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Thu, Apr 24, 2014

  UN Committee Backs Iran on Envoy

UNITED NATIONS (Dispatches) -- Iran asked the United Nations to demand that the United States grant a visa to Tehran's proposed new UN envoy, while Washington stood firm on its decision to deny entry to Hamid Abutalebi.
The United States has said it would not grant a visa to Abutalebi because of his alleged connection to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Abutalebi has said he acted only as a translator.
The UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country, which deals with the issues of states operating in the United States such as immigration, security, banking and parking violations, met at Iran's request to discuss the matter.
"We firmly believe that this is a very serious issue and the committee should address it in an urgent and serious way," Iran's Deputy UN Ambassador Hussein Dehghani told the panel.
Washington's denial of a visa for Abutalebi was "so obviously" a breach of a 1947 "headquarters agreement" between the United States and the United Nations that "the committee should deal with it in an extraordinary way", Dehghani said.
Under the pact, the United States is generally required to allow access to the United Nations for foreign diplomats. Washington has claimed it can deny visas for "security, terrorism, and foreign policy" reasons on its own.
A 1947 Joint Resolution of Congress said nothing should be seen as "diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely control the entrance of aliens" into any part of the United States aside from UN headquarters.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, "As far as we know this is a unique case involving a permanent representative (ambassador)."
The 19-member Committee on Relations with the Host Country could ask UN lawyers for an opinion to establish if there is a dispute between the United Nations and the United States on the issue.
The pact says disputes should be referred to a tribunal of three arbitrators, one each chosen by the United Nations and United States and the third agreed by both or appointed by the president of the International Court of Justice.
"We believe that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who represents one party to the bilateral treaty of headquarters agreement, has a responsibility to shoulder and has to work towards ensuring that the terms and provisions of the agreement are strictly observed," Dehghani said.
Iran also asked the legal counsel of the Secretary-General to take all necessary steps to ensure the United States abides by the headquarters agreement, he added.
President Barack Obama had come under strong pressure not to allow Abutalebi into the country to take up his position. Former hostages objected to Abutalebi, and a normally divided Congress passed legislation to ban him.
That legislation became law on Friday when Obama signed it. It bars any UN representative deemed to be behind acts of terrorism or espionage against the United States or considered a threat to US national security.
Tehran has stuck by its choice for UN ambassador, describing Abutalebi as a seasoned diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Italy, Belgium and Australia.
"Iran and the United States presented their views," said Cyprus' UN Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, the panel chairman.
"There was a discussion ... and the committee decided to remain seized of the issue."
Diplomats at the meeting said Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and Ecuador spoke in support of Iran's complaint.
According to the diplomats, the United States said it took its host responsibility seriously, but claimed it had concerns about Abutalebi's role in the hostage crisis and it would be intolerable for him to receive diplomatic protection he had denied others.
The United States told the panel its position of not granting visas to people involved in the Tehran hostage crisis was not new, diplomats said.
Dehghani said Iran had suffered "a long list of visa problems and excruciating delays" and cited four examples.


Hamas, Fatah Agree to Form Unity Gov't

GAZA CITY (Dispatches) -- Rival Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip have decided to form a government of national unity within the "next five weeks", officials said early on Wednesday.
The agreement, between members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas, was reached following talks in Gaza City which began on Tuesday evening, a member of the PLO who wished to remain anonymous told AFP.
"There has also been progress on the holding of future elections and the composition of the PLO," said the Palestinian official without giving further details.
Talks, which are taking place behind closed doors, are expected to continue throughout Wednesday.
It is not the first time that a national unity government has been announced by the rival factions, and on several previous occasions attempts to form an administration have collapsed.
Fatah, the PLO's main component, and Hamas signed a reconciliation accord in Cairo in 2011 aimed at ending the political divide between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank.
But deadlines have come and gone without any progress in implementing provisions of the accord.
Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, led the team which was greeted by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the movement's deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq.
Haniyeh on Tuesday had earlier called for cementing Palestinian reconciliation "in order to form one government, one political system and one national program".
Ahmad said: "I am happy that the time has come to end divisions."
The latest announcement of a deal comes as U.S.-brokered talks with the occupying regime of Israel teeter on the edge of collapse.
The Palestinians met just a week before the end of a nine-month target originally set for an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
Hamas is totally opposed to the Palestinian negotiations with the Zionist regime.
At the same time, the Palestinians refloated and then played down a threat to dismantle the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is Israel's negotiating partner, if their talks remain deadlocked.
"No Palestinian is speaking of an initiative to dismantle the Palestinian Authority," chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Tuesday.
"But Israel's actions have annulled all the legal, political, security, economic and operational aspects of the prerogatives of the Palestinian Authority."
The PA was set up under the 1993 Oslo accords and has won widespread international recognition but is fully dependent on foreign aid for its administration of autonomous areas of the West Bank.
Palestinian negotiators have warned they may hand responsibility for governing the occupied territories back to the occupying regime of Israel, a senior Palestinian official said on Sunday.
He said the Palestinians had told U.S. envoy Martin Indyk that unless Israel releases Palestinian prisoners as agreed and freezes settlement building, they could dismantle the Authority.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki criticised the threat as "extreme" and warned that any such move would affect American aid to the Palestinians.
On the Zionist side, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the PA of endangering the process.
"The Palestinian Authority, which yesterday was talking about its dismantlement, is today talking about unity with Hamas," which fiercely opposes any talks with Israel, Netanyahu said.
"They need to decide... Do they want to dismantle themselves or to unite with Hamas? When they want peace (with Israel), they should let us know."
The rival Palestinian sides also Tuesday in Jerusalem Al-Quds met Indyk in a fresh bid to salvage the negotiations.
As the meeting got underway, Abbas told Israeli journalists he was willing to extend the negotiations beyond April 29 if the Zionist regime frees a batch of prisoners previously earmarked for release, freezes settlement building and agrees to discuss the borders of a future Palestinian state.
The occupying regime of Israel and the PA have taken a string of hostile steps since the Zionist regime refused last month to release the fourth and last group of Palestinian prisoners in line with an earlier agreement.
But a senior Zionist regime official rejected Abbas's terms.
"He who makes such conditions does not want peace," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.


India to Release Iran's Frozen Assets

NEW DELHI (Dispatches) -- India is set to pay Iran $1.65 billion over the next three months under an interim nuclear deal that eases sanctions on Tehran and gives it access to $4.2 billion in blocked funds, four sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
As long as Tehran complies with the terms of its preliminary agreement with western powers, which took effect on Jan. 20, Iran receives some of its funds frozen abroad in eight payments from various buyers over six months.
Iran has cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile by nearly 75% in implementing the pact, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in its latest report.
This means Tehran will have access to the next two installments, each of $550 million, which are due on May 14 and June 17. The final $550 million installment, due on July 20, is contingent on confirmation that Iran has fulfilled all of its commitment.
The Indian government has asked refiners to make the first payment by mid-May, three of the sources said, adding that refiners will settle all three tranches if payment is allowed by the United States and European Union.
"The individual companies' share is to be worked out," one of the sources said.
Iran has so far received $2.55 billion in frozen oil funds, in five payments, four from Japan and one from South Korea.
Three of the sources said Iran had asked India to make payments into the Central Bank of Iran's account with Oman's Bank Muscat in Omani rails.
"All I can confirm is that some movement is happening on payments by India to Iran, but the modalities as to which bank will be used by India to remit funds is yet to be worked out," said a western diplomat privy to the matter, who was not one of the four previously cited sources.
Indian refiners Essay Oil, Bangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corp and HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd together owe $3.6 billion to National Iranian Oil Co.
The tough sanctions slapped on Iran in 2012 closed banking channels for the transfer of oil payments to the OPEC member country, putting a stranglehold on its revenue.
Indian buyers of Iranian oil have been settling 45% of payments in rupees, which Iran used for importing goods from India, while the refiners held the remainder.
Before the interim deal, countries that imported Iranian oil were required to steadily reduce their purchases to qualify every six months for a waiver from U.S. sanctions.
Iran's crude oil exports fell for the first time in five months in March and are slated to drop further in April, moving closer to the levels stipulated by the November interim deal.
That agreement allows Iran to keep exporting at current reduced levels of about 1 million bpd and opens a door for lifting shipment volumes later.
Iran's top four oil clients - China, India, Japan and South Korea - together cut oil imports from Iran by 15% to an average of 935,862 barrels per day (bpd) in 2013, government and industry data showed.
India's intake of Iranian oil surged nearly 43% in the first quarter of 2014, bringing a warning from the United States that it needed to hold the shipments closer to end-2013 levels of 195,000 bpd.


95% of Iranians Sign Up for Cash Handouts

TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Ninety-five percent of the Iranian population signed up to a cash handout program, dealing a blow to the government which wanted to spend the money elsewhere, a top official said Wednesday.
Muhammad Baqer Nobakht, vice president for management and development, said 73 million out of the country's 77 million people had opted to receive the $14 monthly payments.
The government employed celebrities in a media campaign to discourage families from taking the handouts.
The International Monetary Fund is among global institutions encouraging Iran to drop subsidies and increase prices to regulate its economy after years of ongoing sanctions.
But Nobakht said only 2,400,000 people -- three percent -- chose to waive the cash payments, which aim to provide help in paying energy and utility bills as well as basic food costs.
He did not account for the remaining 1.6 million people, but was quoted by official IRNA news agency as saying the dropouts would free up $360 million (260 million euros) per month for infrastructure, manufacturing and public transport investment.
Under the second phase of a subsidy program -- details of which the government says will be released later this week -- the price of gasoline is also expected to rise.
The original handout scheme was launched in December 2010, aiming to offset the slashing of earlier subsidies, which fuelled inflation against a backdrop of mismanagement and sanctions targeting Iran's economy.
Tackling inflation is a priority for Iran's government and the annual rate has fallen from 35% when President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, to 32% last month.
But new subsidy cuts are expected to push up inflation, at least temporarily, analysts say.


Ministry to Revise Energy Contracts

TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- The Iranian government said Wednesday it would revise how it governs oil and natural gas contracts, though sanctions must be lifted for full utilization.
Mehdi Husseini, the director of a committee tasked with contract revisions, said Iran will be switching from a buy-back system to one based on joint ventures in the oil and natural gas sector.
Iran under the terms of the previous buy-back contracts paid contractors a set price for oil and natural gas produced. Under the planned new system, state-run energy companies will establish joint ventures with their international counterparts, who will be paid with a share of the output.
Husseini said the new contract system was designed to bring more foreign investments into the Iranian energy sector.
"In order for international companies to be able to invest in Iran projects, the sanctions must be lifted so that they would be able to easily invest in Iran’s oil projects," he said in a statement.
Iran secured modest relief from Western economic sanctions under the terms of an interim nuclear deal reached in November in Geneva, Switzerland. Though the Iranian government said it's ready to court more foreign investors, Washington said the country's energy sector is not yet open for business.
Husseini said the terms of the new contract would be finalized before the end of the year.


Kazakhs to Boost Grain Exports to Iran

ASTANA (Reuters) -- Kazakhstan will boost grain exports to Iran and China this 2013/14 marketing year as it seeks to diversify regions of supply and reduce dependence on Russian and Ukrainian ports, the country's state grain trader said on Wednesday.
Kazakhstan will boost wheat supplies to Iran to 1.2 million tons in the 2013/14 marketing year, which lasts until June 30, said Nurbek Dayirbekov, head of the state grain trader.
The country supplied 345,600 tons of wheat to Iran in the previous year. He did not say how much Kazakh wheat had already been supplied to Iran.


Bahrain Expels Ayat. Sistani's Representative

DUBAI (Dispatches) -- Authorities in Sunni-ruled Bahrain on Wednesday expelled the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the latest manifestation of tension with the kingdom's Shia majority.
Sheikh Hussein al-Najati was among 31 Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked in November 2012 over accusations that they had undermined state security, more than a year after authorities crushed a Shiite uprising in March 2011. Ayatollah Sistani, who is based in the Iraqi city of Najaf, in 2011 condemned Bahrain's crackdown on protests which demanded democratic reforms in the Persian Gulf kingdom.