The office of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, announced that a representative of the office met with the chief of Iran’s judiciary almost 50 days before the execution of Iranian dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam.
In response to Shafaqna news agency's inquiry, the office of Ayatollah Sistani emphasized that Iran's judiciary had denied any role by Sistani's office in the abduction of Zam last year in Iraq. Earlier reports had said that the dissident was lured from France to travil to Iraq by someone in Ayatollah Sistani's office. The office of Sistani had previously denied the reports that Zam’s trip to Iraq was for a meeting with the Ayatollah.
According to the statement, Javad Shahrestani, the son-in-law and the representative of Ayatollah Sistani in Iran met with Ebrahim Raeesi, Iran’s chief of the judiciary. The office did not elaborate on the details of the meeting, and it was not officially reported before.
Previously several clerics and political activists had asked the office of Ayatollah Sistani to intervene in order to prevent the execution of Ruhollah Zam.
About two months ago, Sistani’s office announced that Ruhollah Zam “has never had a direct or indirect contact with this office, and no one has asked for a meeting for him, and we have no information about his travel to Iraq.”
Zam’s attorney said in October there is a possibility of an IRGC (Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps) infiltration in the office of Ayatollah Sistani. And that someone might have called Zam claiming to be from that office, setting up a meeting.
Zam at the time was trying to get funding for a TV channel.
Rouhollah Zam, journalist and the admin of the dissident Telegram channel Amad News was executed last week. According to his wife, Zam was lured to Iraq in September 2019 and was kidnapped and transferred to Iran by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and later sentenced to death.
Araghchi Says 1,500 Sanctions Must Be Removed Before US Can Rejoin JCPOA
The United States must remove 1,500 sanctions in order to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told the Iranian state broadcaster on Saturday.
The negotiations in Vienna this week were about preparing the list of these sanctions, Araghchi said. He added that all sanctions lifted by the JCPOA, as well as all sanctions imposed by the previous US administration must be removed. These include sanctions related to areas of activities, as well as against individuals and entities.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and launched his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the Islamic Republic, imposing and reimposing hundreds of sanctions. Some of those are designated as terrorism sanctions and lifting them would be politically difficult for the new administration.
US State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter has told Iran International of sanctions “inconsistent” with JCPOA that can be removed, but it is not clear what those are.
A senior US State Department official told reporters on Friday that "If Iran sticks to the position that every sanction that has been imposed since 2017 has to be lifted or there will be no deal, then we are heading towards an impasse.”
In a separate appearance, Araghchi told Iran’s Press TV that negotiations should reach a conclusion in six weeks, when still a three-month temporary agreement of inspections is in place with the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Otherwise, the restoration of the nuclear agreement will become more complicated.
With Covid Surge, 335 Writers Want Prisoners Of Conscience Released
More than 330 Iranian writers and poets have written to judicial and government authorities demanding the release of prisoners of conscience amid a surge in the Covid-19 pandemic in Iran.
The signatories of the letter, made public on Saturday [April 10], have reiterated that “freedom of speech and freedom of pen” are not crimes. “Considering the terrible news about the spread of coronavirus in prisons and infection of some of our detained colleagues, the full responsibility for their lives and health is on your shoulders,” they write.
The signatories have urged officials to allow temporary release from prison of writers and other political prisoners as the minimum action required to protect their lives. The letter names several writers jailed on vague charges, some for insulting officials or sanctities, who have Covid.
Last October, PEN International asked sympathizers to write to Iran’s authorities over the imprisonment of three prominent writers − Baktash Abtin, Kayvan Bazhan, and Reza Khandan − who were summoned to serve six-year prison terms. The three were charged with membership of the banned Writers Association of Iran. Abtin has contracted the coronavirus in prison.
Although Iran’s constitution and laws recognize freedom of speech, the latest Amnesty annual report on Iran, published on April 7, said “hundreds of people remained arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights…[including] protesters, journalists, media workers, political dissidents, artists, writers and human rights defenders.”
Concerned Over Nuclear Talks, Saudi Prince Denounces Iran’s ‘Dogs’
Prince Turki bin Faisal Al-Saud, the former intelligence minister of Saudi Arabia often seen as reflecting official views, has said Vienna talks over Iran’s nuclear program do not alleviate concerns of Gulf Arab states about threats posed by Iran. In an online forum hosted by the Bahraini newspaper Al-Bilad on April 9, Prince Turki said that all these concerns should be considered by world powers negotiating with Iran.
“We cannot ignore the dangers of the regional behavior of the Iranian leadership and separate it from the dangers of its nuclear program,” the Prince said. He added that Iranian ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads added to concern.
Both the Gulf Arab states and Israel have asked the Biden administration to be involved in any new talks with Iran, and Biden officials promised to consult “partners” in the region. It is not clear how far Washington has opened its playbook to regional allies, while Israel has continued to oppose a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal and lifting United States sanctions.
“We live every day in such a danger, as this [Iranian] leadership did not hesitate to provide its dogs in the region with the means to target us with long-range missiles,” Turki al-Faisal said, “and we know what they can do in the future.”
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal separated Iran’s nuclear program from other matters. Saudi Arabia itself has long maintained an arsenal of ballistic missiles and operates advanced US-supplied strike aircraft. In its six-year intervention in the Yemen war, Saudi Arabia has faced Houthi forces with missiles believed to have been supplied by Iran.
Israel Presents Iran's Missile Violations To UN Security Council, Demands Action
In a letter to the UN Security Council, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan demanded action against Iran after allegations that Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has tested ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, violating UN Security Council 2231 resolution.
The Israeli move comes as members of the UN Security Council are meeting in Vienna with Iran and as the US considers returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“I strongly urge the Security Council to condemn these ongoing violations by Iran of UNSCR 2231, and call on members to respond to the clear threat to international peace and security posed by the Iranian nuclear program, their ballistic missile program, and the regime’s active arms proliferation," Erdan said in his letter.
Erdan also provided some details about the IRGC missiles in his letter. Israeli media had called Israel’s access to these details another success for the country’s intelligence agencies.
“Furthermore, I call on the UN secretariat to investigate and report the findings of the cases outlined in this letter. It is imperative that these violations be reflected in the upcoming report of the implementation of UNSCR 2231, and for the Security Council to remain actively seized of these matters in its deliberations,” he wrote.
Erdan once again reiterated Israel’s position regarding the Islamic Republic that “Israel will defend its citizens with everything in its power.”
South-Korean Prime Minister To Visit Iran After Release Of Tanker
The Spokesman for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the South-Korean Prime Minister will travel to Tehran to discuss issues such as the release of Iran’s frozen funds in South-Korean banks.
Saeed Khatibzadeh announced that the trip will occur next week, and they are finalizing the trip’s technical details. This is the first visit of a South-Korean Prime Minister to Iran in the past 44 years. The visit was announced after the release of the South-Korean ship that was seized by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Khatibzadeh confirmed Friday morning [April 9] that Iran had released the Korean-flagged MT Hankuk, its captain and 12 remaining crew, all detained by Iran since January 4. The tanker’s seizure was widely linked to Iran’s lack of access to around $7 billion in funds frozen by Korean banks wary of United States secondary sanctions.
Iranian and South Korean foreign ministries have made no explicit link between the freed tanker and the frozen funds. The Iranian media quoted one official that Korea had given assurances they were “trying to solve the problem and to strengthen ties.” Reuters quoted a South Korean foreign ministry official that Seoul had expressed “our firm willingness to resolve the fund issue.”
Hopes for the vessel’s release grew after Khatibzadeh said on April 5 that the foreign ministry had made suggestions to the judiciary over the case and that the ship and captain, held at Bandar Abbas, had "no previous bad record in the region."
Blinken Repeats Warning Of Iran Being 'Weeks Away' From The Bomb
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeated his warning that Iran might be “weeks away” from accumulating enough fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb. Blinken was speaking to NBC News on Sunday about a range of foreign policy issues.
Iran announced in May 2019 that it would gradually reduce its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA as the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers is called. The announcement was a retaliation against former President Donald Trump’s decision to impose full oil export sanctions that month, after withdrawing from the JCPOA the year before.
Iran’s gradual steps away from the agreement accelerated in December 2020, when it said it will start enriching uranium to 20 percent, cutting the time to achieve higher enrichment needed for a bomb. The announcement demanded an end to all US sanctions as a pre-condition for Tehran to return to full compliance.
Blinken said to NBC that Washington is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if Iran does and then work with US allies and partners on a “longer and stronger” deal covering other issues. The Trump administration demanded an end to Iran’s ballistic missile program and “malign behavior” in the region. The Biden team has also highlighted these issues, saying they should be addressed.
Asked if the fate of Americans detained in Iran should be tied to the nuclear issue, Blinken did not commit. "Irrespective of ... any deal, those Americans need to be released. Period," he said, adding, "We're going to focus on making sure that they come home one way or another."
Husband Of Jailed Briton Slams UK Foreign Office As Messenger For Iranian Mafia
Richard Ratcliffe, husband of the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the project manager for the charitable Thomson-Reuters Foundation held in Iran, has accused the British Foreign Office (FCO) of acting “as a messenger for the IRGC mafia.” In tweets on Sunday on the account Free Nazanin, Ratcliffe alleged that FCO had passed on to him threats from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards against Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family.
Ratcliffe has long been critical of the British handling of the case but these are his most serious allegations against the FCO. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran, with a five-year sentence on security charges including espionage due to end on March 7.
“We also made clear that the government’s role is to remind the Iranian authorities that Nazanin has the UK’s protection - not to act as a messenger for IRGC mafia tactics and suppression,” Ratcliffe tweeted.
In another tweet, he said there should be “consequences” if anything “happens” to Zaghari-Ratcliffe or her family, or if she was not released on 7 March. “We will be discussing with the Foreign Secretary his backup plan,” Ratcliffe wrote, adding that with talk of reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, it was time to be honest about Iran's “hostage taking.”
Ratcliffe has demanded that the UK describe his wife’s arrest and imprisonment as “state hostage taking.” He has written to the FCO arguing that the IRGC has “infinite capacity to spot weakness and an opportunity to manipulate...unless you push back immediately.”
Allegations have been made in several cases that Iran takes dual-nationals prisoner in order to swap them with Iranian prisoners held abroad, often serving sentences for violating United States sanctions or on ‘terrorism’ charges.
Top Iran General Says Soleimani's Killing Will Be Avenged
General Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s chief of staff on Monday visited the tomb of Qasem Soleimani vowing “to continue his path” and promised to avenge his killing by US forces in Iraq in January 2020.
Bagheri told other officers and journalists at the ceremony in Kerman, where Soleimani is buried, that “we lost a gem” but the banner raised by Soleimani will stay high.
Soleimani was killed in Baghdad by a targeted air attack ordered by former President Donald Trump, who argued that the Iranian general was plotting attacks against US interests. Soleimani was the commander of Iran’s Qods Force, an extraterritorial unit active throughout the Middle East, coordinating Iranian allies and proxies.
Bagheri said that Soleimani’s killing has strengthened “the path of the revolution” and the “resistance axis” will pursue the annihilation of the “Zionist regime”. Resistance axis refers to Iran’s allies and proxies.
Bagheri declared that Soleimani’s “school is the school of battle against America and Israel” and added that this path “continues with more passion than in the past.”
Indirectly referring to Trump and his administration, Bagheri said Soleimani’s “killers went into the dustbin of history and will suffer vengeance for his blood.”
Iran Medical Council Members Warn Rouhani About Russian Covid Vaccine
In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, 98 members of the Medical Council of Iran said the decision to purchase the Russian Covid vaccine, Sputnik V, is unjustifiable and dangerous.
The letter which was published Sunday on the website of the Medical Council of Iran, one of Iran’s oldest non-governmental trade associations dating back to 1956, urged the government to purchase "the best vaccines now available from international companies" after considering all circumstances.
On January 8 Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned US and UK vaccines and said they should not be trusted.
The signatories of the letter who are members of the council's general assembly said purchasing Sputnik is unjustifiable because there is no transparent information about the stages of the vaccine's research and production and the Iranian medical community has not been offered the reasons for the decision to approve and purchase it.
The Sputnik V vaccine has not been approved by any international regulatory body, its effectiveness and safety have been questioned by international medical bodies, and even some members of Iran's own National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce have questioned its effectiveness, the letter said.
"The medical community and people of Iran find any adjournment, delay, unjustifiable considerations and forbearance in this regard unforgivable," the statement said. Many health professionals and Twitterati have rejected the Russian Covid vaccine.
According to presidential chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, the first shipment of Sputnik V is to reach Iran before the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, which is celebrated on February 11.
UN Experts Find 'Growing Evidence' Iran Supplying Houthi Rebels With Weapons
A UN panel of Security Council has found that there is "a growing body of evidence" that shows individuals or entities within the Islamic Republic of Iran are sending weapons and weapons components, some with technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in Iran, to the Shiite Houthi rebels of Yemen.
The experts said in a report to the Security Council that the main smuggling route for both the commercially available drone parts and weapons “seems to run overland from Oman and the southern coast of Yemen, through territory controlled by the government of Yemen, towards Sanaa.”
The report a copy of which some news agencies have obtained says that the evidence includes "anti-tank guided missiles, sniper rifles and RPB launchers all with markings consistent with those made in Iran."
If true, this will be a potential violation of UN Security Council arms embargo, the experts have said according to the Associated Press.
Houthis control much of Yemen’s north and the capital Sanaa.
The Yemen conflict which has killed thousands of civilians and created a massive humanitarian crisis began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The Trump administration designated Houthi militias, known as Ansar Allah, as a "terrorist organization" in early January. The new US administration has suspended some of the terrorism sanctions that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed on Houthi rebels until February 26.
Iranian leaders including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and senior Revolutionary Guards officials have repeatedly said that the Islamic Republic must support "Houthis and the people of Yemen."