Again, Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Shelling Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

In this file photo taken on May 1, 2022, A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar. Photo by Andrey BORODULIN / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 1, 2022, A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar. Photo by Andrey BORODULIN / AFP

 

The Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom has again accused Russia of striking the Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant in southern Ukraine.

The strike damaged a power line at the plant causing the stoppage of several transformers of the number six reactor and forcing a brief launch of emergency generators, Energoatom said.

“Russian terrorists shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant again” during the night, Energoatom said on Telegram.

READ ALSO: Putin Calls Up Reservists, Says Russia Will Use ‘All Means’ For Defence

But radiation remained “at the normal background values level” said the plant on Telegram.

“Emissions and discharges of radioactive substances into the environment do not exceed the established permissible values,” it said.

Energoatom called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to “more resolute actions” against Moscow.

Even “the presence of IAEA inspectors does not stop” the Russians, it said.

Europe’s largest atomic facility, located in Russian-held territory in Ukraine, has become a hot spot for concerns after tit-for-tat claims of attacks there.

The plant was seized by Russian troops in March and shelling around the facility has spurred calls from Kyiv and its Western allies to de-militarise areas around nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

Early in the war there was fighting around Chernobyl in the north, where an explosion in 1986 left swathes of the surrounding territory contaminated.

French President Emmanuel Macron this month urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to withdraw heavy weapons from the Zaporizhzhia region, while the Russian leader cautioned against the potential “catastrophic” consequences of fighting there.

A monitoring team of the IAEA deployed there in early September.

Russia was accused Monday of bombing a third nuclear plant site, the Pivdennoukrainsk plant in the southern Mykolaiv region.

Moscow is stepping up “nuclear blackmail”, said the plant’s director after the strike caused a large crater seen by AFP journalists hundreds of metres from the plant.

Ukraine Nuclear Operator Reports Cyberattack On Its Website

(FILES) A file photo taken of a nuclear power plant  HAMED MALEKPOUR / FARS NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom on Tuesday reported what it called an “unprecedented” cyberattack on its website, but said its operations had not been disrupted.

“On August 16, 2022, the most powerful cyberattack since the start of the Russian invasion occurred against Energoatom’s website,” the operator said on Telegram.

It “was attacked from Russian territory”.

The Russian “popular cyberarmy” group used more than 7 million internet bots to attack the website for three hours, Energoatom said.

But the assault “did not have a considerable impact on the work of the Energoatom website”.

A Telegram channel called “popular cyberarmy” in Russian around midday called on its followers to attack the Ukrainian nuclear operator’s website.

But by Tuesday evening, it had announced a “change” in plans, redirecting supporters to a new target — the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, whose website was sluggish.

The cyberattack comes as tensions flare over the Zaporizhzhia power plant in the south of the country, which Russian forces occupied in March, shortly after invading its pro-EU neighbour.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the nuclear installation, which is the largest in Europe, sparking fears of a nuclear accident.

Ukraine counted on four nuclear power stations to supply it with around half of its electricity supply before Russia’s invasion on February 24.

Ukraine was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, when the Chernobyl power station’s reactor number four exploded.

The power station’s three other reactors were successively closed down, with the latest shutting off in 2000.

Russian troops on the first day of the invasion seized the Chernobyl plant, occupying it and a highly radioactive exclusion zone around the complex for several weeks.

AFP

Ukraine, Russia Accuse Each Other Of Nuclear Plant Strikes

In this file photo taken on May 1, 2022, A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar. (Photo by Andrey BORODULIN / AFP) /

 

Kyiv and Moscow accused each other on Saturday of striking the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine, which has been shelled repeatedly in the past week.

Zaporizhzhia is the biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and in Europe.

The plant has been under Russian control since March, and Ukraine has accused Moscow of basing hundreds of soldiers and storing arms there.

“Limit your presence on the streets of Energodar! We have received information about new provocations by the (Russian) occupiers,” Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom said as it shared a message on Telegram from a local chief in Energodar city, where the plant is located.

The city remains loyal to Kyiv.

“According to residents, there is new shelling in the direction of the nuclear plant… the time between the start and arrival of the shelling is 3-5 seconds,” the message said.

But pro-Moscow officials in the occupied areas in Zaporizhzhia region blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling.

“Energodar and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are again under fire by (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky’s militants,” said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed administration.

The missiles fell “in the areas located on the banks of the Dnipro river and in the plant”, he said, without reporting any casualties or damage.

Areas occupied by Russia and those under Ukraine’s control are divided by the Dnipro river.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations over several rounds of shelling on the plant this month, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe and led to an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday.

Ukraine said the first strikes on August 5 damaged a power cable and forced one of the reactors to stop working.

Then strikes on Thursday damaged a pumping station and radiation sensors.

Ukraine, backed by Western allies, has called for a demilitarised zone around the plant and for the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Iran Says Awaits US Response To Nuclear Talks ‘Solutions’

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh holds a press conference in Tehran on May 9, 2022.  ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iran said on Monday it awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a stalemate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

The European Union’s coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held two days of discussions with the Islamic republic’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked.

The negotiations, aimed at bringing the US back into the deal and Iran to full compliance with it, had stalled for about two months.

“Serious and result-oriented negotiations with special initiatives from Iran were held,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.

“If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna,” where the talks are held, he added during his weekly press conference.

Iran has been engaged in direct negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has participated indirectly.

The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb — something it has always denied wanting to do.

But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.

“If the US announces its political decision today, which we have not yet received, we can say that an important step has been taken in the progress of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh noted.

Among the sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terrorism list.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Friday said Mora’s mission to Tehran went “better than expected” and the stalled negotiations “have been reopened.”

Washington, however, has adopted a less optimistic tone. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “at this point, a deal remains far from certain.”

He added: “It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly.”

Talks on reviving the agreement began in April last year.

US Requests UN Security Council Meeting On North Korea

File photo showing the test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon at an undisclosed location in North Korea.  STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

The United States has requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting for Wednesday to discuss North Korea, according to diplomats, amid fears that Pyongyang will resume nuclear testing in the coming weeks.

Washington holds the Security Council presidency for the month of May and has been considering calling a meeting since late last week, the same diplomats said Monday. The public meeting is scheduled for 1900 GMT.

It comes as Pyongyang has dramatically ramped up its sanctions-busting missile launches, conducting 15 weapons tests since January including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

North Korea’s latest test occurred Saturday when Pyongyang fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, its second missile launch in just three days.

The Wednesday Security Council meeting will be held one day after the swearing in of South Korea’s hawkish new president Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to get tough on Pyongyang and bolster the US security alliance.

Satellite imagery meanwhile indicates North Korea may also be preparing to resume nuclear testing, with the US State Department on Friday warning a test could come “as early as this month.”

No comment could immediately be obtained from the US diplomatic mission to the UN on Wednesday’s proposed meeting.

Washington has also recently proposed toughening sanctions on North Korea through the Security Council.

A draft Security Council resolution presented last month by the United States and seen by AFP would tighten sanctions, including by reducing from four million to two million barrels the amount of crude oil North Korea would be allowed to import each year for civilian purposes.

But the resolution stands little chance of approval as diplomats say there is no support from China or Russia, which hold veto power and have relations with Pyongyang.

Macron To Discuss Legacy Of Nuclear Tests In French Polynesia

File photo: French President Emmanuel Macron holds a press conference at the end of the Global Fund meeting to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria on october 10, 2019, in Lyon, central eastern France. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron was greeted with flower garlands and Tahitian dancers on the tarmac as he touched down Saturday night for his first official trip to French Polynesia.

While in the South Pacific territory, he plans to discuss its strategic role, the legacy of nuclear tests and the existential risk of rising seas posed by global warming.

Residents in the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands located midway between Mexico and Australia are hoping Macron confirms compensation for radiation victims following decades of nuclear testing as France pursued atomic weapons.

The tests remain a source of deep resentment, seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of islanders.

“During this visit, the president intends to establish a strong and transparent dialogue by encouraging several concrete steps, on the history with the opening of state archives as well as individual compensation,” said a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.

French officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure at a meeting earlier this month with delegates from the semi-autonomous territory led by President Edouard Fritch.

The meeting came after the investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact from the fallout was far more extensive than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents on the nearly 200 tests.

Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since the tests ended in 1996, Disclose said.

Macron, who arrived in the South Pacific after a visit to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, will also lay out his strategic vision for the strategically valuable territory, where China has made no secret of its push for military and commercial dominance.

One of three French territories in the Pacific, French Polynesia has a population of around 280,000 over a huge swath of island groups spanning an area comparable in size to Western Europe.

Tahiti is the most densely populated of the islands.

Macron “will present the Indo-Pacific strategy and the position France intends to maintain in this increasingly polarised zone”, the Elysee official said.

Macron also plans to address risks for the islands from rising sea levels as well as cyclones that some scientists warn could become more dangerous due to climate change.

But his first visit will be with hospital workers racing to combat rising Covid-19 cases with vaccines.

Many Polynesians remain wary of the jabs, with just 29 percent of adults vaccinated, compared with almost 49 percent across France nationwide.

AFP

Biden Urged To Renounce Sole Control Of US Nuclear Weapons

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP
File photo: US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

 

A former US defense secretary has called on President-elect Joe Biden to reform the system that gives sole control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the president, calling it “outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”

The call from William Perry came the same day US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with the nation’s top military leader about ensuring that an “unhinged” President Donald Trump not be able to launch a nuclear attack in his final days in office.

“Once in office, Biden should announce he would share authority to use nuclear weapons with a select group in Congress,” said Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton.

He was writing in Politico magazine with Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for stronger nuclear controls.

They said Biden, who takes office January 20, should also declare that the United States will never start a nuclear war and would use the bomb only in retaliation.

The piece argues that the current system gives the president — any president — “the godlike power to deliver global destruction in an instant,” an approach the authors call “undemocratic, outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”

Perry, who was defense minister from 1994 to 1997, calls Trump “unhinged” and adds, “Do we really think that Trump is responsible enough to trust him with the power to end the world?”

American presidents are accompanied at all times by a military aide who carries a briefcase known as “the football” which contains the secret codes and information needed to launch a nuclear strike.

Perry and Collina warn that presidents possess the “absolute authority to start a nuclear war.

“Within minutes, Trump can unleash hundreds of atomic bombs, or just one. He does not need a second opinion. The Defense secretary has no say. Congress has no role.”

They then ask: “Why are we taking this risk?”

Such vast presidential authority, the article notes, dates from the waning days of World War II, when President Harry Truman decided, after the nuclear horror unleashed by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, that the power to order the use of atomic weapons should not be left in the hands of the military — that it should be up to the president alone.

AFP

China’s First Domestically Made Nuclear Reactor Goes Online

A picture of the Chinese flag.
A picture of the Chinese flag

 

China has powered up its first domestically developed nuclear reactor — the Hualong One — a significant step in Beijing’s attempts to become less dependent on Western allies for energy security and critical technology.

The reactor, which was connected to the national grid on Friday, can generate 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and cut carbon emissions by 8.16 million tons, according to China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

“This marks China breaking the monopoly of foreign nuclear power technology and officially entering the technology’s first batch of advanced countries,” CNNC said in a statement.

Nuclear plants supplied less than five percent of China’s annual electricity needs in 2019, according to the National Energy Administration, but this share is expected to grow as Beijing attempts to become carbon neutral by 2060.

Reducing its dependence on Western allies in critical high-tech sectors such as power generation is a key goal in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan.

Billions of dollars in state subsidies have been given to Chinese companies to speed the process — a move that has angered China’s trade partners and sparked a protracted trade row with Washington.

Work on the Hualong One reactor started in 2015 and there are currently six other reactors under construction at home and abroad, state-owned plant operator CNNC said.

The Hualong One, deployed at a plant in east China’s Fujian province, will be put into commercial use by the end of the year after undergoing tests.

China has 47 nuclear plants with a total generation capacity of 48.75 million kilowatts — the world’s third-highest after the United States and France.

Beijing has invested billions of dollars to develop its nuclear energy sector in recent years as it struggles to wean its economy from coal.

Thirteen nuclear plants are under construction, more than in any other country, despite environmental and safety concerns.

In August 2016, officials were forced to shelve plans for a nuclear waste facility in Lianyungang, a city in eastern Jiangsu province, after a rare public protest by thousands of residents.

AFP

Nagasaki Marks 75 Years Since Atomic Bombing

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP

 

The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Sunday commemorated the 75th anniversary of its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with its mayor and the head of the United Nations warning against a nuclear arms race.

Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima — twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons.

Survivors, their relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended a remembrance ceremony in Nagasaki where they called for world peace.

Participants offered a silent prayer at 11:02 am (0202 GMT), the time the second and last nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped over the city.

“The true horror of nuclear weapons has not yet been adequately conveyed to the world at large” despite decades of effort by survivors telling of their “hellish experience”, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue said in a speech afterwards.

“If, as with the novel coronavirus — which we did not fear until it began to spread among our immediate surroundings — humanity does not become aware of the threat of nuclear weapons until they are used again, we will find ourselves in an irrevocable predicament.”

 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. (Photo by JAPAN POOL VIA JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT

 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a message read by his undersecretary Izumi Nakamitsu, warned that “the prospect of nuclear weapons being used intentionally, by accident or miscalculation, is dangerously high.”

“The historic progress in nuclear disarmament is in jeopardy… This alarming trend must be reversed,” he said.

‘Nuclear-free world’

The number of participants in this year’s ceremony was reduced to roughly one tenth the figure in previous years due to coronavirus fears, with proceedings broadcast live online in Japanese and English.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refreshed his pledge that Japan would lead “the international community’s efforts towards the realisation of a nuclear-free world”.

Terumi Tanaka, 88, who was 13 and at his hillside home when the bomb hit Nagasaki, remembers the moment everything went white with a flash of light, and the aftermath.

“I saw many people with terrible burns and wounds evacuating … people who were already dead in a primary school-turned shelter,” Tanaka told AFP in a recent interview, saying his two aunts died.

Atomic bomb survivors “believe that the world must abandon nuclear arms because we never want younger generations to experience the same thing”, he said.

The remembrance comes as worries linger over the nuclear threat from North Korea and growing tensions between the US and China over issues including security and trade.

“I’m determined to keep appealing (to the world) that Nagasaki must be the last atomic bomb-hit city,” survivor Shigemi Fukahori, 89, said at the ceremony.

“I hope young people will receive this baton of peace and keep running.”

The US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing around 140,000 people. The toll includes those who survived the explosion itself but died soon after from radiation exposure.

Three days later, the US dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people.

Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945.

The United States has never acceded to demands in Japan for an apology for the loss of innocent lives in the atomic bombings, which many Western historians believe were necessary to bring a quick end to the war and avoid a land invasion that could have been even more costly.

Others see the attacks as unnecessary and even experimental atrocities.

Last year, Pope Francis met with several survivors on visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, paying tribute to the “unspeakable horror” suffered by the victims.

In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. He offered no apology for the attack but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.

High school students take part in a memorial for bomb victims at Nagasaki Hypocenter Park to mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city on August 9, 2020. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pays his respects during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
A choir group comprised of elementary schoolchildren performs at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. (Photo by JAPAN POOL VIA JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT
Monks participate in a march for COVID-19 coronavirus victims as they gather to offer prayers for victims of the atomic bombings on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
Monks participate in a march for COVID-19 coronavirus victims as they gather to offer prayers for victims of the atomic bombings on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP

Iran Reports Accident At ‘Inactive’ Nuclear Site, No Casualties

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on January 22, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran. HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on January 22, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran. HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP

 

 

Iran’s nuclear body said an accident had taken place on Thursday at a construction site in a nuclear complex without causing casualties, state news agency IRNA reported.

“An accident occurred on Thursday morning and damaged a warehouse under construction in open space at the Natanz site” in central Iran, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the country’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

Kamalvandi was further quoted as saying that the complex is currently inactive and there is no risk of radioactive pollution.

The accident did not result in casualties, he added, noting that the cause was under investigation.

He did not give any details on the nature of the reported accident.

Tehran announced in May last year that it was suspending certain commitments under a multilateral nuclear deal unilaterally abandoned by the United States in 2018.

The 2015 accord promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.

US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal was followed by Washington reimposing biting unilateral sanctions.

The Natanz facility is one of Iran’s main uranium enrichment plants.

 

 

-AFP

Iran Wants Dialogue, Working To ‘Prevent War’, Says Rouhani

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

 

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.

Better governance 

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.

AFP

Iran’s Zarif Accuses Europe Of Violating Nuclear Deal

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran.  ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

European powers have violated a 2015 international nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister told a conference in India on Wednesday, a day after Britain, France and Germany launched a complaint against Tehran for non-compliance.

The European states initiated a so-called dispute mechanism process, saying Iran had progressively scaled back its commitments under the agreement.

The move, which came at a time of red-hot tensions between Iran and the United States, sparked anger in Tehran and on Wednesday Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said Europe was being “bullied” by Washington.

“They are not buying oil from us, all of their companies have withdrawn from Iran. So Europe is in violation,” Zarif told a conference in New Delhi, saying the future of the deal now “depends on Europe”.

He added that the European Union “is the largest global economy. So why do you allow the United States to bully you around?”

The accord, which makes it significantly more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons undetected, was struck in Vienna by Iran, the three European nations, the United States, China and Russia.

The agreement allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission.

If the issue is not resolved by the commission, it then goes to an advisory board and eventually to the UN Security Council, which could reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the accord.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018. Since then Iran has walked back on its commitments including on processing uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

Tehran’s latest step in January to forgo the limit on the number of machines used to make uranium more potent prompted the Europeans to trigger the mechanism.

But the three powers said they “once again express our commitment” to the deal and expressed “determination to work with all participants to preserve it.”

Iran’s foreign ministry said in response on Tuesday that “if the Europeans… seek to abuse (this process), they must also be prepared to accept the consequences”.

 ‘Thoughtless’ 

Russia condemned the “thoughtless” European move, warning it risked causing a “new escalation”.

A US State Department spokesperson said Washington fully supported the three countries, adding “further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted”.

Zarif also said that the US killing on January 3 of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq had served only to strengthen the Islamic State group.

“I think the war against Daesh (ISIS) just suffered a major setback, and Daesh just won a major victory,” he said.

He also implied that the crisis sparked by the killing of Soleimani had contributed to Iran’s accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

“Why did it happen? Because there was a crisis. People make mistakes, unforgivable mistakes, but it happened in the time of the crisis,” Zarif said.

AFP