'US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting'
More US sanctions aren’t going to change Iran’s behavior and direct war doesn’t seem a possibility, but the situation could be defused during a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, says writer and Middle East commentator Sharmine Narwani.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered this week in cities across Iran to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution that put an end to the US-backed monarchy and led to the establishment of Iran as an Islamic Republic.

However, not all the banners being waved were about Iran. Various negative images of Donald Trump and the American flag were also on parade, as feelings against the US have increased of late with the Trump administration taking a hard line on Tehran.

RT: Where do you think this latest increase in tensions between Iran and the US will take us?

Sharmine Narwani: The Middle East has always been unpredictable in the best of times. With chaos around the world now, it is even harder to predict. If we were dealing with sane players in a sane situation, we could make rational arguments. I wonder how the US could actually confront Iran directly. More sanctions aren’t going to change Iran’s behavior, and threats haven’t seemed to make a difference. When Iran launched a missile test in January, it didn’t back down from the US threats and, in fact, just on Wednesday, launched another one from the very same site. Direct war doesn’t seem a possibility. There are far more unintended consequences that could come at the US from launching any strikes against Iran than in almost any conflict the US has seen in recent decades. Even the nuclear deal – Trump promised to walk back on that and he seems to have reversed his position. I do think there is a possibility to defuse the situation, and I think it may well come after a Putin-Trump meeting, where Putin will sort of lay out their mutual priorities in the Middle East, Syria in particular, and talk to him about how Iran is essential in the ground war in the fight against terrorism. So, there are possibilities still.

RT: In the run-up to the US election, Donald Trump promised less US meddling in the affairs of other countries. What do the Iranian people think about where Donald Trump is going to take US-Iranian relationship?

SN: I think Iranians, like Americans, don’t actually know where Donald Trump is going to go with a lot of this. He didn’t seem to prioritize Iran in his campaigning. It was ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL], NATO and rapprochement with Russia. The threats against Iran have come a little bit out of left field and confused a great many players on the international stage. It has yet to be seen. But Iran is on guard; Iranians are on guard as we saw with demonstrations. They are not backing down, though there were some hopeful posters up saying that we don’t have a problem with the American people; it’s just the government threats coming at us now.

RT: Hopes were high after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, sanctions were eased, etc… Why all the backpedaling now?

SN: We hear this as though Trump has backpedaled on some great Iranian-US rapprochement. In fact, the Obama administration continued with threats against Iran and against Iran’s interests, and ramped up sanctions to a level we’d not seen before, and intervened intrusively in Iran’s civilian nuclear programs. I think it is just a shift of administrations, really, that we are looking at, and a lot of soundings had been made and posturing in the early days. I don’t think there is any significant shift yet. We are still in the talk phase. There is a lot more waiting to be done before we see how this manifests.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

 

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Russian FM Lavrov expects to talk to US counterpart Tillerson soon on Ukraine & bilateral relations

Russian FM Lavrov expects to talk to US counterpart Tillerson soon on Ukraine & bilateral relations
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said in an interview he will probably be in contact with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson soon, and is expecting to discuss the situation in Ukraine, bilateral relations, and other major international issues.

Commenting on the situation in Ukraine with Russian channel NTV, Lavrov said he sees no alternative to the package of measures in the Minsk agreement.

“The Europeans, and hopefully the Americans, will confirm this,” he said.

“I say ‘hopefully’ because the US team that will deal with Ukraine has not been formed yet,” he added.

Lavrov hopes the US State Department officials with whom it will be possible to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Syria will be appointed soon.

“This process takes some time, because the entire Obama team at the US State Department left the place at their own initiative, as they stated. Now there are some career diplomats left there, with no bosses. Rex Tillerson, as a new person in this field, is now plunging into the details of the problems [we’ll] have to work on. I’m sure that this process will be completed fairly quickly,” Lavrov said.

“But the key deputies have not been appointed yet, and the key areas of the foreign policy haven’t been mapped out either,” he added.

The critical situation in Donbass has been provoked, among other factors, by Ukrainian volunteer battalions that are not controlled by the Ukrainian Army, Lavrov said.

“Despite an agreement on a cease-fire declared a few days ago, and on the withdrawal of heavy weapons into places where they should be in accordance with the Minsk agreements, completely opposite messages arrive on a daily basis: that the Ukrainian side, the armed forces of Ukraine, are increasing their divisions and heavy weapons near the contact line and in residential areas in flagrant violation of all that was negotiated and what the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and his representatives have signed on to,” Lavrov said.

“Without a second thought, they continue to lay the blame on us, on Donbass, regardless of the reports of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), the OSCE, which has always tried to be neutral.” 

READ MORE: Dealing with damage: Locals in Donetsk clear debris after days of shelling (EXCLUSIVE)

Attempts to appeal to the conscience of the Ukrainian authorities are a waste of time, Lavrov believes.

“What Ukrainians, including [the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavel] Klimkin, publicly expound every day demonstrates that they want to force themselves in a Russophobian corner, from which it will be impossible to get out,” he said.

Lavrov believes that Ukraine needs to get back to the idea of decentralization – an idea that had already been approved at the ministerial level by the US, EU, Ukraine, and Russia by April of 2014.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, when two regions rejected a nationalist-driven armed coup in Kiev that imposed a new government, hostile to Moscow. The new authorities launched a military crackdown, triggering a bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

The latest major outbreak of violence, which began at the end of January, has seen intense fighting around the town of Avdeevka, which is located close to the disengagement line between pro-Kiev forces and the rebels in the east, as well as the shelling of the city of Donetsk. The renewal of hostilities was allegedly caused by an attack from Ukrainian paramilitary units supported by the army.

In the early hours of February 3, Donetsk was heavily bombarded by the Ukrainian military “with heavy guns, including ‘Uragan’ and ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launchers,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

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Russian planes bound for Syria anti-terrorist op still use Iranian airspace – report

Russian planes bound for Syria anti-terrorist op still use Iranian airspace – report
Iran continues to let Russian planes use the country’s airspace for military operations against the terrorists in neighboring Syria, according to Iran’s media citing a senior security official.

“Iran and Russia cooperate in Syria not in single case, but the coordination is comprehensive, embracing different aspects; accordingly, Iran’s airspace welcomes Russian fighter jets in case they seek hitting terrorists’ targets in Syria,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) said, as quoted by the Mehr news agency.

Shamkhani also pointed out that a number of Russian bombers have recently flown through Iran’s airspace, but have not done any refueling operations.

“In the recent cases, Russian fighter planes have only used Iran’s airspace and have not had refueling operations,” Shamkhani was cited as saying by Fars news.

The agency stated that the minister was commenting on recent media reports that Russia’s Tupolev-22M long-range bombers had used Iran’s airspace and a military base in the country during their recent missions in Syria. Iran allowed the Russian military to operate from its Noje Airbase in Hamadan province for the first time in August 2016, having drawn criticism from the US and even some Iranian lawmakers.

The initiative for Russian planes to use Iran’s airbase came from Tehran, as Shamkhani told state television in August. The country’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan on its part said last year that Russia can station its forces at the base “for as long as they need.”

However, Teheran pulled back on its permission shortly afterwards, slamming Moscow for attracting too much attention to the deployment.

Russia indeed called its military back a week later announcing on its part that its jets had completed the counterterrorism tasks in Syria. It has been the first time when Iranian territory had been used by foreign military forces since 1946, according to Fars.

Dehqan later said that Tehran could allow Russia’s use of its airbase for the aerial campaign against terrorists again if such a need arises.

“If the situation and conditions [in Syria] demand to provide the support, we will do this job,” General Dehqan said in November, as cited by the news agency.

The Russian upper house of parliament’s defense committee chair, Viktor Ozerov, told Ria Novosti news agency in November that Russia may be forced to use Iran’s airbase again in case the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier which it used for anti-terror strikes in Syria is called away from the Syrian borders.

“The necessity to use the airfield of the airbase in Hamadan could emerge if Admiral Kuznetsov carries out another operation and [Russia] will not be able to use it for airstrikes against terrorists in Syria,” Ozerov said at the time. The aircraft carrier had indeed been called off last month and returned to its base in Russia a week ago.

Russia and Iran have been united in supporting the Syrian government headed by President Bashar Assad in the conflict that has been tearing the Middle Eastern state apart for the past six years.

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