Iran Downplays Netanyahu's Threats, Says Tehran Has 'Israel-Hitting' Missiles

Iran Downplays Netanyahu's Threats, Says Tehran Has 'Israel-Hitting' Missiles
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Iran Downplays Netanyahu's Threats, Says Tehran Has 'Israel-Hitting' Missiles

Iran Downplays Netanyahu's Threats, Says Tehran Has 'Israel-Hitting' Missiles

Iran possesses "Israel-hitting" missiles that are designed to target the "occupied territory", said Iranian Defense Ministry spokesman Reza Talaei

He explained that the system was built by local experts and included missiles named after General Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind behind the external operations of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad in 2020.

The spokesman further noted that the weapon system is designed proportionately according to the threats.

The government-affiliated ISNA agency reported to the spokesperson, "Iran is the region's prime power in defense."

"We were all by ourselves before the war, but today they say no equation in the region can be balanced without Iran; this is the defensive power that has been achieved."

Last August, the Defense Ministry announced the deployment of the Soleimani missile with a range of 1400 kilometers, three years after its development was announced in August 2020.

Tasnim agency reported last month that the Soleimani missile is the first tactical missile that operates with solid fuel and can easily reach Israel, pointing out the possibility of extending its range to 1700 - 1800 kilometers.

- Israeli Warning

Iran's Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdollahian dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statements regarding Iran in his UN General Assembly address.

Netanyahu emphasized at the United Nations last Friday the importance of confronting Iran with a "credible nuclear threat."

Later, his office retracted the statement, saying that he had misspoken and that his prepared text said, "credible military threat" instead of "credible nuclear threat," according to AFP.

Netanyahu, who has repeatedly used the UN stage to issue dark warnings about Tehran, briefly paused at the General Assembly when he appeared to threaten a nuclear attack if Tehran pursues its atomic bomb.

"Above all -- Iran must face a credible nuclear threat. As long as I'm prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

In Tehran, official media reported that Abdollahian responded to the Israeli Prime Minister's statements by saying, "Nobody takes Netanyahu's threats seriously."

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York, he said the Zionist entity is now at its weakest. He noted that some international officials who attended the UN General Assembly session referred to Netanyahu's behavior as a "joke."

- Oman Initiative

Abdollahian commented shortly after meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York.

According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abdollahian informed Guterres that Tehran continues its correspondence with the US side, aiming to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

He indicated that Iran continues to exchange messages with the US, and the Sultan of Oman's plan is still on the table, adding that if other parties are ready, Tehran is serious about returning to the nuclear deal.

Abdollahian discussed several issues with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, including the situation in Syria, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the nuclear deal, and the long-term strategic cooperation agreement between Iran and Russia.

At a press conference in New York on Saturday, Lavrov stated that Iran has consistently denied any intentions of pursuing nuclear weapons, with their Supreme Leader even issuing a fatwa on the matter. He condemned the E3 decision to extend sanctions on Iran.

He asserted there was no evidence of Iran sending drones to Russia for its military operations in Ukraine.

Lavrov emphasized that Iran's missile program has nothing to do with the nuclear program, wondering how the next US administration would deal with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).

- Nuclear Inspectors

Iran's recent move to revoke the licenses of some of the most experienced international inspectors monitoring its nuclear program has been met with global and regional calls for cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran's decision followed criticisms from IAEA Director Rafael Grossi regarding the lack of progress in investigations into activities at two covert sites and the halting of surveillance cameras.

Tehran refused to hand over IAEA surveillance camera recordings and removed other cameras.

Iran has been enriching uranium at 60 percent since April 2021, the same month negotiations began in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear deal.

However, the Vienna track faltered weeks after the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The last attempts by the European Union to conclude the negotiations failed in September of the previous year.

Abdollahian told Guterres that things are on the right track if the IAEA operates within the technical framework. However, the situation deteriorates when others prioritize their political views over the agency's professional matters.

In February, Iran's former Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, warned that continuous Western pressure might force Tehran to act defensively and seek nuclear weapons.

Last Friday, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, told journalists that Iran's decision to prevent UN nuclear inspectors suggests it is not interested in being a responsible actor regarding its atomic program.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammad Eslami, arrived in Vienna on Sunday to participate in the IAEA General Assembly meeting.

Tasnim reported that Eslami will meet Grossi during this visit.



Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of people gathered to bid farewell to Alexei Navalny at a funeral Friday in Moscow under a heavy police presence, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.
His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia, The Associated Press said.
The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which was encircled by crowd-control barriers, did not mention the service on its social media page. Hours before the funeral was set to start, hundreds waited to enter the church under the watch of police who deployed in big numbers. Western diplomats were spotted in the long line.
After the hearse arrived at the church, the coffin could be seen on live streamed footage being taken out of the vehicle, as the crowd applauded and chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged those gathering in Moscow and other places not to break the law, saying any “unauthorized (mass) gatherings" are violations.
A burial was to follow at the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also showed up in force.
Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was being held delayed its release, according to Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny's close ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Authorities originally said they couldn't turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya, 69, made a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin to release it so she could bury her son with dignity.
Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media. They also struggled to find a hearse.
“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.
Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.
It was not immediately clear who among Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in 2021.
The funeral is streamed live on Navalny’s YouTube channel.
His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.
“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In a speech to European lawmakers on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would "arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband.”
Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, according to politician Yekaterina Duntsova. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.
Yarmysh also urged Navalny's supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honor Friday.
“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when things were scary and difficult.”
Zhdanov, the Navalny ally, said that the funeral had initially been planned for Thursday — the day of Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address — but no venue agreed to hold it then.
In an interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza, Zhdanov said authorities had pressured Navalny’s relatives to “have a quiet family funeral.”

 

 


G20 Finance Chiefs Fail to Reach Joint Statement amid Gaza, Ukraine Debate

Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
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G20 Finance Chiefs Fail to Reach Joint Statement amid Gaza, Ukraine Debate

Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel

Finance leaders from the world's largest economies failed to agree on a joint statement as they wrapped up talks on Thursday, with divisions over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine overshadowing efforts to forge a consensus on global economic development.
Brazil, which hosted finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies, issued its own summary in lieu of a shared communique. India took a similar tack in its G20 presidency last year, but still rallied most of the G20 in condemnation of Russia for invading Ukraine.
Brazil's summary, in line with a draft communique seen by Reuters on Tuesday, cited the economic risks of "wars and escalating conflicts" but urged debate on them in other venues. It also noted higher odds of a "soft landing" for the global economy, which would cool inflation without a major recession.
Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad told journalists that differences among G20 foreign ministers discussing regional conflicts the week before had "contaminated" talks on the financial track, spoiling efforts to reach a joint statement.
G20 officials debated late into the night and down to the final hours of the meeting how to describe the wars in a joint communique, with Russia and major Western nations at loggerheads over the language, according to people familiar with the matter.
Those geopolitical tensions ran throughout the two-day meeting, at times overshadowing the formal agenda, such as discussion of a global minimum wealth tax on the ultra-rich proposed by Brazil.
The G7 group of rich Western nations and Japan backed the idea of referring to the war "on" Ukraine, while Russia wanted to describe it as the war "in" Ukraine, said two people familiar with the matter.
The G7 countries also backed language describing the war in Gaza as a "humanitarian crisis" with no mention of Israel, the sources said.
Brazilian officials hosting the event had tried to focus talks on economic cooperation to tackle issues such as climate change and poverty, but countries including Germany pushed for a joint statement mentioning wars in Ukraine and Gaza.
Japan's vice finance minister for international affairs Masato Kanda, who attended on behalf of the finance minister, brushed aside the view the G20's credibility was on the line.
"Conflicts have a huge impact on the global economy. It affects energy and food prices, among other things. Therefore, it's obvious the impact must be discussed at the G20," he told a news conference after the G20 meeting.
INEQUALITY AGENDA
Despite the tensions hanging over the meeting in Sao Paulo, Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), called the start of Brazil's presidency this year a success, as the only contention of the second day of finance track talks was "over a few words" in a joint statement.
"Brazil had set clear priorities, for example, with their tax proposal," Steiner told Reuters on Thursday.
As part of efforts to address inequality, Brazil has proposed debates on a global minimum wealth tax that would ensure increased tax contributions by super-rich individuals.
"Even with slightly higher tax rates for the approximately 2,500 billionaires worldwide, very considerable additional revenue could be generated," he said.
Brazil will aim to craft a statement on international taxation by the group's July summit, Finance Minister Fernando Haddad said on Thursday. He said he was expecting a report on the matter from the European Tax Observatory, which has advocated for a global wealth tax on the world's richest people, in contrast with income taxes common in most major economies.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expressed support on Wednesday for a global minimum tax on the world's most wealthy.


EU Suggests Using Frozen Russian Assets to Fund Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
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EU Suggests Using Frozen Russian Assets to Fund Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)

Russia's frozen assets should be used to purchase badly needed military equipment for Ukraine, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed on Thursday.

“There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live,” she said.Russia's frozen assets should be used to purchase badly needed military equipment for Ukraine, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed on Thursday.

“The threat of war may not be imminent, but it is not impossible. The risks of war should not be overblown, but they should be prepared for,” von der Leyen added.

Her comments came shortly after the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell warned that “Putin has not won yet, but Europe has to wake up.” He then called on EU member states to increase and accelerate aid to Ukraine.

Von der Leye’s controversial proposal, at least from a legal point of view, comes after the EU and the G7, the group of seven leading industrialized nations, proposed to use profits from the estimated $285 billion frozen Russian funds to rebuild Ukraine after the war.

However, some countries raised concerns that confiscating Russian assets would have repercussions on the future of foreign investments in Europe.

On Thursday, von der Leyen’s comments acknowledged there is another recommendation for how to use the Russian reserves, not only to the reconstruction of Ukraine, but to purchase weapons for Ukraine.

“There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live,” she said.

The Russian invasion has exposed glaring weaknesses in Europe’s arms manufacturing capacities.

Currently, the EU is attempting to put the final touches on a common European defense strategy which aims to establish a committee that jointly purchases military equipment and work for a financial increase of the fund in this sector.

Also, EU member states are concerned about a possible return of former US President Donald Trump to the White House. They fear his comeback would engender a deterioration of relations between Washington and Brussels and could lessen Washington's defensive commitments made to NATO.


Shelter Centers for Migrants Drive Increasing Anger in Mauritania

A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
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Shelter Centers for Migrants Drive Increasing Anger in Mauritania

A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)

An approaching deal on migration between Mauritania and the European Union continues to raise concerns among Mauritanians, especially after posts on social media warned that the new agreement could turn the country into a large detention camp for migrants deported from Europe.
On Wednesday, the Mauritanian government strongly denied the claims.
Government spokesperson Ould Chrougha said that Mauritania will not be a country of resettlement for migrants.
He considered that rumors circulating about the migration agreement between Mauritania and the EU have no goal but to intimidate citizens.
The concerns among Mauritanians came amidst meetings held in the past 10 days between the Interior Ministry in Nouakchott and an EU delegation to reach a draft joint declaration on migration. The new deal is expected to be signed in Nouakchott early this month, the Mauritanian government announced a few days ago.
On Wednesday, the government spokesperson revealed that Mauritania was the side that demanded the establishment of a cooperative framework with the EU on migration due to its geographical location and regional conditions, adding that the discussion is still ongoing.
Chrougha pointed out that since 2003, Mauritania had an agreement with Spain to manage migration. He said that for objective reasons, it called for canceling or updating this agreement, which the two parties have begun working on.
As part of the 2003 agreement, Spain would send civil guards to help the Mauritanian authorities patrol the coast and conduct interdiction operations at sea to limit irregular migration flows from west African countries, including Mauritania, to the Canary Islands.
It was clear from Chrougha’s comments that Mauritania aims to conclude an agreement on migration with the EU that serves the country’s interests. Mauritania bears heavy costs due to the waves of illegal migrants and refugees who fled a renewed outbreak of violence in neighboring Mali.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Nouakchott has lately adopted a new approach to manage the migration file.
It wants to push Europeans to shoulder part of the burden of fighting migration.
This new policy was particularly adopted after a statistic on foreigners conducted by Mauritanian authorities last year, revealed “worrying” figures.
The figures even prompted President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani to address the issue during a meeting with a high-ranking European delegation in Nouakchott a few days ago.
The President affirmed that “Mauritania was previously a transit country for migrants. However, it is starting to turn into a permanent country of residence.”
Mauritanian Interior Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine also addressed the issue during a meeting of Arab Interior Ministers.
He said that Mauritania receives tens of thousands of refugees from Mali, and waves of illegal migrants coming from sub-Saharan countries dreaming of a better life in Europe. He said his country is paying a high cost for hosting those refugees.
Although the government is exerting efforts to address the migration file, Mauritanians still fear that their country would turn into a large detention camp for migrants deported from Europe. These concerns drove lately a flood of fake news across social media platforms.
And while officials repeatedly deny the presence of any migration camps in the country, some local movements are still not convinced.
Lately, the Kafana opposition movement called for a protest against any deal between Mauritania and the EU, calling it a “deal to naturalize migrants in Mauritania.”

 

 


Strasbourg Christmas Market Terror Attack Trial Kicks Off

Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
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Strasbourg Christmas Market Terror Attack Trial Kicks Off

Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)

The trial of four men suspected of having played a key role in supplying weapons to the perpetrator of the December 2018 shootings at the Strasbourg Christmas markets began on Thursday.

Five people were killed and 11 others injured after a gunman opened fire near a crowded Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. The four men are suspected of having played a key role in supplying weapons to the perpetrator of the December 2018 attack.

Chérif Chekatt, 29, opened fire with a 19th-century revolver on 11 December in the historic centre.

After the attack, he hailed a taxi to the south of the city. After a 48-hour manhunt, he was killed in a shootout with police.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Strasbourg attack via its Amaq news agency. Later, Chekatt pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video found in his apartment.

Chekatt, who was born and raised in the city, attacked passersby with a gun and knife at three different locations in the shadow of the city’s cathedral, where the Christmas market attracts millions of visitors each year.

Chekatt had a long criminal record with more than 20 convictions for theft and violence. He had spent several spells in jail and was on a watchlist of radicalised former prisoners, according to The Guardian.

The trial is due to last until April 5.

Four French men, aged between 34 and 43, are on trial in Paris. Three – Stéphane Bodein and Frédéric Bodein, brothers who buy and sell used cars, and Christian Hoffmann, an unemployed mechanic – are accused of involvement by helping to procure weapons.

Only one of the defendants, Audrey Mondjehi-Kpanhoue, 43, a former security guard who had been a cellmate of Chekatt, is facing terrorism charges and could face life in prison.

A fifth man, aged 84, will not appear for health reasons, and is likely to be tried separately at a later date.

The trial will hear accounts of survivors and the families of those killed, including a father who had fled Afghanistan and was visiting the market with his children, as well as a Thai tourist. Dozens of survivors were left with life-changing injuries and psychological trauma, The Guardian said.

One survivor, now working as a teacher in Paris, said how the attack changed her life forever after two of her friends were shot in front of her.

The woman in her 30s, who asked not to be named, described how she had just handed in her PhD thesis and was working as a student journalist on a radio station at the European parliament in Strasbourg.


US Senate Defeats Bid to Stop F-16 Fighter Jet Sale to Türkiye

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
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US Senate Defeats Bid to Stop F-16 Fighter Jet Sale to Türkiye

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)

The US Senate on Thursday soundly defeated an effort to stop the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Türkiye, which President Joe Biden's administration approved after Türkiye approved Sweden's joining the NATO alliance.
The Senate voted 79 to 13 against a resolution of disapproval of the sale introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul, Reuters said.
Before the vote, Paul criticized Türkiye's government and said allowing the sale would embolden its "misbehavior." Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally.
The Biden administration formally informed Congress on Jan. 26 of its intention to proceed with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits to Türkiye, a day after Ankara fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden.
The sale had been held up for months over issues including Türkiye's refusal to approve Sweden's accession to the military alliance. Türkiye first asked to make the purchase in October 2021.
The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the law has been in effect for half a century, no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto.
Sweden and Finland applied to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Finnish membership was sealed last year, Sweden's bid had been held up by Türkiye and Hungary. All NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.


Hardliners Set to Tighten Grip in Iran Vote as Frustration Mounts

People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
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Hardliners Set to Tighten Grip in Iran Vote as Frustration Mounts

People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Iran began voting for a new parliament on Friday, seen as a test of the clerical establishment's popularity at a time of growing frustration over economic woes and restrictions on political and social freedoms.
State TV said polling started at 8 a.m. (0430 GMT), and it is scheduled to last for 10 hours but can be extended.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has called voting a religious duty, was the first to cast his vote in Iran.
"Vote as soon as possible ... today the eyes of Iran's friends and ill-wishers are on the (election) results. Make friends happy and disappoint enemies," Khamenei said.
The election is the first formal measure of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiraled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Iran's rulers need a high turnout to repair their legitimacy, damaged after nationwide protests.
But with heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of the race and reformists calling it an "unfree and unfair election", the contest is between hardliners and conservatives who proclaim loyalty to Iran revolutionary ideals and official polls suggest only about 41% of Iranians will vote.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear on Saturday.
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote and #ElectionCircus widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize Iran.
"I'm seeking a change in regime, and I've decided not to vote as it would only serve to reinforce Iran’s hold," said university student Mehran, 22, in the central city of Isfahan. "I want to live freely."
Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women's rights advocate, has called the election a "sham".
Khamenei has accused the country's "enemies" - a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel - of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
Tehran housewife Zahra, 26, said she would vote because “the world will understand that we support our leader (Khamenei) as he said voting is our duty".
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, which has scant impact on Iran's foreign policy and nuclear row with the West, since these are determined by Khamenei.
Many pro-reform Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that large numbers of Iranians no longer think the ruling clerics capable of resolving an economic crisis caused by a mix of US sanctions reimposed after the failure to revive Iran's nuclear deal, mismanagement and corruption.
The parliamentary election is twinned with a vote for the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an influential body that has the task of choosing the 84-year-old Khamenei's successor.


Italy: Interior Minister Calls Violence Against Minors at Pro-Palestine Demo 'a Defeat'

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi addresses the parliament in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi addresses the parliament in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)
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Italy: Interior Minister Calls Violence Against Minors at Pro-Palestine Demo 'a Defeat'

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi addresses the parliament in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi addresses the parliament in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

Italy’s interior minister acknowledged as a “defeat” the use of police batons against high school students demonstrating in the Tuscan city of Pisa last week, while warning lawmakers Thursday of growing violent tendencies among pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
Italians have expressed outrage at police violence against two pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Pisa last Friday; the one in Pisa included high school students who are minors, at least 11 of whom suffered bruises when police responded with batons, The Associated Press reported.
President Sergio Mattarella told the interior minister over the weekend that “the authority of law enforcement is not measured by truncheons but by its ability to ensure security while protecting, at the same time, the freedom to publicly express opinion. With kids, truncheons express failure.”
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told the lower house of parliament that in Pisa law enforcement reacted after demonstrators tried to beach a police barrier with “pushes, kicks, insults, spitting and attempts to remove the shields.” Seventeen demonstrators were injured, among them 11 minors, along with two police officers, he said.
"We all hope that public demonstrations take place peacefully and without incidents, and when it comes to physical contact with minors it is in any case a defeat,'' the minister said, underlining the need for a transparent investigation.
Video of the incident taken by bystanders shows half a dozen officers in riot gear brandishing wooden batons striking demonstrators in a narrow alley leading to a piazza. The officer in charge of the mobilization has been transferred, Italian media reported.
The minister said both the Pisa and the Florence demonstrations were illegal, having failed to file official notice of the intent to gather at least three days in advance.
In Florence, at least 300 protesters chanting anti-Israel and anti-American slogans attempted to reach the US Consulate, which had been the target of a firebomb attack on Feb. 2, the minister told lawmakers. At least five demonstrators were treated at hospitals, he said.
He noted a “climate of growing aggression toward law enforcement” in the pro-Palestinian demonstrations, with the apparent aim to provoke a police reaction. Incidents have been reported at 33 of the 1,076 demonstrations since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, he said.


Putin Warns West of Risk of Nuclear War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly at the Gostiny Dvor conference center in Moscow, Russia, 29 February 2024. EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly at the Gostiny Dvor conference center in Moscow, Russia, 29 February 2024. EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY
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Putin Warns West of Risk of Nuclear War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly at the Gostiny Dvor conference center in Moscow, Russia, 29 February 2024. EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly at the Gostiny Dvor conference center in Moscow, Russia, 29 February 2024. EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

President Vladimir Putin warned Western countries on Thursday that there was a genuine risk of nuclear war if they sent their own troops to fight in Ukraine, and he said Moscow had the weapons to strike targets in the West.
Addressing parliament and other members of the country's elite, Putin, 71, repeated his accusation that the West is bent on weakening Russia, and he suggested Western leaders did not understand how dangerous their meddling could be in what he cast as Russia's own internal affairs.
He prefaced his warning with a specific reference to an idea, floated by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, of European NATO members sending ground troops to Ukraine - a suggestion that was quickly rejected by the United States, Germany, Britain and others.
"(Western nations) must realize that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory. All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don't they get that?!" said Putin.
Putin, who was speaking ahead of a March 15-17 presidential election when he is certain to be re-elected for another six-year term, lauded what he said was Russia's vastly modernized nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world, Reuters reported.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Putin has previously warned of the dangers of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.
Visibly angry, Putin, Russia's paramount leader for more than two decades, suggested Western politicians recall the fate of those, like Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler and France's Napoleon Bonaparte who unsuccessfully invaded his country in the past.
"But now the consequences will be far more tragic," said Putin. "They think it (war) is a cartoon," he said.


Poland Detains Russian Citizen Accused of Being an ISIS Member in Syria

27 February 2024, Poland, Warsaw: Farmers wave Polish flags during farmers protest in downtown Warsaw against the European Union's agricultural policies. Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
27 February 2024, Poland, Warsaw: Farmers wave Polish flags during farmers protest in downtown Warsaw against the European Union's agricultural policies. Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
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Poland Detains Russian Citizen Accused of Being an ISIS Member in Syria

27 February 2024, Poland, Warsaw: Farmers wave Polish flags during farmers protest in downtown Warsaw against the European Union's agricultural policies. Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
27 February 2024, Poland, Warsaw: Farmers wave Polish flags during farmers protest in downtown Warsaw against the European Union's agricultural policies. Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Poland's Internal Security Agency (ABW) has detained a Russian citizen accused of being a member of ISIS, the National Prosecutor's Office said in a statement on Thursday.

"The prosecutor... charged the detainee with being part of armed groups in the Syrian Arab Republic aimed at committing crimes of a terrorist nature," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

It said that the accused had been a part of Jabhat Al-Nusra and al-Qaeda before joining ISIS.
The man is being held in pre-trial detention for three months and if found guilty could face eight years in prison.