West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 November 2021

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

VIENNA: Iran and world powers will meet in Vienna on Monday to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal, but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers increasingly frustrated, hopes of a breakthrough appear slim.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president.
Tehran’s new negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.
“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.
Iran’s demands include the dropping of all US and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program, in a verifiable process.
Iran’s foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of direct meeting between Iranian and US officials in Vienna. Talks between Iran and world powers will resume at 1300 GMT on Monday.
In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which monitors the nuclear program, have festered.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” US envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.
He warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if talks collapse.
Iranian officials have insisted in the run-up to Monday that their focus is purely the lifting of sanctions rather than nuclear issues. Highlighting that, its 40-strong delegation mostly includes economic officials.
“To ensure any forthcoming agreement is ironclad, the West needs to pay a price for having failed to uphold its part of the bargain. As in any business, a deal is a deal, and breaking it has consequences,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani said in defiant column in the Financial Times on Sunday.
“The principle of ‘mutual compliance’ cannot form a proper base for negotiations since it was the US government which unilaterally left the deal.”
Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved.
Failure to strike a deal could also prompt reaction from Israel which has said military options would be on the table.
“The talks can’t last forever. There is the obvious need to speed up the process,’ Moscow’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Twitter. 


Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London
Updated 6 min 8 sec ago

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

DUBAI: The Syrian Arts and Culture Festival, a new multidisciplinary event showcasing the country’s creative talents, has opened in London.

The inaugural event, running until Feb. 4, brings together established and emerging artists, filmmakers, performers, and musicians to offer audiences alternative narratives and perspectives on Syria, its people, and its culture.

The SACF is a project by Zamakan, a non-profit platform that aims to create opportunities for artists, cultural workers, and creatives from West Asia and North Africa, and Marsm, a London-based events company.

Upcoming events feature a performance by Syrian musician Ibrahim Keivo. (Syrian Arts and Culture Festival)

SACF is a transliteration of the Arabic word saqf, meaning roof or ceiling, a word which is also used to represent the limit of something. According to the website, the festival, “aspires to be a creative platform where limits can be pushed and boundaries are broken.”

For the opening night, the festival presented two solo performances by the acclaimed Syrian classical guitarist Ayman Jarjour and and Palestinian ney (a type of flute) virtuoso Faris Ishaq.

Upcoming events feature screenings of Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay’s movies, a traditional food workshop, and a performance by Syrian musician Ibrahim Keivo.


Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said five Daesh prisoners managed to break out
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces said arrested two Daesh fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison
BEIRUT: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on Friday killed 16 Daesh group fighters after their attack on a Kurdish-run prison housing fellow militants, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces further announced the death of 18 of its soldiers in the attack.
The rare attack on Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh province on Thursday saw the militia detonate a car bomb near the jail and attack Kurdish forces guarding the facility in an attempt to free some of the group’s members, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said “five IS prisoners managed to break out,” but it remains unclear whether they have since been killed or recaptured.
The US-led coalition battling Daesh said “SDF casualties ensued during the attack,” but it did not disclose how many.
The assault triggered clashes between the militants and US-backed SDF forces around the prison that continued into Friday amid heightened security measures, the Observatory said.
“Clashes are ongoing between IS fighters and (Kurdish) military forces in the area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, describing it as one of the largest such attacks by Daesh since its proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.
The SDF, which oversees the jail, said on Friday that it “arrested two IS fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison” as part of combing operations following the attack.
The militants were captured in the vicinity of the jail, it said.
It said Daesh fighters that carried out the attack were hiding in civilian homes in the neighborhood of Al-Zuhoor near the jail.
“Exceptional security measures in the vicinity of the prison and surrounding neighborhoods are ongoing,” it said in a statement on Friday morning.
Daesh fighters “are using civilians in the Al-Zuhoor neighborhood and areas north of the prison as human shields,” it said, adding that the militia had killed some civilians in the area.
“Our forces and the relevant security services are moving with great precision and sensitivity to contain these incident.”

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in a semi-autonomous region controlled by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said in a statement after Thursday’s attack.
“Coalition forces will continue to defend against and deter hostile activities against ourselves and our partners.”
The extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.
A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the Daesh proto-state in March 2019.
The remnants of the group mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to attack Syrian government and allied forces.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters shot dead an aid worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent at the Al-Hol camp for displaced people.
Last week, a militant attack near Syria’s border with Iraq killed five Syrian pro-regime fighters and wounded 14 others, according to the Observatory.

EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose

EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose
Updated 30 min 15 sec ago

EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose

EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose
  • Hungary and Denmark have already decided to roll out a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines

BRUSSELS: European Union health ministers will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the omicron variant.
The EU drugs regulator said earlier this week it would be reasonable to give a fourth dose to people with severely weakened immune systems, but more evidence was needed.
Ministers will discuss “the administration of the fourth dose,” said a press release issued by the French presidency of the EU, which organized the video-conference for health ministers at short notice.
EU members Hungary and Denmark have already decided to roll out a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines. Copenhagen said it would do so for the most vulnerable, while the Hungarian government said everybody could get it after a consultation with a doctor.
The rollout of fourth doses began in Israel last month, making it the first country to administer the so-called second booster.
Wealthier nations decided to speed up the rollout of third doses amid a wave of new cases caused by the more contagious omicron variant, but remain divided over a fourth one.
Many consider that more data is needed before making decisions on that.
The French presidency said the video conference was meant to find a common approach at an EU level on vaccination strategies.
The meeting will also discuss coordination of other COVID-19 policies, including for possible new joint purchases of vaccines, as “vaccines adapted to variants are coming soon,” the French presidency said.
Vaccines adapted to omicron could be ready as early as March, but the EU drugs regulator has said it is not yet clear whether they are needed.
Work is underway to develop multivalent vaccines that could protect against multiple variants, but it is not known when or if they could be available.


Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 29 min 26 sec ago

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.


Oil falls from 7-year high after US inventory build

Oil falls from 7-year high after US inventory build
Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

Oil falls from 7-year high after US inventory build

Oil falls from 7-year high after US inventory build
  • Both oil benchmarks are headed for a fifth straight weekly advance

RIYADH: Oil prices slid on Friday, a day after reaching a seven-year high, as higher inventories of US crude and fuel prompted profit taking.

Brent crude fell 2.1 percent to $86.50 a barrel as of 12:21 p.m. Riyadh time after touching $89.50 on Jan. 20, the highest level since October 2014. US benchmark WTI declined 2.2 percent to $83.65 a barrel after reaching a seven-year high on Wednesday.

Both benchmarks are still headed for a fifth straight weekly advance and are up about 10 percent this year.

US gasoline inventories rose by 5.9 million barrels last week to their highest since February 2021, the US Energy Information Administration said in a report on Thursday. Crude stockpiles increased by 515,000 barrels last week.

“An unexpected increase in US crude stockpiles prompted investors to take profits,” said Tatsufumi Okoshi, senior economist at Nomura Securities, who added the recent rally has been overdone. “Still, losses were limited as expectations that supply tightness would continue amid recovering demand and geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine and in the Middle East kept investors cautious about selling.”

Investors are concerned about potential disruptions to supply after Yemen’s Houthis attacked the UAE, OPEC’s third-largest producer, and Russia, the world’s second-largest oil producer, makes increasingly ominous noises about a potential invasion of Ukraine.

However, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that oil supply will soon overtake demand as some producers are set to pump at or above all-time highs, while demand holds up despite the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Oil prices were also supported by French oil giant TotalEnergies’s announcement on Friday that it would withdraw from Myanmar over “worsening” human rights abuses committed since the country’s military took power in a February 2021 coup.

“The situation, in terms of human rights and more generally the rule of law... has led us to reassess the situation and no longer allows TotalEnergies to make a sufficiently positive contribution in the country,” the company said in a statement.

A fire broke out early Friday at a site belonging to the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, forcing a suspension of export operations there, the company said in a statement.

The fire in the Shuaiba Industrial Area in eastern Kuwait did not result in any injuries, according to a brief statement issued by the company. The fire occurred at a petroleum coke flowline. The coal-like substance is a byproduct of refined crude oil that is used in the steel and aluminum industry.

Only a week ago, a deadly fire erupted during maintenance work at a major oil refinery run by the same company, killing two Asian workers. Another 10 were wounded, five of them critically. An earlier fire erupted at that same oil refinery three months prior, resulting in several injuries.

Kuwait, a nation home to 4.1 million people, has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves.