Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran attaches special significance to the upcoming talks with the six major world powers (G5+1) in Baghdad, urging both sides to set new framework for the negotiations.
“Experts of the two sides should draw up a plan to determine subsequent steps in a transparent way and prepare the grounds for building confidence,” Salehi said on Thursday, Press TV reported.
Iran and the G5+1--Russia, China, Britain, France, the US and Germany--wrapped up the first round of their negotiations on April 14 in Istanbul. Both sides hailed the talks as successful and constructive and agreed to hold the next round of the talks in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on May 23.
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also agreed to hold a new round of talks in Vienna on May 14-15.
Salehi again stressed the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear energy program and said the upcoming talks with the G5+1 in Baghdad and with the IAEA in Vienna are very important to Tehran.
The minister hoped that during the Baghdad meeting, the participating sides would take ‘practical steps’ to continue talks and resolve problems.
He added the western powers used Iran’s nuclear issue to exert pressure on Tehran, stressing that their one-sided policies against the Islamic Republic should come to an end.
He noted that both Tehran and the West should seek to settle differences over Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s nuclear activities are conducted within the framework of the IAEA regulations, Salehi said, adding “Tehran is ready to discuss all problems in a serious way and without any preconditions.”
The US, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program.
Iran has strongly dismissed allegations against its nuclear activities, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Rahimi’s Beirut Visit Sign of Supporting Resistance
The recent visit by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to the Lebanese capital of Beirut demonstrated Tehran’s all-out support for the resistance front, a senior Iranian diplomat said.
“The visit of first vice president and particularly his presence at the Maroun Al-Ras area, which was at the heart of Israeli regime aggression and the brave resistance of the Lebanese people during the 33-day war, conveys the message that Iran will always support the resistance by using all capacities,” Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African affairs Hussein Amir-Abdollahian said on Saturday, Press TV reported.
Rahimi arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday for a two-day visit and held talks with senior Lebanese officials.
He met Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Miqati and Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah.“While condemning any bloodshed in Syria, Iran supports the country’s people and government which is located in the resistance front as much as it supported and defended the Lebanese and Gazan people during the 33- and 22-day wars,” Amir-Abdollahian added.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Although calm has returned to most parts of the country with a ceasefire, there have been reports of sporadic clashes in some areas, with Damascus accusing the armed groups of violating the truce by continuing the attacks on government forces.
Fate of Missing Diplomats
Speaking at a joint press conference with Miqati on Thursday, Rahimi said Tehran will never stop pursuing the fate of the four missing Iranian diplomats who were abducted by Israeli regime in southern Lebanon 30 years ago.
On July 4, 1982, four Iranian diplomats--Ahmad Motevaselian, Seyyed Mohsen Mousavi, Taqi Rastegar Moqaddam and Kazem Akhavan--were kidnapped by a group of Israel-backed gunmen at an inspection point in northern Lebanon.
The vice president said Iran will never forget its four abducted diplomats and will continue to probe the case.
The Iranian diplomats were last heard of on June 2008, when the Lebanese Hezbollah Resistance Movement received a report indicating that the diplomats were alive and in Israeli captivity.
Israel claims that the four diplomats were abducted by the Lebanese Forces group, and were killed shortly after their abduction.
The Iranian first vice president said during negotiations in Lebanon, he also discussed the fate of the missing Shiite cleric of Iranian descent, Imam Mousa Sadr, with the Lebanese officials.
Rahimi noted that the two sides have reached an agreement to look for clues which will shed light on the fate of the Lebanese cleric.
Sadr, the founder of Lebanon’s Amal Movement, was a popular and highly revered Lebanese Shia cleric, who disappeared on August 31, 1978 while visiting Libya.
He was scheduled to meet officials from the government of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi along with two of his companions, Mohammed Yaqoub and Abbas Badreddin.
Amnesty Urges Baku to Free IRIB Reporter
Amnesty International (AI) has urged the Azeri government to immediately release a member of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) staff in Baku.
In its latest report published on May 1, AI said it ‘believes the charges against Anar Bayramli were fabricated in retaliation for his work as a reporter’ and, therefore, he should be considered a political prisoner, Fars News Agency reported.
Referring to recent arrests of Bayramli and Ramin Bayramov, editor-in-chief of the Islamic news website Islam-Azeri, the AI said the secular government of Azerbaijan arrested them on false charges of possessing drugs in order to prevent the free flow of information, especially on religious matters.
The report added that reports by Bayramli shortly before his arrest touched upon especially sensitive issues such as government’s treatment of conservative Shiite Muslim groups and the closure of the mosques.
“Amnesty International has documented similar cases where drugs have been ‘found’ on critics of the government.”
Noting that there are 18 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan right now, AI stated that Baku is trying to silence the opposition ahead of a 2012 music event, by resorting to illegal means.
Amnesty International also stated that ‘journalists and human rights defenders [have been] threatened, harassed, and even beaten unconscious by state officials’ over the last two months.
On February 18, Azerbaijan’s police and plainclothes forces arrested two IRIB employees in the capital city of Baku. The detainees, Bayramli, and a local driver, Ramil Dadash, were transferred to the Central Police Department on charges of ‘carrying illicit drugs’.
On February 18, Press secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Baku said the arrest of the IRIB employees was directed at damaging media cooperation between the two neighboring countries.
“The move is against the policies and efforts of high-ranking Azeri officials, especially Azeri president’s special envoy to Tehran Ali Hasanov who has tried to implement further media cooperation agreement between the two countries,” Abbas Eskandari added.
The detention of the two IRIB employees comes with a new wave of arrests of Muslim activists and anti-government protestors in the Caspian Sea littoral state.
Azerbaijan also refused entry to a senior IRIB official upon arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in December 2011. Director of the IRIB office in Baku Ahmad Kazemi was stopped by customs officials and forced to take the return flight to Tehran on the same day.
Southwest Iran Hit by Quake
Nearly a dozen people were injured following an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale that hit the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam.
The Geophysics Institute of Tehran University said the quake struck at 2:39 p.m. local time (1009 GMT) on Thursday, and jolted several towns including Dehloran, Abdanan and Mourmouri and dozens of villages in Ilam province.
The tremor forced people to rush out of their homes and caused severe damages to houses in a number of hamlets.
Local officials said relief workers were dispatched to the quake-stricken areas to provide assistance. Thousands of tents were also distributed among villagers whose houses were destroyed or damaged in the tremor.
The epicenter was located at 47.61 degrees east longitude and 32.74 degrees north latitude.
According to the latest reports, three aftershocks have so far been recorded, the strongest of which had a magnitude of 3.7 on the Richter scale.
The area was hit by dozens of moderate and mild temblors over the past few days.
Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes, experiencing at least one slight quake a day on average.
Some 27,000 people were reportedly killed and 30,000 others injured on December 26, 2003, when a 6.6-magntitude earthquake shook the historic southeastern city of Bam in Kerman province.
The deadliest recent quake in Iran, however, occurred on June 21, 1990 that measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. About 100,000 adobe houses sustained major damage or collapsed. Some 40,000 people were killed and 60,000 others injured in the earthquake that hit Gilan and Zanjan provinces.
Call for Active Int’l Role In Afghan Repatriation
Iran’s permanent representative at the UN Office in Geneva has called on the international community to assume a more vigorous role in helping the Afghan refugees return to their country.
“The international community should play a more active role in the return [of the Afghan refugees] and assist the process of voluntary return until the integration of the refugees into their homeland,” said Seyyed Mohammad Reza Sajjadi in Geneva.
He noted that the voluntary return of the Afghan refugees requires ‘secure and decent’ conditions and called for assistance in motivating the skilled refugees to return to their country in an attempt to accelerate the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Press TV reported.
Sajjadi pointed to Iran’s hosting of over one million Afghan refugees for more than three decades and said that the presence of such an enormous population of refugees has placed immense social and economic pressures on the Islamic Republic in terms of security, employment, education and healthcare.
According to the Iranian envoy, based on the latest census, Iran has so far issued residence smart cards for nearly one million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers.
Since the beginning of the fundamental transformations in Afghanistan in 2001 and the formation of a legal government in the country, nearly 1,400,000 Afghan refugees and asylum seekers have returned from Iran to their country, Sajjadi said.
The diplomat, however, pointed to a recent reduction in the return of the refugees to their country and added that difficulties to access proper job opportunities, housing and welfare in Afghanistan are responsible for the decline in the number of refugees returning to their homeland.
Iran has been a generous host for more than one million Afghan refugees for 30 years, with little help from the international community.
Tehran has called on the international community to strengthen support for Iran for hosting the Afghan refugees and provide repatriation support for the refugees.
Voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran has slowed in recent years in the face of poor security and economic conditions in Afghanistan, which Tehran blames on the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.
Earlier this year, the UNHCR Representative in Iran Bernard Doyle lauded the country for its efforts and effective measures in supporting the Afghan refugees residing in Iran, and underlined that Tehran has shown a kind and humanitarian behavior towards the Afghan nationals.
“Iran has well fulfilled its humanitarian duties in this regard,” Doyle said in a meeting with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in June.
Senior Lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi in a meeting Friday with Iraqi Shiite leader Ayatollah Bahrol Olum underlined the importance of concluding agreements to further develop Tehran-Baghdad ties.