Iran's stunning admission that its forces errantly downed a Ukrainian jetliner - reversing three days of denial - did little to quell growing fury inside the country and beyond on Saturday as the deadly tragedy turned into a volatile political crisis for Tehran's leaders and overshadowed their struggle with the United States. Ukrainian officials criticized Iran's conduct, suggesting that the Iranians would not have admitted responsibility if investigators from Ukraine had not found evidence of a missile strike in the wreckage of the crash, which killed all 176 people aboard.
Videos emerged online Monday that purportedly show Iranian police and security forces firing live ammunition to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic after the country mistakenly downed a Ukrainian airline plane shortly after takeoff from Tehran. There was no immediate report in Iranian state-run media on the incident near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran, but, if true, could be seen as an act of defiance against President Trump who warned the regime against the use of deadly force.
A top Iranian military commander made a rare public appeal for forgiveness on Sunday as security forces fired on protesters and outrage over the mistaken downing of a jetliner reignited opposition on the streets and stirred dissent within the government's conservative base. It was the second day of protests after the military acknowledged early Saturday that it had launched the missiles that brought down a Ukraine International Airlines jet near the Iranian capital on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Former Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman reacts to Democrats uniting behind their criticism of President Trump's airstrike order.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Germany, France and the U.K. affirmed their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal and called on the Islamic Republic to comply with the rules on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The countries said they regret the U.S. withdrawal from the Vienna Nuclear Agreement and the reintroduction of sanctions against Iran, according to a joint statement on Sunday. They also expressed "deep concern" about measures Tehran has taken since July 2019 -- such as its decision this month to stop abiding by limits on uranium enrichment.
German chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday repeated a call for all parties to respect the Iranian nuclear accord, despite Iran's decision to intensify its enrichment of uranium and moves by the United States to impose economic sanctions. Under a deal brokered in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, to restrict its nuclear program.
European powers have rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's call for them to join him in abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with several factors pushing them to try to keep the deal alive, analysts say. After European Union foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels Friday to discuss escalating Middle East tensions, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the 28-nation bloc will keep doing whatever it can to save the deal. Under the agreement, world powers offered Iran relief from international sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear program.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Oil prices held steady on Monday as fears of conflict between the United States and Iran eased, with investors shifting their focus to this week's scheduled signing of an initial U.S.-China trade deal, which could boost economic growth and demand. Brent crude LCOc1 was up 1 cents at $64.99 per barrel at 0737 GMT, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 was up 5 cents at $59.09 a barrel from the previous session.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he is working with China to cut off the minimal flow of Iranian oil exports to the country on "Sunday Morning Futures" with Maria Bartiromo. "We've cut off probably over 95% of the oil revenues, so there's a very small amount of oil revenues, and you're right, a component of that, a big component of that is China," Mnuchin said. "I sat down with the Chinese officials. They flew in a delegation to meet with us and the State Department to talk about this.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Students at Iran's Islamic Azad University are being offered a novel new career choice - suicide terrorist. Leaflets are being distributed at the influential school urging students to sign up for Jihad missions against the United States and Israel to avenge the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. "Registration for volunteers to commit a suicide attack against the United States and Israel," it blares. "Hard revenge is underway for those criminals who killed Qassem Soleimani."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Protesters in Iran called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down after the country admitted to shooting down a commercial airliner accidentally. Video on social media shows demonstrators in front of Amirkabir University in Tehran chanting, "Commander in chief resign, resign." Hundreds of protesters also chanted, "Death to the dictator," during the protest against the Khamenei regime.
Scores of protesters gathered for a second day in Iran on Sunday chanting slogans against the authorities following the military's admission it had shot down a passenger plane in error after days denying it was to blame, social media posts showed. The posts on Twitter could not immediately be verified by Reuters. But state-affiliated media had reported protests on Saturday night shortly after the Iranian military said it had brought down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday and apologized.
Videos on social media recorded gunshots fired in the vicinity of Iranian protests that were staged after Tehran admitted bringing down a passenger plane in error. It was not immediately possible to verify the footage posted late on Sunday and which also showed blood on the ground and images of people who appeared to be security personnel elsewhere in the area carrying rifles. Other posts showed police in riot gear hitting protesters with batons on the street, as people nearby shouted "Don't beat them!"
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
White House officials on Sunday defended the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, while acknowledging potential gaps in their assertion that four U.S. embassies had become imminent targets of Iranian attack. "Look, it's always difficult, even with the exquisite intelligence that we have, to know exactly what the targets are," White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said on "Fox News Sunday." "We know there were threats to American facilities, now whether they were bases, embassies-you know it's always hard until the attack happens."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other administration officials joined President Donald Trump in trying to draw attention to dissent in Iran instead of lingering questions about the scale of the threat used to justify a drone strike on Iran's top military leader. Esper added to the uncertainty over the intelligence behind last week's killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he said Sunday that he had seen no hard evidence that four American embassies had been under possible threat. Trump said last Friday that Soleimani had been planning such an attack.
In a defining week for President Donald Trump on the world stage, national security adviser Robert O'Brien was a constant presence at the president's side as the U.S. edged to the brink of war with Iran and back again. The contrasts with O'Brien's predecessor along the way - in secret consultations at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, in the Oval Office and in basement deliberations in the White House Situation Room - could not have been more stark.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he does not care if Iran agrees to negotiate with the United States after a senior adviser earlier suggested the Islamic Republic would have no choice but to agree to talks. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told "Fox News Sunday" the Trump administration's "maximum pressure campaign" was working, adding "Iran is being choked off, and Iran is going to have no other choice but to come to the table."
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Sunday for increased cooperation among countries in the region to deal with problems he blamed on the United States, his official website said. "The situation in the region is inappropriate because of ... the United States and its friends, and the only way to deal with it is to rely on inter-regional cooperation," Ayatollah Khamenei told Qatar's visiting ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the website reported.
Iran signalled Sunday it favours a de-escalation after 10 days of heightened tensions with the United States during which both sides fired missiles and Tehran accidentally shot down a passenger aircraft. Security was stepped up in Iran's capital after a vigil the previous night for those killed in the air disaster turned into an angry protest and police temporarily arrested the British ambassador for being there.
When President Donald Trump tweeted "All is Well!" Tuesday after Iran's missile attack on two U.S. air bases in Iraq, the danger of imminent war seemed to have passed. No casualties. It was a warning shot, said a U.S. official after dawn broke Wednesday in the desert. Many outside national security experts agreed, saying they believed Iran took deliberate steps to avoid American casualties.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry faced a question about his role in releasing billions of dollars to Iran during the Obama administration and responded by first attacking President Trump's criticism of the move. President Trump has claimed that Iran's recent aggression against the U.S. in Iraq was funded by $150 billion that the Obama administration gave to Iran. Kerry has insisted that was false, although in the past he recognized that at least some of the money - which was frozen due to sanctions and held in banks around the world before being released at roughly the same time the Iran nuclear deal was made - would end up in the hands of terrorists.
Early in the week, the seemingly escalating spate of violence between the United States and Iran had the potential to verge into war. For many, it recalled the intense conflict between those countries in the 1980s. But that conflict offers hope: By following Ronald Reagan's example, there is a path for avoiding a cycle of ever-escalating tit-for-tat attacks and reprisals. Over three decades ago, Reagan dealt with Iran firmly, but in a measured way, to preserve access to Middle Eastern oil while avoiding general war.
For a few days, the band was back together. Following President Trump's decision to target Qassem Soleimani, the media's favorite go-to critics featured members of Barack Obama's administration who crafted and sold the failed nuclear deal with Iran. John Kerry, Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Wendy Sherman and Leon Panetta gave interviews or popped up on social media to defend their tenure and declare that Trump was a reckless fool for poking the mullahs' nest.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
There has been a calibrated de-escalation of tensions between the US and Iran, after a drone strike killed General Qassem Suleimani, the second most powerful man in Iran and most influential military commander in the region. Missile strikes on US bases allowed Iran to claim it had responded in kind, without causing any American casualties that could have prompted a further US attack. But there is little expectation that this will be the end of Iran's response to such a significant loss.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Details about why Iran air defense forces mistook a Ukrainian airliner for a cruise missile early Wednesday remain murky, but one thing is clear: Safeguards for operating surface-to-air missiles are supposed to prevent that kind of mistaken identity and all of them failed. The error, which killed all 176 people aboard the plane, is probably the result of multiple layers of failure, said Steven Zaloga, senior analyst for missile systems at the Teal Group.
Iran's conservative dominated Guardian Council has barred nearly one third of the current members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) from running for the upcoming parliamentary elections, official news agency IRNA and semei-official agency ISNA reported Sunday January 12. Some 800 candidates were also disqualified by the Interior Ministry last month. However, the 80 or so MPs whose disqualification was announced on Sunday comprise one of the largest number of incumbent MPs ever barred from running for the Majles.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Democrats are racing against the clock to shore up support for checking President Trump's war powers as the fight shifts to the Senate. Lawmakers looking to limit Trump's ability to take military action against Iran face a tight time frame with little room for error after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week. Once the trial begins, all legislation is expected to be delayed for weeks.
The U.S. and Iran may have walked back from the brink of war, but the potential for a cyber battle looms with no clear rules of engagement. Lawmakers and military officials say there's no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes cyber warfare, leaving them to decide on a case-by-case basis how best to respond to individual incidents. "We've never really gone down the route to define what constitutes an act of war when it comes to cyberattacks," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told The Hill last week.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Sunday it was time for Iran's allies to begin working to retaliate for the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani though it would be a "long path" to the goal of ejecting U.S. forces from the region. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also denied the Iranian general had been planning to blow up U.S. embassies. U.S. President Donald Trump said he had been killed after he landed in Baghdad in part because "they were looking to blow up our embassy".
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, said during a visit to Iran on Sunday that de-escalation and dialogue were needed to resolve regional crises at a "sensitive" time. He was speaking in a televised news conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a visit to Tehran at a time of heightened U.S.-Iranian tensions that threaten to destabilize the region.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Britain's ambassador to Iran, Robert Macaire, was briefly detained Saturday as the country faces international condemnation over their downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 earlier this week. The news was first reported by Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency. "The arrest of our ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law," Britain's Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
Iran summoned the UK envoy on Sunday to complain about his attendance at an "illegal" rally in Tehran to commemorate those killed in a Ukrainian airliner mistakingly downed by the country's military forces, Iranian Foreign Ministry's website reported. "Today, Rob Macaire was summoned because of his unconventional behavior of attending an illegal rally on Saturday," the report said. Britain said earlier that its ambassador in Iran had been briefly detained on Saturday, which Iranian media said was because he was inciting anti-government protests.
Iran has issued eight more visas to a team of Canadian officials following a fatal plane crash near Tehran and most members of the group should be in Tehran on Monday, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday. Champagne said on Twitter that three officials from the rapid deployment team had flown to Iran on Saturday to set up a base of operations and a further eight would travel on Monday. The last member will arrive in Ankara on Monday.
In a case that has stirred debate about free speech on college campuses, an adjunct professor at a Massachusetts college was fired on Thursday after posting on Facebook what he described as a joke suggesting that Iran pick sites in the United States to bomb. The professor, Asheen Phansey, wrote on his personal Facebook page on Jan. 5 that Iran's supreme leader should "tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb," suggesting the Mall of America in Minnesota and a Kardashian residence as targets, Judy Rakowsky, a spokeswoman for Mr. Phansey, said on Saturday.