‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  
Lebanon’s hospitals were already struggling to cope with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic before the latest electricity crisis. (AP)
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Updated 29 June 2021

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  
  • Doctors say they are being stretched even further with shortages of medical supplies and fuel

DUBAI: Dr. Samer Saade’s car ran out of fuel this morning while he was on his way to work at Hammoud Hospital University Medical Center in Sidon, southern Lebanon.

He parked his car on the side of the road in Khaldeh and took a cab for the remainder of the 30-km journey.

“I haven’t been able to fill my car for the past four days,” Saade told Arab News. “Either queue lines at gas stations are out of this world or the pumps are simply closed,” he said.

The emergency room physician, like practically all Lebanese, has been hit hard by the ongoing fuel shortage in the crisis-hit country.

Giant queues clogging roads near petrol stations have become a common sight and refueling is limited to 15 or 20 liters, making long-distance travel a thing of the past.

The fuel crisis, however, is not only limited to the petrol needed for cars; it has also made its way to the country’s beleaguered electricity grid.

Lebanon’s hospitals were already struggling to cope with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic before the latest electricity crisis.

Now, doctors say, they are being stretched even further with shortages of medical supplies and fuel.

“Medicine shortages, equipment shortages, hyperinflation pricing out the poor from getting care — anything that can go wrong in this country will go wrong, basically,” Saade said.

At the hospital, state electricity “barely comes on for two or three hours per day,” Saade said, with four private generators needed to fill the gap.

Two of Lebanon’s Turkish power barges have been shut down amid an ongoing feud with the parent company, while the other four state-owned power plants are running on fumes.

“We were already used to state electricity being out, but now we don’t even know if we’ll manage to secure enough fuel for the generators,” Saade told Arab News.

In total, his hospital has four generators that operate, with two operating at any given time.

According to Saade, his hospital has enough fuel reserves for the upcoming four days.

“After that, I don’t know. We’re living day-by-day,” he said.

Forty km away at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, an establishment that found itself at the frontlines of the pandemic, the situation is even more precarious.

As prolonged electricity cuts surged, the hospital has been rationing electricity since yesterday and turning off air-conditioning in all areas except those used for medical purposes, the hospital’s general manager Firas Abiad wrote in a tweet.

“Air-conditioning throughout our premises except in areas needed for medical purposes, such as operating and examination rooms will be turned off due to protracted electricity cuts,” Abiad said.

Accompanying his tweet was a letter Abiad sent to caretaker Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar asking for support in maintaining the hospital’s electricity supply.

If the problem persists, “we’re headed toward a catastrophe,” Saade said.

“Ventilators, CPR machines, basically everything needed for critical care facilities will be shut down,” he added.

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for eight months, with negotiations stalled in a quagmire that has seen politicians bicker over cabinet portfolios and quotas.

Meanwhile, food insecurity and extreme poverty plague the country as any semblance of normal life dissipates.

Several industries have sounded the alarm over a lack of fuel, which has caused private generators to struggle to keep pace with increased state outages.

The head of the Lebanese poultry syndicate urged officials over the weekend to deliver diesel to chicken farms before power cuts compromise the wellbeing of livestock and the safety and quality of refrigerated chicken.

Meanwhile, the crisis is also jeopardizing public sector operations.

The General Security headquarters in Beirut, the country’s main intelligence agency, was hit with a blackout yesterday when a generator shutdown coincided with a state power cut.

Despite Lebanon needing to preserve its last remaining foreign currency reserves for any possible economic recovery, the central bank has continued to subsidize fuel, medicine and wheat, draining the state’s coffers of some $5 billion annually.

But the cash-strapped small Mediterranean country has now begun rolling back its subsidy program, starting with fuel.

Lebanon will now start importing fuel at LL3,900 to the dollar, as opposed to the official rate of LL1,500. On the black market, the Lebanese pound is trading at around LL18,000 per greenback, representing a depreciation of around 92 percent for the national currency.

Effective today, a price hike of around 30 to 40 percent on all fuel derivatives has been implemented.

The price of 20 liters of gas will now cost LL61,000 ($40 at the official rate), up from LL45,200, while 20 liters of diesel will cost LL46,100, up from LL33,300.

“These price increases will surely affect our ability to secure fuel while also increasing our costs and, as a result, the cost on patients,” Dr. Mohammed Khodrin, head of Akkar Governmental Hospital, told Arab News. 


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 12 sec ago

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 19 min 49 sec ago

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.


A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction
Updated 15 min 18 sec ago

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction
  • Developers of Dubai’s Heart of Europe resort say sustainability is at the core of the project
  • The project features a 1 km “Rainy Street,” an outdoor snow plaza and the world’s first floating smart police station

DUBAI: From forest fires and landslides to desertification and flooding, the effects of climate change increasingly are manifesting in all manner of destructive ways, laying waste to animal and plant habitats and vulnerable rural communities.

But urban areas not immune to the risks either and, as such, they too are being forced to adapt.

THE FLOATING SEAHORSE

The UN has warned that by 2030 greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced by between 25 and 55 percent of 2017 levels. With these figures in mind, developers are exploring innovative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of cities while also improving the quality of life for residents.

Josef Kleindienst is one of them. He is the chairman of Kleindienst Group, the deverloper of the Heart of Europe project that is underway in Dubai. Rather than simply build sustainably, the firm says it aims to change the climate.

The Heart of Europe occupies a section of Dubai’s World Islands, a collection of man-made islands off the coast of the city built in the shape of a map of the world. When complete, it is expected to be be an upscale, eco-friendly resort showcasing the use of the latest technology to mitigate the effects of climate change in urban locations.

According to the developer, Heart of Europe will include, among other things, a cooling, climate-controlled Rainy Street, an outdoor snow plaza and the world’s first floating, smart police station.

“The vision was to create a touristic project while bringing in innovation on these islands,” Kleindienst told Arab News.

GERMANY

“The islands project was launched in 2003, and a coral nursery was built on a structure, producing 100,000 corals a year to plant on our reefs. The interesting part for me is that Dubai always had futuristic visions, and this is pure sustainability.”

According to the developer, sustainability is at the core of the Heart of Europe, which will include more than 500,000 square meters of coral reef, and olive trees from Andalusia in southern Spain.

The project, once operational, will feature sustainable landscaping that is free of pesticides and fungicides, and irrigated with recycled water, says the developer. It will be automobile-free, powered by clean energy and will eventually offer visitors sustainable water transportation.

Solar panels will supply much of the resort’s power requirements, while its water supply will be completely recycled and reused for purposes such as flushing toilets and watering plants, says the developer.

HONEYMOON ISLAND

It adds that, in addition, the Heart of Europe will have zero-discharge and zero-microplastics policies to help protect marine life around the islands, and the wider waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The Coral Institute, an in-house research and development center, has been entrusted with creating new coral reefs, helping to expand the marine ecosystem, and working to rebalance the underwater environment as part of Kleindienst Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility program.

Beginning next year, the institute also plans to regenerate and develop corals from 10 reefs and diving sites around the globe, according to the Kleindienst Group.

FASTFACTS

• The Heart of Europe has a zero-discharge and zero microplastics policy to ensure the protection of the Arabian Gulf and marine life.

• It is powered by solar and hydro fuels, has pesticide and fungicide free landscaping, a car-free environment, and recycles water.

In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a report on the megatrends that are shaping the future of tourism. It said sustainable tourism is a growth area that will radically change the industry. Tourism is a resource-intensive human activity, it said, yet it can play a pivotal role in driving the transition to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy.

“Due to its cross-cutting nature and close connections to numerous sectors, even small improvements will have important impacts,” the report said.

MARBELLA

“It will become increasingly important for governments and industry to work together in a proactive approach to ensure the sustainable development and management of attractions for the benefit and enjoyment of local communities and tourists.”

Countries, cities, islands and other destinations that fail to embrace the sustainability trend will most likely lose business, because consumers are growing increasingly concerned about the environment, it added.

“Dubai has been looking to do this since 2003, because they added a zero-discharge regulation on these islands,” Kleindienst said. “We are not allowed to discharge anything that could pollute the air or the water. This is as sustainable as it can be if you want to protect the environment.”

One of the novel innovations in the Heart of Europe development, according to Kleindienst, is the Rainy Street, a 1km thoroughfare that uses sensor-controlled technology to generate precipitation that helps to provide visitors with a comfortable climate even during scorching summer temperatures that can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.

COTE D’AZUR

Along the street, which will host shops, restaurants and bars, an ambient air temperature of about 27 degrees Celsius will be maintained through the using of state-of-the-art technology that can literally control the outdoor climate.

“We invited consultants and specialists from around the world to bring us solutions,” Kleindienst said.

“The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institute in Germany is number one when it comes to building these technologies, which use water and remove humidity from the air. When the temperature goes above 27 degrees Celsius and humidity hits 60 percent, it releases rain.”

PORTOFINO

Another climate-control innovation is the snow plaza, according to the Kleindienst Group. It uses a similar concept to the air conditioning systems used in malls, which cool water to 5 degrees Celsius to create cool air. By further reducing the water temperature to 2 C, snow can be generated.

“We started working on the technologies in 2008 and we’re now ready,” Kleindienst said. “It took over 4 years (just) to develop, test and optimize the technology required to achieve the vision for the masterplan. We tested it on the hottest days in the middle of summer and it works — it will come from a piping system, just like in the movies.”

MARBELLA

The Heart of Europe’s initial soft opening began on Oct. 28 with the connection of all utilities. About 300 technical tests will be carried out over the course of a month and, if all goes to plan, it will soon begin to welcome guests at a reduced capacity ahead of its full launch with opening of the Monaco boutique hotel. But Dubai could be just the start.

“We have been invited to Saudi Arabia and Egypt to discuss projects there, but our goal is to complete this project first before discussing expansion,” Kleindienst said.

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland, this month, has once again highlighted the importance of issues such as sustainability and conservation. Kleindienst said his company is rising to the challenge.

SWEDEN

“We should take care of the environment,” he added. “We didn’t know how fast climate change would come and how significant the impact would be on our lives.

“We must bring back the planet, the climate and nature to how it was before, and sustain it for our children and their children. It’s a big obligation for us.”

In line with the growing trend toward sustainability, eco-friendly tourism projects are being launched across the region. The Hatta Sustainable Waterfalls in Dubai, for example, is due for completion at Hatta Dam by November next year. The falls will collect water, recycle it and pump it back to the top of the dam.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, launched the Sustainable Tourism Global Center last month. The global travel and tourism sector is responsible for about 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and the Kingdom has therefore prioritized support for the sector to help accelerate its transition to net zero.

“(These emissions are) expected to grow if we don’t act now,” Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Saudi Arabia’s minister of tourism, said at the official launch of the center.

THE FLOATING LIDO

“Tourism is also a highly fragmented sector; 80 percent of businesses in tourism are small and medium-sized enterprises who rely on guidance and support from sector leadership. The sector must be part of the solution.”

The Kingdom is working with global partners that prioritize tourism, small and medium enterprises and the climate to create a broad coalition that can lead the tourism industry’s transition to net zero, he added.

“By working together and delivering a strong joint platform, the tourism sector will have the support it needs. The STGC will facilitate growth while making tourism better for the climate, nature and communities,” Al-Khateeb said.

 


Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 29 November 2021

Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Former head of nuclear agency said Tehran’s top nuclear scientist was killed because his research ‘became a threat’
  • Pursuit of weapons could spark “nuclear arms race,” expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has revealed that Tehran’s nuclear program has military objectives, in the clearest admission to date of Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

In an interview with state media, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former head of the IAEO, admitted to the existence of a “system” with military capabilities.

The existence of a military research branch within Iran’s nuclear program would directly contravene the state line on nuclear weapons.

Officials in Iran often cite a fatwa — a religious edict — issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the development and use of nuclear arms as evidence that they are not pursuing nuclear arms.

However, while discussing the 2020 assassination by Israeli agents of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Abbasi-Davani suggested that his research was part of a “system” that had become a military threat to Israel.

“When the country’s all-encompassing growth began involving satellites, missiles and nuclear weapons, and surmounted new boundaries of knowledge, the issue became more serious for them,” Abbasi-Davani said.

While the individual elements of Iran’s nuclear program did not have an overt military use, the existence of that “system” of research endeavors, such as uranium enrichment, combined with Iran’s reasonably advanced domestic missile program, is believed to have triggered Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

But Abbasi-Davani’s interview, released as Washington and Tehran are set to re-engage in long-running talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, also revealed new information on the strategic goals behind the pursuit of nuclear arms: A nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies.

“Although our stance on nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s explicit fatwa regarding nuclear weapons being haram (religiously forbidden) is quite clear, Fakhrizadeh created this system and his concern wasn’t just the defense of our own country,” Abbasi-Davani said.

He warned: “Our country backs the axis of the resistance front (against Israel), and when you enter this realm, the Zionists become sensitive.”

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran’s network of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and constituent militias of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front.

Ideologically, the groups are opposed to Israel, but they are used in practice to pursue Iranian foreign policy objectives.

Meir Javedanfar, Iran lecturer at Reichman University, told Arab News that Abbasi-Davani’s admission was of “grave concern,” particularly because of the reference to a “system.”

He said: “This is unprecedented. Until now, the assumption has been that even if Iran gets a nuclear program, it would only be used to defend Iran and to deter others.

“Now, based on Abbasi-Davani’s comments, we know that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will be used to defend its proxies in the region. This makes it even more imperative that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”

He added: “Using nuclear weapons to support Iran’s proxies at the very least would mean providing a protection umbrella for various groups around the region. That would imperil numerous countries in the region, and not just the state of Israel.”

Javedanfar warned: “That could lead, in itself, to a nuclear arms race.”


Iran nuclear deal talks resume, chair feels ‘positive’

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Iran nuclear deal talks resume, chair feels ‘positive’

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)

VIENNA: Negotiators in Vienna resumed talks Monday over reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, with the United States taking part at arms length as in previous rounds since the Trump administration pulled out of the accord three years ago.
Hopes of quick progress were muted after a hard-line new government in Tehran led to a more than five-month hiatus in negotiations. But the European Union official chairing the talks sounded an upbeat note after the first meeting concluded.
“I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks,” EU diplomat Enrique Mora told reporters.
All participants had shown a willingness to listen to the positions and “sensibilities” of the new Iranian delegation, Mora said. At the same time, Tehran’s team made clear it wanted to engage in “serious work” to bring the accord back to life, he said.
The remaining signatories to the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — convened at the Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel where the agreement was signed six years ago.
A US delegation headed by the Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, was staying at a nearby hotel where it was being briefed on the talks by diplomats from the other countries.
President Joe Biden has signaled he wants to rejoin the talks. The last round, aimed at bringing Iran back into compliance with the agreement and paving the way for the US to rejoin, was held in June.
“There is a sense of urgency in putting an end to the suffering of the Iranian people,” said Mora, referring to the crippling sanctions the US re-imposed on Iran when it quit the accord.
“And there is a sense of urgency in putting the Iranian nuclear program under the transparent monitoring of the international community,” he said.
“What has been the norm over the first six rounds will be again the practice in this seventh round,” Mora added. “Nothing new on working methods.”
The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018.
The nuclear deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.
Iran maintains its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear the brinkmanship could push Tehran toward even more extreme measures to try to force the West to lift sanctions.
Making matters more difficult, United Nations nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran limited their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make any progress on that issue.
Russia’s top representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, said he held “useful” informal consultations with officials from Iran and China on Sunday. That meeting, he said, was aimed at “better understanding ... the updated negotiating position of Tehran.” He tweeted a picture of a meeting Monday he described as a preparatory session with members before Iran joined the discussions.
A delegation appointed by new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is joining the negotiations for the first time. Iran has made maximalist demands, including calls for the US to unfreeze $10 billion in assets as an initial goodwill gesture, a tough line that might be an opening gambit.
Ali Bagheri, an Iranian nuclear negotiator, told Iranian state television late Sunday that the Islamic Republic “has entered the talks with serious willpower and strong preparation.” However, he cautioned that “we cannot anticipate a timeframe on the length of these talks now.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, meanwhile, suggested Monday that the US could “receive a ticket for returning to the room” of the nuclear talks if it agrees to “the real lifting of sanctions.” He also criticized a recent opinion piece written by the foreign ministers of Britain and Israel that pledged to “work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”
“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video that he later posted to Twitter. “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the meeting “the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table” after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
“We want those talks to work,” Truss said. “But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”
In an interview with NPR broadcast Friday, US negotiator Malley said signs from Iran “are not particularly encouraging.”
Russia’s Ulyanov said there’s pressure to get the process moving after “a very protracted pause.”
“The talks can’t last forever,” he tweeted on Sunday. “There is the obvious need to speed up the process.”
Mora, the EU official, said participants in Monday’s meeting had agreed on a plan of work for the coming days. Diplomats planned to discuss the issue of sanctions on Tuesday, followed by a meeting on Iran’s nuclear commitments Wednesday.