The Chief of Staff of Iran’s President in a telephone conversation with Azerbaijan’s deputy prime minister has denied that his country is assisting neighboring Armenia, after reports in social media claimed trucks were moving toward the border.
Hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region flared up on September 26 and heavy fighting has been going on since. Iran has a large Azeri-speaking population, but it has traditionally had close relations with Azerbaijan’s adversary Armenia. In the current fighting, Iran is trying to appear neutral, calling for a ceasefire and negotiations.
President Hassan Rouhani’s top aide Mhamoud Vaezi told the Azerbaijani official Shahin Mostafaev that the rumors about Iran providing assistance “are totally baseless and aim to harm good relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.”
Iran’s foreign ministry also denied social media reports on September 29. The spokes man of the ministry said, “The transit of trucks and non-military commodities between Iran and its neighboring countries has always been going on, and the trucks that have been mentioned are operating solely within this framework,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “The Islamic Republic of Iran closely monitors and controls the transit of commodities to other countries and will never allow the Iranian territory to be used for the transit of arms and ammunition.”
Vaezi also stressed that Iran has always recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and consider “the end of occupation” of Azerbaijani territory necessary for regional peace.
Armenian forces pushed Azerbaijani government forces out of the largely Armenia-populated Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent in the early 1990s and have been demanding self determination.
Third Iranian Tanker Sails Carrying Fuel For Hezbollah In Lebanon
A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution by Hezbollah in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Iran-backed Hezbollah, constitute a breach of Lebanon's sovereignty.
Hezbollah announced in August that it had asked Iran to send fuel to Lebanon, which is experiencing the world’s worst economic crisis in modern history. Iran readily agreed, saying it would be a victory for the “resistance front” a term used by Tehran to refer to its allies and proxies in the region.
Local media reported earlier that Hezbollah will distribute part of the fuel to hospitals and other essential public institutions and will sell the rest to the private sector, or at low prices to private hospitals, bakeries, etc., Al Hurra TV reported on September 16.
SO far there are no reports about which institutions have received fuel from the shipment. Hezbollah stands to make large profits if Iran gave the fuel for free or at very low prices. Both Iran and Hezbollah are sanctioned by the United States.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there tanker trucks began transporting the fuel to Lebanon.
Iran's Oldest And One Of Largest Banks On Verge Of Bankruptcy
Iran’s Bank Melli, the oldest and one of the biggest banks in the country is on the verge of bankruptcy after losing 675 trillion rials last year, equaling $2.8 billion in free market exchange rate. The losses equal 73 percent of the bank’s capital.
The bank has published its financial reports for the previous Iranian calendar year ending March 20, 2021, after years of silence. Iranian law says that if an entity’s losses exceed 50 percent of its capital the shareholders should convene a meeting and dissolve the company.
The bank was established in 1927 by an act of parliament as part of Iran’s modernization process. A former US State Department trade official, Arthur Chester Millspaugh, was its founder who helped Iran free itself borrowings from foreign governments and banks at unfavorable terms. Millpaugh reorganized the country’s finances by establishing modern budget and management practices during the reign of Reza Shah, Iran’s modernizing king.
At the time Iran regarded the United States as a liberator that helped its independence in the face of British and Russian influence and pressures.
Iran’s banks are all directly or indirectly owned by the state or state entities and have suffered from corruption and mismanagement in recent years. Government and its companies borrow money from their banks that ultimately lose money and turn to the Central Bank to be rescued.
Iran Dismisses NYT Report On Scientist's Killing As Just A Media Account
Asked to comment about a recent New York Times report on the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh at his weekly presser Sunday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the claims about the manner of the assassination as described by the US newspaper merited attention only as "newspaper report."
Fakhrizadeh who was known as the "father of Iran's nuclear weapons program" was assassinated outside Tehran on November 26. The NYT report and others have said Israel was behind the complicated operation.
Khatibzadeh added that Iran's security and intelligence bodies had detailed reports of the incident including on "all those who had participated" in the operation.
Fakhrizadeh was shot with a machine gun controlled by Israel's Mossad operatives from hundreds of miles away, the New York Times report said on Saturday. The report claimed that the machine gun used by the Mossad team was a modified Belgian-made FN MAG machine gun attached to an advanced robotic apparatus and powered with artificial intelligence technology.
The NYT said its report was based on interviews with American, Israeli and Iranian officials, “including two intelligence officials familiar with the details of the planning and execution of the operation.”
Despite earlier eyewitness claims about assassins on the scene, two days after Fakhrizadeh's assassination the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Fars News published a report offering details of the event and said no assassins were on the scene and a remotely controlled automatic weapons had fired at the convoy.
Iran's Top Commander Demands Closure Of US Base In Northern Iraq
The chief commander of Iran’s armed forces on Sunday has warned that the American base in northern Iraq must close, accusing the United States of assisting armed opposition groups operating from the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
This is the most direct accusation by an Iranian official that US forces stationed in Iraq support armed insurgents against Tehran. Iranian media in the past has hinted that US intelligence is supporting the groups.
The US has a base near Erbil’s airport that has in recent months become a target of rocket and drone attacks by pro-Iran Shiite militias in Iraq.
General Mohammad Bagheri said Tehran will continue military operations against Kurdish insurgents and warned that “officials of [Iraqi Kurdistan] region and the Iraqi government should take action against these groups.”
Bagheri said officials of the Kurdish autonomous region should not allow armed “anti-revolutionaries”, who are “agents of America and the Zionist regime in northern Iraq to have military bases, radio and TV stations and attack our borders.”
Iran has long campaigned for the expulsion of US forces in Iraq that have been assisting the government in its fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group. President Joe Biden has reduced the size of the force and changed its mission to training Iraqi forces.
Iran has been launching artillery and drone attacks at Iranian Kurdish insurgents based on the Iraqi side of the border in the past ten days.
Teachers, Gas And Petrochemical Workers Protest In Iran
School teachers across Iran held protests on Saturday demanding an improvement in their work conditions, as workers in natural gas and petrochemical sectors protested for their wages in southern Iran.
Teachers held rallies in Esfahan, Fars, Alborz, Ilam, Khuzestan and several other provinces, chanting slogans about government inaction to address their demands. They have been holding periodic protests in the past several months.
One of their demands is for parliament to pass a law setting a ranking system for teachers, which would affect salaries. Education, expertise and other qualifications should be considered in the job ranking scheme.
Teachers earn meager salaries, and many are unable to afford a basic living amid a 50-percent inflation rate in the country. Recently, some teachers have committed suicide highlighting the hardship they feel.
Also on Saturday, contract workers in Iran’s natural gas industry in the southern gas fields of Asalouyeh held protests to demand the implementation of promises made by their employers. They returned to work form a long strike, based on employer promises to pay better salaries and improve work conditions.
There was also a separate protest by workers in the petrochemical industry in Mahshahr, in southern Iran.
Foreign Social Media Apps Remain Highly Popular In Iran Despite Blocking
People in Iran send 15 billion messages every day through Telegram, the most popular social media app in the country and 45 million people are registered as members, the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) said on Saturday.
Telegram, like Facebook and You Tube, is blocked by the authorities and people have to use VPNs and other circumvention tools to get access to the app. Almost every Iranian uses a circumvention method to gain unrestricted access to the Internet, although the connection speed is usually slow.
Since the use of the internet became popular in the 2000s in Iran, the government began blocking thousands of websites both for political and religious reasons. There is a huge bureaucracy to control access and create barriers to access.
SCI also said 55 million people or 65 percent of Iran’s 85 million people use social media apps.
Among social media apps, Whatsapp and Instagram are also very popular with 88.5 and 68 percent of users respectively having accounts on these two platforms.
The government has spent tens of millions of dollars to create domestic messaging apps to help reduce the use of foreign platforms it cannot control, but people weary of government eavesdropping have refused to migrate to its apps.
Amnesty Demands Immediate Release Of Dissident Iranian Rapper
Amnesty International on Friday demanded the immediate release of Iranian dissident, underground rap singer Toomaj Salehi who was arrested by security agents earlier this week after a harshly critical song was released on social media.
“Iran’s authorities must immediately and unconditionally release #TomajSalehi, a dissident rap artist detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty tweeted.
In his latest song, ‘Rat Hole’ or ‘Mouse Hole’, Salehi harshly criticized the regime and those who directly or indirectly support its repression. "You are a murderer if you cover up murder. To cover up murder you must walk on blood. The system is not complete without your apologies [for it]," the lyrics of the song say.
There is no news about the rapper’s whereabouts or the charges he faces.
His arrest led to a heated debate among Iranian activists and social media users, when some individuals such as the New York Times' Iranian journalist Farnaz Fassihi tweeted that his song is a threat against some people. Many activists saw her tweet as condoning the arrest.
Fassihi came under fire by other Twitterati who have repeatedly assailed her as a "regime apologist". Toomaj’s defenders insist that an artist cannot be arrested for what he depicts in his art and he has not threatened any particular individual.
Prime Minister Says Iran's Fuel Shipments Violate Lebanon's Sovereignty
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon's sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
"The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: "But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed" on Lebanon "because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government." Earlier, the governemt had said it received no request for permission to import the fuel.
Israeli media reported in the past two days that Lebanon's southern neighbor and arch-enemy of both Iran and Hezbollah is not inclined to stop shipments to Syria.
The Tehran-backed group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under U.S. sanctions.
Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area.
Hermel is at the northern end of the Bekaa Valley, an area populated mainly by Shi’ite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.
Reporting by Reuters
US Says No Plans For Blinken To Meet Iranian Counterpart At UN
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has no plans to meet with his new Iranian counterpart next week at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States in Vienna on reviving a 2015 deal, aimed at curbing Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon, stopped in June. Tehran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only.
Iran's hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, took office in August and his Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian is due to travel to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.
"We have been engaged with the Iranians and in Vienna, and those discussions will continue," Thomas-Greenfield, told reporters.
"We have not made any direct plans for bilateral meetings while they are here, but that doesn't mean that we don't see value in having discussions with the Iranians because we do want to move forward on issues related to the JCPOA," she said.
The nuclear deal between Iran, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China is referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the agreement Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
However, former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the pact in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019.