Seoul Says Iran's Funds To Be Unblocked Through Consultations With US | Iran International

Seoul Says Iran's Funds To Be Unblocked Through Consultations With US

Iran’s funds blocked in South Korea will be released after consultations with the United States, Seoul has announced Tuesday according to Korea Times. South Korean banks have blocked an estimated $7 billion of Iranian funds from oil exports that were not possible to be transferred du to US sanctions against Tehran.

"Our government has been in talks with Iran about ways to use the frozen assets, and the Iran side has expressed its consent to the proposals we have made," the foreign ministry was quoted as saying without providing further details of the proposals.

The chairman of Iran’s central bank Abdolnaser Hemmati announced on Monday that he had reached an agreement with Korea’s ambassador in Tehran Ryu Jeong-hyun on “methods of transferring and using” the funds for “intended purposes.” He did not say how much of the $7 billion of Iran’s frozen funds were affected but his reference to “intended purposes” suggests the funds would be used for specific categories.

South Korea once supplied Iran with a limited quantity of medical needs and further humanitarian supplies night be the purpose of any deal made between Tehran and Seoul.

Tehran, desperate for cash, has been putting a lot of pressure on Seoul to have the money released but during former President Donald Trump’s administration no agreement was reached.

Two weeks before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Iran seized a South Korean vessel in the Persian Gulf “on environmental grounds,” although many detected an attempt to force Seoul to negotiate over the blocked funds. South Korea’s official news agency has reported that Iran is demanding the immediate unfreezing of $1 billion.

US To Identify Culprits For Rocket Attack In Iraq, Promises Necessary Response

US officials announced that they are investigating Wednesday’s attack on Ayn al-Asad airbase in Iraq that hosts US-led coalition forces to find the culprits of the attacks.

"Thank God no one was killed by the rocket. We're identifying who’s responsible and we'll make judgments at that point," President Joe Biden told reporters.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki also announced that Washington is trying to identify those behind the attack on Ayn al-Asad airbase and if it becomes clear that a missile attack is needed as a response, the US will do so again.

The US State Department also announced that the US will coordinate with the Iraqi government and its allies for any response to the attack.

"We cannot attribute responsibility at this time, and we do not have a complete picture of the extent of the damage," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

Western intelligence sources have told France News Agency that the rockets that hit Ayn al Asad airbase were Iranian “Arash” models.

Hours after the rocket attack, the security office of the Kurdistan region reported that an arrested member of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigade has confessed that the rockets used in the attack were made by Iran.

At least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US-led coalition troops on Wednesday, the coalition and the Iraqi military said. It was not immediately known if there were any casualties.

Iraqi Militia Member: Rockets Used Against US Forces Were Made By Iran

Hours after the rocket attack on the American base in Iraq on Wednesday, March 3, the security office of the Kurdistan region reported that an arrested member of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigade has confessed that the rockets used in the attack were made by Iran.

A Kurdistan TV channel reported that on Wednesday two of the four people involved in the attack on Erbil International airport were arrested.

The attack near Erbil International Airport on February 15 against the US-led coalition killed two and injured at least five, including an American soldier. There was another attack on Wednesday, March 3, where at least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US-led coalition troops. There is no report on the number of casualties yet.

One of the arrested individuals, Heidar al-Bayati, said in his confessions that the Iran-backed Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigades were responsible for both attacks, and that the rockets used in the attacks were made by Iran.

According to Bayati, it took the operatives several days to prepare for the attack and take the rockets from Mosul to the launch are near the airport.

Their arrest comes hours after today’s attack on Ayn al Asad American airbase in Iraq, in which Pentagon announced a contractor died from a heart attack.

Ayn al Asad is the same base that was targeted in retaliation to the killing of former Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by the United States.

The Iraqi prime minister called today’s attack on the American base unjustifiable and attributed it to groups that do not have allegiance to Iraq. Mustafa al-Kadhimi demanded the arrest and interrogation of the culprits for the sake of Iraq’s security.

 

Israeli Minister Demands Biden Impose ‘Enormous Pressure’ On Iran

Any new nuclear deal between world powers and Iran should be “dramatically improved” from the 2015 agreement known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.

Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urged United States President Joe Biden to put “enormous pressure” on Iran to change behavior and dismantle its nuclear program, which he claimed could affect not only the Middle East, but Europe and the US.

“All countries in the Middle East see eye to eye that this is a devastating threat that should be prevented in advance,” Steinitz said at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit online conference, speaking alongside counterparts from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

“Iran is a big shadow,” Steinitz said, denouncing Iran’s influence and alliances in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The Israeli minster charged that Tehran was “violating all their commitments” under the JCPOA, which Iran began to breach in 2019, a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed stringent sanctions.

Steinitz charged that the JCPOA was “far from being sufficient” and that any new agreement over Iran’s nuclear program “should be dramatically improved.” While Netanyahu opposed the JCPOA, delivering a critical speech to a joint session of Congress in 2015, he has criticized Iran for not abiding by it.

Reporting by Reuters

US Officials Met Houthis In Undisclosed Talks To End War In Yemen

Senior US officials have held a first direct meeting with representatives from the Iran-backed Houthi movement as the new Biden administration pushes to end Yemen’s six-year war, two sources have told Reuters.

US Yemen envoy Timothy Lenderking and the Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammad Abdulsalam conducted the secret talks in the Omani capital Muscat on February 26, at a time when Washington has not succeeded in bringing Iran to the negotiating table to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Yemen’s civil war started months after the Houthi’s captured the capital in 2014 and expelled the internationally recognized government. Saudi Arabia intervened to support the government with help from other Persian Gulf Arab states and enjoyed strong support from Trump’s administration.

President Joe Biden has adopted a different policy, distancing the United States from the Saudi military effort, delisting the Houthis from the US terrorist designation while criticizing the Houthis for continuing offensive operations and sending armed drones against Saudi civilian targets.

The US Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on two Houthi military leaders, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks, after the group stepped up attacks.

The sources said Lenderking had pressed the Houthis to halt offensives and encouraged the movement to engage actively with Riyadh in virtual talks on a ceasefire.

A US State Department spokesperson said Lenderking has been meeting with regional senior government officials and has met with UN special envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip.

"We will not be commenting on all his engagements," the spokesperson told Reuters.

Reporting by Reuters

Human Rights Group Claims 23 Protesters Killed In Iran’s South-East

At least 23 people have been killed by Iranian security forces during protests in Sistan-Baluchestan province, southeast, since February 22, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported on Wednesday March 3.

The CHRI includes ten reportedly killed on February 22 when security forces reportedly opened fire after border guards at a crossing near Saravan stopped ‘fuel mules’ transporting fuel to sell in Pakistan. Raha Bahraini, spokesperson of Amnesty International, last week said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had deliberately shot dead ten ‘fuel mules.’

Officials have admitted only three deaths in the incident. One police officer was killed on February 25 when protesters stormed a police station near Zahedan, authorities have said.

The region is populated mainly by Baluchis, who are Sunnis and who straddle the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and who allege they face discrimination in the mainly Shia Islamic Republic of Iran. Authorities have blamed protests on “foreign enemies” and Sunni extremists, a common claim made during any anti-government manifestations. Videos received outside Iran last week showed columns of special security forces moving from other provinces.

Authorities have also cut off internet services in Sistan-Baluchestan to prevent news of protests reaching the rest of Iran and the outside world, and to block attempts to coordinate protests.

CHRI and other human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have demanded an end to the use of force by the government and an investigation into the initial incident at the border. CHRI reports dozens of people have been wounded, some critically, but there is no exact number because of difficulties in eastablishing contact with the region.

US Forces: Rockets Hit Ain-Assad Airbase In Iraq Hosting US Troops

At least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US-led coalition troops on Wednesday, the coalition and the Iraqi military said. It was not immediately known if there were any casualties.

The rockets struck Ain al-Asad airbase in Anbar province at 7:20 a.m., spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto said. Iran had attacked the Ain al-Asad base with ballisti cmissiles on January 8, 2020 in retaliation for the killing of its top general Qasem Soleimani days earlier. That attack injured dozens of American servicemen.

Later, the Iraqi military released a statement saying the attack did not cause significant losses and that security forces had found the launch pad used for the missiles.

It was the first attack since the U.S. struck Iran-aligned militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week, stoking fears of a possible repeat of a series of tit-for-tat attacks that escalated last year, culminating in the US-directed strike that killed Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport.

Wednesday's attack comes two days before Pope Francis' is scheduled to visit Iraq in a much anticipated trip that will include Baghdad, southern Iraq and in the northern city of Irbil.

The US strike along the border had been in response to a spate of rocket attacks that targeted the American presence, including one that killed a coalition contractor from the Philippines outside the Irbil airport.

After that attack, the Pentagon said the strike was a “proportionate military response” taken after consulting coalition partners.

Marotto said the Iraqi security forces were leading an investigation into the attack on Ain al-Asad.

Reporting by AP

US Envoy For Iran Met With Families Of Americans Jailed In Tehran

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price has said that the Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley met with the families of Americans who have disappeared or arbitrarily imprisoned in Iran, and promised that the Biden administration will continue its efforts until all of them are released. 

Previously, the family of Baquer and Siamack Namazi, Iranian American father and son arrested in Tehran had asked President Joe Biden to make the release of their loved ones a precondition for any agreement with the Islamic Republic.

Siamack Namazi was arrested in September of 2015 during a visit to Iran. His father, Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF official traveled to Iran to try to get his son released but he was also arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage and cooperation with a hostile government. 

Another Iranian American jailed in Iran is the environmental activist Morad Tahbaz who was arrested in 2019 in Iran and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson also disappeared in Iran and reported dead.

United Nations bodies and human rights organizations have criticized Iran for arbitrarily arrested foreigners and dual nationals for the purpose of using them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West.

The Islamic Republic recently released physician Majid Taheri in exchange for the release of Michael White, who was charged with Insulting the supreme leader. 

Recently, Canada drafted a statement signed by 58 countries condemning the practice of arbitrarily arrests of foreign nationals as a tool for diplomatic pressure. 

Macron To Rouhani: Iran Must Make 'Clear Gestures' To Revive Nuclear Deal

French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic must make clear and immediate gestures for the dialogue on resuming the 2015 nuclear deal to continue.

“Having reminded (Rouhani) of the efforts made by France with its partners in the last years to reach a negotiated solution, the (French) head of state stressed it was important that Iran made clear and immediate gestures so that dialogue can resume with all parties to the Vienna deal,” Macron’s office said.

Macron had previously attempted to return President Rouhani and President Donald Trump to the negotiation table in his phone calls with the two in the September 2019, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

According to a statement released by Elysee palace, President Macron also expressed his concern over the escalation of tensions in the Middle East after the recent attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militia of Yemen against Saudi Arabia and the Iran-backed militia groups attacking the US-led coalition’s forces in Iraq and Syria.

Rouhani in response told Macron that the only way to revive the nuclear deal, also referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is to lift all US sanctions, and that the JCPOA is not up for new negotiations.

He claimed that Iran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA is ongoing and Iran has never exited the JCPOA, despite the fact that last week Iran limited the access of UN inspectors to some of its nuclear facilities.

US To Address Iran's "Dangerous Adventurism" In the Middle East

After the US sanctioned two key military leaders of the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, the US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the US will certainly address Iran’s “dangerous adventurism” in the Middle East.

“We’ve talked about Iran’s ballistic missile program, but clearly when it comes to Iran’s malign activity, we have to talk about Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region,” Ned Price said. “It’s certainly something that we will address going forward, because it does add to the combustible situation that we find ourselves with in Yemen.”

Price said the individuals sanctioned on Tuesday had ties with Iran and that Iran has undeniably “fanned the flames” of the Yemen civil war, providing Houthis of Yemen with financial and military support.

He reiterated the Biden administration’s position on mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and the United States’ commitment to “constructive diplomacy” and the nuclear accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

He said the constructive diplomacy will have one “clear-eyed” aim: “To ensure and to see to it that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon and to apply verifiable limits to Iran’s nuclear program.”

He once again stated that the United States is ready to meet with Iran to decide on the path forward for a “mutual return to compliance” with the nuclear deal.

US Treasury Sanctions Key Leaders of Iran-Backed Houthis In Yemen

The US Department of the Treasury sanctioned two key military leaders of the Iran-backed Ansarallah, the main Houthi group for prolonging Yemen's civil war and exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Houthi leaders Mansur Al-Sa’adi and Ahmad ‘Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi for orchestrating Houthi attacks impacting Yemeni civilians, neighboring countries, and commercial ships in international waters to “advance the Iranian regime’s destabilizing agenda.

“The United States condemns the destruction of civilian sites by the Houthi militants designated today.  These individuals command forces that are worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” said Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M Gacki.  “The United States remains committed to promoting accountability of Houthi leadership for their actions, which have contributed to the extraordinary suffering of the Yemeni people.”

Houthi rebels took control of the capital of Yemen and overthrew the government with the financial and military support of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has been documented that the Islamic Republic has been supporting Houthis even during the US sanctions with military equipment and by providing them oil to sell.

Mansur Al-Sa’adi serves as the Houthi Naval Forces Chief of Staff and has masterminded lethal attacks, mostly with naval mines, against international shipping in the Red Sea. 

Ahmad ‘Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi is the commander of Yemen’s Houthi-aligned Air Force and Air Defense Forces, as well as its UAV program which has acquired Iranian-made missiles, drones, and weapons during the civil war.