Iran will refuse to negotiate with the U.S. as long as Washington maintains its campaign of "maximum pressure"-even if President Trump is re-elected, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday. Mr. Rouhani's defiant remarks solidify Iran's hard line in a face-off with the Trump administration that only weeks ago brought Washington and Tehran to the brink of war. "It makes no difference who will be the next [American] administration," Mr. Rouhani said, speaking at a news conference in the Iranian capital. "Iran will never negotiate under pressure."
Iran sentenced eight environmental activists, including an Iranian who reportedly also has British and American citizenship, to prison sentences ranging from four to 10 years on charges of spying for the United States and acting against Iran's national security, the judiciary said Tuesday. According to the judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, an appeals court issued the final verdicts. Two of the activists, Morad Tahbaz and Niloufar Bayani, got 10 years each and were ordered to return the money they allegedly received from the U.S. government for their services.
Hardliners are set to tighten control of Iran this week in a parliamentary election stacked in their favor, as the leadership closes ranks in a deepening confrontation with Washington. Big gains by security hawks would confirm the political demise of the country's pragmatist politicians, weakened by Washington's decision to quit a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West. More hardliner seats in the Feb. 21 vote may also hand them another prize - more leeway to campaign for the 2021 contest for president, a job with wide day-to-day control of government.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif is set to attend the Munich Security Conference on February 14, but why does the international community keep inviting him to these events when they know he is little more than an apologist and propagandist for the Iranian regime? Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy and a member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), said that rather than invite Zarif to these events, the European Union should follow the US path and begin to subject Zarif to sanctions and travel limitations. Terzi, a former Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, wrote: "Zarif is a key enabler of the Supreme Leader's agenda, essentially acting as a propaganda minister. Nevertheless, a shocking number of European leaders seem oblivious to this fact."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
An Iranian man accused of violating U.S. sanctions and detained in Germany has been freed and has returned to Iran after diplomatic efforts by Tehran, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. The man, Ahmad Khalili flew home with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had been in Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference, Iranian state TV quoted spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying. German authorities declined to comment on the case.
On Friday, referring to the two Korean giants Samsung and LG that have left the Iranian market under the pressure of the U.S. sanctions, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman said it would be much more difficult to return later for those who were "strong-armed by the United States to leave". Iran was a key market for the products of the two South Korean companies including TV and audio sets, home appliances, air conditioners and mobile phones.
Iran's oil minister his country's petrochemicals industry needs $30 billion investments to complete projects and must raise this money "from small domestic investors". He did not offer details of how the government plans to raise billions of dollars from small investors in a country in the grips of deep economic recesion. Foreign investment in Iran has dried up after the United States reimposed sanction on the country in 2018. Oil exports have decreased by almost 90 percent, leaving no capital to invest in oil and petrochemical industries.
Iran's latest failed attempt to send a satellite into orbit has rekindled U.S. accusations that Tehran is using satellite launches to develop its ballistic missiles. The U.S. accusations have, in turn, focused attention on what Iran's military can learn from the country's civilian space program and whether launches of Iran's satellite-carrying Simorgh rockets amount to ballistic-missile tests. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made that claim after a three-stage Simorgh rocket launched by Iran on February 9 failed to reach the speed necessary to lift its payload -- a Zafar communications and mapping satellite -- into a low orbit around the Earth.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran sentenced eight environmentalists to prison terms of between four and 10 years for spying for and collaborating with the U.S., the spokesman for the country's judiciary said on Tuesday. The sentences are final, Gholam Hossein Esmaili told reporters at a televised news conference. The eight people were arrested in January and February 2018 and several of them are dual citizens of the U.S. and the U.K. Esmaili also said that Iran and Germany had completed a prisoner exchange, semi-official Fars news reported.
Religious indoctrination starts early in Iran, when you are forced at school to learn the Koran. I was a dutiful student, praying assiduously while wearing a loose, ugly school uniform, with my hair hidden under a big scarf. At age 8, I even won a prize for fasting. At 9, I was introduced by my father to the beautiful game of chess, beloved by ancient Persian poets. Chess requires logic and critical thinking - not faith. Slowly, in my teens, I began to question why, if God is fair, is there so much pain and suffering in the world?
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that he doesn't believe the U.S. will pursue war with his country, because it will harm President Donald Trump's 2020 reelection bid. Rouhani said that Trump knows that war with Iran will "ruin" his chances of winning the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Iranian leader added that war would be harmful to U.S. interests and those of its regional allies, as well as Iran.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the deadly U.S. strike on Iran's top military leader an "act of terror" and blamed President Donald Trump's advisors. "This moment is a very dangerous moment because the United States has been misled. I believe President Trump, unfortunately, does not have good advisers," Zarif told an audience Saturday during a discussion at the Munich Security Conference.
After a U.S. strike killed Iran's Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a notorious proxy chief, the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned of "severe retaliation against Americans." Swiftly, Iran refocused on Afghanistan to target American interests with little cost, restructuring local proxy groups, and patting Afghan political elites on the shoulder against U.S. presence in the country - just like they did in Iraq. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has long been operating its proxies in Afghanistan, cleverly advancing its favorites in the Afghan political arena to arming the Taliban factions.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranians vote on Friday in a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's authority, as the country faces mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home. Pro-reform and leading conservative hopefuls were barred from standing by a hardline watchdog body, the Guardian Council, permitting voters a choice only between hardline and low-key conservatives loyal to Khamenei. Like hardliners, conservatives back the ruling theocracy, but unlike them support more engagement with the outside world.
Iran's parliamentary elections are set to take place this Friday, but much of the attention has been on candidates who have been disqualified from standing. More than 7,000 applicants were told they cannot run, including dozens of current members of parliament. Al Jazeera's Assed Baig reports from Tehran.
The Spokesman of Iran Electrical Power Industry on Monday said a shortage of fuel for power plants is responsible for blackouts in Tehran and several other cities across Iran. In the past few days unannounced power cuts, as well as Internet disruptions, have affected many businesses, banks, homes and even caused heavy traffic jams in Tehran and Tabriz. In cold winter months more gas is consumed for heating. Some of the country's power plants rely on gas for fuel and high consumption of gas has starved the power plants, Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi told a local economic publication on Monday.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Syria says that Israel attacked five separate targets near Damascus overnight with missiles from the Golan Heights. Israel did not accept responsibility for the attacks but news reports said the targets were Iranian weapons. Iran has threatened a harsh response to any Israeli attacks. Missile explosions sounded in the skies above Damascus just before midnight Thursday. Syria said the missiles were fired from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and that Syrian forces shot down several of them. At least seven fighters, both Iranian and Syrian, were reported killed.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran and Saudi Arabia appeared no closer to bridging their differences on Saturday with both sides sticking to their positions and regional facilitator Oman seeing no breakthrough before U.S. elections in November. Tensions in the Gulf region stepped up after the killing in early January of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by the United States in Iraq. European and Arab states have since scrambled to avert a full-fledged conflict between the two sides.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Saturday no private messages or direct contact had taken place to ease tensions with Iran and that Tehran first needed to change its behaviour before talks can happen. "Until we can talk about the real sources of that instability, talk is going to be unproductive," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told the Munich Security Conference.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Diplomats from nations that lost citizens when Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner pushed Iran's foreign minister Saturday for more cooperation from Tehran on the investigation and other issues. Amid heightened tensions with the United States, Iran said it accidentally shot the aircraft down Jan. 8 after mistaking it for an incoming missile attack. All 176 people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines plane died. The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens, as well as Iranians.
Ever since the 2010 Stuxnet worm attack on the Natanz nuclear plant that was eventually attributed to the U.S. and Israeli governments, Iran has been taking "cyber" seriously. Although the notion of Iran initiating a cyberwar scenario has been largely dismissed, there has been no shortage of cyber muscle-flexing from the Iranian regime. While the cyber-attack that took down 25% of the Iranian internet on February 8 has not been attributed to U.S. threat actors, let alone state-sponsored ones, it is unlikely to calm the anti-West cyber-rhetoric. Or, indeed, the cyber-espionage campaigns originating out of Tehran.
In a valley in the Albanian countryside, a group of celibate Iranian dissidents have built a vast and tightly guarded barracks that few outsiders have ever entered. Depending on whom you ask, the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Jihadists, are either Iran's replacement government-in-waiting or a duplicitous terrorist cult. Journalists are rarely allowed inside the camp to judge for themselves, and are sometimes rebuffed by force.