Iranian weapons stockpile poses ‘major threat’ to Middle East and beyond, NCRI conference hears

Iranian weapons stockpile poses ‘major threat’ to Middle East and beyond, NCRI conference hears
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The officials argued that US President Joe Biden and European leaders need to take a “tougher stand” against Tehran and its ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile program. (File/AFP)
Diplomats at a press conference Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) warned that a buildup of ballistic missiles by Iran poses a “major threat.” (Screenshot)
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Diplomats at a press conference Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) warned that a buildup of ballistic missiles by Iran poses a “major threat.” (Screenshot)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Iranian weapons stockpile poses ‘major threat’ to Middle East and beyond, NCRI conference hears

Iranian weapons stockpile poses ‘major threat’ to Middle East and beyond, NCRI conference hears
  • Diplomats say future negotiations must include Tehran’s use of militant proxies in Arab countries

CHICAGO: Iran’s stockpile of ballistic missiles poses a “major threat” to the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East and western nations, diplomats at a press conference hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) warned on Thursday.

NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson Ali Safavi, former Italy Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Walid Phares, the co-secretary general of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism, said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, has failed to curb Iran’s militant attacks through proxy militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

The officials argued that US President Joe Biden and European leaders need to take a “tougher stand” against Tehran and its ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Phares, who is also an adviser to the anti-terrorism caucus of the US House of Representatives, said that the focus has always been on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. But the regime has also built up a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles that are being used in “four battlegrounds” in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

“The problem is that over the past five years, the regime has displayed and continues to display a behavior that would endanger Iran, its people, the Middle East, Europe, the US and the international community,” Phares said at the press conference attended by Arab News.

“Any return to the Iran deal cannot just go back to Tehran and deal with the technical matter of counting the points that Iran is doing or not doing. It has completely changed. We are talking about the geopolitics of the whole region.”

Phares said negotiations must also include a focus on “Iran’s behaviors” and its use of militant proxies in the Middle East.

“Through its militias, Iran has established control of Iraq with some exceptions,” Phares said. “It has been able to penetrate the country with its own militias. But those militias are not only controlling the government, economy and banks. They are actually engaged — as is the case in Yemen — in suppressing the population.”

In Syria, where 700,000 people have been killed and 5 million have been displaced, Phares said the Bashar Al-Assad regime is fully backed by the Iranian regime. He also noted that in Lebanon, Hezbollah has openly touted its allegiance to Tehran.

“What we are dealing with now is an Iranian regime in a quasi-occupation of four Arab countries. There cannot be a return to an Iran deal without resolving the ‘Khamenei imperialism’ that is occupying half of the Middle East,” Phares said in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his foreign intervention policies.

Terzi called the JCPOA, which was signed in 2015 and attempted to restrict Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, a “flawed deal” and “total failure.”

He noted that Biden wants to pursue an agreement that will end the attacks from proxy groups like the Houthis and prevent the situation from worsening.

“This is a major issue and a major question mark. We see a cautious approach but up to now, I do not consider it a weak approach by the Biden administration,” Terzi said.

“There is a willingness by Biden to deter attacks, especially against American interests. But more in general to avoid at least a scaling up of the existing aggressive strategies by proxies of the Iranian regime.”

Soleimani’s shadow
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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Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
Updated 21 min 5 sec ago

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
  • The captain of one of the boats was "slightly injured" and transferred to an Italian navy vessel
  • There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast

ROME: The Libyan coast guard on Thursday fired on three Italian fishing boats, injuring the captain of one of the vessels, Italian authorities said.
The boats operating out of the Sicilian port of Mazara del Vallo were fishing some 30 to 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coastal town of Misrata when a Libyan coast guard vessel fired warning shots against them.
Giuseppe Giacalone, the captain of one of the boats, was “slightly injured” and transferred to an Italian navy vessel, the mayor of Mazara del Vallo, Salvatore Quinci, told Reuters, confirming reports in Italian media.
There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast.
Last September a group of Italian sailors were seized by Libyan patrol boats while fishing in the Mediterranean, accused by local authorities of operating in Libya’s territorial waters. They were released some three months later.
“This is the umpteenth attack by the Libyan government in Tripoli,” Quinci told Reuters.
The southern Mediterranean fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12.
Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, tweeted that the latest incident was “inconceivable” and Mario Draghi’s government “must not be satisfied by apologies or vague explanations” from Libya.
Libya’s new unity government took office in March from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.


French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
Updated 06 May 2021

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
  • Arab News learns that Le Drian hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those blocking formation of government

BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed during his meetings with Lebanese officials on Thursday that “the French initiative to solve the crisis in forming the Lebanese government is still in force and the responsibility for implementing it rests with the Lebanese.”

Arab News has learned that Le Drian also hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those who obstruct the formation of the new government.

On the eve of his arrival in Beirut, Le Drian tweeted that he would deliver “a strongly worded message to political officials and a message expressing our full solidarity with the Lebanese people. We will deal firmly with those who obstruct the formation of the government, and we have taken national measures, and this is only the beginning.”

He also said that his visit to Lebanon “confirms France’s solidarity in the field of education, medicine, and archeology as well as its support for the Lebanese who are doing their best for their country.”

Following the Beirut port blast in August, French President Emmanuel Macron announced an initiative to help form a government of specialists to help lift Lebanon out of its economic crisis.

However, Macron’s initiative has not yet been implemented, so people in Lebanon followed Le Drian’s meetings with interest.

Before Le Drian’s visit there was speculation that he did not intend to meet with Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, but might meet with the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil.

Some had predicted that Hariri would give up his post as PM-designate due to his ongoing disagreement with President Michel Aoun and his political team over the formation of the new government, with Aoun reportedly demanding a ‘blocking third’ for his allies.

However, after meeting with Aoun, Le Drian also met with Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri as well as Hariri.

Aoun’s media office reported that, during his meeting with Le Drian, the president said, “Achieving reforms, foremost of which is the financial audit, which constitutes the first item in the French initiative announced on Sept. 1, 2020, is essential for the advancement of Lebanon and restoring the confidence of the Lebanese and the international community. Forming a new government that will enjoy the confidence of parliament is the top priority.”

Aoun pledged to “continue exerting efforts to reach practical results in this issue, despite the internal and external obstacles and the lack of response of those concerned, by following the constitutional principles and methodology adopted in forming governments.”

He also laid out “the constitutional responsibilities entrusted to the president ... and his responsibility to maintain political and sectarian balance during the formation of the government to ensure that it gains the confidence of parliament” and spoke about the “cost of wasted time to complete the formation process.”

The meeting between Aoun and Le Drian lasted for half an hour, after which Le Drian left without making a statement.

Le Drian held meetings at the Senoub Palace with a number of opposition and partisan figures, including leaders of groups protesting against the corruption of the ruling authority. These groups presented their views on the current reality in Lebanon and their vision of ways in which France could provide assistance to Lebanon to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, stage parliamentary elections, and address financial cases.

However, several groups declined the invitation, including the “Li Haqqi” (I Have My Right) group. Nizar Hassan, a researcher in social movements from that group, told Arab News: “A lengthy discussion took place within the group about the feasibility of attending the meeting with the French minister, and we decided not to attend because there was no great benefit (in doing so).”

He said there were several reasons for this, including “the rejection of France’s attempt to bring the political class in Lebanon to the surface to restore it to power again.”

Future Movement MP Mohamad Hajjar described the speculation that Le Drian would not meet with Hariri as “illogical.”

He said Hariri is committed to “forming a government of specialists to help the country, while another party insists on putting the country on the brink and is dealing with everyone on the basis that either MP Gebran Bassil be the next president or the country will fall into chaos. And Hezbollah is watching.”

Lebanon’s economic crisis reached a new peak on Thursday when Electricité du Liban (EDL) announcement that it no longer had enough money to buy fuel and that it would “be forced to reduce its production, which would negatively impact the feeding hours in all regions, including the administrative areas of Beirut.”

This came hours after the financial prosecutor, Judge Ali Ibrahim, issued a decision to stop the payment of sums owed to the Turkish energy company Karadeniz and its Karpowership branch in Lebanon for power ships chartered to produce electricity.

The judge’s decision was based on “preliminary investigations conducted by the Financial Prosecutor’s Office into the possibility of brokers, commission, or corruption in the dealership of ships producing electricity” and is intended to “oblige the two aforementioned companies to return $25 million to the Lebanese state, and to circulate a search and inquiry order against the owners of the two companies.”

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Council suspended a law that parliament had approved granting and advance from the treasury to EDL after MPs from the Lebanese Forces Party filed an appeal “because the advance will use the money of the people and depositors remaining in the reserves of the Banque du Liban to finance electricity, and this was described by the MPs as burning people’s money.”

The Constitutional Council stressed, “If the law violates the constitution, it will be annulled, and if it is not in violation, we will reject the appeal.”


Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
Updated 35 min 41 sec ago

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
  • US secretary of state: ‘We don’t yet know’ if Tehran is serious about making a deal in Vienna
  • Blinken tells BBC Iran could acquire nuclear weapons within months

LONDON: Negotiators in talks with Iran over curbs to its nuclear program do not yet know if Tehran is willing to make a deal, according to the White House’s top diplomat.

“We’ve been engaged now in Vienna for some weeks with our European partners, with Russia, China, and indirectly … with Iran,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC on Thursday.

“We’ve demonstrated our very seriousness of purpose in terms of wanting to get back into the so-called JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” he added. 

“What we don’t yet know is whether Iran is prepared to make the same decision and move forward.” 

Blinken warned that, having progressively walked back on nuclear curbs hammered out as part of the 2015 deal agreed with world powers, Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons within months.

Under the original deal, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, Iran received billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief in exchange for strict curbs and heavy monitoring of its nuclear program.

“Right now, unfortunately, Iran has itself lifted many of the constraints imposed on it by the agreement because we pulled out,” Blinken said.

“And it’s now getting closer and closer again to that point where its breakout time is going to be down to a few months and eventually even less.”


Egypt and Turkey conclude talks on regional issues

With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
Updated 06 May 2021

Egypt and Turkey conclude talks on regional issues

With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
  • Talks were aimed at resetting ties between the two regional powers
  • Both sides vowed to evaluate the outcome of their first round of consultations

LONDON: Egypt and Turkey concluded consultations on Thursday in the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss ties and regional conflicts.
A joint statement described the talks as “frank and in-depth” and dealt with bilateral relations and a number of regional issues, particularly the situations in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and “the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
The two day consultations were headed by Egyptian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamdi Sanad Loza, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal.
“The two sides will evaluate the outcome of this round of consultations and agree on the next steps,” the joint statement added.
The discussions were the first high-level public talks for years between the two powers.
Turkey has been striving to mend fences with several US-allied Arab states but Egypt has so far responded cautiously to Turkish overtures.
(With Reuters)


Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister
Updated 06 May 2021

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister
  • The reports consisted of damage to public funds, abuse of public office, and abuse of power

LONDON: Qatar’s Public Prosecutor ordered the arrest of Minister of Finance Ali Sharif Al-Emadi over reports of crime related to holding public office, Qatar News Agency reported on Thursday.
“After reviewing documents, and their attached reports, the Attorney General ordered the arrest of the Minister of Finance Ali Sharif Al-Emadi to investigate what was mentioned in the reports of crimes related to practicing public office,” the statement said.
The reports consisted of damage to public funds, abuse of public office, and abuse of power.
The Public Prosecutor ordered wide investigations into the crimes raised in the submitted reports.