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.
UK 'Will Not Rest' Over Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iran Detainees Minister Says
AP - London - Sept 20 - UK Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said on Monday that Britain would "not rest" until all its dual nationals being held in Iran were returned home.
He said the UK's new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, was due to meet her Iranian counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later on Monday, and call for the immediate release of UK nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
"I have no doubt that she will apply that energy to these negotiations and we will continue pushing and pushing and pushing until we get our British dual nationals home," he told British broadcaster Sky News.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been held Iran since 2016, on spying charges, which she has always denies.
Her husband, Richard, said he had talked with Truss on the phone on Sunday and that it was unclear how negotiations with Iran would go.
He described his wife as feeling "disorientated" with the recent UK government cabinet shuffle and that she had felt former Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had been making some headway with her case.
He said they were still waiting for a date for an appeal over her second prison sentence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's is currently staying with her mother in Iran.
Iran's VP In Women's Affairs Disagrees With Limiting Child Marriage
President Ebrahim Raisi’s vice president in women’s affairs has refused to support an age limit in child marriage arguing that other factors such as mental and social growth should play a role.
Ensiyeh Kazali, known as a religious conservative, in her first press conference on Monday said that she married when she was 16 years old.
Child marriage is a controversial social and political issue in Iran, as Islamic law in essence allows girls who are nine years old to be wed, based on a tradition that prophet Mohammed married a girl who was nine years old.
Vice presidents in charge of women’s affairs have usually been more protective of women’s rights and have advocated a legal age limit for children’s marriage, but Khazali, daughter of an ayatollah, apparently follows the ideology of most Moslem clerics in Iran who do not believe marriage for girls younger that 13 should be forbidden.
She has been one of the opponents the UNESCO 2030 agenda that advocates equality in education and access for females and all social groups.
Child marriage has increased in Iran in recent years, partly linked to growing poverty. The Statistical Center of Iran reported last month that marriage of girls aged between 10-14 increased by 10.5 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, with more than 31,000 cases in one year.
Family Of Detained Rapper In Iran Concerned About His Life
Iranian dissident rapper, Toomaj Salehi, who was detained on September 13 was arrested by the intelligence ministry in Esfahan, family sources have told Iran International. They are extremely worried about the safety of the young singer.
The underground rapper was apparently arrested for his latest song distributed on social media, condemning the Islamic Republic for oppression and those whom he accuses of whitewashing its crimes.
Iran International has also learned that the singer known with his first name Toomaj is being kept in the central prison in Esfahan. His lawyer Amir Raisian was quoted by a website in Iran as saying that he does not have exact information about charges his client faces, but “unofficially his father was told he is accused of propaganda against the regime.”
In his song, “Buy a rat hole”, Toomaj without naming individuals refers to those whom he accuses of perpetrating injustice or justifying it, from regime "agents" and "executioners" to political groups such as reformists in Iran and the US-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
The Washington-based group condemned Toomaj’s arrest on September 16, after many on social media criticized indifference toward the latest crackdown on freedom of speech.
Amnesty International has also condemned the arrest in a statement issued September 17. Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has also slammed the arrest, saying that protest artists are reflecting public opinion in Iran in favor of a regime change.
Syrian Military Chief Makes Rare Visit To Jordan Over Border Security
Syria's defense minister visited Jordan on Sunday to discuss stability on their mutual border, the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted a decade ago, officials said.
The meeting comes after Syria's army reestablished control this month over Deraa, a city south of Damascus and near Jordan’s border, in a Russian brokered deal that averted an all-out military assault.
Jordanian army head Lieutenant General Yousef Hunaiti met Syrian Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub over the Deraa situation and to discuss issues such as the fight against terrorism and drug smuggling in the area, Jordan's army said.
Jordan had for years supported mainstream Western-backed rebels who controlled southern Syria until a campaign by the Syrian army in 2018 aided by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias retook the province. Some insurgents remained in Deraa but left the area with Russian mediation after Iranian-backed forces began an assault in August.
Amman, with close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, remains concerned over the presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border.
Jordanian officials have accused Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement of being behind drugs smuggling in the area. The group has repeatedly denied allegations made by the West and others that it is involved in any such smuggling network.
Reporting by Reuters
New Defense Minister Says Iran Will Defend Itself Against Israeli Threats
Iran’s new defense minister General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani has called threats made against Iran “rants by enemies” vowing that Iran will defend itself.
Ashtiani, who was speaking at a gathering of senior managers at the defense ministry on Monday referring to “rants by the leaders of the Zionist regime”, said that Iran has prepared itself against all kinds of threats.
Israeli officials have intensified their warnings over Iran’s nuclear program and its support for militant groups recently. In August, defense minister Benny Gantz issued warnings that Israel must be prepared to act against the Islamic Republic, when a tanker was attacked in July by what appeared to be Iranian drones.
Ashtiani stressed that Iran has made advancements in military technology and would ward off all threats, But the new defense chief also underlined that Iran’s military capabilities was to defend its territory against attack and did not use customary threats against Israel. He said that “the Zionist enemy” has suffered from multiple defeats at the hands of Iran and has resorted to rants.
Since early July 2020, important facilities in Iran have suffered mysterious attacks, generally believed to have been sabotage operations by Israel. Iran’s top nuclear scientist was killed in November 2020 near Tehran in a sophisticated assassination plot involving no human attackers on the ground.
Lebanon's Hezbollah Says It Has Arranged A Third Iranian Fuel Shipment
The leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said on Friday a third vessel of Iranian fuel was agreed to ease crippling shortages in the country.
"We have agreed to start loading a third vessel," Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
"The coming days will prove those doubtful about the shipments arriving with fuel wrong ... and our words will be clear when the first vessel reaches Lebanon."
On Sunday Nasrallah had said the first vessel carrying Iranian fuel for Lebanon had already departed, but Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that the vessel left Iranian waters on Friday [Aug 27].
Hezbollah's foes in Lebanon have warned of dire consequences from the shipment, saying it risked sanctions being imposed on a country whose economy has been in meltdown for nearly two years.
Prime Minister-desginate Najib Mikati said earlier on Friday in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Hadath television he was against anything that would harm Lebanon's interests but also asked critics of the Iranian fuel deals to provide help so that the country would not have to resort to them.
Nasrallah also urged top politicians to stop debating names for the new Cabinet and urgently form a government.
Nasrallah has threatened retaliation if anyone tries to interfere with the shipment and he has said the tankers bringing fuel are Lebanese territory.
Reporting by Reuters
EU's Borrell Urges New Iranian FM For A Quick Return To Nuclear Talks
EU’s foreign affairs High Representative Josep Borrell has urged Iran’s new foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian for Tehran’s quick return to the Vienna nuclear talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The European External Action Service said in a statement that Borrel, who is also the Coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission, “underlined the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks to bring the JCPOA back on track. He expressed his concern about the recent nuclear steps by Iran and the overall trajectory of the nuclear programme and underlined the importance of close cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”
Iran has boosted it uranium enrichment this year and is stockpiling 60-percent purified fissile material, cutting the time needed to make a bomb, although it denies any such intention.
Iran entered into talks with the original signatories of the JCPOA, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China in April to revive the agreement abandoned by former US president Donald Trump in 2018. The talks suspended by Tehran in June have not resulted in a new agreement so far. Negotiators are awaiting decisions by the new Iranian government that was formed this week.
Borrell also emphasized the need for “all the participants of the talks to have a realistic and flexible approach to the negotiations, in order to reach a compromise that will be in the interest of all.”
Envoy Says Iran Was Hesitant To Order Chinese Covid Vaccines Last Year
Former speaker of Iran's parliament Ali Larijani has said that he negotiated with China to buy Covid-19 vaccines a year ago, but the deal fell apart because of delays by the Iranian health ministry.
Larijani who is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s envoy to China for establishing a 25-year strategic pact said that Beijing had agreed send vaccines for a good price, but Iranian health ministry officials delayed the approval of the deal. Larijani’s remarks were quoted by Borna Telegram channel on Friday.
Larijani was a candidate for the June controversial presidential election but he was banned to run by the hardliner Guardian Council controlled by the Supreme Leader.
Iran’s response to the Covid pandemic has been haphazard and the country now is struggling with its fifth wave with a high number of new cases and deaths on daily basis. It s vaccination program started late this year after Khamenei banned American and Western vaccines in January.
Iranian officials are blaming one another for the apparent mismanagement and delay in vaccination. Supporters of Khamenei now try to argue that he never banned Western vaccines but said any imported doses should have been manufactured outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Iran customs announced Friday that a total of 28 million doses of vaccines have been imported so far, which would be enough for 14 million of Iran’s 85-million population. Iran own plans to produce a domestic vaccine have not produced significant results.
First Iranian Tanker Carrying Fuel For Lebanon Departs - Tasnim
Iran’s Tasnim news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) tweeted on Friday that the first tanker carrying fuel for Lebanon has left Iranian waters.
The Lebanese Hezbollah vowed last week that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon which is facing economic collapse and serious shortages of fuel for essential services. But the first tanker has left now and must sail to the Suez Canal before reaching the Mediterranean.
The move can provoke Israel to take steps to prevent the delivery, which will politically, and perhaps financially, benefit Hezbollah, its archenemy. The fuel delivery would also violate a slew of US sanctions imposed on Tehran and the Lebanese militant group.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened retaliation if anyone tries to interfere with the shipment and he has said the tankers bringing fuel are Lebanese territory.
The move by Hezbollah to play a middleman in securing fuel from Iran is seen as a political move to further portray itself as the savior of the people, while many blame the militant organization for Lebanon’s political and economic crisis.
Some Lebanese politicians have criticized Hezbollah’s move, saying that it can put the country in the crosshairs of US sanctions, as Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist entity by Washington.
Senior Iran Lawmaker Says Raisi Needs Time To Ease Harsh Conditions
A senior member of Iran’s parliament has called for giving sufficient time to President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) to addressing “very harsh conditions” the country faces, saying that problems cannot be solved overnight.
Mohammad Saleh Jokar, who was the liaison of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) with the parliament before the February 2020 elections and now a lawmaker representing the city of Yazd, heads the committee for parliament’s internal affairs.
The hardliner military man turned parliamentarian said that Raisi needs time to make plans, find ways to deal with problems and to execute his solutions to bring Iran out of a difficult situation.
The Revolutionary Guard fully backed Raisi’s candidacy for president and represents the backbone of the current hardliner front controlling the parliament and the presidency.
Jokar also harshly criticized Hassan Rouhani’s two-term presidency, saying his performance was “unacceptable”. He added that with weak leadership and “mismanagement” the former president created a lot of problems for the country. He called for former officials to be accountable for their failures.
The serious deterioration of Iran’s economic situation is mainly due to US sanctions in the past three years. Critics argue that Tehran’s nuclear program and its anti-Western foreign policy has led to isolation and economic ruin, but hardliners have been blaming most problems on Rouhani and his ministers.