DONALD Trump’s White House signalled a tougher stance toward Iran on Wednesday, condemning a recent missile test and declaring America was putting the Islamic Republic ‘on notice’.
In his first public remarks since taking office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn accused Barack Obama’s administration of having ‘failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions’.
Flynn cited a recent missile test and the actions of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen as examples of Tehran’s malign behaviour. Iran is now feeling emboldened,’ Flynn said, in trenchant pre-written remarks. ‘As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,’ he said without elaborating.
Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman, said there had been ‘no change in the US military posture’ around Iran at this time. ‘We stand ready to defend America’s interests and partners around the world,’ he said.
Flynn insisted that Sunday’s missile test was ‘in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231,’ which calls on Iran not to test missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran’s ballistic missile programme has been a bone of contention with the West since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year.
It remains to be seen if the White House will push for sanctions this time around. A move toward sanctions could test the foundation of the nuclear deal and would likely meet resistance from European nations as well as Russia and China. Iran confirmed it had tested a ballistic missile, but denied that was a breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The comments from Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan came after the UN Security Council met on Tuesday to discuss the weekend test, which Washington described as ‘absolutely unacceptable’. ‘The action was in line with boosting Iran’s defence power and is not in contradiction with the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) or Resolution 2231.’
‘This test was in line with our ongoing programme,’ Iranian media quoted him as saying. ‘We have previously announced that we will execute the programme we have planned in production of defence equipment meant for our national interests and objectives. Nobody can influence our decision.’ Iran has missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles), sufficient to reach Israel as well as US bases in the region.
Flynn also criticised Iran after Yemeni rebel ‘suicide’ boats attacked a Saudi warship on patrol in the Red Sea, killing two sailors in what the Saudi-led coalition called an escalation of the nearly two-year-old war.
The assault off the rebel-held port of Hodeida came as coalition-backed government forces pressed a deadly drive up the Red Sea coast, despite mounting international pressure for a ceasefire.
Israel and Egypt are emerging as US President Donald Trump’s top allies in the Middle East as he tries to strengthen US ties in the region with a focus on countering Iran’s influence and fighting Islamic extremists. Trump and Netanyahu ‘agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran’, the White House said. ‘The president affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security and stressed that countering ISIL and other radical Islamic terrorist groups will be a priority for his administration,’ the statement added, using a different acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS).
Following Trump’s inauguration, Israel announced a major expansion of settlements on Palestinian territory in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who had a rocky relationship with Netanyahu, saw the settlements as a factor preventing a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in December allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the practice.
In contrast, Trump did not comment on the settlement expansion, which is considered illegal under international law. The new administration’s stance is seen as an encouragement for unilateral Israeli action. ‘The president emphasised that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties,’ the White House said.
US media reported that Trump was planning to designate the Muslim Brotherhood — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil Sisi’s main political adversary — a terrorist organisation. The Egyptian president came to power in 2013 after toppling Muhammad Morsi, a senior Brotherhood member.
Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said: ‘Israel and Egypt fit Trump’s priority of fighting terrorism in the Middle East and were seen as trusted “local partners”.’
Trump’s US-Israel-Egypt triangle could face other challenges as well. The new president’s foreign policy agenda foresees a decidedly pro-Israel approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which could anger Egypt. ‘Egyptians have a soft spot for the Palestinians,’ said Hisham Fahmy, chief executive officer of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.
• With 330,000 inhabitants surrounded by volcanoes, glaciers and geysers, Iceland is an unusual destination for refugees fleeing war in Syria. But since 2015, 118 Syrians have found hope for a new and tranquil life in the Nordic nation. Many of them lived in Lebanon for several years before coming to the land of ice and fire, sent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Most of them have settled in the capital Reykjavik and its surroundings, while others are beginning their new lives in Akureyri in the north of the country, 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. A refugee family said of Iceland and the weather there, ‘We’re able to adapt to any conditions here, whether they’re easy or difficult, we can live with them,’ he says. ‘It’s only the language that is a bit complicated. We need time to become fully adapted,’ he adds.
Mustafa Akra a Syrian refugee who lives in Iceland with his wife Basma said: ‘They , the Icelanders, welcomed us in a very nice way,’ says 30-year-old Mustafa Akra, thin glasses perched on his nose and a cap on his head. Mustafa says some people he has met in Iceland are ‘racist’, but fewer than in other countries.
Support for the anti-immigration Icelandic National Front, founded in early 2016 when the first Syrian refugees began arriving, remains minimal. The party garnered only 0.2 percent of votes in October’s snap election. And according to a survey carried out for Amnesty International in September, more than 85 percent of Icelanders want to take in more refugees.
‘People are shy to advertise their opposition against refugees. It’s not a popular view here,’ says Linda Blondal, the Syrian couple’s neighbour who is helping them integrate into Icelandic society. The couple knew little or nothing about their new home before coming.
‘We had never heard of Iceland before arriving here. We barely knew where it was!’ explains Basma, who wears a hijab. Mustafa, a strapping man willing to work hard, ended up finding a job. But it wasn’t easy – he speaks neither Icelandic nor English.
In Syria he worked as a taxi driver, a car mechanic, a cook, a house painter and an electrician. He now works for Ali Baba, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the centre of Reykjavik.
The family is set to grow, as Basma is expected to give birth to their first child, a boy, in the coming weeks. ‘I’m proud that he will be born in Iceland, as safe as possible in a beautiful country,’ the 28-year-old mum-to-be says. Iceland registered 791 asylum applications last year, mostly from Balkan countries.
Only 100 have been granted refugee status, including 25 Iraqis, 17 Syrians and 14 Iranians. A year ago, then-prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson welcomed the first six Syrian refugee families at Reykjavik airport. And on Monday, President Gudni Johannesson received another five refugees at his official residence.