Gulf Warns EU: Our Foreign Trade is Shifting to Asia

Riyadh – A prominent Gulf official warned the European Union (EU) that Europe’s share of Gulf continues’ foreign trade is declining, decreasing from 24 percent in 1992 to 11 percent last year — the Gulf foreign trade is shifting to Asia.

For 20 years, Gulf countries have been carrying out talks with the EU to sign a free-trade agreement between the two parties. But Europeans insist to include political topics in the negotiations’ program, which is rejected by the Gulf.

The GCC lately suspended trade negotiations with economic countries and blocs for the sake of re-evaluating the outcomes of these talks.

GCC’s Director of the Economic Administration at the General Secretariat Abdul Aziz al-Oaishek affirmed that the EU is still the first commercial partner for GCC with trade exchange worth more than USD183 billion.

Oaishek warned, however, that the share of EU from the Gulf foreign trade continues to decline.

“It declined from 24 percent in 1992 to 11 percent last year,” he said, adding that the majority of GCC states’ trade moved toward Asia.

Oaishek made his statement following the conclusion of the conference on “trade and economic relations between the EU and the GCC countries” in Brussels on Wednesday.

The conference was organized by European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade to discuss necessary mechanisms to increase trade and investment cooperation between the EU and GCC.

Oaishek expressed the GCC keenness to reinforce economic and commercial ties with the EU and he showcased the national transformation plans in the GCC – these plans seek to speed economic diversification and increase citizens’ and private sector contribution to the economy.

Chairperson of EPDAP Michele Alliot-Marie pointed out the need to achieve genuine partnerships between the European and Gulf in industrial development.

Khamenei: We Will Shred ‘Nuclear Deal’ if Trump Tears it Apart

London – Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would commit to its 2015 nuclear deal with international powers as long as the US Congress did not impose sanctions against his country.

However, he threatened to “shred” the agreement if the United States pulled out, state TV reported.

Khamenei’s remarks came five days after US President Donald Trump decertified the Iranian nuclear deal, asking the Congress to address the “many serious flaws” in the international agreement.

“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws,” Trump warned.

“In the event, we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

In his first response to Trump, Khamenei said: “I don’t want to waste our time to respond to the rants and whoppers of the foul-throated president of the United States.”

“If the US tears up the deal, we will shred it… Everyone should know that once again America will receive a slap in its mouth and will be defeated by Iranians,” the Iranian leader added.

Although Khamenei expressed his relief with the position of the European Union countries in support of the nuclear agreement, he said that it not enough to tell Trump not to tear up the agreement.

“European states stressed their backing for the deal and condemned Trump … We welcomed this, but it is not enough to ask Trump not to rip up the agreement. Europe needs to stand against practical measures (taken) by America,” he stated.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

In a joint statement, Paris, London, and Berlin have also expressed concern about the “repercussions on the security of the United States and its allies” that would result from the actions demanded by Trump.

In decertifying the nuclear deal last week, Trump gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to impose economic sanctions on Tehran, which were lifted under the 2015 agreement.

During their meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers also discussed the need to dismantle Iran’s missile program.

“They must avoid interfering in our defense program … We do not accept that Europe sings along with America’s bullying and its unreasonable demands,” Khamenei said, as reported by Reuters.

“They (Europeans) ask why does Iran have missiles? Why do you have missiles yourselves? Why do you have nuclear weapons?” He asked.

Trump’s Strategy Includes Restricting Iran’s Support for ‘Hezbollah,’ Hamas

Trump

Riyadh, London – US President Donald Trump’s strategy to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region includes curbing its support for terrorist organizations and militants in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a US official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the US State Department said that the strategy included four key elements or objectives.

He pointed out that the first strategic goal is “to neutralize the destabilizing activities by Iran, especially its support for terrorism and insurgents, with a focus on its activities in the Middle East in particular and also in Afghanistan.”

Earlier this week, Trump announced the possibility of terminating the Iranian nuclear deal once and for all, because he was “tired of achieving benefits at [his] country’s expenses”. The European Union, for its part, called on the US Congress to maintain the agreement.

Trump’s new strategy – according to the US official – includes putting an end to Iran’s subversive activities in Syria and its support for terrorism through groups such as “Hezbollah”, Hamas, the Taliban and Iraqi Shi’ite factions, noting that Tehran was seeking to fuel ethnic and sectarian strife in Iraq.

The US president said on Monday that a total termination of the Iran nuclear deal was a very real possibility.

“It might be a total termination. That’s a very real possibility,” Trump said before a Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday welcomed European support for the nuclear deal between his country and international powers.

Rouhani said in a statement on the Iranian presidency website that the consensus on the support for the agreement, especially by the Europeans, “is an important political achievement for Iran,” according to the German news agency.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

Aoun Pushes for a Plan that Guarantees Return of Syrian Refugees

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with the ambassadors of the five permanent members to the UN Security Council, and representatives of the European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League, October 16, 2017

Beirut- Lebanese President Michel Aoun met on Monday with the ambassadors of the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members, in presence of the UN, EU and Arab League ambassadors, to discuss Lebanon’s stance on the file of Syrian refugees.

Aoun sounded the alarm on the grave repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis on the political, economic, and security levels, warning that this could affect the Lebanese workforce as the employment rate was on the rise.

The Lebanese president also urged the P5 Ambassadors to swiftly handle the refugee crisis, calling on international organizations that assist refugees “not to intimidate,” those who wish to return to Syria “for as long as their return is voluntary.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil also attended the meeting.

“Lebanon’s security is as important as the Syrian refugees’ security,” Aoun stated, stressing that the country “seeks the safe return of those who have fled because of the Syrian conflict.”

Aoun handed the ambassadors letters to the Presidents of their respective countries, to the United Nations Secretary-General, and to the head of the European Union.

“Providing appropriate conditions for the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country is a must, especially to the stable areas that can be reached, or areas of low tension,” Aoun said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s advisor for the issue of the displaced, Nadim al-Munla, said that Aoun’s proposal to the Security Council’s ambassadors was likely based on the plan already submitted by Bassil to the government, stressing that the return of refugees has become a priority for the Lebanese prime minister.

Munla noted that when Hariri returns from his official visit to Rome, he would call for a meeting of the relevant ministerial committee to discuss the return of refugees in light of the plans submitted by each of Bassil and Ministers Nohad al-Mashnouk and Moeen al-Merhebi.

EU Calls on US Congress to Preserve Iran Nuclear Deal

EU foreign policy chief Mogherini addresses a news conference during a EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels

London- European Union foreign ministers, following a closed-door meeting on Monday, appealed to the United States Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option, stressing EU’s commitment to maintaining the agreement on the Iranian program after US President Donald Trump on Friday decided not to certify it.

Also on Monday, Britain and France said they were firmly committed to the 2005 nuclear deal with Iran and would work to ensure its implementation.

The British premier’s office said in a statement that during a telephone discussion, “the leaders expressed their firm commitment to a nuclear deal with Iran.”

“Prime Minister May and President Macron agreed to continue close cooperation to ensure proper compliance with the deal and to prevent Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including its ballistic missile program,” the statement added.

The announcement follows a telephone call between May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who both underlined the need to maintain the Iranian nuclear deal.

EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini chaired the closed-door talks on Monday which discussed how the EU countries would deal with Trump’s threats to the nuclear agreement. The ministers are also scheduled to review the means to tackle Iran’s missile program and its regional role.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

“Clearly EU ministers are concerned that messages on JCPOA [Iran’s nuclear deal] might affect negatively opening negotiations or even the space [for] opening negotiations with DPRK,” Mogerhini said, using the abbreviation for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “One of the key elements of multilateralism is the predictability of maintaining agreements.”

In a joint statement, Paris, London and Berlin expressed concern about the “repercussions on the security of the United States and its allies” that would result from the actions demanded by Trump.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the EU needed to put real pressure on the US Congress.

“We hope that Congress will not call this agreement into question because … non-proliferation [of nuclear weapons] is a major element of global security,” he said.

German Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that threats from the US president to pull out from the Iran nuclear accord could provoke military confrontation.

“As Europeans together, we are very worried that the decision of the US President could lead us back into military confrontation with Iran,” Gabriel told reporters ahead of the meeting with his European counterparts.

Hungry, Ukraine Foreign Ministers Clash over Kiev Banning Teaching Minority Languages

Foreign ministers of both Hungary and Ukraine had a political spat Kiev’s new law banning teaching in minority languages.

The language issue has driven relations between Ukraine and Hungary to their lowest point since Kiev won independence with the Soviet Union’s 1991 break-up, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said.

Hungary had said on Tuesday it would ask the EU to review its ties with Ukraine over Kiev’s decision to stop secondary school instruction in ethnic minority tongues including Hungarian.

According to Reuters Budapest threatened to retaliate by blocking Ukraine’s aspirations to integration in the European Union.

The move triggered protests in neighbouring Russia and Hungary – a region where nationalism is historically deep-seated and language and ethnic identity have been highly sensitive subjects prone to escalating into conflict.

At a joint news conference with Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin following talks, Szijjarto said Budapest was also worried about two other bills about citizenship and language now in the Kiev parliament.

“We see the situation in a totally different light. This can lead to a suffocation of minority language public discourse, which should be avoided,” he said.

“We would like for the citizenship law not to curb (local) Hungarians’ rights further. If they ask us to fight, that’s what we will do. We will not back down one inch.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Kiev did not intend to crack down on the Hungarian community in Ukraine, including their right to the use of their mother tongue.

“We will not close a single school, fire a single teacher,” he said. “Our logic is simple: every citizen must speak Ukrainian beside their mother tongue to ensure their future success. The education law replaced the old, post-Soviet laws.”

He added that Hungary’s approach to minority Hungarians living in Ukraine itself undermined European integration. “Giving out Hungarian passports to Hungarian Ukrainians, that is no way to promote integration,” he said.

European Commission Approves €200m Loan for Tunisia

Tunis – The European Commission approved this week the disbursement of a €200 million loan to Tunisia as part of a total of €500 million to be disbursed in three installments in 2017 and 2018.

“The disbursement to Tunisia is proof of our strong commitment to support the successful economic recovery of one of our closest neighbors,” the Commission said.

This disbursement marks the launch of the second Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA-II) program to Tunisia.

The Commission proposed it in February last year and the European Parliament and the Council adopted it on July 6, 2016 in an attempt to help Tunisia overcome the repercussions of the terrorist attacks of 2015, which contributed to halting Tunisia’s economic recovery.

The EU’s strategy of assistance to Tunisia includes budget support programs and substantial loans from the European Investment Bank.

The EU calls for the implementation of a number of policy conditions targeting fiscal consolidation as well as the improvement of Tunisia’s social assistance schemes and business climate.

EU Sets Duties on Iran, Russia Steel

London- The European Union has decided to set duties on hot-rolled steel from four countries, including Iran and Russia, as Germany invited ministers and senior officials from leading steel producing states to a meeting in Berlin on Nov. 30 to discuss overcapacity in the sector.

The EU set on Friday the duties on steel from Brazil, Iran, Russia and Ukraine after a complaint by manufacturers in the union that the product used for construction and machinery was being sold at excessively low prices.

The EU will levy anti-dumping tariffs of between 17.6 and 96.5 euros ($20.6-112.8) per ton from Saturday, its official journal said.

The European Commission had initially proposed setting a minimum price – of 472.27 euros per ton – but revised its proposal after failing to secure backing from EU member states.

In a related development, sources said that officials from countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are expected to join the Nov. 30 meeting in Berlin.

G20 leaders agreed in the last summit they held in Hamburg in July to postpone discussions on a solution to the international differences over the steel market.

“We want to discuss together how we can prevent overcapacity on the global market and guarantee fair competition,” Matthias Machnig, state secretary in the German Economy Ministry, told business magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

“Our goal is to avoid new punitive tariffs for our businesses,” Machnig said.

Reports have said that US President Donald Trump is still determined to impose tariffs on steel imports despite repeated delays on a decision.

Turkey Seeks to Increase Trade Volume with EU

Ankara- Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci expected an update of the customs union agreement with the European Union to increase trade between the two sides to 200 billion dollars in 18 months.

Zeybekcin said at the Istanbul Financial Summit that the volume of trade between Turkey and EU could reach 500 billion dollars from its current level of 160 billion dollars within five years.

Turkey is a member of the customs union agreement since 1995. But it has faced challenges in updating it because of obstacles set by Germany, which urged the European Commission in July to suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey about modernizing the union.

Germany claimed that Turkey was violating human rights after it arrested 10 activists, including a German national, accusing them of backing terrorist organizations.

Despite Berlin’s opposition to update the customs union agreement, Germany is considered Turkey’s top trade partner.

Trade volume between the two countries reaches 40 billion dollars, and around 8,000 German companies invest in different Turkish economic sectors, according to Zeybekci.

Meanwhile, Lukoil, Russia’s No.2 oil producer, said it would continue working on European projects and would keep its retail net in Turkey.

Lukoil Chief Executive Vagit Alekperov was quoted as saying that the firm plans to keep pumping 100 million tons of oil per year between 2018 and 2027 with projects outside Russia and will keep annual investment at $8 billion-$8.5 billion.

Jordanian Official: Syrian Refugee Crisis Consumes 5% of GDP

Jordan

Amman, Brussels– Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Imad Fakhouri, revealed on Monday an agreement with donor countries to hold the Brussels II Conference in the spring of 2018, in order to guarantee continued efforts to mobilize funding in support of countries hosting refugees and to follow up the work progress.

The announcement came during a workshop held in the Dead Sea for sectorial teams representing the twelve sectors covered by the Jordan Response Plan (JRP) to the Syrian ​​crisis.

The European Commission announced in Brussels last week that it would organize the second Brussels conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region in the spring of next year.

EU High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini announced the news during a high-level meeting on the Syrian crisis, on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Jordanian minister said that addressing the Syrian crisis and its repercussions was an international duty that “requires a real and clear commitment, for many years, by donor countries and international institutions”, pointing out that Jordan was carrying out this humanitarian mission on behalf of the international community.

“Over time, burdens are increasing and accumulating,” he said, adding that the financial burden of the Syrian crisis – at an annual rate of $2 billion a year, equivalent to about 20 percent of the total domestic budget revenue, or 5 percent per year of GDP – has directly affected, the living standards, in terms of access to public services and the rise of expenses.”

With regards to funding levels, Fakhouri said that despite their improvement last year, there was a 38 percent gap in 2016, as 62 percent of the needs included in the JRP in 2016 were covered, compared with 30 percent in previous years.

In a statement issued last week, Mogherini said that the EU and the international community would launch the “Brussels Process” that “will put our convening power at the service of the Syrian people”.

“Such work would support the Geneva talks on a political transition, which remains the only viable path towards ending the war and stabilizing the country,” she added.