Iran consults Russia, Turkey ahead of Syria talks
Iranian, Russian and Turkish delegations, which are in Kazakhstan capital, held separate consultations before a meeting on Syria.
Headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, the Iranian team arrived in the Kazakh capital on Saturday. Soon afterward, it met with its Russian and Turkish counterparts to discuss the latest schedule revisions and developments concerning the upcoming meeting, Press TV reported.
The two-day talks, organized by Iran, Russia and Turkey, will involve the representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups discussing a solution to the conflict. The negotiations will start today.
The Russian delegation is headed by President Vladimir Putin’s point man on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, while Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal is leading the Turkish representatives.
At the talks, Iran and Russia will be mediating on behalf of the Syrian government, while Turkey will be siding with the militants.
Coordination between Iran, Russia and Turkey helped bring about an agreement on the evacuation of terrorists in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo late last year. A cease-fire was then negotiated by Russia and Turkey for the city, and, as the agreement held, the two brokered a countrywide truce.
The Astana talks will be addressing such issues as the further stabilization of the all-Syria cease-fire, effective confrontation with terrorism, and intra-Syrian dialogue toward the achievement of a political solution to the crisis.
Members of the opposition delegation, headed by Mohammad Alloush, arrived in the Kazakh capital on Sunday.
The Syrian government’s delegates, headed by UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, also left Damascus earlier in the day.
Foreign-sponsored militancy began in Syria in 2011. Substantive financial, political, and ideological support was offered to the militants by the countries opposed to the Syrian government, most notably the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
No common invitation has been sent to the United States to join the talks after the Islamic Republic roundly objected to the prospect. Tehran is critical of Washington’s support for Takfiri groups seeking to oust the government in Damascus.
Tehran had said the US may attend the talks as an observer upon the invitation of the host country.
On Sunday, the United States said it will not send a delegation to the talks, instead opting to accept host Kazakhstan’s invitation for the US ambassador to Astana to participate as an observer.
Iran increasing oil output by 90,000 bpd
Domestic Economy Desk
A senior Oil Ministry official said Iran is boosting oil production by 90,000 barrels per day in line with last year’s OPEC agreement.
“We are increasing our oil output which will reach the designated production level,” Gholamreza Manouchehri, National Iranian Oil Company’s (NIOC) deputy head for engineering and development affairs told IRNA.
On November 30, 2016, the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) finalized an agreement to cut its overall production by 1.2 million barrels a day and set its new production ceiling at 32.5 million barrels a day as of January 2017.
The agreement, however, allowed Iran to raise production by 90,000 bpd to nearly four million barrels a day from January this year.
Manouchehri pointed to reports that Iran’s production ceiling has increased beyond the level set by OPEC saying the rise does not run counter to the terms of the agreement.
“Iran’s average oil production must only be below the level set by OPEC in a period of six months,” he added.
The November deal — the first in eight years — also granted Libya and Nigeria, which had seen their production drop due of armed conflict, an exemption from the cut.
Oil has rallied since November amid speculations that the supply cuts would boost prices. Some market analysts say that crude prices could reach $60-$70 a barrel in the coming months if the cuts are fully enforced.
Iran oil market upbeat
Since the lifting of sanctions began in January last year, the Islamic Republic has largely increased oil exports.
Speaking on the first anniversary of the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in a gathering in Tehran on January 16, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri said that the exports of Iran’s oil and gas condensates are at their highest levels since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Tehran and the P5+1 — the US, Britain, France, China, Russia plus Germany — signed the nuclear accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14, 2015.
Under the landmark deal, which went into force on January 16, 2016, the Islamic Republic undertook to place restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions against the country.
Iran’s 10-month trade balance positive
Iran’s trade balance over a 10-month period to January 19, remained in the positive territory, latest official figures show.
According to figures released by the Iran Customs Administration, non-oil exports in the 10 months stood at $35.2 billion, registering a moderate increase of 8.3 percent compared to the amount for the same period a year ago, IRNA reported.
Imports also reached $34.9 billion indicating a slight rise of 3.2 percent compared to last year’s figure.
The most important export item was condensate which made up 17 percent of Iran’s total non-oil exports with a cumulative value of $6.2 billion over the 10-month period.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as well as different kinds of light industrial oil ranked next with a value of $1.9 billion and $1.3 billion respectively.
Top on the list of import items were corn ($1.1 billion), soy bean ($0.7 billion), auto parts for assembly projects ($0.6 billion) as well as motorcycle parts.
The top customer of Iranian goods was China which imported $6.5 billion from the Islamic Republic during the period. The figure shows an increase of around 10 percent compared to the sum for the same period last year.
China was followed by the United Arab Emirates ($5.6 billion), Iraq ($5.3 billion), Turkey ($2.8 billion) and South Korea ($2.5 billion) as top importers from Iran.
Figures released by the Customs Administration of Iran further show that China was also the biggest exporter to Iran during the 10 months starting March 21, 2016. The value of the country’s exports to Iran during the period stood at $8.1 billion. In subsequent positions were the UAE ($5.4 billion), South Korea ($2.7 billion) and Turkey ($2.1 billion).
French Socialists vote for presidential candidate
France’s Socialists voted Sunday in the first round of a presidential primary with candidates including former prime minister Manuel Valls seeking traction in an election expected to see the country tilt to the right.
The primary is being viewed as a crucial test of the party’s ability to survive and even reinvent itself, with Socialist President Francois Hollande deeply unpopular after five years in office, AFP reported.
After Hollande ruled himself out of the race, Valls quit his cabinet and was the favorite to win the nomination when the seven candidates began campaigning.
But his bid has been viewed by some observers as lackluster and two contenders from the party’s left flank – protectionist maverick Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon – will push him hard to reach next Sunday’s runoff.
The odds will be stacked against the victor, with many opinion polls showing the Socialist candidate will be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election on April 23.
The election appears to be shaping up as a three-way battle between conservative ex-premier Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old ex-economy minister who is outpacing his former Socialist government colleagues.
Battle for survival
With voters across Europe moving to the right, most polls currently show a Fillon-Le Pen runoff is the most likely scenario in May.
National Front leader Le Pen told a meeting of rightwing populist parties in Germany on Saturday that Europe was about to “wake up” following the victory of Donald Trump in the US election and the British vote to leave the European Union.
Macron, a relative newcomer to politics, resigned from the government in August to set up his own centrist movement and his speeches have been packed to capacity in recent weeks.
A poll published Thursday gave Macron between 17 and 21 percent of the vote in the first round of the election.
Turnout at the halfway point of the day was far lower than in the center-right Republicans primary last year, party officials said.
Just 400,000 people had voted according to figures from 63 percent of the polling stations. At the same point in the Republicans’ primary, the figure was more than twice as high.
Iran learns opponents at AFC Women’s Asian Cup
Iran as well as the other twenty nations learned their opponents for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 qualifiers when the official draw was held in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Saturday.
Iran has been drawn in Group D of the meet along with host Vietnam, Myanmar, Syria and Singapore.
The squads to take part in the tourney are the Korea Republic, Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan, Myanmar, Chinese Taipei, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Bahrain, Islamic Republic of Iran, India, Palestine, DPR Korea, Guam, Iraq, Singapore, Syria, Tajikistan and the UAE, the-afc.com reported.
Groups are as follows:
Group A: A1. Jordan, A2. Philippines, A3. Bahrain A4. Iraq, A5. UAE, A6. Tajikistan (host)
Group B: B1. Korea Republic, B2. Uzbekistan, B3 Hong Kong, B4. India, B5. DPR Korea (host)
Group C: C1. Thailand, C2. Chinese Taipei, C3. Lebanon, C4. Palestine (host), C5. Guam
Group D: D1. Vietnam (host), D2. Myanmar, D3. IR Iran, D4. Syria, D5. Singapore
The three highest-ranked women’s national teams from the last AFC Women’s Asian Cup — Japan, Australia and China PR — received automatic qualification into the eight-team finals. The group winners of each of the four qualifying groups will qualify for the finals in Jordan.
Jordan as host also received automatic qualification, but it has expressed interest to participate in the qualifiers. Therefore, in case it finishes top of its qualifying group, the runner-up team will also advance to the final competition. The qualifiers will kick off on April 3, 2017.
The finals, which will be held from April 7 to 22, 2018, will also serve as the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.
ICRO: 60 countries to mark Islamic Revolution anniversary
Art & Culture Desk
Over 500 cultural programs will be held in 80 cultural centers of Iran in 60 countries, announced the head of Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO).
Abouzar Ebrahimi-Torkaman was speaking at a press conference on Sunday to elaborate on the international programs to mark the 38th anniversary of the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, IRNA reported.
He added that the programs will include film weeks, book fairs, lectures and handicrafts exhibitions.
Iran’s film weeks will be held in Bulgaria, Serbia, Bangladesh, Ghana and Syria, he noted. “Over 25 Iranian cultural centers will host book fairs in Europe and Asia,” he said.
Ebrahimi-Torkaman also announced that 23 countries including Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Ghana, China, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Spain, Armenia, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon and Bulgaria will host photo and poster exhibitions.
Exhibitions on handicrafts, manuscripts and tourism will be organized in Germany, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Malaysia, Pakistan, Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Qatar, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Australia, Armenia, India, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Cyprus, Turkey, Tanzania, Syria, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Workshops will also be held in 13 countries which will be attended by 61 Iranian artists. The countries are Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Sweden, Serbia, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Afghanistan, Kuwait, India, Lebanon and the Philippines.
Ebrahimi-Torkaman further said that a book titled ‘50 Years of Iran-Philippines Cultural Relations’ will be unveiled in a special ceremony in Manila.
Israel approves new settlements in breach of UN resolution
Israel approved building permits on Sunday for hundreds of units in three East Beit-ul-Moqaddas settlements, two days after US President Donald Trump took office, expecting him to row back on the last administration’s criticism of Israeli expansionism.
Beit-ul-Moqaddas’ municipality approved the building permits for more than 560 units in the urban settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo and Ramot, areas annexed to city in a move unrecognized internationally, Reuters reported.
Meir Turgeman, the chairman of the municipality’s Planning and Building Committee, told Israel Radio that the permits had been held up until the end of the Obama administration.
“I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem (Beit-ul-Moqaddas),” Turgeman said, adding there were hundreds more units waiting for approval.
The Palestinians denounced the move. “We strongly condemn the Israeli decision to approve the construction,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
In its final weeks, former president Barack Obama’s administration withheld a traditional US veto of an anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations Security Council, enabling the measure to pass.
Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, echoed his condemnation of the world body over its treatment of Israel at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
In a proposal that has drawn a Palestinian outcry, Trump has also pledged to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Beit-ul-Moqaddas.
Trump has also appointed a new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is considered a settlements supporter.
The United States is Israel’s most important ally, providing it with more than $3 billion per year in military aid.
Israel sees all Beit-ul-Moqaddas as is its capital but most of the world does not, seeing its final status as a matter for the so-called peace process. The Palestinians have said an embassy move would kill any prospect for peace. Negotiations broke down in 2014.
Israel occupied the West Bank and East Beit-ul-Moqaddas in 1967. It later annexed East Beit-ul-Moqaddas in a move never recognized by the international community.
Some 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, with another 200,000 in East Beit-ul-Moqaddas. This is while the occupied areas are home to some 2.9 million Palestinians.
Settlements are viewed as illegal under international law; they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Salehi: ‘We are prepared’ if US nixes Iran nuclear deal
Iran’s nuclear chief said the country reserves judgment on new US President Donald Trump but if he does, as he’s vowed, “tear up” the international deal reached on Tehran’s nuclear program, it could quickly ramp that program back up.
In an interview with CBC News, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also a vice president, said that Iran will “act appropriately” if Trump tears up the deal.
“We did once before … that deal didn’t work and Iran was able to go back to its nuclear activities with high speed,” Salehi, who was a key architect of the deal, said on Sunday.
“We can very easily snap back and go back … not only to where we were, but a much higher position technologically speaking.”
“I don’t want to see that day. I don’t want to make a decision in that course, but we are prepared.”
Salehi said he watched Trump’s inauguration with the expectation that he would mention Iran or its nuclear deal. But he did not raise either.
He viewed the absence of a mention of Iran in Trump’s Friday inaugural speech as “positive”.
Iran has watched warily as Trump repeatedly cast doubt on the nuclear deal, under which sanctions were lifted a year ago. The unprecedented agreement in 2015 brought together Iran with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in a rare show of international consensus.
In the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama insisted the deal brought “significant, concrete results”.
Trump has called the deal the worst ever made and, during his campaign, he promised to tear it up. Last week, he was more vague about his plans, but insisted the deal was still “one of the dumbest” he’d ever seen.
In response to Trump, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Washington cannot unilaterally decide to abrogate the deal as it is an “international agreement,” and not a bilateral one between Iran and the US.
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Oil producers laud strong start to output cuts
OPEC and non-OPEC countries have made a strong start to lowering their oil output under the first such pact in more than a decade, energy ministers said on Sunday as producers look to reduce oversupply and support prices.
“The deal is a success ...All the countries are sticking to the deal ...(the) results are above expectations,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said after the first meeting of a committee set up to monitor the deal, Reuters reported.
Ministers said 1.5 million of almost 1.8 million barrels per day (mbd) had been taken out of the market already.
Countries involved in the deal could reduce their output by 1.7 mbd by the end of the month, Novak said.
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Trump under fire over ‘dishonest’ media attack
Donald Trump’s White House came under fire Sunday for accusing media of misreporting inaugural crowd numbers, after millions took to the streets in protest against the new president.
The billionaire and his chief spokesman launched a startling assault on the media on Saturday, Trump’s first full day in office, accusing reporters of downplaying the turnout at his swearing-in ceremony.
The attack came as more than two million people flooded US cities in protests led by women opposed to Trump, who many fear will roll back the rights of women, immigrants and minorities, AFP wrote.
Activists, outraged by Trump’s campaign rhetoric and behavior they found to be especially misogynistic, spearheaded scores of marches in the United States and sympathy rallies around the world on Saturday.
Organizers said they drew nearly fiive million protesters in all, far surpassing crowd expectations.
The demonstrations also highlighted strong discontent over Trump’s comments and policy positions toward a wide range of groups, including Mexican immigrants, Muslims, the disabled and environmentalists.
Trump and his chief spokesman lambasted the media for the “dishonest” reporting of the inauguration turnout, in what analysts said was an attempt to change the subject.
Nonstop news network coverage of Saturday’s sprawling demonstrations against Trump were replaced within hours by debate over his “war on the media,” which is likely to play well among his supporters.
Visiting the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia, Trump insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that he drew 1.5 million people to his Friday swearing-in ceremony.
“I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people,” he told CIA staff.
“They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well,” he added.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer doubled down on the media assault, using his first press conference in the White House briefing room to blast the journalists seated before him for “deliberately false reporting” on crowd size.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period!” Spicer said.
“These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Spicer left the briefing without taking questions.
An estimated 1.8 million people flooded the National Mall area in 2009 when Barack Obama was first sworn in as president, according to federal and local agencies at the time.
Washington authorities reportedly predicted 800,000 to 900,000 would attend Trump’s inauguration Friday, about half of the 2009 crowd.