Iran’s Zarif warns of ‘misinformation’ over scientist’s killing

Iranian foreign minister says a ‘targeted misinformation campaign and psychological war’ is on after Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

A billboard of slain Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran [Atta Kenare/AFP]

Tehran, Iran – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned of a “targeted misinformation campaign and psychological war” following the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist last week.

In an Instagram post late on Monday, Zarif said early news reports of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s death in Farsi-language media had said “the Israeli media claimed that the scientist’s name had reached Mossad through UN lists”, referring to the intelligence agency of Israel, which is being blamed for the assassination.

“This is 180 degrees counter to the truth,” Zarif wrote, adding that the United States and Israel had named Fakhrizadeh to the UN in the mid-2000s, leading to him being placed on a sanctions list by the UN Security Council in 2007.

Iran has accused Israel of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s assassination [KHAMENEI.IR/AFP]

Fakhrizadeh, 62, a top scientist in Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes, was assassinated in an explosion and ensuing gunfire on his car near Tehran on Friday.

Iran has accused regional rival, Israel, of the assassination. But Israel and its key ally, the US, have remained silent while the UN has urged “restraint”.

Zarif said a review of thousands of tweets published following the assassination showed that 79 percent of them aimed at spreading disinformation – namely through opposing the nuclear deal, negotiations with the West, and presence of the IAEA inspectors in Iran – while only 21 percent condemned the heinous crime.

Moreover, he said, 93 percent of the tweets were sent through unknown accounts that were set up less than a year ago and were created outside Iran, pointing to an external attack on Iran and a link between the assassination and efforts to sabotage the country’s nuclear deal amid efforts by the parliament to expel international nuclear inspectors.

Zarif said Israel, which supports outgoing US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, is trying to capitalise on the final days of his presidency to prevent President-elect Joe Biden’s administration from lifting the sanctions against Iran.

In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal Tehran had signed with world powers and imposed punishing sanctions on Iran. Biden has pledged to rejoin the 2015 accord if Iran also returns to compliance.

“Pompeo’s trips to the region, the trilateral meeting in Saudi Arabia and Netanyahu’s statements all point to this conspiracy that unfortunately took form in Friday’s cowardly terrorist move and martyrdom of one of the country’s top executives,” he wrote.

Late last month, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, highlighted by his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), which according to Israeli media reports, was also “secretly” attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Parliament aims to expel IAEA inspectors

Zarif’s statement came as conservatives and hardliners in Iran’s parliament are moving quickly to ratify legislation that aims to expel all the IAEA inspectors from the country and prevent the government from voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol, which gives the IAEA inspectors broad access to Iranian nuclear sites.

If approved, the bill would obligate the government to increase Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

On Tuesday, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, defended the Additional Protocol during a discussion in Parliament.

“Implementing the Additional Protocol will create no problems for our enrichment programme, but not implementing it will lead to ambiguities in our nuclear programme,” he said.

Nevertheless, the general outlines of the bill were approved on Tuesday, with Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf saying the move signals an end to a “one-sided game”.

In order to become law, Parliament needs to finalise the bill, after which it will have to be greenlit by the powerful 12-member oversight body, the Guardian Council.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday said the government has “explicitly emphasised” that it opposes the parliament’s plan to expel the IAEA inspectors.

The inspectors, who make hundreds of unannounced visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities each year, have been branded “spies” by many members of the Iranian parliament.

On Sunday, several members of parliament had signed a statement that said expelling the IAEA inspectors could be a proportionate “immediate response” to Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

In response, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on Monday said Iran has nothing to gain from ending inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“We understand the distress but at the same time it is clear that no one, starting with Iran, would have anything to win from a decrease, limitation or interruption of the work we do together with them,” Grossi said.

Responding to Grossi’s statement, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, on Tuesday called on the UN watchdog to unequivocally condemn Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Source: Al Jazeera