The Iranian authorities moved Thursday to project the appearance of normalcy after a week of violent protests over gasoline price increases, partly restoring internet access and decreeing that the mayhem that convulsed the country was really a foreign-backed failure. But other developments suggested that a severe crackdown was underway in response to the street clashes, rioting and destruction that had upended life in dozens of Iranian cities and towns - and that the uprisings had not been completely crushed.
The Iranian nuclear crisis escalated on Thursday, with inspectors asking for support and diplomats expressing "grave concern" over the Islamic Republic's decision to expand uranium production. The decades-old confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, which has periodically threatened to tip into armed conflict, has intensified since the U.S. broke a deal to rein in Tehran's atomic work by reimposing sanctions last year. Tehran has responded by busting its nuclear limits under the accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
A sudden move to raise fuel prices in Iran has sparked nationwide protests over the past week and, in turn, drawn a fierce crackdown by security forces, marking some of the worst violence in the country in years. Scores have been reported killed. The protests have flared in many of the same areas that experienced unrest two years ago, when demonstrators protested a similar proposal to slash state subsidies. Then, as now, lower-income Iranians rose up against a system that they said had failed them economically.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The U.N. nuclear watchdog's top inspector will travel to Tehran next week to press Iran to finally explain the origin of uranium traces found at an undeclared site, the agency's acting chief said on Thursday. Reuters first reported in September that the International Atomic Energy Agency found the uranium traces at the site that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew attention to in a speech last year, calling it a "secret atomic warehouse". Tehran has said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
On the day after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death, President Trump identified an unlikely partner in the global fight against ISIS. "Iran is right there," he said, along with Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq, all of which maintain close ties with Tehran. "They all hate ISIS," the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It's a familiar refrain. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump argued that Iran, along with Syria and Russia, has played a positive role in combating the terrorist group. "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS," he said. "Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In a post on his Telegram social media channel on November 20, Prince Reza Pahlavi, the exiled heir to the throne of Iran, said the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's accusations against protesters who took to the streets in more than a hundred cities and towns in the past week were "cowardly". Khamenei has repeatedly called the protesters "hooligans" and said they were responsible for "sabotage and arson".
Iran's Writers' Association has issued a statement on Thursday, November 21, condemning "violent confrontation" with people's right to free speech and calling on the Islamic Republic authorities to end the presence of security forces in the streets. The statement sent to Radio Farda says, "Instead of belittling, threatening and persecuting protesters, who have no weapon except their chants" the authorities should respect their right to free speech.
The U.S. Mission in Geneva has strongly condemned the Iranian authorities for "acts of violence committed against Iranian protesters", in tweet on November 21. The Mission in Geneva represents U.S. interests at the United Nations bodies and other international organizations based in that city. In the tweet the U.S. Mission expresses its deep concern over reports of fatalities and urges the Islamic Republic to "heed the demands of its people and stop flagrantly violating their #HumanRights".
A spokeswoman for the EU on Thursday expressed condolences to the families of those killed during protests in Iran and called for dialogue to resolve the tensions. "We expect Iran's security forces to exercise maximum restraint in handling the protests and for protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Any violence is unacceptable," Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a statement. "The rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be guaranteed."
The Iranian regime is claiming that the latest spasm of street protests is dying down, with President Hassan Rouhani declaring a "victory" for the Islamic Republic. Skepticism is in order: The regime has not yet fully lifted its near-total clampdown on the internet, suggesting it still fears that news of the protests - along with images and video - will spread at home, and attract more attention abroad. Other signs of nervousness in Tehran abound.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian authorities slowly eased up their sweeping blockage of internet access on Friday, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Iranians to send the U.S. videos "documenting the regime's crackdown" on protesters. "The U.S. will expose and sanction the abuses," Pompeo tweeted early Friday, as pockets of Iran saw internet over landlines restored. Authorities have said the internet may be entirely restored soon, suggesting Iran's government put down the demonstrations that began Nov. 15 over government-set gasoline prices rising.
US President Donald Trump said Thursday that Iran is so "unstable" that the Iranian government has shut down the internet so the people cannot disclose the "tremendous violence" occurring in the country. Trump tweeted that the Iranian government wants "ZERO transparency" and believes that by shutting down the internet the rest of the world will not find out about the "death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!" Recent violence was triggered by Iran's raising the minimum price for gasoline by 50 percent.
The family of American hostage Bob Levinson found new hope of bringing the former FBI agent home. Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007 while on an unsanctioned CIA intelligence-gathering mission. Newly translated documents, rare recognition from the Islamic Republic and an increased monetary reward for information regarding Levinson's whereabouts provide fresh momentum for the family to demand the release of the husband, father and grandfather.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Tensions between Iran and the United States could force the U.S. military to keep up a costly deployment of troops and hardware in the Middle East for years to come to protect oil shipping and Persian Gulf allies, according to a study released Thursday by a Washington think tank and Columbia University. The report from the Center for a New American Security and Columbia found that Iran's ability to affect oil prices by disrupting shipping routes and attacking oil facilities in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere has been overestimated.
Iran has begun widescale air defense drills, simulating a potential aerial invasion amid regional unrest and a powerful U.S. Navy warship sailed near its shores. Speaking on the sidelines of the 98-Guardians of Velayat Sky joint exercises, Iranian Army Air Defense Brigadier General Alireza Sabahifard said Thursday that the maneuvers were being held across an area of some 416,000 square kilometers-roughly the size of the U.S. state of California-mostly in the northern province of Semnan.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran on Thursday began restoring internet access in the capital Tehran and a number of provinces, news agencies and residents said, after a five-day-long nationwide shutdown meant to help stifle protests against fuel price hikes. The Revolutionary Guards said calm had returned across Iran, state TV reported. Amnesty International said over 100 demonstrators had been killed by security forces, a figure rejected as "speculative" by the government. "The internet is being gradually restored in the country," the semi-official news agency Fars said, quoting unidentified informed sources.
After the Iranian government announced last Friday plans to cut fuel subsidies, protests erupted in dozens of locations nationwide. Almost immediately, photos and videos began to be uploaded and shared on social media, showing protesters defying authorities and blocking roads. Soon after, however, the stream of information slowed to a trickle. First, mobile networks stopped working in parts of the country. Then, suddenly, Iran's digital ties to the outside world were cut off.
A major internet outage in Iran aimed at suppressing anti-government protests has extended into a sixth day, with access levels rising slightly as authorities said they reconnected several regions to the web. In a series of Thursday tweets, London-based internet monitoring group NetBlocks said Iran's almost-total internet shutdown began to ease after 113 hours, with the national connectivity rate rising from 5% to 10%, and later to 15% by early Friday local time. Connectivity had plummeted to about 5% late Saturday and mostly remained at that level until Thursday afternoon.
The measure of a successful Iranian dynasty has always been simple: For 2 millennia, Iranians have judged their kings good if the kings managed to keep good order. Siyasat, the Persian word for politics, originally meant simply this. By that yardstick, the current clerical "dynasty" has failed miserably. Witness the latest wave of popular unrest engulfing the Islamic Republic.
Access to the internet is gradually being restored in Iran after an unprecedented five-day shutdown that cut its population off from the rest of the world and suppressed news of the deadliest unrest since the country's 1979 revolution. The digital blackout that commenced last Friday is part of a growing trend of governments interfering with the internet to curb violent unrest, but also legitimate dissent. The internet-freedom group Access Now recorded 75 internet outages in 2016, which more than doubled to 196 last year.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran handed over the state's Yemeni embassy to the Houthi militia, a move condemned by the Arab Leauge, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday. The Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned Iran's step considering it a flagrant violation of diplomatic norms and of the United Nations Charter, the Vienna Convention, and the relevant Security Council resolutions.
IRAQ & IRAN
Ground-breaking disclosures of secret intelligence reports within the Iranian government revealed how Iran controls much of the Iraqi government since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Official documents from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security were published by the Intercept, an online news publication, which collaborated with the New York Times on reporting the information. However, exposure of such Iranian activities did not come as a surprise to many Iraqis.