France’s Macron Urges Green Light for Ukraine to Strike Targets inside Russia with Western Weapons

 German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to reporters on the day of a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting at the German government's guest house, Schloss Meseberg castle north of Berlin, in Gransee, Germany, May 28, 2024. (Reuters)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to reporters on the day of a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting at the German government's guest house, Schloss Meseberg castle north of Berlin, in Gransee, Germany, May 28, 2024. (Reuters)
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France’s Macron Urges Green Light for Ukraine to Strike Targets inside Russia with Western Weapons

 German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to reporters on the day of a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting at the German government's guest house, Schloss Meseberg castle north of Berlin, in Gransee, Germany, May 28, 2024. (Reuters)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to reporters on the day of a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting at the German government's guest house, Schloss Meseberg castle north of Berlin, in Gransee, Germany, May 28, 2024. (Reuters)

France’s president has joined the head of NATO in pushing for a policy shift that could change the complexion of the war in Ukraine — allowing Kyiv to strike military bases inside Russia with sophisticated long-range weapons provided by Western partners.

The question of whether to allow Ukraine to hit targets on Russian soil with Western-supplied weaponry has been a delicate issue since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Western leaders have mostly shrunk from taking the step because it runs the risk of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly warned that the West's direct involvement could put the world on a path to nuclear conflict.

But the war has been going Russia’s way recently as the Kremlin’s forces have exploited Ukrainian shortages in troops and ammunition after a lengthy delay in US military aid, and Western Europe’s inadequate military production slowed crucial deliveries to the battlefield.

Russian missiles and bombs have pummeled Ukrainian military positions and civilian areas, including the power grid. Ukraine is facing its hardest test of the war, and untying its hands on long-range weapons could spur a fightback and upset the Kremlin.

Macron said that France's position is that “we think we must allow (Ukraine) to neutralize the (Russian) military sites from which the missiles are fired."

“If we tell (the Ukrainians) you do not have the right to reach the point from which the missiles are fired, we are in fact telling them that we are delivering weapons to you, but you cannot defend yourself,” Macron said late Tuesday on an official visit to Germany.

His remarks came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the alliance’s members to lift some of the restrictions on Ukraine’s use of Western weapons.

“The right to self-defense includes hitting legitimate targets outside Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said at a NATO meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria on Monday.

Already, at the start of May, Moscow interpreted as a threat UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s comment that Ukraine could use British long-range weapons, such as the Storm Shadow cruise missile, to hit back at Russia.

That, and Macron’s comments that he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, prompted Russia to announce it would hold drills involving tactical nuclear weapons. Russia also warned the UK government that its decision could bring retaliatory strikes on British military facilities and equipment on Ukrainian soil or elsewhere.

The leaders are choosing their words carefully. Macron underlined that only Russian bases used to launch missiles against Ukraine should be regarded as legitimate targets — not other Russian bases or civilian infrastructure.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking alongside Macron, was as usual more guarded and noncommittal, noting that Ukraine “is allowed to defend itself” under international law.

Scholz’s spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, clarified Wednesday that the chancellor meant that Ukraine’s defense “isn’t limited to its territory.” He declined to say what agreements with Ukraine on weapons supplied by Germany stipulate, insisting they are confidential.

Scholz has insisted on avoiding steps that could end up drawing NATO into a battlefield confrontation with Russia. Other Western leaders have expressed similar fears of a creeping, high-stakes escalation.

His concerns are shared in Washington. Over the past two years, the US has gradually ceded to Ukrainian requests for support, sending tanks and long-range missile systems that it initially hesitated to provide, but with a caveat on aiming them at Russian soil.

“There’s no change to our policy at this point,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday. “We don’t encourage or enable the use of US-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia.”

Western leaders are keen to put pressure on Putin, whose forces have recently been pushing hard against Ukrainian defenses in eastern and northeastern Ukraine.

This week has brought a cascade of new European aid, with Belgium and Spain each pledging around 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in new military support to Ukraine. Sweden announced Wednesday it will donate aid worth 13 billion kronor ($1.23 billion) — the largest package Sweden has donated so far. It will include air defense systems, artillery ammunition and armored vehicles.

Ukraine has recently been under intense pressure from Russian attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region and in the partially occupied eastern Donetsk region.

Putin has said he wants to establish a “buffer zone” in Kharkiv to halt cross-border Ukrainian assaults. Analysts say the Kharkiv push also draws depleted Ukrainian forces away from Donetsk.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said late Tuesday that Russia’s Kharkiv push has slowed in recent days and the Kremlin’s forces are probing the front line in Donetsk for weaknesses.



Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The six candidates vying to succeed ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash, focused on revitalizing Iran's sanctions-hit economy in their first debate ahead of next week's election.

The contenders -- five conservatives and a sole reformer -- faced off in a four-hour live debate, vowing to address the financial challenges affecting the country's 85 million people.

Originally slated for 2025, the election was moved forward after Raisi's death on May 19 in a helicopter crash in northern Iran.

Long before the June 28 election, Iran had been grappling with mounting economic pressures, including international sanctions and soaring inflation.

"We will strengthen the economy so that the government can pay salaries according to inflation and maintain their purchasing power," conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said.

Ghalibaf, Iran's parliament speaker, also pledged to work towards removing crippling US sanctions reimposed after then US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's economy grew by 5.7 percent in the year to March 2024, with authorities targeting a further eight percent growth this year, driven by hydrocarbon exports.

The sole reformist candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, said he would seek to build regional and global relations to achieve this growth.

He also called for easing internet restrictions in the country where Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and X are among the social media platforms banned.

Reformists, whose political influence has waned in the years since the 1979 revolution, have fallen in behind Pezeshkian after other moderate hopefuls were barred from standing.

Ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, however, said Iran did not need to repair its relations with the West.

He took aim at Trump, saying his policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran had "failed miserably".

- 'Maximum pressure' -

In the absence of opinion polls, Ghalibaf, Jalili and Pezeshkian are seen as the frontrunners for Iran's second highest-ranking job.

Ultimate authority in the state is wielded by the supreme leader rather the president with 85-year-old Ali Khamenei holding the post for 35 years.

Incumbent Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said during the debate he would seek to lower inflation following a "political leadership style similar to that of Martyr Raisi."

Raisi easily won Iran's 2021 election in which no reformist or moderate figures were allowed to run. Backed by Khamenei he had been tipped to possibly replace the supreme leader.

Iran’s relations with the West continued to suffer, particularly following the outbreak of the October 7 Gaza war.

Tehran's support for the Palestinian armed group Hamas, coupled with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear program have hastened the decline.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric in the running, blamed international sanctions for "blocking the economy" and "making financial transactions impossible".

Tehran's conservative mayor, Alireza Zakani, said the US sanctions were "cruel" but were not the main problem behind Iran's economic hardship.

"We should emphasize the economic independence of the country, de-dollarize the economy and rely on our own national currency," he said.