Israel’s Channel 12 reported Monday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to provide $30 million financial support monthly to the Palestinian Hamas in return for information on Israel’s missile capabilities and its missile locations.
The report says the agreement was reached in a meeting two weeks ago between nine senior members of the militant group and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Reports in the past put Iran’s financial support for Hamas at $70 million annually, but increasing the support to $30 million a month is unprecedented.
Iran is currently under tough US sanctions and its foreign currency reserves have evaporated. It faces serious economic problems, with very high inflation impoverishing nearly 60 percent of its population.
The US is currently negotiating to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, and lift most the sanctions the previous administration had imposed. Critics say that lifting sanctions will enable Iran to boost its financial support for militant groups across the region.
Iran has been supporting Hamas and other militant groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, in what it calls support for the “resistance front” against Israel. The leaders of the Islamic Republic have called for the annihilation of Israel in the past and threats to destroy the Jewish sate continue periodically by Iran’s hardliners and military leaders.
Notices Appear Showing US Seized Iran-Linked Websites
Mid-day Tuesday Washington DC time, the websites of Iran’s Press TV, Alalam TV and al-Masirah news went offline with a notice posted that appears from the United States Government. Alalam is also linked with Iran while al-Masirah is a network linked with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis.
The notice says that the domain has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant…as part of a law enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The US government has not issued a statement at the time of this publication. CNN anf Fox news later confirmed the development citing US government sources and reported that more than 30 sites have been seized for spreading misinformation.
There have been reports in the past about Iranian efforts at misinformation, including during last year's US elections.
Petrochemical Workers Go On Strike In Iran Demanding Higher Pay
Reports from Iran say workers in the petrochemical sector have gone on strike in Tehran and southern Iran, where most plants are located, demanding higher wages amid high inflation.
With the motto of “We will not give up our rights”, the workers have launched “Strike campaign 1400”, referring to the current Iranian calendar year 1400. Images published on social media show workers on strike and congregating to demand more pay and better conditions in several cities.
Workers from Jahan Pars, Gachsaran Petrochemicals, Tehran Refinery, Abadan Refinery and other plants and companies were refusing to work.
Iran’s inflation rate has surpassed 50 percent and prices for food have gone up around 70 percent in the past 12 months. US sanctions have stopped most of Iran’s oil exports and the government has resorted to printing money to close a huge budget gap. As a result, the national currency has depreciated eightfold in the past three years.
Hundreds of oil and gas industry workers protested on May 26 against Petroleum Minister Bijan Zanganeh, demanding higher pay. Workers gathered in Tehran outside parliament as well as in Ahvaz, capital of the oil-producing Khuzestan province chanting slogans against lack of proper pay amid rising prices.
Worker strikes and protests have been a daily occurrence in the country with many arrested and a few labor activists tortured in prison.
Saudi Arabia Says It Will Judge Iran's Raisi By 'Reality On The Ground'
Saudi Arabia will judge Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi's government by "the reality on the ground", the kingdom's foreign minister said on Tuesday, while adding that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has the final say on foreign policy.
Raisi, a hardline judge who secured an expected election victory on Saturday, said on Monday he wanted to improve ties with Gulf Arab neighbors while calling on regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia opposes the Iran nuclear deal that Tehran and Washington are trying to revive in indirect talks.
"From our perspective, foreign policy in Iran is in any case run by the supreme leader and therefore we base our interactions and our approach to Iran on the reality on the ground, and that is what we will judge the new government on, regardless of who is in charge," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a news conference with his Austrian counterpart.
He did not say how he wanted that reality to change but he did say he was "very concerned" about unanswered questions on Iran's nuclear program, an apparent reference to the UN nuclear watchdog seeking explanations on the origin of uranium particles found at undeclared sites in Iran.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies continue to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is entirely peaceful, and its ballistic missiles.
In a bid to contain tensions between them, Saudi Arabia and Iran began direct talks in April.
Report by Reuters
Iran Seizes 7,000 Illegal Cryptocurrency Mining Computers
Iranian police have seized 7,000 illegal cryptocurrency mining computers, their largest haul to date of the energy-guzzling machines that have exacerbated power outages in Iran, state media reported on Tuesday.
In late May, Iran banned the mining of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for nearly four months as part of efforts to reduce the incidence of power blackouts blamed by officials on surging electricity demand during the searingly hot and dry summer.
Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi said the 7,000 computer miners were seized in an abandoned factory in the west of the capital, the state news agency IRNA reported.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created through a process known as mining, where powerful computers compete with each other to solve complex mathematical problems. The process is highly energy-intensive, often relying on electricity generated by fossil fuels, which are abundant in Iran.
According to blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, around 4.5% of all bitcoin mining takes place in Iran, giving it hundreds of million dollars in revenue from cryptocurrencies that can be used to lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions.
Iran has accepted crypto mining in recent years, offering cheap power and requiring miners to sell their bitcoins to the central bank. Tehran allows cryptocurrencies mined in Iran to be used to pay for imports of authorised goods.
The prospect of cheap state-subsidised power has attracted miners, particularly from China, to Iran. Generating the electricity they use requires the equivalent of around 10 million barrels of crude oil a year, or 4% of total Iranian oil exports in 2020, according to Elliptic.
Report by Reuters
Iran Says US Criticism Of Its Presidential Election Is Meddling
Iran accused the United States on Tuesday of interference for saying its presidential election on Friday was neither free nor fair, Iranian state media reported.
The US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday the United States viewed the process that made Ebrahim Raisi Iran's president-elect as "pretty manufactured", reiterating the US view that the election was neither free nor fair.
"We consider this statement as interference in our domestic affairs, contrary to international law and reject it," Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying.
"The US government is not in a position to have the authority to express its views on the process of elections in Iran or any other country," Rabiei said.
Although Price criticized the election, he reiterated that the Biden administration will continue to pursue an agreement over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and added, “even though Iran will have a new president in the coming weeks, ultimately it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues.
Raisi, a hardline judge who is under US sanctions over human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran's presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
More than half of eligible voters were too dissatisfied to vote or appeared to have heeded calls by dissidents at home and abroad to boycott the election. A deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred prominent moderates and conservatives from running.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Central Bank Draws Up Plans Expecting Release Of Frozen Funds
Iran’s Central Bank presented a report to the government on Tuesday about its plans to commit frozen foreign currency funds in preparation for a possible agreement with the United States, that would lift sanctions and restrictions on Tehran.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that in a meeting of the government’s economic coordination group the issue of using freed funds in the financial system of the country was discussed as “Negotiations for reviving the JCPOA are nearing their end.”
Iran and the United States have been engaged in indirect talks in Vienna since April to find ways to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, presupposing that if an agreement can be reached the United States would lift a significant part of sanctions the Trump administration imposed when it withdrew from JCPOA in 2018.
Diplomats in recent days have reiterated that significant issues remain to be resolved, but Iran’s outgoing president Hassan Rouhani has been insisting that an agreement is near.
In the Tuesday meeting Rouhani underlined the importance of being ready for receiving and using foreign currency funds, estimated to be as high as $20 billion and frozen by South Korea, Japan, Iraq and other countries. Rouhani stressed that these funds should be used for importing “essential goods” and “raw materials” for reviving domestic production.
Iran lost most of its foreign currency earnings by US sanctions and has been struggling to keep its oil-dependent economy functioning.
UN Experts Renew Demand For Release Of Rights Defender Jailed In Iran
UN human rights experts Monday condemned the continued imprisonment in Iran of woman human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh and called for her immediate release.
“Nasrin Sotoudeh has been systematically criminalised for her work in defence of human rights, particularly the rights of women who oppose compulsory veiling laws,” Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, said.
Sotoudeh was arrested in June 2018 with a five-year verdict she knew nothing about. A new trial followed and she was sentenced to 38-years behind bars on charges of “encouraging corruption and prostitution”, standard terms in the Islamic Republic for those who advocate an end to compulsory hijab.
UN experts, international human rights organization and Western governments have repeatedly urged the Islamic Republic to release Sotoudeh and other political prisoners.
“Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case is sadly not isolated, and the severe sentences she has received appear to be intended to silence her work and to intimidate other human rights defenders, including her family,” the experts said.
“Despite our many calls over the years to release Ms. Sotoudeh, Iranian authorities have failed to do so, and instead they have transferred her to another prison, farther away from her family and under dire conditions,” the experts said.
Sotoudeh, who is a human rights lawyer was imprisoned from 2010 to 2013 in connection with her work.
Downed Airliner Families Say Iran's Raisi Should Remain Sanctioned
Families of victims of the Ukrainian airliner shot down by Iran in January 2020 have issued a statement saying that President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is one of those who had a direct role in the tragedy, by harassing those families who seek legal recourse for losing their loved ones.
Raisi who has still not resigned as chief of Iran’s Judiciary is accused in the statement published Monday of arresting and jailing those relatives of victims who are in Iran.
The ultraconservative judge is also accused of human rights violations throughout his long career, including membership in a “death committee” that ordered the killing of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He is sanctioned by the US for rights violations and families have called for concerted action not to allow those sanctions to be lifted.
The Ukrainian International Airline flight PS752 was shot down by two anti-aircraft missiles as it took off from Tehran killing 176 people aboard, during tense hours of possible confrontation between Iran and the United States on January 8, 2020. Iran has not cooperated with countries with citizens onboard in the investigation and has not been transparent as to which officials were responsible for the tragedy.
The statement also accuses Raisi, as head of Iran’s Judiciary, to have been involved in the cover-up and keeping the investigation secret from public scrutiny.
Qatar Receives New Saudi Ambassador As The Two Mend Relations
DUBAI, June 21 (Reuters) - Qatar's foreign minister on Monday received the new Saudi ambassador to Doha, the first to be reinstated by Arab states after they agreed to end a dispute with Qatar earlier this year, state news agency QNA said.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain resolved in January to lift the boycott imposed in mid-2017 and restore political, trade and travel ties with Doha. Riyadh has taken the lead among the four in re-establishing relations.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani welcomed Saudi Ambassador Prince Mansour bin Khalid bin Farhan and assured him of "all support to advance bilateral relations", QNA said.
Riyadh and Cairo have acted faster to rebuild ties with Doha than the UAE in bilateral talks since the U.S.-backed deal, but all but Bahrain have restored trade and travel links with Doha.
The four nations had accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, a broad allusion to Islamist movements. Doha denied the accusations and said the embargo aimed to curtail its sovereignty.
The United States had felt the feud among its Arab allies benefited only their mutual enemy Iran. In January, heeding outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's wish to re-establish a united Arab front against Iran, and keen to impress new President Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia declared an end to the boycott of Qatar and said its three allies were on board.
Riyadh also stands to benefit economically from the thaw with wealthy, gas-producing Qatar, as does Cairo.
Israel's New Foreign Minister To Make First Visit To UAE
Israel's new foreign minister will head to the United Arab Emirates next week for the first known visit by a top Israeli diplomat to the Persian Gulf Arab country.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid's visit comes after the two countries normalized relations last year in an agreement brokered by the Trump administration. The new governments in both Israel and the United States have said they hope to reach similar accords with other Arab states.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry says Lapid will visit the UAE June 29-30 and will inaugurate an Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in Dubai.
“Ties between Israel and the UAE are an important relationship, the fruits of which will be enjoyed not only by the citizens of the two countries, but by the entire Middle East,” it said in a statement.
Israel and UAE share concern over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, which played a part in their establishment of ties. Lapid said Sunday that "More than ever, Iran’s nuclear program must be halted immediately, rolled back entirely and stopped indefinitely." He added, "Iran’s ballistic missile program must be dismantled and its global terror campaign vigorously countered by a broad international coalition."
Reporting by AP
Iran's Rouhani Says Sanctions To Be Lifted Soon And Investments To Flow
Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani Monday said that “God willing sanctions will be lifted soon” and investments would flow into the Iranian economy, enabling the new government to improve the living standards of the people.
Rouhani whose second term started with some optimism in 2017 but soon took a turn for the worse because of US sanctions imposed in 2018, is leaving the presidency at a time of serious economic crisis for the country, with inflation at 50 percent and the government with a 50 percent budget deficit. The sanctions imposed by the former president Donald Trump have drastically cut Iran’s oil exports, depriving it of its major source of income.
Nuclear talks initiated by the Biden administration since April have not reached a successful conclusion yet and any financial benefits gained by Iran if an agreement is made would enable the newly elected ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raeesi to claim economic success.
Diplomats in Vienna and US policy makers say that major issues remain unresolved in the talks, despite Rouhani’s optimistic pronouncements.
While inaugurating some projects on Monday, Rouhani said, “We put Trump’s nose in the dirt” and proved that our economy would not disintegrate.
Even if US sanctions are lifted, Iran would have difficulty attracting serious foreign investments, due to its closed economic system and the opaque banking network, which is isolated from the global banking system.