IAEA, Iran thrash out 'temporary solution' ahead of deadline

Agencies
February 22, 2021

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Vienna, Feb 22: The UN nuclear watchdog chief announced on Sunday a “temporary solution” to allow Iranian facility inspections to continue after days of talks with officials, giving some much needed breathing space for diplomatic negotiations.

However, Rafael Grossi admitted that under the new three-month arrangement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would not have the same level of access after a law comes into force on Tuesday limiting some inspections.

Grossi’s visit to Iran came amid stepped-up efforts between US President Joe Biden’s administration, European powers and Tehran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on the brink of collapse since Donald Trump withdrew from it and went on to impose sanctions on the nation.

In December, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament passed the law demanding a suspension of some inspections if the United States failed to lift sanctions by this Sunday.

Tehran had notified the UN body that if the suspensions were lifted it would suspend “voluntary transparency measures” — notably inspections to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.

Grossi said that under the new “temporary technical understanding... there is less access, let’s face it”.

“But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work,” he added.

“What we agreed is something that is viable — it is useful to bridge this gap that we are having now, it salvages the situation now,” Grossi told reporters after landing back in Vienna.

Under the temporary agreement Tehran will for “three months record and keep the information of some activities and monitoring equipment”, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) said.

“During this period, the IAEA will not have access to this information,” the statement said, appearing to confirm comments from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the law mandates the government to “not provide the tapes” of cameras at sites to the IAEA.

“If the sanctions are completely lifted within three months, Iran will provide this information to the IAEA, otherwise the information will be deleted forever,” the statement added.

Zarif had signalled the Islamic republic wanted to avoid an “impasse” over inspections, but also warned it could further step away from its commitments if Washington does not lift sanctions.

Grossi had said earlier his hope in visiting Tehran was “to stabilise a situation which was very unstable”.

“I think this technical understanding does it so that other political discussions at other levels can take place, and most importantly we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind,” he added.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi acknowledged on Saturday that his country’s inspection capability would be “reduced by about 20-30 percent” when Tuesday’s law came into effect.

Grossi declined to give his own estimate of how much the IAEA’s inspection capability would be reduced but said the number of inspectors would not be scaled down, and that the agency would still be able to carry out some snap probes.

Biden has committed to rejoining talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme in a shift from Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” towards the Islamic republic.

Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments, on the condition Washington makes the first move by lifting the sanctions that have heaped economic pain on Iran.

But foreign minister Zarif warned that, if sanctions were not lifted, his nation would continue scaling back its commitments under the 2015 deal with the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.

The stockpile of “enriched uranium will increase”, he said, stressing that Tehran had the right within the agreement to stop observing commitments “totally or partially” if the other parties fail to honour theirs.

“We are still in the partial phase,” Zarif said. “We can be total.”

The European Union’s political director Enrique Mora has proposed an “informal meeting” involving Iran, with Washington accepting in principle.

Araghchi said Saturday that Tehran was reviewing the proposal, and discussing it with “friends and allies” China and Russia.

Meanwhile Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of neighbouring Turkey, said on Sunday there was a “window of opportunity” for the lifting of Iran sanctions, calling it “legal and logical”.

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Agencies
February 14,2021

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Srinagar, Feb 14: National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah on Sunday claimed he and his family, including his father and Member of Parliament (MP) Farooq Abdullah, have been put under house arrest by authorities.

"This is the "naya/new J&K" after Aug 2019. We get locked up in our homes with no explanation. It's bad enough they've locked my father (a sitting MP) & me in our home, they've locked my sister & her kids in their home as well," Omar wrote on Twitter.

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister also posted photographs showing police vehicles outside the gates of his residence in the Gupkar area of the Srinagar.

Omar also alleged that his house staff was not being let inside.

"Chalo, your new model of democracy means that we are kept in our homes without explanation but on top of that the staff that works in the house aren't being allowed in and then you are surprised that I'm still angry & bitter," he said in another tweet.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had on Saturday too claimed that she was placed under house arrest ahead of her visit to the family of Athar Mushtaq -- one of the three alleged terrorists killed in an encounter in Parimpora locality in Srinagar in December last year.

"Placed under house arrest as usual for trying to visit the family of Athar Mushtaq killed allegedly in a fake encounter. 

His father was booked under UAPA for demanding his dead body. This the normalcy GOI wants to showcase to the EU delegation visiting Kashmir (sic)," she had said on Twitter.

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Agencies
February 25,2021

Bharat Bandh on February 26 as 8 crore traders to protest against GST

New Delhi, Feb 25: Going ahead with their protest against arbitrary regulations and changes in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and alleged norm violations by e-commerce giants, traders across the country will go a day-long strike on Friday.

In a statement, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) the umbrella body which has called for the strike said that over 8 crore traders belonging to more than 40,000 trade associations across country will observe the 'Bharat Vyapar Bandh' to protest against some of the "draconian, arbitrary and critical" amendments made recently in GST rules.

It will also urge the government to rectify glitches in e-commerce for preventing violation of law by foreign e-commerce companies.

The All India Transport Welfare Association (AITWA) an apex body of 1 crore transporters have already supported the strike and has also announced 'Chakka Jam' of transport sector on Friday all over India.

CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal said that not only traders but even small industries, hawkers, and women entrepreneurs among others will also join the bandh.

Further, associations of chartered accountants and tax advocates have supported the strike and have informed their clients not to visit their offices on Friday.

Khandelwal further said that on Friday as a mark of protest, 'dharna' will be held in more than 1,500 towns and cities across states and no traders will login to GST portal to register their protest.

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Agencies
February 19,2021

Image result for India, China complete disengagement in Pangong lake; to hold military talks on Feb 20 on further withdrawal

New Delhi, Feb 19: After completing the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the north and south banks of Pangong lake, India and China will hold a fresh round of high-level military talks on Saturday to take forward the disengagement process in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang in eastern Ladakh, official sources said on Friday.

The tenth round of Corps Commander-level talks are scheduled to start at 10 am at the Moldo border point on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, and will be the first engagement between the two sides at a senior level after conclusion of the disengagement process in Pangong lake areas, they said.

Sources said pulling back of troops, weapons and other military hardware as well as dismantling of bunkers, tents and temporary structures in north and south banks of Pangong lake were completed on Thursday and both sides have carried out a verification of the same.

"Both sides will also carry out a comprehensive review of the disengagement process in Pangong lake areas," said a source.

Also on Friday, China for the first time officially acknowledged that four of its e soldiers were killed in the fierce clash with the Indian Army in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in June last year. India had lost 20 soldiers in the fierce hand-to-hand combat.

Sources indicated that during Saturday's talks, India will insist on a faster disengagement process in remaining areas to bring down tension in the region, which has witnessed a tense standoff between the two militaries for over nine months.

On February 11, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament about an agreement between India and China on disengagement in the north and south banks of Pangong lake that mandated both sides to "cease" forward deployment of troops in a "phased, coordinated and verifiable" manner.

Under the agreement, he said China will pull back its troops to east of Finger 8 areas in the northern bank of Pangong lake while the Indian personnel will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 in the region. Similar action would take place on the south bank of the lake, he said.

The sources said troops of both sides have retreated to positions that were agreed to by both sides.

The disengagement process began on February 10.

The Indian delegation at Saturday's talks will be led by Lt Gen PGK Menon, the Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps while the Chinese side is expected to be headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin, the commander of the South Xinjiang military district of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

In his statement in Parliament, the defence minister also said that it was agreed to convene the next meeting of senior commanders of both sides within 48 hours of completion of the disengagement in the Pangong lake areas so as to resolve all other remaining issues.

Days later, the defence ministry said other outstanding "problems" including in Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra will be taken up at the upcoming talks between military commanders of the two countries.

The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry even as the two sides continued military and diplomatic talks.

Last year, the Chinese military built several bunkers and other structures in the areas between Finger 4 and 8 and had blocked all Indian patrols beyond Finger 4, triggering strong reaction from the Indian Army.

In the nine rounds of military talks, India had specifically insisted on withdrawal of Chinese troops from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the north bank of Pangong Lake. The mountain spurs in the area are referred to as Fingers.

On its part, the Chinese side was insisting on withdrawal of Indian troops from several strategic peaks on the southern bank of the lake.

Around five months back, Indian troops occupied a number of strategic heights in the Mukhpari, Rechin La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank after the Chinese PLA attempted to intimidate them in the area.

Both sides had rushed a large number of battle tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy equipment to the treacherous and high-altitude areas of eastern Ladakh region after tension escalated following a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June last.

On Tuesday, the Indian Army released short videos and photographs showing thinning down of troops and dismantling of bunkers, camps and other facilities by the Chinese military in the areas around the Pangong lake.

The visuals also showed Chinese military using a bulldozer to flatten some structures, and vehicles with troops and equipment preparing to retreat to rear bases as part of the infantry disengagement.

The photos and videos largely depicted fast-paced disengagement process in both north and south banks of Pangong lake that included withdrawal of troops, removal of machinery and dismantling of temporary structures like bunkers, posts and tents.

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