Iran’s Parliament Speaker will not meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on his three-day Moscow trip beginning Sunday, it was reported Saturday evening [February 6]. Both Mojtaba Tavangar, member of parliament, and the Tasnim news agency claimed Ghalibaf had cancelled the meeting because he would not accept health protocols set by the Russians.
According to Hamshahri newspaper, Russian authorities had demanded that a meeting with Putin required Ghalibaf first self-isolate for 15 days. An Iranian suggestion that Ghalibaf be tested at Tehran airport and on arrival did not assuage Russian concerns. Ghalibaf tested positive for coronavirus in late October.
As a likely conservative candidate for June’s presidential elections, Ghalibaf may have hoped the Moscow trip would boost his domestic standing – but he will now have to manage what may look like a snub.
Earlier in the day, Tavangar had told ISNA that Ghalibaf would meet Putin as well as other senior Russians. By Saturday evening, Tavangar said Ghalibaf would instead deliver a message from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to Putin’s representative.
Iran’s English-language Press TV had earlier on Saturday reported that Ghalibaf would meet Putin to discuss trade, possible oil sales and Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with nuclear powers, the JCPOA.
Ghalibaf has been a steadfast critic of President Hassan Rouhani’s government and has supported parliamentary moves expanding the nuclear program that the government argues complicate Rouhani’s task in reviving the JCPOA. Ghalibaf has repeatedly alleged that Rouhani’s mismanagement has weakened the economy as much as US sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after he left the deal in 2018.
Israeli Defense Minister Will Discuss Iran During Visit To France
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Iran nuclear talks.
Macron's phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group's Pegasus software, according to France's Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation. Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
"Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO," it said.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz's trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers' efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.
Reporting by Reuters
Tehran Hospitals Swamped By Ten Thousand Covid Patients
A senior health official in Iran warned on Tuesday that the number of hospitalized Covid patients in the capital Tehran has surpassed 10,000 and there are no more beds available to accept new cases.
Nader Tavakoli told ISNA news website that authorities are thinking of asking the armed forces to provide an additional 500-600 beds at their hospitals and “if these also prove insufficient, to set up field hospitals.
The government has failed to reduce the pace of the pandemic after 18 months, when first cases emerged in February 2020. Iran was the second country after China where the coronavirus spread. The country is now experiencing its fifth pandemic surge.
The chief of Sina hospital in Tehran, Mohammad Talebpour, called on the armed forces and municipal authorities to help the hospitals, saying that if more patients show up, they cannot accommodate them. He added that the load of patients who seek help is 4-5 times higher than in previous peaks.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus invaded Iran in late June and spread throughout the country by mid-July. The national vaccination effort has failed, with lack of imported vaccines and a failure to produce local variants. The country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in January and Iran was able to buy a few million doses from Russia and China.
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.
Iran's Rouhani Says He was Not Allowed To Reach A Deal With The US
Iran’s outgoing president Hassan Rouhani has once again said that if his government had not been restricted in nuclear negotiations, sanctions would have been lifted earlier this year and the country’s battered economy would have started to recover.
In remarks on Sunday delivered at an annual meeting of the central bank, Rouhani defended his government’s economic record, reiterating that difficult conditions since 2018 “have been forced” on his administration. He was referring to the United States sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump when he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
Rouhani did not elaborate who “tied the hands and feet” of the government in nuclear talks as he put it, but earlier he had blamed legislation passed last December by his hardliner opponents in parliament who set forth tough conditions for talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.
Rouhani argued that if there were no sanctions and pandemic, Iran’s currency would be now trading for 50,000 rials to the US dollar, instead of the current rate of almost fivefold at 250,000 rials. But the rial stood at 30,000 to the dollar in 2017, before Trump’s intention to withdraw from the JCPOA became apparent. What Rouhani said in effect means that even without sanctions and the pandemic Iran’s currency would have fallen precipitously.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the rial has fallen more than 3,000-fold, from 70 rials to the dollar to 250,000.
Former Iranian Taekwondo Champion Defeats British Gold Medalist
In a stunning sports moment, former Iranian taekwondo champion and a member of the Refugee Olympics Team (ROT) Kimia Alizadeh defeated a former Gold medalist and a great British hope, Jade Jones to advance toward a medal in Tokyo.
Alizadeh, who in January 2020 denounced forced hijab, discrimination against women and government corruption, left Iran and sought refugee status in Germany. The International Olympics Committee invited her to compete as a member of ROT. This group of athletes appeared for the first time in 2016 and in the 2020 Tokyo games includes 29 displaced athletes.
Alizadeh first easily defeated her former teammate from Iran Nahid Kiani and went on to hug her coach, in an awkward moment for the Iranian national team. In her second match on Sunday, she stunned Jones in 6 minutes to the dismay of the British taekwondo coaches. After losing her third match, now she is oised to win a Bronze Medal, which would be the first for the refugee team.
Taekwondo is a codified form of traditional Korean marshal arts, which basically means kicking your opponent, especially on the head but also on the body.
Pandemic Lockdown Ineffective, While Iran Runs Out Of Remdesivir
The head of Tehran’s coronavirus task force Alireza Zali has said that the latest 8-day shutdown in the capital was ineffective and the fifth wave of the Covid pandemic has not reached its peak yet in Iran.
Speaking on television, Zali complained that the lockdown in the capital was not enforced, and most shopping centers and restaurants were open for customers. He added that to be effective, any lockdown should be between 10-14 days long and must be enforced.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Iran in February 2020, the government has instituted many lockdowns and travel bans but none has been enforced properly. With a failed vaccination effort and the new Delta variant of the virus the country is experiencing a serios spike in new cases. Zali said that currently 8797 Covid patients are hospitalized in Tehran alone.
Meanwhile, the head of health ministry’s medicine department, Haydar Mohammadi announced a shortage of remdesivir to treat Covid patients, blaming the Chinese company supplying the raw material for its delays in delivery. He also said that Iranian insurance companies and hospitals with financial problems have failed to make payments.
Mohammadi said that despite efforts to procure remdesivir from China and India, both countries have refused to help.
Iran withdrew one billion euros from its currency reserves last year to help fight the pandemic but the government later said it had received a portion of the money.