US will not lift sanctions to negotiate with Iran

Donald Trump tweeted his reaction to an article published by Der Spiegel. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2020

US will not lift sanctions to negotiate with Iran

  • Zarif said Iran is still open to negotiations with US if sanctions are lifted
  • Exchange comes after Iran says it has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage it likes

DUBAI: The United States will not lift sanctions on Iran in order to negotiate, US President Donald Trump tweeted late on Saturday, seemingly in response to a Der Spiegel interview with Iran’s foreign minister.
“Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed. @FoxNews @OANN No Thanks!” Trump tweeted in English on Saturday and later in Farsi.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Sunday by tweeting an excerpt from the interview with Der Spiegel published on Friday, where he said Iran is still open to negotiations with America if sanctions are lifted.
“@realdonaldtrump is better advised to base his foreign policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his Farsi translators,” Zarif said in the tweet with the interview excerpt.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have reached the highest levels in decades after the US killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to fire missiles days later at bases in Iraq where US troops are stationed.
Tensions between the two have been increasing steadily since Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have driven down Iran’s oil exports and hammered its economy.
The deputy head of Iran's nuclear agency said in a report published on Saturday that Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage if Iranian authorities decide to do so.
"At the moment, if (Iranian authorities) make the decision, the Atomic Energy Organization, as the executor, will be able to enrich uranium at any percentage," Ali Asghar Zarean said.
Iran said earlier this month it would scrap limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but pledged to continue cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Since Iran took the latest step in reducing commitments to the accord, the country's stock of uranium produced has passed 1,200 kilograms and it will quickly be added to the stock of enriched uranium, Zarean said.
The United States says it aims to force Tehran to agree a broader deal that puts stricter limits on its nuclear work, curbs a ballistic missile program and ends regional proxy wars. Iran says it will not negotiate while sanctions remain in place.
Tehran has steadily been reducing its compliance with the deal, which prompted Britain, France and Germany to formally accuse it in mid-January of violating the terms and activating a dispute mechanism in the deal, which could eventually lead to the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that if Iran's nuclear file is sent to the U.N. Security Council, the country will withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the official IRNA news agency.
Iran denies any intent to acquire nuclear weapons and says its breaches of the deal would be reversed if Washington lifts sanctions.


Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

Updated 27 February 2020

Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

  • Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways
  • Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting

AMMAN: Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb, the first significant reverse for the Syrian army in a Russian-backed offensive that had made swift gains, the rebels said on Thursday.
Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways, following advances by the Syrian army in its bid to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front, said in a statement, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
With Russian backing, government forces aided by Iranian militias have gained ground in northwest Syria since December.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on Thursday that Russian-backed government forces had seized full control of southern Idlib province after fresh advances against the rebels.
Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in the southern Idlib area and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Observatory said.
The opposition advance on Saraqeb comes ahead of an end-February deadline set by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Turkey says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back.
Turkish and Russian officials were expected to hold a second day of talks in Ankara on Thursday on the conflict.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey to back the rebels and set up new outposts that rebels say was in preparation for a Turkish operation to push back Assad’s forces.
Ibrahim Al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with the rebel factions, said the seizure of the town eases pressure on rebels who in recent days lost a string of significant territory in southern Idlib province and Jabal al Zawiya highlands.
“The rebels this morning completed their control of Saraqeb after having advanced from several fronts. This eases the pressure after the Syrian army’s recent gains,” Idlibi said.
Saraqeb is at the juncture of two main roads linking the capital of Damascus and its second largest city of Aleppo and another highway west to the Mediterranean.
Taking back the M5 highway, which goes south to Damascus, from the insurgents had marked a big gain for Assad’s forces as they restored state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
Opening major highways in rebel hands to revive a shattered war economy has been a key goal of the Russian-led campaign.
“The opposition have now cut the highways and brought the regime to square one,” said Syrian opposition defector general Ahmad Rahhal.