Iran’s foreign minister Mohammaed Javad Zaif departs for China on Friday, October 9, to meet with foreign minister Wang Yi “to discuss regional and international issues”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced on Twitter, “On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Iran-China diplomatic ties” the two countries “are determined to further expand their strategic partnership. In spite of US max pressure [China is Iran's] 1st economic partner.”
China has mostly observed US sanctions and has greatly reduced its oil imports from Iran. Beijing is still Tehran’s biggest trading partner, but the volume of trade has fallen significantly in the past two years since the imposition of sanctions. China’s official oil imports is one-tenth of the pre-sanction’s days, while its exports to Iran have decreased by around 7 percent.
The Iranian government has been hailing a 25-year “strategic partnership” with China in the past few months amid its economic crisis, but Beijing has been silent about it. Observers see this as an attempt by Tehran to show it is not isolated and can withstand US economic pressure.
Overall, Iran is not a significant trading partner for China, chalking up less than half a percent of the trading giant’s $2.85 trillion exports and imports in 2020.
Khatibzadeh has also said Zarif will discuss the expansion of ties with Beijing and added the two countries already agree on important issues, such as “confronting unilateralism and US intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Suspected Israeli Airstrike Hits Building In Syria's Quneitra
Aircraft suspected to be Israeli warplanes have attacked a building in Syria’s Quneitra region near the Israeli border around midnight October 20-21, the official Syrian news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Wednesday.
While the government news agency says a school was targeted, SOHR, which is based in London and monitors the war in Syria, reported that groups loyal to Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran were occupying the building located at Al-Hurriya village. There is no word on the number of casualties.
SOHR also says that the countryside of Quneitra “is witnessing a large presence of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia” and other armed groups loyal to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Suspected Israeli airstrikes have targeted the region repeatedly in the past.
Israel has warned many times since 2017 that it will not tolerate an Iranian presence near its borders or an Iranian hegemony over Syria. Although Israel has not officially taken responsibility for hundreds of similar attacks, it has indicated it will continue to harass forces under Iran’s control.
Dozens of arms depots, sensitive bases controlled by Iran’s extraterritorial Qods Force and concentrations of pro-Iran armed groups have been hit across Syria. Recent attacks have also focused on the eastern and northeaster Syria bordering Iraq where Iranian have established a presence and the area can be used for transporting men and weapons into Syria.
Spokesman Demands Prosecution Of Lawmakers Who 'Insulted' Rouhani
The Spokesman of the Rouhani administration Ali Rabiei on Tuesday demanded the prosecution of some lawmakers who have attacked and insulted Hassan Rouhani in recent days. The Spokesman of the Judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, however, has declared that the President should personally file a suit against those lawmakers.
In his weekly press conference Rabiei said the insults against the President were taken up by the Parliamentary Committee for Supervising Lawmakers' Conduct and added: "We believe that the prosecutor [general] must take up this matter as it is a public crime [to insult the president]."
Commenting on Rabiei's remarks in less than an hour, the Judiciary Spokesman Esmaili, however, said the administration spokesman is "unaware of the changes in the Islamic Penal Code" which was amended some months ago and stipulates that in such cases a personal lawsuit should be filed by the government authority that has been insulted.
"Based on the law, prosecutors cannot order an inquiry and prosecution in the absence of a lawsuit filed by an individual claimant," he added.
In a cabinet speech on Wednesday Rouhani suggested "peace with the enemy” based on the “will of the majority” by drawing a historical-religious analogy. The suggestion was highly criticized by hardliners which interpreted it as a demand for holding a referendum on direct negotiation with the United States. This, in their view, could only mean concession and also undermining Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's authority.
Addressing Rouhani in a tweet on Friday, hardline lawmaker Mojtaba Zolnouri wrote: “The overwhelming majority of the people of Iran will accept nothing less than your dismissal and punishment. Using your logic, the Leader of the Revolution should order you to be hanged a thousand times to satisfy the people.”
Zolnouri and other lawmakers then made a move to impeach Rouhani which appears to have highly divided the hardliners. The Parliament (Majles) on Monday dropped the impeachment motion from its agenda "in the interest of expediency" after a signal apparently coming from Khamenei to tone down attacks on Rouhani.
Woman In Iran Arrested For Cycling Without Head-Scarf
A woman who cycled bare-headed in the main square of Najafabad, in Iran’s central province of Esfahan, has been arrested, according to the city’s governor. Mojtaba Raei told the government news agency IRNA on Tuesday [October 20] that the cyclist had been apprehended for “breaking the norms” although her motivation was unknown.
A video of the woman cycling through Najafabad, and passing a mosque, with one arm waving in the air, has been widely circulated on Iranian social media. The person who filmed the clip can be heard complimenting her hair, cheering, and asking: “Ma’am, has freedom been established? Has the Shah come back?”
Najafabad, a city of around 330,000, is known for conservatism. The city has its own religious seminary and was one of the first cities to rise against the Shah in 1977.
The Governor said the people of Najafabad planned a “spontaneous protest rally” to condemn the act of “sacrilege,” taking place after mid-day prayers, observing coronavirus health protocols, in the city’s Imam Khomeini Square.
Iran has no laws against women cycling, although morality police often enforce a ban demanded by some clerics. On October 13 Ahmad Alamolhoda, the influential Friday prayer leader of the religious city of Mashhad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s provincial representative, said women should cycle only in specially dedicated area. “Women’s cycling in public has been banned by religious authorities,” Alamolhoda proclaimed.
Rial Rises Against Dollar As Iran Market Suspects Biden Election Win
After weeks of an upward trajectory, the United States dollar has dropped over 10 percent in Iran against the national currency, the rial, in what may be a market assessment of the likely outcome of the US presidential election due November 3.
On Monday and Tuesday [October 19-20], the dollar fell back from an all-time high of 323,000 to 283,000 rials.
The government in recent weeks has tried to talk down the dollar, while promising to free Iran’s funds blocked overseas by counties fearful of secondary US sanctions.
Media in Iran cite different explanations for the rial’s rise. Some attribute it to a recent pledge by the Central Bank to pump $50 million a day into the foreign exchange market to support the rial. Others say the rial has been boosted by hopes that Iraq will release $2 billion in blocked funds owed to Iran, mainly for energy exports.
Tejarat News (Trade News) argued in its October 20 issue that it is not government action that brought the dollar down, but people rushing to sell cash dollars in the expectation that the rial will rise if President Donald Trump loses the US election to his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
The main reason for Iran’s currency dropping tenfold since late 2017 is the US economic sanctions – especially strict third-party banking and oil export restrictions – introduced since Trump in May 2018 withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Biden has strongly criticized Trump’s decision to leave the JCPOA. Hence the Iranian public apparently believes that if Biden wins, sanctions will ease and Iran probably be able sell to more oil and boost its foreign currency income.
Tejarat news quotes Iranian currency experts and traders who say many brokers and ordinary people are less enthusiastic to hold dollars given opinion polls in the US showing Biden with a substantial lead over Trump.
Iran Opens Damascus Trade Center Chasing ‘Billion-Dollar’ Export Market
Iran has opened a trade center “in the heart of Damascus” to boost commercial ties with its regional ally and facilitate exports after spending an estimated $30 billion in the past ten years to keep Bashar al-Assad in power.
Kayvan Kashefi, the head of the Iran-Syria joint chamber of commerce, announced that a 12-storey building had been purchased and refurbished as a trade center in Damascus to help Iranian companies find markets in Syria, Mehr news agency reported October 20.
Kashefi added that Iran’s goal is to reach one billion dollars of non-oil exports to the war-ravaged country before the end of 2021. He said 24 Iranian companies now operate at the trade center but did not say when it opened.
The Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Fadavi, said in September that Iran has spent $20 billion to support its regional policies, meaning aid to allies and possibly the cost of participation in the Syrian war. In May, conservative politician Hesmatollah Falahatpisheh said that Iran had spent $20-30 billion in Syria.
In addition to extending credit, including oil supplies, to Assad’s government, Iran has maintained military units, including organizing Afghan and other foreign fighters, bearing the operation costs, paying salaries and supplying weapons.
Amid tough US sanctions and with oil exports reduced from 2.6 million barrels a day in 2018 to a few hundred thousand, Iran desperately needs foreign currency. But Syria is in economic ruins – with war-time destruction followed by the collapse of the Lebanese economy – and it is not clear if one billion dollars in Iranian exports is achievable. Syria’s own foreign currency reserves are seriously depleted, and the very low level of Syrian exports to Iran rules out barter. According to Iranian government figures, Iran’s peak of exports to Syria was reached in 2010-11 at $524 million, falling to a low point of $113 million in 2014-15.
Abrams: US Might Impose Preemptive Sanctions To Prevent New Arms Deals With Iran
In an interview with Washington Free Beacon, US Special Envoy for Iran Elliot Abrams said the United States will preemptively sanction any country that tries to deliver arms to Iran, effectively blocking new arms deals well before they develop.
Abrams told Washington Free Beacon October 19 that after restoring all international sanctions on Iran last month, the Trump administration would not wait for new weapons to be transferred to Iran, but would act preemptively to obstruct new deals as they advance.
“We don’t have to wait until a transaction is completed and someone has physically sent arms to Iran or imported arms from Iran," Abrams said. "We can go after people engaged in exploratory visits or negotiations as well."
"We will step in even before they become tangible and real," Abrams said, referring to possible Iranian arms deals with Russia and China. "We will be watching to see if there is a movement towards arms deals."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday promised to sanction any country, individual, or entity "that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those who provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms."
US Sanctions Six Entities In China And Hong Kong For Their Dealings With Iranian Shipping Line
US Department of State announced in a statement on Monday [Oct. 19] that it has sanctioned six entities and two individuals for “conduct related to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line and its subsidiary Hafez Darya Arya Shipping Company pursuant to the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act.
“The international community has long recognized that the Iranian regime uses the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) to transport proliferation-sensitive items intended for Iran’s ballistic missile and military programs,” the statement says. The sanctioned entities are mostly based in China and Hong Kong.
According to the State Department, a provision of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 mandates vigilance when doing business with IRISL and entities owned or controlled by IRISL under certain circumstances. This provision is now in effect due to the snapback of UN sanctions.
On June 8, 2020, the State Department designated IRISL and its Shanghai-based subsidiary, E-Sail Shipping Company Ltd., pursuant to Executive Order 13382 for their proliferation-related conduct. The State Department warned that any stakeholder who continued doing business with IRISL or E-Sail was at risk of sanctions.
Reach Holding Group (Shanghai) Company Ltd.; Reach Shipping Lines; Delight Shipping Co Ltd; Gracious Shipping Co Ltd; Noble Shipping Co Ltd; and Supreme Shipping Co Ltd are being sanctioned by the State Department pursuant to IFCA Section 1244(d)(1)(A) for having knowingly sold, supplied, or transferred to Iran significant goods or services used in connection with the shipping sector of Iran.
Eric Chen (Chen Guoping), Chief Executive Officer of Reach Holding Group (Shanghai) Company Ltd, and Daniel Y He (He Yi), President of Reach Holding Group (Shanghai) Company Ltd, are also being sanctioned.
Appeals Court Confirms 8-Year Sentence Of Brother Of Iranian Journalist
The lawyer of Alireza Alinejad, brother of the US-based Iranian journalist and women's right activist Masih Alinejad, has said that the Appeals Court has confirmed his 8-year prison sentence.
In a tweet on Sunday Saeid Dehghan said Brach 36 of Tehran Province Appeals Court has confirmed the 8-year sentence of his client, Alireza Alinejad. "All of our objections to the unlawful verdict passed [on Alireza Alinejad only for his sister's activities] by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court were ignored," Dehghan said in his tweet and stated that he and another lawyer, Arash Keykhosravi, intend to make the text of their defense public in the near future.
In September 2019 Alinejad announced that security forces had arrested her brother Alireza and were taking her family in Iran hostage to put pressure on her to cease her anti-regime activities. She also published a video clip in which her brother before his arrest said pressure on her parents had increased and they were intimidated to accept to condemn her and her activities on programs aired by the state-run television (IRIB). Alinejad sued the Iranian government in a U.S. federal court for harassment against her and her family after the arrest of her brother.
Masih Alinejad who currently lives in New York has for several years campaigned against the compulsory Islamic dress code (hijab) in Iran and founded My Stealthy Freedom, an anti-hijab social media campaign, in 2014. Since 2015 she has hosted a weekly 15-minute primetime show on the US Federal Government's Voice of America which targets Persian speakers. She is now spearheading a campaign to ban Iran's sports from international competitions.
Israel Weighs In Over End of Iran Arms Embargo
As the United Nations arms embargo on Iran expired on Sunday [October 18], the leader of Israel’s Blue and White party and Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday that Israel would alongside its allies prevent Iran from buying weapons.
“As defense minister, I will continue to take whatever measures necessary, together with our partners, old and new, to prevent Iranian expansion and armament,” Gantz said in his statement. “All countries should get on board with this important effort.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on Sunday welcomed the end of the UN arms embargo with the restrictions on the transfer of weapons from and to Iran. Last Wednesday President Hassan Rouhani felicitated Iranians on the embargo’s expiry, which he described as one of the blessings of Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The United States, which withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and opposed lifting the embargo, has threatened to sanction anyone supplying weapons to Iran. The most likely candidate, Russia, has discussed with Tehran the supply of the S400 missile defense system, but it also has vastly improved relations with Israel, where 770,000 Russian speakers make up 12% of voters.
Yossi Cohen, Head of Israel’s external intelligence agency Mossad, on Sunday urged Saudi Arabia not wait for the Palestinians to join the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel, a move seen by some analysts as partly directed towards Iran.
“This also sends a message to the Axis of Evil [a phrase applied by US President George Bush in 2002 to Iran, Iraq and North Korea], by those countries, and of course by us as the State of Israel, to come and say: ‘We are on the right side, you are on the wrong side,’” Cohen said in an interview with Kan 11 News.