UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors

UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors
A handout picture provided by Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation shows Head of Iran Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami (R) meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi (L) at the Mehr Abad airport in Tehran. (AFP PHOTO / Atomic Energy OrganiZation of Iran)
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Updated 04 March 2023

UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors

UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors
  • Rafael Mariano Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran
  • Iran is supposed to provide access to information, locations and people, Grossi said

VIENNA: The head of the UN’s nuclear agency said Saturday that Iran pledged to restore cameras and other monitoring equipment at its nuclear sites and to allow more inspections at a facility where particles of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade were recently detected.
But a joint statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran’s nuclear body only gave vague assurances that Tehran would address longstanding complaints about the access it gives the watchdog’s inspectors to its disputed nuclear program.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran earlier Saturday.
On his return to Vienna, Grossi recalled there had been “a reduction in monitoring activities related to cameras and monitoring systems” and said “we have agreed that those will be operating again.”
“This is very, very important” in terms of continuity of knowledge, “in particular in the context of the possibility of the revival of JCPOA,” he said, referring to the deal’s formal name, the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He did not provide details about which equipment would be restored or how soon it would happen, but appeared to be referring to Iran’s removal of surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites in June 2022, during an earlier standoff with the IAEA.
“We have put a tourniquet on the bleeding of information and lack of continuity of knowledge we had — now we can start working again. These are not words, this is very concrete,” he said.
His first visit to Iran in a year came days after the IAEA reported that uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent — just short of weapons-grade — were found in Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear site.
The confidential quarterly report by the nuclear watchdog, which was distributed to member nations Tuesday, came as tensions were already high amid months of anti-government protests in Iran and Western anger at its export of attack drones to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
The IAEA report said inspectors in January found that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at Fordo were configured in a way “substantially different” to what Iran had previously declared. That raised concerns that Iran was speeding up its enrichment.
Grossi said the Iranians had agreed to boost inspections at the facility by 50 percent. He also confirmed the agency’s findings that there has not been any “production or accumulation” of uranium at the higher enrichment level, “which is a very high level.”
Iran has sought to portray any highly enriched uranium particles as a minor byproduct of enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, which it has been doing openly for some time.
The chief of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohammad Eslami, acknowledged the findings of the IAEA report at a news conference with Grossi in Tehran but said their “ambiguity” had been resolved.
Nonproliferation experts say Tehran has no civilian use for uranium enriched to even 60 percent. A stockpile of material enriched to 90 percent, the level needed for weapons, could quickly be used to produce an atomic bomb, if Iran chooses.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile and capped enrichment at 3.67 percent — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. It also barred nuclear enrichment at Fordo, which was built deep inside a mountain in order to withstand aerial attacks.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, reimposing crushing sanctions on Iran, which then began openly breaching the deal’s restrictions. Efforts by the Biden administration, European countries and Iran to negotiate a return to the deal reached an impasse last summer.
The joint statement issued Saturday said Iran “expressed its readiness to continue its cooperation and provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues.”
That was a reference to a separate set of issues from the highly enriched particles.
Over the past four years, the IAEA has accused Iran of stonewalling its investigation into traces of processed uranium found at three undeclared sites in the country. The agency’s 35-member board of governors censured Iran twice last year for failing to fully cooperate.
The board could do so again when it meets on Monday, depending in part on how Western officials perceive the results of Grossi’s visit.
Western officials have suggested the so-called safeguards probe of the three sites could confirm longstanding suspicions that Iran had a nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.
The dispute over the safeguards probe was the main obstacle in negotiations last year to restore the nuclear agreement.
“The process has been long. I have not hidden that for us, it has been too long,” Grossi said, referring to the safeguards issue. But he said there was a “marked improvement” in his dialogue with Iranian officials.
“I was heard,” he said. “I hope we will be seeing results soon. We will see.”
(With AP and AFP)

Sudanese army suspends talks over cease-fire — diplomatic source

Sudanese army suspends talks over cease-fire — diplomatic source
Updated 31 May 2023

Sudanese army suspends talks over cease-fire — diplomatic source

Sudanese army suspends talks over cease-fire — diplomatic source

DUBAI: Sudan’s army has suspended talks over a cease-fire and enabling humanitarian access, according to a Sudanese diplomatic source, raising fears of fresh bloodshed.
The talks with the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began in early May and had produced a declaration of commitments to protecting civilians and two short-term cease-fire deals that had been repeatedly violated.
The army and the RSF had agreed to extend a week-long cease-fire deal by five days just before it was due to expire late on Monday.
The truce was brokered and is being remotely monitored by Saudi Arabia and the United States, which say it has been violated by both sides but has still allowed for the delivery of aid to an estimated 2 million people.
The war has forced nearly 1.4 million people to flee their homes, including more than 350,000 that have crossed into neighboring countries.
Areas of the capital have been hit by widespread looting and frequent cuts to power and water supplies. Most hospitals have been put out of service.
The United Nations, some aid agencies, embassies and parts of Sudan’s central government have moved operations to Port Sudan, in Sudan’s Red Sea state, the main shipping hub which has seen little unrest.
Leaders of the army and the RSF had held the top positions on Sudan’s ruling council since former leader Omar Al-Bashir was toppled during a popular uprising in 2019. They staged a coup in 2021 as they were due to hand leadership of the council to civilians, before falling out over the chain of command and restructuring of the RSF under the planned transition.

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress
Updated 31 May 2023

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress
  • Real action must now match recent diplomacy, urges envoy Geir Pedersen
  • Safe return of refugees and fate of missing, detainees remain critical issues

NEW YORK: The recent diplomatic moves on Syria need to be matched with real action, the UN special envoy for Syria told a Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

Geir Pedersen said the Syrian people continue to suffer “on a massive scale,” and “while they have observed recent diplomatic developments, they have not yet seen any improvement in the reality of their lives, whether they live inside Syria or outside Syria.”

Only “confidence building (measures) on the ground” and the resumption of the political process to end the war would signal that “the current opportunity has been seized.”

Pedersen welcomed the recent dialogues with the Syrian government that took place in Amman, Jeddah and Moscow, which focused on several key issues. These include the humanitarian situation and safe access for aid delivery, a dignified and voluntary return of refugees, reconstruction, restoring Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and countering terrorist groups.

He said these were all concerns at the heart of UN Resolution 2254 and “common attention to these themes and points could present a real opportunity to move forward.”

If such issues begin to be addressed, even if incrementally, Pedersen said this new dynamic could create a “much-needed momentum.”

He said he “can only welcome” the recent intensified regional consultations and work in the direction of finding ways in which to unblock progress on Syria.

“After all, even minimal progress on some issues of resolution 2254 would require the confidence and resources of many different players and serious actions too.”

This month has seen the Arab League officially welcome Syria’s government back into its fold. This ended over a decade of exile from the pan-Arab body over President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protests which spiraled into a war that killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

Pedersen said that he reiterated, during his engagements with Syrian, regional and international interlocutors, his appreciation of “the dangers of the status quo, both for the Syrian people and for regional and other actors, who want to curb instability emanating across Syrian borders, including from narcotics, and who continue to host millions of Syrian refugees.”

In order for there to be real confidence building and a serious resumption of the political process, however, Pedersen emphasized the importance of work toward a safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees, that takes into account their security and economic fears.

Attention to this issue is important “because it tells us that if the Syrian government were to start to address in a more systematic manner the protection concerns of the displaced, working closely with the United Nations, and if donors were to help the United Nations to do more to address the concerns all Syrians have about livelihoods, then this could help to do what we all say we want to do — build confidence, and begin to change realities on the ground for all Syrians — not only the displaced.

“It could help bring about movement towards a more safe, calm and neutral environment in Syria, and it could help alleviate hardship inside the country.”

The UN envoy also emphasized that addressing the fate of over 130,000 missing people and detainees in Syria’s prisons remains a “core issue for moving forward in Syria.”

“It is hard to see how there could be genuine confidence-building without some progress on this issue, which impacts nearly all Syrians and is fundamental to families, communities, and repairing Syria’s social fabric.”

He urged countries to support the UN’s efforts toward the establishment of an institution dedicated to the search for missing Syrians.

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, deputy director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council that Syria must remain a “global priority.”

Over 70 percent of Syria’s population is now in need of humanitarian assistance. For the first time in the history of the conflict, 15.3 million people, across every sub-district in Syria, are experiencing some degree of humanitarian stress, Mudawi said.

The twin earthquakes earlier this year have added to this dire humanitarian situation, displacing more than 330,000 people and leaving thousands more without access to basic services and livelihoods.

She called for greater solidarity and urged countries to increase humanitarian funding, adding that while efforts are ongoing to reach a political solution “we must ensure that the urgent needs of women, men and children of Syria — life-saving aid and early recovery — are prioritized and adequately resourced.”

“They are counting on your support to stay the course,” she told council members.

UAE left Combined Maritime Forces two months ago, foreign affairs ministry says

UAE left Combined Maritime Forces two months ago, foreign affairs ministry says
Updated 41 min 54 sec ago

UAE left Combined Maritime Forces two months ago, foreign affairs ministry says

UAE left Combined Maritime Forces two months ago, foreign affairs ministry says

DUBAI: The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) says the country is committed to peaceful dialogue and diplomatic engagement as a means of advancing the shared goals of regional security and stability, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The statement came as the ministry revealed it had withdrawn its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).

“As a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners, two months ago, the UAE withdrew its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces,” the statement explained.

According to the CMF website, the organization is a “multinational maritime partnership which exists to uphold the Rules-Based International Order (RBIO) by countering illicit non-state actors on the high seas and promoting security, stability, and prosperity across international waters.”

The UAE’s MoFA statement concluded that the UAE remained committed to responsibly ensuring the safety of navigation in its seas, in accordance with international law.


Joint land exercises have been taking place between the UAE and US. (WAM)

The news of the UAE’s withdrawal broke as its military took part in join exercises with the US, dubbed ‘Iron Union 19.’

The joint exercise, staged in the UAE, featured military scenarios aimed at strengthening joint coordination and to build combat readiness, as well as tactical proficiency.

UK minister praises Qatar as a leader in directing investments

UK minister praises Qatar as a leader in directing investments
Updated 30 May 2023

UK minister praises Qatar as a leader in directing investments

UK minister praises Qatar as a leader in directing investments
  • Badenoch praised Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022 and reflected on what the region can provide to the global economy and growth

DOHA: UK Secretary of State for the Department for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch has praised Qatar for providing an example in directing investments and bringing about effective economic development.

In an interview with the Qatar News Agency during the country’s Economic Forum 2023, Badenoch said that her visit to Qatar was to support the negotiation process with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to sign a free trade agreement with the UK.

She explained that a deal between the two sides would aim at investment in environmentally beneficial and climate-friendly goods and services.

Badenoch said: “Exports of UK wind turbine parts currently face tariffs of up to 15 percent. An agreement with the GCC would create opportunities for other parts of the UK’s green technology industries including solar power, hydrogen power, electric vehicles and smart energy systems.”

Badenoch praised Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022 and reflected on what the region can provide to the global economy and growth.

She said that the forum, which is in its third edition, had brought together global leaders in the fields of business, investment, and finance dedicated to discussing challenges, exchanging perspectives, and celebrating achievements.

She added that one of the UK’s priorities was to increase sustainable energy supplies, emphasizing the importance of continuing cooperation with Qatar on this front. 

Armed groups clash in Tripoli streets

Armed groups clash in Tripoli streets
Updated 30 May 2023

Armed groups clash in Tripoli streets

Armed groups clash in Tripoli streets
  • Amid political divisions, Libyan government vows to keep targeting smugglers despite criticism

TRIPOLI: Gunshots rang out in Libya’s capital following hours of fighting between two armed groups both aligned with the divided country’s UN-backed government, local medics and media reported on Tuesday.

Several residents in Tripoli were lightly wounded in the clashes which began on Sunday night and spread across several neighborhoods.

Fighters from rival militias — the Al-Raada Force and the 444 Brigade, both of which are loyal to interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based government — clashed after a member of the 444 Brigade was arrested.

Libyan television and online media showed videos of the fighting posted online by social media users.

An elderly man “was injured in the arm by shrapnel as he fled his home in Ain Zara by car,” the Tripoli Rescue Service said on its Facebook page, also condemning damage to ambulances during the gunbattles.

On Sunday, armored vehicles and fighters were seen deploying in Jrabra Street, a busy commercial area in the capital’s east, and the central Ras Hassan residential district.

After a lull in the fighting, heavy and light weapons fire was heard, along with ambulance sirens, in the eastern suburbs of Ain Zara and Fornaj until 3 a.m. on Monday.

The University of Tripoli said on Monday it was forced to “close its doors” and suspend exams as a security measure.

The fighting was reportedly halted after the intervention of another armed group that is responsible for security, the Stabilization Support Agency.

Libya is split between Dbeibah’s UN-backed government in the west and another in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The latest Tripoli fighting comes after Dbeibah’s government carried out drone strikes since Thursday near the western city of Zawiya, claimed to be on targets connected to fuel and drug smuggling and people trafficking.

On Sunday, drone strikes killed at least two people and hospitalized the nephew of legislator Ali Bouzribah, from the rival eastern parliament, whose home had reportedly been hit in strikes three days earlier.

The eastern-based parliament on Monday denounced the strikes against Zawiya, saying it was an operation to “settle political scores rather than fight against traffickers as claimed” by the Dbeibah government.

In response, the US Embassy in Tripoli said it was monitoring the situation with “concern amid reports of weapons being used in civilian areas and the potential for further violence.”

Britain branded as “unacceptable” the use of weapons that put civilian lives at risk, and called on all those involved to de-escalate, its embassy said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Libya’s Tripoli-based government vowed on Tuesday to keep fighting smuggling networks and people traffickers after a series of drone strikes sparked claims of political score-settling.

The divided country’s UN-backed administration has carried out attacks since Tuesday against what it labeled  “gangs of fuel, narcotics and human traffickers” in and around Zawiya.

“The security operation will continue until the achievement of its objectives,” the Tripoli government said in a statement.

Armed groups have exploited the turmoil to fund their activities through fuel smuggling and the illegal trafficking of migrants.