TIME Iran

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014. EPA

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up

Correction appended, 8/19/14

Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.

However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

In retaliation Iran, Syria and Hezbollah reportedly ended their support for Hamas in all fields, effectively ousting it from their Axis of Resistance and cutting off one of Hamas’ most vital lifelines. “The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy, they don’t deal with you in the same old way,” the deputy political leader of Hamas Moussa Abu Marzouk in February 2012, according to the Associated Press.

When the latest battle between Hamas and Israel, called the Zionist Regime in Tehran, flared up in early July, Iran initially remained relatively quiet, though it denounced Israel for the loss of life among civilians. But the number of Palestinian casualties grew, including many children and women, attracting significant international attention and sympathy. (As of Aug. 10 nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed according to the UN, along with 66 Israelis.) For Iran, the Gaza conflict was seen as an opportunity to improve its standing in the Islamic world, which had suffered—especially among Sunnis—thanks to its steadfast support of Assad.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and to regain its position as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian militant groups battling Israel—and to reconcile with Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East—a significant number of Iranian officials have now gone on the record to voice their support for Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, over its latest battle with Israel. “We are prepared to support the Palestinian resistance in different ways,” said the commander of the revolutionary guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafaria, during a speech on Aug. 4, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “Just as until now any show of strength in Palestine which caused the defeat of Zionists has its roots in the support of the Islamic Revolution [of Iran].”

The first sign of this shift came on July 29, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the resistance against Israel in a speech, calling on the Islamic world to equip Palestinians according to his official website Khamenei.ir. Two days later Khamenei was echoed by one of Iran’s top military officers, Major General of the Guards Qasem Soleimani, who commands the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Corps. Soleimani published a rare public letter to the “Political leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the resistance,” lauding their continued efforts against Israel. The letter promised that Iran “will continue to perform our religious duty to support and help the resistance till the moment of victory when the resistance will turn the earth, the air and the sea into hell for Zionists,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

That was followed by numerous officials, MPs and military figures, all issuing statements in support of Hamas, and echoing Khamenei’s call for unity among Muslims. “In our defence of Muslims we see no difference between Sunni and Shiite,” said General Jafari, the commander of the guards, in an Aug. 4 speech. Some even promised a supply of weapons to Hamas, which has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. “You will get the weapons and ammunition you need no matter how hard it might be to do so,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the former wartime commander of the revolutionary guards in a public letter to the commander of the military wing of Hamas Mohammed Deif, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

With Iran already deeply involving in shoring up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against militant Sunni groups, it is doubtful that these promises of support and weapons for Hamas could be fulfilled anytime soon, and while the Islamic Republic is also striving to break the impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other powers, arming militant groups against Israel, America’s main ally in the region, could be potentially disruptive for those talks. But in his letter to Deif, Rezaei tried to address that doubt, writing that “Israel is mistaken in its belief that the instabilities in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the pressure on Iran from the United States’ economic blockade has given them an opportunity.”

In the meantime Iran has continued its charm offensive on Sunni Muslims. The head of the influential State Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, met with Iran’s top Sunni clerics and activists recently, and called for unity among all Muslims. Promising them that Iran intended to support and defend all Abrahamic religions and sects—Rafsanjani condemned any act that could cause divisions among Muslims. Backing up that position, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced on Aug. 3 that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels that regularly incite intolerance and hatred against other Islamic sects, especially Sunnis.

Hamas—which has been politically isolated since its last remaining backer, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power—has welcomed reconciliation with its old ally and benefactor. Hamas’ official representative to Iran, Khalid al-Qoddoumi, reportedly said on Aug. 9 that Iranians “have always been the first in line to help and support our people.” Reports from the semiofficial ISNA news agency also indicate that a long postponed visit to Iran by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, is set to happen soon. For Israel, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has had one more unexpected and unwelcome outcome: Iran and Hamas are together again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the date of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s announcement that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels was misstated. It was Aug. 3.

TIME diplomacy

Pope Wants China Dialogue, Freedom for Church

Francis
Pope Francis meets the media during an airborne press conference on his journey back to Rome from Seoul on Aug. 18, 2014 Gregorio Borgia—AP

Pope Francis flies over China during his return trip to Rome from South Korea, saying that he wishes to visit China and for the Catholic Church to operate freely there

(ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE) — Pope Francis says he wants dialogue with China and the only thing he asks in return is for the Catholic Church to be able to operate freely.

The pope told reporters the church “only asks to have freedom to do its work. No other conditions.”

“The Holy See is open to all contacts,” he said. “Because it has true esteem for the Chinese people.”

In remarks to reporters returning to Rome from South Korea Monday, Francis recounted how he had a front-row seat to history when his Alitalia charter flew through Chinese airspace en route to South Korea.

Traditionally, popes send telegrams of greetings to heads of state when they enter their airspace.

This flight, however, marked the first time a pope had flown over China, which severed relations with the Holy See in 1951 when the Communists took over. Beijing refused to let St. John Paul II’s plane fly overhead when he last visited the Far East, a 1989 trip to South Korea.

The Aug. 14 flight, then, gave Francis a rare opportunity to reach out to Chinese President Xi Jinping, albeit from 35,000 feet.

Francis recalled he was in the cockpit chatting with the pilots when the plane was about 10 minutes out of Chinese airspace and it was time to request permission from the air traffic control tower to continue on.

“I was a witness to this,” Francis marveled. “And then the pilot said, ‘And now the telegram goes out.'”

After witnessing that, the pope returned to his seat and prayed.

“I prayed so much for the beautiful and noble Chinese people,” he said.

He said he would love to visit China: “Absolutely. Tomorrow!”

Francis sent Xi a similar telegram Monday heading back to Rome: “I wish to renew to your excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land.”

He also praised Koreans, especially the South Korean women who were used as sexual slaves by the Japanese military during World War II.

Francis spent a few minutes Monday greeting seven “comfort women” who attended his final Mass in Seoul’s cathedral. Francis recalled that they were young girls when they were taken away, “exploited and enslaved.” But he said: “Today these women were there because despite all that they suffered, they have their dignity. They showed their faces.”

“The Korean people are a people who haven’t lost their dignity: They are a people who were invaded, humiliated, underwent wars and now are divided,” he said. “The suffering of division is great. I understand this and I pray that it ends.”

___

Follow Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

TIME diplomacy

Reports: Germany Recorded Hillary Clinton Conversation

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) to launch a community campaign to encourage parents to talk, sing and read to their young children in Oakland, Calif on July 23, 2014.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) to launch a community campaign to encourage parents to talk, sing and read to their young children in Oakland, Calif on July 23, 2014. AP

The revelation is a potential embarrassment to Angela Merkel, who has decried American spying

German intelligence agents intercepted and recorded Hillary Clinton in conversation as she traveled aboard a United States government plane while she was Secretary of State to Barack Obama, three German media outlets reported Friday. Agents intercepted the conversation “by accident,” according to reports citing unnamed government sources by broadcasters NDR and WDR, along with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The revelation was among the more than 200 documents that a German spy, identified only as “Markus R.”, allegedly passed to the CIA.

The news, which comes as relations between the U.S. and Germany have soured over allegations that the U.S. spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has the potential to embarrass the German government. As recently as last month, Merkel condemned alleged U.S. spying on Germany, stating, “I would see this as a clear contradiction to what I understand as trusting cooperation of intelligence services as well as of partners.”

U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and White House Chief of Staff of Denis McDonough, have allegedly confronted their German counterparts on the recording.

The specific time and location of the recording remain unclear.

[NDR]

TIME diplomacy

Iran Voices Support for New Iraqi PM Designate

(TEHRAN, Iran) — A senior Iranian official offered his congratulations Tuesday to the Iraqi politician nominated to replace incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting key Iranian support for a new leader in Baghdad as the incumbent fights to keep his job.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as congratulating the Iraqi people and their leaders for choosing Haider al-Abadi to be the new premier in a report on the official IRNA news agency.

Speaking to a group of Iranian diplomats brought home for an annual meeting, Shamkhani also urged Iraqi political groups to unite in the face of “foreign threats” and said Tehran supports Iraq’s sovereignty and security. He said Iran “supports the legal process for choosing the new Iraqi prime minister.”

Shamkhani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the council.

Iran is a key powerbroker in neighboring Iraq and influential with many of the Shiite political parties. It previously supported incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, who is struggling to stay in power.

The remarks are the first official comment by Iran specifically on al-Abadi’s nomination and reflect Tehran’s discontent over al-Maliki’s role in increasing rifts among Shiite groups.

On Monday, President Rouhani voiced concern about the political crisis in Baghdad in a call with the newly elected Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It is important for Iran that a person approved by a majority of the representatives of the people in the Iraqi parliament takes power and begins his legal actions in Iraq,” Rouhani said.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum on Monday selected al-Abadi, the deputy speaker of parliament from al-Maliki’s Shiite Dawa party, to be the new prime minister. He has 30 days to present a new government to lawmakers for approval.

President Barack Obama has called al-Abadi’s nomination a “promising step forward” and urged Iraqi political leaders to pursue a peaceful political process. Al-Maliki has rejected al-Abadi’s nomination, insisting it “runs against the constitutional procedures.”

TIME Australia

The U.S. Will Increase Its Military Presence in Australia

US Marines Train In Australia's Northern Territory
The first group of 200 U.S. Marines arrives at Darwin's Robertson Barracks for a 6-month training rotation, April 2012. The Sydney Morning Herald—Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The move comes at a time when China has been testing the waters in the region

The United States will be finalizing an agreement to increase its military presence in Australia in an attempt to bolster its ties with allies in the Asia-Pacific, where China has been flexing its muscles, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The negotiations will conclude an agreement made between Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott and U.S. President Barack Obama in June.

At the annual AUSMIN talks between U.S. and Australian defense leaders this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will discuss a proposal to add more fighter jets and bombers to a military base near the northern Australian city of Darwin, Reuters said.

Australia’s defense minister David Johnston and U.S. officials will also sign a 25-year agreement, which will create a larger ballistic missile defense shield for U.S. allies in Asia-Pacific and boost U.S. troops in Australia from 1,500 to 2,500 by 2017. The additional forces will respond to humanitarian disasters and conflicts in the region.

The negotiations for an increased military presence in the region follow Beijing’s rejection of a U.S. request that China and other nations refrain from provocative acts in disputed areas of South China Sea.

TIME diplomacy

Putin Orders Import Limits Over Sanctions

(MOSCOW) — President Vladimir Putin has ordered government agencies to restrict imports of food and agricultural products from the countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.

The text of Putin’s decree released by the Kremlin on Wednesday says that such imports will be “banned or limited” for one year. The decree doesn’t name any specific countries or products, but contains an order to government agencies to spell them out.

The move follows the latest round of sanctions against Russia imposed by the European Union last week, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy.

The U.S. and the EU have accused Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March, of fomenting tensions in eastern Ukraine by supplying arms and expertise to a pro-Moscow insurgency, and have imposed asset freezes and loan bans on a score of individuals and companies.

Russia depends heavily on imported foodstuffs — most of it from the West — particularly in the largest and most prosperous cities such as Moscow.

The order says the limits are being imposed “with the goal of guaranteeing the security of the Russian Federation” and calls for undertaking measures to guard against quick price hikes. Both those clauses appeared to indicate that the scope of the measures wouldn’t be wide.

TIME Terrorism

Bill Clinton Said The Day Before 9/11 He Could Have Killed Bin Laden

Listen to the audio

+ READ ARTICLE

Chilling audio of former President Bill Clinton admitting that he turned down an opportunity to attack Osama bin Laden during his presidency was recently uncovered by Sky News Australia. The audio was recorded on September 10, 2001, one day before the 9/11 attacks which claimed nearly 3,000 lives and dramatically impacted the course of global history.

“I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children,” Clinton said. “And then I would have been no better than him.”

Sky News obtained this footage of the former U.S. President through former Australian politician Michael Kroger.

TIME Panda Sex

Richard Nixon Asked a Reporter to Watch Panda Sex

A new book details the former president’s keen interest making sure his new pandas got busy

+ READ ARTICLE

When former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gave the United States two pandas in 1972, the result, as captured in a pun-perfect turn of phrase by first lady Pat Nixon, was “panda-monium,” report the authors of the new book The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.

And that panda-monium–something which we here at TIME, progenitors of our very own replacement panda-cam, know all about–has continued, once more proving that we are but one nation, under panda.

But the very first panda lover of all of us–the prototypical panda pursuer, the panda panderer to rule them all–was none other than bowling enthusiast and nearly two-term President Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon’s interest in his new Chinese pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, was such that he was touchingly concerned with their sex lives.

Here’s Nixon’s exchange with Washington Star foreign editor Crosby Noyes, courtesy of The Washington Post.

Nixon: The problem, however, with pandas is that they don’t know how to mate. The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?

Noyes: [laughs]

Nixon: And, so they’re keeping them there a little while—these are younger ones—

Noyes: I see.

Nixon: —to sort of learn, you know, how it’s done.

Noyes: Sure, learn the ropes—

Nixon: Now, if they don’t learn it, they’ll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas—

You get the picture.

In exchange for the pandas, the U.S. gave China two musk oxen, which are neat enough, sure, but it’s pretty clear who got the better end of that deal.

TIME East Asia

The Chinese President’s Visit to Seoul Says Much About Shifting Alliances

SKOREA-CHINA-DIPLOMACY
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are welcomed upon arrival at Seoul Air Base on July 3, 2014 Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

The two-day trip is the first time a Chinese leader has chosen to visit South Korea before calling on the North

South Korea is a good neighbor. North Korea, not so much. That’s the message China sent this week as President Xi Jinping stopped by Seoul for a two-day visit. It is the first time a Chinese leader chose to visit South Korea before meeting with the Kim clan first — a deliberate slight to North Korea and a sign of shifting alliances across Asia’s northeast.

South Korea and China are not natural allies. China backed the North in the 1950–53 war that split the Korean Peninsula. Since then, Beijing has been North Korea’s greatest ally, serving as patron and protector to Pyongyang — a closeness Mao Zedong once likened to “lips and teeth.”

But the bonds of authoritarian brotherhood have frayed of late. Beijing is rather tired of the North’s nuclear theatrics and increasing unwillingness to prop up its sluggish economy. The North’s bold young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has yet to meet with Beijing’s top brass. As news of Xi’s Seoul trip broke, he was busy lobbing rockets into the sea.

Shared frustration with the North has given democratic South Korea and authoritarian China some common ground. They have since discovered they share much else, including a thriving trading partnership and an old foe: Japan. Amid ongoing territorial disputes, the legacy of Japan’s 20th century imperial expansion and the country’s wartime record have become a focal point for East Asia, particularly Seoul and Beijing. They recently collaborated on a museum that pays tribute to Korean man who, in 1909, assassinated a Japanese colonial official.

Not wanting to be outmaneuvered, Tokyo has made a quiet overture to Pyongyang. Sitting within range of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, and an ally of the U.S., Japan is hardly a North Korea fan. But, on July 3 as Xi flew to Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would lift some economic sanctions on North Korea in return for its pledge to investigate the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese and North Korean diplomats have already met in Beijing.

TIME Iran

Iran’s YouTube Message to Obama: Don’t Bully Us

Tehran takes a hard line as a July 20 nuclear deadline nears

+ READ ARTICLE

Iran’s foreign minister posted a defiant YouTube message on Wednesday, just as high-stakes talks over Iran’s nuclear program are resuming amid dim hopes for a breakthrough by a mid-July deadline.

“Iranians are allergic to pressure,” Mohammad Javad Zarif says in the English-language video. “Let’s try mutual respect.”

Zarif’s digital salvo came the day before the formal resumption of talks between Iran, the U.S., and five other major powers—and less than three weeks before the July 20 expiration of November’s interim nuclear agreement, which froze the progress of Iran’s nuclear program in return for relaxed international sanctions.

Experts call the video a clear message to the West and an effort to gain a public relations advantage as the final round of nuclear talks get underway. “Given that the video is in English, Zarif is clearly speaking to a foreign rather than a domestic audience,” says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “His message to Washington is that a failure to reach an agreement today will only result in a more advanced Iranian nuclear program tomorrow. His message to the world is that a failure to reach an agreement will be America’s fault.”

In talks that began last fall, the Obama administration hopes to reach a long-term agreement trading sanctions relief for limits on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb. Such a deal might be Barack Obama’s last chance for an enduring foreign policy triumph in a star-crossed second term.

Zarif’s defiant tone, however, reinforces pessimism about the prospects for such a comprehensive deal, at least this summer.

“This probably isn’t going to get done by July 20,” says George Perkovich, also of the Carnegie Endowment, who recently returned from meetings in Tehran with people informed about the negotiations.

November’s interim deal allowed for a six-month extension, until January 2015, and many experts predict that outcome. Earlier this year Obama officials seemed to raise expectations for a more comprehensive deal, one that could last for a decade or more, but have recently struck a much more pessimistic tone. Even so, most close observers expect that the talks will continue rather than collapse entirely.

“I don’t think either side can afford to take the blame for walking away from the table if the other side is prepared to continue,” said Gary Samore, who formerly handled the Iran nuclear issue for the Obama White House, said in recent public remarks.

In latest example of Iran’s canny digital diplomacy, Zarif’s new video presents a soothing tone, opening with a shot of the diplomat strolling past a trickling fountain. A piano gently plays. But Zarif’s tone is stern. Speaking in fluent English, Iran’s western-educated negotiator denounces U.S.-led efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program over the past decade, including “the murder of our nuclear scientists, the sabotage of our facilities” and “military threats” from Washington.

Zarif may have been responding, in part, to a Wednesday Washington Post op-ed by Secretary of State John Kerry, warning Tehran not to “squander a historic opportunity to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation,” and to accept limits that would allow for a peaceful nuclear program.

Obama officials in Vienna are pressing Iran to dismantle several thousand of its roughly 10,000 centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium into a more fissile form, and to accept other limits on its nuclear facilities and research programs. Their goal is to extend the “break out” time required for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to make one nuclear bomb, to as long as one year, thereby giving the international community time to detect and respond to the move. In return, Iran would get relief from harsh economic sanctions against its banking, energy and other key sectors.

Congressional Republicans and some Democrats are skeptical of such a deal, and argue for cranking up economic sanctions until Tehran, in effect, cries uncle and dismantles its nuclear program entirely.

Zarif insists that won’t happen. “To those who continue to believe that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, I can only say that pressure has only been tried for the past eight years…. It didn’t bring the Iranian people to kneel in submission and it will not now, nor in the future,” he says in his message.

Zarif’s tone reflects a bargaining gulf that remains over everything from the number of centrifuges Iran will retain to the operation of a heavy water plutonium reactor at Arak, whose fuel can easily be fashioned into bombs. The U.S. also wants more transparency about any military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran maintains that the world has no right to dictate its use of nuclear technology for what it says are peaceful energy and medical purposes.

Complicating matters are renewed concerns that Iran could might try to build a bomb in secret after striking a deal that covers its known nuclear sites. A new report from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs warns against the potential false comfort of a “nuclear Maginot line.”

Meeting with the Iranians in Vienna are the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia—a group known as the P5+1, because, along with the U.S., it includes the five permanent members of the United Nations security council, plus Germany.

Casting a long shadow, meanwhile, is Israel, which sent a delegation to Washington on Sunday to repeat their government’s view that Iran should surrender its nuclear infrastructure entirely. In an interview after his arrival here, Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz cited the success of the deal that forced Syrian president Bashar Assad to give up his declared chemical arsenal, which has now been removed from the country. Only “total dismantlement” can ensure that Iran doesn’t test the international community’s will in the future.

Zarif wants the world to believe that Iran has no such intention. “We still have time to put an end to the myth that Iran is seeking to build a bomb,” he says. “My government remains committed to ending this unnecessary crisis by July 20. I hope my counterparts are, too.”

Even if both sides are genuinely committed to a deal, however, that doesn’t mean they can agree on one.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,409 other followers