Mir-Hossein Mousavi Warns of Conspiracy to Pass on Position of Iran Guide to Khamenei's Son

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivers a speech on the occasion of Noruz, the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, March 20, 2022. (AFP)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivers a speech on the occasion of Noruz, the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, March 20, 2022. (AFP)
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Mir-Hossein Mousavi Warns of Conspiracy to Pass on Position of Iran Guide to Khamenei's Son

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivers a speech on the occasion of Noruz, the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, March 20, 2022. (AFP)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivers a speech on the occasion of Noruz, the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, March 20, 2022. (AFP)

Iranian reformist leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest for more than a decade, warned against the possibility of one of Ali Khamenei’s sons inheriting the position of the supreme guide – a move that he described as conspiracy.

In an article published by Iran’s Al-Kalima news website, affiliated with Mousavi, the leader pointed to rumors that Mojtaba Khamenei would inherit the position of his father.

Khamenei’s succession has raised controversy in Iran since 2005. But the issue has drawn particular attention after the current president, Ibrahim Raisi, entered the presidential race in 2017, which he lost in favor of his rival, Hassan Rouhani, before he repeated the attempt in 2021 to assume the position of head of the executive body, making him a serious candidate for the position.

A council of senior experts looks into naming the successor to the Iranian spiritual guide, in the event of his death or if he was unable to perform his duties. Supervising the performance of the leader is one of the functions of the council, which includes 88 senior and influential clerics.

Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and his ally Mehdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since February 2011, after they led the Green Movement protests, which questioned the validity of the elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2009.

This is not the first time that the reformist movement in Iran has pointed to the role of the Iranian leader’s son in the ruling establishment, including elections or the possibility of him inheriting the position of his father.

In December 2018, Mehdi Karroubi sent a sharp message to Khamenei, asking him to assume responsibility for his actions over the period in which he served as Iran’s supreme leader.



White House: Raisi Had ‘Blood on his Hands’

Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021 (Reuters)
Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021 (Reuters)
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White House: Raisi Had ‘Blood on his Hands’

Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021 (Reuters)
Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021 (Reuters)

The White House has said that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had “blood on his hands” for supporting extremist groups across the Middle East.

Raisi, 63, was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday as he was travelling back from a visit to northern Iran.

“We’re going to continue to hold Iran accountable for all their destabilizing behavior in the region,” White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said on Monday.

“No question this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands,” he added.
“The United States will continue to confront Iranian support for terrorism, proliferation of dangerous weapons and advances in its nuclear program following the death of its president in a helicopter crash,” the US State Department said.
“Our approach remains unchanged,” a State Department spokesperson told Reuters on condition of anonymity, saying Washington would keep defending the human rights of the Iranian people.

“We will continue to confront the Iranian regime's support for terrorism, proliferation of dangerous weapons, and advancement of its nuclear program in ways that have no credible civilian purpose,” he added.

US Condolences

The US on Monday offered its “condolences” to Iran.

State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said in a statement that Washington expresses its “official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation.”

“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” he added.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated that US forces have not changed their posture after the crash in Iran.

“The United States had no part to play in that crash. I can't speculate on what may have been the cause,” he added.


France Backs ICC after Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants for Israel's Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
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France Backs ICC after Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants for Israel's Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

France backs the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the 'fight against impunity', its foreign ministry said after the court's prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others for alleged war crimes.
On Monday, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he had requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defense chief Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders, including its chief, Yahya Sinwar, said AFP.
If such warrants are issued, however, members of the court, which includes nearly all countries of the European Union, could be put in a diplomatically difficult position.
"France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence and the fight against impunity in all situations", the foreign ministry said in a statement late on Monday.
While US President Joe Biden called the legal step against Israeli officials "outrageous", the French foreign ministry took a different stance.
It reiterated both its condemnation of Hamas's 'anti-Semitic massacres' on Oct. 7 as well as its warnings over possible violations of international humanitarian law by Israel's invasion of the Gaza strip.
"As far as Israel is concerned, it will be up to the court's pre-trial chamber to decide whether to issue these warrants, after examining the evidence put forward by the prosecutor ... ," the ministry said.


Yale Graduates Stage Pro-Palestinian Walkout of Commencement 

Graduates protest the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, during the commencement at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, US, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Graduates protest the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, during the commencement at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, US, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Yale Graduates Stage Pro-Palestinian Walkout of Commencement 

Graduates protest the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, during the commencement at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, US, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Graduates protest the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, during the commencement at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, US, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)

Scores of graduating students staged a walkout from Yale University's commencement exercises on Monday, protesting the Israeli war in Gaza, Yale's financial ties to weapons makers and its response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the Ivy League campus.

The walkout began as Yale President Peter Salovey started to announce the traditional college-by-college presentation of candidates for degrees on the grounds of Yale's Old Campus, filled with thousands of graduates in their caps and gowns.

At least 150 students seated near the front of the audience stood up together, turned their backs to the stage and paraded out of the ceremony through Phelps Gate, retracing their steps during the processional into the yard.

Many of the protesters carried small banners with such slogans as "Books not bombs" and "Divest from war." Some wore red-colored latex gloves symbolizing bloodied hands.

Other signs read: "Drop the charges" and "Protect free speech" in reference to 45 people arrested in a police crackdown last month on demonstrations in and around the New Haven, Connecticut, campus.

The walkout drew a chorus of cheers from fellow students in the crowd, but the protest was otherwise peaceful, without disruption. No mention of it was made from the stage.

Yale is one of dozens of US campuses roiled by protests over the mounting Palestinian humanitarian crisis stemming from Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip following the bloody Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israeli settlements by Hamas gunmen.

The University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony altogether, and dozens of students walked out of Duke University's commencement last week to protest its guest speaker, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has supported Israel throughout the war in Gaza.

ACADEMIC WORKERS STRIKE UC SANTA CRUZ

Fallout from a violent attack weeks ago on pro-Palestinian activists encamped at the University of California, Los Angeles, reverberated on the UC Santa Cruz campus on Monday as academic workers there staged a protest strike organized by their union.

Also on Monday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in New Hampshire, narrowly voted to censure president Sian Beilock, according to a college spokesperson, for her decision to call in police to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment on May 1. The censure vote does not directly endanger Beilock's job.

The police action resulted in the arrest of 89 people and some injuries.

Much of the student activism has been aimed at academic institutions' financial ties with Israel and US military programs benefiting the Jewish state.

Protests in sympathy with Palestinians have in turn been branded by pro-Israel supporters as antisemitic, testing the boundaries between freedom of expression and hate speech. Many schools have called in police to quell the demonstrations.

At UC Santa Cruz on Monday, hundreds of unionized academic researchers, graduate teaching assistants and post-doctoral scholars went on strike to protest what they said were the university's unfair labor practices in its handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The strikers are members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4811, which represents some 2,000 grad students and other academic workers at UC Santa Cruz, and about 48,000 total across all 10 University of California campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Last week, the UAW 4811 rank-and-file voted to authorize union leaders to organize a series of "standup" strikes through the end of June on individual or groups of UC campuses rather than across the entire university.

The Santa Cruz strike marked the first union-backed protest in solidarity with the recent wave of pro-Palestinian student activists, whose numbers, according to the UAW, include graduate students arrested at several University of California campuses.

Union leaders said a major impetus for the strike was the arrest of 210 people at the scene of a pro-Palestinian protest camp torn down by police at UCLA on May 2.

The night before, a group of pro-Israel supporters physically attacked the encampment and its occupiers in a melee that went on for at least three hours before police moved in to quell the disturbance. The university has since opened an investigation of the incident.

The strikers also are demanding amnesty for grad students who were arrested or face discipline for their involvement in the protests.

UC Santa Cruz issued a statement saying campus entrances were briefly blocked in the morning by demonstrators, prompting the school to switch to remote instruction for the day.

The University of California has filed its own unfair labor practice complaint with the state Public Employee Relations Board asking the state to order a halt to the strike.


US Says it Was 'Unable' to Provide Iran Assistance after Helicopter Crash

People pray for President Ebrahim Raisi in a ceremony at Vali-e-Asr square in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. © Vahid Salemi, AP
People pray for President Ebrahim Raisi in a ceremony at Vali-e-Asr square in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. © Vahid Salemi, AP
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US Says it Was 'Unable' to Provide Iran Assistance after Helicopter Crash

People pray for President Ebrahim Raisi in a ceremony at Vali-e-Asr square in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. © Vahid Salemi, AP
People pray for President Ebrahim Raisi in a ceremony at Vali-e-Asr square in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. © Vahid Salemi, AP

The United States on Monday said it had been unable, due largely to logistical reasons, to accept an Iranian request for assistance following a helicopter crash over the weekend that killed President Ebrahim Raisi, as Washington offered its condolences.

The rare request from Iran, which views the United States and Israel as its main adversaries, was disclosed by the State Department at a news briefing.

"We were asked for assistance by the Iranian government. We did make clear to them that we would offer assistance, as we would do in response to any request by a foreign government in this sort of situation," spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

"Ultimately, largely for logistical reasons, we were unable to provide that assistance," Miller said, without elaborating, Reuters reported.

The charred wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six other passengers and crew, was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

Asked whether he was concerned that Tehran might blame Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "The United States had no part to play in that crash."

"I can't speculate on what may have been the cause," he added.

Still, Austin played down any US concerns that the crash might have immediate security implications in the Middle East.

"I don't necessarily see any broader, regional security impact at this point," he said.


UN Security Council Rejects Russia-backed Resolution on Banning Weapons in Space

Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia attends a meeting on Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons with members of the U.N. Security Council , Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia attends a meeting on Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons with members of the U.N. Security Council , Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
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UN Security Council Rejects Russia-backed Resolution on Banning Weapons in Space

Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia attends a meeting on Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons with members of the U.N. Security Council , Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia attends a meeting on Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons with members of the U.N. Security Council , Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The United States said Monday that Russia last week launched a satellite that could be part of weaponizing space, a possible future global trend that members of the United Nations Security Council condemned even as they failed to pass a measure against it.

The Security Council resolution drafted by Russia rivaled one backed by the US and Japan that failed last month. The rival drafts focused on different types of weapons, with the US and Japan specifying weapons of mass destruction. The Russian draft discussed all types of weapons.

The US and its allies said the language that the 15-member council debated on Monday was simply meant to distract the world from Russia's true intention: weaponizing space.

“The culmination of Russia’s campaign of diplomatic gaslighting and dissembling is the text before us today," US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the council, according to The AP.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, denied that his nation was trying to mislead the world. Backed by China and others, he called the vote “a unique moment of truth for our Western colleagues.”

“If they fail to support this, then they will clearly show that their main priority remains keeping freedom of the way for themselves to expedite the militarization of outer space," Nebenzia said.

Every nation says it wants weapons barred from space, and council members repeated that Monday. But when it came time to vote, the council evenly split 7-7 between backers of the US and of Russia, with Switzerland abstaining. The measure failed under UN rules because it didn't receive nine votes.

“We have this negative, squabbling attitude among leading space powers that seem more interested in scoring points off their adversaries rather than engaging in constructive dialogue,” said Paul Meyer, Canada’s former ambassador for disarmament and a fellow at the Vancouver-based Outer Space Institute.

Since before humans left the Earth, the world’s most powerful nations have worried about their enemies using outer space to attack them .

The Soviet Union and the United States sent men into space in 1961. Six years later, the Soviets, the US and the United Kingdom signed a treaty declaring outer space a global commons that could be used for only peaceful purposes.

Even though nations could not wage war without the space-based communications, reconnaissance and weather tools that satellites and spacecraft provide, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires them to keep their weapons on Earth.

“You realize what an important conflict-prevention measure that was,” Meyer said.

It’s become even more important, he said, as a growing number of nations have moved into space. About a dozen have the capacity to launch spacecraft, and about 80 have their own satellites, not to mention the private companies with assets in orbit.

All of that could be at risk if a conflict in space causes an explosion and shrapnel, which could disable the vital systems that millions of people around the world depend on.

“A lot of people have a stake in being able to operate in space safely and securely,” Meyer said.

The US has gathered highly sensitive intelligence about Russian anti-satellite weapons that has been shared with the upper echelons of government, four people who had been briefed on the intelligence said in February. The people, who were not authorized to comment publicly, said the capability was not yet operational.


North Korea's Kim Sends Condolence Message to Iran

This picture taken on December 27, 2022 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 28, 2022 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un giving a report on the second day of the 6th expanded plenary session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the Party Central Committee headquarters in Pyongyang. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on December 27, 2022 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 28, 2022 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un giving a report on the second day of the 6th expanded plenary session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the Party Central Committee headquarters in Pyongyang. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
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North Korea's Kim Sends Condolence Message to Iran

This picture taken on December 27, 2022 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 28, 2022 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un giving a report on the second day of the 6th expanded plenary session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the Party Central Committee headquarters in Pyongyang. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on December 27, 2022 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 28, 2022 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un giving a report on the second day of the 6th expanded plenary session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the Party Central Committee headquarters in Pyongyang. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a condolence message to Iran over the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, state media KCNA said on Tuesday.

In the message, Kim said the death of Raisi was a "great loss" to Iran and he hoped the bereaved families would recover as soon as possible.

He was "an outstanding statesman and a close friend" who made a "great contribution to the cause of the Iranian people for safeguarding the sovereignty, development and interests of their country and the gains of the Islamic revolution," Kim was quoted as saying by KCNA, Reuters reported.

North Korea and Iran have close ties and are suspected of having cooperated on ballistic missile programs, possibly exchanging technical expertise.

 

 

 


Iran to Hold Raisi's Funeral Procession On Wednesday In Tehran

Iranian authorities announced Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi - (photo by Reuters)
Iranian authorities announced Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi - (photo by Reuters)
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Iran to Hold Raisi's Funeral Procession On Wednesday In Tehran

Iranian authorities announced Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi - (photo by Reuters)
Iranian authorities announced Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi - (photo by Reuters)

Iranian authorities announced Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi would be held in Tehran Wednesday, following his death in a helicopter crash.

"On Wednesday morning, we will have the funeral procession in the city of Tehran" for Raisi and other members of his entourage killed in the crash, Mohsen Mansouri, vice president for executive affairs told state television.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei quickly named a vice president as caretaker and insisted the government was in control.

In Tehran, Iran’s capital, businesses were open and children attended school Monday. However, there was a noticeable presence of both uniformed and plainclothes security forces, The AP reported.

Later in the day, hundreds of mourners crowded into downtown Vali-e-Asr square holding posters of Raisi and waving Palestinian flags. Some men clutched prayer beads and were visibly crying. Women wearing black chadors gathered together holding photos of the dead leader.

“We were shocked that we lost such a character, a character that made Iran proud, and humiliated the enemies,” said Mohammad Beheshti, 36

A hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, Raisi, 63, was viewed as a protege of Khamenei. During his tenure, relations continued to deteriorate with the West as Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels and supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

The crash killed all eight people aboard a Bell 212 helicopter that Iran purchased in the early 2000s, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Among the dead were Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, a senior cleric from Tabriz, a Revolutionary Guard official and three crew members, IRNA said.


Biden Says Request for War Crimes Arrest Warrant for Israeli Leaders Is ‘Outrageous’

US President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address during Morehouse College's graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address during Morehouse College's graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Biden Says Request for War Crimes Arrest Warrant for Israeli Leaders Is ‘Outrageous’

US President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address during Morehouse College's graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address during Morehouse College's graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

President Joe Biden on Monday condemned as “outrageous” an attempt by the chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with those of Hamas over actions taken during their seven-month war.

In a sharply worded statement, Biden rejected the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor's to seek the arrest of Netanyahu and Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant, saying “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas."

“We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security,” Biden added.

The court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed.


US Expresses Condolences for Death of Iranian President

Men hang a huge portrait of Iran's late President Ebrahim Raisi outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (AFP)
Men hang a huge portrait of Iran's late President Ebrahim Raisi outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (AFP)
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US Expresses Condolences for Death of Iranian President

Men hang a huge portrait of Iran's late President Ebrahim Raisi outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (AFP)
Men hang a huge portrait of Iran's late President Ebrahim Raisi outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (AFP)

The United States expressed its "official condolences" Monday for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in a helicopter crash, the State Department said.

"As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms," department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he did not have insight into the cause of the helicopter crash that killed Raisi, adding that he did not necessarily see any broader impact on regional security.

"I can't speculate on what may have been the cause," Austin told reporters. 


Cohen Acknowledges Stealing from Trump at Hush Money Trial

 Michael Cohen is cross examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, US, May 20, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (Reuters)
Michael Cohen is cross examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, US, May 20, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (Reuters)
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Cohen Acknowledges Stealing from Trump at Hush Money Trial

 Michael Cohen is cross examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, US, May 20, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (Reuters)
Michael Cohen is cross examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, US, May 20, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (Reuters)

Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen testified on Monday that he stole money from Trump's company, an admission that could chip away at his credibility as a star witness at the former US president's hush money trial.

Questioned by Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche, Cohen acknowledged stealing from the Trump Organization by including a reimbursement to a technology company in his bonus package and pocketing most of the money.

"So you stole from the Trump Organization, right?" Blanche asked.

"Yes sir," Cohen, 57, testified.

Cohen said he paid roughly $20,000 of the $50,000 that Trump's company owed to the tech company in cash, handing it off in a brown paper bag at his office. He said he kept the rest. He was reimbursed $100,000 total by the Trump Organization for that payment.

Cohen is the final and most important witness for New York prosecutors as they seek to convince a jury that Trump broke the law by covering up a $130,000 payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

But as a convicted felon and admitted liar, Cohen is a problematic witness. Prosecutors have buttressed his testimony with documentary evidence, while Trump's lawyers have sought to undermine Cohen's credibility through his cross-examination.

After his testimony concludes, Trump's lawyers will have a chance to present evidence and witnesses of their own.

It was unclear whether Trump would take the witness stand. Defense lawyers often opt not to call witnesses or present their own evidence when they believe prosecutors have failed to make their case.

Though Trump said before the trial began that he planned to testify, Blanche told the judge last week that it was no longer certain. Outside the courtroom on Monday, Trump did not tell reporters whether he would testify or not.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS NEXT WEEK

At the outset of Monday's session, Justice Juan Merchan said he expected the prosecution and the defense to wrap up their presentations this week and make their closing arguments next week.

The first former president to face a criminal trial has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up the payment to Daniels, who had threatened to go public with her account of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter - a liaison Trump denies.

Outside the courtroom, Trump, 77, has blasted the trial as a politically motivated effort to hobble his attempt to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Inside the courtroom, Trump has sat at the defendant's table listening to Daniels tell her account of their time together in lurid detail. Other witnesses, including Cohen, have discussed efforts to bury unflattering stories at a time Trump faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Trump's lawyers said last week they did not think they would need much time unless Trump opted to testify.

"That's another decision that we need to think through," Blanche said on Thursday, the last day the trial convened.

If he chooses to testify, Trump will have the opportunity to convince jurors that he was not responsible for the paperwork at the heart of the case, and rebut Daniels' detailed account of their meeting in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

He would not be restrained by a gag order that bars him in other settings from criticizing witnesses, jurors and relatives of the judge and prosecutors.

However, he would face cross-examination by prosecutors, who could try to expose inconsistencies in his story. Any lies told under oath could expose him to further criminal perjury charges.

Trump last appeared as a witness in a civil business-fraud trial last year, delivering defiant and rambling testimony that aggravated Justice Arthur Engoron, who was overseeing the case. Engoron would go on to order him to pay $355 million in penalties after finding he fraudulently overstated his net worth to dupe lenders.

The hush money trial is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces, but it is likely the only one to go to trial before the election. Trump faces charges in Washington and Georgia of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden and charges in Florida of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.