After US House Democrats asked President Joe Biden to clarify his order for the airstrike on Iran-backed militia in Syria without permission from Congress, Biden said his orders were consistent with the US right to self-defense.
"I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks," Biden wrote in his letter to Congress.
The airstrikes, early on Friday Middle Eastern time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel, and goods.
Those strikes came in response to a February 15 attack in which rockets hit Erbil International Airport, which hosts a coalition military base. The attack killed a civilian contractor with the US-led military coalition and injured several others, including an American service member.
“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States' inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter," Biden added. “I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”
On Sunday, the official organ of the office of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kayhan newspaper boasted about the recent attack on the Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman being in response to the American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed militia forces in Syria.
Ahmadinejad Wants Iran Security Chiefs Charged Over Natanz Attack
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?”
Iran Always Welcomes Dialogue With Riyadh, Foreign Ministry Says
DUBAI, April 19 (Reuters) - Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that Tehran always welcomed dialogue with Saudi Arabia, but he did not confirm nor deny direct talks this month between the arch-rivals.
The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2016 and have been engaged in several proxy wars in the region as they vie for influence.
A senior Iranian official and two regional sources had told Reuters that Saudi and Iranian officials held discussions in Iraq in a bid to ease tensions as Washington works to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran and end the Yemen war.
The Financial Times first reported the meeting.
"We have seen media reports about talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, although the reports sometimes had contradictory quotes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference.
"What is important is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has always welcomed dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and considers it in the interest of the people of the two countries, as well as peace and stability in the region," he added.
Saudi authorities have not responded to a Reuters request for comment on the talks.
One of the sources said the meeting, arranged by Iraq's prime minister who visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month, had focused on Yemen, where a military coalition led by Riyadh has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
Sunni power Saudi Arabia had opposed the inernational nuclear accord with Shi'ite Iran for not tackling Tehran's missiles programme and regional behaviour.
It has called for a stronger deal this time around at talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the pact, which then U.S. President Donald Trump quit in 2018. Tehran breached several nuclear restrictions after Trump reimposed sanctions.
Rockets Hit Iraqi Airbase Where US Trainers Are Stationed
BAGHDAD (AP) — Multiple rockets hit an Iraqi airbase just north of the capital Baghdad Sunday, wounding two Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi military commander said.
In comments to Iraq's official news agency, Maj. Gen. Diaa Mohsen, commander of the Balad airbase, said at least two rockets exploded inside the base, which houses U.S. trainers. The attack comes days after an explosives-laden drone targeted U.S.-led coalition forces near a northern Iraq airport, causing a large fire and damage to a building.
Mohsen said the attack resulted in the injury of two security forces, one of them in serious condition and the other only slightly. There was no material damage inside the base from the attack, he added.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks that have targeted mostly American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. There was no immediate responsibility claim, but U.S. officials have previously blamed Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions for such attacks.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country. In late 2020, U.S. troop levels in Iraq were reduced to 2,500 after withdrawals based on orders from the Trump administration.
Calls grew for further U.S. troop withdrawals after a U.S.-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing U.S.-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Protesting Retirees In Iran Say They Will Not Vote in June
Retirees in several Iranian cities on Sunday protested against what they said is corruption and broken promises to adjust their pensions to be in par with the country’s high rate of inflation.
Images published on social media show large gatherings outside government buildings in Tehran, Isfahan, Karaj, and Ahvaz, in what has become weekly protests. They chanted slogans against inflation and rising prices. Wages and pensions have increased only marginally after three years of close to 40 percent annual inflation.
While labor representatives say the minimum subsistence monthly income is $400, workers and retirees receive much less than $200 a month. The government with a big budget deficit has refused to respond to demands of higher pay.
Protesters also chanted slogans against the upcoming presidential elections in June, saying they will not vote. Observers have been saying in the media that a majority of Iranians will likely not vote, having become disillusioned after repeated promises of change and reforms for years.
Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Reactor 'Safe' After a Strong Quake
Iranian officials said Sunday that a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Iran's southern province of Bushehr, has not “caused any damages” to the country’s only nuclear power plant in the area.
The information office of the Bushehr nuclear power plant said, “All facilities, equipment and buildings are in completely good shape and there have no disruptions to operation.”
The city of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf was shaken around noon, local time from a tremor centered around Gonaveh shook the region. Electricity and landline telephone and internet in the regional city of Gonaveh had been cut off "and people are taking to the streets for fear of earthquakes," semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.
Later reports indicate Iran's oil and gas facilities in the south of the country have sustained some damage. There are no details available.
The tremor was strongly felt in south and south-western Iran in four neighboring provinces, including Fars province further north, where emergency crews were put in readiness.
Regional countries in the past have expressed concern over the Bushehr nuclear reactor and a possible accident leading to a disaster in the Persian Gulf. Iran has always dismissed these concerns as unscientific, insisting that the complex can withstand very strong quakes.
Devastating arthquakes are frequent in Iran that is situated on top of multiple geological fault lines.
IAEA confirms Iran Enriching Uranium To 60% Purity
VIENNA, April 17 (Reuters) - Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.
Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.
Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.
"The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.
"According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course," the report said.
Nursing Chief: 120 Nurses Leave Iran Every Month
Around 120 nurses emigrate from the country every month, Hamid Reza Azizi, head of the semi-independent Nursing Council of Iran, said on Saturday [April 17]. Azizi told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) that the trend began with the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in February 2020, but he said that the rising cost of living was the driving force.
Azizi, however, rejected a figure of 500 emigrants given earlier by another Nursing Council official. Nurses in Iran have protested low wages, lack of medical and hygiene supplies, over-crowded hospitals, and delay in extra pay since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Azizi highlighted what he called a “highly defective pay system.” He also suggested that “discrimination, injustice and improper behavior…in the public health sector” had undermined the motivation and commitment of staff to serve the country. He also expressed concern at a lack of financial assistance to the families of 110 nurses who had died from Covid.
Iran on Saturday reported 21,000 new cases and 319 deaths in 24 hours, bringing cumulative totals to 2.22 million and 66,317. Only 0.12 precent of population have been vaccinated.
US Told Israel To Stop 'Chatter' On Natanz Incident: Israeli Media
Israel media reported late Friday that the United States has told Israel through various channels to stop its “chatter” about its alleged involvement in the explosion that damaged Tehran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported Friday evening that the Biden Administration reportedly told Israel it is dangerous, detrimental and embarrassing to Washington as it is engaged in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna.
Hours after the April 11 incident in Natanz, Israeli media began quoting unnamed sources saying that Israel was behind the act of sabotage and later Iran started blaming Jerusalem for the explosion. Channel 12 also quoted unnamed security officials expressing concern that Israel had tied itself to the incident, although the government has remained silent.
Although the United States and its European allies participating in the Vienna talks have refrained from condemning the Natanz incident directly or blaming Israel, some diplomats have voiced unease about such events impacting the talks.
The Israeli security cabinet is scheduled to meet Sunday to discuss developments and whether to carry out more attacks against Iran’s nuclear targets or to stay calm, Channel 13 reported. The report said Defense Minister Benny Gantz prefers an “active approach” on Iran but is concerned about the chatter harming Israel’s security. Iran has vowed revenge, and the more Israeli sources advertise hostile actions, the more Tehran will be under pressure to retaliate.
Earlier in the week, Gantz demanded a high-level investigation into what he said were leaks to the media regarding attacks on Iran.
Israel generally maintains a policy of ambiguity on foreign operations, specially on operations against Iran.
Iran Rejects Ukraine's Claim About Intentional Downing Of Flight 752
After the comments made by the Ukrainian national security official about the downing of flight 752 by Iran being intentional, the spokesperson for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council rejected the claim and called it a “requested comment”.
Kayvan Khosravi told the reporters that these comments before the trial of those accused of involvement in shooting down the Ukrainian plane “requested” and “aimed that misguiding the public opinion and creating a fake controversy based on forged and fake documents.”
Oleksey Danilov, Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, who has been involved in the investigation of the disaster and had traveled to Iran and met high-ranking Iranian officials, said in an interview on Thursday that he believed Iran shot down the plane intentionally to prevent a cycle of military escalation with the United States.
Khosravi said the only request that Danilov made was for Iran to send the black box of the plane to Ukraine, saying this issue is very important to his country.
He once again repeated the Islamic Republic’s official narrative that the downing of the plane was due to human error and unintentional.
Danilov had told the reporters: “When they say this was accidental…I don’t buy that. It was intentional. This was a conscious attack.” The Ukrainian government has backed his assertions.
Danilov, who met his counterpart, Ali Shamkhani in Tehran last February, said his host did not completely deny his theory and only said that his political faction was not involved but there are "different influential groups" in Iran.