Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2021

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
  • Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression
  • EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran warned Wednesday that Washington's seizure of 33 websites run by Iran-linked media was "not constructive" for ongoing talks on bringing the United States back into a landmark nuclear deal.
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites, as well as three of the Iraqi group Kataeb Hezbollah, which it said were hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression, while the president's office questioned the timing of the move as talks on bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and major powers are reportedly making headway.
"We are using all international and legal means to... condemn... this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters.
"It appears not constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are under way."
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, but in 2018 then US president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement and ramped up sanctions, prompting Iran to pull back from its own commitments.
Trump's successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties -- also including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have been negotiating its revival in Vienna since early April.
EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remain.
The US action also comes just after Iranians chose ultraconservative cleric Ibrahim Raisi as president in an election the US State Department characterised as neither free nor fair.
Visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English- and Arabic-language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Huthis, were met with single-page statements declaring the website "has been seized by the United States government" accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department.
The 33 websites were held by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), itself controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC).
Both the IRTVU and IRGC have been placed on the US sanctions blacklist, making it illegal for Americans, US companies, and foreign or non-American companies with US subsidiaries to have business with them or their subsidiaries.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi group which owned three sites that were seized, is a hardline military faction with close ties to Tehran that Washington has formally designated a terror group.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the immediate parent of Al-Alam, reported that other web domains, including Palestine-Al Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, and an Arabic-language religious and cultural channel were among those seized.
Bahrain's LuaLua TV, a channel run by opposition groups with offices in London and Beirut, was also frozen by the United States, according to an AFP correspondent in the region.
IRIB accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia "to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region."
TV stations such as Press TV and Al-Alam switched to .ir domains and their websites remained accessible. They are also still present on social media, mainly Twitter, and their broadcasts have continued uninterrupted.
On the website of their political wing, the Huthis branded the action "American piracy and copyright confiscation".
"The government of the United States of America is banning the Al-Masirah website without any justification or even prior notice," they said.
Al-Masirah quickly established a new website, using its name but swapping the .net domain for .com.
Meanwhile LuaLua and Al-Masirah continued to broadcast new programs, AFP journalists said.
IRTVU was designated for sanctions last year for "brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters," the Justice Department said.
"IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organisations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," it said in a statement.
US officials meanwhile have tied Kataeb Hezbollah to rocket and other attacks on sites in Iraq where American soldiers and diplomats reside, and say the group is supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Justice Department did not identify the US company or companies which owned the domains that hosted the websites, or explain how they had been able to host them contrary to sanctions.


As diplomacy stutters, US, Israel to discuss military drills for Iran scenario

As diplomacy stutters, US, Israel to discuss military drills for Iran scenario
Updated 7 sec ago

As diplomacy stutters, US, Israel to discuss military drills for Iran scenario

As diplomacy stutters, US, Israel to discuss military drills for Iran scenario
  • The US declined to offer details on the potential military exercises
  • Vienna talks over future of Iran's nuclear program are making slow progress

WASHINGTON: US and Israeli defense chiefs are expected on Thursday to discuss possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities should diplomacy https://www.reuters.com/world/us-envoy-malley-return-vienna-resumed-iran-nuclear-talks-over-weekend-state-dept-2021-12-08 fail and if their nations’ leaders request it, a senior US official told Reuters.
The scheduled US talks with visiting Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz follow an Oct. 25 briefing by Pentagon leaders to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on the full set of military options available to ensure that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon, the official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying it wants to master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The US-Israeli preparations, which have not been previously reported, underscore Western concern about difficult nuclear talks with Iran that President Joe Biden had hoped would revive a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
But US and European officials have voiced dismay after talks last week at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hard-line government, heightening suspicions in the West that Iran is playing for time while advancing its nuclear program.
The US official declined to offer details on the potential military exercises.
“We’re in this pickle because Iran’s nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale,” the official said, while still voicing hope for discussions.
The Israeli embassy in Washington and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gantz, in a post on Twitter as he departed for the United States, said: “We will discuss possible modes of action to ensure the cessation of (Iran’s) attempt to enter the nuclear sphere and broaden its activity in the region.” He did not elaborate.
Nuclear negotiations will resume on Thursday, according to the European Union official chairing the talks, and the US special envoy for Iran plans to join them over the weekend.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said last week that Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at its Fordow plant, which is dug into a mountain, making it harder to attack.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief but imposed strict limits on its uranium enrichment activities, extending the time it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to at least a year from around two to three months. Most nuclear experts say that period is now considerably shorter.
Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that pact does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all, let alone with advanced centrifuges.
With the deal’s nuclear benefits now badly compromised, some Western officials say there is little time left before the foundation of the deal is damaged beyond repair.
Such drills by the United States and Israel could address calls by Dennis Ross, a former senior US official and Middle East expert, and others to openly signal to Iran that the United States and Israel are still serious about preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Biden needs to disabuse Iran of the notion that Washington will not act militarily and will stop Israel from doing so,” Ross wrote last month.
Ross even suggested the United States should perhaps signal a willingness to give the Israeli’s the US military’s bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb.
Asked about such remarks about deterrence, the senior US official said: “When President Biden says Iran will never get a nuclear weapon, I mean, he means it.”
Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns said on Monday that the CIA does not believe Iran’s supreme leader has decided to take steps to weaponize a nuclear device but noted advances in its ability to enrich uranium, one pathway to the fissile material for a bomb.
Burns cautioned that, even if Iran decided to go ahead, it would still require a lot of work to weaponize that fissile material before attaching a nuclear weapon to a missile or other delivery system.
“But they’re further along in their mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle and that’s the kind of knowledge that is very difficult to sanction away or make disappear, as well,” he said.
US officials have also long worried about America’s ability to detect and destroy dispersed components of Iran’s nuclear weaponization program once enough fissile material for a bomb were produced.


US-led anti-Daesh coalition ends Iraq combat mission: Baghdad

US-led anti-Daesh coalition ends Iraq combat mission: Baghdad
Updated 09 December 2021

US-led anti-Daesh coalition ends Iraq combat mission: Baghdad

US-led anti-Daesh coalition ends Iraq combat mission: Baghdad
  • Daesh established a so-called caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq from 2014 but was defeated in Iraq in 2017 by the multinational coalition

BAGHDAD: The US-led coalition against Daesh group jihadists has finished its combat mission in Iraq and will shift to a training and advisory role, Iraq’s national security adviser said Thursday.
The change of the mission for around 2,500 US troops stationed in the war-battered country by the end of the year was first announced in July by President Joe Biden, during a Washington visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi.
The Iraqi government has been under pressure from powerful pro-Iranian political groups with armed wings that have vehemently demanded all US troops leave the country.
“We are officially announcing the end of the coalition forces’ combat mission,” national security adviser Qassem Al-Aaraji wrote on Twitter.
“The relationship with the international coalition continues in the areas of training, advising and capacity building” of Iraqi forces, he added.
Aaraji was speaking after a meeting between the coalition and the Joint Operations commanders of the Iraqi security forces.
In effect, the about 2,500 US and 1,000 coalition troops deployed in Iraq will remain there. They have been acting as advisers and trainers since mid-2020.
Daesh established a so-called caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq from 2014 but was defeated in Iraq in 2017 by the multinational coalition.
Iraqi interior ministry media official General Saad Maan told a news conference on Thursday that “the coalition will have completely finished the transition to a non-combat mission before the end of the year.”
He was quoting what the coalition commander, Major General John W. Brennan Jr., said during the meeting.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi, a former coalition of Iraqi paramilitary groups now integrated into the regular forces, an influential political player and ally of Tehran, is particularly virulent about the departure of American troops.
On social networks, groups close to pro-Iranian factions have been issuing threats and reminding Washington of a December 31 deadline set to demand a full US withdrawal.
In recent months, dozens of rocket and drone attacks have targeted American troops and interests in Iraq. Never claimed, these attacks are systematically blamed by the United States on pro-Iranian Iraqi factions.


Israel closes probe of police who shot Palestinian attacker

Israel closes probe of police who shot Palestinian attacker
Updated 09 December 2021

Israel closes probe of police who shot Palestinian attacker

Israel closes probe of police who shot Palestinian attacker
  • Video footage showed a paramilitary Border Police officer shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground
  • The incident came amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank

TEL AVIV: Israel’s Justice Ministry said Thursday it was closing an investigation into two police officers who shot dead a Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground, accepting the officers’ assertion that they acted in self-defense.
A Palestinian attacker on Saturday stabbed and wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew outside Jerusalem’s Old City. He then tried to stab the officers before being shot and falling to the ground. Video footage showed a paramilitary Border Police officer shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground.
The shooting prompted calls for an investigation and drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.
The Justice Ministry said it made its decision to close the case following the questioning of the two officers, who said they acted in self-defense.
“It was an incident that took place over mere seconds, in circumstances in which there was a real and concrete threat to the lives of the fighters and the civilians in the area,” it said in a statement. “It was found to be legally justified to use a weapon.”
The incident came amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, an Israeli woman was stabbed and lightly wounded in a tense neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The suspect, a Palestinian female minor, fled the scene and was later arrested inside a nearby school, police said.
Last month, a Hamas militant opened fire in Jerusalem’s Old City, killing one Israeli and wounding four others before being fatally shot by police.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say Israeli security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.
Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.
Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.
In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.
His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.


Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
Updated 09 December 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
  • Value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined

MANAMA/DUBAI: A multinational naval coalition said it seized over 67 tons of drugs worth more than $189 million in operations near the Arabian Gulf in 2021, a record for the task force.

The value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined, said Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) that oversees the task force.

The haul including 6,550 kilograms of heroin, 4,052 kilograms of methamphetamine and 56,834 kilograms of hashish was all destroyed, he said.

Commander of CTF 150, Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Brendon Clark, said the drugs came from a number of countries around the region, without specifying.

“It’s all about maritime security operations ... preventing illicit activity from non-state actors in the region,” he said.

“We do that so that we can have legitimate commercial shipping, legitimate commercial fishing, can transit and operate in the region free from these non state threats.”

CTF 150 is part of the CMF naval partnership in which 34 nations patrol 3.2 million square miles of international waters. The New Zealand navy took command of CTF 150 in July.

Meanwhile, the US seized two large caches of Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, intended for the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The US justice department on Tuesday said navy troops seized the weapons from two vessels in the Arabian Sea while conducting routine maritime security operations.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, orchestrated the arms shipments, which were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen,” the statement added.

Approximately 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products were also seized from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea while en route to Venezuela, the justice department said.

“The actions of the United States in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The seized petroleum products were sold for over $26 million, pursuant to a court order, with the proceeds directed, “in whole or in part, to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.”

The operation represents the US “government’s largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran,” the statement noted.


Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
Updated 09 December 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
  • The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement

DUBAI: The Arab coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communication system in the Al-Bani district and a weapons depot in Sanaa. 
The coalition said the communication system was being used to launch cross-border drone attacks. 
Coalition forces earlier intercepted and destroyed two drones in Yemeni airspace, one of which was monitored and launched from Sanaa airport.
Clashes between the Iran-backed Houthis and the coalition have intensified in recent months, specifically in Marib where it destroyed a Houthi missile defense system.
On Wednesday, the coalition carried out 16 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib in the past 24 hours. It said 95 militants were killed and 11 Houthi military vehicles were destroyed during the operation.
The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement.