Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Saturday accused arch-foe Israel of acting as a “mercenary” for the US, blaming the Jewish state for assassinating one of Tehran’s prominent nuclear scientists the day before.
“Once again, the wicked hands of the global arrogance, with the usurper Zionist regime as the mercenary, were stained with the blood of a son of this nation,” Rouhani said in a statement on his official website, referring to the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Iran generally uses the term “global arrogance” to refer to the United States.
Fakhrizadeh was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards in an attack outside Tehran on Friday, Iran’s defence ministry said.
It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s research and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.
Rouhani vowed that his death “does not disrupt” Iran’s scientific progress and said the killing was due to the “weakness and inability” of Tehran’s enemies to impede its growth.
He offered condolences to “the scientific community and the revolutionary people of Iran.”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the assassination.
The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
Fakhrizadeh was targeted while travelling near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.
The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details.
The assassination comes less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office.
Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will be responsible for any “consequences” resulting from their normalisation of relations with Tehran’s arch-foe Israel.
The remarks came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed agreements establishing full diplomatic ties at a ceremony at the White House.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Israel was “committing more crimes in Palestine every day”.
“Some of the region’s countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers neither understand religion nor (their) debt… to the nation of Palestine, to their brothers speaking their language,” he said in televised remarks.
“How could you reach out your hands to Israel? And then you want to give them bases in the region? All the severe consequences that would arise from this are on you.”
US President Donald Trump said similar Washington-brokered deals were close between Israel and several Arab countries, including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said.
An aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that some Gulf states had become “puppets” of the US and Israel in the “vain hope” of getting their support.
“They have pinned their hopes on nothing and built a house on water, and they will pay for this cowardly act,” foreign affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The remarks were made during a meeting of the council of the “International Society for the Islamic Awakening”, Tasnim said.
Iran had previously warned Bahrain that its deal made it a partner to Israel’s “crimes” and accused the UAE of betraying the Muslim world.
In 2016, Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Iran and the UAE downgraded relations amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republic.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has faced long-running unrest among its large Shiite community that it has consistently blamed on Iran.
Iran said Saturday it had arrested the head of a US-based “terrorist group” accused of being behind a deadly 2008 bombing in the southern city of Shiraz and planning other attacks.
“Jamshid Sharmahd, who was leading armed and sabotage operations inside Iran, is now in the powerful hands” of Iran’s security forces, state television said, citing an intelligence ministry statement.
It did not elaborate on where or when the alleged leader of the opposition royalist group known as the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, or Tondar (Farsi for Thunder), was detained.
Iran slammed its arch-enemy the United States for hosting Sharmahd and “supporting known terrorists who have claimed responsibility for several terrorist acts inside” the country.
“This regime must answer for its support of this terrorist group and other groups and criminals who orchestrate armed, sabotage and terrorist operations against the people of Iran from inside America and spill Iranians’ blood,” a foreign ministry statement said.
The intelligence ministry said Sharmahd had orchestrated the April 12, 2008 bombing in a packed mosque in Shiraz that killed 14 people and wounded 215.
A US State Department spokesperson said, “the Iranian regime has a long history of detaining Iranians and foreign nationals on spurious charges”.
“We urge Iran to be fully transparent and abide by all international legal standards.”
Iran hanged three men convicted of the bombing in 2009, saying they had ties to the monarchist group.
The three men said they had been taking orders from an Iranian US-backed “CIA agent” identified at the time only as “Jamshid” to try to assassinate a high-ranking official in Iran, Fars news agency reported at the time.
They were 21-year-old Mohsen Eslamian and Ali Asghar Pashtar, 20 — both university students — as well as Rouzbeh Yahyazadeh, 32.
The three were found guilty of being “mohareb” (enemies of God) and “corruption on earth” by a revolutionary court in Tehran.
Iran in 2010 hanged two other convicted members of the group, who had “confessed to obtaining explosives and planning to assassinate officials”.
The statement issued on Saturday said that Tondar had plotted several other “big operations” which failed.
It said that Tondar had planned to blow up a dam in Shiraz, use “cyanide bombs” at a Tehran book fair, and plant an explosive device at the mausoleum of the Islamic republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iran’s intelligence ministry published a picture later on Saturday of a grey-haired man in a blindfold it said was Sharmahd. It did not say where or when the photo was taken.
It was not clear how Iran arrested Sharmahd, who has generally been based in the US, in what its intelligence ministry called a “complicated operation”.
According to the association’s website, Sharmahd was born in Tehran in 1955 and grew up in an Iranian-German family before moving to the United States in 2003, where he started to voice anti-Islam and anti-Islamic republic statements.
Tondar rejects the Iranian political system and campaigns to overthrow the Islamic republic and re-establish a monarchy similar to that of Cyrus the Great.
Iran announced the arrest of a former opposition figure in similarly mysterious circumstances in October last year.
It said Ruhollah Zam was arrested in a “sophisticated and professional operation”.
Zam, described by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a “counter-revolutionary” who was “directed by France’s intelligence service”, was sentenced to death in June over “corruption on earth”.
Zam, who reportedly lived in exile in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging application called Amadnews and was accused of sparking unrest during anti-government protests in 2017-18.
The Islamic republic also captured the head of a Sunni Muslim rebel group in a dramatic operation in 2010 and executed him in the same year, boasting of its reach in capturing adversarial figures.
Abdolmalek Rigi was arrested while on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan, when Iranian warplanes forced the plane he was travelling on to land in Iran.
The rebel group Jundallah (Soldiers of God) had waged a deadly insurgency in Shiite Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan for a decade before it was severely weakened by Rigi’s execution.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday he wants to avoid war after Tehran and Washington appeared on the brink of direct military confrontation in early January for the second time in less than a year.
Ahead of parliamentary elections on February 21 — predicted to be a challenge for Rouhani’s camp — and amid high tensions between Tehran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme, the president said dialogue with the world was still “possible”.
“The government is working daily to prevent military confrontation or war,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.
The region seemed on the brink of new conflict earlier in January after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad, prompting Iran to retaliate against US military targets in Iraq with a volley of missiles days later.
The strike caused significant material damage but no casualties, according to the US military.
Rouhani said the strike amounted to “compensation” for the death of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy.
The tensions between the two enemies seemed to subside in the wake of the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner hours after the retaliatory strikes, as Iran was on high alert for US reprisals.
The tragedy killed 176 people, mostly Iranians and Canadians.
Canada’s foreign minister on Thursday vowed to push Iran for answers about the tragedy.
“Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them,” Francois-Philippe Champagne said in London.
Ottawa said earlier that US President Donald Trump’s policies had contributed to the heightened tensions that led to the catastrophe.
In June 2019, Iran and the US had also appeared to be on the brink of direct military confrontation after Tehran shot down a US drone it said had violated its airspace.
Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute.
The animosity between Washington and Tehran has increased since Trump withdrew the US from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions.
In Iran, the air disaster sparked outrage and anti-government demonstration took place every day from Saturday to Wednesday.
Concentrated in the capital, they appeared smaller than a wave of national protests in November. Prompted by a fuel price hike, those demonstrations were met with a crackdown that left at least 300 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
Rouhani implicitly acknowledged a crisis of confidence in authorities but looked to regain control on Wednesday, calling for “national unity”, better governance and more pluralism.
On Thursday, Rouhani also defended the policy of openness to the world that he has pursued since his first election in 2013, and which Iran’s ultra-conservatives criticise.
“Of course, it’s difficult,” he acknowledged, but he added, “the people elected us to lower tensions and animosity” between the Islamic republic and the world.
Rouhani said that with the nuclear deal “we have proven in practice that it is possible for us to interact with the world.”
Rouhani was speaking the day before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expected to lead the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran for the first time since 2012.
Khamenei, who maintains the West is not trustworthy, bans dialogue with Trump.
‘High school bully’
On Thursday, Rouhani said Iran’s “daily enrichment” of uranium was currently “higher” than before the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Rouhani, who instigated the negotiations, made the comments while justifying his nuclear policy and Iran’s progressive disengagement from the accord. He also stated his willingness to continue dialogue on the agreement.
In response to the US withdrawal from the deal and sanctions, an increasingly frustrated Iran has hit back with a step-by-step suspension of its own commitments under the deal, which drastically limited its nuclear activities.
On Tuesday, Germany, the UK and France — the three European parties to the deal — announced they triggered a dispute mechanism in response to the latest step back from the deal by Tehran.
But Germany on Thursday confirmed a Washington Post report that the US had threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of European cars if EU governments continued to back the nuclear deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the European parties of having “sold out” the deal to avoid trade reprisals from the US and said Trump was again behaving like a “high school bully”.
According to a European Union Statement, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Zarif in New Delhi on Thursday and urged Iran to “preserve” the increasingly fragile nuclear deal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was due to speak on the phone with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Saturday after Tehran admitted downing a Ukrainian airliner, officials said.
Zelensky scheduled a “telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for 5 pm (1500 GMT),” Zelensky’s presidential press office said in a statement.
Tehran admitted Saturday that it accidentally downed the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane, killing all 176 people on board on Wednesday, shortly after launching missiles at bases hosting US forces in Iraq.
Rouhani said that Tehran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.
Tehran has now provided Ukrainian experts with enough data including “all the photos, videos, and other materials” to show the probe into the downing of the passenger jet “will be carried out objectively and promptly,” Zelensky’s office said.
Zelensky earlier Saturday demanded that Iran provide “total access” to the full inquiry for Ukrainian aviation experts and security officials sent to investigate the crash on the president’s request.
He also called for Tehran to punish those responsible for the accidental downing, pay compensation and apologise.
Iran’s downing of the plane comes after a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 with the loss of 296 people on board.
Investigators say a Russian-made BUK missile fired by pro-Russian separatists was to blame and the trial of four people over the crash is due to start in the Netherlands in March.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the plane’s downing.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced Sunday what he called a “budget of resistance” to counter crippling US sanctions, weeks after a fuel price hike sparked nationwide protests that turned deadly.
Rouhani said the aim was to reduce “hardships” as the Islamic republic has suffered a sharp economic downturn, with a plummeting currency sending inflation skyrocketing and hiking import prices.
The US sanctions imposed in May last year in a bitter dispute centred on Iran’s nuclear programme include an embargo on the crucial oil sector whose sales Washington aims to reduce to zero in a campaign of “maximum pressure”.
Rouhani told parliament that the budget, which includes a 15 per cent public sector wage hike, “is a budget of resistance and perseverance against sanctions”.
It would “announce to the world that despite sanctions we will manage the country, especially in terms of oil,” he added.
Rouhani said the 4,845 trillion rial ($36 billion at the current street rate) budget was devised to help Iran’s people overcome difficulty.
It would benefit from a $5 billion “investment” from Russia which was still being finalised, he said, without giving further details.
“We know that under the situation of sanctions and pressure, people are in hardship. We know people’s purchasing power has declined,” said Rouhani.
“Our exports, our imports, the transfer of money, our foreign exchange encounter a lot of problems.
“We all know that we encounter problems in exporting oil. Yet at the same time, we endeavour to reduce the difficulty of people’s livelihood.”
Rouhani said that despite the US sanctions his government estimated that Iran’s non-oil economy would “be positive” this year.
“Contrary to what the Americans thought, that with the pressure of sanctions our country’s economy would encounter problems, thank God we have chosen the correct path… and we are moving forward,” he said.
The budget announcement comes after fuel price hikes Iran announced in mid-November triggered deadly demonstrations across the country.
Officials in Iran have yet to give an overall death toll for the unrest in which petrol pumps and police stations were torched and shops looted.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International said at least 208 people were killed in the crackdown, but Iran has dismissed such figures as “utter lies”.
US President Donald Trump began imposing punitive measures in May 2018, after unilaterally withdrawing from an accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear programme.
The United States has continued to ramp up its sanctions this year as part of a stated campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic.
Iran’s economy has been battered, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting it will contract by 9.5 percent this year.
The sharp downturn has seen the rial plummet and inflation running at more than 40 percent.
In his speech, Rouhani only touched on a few areas of the draft budget for the financial year starting late March 2020, which must be scrutinised and voted on by parliament.
“All our efforts are geared towards reducing these hardships to some extent so it can be more tolerable,” he told deputies.
“I deem it necessary here to tell the honourable representatives that the criteria of our budget is still based on maximum pressure and continuation of America’s sanctions,” he said.
“This does not mean that the government will not take other steps, but at the same time this is our criteria and based on these criteria we have devised and executed the budget.”
The budget comes ahead of parliamentary elections in February.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation could be forced into skipping next week’s UN General Assembly because the United States has yet to issue them visas, state media said Wednesday.
Rouhani and his delegation had been scheduled to travel to New York for the annual UN gathering on Monday, but that was now looking unlikely given the lack of visas, state news agency IRNA said.
“If the visas aren’t issued in a few hours, this trip will probably be cancelled,” IRNA reported.
The delegation includes Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who the United States imposed sanctions against on July 31.
The foreign minister had been due to travel to New York on Friday morning, according to IRNA.
The absence of Rouhani would ruin France’s bid to arrange a meeting between him and US President Donald Trump as part of European efforts to de-escalate tensions between the arch-foes.
“Iran’s absence will show that in contrast with its commitments to the United Nations and international organisations within the framework of agreements, diplomacy has no value for the United States,” IRNA said.
“Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has not left the scene and it continues its active diplomacy, the US government must answer for its behaviour,” it added.
The UN General Assembly debate is due to begin on Tuesday.
As the host government, the United States generally is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at UN headquarters.
But Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions in its campaign of “maximum pressure”.
Iran responded by scaling back its commitments under the landmark accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for limiting the scope of its nuclear programme.
The world’s largest diplomatic gathering began with a stark warning of growing chaos and confusion on Tuesday ahead of a showdown between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart on the floor of the United Nations.
On the opening day of the General Assembly debate, Trump and Hassan Rouhani are to take their turns at the podium four months after the US president ditched the Iran nuclear deal.
The five remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — announced Monday plans to keep business ties alive with Iran, staring down Washington’s move to impose sanctions.
Eyeing his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump will also likely tout his diplomacy with Pyongyang as a win, even if the North has taken little concrete action to dismantle its missile and nuclear programs.
Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May, to the dismay of European allies, Russia and China which had invested years in negotiations to achieve a milestone agreement on keeping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check.
In his address, the Iranian president will stress that Iran continues to stick to the 2015 deal and portray the United States as a pariah for breaking its international commitments.
Since Trump came to power, promising that the world’s most powerful country would follow an unashamedly “America First” foreign policy, there have been growing fears about the US commitment to multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.
In a speech at the opening of the assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said trust in the rules-based global order and among states was “at a breaking point” and international cooperation becoming more difficult, without specifically mentioning Trump.
“Today, world order is increasingly chaotic. Power relations are less clear,” he told the 193-nation assembly.
“Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege,” he added just minutes before Trump was to take the podium.
Even though they will be speaking from the same stage, both Trump and Rouhani have ruled out a meeting on the sidelines of the assembly.
In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Trump said he had no plans to meet Rouhani “despite requests” to do so.
“Maybe someday in the future. I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!” he said.
Trump used his UN address last year to bash the nuclear deal as “an embarrassment,” signaling that the United States was ready to walk away.
After its exit, the United States maintains that it is seeking to ramp up pressure on Iran which it accuses of sowing chaos in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
“As I have said repeatedly, regime change in Iran is not the administration’s policy,” Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton told reporters.
“We’ve imposed very stringent sanctions on Iran, more are coming, and what we expect from Iran is massive changes in their behavior,” he said.
Defying US on Iran
After a late meeting on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that a new legal entity would be set up to preserve oil and other business links with Iran.
“This will mean that EU member-states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran,” Mogherini told reporters, flanked by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Rouhani has also made clear he has no intention of seeing Trump while in New York during the marathon of meetings.
As a precondition for any dialogue, Rouhani said Trump would need to repair the damage done by exiting the nuclear deal. “That bridge must be rebuilt,” he told NBC news.
On Wednesday, Trump will for the first time chair a meeting of the Security Council on non-proliferation that will give him a fresh opportunity to make the case for a tougher international stance on Iran.
“The Trump administration’s approach toward Iran seems to boil down to: squeeze and let’s see what will come,” said Robert Malley, president of International Crisis Group.
U-turn on North Korea
With only six weeks to go before key midterm US elections, Trump will be seeking to appeal to his hard-right voter base from the dais of the General Assembly.
Trump used his debut address 12 months ago to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea and belittled its leader as “rocket man,” prompting Kim to respond by calling the US president “mentally deranged.”
But returning to New York, Trump hailed “tremendous progress” to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
“Chairman Kim has been really very open and terrific, frankly, and I think he wants to see something happen,” Trump said after meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Also making his second address at the General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to take issue with Trump’s America-First policy and make the case for strengthening the rules-based multilateral order.
Macron is championing the Paris climate agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that Trump ditched in June, arguing it would harm the US economy.