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Iran stalling on nuclear deal and Russia welcoming new friends

15-8-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

The Guardian: Victimblaming as a strategy - Iran says Rushdie stabbed himself

Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed repeatedly at a public appearance in New York state, and his supporters are to blame for the attack, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.

Freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie’s insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said in a press briefing on Monday.

Iran has no other information about Rushdie’s alleged assailant except what has appeared in media, he added.

Vice News reported on Sunday that, before his arrest, suspect Hadi Matar allegedly had contact at some point with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, a branch of Iran’s military, citing European and Middle Eastern intelligence sources.

The report also said there was no evidence that Iranian officials were involved in organising the attack on Rushdie.

Photo: Brad Trent/Redux/Eyevine

The prize-winning writer spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for Rushdie’s killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Muhammed in his novel The Satanic Verses.

He was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series on Friday when a man rushed the stage and stabbed him repeatedly.

Rushdie’s “road to recovery has begun” but “will be long”, the novelist’s agent said on Sunday.

“The injuries are severe,” the agent, Andrew Wylie, said in an email to the Guardian, alluding to stab wounds that the author had suffered to his neck, stomach, eye, chest and thigh two days earlier. “But his condition is headed in the right direction.”

The Indian-born British novelist remained hospitalised on Sunday in a critical condition, but had been removed from a ventilator, which had allowed him to talk and demonstrate that “his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact”, his son Zafar Rushdie said in a separate statement.

On Saturday, Hadi Matar pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at a brief court appearance where he was denied bail.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Sunday that Iranian state institutions had incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media had gloated about the attempt on his life.

“This is despicable,” Blinken said in a statement. “The United States and partners will not waver in our determination to stand up to these threats, using every appropriate tool at our disposal.”

The New York governor, Kathy Hochul, spoke at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was stabbed, condemning the “cowardly attack” and asserting that “a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen”.

Rushdie had lived in hiding and under police protection for years after late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put out a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death in retribution for The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims interpreted the author’s book as blasphemous because it included a character they found insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Rushdie, 75, was at the Chautauqua Institution to speak about the importance of America giving asylum to exiled writers when he was attacked, and had said recently that he believed his life was “very normal again”.

On Saturday, district attorney Jason Schmidt alleged that Rushdie’s accused attacker had taken steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Schmidt alleged.

Rushdie was stabbed repeatedly before his alleged attacker was tackled by spectators, institution staffers and two local law enforcement officers providing security.

“We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administrated first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him,” Zafar Rushdie’s statement added.

Salman Rushdie had 10 knife injuries: three stab wounds to the right front of his neck, another four to his stomach, one each to his right eye and chest and a cut to his right thigh. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, Wylie said on Friday evening. He was likely to lose the injured eye.

The attack has been met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats.

France24: Afghanistan is dying under Taliban rule

Afghanistan has been suffering through a grave humanitarian crisis since the Taliban took control on August 15, 2021. According to the UN, 95 percent of Afghans are going hungry. It’s a catastrophe that worsened after the fall of Kabul one year ago, exacerbated by the US decision to freeze the Afghan Central Bank’s assets and the international sanctions that have crippled an already fragile economy.

The Afghan economy was already in a terrible state when the Taliban seized Kabul a year ago, with half the population living below the poverty line. The situation has only worsened since then.

International aid accounted for 80 percent of the Afghan state budget – but it was cut off upon the Taliban victory, prompting economic collapse and depriving many Afghans of basic necessities.

“Afghans’ lives were turned upside down on August 15, 2021,” said Fereshta Abbasi, an Afghanistan specialist at Human Rights Watch. “People are dying of hunger amid one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

When Samy Guessabi, regional director of the NGO Action Against Hunger, arrived in Kabul in March, he found the once-bustling Afghan capital practically at a standstill. “Many Afghans have lost their jobs and people still working have seen their salaries drop massively,” he said. “At the same time, the cutting off of international aid has prompted a cash crisis. So people can’t even withdraw their savings from the bank. And Afghans who have left the country are finding it very difficult to send money back to their relatives.”

Fuelling this crisis further, the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent food prices soaring.

“The price of certain foods has doubled, including cooking oil, rice and flour,” Guessabi noted.

In total, nearly 20 million people – half of the Afghan population – are suffering from food insecurity and 95 percent of the population do not have enough food to eat, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). More than a million children under the age of five suffer from acute and prolonged malnutrition.

In Ghor province, in central Afghanistan, the WFP recently announced that tens of thousands of people are facing level 5 “catastrophic” acute food insecurity, the highest level short of a famine.

“The situation is even worse in southern Afghanistan, which is predominantly agricultural and suffers from frequent droughts,” Guessabi said.

In response to this situation, Action Against Hunger regularly hands out cash to vulnerable sections of the population. But this emergency measure is “far from ideal” and often insufficient, Guessabi lamented.

Women and children are the primary victims of this economic and humanitarian crisis.

“Children are taken out of school and put to work,” Abbasi said. “Families will sell one or more to provide the means to support the rest of the family.”

Children are often sold to become cheap labour, but girls are also sold into forced marriages – practices that are longstanding in Afghanistan but are becoming more and more common.

“Afghan women have lost everything; like men, they’ve often lost their jobs – although sometimes they were the only ones working in the household – but in addition to that they’ve lost a lot of fundamental human rights,” Abbasi said.

The Taliban have tightened restrictions against Afghan women – imposing the burqa on them and forbidding them to travel alone. Although they are still allowed to work in certain jobs, Afghan society now has a clear segregation between men and women.

The international community has made renewed aid to Afghanistan conditional on the respect for human rights, notably women’s rights. In March, when the Taliban decided to ban girls from secondary school, the World Bank suspended some $600 million (€541 million) in aid.

“Over the past year, the Taliban have become more and more repressive instead of acceding to the international community’s demands for improvements in Afghans’ living conditions,” Human Rights Watch’s Abbasi said. “The Taliban should act urgently to resolve these issues. And in any case, international organisations must continue to fight for solutions to help the Afghan people.”

“The international sanctions are having a terrible effect on the Afghan population,” agrees Guessabi. “The only way out of this crisis is to allow the economy to get going again – and the only way for that to happen is to allow foreign investment to flow into Afghanistan.”

Reuters: Uncertainty in the Iran nuclear deal suits both sides

Whether or not Tehran and Washington accept a European Union "final" offer to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, neither is likely to declare the pact dead because keeping it alive serves both sides' interests, diplomats, analysts and officials said.

Their reasons, however, are radically different.

For U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, there are no obvious or easy ways to rein in Iran's nuclear program other than the agreement, under which Iran had restrained its atomic program in return for relief from U.S., U.N. and EU economic sanctions.

Using economic pressure to coerce Iran to further limit its atomic program, as Biden's predecessor Donald Trump attempted after abandoning the deal in 2018, will be difficult when countries such as China and India continue to buy Iranian oil.

The rise in oil prices brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Moscow's public support for Tehran have thrown Iran economic and political lifelines that have helped to convince Iranian officials that they can afford to wait.

"Both sides are happy to endure the status quo," said a European diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We are in no rush," said a senior Iranian official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We are selling our oil, we have reasonable trade with many countries, including neighboring countries, we have our friends like Russia and China that both are at odds with Washington ... our (nuclear) program is advancing. Why should we retreat?"

When Trump reneged on the deal he argued it was too generous to Iran and he reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions designed to choke off Iran's oil exports as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign.

After waiting about a year, Iran began violating the deal's nuclear restrictions, amassing a larger stockpile of enriched uranium, enriching uranium to 60% purity - well above the pact's 3.67% limit - and using increasingly sophisticated centrifuges.

After 16 months of fitful, indirect U.S.-Iranian talks, with the EU shuttling between the parties, a senior EU official on Aug. 8 said they had laid down a "final" offer and expected a response within "very, very few weeks."

Regional diplomats said the EU told the parties it expected an answer on Aug. 15, though that has not been confirmed. There are no signs if Iran intends to comply or to accept the draft EU text. The United States has said it is ready to quickly conclude a deal based on the EU proposals, is studying the text and will respond "as asked."

"The Ukraine war, high oil prices, the rising tension between Washington and China, have changed the political equilibrium. Therefore, time is not of the essence for Iran," said a second senior Iranian official.

After months of saying time was running out, U.S. officials have changed tack, saying they will pursue a deal as long as it is in U.S. national security interests, a formulation with no deadline.

While Biden has said he would take military action as a last resort to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Washington is loathe to do so given the risk of sparking a wider regional war or of Iran attacking the United States or its allies elsewhere. read more

Domestic criticism of the administration is likely to be fiercer after last week's indictment of an Iranian man on U.S. charges of plotting to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton and the knife attack on novelist Salman Rushdie.

The lack of better policy options for Washington, and Tehran's view that time is on its side, could leave the deal dangling.

"Both the US and Iran have compelling reasons to keep the prospect of a deal alive, even though neither appears willing to make the concessions that would actually facilitate its revival," said Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome.

UPI: Everything goes according to plan - Russia and North Korea announce their strong friendship

Russian President Vladimir Putin told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the two countries will "continue to expand" ties, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Monday.

Putin made the comments in a letter to Kim on the occasion of North Korea's Liberation Day holiday, which commemorates the defeat of Japan in World War II and the end of Tokyo's colonial rule of Korea.

The two countries, both of which are under punishing international sanctions, "would continue to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts," Putin said in his letter, according to KCNA.


Putin added that the closer bond "would entirely conform with the interests of the peoples of the two countries and contribute to strengthening the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the whole of the Northeastern Asian region."

The North Korean leader responded with a letter of his own, saying that relations "based on comradely friendship and militant unity would grow stronger in all fields," KCNA said.

Kim wished Putin "big success in his responsible work for defending the sovereignty and interests of the country and people and achieving the prosperity of the country."

North Korea has publicly expressed its support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, issuing statements blaming NATO expansion and America's "hegemonic policy" for causing the crisis.

Last month, North Korea officially recognized the pro-Russian breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine, becoming only the second country outside of Russia to do so.

Kiev responded by severing diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

Kim added that relations between Moscow and Pyongyang have already been "put on a new high stage in the common front for frustrating the hostile forces' military threat and provocation."

He did not specify who the "hostile forces" are, but North Korea frequently uses the term to describe the United States and South Korea. The regime has amped up its bellicose rhetoric against both in recent weeks.

In late July, Kim suggested that he was prepared to use his country's nuclear arsenal in a military clash with the United States and threatened to "annihilate" South Korea. Last week, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the leader, repeated accusations that Seoul had been the source of a COVID-19 outbreak in the North and warned that Pyongyang would respond by "not only exterminating the virus but also wiping out the [S]outh Korean authorities."

Pyongyang has conducted 18 rounds of weapons tests in 2022, including its first launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in almost five years.

Washington and Seoul have assessed that North Korea is fully prepared to conduct its seventh nuclear test at any time.

For its part, Russia joined China in vetoing a U.S.-led U.N. Security Council resolution to impose additional sanctions on North Korea in May, highlighting a growing geopolitical divide.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva