The United Nations is investigating two North Korean missile and arms companies suspected of operating in Iran in possible violation of international sanctions, according to a report by a U.N. panel of experts. The presidents of top North Korean regime arms firms, KOMID, which exports equipment for ballistic missiles and other weapons, and Green Pine, which sells conventional arms, recently traveled to Iran, according to air passenger documents cited by the report by the U.N. panel.
An Iranian court has sentenced a U.S. Navy veteran for an unspecified crime, according to Iranian state-linked media, in a move that threatens to further strain relations between Washington and Tehran. Michael White was detained last year in the northeastern city of Mashhad after an individual accused him of wrongdoing, while authorities also were investigating possible security-related charges against him, an Iranian prosecutor said in January.
Iran's human rights record came under sharp criticism at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday, with a U.N. expert singling out Iran's crackdown on dissent and practice of sentencing children to death. Presenting his first report to the Geneva-based council since taking office in July, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, cited what he called Tehran's "worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment" of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labor rights activists who have taken part in recent protests and strikes across the country.
UANI IN THE NEWS
This week, Ebrahim Raisi assumed leadership of the Iranian judiciary, beginning a five-year term that could lead to an even worse human rights situation in the Islamic Republic. This is not to say that Raisi's predecessor, Sadeq Larijani, was anything other than hostile to concepts such as due process, compliance with the Rule of Law and international norms in convictions and judgments. But Raisi represents the worst features of the Iranian judiciary. At best, his appointment by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei signals the regime's public disregard for international human rights principles, and at worst it sets the stage for a dramatic upsurge in politically-motivated killings.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran is to launch four new phases at South Pars, the world's largest gas field, with a production capacity of up to 110 million cubic meters per day, the oil ministry said on Twitter on Tuesday. No additional information was provided on when the four new phases would be launched. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told state TV last month that Iran's gas production at South Pars had hit 610 million cubic meters per day.
The sanctioning of two OPEC members by the Trump administration has caused some ripples in the oil market, but not the type of shortages or pain for consumers that might have occurred. One big reason is that U.S. production continues to grow, and for the barrels lost, more are coming on line. U.S. output is now at 12.1 million barrels a day, up more than 1 million from this time last year, and IHS Markit expects it to be 13 million by the end of the year.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, her husband Reza Khandan wrote in a post on Facebook on Monday, without specifying what charges she faced. Sotoudeh's lawyer, Payam Derafshan, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) in December that Sotoudeh - arrested last June - had been charged with spreading information against the state, insulting Iran's Supreme Leader and spying.
Iran's Judiciary said it sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer to seven years in prison after she defended protesters against the Islamic Republic's mandatory headscarves for women. However, Reza Khandan, the husband of 55-year-old Nasrin Sotoudeh, said on Facebook that his wife's verdict was delivered to her in jail and that it was "five years imprisonment for her first case and 33 years imprisonment with 148 lashes for the second case."
A series of videos shared on social media in recent weeks have shed light on the daily harassment and violent attacks women in Iran face at the hands of morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the country's forced hijab (veiling) laws, said Amnesty International. The videos show members of the public or plain-clothes morality police aggressively confronting or attacking women for defying Iran's degrading forced hijab laws, in the name of defending "public decency".
Videos shared on social media recently have demonstrated the "shocking levels of abuse" women in Iran face from morality police and pro-government "thugs" seeking to enforce the country's strict dress code, Amnesty International says. "Iran's forced hijab laws are not only deeply degrading and discriminatory, they are also being used to justify violent assaults on women and girls in the streets," Philip Luther, the London-based human rights watchdog's Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said in a statement on March 12.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A U.S. citizen held in Iran has been sentenced for an unspecified crime, Iranian news agencies reported on Monday, in a case likely to worsen already terrible relations with the United States. Michael White, a 46-year old U.S. Navy veteran, was arrested last July while visiting his Iranian girlfriend, the New York Times has reported. The arrest - the only known one of a U.S. citizen since President Donald Trump took office - was confirmed by Iran only in January.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Major General Qassem Soleimani was awarded the country's highest military honor. Solemaini was awarded the Order of Zulfaqar from the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, making him the first Iranian military official to receive the order following the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran's Tasnim News Agency reported on Monday.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's official IRNA news agency says the country's newly appointed head of judiciary has also been elected as a deputy chief in the panel known as Assembly of Experts, which can appoint or remove the country's supreme leader. Tuesday's report says the panel voted 43-35 in favor of hard-line Ebrahim Raisi. Another hard-line cleric, 92-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, heads the 88-seat assembly. The panel has two deputy chiefs.
Shortly after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's call on officials to uproot corruption, the Iranian judiciary announced perhaps the largest embezzlement case in the country's history involving some 6.6 billion euros ($7.4 billion). Similar to other major embezzlement scandals in recent years - such as the one centered on businessman Babak Zanjani, who is now awaiting execution - the current case relates to murky schemes to bypass sanctions imposed by then US President Barack Obama.
Iran's 1989 amended constitution states that "in order to fulfill the responsibilities of the judiciary power in all the matters concerning judiciary, administrative and executive areas, the [Supreme] Leader shall appoint a just, honorable man well versed in judiciary affairs and possessing prudence and administrative abilities as the head of the judiciary power for a period of five years who shall be the highest judicial authority."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
On Friday, Hassan Nasrallah made a direct appeal to Hezbollah supporters. Speaking on the Lebanese militant group's TV station Al Manar, he urged them to wage "jihad with money". It appears to be no coincidence that this plea for donations comes just a few months after the latest wave of US sanctions against Iran. Clearly, both the nation and its proxies are feeling the pinch. It also coincides with increased international efforts to isolate Hezbollah. Just last month, the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid made the decision to ban all membership of Hezbollah in the UK as part of an amendment to the 2000 Terrorism Act, ending a previously established distinction between the group's political and military wings.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began a three-day state visit to Iraq Monday by meeting host President Barham Salih, amid hopes of increasing the volume of trade between the two countries, despite U.S. economic sanctions that were imposed on Tehran in August and November of last year. It's not clear how far Iraq will go to strengthen economic ties with Tehran, but Iraq has been Iran's most important trading partner in recent years.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is looking forward to establishing a railroad project with Iraq in the near future, Iraqi state television quoted him as saying on Monday. It provided no further details. Rouhani, who is making his first official visit to Iraq, said in a news conference that he was also looking to improve cooperation on security and counter-terrorism matters.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took a massive delegation with him to Baghdad on Monday. He showed them off at a long table in meetings with Iraqi officials; at least 16 men were present on each side. Together they are signing a variety of agreements that aim to cement the Iranian alliance with Iraq. It's all about appearances in this visit. Iran wants to show its power in Iraq and illustrate that it is the country's strongest partner.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
The Iran-backed Houthi militias continued their offensive against the Hujour tribes in Yemen's northern Hajjah province, raising questions over the fate of resistance movement leaders. Local sources said that contact has been lost with the area, leaving the fate of the tribal resistance commanders unknown. Sources close to leading tribal figure Abou Moslem al-Hujouri denied reports of his death, saying he had turned himself over to the Houthis in exchange for them to refrain from attacking his relatives and residents of his hometown of al-Zaakira.
While Iran is unlikely to match the cyber capabilities of Russia, China, or even North Korea in the short term, this third-tier actor has already racked up some notable wins. Between 2011 and 2013, in some of their first forays into cyberwarfare, Iranian hackers cost U.S. financial institutions tens of millions of dollars and knocked Saudi Aramco's business operations offline for months.