President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call | Iran International

President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call

In their first phone conversation on Thursday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Biden discussed human rights, bilateral relations between the two countries, Middle East security, ending the war in Yemen, and Iran’s activities in the region.

President Biden welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul from prison and emphasized the importance of human rights and rule of law, and said he will make efforts to strengthen the relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also reiterated the US’ commitment to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks by Iran-backed groups.

The US State Department also released a statement about the phone conversation between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in which the two discussed ending the war in Yemen, stronger regional security, fight against terrorism, and economic development.

Last week, Pentagon also announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has had a phone conversation with Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammad bin Salman about their shared commitment to fighting against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in and defeating fanaticism in the region.

Saudi Arabia is an opponent of the return of the US to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

France recently declared that the 2015 nuclear deal will not be enough and a more strict deal must be made that would involve Iran’s ballistic missile program and support of terrorism and that the deal must also involve Saudi Arabia and Israel.


Denmark Charges Iranian-Arab Opposition Men For Financing 'Terror' Acts

Denmark's public prosecutor said on Thursday it had charged three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group for financing and supporting terrorist activity in Iran in collaboration with Saudi Arabian intelligence services.

The three members of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) were arrested in February last year and have been in custody since.

"This is a very serious case where persons in Denmark have carried out illegal intelligence activities and financed and promoted terrorism from Denmark in other countries," public prosecutor Lise-Lotte Nilas said in a statement.

The trial will start on April 29 and will be held in the Roskilde district court. The defendants face prison sentences of up to 12 years.

In a related case, a Norwegian of Iranian heritage was sentenced to seven years in June last year for spying for an Iranian intelligence service and plotting to assassinate one of the ASMLA members. That verdict has been appealed.

Iran kidnapped an ASMLA leader last October from Turkey and secretly took him back to Iran where he is now detained. The General Intelligence and Security Service of Netherlands (AIVD) in response to the kidnapping of the Swedish Iranian man warned that Iranian-Dutch activists who travel outside Europe run the risk of being extradited to or kidnapped by Iran.

Reportin by Reuters

Saudi University Catches Fire In Houthi Missile, Drone Attack

A Saudi university near the country's border with Yemen caught fire early Thursday after the kingdom's air defenses intercepted a barrage of ballistic missiles and bomb-laden drones.

The interception scattered debris on Jizan University’s campus, which caused a fire that has been contained, the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen said in a statement. It said no one was killed, and there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Video on social media purportedly showed a Patriot missile flying low across Jizan to intercept a missile or drone, with it detonating over the city.

The barrage came just hours after Saudi Arabia warned Iran its recent decision to push its nuclear enrichment to its highest level ever risked raising tensions in the Mideast.

The Saudi statement blamed the Iran-backed Houthi group for the attack, saying the five ballistic missiles and four bomb-laden drones specifically targeted civilian areas and had been launched from the rebels' stronghold of Saada in Yemen.

Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie tweeted Thursday that his group had launched 11 missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting the kingdom’s Patriot defense system, oil sites and other “critical” areas in Jizan. Sarie did not mention the university.

Since the war began, the Houthis have launched over 550 bomb-laden drones and more than 350 ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia, the kingdom told The Associated Press in April.

Reporting by AP

Drone Attack On US Forces Stationed Near Erbil Airport In Iraq

The government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq announced that an unmanned aerial drone dropped explosives near the US forces stationed at Erbil international airport on Wednesday night. No casualties have been reported.

According to Erbil officials, at least one explosive hit near the area where US forces are stationed in Erbil airport.

Coalition spokesperson, Colonel Wayne Marotto told Kurdistan 24 that “This evening, an unmanned aerial surveillance system landed on a storage hangar at Erbil Air Base. There were no injuries reported. A fire has been extinguished and damages are still being assessed.”

Al Arabiya reported that the US consulate had also sounded its emergency alarms following the explosion. Witnesses said they saw a plume of smoke rising from the area. Another US-led military base in the Erbil International Airport vicinity was hit by several rockets in February, that killed a military contractor.

The interior ministry of the autonomous Kurdistan regional government, based in Erbil, said in a statement the drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the US forces. It said no one was hurt in the attack.

Shortly before Wednesday's attack in Erbil, at least two rockets landed on and near a base to the west of the city that hosts Turkish forces, Iraqi security officials said.

The Iran-backed militias in Iraq oppose both the presence of the US and Turkey in the country and demand a full withdrawal of all foreign troops.

Blinken Calls Iran 60% Uranium Enrichment 'Provocative'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran's announcement of enriching uranium at 60 percent purity "provocative," saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna. Earlier, the White House spokesperson Jen Psaki had also used the same language to describe Iran's decision.

Tehran has said it will enrich uranium to 60% - a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade from the 20% maximum it has reached so far - in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility at Natanz.

"We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent," Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.

"I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran's seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA," Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington's reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as "constructive" talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.

Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.


Explosive Drone Targets US Forces Base In Iraq

ERBIL, Iraq, April 14 (Reuters) - A drone dropped explosives near U.S. forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday, Kurdish officials said, with no immediate reports of casualties.

A separate rocket attack killed a Turkish soldier at a military base nearby, the Turkish defence ministry said.

It was the first known attack carried out by an unmanned aerial drone against U.S. forces in Erbil, amid a steady stream of rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces and the embassy in Baghdad that Washington blames on Iran-backed militias.

The interior ministry of the autonomous Kurdistan regional government, based in Erbil, said in a statement the drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the U.S. forces. It said no one was hurt in the attack.

A group that Western and some Iraqi officials say is aligned with Iran praised the attack, but did not explicitly claim it.

A barrage of rockets hit the same U.S.-led military base in the Erbil International Airport vicinity in February, killing a non-American contractor working with the U.S. military.

The Iran-backed militias oppose both the presence of the United States and Turkey and demand a full withdrawal of all foreign troops.

The United States has sometimes responded with air strikes against Iran-aligned militias including on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

An air strike ordered by former president Donald Trump that killed Iran's top commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 sent the region to the brink of a full-scale conflict.

US Says Indirect Nuclear Talks With Iran To Resume On Thursday

The United States and Iran will reconvene indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal on Thursday in Vienna, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

There have been doubts about whether the indirect talks, which began last week, might resume this week following an explosion at Iran’s key nuclear site on Sunday, which Tehran blamed on Israel, as well as Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60%, bringing the fissile material closer to bomb-grade.

“We don’t have any additional speculation to add to the cause or the origin of the attacks over the weekend,” Psaki told reporters. “The diplomatic conversations, though they will be indirect, will reconvene tomorrow in Vienna. We know this will be a long process but we certainly see that as a positive sign.”

“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.

Last week, Iran and its fellow parties to the agreement held what they described as “constructive” talks to revive the deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018, saying its terms favored Tehran, and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley plans to be in Vienna for the talks on Thursday, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the indirect talks, chiefly European diplomats are shuttling between the deal’s remaining parties - Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - and the United States. Iran has rejected meeting with U.S. officials.

Top Iran Official Speaks Of 'Security Contamination' After Attack On Natanz

A top Iranian official for the first time has admitted that nuclear documents were stolen in the past from a location near Tehran and said that the country faces a “security contamination”, after a sabotage attack hit one of the country’s nuclear facilities.

A former Revolutionary Guard commander and currently the Secretary of Iran Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaei referring to an apparent explosion and fire in the uranium enrichment site in Natanz said on Wednesday, “Previously, our completely secret nuclear documents were stolen.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 unveiled what he said was a trove of secret nuclear files stolen by Mossad from Tehran. Iranian officials consistently denied Netanyahu’s claim, insisting that images of documents presented by the Israeli leader were “fake”. Rezaei’s statement is the first admission that the theft did occur.

Referring to these incidents Rezaei said, “It is obvious that we are facing security contamination”. Last November, the top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near Tehran, without a trace of conspirators.

Rezaei, speaking to Iran’s Mehr news agency said that in less than a year Iran has experienced there have three major security bridges. There was another devastating explosion in Natanz in July 2020.

He insisted that in the past ten years “security contamination” has increased and the next presidential administration should concern itself with an extensive “cleanup” operation. He added that other countries periodically clean up their security services but Iran has not done so “perhaps in 30 years”.


Greece To Lend Patriot Anti-Missile System To Saudi Arabia

Greece is expected to finalize a deal with Saudi Arabia for the deployment of a Greek Patriot anti-aircraft system next week, two government officials in Athens said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos are due to travel to Riyadh next week to sign the agreement, one of the officials with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Greece will lend a battery of the US-made Patriot anti-aircraft system to the kingdom to protect critical energy facilities, another official said on condition of anonymity.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which is battling a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the country's war in 2015, has stepped up drone and missile attacks on Saudi targets in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia is using US supllied air-defense missiles but Houthi attacks have become a frequent danger.

Oil installations are a prime target for missiles and drones suspected of being supllied by Iran. A major attack in Septemebr 2019 crippled key oil installations, raising fears of global energy shortages.

The Patriot system is designed mainly to counter high-altitude ballistic missile attacks, which the kingdom has often had to deal with since intervening in Yemen. 

Reporting by Reuters

Khamenei Says Nuclear Talks Should Not Be 'Dragged Out'

Talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal should be “dragged out”, which could harm the country’s interests, Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei said in a speech on Wednesday in Tehran.

Khamenei, who has often expressed doubt about talks with the United States, said, “Officials have determined that we should negotiate. We have no arguments about this, but the talks should not become attritional.”

After three years of ‘maximum pressure’ by the former US Administration, President Joe Biden has vowed to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that his predecessor abandoned in 2018.

Tehran and Washington finally began indirect talks in Vienna last week with European mediation. The initial round was said to be “constructive” and further talks are scheduled to resume on Thursday.

However, Khamenei again expressed skepticism over the talks, saying that Washington tries to impose its “invalid” position on Iran.

The Biden Administration initially had demanded Iran to stop its violations of the JCPOA before any talks could begin, but later agreed to mediated talks for finding a solution for both countries to return to the deal.

Khamenei made no reference to a sabotage attack on Iran’s key uranium enrichment site in Natanz that happened on April 11, raising tensions within Iran and with Israel that Tehran blamed for the incident. Hardliners in Iran have demanded a suspension of the Vienna talks and Khamenei only spoke the negotiations.


Saudi Official Says Expanded Talks Should Follow Any Iran Nuclear Deal

DUBAI, April 14 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia believes any revival of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers should be a starting point for further discussions bringing in regional states aimed at expanding the deal's provisions, an official said on Wednesday.

Ambassador Rayd Krimly, head of policy planning at the Saudi foreign ministry, told Reuters that any agreement that does not effectively address concerns about Iran's missile program and support for regional proxies would not work.

Saudi Arabia, which had opposed the 2015 accord and is locked in a regional rivalry with foe Iran, earlier on Wednesday issued a statement calling for a nuclear deal with stronger parameters and a longer duration.

"Saudi Arabia is not interested in hindering or blocking the current negotiations ... it is interested in ensuring their success in achieving effectively the desired results," Krimly said, adding that consultations are going on with global powers.

"We want to make sure at a minimum that any financial resources made available to Iran via the nuclear deal are not used ... to destabilize the region," he said.

The talks in Vienna aim to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the pact after the Trump administration quit the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, which responded by breaching some nuclear restrictions.

"We can begin by a nuclear deal and move on to another format that will discuss all these issues in a positive manner," Krimly said, adding there was consensus among Arab countries and global powers on the need for expanded and inclusive talks.

"Maybe such a process can begin by confidence-building measures, by reducing tensions, by reducing the arms race in the region and then build on these steps towards a better future for all of us," he added.

The official said Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly faced missile and drone attacks by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group, was committed to working towards sustainable peace and security but retains the right to defend itself under international law.

"Our security and stability is not something we will bargain with," he said.

Exclusive: Favoritism In Iran's COVID Vaccination Effort

According to infomation received by Iran International from Iran’s Medical Science University, during the “non-transparent” vaccination effort with imported vaccines, some officials have been vaccinated without being on the priority list.

A middle-management source at the University of Medical Science who asked to remain anonymous told Iran International that he was able to get vaccinated with without being of old age or suffering from specified illnesses. Meanwhile, the vaccination of sensitive groups and the medical staff in Iran has not been completed, drawing widespread criticism.

Some media in Iran have reported that in Tehran’s black market, coronavirus vaccines is being sold at prices as high as 500 to 600 million rials ($2,000 to 2,400). According to the latest numbers from the Ministry of Health, Iran has imported 1.7 million doses of vaccine so far from Russia and China.

On Monday, the chairman of Iran’s Nursing Organization criticized the improper process of vaccination and said: “If officials had nothing to hide, they would release the clear numbers of vaccinations in Iran.”

Questions about access of officials to imported vaccines before the priority groups become more serious when Ali Khamenei’ the leader of the Islamic Republic who was quarantined since the beginning of the pandemic, suddenly started attending public events after it was reported that the first shipments of vaccines had arrived in Iran. This led to speculation of top officials receiving vaccines.

A week ago the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki announced that neither Khamenei nor any other officials have been vaccinated yet.

In March, some members of the parliament also confirmed the reports about officials cutting the vaccination line.

Khamenei’s Foundation Denies Any Problems In Production Of Iranian Vaccine

After the chairman of Iran’s Medical Organization announced some problems in the production of the Iranian coronavirus vaccine “Barekat”, the spokesperson for the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) foundation, controlled by the leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, denied any problems in the production.

Hojjat Niki Maleki, tweeted that the information provided by the chairman of Medical Organization Mohammadreza Zafarghandi, is false. In a discussion on Clubhouse, Zafarghandi had said that Iranian vaccines including Barekat, Razi, Pasteur, and Cuba are all in the process of production, but Barekat vaccine which was supposed to be ready by the end of Spring has encountered some problems and its production will be delayed.

The director of the vaccine production for the EIKO also announced that the building’s construction has finished, 20 to 30 percent of the equipment have been installed and 20 percent are currently being installed.

The spokesperson for the EIKO also claimed that the capacity of the semi-industrial production line for the vaccine has reached three million doses a month.

Months into the beginning of vaccination in the Middle East and the world, Iran remains far behind in public vaccination with less than a million citizens vaccinated. Many in the medical community and experts have criticized government officials for their weak response to the epidemic.

Zarif: Iran And Russia Are In Agreement Over Lifting US Sanctions

The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that Russia and Iran agree that US sanctions should be removed in order to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.

In a tweet on Tuesday, April 13, Zarif said his negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Tehran about “mutual relations, regional and global issues” were positive.

“Biden must choose; the deal that Obama made or the failed economic terrorism of Trump,” Zarif added.

Lavrov also met with President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday. “We want the atmosphere and agreements to return to the commitments and agreement of 2015,” Rouhani said in the meeting.

As Lavrov visits Tehran, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, pointing to indirect talks between the Islamic Republic and the US in Vienna, said Russia is ready to mediate between Iran and the US in order to move forward the process of returning to the nuclear deal.

Iran insists that it will return to its JCPOA commitments only if all US sanctions incompatible with the JCPOA are lifted in a verifiable manner. This was “clearly stated” to other JCPOA signatories, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s IAEA envoy, said in an interview published on Friday by the website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The talks in Vienna between Iran and the world powers over returning to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) scheduled to resume on Wednesday, April 14 have been delayed for one day.


Ship Owned By Israeli Firm Attacked By Missile Off UAE Coast: Media

A commercial vessel owned by an Israeli firm was attacked near Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates, two pro-Iran media outlets based in Lebanon said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Israel's top-rated television news quoted unnamed Israeli officials as blaming Iran for an assault on an Israeli-owned ship off the UAE coast and said there were no casualties. The channel said a missile had hit the ship.

An Israeli Transportation Ministry spokesman said he was aware of the reports but that he could not confirm them. There was no immediate confirmation from the UAE.

The incident comes a day after Iran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site and Iran's government spokesman vowed revenge against those responsible.

The Lebanon-based Unews news agency, which has previously reported news of attacks on vessels in Gulf waters, said the vessel was transporting cars and had been at Kuwait's Mina Al Ahmadi port 48 hours earlier.

Al Mayadeen television channel, also citing sources, identified the vessel as Hyperion.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed the Bahamas-flagged vehicle carrier HYPERION RAY was headed to Fujairah port from Kuwait.

Last month an Iranian container ship was damaged in an attack in the Mediterranean, two weeks after an Israeli-owned ship the MV HELIOS RAY - owned by the same company as the Hyperion Ray according to a U.N. shipping database - was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman.

Reporting by Reuters

Central Bank Chief Slams IMF For Saying Iran's Reserves Have Dwindled

The Chairman of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Abdolnaser Hemmati, has said that an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report about Iran’s available foreign currency reserves is an “egregious” mistake and a mistaken report resulting from “incomplete information”.

The IMF in a report this month about economic indicators of countries in the Middle East and Central Asia showed that Iran’s foreign currency reserves had dwindled to just $4 billion form a high of $122 billion.

Iran’s oil exports, the main source of foreign currency, were sanctioned in 2018 by the former US Administration and the country reverted to using its reserves to finance government operation and essential imports. Although Iran only occasionally revealed withdrawals from its reserves, but the question remained of how it has been financing essential needs since 2018.

Hemmati, who issued an Instagram post on Tuesday, slammed the IMF for not consulting with Iran’s Central Bank before issuing its report and compared it with IMF “discriminatory” refusal to grant an emergency loan to Iran. In 2020, Tehran applied for a $5 billion loan from a package the IMF offered countries to fight the impact of the Covid pandemic but was not granted the loan.

Iran’s currency has depreciated eightfold since the beginning of 2018, reaching 250,000 rials to one US dollar, mainly because of US sanctions that have choked off foreign currency earnings. Hemmati pledged that the foreign currency market is under CBI’s control and the bank will supply enough hard currency to prevent a further depreciation of rial’s value.