Iran faces backlash over ‘nuclear blackmail’

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President Hassan Rouhani said last month Iran would stop observing restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water. (AP/File photo)
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Behrouz Kamalvandi made the comment in a news conference on Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019

Iran faces backlash over ‘nuclear blackmail’

  • US, Europe reject Tehran’s threat to increase its uranium stockpile

JEDDAH: Iran faced a backlash from Europe and the US on Monday after it threatened to breach uranium stockpile limits set by the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program.

The White House said Iran’s new threat was “nuclear blackmail” and European signatories to the agreement said the regime in Tehran must stick to its commitments.

Iran set a 10-day countdown on Monday to exceed the 300-kilogram limit set on its enriched uranium stocks, dealing another blow to the crumbling nuclear accord signed by Tehran and six international powers.

“Iran’s enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left their capabilities intact,” US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “President Trump has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The regime’s nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also rejected the Iranian ultimatum. “We have already said in the past that we will not accept less for less. It is up to Iran to stick to its obligations,” he said. “We will certainly not accept a unilateral reduction of obligations.”

A spokesman for the British government said the European signatories to the deal had “consistently made clear that there can be no reduction in compliance.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would hold talks with Iran and its partners to avoid any further escalation in the region.

“I regret the Iranian announcements made … and we strongly encourage it to be patient and responsible,” Macron said. He said there was a window between now and July 8 for more dialogue to save the nuclear deal.

“All forms of escalation do not go in the right direction and won’t help Iran itself and the international community, so we will do all we can with our partners to dissuade Iran and find a possible path for dialogue.”

European countries have been trying to save the nuclear deal since US President Donald Trump withdrew last May and reimposed crippling economic sanctions. Iran has demanded their help to sidestep the sanctions, and in particular to enable it to sell oil on world markets.


Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

Updated 43 min 34 sec ago

Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

  • Al-Imam is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel
  • The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison

NEW YORK: A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Libyan militant to more than 19 years in prison for his role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador.
A jury convicted Mustafa Al-Imam last year of conspiring to support the extremist militia that launched the fiery assaults on the US compounds but deadlocked on 15 other counts.
The attacks, aimed at killing American personnel, prompted a political fracas in which Republicans accused the Obama administration of a bungled response.
Al-Imam was sentenced to a total of 236 months behind bars. He is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, communications specialist Sean Smith and security officers Tyrone Snowden Woods and Glen Anthony Doherty.
The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Khattala was accused of driving to the diplomatic mission on Sept. 11, 2012, and breaching the main gate with militants who attacked with assault rifles, grenades and other weapons.
The initial attack killed Stevens and Smith and set the mission ablaze. Woods and Doherty were later killed at a CIA annex.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Washington asked US District Judge Christopher Cooper to send a message to others contemplating attacks on Americans overseas, saying Al-Imam deserved the maximum 35-year sentence.
“In the current geopolitical environment, terrorists must understand that there are harsh consequences for attacking diplomatic posts and harming US personnel — particularly a US ambassador,” Assistant US Attorney John Cummings wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorneys said Al-Imam made a “tremendous mistake” by damaging and looting US property after the attacks. But they insisted there was no evidence he intended to harm any Americans, noting jurors could not reach a verdict on the murder charges Al-Imam faced.
“Mustafa Al-Imam is a frail, uneducated and simple man,” they wrote in a court filing. “He is not a fighter, an ideologue or a terrorist. He is a former convenience store clerk whose main loves in life are soccer and family.”
Al-Imam was tried in a civilian court despite the Trump administration’s earlier contention that such suspects are better sent to Guantanamo Bay. His arrest, five years after the attack, was the first publicly known operation since President Donald Trump took office targeting those accused of involvement in Benghazi.
Prosecutors acknowledged there was no evidence that Al-Imam “directly caused” the killings at the US compounds. But they said he aligned himself with Khattala and acted as his “eyes and ears” at the height of the attacks.
During a four-week trial in Washington, prosecutors pointed to phone records that showed Al-Imam was in the vicinity of the mission and placed an 18-minute call to Khattala during a “pivotal moment” of the attacks.
Al-Imam also entered the US compound, prosecutors said, and took sensitive material that identified the location of the CIA annex about a mile away from the mission as the evacuation point for Department of State personnel.
In interviews with law enforcement following his 2017 capture in Misrata, Libya, he admitted stealing a phone and map from the US mission.