IAEA: Iran continues to adhere to nuclear deal
Iran is sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Thursday, also adding that the country may build nuclear reactors for ships within limits of the deal.
The IAEA document, the eleventh since the deal came into force in January 2016, showed Iran complying with the accord’s key parameters.
This announcement came over two months ahead of US President Donald Trump’s self-imposed deadline to fix its “disastrous flaws”.
The number of centrifuges to enrich uranium was below the agreed level of 5,060, while Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium “has not exceeded 300kg,” said the report, which was seen by AFP.
When enriched to high purities, uranium can be used in nuclear weapons. At low purities, it can be used for peaceful applications such as power generation – Iran’s stated aim.
The volume of heavy water, a reactor coolant, remained below the agreed maximum of 130 tons throughout the past three months.
Iran has also informed the IAEA of the decision “to construct naval nuclear propulsion in future” and the agency has requested “further clarifications and amplifications,” the report added.
The IAEA, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities, has repeatedly verified Tehran’s full commitment to its side of the bargain.
Reuters quoted a senior diplomat as saying that Iran’s notification on marine propulsion could cover a range of intentions over any period of time, meaning there was no cause for concern.
If Iran had reached a concrete decision to build new facilities for marine propulsion it must provide design information, Reuters reported.
Trump in January set a 120-day deadline for US lawmakers and European allies to “fix” his predecessor Barack Obama’s main foreign policy achievement or face a US exit.
The IAEA, Russia, China and European signatories reaffirmed support for the hard-won agreement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned Europe signatories against compromising on the deal, saying it would be a “slippery slope in a very dangerous direction”.
Under the 2015 deal with Russia, the US, China, France, Britain, Germany and the EU, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions.
US Supreme Court forbids seizure of Persian artifacts
The US Supreme Court ruled that American citizens injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Israeli occupied Palestinian territories cannot seize ancient Persian artifacts from a Chicago university and museum as compensation.
The country’s highest court unanimously upheld a federal appeals court’s decision in favor of Iran that had prevented the plaintiffs from obtaining Persian antiquities held at the University of Chicago and Chicago’s Field Museum.
The case required the Supreme Court to determine what assets qualify for seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that governs when foreign entities can be sued in US courts.
In 2006, a group of victims of a 1997 explosion at a pedestrian mall in Al-Quds were awarded $71 million by a federal judge in Chicago.
The attack, which killed five people and injured 200, was claimed by the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas.
But the judge ruled that the money should be collected from Iran for its support of Hamas and allowed the plaintiffs to search for any and all Iranian assets in the United States to pay for the judgment, Press TV wrote.
The plaintiffs, who are mainly Jewish Americans, argue that Iran must pay reparations as it supports Hamas.
However, the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the 2006 judgment, ruling in favor of Iran and the University of Chicago in 2011 and again in 2014. Iran has been a victim of baseless claims of support for terrorism, backed mostly by Zionists in the US and Israel. The Supreme Court ruling put an end to the long-running legal battle.
University of Chicago spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said the ruling “reaffirms the university’s continuing efforts to preserve and protect this cultural heritage.”
The artifacts, including at least 30,000 clay tablets and fragments with some of the oldest writings in the world, are kept at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
The artifacts were loaned by Iran to the University of Chicago in 1937.
Iran’s 10-month trade up 12%
Domestic Economy Desk
Iran’s non-oil trade during the 10 months from March 21, 2017 to January 20, 2018 stood at $80 billion, indicating a 12-percent growth compared to the figure for the same period a year ago. This was announced by Director of Planning at Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization Mohammadreza Izadian, who told IRNA on Friday, that the volume of imports and exports during the 10-month period hit 135 million tons, which shows 0.4 percent of growth against the figure for the same time-span a year ago.
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Iran says could withdraw from JCPOA if it gets no benefits
Iran could withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, if it derives no economic benefits from it, and major international banks continue to fail to do business with the Islamic Republic, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Thursday.
The July 2015 agreement between Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – obliged Iran to restrict its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions, Reuters reported.
Despite that, big banks have continued to stay away for fear of falling foul of remaining US sanctions – something that has hampered Iran’s efforts to rebuild foreign trade and lure investment.
Adding to those concerns, US President Donald Trump delivered an ultimatum to European powers on Jan. 12, saying they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” or he would refuse to extend the US sanctions relief on Iran that it calls for.
US sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.
But even if Trump relents and issues fresh “waivers” to continue suspending those sanctions, the existing situation is unacceptable for Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in a speech at the Chatham House think tank in London.
“The deal would not survive this way even if the ultimatum is passed and waivers are extended,” Araqchi, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, said.
“If the same policy of confusion and uncertainties about the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) continues, if companies and banks are not working with Iran, we cannot remain in a deal that has no benefit for us,” Araqchi said. “That’s a fact.”
Trump sees three “defects” in the deal: its exclusion of Iran’s ballistic missile program; the terms under which international inspectors can visit Iranian nuclear sites; and “sunset” clauses under which limits on the Iranian nuclear program start to expire after 10 years. He wants all three modified if the United States is to stay in the JCPOA.
No sunset clause in the JCPOA
Araqchi said Trump’s interpretation of the sunset clauses was wrong.
“There is no sunset clause in the JCPOA. Although the US administration and Trump are talking about sunset clause and that JCPOA is just for 10 years, that is not true,” he said.
“Iran’s commitment in the JCPOA not to go for the nuclear weapons is permanent.”
He also reiterated Iran’s position that the JCPOA was a non-proliferation treaty and could not be linked to any other issue.
If the nuclear deal is linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program or its regional activities, world powers “not only will lose the JCPOA, but will make other issues more complicated and more difficult to resolve,” he said.
“If we lose the JCPOA, we will face another nuclear crisis,” Araqchi said.
“For the Europeans or the world community, when we talk about maintaining the JCPOA and saving it, it’s not a choice between the Iranian or the US market, it’s not a choice for economic cooperation: it’s a choice between having security or insecurity,” he said.
Myanmar bulldozes what is left of Rohingya villages
Satellite imagery shows Myanmar authorities have bulldozed at least 55 Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine in recent months, Human Rights Watch said Friday, condemning the government for erasing evidence at sites where troops are accused of atrocities.
Northern Rakhine has been nearly emptied of its Rohingya population since last August, when a military crackdown drove some 700,000 of the persecuted group across the border to Bangladesh, AFP reported.
The UN has accused Myanmar of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslim minority, who face acute discrimination in the mainly Buddhist nation.
Myanmar denies the charge but has blocked UN investigators from investigating an area where thousands of Rohingya are believed to have been killed.
Hundreds of Rohingya villages were already damaged by fire during the initial months of violence last year, when soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes terrorized communities with arson, gunfire and rape, according to refugees.
Since November Myanmar authorities have further demolished at least 55 villages with heavy machinery, clearing out all structures and vegetation, satellite images obtained by Human Rights Watch showed.
At least two of the flattened villages were previously undamaged by fires, the watchdog said.
“Many of these villages were scenes of atrocities against Rohingya and should be preserved so that the experts appointed by the UN to document these abuses can properly evaluate the evidence to identify those responsible,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams.
“Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there,” he added.
Myanmar’s government spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Haunting images of levelled villages first circulated on social media earlier this month after they were posted by an EU diplomat.
At the time Myanmar’s Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye said the demolition was part of a plan to “build back” villages to a higher standard than before.
Myanmar has trumpeted a government effort to rebuild violence-gutted Rakhine and welcome back refugees under a repatriation agreement with Dhaka that was supposed to commence in January.
But many Rohingya refuse to return without the guarantee of basic rights and safety.
Analysts have also sounded the alarm over the government’s rehabilitation projects, calling the sweeping destruction of villages, mosques and property only the latest move to erase the Rohingya’s ties to their ancestral lands, and prevent them returning.
On Thursday UN agencies said they had struck a partnership with Myanmar and Japan governments to provide $20 million for humanitarian and development projects in Rakhine state, where authorities have restricted access for aid groups since the crisis.
Food and other assistance would be provided to “people of all communities in Rakhine state,” the UN agencies said in a statement, adding that access had improved but remained restricted in some areas.
The 1.1-million strong Rohingya have been systematically stripped of their legal rights in Myanmar in recent decades. They have also been targeted by bouts of communal violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbors and corralled into grim displacement camps in other parts of the state. Many in the Buddhist majority revile the Rohingya and brand the group as foreign interlopers, despite their having lived in Rakhine for generations.
Turkish forces shell convoy headed to Syria’s Afrin region
The Turkish Army struck a convoy entering Syria’s Kurdish-held Afrin region, which Ankara said carried fighters and weapons but Kurdish forces said was made up of civilians entering with food and medicine.
In a statement on Friday, the Turkish military said a fleet of some 30-40 vehicles of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia had approached the main town of the northwest Afrin region. It said artillery targeted the convoy “carrying terrorists, weapons and ammunition”, Reuters reported.
The YPG said the convoy, which arrived in Afrin late on Thursday, had transported civilians from the Jazeera region further east and other towns under the control of Kurdish forces.
Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin, said the convoy included hundreds of people. The shelling set some cars ablaze, wounding at least ten people and killing one passenger.
“The convoy was headed to stand in solidarity with the people of Afrin, carrying food aid and medical supplies,” he said.
Turkey launched an assault last month on Afrin, seeking to drive out the YPG which it deems a menace along its border.
“As always all attention and sensitivity was shown so that civilians were not harmed,” the Turkish military said on Friday. It released aerial video footage showing a series of explosions and smoke rising from a country road.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday the Turkish Army was making every effort to avoid harming any civilians, which was extending the duration of the operation. Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli has previously dismissed reports of harmed civilians as false.
Human Rights Watch said on Friday it had investigated three attacks in Afrin last month in which Turkish troops failed to prevent civilian casualties. The airstrikes and shelling, on a cluster of tents, a poultry farm, and a house, killed 26 civilians, including 17 children, it said.
“It appears that vulnerable civilians are facing displacement and death because of the way Turkey’s latest offensive is being conducted,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at the US-based group.
Since the onset of Syria’s conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have carved out three cantons in the north. The territory under their control expanded with the defeat of the Daesh terror group.
This week, militias allied to Damascus deployed to Afrin to help fight the Turkish assault. The Damascus government has also been allowing Kurdish fighters, civilians, and politicians to pass through to reach Afrin in recent weeks.
A YPG statement accused Turkey of trying to “create a state of terror and force people towards mass displacement” with air strikes and arbitrary shelling in Afrin.
Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdish PKK movement, which has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
Trump to announce new sanctions against North Korea as South prepares for talks
The United States is due to announce its largest package of sanctions against North Korea to pressure the country into giving up its nuclear and missile programs, as South Korea readies itself for further talks with its leaders.
Tougher sanctions may jeopardize the latest detente between the two Koreas, illustrated by the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics in the South, amid preparations for talks about a possible summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
A senior US administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, called the new penalties “the largest package of new sanctions against North Korea”, without giving details.
US Vice President Mike Pence had hinted at such a plan two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.
North Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test. It defends the weapons programs as essential to deter US aggression.
But it has been more than two months since its last missile test.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea, which hosts 28,500 US troops, after a high-level delegation, including his sister, returned from the Olympics.
In an extension of that rapprochement, the North agreed on Friday to hold working-level talks on Tuesday for the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics on the North’s side of the border village of Panmunjom.
The new US sanctions will be announced while Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea. She had dinner with Moon at the Blue House after a closed-door meeting with the president on Friday and will attend the Games’ closing ceremony.
Ivanka Trump’s visit coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied any involvement.
The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for US and North Korean officials to meet.
Seoul said it approved the pending visit by Kim Yong Chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding in the face of opposition protests.
“Under current difficult circumstances, we have decided to focus on whether peace on the Korean peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations can be derived from dialogue with (the visiting North Korean officials), not on their past or who they are,” said Unification Ministry Baik Tae-hyun in a media briefing.
A South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country’s spy agency said on Friday that Kim Yong Chol was the “right person” for inter-Korean and denuclearization talks.
“Kim Yong Chol is the top official regarding inter-Korean relations and he is being accepted (here) as the right person to discuss various issues like easing military tension, improving inter-Korean ties and denuclearization,” said Kang Seok-ho to reporters. Kim Yong Chol currently heads the United Front Department, the North’s office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.
Persian miniature, a highly meticulous artwork
A Persian miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting depicting religious or mythological themes from the region in the Middle East known as Iran.
The art of miniature painting in Persia thrived from the 13th through the 16th centuries, and continues to this day, with several contemporary artists producing notable Persian miniatures. These delicate, lush paintings are typically visually stunning — the intricacy of which can only be accomplished by a very fine hand and an extremely small brush, Tasnim News Agency wrote.
Persian miniature is a small painting, whether a book illustration or a separate work of art intended to be kept in an album of such works. The techniques are broadly comparable to the Western and Byzantine traditions of miniatures in illuminated manuscripts, which probably had an influence on the origins of the Persian tradition.
Although there is an equally well-established Persian tradition of wall painting, their survival rate and state of preservation of miniatures are better, and miniatures are much the best-known form of Persian painting in the West.
Several features about Persian miniatures stand out. The first is the size and degree of detail; many of these paintings are quite small, but they feature rich, complex scenes which can keep a viewer occupied for hours. Classically, a Persian miniature also features hues of gold and silver leaf, along with a very vivid array of colors.
The perspective in a Persian miniature also tends to be very intriguing, with elements overlaid on each other in ways which sometimes feel awkward to people who are accustomed to the look and feel of Western art.
Originally, Persian miniatures were commissioned as book illustrations for Persian illuminated manuscripts.
Only the wealthiest could afford the illustrations, with some Persian miniatures taking up to a year to complete. Eventually, people also began collecting these works of art on their own, binding them into separate books.
Many of these collections fortunately survive to this day, along with other examples of Persian art such as Iran’s famous pile carpets.
The Persian miniature was probably inspired by Chinese art, given the very Chinese themes which appear in some early examples of Persian miniatures. Many of the mythological creatures depicted in early Persian art, for example, bear a striking resemblance to animals in Chinese myth. Over time, however, Persian artists developed their own style and themes, and the concept of the Persian miniature was picked up by neighboring regions.
Many museums of Asian art have Persian miniatures in their collections, and it is well worth visiting seeing examples of this distinctive art form in person. Persian miniatures also merit undivided attention; the longer one looks at a Persian miniature, the more details and themes emerge. The study of a single miniature can take up an entire day, as more and more details unfold, and many museums conveniently have detailed guides to the figures and themes in their Persian miniatures so that visitors can learn more about what they are seeing.
Kamal ud-Din Behzad Herawi, also known as Kamal al-din Bihzad or Kamaleddin Behzad was a painter of Persian miniatures and head of the royal ateliers in Herat and Tabriz during the late Timurid and early Safavid periods.
Behzad is the most famous of Persian miniature painters, though he is more accurately understood as the director of a workshop producing manuscript illuminations in a style he conceived. Persian painting of the period frequently uses an arrangement of geometric architectural elements as the structural or compositional context in which the figures are arranged. Behzad is equally skilled with the organic areas of landscape, but where he uses the traditional geometric style Behzad stretches that compositional device in a couple ways.
One is that he often uses open, empty areas without patterns around which an action revolves. Also he pins his compositions to a mastery at moving the eye of the observer around the picture plane in a quirky organic flow. The gestures of figures and objects are not only uniquely natural, expressive and active, they are arranged to keep moving the eye throughout the picture plane. He uses value (dark-light contrast) more emphatically.
Iran’s Nemati shortlisted for International Women’s Day Recognition Award
Iranian para-archer Zahra Nemati has been shortlisted by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) among the list of five candidates for the 2018 International Women’s Day Recognition Award.
The 32-year-old archer made history as the first Iranian woman to win a Paralympic or Olympic medal when she collected women’s individual recurve W1/W2 gold at the 2012 London Paralympic Games which was followed by the same triumph at the Rio Games in 2016.
Nemati has also won three world titles – most recently at the 2017 World Archery Para Championships in Beijing, China, last September.
As a pioneer and role model, the influence she has exerted over Iranian women during the past years has been substantial.
To create the shortlist, all IPC members were invited to nominate someone who they felt embodies the spirit of the Paralympics and who inspires women within it. The shortlist was then compiled by the members of the IPC’s Women in Sport Committee, Chairperson Rita van Driel, and three-time Paralympic champion hand cyclist and alpine skiing Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis.
The eventual winner of the prize will be voted on by the full committee and will be announced on International Women’s Day on March 8, exactly one day before the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony.
‘Good for Britain’ if I was prime minister: EU’s Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker took a dig at London over Brexit talks on Friday, saying it would be “good for Britain” if he was prime minister.
Juncker made the comment at an EU summit when asked about a high-level British cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Theresa May aimed at thrashing out a plan for a future partnership with the EU, AFP reported.
“I am not the British prime minister, it would be good for Britain if I was it, but I am not,” Juncker told a reporter who quizzed him on when he expected to get details of the outcome.
“I am commenting on the outcome of the Chequers meeting when I know what is the exact conclusion,” Juncker added as he arrived at the summit of 27 EU leaders, to which Britain was not invited.
May took senior ministers to the premier’s country retreat of Chequers on Thursday to discuss what economic ties they want Britain to have with the European Union after leaving the bloc in March 2019.
The British PM is expected to give a speech outlining Britain’s plans next week.
The EU has repeatedly called on Britain to clarify as soon as possible what it wants in terms of future ties, so that negotiations can move ahead.
Juncker meanwhile said he still assumed Britain would leave as planned in 2019, despite speculation about a repeat of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“As far as the British parliament and government are concerned, it’s for them to make any response to new questions which have arisen in the UK,” Juncker said.
“My working hypothesis is that Britain will leave at the end of March 2019.”