Tehran, Jul 31 (AP/UNB) — Officials from the United Arab Emirates and Iran met to discuss maritime security for the first time in six years amid a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf, both countries confirmed on Wednesday.
The meeting is significant because the UAE and Iran are regional rivals. The UAE downgraded ties with Iran in 2016 and has long pushed for more hawkish U.S. policies toward Tehran, including supporting tough American sanctions.
The UAE and its close ally, Saudi Arabia, have also been at war against Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen since 2015. In recent weeks, though, the UAE has pulled out thousands of its troops from Yemen as it boosts security at home.
Recent confrontations in the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil shipping corridor, and fears of a wider conflict have prompted the UAE to call for de-escalation and diplomacy with Iran.
Four oil tankers were sabotaged off the UAE coast in May. The UAE has declined to join Washington in blaming Iran for the attacks, which Tehran denies. Earlier this month, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in what some Iranian officials have suggested was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British authorities in Gibraltar.
An Emirati official said the meetings focused on issues related to border security and navigation in shared waters, describing the talks as "nothing new" and unrelated to current tensions. The official said there were periodic meetings scheduled between technical teams in both countries and this was the sixth one to take place.
The official was not authorized to discuss the talks with media and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The state-run IRAN daily reported that a seven-member delegation from Abu Dhabi met with Iranian border and coastguard commanders in Tehran on Tuesday in the first such meeting since 2013.
Another daily, Etemad, described the meeting as an effort to boost maritime security cooperation between the two countries. It reported that the Emirati delegation met Iran's police border guard commander, Gen. Ghasem Rezaei.
Despite pursuing rival policies in the region, the UAE and Iran have maintained links. The UAE has kept its embassy in Iran open and Dubai remains a popular destination for Iranian tourists. Emirati citizens with Iranian heritage also maintain links with Iran, which operates a hospital, cultural club and school in Dubai.
Tensions in the region have soared since the Trump administration withdrew from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers last year and imposed crippling sanctions on the country. In recent months, the U.S. has boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf while Iran has begun openly exceeding limits on its nuclear activities, saying it can no longer fully abide by the 2015 deal unless European signatories to the agreement provide some kind of economic relief.
On Wednesday, Iran dismissed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's offer to visit and address the Iranian people as a "hypocritical gesture."
"You don't need to come to Iran," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting in remarks directed at Pompeo. He suggested Pompeo instead grant visas for Iranian reporters to travel to the U.S. and interview him, accusing him of having rejected their requests.
On Monday, Pompeo had tweeted: "We aren't afraid of (Zarif) coming to America where he enjoys the right to speak freely."
"Are the facts of the (Khamenei) regime so bad he cannot let me do the same thing in Tehran?" Pompeo said, referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "What if his people heard the truth, unfiltered, unabridged?"
The Trump administration has said its policies are aimed at changing Iran's behavior in the region, not its government.
Zarif, a relative moderate within Iran's clerically-overseen political system, was an architect of the nuclear agreement. The U.S. and Iran cut off all diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but the U.S. allows Iranian officials to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York.
United Nations, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — More than 12,000 children were killed and injured in armed conflicts last year — a record number — with Afghanistan, the Palestinians, Syria and Yemen topping the casualty list, according to a new U.N. report.
The deaths and injuries were among more than 24,000 "grave violations" against children verified by the United Nations including the recruitment and use of youngsters by combatants, sexual violence, abductions, and attacks on schools and hospitals, it said.
According to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres' annual report to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict obtained Monday by The Associated Press, violations by armed groups remained steady but there was "an alarming increase" in the number of violations by government and international forces compared to 2017.
The secretary-general's eagerly awaited blacklist of countries that committed grave violations against children during conflicts remained virtually unchanged from last year, angering several human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, an international advocacy group, pointed to the Saudi-led coalition remaining on the list of parties that have put in place measures to protect children, citing a rise in child casualties by government and coalition forces in Yemen.
"The Saudi-led coalition since 2015 has committed appalling violations against children in Yemen without any evidence that it's trying to improve its record," said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch. "By including them once again in the 'not so bad' category of serious reformers, the secretary-general makes a mockery of the whole exercise."
Watchlist program director Adrianne Lapar said that praising "empty promises" by the coalition, also led by the United Arab Emirates, "undermines the deadly repercussions of war on children and ignores the facts on the ground."
She also asked why conflicts in Cameroon and Ukraine are "conspicuously missing from the report."
Guterres said he was "deeply concerned by the scale and severity of the grave violations committed against children in 2018, notably the record high number of casualties as a result of killing and maiming and the increase in the number of violations attributed to international forces."
According to the report, verified cases of deaths and injuries were the highest since the Security Council authorized monitoring and reporting in 2005.
Afghanistan topped the list with 3,062 child casualties in 2018, "and children accounted for 28 percent of all civilian casualties," the report said, while in Syria, air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions killed and injured 1,854 youngsters "and in Yemen, 1,689 children bore the brunt of ground fighting and other offensives."
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.N. said that in 2018 it verified the highest number of Palestinian children killed — 59 — and injured — 2,756 — since 2014. During the same period, six Israeli children were injured.
Guterres said he is "extremely concerned by the significant rise" in injuries, including by inhaling tear gas. He asked U.N. envoy Nikolay Mladenov to examine cases caused by Israeli forces "and urge Israel to immediately put in place preventive and protective measures to end the excessive use of force."
Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that Israeli forces, U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan, and the Afghan National Army were left off Guterres' "list of shame," and that the Somali National Army got "credit" for protecting children even though its violations increased.
According to the report, parties to the conflict in Somalia recruited and used 2,300 children, some as young as 8-years-old, with al-Shabab extremists significantly increasing their recruitment to 1,865 youngsters. Nigeria was in second place, with 1,947 children recruited, including some used as suicide bombers.
Somalia also had the highest verified figure for sexual violence against children, with 331 cases in 2018, followed by Congo with 277 cases though the secretary-general said cases remain significantly underreported, particularly against boys because of stigma. And Somalia had the highest number of child abductions last year — 1,609.
Guterres said thousands of children were also affected by 1,023 verified attacks on schools and hospitals last year.
In Syria, 2018 saw 225 attacks on schools and medical facilities, the highest number since the conflict began in 2011, he said, and Afghanistan also saw an increase with 254 schools and hospitals targeted.
"Increased numbers of attacks were also verified in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen," Guterres said.
The secretary-general also expressed increasing concern at the increasing detention of children, reiterating that "this measure should only be used as a last resort, for the shortest period of time, and that alternatives to detention should be prioritized whenever possible."
In December 2018, Guterres said, 1,248 children, mainly under the age of 5, of 46 nationalities from areas formerly controlled by Islamic State extremists, were "deprived of their liberty" in camps in northeast Syria.
In Iraq, 902 children remained in detention on national security charges, including for associating with IS, he said.
And as of December, Guterres said, Israel was holding 203 Palestinian children over security offenses, including 114 awaiting trial or being tried, and 87 serving a sentence. He said the U.N. received affidavits from 127 Palestinian boys "who during interviews with the United Nations reported ill-treatment and breaches of due process during their arrest, transfer and detention."
Afghanistan, July 29 (AP/UNB) — The death toll from an attack against the Kabul office of the Afghan president's running mate and former chief of the intelligence service climbed to at least 20 people on Monday, an official said.
Around 50 other people were wounded in Sunday's attack against the Green Trend party headquarters, which lasted hours and included a gunbattle between security forces and the attackers, who were holed up inside the building, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
Several gunmen were killed by the security forces, Rahimi said.
The attackers' potential target, vice presidential candidate and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, was "evacuated from the building and moved to a safe location," Rahimi said. Some 85 other civilians were also rescued from inside.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in the capital and have carried out large-scale attacks in Kabul in the past.
The Taliban, who effectively control half the country at this point, have also been staging near-daily attacks across Afghanistan even as they hold talks with the U.S. about a peaceful resolution to the 18-year war, America's longest conflict. The insurgents however, refuse to directly negotiate with the government, considering it a U.S. puppet.
Sunday marked the first day of the Afghan presidential campaign, with a vote scheduled for the end of September.
After the attack, President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that Saleh was unharmed during the "complex attack" targeting the Green Trend office.
Saleh founded the Green Trend after he was sacked as intelligence chief in 2010 by former President Hamid Karzai. Though a relative newcomer on the Afghan political scene, its focus has been democracy and reform while fiercely opposing the Taliban and their extremist ideology.
Ferdous Faramarz, the spokesman for Kabul's police chief, said the attack started with a suicide car bombing, after which other attackers entered the building and started shooting at security forces.
The explosion from the initial bombing was large enough to be heard throughout the capital.
Ghani is seeking a second term in the Sept. 28 vote on promises of ending the war but has been largely sidelined over the past year amid U.S.-Taliban talks.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is currently visiting Kabul, has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months. The two sides appear to be closing in on an agreement in which the U.S. would withdraw its forces in return for a pledge from the Taliban to keep the country from being used as a launch pad for global attacks.
The Taliban and IS are sharply divided over ideology and tactics, with the Taliban largely confining their attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces while IS militants mainly target the country's minority Shiites.
The Taliban and IS have fought each other on a number of occasions, and the Taliban are still the larger and more imposing force.
Riyadh, Jul 29 (AP/UNB) — King Salman's elder half brother, who was the 10th son of Saudi Arabia's founding monarch, has died at age 96, the Saudi royal court said late Sunday.
Prince Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was not an actively political royal within the ruling Al Saud family and had been passed over in the line of succession to the throne. He was the eldest living son of the late King Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Prince Bandar's sons, however, hold important posts: Prince Faisal bin Bandar is governor of Riyadh; Prince Abdullah bin Bandar heads the National Guard; and Prince Khalid bin Bandar serves as an adviser to King Salman.
Vienna, Jul 29 (AP/UNB) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has penned an open letter to Britain's new prime minister, saying he hopes the countries' diplomatic ties will be stronger under Boris Johnson's leadership.
In the letter published Sunday on Rouhani's website, the Iranian president congratulated Johnson on becoming prime minister Wednesday.
Rouhani said he hoped Johnson's "only one visit to Tehran" while serving as U.K. foreign secretary in 2017 and now his tenure as prime minister lead to a "further deepening of bilateral and multilateral relations."
Johnson took office on Wednesday amid a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf and a diplomatic standoff between Britain and Iran. Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz this month after the British navy helped seize an Iranian supertanker loaded with crude oil near Gibraltar.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization says the country has enriched 24 tons of uranium since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The nuclear accord included a stockpile limit of 300 kilograms. However, it also permits Iran to enrich uranium and export it, as it has to Russia in past years.
Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state TV on Sunday as saying Iran "did not enrich 300 kilograms of uranium, but enriched 24 (metric) tons of uranium," or what is 24,000 kilograms (nearly 53,000 pounds.).
In recent weeks, Iran broke past the accord's limits on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, but has not said by how much.
As tensions mount with Washington, Iran also began enriching uranium past the deal's 3.67% limit to 4.5%, a figure still far below weapon-grade levels of 90%.
Iran's deputy foreign minister says discussions in Vienna with representatives from nations that want to salvage an unraveling nuclear accord were "good."
Seyed Abbas Araghchi told reporters after Sunday's meeting ended that "the atmosphere was constructive, and the discussions were good."
He added: "I cannot say that we resolved everything" but all the parties were still "determined to save this deal."
Representatives from Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union participated in the meeting. The United States withdrew from the 2015 accord last year.
Iran is pressuring the remaining parties to the deal to offset sanctions President Donald Trump reinstated after pulling the U.S. from the agreement.
A Royal Navy warship has arrived in the Persian Gulf to accompany British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, amid tensions after Iran seized a British tanker this month.
Britain's Ministry of Defense said Sunday that the HMS Duncan will join the Frigate HMS Montrose in the Gulf to defend freedom of navigation.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Royal Navy will escort U.K. vessels until a diplomatic resolution is found to secure the route again.
The British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker was seized in the Strait of Hormuz a week ago. Some senior Iranian officials have suggested the ship was seized in retaliation for the British navy's role in seizing an Iranian supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar for violations of EU sanctions on oil sales to Syria.
The Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and is a vital waterway for oil tankers.
Representatives from Europe, China and Russia, nations that are still committed to the Iran nuclear deal, are meeting with Iran's representative in Vienna on Sunday to discuss how to salvage the unraveling accord.
The diplomats aim to examine issues linked to the implementation of the nuclear accord after Iran surpassed stockpile and enrichment limits set out in the deal.
Iran recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits in the 2015 nuclear deal, saying these moves can be reversed if the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union — come up with enough economic incentives to offset the U.S. sanctions that President Donald Trump reinstated after pulling his country from the nuclear accord.
Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material to make an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.