‘No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference during a ministerial council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm. (Reuters)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference during a ministerial council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 December 2021

‘No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference during a ministerial council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm. (Reuters)
  • ‘We’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not,’ Blinken says
  • In a phone call with Blinken, Israeli PM Naftali Bennett had called for the ‘immediate cessation’ of talks

STOCKHOLM: The United States appeared Thursday to play down the possibility of reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, even as Tehran tabled draft proposals following the resumption of talks in Vienna.
“We’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“In the very near future, the next day or so, we will be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith.”
But he cautioned: “I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for optimism.”
In a phone call with Blinken on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had called for the “immediate cessation” of talks, which resumed on Monday.
Blinken declined to comment directly on the request.
“But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course,” Blinken said.
“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That... will not happen.”
“That’s also not our view alone. It’s very clearly the view of our European partners. I have to say I had a good conversation as well” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“I think Russia shares our basic perspective on this.”
The 2015 agreement — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — offered Iran a lifting of economic sanctions in return for strict curbs on its nuclear activities.
The goal was to make it practically impossible for Iran to build an atomic bomb, while allowing it to pursue a civilian nuclear program.
But the deal started to unravel in 2018 when then US president Donald Trump pulled out and began imposing sanctions on the Islamic republic.
In turn, Iran, which denies it wants to acquire a nuclear arsenal, has gradually abandoned its commitments since 2019.
US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to return to the deal as long as Iran also resumes the original terms.
Iran said on Thursday it had handed European powers two draft proposals to try to revive the JCPOA.
Lead negotiator Ali Bagheri told Iranian state television the proposals — submitted on Wednesday, the third day of the talks in Vienna — concerned two main issues facing the pact: the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s nuclear commitments
“The first document sums up the Islamic republic’s point of view concerning the lifting of sanctions, while the second is about Iran’s nuclear actions,” Bagheri told IRIB TV.
“Now the other side must examine these documents and prepare itself to hold negotiations with Iran based on these documents,” said Bagheri.
Bagheri, echoing Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said Iran was in Vienna to resume talks but said it was up to the West.
“We have told the other side that we are in Vienna to pursue the talks... If they are ready to pursue the talks, we agree to pursue them,” he told journalists in Vienna.
He said a timetable for the resumption of negotiations would be set up on Thursday.


17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
Updated 7 sec ago

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
BEIJING: A fire at a restaurant in northeastern China on Wednesday killed 17 people and injured three, according to local authorities.
The blaze broke out at 12:40 pm in an eatery in the city of Changchun, the local government said in a statement posted on the Weibo social media platform.

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
Updated 22 min 14 sec ago

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
  • Japan PM Kishida Fumio asked Morocco to cooperate with Japan in the future

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that Morocco’s decision to not participate in the 8th TICAD Summit was “regrettable” during a meeting on Wednesday with the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.

Kishida stated that he would like to obtain the cooperation of Akhannouch in order to promote the entry of Japanese companies into Morocco and also asked the Moroccan side to cooperate with Japan in the future, including on TICAD events.

In addition, Kishida said that Morocco’s ammonium phosphate is important for the stable supply of fertilizers and that he looked forward to Morocco’s constructive response on the matter.

The two leaders also exchanged views on international issues and resolved to continue working closely together in dealing with the food security risks.

Akhannouch expressed his heartfelt condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and stated that he would like to further strengthen the cooperative relationship that the two countries have built over many years in a wide range of fields.

Kishida expressed his gratitude to Akhannouch for attending Abe’s state funeral and said that the two countries have enjoyed good relations for many years based on the friendship between the imperial and royal families.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 28 September 2022

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.


India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
  • The Popular Front of India denies involvement in extremist activity
  • Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday

NEW DELHI: India banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years on Wednesday over alleged terrorism links, after a nationwide crackdown that saw hundreds of the organization’s members arrested.
A government notice said the Popular Front of India (PFI) had been outlawed for its ties to extremist organizations, including the Daesh group, and for violent attacks attributed to its members.
The PFI denies involvement in extremist activity and says it is the subject of a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday.
A home affairs ministry statement announcing the ban outlined a laundry list of charges accusing the group of violent and subversive activities.
Members had engaged in “cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property,” Wednesday’s notice said.
The ministry said PFI members had been responsible for at least 10 murders in southern India since 2016 and accused the group of “pursuing a secret agenda” to radicalize society and undermine democracy.
Hard-line Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which is estimated to have tens of thousands of members around India.
Calls to outlaw the organization have grown in recent months after several Muslim-led protests against the government.
The group was accused of organizing street rallies against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim school students in Karnataka, which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and Hindu activists.
Modi’s government has been accused of clamping down on dissent and promoting discriminatory policies toward the country’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Actions against the PFI were “a conscious attempt by the Modi government to spread Islamophobia among the public and demonize Muslims as a community,” CPIML Liberation, a communist political party in India, wrote on Twitter.
But the PFI has been implicated in violent attacks before, with 13 members jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s ministry notice said some PFI activists had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also linked the PFI to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an extremist group that carried out several bombing attacks in India’s eastern neighbor in 2005 that left at least 28 dead.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.