Iran's Foreign Ministry on Monday called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach an immediate cease-fire and opt for negotiations for settling disputes.
It comes as clashes continued over the disputed separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh after hostilities broke out the day before, with both sides blaming each other for resuming the deadly attacks that reportedly also wounded scores of people.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that Armenian forces started shelling the town of Tartar on Monday morning, while Armenian officials said the fighting continued throughout the night and Baku resumed “offensive actions" in the morning.
Reports from Israeli experts say that Azerbaijan has received a lot of advanced weapons and drones from Israel and Turkey before the latest round of fighting. But on Sunday Armenia forces managed to shoot down 2-3 Azerbaijani helicopters and nine drones.
"We believe that prompt ceasefire, giving up hostilities and starting mutual talks is the only definitive solution to this issue", Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told journalists at a news briefing in Tehran.
Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry told the Interfax news agency Monday that over 550 Armenian troops have been killed, a claim that Armenian officials denied.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 31 servicemen have been killed so far.
Armenia's Defence Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Monday over 200 people have been wounded.
The heavy fighting broke out on Sunday morning in the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the fighting, the heaviest since clashes in July killed 16 people from both sides.
Mostly mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh — a region around 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 square miles) or about the size of the US state of Delaware — lies 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Armenian border.
Iran Claims Seizing Israeli Weapons Amid Anti-Regime Protests
Iranian state-controlled media reported on Tuesday that security forces had arrested members of a group linked to Israel's Mossad intelligence agency amid ongoing protests in the country's southwest.
The report said "a network of spy agents, with a large amount of weapons and ammunition" was seized after being smuggled into Iran across the country's western border.
It claimed the alleged Mossad agents intended to use the weapons during riots in Iran and also for assassinations.
The report did not elaborate or say how many alleged agents were arrested or when they purportedly infiltrated into Iran.
The state TV report comes as at least ten people have been killed amid days of protests that began over water shortage but soon turned into anti-government unrest in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel or plotting terror operations. But it rarely reveals the identity of detainees or holds any trials.
Many Iranian on social media say that the government wants to portray the protests as a potential danger to the country’s territorial integrity by hinting at possible separatist plots. But Iranians in several other parts of the country have held protests in support of Khuzestan residents.
Tehran Airports To Close During Presidential Inauguration For 'Security'
All civilian airports in and around Iran’s capital Tehran will close during the inauguration of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) on August 5, Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported Tuesday. The move is unprecedented for presidential inaugurations, although on a few occasions airports have been shut down during armed forces day, when military planes have had air shows.
The report cited “security and safety requirements” for closing four airports between 16:30-19:00 local time, but the announcement also mentioned the airport in Qazvin, almost 200 kilometers north-west of the capital. It asked all airlines to modify flight schedules.
Since mid-2020, sensitive nuclear, military and industrial targets in Iran have sustained a series of attacks attributed to Israel, including the April 11 attack on the Natanz enrichment site. Some of these attacks may have involved the use of drones.
Iranian authorities have been criticized for not closing airspace on January 8, 2020 after firing ballistic missiles at United States bases in Iraq in response to the US killing Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and nine others with a drone strike in Baghdad. This resulted within hours in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane taking off from Tehran, due, Iran said, to the misalignment of a mobile missile battery.
Trial Of Former Iranian Official For Killing Prisoners To Start In Sweden
Swedish prosecutors have handed an indictment against a former Iranian security and prison official, arrested for killing prisoners, to a court in Stockholm on Tuesday prior to his trial which is set to begin on August 10.
Hamid Noury (Nouri), 60, was arrested in Sweden last year after Iranian human rights activists and plaintiffs alleged that he was involved in executions at Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, played a key role in the torture and secret burial of thousands of prisoners, including members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), an opposition group allied to Saddam Hussein at the time that in July 1988 launched an offensive against Iran from Iraq. Noury has denied any connection with the executions.
Iraj Mesdaghi, one of the plaintiffs tweeted Tuesday that the indictment against Noury reached the court and Swedish media widely reported on the impending trial.
According to human rights organizations 4-5 thousand political prisoners serving time in prisons were executed in August 1988, in one of the worst extrajudicial massacres in recent decades.
Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is said to have been a member in the “death commission” that carried out the killings. Noury was one of those who carried out the execution in Karaj prison, west of Tehran. He will be tried for violating international laws on crimes against humanity.
Israeli Defense Minister Will Discuss Iran During Visit To France
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Iran nuclear talks.
Macron's phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group's Pegasus software, according to France's Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation. Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
"Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO," it said.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz's trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers' efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.
Reporting by Reuters
Tehran Hospitals Swamped By Ten Thousand Covid Patients
A senior health official in Iran warned on Tuesday that the number of hospitalized Covid patients in the capital Tehran has surpassed 10,000 and there are no more beds available to accept new cases.
Nader Tavakoli told ISNA news website that authorities are thinking of asking the armed forces to provide an additional 500-600 beds at their hospitals and “if these also prove insufficient, to set up field hospitals.
The government has failed to reduce the pace of the pandemic after 18 months, when first cases emerged in February 2020. Iran was the second country after China where the coronavirus spread. The country is now experiencing its fifth pandemic surge.
The chief of Sina hospital in Tehran, Mohammad Talebpour, called on the armed forces and municipal authorities to help the hospitals, saying that if more patients show up, they cannot accommodate them. He added that the load of patients who seek help is 4-5 times higher than in previous peaks.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus invaded Iran in late June and spread throughout the country by mid-July. The national vaccination effort has failed, with lack of imported vaccines and a failure to produce local variants. The country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in January and Iran was able to buy a few million doses from Russia and China.
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.