Wall Street Journal cited American officials saying Iranian oil tankers are constantly using Iraqi waters to transfer their cargo to other tankers.
According to the report, Iranian oil tankers transfer their oil to other tankers near the al-Faw port.
Wall Street Journal added: During this transfer, Iranian oil is mixed with other cargo in order to hide the source and finally be sold in global markets.
According to the report, this operation is part of a very profitable business during which Iranian oil cargos are transferred several times to other ships and get mixed with other cargo and are finally sold as Iraqi oil, which is more expensive than Iranian oil.
The WSJ sources say satellite images show these activities are on the rise in response to the increased pressure of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The WSJ recently reported from informed sources that the Trump administration is designing more sanctions against Iran before the presidential election to solidify the Maximum Pressure Campaign and prevent the efforts to render it ineffective in the future.
A former official in the Trump administration says that if Biden comes to power, he might be able to remove some sanctions on Iran as a gesture of goodwill, but he won’t be able to remove the bigger sanctions related to terrorism.
Biden has said that if he becomes president, he would return the US to Iran nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance with its commitments.
Newspaper In Iran Warns Of Infiltration By Chinese Agents
An article on Sunday in Iran’s Etelaat newspaper has warned the country’s foreign policy and intelligence officials that Chinese expat workers and businessmen might be agents of Beijing. Etelaat is a low-circulation daily financed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office.
The author of the article, Shaban Shahidi-Moadab, Iran’s former ambassador to Malaysia said, “With all the respect we have for the Chinese government and emphasizing the importance of expanding ties with Beijing, we must warn foreign policy and intelligence officials to be careful about the presence of Chinese in Iran.”
The Islamic Republic has had good relations with China over decades and has tried to convince Beijing to sign a 25-year “strategic” pact since mid-2020. China is also a signatory of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with world powers and often supports Tehran’s diplomatic positions in its disputes with Washington.
Shahidi-Moadab also wrote, “China’s government tries to send its agents disguised as workers, experts and businessmen to other countries and it is possible that their extensive presence in Iran in some cases not to be in our national interest.”
Last year, when Iran was pushing the proposal for a strategic alliance with China there were many reports of providing port facilities and other strategic assets to Beijing in return for its economic and diplomatic support. These reports led to a strong public reaction by Iranians who condemned any concessionary policy, seen as an attempt by the Islamic Republic to save itself from further decline.
Biden To Congress: Strike On Iran-Backed Forces Consistent With US Right to Self-Defense
After US House Democrats asked President Joe Biden to clarify his order for the airstrike on Iran-backed militia in Syria without permission from Congress, Biden said his orders were consistent with the US right to self-defense.
"I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks," Biden wrote in his letter to Congress.
The airstrikes, early on Friday Middle Eastern time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel, and goods.
Those strikes came in response to a February 15 attack in which rockets hit Erbil International Airport, which hosts a coalition military base. The attack killed a civilian contractor with the US-led military coalition and injured several others, including an American service member.
“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States' inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter," Biden added. “I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”
On Sunday, the official organ of the office of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kayhan newspaper boasted about the recent attack on the Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman being in response to the American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed militia forces in Syria.
Kayhan: Attack On Israeli Ship Revenge For Attack On Iran-Backed Forces In Syria
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily financed by Iran's Supreme Leader boasted about the recent attack on an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman, and said the attack was in response to the American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed militia forces in Syria.
“Mischief in Syria and Iraq received a response in Yemen and Oman sea," Kayhan wrote on Sunday [Feb. 28].
Helios Ray cargo ship owned by the Ray Shipping Company in Tel-Aviv was en route to Singapore when it suffered a mysterious explosion.
Kayhan mentioned that the US and Israel have increased their attacks against the “axis of resistance” in recent months and therefore the resistance groups targeted an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The newspaper, which is published under the direct control of Khamenei’s representative, also mentioned the US military’s attack on the facilities of Iran-backed groups in Syria ordered by President Joe Biden and wrote: “With this attack, the US Command has exposed itself to revenge attacks”.
Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his "initial assessment" was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defense official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline on both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.
Afghan FM In Moscow Says Russia Will Not Accept Return Of A Taliban Regime
In his visit to Russia, the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar told Iran International in an exclusive interview that the Russian officials “once again clearly declared that they will not accept the return of the Taliban regime.”
Atmar told Iran International's correspondent that Afghanistan and Russia “have a long history of cooperation and friendship” and his most important message to the Russian government was that Afghanistan invites Russia to have close cooperation in the fight against “the common threat of terrorism and violent fundamentalism”.
“The Russian government warned the Taliban that it will not help lift the UN sanctions on them unless they comply with their commitments under the Doha accord and reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the government of Afghanistan,” Atmar said after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
He said Russia and Afghanistan are in agreement over the process of peace and they have discussed the disagreements “in a friendly atmosphere” and there is no concern.
Regarding the visit of the Taliban delegation to Iran and Russia, Atmar said besides a little publicity, “Taliban were very disappointed and had to return to the negotiating table two days ago.”
The Afghan Foreign Minister said during the Taliban delegation’s visit to Russia, they were told that “the return of their regime is unacceptable,” they must stop the violence against their own people and return to the negotiation table. He said the Taliban hoped to get the backing of Iran and Russia in opposition to the Afghan government and the US, but they were not successful.
He also emphasized that Kabul welcomes the new US administration’s decision to review the Doha accord.
Saudi Arabia: Iran-Backed Houthi Missile & Drones Intercepted Before Hit
Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it intercepted a missile attack and bomb-laden drones targeting its capital and a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults by the Iran-backed rebels Houthis of Yemen.
The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in the Yemen war announced the Iran-backed Houthis had launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh and three booby-trapped drones toward the province of Jizan, with a fourth toward another southwestern city and other drones being monitored. No casualties or damages were initially reported. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.
The attack comes amid sharply rising tensions in the Middle East, a day after a mysterious explosion struck an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman. That blast renewed concerns about ship security in the strategic waterways that saw a spate of suspected Iranian attacks on oil tankers in 2019.
The state-owned Al-Ekhbariya TV broadcast footage of what appeared to be explosions in the air over Riyadh. Social media users also posted videos, with some showing residents shrieking as they watched the fiery blast pierce the night sky, which appeared to be the kingdom’s U.S. Patriot missile batteries intercepting the ballistic missile.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the Houthis were trying in “a systematic and deliberate way to target civilians.”
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh issued a warning to Americans, calling on them to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks.” Flight-tracking websites showed a number of flights scheduled to land at Riyadh’s international airport diverted or delayed in the hour after the attack.
Iran Condemns US Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria
Iran on Saturday condemned US air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday's strikes.
Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq.
Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.
However, Tehran has denied any involvement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty" in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran's state media reported.
"Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq's security and stability," the media reports said.
"We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents," Zarif was quoted as saying.
Hussein gave assurances that "Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries", state media reported.
Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday's US airstrikes encouraged terrorism in the region.
Hussein is in Iran "to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation" with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.
Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.
Israel Says Iran Might Be Behind Explosion On Israeli-Owned Ship
Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his "initial assessment" was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.
The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defense official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline in both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.
"Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens," Gantz told the public broadcaster Kan. "The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that it is the Iranians."
"Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context - that is my assessment," Gantz said, adding a deeper investigation still had to be carried out.
There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.
The ship is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a U.N. shipping database.
Israeli Channel 13 News said defense officials believed the Iranian navy had launched a precision strike to avoid casualties, firing two missiles at a part of the ship that if damaged would not have sunk the vessel. It added an Israeli delegation was en route to Dubai, where the ship was docked, to investigate.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.
Iran said in November it would make a "calculated" response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, which it blamed on Israel.
Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, notably on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran has denied carrying out those attacks.
Report by Reuters
Islamic Republic Officials Contradict Each Other On New Strain Of Coronavirus
As the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread in the Khuzestan province, the Islamic Republic officials have made contradictory comments about the new strain of coronavirus in Iran.
MP Amir Hossein Hashemi, a member of the coronavirus taskforce said on Saturday that the Iranian mutated coronavirus must be added to the list of new strains in South Africa, the UK, and California.
He added that the matter has not been confirmed yet but there is evidence of it in Qazvin and those areas.
However, shortly after, the Ministry of Health Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour rejected the claims about the mutated Iranian strain of the virus. He explained that since the beginning of the pandemic, over 70 mutations have been identified in Iran and none of them behave significantly differently, so describing them as a new strain is not correct.
Previously, President Hassan Rouhani had stated that this Persian new year (in March) will be more difficult than the last year, and the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki asked the hospitals to be ready for a “heavy storm”.
But the spokesperson for the coronavirus taskforce Alireza Raeesi previously said that all the new cases in Khuzestan province must be identified as the new UK strain. He went on to report that on Saturday 250 thousand Chinese vaccines will arrive in Iran. He expressed hope that the first priority group which consists of 1.3 million people will end mid-April.
Rights Defender Rejects Court Summons: ‘I Will Disobey By All Means’
Iranian human rights activist and anti-death-penalty activist Narges Mohammadi refused on Saturday to appear at court for a fresh case, which was opened against her when in prison before her release in October.
Mohammadi, a founder with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi of Human Rights Defenders Center in Iran, was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for “propaganda against the regime” and establishing the illegal group Legam, which campaigns against capital punishment. Mohammadi contracted Covid-19 in prison in July and alleged she was denied proper medical care.
The new charges against her came into play after her release from prison. Mohammadi’s letter published on Saturday stated that she had been twice summonsed to court in December but had refused to attend. A third summons called her to court on February 27 for a trial to begin.
Mohammadi has been accused of actions breaking prison regulations, including showing disrespect to prison officials, organizing gatherings of prisoners, and breaking windows.
Mohammadi, who was first arrested in 1998 and has served several prison terms, was awarded the Andrei Sakharov prize in 2018. She was defiant in her letter: “I will in no way participate in any part or stage of this trial and will not respect any court ruling issued and will disobey by all means.”
Narges Mohammadi, renowned campaigner against the death penalty
Protests Continue In South-East Iran As Prosecutors Threaten Tough Response
Baluch activists report continued sporadic protests in south-eastern Iran on Saturday [February 27] after at least ten people transporting fuel to Pakistan were killed by security forces on February 22, according to activists cited by Human Rights Watch.
Videos received by Iran International TV showed columns of anti-riot troops being dispatched to Sistan-Baluchestan province on Thursday and Friday, as the military prosecutor there threatened more arrests and prosecution of “armed hooligans” and “anti-revolutionaries.” While a policeman was reported killed on Thursday, these terms have also been applied to peaceful protesters. Activists have reported arrests as the government has cut off internet services to prevent news reaching the rest of the world and communication between protestors.
Abdolhamid Esmail-Zehi, Friday prayer leader in the provincial capital Zahedan and religious leader of the mainly Sunni Baluchis, has called for an independent and full investigation of the security forces’ role in the deaths of ‘fuel mules’ earlier in the week. Baluchi leaders and activists argue that ordinary people suffering from poverty resort to smuggling small quantities of fuel to Pakistan – where gasoline is more expensive than in Iran – to feed their families.
Authorities have acknowledged the death of three ‘fuel mules,’ while Mohammad-Hadi Marashi, Security Deputy of Sistan-Baluchestan governorate, suggested the firing had begun from the Pakistani side of the border. The province suffers from a lack of employment, drinking water and adequate school buildings. Sunnis allege they are discriminated against in government employment in favor of mainly Shia Sistanis. Opiate smuggling from Afghanistan and Pakistan has offered many a more lucrative income than farming.
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.
Forty Republicans Present Resolution Against Lifting Iran's Sanctions
Over 40 Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives led by Senator Tom Cotton issued a resolution expressing their strong opposition to lifting any sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
According to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News, the resolution “rejects and opposes the reapplication of sanctions relief for Iran” and expresses disapproval of any move to reverse a ban that keeps Iran from accessing the US financial system.
“The US must maintain sanctions on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear ambitions and ends its support for violence and terror around the region,” the resolution’s House and Senate sponsors said in a statement. “Iran took advantage of weak policies during the Obama administration, and President Biden must not repeat those same mistakes.”
President Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since then his European allies have changed their tunes on the deal. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord is not enough anymore, and a new deal must be made where other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.
The State Department also announced today that the US is deliberating with Seoul about releasing the Islamic Republic’s $7 billion funds frozen by South Korean banks.
Families Of Flight 752: UN Report Raises Possibility Of Intentional Downing Of Plane
The Association of the Families of Flight PS752 released a statement welcoming yesterday’s report by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and said the report adds credit to the theory that the plane was shot down intentionally.
The families say the report is a result of their cooperation with Callamard and wrote: “Once again, a credible international organization adds validity to the theory that the missile attack on the plane was intentional.”
They went on to say that it is now Canada’s turn to change its “current passive strategy” toward Iran. More than a third of passengers who died in the crash were Canadian citizens or residents.
“It is significant that the UN has categorized this incident under arbitrary massacres, which contradicts the Islamic Republic’s excuse of human error,” the statement continues.
The families also demanded the international courts try the Islamic Republic officials responsible for the incident.
In her report on Tuesday, Callamard strongly rejected the Islamic Republic’s explanation for shooting down Ukrainian Flight 752, killing 176 people on board said their explanations about the case intended “to create maximum confusion and minimum clarity” and seems “contrived to mislead and bewilder.”
Callamard also indicated that the Iranian authorities seem to have tried to cover up the evidence afterward, pointing out that instead of opening a proper investigation, the authorities allowed the crash site “to be looted and then bulldozed."
In response to yesterday’s report, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister said Ukrain has repeatedly emphasized that the downing of the airliner over Tehran was in violation of international laws to which the UN special rapporteur has drawn attention.
Ukraine also emphasized the importance of an independent and unbiased investigation and putting the culprits on trial.
Iran Detained French Tourist Nine Months Ago, Says His Lawyer
Iran has detained a French tourist for nine months and his lawyers have been denied access to him, one of the lawyers, Saeid Dehghan, told Reuters on Wednesday.
The arrest, if confirmed, would come at a sensitive time, when the United States and European parties to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal are trying to restore the pact that was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.
"His name is Benjamin and he is being held at the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashahd. He was detained nine months ago and he faces contradictory and baseless charges," Dehghan said.
Iran's judiciary was not available to comment, Reuters says. There was also no immediate official reaction from French authorities to the news.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges, including Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran sentenced to six years in prison in May 2020 for security-related charges.
United Nations' experts and human rights organizations say Iran detains foreigners as bargaining chips with Western countries, especially to gain the release of its agents or collaboraters in Western jails.
Adelkhah was released on furlough last October. Dehghan said she had been under house arrest since then.
Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has rejected France's calls to release Adelkhah.
French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on Friday that a person with dual French and Iranian citizenship and a German national had been arrested in Iran more than two weeks ago.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Says $1 Billion Frozen In Korea To Be Released As First Tranche
Abdolnaser Hemati, Governor of Iran’s Central Bank, on Wednesday [February 24] said South Korean banks would transfer to Iran a first tranche of $1 billion “in cash” of $7 billion frozen Iranian funds.
The release of the money follows consultations with the United States, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Tuesday quoting foreign ministry officials. This followed Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei telling reporters Korea had begun releasing some of the $7 billion frozen by its banks in fear of US sanctions.
While Hemati’s reference to cash apparently ruled out payment in kind, he referred obliquely to suggestions that released funds might be for humanitarian or other designated use. “In our meeting with the South Korean ambassador we underlined how Iran wants to use its assets,” the governor said on the sidelines of a weekly cabinet meeting. “Now it remains for the Koreans to consult with whoever they wish.”
In a press briefing Tuesday quoted by Yonhap, Korean foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said that in a recent meeting between the Korean ambassador and Hemati the two sides had “inched closer on their opinions” as Iran “expressed consent to the proposals we have made.”
Iran had earlier demanded some of the frozen money go to pay its arrears at the United Nations. Iran lost voting rights in the UN General Assembly on January 13 and must pay at least $16.25 million to regain them.
Iran and Korea have been in talks for a year over Iranian assets, mainly from oil sales, frozen by banks wary of punitive secondary American sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.