Lebanon judges resign to protest political interference

While it is the most prominent, the Beirut blast case is not the only one to fall prey to interference by political leaders. (AFP)
Updated 25 November 2021

Lebanon judges resign to protest political interference

  • A probe into last year’s monster Beirut port explosion has exposed the extent of such interference
  • The Beirut blast case is not the only one to fall prey to interference by political leaders

BEIRUT: Three Lebanese judges have resigned over interference by politicians in the work of the judiciary, including a probe into last year’s Beirut blast, a judicial source said Thursday.
In a country where political leaders determine judicial appointments, including in top courts, there is little room for the judiciary to work against Lebanon’s ruling elite.
A probe into last year’s monster port explosion has exposed the extent of such interference, with top officials mounting a complex web of court challenges to obstruct the work of lead investigator Tarek Bitar.
On Wednesday three judges, all women, handed in their resignation “to protest ... political interference in the work of the judiciary and the undermining of decisions issued by judges and courts,” the judicial source said.
The head of the country’s top court has yet to approve the resignations and has called for the matter to be discussed in a meeting, the source added.
The resignations came after officials filed dozens of lawsuits against Bitar as well as other judges processing requests by lawmakers demanding his removal.
Among those who resigned this week is a judge who turned down a request by an official to remove the investigator.
She was consequently hit with a review questioning the validity of her decision.
“The constant questioning of the judiciary’s decisions is tarnishing its reputation,” the same court official said on condition of anonymity.
While it is the most prominent, the Beirut blast case is not the only one to fall prey to interference by political leaders.
A probe into charges of tax evasion and illicit enrichment brought against central bank chief Riad Salameh has also been paused over a lawsuit filed against lead investigator Jean Tannous.


Iran ‘determined’ to salvage nuclear deal

Updated 29 November 2021

Iran ‘determined’ to salvage nuclear deal

  • The landmark 2015 agreement offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under, in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program
  • Iran has in recent months restricted the activities of inspectors from UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

TEHRAN: Iran is 'determined' to reach an agreement with major powers on salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal at talks that resume Monday in Vienna, its foreign ministry spokesman said.
“The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in Vienna with a firm determination to reach an agreement and is looking forward to fruitful talks,” Said Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“The government has shown its willingness and seriousness by sending a quality team known to all. If the other side shows the same willingness, we will be on the right track to reach an agreement.”
The landmark 2015 agreement offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under, in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program.
But the deal began falling apart in 2018 when then US president Donald Trump pulled out and began reinstating sanctions.
The following year, Iran retaliated by starting to exceed the limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.
Since the last Vienna talks were paused in June, the ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi has taken over, and his new government for several months ignored appeals to restart the talks.
According to local media, the Iranian delegation now in Vienna, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, has been greatly expanded for the new round of negotiations.
“If the United States comes to Vienna with the determination to break the deadlock and overcome the problems on which we did not agree in previous rounds, the path of dialogue will certainly be easier,” said Khatibzadeh.
Khatibzadeh signalled Iran’s distrust of longtime foe the United States.
“We are looking for practical verification of the implementation of American commitments under the nuclear agreement,” he said, adding that was one of their “main focuses in continuing the talks.”
Talks are to resume between Iran and the other parties Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, while the United States is set to participate indirectly.
“With serious will, real determination and good faith, we hope to be able to take steps to reach an agreement as soon as possible to lift the sanctions, provided that the other parties come to Vienna with a change of approach,” said Khatibzadeh.
“If that happens, the results can be announced quickly.”
Iran has in recent months restricted the activities of inspectors from UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Its head Rafael Grossi visited Tehran last week, but said on his return that “no progress” had been made on the issues he raised.
Khatibzadeh, asked about the visit, said: “Good talks took place at different levels. These talks remained unfinished because we did not reach agreement on some words and concepts that are important to both sides, but the terms of the agreement were almost finalized.”
He added that the Iranian delegation would have meetings with the Vienna-based IAEA in coming days “regarding the finalization of the text” and that “relations between the two sides will continue at different levels.”
The Iranian spokesman also criticized Britain after its Foreign Secretary Liz Truss pledged in a newspaper article co-written with Israel’s Yair Lapid to work “night and day” to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
“You will find that at least some European countries are not coming to Vienna with the necessary will to lift sanctions,” Khatibzadeh said.
“This shows that not only are some of these countries not serious, but they want to prolong the talks and delay the lifting of sanctions.”


Lebanon’s president in Qatar for talks over Gulf crisis

Updated 29 November 2021

Lebanon’s president in Qatar for talks over Gulf crisis

  • Saudi Arabia, a traditional backer of Lebanon, withdrew its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave last month following televised comments by Lebanon’s information minister
  • Aoun’s visit came as scores of protesters blocked major roads in Lebanon Monday to express anger against the country’s political class

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president arrived in Qatar Monday for the opening ceremony of an Arab soccer tournament amid — and for talks on an precedented diplomatic crisis between Beirut and oil-rich Gulf nations.
President Michel Aoun’s face-to-face meetings with the emir of Qatar and other Qatari officials come as Lebanon is sinks deeper into its economic crisis, the worst in its modern history. The country’s financial meltdown, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three quarters of the nation’s population of six million, including a million Syrian refugees, into poverty.
Aoun is expected to discuss the tense relations between Lebanon and gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia during his meetings in Doha. Aoun has repeatedly said that Lebanon wants excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Aoun is a political ally of the Shiite militant group.
Saudi Arabia, a traditional backer of Lebanon, withdrew its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave last month following televised comments by George Kordahi, Lebanon’s information minister. Kordahi said the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen’s war began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.
Aoun told Qatar’s Al-Raya daily that in face-to-face meetings, he will call on the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to invest in the reconstruction of Beirut’s port that was destroyed last year in a massive blast. Aoun also said he would seek an investment in other infrastructure projects, including electricity, that is cut for much of the day in Lebanon.
Qatar has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world and had been a major investor in Lebanon in the past.
However many countries have refused to invest in Lebanon or offer assistance to its government before it implements major reforms to fight the corruption and mismanagement that sparked the economic meltdown in 2019.
On Tuesday, Aoun will attend the opening ceremony of the FIFA Arab Cup in which 16 teams will compete. The 19-day tournament is an opportunity for the world to witness Qatar’s new stadiums that will host the World Cup next year.
Aoun’s visit came as scores of protesters blocked major roads in Lebanon Monday to express anger against the country’s political class for the worsening economic crisis and harsh living conditions.
The road closures with burning tires were mainly in the capital Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli, the southern port city of Sidon and the eastern Bekaa valley.
Lebanon’s economic crisis deteriorated in recent weeks with the Lebanese pound hitting new lows of 25,800 to the US dollar eradicating purchase power of most the country’s residents who get paid in pounds. The minimum monthly wage is 675,000 pounds or ($27).

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UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Updated 29 November 2021

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Britain and Israel will “work night and day” in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the foreign ministers of the two countries wrote in a joint article.
“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” the UK’s Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid wrote in the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier in the day that his country was “very worried” that world powers will remove sanctions on Iran in exchange for insufficient caps on its nuclear program, as negotiators convene in Vienna on Monday in a last-ditch effort to salvage a nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, Israel and Britain will sign a 10-year agreement on Monday to work closely on areas such as cybersecurity, technology, trade and defense, according to the Telegraph.
The foreign ministers added in the article that Israel will officially become Britain’s “tier one” cyber partner, in a bid to improve its cyber defenses as countries around the world face increased threats.


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Updated 28 November 2021

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.


Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

Updated 28 November 2021

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

  • The decision by Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok
  • He also mets with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa to discuss transitional process, elections

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military leader has overhauled top intelligence positions, dismissing at least eight general intelligence officers and replacing the head of military intelligence, two official sources told Reuters on Sunday.
The decision by Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who had been placed under house arrest in an Oct. 25 coup.
Of the officers dismissed, five were in senior positions and had been in place since before the 2019 overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir, the sources said. On Saturday, official sources said Al-Burhan had replaced the head of the general intelligence service.
It was not immediately clear what impact the decisions could have on the balance of power following Hamdok’s return. Hamdok replaced the country’s top two police officials on Saturday, following deadly violence against anti-military protesters in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Al-Burhan held talks with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa Annette Weber to discuss the need to complete the structures of the transitional authority, including the formation of the transitional legislative council, especially those related to the election process.
During the meeting, Al-Burhan “pledged to protect the transitional period until free and fair elections are held,” and stressed his support for the government that will be formed by Hamdok to perform its national tasks, satae news agency SUNA reported.
Weber affirmed the EU’s continued support for the political transition process in Sudan in order to hold the elections, especially in the logistical and technical aspects. She said “Sudan is an important country for the security of the region and the Red Sea.”
Before the coup, the military had been sharing power with civilian groups that took part in an uprising against Bashir. Many within those groups have opposed the deal between Al-Burhan and Hamdok, saying they want the army to exit politics.
One condition of the deal was that political prisoners arrested since the coup should be freed. Some have been released but others remain in detention.
The US, Britain and Norway, which lead Western foreign policy on Sudan, called for the release of all those imprisoned for their political beliefs across Sudan.
“These are necessary steps to rebuild trust and return Sudan to the path of freedom and democracy,” they said in a statement.
(With Reuters)