Armenia To ‘Scrutinize’ Iran’s Peace Proposal For Nagorno-Karabakh | Iran International

Armenia To ‘Scrutinize’ Iran’s Peace Proposal For Nagorno-Karabakh

Iran’s peace initiative over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be “scrutinized in detail,” Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said on Friday [October 30] after his meeting in Yerevan with Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Ministry for Political Affairs and Special Envoy for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Araghchi is on a regional tour that has taken him to Baku, Moscow and Yerevan. Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia have yet to make any official response to Iran’s initiative, the details of which have not been disclosed. Tehran has generally good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan and is keen to see an end to the conflict that flared up on September 27 over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Both parties expressed concern over the transfer of international terrorists from the Middle East region, assessing it as a serious threat to the entire region,” said a statement from the Armenian Foreign Ministry statement quoted by Media Max news website. This referred to reports that Sunni Islamist fighters had arrived from Syria, possibly facilitated by Turkey, to fight alongside Azerbaijani forces – one of many aspects of the conflict alarming Tehran.

The foreign ministry added that Mnatsakanyan had “informed his interlocutor that he was going to meet with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in Geneva on October 30 and continue working in that format.”

On Thursday Araghchi held a three-hour long meeting with Russian deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko to present Iran’s plan, but while in Moscow Araghchi also aired Tehran’s frustration with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group. The group - established in 1992 and co-chaired by Russia, the US and France - has failed to resolve the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but ruled de facto by Armenians.

Araghchi charged that some countries in the Minsk Group “have no connection to this crisis” and others were “not interested in peace” in Nagorno-Karabakh. As well as its co-chairs, the Minsk Group includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

After his meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, the first leg of his regional tour, on Wednesday, Araghchi in a tweet called the meeting “positive and constructive.” In a tweet Hikmet Hajiyev, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs in the Department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, thanked Araghchi for expressing “condolences to Azerbaijani martyrs.”

Energy Official Says Nakhichivan Corridor Spells Losses for Iran

Iran is set for serious losses due to a new transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan through Armenia, Hamidreza Salehi, Chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce Energy Committee, told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Saturday. The corridor, he said, would allow Azerbaijan to supply Nakhchivan directly rather than through Iran under the terms of a 20-year agreement, signed in 2005, under which Iran transfers 350 million cubic meters of gas annually, and for which Tehran nets a transit fee in the form of a 15 percent cut of the gas.

The Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan transport corridor has been established under the Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on November 10. The corridor – to be supervised by Russian peacekeepers for five years – will create a direct transit route for Azerbaijan not just to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic but on to Turkey.

This new link also raises the possibility that Turkey will switch from buying Iranian gas – under an agreement signed in 1996 – to buying Azeri gas, which is around 30 percent cheaper. Iran’s pipeline to Turkey, which carries around 10 billion m3 a year, saw its supply interrupted earlier this year after an attack by Kurdish militants, who were resuming a campaign that had been quiet since a 2013 ceasefire.

Salehi also told ILNA that after its discovery of natural gas in the Black Sea, Turkey would now begin seek its own markets and was set to become a rival to major regional gas exporters, including Iran, and would stop its gas imports from Iran and Russia.


Two More Former Officials Arrested In Large Corruption Case In Iran

Authorities have arrested two more former officials in Iran on charges of bribery and corruption in a case involving dozens of judicial and other high-ranking managers, many of whom have already been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.

The former of head of security in Iran’s Judiciary and the former of head of intelligence in Mazanderan province were taken into custody according to media in Iran. Their charges relate to what has become known as the Tabari network, a former top Judicial official. Akbar Tabari himself received a 31-year sentence in September for establishing and running a vast corruption and bribery network involving dozens of officials.

The former chief of Judiciary’s security, Mohammad Javad Rashidi is accused of receiving a draft from Mostafa Niaz-Azari who was involved in the Tabari network and got convicted for smuggling two metric tons of gold and is currently a fugitive abroad. His father, Kiumars Niaz-Abadi who was the head of the intelligence department in Mazanderan from 2006-2016 has also been arrested.

The network was involved in all sorts of corrupt activities for years during the tenure of former Judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who was removed from his post in early 2019. The Larijani family enjoyed unparalleled power and influence for more than a decade. Ali Larijani was Speaker of Iran’s parliament until May 2020.

The court also demanded Tabari pay back around $1.5 million to the treasury and a string of luxury properties he acquired as part of his corruption schemes. But many defendants have fled Iran after the case was launched in April 2019, raising questions of how they could travel abroad in a country with tight border controls.


EU, Germany Urge Calm After Assassination Of Iran's Top Nuclear Man

Germany and the European Union have urged “all parties” to remain calm and avoid escalating tensions after the killing near Tehran of leader Iranian nuclear scientists Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday. “A few weeks before the new US administration takes office, it is important to preserve the scope for talks with Iran so that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme can be resolved through negotiations,” a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told Reuters in an email on Saturday.

Germany, France and Britain – who are among the signatories of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal - have in recent weeks said they would work hard to preserve the deal, from which US President Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018. Trump’s only ‘comment’ on the killing of Fakhrizadeh was his retweeting on Friday Israeli journalist Yossi Melman calling it “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

In a short statement on Saturday, the spokesperson of the European Union urged calm. The EU said the killing of “an Iranian government official and several civilians…in a series of violent attacks” was a criminal act counter to the EU’s belief in human rights. “In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation which cannot be in anyone’s interest,” the EU High Representative Josep Borrell was quoted as saying.

Iran has not released any details on casualties other than Fakhrizadeh and it is not clear who the "several civilians" are that the EU statement refers to. There have been reports that one bodyguard might have been killed but no confirmation of civilian deaths.

Nimitz Strike Group Returning To Persian Gulf Amid Rising Tensions

The United States ordered its aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group to return to the Persian Gulf region to provide “defensive capabilities” during the pullout of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military said Friday.

Although the move was reportedly made public shortly before the assassination of a top nuclear operator in Iran, allegedly by Israel, many will see the return of Nimitz as a deterrent action at a time of high tensions.

"This action ensures we have sufficient capability available to respond to any threat and to deter any adversary from acting against our troops during the force reduction," the Pentagon said in a statement. President Donald Trump ordered a significant reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and Iran earlier this month.

Top Iranian officials have accused the United States and Israel for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran on Friday and have vowed punishment for the perpetrators and “those who ordered” the assassination. Iran has large ballistic and other missile capabilities can threaten Israel and US arab allies in the region.

The Nimitz left port in April and was in the Persian Gulf before joining an exercise with the Indian, Japanese and Australian navies. The Pentagon statement thanked the servicemen for their "dedication".

Labor Activist Lashed 74 Times For Participating In Protests

Labor activist Davoud Rafiei who was fired from Pars Khodro automobile company and was arrested by the order of the Ministry of Labor for participating in protests was lashed 74 times after arriving at Evin Prison courthouse without notification or a finalized verdict.

Rafiei was fired from Pars Khodro after a workers’ protest in 2012. He was arrested in November of 2016 along with two other workers who had visited the company to follow up on their case.

In 2017 he was repeatedly targeted by the police for his protests in front of the Ministry of Labor.

The Ministry of Labor offered Rafiei 2 billion rials (around $7500) to end his sit-in, but he insisted on his legal right regarding his firing and unemployment from 2012 to 2018.

In 2018 Rafiei was once again arrested by the complaint of the ministry and was released after a while on bail.

According to the reports, in recent weeks, the person who put up the bail money for Rafiei was being pressured by the judiciary officials, therefore Rafiei visited the Evin Prison courthouse on Thursday to discuss the issue, but he was arrested and was lashed 74 times without receiving a final verdict or any notification.

At the same time, a letter by the former minister of labor was published which said he has taken back his complaint against Rafiei.

Another worker, Rasoul Taleb Moghaddam, also received 74 lashes in the summer of 2020, after being arrested in a labor protest in 2019.


Iran's Defense Ministry Confirms Assassination of Nuclear Scientist

After a hardliner news website in Iran, Raja News, reported that a senior Revolutionary Guard official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, with a major role in the country’s nuclear program, was assassinated today north of the capital, Tehran, the Defense Ministry confirmed the news. 

Earlier, the spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Behruz Kamalvandi told ISNA news website that “No incident has happened to any of our country’s nuclear scientists” and all scientists “are in full health”. The statement is not necessarily a denial of Fakhrizade's death, if officially he is not considered a 'nuclear scientist'.

Eyewitnesses told local sources that several other people were killed during the attack. People heard an explosion and then automatic gunfire.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of the New Defense Research Organization (NDRO), with the Persian acronym Sepand. Recently the opposition group Mojahedin Khalq had reported that NDRO was operating two sites for the purpose of building a nuclear weapon.

Reports in the past have mentioned Fakhrizadeh as the “mysterious” man of Iran’s nuclear program and a top official directing nuclear efforts. He is sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Reports also have indicated he was a former Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commander.

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Ahmadinejad Says Iran Hijab Rules Should Follow Views Of the Majority

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.

Business Representative: ‘Iran Factories Working At Minimum Level’

Most factories are at their minimum work schedules as industrial production has declined, a member of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce has told the Iranian Labour News Agency, ILNA.

Nima Basiri-Tehrani said that the combination of US sanctions and the Covid19 pandemic had led to reduced production across the board, with some exceptions, such as health products. Basiri-Tehrani, who is the deputy of the Chamber’s industry commission, said that while the pandemic had hurt industries in other countries, their governments had been proactive in assisting companies in various ways. In Iran, he said, the industrial sector had not benefited from government’s attention.

Basiri-Tehrani complained there had been no tax relief and that instead the government had insisted on collecting full taxes even as tax revenue increased along with rising prices.

Iran has been suffering from high inflation since 2018 when President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed tough sanctions. Price rises have accelerated in the past few months. – Consumer price inflation reached 41 percent in 2019, and is projected at 30.5 percent for 2020 by the International Monetary Fund.

Basiri-Tehrani said that the fall in production was evident in small factories in industrial parks, as companies lacked the capital to expand production and faced rising prices of raw materials. He added that banks were acting with extreme caution and that one lending institution had told him it had received a government directive not to issue loans.

The IMF currently projects a 5 percent contraction in Iran’s GDP in 2020 followed by a rise of 3.2 percent in 2021. In October, the World Bank noted that the Covid pandemic had “amplified the impact of economic sanctions and existing structural imbalances in Iran’s economy.” The bank forecast “weak” recovery in 2021-2 driven by the non-oil sector.


Iran Lawmaker Claims Parliament Reviewing 25-Year Agreement With China

A member of the Iranian parliament’s presidium, Ahmad Amir-Abadi Farahani says lawmakers are reviewing the 25-year agreement between Iran and China, which Iran has been publicizing since July.

Farahani said the 25-year contract between Iran and China is finalized and the members of parliament are now reviewing the text of the agreement. Farahani did not offer more explanation about the matter.

His comments come at a time when the government is yet to send a bill to the parliament regarding the much-touted "strategic" deal with China.

Iran is in an economic crisis due to US sanctions, having lost most its banking ties with the world and its oil exports. Any major economic or trade deal would be a break for the isolated country. However, China has been generally observing US sanctions, reducing trade with Iran. 

According to a draft of the contract that Iran International has received, the Islamic Republic officials have invited China to invest in all sectors in Iran, including industry, communications, agriculture, security, financial, oil, and energy in return for China buying Iranian oil.

The publication of some of the articles of this contract has caused a huge uproar among Iranians in recent months. But the Islamic Republic officials have denied the reports and said the agreement has not been finalized between the two countries.

So far, the Chinese side has not officially acknowledged that there is a 25-year strategic deal in place, but Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who initially denied the existence of such a contract has said in recent months that the idea of a comprehensive cooperation agreement between the two countries was first discussed during a 2016 meeting in Tehran between China's President Xi and Ali Khamenei.

Latest Suspected Israeli Airstrike In Syria Kills 19 Pro-Iran Fighters

Airstrikes suspected to have been carried out by Israel killed 19 Iran-backed fighters in war-torn Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a war monitor reported on Thursday.

For a third time this week airstrikes generally attributed to Israel hit positions of Iran-linked militia near the town of Albu Kamal, Deir Ezzor province, the scene of numerous air attacks in recent months.

Israel rarely acknowledged its airstrikes in Syria but it is generally believed it has conduct hundreds of such attacks in recent years to inflict casualties and damage on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria. Israeli officials have repeatedly said they will not tolerate the entrenchment of the Iranian military in the country.

Two days earlier, Israel did take responsibility for an airstrike near Damascus after what it said was an attempt by Iranian forces to plant IEDs inside the Israeli border in the Golan Heights.

Another attack in Albu Kamal on Saturday killed at least 14 Iranian-backed fighters reportedly from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The latest attack came after the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan called on the Security Council on November 25 to undertake measures to remove the Iranian military from Syria.

Iran has not overtly responded to repeated Israeli attacks, as it finds itself constrained by US sanctions and has to navigate a delicate diplomatic line with Russia holding the upper hand in Syria.