Iran nuclear deal members urge Tehran’s return to compliance

Iran nuclear deal members urge Tehran’s return to compliance
World powers that are part of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have urged Tehran to roll back violations of the accord. (AP)
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Updated 17 December 2020

Iran nuclear deal members urge Tehran’s return to compliance

Iran nuclear deal members urge Tehran’s return to compliance
  • The US could be brought back into the deal, whose goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb

BERLIN: World powers that are part of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have  urged Tehran to roll back violations of the accord and return to full compliance, during a virtual meeting in Vienna, a German official said.

The meeting came as the signatories to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — continue to try and keep it from collapsing after the unilateral withdrawal of the US in 2018.

The three European powers have expressed hope that with the change of administrations in Washington, the US could be brought back into the deal, whose goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he hopes to return the US to the deal, which was negotiated while he was vice president.

But complicating that, Iran is now in violation of most major restrictions set out in the agreement, including the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile and the purity to which it is allowed to enrich uranium.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said Wednesday’s meeting of political directors and deputy foreign ministers would assess implementation of the nuclear accord, and that the European countries would demand Iran return to full compliance.

Iran has said it is no longer obliged to follow the restrictions, arguing that the US first violated the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan or Action, or JCPOA, when President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran.

The Russian delegate to the JCPOA, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted after the meeting that “the participants confirmed their firm commitment to the nuclear deal, as well as readiness to undertake intensive diplomatic efforts to ensure its full implementation.”

The deal promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but with the reinstatement of American sanctions, the other nations have been struggling to provide Iran the assistance it seeks.

Despite Iran’s violations, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Tehran continues to give inspectors full access to its nuclear sites — a key reason the JCPOA member nations say it is worth preserving.

Delegates to Wednesday’s meeting agreed to hold further “informal” ministerial-level talks on Dec. 21.

In another development, an independent Canadian report published this week into a Kiev-bound passenger plane mistakenly shot down by Iran in January said Tehran should not be allowed to investigate itself and called for changes to civil aviation rules.

“The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret. That does not inspire confidence or trust,” said the report, written by one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former ministers, Ralph Goodale, the government’s special counsel into the tragedy.

Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from the Iranian capital’s main airport on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board, 85 of whom were Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Iran admitted days later that its forces accidentally shot down the plane after firing two missiles amid heightened US-Iran tensions.

“Many of the key details of this horrific event remain unknown,” the report said, noting in particular why Iranian airspace had remained open the night of the tragedy.

“Iran bears responsibility for that because — at least thus far — it has not conducted its investigations (safety, criminal or otherwise) in a truly independent, objective and transparent manner,” the report continued.

In early November, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) called on Iran to “expedite the accident investigation” and publish its final findings on the crash.

Canada had said in early October that it would set up its own team of investigators to collect and analyze available information on the crash.

Goodale called for a review of current international standards that entrust the investigation of an aviation crash to the country where the accident occurred.

“In the case of a military shoot-down, that means the very government involved in causing the disaster (Iran in this case) is in complete control of the safety investigation, obvious conflicts of interest notwithstanding, with few safeguards to ensure independence, impartiality or legitimacy,” the report said.

“This undermines the investigation’s credibility and enables a sense of impunity in avoiding essential questions.”

Trudeau welcomed the report and called on Iran to “answer comprehensively, with supporting evidence” the questions the document raises.


Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
  • Zenari called on the EU, the US, and Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith” and remove sanctions
  • He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charities, to be held in March next year

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican nuncio in Syria called on the international community to lift economic sanctions, and lamented the Syrians’ loss of hope as the world forgot their suffering. 

Cardinal Mario Zenari has been the apostolic nuncio to Syria for over 13 years and has lived in Damascus throughout the war. 

He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charitable agencies working in the country, to be held in March next year.

“I am extremely sorry to see that, in Syria, hope is dying,” Zenari told Vatican Radio. “I was greatly pained to watch people, especially children, die during the war. But, beyond this suffering, people nourished glimmers of hope. At that stage they said that eventually the war would end, and people would be able to go back to work, make a little money, and perhaps repair their homes and return to a normal life.”

He said this dream was far from the reality that faced Syrians today, which was one filled with poverty.

“Bombs are no longer falling in many parts of Syria, but another terrible bomb has exploded which has silently opened a gaping wound.”

Syria faced continuing economic uncertainty, largely as a consequence of the international sanctions against the government, and he believed that these, combined with growing corruption, the pandemic, and the economic and political crisis in Lebanon were placing a heavy economic burden on the Syrian population.

Zenari called on the EU and the US, along with the Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith and remove the sanctions regime, so that Syria can begin to rebuild and restart its economy.”

Referring to a recent report by the World Food Programme that said 12 million Syrians, 60 percent of the population, were living in food insecurity, he said: “It is the people, the poor people, who are suffering.”

Zenari also said there was a general lack of interest from the international media about the situation in Syria.

The conference will be held on 15-17 March, 2022, and aims to coordinate charitable activities in Syria to better serve those in need there and increase the necessary coordination to better help the Syrian people “who are living this extremely difficult moment.”


Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll
Updated 6 sec ago

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

BAGHDAD: Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's movement was the biggest winner in Iraq's parliamentary elections last month, winning 73 out of the 329 seats, the election commission said Tuesday.
Appeal procedures after the October 10 vote, in which pro-Iran factions had alleged voter fraud, resulted in only five seats being changed, the commission said as officials read out final results.


Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says
Updated 30 November 2021

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

JERUSALEM: The new coronavirus variant, omicron, has been detected in two Israeli doctors, one of whom had returned from a conference in London in the past week, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv confirmed on Tuesday.
The two doctors had received three doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, and so far have shown mild COVID-19 symptoms, the hospital said.
The physician who had returned from Britain had probably infected his colleague, it said.
Two more people have been identified in Israel as carrying the new variant, health officials have confirmed, one of them a tourist from Malawi who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Israel shut its borders to foreigners from all countries for 14 days on Saturday to try to contain the spread of omicron and has reintroduced counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to trace contacts of a handful of people who have likely been infected.
Israel hopes that within those 14 days it will better know how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against omicron. Around 57 percent of the country’s 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated.


Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
  • Unclear whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president
  • It may also signal serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran struck a maximalist tone Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated as Tehran demands all American sanctions be lifted.

Iranian state media reported the comments by Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, and Mohammed Eslami, the country’s civilian nuclear chief.

It remained unclear, however, whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.

Speaking to Iranian state television, Bagheri referred to the previous rounds of talks only as a “draft.”

“Drafts are subject to negotiation. Therefore nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on,” he said. “On that basis, all discussions that took place in the six rounds are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today’s meeting as well.”

Another state TV segment saw Bagheri in Vienna also saying Iran demanded a “guarantee by American not to impose new sanctions” or not re-impose previously lifted sanctions.

Eslami, speaking to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, reiterated that demand.

“The talks (in Vienna) are about return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” he said.

Talks in Vienna resumed Monday after an over five-month hiatus as hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi took power. Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, campaigned on getting sanctions lifted. However, fellow hard-liners within Iran’s theocracy long have criticized the nuclear deal as giving too much away to the West.

Iran’s comments Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the optimistic tone offered by the European Union diplomat leading the talks.

“I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks,” Enrique Mora told reporters on Monday.

Israel, Iran’s regional, nuclear-armed rival, kept up its own pressure amid the negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video that he later posted to Twitter. “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

Iran maintains its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear the brinkmanship could push Tehran toward even more extreme measures to try to force the West to lift sanctions.

Making matters more difficult, United Nations nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran limited their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make any progress on that issue.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 30 November 2021

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.