Earthquake Of 5.6 Magnitude Shook Southwestern Iran | Iran International

Earthquake Of 5.6 Magnitude Shook Southwestern Iran

An earthquake of 5.6 magnitude struck southwest of Iran on Wednesday, Iran's state TV said, without reporting casualties or damage from the quake.

Iranian state media said the earthquake struck near the town of Sisakht in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad province.

"People in Sisakht and town of Yasuj left their homes in panic. Water, gas and electricity have been cut off in Sisakht," a local official in the province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad told state-TV. "Rescue teams have been dispatched to the area."

According to the official, seven assessment teams have been deployed to the area, four teams to Sisakht and three to other areas in Boyer Ahmad province.

Iran is crisscrossed by major geological fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.

The earthquake was also felt in Yasuj, Gachsaran, and Dehdasht. According to Islamic Republic News Agency, the earthquake occurred in the depth of 10 km at 10:05 on Wednesday night. No casualties have been reported yet, but 130 have been reported injured. 

Iran has had a terrible history of massive earthquakes in recent decades, with some killing up to tens of thousands of people and causing billions in damages. There have been many reports of government officials selling international aid instead of delivering them to earthquake-stricken people.

January Drone Attack On Saudi Royal Palace Launched From Iraq

A senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and an unnamed American official say that a January drone attack on a Saudi royal palace was launched from inside Iraq.

Speaking to the Associated press this were, the militia official who was speaking on condition of anonymity said three drones were launched form the Saudi border area that crashed into the royal palace in Riyadh on January 23 causing significant damage.

The attack was earlier claimed by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a Baghdad shopping district on Jan. 21.

The militia official said the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq and were launched from Iraq.”

A US official told AP that Washington believes the January 23 attack on the Yamama Palace was launched from inside Iraq. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate or say how the U.S. came to this conclusion.

Iran-backed militias in Iraq increasingly launch attacks claimed under different names, appearing to have splintered. Some Washington-based analysts argue the militias have become splintered only to allow them to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.

President Joe Biden’s administration, which is keen to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has voiced concern about Iran’s “destabilizing” regional activities, but has also indicated it does not share Riyadh’s policies in the war in Yemen and has lifted terrorism designation for the Houthis fighting the Saudi coalition.

Reporting by AP

Motahari, Outspoken Iran Politician, Announces Presidential Candidacy

Ali Motahari, an outspoken socially conservative politician, has announced his candidacy for Iran’s presidential election in June, although his bid to run again for parliament last year was rejected by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates.

Motahari, son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a revolutionary leader assassinated in May 1979, has in recent years attacked some policies restricting political freedoms, while he was deputy parliamentary speaker. He has often attacked security agencies as well as decisions by aging clerics close to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominating key state bodies.

Motahari’s tilt towards such positions cost him his chance of running again for parliament last year when hundreds of reformist politicians and candidates were banned from running in February’s elections. Turn-out was declared to have been relatively low at 43 percent, with principlists winning a majority of seats.

Many pundits and media outlets in Iran expect hardliners to win the presidency in the upcoming elections with key reformists barred from running. This could reduce voter participation − 73 percent in the 2017 presidential election − which is seen by Iran’s leadership as a barometer of the health of the political system.

Iran’s former defense minister Hossein Dehghan, a long-time officer of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is one of a handful of people who have so far declared their candidacy. There has been discussion and controversy over candidates with strong military backgrounds and connections.

Other strong potential candidates are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the parliament speaker and former top IRGC officer, and Ebrahim Raeesi, the chief justice.

Ali Motahari, an outspoken Iranian politician. FILE

Forty Republicans Present Resolution Against Lifting Iran's Sanctions

Over 40 Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives led by Senator Tom Cotton issued a resolution expressing their strong opposition to lifting any sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

According to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News, the resolution “rejects and opposes the reapplication of sanctions relief for Iran” and expresses disapproval of any move to reverse a ban that keeps Iran from accessing the US financial system.

“The US must maintain sanctions on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear ambitions and ends its support for violence and terror around the region,” the resolution’s House and Senate sponsors said in a statement. “Iran took advantage of weak policies during the Obama administration, and President Biden must not repeat those same mistakes.”

President Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since then his European allies have changed their tunes on the deal. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord is not enough anymore, and a new deal must be made where other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.

The State Department also announced today that the US is deliberating with Seoul about releasing the Islamic Republic’s $7 billion funds frozen by South Korean banks.

Families Of Flight 752: UN Report Raises Possibility Of Intentional Downing Of Plane

The Association of the Families of Flight PS752 released a statement welcoming yesterday’s report by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and said the report adds credit to the theory that the plane was shot down intentionally.

The families say the report is a result of their cooperation with Callamard and wrote: “Once again, a credible international organization adds validity to the theory that the missile attack on the plane was intentional.”

They went on to say that it is now Canada’s turn to change its “current passive strategy” toward Iran. More than a third of passengers who died in the crash were Canadian citizens or residents.

“It is significant that the UN has categorized this incident under arbitrary massacres, which contradicts the Islamic Republic’s excuse of human error,” the statement continues.

The families also demanded the international courts try the Islamic Republic officials responsible for the incident.

In her report on Tuesday, Callamard strongly rejected the Islamic Republic’s explanation for shooting down Ukrainian Flight 752, killing 176 people on board said their explanations about the case intended “to create maximum confusion and minimum clarity” and seems “contrived to mislead and bewilder.”

Callamard also indicated that the Iranian authorities seem to have tried to cover up the evidence afterward, pointing out that instead of opening a proper investigation, the authorities allowed the crash site “to be looted and then bulldozed."

In response to yesterday’s report, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister said Ukrain has repeatedly emphasized that the downing of the airliner over Tehran was in violation of international laws to which the UN special rapporteur has drawn attention.

Ukraine also emphasized the importance of an independent and unbiased investigation and putting the culprits on trial.

Iran Detained French Tourist Nine Months Ago, Says His Lawyer

Iran has detained a French tourist for nine months and his lawyers have been denied access to him, one of the lawyers, Saeid Dehghan, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The arrest, if confirmed, would come at a sensitive time, when the United States and European parties to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal are trying to restore the pact that was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.

"His name is Benjamin and he is being held at the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashahd. He was detained nine months ago and he faces contradictory and baseless charges," Dehghan said.

Iran's judiciary was not available to comment, Reuters says. There was also no immediate official reaction from French authorities to the news.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges, including Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran sentenced to six years in prison in May 2020 for security-related charges. 

United Nations' experts and human rights organizations say Iran detains foreigners as bargaining chips with Western countries, especially to gain the release of its agents or collaboraters in Western jails.

Adelkhah was released on furlough last October. Dehghan said she had been under house arrest since then.

Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has rejected France's calls to release Adelkhah.

French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on Friday that a person with dual French and Iranian citizenship and a German national had been arrested in Iran more than two weeks ago.

Reporting by Reuters

Iran Says $1 Billion Frozen In Korea To Be Released As First Tranche

Abdolnaser Hemati, Governor of Iran’s Central Bank, on Wednesday [February 24] said South Korean banks would transfer to Iran a first tranche of $1 billion “in cash” of $7 billion frozen Iranian funds.

The release of the money follows consultations with the United States, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Tuesday quoting foreign ministry officials. This followed Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei telling reporters Korea had begun releasing some of the $7 billion frozen by its banks in fear of US sanctions.

While Hemati’s reference to cash apparently ruled out payment in kind, he referred obliquely to suggestions that released funds might be for humanitarian or other designated use. “In our meeting with the South Korean ambassador we underlined how Iran wants to use its assets,” the governor said on the sidelines of a weekly cabinet meeting. “Now it remains for the Koreans to consult with whoever they wish.”

In a press briefing Tuesday quoted by Yonhap, Korean foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said that in a recent meeting between the Korean ambassador and Hemati the two sides had “inched closer on their opinions” as Iran “expressed consent to the proposals we have made.”

Iran had earlier demanded some of the frozen money go to pay its arrears at the United Nations. Iran lost voting rights in the UN General Assembly on January 13 and must pay at least $16.25 million to regain them.

Iran and Korea have been in talks for a year over Iranian assets, mainly from oil sales, frozen by banks wary of punitive secondary American sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Fifteen Republican Lawmakers Urge Biden Not To Lift Iran Sanctions

Fifteen United States Republican Congresspersons have written to President Joe Biden on February 22 imploring him not to lift any sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran, which they say poses serious security threats to the country.

The letter initiated by Rep. John Katko, NY, and signed by 14 members of the GOP Homeland Security Committee members draws the president’s attention to “Iran’s malign activities, including its nuclear program,” missiles, as well as to its “support for terrorism, hostage taking, cyberattacks, and gross human rights violations.”

The lawmakers further add that “Regime demands for sanctions relief as a prerequisite for the Administration’s proposed bilateral negotiations are not made in good faith.” They urge Biden to keep up the pressure on Tehran and say the US “cannot afford to be perceived a weak or wavering on these important national security threats, Appeasement will not effectuate change.”

While Biden’s administration has engaged with busy diplomacy to coordinate its moves with European allies and find a path to engage Iran in talks, Tehran insists the US must lift all sanctions before it is even allowed back to the nuclear agreement that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. However, many sanctions are terrorism related and it would be politically hard for the administration to lift them.

This is at least the fourth such appeal by Republican Representatives and Senators since President Biden’s inauguration in January.

The Republican lawmakers argue that sanctions “are an important point of leverage” if the US intends to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and urge Biden “to reconsider lifting these sanctions.”

IAEA: Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile 14 Times The Nuclear Deal Limit

The UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) announced in its most recent report that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity has reached 17.6 kg and its full stockpile of enriched uranium has passed 2,967 kg which is 14 times the limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA report also states that the explanations offered by the Islamic Republic regarding the traces of uranium in a previously undecalred nuclear facility are not technically credible.

The report states that Iran has also installed two chains of IR-6 centrifuges in Fardo facility in violation of the JCPOA.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent purity, and a maintain a maximum stockpile of 202.8 kg of enriched uranium. Iran’s current stockpile is 14 times that amount.

Iran began reducing compliance with its commitments to the nuclear deal in 2019 by initially enriching uranium to 5 percent and later 20 percent. The leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei said on Monday that Iran might decide to enrich uranium up to 60 percent. 

Iran insists that the United States illegally imposed sanctions when it withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions, or JCPOA, in 2018 and in response it is reducing its own commitments ander the aagreement.