The British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has acknowledged his country owes Iran hundreds of million of pounds that he is actively seeking to repay, which could help the release of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, a British dual national detained since 2016.
Wallace wrote to lawyers representing Zaghari Ratcliffe and families of other dual nationals held by Iran that the government is exploring legal ways to pay the debt arising from undelivered Chieftain tank to Iran more than 40 years ago. The United Kingdom was an ally of Iran’s Shah and a major weapons supplier before Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.
Zaghari Ratcliffe a British-Iranian dual national living in Britain traveled to Iran in 2016 to see her family and was arrested by Iran’s intelligence at the airport on her way back. She was charges with vague accusations of acting against the regime and sentenced to prison.
Iran has arrested several foreigners and dual nationals, accusing them of espionage without presenting any evidence or holding open trials. It is generally believed they are detained as bargaining chips for the Islamic Republic and used against Western governments.
Britain had never admitted it owed money to Iran, although it had lost an arbitration case in 2008. Iran says the debt amounts to 400 million pounds. Neither country officially says the issue of the debt is related to the release of prisoners, but the mere fact the first admission from the British government is communicated to the lawyers of the detainees is revealing.
Rouhani Government Allocates Budget For Foundation Run By Soleimani’s Daughter
As the regime of Iran continues to invest in propaganda for Qasem Soleimani, the killed commander of Quds Force, the Rouhani government allocated $340,000 fund in the next year’s budget to the foundation that Soleimani’s daughter Zeinab Soleimani manages.
The next year’s budget draft was sent to the parliament on Wednesday and in it, 85 billion rials (almost $340,000) have been allocated to Qasem Soleimani Foundation, run by Zeinab Soleimani.
Since the founding of the foundation last year, the names of its founders, the content of its constitution, and its objectives have not been announced.
The office of the representatives of Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic congratulated Zeinab Soleimani on her appointment as the president of the foundation, stating that this appointment was the leader’s idea.
However, refusal to announce any more details about the foundation was even criticized by an online media close to the armed forces, which speculated that the foundation will most likely work in parallel to other foundations helping those in the armed forces killed or injured abroad and their families.
Zeinab Soleimani, born in 1991, married the son of Hashim Safi Al-Din, Hezbollah’s number two and a specially designated global terrorist.
Since the killing of her father, Zeinab Soleimani has appeared and spoken at many media and political events of the regime of Iran and Friday prayers, calling for avenging Qasem Soleimani.
Since the killing of Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January, the regime of Iran has allocated huge funds for propaganda about him.
Immediately after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, the Iranian parliament passed an urgent bill to allocate 200 million Euros to the Quds for of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Activist Student Sentenced To 13 Years In Prison
Student Activist Hamed Qareh Ughlani was sentenced to over 13 years in prison by three judges of the Urmia Revolutionary Court on national security and political charges.
According to the reports, the Urmia Revolutionary Court has convicted him on charges of propaganda against the regime, insulting the leader, and cooperating with dissident groups.
His sister Hanieh Qareh Ughlani told Iran International that her brother Hamed is a student of architecture at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University and he was arrested in July of this year by the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and was transferred to Urmia prison.
She went on to say that her brother has told her that aside from the confessions that they took from him “under coercion” in the Intelligence Ministry, there is no document or evidence against him.
Hanieh Qareh Ughlani said other charges such as “connection with Israel” were added to her brother’s case later.
There are currently many university students in Iranian prisons for political activity or participating in peaceful protests. In recent years the Islamic Republic judiciary has been mostly using national security-labeled crimes when charging political activists. However, insulting the leader and propaganda against the regime remain the most common charges for political activists, along with conspiracy to act against national security, disrupting public order, and cooperating with dissident groups.
Iranian MP Calls Taliban 'A Noble Movement'
A member of Iran’s parliament has referred to the Taliban as “one of the noble movements in the region with a Pashtun background.”
Iranian MP Ahmad Naderi tweeted that the visit from a Taliban delegation at the Iranian embassy in Qatar to offer condolences for the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is “a good omen”. Fakhrizadeh was a top official in Iran's nuclear program who was killed last Friday in broad daylight near Tehran. Iranian officials have blamed Israel.
Naderi emphasized that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s cooperation with the group can “lead to increased stability in Afghanistan and prevent the infiltration of society by groups such as ISIS.”
The Islamic Republic’s embassy in Doha reported on Monday that a delegation from the Taliban’s political office has visited the embassy to offer condolences, and welcomed Ahmad Dehghani’s arrival as the new ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Qatar.
In recent years, US and Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Iran of supporting the Taliban but the Islamic Republic has denied the allegations.
Members of the Taliban’s political office visited Iran several times in the past two years and talked with the Islamic Republic officials about the peace process in Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan has condemned these visits.
Last year, a report from the US Defense Department claimed that Iran is providing weapons, money, and training to the Taliban in order to fight US influence in Afghanistan.
Spokesman Says Iran Knows Who Brought Means to Kill Nuclear Scientist
Ali Rabiei, Iran’s government spokesman, said Wednesday that Iranian intelligence had discovered who had brought into Iran the means used to kill top nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last Friday.
Speaking to state television, Rabiei offered no details and did not say whether those involved were Iranians. “The Intelligence Ministry has identified individuals who had brought equipment and used technologies,” he said.
Iran has multiple intelligence and security organizations with wide-ranging powers that work in collaboration with the country’s all-powerful judiciary, and often arrest political prisoners who can be held on ‘security grounds’ without public trial or effective legal protection.
Shockwaves are still reverberating in Iran from the daylight assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top manager and scientist involved in Iran’s atomic program and reputedly in its weaponization research before 2003. The Islamic Republic leaders and intelligence organizations appear at a loss to explain how the killing was possible and why perpetrators have not been arrested.
Scenarios put forward so far have often been contradictory, ranging from a dozen assassins taking part in the attack, to a claim that a remotely controlled machine-gun fired on Fakhrizadeh’s convoy in a high-tech and “complex” operation.
Other than the 2017 attacks on the parliament and Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, claimed by the Islamic State group (Isis) and in which 17 died, violent attacks in Iran during recent years have generally occurred away from Tehran, mainly in Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Sistan-Baluchestan, areas with ethnic or sectarian minorities. Iranian officials have often claimed to have uncovered ‘terrorist’ cells, arresting opponents and capturing arms and explosives, with such announcements rarely followed up with evidence of trials or further actions.
Iran Budget Bill Counts On State Property Sales And More Oil Exports
Iran's government presented a draft state budget of about $33.7 billion to parliament on Wednesday, promising less reliance on oil revenues and higher growth despite U.S. sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic's economy, Iranian media reported.
The value of the draft budget is set about 8,413 trillion rials, up 74% from last year's figures in rial terms but lower than last year's budget of $38.8 billion in hard currency terms because of the sharp fall of Iran's currency.
"The next year's budget bill focuses on infrastructure reforms, health, creating jobs, non-oil exports and the nation's welfare," according to Iran's state news agency IRNA. Iran's next fiscal year starts on March 21.
But more spending in rials would add to an already very high rate of inflation and less money in real terms for promised spending programs.
President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting that Iran expected to sell more oil next year, adding that the government planned to use state bonds and selling of state properties as sources of revenue.
"We believe Iran will sell more oil next year, around 2.3 million barrels per day, including the exports and domestically," Rouhani said. "But the revenue will be used to develop or empower the underprivileged. This does not mean that our budget has become more dependent on oil."
It is estimated that Iran exports less than 300,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), compared to a peak of 2.8 million bpd in 2018, when Washington exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have hit Iran's economy hard by sharply cutting its vital oil exports.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has said that he would return to the pact and would lift sanctions if Tehran returned to "strict compliance with the nuclear deal." But the path is complicated and there is no guarantee that US sanctions will be lifted by March to allow more oil exports.
Reporting by Reuters
UN Security Council Unlikely To Act On Killing Of Iran Nuclear Official
The UN Security Council is unlikely to take any actions or make a statement on the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear official who was killed in a hail of bullets last Friday near Tehran, Reuters reports from New York.
Immediately after the killing Iran sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanding condemnation and action by the world body, but so far it appears no country has taken any initiative to bring the issue to the Security Council.
At a minimum, the Council could have issued a statement based on consensus, but South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Jerry Matjila, council president for December, told Reuters on Tuesday that no member had so far requested to discuss the killing or Iran in general.
Iranian officials have blame Israel for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was said to be the main figure in Iran’s research and development project for a nuclear weapon, officially abandoned in 2003, but perhaps being secretly pursued. Some official also blame the United States for the assassination as Israel’s close ally.
Guterres has urged restraint and condemned “any assassination or extra-judicial killing,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday.
The Security Council will meet on Dec. 22 for its biannual meeting on compliance with a resolution that enshrines a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, which President Donald Trump’s administration quit in 2018. Any council member can raise the issue of the
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.
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.