New UN nuclear agency chief: 'firm and fair' stance on Iran

Designated Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference during a general confernce at the International Center in Vienna, Austria on Monday. (AP)
Updated 02 December 2019

New UN nuclear agency chief: 'firm and fair' stance on Iran

  • Tehran is continuing to provide IAEA inspectors access
  • Grossi told reporters he expected to travel to Iran himself in the “relatively near future” to meet with leaders there

VIENNA: The incoming head of the UN’s atomic watchdog agency said Monday he will take a “firm and fair” approach toward inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and plans to visit Tehran in the near future.
Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi’s comments came after he was confirmed as the new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency unanimously at a special session. His four-year term begins on Tuesday.
The 58-year-old succeeds Yukiya Amano, who died in July, and takes over at a time when the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is unraveling.
The landmark 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The IAEA’s role has been to inspect and verify Iran’s compliance with the deal.
With the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the agreement last year and the imposition of new American sanctions, Iran’s economy has been struggling. So far, the other nations involved — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — have been unable to offset the effects, and Iran has slowly been violating the terms of the JCPOA.
Tehran is, however, continuing to provide IAEA inspectors access. Grossi told reporters he expected to travel to Iran himself in the “relatively near future” to meet with leaders there.
“It is really a priority,” he said of the situation in Iran, adding that his philosophy on inspection safeguards was to be “firm and fair.”
Those “two guiding principles” apply not just to Iran, but to how the IAEA deals with everybody, though “different cases demand different approaches,” he said.
“An inspector is not a friend. He’s someone who comes and needs to ascertain the facts without bias, without agenda, in an objective and impartial way,” Grossi said. “This has to be done in firmness, but in fairness as well.”
Grossi became Argentina’s ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA in 2013 and was previously the IAEA’s chief of cabinet under Amano.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”