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.
Newspaper In Iran Warns Of Infiltration By Chinese Agents
An article on Sunday in Iran’s Etelaat newspaper has warned the country’s foreign policy and intelligence officials that Chinese expat workers and businessmen might be agents of Beijing. Etelaat is a low-circulation daily financed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office.
The author of the article, Shaban Shahidi-Moadab, Iran’s former ambassador to Malaysia said, “With all the respect we have for the Chinese government and emphasizing the importance of expanding ties with Beijing, we must warn foreign policy and intelligence officials to be careful about the presence of Chinese in Iran.”
The Islamic Republic has had good relations with China over decades and has tried to convince Beijing to sign a 25-year “strategic” pact since mid-2020. China is also a signatory of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with world powers and often supports Tehran’s diplomatic positions in its disputes with Washington.
Shahidi-Moadab also wrote, “China’s government tries to send its agents disguised as workers, experts and businessmen to other countries and it is possible that their extensive presence in Iran in some cases not to be in our national interest.”
Last year, when Iran was pushing the proposal for a strategic alliance with China there were many reports of providing port facilities and other strategic assets to Beijing in return for its economic and diplomatic support. These reports led to a strong public reaction by Iranians who condemned any concessionary policy, seen as an attempt by the Islamic Republic to save itself from further decline.
Biden To Congress: Strike On Iran-Backed Forces Consistent With US Right to Self-Defense
After US House Democrats asked President Joe Biden to clarify his order for the airstrike on Iran-backed militia in Syria without permission from Congress, Biden said his orders were consistent with the US right to self-defense.
"I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks," Biden wrote in his letter to Congress.
The airstrikes, early on Friday Middle Eastern time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel, and goods.
Those strikes came in response to a February 15 attack in which rockets hit Erbil International Airport, which hosts a coalition military base. The attack killed a civilian contractor with the US-led military coalition and injured several others, including an American service member.
“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States' inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter," Biden added. “I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”
On Sunday, the official organ of the office of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kayhan newspaper boasted about the recent attack on the Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman being in response to the American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed militia forces in Syria.
Kayhan: Attack On Israeli Ship Revenge For Attack On Iran-Backed Forces In Syria
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily financed by Iran's Supreme Leader boasted about the recent attack on an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman, and said the attack was in response to the American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed militia forces in Syria.
“Mischief in Syria and Iraq received a response in Yemen and Oman sea," Kayhan wrote on Sunday [Feb. 28].
Helios Ray cargo ship owned by the Ray Shipping Company in Tel-Aviv was en route to Singapore when it suffered a mysterious explosion.
Kayhan mentioned that the US and Israel have increased their attacks against the “axis of resistance” in recent months and therefore the resistance groups targeted an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The newspaper, which is published under the direct control of Khamenei’s representative, also mentioned the US military’s attack on the facilities of Iran-backed groups in Syria ordered by President Joe Biden and wrote: “With this attack, the US Command has exposed itself to revenge attacks”.
Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his "initial assessment" was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defense official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline on both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.
Afghan FM In Moscow Says Russia Will Not Accept Return Of A Taliban Regime
In his visit to Russia, the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar told Iran International in an exclusive interview that the Russian officials “once again clearly declared that they will not accept the return of the Taliban regime.”
Atmar told Iran International's correspondent that Afghanistan and Russia “have a long history of cooperation and friendship” and his most important message to the Russian government was that Afghanistan invites Russia to have close cooperation in the fight against “the common threat of terrorism and violent fundamentalism”.
“The Russian government warned the Taliban that it will not help lift the UN sanctions on them unless they comply with their commitments under the Doha accord and reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the government of Afghanistan,” Atmar said after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
He said Russia and Afghanistan are in agreement over the process of peace and they have discussed the disagreements “in a friendly atmosphere” and there is no concern.
Regarding the visit of the Taliban delegation to Iran and Russia, Atmar said besides a little publicity, “Taliban were very disappointed and had to return to the negotiating table two days ago.”
The Afghan Foreign Minister said during the Taliban delegation’s visit to Russia, they were told that “the return of their regime is unacceptable,” they must stop the violence against their own people and return to the negotiation table. He said the Taliban hoped to get the backing of Iran and Russia in opposition to the Afghan government and the US, but they were not successful.
He also emphasized that Kabul welcomes the new US administration’s decision to review the Doha accord.
Saudi Arabia: Iran-Backed Houthi Missile & Drones Intercepted Before Hit
Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it intercepted a missile attack and bomb-laden drones targeting its capital and a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults by the Iran-backed rebels Houthis of Yemen.
The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in the Yemen war announced the Iran-backed Houthis had launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh and three booby-trapped drones toward the province of Jizan, with a fourth toward another southwestern city and other drones being monitored. No casualties or damages were initially reported. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.
The attack comes amid sharply rising tensions in the Middle East, a day after a mysterious explosion struck an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman. That blast renewed concerns about ship security in the strategic waterways that saw a spate of suspected Iranian attacks on oil tankers in 2019.
The state-owned Al-Ekhbariya TV broadcast footage of what appeared to be explosions in the air over Riyadh. Social media users also posted videos, with some showing residents shrieking as they watched the fiery blast pierce the night sky, which appeared to be the kingdom’s U.S. Patriot missile batteries intercepting the ballistic missile.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the Houthis were trying in “a systematic and deliberate way to target civilians.”
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh issued a warning to Americans, calling on them to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks.” Flight-tracking websites showed a number of flights scheduled to land at Riyadh’s international airport diverted or delayed in the hour after the attack.
Iran Condemns US Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria
Iran on Saturday condemned US air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday's strikes.
Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq.
Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.
However, Tehran has denied any involvement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty" in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran's state media reported.
"Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq's security and stability," the media reports said.
"We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents," Zarif was quoted as saying.
Hussein gave assurances that "Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries", state media reported.
Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday's US airstrikes encouraged terrorism in the region.
Hussein is in Iran "to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation" with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.
Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.
Israel Says Iran Might Be Behind Explosion On Israeli-Owned Ship
Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his "initial assessment" was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defense official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline in both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.
"Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens," Gantz told the public broadcaster Kan. "The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that it is the Iranians."
"Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context - that is my assessment," Gantz said, adding a deeper investigation still had to be carried out.
There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.
The ship is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a U.N. shipping database.
Israeli Channel 13 News said defense officials believed the Iranian navy had launched a precision strike to avoid casualties, firing two missiles at a part of the ship that if damaged would not have sunk the vessel. It added an Israeli delegation was en route to Dubai, where the ship was docked, to investigate.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.
Iran said in November it would make a "calculated" response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, which it blamed on Israel.
Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, notably on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran has denied carrying out those attacks.
Report by Reuters
Islamic Republic Officials Contradict Each Other On New Strain Of Coronavirus
As the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread in the Khuzestan province, the Islamic Republic officials have made contradictory comments about the new strain of coronavirus in Iran.
MP Amir Hossein Hashemi, a member of the coronavirus taskforce said on Saturday that the Iranian mutated coronavirus must be added to the list of new strains in South Africa, the UK, and California.
He added that the matter has not been confirmed yet but there is evidence of it in Qazvin and those areas.
However, shortly after, the Ministry of Health Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour rejected the claims about the mutated Iranian strain of the virus. He explained that since the beginning of the pandemic, over 70 mutations have been identified in Iran and none of them behave significantly differently, so describing them as a new strain is not correct.
Previously, President Hassan Rouhani had stated that this Persian new year (in March) will be more difficult than the last year, and the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki asked the hospitals to be ready for a “heavy storm”.
But the spokesperson for the coronavirus taskforce Alireza Raeesi previously said that all the new cases in Khuzestan province must be identified as the new UK strain. He went on to report that on Saturday 250 thousand Chinese vaccines will arrive in Iran. He expressed hope that the first priority group which consists of 1.3 million people will end mid-April.
Rights Defender Rejects Court Summons: ‘I Will Disobey By All Means’
Iranian human rights activist and anti-death-penalty activist Narges Mohammadi refused on Saturday to appear at court for a fresh case, which was opened against her when in prison before her release in October.
Mohammadi, a founder with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi of Human Rights Defenders Center in Iran, was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for “propaganda against the regime” and establishing the illegal group Legam, which campaigns against capital punishment. Mohammadi contracted Covid-19 in prison in July and alleged she was denied proper medical care.
The new charges against her came into play after her release from prison. Mohammadi’s letter published on Saturday stated that she had been twice summonsed to court in December but had refused to attend. A third summons called her to court on February 27 for a trial to begin.
Mohammadi has been accused of actions breaking prison regulations, including showing disrespect to prison officials, organizing gatherings of prisoners, and breaking windows.
Mohammadi, who was first arrested in 1998 and has served several prison terms, was awarded the Andrei Sakharov prize in 2018. She was defiant in her letter: “I will in no way participate in any part or stage of this trial and will not respect any court ruling issued and will disobey by all means.”
Narges Mohammadi, renowned campaigner against the death penalty
Protests Continue In South-East Iran As Prosecutors Threaten Tough Response
Baluch activists report continued sporadic protests in south-eastern Iran on Saturday [February 27] after at least ten people transporting fuel to Pakistan were killed by security forces on February 22, according to activists cited by Human Rights Watch.
Videos received by Iran International TV showed columns of anti-riot troops being dispatched to Sistan-Baluchestan province on Thursday and Friday, as the military prosecutor there threatened more arrests and prosecution of “armed hooligans” and “anti-revolutionaries.” While a policeman was reported killed on Thursday, these terms have also been applied to peaceful protesters. Activists have reported arrests as the government has cut off internet services to prevent news reaching the rest of the world and communication between protestors.
Abdolhamid Esmail-Zehi, Friday prayer leader in the provincial capital Zahedan and religious leader of the mainly Sunni Baluchis, has called for an independent and full investigation of the security forces’ role in the deaths of ‘fuel mules’ earlier in the week. Baluchi leaders and activists argue that ordinary people suffering from poverty resort to smuggling small quantities of fuel to Pakistan – where gasoline is more expensive than in Iran – to feed their families.
Authorities have acknowledged the death of three ‘fuel mules,’ while Mohammad-Hadi Marashi, Security Deputy of Sistan-Baluchestan governorate, suggested the firing had begun from the Pakistani side of the border. The province suffers from a lack of employment, drinking water and adequate school buildings. Sunnis allege they are discriminated against in government employment in favor of mainly Shia Sistanis. Opiate smuggling from Afghanistan and Pakistan has offered many a more lucrative income than farming.
President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call
In their first phone conversation on Thursday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Biden discussed human rights, bilateral relations between the two countries, Middle East security, ending the war in Yemen, and Iran’s activities in the region.
President Biden welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul from prison and emphasized the importance of human rights and rule of law, and said he will make efforts to strengthen the relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also reiterated the US’ commitment to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks by Iran-backed groups.
The US State Department also released a statement about the phone conversation between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in which the two discussed ending the war in Yemen, stronger regional security, fight against terrorism, and economic development.
Last week, Pentagon also announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has had a phone conversation with Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammad bin Salman about their shared commitment to fighting against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in and defeating fanaticism in the region.
Saudi Arabia is an opponent of the return of the US to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
France recently declared that the 2015 nuclear deal will not be enough and a more strict deal must be made that would involve Iran’s ballistic missile program and support of terrorism and that the deal must also involve Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Biden Orders Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria
The US military launched an airstrike on facilities used by Iran-backed groups in Syria by the order of President Joe Biden, making it the first military action of his presidency. The attack was in retaliation to the February 15 rocket attack against the US military base at Erbil International Airport that killed a contractor and injured five.
“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [February 15] strikes,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the airstrike.
Austin also mentioned that he recommended the strike to President Biden.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”
The spokesperson for the Pentagon John Kirby said the attack destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iran-backed militia groups.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
Kirby reported that the facilities belonged to two known Iran-backed militia groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Protests Continue In Zahedan Despite Heavy Police Presence
Local sources in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in Iran have reported continued protests despite the heavy presence of security forces in the city. It was also reported that the killed fuel carriers in Saravan were buried on Thursday.
According to the reports, the funeral of at least 10 fuel carriers who were shot and killed by the Islamic Republic armed forces on Monday, February 22, was held in Saravan on Thursday.
On Thursday night, protesters in Karim Abad area in Zahedan continued their protest and blocked some streets.
Protests in Zahedan and other areas in Sistan and Baluchistan have continued while the cellphone internet is either shut down or disrupted in most areas of the province.
Local sources claim that Tharallah Brigade in Kerman has sent some troops to crack down on the protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan.
Videos and images from Zahedan and Iranshahr show that on the third day of protests, security forces have started shooting at the protesters from building roofs.
Baluch Activists’ Campaign reported that after the protests spread to other areas of the province, on Wednesday a number of protesters were arrested and at least two protesters, Hassan Mohammad Zehi and Mohammad Saleh Moqaddami, a teenager and a middle-aged man respectively, were killed by the security forces.
The Persian Twitter account of the US State Department has expressed deep concerns about the shutdown of the internet and the government’s violence against protesters.
Russia Urges 'Synchronized Approach' Between Iran & US On Nuclear Talks
Russia has proposed a synchronized approach including “concrete” steps by the Biden administration to break the deadlock between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.
Top Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s a chance now that hasn’t existed for a long time. We have to try and use it.”
US President Joe Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since he entered the White House, the two country have been in a deadlock about who is to take the first step toward compliance. Biden has offered to participate in talks between Iran and other parties of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to revive the accord abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.
However, President Biden’s European allies have changed their tunes on the deal since he came to power. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord will not be enough anymore, and a new stricter deal must be made in which other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.
As a prerequisite to negotiations, Iran wants the US to lift sanctions that Trump reimposed, which heavily impacted Iran’s oil exports and the economy. Biden wants the Islamic Republic to first resume its compliance with the multilateral agreement that seeks to curb its nuclear program.
Ryabkov said the US could prove its commitment by starting to unfreeze Iranian assets and oil exports, and Iran should gradually return to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had previously offered a similar solution, calling for coordination.
January Drone Attack On Saudi Royal Palace Launched From Iraq
A senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and an unnamed American official say that a January drone attack on a Saudi royal palace was launched from inside Iraq.
Speaking to the Associated press this were, the militia official who was speaking on condition of anonymity said three drones were launched form the Saudi border area that crashed into the royal palace in Riyadh on January 23 causing significant damage.
The attack was earlier claimed by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a Baghdad shopping district on Jan. 21.
The militia official said the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq and were launched from Iraq.”
A US official told AP that Washington believes the January 23 attack on the Yamama Palace was launched from inside Iraq. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate or say how the U.S. came to this conclusion.
Iran-backed militias in Iraq increasingly launch attacks claimed under different names, appearing to have splintered. Some Washington-based analysts argue the militias have become splintered only to allow them to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.
President Joe Biden’s administration, which is keen to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has voiced concern about Iran’s “destabilizing” regional activities, but has also indicated it does not share Riyadh’s policies in the war in Yemen and has lifted terrorism designation for the Houthis fighting the Saudi coalition.
Reporting by AP