Iran on Saturday condemned US air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday's strikes.
Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq.
Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.
However, Tehran has denied any involvement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty" in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran's state media reported.
"Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq's security and stability," the media reports said.
"We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents," Zarif was quoted as saying.
Hussein gave assurances that "Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries", state media reported.
Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday's US airstrikes encouraged terrorism in the region.
Hussein is in Iran "to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation" with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.
Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.
IAEA confirms Iran Enriching Uranium To 60% Purity
VIENNA, April 17 (Reuters) - Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.
Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.
Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.
"The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.
"According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course," the report said.
Nursing Chief: 120 Nurses Leave Iran Every Month
Around 120 nurses emigrate from the country every month, Hamid Reza Azizi, head of the semi-independent Nursing Council of Iran, said on Saturday [April 17]. Azizi told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) that the trend began with the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in February 2020, but he said that the rising cost of living was the driving force.
Azizi, however, rejected a figure of 500 emigrants given earlier by another Nursing Council official. Nurses in Iran have protested low wages, lack of medical and hygiene supplies, over-crowded hospitals, and delay in extra pay since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Azizi highlighted what he called a “highly defective pay system.” He also suggested that “discrimination, injustice and improper behavior…in the public health sector” had undermined the motivation and commitment of staff to serve the country. He also expressed concern at a lack of financial assistance to the families of 110 nurses who had died from Covid.
Iran on Saturday reported 21,000 new cases and 319 deaths in 24 hours, bringing cumulative totals to 2.22 million and 66,317. Only 0.12 precent of population have been vaccinated.
US Told Israel To Stop 'Chatter' On Natanz Incident: Israeli Media
Israel media reported late Friday that the United States has told Israel through various channels to stop its “chatter” about its alleged involvement in the explosion that damaged Tehran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported Friday evening that the Biden Administration reportedly told Israel it is dangerous, detrimental and embarrassing to Washington as it is engaged in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna.
Hours after the April 11 incident in Natanz, Israeli media began quoting unnamed sources saying that Israel was behind the act of sabotage and later Iran started blaming Jerusalem for the explosion. Channel 12 also quoted unnamed security officials expressing concern that Israel had tied itself to the incident, although the government has remained silent.
Although the United States and its European allies participating in the Vienna talks have refrained from condemning the Natanz incident directly or blaming Israel, some diplomats have voiced unease about such events impacting the talks.
The Israeli security cabinet is scheduled to meet Sunday to discuss developments and whether to carry out more attacks against Iran’s nuclear targets or to stay calm, Channel 13 reported. The report said Defense Minister Benny Gantz prefers an “active approach” on Iran but is concerned about the chatter harming Israel’s security. Iran has vowed revenge, and the more Israeli sources advertise hostile actions, the more Tehran will be under pressure to retaliate.
Earlier in the week, Gantz demanded a high-level investigation into what he said were leaks to the media regarding attacks on Iran.
Israel generally maintains a policy of ambiguity on foreign operations, specially on operations against Iran.
Iran Rejects Ukraine's Claim About Intentional Downing Of Flight 752
After the comments made by the Ukrainian national security official about the downing of flight 752 by Iran being intentional, the spokesperson for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council rejected the claim and called it a “requested comment”.
Kayvan Khosravi told the reporters that these comments before the trial of those accused of involvement in shooting down the Ukrainian plane “requested” and “aimed that misguiding the public opinion and creating a fake controversy based on forged and fake documents.”
Oleksey Danilov, Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, who has been involved in the investigation of the disaster and had traveled to Iran and met high-ranking Iranian officials, said in an interview on Thursday that he believed Iran shot down the plane intentionally to prevent a cycle of military escalation with the United States.
Khosravi said the only request that Danilov made was for Iran to send the black box of the plane to Ukraine, saying this issue is very important to his country.
He once again repeated the Islamic Republic’s official narrative that the downing of the plane was due to human error and unintentional.
Danilov had told the reporters: “When they say this was accidental…I don’t buy that. It was intentional. This was a conscious attack.” The Ukrainian government has backed his assertions.
Danilov, who met his counterpart, Ali Shamkhani in Tehran last February, said his host did not completely deny his theory and only said that his political faction was not involved but there are "different influential groups" in Iran.
Iran 'Strongly Concerned' About Recent Attacks In Iraq
The spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran Saeed Khatibzadeh expressed strong concerns about the recent explosions in Iraq and said the Islamic Republic condemns any action against Iraq’s sovereignty and stability.
He emphasized that “some are trying to spread unsafety and create a crisis in order to prevent any constructive effort in the region.” Khatibzadeh did not elaborate on his comments.
In an explosion on Thursday in a market in Baghdad at least four were killed and 17 were injured. Earlier on Thursday, US Forces stationed in an area in Erbil international airport were targeted in a drone strike, and a Turkish military base in the Bashiqa area in the north of Iraq.
This is the second round of rocket attacks in Erbil in the past two months. There were similar attacks on Erbil in February targeting the US-led international coalition against ISIS.
After those attacks, the security office of the Kurdistan autonomous zone announced the arrest of a senior member of the Iran-backed Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia in connection to the attack. The arrested individual had confessed that the rockets used in the attacks were made in Iran.
In recent months Iran-backed militia groups across Iraq have increased their activities with dozens of attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone near the US embassy.
Israel Will Do 'Whatever It Takes' To Prevent Iran Nukes, Top Diplomat Says
Israel will do "whatever it takes" to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Friday amid talks in Vienna to revice the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with world powers.
Speaking after a summit with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts and a senior representative from the UAE in Paphos, Cyprus, Ashkenazi said discussions centred around possibilities for building on prosperity and stability in the region.
"We also took time to discuss challenges that Iran and Hezbollah and other extremists pose to the stability of the Middle East and to the regional peace," he said. "We will do whatever it takes to prevent this extremist ... success and definitely, to prevent this regime from having nuclear weapons."
An act of sabotage at Iran's main uranium enrichment site in Natanz April 11 led to a reported explosion and fire, destroying an unknown number of centrifuge machines, amid negotatiation in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Iran has blamed Israel for the incident but the Israeli government has remained silent, while the media widely reported the country's secret service, the Mossad to have been behind that act.
The Vienna negotiations reconvened on Thursday with the participation of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, three European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, and Russia and China, the other two participants in the nuclear deal. The United States which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, is participating indirectly in the talks.
Reporting by Reuters
Top Ukraine Official Says Iran 'Intentionally' Shot Down Airliner Last Year
Ukrainian officials have said they believe Iran intentionally shot down the Ukrainian Airlines flight PS-752 intentionally in January 2020, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported on April 15.
Oleksey Danilov, Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, who has been involved in the investigation of the disaster and had travelled to Iran and met high-ranking Iranian officials, said in an interview that he believed Iran shot down the plane intentionally to prevent a cycle of military escalation with the United States.
The Trump Administration did not retaliate against the missile attack which injured dozens of American servicemen.
An Iranian air-defense battery fired two missiles at the passenger plane with 176 people abord as it was taking off form Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International airport on January 8, last year, hours after Iran had fired ballistic missile at US bases in Iraq and was expecting possible retaliation.
Three days after the tragedy, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards admitted their responsibility but insisted that it was a “human error”. Iran has failed to allow access to other countries in its investigation or share information. This, Danilov said was one important evidence that proves Iran is hiding the true nature of the incident.
“When they say this was accidental…I don’t buy that,” Danilov said, “It was intentional. This was a conscious attack.” The Ukrainian government has backed his assertions.
Danilov, who met his counterpart, Ali Shamkhani in Tehran last February, said his host did not completely deny his theory and only said that his political faction was not involved but there are different groups in Iran.
Amnesty International: Dual-Citizen's Life In Danger In Iranian Prison
Amnesty International warned on Thursday, April 15, that 66-year-old Iranian-German national Jamshid Sharmahd is in danger of execution, and in a letter to the chief of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raeesi, called for his release.
According to Amnesty International, it has been eight months since the "arbitrary arrest" of Jamshid Sharmahd, the director of Tondar opposition group by the Islamic Republic security forces, and during this whole time, he has been denied an independent attorney and fair legal procedure.
The news of the kidnapping of Sharmahd in Dubai and his transfer to Tehran by Islamic Republic agents was first released in August 2020. The Islamic Republic has accused Sharmahd of involvement in a bombing in Shiraz.
Immediately after the news of his arrest, the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence released videos of his coerced confessions in Iranian media including the state-TV (IRIB).
Amnesty also expressed concern about the location of Jamshid Sharmahd’s detainment and the fact that his family is unaware of his condition. The report goes on to say that Sharmahd is suffering from diabetes, chronic heart problems, and Parkinson’s, and requires daily medicine. But the family is unaware if he has access to medicine and medical treatment.
After the arrests of several Iranian-German citizens by the Islamic Republic last year, the German Foreign Ministry asked dual citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Iran.
The Islamic Republic uses the arrest of foreign nationals and dual citizens for espionage and acts against national security to put pressure on Western powers in negotiations.