Dubai, Mar 1 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia announced Friday it had revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, the son of the late al-Qaida leader who has become an increasingly prominent figure in the terror network.
Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship via a royal decree in November, a notice published Friday by the kingdom's official gazette said.
There was no explanation why the order was only becoming public now. However, the announcement comes after the U.S. government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture as part of its "Rewards for Justice" program.
Bin Laden's son has emerged as a leader of the al-Qaida terrorist group. His father was killed in a U.S. military raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
Hamza bin Laden was named a "specially designated global terrorist" in January 2017. He has released audio and video messages calling for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
Al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and a host of other assaults against Western interests.
Tehran, Feb 26 (AP/UNB) — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned without warning late Monday, offering an "apology" to the nation as the nuclear deal he negotiated with world powers is on the verge of collapse after the U.S. withdrawal from the accord.
Zarif's resignation, if accepted by Iran's relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, would leave the cleric without one of his main allies in pushing the Islamic Republic toward further negotiations with the West.
It remains unclear why Zarif chose to leave his post now and what effect it will have on the atomic accord, which Iran has been complying with. He likely briefed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before offering his resignation. Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, previously backed the American-educated envoy through the nuclear negotiations.
"We'll see if it sticks," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about Zarif's resignation. "Our policy is unchanged — the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people."
The veteran diplomat first hinted at his resignation with a vague Instagram post in which he offered an "apology" for his "inability to continue to his service." The post included a drawing honoring Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, as Iranians commemorate her birth Tuesday.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, confirmed to the state-run IRNA news agency minutes later that Zarif had resigned but gave no reason for his departure.
Earlier Monday, Zarif met with members of the activist group Code Pink in Tehran, smiling as he posed for a photograph with them. However, he was not seen in images later in the day showing Syrian President Bashar Assad meeting with Khamenei and Rouhani. Iran has been one of Assad's main supporters during the years-long war in Syria.
On Sunday, Zarif criticized Iranian hard-liners in a speech in Tehran, saying: "We cannot hide behind imperialism's plot and blame them for our own incapability."
"Independence does not mean isolation from the world," he said.
Analysts say Rouhani faces growing political pressure from hard-liners within the government as the nuclear deal unravels. Iranian presidents typically see their popularity erode during their second four-year term, but analysts say Rouhani is particularly vulnerable because of the economic crisis assailing the country's rial currency, which has hurt ordinary Iranians and emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.
Reaction to Zarif's resignation was swift. A prominent reformist lawmaker, Mostafa Kavakebian, wrote on Twitter that Rouhani should reject Zarif's resignation as his departure would only "make enemies of Iran's dignity happy."
Hassan Mohammadi, a Tehran-based political analyst close to Rouhani, said he understood it was Zarif's third time submitting his resignation in the last year.
"It is part of plan for changing the track in foreign policy in Iran. A negotiation-seeking foreign minister is not a favored person anymore," Mohammadi told The Associated Press. "Iran needs a tough foreign minister from now on. Someone who does not offer smile towards the West."
The son of a wealthy family, Zarif overcame hardline objections and Western suspicions to strike the accord with world powers that saw Iran promise to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
But the deal was later challenged by the administration of President Donald Trump, which pulled America out of the accord. In doing so, Trump also fueled doubts of Iranians still wary of U.S. interests decades after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Zarif himself faced withering criticism at home after he shook hands with President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, officials in the Trump administration have also been pressuring Iran through social media, with one State Department official tweeting an unflattering GIF of Zarif saying: "How do you know @JZarif is lying? His lips are moving."
Zarif, 59, served as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, first under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and then under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad wanted him replaced, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened to keep him in the position for another two years as Iran soon found itself an international pariah over its nuclear program. Iran insisted its atomic program was for peaceful purposes only, while the West feared it could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Secret backchannel talks between the United States and Iran in Oman became full-fledged negotiations over its nuclear program. During the talks, Zarif met with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry more than 50 times — something that would have been unimaginable only a few years earlier.
Kerry and Zarif's rapport extended beyond just the nuclear negotiations. Kerry directly reached out to his counterpart in January 2016 to help secure the release within 24 hours of 10 U.S. Navy sailors seized by Iran after they mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters.
Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group and a longtime Iran watcher, described Zarif's resignation as a "bolt from the blue" from a diplomat who had served as "the face of Iran" for years. He said that while it was still too early to determine what prompted Zarif's resignation, it didn't necessarily signal a major shift away from the nuclear deal.
"I think Zarif can charm the fangs off a snake and has done so many, many times," Kupchan told AP. "Whether it's dealing with Bashar Assad or (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, he's their ambassador to a very tough neighborhood."
"The Iranians are pretty good at making their life even harder than it has to be and this would be another step in that direction if he was forced out," Kupchan said.
New Delhi, Feb 20 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday said his visit to India will improve centuries-old ties, which he said are "in our DNA."
In brief remarks at the president's palace where he was given a ceremonial welcome, the crown prince did not make any reference to rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
He arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting Pakistan, which New Delhi blames for a suicide bombing last week that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir.
Prince Mohammed is due to hold talks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the two sides are expected to sign agreements for promoting investment, tourism, housing and communications.
The countries' two-way trade totaled $27.5 billion last year.
Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish Pakistan for the suicide attack. India placed the blame for the bombing squarely on neighboring Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
The crown prince said on Wednesday that "since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends, and they are part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years."
These relations would improve for the sake of both countries, he told reporters.
His trip to India comes five months after he came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
In keeping with a long-standing policy of not commenting on countries' internal affairs, India declined to take a position on the Washington Post columnist's killing by suspected Saudi agents at the consulate.
India describes Saudi Arabia as a "key pillar" of its energy security. It provides about 17 percent of India's crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.
The relationship is likely to become more significant as a deadline nears for India to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, one of India's main oil providers.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
Prince Mohammed will return home later Wednesday, according to India's External Affairs Ministry.
Islamabad, Feb 16 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani officials said Saturday a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad has been delayed by a day, a sudden announcement that surprised many Pakistanis, who were preparing to welcome the Saudi delegation amid extraordinary security in the capital.
Without giving any explanation, the Foreign Ministry said Prince Mohammad will now arrive in Islamabad on a two-day visit Sunday and that his program remains unchanged. It will be the crown prince's first visit to Pakistan since he was appointed heir to the throne in 2017.
The prince was originally scheduled to come to Pakistan later Saturday along with a delegation of businessmen. But Pakistani officials confirmed Saturday that an upcoming conference of Pakistani and Saudi business leaders was postponed "due to unavoidable circumstances." It suggested that Prince Mohammad will now visit Pakistan with a reduced number of business officials.
Pakistan expects a $7 billion Saudi investment over the next two years after Prince Mohammad's visit
The prince will also travel to neighboring India amid heightened tension between Islamabad and New Delhi over this week's attack on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 41 people. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Pakistan for Thursday's bombing. Pakistan rejected the allegation. Saudi Arabia has also strongly condemned the attack in Kashmir.
Last year, Pakistan voiced its support for the prince when he faced international outrage following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. The kingdom quickly signed an agreement for a $6 billion assistance package after Khan attended an investment conference in October that saw a wave of cancellations linked to the Khashoggi killing.
Khashoggi, who had written critically about the prince, went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. After denying any knowledge of his death for weeks, Saudi authorities eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed in an operation aimed at forcibly bringing the writer back to the kingdom. Saudi prosecutors say the plan was masterminded by two former advisers to the crown prince. The kingdom denies the crown prince knew of the plot.
Baghdad, Feb 12 (AP/UNB)— The top Pentagon official has arrived in Baghdad to consult with American military commanders and Iraqi government leaders on the future U.S. troop presence.
Pat Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense, said before his unannounced arrival on Tuesday that he wanted to hear first-hand about the state of Iraq's fight against remnants of the Islamic State group.
It's Shanahan's first visit to Iraq.
The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi security forces, 16 years after the U.S. invaded to topple Saddam Hussein.
President Donald Trump upset Iraqis by saying earlier this month that U.S. forces should use their Iraqi positions to keep an eye on neighboring Iran. That's not the stated U.S. mission, and Iraqi officials have said Trump's proposal would violate Iraq's constitution.