President Donald Trump has said the United States will not lift sanctions on Iran in order to enter negotiations with it, in a response to the Iranian foreign minister who suggested Tehran was still willing to talk on the condition Washington “correct[ed] its past” and removed a series of tough economic measures.
There has been growing friction between the two longtime foes since 2018 when Trump pulled his country out of a landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers. The US has since reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy while calling for negotiations on a new accord that also addressed Tehran’s ballistic missiles programme and its support for regional armed groups.
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The tensions reached the highest levels in decades earlier this month after the US assassinated top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad. Iran responded by firing missiles at US targets in Iraq on January 8, but the retaliatory strikes did not cause any fatalities and Trump signalled the US would not respond militarily and instead move ahead with more “punishing economic sanctions”.
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that he would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognise the realities” when asked about possible negotiations with the US following Soleimani’s killing.
“For us, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, what matters is how they behave,” he said in the interview published on Saturday, reiterating his country’s demand that the US would have to first lift the sanctions before any new negotiations begin.
“The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating table. They’re the ones who left,” Zarif continued, before adding that “the day will come” when the US “will have to compensate for inflicting “great harm” on Iranians.
“We have a lot of patience,” he said.
In Washington, Trump said in a Twitter post late on Saturday, “Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed,” and added: “No Thanks!”.
Zarif hit back on Sunday by tweeting an excerpt from the interview with Der Spiegel.
“@realdonaldtrump is better advised to base his foreign policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his Farsi translators,” Zarif said in the tweet with the interview excerpt.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 26, 2020
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Ali Asghar Zarean, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief, said the country’s enriched uranium stockpile has exceeded 1,200 kilogrammes (2,646 pounds), which is far beyond the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers allowed.
“Iran is increasing its stockpile of the enriched uranium with full speed,” he said. The claim has not been verified by the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Under the 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
In reaction to Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal and its reimposition of sanctions, Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments. On January 5, days after the US drone strike that killed Soleimani, Tehran announced it would no longer abide by any of the JCPOA’s limitations to its enrichment activities.
In November, the IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had grown to 372.3kgs (821 pounds) as of November 3. The nuclear deal limited the stockpile to 202.8kgs (447 pounds).
Iran has routinely promised to begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to higher levels closer to weapons-grade if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for the nuclear accord following Washington’s moves.
The other signatories to the JCPOA – Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia – have been struggling to keep it alive.
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 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.
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.
Iran’s Khamenei to pardon 10,000 prisoners ahead of Nowruz
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 prisoners including political detainees to mark the Iranian new year on Friday, according to state television. “Those who will be pardoned will not return to jail … almost half of those security-related prisoners will be pardoned as well,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on…
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 prisoners including political detainees to mark the Iranian new year on Friday, according to state television.
“Those who will be pardoned will not return to jail … almost half of those security-related prisoners will be pardoned as well,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on Wednesday.
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On Tuesday, Esmaili said Iran had temporarily freed about 85,000 people from jail, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
“A large number of prisoners who have been temporarily freed do not need to return to jail after the leader’s pardon,” Esmaili said.
“The unprecedented point is that the pardon also includes the security-related prisoners with less than five-year jail sentences,” Esmaili said.
Esmaili did not say whether it would include British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was allowed temporary release on Tuesday. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016.
Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report that the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, submitted to the Human Rights Council in January.
They are believed to include hundreds arrested during or after anti-government protests in November.
The coronavirus outbreak has prompted calls from the United Nations and the United States for political prisoners, including dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, to be released from Iran’s overcrowded jails.
Washington has warned Iran that it would hold the Tehran government directly responsible for the deaths of any jailed Americans.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners over recent years, including citizens of the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Lebanon.
Tehran denies it holds people on political ground and has mainly accused foreign prisoners of espionage.
In June 2019, Iran released Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman with US permanent residency, after four years in prison. Last year, Iran also released Xiyue Wang, a US citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting a number of dual nationals to try to win concessions from other countries – a charge the Islamic Republic has regularly dismissed.
Tehran has called for the release of about several dozen Iranians held in US prisons, mostly for violating sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.
Frictions have risen between longtime foes Iran and the US since 2018 when Washington quit Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Tehran’s economy.
Tehran has since gradually scaled back its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, under which most sanctions on the country were lifted in exchange for Tehran curbing its sensitive nuclear work.
Iran’s Khamenei says US Middle East plan ‘will die before Trump’
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Donald Trump’s controversial plan for Israel-Palestine would die before the US president does. “This plan will certainly not work and it will die before Trump,” Khamenei said in his speech that aired on state television. “The Americans negotiated with the Zionists on something that doesn’t belong to them.” Trump…
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Donald Trump’s controversial plan for Israel-Palestine would die before the US president does.
“This plan will certainly not work and it will die before Trump,” Khamenei said in his speech that aired on state television. “The Americans negotiated with the Zionists on something that doesn’t belong to them.”
Trump announced the long-awaited Middle East plan last month, although the proposal was made without the input of Palestinians, who broke off ties with the Trump administration after it announced its recognition of Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel in 2018.
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The US plan, which is seen by analysts as extremely supportive of Israel and has been rejected by the Palestinians, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, envisions the Israeli annexation of large swaths of the occupied West Bank including illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley, giving Israel a permanent eastern border along the Jordan River.
The Palestinians would have parts of the West Bank and Gaza for their state and a new capital in Abu Dis, a suburb just outside Jerusalem, but the Palestinians want both occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank to be part of a future state.
Trump’s proposal sidelined Palestinians and is in violation of UNSC Resolution 242 that called on Israel to withdraw its forces from territories it had occupied in the June 1967 War, as well as the return of refugees.
Khamenei also said that Iran would support Palestinian armed groups as much as it can and urged Palestinians to confront Trump’s plan.
“We believe that Palestinian armed organisations will stand and continue resistance and the Islamic Republic sees supporting Palestinian groups as its duty,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech, the text of which appeared on his website.
“So it will support them however it can and as much as it can and this support is the desire of the Islamic system and the Iranian nation,” he said.
‘Worthless and dishonourable’
Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad on January 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against a base housing US troops in Iraq days later.
Khamenei also jabbed at Arab leaders who have supported the Trump plan.
“The welcoming and clapping from a few traitorous Arab leaders who are worthless and dishonourable among their own people has no importance,” he said.
Among those in attendance at the unveiling last month were ambassadors from Bahrain, the UAE and Oman.
Muscat, which has traditionally conducted a neutral foreign policy, in a surprise move welcomed Netanyahu in 2018 – the first visit to Oman by an Israeli leader in over two decades.
Some Gulf countries have moved closer to Israel in recent years as they see Iran as a bigger regional threat.
Call to vote
Separately, Khamenei called for a high turnout in parliamentary elections on February 21, broadly seen as a gauge of support for the authorities after the dramatic rise in tensions with the US last month.
“It’s possible that someone doesn’t like me but if they like Iran they must come to the ballot box,” Khamenei said, according to his official website, noting that the elections could help solve Iran’s international problems.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at hardliners over the mass disqualification of candidates for the election.
Iran’s economy has been battered after Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to bring Iran to the negotiating table for curbs on its ballistic missile program and to cut its support for regional proxies.
Washington’s attempt to pressure Iran to negotiate through sanctions will not work, Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television on Wednesday.
“They thought we would request negotiations from America. Negotiations by their definition, not our definition,” Rouhani said. “They want us to surrender through cruel, unequal and undignified negotiations. This is impossible for the Iranian people.”
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