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Iran’s Rouhani says COVID-19 measures may be eased within weeks

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said he expects measures taken to combat the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus, including social distancing, to be eased within the next two to three weeks. Accusing “counter-revolutionaries” of attempting to shut down economic production, Rouhani said in a televised address on Saturday his country “has to do everything” to…

Iran’s Rouhani says COVID-19 measures may be eased within weeks

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said he expects measures taken to combat the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus, including social distancing, to be eased within the next two to three weeks.
Accusing “counter-revolutionaries” of attempting to shut down economic production, Rouhani said in a televised address on Saturday his country “has to do everything” to return economic activity back to normal. 
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Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries worldwide by the virus, with an official death toll only behind Italy and China. On Saturday, the health ministry’s latest tally said the death toll had risen by more than 100 to 1,556, while the number of infected people stood at 20,610. A total of 7,635 people have recovered in Iran.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the capital, Tehran, said Rouhani tried to “strike a balance” between addressing the public health crisis and maintaining the country’s economic and sociopolitical stability going forward.
“This is a country that has lost patience with its own government over a series of crises that the country has experienced in the last few months,” he said.
Already reeling from years of economic sanctions following US President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from a nuclear deal Iran had signed with world powers three years earlier, the country’s inability to procure badly needed medical equipment from international markets has hampered its efforts to combat COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Since announcing its first two COVID-19 deaths in the holy Shia city of Qom on February 19, Iran has taken a series of steps to contain the virus.
It has closed schools and universities until early April, as well as four key pilgrimage sites, including the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom.
Iran has also cancelled the main weekly Friday prayers, and temporarily closed Parliament.
Nowruz travel
In a speech marking the start of the Persian new year, known as Nowruz, Rouhani on Friday defended the government’s response to the outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.
He also praised doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Our nation has managed to reach its goals, despite difficulties … Iran will overcome the coronavirus with unity,” Rouhani said.
Iranian authorities have asked people to avoid all travel during the Persian New Year holidays, which usually sees almost all citizens take to the streets. But the pleas have been ignored by many.
According to the Iranian Red Crescent, about three million people have left the 13 worst-hit provinces by road since March 17.
Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Saturday there was “a minority who did not follow the guidelines”, warning that provinces popular with tourists would not welcome visitors for the Nowruz holiday.
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Iran’s Zarif in Iraq in his first visit since Soleimani’s killing |NationalTribune.com

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Iraq, for the first time since the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January. Zarif and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein stressed the necessity for a stable Iraq for the “good of the region” as the two top diplomats discussed their ties and regional developments in…

Iran’s Zarif in Iraq in his first visit since Soleimani’s killing |NationalTribune.com

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Iraq, for the first time since the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January.
Zarif and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein stressed the necessity for a stable Iraq for the “good of the region” as the two top diplomats discussed their ties and regional developments in Baghdad on Sunday.
Zarif is also expected to meet Iraq’s president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister during the visit as regional security, bilateral relations and business investments feature on the agenda.
Zarif’s visit to Iraq comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran, which escalated following Soleimani’s killing in an air attack in the Iraqi capital.
In a joint news conference with Hussein, Zarif said a “stable and powerful” Iraq was in the interest of both the countries.

“That is why we look forward to continued constructive bilateral negotiations. The stability, security and peace in Iraq is the stability of the entire region,” he said.
“Again, we reiterate that we are keen on maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.”
Fuad Hussein said his country looked forward to continuing its “balanced relations” with all the countries in the region. 
“[The relations are] based on first our national interest, then on mutual interest with our neighbours without any interfering in our domestic affairs.”
Zarif visits Soleimani memorial
During his visit, Zarif visited a memorial to Soleimani at the site where he and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), were killed near Baghdad’s international airport.
Tehran had retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq. 

While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain al-Assad killed no US soldiers, dozens were reported to have suffered brain trauma.
Zarif said the assassination of Soleimani was “a criminal act”.
“It is a loss to our country and to the entire region, and it undermines the international efforts for combating ISIL (ISIL) and terrorism in the region,” he said.
This was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since the killing of Soleimani and formation of the new Iraqi government.
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said the recent months have been turbulent for relations between Iran and Iraq.
“New Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been stressing the importance of Iraq’s sovereignty,” she said.
“He also recently moved against armed groups present in Iraq, such as Kataib Hezbollah, which is considered close to Iran,” she said, referring to the Iraqi armed group backed by Tehran.
“This visit is aimed at recalibrating mutual relations and making sure Iran’s security, economic and political interests are represented in Iraq.”
Zarif’s visit comes a day before al-Kadhimi travels to Saudi Arabia and Iran next week in apparent attempt to balance his country’s ties with regional rivals in his first foreign trip as Iraq’s prime minister.
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Fire at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility caused significant damage |NationalTribune.com

A fire that broke out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility last week caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced centrifuges, an Iranian nuclear official said on Sunday. No one was hurt in the mysterious blaze last Thursday at the site, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.  Iran’s top security body…

Fire at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility caused significant damage |NationalTribune.com

A fire that broke out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility last week caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced centrifuges, an Iranian nuclear official said on Sunday.
No one was hurt in the mysterious blaze last Thursday at the site, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation. 
Iran’s top security body said on Friday the cause of the fire at the facility had been determined and would be announced later, however, specific details have yet to be released.
Some Iranian officials reportedly said it may have been caused by cyber-sabotage and one warned Tehran would retaliate against any country carrying out such attacks.
“The incident could slow down the development and production of advanced centrifuges in the medium term,” Kamalvandi was quoted as saying by Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
“Iran will replace the damaged building with a bigger one that has more advanced equipment. The incident has caused significant damage, but there were no casualties.”

An article by IRNA last week addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.
In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz.
Israel’s defence minister said on Sunday it was not “necessarily” behind every mysterious incident in Iran.
The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog. 

The IAEA said on Friday the location of the fire did not contain nuclear materials and none of its inspectors was present at the time.
Intensified sanctions
Natanz is the centrepiece of Iran’s enrichment programme, which Tehran says is only for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe it had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear arms programme that it halted in 2003.
Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions in a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.
But Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord since US President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed and intensified sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.
The deal only allows Iran to enrich uranium at Natanz facility with more than 5,000 of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

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Iran’s Zarif says ending arms ban ‘inseparable’ from nuclear deal |NationalTribune.com

Iran has said the preservation of its nuclear accord with world powers depends on the scheduled end in October of a UN arms embargo as the United States seeks to extend it.”The timetable for the removal of arms restrictions embodied in Resolution 2231 is an inseparable part of the hard-won compromise,” Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister…

Iran’s Zarif says ending arms ban ‘inseparable’ from nuclear deal |NationalTribune.com

Iran has said the preservation of its nuclear accord with world powers depends on the scheduled end in October of a UN arms embargo as the United States seeks to extend it.”The timetable for the removal of arms restrictions embodied in Resolution 2231 is an inseparable part of the hard-won compromise,” Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session, referring to the resolution that blessed the 2015 deal signed to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
“Any attempt to change or amend the agreed timetable is thus tantamount to undermining Resolution 2231 in its entirety,” he said.His comments were made after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the UN body to extend the embargo on Iran.

Washington has circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member council that would indefinitely extend the embargo but Russia and China have already signalled their opposition to such a move.
“If Iran isn’t a threat to peace and security I do not know what it is,” Pompeo said, warning that the embargo’s expiration would risk the stability of the Middle East.”Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices,” he added, referencing two opponents of prolonging the embargo.
Pompeo described Iran as “the world’s most heinous terrorist regime,” and urged the UNSC to reject “extortion diplomacy.”
If the US is unsuccessful in extending the arms embargo, it has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under the nuclear deal, from which Washington unilaterally withdrew in 2018.
Zarif countered calling President Donald Trump’s administration “an outlaw bully” that is waging “economic terrorism” on his country to satisfy domestic constituencies and “personal aggrandizement.”
He called for the US to compensate the Iranian people for the damage and vehemently opposed any extension of the arms embargo, warning that Iran’s options “will be firm” if it is maintained and the US will bear full responsibility.
Pompeo’s threat to trigger a new set of sanctions was met with criticism during the meeting by other members who signalled their opposition to the move, while also stressing the importance of respecting the deal.
While Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia denounced the US’s attempt to extend the embargo as a “utopia”, China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, stressed that the five-year arms embargo should end as scheduled under the 2015 resolution.”Having quit the JCPOA, the US is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger snapback at the Security Council,” Zhang said, using the official name of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.European allies of the US have voiced support for extending the embargo but also oppose new sanctions, saying the bigger issue is Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Unilateral attempts to trigger UN sanctions snapback are incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA,” said the British envoy, Jonathan Allen, referring to the nuclear agreement.
Olof Skoog, the European Union representative to the UN, noted that the US has not participated in any meetings on the nuclear deal since announcing its withdrawal in May 2018.
The UNSC was meeting to discuss a report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said the cruise missiles used in several attacks on oil facilities and an international airport in Saudi Arabia last year were of “Iranian origin”.
Guterres said “these items may have been transferred in a manner inconsistent” with a 2015 Security Council resolution that enshrines Tehran’s deal with world powers to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
Iran rejected the report saying it had been drawn up under US and Saudi influence.
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