France, Germany and Britain remain committed to Iran Nuclear Deal
by European Council on Foreign Relations, agencies
Europe sets up scheme to deliver humanitarian supplies, help European firms trade to Iran, writes Patrick Wintour for The Guardian.
France, Germany and Britain have set up a financial mechanism designed to avoid US sanctions against Iran and keep the 2015 nuclear deal intact.
Through the Instex trade vehicle, they hope to assert European economic sovereignty in the face of Washington’s determination to impose its foreign policy on Europe.
The strategy would initially focus on trying to ease the flow of humanitarian supplies to Iran, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said. Such supplies, including medicines and foodstuffs, are not supposed to be subject to US sanctions.
Eventually, the plan is for the vehicle to expand to allow European firms to trade more freely with Iran in a range of goods, including those subject to US sanctions, the EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said.
Instex, which stands for “instrument for support of trade exchanges”, was registered this week, and will act as a proposed payment channel from Europe to Iran, and vice versa. It will not be fully operational until later this year. Iran will be expected to establish a parallel organisation. If the scheme works, it is likely to be most useful to small- and medium-sized firms with no links in the US.
The body is being designed and run by Britain, France and Germany but will receive the endorsement of the entire EU this week.
The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “The entity will facilitate legitimate trade under European and international law. Its immediate focus will be on enabling trade in goods where the immediate need of the Iranian people is greatest, ie foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.”
Hunt said the nuclear deal was “crucial for the security of the region”.
The EU refused to follow Donald Trump last year in pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington claims that, although Iran has met the terms, the accord was too generous, failing to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile programme or curb its regional meddling.
Ever since, European firms have been faced with ever more assertive, and broadly effective US treasury measures to scare them off trading with Iran. Many multinationals have pulled investments from Iran, plunging an already struggling Iranian economy into further difficulty.
Iran has been pressing for progress on the payment channel for months, occasionally threatening to pull out of the deal unless the EU showed greater urgency on what is a highly technical banking and legal exercise.
A key question is whether the Trump administration will see Instex, as a legitimate target for sanctions by the US treasury, since it has warned any European entity trading with Iran with US connections or using dollars can be subject to punitive fines.
Instex’s initial purpose of easing the flow of supplies such as food and medicines to Iran may protect the body since the US sanctions net is not meant to extend to humanitarian supplies.
In 2017, the export of drugs from Europe to Iran was worth $884m compared with $194m from China and $52m from India, according to UN data.
The US embassy in Berlin said Washington did not expect the payment system to reduce economic pressure on Iran. An embassy spokesperson repeated Trump’s threat that all who continued to do business with Iran would be subject to US sanctions.
A high-level European diplomatic representation on the Instex supervisory board may act as a firewall preventing the Trump administration from imposing sanctions. http://bit.ly/2HKBUZd
29 Jan. 2019
On Iran, Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump. (NYT: Extract)
A new American intelligence assessment of global threats has concluded that Iran is not, for now, taking steps necessary to make a bomb, directly contradicting the rationale of two of President Trump’s foreign policy initiatives. Those conclusions are part of an annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment”.
In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee linked to the release of the report, the nation’s intelligence chiefs tried to avoid directly questioning administration policies. Yet they detailed a different ranking of the threats facing the United States, starting with cyber attacks and moving on to the endurance of the Islamic State and the capabilities of both North Korea and Iran.
Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, told lawmakers Iran, continued to comply with the deal even after the president announced in May that the United States would withdraw from it. “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device,” Mr. Coats said.
He added, however, that Iranian officials have “publicly threatened to push the boundaries” of the nuclear agreement if it did not see benefits that were promised, including a resumption of oil sales and an end to American sanctions against its financial transactions around the world.
Mr. Trump has warned that Iran would “be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons” if the nuclear deal remained in place. The agreement still stands, largely with support from European capitals.
* Why the Iran nuclear deal still matters for Europe, by Ellie Geranmayeh. (European Council on Foreign Relations): http://bit.ly/2G9q21q http://bit.ly/2DQaxZF
* 31 January 2019
French, German and UK Foreign Ministers announce INSTEX, a new mechanism for facilitating legitimate trade with Iran to preserve the Iran nuclear deal. (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office): http://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-on-the-new-mechanism-to-facilitate-trade-with-iran
Venezuela: UN calls for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue
by UN News, agencies
26 January 2019
The top UN political official told the Security Council on Saturday that dialogue and cooperation were vital to ending the crisis in Venezuela, but during a contentious debate, Council members disagreed over the appropriate response to competing claims to the presidency.
“We must try to help bring about a political solution that will allow the country’s citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all their human rights,” Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, urged the Security Council meeting.
The meeting came in the wake of days of political unrest in Venezuela, marked by popular protests that erupted on Wednesday after the leader of the opposition legislature, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president and called for fresh elections, a direct challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, who had been sworn in to a second term in office just two weeks earlier.
In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged parties to “lower tensions” in Venezuela and called for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue. Concerned by reports of casualties during demonstrations and unrest in and around the capital, Caracas, the UN chief also called for a transparent and independent investigation of those incidents.
Today, Ms. DiCarlo described the situation in Venezuela as “dire”, and as having both an economic and political dimension.
“The population is affected in a systemic way, nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; deterioration of health and education services; deterioration of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, transport and urban services,” she told the Council.
Years of political strife
Ms. DiCarlo went on to lay out the political landscape in the country since the parliamentary elections of December 2015, when the opposition won a large majority of seats in the National Assembly. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Assembly was “in contempt” and that all its actions were “null and void”.
In 2017, a National Constituent Assembly was established through elections in which the opposition parties did not participate. The National Constituent Assembly took over key functions of the legislative branch and undertook a process of constitutional reform that remains inconclusive and is not recognized by the opposition parties.
Attempts to bring about political dialogue started as early as May 2016, through an initiative facilitated by three former leaders from the Dominican Republic, Panama and Spain, under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
“Despite some initial progress, no concrete agreements were reached through this initiative, which was suspended by the beginning of 2017,” she said, adding that attempts to resume and continue dialogue faltered in February 2018 over a disagreement was the electoral calendar and guarantees to ensure free, transparent and credible elections.
Subsequently, the Government went ahead with presidential elections in May 2018. President Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner over two other candidates. Most of the opposition did not participate in the elections or recognize the results. On 10 January, Nicolás Maduro was sworn in as President for a second six-year term.
On 23 January, large scale opposition protests culminated with Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-led National Assembly, announcing that he did not recognize President Maduro or his Government.
“While the protests were largely peaceful, there were incidents of violence,” Ms. Dicarlo said, noting that according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR), credible local sources have reported that at least 20 people have died in the unrest. Many more have reportedly been reportedly injured and detained in violent incidents.
Call for a political solution
Recalling that the UN Secretary-General had offered his good offices to help resolve the crisis, Ms. DiCarlo stressed that the main concern is the well-being of the Venezuelan people and their ability to enjoy their full rights.
“The UN has been providing assistance, particularly in the areas of health and nutrition. And the Secretary-General had asked the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to establish a mechanism to support Venezuelans leaving the country.”
“There are divergent visions of what the future should hold for Venezuela. But we must all be guided, however, by the pursuit of the well-being of the Venezuelan people, and work together so that their needs are fully met,” she said.
Ms. DiCarlo’s call for cooperation and dialogue was echoed by many of the Council’s 15 members during the contentious debate that followed her briefing.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), three million Venezuelans have left their country in recent years owing to a lack of food, medicine and the loss of their livelihoods.
In addition to the humanitarian crisis, grave human rights abuses have been reported by the UN, including killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture.
Speaking earlier to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr. Guterres said: “So many have left the country, with the economic difficulties that everybody faces, and with the political polarization”, he said.
“What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that could lead to the kind of conflict that would be a total disaster for Venezuela, for the Venezuelan people and for the region.”
The UN chief said that “if dialogue is not possible, then what are we doing? In all circumstances in the world – even the most difficult circumstances – we need to push for dialogue.”
The European Union and some other Latin American governments, notably Mexico and Uruguay, are calling for a negotiated solution leading to free elections. The EU has proposed establishing a Contact Group, aimed at bringing together opponents and allies of Mr. Maduro.
The International Crisis Group suggests such a group, should be broad and include countries viewed as neutral, arguing it would represent an important step towards a peaceful and sustainable transition from the current volatile situation.
http://bit.ly/2DAAn3L http://bit.ly/2Rch2JP http://bit.ly/2BbtIvl
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