Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible
President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 21, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 22 June 2021

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible
  • Raisi was part of so-called “death panel” that sentenced political prisoners to death at end of 1980s Iran-Iraq war

TEHRAN/DUBAI: Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi staked out a hard-line position on Monday in his first remarks since his election victory, rejecting the possibility of meeting with US President Joe Biden.

And while saying his foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Iran’s Gulf neighbors, the hard-line cleric also said   he is not willing to negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missiles or support for regional militia. 

Gulf states have said it would be dangerous to separate the nuclear pact from Tehran’s missile program and “destabilizing” behavior in the Middle East.

The comments by Raisi offered a blunt preview of how Iran might deal with the wider world in the next four years as it enters a new stage in negotiations to resurrect its now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with global powers.

"There are no obstacles from Iran's side to re-opening embassies... there are no obstacles to ties with Saudi Arabia," he said. 

The news conference in Tehran also marked the first time the judiciary chief found himself confronted on live television about his role in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. 
Raisi offered no specific response to that dark chapter in Iranian history, but described himself as a “defender of human rights” after being asked directly about his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of some 5,000 people.

Raisi was part of a so-called “death panel” that sentenced political prisoners to death at the end of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

Concerning the talks over Iran’s nuclear deal, Raisi promised to salvage the accord to secure relief from US sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. 

But he ruled out any limits to Iran’s missile capabilities and support for regional militias — among other issues viewed by Washington as shortcomings of the landmark deal that the Biden administration wants addressed.

“It’s nonnegotiable,” Raisi said of Iran’s ballistic missile program, adding that the US “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.”

Raisi said Iran’s foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal, adding that “all US sanctions must be lifted and verified by Tehran.”

Negotiations have been under way in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the US can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump before reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Iran has subsequently breached the deal’s limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimize the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential.

Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy.

Raisi also alleged that the US had violated the deal and the EU had failed to fulfill its commitments.

The victory of Raisi comes amid the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home in defiance of a vote they saw as tipped in Raisi’s favor.

Of those who did vote, 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates. In official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62 percent of the total 28.9 million cast.

Raisi’s election puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at 60 percent its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. 

Representatives of the world powers party to the deal returned to their capitals for consultations following the latest round of negotiations on Sunday.

(with AFP, AP and Reuters)

 

 


British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast

British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast
Updated 26 min 56 sec ago

British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast

British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast
FUJAIRAH, UAE: The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a “potential hijack” — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
Hints of what unfolded on the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran played any role. He described the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Over the past years, the rising tensions have played out in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, where just last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known fatal assault in the years-long shadow war targeting vessels in Mideast waters. Iran denied involvement.
Late on Tuesday, the intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah, authorities said. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
Possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy group declared the hijackers had departed and the vessel was now “safe.”
In an analysis, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global described the seizure of the Asphalt Princess as the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other grievances.
“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes and (vessels) operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, Dryad Global said.
The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
For the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have witnessed a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops detained a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claimed it detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
  • Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran
  • Taghavi suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes

BERLIN: A German-Iranian woman held in Iran has been given a decade-long jail term by an Iran court for participating in an outlawed group, her daughter said Wednesday.

Nahid Taghavi, 66, was given “ten years for membership in an illegal group” and “eight months for propaganda against the regime,” said her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran, in particular for women’s rights and freedom of expression, according to the rights group IGFM.

According to Claren, Taghavi has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she contracted Covid-19 last month.

Claren has repeatedly flagged up warnings about her mother’s health, saying that she suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Germany’s foreign ministry said in October that it was aware of the arrest of a German-Iranian woman in Iran, but did not name the detained citizen.

Frank Schwabe, who is the spokesman on human rights issues for the Social Democrats, condemned the verdict.

“The charges are baseless and the verdict a farce,” he wrote on Twitter.


UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
  • The UAE is one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization

DUBAI: The UAE health ministry on Wednesday reported 1,519 new coronavirus cases and five more COVID-19 related fatalities overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 686,981 with 1,965 deaths.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said it conducted 191,032 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as the Emirates aggressively pursues early detection of the highly contagious disease for necessary treatment and the prevention of community infection.

The UAE, one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization, has deployed an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccines to 79.3 percent of its population, while 70.96 percent have been fully vaccinated.

A total 16,884,412 doses have been dispensed so far, for a vaccine distribution rate of 170.72 doses per 100 people.

The vaccination drive is in line with plans to provide the vaccine to the populace to acquire herd immunity, which will help reduce the number of cases and control the spread of the virus.


International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million
Updated 32 min 14 sec ago

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million
  • The Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people
  • About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference

SAULIEU, France: The French presidency said an international conference on Lebanon has gathered over $357 million in aid required to meet the country’s humanitarian needs, one year after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port.
Wednesday’s virtual conference, co-hosted by France and the United Nations, was meant to show support for the Lebanese people, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
France will provide 100 million euros ($118.6 million) in the coming months, Macron said. Paris will also send 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the country.
President Joe Biden, who addressed the conference in a video message, pledged to give $100 million in new humanitarian assistance.
About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference, according to Macron’s office. Participants included Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and European Council President Charles Michel.
Lebanon’s current humanitarian needs have been estimated by the UN to be at least $357 million. Aid will focus on food, schools, the health sector and clean water supply, Macron’s office said.
Wednesday’s event was also meant to mount pressure on Lebanese leaders to form a new government able to implement reforms and start rebuilding the country.
Lebanon is going through the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.
Biden said that “no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough, if Lebanon’s own leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption. That’s essential, and has to start now.”
Lebanese politicians have only made the situation ”worse by placing their individual and political interests above the Lebanese people’s interests,” Macron criticized. “Lebanon definitely deserves better.”
Macron said that humanitarian aid promised Wednesday will be unconditional.
However, he warned that “there will be no blank check to the Lebanese political system because it is defaulting. ... Lebanese leaders seem to opt for the deterioration (of the situation). I regret it. I think it’s a historical and moral error.”
Michel, the European Council President, stressed that the EU adopted a few days ago a “sanctions framework ... to target those in Lebanon who obstruct efforts to end the political crisis. We obviously hope that we will not be obliged to activate it.”
Macron, who went to Beirut twice since the explosion at the port, has led international efforts to try to help the former French protectorate by providing emergency aid. Last year’s conference on Lebanon, organized in the wake of the explosion, raised about 280 million euros ($332 million).
According to the UN, over half of Lebanese people now live in poverty, one in three Lebanese suffer from food insecurity and nearly 4 million people are at risk of not accessing safe water.


Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
Updated 04 August 2021

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
  • The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon

JERUSALEM: Rocket fire from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Wednesday prompting retaliatory shelling, the army said, as tensions rise between Israel and arch foe Iran.

“Three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement, adding that one had fallen short of the border.

“In response... artillery forces fired into Lebanese territory.”

Rocket warning sirens sounded in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, the Israeli military said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon.

The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, who have sway in southern Lebanon and advanced rockets.

But small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past, and two rockets were launched at Israel on July 20, causing no damage or injuries. Israel responded to that incident with artillery fire.