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Iranians Greet Latest Sanctions Imposed by U.S. With Mockery

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Iranian officials have railed for two months against the Trump administration’s sanctions blocking their oil sales as “economic warfare.”

But the response to the latest American penalties imposed on Monday, which targeted the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior leaders, was more measured, even mocking.

“Ridiculous,” declared a headline from the semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“Are there really any sanctions that the U.S. hasn’t imposed against our country and people in the past 40 years?” a foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, asked reporters in Tehran. “And what did it achieve?”

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An Iranian calling himself K. Jafari wrote in a widely circulated tweet: “The only people left to sanction are me, my dad and our neighbor’s kid. The foreign ministry should share Trump’s phone number so we can call him and give him our names.”

In contrast to the threats and bluster of Tehran’s previous responses to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, Iranians across the political spectrum dismissed the latest embargoes on Monday as little more than insults. Both hard-liners and reformers argued that the new sanctions would have little practical impact, aside from undermining Mr. Trump’s repeated assertions that he is seeking to renew talks with Tehran, if only to restrict its nuclear weapons program.

“Sanctions announced today officially closed all the windows and doors for U.S. and Iran talks,” Hassan Soleimani, the editor in chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ Mashregh News Agency, said in a telephone interview from Tehran. “If Trump was hoping for negotiations with Iran, he can now only dream about it.”
Mr. Khamenei, the most prominent individual targeted in the latest sanctions, for example, never travels outside Iran and the conglomerate he controls, Setad, has little reliance on international banking. The new sanctions, which prohibit him from entering the United States or doing business with American financial institutions, will have almost no impact on the ayatollah.

The same appears to be true for most of the other individuals sanctioned on Monday. Several are senior officers of the Republican Guard. The Trump administration in April designated the guard as a terrorist organization, and that prohibited them from entering the United States or doing business with Americans.

Yet the gesture may still come at a cost. Under the Iranian political system, Mr. Khamenei’s personal assent is required to open any talks with the United States, and the new sanctions are unlikely to win him over. What is more, in addition to being Iran’s paramount political leader, Mr. Khamenei is revered by some Iranians as a singular spiritual authority as well, and those Iranians may also be offended.

The sanctions on Mr. Khamenei and other top officials were a “clear violation of Iran’s sovereignty and against international norms,” Abbasali Kadkhodaei, a spokesman of the Guardian Council, the powerful body that supervises the work of elected officials, said on Twitter.

Most startling to Iranians was Mr. Trump’s order to add sanctions that target Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Mr. Zarif was educated in the United States and within the Iranian political system he is considered a moderate — the kind of figure hard-liners might seek to cast out and previous American administrations had sought to cultivate. As foreign minister, he would also be the main conduit for any negotiations with Tehran.

Both reformers and hard-liners said on Monday that the order to sanction Mr. Zarif severely undermined Mr. Trump’s repeated assertions he is seeking to reopen talks with Iran about a revised deal to limit its nuclear weapons program.

“The important point about sanctioning Zarif is the reality that the U.S. is not really after negotiations,” tweeted Ali Gholizadeh, a reform advocate who was jailed in the crackdown after a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2008.
In a tweet on Monday, Mr. Zarif called the latest sanctions evidence that the hawks in the Trump administration now “thirst for war.”

Cutting off Mr. Zarif will only embolden the Revolutionary Guards and other hard-line elements of the military to steer Iranian foreign policy toward more confrontation with the United States, said Mr. Soleimani of the Guards’ news agency. Washington, he said, had now silenced the most moderate voices within Iran’s government and those most likely to advocate talks.

How the Iranian leaders might respond in the coming days remains to be seen. Even before the addition of the new sanctions targeting individuals, the Iranian economy was under severe pressure from the previous round of restrictions and penalties. Announced in April, those actions sought to cut off all Iranian oil sales, targeting the lifeblood of the Iranian economy.

It was in response to those actions that the Iranian government announced that for the first time in four years it would restart the steps that could lead to the development of a nuclear weapon. Iran had agreed to restrictions limiting its nuclear research as part of a 2015 deal with the United States and other international powers. Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal last year with a vow to negotiate a stricter one.

Since the Trump administration imposed the oil sanctions, the White House has also accused Iran of using naval mines to damage six tankers in two incidents in the waters around the Persian Gulf. Last week the Revolutionary Guards also shot down an American surveillance drone, and the United States came within minutes of carrying out a retaliatory missile strike against Iran before Mr. Trump called it off.

Still, even as tensions appeared to build with the addition of more sanctions, some senior Iranian officials imagined what a new round of negotiations might look like.

“U.S.’s claim that it wants negotiations without preconditions, while it increases sanctions and pressure, is not acceptable,” said Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, who is also considered a moderate voice within the political system.

If Washington wants something more than the existing nuclear deal, “then it must offer us more than the deal with international guarantees,” Mr. Ashena said.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/world/middleeast/iran-sanctions-response.html

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Israel election: Exit polls show race too close to call

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Vote counting is under way in Israel after millions took part in an election widely seen as a referendum on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July, is seeking a record fifth term in office. He is competing against his toughest challenger in years, former army chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party.

According to the first round of exit polls, which are unofficial and can be unreliable, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition bloc have failed to secure the 61-seat majority they needed.

Two exit polls put Gantz’s party in a narrow lead. A Channel 12 exit poll said it would win 34 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud one seat behind. The poll had Arab Joint List – an alliance of four Palestinian parties – winning 11 seats with eight for former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu.
Meanwhile, an exit poll on Channel 13 put Likud at 31 seats, trailing Gantz’s party by two seats.

Official preliminary results will be announced on Wednesday, with final results due on September 25.

Speaking to cheering supporters in Tel Aviv early on Wednesday, Gantz said it was necessary to wait for the official results, but was clearly confident.

“Netanyahu has not been successful in what he set out to do,” he told the crowd. “We, on the other hand, proved that the idea called Blue and White – a venture we started a little over six months ago – was successful.”

Speaking shortly afterwards, Netanyahu took the stage at Likud’s party headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He told his supporters that coalition talks had already begun.

“Israel is entitled to a strong government, a stable government, a government that ensures Israel is the nation of the Jewish people, and that it cannot, will not, be a government which is formed of parties which hate the nation,” he said, apologising for a croaky voice and sipping on water.

Majdi Halabi, an analyst and expert on Israeli affairs, said the initial unofficial results were a “slap in the face” for the prime minister.

Some 31 parties were competing for the 120 seats in the country’s 22nd Knesset.

Turnout rises
Although many observers expected election fatigue to set in as voters headed to the polls for the second time in less than six months, early turnout was the highest in decades and long queues formed during the afternoon on Tuesday outside polling stations in the capital Tel Aviv.

The more than 11,000 polling stations across the country closed at 10pm (19:00 GMT).

Israel’s election commission says the final turnout was 69.4 percent, compared with 68.5 percent in April, with a total of 4,440,141 votes cast.

Netanyahu rallied his supporters throughout the day, using various social media platforms, phone messages, and direct engagement with voters on the streets of several major cities.

“We are fighting to the last minute. Every vote is important. Get out and vote for Likud. Bring everyone you can to the ballot box,” Netanyahu told his followers via Twitter in the final hour before voting closed.

Netanyahu is also facing a pretrial hearing in connection with three separate corruption cases – bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement, Israeli police said they had detained or arrested 20 people for various offences, including one man in the Negev Region who allegedly tried to disrupt voting at a polling station.

Netanyahu vs Gantz
Coalition governments are the norm in Israel as no single party has won a majority of seats in the Knesset and the negotiations ahead are likely to be difficult.

Lieberman has said he would not join an alliance that included ultra-Orthodox parties – Netanyahu’s traditional partners.

Gantz has ruled out participating in an administration with Netanyahu if the veteran politician is indicted on the corruption charges.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will decide who will be given the mandate to form a new government – usually the leader of the party that wins the most seats.
If Rivlin thinks this person is unlikely to garner enough support from smaller parties to control at least 61 seats in the Knesset, he may give the task to someone else.

“If Netanyahu doesn’t clear the 61-seat threshold, Rivlin may still give him the mandate to form a government,” Eli Nissan, an Israeli political analyst told Al Jazeera.

“But if he fails to form a government within the next few weeks – like what happened after the April vote – the President may give Gantz the opportunity to do that instead,” he added. “If he fails as well, the president may push for a unity government.”

Israel has not had a unity government since Netanyahu came to power in 2009.

Palestinian vote
According to experts, voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel was expected to be higher than the April vote which saw only 49.2 percent of eligible voters among Palestinians cast their ballot.

“There was a higher voter turnout among Palestinian citizens this time, most of whom voted for the Arab Joint List,” said Haifa-based analyst Diana Buttu.
“We also saw a large number of Jewish voters support the Joint List,” she added referring to the alliance which had split into two competing groups in April but regrouped again in advance of this election.

Oudeh Bisharat, a Nazareth-based political analyst, agreed.

“Palestinian voters went out in bigger numbers this time because the Arab Joint List was united again and because they wanted to challenge Netanyahu’s racism and incitement against them,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera.

Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/israel-election-exit-polls-show-netanyahu-trail-rival-gantz-190917190950163.html

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This is what Edward Snowden says it will take for him to return to the U.S.

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Edward Snowden says he’d like to return to the U.S. — on one condition.

That’s what the former National Security Agency contractor told CBS News in an interview that aired Monday on “CBS This Morning.” Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since leaking classified information about the government’s mass surveillance of U.S. citizens in 2013.

“I would like to return to the United States,” Snowden told CBS. “That is the ultimate goal. But if I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison, the one bottom line demand that we have to agree to is that at least I get a fair trial. And that is the one thing the government has refused to guarantee because they won’t provide access to what’s called a public interest defense.”

That type of defense would allow a jury to consider Snowden’s motivations, which he says the government opposes.

“It’s not hard to make the argument that I broke the law,” he admitted to CBS, but said the government has not shown how his leaks caused harm. “They never show evidence for it even though we’re now more than six years on, it would be the easiest thing in the world to show.”

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA was considering shutting down the once-secret surveillance program that he exposed because it lacks operational value.

In a separate interview aired Monday on MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” with Brian Williams, Snowden said he was trying to “reform,” not destroy, the NSA.

Snowden, now a privacy advocate, added that he was alarmed by how governments and companies can now access vast amounts of personal data through digital devices such as cell phones.

“Anything you can do on that device, the attacker ⁠— in this case, the government ⁠— can do,” Snowden told MSNBC. “They can read your e-mail, they can collect every document, they can look at your contact book, they can turn the location services on.”

“They can see anything that is on that phone instantly,” he said, “and send it back home to the mothership.”

Not coincidentally, Snowden has a new memoir, “Permanent Record,” coming out Tuesday.

Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-what-edward-snowden-says-it-will-take-for-him-to-return-to-the-us-2019-09-16

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Opinion: President Trump Claims He Was At Ground Zero On Sept. 11. But Was He?

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News organizations now refer to President Trump’s whoppers — from the size of his inaugural crowds to a hurricane threatening Alabama — as routinely as referring to rain in Seattle.

But, there was still some surprise this week when at services to mark the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the president insisted, “Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could … We were not alone. So many others were scattered around trying to do the same. They were all trying to help.”

Richard Alles, battalion chief of the New York Fire Department at the time of the attacks, spent several months in the smoking, choking ruins at ground zero. He told PolitiFact this summer, “I was there for several months — I have no knowledge of his being down there.” He added that there would be a record of Donald Trump sending a hundred or more workers to aid in the harrowing recovery efforts at Ground Zero; there is not.

We might remember that 18 years ago, the wreckage and rubble at Ground Zero was considered sacred ground. It held the remains of thousands of loved ones, including police and firefighters who perished as they tried to save lives. It was a place for rescue and recovery workers — not amateurs, gawkers or celebrities.

Producer Peter Breslow and I were in Lower Manhattan in the days following Sept. 11, when a haze of pulverized steel, glass and death hung in the air, and scores of photos of mothers, fathers and lost loved ones were taped on buildings and lampposts asking, “Have you seen … ?”

But we couldn’t go past the security perimeter outside ground zero. My wife and I would stand outside that perimeter along Canal Street at night where thousands of people stood to cry, pray and cheer for the workers in hard hats, heading in to do the hard, heavy, hazardous work there.

There is a phrase for the offense committed by impostors who wear phony medals and try to pose as combat veterans: stolen valor.

At a Republican debate in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz decried what he called “New York values.” And Donald Trump replied: “New York is a great place, it’s got great people, it’s got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.”

It was all he needed to say: then and this week.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/14/760683504/opinion-president-trump-claims-he-was-at-ground-zero-on-sept-11-but-was-he

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