Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s most senior nuclear scientist, has been assassinated near Tehran, the country’s defense ministry has confirmed.
He died in hospital after an attack in Absard, in Damavand county.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has condemned the killing “as an act of state terror”.
Western intelligence agencies believe Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was behind a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Iran insists its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
However, news of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing comes amid fresh concern about the increased amount of enriched uranium that Iran is producing. Enriched uranium is a vital component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons.
A 2015 deal with six world powers had placed limits on its production, but since President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has been deliberately reneging on its agreements.
The US and Iran have had an
increasingly strained relationship in recent years and share no diplomatic
Both countries have thanked the
Swiss government for its assistance as an intermediary facilitator.
Xiyue Wang was flown in a Swiss
government plane from Tehran to Zurich, and then to Ramstein Air Base in Germany,
where he will undergo medical check-ups before heading home.
Massoud Soleimani was also flown to
Zurich and then on to Iran.
Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted photos
of himself with Massoud Soleimani after his release.
He was the first to announce the
news, via Twitter: “Glad that
Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families
In a formal statement, President Donald Trump said Xiyue Wang had been
“held under the pretence of espionage”.
The statement said: “Freeing
Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will
continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive
Hua Qu, Mr
Xiyue Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, wrote in statement: “Our family is complete once again. Our son Shaofan and I have
waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how
excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue.
“We are thankful to everyone who
helped make this happen.”
Princeton University, where Xiyue Wang was studying as a postgraduate, said
in a statement it was “overjoyed” with the news of his release and
was looking forward to “welcoming him back to campus”.
Xiyue Wang was arrested in Iran in August 2016 as he was leaving the
He had been doing research in Iran for a university dissertation and was
accused of seeking to gather “highly confidential articles” for US
and British academic institutions.
Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spying.
Massoud Soleimani was detained in October 2018 on accusations of attempting
to export biological materials to Iran in violation of trade sanctions on the
country over its nuclear program.
US-Iran tensions have risen significantly in the last two years.
After President Donald Trump took power, the US pulled out of a 2015 treaty
that aimed to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran has always insisted its nuclear program is peaceful, but the US voiced
concerns about potential weapon building.
President Donald Trump also reinstated sanctions on Iran, which have led to its currency plummeting and inflation soaring.
Six world powers – the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – have reached a historic deal with Iran in Vienna on limiting its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions.
President Barack Obama said that with the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers began in 2006.
The so-called P5+1 want Iran to scale back its sensitive nuclear activities to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.
Iran, which wants crippling international sanctions lifted, has always insisted that its nuclear work is peaceful.
In a televised address, President Barack Obama said the deal would make the world “safer and more secure”, and provided for a rigorous verification regime.
“This deal is not built on trust – it is built on verification,” he said.
Immediately afterwards, Hassan Rouhani gave his own televised address, in which he said the prayers of Iranians had “come true”.
He said the deal would lead to the removal of all sanctions, adding: “The sanctions regime was never successful, but at the same time it had affected people’s lives.”
After 12 years, world powers had finally “recognized the nuclear activities of Iran”, he said.
Both Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program as an “unnecessary crisis”.
Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the agreement was “a sign of hope for the entire world”.
“It is a decision that can open the way to a new chapter in international relations,” she said.
Javad Zarif said the deal was “not perfect for anybody”, but that it was the “best achievement possible that could be reached”.
President barack Obama, who is trying to persuade a skeptical US Congress of the benefits, said it would oblige Iran to:
remove two-thirds of installed centrifuges and store them under international supervision
get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium
accept that sanctions would be rapidly restored if the deal was violated
permanently give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access “where necessary when necessary”
Sanctions relief would be gradual, Barack Obama said, with an arms embargo remaining in place for five years and an embargo on missiles for eight years.
Separately, the IAEA and Iran said they had signed a roadmap to resolve outstanding issues.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano told reporters in Vienna, Austria, that his organization had signed a roadmap “for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program”.
He called the agreement a “significant step forward”, saying it would allow the agency to “make an assessment of issues relating to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program by the end of 2015”.
There has been stiff resistance to a deal from conservatives both in Iran and the US. The US Congress has 60 days in which to consider the deal, though Barack Obama said he would veto any attempt to block it.
Israel’s government has also warned against an agreement.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “historic mistake” that would provide Iran with “hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe”.
Iran must halt its nuclear program for at least a decade if it wants to strike a deal with the US, President Barack Obama has said.
However, the odds are against talks with Iran ending with an agreement, Barack Obama told Reuters.
Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are at a critical stage, with an outline agreement due on March 31.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to urge the US Congress on March 3 to oppose a deal.
He was invited to speak at the US Capitol by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, angering Democrats.
Benjamin Netanyahu – who faces domestic elections in two weeks’ time – will not meet President Barack Obama during his visit to the US.
In his interview, Barack Obama said disagreements over Iran would not be “permanently destructive” to the US-Israel relationship.
However, Benjamin Netanyahu had been wrong on Iran before when he opposed an interim nuclear agreement struck last year, Barack Obama said.
“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims – this was going to be a terrible deal, this was going to result in Iran getting $50bn worth of relief, Iran would not abide by the agreement.”
None of that has come true, the president said.
“During this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program.”
The US, along with the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, are seeking to reach agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
They are trying to address concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons technology, something Tehran denies.
Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the ongoing negotiations ahead of a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement.
The aim is then to secure a final deal by June 30.
Barack Obama said that if Iran was willing to agree to “double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist… and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take” to ensure Iran does not have nuclear arms.
Barack Obama said that while a deal was still unlikely, it would be better than the alternatives.
“If they do agree to it, it would be far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take, and far more effective than sanctions will be,” Barack Obama told Reuters.
The US goal is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one,” he said.
The Israelis say any agreement that leaves Iran with a workable nuclear industry, now or in the future, is too dangerous.
“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them,” Benjamin Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington on March 2.
The leading Republican and Democrat on the House foreign relations committee have sent a letter to Barack Obama highlighting their concerns about a deal.
They said Congress must be convinced that any pathway Iran might have to developing a nuclear weapon is shut off before Congress considers easing sanctions.
US national security adviser Susan Rice has warned Congress not to seek new sanctions against Iran while the talks with world powers are ongoing.
According to the UN nuclear agency, Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms.
The conversion of its stock of 20%-enriched uranium was part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The US said last week it would unblock $2.8 billion in frozen Iranian funds in return for Iran’s compliance.
A four-month extension to talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions was agreed on Friday between Iran and world powers.
The talks are aimed at persuading Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms
The six world powers involved in the talks – the US, France, China, Russia, Germany and the UK – suspect Iran seeks atomic weapons, which Iran denies.
The country insists that it is enriching uranium for use in nuclear power stations and for medical purposes.
Correspondents say Iran’s completion of eliminating its most worrying uranium stockpile is a promising sign that its leaders do not want to derail the diplomatic process.
A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran is observing all of its other commitments as well.
Iran had more than 200 kg of 20%-enriched uranium when the preliminary agreement to convert it was reached last November.
At 20%, enriched uranium can be converted quickly to arm a nuclear weapon and experts said 200kg was enough to make one nuclear warhead.
Negotiations between the six powers and Iran are set to resume in September, with the deadline for an agreement on November 24.
The parties have been unable to reach agreement on imposing long-term restrictions over Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production – processes that could yield material for nuclear warheads.
In a joint statement after last week’s talks, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “There are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort.”
A deal could see the lifting of oil and trade sanctions on Iran.
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