Iran and Russia have stepped up challenges to U.S. power in Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials say, seizing on the uncertainty of future U.S. policy to expand ties with the Taliban and weaken the country's Western-backed government. The moves come as tensions have flared between the United States, Iran and Russia over the conflict in Syria, and officials worry that the fallout could hurt Afghanistan's chances for peace. For years, Iran and Russia have pushed for a U.S. withdrawal. Now, as the Taliban gains ground and the White House appears to lack a clear Afghan policy, Iran and Russia have boosted support for insurgents and sidelined the United States from regional diplomacy on the war. Russia on Friday will host high-level talks on Afghanistan with Iranian, Pakistani and Chinese diplomats, the Kremlin said. But the United States, irked by Moscow's recent outreach to the Taliban, has not confirmed whether it will attend.
In mid-2015, German prosecutors say, Iran set in motion a spying operation that targeted a prominent pro-Israeli politician and a Jewish newspaper in Berlin. Details of the alleged plot-which authorities said appeared aimed at gathering information for "possible attacks" on them-emerged during a trial in Berlin's highest court that ended late last month with the conviction of a 31-year-old Pakistani man, Syed Mustafa Haider, on espionage charges. Prosecutors said Mr. Haider was guided by a person believed by German intelligence to be part of the Quds Force, an arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. He spent months tracking Reinhold Robbe, a former lawmaker who was then chairman of the German-Israeli Society, they said. Mr. Haider, who was sentenced to four years and three months in prison, denied the charges and has instructed his attorneys to appeal the verdict against him, his lawyers said. The lawyers declined to comment further.
European airplane manufacturer ATR said Thursday it sealed a $536-million sale with Iran Air for at least 20 aircraft, the latest aviation firm to strike a deal following Iran's nuclear accord with world powers. ATR spokesman David Vargas confirmed the finalized deal for the 20 ATR 72-600s, a twin-propeller aircraft, and said Iran Air had an option to purchase another 20. "They will definitely help Iran Air to modernize and develop regional connectivity across the country," Vargas told The Associated Press. Home to 80 million people, Iran represents one of the last untapped aviation markets in the world. However, Western analysts are skeptical that there is demand for so many jets or available financing for deals worth billions of dollars. Vargas declined to offer a value for the deal with Iran Air. The confirmed portion of the deal is worth $536 million at list prices, though buyers typically negotiate discounts on bulk orders. Iranian state TV described the deal as being worth about $400 million.
NUCLEAR & BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAM
"The Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes that its defense missile program is in no way related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the nature and design of Iran's ballistic missiles are such that the tests do not contravene UN Security Council's Resolution 2231," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said in a statement late on Wednesday. Resolution 2231 was adopted on July 20, 2015 to endorse the JCPOA. Obviously, the Islamic Republic will continue to enhance its defense capacities to safeguard its national security and boost regional peace and stability regardless of how Western parties perceive the country's defense program. Qassemi's remarks came in response to a recent statement by the G7 countries, which claimed that Iran's missile tests were "inconsistent" with Resolution 2231.
Mr. Alaeddin Boroujredi addressed a ceremony in Hotel Esteghlal of Tehran Thursday to commemorate Pakistan's National Day (on 23 March 1940), where a group of foreign envoys, dignitaries, and Pakistani ambassador to Tehran Mr. Asif Ali Khan Durrani. The Principlist MP hailed historical relations with Pakistan and believed that the ties will be strong forever; "Iran's official line of policy is to support stability in the region especially its neighbors; we hope to see that peace embrace Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen," Boroujerdi told the ceremony, criticizing the recent US missile attack against an airfield in Syria. "Americans should have sent messages of peace rather than to attack the region with aggression and destruction," he added.
One of the most important policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to continue its serious fight against the ominous phenomenon of terrorism in the region, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said in a speech at a ceremony held in Tehran on Wednesday marking Pakistan's National Day. A number of Iranian and foreign officials, including ambassadors of Pakistan, Russia, Ecuador, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Cuba were present at the event. The Iranian official further expressed the hope for sustainable peace and security in the Middle East, calling on the US to, instead of dropping bombs, send a message of peace and friendship and help enhance security in the volatile region.
To understandhow mightily Iran once dominated Iraq, head to Ctesiphon, Persia's old capital, just south of Baghdad. A millennium and a half old, its ruined palace still features the world's largest unsupported brick arch. Until Arab armies seized it at the dawn of Islam, the city was twice the size of imperial Rome and the centre of a Sassanid empire that stretched from Egypt to the Hindu Kush.Few Iraqis seem eager to remember that history today. The Persian ruins lie behind rusting barbed wire, as if ties with Iran, past and present, were an embarrassment. Officially, Iran has only 95 military advisers in the country, compared with America's force of some 5,800 soldiers, several vast military bases and control of the skies. (In reality, an adviser to the prime minister confides, Iran's forces outnumber America's at least five to one.)
Iran Wednesday condemned a decision by the European Union to extend sanctions imposed over its human rights record for one year. "The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the repetitive and unhealthy process of double standards and political abuse of human rights as a tool by the EU, including the renewal of unilateral sanctions," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the EU has shown that it has no true understanding of the human rights situation ... in the religious democratic system of Iran." The sanctions renewed on Tuesday include an asset freeze against 82 individuals and one entity, plus a ban on exports to Iran of equipment "which might be used for internal repression and of equipment for monitoring telecommunications," an EU statement said.
Iranian social media activists arrested ahead of next month's presidential elections are being held on security and obscenity charges, the judiciary said Wednesday. "Some of these people have been arrested on national security charges and some... for committing crimes against public decency and publishing obscene content," deputy judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie told the Mizan Online news agency. Twelve people who run reformist and pro-government discussion forums on the popular messaging app Telegram were arrested last month. Authorities released no information at the time of their arrests and the detainees have not appeared in open court. Local media said the Telegram channels were shut down after the arrests. At least one was restored within a few days, but has not posted anything since March 17.
Hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised Iran's clerical establishment by registering for the May 19 presidential election, defying the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader's warning not to enter the race. Vilified in the West for his barbs against America and Israel and questioning of the Holocaust, the blacksmith's son Ahmadinejad has upset predictions before by stealing the show in 2005 when he defeated powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off vote. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei revealed last year that he had recommended to Ahmadinejad not to enter the contest. But after his registration on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad told journalists that Khamenei's recommendation was "just advice", Iranian media reported. Khamenei praised Ahmadinejad as "courageous, wise and hard-working" after his re-election in 2009, which ignited an eight-month firestorm of street protests. His pro-reform rivals said that vote was rigged.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's re-election is in doubt thanks to an unassuming cleric who only recently entered the public spotlight. On April 9, Ebrahim Raisi, a longtime behind-the-scenes operative of the Islamic Republic closely associated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared his candidacy in Iran's May 19 presidential election. Though he is the most likely consensus candidate of Iran's array of "principlists," the umbrella term for the country's roughly dozen smaller hard-line political parties, he is neither charismatic nor widely recognized by the Iranian public, and unless there is mass vote-rigging, his chances of unseating Rouhani are next to nothing. But Rouhani's camp has reason to fear that Khamenei's inner circle will resort to just such tactics. That would set the stage for a potentially explosive showdown over the future of the country.
In a move that surprised many observers as well as politicians around the world, US President Donald Trump ordered a targeted missile attack against a Syrian air base on April 6. The strike, which the United States said was in retaliation for the April 4 chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, marked a shift from former President Barack Obama's policy of restraint toward the Syrian crisis. The US military strike on a Syrian air base has created room at the table for more Russian and Iranian cooperation in Syria as the last allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad standing. As expected, the strike sparked sharply varied reactions around the world. While the dominant reaction among the Europeans was a welcoming of the strike as "punishment" for the chemical attack, other US allies, and especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, went even further, calling for more comprehensive US military strikes to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The world is watching on as Iran plans to hold its presidential elections in less than six weeks, but it's important to look at its consequences through the prism of human rights. While critics point out, correctly, that an election whereby all candidates must prove their loyalty in heart and deed to the Supreme Leader, and are filtered stringently by a Guardian Council whose members are themselves appointed by the Supreme Leader, can hardly be considered to represent the free will of the nation, the prospective choice of candidates offered to the Iranian people is itself a stark indicator of the fate that Iranians are expected to face. One expected candidate is current President Hassan Rouhani, who though billing himself as a 'moderate' in the 2013 election, has, according to a report last year by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, presided over the highest rate of executions in the country in the past quarter of a century.
The Iranian regime's role in enabling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's chemical attacks on civilians last week has sadly been ignored, in part because of Tehran's accurate assertion that its forces were themselves the victims of nerve agent warfare during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif termed Assad's chemical warfare, which killed 86 people and injured several hundred in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, as "bogus." He added on Twitter: "As the only recent victim of mass use of chemical weapons (by Saddam in the 80's), Iran condemns use of all WMD by anyone against anyone." And a scarcely read report in the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw this past October alleged that Iran used chemical weapons on 12 Kurdish fighters. Iranian Kurds have waged a low-intensity insurgency against the repression of the mullah-regime in western Iran.