In a letter to the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives Friday, President Joe Biden extended the United States’ national emergency with respect to Iran which began in 1995 for one more year.
Biden warned that the actions and policies of the Government of Iran — including its proliferation and development of missiles and other asymmetric and conventional weapons capabilities, its network and campaign of regional aggression, its support for terrorist groups, and the malign activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its surrogates — continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
The declaration continues: For these reasons, the national emergency declared on March 15, 1995, must continue in effect beyond March 15, 2021. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to Iran declared in Executive Order 12957.
The executive order must be extended in a period of 90 days before its expiration (March 15 of each year) or it will be revoked automatically.
The order comes as the Biden administration is attempting diplomatic efforts to return to the nuclear deal with Iran.
The Spokesperson for the US State Department Ned Price told the reporters on Thursday that Washington believes the return of both sides to the nuclear deal must be done through direct diplomacy with Iran and deliberation with other members of the nuclear accord.
Iran Says Russia Will Deliver 60 Million Doses Of Sputnik V Vaccines
Iran has reached a deal with Russia to purchase 60 million doses of Sputnik V Covid vaccines, the government news website IRNA reported Thursday.
The reported quoted Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, as saying the contract has been “signed and finalized” and Iran will receive the vaccines by the end of the year. The purchase will cover the vaccination of 30 million people.
Far less than one percent of Iranians have been inoculated so far, with small consignments of Russian and Chinese vaccines. Other regional countries such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel are well ahead in mass-vaccination of their populations.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in early January, saying he does not trust Westerners. A fourth wave of infections has hit the country after New Year holidays and travels in March.
Despite the ban, COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world, delivered its first shipment to Iran on Monday from the Netherlands, containing 700,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses.
Iran reported 321 Covid deaths on Thursday, more than triple the death rate a month ago. The country was the first to be hit with the pandemic in February 2020 and so far, has experienced the worst impact in the region.
On Saturday, Iran began a 10-day lockdown as. authorities ordered most shops closed and offices restricted to one-third capacity in cities declared as “red zones" with the highest infection rates.
The capital Tehran and 250 other cities and towns across the country have been declared red zones.
Denmark Charges Iranian-Arab Opposition Men For Financing 'Terror' Acts
Denmark's public prosecutor said on Thursday it had charged three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group for financing and supporting terrorist activity in Iran in collaboration with Saudi Arabian intelligence services.
The three members of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) were arrested in February last year and have been in custody since.
"This is a very serious case where persons in Denmark have carried out illegal intelligence activities and financed and promoted terrorism from Denmark in other countries," public prosecutor Lise-Lotte Nilas said in a statement.
The trial will start on April 29 and will be held in the Roskilde district court. The defendants face prison sentences of up to 12 years.
In a related case, a Norwegian of Iranian heritage was sentenced to seven years in June last year for spying for an Iranian intelligence service and plotting to assassinate one of the ASMLA members. That verdict has been appealed.
Iran kidnapped an ASMLA leader last October from Turkey and secretly took him back to Iran where he is now detained. The General Intelligence and Security Service of Netherlands (AIVD) in response to the kidnapping of the Swedish Iranian man warned that Iranian-Dutch activists who travel outside Europe run the risk of being extradited to or kidnapped by Iran.
Reportin by Reuters
Saudi University Catches Fire In Houthi Missile, Drone Attack
A Saudi university near the country's border with Yemen caught fire early Thursday after the kingdom's air defenses intercepted a barrage of ballistic missiles and bomb-laden drones.
The interception scattered debris on Jizan University’s campus, which caused a fire that has been contained, the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen said in a statement. It said no one was killed, and there were no immediate reports of injuries.
Video on social media purportedly showed a Patriot missile flying low across Jizan to intercept a missile or drone, with it detonating over the city.
The barrage came just hours after Saudi Arabia warned Iran its recent decision to push its nuclear enrichment to its highest level ever risked raising tensions in the Mideast.
The Saudi statement blamed the Iran-backed Houthi group for the attack, saying the five ballistic missiles and four bomb-laden drones specifically targeted civilian areas and had been launched from the rebels' stronghold of Saada in Yemen.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie tweeted Thursday that his group had launched 11 missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting the kingdom’s Patriot defense system, oil sites and other “critical” areas in Jizan. Sarie did not mention the university.
Since the war began, the Houthis have launched over 550 bomb-laden drones and more than 350 ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia, the kingdom told The Associated Press in April.
Reporting by AP
Drone Attack On US Forces Stationed Near Erbil Airport In Iraq
The government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq announced that an unmanned aerial drone dropped explosives near the US forces stationed at Erbil international airport on Wednesday night. No casualties have been reported.
According to Erbil officials, at least one explosive hit near the area where US forces are stationed in Erbil airport.
Coalition spokesperson, Colonel Wayne Marotto told Kurdistan 24 that “This evening, an unmanned aerial surveillance system landed on a storage hangar at Erbil Air Base. There were no injuries reported. A fire has been extinguished and damages are still being assessed.”
Al Arabiya reported that the US consulate had also sounded its emergency alarms following the explosion. Witnesses said they saw a plume of smoke rising from the area. Another US-led military base in the Erbil International Airport vicinity was hit by several rockets in February, that killed a military contractor.
The interior ministry of the autonomous Kurdistan regional government, based in Erbil, said in a statement the drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the US forces. It said no one was hurt in the attack.
Shortly before Wednesday's attack in Erbil, at least two rockets landed on and near a base to the west of the city that hosts Turkish forces, Iraqi security officials said.
The Iran-backed militias in Iraq oppose both the presence of the US and Turkey in the country and demand a full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
Blinken Calls Iran 60% Uranium Enrichment 'Provocative'
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran's announcement of enriching uranium at 60 percent purity "provocative," saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna. Earlier, the White House spokesperson Jen Psaki had also used the same language to describe Iran's decision.
Tehran has said it will enrich uranium to 60% - a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade from the 20% maximum it has reached so far - in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility at Natanz.
"We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent," Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.
"I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran's seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA," Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington's reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as "constructive" talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.
Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.
Explosive Drone Targets US Forces Base In Iraq
ERBIL, Iraq, April 14 (Reuters) - A drone dropped explosives near U.S. forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday, Kurdish officials said, with no immediate reports of casualties.
A separate rocket attack killed a Turkish soldier at a military base nearby, the Turkish defence ministry said.
It was the first known attack carried out by an unmanned aerial drone against U.S. forces in Erbil, amid a steady stream of rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces and the embassy in Baghdad that Washington blames on Iran-backed militias.
The interior ministry of the autonomous Kurdistan regional government, based in Erbil, said in a statement the drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the U.S. forces. It said no one was hurt in the attack.
A group that Western and some Iraqi officials say is aligned with Iran praised the attack, but did not explicitly claim it.
A barrage of rockets hit the same U.S.-led military base in the Erbil International Airport vicinity in February, killing a non-American contractor working with the U.S. military.
The Iran-backed militias oppose both the presence of the United States and Turkey and demand a full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
The United States has sometimes responded with air strikes against Iran-aligned militias including on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
An air strike ordered by former president Donald Trump that killed Iran's top commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 sent the region to the brink of a full-scale conflict.
US Says Indirect Nuclear Talks With Iran To Resume On Thursday
The United States and Iran will reconvene indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal on Thursday in Vienna, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
There have been doubts about whether the indirect talks, which began last week, might resume this week following an explosion at Iran’s key nuclear site on Sunday, which Tehran blamed on Israel, as well as Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60%, bringing the fissile material closer to bomb-grade.
“We don’t have any additional speculation to add to the cause or the origin of the attacks over the weekend,” Psaki told reporters. “The diplomatic conversations, though they will be indirect, will reconvene tomorrow in Vienna. We know this will be a long process but we certainly see that as a positive sign.”
“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.
Last week, Iran and its fellow parties to the agreement held what they described as “constructive” talks to revive the deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018, saying its terms favored Tehran, and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley plans to be in Vienna for the talks on Thursday, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the indirect talks, chiefly European diplomats are shuttling between the deal’s remaining parties - Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - and the United States. Iran has rejected meeting with U.S. officials.
Top Iran Official Speaks Of 'Security Contamination' After Attack On Natanz
A top Iranian official for the first time has admitted that nuclear documents were stolen in the past from a location near Tehran and said that the country faces a “security contamination”, after a sabotage attack hit one of the country’s nuclear facilities.
A former Revolutionary Guard commander and currently the Secretary of Iran Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaei referring to an apparent explosion and fire in the uranium enrichment site in Natanz said on Wednesday, “Previously, our completely secret nuclear documents were stolen.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 unveiled what he said was a trove of secret nuclear files stolen by Mossad from Tehran. Iranian officials consistently denied Netanyahu’s claim, insisting that images of documents presented by the Israeli leader were “fake”. Rezaei’s statement is the first admission that the theft did occur.
Referring to these incidents Rezaei said, “It is obvious that we are facing security contamination”. Last November, the top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near Tehran, without a trace of conspirators.
Rezaei, speaking to Iran’s Mehr news agency said that in less than a year Iran has experienced there have three major security bridges. There was another devastating explosion in Natanz in July 2020.
He insisted that in the past ten years “security contamination” has increased and the next presidential administration should concern itself with an extensive “cleanup” operation. He added that other countries periodically clean up their security services but Iran has not done so “perhaps in 30 years”.