Seoul trying to convince US to extend Iran oil waiver

Seoul trying to convince US to extend Iran oil waiver
An employee works at an oil and gas treatment plant in the Yarakta Oil Field, owned by Irkutsk Oil Company (INK), in Irkutsk Region, Russia March 10, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 April 2019

Seoul trying to convince US to extend Iran oil waiver

Seoul trying to convince US to extend Iran oil waiver
  • Official: Two sides ‘had shared understanding … but US stance has changed recently’

SEOUL: With about two weeks left to the expiry of the US waiver on imports of Iranian crude oil, concerns are growing about whether the six-month exemption will be extended.

South Korean officials have been trying to convince Washington to extend the waiver, but say there has been no clear response.

“Seoul and Washington had shared an understanding of extending the exemption on Iranian oil imports, but the US stance has changed recently,” a senior official at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on April 12.

A delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Yun Kang-hyeon visited Washington on March 28 and April 8 to consult with Brian Hook, the US State Department’s special representative for Iran, and Francis Fannon, assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki flew to Washington last week to request an extension to the waiver.

“US officials expressed the basic position that they’d further strengthen sanctions against Iran,” the official said.

“We’ll make our best efforts to get the waiver extended, but the situation seems to be not so easy.”

South Korea is among eight countries that were granted a 180-day waiver by the US to sanctions on Iran last November.

In exchange for the exemption, the countries were obliged to reduce imports of Iranian oil significantly.

South Korea in particular is a major buyer of Iranian condensate, a super light form of crude oil used by its large petrochemical industry. Condensate accounts for about 70 percent of South Korean imports of Iranian crude.

Amid growing uncertainty over oil imports from Iran, South Korea has increased shipments from the US.

Imports of US oil were more than seven times higher in March than a year earlier, at 1 million tons from 134,911 tons.

“Despite the increase in oil imports from other nations, Iranian oil still accounts for a large portion of South Korea’s oil imports,” Moon Byung-ki, a senior researcher at the Korea International Trade Association in Seoul, told Arab News.

“In that sense, failing to get the waiver … is expected to affect the local economy, such as rising gas prices and inflation.”

South Korean oil refineries and petrochemical companies would be hardest hit by a potential suspension of purchases of Iranian oil, Moon said.

“Iranian crude is cheaper in price, better in quality and easier for transportation. If imports of Iranian oil are to be blocked by external factors such as the US sanctions regime, the disruption to the local industry would be immediate, without sufficient preparation for the risk,” he added.

In an apparent move to prepare for a potential suspension of oil imports from Iran, South Korea’s top refiners, including SK Energy, have reportedly been testing samples of American super-light oil. A spokesperson for SK Energy declined to comment.

A spokesman for Hanwha Total Petrochemicals Co. downplayed the possibility of using US condensate as a substitute for Iranian product.

“I don’t think it’s feasible to use American condensate for the local refining and petrochemical industry. It’s not a realistic option,” he said.

“The volume of quality naphtha produced from US condensate is much smaller than that from Iranian condensate. We have to buy naphtha from other sources, but it’s difficult to find substitutes.”


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
Updated 6 min 39 sec ago

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
  • It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment
  • Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts
MULTAN, Pakistan: Eight cars of a Lahore bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.
The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.
Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.
Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.
Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
Updated 07 March 2021

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
  • Protests erupted last month after the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Security forces have already killed more than 50 people protesting to restore democracy, United Nations says

YANGON: Myanmar security forces fired gunshots as they carried out overnight raids in the main city Yangon after breaking up the latest protests against last month’s coup with teargas and stun grenades.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1. Daily demonstrations and strikes have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More protests were planned on Sunday after local media reported that police fired tear gas shells and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Saturday. There were no reports of casualties.
The General Strike Committee of Nationalities protest group said protests would be held in Yangon, the second city of Mandalay and Monywa, also centers for protests in which the United Nations says security forces have killed more than 50 people.
Into the early hours of Sunday, residents said soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots. They arrested at least three in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.
“They are asking to take out my father and brother. Is no one going to help us? Don’t you even touch my father and brother. Take us too if you want to take them,” one woman screamed as two of them, an actor and his son, were led off.
Soldiers also came looking for a lawyer who worked for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy but were unable to find him, a member of the now dissolved parliament, Sithu Maung, said in a Facebook post.
Reuters was unable to reach police for comment. A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

Punched and kicked"
Well over 1,700 people had been detained under the junta by Saturday, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group. It did not give a figure for overnight detentions.
“Detainees were punched and kicked with military boots, beaten with police batons, and then dragged into police vehicles,” AAPP said in a statement. “Security forces entered residential areas and tried to arrest further protesters, and shot at the homes, destroying many.”
Myanmar authorities said on Saturday they had exhumed the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who has become an icon of the protest movement after she was shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”
State-run MRTV said a surgical investigation showed she could not have been killed by police because the wrong sort of projectile was found in her head and she had been shot from behind, whereas police were in front.
Photographs on the day showed her head turned away from security forces moments before she was killed. Opponents of the coup accused authorities of an attempted cover-up.
The killings have drawn anger in the West and have been condemned by most democracies in Asia. The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta. China, meanwhile, has said the priority should be stability and that other countries should not interfere.
Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election — which her party won in landslide but which the army rejected. The army has said it will hold democratic elections at an unspecified date.
Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, hired by Myanmar’s junta, told Reuters the generals are keen to leave politics and seek to improve relations with the United States and distance themselves from China.
He said Suu Kyi had grown too close to China for the generals’ liking.
Ben-Menashe said he also had been tasked with seeking Arab support for a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom were driven from Myanmar in 2017 in an army crackdown after rebel attacks.
Junta leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing had been under Western sanctions even before the coup for his role in the operation, which UN investigators said had been carried out with “genocidal intent.”


Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
Updated 07 March 2021

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
  • At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko
  • The most prominent opposition leader was arrested on rape charges, which he said was a fabrication

DAKAR: A 17-year-old boy was killed by gunfire in southern Senegal on Saturday, a government official said, and several police stations were ransacked as opponents of President Macky Sall called for more protests next week.
The boy was killed during clashes in the southern town of Diaobe, said the official, who asked not to be named. Protesters also burned down a military police station and ransacked several government buildings, the official said.
At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s most prominent opposition leader. It is the worst political unrest in years for a country widely seen as one of West Africa’s most stable.
A spokesman for Senegal’s military police confirmed one person had died during clashes in Diaobe but did not say under what circumstances. He said protesters ransacked six police stations across the country on Saturday.
Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, was arrested after an employee of a beauty salon accused him of raping her. Sonko denies the allegation and says it is an attempt by Sall to kneecap a political rival.
The government denies this.
The mostly young protesters cited a range of other grievances too, including high unemployment and strict measures to control the coronavirus that have inflicted economic pain, especially on informal workers.
Many are especially dubious about the accusation against Sonko because two other top rivals of Sall were previously targeted by criminal charges that prevented them from running for president in 2019.
In a statement, the opposition Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D) coalition called for three days of nationwide protests beginning on Monday.
“M2D ... calls on the Senegalese people to pursue its mobilization and peaceful struggle by using all of its constitutional rights to reject the dictatorship of Macky Sall,” it said.


UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
Updated 06 March 2021

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
  • Series of business agreements were signed during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui
  • They are part of a $22.9 billion investment deal inked during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year

JAKARTA: The UAE is to develop several major infrastructure projects in Indonesia, including a multimillion-dollar tourism resort in its westernmost Aceh province, top Emirati and Indonesian ministers have confirmed.

A series of business agreements were signed by the two nations during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui on Friday. The agreements are a part of a $22.9 billion deal signed during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year. The investment deal, also covering energy, infrastructure and mining, is seen as the biggest in Indonesia’s history.

The tourism resort development project, which according to Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan is valued at between $300 million and $500 million, is expected to start in Aceh Singkil district in May.

Aceh, a semi-autonomous province on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, is the only region in Muslim-majority Indonesia that imposes Shariah.

“I think within two months’ time, we can see the progress of this project in the Singkil area,” Pandjaitan said during a joint conference with Al-Mazroui.

While authorities have not revealed more details, in response to a question by Arab News, Al-Mazroui said that some islands off the main coast of Aceh have been identified for the resort.

“Hopefully the team will finalize (it) and then we will be moving to the next stage of having some definitive agreements,” he said.

The project agreement was signed by Aceh Governor Nova Iriansyah and Amine Abide, executive director of Murban Energy, a UAE company whose investment portfolio includes the development of luxury resorts in the Maldives and Seychelles.

According to a statement by the Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE, Husin Bagis, one of the considerations for developing the project in Aceh is that it is only five hours away from the UAE by plane. He said that Abide had visited nine islands in the Aceh Singkil district that were shortlisted for the project.

Among the agreements inked in Jakarta, which Al-Mazroui said are follow-ups to those signed in Abu Dhabi last year, is a $1.2 billion deal between UAE’s logistics company Dubai Port (DP) World and Indonesia’s Maspion group to develop a port and an industrial zone in Gresik, East Java.

Other deals signed on Friday, Panjaitan said, included an agreement between Indonesia’s state-owned weapons manufacturer Pindad and UAE’s small-arms manufacturer Caracal to develop assault rifles, drones and defense system technologies.

LuLu Group International is also expected to enter the Southeast Asian country, as its president director also signed a property lease agreement on Friday to open a hypermarket on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Minister Al-Mazroui hinted that other deals may also follow in the wake of the newly forged economic ties between the UAE and Indonesia. 

“Some new deals have been considered, which was not discussed before, and this is the nature of the relationship,” he said.

Al-Mazroui is the first high-level government official from the UAE to visit Indonesia since the signing of a bilateral safe travel corridor agreement in July last year.

He and members of his delegation are in Indonesia to attend a series of events during Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week, held in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya on March 1-8.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
Updated 06 March 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
  • UK Foreign Office: ‘The (Iranian) regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals’

LONDON: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national detained in Tehran, says he still does not know if she will be released following the end of her sentence on Sunday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced in 2016 to five years’ imprisonment over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime — charges she has consistently denied.

The 43-year-old charity worker was arrested while in Tehran on a regular visit with her young daughter.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News that he is still trying to find out whether she will be allowed to return to London and reunite with her daughter after the completion of her sentence.

“We’re obviously sitting very anxiously here, and she’s sitting anxiously waiting in Iran,” he said. “The judiciary has confirmed on the computer and shown that yes, indeed tomorrow is the last day and she should be released, but the arrangements haven’t been clarified.”

Ratcliffe said his wife’s lawyer in Iran had visited the prosecutor’s office to find further information regarding post-release protocol.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was transferred from prison to house arrest in her parents’ home last year as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Iran.

She has been forced to wear an electronic tag and is forbidden from traveling further than 300 meters from the residence.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the family that British officials are “trying really hard” to finalize a release, but warned that it was unlikely that Iranian authorities would follow a strict schedule, Ratcliffe said.

He added that if Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not released on Sunday, it will be a “watershed moment” that represents a serious failure on the part of the UK Foreign Office.

“We’ve had a calendar that our daughter has been counting down, because her mother did one in Iran, so she wanted to do one here,” Ratcliffe said.

“As we’ve got closer she’s picked up on the uncertainty, and obviously children do pick up on the mood. She started asking last night, ‘Is mummy really coming home?’ And I had to say ‘I really don’t know’.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it is “in close contact” with Zaghari-Ratcliffe and will “continue to provide support.”

A statement said: “We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals.

“We continue to do everything we can to secure the release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals so that they can be reunited with their loved ones.”