US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (File/Reuters)
The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum
Updated 57 min 44 sec ago

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum
  • Sky News reporter Arizh Mukhammed says conflicts bring journalists “closer to people’s suffering” 
  • Al-Hadath TV anchor Christiane Baissary debunks notion that women are not suited for war reporting

DUBAI: Journalists, whether they are men or women, have a duty to find out the truth and to tell the human story behind major world events, including the harsh realities of war. But, by virtue of their gender, are women better equipped to tell those stories? 

The view of women as the more “emotional” sex can sound dated to modern ears. But when a female journalist enters a war zone, it is often acknowledged that her access to the private lives of her sources, particularly families caught up in conflict, is often markedly different to the reception experienced by a male correspondent. 

Arizh Mukhammed is a Moscow-based war reporter for Sky News Arabia. Over the past few months, she had been deployed to the front lines in Ukraine to report on the Russian invasion, braving armed conflict and the human tragedies of war. 

“It is not easy to cover war, because, like any human being, you feel fear. And I feel fear,” Mukhammed told a panel discussion a session entitled “Storytellers from the war front” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on Tuesday. 

Mukhammed, who is half Russian and half Syrian, says wars bring journalists “closer to peoples’ suffering,” making it all the more difficult to remain objective about what they are witnessing. 

But the ability to empathize with the men, women and children a reporter encounters while deployed in a war zone undoubtedly gives their coverage a powerful human dimension that allows viewers to experience the agonies of distant conflicts. 

The question is, are women better equipped than men to document such accounts? 

“Women war journalists give a deeper dimension to human suffering,” Mukhammed told Arab News at the forum. 

“While men might surround themselves with the impression that they are strong and fearless, women have actually shown they are much more patient.” 

Christiane Baissary, a senior news anchor for the Al-Hadath news channel, said there is a common misconception that women are not suited for war coverage. 

“A soldier once told me that women should not be in a war zone. He was trying to convince me that I should not stay to cover the war,” she said. 

“This mentality is not just in the Middle East but everywhere,” Baissary said, adding that things have since changed and women are gaining more opportunities to cover conflict zones. 

The image many harbour of the intrepid war correspondent is patently masculine — a gung-ho adventurer who risks kidnap, injury, or even death to get as close as possible to the blood and gun smoke of war. 

Indeed, the role of a war correspondent can be extremely dangerous. On May 11, Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the West Bank city of Jenin while reporting on an Israeli arrest operation, despite wearing protective gear clearly identifying her as a member of the press. 

“The killing of Abu Akleh is another serious attack on media freedom and freedom of expression, amid the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank,” UN experts Morris Tidball-Binz, Reem Alsalem, and Irene Khan said in a statement on May 13. 

They called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, in full compliance with UN regulations. 

“The role of journalists, especially in a context of heightened tension and marked by continuous abuses, like the occupied Palestinian territory, is critical,” the statement read. 

“Lack of accountability gives carte blanche to continue the litany of extrajudicial executions. The safety of journalists is essential in guaranteeing freedom of expression and media freedom.” 

Of course, Abu Akleh was only the latest reporter to be killed while on duty. According to the press advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders, scores of journalists are killed every year worldwide in connection with their work. Nearly a thousand have died over the past decade alone. 

“I think it was really important for us to highlight female war correspondents and women correspondents because what they are doing is out of the ordinary,” said Noor Nugali, assistant editor-in-chief at Arab News, who presided over Tuesday’s panel. 

“Usually when people think of correspondents, the first thing that comes to their minds (is that) women are too soft, women are incapable of handling such situations. 

“But, in reality, it shows the resilience of women, strength of women, and their capability of getting all angles and facts straight.” 

This evolving image of women, particularly those in the Arab world, was a key feature of the Arab Women Forum, and a special session, entitled “Saudi women pioneers: Change from within,” explored the issue in depth. 

“I think the creation of Vision 2030 is life-changing, honestly, for a lot of women and young people,” Lama Alshethri, editor-in-chief of Sayedati, one of the best-known magazines in the Arab region, told the panel. 

“I think we, our generation, have been able to reap some of the fruits of Saudi Vision 2030. And we were prepared for the change.” 

Vision 2030, the social and economic reform agenda announced in 2016 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, emphasizes the need to inspire and empower all members of the society to realize the Kingdom’s full potential. 

Subsequently, women’s empowerment in the Kingdom has expanded rapidly. Saudi women are now more active in different spheres of the public and private sector. 

“I have not seen the change. I lived it,” Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said in a special address opening Tuesday’s forum. 

“I know how important it is to open the workplace for women,” she said. 

“(However,) I realized that opening the doors wasn’t enough. Women had to be prepared to take advantage of those open doors and we have to equip them with skills.”


‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO

‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO
Updated 18 May 2022

‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO

‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO
  • ‘Nearly two-thirds of Sinjar’s population — over 193,000 Yazidis, Arabs, and Kurds — remain displaced’
  • The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority who were persecuted by Daesh for their non-Muslim faith

BAGHDAD: Violence and sluggish reconstruction have prevented the return to Iraq’s northwestern town of Sinjar of its predominantly Yazidi population after the abuses of militant rule, the Norwegian Refugee Council said Wednesday.
Five years after the defeat of the Daesh group, which committed massacres against the Yazidis and used their women as sex slaves, the town’s Yazidi, Muslim Kurdish and Arab residents are no closer to returning home, especially after a surge in violence earlier this month.
The aid group said that “nearly two-thirds of Sinjar’s population — over 193,000 Yazidis, Arabs, and Kurds — remain displaced.”
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority who were persecuted by Daesh for their non-Muslim faith after its capture of the town in 2014.
“Widespread destruction of civilian houses, new clashes, and social tensions” are preventing returns, NRC said in a report.
Out of 1,500 people surveyed by the aid group to determine how decisions to return home are made, about 64 percent “said their homes were heavily damaged.”
“A staggering 99 percent of those who applied for government compensation had not received any funding for damaged property,” it said.
“Families from Sinjar remain in displacement, with thousands still living in camps,” NRC’s country director for Iraq, James Munn, said.
“We need durable solutions put in place so Iraqi families can once again start living their lives and plan for a safer future.”
The aid group called on the Iraqi government and the authorities in the autonomous Kurdistan region to “prioritize the rehabilitation of infrastructure and the restoration of services to allow for safe housing, land, and property, alongside public infrastructure.”
Some “80 percent of public infrastructure and 70 percent of civilian homes in Sinjar were destroyed” during the conflict years ago, the NRC said.
In early May, fighting broke out between Iraqi troops and Yazidi fighters affiliated with Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), killing at least one Iraqi soldier.
The Iraqi army was seeking to apply an agreement between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region for the withdrawal of Yazidi and PKK fighters from Sinjar.
More than 10,000 people fled the latest fighting, adding to the population of displaced.


Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA
Updated 18 May 2022

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA
  • The ship is carrying more than 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel

DUBAI: Iranian authorities seized a foreign ship attempting to smuggle fuel out of the country and detained its crew, state news agency IRNA said on Wednesday.

Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in value of its national currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.

The ship, carrying more than 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel, was seized in Gulf waters and escorted to harbor in the southern province of Hormozgan, where it was handed to judicial authorities for investigation, the agency added.

“We were able to identify and detain a ship carrying smuggled fuel intended to transport large-scale smuggled fuel shipments east of Maru Island,” chief of provincial border guards Hossein Dehaki said.

Several ships in recent months have been detained for smuggling fuel in the Gulf by Iranian authorities.


Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges
Updated 18 May 2022

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges
  • The 2011 protests were built on calls for an end to deep-rooted embezzlement and government corruption in Egypt

CAIRO: The son of Egypt’s former president said Tuesday that he and family members were innocent of corruption charges made in international courts after the country’s 2011 popular uprising.
His statements came after years of attempts by the deposed president’s family to rehabilitate its image as it faced litigation in Egypt and abroad.
In a video statement released online, Gamal Mubarak, the son of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, said that recent court decisions in the European Union and elsewhere demonstrate their innocence, but did not explain how the family had amassed its significant wealth.
In February, a massive leak of Credit Suisse clients’ information showed Gamal Mubarak and his brother, Alaa, to have held at least $197.5 million in the bank at one point in time.
“The facts have now been established, and the false allegations have been unequivocally rebutted. The historical record has thus been independently and judicially corrected,” he said in a video statement released on YouTube. He blamed Egyptian judicial authorities for taking the issue to international courts.
The 2011 protests were built on calls for an end to deep-rooted embezzlement and government corruption in Egypt, and growing concerns that Gamal Mubarak would be set up to succeed his father, who was in power for nearly 30 years. The international anti-corruption group Transparency International has estimated that as president, Mubarak stole some $70 billion in public funds. The former president died in 2020, aged 91.
In April, Swiss prosecutors decided not to file charges after concluding a decade-long investigation into alleged money laundering and organized crime linked to linked to Mubarak’s circles in Egypt. They also said they would release some 400 million Swiss francs — $430 million — frozen in Swiss banks.
The same month, the General Court of the European Union ruled that the rights of Mubarak’s wife, two sons and their wives had not been respected during an local Egyptian investigation of his assets, on which the prosecution was depending. The ruling meant EU sanctions on the Mubaraks’ accounts were deemed unlawful, and lifted. Gamal Mubarak said his family was being reimbursed for their legal costs related to the case.
Transparency International condemned the move, saying it would show corrupt leaders around the world that they can act with impunity.
The EU and Swiss investigations were part of a series of court proceedings against the Mubaraks in the wake of the mass protests. The father and the two sons were first detained in April 2011, two months after the uprising forced Mubarak to step down as part of the Arab Spring protest movement. A leading military council was established in his place, which then gave way to the divisive Islamist president Muhammad Mursi after elections in 2012. Mursi was later deposed by the military amid more popular protests.
Following a lengthy trial, Hosni Mubarak was acquitted of killing protesters during the 18-day uprising against his autocratic rule.
The two sons and their father were sentenced to three years in prison following their conviction of embezzling funds set aside for the restoration and maintenance of presidential palaces, using the money to upgrade their private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while Mubarak walked free in 2017. The trio paid back to the state the money they embezzled.
The sons were briefly detained in Sep. 2018 pending their trial on charges of stock market manipulation. But they were released a bail of 100,000 pounds ($5,600) each after an appeals court accepted a motion moved by their defense lawyers to remove the judge who ordered their detention, and in 2020 they were acquitted.


Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
Updated 18 May 2022

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
  • US, Saudi Arabia have similar rates of women in tech, yet experts say more should be done to boost diversity
  • How Middle East women can capitalize on GCC tech boom was discussed at Arab Women Forum

DUBAI: Tech is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and the Arab Gulf is increasingly viewed as one of its global centers. At the heart of the region’s tech scene is Dubai, dubbed the “tech hub of the Arab world.”

The UAE’s commercial capital continued to grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, perhaps, because of its decision to keep its borders open while most of the world went into prolonged lockdowns.

But this continued growth is also the result of the rising number of technology startups drawn to the UAE, Dubai’s appeal for entrepreneurs and its ability to woo international venture capital firms.

According to Dubai-based research platform Wamda, investments in Middle Eastern tech firms, excluding those in Israel, quadrupled to $2.87 billion last year — with roughly half of that capital flowing into the UAE.

Dubai is now home to several tech startups worth at least $1 billion — known in the business community as “unicorns” for their statistical rarity.

These include Vista Global, a private aviation platform; Kitopi, a cloud kitchen platform; and Emerging Markets Property Group, which manages classified listing websites in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere.

Yet, despite the burgeoning success of tech startups in the Middle East, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry.

Despite female involvement in the Emirates Mars Mission, which successfully placed a probe in orbit around the red planet in February 2021, “the lack of presence in this region of women in tech is very visible,” Dr. Nour E. Raouafi, a project scientist with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission, told Arab News.

“If you look at some domains, like space where I am working, the participation of women is not at the level where it should be,” Raouafi added, speaking ahead of his appearance on a panel at the Arab Women Forum, which took place in Dubai on May 17.

According to Endeavor Insight, Saudi Arabia and the US boast a similar participation rate among women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, known as STEM, at 28 percent. This is higher than the UK, which has a rate of just 22 percent.

Nevertheless, experts believe there is far more work to be done to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields, both in the Arab world and globally.

“We should be striving toward equality at all levels — from management downward — and the best way to do this is to start from the grassroots, from colleges and schools, and to encourage young women to work in space and other fields of tech by providing fellowships and other incentives,” said Raouafi

There are reasons for optimism. Measures designed to enhance the business environment in the Gulf and to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace are already moving things in the right direction.

“Young professionals, women and men, are now flocking to the Middle East while working for European or US based technology companies,” Philippe Blanchard, founder of Futurous, told Arab News.

“Concrete actions have been taken by the GCC leadership, in support of the IT industry, in setting up an efficient education system, as well as tackling the gender pay gap such as in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”

However, social perceptions remain an obstacle. “Technology is still considered a man’s world, but there are opportunities to change the mindset,” said Blanchard.

For example, “ensuring the parents, the school teachers and university professors are not pushing specific curriculum based on gender — like nurses for young women and engineers for young men.”