Iran, IAEA Start Talks On Unexplained Uranium Traces | Iran International

Iran, IAEA Start Talks On Unexplained Uranium Traces

The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces it found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal.

An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticising Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors last month.

That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

"The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues," the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.

In the past two years, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.

The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.

"Today's meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital," the IAEA said, using the deal's full name. 

Reporting by Reuters

Iran Guards Say They Killed Two ‘Terrorists’ In South East

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) announced on Friday they had killed two “terrorists” allegedly involved in the May 7 killing of two Basij militia near Nikshahr, a city in the south-east province of Sistan-Baluchestan. The announcement said weapons, ammunition and communications equipment had been seized, but did not name any militant group.

The IRGC announced on May 12 that its forces were involved in clashes with seven armed “terrorists” and “anti-revolutionaries.”

According to Fars News quoting the commander of Basij forces in Nikshahr County Ali Akbar Safavi, the two Basij, named as Khodabakhsh Gharib and Moslem Darzadeh, were killed on May 7 on the outskirts of Hichan village in “an exchange of gunfire with terrorists.”

Sunni insurgents from the Baluchi ethnic group espousing a mix of Baluchi nationalism and Sunni extremism have been active for decades, with attacks ranging from bombings to al-Qaeda-style beheadings. In 2010, Iran captured and executed Abdolmalek Rigi, leader of Jundallah, a faction that spawned several successors.

Baluchi widely allege discrimination both in terms of their ethnicity and their Sunnism, making the area fertile for extremism. Sistan-Baluchestan, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, is also relatively poor and exploited by smugglers, as armed gangs deal narcotics and poorer folk try to make ends meet.

Last month, border-guard command in the province announced that two soldiers had been killed by assailants. In February, protests erupted when security forces shot dead ten people carrying fuel across the border to sell in Pakistan, where prices are higher. Days of unrest followed, with protesters attacking police stations and additional troops dispatched to the region.

Palestinian Drones May Be Developed From Old Iranian Model

The ‘suicide drones,’ or ‘loitering munitions,’ that Palestinian Hamas has sent from Gaza into Israel during the current confrontation are a version of an older Iranian drone called Ababil, the Jerusalem Post reported Friday.

The model, apparently made or assembled in Gaza and which may be the one showcased in a Hamas video, is called Shehab. Drone experts have compared the Hamas model to Iran’s Ababil drone. Other variants of the basic model have been used by the Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia, Seth Frantzman wrote in the Post report.

Armed drones can be maneuverable and low-flying, evading detection. Israel says its Iron Dome missile-defense system, part of an annual $3.8-billion annual United States military aid, has been adapted to intercept drones and that those crossing into Israel this week were shot down.

The Jerusalem Post report also said that Hamas’ drones could be carried on trucks and launched from a rail. The length of a Shehab is longer than an average person. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, also uses drones and has attempted to send some into Israeli airspace. Israel announced last month that one such drone was shot down and another one was downed in January.

Iran, which lacks an effective air force, has developed various drone models. It claims some of its drones now have long-range capability, up to 2,000km, although experts believe Iranian models are antiquated compared with current advanced drones. Israel itself has ‘suicide drones,’ while the US, which uses drones extensively, was by 2014 training more drone ‘pilots’ than conventional pilots.

Iranian Ababil 3 drone. Published by Iran media. FILE

Iran Launches Inquiry Into Suicide Among Medical Students

Iran’s Medical Organization, the national supervisory body, has announced the formation of committees to investigate recent suicides by several medical students and doctors doing their residency in hospitals, the ISNA news website reported on Friday. Hossein Kermanpur, the organization’s spokesman, cited work pressure, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the low income as key issues facing medical students and young doctors.

Kermanpur cited a monthly income of $100-$150, with some young doctors working double shifts at hospitals, leading to examples of fainting. ISNA reported May 10 that four medical students and residents had committed suicide in the previous two weeks.

Medical student groups from nine universities recently wrote to the health minister asking for attention to be paid to their situation. In the letter, the students said officials had not responded even to their most ordinary requests.

Most universities and hospitals in Iran are directly or indirectly state-run. If for any reason students fail to complete medical school or their specialization, they must repay the cost of their education two-fold to the health ministry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has consistently warned of the dangers facing health workers globally during the Covid pandemic. As well as exposure to the virus, the WHO has issued guidelines highlighting “heavy workload and prolonged use of personal protective equipment.” 

Canada Slams 'Unconscionable' Iran Conduct Since Downing Of Ukraine Flight

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

 

Canada Offers Residency To Families Of Downed Ukrainian Plane

Canada has announced it will grant permanent residency to families of victims of two air disasters, the Ukrainian plane shot down by Iran and the Ethiopian Flight 302.

The new policy offers Canadian residency to immediate and secondary relatives of the victims who are currently in Canada or have applied for permanent residency. A new website set up for the purpose would accept applications, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has announced.

The Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by two missiles fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the early morning of January 8, 2020, hours after Iran fired missiles at two US bases in Iraq. Authorities did not close the civilian airspace and then air defense units fired at the plane as it took off from Tehran. Iran has not yet given a full explanation of what led to the disaster.

Mendicino said that the granting of permanent residency to relatives of the victims will stay valid until May 2022, to demonstrate compassion and solidarity with the families in their efforts to seek justice.

Groups of families have gone to Canadian courts to demand justice, suing the Iranian government and individual officials.

Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people who died in the Ukrainian plane incident. Eighteen Canadians died in the Ethiopian plane that crashed in March 2019 near Addis Ababa killing all 157 people aboard.

Governor Of Oil-Rich Iran Province Says Unemployment Up To 50 Percent

The governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province has said that “usually unemployment figures [in Iran] are not real” and unemployment in his province is between 45-50 percent. The official government unemployment rate in Iran is around 10-11 percent.

Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki pointing to the fact that in official government figures Khuzestan’s unemployment rate is cited to be around 14.5 percent, said “if you look around in this province, unemployment is much higher and, in many areas, it is around 45-50 percent”.

The governor also pointed out that according to Iran’s method of calculating unemployment, two hours of work per week is considered employment, which “is totally meaningless”.

International organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have no direct presence in Iran and rely on government statistics to measure the country’s economic health.

US sanctions since 2018 have badly hurt the economy, which has been in contraction for three years. Forecasts say in 2021 Iran’s economy might reach a small growth but it would depend on political factors, such as a resolution to US-Iran relations and at least a partial lifting of American sanctions.

Khuzestan’s governor urged an improvement of the economic conditions in the province. He stated that many industrial entities have stopped production or have minimized their activities. Many companies have been taken over by banks that are state controlled, he said and urged the return of these companies to their owners to stimulate production.

Iran Regulator Denies Mass ‘Disappearance’ Of Covid Vaccines

The spokesman of the regulatory Iran Food and Drug Agency, Kianoush Jahanpour, tweeted Thursday to deny that a large quantity of imported Covid-19 vaccines had disappeared. Mohsen Dehnavi, a principlist member of parliament and active critic of the government over Covid management, this week alleged in a television interview that 200,000 of 2 million imported vaccine doses have “disappeared.”

Jahanpour wrote that the government had obtained 3.2 million vaccines, which were held by the health ministry and in the vaccination pipeline. He suggested that what had disappeared was the “honesty of some politicians and remarks backed by facts.” Jahanpour on Wednesday had conceded in an interview that some fraud had taken place in vaccine distribution.

Iran was the second country after China where the Covid pandemic spread in February 2020, but its response has been haphazard. It has failed to start mass vaccination of its more than 83 million population and has not made an effective attempt to procure a large quantity of vaccines.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British vaccines in January, while Iran imported a limited quantity from Russia and China. Other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Chile have bought large quantities from China, but Iran despite close relations with Beijing has not imported enough Chinese vaccines to start mass vaccination.

Houthis Launch Missile, Drone Attack On Saudi Arabia

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday said its forces had launched 12 ballistic missiles and drones towards a site belonging to the Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco, Najran airport and other targets in Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen said it had intercepted and destroyed eight drones and three ballistic missiles fired towards Saudi Arabia, without specifying where.

Houthis have been attacking Saudi oil and other installations, including airports, with missiles and drones that UN experts have said have Iranian origin. Missile and Drone attacks escalated in 2021 as the new US Administration delisted the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ organization and pushed for de-escalation and peace talks.

Iran and Saudi Arabia began talks last month to improve relations after years of instability in the region, sparked by wars in Syria and Yemen. At the same time, the US is engaged in indirect talks with Iran in an attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Thursday is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis.

With reporting by Reuters

 

Fierce Israeli And Palestinian Attacks Continue As Russia Calls For Mediation

Israel has killed a string of senior Hamas military figures and pounded three multi-story towers as it hammers the Gaza Strip with airstrikes in retaliation for rocket barrages targeting Israeli cities.

Meanwhile, on the third day of military confrontation militants in the territory fired barrages of rockets Wednesday. Dozens have died in the worst outbreak of violence since a 2014 war, with no resolution in sight.

The fighting has taken on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas. But now it comes with a startling new factor: a burst of fury from Israel’s Palestinian citizens in support of those living in the territories as well as counterviolence by Jewish Israelis. In response, Israel deployed border guards in two mixed Arab-Jewish cities that saw unrest in previous days.

As the death toll in Gaza rose to 65, seven Israelis are confirmed dead by rocket fire from armed Palestinian groups.

The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven members, and Hamas acknowledged the death of a top commander and an unspecified number of others. Israel says at least 30 Palestinians killed so far were militants.

Two Israeli infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparation for a possible ground invasion as neither side is willing to back down.

The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called for a meeting of an international mediation quartet, the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union. The group was established in Madrid in 2002.

Reporting by AP and Reuters