France points finger at Iran over bomb plot, seizes assets

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

 

France points finger at Iran over bomb plot, seizes assets

PARIS (Reuters) – France said on Tuesday there was no doubt Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind a June plot to attack an exiled opposition group’s rally outside Paris and it seized assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals.

The hardening of relations between Paris and Tehran could have far-reaching consequences for Iran as President Hassan Rouhani’s government looks to European capitals to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal after the United States pulled out and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran.

“Behind all this was a long, meticulous and detailed investigation by our (intelligence) services that enabled us to reach the conclusion, without any doubt, that responsibility fell on the Iranian intelligence ministry,” a French diplomatic source said.

The source, speaking after the government announced asset freezes, added that deputy minister and director general of intelligence Saeid Hashemi Moghadam had ordered the attack and Assadollah Asadi, a Vienna-based diplomat held by German authorities, had put it into action.

The ministry is under control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,

“We deny once again the allegations against Iran and demand the immediate release of the Iranian diplomat,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

The incident was a plot “designed by those who want to damage Iran’s long-established relations with France and Europe,” he said.

The plot targeted a meeting of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) outside the French capital. U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and several former European and Arab ministers attended the rally.

It unraveled after Asadi, an accredited diplomat in Austria, was arrested in Germany, two other individuals were detained in Belgium in possession of explosives, and one other individual in France.

On Monday, a court in southern Germany ruled the diplomat could be extradited to Belgium.

“We cannot accept any terrorist threat on our national territory and this plot needed a firm response,” the diplomatic source said.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

TARGETED ASSET FREEZES

The asset freezes targeted Asadi and Moghadam. A unit within the Iranian intelligence services was also targeted.

The French government gave no details of the assets involved, describing its measures as “targeted and proportionate”.

The diplomatic source said the freezes covered assets and financing means in France, although neither individual at this stage had any assets in the country.

“We hope this matter is now over. We have taken measures and said what we needed to say,” the source said, suggesting Paris was seeking to turn a page on the issue.

France had warned Tehran to expect a robust response to the thwarted bombing and diplomatic relations were becoming increasingly strained.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke to their Iranian counterparts about the issue at the U.N. General Assembly after demanding explanations over Iran’s role.

An internal French foreign ministry memo in August told diplomats not to travel to Iran, Reuters revealed, citing the Villepinte bomb plot and a toughening of Iran’s position toward the West.

Paris has also suspended nominating a new ambassador to Iran and not responded to Tehran nominations for diplomatic positions in France.

While not directly linked to the plot, the diplomatic source said a French police raid on a Shi’ite Muslim faith center earlier on Tuesday was aimed at also sending a signal at Iran.

The deterioration of relations with France could have wider implications for Iran.

France has been one of the strongest advocates of salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of economic sanctions.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said it expects renewed sanctions to hurt the Iranian economy hard.

Additional reporting by Paris bureau, Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean, Richard Balmforth

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Humiliated by Attack, Vow to Retaliate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Humiliated by Attack, Vow to Retaliate

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A funeral ceremony in Ahvaz, Iran, on Monday for the victims of the attack on a military parade. Credit Attention Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Soldiers in dress uniform lay prone in the street. Others, apparently heavily armed, faced the assailants, then threw themselves to the ground without firing back. Some just ran for their lives.

Captured on video and widely shared on social media, the attack over the weekend on an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps parade in Iran was a humiliating blow. A local Arab separatist group claimed responsibility, but Iran said the perpetrators were backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

The moment terrorists struck a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran Credit Video by Press TV

On Monday, Iranian officials vowed revenge against all three countries and Israel.

The attack has escalated tensions between Iran and the Persian Gulf states and their American allies. The Trump White House has taken a hard line against Iran, withdrawing from a nuclear agreement and imposing sanctions that have damaged Iran’s flailing economy.

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Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have clashed with Iran over Yemen, Qatar and Syria. The conflicts are expected to take center stage at the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The attack on Saturday in Ahvaz, Iran, killed at least 25 people, including some children and other civilians who had been among the spectators, according to Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, and a dozen members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.

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Iranians at the funeral on Monday. Iranian news accounts said the four assailants had worn Iranian uniforms.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

A widely posted image on Facebook showed members of the Revolutionary Guards military band, wearing tricolor sashes and carrying musical instruments, hiding in a drainage ditch — described by many commentators as a sewer — during the attack.

Iranian officials, including the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, focused blame on Arab kingdoms on the Persian Gulf, as well as the United States. “This cowardly act was carried out by those who are rescued by Americans wherever they are entangled in Syria and Iraq and their hands are in the Saudi and Emirati pockets,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on Monday, the Fars news agency reported.

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In a speech on Monday at a funeral ceremony for the victims of the attack, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said, “You have seen our revenge before,” according to the news agency Al Ahed, which is run by the pro-Iranian organization Hezbollah in Lebanon. “You will see that our response will be crushing and devastating, and you will regret what you have done.”

The Ahvaz National Resistance, a little-known group with roots among the Arab minority of Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. So did the Islamic State, though the links to that group were ambiguous. It was the worst attack inside the country since an Islamic State-claimed assault on Parliament in 2017.

Ahvaz is the capital of Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran, where many of the country’s Arabs live. The Islamic State posted a video that it said showed three of its fighters on their way to the attack, according to IRNA. Two of the fighters were speaking Arabic with an Iraqi accent.

الجزيرة مباشر الآن

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The Islamic State claimed responsibility with bulletins on its Amaq news service, which also ran the video of the fighters. But the video did not explicitly say the attackers belonged to the Islamic State, nor did they pledge allegiance to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as similar claims from the group have done in the past.

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The attack killed 25, including children and other civilians who had been among the spectators, according to the state news agency IRNA.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Iranian news accounts said there had been at least four assailants, who disguised themselves in Iranian uniforms and attacked from behind the viewing bleachers at the parade. They said three of the assailants had been killed and one captured.

Iranian officials provided no evidence that the countries they blamed were behind the attack. The United States and the Emirates issued statements dismissing the accusation.

But the attack came at a volatile time in Iran’s relations with those countries.

A prominent academic in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, added fuel to that fire by saying the attack had been part of an effort to bring the fight against Iran inside the country. Mr. Abdulla, who has frequently been described as an adviser to the Emirate government and as close to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, suggested support for the attack in a Twitter post on Saturday: “A military attack against a military target is not a terrorist act,” he said.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla@Abdulkhaleq_UAE

هجوم عسكري ضد هدف عسكري ليس بعمل إرهابي.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned an Emirati envoy to complain about Mr. Abdulla’s remarks and warned that the Emirates “would be held accountable for individuals affiliated with official Emirati agencies that show clear support for terrorist acts,” the ministry said in a statement.

Analysts said the Revolutionary Guards, an elite militia that operates independently of the Iranian government, were bound to react strongly to such a public humiliation.

“They’re going to go for a strong reaction to remedy the horrible image this attack has given them, the imagery that they are running away, falling down on the ground and so on,” said Ahmad Moussalli, a regional expert and professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. “They could correct that with a heavy military blow somewhere.”

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The scene of the attack on Saturday. The Ahvaz National Resistance, a little-known group with roots among Iran’s Arab minority, claimed responsibility for the attack, as did the Islamic State.CreditMorteza Jaberian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He said that he doubted the Revolutionary Guards would risk a direct military confrontation with the Emirates or Saudi Arabia and that the response would more likely occur in Syria or Iraq. The attack, though embarrassing, Mr. Moussalli said, “shows that the gulf and the United States is targeting Iran now, and gives Iran a pretext to flex their military power.”

The Emirates were not the only regional power cheering on internal resistance to the Iranian government recently.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, suggested a year ago that it was time to turn from external pressure on Iran to internal pressure. Prince Mohammed, in repeated interviews in the United States this year, also likened Ayatollah Khamenei to Hitler, saying at one point, “I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good.”

Saudi Arabia had also bitterly opposed the nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and other world leaders, and it had cheered the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement.

President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, fueled claims of an American campaign against Iran when he addressed an “Iranian uprising summit” in New York on Saturday — hours after the attack in Ahvaz — saying that a leadership change in Iran was inevitable because of United States sanctions.

“I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them,” Mr. Giuliani said, according to a Reuters report. “It could be in a few days, months, a couple of years. But it’s going to happen.”

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Mohammad Taha Eghadami, the father of a 4-year-old boy killed in the attack, at the mass funeral on Monday.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, insisted that the Trump administration was not seeking a leadership change in Iran. In response to President Hassan Rouhani’s criticism of the United States, she said in an interview with CNN: “He can blame us all he wants. The thing he’s got to do is look in the mirror.”

After attacks in Tehran last year, the Revolutionary Guards said that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States were responsible, but most government officials blamed terrorists. This time, Iranian leaders described the attack not as terrorism, but as an act of foreign aggression — a significant difference, said Hussein Allawi, a national security analyst at Al Nahrain University in Iraq.

“The Iranian authorities denied that a terrorist organization did the operation,” he said. “Instead it accused states in the Middle East of carrying out the operation, even though signs of terrorism in the operation were clear.”

Despite the bellicose language from the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, other officials seemed to adopt a more cautious reaction, at least initially.

Speaking at the funeral for the Ahvaz victims on Monday, the deputy commander of Iran’s regular army, Brig. Gen. Nozar Nemati, said it was too early to say whether Western intelligence agencies had been involved in the attack, and suggested it may have originated closer to home.

“They are the same people who were followers of Saddam at the onset of the war, and they are pursuing the same goal,” IRNA quoted him as saying. He was referring to the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who fought a bitter war in an attempt to destroy Iran in the 1980s.

Follow Rod Nordland on Twitter: @rodnordland.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Falih Hassan from Baghdad, and Rukmini Callimachi from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Blaming U.S. and Gulf States, Iran Vows Revenge for Humiliating Attack. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Iran’s Rouhani backs Qatar, rejects ‘siege’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iran’s Rouhani backs Qatar, rejects ‘siege’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani voiced support on Sunday for Qatar in its confrontation with Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia and its allies, saying a “siege of Qatar is unacceptable”, the state news agency IRNA reported.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of support for Islamist militants, an allegation Qatar denies.

They have since issued 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television, curbing relations with Iran, shutting a Turkish base and paying reparations.

“Tehran stands with the Qatari nation and government… We believe that if there is a conflict between regional countries, pressure, threats or sanctions are not the right way to resolve differences,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a telephone call.

“The siege of Qatar is unacceptable to us… The airspace, land and sea of our country will always be open to Qatar as a brotherly and neighboring country,” Rouhani said.

Doha, whose neighbors have closed their airspace to Qatari flights, has said it was reviewing the list of demands, but said it was not reasonable or actionable.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia accuse each other of subverting regional security and support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Adrian Croft)

Iran to work on nuclear-powered marine vessels after U.S. ‘violation’ of deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS)

Iran to work on nuclear-powered marine vessels after U.S. ‘violation’ of deal

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Shadia Nasralla | BEIRUT/VIENNA

Iran ordered its scientists on Tuesday to start developing systems for nuclear-powered marine vessels in response to what it calls a U.S. violation of its landmark 2015 atomic deal with world powers.

Nuclear experts however said that President Hassan Rouhani’s move, if carried out, would probably require Iran to enrich uranium to a fissile purity above the maximum level set by the nuclear deal to allay fears of Tehran building an atomic bomb.

Rouhani’s announcement marked Tehran’s first concrete reaction to a decision by the U.S. Congress last month to extend some sanctions on Tehran that would also make it easier to reimpose others lifted under the nuclear pact.

Rouhani described the technology as a “nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation,” but did not say whether that meant just ships or possibly also submarines. Iran said in 2012 that it was working on its first nuclear-powered sub. reut.rs/2gVr80g

Rouhani’s words will stoke tensions with Washington, already heightened by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to scrap the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear fuel production activities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Rouhani also ordered planning for production of fuel for nuclear-powered marine vessels “in line with the development of a peaceful nuclear program of Iran”.

But under the nuclear settlement Iran reached with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, it is not allowed to enrich uranium above a 3.67 percent purity for 15 years, a level unlikely to be enough to run such vessels.

“On the basis of international experience, were Iran to go ahead with such a (nuclear propulsion) project, it would have to increase its enrichment level,” said Mark Hibbs, nuclear expert and senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

CIVILIAN VERSUS MILITARY ENRICHMENT

“That’s the point, because Iran would be looking for a non-weapons rationale to provocatively increase its enrichment level in the case that the deal with the powers comes unstuck.”

He pointed out that countries with more advanced navies and nuclear programs have been working on propulsion reactors for decades. Such technology might need uranium enriched to around 20 percent purity.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source told RIA news agency that a careful reading of Rouhani’s order showed he was talking only about developing power-supply units for nuclear-powered marine vessels, but not higher-enriched uranium itself, so “strictly speaking” this would not contravene the nuclear deal.

But the source acknowledged that such vessels typically ran on higher-enriched uranium prohibited by the accord.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said developing a reactor suited for higher-grade nuclear vessel fuel would take at least a decade.

“(But) these are unfortunate developments. We are very concerned about the future of the (nuclear deal) under the Trump administration and any signs of erosion … must be taken very seriously and immediately addressed by the international community,” Lyman told Reuters.

Rouhani accused the United States in a letter published by state news agency IRNA of not fully meeting its commitments under the nuclear deal.

“With regard to recent (U.S. congressional) legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act … I order the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to … plan the design and construction of a nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation.”

Members of the U.S. Congress have said the extension of the bill does not violate the nuclear deal that was struck last year to assuage Western fears that Iran was working to develop a nuclear bomb. The act, Congress added, only gave Washington the power to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it violated the pact.

Washington says it has lifted all the sanctions it needs to under the July 2015 deal between major powers and Iran.

Rouhani’s move followed recent remarks by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hardline allies harshly criticizing the deal’s failure to yield any swift economic improvements in Iran. Khamenei said last month the U.S. Congress’s prolongation of some sanctions was a clear breach and the Islamic Republic would “definitely react to it”.

There was no immediate comment from the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Moscow and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; editing by Mark Heinrich)