Iran’s new president is flying to Tajikistan for his first foreign trip where he’s expecting to gain membership of a growing Eurasian club led by China and Russia, whose economic muscle has helped Tehran blunt American sanctions. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, or SCO, was founded two decades ago in St. Petersburg and currently has eight members representing half the world’s population and a quarter of its economic output. Iran’s been angling to join the bloc that also includes India and Pakistan since 2005, with membership a key goal of conservatives who after the June election of President Ebrahim Raisi control all the levers of power. They want tighter economic integration with Beijing and Moscow to help replace some of the sanctioned trade with western economies.
Iran acknowledged on Wednesday that it had removed several surveillance cameras installed by U.N. nuclear inspectors at a centrifuge assembly site that came under a mysterious attack earlier this year. The chief of the country’s nuclear program, Mohammad Eslami, sought to portray the removal of cameras as Tehran’s response to world powers reneging on their commitments under the tattered 2015 nuclear deal. “The parties did not implement their commitments so there were no necessity for the cameras’ existence,” Eslami said after a meeting with lawmakers — remarks apparently aimed at his own domestic audience under the country’s new hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Israel’s navy has stepped up its activities in the Red Sea “exponentially” in the face of growing Iranian threats to Israeli shipping, the country’s just-retired navy commander said in an interview. Vice Adm. Eli Sharvit stopped short of confirming a series of attacks and mishaps on Iranian ships that have been attributed to Israel. But he described Iranian activities on the high seas as a top Israeli concern and said the navy is able to strike wherever necessary to protect the country’s economic and security interests. “The state of Israel will protect its freedom of navigation across the globe,” Sharvit told The Associated Press, days after completing his five-year term. “That’s not related to distance from the country.” Sharvit was a busy man during his tenure — overseeing a small but well-equipped force responsible for safeguarding Israel’s Mediterranean coast as well as the Red Sea, a vital gateway for imports from Asia.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran dodged formal diplomatic censure at the United Nations nuclear watchdog as envoys opted to try coaxing Tehran back to the negotiating table rather than mount pressure over an investigation into decades-old traces of atomic material. By avoiding an official rebuke, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors created an opening for the resumption of stalled talks with world powers aiming to restore a 2015 deal that had rolled back Iran’s nuclear advances in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran’s new hardline government had warned that censure over its lack of cooperation with international nuclear monitors, which could wind up in the UN Security Council, would have imperiled the negotiations. Diplomats from European countries, Russia and the U.S. all called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to quickly rejoin talks suspended since June.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
A court in the Western District of Texas has sentenced a man of Iranian descent to more than five years in prison for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Mehrdad Ansari, a resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany, was sentenced to 63 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a scheme to obtain military-sensitive parts for Iran. “This case reaffirms HSI’s resolve and commitment in securing the homeland by targeting foreign actors attempting to procure sensitive technology by exploiting the U.S. export laws,” said HSI San Antonio acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The mother of Navid Afkari, the wrestling star executed by the Iranian government, says her family still has "no peace" over a year since her son's death. In a rare interview with CNN Sport's Don Riddell, Bahieh Namjoo says she is aware of the dangers that come with speaking out against the Iranian government, but insists she is determined to maintain her son's legacy and help her two other sons get out of prison. "My motivation [for speaking out] is for my two sons who have now been imprisoned for a year in Adel Abad prison," she says via video call from Iran, on the eve of the first anniversary of Navid's death.
Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture or other ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials, said Amnesty International following yesterday’s reports of yet another suspicious death in custody. The findings, which are based on Amnesty International’s long-term research and a comprehensive review of reporting by credible human rights groups and media outlets, reveal that since January 2010, at least 72 deaths occurred at 42 prisons and detention centers in 16 provinces across the country.
Iranian dissident musician Mehdi Rajabian has been blacklisted, imprisoned, and suppressed by the regime in Tehran for making music it deems unacceptable. Despite it all, the 31-year-old is releasing a new album—one he warns could be his final protest. Rajabian wrote his previous album while in prison serving a six-year term for his illegal music. The composer's repeated use of female voices in his music particularly rankled the Iranian authorities. He and his brother Hossein went on hunger strike while imprisoned in 2016. Rajabian eventually required hospital treatment for internal bleeding. He lost 33 pounds and was left with severely swollen muscles all over his body.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Among the challenges encountered by the Islamic Republic of Iran, climate change looms as one of the most serious, disrupting, and even life-threatening issues facing both rural and urban populations. This threat has worsened at a time when Iran is politically polarized, ideologically fractured, and economically embattled. Iran’s biggest environmental concern used to be air pollution. More recently, however, water shortages and rising temperatures, as well as mismanagement and a lack of enforcement of existing environmental regulations, have greatly contributed to Iran’s environmental crisis. Iran is confronting the drying up of rivers and wetlands, severe groundwater depletion, desertification, biodiversity reduction, air and soil pollution, poor waste management, soil erosion, destruction of pastures and forests, and dust storms.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Air strikes from unidentified drones killed three pro-Iran fighters in Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, an anti-regime war monitor said on Wednesday. The drones late Tuesday targeted trucks of the Iraqi paramilitary network Hashed al-Shaabi after they had crossed the border into the Syrian border district of Albu Kamal, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Three were killed and several severely wounded, the monitoring group said.
IRAQ & IRAN
Human rights groups and the family of Kurdish political activist Yasser Mangouri said he has died after being summoned by members of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. Mangouri’s arrest occurred on July 17, but his death was officially conveyed to his family over 50 days later. According to the Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the body has yet to be handed over to the family, which continues to be kept in the dark about the exact circumstances surrounding his death. Since Mangouri was summoned and held incommunicado by Iran’s intelligence forces, his family had repeatedly approached the authorities for news on his whereabouts, but to no avail.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
On the day the Taliban captured Kabul, newly inaugurated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi cheered the United States’ “military defeat and withdrawal.” But although Iran may be happy to have U.S. troops gone from its northeastern border, the reconstituted Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan poses another set of challenges Tehran’s decision-makers have been reluctant to openly debate. As much as Iran has supported the Taliban in recent years, worrisome scenarios for Tehran include the Taliban turning against Iran or Afghanistan’s Shiite minority as well as the specter of Sunni jihadism metastasizing westward.