Iran is continuing to behave as an exporter of terrorism and still sponsors militant activity, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in London on Friday. Asked about comments Mattis made in 2012 that the three primary threats the United States faced were "Iran, Iran, Iran," Mattis told reporters that Iran's behavior had not changed in the years since. "At the time when I spoke about Iran I was a commander of US central command and that (Iran) was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today," Mattis said.
Gulf ministers meeting in Riyadh on Thursday condemned what they termed Iran's support for "terrorist gangs" in Bahrain and urged Tehran to stop fueling "sectarian conflicts". In a statement issued at the end of a meeting in Riyadh, the ministers of the Arab states of the Gulf expressed "condemnation of the provocative and irresponsible statements, and acts of aggression by the Iranian regime towards the kingdom of Bahrain". They also deplored Tehran's "support to terrorist gangs" and accused it of "fueling sectarian strife to harm national unity in the kingdom". The ministerial council urged Iran to "abandon politics that lead to nourishing sectarian and confessional conflicts, and to stop forming and supporting groups and militias that fuel these conflicts in Arab states."
A 21-year-old man has been sentenced to death by Iranian authorities for "insulting Islam" through messages he sent on an instant messenger app. Human rights lawyers claim that Sina Dehghan, who was just 19 when he sent the messages, was tricked into signing his own death warrant after being persuaded to confess to the breach of Islamic law with the promise of release if he did so. But after obtaining a confession, prosecutors dropped the agreement and sentenced Dehghan to death in January this year, according to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran. The content of the messages, said to have been sent using the Line app, is unknown. A source told CHRI: "During his interrogation, Sina was told that if he signed a confession and repented, he would be pardoned and let go.
NUCLEAR & BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAM
Sanctions on Iran are not enough to stop the country's illicit ballistic missile program, according to senior State Department officials, who said on Thursday that a new package of sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic would not halt the country's missile development. The Trump administration announced earlier this month a large package of sanctions targeting Iran, Syria, and North Korea for their efforts to transfer illicit materials and technology. The sanctions, which targeted 30 entities in 10 separate countries, target a range of actors found to be complicit in the transfer "of sensitive items to Iran's ballistic missile program," according to the State Department. The latest sanctions come as Iran continues to provide missile technology and support to terror organizations across the Middle East, including Hezbollah. Iran also continues to trade nuclear and missile technology with North Korea, which was also hit with sanctions under the most recent designations.
United States President Donald Trump's administration has warned Iran again over its financial and material support of Houthis in Yemen and reiterated the danger the militias are posing to international waters over the control of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. The warnings came Army General Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the US does not want Yemen to be used as a sanctuary for attacks against the US. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, a strategic passage for world trade. "I am extraordinarily concerned about another contested maritime chokepoint in the region," Votel said, referring to tensions with Iran over the Strait of Hormuz.
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers is demanding that President Donald Trump seek the approval of Congress before escalating US involvement in Yemen's civil war. Four House members are collecting signatures on a letter to the president amid growing signs that the White House and the Pentagon want to more directly take on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The United States has been selling bombs and weapons to the Saudi-led coalition since its March 2015 intervention, but the Trump administration is reportedly considering helping Saudi and Emirati forces capture the Red Sea port of Hodeida. "Engaging our military against Yemen's Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the constitution," reads a draft letter to Trump obtained by Al-Monitor. "For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen's Houthis without seeking congressional authorization."
With the sanctions squabble escalating between Iran and the US, New Delhi is instructing Indian firms to go slow on the proposed projects in Chabahar Free Trade Zone lest their financial transactions and technology imports from the rest of the world get caught in the crossfire. The first message from the Ministry of External Affairs has been conveyed to the Department of Fertilisers to instruct state-run Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers (RCF) - which had been directed last November to shortlist the Iranian joint venture partner and firm up the feasibility report for the urea project - to suspend further actions. The MEA has told the Department of Fertilisers that it "must wait for some time before taking any further decision". It said that it would subsequently clarify India's stand on Iran, including the possibility of funding the project.
India is inching closer to establishing its presence near the Persian Gulf with billionaires Gautam Adani and the Essar group's Ruia brothers flagging interest in managing terminals at Iran's Chabahar port, which India first agreed to develop 14 years ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone Ltd., operator of India's largest port, and Essar Ports Ltd. are among companies that have expressed an interest in managing and operating two terminals at Chabahar, said the people, asking not to be identified discussing confidential matters. India Ports Global Ltd., the company mandated to drive India's investments in overseas ports, on March 17 invited firms to express interest if they want to be considered for a strategic partnership.
Iranian sovereign fund IFIC is targeting investments in the healthcare and high-tech sectors in the hope of improving the lives of Iranians, Vahid Sharif, an investment manager at the fund, said on Thursday. The Iran Foreign Investment Company, set up in 1997 as a holding company to manage the state's assets and investments overseas, has around $5 billion under management, Sharif said. Revenues come from company dividends, and its mandate is to reinvest these in new opportunities abroad. It is currently invested in 22 companies including banks, financial and credit institutions, mining and other industries. Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Global Sovereign Wealth Forum in London, Sharif said IFIC was focusing on opportunities in the healthcare industry -- such as pharmaceuticals to tackle cancer and Alzheimer's -- and innovative high-tech industries.
The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called upon the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council to "not mistake friends for enemies" in a statement released after a Wednesday Arab summit. The GCC should attend to common threats, said spokesman Bahram Qassemi, stressing that, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has upon many occasions reiterated that it does not need interfere with the internal affairs of other countries." Iran stays steadfastly committed to good neighborliness and respect for the sovereignty of its neighbors, Qassemi said. He expressed deep sorrow that "some Arab leaders instead of attending to the most important afflictions of the region... go astray and fail to recognize friends from enemies."
Mustafa Zahrani, head of strategic affairs at the Institute for Political and International Studies of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed that his country does not have a strategy to get out of the war in Syria. He added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will turn his back on Iran and ally with Russia because Moscow can challenge and stand up to the United States. In an article published by the "Iranian diplomat" website of Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran's former ambassador to the UN, Zahrani disclosed that "Syria will side with whoever can keep Bashar al-Assad in power, and in this equation, the Russians were more supportive. Although Iran has played a great role in the field, in terms of air cover and international privileges, Russia has the upper hand. Assad will turn his back on Iran and shake hands with Russia.
A little over a week after reformist members of Parliament asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to attend to a spate of arrests ahead of the country's upcoming elections, the president asked for the same thing from his interior minister. In his first cabinet meeting after the Iranian New Year on March 21, 2017, Rouhani publicly asked for an explanation from Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli for the "suspicious arrests of a number of media activists on the eve of the elections," and asked him to prevent "security violations." The arrests of several activists and journalists since January have not been confirmed or denied by any authority in the country. "It is necessary to guarantee the security of all the people... and prevent unlawful actions by institutions that have no right to interfere in the elections," said Rouhani while addressing his cabinet on March 26.
Sixty-four kolbar, Kurdish cross-border porters, "the poorest among Iran's most poor Kurds," lost their lives in 2016, according to a new report. "[I]n 2016 alone, 42 Kolber workers were directly shot dead, 30 were injured, and 22 drowned or died of hypothermia and other causes," stated the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) in their annual report on the kolbar published Thursday. The kolbar are semi-legal porters who carry goods on their backs, across the mountains from the Kurdistan Region to Iran. The France-based KHRN described the kolbar as one of the most forgotten groups, "the most abandoned section of the Iranian society. They are the poorest among Iran's most poor Kurds." According to the KHRN, many young Kurds have recently taken up the heavy packs on the dangerous routes because of rising poverty rates as a deepening financial crisis in Iran has hit hard the already impoverished Kurdish regions.
Iran has banned some of its women players from billiard sports competitions for a year for violating the Islamic codes of conduct at a tournament in China, sporting authorities announced. The Disciplinary Committee of Bowling, Billiard and Boxing Federation did not reveal the nature of the alleged offences, saying it would name the transgressors later. "Women sent to China Open (billiard) competitions will be banned from all domestic and foreign competitions for one year for violating the Islamic code," it said late on Thursday, according to the ISNA and Tasnim news agencies. The category of billiard sports includes billiards, pool and snooker. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has required women to wear the Islamic headscarf in public. The Islamic code also forbids women touching, dancing or singing with men outside their families.
Addressing a gathering of young elites from Iran's northern province of Gilan on Thursday evening, President Rouhani referred to unemployment as a "heavy burden" his administration is carrying. Rouhani said he had told Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei immediately after taking the office following the 2013 presidential election that the major problem the administration had to deal with was job creation for the youth, which is more important than the nuclear negotiations or the foreign policy issues. He further expressed the confidence that concerted action and unity in the new Iranian year will help his cabinet implement job creation plans and reduce unemployment. His comments came after Ayatollah Khamenei named the new Iranian calendar year, which began on March 21, as the "Year of Economy of Resistance: Production and Employment."
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the most unique players on Iran's political stage - an unpredictable figure who is no stranger to political U-turns. On Feb. 11, he officially announced that he would not back any candidate in the May 19 presidential elections. Yet, Ahmadinejad, who was president from 2005 until 2013, has become one of the most active campaigners - even more so than some of the candidates actually running in the race - and he is vigorously supporting his former deputy Hamid Baghaei, who announced his candidacy just days after Ahmadinejad's announcement. Indeed, the conservative former president's activities have not been what could be called stable.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
While many of Iran's citizens have suffered all of the hardships of a failing economy, in a land of increasing unemployment and low pay, the ruling mullahs lead the lives of past emperors, living in absolute luxury, with billions they have made off the backs of the Iranian people, now insulating them from the crumbling nation they reside over. Beggars wander the streets of Iran in droves, drug addicts with nothing to live for litter the thoroughfares, while the homeless find shelter where they can, some known to have taken up residence living under bridges, or in the sewerage canals that run alongside the country's highways. But as recently as 2016, photographs shot by renowned photographer Saeed Gholamhoseini, and published in the Shahrvand Daily, have depicted many of these hapless vagrants sleeping in empty graves in Hahriar, a town about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Tehran, the nation's capital, images that shocked the nation