Saudi Minister Optimistic US Ties Will Be 'Excellent' Under Biden | Iran International

Saudi Minister Optimistic US Ties Will Be 'Excellent' Under Biden

DUBAI, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has voiced optimism that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be "excellent" under new U.S. President Joe Biden, Al-Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Thursday.

Appointments made by Biden show "understanding of the common issues" by the new U.S. administration, Prince Faisal bin Farhan added, according to Twitter posts by the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based TV channel.

"The Biden administration will find that our targets regarding Yemen are the same," Al-Arabiya quoted him as saying.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group after it seized the capital Sanaa.

Biden pledged during his election campaign to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies have long been allies of the United States, sharing the objective of protecting oil supplies from the Gulf region and containing Iran.

Second Huge Blaze Erupts In Fuel Tanks On Afghan Border With Iran

A large blaze has erupted at a border post between Iran and Afghanistan on Saturday in fuel tanks on the Afghan side of the border. This is the second big blaze in a month at the border involving fuel transported from Iran by tankers.

Iran’s customs officials said the blaze started before noon local time in three fuel tanks at the Abu Nasr Farahi border post. Iranian officials diverted trucks and tankers waiting on the Iranian side of the border away from the area and checkpoints were opened to allow trucks on the Afghan side to quickly cross into Iran to avoid being caught in the blaze.

In the February13 blaze dozens of fuel tankers exploded and burned at a different border crossing, causing huge damage to merchandise, and wounding at least 60 people.

Ruhollah Latifi, an Iranian customs official told local media that each of the tanks holds 120,000 liters of fuel and there are other tanks at this location.

There are still no reports of casualties and damage and no indication whether the incident was the result of foul play, an attack or an accident.

Irish Foreign Minister Will Visit Iran To Meet Rouhani, Zarif On Nuclear Deal

Irland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney is to meet Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Sunday in his role as a UN Security Council facilitator of the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 between Iran and major world powers.

Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA to revive the agreement.

But European sources this week said that Tehran had given positive signs about opening informal talks after European powers scrapped plans to criticize Tehran at the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also due to meet Coveney during the trip, on Friday said Iran would soon present a "constructive" plan of action.

"Ireland is a strong supporter of the JCPOA. In our role as facilitator, Ireland is keen to maintain a close dialogue with all actors, and encourage all parties to return to full compliance with the agreement," Coveney said in a statement.

European Union member Ireland in January took up its seat as one of 15 members of the United Nations Security Council and the country has been appointed a facilitator of the 2015 deal for the Security Council.

President Joe Biden’s administration is keen to have talks with Iran to restore the JCPOA, abandoned by Donald Trump, but demands that Iran should first return to full compliance with the deal.

Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy.

Iran's nuclear policy is decided by the country's top authority, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president or the government.

 

Biden Extends US National Emergency With Respect To Iran For One Year

In a letter to the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives Friday, President Joe Biden extended the United States’ national emergency with respect to Iran which began in 1995 for one more year.

Biden warned that the actions and policies of the Government of Iran — including its proliferation and development of missiles and other asymmetric and conventional weapons capabilities, its network and campaign of regional aggression, its support for terrorist groups, and the malign activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its surrogates — continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.

The declaration continues: For these reasons, the national emergency declared on March 15, 1995, must continue in effect beyond March 15, 2021. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to Iran declared in Executive Order 12957.

The executive order must be extended in a period of 90 days before its expiration (March 15 of each year) or it will be revoked automatically.

The order comes as the Biden administration is attempting diplomatic efforts to return to the nuclear deal with Iran.

The Spokesperson for the US State Department Ned Price told the reporters on Thursday that Washington believes the return of both sides to the nuclear deal must be done through direct diplomacy with Iran and deliberation with other members of the nuclear accord.

Iran-Backed Militia Claims It Has Active Cells In Washington DC

The Telegram channel affiliated with Iran-backed militia group Kawtheryoon in Iraq posted in English that the Iraqi “resistance” factions have the capacity to target US forces even in Washington DC.

The group additionally claimed that terror factions associated with Iran are growing stronger and attracting more support than ever before. The group demanded the United States withdraw all of its troops from Iraq and the Middle East. The post included a picture of caskets containing US soldiers.

Additionally, the post said that the resistance factions have "thousands of men" who can rise to replace Imad Mughniyeh, the slain Lebanese Hezbollah commander. It said: "And you, the Zionist enemy (Israel) we have thousands of men like Imad Mughniyeh."

The post concluded by addressing both the US and Israel, saying that the resistance factions will deal painful blows upon each, and that the killing of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi PMU commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis will not help them escape the "torment" that awaits them.

The threat comes at a time when the Biden administration seeks to directly engage Iran in pursuit of returning to the negotiations over the nuclear deal. Despite these diplomatic gestures, Iran-backed terrorists in Iraq have continued to target Baghdad’s Green Zone and the American embassy and other military bases of the coalition forces.

Saudi-Led Coalition Destroyed Two Explosives-Laden Drones

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted and destroyed two explosives-laden drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis towards Saudi Arabia’s southern cities of Khamis Mushait and Jazan, state TV reported early on Saturday.

A Houthi military spokesman said in a Twitter post on Saturday that two drones attacked King Khalid Air Base, in the Khamis Mushait area.

The Iran-aligned Houthis have stepped up cross-border drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities recently, mostly targeting the southern part of the country. The coalition says it intercepts most attacks.

Houthi rebels said yesterday that they fired a missile at an oil facility owned by Saudi Aramco in the Red Sea city of Jeddah – the latest in a series of cross-border missile and drone strikes the Yemeni group has claimed against the kingdom.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree on Twitter claimed the rebels hit an Aramco facility in Jeddah with a Quds-2 missile at dawn on Thursday in retaliation for a six-year military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

He posted a satellite image online that matched Aramco’s North Jeddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored in tanks. The rebels claimed they hit the same facility last November, an attack the Saudi-led coalition later admitted had sparked a fire at the plant.

The coalition has been fighting the Iran-aligned group in Yemen since 2015.

 

Iran: Assassination Of IRGC Nuclear Official Will Not Go Unanswered.

Three months after the assassination of senior Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) official and a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s representative in Vienna Kazem Gharibabadi said the Islamic Republic will not leave the assassination of Fakhrizadeh unanswered.

“While the Islamic Republic is strongly committed to pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, another Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated,” Gharibabadi said on Friday. “Evidence indicates that Israel is behind the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and must be accountable for it.”

He continued: “Considering the terrible provocative consequences of such a horrible action and its impact on international peace and security, we call on the International Atomic Energy Agency and its members to condemn this action in the strongest way.”

Iran’s ambassador to Vienna also emphasized that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not leave the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh unanswered.

Fakhrizadeh, a senior IRGC official who is characterized by Iranian media as a nuclear scientist was killed on November 27 near Tehran in what looked like an ambush on his motorcade. Unconfirmed reports saud he was assassinated by a Mossad team consisting of Iranian and Israeli agents using a one-ton automated weapon that had been smuggled into Iran in pieces, according to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, citing anonymous intelligence sources.

 

India Likely To Start Full Operations At Iran's Chabahar Port By April

Indian Minister of State for Ports and Shipping‌ Mansukh Mandaviya told Reuters that he expects full-scale operations at the two terminals developed by India in the Chabahar cargo port in southeastern Iran by the end of May.

India was developing some areas in Chabahar port as a way to transport goods to Iran circumventing the territory of its competitor Pakistan. But the US sanctions on the Islamic slowed down the development of the port and now with the new US administration’s attitude toward Iran, Indian officials are hopeful to move forward with nearly a $500 million of investment.

“I am expecting to visit Iran in April or May for the inauguration of full operations,” Mansukh Mandaviya told Reuters.

India is developing two terminals at the port including the Shahid Beheshti complex and under an agreement signed with Iran, it would run the terminal for 10 years.

Mandaviya said the port had already commenced operations in a limited way and the growth potential was evident.

Chabahar port handled 123 vessels and 1.8 million tonnes of bulk and general cargoes from February 2019 to January 2021, he said.

“This is much higher than our expectations. Imagine the scale of operations and freight saving once it is fully operational,” he said.

Last year amid the pandemic, India used the Chabahar port to send 75,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and 25 tonnes of the pesticide malathion to Iran to deal with a locust invasion.

Reports Of Civil Right Activist's Kidney Failure Due To Torture In Prison

Reports indicate that civil rights activist Yashar Piri has suffered kidney failure after being subjected to torture and heavy beatings by the security forces.

The civil rights activist from East Azarbaijan province of Iran was arrested by security forces in civilian clothing on February 21, the International Mother Language Day, for distributing children’s books in the Azari language, and was taken to an undisclosed location.

He was released on bail from Tabriz prison three days later, on February 24, until his trial. According to his brother Roozbeh Piri, after the arrest, he was transferred urgently from an undisclosed location to Tabriz prison and was later released on bail.

People close to the civil rights activist said in addition to his kidney failure, his lungs have also suffered heavy damage and he has vomited blood several times.

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Piri was previously arrested by the security forces in November 2019 during the country-wide protests in Iran, also referred to as the Bloody November, when an estimated 1500 to 3000 protesters were killed and 10 to 20 thousand were arrested.

Yashar Piri, born in 1991, is a law graduate and a resident of Tabriz city in East Azarbaijan. 

Ethnic minorities in Iran are not allowed to study and publish in their mother tongue. 

UN Condemns Government Killing Of Up To 23 People In Iran's South-East

The United Nations has expressed concern Friday over reports that at least a dozen people and possibly up to 23 have been killed in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province where Revolutionary Guards and security forces have used lethal force against fuel couriers from ethnic minorities and protesters.

The shooting of people carrying fuel across the border on February 22 led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, including the capital, Zahedan.

"The series of violent events and unrest began on 22 February, when Revolutionary Guards are alleged to have shot and killed at least 10 fuel couriers, known as sookhtbar, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province at the border with Pakistan, after a two-day stand-off triggered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocking the road to the city of Saravan," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

The killings had triggered demonstrations in several cities across the province, during which the Revolutionary Guard and security forces fired lethal ammunition at protesters and bystanders, he said.

Colville said that it has been difficult to verify the death toll due to disruptions of local mobile data networks, but some unconfirmed reports have estimated that as many as 23 people may have been killed.

"We call on the authorities to immediately restore Internet access in areas that remain disconnected," he said.

Sistan-Baluchistan’s population is predominantly Baluchi Sunni Muslim, while most Iranians are Shi’ite. Iran has some of the lowest fuel prices in the world and has been fighting smuggling to neighboring countries. 

Iran's Aviation Protection Guard Says It Foiled A Hijacking Attempt

An attempt to hijack a civilian airliner in Iran Thursday night failed after the hijacker was arrested by security forces, the Aviation Protection Guard said in a brief statement published by news agencies in Iran on Friday.

The passenger plane, a Fokker 100 took off from the southwestern city of Ahvaz at 10:22 local time en route to northeastern city of Mashhad. The hijacking attempt forced the plane to land in Esfahan, central Iran where apparently the hijacker was arrested.

Iran’s Aviation Protection Guard is part of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

The statement refers to one hijacker and says the individual’s aim was to force the plane to fly to “one of the countries in the Persian Gulf”. It provides no details about possible motives or any information on the identity of the hijacker.

Iran’s last case of a plane hijacking took place in late 2001, when three brothers attempted to take over the plane flying out from Ahvaz and redirect it to the United States. Five passengers and a crew member were injured in the incident.

The statement also says no one was injured during the incident. Since last week, there have been anti-government protests and clashes with security forces in Iran’s Sunni populated southeastern region.

Security-related claims by the IRGC and Iran’s Intelligence Ministry cannot be independently verified, as public trials of people accused of terror activities rarely take place and officials often do not issue updates or answer questions by the media.

 

US VP Kamala Harris And Israel's Netanyahu Discuss Iran In Phone Call

US Vice President Kamala Harris in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Washington’s support for Israel and the two sides pledged cooperation over Iran’s nuclear program and its “dangerous behavior”.

Israeli leaders are concerned about the Biden Administrations efforts to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal with also referred to a the JCPOA. Israel has argued that the agreement does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons after its sunset clauses expire.

Returning to the agreement would also mean lifting sanctions that former President Donald trump imposed after he abandoned the deal in 2018. Critics of the agreement say this would prop up Tehran’s finances allowing it to prop up extremist allies in the region.

Harris "emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security," the statement added.

Harris spoke with Netanyahu to reiterate the Biden Administration’s opposition to an International Criminal Court probe of possible war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, a White House statement said on Thursday.

The call, the first between the two since Harris and President Joe Biden took office in January, came a day after the ICC prosecutor said she would launch the probe, prompting swift rejections by Washington and Jerusalem.

Harris and Netanyahu noted their governments’ "opposition to the International Criminal Court’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel," the White House said.

US Welcomes European Powers Dropping IAEA Resolution Against Iran

The United States State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday [March 4] welcomed the decision by European powers to withdraw a draft resolution censuring Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a move seen as conducive to diplomacy aimed at reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Price said the US was committed to “principled, clear-eyed, constructive negotiations in the context of the P5+1 with the Iranians, where we can discuss the very issues that might be at play.” He reiterated that if Iran resumed “full compliance with the JCPOA,” the US would be “prepared to do the same.” He suggested the US was flexible regarding methods of reviving the nuclear deal.

Iran signed the 2015 agreement – the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) − with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1), and has suggested that before rejoining JCPOA structures, the US should lift draconian sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after quitting the JCPOA in 2018. Washington in turn has argued Tehran should first reverse measures taken since 2019 expanding its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.

While IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Gross said back in December said agreement was needed on synchronizing steps taken by Washington and Tehran to revive the deal, it has been unclear in which forum it might be reached.

“We’re not dogmatic about the format,” Price said Thursday. “What we are dogmatic about is our overarching objective, and that is to ensure that Iran is subject to permanent, verifiable restrictions that prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Israel Updating Plans To Attack Iran Nuclear Facilities: Defense Minister

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, said his country’s armed forces are updating their plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if the international community cannot do anything, Israel is prepared to take action alone.

"If the world stops them before, it's very much good. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves," Gantz said in his first sit-down interview with an American media outlet.

Sharing a classified map of targets with Fox News, Gantz said the Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah is in possession of “hundreds of thousands of rockets” and many of them are in civilian areas.

"This is a target map. Each one of them has been checked legally, operationally, intelligence-wise and we are ready to fight," Gantz added.

According to the Israeli army’s annual intelligence report, Tel-Aviv is preparing itself for another “several-days war” with Hezbollah. Israeli media have estimated that in the next potential conflict, three thousand Hezbollah positions will be targeted each day, and 300 Hezbollah fighters will be killed every 24 hours.

The Israeli Defense Minister confirmed the reports from Israeli media about Israel’s efforts to form a defense pact with Arab countries of the region against Tehran but said the issue is not a defense pact but these countries are trying to set up a special security mechanism against Iran.

The head of the Israeli Defense Force recently reported that since the beginning of 2020, Israel has targeted the positions of over 500 Iranian-backed forces in Syria.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned the Biden administration against returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.