In an article regarding the outcome of the US election, Sobhe Sadeq Magazine, the official organ of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed that Democrats will continue Trump's policies while offering symbolic gestures to build trust.
The article demanded the nuclear case to be taken from President Hassan Rouhani's administration and the Foreign Ministry and be returned to the Supreme Council of National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The IRGC organ stated: “We suggest the Iran nuclear case to be returned to the supreme national security council and for this body to observe the behavior of Americans, in order not to suffer the continuing damages of the nuclear deal." The article revealed the two major concerns of the IRGC, clarealy stating, “By adopting a security and national interest outlook, we must prevent any negotiation over the missile program and regional activities,” the article continued.
Hassan Rouhani, as the president of the Islamic Republic is currently the chairman of the supreme national security council, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also a member of the council. Ali Shamkhani, former commander of IRGC is the secretary of the council. All decisions of the council must be approved by the leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei.
Sobhe Sadeq's article claimed that Democrats will continue to pressure the Islamic Republic in order to get more leverage on Iran before returning to the nuclear deal.
The magazine referred to the UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) investigators as “spies of the agency” and emphasized that Biden and Democrats intend to heavily restrict Iran’s activities in the region with regard to the “resistance groups” (Iran-backed militia in several countries of the region) and increase the access of IAEA investigators to Iran’s sensitive military and security areas.
The article went on to predict that the US under Biden will try to symbolically build trust with Iran, and emphasized: “Even lifting the travel ban and sanctions on Islamic Republic officials, and backing the IMF’s support package for Iran” by Joe Biden is still not worth additional commitments by the Islamic Republic.
Young Political Prisoner Attempts Suicide In Iran After Being Told 'You Have No Rights'
A political prisoner in Iran who was arrested during the 2019 nationwide protests has been taken to hospital after an attempted suicide on February 24, a human rights group has announced.
Siamak Moghimi, 25, cut his wrist and abdomen in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary after the prison chief addressing the detainees of the November 2019 protests said, “You don’t have any rights”, HRANA, Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian rights monitor based abroad reported, quoting its sources inside Iran.
There is no news about Moghimi's health condition in the hospital.
Nationwide anti-government protests erupted in Iran on November 15, 2019, after a sudden hike in state-controlled fuel prices, which quickly turned into a political uprising against the Islamic Republic. In less than a week, security forces killed hundreds of protesters and arrested 8,000. The faith of many prisoners is shrouded in secrecy. Those convicted were tried behind closed doors without due process of law.
Moghimi was sentenced to ten years in prison in early 2020 by a Revolutionary Court and must serve five years of his sentence. Revolutionary courts are a remnant of the post-revolution years in the 1980s when Islamists were purging the country of opponents.
Moghimi suffered from nervous breakdowns before his arrest and spent time in hospital. According to Iranian law, people with mental disorders are not held criminally responsible for their actions.
President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call
In their first phone conversation on Thursday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Biden discussed human rights, bilateral relations between the two countries, Middle East security, ending the war in Yemen, and Iran’s activities in the region.
President Biden welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul from prison and emphasized the importance of human rights and rule of law, and said he will make efforts to strengthen the relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also reiterated the US’ commitment to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks by Iran-backed groups.
The US State Department also released a statement about the phone conversation between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in which the two discussed ending the war in Yemen, stronger regional security, fight against terrorism, and economic development.
Last week, Pentagon also announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has had a phone conversation with Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammad bin Salman about their shared commitment to fighting against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in and defeating fanaticism in the region.
Saudi Arabia is an opponent of the return of the US to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
France recently declared that the 2015 nuclear deal will not be enough and a more strict deal must be made that would involve Iran’s ballistic missile program and support of terrorism and that the deal must also involve Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Biden Orders Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria
The US military launched an airstrike on facilities used by Iran-backed groups in Syria by the order of President Joe Biden, making it the first military action of his presidency. The attack was in retaliation to the February 15 rocket attack against the US military base at Erbil International Airport that killed a contractor and injured five.
“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [February 15] strikes,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the airstrike.
Austin also mentioned that he recommended the strike to President Biden.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”
The spokesperson for the Pentagon John Kirby said the attack destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iran-backed militia groups.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
Kirby reported that the facilities belonged to two known Iran-backed militia groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Protests Continue In Zahedan Despite Heavy Police Presence
Local sources in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in Iran have reported continued protests despite the heavy presence of security forces in the city. It was also reported that the killed fuel carriers in Saravan were buried on Thursday.
According to the reports, the funeral of at least 10 fuel carriers who were shot and killed by the Islamic Republic armed forces on Monday, February 22, was held in Saravan on Thursday.
On Thursday night, protesters in Karim Abad area in Zahedan continued their protest and blocked some streets.
Protests in Zahedan and other areas in Sistan and Baluchistan have continued while the cellphone internet is either shut down or disrupted in most areas of the province.
Local sources claim that Tharallah Brigade in Kerman has sent some troops to crack down on the protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan.
Videos and images from Zahedan and Iranshahr show that on the third day of protests, security forces have started shooting at the protesters from building roofs.
Baluch Activists’ Campaign reported that after the protests spread to other areas of the province, on Wednesday a number of protesters were arrested and at least two protesters, Hassan Mohammad Zehi and Mohammad Saleh Moqaddami, a teenager and a middle-aged man respectively, were killed by the security forces.
The Persian Twitter account of the US State Department has expressed deep concerns about the shutdown of the internet and the government’s violence against protesters.
Russia Urges 'Synchronized Approach' Between Iran & US On Nuclear Talks
Russia has proposed a synchronized approach including “concrete” steps by the Biden administration to break the deadlock between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.
Top Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s a chance now that hasn’t existed for a long time. We have to try and use it.”
US President Joe Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since he entered the White House, the two country have been in a deadlock about who is to take the first step toward compliance. Biden has offered to participate in talks between Iran and other parties of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to revive the accord abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.
However, President Biden’s European allies have changed their tunes on the deal since he came to power. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord will not be enough anymore, and a new stricter deal must be made in which other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.
As a prerequisite to negotiations, Iran wants the US to lift sanctions that Trump reimposed, which heavily impacted Iran’s oil exports and the economy. Biden wants the Islamic Republic to first resume its compliance with the multilateral agreement that seeks to curb its nuclear program.
Ryabkov said the US could prove its commitment by starting to unfreeze Iranian assets and oil exports, and Iran should gradually return to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had previously offered a similar solution, calling for coordination.
January Drone Attack On Saudi Royal Palace Launched From Iraq
A senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and an unnamed American official say that a January drone attack on a Saudi royal palace was launched from inside Iraq.
Speaking to the Associated press this were, the militia official who was speaking on condition of anonymity said three drones were launched form the Saudi border area that crashed into the royal palace in Riyadh on January 23 causing significant damage.
The attack was earlier claimed by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a Baghdad shopping district on Jan. 21.
The militia official said the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq and were launched from Iraq.”
A US official told AP that Washington believes the January 23 attack on the Yamama Palace was launched from inside Iraq. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate or say how the U.S. came to this conclusion.
Iran-backed militias in Iraq increasingly launch attacks claimed under different names, appearing to have splintered. Some Washington-based analysts argue the militias have become splintered only to allow them to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.
President Joe Biden’s administration, which is keen to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has voiced concern about Iran’s “destabilizing” regional activities, but has also indicated it does not share Riyadh’s policies in the war in Yemen and has lifted terrorism designation for the Houthis fighting the Saudi coalition.
Reporting by AP
Motahari, Outspoken Iran Politician, Announces Presidential Candidacy
Ali Motahari, an outspoken socially conservative politician, has announced his candidacy for Iran’s presidential election in June, although his bid to run again for parliament last year was rejected by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates.
Motahari, son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a revolutionary leader assassinated in May 1979, has in recent years attacked some policies restricting political freedoms, while he was deputy parliamentary speaker. He has often attacked security agencies as well as decisions by aging clerics close to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominating key state bodies.
Motahari’s tilt towards such positions cost him his chance of running again for parliament last year when hundreds of reformist politicians and candidates were banned from running in February’s elections. Turn-out was declared to have been relatively low at 43 percent, with principlists winning a majority of seats.
Many pundits and media outlets in Iran expect hardliners to win the presidency in the upcoming elections with key reformists barred from running. This could reduce voter participation − 73 percent in the 2017 presidential election − which is seen by Iran’s leadership as a barometer of the health of the political system.
Iran’s former defense minister Hossein Dehghan, a long-time officer of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is one of a handful of people who have so far declared their candidacy. There has been discussion and controversy over candidates with strong military backgrounds and connections.
Other strong potential candidates are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the parliament speaker and former top IRGC officer, and Ebrahim Raeesi, the chief justice.
Zarif Says Biden Should End Trump's 'Failed Maximum Pressure' Policy
If the Biden administration believes that Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy against Iran was a failure then they should not continue the policy, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters after the government meeting, Zarif complained that President Joe Biden has been in office for one month, but it continues former President Donald Trump’s policies toward Iran, which he insisted would harm the United States.
“If they believe that policy is failed policy and will discredit America, then [continuing it] will not help them and will bring the same defeat and disrepute for them,” Zarif said.
Former President Donald Trump imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement that he said was inadequate to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
While Iran and the Biden administration have expressed a desire to restore the agreement, Washington and Tehran each demands that the other side takes the first steps. Iran has extended its violation of the agreement with its decision to reduce the access of UN inspectors on February 23 if the US does not lift sanctions. Iran has set a deadline for next week for Washington to lift US sanctions, or it will further reduce its obligations under the agreement.
The Biden team has been holding consultations with allies and the US Congress to craft a policy to deal with Iran and the nuclear agreement.
Zarif also stated that the Biden administration should not think it can establish “levers” against Iran by continuing the maximum pressure policy. The foreign minister threatened that Iran will adopt compensatory measures against the United States, and in the end the US "will lose credibility."
Intelligence Ministry Spying On Ahmadinejad, Website Claims
A website run by close associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claimed on Wednesday [February 17] that the Intelligence Ministry was spying on the former president. The Dolate Bahar website said intelligence agents had installed surveillance cameras on adjacent buildings to monitor visitors as well as Ahmadinejad’s cars and bodyguards.
Last week Ahmadinejad’s own website published a letter to President Hassan Rouhani in which he alleged security forces had used violence and threats against his supporters as they rallied on February 10 for the anniversary of 1979 Revolution. The Interior Ministry denied the claim.
Fararu website on February 12 reported that Ahmadinejad’s supporters had at the gathering urged him to run in June’s presidential elections, but denied there had been interference from security forces. Ahmadinejad sees himself as an anti-establishment figure who was elected in 2005 on an egalitarian platform. His recent letter to Rouhani referred to “suppression of people” in recent protests.
While presidents are constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term, the two-time former president could potentially contend June presidential elections. But it is unlikely he would be judged eligible by the watchdog Guardian Council, which did not qualify Ahmadinejad’s close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei in 2013 nor Ahmadinejad himself in the 2017 election.
Ahmadinejad clashed with Khamenei is his second term in 2011 after he refused to fire his intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi. Ahmadinejad also refused to dissociate himself from controversial allies including Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, both of whom were later sentenced to prison terms for acting against national security and spying.
Blinken: Iran Nuclear Program "Headed In Wrong Direction"
In an interview with NPR, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran’s nuclear program is “heading in the wrong direction,” and if Iran and the United States want to enter into a nuclear agreement again, “we need to work on an agreement that’s longer and stronger than the original one.”
Blinken claimed that the 2015 nuclear deal was very effective in cutting off Iran’s pathways to produce a nuclear weapon and that Iran is now far closer to producing fissile material for a weapon than it was under the nuclear deal.
According to Blinken, the US has three to four months to try to “put Iran back in the nuclear box.”
The US Secretary od State once again reiterated that if Iran and the United States both return to compliance under the nuclear deal, then “we need to work on an agreement that is longer and stronger than the original one”.
“We also need to engage other issues that were not part of the original negotiation that are deeply problematic for us and for other countries around the world: Iran's ballistic missile program, its destabilizing actions in the country after country,” Blinken added.
Blinken also claimed that US intelligence is still not certain whether Iran is responsible for yesterday’s attack on Erbil International Airport that killed an American civilian contractor and injured five.
“We've seen Iraqi militia, Iranian-backed militia in many cases be responsible. But to date, it's too early to know who's responsible for this one,” he concluded.
Suspect In Nuclear Scientist's Assassination Was 'Expelled From Military'
In response to the comments made by Iran’s Minister of Intelligence about the involvement of a member of the armed forces in the assassination of senior Revolutionary Guard official and nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the General Staff of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces announced that the individual mentioned was an addict and was expelled from the armed forces.
The General Staff released a statement on Tuesday announcing the individual mentioned by the Minister of Intelligence was “in training” in 2014 and was expelled the same year for “ethical and addiction problems.”
The General Staff did not identify the individual but added that the armed forces “completely cut ties” with him in 2014.
The Islamic Republic’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on Iranian state-TV last week that the person who launched the assassination plan of Iran’s top nuclear scientist killed in November was “from the armed forces.”
Alavi that the Ministry of Intelligence had warned about the "enemy gathering intel in some areas" two months before the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, and five days before the assassination the ministry warned that the enemy plans to “assassinate Fakhrizadeh in that location [Absard in Damavand].”
The General Staff’s statement also addresses Minister Alavi, saying he is expected to “be more careful” in his public statements.
Fakhrizadeh, a senior member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s highest nuclear authority was assassinated on November 26, 2020, in Absard area in Damavand county.
Iran’s Health Ministry Not Capable Of Mass Vaccination, Pharmacists Say
While Iran’s Red Crescent has announced plans to import Chinese vaccines, the Pharmacists' Association announced that in order to create herd immunity at least 55 million people must be vaccinated in Iran and the Ministry of Health does not have the capability to achieve it.
Ali Fatemi, the chairman of the association told Mehr News that the Ministry of Health does not have the capability to vaccinate the whole country and added “therefore we must use the potential of the pharmacies."
He pointed out that in order to create herd immunity at least 60 to 70 percent of the population must be vaccinated, which is equal to 55 million people in Iran.
At the same time, Karim Hemmati, the director of Iran’s Red Crescent announced that his organization is trying to import vaccines from China.
“We are making plans and cooperating to import the vaccine, and it will enter the country before the end of this [Persian] year (in March),” he added.
Iran is currently using only the Russian Sputnik V vaccine which it imported in a small quantity for health workers.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned British and American Covid vaccines in January and Iran has to rely on Russian and Chinese variants to protect the population.
In recent days Health Ministry officials and coronavirus taskforce have been warning about a new strand of coronavirus and its higher mortality rate.