US accuses Iran of trying to deflect blame for nuclear talks impasse

 Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi. (REUTERS/File Photo)
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 18 July 2021

US accuses Iran of trying to deflect blame for nuclear talks impasse

US accuses Iran of trying to deflect blame for nuclear talks impasse
  • Denies that any agreement had been reached on a prisoner swap
  • Iran earlier said next round of talks must wait until the new Iranian administration takes office next month

WASHINGTON/CAIRO: The US on Saturday accused Tehran of an “outrageous” effort to deflect blame for the impasse in Iran nuclear talks and denied that any agreement had been reached on a prisoner swap.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said earlier on Twitter that the next round of negotiations in Vienna must wait until the new Iranian administration takes office in August but insisted that a prisoner exchange could take place quickly if the United States and Britain would stop linking it with the nuclear issue.
Indirect US-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 deal have been on hold since the last round ended on June 20, and Araqchi’s comments confirmed that Tehran will not return to the table before President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes over.
“We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is under way in our capital. Vienna talks must thus obviously await our new administration,” he tweeted.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “These comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse.”
“We stand ready to return to Vienna to complete work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions,” Price said, referring to diplomatic efforts to get both countries back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
That is the nuclear accord that former President Donald Trump abandoned and his successor, President Joe Biden, seeks to revive.
Araqchi also urged the United States and Britain to stop linking any exchange of prisoners with the nuclear deal. “Ten prisoners on all sides may be released tomorrow if US&UK fulfil their part of a deal,” he said.
In response, Price said: “With respect to the comments on the Americans whom Iran has unjustly held against their will, we see just another cruel effort to raise the hopes of their families … There is no agreed deal yet.”
“We had been engaged in indirect talks on the detainees in the context of the Vienna process, and the delay in restarting that process is not helping,” Price added. “While it would be more effective to make progress if we were meeting in Vienna, we are also prepared to continue with talks on detainees during this period.”
Iran, which is holding a handful of Iranian-Americans, has been accused by rights activists of arresting dual nationals to try to extract a concession from other countries. Iran has dismissed the charge.
Iran said earlier this week that it was holding talks on securing the release of Iranian prisoners in American jails and other countries over violations of US sanctions.
In May, Washington denied a report by Iranian state television that the countries had reached a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under US sanctions in other countries.
The hiatus in nuclear talks, which US and European officials attribute to hard-line Raisi’s election, has raised questions about next steps if the talks hit a dead end.


Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
Updated 41 min 50 sec ago

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
  • "The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war," Nasrallah said in a live televised speech
  • Nasrallah says Hezbollah is not the enemy of the Christians and trying to portray it as such is an illusion

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah said on Monday that last week’s Beirut violence in which seven Shiite Muslims were shot dead was a dangerous development and marked a new phase in the country’s internal politics.
In his first remarks since the worst street violence in over a decade, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at the Christian Lebanese Forces party and its head Samir Geagea, repeating accusations that they were responsible for the killings on Thursday.
“The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war,” Nasrallah said in a live televised speech.
Heavy gunfire erupted in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, to celebrate the start of Nasrallah’s speech, which came amid tensions over the investigation of last year’s devastating explosion at the capital’s port.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not the enemy of Lebanese Christians.
“The biggest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Nasrallah said.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and suffering an economic meltdown.
The Lebanese Forces party (LF) has denied it started the fighting last week. It blamed the violence on Hezbollah “incitement” against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in an investigation into the port explosion.
It also accused Hezbollah of sending supporters into the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh where it says four residents were wounded before a shot was fired.
“I advise the Lebanese Forces party to give up this idea of internal strife and civil war,” said Nasrallah.
“You are wrong one hundred percent, your calculations are wrong. The region has never seen Hezbollah as strong as it is now.”
Despite his tough stand, Nasrallah dedicated a significant part of his speech to trying to reassure Lebanon’s Christians, saying Hezbollah was protecting their rights and is allied with the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Lebanon’s Shiite Amal movement, a Hezbollah ally, said earlier that the Beirut violence was intended to reignite internal strife and threaten peace.
The seven victims were killed as crowds headed for a demonstration called by Amal and Hezbollah to protest against Bitar.
“What happened showed the Lebanese people the truth behind what these groups are doing in terms of trying to ignite internal strife and national division and threaten civic peace, and push the Lebanese back to the era of civil wars,” Amal said in a statement.
Amal, which is led by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, urged the authorities to arrest all those responsible for the violence.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from political factions.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati told the al Modon newspaper on Monday that the government would not meet unless an agreement is reached concerning the investigation.
Mikati also said he was not planning to resign at the moment. “The country can’t be left in circumstances like this.”
Tensions over the probe have spilt over into cabinet, with ministers aligned with the politicians the judge was seeking to question demanding his removal.


Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
Updated 18 October 2021

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
  • Migrants picked up by humanitarian group Sea-Watch, which now has more than 400 rescued people on its vessel
  • More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior

ROME: Fifty migrants were rescued on Sunday and Monday by the Sea-Watch 3 vessel in the waters off the coast of Libya.

More than 400 people are now on the boat, according to German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch. It is patrolling the central Mediterranean rescuing people trying to reach the small Italian island of Lampedusa in small, crowded boats.

Meanwhile landings continue non-stop on the island. Three vessels with 52 Tunisians on board reportedly landed on Monday morning, and four boats containing 140 foreigners arrived the previous night. One boat, with 13 Tunisians aboard, managed to reach the shore without being intercepted by coast guard vessels.

“On Sunday we had 152 Tunisians arriving here in six different landings,” Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told Arab News, giving his latest official figures. “There are now 329 migrants in our facility, which can accommodate a maximum of 250 people.

“The prefecture of Agrigento ordered for them to be transferred to the quarantine ship GNV Atlas, which is moored one mile from the coast. We cannot carry on like this. The entire population here is under stress. We are left alone but we have no intention not to help how we can those who arrive here. But this has been going on for too long.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 migrants from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the southern shores of the Italian island of Sardinia. They were detained by the Italian coast guard and by police.

“They were very dehydrated and tired as they have covered quite a long distance on a small vessel,” a spokesman for the coast guard in Cagliari told Arab News.

The journey to Sardinia from Tunisia is longer than to Lampedusa, and navigation in recent days has been difficult as a result of bad weather.

Sea-Watch said that its Seabird aircraft, which flies over the Mediterranean looking for vessels carrying migrants so that they can be rescued, also reported what it described as “illegal pushbacks operated by the so-called Libyan coast guard.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior. This is almost double the number of people who arrived in the same period last year.


More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
Updated 18 October 2021

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
  • Yemeni FM meets with chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Monday that it carried out 38 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Abedia and the surrounding villages in the Yemeni governorate of Marib.
The coalition said more than 150 militia members were killed and 13 Houthi vehicles destroyed in the operations in the previous 24 hours.
The coalition said that “international organizations must assume their responsibilities toward the civilians (who have been) trapped in Abedia” for weeks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia mounted a brutal offensive in February to take control of one of the last remaining government strongholds. The energy-rich region has served as a safe haven for internally displaced people fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The Arab coalition began hitting Houthi targets in Abedia last week following an escalation in the militia’s incursions.
This comes as Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned of the “dangerous repercussions” of the Houthis’ escalating offensive on civilians and displaced people in Marib governorate.
His comments came during a meeting with the chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen, Christa Rottensteiner.
Bin Mubarak said that the. Houthis’ military escalation “exacerbates the difficult humanitarian conditions of the displaced, especially in the Marib governorate, which is home to more than two million displaced people.”
He also warned that “the international community’s disregard for such practices unleashes the Houthis to commit more violence and violations against civilians, which compounds the displacement crisis, forces displacement of civilians, and increases their human suffering.”


Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
Updated 18 October 2021

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
  • The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
  • Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Monday it has detained the mastermind behind a deadly 2016 bombing in a Baghdad shopping center, which killed around 300 people and wounded 250.
The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan Al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation that was carried out with the cooperation of a neighboring country they did not name. He had been tracked by authorities for months.
They told The Associated Press that Al-Zobai was detained in an unidentified foreign country and transported to Iraq two days ago. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak of the operation on the record.
The 29-year-old Al-Zobai was an Al-Qaeda militant when he was imprisoned by the Americans in Iraq at Cropper prison until 2008, and then escaped from Abu Ghraib prison in 2013. He joined the Daesh group after that.
The officials said Al-Zobai plotted many attacks in Iraq, the most infamous of which was the 2016 bombing in Karrada in 2016. He operated under the Alias Abu Obaida.
At least 292 people died from the bombing, most of them from an ensuing fire that turned the Hadi shopping center into an inferno. The blaze was fed by a tinderbox of shops filled with clothing and oil-based perfumes for sale and lined with flammable panels.
Al-Zobai’s arrest came in the second such operation conducted by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service since Iraq’s federal elections Oct. 10.
Iraqi officials said they captured Sami Jasim, an IS leader last Monday in a similar operation abroad. Jasim had a $5 million bounty on his head from the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, which describes him as having been “instrumental in managing finances for IS terrorist operations.”


Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
Updated 18 October 2021

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
  • Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday at the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a government office
  • Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire

DAMASCUS, Syria: A former Syrian lawmaker allegedly felled by Israeli sniper fire was laid to rest Monday in an official funeral attended by hundreds of people near Damascus.
Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday in Ein el-Tineh, a village along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a Syrian government office. Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire. Israeli military and other officials declined to comment on the charge.
Israeli media, however, said Saleh had been assisting the Iranian military presence against Israel. If the Syrian claims are confirmed, it would mark the first time that Israeli snipers are known to have killed someone identified as an Iranian-linked target across the border.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area. Most of the world does not recognize the annexation, though the Trump administration declared the territory to be part of Israel.
On Monday, Saleh’s coffin, wrapped in a Syrian flag, was brought in an ambulance from the Mamdouh Abaza hospital in Qunetira to Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, for burial at a Druze cemetery. Hundreds of people attended, in addition to senior officials and Druze clerics.
Saleh was born in Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and was jailed several times by Israel, most recently for 12 years until 1997. He later moved to Syria, was elected to parliament in 1998 and served as an adviser to the government on the Golan issue.
Saleh’s son, Golan, a 17-year-old student, said that his father has always told him that the territory would return to Syria.
“I am proud that my father was martyred,” he said.