Leader calls for swift action on environmental problems
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has called on Iranian officials to immediately address the problems facing residents of the southern Khuzestan Province, who are grappling with difficulties caused by natural phenomena.
On Monday, Ayatollah Khamenei drew attention to the plight of people in southern Iran who are suffering from the aftermath of floods, triggered by heavy downpours, and dust storms, emphasizing that these issues caused by natural disasters “are truly heartbreaking,” Press TV reported.
The Leader said the officials are duty-bound to deal with the problems through hard work and solidarity, and redouble their efforts to find a “certain cure” for them.
Ayatollah Khamenei described flooding as a “great calamity,” which causes heavy losses for people and their families, saying “it is a duty and a necessity” to provide aid to the flood-stricken.
The government officials, who have people on their minds, cannot remain unmoved and indifferent in the face of such problems, he added.
Last week, torrential rain triggered flooding across the south, from Khuzestan Province near the Iraqi border to Sistan-Baluchestan Province on the border with Pakistan.
Khuzestan had already been reeling from sandstorms, which are said to originate in Iraq and Saudi Arabia
The recent downpours have washed filaments of dust and sand into power transmission equipment, leading to long outages and affecting water supplies, a situation which has disrupted normal life in Ahvaz, the provincial capital, and other cities in the province.
On Saturday, President Rouhani attended an emergency session of the Crisis Management Center in Tehran, where he tasked his deputy, Es’haq Jahangiri, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli and Khuzestan Governor Gholamreza Shariati with resolving the crisis at the earliest.
He also expressed sympathy with those affected and assured local people that the government was determined to address the root cause of the problems and deal with environmental issues.
Iranians in the western and southwestern provinces that border Iraq are facing a growing trend in the influx of fine particles generated by drought-hit marshlands in neighboring countries.
The disruptive dust storms push pollution in those border areas to alarming levels, raising health concerns.
The particles, carried by winds, can penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing serious diseases such as lung cancer, asthma and heart problems.
Russia, Iran begin construction of power plant in Bandar Abbas
Russia and Iran began the construction of a 1.4-gigawatt thermal power plant in the city of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, a Sputnik correspondent reported from the site on Monday.
The opening ceremony was attended by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. In mid-December 2016 Russian company Technopromexport and an Iranian holding company signed an agreement on the construction of a thermal power plant in Iran which envisages the funding of €1.2 billion by Russia.
An Iranian deputy energy minister said in January that Russian companies are about to build a power plant and increase power generation at another in Iran.
Based on an agreement signed between Iran and Russia, the Russians will improve the efficiency at the Ramin power plant in Khuzestan Province to 50-55 percent from the current 36 percent, Alireza Daemi said.
Another Russian company will build a 1.4-gigawatt power plant in Bandar Abbas, Hormuzgan Province, he added.
“The two power contracts between Iran and Russia are worth several billion dollars. The details will be announced in the future,” Daemi said.
Russia’s Inter RAO will boost the efficiency of the Ramin plant — a 1.8-gigawatt station built by the Russians during the Soviet Union.
Iran, Iraq sign MoU on oil export pipeline
Iran and Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday to study a proposed pipeline project which will transfer crude oil from the northern Iraqi fields of Kirkuk via Iran, said a statement by Iraqi Oil Ministry.
The agreement, signed in Baghdad by the oil ministers of the two countries, also calls for a commission to solve a conflict on joint oilfields and the possible transportation of Iraqi crude to Iran’s Abadan refinery, it said, reported Reuters.
Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said in the statement that he also agreed with visiting Iranian counterpart Bijan Namdar Zanganeh to cooperate on the policies of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
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Iran ‘will not instigate hostility’
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran will not instigate any hostility but will defend itself in the face of military action.
In an interview aired on Monday, Zarif told the BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, that “Iran is not an easy target,” dismissing threats by the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic.
“First of all, we’re not talking about the law of the jungle. We’re talking about international law, and according to international law, those options are a violation of international law, and I advise them not only to respect the international law, but to be prudent enough not to get themselves in serious trouble,” he stated.
“I certainly hope that prudence will prevail because Iran is not an easy target. We’re not going to provoke anybody. We’re not going to instigate any hostility. We’ve never started hostility, and we’re not planning to do it,” Zarif said.
He added, however, that “we will defend ourselves. I do not believe that people looking at our history, people looking at our capabilities will ever make the decision to engage in that misadventure.”
Missiles for ‘self-defense’
Zarif reaffirmed that Iran’s missile program is a mere means of defending the nation against enemy threats.
“Missiles are our defensive means,” he said, adding, “We’re a sovereign state. [The projectiles are] for our defense and for being ready to defend ourselves.”
Further supporting Iran’s defensive work, Zarif recalled the foreign-backed war imposed on Iran by the former Iraqi regime in the 1980s.
“Our people do not forget the fact that they were being bombarded. Everybody was providing assistance to the aggressor and no one, absolutely no one, gave us even the rudimentary means of defense,” he added.
Iran deal ‘Washington’s last resort’
Elsewhere, Zarif addressed the issue of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world countries, including the US, saying Washington opted to sign the accord “because it didn’t have any choice.”
The US, he said, had already exhausted the means of applying pressure on the Islamic Republic, including sanctions.
“Those sanctions produced the exact opposite political outcome. They put economic pressure on Iran, but the Iranian people resisted. The Iranian people stood up against those pressures,” said the top Iranian diplomat.
He described the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as a “reasonable agreement,” saying it “is not everything that they wanted, nor was it everything we wanted. But it’s a reasonable middle ground, and I believe if the previous administration had other options, it would have exercised them.”
Trump has adopted a harsh language towards Iran, threatening to “tear up” the nuclear deal, calling Iran “terrorist state number one,” and imposing new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
‘US has never been friendly’
He also dismissed the idea that the new US administration’s attitude towards Tehran was a major departure from its predecessors, saying Washington’s hostile approach towards the Islamic Republic has remained unchanged since the revolution.
“So, it’s not as if we’re moving from very friendly relations into hostile relations. The United States policy towards Iran has never been friendly for the past 38 years. It has always been hostile, and our people have shown that hostility doesn’t receive a positive response from the Iranian people.”
Iraq forces converge on Mosul airport
Iraqi forces backed by jets and helicopters battled their way to Mosul airport Monday as they prepared to take on the Daesh’s stronghold in the city’s west bank.
“The federal police have resumed its advance... Our cannons are targeting Daesh lines with heavy fire,” Federal Police Chief Raed Shaker Jawdat said, AFP reported.
Federal police forces, as well as elite units from the interior ministry, army soldiers and Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary fighters, launched a major assault on Sunday.
On the second day of the renewed offensive, they pushed northward toward Mosul airport, which lies on the southern approach to the city, on the east bank of the Tigris.
The assault marks a new phase in the broad operation launched on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the terror group’s last major stronghold in the country.
The recapture of Mosul would deal a death blow to the “caliphate” which Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in the city in June 2014 but has been shrinking steadily for two years as anti-Daesh forces advanced.
But it took the Iraq’s most seasoned forces, the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), two months to retake east Mosul, where Daesh put up stiffer than expected resistance.
Commanders and experts believe the city’s west bank could prove even harder to retake, with the narrow streets of the Old City forcing Iraqi forces to undertake perilous dismounted raids.
Yet after a lull in the four-month-old operation, optimism was high on the frontlines.
“I don’t expect a very difficult fight: Their end has arrived,” Hakem Gassem Mohammed, an officer with the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response force said.
The first day of the rekindled offensive saw forces advance in sparsely populated areas just south of the city itself and retake at least 15 villages.
The main focus of Monday’s operations was to secure an area south of the airport called Buseif.
CTS forces, who have urban warfare experience and did most of the fighting in east Mosul, were seen heading across the desert to the western side of Mosul.
They are expected to breach the densely-populated western part of Mosul once other forces have moved all the way up to the city limits.
The terrorists defending Mosul’s west bank have no choice but to protect their bastion. Bridges across the Tigris in the city have been destroyed and Iraqi forces have cut off escape routes.
The forces were receiving support from a US-led coalition that has delivered more than 10,000 munitions on Daesh targets since the start of the Mosul operation.
Four Russian soldiers killed in Syria
Four Russian soldiers have died and two were wounded last week when their car was hit by a radio-controlled bomb in Syria, a Defense Ministry statement quoted by Russian agencies said Monday.
The ministry said the explosion ripped through a column of Syrian Army and Russian military vehicles carrying advisors from an airbase in Tiyas and the city of Homs, Reuters reported.
“Four Russian servicemen died when their car exploded on a radio-controlled IED on February 16, 2017, in Syria,” the statement said. “Two more were injured. Russian military medics are trying to save their lives.”
“The convoy of Syrian army cars, in which the vehicle with Russian military advisers was travelling, was en route from the Tiyas airfield area toward the city of Homs,” it said.
“After they traveled four kilometers, a radio-controlled explosive was activated under the car with Russian servicemen.”
The four deaths raise the number of Russian military men officially reported killed in Syria to 26 since it started its campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad on September 30, 2015.
Another soldier committed suicide.
Famine declared in South Sudan
Famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan, where UN agencies warned on Monday that war and a collapsing economy have left 100,000 people facing starvation.
A further 1 million people were classified as being on the brink of famine, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) and other UN bodies. Unimpeded humanitarian access was urgently needed to reverse “an escalating catastrophe”, they added, the Guardian reported.
The famine is the first to be declared since 2011 in Somalia, where more than a quarter of a million people are estimated to have died between October 2010 and April 2012.
The UN has warned that three other countries – Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria – are at risk of famine.
Famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of South Sudan.
Three years of civil war has devastated hopes that the oil-rich country would prosper when it gained independence from Sudan at the end of one of Africa’s longest running conflicts. Unity State, which borders Sudan, has been at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the face of a government offensive against opposition-held areas.
The worsening crisis in South Sudan comes as three other countries – Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria – are at risk of looming famines, agencies have warned.
About 4.9 million people – more than 40% of South Sudan’s population – are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance, according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, humanitarian organizations and the WFP, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN children’s fund, UNICEF.
The IPC update, which was based on information built up over recent months, added that the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.
The IPC report, which assessed 23 of South Sudan’s 86 counties, estimates that 14 have global acute malnutrition (GAM), a measurement of the nutritional status of a population, at or above the emergency threshold of 15%. In some areas it was as high as 42%.
The WFP said it plans to provide food and nutrition assistance to 4.1 million people during this year’s “hunger season” – when food from the last harvest has run out but new crops haven’t come in yet – including emergency food, cash and nutrition assistance.
UNICEF, which said more than 1 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan, plans to treat 207,000 children for severe malnutrition this year.
Medical expert: Depression leads to brain dysfunction
By Sadeq Dehqan & Farzam Vanaki
Psychological problems and depression have negative impacts on brain function, said the secretary of Sadra Neuroscience Scientific Research Association.
Currently, about 24 percent and up to 17 percent of Iranians are, in a way, suffering from psychological problems and depression, respectively, Reza Panahi told Iran Daily.
He noted that depression is among the gravest problems human being is struggling with in the modern world and era, adding, given this, the World Health Organization has chosen ‘Depression’ as the theme of its 2017 World Health Day campaign and ‘Let’s Talk’ as its motto.
Panahi added, “Studies show that prolonged depression can severely damage the brain. As in Alzheimer’s disease, depression can lead to dementia, brain shrinkage and death of the brain cells and neurons.”
Commenting on the impact of happiness on improving brain function, he said there are certain sections of the brain that are stimulated by joy and pleasure and, thus, induce a state of euphoria.
“Eating or, practically, anything else that makes an individual happy, triggers the same process in the brain and leads to an improved brain function.”
On the designation of the week from February 17-23 as the week of “Increased Awareness of the Brain’, he said this was aimed at raising public awareness about the brain and gaining more knowledge about it to improve its function, accelerate the diagnosis of disorders and diseases — particularly psychological ones and prevent attachment of different labels to patients suffering from brain diseases.
Stressing the importance of greater awareness of the brain and its functions, Panahi noted, “Brain is the main source of our thoughts and feelings as well as all the habits and dispositions that shape our personality. Thus, it is definitely the most important and vital organ of the body to which heightened awareness is required to be given extra attention.”
Brain has the most complicated structure known in the universe, he said, adding due to its complexities, compared to other body limbs and organs, scientists have acquired less knowledge about it.
“Progress in treating brain disorders and diseases also lags behind that of other limbs and organs.”
He said countries are placing increasing focus on studying the brain and its function, underlining that currently, brain function researches and studies are the second most-funded projects in the US, next to those of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
“The European Union has also invested €200 billion in the field, which shows the developed countries’ awareness of the importance of gaining greater knowledge of the brain.”
Expounding on dementia and the brain shrinkage, Panahi said the gradual death of brain cells begins in the earliest stages of the creation of the embryo in mother’s uterus, but due to the rapid growth of body limbs and organs in the early years of life, the process is hardly perceptible.
Although brain cells die at a faster pace at the beginning of the third decade of life, it does not imply that the brain loses its efficiency in older ages, he added.
“The brain of a 90-year-old person can function as efficiently as that of a 20-year-old youth, in case he/she takes certain nutrition and hygienic precautions.”
Elaborating on the factors contributing to better brain health and activity, he said a large number of people fail to recognize the importance of enough sleep, adding they think that sleeping is a waste of time.
“This is while, many learning processes are completed during sleep. There is a proverb saying ‘a sound mind in a sound body’. Studies also show that taking light regular exercises improves brain function. Having a healthy eating plan which includes fruits, vegetables and food containing strong and effective antioxidants also slows aging and reduces brain’s vulnerability.”
He added there is another proverb which says ‘use it or lose it’ which is perfectly true for the brain.
Brain’s mechanism operates in a way that the more it is used, like body muscles, the stronger it becomes, Panahi said.
On human intelligence, he noted, “Although all humans are born with different genetic and biological bases, no one can overlook the important impact of environment and education on an individual’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ) level.
“It is true that Albert Einstein, a German-born theoretical physicist, was an intelligent person from the early years of his life, but ordinary people can also increase their IQ using certain methods and factors. For instance, Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist, who managed to win a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, acknowledged that he had a normal IQ level — as was shown by the medical exams on him.”
WGA posthumously honors Kiarostami with Jean Renoir Award
Compiled from Dispatches
The Writers Guild of America West honored the late Iranian screenwriter-director Abbas Kiarostami with the Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement.
The filmmaker, who died last July, was honored at the Writers Guild Awards ceremony on Feb. 19. His son, Ahmad Kiarostami, received the award on his father’s behalf.
“Abbas Kiarostami was, as Martin Scorsese put it, ‘one of those rare artists with a special knowledge of the world’,” said WGA West President Howard A. Rodman. “As a founding father of the New Iranian Cinema, Kiarostami navigated tricky political and cultural terrains with courage and grace. Yet the impact of his work — and his life — is felt far outside the borders of his native land. Kiarostami’s films were fiction, were documentary, were transcendent. He expanded cinematic narrative for all of us, even as he raised the rhythms of ordinary life to the level of high art.”
His 1997 film ‘Taste of Cherry’ won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He often used a non-narrative and experimental approach.
He first made an impression outside his home country with the Koker trilogy including ‘Where is the Friend’s Home?,’ ‘Life, and Nothing More…’ and ‘Through the Olive Trees’.
‘Taste of Cherry’ shared the Cannes prize with Shohei Imamura’s ‘The Eel’.
He made ‘Certified Copy’ in Italy, starring Juliette Binoche, who won best actress at Cannes for her role. His last full-length feature, 2012’s ‘Like Someone in Love’, was made in Japan and screened in official competition in Cannes.
Previous Jean Renoir Award honorees include Italian screenwriters Suso D’Amico (2009) and Tonino Guerra (2011), Japanese filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni (2013) and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (2015).
Writers for the films ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Arrival’ won top Writers Guild of America awards, boosting the films’ chances in the upcoming Academy Awards, Hollywood’s biggest honors.
Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney won the original screenplay award for ‘Moonlight’ — a drama about a young black Miami man’s life and struggle to forge an identity.
Eric Heisserer took the Writers Guild of America’s prize for adapted screenplay for the science fiction film ‘Arrival’, based on a short story by Ted Chiang.
Both films are nominated for the best picture Oscar, which will be handed out at a gala ceremony in Hollywood on February 26.
Pence vows Trump committed to nervous EU
US Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure Europe Monday of Donald Trump’s commitment to transatlantic ties as he met EU chiefs in the face of anti-Trump protests.
Pence was in Brussels at the end of a European trip aimed at comforting allies fearful US President Trump might abandon them.
“Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union,” Pence said after talks with EU president Donald Tusk, AFP wrote.
Pence said US commitment to transatlantic ties remained “steadfast and enduring” after decades of working together on security and economic issues.
Tusk thanked Pence for the meeting, saying that “we all truly needed it” and that Europe counted on “unequivocal” US support.
“Too much has happened over the past month in your country and in the EU ... for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” the former Polish premier added.
Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the EU and prediction that others would follow have all unnerved US allies.
Pence also met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Pence’s Belgian hosts had earlier called on him to oppose any break-up of the EU.
“No question of allowing the European Union’s break-up. That message was given,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told Belga news agency after a dinner with Pence on Sunday. “I feel that it was heard,” he said.
The Brussels trip follows a visit to the Munich Security Conference, where Pence pledged the Trump administration’s “unwavering” commitment to the transatlantic alliance.
“President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he said.
But European allies continue to seek reassurance from Washington even though Pence, US Defense Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stuck close to established policy during their first foray into Europe.
Pence said Washington would push Russia to honor the Minsk cease-fire accords in Ukraine, while Tillerson said the US would only cooperate with Moscow if it benefits the American people.