Tillerson Heads to the Gulf, Kuwaiti FM Discusses Crisis with Qatar Emir

Washington and Dammam – The US State Department announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will begin on Friday a tour that will take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, India, and Switzerland.

In Riyadh, Tillerson will take part in the inaugural Coordination Council meeting between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He will also meet with various Saudi leaders to discuss the conflict in Yemen, the ongoing Gulf dispute with Qatar, stance on Iran, and a number of other important regional and bilateral issues.

The statement also mentioned that Tillerson will then travel to Doha, where he will meet with Qatari leaders and US military officials to discuss joint counter-terrorism efforts, the ongoing Gulf dispute, and other regional and bilateral issues, including Iran and Iraq.

Earlier, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah arrived in Qatar to discuss the latest developments of the Gulf crisis and the Kuwaiti efforts to settle it through dialogue.

The FM and his accompanying delegation met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani where the two discussed “the close and brotherly relations between the two countries as well as regional and international issues,” according to Qatar News Agency.

Sabah also conveyed the greetings of Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and his wishes of more progress and prosperity to the Emir and the Qatari people.

On Monday, Kuwait’s Emir went to the Saudi capital Riyadh where he met King Salman bin Abdulaziz to discuss the Qatar crisis and the latest developments in the region.

In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that the four countries boycotting Qatar are constantly coordinating and will continue to do so until they detect a positive response from Doha.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva, Shoukry mentioned that the quartet is coordinating on possible measures against Qatar, which has refused to respond to the principles concerning the national security of the four countries boycotting Doha: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain.

The Egyptian FM stated that efforts will be exerted until the national security of the four countries is guaranteed and positive outcomes are detected which will lead to a change in Syria and Iraq.

He concluded that the measures of the quartet resulted in re-stabilizing the region.

Turkey, US Decide to Meet to Solve Diplomatic Row

Turkey- US

Turkish and US authorities decided to meet to settle the strategic emergency between the two NATO partners, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Thursday.

The spat erupted last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the American consulate on suspicion of links to the group blamed for last year’s failed coup.

In response, the United States suspend non-immigrant visa services there. Hours later, Ankara issued a similar suspension on visas for US citizens in a tit-for-tat move.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday to discuss the reciprocal suspension of visa services — their first talks since the eruption of one of the worst crises between Washington and Ankara in years. Tillerson expressed his “profound concern” about the arrests, the US State Department said in a statement.

“Talks between the foreign minister and (US Secretary of State) Tillerson were very constructive. Representatives from both sides decided to meet and work together,” Bozdag said in an interview with broadcaster Haberturk.

He also said a US consulate employee arrested in Turkey had not demanded lawyer access and the US mission could apply to send a lawyer to see him.

During the conversation, Tillerson said Turkey needed to present evidence for the accusations against the consulate employee, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that US and Turkish military forces continue to work well together amid the diplomatic row.

“We maintain a very close collaboration, very close communication, the military-to-military interaction and integration has not been affected by this,” Mattis told reporters as he traveled to a military headquarters in Florida.

“We are doing good work with them, military to military,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the spat had not affected NATO or US military ties with Turkey.

The United States relies heavily on an air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey to launch air strikes against the ISIS group in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Yet, US-Turkish relations have been strained over US military support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the United States’ unwillingness to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whom Ankara views as the mastermind behind last year’s failed military coup.

Mattis Defends Nuclear Deal with Iran

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "Political and Security Situation in Afghanistan" on Capitol Hill in Washington

Washington- United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that remaining in the Iran nuclear accord is in Washington’s national security interests contradicting with President Donald Trump, who has called the deal agreed between Iran and six world powers in 2015 an “embarrassment.”

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the country’s top defense official was asked by a senator if remaining in the deal is in the national security interests of the US. After a lengthy pause, he answered: “Yes senator, I do.”

“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then surely we should stay with it,” he added.

“I believe at this point in time, absent indication to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with,” he said, according to AFP.

Trump must notify Congress every 90 days whether Iran is abiding by the accord and whether the lifting of sanctions against Tehran is in the US national interest.

He has so far certified that Iran is in compliance with the agreement but has indicated the next deadline on October 15 will be crucial.

Iran and the other signatories — China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — defend the deal, which was signed in 2015, as a guarantee of the peaceful, non-military purposes of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Mattis also warned earlier in his remarks that a US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “to our ultimate peril,” as he briefed Congress on plans to increase US troop levels.

“Based on intelligence community analysis and my own evaluation, I am convinced we would absent ourselves from this region at our peril,” he said.

Mattis said that more than 3,000 additional US troops are being sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the 11,000 US troops already stationed in the country.

He also said that the United States will soon decide whether to keep open a Taliban office in Qatar as America steps up its Afghan war effort.

Mattis said he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been “in contact on this issue three times in the past 10 days.”

“He is looking to make certain we have the right [Taliban representatives], so it’s just not an office in existence,” he added.

In this context, the US has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats on Tuesday, accusing Havana of failing to protect their American counterparts from harm in a series of attacks on their health.

Tillerson said, however, that Washington would maintain diplomatic relations even though the size of the US mission in Havana would be reduced to a minimum.

“Until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm,” he said.

“This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations,” he said.

The attacks, which US officials initially suggested could have been carried out with some sort of covert acoustic device, have affected at least 22 US embassy staff in Havana over the past few months.

Those affected have exhibited physical symptoms including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

Tillerson, Lavrov Discuss Syria in Telephone Call

Syria

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telephoned on Saturday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the situation in war-torn Syria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the two officials addressed how the “anti-terrorism” battle on the ground was playing out.

The call came after US-backed forces in Syria claimed that they were shelled by Syrian regime and Russian jets in the Deir al-Zour region.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not say in its statement about the Lavrov-Tillerson call if the two men had discussed that allegation and how Moscow had responded if they had.

Earlier, media sources said that a Russian warship, part of the Black Sea fleet, had crossed Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and headed towards the Mediterranean.

The Yamal was destined to Syria’s Tartus.

Images of the warship as it crossed the Turkish waterway were published on various websites.

The sources said that it was loaded to capacity with cargo based on its incline in the water.

This is the eighth trip the Yamal makes to Syria in 2017.

According to the RT news agency and other foreign press, the ship usually transports ammunition to the Russian air force deployed a the Hmeimim Air Base in Syria.

Washington Pledges to Restore Libyan Unity

Libya

Cairo – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged on Saturday the need for the international community to help the Libyan people find local solutions to allow their government to carry out its duties.

He vowed that Washington will help Tripoli “restore unity in Libya.”

Tillerson made his remarks before US diplomats in London after a ministerial meeting that was held there to discuss Libya.

Spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Ahmed Abou Zeid said that the gatherers in London had expressed their relief with the drop in terrorist activity in the North African country.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri attributed the drop to the reduction of terrorism financing in recent months.

Abou Zeid added in a statement that United Nations envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh had studied the latest Libyan security and political developments. He had also presented his vision over the upcoming meeting on the crisis that will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The Assembly will convene in New York on Wednesday.

Abou Zeid added that the gatherers at the London meeting were agreed on the importance of Salameh’s efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis.

Shoukri meanwhile stressed that Egypt will continue to attempt to bridge the divide between the Libya leaderships on the civil and military levels.

Cairo supports reaching a consensus agreement that would ensure that a political settlement is reached based on the Skheirat deal, said the FM.

The deal was reached in Morocco two years ago under UN sponsorship.

7th London Conference on Libya Rules out Military Solution

UK

Cairo– London hosted a meeting on Thursday to support the political process in Libya and back the efforts of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his special envoy Ghassan Salame.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement that the six-nation ministerial meeting represented an opportunity to discuss ways to break Libya’s political stalemate and build momentum in support of the efforts of the Secretary-General and his special representative.

The foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the United Nations envoy to Libya attended the meeting.

“Libya is a front line in our common struggle against terrorism and illegal migration and we all share a vital interest in that country’s stability. Our shared goal is to break the political deadlock and rally behind the United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame as he seeks to bring all sides together,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said during a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement that the London meeting discussed the status of the political process in Libya and exchanged views on how to support the work of the United Nations in light of the meeting to be convened by the UN Secretary-General on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York next week.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council extended on Thursday for one year the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), focused on supporting the North African country’s political process and key national institutions, as well as coordination of international assistance.

In a statement, the UN News Center said that the Security Council has unanimously adopted a new resolution, extending UNSMIL’s mandate through 15 September 2018, “during which time it would exercise mediation and ‘good offices’ to support an inclusive political process within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement; continued implementation of the Agreement; and consolidation of the governance, security and economic arrangements of the Government of National Accord (GNA), among others.”

Tillerson and British Prime Minister Theresa May touched on the Libyan crisis during their meeting in London on Thursday.

“We hope to focus on the mediation of the United Nations and the political process and give them a new impetus to reach a reunification in Libya,” a US official said.

On a different note, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda renewed her calls to the Libyan government on Wednesday for the immediate arrest and surrender of Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, who is alleged to have participated in war crimes in Libya.

Werfalli is suspected of directly participating in seven incidents involving the deaths of 33 individuals.

Stressing that Libya has the primary responsibility to arrest Werfalli and surrender him to the custody of the ICC, Bensouda urged Libya authorities to “use all means in their reach to do so immediately.”

She also expressed concerns regarding conflicting reports about the arrest of the Libyan figure.

China Gasoline Exports to N.Korea Nosedive as Tillerson Hails Pyongyang’s Recent Restraint

China

Gasoline exports from China to North Korea took a sharp dip in July, which would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force the isolated country to seek alternatives to its main supplier.

The decline, revealed by customs data, is the strongest sign yet that the suspension of sales of the fuel by China’s state oil major CNPC has cut critical supplies to its southern neighbor.

Beijing’s General Administration of Customs said on Wednesday Chinese shipments of gasoline dropped 97 percent from a year ago to just 120 tons of the fuel – worth little more than $100,000. The number was down from 8,262 tons in June.

Monthly fluctuations in the data are not unusual, but this was the fourth-lowest volume on Reuters’ records of customs data going back to January 2010.

Customs data also showed China’s trade with North Korea fell last month as a ban on coal purchases from its isolated neighbor slowed imports amid growing pressure from the United States to rein in Pyongyang’s missile program.

At the end of June, Reuters reported China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) suspended sales of gasoline and fuel to North Korea over concerns CNPC would not get paid for its goods.

Fuel prices in the country surged following the cut and the measure is still in place, people familiar with the matter say.

Gasoline typically accounts for the bulk of fuel exports to North Korea, but July data showed the biofuel, ethanol, took the top spot with shipments of 4,137 cubic meters, worth $1.9 million.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commended North Korea for recent restraint in its provocations and said it could point the way to a possible dialogue with the US.

It was rare positive expression from the US toward the authoritarian government in Pyongyang and comes amid a slight easing in recent tensions between the adversaries that had flared after President Donald Trump pledged to answer North Korean aggression with “fire and fury.” North Korea, for its part, had threatened to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam.

Addressing reporters at the State Department, Tillerson said that North Korea had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past” by not conducting missile launches or provocative acts since the UN Security Council adopted tough sanctions on August 5.

“We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we have been looking for, that they are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they’re ready to restrain their provocative acts,” Tillerson said, “and that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue.”

Tillerson added a caveat.

“We need to see more on their part,” he said, without elaborating.

The UN sanctions were a response to twin tests last month of an intercontinental ballistic missile that may be able to reach parts of the US, heightening concern in Washington that North Korea could soon be able to threaten it with nuclear weapons. It was the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s push to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Kim Jong Un’s government.

However, the US administration has left the door open to engagement with the North, with Tillerson recently urging it to stop missile tests to show its sincerity. While the two sides have maintained quiet diplomatic contacts in recent months, there has been scant sign that Pyongyang will oblige.

Kim has held off on the North’s supposed plans to fire missiles into waters near Guam that were advertised in state media earlier this month, but his government this week has kept up its harsh criticism of the US over annual military drills conducted with close ally South Korea.

The North regards the drills as preparation for invasion and on Tuesday its military vowed, with customarily tough rhetoric, a “merciless retaliation” against the US Senior US military commanders dismissed calls to pause or downsize the exercises that they view as crucial to countering a clear threat from Pyongyang.

Kurds Set Independence Referendum Date as US Calls for Postponement

Kurdistan

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region will hold its contentious independence referendum on September 25 despite misgivings by the United States.

“The date is standing, September 25, no change,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani.

The US had requested the postponement of the vote.

The US State Department said in June it was concerned that the referendum will distract from “more urgent priorities” such as the defeat of ISIS terrorists.

The timing of the vote has drawn criticism from both the Baghdad and Western governments, due to the ongoing ISIS campaign.

In a telephone call on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington “would want for the referendum to be postponed and that the issues between the Kurdistan region and the federal government in Baghdad should be addressed through dialogue”, Barzani’s office said in an English-language statement.

The Kurdish leader responded that were it to be put off, “the people of the Kurdistan region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future”.

Some Iraqi Kurdish officials have openly acknowledged that calling the referendum was intended as a bargaining counter in negotiations with Baghdad on other issues.

The Kurdish regional government’s representative in Iran, Nazem Dabbagh, said last month that the Kurds wanted Baghdad to meet their longstanding demand for plebiscites on incorporating other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region.

He said they also wanted Baghdad to ratify laws on oil revenues and funding for the Kurdish security forces, known as the peshmerga, who have played a crucial role in the fight against ISIS.

The referendum would in any case be non-binding and is strongly opposed by neighbors Iran and Turkey, which have sizable Kurdish minorities of their own and whose acquiescence is seen as key to achieving a viable separation.

How Trump Can Confront Iran without Blowing up the Nuclear Deal

Iran

President Trump seems determined to not certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal when that question comes before him this fall. But that would be only the beginning of the story. He could follow such a determination with actions that risk blowing up the deal and the US-Iran relationship. Or he could — as some of his senior national security advisers prefer — adopt a more careful, complicated approach.

There’s a growing push both inside and outside the administration to craft a way to acknowledge what many see as Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement without precipitating a crisis. Many worry that provoking the deal’s collapse would not only risk an unpredictable and dangerous escalation but also hamper the international effort to confront Iran’s regional expansion, support for terrorism and other mischief.

The question is whether Trump’s national security team can persuade him to take a middle approach to a nuclear deal he campaigned against and clearly despises.

In a news conference last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out his view that the Iran deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must not dominate the administration’s Iran focus. Tillerson admitted he disagrees with the president on whether the agreement can be salvaged.

“The JCPOA represents a small slice of the Iranian relationship,” he said, adding, “We continue to have conversations about the utility of that agreement, whether it has utility, whether it doesn’t have utility.”

“[President Trump] and I have differences of views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it,” he said.

Tillerson argued for certifying Iran’s compliance when it came up in April and July. Both times, Trump yielded to Tillerson’s view. But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Trump suggested he won’t again.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them non-compliant 180 days ago,” Trump said, adding that next time, “I think they’ll be non-compliant.”

The intelligence community believes that Iran’s violations are minor and do not amount to a material breach. But the president’s view is that Iran is in violation of the spirit of the deal, a senior White House official told me. Under the law Congress passed, the certification is subjective.

It’s also unclear what follows non-certification. Trump could continue to waive nuclear sanctions on Iran or stop, effectively reimposing them. The White House admittedly does not know how the Iranian government would react to new sanctions, the official said.

Congress could also reimpose sanctions if Trump does not certify compliance. For many Republicans, having new negotiations with Iran would be nice but is not necessary. They agree with Trump that the deal is probably not worth saving.

“I don’t think we get much benefit from the deal, so it collapsing doesn’t trouble me all that much,” said Senator Tom Cotton. “The president’s instincts on Iran are sound.”

Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster argue that if Trump decides not to certify Iranian compliance, rather than scuttle the deal he can work to improve it and increase pressure on Iran in other ways, according to sources involved in the discussions.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo agrees with Tillerson and McMaster that Iran’s regional threats are the near-term priority. Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo has never supported certifying compliance.

McMaster’s team is leading an inter-agency policy review that is sure to call for expanding confrontation with Iran in places such as Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The Iran deal, if in place, could be used as a pressure point while upping the ante on those fronts, experts argue.

Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and David Albright of Institute for Science and International Security have offered a middle approach they describe as “waive and slap,” recommending that Trump not certify compliance but continue to waive nuclear sanctions while imposing new sanctions on nonnuclear issues.

Skeptics doubt the Trump team can thread the needle, considering that once Trump declares noncompliance, there’s no way to predict what Iran will do. Also, tinkering with the deal or reimposing sanctions could cause new disputes with European allies and other partners, such as Russia and China.

“Even if they did a great job, it’s serious risks,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “And for what gain?”

If Trump is determined to get the United States out of the Iran deal, nobody can stop him. But if the majority of his national security team gets its way, Trump will repeat what he did with Cuba: make minimal changes to the policy, then declare he has undone Obama’s “terrible deal” and fulfilled a campaign promise.

And if Trump can’t bring himself to certify Iran’s compliance anymore, he should at least minimize the chances his decision will cause a diplomatic crisis and distract the United States from the mission of combating Iran’s other nefarious activities.

The Washington Post

Tillerson Says US North Korea Strategy Working as Trump Trades Threats with Pyongyang

Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was confident that Washington’s current strategy on North Korea was working, only hours after President Donald Trump and North Korea exchanged threats that have raised concerns about a potential military confrontation.

Tillerson said that a new diplomatic strategy for North Korea was not warranted, adding that there was “no imminent” threat from it.

Trump earlier gave North Korea an apocalyptic warning, saying it faced “fire and fury” over its weapons programs, as Pyongyang said it was considering a missile strike near the US territory of Guam.

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said.

Trump’s comments marked a sharp intensification of Washington’s rhetoric over the North’s nuclear and missile programs — and his bellicose tone triggered expressions of concern from China as well as from US politicians and foreign allies.

The language the president used echoed that adopted by Pyongyang in its habitual promises to turn enemies like South Korea into a “sea of flames”.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” said Trump, speaking from his golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

North Korea raised the stakes just hours later, saying it was considering missile strikes near US strategic military installations on the Pacific US territory of Guam.

Once finalized, the plan could be put into action at “any moment” once leader Kim Jong-Un made a decision, the official Korean Central News Agency quoted a military statement as saying.

The remote island of Guam — a 210-square-mile dot in the Pacific – is a key US military outpost and home to some 6,000 US troops spread across facilities including the sprawling Anderson Air Force Base, as well as Naval Base Guam.

Guam-based US B1- bombers overflew the Korean peninsula on Tuesday, which KCNA said “proves that the US imperialists are nuclear war maniacs”.

Earlier, the Washington Post quoted a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis as saying officials think North Korea now has “nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery” — including by its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) — making it a potent threat against neighbors and possibly the United States.

The Pentagon did not comment on the story, but the Post said two US officials familiar with the analysis had verified the assessment’s broad conclusions, and CNN said it had confirmed the report.

The North’s main ally China warned against “words and actions” that would stoke tensions, while Germany said it was watching the “increasing rhetorical escalation” with concern.

But France praised Trump’s “determination” in standing up to Pyongyang.
The European Union said it is concerned about tensions over North Korea and that the standoff can only be resolved by peaceful means.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman said Wednesday that the developments are “of great concern to the EU.”

Spokeswoman Catherine Ray said “a lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means … that excludes military action.”

Pyongyang “must comply without delay fully and unconditionally with its obligations” under UN Security Council resolutions, she added.

The German government has expressed concern over what is described as the “rhetorical escalation” between Washington and Pyongyang. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said “further saber rattling” and military measure will not help solve the issue.

Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Germany “calls on all parties to show restraint.”