‘Temporary solution’ found ahead of Iran nuclear deadline: IAEA

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Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, looks towards Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, second left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.(AP Photo)
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Updated 22 February 2021

‘Temporary solution’ found ahead of Iran nuclear deadline: IAEA

  • UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi in Tehran for two days of talks
  • Inspectors will not have same level of access to Iran's atomic facilities

VIENNA: UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said Sunday he had negotiated a “temporary solution” after two days of talks with Iranian officials to allow the agency to continue its inspections work in the country and allow breathing space for diplomatic negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue.
However, he admitted that even under the new three-month arrangement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would not have the same level of access once a law comes into force on Tuesday limiting some inspections.
Grossi’s visit to Iran came amid stepped-up efforts between US President Joe Biden’s administration, European powers and Iran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on the brink of collapse since Donald Trump withdrew from it and went on to impose sanctions on Iran.
Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament passed the law in December demanding the country suspend some inspections if the US failed to lift sanctions by this Sunday.
Iran had notified the UN body that if the sanctions weren’t lifted it would suspend “voluntary transparency measures” — notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.
Grossi said that under the new “temporary technical understanding... there is less access, let’s face it.”
“But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work,” he added.
“What we agreed is something that is viable — it is useful to bridge this gap that we are having now, it salvages the situation now,” Grossi told reporters after landing back in Vienna.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, before meeting Grossi, signalled that the Islamic republic wanted to avoid an “impasse” over inspections, but also warned it could step further away from its commitments if Washington does not lift the sanctions.
Grossi said his hope in going to Tehran was “to stabilize a situation which was very unstable.”
“I think this technical understanding does it so that other political discussions at other levels can take place, and most importantly we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind,” he added.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said late Saturday the “IAEA’s inspection capability will be reduced by about 20-30 percent after the implementation of the parliament’s law.”
Grossi declined to give his own estimate of how much the IAEA’s inspection capability would be reduced but said that the number of inspectors in the country would not be reduced and that the agency would still be able to carry out snap inspections.
“We are not violating the JCPOA, we are implementing remedial measures foreseen in the JCPOA itself,” Zarif insisted, referring to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“Once everybody implements their part and their obligations, then there will be talks, and those talks will not be about changing or adding to the agreement.”

Biden has committed to rejoin talks on Tehran’s nuclear program, in a shift away from Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” toward the Islamic republic.
Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments, on the condition Washington makes the first move by lifting the sanctions that have heaped economic pain on Iran.
Zarif said that, from Iran’s point of view, “nothing has changed,” as the Biden administration had so far followed the same Iran policy as his predecessor.
Iran’s top diplomat warned that if US sanctions are not lifted, Iran will continue scaling back its commitments under the deal it agreed in 2015 with the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.
The stockpile of “enriched uranium will increase,” he said, stressing that Tehran has the right within the deal to stop observing commitments “totally or partially” if the other parties fail to honor theirs.
“We are still in the partial phase,” Zarif said. “We can be total.”
The European Union’s political director, Enrique Mora, on Thursday proposed via Twitter an “informal meeting” involving Iran — and Washington accepted in principle.
Araghchi said Saturday that “we are reviewing (this) proposal” and Iran was discussing the issue with “friends and allies such as China and Russia.”


Syria health workers to get COVID-19 jabs from next week

Updated 17 min 5 sec ago

Syria health workers to get COVID-19 jabs from next week

  • Al-Ghabbash did not specify the brand, source or quantity of the jabs
  • The government has recorded 15,343 Covid-19 cases in areas under its control, including 1,008 deaths
DAMASCUS: Syria will start giving coronavirus vaccines to its vital health care workers across the war-ravaged country from next week, a government minister said Thursday.
Health Minister Hasan Al-Ghabbash, who announced the Covid-19 vaccination drive at a news conference carried by state news agency SANA, did not specify the brand, source or quantity of the jabs.
“The vaccination of medical cadres will start next week... to prevent them from getting infected,” SANA said, citing the minister.
The pro-government Al Watan newspaper said Syria had received 5,000 doses — enough to cover 2,500 health care workers — and that they were manufactured in China.
The Syrian government is also set to receive jabs as part of the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative after it signed on last month.
The WHO, together with the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the Gavi vaccine alliance, said they would help Syria to acquire jabs to initially cover at least three percent of the population and aim for 20 percent by the end of the year.
Syria has also authorized the use of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, its embassy in Moscow said Monday.
The government has recorded 15,343 Covid-19 cases in areas under its control, including 1,008 deaths.
Healthcare workers made up around 3.6 percent of total cases, Ghabbash said.
In the Kurdish-held northeast, authorities have announced a total of 8,595 cases and 313 deaths.
And in rebel-held northwest Syria, opposition officials have reported 21,150 cases, including 408 deaths.
But doctors and rights organizations believe coronavirus numbers in Syria are likely to be much higher.
The WHO said on Wednesday that the first shipment of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine would arrive in Syria’s northwest by the end of next month.
An official from the Kurdish administration in the northeast said it was “in talks with the WHO for the procurement of the coronavirus vaccine” but was “yet to clinch a deal.”
Human Rights Watch this month urged support for aid groups to ensure “equitable” distribution of coronavirus vaccines across Syria, warning against any discriminatory approach by Damascus.
The conflict in Syria since 2011 has killed more than 387,000 people and ravaged a health care sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals.
Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the conflict.

Head of Chaldean Church hails pope’s Iraq visit

Updated 25 February 2021

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.”