US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Washington was concerned over the Iranian regime's "destructive and disruptive activities" in the Middle East. Pompeo and Guterres discussed in Washington "the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, ongoing events in Venezuela, and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, among other matters," the Office of the State Department's spokesperson said in a press release on Wednesday.
In July 2017, Ahmadreza Doostdar, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, visited the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago, where FBI agents surveilled him performing what appeared to be a surreptitious exchange of information - a brush pass - with a woman in one of the museum's rooms. After leaving the museum, Doostdar walked toward two nearby Jewish centers, snapping photos with his phone camera, appearing to pay particular attention to entrances and exits, including a wrought iron fence at the perimeter of one the buildings.
Lawyers representing the family of an American citizen from San Diego detained in Iran said Thursday that the Navy veteran has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and for disclosing private information by posting a photo on Instagram of a woman he was visiting. Michael White, 46, was detained in Mashhad, a religious city in eastern Iran, last July after traveling there to visit the woman.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Unable to find European financial institutions willing to accept payments for food and medicine sold to Iran, Europeans have created a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to process trade, beginning with unsanctioned goods. But the mechanism has yet to become operational and it isn't clear whether it will also face US penalties. Asked specifically about the SPV, Bradley Smith, deputy director of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, was noncommittal. "We have to wait and see," he said. Peyman, who was a sanctions adviser to the hawkish group United Against Nuclear Iran before coming to the State Department, was more critical. "I don't think we're keen on folks using the SPV," he said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
New evidence disclosed in Iran's secret nuclear files taken by the Mossad show that its underground Fordow nuclear facility is older than it has admitted, according to a think-tank report. This discovery could be significant, says the Institute for Science and International Security, because it shows that Iran is still lying to the international community about a nuclear facility that has no reasonable use other than military.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Indian state refiners will lift 8 million barrels of Iranian oil in April, a decline of about 12 percent from the previous month, industry sources said, as the nation is in talks with the United States to renew the waiver from U.S. sanctions against Tehran. The United States introduced sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's oil revenue-dependent economy in November but gave a six-month waiver to eight nations, including India, which allowed them to import some Iranian oil.
South Korea's oil imports from Iran fell 12.5 percent year-on-year in February, customs data showed on Friday, as it resumed buying from the Middle Eastern nation under a waiver from U.S. sanctions, which restricted trading volumes. South Korea shipped in 983,497 tonnes of crude from Iran in February, or 256,412 barrels per day (bpd), compared to 1.12 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the customs data. February imports more than quadrupled from January volumes of 227,941 tonnes.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A soft-spoken Iranian academic and author, Sadegh Zibakalam, was the DW Freedom of Speech Award recipient in 2018. A few months before he stood on the stage at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Zibakalam was arrested after he gave an interview to DW's Persian service. In it he disagreed with a government statement regarding recent protests in the country. "I think my crime is that during an interview with Deutsche Welle I gave a political opinion which was contrary to the government's opinion," said Zibakalam.
From journalists to activists to everyday people, no one is safe from being detained under vague laws that criminalize most forms of expression in Iran. The situation is only getting worse, says Amnesty's Raha Bahreini. One year after Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam was honored with the DW Freedom of Speech Award, DW's Ole Tangen Jr. spoke with human rights lawyer and Amnesty International's researcher on Iran, Raha Bahreini, about the current situation in the country.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Before wrapping up his official visit to Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani was granted a rare audience with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an Iranian-born Shi'ite cleric based in Iraq, and one of the highest religious authorities in the Shi'ite world. Sistani rarely meets officials, and the exception he made for Rouhani marked the first time the ayatollah has met with a sitting Iranian president. He rejected an offer to meet with Rouhani's predecessor, hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his 2008 visit to Iraq.
Iran's Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday told member of the country's Assembly of Experts "not to be at each other's throats over this or that convention or agreement." Khamenei was most probably referring to international anti-money laundering and anti-corruption conventions demanded by the international watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a multilateral agency based in Paris.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Lebanon's Hezbollah capabilities have doubled more than 100 times, the head of the defence office for Iran's Fikr Al-Islam movement, Abbas-Ali Farzandi, said yesterday. Speaking at a ceremony held in Iran's south-western province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, he stressed that Hezbollah's capabilities "have risen nowadays." "The capabilities of Hezbollah have doubled 100 times more than it used to be during the time of the 33-day war which Israel launched on Lebanon in 2006," Farzandi was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying.
Israel's Shin Bet security service suspects Iran of hacking the mobile phone of Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's toughest rival in the April 9 election, an Israeli television station reported on Thursday. Gantz, a former chief of Israel's armed forces, was informed of the hack five weeks ago, Channel 12 said, adding that the Shin Bet believed Iranian state intelligence had accessed the ex-general's personal information and correspondences.
Pro-Hezbollah and pro-Iran regime media and social media accounts lit up on Thursday night, after two rockets were fred at Tel Aviv from Gaza. It indicates the close attention paid to tensions in Israel between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza. Lebanon's satellite TV station Al-Mayadeen, which is generally supportive of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, wrote a story within minutes of the reports of Iron Dome being activated. "Occupation admits that Palestinians bomb 'Tel Aviv,'" the headline read.
Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said that the resolution of the Syrian crisis will lead to the withdrawal of Iranian forces and militias from the region. He was speaking in Brussels at the conference on "Supporting the future of Syria and the region" at the European Council on Thursday.
IRAQ & IRAN
President Hassan Rouhani became the first sitting Iranian president to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most senior Iraqi Shiite leader, when he visited the holy city of Najaf on March 14. The meeting took place on the final day of his three-day tour of Iraq. The historic meeting received widespread coverage by Iranian newspapers and was well received by both conservative and Reformist media.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to continue diplomatic talks and maintain his moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, a senior North Korean official said Friday, adding that the U.S. threw away a golden opportunity at the recent summit between their leaders.
In mid-January and early February, Iran attempted two satellite launches intended for environmental monitoring purposes. The Payam (Message) and Doosti (Friendship) ascended aboard Iranian-made satellite launch vehicles (SLVs). Both launches failed to place the satellites into orbit. The United States nevertheless protested the space launches-mostly because the SLVs used the same base technology as multistage intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).