The Biden administration on Friday imposed sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of protests following the death of Mahsa Amini one year ago. The new sanctions are the latest tranche in response to Tehran’s brutal crackdown on the protestors who took to the streets in the wake of Amini’s death in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. The 22-year-old was allegedly arrested by the morality police – on whom the US imposed sanctions last year – for improperly wearing her hijab. According to a news release from the US Treasury Department, Friday’s sanctions target “18 key members of the regime’s security forces, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF); the head of Iran’s Prisons Organization; three individuals and one company in connection with the regime’s systematic censorship and blocking of access to the internet; and three IRGC and regime-controlled media outlets—-Fars News, Tasnim News and Press TV—-and three senior officials.”
The US and Iran are set to complete an exchange of prisoners after months of negotiations, a breakthrough that Washington hopes will open the door to a de-escalation of tensions between the arch-foes. In a carefully sequenced process, five American-Iranian dual nationals will be released on Monday by the Islamic republic and flown to Qatar, while the US will also free five Iranians from American prisons.The exchange is to take place after $6bn in Iran’s oil revenue, which had been frozen in South Korea, was transferred to bank accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be monitored to ensure Iran uses the money for goods not hit with sanctions. Nasser Kanaani, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said he hoped the transfer of assets to a “friendly country” would be completed on Monday and the prisoners exchanged.
Iran has seized two foreign oil tankers, its state media reported on Friday, as tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic in the Gulf continue. The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that the navy of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Thursday it had captured two foreign oil tankers in the Persian Gulf that were carrying 400,000 gallons of smuggled fuel. The tankers, the Steven and the Crown, and were flying under the flags of Panama and Tanzania, IRNA reported. Both ships' crews, 37 people in total, were arrested. Al-Monitor was unable to find ships matching their description in shipping databases.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Under the rules in place until 2025, the snapback can be invoked unilaterally by parties to the nuclear deal, who include Britain, France and Russia. However, European powers are likely to hold fire unless Iran enriches uranium to a weapons-grade 90 per cent, said Jason Brodsky, policy director of the United Against Nuclear Iran lobby group. The US could also attempt to use the snapback, although there are doubts about whether this is valid given its withdrawal from the nuclear deal under Donald Trump's presidency in 2018.
…Daniel Roth the Research Director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told Iran international “It’s astounding that European companies like JCL and (reportedly) Rotorise are still willing to take these risks. Providing assistance - and not even ‘significant assistance’ - to NIOC, the Show organizer, is a sanctionable offense. Washington has the mandate to penalize companies even outside the US through ‘secondary sanctions’ and should be closely monitoring all participants and any deals that transpire. Chinese and Russian exhibitors, the most likely to actually sign contracts, should certainly not be excluded from scrutiny.”
…According to Claire Jungman, chief of staff for US watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the Pablo was one such vessel that posed a threat. “It was one of our repeat offenders. We have a list of 50 tankers that routinely shuttle Iranian oil and Pablo was one of them,” she says. Jungman routinely tracks up to 300 sanction-busting tankers all around the world. Once a vessel is identified by her team they often inform flag carriers – the country that the tanker is sailing under – in the hope that they will withdraw their flag.
…This case is linked to the Iranian regime’s oil smuggling through the Suez Rajan oil tanker. The smuggling documents were revealed by the ‘United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).’ This incident highlighted the Iranian regime’s attempts to load crude oil from Khark Island in the Persian Gulf and smuggle it.
…“I think the Iranian American community’s advocacy for the Mahsa Act demonstrates its power and that it can be a driving force to change U.S. policy on Iran,” said Jason Brodsky, public policy director for “United Against a Nuclear Iran” a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington D.C. “It was able to amass cosponsors from progressives to conservatives, which is not an easy feat. And the community’s advocacy and unity in moving this legislation is one of the most under-covered stories of the year.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is withdrawing the designation of several senior UN inspectors who were working in the country, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Saturday. Why it matters: The decision is a significant escalation by Iran that could hamper the UN nuclear watchdog's ability to monitor Tehran's nuclear program. What they're saying: "With today's decision, Iran has effectively removed about one-third of the core group of the Agency's most experienced inspectors designated for Iran," Grossi said in a statement. "This measure, while formally permitted by the NPT Safeguards Agreement, has been exercised by Iran in a manner that affects in a direct and severe way the ability of the IAEA to conduct effectively its inspections in Iran. I strongly condemn this disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure," he added.
The European Union urged Iran on Sunday to reconsider its decision to bar multiple International Atomic Energy Agency's inspectors assigned to oversee Tehran's atomic activities, noting such oversight was part of the Iran nuclear deal. Iran's move was a response to a call led by the United States, Britain, France and Germany at the IAEA last week for Tehran to cooperate immediately with the IAEA on issues including explaining uranium traces found at undeclared sites. "The European Union is highly concerned by the ... decision by Iran to withdraw the official designation of several experienced IAEA inspectors to monitor and verify its nuclear program," the spokesman for EU foreign affairs Peter Stano said in a statement.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Protests erupted throughout Iran on Saturday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old women who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police after being arrested for allegedly not wearing her headscarf properly. Video obtained by CNN showed demonstrations throughout multiple cities in Iran, including capital city Tehran, Mashad, Ahvaz, Lahijan, Arak, and the Kurdish city of Senandaj. Many of the protesters chanted, “Women, Life, Freedom” – a popular rallying cry used after nationwide protests erupted following Amini’s death last year. Some protesters also chanted death slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Authorities deployed armed guards in many cities as a show of force and police officers were seen chasing protesters in the northern city of Lahijan.
Mitra Hejazipour, one of the greatest chess players Iran has ever produced, knows what courage is after removing her headscarf in defiance of the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women at a tournament. Now living in exile in France after being expelled from the Iranian team at the time, she says she is in awe of the bravery of Iranians who poured into the streets one year ago after the police custody death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the dress code. Hejazipour, 30, who received French citizenship in March, has enjoyed immense success on the board since arriving in France. This year she won the French chess championships and helped her team to third place at the world team championships.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said Saturday they arrested a man with dual citizenship on allegations of “attempted rioting and to cause disruptions” in the city of Karaj, west of the capital Tehran. The suspect was found to be in possession of “several smartphones and dollars of significant value,” the IRGC said, according to a report by the semi-official Tasnim news agency. It was unclear which nationality aside from Iranian the suspect held. Several capitals have accused Iran of practicing “hostage diplomacy” — arresting Western nationals to obtain concessions such as the release of detained Iranians abroad.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A malfunction in a military system was the cause of a blast heard in the northern Iranian city of Gorgan, a spokesperson from Iran's Defence Ministry said on Monday. "In the process of testing defence and drones systems in a desert region, one of these systems suffered a technical defect and deviated from its main path," the spokesperson said, adding debris fell in and around the city of Gorgan. It was not immediately clear if the spokesperson was referring to a missile.An official from the Golestan province's governorate had earlier said the fallen object was a drone and added two civilians were injured in the incident.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Gunmen opened fire on a group of paramilitary forces in southern Iran, killing one of them and wounding another three, state media reported Sunday. Local media did not give a motive for Saturday’s attack, which occurred on the anniversary of the death while in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and the outbreak of nationwide protests. It was unclear if the attack was linked to the anniversary. The official IRNA news agency said the attack targeting members of the paramilitary Basij occurred late Saturday in the town of Nourabad, some 630 kilometers (390 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. In a separate incident, a man was shot and wounded by security forces near the city of Saqqez, in Iran’s western Kurdish region. IRNA said he was shot after entering an area under military restrictions, without elaborating on his condition.
The United Nations cultural organization on Sunday added many of Iran's caravanserais, roadside rest stops for travelers along the country's ancient trade routes, to its World Heritage List. The decision to register the 56 caravanserais, just a small percentage of the structures built in Iran, was made in Riyadh during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee.Caravanserais provided "shelter, food and water for caravans, pilgrims and other travelers," UNESCO said its website. Iran boasts more than 200 caravanserais on historic trade routes that traverse the country linking Asia and Europe, including the Silk Road. "They are considered to be the most influential and valuable examples of the caravanserais of Iran, revealing a wide range of architectural styles, adaptation to climatic conditions, and construction materials, spread across thousands of kilometers and built over many centuries," said UNESCO.
Latest statistics suggest a rise in depression in Iran, particularly among women and young people. The report by the reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan states that out of every five prescriptions issued, one is for antidepressants or sleep-inducing medications. The report also links the mental health of Iranians to social issues, including protests. Following the recent uprisings, numerous experts, including university professors, mental health specialists, and sociologists, expressed concerns about the state of Iran's society. Four mental health associations also voiced their concerns about the mental well-being of citizens in a statement.The newspaper emphasizes that since last year, many individuals have been contemplating migration as a way out of their current situation.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells "Face the "Nation" that he hasn't been briefed by the White House on the prisoner swap deal with Iran. "I want to hear about what kind of constraints are being put on in this exchange," Warner said. (VIDEO)
A year after the start of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, the US Congress has become more emboldened in its opposition to the Islamic Republic. While Republicans and Democrats in Congress are divided on some aspects of Iran policy, particularly in regard to several recent actions by President Joe Biden's administration, recent legislative activity, however, indicates broad opposition to the Iranian government in both parties and supports for the protesters…“It definitely hardened opinions in both parties,” Kenneth Katzman, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center, told Al-Monitor. “Iran has no friends in the US Congress. That’s patently clear.”
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran is putting plans in motion to increase the population of islands in the strategic Strait of Hormuz that are claimed by the United Arab Emirates as well. Iranian officials have for months discussed plans to increase the number of Iranian residents on the Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb islands, which lie at the heart of a decades-long dispute with Iran’s southern neighbour the UAE. For one, it may offer Iranians who are considering moving there free plots of land measuring 300sq metres (3,230sq feet). It will in addition offer them loans to build a home, as part of a national homeownership scheme. The government will also exempt the islands from a condition applied in the rest of the country: Applicants should not have used any government housing facilities since the 1979 revolution, and must not have another home to their name.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi headed to the UN General Assembly on Monday. According to Iranian pro-regime media the president left via Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran on Sunday evening. “One of the pillars of the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is interaction with the countries of the world and regional and international organizations,” he said, according to Iran’s Tasnim News. Iran is seeking to put out messaging about its role in “development, peace, justice and global security.” Iran cares about the UN and wants to use the organization for its own ends. In the past, it has prevented most critique at the UN despite Iran’s track record of human rights abuses.