Tehran, Aug 5 (AP/UNB)— Iran's foreign minister on Monday lambasted recent U.S. financial sanctions against him, calling the move a "failure" for diplomacy amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf.
"Imposing sanctions against a foreign minister means failure" for any efforts at negotiations, Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters at a press conference in Tehran, adding that it also means the side imposing the measures is "opposing talks."
The U.S. administration last week announced sanctions on Zarif, a month after President Donald Trump had imposed similar sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The moves are seen as part of Washington's escalating campaign in what Trump calls "maximum pressure" on the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. has increasingly deployed military reinforcements to the region amid unspecified threats from Iran in the wake of Trump's withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Zarif stressed that while there are no problems between the American and the Iranian people, Washington's policy of threatening war and "talking about war as an option that remains on the table cannot stand."
Zarif's press conference came a day after Iran announced its forces had seized a foreign ship in the Persian Gulf suspected of carrying smuggled fuel. It was the Revolutionary Guard's third seizure of a vessel in recent weeks and the latest show of strength by the paramilitary force amid the spike in tensions.
Iranian media reported that seven crew members were detained when the ship was seized last Wednesday with "smuggled fuel" from Iran but provided no details on the vessel or the nationality of the crew.
Tensions in the region escalated recently, with the United States boosting its military presence and six oil tankers targeted in the Gulf of Oman in unclaimed acts of sabotage that the U.S. blames on Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in those attacks.
In June, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Trump came close to retaliating, but called off an airstrike at the last moment. Washington has since claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denies losing any aircraft in the area.
Maritime security in the region was further jolted in mid-July, when the Revolutionary Guard's naval forces confirmed they had seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah, for allegedly smuggling fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
Also in July, the Guard seized a British-flagged vessel near the Persian Gulf in the Strait of Hormuz, in what some Iranian officials suggested was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar, near Spain.
Also, Iran recently began surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal, but says these moves can be reversed if given enough economic incentives to offset U.S. sanctions.
Referring to the seizure of the British tanker, Zarif said Monday that it was not a reciprocal action for Gibraltar. He also told reporters he had received an invitation from Washington for a meeting during his New York trip in July, along with a warning about the sanctions.
"During my trip to New York, I was told I would be sanctioned within two weeks unless I accept their invitation, which I rejected," Zarif said.
U.S. officials have not confirmed either of Zarif's claims — neither the one about him being warned about the sanctions nor the one about the alleged invitation for talks.
Tehran, Aug 4 (AP/UNB) — Iran says a fighter jet has gone down in the south of the country near the Persian Gulf, with two pilots surviving the crash.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a local official as saying the crash was caused by a technical problem. Abdolhossein Rafipour, the governor of Tangestan, says the plane went down near the coastal town at 12:30 local time (0800 GMT).
The purpose of Sunday's flight was not immediately clear. Regular patrol flights are common in the region.
Iran's air force has an assortment of U.S.-made military aircraft purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It also has Russian-made MiG and Sukhoi planes. Decades of Western sanctions have made it hard to maintain the aging fleet.
Iranian media say the Revolutionary Guard has seized an oil tanker carrying 700,000 liters of "smuggled fuel" in the Persian Gulf.
The semi-official Fars news agency says seven crew members were detained when the ship was seized late Wednesday. It did not provide further details on the vessel or the nationality of the crew.
This would mark the third commercial vessel seized by Iranian forces in recent weeks and the second accused of smuggling fuel. Tensions have soared in the Gulf in recent months as the U.S. has boosted its military presence and oil tankers have been seized by Iranian forces or targeted by unknown saboteurs.
The tensions are rooted in the U.S. decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord and impose sweeping sanctions on Iran.
Dubai, Aug 2 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia published new laws early Friday that loosen restrictions on women by allowing any citizen to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing guardianship policy that gave men control over women.
The changes are a potential game-changer for Saudi women's rights in the kingdom. The legal system has long been criticized because it treated women as minors throughout their adult lives, requiring they have a man's consent to obtain a passport or travel abroad. Often a woman's male guardian is her father or husband, and in some cases a woman's own son.
The changes were widely celebrated by Saudis on Twitter, including posting memes showing people dashing to the airport with luggage and others hailing the 33-year-old crown prince believed to be the force behind these moves. But the changes also drew backlash from conservatives, who posted clips of senior Saudi clerics in past years arguing in favor of guardianship laws.
Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to register a marriage, divorce or child's birth and to be issued official family documents. It also stipulates that a father or mother can be legal guardians of children.
Being able to obtain family documents could ease hurdles women faced in obtaining a national identity card and enrolling their children in school.
Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry. Women, unlike men, still cannot pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.
Under the kingdom's guardianship system, women essentially relied on the "good will" and whims of male relatives to determine the course of their lives. There were cases, for example, of young Saudi women whose parents are divorced, but whose father is the legal guardian, being unable to accept scholarships to study abroad because they did not have permission to travel.
Saudi women fleeing domestic abuse and the guardianship system occasionally drew international attention to their plight, as 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun did before Canada granted her asylum. The stories of runaway women have created a flurry of negative headlines for the kingdom.
To leave the country, some Saudi women say they had to hack into their father's phone and change the settings on a government app to allow themselves permission to leave the country. There were calls in Washington for Google and Apple to block access to the app entirely.
In a lengthy study of Saudi male guardianship laws in 2016, Human Rights Watch criticized it as "system that was ripe for abuse."
The new rules, approved by King Salman and his Cabinet, allow any person 21 and older to travel abroad without prior consent and any citizen to apply for a Saudi passport on their own.
The decrees, issued Wednesday, were made public before dawn Friday in the kingdom's official weekly Um al-Qura gazette. It wasn't immediately clear if the new rules go into effect immediately.
A number of sweeping changes have been promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he drives an ambitious economic reform plan that encourages more women to enter the workforce. He was behind lifting the ban on women driving last year, loosening rules on gender segregation and bringing concerts and movie theaters to the country.
He has also led a simultaneous crackdown on activists, including detaining the country's leading women's rights activists who had demanded an end to the very male guardianship rules now being curtailed. The women, among them Loujain al-Hathloul, are facing trial and allege they were tortured in prison.
The crown prince continues to face widespread international criticism over the killing of Washington Post columnist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement by the prince, while the kingdom's own investigation acknowledged the operation was planned by two of the prince's top aides.
As noted by the Saudi newspaper Arab News, the decrees outlining changes to travel are written in gender-neutral language removing prior restrictions specific to women, rather than outright stating that women no longer need male consent.
News of the changes had been teased in state-linked Saudi media for weeks, possibly to ready the public and to gauge reaction.
The ways in which the decrees were announced and the language used to announce the changes signal how sensitive these moves are among conservatives in the country. For years, state-backed preachers told the Saudi public that women should not travel longer than a night alone and that this was rooted in Islamic practice.
Other Muslim countries, however, do not have similar restrictions on women's travel.
Still, clerics in Saudi Arabia have supported the imposition of male guardianship based on a verse in the Quran that states men are the protectors and maintainers of women.
Other Islamic scholars argue this misinterprets fundamental Quranic concepts like equality and respect between the sexes.
Tehran, Aug 1 (AP/UNB) — Iran's president lambasted new U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration targeting the country's foreign minister, describing the move on Thursday as "childish" and a barrier to diplomacy.
Hassan Rouhani's remarks came after the Trump administration announced Wednesday it had imposed financial sanctions on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of its escalating campaign of pressure against the Islamic Republic.
The highly unusual action of penalizing another nation's top diplomat followed President Donald Trump's executive order placing sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"They have started doing childish things," Rouhani said in a speech in western Azerbaijan province.
"Every day they claim: 'We want to negotiate with Iran, without any pre-conditions'. and then they put sanctions on the country's foreign minister," he said.
These new sanctions come amid a spike in tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. has boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf while Iran has begun openly exceeding limits on its nuclear activities set in a 2015 accord with world powers.
Trump withdrew the United States from that pact before imposing crippling sanctions on the country, targeting key industries like Iran's oil exports and sending its economy into free fall.
Zarif, a relative moderate within Iran's clerically overseen political system, was an architect of the nuclear deal, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for internationally-monitored limits on its nuclear program.
U.S. sanctions targeting the foreign minister, however, do not inhibit Zarif's travels to New York for official United Nations business, in accordance with America's international obligations. They also have little impact on Zarif financially.
"It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran," Zarif himself tweeted about the U.S. move.
Jerusalem, Jul 31(AP/UNB) — The Israeli Cabinet unanimously approved a proposal to build over 700 housing units for Palestinians in addition to 6,000 Israeli settlement housing units in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government advanced the proposal late on Tuesday, according to an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting.
The approval appeared timed to coincide with a visit by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also the White House's chief Mideast envoy.
Kushner kicked off a new regional tour in Jordan on Wednesday to promote the Trump administration's call for a $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians. The funds would accompany a Mideast peace proposal, which the administration has yet to release.
The Israeli permits are for construction in what is known as Area C — the roughly 60% of the West Bank where Israel exercises full control and where most Jewish settlements are located. Netanyahu's government has approved the construction of tens of thousands of settler homes there, but permits for Palestinian construction are extremely rare.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek these areas as parts of a future state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law and an impediment to a two-state solution to the conflict.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded to the Israeli decision by saying the Palestinians have the right to build on all territory occupied in 1967, "without needing a permit from anyone."
"We will not give any legitimacy to the construction of any settlement," he added.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has control of civilian affairs in Areas A and B, which include the West Bank's main Palestinian cities and towns.
Since capturing the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has settled some 700,000 of its citizens in the two areas, which are considered occupied territory by most of the world.
Touring new construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Wednesday that "not a single settlement or a single settler will ever be uprooted."
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a religious nationalist in Netanyahu's government, wrote on Facebook that he backed the construction of Palestinian housing in Area C because "it prevents the establishment of a terrorist Arab state in the heart of the land" and asserts Israeli sovereignty over Area C.
Peace Now, an Israeli organization opposed to West Bank settlements, said in a statement that the approval of 700 housing units for Palestinians "is a mockery" because it "will not provide real answers to Palestinians who already live in Area C, and certainly will not help the entire West Bank to be developed as a Palestinian area."
Meanwhile, Kushner met with King Abdullah II on Wednesday in Amman, Jordan. The royal court issued a statement saying the king restated the need for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The Palestinians have rejected the Washington proposal out of hand and have cut off all contact with the Trump administration, saying its policies are unfairly biased toward Israel.
Trump's Mideast team is spearheaded by people with close ties to Israel's settler movement. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, recently told the New York Times that Israel has the "right" to annex some of the West Bank.
Both critics and supporters of the settlements say the White House's friendly attitude has encouraged a jump in settlement activity.