US joins EU led Iran negotiations
BBC News, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and Reuters report that the US has agreed to participate in talks aimed at reviving the JCPOA nuclear deal. A spokesman for the State Department said: “The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union high representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear programme.” The US and the UK, France, and Germany (E3) also issued a joint statement yesterday calling on Iran to comply with the terms of the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to the joint statement on twitter, writing “Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran, E3/EU must abide by own commitments & demand an end to Trump’s legacy of #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”
Siavash Ardalan writes for BBC Persian about the shrinking window for saving the JCPOA nuclear deal. Ardalan argues that “a power-struggle inside the Islamic republic between those for and against it could soon seal” the deal’s fate, refencing Iran’s presidential election in June.
The Economist analyses Iran’s upcoming presidential election and speculates whether former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will run. It is unclear whether Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will give him permission to run – he did not when Ahmadinejad sought election in 2017. The report notes that while Iran’s clerics do not trust him, they may “see his candidacy as a way to get out the vote at a time of widespread disillusion with the status quo.”
BBC News reports that an Iranian judoka has begun competing in Israel. In 2019 Saeid Mollaei was reportedly ordered by Iranian authorities to throw a match to avoid facing the Israeli champion. Iran was suspended by the International Judo Federation (IJF) as a result. Mollaei has refused to return to Iran, citing concern for his life. He arrived in Tel Aviv this week to participate in the IJF Grand Slam – Israeli media has called his participation ‘historic’.
BBC News and The Independent publish videos showing Jerusalem’s first snow shower in six years. Holy sites such as the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock were blanketed in snow. The snow also reached other areas in the region, such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. A video of camels in Saudi Arabia covered in snow went viral across social media channels.
The Guardian reports that Israel has carried out a major expansion of its nuclear facility in recent years. Satellite images from the International Panel on Fissile Material show new construction that experts claim has been underway for two years. The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to questions on the report.
BBC News, The Telegraph and The Independent report on the detainment of Princess Latifa in the UAE. A report from BBC News says the controversy “has left British horse-racing facing some deeply uncomfortable questions. Over the past 40 years, Sheikh Mohammed has become synonymous with the sport, its most prominent and influential owner. Indeed, it has become very hard for many in British racing to imagine the sport here without him.” The campaign to free Princess Latifa said it would publish more footage to pressure the UAE government to release her. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called reports of her captivity “deeply troubling” said the UK wants to see evidence that she is “alive and well”.
The Times reports that a father’s plea for his son’s life in Saudi Arabia has gained traction on social media. Nowaf al-Osaimi is facing execution for murder he committed when he was a teenager. His father has begged the family of the victim to exercise their right for compensation instead of an execution. Al-Osaimi’s execution is thought to be imminent after the order was signed by King Salman.
BBC News and The Guardian report that an Algerian court has ordered the execution of the perpetrator behind the kidnapping and murder of French Hervé Gourdel tourist in 2014. Days after he was kidnapped, an Islamic State-affiliated group released a graphic video of Gourdel’s beheading. The perpetrator was sentenced to death despite Algeria implementing a moratorium on executions since 1993.
Reuters reports that UN Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths has called on the Houthis to stop their offensive movement on the government-held city of Marib. Griffiths warned that territorial gains could “threaten all the prospects on the peace process.” US President Joe Biden’s commitment to ending the conflict in Yemen has presented a new opportunity to reopen peace negotiations. Another UN official warned that international efforts to resolve the conflict could go to waste if “Yemen tips into a massive famine.”
Israel Hayom reports on the virtual meeting yesterday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany, and France (E3) to discuss Iran and the JCPOA nuclear deal. According to the paper, “The leaders agreed that Tehran’s decision to limit the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to its nuclear sites is a ‘dangerous step’ and called on the regime to weigh the consequences of such a decision, especially at a time of a renewed diplomatic opportunity. They also warned Iran not to take any additional steps in developing its nuclear capabilities. E3 ministers expressed their concerns over Iran’s most recent production of uranium enriched up to 20 per cent.” The paper also notes the statement from the US Department of State following the meeting, whereby, “These activities have no credible civil justification. Uranium metal production is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon.” According to Kan News, US President Joe Biden did not inform Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their phone call on Wednesday that he had decided to resume the nuclear talks with Iran, but that Israel did receive a report in advance about the intentions of the US on the matter.
Haaretz covers the exiled Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei who is in Israel to compete at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam and could face off against the Israel champion Sagi Muki. They were due to compete in 2019, but Mollaei was forced to miss the match that cost him the world championships. The paper recalls, “Mollaei was put under tremendous pressure by the Iranian authorities to pull out to avoid facing Muki, and when Mollaei refused, the Iranian security forces paid his family a visit. To protect his family, he deliberately lost two matches so he wouldn’t end up standing on the podium alongside Muki, who went on to win the gold.” Channel 12 News notes around 600 athletes from around the world arrived in Israel for the tournament, causing anger from Israelis stuck abroad unable to return to home because of the coronavirus travel ban. Health Ministry officials explained all the athletes had tests before flying and upon arriving in Israel, they would remain in a bubble and that there would be no crowds at the event. This will be the last major tournament before the Olympics and Israel promised the International Judo Federation it would go ahead.
Israel Hayom covers the announcement that Israel and the US are developing a new ballistic missile shield, the Arrow-4, which will add another layer of defence. The paper quotes Defence Minister Benny Gantz saying, “The development of Arrow-4 together with our American partners will result in a technological and operational leap forward, preparing us for the future battlefield and evolving threats in the Middle East and beyond.” Israel’s Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 interceptors are already operational as part of a multi-layered system to destroy incoming missiles in the atmosphere and in space.
Maariv includes its latest poll where the Likud receives 28 seats, Yesh Atid 18, New Hope 15, Yamina 12, Joint List 9, Shas 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Labour Party 5, Meretz 5, and Religious Zionist Party 5. Under the threshold of 3.25 per cent, is Blue and White would win 2.5 per cent of votes and the United Arab List with 2.1 per cent. The paper also asks, ‘Whom do you consider more suitable to serve as prime minister,’ with Netanyahu compared with his rivals: Netanyahu 41 per cent v Saar 39 per cent; Don’t know: 20 per cent. Netanyahu 40 per cent v Bennett: 37 per cent; Don’t know: 23 per cent. Netanyahu 52 per cent v Lapid 35 per cent; Don’t know: 13 per cent.
Yediot Ahronot covers the political infighting between Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennett. Yesterday morning, Saar addressed a personal tweet to Bennett. “Naftali,” he wrote, “you are not our rival, and the ongoing clash between us will only serve Netanyahu. Therefore, this will come to a halt on our part, even if this is unilateral.” The paper notes, “Beyond the rivalry between two parties competing for the same share of the electorate—right wingers and people from the right wing and centre who are disappointed with Netanyahu—the two do not think highly of one another. Bennett criticises Saar for the fact that throughout the coronavirus period, he did nothing, and until recently he sat with Netanyahu, and he calls Saar’s party a party of petty bureaucrats and defectors.” In turn, “Saar’s associates are certain that not only is Bennett attacking him deliberately—but he is coordinated with Netanyahu regarding the content of the attacks. The proof, they say, is the terminology employed by Bennett, which is identical to Netanyahu’s. For example, the allegation that when Saar says he will not sit with Netanyahu, he is actually also disqualifying his voters—which is an argument coined by Netanyahu.”