AP Canberra – 26 October 2020 - Australia is seeking information from Iran on reports that a British Australian academic who was convicted of espionage has been moved to a mystery location, the foreign minister said on Monday.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was arrested in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018.
She was moved in August to Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, but the Iranian Association of Human Rights Activists reported she was moved to an unknown location on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australian Ambassador to Iran Lyndall Sachs had a consular visit with Moore-Gilbert at Qarchak "a short time ago" and Australian officials "are seeking further information" on the reports she had been moved.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade describes securing Moore-Gilbert's release as an "absolute priority."
Iranian state media and officials have not acknowledged Moore-Gilbert was moved.
She is among a number of Westerners and dual nationals held by Iran that activists and UN investigators believe is a systematic effort to gain leverage in negotiations with the West.
Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her.
Those pleas include writing to the prime minister that she had been subjected to "grievous violations" of her rights, including psychological torture and solitary confinement.
Iranian MP: Representatives Are Reviewing 25-Year Contract Between Iran And China
A member of the Iranian parliament’s leadership board, MP Ahmad Amir-Abadi Farahani says Iranian members of parliament are reviewing the 25-year contract between Iran and China.
Farahani said the 25-year contract between Iran and China is finalized and the members of parliament are now reviewing the contract.
He said the chairman of the leadership board, Ali Larijani had formed expert committees to review this contract. 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 contract with China.
The chairman of the leadership board of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani traveled to China in March of 2018. He said last year that during his visit he was negotiating over the 25-year contract.
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 industries, economy, 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 contract 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.
Tehran Residential Prices Double Over A Year, Rents Rise 30%
Residential real estate prices have more than doubled in Tehran in the past year, rising 118 percent according to figures published by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). A square meter (equivalent to 11 square feet) now costs an average 270 million rials, or slightly more than $1,000, after rising 1.8 percent in the last month.
Home prices have gone up in Iran over the last three years along with the rising value of hard currencies, such as the US dollar and the euro, against the rial. The media and experts have suggested Iranians have turned to real estate as a way of protecting capital in a fragile and unpredictable economic environment. Prices over the year have climbed with the dollar while remaining stable if calculated in hard currency.
For less well-off Iranians with incomes in local currency, buying even a small apartment has become almost impossible. Rising real-estate prices have also pushed up rents by nearly 30 percent in Tehran according to the CBI, imposing an immediate impact on fixed-income citizens, who must often spend over half their earnings on housing costs.
Government decrees that rents cannot go up more than 25 percent a year in Tehran have been swamped by market forces. Media and citizens have reported more cases of people renting rooftops as a place to sleep, and others sleeping in their cars for want of any alternative.
At the other end of the social scale, with prices climbing around 135 percent in a year, more up-market Tehran apartments are selling at around 550 million rials (equivalent to $2,000) a square meter.
Identity Of Men Released For Australian Prisoner Confirmed As Iran Bombers
Thailand said Thursday it transferred three Iranians involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot back to Tehran, as Iran released an Australian academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges.
Thai officials declined to call it a swap and Iran referred to the men as “economic activists." But the arrangement acknowledged Thursday freed academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert and saw the three men linked to a wider bomb plot targeting Israeli diplomats return home to a hero’s welcome.
Tehran long has denied being behind the 2012 bomb plot and is hoping for tensions with the U.S. to ease under President-elect Joe Biden.
The bombers wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, their faces largely obscured by black baseball caps and surgical masks. It was a sharp contrast to other prisoner exchanges Iran has trumpeted in the past, in which television anchors repeatedly said their names and broadcasters aired images of them reuniting with their families.
Although Iran has withheld the names of the three men, it probably hopes release of foreign nationals it holds on trumped-up charges can increase the chances for the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden to ease US sanctions. Israeli officials declined to immediately comment to the Associated Press on the release.
The plane that carried the men from Bangkok to Iran had a tail number linking it to an Australian private air carrier called Skytraders, which describes itself as a “principal provider of air services to government.” An employee at the company declined to comment when reached by the AP.
Thai police discovered the three Iranians' plot in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart their rented Bangkok villa.
With reporting by AP
Rouhani Says Iran's Enemies Lost And Will Soon Be 'In The Dustbin Of History'
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani referring to the Trump administration Thursday said that those who imposed sanction on Iran “were disgracefully defeated…and soon will be dumped into the dustbin of history.”
Rouhani in recent speeches has sounded optimistic that US sanctions will soon disappear with President-elect Joe Biden’s administration assuming power in January. Biden and his advisors have indicated that the new administration will return to the Iran nuclear deal, which could mean lifting economic sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump when he withdrew from the accord in 2018.
Rouhani said that Iranians resisted “the economic war” for three years and have come out victorious. Iran demonstrated that it has a “big and resistant economy” due to the perseverance of its people.
Iranians pressed by a weak economy came out in large numbers to protest in December 2017, before the imposition of US sanctions. Intermittent protests continued in 2018 and nationwide unrest broke out again in November 2019, when security forces killed up to 1,500 protesters according to Reuters.
Prices of essential commodities have soared since 2018 as the national currency has lost more value and the state-controlled, oil-reliant economy has been unable to deal with the pressures of sanctions.
Rouhani who was speaking during a ceremony related to Iran’s petrochemical industry told maintained that Iran enjoys a unique geopolitical position, and no one can “eliminate Iran” in the region or the world. He added that a promising future for Iran is also important for the world because it can provide the needs of the region and beyond much cheaper.
Canadian MP Calls On International Community To Hold Iran's Government Accountable
Iranian-Canadian member of Canada's parliament Ali Ehsasi condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran for its “abhorrent” human rights record and urged the international community to hold Iran's regime accountable.
In his speech at the parliament on Wednesday, mentioning the bloody crackdown of November 2019 nationwide uprising in Iran, MP Ehsasi said: “Peaceful protests were met by a brutal government crackdown, leading to the death of over 300 innocent civilians, and dozens upon dozens of arbitrary arrests.”
The Islamic Republic government has not officially announced the number of those killed or arrested, but independent estimates by human rights organizations and by Reuters say between 400 to 1,500 people were killed by security forces in the streets and up to 8,000 arrested.
“Two months later, flight 752, carrying 176 passengers and crew was mercilessly shot down over the skies of Tehran by two missiles fired by the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guards Corps”, Ehsasi added. “This abhorrent pattern is further reflected in the unjust treatment of iconic Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human rights lawyer, and the horrific execution of Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestling champion.
He continued: “These atrocities by the Iranian regime should not be ignored. No Iranian deserves to live under constant repression, day after day, week after week, and year after year.”
Ehsasi went on to thank the government of Canada for sponsoring the UN resolution to condemn “the flagrant disregard for human rights” by the Iranian regime.
He concluded his speech by calling on the international community never to look the other way and to hold the regime of Iran accountable, and to demand that the government of Iran “immediately end terrorizing its own people”.
WSJ: European Powers Won't Push Biden For Swift US Return To Iranian Nuclear Deal
The Wall Street Journal stated on Wednesday that according to senior diplomats, the European members of the Iran nuclear deal -- France, Germany, UK -- are in no hurry to press the Biden administration to return to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but they do expect him to reduce tensions with Tehran.
The article states: While European countries remain supportive of the 2015 nuclear deal, officials from France, Britain, and Germany—countries that helped negotiate the accord—say a full return to the agreement might not be achievable or even desirable before Iran’s presidential elections in June.
The WSJ goes on to say that while concerns are increasing about Iran’s nuclear research and activities, including enrichment, which the IAEA has declared to be exceeding limits set by the agreement, “the diplomats say they will urge a swift agreement in the first months of a Biden administration next spring to offer some easing of sweeping U.S. sanctions on Tehran in return for steps by Iran toward reversing its expanding nuclear activities. The hope would be to provide some tangible economic benefits to Iran before June’s vote, creating an incentive for a new Iranian government to pursue diplomacy.”
WSJ writes that Iran would likely have to reduce its growing stockpile of enriched uranium, which is currently 12 times the limit permitted under the accord and also put a swift stop to its nuclear research.
The Trump administration left Iran's nuclear deal in 2018, followed by imposing severe sanctions on the country as part of the "maximum pressure" campaign to force Iran to negotiate a better deal.
Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to negotiate a better deal with Iran and return to the accord.
US To Sanction 5 Chinese And Russian Entities With Ties To Iran
As the US government increases efforts to ramp up the pressures on Tehran before the new administration comes to power, Special Representative on Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams announced upcoming sanctions on five Russian and Chinese entities with ties to Iran.
The sanctioned companies are Russia-based Nilco Group, Elecon, and Aviazapchast, and the China-based Chengdu Best New Materials Company Ltd, and Zibo Elim Trade Company Ltd.
Speaking at a virtual Beirut Institute event, Abrams said Washington will continue to impose more sanctions on Iran in the upcoming weeks through December and January until the transfer of power to the new administration.
“We will have next week, and the week after, and the week after - all through December and January, there will be sanctions that deal with arms, that deal with weapons of mass destruction, that deal with human rights. ... So this will continue on for another couple of months, right until the end,” Abrams said.
Abrams stated that the goal of maximum pressure was always to create leverage for negotiation, and said the potential Biden administration will have enough leverage for the expected negotiation next year.
He argued: “We think the Biden administration has a great opportunity because there is so much leverage on Iran through the sanctions. If we discard the leverage we have, it would really be tragic and foolish. But if we use it there is a chance I think for constructive agreement that addresses all of these problems.”
Oil Tanker Damaged By Mine Explosion Off Saudi Arabia
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A mine in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia's coast near Yemen exploded and damaged an oil tanker Wednesday, authorities said, the latest incident targeting the kingdom amid its long war against Yemen's Houthi rebels.
The blast happened before dawn and struck the MT Agrari, a Maltese-flagged, Greek-managed oil tanker near Shuqaiq, Saudi Arabia.
“Their vessel was attacked by an unknown source,” a statement from the Agrari's operator, TMS Tankers Ltd., said. “The Agrari was struck about 1 meter above the waterline and has suffered a breach. It has been confirmed that the crew are safe and there have been no injuries.”The ship was still floating off the coast and had been boarded by Saudi officials, the company said.
Ambrey, a British security firm, reported the blast and attributed it to a mine. “The explosion took place in port limits and punctured the hull of the vessel,” Ambrey said.
Saudi state television later aired a report claiming a military coalition led by the kingdom destroyed a bomb-laden Houthi drone boat and that a merchant ship sustained light damage. The report offered no details and it wasn't immediately clear if the report was the same incident at Shuqaiq.
The explosion comes after a cruise missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels struck an oil facility early Monday in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition reported Tuesday that it removed and destroyed five Iranian-made naval mines planted by the Houthis in the southern Red Sea, condemning the attempted attacks as posing “a serious threat to maritime security in the Bab al-Mandab strait.” The strait is some 585 kilometers (363 miles) south of Shuqaiq.
The Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iranian-backed Houthis since March 2015. A United Nations panel in 2018 found the Houthis used both improvised and what appear to be Iranian-manufactured “bottom” mines, explosives that could be live in the water for as a long as a decade.
Iran repeatedly has denied arming the Houthis, though experts say Iranian weapons ranging from small arms to missiles have been smuggled to the rebels.
Rush For ‘9-9-99’ Births and Marriages Increases Iran Covid Risks
Iranians are rushing to make reservations for hospital maternity wards and at marriage registration offices for this coming Sunday. Why? Good luck.
Sunday will be ‘9-9-99,’ the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1399 by the Iranian calendar, which falls on Sunday, November 29, 2020. But health officials are concerned the rush might lead to dangerous overcrowding and worsen the already high rate of Covid-19 infections.
Pregnant women are willing to pay astronomical rates to reserve operating rooms for cesarean sections, even with hospitals full of Covid patients and considered high-risk environments by public-health experts, the Iranian media have reported.
In what some are calling a ‘date craze,’ people are not just seeking 9-9-99 on birth certificates for new-borns. Some are desperate for 9-9-99 on their wedding certificates. One marriage office in a rural area, largely bereft of happy couples due to coronavirus, now has 20 reservations for Sunday.
Organizing for the special day of marriage still poses a challenge. Most halls used for post-nuptial gatherings are closed for receptions and banquets due to the pandemic, but resourceful people have found a solution. Marriage registration offices often have large rooms and are opening them up for receptions.
To limit hospital overcrowding, the government is allowing parents to get a birth certificate with the special date even if the baby is born a few days earlier. But the health ministry is also threatening doctors and hospitals with fines and penalties if they conduct a large number of cesarean sections, which during the pandemic carry an increased danger of infection for both mothers and babies.
Iran Guards Commander Says Military Option 'No Longer' In Enemy Playbook
The option of a military attack on Iran does not exist in “the enemy’s” playbook any longer, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), General Hossein Salami said on Wednesday.
The New York Times reported on November 16 that a few days after the US presidential elections President Donald Trump asked advisors about the feasibility of an attack on Iran, but he was dissuaded from taking such an action.
Salami said, according to media in Iran, “A [hot] war has been eliminated as an option for the enemy,” but enmity towards the Islamic Republic regime, religion, culture and people’s livelihood continues. In the Islamic Republic jargon “the enemy” is the United States, sometimes in combination with Israel and Arab allies.
Last week, Hossein Dehghan, a military advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in an interview with Associated Press had warned, that an American attack on Iran in the expiring days of the Trump administration could set off “a full-fledged war” in the Middle East.
The apparent contradiction between Salami’s and Dehghan’s statements come as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Israel last week warned that “all options are on the table” regarding Iran. Around the same time, the US Central Command announced the deployment of B-52 bombers to the Middle East.
Irnian officials expect tensions with the United States to be reduced after Joe Biden assumes the presidency in February. Biden has indicated he wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
Iran's Rouhani Says Biden Team Should Quickly Condemn Trump Policies
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has called on the incoming Biden administration to “clearly condemn Trump’s policies toward Iran,” and “make up for the terrorist acts” of the US government in the past four years.
Rouhani who was speaking at his weekly government meeting on Wednesday also emphasized that it would be easy to solve the difficulties between the United States and Iran, “If the future rulers of America have the will”. He added, “We hope the future American government can condemn Trump’s policies toward Iran in one its first steps.”
President Donald Trump voiced his opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama and in May 2018 withdrew from the accords, reimposing harsh US sanctions on Iran. He argued that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “was a terrible deal” that would not stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and did not address its missile program and regional “malign behavior”.
The sanctions have wreaked havoc on Iran’s already weak economy, suffering from years of relative self-isolation, reliance on oil exports, mismanagement and corruption.
Rouhani announced that if “there is such a will in the future US administration, Iran and America can return” to the conditions of January 2917. He added, “The main knot can be untangled with a single will and decision.”
Iran is hard pressed to reduce the US sanctions to alleviate at least some of the economic pressure that has led to rapidly rising prices. With three waves of large anti-government protests since 2017, the Islamic Republic’s political establishment is nervous about another round of unrest.