A global dirty money watchdog is likely to place Iran on its blacklist on Friday after it failed to comply with international anti-terrorism financing norms, a move that would further isolate the country from financial markets, two diplomats said. The decision comes after more than three years of warnings from the Paris-based Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) urging Tehran to enact terrorist financing conventions or it would see its suspension from the blacklist lifted and some counter-measures applied.
When Iranians go to the polls on Friday they will be taking part in what may be the least representative and least fair election in the Islamic Republic's history. While Iran's parliamentary elections have never been free and democratic, Iran's clerical leadership disqualified more than 7,000 candidates from running this year, including most of the moderates and centrists, paving the way for tougher domestic and foreign policies.
The U.S. imposed sanctions on five senior Iranian officials for allegedly preventing fair and free elections in Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday. The sanctions came ahead of Iran's parliamentary elections on Friday, for which the country's leadership is trying to rally a large turnout to bolster itself against a rise in domestic discontent. The officials, members of Iran's Guardian Council and its Elections Supervision Committee who are appointed by the country's supreme leader or his appointees, are in charge of vetting candidates, according to the Treasury.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...The terror-financing provisions in the Iranian legislation put clerical leaders in a bind, because they would run counter to the government's support of internationally-recognized terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas that act as Iran's international proxies. "The debate over the FATF has turned into a proxy for an internal Iranian political battle over integration vs. isolation with the international community," said Jason Brodsky, policy director for the advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran. Given that Iran's hard-liners are expected by U.S. officials and Iran-watchers to increase their influence in the parliamentary elections this week, the likelihood of Iran of implementing the task force's requirements appears even more remote.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once said: "It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." That is exactly the thinking of the current theocratic dictatorship in Iran. Elections are a veneer hiding what the dictators have stolen: popular sovereignty, free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought and everything that is associated with these democratic principles.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Thursday the United States was in talks with at least two more companies that would like to send food and medicine to Iran through the Swiss humanitarian channel. Hook told reporters there was a lot of interest in the Swiss network, intended to supply goods to struggling sectors of Iran's population without tripping over U.S. sanctions. He offered few details, and did not identify firms either in talks with U.S. officials or those that may already have engaged in sending shipments to Iran through the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement.
Iran's currency continued its recent downward trend on Thursday, falling to 144,800 rials against the U.S. dollar, one day before scheduled parliamentary elections on Friday and a decision by an international financial watchdog to impose counter-measures against the country. In the past two months the Iranian currency, already battered by U.S. economic sanctions has fallen another ten percent against major currencies, due to diplomatic impasse in Iran's relations with the West and serious internal unrest.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, in his latest report has highlighted the mid-November anti-regime protests that shook the Islamic Republic for four days. Rehman has asserted in the report that he was "shocked" at the number of deaths, acute injuries, and stories of ill-treatment of persons detained during the November 2019 protests. "According to reports, detainees are being tortured or are suffering other forms of ill-treatment, sometimes to extract forced confessions," Rehman said in his report published on Wednesday, February 19.
There will be more than 7,000 candidates contesting Iran's parliamentary elections - less than half of those who applied to stand in the nationwide vote Friday. The candidates are mostly conservatives and hard-liners who exhibit absolute loyalty to the country's supreme leader, but there will be a smattering of lesser-known reformists and moderates who support engagement with the West. The Guardians Council, which vets all candidates, has provoked controversy by disqualifying about 9,000 of the 16,000 people who registered to run, including 90 current lawmakers, according to the Interior Ministry.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo toured a Saudi Arabian air base where the U.S. has deployed fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries to defend against Iranian attacks, a visit meant as a show of force against Iran and a sign of strong U.S.-Saudi ties. The visit Thursday to Prince Sultan Air Base, a barren, sprawling facility two hours southeast of Riyadh that covers an area almost the size of Bahrain, allowed Pompeo to inspect a squadron of F-15E fighter jets that deployed here in January and get a classified briefing from the commanders of a Patriot missile unit protecting against Iranian drone and missile strikes.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Thursday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, visited Saudi defense installations and kept the focus on Iran's threat to regional security. Saudi media highlighted the U.S. finding that Iranian missiles being provided to Tehran's Houthi allies in Yemen were used to attack Saudi oil installations last year. The Saudi news channel showed U.S. Secretary Pompeo meeting with King Salman, along with a delegation of top U.S. officials.
Iran's senior leaders flooded the media with eve-of-poll warnings that abstentions in Friday's parliamentary elections - either through indifference or as a protest - will only encourage Donald Trump to step up economic sanctions against Tehran. The one-week period of officially sanctioned campaigning for a seat in the next five year parliament ended on Wednesday night, 24 hours before voting started amid the first serious outbreak of coronavirus in Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
All the telltale signs of Iranian arms smuggling were there when sailors from the USS Normandy boarded a dinghy in the Arabian Sea on Feb. 9. A Yemeni crew was concealing a deadly weapons cache. It included 150 Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian-designed Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, surface-to-air 358 missiles only produced in Iran, and components of the Qasef-3 and Samad unmanned aerial vehicles, the same used in the September Saudi Aramco oil installation attacks.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran closed schools and imposed emergency measures in a central province near the country's capital after two people who tested positive for the coronavirus died, the first fatalities in the Middle East from the disease. Five people so far have been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus, Iran's health ministry said Thursday. Four of them in the city of Qom, one of the country's main pilgrimage sites about 75 miles south of Tehran, where the two elderly patients died a day earlier. Another case, a doctor, was diagnosed in Arak, 70 miles southwest of there.
Iranians were voting on Friday in a parliamentary election likely to help hardline loyalists of the supreme leader tighten their grip on power as the country faces mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home. With thousands of potential candidates disqualified in favor of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's allies, the vote is not expected to ease the country's nuclear standoff with the United States or lead to a softer foreign policy.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Kuwait Airways suspended all flights to Iran starting on Thursday on the advice of the Kuwaiti health ministry and civil aviation authority amid fears about a coronavirus outbreak in the country. Kuwait Airways is the second flagship carrier in the region to suspend flights to Iran after Iraq Airways stopped flights earlier on Thursday. Two Iranians who tested positive for the coronavirus have died of respiratory illness, and three others tested positive on Thursday, the Iranian health ministry said.
IRAQ & IRAN
After a painful and agonizing eight-year war with Iraq, Iran worked to rebuild its industrial, economic, scientific, and military infrastructure, which the war heavily destroyed, and to engage in formulating a new strategy throughout the region, based on deterring threats from neighboring countries or the Middle East. In other words, the Persian state sought relentlessly and thoughtfully to expand its influence in several directions, in order to prevent the recurrence of any scenario that would endanger the Islamic revolution and its ruling regime.