Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.
The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.
“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States. But authorities failed to close the civilian airspace.
Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.
In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 unnamed officials.
At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable ... they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”
Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.
Reporting by Reuters
White House Calls On Critical Companies To Improve Cyber Defenses
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The White House is signaling to U.S. critical infrastructure companies, such as energy providers that they must improve their cyber defenses because additional potential regulation is on the horizon.
U.S. President Joseph Biden signed a national security memorandum on Wednesday, launching a new public-private initiative that creates "performance controls" for cybersecurity at America's most critical companies, including water treatment and electrical power plants.
The recommendations are voluntary in nature, but the administration hopes it will cause companies to improve their cybersecurity ahead of other policy efforts, said a senior administration official.
The announcement comes after multiple high profile cyberattacks this year crippled American companies and government agencies, including a ransomware incident which disrupted gasoline supplies.
"These are the thresholds that we expect responsible owners and operators to go," said the official. "The absence of mandated cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructure is what in many ways has brought us to the level of vulnerability that we have today."
"We are pursuing all options we have in order to make the rapid progress we need," they added.
Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a "real shooting war" with a "major power" it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the United States, highlighting what Washington sees as a growing threat posed by hackers from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
"The federal government cannot do this alone," said the official. "Almost 90% of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. Securing it requires a whole of nation effort."
The official described the current state of cybersecurity rules for critical infrastructure companies as "patchwork" and "piecemeal."
"We've kicked the can down the road for a long time," said the official.
Prisoners, Activists In Iran Issue Statement To End Current 'Regime'
More than 100 political prisoners, activists, and relatives of people killed in protests or who have died in detention in Iran published a statement Wednesday supporting protestors in Khuzestan province.
The statement, signed by 114 families and individuals says: “The demand of the Iranian people is to transition from the Islamic Republic to reach a human life under constitutional law based on human rights and safeguarding national interests, as the political path of a Supreme Leader has not been successful in the past 43 years and it has destroyed all bridges of rationality.”
The principle of velayat-e faqih (‘guardianship of the jurist’), under which a clerical head of state exercises wide powers, is a cornerstone of the constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution, 43 years ago by the Iranian calendar in which years begin in March.
The signatories said Iranians had protested because they felt their human and patriotic dignity endangered. They warned “the self-appointed rulers of the Islamic Republic that the wrath of the people is stronger” than guns. The victims’ families and activists also appealed to security forces to consider “their conscience” and “defend the people against suppressors.”
Protests beginning July 15 in Khuzestan over water shortages soon became anti-government unrest across the province and then spread to some other regions of the country. Around ten people have been reported killed in Khuzestan − with five deaths confirmed by HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) − and hundreds arrested in several provinces.
The signatories also asked “freedom-loving political and civil activists” to inform the world about “crimes of the regime” and insisted that “this government is not the representative of the Iranian people and is a usurping regime.”
US Diplomats Push For Truce As Battles Spread In Yemen
Senior US diplomats are holding talks in the Middle East in a renewed push for a ceasefire in Yemen as fierce ground battles spread and the Iran-aligned Houthi group resumed cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia after a brief lull over Muslim holidays.
US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday following a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to Oman, amid stalled efforts for a breakthrough in ending more than six years of war.
The Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen's recognized government and the Houthis have been at odds over a United Nations-led proposal for a nationwide truce and the lifting of a coalition blockade to ease a dire humanitarian crisis.
Lenderking will discuss "growing consequences" of the Marib offensive that is triggering instability elsewhere and the "urgent need" for Riyadh and the Saudi-backed government to facilitate fuel imports to northern Yemen, the State Department said.
The Houthis have insisted sea and air restrictions on areas they control be removed before any ceasefire talks, while the coalition wants a simultaneous deal.
The Houthi movement holds most big urban centers after ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, which prompted the coalition to intervene months later in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
Reporting by Reuters
Rights Organization Says Iran Killed Or Abducted 540 People Abroad
An Iranian human rights organization has said that it has established the identity of 540 victims who have been killed or abducted abroad by Iran’s security forces in the past four decades.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), based in Washington DC, released a statement on July 27, highlighting the recent kidnapping plot against US-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad and said the episode “fits a decades-long pattern of intimidation, extrajudicial killings and abductions of dissidents meant to undermine political and religious groups, silence activists and journalists, and prevent the mobilization of effective opposition movements inside and outside the country.”
The Boroumand center said that although it has identified 540 people who were killed or abducted by Iranian intelligence mainly in the Middle East and Europe, this figure is by no means conclusive.
Most of the victims were targeted in Iran’s neighboring countries, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s, where 329 people were successfully targeted. Thirteen people were killed or abducted in France and six in Germany, but the operation even reached the Philippines, Poland and the United States.
The targets of Iran’s “terror plots reflect Iran’s population in its diversity, including believers and non-believers, Shias and Sunnis, communists, socialists, nationalists and royalists, ABC said.
The high number of victims could be unprecedented in the world in the past 50 years and could surpass operations by the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th century, when there were a few dozen suspected cases of attacks on dissidents abroad.
Official Says Cryptocurrency Mining Machines Enter Iran Legally
An official of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration has said that computers for mining cryptocurrencies enter the country with the knowledge of the government and with foreign currency provided by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).
The government has often blamed high power-usage by cryptocurrency miners for shortages of electricity that have plagued Iran this year, especially during peak winter and summer months.
Mehrdad Jamal Arvanagi, technical deputy of customs told local media that mining machines are imported through official channels and in the past one year the central bank has provided $11 million dollars to importers of these computers.
The imports are conducted “by the private sector” with permits from the ministry of industry and mining and there is no restriction for bringing them through customs.
On Tuesday, Iran’s electricity management company sent a letter to judicial officials warning that with recent restrictions by the Chinese government on cryptocurrency mining, a large number of machines might be transferred to Iran, where electricity is subsidized.
Already, there have been reports and complaints in Iranian media and social media about Chinese mining farms set up in Iran allegedly in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to generate revenue for operators and hard currency for the military-intelligence force listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
France Says If Iran Delays Nuclear Talks, JCPOA Revival Might Fail
France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.
"If it continues on this path, not only will it continue to delay when an agreement to lift sanctions can be reached, but it risks jeopardizing the very possibility of concluding the Vienna talks and restoring the JCPOA," or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.
Talks between Iran and world powers that originally signed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, JCPOA, began in early April in Vienna after the President Joe Biden expressed his opposition to his predecessor’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran. The talks aim at reviving the agreement which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
France, along with Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia and China still remain members of the JCPOA.
But so far, no agreement has been reached, with the United States saying earlier this month that a final decision is up to Iran. Iran has said that after its new president Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) takes office in August, it would be ready to resume the talks.
With reporting by Reuters
Ex-Iranian Diplomat Expects Biden Message To Khamenei Soon
Amir Mousavi, a former Revolutionary Guard senior officer and ex-diplomat, has said United States President Joe Biden will in the coming days send a message to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on bilateral relations.
Mousavi, who resigned from his last diplomatic post as cultural attaché of the Iranian embassy in Algeria in 2018 after being accused of proselytizing for Shi’ism or seeking to organize north African Shia, has become a pundit and political analyst. He is also said to have had ties with Iranian intelligence before starting work for the foreign ministry in 2014.
In an interview Sunday with the Tehran publication Etemad Online Mousavi said that Iran needed to improve relations with the US and that otherwise “nothing can be solved.” It was not clear if he was speaking in a personal capacity.
Mousavi argued that US President Joe Biden was pursuing the same diplomatic approach as former president Barack Obama (2008-16) and believed that a direct message to Khamenei could be helpful. Mousavi added that the Biden message would deal with wider relations with Iran and not simply Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the JCPOA.
Emphasizing that with bilateral relations on a “reasonable” footing and differences resolved, Mousavi said Washington apparently believed direct contact was the best way to resolve regional issues. With talks in Vienna over reviving the JCPOA in abeyance until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) takes office in August, there have been suggestions that Qatar has been acting as a diplomatic link.
Cement Prices Up Fivefold In Iran After Power Cuts
A member of Iran’s parliament, Nasser Mousavi-Largani, said Monday that the price of cement has risen fivefold in recent weeks due to power cuts after the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) decided to reduce electricity to factories to provide power to homes.
Iran’s major cities have faced powers shortages since June when people began using more air conditioning during warmer weather. Electricity production falls short of peak-season demand.
After repeated power cuts to residential areas, the SNSC decided to reduce electricity to steel, cement and some other large industrial units. Reza Jamaranian, head of the cement producers’ union, had said earlier that 70 percent of cement was bought by an oligopoly of “up by 15 people,” whom he referred to as “sultans of cement” well known to the government.
Jamaranian, who was speaking in a television program, demanded an investigation by government inspectors and the intelligence ministry, and criticized regulation of markets. He suggested that corruption invariably increased when the state intervened in pricing and supplies.
Inflation in Iran has reached 50 percent in the past three months as United States sanctions have reduced foreign currency revenues, driving up the cost of imports and encouraging an increase in printing and supply of rials.
Biden To Seal Deal With Iraq Ending Combat Role For US Forces
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday will seal an agreement formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were sent to the country.
Coupled with Biden's withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, the Democratic president is completing US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch.
Biden and Kadhimi are to meet in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already changed the focus of its 2,500-stong force to training Iraqi forces.
US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.
The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
Kadhimi is seen as friendly to the United States and has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned a U.S. air raid against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, the senior administration official said.
Reporting by Reuters
GCC Chief Says Iran's Regional Role Should Be Part Of Vienna Talks
Iran’s role in the region and the situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen represents a direct threat to the security and stability of other regional countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-general Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf said on Monday.
The GCC countries have voiced concern in the past about Iran’s support for armed groups in the region and its military involvement in Syria. Al-Hajraf made a point that Iran’s support for militias, its ballistic missile program must be part of current negotiation taking place between Tehran and Western countries in Vienna.
Although the talks that began in April are officially about reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, there have been reports that the United States and the three European powers in the talks want an Iranian commitment to discuss other issues once a nuclear deal is reached.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have said that the Vienna talks should include a broader agenda to include Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional policies..
Many observers are concerned that once a nuclear deal is made and the United States lifts sanctions, Iran will have little incentive to discuss its regional role and will use the financial rewards offered to further expand it destabilizing activities.