COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms

A helicopter lands on Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
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An Iranian Navy warship is seen during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
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An Iranian Navy warship is seen during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
Troops alight from a helicopter on the Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army via AP)
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Troops alight from a helicopter on the Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army via AP)
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Updated 14 January 2021

COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms

COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms
  • Opposition group says 201,000 people have died; this is almost four times the official total and the highest per-capita death rate in the world
  • US and European nations urged to take a tough stance against Tehran is response to its nuclear ambitions and ‘crimes against humanity’

CHICAGO: Deaths from COVID-19 in Iran have exceeded 201,000, Paris-based opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said on Wednesday. If their estimate is accurate, it means the country has the highest per-capita fatality rate in the world by far.

The figure is almost four times the Iranian government’s official tally. Senior doctors in the country have previously warned that the true total is likely to be much higher than official figures suggest.

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI, described the soaring death toll as a catastrophe. She said it is a direct result of the Iranian regime’s response to US sanctions and international calls to abandon its nuclear-research program. She added that the situation will get worse as a result of the announcement last week by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he is banning the import of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the US and UK, on the grounds that they are “untrustworthy.”

“Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have sent the Iranian people to the killing fields of Coronavirus, (and) by banning the import of vaccines they are creating even a bigger disaster,” Rajavi said.

Ali Safavi, a member of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the regime is taking advantage of the presidential transition in the US and fecklessness in Europe to deny the Iranian people access to vaccines as a means of controlling and punishing them.

“This puts the people of Iran at tremendous risk and is a crime against humanity,” he said. “It goes to show that Khamenei wants to use the coronavirus crisis as a barrier against another uprising like the one we saw in 2009.

“Otherwise, why would he prevent the import of vaccines? After all, Khamenei had no problem purchasing weaponry and other goods from the US and Europe in years past, because those purchases served his purposes.”

Safavi added that the regime in Tehran spent more than $25 billion on Airbus and Boeing planes from Europe and the US under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, but now refuses to buy the COVID-19 vaccines offered by biotech companies Moderna and Pfizer.

“The death toll from the coronavirus in Iran has surpassed 201,000, which is a staggering figure in the sense that Iran ranks first in terms of per-capita fatalities,” he said.

“Alongside this the regime has refused to provide any meaningful financial assistance to the millions of Iranians who have lost their jobs and cannot go to work because of the (pandemic). It is a crime against humanity and I think it is high time for the international community to get involved and do something about it.”

Iran’s ruling mullahs are also exploiting the shift in power in Washington to pursue their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon, Safavi said.

“Anticipating (the arrival of the Biden administration on) January 20 they have upped the ante, saying they are now enriching uranium to a purity of up to 20 percent, which is a clear violation of the terms of the Iran nuclear deal,” he added. “So all of the provocative actions they have been taking is nuclear blackmail, in an attempt to force the Europeans and the US to jump (back) into the JCPOA once the new administration takes office next week.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reintroduced tough sanctions on Tehran. President-elect Joe Biden has indicated that he might return to the deal.

Safavi said that the Iranian regime continues to develop its nuclear research program and its weapons industry.

“The European countries and the US should draw a line in the sand and say that Iran does not have a right to enrich uranium,” he added.

He also called on the US and EU to join forces to demand immediate action from Tehran, including: granting full access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, to military sites in particular; halting all nuclear-research activities; ending their nuclear missile expansion program; abandoning their efforts to destabilize other nations in the region. He also called for an end to the continued repression and violence by the Mullahs targeting their own people, and the continued executions of opponents.

“The regime uses executions as a means to instill an atmosphere of terror and repression inside the country,” Safavi said. “We also feel the EU and the US should begin addressing one of the most heinous crimes that was perpetrated by this regime: the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners.”

In calling for a tough international stance against Tehran by world powers, he said: “No amount of political and economic concessions to this regime will moderate its behavior.”

He added that the World Health Organization must “internationalize this issue and hold the regime accountable” for denying its people access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

“So long as you remain silent, so long as you do not take any action, that will only embolden the mullahs to continue their policies — and of course the primary victims of this policy are the people of Iran, who are suffering every day. More and more Iranians are dying,” Safavi said.

 

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Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.