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Iran minister cancels Vienna visit in flag spat From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on the continuing violence between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers (all times local):BERLIN — Iran’s foreign minister has called off a planned visit to his Austrian counterpart in Vienna. The decision came after Austria’s chancellery and foreign ministry flew the Israeli flag as a signal of solidarity in Israel’s conflict with the militant Hamas group.Austrian daily Die Presse reported Saturday that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was due to meet Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg on Saturday morning. But he called off the trip over the Austrian leaders’ decision to fly the Israeli flag on Friday.The Austria Press Agency said Schallenberg’s spokeswoman, Claudia Tuertscher, confirmed the report. She said: “We regret this.”Vienna has been hosting negotiations in recent weeks aimed at bringing the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at allaying concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China are still parties to that agreement.Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, tweeted on Friday that Austria “so far been a great host for negotiations” but it was “shocking & painful to see flag of the occupying regime, that brutally killed tens of innocent civilians, inc many children in just few days, over govt offices in Vienna.”___DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia has called for foreign ministers of the world’s largest body of Muslim nations to hold a meeting Sunday. The gathering is to discuss Israeli acts of violence against Palestinians and the Israeli police’s use of force against protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.The kingdom will host the virtual summit, gathering ministers of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation “to discuss the Israeli aggression in the Palestinian territory,” particularly acts of violence in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the body said Saturday.The Saudi-headquartered OIC includes countries Iran, Turkey, Indonesia and a range of Muslim majority nations.Story continuesThe sanctity of Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, is a sensitive and emotive issue for Muslims around the world. The OIC was formed 51 years ago in response to a Jewish extremist arson attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem.The hilltop on which the mosque stands is also sacred to Jews, who revere it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the biblical temples. Some Jews and evangelical Christians support building a new Jewish temple on the site, an idea that Muslims find alarming because they fear it would lead to the mosque being partitioned or demolished.___RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians have begun gathering across the occupied West Bank to mark the anniversary of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.Nakba Day, Arabic for “catastrophe,” comes amid widespread Jewish-Arab violence in Israel and heavy fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. The main event Saturday was held in West Bank city of Ramallah, where the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority is headquartered.On Friday, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank held some of the largest protests in years and clashed with Israeli forces, who shot and killed 11 people, including a Palestinian who tried to stab a soldier at a military position.Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war. Today, they and their descendants number around 5.7 million and mostly reside in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.







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The Latest: Iran minister cancels Vienna visit in flag spat From “World”




Iran’s foreign minister has called off a planned visit to his Austrian counterpart in Vienna







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Iran helped Hamas develop missile technology used to attack Israel From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



A residential building in Ashkelon that was damaged by a rocket launched overnight from the Gaza Strip – AMIR COHEN /REUTERSIran has played a key role in helping the militant Palestinian group Hamas to develop the deadly weapons arsenal that has allowed it to hit targets deep inside Israel, according to Western intelligence officials.Senior Hamas commanders are believed to have made regular visits to Iran, where they have undergone training in the production and operation of sophisticated weapons systems, as well as inspecting rocket production facilities controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).The IRGC’s elite Quds Force – which translates as ‘Jerusalem Force’ – has responsibility for Iran’s dealings with Hamas. Qassim Soleimani, the unit’s late commander, took personal charge of overseeing Hamas’s arms build-up until he was killed in a drone strike authorised by Donald Trump, the former US president, last January.Intelligence officials believe the technological assistance provided by Iran, which includes detailed advice on setting up Hamas’s own production infrastructure in Gaza, has resulted in a significant improvement in the terrorist organisation’s ability to strike targets deep within Israel.In the past few days Hamas rockets have struck major Israeli cities and towns such as Tel Aviv and Lod, and enabled Hamas to focus on particular targets, such as the country’s main Ben Gurion airport, prompting a number of major airline carriers to cancel flights as a security precaution.The Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (L) intercepting rockets (R) fired by Hamas – ANAS BABA /AFPCooperation between Iran and Hamas has intensified during the past five years as the Palestinian group has sought to improve its military capabilities after the defeat it suffered at the hands of Israeli forces in 2014, when the Israeli military launched a ground offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure.“The collaboration between Iran and Hamas has resulted in the organisation having far more effective weapons,” a senior Western intelligence official told The Daily Telegraph. “Iran’s assistance has resulted in significant improvements in terms of range, precision, and the extent of destruction the weapons can cause.”Story continuesSince the latest clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants erupted last week, Hamas and other Islamist terror groups based in Gaza, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have fired an estimated 1,600 rockets at Israel.The Israeli military has responded by launching hundreds of air strikes in Gaza, and there are mounting fears that Israeli forces are preparing to mount another ground offensive in the enclave.Israeli defence officials estimate that Hamas and other Islamist terror groups based in Gaza have around 30,000 rockets and missiles. Previously Hamas relied on short-range Qassam rockets, which have a range of about 6 miles and were used to attack the nearby Israeli seaport of Ashkelon.But in the latest attacks on Israel, Hamas has used medium-range rockets with a range of 25 miles, as well as the M-75 and J-80 rockets, which have ranges of between 50-60 miles. Israeli defence officials believe these rockets have been manufactured in Gaza based on an Iranian design.







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EU companies could face legal action over Iran contracts From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



The New York TimesExchange Over ‘Purity’ of Vote Puts Texas GOP Firebrand in SpotlightAUSTIN, Texas — It was an awkward few minutes for Briscoe Cain, the conservative provocateur and hand-picked Republican chair of the state House Elections Committee, as he fumbled through his defense last week of the restrictive new voting bill his party is moving through the Texas Legislature. Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat, was grilling Cain, the bill’s sponsor, about a phrase in it calling for the “purity of the ballot box,” asking Cain if he knew that it evoked the discriminatory voting restrictions of Texas’ Jim Crow past. “Are you aware that references to purity of the ballot box used throughout this country’s history has been a justification for states to disenfranchise groups they deem unfit to vote or somehow lacking?” Anchia asked. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times “I didn’t know that,” Cain said haltingly, claiming he adopted the language because it was in the state’s Constitution, before admitting that “these are troubling things.” That opened floodgates for Democrats’ opposition, as they began hammering the structure of the bill, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities for the legislative session. Democrats eventually raised a point of order and added amendments that softened some of the harshest measures. Some of them may be restored in the next week as the House and the Senate meet in conference to work out the final bill. Viewed by some as a legislative lightweight and others as a rising conservative firebrand, Cain, 36, was a surprise choice when he was named to lead the House Election Committee earlier this year. As head of the committee, he would be charged with the critical responsibility of helping pass the Republicans’ voting bill, a priority with Abbott and a measure that adds restrictions to voting in a state that is already considered the hardest in the country in which to cast a ballot. There would be tricky waters to navigate against legions of detractors. Cain had only four years of legislative experience and a reputation as a brash and unpredictable combatant for his deeply conservative causes. In 2018, he crashed the state Democratic Party convention and handed out lawn signs that said, “This home is a gun-free safe space.” After the November election, he flew to Pennsylvania to help the Trump legal effort to overturn the results while posting selfies. He drew national attention in 2019 after being temporarily barred from Twitter for what was interpreted as a threatening post against Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Cain’s fumbling of the questions about the “purity of the ballot box” phrase has brought even greater scrutiny to the Houston-area lawmaker. A clip of the exchange with Anchia went viral on social media, with views climbing into the millions, and exposed Cain as lacking knowledge about Texas’ history of discrimination against Black voters. The “purity of the ballot box” language was eventually removed. With just weeks left before the Republican-controlled Legislature adjourns, Cain will again play a lead role in the next round of sparring over the bill, this time as one of two committee co-chairmen shaping a final version. Critics who have protested Cain’s appointment to the committee say his lack of familiarity with the purity phrase and overall stewardship of the panel raise questions about his effectiveness going into the next phase of the debate. They also cite a chaotic committee session that was forced to recess after Cain refused to let Nicole Collier, chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, sit in on the session to question witnesses as a nonmember. His error led to a lengthy delay in moving the bill forward and enraged Democrats and civil rights groups. She was permitted to ask questions during a subsequent session. “This is our first rodeo with Briscoe Cain,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who has engaged in legal battles against the state in behalf of Texas Latinos since 1996. “And after recovering from the shock that he was appointed chair of the election committee, I mean it’s been one misstep after the next.” Cain’s office declined a request for an interview or to answer questions about his exchange with Anchia. But several of his Republican colleagues gave high marks for his leadership and his handling of one of the governor’s top priorities. “One of the hardest bills to pass in this building is an omnibus election bill,” said Rep. Stephanie Klick, a Fort Worth Republican who preceded Cain as Election Committee chair. “I think he’s done amazing being able to get an omnibus bill in his first session as chair.” Bryan Hughes, chairman of the Elections Committee in the state Senate, said he had a “great relationship” with Cain and gave him a strong endorsement for his grasp of election law. “He knows the election code very well,” said Hughes, who is from East Texas. “He’s really immersed in it. He’s the ideal representative to be carrying this bill.” But Democrats on Cain’s Republican-dominated committee said the chairman led in a highly partisan and autocratic manner, shunning any effort to work with Democrats. Rep. Jessica González, a former White House intern who served in the Obama-Biden campaign and is vice chair of the Elections Committee, said Cain basically kept her out of the loop despite her position as No. 2. “Hey, just give us some notice,” she said in describing her frustration. “We’ve got to be able to communicate.” Rep. Michelle Beckley, a Democrat who represents a North Texas district that was in Republican control for decades, sat next to Cain on the House floor during the last session and said she normally had a friendly relationship with him, despite their partisan differences. “Our politics are a hundred percent polar opposites, but the one thing with Briscoe is that he does keep his word, which I will have to say is a rarity in this building,” she said. But the voting bill has been a different story, she said. “I really don’t want to be mean to him, but it was very disorganized from day one,” she said, recalling that Cain frequently did not follow protocols and rushed through bills, a practice that often led to procedural errors. Perales questioned Cain’s professed unfamiliarity with the toxic racial history of the “purity of the ballot box” phrase. She noted that at least two prominent civil rights organizations had submitted written testimony to Cain’s committee condemning the phrase. But Beckley said she too was unaware of the roots of the language. The day after the House debate, she recalled, Cain came to her desk and asked, “Did you know about this?” “I’m not going to lie,” she said in an interview, “I did not know that history.” In 2019, Cain revealed that he has Asperger’s syndrome during a speech on the House floor during Autism Awareness Month. He also injected a humorous note: “I suspect many of you are thinking to yourself, so that explains it. And yes, your assumptions are correct — that’s why I’m highly intelligent.” He lives with his wife and five children in Deer Park, where he grew up, and serves as a captain in the Texas State Guard. Cain’s four-year tenure in the Legislature has been somewhat of a roller coaster, at least by outside observations. As a freshmen legislator in 2017, Cain was put at the top of Texas Monthly’s “worst legislators” list, which called him “uninformed and belligerent.” The article cited an instance when Cain debated a member of his own party, Rep. John Zerwas, who is a doctor, over funding a state council that promotes palliative care. Cain repeatedly referred to the practice as a “death panel,” though when pressed by Zerwas, he was unable to further explain the practice. Eventually he conceded, “I recognize that you know about this and my apologies.” During his tenure in office, Cain has cultivated a quippy and lashing social media account that often seeps into right-wing troll territory. He buttresses his online reputation with a penchant for public stunts. He drew national outrage when he tweeted at O’Rourke, then a Democratic candidate for president, that “My AR is ready for you” when O’Rourke advocated taking away AR-15 rifles after the mass shooting in El Paso. O’Rourke likened the tweet to a death threat, and Twitter suspended Cain’s account for 141 days. Cain’s attention has recently turned to voting, and he has authored numerous bills in 2019 and 2021 that would have brought a raft of new restrictions with varying degrees of severity. Last year, he opposed any expansion to voting by mail during the pandemic, and Texas was one of five states that did not expand the option during the general election. In November, when it became clear President Donald Trump had lost to President Joe Biden, Cain was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged. “Election fraud is real and we must put an end to it,” he wrote on Facebook on Nov. 6. He quickly joined the Trump legal effort and took off for Pennsylvania. Before leaving, Cain posted a selfie to his Facebook account, clad in a cowboy hat and clear aviator glasses, captioned, “This Texas lawyer is flying to Philadelphia this morning to link up with a team of attorneys from across the country to fight for a fair and honest election.” His brief tenure as an election lawyer in Pennsylvania ended with the state Supreme Court rejecting his effort in a unanimous decision. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company







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FM says Iran ready for closer ties with rival Saudi Arabia From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



National ReviewIt’s Time for the U.S. to Leave IraqWhat are we still doing in Iraq? Brett McGurk, the Biden administration’s senior Middle East policy official on the National Security Council, traveled to Baghdad last week to speak with Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi about that very question — specifically, the future of U.S. troops there. The Iraqi prime minister’s office reflected on the meeting shortly thereafter, writing that the session “emphasized implementing the outcome of the strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US, especially with regard to the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.” A month earlier, Washington and Baghdad restarted their bilateral dialogue, a key agenda item of which is the removal of U.S. combat forces from the country pending further negotiations. While the exact time frame for a full U.S. troop withdrawal is still open to debate, the Biden administration seems to be inching in the right direction: Getting its forces out of an area where they long ago accomplished their goals. As of today, there are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq — down from nearly 6,000 in 2016. Those forces are responsible for implementing a training-and-advising program that aims to ensure the Iraqi security forces can execute operations against the Islamic State on their own. In reality, however, the U.S. military is spending about as much time ducking rocket fire from an alphabet soup of Shia militias. The attacks on Iraqi military bases and airports that house U.S. personnel or contractors have gotten so frequent that a week free of rocket fire is almost considered an abnormality. According to a count by the AFP news agency, around 30 rocket, mortar, or bomb attacks on U.S.-linked facilities and coalition troop convoys have occurred since President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. This includes an attack last weekend, in which a drone carrying explosives targeted the Ayn Al Asad air base in western Anbar province, which caused damage to the facility. On March 3, a barrage of about ten rockets was aimed at the same base, causing an American contractor to have a fatal heart attack. Just a week earlier, the Biden administration dropped seven GPS-guided bombs on Shia militia facilities close to the Iraqi–Syrian border in retaliation for another rocket strike in Irbil that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member. In mid-April, a drone bearing explosives attacked the military section of the airport in Irbil where U.S. troops were located (fortunately, no casualties were reported). A week later, more rockets slammed into an airport complex near Baghdad. A total of six rockets were launched in the direction of Iraq’s Balad airbase on May 4, another facility where U.S. contractors are performing advisory work in partnership with the Iraqis. Fortunately, most of these strikes don’t result in the loss of life. Nonetheless, one can’t help but wonder why U.S. forces have to be on pins and needles in a country whose lawmakers have demanded Iraq be left to its own devices. If a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq were crucial to defending Americans or U.S. national-security interests in the Middle East, the U.S. military could bear the risks of rocket fire. But the mission in Iraq has turned into one of those ever-evolving, continuous deployments that have sucked in successive U.S. presidents. By the time President Barack Obama authorized a U.S. air campaign in Iraq in August 2014, the Islamic State controlled roughly a third of the country. An entire Iraqi army division had collapsed two months earlier in Mosul, Iraq’s largest city in the north, which was quickly overtaken by a band of marauding ISIS fighters. Iraqi troops, petrified of being captured by the jihadists, threw off their uniforms as they retreated south. Tikrit, Sinjar, Zumar, and parts of the Iraqi–Syrian border were next. The fall of Baghdad, a city of over 6 million people, seemed a very real possibility at the time. ISIS, of course, is no longer the terrifying juggernaut it once was in 2014. U.S. air power, the reformed regular Iraqi army (coordinating with some of the very Shia militias now taking pot-shots against U.S. troops), Iraqi counterterrorism operatives, and Kurdish peshmerga units have been a potent combination. ISIS doesn’t control any major urban areas and hasn’t for quite some time. Mosul, the group’s last urban stronghold, was recaptured in July 2017, close to four years ago. Five months later, the Iraqi government announced ISIS was a spent force. The thousands of ISIS fighters who remain in Iraq are bottled up in remote, rural areas, their capacity to inflict large-scale terrorist attacks severely diminished in part to the increasing lethality and professionalism of the Iraqi army. The latest report from the Pentagon’s lead inspector general for the U.S. military mission in Iraq and Syria reveals that ISIS is, at best, a group of mobile, harassing nitwits who for the most part rely on standard hit-and-run tactics against Iraqi army convoys. The Iraqi Sunni community in the north and west, which ISIS relied on for support, now avoids the group. The Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon IG writes, “conducted more nighttime operations, relied on its own fire support assets and reconnaissance capabilities, and demonstrated a steady ability to conduct regular search and clearance operations.” Whereas Baghdad once was dependent on the U.S. Air Force for support, it’s now using its own air assets. That U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are now discussing the full withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq illustrates just how confident Washington is with the regular Iraqi army and counterterrorism service. While problems with intelligence, surveillance, and logistics remain a nagging concern for Baghdad, their security forces have matured from the bad old days of 2014. There is no such thing as a perfect military — even the U.S. armed forces, the most dedicated and technologically superior on the planet, has issues with maintenance, readiness, and recruitment. If Washington continues to wait for the perfect time to terminate its mission in Iraq, it will never leave. Like in next-door Syria, the U.S. military objective of eliminating ISIS’s territorial caliphate has been accomplished. Failing to take success for an answer does nothing but increase the probability that one of those rocket attacks kills or maims American personnel. Every argument President Biden used to explain his decision to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan — the U.S. military doesn’t have the ability to solve other nations’ political problems, dragging out U.S. involvement heightens the risk to U.S. forces, Washington must address the national-security issues of the future, not of the past — is also applicable to Iraq. It remains to be seen whether the White House is bold enough to acknowledge it.







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FM says Iran ready for closer ties with rival Saudi Arabia From “World”




Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says his country is ready for closer ties with its regional rival Saudi Arabia







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Iran state TV says Ahmadinejad will run in presidential race From “World News Headlines, Latest International News, World Breaking News – Times of India”



Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, third left, reviews Basij paramilitary volunteers (File photo)TEHRAN: Iran’s state television has reported that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is registering as a candidate to return to the same office in upcoming elections. Broadcast footage showed Ahmadinejad marching accompanied by supporters to a registration center at the Interior Ministry before filling out forms. Ahmadinejad in recent years has tried to polish his hardline image into a more centrist candidacy, criticizing the government for mismanagement. FacebookTwitterLinkedinEMail







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Iran: Clash near Turkey kills 2 Guard troops, 7 militants From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



Iran: Clash near Turkey kills 2 Guard troops, 7 militants







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Iran rejects US claim that speedboats sparked encounter From “Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines”



TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday rejected the U.S. Navy’s claim that fast-approaching Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz sparked a tense encounter in the already sensitive region.The Guard’s website, sepahnews.com, published a statement Tuesday saying Americans were guilty of using “false narratives and unprofessional behavior” and should more strictly “abide by international regulations.” Specifically, the statement said the Guard’s navy warned the U.S. vessels to stop their “provocative and aimless shooting.”A day earlier, the U.S. said the Revolutionary Guard sent 13 armed speedboats too close to U.S. Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday. The Americans said a Coast Guard cutter fired warning shots when two of the Iranian boats came dangerously close.The exchange comes as the United States and Iran engage in indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the United States left in 2018.Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to comment when asked about the Iranians’ intentions.“Sadly, harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon. It is something that all of our commanding officers and the crews of our vessels are trained to for,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “This activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation there in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interests.”It was the second time in two weeks that a U.S. ship opened fire to warn vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.On April 26, an American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Persian Gulf. That was the first such shooting in nearly four years. The Navy released black-and-white footage of that encounter in international waters of the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.Story continuesIn the latest incident, Kirby said 13 Iranian vessels maneuvered at high speed toward six Navy ships that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait on Monday. The sub was sailing on the surface.The six Navy escort ships included the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.“They were acting very aggressively,” Kirby said of the Iranian boats.At one point, two of the Iranian boats broke away from the others and positioned themselves on the other side of the U.S. ship formation. The two then sped toward some of the U.S. ships. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, U.S. crews issued multiple warnings to both groups of Iranian boats, including repeated bridge-to-bridge verbal warnings, said Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Navy 5th Fleet spokesperson.After the two Iranian boats failed to respond to the multiple warnings and closed to within 300 yards, the Coast Guard cutter Maui fired a volley of warning shots from its .50-caliber machine gun. It fired another volley when the Iranian boats got within 150 yards.The two Iranian boats then “altered course and increased their distance from the U.S. forces,” Rebarich said.Iran regularly rejects the U.S. Navy’s claims with regard to similar incidents.







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Hassan Rouhani criticises Iranian election criteria | Iran From “World news | The Guardian”



Iran’s outgoing president has criticised a sudden narrowing of the eligibility criteria for those hoping to succeed him as registration formally opened for candidates in the 18 June vote.Dissidents and critics claim the campaign is just a charade and helps provide legitimacy to an autocratic regime but the tensions over who can stand – and the move by a powerful unelected body to exert greater control – has revealed the tensions in Iranian society over the outcome.Hassan Rouhani, who is due to stand down, insisted the 12-strong Guardian Council had no legal authority to impose new more restrictive criteria barring anyone younger than 40 and older than 75. He urged the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for accepting registrations, to ignore the age bar being imposed by the Guardian Council, saying it went beyond provisions in the Iranian constitution. The new criteria has however been backed by 200 Iranian parliamentarians.The immediate impact will be to block Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the 39-year-old minister of communications and information technology, from standing for a four-year term as president. Even if the Interior Ministry followed Rouhani’s order, the Guardian Council has the ultimate power to block candidates on other criteria, including if they are deemed not sufficiently pious. Critics say this power is used to weed out candidates of which the religious leadership, represented by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disapprove.Siamak Raphik, a member of the council, defended the new age criteria, saying the Council was “the sole custodian of the eligibility of candidates”. He added: “Cohesion is vital for any country and elections are a source of cohesion and authority in the country.” The list of approved candidates will be announced on 26 May after an appeal’s process.During the five days registration period for the last presidential election in 2017, a total of 1,636 individuals put their name to run for president, a large increase over the 686 in 2013. Most were no hopers or publicity seekers. In the end only six were approved by the Guardian Council to run. Among those disqualified were the former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his vice president, Hamid Baghaei.Women are not formally debarred from running, and many put themselves forward, including one arriving illegally on a motorcycle on Tuesday to register. No woman has however been allowed to stand in the Islamic Republic’s history.Among the steady stream of candidates arriving to register included Brigadier General Saeed Mohammad, who recently resigned as the commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Construction Base.This year’s campaign looks to be held against the backdrop of talks in Vienna on the future of the nuclear deal. A last minute agreement, currently unlikely, might be a badly needed shot in the arm of those who favour engagement with the West.But widespread disillusionment with the deal not lifting crippling US sanctions, a fourth wave of Covid and general middle class disenchantment with the chances for reform, suggests turnout will be low. Last year’s parliamentary elections saw turnout fall to 42%, a record low.Reformists for months have been discussing the value of putting up a candidate, with some backing a boycott to leave the conservatives in visible control of the institutions on the basis that reformists are currently in office but in practice wield little power. So far more than 30 politicians have declared a plan to run, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, but key figures have so far held back as they wait to test support and seek final intelligence on whether they have the approval of the Supreme Leader.Three big conservatives – the judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, the former speaker of the Majlis (the parliament) and the politician charged with negotiating the 25 year strategic partnership with China Ali Larijani, and the pro-IRGC Saeed Jalili have yet to declare.If Raisi does stand – and it is tipped he will announce Thursday – he is likely to clear most other conservatives from the field, such as Jalili, as they try to get on board with his campaign.Khamenei has said he wants the victor to be young and pious, and in Iranian politics Raisi’s 60 years makes him sprightly. He is widely tipped to be the next Supreme Leader when Khamenei dies. He lost heavily to Rouhani in 2017 and is currently on the US sanctions list.The internally-divided reformists have pinned hopes on as many as five options including Rouhani’s vice president Eshaq Jahangiri or the foreign minister Javad Zarif.But in a possible attempt to discredit them, there are reports that Jahangiri’s brother was arrested for smuggling whilst Zarif was the recent victim of the leak of an an audio file in which he admitted he was largely powerless in his current role.Zarif has apologised to the Supreme Leader about his remarks, and those that want him out of the race for sure feel they have buried him. Zarif has repeatedly said he is not equipped for the Presidency.Other reformists have been warned off by the Supreme Leader. In April he told a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 revolution, that he should not run. Hassan Khomeini, who had already chosen a well-known revolutionary catchphrase of his grandfather – “All of us together” – as his campaign slogan, had perhaps the best potential to increase turnout in the election and provide hope to the embattled reformist-pragmatist camp.Mostafa Tajzadeh is possibly the most outspoken reformist, but is not expected to clear the Guardian Council since he was imprisoned 2009 until 2016 for protesting over claims the 2008 presidential election was stolen.Mohammad Shariatmadari, the minister for co-operatives and social welfare, has promised to form Khatmani’s third government, a reference to the two terms between 1997 and 2005 of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, in which he was commerce minister. Mohammed-Reza Aref who previously stood in 2013 only to pull out in favour of Rouhani is also keen to stand.Opinions sharply differ on the true power of Iran’s president. Many experts for instance claim Iran’s negotiating position in Vienna is not ultimately determined by the president but by the supreme leader.







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