In an interview with Shargh newspaper, the president of Iran's Judo Federation, Arash Mir-Esmaili, expressed concern over judoka Saeed Mollaei's decision to testify in an international court about this federation's policy of not facing Israeli athletes.
According to Shargh newspaper: "The situation has become so complex that the issue now is not just the suspension of the Judo Federation, but all of Iran's sports."
Korean Official Says Biden May Help Free Korean Tanker Held In Iran
A senior South Korean official on Thursday [January 21] said the country expected the new United States administration of President Joe Biden help resolve the issue of Iran’s seizure of a Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf on January 4. “We believe that there will come a situation in which we can find a swift resolution of the issue regarding the seized vessel,” said the official, quoted anonymously by Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Tehran denied any connection between the impounded vessel and $7 billion of Iranian funds frozen in Korea due to fear of US secondary sanctions. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Navy on January 4 said the ship had been detained after “repeated violations of environmental protocols” at sea. The IRGC reported the MT Hankuk Chemi, carrying “oil-chemical products,” and its 20 crew were held at Bandar Abbas on Iran’s southern coast.
The expectation in Seoul appears to be that the Biden administration will ease sanctions.
“The frozen asset issue is not because of a lack of our will, but of the structural factor vis-a-vis the U.S. sanctions environment,” the South Korean official said, responding to a suggestion from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi that a “lack of political will” rather than US sanctions explained Korea’s freeze on Iranian funds.
Araghchi met Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Tehran on January 10, but the ministers failed to agree a solution. Negotiations continue, with Korea reportedly trying to involve Qatar. Tehran has pressed for the funds’ release to finance humanitarian imports related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Food Prices In Iran Rose By 60 Percent Last Month Amid High Inflation
The high rate of inflation continued in Iran in December-January, with food prices rising 60 percent compared with the same period last year, Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) reported on Thursday.
The SCI reported that during the Iranian month of Day (December 21-January 20), overall inflation was 46.2 percent compared with the same period last year, but food prices accelerated much faster, putting even more pressure on ordinary people.
Iran’s relatively manageable inflation took off in 2018 when the United States imposed tough sanctions after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The currency rial began to lose value and its fall continued in 2019 and 2020. At one point in August 2020 the rial had lost its value more than tenfold.
However, the reason for such a steep rise in food prices remains unclear. The government supplies dollars to importers of essential goods at a much lower rate, similar to pre-sanctions days, and government prices for electricity and fuel have not changed much. There have been serious accusations of corruption and profiteering for rising food prices.
In 2019, bloody nationwide protests erupted when the government raised gasoline prices. The high rate of inflation remains a constant political threat to the government. SCI reported that the average rate of inflation excluding food prices was 40 percent. SCI reported in October that certain foodstuffs experienced triple-digit inflation.
The purchasing power of workers has fallen drastically with the high rate of inflation. An ordinary wage earner or office worker earns between $100-150 a month, while in 2017 salaries were equal to at least $400 a month.
Biden Intends To Lengthen & Strengthen Nuclear Constraints On Iran: White House
In her first press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said President Joe Biden intends to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues of concern regarding Iran with world leaders and US allies.
According to Psaki, the Biden administration intends to lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran through diplomacy, and Biden will discuss the matter with other countries involved.
"The president has made clear that he believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the United States seeks to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed," Psaki said in the press conference.
Biden said during his campaign that if Tehran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington will also return to the deal.
"We would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts and foreign leaders will be with partners and allies and you would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussions,” Psaki added.
President Trump unilaterally exited the nuclear deal in 2017, calling it the worst deal that the United States has made. Since then, he implemented the 'maximum pressure' policy, by imposing harsh sanctions on Iran’s main industries and exports. In response, Iran has increased its uranium enrichment speed.
Biden To Appoint Robert Malley As Special Representative For Iran
It was reported that President Biden intends to appoint Robert Malley, former Obama administration’s national security advisor on the Middle East as the new US Special Representative for Iran. Malley, born in Egypt, is the son of a Jewish Syrian citizen.
In November of last year, Malley had criticized the assassination of IRGC’s nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and said the attack would make returning to diplomacy with Iran difficult for Trump’s successor.
Robert Malley also in 2019 met with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
In 2008, Malley was removed from President Obama’s election campaign after reports of his meeting with members of Hamas surfaced, but later in 2014 he was appointed as President Obama’s senior advisor on Middle East affairs.
In the last year of Obama’s administration, Malley was the coordinator on the affairs regarding the ISIS terrorist group.
Robert Malley will replace Elliott Abrams, who last year replaced Brian Hook. Brin Hook was in charge of President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign for the majority of its implementation.
The maximum pressure campaign was implemented by the Trump administration to coerce the Islamic Republic of Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal. The campaign consisted of imposing heavy sanctions on Iran’s oil and metal and mineral industries which crippled Iran’s economy.
Prince Reza Pahlavi Asks President Biden To 'Stand In Solidarity' With Iranians
Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has written to President Joe Biden on the day of his inauguration wishing him success and asking him to “stand in solidarity” with the people in Iran.
The last heir to Iran’s monarchy who lives in the United States expressed his optimism that Biden during his campaign pledged a commitment “to advancing democracy and human rights abroad.”
“In light of the growing strength and momentum of the movement for democracy and human rights in my country, Iran, I wish to convey my compatriots’ hope and expectation that you and your administration will stand in solidarity with them as they continue their struggle against a brutal, medieval dictatorship,” he wrote to Biden.
The new president has indicated his willingness to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which would mean an end to former President Donald Trumps’ maximum pressure against the clerical regime in Tehran. Opponents of the Islamic Republic are concerned that the Democratic administration will reduce economic sanctions and relieve pressure from a government they hope to see overthrown.
While the monarchy was overthrown in 1979 with an overwhelming majority in a referendum, the mood has changed among Iranians, many of whom look back with nostalgia to the pre-revolution era when the country enjoyed economic progress and social freedoms. The clerical government has not been able to manage Iran’s economy and has imposed religious restrictions on the population.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Says Iranian Arrested In US Is A Hostage
Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministry, on Wednesday [January 20] called the arrest of an Iranian citizen living in the United States an act of hostage taking.
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 63, was arrested Monday by the FBI at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts. The US Justice Department announced in a statement Tuesday that it had filed a criminal complaint in a federal court charging Afrasiabi with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara).
The Justice Department said Afrasiabi had been secretly employed by Iran and paid by its diplomats assigned to the UN. Its statement said that Afrasiabi has been paid around $265,000 in checks drawn on the official bank accounts of Iran’s Permanent Mission at the UN since 2007 and that he had received health insurance through the permanent mission’s benefit plans since at least 2011. Khatibzadeh rejected the accusations against Afrasiabi as “false,” and said he hoped the problem would be “resolved as soon as possible.”
For over a decade, Afrasiabi “pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran,” said John C Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda.” Lawyers representing Afrasiabi are yet to comment on his arrest.
Iran Covid Spokesman Apologizes For Criticizing Unmasked Religious Gathering
Dr Alireza Raisi, spokesman of Iran’s National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, has apologized for his comments over a failure to apply Covid-19 public-health protocols in a religious ceremony. Raisi had drawn criticism from Friday prayer-leaders and media affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
In a recorded message released on social media on Wednesday [January 20], Raisi said his statements earlier this week about a ceremony in Qom, home to Iran’s leading seminary schools, had been misinterpreted and that he had meant no disrespect. At a taskforce meeting on Sunday attended by President Hassan Rouhani, Raisi had displayed a picture of the ceremony in Qom and criticized its organizers for not requiring social distancing and masks.
“Those who carelessly organize [such ceremonies] are undoubtedly responsible for the death of our people in the next peak [of the pandemic] and must be punished,” Raisi had said. “This is not virtuous, they are killing people.”
While the state broadcaster (IRIB) simply ignored Raisi’s remarks in reporting the taskforce meeting, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Monday published a piece headlined “Coronavirus Taskforce Spokesman’s Expression of Contempt for the People of Qom.” The commentary said the taskforce has failed to take effective action in other cities but its spokesman had accused the people of Qom of ignoring health protocols and suggested they were responsible for further Covid deaths.
Iran became in February the second country to report Covid after China, with Qom the first Iranian city where people died. The city has many seminaries and is considered the most important center of the Iranian clerical establishment.
Iran Central Bank Chief Claims Credit For Rial's Rise, Attributed To Biden
Abdolnaser Hemmati, chief of Iran’s central bank (CBI) has taken credit for the recent rise in the value of Iran’s currency, saying that he prevented “120 percent hyperinflation”.
Iran’s currency has regained some of its steep losses in 2020, rising 30 percent from its lowest point last August. The rise the began after the US presidential election is mostly attributed to optimism related to the presidency of Joe Biden who has indicated he might rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
After Trump imposed harsh sanctions, Iran’s already inefficient economy battered by years of international sanctions took a turn for the worst, with the currency losing most of its value and inflation reaching 40 percent, triggering nationwide protests.
Hemmati, who was speaking in a television program Tuesday acknowledged the “pressure on” ordinary people who he said are enduring hardship, but he claimed the CBI prevented hyperinflation, saying he never gave up despite many officials being hopeless about the situation.
However, Iran’s currency has lost value twofold since Hemmati assumed the leadership of the central bank two years ago, when the US dollar traded for 110,000 rials. The US currency is now trading at 220,000 rials.
Despite sounding victorious, Hemmati refused to endorse President Hassan Rouhani’s prediction that the rial would rise further, saying it will depend on Iran’s blocked funds being freed. At the same time he acknowledged that counties such as South Korea and Iraq refuse to unlock funds blocked in their funds, fearing US sanctions.
Prince Reza Pahlavi: Khamanei's Ban On Vaccine Is Murder
Banning Western Covid vaccines “is murder…justified by ignorance”, Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has said in a video message released January 19, lambasting a decision by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has banned the government from importing American and British vaccines.
The last heir to Iran’s monarchy who lives in the United States, also called for the medical community to be the decision maker about critical health issues and accused Khamenei of having ulterior financial reasons for banning Western vaccines.
Khamenei in a speech on January 8 banned Western vaccines arguing that they “cannot be relied on and trusted”, promising that Iran is developing its own Covid vaccines. But the company in charge of developing a vaccine, the Barakat Foundation, is a charitable entity and business group controlled by Khamenei, leading to suspicions that the ban is to monopolize the market for the local vaccine for financial gain.
Officials have said it will take months until an Iranian vaccine becomes available and some medical officials have cast doubt on th country’s ability to mass-produce a vaccine.
Prince Reza Pahlavi said, “Everyone knows that a vaccine approved by the world’s highest medical authorities is not created to hurt the Iranian people.”
“This corruption had never clawed at the lives of Iranians in such a brutal manner. This crime is too blatant to cover up,” he added.
Khamenei’s decision has politicized the vaccine issue and many Iranians have attacked the Islamic Republic and Khamenei for endangering thousands of lives by delaying vaccination.
Iran Symbolically Sanctions Trump And Ten American Officials
Hours before the end of the Trump administration’s term in office, the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran said it is sanctioning President Donald Trump and several officials in his administration and the previous administration.
The spokesman for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Tuesday, January 19 that the ministry has sanctioned 10 high-ranking US officials including the current president in accordance with the “Opposing US human rights violation and its adventurous activities including terrorism in the region” bill which was recently passed by the parliament.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper and Christopher Miller, Former Secretary and the current acting Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Director of Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel, Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, former and current US State Department representatives on Iran Brian Hook and Elliott Abrams, and the director of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Andrea Gacki, are among the sanctioned officials, according to Khatibzadeh.
The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry says these individuals have been sanctioned due to their role in “ordering and guiding” the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Previously the Foreign Ministry had announced that it has delivered the request for the arrest of Donald Trump to Interpol.
Explosions Near Baghdad Result Of 'ISIS Attack', Not US Airstrikes
While pro-Iran media claimed the explosions near power transmission towers in Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad were caused by US airstrikes, a source close to the Iraqi Armed Forces has confirmed that the incident was an ISIS attack on power infrastructure, not a US airstrike.
Security Media Cell, a Twitter account said to be close to Iraq's military in a tweet on Tuesday morning denied reports that people had been killed or wounded in airstrikes in the Jurf al-Sakhar area in Babil. Some local media had earlier reported at least nine casualties.
In another tweet the Security Media Cell also announced that the explosion was a result of ISIS militants' attack on electric power transmission towers in the Behbehani area, north of Babel Governorate, not airstrikes.
On Monday night, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news reported that explosions were heard near Jurf al-Sakhar overnight after drones targeted sites belonging to the Iraqi Armed Forces in the area. Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, however, claimed that the sites belonged to the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and reported several deaths and injuries.
The US Central Command Spokesman Captain Bill Urban in a tweet on Tuesday refuted the claims about US involvement in the attacks. “Explosions reported earlier today about 40 miles outside of Baghdad, Iraq, in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, were not the result of US military action,” Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesman," he said.
Iran's Currency Continues Edging Up Ahead Of Biden Inauguration
The Iranian foreign-exchange (Forex) market opened with another hike in the value of the rial on Tuesday [January 19] in expectation of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday and Washington’s possible return to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.
The Melli Exchange Company (MEX), which leads Forex rates in Iran, dropped its opening dollar sale rate by 9,000 rials to 21,290. On Monday the MEX opened with a dollar selling price of 22,200 rials.
The falling Iranian national currency on October 1 reached the milestone of 300,000 rials to the dollar, a ten-fold fall in the three years since Trump indicated that he would withdraw from the nuclear agreement and impose sanctions on Iran. Draconian third-party sanctions on Iran’s oil exports have deprived the government of its major foreign-currency revenue source.
Forex experts, however, believe that the market may become favorable to the national currency for a while, but the upward trend may be reversed soon. "Further drop in the rate of the dollar could not be expected if more than 800 cases of sanctions are not lifted," Tala News, an economic and financial website, wrote on Monday. "The market will again be waiting for the news after an initial downward trend [following the end of Trump's presidency]," the article said.
The rial traded at a stable rate of just 70 to the dollar in the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution, but it began a steady fall that has continued since 1979. Compared to pre-revolution era, the rial has lost its value 3,000-fold.