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Iran looks beyond strategic strait for oil exports to evade US sanctions

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Iran has opened its first oil export terminal that does not require tankers to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, as it looks to expand its oil exports in contravention of US sanctions.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh proclaimed at the launch of the project that it would aid exports, adding that it was “a manifestation of the breakdown of sanctions.”

The official IRNA news agency had said on Wednesday that the new pipeline and terminal would help Tehran “win back the Iranian oil market from rival countries.”

Iran’s other major oil terminal is located at the Gulf port of Kharg, accessed through the Strait of Hormuz, which is less than 40 km wide at its narrowest point, and where US and Iranian naval vessels have faced off in the past.

Iran has been under punishing US sanctions since former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, heavily impacting Iranian energy exports.

“We had a terminal and if there was a problem, our oil exports would be cut off,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, adding that “today is a great, historic day for the Iranian nation.”

“The oil industry is very important for us, and it is also important for the enemy,” Rouhani said in televised comments.

Iran has also built a 1,000 km pipeline to carry its oil from Goreh, in the southwestern Bushehr province, to the new terminal in the country’s southeast.

Rouhani estimated the value of the new project at $2 billion. According to Iranian media, it has been underway for about two years.

The US has accused Iran of trying to circumvent the sanctions by exporting oil to countries including China, Venezuela and Syria.

Washington has repeatedly announced the seizure of tankers allegedly carrying Iranian oil.

According to Iranian officials, the Islamic Republic aims to eventually pump “one million barrels per day” through the pipeline.

At the moment, the project allows Iran to export 350,000 barrels per day (bpd), they said.

Iran produced 2.47 million bpd in June, according to latest available figures from OPEC.

“The new terminal has been a strategic imperative for Iran, especially given the heightening of tensions in the Persian Gulf with Saudi Arabia and Israel,” said Herman Wang, an oil analyst at S&P Global Platts. “Bypassing the Strait of Hormuz would provide Iran an export outlet in the event the passage is closed for any reason.

“Until sanctions are lifted, the pipeline and terminal will likely remain well below capacity,” added Wang.

Given Washington’s sanctions, Tehran is discreet about its shipments of crude to the few customers who still dare to buy it.

A Chinese logistics firm has emerged as a central player in the supply of sanctioned oil from Iran and Venezuela, even after it was blacklisted by Washington two years ago for handling Iranian crude, seven sources with knowledge of the deals told Reuters.

The more prominent role of China Concord Petroleum Co. — also known as CCPC — and its expansion into trading with Venezuela highlight the limitations of Washington’s system of restrictions, analysts said.

In the past year, CCPC has acquired at least 14 tankers to transport oil from Iran or Venezuela to China, two of the sources said.

In 2019, Washington added CCPC to a list of entities under sanctions for violating restrictions on handling and transacting Iranian oil. The company has not commented publicly on the sanctions and Reuters could not determine what impact the US blacklisting has had on CCPC.

CCPC supplies half a dozen Chinese teapot refineries with Iranian oil, three China-based sources said.

Iranian officials familiar with the matter confirmed that CCPC was a central player in Tehran’s oil trade with China.

China received a daily average of 557,000 barrels of Iranian crude between November and March, or roughly 5 percent of total imports by the world’s biggest importer, according to Refinitiv Oil Research, returning to levels last seen before Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018.

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Jakarta residents win landmark air pollution case against Indonesian president

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A Jakarta court on Thursday found Indonesian President Joko Widodo and government officials guilty of neglecting their obligation to fulfill citizens’ rights to clean air, in a landmark lawsuit residents hope will force authorities to act on the capital city’s notorious pollution.

Jakarta, home to over 10 million people, is one the world’s most-polluted cities with the concentration of PM2.5 — inhalable microscopic pollution particularly harmful to human health — regularly exceeding World Health Organization norms, often manifold.

The citizen lawsuit was filed in July 2019 by 32 plaintiffs against the president, ministers of environment, home affairs and health, as well as the governor of Jakarta and two leaders of neighboring provinces. The plaintiffs, including activists and people suffering from pollution-related diseases, did not request compensation but tighter air quality checks.

In a hearing that took place after being adjourned eight times since May, the court ruled the officials had violated environmental protection laws and failed to combat air pollution in the capital and its satellite cities that fall under jurisdiction of Banten and West Java provinces.

“We ordered the first defendant (the president) to tighten the national air quality standard that is sufficient based on science and technology to protect humans’ health, the environment, the ecosystem, including the health of the sensitive population,” presiding judge Saifuddin Zuhri said.

The court also ordered the second defendant, the environment minister, to supervise the governors of Jakarta, Banten, and West Java in tightening transboundary emissions.

Transboundary pollution from Banten and West Java contributes to the poor and deteriorating quality of Jakarta’s air. In 2018, national capital witnessed 101 days with unhealthy air, and 172 in 2019, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). The main contributors to PM2.5 pollution are dozens of industrial facilities and coal power plants located less than 100 kilometers from the city.

Jeanny Sirait, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs said they welcomed the verdict, even though the court did not explicitly rule the government had violated the right to clean but only contravened the law by failing to fulfill it.

“This is a breakthrough verdict,” she said. “It is very rare to find judges that have environmental and public interest perspectives.”

One of the plaintiffs, Istu Prayogi, a 56-year-old tourism lecturer who health has suffered due to air pollution said that he was glad for the victory, although slightly disappointed that the officials’ negligence was not classified as a human rights violation.

“We now have a hope for all people to get their rights to clean air fulfilled,” he said. “We have a legal standing to oblige the government to do that, even though they should have fulfilled that in the first place, but this is a court ruling and as a rule-based country, it’s the highest order.”

Another plaintiff and environmental activist Khalisah Khalid said the verdict was also an example that court can be an avenue for citizens who seek justice.

“As plaintiffs and regular citizens, we will continue to monitor the defendants to make changes in the government policies as mandated by the verdict,” she said. “It is for everyone’s interests, health, and safety including our future generations to have a good quality of life.”

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US imposes sanctions on five Al-Qaeda operatives

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The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday on five Al-Qaeda supporters working out of Turkey to provide financial services and travel help to the militant group, the Treasury Department said on Thursday.

“These targeted sanctions highlight the United States’ unwavering commitment to sever financial support to Al-Qaeda,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.

“We will continue working with our foreign partners, including Turkey, to expose and disrupt Al-Qaeda’s financial support networks.”

The list included Majdi Salim, an Egyptian-born lawyer based in Turkey, who the Treasury identified as a primary facilitator of a range of Al-Qaeda activities in Turkey.

Others were Muhammad Nasr Al-Din Al-Ghazlani, an Egyptian financial courier who used cash transfers to support Al-Qaeda and Turkish citizens Nurettin Muslihan, Cebrail Guzel and Soner Gurleyen.

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Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

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Iran on Thursday dismissed the UN nuclear watchdog’s work as “unprofessional” and “unfair” shortly before the two sides are due to hold talks aimed at resolving a standoff over the origin of uranium particles found at old but undeclared sites in Iran.

The issue is a thorn in the side of both Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the particles suggest Iran once had undeclared nuclear material at three different locations, but the IAEA has yet to obtain satisfactory answers from Iran on how the material got there or where it went.

“The statement of the Agency in its report is completely unprofessional, illusory and unfair,” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

Gharibabadi was referring to a passage in an IAEA report last week that said the lack of progress was seriously affecting the IAEA’s ability to determine that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful, as Tehran says it is.

Failure to resolve the issue complicates efforts to restart talks aimed at bringing the US and Iran fully back into the fold of the 2015 nuclear deal, since Washington and its allies continue to pressure Iran to give the IAEA answers.

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