While Iran's sanction-battered economy has sparked protests across the nation, U.S. officials cite new intelligence suggesting Tehran's finances are more dire than previously thought and are bringing it closer to a financial crisis. Tehran's sophisticated sanction-evasion efforts have offset some of the losses from plummeting oil exports due to global U.S. sanctions pressure. But according to new U.S. financial intelligence, the government is scraping the barrel on foreign-exchange reserves, a critical indicator of the country's ability to control economic forces and to import equipment and supplies.
Amnesty International has shared new details of how it developed an authoritative death toll for Iranians killed by their nation's security forces in anti-government protests last month. In a Monday statement, the London-based human rights group said it had received credible reports that at least 208 protesters were killed in less than a week of nationwide unrest that began on November 15. It was an increase of 57 from the group's previous death toll reported on Friday.
Iranians have been protesting their regime since last month. Only in the last few days, however, has the world begun to learn the full scope of the repression they face. There are the videos posted to social media and aggregated by news sites that show security forces firing on demonstrators. There are statements from leading Iranian opposition figures such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the leaders of the 2009 uprising who has been under house arrest since 2011.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The incoming head of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog agency said Monday he will take a "firm and fair" approach toward inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, and plans to visit Tehran in the near future. Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi's comments came after he was confirmed as the new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency unanimously at a special session. His four-year term begins on Tuesday. The 58-year-old succeeds Yukiya Amano, who died in July, and takes over at a time when the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is unraveling.
The newly appointed European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, stressed the importance of keeping the 2015 nuclear deal alive, calling on Iran to use all its resources toward this end. "We have the greatest interest in the nuclear deal's survival and expect Iranian officials to do all they can so that this agreement remains alive," he said in an interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper published on Sunday, IRNA reported.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran is still selling its oil despite U.S. sanctions on Tehran's exports, the country's Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri was quoted on Monday as saying by state TV, adding that Washington's "maximum pressure" on Tehran had failed. "Despite America's pressure ... and its imposed sanctions on our oil exports, we still continue to sell our oil by using other means ... when even friendly countries have stopped purchasing our crude fearing America's penalties," Jahangiri said.
President Trump likes to say that Iran is "a different country" after 18 months of punishing American sanctions, and the protests sweeping Iranian cities suggest he may be right. Even his most vociferous critics acknowledge that Mr. Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign helped fuel that unrest. But it is far from clear that what is unfolding on the streets today will make Iran more likely to renegotiate its nuclear deal or dial back its malign actions in the region, the two major American goals in dealing with the country.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged security forces shot and killed what it described as "rioters" in multiple cities amid recent protests over the spike in government-set gasoline prices - the first time that authorities have offered any sort of accounting for the violence they used to put down the demonstrations. The acknowledgment came in a television package that criticized international Farsi-language channels for their reporting on the crisis, which began on Nov. 15.
Iran for the first time acknowledged that its security forces shot and killed protesters last month during one of the most violent crackdowns on dissent since the 1979 Islamic revolution. State television on Tuesday reported that "rioters" had been shot dead in several areas as they joined anti-government protests, including in Tehran, the capital, and Mahshahr in the country's southwest.
Days after 32-year-old Hamid Rasouli joined demonstrations over Iran's troubled economy, he was killed by security forces, according to a friend. They handed over his body to his family with two demands: Pay nearly $8,000 and say your son was a member of a state militia who died at the hands of protesters. Mr. Rasouli's family put a lien on their house to pay for his body and were allowed only a small funeral in the presence of security forces and a government cleric, said Behzad Mehrani, an Iranian in the U.S. who has known the family for decades.
Leaders of a group planning unrest at universities in Tehran this weekend have been arrested, Iranian authorities said on Tuesday, adding that many of the 2,021 people detained in the area around the capital in unrest last month were released. The Intelligence Ministry said the leading members of a group planning disturbances at universities in Tehran and in other parts of Iran on the country's annual students' day on Dec. 7 had been arrested, according to the official IRIB news agency.
Iranian activist and journalist Masih Alinejad appeared on "The Story with Martha MacCallum" Monday to discuss the unrest in Iran and the hundreds of protesters killed by the government's brutal crackdown, saying the movement opposing Tehran's authoritarian regime could topple the country's theocratic regime. "This time is totally different. People became their own leader. They took to the street. They risked their lives. And they had the message, which you hear through the videos," Alinejad said after MacCallum showed clips of the unrest.
Feeling the heat, Iranian hard-liners are distancing themselves from the government's fuel price hike. The government announced Nov. 15 an important decision affecting daily life in Iran: the rationing of gasoline and a subsequent increase in gas prices. Iranians have bitter memories of fuel price hikes. They consider it tantamount to a deterioration in their quality of life. Increases in gas prices have always led to increases in the costs of food and other necessities.
While the protests over gas prices in Iran have completely died down and the internet is back up, Iranians and some officials are attempting to put together the pieces of what happened after President Hassan Rouhani announced fuel subsidy cuts on Nov. 16. Government officials have not yet offered a tally of the number killed or arrested as a result of the protests. Members of parliament, therefore, have sought a special committee to investigate the November protests.
Two weeks after the deadliest anti-regime protests in the four-decade history of the Islamic Republic, there are several reports on the "grave condition" of detained protesters, especially underage and child prisoners. Citing "informed sources" in Sanandaj, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network KHRN reported that more than 100 of the detained protesters are held under grueling conditions in a military base run by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). There are also several underage and schoolchildren among the detainees; the sources told KHRN.
Anyone who thinks that the recent protests in 100 cities throughout Iran were about gas prices did not pay attention to what the protesters were saying. The immediate spark that led to the Arab Spring was the 2010 self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, but the Arab Spring revolution was not about Tunisian citizens' ability to obtain permits to sell fruit. Likewise, this unrest in Iran was not about the price of gas. Iranian protesters (and rioters) chanting "No to Gaza, no to Lebanon!" "Leave Syria and think of us," and even "Death to Palestine!" indicates that something much larger than the price of gas drove their outrage.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Iran was killing thousands of people for protesting and urged the world to take more notice. Disturbances in Iran began in mid-November over gasoline price hikes but quickly turned political, with demonstrators demanding the removal of the top leaders of the country in what may be the biggest anti-government protests in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic. "Iran is killing perhaps thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak, that it why they cut off the internet so people can't see what is going on," Trump said during a visit to London for a NATO Summit.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the uniting factor behind protests around the Middle East, saying demonstrators in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran itself opposed the clerical regime. While acknowledging diverse local reasons for the unrest that has swept the Middle East as well as other regions, Pompeo pointed the finger at Iran, considered an arch-enemy by President Donald Trump's administration.
Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran has condemned the Islamic Republic's actions to harass and persecute Iranian journalists working abroad and their relatives living in Iran. In a tweet on Monday December 2, the U.S. State Department cited Brian Hook as saying, "The Iranian establishment has attacked reporters working at VOA Persian service, Radio Farda, and the BBC. The United States of America condemns harassment of the reporters and their families, while it continues to take decisive steps toward supporting the freedom of expression and the media."
Two days before Thanksgiving, as President Donald Trump was preparing his surprise visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif phoned Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah and met with a delegation from the Taliban. The object of both discussions was to pressure U.S. and its allies: Zarif told the Taliban representatives that Iran wants a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and offered al-Nakhalah Iran's full support for PIJ's "valiant resistance" against Israel.
IRAQ & IRAN
Ongoing violent protests in Iraq have shaken the fragile stability of the country, as well as Iran's carefully constructed geopolitical strategy for its neighbor and historic rival. On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, triggering what is certain to be a contentious period of political jockeying. Even if Mahdi's successor is also seen as "pro-Iran," however, Tehran will not be in a position to cheer because its ability to openly influence Iraq has become more limited. Iran is also facing its own economic and political pressures.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially called on Iran to explain the killing of a number of Afghan citizens by Iranian security forces in the course of the protests in November, Radio Free Europe's Afghan Service reported. The REFE/RL Afghan service on Monday December 2 quoted a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry as having said that the Ministry is following up the case and Iranian officials have promised to offer explanations.