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Iraq Offers to Mediate for Iran, US    05/26 11:45

   Iraq offered Sunday to mediate in the crisis between its two key allies, the 
United States and Iran, amid escalating Middle East tensions and as Tehran's 
nuclear deal with world powers steadily unravels.

   BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq offered Sunday to mediate in the crisis between its two 
key allies, the United States and Iran, amid escalating Middle East tensions 
and as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers steadily unravels.

   Iraqi foreign minister, Mohammed al-Hakim, made the offer during a joint 
news conference in Baghdad with visiting Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad 
Zarif.

   "We are trying to help and to be mediators," said al-Hakim, adding that 
Baghdad "will work to reach a satisfactory solution" while stressing that Iraq 
stands against unilateral steps taken by Washington.

   In recent weeks, tensions between Washington and Tehran soared over America 
deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over a 
still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran. The U.S. also plans to send 
900 additional troops to the 600 already in the Mideast and extending their 
stay.

   The crisis takes root in President Donald Trump's withdrawal last year of 
America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that capped 
Iran's uranium enrichment activities in return to lifting sanctions. Washington 
subsequently re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.

   Trump has argued that the deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran's ability to 
develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle 
East that the U.S. says destabilize the region, as well as address the issue of 
Tehran's missiles, which can reach both U.S. regional bases and Israel.

   Zarif, who was been on a whirlwind diplomatic offensive to preserve the rest 
of the accord, insisted that Iran "did not violate the nuclear deal" and urged 
European nations to exert efforts to preserve the deal following the U.S. 
pullout.

   Speaking about the rising tensions with the U.S., Zarif said Iran will be 
able to "face the war, whether it is economic or military through steadfastness 
and its forces." He also urged for a non-aggression agreement between Iran and 
Arab countries in the Gulf.

   The Shiite-majority Iraq has been trying to maintain a fine line as allies 
Tehran and Washington descended into verbal vitriol. The country also lies on 
the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by 
powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been a battlefield in which the 
Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out.

   The mediation offer by al-Hakim, Iraq's foreign minister, echoed one made 
Saturday by Mohamad al-Halbousi, the Iraqi parliament speaker. Al-Hakim also 
expressed concern for Iran's spiraling economy.

   Iranians make up the bulk of millions of Shiites from around the world who 
come to Iraq every year to visit its many Shiite shrines and holy places and 
their purchasing power has slumped after Trump re-imposed the sanctions.

   "The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its 
side," al-Hakim said.

   Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested the Islamic Republic 
could hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official IRNA news agency 
said Rouhani, who was last week publicly chastised by the country's supreme 
leader, made the suggestion in a meeting with editors of major Iranian news 
outlets on Saturday evening.

   Rouhani said he had previously suggested a referendum to Supreme Leader 
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2004, when Rouhani was a senior nuclear negotiator 
for Iran.

   At the time, Khamenei approved of the idea and though there was no 
referendum, such a vote "can be a solution at any time," Rouhani was quoted as 
saying.

   A referendum could provide political cover for the Iranian government if it 
chooses to increase its enrichment of uranium, prohibited under the 2015 
nuclear deal.

   Earlier last week, Iran said it quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production 
capacity though Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would 
be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the deal, making it usable for a 
power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.

   Rouhani's remarks could also be seen as a defense of his stance following 
the rare public chastising by the supreme leader.

   Khamenei last week named Rouhani and Zarif --- relative moderates within 
Iran's Shiite theocracy who had struck the nuclear deal --- as failing to 
implement his orders over the accord, saying it had "numerous ambiguities and 
structural weaknesses" that could damage Iran.

   Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran, did not 
immediately respond to Rouhani's proposal of a referendum. The Islamic Republic 
has seen only three referendums since it was established in 1979 --- one on 
regime change from monarchy to Islamic republic and two on its constitution and 
its amendments.

   Also in Tehran, acting commander of the country's powerful Revolutionary 
Guard said any negotiations with the U.S. would be fruitless. Gen. Ali Fadavi 
said it would be like having "negotiations with Satan."


(KA)

 
 
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