GULF RE­ACTS TO POM­PEO Iran girds for shift

Pen­tagon still backs N-deal

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

DUBAI, UAE, March 14, (Agen­cies): US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s fir­ing is re­ver­ber­at­ing across a Mid­dle East where Iran fears his re­place­ment will fight to end the 2015 nu­clear deal, a hope of Gulf Arab states as Pales­tini­ans worry about a fur­ther em­bold­ened na­tion­al­ist Is­raeli gov­ern­ment.

Also at play is the on­go­ing diplo­matic dis­pute be­tween Qatar and four Arab na­tions, a cri­sis the for­mer oil­man sought to rec­on­cile with no suc­cess dur­ing his brief ten­ure as Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat.

How Tiller­son’s pro­posed suc­ces­sor, CIA di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, will han­dle these chal­lenges re­mains to be seen. But Pom­peo re­mains a ma­jor op­po­nent of the atomic ac­cord, while Tiller­son had been pur­su­ing a del­i­cate strat­egy with Euro­pean al­lies and oth­ers to try to im­prove or aug­ment the Obama-era deal.

Al­ready in Iran, some are ex­press­ing con­cerns.

Iran’s daily Ja­van news­pa­per, be­lieved to be close to the hard-line Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, said that re­plac­ing Tiller­son with Pom­peo sig­naled the end of the nu­clear deal.

“For quit­ting the deal, his dump­ing was nec­es­sary,” Ja­van said.

That was echoed by Ali Khor­ram, a for­mer Ira­nian en­voy to the United Na­tions, in the pro-re­form daily news­pa­per Ar­man.

“Pom­peo is very in­ter­ested in wag­ing a war sim­i­lar to the Iraq war by cit­ing in­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tions,” Khor­ram wrote. “Euro­pean pow­ers will play a role in bal­anc­ing his de­sire.”

Ira­nian For­eign Min­istry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, mean­while, sought to min­i­mize Tiller­son’s fir­ing, call­ing it part of the “fre­quent and mul­ti­ple” changes in Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“What mat­ters to the Is­lamic

Repub­lic of Iran are the poli­cies and ap­proaches of the United States in re­gard to in­ter­na­tional is­sues and to­ward Iran,” Ghasemi told jour­nal­ists. “We closely mon­i­tor their ap­proaches and macro poli­cies and will take ap­pro­pri­ate stances ac­cord­ingly in the fu­ture.”

Tiller­son’s fir­ing was wel­come news for Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates, which view Iran as a re­gional men­ace. They have also pushed Wash­ing­ton to take a harder line on Qatar, which they and other Arab na­tions have boy­cotted since last year, ac­cus­ing it of sup­port­ing ex­trem­ist groups and cozy­ing up to Iran. Tiller­son had sought to mediate the cri­sis among the US al­lies.

In the UAE on Wed­nes­day, the English-lan­guage Khaleej Times bor­rowed from the US pres­i­dent’s show-biz days for its head­line: “You’re Fired!” Saudi Ara­bia’s English-lan­guage Arab News had the same head­line.

An­other English-lan­guage news­pa­per, the state-aligned The Na­tional news­pa­per of Abu Dhabi, of­fered an ed­i­to­rial say­ing Tiller­son’s fir­ing would “sur­prise few,” point­ing to his dis­agree­ment with Trump over Qatar.

The UAE, along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia, cut off land, sea and air routes to Qatar in June 2017. Qatar, which has backed Is­lamist op­po­si­tion groups like the Mus­lim Brother­hood, has de­nied sup­port­ing ex­trem­ists. It shares a mas­sive off­shore nat­u­ral gas field with Tehran.

Trump has at times ap­peared to side with Qatar’s ri­vals in the dis­pute, while Tiller­son had pro­jected a more neu­tral stance. ExxonMo­bil, which Tiller­son ran be­fore be­com­ing sec­re­tary of state, had a long busi­ness his­tory in Qatar’s nat­u­ral gas plays.

“While Mr Tiller­son short­sight­edly urged Saudi Ara­bia and al­lies in the quar­tet to end their boy­cott of Qatar, Mr Trump named Doha ‘a fun­der of ter­ror­ism at a very high level,’” The Na­tional’s ed­i­to­rial page said.

Faisal J. Ab­bas, the edi­tor-in-chief of the Arab News, sim­i­larly said Tiller­son’s mis­han­dling of the Mid­dle East “turned the re­gion into his po­lit­i­cal grave­yard.” Ab­bas wrote that Tiller­son’s han­dling of the Qatar dis­pute proved he was “’full of gas’ more than any­thing else.”

“Is there rea­son to be­lieve Doha had in­flu­ence over Tiller­son? Was he re­ally bi­ased to­ward Qatar?” Ab­bas wrote in a front-page ed­i­to­rial. “Or was he sur­rounded by so many State Depart­ment of­fi­cials still stuck in the Obama era that they un­der­mined his abil­ity to act? None of this mat­ters now.”

Ab­dulkhaleq Ab­dulla, a prom­i­nent Emi­rati pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, called Tiller­son “the worst for­eign min­is­ter in the his­tory of Amer­ica” on Twit­ter. He also im­plied Gulf Arab un­hap­pi­ness with Tiller­son led to his ouster.

“His­tory will re­mem­ber that a Gulf state had a role in ex­pelling the for­eign min­is­ter of a su­per­power and that’s just the tip of the ice­berg,” he wrote.

Kuwait, which has sought to bro­ker an end to the Qatar cri­sis, of­fered no im­me­di­ate com­ment, though a lo­cal

news­pa­per de­scribed Tiller­son’s de­par­ture as strik­ing “like an earth­quake” in a head­line.

For Is­rael, the Pom­peo an­nounce­ment ap­pears to be good news for Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, who has been an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the Ira­nian nu­clear deal and who sees Iran’s in­volve­ment in neigh­bor­ing Le­banon and Syria as a ma­jor threat.

Ne­tanyahu has also wel­comed the US de­ci­sion to move its em­bassy to Jerusalem — a move for which Tiller­son showed lit­tle en­thu­si­asm.

Back­ing for N-deal

The Ira­nian nu­clear deal is still in the best in­ter­ests of the United States, a se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial said Tues­day, go­ing against Trump’s claim that it’s a “ter­ri­ble” agree­ment.

US Cen­tral Com­mand chief Gen­eral Joseph Vo­tel told a Se­nate panel he shared the views of De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Joe Dun­ford, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“From my per­spec­tive, the JCPOA ad­dresses one of the prin­ci­pal threats that we deal with from Iran,” Vo­tel said, us­ing the deal’s of­fi­cial acro­nym.

tTrump is threat­en­ing to scrap the in­ter­na­tional agree­ment un­less tough new re­stric­tions were placed on Iran be­fore May 12.

He cited dis­agree­ments on the is­sue as a rea­son for his de­ci­sion to fire on Tues­day his diplo­matic chief Tiller­son and re­place him with CIA Di­rec­tor Pom­peo, who is con­sid­ered hawk­ish.

The pres­i­dent is con­cerned that parts of the deal start to ex­pire from 2026 and that it fails to ad­dress Iran’s mis­sile pro­gram, its re­gional ac­tiv­i­ties or

its hu­man rights abuses.

A US exit could kill the nu­clear pact, which the Is­lamic repub­lic has re­fused to re-ne­go­ti­ate.

Struck in 2015, it was signed by Iran with the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil — Bri­tain, China, France, Rus­sia and the United States — plus Ger­many.

Un­der the agree­ment, Iran agreed to freeze its nu­clear pro­gram in re­turn for the lift­ing of pun­ish­ing in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions

While Iran has reaped mas­sive eco­nomic ben­e­fits from the ac­cord, no­tably by be­ing able to re­sume oil ex­ports, it is still con­strained by US sanc­tions in other ar­eas.


MOS­COW: Turkey hopes to build good re­la­tions with new US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo but he must re­spect the coun­try, Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said on Wed­nes­day, amid deep ten­sions over Syria pol­icy and other is­sues.

Turk­ish me­dia has seized on a tweet pur­port­edly made by Pom­peo af­ter a failed coup in July 2016 — and be­fore he be­came CIA di­rec­tor — which re­ferred to Turkey as a “to­tal­i­tar­ian Is­lamist dic­ta­tor­ship”. The tweet was later re­moved.

Re­la­tions be­tween the NATO al­lies had started to im­prove re­cently af­ter a visit to Turkey by Tiller­son, whom Trump sacked on Tues­day as sec­re­tary of state.

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