US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell Wednesday blasted Iran’s government’s plot to kidnap US citizen, journalist, and human rights activist Masih Alinejad.
Speaking on the Senate Floor, McConnell said that “for years, Alinejad has made a habit of getting under the mullahs’ skin. She’s called out injustices and organized protests like ‘White Wednesdays,’ when women across Iran would challenge their nation’s strict dress code.”
He likened the plot to Tehran’s attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in a crowded Washington, DC restaurant, which the US government revealed to the world in 2011. But McConnell lamented that except for one accomplice, most of the other culprits “won’t see the inside of a courtroom anytime soon.” He called for “non-judicial steps to impose consequences on the Islamic Republic” as this would be the only way to deter the Iranian government from attempting such a scheme again.
The US Senate Republican leader warned that as Iran’s proxies and partners run rampant in the Middle East, particularly targeting US interests and facilities in Iraq, “the Biden administration appears keen to follow a familiar playbook of its own. Inexplicably, the White House’s response to Iran’s latest troublemaking has been to consider lifting sanctions and offering new concessions to produce a new nuclear deal. Iran just tried to kidnap an American. This is not the occasion to desperately reward bad behavior.”
UK 'Will Not Rest' Over Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iran Detainees Minister Says
AP - London - Sept 20 - UK Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said on Monday that Britain would "not rest" until all its dual nationals being held in Iran were returned home.
He said the UK's new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, was due to meet her Iranian counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later on Monday, and call for the immediate release of UK nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
"I have no doubt that she will apply that energy to these negotiations and we will continue pushing and pushing and pushing until we get our British dual nationals home," he told British broadcaster Sky News.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been held Iran since 2016, on spying charges, which she has always denies.
Her husband, Richard, said he had talked with Truss on the phone on Sunday and that it was unclear how negotiations with Iran would go.
He described his wife as feeling "disorientated" with the recent UK government cabinet shuffle and that she had felt former Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had been making some headway with her case.
He said they were still waiting for a date for an appeal over her second prison sentence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's is currently staying with her mother in Iran.
Iran's VP In Women's Affairs Disagrees With Limiting Child Marriage
President Ebrahim Raisi’s vice president in women’s affairs has refused to support an age limit in child marriage arguing that other factors such as mental and social growth should play a role.
Ensiyeh Kazali, known as a religious conservative, in her first press conference on Monday said that she married when she was 16 years old.
Child marriage is a controversial social and political issue in Iran, as Islamic law in essence allows girls who are nine years old to be wed, based on a tradition that prophet Mohammed married a girl who was nine years old.
Vice presidents in charge of women’s affairs have usually been more protective of women’s rights and have advocated a legal age limit for children’s marriage, but Khazali, daughter of an ayatollah, apparently follows the ideology of most Moslem clerics in Iran who do not believe marriage for girls younger that 13 should be forbidden.
She has been one of the opponents the UNESCO 2030 agenda that advocates equality in education and access for females and all social groups.
Child marriage has increased in Iran in recent years, partly linked to growing poverty. The Statistical Center of Iran reported last month that marriage of girls aged between 10-14 increased by 10.5 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, with more than 31,000 cases in one year.
Family Of Detained Rapper In Iran Concerned About His Life
Iranian dissident rapper, Toomaj Salehi, who was detained on September 13 was arrested by the intelligence ministry in Esfahan, family sources have told Iran International. They are extremely worried about the safety of the young singer.
The underground rapper was apparently arrested for his latest song distributed on social media, condemning the Islamic Republic for oppression and those whom he accuses of whitewashing its crimes.
Iran International has also learned that the singer known with his first name Toomaj is being kept in the central prison in Esfahan. His lawyer Amir Raisian was quoted by a website in Iran as saying that he does not have exact information about charges his client faces, but “unofficially his father was told he is accused of propaganda against the regime.”
In his song, “Buy a rat hole”, Toomaj without naming individuals refers to those whom he accuses of perpetrating injustice or justifying it, from regime "agents" and "executioners" to political groups such as reformists in Iran and the US-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
The Washington-based group condemned Toomaj’s arrest on September 16, after many on social media criticized indifference toward the latest crackdown on freedom of speech.
Amnesty International has also condemned the arrest in a statement issued September 17. Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has also slammed the arrest, saying that protest artists are reflecting public opinion in Iran in favor of a regime change.
Syrian Military Chief Makes Rare Visit To Jordan Over Border Security
Syria's defense minister visited Jordan on Sunday to discuss stability on their mutual border, the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted a decade ago, officials said.
The meeting comes after Syria's army reestablished control this month over Deraa, a city south of Damascus and near Jordan’s border, in a Russian brokered deal that averted an all-out military assault.
Jordanian army head Lieutenant General Yousef Hunaiti met Syrian Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub over the Deraa situation and to discuss issues such as the fight against terrorism and drug smuggling in the area, Jordan's army said.
Jordan had for years supported mainstream Western-backed rebels who controlled southern Syria until a campaign by the Syrian army in 2018 aided by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias retook the province. Some insurgents remained in Deraa but left the area with Russian mediation after Iranian-backed forces began an assault in August.
Amman, with close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, remains concerned over the presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border.
Jordanian officials have accused Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement of being behind drugs smuggling in the area. The group has repeatedly denied allegations made by the West and others that it is involved in any such smuggling network.
Reporting by Reuters
New Defense Minister Says Iran Will Defend Itself Against Israeli Threats
Iran’s new defense minister General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani has called threats made against Iran “rants by enemies” vowing that Iran will defend itself.
Ashtiani, who was speaking at a gathering of senior managers at the defense ministry on Monday referring to “rants by the leaders of the Zionist regime”, said that Iran has prepared itself against all kinds of threats.
Israeli officials have intensified their warnings over Iran’s nuclear program and its support for militant groups recently. In August, defense minister Benny Gantz issued warnings that Israel must be prepared to act against the Islamic Republic, when a tanker was attacked in July by what appeared to be Iranian drones.
Ashtiani stressed that Iran has made advancements in military technology and would ward off all threats, But the new defense chief also underlined that Iran’s military capabilities was to defend its territory against attack and did not use customary threats against Israel. He said that “the Zionist enemy” has suffered from multiple defeats at the hands of Iran and has resorted to rants.
Since early July 2020, important facilities in Iran have suffered mysterious attacks, generally believed to have been sabotage operations by Israel. Iran’s top nuclear scientist was killed in November 2020 near Tehran in a sophisticated assassination plot involving no human attackers on the ground.
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.
Israel Is Reluctant To Interfere With Iranian Fuel Shipments To Lebanon
Amid claims of victory by Lebanon’s Hezbollah to have imported Iranian fuel, Israeli sources and media said their country will not interfere to stop the shipments.
Tanker trucks carrying the fuel Syria, where it was unloaded from an Iranian vessel, began arriving in Lebanon, which is desperately short of essential fuel amid a serious economic crisis since 2019.
The shipment was arranged by Hezbollah in August, and it is not clear whether Iran is getting paid or is sending the fuel for free. In case of brokering free or very cheap Iranian fuel shipments through Hezbollah, the militant organization is poised to make large financial gains.
Israel’s Channel 12 has reported that if the Iranian shipping of fuel is stopped by Israel, it will be seen as harming Lebanon, with which Israel has a complicated relationship. While it is practically at war with Hezbollah, there are many other groups and communities in the small country that do not regard Israel as an enemy.
While Hezbollah blames US sanctions for the economic meltdown in Lebanon, local media, citizens and international experts say that decades of corruption in a sectarian political system drowned Lebanon in debt and empty government coffers.
The fuel delivery is also seen by many as a sign of more domination by Hezbollah, which is a state within a state, pulling multi-religion country more into Iran’s orbit.