Iran’s minister of energy said Saturday that Iraq has authorized sending $125 million to an account in Switzerland for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, from Iran’s funds frozen in Iraqi banks by US sanctions.
The official IRNA news website quoted Reza Ardakanian as saying that authorization has been issued to release the funds to be transferred to an account for the purchase of vaccines through the United Nations’ COVAX mechanism. Most of the funds frozen in Iraq are payments for natural gas and electricity sold by Iran.
The United States has imposed third-party banking sanctions that threaten banks with retaliation if they engage in transaction with Iran. Although the US has allowed Iran to import energy from Iran, but the money has not been repatriated.
Minister Ardakanian said, “With continuous efforts we were able to secure the necessary authorizations for wiring $125 million from Trade Bank of Iraq to a Swiss bank for 16 million doses of vaccines provided by COVAX.” Iranian officials have made similar remarks in the past.
There was no immediate confirmation by Iraqi officials of the reported release of Iran’s funds for the purchase of vaccines.
Iran failed to order and receive a significant quantity of Western vaccines when they started to become available and is it behind many regional countries in inoculating its population. Around 3 million doses of mostly Russian and Chinese vaccines have been used so, mainly for medical staff and people older than 70.
US Planning New Sanctions Against Iran's Precision Weapons - WSJ
Amid stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran, the United States plans to impose sanctions aimed at Tehran’s expanding capability in deploying precision drones and guided missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The report says that Western officials are more concerned about the immediate danger in the region from those capabilities than from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The plan appears to be to sanction those companies that supply critical parts for Iran’s precision weapons.
Iranian military officials have been boasting of the growing precision capability of their weapons in recent months. It appears they have transferred some of the capability to their allies and proxies in the region.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told visiting Hamas representatives in June following the Gaza war that “Not long ago, Palestinians fought with rocks, but today they are armed with precision missiles instead, and that means advancement.”
Iranian technology has also been used extensively by Yemen’s Houthis to target Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles.
The new sanctions campaign coincides with other signals from the Biden Administration of a tougher approach toward Tehran which is relentlessly advancing its uranium enrichment program. But official told the Wall Street Journal that the new sanctions plan should be mixed up with the nuclear issue.
Following the news about the Biden Administration plan, the Ranking Member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) expressed support for the US plan to launch a sanctions campaign against #Iran's drones and missile procurement network.
Blinken Says Negotiations With Iran Cannot Go On Indefinitely
KUWAIT, July 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the negotiating process with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could not go on indefinitely, and that the ball was in Iran's court.
"We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it's undertaken with regard to its nuclear program," he said, addressing a news conference in Kuwait.
"We have clearly demonstrated our good faith and desire to return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement ... The ball remains in Iran’s court and we will see if they're prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance."
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington to revive the nuclear pact, from which then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States, adjourned on June 20, two days after the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Raisi takes office on Aug. 5.
Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to say when they might resume.
Gulf Arab states have asked to be included in the negotiations, and for any deal to address what they call Iran's destabilising behaviour in the region.
The parties to the JPCOA are Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union.
Blinken arrived in Kuwait on Wednesday and met the emir, Sheikh Nawaf, state media reported.
Iran's 'Private Sector' Imports AstraZeneca Vaccines Made In Russia
Iran’s Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that a shipment of 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines produced in Russia has been imported “by the private sector”, amid a surge in infections.
The Russian drugmaker R-Pharm began producing the vaccine according to an agreement with AstraZeneca only for export, including Middle Eastern countries.
It is not clear which private importer has bought the vaccines, but the Iranian government months ago said it will allow private companies to import the vaccines. So far, all vaccines purchases have been handled through government orders and it is not cleat if the Russian company directly sells to private buyers.
In Iran all major companies capable of receiving permits to pull off such a deal are usually not true private entities but are indirectly owned by state or religious companies, often labeled charitable outfits.
Iran has fallen short in its vaccination effort, mainly because of ban on purchasing American and British vaccines the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced in January. Iran has vaccinated just 6 percent of its 85-million population, while many countries in the region are well ahead.
There have been accusations that companies controlled by state and religious institutions have become involved in the vaccine effort to make profits and the ban on importing Western vaccines was meant to market their locally produced vaccines. These are not produced in sufficient quantity yet, but have received subsidies from the state and cost many times more than internationally recognized brands.
Senior Sunni Cleric In Iran Says Water Is Not The Only Reason For Unrest
A senior Sunni cleric in Iran has criticized the government’s management of the country and implicitly defending protests in oil-rich Khuzestan province, has said the reason is not just lack of water.
Molavi Abolhamid, the religious leader of Sunnis in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in southeast Iran is considered the most influential Sunni cleric who has often criticized the Islamic Republic for treating the minority Muslim community in the country as second-class citizens.
In remarks on Wednesday however, he made a positive gesture toward the incoming president Ebrahim Raisi, saying that his government would Iran’s “last hope” adding that he hoped there would be unity among different factions. Abdolhamid supported Raisi in the June presidential vote.
However, putting the onus on Raisi the Sunni leader said, “Nevertheless, If Mr. Raisi would not be able to make decisions based on reality,” we would lose hope for the future.
Voicing support for protests in Khuzestan that were triggered on July 15 by a long-running water shortage, Abdolhamid blamed “mismanagement” by the government. He said “poverty and deprivation” has reached intolerable levels and “protest is not just about water, it includes all these cases”.
He added that Khuzestan’s Arab-Iranians compare themselves to neighboring countries such as Kuwait and others in the region and see that people in there live in good conditions. He said the same is true about Iran’s Kurds, who compared to their ethnic brethren in Iraq and Turkey face disadvantages.
White House Calls On Critical Companies To Improve Cyber Defenses
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The White House is signaling to U.S. critical infrastructure companies, such as energy providers that they must improve their cyber defenses because additional potential regulation is on the horizon.
U.S. President Joseph Biden signed a national security memorandum on Wednesday, launching a new public-private initiative that creates "performance controls" for cybersecurity at America's most critical companies, including water treatment and electrical power plants.
The recommendations are voluntary in nature, but the administration hopes it will cause companies to improve their cybersecurity ahead of other policy efforts, said a senior administration official.
The announcement comes after multiple high profile cyberattacks this year crippled American companies and government agencies, including a ransomware incident which disrupted gasoline supplies.
"These are the thresholds that we expect responsible owners and operators to go," said the official. "The absence of mandated cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructure is what in many ways has brought us to the level of vulnerability that we have today."
"We are pursuing all options we have in order to make the rapid progress we need," they added.
Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a "real shooting war" with a "major power" it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the United States, highlighting what Washington sees as a growing threat posed by hackers from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
"The federal government cannot do this alone," said the official. "Almost 90% of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. Securing it requires a whole of nation effort."
The official described the current state of cybersecurity rules for critical infrastructure companies as "patchwork" and "piecemeal."
"We've kicked the can down the road for a long time," said the official.
Prisoners, Activists In Iran Issue Statement To End Current 'Regime'
More than 100 political prisoners, activists, and relatives of people killed in protests or who have died in detention in Iran published a statement Wednesday supporting protestors in Khuzestan province.
The statement, signed by 114 families and individuals says: “The demand of the Iranian people is to transition from the Islamic Republic to reach a human life under constitutional law based on human rights and safeguarding national interests, as the political path of a Supreme Leader has not been successful in the past 43 years and it has destroyed all bridges of rationality.”
The principle of velayat-e faqih (‘guardianship of the jurist’), under which a clerical head of state exercises wide powers, is a cornerstone of the constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution, 43 years ago by the Iranian calendar in which years begin in March.
The signatories said Iranians had protested because they felt their human and patriotic dignity endangered. They warned “the self-appointed rulers of the Islamic Republic that the wrath of the people is stronger” than guns. The victims’ families and activists also appealed to security forces to consider “their conscience” and “defend the people against suppressors.”
Protests beginning July 15 in Khuzestan over water shortages soon became anti-government unrest across the province and then spread to some other regions of the country. Around ten people have been reported killed in Khuzestan − with five deaths confirmed by HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) − and hundreds arrested in several provinces.
The signatories also asked “freedom-loving political and civil activists” to inform the world about “crimes of the regime” and insisted that “this government is not the representative of the Iranian people and is a usurping regime.”
US Diplomats Push For Truce As Battles Spread In Yemen
Senior US diplomats are holding talks in the Middle East in a renewed push for a ceasefire in Yemen as fierce ground battles spread and the Iran-aligned Houthi group resumed cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia after a brief lull over Muslim holidays.
US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday following a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to Oman, amid stalled efforts for a breakthrough in ending more than six years of war.
The Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen's recognized government and the Houthis have been at odds over a United Nations-led proposal for a nationwide truce and the lifting of a coalition blockade to ease a dire humanitarian crisis.
Lenderking will discuss "growing consequences" of the Marib offensive that is triggering instability elsewhere and the "urgent need" for Riyadh and the Saudi-backed government to facilitate fuel imports to northern Yemen, the State Department said.
The Houthis have insisted sea and air restrictions on areas they control be removed before any ceasefire talks, while the coalition wants a simultaneous deal.
The Houthi movement holds most big urban centers after ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, which prompted the coalition to intervene months later in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
Reporting by Reuters
Rights Organization Says Iran Killed Or Abducted 540 People Abroad
An Iranian human rights organization has said that it has established the identity of 540 victims who have been killed or abducted abroad by Iran’s security forces in the past four decades.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), based in Washington DC, released a statement on July 27, highlighting the recent kidnapping plot against US-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad and said the episode “fits a decades-long pattern of intimidation, extrajudicial killings and abductions of dissidents meant to undermine political and religious groups, silence activists and journalists, and prevent the mobilization of effective opposition movements inside and outside the country.”
The Boroumand center said that although it has identified 540 people who were killed or abducted by Iranian intelligence mainly in the Middle East and Europe, this figure is by no means conclusive.
Most of the victims were targeted in Iran’s neighboring countries, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s, where 329 people were successfully targeted. Thirteen people were killed or abducted in France and six in Germany, but the operation even reached the Philippines, Poland and the United States.
The targets of Iran’s “terror plots reflect Iran’s population in its diversity, including believers and non-believers, Shias and Sunnis, communists, socialists, nationalists and royalists, ABC said.
The high number of victims could be unprecedented in the world in the past 50 years and could surpass operations by the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th century, when there were a few dozen suspected cases of attacks on dissidents abroad.
Official Says Cryptocurrency Mining Machines Enter Iran Legally
An official of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration has said that computers for mining cryptocurrencies enter the country with the knowledge of the government and with foreign currency provided by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).
The government has often blamed high power-usage by cryptocurrency miners for shortages of electricity that have plagued Iran this year, especially during peak winter and summer months.
Mehrdad Jamal Arvanagi, technical deputy of customs told local media that mining machines are imported through official channels and in the past one year the central bank has provided $11 million dollars to importers of these computers.
The imports are conducted “by the private sector” with permits from the ministry of industry and mining and there is no restriction for bringing them through customs.
On Tuesday, Iran’s electricity management company sent a letter to judicial officials warning that with recent restrictions by the Chinese government on cryptocurrency mining, a large number of machines might be transferred to Iran, where electricity is subsidized.
Already, there have been reports and complaints in Iranian media and social media about Chinese mining farms set up in Iran allegedly in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to generate revenue for operators and hard currency for the military-intelligence force listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.