There is fresh intelligence of a potential Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East, according to several US defense and administration officials. "There has been consistent intelligence in the last several weeks," one administration official told CNN. A second official described it as information that has been gathered throughout November. The information is being gathered by military and intelligence agencies. The officials would not say in what format the intelligence exists.
As Iran guns down protesters at home, it's also waging a global campaign of suppression against dissidents in the United States and other countries. Iran's attacks on critics abroad have been brazen. In recent months, anti-regime activists have been kidnapped, murdered and harassed, according to news reports and interviews with activists. The FBI and security agencies in Europe are monitoring these assaults. Images from inside Iran of the spreading protests have gone viral on the Internet, including sometimes gruesome pictures of those killed in the streets.
The new head of the UN nuclear watchdog warned Tuesday against intimidating its inspectors after one of them had their accreditation revoked by Iran over an incident at a nuclear facility. "We don't want to make something out of proportion but this is a serious matter," Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said. "I stand by my inspectors and (they) have a very important work to do, they shouldn't be intimidated... in any way," he told AFP.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The United Nations' atomic watchdog agency is still waiting for information from Iran on the discovery of uranium particles at a site near Tehran, the agency's new director general told The Associated Press on Tuesday in an interview. In his first day as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi said that the organization has been "in conversation" with Iran about the discovery and that it is "not a closed matter." "The process continues," he said. "We have so far not received an entirely satisfactory reply from them, but the exchanges continue."
Setting Iran deadlines to explain how uranium particles were found in an undeclared Tehran warehouse could be counter-productive, the new U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said on Tuesday, hoping fresh dialogue will resolve the months-long standoff. Rafael Grossi, a 58-year-old career diplomat from Argentina, took over as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday. Arguably the biggest challenge he and his agency face is policing Iran's nuclear deal with major powers.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian judges and jailers responsible for holding foreign prisoners on false charges should be hit with US-led sanctions to show international anger at hostage-taking, relatives and former detainees said on Tuesday. Failure by the UN and governments to punish Iran over decades has emboldened the regime to continue a campaign of jailing foreign nationals to secure concessions from its foes, relatives say. The group includes the family of Bob Levinson, a private investigator, who disappeared more than 12 years ago.
Iran has dropped to the bottom of the list of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) crude exporters, slightly ahead of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Meanwhile, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia have retained their position at the top of the global table with producing 14.46, 12.08, and 11.18 barrels of crude per day (bpd), respectively. The U.S. and Russia are not members of OPEC, an organization composed of fourteen countries.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Two weeks after protests gripped Iran - and quickly turned deadly - the government has acknowledged that security officers used firearms to quell the widespread demonstrations but it has denied unofficial accounts that hundreds were killed. Iran's state television confirmed on Monday night that security forces had shot and killed protesters who had taken refuge in marshes in the southern city of Mahshahr. It described them as "armed terrorists" and praised the tactics of security forces for having crushed the unrest.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called on Wednesday for the release of any unarmed and innocent people who were detained during protests against gasoline price hikes, after two weeks of violent clashes. The unrest, which began on Nov. 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300%, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
Iranians are no strangers to protests. Rarely, however, has the government's response seemed quite as brutal as this. A little over two weeks ago, protests were sparked by eyewatering gas price hikes, and morphed into nationwide anti-government demonstrations. The government acted quickly, pulling the plug on the internet and unleashing what Amnesty International described as a "bloody clampdown." The human rights organization estimated Monday that at least 208 protesters had been killed in 21 cities, citing "credible reports."
Families of several U.S. and British people held in Iran expressed fear for their loved ones Tuesday amid the deadliest unrest in decades in the Islamic Republic. The relatives spoke at a news conference in Washington to demand the release of spouses and parents held in Iran - in at least one case for more than a decade. Among those who spoke was a daughter of Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007.
Iran's official government news website IRNA says that an attacker took a police officer's gun from him and killed him today in a town in the oil-rich Khuzestan province. The report says the attacker, in one of the main squares of Shadehgan, used a knife to take away a police officer's gun and then shot and killed him. The incident took place at 8:45 in the morning and a passerby was also wounded.
A top official of Iran's revolutionary Guards has said that if it was not for the "timely intervention" of the Supreme Leader, it would not have been possible "to wrap up" the November protests in 48 hours. Yadollah Javani, the political deputy of the Islamic Revolution guard Corps (IRGC) in a speech on December 2 called the widespread protests "An American story", referring to oft repeated conspiracy theory by officials that foreign powers organized or instigated the protests, which spontaneously broke out on November 15, hours after a threefold rise in gasoline prices.
Videos showing harrowing scenes of bleeding protesters, burning roadblocks and snipers on rooftops have emerged after Iran lifted a near-total internet blackout, opening a window onto what analysts say was one of Tehran's bloodiest crackdowns. This repression "was harsher" than during previous protests in Iran, Kamran Matin, senior lecturer in International Relations at Sussex University in Britain, told AFP in Nicosia. "All the videos I have seen from before the internet was shut down show that from the moment of the gathering of people to 'shoot to kill' was very short."
Iranian authorities finally admitted that they killed protesters in the country's streets. On Monday evening, state media said the country's security officials used lethal force against "thugs and rioters" last month after protests broke out in reaction to a gas price increase. Iran's Interior Ministry announced last week that protests hit more than 100 towns and cities in 29 of the country's 31 provinces and led to 731 banks, 70 gas stations and 140 government sites set ablaze amid the protests.
Just as every American should stand with the freedom-loving throngs in Hong Kong, every American should stand with the thousands of Iranians taking to the streets in Tehran and elsewhere, only to be met with brute force, a choked-off internet and a government that funds terrorism and nuclear ambitions rather than answering their crying economic needs. Analysts can debate the precise role American sanctions, introduced after President Trump discarded the Obama-brokered nuclear deal, have played in unleashing the unrest.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The families of three Americans and a British citizen imprisoned in Iran urged the U.S. government on Tuesday to apply more pressure on the Islamic republic for activities directly related to what they characterized as a hostage-taking industry. The relatives said that the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran has not been sufficient in the cases of their loved ones, who have spent years behind bars in Tehran on charges their governments consider baseless.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he supports the demonstrations in Iran and urged the world to watch the Iranian government's violent effort to quash protests that he says have killed "thousands of people." Speaking in London, where he is attending the NATO leaders summit, Trump said, "Iran is killing thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak." He added they were killed "for the mere fact that they're protesting," and he called it a "terrible thing."
As President Trump visits London for a meeting of NATO leaders this week, he could well come under pressure to start new talks with Iran. But he should resist the temptation and instead announce a policy of "regime collapse." With demonstrations against the Tehran regime roiling Iran and regional countries it dominates, this is the time to raise the pressure, not offer a lifeline. European leaders, worried that time is running out for a diplomatic solution, are likely to use the London meeting to press Trump to negotiate with Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Russia, Iran, and China will hold joint naval war games on Dec. 27, Russia's TASS news agency cited a senior Iranian naval official as saying on Tuesday. TASS did not report where the drills would be held.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A naturalized U.S. citizen who was a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison Tuesday for gathering intelligence on potential sites for terrorist attacks in New York City. Ali Kourani, a 35-year-old native of Lebanon, was the first member of the Islamic Jihad Organization, an arm of Hezbollah, to be convicted and sentenced in the United States, prosecutors said at the hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran will respond to the October missile attack on the Iranian Sabiti oil tanker at "the right time and place," said the Iranian Army's Deputy Commander for Operations R.-Adm. Mahmoud Moussavi on Saturday, according to the Iranian Mehr news agency. Moussavi stressed that the Islamic Republic will never "adopt the heinous and illegal measures that some countries take in the seas; however, this does not mean that we will let them do whatever they want."
IRAQ & IRAN
Anti-government protesters burned an Iranian consulate in southern Iraq for a third time on Tuesday, as the country's political leaders continued talks over selecting a new prime minister following weeks of widespread unrest. Five rockets landed inside Ain al-Asad airbase, a sprawling complex in Western Anbar which hosts US forces, without causing any casualties and little damage, said a statement from Iraq's security media cell on Tuesday evening. The statement gave no further details.
Iran wants to name the next prime minister of Iraq. Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Mohammed Kawtharany, a top official with Hezbollah in Lebanon, have flown to Baghdad for talks on a successor to Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last week. Soleimani personally directed Iraqi security forces' deadly response to protests that began two months ago against government corruption and the failure of public services.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Having covered the Middle East my entire adult life, I'm seeing some trends emerging there that I've never seen before. One is from the streets of Beirut to the streets of Baghdad to streets all across Iran, Middle Easterners are demanding to be treated as citizens with rights, and not just members of a sect or tribe with passions to be manipulated. And they're clamoring for noncorrupt institutions - a deep state - and the rule of law, not just the arbitrary rule of militias, thugs or autocrats.