United Nations, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday his country doesn't want a war with the United States and believes America will "sooner or later" support the Iran nuclear agreement again following the Trump administration's withdrawal.
Rouhani told a wide-ranging news conference that the U.S. decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May was "a mistake" because there are no benefits for the people of the United States, Iran, Europe or any other country.
"The United States of America one day will come back, sooner or later," he said.
He said the Trump administration made a "second mistake" in holding a meeting of the U.N. Security Council earlier Wednesday during which 14 countries either directly or indirectly backed the nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other major powers.
Only U.S. President Donald Trump, who chaired the session, spoke against the deal known as the JCPOA and appeared isolated as a result, Rouhani said.
Addressing the council, Trump called the JCPOA a "horrible one-sided deal," declaring that Iran "must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon" and accusing its government of exporting "violence, terror and turmoil."
Rouhani said it was "quite strange, unprecedented and amazing" that while presiding over the Security Council as its president Trump also called on the 14 other council members to violate the legally binding resolution endorsing the JCPOA that the council adopted unanimously in 2015 — including a "yes" vote from the United States.
He added that Trump not only disagreed with that resolution but said whoever implements it "will be punished."
Responding to a question about whether the harsh language that Trump and his top official have used about Iran might lead to war, Rouhani said Iran since the 1979 revolution "has been subjected to that type of language many times." But he said Trump administration officials "speak with a different style, presumably because they're new to politics."
As for war, Rouhani said, "We do not wish to go to war with American forces anywhere in the region. We do not wish to attack them. We do not wish to increase tensions — none of the above."
"But we ask the United States of America to adhere to laws and respect national sovereignty of nations," he said.
Rouhani also said "America must think again about her presence in the region, in the Persian Gulf, in the Sea of Oman, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and other places."
Trump has vowed to continue to isolate Iran through U.S. sanctions that are being re-instated following the U.S. pullout from the nuclear agreement in May. The next round of sanctions will take effect in early November.
But Rouhani told reporters that sanctions which "were supposed to be proactive in November became proactive in September, so there are no other sanctions that will start in November."
He complained that the United States "has spared no effort" to exert pressure on Iran's oil sales and banking relationships, and there is not much left for the Trump administration to do.
Rouhani said Iran will continue working with countries that support the nuclear deal.
He called Monday's decision by the five other signatories to the agreement who still support it — Russia, China, Britain France and Germany — to establish a financial facility in the European Union to facilitate payments for Iranian imports and exports "a very good step forward."
"We have lived up to the JCPOA," Rouhani said. "Up until such time when we keep reaping the benefits promised within that agreement for our nation and our people, we will remain in the agreement."
But he said without elaborating: "Should this situation change, we have other paths and other solutions which we will embark upon."
United Nations, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — The same day that Russian diplomats struck a deal with Turkey over a demilitarized zone in Syria's last rebel-run region, dozens of Russian businessmen were flying home from Damascus, contracts in hand for trade with a postwar Syria.
Whatever happens to the rebels in Idlib province, Russia is determined to keep Syria solidly anchored in its sphere of influence over the long term — both as a foothold in the Middle East and as a warning to the U.S. and its allies against future interference.
"Russia wants ... a new Mideast security order," said Emile Hokayem, Middle East security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While Russia is blamed for widespread death and destruction as it supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, its forces have proven decisive in the international struggle against the Islamic State group, giving Moscow a credibility that Western powers lack. "Their intervention yielded much better returns than anyone expected," Hokayem said.
Now the central challenge facing U.S. and other Western diplomats huddling about Syria this week at the United Nations is how to stay relevant.
U.S. President Donald Trump claimed credit Wednesday for saving Idlib from a Russian-backed offensive — yet nearly everyone else says the credit goes to the presidents of Russia and Turkey for the accord they reached last week staving off a big battle.
One by one, diplomats at U.N. meetings on Syria hailed the agreement, and expressed hope it holds despite persistent uncertainty over Idlib's fate .
Russia basked in the praise. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dashed from one meeting to the next in the U.N. headquarters, stressing Russia's concerns about Syria with the top diplomats of Iran and Turkey, and with U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
The EU hosted its own Syria gathering at the U.N., and France is hosting a meeting Thursday of the "Small Group" that's trying to weigh in on Syria's future, despite years of failed efforts to back the Syrian opposition.
Even as Russia flaunts its diplomatic success, it's also securing a military future with Syria. Russia announced Monday it's selling S-300 missile systems to Syria.
A longtime client of Russian weapons manufacturers since well before the war, Syria also was a reliable trading partner. And Moscow is furthering that relationship by rebuilding roads, pipes and skyscrapers wiped out by seven years of war — including destruction wrought by Russia's own weapons.
A group of 38 Russian companies took part in the Damascus International Fair earlier this month. It was at least the fourth event in the past year aimed at reviving Russian trade with Syria — and Russian companies are heading back to Syria in early October for a conference on rebuilding the country.
Syria's neighbors are similarly active, notably close ally Iran. But in Russia's case, analysts say, the economic activity is closely linked to its influence strategy.
Russia, for example, wants to rebuild Syria's train network. "Russia built it in the first place, and wants to rebuild this and strategic economic ties," said independent Russian analyst Vyacheslav Matuzov.
Russian companies are seeking a diverse trade base, with food, farming and energy deals, according to the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Among the most vocal proponents of renewed trade with Syria is Georgy Muradov of Crimea.
Chamber Vice President Vladimir Padalko described "the firm intention of Russian business not just to restore past trade cooperation between our countries, but also actively move forward."
But Russia doesn't want to foot the bill for the huge cost of reconstruction, so it is seeking Western help, notably in Lavrov's meetings at the U.N.
"Russia wants to rebuild Syria not just for egotistical reasons, but sees it as the responsibility of the international community," Matuzov said.
Hokayem said prospects of that are low, but Russia is still "in the driver's seat" in Syria.
"Russia is always a step ahead, and has a higher tolerance level" for ups and downs in the Syria war because Putin doesn't face serious domestic opposition.
Russia's so-called Astana peace process with Iran and Turkey has been so much more successful than previous U.N. or Western-led efforts, Hokayem said, that "the U.N. envoy has adopted (it) as his own."
The next few weeks will be critical for Syria — and for Russia's footprint. U.N. envoy de Mistura told The Associated Press that October is going to be "a very important month" both for Idlib and for his efforts to move toward peace.
Juba, Sept 26 (AP/UNB) — South Sudan's civil war has caused nearly 400,000 "excess deaths" since fighting erupted in late 2013, a new report funded by the U.S. State Department said Wednesday after years of uncertainty.
The report by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimates that "violent injuries" caused about half of those 382,900 deaths. Increased risk of disease and reduced access to health care contributed to others, it said.
The civil war's death toll has long been unknown, with estimates in the tens of thousands.
"To our knowledge this is the first comprehensive estimate of how many people have died because of the war," Francesco Checchi, a lead investigator on the study, told The Associated Press. "Every day that goes by, hundreds more lives may be lost."
"I think this figure is much more realistic than the 50,000 which has been used for so long," Klem Ryan, a former official with the United Nations mission in South Sudan who later served as coordinator of the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the country, told the AP.
Counting the dead in the civil war is difficult as so much occurs in remote locations, Ryan said. "However, that's not justification for not compiling what we did know and pointing to the gaps."
The new report, based on statistical modeling and not peer reviewed, says the deaths appeared to peak in 2016 and 2017. Fresh fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, when a peace deal collapsed in July 2016 and the violence spread into other regions. Most of the deaths occurred in the country's south and northeast and among adult males, the report says.
The striking new estimate comes weeks after the warring sides signed what the government called a "final final" peace deal. It returns rebel leader Riek Machar to his role as vice president to President Salva Kiir, a situation that sparked the conflict when their supporters clashed along ethnic lines. Machar fled the post again during the 2016 fighting.
The United States and others have expressed skepticism that this new peace deal will hold and some fighting has been reported, with each side blaming the other.
A government spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told the AP that he could not confirm or deny the new estimated death toll and blamed killings on the armed opposition. "You can't collect the data."
South Sudan's civil war also has sent more than 2 million people fleeing in Africa's largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The new report calls for a stronger humanitarian response in one of the world's most dangerous countries for aid workers. The U.N. has repeatedly called on the government to allow more access.
The report "should also spur warring factions to conduct war according to its rules, instead of attacking civilians and humanitarian actors," Checchi said.
One South Sudanese organization has taken on an even larger, perhaps more dangerous, task: Identifying every person killed in the civil war by name, as well as those killed in various conflicts dating back to 1955.
"This is a war of revenge, hate and anger and we have to address this. We are trying to humanize the loss," Anyieth D'Awol, who is involved with the Remembering the Ones We Lost organization, told the AP.
The group started collecting names in 2014. So far, it has 6,677. One day, it hopes to set up monuments to the dead.
United Nations, Sept 26 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump poured scorn on the "ideology of globalism" and heaped praise on his own administration's achievements in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that drew headshakes and even mocking laughter from his audience of fellow world leaders.
"The U.S. will not tell you how to live and work or worship," Trump said as he unapologetically promoted his "America First" agenda. "We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return."
Speaking in triumphal terms, Trump approached his address to the world body as something of an annual report to the world on his country's progress since his inauguration. He showcased strong economic numbers, declared that the U.S. military is "more powerful than it has ever been before" and crowed that in "less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country."
Just sentences into the president's remarks, the audience began to chuckle and some leaders broke into outright laughter, suggesting the one-time reality television star's puffery is as familiar abroad as it is at home. Trump appeared briefly flustered, then smiled and said it was not the reaction he expected "but that's all right."
Later he brushed off the episode, telling reporters, "Oh it was great. Well, that was meant to get some laughter so it was great."
The leaders' spontaneous response to Trump's address only reinforced the American president's isolation among allies and foes alike, as his nationalistic policies have created rifts with erstwhile partners and cast doubt in some circles about the reliability of American commitments around the world.
Barely an hour before he spoke, in fact, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared to the assembly that global cooperation is the world's best hope and "multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most."
Since taking office, Trump has removed the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, promoted protectionist tariffs and questioned the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other alliances in furtherance of what he termed on Tuesday a strategy of "principled realism."
To that end, Trump flaunted his embrace of negotiations with North Korea's Kim Jong Un just a year after he had warned of raining down "total destruction" on a leader he branded "Little Rocket Man." As Trump praised Kim's "courage" on Tuesday, he unloaded harsh rhetoric on nuclear-aspirant Iran as a persistent malign influence across the Middle East.
"We ask all nations to isolate Iran's regime as long as its aggression continues," said Trump. The president has removed the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, citing the country's destabilizing actions throughout the region and support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and he accused its leaders on Tuesday of sowing "chaos, death and destruction."
His national security adviser, John Bolton, was to go even further in a speech Tuesday, issuing a dire warning to Iran: "If you cross us, our allies or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay," Bolton said, according to prepared remarks released by the White House.
In addition to his keynote speech, Trump is to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council about nuclear proliferation on Wednesday. His four days of choreographed foreign affairs were designed to stand in contrast to a presidency sometimes defined by disorder, but they were quickly overshadowed by domestic political crises.
The fate of his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was in fresh doubt after a second allegation of sexual misconduct, which Kavanaugh denies. Kavanaugh and his first accuser testify to Congress on Thursday.
Drama also swirls around the job security of Trump's deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was reported last week to have floated the idea of secretly recording the president last year and to have raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. He will meet with Trump at the White House, also on Thursday.
At the U.N., Trump seized his opportunity to assert American independence from the international body. He showcased his decisions to engage with the erstwhile pariah North Korea, remove the U.S. from the international Iran nuclear accord and object to U.N. programs he believes are contrary to American interests.
"We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism," Trump said.
He referenced a list of U.N. bodies, from the International Criminal Court to the Human Rights Council, that his administration is working to undermine.
"America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control and domination," Trump declared. His denunciations of globalism drew murmurs from other members of the organization that stands as the very embodiment of the notion.
Shortly before he spoke, in fact, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres had defended international cooperation as the only way to tackle the challenges and threats of increasingly chaotic times.
"Democratic principles are under siege," Guterres said. "The world is more connected, yet societies are becoming more fragmented. Challenges are growing outward, while many people are turning inward."
On other tense subjects, Trump's criticism of Germany's pursuit of a direct energy pipeline from Russia drew a dismissive headshake from a member of the U.S. ally's delegation, and his mention of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all in one breath was received with stone-faced expressions by Saudi officials. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been boycotting Doha since last year as part of a dispute tearing apart the typically clubby Gulf Arab nations.
The laughter in the first moments of Trump's address evoked a campaign line Trump frequently deployed against his predecessor Barack Obama — who embraced international engagement — suggesting that due to weak American leadership, "the world is laughing at us."
In 2014, Trump tweeted, "We need a President who isn't a laughingstock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!"
Appearances on the global stage tend to elevate the stature of presidents both abroad and at home. But even before his arrival for the annual gathering of world leaders and diplomats, the desired image was being eclipsed as Trump was forced to confront the salacious and embarrassing in the controversies over Rosenstein and Kavanaugh.
With cable news chyrons flashing breathless updates about both Beltway dramas, news of Trump's foreign policy moves from the U.N., led by a new trade deal with South Korea, struggled to break through.
Dhaka, Sept 26 (UNB) – Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud inaugurated the Haramain High-Speed Railway, the biggest electric speed train project in the Middle East, at Jeddah’s Al-Sulaymaniyah station on Tuesday.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, adviser to the king and governor of Mecca, along with senior officials and dignitaries, reports Saudi official news agency SPA.
“We thank Allah for the growth and prosperity in all fields in our country, and we thank Allah Almighty for His grace. Thank you,” the king said.
The 450 km-long Haramain rail line will connect Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdulaziz International Airport, King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh and Medina.
The distance between Mecca-Medina would be covered in less than two hours, which is less than half the time that it takes to cover the same distance by road.
The line is aimed at doubling the number of visitors and pilgrims to the holy cities and is in line with Saudi Arabia's development plan, Vision 2030, to expand the economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
With a fleet of 35 trains carrying up to 417 people each, the service is expected to ferry around 60 million passengers yearly.