US, Qatari FMs discuss countering Iran

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Wednesday with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and discussed ways to counter Iran's &quot;malign influence,&quot; according to the State Department.</p>  <p>The top diplomats also addressed other regional issues that covered Afghanistan, Libya and Sudan, spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.</p>  <p>&quot;The Secretary thanked the foreign minister for his continued efforts to build upon the robust U.S.-Qatar partnership, including follow-through on Qatar’s commitments to fair competition in civil aviation,&quot; she added. </p>  <p>The meeting came amid a continued push by the U.S. to ramp up pressure on Tehran in conjunction with Washington’s Sunni Arab Gulf allies and Israel. </p>  <p>The Trump administration earlier this week decided to stop granting waivers to seven countries and Taiwan to import Iranian oil -- the latest effort to scuttle a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers, including the U.S., brokered with Iran. 

Iran warns US against attempts to halt oil shipments

            By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Iran will continue to sell its oil, find buyers for it and ship it through the Strait of Hormuz, its foreign minister said Wednesday.</p>  <p>Speaking at a panel discussion in New York City hosted by the Asia Society, Mohammad Javad Zarif said if the U.S. takes any &quot;crazy measure&quot; against Iran to prevent it from transporting its oil, it will have to be &quot;prepared for the consequences&quot;.</p>  <p>&quot;President [Donald] Trump believes that by pushing us, by imposing economic pressure on us, we will sell our dignity. Not gonna happen,&quot; Zarif said.</p>  <p>He said it is within Iran's &quot;vital national interest&quot; to keep both the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz open.</p>  <p>The Strait of Hormuz, a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is a major channel for international oil shipments.</p>  <p>Zarif’s comments came after Washington announced Monday that it would be ending sanctions waivers it had granted to countries that were still buying Iranian oil.</p>  <p>The move, effective May 2, is part of Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign to curb sales of Iranian oil, denying what Washington said was the country’s main source of revenue.</p>  <p>In a statement, the White House said both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have committed to increase their oil supply to ensure that global supply is maintained.</p>  <p>Zarif said the pressure campaign on Iran led by Washington has shown that the &quot;B team wants regime change&quot;, referring to Trump ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, a staunch critic of Iran's leadership, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and United Arab Emirates leader Mohammed bin Zayed.</p>  <p>Zarif said the U.S. should talk to those protecting the strait – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Washington had earlier this month designated the elite military force as a foreign terrorist organization.</p>  <p>- Prisoner Swap</p>  <p>However, Zarif also said there was room to cooperate in order to bring stability to both Afghanistan and Iraq.</p>  <p>&quot;It's not a crisis yet. It's a dangerous situation,&quot; he said.</p>  <p>He specifically mentioned the potential of a prisoner swap, with Iran releasing British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.</p>  <p>&quot;Let's have an exchange. I'm ready to do it and I have the authority to do it,&quot; Zarif said.</p>  <p>Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since 2016 on espionage charges.</p>  <p>He proposed a prisoner swap between her and Iranians in jail abroad, including a woman being held in Australia for the past three years on a U.S. extradition request.</p>  <p>Zarif said the woman had given birth in prison.</p>  <p>He said there are other Iranians that have been imprisoned in the U.S. and Europe on what he considered phony charges.

US rips upholding of Reuters journalists' sentences

                 By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Wednesday strongly criticized the decision of Myanmar's Supreme Court to uphold the seven-year sentences of two Reuters journalists who reported on the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims. </p>  <p>&quot;Burma’s Supreme Court decision yesterday to uphold the sentencing of Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, despite serious irregularities in the case against them, sends a profoundly negative signal about freedom of expression and the protection of journalists in Burma,&quot; State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, using the U.S. government's preferred name for Myanmar. </p>  <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each sentenced to seven years in prison last September under a colonial-era law for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act for investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state. </p>  <p>&quot;The United States is deeply concerned by recent arrests of reporters, political activists, civil society members, and satirical performers in Burma,&quot; Ortagus added. &quot;We urge Burma to protect hard-earned freedoms, prevent further backsliding on recent democratic gains, and reunite these journalists with their families.&quot;</p>  <p>New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Myanmar's government and military shortly after the ruling, saying both parties seem equally determined to extinguish any ability to question their misrule and rights violations when it comes to media freedom. </p>  <p>“These two journalists are just the most prominent victims of this pernicious campaign against freedom of expression that is rapidly spreading in all parts of the country,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. 

US comic rips Kushner's support for Saudi crown prince

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Comedian Hasan Minhaj recently slammed U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner to his face for support for Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. </p>  <p>Addressing a New York City gathering celebrating the release of the annual Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people, Minhaj referenced the Kingdom's detention of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist who has been imprisoned, and who, like Minhaj, is a Time 100 honoree. </p>  <p>&quot;I know there’s a lot of very powerful people here, and it would be crazy if there was a high ranking official in the White House that could WhatsApp MBS and say, ‘Hey maybe you could help that person get out of prison because they don’t deserve it,&quot; Minhaj said with Kushner present at the gala.</p>  <p>He was referring to Mohammad bin Salman, who is oftentimes referred to simply by his initials. </p>  <p>&quot;But hey, that person would have to be in the room. It’s just a good comedy premise,&quot; Minhaj added. </p>  <p>The Indian-American comic had already run afoul of bin Salman for an episode of his Patriot Act comedy series which lambasted the crown prince for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and which was banned from streaming on Netflix in the Kingdom.</p>  <p>Minhaj told Time after the gala he was sincere in seeking the presidential aide's assistance in freeing al-Hathloul. </p>  <p>“I was just hoping he could send a WhatsApp message,” he said, according to Time. &quot;[It could say] hey, this person has been fighting for civil liberties for all people. Maybe you should let them out of prison.”</p>  <p>In Time's write-up of al-Hathloul, the magazine said the &quot;Saudi people owe a huge debt of gratitude to&quot; her for her activism. </p>  <p>&quot;She was among the first to challenge laws that are out of touch with Saudi Arabia’s young majority population, boldly posting videos of herself driving, running for the country’s first municipal elections to allow women in 2015, and signing the 14,000-strong petition urging an end to restrictions on women’s rights to marry or travel outside the country without a male guardian’s permission,&quot; wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch's regional director.</p>  <p>&quot;Unfortunately activism also revealed the crown prince’s intolerance for civil society,&quot; she added.

Trump again describes 1915 events as 'Meds Yeghern'

                 By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump issued an annual commemoration of the 1915 events Wednesday, again using the Armenian term “Meds Yeghern&quot; to describe the tragedy.</p>  <p>&quot;On this day of remembrance, we again join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the many lives lost,&quot; he said in a statement. &quot;As we honor the memory of those who suffered, we also draw inspiration from the courage and resiliency of the Armenian people who, in the face of tremendous adversity, built vibrant communities around the world, including in the United States.&quot;</p>  <p>Turkey's position on the events of 1915 is that the deaths of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties.</p>  <p>Turkey objects to the presentation of these incidents as &quot;genocide,&quot; describing them as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.</p>  <p>Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia as well aw international experts to tackle the issue.</p>  <p>Successive U.S. presidents have refrained from calling the deaths of Armenians &quot;genocide,&quot; but former President Barack Obama adopted the Armenian phrase &quot;Meds Yeghern&quot;, or &quot;Great Crime&quot;, to describe the tragedy, a practice repeated by Trump.</p>  <p>&quot;We welcome the efforts of Armenians and Turks to acknowledge and reckon with their painful history,&quot; Trump said. &quot;And we stand with the Armenian people in recalling the lives lost during the Meds Yeghern and reaffirm our commitment to a more peaceful world.&quot;

Iran’s military to decide on Strait of Hormuz: Zarif

By Ahmet Dursun

TEHRAN (AA) – Iran’s military has the final say regarding the fate of Strait of Hormuz, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Wednesday.

“I don’t talk about military options as it's up to military people to decide but we have said that Iran will protect its interests and one of our interests is stability in the region," Zarif said in statements cited by the official IRNA news agency upon his arrival to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly and meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Stability should be for everybody, economic prosperity should be for everybody,” he said.

Earlier this week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards General Ali Reza Tengseiri renewed threats to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is prevented from using the strategic waterway to export oil.

Tengseiri's threats came hours after the U.S. announced plans to end all temporary exemptions for countries that still buy Iranian oil.

The move came as part of the White House’s policy of exerting “maximum pressure” on Iran with a view to bringing the country’s petroleum revenue to zero.

Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to close the strait, one of the global oil trade’s most important waterways, amid steadily mounting tensions with the U.S.

The lion’s share of petroleum from the region’s top producers — including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait — passes through the Strait of Hormuz en route to oil-thirsty markets in the Far East.

EU disrespectful to Turkey: Hungarian foreign minister

                                 By Betul Yuruk</p>  <p>NEW YORK (AA) - The games being played by the European Union over Turkey's bid to join the bloc are a sign of disrespect, according to Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.</p>  <p>Szijjarto said Turkey plays a critical role in European relations because it is close to becoming one of the world’s top 10 economies and also plays an important role in EU security due to the migrants it stops from reaching the bloc's borders.</p>  <p>&quot;We don't really like the way the European Union plays kind of games with Turkey because this is a signal of disrespect,&quot; Szijjarto told Anadolu Agency in an interview.</p>  <p>&quot;There are countries within the EU now that would definitely veto the membership of Turkey,&quot; he said. &quot;So I think we should look for another path which would be kind of a strategic alliance between Turkey and the EU.&quot;</p>  <p>Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.</p>  <p>However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus as well as opposition from Germany and France.</p>  <p>In 2016, Turkey and the EU signed an agreement which allowed for visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take stricter measures against human smugglers and discourage irregular migration through the Aegean Sea.</p>  <p>Turkey has complained that though it kept its pledge to stem irregular migration, the EU failed to keep its promise to drop the visa requirement.</p>  <p>Szijjarto said &quot;the way the EU, especially the European Commission, is dealing with Turkey is unacceptable, not fair, and it is a matter of disrespect.&quot;</p>  <p>Turkey's top diplomat for EU affairs, Faruk Kaymakci, said in January that Turkey is part of the European continent economically, politically, and culturally and &quot;it is unthinkable that Turkey is not included in the EU.&quot;</p>  <p>Earlier this month, European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told Anadolu Agency that Turkey will be granted visa-free travel once it fulfills its obligations.</p>  <p>Schinas also said that the next four years are an opportunity for Turkey now that local elections are over in which &quot;the doors of the European Union are open.&quot;</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- NATO's second-biggest army</p>  <p>Asked about Turkey's deal to obtain the Russian S-400 missile defense system and the U.S. opposition, Szijjarto said he was fed up with how other countries try to &quot;educate everyone else in the world how they should make decisions.&quot;</p>  <p>He also stressed the fact that Turkey has NATO's second-largest army after the U.S.</p>  <p>&quot;These two countries bear the most burden when it comes to protecting our alliance, militarily speaking,&quot; he said. &quot;I think it would be terrible if these two countries with the two biggest armies of NATO would clash on any issue.&quot;</p>  <p>Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to purchase the Russian S-400 system.</p>  <p>U.S. officials have objected to the deal, claiming that the S-400 would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose U.S. F-35 fighter jets -- which Turkey also has a deal to buy -- to possible Russian subterfuge.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Trade volume</p>  <p>Szijjarto also discussed the importance of the trade volume between the two countries.</p>  <p>Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey and Hungary should increase their trade to $5 billion.</p>  <p>The trade volume between the two countries has climbed from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.6 billion in 2017.</p>  <p>&quot;Our aim is to reach the $5 billion mark when it comes to bilateral trade as soon as possible and to attract more Turkish investors coming to Hungary,&quot; Szijjarto said.</p>  <p>He described the relationship between Ankara and Budapest as one of friendship, strategic alliance, and economic prosperity, &quot;taking into consideration that Turkey is a very important trade and economic partner of Hungary.”</p>  <p>*Umar Farooq in Washington contributed to this report</p>  <p> 

Trump, Twitter CEO meet at White House

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey met Tuesday after the president unleashed a tirade against the social media platform.  </p>  <p>Trump did not specify what they discussed during their closed-door Oval Office meeting other than saying they addressed &quot;lots of subjects&quot; regarding Twitter and social media more broadly.  </p>  <p>He did not elaborate but just hours earlier struck a much harsher tone, unleashing a tweet storm against the microblogging website that alleged it is biased against conservatives. </p>  <p>&quot;They don’t treat me well as a Republican,&quot; Trump lamented of Twitter. &quot;Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list. Big complaints from many people.&quot;</p>  <p>It is unclear what list Trump was suggesting Twitter is &quot;taking people&quot; off of, but he and other conservatives have claimed the microblogging website censors them.</p>  <p>Trump has suggested that government regulation of the platform may be necessary, hinting at such a measure by saying in his morning series of tweets that it is &quot;No wonder Congress wants to get involved - and they should.&quot;</p>  <p>&quot;Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!&quot; Trump said. </p>  <p>Twitter has adamantly denied it is biased.</p>  <p>Tuesday's meeting was first confirmed by Vice magazine’s Motherboard website. 

Moscow concerned over new US sanctions on Iran

            By Elena Teslova</p>  <p>MOSCOW (AA) – Russia said Tuesday it is particularly concerned over a new round of U.S. sanctions on Iran.</p>  <p>Under the threat of punishment, Washington is pressuring all countries to stop buying Iranian crude oil with the aim of undermining the Islamic Republic’s economy, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.</p>  <p>The ministry noted that U.S. statements on the tightening of oil sanctions on Iran coincide with news of the deployment of a U.S. carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf.</p>  <p>&quot;In pursuit of global hegemony, the U.S. is not only threatening the international community with punitive economic measures but also openly rattling its saber...Washington is trying to accomplish its geopolitical ambitions, which are dangerous for all mankind,&quot; it said.</p>  <p>The ministry noted that the U.S. took another step against Iran close to the anniversary of Washington’s decision in May last year to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement reached on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on July 14, 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 and the European Union.</p>  <p>&quot;But the U.S. clearly made a mistake in choosing the means, having decided on a method of economic strangulation, dealing a blow to the living conditions of ordinary Iranians to make Tehran a compliant negotiator ready for any transaction on American terms.</p>  <p>&quot;Such a course of action adds nothing to America’s international standing. The rest of the world can see that Washington's policy is becoming more aggressive and reckless,&quot; it said.</p>  <p>The ministry said it &quot;pays a tribute to the restraint of Iran, which does not succumb to the arrogant provocations of the U.S.”</p>  <p>It reaffirmed its adherence to the JCPOA and called on &quot;sane forces&quot; to do everything in their power to ensure the continuous functioning of the agreement.</p>  <p> 

Democrat 2020 hopefuls say would return US to Iran deal

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - A growing number of Democrats say they would return the U.S. to compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact world powers struck with Iran as President Donald Trump continues efforts to scuttle the agreement.</p>  <p>Senator Elizabeth Warren, widely regarded as one of the top Democratic contenders for the White House, said she would return the U.S. to the 2015 agreement, which saw Iran accept unprecedented curbs on and inspections of its nuclear program in return for billion of dollars of sanctions relief.</p>  <p>While Iran has repeatedly and consistently been verified to be in compliance with the agreement, Trump has repeatedly called it unfair to the U.S., and one of the worst deals he had ever seen, before exiting in May 2018.</p>  <p>Trump called on the U.S.'s negotiating partners -- China, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia and the United Kingdom -- to follow the U.S. lead in leaving the agreement, but to date none have, arguing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains the best way to ensure Iran does not attain the bomb. </p>  <p>&quot;Our intelligence community told us again and again: The #IranDeal was working to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. If Iran continues to abide by the terms of the deal, you bet I will support returning to it,&quot; Warren wrote on Twitter in February. </p>  <p>In a display of the party's support for one of former President Barack Obama's signature foreign policy accomplishments, the Democratic National Committee adopted in February a resolution calling for the U.S. to re-enter the agreement. </p>  <p>The Trump administration announced Monday that it would end waivers for seven countries, and Taiwan, to import Iranian oil in the latest attempt to mount pressure on Tehran. The 2015 agreement lifted U.S., EU and UN sanctions on Iranian oil exports, allowing Tehran unhindered access to one of its main sources of national revenue. </p>  <p>As of May 2, no country will be able to buy Iranian oil without the risk of running afoul of U.S. sanctions -- the Trump administration's latest effort to force Iran to leave the agreement.</p>  <p>But should 2020 go the Democrats' way there is no shortage of candidates who have said they would rejoin the historic agreement. </p>  <p>In addition to Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, who mounted a fiery 2016 bid, has indicated that he would seek to have Washington return. </p>  <p>A Sanders aide told the Al-Monitor news website, &quot;as president, Sen. Sanders would rejoin the JCPOA and would also be prepared to talk to Iran on a range of other issues, which is what Trump should’ve done instead of simply walking away. Rejoining the JCPOA would mean meeting the United States’ commitments under the agreement, and that includes sanctions relief.&quot;</p>  <p>Sanders is one of five presidential candidates who confirmed to Al-Monitor their desire to return to the JCPOA, including Senator Kamala Harris; Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam and lecturer Marianne Williamson.</p>  <p>A spokesman for Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor whose campaign is ascendant, also told the Hill website he would follow suit, as did a spokesman for former congressman Beto O'Rourke. </p>  <p>Three senators who have yet to explicitly state if they would seek to rejoin the agreement --  Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar -- did vote in favor of the agreement when it came before Congress. </p>  <p>Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is expectedly to officially announce his candidacy as soon as Thursday, is highly likely to return the U.S. to compliance as has was a vital part of the U.S. administration that initially brokered and then implemented the agreement. He strongly criticized Trump's decision to leave the accord. </p>  <p>And Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, said on Twitter in March &quot;If Iran continues to comply with the terms of the agreement as determined by the intelligence community, I will re-enter the U.S. into the #JCPOA as President.&quot;</p>  <p>Democrats are expected to have their first primary debate in June. That will kickstart a flurry of campaign activity ahead of the Democratic convention next summer.