Iran will strike a reciprocal blow against America for the killing of top Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday in a meeting with Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, according to Khamenei’s official website. On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.
The United States will put “severe economic pressure” on Iran-backed Hezbollah, a spokesperson for the US State Department said, urging other countries to do the same. Morgan Ortagus said the US supports “the Lebanese while continuing the sanctions against Hezbollah,” in an interview with Al Arabiya TV.| Meanwhile, Ortagus said US sanctions have succeeded in pressuring Iran, and that it was important to prevent the country from funding its militias and from developing a nuclear weapon.
Baghdad and Tehran sought on Tuesday to ease bilateral political tensions, as Iraq’s prime minister said it would not allow any threat to Iran coming from its territory. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, visiting Tehran and speaking at a news conference alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, alluded to Iraq’s concern not to become a battlefield between Iran and the United States, who are arch-enemies. “The people of Iraq want good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of both countries,” he told the conference, carried live by Iranian state television.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Russia still believes there is hope of rescuing the nuclear deal with Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. “We are convinced that there is still a chance to return the (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) into a stable situation,” Russia’s top diplomat said as he met with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow. “In any case, we will do everything to make it happen, just like our Iranian friends,” he said.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
President Hassan Rouhani's Chief of Staff announced July 21 the "release of blocked Iranian financial assets" in some countries and maintained that these resources would be used for international payments. The official government news website, IRNA, cited Mahmoud Vaezi as saying, "The released assets will be used for addressing the concerns and problems of importers." In other words, foreign currency will be made available for imports.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
An Iranian father who became an outspoken critic of Iran’s Islamist rulers after their security forces killed his son in nationwide antigovernment protests last November has begun a second week in the custody of authorities, who rearrested him in response to his ongoing activism. Iranian security agents arrested Manouchehr Bakhtiari on July 13 at the airport of Iran’s Kish Island as he and his wife Saeedeh (Sara) Abbasi were finishing a visit to Kish in the country’s south and preparing to board a north-bound flight to their home in Tehran, according to family members who spoke to Western-based media outlets.
In the midst of growing public unrest over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout, the Iranian government declared Monday that it had executed Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, who was convicted of spying for Israeli and American intelligence agencies. It was Iran’s second execution of an alleged spy in a week. One day earlier, the authorities in Tehran announced that the execution of three men arrested a year ago while protesting in the capital would be suspended following mass demonstrations.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The contentious topic of the US military presence in Iraq was at the heart of a meeting between Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran July 21. “The Islamic Republic expects officials in Baghdad … to follow up on ousting Americans from Iraq because their presence sparks insecurity,” Khamenei told the Iraqi prime minister while stressing that Iran is not after interfering in US-Iraqi ties.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed China’s actions in Hong Kong and its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang, according to a British summary of the discussion. “They spoke about shared global security and foreign policy issues, including China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the situation in Iran and the Middle East Peace Process,” Downing Street said.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
One of the suspects in a major financial corruption case in Iran has gone "missing," the Young Journalists Club, an Iranian state TV affiliate, revealed on Tuesday July 21. The missing man, Ali Ashraf Riahi, is the son-in-law of former industry minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh. Riahi is believed to be on the run somewhere in Iran while his wife and daughter have reportedly fled the country, the report said. It did not mention where exactly they have found refuge.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran and Hezbollah helped fund and train a Palestinian group that planned to kidnap an Israeli soldier to use as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service said. According to the Shin Bet, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, operating under the guise of a welfare organization, also planned an attack on Harish, a northern town near Haifa. Ten Palestinians were arrested for allegedly planning attacks, including one man who is also accused of purchasing weapons, recruiting cell members, and intending to travel to Lebanon for military training, it said.
Syrian state media reports say Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria near Damascus Monday for the first time in several weeks, targeting Iranian-linked sites and killing at least five Iranian-backed fighters. Israel has not confirmed it was behind the airstrikes, which come after a series of explosions in Iran itself over the past few weeks. While Israel may not have been responsible for all of the attacks in Iran – some observers in Israel argue Iran could strike Israel as a way of diverting attention from sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says extending Tehran-Moscow 20-year cooperation agreement is on the Islamic Republic's agenda. Zarif who is visiting Moscow also announced that in addition to renewing the current agreement Tehran has an offer for another "long term accord" with Moscow if the Russian government voices readiness. So far there has been no specific response from the Kremlin.
Lebanon’s economy is in freefall and the chances of the government of Hassan Diab being able to strike a last-minute deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure billions of dollars in a rescue package are slim at best. Last week, Minister of Economy and Trade Raoul Nehme admitted that the economic crisis had turned Lebanon into a failed state. The lira has lost almost 80 percent of its value against the dollar since nationwide protests first erupted last October.
CHINA & IRAN
Against a backdrop of worsening bilateral relations with the United States, news emerged earlier this month of a purported secret deal between China and Iran that would offer some US$400 billion (S$555 billion) of Chinese investments in the Islamic Republic over 25 years. While it sparked concerns that the deal could re-calibrate geopolitics and pose a potential strategic challenge to the US, analysts say this is essentially the fleshing out of a prior agreement from 2016, and needs to should be viewed as Teheran floating a trial balloon.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's ambassador to Seoul was summoned to the South Korean foreign ministry on Tuesday to lodge a protest over the Iranian threat to sue Seoul over frozen assets and calling the Korea-U.S. relationship one of "master and servant". Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi on Sunday warned of legal action in the International Court of Justice if Korea continued to refuse to pay off more than $7 billion in oil money owed to Iran that has been blocked in Korean banks.