Iran resumes commercial flights to Afghanistan

Iran resumes commercial flights to Afghanistan
Passengers get off a Mahan Air aircraft at Kabul airport on Sept. 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Iran resumes commercial flights to Afghanistan

Iran resumes commercial flights to Afghanistan
  • A charter return flight transported passengers from Tehran to Kabul

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran Wednesday resumed commercial flights to Afghanistan that had been halted after the Taliban assumed power, news agencies reported.
The semiofficial Fars news agency reported that a charter return flight transported passengers from Tehran to Kabul. It said a second flight from northeastern city of Mashhad left for Kabul, too.
The flights were from the Mahan Air Airbus fleet. Iran stopped flights to Afghanistan in mid-August.
Tehran has remained a critic of the Taliban and has routinely urged the formation of a government representing all Afghan groups.
Iran and Afghanistan share some 945 kilometers of borders. Reportedly, Iran hosts some 800,000 registered Afghan refugees and more than two million undocumented Afghans live in the country over the past four decades.


Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein contracts COVID-19

Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein contracts COVID-19
Updated 13 min 26 sec ago

Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein contracts COVID-19

Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein contracts COVID-19
  • King Abdullah II and Queen Rania will self isolate for five days
  • Crown prince showing only mild symptoms

AMMAN: Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein has tested positive for COVID-19, the Jordanian Royal Court said Monday, requiring the king and the queen to self-isolate.

The Royal Court said Prince Hussein bin Abdullah tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening after undergoing a routine examination.

The statement said the prince showed only mild symptoms and remains in "very good health."

The Royal Court added that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania both tested negative on Monday and will self-isolate for five days.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Jordan has remained steady over the last few months and  nearly all containment measures have been lifted, including a curfew.

The kingdom on Monday registered 17 new COVID-19 deaths and 1,015 virus cases, increasing the overall number to have contracted the disease to 820,798 and the death toll to 10,697.


At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’
Updated 27 September 2021

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

NEW YORK: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Iran had crossed “all red lines” in its nuclear program and vowed that Israel would not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Bennett said Iran sought to dominate the Middle East under a “nuclear umbrella” and urged a more concerted international effort to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.
But he also hinted at the potential for Israel to act on its own against Iran, something it has repeatedly threatened in the past.
“Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance,” Bennett said. “Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning.”
Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, wants US President Joe Biden to harden his stance against Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe. He opposes the new US administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Biden’s White House predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.
Indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Bennett struck a less combative tone before the United Nations than Netanyahu, who often relied on props and visual aids to dramatize his accusations against Iran, an approach that critics derided as political stunts.
But Bennett has been just as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel views as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies it is seeking a bomb.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed, inspections ignored,” Bennett said. “They’re getting away with it.”


Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’
Updated 27 September 2021

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’
  • Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday rejected a complaint by the UN nuclear watchdog that it was blocked from a nuclear site, arguing that the facility was exempt from a recent agreement.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop near Tehran contrary to a September 12 agreement with Iran.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter.
“During the discussions in Tehran and Vienna, Iran indicated that... equipment related to this Complex are not included for servicing,” he wrote, referring to IAEA work on its surveillance equipment.
Sunday’s IAEA statement “isn’t accurate and goes beyond the agreed terms,” he added.
This month’s agreement between the IAEA and Iran came days after the nuclear watchdog had decried a lack of cooperation from Tehran.
Agency inspectors had been allowed to service monitoring and surveillance equipment and to replace storage media at “all necessary locations” except the TESA Karaj workshop, the IAEA said on Sunday.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in his latest report on Iran informed member states that the Islamic republic had granted all other access from September 20-22.
The IAEA’s latest report comes amid stalled negotiations to revive a 2015 landmark agreement scaling back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions. Iran in turn again started to ramp up its nuclear activities.
Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But that dialogue has been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.
Iran’s foreign minister said Friday that talks would restart “very soon,” but the US has called for a clear timetable.


US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog
Updated 27 September 2021

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog
  • Workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium

VIENNA: Iran must stop denying the UN nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Monday.
The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing.
TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage. The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation between Iran and the West.
“We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a US statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
It was responding to an IAEA report to member states on Sunday that said Iran had granted access to sites as agreed on Sept. 12 but not to the workshop, where IAEA inspectors were denied access on Sunday. They had planned to check if the workshop was ready to operate and re-install cameras if it was.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said overnight on Twitter that before the deal with the IAEA, Iran indicated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” because of ongoing investigations and Sunday’s report “goes beyond the agreed terms of the JS (Joint Statement).”
The European Union told the IAEA board that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
A resolution criticizing Iran at the Board of Governors could kill hopes of resuming indirect talks between Iran and the United States to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Iran usually bristles at such resolutions and its news hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran is prepared to return to the negotiating table but not under Western “pressure.” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday Iran would return to the talks “very soon.”
“We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” the US statement said. “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”


Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges
Updated 27 September 2021

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges
  • Judge Tarek Bitar is the second judge to lead the complicated and thorny investigation

BEIRUT: The lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast in Beirut’s port suspended his work in the case Monday after he was formally informed that a former Cabinet minister had submitted a request to recuse him.

Judge Tarek Bitar, the second judge to lead the complicated and thorny investigation, canceled the questioning of a former military intelligence general, scheduled for Monday. The Court of Appeals now has to decide whether to dismiss him from the case or not.

The development comes amid a growing campaign by Lebanon’s political class against Bitar, who took over the job in February after his predecessor, Fadi Sawwan, was removed following similar legal challenges by senior officials he had accused of negligence that led to the blast.

On Aug. 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded, killing at least 214 people, injuring more than 6,000 and devastating nearby neighborhoods.

Bitar’s removal, if it happens, would likely be the final blow to the probe, making it highly unlikely that a third judge would take up the job amid threats by members of the country’s political elite who have closed ranks in their effort to block the probe.

Families of the victims of the explosion have already demanded an international probe, not trusting the Lebanese probe. Lebanon is known for a culture of impunity that has prevailed for decades, including among the entrenched political elites.

Bitar’s demise began in July when he announced intentions to go after senior Lebanese officials, and summoned for questioning then-outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab, three former Cabinet ministers and top security officials.

None showed up for questioning; the parliament failed to lift immunity of those summoned — a necessary step before any prosecution — while Diab’s office and then-interior minister, Mohamed Fehmi, declined to let Bitar question the heads of two security agencies.

On Friday, former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who was also implicated in the probe, filed a motion to dismiss the judge.