The top US envoy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) renewed calls for Iran to return to mutual compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA) on Tuesday during a meeting of the IAEA board, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
Louis Bono, representative to the IAEA and based in Vienna in his statement said, that trust must be rebuilt after the United States pulled of the agreement in 2018 and imposed heavy sanctions on Iran.
“We are making progress, but much work remains ahead of us,” Bono told a closed IAEA meeting late Tuesday. “Confidence must be rebuilt -- in Washington, in Tehran and elsewhere. We further urge Iran to join the US in reaching and implementing an understanding for a mutual return to full compliance.”
At the same time Bono was making his statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told US Senators in a hearing in Washington that even if Iran returns to full compliance with JCPOA “hundreds of sanctions would remain in place, including sanctions from the Trump administration.”
Before President Joe Biden took office Iran ramped up its uranium enrichment further violating limits set by the nuclear agreement demanding the US lift all sanctions as a pre-condition for its return to the JCPOA.
Talks in Vienna since early April have failed so far to solve the deadlock. Blinken sounded pessimistic on Monday when he said it was not clear if Iran was ready to return to its full obligations under the nuclear agreement.
German Foreign Minister Expresses 'Growing Unease' Over Iran Talks
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has expressed concern over Iran’s delay in resuming talks in Vienna to restore its 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) with world powers.
In comments quoted by Der Spiegel on Friday, Maas has said, "I see with growing unease that Iran is delaying the resumption of the Vienna nuclear talks and at the same time is moving further and further away from the core elements of the agreement."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned on Thursday during a visit to Kuwait that the talks cannot drag on indefinitely. "We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it's undertaken with regard to its nuclear program," he said.
Maas also reiterated the US position that now it is Iran’s decision to allow the talks to succeed. "We want a return to the JCPOA and are firmly convinced that this is in everyone's interest," Maas said. "It is clear, however, that this option will not be open to us forever."
Iran has said it will resume talks some time after its new president, hardliner former judge Ebrahim Raisi takes office next week. Meanwhile, Iran’s internal situation is becoming more precarious with daily protests, a declining economy and the uncontrolled Covid pandemic.
Two Crew Killed In Attack On Israeli-Managed Tanker Off Oman
Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed when a petroleum products tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime came under attack on Thursday off Oman's coast, the company said on Friday.
London-based Zodiac said on its website that the attack in the Arabian Sea on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned ship, was still being investigated.
Earlier on Friday it had described the incident as suspected piracy but the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which provides maritime security information, says it was not piracy.
"Details of the incident are still being established and an investigation into the incident is currently underway. We continue to work closely with the UKMTO and other relevant authorities," said Zodiac, which is owned by the wealthy Israeli Ofer family.
Zodiac said the ship was now sailing under the control of its crew and own power to a safe location with a U.S. naval escort.
In an advisory note, UKMTO said it had been informed that regional search and rescue authorities and coalition forces have been tasked to assist the vessel.
Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, including on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran distanced itself from those attacks.
In recent months Iran and Israel have traded accusations of attacking each other's vessels.
Reporting by Reuters
Protesting Mothers Of Those Killed During Iran Protests Arrested In Tehran
Security forced Friday arrested several women who gathered in Tehran’s Azadi square to demand justice for their sons killed in the November 2019 protests in Iran.
Activists published news and photos of the gathering, saying five mothers were detained but there is still no additional information whether they were released or where they were taken.
Mothers of victims killed by security forces in the bloodiest protests in Iran have formed a group to demand justice for their children. Friday’s gathering was also to show solidarity with recent protests in Khuzestan province, during which around ten protesters have been killed and dozens arrested.
They chanted, “From Tehran to Khuzestan, unity”, while holding pictures of their children. In a video on social media one of the mothers says, “Enough with slavery. We are not asking anyone to support us. We are asking you to defend yourselves and your young children.”
In their slogans during the gathering the women did not hide that they want the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
Their demands for the Judiciary to answer how and why their children were killed, families have received no answer, except to accept compensation and “close the cae”.
Doctors Warn Of COVID Disaster In Iran, As Japan Donates More Vaccines
A group of medical professors at Mashhad medical university in a letter have warned officials in northeastern Khorasan-Razavi province that the city of Mashhad needs a total lockdown to prevent a Covid catastrophe.
“We have been warning for some time that if the city is not fully closed down, a disaster is on the way,” they wrote on Thursday and added, “How can we explain that all hospital beds are nearly full, and soon we will not be able to accept the huge flood of patients?”
The senior medical doctors say that health workers are tired and ask why the authorities put the pressure on hospital care as “the last link” in “the broken chain of managing” the crisis.
Iran was the second country after China when in February 2020 the Covid epidemic began. Its response has been haphazard, with ineffective and poorly enforced lockdowns and a failed vaccination effort.
So far, more than 90 thousand people have died, according to official figures that are disputed by many health officials and the media who say the number is at least twice as much.
Amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, Iran received almost two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines donated by Japan on Friday. This was the second shipment of vaccines. In January, Iran’s Supreme Leader banned American and British vaccines, which contributed to the deepening health emergency.
UPDTAE: Israeli Owned Oil Tanker Attacked Off Oman
An oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, as details about the incident remained few.
The attack Thursday night targeted Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah. The location is over 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Oman’s capital, Muscat.
Israeli officials did not immediately acknowledge the attack. Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults.
An brief initial statement from the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said an investigation was underway into the incident, which it described as happening late Thursday night.
The statement did not elaborate, other to say that it suspected the attack did not involve piracy.
London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group, issued a statement saying the ship was the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street and was Japanese owned. The British Defense Ministry earlier misidentified the ship's owners. They described the attack as “piracy,” without elaborating.
Oman did not acknowledge an attack and officials there did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast, did not respond to a request for comment.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions over Iran's tattered nuclear deal and as negotiations over restoring the accord have stalled in Vienna. Since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, there have been a series of ship attacks in the region suspected to have been carried out by Tehran.
Iranian media quoted foreign reports on the attack, but did not elaborate.
Reporting by AP
US Planning New Sanctions Against Iran's Precision Weapons - WSJ
Amid stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran, the United States plans to impose sanctions aimed at Tehran’s expanding capability in deploying precision drones and guided missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The report says that Western officials are more concerned about the immediate danger in the region from those capabilities than from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The plan appears to be to sanction those companies that supply critical parts for Iran’s precision weapons.
Iranian military officials have been boasting of the growing precision capability of their weapons in recent months. It appears they have transferred some of the capability to their allies and proxies in the region.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told visiting Hamas representatives in June following the Gaza war that “Not long ago, Palestinians fought with rocks, but today they are armed with precision missiles instead, and that means advancement.”
Iranian technology has also been used extensively by Yemen’s Houthis to target Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles.
The new sanctions campaign coincides with other signals from the Biden Administration of a tougher approach toward Tehran which is relentlessly advancing its uranium enrichment program. But official told the Wall Street Journal that the new sanctions plan should be mixed up with the nuclear issue.
Following the news about the Biden Administration plan, the Ranking Member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) expressed support for the US plan to launch a sanctions campaign against #Iran's drones and missile procurement network.
Blinken Says Negotiations With Iran Cannot Go On Indefinitely
KUWAIT, July 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the negotiating process with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could not go on indefinitely, and that the ball was in Iran's court.
"We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it's undertaken with regard to its nuclear program," he said, addressing a news conference in Kuwait.
"We have clearly demonstrated our good faith and desire to return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement ... The ball remains in Iran’s court and we will see if they're prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance."
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington to revive the nuclear pact, from which then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States, adjourned on June 20, two days after the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Raisi takes office on Aug. 5.
Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to say when they might resume.
Gulf Arab states have asked to be included in the negotiations, and for any deal to address what they call Iran's destabilising behaviour in the region.
The parties to the JPCOA are Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union.
Blinken arrived in Kuwait on Wednesday and met the emir, Sheikh Nawaf, state media reported.
Iran's 'Private Sector' Imports AstraZeneca Vaccines Made In Russia
Iran’s Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that a shipment of 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines produced in Russia has been imported “by the private sector”, amid a surge in infections.
The Russian drugmaker R-Pharm began producing the vaccine according to an agreement with AstraZeneca only for export, including Middle Eastern countries.
It is not clear which private importer has bought the vaccines, but the Iranian government months ago said it will allow private companies to import the vaccines. So far, all vaccines purchases have been handled through government orders and it is not cleat if the Russian company directly sells to private buyers.
In Iran all major companies capable of receiving permits to pull off such a deal are usually not true private entities but are indirectly owned by state or religious companies, often labeled charitable outfits.
Iran has fallen short in its vaccination effort, mainly because of ban on purchasing American and British vaccines the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced in January. Iran has vaccinated just 6 percent of its 85-million population, while many countries in the region are well ahead.
There have been accusations that companies controlled by state and religious institutions have become involved in the vaccine effort to make profits and the ban on importing Western vaccines was meant to market their locally produced vaccines. These are not produced in sufficient quantity yet, but have received subsidies from the state and cost many times more than internationally recognized brands.
Senior Sunni Cleric In Iran Says Water Is Not The Only Reason For Unrest
A senior Sunni cleric in Iran has criticized the government’s management of the country and implicitly defending protests in oil-rich Khuzestan province, has said the reason is not just lack of water.
Molavi Abolhamid, the religious leader of Sunnis in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in southeast Iran is considered the most influential Sunni cleric who has often criticized the Islamic Republic for treating the minority Muslim community in the country as second-class citizens.
In remarks on Wednesday however, he made a positive gesture toward the incoming president Ebrahim Raisi, saying that his government would Iran’s “last hope” adding that he hoped there would be unity among different factions. Abdolhamid supported Raisi in the June presidential vote.
However, putting the onus on Raisi the Sunni leader said, “Nevertheless, If Mr. Raisi would not be able to make decisions based on reality,” we would lose hope for the future.
Voicing support for protests in Khuzestan that were triggered on July 15 by a long-running water shortage, Abdolhamid blamed “mismanagement” by the government. He said “poverty and deprivation” has reached intolerable levels and “protest is not just about water, it includes all these cases”.
He added that Khuzestan’s Arab-Iranians compare themselves to neighboring countries such as Kuwait and others in the region and see that people in there live in good conditions. He said the same is true about Iran’s Kurds, who compared to their ethnic brethren in Iraq and Turkey face disadvantages.
White House Calls On Critical Companies To Improve Cyber Defenses
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The White House is signaling to U.S. critical infrastructure companies, such as energy providers that they must improve their cyber defenses because additional potential regulation is on the horizon.
U.S. President Joseph Biden signed a national security memorandum on Wednesday, launching a new public-private initiative that creates "performance controls" for cybersecurity at America's most critical companies, including water treatment and electrical power plants.
The recommendations are voluntary in nature, but the administration hopes it will cause companies to improve their cybersecurity ahead of other policy efforts, said a senior administration official.
The announcement comes after multiple high profile cyberattacks this year crippled American companies and government agencies, including a ransomware incident which disrupted gasoline supplies.
"These are the thresholds that we expect responsible owners and operators to go," said the official. "The absence of mandated cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructure is what in many ways has brought us to the level of vulnerability that we have today."
"We are pursuing all options we have in order to make the rapid progress we need," they added.
Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a "real shooting war" with a "major power" it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the United States, highlighting what Washington sees as a growing threat posed by hackers from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
"The federal government cannot do this alone," said the official. "Almost 90% of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. Securing it requires a whole of nation effort."
The official described the current state of cybersecurity rules for critical infrastructure companies as "patchwork" and "piecemeal."
"We've kicked the can down the road for a long time," said the official.