After Saudi Aramco attack, UK’s Boris Johnson proposes new negotiation on Iran nuclear deal

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2019

After Saudi Aramco attack, UK’s Boris Johnson proposes new negotiation on Iran nuclear deal

  • France leads European push to defuse Iran-US tensions
  • UK breaks ranks with Europeans by directly blaming Iran

NEW YORK: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed for a new negotiation beyond a 2015 nuclear between Iran and world powers after attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, bringing his country closer to US calls for a tougher deal with Tehran.

European leaders have struggled to dampen a brewing confrontation between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump pulled out more than a year ago from a deal that assures Iran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them sharply this year. Iran has responded by breaching some of the limits on nuclear material in the deal and has set an October deadline to reduce its nuclear commitments further unless the Europeans keep their promises to salvage the pact.

The European powers party to the deal — France, Britain and Germany — have until now remained united despite pressure from Washington. But an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities on Sept. 14, which Riyadh and Washington have blamed on Iran, is testing that unity. Iran denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition that includes the UAE, has claimed responsibility for the strikes.

“How do we respond to what the Iranians plainly did? What the UK is doing is trying to bring people together and de-escalate tensions,” Johnson told Sky News as world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York.

“Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal.”

A government spokesman later clarified that Johnson still supported the 2015 pact and wanted to find a way to bring Tehran into compliance.

Johnson was already at odds on Monday morning with French President Emmanuel Macron over who to blame for the attack, blaming Tehran directly.

Those words were in stark contrast to Macron, who has been extremely cautious not to point the finger directly at Tehran, fearing that it could increase tensions.

Macron has led a European push over the summer to find a compromise between Washington and Tehran and wants to use the UN meeting as an opportunity to revive diplomacy.

His efforts have stalled in recent weeks, with Iran reducing its commitments to the nuclear accord, and the United States refusing to ease sanctions that have strangled its oil exports, a mainstay of the Iranian economy.

Slim hopes for diplomacy
The attack on Saudi oil facilities has complicated matters. Hopes at the end of August that Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could meet at the United Nations now seem slim.

“We haven’t received any requests this time, yet, for a meeting and we have made it clear a request alone will not do the job,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York. “A negotiation has to be for a reason, for an outcome, not just for a handshake.”

He said there are prerequisites for a meeting — Iran has demanded the United States lift all sanctions — and then there could be a meeting between Iran, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — the original parties to the nuclear deal — but there would be no bilateral meeting. Macron on Monday also appeared to distance himself from the nuclear deal saying he was not “obsessed” with it.

“France is trying to put together proposals to avoid an escalation,” he told reporters.

He reiterated previous ideas that any framework for future negotiations needed to focus on keeping a system in place to monitor Iran’s current nuclear program, discuss Iran’s post-2025 nuclear activities, its ballistic missile program and its regional influence.

“We need with our allies, regional actors and Iran to sit round the table and advance on these four points,” Macron said.

Trump has criticized the earlier deal, negotiated under then-US President Barack Obama, for “sunset” clauses under which some of its provisions expired as well as for its failure to address Iran’s missile program and regional activities.

“He does want a new deal because the other deal was ready to expire — very short number of years left,” Trump said in response to Johnson’s comments.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters that demands to change nuclear deal with world powers were unacceptable and if the US wanted to ease tensions, it should lift sanctions.

Macron, Johnson and Angela Merkel are due to meet on Monday to coordinate their Iran strategy ahead of likely meetings with Trump and Rouhani.

A senior Gulf official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gulf countries, the United States, the Europeans and others needed to engage in “collective diplomacy” to defuse tensions.

Date palm, Arab region symbol of prosperity, listed by UNESCO

Updated 43 min 1 sec ago

Date palm, Arab region symbol of prosperity, listed by UNESCO

  • The symbol of the date palm tree has historically presented prosperity in the Arab region
  • All parts of the date palm were and are still used in some parts of the region for shelter or to produce a range of products

DUBAI: The date palm, which was recognized by UNESCO on Wednesday, has for centuries played an important role in the establishment and growth of civilizations in the hot and dry regions of the Arab world.
Now date palm-related knowledge, traditions and practices have been inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The tree, whose roots penetrate deep into the soil, allowing it to grow in arid climates, has not only been a source of food but also of economic gain.
“Date palms gather in oases of different densities within desert areas indicating the presence of water levels suitable for irrigation,” according to a nomination put forward by 14 countries — Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
“As a result, this aided mankind in settling down despite harsh conditions,” said the document.
Until this day, platters of dates adorn tables in homes and businesses across the Arab world, where the symbol of the date palm tree has historically presented prosperity.
The offering of the sweet fruit, coupled with a cup of coffee, is a sign of good old-fashioned Arab hospitality.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the date palm is probably the most ancient cultivated tree.
It was grown as early as 4,000 BC and used for the construction of the moon god temple near Ur in southern Iraq — the ancient region of Mesopotamia.
“The population of the submitting states has been associated with the date palm tree for centuries as it aided them in the construction of civilization,” they said in the nomination.
“Historical research and various antiquities excavations have resulted in the plant’s significant cultural and economic status in numerous regions such as Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and the Arab Gulf.”
The ancient crop also faces some modern challenges. Gulf countries have fought hard to eradicate the red palm weevil, which originally came from Asia and was first detected in the region in the 1980s.
The beetle, which is barely a few centimeters (around an inch) long, produces larvae that feed off palm trunks, killing the trees.
“In Gulf countries and the Middle East, $8 million is lost each year through removal of severely infested trees alone,” according to the FAO.
All parts of the date palm were and are still used in some parts of the region for shelter or to produce a range of products, including handicrafts, mats, rope and furniture.
To celebrate and promote their date palm heritage and palm products, some of the submitting countries hold annual date festivals, most notably the annual Liwa Date Festival in the UAE and the Dates Festival in Al-Qassim in Saudi Arabia.
Both Gulf countries are among the top date exporters, according to the Geneva-based International Trade Center.