Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka arrives in Beirut after Iran release

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Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and US resident arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in jail on espionage charges, flashes the victory gesture at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Freed Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka with Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon's internal security chief, aboard a plane after being released by Iran. (Lebanese General Security Directorate/Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2019

Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka arrives in Beirut after Iran release

  • ‘The relevant court has agreed to Nizar Zakka’s conditional release and he will be handed over to Lebanese authorities’
  • Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July

BEIRUT: Iran on Tuesday freed a Lebanese man detained in 2015 on charges of spying for the United States, a gesture that comes amid soaring tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A US resident in his 50s, Nizar Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July.
He is the head of The Arab ICT Organization, a non-profit that advocates the growth and development of information and communications technology in the Middle East.
Before his arrest, he had been taking part in a conference in Tehran at the invitation of Shahindokht Molaverdi, then vice president for women and family affairs, according to his family.
He was stopped on his way to the airport, his family and lawyer have said.
At the time, Iranian state television said he was accused of “deep ties to the military and intelligence services of the United States.”
It broadcast photographs of a man in military uniform it said was of Zakka at a US base.
On Tuesday, Zakka arrived in Lebanon, after his release by Iranian authorities.
He was escorted back to his native country by Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who was in Tehran one day earlier, according to the security service.
In a speech at Lebanon’s presidential palace, Zakka declined to elaborate on the circumstances behind his arrest but dismissed the case against him.
“There was no espionage,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, accusing Tehran of “kidnapping him” on false charges and staging a “show trial.”
For his part, the general security chief denied speculation Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah played a primary role in brokering Zakka’s release.
“The issue was resolved at the request of the president,” Ibrahim told reporters.
“Hezbollah definitely played a role but the basis (for the release) was a request from the president.”
His comments came in response to a report by Iran’s Fars news agency on Monday that Zakka’s release followed “the request and mediation” of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
“Zaka has been freed and extradited, thanks to Nasrallah’s mediation and the respect Tehran pays to him,” it said, citing an “informed source.”
Tehran has direct control over Hezbollah, its main proxy in the region.
Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaili said Aoun had requested Zakka’s release “in writing” and Hezbollah had said it would be “expedient.”
“This is an absolutely judicial procedure and no political issue has been involved,” Esmaili was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The US State Department had also called for Zakka to be freed, saying he was unjustly held. Following his arrival in Beirut, the US applauded Zakka’s release by Iran as a “great day” for him and his family and said it hoped the move was a positive sign for Americans detained by Tehran.
“It is without a doubt a great day for Mr. Zakka, his family, and all those who have supported him during his unlawful imprisonment,” a State Department spokeswoman said. “We hope that Mr. Zakka’s release is a positive sign for American detainees in Iran,” she said.
Meanwhile, Zakka’s lawyer appealed for help for other detainees being held in Iranian prisons following his client’s release.
“Nizar expresses his sincerest thanks to those who never forgot him,” Jason Poblete said in an emailed statement.
“Nizar also wants to remind those who can help that there remain many Americans... and other foreigners in Iranian prisons. Nizar grew close to some of these men; they need help and want to come home.”
Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties in 1980 in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution. Relations have deteriorated sharply since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
At the end of 2017, an Iranian court upheld Zakka’s 10-year jail sentence as well as those of an American and two Iranian-Americans accused of “collaboration” with the United States.
Zakka’s brother Ziad has previously accused Lebanese officials of neglecting his case.
The decision to release him comes amid a stand-off that has been simmering since the United States last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear treaty which Iran reached with major world powers.
Tensions have intensified since April when the US added Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to its blacklist of “terrorist” organizations and strengthened sanctions against the Islamic republic.
The standoff has worsened recent weeks, after the US military announced it was dispatching reinforcements to the Middle East in response to alleged “Iranian threats” as well as the sabotage of four ships at the entrance to the Gulf on May 12.
Washington and Riyadh have accused Tehran of being behind those attacks, a charge it has dismissed as “laughable.”

Kushner: Trump wants fair deal for Palestinians

Updated 38 min 34 sec ago

Kushner: Trump wants fair deal for Palestinians

  • Fighting new economic plan ‘a strategic mistake,’ White House adviser says
  • Says plan would double Palestinian GDP in 10 years, create over a million jobs

MANAMA, Bahrain: Donald Trump wants a fair deal for Palestinians, the US president’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said on the eve of the launch in Bahrain of the White House’s $50 billion “peace for prosperity” plan.

The Palestinians are missing an opportunity to participate in the Middle East peace process by boycotting the Bahrain conference, Kushner said. “This is a strong package that has been put together. Fighting it instead of embracing it, I think, is a strategic mistake.”

The plan proposes a global investment fund for Palestine and neighboring Arab states, and a $5 billion transport corridor between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian leaders have rejected it, but Kushner said their criticism was “more emotional than specific.”

“Nobody has refuted our core premise that this would do a lot to stimulate the economy,” he said. “The Palestinian people have been trapped in a situation for a long time and we wanted to show them, and their leadership, that there is a pathway forward that could be quite exciting.”

The Palestinian people have been trapped in a situation for a long time and we wanted to show them, and their leadership, that there is a pathway forward that could be quite exciting.

Jared Kushner, US president’s adviser

Kushner said Trump decisions such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv were evidence that the president kept his promises.

“The Palestinians might not have liked his Jerusalem decision, but he made a promise and he did it,” he said. What the president wanted now was “to give the Palestinian people a fair solution.”

Kushner said the plan would double the GDP in 10 years, create over a million jobs, reduce poverty by 50 percent and bring unemployment to below 10 percent.

“We believe this doable,” he said. “It’s hard, but if there’s a peace agreement and we set up the right structure, we think it could really lead to improving people’s lives in a substantial way.

“I think there is a lot of enthusiasm in the West Bank and Gaza to see if we can find a political solution so that this can be implemented.”

The political element of the White House plan has been delayed by uncertainty in Israel, where there will be elections this year after an earlier vote failed to produce a stable coalition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also face a criminal trial for corruption.