the attack was neutralized within hours and no data was lost.

President Trump reportedly asked a CIA official why the agency didn’t kill a terrorist target's family during a drone strike.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that, after watching a recorded video of a drone strike in Syria in which officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”
The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties.
Trump called for the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria and reportedly asked for it to be started in days.
“If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,” Trump said in a meeting, according to two former officials.
Rules from the Obama administration limit the CIA’s ability to use surveillance flights.
The goal of Trump’s predecessor was to pull back the CIA to return to its core espionage mission and let the military take out terrorists, the Post reported.
Trump has advocated for swift military action to “knock the hell out of” Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces.
Trump said on the campaign trail in 2015 that he would “take out” the families of terrorists.
"When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. But they say they don't care about their lives. You have to take out their families,” Trump previously said.
On Tuesday, Trump signaled that he wanted to pull the roughly 2,000 US troops out of Syria but then reluctantly backtracked a day later. He reportedly agreed to hold off until ISIS is defeated.

 

A South Korean court jailed former President Park Geun-hye for 24 years on Friday over a scandal that exposed webs of corruption between political leaders and the country’s conglomerates.
Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.
The court also fined Park, the daughter of a former military dictator, 18 billion won ($16.9 million) after finding her guilty of charges including bribery, abuse of power and coercion.
“The defendant abused her presidential power entrusted by the people, and as a result, brought massive chaos to the order of state affairs and led to the impeachment of the president, which was unprecedented,” judge Kim Se-yoon said as he handed down the sentence.
Up to 1,000 Park supporters gathered outside the court, holding national flags and signs calling for an end to “political revenge” against her.
The court found Park guilty of colluding with her old friend, Choi Soon-sil, to receive about 7 billion won ($6.56 million) each from Lotte Group, a retail giant, and Samsung, the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and semiconductors, while demanding 8.9 billion won from SK, an energy conglomerate.
Most of the money was intended to bankroll non-profit foundations run by Choi’s family and confidants, and to fund the education of Choi’s horse-riding daughter, the court said.
Prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence and a 118.5 billion won ($112 million) fine for Park.
Park, 66, who has been in jail since March 31 last year, has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court.
The judge said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” but had instead tried to shift the blame to Choi and her secretaries.
“We cannot help but sternly hold her accountable,” Kim said.
Park apologized while in office for seeking help from Choi, who had no policy or political experience, but that was as close as she came to admitting any guilt.
Kang Chul-koo, one of Park’s state-appointed lawyers, said he would discuss with her the possibility of an appeal.
“We tried our utmost but regret the result turned out very bad,” Kang told reporters at the court.
“The truth will be revealed one day.”
The sentence will be a bitter blow for Park, who returned to the presidential palace in 2012 as the country’s first woman leader, more than three decades after she left it following the assassination of her father.
Her ouster from office last year led to a presidential election won by the liberal Moon Jae-in, whose conciliatory stand on North Korea has underpinned a significant warming of ties between the rival neighbors.
Moon’s office said Park’s fate was “heartbreaking” not only for herself but for the country, and added that history that was not remembered would be repeated.
“We will not forget today,” the office said.
Park is the latest former leader of South Korea to run afoul of the law.
Two predecessors, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted in 1996 of mutiny, treason and corruption and sentenced to long prison terms but both received presidential pardons and were freed after a couple of years.
But Moon took office pledging to end the practice of pardoning public and corporate officials convicted of corruption.
Park’s friend, Choi, was convicted and jailed for 20 years after a separate trial in February.
The chairman of the Lotte Group, the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, Shin Dong-bin, was jailed for two years and six months.
Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee was jailed for a similar term on charges of bribery and embezzlement but in a surprise decision in February, an appeals court freed him after a year in detention.
Park’s supporters and opponents reflect divisions in a society still haunted by Cold War antagonism.
Most supporters are older conservatives who remember her father’s authoritarian 18-year rule, beginning in 1961, when their country began its remarkable surge toward becoming an economic power.
Younger, liberal voters, who staged months of protests against Park before her ouster, will be hoping the verdict will be a watershed in efforts by the new government to end the self-serving collusion between political leaders and the powerful conglomerates known as chaebol.

 

Pakistan’s largest television network says it has been forced off the air by cable operators in most parts of the country, in a move widely seen as being forced by the military as it flexes its authority over civilian institutions.
“We are off the air in 80 percent of the country,” Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the chief executive of the network, Geo, said in an interview Thursday.
In the first week of March, Geo News was shut down in cantonment areas across the country and residential neighborhoods that are administered by the military. Then, this month, all Geo channels — including news, entertainment and sports channels — started being blocked across the country by cable operators. The network’s channel assignment on the cable distribution network has also been lowered.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has insisted that it is not behind the move, and put out a notice for cable operators not to disrupt Geo’s transmissions.
Geo officials took pains not to publicly blame the military, and the military did not respond to requests for comment about whether it was punishing the network. Nonetheless, the action against Geo is being seen as an unmistakable message from the country’s generals that they would accept no negative reporting.
The Committee to Protect Journalists this week expressed concerns over the censorship of Geo network.
“The arbitrary suspension of Geo TV on cable TV is a direct assault on Pakistan’s constitutionally guaranteed right to access information,” Steven Butler, the committee’s Asia program coordinator, said in a statement. “It’s outrageous that the authorities are either unable to find or too frightened to name those powerful enough to orchestrate the blocking of the news distribution.”
The censorship has sent a chill through the country’s news media networks, most of which have given scant coverage to Geo’s suspension.
A senior official of another television news network based in Karachi said his channel was backing off from any coverage of Geo’s blockage. “The channels are falling in line to avoid a similar fate,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
In Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and center of the media industry, attempts to tune into Geo are met with a screen warning reading “You are not authorized to watch this channel,” even though the network is not a premium offering.
The action against Geo is coming at a time of increased tension between the military and the civilian government, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
Mr. Sharif was ousted from power last year in a controversial verdict by the Supreme Court, and he and his children are on trial over corruption charges in a special court.
Mr. Sharif denies any financial wrongdoing and has led a forceful public campaign against his ouster, accusing the military and the judiciary of being in cahoots to have him removed from office. Both the military and judiciary deny the accusations.
A verdict in the case is expected in the next few weeks, and a conviction — which is also expected — would surely lead to more political chaos, and to more public accusations that the military is pressing to have the Sharifs jailed.
Geo News, which is owned by Jang Group and considered to be the most influential and watched news network, has been sympathetic to Mr. Sharif and critical of his chief political rival, Imran Khan.
Geo has also upset the military with its critical coverage of Pakistan’s placement on a terrorism financing watch list this year. More recently, news reports and articles critical of the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, and his domestic and foreign policy preferences, known here now as the Bajwa Doctrine, have also drawn the ire of senior military officials.
The military has been uneasy with Geo’s editorial line in the past, as well. In 2014, the channel’s license was temporarily suspended after unknown gunmen attacked one of its popular talk show hosts, Hamid Mir, and his relatives accused the military’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of being behind the assault. The military has also spurned the channel’s campaign to have friendlier ties with India some years ago.