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
IRGC Navy Holds Parade With Hundreds Of Fishing Boats
In an unorthodox military move, Iran’s Navy conducted a naval parade in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday using hundreds of local fishing boats and its military speed boats.
The parade was on the 41st anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war that the Islamic Republic calls “Holy defense”. Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard presided over the naval parade that took place in the Bandar Abbas region.
The local fishing boats are dubbed by the Iranian military as “naval Baseej” or paramilitary, as regular Baseej (Basij) under IRGC’s command is known throughout Iran. One naval commander told local media that 650 civilian boats took part in the show.
It is not clear what kind of a military role the “naval Baseej” can play. It is made up of slow-moving fishing boats with civilian crews, lacking proper military training or heavy weapons.
Lacking a strong navy capable of facing US naval power, Iran has been relying on speed boats that have often come close to US vessels to show their defiance. Iran has also been developing various missiles and drones to beef up its naval power.
Iran Says Ready To Buy Pfizer Vaccines 9 Months After Khamenei's Ban
Iran has decided to import two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine made in Belgium nine months after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British Covid-19 vaccines.
An official of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration told Tasnim news agency on Tuesday that the government intends to buy the Pfizer vaccines if it can transfer the money, given US banking sanctions on Iran.
Khamenei banned the importation of American and British vaccines in January saying that he does not trust the United States and the United Kingdom. He brought up a conspiracy theory that the West can manipulate the vaccines to destroy “the Iranian gene”.
After a fourth and a fifth wave of the pandemic killed tens of thousands of people, the Islamic Republic in August changed course, saying that Khamenei had only banned vaccines made in US and UK, and if manufactured in other countries, it can be imported.
Iran’s claims that it can produce its own domestic vaccines also proved to be unrealistic, despite huge investments by the government.
Until the end of April, the United States never exported vaccines made in the US, supplying international markets from production plants overseas, but Iran still refused to place orders. As a result, its vaccination program seriously lagged behind until this month when China began shipping large quantities of its vaccines.
Iran Releases Dissident Rapper On Bail After Social Media Outcry
Prosecutors in Iran on Tuesday freed a dissident rap singer from jail on bail after whose arrest led to a social media storm and controversy among Iranian activists and journalists abroad.
Toomaj Salehi an underground rapper living near Esfahan was arrested reportedly by Iran’s intelligence ministry on September 13. After a few days the family and his lawyer found out that he was in Esfahan’s central prison and charged with propaganda against the regime.
Toomaj had recently released a song, “Buy a Rat Hole”, on social media that harshly criticized the Islamic Republic for its violations of human rights and also those that he said were aiding the regime in covering up its crimes. The song’s title and lyrics implied that people applying or supporting injustice one day must answer for their crimes.
Some journalists abroad accused the rapper of threatening those who cover up the government's injustices, while others said such an accusation could endanger the artist's life.
Thousands of Iranians on social media condemned his arrest and Amnesty International demanded his immediate release in a statement on September 17.
In a video Toomaj released immediately after he was freed, he thanked all those who supported him, and he expressed astonishment that his arrest had led to a large public outcry.
Iran Wants Nuclear Talks That Lead To Lifting Of US Sanctions -Raisi
Iran wants a resumption of nuclear talks with world powers to lead to the removal of US sanctions, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) told the annual UN General Assembly on Tuesday in a pre-recorded address.
"The Islamic Republic considers the useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive (US) sanctions," Raisi said in his address.
Hardline cleric Raisi, who is under personal US sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses in his past as a judge, said the US sanctions, imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018, "were crimes against humanity during the coronavirus pandemic."
The official government news website IRNA quoted Raisi as saying, the January events at the US Capitol and images of Afghans falling from American planes in Kabul sent a message to the people of the world that “America’s domination both at home and abroad is not credible.”
Harsh sanctions reimposed by Trump since 2018 have prompted Tehran to violate the deal's limits. However, Tehran says its nuclear steps are reversible if Washington lifts all sanctions.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear pact stopped two days after Raisi was elected as Iran's president in June. Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to announce when the next round of negotiations will resume. However, Tehran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers in Vienna to reinstate the nuclear pact would resume in a few weeks.
Biden Says US Will Prevent Iran From Getting Nukes, But Ready To talk
The United States will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, President Joe Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday in New York, at the same time reiterating his intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal.
The President who pledged to rely on diplomacy in international affairs, said, “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. We are working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek a return to the JCPOA. We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same.”
Biden during last year’s presidential campaign repudiated president Donald Trump’s decision to leave the 2015 nuclear agreement and pledged to return to it if Iran stopped its retaliatory activities since 2019 violating the deal.
His administration entered indirect talks with Iran in April to reach an agreement on how the two sides could restore the JCPOA, but the talks so far have failed to make a breakthrough.
Diplomats were expecting a meeting of JCPOA members this week in New York, but since Monday both the European Union and Iran have said only bilateral talks would take place. Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is scheduled to meet his French and British counterparts.
India Seizes $2.72 Billion Of Afghan Heroin Shipped From Iran
Indian officials said on Tuesday they had seized nearly three tonnes of heroin originating from Afghanistan worth an estimated 200 billion rupees ($2.72 billion) amid the chaos following last month's takeover of the country by the Taliban.
Afghanistan is the world's biggest illicit opiate supplier, but since taking power, the Islamist Taliban have said they plan to ban the drug trade, without giving details on how.
The containers had been declared as containing semi-processed talc stones from Afghanistan and had been shipped from Bandar Abbas Port in Iran to Gujarat Mundra port, the Gujarat official said, adding that forensic tests confirmed the presence of heroin.
Two people had been arrested in connection with the haul and investigations were ongoing, an official in Gujarat said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), India's top anti-smuggling agency, seized two containers at western Gujarat's Mundra Port on Sept. 15 after receiving intelligence they contained narcotics, the official said.
"Investigation conducted so far has also revealed the involvement of Afghan nationals, who are under investigation."
The narcotics were headed to Delhi and the two arrested people had sought an import-export licence based on a house address in Vijayawada, police in Vijayawada said in a statement on Monday.
More than 2,988 kg of heroin was recovered in one of India's biggest such hauls to date.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Says Nuclear Talks Will Resume 'In A Few Weeks'
Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
"Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.
Khatibzadeh added that the Iran’s foreign policy team must complete its final overview about the nature of the talks, before returning to negotiations.
The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran's new government, but one month after the cabinet was formed Tehran has not issued an exact date about its return to the negotiations.
Asked if the nuclear issue will be discussed in a multilateral framework in New York, the spokesman reiterated that Iran would hold bilateral talks with the parties to the 2015 nuclear agreement, JCPOA. Earlier, EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had said no collective talks would take place.
Iran's Top Commander Demands Closure Of US Base In Northern Iraq
The chief commander of Iran’s armed forces on Sunday has warned that the American base in northern Iraq must close, accusing the United States of assisting armed opposition groups operating from the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
This is the most direct accusation by an Iranian official that US forces stationed in Iraq support armed insurgents against Tehran. Iranian media in the past has hinted that US intelligence is supporting the groups.
The US has a base near Erbil’s airport that has in recent months become a target of rocket and drone attacks by pro-Iran Shiite militias in Iraq.
General Mohammad Bagheri said Tehran will continue military operations against Kurdish insurgents and warned that “officials of [Iraqi Kurdistan] region and the Iraqi government should take action against these groups.”
Bagheri said officials of the Kurdish autonomous region should not allow armed “anti-revolutionaries”, who are “agents of America and the Zionist regime in northern Iraq to have military bases, radio and TV stations and attack our borders.”
Iran has long campaigned for the expulsion of US forces in Iraq that have been assisting the government in its fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group. President Joe Biden has reduced the size of the force and changed its mission to training Iraqi forces.
Iran has been launching artillery and drone attacks at Iranian Kurdish insurgents based on the Iraqi side of the border in the past ten days.
Teachers, Gas And Petrochemical Workers Protest In Iran
School teachers across Iran held protests on Saturday demanding an improvement in their work conditions, as workers in natural gas and petrochemical sectors protested for their wages in southern Iran.
Teachers held rallies in Esfahan, Fars, Alborz, Ilam, Khuzestan and several other provinces, chanting slogans about government inaction to address their demands. They have been holding periodic protests in the past several months.
One of their demands is for parliament to pass a law setting a ranking system for teachers, which would affect salaries. Education, expertise and other qualifications should be considered in the job ranking scheme.
Teachers earn meager salaries, and many are unable to afford a basic living amid a 50-percent inflation rate in the country. Recently, some teachers have committed suicide highlighting the hardship they feel.
Also on Saturday, contract workers in Iran’s natural gas industry in the southern gas fields of Asalouyeh held protests to demand the implementation of promises made by their employers. They returned to work form a long strike, based on employer promises to pay better salaries and improve work conditions.
There was also a separate protest by workers in the petrochemical industry in Mahshahr, in southern Iran.
Foreign Social Media Apps Remain Highly Popular In Iran Despite Blocking
People in Iran send 15 billion messages every day through Telegram, the most popular social media app in the country and 45 million people are registered as members, the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) said on Saturday.
Telegram, like Facebook and You Tube, is blocked by the authorities and people have to use VPNs and other circumvention tools to get access to the app. Almost every Iranian uses a circumvention method to gain unrestricted access to the Internet, although the connection speed is usually slow.
Since the use of the internet became popular in the 2000s in Iran, the government began blocking thousands of websites both for political and religious reasons. There is a huge bureaucracy to control access and create barriers to access.
SCI also said 55 million people or 65 percent of Iran’s 85 million people use social media apps.
Among social media apps, Whatsapp and Instagram are also very popular with 88.5 and 68 percent of users respectively having accounts on these two platforms.
The government has spent tens of millions of dollars to create domestic messaging apps to help reduce the use of foreign platforms it cannot control, but people weary of government eavesdropping have refused to migrate to its apps.
Amnesty Demands Immediate Release Of Dissident Iranian Rapper
Amnesty International on Friday demanded the immediate release of Iranian dissident, underground rap singer Toomaj Salehi who was arrested by security agents earlier this week after a harshly critical song was released on social media.
“Iran’s authorities must immediately and unconditionally release #TomajSalehi, a dissident rap artist detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty tweeted.
In his latest song, ‘Rat Hole’ or ‘Mouse Hole’, Salehi harshly criticized the regime and those who directly or indirectly support its repression. "You are a murderer if you cover up murder. To cover up murder you must walk on blood. The system is not complete without your apologies [for it]," the lyrics of the song say.
There is no news about the rapper’s whereabouts or the charges he faces.
His arrest led to a heated debate among Iranian activists and social media users, when some individuals such as the New York Times' Iranian journalist Farnaz Fassihi tweeted that his song is a threat against some people. Many activists saw her tweet as condoning the arrest.
Fassihi came under fire by other Twitterati who have repeatedly assailed her as a "regime apologist". Toomaj’s defenders insist that an artist cannot be arrested for what he depicts in his art and he has not threatened any particular individual.
Prime Minister Says Iran's Fuel Shipments Violate Lebanon's Sovereignty
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon's sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
"The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: "But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed" on Lebanon "because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government." Earlier, the governemt had said it received no request for permission to import the fuel.
Israeli media reported in the past two days that Lebanon's southern neighbor and arch-enemy of both Iran and Hezbollah is not inclined to stop shipments to Syria.
The Tehran-backed group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under U.S. sanctions.
Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area.
Hermel is at the northern end of the Bekaa Valley, an area populated mainly by Shi’ite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.
Reporting by Reuters