Iran renews ultimatum over nuclear deal amid tanker tensions

Iran will continue scaling back compliance with its commitments under the nuclear deal unless other signatories show "positive signals", the Iranian president told a meeting of Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders in Tajikistan.

Iran stopped complying in May with some commitments in a 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed with global powers, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord and tightened sanctions.

Tehran said in May that Iran would start enriching uranium at a higher level unless world powers protected its economy from US sanctions within 60 days.

"Obviously, Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally," President Hassan Rouhani told the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.

"It is necessary that all the sides of this agreement contribute to restoring it," he said, adding that Iran needed to see "positive signals" from other signatories to the pact, which include Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

He did not give details on what actions Iran would take or say what positive signals Tehran wanted to see.

France and other European signatories to the deal, which aimed to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, have said they wanted to save it, but many of their companies have cancelled deals with Tehran under financial pressure from the US.

Western powers have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Tanker incidents

Rouhani made no mention of attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week, which Washington has blamed on Tehran, raising concerns about a confrontation.

Iran has denied any role in the attacks, calling the accusations "ridiculous" and "dangerous".

On Friday, acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said the administration of President Donald Trump was focused on building international consensus following the oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz.

The two vessels - the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair - were damaged on Thursday morning as they were leaving the Gulf of Oman, the second such incident in four weeks that sent Brent crude prices up and heightened tensions in the region.

Shanahan, asked later whether he was considering sending more US troops or military capabilities to the Middle East, said: "As you know we're always planning various contingencies."

But he then returned to the issue of building consensus.

"When you look at the situation, a Norwegian ship, a Japanese ship, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, 15 percent of the world's oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz," he said.

"So we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate. We also need to broaden our (international) support for this international situation," he added.
Tanker incident video

Shanahan said the Pentagon's role would include sharing intelligence, as the US military's Central Command did on Thursday by publicly releasing a grainy video it claimed showed Iran's military removing an unexploded mine from Kokuka Courageous, hours after the suspected attacks.

Iran said the video proved nothing and that Tehran was being made into a scapegoat.

"The more information that we can declassify, the more information we can share, we will. And that's our intent," Shanahan said.

The release of the black-and-white footage came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said US intelligence agencies had concluded that Iran was responsible for the attacks, without offering concrete evidence.

On Friday, in a TV interview on Fox News, Trump said, "Iran did do it".

"You know they did it because you saw the boat," Trump told the Fox and Friends show. "I guess one of the mines didn't explode and it's probably got essentially Iran written all over it."

But Yutaka Katada, owner of the Kokuka Courageous, cast doubt on part of the US account, telling reporters on Friday that the vessel's crew saw a "flying object" before a second blast on the boat.

Calling reports of a mine attack "false", he said: "The crew was saying it was hit by a flying object … To put a bomb at the side of the boat is not something we are considering."

For its part, Iran rejected the accusations as the United Nations, Russia and Qatar called for an international investigation into the reported attacks.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said the US had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".

The allegation "only makes it abundantly clear" that the US and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were moving to a "Plan B", Zarif said, which was to "sabotage diplomacy" as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Iran to defuse escalating US-Iran frictions.
Arab League caution

On Friday, the head of the Arab League called on the Iranians to "be careful and reverse course".

Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit noted, after meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York, that there are conflicting reports about how Thursday's tanker incidents occurred.

"We believe that responsibilities need to be clearly defined," he said. "The facts will be revealed, I am sure, it's only a matter of time."

Aboul Gheit added "My call to my Iranian - and I call them Iranian brothers: Be careful and reverse course because you're pushing everybody towards a confrontation that no one would be safe if it happens."

The British government said it agreed with the US conclusion that Iran attacked the tankers.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that its own assessment concluded "it is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military," the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, had attacked the tankers.

It said it also believed Iran was behind an attack last month on four tankers near the UAE port of Fujairah.

On May 12, days after Washington announced the military deployment, four oil tankers near the port were damaged in what the UAE called "sabotage attacks".

The US blamed Iran for the incidents, saying Iranian-made limpet mines were used in the attacks. Tehran also rejected these claims.

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U.S. Plans More Annual Spending on Nuclear Submarine Program

The U.S. Navy plans to increase annual spending on its nuclear missile submarine program to $5 billion by 2024, according to a Pentagon report cited Tuesday by Bloomberg News.

According to that report, the Department of Defense details in a report sent to Congress that the increase would begin next year, when the Navy will seek $4.3 billion for the Columbia class submarine program.

That figure will be higher than the $2.3 billion currently projected for fiscal year 2020, which begins in October.

The document mentioned by Bloomberg projects budget requests of 4.46 billion in fiscal year 2022, and 4.13 billion in 2023, ahead of the goal set for 2024.

Bloomberg said the Columbia class project aims to build 12 new ballistic missile submarines, which will replace an older force of 14 Ohio class submarines first manufactured in the 1970s.

The submarines are part of a trillion-dollar (trillion-dollar) effort to modernize the U.S. marine-air-to-ground nuclear triad over the next 30 years, including maintenance and assistance, the agency said.

The Columbia class program was initially approved during Barack Obama's administration (2009-2017), although the current president, Donald Trump, asked the Pentagon to accelerate actions to strengthen the size of the naval fleet, the publication added.

Last week, in statements to the press at the White House, Trump said they are spending 'billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, figures like we have never spent before'.

Last March the executive mansion launched a $4.7 trillion budget plan that would increase spending on nuclear weapons by 11.8 percent by fiscal year 2020 compared to the current level of spending.

In response to that anticipated increase, the Global Zero campaign, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, stated that the top U.S. national security priority should be to prevent the use of such devices.

The Trump administration's accelerated search for 'low-performance' nuclear weapons does the opposite, the group's executive director, Derek Johnson, said in a statement.

For its part, the American Arms Control Association published a report in April on how the rising costs of the government's plans to replace the nuclear arsenal are 'unnecessary, unsustainable and unsafe'.

The United States keeps a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required to deter and respond to a nuclear attack against itself or its allies, said Kingston Reif, the group's director of disarmament and threat reduction policy.

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Russia to Establish Working Code against Information War

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated today Russia''s initiative to establish a kind of working code at the UN level to prevent information wars such as those launched against this country.

In addition, Lavrov resumed another Moscow proposal to establish a United Nations-backed embargo on territories controlled by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist movement and the Al Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. The proposal on the abovementioned rules of conduct by the press would be conditioned, among other things, by the need to avoid interference in the internal affairs of states, the minister explained.

The Russian foreign minister also called for an international convention on security in cyber-space.

Lavrov called attention to the need for a real fight against terrorism and to avoid actions that increase tension and threaten international law, he said.

Some states prefer to ensure their security at the expense of other nations while doing their utmost to stop the process of forming a multipolar world, Lavrov said at the plenary session of the 6th Moscow International Security Conference.

'A recent meeting of the seven most industrialized countries (G-7) at the level of foreign ministers acknowledged the importance of the terrorist threat and placed it as a priority to be resolved,' he said.

'However, beyond the declarations, nothing was implemented in practice and on the need for global cooperation against international terrorism we only observe the ambitions of some states and double standards to address that scourge,' he said.

On the other hand, the Russian head of State spoke on the basis of an impartial and transparent investigation of what happened on May 4 in the Syrian town of Jan-Sheijon. 'Those who block that initiative have something to hide or some responsibility,' he suggested.

At the same time, he believed that tense situations such as the one on the Korean peninsula should be avoided and considered that US military activity and its installation in the region of anti-missile systems contribute to destabilizing the situation there.

The Russian foreign minister also indicated that the deployment of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces near the borders of this country is a matter that prevents the consolidation of regional stability.

'The presence of elements of the US anti-missile defense system in Europe can create illusions of unprovoked protection and lead to the temptation of warlike actions that will not contribute to regional security,' he said.

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Cuba Remembers Restart of Struggles for Independence

The Cubans are celebrating today the 122nd anniversary of the resumption of the unfinished battle to conquer their independence from the Spanish metropolis, known for historiography as the Necessary War.

That day, the veterans of the so-called Ten Years' War (1868-1878), also known as the Great War, and The Little War (La Guerra Chiquita-1879-1880), as well as the new patriotic generations, attended the call to arms for independence.

On December 8, 1894, Jose Marti drafted and signed the uprising plan in Cuba, along with Colonels Mayia Rodriguez, representing Dominican Maximo Gomez, elected since 1884 as General in Chief of the Liberating Army, and Enrique Collazo, on behalf of the country's patriots.

The period known as the 'Tregua Fecunda' (Fecund Truce/inter war period) was between both wars, during which Jose Marti, main organizer of the war in 1895, managed to reunite the patriots around the Cuban Revolutionary Party, with the express purpose of founding 'the new indispensable Republic to the American balance.'

Although the victory was snatched by the intervention of the United States, facilitated among other things by the fall in combat of agglutinating political-military leaders such as Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti, the war was the scene for the teaching for later times from the political-military viewpoint, especially as regards the need for a single command.

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Economic sanctions» or the white-collar war

The United States and the European Union have launched an undeclared war against Syria, Iran and Russia – it is known by the alias «economic sanctions». This appalling tactic killed more than a million Iraqis during the 1990’s, without arousing any suspicion in Western public opinion. It is used today, patiently, against any state which refuses to be dominated by the unipolar world order.

In the past, conventional war strategy included the siege of a city or a state. It was used to isolate the enemy, to prevent him from using his resources, to submit him to famine, and finally to gain victory. In Europe, the Catholic church firmly condemned this tactic as criminal, in that it killed civilians first, and the military forces only afterwards.

Today, conventional wars include «economic sanctions», which are used for the same purpose. From 1990 to 2003, the sanctions levied against Iraq by the UN Security Council killed more than a million civilians. In fact, it was a war led by the bankers in the name of the institution whose purpose was supposedly to promote peace.

It is probable that several of the states which voted for these sanctions were not aware of their extent nor their consequences. What is certain is that when some members of the Security Council asked for the sanctions to be lifted, the United States and the United Kingdom opposed the motion, thereby assuming the responsibility for a million dead civlians.

After numerous international civil servants had been fired for their participation in the massacre of a million Iraqi civilians, the United Nations began to think about the manner in which they could make the sanctions more effective in terms of the objectives announced. In other words, to ensure that the sanctions would effect only the political and military sectors, and not civilians. There was talk of «targeted sanctions».However, despite much research on the subject, no-one has ever practised sanctions against a state which affected its leaders and not its population.

The effect of sanctions is linked to the interpretation that the governments make of the texts which define them. For example, most of the texts evoke sanctions on products which may be used both by civilians and the military, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation. A rifle may be forbidden for export to a certain state because it can be used for war as well as hunting. But a bottle of water can be drunk by a mother as well as a soldier. Consequently, the same texts – according to the political circumstances and the evolution of the government’s will – can lead to extremely different results.

The situation is all the more complicated in that the legal sanctions of the Security Council are augmented by the illegal sanctions of the United States and the European Union. Indeed, while some states or intergovernmental institutions can legally refuse commercial relations with other states, they can not establish unilateral sanctions without waging war.

The term «sanction» gives the impression that the state which is submitted to them has committed a crime, and that it has been tried before being found guilty. This is true for sanctions decreed by the Security Council, but not those decided unilaterally by the United States and the European Union. These are purely and simply acts of war.

After the war against the British in 1812, Washington created the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is tasked with waging this white-collar war.

Currently, the main states which are victims of sanctions are not the targets of the United Nations, but exclusively those of the United States and the European Union. They are Syria, Iran and Russia. That is to say the three states which are fighting the jihadists supported by the Western powers.

Most of the sanctions that have been decreed are without direct links to the contemporary war against Syria. The sanctions aimed at Damascus are mainly linked to its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah, and to the asylum granted to the Palestinian Hamas (which has since joined the Muslim Brotherhood, and is now fighting against Syria). The sanctions against Iran were allegedly imposed against its military nuclear programme, even though it was closed down by the Ayatollah Khomeiny thirty years ago. They continue to be levied despite the signature of the 5+1 agreement, which was supposed to resolve this problem, which does not in fact exist. Those levied against Russia sanction the incorporation of Crimea after it had refused the Nazi coup d’état in Kiev, qualified as a «democratic revolution» by NATO.

The most rigourous sanctions currently levied are those affecting Syria. A report drawn up by the UN Office for the Coordinaton of Humanitarian Affairs in Syria, financed by the Swiss Confederation, and made public four months ago, observes that the US and European interpretation of the texts leads to the deprivation, for the majority of Syrians, of many medical care products and also food resources. A great number of medical products are forbidden, since they are considered to be of double usage, and it is impossible to pay for the importation of food via the international banking system.

Although the situation of the Syrian people is not as catastrophic as that of the Iraqis in the 1990’s, it is nonetheless a war waged by the United States and the European Union, by financial and economic means, exclusively against the population living under the protection of the Syrian Arab Republic – with intent to kill.

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US, Russia Unable to Strike Syria Deal

Russia insists it cannot agree to a deal unless opposition fighters, backed by the United States, are separated from al-Qaeda linked militants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were unable to strike a deal for a ceasefire in Syria and differences remain, a senior State Department official said after their meeting in China on Monday.

RELATED: US Investigating Claims It Killed Dozens More Syrian Civilians

Kerry and Lavrov met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the eastern city of Hangzhou. Details of their talks were not immediately available.

This is the second time in two weeks that Kerry and Lavrov have failed to reach a deal on a ceasefire deal. The previous time they met was in Geneva on Aug. 26. Kerry has said the United States won't accept just any deal just to have it collapse again.

A cessation of hostilities agreement brokered by Lavrov and Kerry in February unraveled within weeks, with Washington accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces of violating the agreement.

The next time they are likely to meet is on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings in New York from Sept. 18.

State Department officials have refused to elaborate on what the sticking points are preventing a deal.

Russia has insisted that it cannot agree to a deal unless opposition fighters, backed by the United States and Middle East allies, are separated from al-Qaeda linked militants they overlap with in some areas.

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Colombia and Farc rebels sign historic ceasefire

The Colombian government and the Farc rebels have signed a historic ceasefire deal, bringing them closer to ending more than five decades of conflict.

The announcement is seen as one of the last steps before a full peace deal is signed, which is expected within weeks.

Colombia's president and the Farc leader shook hands in celebration.

The longest-running insurgency in the Western Hemisphere has killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced almost seven million.

Thursday's announcement in Havana caps formal peace talks that started three years ago in the Cuban capital.

But it does not mark the start of the ceasefire, which will only begin with the signing of a final accord.

Colombia's President, Juan Manuel Santos, has previously said he hopes to sign that accord by the end of July.

Thursday's announcement includes:

  • A commitment that rebels will lay down arms within 180 days of a final peace deal
  • The creation of temporary transition zones and camps for the estimated 7,000 rebels
  • That no civilians will be allowed to enter Farc camps, to guarantee rebel security
  • UN monitors will receive all the group's weapons

"Let this be the last day of the war," said Farc leader Timochenko at the announcement.

Colombians read newspapers with headlines about the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Farc in Bogota on June 23The deal has made headlines in Colombia: 'Good bye to the weapons!' said this newspaper

The rebels have also agreed to put the final accord to a popular vote in Colombia, which was a promise made by Mr Santos.

The president said at the ceremony that this was a "historic day".

"We have reached the end of 50 years of death, attacks and pain. This is the end of the armed conflict with the Farc," he said.

Both sides still need to establish how the peace deal in its totality will be implemented, verified and approved.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and leaders of Latin American countries also attended the ceremony.

Who are the Farc?

Resultado de imagen para farc-ep

  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc, after the initials in Spanish) are Colombia's largest rebel group
  • The main enemy of the Farc have been the Colombian security forces. Farc fighters have attacked police stations and military posts, and ambushed patrols
  • They have been hit hard by the Colombian security forces over the past years


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65 million people displaced worldwide, breaking all records – UNHCR

The UN has released alarming displacement statistics claiming 65 million people are now displaced worldwide. Syria and Afghanistan have raised the bar to set the new world record. And progress in the work being done is slow, the agency head says.

According to UNHCR the current figure stands at 65.3 million, up from 2014’s record of 60 million displaced since World War II. The refugee influx into Europe last year has contributed by 10 percent, the agency said on Monday.

“An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18,” UNHCR writes in remarks to its Global Trends report for 2015.

 
The figure also jumped by 50 percent in the last five years, meaning that one in every 113 people on Earth is now a refugee, an IDP or an asylum-seeker.

"The refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on the shores of Europe, the message that they have carried is that if you don't solve problems, problems will come to you," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said at a news briefing.

"It's painful that it has taken so long for people in the rich countries to understand that," he continued. "We need action, political action to stop conflicts, that would be the most important prevention of refugee flows."

On average, 24 people were being displaced any given minute in 2015, amounting to 34,000 people per day. In 2005 that figure was only six per minute.  And the number has doubled since 1997. The Syria war raised that by another 50 percent alone when it started in 2011.

READ MORE: UN's Ban Ki-moon admits threats resulted in Saudi-led coalition being removed from blacklist

Put together, the fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Sudan have led to displacements amounting to 21.3 million people, half of them children, according to the agency. More than half of the displaced come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

In wealthier industrialized nations, a record two million asylum claims were filed in 2015, the report says. Nearly 100,000 stood for unaccompanied children. That is not only three times the number since 2014, it’s also the global record. Of those northern nations, Germany continued to lead with 441,900 claims, followed by the United States, with 172,700 claims – mostly from southern neighbors, where people fled from gang and drug-related violence.

The High Commissioner is also worried that the huge influx precipitated a rise in xenophobia, something he calls “a very defining featured of the environment in which we work.

"Barriers are rising everywhere - and I'm not just talking of walls. But I'm talking about legislative barriers that are coming up, including in countries in the industrialized world that have been for a long time bastions of principle in defending the fundamental rights linked to asylum."

 
Commenting on the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey, Grandi has criticised the mentality of believing the problem is solved once the European flow is halted.

"The fact that that flow has stopped does not mean the problem of displacement has ended. It may have ended for some countries that don't have to deal with it anymore, for now," he said.

Furthermore, work isn’t being done fast enough: the plan for some EU members to take in 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy is not being implemented swiftly enough. To date, only 2,406 of those have been relocated.

"There is no Plan B for Europe. Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum,” Grandi added. "Everybody has to share responsibility now.”

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