Category: Asia Written by Syarif Hidayat and edited by Ismet Rauf
Tehran, 6 Jumadil Awal 1435/7 March 2014 (MINA) - Azeri Ambassador to Tehran Javanshir Akhundov says the Republic of Azerbaijan is considering visa waivers for Iranian nationals.
“A special committee is mulling visa waivers for Iranian nationals and we are optimistic about the settlement of the issue in the near future,” Akhundov said in an address to the administrative officials of Iran's northwestern Aras Free Trade Zone the Thursday.
He added that Baku is considering the lifting of visa requirements for Iranian citizens because of the willingness of the two countries to develop ties, Press TV quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
The Azeri government is keen to boost relations with Iran, Akhundov said, adding that the visa waiver would benefit both countries.
The administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been seeking to improve ties with Iran’s neighbors, including Azerbaijan.
In a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in January, Rouhani said that Iran is ready to forge closer energy ties with the Republic of Azerbaijan and transfer its expertise in oil and gas exploration and extraction to its northern neighbor.
He added that Iran and Azerbaijan share numerous affinities and this is why Azerbaijan’s progress is very important for Iran.
The Iranian president said that the further enhancement of trade and economic relations between Tehran and Baku can cement the interactions between the two neighboring countries. (T/E01/IR)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 15:02
Category: America Written by Syarif Hidayat and edited by Ismet Rauf
Washington, 6 Jumadil Awal 1435/7 March 2014 (MINA) - The highest-ranking US military officer says intelligence breach by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden will cost the Pentagon billions of dollars.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told a House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the "magnitude of this challenge" might take a task force two years to determine the extent of the damage done by Snowden’s leaks.
"I suspect it could cost billions of dollars to overcome the loss of security that has been imposed on us," he said, Press TV quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
"We're working our way through that which we believe he has ex-filtrated," Gen Dempsey said. "And we have, I think, a fairly significant amount of knowledge in that regard.
Dempsey said the “vast majority” of the 1.7 million leaked documents were military-related and the Pentagon has established a task force to determine how the documents could be used and how to mitigate the problem.
"The vast majority of [the pilfered documents] were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures," he said.
US officials believe many of the documents that Snowden took were related to the country’s military capabilities, operations, tactics and procedures. They say less than ten percent of Snowden’s leaks were related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.
Snowden is wanted in the United States on espionage charges. He has given several interviews since last year on how the US government systematically monitors phone and internet data worldwide.
Snowden’s revelations deeply embarrassed the administration of President Barack Obama, forcing him to announce in January that the US government was banning eavesdropping on the leaders of close allies. (T/E01/IR)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 14:48
Category: Europe Written by Syarif Hidayat and edited by Ismet Rauf
Washington, 6 Jumadil Awal 1435/7 March 2014 (MINA) - The US has authorised sanctions that include visa bans and the seizure of assets of Ukrainians and Russians involved in stoking Ukraine's ongoing crisis.
Barack Obama, the US president, issued an executive order and declared a state of emergency on Thursday, calling Russia's involvement in Crimea an "extraordinary threat" to US national security and foreign policy.
People who "undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine, threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets" will have any existing property and interests in the US blocked, Obama said.
At a press conference in Washington DC, the US president emphasised that these actions were in line with those of European allies.
"I am confident that we are moving forward together," he said, Aljazeera quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting, Friday.
The European Union announced that it would suspend talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and on a visa deal during a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
The EU members of G8 also agreed to suspend preparations for a G8 summit in June in Sochi, according to Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister.
And the bloc threatened further sanctions on Russia if Moscow refused to engage in talks to end the crisis in Ukraine.
Europe stopped short of imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials. EU exports to Russia in 2012 totalled $170bn and European banks have about $277bn in outstanding loans to Russia.
Al Jazeera's Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting from the EU meeting, said the bloc was divided on the issue of sanctions.
"There are significant splits with the Polish and Lithuanians and others wanting a far more aggressive approach to sanctions," McGregor-Wood said. "But as far as we know, the more moderate voices are urging caution and dialogue."
Poland, Lithuania and other eastern European countries located closer to Russia's borders pushed for a strong and united EU response, including meaningful sanctions. Germany, the Netherlands and others preferred defusing the crisis through diplomacy without alienating Moscow.
"We need to send a very clear message to the Russian government that what has happened is unacceptable and should have consequences," said David Cameron, Britain's prime minister.
"Russia today is dangerous," said Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania's president. He gave warning that Moscow is seeking to expand its borders: "After Ukraine will be Moldova, and after Moldova will be different countries."\
Both the US and EU said further actions would be determined by Russia's decisions.
"They [sanctions] give us the flexibility to adjust our response going forward based on Russia's actions," Obama said.
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, said the EU would go further if Russia adopted "further measures of destabilisation, or were to take measures of a military nature. I hope and trust this will not come to pass." (T/E01/IR)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 11:16
Category: Middle East Written by Syarif Hidayat and edited by Ismet Rauf
Damascus, 6 Jumadil Awal 1435/7 March 2014 (MINA) - March will be a "critical" month for Syria if it is to maintain its timetable for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal, according to the United Nations official entrusted with overseeing the mission.
The remarks by Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for a joint mission by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), came as the US accused Syria of stonewalling OPCW members and refusing to seriously negotiate on the destruction of its facilities used to produce poison gas.
"The month of March, as I informed the Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress towards the overall deadline," Kaag said, Aljazeera Quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting, Friday.
She made her remarks after briefing members of the UN Security Council early on Wednesday by Syria towards the goal of destroying or handing over its arsenal of banned weapons before a June 30 deadline.
In a separate interview to Al Jazeera's Diplomatic Editor James Bays, Kaag said all parties involved in Syria's disarmament were focused on the job.
After Syria missed several key dates, the Security Council last week demanded that it move faster.
The Syrian government blames the delays on insecurity in the country, where it is locked in a struggle with rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.
Prior to a shipment on Monday, the US estimated that Syria had shipped out just five percent of its stockpile.
Kaag said, however, that there was "an acceleration and an intensification" of effort by Syria, and that about 35 percent of weapons material has now been shipped.
"A number of shipments have taken place and will continue to take place," she said.
"About one-third of Syrian chemical weapons materials has been removed or destroyed."
Over the next few days, she said, "we expect to reach already 40 or 41 percent, and we look forward to see continued progress".
Kaag declined to comment on a UN human rights investigators' report that said chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to have come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.
Last year Syria had asked the OPCW for permission to convert for peaceful use some of the facilities declared under its weapons programme, but diplomats said they were reluctant to accept such a plan as it could leave Syria with a residual chemical weapons capability.
In comments on her Twitter feed, Samantha Powers, US ambassador to the UN, said: "OPCW trying to reach agreement to destroy CW production facilities-#Syria refusing to seriously negotiate & is (about) to miss another deadline."
In another statement on Twitter, she said: "#Syria must accelerate process to comply with @OPCW deadlines-only 20% of priority 1 chemicals removed so far. Delays are dangerous."
Priority 1 chemicals are the deadliest precursors for poison gas.
Bashar Jaafari, Syria's UN envoy, did not respond to a request for comment.
The US State Department announced on Wednesday that Jaafari would from now on be confined to a 25-mile radius from central New York City.
Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in August that killed more than 1,000 people, many of them children.
The world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years, it drew a US threat of military strikes that was averted after Assad pledged to give up his chemical arms.
Forces closing in
In Syria, meanwhile, government forces are closing in on one of the last rebel strongholds near the border with Lebanon. Yabroud, which lies north of Damascus, is a strategically important town near the border with Lebanon.
Videos posted by opposition activists show a helicopter dropping bombs on the city, as well as the neighbouring village of Sahel.
Earlier this week, forces loyal to Assad, assisted by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah, captured Sahel. It is one of a number of towns Hezbollah seized in the region since launching an offensive there in November.
Meanwhile, in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, the army is continuing to strafe rebel-held areas.
More than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year-old civil war. (T/E01/IR)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 10:24