Iranian Plane Lands In Venezuela Amid US Warnings Against Missile Shipments | Iran International

Iranian Plane Lands In Venezuela Amid US Warnings Against Missile Shipments

An Iranian plane belonging to a company sanctioned by the United States in 2019 for allegedly shipping weapons to Syria landed in Venezuela on Tuesday.

The 747 aircraft, owned by Iran’s Qeshm Fars Air, landed at a time when trade ties have grown closer between the two OPEC members, whose oil industry and banking are under increasingly strict U.S. sanctions. It was not immediately clear what the plane brought to Venezuela.

Iran has shipped million of barrels of oil to Venezuela in recent months and received payments in gold. Since a UN arms embargo on Iran expired this month, there have also been reports of possible Iranian weapons transfers to Venezuela.

Elliot Abrams, the US Special Representative for the two countries warned October 26 that if Iranian missiles are shipped, they will either be destroyed on route or on the ground once they arrive in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

Earlier this year, more than a dozen flights from Iran’s Mahan Air brought materials to help repair Venezuela’s refineries. Iran has also sent two flotillas of tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela, easing acute fuel shortages in the South American country.

The two countries’ growing ties have drawn criticism from Washington, which is seeking to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, and to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

With reporting by Reuters

Iran Spokesman Says Talks In Vienna And With Saudi Arabia Are Going Well

President Hassan Rouhani’s spokesman Tuesday told reporters that Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna and negotiations with Saudi Arabia are progressing well and called for national unity at a sensitive time for the country’s diplomacy.

Referring to talks with Riyadh Ali Rabiei said Iran is hopeful that “fake issues” can be resolved in Iran’s regional relations and tensions reduced.

Asked about reaching an agreement in Vienna before May 24 when a temporary Inspection agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog ends, Rabiei expressed hope that all parties would do their best to reach conclude a deal in time.

The government spokesman however reiterated that all decisions and policymaking in this regard are the prerogative of “higher authorities.” This is a clear reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has the final say in all important policy matters.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a leaked audio recording published by Iran International on April 25, said that the military has hijacked Iran’s foreign policy and the foreign ministry has no input in policy making.

Rabiei said that there are some positive signs in talks with “regional countries”, but there is still work to be done to make sure that appropriate condition are created for stability and peace.


Iran's Guards Blame US Navy For Warning Shots Incident In Persian Gulf

Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday accused a US Coast Guard ship of "provocation" after it fired warning shots against Iranian military boats that approached it in the Persian Gulf.

The Pentagon said on Monday the US Coast Guard ship Maui fired about 30 warning shots after 13 fast boats from the Revolutionary Guards' navy came close to it and other American Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

A Revolutionary Guards statement accused US naval ships of "unprofessional behavior such as flying helicopters, firing flares and aimless and provocative shooting".

"It would be better for the Americans to avoid unprofessional behavior and not to endanger the security of the Persian Gulf by obeying the rules and regulations of the sea," said the statement carried by Iranian media.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday the Iranian vessels had been acting "very aggressively". The Iranian speedboats approached within 100 meters of the American ships.

It was the second time within the last month that US military vessels have fired warning shots because of what they said was unsafe behavior by Iranian vessels in the region, after a relative lull in such interactions over the past year.

The latest incident comes as world powers and Iran seek to speed up efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord.

US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.

Reporting by Reuters

Iran Reportedly Agreed To Pay Hamas For Intelligence On Israeli Missiles

Israel’s Channel 12 reported Monday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to provide $30 million financial support monthly to the Palestinian Hamas in return for information on Israel’s missile capabilities and its missile locations.

The report says the agreement was reached in a meeting two weeks ago between nine senior members of the militant group and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Reports in the past put Iran’s financial support for Hamas at $70 million annually, but increasing the support to $30 million a month is unprecedented.

Iran is currently under tough US sanctions and its foreign currency reserves have evaporated. It faces serious economic problems, with very high inflation impoverishing nearly 60 percent of its population.

The US is currently negotiating to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, and lift most the sanctions the previous administration had imposed. Critics say that lifting sanctions will enable Iran to boost its financial support for militant groups across the region.

Iran has been supporting Hamas and other militant groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, in what it calls support for the “resistance front” against Israel. The leaders of the Islamic Republic have called for the annihilation of Israel in the past and threats to destroy the Jewish sate continue periodically by Iran’s hardliners and military leaders.




US Lawmakers Ask DOJ Why Company Violating Iran Sanctions Is Not Prosecuted

A group of 18 US lawmakers have written to US Attorney General Merrick Garland to inquire why the Justice Department did not prosecute a multinational German software company that illegally did business with clients in Iran for several years.

SAP SE is the largest non-American software company by revenue, the world's third largest publicly-traded software company by revenue, and the largest German company by market capitalization. It also offers cloud services worldwide.

The justice department announced on April 29 that SAP admitted to thousands of illegal exports of it s software products to Iran and entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the US government. It agreed to pay combined penalties of more than $8 million as part of a global resolution with the US Departments of Justice (DOJ), Commerce and Treasury.

The lawmakers in their letter ask DOJ, “If you had ample evidence that SAP violated U.S. sanctions, why did you choose to pursue a Non-Prosecution agreement rather than punitive action?”

The signatories also ask DOJ if it would conduct an investigation to see what US technologies ended up in the hands of the Iranian government and its extraterritorial military and intelligence arm, the Qods (Quds) Force.

The Biden administration is in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by former president Donald Trump. If an agreement is reached it would presuppose lifting significant sanctions imposed by the Trump team. But many critics of the Biden effort to reaqch a deal with Iran say that the Administration even now is not rigorously enforcing existing sanctions.


US Navy Ship Fires 30 Warning Shots After Encounter With Iranian Vessels

A US Coast Guard ship fired about 30 warning shots after 13 vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) came close to it and other American Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the warning shots were fired after the Iranian fast boats came as close as 150 yards (450 feet) of six US military vessels that were escorting the guided-missile submarine Georgia.

"It's significant... and they were acting very aggressively," he said, adding that the number of Iranian vessels was more than in the recent past.

The US coast guard cutter fired the warning shots from a .50 caliber machine gun before the Iranian vessels left, Kirby said.

The US Navy announced on April 27 that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard speedboats and a warship had engaged in dangerous maneuvers around US Navy vessels in the southern Persian Gulf earlier in April, the first such incident in at least a year.

That incident happened four days before Iran was set to start talks in Vienna with the participating countries of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, or the 2015 nuclear deal. In addition, indirect talks were scheduled between Iran and the United States in the same venue.

Reporting by Reuters

EU's Borrell Says Iran Nuclear Talks Moving To Crucial Stage

BRUSSELS, May 10 (Reuters) - Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.

U.S. officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.

"I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.

"But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna," he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.

Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.

"However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons," Maas said in Brussels.

Afghan Lawmaker Accuses Iran Of Role In Bloody School Bombing

Remarks by a member of Afghanistan’s parliament Monday accusing Iran of a behind the scenes role in a school bombing on May 8 led to disruptions in the legislature.

Shahpur Hassanzoy representing Logar province told a session of parliament that Iran had a direct role in the bombing and said, “Iran’s spies are present in Afghanistan’s parliament and defend Iran’s actions”.

The bombing of a girl’s school in a Shiite area in Kabul has killed 85 people, Afghan officials told CNN on Monday.

Hassanzoy, who belongs to the Sunni Pashtun ethnic group, did not present any proof for his accusations, but his remarks led to protests by some other members of parliament. A member of parliament from the Shiite community called Hassanzoy’s remarks pouring “salt on the wound”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has condemned the terror attack and blamed the Islamic State group for the violence. The Afghan government has blamed on the Taliban. The religious armed insurgents have attacked many schools before, but they have denied any role in the latest incident.

Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has condemned the attack in the strongest terms, saying, “Groups of people belonging to darkness and ignorance try to keep our children away from science and progress with such attacks.”


German FM Minister Says Time Is Of Essence In Nuclear Talks With Iran

Time is of the essence in the Vienna negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday, adding talks were lengthy but conducted in a good atmosphere.

US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and imposed crippling oil export sanctions, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.

“The negotiations are tough and laborious but all participants are conducting the talks in a constructive atmosphere,” Maas said on the margins of a meeting with his European Union counterparts in Brussels.

One of the main issues is which sanctions the United States will lift in exchange for Iran returning to its obligations in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Iran has been breaking its obligations step-by-step demanding the US lift sanctions. 

“However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” he added.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran might agree to extend a temporary agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, due to expire May 21, over inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear facilities. Khatibzadeh said this could be done if talks with world powers in Vienna were on “the right path.”

Reporting by Reuters

Iran Calls On Muslim World To Stand Up To Israel

Iran on Monday called on the Muslim world to respond to the "savagery" and "cruelty" of Israel against Palestinians, following the escalation of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in Tehran that Iran expresses "solidarity with  the oppressed people of Palestine."

Israeli police firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets clashed with Palestinian stone-throwers at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site on Monday, the latest in a series of confrontations that is pushing the contested city to the brink of eruption.  

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

At least 215 Palestinians were hurt in the violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, including 153 who were hospitalized, Palestinian medics said.

Four of the injured were in serious condition. Police said nine officers were hurt, including one who was hospitalized.

Monday's confrontation was the latest in the sacred compound after days of mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional ground zero of the conflict.

Hundreds of Palestinians and about two dozen police officers have been hurt over the past few days.

Iran Confirms Talks With Saudi Arabia, Promises Best Efforts

Iran's foreign ministry confirmed publicly for the first time on Monday that it is in talks with its regional arch rival Saudi Arabia, saying it would do what it could to resolve issues between them.

"De-escalation of tensions between the two Muslim countries in the Persian Gulf region is in the interest of both nations and the region," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a televised weekly news conference.

Iran was waiting for the outcome of the talks, he said: "We welcome resolving of the issues that have existed between the two countries ... We will use our best efforts in this regard."

Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry, last week told Reuters that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran were aimed at reducing regional tensions. He said it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see “verifiable deeds”.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been locked in a rivalry and proxy conflicts across the region, from Yemen to Syria to Iraq. The two countries cut diplomatic ties in 2016. Middle East officials and sources said last month that they had held two rounds of talks.

The arrival of President Joe Biden in the United States has altered the diplomatic calculus across the Middle East. Washington aims to restart a nuclear deal with Iran that Biden's predecessor Donald Trump abandoned, and has called for Saudi Arabia to end a war against Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi forces.

Some sources told Reuters last month that Tehran had promised to use its influence to halt Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, in return asking Riyadh to support the nuclear talks.

Reporting by Reuters

Protesters Attack Iranian Consulate In Iraq After Killing Of Activist

BAGHDAD (AP) — Protesters set fire to trailers belonging to Iran's consulate in Karbala on Sunday amid widespread anger over the killing of a prominent activist in the Iraqi city. 

Ehab Wazni, who was active in the organization of anti-government protests that swept Iraq in October 2019, was shot overnight outside his home by unknown assailants. 

His death sparked daylong protests in Karbala that saw demonstrators block roads and bridges with burning tires. Then Sunday night, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian consulate, burning tires in front of the building and setting fire to several trailers parked outside, according to police officials and videos posted online.

Similar scenes played out in November 2019 during protests in Baghdad and Iraq's majority-Shiite provinces in the south, with protesters on at least one occasion scaling concrete barriers ringing the Iranian consulate in Karbala to bring down Iran's flag and replace it with the Iraqi flag. 

The popular protests that began in October 2019 and lasted for months were directed at a postwar political system and a class of elite leaders that Iraqis accuse of pillaging Iraq's wealth while the country grows poorer. But protesters have also directed their rage at neighboring Iran and the powerful Iraqi Shiite militias tied to it.

The protests in Karbala, Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq often turned violent, with security forces opening fire and protesters torching government buildings and headquarters of Iran-backed militias. Hundreds were killed, including the assassination of activists. 

The protests have been largely dormant since the coronavirus pandemic.