A newspaper in Iran has reported that a black market for Covid-19 vaccines is in full swing in Iran, with vaccines brought illegally from the Iraqi Kurdistan and sold for up to $2,600 a dose to wealthy Iranians.
Hamshahri newspaper reported Tuesday that several unnamed centers in Tehran inject Pfizer vaccines for $1,100-2,600, depending on who introduces the customer and at which center. This is an incredibly high amount for Iranian wage earners who make $100-300 a month, due to the depreciation of the Iranian currency since 2018.
The vaccine merchants work in secret and only people recommended by trusted middlemen can pay and be inoculated at these establishments, which are said to be equipped with special freezers able to handle the temperature requirement of the Pfizer vaccine.
Iran failed to place orders for Western vaccines last year, and early this year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the importation of American and British vaccines. As a result, Iran has administered just four million doses and vaccinated around two percent of its 84-million population, with Russian and Chinese variants.
In recent days, local officials in several provinces announced a halt to vaccinations as supplies dried up and one health ministry official accused Chinese companies of reneging on their promises to deliver additional doses.
According to Hamshahri, each vaccine dose is designated for a specific citizen in Kurdistan, which means medical corruption also in Iraq, allowing vaccines for Iraqi citizens to be smuggled to in Iran.
France Says If Iran Delays Nuclear Talks, JCPOA Revival Might Fail
France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.
"If it continues on this path, not only will it continue to delay when an agreement to lift sanctions can be reached, but it risks jeopardizing the very possibility of concluding the Vienna talks and restoring the JCPOA," or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.
Talks between Iran and world powers that originally signed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, JCPOA, began in early April in Vienna after the President Joe Biden expressed his opposition to his predecessor’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran. The talks aim at reviving the agreement which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
France, along with Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia and China still remain members of the JCPOA.
But so far, no agreement has been reached, with the United States saying earlier this month that a final decision is up to Iran. Iran has said that after its new president Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) takes office in August, it would be ready to resume the talks.
With reporting by Reuters
Ex-Iranian Diplomat Expects Biden Message To Khamenei Soon
Amir Mousavi, a former Revolutionary Guard senior officer and ex-diplomat, has said United States President Joe Biden will in the coming days send a message to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on bilateral relations.
Mousavi, who resigned from his last diplomatic post as cultural attaché of the Iranian embassy in Algeria in 2018 after being accused of proselytizing for Shi’ism or seeking to organize north African Shia, has become a pundit and political analyst. He is also said to have had ties with Iranian intelligence before starting work for the foreign ministry in 2014.
In an interview Sunday with the Tehran publication Etemad Online Mousavi said that Iran needed to improve relations with the US and that otherwise “nothing can be solved.” It was not clear if he was speaking in a personal capacity.
Mousavi argued that US President Joe Biden was pursuing the same diplomatic approach as former president Barack Obama (2008-16) and believed that a direct message to Khamenei could be helpful. Mousavi added that the Biden message would deal with wider relations with Iran and not simply Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the JCPOA.
Emphasizing that with bilateral relations on a “reasonable” footing and differences resolved, Mousavi said Washington apparently believed direct contact was the best way to resolve regional issues. With talks in Vienna over reviving the JCPOA in abeyance until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) takes office in August, there have been suggestions that Qatar has been acting as a diplomatic link.
Cement Prices Up Fivefold In Iran After Power Cuts
A member of Iran’s parliament, Nasser Mousavi-Largani, said Monday that the price of cement has risen fivefold in recent weeks due to power cuts after the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) decided to reduce electricity to factories to provide power to homes.
Iran’s major cities have faced powers shortages since June when people began using more air conditioning during warmer weather. Electricity production falls short of peak-season demand.
After repeated power cuts to residential areas, the SNSC decided to reduce electricity to steel, cement and some other large industrial units. Reza Jamaranian, head of the cement producers’ union, had said earlier that 70 percent of cement was bought by an oligopoly of “up by 15 people,” whom he referred to as “sultans of cement” well known to the government.
Jamaranian, who was speaking in a television program, demanded an investigation by government inspectors and the intelligence ministry, and criticized regulation of markets. He suggested that corruption invariably increased when the state intervened in pricing and supplies.
Inflation in Iran has reached 50 percent in the past three months as United States sanctions have reduced foreign currency revenues, driving up the cost of imports and encouraging an increase in printing and supply of rials.
Biden To Seal Deal With Iraq Ending Combat Role For US Forces
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday will seal an agreement formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were sent to the country.
Coupled with Biden's withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, the Democratic president is completing US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch.
Biden and Kadhimi are to meet in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already changed the focus of its 2,500-stong force to training Iraqi forces.
US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.
The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
Kadhimi is seen as friendly to the United States and has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned a U.S. air raid against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, the senior administration official said.
Reporting by Reuters
GCC Chief Says Iran's Regional Role Should Be Part Of Vienna Talks
Iran’s role in the region and the situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen represents a direct threat to the security and stability of other regional countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-general Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf said on Monday.
The GCC countries have voiced concern in the past about Iran’s support for armed groups in the region and its military involvement in Syria. Al-Hajraf made a point that Iran’s support for militias, its ballistic missile program must be part of current negotiation taking place between Tehran and Western countries in Vienna.
Although the talks that began in April are officially about reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, there have been reports that the United States and the three European powers in the talks want an Iranian commitment to discuss other issues once a nuclear deal is reached.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have said that the Vienna talks should include a broader agenda to include Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional policies..
Many observers are concerned that once a nuclear deal is made and the United States lifts sanctions, Iran will have little incentive to discuss its regional role and will use the financial rewards offered to further expand it destabilizing activities.
Three More Iranians Delisted By US Treasury
The United States Treasury Department removed sanctions on three Iranians Friday while saying this was unrelated to talks in Vienna aimed at restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
A Treasury statement said that Behzad Daniel Ferdows, Mehrzad Manuel Ferdows, and Mohammad-Reza Dezfulian were all excluded from the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). "These delistings do not reflect any change in US government sanctions policy towards Iran,” a Treasury spokesman told Reuters anonymously. “They have nothing to do with ongoing JCPOA negotiations in Vienna.”
All three individuals, who are shareholders and officials of Mammut Industrial Group and its subsidiary Mammut Diesel, were sanctioned in September 2020 pursuant to Executive Order 13382, issued by President George Bush in 2005, targeting “weapons of mass destruction and their proliferators and supporters.” The executive order threatened fines, imprisonment, and freezing assets.
The three were designated because Mammut Industrial Group and Mammut Diesel, private companies with thousands of employees in Iran, were alleged by the US to have supplied "military-grade, dual-use goods" to Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization and specifically, Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which makes liquid-propelled missiles.
On June 10 OFAC delisted three other Iranians – Ahmad Ghalebani, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Farzad Bazargan, managing director of Hong Kong Intertrade Company, and Mohammad Moinie, commercial director of Naftiran Intertrade Company Sarl.
In New Video, Ahmadinejad Criticizes Iran's Khamenei
In a short video published on social media July 1, Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be mocking Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s for calling the June 18 presidential vote an “epic” event.
Ahmadinejad, without naming anyone, says, “they put aside the people [in the election] and are trying to explain it away,” adding that this is regrettable, most of all “a pity for him,” apparently referring to Khamenei.
Khamenei, at a meeting with high-ranking judicial officials on June 29, called the election an “epic”, while it had the lowest voter turnout in the 42-year history of the Islamic Republic. For the first time less than 50 percent of the electorate voted in a presidential election.
In the highly stage-managed process Ahmadinejad and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who could pose a threat to Ali Raisi, Khamenei’s preferred candidate, were barred from running in the election.
“Could it be more laughable to call this a great victory?” Ahmadinejad asks rhetorically in the video, which is not clear who recorded and released on social media.
Independent opinion polls showed Ahmadinejad had a real chance to compete with Raisi in the election, but he has been a vocal critic of the Islamic Republic political system and top officials, including Khamenei in the past four years. The hardliner election watchdog, the Guardian Council disqualified his candidacy without offering an explanation.
Gasoline Shortages In Iran As Tanker Drivers Shun Fuel Shipments
An official of Iranian Truck and Fuel Tanker Drivers' Union said Thursday that drivers were refusing to transport fuel due to low or late payments from the government. There has been a shortage of supply in gasoline stations in recent days in various parts of the country.
"The fare for transportation of fuel should be higher than other commodities but despite higher risk, tanker fares are lower," Ahmad Karimi, chairman of the union told Tejarat News. Karimi said that many drivers whose ten-year government contracts had ended were now transporting other goods for higher fares.
On June 28, the chairman of the Fuel Station Owners Association Homayoun Salehi said a shortage of gasoline was due to problems in distribution, not production in refineries. According to Salehi fuel tanker drivers owning their vehicles had swapped to transport other goods for higher payments.
In a statement published on social media Thursday, the National Association of Drivers' Unions expressed solidarity with striking contract oil and petrochemical workers and said drivers would join their strike if the oil workers’ demands were ignored. On Wednesday President Hassan Rouhani said that despite the claims of “anti-Iranian satellite TV propaganda machines,” the strike would not affect production, distribution, and exports.
Tehran Ground Subsidence Is 'A Slow And Silent Time Bomb'
Iran’s capital city Tehran is facing a serious problem of rapid ground subsidence due to decreasing ground water levels, Intel Lab intelligence and imagery consulting firm reported July 1.
Intel Lab warns that ground subsidence can lead to power outages, gas pipes bursting, sinkholes and danger to the structural integrity of roads and buildings in the capital. This will endanger more than 13 million people living in greater Tehran. Intel Lab calls the problem "a slow and silent ticking bomb."
Iran has been experiencing consecutive droughts for more than a decade in addition to what many lawmakers and journalists have called water mismanagement for years. Illegal wells drilled all over the country have depleted underground water reserves.
Intel Lab has published a series of satellite imagery showing relative levels of sinking ground between January 2020 and April 2021. The average ground subsidence is 40 mm a year or less than two inched, but in some areas the ground has sank up to 25 centimeters or more than 8 inches.
There have long been concerns about earthquakes in Tehran as it sits on tectonic fault lines. Ground subsidence however, adds a new concern and danger to the most dense population center in Iran, that is also the industrial and financial heart of the country.
US Condemns Houthi Missile Attack That Killed Civilians In Yemen
The US State Department condemned Tuesday's deadly Houthi missile attack in the government-held city of Marib that killed at least three people, including a child.
"We are beyond fed up," said State Department Spokesman Ned Price. "We are horrified by the repeated attacks on Marib."
At least 10 other people, including two children, were wounded in the attack, according to the provincial governor's spokesman.
Tuesday’s missiles landed in the same residential neighborhood where a Houthi missile and explosive-laden drone attack hit a gas station earlier this month, killing at least 21 people, including a father and his 2-year-old daughter.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been attempting since February to capture Marib from the internationally recognized government, which would complete their control over the northern part of Yemen.
"What we know is that the Houthis offensive in Marib is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Yemen. It is, by many accounts, the home to the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe," Price said..
"What concerns us is the fact that this offensive continues to set back the process for a durable political solution to this long running conflict."
UN experts have said that weapons, including missiles and drones the Houthis use for attacks in Yeman and against Saudi Arabia have Iranian origin.
Reporting by AP