Eye on Iran: Iran Cracks Down On Reformists As Couple Face Death Penalty

TOP STORIES

Iran Cracks Down On Reformists As Couple Face Death Penalty | Financial Times

An Iranian and a US-Iranian dual national were sentenced to death in Iran on Sunday on charges of founding a "cult" and promoting moral corruption. The defendants, who have not been named, are believed to be a couple involved in the art industry who were arrested in July last year. They ran a leading art gallery in Tehran, the Iranian capital, and were known to associate with foreign diplomats. Iran has arrested several Iranians holding dual nationality in recent months in a move analysts suggest is intended to intimidate those associated with foreign businesses or who have social connections with foreigners. Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran prosecutor-general, said on Sunday that the man and woman had been sentenced because they established "a new cult" and made "alcoholic beverages, encouraged vice through throwing mixed parties and exhibiting and selling obscene images at gallery."

Iranian Animation Depicts Battle With U.S. Forces In Gulf | Bloomberg

Movie theaters in Tehran started showing a feature-length animation depicting a battle between Iranian and U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf amid rising tensions between the two longtime foes. The "Battle of the Persian Gulf II" imagines Iran's response to a U.S. attack, director Farhad Azima said by phone on Monday. The 88-minute animation, which was first screened two weeks ago in the holy city of Mashhad, shows the wide range of "Iran's weaponry and military tactics" to "act as a deterrent," he said. The animation took more than four years to make and cost 10 billion rials ($308,000), according to Azima. Production began before the 2015 accord that lifted a host of economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbing its nuclear activities. Its release, however, comes at a time of worsening relations between the two countries after the election of Donald Trump, who in February said he was putting the Islamic Republic "on notice" after it carried out a missile test days earlier.

Despite Sanctions Relief, Shell Still Cool On Iranian Oil Buys | Reuters

Royal Dutch Shell has bought only three cargoes of Iranian oil since sanctions were eased a year ago, a small fraction of what it used to buy and an indication of the legal difficulties and high prices that still hamper the trade. The Anglo-Dutch firm did not give a reason for the drop in purchases, which were disclosed in its annual report, and the company declined to comment further. But oil trading sources say Iranian oil is often too expensive and in any case remaining sanctions make dealing with the Islamic Republic a legal minefield. As an example of sanctions-related difficulties, Shell's filings showed it had to disclose payments of only a few hundred dollars when its employees bought tickets with Iranian airlines. After an accord was reached over Iran's nuclear program, the European Union eased sanctions on Iran in January 2016 and the United States lifted some restrictions on dollar trade, moves that have allowed Iran to raise its oil exports sharply.

U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS

Injudicious US Policies Root Cause Of Mideast Tensions: Iran | Press TV

"The injudicious and incorrect US policies have been the main reason behind the volatile, tense and unstable situation in the Middle East region over the past decades and recent years," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Saturday. He added that the "wrong and meddlesome policies of US statesmen" have generated the current tensions in the region. "These mistakes are themselves a product of US officials' excessive demands and lack of correct understanding and perception of the strategic and sensitive region of the Middle East and a result of relentless support for the [Israeli] regime occupying Jerusalem al-Quds," the Iranian spokesperson added. He said allegations leveled by the US official against the Islamic Republic are merely an attempt to divert attention away from Washington's role in the creation of terrorist groups.

BUSINESS RISK

Connected Lending By Iranian Banks To Face Prosecution | Financial Tribune

The Tehran prosecutor general has spoken out against directed credit schemes by banks, stressing that loan allocation violations must be reviewed by the experts. "We are now facing loans that have been granted based on personal recommendations and favors while no creditworthiness assessment has been conducted for the receiver and collaterals were fake," Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was also quoted as saying by Banker.ir. The official, who was speaking at a meeting attended by the chief executives of banks and CBI Governor Valiollah Seif, emphasized that any loan allocation to entities active in production sector is a positive measure. "Our problem is with individuals who enter other markets with the credits they receive [from banks] and are not in any way concerned with production activities," he said. The senior judicial official noted that in the eyes of the judiciary, people who benefit from connections are guilty of criminal conduct and those who give these loans are also party to the offences.

Why Do Iranian Banks Remain Stuck With Toxic Assets? | Al Monitor

On Feb. 26, the Iranian government got the go-ahead from parliament members to sell a total of 10 trillion rials ($308 million) worth of excess properties owned by the ministries of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as well as Labor and Social Welfare in the upcoming Iranian fiscal year, which starts March 21. The raised money is expected to help shore up the troubled Post Bank of Iran and the Cooperative Development Bank. The approval is seen as extra support for the two banks, since the ministries will also have the right in the next Iranian year to sell a certain portion of their assets under the Privatization Law. Toxic assets account for 40-45% of total banking assets in the country, economic newspaper Donya-e Eqtesad reported Nov. 9, citing official data. Nearly 15% of these assets consist of immovable assets such as land and buildings. The rest consists of nonperforming loans and government debt. No official data is available about the banks' fixed assets, but a report by Serat News website in December estimated the total value of immovable property owned by 31 Iranian banks and credit institutions at 448 trillion rials ($13.8 billion), without it providing any details on the surplus properties.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Korea's Hyundai Engineering In $3.2 Billion Iran Deal Awaiting Funding | Reuters

An Iranian investment fund signed a deal with Korea's Hyundai Engineering Co on Sunday for a 3 billion euro ($3.2 billion) petrochemical project, which is awaiting financing by Korean banks, the oil ministry's website SHANA said. A subsidiary of the Oil Pension Fund Investment Company signed the agreement which covers the construction of the second phase of the Kangan Petro Refining Company, SHANA reported. "The financing of this project will be finalised within nine months at the rate of 95 percent ... by South Korean banks," said Asghar Arefi, the Iranian official who signed the accord, according to SHANA. Arefi said the first phase of the Kangan project was 30 percent completed with an investment of nearly 120 million euros. Despite the lifting of international sanctions against Iran in January 2016, Iranian officials have complained that remaining U.S. sanctions have frightened away trade partners and robbed Iran of the benefits it was promised under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran Leapfrogs Iraq As India's No. 2 Oil Supplier In February: Trade Data | Reuters

India's oil imports from Iran rose nearly 17 percent in February from a month earlier as refiners received less crude from key OPEC producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq after an OPEC deal to cut output, shipping data showed on Monday. The jump meant Iran replaced regional rival Iraq as India's second-biggest oil supplier - a role Tehran used to occupy before Western sanctions were imposed against it over the country's disputed nuclear program. While Saudi Arabia remained the biggest oil supplier to India, ship tracking data and a report compiled by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts showed imports from Iran rose to 647,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February. That was 16.7 percent more than January, and almost trebled from February 2016. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pledged to curb production by about 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1, the first cut in eight years, in a move designed to boost prices and drain a supply glut. Iran, Libya and Nigeria were, however, granted exemptions from the deal.

Second Plane Bought Under Sanctions Deal Arrives In Iran | Reuters

An Airbus A330 airliner arrived in Tehran on Saturday, the second of 200 Western-built passenger aircraft ordered by IranAir following the lifting of sanctions on Iran last year. The long-haul aircraft, carrying IranAir Chairman Farhad Parvaresh and other officials, landed at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, the official news agency IRNA reported. The A330 was handed over in Toulouse, France on Friday and joins a smaller A321 delivered to Iran earlier this year. Iran has ordered 100 airliners from European planemaker Airbus and 80 from Boeing and is in talks to finalise a deal to buy 20 turboprop aircraft from ATR, jointly owned by Airbus and Italy's Leonardo Finmeccanica. The country has not directly purchased a Western-built plane in nearly 40 years, the one exception being the sale of an Airbus to replace one shot down by the U.S. Navy in 1988. The A330 is expected to be used initially on European routes and on flights to Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

Iran Says Inks $1 Billion Deal To Develop Mehdiabad Zinc Mine | Reuters

Iran has signed a $1 billion deal with private investors to develop Mehdiabad, one of the world's largest zinc mines, which it expects will go on stream in the next four years and produce 800,000 tonnes of zinc concentrate per year. The Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organisation (IMIDRO) said in a weekend statement it signed the deal with a consortium of six private companies, led by Iran's Mobin Mining and Construction Company. IMIDRO, a state-owned mines and metals holding company, said Mobin was also talking to international mining firms in Switzerland and Spain about joint ventures to develop the Mehdiabad mine, located in Iran's Yazd Province. Iran has struggled to lure foreign investors since the lifting of international sanctions against it following a historic deal signed in 2015 with six world powers in return for curbing its nuclear programme.

Moscow: Iranian Minister Says To Discuss Selling Oil To Russia | Reuters

Iranian Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said at the start of a meeting with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Monday that the two men would discuss a deal to supply Moscow with 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day. "(Our delegation) is prepared ... to hold talks on this subject," he said.

Russia To Produce Patriot SUVs In Iran | Press TV

Andrey Dorofeev, UAZ Export Sales Director, was quoted by media as saying that the company first needs to assess the capacity of the Iranian market and the demand for its products before beginning manufacturing. "The Iranian automobile industry is well-developed and the government protects it with hefty import taxes," Dorofeev told Sputnik news agency. "So in order to achieve a significant sales volume, it is necessary to assemble cars on Iranian territory. But in order to understand the needs of the local customers, first it is necessary to begin supplying already-manufactured cars. We, along with our distributors, are ready to begin this process after the certification," he added. The necessary arrangements for the move, along with the signing of several pertinent contracts, were made during the Iran Auto Show 2017, an international expo which was held in Tehran in February, Sputnik added.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Pakistan Says Iran Has Fired Nine Mortar Rounds Into Its Territory | Al Arabiya

Nine mortar shells were fired onto Pakistani territory during the early hours of Saturday, Pakistan's Express Tribune reported. The shells landed near populated areas, however, there were no reports of injuries or fatalities reported. According to Assistant Commissioner Mehrullah Badini, who confirmed the incident, the shells were launched from a short distance from the Iranian border. Iranian authorities, however, denied the allegations, claiming that the attack was unprovoked, and that a third party might be involved behind the incident in order to create chaos and confusion between the two neighboring countries.

Iran's Sovereignty Over Three Islands 'Undeniable': Foreign Ministry | Tehran Times

Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Iran's sovereignty over the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb is "undeniable" and "permanent". The response by the Foreign Ministry came in response to claims by the Arab League about the ownership of the three Iranian islands.  "Such claims and statements, which are filled with lies, cannot undermine Iran's sovereignty over these islands," ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi stated. Member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council have also claimed that Iran has occupied these island from the UAE. In December, the leaders of the (P)GCC, which consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, insisted on their claim of what they called "Iran's occupation of the three UAE islands", a claim that Iran strongly rejects as "baseless". Historically, the three islands have always been part of Iran and this can be proven through historical documents across the world. The UAE, however, has repeatedly laid baseless claims to the islands.

Turkish Policies Have Confused Iran: Official | Tehran Times

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour has said that Iran is unable to understand some policies adopted by Turkey. "We have make efforts to help Turkey after the coup attempt..., but the fact is that we do not understand some policies of the Turkish government," he told ISNA in an interview published on Saturday. Rahimpour said, "Some problems may have made Turkey to resort to the Zionist regime of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Trump." He expressed hope that the Turkish officials would adopt policies based on "realities" and "long term objectives". "Some of Turkey's actions in Syria have not been in line with Iran's interests; however, we did not create a commotion and waited for Ankara's government to understand that Iran is the best help," the deputy foreign minister remarked. Rahimpour also said that Iran and Russia are making efforts to involve Turkey in efforts to settle the long-running conflict in Syria.

EXTREMISM

Iran FM Says Netanyahu Faking History And Jewish Faith | AFP

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu of ignorance about history and the Jewish faith on Monday after he said ancient Persian rulers tried to destroy the Jews. In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Netanyahu said Persia had made "an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed" some 2,500 years ago, an event commemorated by the Jewish holiday of Purim over the weekend. Zarif responded overnight on Twitter, calling Netanyahu's comments "bigoted lies" and saying Iran had saved the Jews on three occasions in history. "Netanyahu resorting to fake history and falsifying Torah. Force of habit," he tweeted. He linked to longer comments in which he said the Israeli premier "distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past -- including Jewish scripture". "The Book of Esther tells how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day.

MILITARY MATTERS

Iran Unveils Domestically Produced Tank, Production Line | Associated Press

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency is reporting that the country has unveiled a domestically manufactured tank and has launched a mass-production line.  The Sunday report quotes Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan as saying: "The tank has the capability to fire missiles and precisely guide them." Fars says the tank named "Karrar" is equipped with an electro-optical fire control system and laser range-finder and is capable of firing at both stable and mobile targets day or night. Dehghan also says the tank can compete with the most advanced tanks in the world in the three main areas of "power, precision and mobility." Iran has been producing its own weapons and military equipment, including missiles, fighter jets and submarines, for more than two decades.

SYRIA CONFLICT

France Condemns Damascus Attack, Calls On Russia And Iran To Ensure Ceasefire | Reuters

The French foreign ministry condemned a deadly bombing in Damascus and called on truce guarantors, especially Russia and Iran, to ensure a ceasefire in Syria is fully respected. The death toll from a double bomb attack on Saturday targeting Shi'ites visiting a pilgrimage site in Damascus has climbed to 74, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday. "There is more than ever urgency to ensure that ceasefire is respected in Syria," the French foreign ministry said in a statement. "France calls on the truce guarantors, especially Russia and Iran, who will meet in Astana next week, to put pressure on parties to ensure that ceasefire is fully respected." Russian-backed peace talks are due to take place in Astana on March 14-15.

HUMAN RIGHTS

US-Iranian And Wife Charged Over Tehran Parties: Prosecutor | AFP

A jailed US-Iranian and his wife have been formally charged with hosting parties in Tehran, while another couple were given the death penalty for running a "cult", the Tehran prosecutor said Monday. No names were given, but the dual national and his wife are thought to be the high-profile owners of an art gallery in the capital that regularly hosted events for dignitaries and foreign diplomats prior to their arrest last summer. The case "is related to a woman and man who provided alcoholic drinks, and encouraged corruption and debauchery by holding mixed parties," said prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi. He said 4,000 litres of alcohol had been found in the basement of their building in northern Tehran. The couple are known to be members of the Zoroastrian religion, who are allowed to have alcohol for private use but are banned from sharing it with Muslims.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Telegram Was The App Where Iranians Talked Politics. Then The Government Caught On | Los Angeles Times

Iranians love Telegram. With approximately 20 million Iranian users, it's the most widely used messaging app in the country. Iranians join channels based on their interests and spend hours reading, sharing pictures and videos, and chatting about sports, entertainment and news. But also politics. Over the years, Telegram has helped quench Iranians' thirst for online political expression in a country where Twitter and Facebook are banned. But leading up to Iran's presidential election in May, Telegram is now seen by some as a force that's stifling political speech. That's because in recent months Iranian security and intelligence agencies have begun arresting Telegram users and now require those who run popular Telegram channels to apply for permits - disclosing their identities.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Deterring Tehran: An Iran Policy For The New Administration | UANI Advisory Michael Singh In The Washington Institute For Near East Policy

The United States should adopt a strategy on Iran that erects daunting defenses to dissuade the Islamic Republic from challenging the interests of the United States and its allies and that imposes sharp, painful costs should Iran do so nonetheless. In this transition paper for the new administration, Institute managing director Michael Singh details an Iran policy built on three pillars: Enforcing and enhancing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Countering Iran's regional activities, Strengthening U.S. regional alliances. Iran is stronger now than it was at the beginning of the previous administration, exerting power and influence across much of the Middle East. It is free from most international sanctions that previously weighed down its economy and frustrated its geopolitical ambitions. And U.S. alliances in the Middle East itself are weaker than they were, due in part to the region's political upheaval and in part to America's own disengagement and strategic estrangement from regional partners.

Trump Misses An Opportunity To Defang Iran | Jennifer Rubin Of The Washington Post

Since former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn warned Iran that it was "on notice" for an illegal missile test and the administration issued exceptionally narrow sanctions, we have heard little - if anything - from the administration about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian aggression in the region, Iran's human rights atrocities or much of anything else concerning the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. (The White House spokesman did issue one of the sort of empty platitudes - that it is "unwavering" in its determination to bring home American Robert Levinson, believed to be held in Iran for 10 years - that conservatives ridiculed during the Obama administration.) Obviously unconcerned about being on "notice," Iran this week yet again conducted a ballistic missile test. The Times of Israel reports: "Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported Thursday that the country's Revolutionary Guard successfully tested another ballistic missile, while boasting that Iran's efforts to build a 'better' home-made version of the Russian S-300 missile defense system were well on their way."

Iran Is Testing President Trump: Here's What He Should Do. | Raymond Tanter And Ed Stafford Of The Hill

Harassment of U.S. Naval forces by Iranian forces in international waters of the Persian Gulf reveals that Iran's leadership is prepared to test the new administration: on its publicly stated commitment to confront Iran when it fails to meet its obligations under the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), when it violates United Nations sanctions, or when it engages in destabilizing activities in the region. Given the other actors involved with the JCPOA and U.N. sanctions on ballistic missiles, Washington has only a few unilateral options for confronting Iranian misbehavior. One of those is designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The State Department FTO list for 2015, published in June 2016, includes neither the Quds Force nor its parent, the IRGC.