Iran Launches Missile Drill Days Before Biden Inauguration | Iran International

Iran Launches Missile Drill Days Before Biden Inauguration

DUBAI, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Iran's military launched a short-range naval missile drill on Wednesday, Iranian state TV reported, at a time of high tension between arch foes Tehran and Washington.

Iran has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, regarding such weapons as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against U.S. and other adversaries in the event of war.

The West sees Iran's missiles both as a conventional military threat to regional stability and a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons should Tehran develop them.

The Iranian-made warship Makran, which state media described as Iran's biggest warship with a helicopter pad, and a missile-launching ship called Zereh (armour) were taking part in the two-day exercise in the Gulf of Oman.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have risen since 2018, when President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal. The United States restored harsh sanctions to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear programme, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.

In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between Iran’s military and U.S. forces in the Gulf, where Tehran holds annual exercises to display the Islamic Republic's military might to confront "foreign threats".

Last week, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters and detained its crew amid tensions between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions.

In early 2019, Iran heightened tensions in the world's busiest oil waterway by seizing British-flagged tanker Stena Impero two weeks after a British warship had intercepted an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.

Iran's Zarif Repeats Demand For US Sanctions Compensation

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has repeated a previous demand that the United States should compensate Iran for damages it sustains during the period of sanctions.

Earlier, Ali Akbar Velayati, top foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had mentioned compensation as one of the conditions for restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Former US President Donald Trump imposed tough sanction on Iran in 2018 after withdrawing from the nuclear agreement and demanding new negotiations. The sanctions have cost Iran’s economy billions of dollars, but not all sanctions are related to the dispute over its nuclear program.

Zarif, who was speaking Monday [Jan. 25] with Tasnim news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards said once the US returns to the agreement the issue of compensation can be presented to the JCPOA Joint Commission that meets every three months.

“The (JCPOA) Joint Commission holds meetings every three months at the level of deputy ministers. Talks are held in the meeting, and one of the topics that will definitely be discussed is the issue of compensation,” Zarif told Tasnim.

The demand for compensation can be used as a lever by Iran if the new US administration returns to JCPOA and then makes other demands from Iran, such as limitations on its ballistic missile program.

President Joe Biden has indicated his intention to return to the nuclear deal but his aides have said they need to consult with regional countries such as Israel and the issue is a complicated one.

Macron & Biden Agree To Cooperate on China, Russia, & Iran Nuclear Deal

New US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron held a phone discussion for the first time on Sunday and agreed to work closely on coronavirus, world economy, and the Iran nuclear issue.

In their phone call, the two presidents discussed “their willingness to act together for peace in the Near and Middle East, in particular on the Iranian nuclear issue.”

According to a White House statement, Biden “stressed his commitment to bolstering the transatlantic relationship, including through NATO and the United States’ partnership with the European Union.”

The White House said Biden and Macron also discussed cooperation on China and Russia, and that Macron said he would cooperate with Washington on the Iranian nuclear deal and the situation in Lebanon.

Macron had initially attempted to forge a close relationship with Trump, but the two later were frequently at odds over Syria, US tariffs, and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord — which Biden moved to re-enter on his first day in office.

In 2017, President Trump unilaterally left the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and began the policy of “maximum pressure” by imposing consistent heavy sanctions on Iran’s oil and main industries.

President Biden had previously promised to return to the nuclear deal if Iran would fully comply with its commitments under JCPOA.

Iranian Security Forces Shoot At Citizens In Iranshahr

Baluch Activists Campaign reported that security forces opened fire on people in Kolahdouz district of Iranshahr county in Sistan and Baluchistan province in Iran.

According to the campaign’s Telegram channel, the reason given for the attack on Sunday was “fighting fuel smuggling”. Sistan and Baluchistan is a mainly Sunni populated region where tensions exist with the Shiite government.

One informed source told the campaign that the people defended themselves with rocks and forced the security forces to escape. The report states that the security forces threatened the citizens and said they will attack again.

The campaign claims the attack and shooting were done in order to distract people from the destruction of a Sunni mosque in the city.

It was reported on Saturday that the Sunni mosque in Iranshahr was destroyed in the presence of security forces and police. Baluch activists in response called for a protest in the evening on Sunday, but the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Intelligence called Baluch clerics and threatened them to ask the people to remain silent. According to the report, the security forces also asked the mayor of Iranshahr to announce that the destruction of the mosque was a municipality issue.

Last April the campaign also reported the killing of three boys ages 17, 18, and 20 during a police attack in their homes.

But the city prosecutor said these individuals were armed and were killed in a clash with the police while stealing a car.


French FM Says Situation With Iran Nuclear Program 'Very Dangerous'

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has again called the situation with Iran’s nuclear program “very dangerous” in an interview with France Inter radio on Sunday [Jan. 24].

“Iran's access to nuclear weapons would have considerable geostrategic consequences” Le Drian said adding that “We must find the way back to the Vienna accords. We are in the opposite situation to what we wanted. Trump wanted maximum pressure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the reality is that he is not far from acquiring them”.

Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the 2015 nuclear agreement and earlier this month started pressing ahead with plans to enrich uranium to 20% fissile strength. That is the level Tehran achieved before striking the deal with world powers to contain its disputed nuclear ambitions.

Le Drian had warned on January 17 that Iran is in the process of building up its nuclear weapons capacity and it is urgent that Tehran and Washington return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

However, Le Drian said at the time that even if both sides were to return to the deal, it would not be enough.

"Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran's destabilization of its neighbors in the region," Le Drian said. 

President Joe Biden has indicated he is willing to return to the agreement but he has also emphasized the need to address the issues of Iran’s ballistic missiles and it is regional activities.


Iran Not To Accept Qatar Mediation To Release Impounded Korean Tanker

The Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Sunday said Iran will not accept Qatar's mediation to release a South Korean tanker which the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) impounded on January 4 in the Persian Gulf.

Responding to a question in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on South Korea's appeal to Qatar to mediate for the release of the vessel, Khatibzadeh said Iran has already told the Koreans that Iran will not accept "political mediation" in a "technical matter."

According to a Yonhap news agency report on January 14, Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kung in a meeting with Soltan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi, the Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, asked for Doha's "maximum possible support" following his talks in Tehran.

Iran insists that the seizure of the Korean-flagged tanker MT Hankuk Chemi is a "technical matter" related to marine environment pollution, but there are strong suspicions the seizure is related to $7 billion frozen by South Korean banks due to US sanctions.

Khatibzadeh denied that Iran is holding the tanker to put pressure on Seoul to unfreeze the funds. "We have tried different paths for unblocking these funds which were illegally blocked by Korean banks," he said and reiterated that the recent visit of South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister to Tehran was made to resolve the issue of the frozen assets, not the seized vessel.

A senior South Korean official on Thursday [January 21] said the country expected the new United States administration of President Joe Biden help resolve the issue of the seized tanker.

US And Israeli National Security Advisers Discuss Iran In Phone Call

The US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat spoke on the phone on Saturday [Jn. 23] discussing Iran and other regional issues.

The White House released a statement Sunday saying, "Mr. Sullivan reaffirmed President Biden’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security" and added, "Mr. Sullivan confirmed the United States will closely consult with Israel on all matters of regional security."

This is the first reported contact between President Joe Biden’s White House and the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sullivan has already made calls to his counterparts in the UK, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea. 

The phone call was a first step towards more in-depth contacts and discussions of Middle East issues and bilateral relations.

After four years of close cooperation between the Netanyahu government and the Trump administration, regional countries and observers await to see how relations will shape up between Israel and the new US administration.

Iran is the most sensitive issue for Israel and several Arab countries who took comfort in former President Donald Trump’s tough approach toward Tehran. Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and imposed tough sanctions on Iran demanding concessions. President Joe Biden has indicated that he intends to return to the nuclear agreement, which could mean reducing sanctions on Iran.

The two top national security officials also discussed the Abraham Accords or the normalization agreements between individual Arab countries and Israel that marked a historic change in the geopolitics of the Middle East and North Africa. The White House statement said, "They discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalization arrangements with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco."

Reports Of A Member Of Parliament Slapping A Young Soldier In Tehran

Nasim Online reported that a member of parliament in Tehran has slapped a soldier for preventing him from driving in the special bus line.

After the release of the video on social media, it was revealed that the representative in the video was Ali Asghar Anabestani, the representative of Sabzevar in the parliament.

The video caused an uproar among Iranian on social media with many tweeting hashtags in support of draft soldiers.

Mohammadreza Dashti Ardakani, a member of the board of monitoring the behavior of members of parliament said they have received no complaint about this representative. He said Anabestani has denied slapping the soldier and said the soldier has insulted him.

In an interview with the State-TV, he denied any physical altercation and said he did not even get out of his car.

The spokesperson for the police forces in response announced a special order to “protect the right of drafted soldiers”. Another police official reported that the police legal department is drafting a complaint against a member of parliament.

The video shows that the representative’s car has caused massive traffic in a busy street in Tehran.

After the uproar about the incident on social media and official media, the soldier told Mehr News Agency that the issue was resolved in a meeting with representatives of the judiciary and the police.


Araghchi: Iran Sees No Need For Confidential Talks With Biden Team

There have been no confidential talks with the new United States administration and there is no intention to begin any, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said in an interview published Saturday [January 23] in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.

Araghchi was responding to an article by Georges Malbrunot, veteran Le Figaro reporter, claiming on January 19 that an Iranian diplomat and a representative of US president Joe Biden had for three weeks been discussing in New York the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

“We have not started anything, and we have no intention of doing so,” Araghchi said. “Clearly, we are waiting for them to fully enter service and start thinking about how to make their choices.” Araghchi stressed that it was for the US, which had “left the table,” to “go back and resume discussions...”

The deputy foreign minister emphasized that existing JCPOA structures were open to all signatories – Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the US and Iran. “At the moment we are not interested in any direct contact, we think that the JCPOA is the right format,” he told La Repubblica. “Even before returning to respect the treaty, the Americans can come there to restart the discussion.”

Araghchi dismissed suggestions that Washington should delay reviving the JCPOA to pressurize Tehran to abandon its missile program, which he called Iran’s “only reliable defense tool.” One of Trump’s last acts as president was approving the sale of advanced F35 jets and drones to the United Arab Emirates, Iran’s neighbor.  

Iran Arrests Christians Accusing Them Of Plotting Against National Security

Iran’s security forces have arrested “several Christians” in various parts of the country, Fars news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards reported Saturday [Jan. 23].

Without mentioning the exact number or identity of those detained, Fars said the Christians were connected with Israeli “secret services” and are accused of “moral deviation”, as well as “encouraging conversion” to Christianity.

According to Iran’s Islamic law it is illegal to convert a Muslim to another religion and if a person converts the punishment can be execution. Many Christian converts have been arrested, imprisoned, and harassed in the past decades in Iran. Some converts are assaulted by unknown individuals or denied higher education.

In February 2019, there was a wave of arrests in various Iranian provinces and more than a dozen Christian were detained. The accusation of endangering security is a common charge made against converts.

While the Islamic Republic recognizes traditional Christian ethnic communities, such as Armenians, it persecutes converts and followers of Western Christian denominations. International human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Iran’s persecution of religious minorities, such as the Baha’i, and discrimination against others.

Fars has also accused the detained Christians of “widespread attempts” against national security in the past two years, without presenting any evidence. The accusation seems far-fetched as Christian converts worship in secret and are in constant danger of being arrested.



Iran Lawmaker Admits To Shortage Of Natural Gas And Calls For Imports

The head of Iranian parliament’s Energy Commission, Fereydoun Abbasi has acknowledged that Iran faces a serious shortage of natural gas and might have to import the vital fuel from neighboring countries.

Abbasi who is a former director Of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told ISNA news website Saturday that power stations outside cities should burn mazut, a dirty heavy oil product because Iran simply does not have enough natural gas.

In January, many power stations in Iran switched to mazut, a highly polluting fuel mostly used for ships on the high seas, as winter need for heating increased. This led to heavy smog in major cities and the government resorted to power cuts trying to balance the need for electricity with limiting pollution.

Abbasi claimed that pollution in cities is due more to heavy traffic than burning mazut, but the paralyzing smog in January is unprecedented and other officials have admitted the reason is the dirty fuel.

Iran International reported recently that Iran’s gas production is declining by 10 percent a year due to loss of natural pressure in the fields and lack of investments and technology. Sanctions have driven away potential foreign partners in investment and development.

Abbasi said that this year Iran cannot import any natural gas but planning is needed to sign agreements with neighboring countries. Iran itself is supposed to export gas to Iraq and Turkey, which are trying to diversify and move away from dependence on Iran.