(NEW YORK) -- UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered another speech critical of the failure to make progress on climate action. In the opening remarks for his Climate Ambition Summit, he said "humanity has opened the gates of hell" warning we are heading toward a "dangerous and unstable world."
"Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent. Humanity has opened the gates of hell. Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods, sweltering temperatures spawning disease and thousands fleeing in fear as historic fires rage. Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge," Guterres said in his remarks.
"If nothing changes, we are heading towards a 2.8-degree temperature rise – towards a dangerous and unstable world."
Guterres set a high bar for world leaders set to speak at the summit, saying they must offer a significant new climate pledge. Major voices like the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China did not speak, although California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a scheduled slot at the summit.
"We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels," Guterres said.
"The proposed Climate Solidarity Pact calls on major emitters – who have benefitted most from fossil fuels – to make extra efforts to cut emissions, and on wealthy countries to support emerging economies to do so."
Guterres also emphasized that the future is not fixed, and credited climate activists and Indigenous Peoples for their activism as well as business executives, mayors and governments who are taking major steps to phase out fossil fuels.
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Guterres admitted he has no power over the UN Security Council in forcing them to make decisions on the major issues like climate change but said using his voice and bringing people together is how he can make an impact.
"The Secretary-General of the United Nations has no power and no money, what we have is a voice and that voice can be loud, and I have the obligation for it to be loud," he told CNN.
"But the power is in the member states and the problem is the exercise of that power today is blocked. We have a level of division among superpowers that has no precedent since the second World War. Even in the Cold War things were more predictable than they are today."
(NEW YORK) -- Volodymyr Zelenskyy avoided a potential face-off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Ukrainian president's first in-person appearance before the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.
Speaking via a translator, Zelenskyy called for Russia to be stripped of its veto power -- a move rendered virtually impossible by the structure of the U.N. charter.
"Since the start of the full-scale aggression launched by this state, which for some reason is still here among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, it has already been 574 days of pain, losses and struggle," Zelenskyy said at the top of the meeting. "Russia has killed at least tens of thousand of our people and turned millions into refugees by destroying their homes."
"The terrorist state is willing, through its aggression, to undermine all the grounds of international norms meant to protect the world from the wars," he continued.
Zelenskyy went on to say that the U.N.'s inability to meaningfully intervene in the conflict had greatly diminished its standing.
"The resolutions of the General Assembly have clearly recognized the fact that the only source of this war is Russia, but this has changed nothing for Russia in the United Nations. However, these are the situations that have changed everything for the U.N. We should recognize that the U.N. finds itself in a deadlock," Zelenskyy said, arguing the organization had become centered on "compromise with killers" and rhetoric instead of action.
"Humankind no longer hangs its hopes on the U.N.," he added.
Zelenskyy then outlined his peace plan but acknowledged it could not be implemented due to Russia's veto power.
The remarks come a day after Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. General Assembly and argued that the war is "not only about Ukraine." He emphasized that if Russia is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine, then no rule-abiding nation can consider itself safe from a similar attack or aggression in the future.
During Wednesday's Security Council meeting, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, criticized Zelenskyy speaking ahead of the other members of the Security Council, calling for him to speak after per protocols.
MORE: Biden offers support for Ukraine, stresses global unity in United Nations speech
"They're trying to transform [the Security Council] into a one-man stand-up show," Nebenzya said.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who chaired the meeting, pushed back, saying: "There is a solution for this, if you agree -- you stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor."
Lavrov was not in the chamber during Zelenskyy's remarks.
In a long rebuttal via a translator, the foreign minister reiterated false claims that the West implemented a "coup" to install Zelenskyy as Ukraine's president as justification for Russia's invasion and that Moscow was forced to intervene in Ukraine to stop "the criminal actions of the Kyiv regime." He also suggested that the U.S. was still in control of Kyiv and could force Zelenskyy to participate in peace talks.
On the U.N. itself, Lavrov said it was nothing more than a tool for Washington to push its own agenda on the world but generally called for upholding its charter.
Zelenskyy was not in the chamber during Lavrov's rebuttal.
Prior to Lavrov's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in support of Ukraine while blasting Russia, which he said is "committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on an almost daily basis."
"It's hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all it stands for. This, from a country with a permanent seat on this council," Blinken said.
Blinken also argued that the U.N. could focus on supporting Ukraine and holding Russia accountable for its actions while addressing other pressing issues facing the world.
"We can and we must do both. We are doing both," he said, adding that the U.S. was the leading contributor on several critical fronts.
President Joe Biden is set to meet with Zelenskyy at the White House on Thursday as both men push Congress to approve $24 billion more in funding for Kyiv over the objections of some House Republicans.
(NEW YORK) -- After over five years as the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern surprised the world in January when she announced that she would step down and not seek reelection, saying, "It's time."
Ardern said at the time that she no longer had "enough in the tank" to do the job well, leading some people to speculate it was burnout that led her to leave the high-profile job.
In a new interview with "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, Ardern dispelled the myth that she was experiencing burnout as both a woman and a mom in the role.
"I could have kept going but, for me, having been through a period where we did experience a lot of crises in New Zealand, it was whether or not I had enough to do the job well, and the answer for me personally was, no, it was time for someone else," Ardern told Roberts in a live interview Wednesday. "So, a bit different than burnout."
Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as a condition "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." In 2019, WHO called burnout an "occupational phenomenon" and included the condition in its International Classification of Diseases, a diagnostic tool for medical providers.
Ardern said that though it was not burnout that led her to step down, she recognizes the impact she had in speaking out publicly about why she chose not to seek reelection and in being honest that it was time for a new leader for her country.
"I was overwhelmed by the fact that beyond New Zealand's shore, it triggered a discussion about how we make these decisions," Ardern said. "I had particularly a few women say to me, 'Thank you for making it OK to say that I'm tired or that I don't have enough in the tank to do a job well.'"
She continued, "I think we carry a huge sense of responsibility to just keep going."
Part of both the burden and privilege Ardern carried with her as prime minister was that she was different than prime ministers of the past.
She was the youngest prime minister in New Zealand in more than 150 years and only the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while in office.
Ardern told Roberts that she hopes her time as the country's top leader inspired other people around the world to step up and serve, saying, "I hope it was a call to anyone who is holding themselves back."
"I think it might have been perhaps a call to other reluctant leaders, to those out there who may think that they don't have the character traits or they see themselves as too sensitive, not tough enough or [see] roles in leadership, particularly politics, as being a place where that would be a hard set of character traits to bring to the table," Ardern said, adding, "I think they're necessary ones."
She continued, "If you're sensitive enough, it means you're empathetic. We need more empathy in leadership. We need more kindness in leadership."
Since finishing her final term as prime minister, Ardern said she has worked to fulfill her promise of spending more time with her family.
She gave birth to her daughter in 2018, the first child for her and partner Clarke Gayford.
"One of the things I wanted to do was be more present for my family, so I'm certainly trying to do that," Ardern said. "But also I still want to be useful."
For Ardern, being useful has meant serving as a fellow at Harvard University in Boston, continuing her work to lessen the amount of extremism and terrorism online, working with Britain's Prince William on his Earthshot Prize initiative and writing a book.
"I didn't want to write about the small, individual political things that happened in New Zealand over the past five years," Ardern said. "But then someone expressed to me in a different way, 'What if you just wrote about what it was like as a human?' And so they changed my mind, and now I'm really just writing a few stories."
(LONDON) -- Azerbaijan has announced it is suspending its military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, after ethnic Armenian authorities in the disputed enclave agreed to lay down their arms in an apparent capitulation.
Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian-led government on Wednesday morning said they had agreed to a ceasefire after Azerbaijani forces made major advances in the day-long offensive that has sparked warnings of humanitarian disaster and risks of large-scale ethnic cleansing.
In a statement, the enclave's ethnic Armenian authorities said under the agreement all Armenian military units would withdraw from the enclave and local forces would be disbanded and fully disarmed. It said a "complete cessation of hostilities" would begin from 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry said Armenian forces had agreed to "lay down their weapons, leave their combat positions and military posts and disarm completely. Units of the Armenian armed forces [will] leave the territories of Azerbaijan, illegal Armenian armed groups [will be] dissolved."
Both sides said talks on issues around the "reintegration" of the enclave into Azerbaijan would be held on Thursday in the city of Yevlakh.
The agreement was brokered via the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was established after the last major fighting there in 2020.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled and largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians since a war in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan launched a major new offensive overnight on Monday, demanding the enclave's ethnic Armenian government dissolve itself and asserting that it would restore control over the territory.
Azerbaijani forces attacked along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and began shelling the regional capital, called Stepanakert by Armenians. Over a hundred people were reported injured and several killed, according to local Armenian authorities. Thousands of people were reported to be sheltering in basements and video posted online by local media appeared to show hundreds of civilians seeking shelter at a Russian peacekeeper base.
The ethnic Armenian government, which calls itself the Republic of Artsakh, wrote the decision to lay down arms was made after "enemy succeeded in penetrating into defense army outposts, capturing several heights and strategic road junctions."
"In the current situation, the international community's actions in the direction of ending the war and resolving the situation are insufficient. Taking this into consideration, the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh accept the proposal of the Russian peacekeeping contingent's command regarding a ceasefire," the Nagorno-Karabakh Presidential Office said.
The Azerbaijan offensive had sparked warnings tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians might be driven from their homes, raising the specter of large-scale ethnic cleansing in the enclave.
It was unclear what agreement would mean for the enclave's administration and the ethnic Armenians living there.
The Karabakh Armenian government in its statement said the talks on Thursday would discuss "issues raised by the Azerbaijani side on reintegration" and "ensuring the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh….within the framework of the Constitution of Azerbaijan."
Before the ceasefire agreement, the United States, Russia, as well as France and the European Union had urged an immediate end to the Azerbaijan's military operation.
The apparent success of Azerbaijan's lightening offensive appeared to mark a historic turning point in the decades-old conflict, furthering a steep reversal in Armenia's control over the enclave that began in 2020. Backed by Turkey, Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in October 2020 with a short war, that ended with Armenia's defeat and a Russian-brokered peace agreement.
Since then Azerbaijan had tightened its grip around Nagorno-Karabakh, imposing a blockade for the last nine months that has created shortages of food and medicine.
Since the 2020 war, Armenia's government under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has distanced itself from the Karabakh government and abandoned Armenia's claim to the enclave. Pashinyan declined to declare war following the new Azerbaijani offensive and on Wednesday said Armenia had no involvement in Wednesday's ceasefire agreement.
Police in Armenia's capital Yerevan on Tuesday night clashed with hundreds of protesters outside state buildings, angry with what they saw as the government's failure to defend Karabakh.
Azerbaijan's offensive also appeared to underline Russia's weakened influence in the region, long considered its southern backyard, that has been accelerated by the war in the Ukraine. Azerbaijan is allied with Turkey, which publicly backed this week's offensive and has supported Azerbaijan previously with weapons and military advisors.
Russia is formally in a security pact with Armenia but besides deploying peacekeepers has not intervened on its behalf. Armenian politicians have expressed frustration with Moscow and suggested the country should seek closer ties with Western countries, including the United States, which this month held a small military training exercise in Armenia.
(NEW YORK) -- An asteroid NASA's been tracking for nearly 25 years could impact Earth in the future, a new report reveals.
First discovered in 1999, Bennu, the near-Earth asteroid, could possibly drift into the planet's orbit and could hit the planet by September 2182, according to the OSIRIS-REx science team.
Bennu passes near Earth every six years and has had three close encounters with Earth in 1999, 2005, and 2011, experts said in the ScienceDirect study.
There is a 1 in 2,700, or 0.037% chance that Bennu could hit Earth by 2182, scientists said.
In October 2020, the OSIRIS-REx -- an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer -- briefly touched the surface of Bennu, collected a sample and then propelled off the asteroid.
The first asteroid sample collected in space from OSIRIS-REx lands on Earth on Sunday -- crashing down in Utah.
Astrophysicist Hakeem Oluyesi told ABC News that OSIRIS-REx will change what people know about the origins of our solar system.
"This is pure untainted material revealing early solar system secrets. A longshot discovery would be finding biological molecules or even precursor molecules for life," Oluyesi said.
It was the first mission of its kind for NASA.
If Bennu would hit Earth, it would release 1,200 megatons of energy, which is 24 times the energy of the most manmade nuclear weapon, according to IFLScience.
The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was as powerful as 10 billion atomic bombs, scientists revealed in 2019. Experts found evidence in massive chunks of rocks that the asteroid was strong enough to trigger wildfires, tsunamis and blast so much dust into the atmosphere that it blocked out the sun.
(OTTAWA, Canada) -- Canadian national security agencies are investigating "credible allegations" that “agents of the government of India” were involved in the death of a Canadian Sikh leader in June, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.
Trudeau said that steps are being taken to hold the people accountable behind the death of prominent Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.
"Canada is a rule of law country, the protection of our citizens in [defense] of our sovereignty are fundamental," Trudeau said in a statement addressing the House of Commons. "Our top priorities have therefore been one, that our law enforcement and security agencies ensure the continued safety of all Canadians."
Melany Joly, Canada's foreign affairs minister, announced the country will oust a "key Indian diplomat" and anticipated India to "fully collaborate" with Canada to get answers, according to CTV News.
Nijjar was killed on June 18 near a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, according to The Associated Press.
He advocated for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland in India's Punjab region, according to CTV News.
Sikhs in Canada protested over Nijjar's death, accusing the Indian government of being behind the slaying, according to CTV News.
Early Tuesday morning from New Dehli, the Indian government released a statement saying they “reject” the statement from Trudeau.
“Allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” the statement read. “Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister, and were completely rejected. We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law.”
As their statement continued, India asked Canada to take action.
“We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil,” their statement concluded.
Trudeau released a statement Tuesday contending that he and his government aren't looking to escalate tensions or provoke India.
"One of the things that is so important today, is that India and the government of India take seriously this matter. It is extremely serious and it has far-reaching consequences in international law and otherwise," he said.
The U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement Tuesday that the White House was "deeply concerned" about the Canadian government's allegations against India and that "[i]t is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice."
The White House called on India to cooperate with Canada's investigation "and ensure that those responsible are held to account," Watson said.
Trudeau told the House of Commons he brought his concerns directly to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last week's G-20 summit in New Delhi.
"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," Trudeau said.
Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said Friday she's postponing a trade mission to India that was scheduled for October, after tensions between the two countries escalated after Modi reprimanded Trudeau during the G-20 summit, according to Reuters.
(LONDON) -- When she hopped on a taxi in Tehran this past summer, Raha was not wearing a headscarf.
Her open challenge to the mandatory hijab rule in place in Iran for the last 40 years did not go unnoticed. She said her male taxi driver complimented her for the brave gesture, like many other men have done since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the police for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.
"You are going to change this regime. It's the way to go," the driver said to Raha, as she told ABC News. She wanted her real name not to be used for her safety. "You are so strong and free-spirited. We are proud of you."
Raha said she faced at that moment another aspect of the reality of the Mahsa revolution, which had been going on for over 10 months. The praise of the taxi driver should have made her feel more hopeful for the future. Instead, it made her reflect on how men in Iran support the movement.
"I want them to know I am not strong. I am tired of them expecting me to always be strong and them just being proud," she said. "I told him I wanted men to really join us in this fight, both on and off the streets."
For Raha, then, being cheered on was not enough.
"Woman, Life, Freedom" is a movement of women but without men's solid support, it would be doomed to fail, as experts and activists say.
At least 551 people have been killed and 22 have died of suspicious deaths connected to the regime since September 2022, according to a report by Iran Human Rights. Nearly 80% of the victims were men, the group said. Moreover, only men were executed by the Republic in retaliation to the uprising. Amnesty International said the men were hanged after "sham trials."
Iranian women believe the regime is trying to scare men from joining their mothers, sisters and wives in their fight for equal rights by making them the main target of their systematic bloody suppression.
"Although the focus of the movement is on women rights, the people who got executed for the revolution are primarily men," Nasrin Rahimieh, an expert in Iranian and women studies at University of California Irvine, told ABC News. "The reason why it's cross-gender is simple: it is about the rights of the individual."
Men's support for the cause of Iranian women can come in many forms and levels, from active participation in protests, to online campaigning, and more importantly, "accepting women's choices about their lives," Raha said.
As she explained, the pressure to follow the lawful dress code also comes from conservative male relatives. Something she's seen changing.
"Mahsa's revolution was actually a renaissance in Iranian society. I am witnessing this renaissance in my own family which is from one of the most traditional classes of Iranian society," Raha said. "Now the very same family, the very same society, which was restricting me, is encouraging me."
Hamoun, 21, kept up his support both on and off the streets. He was arrested and tortured by the security guards on Saturday as he participated in a peaceful gathering for the one-year anniversary of Amini's death in Tehran. He said he was handcuffed, beaten up, insulted and verbally threatened.
"I think that all of us should participate hand in hand in this revolution and defend the right against oppression, be free and save our country from poverty and ignorance", Hamoun told ABC News.
"To me, the slogan of a woman's life of freedom is more than a slogan," he said. "It's a belief that we should all believe in and apply, especially as men."
Experts suggest that the aggressive rate at which the regime has been imprisoning or executing men involved in the protests it's a clear sign of its awareness that if men and women unite, it will struggle to contain the movement.
"The message is: 'Don't get involved,'" Rahimieh explained.
Iranian women who spoke with ABC News agreed it's an attempt to intimidate.
"Since last year, many young men have been arrested and some of them have been executed without committing any crime," Mahsa Piraei told ABC News.
She is a U.K.-based Iranian woman, whose mother, Minoo Majidi, was killed by the police during the protests last September. She recalls fearing her father would endure the same destiny if he supported the movement.
"When I was in Iran for my mother's funeral, I could see the morality police everywhere in the street and I was shaking. I kept thinking, one of them is the murder of my mother," Piraei said. "And I can remember I covered my hair because I was next to my dad, and I was very afraid that one of them would shoot my father as well, right there."
She added, "I think the regime wants to scare men to stop them from supporting the women of Iran. I don't think it's succeeding."
(LONDON) -- The Wall Street Journal reporter detained in Russia appeared on Tuesday in Moscow City Court to appeal an August decision to extend his pre-trial detention, but was turned away without a ruling.
Evan Gershkovich, a Moscow correspondent with the paper, has been detained on spying charges since March, when Russian officials accused him of collecting state secrets about the military. A judge in Lefortovo Court in Moscow had extended the journalist’s pre-trial detention until Nov. 30.
There were few details available as to why the court declined to hear Gershkovich's appeal. The case is expected to be returned to a lower court. An appeal will have to be resubmitted.
"The Moscow City Court considered the lawyers' complaint in a closed court session and decided to remove the material regarding E. Gershkovich from appeal consideration, and send the material to the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow to eliminate the circumstances impeding the consideration of the criminal case in the appellate court," the court said in a statement on Tuesday.
The hearing on Tuesday was held behind closed doors, as the case contains classified materials, the court's press service said. Russian officials have not detailed their case against Gershkovich.
The correspondent was arrested by Russia's Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, on March 29 in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Gershkovich's parents and sister appeared earlier this month at the United Nations, joining U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield in asking member states to declare the reporter's detention illegal.
WSJ lawyers filed a petition asking U.N. members to condemn his imprisonment.
“No family should have to watch their loved one being used as a political pawn,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And that’s exactly what President Putin is doing."
She said Russia’s actions were "beyond cruel" and a "violation of international law.”
President Joe Biden, who spoke with Gershkovich's family in April, has said the detention was "totally illegal."
State department officials said the U.S. determined the journalist had been "wrongfully detained."
The House of Representatives in June unanimously passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American being held in Russia.
"Both of these gentlemen are wrongfully detained," John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said on ABC News' Good Morning America on Tuesday. "Both are being charged with espionage, which is a ridiculous charge."
(TEHRAN, Iran) -- The plane carrying five American citizens freed as part of a deal between the U.S. and Iran has now landed back home in the United States.
"They just landed on U.S. Soil early this morning, said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Tuesday morning. "So they're going to be at a military facility in Virginia for a little while. We want to make sure they have access to mental and medical health care, whatever they need. Obviously, they'll be reunited with their families very very soon."
"Initial reports we have are relatively good health but we want to make sure they get all the care they need," Kirby continued. "They'll have access to that care for as long as they need it."
The repatriated Americans include Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, as well as two others who asked that their identity not be made public. All five have been designated as wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.
Tahbaz's wife, Vida, and Namazi's mother, Effie, were also allowed to leave Iran in the arrangement, according to a U.S. official. Unlike the other five, they had not been jailed by the Iranian regime but had previously been barred from leaving the country.
In a statement on Monday, President Joe Biden said, "Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home."
"Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two citizens who wish to remain private will soon be reunited with their loved ones -- after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering," he said. "I am grateful to our partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the Governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea.
"I give special thanks to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, and to the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, both of whom helped facilitate this agreement over many months of difficult and principled American diplomacy," he said.
Secretary of State Blinken, speaking in New York, said that he had the "great pleasure" of having an "emotional conversation" with the Americans after they landed in Doha, saying it was a good reminder of the "human element that's at the heart of everything we do."
He also noted that American Bob Levinson still remains unaccounted for more than 16 years after what Blinken said was his abduction in Iran.
"We are also thinking of Bob Levinson who ... is presumed to be deceased. Bob's legacy lives on powerfully in the Levinson Act which is giving us new and powerful tools to crack down and deter the practice of taking Americans unlawfully to try to turn them into political pawns, and to abuse the international system in that way," he said.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry first announced the U.S. nationals would be imminently released early Monday morning, fulfilling a deal struck between Washington and Tehran last month, where the U.S. promised to grant clemency to five Iranians and to facilitate Iran's access to roughly $6 billion in frozen oil revenue on the condition the money be put toward humanitarian purposes.
The seven will be transported via a Qatari aircraft to Doha. From there, U.S. officials say they plan to depart "as quickly as possible" for the Washington, D.C., area, where they will be reunited with their families and the Department of Defense will be on hand to assist families "that might request help for their recovery and integration to normal life."
The five Iranians involved in the trade have either been charged with or convicted of nonviolent offenses. Two do not have legal standing to stay in the U.S. and will be transported by U.S. Marshals Service to Doha and then travel on to Iran.
Two more are lawful permanent residents of the U.S., and one is a dual Iranian American citizen. Administration officials did not say whether they would remain the U.S.
The five detained Americans all served time in Iran's notorious Evin prison but were placed on house arrest when Tehran and Washington reached a deal-in-principle.
Namazi, 51, is an oil executive and an Iranian-American dual nationalist. He was first detained in 2015 and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison after a conviction on "collaboration with a hostile government" for his ties to the United States.
Shargi, a 58-year-old businessman, was detained without explanation in 2018 and released in 2019 before he was re-arrested in 2020 and handed down a 10-year sentence on an espionage charge.
Tahbaz, 67, is an Iranian-American conservationist who also holds British citizenship. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Blinken signed off on a broad sanctions waiver last week, clearing the way for international banks to transfer the roughly $6 billion in Iran oil revenue in exchange for Iran's release of the five detained American citizens.
The $6 billion is coming from a restricted account in South Korea, where it was effectively frozen when the U.S. reinstated sanctions against Tehran after former President Donald Trump left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program and will be transferred to Qatar with restrictions on how Iran can spend the funds.
Iran expected to begin receiving its frozen assets on Monday, Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry, said, adding that "active foreign policy" had led to the funds being unblocked.
"Today this asset will be delivered," Kanaani said. "It will be invested where needed."
Republicans blasted the planned swap in the days after the initial announcement.
"The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally. However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration's decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world's top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America's adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said in a statement.
But National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby insisted during a press briefing Wednesday that "Iran will be getting no sanctions relief."
"It's Iranian money that had been established in these accounts to allow some trade from foreign countries on things like Iranian oil. ... It's not a blank check. They don't get to spend it anyway they want. It's not $6 billion all at once. They will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only," he said, adding that there will be "sufficient oversight to make sure that the request is valid."
The Iranian people will be the beneficiaries of the funds, not the regime, according to Kirby.
Pressed on why the $6 billion needed to be released in addition to the five Iranian prisoners, Kirby said, "This is the deal we were able to strike to secure the release of five Americans."
"We're comfortable in the parameters of this deal. I've heard the critics that somehow they're getting the better end of it. Ask the families of those five Americans who's getting the better end of it and I think you'd get a different answer," he said.
When asked about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's claim that the money is "fungible," Kirby said, "He's wrong. He's just flat-out wrong."
Kirby said the funds in this agreement are "not a payment of any kind" and "not ransom" to secure the release of the Americans, responding to Republican complaints.
"Expect this money to free up revenues internally for more foreign aggression and domestic suppression. And certainly, at over one billion dollars per hostage and a jailed Iranian national" said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Expect Tehran to continue if not step up its hostage taking."
"As Chairman of the [Republican Study Committee], we will use all legislative options to reverse this agreement and prevent further ransom payments and sanctions relief to Iran," Rep. Kevin Hern tweeted Tuesday.
Kanaani, the Iranian spokesperson, said only two of the Iranians who were expected to be released from American prisons were willing to return to Iran.
"Two of [Iranian] citizens will willingly return to Iran based, one person joins his family in a third country, and the other two citizens want to stay in America," Kanaani said.
(LONDON) -- Climate change was one of the main factors that led to the catastrophic flooding in Libya, according to a new report.
World Weather Attribution (WWA), a collaboration of scientists from all over the globe, released a new report on Tuesday saying that human-caused climate change played a role in the devastating heavy rainfall event earlier this month in the Mediterranean.
“Human-caused warming made the heavy rainfall up to 10 times more likely in Greece, Bulgaria and Türkiye and up to 50 times more likely in Libya, with building in flood plains, poor dam maintenance and other local factors turning the extreme weather into ahumanitarian disaster,” the statement said.
While the WWA says that it is impossible to blame humans entirely as a direct cause of a natural disaster, it is emissions made and manufactured by humans and the warming of our planet that have increased the severity of these events.
“To quantify the effect of climate change on the heavy rain in the region, scientists analysed climate data and computer model simulations to compare the climate as it is today, after about 1.2°C of global warming since the late 1800s, with the climate of the past, following peer-reviewed methods,” the WWA said on Tuesday.
“For Greece, Bulgaria and Türkiye, the analysis showed that climate change made the heavy rain up to 10 times more likely to happen, with up to 40% more rain, as a result of human activities that have warmed the planet,” the report from the WWA concluded.
The report doesn’t place the blame squarely on climate change, however, and concluded that human error was another major element that contributed to the severity of the event.
Although the heavy rainfall in Libya is unusual and rare even factoring in climate change, the report highlighted poor dam maintenance, land use, armed conflict and political instability as factors that all played a significant role in the humanitarian disaster.
“The study also found that the destruction caused by the heavy rain was much greater due to factors that included construction in flood-prone areas, deforestation, and the consequences of the conflict in Libya,” the report said.
“The Mediterranean is a hotspot of climate change-fueled hazards. After a summer of devastating heatwaves and wildfires with a very clear climate change fingerprint, quantifying the contribution of global warming to these floods proved more challenging,” Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in Climate Science at Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said. “But there is absolutely no doubt that reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to all types of extreme weather is paramount for saving lives in the future.”
Alex Hall, director of UCLA Center for Climate Science, told ABC News that events like the one in Libya are much more likely to occur because of greenhouse gas emissions of the past 150 years and that “there is now about 10% more water vapor in the atmosphere.” Hall explained that this serves as extra fuel for storms and leads to more intense precipitation.
Said Julie Arrighi, director at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre: “This devastating disaster shows how climate change-fueled extreme weather events are combining with human factors to create even bigger impacts, as more people, assets and infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable to flood risks.”
(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations has revised its death toll from disastrous floods in eastern Libya after conflicting information from different government officials and aid agencies -- a sign of the chaotic response on the ground in a divided country.
As of Monday evening, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the number of fatalities was 3,958 and that more than 9,000 people remain missing.
The Libyan Red Crescent previously reported that 11,300 people had died from the flooding in eastern Libya, and the U.N. was originally using that figure but changed course on Sunday to instead go with the World Health Organization's estimate of 3,958 deaths.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was difficult to provide an exact tally of casualties.
"We don't want to speculate about the numbers," ICRC spokesperson Bashir Saleh told ABC News on Monday. "We don't have the final figures. I think we need to wait for the rescue operations to end and then we would have the final figures."
Eastern Libya's Health Minister Othman Abduljaleel said at least 3,283 bodies were buried as of Sunday night without specifying how many had been recovered in total. He said the death toll was "on the rise every day" and that "many bodies remain in the sea or under the rubble."
The death toll has been a moving target since Mediterranean storm Daniel pummelled Libya on Sept. 10, triggering widespread flooding that broke dams and swept away entire neighborhoods along the coast in the east of the North African nation. Rescuers have been working to understand the full scope of the devastation ever since, but their efforts have been hindered by the country's current political situation.
Libya has lacked a central government since 2011, when an Arab Spring uprising backed by NATO toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The oil-rich nation is now split between two warring governments -- one in the east and the other in the west, with each backed by various militias.
The head of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said last Thursday that most of the flooding casualties could have been avoided if Libya had a functioning meteorological service.
Hundreds of people took part in a protest at a mosque in flood-stricken Derna on Monday, demanding that local authorities be held accountable. The northeastern port city was the worst affected and has been declared a disaster zone.
(WASHINGTON) -- The U.N. World Food Program (WFP), the largest anti-hunger initiative around the globe, is grappling with the worst funding shortage in its 60-year history and "we are in a desperate situation," Executive Director Cindy McCain said on Sunday.
"It's a combination of things -- it's COVID, it's climate change, it's conflict and also the cost of being able to do business," McCain told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl about the reasons behind the lack of money. "Those things combined and, of course, a world that has kind of grown tired of all this. There's a great malaise right now within countries about foreign aid and giving."
"The bottom line is those that are going to suffer [are] those who can't afford to," McCain said.
In September, the WFP said it "has been struggling to meet the global need for food assistance .... And for the first time ever, WFP has seen contributions decreasing while needs steadily increase." The organization has already had to make "significant cuts in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Jordan, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria."
McCain warned on "This Week" that in Afghanistan, for example, the food program doesn't "have enough money to even get through October."
The WFP has been providing crucial services to the needy in the country, which was taken over in 2021 by the Taliban, who then imposed a wave of restrictions.
"Unless we can build up some funding for Afghanistan, we'll have to pull it completely out," McCain said.
Emphasizing the urgency, she said, "Right now, women can't work. They can't hold jobs of any kind. And in the case of WFP, we've been feeding women, feeding women and children. And if we have to pull out, starvation and famine is going to be the result of this."
Karl asked, "Who's not giving money that used to give money? What's happened?"
McCain said other international conflicts had, in a way, overshadowed the broader needs of the hungry around the world at the same time that voters have become warier of sending money overseas.
"Ukraine, for better or worse has sucked the oxygen out of the room. And I -- we certainly understand the need to support Ukraine. But there's other hot spots in the world that are deeply and as much desperate as Ukraine is," McCain said.
"So we have to make sure that we remind the world the importance of taking a look around the globe," she continued. "But people are talking to their parliaments, their parliaments are saying no, their constituents are saying no. And we are facing some of the same things here in the United States."
There were national security implications to supporting at-risk communities abroad, McCain said: "The terrorist groups are feeding people. And it's primarily a lot of the stuff they steal from us."
"We have to pay attention to it because we're either going to feed them now or fight them later. And there's no way about this. And ... as a human being and a humanitarian, we cannot turn our backs on this," McCain said. "We can't. If we don't do it, who will?"
McCain, widow of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, said her husband "would be furious" at the current state of affairs.
"I know he'd be traveling the world to make sure that people got the message and understood the importance and the desperation of the situation we're in," she said.
Cindy McCain, a Republican, has been vocal about her critical views of former President Donald Trump. But asked by Karl about what she thought would be the outcome if he won the 2024 election, she declined to answer specifically, citing her current work with the apolitical WFP.
Still, she said, "We have to consider what's at stake and why and the influence and impact a single human being can have on this situation."
(TEHRAN) -- Iranian authorities detained the father of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died in police custody last year, as he left his home to visit his daughter's grave on the first anniversary of her death, human rights observers said.
A few hours later, Amjad Amini was taken home by security guards and has been under house arrest, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights said Saturday.
Mahsa Amini died in a hospital on Sept. 16, 2022, due to injuries sustained during her custody. She had been arrested by the Islamic Republic's hijab police, known as the morality police, in Tehran allegedly for not fully complying with the compulsory hijab rules of the country.
Though the government claimed Amini died from a previous medical condition while in police custody, her family and critics of the regime believe that she died as a result of being beaten by police.
Her tragic death sparked months of nationwide protests known as the "Woman Life Freedom" movement. At least 537 people were killed by the regime in a brutal crackdown on the demonstrations and at least 22,000 were arrested, Iran Human Rights reported in April.
Tens of thousands of protesters were arrested during the monthslong demonstrations, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) later confirmed.
Despite the intelligence and security pressure against his family, Amjad Amini stated in a public post on his Instagram that the family would hold a commemoration ceremony on the anniversary day. However, he invited people to abstain from violence.
"While we honor the pains and concerns of dear fellow citizens, we would invite everyone to abstain from violence and to react against it," the statement said.
After the news of Amjad Amini's arrest circulated on social media Saturday, Tasnim News Agency, a state-linked news outlet, denied the arrest and said he had been "accompanied" on his way to his daughter's grave.
Human rights observers have accused the regime of putting pressure ahead of the anniversary on families of the victims of the crackdown, along with activists, former political prisoners and anyone with leadership roles in the protests.
Video circulating on social media show the extensive presence of security guards and plain clothes police forces especially in central Tehran and Saqez, the hometown of Amini.
(LONDON) -- The death toll from devastating floods in eastern Libya has surpassed 11,000, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, as rescuers work to understand the full scope of the disaster.
As of Saturday, the bodies of nearly 4,000 people have been recovered and identified, the World Health Organization said. More than 9,000 people are still missing, according to the WHO, which is working with the Libyan Ministry of Health to track the dead and missing.
"This is a disaster of epic proportions," Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, a WHO representative in Libya, said in a statement.
The Libyan Red Crescent said Friday that at least 11,300 people have died and another 10,100 were reported missing. A Red Crescent official told ABC News it was difficult to give an accurate tally of deaths.
"Bodies are washing up on the shore every minute, on beaches as far as 150 km away," Ahmed Al-Hadl, the head of aid in the port city of Derna for the Red Crescent, said.
Eastern Libya's health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, meanwhile said Friday the number of recorded deaths stood at 3,166.
Mediterranean storm Daniel is behind the widespread flooding in the North African nation, as it washed away entire neighborhoods over the weekend and swept bodies out to sea.
Derna was the worst affected following the collapse of two dams, which wiped out a quarter of the area. Libya's chief prosecutor announced late Friday he has ordered an investigation into the collapse of the dams -- and whether better maintenance could have avoided the disaster.
Derna has been declared a disaster zone, with electricity and communication having been cut off, according to local officials. The head of Libya's eastern parliament-backed government Osama Hamad told reporters Friday evening that authorities would take precautionary measures that might include sealing off the city of Derna for fear of the spread of diseases.
An assessment team visiting Derna on Thursday said people were returning to what was left of their homes in desperation.
"What I saw there is ... the situation is devastating ... a lot of destruction and ruins, around 25% of the city was basically destroyed as a result of the flooding," Talal Burnaz, the acting country director in Libya for the International Medical Corps, told ABC News.
"Whenever you see a search and rescue team you will see families standing there with tears in their eyes asking for support and hoping that they will basically find one of their family members alive," Burnaz said.
Burnaz said they were still pulling people out of the rubble Thursday. He saw one rescue and heard of four more when he visited the last remaining government-run hospital in Derna. The survivors had been trapped under rubble since the early hours of Monday morning.
Some help is getting through the one road that leads to the devastated areas. Burnaz saw international search and rescue teams -- from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Spain -- and he drove past convoys of help coming from all over Libya.
"There were many local authorities there -- army, police, scouts, Libyan Red Cross -- trying to retrieve either bodies or trying to find survivors under the rubble," Burnaz said.
The WHO said Saturday that 29 metric tons of health supplies arrived in Benghazi, Libya, from the WHO Global Logistics Hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The supplies include medicines, trauma and emergency surgery supplies, and medical equipment, as well as body bags.
Doctors Without Borders dispatched an emergency team from Misrata to Derna that arrived Thursday to assess the needs in the aftermath of storm Daniel, despite challenging conditions as the city was split in two between east and west by the flooding.
The group's medical coordinator for Libya said the situation is chaotic with volunteers coming from everywhere in Libya to help, leaving an enormous need for coordination.
"There are no dead bodies in the street anymore, no wounded that we can see in the hospital," Manoelle Carton, Doctors Without Borders' medical coordinator for Libya, said Friday. "It's more the day-to-day health needs that are coming up again -- chronic diseases. We can clearly identify a huge need in mental health support. Everybody is asking for it, from people in the streets, to the medical doctors that assisted people, from the people who saw the events, to the people who lost their entire families."
Carton said the emergency team, comprising a logistician and three medical staff, began assessing primary health centers in the city on Friday.
"We visited three health centers in the west -- one is not active because almost all of the medical staff died. The two other health centers are active with volunteer doctors from Tripoli, but they are asking for support -- mainly for mental health to support people coming to the center," Carton said.
Carton said the situation of internally displaced people is still unclear, saying the group identified a space in the west of Tripoli with about 3,000 displaced people, but there are more sheltering in the homes of friends and colleagues.
In Derna, those who have lost their homes are being housed in municipal buildings like schools and universities, according to Burnaz.
"If you see the amount of destruction and the area that's been destroyed -- it's big. You can see cars in the third and fourth floors of the building stuck there ... it was massive, like something never seen before," Burnaz said.
A number of countries have vowed to send aid to Libya, but getting the supplies into the affected areas has proven difficult with many roads blocked and bridges destroyed. Rescue efforts have also been hampered by the current political situation in Libya, with the oil-rich country split between two warring governments -- one in the east and the other in the west.
Libya's National Center of Meteorology reported that more than 16 inches of rain fell in the northeastern city of Bayda within a 24-hour period to Sunday, according to the flood tracking website Floodlist.
The head of the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said Thursday that most of Libya's flooding casualties could have been avoided if the divided country had a functioning meteorological service.
In a statement, Taalas said that Libya's National Meteorological Center did issue early warnings for heavy precipitation and floods, but they didn't address the "risk posed by the aging dams."
ABC News' Will Gretsky contributed to this report.
(DERNA, Libya) -- Libya's chief prosecutor announced Friday he has ordered an investigation into the collapse of two overwhelmed dams during the catastrophic floods -- and whether better maintenance could have avoided the disaster.
After Mediterranean storm Daniel brought heavy rains, and widespread flooding, to eastern Libya, two dams near the port city of Derna collapsed earlier this week, wiping out a quarter of the area. The city has been declared a disaster zone.
Decades-old studies showed that the two dams, built in the 1970s primarily to protect the city from floods, suffered cracks and subsidence that may lead to their collapse, according to Libya Attorney General Al-Siddiq Al-Sour.
Al-Sour said around $8 million had been allocated for maintenance that was halted months after it began when the Arab Spring uprising broke out in the country in the early 2010s. Prosecutors are investigating the spending of dam maintenance funds, he told reporters Friday. The investigation would include local authorities as well as previous governments, he said.
"I reassure citizens that whoever made mistakes or negligence, prosecutors will certainly take firm measures, file a criminal case against him and send him to trial," he said.
A team of 26 prosecutors will also head to Derna to keep a record of victims and identify causes of deaths, he said. His office did not have an accurate tally of deaths as investigations remain underway.
According to the Libyan Red Crescent, at least 11,300 people have died and another 10,100 were reported missing as of Friday in the wake of the destructive floods.
The death toll in Derna could reach upwards of 20,000 people, based on the extent of the damage, Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi said Thursday.
Libya's National Center of Meteorology reported that more than 16 inches of rain fell in the northeastern city of Bayda within a 24-hour period to Sunday, according to the flood tracking website Floodlist.
The head of the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization said Thursday that most of Libya's flooding casualties could have been avoided if the divided country had a functioning meteorological service.