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‘We are in a war situation’: Iran responds to US sanctions with air defence drills

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Tehran : Iran greeted the re-imposition of US sanctions with air defence drills and an acknowledgement from President Hassan Rouhani the nation faces a “war situation,” raising Mideast tensions as America’s maximalist approach to the Islamic Republic takes hold.

The sanctions end all the economic benefits America granted Tehran for its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, though Iran for now continues to abide by the accord that saw it limit its enrichment of uranium. While for now not threatening to resume higher enrichment, Iranian officials in recent months have made a point to threaten that could resume at any time faster than before.

The new American sanctions particularly hurt Iran’s vital oil industry, a crucial source of hard currency for its anaemic economy. Its national currency has plummeted over the last year, sending prices for everything from mobile phones to medicine skyrocketing.

“Today, Iran is able to sell its oil and it will sell,” Rouhani vowed Monday as the sanctions kicked in.

Iranian state television aired footage of air defence systems and anti-aircraft batteries in two-day military maneuvers underway across a vast stretch of the country’s north. It included surface-to-air missiles shooting down a drone.

The drill was to continue through Tuesday. Iranian army Gen. Habibillah Sayyari said both the national army and the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were taking part in the exercise.

Rouhani, meanwhile, pledged to government officials in comments aired on state TV that Iran would overcome the sanctions. “We are in the war situation, “ Rouhani said. “We are in the economic war situation. We are confronting a bullying enemy. We have to stand to win.”

He further stepped up the rhetoric, comparing Iran’s situation in the 1980s war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with the current one and President Donald Trump’s move to reinstate US sanctions. “Yesterday, Saddam was in front us, today Trump is front of us. There is no difference. We must resist and win,” he said.

Iran is already in the grip of an economic crisis. Its national currency, the rial, now trades at 1,45,000 to one US dollar, down from when it traded 40,500 to $1 a year ago. The economic chaos sparked mass anti-government protests at the end of last year which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Sporadic demonstrations still continue.

Rouhani separately said leaders from “four powers” met with Iran on the sidelines of the September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to try to save the deal, including brokering a possible meeting with Trump. He did not name those countries, but was likely referring to China, France, Russia and Britain, which along with Germany made up the world powers involved in the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This issue does not require a mediator,” Rouhani said, blaming America for unilaterally pulling out of the accord.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi also predicted the sanctions will actually work against America’s interests.

“Many countries from Europe to Russia and China have opposed the sanctions,” Ghasemi told journalists, adding that Iranians “have experienced more extensive sanctions” and that they are “not a new issue.”

The United States says the sanctions are not aimed at toppling the government, but at persuading it to radically change its policies, including its support for regional militant groups and its development of long-range ballistic missiles.

However, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, both have made public statements supporting overthrowing Iran’s theocratic government.

Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the newly restored U.S. sanctions in a tweet on Monday, saying they will deal a “critical blow” to Iran’s military presence around the Middle East.

The Trump administration’s decision to restore sanctions “is the sea change the Middle East has been waiting for,” he said. Israel has been a fierce opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal from which the U.S. withdrew in May, saying the accord failed to rein in Iran’s regional military threat.


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CIA concludes Saudi Crown Prince behind Khashoggi’s killing: report

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Washington: The US Central Intelligence Agency has concluded Saudi’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post reported, citing people close to the matter.

The US assessment directly contradicts the conclusions of a Saudi prosecutor one day prior, which exonerated the prince of involvement in the brutal murder.

According to the CIA findings, 15 Saudi agents flew on government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate, the Post said. Queried by AFP, the CIA declined to comment.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, had gone to the consulate to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly changed its official narrative of the October 2 murder, first denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts and later saying he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight. In the latest version presented by the Saudi prosecutor on Thursday, a 15-member squad was formed to bring Khashoggi back from Istanbul “by means of persuasion” — but instead ended up killing the journalist and dismembering his body in a “rogue” operation.

The CIA scrubbed multiple intelligence sources, the Post said, among them a phone call between the prince’s brother — the Saudi ambassador to the United States — and Khashoggi. The ambassador reportedly told the late journalist that he would be safe to go to the consulate in Istanbul and get the papers he needed.

The US intelligence agency also said in determining the Crown Prince’s role it considered him a “de facto ruler” in Saudi Arabia: “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” the Post quoted an official as saying.

That official dubbed Prince Mohammed a “good technocrat” — but also someone unpredictable who “goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things you can’t do.”

The CIA conclusions threaten to further fray relations between Washington and key ally Riyadh, which has sought to end discussion of Khashoggi’s murder and rejected calls for an international investigation.

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China offers Myanmar support over Rohingya issue after US rebuke

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Beijing: China supports the Myanmar government`s efforts to protect domestic stability and approach to resolving the Rohingya issue, Premier Li Keqiang told the country`s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after US Vice President Mike Pence offered a strong rebuke.

Pence voiced Washington`s strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar`s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, telling Suu Kyi that “persecution” by her country`s army was “without excuse”.

Meeting Suu Kyi on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore, Li said China attaches great importance to its ties with Myanmar and would build on their tradition of friendship, China`s Foreign Ministry said.

“The Chinese side supports Myanmar`s efforts in maintaining its domestic stability, and supports Myanmar and Bangladesh appropriately resolving the Rakhine state issue via dialogue and consultation,” the ministry cited Li as saying.

China is “willing to provide the relevant parties with necessary support in this regard”, he added, without elaborating.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar`s Rakhine state, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown.

The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin returning refugees to Myanmar in mid-November. The U.N. refugee agency has said conditions in Rakhine are “not yet conducive for returns”.

China has close relations with Myanmar, and backs what Myanmar officials have called a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine.

China`s statement cited Suu Kyi as expressing thanks to China for the many times it has extended help to Myanmar, especially the constant understanding and support for the Myanmar peace process and the Rakhine issue.

A plan to begin repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar stalled , amid protests by refugees at camps in Bangladesh and recriminations between the officials in both countries.

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US votes against UN censure of Israel over Golan

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UNITED NATIONS: For the first time, the United States voted against an annual UN resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, dropping its practice of abstaining in the vote.

The non-binding resolution was adopted in a General Assembly committee by a vote of 151 to 2, with the United States and Israel the only two countries opposing the measure.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the resolution “useless” and “plainly biased against Israel,” citing concerns about Iran’s military role in Syria to oppose the measure.

“Further, the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone. The destructive influence of the Iranian regime inside Syria presents major threats to international security,” she said in a statement on the eve of the vote.

Israel seized control of much of the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed it, in moves never recognized by the international community.

The resolution declares that the Israeli decision to occupy and annex the Golan was “null and void,” and calls on Israel to rescind that decision.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon applauded the US shift, which he said was “another testament to the strong cooperation between the two countries.” The administration of President Donald Trump has taken a strong pro-Israeli stance, defying UN resolutions by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and cutting aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman told an Israeli newspaper in September that he expected the annexed Golan Heights to remain under Israeli control “forever,” and mentioned the possibility of US official recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory.

During a visit to Israel in August, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said there were no discussions on such recognition.

Israel and Syria, which has been embroiled in conflict since 2011, are still technically at war.

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