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Russia slams US over accusing Iran of supporting Al-Qaeda

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The US’ recent claims about Iran becoming a “safe haven” for Al-Qaeda are “baseless”, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zamir Kabulov asserted on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “actively supporting Al-Qaeda” and that Tehran was providing Al-Qaeda operatives with “travel documents and logistical support”.

“It seems that Pompeo, at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, wants to do something else to hurt Iran. But this is absolutely unsubstantiated and unreasonable,” Kabulov was quoted by Sputnik as stating.

He stressed that Moscow had: “No information about Tehran’s possible links to Al-Qaeda.”

Kabulov’s remarks come a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif went on social media to criticise Pompeo’s accusations, describing them as “fictitious”.

“Mr ‘we lie, cheat, steal’ [Pompeo] is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies,” Zarif posted on Twitter.

READ: Afghan officials in Qatar to resume talks with Taliban

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Indonesia’s coast guard seizes Iranian and Panamanian tankers

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Indonesia said on Sunday its coast guard had seized the Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Frea vessels over suspected illegal fuel transfers off the country’s waters, Reuters reports.

A statement from coast guard spokesman Wisnu Pramandita said the tankers, seized in waters off Kalimantan province, were escorted to Batam island in Riau Island Province for further investigation.

“The tankers, first detected at 5:30 a.m. local time (2130 GMT on Jan. 23) concealed their identity by not showing their national flags, turning of automatic identification systems and did not respond to a radio call,” the statement said.

“There was an oil spill around MT Frea.”

The International Maritime Organization requires vessels to use transponders for safety and transparency. Crews can turn off the devices if there is a danger of piracy or similar hazards. But transponders are often shut down to conceal a ship’s location during illicit activities.

Iran, which not commented on the seizure, has been accused of concealing the destination of its oil sales by disabling tracking systems on its tankers, making it difficult to assess how much crude Tehran exports as it seeks to counter U.S. sanctions.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers and reimposed sanctions aimed at cutting Tehran’s oil exports to zero.

Iran sent the MT Horse vessel to Venezuela last year to deliver 2.1 million barrels of Iranian condensate.

READ: Iraq says 3 rockets fired at Baghdad airport

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UAE confirms it inked $23 bln deal to buy F-35 jets, drones from US

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The United Arab Emirates confirmed that it signed agreements with the United States on former President Donald Trump’s last full day in office to purchase up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defense equipment in a deal worth $23 billion, Reuters reports.

The UAE embassy in Washington said in a statement on its website that the letters of agreement had been finalised on Tuesday confirming terms of purchase, including costs, technical specifications and anticipated delivery schedules.

Reuters first reported the news on Wednesday.

The deal, however, could now be reviewed as the new Biden administration has said it will re-examine the agreements for the sale, which the Trump administration had said supported U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by allowing the UAE to deter Iranian “threats”.

The UAE, a close U.S. ally, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize ties with Israel last August.

The embassy said the contracts included as many as 50 F-35A fighters valued at $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones valued at $2.97 billion, and various munitions valued at $10 billion.

READ: Israel allows US to deploy Iron Dome batteries in Gulf

It did not mention the final in-country delivery date for the F-35 jets, but people familiar with the matter had told Reuters the initial proposal sent to UAE said 2027.

In December, the U.S. Senate rejected attempts to block the transaction which opponents had said was being rushed through without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands or fuel instability in the Middle East.

The embassy statement said the Gulf Arab state was committed to de-escalation in the region and that the defense package enhanced U.S.-UAE military interoperability.

It said the transaction was also “consistent with the bipartisan US National Defense Strategy of enabling partners to take on more responsibility for their own and collective security in the Middle East”.

The UAE said on Thursday that it looked forward to working with President Joe Biden’s administration.

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UAE cabinet approves setting up embassy in Tel Aviv

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The United Arab Emirates cabinet on Sunday approved the establishment of an embassy in the city of Tel Aviv in Israel, state media said, Reuters reports.

The UAE and Israel agreed to normalise relations in August, a deal forged largely over shared fears of Iran.

Since then Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all agreed to establish ties with Israel in deals brokered in 2020 by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

No further details about the embassy were given in UAE media.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as its capital, although that is not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

READ: Israel tourist behaviour in UAE ‘shameful’

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