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The remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Sunday to try again to find a way of saving the accord after the US pulled out, amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington. Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting which comes a month after a similar gathering failed to achieve a breakthrough. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since last year when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord that was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, and imposed punishing sanctions. Read: Trump tears up Iran nuclear deal, revives sanctions In retaliation, Iran said in May it would disregard certain limits the deal set on its nuclear programme and threatened to take further measures if remaining parties to the deal, especially European nations, did not help it circumvent the US sanctions. Pressure has continued to mount in the region with a string of incidents involving tankers and drones. The US has said it brought down one and possibly two Iranian drones last week, and blamed Tehran for a series of mysterious attacks on tanker ships in strategic Gulf waters. Iran shot down an unmanned US aircraft in June, after which Trump announced that he had called off retaliatory air strikes at the last minute because the resulting death toll would have been too high. The US and Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf in June, which Iran denies. On July 19, a British-flagged tanker was impounded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with its 23 crew aboard in the Strait of Hormuz. The seizure was seen by London as a tit-for-tat move for British authorities detaining an Iranian tanker off the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar in early July. Efforts by European powers, notably France’s President Emmanuel Macron, to salvage the nuclear deal have so far come to nothing. The remaining signatories, however, have pledged to work towards a breakthrough at a future ministerial meeting, for which no date has yet been fixed. Referring to the need for a “preparatory meeting before the ministerial level meeting that will be necessary”, one European diplomat told AFP it was “imperative to talk to the Iranians after the proven violations of their commitments”. The European Union said earlier this week the extraordinary meeting would be chaired by the secretary general of the European External Action Service, Helga Schmid. It said the talks were requested by Britain, France, Germany and Iran and would examine issues linked to the implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which the 2015 deal is implemented.

The remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Sunday to try again to find a way of saving the accord after the US pulled out, amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington. Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting which comes a month after a similar gathering ... Read More »

Envoy says US convinced Germany to ban Iran’s Mahan Air

US Ambassador Richard Grenell says months of pressure from the United States led Germany to ban Iran's Mahan Air. But German officials say they've cut off the carrier as part of their own security policy.   US Ambassador Richard Grenell is claiming a diplomatic victory after German officials decided to ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from operating within the country. Grenell, who has ruffled a few feathers since President Donald Trump picked him for the post last May, told The Wall Street Journal that the move had come after "months of pressing" from the United States. "I think it's a great step by the German government," Grenell told the DPA news agency. "It shows great leadership." He added: "No country where Mahan Air flies should feel safe." The German Foreign Ministry took a different stance on Monday, when it announced that Mahan Air's landing rights had been withdrawn because the carrier had transported equipment and troops into war zones in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. "We have always said that Iran's destabilizing activities in the region, just like their ballistic missile program, are not acceptable," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christopher Burger said at Monday's regular government press conference. "That is why it is in Germany's foreign policy interests not to allow any air traffic to Germany from companies who support the war in Syria and contribute to the oppression of people in war zones." "On top of that, serious evidence has emerged about the work of Iranian secret services in European states," Burger said, referring to reports that an employee for the German military had been caught passing on information to Tehran. Read more: US policy spreads gloom in Iran 'Patience with Iran' Bijan Djir-Sarai, the foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Free Democrats (FDP), told DW that he had noticed for some time that "Europeans' patience with Iran is coming to an end," though he acknowledged it was likely that the US had applied "massive pressure." Djir-Sarai said he did not think the revelations about Mahan Air's activities were particularly surprising. "The fact that large companies in Iran have ever-closer connections with Revolutionary Guards is no surprise, because these have a huge economic power in Iran," he said. Earlier this month, EU authorities imposed punitive measures against Iran's Intelligence Ministry following a series of assassination attempts against opposition supporters in France, Denmark, the Netherlands and other member states. Not all of the pressure from the United States has occurred behind the scenes. Grenell, who shares his president's taste for Twitter, has been bringing Mahan Air up on social media more and more often, and he fired off several tweets on Monday and Tuesday celebrating the development, along with John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser. Pressure on Iran This pressure from the Trump administration also appears to have a larger target: the framework deal on Iran's nuclear program, agreed to in 2015 by Iran, the members of the UN Security Council and the European Union. Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018. Germany's position, reiterated recently by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and backed by the UK and France, is that the deal remains crucial — even if just to help the European Union remain in dialogue with Iran on other issues. But Djir-Sarai said this could risk alienating the United States while not making any noticeable progress with Iran. "The question does arise: How successful are these talks?" he said. Grenell's interventions have apparently irritated a few people in Berlin. Earlier this month, he sent letters to German companies working on Nord Stream 2, a new pipeline supplying Europe with Russian natural gas, warning them of "a significant risk of sanctions" if they did not pull out of the project. In a profile on the ambassador published earlier this month, Der Spiegel reported that Grenell was being shunned by political leaders in Berlin and his only allies were the further-right members of Angela Merkel's conservative alliance, such as Health Minister Jens Spahn, and politicians from the far-right opposition party Alternative for Germany (AfD). For his part, Grenell is no great friend of Der Spiegel's: In response to a recent scandal about a journalist's integrity at Germany's most prestigious newsmagazine, Grenell accused the publication of anti-American bias.

US Ambassador Richard Grenell says months of pressure from the United States led Germany to ban Iran’s Mahan Air. But German officials say they’ve cut off the carrier as part of their own security policy.   US Ambassador Richard Grenell is claiming a diplomatic victory after German officials decided to ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from operating within the ... Read More »

Bahrain heads to polls amid opposition boycott

The country's opposition groups have been barred from taking part in the parliamentary election, with authorities arresting a number of activists. Rights groups expressed concerns over Bahrain's "political suppression." Bahrainis are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that has been dubbed a "farce" by opposition groups and many rights organizations. The polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) and will close at 8 p.m. (1700 UTC) on Saturday. The Shiite al-Wefaq and the secular Waad parties were banned from fielding candidates in the controversial elections, prompting calls from other opposition groups to boycott the polls. Officials say that 293 candidates, including 41 women, are running for parliament. King Hamad urged voters to participate in the election, which coincides with a municipal vote. Crackdown on dissidents In the run-up to the election, Bahraini authorities arrested at least six people for "obstructing the electoral process." Those detained and charged included Ali Rashed al-Asheeri, a former lawmaker with al-Wefaq party, according to the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Al-Wefaq called for a boycott of the polls after the government passed a law in June barring "leaders and members of political associations dissolved for violating the kingdom's constitution or its laws" from standing. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Friday it was "gravely concerned" over political suppression in the tiny Gulf kingdom. "Over the past two years, the crackdown in Bahrain has seen the political opposition detained, intimidated and silenced," said Devin Kenney, the group's Bahrain researcher. "We call on the authorities to stop this ongoing and escalating repression and to allow free expression of dissenting voices, including those who oppose monarchy," he added. Protracted instability Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority, has been rocked by unrest since authorities backed by reinforcements from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates carried out a bloody crackdown on Arab Spring protests in 2011. Bahrain accuses Iran of fomenting Shiite armed opposition amid a spate of attacks on security forces and infrastructure. On November 4, a Bahrain appeals court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of al-Wefaq movement, to life in prison for spying for regional rival Qatar. He had been acquitted by Bahrain's High Criminal Court in June alongside two prominent aides, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali al-Aswad, who were tried in absentia. Bahrain is strategically located in the Persian Gulf, and is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and a British naval base.

The country’s opposition groups have been barred from taking part in the parliamentary election, with authorities arresting a number of activists. Rights groups expressed concerns over Bahrain’s “political suppression.” Bahrainis are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that has been dubbed a “farce” by opposition groups and many rights organizations. The polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (0500 ... Read More »

US welcomes German firms’ compliance on Iran sanctions

US Ambassador to Germany Grenell has welcomed German companies' decision to comply with US sanctions and stop business with Iran. Washington warned firms that do business with Iran that they could face repercussions. The US ambassador to Berlin on Thursday said he was pleased with the actions of German companies that had stopped trading with Iran after fresh US sanctions were imposed on the country. "We are very pleased that German businesses have decided to abide by the US sanctions," Grenell told the German news agency DPA in an interview. "German business leaders have told us unequivocally that they will stop doing business with Iran and will abide by the US sanctions," he said. "So we are very pleased that the actions of the German business community have been very clear." The US reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil this month after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Trump claimed the deal was flawed because it did not include restrictions on the development of ballistic missiles or Iran's support for militant groups in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Officials from the European Union and Iran have worked to create a new legal framework to protect companies that conduct business with Iran from US sanctions. While praising some German firms in his DPA interview, Grenell accused those still doing business in Iran of helping to fund terrorist activities. "If you are doing business with Iran, you are giving money to the Iranian regime, which spends massive amounts of money on terrorist activities," Grenell said. Firms running a risk Two rounds of US sanctions, the first in August and a subsequent one this month — targeting a broad range of industries and individuals — have been introduced, posing a dilemma for German and other European firms. Businesses that breach the US sanctions risk being hit by secondary sanctions, including being barred from access to the US financial system. Europe, China and Russia have criticized the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to which they are also parties. The JCPOA was signed by Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the EU and the United States in October 2015.

US Ambassador to Germany Grenell has welcomed German companies’ decision to comply with US sanctions and stop business with Iran. Washington warned firms that do business with Iran that they could face repercussions. The US ambassador to Berlin on Thursday said he was pleased with the actions of German companies that had stopped trading with Iran after fresh US sanctions ... Read More »

US sanctions on Iran raise concern in Turkey

Turkey has been exempt from oil sector sanctions imposed by Washington on the regime in Tehran. But Turkish businesses fear the possible consequences of a likely shift in Donald Trump's mood toward Turkey. The Trump administration announced sanctions against Iran earlier this week, with a strong focus on hitting the country's oil and petrochemical sectors especially hard. So far, however, Turkey and seven other nations have been spared the US president's wrath as they were allowed to continue importing Iranian oil. But the six-month exemption from the ban granted to Turkey seems only cold comfort for the country's companies and businesses, which have enjoyed booming trade with Tehran in recent years. They fear a massive slump in their business with the neighboring Mullah regime. Umer Kiler, head of the Committee for Turkish-Iranian Trade Relations within the Council for Foreign Trade (DEIK) considers the American sanctions as the "lesser evil." What worries Turkish business leaders more, he says, is the temporary nature of the exemptions to Turkey because they had hoped for complete sanctions relief. "Turkey is the country which stands to be the most affected by the sanctions. That is why we'd initially thought the US administration would adopt a more considerate approach," Kiler told DW. After the new sanctions regime has come into effect on Monday, all the Turkish trade official is now hoping for is a partial relief for some sectors of the economy. "What we are demanding is improvements for trade in the oil and gas sectors. No matter how long the sanctions will remain in place, it's impossible for us to completely shutter trade in those sectors because of our common border with Iran. The traders will always find a loophole." What gives Kiler hope in this respect is the recent rapprochement between Washington and Istanbul that he hopes will have a positive effect on Trump's willingness to exempt Turkey from the trade embargo for a longer period of time. Whipsaw trade Over the past three decades, trade between Turkey and Iran has seen ups and downs. From a meager $1 billion (€880 million) in 1996, goods exchanges grew significantly during the presidency of current Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with a peak reached in 2012 when $22 billion worth of goods and services were traded. However, bilateral trade has fallen substantially over the past five years, slumping from $21 billion to $10 billion in the period. While Tehran in the past exported primarily oil, Turkish cross-border shipments were mainly gold to pay for it. As a result, the trade balance between the two countries used to be skewed in Iran's favor up until 2016, when Turkey's exports grew to $5 billion overtaking $4.7 billion worth of imports from its neighbor for the first time ever. Volumes changed back in Iran's favor in 2017, with Istanbul suffering a trade deficit that year of $4 billion. While Iran has continued to ship primarily oil, Turkish exports now include a range of manufactured goods such as automobiles, machinery, textile and food products. The latest trend of falling bilateral trade was manifested in data released recently by the Council of Turkish Exporters (TIM), showing that cross-border shipments reached only a volume of $1.8 billion in the first nine months of 2018. The main reasons for the downturn given by the industry group was US pressure exerted on those countries doing business with Iran, and secondly, higher taxes on Turkish exports imposed by Tehran. Mixed picture Bulent Aymen, deputy chairman of the Union of Mediterranean Exporters (AKIB) says Iran is traditionally a major competitor of Turkey in a number of markets and sectors in the region. Nevertheless, a weakening Iranian economy will have "consequences for Turkish companies doing trade with Iran," he told DW. Other experts are not convinced of the negative scenarios for Turkey. Eyup Ersoy, Middle East expert at Bilkent University, says he thinks US sanctions are mainly targeted at Iran's energy and financial sectors and won't impede trade in goods. "Sectors outside oil will only be indirectly affected by the sanctions," he told DW. Ersoy is also convinced that a further thaw in US-Turkish relations will lead to more sanctions relief for Ankara, substantially benefitting the oil trade between the two countries. Nevertheless, he thinks that if Washington won't prolong the exemptions, Turkey will find ways to secure supply and limit the effects of an oil embargo. "For Turkey to find alternative solutions doesn't mean a lot of risk and higher costs," he told DW.

Turkey has been exempt from oil sector sanctions imposed by Washington on the regime in Tehran. But Turkish businesses fear the possible consequences of a likely shift in Donald Trump’s mood toward Turkey. The Trump administration announced sanctions against Iran earlier this week, with a strong focus on hitting the country’s oil and petrochemical sectors especially hard. So far, however, ... Read More »

Iran sanctions: 5 things to know

On Monday, fresh US sanctions against Iran come into effect, the next salvo in its economic conflict with Tehran. The main targets are oil exports and the financial sector. Europe is having difficulty forming a response. Which sanctions are going into effect? US punitive sanctions are aimed at Iran's economic heart: energy exports. All business with Iranian oil companies will be prohibited, as are insurances of any kind, including policies on oil shipments. Existing sanctions on Iran's financial sector will also be tightened — from Monday onward, all financial transactions with Iran's central bank and a number of other banks will be banned. The US is intent on bringing Iranian oil exports to zero. Oil sales account for some 80 percent of all state income in Iran and since 60 percent of Iran's budget expenditures are distributed to state-run businesses and institutions the country is extremely dependent upon the revenue they produce. What sanctions had been in place already? When it unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — also known as the Iran nuclear deal — on May 8, the US gave its partners two deadlines to wind down business with Iran. The first 60-day deadline came on August 6. At that point Iran was barred from trading in US dollars. Key Iranian industries such as the automotive sector and carpet production were also sanctioned. The sale of commercial airliners or replacement parts for existing models — access to which had already been greatly hampered — were forbidden entirely. The second deadline was set for November 5. What is the aim of the sanctions? According to the Trump administration, "maximum pressure" on Iran is a tool to force Iranian leaders to change course. On May 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented a list of 12 demands that the US said must be met before sanctions would be lifted. Among other things, Tehran had to stop its missile program, and "end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad." Furthermore, Pompeo said Iran must remove all troops under its command from Syria and demobilize Shiite militias in Iraq. Regime change is not among the declared aims of US sanctions. Nevertheless, public statements by National Security Adviser John Bolton suggest that destabilization and regime change would be more than welcome from Washington's perspective. Can the EU defend itself against unilateral US sanctions? The US is using its predominance in global financial markets and its comparative attractiveness as a place to do business as opposed to Iran, as leverage in pursuing its political aims. As a result, measures that essentially allow Washington to regulate European and other international businesses have been correspondingly harsh. In late September, the EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, announced that the EU was developing a mechanism known as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate business transactions with Iran. The SPV would operate like an exchange, allowing European and Iranian businesses to settle accounts with one another at an EU clearing house. Oil deliveries, for example, could be paid for with textile production machinery. The set-up would make the flow of cash across international financial markets disappear. That said, the SPV is far from operational and no one knows where the institution will actually be based. While announcements of new EU institutions generally draw a great amount of attention from those eager to host their headquarters, that has not been the case with the SPV. European member states have been loath to volunteer for fear of drawing Washington's ire. Trump's security adviser Bolton threatened that the USA would not "allow our sanctions to be evaded by Europe or anybody else." What effect have sanctions had so far? Iran's currency, the rial, is in free fall, having lost 70 percent of its value this year and inflation is skyrocketing. Iranian energy exports have dropped by almost a third since June. Rising energy costs — which are painfully felt at the country's gas stations — are also tied to shortages brought on by sanctions. After a short honeymoon of cooperation and international investment in Iran, many international companies have headed for the exit since May. Among those who left were manyEuropean businesses fearful of being locked out of the far more lucrative American marketshould they stay. Imports to Iran have been greatly hampered across the board. Life-saving drugs, for instance, have become hard to find and are extremely expensive. Still, Iran has years of experience in dealing with US sanctions and has announced its shift to a "resistance economy." From a political standpoint, Washington's sanctions only bolster Iran's ultra-conservative forces, who have always been critical of any form of rapprochement with the West. Moreover, Washington's one-sided withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement and the implementation of unilateral sanctions have deepened the trans-Atlantic divide. Now, Europe is standing side by side with Beijing and Moscow and against Washington in one of the central international questions of our day.

On Monday, fresh US sanctions against Iran come into effect, the next salvo in its economic conflict with Tehran. The main targets are oil exports and the financial sector. Europe is having difficulty forming a response. Which sanctions are going into effect? US punitive sanctions are aimed at Iran’s economic heart: energy exports. All business with Iranian oil companies will ... Read More »

Israel and Saudi Arabia: New best friends in the Middle East?

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel's defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how he viewed his country's relations with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. He did so in an interview with the Saudi Arabian website Elaph. Journalist Othman Al Omeir, who owns Elaph, also has very close ties to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. That newspaper, in turn, is owned by the Saudi king. Thus, Eizenkot had pushed forth into the heart of the Saudi media scene. Read more: Saudi Arabia vs. Iran - from 'twin pillars' to proxy wars Eizenkot explained that Israel was prepared to share information as well as intelligence material with moderate Arab states in order to counter Iran. He answered the question of whether Israel had already shared intelligence with Saudi Arabia by quoting from a letter of intent: "We are prepared to share information when necessary. We have many common interests." He did, however, make one thing crystal clear: Iran is viewed by Israel as the "greatest threat to the region." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed a possible reorientation of Israeli-Saudi relations, albeit in general terms, and without directly referring to Saudi Arabia. Speaking at a memorial service on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the death of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu talked of the "fruitful cooperation between Israel and the Arab world." He declined to go into detail but said he was confident that relations would grow. "This will enable us to continue working toward peace." Rhetorical concessions It appears that both countries are being particularly careful about communicating mutual rapprochement through unofficial channels. The fact that Eizenkot granted Elaph an interview can be seen as evidence of a deliberately defensive PR strategy. Anwar Ashki, a former general in the Saudi army, expressed himself in similar fashion. He emphasized that relations between both countries were only unofficial at this point, when speaking on DW's Arabic language show Massalya. Yet Ashki also led an Arab delegation visiting Jerusalem in July 2016. There, the delegation met with members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Officially, the talks conducted by both sides were about lending new impulses to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which began in 2002 and is designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Speaking on Massalya, Ashki underscored the fact that he had not been in Israel but rather in Jerusalem, "the capital of the Palestinians." Such statements are intended as concessions to broad swaths of the Arab world that must first get used to this new tone after decades of military and propaganda confrontation. Nevertheless, Ashki said that Saudi citizens are ready for rapprochement. The reason for this shift in public opinion is obvious. "It was not Israel that fired rockets at us, it was Iran," he said. "It is they who threaten our national security." Unsettling threat scenarios Ashki was referring to the latest escalation in the US-backed war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen for the last two-and-a-half years. In early November, the rebels fired rockets on the Saudi capital Riyadh from Yemeni territory. The missiles were intercepted by the Saudi air force. The Saudi government suspects that Iran, which supplied the rebels with rockets, of being behind the attack. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continually ratcheted up diplomatic tension with Iran, positing the country as a threat to the kingdom's national security.

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel’s defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how ... Read More »

Case of wrestler throwing bout sparks anger in Iran

Tehran's ban on any contact with Israel has led to another case of an Iranian athlete being ordered to lose during an international competition. This policy is coming under growing criticism in Iran. "Ali Resa lose!, Ali Resa you must lose!" echoed through the venue in Bydgoszcz, Poland in the final moments of one of the semifinals at the U23 wrestling World Championships. This unbelievable but effective order from the Iranian coach to his athlete, Ali Resa Karimi (pictured above, right), can be clearly heard in a video recording of the semifinal. The Iranian had a 3-2 lead over his opponent, Russia's Alikhan Zhabrailov, with just moments to go in the bout. However, Karimi followed the orders of his coach, who was positioned at the edge of the mat, and demonstrably ceased to put up any resistance. The 3-2 lead morphed into a 14-3 defeat in the last 14 seconds of the bout. The Iranian stayed motionless as he complied with the order, but there was no mistaking how angry this had made him. The reason for this unsportsmanlike move by the Iranian coach was to be found in the other semifinal, which was going on at the same time. The Israeli wrestler, Uri Kalashnikov, was up against Azamat Dauletbekov of Kazakhstan. The Iranian officials expected Kalashnikov to win, meaning that had Karimi won, he would have had to face the Israeli, something they were determined to avoid at all costs. This is because since 1983 the Iranian state has banned all of its athletes from competing against Israelis – officially because Tehran hasn't recognized the state of Israel and out of "solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people." Mockery and criticism on Iranian social media The video of the bout spread like wildfire on the Internet and quickly became the hottest topic of discussion among Iranian users. "It's unbelievable that one KOs oneself. It's the fate of a bitter humiliation that the politicians have condemned our athletes to," one tweet said. Another user wrote: "A national athlete is a representative of his country on an international stage. The national athlete defends his country like a soldier. What do you mean 'you have to lose?' Shame on you. What kind of leadership do we have in our country?" Another comment reads: "It is a disgrace for any public figure to destroy the dignity and pride of an athlete for the sake of preserving his own corrupted power." Another comment, like many others, summed up the hypocrisy of the Iranian position: "It is utterly absurd for Iranians to avoid competing with Israelis out of solidarity with the Palestinians, when Palestinian athletes have no problem competing against Israeli athletes." Karimi heads home empty handed Meanwhile, Ali Resa Karimi posted a line from a well-known song by exiled Iranian dissident Dariush Eghbali via his Instagram account: "Silence is the last protective shield; we will never get our rights." This statement could land Karimi in hot water with the authorities. As if things weren't already bad enough for Karimi, as it turned out there was no reason to throw the fight. The Iranian officials who decided that he needed to do so got it wrong. As it turned out, the Israeli wrestler lost his bout to his Kazakh opponent. This set up a bronze-medal bout between the Iranian and Israeli wrestlers, but Karimi pulled out of it due to "illness." It remains to be seen what, if any action United World Wrestling, the sport's world governing body, could take over the incident. International sports federations have previously pledged to impose sanctions on Iran over this sort of behavior, which Iran has made a habit of over the past more than three decades. There has even been talk of banning entire teams.

Tehran’s ban on any contact with Israel has led to another case of an Iranian athlete being ordered to lose during an international competition. This policy is coming under growing criticism in Iran. “Ali Resa lose!, Ali Resa you must lose!” echoed through the venue in Bydgoszcz, Poland in the final moments of one of the semifinals at the U23 ... Read More »

Lebanon demands Saudi Arabia return Prime Minister Saad Hariri

Lebanese officials have demanded the return of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia. The head of the militant group Hezbollah said the Saudis had "declared war" on Lebanon by holding Hariri against his will. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun has called on Saudi Arabia to dispel the "mystery" surrounding Hariri's whereabouts. In a statement released by his office on Saturday, Aoun asked Riyadh "to clarify the reasons that are preventing" Hariri from returning to Lebanon. Aoun, who is yet to formally accept Hariri's resignation, added that anything Hariri has said or may say "does not reflect reality" due to the "dubious and mysterious situation that he is living in the kingdom." Tensions are rising in what is seen as a new front line in the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Read more: Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry finds a new battlefront in Lebanon A free man Riyadh said Hariri (pictured above) is a free man and he decided to resign because Iran-allied Hezbollah had become dominant in his government. Hariri had headed a coalition government for the best part of the last year including members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech Friday that Hariri was being detained in Saudi Arabia and that his "forced" resignation was unconstitutional because it had been made "under duress." "It is clear that Saudi Arabia ... declared war on Lebanon," he said. Saudi Arabia says Lebanon has declared war against it US chips in The United States said Hariri should be allowed to return to Lebanon. In a message aimed at the Saudis, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday against using Lebanon as "a venue for proxy conflicts." Tillerson said if Hariri wants to step down he should "go back to Lebanon" and formally resign, "so that the government of Lebanon can function properly," adding that he had seen "no indication" that Hariri was being held against his will. Tit for tat? Saudi Arabia said on Friday that a Saudi citizen had been kidnapped in Lebanon. "The embassy is in contact with the highest ranking Lebanese security authorities about securing the unconditional release of a kidnapped Saudi citizen as soon as possible," it said in a statement quoted by the Saudi state news agency SPA. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have advised their citizens against traveling to Lebanon and urged those already there to leave. Saudi airstrike on Yemeni Defense Ministry The other front in the war also saw action on Friday, when fighter jets from a Saudi-led coalition bombed the Houthi rebel-controlled Defense Ministry in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa late on Friday. Three civilians were reportedly wounded. The coalition has increased attacks on Yemen since the Houthis — who control large parts of the country — fired a rocket at the Saudi capital last weekend. Saudi Arabia and its allies shut down Yemen's borders earlier this week after intercepting a missile fired by the Houthis near Riyadh airport on Saturday. The UN said on Friday that the coalition is still blocking UN aid deliveries to Yemen despite the reopening of the Yemeni port of Aden and also a land border crossing. The Houthis continue to control the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen's north. The conflict has left more than 8,650 people dead, including many civilians.

Lebanese officials have demanded the return of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia. The head of the militant group Hezbollah said the Saudis had “declared war” on Lebanon by holding Hariri against his will. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has called on Saudi Arabia to dispel the “mystery” surrounding Hariri’s whereabouts. In a statement released by his office on Saturday, ... Read More »

US Air Force: Missiles fired at Saudi Arabia from Yemen have ‘Iranian markings’

A top US general has claimed there is an Iranian role in missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Houthi rebels. Heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia threaten to expand beyond Yemen into a regional war. Iran has helped Yemen's Houthi rebels develop ballistic missiles launched at Saudi Arabia, a top US Air Force official said Friday. "What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that's been demonstrated," Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who commands US Air Forces Central Command, told reporters. "To me that connects the dots to Iran in terms of who's providing those missiles and that capability." The comment further ratchets up tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia over Yemen at a time when a new crisis is brewing in Lebanon that threatens a broader regional conflict that could draw in the United States and Israel. It also comes as the United States and Iran are competing in eastern Syria as the fight against the "Islamic State" winds down, risking a new conflict across the Middle East. On November 4, Saudi Arabia intercepted a variant of the Volcano-1 (Burkan 2-H) long-range ballistic missile fired from Yemen toward the King Khalid International Airport near the capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia said this week that Iran helped the Houthis and that the ballistic missile launch was "a blatant act of military aggression by the Iranian regime, and could rise to be considered as an act of war." The Foreign Ministry later said investigators found evidence proving "the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing" missiles, but did not provide the evidence or elaborate. French President Emmanuel Macron also said this week that the missile was "obviously" Iranian. Read more: Yemen's war explained in 4 key points Threat of more missile launches Houthi rebels have fired more than 70 ballistic missiles towards Saudi Arabia since the kingdom led a coalition military intervention in 2015. But the latest launch was the first time Houthis had targeted Riyadh, some 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) north of the border with Yemen. No deaths or damage were reported from the missile. Media tied to Houthi rebels claimed a short-range missile had been fired in response to "Saudi-American aggression and crimes against the people of Yemen," in a reference to US air refueling support and provision of weaponry to the Saudi-led coalition. Analysts say that the November 4 launch could presage further long-range ballistic missile strikes on major population centers in the Gulf States participating in the Saudi-led coalition as Houthi rebels seek to retaliate for airstrikes that have devastated Yemen. "The fact that they (Houthis) have the capability to strike Riyadh raises the political stakes as well as the cost of war for Saudi Arabia," April Longley, an expert on the Arabian Peninsula for the International Crisis Group, wrote in an analysis. "It also means that other Gulf cities may soon be in target range; on 8 November, the Houthis threatened further attacks on Saudi and Emirati ports and airports." "Given growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the US administration's eagerness to push back against Tehran, missile strikes by the Houthis in Gulf countries or in the Red Sea arguably are the single most dangerous trigger points for widening the conflict beyond Yemen to a regional confrontation," she added. How much influence does Iran have over Houthis? Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused Iran of arming the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies. Iran says it supports the Houthis politically and domestically, but denies arming them. Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the International Crisis Group, wrote in an analysis that while Iran benefits from Saudi Arabia being stuck in a Yemen quagmire at a low cost, "it is unclear whether Iran exerts the kind of influence over the Houthis that would enable it to order or prevent such an attack." He cited previous instances of the Houthis ignoring Iran's advice and warned that "Iran ultimately might pay a price for actions by an allied group it does not control." Missile stockpiles The Houthis say the missile variants are produced domestically and are remnants of previous stockpiles. Yemen has had ballistic missiles dating back to the 1970s when the country was split between the north and south before reunification in 1990. When the Houthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh overran the capital Sana'a in September 2014 they captured ballistic missile stockpiles. However, Saudi Arabia and the United States suspect Iran may be providing technical aid and parts to help advance the Houthi ballistic missile program. The Saudi-led coalition has a tight land, air and sea embargo over Yemen in order to block weapons transfers, making it difficult for Iran to supply ballistic missiles or components. The blockade was further expanded this week, prompting international concerns over supplies of humanitarian aid in a country on the brink of famine. Iran's Revolutionary Guard chief, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said earlier this week that Tehran can't transfer missiles to Yemen due to the blockade and that they were made there. Harrigian didn't provide information on the type of missile used against Riyadh or show images of debris. He also didn't explain how Iran may have got around the Saudi blockade. "How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time," the lieutenant general said.

A top US general has claimed there is an Iranian role in missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia threaten to expand beyond Yemen into a regional war. Iran has helped Yemen’s Houthi rebels develop ballistic missiles launched at Saudi Arabia, a top US Air Force official said Friday. “What we ... Read More »

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