In a rare rebuke of Iran after more than a year of trying to bridge the divisions between Washington and Tehran, three European powers accused Iran of testing ballistic missiles intended to avoid missile defenses in violation of United Nations resolutions that urge Iran not to develop "nuclear capable" systems. The action came hours before Brian H. Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, accused Iranian security forces of killing around 1,000 people since the protests over high gasoline prices swept more than 160 Iranian cities and towns starting in the middle of November.
France, Britain and Germany will ratchet up pressure on Iran in coming weeks by triggering a dispute mechanism if Tehran continues its prohibited moves away from the 2015 nuclear deal, diplomats say. The warning leaves the two sides heading for a major clash in early January, when Iran has said it will further escalate its nuclear program. Advancing with the dispute mechanism, part of the 2015 nuclear deal, has prompted Iranian threats of abandoning the deal and could lead to the reimposition of international sanctions on Tehran within two months.
Iran on Thursday rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile program after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs. The British, German and French ambassadors to the Council, in a letter circulated on Wednesday, called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to tell the body in his next report that Iran's missile program was "inconsistent" with a U.N. resolution underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iran's leaders have survived yet another challenge to their rule from an increasingly restive population. The November demonstrations protesting an increase in gasoline prices were the largest since 2009. Iran's officials - who tend to downplay unrest - have claimed that as many as 200,000 people took to the streets. According to reports, 7,000 were arrested and at least 140 died in protests, although the actual figures are likely larger.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A Russian state company suspended a research project with Iran because of its decision to resume enriching uranium, a move a senior official said Thursday was necessary after the U.S. canceled a waiver to allow the joint venture. The TVEL company said in a statement that Iran's decision to resume uranium enrichment at the Fordo facility makes it impossible to convert the facility to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes. Iran agreed to stop uranium enrichment under a 2015 deal with world powers to prevent it from building a bomb, but it has resumed such activities after the U.S. pulled out of the pact last year and imposed new sanctions.
The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal's limits on its nuclear programme. Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July. Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Five world powers trying to save their 2015 nuclear deal with Iran from U.S. efforts to overturn it are grappling with a new setback as they meet with Iranian officials in Vienna Friday. A day before Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia were to hold talks with Iran in the Austrian capital, Moscow said it was suspending its work to reconfigure Iran's underground Fordow nuclear facility for civilian medical research.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's currency rial lost more value Wednesday against major currencies reaching a low of 130,100 against the U.S. dollar. One month ago, the rial was trading at around 120,000 to the dollar, but since an increase in gasoline prices and widespread anti-government protests in November, the currency has steadily lost about 8 percent of its value. Each euro was trading at 145,000 rials and the price of gold also increased proportionately, after a period of relative stability.
Senior U.S. military commanders confirmed on Thursday that an American warship intercepted in November a shipment of Iranian-made weapons and missile components destined for Yemen, where Tehran has been arming terrorist rebel forces. Reports emerged this week of a U.S. interception that occurred late last month, and were confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon by Pentagon officials familiar with the situation. The weapons shipment represents a further escalation by Iran as it seeks to arm anti-American terrorist factions across the Middle East.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
An Iranian-American activist famous for her campaign against the Islamic Republic's mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women has sued Iran in U.S. federal court, alleging a government-led harassment campaign targets her and her family. Masih Alinejad's lawsuit seeking monetary damages comes in the aftermath of nationwide protests in Iran over spiking gasoline prices that reportedly killed at least 208 people in November. Dissent continues as Iranian authorities separately said Thursday they broke up a plot to cause a gas explosion at a student dormitory at a Tehran university.
For Ahmad, an unemployed 24 year-old who grew up near the vast oil wells that have for decades sustained the Islamic republic of Iran and the elite he perceives as corrupt, the decision to increase petrol prices by half was the last straw. He had never protested before but he and dozens of his friends decided to block the main roads around Omidiyeh, an oil town in south-western Iran, with burning tyres. They cut off the resource-rich province of Khuzestan from the port city of Bushehr.
In a rare though not unprecedented move, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indirectly acknowledged excesses in the crackdown on the protests that reportedly left over 200 dead, according to Amnesty International. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, presented Khamenei with a report about the protests over the recent fuel subsidy cuts. In response, Khamenei decreed, "Based on the existing legal framework, normal citizens who did not have any role in the latest protest and riots and lost their lives in the conflict will be considered martyrs."
Three weeks after the start of anti-government protests in Iran there are still conflicting reports on the number of arrests made by security forces. A member of the Iranian Parliament Hossein Naqavi Hosseini put the number at 7,000 as one of the official accounts. Iranian Judiciary officials have refused to provide any figures. It appears that they will announce the number after releasing most prisoners on bail, so that the number could be smaller and less embarrassing.
The twenty-seven-year-old Pooya Bakhtiari was shot in the head on November 17 while protesting peacefully against higher gasoline prices alongside his mother and sister in Karaj. The government says they will pay blood money to the families of non-violent protesters like Pooya who were killed by security forces. But Pooya's mother says she will never accept blood money for her son. Iran's Supreme National Security Council received Khamenei's permission this week to pay blood money to the families of non-violent protesters who were killed by the security forces in the recent protests.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned the mass arrests of Baha'is in Iran. Iranian security forces have arrested at least 11 Baha'is in Isfahan and Khuzestan since November 27 when protests against the rationing of gasoline and raising its price threefold engulfed the country. "It is appalling that Iran's government continues to target the Baha'i community rather than meet the demands of its people," USCIRF commissioner Gary Bauer said.
After receiving 32,000 videos of the recent protests in Iran, the United States said Thursday that the government there has committed "gross human rights violations" that may have left over a thousand citizens dead and thousands more imprisoned since the unrest began in mid-November. Iran's government has admitted to only a handful of deaths.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Pentagon is considering sending thousands more troops to the Middle East as part of an effort to beef up air defense capabilities in the face of Iranian moves that include its recent transfer of short-range missiles into Iraq, CNN has learned from multiple defense officials. The most realistic options include potentially sending 4,000 to 7,000 additional US troops to the region, the officials said. The Iranian missiles could pose a threat to US forces in Iraq and potentially be moved to threaten Saudi Arabia as well, officials say.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday criticized Tehran for cracking down on protests and said the United States will stand with protesters in Iran. Trump made the comments to reporters ahead of a meeting at the White House with the permanent representatives of the United Nations Security Council.
The United States and Morocco discussed efforts to isolate Iran, officials said Thursday, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to the kingdom. Pompeo had been due to have an audience with King Mohammed VI but the meeting was dropped, apparently after the top US diplomat extended a visit to Lisbon to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Pompeo, the highest-ranking US official to travel to Morocco since President Donald Trump's election, said he saw progress on his half-day visit.
The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region. Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was "observing Iran's behavior with concern." "We're continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture," Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
More than half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy re-wrote U.S. policy for the developing world with one goal in mind: to put America on the side of revolutionary forces that were seeking progressive change. His predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, had subjected U.S. policy in the developing world to the wishes of America's European allies that maintained colonies across the world and often ruled harshly
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The U.S. State Department announced Thursday it was offering $15 million for information related to an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Commander who planned one of the most sophisticated attacks against coalition troops in Iraq, killing five soldiers in 2007. Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative on Iran , told reporters Thursday during a press briefing that the $15 million reward was for information on financial activities, networks and associates of Yemen-based IRGC-Qods Force commander Abdul Reza Shahlai.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
At least 11 people were killed and dozens were injured in a gas explosion in Iran's western Kurdistan province on Thursday, the country's semi-official Mehr news agency quoted a provincial emergency official as saying. "At least 11 people were killed and unfortunately five children were among them when the gas explosion occurred at a wedding hall at night at Saqqez city," Mehr reported, adding that dozens were injured when trying to escape. Mehr said rescue teams and ambulances had been dispatched to the scene.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for increased action against Iran, the country it considers its biggest enemy. The prime minister spoke Thursday amid reports that Iran has been secretly hiding ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and Iraq. Speaking after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu said recent demonstrations against the Iranian government could be a chance to topple it. "Iran's aggression is growing, but its empire is tottering, and I say let's make it totter even further," he said.
Hezbollah and Russia's efforts to blame Washington for "instigating" the nationwide anti-government protests have fallen short, a U.S. official said this week.
IRAQ & IRAN
Tehran isn't letting a good crisis go to waste. As anti-government protests roil Iraq, neighboring Iran has funneled short-range ballistic missiles into the country to help reassert its influence in the Middle East, U.S. officials told the New York Times. The move, to some critics, shows that U.S. President Donald Trump's longstanding efforts to weaken the Iranian regime and roll back its influence in the Middle East through sanctions and increased U.S. troop presence in the Persian Gulf isn't working out as well as the administration hoped.
More than a dozen people have been stabbed in a Baghdad square that has become a focal point for anti-government and anti-Iran protests after supporters of an Iranian-backed militia flooded the area. Thousands of men waving sticks, Iraqi flags and the insignia of the Hashd al-Shaabi armed group descended on Tahrir Square on Thursday morning in apparently coordinated marches from across the capital.
Iran has used the continuing chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, part of a widening effort to try to intimidate the Middle East and assert its power, according to American intelligence and military officials. The buildup comes as the United States has rebuilt its military presence in the Middle East to counter emerging threats to American interests, including attacks on oil tankers and facilities that intelligence officials have blamed on Iran.