US seeks to extend, strengthen Iran nuclear pact despite Khamenei defiance

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is prepared to return to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran shows ‘strict compliance’ with it. (File/Reuters)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is prepared to return to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran shows ‘strict compliance’ with it. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 23 February 2021

US seeks to extend, strengthen Iran nuclear pact despite Khamenei defiance

US seeks to extend, strengthen Iran nuclear pact despite Khamenei defiance
  • Supreme Leader said Iran could boost uranium enrichment to 60%
  • US remains committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon

LONDON: The United States will seek to strengthen and extend the agreement between world powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.
It’s a new sign of Washington’s ambition to revive the 2015 nuclear deal rejected by former President Donald Trump even as Tehran appears to be backing further away from it.
The UN nuclear watchdog said on Sunday it had struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of steps Tehran plans to take this week that include ending snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.
The announcement by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi, made at Vienna airport after a weekend trip to Iran, confirmed that Tehran would go ahead with its plan to slash cooperation with the agency on Tuesday.
Blinken, addressing the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a pre-recorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”
US President Joe Biden has said that if Iran comes back into “strict compliance” with the 2015 pact, his administration will do the same, Blinken said.
“Working with allies and partners, we will also seek to lengthen and strengthen the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and address other areas of concern, including Iran’s destabilizing regional behavior and ballistic missile development and proliferation,” Blinken said.
“Iran must comply with its safeguards agreements with the IAEA and its international obligations,” he added.
White House press secretary Jenn Psaki said USallies in Europe are still waiting a response from Iran on the European Union’s offer to host an informal meeting between current members of the nuclear deal and the US.
Iran has slowly walked away from all the nuclear deal’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium and has begun enriching up 20%, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to US pressure over its nuclear activity, state television reported.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs...We may increase it to 60%,” the TV quoted Khamenei as saying.

Khamenei also repeated a denial of any Iranian intent to weaponize uranium enrichment.
“Our respected government did not abandon its commitments and gradually reduced some of them, which are still reversible in the case that they return to their responsibilities,” he said.
Moreover, Iran said on Monday it will end at 2030 GMT the implementation of the Additional Protocol that allows the UN nuclear watchdog to carry out snap-inspections at sites not declared to the agency, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
“As of midnight tonight (2030 GMT), we will not have... commitments beyond safeguards. Necessary orders have been issued to the nuclear facilities,” Tasnim quoted Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy at the IAEA as saying.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Khamenei’s comment about uranium enrichment “sounds like a threat” and declined to respond to what he described as “hypotheticals” and “posturing.”
Price also reiterated US willingness to engage in talks with Iran.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his EU colleagues during a meeting in Brussels that the situation regarding Iran’s nuclear program is “worrying,” his ministry said on Monday.
(With AP, AFP and Reuters)

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HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
Updated 24 min 35 sec ago

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
  • Shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch called on Iran Friday to investigate a deadly shooting by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel into neighboring Pakistan for excessive use of force.
Monday’s shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five, HRW said, citing Baluchi activists.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route, it added.
The action has prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far.
“The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said Tuesday that the shooting had started from the Pakistani side of the border and one person had been killed and four wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan province has long been a security headache for the Iranian government.
Its large ethnic Baluch population, which staddles the frontier, has made it a flashpoint for cross-border attacks on government or Shiite targets by separatists and Sunni extremists.
HRW said the lack of employment opportunities in the province had left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with their fellow Baluchs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan (on the border with Iraq), its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” the New York-based watchdog.

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
Updated 26 February 2021

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
  • About 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine

JERUSALEM: Israel has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 50 percent of its 9.3 million population, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have been included in the vaccine campaign that began on Dec 19, as part of its population. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not part of the Israeli campaign.
Edelstein said 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, putting them on course to receive a so-called “Green Pass” with access to leisure sites that the country has been gradually reopening.


Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
Updated 26 February 2021

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
  • Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap
  • Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations

CAIRO: Libya’s newly-elected prime minister failed to name members of a much-anticipated Cabinet ahead of an expected deadline Thursday, raising questions over whether his transitional government can unite Libya’s factions.
Prime Minister designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was set to announce his Cabinet in a news conference from the capital, Tripoli, and send it to Libya’s House of Representatives for approval.
Instead, Dbeibah told reporters he only shared with Libyan lawmakers proposed guidelines for the selection of Cabinet members and an outline of his priorities in the coming period.
Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap, which envisages holding general elections in the war-torn North African country by the end of the year.
Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations: One in the east and another in the west, each supported by a vast array of militias and foreign governments.
“We are ready to submit the names (of Cabinet ministers) but we should consult among ourselves and examine candidate names meticulously,” Dbeibah told reporters in Tripoli without specifying when he will actually make the submission.
Dbeibah said he envisages a Cabinet of technocrats who would represent Libya’s different geographic areas and social segments.
“These are critical times and we are taking into consideration that the Cabinet must genuinely achieve national unity and seek consensus and reconciliation,” he said.
He added that the country’s sovereign ministerial portfolios should be equally divided between candidates from Libya’s three key geographic areas in the east, the west and the south.
Earlier this month, Dbeibah was elected as prime minister by Libyan delegates at a UN-sponsored conference near Geneva.
The 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also elected a three-member Presidential Council, which along with Dbeibah should lead the country through general elections on December 24. Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, was selected as chairman of the council.


Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
Updated 26 February 2021

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
  • The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19
  • The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures

DUBAI: Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) has authorized the use of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine for coronavirus the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.

The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and will be given to those most at risk, suchas the elderly, people with chronic diseases and other groups identified by the Health Ministry.

The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, for an additional three months.

The measures involve the continued enforcement of  social distancing and screening of people at commercial and industrial premises for a further three months.


Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
Updated 26 February 2021

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
  • Three Omani citizens convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols

DUBAI: Oman’s Supreme Committee supervising the country’s coronavirus response has extended indefinitely the closure of beaches, public parks and leisure spaces to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease.

It reiterated the ban on indoor gatherings in resthouses, farms and winter camps, state news agency ONA reported, citing the high risk of coronavirus transmission in closed spaces.

In the North A’Sharqiyah governorate, the Supreme Committee has extended the shortened business operating hours with commercial activities required to close from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m..

Petrol stations, health establishments and private pharmacies are exempt from the updated regulation.

The latest regulations were issued as the Sultanate’s coronavirus cases reached 140,588 with 29 new patients hospitalized overnight. The total number of COVID-19 related death cases is at 1,562.

Meanwhile, three Omani citizens have been convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols and separately fined $2,000 and sentenced to a three-month imprisonment.

“Primary Courts in the governorates of North Al Batinah and Dhofar issued penal verdicts convicting three citizens who breached decisions of the Supreme Committee” particularly non-compliance with the institutional quarantine and for not wearing a mask, ONA said in a separate report.