Opinion

Crisis talks in Iran over nuclear ultimatum

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi attends a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020. (European Commission EbS - EEAS/Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Crisis talks in Iran over nuclear ultimatum

  • IAEA chief ‘looks forward to success’

JEDDAH: The head of the UN nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran for crisis talks on Saturday as the clock ticked down on an Iranian ultimatum for a US return to the deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would “meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the IAEA can continue essential verification activities in Iran.” He added: “I am looking forward to success — this is in everybody’s interest.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions, Iran has incrementally breached its obligations under the JCPOA, enriching uranium to prohibited levels of purity.




Rafael Mariano Grossi (right) Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks with spokesman of Iran's atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi upon his arrival at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport, Iran, on Feb. 20, 2021. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

In its latest ultimatum, Tehran set a deadline of Feb. 23 for the US to return to full compliance with the agreement. If not, Iran will refuse to comply with a section of the JCPOA that permits unannounced snap inspections by the IAEA. The deadline, set in a law passed by the Iranian parliament, has fueled international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.

Iran has told the IAEA that it will suspend “voluntary transparency measures,” notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.

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“If the other side has not fulfilled its obligations to lift the sanctions, inspections beyond safeguard measures will be suspended,” Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday.

US President Joe Biden on Friday urged European powers to work together to curb Iran’s “destabilizing activities.” He said: “The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us. That’s why we have said we’re prepared to re-engage in negotiations … on Iran’s nuclear program.”

The US insists Iran must comply with the JCPOA before it will consider easing sanctions, but Tehran says sanctions must be lifted first. In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions proposed by Trump and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the UN.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Saturday that Tehran’s nuclear deadline would not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill.

“We predict with confidence that diplomatic initiatives will result in a favorable outcome despite the diplomatic wrangling, which is a natural prelude to the return of the parties to their commitments, including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future,” he said.


Head of Chaldean Church hails pope’s Iraq visit

Updated 18 min 59 sec ago

Head of Chaldean Church hails pope’s Iraq visit

  • The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church said he does not believe that the pope will be in danger in Iraq
  • “He comes to tell us that religion does not divide; quite the opposite, it can unite,” Sako said

ROME: The visit of Pope Francis to Iraq on March 5-8 will be “an exceptional event” for the nearly half a million Christians living in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.
“We had been waiting for a pope to come to Iraq for decades. We needed it immensely after all these years of darkness,” said Sako, whose family comes from the Iraqi city of Mosul, and whose appointment as cardinal by Pope Francis in 2018 was seen as a sign of the Vatican’s appreciation of the country’s Christians.
“The pope’s visit to Iraq sends a signal of hope, not only to our country, not only to the Christian community, but to the entire Middle East.”
After decades of war and pain, “the pope’s message of peace and brotherhood is of exceptional importance. He comes to tell us that religion does not divide; quite the opposite, it can unite,” said Sako.
“It helps to find common languages ​​in God and in faith. We must put an end to the decline of civil coexistence,” he added. “The pope will come here to tell us that we are all brothers, all children of God.”
Sako said he does not believe that the pope will be in danger in Iraq. “The security measures taken are impressive. Daesh has lost strength,” he added.


Emirates to digitally verify passengers’ COVID-19 medical records

Updated 25 February 2021

Emirates to digitally verify passengers’ COVID-19 medical records

  • The IT systems of DHA-approved laboratories will be linked with Emirates’ reservations and check-in systems
  • The latest figures mean that 59.11 percent of the UAE population has received the vaccine so far

DUBAI: Emirates has signed an agreement with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to digitally verify passengers’ medical records, as part of the UAE’s efforts to revive the travel industry following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The IT systems of DHA-approved laboratories will be linked with Emirates’ reservations and check-in systems so the airline can verify passengers’ health information related to COVID-19 infection, testing and vaccination.
The project will start immediately, Emirates said on Thursday.
The agreement was signed by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and chief executive, and DHA director general, Awadh Al Ketbi.
“Dubai is a leading global air transport hub, as well as one of the world’s most progressive cities in the area of e-government services,” Sheikh Ahmed said. “It’s a natural step to combine our capabilities to implement digital verification of COVID-19 medical records, which will also enable contactless document verification at Dubai Airport. This will tremendously improve the traveler experience, as well as the reliability, efficiency and compliance with entry requirements imposed by destinations around the world.”
The initiative came as the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention announced on Thursday that a further 84,573 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been given in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses administered to 5,846,036. 
The latest figures mean that 59.11 percent of the UAE population has received the vaccine so far.

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Bahrain’s crown prince calls Israel PM on Iran nuclear talks

Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 25 February 2021

Bahrain’s crown prince calls Israel PM on Iran nuclear talks

  • The statement marks the first response from a Gulf Arab leader to President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this month

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Bahrain’s crown prince spoke with the Israeli prime minister on Thursday about the return to nuclear talks with Iran, Bahrain’s state-run news agency reported, as the US administration tries to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear accord.
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, also the country’s prime minister, stressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the importance of the participation of regional countries in any negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file” to support “security and stability in the region,” according to the official Bahrain News Agency.
The statement marks the first response from a Gulf Arab leader to President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this month that he was seeking a return to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Nearly three years ago, former President Donald Trump abandoned the landmark accord and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran. His withdrawal was welcomed by Gulf nations and Israel, Iran’s foes in the region that are most directly threatened and staunchly opposed the deal.
The sheikhdoms in the Arabian Gulf, along with Israel, were excluded from the last nuclear negotiations and remain highly skeptical of Iran’s intentions. They have indicated they would only be open to a deal if it included limits on Iran’s non-nuclear activities, including missile development and support for rebel groups and militias in the Middle East. A main reason Trump gave for withdrawing from the nuclear deal was that it did not address those issues.
In Thursday’s call, the Bahraini crown prince urged that any nuclear negotiations with Iran “include broader issues,” without elaborating.
The readout from Israel made no mention of Washington’s outreach to Tehran. It said only that the crown prince repeated his invitation for Netanyahu to visit Bahrain once the pandemic allows and that the kingdom is interested in investing jointly with other countries in a vaccine production factory planned to be located in Israel.
Following the United Arab Emirates, the island kingdom of Bahrain normalized relations with Israel last fall, an agreement forged out of mutual enmity for Iran.

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Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party MPs targeted in legal barrage

Updated 25 February 2021

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party MPs targeted in legal barrage

  • The government accuses the Peoples’ Democratic Party of ties to Kurdish militants
  • The legal bids will first be handled by a parliamentary commission
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s parliament is set to consider legal bids to lift the immunity from prosecution of 21 pro-Kurdish MPs, applying more pressure on a political party targeted in a years-long crackdown and that now faces calls for its closure.
The government accuses the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s third largest, of ties to Kurdish militants and stepped up its accusations after Turkish captives were killed in Iraq earlier this month.
The HDP in response criticized President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) for using a failed military rescue mission to target it politically and to sow ethnic division, and the European Union has expressed concern over the legal moves.
AKP Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop told reporters on Thursday it was “saddening” for parliament to have to deal with so many dossiers with such charges, including “manslaughter,” “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “provoking hatred.”
State-owned Anadolu news agency said 20 HDP deputies and one from an affiliated party were among 25 targeted by the cases. The HDP, which has 56 members in the 660-seat assembly, denies links with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.
The legal bids will first be handled by a parliamentary commission which will decide whether to put them to a vote in the general assembly. The timing of the process was unclear.
Nine of the HDP deputies were accused in connection with protests triggered by a Daesh militant attack on the Syrian town of Kobani in 2014. The subsequent protests in Turkey led to the deaths of 37 people.
Ankara said this month in Iraq’s Gara region the PKK executed 13 prisoners, including Turkish military and police personnel, during an army operation meant to rescue them. The PKK said the captives died during clashes.
HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan, one of those accused over the Kobani protests, said this week the government had sought to make political capital out of the Gara operation.
“They began to attack the HDP from all directions. Each day the ‘shut down the HDP’ chorus continues to cause uproar, show enmity toward Kurds and spread the hatred climate,” she said.
Erdogan’s nationalist allies have repeatedly called for the HDP’s closure over links to the PKK, which Turkey, the EU and United States designate a terrorist group. The PKK has waged an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The crackdown on the HDP in recent years has included the arrests of thousands of party officials and members, while dozens of its elected mayors and lawmakers have been ousted.
EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said earlier this week the EU was “gravely concerned” about continuing pressure on the HDP, including “what seem to be politically motivated judicial proceedings.”

Iran: UN investigator lacks authority to comment on downing of Ukrainian plane

Updated 25 February 2021

Iran: UN investigator lacks authority to comment on downing of Ukrainian plane

  • Agnes Callamard: No concrete evidence the plane was targeted intentionally but Iran had not proven it was accidental
  • ‘... by issuing an immature and impetuous text ... she may have been promised a new job positions’

DUBAI: Iran dismissed as “immature” a statement by a UN investigator that inconsistencies in its explanation of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year raised questions over whether the act was intentional, Iranian media said on Thursday.
All 176 people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, most of them Canadian, were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff en route from Tehran to Kiev on Jan. 8, 2020.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said on Tuesday she had found no concrete evidence the plane was targeted intentionally but that Iran had not proven it was accidental.
After denying blame for three days, Iran’s Guards said they had shot it down by mistake while under high alert for a possible attack. Hours earlier it had attacked US targets in Iraq in retaliation for Washington’s killing of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, with a drone strike five days before.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Callamard’s “sphere of activity has nothing to do with these regulations and frameworks. Rather, her unwarranted involvement might not have a constructive impact on the legal procedures as well.”
Callamard, who carried out a six-month investigation into the case under her global mandate, said on Tuesday that Iran had not replied to her detailed queries. She is stepping down from the independent post at the end of March, a year early in the six-year term, to take another job, officials said.
Khatibzadeh accused her of rushing out her statement.
“Maybe one of the reasons of this unwarranted haste is her resignation from her post as special rapporteur, and by issuing an immature and impetuous text ... she may have been promised a new job positions,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
“Accordingly, some charges have been levelled against the Islamic Republic of Iran without any valid evidence and documents.”
In December, Khatibzadeh said an indictment would be issued in less than a month against “those whose negligence caused the accident”. But Iran’s military court, which is handling the case, has yet to publicly announce it.

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