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Taliban, Assad continue to unite Russia, Iran

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Tehran on April 13, where杭州夜生活论坛 he held talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. The Russian foreign minister was also received by the President Hassan Rouhani and parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

The key issue on the agenda of the meetings was the prospect of the return of Washington and Tehran to the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Russia’s position on the JCPOA presupposes, first of all, the separation of nuclear issues from other topics, such as Iranian expansion in the region or Tehran’s missile program. Otherwise, the possibility of reaching a compromise is greatly reduced. A number of US lawmakers have advocated including these issues in the deal before a US reentry. Moscow also advocates a “synchronized approach” whereby Washington and Tehran must synchronize their concess杭州夜生活论坛ions: The United States unfreezes Iranian assets and lifts sanctions, while Iran gradually returns to the terms of the deal.

“As you know, the path to preserving the deal lies solely through its consistent implementation by all parties involved in strict compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. We hope that the JCPOA will be preserved, and Washington will finally return to full implementation of this Security Council resolution. This, in turn, will create preconditions for compliance with all requirements of the nuclear deal with Iran,” Lavrov said at a press conference following the talks in Tehran.

Zarif said, “Iran has no problem returning to the JCPOA,” but added that this will only happen if the previously imposed restrictions are lifted by the United States. “The Americans will not be able to get concessions through the sanctions. They should stop even thinking about it,” said the top Iranian diplomat.

At the same time, Russian and Iranian diplomats agreed that the European Union’s plans to impose new sanctions against Iran constitute “sabotage” of the path to return to the JCPOA. On April 12, the EU extended sanctions imposed on Iran for human rights violations and also expanded the sanctions list, adding eight Iranian individuals and three companies. The Russia杭州夜生活论坛n minister called these actions unacceptable and expressed hope that the EU would not allow the breakdown of the Vienna talks with Iran.

The Russian initiative to ensure security in the Persian Gulf zone was also discussed in Tehran. Lavrov made it clear to the Iranian side that Russia and Iran could work together on this project instead of coming up with individual plans. In this context, Lavrov noted that the Russian initiative is in many ways similar to the Hormuz Peace Initiative proposed by Tehran.

The talks also touched upon the topic of Afghanistan, which is becoming more and more relevant given the US plans to withdraw its troops from the country by Sept. 11. Moscow and Tehran understand that in the event of a US withdrawal, they will most likely be forced to engage much deeper in the Afghan problem and prevent the conflict from escalating. At the same time, the positions of the Russian Federation and Iran on Afghanistan coincide in many respects. This applies, for example, to contacts with the Afghan Taliban movement. Moscow and Tehran would like to turn that movement into a legal actor in the Afghan settlement process and pursue their interests in this Central Asian country through the group.

Russia and Iran have been in contact with the Taliban for several years. At the same time, officials in Moscow and Tehran have repeatedly stated that their relationship with the Taliban does not include providing political or military support to this terrorist group. Yet the Americans accuse both Russia and Iran of supplying the Taliban with weapons. A New York Times investigation published last year outlined how Russia built the ch杭州夜生活论坛nnel to supply arms and military equipment to the Taliban. On the whole, one should expect further coordination of the efforts of Moscow and Tehran in the Afghan direction, including in terms of their interaction with the Taliban movement.

During Lavrov’s contacts with the Iranians, the Syrian issue also was a prominent topic of discussion.

On Syria, there is still mutual understanding between Iran and Russia and both states are ready to continue to support the regime in Damascus, as well as continue to work within the framework of the so-called Astana Troika. The latter refers to Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, who began talks in the Kazakh capital in 2017 aimed at making progress on a political solution to the war. Yet if we move away from official statements, the relationship between Moscow and Tehran on the Syrian track can be characterized as a division of spheres of influence and competencies. There are disputed regions where competition between Russia and Iran continues, for example in Deraa and Quneitra in the southwest. There, the Russian military is trying to prevent an excessive presence of pro-Iranian groups on the borders with Israel by preserving the forces of the so-called “reconciled opposition” (opposition groups that have reached reconciliation agreements with Damascus), including operating under the flag of the pro-Russian 5th Corps of the Syrian army.

In a similar way, the situation is developing in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which is increasingly becoming the target of attacks by Israeli jets due to the entrenched pro-Iranian formations in this region. Russia here is also trying to draw “red lines” in front of the Iranians, not allowing their control to expand to new areas while trying to work with local Arab tribes and the pro-Damascus National Defense Forces to this end. In particular, Russia is going to deploy a new military facility in Deir ez-Zo杭州夜生活论坛r to strengthen support for the 5th Corps and the National Defense Forces operating autonomously from Damascus and Iran, while at the same time trying to expand the composition of the National Defense Forces in Hasakah at the expense of local tribes.

Thus, Moscow likely understands the “toxicity” of the Iranian presence in Syria and adequately assess the threats that also come to Russian servicemen who may accidentally find themselves under American or Israeli strikes aimed at Iranian structures in the war-torn country. Nevertheless, Russia’s influence on Damascus is not enough to minimize Iran’s role in Syrian affairs. The Assad regime is a fairly independent player, which skillfully uses both Moscow and Tehran to preserve itself. But in general, and especially in terms of the economy, Iran’s positions in Syria are much stronger than Russia’s. Iran’s financial investments in the country are many times higher than Russian ones, and Tehran intends to at least partially compensate for them and therefore is trying to stake out the most profitable sectors of the Syrian economy, where access for Russian companies is difficult.

The topic of military-technical cooperation between Iran and Russia was not a priority at the current stage of the negotiations. At the same time, it should be noted that consultations on possible deliveries of Russian arms to Iran continue against the background of the lifting of arms sanctions on Tehran, and there are certain disagreements between the Russian Federation and Iran in this regard. For example, Iran would like to buy from Russia modern offensive weapons which are in acute shortage, such as Su-35 or Su-30 combat aircraft, or the latest types of air defense systems such as the S-400. At the same time, Russia is trying to avoid a negative reaction from Israel or the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and is ready to offer Iran only new batches of Tor, Buk or Pantsir anti-aircraft missile systems and armored vehicles.

Lavrov and his Iranian partners also touched on the topic of COVID-19. Here Russia and Iran have established effective cooperation: Tehran has already received more than 500,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

“We thank Russia for its help in providing Iran with vaccines. We hope that soon the production of Sputnik V will begin in the Islamic Republic,” Zarif said.

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Turkish-Russian ties marked more by rivalry than cooperation

The partnership of convenience — some call it a transactional partnership —杭州夜网论坛 between Turkey and Russia is gradually reverting to the traditional rivalry between the two countries over diverging regional interests.

The crisis in Ukraine, which comes on the heels of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, has resulted in mutual suspicions surfacing again.

Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in these conflicts. The same is true in Libya and Syria where they are also at odds over a number of issues.

They are not on the same page in the Eastern Mediterranean either, where Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are vying for energy exploration zones.

Prompted by EU and US involvement in this dispute, Moscow is also seeking to p杭州夜网论坛rotect its interest in the region.

This is a source of added discomfort for Ankara given the history of good ties between Russia and the Greek Cypriot half of the divided Island.

Put another way, the trajectory of current ties between Turkey and Russia is different from what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had initially hoped for.

He was keen on a wide-ranging relationship, from military cooperation to vast energy projects, in order to counterbalance the losses Turkey had been incurring from its worsening ties with the West.

Many believed the personal relationship Erdogan built with Russian President Vladimir Putin and their shared dislike of the West would help facilitate his vision.

Erdogan even asked Putin in 2016 to help Turkey join the Russian and Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in order to free his hand with the West.

In the meantime, great strides were made in establishing wide-ranging economic cooperation between Turkey and Russia.

Ankara’s purchase of the multibillion-dollar S-400 air defense system from R杭州夜网论坛ussia — a move that remains incompressible for many Turks — also took place in this positive atmosphere.

However, what Erdogan ultimately desired goes against the grain of history given that Turkey and Russia have been in a state of rivalry or conflict over the centuries.

Retired Ambassador Yusuf Buluc adopted a more pragmatic line.

“… Presidents Erdogan and Putin come from the same cloth. They are both keenly aware as to why they collaborate and how far they can be fellow travelers and what separates them,” he told Al-Monitor.

“Turkey and Russia relations are not necessarily governed by a well-defined and institutionally established policy; at least not at its Turkish end,” he added.

“They both explore opportunities and engage for gain. Is this not what is called transactional? Once you are in the market, you gain some, you lose some.”

Nevertheless, Erdogan believed that developing ties with Russia to the maximum degree possible would provide Ankara with leverage against the United States and Europe after Turkey’s ties with them took a nosedive.

What he ended up with, however, is a Russia that ultimately obstructed his plans in Syria and Libya. The limited gains Russia allowed Turkey, especially in Syria, in order to appease it do not alter this fact.

Many associate Erdogan’s current efforts to mend fences not just with the West but also with regional rivals such as Egypt with the collapse of his foreign policy, which relied to a significant degree on ties with Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set the record straight in October 2020 as differences surfaced between Ankara and Moscow over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“We have never considered Turkey our strategic ally,” Lavrov said at a meeting with Russian media representatives.

“It is a close partner; that partnership has strategic nature in many areas,” he added for diplomatic good measure. But the key point of his message was clear.

Turkey’s strong backing for Ukraine has ruffled more feathers in Moscow where there are already grumblings over the sale of Turkish-made military drones to Kyiv.

Hosting President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul on April 10, Erdogan promised “unconditional support” for Ukraine’s struggle to maintain its territorial integrity.

The joint statement issued after the talks stressed Turkey’s commitment to seeing Sevastopol, Donetsk and Luhansk freed from occupation.

The statement openly referred to “the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation” and expressed support for US-backed efforts by the “Crimean Platform” to resolve this problem.

Ankara also vowed to continue supporting Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

Following Zelensky’s Istanbul visit, Lavrov called on all countries — although he went on to name Turkey only — to weigh the situation well and refrain from feeding what he referred to as “militaristic sentiments” in Ukraine.

Coinciding with this was a decision by Moscow to restrict the number of flights to Turkey, ostensibly due to the upsurge in Turkish COVID-19 cases.

Hakan Aksay, Turkey’s leading expert on Russia, believes Moscow’s decision was a reaction to the results of the Erdogan-Zelensky talks in Istanbul, as well as Erdogan’s remarks regarding Crimea.

Turkish tour operators, who are relying heavily on tourism from Russia this summer, are recalling with concern the losses they incurred due to punitive sanctions by Moscow after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet in Syria in 2015.

Erdogan was forced to apologize to Putin over that incident before economic and political ties improved.

“The best course for Turkey is to remain neutral in this dispute,” Aksay told the T24 news portal, underlining the vital importance Russia attaches to its conflict with Ukraine.

Turkey, however, has made its position known, and it is not a neutral one.

Dimitar Bechev, director at the European Policy Institute in Sofia, believes Ankara is leveraging its links to Ukraine in order to engage the United States.

“Rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine offer Turkey an opportunity to reinvigorate its ties with [the United States] and the rest of NATO,” Bechev argued in an article for Al Jazeera.

Another headache for Erdogan in ties with Russia is likely to be his ambitious and equally controversial Canal Istanbul project.

Moscow is closely following this pet project of Erdogan’s, which, if realized, would establish an alternative waterway running parallel to the Bosporus straits and linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and beyond.

Putin reportedly brought up the matter during a phone conversation he held with Erdogan April 9.

The Kremlin’s statement after the talks referred to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage of ships, especially warships, to the Black Sea. Russia is a signatory of the convention.

“In relation to Turkey’s Canal Istanbul project, the Russian side stressed the importance of maintaining the current regime in the Black Sea straits in order to guarantee regional stability and security, in line with the 1936 Montreux Convention,” the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin’s statement appears to say that canal or no canal, the Montreux regime should apply to all passages into the Black Sea. This is at odds with Erdogan’s desire to have a national canal where passage is regulated exclusively by Turkey.

Moscow, in its turn, has also been ruffling feathers in Ankara over a number of issues of close concern to Turkey.

An example is the bombing missions Russian jets conduct in northern Syria against groups in Idlib province that are either supported by Turkey or have taken refuge in regions under Turkish military control.

Russia’s ambassador in Ankara, Alexei Yerkhov, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on March 22 to be informed of Turkey’s displeasure over these attacks, which Turkey says also targets hospitals and civilians.

In many ways, the relative benefits to Turkey from cooperating with Russia in Syria have reached their limits.

Russia also continues to have close ties with the People’s Protection Units in Syria, which is a source of annoyance for Ankara. Turkey says this group is a Kurdish terrorist organization that poses an existential threat to its security.

Ankara is wary of Moscow’s involvement in Libya too. Russia’s indirect support for the renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter ultimately stymied Turkey’s political and military efforts to see the internationally recognized Government of National Accord gain control over the whole country.

Ongoing joint economic and military projects provide an incentive to Ankara and Moscow to keep their rivalry in check for now. Nevertheless, it is unclear how long this can be maintained given heightened sensitivities over regional conflicts where they back opposite sides.

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Moscow looks to expand role in Mideast peace process Read more

On May 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed support for the Israel-Hamas cease-fire and 杭州夜网论坛called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet to prevent a relapse into conflict. These comments built on other Russian statements that called earlier for a cease-fire in Gaza and a pathway toward a lasting peace. On May 14, President Vladimir Putin claimed that the Israel-Gaza conflict threatened Russia’s security and on May 19, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned Israel that further civilian casualties in Gaza would be “unacceptable.” The head of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky also reiterated Russia’s willingness to host negotiations on a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

Russia’s response to the recent events in Gaza reflects its desire to expand its diplomatic role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On March 31, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov restated Mos杭州夜网论坛cow’s wish to host Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas both expressed a willingness to accept Russian mediation. During the conflict, Russia engaged in shuttle diplomacy with the warring parties and external stakeholders to facilitate a cease-fire. After the deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on May 12 that Hamas desired a cease-fire, Russia consulted with Egypt, Jordan, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on ending the conflict.

Russia’s power aspirations in the Middle East and diasporic links in Israel have shaped its mediation efforts. As the Syrian civil war winds down, Russia has tried to reinforce its standing as a great power in the MENA region through diplomatic assertiveness in other theaters such as Libya, the Persian Gulf and Israel-Palestine. Russian officials regard the Madrid Conference of 1991, which was co-sponsored by the Soviet Union and the United States to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, as a s杭州夜网论坛ignificant achievement for Russia in the region and aspire to build on its legacy. The Russian diaspora community in Israel is sharply polarized on whether Israel was upholding its legitimate right to self-defense or responding disproportionately to Hamas’ rocket attacks.

Within Russian analyst circles, there is growing optimism about US-Russia cooperation on advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Russia’s willingness to consider diplomacy with the United States that bypasses the UN is intriguing, as Moscow repeatedly emphasized the UN’s supreme authority as a conflict arbiter during the Gaza conflict. Kirill Semenov, a non-resident expert at Russian International Affairs Council, told Al-Monitor, “Russia, together with the United States, can play a role in the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Palestine.” Semenov does not believe that the poor state of US-Russia relations will impede cooperation on Israel and Palestine, as the two countries negotiated the boundaries of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria in 2017 even as bilateral relations remained very tense.

But even if US-Russia cooperation on Israel-Palestine gains traction, a Moscow-hoste杭州夜网论坛d peace conference between Israel and Palestine may produce few tangible results. Andrei Baklanov, who served as Russian ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2005, told Al-Monitor that he supported US-Russian cooperation on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict and Moscow’s efforts to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Nonetheless, he was skeptical that the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will last. Baklanov justified his pessimistic assessment by highlighting the authorization of $735 million in US arms sales to Israel even as the Gaza conflict was intensifying. When asked about Slutsky’s initiative of hosting talks between Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries that recognized Israel, Baklanov emphasized Moscow’s willingness to engage with regional powers but stated that Russia would not “invent a new international group to monitor the situation.”

Although Russia presents itself as an impartial stakeholder in the Israel-Palestine conflict

and justifies its diplomatic role by highlighting its geographic proximity to the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian officials view Russia’s diplomatic ambitions with skepticism. Micky Aharonson, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy, told Al-Monitor that Russia is trying to revive the Middle East Quartet because it wants admission to a prestigious international forum after b杭州夜网论坛eing expelled from others since 2014. Aharonson noted that Russia’s hosting of Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives is “perceived very badly in Israel as legitimizing terrorist organizations” and concluded, “If the Quartet comes back to life, Russia will be part of it, but otherwise I see only very symbolic involvement possible.”

Palestinian Ambassador to Russia Abdel Hafiz Nofal has publicly supported Moscow’s call for the resumption of the Middle East Quartet. Other Palestinian experts and officials are increasingly skeptical of the quartet’s ability to advance their cause. Amjad Iraqi, a policy analyst at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, told Al-Monitor that the Middle East Quartet’s pursuit of a two-state solution is rooted in 1990s-era thinking and does not reflect the realities on the ground. Iraqi contended that the quartet imposes strict conditions on Hamas but does not adequately pressure Israel and has become an institution that great powers use to show that they are taking collective action. Iraqi views the Arab Peace Initiative, which Russia also promotes, as equally dated and believes that its credibility was diluted by the Abraham Accords and the informal Arab-Israeli ties that preceded that step toward normalization.

As Russia faces an uphill struggle to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Moscow might ultimately pivot toward promoting intra-Palestinian dialogue. Russia hosted intra-Palestinian conferences of 12 major factions in 2011, 2017 and 2019, and in October 2020, a Hamas delegation traveled to Moscow to revitalize these talks. Regardless of the success or failure of its diplomatic gambits, Russia is a stakeholder to watch in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Russia reveals deployment of nuclear-capable bombers to Syria airbase

Russia has based nuclear-capable bomber aircraft on the Mediterranean for the 杭州夜网论坛first time, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said Tuesday.

Three Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bombers were sent to Russia’s Hmeimim Air Base in western Syria after improvements were made to runways at the site. The aircraft will participate in training exercises over the eastern Mediterranean before returning to Russia, the ministry said.

If confirmed, the deployment would demonstrate an extension of Russia’s aircraft-based nuclear strike range well into the Middle East and Mediterranean region. Moscow has flown Tu-22s in combat missions in Syria before, but they were not based in the country.

Video purporting to show a Tu-22M over Latakia with landing gear extended circu杭州夜网论坛lated on Twitter and Telegram Monday prior to the Defense Ministry’s statement.

A pair of what appears to be Tu-22M bombers were spotted over Syria’s Lattakia today. pic.twitter.com/WJ5HoF2fZu

— Within Syria (@WithinSyriaBlog) May 24, 2021
Hmeimim was constructed in 2015 as the Russian military’s central base of operations in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid the country’s civil war. The Kremlin retains the base as a main node of its long-term military presence in Syria alongside the naval base at Tartus.

The airbase has allowed Moscow to extend its reach into North Africa, where it intervened in Libya on behalf of rogue commander Khalifa Hifter in his 2019-2020 offensive against the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli.

Russia has flown thousands of Syrian mercenaries and its own Wagner paramilitary contractors into Libya via Hmeimim and shows little interest in removing its forces from the North African country despite requirements under the UN-backed cease-fire.

The vast majority of Russia’s senior military commanders have gained combat ex杭州夜网论坛perience in Syria and have incorporated that experience into training and exercises, President Vladimir Putin claimed in Sochi on Tuesday.

Moscow’s use of Syria to project its power on the Mediterranean has been closely watched by Western military strategists.

The head of US forces in Africa, Gen. Stephen Townsend, warned Congress last year that Russia’s introduction of fighter aircraft into Libya could foreshadow the arrival of Russian air defenses, a move that would likely hamper NATO’s access to its southern flank.

That concern helped spur Washington into leading a diplomatic push to de-escalate Libya’s spiraling proxy war last year.

Washington has continued to bolster military ties with Libya’s westerly neighbors amid Russia’s inroads into the region, moves the commander of US forces in the Middle East Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie has described as opportunist.

McKenzie has advocated additional weapons sales to US allies in the region as a way to 杭州夜网论坛dampen local governments’ interest in Russian military technology and reduce their dependence on US forces in the region, Al-Monitor has reported.

Last November, the US Army announced it was consolidating command of its forces in Europe and Africa into a single headquarters.

The move was aimed at shoring up NATO’s southern flank and came at the direction of US Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, who serves as NATO’s most senior commander and the head of all US forces in Europe.

Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft intercepted and flew alongside a US nuclear-capable B-52H bomber over the Baltic Sea last week in the latest of a running series of aerial encounters between the two adversaries.

The Kremlin confirmed on Tuesday that Putin would meet with President Joe Biden for a summit in Geneva on June 16.

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Will Syria come up in Biden-Putin summit?

n July 2018, when US President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimi杭州夜网论坛r Putin in Helsinki, Putin did most of the talking. Much of it was about Syria.

It was clear, Trump told his national security adviser John Bolton after an almost two-hour one-on-one session with his Russian counterpart wit杭州夜网论坛h only translators present, that Putin “wants out” of Syria, as Bolton recounts in his memoir, “The Room Where it Happened.”

When Biden meets Putin in Geneva on June 15, Syria again is likely to be on the agenda, if perhaps not to the extent of the Trump-Putin meeting. It will get slotted in among issues such as cyberattacks on US infrastructure, human rights, the Russian military buildup in Ukraine, US sanctions on Russia and even the fate of talks over an Iran nuclear deal.

But if Biden does raise Syria with Putin, he will likely start with seeking the reauthorization of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, on the Turkish-Syrian border, currently the only access point for UN-supervised international aid and assistance.

The UN Security Council mandate for the crossing expires July 10, and Russia, which abstained on the vote on the crossing last year, may want something in return for allowing the passage to be reauthorized. Already, the United States is ramping up for a Security Council showdown, making clear that 杭州夜网论坛ab al-Hawa is a US priority.

A State Department readout of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s May 19 meeting in Iceland with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Blinken “underscored the imperative of ensuring humanitarian access for the people of Syria.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, on June 3 announced $240 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Syria, during a visit to the crossing.

Thomas-Greenfield’s visit comes less than three weeks after the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, Joey Hood, led a US delegation into northeast Syria. A State Department readout said Hood stressed the US commitment to cooperation and coordination in the coalition to defeat the Islamic State, support for efforts seeking a political resolution to the Syrian conflict and resolve “to ensure the reauthorization of cross-border assistance into Syria.”

Russia: “We can’t support this hypocritical position”

Russia’s position has been that all aid and assistance should flow through t杭州夜网论坛he Syrian government, not areas controlled by opposition forces, and that the West needs to do more to address the role of terrorists in Idlib province in northwest Syria.

Idlib is the last territorial holdout against the Syrian government. The province is mostly controlled by al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (or “Levant Liberation Committee”), which the United States, Russia and the Security Council have designated a terrorist group.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is feeling the heat, anxious about a potential Russian-backed Syrian assault, while dealing with dissident radical armed groups and growing frustration by people tired of living under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s brutal and arbitrary Islamic law. Sultan al-Kanj reports from Idlib that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has launched a massive arrest campaign against Assad supporters, but it’s clearly more than that.

At a Security Council briefing on Syria on May 26, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative, Dmitry Polyanskiy, laid out Moscow’s concerns: “The West makes it clear that they are not going to take any steps to spell trouble on terrorists rooted in Idlib. They picture the CBM [cross-border mechanism, or border crossing] as the only possible solution to Idlib’s humanitarian problems. We can’t support this hypocritical position. Of course, we will have to take this into account when making a decision regarding the renewal of the CBM.”

Moscow further claims that the reelection of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conveys the increasing stability and legitimacy of the Syrian government. The United States called the elections a “sham.” UN Syria Envoy Geir Pedersen, briefing the Security Council on May 26, said that “the UN is not involved in this election.”

Meanwhile, as Mohammad Harda杭州夜网论坛n reports, Russia is building an expansion of Syria’s Khmeimim air base in Latakia as part of its plans to strengthen its position in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

Russia also regularly stresses the need for the 5.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.7 million internally displaced Syrians to return to their homes, a process that is deeply complicated and risky given the dire political, security and economic conditions in Syria.

Khaled al-Khateb reports from Syria that “hundreds of displaced Syrians have returned to their villages in the Lajal region of Daraa province, under the auspices of the Russian forces that mediated with the Syrian government for the return of the displaced to their areas of control.”

Erdogan also has his issues with US Syria policy

Syria is a multifaceted problem. The Biden administration remains committed to its partnership with the primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose political arm controls parts of northeast Syria to combat the Islamic State.

Neighboring Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, consider the Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with the SDF as inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group, and more of a security threat than even the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

Russia, meantime, rejects the US-backed semi-autonomous region as undermining Syrian sovereignty. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said May 26, “The Pentagon’s attempts to illegally gain a foothold in Syria under the pretext of fighting terrorism will not help stabilize the region. The Americans are pursuing entirely different goals there, including those linked with hydrocarbon deposits to the north of the Euphrates.”

Amberin Zaman broke the story that the Biden administration would not renew a waiver given last year to a US company, Delta Crescent Energy, to produce and sell oil in the Syrian Kurdish region.

Turkey’s differences with its NATO ally the United States play into Ankara’s anxiety about the Kurds, a minority population across the region. The Delta Crescent Energy deal “deepened Turkish paranoia that … the United State may be midwifing a Kurdish state that would seek to incorporate large chunks of Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast,” Zaman writes. “Those suspicions have been amplified by the fact that the SDF and the Syrian Democratic Council are led by individuals who were formerly part of the PKK militia that is fighting Turkey.”

When Biden meets with Erdogan in Brussels on June 14, on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Erdogan, for one, will have Syria at the top of his agenda.

In a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Ankara on May 29, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin conveyed Turkey’s “expectations about PYD [the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, linked with the SDF] and FETO” (the Gulen group Erdogan has accused of an attempted coup in 2016, and whose leader, Fethullah Gulen, resides in the United States) in a preparatory discussion for the Biden-Turkey meeting.

Metin Gurcan has the analysis here on the stakes of the summit for Erdogan, who, Gurcan writes, “is bracing for a make-or-break meeting,” adding that “Erdogan remains squeezed between an imposing need for a thaw in his fraught ties with Washington and the task of selling it to his fold at home, where anti-American sentiment is running high, not least because he has often fueled it himself.”

Syria’s “tragic irony”

“It is a tragic irony that this time of relative calm, compared with earlier years of the conflict, is also a period of immense and growing humanitarian suffering of the Syrian people,” Pedersen told the Security Council last month.

With the political process stymied, and the humanitarian and health situation “dire,” and even a possible bread shortage, as Khaled al-Khateb reports from Aleppo, “There are great dangers in not seizing the opportunity that the current period affords us,” Pedersen said. “Syria needs serious attention so that we can build on this dynamic.”

He had said in January, “We can’t continue like this.” He might not have said it again this time, but he could have.

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US cranks up diplomacy with Russia to keep Syria’s last humanitarian aid corridor open

The fate of the last cross-border humanitarian corridor through which life-saving 杭州夜网论坛aid to millions of Syrians is delivered hangs in the balance once again, with Russia threatening to wield its veto power at the UN Security Council to block it.

The United States has launched an all-out diplomatic effort to dissuade Russia from such action, emphasizing the likely horrific consequences if it were to go through with its threat.

Some 3 million Syrians displaced by the country’s decadelong conflict, sheltering in dire conditions in the northwest province of Idlib on the Turkish border, would be directly affected.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who toured t杭州夜网论坛he Turkish-Syrian border last week, told reporters, “This is their lifeline. Over the last year and a half, some members of the Security Council succeeded in shamefully closing two other crossings into Syria.” The envoy was referring to humanitarian corridors through Iraq that supplied the Kurdish-administered northeast of the country and Jordan. Both were shut down because of Russia’s and China’s objections, part of Moscow’s ongoing drive to force the international community to channel aid via Damascus and bolster the legitimacy of the Assad regime. Another, via Turkey Bab al-Salam, was also shut down in June 2020 due to Russia.

Aid that does go via Damascus is weaponized against its opponents; that is, denied to areas that rebelled against the regime then seized back by it with the help of Russia and Iran.

“Moscow is intent to end all cross-border assistance, ostensibly to restore Damascus’ sovereignty over every inch of Syria but also to put pressure on Ankara to revisit their posture to Damascus,” said Dareen Khalifa, Syria researcher for the Internatio杭州夜网论坛nal Crisis Group, a conflict resolution outfit. Although Turkey has since 2015 abandoned its campaign to overthrow the Assad regime, providing arms and haven to Sunni rebels, it refuses to formally engage — for now — with Damascus.

“Bab al-Hawa is literally all that is left. … If it is closed, it will cause senseless cruelty,” Thomas-Greenfield said of the border crossing, through which around 1,000 UN trucks deliver food, medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to Idlib every month, covering some 85% of 4 million people in need of assistance. The looming disaster is amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and comes amid warnings from the World Food Program of an unprecedented hunger crisis in the country.

Idlib remains largely under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadi group formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda that is currently seeking to rebrand itself as a moderate Islamist good faith actor with a purely Syrian focus, but Washington is not buying it.

The Security Council’s mandate for UN aid via Bab al-Hawa expires July 10. Without a resolution, “UN agencies do not possess the legal framework they deem necessary to provide cross-border hum杭州夜网论坛anitarian aid to affected populations. A UN withdrawal not only would put an end to UN-implemented programming but would also result in the loss of the entire UN set up there,” warned the Atlantic Council in a recent policy brief.

So how likely is Russia to pull the trigger? Amid all of the emotional appeals, quite a bit of horse-trading is going on behind the scenes, according to sources familiar with the diplomatic traffic between Washington, Ankara and Moscow. Moscow will continue to leverage its veto power over the border crossings in order to incrementally increase Assad’s control over the country; that is the calculation, analysts say.

Aaron Stein, research director for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Philadelphia, said, “The United States and Russia are circling each other, and I do think there is an understanding … for more compromise.” Stein continued in emailed comments to Al-Monitor, “Russia won’t veto, in exchange for more aid being sent to Syria, which would necessarily mean more sent via Damascus and Turkey.”

“The Turks need the United States here to counterbalance the Russians because they can’t actually go it alone without the UN infrastructure needed to deliver cross-border assistance. And without that assistance, the burden of caring for the Syrians under Turkish control grows,” he added.

Syria is expected to figure prominently during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first face-to-face meeting with Joe Biden on the sidelines of the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels July 4. Relations between the NATO allies remain tense notably because of Turkey’s acquisition of S-400 Russian missiles deemed by Washington to be a menace to Western security. For that reason, Turkey was excluded from a consortium to produce state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets and placed under Countering America’s Adversaries Sanctions.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar declared in an interview Monday with the pro-government daily Hurriyet that “our biggest problem with the United States is not the F-35s or the S-400s … it is the PKK/YPG terror organization.” Akar was alluding to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian franchise, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The latter is the US-led coalition’s principal partner in the ongoing campaign to eradicate remnants of the Islamic State in Syria.

Turkey wants Washington to ax the partnership on the grounds that the YPG poses as much of a threat to its security as does the PKK, which has been waging an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. Akar’s comments place the blame for the meltdown of US-Turkish ties on Washington, whose alliance with the YPG preceded Turkey’s moves to purchase the S-400s in 2017.

Syria and the border crossing issue will likely also feature on the agenda when Biden meets his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva June 16. “The wildcard is if a compromise can be reached, we could see a return to functional back-channel talks between the United States and Russia and how that could lead to discussions about shared concerns such as the jihadist problems in Idlib,” Stein noted.

“It gets very muddy over shared definitions, but I can see the Russians asking the Americans to take a harder look at counterterrorism concerns in Idlib. But the broader thing is that all this is nestled within a Biden approach to cool things down with the Russians and to see if we can’t step back and ease tensions a bit, which is where this does link to the Geneva bilateral [talks],” he added.

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Russia looks for way back into Yemen

The Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi hosted talks May 26 between Russian Foreign杭州夜网论坛 Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Yemeni counterpart, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, who was in Russia on a work visit.

The main topic of the agenda of the talks was the military, political and humanitarian situation in Yemen, where for over six years the armed confrontation between the Houthis and the army of the official Yemeni authorities — headed by Presiden has continued. The Houthis, also know as the Ansar Allah movement, are sup杭州夜网论坛ported by Iran, while Hadi’s forces have been receiving military assistance from Saudi Arabia and a number of other Arab states.

Russia believes that the long-term stability of Yemen requires a complete cessation of hostilities and a negotiated solution to the existing problems. During the Sochi talks, Moscow emphasized the need to launch a broad national dialogue whereby the approaches and concerns of all the leading political forces in Yemen will be taken into account.

It is significant that the topic of resolving the Yemeni conflict prevailed at the Russian-Yemeni talks over issues of bilateral relations. And this indicates Moscow is likely making some tentative steps for a deeper engagement in the Yemen war.

Unlike the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, the topic of a Yemeni settlement has always remained in the shadow of Russia’s Middle East policy. At the same time, Moscow continued to maintain contacts with all parties at war in Yemen and demonstrated its readiness to become more actively involved in the peacekeeping process in this country.

But what’s behind the timing of this push? New factors have emerged that increase杭州夜网论坛d the Kremlin’s interest in Yemeni affairs. The Syrian crisis has reached a dead end, and although the Russian side has solved most of the tasks set for itself in Syria, it is becoming increasingly difficult to extract international dividends from participation in this conflict. This also applies to Libya, where after the cease-fire and the formation of a new Government of National Unity, Moscow’s positions have weakened somewhat. The participants in the Libyan conflict — both external and internal — now have a reduced interest in attracting Russia as an allied force. Against this background, Moscow needs to continue to emphasize its importance in Middle East affairs, showing that it has not yet said its last word and is ready to offer its services not only as a mediator, but also as a participant in settling other Middle East crises.

Throughout the Yemen conflict, Russia has tried to remain equidistant from its participants. Moscow was interested in developing relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in conne杭州夜网论坛ction with which Russia distanced itself from open support for Iran, which provided assistance to Ansar Allah. 

Despite the allied relations between Iran and the Russian Federation on the Syrian track, no such alignment of positions was observed during the Yemeni conflict. Moscow at a certain stage was more sympathetic to the opponents of the anti-Houthi coalition — led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE — but ex-president of Yemen and head of the General People’s Congress party Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was an ally of the Houthis, was considered Moscow’s “favorite.” The Russian side believed that the peace process could be launched around this figure.

However, after a conflict broke out between Saleh and the Houthis, and Saleh himself was killed by the Houthis in December 2017, Moscow began to distance itself from the latter. In particular, at that time the Russian Embassy in Sanaa was closed. (Russia maintained contact with both parties to the conflict through its mission in Riyadh, where the Russian ambassador to Yemen was located, and in Sanaa, where the charge d’affaires was located.) In addition, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, after the assassination of Saleh, said that theere “radicalized.” Nevertheless, the Russian side still maintains relations with the Houthis and is ready to host meetings with the group in Russia if the need arises.

In turn, in talks with his Yemeni counterpart, Lavrov raised the topic of the humanitarian catastrophe in the country caused by the external isolation of those regions of Yemen held by the Houthis. The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry noted the need to lift the sea, land and air blockade of the territory of Yemen, as well as to take other urgent practical steps to provide assistance to the civilian population, regardless of who controls certain areas of the country. He emphasized that Russia will continue to assist in every possible way in a comprehensive solution to the numerous problems that Yemen is facing today and the consequences of which are to a large extent felt by the neighboring states.

At the talks between Lavrov and Mubarak, they also discussed foreign military bases in Yemen. The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Yemen, in an interview with RIA Novosti, denied information about the existence of any agreements with the internationally recognized government of Yemen on the establishment of permanent foreign military bases on the territory of the country, in particular, the base of the Emirati air force.

“Such agreements must be approved by the Yemeni parliament. These are questions of the country’s sovereignty. We adhere to one main principle: all Yemeni land, water and sky are its main values, neither side can refuse this. Therefore there is no agreement signed with someone regarding the creation of a military base on the territory of Yemen,” the foreign minister said. He also called reports of alleged Israeli military installations located on Socotra Island “fictional.”

Such statements were important primarily because Russia may continue to show interest in establishing its own military bases in Yemen. Earlier, in 2016 prior to his death, ex-president Saleh indicated to Moscow that he was ready to support the Russian military presence in the country. Given the fact that the situation around the Russian base in Port Sudan has not been fully clarified and the final decision on the Sudanese side has not been announced, Moscow may have in mind Yemen as an alternative location for its naval base in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Therefore, it is likely that the Yemeni representatives made it clear that the presence of Emirati troops and military facilities in Yemen is a temporary phenomenon, and if an appropriate decision is made, Russian troops may appear at these bases instead of the Emirati military.

During the Soviet era, the possibility of creating a naval base on the island of Socotra, where the Soviet navy conducted military exercises with the participation of the marines, was considered. However, the base was never created since there was already a fully equipped permanent base of the Soviet fleet on the Dahlak archipelago, in Ethiopia (now Eritrea), nearby. In 2009, it was again announced that Moscow intended to create a naval base on Socotra, but the events of the Arab Spring thwarted these plans.

Russia would also like to restore military-technical cooperation with Yemen, which was interrupted by the civil war in that country. In 2010, Yemen announced its readiness to purchase military equipment from Russia for a total of more than $1 billion, including up to 30 MiG-29 SMT fighters, Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters, and military transport helicopters of the Mi type -17, T-72M1 tanks, Kornet-E anti-tank systems, Smerch multiple launch rocket systems and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. 

In 2013-14, after the revolution in the country, plans for such purchases were confirmed by the new Yemeni leadership. By that time, Rosoboronexport, the sole state-owned agency for exporting military equipment, expected to complete the order by the end of 2021. However, due to the arms embargo in effect since 2015, these contracts were frozen.

Russia has maintained a trusting relationship with the Houthis, while at the same time preserving a high level of contact with both the internationally recognized government of Yemen (under Hadi) and with the Southern Transitional Council, whose representatives also visited Moscow. They could use these platforms for organizing contacts between various parties to the conflict and their individual representatives. In addition, in resolving the Yemeni crisis, the interests of Russia and the United States may coincide, and both states are able to act in the same direction for an early settlement of the Yemeni crisis and overcoming the humanitarian catastrophe in this country.

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Iran to acquire Russian high-resolution recon satellite

Russia has plans to provide Iran杭州夜网论坛 with a civilian-grade satellite system that would significantly improve the Iranian military’s ability to surveil potential targets around the world.

The Kanopus-V satellite will include a camera capable of a resolution of 1.2 meters, which could allow Iran to closely monitor military bases and oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Israel, at a time when Iranian proxies continue to target or threaten such sites. The resolution is much better than what Iran currently has, but lower than that of US satellites.

The proposed transfer was reported by The Washington Post, citing a current US official and a former US official as well as a Middle Eastern go杭州夜网论坛vernment official briefed on the subject.

Iran’s new satellite could be launched from Russia, possibly within a few months, according to the Post. Iran last year put a military satellite into orbit successfully for the first time.

US officials said the satellite launched last year raised concerns about Iran’s ba杭州夜网论坛llistic missile capabilities, but US Space Force commander Gen. John Raymond dismissed it in a tweet as “a tumbling webcam in space; unlikely providing intel.”

Russia and Iran have expressed interest in partnering on space programs for years. That the expiration of the UN’s arms embargo on Iran last year could bring the two closer in defense ties has also raised some concern among US officials, though the Kanopus-V would not likely violate the embargo.

It is not yet clear which Russian firms will help Iran launch, operate and maintain the satellite. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials have made multiple trips to Russia since 2018 over the agreement, the Post reported.

Russian specialists have also traveled to Iran in recent months, likely to assist Iranian personnel who would operate the satellite from a n杭州夜网论坛ew facility near the city of Karaj in Iran’s south, the paper said.

The report comes as the United States is engaged in indirect negotiations with Iran over a mutual return to the 2015 agreement that placed strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program. President Joe Biden is also scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next week.

Top Israeli officials have warned against a return to the Iran nuclear deal, saying it could embolden Iran, which has supplied weapons technology to proxy militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Those militias have launched hundreds of attacks against Saudi Arabia as part of Yemen’s civil war and against Western coalition forces stationed in Iraq.

The Kanopus-V could give Iran detailed imagery of sites that some officials worry could be passed on to proxy fighters.

The Biden administration is leading a diplomatic push to end Yemen’s civil war and is in intermittent talks with Baghdad about removing at least some of the last remaining US troops from Iraq country, according to Iraq’s government.

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Blinken: Iran’s nuclear ‘breakout time’ a matter of weeks if violations continue

Iran’s so-called breakout time 杭州夜网论坛could drop to “a matter of weeks” if the country continues to violate its terms of the landmark nuclear deal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Blinken said it remains to be seen whether the Iranians are “willing and prepared” to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPOCA).

The JCPOA set curbs on the purity and amount of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile. The world powers that signed the deal estimated it would take Iran at least a year to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium to develop a nuclear weapon in the event that it reneged on the agreement. Since former Presiden杭州夜网论坛t Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed harsh economic sanctions, Iran has steadily violated its obligations under the deal.

The original signatories to the deal have been meeting in Vienna to reach an agreement on a revived nuclear deal, but Tehran and Washington are at odds over which of them will make the first move. In the meantime, Iran’s program is “galloping forward,” Blinken said, referencing Iran’s increased uranium enrichment and recent use of advanced centrifuges.

In April, Tehran announced it was enriching uranium to 60% purity, bringing it closer to the 90% needed for a weapon. Blinken on Monday said Iran’s estimated breakout time — the time it would take to amass the amount of fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon — is reportedly down to a few months, based on public reports.

“If this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks — exactly what we’ve sought t杭州夜网论坛 avoid and what the agreement stopped,” the top US diplomat said. “So we have a real incentive, if we can, to at least put that back in the box.”

Iran says it does not intend to build an atomic bomb and insists its nuclear program is used for peaceful purposes only.

Blinken’s comments came as negotiators gear up for the sixth round of nuclear talks in V杭州夜网论坛na, which are set to begin on Thursday. Separate of those talks, the United States is trying to secure the release of at least four Iranian-Americans who are unjustly held in Iran.

The secretary said the United States is determined to bring home those US citizens, as well as provide closure to the family of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who is believed to have died in Iranian regime custody.

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Blinken says Iranian compliance on nuclear deal ‘a first step, not a last step’

US Secretary of State Antony 杭州夜网论坛Blinken defended the Biden administration’s Iran nuclear deal strategy before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden’s administration is in the process of negotiating a US return to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement removed sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic scaling back its nuclear program, which it insists is for peaceful purposes. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

The committee chairman, Ne杭州夜网论坛w Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, started off his questioning at the hearing by asking Blinken if it is true that Iran continued to develop ballistic missiles, “destabilize the region” and be the “single most significant sponsor of terrorism in the world” after the first Iran deal.

“I think it is fair to say that,” said Blinken, though the diplomat added that Iran’s activities in those areas “have only gotten worse” since Trump left the deal.

The United States has been participating in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna this year on the JCPOA. Biden has said that Iran must return to compliance with the deal’s stipulations before the US will reenter the deal and remove sanctions. Iran is currently not abiding by the deal and is enriching uranium, which is required for nuclear energy, at a level of at least 60%. The JCPOA says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67%.

Menendez took issue with the Biden administration’s focus on compliance, saying Iran never sought to curb its support for proxy groups in the Middle East or ballistic missile development as part of past ne杭州夜网论坛gotiations. He also questioned Blinken’s pledge to hash out a “longer and stronger” Iran nuclear deal.

“What’s going to make us believe that a return to compliance for compliance is going to produce anything stronger than what we had?” Menendez asked.

“Compliance for compliance, if we get there … has to be a first step, not a last step,” said Blinken, indicating he does not see the administration’s strategy ending with an Iranian return to compliance. He later said, “We would seek to build on it.”

Menendez himself is a proponent of a broader, more comprehensive new Iran deal that would also cover Iran’s support for regional allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, plus its missile program.

Returning Iran to compliance is a worthy goal on its own for limiting Iran’s regional ambitions, Blinken said.

“Iran’s nuclear program is galloping forward,” he said, adding that Iran is “months” away from being able to produce nuclear energy. 杭州夜网论坛“An Iran with a nuclear weapon … is an Iran that’s going to be an even worse actor.”

Blinken did not specify what he meant by a “stronger” Iran deal when asked by Menendez, saying there are “areas where we can get even stronger commitments from Iran.”

On how to convince Iran to change some of its non-nuclear policies, Blinken said later on in the hearing that some sanctions would remain on Iran following a return to the JCPOA “until Iran’s behavior changes.”

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, laid into the administration’s Iran policy, calling administration officials “totally unresponsive” to his objections.

“These are not consultations,” said Risch, referring to the president’s obligation to consult the Senate on International treaties per the Constitution.

Much of the hearing focused on the State Department’s 2022 budget request, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, China, international vaccine distribution and Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Later in the hearing, Blinken said the Biden administration is encouraging other Arab states to normalize with Israel.

On the Iranian side, President Hassan Rouhani said June 2 that issues with the United States have been “resolved” in Vienna, though he said a deal may not come until after Iran’s June 18 presidential election. Rouhani’s successor is to be inaugurated in August.