Iran Renews Call To US To Lift All Sanctions Imposed By Trump

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

 

Iran on Friday renewed its call for the US to lift all sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump, after an offer for talks from new President Joe Biden’s administration.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US “unconditionally & effectively” lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump”.

The Biden administration on Thursday offered talks with Iran led by European allies and reversed two largely symbolic steps against Tehran imposed by Trump, as it sought to salvage a nuclear deal on the brink of collapse.

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Ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Iran for it to restrict some access to UN nuclear inspectors unless Trump’s sanctions are ended, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned jointly with European powers that the move would be “dangerous”.

Hours after Blinken’s videoconference with his French, British and German counterparts, the European Union political director, Enrique Mora, proposed via Twitter an “informal meeting” involving Iran — and the US accepted.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear programme,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The P5 — UN Security Council powers Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany sealed the 2015 deal brokered by then-president Barack Obama under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme in exchange for promises of economic relief.

Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions, aiming to bring Iran to its knees.

Zarif’s tweet did not explicitly address the Biden administration’s offer of talks. Iran has demanded an end to Trump’s sanctions before reversing protest measures it took away from full compliance.

A senior US official said the Biden administration was showing good faith and saw a meeting as the start of a “prolonged path” to restoring and building on the nuclear accord.

If Iran declines to meet, “I think it would be both unfortunate and at odds with their stated view that they want to come back if you come back.

“That’s not going to happen simply by one side telling the other one what to do,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Britain swiftly welcomed the proposed talks. “The UK will participate,” a spokesperson said.

– Reversing Trump steps –

Biden has insisted he will not remove Trump’s sanctions until Iran returns to compliance — but the administration Thursday undid two symbolic steps by the last administration.

In a letter to the United Nations, the United States said it no longer believed that the world body had “snapped back” sanctions on Iran.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo last year argued the United States was still a “participant” in the Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear deal — despite withdrawing later — and therefore could reimpose sanctions.

The argument had been dismissed by the United Nations and close US allies at the time.

In his tweet, Zarif said Iran agreed with the Biden administration’s decision.

“US acknowledged Pompeo’s claims” regarding UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “had no legal validity. We agree,” Iran’s top diplomat wrote.

The Biden administration also reversed draconian curbs on Iranian diplomats in New York who were barred from all but a few blocks around the United Nations and their mission.

– Warning over inspections –

Under the terms of a bill adopted by its conservative-dominated parliament in December, Iran will restrict some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency if the United States does not lift its sanctions imposed since 2018 by Sunday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution.

A joint statement by the four foreign ministers after the virtual meeting convened by France urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations for four decades but they began frequent contact to negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear accord was adamantly opposed by Iran’s regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both enjoyed tight partnerships with Trump.

While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Rouhani — a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers — is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure is likely to replace him.

AFP

Iran Hangs Man For ‘Terror’, Despite UN Appeal

 

Iran hanged a man for murder, abduction, and “terrorist” links on Saturday, the judiciary’s website said, despite international calls for the execution of the ethnic Baluch to be halted.

Javid Dehghan Khalad was put to death early in the morning in the restive southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, Mizan Online reported.

It comes a day after the United Nations had appealed to Iran not to go ahead with the execution of the 31-year-old.

Mizan said Dehghan was arrested in June 2015 and later convicted of being “one of the leaders” of a “terrorist” group linked to the jihadist Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice).

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Also known as Mohammad Omar, he had been found guilty of carrying out “armed action against the state”, the website said.

Dehghan was found to have been involved in the killing of two Revolutionary Guards’ members in 2015, as well as leading a raid aiming to abduct five border guards, one of whom was killed, it added.

The UN had on Friday urged Iran to halt the execution as it rebuked the Islamic republic for a spate of recent hangings, including of members of minority groups.

“We urge the authorities to halt the imminent execution of Javid Dehghan, to review his and other death penalty cases in line with human rights law,” the Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on Twitter.

“We strongly condemn the series of executions –- at least 28 –- since mid-December, including of people from minority groups,” it added.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has alleged Dehghan’s trial was “grossly unfair” with the court relying on “torture-tainted confessions” and ignoring abuses committed during the investigation.

Jaish al-Adl has carried out several high-profile bombings and abductions in Iran in recent years.

In February 2019, 27 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in a suicide attack claimed by the group.

Jaish al-Adl was formed in 2012 as a successor to Sunni extremist group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which waged a deadly insurgency for a decade before it was severely weakened by the capture and execution of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi in 2010.

The Islamic republic has come under fire over a series of executions since late last year of high profile figures, including the formerly France-based dissident Ruhollah Zam on December 12 and wrestler Navid Afkari on September 12.

AFP

Nuclear Deal: Iran Steps Up Uranium Enrichment

(FILES) A file photo taken on October 26, 2010 shows the inside of reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 1200 Kms south of Tehran HAMED MALEKPOUR / FARS NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran confirmed Tuesday it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, sparking international concern. 

The move at its underground Fordow facility was confirmed by UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It was the most striking suspension yet of Iranian commitments under the landmark deal, a process it started in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the accord the previous year.

“At around 7 pm (1530 GMT Monday), we reached 20 percent” enrichment, spokesman Behrouz Kamalavandi told state television in an interview aired on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Iran Warns Trump Against ‘Adventurism’

Announcing the move on Monday, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said President Hassan Rouhani had ordered the enrichment “in recent days” in line with a law passed last month by the conservative-dominated parliament.

The law “for the lifting of sanctions and protection of the Iranian people’s interests” mandates Rouhani’s government to “produce and store 120 kilogrammes (265 pounds) per year of uranium enriched to 20 percent.”

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “we resumed 20% enrichment as legislated by our parliament,” adding that the IAEA had been “duly notified”.

He stressed that Tehran took the step “after years of non-compliance” by other parties and that “our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL”.

The step comes less than three weeks before the end of the presidency of Trump, who has sought to economically punish and diplomatically isolate Iran with a “maximum pressure” campaign, including tough sanctions.

The outgoing administration deplored Iran’s plan to step up uranium enrichment.

“Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow is a clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion, an attempt that will continue to fail,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The Iranian government has signalled a readiness to engage with President-elect Joe Biden, who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran and takes office on January 20.

Iran’s return to enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity has triggered international concern because it is seen as a significant step towards the 90 percent level required for a nuclear weapon.

Israel warning

The IAEA confirmed that “Iran today began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1 percent U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment up to 20 percent”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily and charged it proved Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb — a claim the Islamic republic has always denied.

“Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, to raise the enrichment level and advance the industrial ability to enrich uranium underground, cannot be explained in any way except as the continued realisation of its intention to develop a military nuclear programme,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

The European Union said Iran’s enrichment programme would be a “considerable departure” from the deal.

Russia’s envoy to the IAEA said that Moscow is “not enthusiastic” about Tehran’s move but emphasised that “there is nothing to overdramatise”.

“The nuclear programme remains fully transparent and verifiable,” Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter. “We should focus on means to restore comprehensive implementation of the nuclear deal.”

Bound by law

Iran had on December 31 informed the IAEA that it would begin producing uranium enriched to up to 20 percent, the level it had before the nuclear deal was reached.

According to the latest IAEA report available, published in November, Tehran was previously enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the 2015 Vienna agreement (3.67 percent) but not exceeding the 4.5 percent threshold, and still complied with the agency’s strict inspection regime.

But there has been turmoil since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

In the aftermath of the attack, blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and the conservative-dominated parliament passed the new law.

Rouhani had opposed the legislation, describing it as “detrimental to the course of diplomatic activities.”

Quoted by the government’s website, Rabiei said that the administration’s stance towards the law is clear, “but the government considers itself bound to carry out the law”.

 

AFP

Iran Warns Trump Against ‘Adventurism’

In this file photo taken on January 3, 2020, US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida. President Donald Trump warned on January 4, 2020 that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets. JIM WATSON / AFP

 

Iran on Thursday warned the US president against any “adventurism” before leaving the White House after Donald Trump said he would hold “Iran responsible” for any fatal attack on Americans in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments came after Trump accused Iran of being behind a rocket attack Sunday on the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, that caused material damage but no deaths.

The exchange also comes as tensions mount ahead of the first anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

READ ALSO: UK, EU Negotiators Finally Agree Brexit Trade Deal

Trump “uses a worthless photo to recklessly accuse Iran”, Zarif said on Twitter Thursday, referring to an image Trump had posted after the embassy attack of three rockets he said had come from Iran.

“Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out,” Zarif added.

Trump ordered a drone strike on January 3 this year to kill powerful Iranian general Soleimani while he was in Baghdad.

Days later, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops. Trump refrained from any further military response.

But the US leader, now in his final weeks in office, is sticking to his “maximum pressure” approach toward the Iranian regime.

“Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, before warning, “if one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over”.

Zarif had responded earlier Thursday, tweeting, “Putting your own citizens at risk abroad won’t divert attention from catastrophic failures at home.”

The US embassy in Iraq and other foreign military and diplomatic sites have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bomb attacks since late 2019.

The US diplomatic mission has already partially withdrawn its staff due to security concerns, two senior Iraqi officials told AFP earlier this month.

AFP

Iran Executes Opposition Figure Ruhollah Zam

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020, Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and had been implicated in anti-government protests, speaks during his trial at Iran’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
ALI SHIRBAND / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran on Saturday executed Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and was implicated in anti-government protests, days after his sentence was upheld.

State television said the “counter-revolutionary” Zam was hanged in the morning after the supreme court upheld his sentence due to “the severity of the crimes” committed against the Islamic republic.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had on Tuesday said Zam’s sentence was upheld by the supreme court “more than a month ago”.

London-based rights group Amnesty International, in a statement after his verdict was confirmed, described Zam as a “journalist and dissident”.

It said the confirmation marked “a shocking escalation in the use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of Zam in October 2019, claiming he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service”.

State television said he was “under the protection of several countries’ intelligence services.”

The official IRNA news agency said he was also convicted of espionage for France and an unnamed country in the region, cooperating with the “hostile government of America”, acting against “the country’s security”, insulting the “sanctity of Islam” and instigating violence during the 2017 protests.

At least 25 people were killed during the unrest in December 2017 and January 2018 that was sparked by economic hardship.

Zam, who was granted political asylum in France and reportedly lived in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging app called Amadnews.

Telegram shut down the channel after Iran demanded it removes the account for inciting an “armed uprising”.

– ‘Corruption on earth’ –

Zam was charged with “corruption on earth” — one of the most serious offences under Iranian law — and sentenced to death in June.

State television aired an “interview” with him in July, in which he appears as saying he believed in reformism until he was detained in 2009 during protests against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He also denied having instigated violence through his Telegram channel.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of “confessions” by suspects, saying they “violate the defendants’ rights”.

Zam is one of several people to have been put on death row over participation or links to protests that rocked Iran between 2017 and 2019.

Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestler, was executed at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz in September.

The judiciary said he had been found guilty of “voluntary homicide” for stabbing to death a government employee in August 2018.

Shiraz and several other urban centres across Iran had been the scene of anti-government protests and demonstrations at the time over economic and social hardship.

Three young men were also sentenced to death over links to deadly 2019 protests, but Iran’s supreme court said last week that it would retry them over a request by their defence team.

Their sentences were initially upheld by a tribunal over evidence the judiciary said was found on their phones of them setting alight banks, buses and public buildings during the wave of anti-government protests.

Amnesty International said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world’s second-highest toll after China.

-AFP

Iran Court To Retry Three Sentenced To Death Over Protests

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

Iran’s supreme court said Saturday it will review the cases of three young men sentenced to death over links to deadly November 2019 protests after a request from their lawyers.

Numerous calls had spread online after the verdict was announced, calling for a halt for executions in Iran, with the United Nations and European countries reaffirming their opposition to the death sentence.

In July, Iran’s judiciary halted the death sentences against the three a week after they were upheld by a tribunal over evidence the judiciary said was found on their phones of them setting alight banks, buses, and public buildings during the wave of anti-government protests.

“A request to retry the three sentenced to death over the (November) incidents was accepted,” the supreme court said on its official website.

“The case will be reviewed in another tribunal,” it added, without elaborating further on the decision.

Four lawyers representing the accused made the request days after the young men’s sentences were upheld in July, local media said at the time.

One of the lawyers identified the three as friends 26-year-old retain worker Amirhossein Moradi, Said Tamjidi, a 28-year-old driver for Snapp (Iran’s Uber), and Mohammad Rajabi, also 26 and unemployed.

They were sentenced over “collusion to endanger national security” and “destroying and setting fire to public property with the aim of confronting the political system of the Islamic republic,” Babak Paknia, who represents Moradi, told AFP in an interview in July.

Paknia confirmed the supreme court’s decision in a tweet on Saturday.

The demonstrations erupted in November last year after authorities more than doubled fuel prices overnight, exacerbating economic hardship in the sanctions-hit country.

They rocked a handful of cities before spreading to at least 100 urban centres across Iran.

Petrol pumps were torched, police stations attacked and shops looted before security forces stepped in amid a near-total internet blackout.

A senior Iranian lawmaker in June put the death toll at 230 but said most were killed by armed “rioters,” months after authorities had refused to provide casualty figures.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has put the number of deaths at 304, including 23 minors, and a group of independent UN rights experts said last year that 400 could have been killed.

-AFP

Iran Surpasses One Million COVID-19 Cases

A member of a medical team takes a the temperature of an Iraqi traveller at the Shalamjah border crossing, some 15 kms southeast of the city of Basra, upon his return from Iran on February 21, 2020. Hussein FALEH / AFP.

 

Iran said its novel coronavirus caseload surpassed one million on Thursday, as the authorities consider easing restrictions in many parts of the Middle East’s hardest hit country.

The Islamic republic had recorded 49,348 Covid-19 deaths and 1,003,494 infections since announcing its first cases in February, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

In the past 24 hours, the virus caused 358 new deaths in the country with a population of more than 80 million, and 13,922 cases of infection, Lari said.

The number of fatalities appears to have eased slightly in the past few days, however, after soaring to a daily average of more than 400 for much of November.

But some officials — including Health Minister Saeed Namaki — admit the government figures are much lower than the actual numbers.

Covid-19 first surfaced in Iran on February 19, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital.

They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

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Since then, the authorities have responded by taking a series of measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus.

Faced with the dual challenge of US sanctions and the pandemic, however, they have never imposed full lockdowns, for fear they would cause further damage to Iran’s economy.

US President Donald Trump has imposed wave after wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic since 2018, when he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

Despite not imposing lockdowns, non-essential businesses were closed for two weeks in areas at the highest risk on November 21, reinforcing restrictions President Hassan Rouhani said were needed to curb a “third wave” of the outbreak.

The measures apply to the vast majority of cities across Iran, including Tehran and the country’s 30 other provincial capitals.

– Iranian vaccine –

Like most countries affected by the pandemic, Iran — which began developing its own vaccine in the spring — is awaiting the availability of a vaccine against the virus.

Namaki announced on Wednesday that an Iranian company had “obtained a licence to test a vaccine on humans”.

Minou Mohraz, a medical epidemiologist with the National Coronavirus Control Committee, announced this week that the animal testing phase had been completed.

They have yet to specify when testing will be carried out on humans.

But Namaki said that if the step was successful, “we will be one of the major producers (of Covid-19 vaccinations) in the region by early next spring”.

Iran had “pre-purchased” about 16.8 million vaccine doses “via Covax” — the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mechanism for equitable access to vaccines — Namaki was quoted as saying on the ministry’s website, though which vaccine was not specified.

In theory, medicines are exempt from the US sanctions, but in reality, international banks tend to turn down transactions involving Iran to avoid being exposed to potential litigation.

– ‘US economic war’ –

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused the US of impeding vaccine imports.

“The situation in Iran is pretty bad… unfortunately we’re suffering from something more than the rest of the world is, and that is an economic war,” he told an online forum hosted by Italy.

In the past few days, health authorities in Iran have indicated restrictions would soon be eased in several parts of the country, including Tehran.

Alireza Zali, who is in charge of coordinating the response to the pandemic in Tehran, said on Wednesday that the risk level in the capital would be eased to medium from high from Saturday.

Zali said schools, universities and mosques would remain closed, but that non-essential businesses could reopen.

On the streets of Tehran, some people lamented that anti-virus restrictions were being ignored.

“As you can see, all the shops are open,” said pensioner Amir Bahrami, pointing to stores that were supposed to be closed but were still receiving customers who slipped under partly lowered shutters.

Mohammad Maleki, a salesman, said public transport was “crowded” and called on the government to “increase the number of metro trains and buses” in service.

AFP

Iran Lays To Rest Assassinated Nuclear Scientist As It Ponders Response

A handout picture provided by Iran’s Defence Ministry on November 29, 2020 shows mourners praying by the coffin of Iran’s assassinated top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during his funeral procession at Fatima Masumeh’s Shrine in Qom, south of Tehran. 
IRANIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY / AFP

 

 

Iran was on Monday laying to rest one of its top nuclear scientists, as the Islamic republic weighed how and when to retaliate for an assassination pinned on arch-foe Israel.

The killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — whom Israel has dubbed the “father” of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme — has once more heightened tensions between Tehran and its foes, with President Hassan Rouhani accusing the Jewish state of acting as Washington’s “mercenary”.

Fakhrizadeh died on Friday after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside Tehran, according to Iran’s defence ministry.

The funeral got underway with a religious singer alluding to the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, a revered seventh century holy figure from whom Shiite Muslims draw inspiration.

A large display showed a picture of the slain scientist next to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as former top general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by the US in a drone strike in Baghdad early this year.

Iran’s parliament on Sunday demanded a halt to international inspections of nuclear sites in the country, signalling another potential retreat from a key commitment in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.

The Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear programme, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.

President Rouhani has stressed his country will seek its revenge for the assassination in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”, with less than two months to go before US President Donald Trump leaves office after four hawkish years at the White House.

US President-elect Joe Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran, after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

 

READ ALSO: Rouhani Accuses ‘Mercenary’ Israel Of Scientist Assassination

– ‘Deter & take revenge’ –

Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.

The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty”.

Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.

Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished and parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf on Sunday urged “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.

Parliament called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, according to the legislature’s news agency ICANA, after some lawmakers had accused inspectors of acting as “spies” who were potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has  abandoned key commitments under the deal, including limits to the production and stockpiling of low-enriched uranium.

– Call for strikes –

For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.

“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the nuclear deal, it said.

The United Arab Emirates, which in September normalised ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.

The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region.

“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.

Britain, a party to the 2015 nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region”.

In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.

Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll”.

-AFP

Rouhani Accuses ‘Mercenary’ Israel Of Scientist Assassination

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows the Islamic republic’s President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on January 15, 2020.  AFP

 

 

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.

AFP

Top Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated

) A handout picture released by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on November 4, 2019, shows the atomic enrichment facilities Natanz nuclear power plant, some 300 kilometres south of capital Tehran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran / AFP
A handout picture released by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on November 4, 2019, shows the atomic enrichment facilities Natanz nuclear power plant, some 300 kilometres south of capital Tehran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran / AFP

 

Iran said one of its most prominent nuclear scientists was assassinated on Friday in an attack on his car outside Tehran that it accused arch foe Israel of being behind.

The scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his security team, Iran’s defence ministry said in a statement.

It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s reasearch and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.

Fakhrizadeh, once described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, had been travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.

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A state television report on the assassination described him as one “of our country’s nuclear scientists” and said that Israel “had an old and deep enmity towards him”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the scientist’s assassination.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

“This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” he added.

He also called on the international community to “end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president.

Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under incumbent US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

Series of assassinations

Trump said at the time that the deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb.

Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon.

Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, without commenting on it himself.

The killing comes a day after Thailand said it had returned three Iranians jailed over a botched 2012 bomb plot in Bangkok that Israel had linked to a spate of attacks on its diplomats around the world.

A handout photo made available by Iran state TV (IRIB) on November 27, 2020, shows the damaged car of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after it was attacked near the capital Tehran. IRIB NEWS AGENCY / AFP
A handout photo made available by Iran state TV (IRIB) on November 27, 2020, shows the damaged car of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after it was attacked near the capital Tehran. IRIB NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran said the three were “a businessman and two” other Iranians detained abroad on the basis of “false accusations,” without giving further information.

They killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed Israel of carrying out.

The New York Times reported earlier in November that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.

The senior leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed in August along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.

Iran said the report was based on “made-up information” and reaffirmed its denial of the presence of any of the group’s members in the Islamic republic.

Iran’s state news IRNA and Mehr news agency at the time reported a similar incident and identified the victims as Habib Dawoud, a 58-year-old Lebanese history teacher, and his daughter Maryam, 27, without giving further details.

 

AFP

Belgium Tries Iranian Diplomat Over Bomb Plot

Dimitri de Beco, the lawyer of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, arrives at Antwerp courthouse, on November 27, 2020, ahead of the start of the trial of four suspects including an Iranian diplomat accused of taking part in a plot to bomb an opposition rally. In July 2018, 
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.

The case shines an uncomfortable light on Tehran’s international activities just as it hopes for a thaw in relations with the West as US President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the Iran nuclear deal, is due to leave office.

In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements which was attended by close allies of US President Donald Trump.

Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.

Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organised a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.

Several well-known international figures — including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former British officials as well as Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.

On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.

“We can’t imagine the scale of the disaster averted,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.

Outside the court, Bourdon declared: “It’s an unprecedented, historic trial. It the first time that, symbolically, the mullahs’ regime is in the dock and will be judged through the case against its so-called diplomats.”

The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.

All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.

Assadi was arrested while he was travelling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.

Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.

– ‘Absolutely furious’ –

 

Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.

The two men deny any connection.

Dimitri de Beco, defence counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.

According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.

“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.

At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was abandoned by the Trump administration but remains on life-support as European capitals try to keep Iran on board.

When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.

The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.

It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.

-AFP

Israel Air Strikes Hit Iran Sites In Syria Killing 10

Photo Credit: The Defense Post

 

Israeli warplanes struck Syria Wednesday, hitting Iranian targets and killing 10 Syrian and foreign fighters in what the Israeli army called a retaliatory attack after explosive devices were found near one of its bases on the occupied Golan Heights.

The airstrikes came hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to land in Israel for talks including on Iran, in what was likely to be his last visit to the staunch American ally before President Donald Trump leaves office.

An Israeli army statement said its fighter jets had overnight hit “military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian armed forces”. The elite Quds Force is the main foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The targets included “storage facilities, headquarters, and military compounds” as well as “Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries,” it said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes had killed three of its soldiers and wounded another.

The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed, including foreign fighters as well as Syrian soldiers.

The foreigners included five fighters who were “likely Iranian and belonging to the Quds force” as well as two pro-Iran fighters of undetermined nationality, the Britain-based monitor said.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.

– Retaliatory strikes –

The Jewish state rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

Israel’s military said it had discovered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on its side of the armistice line on the Golan Heights on Tuesday.

“We are talking about three connected Claymore anti-personnel charges that were planted close to an IDF position,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters Wednesday.

“This was another attempt led by Iranian Quds forces. The actual planting of the IEDs was by Syrian locals but the guidance, instruction and control was by Iranian Quds forces,” he said.

Most Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights retain Syrian citizenship, having spurned the offer of Israeli papers.

Conricus said Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes against eight separate targets inside Syria, from the armistice line on the Golan all the way to the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus.

He said they included three Iranian command centres — a headquarters in the Damascus airport, a Quds Force base in the headquarters of Syria’s seventh army division, and a “secret military site which served as a hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations”.

“We hope now that the message is clear — that it is unacceptable that the Syrian regime allows and tolerates and facilitates the use by Iranian forces of Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel.”

Israel and Syria, still technically at war, have a border along the Golan Heights, which the Jewish State has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Iran has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the civil war that erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests and has killed more than 380,000 people.

– Pompeo visit –

The airstrikes came hours before Pompeo was to land in Israel, for talks on Iran that are likely to focus on Israeli fears of a softer policy towards Iran after the Trump administration hands over to Democrat Joe Biden in January.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump his country’s strongest-ever ally in the White House, has heaped praised on the administration for its hardline approach towards Iran.

Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic has included sanctions and scrapping of the nuclear deal agreed between Tehran and world powers during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Israeli experts have said Netanyahu is concerned that the president-elect, Obama’s former vice president, will seek to re-engage Iran diplomatically, possibly by restoring the 2015 nuclear deal Trump pulled the US out of.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani was also due in Israel for the first visit by a senior official of the Gulf Arab state since it signed a normalisation deal with Israel on September 15.

The deal was condemned as a betrayal by Iran and its regional allies.

-AFP