The state-owned Iran newspaper reported the death of a 63 years old woman suspected of coronavirus, which would make it the first coronavirus related death in Iran.
Health Ministry officials had previously denied any cases of coronavirus in Iran.
In recent days, the media have reported several suspected cases of coronavirus in several cities including Yazd, Tehran, Qom, Tabriz, Mashhad, and Zanjan, but this is the first death reported.
Cost Of Living Up By 46 Percent: Iran Statistical Center
Families have spent over 46 percent more on goods and services in November 2020, compared to the same period last year, says the most recent report by Iran’s Statistical Center.
According to the report released on Saturday, the point-to-point inflation rate for November in the country has reached 46.4, that is 45 percent for urban families and over 50 percent for families in the countryside.
This means that an Iranian family had to pay almost 50 percent more for the same goods and services this November compared to last year.
Based on the same report, the overall annual rate of inflation reached 29 percent in November of this year.
A prominent body of labor representatives in Iran recently reported that the monthly cost of living for a family of four has reached 100 million rials (or $400), and half of the population of Iran is under the poverty line.
Center for Statistics says the highest inflation rate in the country relates to food, drinks, and tobacco products, topping 56 percent. The price of bread and grains experienced an almost 60 percent increase compared to last year.
In recent weeks some media in Iran reported high prices and shortages of bread, butter, and oil.
Non-consumable products have experienced a 42 percent point to point inflation.
The report also states that the cost of clothing has increased by 43 percent, footwear by 50 percent, and furniture by 55 percent compared to November of last year.
Saudi Arabia Denies Israeli PM Secret Visit, Israeli Minister Confirms
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has denied that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday - although Netanyahu went some way towards confirming the story, which appeared in the Haaretz newspaper.
Prince Farhan tweeted on Monday: “I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the [Saudi] Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] and Israeli officials during the recent visit by [the US] Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”
Asked by reporters, Netanyahu merely said: “I never commented on those issues and I will not start now. I’ll just say that I am working on broadening the circle of peace.” But Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Israeli army radio: “The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance.” Gallant called Netanyahu’s trip “an amazing achievement.”
“This seems to be a very important achievement for Netanyahu,” Meir Javedanfar, editor of the Iran-Israel Observer blog, told Iran International. “Due to their own domestic issues the Saudis had to deny the meeting although four different Saudi officials had confirmed it to the Wall Street Journal. Saudi Arabia [always] denies these types of meetings.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Monday said Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel’s external intelligence agency Mossad, had flown secretly to Saudi Arabia on Sunday [November 22] to meet with bin Salman and Pompeo in the Red Sea city of Neom.
Iran Central Bank Announces A Questionable Unemployment Rate
In a startling announcement the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) announced a relatively low unemployment rate of 9.8 percent in Iran, while the country is experiencing a deep recession amid a lack of oil exports and high inflation.
The figure pertains to the first three months of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21-June 20, 2020). In the same period last year unemployment was higher at 10.8 percent. Economists express doubts about Iranian government statistics, which in the absence of freedom of information and international scrutiny can be doctored to fit political agendas.
It is worth noting that Iran considers one hour of work per week partial employment and excludes the numbers from its unemployment figure.
With harsh US sanctions since 2018, Iran has lost most of its oil revenue which is the main source of government financing in an economy mainly controlled by the state.
Labor protests have been on the rise in the past three years, as many enterprises fail to pay wages on time and withhold benefits. Inflation is above 40 percent and the coronavirus crisis have further reduced employment.
Tasnim news agency quoted the parliament’s research center as saying that millions of people have given up looking for work and that also artificially reduces the unemployment rate, which would other be 24 percent.
Iran's Government Continues To Borrow Heavily To Finance Operations
The Iranian government has borrowed billion of dollars in local currency from its central bank and investors in the last two years to manage its shrinking budget revenues, various data published by media in Iran show.
In the past 26 months the government has borrowed 685 trillion rials from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), through direct and indirect methods, Mashregh News, a conservative website critical of President Hassan Rouhani’s government reported on Monday [November 23]. This amount, based on an average of exchange rates in this period would amount to around four billion dollars.
One method of indirect borrowing is that the government borrows money from many state banks, who then turn to the central bank to be rescued. The government admits that the money supply has been growing at an alarming rate, pointing to the central bank printing banknotes to finance the budget deficit.
A report by CBI in August said that liquidity increased four-fold since Rouhani took office in 2013. This is part of the vicious circle of economic crisis and a constant high rate of inflation in the country.
Iran has lost most of its foreign currency earnings from oil exports since President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and imposed harsh economic sanctions. The Iranian budget is heavily reliant on oil exports and there are no other sources of revenue available to bridge the shortfall.
The government has also issued more than $3 billion in bonds just in the past six months but most of these bonds could have also been purchased by government banks using printed money.
Conservative, anti-Western political forces accuse Rouhani of leaving huge debts for the next president to be elected in 2021, as they try to blame him for the economic crisis instead of acknowledging the impact of Iran’s foreign policy on its financial isolation.
Israel And Saudi Arabia Send Little-Veiled Messages To Biden On Iran
United States allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia have separately made statements about future US policy toward Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, urging a wider-ranging agreement encompassing Tehran’s behavior in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday there should be no return to the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018. His statement seems aimed at President-elect Joe Biden who has indicated his wish to return to the agreement.
President Trump’s administration and regional allies have been determined to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and its interventionist policies in regional countries, including Iraq, Syria and Yemen. For this reason, Trump imposed heavy economic sanctions on Tehran, which in turn began enriching more uranium, demanding an end to Washington’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy.
“There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement. We must stick to an uncompromising policy to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a speech in southern Israel.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told CNBC on Saturday that his country should participate in any future talks with Tehran. He insisted that a possible new agreement with Iran should not be limited to its nuclear program but should also address its “malign activities in the region”. The foreign minister referred to Iranian proxies in regional countries and emphasized the need to include Tehran’s missile program.
Since his election victory, Biden has not revealed his immediate intentions toward Iran, but he is expected to announce key cabinet picks within days.
Pompeo Vows To Pursue 'Maximum Pressure' Against Iran Ahead Of Biden Presidency
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a tour of the Persian Gulf Arab states defended the Trump administration's policy of pressuring Iran, weeks before president-elect Joe Biden is set to take office.
In an interview with Saudi-owned Ak-Arabiya television channel Pompeo called Iran “the central threat inside the region” and defended the US ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, arguing that the strategy has hampered Tehran’s ability to provide support to its proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
“Our policies don’t change. Our duty doesn’t change. My responsibilities don’t change,” he said. “I still have an obligation — every hour, every minute — to defend the American people and to keep them foremost in our efforts, and we’ll do that. We’ll do that to the very last minute,” Pompeo said.
Biden has clearly stated his opposition to Trump’s Iran policy of withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposing harsh sanctions on Tehran. But Pompeo reiterated the current administrations’ resolve to stick to its tough stance. “It'll be our policy until our time is complete.”
The policy in the waning days of Trump’s presidency boils down to maintaining an emerging regional front made up of several Arab states and Israel, all concerned over Iran’s intentions and behavior. It also entails adding sanction in the remaining weeks to make it harder for Biden to try a rapprochement with Tehran. It is expected that the new president will try to make an opening with Iran but will also make demands about Iran's ballistic missiles and its intereference in regional countries.
Security Agents In Iran Raid Homes Of Persecuted Baha'i Community Members
Islamic Republic security forces Sunday entered the homes of several Baha’i religious minority members and conducted searches confiscating their personal belonging, according to reports received by Iran International.
One of the Baha’I individuals whose house was searched is a former political prisoner, Riazollah Sobhani, 74, served a four-year sentence until 2015. One of his family members told Iran International that “As usual seven agents stormed the house and conducted a complete search.” The family member added that Mr. Sobhani has been ill for many years and never leaves the house and has no activities.
The search in his house lasted three hours and agents confiscated the only laptop for the fifth time in recent years. Agents were filming the search, especially when the family was protesting the raid.
A community member tweeted that agents stormed seven houses in coordinated raids and took away “money, laptops, telephones and tablets.”
The Baha’i community has been the target of persecution throughout the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic. The clerical regime regards the Baha’i religion as heretical and younger members of the community are banned from university education.
UN human rights rapporteurs and international human rights organization have repeatedly criticized the Islamic Republic for its persecution of religious minorities, but the government does not allow any representatives of these organizations to visit the Iran.
Iran Spokesman Says Future Relations With US Not Simple
The future of relations with the United States “is not a simple one”, the spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in a briefing for local and foreign journalists on Sunday, accusing the US of “repeated crimes” in the past 40 years.
Khatibzadeh alleged that “US crimes” include “cooperation with Saddam” during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and sanctions in recent years that created “problems for the people of Iran including food and medicines”. The US insists its sanctions exempt humanitarian trade and Iran is not restricted in buying food and medicines.
Khatibzadeh also mentioned the targeted killing Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January, as the latest example of a crime against Iran. Soleimani was leading Iran’s proxy network throughout the Middle East and the US said the killing was necessary to stop impending attacks on its interests in the region.
The spokesman was also asked about possible talks with the new US administration and the opposition of hardliners in Iran to negotiations. Khatibzadeh said that in foreign policy Iran speaks with one voice regardless of internal clash of opinions.
President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have said the victory of president-elect Joe Biden offers “an opportunity” for talks with Washington, but many hardliners insist there is virtually no difference between Donald Trump and Biden.
Khatibzadeh also repeated earlier denials of Western news reports that in July a top al Qaeda operative living in Tehran was assassinated by Israeli agents. Iran insists it does not provide safe heaven to the Sunni militant group but over the years many reports have indicated the existence of links.
CENTCOM Announces Deployment Of B-52 Bombers To Middle East
The United States Central Command, CENTCOM announced Saturday that B-52H ‘Stratofortress’ bombers are being deployed in the Middle East “to deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies."
The news comes as The New York Times recently reported that after the US elections President Donald Trump discussed with officials the option of attacking Iran and reportedly was dissuaded from doing so.
On Friday November 20, US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams warned “Iran and its proxies” they would be “sorry” for any “military activities and terrorist activities that kill Americans.” He was speaking after a trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At the same time the Associated Press reported that Iran’s Qods force commander Esmail Gha’ani asked proxy forces in Iraq not to engage in any provocations during the remainder of Trump’s term in office.
CENTCOM said in its statement that “aircrews assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, ND conducted a short-notice, long-range mission into the Middle East on November 21”. It added that the mission demonstrated the military’s ability to deploy airpower anywhere in the world on short notice.
In May the US had also announced the deployment of B-52 bombers to Qatar, a US ally, but today’s statement says, “The last U.S. long-range bomber presence in the Middle East was in early 2020.”
The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency reported this week that Iran has moved a cascade of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges underground at its main nuclear site in Natanz, central Iran.