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Russia, Iran set to ink massive energy deal to offset Western sanctions

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 Iran expects to sign a $40 billion agreement with Russian energy major Gazprom in December, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari said, according to a media report.

“We have closed a $6.5 billion deal with Gazprom. We hope that the remaining agreements totaling $40 billion will be signed next month,” Safari told ISNA news agency, adding that negotiations are underway, RT reported.

The National Iranian Oil Company and Gazprom had agreed in July to cooperate in the development of two gas deposits and six oilfields in Iran. The document also includes swaps in natural gas and oil products, the implementation of LNG projects, and construction of gas pipelines.

In early October, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak had announced that Moscow and Tehran may agree to a swap of 5 million tonnes of oil and 10 billion cubic metres of gas, to be completed by the end of the year, RT reported.

Novak said that Russia and Iran have already started swap deliveries of energy resources, in particular petroleum products, and agreed to expand the list of traded goods. He also noted that “the amount of Russian investment in Iran’s oil fields will increase”.

The development comes as Russia and Iran rapidly expand their energy and trade ties amid the Western sanctions imposed on both nations. Barter deals help the countries avoid settlement issues presented by the Western financial system. They also enjoy direct trade links via the Caspian Sea, RT reported.

Iranian Petroleum Minister Javad Owji said at the bilateral forum that public and private sectors in both countries are looking to “neutralise the sanctions.”

International News

Palestine to attend meeting of Assembly of States Parties of ICC

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 Palestine will attend a meeting of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) scheduled for Monday in The Hague, a senior official announced here.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki told the local media that he will deliver a speech at the meeting and meet other officials in The Hague to discuss the “Israeli escalation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem”, reports Xinhua news agency.

He added that he will meet with ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan on the sidelines of the meeting to discuss violations committed by the Israeli army and settler groups.

Al-Maliki noted that the Palestinian delegation would ask Khan about the reasons that “prevent him, until this moment, from launching an official investigation into those crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian people”.

In November, the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted a draft Palestinian resolution to request a legal advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding Israeli malpractice.

The draft resolution is expected to be voted on December 15.

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China protects four key 26/11 perpetrators from UN sanctions

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 China continues to defy the other members of the Security Council and the overwhelming anti-terrorism sentiments by protecting from UN sanctions four key leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Fourteen years after the attack that killed at least 166 people, Beijing works with Islamabad to undermine anti-terrorism measures against Pakistan-based terrorists behind the carnage.

The four from LeT who got China’s umbrella this year were the group’s commander Sajid Mir, who orchestrated the 26/11 attack; deputy chief Abdur Rehman Makki; deputy chief of the LeT front Falah-I-Insaniyat Foundation Shahid Mahmood, and LeT commander Hafiz Talha Saeed, who is LeT chief Hafiz Muhammed Saeed’s son.

China also put a hold on sanctions on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group’s deputy leader Abdul Rauf.

China had initially allowed eight LeT leaders to be sanctioned, four in the month after the 26/11 attack, and four later, before taking a hardline in support of other LeT leaders in a show of solidarity with Pakistan.

“Our efforts to sanction the perpetrators and facilitators of these terror attacks were blocked in the past for political reasons,” India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj said last week at the Security Council.

“These actors continue to walk free and have been organising further cross-border attacks against my country,” she said.

US Permanent Mission’s Political Coordinator John Kelley at the same meeting regretted that only one entity was added to the sanctions list this year and said, “The important work of this committee must remain free from politicisation that only benefits the terrorists.”

The committee paralysed by China’s intransigence was only able to add Khatiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a terror group operating in Syria to the sanctions list this year, while the LeT leaders and another Pakistan-based terrorist have been spared.

The Security Council’s panel, known as the 1267 Sanctions Committee for the resolution setting it up, places individuals and groups under sanctions that include travel bans and financial restrictions for terrorist activities involving the al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and affiliated organisations like the LeT.

The committee includes all the 15 members of the Security Council and gives every one of them the right to place a hold on sanctions, which amounts to a veto.

When the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) met in Mumbai last month, an audio clip of Mir directing the 26/11 terrorists at the Jewish centre was played to focus on the role of the terrorist under Beijing protection at the UN.

At the CTC’s special session in the terrorists’ killing field, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “The key conspirators and planners of the 26/11 attacks continue to remain protected and unpunished.”

This, he said, “undermines our collective credibility and our collective interests” and until “the masterminds and perpetrators of this attack” are brought “to justice, this task remains unfinished”.

In a video message to the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “That is what the US has been working to do, together with India and other partners for the last 14 years because when we allow the architects of these attacks to go unpunished, we send a message to terrorists everywhere that their heinous crimes will be tolerated.”

In the first flush of global fury against the horror of the 26/11 attack, China in December 2008 did not stand in the way of sanctioning LeT boss Saeed, operations head Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, finance chief Haji Muhammad Ashraf and financier Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq.

Later, four others from the LeT were added to the list: Muhammad Arif Qasmani and Mohammad Yahya Aziz in 2009, and Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhattvi and Malik Zafar Iqbal Shahbaz in 2012.

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Lt Gen Asim Munir named Pakistan’s new army chief

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The Pakistan government on Thursday announced that Lieutenant General Asim Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the country’s new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, using his Constitutional right, has also appointed Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), reports Geo News.

Aurangzeb added that the summary of the appointments has been sent to President Arif Alvi for ratification.

The decision was announced after the Prime Minister held a federal cabinet meeting to mull over the appointments after the allied parties authorised him to pick the officers for the top slots, Geo News reported.

Both the officers picked for the slots were the senior-most military officials.

Although the summary has been sent to the president, who belongs to the PTI, the coalition allies had warned him beforehand that he should avoid being loyal to his party and work in the interests of the state.

In his conversation with reporters after the meeting of the federal cabinet, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also confirmed that the summary has been sent to the president.

“All the matters have been settled in line with the Constitution of Pakistan and hopefully the president will not create a controversy,” Asif said.

The minister added that he expects President Alvi to approve the premier’s advice.

He also expressed hope that the said appointments would not be viewed politically.

The minister refused to comment on PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s consultation with President Alvi over the matter.

He said that the Pakistan Air Force, navy, and army shouldn’t be made controversial.

Asif said that a detailed press release regarding the development will be issued.

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