In a meeting with the visiting Vice Foreign Minister of South Korea, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded the release of Iran’s frozen financial resources in South Korea.
According to Iranian media reports, Zarif met on Monday with the South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun who arrived with his delegation in Tehran on Sunday, and told him that the freezing of Iran’s financial resources in South Korean banks has become an obstacle for developing relations between the two countries.
He went on to claim that the public opinion of the Iranian people has become very negative toward South Korea, and the country’s reputation has been seriously damaged.
The Iranian media reported that Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun also met and talked with Kamal Kharrazi, the chairman of Iran’s Foreign Policy Strategic Council.
Kharrazi said in the meeting: “In the past, there was a good relationship between Iran and South Korea, but due to South Korean government’s decision to follow US sanctions, seven billion dollars of Iran’s assets in Korean banks have been taken hostage and we can’t even use those funds to buy medicine.”
The South Korean delegation arrived in Tehran on Sunday to discuss Iran’s seizure of a South Korean ship in the Persian Gulf. But Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs still claims that the visit was planned before the seizure of the South Korean vessel.
Kharrazi also stated that the seizure of the South Korean oil tanker by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) was due to technical issues and “environmental pollution” and that the case is in the hand of the judiciary, with the government powerless to do anything about it.
Rouhani Says Covid Vaccination Top Priority, Others Question Election Timing
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said Tuesday that nationwide Covid vaccination is the government’s top priority despite financial difficulties resulting from US sanctions and lack of global vaccine supplies.
Iran is grappling with a fourth wave of infections in recent weeks that has pushed the death rate four times higher, and no immediate outlook for obtaining tens of millions of vaccines needed to protect the population against another surge.
Each vaccine dose would cost around $8-10, which means for general vaccination of around 70 million adults, Iran would need to spend more than $1.5 billion dollars. In recent months, Tehran has boosted its oil exports to China despite the US sanctions, but it is not clear if Beijing is paying for the oil or whether it is willing to provide vaccines.
The chairman of Tehran’s City Council, Mohsen Hashemi said in a meeting of the Council that holding presidential and local elections in June can lead to the fifth coronavirus wave. He sounded the alarm that even the current wave of infections is still getting worse. He said with candidates expected to hold thousands of elections gathering in the country, elections will turn to dangerous breeding ground for the virus.
Iran has acquired less than one million doses of vaccines from Russia and China while some of the other regional countries are well into the mass-vaccination process. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British vaccines in January and pushed for the development of local variants. So far, officials have said human testing has taken place but it would be months before any local vaccine is mass produced.
Iran's Coronavirus Taskforce: Vaccination Will Be Free For All Groups
The spokesperson for Iran’s coronavirus taskforce who had previously declared citizens who want to get vaccinated before their turn, can “pay for the expenses,” today announced that vaccinations for all groups will be free of charge.
Spokesman Alireza Raisi announced on Monday that according to the national vaccination act, “all groups in the country will receive free coronavirus vaccination in order o0f priority”.
However, on Sunday Raisi had stated that those who do not want to wait for their turns for vaccination can receive the vaccine earlier by “paying for the expenses.” At the same time, Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for the health ministry told Fars news agency that there won't be any out-of-turn vaccinations for payment. The contradiction between statements by two health officials is not clear and might be due to power politics between the two entities.
Raeesi had said that all citizens will receive free vaccination by March 2022, but in case of payment, individuals can get ahead of their turn. He did not mention how much it would cost to receive early vaccination.
No country has so far been observed offering privileged Covid vaccination for those who can pay. All governments have a system of priority for the more vulnerable groups in society and occasional out-of-turn vaccinations have been criticized by the media. Iran has also issued a vaccination priority plan.
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's Intelligence Minister Has COVID, Recovering At Home- Report
Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi has contracted the coronavirus and is in quarantine t his home, Ruydad 24 news website reported on Monday.
The report says that 66-year-old Alavi tested positive for the virus one week ago, but his health is “good” and he is awaiting the end of his quarantine period. In February Alavi’s father passed away from Covid.
Many Islamic Republic military, judicial and other officials contracted the coronavirus and at least a dozen prominent officials and politicians have died. Iran was the second country after China where the Covid epidemic started in February 2020.
So far, government’s official figures say 2.26 million people contracted the virus and more than 67,000 have died. Iran is currently experiencing its fourth Covid surge, with around 400 daily deaths in recent days.
Reports last week said that an influential conservative cleric and ardent supporter of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, has also contracted the coronavirus. There are no updates about his health condition.
Ahmadinejad Wants Iran Security Chiefs Charged Over Natanz Attack
Security chiefs should be prosecuted for negligence over the April 11 sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told supporters in a gathering on Sunday [April 18]. “The nation gives you 400-500 trillion rials (around $2 billion) a year to watch these [facilities],” he said, blaming intelligence and security services for what he said was billions of dollars in damage.
Ahmadinejad, who has truned into a frequent critic, expressed disappointment at a lack of action in response to the attack, which was widely attributed to Israel. “It seems nothing has happened,” he said. “No one is subject to accountability and no reports are issued.”
The strike, focused on the power grid, has been variously attributed to a cyberattack and a large bomb smuggled into the complex. According to some Iranian officials the damage was extensive, while the New York Times quoted US intelligence that it had set back Iran’s nuclear program by six to nine months. Yet within days, Iran began at Natanz the process of uranium enrichment to 60 percent, the highest level the program has reached.
Six days after the incident, Iran’s security agencies named a suspect, Reza Karimi, and said they had informed Interpol as he had fled the country. The international policing organization has not commented, and online searches have found no evidence of an Interpol warrant.
Ahmadinejad ridiculed these efforts. “Tasteless and repetitive schemes,” he said. “They announce that they have identified someone, but he has escaped.”
Ahmadinejad also raised the killing of protesters by security forces in November 2019, demanding the prosecution of those responsible. “You, yourselves say you have killed 231 people, and nobody should be tried, there should not be any follow-up?”
Iran Always Welcomes Dialogue With Riyadh, Foreign Ministry Says
DUBAI, April 19 (Reuters) - Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that Tehran always welcomed dialogue with Saudi Arabia, but he did not confirm nor deny direct talks this month between the arch-rivals.
The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2016 and have been engaged in several proxy wars in the region as they vie for influence.
A senior Iranian official and two regional sources had told Reuters that Saudi and Iranian officials held discussions in Iraq in a bid to ease tensions as Washington works to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran and end the Yemen war.
The Financial Times first reported the meeting.
"We have seen media reports about talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, although the reports sometimes had contradictory quotes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference.
"What is important is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has always welcomed dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and considers it in the interest of the people of the two countries, as well as peace and stability in the region," he added.
Saudi authorities have not responded to a Reuters request for comment on the talks.
One of the sources said the meeting, arranged by Iraq's prime minister who visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month, had focused on Yemen, where a military coalition led by Riyadh has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
Sunni power Saudi Arabia had opposed the inernational nuclear accord with Shi'ite Iran for not tackling Tehran's missiles programme and regional behaviour.
It has called for a stronger deal this time around at talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the pact, which then U.S. President Donald Trump quit in 2018. Tehran breached several nuclear restrictions after Trump reimposed sanctions.
Rockets Hit Iraqi Airbase Where US Trainers Are Stationed
BAGHDAD (AP) — Multiple rockets hit an Iraqi airbase just north of the capital Baghdad Sunday, wounding two Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi military commander said.
In comments to Iraq's official news agency, Maj. Gen. Diaa Mohsen, commander of the Balad airbase, said at least two rockets exploded inside the base, which houses U.S. trainers. The attack comes days after an explosives-laden drone targeted U.S.-led coalition forces near a northern Iraq airport, causing a large fire and damage to a building.
Mohsen said the attack resulted in the injury of two security forces, one of them in serious condition and the other only slightly. There was no material damage inside the base from the attack, he added.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks that have targeted mostly American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. There was no immediate responsibility claim, but U.S. officials have previously blamed Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions for such attacks.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country. In late 2020, U.S. troop levels in Iraq were reduced to 2,500 after withdrawals based on orders from the Trump administration.
Calls grew for further U.S. troop withdrawals after a U.S.-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing U.S.-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Protesting Retirees In Iran Say They Will Not Vote in June
Retirees in several Iranian cities on Sunday protested against what they said is corruption and broken promises to adjust their pensions to be in par with the country’s high rate of inflation.
Images published on social media show large gatherings outside government buildings in Tehran, Isfahan, Karaj, and Ahvaz, in what has become weekly protests. They chanted slogans against inflation and rising prices. Wages and pensions have increased only marginally after three years of close to 40 percent annual inflation.
While labor representatives say the minimum subsistence monthly income is $400, workers and retirees receive much less than $200 a month. The government with a big budget deficit has refused to respond to demands of higher pay.
Protesters also chanted slogans against the upcoming presidential elections in June, saying they will not vote. Observers have been saying in the media that a majority of Iranians will likely not vote, having become disillusioned after repeated promises of change and reforms for years.
Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Reactor 'Safe' After a Strong Quake
Iranian officials said Sunday that a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Iran's southern province of Bushehr, has not “caused any damages” to the country’s only nuclear power plant in the area.
The information office of the Bushehr nuclear power plant said, “All facilities, equipment and buildings are in completely good shape and there have no disruptions to operation.”
The city of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf was shaken around noon, local time from a tremor centered around Gonaveh shook the region. Electricity and landline telephone and internet in the regional city of Gonaveh had been cut off "and people are taking to the streets for fear of earthquakes," semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.
Later reports indicate Iran's oil and gas facilities in the south of the country have sustained some damage. There are no details available.
The tremor was strongly felt in south and south-western Iran in four neighboring provinces, including Fars province further north, where emergency crews were put in readiness.
Regional countries in the past have expressed concern over the Bushehr nuclear reactor and a possible accident leading to a disaster in the Persian Gulf. Iran has always dismissed these concerns as unscientific, insisting that the complex can withstand very strong quakes.
Devastating arthquakes are frequent in Iran that is situated on top of multiple geological fault lines.
IAEA confirms Iran Enriching Uranium To 60% Purity
VIENNA, April 17 (Reuters) - Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.
Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.
Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.
"The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.
"According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course," the report said.