UN Nuclear Watchdog Says Iran Has Failed To Account For Uranium Find | Iran International

UN Nuclear Watchdog Says Iran Has Failed To Account For Uranium Find

AP - Vienna - The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday that Iran has failed to answer questions about the discovery of uranium particles at former undeclared sites in the country, and called on Tehran to provide information.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has been pushing Iran for answers on three sites where inspections had revealed traces of uranium of man-made origin, suggesting they were once connected to Iran's nuclear programme.

The issue is separate from the ongoing negotiations aimed at bringing the United States back into Iran's 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Grossi said in March that Iran had agreed to sit down with international technical experts investigating the discovery, and said he hoped to this would have happened by the time of the IAEA board meeting in June.

But in comments on Monday to the IAEA's board of governors, Grossi said "as we speak we haven't had any concrete progress  on any of the issues."

He said Iran also hasn't answered questions regarding another undeclared location.

"For objectivity's sake, I should say that the Iranian government has reiterated its will to engage and to cooperate and to provide answers, but they haven't done that so far," he told reporters.

"We cannot limit and continue to curtail the ability of the inspectors to inspect and at the same time pretend that there is trust," he added.

Israel's New Foreign Minister Says He Will Do Everything To Stop Iran Nukes

Israel’s new foreign minister and alternate prime minister Yair Lapid has said Monday that he and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will work together not to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Lapid stated that Israel must be prepared for a possible agreement between the United States and Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, adding that Israel must “prepare quickly.” He emphasized that the new coalition government will “do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.”

The new foreign minister said he was always opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “It was a bad deal,” he said and added, “I opposed it. Israel could have, with a different approach, influenced it far more.”

Criticizing former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s very close ties with President Donald Trump, Lapid emphasized that Israel’s traditional policy was equally close ties with both US political parties. He pledged to restore relations between Israel and the Democratic Party, while underlining that “The Republicans are important to us.”

Netanyahu was a staunch opponent of the JCPOA and once Trump was elected his relations with new administration is believed to have helped crystalize a tough policy toward Tehran that led to the US withdrawal from the agreement and the imposition of sanctions.

Saudi Arabia Says It Intercepted Another Houthi Armed Drone

Saudi Arabian air defenses intercepted and destroyed an armed drone launched by Yemen's Houthi group towards the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait, state television said on Monday.

It cited the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been battling the Houthis for over six years, as saying it was taking operational measures to protect civilians from such assaults.

On Sunday, Saudi state media said a drone rigged with explosives fell on a school in the kingdom's Aseer province but that no injuries were reported.

The Iran-aligned Houthis have frequently launched cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities in the war. The coalition has in the past responded with air strikes on Houthi military targets in Yemen.

The Houthis have not responded to calls by the Biden administration and the United Nations to engage in ceasefire talks and possibly peace negotiations.

Iran and Saudi Arabia announced in April that held talks in Iraq aimed at improving their relations and stability in the region, but these talks have not continued as Iran is geared to elect a new president on Friday.

Reporting by AP

Iran Covid Spokesman Mocks Candidates’ Flippancy On Vaccines

Alireza Raeesi, spokesman of Iran’s coronavirus task force, has chided presidential candidates over promises on the speed of Covid-19 vaccinations. “They think the vaccine is an ice cream,” Raeesi told a government event Monday.

“They wake up in the morning and say they will vaccinate Iran’s population in three months,” the spokesman said. “Perhaps they do not know how to count.” He added that more powerful countries had encountered problems and that Iran would achieve nothing through slogans.

Iran has been slow to vaccinate its 84-million population, with 4.5 million doses administered and 2.7 percent of people covered. John Hopkins figures – tracking Covid-19 globally – give a 0.77 percent of Iranians, or 638,000, as “fully vaccinated.”

Iran rejected Western vaccines and has relied on a limited quantity of Chinese and Russian vaccines, while saying its pharmaceutical companies are working on several domestic vaccines. Reports in recent days say that vaccination in some provinces has stopped due to shortages.

Official government figures report over 3 million cases of coronavirus with 82,000 deaths, while health officials, some politicians, and some media all say real numbers are much higher.

Several candidates in the June 18 presidential election have promised to speed up nationwide vaccination, partly by allowing the private sector to import vaccines. It was reported in April that the government had approved a number of private companies to begin imports, but it has remained unclear how these vaccines would be distributed and how they might square with United States sanctions.

Iran Red Crescent Requests Money From Red Cross For Drought Victims

Iran’s Red Crescent announced Monday that it has requested financial assistance from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) societies to fight the impact of drought.

Hassan Esfandyar, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society’s humanitarian projects, told local media that his organization has requested one million Swiss francs from IFRC to deal with the impact of drought in four provinces.

Iran has faced a long drought for at least a decade, but the crisis has worsened this year with minimal precipitation. Iranian officials have said that thousands of villages face serious water shortages, while the government is in financial crisis mainly due to US sanctions.

Critics and opponents of the Islamic Republic say money should be spent on helping people in the country instead of supporting allies and proxies in the region.

Esfandyar said that the request for assistance has been submitted for an emergency aid fund for the four provinces most affected by the drought. He added that if IFRC donates funds it will be spent on assistance to needy families, supply of drinking water and developments of water transfer infrastructures. He also announced that the Iranian Red Crescent is planning to ask for more international assistance.

As Netanyahu Exits, Iran Nuclear Deal Remains An Israeli Issue

Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year run as Israel's prime minister ended on Sunday with parliament approving a new "government of change" led by nationalist Naftali Bennett.

Bennett said renewing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would be a mistake and reiterated that Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power.

In a day-long raucous session at the Knesset Bennett’s coalition won the right to form a government by a narrow vote. The long-time former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Bennet is not capable of standing firm against US pressure on Iran nuclear talks.

Heading into opposition, Netanyahu, 71, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, pledged he would soon return to power.

A former defense minister and a high-tech millionaire, Bennett, 49, was due to be sworn in shortly after the vote.

With little in common except for a desire to end the Netanyahu era and political impasse that led to four inconclusive elections in two years, the coalition of left-wing, centrist, right-wing and Arab parties is likely to be fragile.

The new government, formed after an inconclusive March 23 election, plans largely to avoid sweeping moves on hot-button international issues such as policy toward the Palestinians, and to focus on domestic reforms.

Palestinians were unmoved by the change of administration, predicting that Bennett would pursue the same right-wing agenda as Netanyahu.

Under a coalition deal, Bennett will be replaced as prime minister by centrist Yair Lapid, 57, in 2023.

Senior Clerics In Iran Urge People To Vote Friday As Polls Show A Low Turnout

Senior Iranian Shiite clerics have issued calls for people to vote in Friday’s presidential election after several opinion surveys showed far less than 50 percent of the electorate inclined to cast ballots.

Ayatollha Makarem Shirazi issued a statement in the religious city of Qom Sunday saying that a low turnout can inflict “Serious irreparable damage” to the country and voting is a heavenly duty,” and a guarantee for “the esteem and independence” of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The ruling regime in Iran has always held turnout as a measure of its legitimacy, telling critics that if people vote in large numbers, it means they consider the Islamic Republic as the legitimate form of government for their country.

Economic hardship and violent crackdowns on protesters and dissidents in the last four years have apparently made many voters disillusioned. A poll conducted by Iran International in early May showed just 27 percent of voters ready to vote on June 18. Subsequent surveys have also confirmed a low turnout, at a maximum of 40 percent.

On June 4, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a televised speech urged the people to vote, saying to stay away “is the will of the enemies.” But his call hardly moved the needle in favor of mass-participation.

Also on Sunday, Ayatollah Noori Hamedani in a statement said, “Elections in their current form in the Islamic Republic is a blessing of the Islamic revolution.” He urged voters that casting a ballot is both required by Sharia and by rationality.

Iran Forced To End Electricity Exports And Resort To Imports

Iran is set to increase electricity imports from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkmenistan to offset shortages that have led to blackouts in major cities, the spokesman of the electricity industry said Sunday.

Mostafa Rajabi-Mashhadi said the only way to deal with increasing blackouts is to buy more electricity from neighboring countries and end exports. Iran supplies electricity to Iraq.

Rolling power cuts started in mid-May as the weather got warmer and the use of cooling systems increased. Temperatures in most of Iran were higher than 80 F in June and surpassing 100F in the south. Drought also has reduced hydroelectric power generation this year.

Estimates say that 19,000 megawatts of power is used daily for cooling systems in the summer months in Iran, while total consumption reaches as high as 55,000. The opposite also occurs in winter as electricity is used by many for heating.

Abnormally cheap electricity subsidized by the government also contributes to high usageand lack of incentive for savings. Expansion of power generation capacity has also failed to keep pace with increasing demand.

Gasoline Price Hike In 2019 Was A Collective Decision - Iran President

Iran’s presidential administration has issued a statement saying the decision to raise gasoline prices in November 2019 that led to widespread unrest, was a collective decision by the three branches of the government, and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

In the third presidential debate on Saturday the leading conservative candidate Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi) and a hardliner candidate Alireza Zakani blamed Rouhani for the decision to raise fuel prices. The controversy is not new as there have been mutual barbs before, but the outgoing presidential administration this time explicitly said others, including Khamenei share the blame.

The hike in fuel prices immediately led to street protests nationwide. Security forces responded with live fire, killing up to 1,500 people and detaining up to 10,000 others, in what amounted to be the most serious internal threat to the Islamic Republic after the 2009 large demonstrations.

The Rouhani administration statement called criticism by candidates “unjust and unfounded” emphasizing that the decision in 2019 was reviewed “multiple times” in meetings between the three branches of the government. Raeesi himself is the head of judiciary branch.

The statement went on to say that Khamenei and the national security council also approved the price hike.

Iran has the cheapest gasoline in the world but in November 2019 the price was tripled overnight, and people pressed by high inflation and a deteriorating economy poured into streets to protest. The unrest soon turned into a general outburst against the regime.

Iran Nuclear Talks Resume In Vienna As Tough Issues Remain

Talks between Iran and global powers restarted Saturday with the goal of trying to restore a landmark agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that the Trump administration abandoned in 2018. The Joint Commission meeting ended Saturday afternoon and talks on a series of tough issues indirectly involving negotiations with the United States began.

Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain planned to met at a hotel in the Austrian capital. 

Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov said in a tweet that the talks would allow the participants to “exchange views on how to arrange further work in order to complete the negotiations successfully and expeditiously.”

The United States is not formally part of JCPAO Joint Commission meetings that launched in Vienna earlier this year. But the administration of President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to abiding by the limits on its nuclear activity contained in the 2015 agreement. A US delegation is in Vienna and holds indirect talks with Iran through the European representatives.

Diplomats say complicating factors include the sequence of the proposed measures, dealing with advances in Iran’s nuclear processing capability since the United States withdrew, and the presidential election in Iran next week.

With reporting by AP

Family Of Executed Iranian Wrestler Beaten Outside Jail

The family of Navid Afkari, a prisoner hanged in Iran last year and whose two brothers remain in prison, was attacked and beaten Saturday outside the Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, a third brother Saeed Afkari has reported on social media.

Navid Afkari, a wrestler who was arrested in 2018 during protests and charged with murdering Hassan Torkaman, a water company security guard stabbed dead during protests, was executed last September. His brothers Habib and Vahid, arrested with him, are still in jail with reports of torture and solitary confinement.

Saeed Afkari claimed on social media that as well as the assault, his sister Elham and two female relatives had been detained for an hour. Other activists added that a group of prisoners’ families and relatives of protesters killed by security forces, as well as human rights activists who had traveled to Shiraz to support the Afkari family, might also have been detained as their cell phones were out of reach.

Navid Afkari was convicted in a secret trial without due process of law and there were claims he was tortured before his execution. His execution led to outrage and condemnation from Iranians and international bodies and leaders, and there were calls to ban Iran from international sports.

United States president Donald Trump called on Iran not to execute the sportsman: a Trump tweet prompted Iranian state television to air a purported confession by Afkari as well as footage of Torkaman’s weeping family.