Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

DOHA: Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are expected to resume on Thursday, France’s foreign minister said, although he added that he feared Iran was playing for time.

“The elements... are not very encouraging,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French parliament committee, referring to the seventh round of nuclear talks between Iran and major powers that began on Nov. 29 and paused on Friday.

“We have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon,” Le Drian said.

Under the 2015 deal struck by Tehran and six major powers, Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from US, European Union and UN sanctions.

Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, and Iran began violating the nuclear restrictions a year later.

While Le Drian and Iranian media reports said talks were expected to resume Thursday, a senior US State Department official said Washington did not yet have a confirmed date.

The indirect US-Iranian talks in Vienna, in which other diplomats shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct talks with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume compliance with the deal.

However, last week’s discussions broke off with European and US officials voicing dismay at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hard-line government under anti-Western President Ebrahim Raisi, whose June election caused a five-month pause in the talks.

A senior US official on Saturday said Iran abandoned any compromises it had made in the previous six rounds of talks, pocketed those made by others, and demanded more last week.

Each side appears to be trying to blame the other for the lack of progress.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the presidents of the United States and Russia — two of the six major powers in the deal along with Britain, China, France, and Germany — had a “productive” discussion about Iran on Tuesday.

“The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation,” he told reporters, referring to the six powers.

Speaking on Monday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns said the agency does not believe Iran’s supreme leader has decided to take steps to “weaponize” a nuclear device but noted that it has made advances in its ability to enrich uranium, one pathway to the fissile material for a bomb.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying it only wants to master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

“We don’t see any evidence as an agency right now that Iran’s supreme leader has made a decision to move to weaponize,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit.

Burns described Iran’s challenge as “a three-legged race” to obtain fissile material, to “weaponize” by placing such material into a device designed to cause a nuclear explosion, and to mate it to a delivery system such as a ballistic missile.

On weaponization, Burns said “the Iranians still have a lot of work to do there as far as we judge it.”


US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
Updated 13 sec ago

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
  • The US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade
  • Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step”

DUBAI: The US has designated a network run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force an “international oil smuggling and money laundering network.”
A US Treasury Department report on Wednesday said that officials had facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Iranian oil for both the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah.
It acted as a critical element of Iran’s oil revenue generation, and supported proxy militant groups that continued to “perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region.”
The department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, said the US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade.
He added that similar sanctions could apply to anyone purchasing oil from Iran.
Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step.”
“Assisted by Hezbollah, this oil network has been allowed to operate freely for too long. This is an important step, but the administration must keep pushing Hezbollah and its allies to the margins,” she said. “Hezbollah, who control the Lebanese Energy Ministry, recently took advantage of Lebanon’s energy problems to secure preferential access to the Lebanese market for their masters in Tehran.”
She said Sonatrach, a state-owned Algerian company, had been responsible for sending fuel oil to Lebanon and that its exit had “exacerbated the country’s already crippling” energy problems.
Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s state prosecutor, launched politically motivated proceedings against Sonatrach, which caused the Algerians to leave, she added.
“Hezbollah used this chaos to secure access for Iran to Beirut’s energy market.”


Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
Updated 27 May 2022

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
  • Move is part of Menarini’s planned regional expansion
  • CEO: ‘We are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East’

LONDON: Italian pharmaceutical giant Menarini has opened its Middle East headquarters in Dubai’s Science Park.

Specializing in pharma research and production, consumer healthcare, oncology and diagnostics, the move is part of the group’s planned expansion into the Middle East and Africa.

“It is a historical moment for us as we open our regional offices in Dubai to significantly grow our presence and portfolio in the Middle East,” said CEO Elcin Barker Ergun.

“As a 135-year-old family-owned company, we are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East in the coming years with our unwavering commitment to quality.”

Among those in attendance at the opening ceremony was Amin Hussain Al-Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing in the UAE.

Also in attendance were Italian Ambassador Nicola Lener, Menarini’s General Manager Luca Lastrucci, and its regional head Basel Thaher.

Ali Al-Sayed, director of the pharmaceutical services department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: “A defining objective of Dubai 2030 is to be a global hub for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation focused businesses.

“As a company with longstanding roots based in medical research, Menarini will be a strong contributor to this visionary strategy.”

He added: “Together, we share Dubai’s overarching healthcare vision of positioning Dubai as the leading destination for healthcare knowledge, education and training.”


Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years
  • More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement

TEHRAN: Hundreds of people took to the streets in southwestern Iran demanding justice after a tower block collapse killed 24 people, news outlets in the Islamic republic said on Friday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in the city of Abadan, in Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.


Images published by Fars news agency showed hundreds of residents marching along Abadan’s streets on Thursday night, mourning those who lost their lives by banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals.
Some shouted “Death to incompetent officials” and hailed the “Martyrs of Metropol,” Fars said.
People also took to the streets of Khorramshahr city, in the same province, expressing their sympathy with the families of those who died and calling for “a decisive and serious” trial of those responsible, it added.
Similar protests were held on Wednesday night in Abadan, state TV had reported.
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement.

A video posted on Tasnim news agency’s website on Friday showed rescuers carrying a gurney with a body wrapped in a black bag.
Abadan governor Ehsan Abbaspour, cited by ISNA news agency, said the number of people killed in the disaster stood at 24, up from 19 previously.
Officials said 37 people were also injured, although most have since been discharged from hospital.
It remains unknown how many people may still be trapped under the rubble.

More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for perpetrators to be prosecuted and punished, in a statement posted on his official website on Thursday.
The provincial judiciary said at least 10 people were arrested following the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, accused of being “responsible” for the collapse, the Judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
An investigation has been opened into the cause of the disaster in Abadan, a city of 230,000 people, 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of Tehran.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber visited Abadan on Friday to “investigate the dimensions of the building collapse incident,” according to ISNA.
In a previous major disaster in Iran, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the capital’s 15-story Plasco shopping center in January 2017.


Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
The ministry called for an immediate release of the ship and its cargo. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
  • The US seized Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece

Iran on Friday summoned the envoy of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran, to protest against the US seizure of Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece, the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by Iranian media.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ship and its cargo, the IRNA state news agency quoted it as saying.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the US government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” IRNA and other media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry told Reuters on Thursday that the US Department of Justice had “informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil.”
It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that the US plans to send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel.
The Iranian-flagged ship, the Pegas, was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 — two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector.
IRNA reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo of a ship which was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, adding that the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.” 


US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
Updated 27 May 2022

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
  • Cargo confiscated off coast of Greece 
  • Sanctions enforced again as nuclear deal hopes fade

JEDDAH: The US has confiscated more than 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil from a tanker off the coast of Greece in a new wave of sanctions enforcement.
The cargo of oil was pumped off the tanker into another vessel on Thursday and is now being transferred to the US.
The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.
The Pegas was one of five vessels named by Washington on Feb. 22, two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector. The tanker was renamed Lana on March 1 and has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.
The vessel, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was initially impounded by Greek authorities last month off the coast of the southern Greek island of Evia.
Greece said the ship had been seized as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, but the vessel was later released.

FASTFACT

The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.

However, the US imposed new sanctions this week on a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for the Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As a result, the oil tanker was seized again.
Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the tanker had sought refuge along Greece’s coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, and the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo.
The ship was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government, the ministry said.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargos of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners on to two other ships which then sailed to the US.
Operations against smuggled Iranian oil had tailed off recently amid hopes for a revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, including those targeting oil exports.
However, talks on reviving the deal have stalled, and the new oil cargo seizure suggests that the US is again enforcing sanctions.
Washington’s Iran envoy said this week the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were now shaky at best, and the US was ready to tighten sanctions on Iran.