Come presidential election time, the streets of central Tehran are usually wallpapered with the candidates’ names and faces, their banners swaying from buildings and streetlights. But this time around, the biggest banners bear no names, only a simple message: Vote on Friday. One common poster shows the bloody severed hand of Gen. Qassim Suleimani — the Iranian commander whose killing in an American drone strike in January 2020 brought throngs of Iranians into the streets in mourning — casting a white ballot.
A pair of lawmakers has formed a working group in Congress to bolster U.S. government efforts to aid Americans held hostage or unlawfully detained abroad. Set to launch Thursday, the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad aims to assist the families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained, to provide resources for fellow lawmakers, and to communicate with the administration on the issue. It is led by Reps. French Hill (R., Ark.) and Ted Deutch (D., Fla.). The task force’s formation “gives us hope that our government and our Congress are doing all they can to bring our loved one and all Americans held abroad home,” said Samar Hamwi and Mouna Kamalmaz, the sister and mother, respectively, of Majd Kamalmaz, a Virginia therapist who has been missing since being stopped at a Syrian checkpoint in 2017.
The Iranian navy ships believed to be originally headed toward Venezuela changed course early this week and are now steaming north up the west coast of Africa, U.S. officials said. The ships, which U.S. officials believe may have been preparing to conduct an arms transfer, have appeared to change course several times during their journey from Iran — and could do so again. But after the course change early this week, they are likely now headed either into the Mediterranean — potentially planning to sail off of Syria — or north toward Russia, according to a defense official briefed on the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Jordan Steckler, a research analyst with United Against Nuclear Iran, said the GOP opposition increases the Biden administration's negotiating leverage with Iran. "It establishes the GOP in a 'bad cop' role similar to that which Iranian hardliners play," he said, adding that it also puts pressure on Biden to find common ground with his critics. "The previous agreement was discarded by the Trump administration, so subjecting a new accord to congressional review and preferably requiring it to be ratified as a treaty would ensure its durability beyond the current administration."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s presidential election on Friday seems on track to select a president from the political faction loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reportedly, more than 500 candidates registered for the election — but the Guardian Council, which vets electoral candidates, disqualified all but a handful. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, is ineligible to run for a third term. Who is left on the ballot? Unlike the past six elections, the council left no reformists in the final list of qualified candidates.
This week, which will see Iran’s presidential elections, was also supposed to mark the finale of nuclear talks among Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, and the European Union in Vienna. But a new deal is unlikely to be reached by Friday. The question now is what to make of this delay. In the last six rounds of talks between Iran and the world powers, one reality has rarely been disputed: Both Washington and Tehran want a diplomatic resolution.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Shortly after the first Covid-19 wave struck Iran last year, Mahsa* became a victim of the double casualties that hit her country. The 40-year-old Iranian mother lost her job at a Tehran travel agency that was forced to downsize amid the combined onslaught of a fiscal freefall triggered by crushing US sanctions, and a pandemic that exacerbated the country’s economic misery. As Iran heads to the polls in the June 18 presidential election, the economy is a major concern for citizens, including members of the middle class such as Mahsa.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A State Department spokesperson expressed disgust this week with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s refusal to release the imprisoned California resident Jamshid Sharmahd, who is being held in Iran as his health condition worsens and without legal counsel. "We will work with our allies, many of which have citizens currently detained by Iran, to seek their citizens’ release and stand up to the disgraceful practice of using unjust detentions of foreign citizens as a political tool," a State Department spokesperson told Fox News on Tuesday.
As Iran prepares to head to the polls on Friday, the country’s hardline former president has called out the U.S. for meddling in the Middle East. In a wide ranging interview with CNBC ahead of the vote, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the 2015 nuclear deal caused “more problems than it resolved” and cast doubt on the legitimacy of his country’s election. “Any decision that prevents the people from influencing the outcome is against the spirit of the revolution and the constitution,” Iran’s former president told CNBC.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranians head to the polls Friday to elect a new president, as the Islamic Republic confronts challenges from a cratering economy to heightened tensions with its regional rivals. Many Iranians feel sidelined by Iran’s authoritarian clerical establishment. Millions plan to boycott the election. The country’s election watchdog, the Guardian Council, disqualified nearly all nonconservative candidates ahead of the vote, narrowing the choice among moderates and reformists while deepening the apathy of would-be voters.
Iranians began voting on Friday in a presidential election likely to be won by a judge fiercely loyal to the religious establishment, although many people are expected to ignore the vote due to discontent with economic hardship and hardline rule. With uncertainty surrounding Iran's efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and growing poverty at home after years of U.S. sanctions, the turnout for the vote is being seen by Iranian analysts as a referendum on the leadership's handling of an array of crises.
Today, voters in Iran will be turning out to cast their ballots in presidential elections. In most democratic contests, it is the final result that matters most. But for Iranians arguably the most important figures are already in: official estimates suggest that as few as 42 per cent of citizens will vote, the lowest since the revolution of 1979. When the leader of Iran’s revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, outlined his plans for a new republic, a defining aspect of it was a provision for presidential elections, albeit with strict oversight from powerful, unelected bodies.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that Israel and the United States were working to increase the monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program, while warning that “all options are on the table” regarding Jerusalem’s preparedness to conduct a military strike in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Gantz made his remarks to a group of visiting former top American defense officials, brought to Israel by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) advocacy group.