India to ignore US sanctions on Iran, Venezuela: minister

India to ignore US sanctions on Iran, Venezuela: minister
Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sushma Swaraj (R) stands next to her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javed Zarif before a meeting in New Delhi on May 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2018

India to ignore US sanctions on Iran, Venezuela: minister

India to ignore US sanctions on Iran, Venezuela: minister

NEW DELHI: India will keep trading with Iran and Venezuela despite the threat of fallout from US sanctions against the two countries, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said Monday.
Swaraj, asked at a news conference whether US action against Iran and Venezuela would damage India, said the country would not make foreign policy “under pressure.”
US President Donald Trump this month withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and ordered the reimposition of sanctions suspended under the 2015 accord.
Washington has also tightened sanctions against Venezuela over the controversial re-election of President Nicolas Maduro.
Both countries are key oil suppliers to India and the United States has warned that foreign companies which deal with Iran could themselves be punished.
But Swaraj said New Delhi did not believe in “reactionary” policies and would not be dictated to by other countries.
“We don’t make our foreign policy under pressure from other countries,” she told a news conference.
“We believe in UN sanctions but not in country-specific sanctions.”
Swaraj’s comments came just before a meeting with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi.
Bilateral trade between India and Iran amounted to $12.9 billion in 2016-17. India imported $10.5 billion worth of goods, mainly crude oil, and exported commodities worth $2.4 billion.
India has other interests in Iran, in particular a commitment to build the port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman.
The port is being touted as a way for India to establish trade routes that bypass rival Pakistan.
Media reports have speculated India could revive a rupee-rial payment arrangement with Iran to shield exporters from the heat of US sanctions.
Swaraj also said India would continue trading with Venezuela, but there was no plan to use its local cryptocurrency in oil trade.


Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
Updated 6 min ago

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
  • News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed bitterness and disappointment ahead of elections that are expected to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The Syrian Parliament has set May 26 as the date for the poll.

Assad won in 2014 with more than 88 percent of the Syrian vote. He has not officially announced his candidacy to run in next month’s election.

News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon, who also expressed their frustration with the international community.

Abu Ahmad Souaiba, speaking on behalf of the Voice of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said the revolution was launched to “achieve freedom and dignity.”

“Our disappointment today is great because of the failure to implement (UN) Security Council resolutions, which call for power transition not the re-election of Bashar Assad one more time,” he told Arab News.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon, with the majority of those who took part in the revolution against Assad concentrated in the Arsal area.

“There are three segments of Syrians in Lebanon,” said Souaiba. “One segment includes families who have been living in Lebanon since before the revolution and those who are not affiliated with the opposition. The second includes the opposition, and these migrated to Lebanon in 2013 and 2014 because of the barrels of death (barrel bombs). The third includes those who are neither with the opposition nor with the regime, and those (people) came to Lebanon because of the economic crisis and are concerned about obtaining their livelihood and the sustenance of their families.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon decreased to 865,500 by the end of Dec. 2020.

Lebanon called on the UNHCR to suspend new registrations at the beginning of 2015. 

About 55,000 have returned to Syria in recent years as part of repatriation efforts by Lebanese General Security and as part of a reconciliation program sponsored by Hezbollah in some Syrian towns.

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah has set up committees to fill out census forms with the number of Syrian refugees present in certain areas ahead of taking them to voting stations on polling day.

Talk of a Hezbollah census has coincided with information that the Ministry of Interior is waiting for UNHCR data in order to prepare a mechanism for calculating the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The ministry has been assigned this task in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanese General Security and the UNHCR.

Arab News contacted UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abu Khaled, but she refused to comment and only said there was “currently no refugee census.”

Souaiba believed there was no need to recount the refugees because, around six weeks ago, a census was carried out by NGOs under the supervision of Lebanese military intelligence for refugees in camps and settlements, specifically in the Arsal area which is open to the land connecting Lebanese and Syrian territories.

He also said there was news from inside Syria of hunger, even in Damascus, and painted a bleak picture of people’s desperation to escape.

“There is no fuel and no electricity,” he added. “A woman who fled to Lebanon with her children told me that her husband was arrested by Syrian authorities and his fate is still unknown. She is almost dying of starvation with her children. She preferred to flee to Lebanon with her children and borrowed $100 to pay the smuggler. She thought that in Lebanon she would receive some food, and this is better than hunger in Syria.”

A UNHCR study estimated that 89 percent of Syrian refugee families were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon in 2020, compared to 55 percent in 2019.


Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
Updated 16 min 36 sec ago

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
  • Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces could mean world powers would push for a resolution by June

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces in the IAEA’s talks with Tehran could mean France, Britain and Germany would push for a resolution with US backing by the next IAEA board meeting in June.
“The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.
The Iran nuclear deal effectively drew a line under what the IAEA and US intelligence agencies believe was a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that Iran halted in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
In the past two years, however, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.
The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.
The issue has been a complicating factor in the diplomatic effort to resurrect the 2015 deal, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 prompting Iran to violate some of its limits. President Joe Biden aims to resurrect the deal, but Washington and Tehran are at odds over how to do that.
A first IAEA-Iran meeting to discuss the uranium traces had been due to take place in Tehran in early April, but that was delayed just as talks to rescue the deal, involving its remaining parties and shuttle diplomacy with the United States, were being arranged in Vienna.
“Today’s meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital,” the IAEA said, using the deal’s full name.


NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet
Updated 57 min 2 sec ago

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet
  • It was a brief hop, just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters), but accomplished all the major milestones
  • The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

CAPE CANAVERAL: NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.
The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters) — but accomplished all the major milestones.
“We’ve been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment, and here it is,” said project manager MiMi Aung, offering a virtual hug to her socially distanced colleagues in the control room as well as those at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly when it touched down in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.
Scientists cheered the news from around the world and even from space.
“A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal,” Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said from England.
This first test flight — with more to come by Ingenuity — holds great promise, Brown noted. Future helicopters could serve as otherworldly scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous places.
Ground controllers had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the preprogrammed flight had succeeded more than 170 million miles (287 million kilometers) away. The first attempt had been delayed a week because of a software error.
When the news finally came, the operations center filled with applause, cheers and laughter. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared, showing the helicopter’s shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars.
“The shadow of greatness, #MarsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted from the International Space Station.
Next came stunning color video of the copter’s clean landing, taken by Perseverance, “the best host little Ingenuity could ever hope for,” Aung said in thanking everyone.
The helicopter hovered for 30 seconds at its intended altitude of 10 feet (3 meters), and spent 39 seconds airborne, more than three times longer than the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, which lasted a mere 12 seconds on Dec. 17, 1903.
To accomplish all this, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute — five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1% the thickness of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough — with blades spinning fast enough — to generate this otherworldly lift.
More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is just 19 inches (49 centimeters) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fiber, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: Each pair stretches 4 feet (1.2 meters) tip to tip.
Ingenuity also had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind, and is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for surviving the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.
NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield. Following Monday’s success, NASA named the Martian airfield for the Wright brothers.
“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked,” NASA’s science missions Chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.
The little chopper with a giant job attracted attention from the moment it launched with Perseverance last July. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in the fun, rooting for Ingenuity over the weekend. “Get to the chopper!” he shouted in a tweeted video, a line from his 1987 sci-fi film “Predator.”
Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas.
Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights so that the rover can get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now.
The team plans to test the helicopter’s limits, possibly even wrecking the craft, leaving it to rest in place forever, having sent its data back home.
Until then, Perseverance will keep watch over Ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Ginny.
“Big sister’s watching,” said Malin Space Science Systems’ Elsa Jensen, the rover’s lead camera operator.


Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister
Updated 19 April 2021

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister
  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry highlights project developments on African tour as Addis Ababa accused of ‘intransigence’
  • Minister of Water Mohammed Abdel-Ati said that Egypt had presented 15 scenarios for filling and operating the dam in a way that met with Ethiopian requirements

CAIRO: Ethiopia had rejected 15 different ideas put forward by Egypt to help resolve a bitter row over the development of a highly controversial Nile dam project, a senior minister has revealed.

Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohammed Abdel-Ati said Addis Ababa had poured cold water on all of Cairo’s suggestions to reach agreement about water rights and other issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) scheme.

His claims came as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry embarked on a tour of African countries to highlight Egypt’s position regarding the latest developments in the GERD negotiations.

During his trip – taking in Comoros, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Kenya, and Tunisia – Shoukry delivered letters from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the leaders of the countries explaining Cairo’s stance on the matter.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the tour was aimed at reviving talks and supporting the process of reaching a binding legal agreement between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on issues such as the filling and operation of the dam.

Addressing a meeting of the Egyptian Senate’s defense and national security committee, Abdel-Ati said Cairo had shown great flexibility during its discussions with Ethiopia.

He pointed out that most of Egypt’s estimated annual 60 billion cubic meters of water resources came from the Nile, with limited quantities of rainwater and deep groundwater from the deserts.

“The total water needs in Egypt reach about 114 billion cubic meters annually,” he added.

The supply gap was compensated for through the reuse of agricultural drainage water and surface groundwater in the Nile valley and delta, in addition to importing food products from abroad corresponding to 34 billion cubic meters of water annually, he said.

Abdel-Ati blamed the failure in negotiations on Ethiopian “intransigence” and “unilateral measures” taken by Addis Ababa.

“Egypt has already signed the initials of the Washington agreement, which confirms Egypt’s clear desire to reach a deal,” the minister added.

He noted that Egypt had presented 15 scenarios for filling and operating the dam in a way that met with Ethiopian requirements and prevented tangible harm to the two downstream countries, but Ethiopia had dismissed the proposals.

The volume of rainwater in Ethiopia amounted to more than 935 billion cubic meters per year, and 94 percent of its land was green compared to 6 percent in Egypt, Abdel-Ati said.

He added that Ethiopia had more than 100 million livestock animals that consumed 84 billion cubic meters of water annually, which was equal to the combined water share of Egypt and Sudan, and its share of blue water (running water in the river) was about 150 billion cubic meters every year.

Ethiopia, he said, also withdrew water from Lake Tana for agricultural uses.


UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections
Updated 19 April 2021

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections
  • British Consulate in Jerusalem: ‘Recent disruption of meetings in East Jerusalem, arrest of candidates unacceptable’
  • ‘If Israel decides to intervene in elections for other people, there should be consequences,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The British government has called on Israel to ensure free and fair Palestinian elections take place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Palestinian voters want free, fair and inclusive elections throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” the British Consulate in Jerusalem tweeted.

“We call on Israel to facilitate elections in line with the Oslo Accords. The recent disruption of meetings in East Jerusalem and arrest of candidates is unacceptable.”

Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are expected to be held on May 22. Last week, Israeli police arrested three candidates as they were preparing to hold a news conference.

Two of those arrested were representing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. The third is a candidate for the Palestinian Democratic Union.

“It’s extremely welcome that the British Consulate in Jerusalem has made this statement that backs Palestinian elections and calls on Israel to facilitate them,” Chris Doyle, chairman of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Arab News.

“The actions of the Israeli authorities in harassing and arresting candidates in East Jerusalem was outrageous,” he said.

“We hope that the consulate’s message will be repeated at the highest level — not just by a Twitter account — and that the foreign secretary and the prime minister will vigorously reinforce the message that Palestinians in East Jerusalem must be allowed to vote,” he added.

“East Jerusalem is part of the occupied West Bank and shouldn’t be cut off. To do so is to give informal approval to the illegal Israeli annexation.”

Regarding what more could be done by British authorities to ensure the success of the upcoming elections, Doyle said: “Britain will hopefully be sending election monitors, which will indicate that it’s taking these elections seriously and ensuring they take place in a fair fashion.”

He added: “If Israel decides to intervene in elections for other people, there should be consequences. Israel maintains that it’s a democracy, but here it is once again disrupting and delegitimizing elections for Palestinians.”

He said: “Palestinians can’t vote in Israel’s general elections, and now they’re being prevented from taking part in their own. It’s completely unacceptable.”

Julie Elliott, an MP for the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, tweeted that she totally agrees with the consulate’s message. 

Fatah is currently leading Hamas in the polls. A survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in December found that 52 percent of Palestinians do not anticipate that the elections will be held freely.