TRUMP KEEPS IRAN DEAL BUT SANCTIONS ON BALLISTICS – MPs mandate millions more for missiles, foreign Guard ‘Quds’

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TEHRAN, July 18, (Agencies): Iran’s parliament voted Tuesday to urgently work towards increasing funds for the country’s missile programme and Revolutionary Guards in response to Washington’s “adventurism” in the region, media reported.

An overwhelming majority of Iranian lawmakers passed a motion to prioritise legislation “to confront terrorist and adventurist actions by the United States in the region,” the Mizan Online website reported.

The motion was originally introduced after the US Senate passed new sanctions on Iran in June and sent them to the House of Representatives.

The proposed bill, published by the ISNA news agency, mandates the government to allocate an additional $260 million to the joint armed forces for the “development of the missile programme” and the same amount to the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations wing, the Quds Force.

The motion sends a clear message to the Americans that Iran’s parliament “will resist them with all its power”, speaker Ali Larijani said.

The Quds Force leads Iran’s military role in Syria and Iraq.

Tehran offers financial, political and military support for the governments of both countries, in particular by posting advisers on the ground and organising and training volunteer Shiite fighters.

The Pentagon has also repeatedly voiced concern over a string of high-profile incidents in waters off Iran involving Iranian vessels.

It has accused the Revolutionary Guards of conducting risky manoeuvres around US warships in the Gulf, some of which resulted in the Americans firing warning shots.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has spared no effort to show a tough stance on Iran, promising new non-nuclear sanctions and stricter implementation of a two-year-old nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.

On Monday the White House said the nuclear accord would stay in place for now, backing away from a campaign pledge by Trump to scrap the agreement, under which Tehran scaled back its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of some sanctions.

US eyes more sanctions

Donald Trump has backed away from a campaign promise to scrap a major nuclear security deal with Iran, with officials announcing the agreement and related sanctions relief will stay in place for now.

The Trump administration faced a new congressional deadline Monday to say whether Iran has curbed its nuclear weapons program in line with the accord.

Under the terms of the two-year-old agreement, Tehran scaled back production of nuke-making material in return for massive sanctions relief.

“The conditions,” according to one official who the White House would not name publicly, “have been met, based on information available to the United States.”

The 2015 agreement rests on a series of technical benchmarks, and was seen in Washington as a way of avoiding military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuke.

But it has not relieved tensions between Tehran and Washington, which continue to clash particularly over conflicts in the Middle East like Syria and Yemen, where Iran-backed militias hold clout.

On a trip to Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia in May, Trump called on all nations to “isolate” Shiite Iran.

During his election campaign Trump denounced the deal — reached under former president Barack Obama — and promised to renegotiate it and get tough on Iran.

Trump has now twice affirmed Iran’s compliance since taking office, effectively keeping the deal in place.

But the White House took pains to stress it was not going soft on Iran, pointing to new non-nuclear sanctions and stricter implementation of the deal.

An official added: “We do expect that we will be implementing new sanctions that pertain to Iran’s ballistic missile program and fast boat program.”

“Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to US interests and regional stability,” the official said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in New York on Monday to attend a UN forum on development, said he has yet to discuss the nuclear deal with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“There are no communications between myself and Secretary Tillerson,” Zarif said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It doesn’t mean there can’t be. The possibilities for engagement… have always been open.”

“We receive contradictory signals,” Zarif said when asked about the possible outcome of the review.

“It’s very clear that Iran is serious about the nuclear deal and we believe the nuclear deal can lay the foundation.”

The absence of communication is in sharp contrast with Zarif’s dealings with former secretary of state John Kerry, with whom he negotiated the agreement.

Zarif said that the United Nations nuclear watchdog has certified that Tehran was in compliance with the agreement.

Representatives of the five nuclear powers — China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States — plus Germany are to meet in Vienna on Friday to take stock of the deal.

Zarif said they would discuss Iran’s complaints about non-US compliance, accusing the Trump administration of failing to lift sanctions in line with the deal.

A steely view of Iran binds Trump’s national security team, which at times appear to have little else in common.

Many in Trump’s cabinet tangled with Iran-backed militias during the US occupation of Iraq.

Ex-Marines like Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also keenly remember Iran-backed Hezbollah’s attack on the corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983.

Top among the list of concerns today are improved Iranian missile capabilities, support for the Syrian government, human rights abuses and the detention of Americans.

Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old Chinese-American researcher at Princeton University, was recently sentenced to 10 years in Iranian prison.

Zarif offered to do “all it takes from my side” to address Wang’s case “on humanitarian grounds.”

But he emphasized Iran’s courts were independent. “We in the government do not have any control over the decisions of the judiciary,” he said.

Trump and Tillerson believe “these Iranian activities severely undermine the intent of the (agreement), which was to contribute to regional and international peace and security,” one official said.

“As a result the president and the secretary of state and the entire administration judged that Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit” of the accord, the official added.

End to conflict eyed

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday that he hopes Yemen’s war will not spark direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that they can work together to end the conflict in the country and Syria.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, also supporting rival groups in Syria’s civil war.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in May that any struggle for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and revolutionary Shi’ite theocracy Iran ought to take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

When asked at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York if he was worried about direct confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh, Zarif said: “We certainly hope not … We don’t have to fight; we don’t need to fight. We don’t need to try to exclude each other from the scene in the Middle East.”

“We certainly hope that if we don’t agree with each other about the situation in Yemen or about the situation in Syria we can still work with each other in order to bring those situations to an end,” said Zarif, who was in New York for a high-level UN meeting on sustainable development.

Earlier this year Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt all cut off diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing Islamist militant groups and allying with Iran — allegations Qatar denies.

“Iran is a serious partner for all these countries in fighting a common enemy because we believe at the end of the day … these extremist forces are as much a threat against us, but even more a threat against them,” Zarif said.

Zarif said that there was no communication between himself and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but that “doesn’t mean there can’t be.” He said Iranian officials had regular contact with US officials regarding a 2015 deal between Tehran and key world powers to curb its nuclear program.

He said Iran was not designing missiles to carry nuclear warheads, which is banned under the nuclear deal, and that the country’s missiles were only for self defense.

“We need them to make sure that another Saddam Hussein around the corner will not come and hit us again,” he said.

In a wide-ranging session at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hasn’t communicated with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But he said “it doesn’t mean that there can’t be (communication), because the possibilities for engagement with regard to the nuclear deal has always been open.”

He also criticized Saudi Arabia, a US ally and rival in the Mideast, saying Arab states primarily “have been incapable” of addressing the basic needs of their people which has given rise to anger, resentment and incitement.

But Zarif said Iran and Saudi Arabia can and should work together to end the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where they support opposing sides. “We don’t need to fight to exclude each other from the scene in the Middle East,” he said, “because in the end neither will be able to exclude the other.” He added that “extremist forces are as much a threat against us, but even more against them.”

Zarif is in the United States to speak Tuesday at a high-level meeting assessing progress toward meeting UN goals for 2030 to combat poverty, achieve gender equality, promote economic development and good governance, and preserve the environment.

He answered questions at the council ahead of an announcement by the State Department just before the Monday midnight deadline that Iran is still complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, which it must do every three months. But it insisted Tehran would face consequences for breaching “the spirit” of the deal.

Zarif said the International Atomic Energy Agency, “which is hardly a sympathizer for Iran,” has verified its compliance with the agreement.

But unfortunately, he said, the US has not complied, and the six parties to the agreement will be meeting in Vienna on Friday to examine Iran’s complaints about the US failure to carry out its obligations.

The key issue with the United States, he said, is over sanctions against Iran that the agreement requires to be lifted and the sanctions that remain on Iran over human rights, terrorism and other issues.

Zarif said that for the United States “it’s more important to maintain the sanctions that remain” on Iran “rather than remove the sanctions that have been lifted.”

As a result, he said, the Office of Foreign Asset Control “has been reluctant to provide straight-forward answers to those who want to do business with Iran because it was worried that a straight-forward answer would undermine the sanctions” that haven’t been lifted.

Zarif said this “creates the impression in Iran that the United States hostility toward Iran will never end.”

But he left open the possibility of changing that perception, saying: “I think that can be remedied.”

Responding to a question about whether Iran has received any signals from the Trump administration, positive or negative, Zarif said: “We receive contradictory signals. So we don’t know which one to interpret in what way.”

“But it’s very clear that Iran is serious about the nuclear deal and we believe that the nuclear deal can lay the foundation, not the ceiling,” he stressed.

Zarif said that under the nuclear deal, Iran is committed never to produce nuclear weapons and to have the IAEA impose “the most stringent control measures.” He also cited Iran’s vote on July 7 in favor of the first-ever UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which was approved by 122 countries.

Asked about Americans in detention in Iran, including a Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad, Zarif stressed the independence of his country’s judiciary.

But he added: “As foreign minister, I always try on humanitarian grounds to help.”


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