The former president withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, while Iran started the next year to suspend its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.
UN nuclear watchdog head Rafael Grossi was to open talks Saturday in Iran on the eve of Tehran’s deadline for US sanctions to be lifted, as President Joe Biden called for “careful diplomacy”.
The deadline, set by Iranian lawmakers, carries the threat of a suspension of some nuclear inspections, stoking international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.
But Iran has stressed it will not cease working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or expel its inspectors.
Iran and the IAEA have yet to release details on the visit by the UN body’s chief Grossi that runs into Sunday.
He will “meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the @iaeaorg can continue essential verification activities in Iran”, Grossi wrote Friday on Twitter.
“Looking forward to success – this is in everybody’s interest,” he added.
Iran has notified the IAEA that it will suspend “voluntary transparency measures”, notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity, if the United States has not lifted the sweeping sanctions former president Donald Trump reimposed in 2018.
The new measures are to go into effect on Tuesday.
Iran’s atomic body spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said last week that talks with Grossi will focus on how to cease “voluntary actions beyond safeguard (measures) and how to continue cooperation”.
The visit comes in the wake of Biden’s call on Friday for European powers to work together to curb Iran’s “destabilising” activities, a day after committing to rejoin talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Biden told the Munich Security Conference that the United States would work closely with allies in dealing with Iran after his predecessor Trump took an aggressive unilateral approach.
“The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us,” Biden told fellow leaders via teleconference.
“That’s why we have said we’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said, referring to the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.
Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments on condition that Washington does so first by lifting the sanctions reimposed by Trump that have dealt a heavy blow to Iran’s economy.
Following an offer for talks by the Biden administration, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labelled by Trump”.
The former president withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, while Iran started the next year to suspend its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.
In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions crafted by Trump, and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations in New York.
Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Saturday stressed that Tehran’s latest nuclear move will not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill, and expressed optimism regarding the ongoing diplomatic process.
It is “neither against our (deal) commitments nor an obstacle for proportionate and appropriate response to any US action to prove (its) goodwill,” he wrote in an op-ed on Iran daily.
“We can confidently predict that diplomatic initiatives will work well (to achieve) the desired outcome, despite diplomatic back-and-forths, which are the natural prelude to the return of all sides to commitments including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future,” he added.
The ministers “expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20 percent and uranium metal”
European powers and the United States on Thursday warned Iran it would be “dangerous” to carry out a threatened limit to UN nuclear agency inspections, adding Tehran must return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom – which form the so-called “E3” group – met Thursday in Paris to discuss security in Iran and the Middle East region, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined them by videoconference.
“Regarding Iran, the E3 and the United States expressed their shared fundamental security interest in upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime and ensuring that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon,” the ministers said in a joint statement after a virtual meeting.
Their statement urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity”, adding that they all shared the aim of Iran returning to “full compliance” with the accord.
The ministers “expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20 percent and uranium metal”, the statement said.
It was the second time that US Secretary of State Blinken had held discussions with his European counterparts since President Joe Biden took office last month promising to work more closely with allies than his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities on February 21 if the other signatories do not implement their own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unraveling since Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.
“The measures that have been taken in Tehran and may be taken in the coming days are anything but helpful. They endanger the Americans’ path back into this agreement. The more pressure that is exerted, the more politically difficult it will be to find a solution,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Paris.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European Council spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week to try to end the diplomatic standoff.
The head of the IAEA is scheduled to travel to Iran this weekend to find a solution that allows the agency to continue inspections.
The new administration of US President Joe Biden has expressed willingness to return to the deal, but insisted that Tehran first resume full compliance.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday the US must “completely lift” sanctions first, followed by verification by Tehran, before the Islamic republic returns to its nuclear deal commitments.
“If they want Iran to return to its commitments … America must completely lift sanctions, and not just in words or on paper,” Khamenei said in a televised speech to air force commanders.
“They must be lifted in action, and then we will verify and see if they have been properly lifted, and then return,” he added.
The 2015 landmark deal has been hanging by a thread since US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it in 2018 and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
Tehran a year later suspended its compliance with most key nuclear commitments to the deal.
The new administration of US President Joe Biden has expressed willingness to return to the deal, but insisted that Tehran first resume full compliance.
On January 4, Iran announced it has stepped up its uranium enrichment process to 20 percent purity, far above the 3.67 percent level permitted by the deal, but far below the amount required for an atomic bomb.
And it may restrict by February 21 nuclear inspections if US sanctions are not lifted or other key parties to the deal do not help Tehran bypass them, according to a law passed by the parliament in December.
According to Khamenei, Iran has “a right to set conditions for the continuation” of the deal as it has upheld its end, unlike the US and the three European members of the deal — Britain, France and Germany — who have “violated all their commitments”.
“No one in the Islamic republic cares for the nonsense claimed by those not entitled to anything,” he said.
Khamenei insisted that the condition set by Tehran for the US is Iran’s “definite policy”.
Iran “will not turn back from” it, he said.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronised return of both Washington and Tehran into a nuclear deal, after a diplomatic standoff on who will act first.
Videos from Thursday’s attack show scenes of chaos, with people running for cover and bodies strewn across pavements and the road.
Suicide bombing that tore through a busy area of central Baghdad on Thursday morning, Iraqi officials said.
Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Yahya Rasool told NoRM‘s known Media one of the two perpetrators lured a crowd of people towards him in a market in the central Tayaran Square by feigning illness, only to detonate his explosives.
The second bomber struck as people helped victims of the first attack, Rasool said.
The attack is the first twin bombing in Baghdad since January 2018, when 35 people were killed and 90 injured in the same square that was targeted on Thursday.
The health ministry said the capital’s hospitals were being mobilised to treat the wounded. While officials suggested the death toll is likely to rise as many of those injured in the attack are in critical condition.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack.
But Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq analyst and fellow at The Century Foundation think-tank, told NoRM‘s known Media: “This kind of attack bears the hallmark of ISIS [ISIL] who have targeted crowded civilian areas in Baghdad with suicide attacks many times in the past.”
“This shows a security failure by the government who have been warned that ISIS is still active and in recent days have seen it target infrastructure and rural areas with similar attacks,” said Jiyad.
“For Iraqis, this is a worrying development which saps confidence in the security forces and adds to the level of tension already present with geopolitical, economic and pandemic issues,” he said.
Iraq declared ISIL defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.
But ISIL attacks across the country have been on the rise again over the past year, particularly in northern Iraq where sleeper cells are still active.
By Thursday afternoon the area surrounding the market had come back to life. But some stalls near the blasts remained shut and a small crowd of people had gathered to examine the wreckage.
Dry blood was still visible on the tarmac, while the charred remains of toys and clothes once sold by vendors littered the floor.
The Kurdistan Region Government Head of Foreign Relations Safeen Dizaye condemned Thursday’s attack.
“This horrific crime is a sad reminder that terror is still a real threat to peace and stability in the world. [The international] community must stand united against all acts of terrorism,” Dizaye wrote in a tweet.
The United States embassy in Iraq also strongly condemned the attack in a statement.
“This attack is a reprehensible act of cowardice that underscores the dangers of terrorism that millions of Iraqis continue to face. We extend our condolences to the families of these victims, and hope for the swift recovery for those who were injured,” it said.
Morocco follows the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in what the Trump administration calls the Abraham Accords.
An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has condemned Morocco’s normalisation of ties with the Islamic republic’s arch foe Israel, calling it a “betrayal of Islam”.
The kingdom on Thursday became the fourth Arab state this year to normalise relations with Israel, in a deal announced by outgoing US President Donald Trump.
In return, Washington fulfilled a decades-old goal of Rabat by recognising its sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.
“The deal between the triangle of America, Morocco and the Zionist regime was done in exchange for Morocco’s betrayal of Islam (and) the Palestinian cause, selling Muslims’ honour to international Zionism,” foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati said on his official website Friday.
He added that the normalisation of ties with Israel was “not a new thing” as the kingdom had maintained a liaison office in Israel in the past.
Blasting all four, Velayati said they will “witness popular uprisings in a not so distant future” as their “dependent, submissive and authoritarian” leaders are unmasked.
US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara has infuriated the pro-independence Polisario Front, which controls about a fifth of the vast region.
Rabat, which has close ties with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2018 accusing it of backing the Polisario, a charge Iran denied.
Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, wrapped in an Iranian flag, was then taken to a cemetery near Imamzadeh Saleh mosque in the north of the city for burial.
Following that, it was taken to Fatima Masumeh’s shrine in Qom on Sunday, and later to the shrine of Imam Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, in Tehran.
‘No terror will go unanswered’
Fakhrizadeh, a top figure in Iran’s nuclear and missile programmer, was killed outside Tehran on Friday after assailants targeted his car.
Meanwhile, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to kill the scientist remotely
“The enemies know and I, as a soldier, tell them that no crime, no terror and no stupid act will go unanswered by the Iranian people,” said Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in a televised speech at the ceremony.
Hatami said the country and its people are honoured that Fakhrizadeh was “the founder of Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme” and will continue to follow his path.
“The criminal Americans have thousands of nuclear weapons and the criminal Zionist regime has hundreds of nuclear weapons. What are they for? Are they to be used as decorations in your homes?”
A representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the defence ministry read out his statement, in which Khamenei repeated his call for a “definitive punishment” of those behind the assassination.
Reading Khamenei’s statement, Ziaeddin Aghajanpour said some inside the country believe dialogue and negotiations are the way to counter foreign aggressions.
“But this is not possible because our enemies are against the very nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said, adding Iran’s “enemies will never stop”.
Amnesty International said at the time it had obtained evidence showing at least 304 people, including children, were killed during the protests and thousands were arrested.
Roughly one year after protests over economic hardship broke out across Iran, officials have condemned a United Nations resolution that among other things calls for upholding human rights of people involved in the protests.
Last week, the third committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with human rights, adopted a resolution put forward by Canada.
The resolution welcomed some progress and continued efforts by Iranian authorities.
But it also expressed “serious concern” about executions for drug-related crimes and against minors, and urged Iran to ensure humane treatment of prisoners and cease “widespread and systematic use of arbitrary arrests and detention”.
The resolution further called for the release of prisoners arrested during the protests of November 2019 and said Iran should address the “poor conditions of its prisons”.
In response, Iran earlier this week summoned the Italian ambassador to Tehran, who represents Canadian interests in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The Iranian foreign ministry told the ambassador that Canada continues to refuse to offer consular services to 400,000 Iranians in the country and has become a “safe haven for the world’s economic offenders and financial criminals”.
A number of Iranians wanted for economic corruption in Iran have fled to Canada and the country refuses to extradite them.
Chief among them is Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former CEO of state-run Bank Melli Iran, who was the central figure in a $2.6bn embezzlement case, the largest in Iran’s history.
‘No legal credibility’ The secretary of the human rights committee of the Iranian judiciary also said the resolution has no “legal credibility” as its sponsors have a history of abusing human rights in their own countries and those of other nations such as Palestine and Yemen.
On Monday, Ali Bagheri-Kani called Canada a “systematic violator of human rights” as it suppresses its native people, violently treats women and supports “terrorist” groups.
He also slammed the resolution and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, for refusing to mention the impact of the United States’ unilateral economic sanctions on the Iranian people.
In May 2018, the US reneged on a landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers and imposed harsh sanctions that have only escalated since. Iran has said that – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – the sanctions amount to “economic and medical terrorism”.
In a statement late on Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman also condemned the resolution, saying it is “unacceptable” since it is based on fabricated reports.
“It is unfortunate that a number of countries, including Canada, employ human rights and its international mechanisms as tools to advance their own political agendas,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
Khatibzadeh added that Iran sees the resolution as having no legal standing, and called on Canada to stop supporting US sanctions and providing a safe haven for Iranian criminals.
Meanwhile, the US Mission to the UN, a sponsor of the human rights resolution on Iran, has welcomed the resolution, saying it remains “deeply concerned” with the human rights situation in Iran.
Deadly protests The political back and forth comes one year after protests broke in dozens of cities across Iran in mid-November 2019 after a sudden increase in petrol prices.
In a surprise overnight move, the government of President Hassan Rouhani announced petrol would be rationed and prices would be up to tripled.
The move was implemented amid high inflation and unemployment as a result of a combination of economic mismanagement and US sanctions.
The government said the move was aimed at improving conditions for the poorest as revenues would be redistributed among low-income families. But the sudden price rise seemed to act as an immediate spark as people took to the streets and violence ensued shortly after.
Authorities cracked down on protesters as internet access was almost entirely shut down for civilians and businesses alike for close to a week by the order of the Supreme Council of National Security.
Roughly eight months after the protests, the head of the national security commission of the Iranian parliament, Mojtaba Zonnour, said 230 people were confirmed killed. That included six official security officers, he said.
While a number of government officials acknowledged that some of the protesters had legitimate requests in the backdrop of declining quality of life, all authorities traced the hand of foreign influence and “mercenaries” in the protests.
They said a significant number of protesters were killed with weapons that are not standard issue for security officers.
The attack, which took place on August 7 on the anniversary of the Africa bombings, has not been publicly acknowledged by the US, Iran, Israel or Al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, indicted in the US for the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was secretly killed in Iran in August, The Noble Reporters Media reported Saturday.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who was on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists, was shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at the behest of the United States, intelligence officials confirmed to NoRM.
The senior Qaeda leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden, NoRM said.
US federal authorities had offered a $10 million reward for any information leading to his capture.
Abdullah was the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody,” according to a highly classified document provided by the US National Counterterrorism Center in 2008, according to the Times.
The bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 left 224 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.
Abdullah was indicted by a US federal grand jury later that year for his role.
The internationally-renowned human rights lawyer, whose release has been requested by the UN and human rights groups outside Iran, had been imprisoned before.
Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been temporarily released from prison after concerns mounted over her deteriorating health.
The 57-year-old “went on furlough with the approval of the prosecutor presiding over women’s prison”, Mizan, the judiciary’s news website, said without providing any further details.
“Friends, Nasrin came out on furlough a few minutes ago,” he said.
Sotoudeh was arrested two years ago on charges of collusion, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in 2019.
In September, Sotoudeh was hospitalised after her physical condition worsened following weeks of hunger strike. Her strike ended in late September after 46 days.
She had gone on hunger strike to call for the release of political prisoners and directing attention towards their conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tens of thousands of prisoners have been temporarily released from overcrowded Iranian prisons since February to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A number of them have since been required to return and the initiative has not included some political prisoners.
The worst pandemic in the Middle East has so far killed nearly 38,000 people and infection numbers in Iran have seen a sharp increase since September.
On October 20, Sotoudeh was transferred from Evin Prison in Tehran to Qarchak, a women’s prison outside the city that has been blacklisted under United Nations human rights sanctions.
At the time, her husband Khandan said in a tweet that she was told to prepare to be transferred to the hospital, but was instead moved to Qarchak.
Sotoudeh’s temporary release comes weeks after two senior judiciary official visited Qarchak and reportedly spent hours talking to prisoners about their conditions.
At the time, Mizan reported that they issued “immediate orders” to answer a number of requests by inmates, without releasing details.
Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been held in Iran for more than two years as part of a 10-year jail sentence on charges of espionage, was also in Qarchak at the time and met with the officials.
She was returned to Evin prison days later and remains there.
French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, detained in Iran since June 2019 on charges of conspiring against national security, was temporarily released from prison on October 3.
Prominent Iranian human rights activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi was also released from prison in early October after her sentence was reduced.
‘Security pressures’ Sotoudeh, a winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, is required by law to serve at least 12 years of her sentence before being eligible for conditional release.
She had also spent three years behind bars after representing people arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the controversial reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During her first years in jail, Sotoudeh protested against conditions in Evin and a ban on seeing her son and daughter by staging two hunger strikes. She was released in 2013.
Just over two weeks ago, the first court session was held for a case concerning Mehraveh Khandan, Sotoudeh’s 20-year-old daughter.
She was called to court concerning a visit she had with her mother at Evin over a year earlier.
A member of the prison staff reportedly took issue with how she wore her hijab.
Iran says it will sell weapons to countries that ‘won’t misuse them’ and will employ them strictly for defence purpose.
Tehran has hit back at a US threat of sanctions on anyone looking to make deals with Iran after the arms embargo on its military expired, saying Washington’s threats show the futility of US action and rhetoric on sanctions.
After a long-standing conventional arms embargo on Iran ended on Sunday despite Washington’s opposition, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of consequences for any individuals or entities that conduct arms deals with Iran.
“Pompeo’s remarks are the most important sign that not even he believes unilateral US sanctions have been successful, and no [UN sanctions] have been reinstated,” spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday.
“Iran continues to believe it can operate within the framework of international agreements. What they fear is Iran’s return to the massive market of technology and arms exports,” Khatibzadeh said, adding that Iran produces 90 percent of its defence needs locally and will mostly look to export arms rather than import them.
In an interview with state television on Sunday night, Iran’s defence minister Amir Hatami said Iran would only sell weapons to countries that it is sure “won’t misuse them” and will employ them strictly for defence purposes.
“Unlike the Americans, we wouldn’t do just about everything for money,” he said, pointing out that the US sells billions of dollars of arms to Arab nations in the Middle East that fuel wars.
Iran’s foreign ministry said “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defence doctrine.
The US tried to stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran twice at the UN Security Council.
In August, it introduced a resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo while in September it claimed it unilaterally reinstated UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo.
On both occasions, the UNSC rejected the moves, saying they have no legal basis.
The 13-year ban came to an end as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and has since blacklisted the entire Iranian financial sector.
The expiry of the embargo means Iran will face no challenges by the UNSC in trying to buy or sell conventional weapons, which include tanks, missiles and fighter jets among others.
A European ban on arms deals with Iran, separate from the UN arms embargo, will remain in place until 2023.
“For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures. Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security,” Pompeo, who had led efforts to block the lifting of the embargo at the UN, said in a statement on Sunday.
“Any nation that sells weapons to Iran is impoverishing the Iranian people by enabling the regime’s diversion of funds away from the people and toward the regime’s military aims.”
In trying to stop the lifting of the arms embargo, Pompeo had warned that Russia, China and others could rush to sell advanced weapons to Tehran.
On Sunday, Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz also vowed to take “whatever measures necessary” to prevent Iran from purchasing weapons.
The embargo on the sale of conventional arms to Iran was due to begin expiring progressively from October 18 under terms of the UN resolution that confirmed the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said that arms sales to Iran would breach UN resolutions and result in sanctions, after Tehran said the longstanding UN embargo on arms trade with the Islamic republic had expired.
“The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“Every nation that seeks peace and stability in the Middle East and supports the fight against terrorism should refrain from any arms transactions with Iran.”
Tehran, which could now purchase weapons from Russia, China and elsewhere, has hailed the expiration as a diplomatic victory over its archenemy the United States, which had tried to maintain an indefinite freeze on arms sales.
President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has unilaterally begun reimposing sanctions on Iran.
Pompeo said that “for the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures. Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security.”
A 13-year conventional arms embargo on Iran has ended, but the implications for Iran and the region remain uncertain.
Despite opposition from the United States, a long-standing conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran has expired in line with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.
The 13-year ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) came to an end on Sunday as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
In a statement carried by state media, the Iranian foreign ministry said “as of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … are all automatically terminated.”
The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks, and the Iranian foreign ministry said the country can now “procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs”.
However, Iran was self-reliant in its defense, the statement said, adding that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defense doctrine.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, imposing waves of harsh economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump’s administration has also employed every means in its power to unravel the nuclear deal and stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran.
The latest came in early October when 18 Iranian banks were blacklisted, including those that process humanitarian trade transactions – effectively severing Iran’s financial sector from the global economy.
The US administration has been fervently supported in its efforts by Israel and a number of Arab countries that oppose Iran’s expanding regional influence.
In August, the US tabled a UNSC resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but it was rejected.
From the 14 UNSC member states, the so-called E3 of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and eight others abstained while Russia and China opposed the extension. Only the Dominican Republic supported the resolution.
After announcing the triggering of a process to “snap back” sanctions on Iran and waiting for a month, the US in September announced it has unilaterally reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of Resolution 2231.
If implemented, the move would automatically extend the arms embargo as well.
But an overwhelming majority of UNSC member states once more rejected the bid, saying no process to reinstate sanctions was started because the move had no legal basis.
The US threatened “consequences” for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action.
In trying to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, the US claims the lifting of the embargo will open a floodgate of arms deals that would quickly serve to further destabilise the region.
EU embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology are still in place and will remain in force until 2023.
The foreign ministers of the E3 in July issued a joint statement that said while the three countries remain committed to fully implementing Resolution 2231, they believe the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability”.
Russia and China In practice, it might take some time for Iran to be able to utilise the freedom from the embargo.
For one, relentless US sanctions have significantly restricted Iran’s ability to buy advanced systems, whose purchase and maintenance could cost billions of dollars.
Furthermore, China and Russia, or any other country pondering arms sales to Iran, would act based on their foreign policy interests, which would have to consider the balance of power and future economic interests in the Gulf and the wider region.
Iran and China have been considering a major 25-year strategic partnership deal, the details of which have yet to be published.
According to Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, the deal has already caused international scrutiny, so China, which wants to demonstrate the image of a “responsible power”, will tread carefully.
“More importantly, if [Joe] Biden is elected the new US president – which seems increasingly likely – Beijing would want to reboot the US-China relationship with a new US administration,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.
In this vein, Zhao said it would be unlikely for Beijing to jeopardise the opportunity to mend ties with a Biden administration by making huge arms deals with Tehran.
As for Russia, a 2019 US Defense Intelligence Agency report speculated Iran would buy Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, T-90 tanks, Bastion mobile coastal defence missile systems, and the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.
Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami travelled to Russia in late August to visit the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2020 and hold talks with senior Russian officials. The trip boosted speculations Iran is interested in Russian arms.
However, Nicole Grajewski, a research fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says there is no indication Russia and Iran have finalised a list of potential arms for negotiations.
“It is not totally unfounded to suggest that Russia and Iran may wait until the US presidential elections,” she told Al Jazeera. “Both sides have reasons not to antagonise Biden if he is elected: Iran with the JCPOA and Russia with New START.”
New START is an arms reduction treaty and the last existing nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the US that expires in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for a one-year extension of the pact.
Moreover, Grajewski pointed out that while the Trump administration has been inconsistent in implementing provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Russia will take US sanctions into account – especially since Moscow would like to sell weapons to states that could become subject to secondary US sanctions.
But she believes financing to be the biggest impediment to a potential major Iran-Russia arms deal.
“Russia won’t be as willing as China to sell Iran weapons on barter like it did in the 1990s,” Grajewski said. “Plus, Russia doesn’t want to damage its relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel by providing Iran with high-tech or advanced weapons.”
But the researcher believes Iran and Russia may enjoy a boost in military cooperation and contacts that have increased in the past few years due to shared interests in Syria and a general improvement in bilateral relations.
“There will likely be additional military exchanges and drills in addition to an increase in efforts that promote the interoperability between the Russian and Iranian armed forces at the tactical level,” she said.
Iran’s perspective Following the implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defence missile system to Iran, which was successfully tested by Iran in early 2017.
This finally concluded an $800m deal signed between the two states in 2007 that was left unfulfilled by Russia after multilateral sanctions pressure on Iran grew.
But by that time, a lot had changed inside Iran.
As Iranian defence expert Hossein Dalirian explains, after years of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, Iran concluded it has to rely on the expertise of its own engineers and experts to boost defence capabilities.
“With this perspective, extensive efforts were launched inside Iran to develop a diverse range of advanced arms and systems that are now produced locally, which are on par with those of developed nations, even as attested by military experts of Iran’s enemies,” he told Al Jazeera.
Among others, these include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile defence system, which was officially rolled out in August 2019, and which Iran says is on par with the state-of-the-art Russian S-400 system.
However, Dalirian said, it has not been possible, or economically feasible, for Iran to produce a number of armaments, including fifth-generation fighter jets.
“Even though Iranian experts have recently achieved technological know-how to produce fighter jet parts, and built Kowsar, which is on par with fourth-generation fighter jets, it seems that purchasing fighter jets might be pursued by Iran at the same time as locally developing modern fighter jets,” he said.
Dalirian says many countries have shown interest in Iranian armaments, but have been unable to buy them due to sanctions.
“Now it remains to be seen what Iran’s enemies, specifically the US, have planned for potential buyers of Iranian arms in political terms,” he said.
Afkari was accused of stabbing and killing a man in the southern city of Shiraz in 2018.
Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been executed after being convicted of stabbing to death a security guard, according to state media.
Afkari was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim”, Kazem Mousavi, head of the justice department in southern Fars province, was quoted as saying.
Authorities accused Afkari, 27, of stabbing the water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz. Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession last week.
But Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists. His lawyer said there was no proof of his guilt. Iran’s judiciary, however, denied the torture claims.
Afkari and his brothers were employed as construction workers in Shiraz, 680km (420 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.
Iran may ban ‘luxury product’ imports The provincial court in Shiraz also sentenced Afkari’s brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, over the killing.
Afkari’s attorney accused authorities of denying his client a family visit before the execution, as required by law.
“Were you in so much hurry to execute the sentence that you also deprived Navid of a last meeting?” Hassan Younesi said on Twitter.
There was no immediate reaction by Iranian officials to the attorney’s accusation.
‘Very different’ stories Reporting from Tehran, NRM said there are two different narratives about the murder.
“Outside Iran we’re hearing that Navid Afkari was arrested due to these protests that took place in 2018 and alleged killing of a security officer. Inside Iran, it’s very different. The judiciary released a statement a while ago – they said Navid Afkari was arrested after the murder of a 52-year-old water worker accompanying the Shiraz water company, and that murder took place on 23 July 2018.
“Navid Afkari was arrested by police a few days after, after they identified him using CCTV footage. As far as the judiciary is concerned, his arrest and conviction have nothing to do with the protests that took place,” said Baig.
Afkari was shown performing a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of the killing while saying, “I hit twice, once and then again.” Human rights groups frequently accuse Iran’s state media of airing coerced confessions. Iran denies the accusation.
The International Olympic Committee said the execution of Afkari was “very sad news”, adding in a statement that IOC President Thomas Bach had written this week to Iranian leaders asking for mercy for him, while respecting Iran’s sovereignty.
Afkari’s sentencing had triggered a social media campaign that portrayed him and his brothers as victims targeted for participating in the 2018 protests. On Tuesday, a global union representing 85,000 athletes had called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari.
United States President Donald Trump also expressed his own concerns.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “Thank you!”
Iran responded to Trump’s tweet by running an 11-minute state TV broadcast on Afkari, which included the weeping parents of Turkman.
The broadcast included visuals of Afkari on a motorbike, saying he stabbed Turkman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.
The state TV segment also showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute”, without elaborating.
It said Afkari’s mobile phone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency dismissed Trump’s tweet in a feature story, saying that American sanctions have hurt Iranian hospitals amid the pandemic.
“Trump is worried about the life of a murderer while he puts many Iranian patients’ lives in danger by imposing severe sanctions,” the agency said.
Baig noted state TV has carried an interview with the parents of Hassan Turkman, and in it they said their son was murdered and they had the right to retribution.
They added, “the foreign media had not even bothered speaking to them when their son was killed, and that he left behind three children. So there are two very different narratives,” said Baig.
IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium stands at more than 10 times the limit set in 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of limitations set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but has begun providing access to sites where the country was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium now stands at more than 10 times the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
As of August 25, Iran had stockpiled 2,105.4kg (4,641.6 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, up from 1,571.6kg (3,464.8 pounds) reported on May 20.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia.
Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8kg (447 pounds).
The IAEA also reported that Iran has been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent allowed under the JCPOA. It said Iran’s stockpile of heavy water had decreased.
The deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
But in 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal, saying it needed to be renegotiated.
Since then, Iran has slowly scaled back against the restrictions in an attempt to pressure the remaining nations to increase incentives to offset new, economy-crippling US sanctions.
Those countries maintain that even though Iran has been violating many of the pact’s restrictions, it is important to keep the deal alive because the country has continued providing the IAEA with critical access to inspect its nuclear facilities.
The agency had been at a months-long impasse over two locations thought to be from the early 2000s, however, which Iran had argued inspectors had no right to visit because they dated to before the deal.
Last week, Iran announced it would allow the IAEA access to the two sites, following a visit to Tehran by the organisation’s Director General Rafael Grossi.
The IAEA said Iran had granted its inspectors access to one of the two sites.
“Iran provided agency inspectors access to the location to take environmental samples,” a separate IAEA report seen by the AFP news agency said on Friday.
“The samples will be analysed by laboratories that are part of the agency’s network,” it added.
The report said an inspection at the second site will take place “later in September 2020 on a date already agreed with Iran”.
The US said the companies helped facilitate Iran’s export of petroleum and petrochemicals in violation of its sanctions.
The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on 11 foreign companies, accusing them of helping to facilitate Iran’s export of petroleum, petroleum products and petrochemicals in violation of American sanctions.
The Treasury said it slapped sanctions on six companies based in Iran, the United Arab Emirates and China that it said enable the shipment and sale of Iranian petrochemicals and support Triliance Petrochemical Co Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company blacklisted by the US.
The State Department also imposed sanctions on five companies for engaging in transactions related to Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical industry, as well as on three executive officers of the blacklisted companies.
“Our actions today reaffirm the United States’ commitment to denying the Iranian regime the financial resources it needs to fuel terrorism and other destabilizing activities,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement.
The move freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The action targets Iran’s Zagros Petrochemical Co, which the Treasury said agreed to sell Triliance hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Iranian petrochemicals this year.
Triliance, a Hong Kong-based broker, was hit with sanctions in January over accusations it ordered the transfer of the equivalent of millions of dollars to the National Iranian Oil Co as payment for Iranian petrochemicals, crude oil, and petroleum products.
The Treasury also blacklisted UAE-based Petrotech FZE and Trio Energy DMCC, Hong Kong-based Jingho Technology Co Ltd and Dynapex Energy Ltd, as well as China-based Dinrin Ltd, accusing them of being front companies for Triliance and Zagros.
“The Iranian regime uses revenue from petrochemical sales to continue its financing of terrorism and destabilizing foreign agenda,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiked since Republican President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal struck by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and began reimposing sanctions that had been eased under the accord.
Iranian forces committed serious human rights violations against the demonstrators, says new report by rights group.
Rights group Amnesty International has accused Iran of using torture to extract confessions, saying hundreds of people have been jailed since a sweeping crackdown against protests last year.
Demonstrations erupted across Iran in November 2019 after a significant petrol price rise, but they were put down by the Iranian security forces with mass arrests amid a near-total internet blackout.
Amnesty said it had gathered dozens of testimonies from the 7,000 people it estimated were arrested, which included children as young as 10. Additionally, video recordings, court documents and statements by the authorities were also evaluated.
The accounts reveal “a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment”, the London-based human rights group said on Tuesday.
Those arrested were tortured into “confessions” of involvement in the protests, membership of opposition groups or contact with foreign governments and media, it added.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said the “crimes and violations” were accompanied by a wave of “forced televised confessions in state propaganda videos”.
The rights group also said it recorded the names of more than 500 people “subjected to unfair criminal proceedings”.
Prison sentences ranged from one month to 10 years, the report added.
Torture techniques included waterboarding, beating, electric shocks, pepper-spraying genitals, sexual violence, mock executions and pulling out finger and toe nails, Amnesty reported.
“It felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles,” one man allegedly tortured with electricity told Amnesty.
Another man said he was suspended from his hands and feet from a pole – a method reportedly called “chicken kebab” by his interrogators – the report read.
In May, Iran’s interior minister suggested that up to 230 people were killed during the November protests, when petrol pumps were torched, police stations attacked and shops looted.
A group of independent United Nations rights experts said in December that more than 400 people could have been killed in the crackdown, based on unconfirmed reports.
Iran accused “thugs” backed by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia for the unrest, which it described as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy”.
The country’s economy has been choked by crippling sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018, three years after Washington unilaterally pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers.
Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia are attempting to save the 2015 accord with Iran following the US withdrawal.
The signatories to the faltering Iran nuclear deal are meeting in Vienna as the United States urges the reimposition of international sanctions on Tehran and the extension of the conventional arms embargo against it.
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are struggling to save the 2015 landmark accord with Iran, which has been progressively stepping up its nuclear activities since last year.
Tehran insists it is entitled to do so under the deal – which swapped sanctions relief for Iran’s agreement to scale back its nuclear programme – following the US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions on Iran.
In a boost to Tuesday’s talks, the Iranian atomic energy last week agreed for inspectors of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to visit two sites suspected of having hosted undeclared activity in the early 2000s.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi had travelled to Iran on his first trip since taking up the top post last year and after months of calling for access.
“Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA,” Grossi and the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in a joint statement last week.
“Both sides recognise the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the IAEA continue to be essential in the fulfilment of its verification activities,” the statement read.
The IAEA stepped up pressure on Iran in June when its Board of Governors passed a resolution calling it to let inspectors into the sites and cooperate with the agency.
Results from any site visits are, however, expected to take three months, according to a diplomat familiar with the matter, so “it risks being a problem then with the Iranians” if anything undeclared and nuclear-related is found.
US ‘isolated’ Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to International Organisations in Vienna, on Monday posted on Twitter that “nuclear deal participants have a lot of topics to discuss”.
The meeting will be chaired by EU senior official Helga-Maria Schmid with deputy foreign ministers or political directors from Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia attending.
Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said last week’s agreement on access kept “Iran generally in line with the rest of the world, against an isolated United States”.
The UN last week blocked the US bid to reimpose international sanctions on Iran, while Washington also failed to rally enough support to extend an arms embargo set to start to lapse from October.
But Fitzpatrick pointed out that “Iran’s nuclear activities remain of deep concern to those states that are dedicated to non-proliferation”.
Iran reportedly recently transferred advanced centrifuges used to enrich uranium from a pilot facility into a new hall at its main Natanz nuclear fuel plant, which was hit by sabotage in July.
An IAEA assessment published in June said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord.
The level of enrichment is still far below what would be needed for a nuclear weapon, but EU parties to the deal have urged Iran’s full compliance.
The IAEA, which regularly updates its members on Iran’s nuclear activities, is expected to issue a fresh report ahead of a meeting of member states to discuss the dossier later this month.
Supreme Leader says UAE allowed ‘Zionist regime to enter region and forgot Palestine’ by normalising Israel ties.
The United Arab Emirates has betrayed the Islamic world and the Palestinians by reaching a deal towards normalising ties with Israel, Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech.
“Of course, the UAE’s betrayal will not last long, but this stigma will always be remembered. They allowed the Zionist regime to enter the region and forgot Palestine,” Khamenei said on Tuesday.
“The Emiratis will be disgraced forever… I hope they wake up and compensate for what they did.”
Iranian authorities have harshly criticised the United States-brokered deal between the UAE and Tehran’s longtime foe Israel, with some officials warning that the UAE and Israel fostering closer ties risks conflagration in the Middle East.
Israel and the UAE expect economic benefits from the deal, the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years, which was forged largely through shared distrust of regional foe, Iran.
Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with the Arab countries.
Emirati officials have attempted to spin this agreement as being struck in return for Israel suspending its plan to annex large parts of the illegally occupied West Bank, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said annexation was only temporarily off the table.
Economic ties On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott of Israel, with officials from the two countries saying they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology as part of the deal.
On Monday, the first direct flight by Israel’s flagship carrier El Al landed in Abu Dhabi, carrying US and Israeli officials including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The UAE is the third Arab nation after Egypt and Jordan to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Unlike the two other countries, the Gulf state does not share a border with Israel.
In recent years, the UAE has held quiet talks with Israel and allowed Israelis with second passports into the country for trade and talks.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Arab countries to engage with Israel. Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan as countries who may follow suit.
But in a statement earlier this month, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that his government had no mandate to normalise ties with Israel at this time.