France’s top envoy to hold key talks with Iran

In this file photo, an Iranian flag fluttering outside the building housing the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the Iranian port town of Bushehr, 1200 kms south of Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

France’s top envoy to hold key talks with Iran

  • Tehran warns Europe against retaliatory measures for breaching uranium enrichment cap

PARIS: A French envoy was in Tehran on Tuesday to boost European efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, after Iran warned Europe against retaliatory measures for breaching a uranium enrichment cap.

The accord between Tehran and world powers promised sanctions relief, economic benefits and an end to international isolation of the country in return for stringent curbs on its nuclear program. It has been more than a year after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with inspections, while Iran consistently lived up to its commitments under the deal until recently it is now in breach of two of them.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his top diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, to Tehran after Iran announced on Monday it had passed 4.5 percent uranium enrichment — above the 3.7 percent limit under the agreement.

Bonne is “to piece together a de-escalation” strategy, the French presidency’s office said.

After the US withdrew in May 2018 and reimposed stinging sanctions on Iran, especially on its banking and oil sectors, the future of the accord became uncertain.

As the Iranian economy went into free-fall, Tehran demanded that the other parties to the deal, especially France, Germany and Britain, deliver the promised economic benefits and help it bypass US sanctions. However, it gradually became clear that this was no simple task.

In May, a year after Trump’s withdrawal, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would roll back its commitments under the deal in stages every 60 days in an effort to force the other parties to deliver on their side of the bargain.

As tensions rose the US dispatched a naval carrier, bombers and extra troops to the region to counter perceived threats from Iran.

Last month, Trump said he had called off a retaliatory military strike against Iran at the last minute after Tehran shot down a US drone that it said had crossed into its airspace, a claim denied by Washington.

The IAEA confirmed on Monday that Iran had enriched uranium to a level above the deal’s cap of 3.67 percent, though the 4.5-percent level reported by Tehran is still far below the 90 percent necessary for military purposes.

The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed this month that Iran has exceeded a 300-km limit on enriched uranium reserves, another cap that was imposed by the deal.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Iran on Tuesday that it is within range of Israeli airstrikes, citing what he described as Iranian threats to destroy Israel.

“Iran recently has been threatening Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said at an Israeli air force base, where he viewed a squadron of advanced US-built F-35 warplanes.

“It should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran, and certainly Syria,” he said in a YouTube video clip filmed at the base, with an F-35 in the background.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Updated 12 min 54 sec ago

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.