Geneva, Jun 26 (AP/UNB) — A top Saudi diplomat lashed out Tuesday at an independent U.N. expert's searing report alleging that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was based on "prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas."
In what amounted to a face-off at the U.N's top human rights body, Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil insisted that special rapporteur Agnes Callamard had failed to follow proper procedures and used flawed sourcing in her 101-page report made public last week.
"Accusations have been launched, and fingers have been pointed — (she is) supporting herself on non-credible articles or sources," he told the Human Rights Council, in Arabic through a U.N. interpreter.
Callamard, sitting at the council podium to present her report, retorted that her methodology had respected precedent and insisted her report wasn't based on media reports. She also said she hadn't received any responses in writing from Saudi authorities to her report.
The report by Callamard, an independent expert on extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, alleged that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for The Washington Post columnist's grisly apparent dismemberment by Saudi agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October. It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's possible role in the killing should be examined, and Callamard used Tuesday's presentation to push for further investigation.
She also wrote that Saudi Arabia, which has put 11 people on trial in non-public proceedings, shouldn't be allowed to mete out justice alone in a case with vast international implications — and called for a "proper authority" to determine if crimes had been committed.
Callamard said the Saudi trial should be suspended because it fails to meet procedural standards.
The Saudi ambassador rejected that.
"This is something that is set against Saudi Arabia, it's based on prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas," he said. "This is why we reject any attempt to remove this from our national justice system in Saudi Arabia."
Among diplomats speaking out Tuesday, European Union ambassador Walter Stevens called on Saudi Arabia "to disclose all information available," and "fully cooperate" with investigations into the killing, and Ralf Schroeder of Germany said "nothing can justify this killing, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms."
Russia's representative, Yaroslav Eremin, questioned the focus on journalists, dissenters and others, wondering aloud if the lives of regular citizens were "less valuable." Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri of Bahrain rallied to the defense of its big Arab neighbor, insisting Saudi Arabia had shown "full transparency from the outset."
The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the council a year, alleging it has an anti-Israeli bias among other complaints.
Her voice trembling in English, Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz, intervening on invitation by a non-governmental organization, told the council that "those who are behind the murder and cover-up should face punishment."
"It was not only my beloved Jamal who was murdered that day, but also democracy, human rights and freedoms," she said.
Tehran, Jun 26 (AP/UNB) — Iran's foreign minister says President Trump's new sanctions targeting the Iranian supreme leader show the White House doesn't understand "international regulations."
Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the U.S. sanctions could violate the freedom of worship of some American Muslims because it restricts links with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
That's according to a quote by Iran's state news agency IRNA.
Khamenei is the chief of Iran's theocracy and considered by some Shiite Muslims as their religious guide.
The report also quoted Zarif as saying the new sanctions showed that it was a "lie" the U.S. wanted to negotiate with Iran. He said the U.S. had created "danger and tension in the region."
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said he doesn't want war with Iran, but that the U.S. was confident in its military superiority.
The UK's defense secretary says it's important to protect international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, but is calling for restraint as tensions mount between the U.S. and Iran.
Speaking at NATO headquarters Wednesday, Penny Mordaunt said it was "vitally important" to protect shipping.
The U.S. wants to create a maritime coalition to patrol the Persian Gulf. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is due to brief his NATO counterparts on developments with Iran at the meeting.
Asked if the UK was ready to step up its naval presence, Mordaunt said "we're already forward deployed there."
She said: "our prime goal is to de-escalate the situation."
President Donald Trump says he doesn't want war with Iran but that if there is one, "it won't last very long" because the U.S. has military superiority.
Trump told Fox Business Network on Wednesday that he was "nice" to Iran for not ordering strikes after Tehran shot down a more than $100 million U.S. surveillance drone.
Asked to respond to the Iranian president saying the White House is "afflicted by mental retardation," Trump says the Iranian leaders are not smart. U.S. sanctions to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and supporting militant groups are biting and Iran's resistance has led to food shortages, rioting and inflation.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran won't change its stance and his website calls the Trump administration "sinister."
Iran's supreme leader says Iranians will not budge or change their stance following the new U.S. sanctions targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates.
The top Iranian cleric's website on Wednesday quoted Khamenei as calling the Trump administration "the most sinister" U.S. government.
Khamenei is also quoted as saying that "the most hated figures of such an administration accuse and insult the Iranian nation. Iranian nation will not budge and will not withdraw because of the insults."
President Donald Trump on Monday enacted the new sanctions against Khamenei and others. U.S. officials also said they plan sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The sanctions followed Iran's downing last week of a U.S. surveillance drone, worth over $100 million, over the Strait of Hormuz, sharply escalating the crisis.
Iraq's prime minister is denying allegations that drones which targeted Saudi oil pipelines last month could have taken off from Iraq, rather than Yemen.
The attack — claimed by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are at war with Saudi Arabia — was part of a series of incidents that escalated tensions in the Persian Gulf amid a crisis between Washington and Tehran.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told reporters in Baghdad late on Tuesday that American officials contacted the Iraqis recently, alleging the drones may have taken off from Iraq.
He said Iraqi military and intelligence haven't confirmed such claims.
The May 14 attack on a Saudi pipeline forced a brief shutdown but caused no casualties.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is also home to powerful Iranian-backed militias.
Morgan Hill, Jun 26 (AP/UNB) — A man who had just been fired from a Northern California Ford dealership shot and killed two employees and then killed himself, police and witnesses said.
Police called to the Ford Store Morgan Hill Tuesday evening found a man dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot on the ground near the store's service bays.
"In his hand was a firearm, a handgun," police Sgt. Bill Norman told reporters in Morgan Hill, near San Jose in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Employees directed officers inside a building where they found two other men who had been shot and killed at the scene.
Police did not immediately identify the gunman or the victims.
Doug MacGlashan, who was working in the parts department, told KRON-TV that the gunman had just been fired from his job.
The service and parts director "had just fired a parts rep that he had said he was going to fire earlier in the day. And I guess the parts rep went outside, got a gun, went into the service and parts director's office and shot him," MacGlashan said.
The man also killed the parts manager, he said.
Video and photos showed police cars from several agencies swarming the dealership and employees hugging each other as they left the property.
Hong Kong, June 26 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong activists opposed to extradition legislation urged the leaders of the U.S., the European Union and others on Wednesday to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping at this week's G-20 summit in Japan.
Beijing has strongly opposed any such discussion, saying Hong Kong matters are strictly an internal Chinese affair.
Groups of protesters gathered outside the U.S. and EU consulates on Wednesday morning to deliver petitions stating their requests.
Opponents say the bills could allow citizens of all nationalities to be extradited to mainland China for unfair trials and possible torture, reducing Hong Kong's judicial independence and the civil liberties it retained after its handover from British rule in 1997.
Hong Kong is an international city whose residents will all be affected by the legislation, regardless of their country of origin, said protester Mandy Wong, a college student.
"That's why it is necessary for other countries or overseas people to pay attention to this extradition bill," said Wong, 25.
Activists held up placards criticizing the legislation and chanted slogans including "Free Hong Kong."
Protesters aimed to present petitions at 19 consulates and planned further protests Wednesday evening after a scheduled no-confidence vote by lawmakers in the administration of the territory's leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Pro-government supporters have a solid majority in the Legislative Assembly and the measure was not expected to pass.
Lam's push to pass the extradition bills prompted hundreds of thousands of people to fill Hong Kong's streets in protest marches, while smaller groups have surrounded government offices, the legislature and police headquarters. They are demanding the total withdrawal of the legislation and accountability for heavy-handed police treatment of protesters at a protest earlier this month during which tear gas and rubber bullets were fired.
Lam has shelved the legislation and apologized for her handling of the matter, but has declined to respond to other demands.
Several foreign governments, along with legal, commercial, human rights and media groups in Hong Kong, have expressed concern about the legislation as well as the Hong Kong government's handling of the protests.
In a statement Tuesday in the House of Commons, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he raised the issue with Lam on June 12.
He said Britain urges Hong Kong to establish a "robust, independent investigation" into the violence against protesters, and will not issue further export licenses for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong "unless we are satisfied that concerns raised on human rights and fundamental freedoms have been thoroughly addressed."
China says it fully backs Lam's administration and has rejected foreign comments on the protests and the extradition issue as interference in its internal affairs.
At a daily briefing Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang criticized British officials for making "irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs."
"China has expressed strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to that. We urge the British side to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs in any way," Geng said.
At a briefing in Beijing on Monday, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun ruled out any discussion of Hong Kong at the G-20 meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka.
"I can tell you that for sure the G-20 will not discuss the issue of Hong Kong and we will not allow the G-20 to discuss the issue of Hong Kong," he said.
Hong Kong's government "has taken a series of measures to safeguard fairness and justice of society and to block loopholes in the legal system. We believe what they have done is completely necessary and the central government supports these measures," he said.
Dubai, June 26 (AP/UNB) — As Iran prepares to surpass limits set by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, each step it takes narrows the time the country's leaders would need to have enough highly enriched uranium for an atomic bomb — if they chose to build one.
The United Nations says Iran has so far respected the deal's terms. But by Thursday, Iran says it will have over 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium in its possession, which would mean it had broken out of the atomic accord.
European countries that are still a part of the nuclear accord face a July 7 deadline imposed by Tehran to offer a better deal and long-promised relief from U.S. sanctions, or Iran will also begin enriching its uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.
Breaking the stockpile limit by itself doesn't radically change the one year experts say Iran would need to have enough material for a bomb. Coupled with increasing enrichment, however, it begins to close that window and hamper any diplomatic efforts at saving the accord.
"I worry about the snowball effect," said Corey Hinderstein, a vice president at the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative who once led the U.S. Energy Department's Iran task force. "Iran now takes a step which puts Europe and the other members of the deal in an even-tougher position."
Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Previously, Iran enriched as high as 20%, which is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels. It also held up to 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of the higher-enriched uranium.
Experts who spoke to The Associated Press described the enrichment and stockpile limits in the deal as a sort of sliding scale. Balancing both elements keeps Iran a year away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon, something Iran denies it seeks despite Western concerns about its program.
At the time of the deal, which was signed by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, experts believed Iran needed anywhere from several weeks to three months to have enough material for a bomb.
However, the stockpile limit isn't an immediate worry from a nonproliferation standpoint, experts say.
"Going over the limit doesn't immediately signify that Iran has enough material that could — if further enriched and processed — be used in a nuclear weapon," said Tom Plant, the director of proliferation and nuclear policy at London's Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
"It does mean that it builds up reserves of material that could in the future support a more rapid push to the higher levels of enrichment that are suitable for weapons use," Plant said.
The danger comes July 7, if Iran begins enriching uranium to higher levels.
"If Iran begins stockpiling uranium enriched to higher levels, the breakout timeline would decrease more quickly," said Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
Both Davenport and Ian Stewart, a professor at King's College London who runs its antiproliferation studies program called Project Alpha, worry about miscalculations from Iran, the U.S. or the West amid the brinksmanship.
"This highlights the real tension at play in Iran: doing enough to satisfy Iranian hard-liners while also maintaining EU, Chinese and Russian support" for the deal, Stewart said. "There's a real risk of miscalculating, not least because it's not clear at which point the EU will have to back away from a noncompliant Iran."
Davenport says Iran's moves probably are aimed at gaining leverage in negotiations.
"Even if Iran decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, it would still take months to further enrich and weaponize the uranium," she said. "It is critical that the United States does not overreact to a stockpile breach and use it as an excuse to further ratchet up tensions in the region."
A year after President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran are already locked in a volatile standoff. Last week, Iran shot down a U.S. military drone, saying it violated Iranian airspace, though Washington said it was above international waters. The U.S. has blamed Iran for mysterious explosions targeting oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran denied any involvement.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Israel has bombed nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria in the past, and reportedly pushed for a similar strike in Iran prior to the 2015 deal.
Iran, for now, allows U.N. inspectors to monitor its nuclear facilities via in-person checks and surveillance cameras. It also has yet to begin widespread use of advanced centrifuges that would speed its enrichment. Experts fear either of those happening.
Once Iran starts going beyond the terms of the nuclear deal, one fact remains indisputable: the time it needs to have enough material for a possible atomic bomb starts dropping.
"As soon as they go over 300 or above 3.67, that number is starting to count down from one year," Hinderstein warned. "So if they do both, then it's just going to steepen that line from one year to wherever they end up."