Iran and US swap threats at UNSC meeting while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack

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Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani, top left, listens as Israel’s Ambassador Gilad Erdan addresses the United Nations Security Council during an emergency meeting at UN headquarters on April 14, 2024. (AP)
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the Security Council during an emergency meeting at UN headquarters on April 14, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 15 April 2024

Iran and US swap threats at UNSC meeting while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack

  • Iran envoy: If US attacks Iran, Tehran will use ‘its inherent right to respond proportionately’
  • US ambassador: If Iran attacks US, it will be held responsible

NEW YORK: Iran on Sunday said it has no intention of engaging militarily with the US in the region but will “use its inherent right to respond proportionately” if the latter initiates a military operation against it, its citizens, or security interests.

Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, told a meeting of the organization’s Security Council on Sunday that his country’s attack on Israel was “precise, only targeted military objectives and was carried out carefully to minimize the potential for escalation and prevents civilian harm.”

On Saturday, Iran launched dozens of drones and missiles in retaliation against an Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus which killed seven revolutionary guards, including two generals. Iran had warned Israel would be “punished” for the strike, which took place on April 1.

Sunday’s emergency meeting was requested by Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, who called council members to “unequivocally condemn Iran (and) immediately act to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.”

Iran said that Saturday’s attack was in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which invokes the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

US ambassador Robert Wood warned that “if Iran or its proxies take actions against the United States or further action against Israel, Iran will be held responsible.”

Wood condemned “the unprecedented attack on Israel by Iran and its militant proxies and partners” in the strongest terms. Iran’s “reckless actions” not only posed a threat to populations in Israel, he said, but also to other UN member states in the region, including Jordan and Iraq.

The diplomat added: “Security Council has an obligation to not let Iran’s actions go unanswered. For far too long, Iran has flagrantly violated its international legal obligations through the actions of its IRGC, by arming Hezbollah, by arming, facilitating and enabling Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and, more recently, merchant and commercial shipping in the Red Sea.”

Wood also accused Iran of being complicit in the October 7 attack on Israel, having provided “significant funding and training for Hamas.”

He said the US would explore “additional measures to hold Iran accountable at the UN,” and called on the Security Council to unequivocally condemn Iran’s actions and call for it “and its partners and proxies to cease their attacks.”

Israel’s Gilad Erdan compared Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Hitler. He said that in its “plot to impose a global Shiite hegemony through its proxies, Iran has even attacked Saudi Arabia, the Aramco oil field in the UAE and anyone else they view as an obstacle.”

He told the UNSC: “The only option is to condemn Iran and utilize every means necessary to make them pay a heavy price for their horrible crimes,” and warned that Tehran was “barreling towards nuclear capabilities, has enriched uranium up to 60 percent purity, and its breakout time to produce nuclear weapons is now mere weeks away.”

“Impose sanctions on Iran before it is too late,” said Erdan, adding: “We are being fired upon from all fronts, from every border. We are surrounded by Iran’s terror proxies. The war in Gaza extends far broader than Israel and Hamas. All of the terror groups attacking Israel are tentacles of the same Shia octopus, the Iranian octopus.”

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan shows a video of the Iran missile attack during a meeting of the Security Council on Middle East security on April 14, 2024. (REUTERS)

He warned that “while the Ayatollah regime thinks Israel is a frog in boiling water, they are wrong. This attack crossed every red line and Israel reserves the legal right to retaliate. We are a nation of lions. Following such a massive and direct attack on Israel, the entire world — let alone Israel — cannot settle for inaction.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzia accused the council of hypocrisy and double standards over its failure to convene in a similar fashion following Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, or what he called the “now regular attacks by Israel against Syria and Lebanon.”

The Russian envoy warned: “If the council’s inaction on such matters will continue, then your appeals to restraint by all parties can become futile.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the Security Council of hypocrisy and double standard for not convening in a similar fashion following Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. (Getty Images/AFP)

China’s deputy permanent representative Dai Bing noted Iran’s statement that its military action was in response to Israel’s aggression and “the matter can be deemed concluded.”

Dai added: “If the flames of the Gaza conflict are allowed to continue raging, then the adverse spillover is set to spread still further, making the region even more unstable. Countries and peoples in the Middle East have no desire for, nor can they afford, a larger conflict or war.”

Nacim Gaouaoui, Algeria’s deputy permanent representative, said recent developments could not overrule the central question “which is the aggression on the Palestinian people in Gaza, and at the same time, it can never be used as a pretext or cover to launch a land attack against Rafah. Algeria calls again for ceasefire, and an end to Israel’s heinous killing machine.”

Slovenia condemned Saturday’s events in the same way it condemned the attack on the Iranian consulate.

Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN Samuel Zbogar urged all parties to “choose the path of dialog and diplomacy and refrain from further retaliations.”

He said: “The sequence of these events accelerates the spiral of violence, escalating into a broader conflict of unpredictable scope. Slovenia continues to believe that a ceasefire in Gaza would have a calming effect on tensions in the region. Every moment we delay, the risk of a broader conflict increases in these chaotic times.”

Malta’s UN ambassador, Vanessa Frazier, said the Middle East was experiencing “one of the bleakest and most volatile periods in modern history, which risks spiraling out of control if all sides do not take a step back.

“Focus should be on defusing tensions by advocating for an immediate and permanent ceasefire to the war in Gaza, facilitating immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and ensuring the delivery of sustained humanitarian aid throughout Gaza. All we are witnessing are steps in the opposite direction,” she told the meeting.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leone’s UN ambassador, Michael Imran Kanu, warned that “the escalating tension in the Middle East is dangerous and unprecedented, with the potential to destabilize not only the entire region, but impact global peace and security.”

The UK’s permanent representative to the UN, Barbara Woodward, condemned Iran’s attack on Israel and accused Tehran of being intent on sowing chaos in the region.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, addressing the Security Council meeting, accused Iran of being intent on sowing chaos in the Middle East region. (AP)

“As we have demonstrated, the United Kingdom will continue to stand up for Israel’s security, and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq.”

Nathalie Broadhurst, France’s deputy permanent representative, said Iran crossed a new threshold in its destabilizing action and was risking a military escalation for which “it would be responsible.”

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

Updated 24 May 2024

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

  • Indian central bank has announced record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates
  • Surplus fund can help the new government bring down fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of GDP or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s incoming government will be greeted with a $25 billion cheque from the central bank, giving it the option to either boost spending or narrow the fiscal deficit quicker, both of which will be cheered by investors.
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to the government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates, leading to a decline in bond yields and a rise in equity markets.
The surplus fund can help the new government, which will take charge after the current elections, bring down its fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus, Citi Research’s Samiran Chakraborty said.
“The bond markets would likely hope that the government follows the deficit reduction route, while the equity markets would likely prefer the government taking the expenditure increase one,” said Chakraborty.
During the election campaigns, the opposition Congress promised annual cash handouts of 100,000 rupees ($1,202.07) to poor women and unemployed youth. The party’s star campaigner Rahul Gandhi also promised debt waiver for farmers.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has avoided promising any new major welfare measures.
“Despite higher revenue from the RBI dividend, we doubt the government would opt for more populist expenditure in its budget, if the government is BJP-led,” said Shreya Sodhani, an economist at Barclays.
“The current government has not shown a disposition toward populist spending even in an election year.”
The BJP-led government resisted the temptation of spending trillions of rupees on schemes for the poor in its last budget before the election while raising spending on infrastructure to 11.11 trillion rupees, more than three time the sum spent in 2019.
The new government will likely present the final budget in July, leaving the administration with only eight months to spend funds allocated to them.
Government spending has been slow so far in the year, with the start of elections from April. Tax collections, meanwhile, have been strong due to buoyancy in the economy.
India collected a record 2.10 trillion rupees in goods and services taxes in April, the first month of the financial year, ensuring the government is on track to meet its planned fiscal goal of 5.1 percent of GDP this year.
This could mean the government will lean toward using the bumper dividend for fiscal consolidation.
There is scope for a slight reduction in the targeted fiscal deficit for the current year, said Ashima Goyal, a professor and an external member of the country’s monetary policy committee, who expects the government to comfortably achieve the targeted fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent by 2025/26.
India’s fiscal deficit ballooned to 9.2 percent during the pandemic but the government has steadily brought this down.
But bringing down the deficit by 130 basis points from 5.8 percent in 2023/24 was seen as challenging and dependent on one-off revenue from either privatization or auction of telecom spectrum.
($1 = 83.1900 Indian rupees)

Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

Updated 24 May 2024

Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it had seized decades ago, officials in Yerevan and Baku confirmed Friday, in a key step toward normalizing ties between the historic rivals.
The two ex-Soviet countries in the Caucasus fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan recaptured it last year in a lightning offensive, ending three decades of Armenian separatist rule and prompting more than 100,000 locals to flee into Armenia.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had agreed in March to return the four abandoned villages seized by his country in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement between the countries.
On May 16, they agreed on the demarcation of 12.7 kilometers (almost seven miles) of their border that returned the villages of Baghanis Ayrum, Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli and GhizilHajjili to Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had “officially” taken up new positions reflecting the border deal and ceded the villages to Azerbaijan’s control.
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev meanwhile announced that his country’s border guards had taken control of the four settlements.
Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of unilaterally giving away territory without any guarantees in return.
The premier’s move has sparked weeks of anti-government protests in Armenia, with thousands of demonstrators led by charismatic cleric Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan’s resignation.
A fresh anti-government protest is scheduled for Sunday.
Pashinyan last week described the deal as a “very important milestone for further strengthening Armenia’s sovereignty and independence.”
The territory is of strategic importance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

Updated 24 May 2024

EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

MADRID: European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday said that recognizing a Palestinian state was not a gift to Hamas.
Ireland, Norway and Spain said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, to help secure a halt to Israel’s Gaza offensive after the Hamas attack on Oct.7 and revive peace talks that stalled a decade ago.
“Recognizing the Palestinian state is not a gift to Hamas, quite the contrary,” he said. “The Palestinian authority is not Hamas, on the contrary they are deeply confronted.”
He added the EU already talked, financed and met the Palestinian authority.
“Every time someone makes the decision to support a Palestinian state, ... the reaction of Israel is to transform it in an antisemitic attack,” he added.

Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

Updated 24 May 2024

Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

  • China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea
  • Coastguard says the post will be used to gather data

MANILLA: The Philippines said Friday it had opened a coast guard post in the country’s far north to boost security following China’s “military build-up” near Taiwan over the past two years.
The outpost “shall gather essential maritime data and intelligence, enabling the (Philippine Coast Guard) to respond effectively to threats such as illicit trade, trafficking, piracy, and foreign intrusions,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said in a statement.
“In 2022, the area around Itbayat witnessed a military build-up as China responded to political developments between Taiwan and the United States,” Ano said, announcing the opening of the station on the Philippines’ northernmost inhabited island.
“Securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation along the Luzon Strait is crucial for ensuring Philippine national security and economic prosperity,” he added.
Itbayat is located around 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Taiwan’s south coast.
China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.
China has built artificial islands and military installations in waters close to the Philippines.
China’s efforts to enforce its claims have in recent years including water cannon attacks by China Coast Guard vessels that damaged Philippine government boats and injured several crew members.
Itbayat is just outside the area designated by a vaguely defined map of dashes that China uses to claim most of the South China Sea.
Ano made no reference to war games that China began on Thursday in which it encircled Taiwan with warplanes and naval vessels.

Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Updated 24 May 2024

Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Moscow: Russia on Friday admitted for the first time that Daesh coordinated the deadly concert hall attack in Moscow in March.
“In the course of the investigation... it has been established that the preparations, the financing, the attack, and the retreat of the terrorists were coordinated via the Internet by members of Khorasan Province (IS-K),” a branch of Daesh active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of FSB, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

At least sixty people have been killed after gunmen stormed a concert hall near Moscow in March, one of the deadliest attacks on Russia in decades.

Gunmen opened fire at a rock concert leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the theater, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported.

Putin has called the attack back in March as “a bloody, barbaric terrorist act” and said Russian authorities captured the four suspects as they were trying to escape to Ukraine through a “window” prepared for them on the Ukrainian side of the border.

Russian media broadcast videos that apparently showed the detention and interrogation of the suspects, including one who told the cameras he was approached by an unidentified assistant to an Islamic preacher via a messaging app and paid to take part in the raid.

Putin didn’t mention Daesh, known as Daesh in Arabic, in his speech to the nation, and Kyiv accused him and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the assault to stoke fervor for Russia’s fight in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.

US intelligence officials said they had confirmed the Daesh affiliate’s claim.
“ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
 The US shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, and issued a public warning to Americans in Russia, Watson said.

The raid was a major embarrassment for the Russian leader and happened just days after he cemented his grip on the country for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since the Soviet times.
Some commentators on Russian social media questioned how authorities, who have relentlessly suppressed any opposition activities and muzzled independent media, failed to prevent the attack despite the US warnings.

Daesh, which fought against Russia during its intervention in the Syrian civil war, has long targeted Russia. In a statement posted by the group’s Aamaq news agency, the Daesh Afghanistan affiliate said that it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk.