Iran's week-long parliamentary election campaign started on Thursday, state TV reported, a vote seen as a popularity test for the clerical establishment at a time when relations with Washington are at their worst since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Guardian Council, which must approve candidates, has rejected around 6,850 moderate or conservative hopefuls in favor of hardliners from among the 14,000 applicants seeking to contest the Feb. 21 vote.
Iran will respond forcefully to any Israeli action against its interests in the region, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, according to the Mehr news agency. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will give a crushing response that will cause regret to any kind of aggression or stupid action from this regime against our country's interests in Syria and the region," ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said. Iranian officials accuse Israel of carrying out attacks against military forces in Syria that are allied with Tehran.
Facebook Inc. said it removed dozens of fake accounts from countries including Myanmar, Iran and Russia that were spreading misinformation, the latest effort by the social-media company to curb manipulation of its platforms. The company on Wednesday said it suspended pages and groups on Facebook as well as fake accounts on Instagram for violating its policies. The actions removed false and misleading content on a range of topics including U.S. elections and foreign-related topics.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...In reality, framing "diplomacy" and "pressure" as opposites is spurious. It is an example of the "very real danger that distaste for Donald Trump is blinding European leaders to the realpolitik of the situation," according to David Ibsen, the president of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). Donald Trump, as both a person and a politician, has opened the floodgates of German resentment against the United States. His withdrawal from the nuclear deal caused this resentment-which is based on a mixture of legitimate critique of Trump, unfounded anti-Americanism, and great-power fantasies-to boil over: A rabid president, went the message, had torn a masterpiece of European diplomacy to shreds. Illustrating Ibsen's comment about "blindness" to realpolitik, Germany couples its rejection of the American "maximum pressure" approach to Tehran with an unwillingness to support other means of restraining Iranian aggression.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
About a year and a half after the United States left the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement is nearing collapse. For months after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to depart, the remaining parties to the JCPOA tried to keep it alive. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do so. One sign came on Jan. 14, in the form of a joint statement from three European signatories to the JCPOA-France, Britain, and Germany.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
He looked past Iran's cratering economy, ignored the unraveling nuclear deal and tuned out the bellicose threats of war from President Trump. Maciej Wojtal was focused on a mundane yet crucial question: Where were Iran's people going to buy their chocolate biscuits? Iranians were being forced to economize, trading lunch at kebab restaurants for cheap pleasures like sugary snacks.
The United States has granted Iraq a 45-day sanctions waiver enabling the country to continue importing vital Iranian gas and electricity supplies. In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said the waiver "ensures that Iraq is able to meet its short-term energy needs while it takes steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy imports." The U.S. has applied stringent sanctions on Iran that punish any country trading with it.
Five men, including four from North Texas, have been arrested and charged with trying to trade in Iranian oil in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. All are charged with conspiracy and violating U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. The criminal complaint alleges that since last July, the five had tried to buy oil illegally from Iran to sell to a refinery in China. The complaint alleges that they planned to make two shipments of oil per month with an expected profit of $28 million a month.
U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has once again urged the Islamic Republic of Iran to ratify the conditions set by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and respect international laws and regulations against financing terrorism and money laundering. FATF, the Paris-based global financial watchdog issued a four-month deadline in mid-October, giving Tehran a last and final chance to comply with international anti-money laundering rules by February 21, 2020.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) says intelligence agents are summoning Iranian journalists, raiding their homes, and confiscating their equipment in a campaign to silence criticism of state policies ahead of this month's parliamentary elections. At least 10 journalists have been targeted by the intelligence arm of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) over the past two weeks, CHRI said in a statement on February 11.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The captain of this warship loaded with Tomahawk missiles delivered the news to his crew: Hours earlier, the United States had killed Iran's most powerful military commander in a drone strike. Navy Capt. Christopher D. Stone said it wasn't clear how Iran might respond to the death of Qasem Soleimani. But the Normandy, escorting the USS Harry S. Truman near the Persian Gulf, had to be ready for anything, he said. "We must be prepared for direct military action," Stone recalled telling the crew.
Iran is remaining officially neutral in the United States' upcoming 2020 elections, expressing skepticism that even a Democratic victory over President Donald Trump would immediately ease the soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran, an Iranian official told Newsweek. As Democratic frontrunners vie over the primary position to challenge Trump in November, each candidate has criticized the president's decision to leave a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and impose strict sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The spokesman of President Hassan Rouhani's administration has once again been forced to deny that his boss is going to step down. Since a Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) passenger plane was hit by two missiles on January 8, over Tehran killing all 176 on board, rumors about Rouhani's resignation have become a mantra in political circles in Iran. "Rumors about President Rouhani's resignation are unfounded," Ali Rabiei said on Wednesday, February 12, adding, "As I have already written, President Rouhani will be at the service of the people until the end of his term on August 3, 2021. Furthermore, I deny any forthcoming reports concerning his resignation."
Thousands of Iranian candidates approved to run in parliamentary elections kicked off their campaigns Thursday ahead of next week's vote, even after authorities barred thousands of others from running, mainly reformists and moderates. The Feb. 21 parliamentary elections come amid some of the highest tensions between Tehran and Washington in the past four decades. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has slammed the disqualifications but earlier this week, he urged the crowds in Tehran marking the anniversary of the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution to turn out at the polls in large numbers.
To the great dismay of Iran's religious and political establishment, the celebration of Valentine's Day has become so popular in Iran that even in in the holy city of Qom authorities have to warn shops not to sell Valentine's gifts. Qom with its many seminaries and the Shrine of Fatimeh Masumeh, the sister of the eighth Shiite Imam Reza, is visited by thousands of pilgrims every day. It actually has a reputation of being the religious capital of Iran.
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will boast about the regime's perceived successes, military might and technological superiority in his annual anniversary speech, the reality of the Republic's 40th year is grim. Celebrations this week mark the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In this week in 1979, monarchical rule was abruptly squashed as fundamentalist Shi'ite clerics seized power under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
CONGRESS & IRAN
The Senate is expected to pass a measure Thursday limiting President Trump's ability to act militarily against Iran, in lawmakers' latest bipartisan attempt to compel the White House to involve them in foreign policy decisions. Eight Republicans voted Wednesday to advance legislation invoking Congress's war powers, a move intended to prevent the president from engaging in hostilities against Tehran without explicit authorization from the legislative branch - except in cases of clear self-defense.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned the Senate against adopting a resolution that would curb his ability to wage war against Iran, saying it would send "a very bad signal" and allow Tehran to act with impunity. "It is very important for our Country's SECURITY that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution. We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness," Trump, a Republican, tweeted.
Eight Republicans joined with Democrats in the Senate Wednesday to move forward with a vote on a resolution aimed at restricting President Donald Trump's authority to take military action against Iran without congressional approval. The resolution, introduced by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, would bar U.S. troops from engaging in hostilities against Iran or any part of its government or military, unless Congress declared war or specifically authorized the use of military force. The measure is expected to get a final vote Thursday.
Iran's cyber battalion, consisting of 8,000 members, has been relentlessly working since 2011 to wage an online propaganda war against the United States, according to a report released by the Atlantic Council. The report by council experts Emerson T. Brooking and Suzanne Kianpour was released on the 41st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution at a half-day conference in Washington and analyzes how the Iranian regime studies and exploits new communication technologies.