Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that rules over hijab should reflect the views of a majority of Iranians. In a video debate with conservative commentator Mehdi Nassiri, Ahmadinejad said: “If parliament has passed a law and the majority of the people reject it, can you say I will enforce it no matter what?”
Compulsory hijab has been enforced without formal legislation since the 1979 Revolution. In recent years, many women have been defying ‘proper hijab’ with ever loosening head coverings and tighter manteaus. Some have removed their headscarves in protest against the rules, and social-media clips show women confronting clergymen and religious conservatives in public when told to fix their ‘bad hijab.’
Ahmadinejad was the first – and so far, the only – president in the Islamic Republic not to be a cleric and had at times a difficult relationship with senior clergy, who regarded him as an upstart. Against the wishes of many ayatollahs, Ahmadinejad championed the right of women to enter sports stadiums. While Ahmadinejad known as a foreign-policy hawk partly through his enthusiasm for Iran’s nuclear program, his closest associate Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei floated notions of reconciliation with Israel. In his second term, Ahmadinejad openly defied Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and once he left office in 2013 he issued still more critical video messages.
The Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog barred Mashaei from the 2013 election, when Ahmadinejad was ineligible to stand for a third consecutive term, and in 2017 it barred Ahmadinejad himself. There has been speculation that the former president may try again for the presidential election in June 2021 when President Hassan Rouhani will be ineligible.
Iran Imported 80 CT Scan Machines With World Bank Loan
Iran’s Deputy Minister of Health announced that the ministry has bought 80 CT Scan machines with the loan that it received from the World Bank. Kamel Taqavinejad said these machines have been imported and installed in Iranian hospitals during the past four months.
He did not reveal the amount of the loan, but last Summer Iranian media had reported that after 15 years, the World Bank has given a $50 million loan to Iran.
In February 2019, Iranian officials announced that Iran has requested a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There is still no report on the approval or disapproval of the IMF, but the United States had disapproved of the loan, and Iran has not received any loan from the IMF yet.
The United States explained its objection to the loan, saying the US believes these loans are never spent on the Iranian people: “Their background is clear, they will put this money in their own pocket, and also spend it on their proxy terrorist groups in the Middle East.
In response, Iran accused the IMF of politicizing the matter, and President Rouhani accused the US of “financial terrorism and medical terrorism.”
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are two global financial institutions connected to the United Nations.
Saudi Minister Optimistic US Ties Will Be 'Excellent' Under Biden
DUBAI, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has voiced optimism that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be "excellent" under new U.S. President Joe Biden, Al-Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Thursday.
Appointments made by Biden show "understanding of the common issues" by the new U.S. administration, Prince Faisal bin Farhan added, according to Twitter posts by the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based TV channel.
"The Biden administration will find that our targets regarding Yemen are the same," Al-Arabiya quoted him as saying.
A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group after it seized the capital Sanaa.
Biden pledged during his election campaign to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies have long been allies of the United States, sharing the objective of protecting oil supplies from the Gulf region and containing Iran.
Rights Groups Say Kurdish Arrests Continue, 50 Detained In 11 Days
The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights on Thursday [January 21] reported that Iranian security forces had arrested more 50 Kurds in 11 days in various Iranian cities. Three had been released and 47 remained in custody.
On Tuesday, Hengaw reported that Intelligence Ministry agents had arrested at least eight people, including two women in the mainly Kurdish city of Bukan, West Azarbaijan Province, and seven others in other Kurdish cities in the same province, including Naghadeh (Naqadeh) and Piranshahr.
The Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), which has published the names of some of the detainees, said a wave of arrests of Kurdish activists in various cities including Tehran had begun on January 9. Security forces had carried out the arrests without warrants, KHRN reported, had used “strong verbal and physical violence,” and had confiscated detainees’ phones and laptops.
“Most of the detainees are civil, cultural, environmental and student activists and a number of them are ordinary citizens,” said Kaveh Kermanshahi, a KHRN official. “This approach of the regime is not new. [These arrests] had never stopped during recent years, to say they have started again. It’s just that occasionally they increase in number.”
Kermanshahi warned over possible psychological and physical torture of detainees, and urged rights organizations and activists to appeal to Iranian security forces and judiciary to release them immediately. The judiciary and intelligence bodies have not announced the arrests, nor any charges against those detained.
Iran Government Managers Reported In Line For 50% Pay Rise
Government managers are in line for at least a 50 percent pay rise despite a huge budget deficit and the increasing hardship facing ordinary Iranians, the conservative Mehr news agency reported on Thursday. Quoting “an informed source,” Mehr suggested that new legislation would boost government monthly salaries above 250 million rials to 600 million, or just under $3,000 monthly based on current market exchange rates.
Most wage earners in both the public and private sectors currently receive 25-35 million rials monthly.
In 2015, the salaries for senior managers were limited by law to 200 million, equivalent at that time to around $7,000 a month. Since then, the Iranian currency has lost its value sevenfold and most senior bureaucrats and managers of state companies officially make less than $2,000.
The salary of ordinary workers has not kept pace with three consecutive years of inflation above 30 percent and the ensuing hardship is a potential source of unrest. The government has run budget deficits since United States sanctions after 2018 substantially reduced Iran’s oil exports, which traditionally financed at least half of the budget. The government has resorted to expanding the money supply, fueling more inflation.
Comparatively high salaries for government managers have been a bone of contention in the past five years, highlighted by both politicians and the media. Iran has a large state bureaucracy due to public ownership of major companies and banks.
Korean Official Says Biden May Help Free Korean Tanker Held In Iran
A senior South Korean official on Thursday [January 21] said the country expected the new United States administration of President Joe Biden help resolve the issue of Iran’s seizure of a Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf on January 4. “We believe that there will come a situation in which we can find a swift resolution of the issue regarding the seized vessel,” said the official, quoted anonymously by Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Tehran denied any connection between the impounded vessel and $7 billion of Iranian funds frozen in Korea due to fear of US secondary sanctions. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Navy on January 4 said the ship had been detained after “repeated violations of environmental protocols” at sea. The IRGC reported the MT Hankuk Chemi, carrying “oil-chemical products,” and its 20 crew were held at Bandar Abbas on Iran’s southern coast.
The expectation in Seoul appears to be that the Biden administration will ease sanctions.
“The frozen asset issue is not because of a lack of our will, but of the structural factor vis-a-vis the U.S. sanctions environment,” the South Korean official said, responding to a suggestion from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi that a “lack of political will” rather than US sanctions explained Korea’s freeze on Iranian funds.
Araghchi met Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Tehran on January 10, but the ministers failed to agree a solution. Negotiations continue, with Korea reportedly trying to involve Qatar. Tehran has pressed for the funds’ release to finance humanitarian imports related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Food Prices In Iran Rose By 60 Percent Last Month Amid High Inflation
The high rate of inflation continued in Iran in December-January, with food prices rising 60 percent compared with the same period last year, Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) reported on Thursday.
The SCI reported that during the Iranian month of Day (December 21-January 20), overall inflation was 46.2 percent compared with the same period last year, but food prices accelerated much faster, putting even more pressure on ordinary people.
Iran’s relatively manageable inflation took off in 2018 when the United States imposed tough sanctions after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The currency rial began to lose value and its fall continued in 2019 and 2020. At one point in August 2020 the rial had lost its value more than tenfold.
However, the reason for such a steep rise in food prices remains unclear. The government supplies dollars to importers of essential goods at a much lower rate, similar to pre-sanctions days, and government prices for electricity and fuel have not changed much. There have been serious accusations of corruption and profiteering for rising food prices.
In 2019, bloody nationwide protests erupted when the government raised gasoline prices. The high rate of inflation remains a constant political threat to the government. SCI reported that the average rate of inflation excluding food prices was 40 percent. SCI reported in October that certain foodstuffs experienced triple-digit inflation.
The purchasing power of workers has fallen drastically with the high rate of inflation. An ordinary wage earner or office worker earns between $100-150 a month, while in 2017 salaries were equal to at least $400 a month.
Biden Intends To Lengthen & Strengthen Nuclear Constraints On Iran: White House
In her first press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said President Joe Biden intends to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues of concern regarding Iran with world leaders and US allies.
According to Psaki, the Biden administration intends to lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran through diplomacy, and Biden will discuss the matter with other countries involved.
"The president has made clear that he believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the United States seeks to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed," Psaki said in the press conference.
Biden said during his campaign that if Tehran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington will also return to the deal.
"We would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts and foreign leaders will be with partners and allies and you would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussions,” Psaki added.
President Trump unilaterally exited the nuclear deal in 2017, calling it the worst deal that the United States has made. Since then, he implemented the 'maximum pressure' policy, by imposing harsh sanctions on Iran’s main industries and exports. In response, Iran has increased its uranium enrichment speed.
Biden To Appoint Robert Malley As Special Representative For Iran
It was reported that President Biden intends to appoint Robert Malley, former Obama administration’s national security advisor on the Middle East as the new US Special Representative for Iran. Malley, born in Egypt, is the son of a Jewish Syrian citizen.
In November of last year, Malley had criticized the assassination of IRGC’s nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and said the attack would make returning to diplomacy with Iran difficult for Trump’s successor.
Robert Malley also in 2019 met with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
In 2008, Malley was removed from President Obama’s election campaign after reports of his meeting with members of Hamas surfaced, but later in 2014 he was appointed as President Obama’s senior advisor on Middle East affairs.
In the last year of Obama’s administration, Malley was the coordinator on the affairs regarding the ISIS terrorist group.
Robert Malley will replace Elliott Abrams, who last year replaced Brian Hook. Brin Hook was in charge of President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign for the majority of its implementation.
The maximum pressure campaign was implemented by the Trump administration to coerce the Islamic Republic of Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal. The campaign consisted of imposing heavy sanctions on Iran’s oil and metal and mineral industries which crippled Iran’s economy.
Prince Reza Pahlavi Asks President Biden To 'Stand In Solidarity' With Iranians
Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has written to President Joe Biden on the day of his inauguration wishing him success and asking him to “stand in solidarity” with the people in Iran.
The last heir to Iran’s monarchy who lives in the United States expressed his optimism that Biden during his campaign pledged a commitment “to advancing democracy and human rights abroad.”
“In light of the growing strength and momentum of the movement for democracy and human rights in my country, Iran, I wish to convey my compatriots’ hope and expectation that you and your administration will stand in solidarity with them as they continue their struggle against a brutal, medieval dictatorship,” he wrote to Biden.
The new president has indicated his willingness to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which would mean an end to former President Donald Trumps’ maximum pressure against the clerical regime in Tehran. Opponents of the Islamic Republic are concerned that the Democratic administration will reduce economic sanctions and relieve pressure from a government they hope to see overthrown.
While the monarchy was overthrown in 1979 with an overwhelming majority in a referendum, the mood has changed among Iranians, many of whom look back with nostalgia to the pre-revolution era when the country enjoyed economic progress and social freedoms. The clerical government has not been able to manage Iran’s economy and has imposed religious restrictions on the population.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Says Iranian Arrested In US Is A Hostage
Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministry, on Wednesday [January 20] called the arrest of an Iranian citizen living in the United States an act of hostage taking.
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 63, was arrested Monday by the FBI at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts. The US Justice Department announced in a statement Tuesday that it had filed a criminal complaint in a federal court charging Afrasiabi with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara).
The Justice Department said Afrasiabi had been secretly employed by Iran and paid by its diplomats assigned to the UN. Its statement said that Afrasiabi has been paid around $265,000 in checks drawn on the official bank accounts of Iran’s Permanent Mission at the UN since 2007 and that he had received health insurance through the permanent mission’s benefit plans since at least 2011. Khatibzadeh rejected the accusations against Afrasiabi as “false,” and said he hoped the problem would be “resolved as soon as possible.”
For over a decade, Afrasiabi “pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran,” said John C Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda.” Lawyers representing Afrasiabi are yet to comment on his arrest.
Iran Covid Spokesman Apologizes For Criticizing Unmasked Religious Gathering
Dr Alireza Raisi, spokesman of Iran’s National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, has apologized for his comments over a failure to apply Covid-19 public-health protocols in a religious ceremony. Raisi had drawn criticism from Friday prayer-leaders and media affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
In a recorded message released on social media on Wednesday [January 20], Raisi said his statements earlier this week about a ceremony in Qom, home to Iran’s leading seminary schools, had been misinterpreted and that he had meant no disrespect. At a taskforce meeting on Sunday attended by President Hassan Rouhani, Raisi had displayed a picture of the ceremony in Qom and criticized its organizers for not requiring social distancing and masks.
“Those who carelessly organize [such ceremonies] are undoubtedly responsible for the death of our people in the next peak [of the pandemic] and must be punished,” Raisi had said. “This is not virtuous, they are killing people.”
While the state broadcaster (IRIB) simply ignored Raisi’s remarks in reporting the taskforce meeting, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Monday published a piece headlined “Coronavirus Taskforce Spokesman’s Expression of Contempt for the People of Qom.” The commentary said the taskforce has failed to take effective action in other cities but its spokesman had accused the people of Qom of ignoring health protocols and suggested they were responsible for further Covid deaths.
Iran became in February the second country to report Covid after China, with Qom the first Iranian city where people died. The city has many seminaries and is considered the most important center of the Iranian clerical establishment.
Iran Central Bank Chief Claims Credit For Rial's Rise, Attributed To Biden
Abdolnaser Hemmati, chief of Iran’s central bank (CBI) has taken credit for the recent rise in the value of Iran’s currency, saying that he prevented “120 percent hyperinflation”.
Iran’s currency has regained some of its steep losses in 2020, rising 30 percent from its lowest point last August. The rise the began after the US presidential election is mostly attributed to optimism related to the presidency of Joe Biden who has indicated he might rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
After Trump imposed harsh sanctions, Iran’s already inefficient economy battered by years of international sanctions took a turn for the worst, with the currency losing most of its value and inflation reaching 40 percent, triggering nationwide protests.
Hemmati, who was speaking in a television program Tuesday acknowledged the “pressure on” ordinary people who he said are enduring hardship, but he claimed the CBI prevented hyperinflation, saying he never gave up despite many officials being hopeless about the situation.
However, Iran’s currency has lost value twofold since Hemmati assumed the leadership of the central bank two years ago, when the US dollar traded for 110,000 rials. The US currency is now trading at 220,000 rials.
Despite sounding victorious, Hemmati refused to endorse President Hassan Rouhani’s prediction that the rial would rise further, saying it will depend on Iran’s blocked funds being freed. At the same time he acknowledged that counties such as South Korea and Iraq refuse to unlock funds blocked in their funds, fearing US sanctions.
Prince Reza Pahlavi: Khamanei's Ban On Vaccine Is Murder
Banning Western Covid vaccines “is murder…justified by ignorance”, Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has said in a video message released January 19, lambasting a decision by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has banned the government from importing American and British vaccines.
The last heir to Iran’s monarchy who lives in the United States, also called for the medical community to be the decision maker about critical health issues and accused Khamenei of having ulterior financial reasons for banning Western vaccines.
Khamenei in a speech on January 8 banned Western vaccines arguing that they “cannot be relied on and trusted”, promising that Iran is developing its own Covid vaccines. But the company in charge of developing a vaccine, the Barakat Foundation, is a charitable entity and business group controlled by Khamenei, leading to suspicions that the ban is to monopolize the market for the local vaccine for financial gain.
Officials have said it will take months until an Iranian vaccine becomes available and some medical officials have cast doubt on th country’s ability to mass-produce a vaccine.
Prince Reza Pahlavi said, “Everyone knows that a vaccine approved by the world’s highest medical authorities is not created to hurt the Iranian people.”
“This corruption had never clawed at the lives of Iranians in such a brutal manner. This crime is too blatant to cover up,” he added.
Khamenei’s decision has politicized the vaccine issue and many Iranians have attacked the Islamic Republic and Khamenei for endangering thousands of lives by delaying vaccination.