Security chiefs should be prosecuted for negligence over the April 11 sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told supporters in a gathering on Sunday [April 18]. “The nation gives you 400-500 trillion rials (around $2 billion) a year to watch these [facilities],” he said, blaming intelligence and security services for what he said was billions of dollars in damage.
Ahmadinejad, who has truned into a frequent critic, expressed disappointment at a lack of action in response to the attack, which was widely attributed to Israel. “It seems nothing has happened,” he said. “No one is subject to accountability and no reports are issued.”
The strike, focused on the power grid, has been variously attributed to a cyberattack and a large bomb smuggled into the complex. According to some Iranian officials the damage was extensive, while the New York Times quoted US intelligence that it had set back Iran’s nuclear program by six to nine months. Yet within days, Iran began at Natanz the process of uranium enrichment to 60 percent, the highest level the program has reached.
Six days after the incident, Iran’s security agencies named a suspect, Reza Karimi, and said they had informed Interpol as he had fled the country. The international policing organization has not commented, and online searches have found no evidence of an Interpol warrant.
Ahmadinejad ridiculed these efforts. “Tasteless and repetitive schemes,” he said. “They announce that they have identified someone, but he has escaped.”
Ahmadinejad also raised the killing of protesters by security forces in November 2019, demanding the prosecution of those responsible. “You, yourselves say you have killed 231 people, and nobody should be tried, there should not be any follow-up?”
European Diplomat Expresses Optimism On Reviving Iran Nuclear Deal
The deputy secretary-general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, Enrique Mora, provided an update on the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna for reporters on Tuesday. Mora said that progress had been made but that the talks needed more time.
He also expressed optimism that a deal could be concluded to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, saying the “obstacles (are)…something that I think can be bridged. This is why we are here: to negotiate these different approaches, and I think we will succeed.”
Mora also touched upon an incident where Iranian opposition groups who were protesting outside the Grand Hotel in Vienna were barred from the site following complaints from members of the nuclear deal’s Joint Commission about the noise being made outside, which was impairing the proceedings. Austrian police cited the European Union’s head of negotiations—Enrique Mora—as requesting improvement in the conditions. But Mora denied to reporters on Tuesday he ever specifically requested the Austrian police cancel the protest and said that the European Union supports freedom of expression.
While the European Union has consistently expressed optimism about the likelihood of reviving the nuclear deal, diplomats from the E3—Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—as well as the United States have been more guarded in their assessments of the talks to date.
Swiss Hail Cooperative US Approach To Iran After Biden Talks
GENEVA, June 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden voiced support on Tuesday to speed up approval of the financial transfers needed to deliver more food and medicines to Iran through a Swiss humanitarian channel, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said.
Cassis, speaking to a news conference after the 30-minute talks with Biden in Geneva, said: "The trouble is it hasn't been used enough, and why? Because there are transfers of funds that still require approval, and I think on this the U.S. is willing to accelerate their decisions so that this channel can be used to its full effect."
Only a trickle of deals has gone through so far.
Neutral Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, often serving as an intermediary for prisoner exchanges between the two foes.
Biden and Swiss President Guy Parmelin also discussed ongoing negotiations to revive a big power agreement on Iran's nuclear programme that Washington ditched under former President Donald Trump, Cassis said.
"We talked about this nuclear agreement, about the intention of the United States to do everything it can to move things forward," he said.
"The situation is very difficult at the moment, you know that (presidential) elections will be held in Iran very soon and I think one should not have too high expectations.
"However it is clear that the intention of this American administration is to try to find a new path, which won't be easy, because there has been a long history of feuds," he added.
Iran Says It Produced 6.5 kg Of Uranium Enriched To 60%
Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country's nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material a step towards nuclear weapons-grade of 90%.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.
Iran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the uranium much closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear bomb, after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.
Tuesday's disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, after the assassination of its top nuclear scientist and the election of Joe Biden, who had pleadged to return to the nuclear agreement president Donald Trump had abandoned in 2018.
Trump’s withdrawal prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear program designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb - an ambition Tehran denies.
"Under parliament's law..., the Atomic Energy Organization was supposed to produce 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in a year. According to the latest report, we now have produced 108 kg of 20% uranium in the past five months," Rabiei was quoted as saying.
"In the area of 60% uranium production, in the short time that has elapsed..., about 6.5 kg has been produced," Rabiei added.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Candidate Says 'Positive Coexistence' May Pave Way To US Talks
Iranian pro-reform presidential candidate Abdolnaser Hemmati said on Tuesday Iran could hold talks with arch-foe the United States if Washington adhered to "positive coexistence" with Tehran.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state, has repeatedly ruled out negotiations with the United States. But Tehran is holding indirect talks with Washington and world powers on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, abandoned by Washington in 2018.
"We have to see how America acts on the nuclear deal..., then we have to see whether America wants to continue its meddling in the region through Israel and its elements," Hemmati, a former central bank chief, told a news conference ahead of the Friday election. Hemmati early in June had a brief surge in polls, but latest surveys show him below the 5 percent range among likely voters.
"There is a chain of issues in need of confidence-building... If we really feel that America moves towards a positive coexistence to advance world and regional peace, then there should be no problem to hold talks," Hemmati said.
Hemmati, who in presidential debates called for good relations with the world, has had limited success in gaining support from reformists amid calls to boycott the vote.
Opposition leader cleric Mehdi Karoubi, under house arrest since 2011, has said he would vote for Hemmati, Iranian news agencies on Tuesday quoted Karoubi's son as saying.
But Karoubi's ally Mirhossein Mousavi, also under house arrest since 2011, has joined the boycott called by dissidents both at home and abroad.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Official Warns: 'Bluntly Speaking There Is No Water'
A top official of Iran’s meteorological organization’s center for drought has said that “bluntly speaking there is no water” and “in many regions there are serious shortages.”
Ahad Vazifeh told ISNA news website on Tuesday that since September 2020 precipitation has been 130 millimeters or about four inches, adding that “This level compared with the long-term average in the country is 40 percent less.”
Different Iranian officials, including the energy ministry. Have warned of severe water shortages this year, with dams at far less than 50 percent capacity. Iran has been suffering from drought in the past ten years as temperatures rise.
Vazifeh said that in some regions in the south, east central and east there has been a 50-85 percent reduction in precipitation this year. He added that high temperatures have reduced snow caps and rivers are drying up. Temperatures have been 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer this spring compared with the long-term averages, the expert said, warning that the same trend will continue in the summer.
Vazifeh predicted that precipitation will start late in the fall this year, which would prolong the current drought, extending it well into 2022.
The drought has contributed to power shortages in the hot season as dams are not able to produce sufficient hydroelectric power and high temperatures lead to more use of cooling systems.
COVID Vaccines Smuggled From Iraq Are Sold For $2,600 In Iran
A newspaper in Iran has reported that a black market for Covid-19 vaccines is in full swing in Iran, with vaccines brought illegally from the Iraqi Kurdistan and sold for up to $2,600 a dose to wealthy Iranians.
Hamshahri newspaper reported Tuesday that several unnamed centers in Tehran inject Pfizer vaccines for $1,100-2,600, depending on who introduces the customer and at which center. This is an incredibly high amount for Iranian wage earners who make $100-300 a month, due to the depreciation of the Iranian currency since 2018.
The vaccine merchants work in secret and only people recommended by trusted middlemen can pay and be inoculated at these establishments, which are said to be equipped with special freezers able to handle the temperature requirement of the Pfizer vaccine.
Iran failed to place orders for Western vaccines last year, and early this year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the importation of American and British vaccines. As a result, Iran has administered just four million doses and vaccinated around two percent of its 84-million population, with Russian and Chinese variants.
In recent days, local officials in several provinces announced a halt to vaccinations as supplies dried up and one health ministry official accused Chinese companies of reneging on their promises to deliver additional doses.
According to Hamshahri, each vaccine dose is designated for a specific citizen in Kurdistan, which means medical corruption also in Iraq, allowing vaccines for Iraqi citizens to be smuggled to in Iran.
Senior Clerics In Iran Urge People To Vote Friday As Polls Show A Low Turnout
Senior Iranian Shiite clerics have issued calls for people to vote in Friday’s presidential election after several opinion surveys showed far less than 50 percent of the electorate inclined to cast ballots.
Ayatollha Makarem Shirazi issued a statement in the religious city of Qom Sunday saying that a low turnout can inflict “Serious irreparable damage” to the country and voting is a heavenly duty,” and a guarantee for “the esteem and independence” of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The ruling regime in Iran has always held turnout as a measure of its legitimacy, telling critics that if people vote in large numbers, it means they consider the Islamic Republic as the legitimate form of government for their country.
Economic hardship and violent crackdowns on protesters and dissidents in the last four years have apparently made many voters disillusioned. A poll conducted by Iran International in early May showed just 27 percent of voters ready to vote on June 18. Subsequent surveys have also confirmed a low turnout, at a maximum of 40 percent.
On June 4, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a televised speech urged the people to vote, saying to stay away “is the will of the enemies.” But his call hardly moved the needle in favor of mass-participation.
Also on Sunday, Ayatollah Noori Hamedani in a statement said, “Elections in their current form in the Islamic Republic is a blessing of the Islamic revolution.” He urged voters that casting a ballot is both required by Sharia and by rationality.
Iran Forced To End Electricity Exports And Resort To Imports
Iran is set to increase electricity imports from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkmenistan to offset shortages that have led to blackouts in major cities, the spokesman of the electricity industry said Sunday.
Mostafa Rajabi-Mashhadi said the only way to deal with increasing blackouts is to buy more electricity from neighboring countries and end exports. Iran supplies electricity to Iraq.
Rolling power cuts started in mid-May as the weather got warmer and the use of cooling systems increased. Temperatures in most of Iran were higher than 80 F in June and surpassing 100F in the south. Drought also has reduced hydroelectric power generation this year.
Estimates say that 19,000 megawatts of power is used daily for cooling systems in the summer months in Iran, while total consumption reaches as high as 55,000. The opposite also occurs in winter as electricity is used by many for heating.
Abnormally cheap electricity subsidized by the government also contributes to high usageand lack of incentive for savings. Expansion of power generation capacity has also failed to keep pace with increasing demand.
Gasoline Price Hike In 2019 Was A Collective Decision - Iran President
Iran’s presidential administration has issued a statement saying the decision to raise gasoline prices in November 2019 that led to widespread unrest, was a collective decision by the three branches of the government, and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
In the third presidential debate on Saturday the leading conservative candidate Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi) and a hardliner candidate Alireza Zakani blamed Rouhani for the decision to raise fuel prices. The controversy is not new as there have been mutual barbs before, but the outgoing presidential administration this time explicitly said others, including Khamenei share the blame.
The hike in fuel prices immediately led to street protests nationwide. Security forces responded with live fire, killing up to 1,500 people and detaining up to 10,000 others, in what amounted to be the most serious internal threat to the Islamic Republic after the 2009 large demonstrations.
The Rouhani administration statement called criticism by candidates “unjust and unfounded” emphasizing that the decision in 2019 was reviewed “multiple times” in meetings between the three branches of the government. Raeesi himself is the head of judiciary branch.
The statement went on to say that Khamenei and the national security council also approved the price hike.
Iran has the cheapest gasoline in the world but in November 2019 the price was tripled overnight, and people pressed by high inflation and a deteriorating economy poured into streets to protest. The unrest soon turned into a general outburst against the regime.
Iran Nuclear Talks Resume In Vienna As Tough Issues Remain
Talks between Iran and global powers restarted Saturday with the goal of trying to restore a landmark agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that the Trump administration abandoned in 2018. The Joint Commission meeting ended Saturday afternoon and talks on a series of tough issues indirectly involving negotiations with the United States began.
Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain planned to met at a hotel in the Austrian capital.
Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov said in a tweet that the talks would allow the participants to “exchange views on how to arrange further work in order to complete the negotiations successfully and expeditiously.”
The United States is not formally part of JCPAO Joint Commission meetings that launched in Vienna earlier this year. But the administration of President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to abiding by the limits on its nuclear activity contained in the 2015 agreement. A US delegation is in Vienna and holds indirect talks with Iran through the European representatives.
Diplomats say complicating factors include the sequence of the proposed measures, dealing with advances in Iran’s nuclear processing capability since the United States withdrew, and the presidential election in Iran next week.
With reporting by AP
Family Of Executed Iranian Wrestler Beaten Outside Jail
The family of Navid Afkari, a prisoner hanged in Iran last year and whose two brothers remain in prison, was attacked and beaten Saturday outside the Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, a third brother Saeed Afkari has reported on social media.
Navid Afkari, a wrestler who was arrested in 2018 during protests and charged with murdering Hassan Torkaman, a water company security guard stabbed dead during protests, was executed last September. His brothers Habib and Vahid, arrested with him, are still in jail with reports of torture and solitary confinement.
Saeed Afkari claimed on social media that as well as the assault, his sister Elham and two female relatives had been detained for an hour. Other activists added that a group of prisoners’ families and relatives of protesters killed by security forces, as well as human rights activists who had traveled to Shiraz to support the Afkari family, might also have been detained as their cell phones were out of reach.
Navid Afkari was convicted in a secret trial without due process of law and there were claims he was tortured before his execution. His execution led to outrage and condemnation from Iranians and international bodies and leaders, and there were calls to ban Iran from international sports.
United States president Donald Trump called on Iran not to execute the sportsman: a Trump tweet prompted Iranian state television to air a purported confession by Afkari as well as footage of Torkaman’s weeping family.