Archive for March 1, 2021

US ‘disappointed,’ but still open to Iran nuclear talks after Tehran’s rejection

March 1, 2021

Senior official says Iran’s refusal to join EU-brokered talks was expected and part of posturing by the Islamic Republic; US to consult other parties on way forward

By MATT LEEToday, 12:49 am  1

President Joe Biden speaks on the economy in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Joe Biden speaks on the economy in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration said Sunday it remains open to talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal despite Tehran’s rejection of an EU invitation to join a meeting with the US and the other original participants in the agreement.

A senior administration official said the US was “disappointed” in the rejection but was flexible as to the timing and format of the talks and saw Iran’s decision to snub the European invitation as part of the diplomatic process. The official said the US would be consulting with the other participants — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union — on the way forward.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Sunday, Iran turned down the offer for talks saying the “time isn’t ripe” for the meeting, at which the US would have participated as an observer. Iran had been insisting that the US lift or ease sanctions imposed on it by the Trump administration under its “maximum pressure campaign” before sitting down with the United States.

US President Joe Biden has said repeatedly that the US would return to the deal that his predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from in 2018 only after Iran restores its full compliance with the accord.

“Considering US/E3 positions & actions, time isn’t ripe for the proposed informal meeting,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter. He referred to the so-called E3, which comprises Britain, France and Germany.

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“Remember: Trump failed to meet because of his ill-advised ‘Max Failure,’” he said. “With sanctions in place, same still applies. Censuring is NOT diplomacy. It doesn’t work with Iran.”

The Biden administration announced earlier this month that it would accept an EU invitation to participate in a meeting of deal participants and at the same time rescinded a Trump determination from the UN Security Council that Iran was in significant breach of the agreement that all UN sanctions had be restored.

The UN move had little practical effect as nearly all members of the world body had rejected Trump’s determination because the US was no longer a participant in the nuclear deal. Biden administration officials said the withdrawal of the determination was intended to show goodwill toward its partners and at the same time had eased severe restrictions on the movement of Iranian diplomats posted to the UN.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, damages cased by scattered debris of the ballistic missile launched by Yemen’s rebel Houthis are seen on a citizen’s house in Riyadh late Saturday, Feb.28, 2021. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Separately on Sunday, the State Department condemned a weekend attack by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on Saudi Arabia, saying it damaged prospects for peace. Along with the overtures to Iran on the nuclear front, the Biden administration also reversed several late Trump administration moves against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken rescinded his predecessor’s designation that the Houthi rebels were a “foreign terrorist organization,” a move that the UN and relief groups had said would make the already disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen even worse. In addition, the Biden administration decided to halt all offensive assistance to Saudi Arabia for its military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen.

The Houthis, however, have stepped up their operations in the country, pressing ahead with an offensive in Marib province and launching attacks on Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, Saudi authorities said they had intercepted a missile attack over their capital and reported that bomb-laden drones had targeted a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults they have blamed on the Houthis.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Sunday said the US “strongly condemns the Houthis’ attacks on population centers in Saudi Arabia.” He said they “threaten not only innocent civilians but also prospects for peace and stability in Yemen” and called on the Houthis “to end these egregious attacks.”

“The United States remains committed to its longstanding partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” Price said.

On Friday, the Biden administration further strained ties with the Saudis when it published a declassified intelligence report finding that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had ordered an operation to capture or kill Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident who was brutally slain at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Saudi Arabia has forcefully rejected the report’s conclusions.

IDF chief: Blast on Israeli-owned ship was a ‘reminder’ from Iran

March 1, 2021

Aviv Kohavi says explosion shows Tehran not only a nuclear threat, but one that ‘spreads and carries out terror’

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES28 February 2021, 5:33 pm  1

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on February 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on February 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Sunday indicated that Iran was behind a blast on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

At a ceremony in which he awarded a Medal of Appreciation to the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 8200, Kohavi said Israel was dealing with a range of security threats in various military theaters.

“Just over the weekend we got a reminder in one of these theaters of one of the greatest threats in the region, Iran, and we got a reminder that Iran not only is a nuclear threat, but that it spreads and carries out terror and operations against civilian targets,” Kohavi said.

He added: “This is the place to reiterate that the IDF acts and will act against the threats that endanger [Israel], near and far.”

His comments came as an ultraconservative Iranian newspaper, Kayhan, said the “resistance axis” of Tehran and its regional allies may have been behind the explosion that hit an Israeli-owned “spy” vessel four days ago.

The Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai’s Mina Rashid (Port Rashid) cruise terminal, February 28, 2021. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was traveling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday, according to the London-based Dryad Global maritime security group.

Citing unnamed “military experts,” Kayhan wrote in a front-page report that “the targeted ship in the Gulf of Oman is a military ship belonging to the Israeli army.”

It was “gathering information about the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman” when it was targeted, the newspaper said.

“This spy ship, although it was sailing secretly, may have fallen into the ambush of one of the branches of the resistance axis,” it added, without offering further details.

The term “resistance axis” usually refers to the Islamic Republic and its allied forces in the region.

Also Sunday, the Helios Ray came to Dubai’s port for repair. An Israeli security delegation was reportedly in Dubai to inspect the vessel.

The crew was unharmed in the blast, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

It remains unclear what caused the blast, but the incident comes amid rising tension between the US and Iran over its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has sought to pressure US President Joe Biden’s administration to bring back the sanctions relief it received under the accord with world powers, which former president Donald Trump abandoned.

Israel’s Channel 13 News reported Saturday that security officials believe the ship was attacked by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who fired two missiles at the ship.

A photo showing some of the damage caused to an Israeli-owned ship by an explosion, in the Gulf of Oman on February 26, 2021. (Photo via Aurora Intel/Twitter)

The blast on the ship, a Bahamian-flagged but Israeli-owned roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo vessel, recalled a string of attacks on foreign oil tankers in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran denied any role in those suspected assaults, which happened near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil chokepoint.

Israeli ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan told Army Radio on Sunday that “it was no secret that the Iranians are trying to harm Israeli targets” and alleged the explosion on the ship bore the hallmarks of other Iranian attacks.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday that the proximity between the location of the incident and the Islamic Republic raised concerns that it was responsible for the attack, but added that a probe had not yet been completed.

“We need to continue investigating,” he stressed. “The Iranians are looking to harm Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads to the assessment that there is a likelihood that this is an Iranian initiative. We are committed to continuing to check.”

The Helios Ray had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before making its way out of the Middle East toward Singapore. The blast hit as the ship was sailing from the Saudi port Dammam out of the Gulf of Oman, forcing it to turn to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, for inspection.

Israel said to hit Iranian targets in Syria after Tehran blamed for ship blast

March 1, 2021

Syrian state media claims air defenses shot down several missiles; Hebrew media outlets indicate raid a retaliation for explosion that hit Israeli-owned vessel in Gulf of Oman

By TOI STAFF28 February 2021, 11:07 pmUpdated at 11:57 pm  4

Footage from Syrian state media said to show air defense missiles being fired near Damascus in response to Israeli strikes, February 28, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Footage from Syrian state media said to show air defense missiles being fired near Damascus in response to Israeli strikes, February 28, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Syrian state media reported Sunday that air defense systems were activated around Damascus due to an Israeli attack. A report carried on the official SANA news agency claimed the Syrian military intercepted several Israeli missiles.

There was no comment on the reported strikes from the Israel Defense Forces, which rarely acknowledges specific attacks.

Israel’s Kan News, Channel 13 News and Ma’ariv newspaper all described the strikes as targeting Iranian sites, and characterized them as a response to a blast last week that hit an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman, which Israeli officials have said was likely carried out by Iran.

None of the outlets provided sourcing for their reports.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor which has had its credibility questioned in the past, said the strike hit the area of Sayyida Zeinab south of Damascus, where the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah are present.

Kan had earlier reported that leaders of Israel’s security establishment met on Sunday evening to discuss the alleged Iranian attack on the MV Helios Ray.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday he believed Iran was behind the explosion Thursday. On Sunday IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi called the explosion that hit the Helios Ray a “reminder” from Iran.

“This is the place to reiterate that the IDF acts and will act against the threats that endanger [Israel], near and far,” he said during a ceremony.

Israel has launched hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, most of which were directed against Iran and its proxies. The last attack in Syria attributed to the Jewish state was on February 15.

The latest reported strike also came after the US military launched strikes Thursday on Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria, in retaliation for a recent rocket attack in Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.

Agencies contributed to this report.