U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to discuss regional security, namely Iran, after the U.S. killing last month of a top Iranian general pushed the oil-producing region closer to an all-out war. In meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the next two days, Pompeo will also raise economic and human rights issues like the case of a Saudi-American physician who remains on trial after nearly two years in detention, he told reporters traveling with him.
Iran has developed a new type of antiaircraft missile and shipped it to Houthi rebels in Yemen, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday. The weapons were seized by United States Navy warships in two separate shipments in the Arabian Sea. In a news briefing, Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, declined to comment on how the missiles worked. But a military official familiar with the weapons, referred to as 358 missiles, described them as cruise missiles that are designed to avoid United States defensive measures and that can down American military helicopters, as well as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey.
As ambassador, Mr. Grenell made public statements that some German officials took as expressing opposition to the government there, an extraordinary intervention into domestic affairs that diplomats typically avoid. He attacked what he called "failed" open-border policies in Germany, which has resettled hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, and criticized Berlin's stances on Iran, military spending and Chinese investment in global telephone networks. He also expressed an eagerness to empower conservatives throughout Europe.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The February plenary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is underway in Paris. The outcome of this meeting could prove pivotal for Iran. The FATF, an intergovernmental body charged with setting standards and monitoring implementation of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) policies, has threatened to "fully lift the suspension of counter-measures and call on its members...to apply effective counter-measures" if Iran doesn't complete the outstanding items in its action plan.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Austria's foreign minister said Wednesday that he will travel to Tehran this weekend amid efforts by European countries to keep alive Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers. Alexander Schallenberg said after meeting his German counterpart in Berlin that he will be taking a "European message" to Tehran on Saturday and Sunday after also meeting the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, this week. Tensions have been escalating steadily since 2018, when President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
German officials confirmed Wednesday that a court has ordered the release of an Iranian man wanted by the United States, but declined to comment on reports that the move was part of a prisoner swap with Iran. The United States was seeking the extradition of Ahmad Khalili, arrested in Germany in 2018, in connection with alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Khalili, who worked for Iran's government-controlled Meraj Air, is alleged to have procured Cessna planes and parts for delivery to Iran.
With Iran holding parliamentary elections for the first time in four years on Friday February 21 and the 43rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council due to convene on Monday, Amnesty's latest report documenting atrocious human rights abuses across the Middle East in 2019 could not be more timely. The Amnesty report details countless examples of relentless repression both on the streets and online.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that he believes his recent meeting with a U.S. senator had spooked the Trump administration because it was an opportunity to talk directly to "the American nation." Mohammad Javad Zarif met last week with Sen. Chris Murphy on the sidelines of an international security conference in Germany. The Connecticut Democrat defended the meeting on Tuesday after his actions were questioned in conservative media, and as President Donald Trump suggested they may have violated U.S. law. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped anyone who meets with Zarif would be reflecting the U.S. position with Iran.
In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq. Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor. Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache.
During the 17-month tenure of John Bolton as President Trump's national security adviser, representatives from government agencies with a stake in Iran policy would meet regularly in a secure room in the Old Executive Office Building or in the situation room in the West Wing of the White House. The gatherings, hosted by the National Security Council, were designed to hash out a unified U.S. government position on Iran policy. But the Defense Department repeatedly complained that the memos the NSC produced from these meetings were "largely incorrect and inaccurate," a former senior administration official said.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said the United States will sink like the "Titanic," blaming it on "wealthy Zionist individuals and corporate owners" who he said controlled the US economy. In a long series of tweets, Khamenei said the strength of the US economy was a "facade" and appeared to quote progressive Democrats saying that US President Donald Trump was overseeing the transfer of US wealth to a few billionaires. "Today, the epitome of rebellion, arrogance and tyranny is the US government, which is controlled by the wealthy Zionist individuals and corporate owners," Khamenei tweeted.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran has been exporting drone technology to Yemen's Houthi rebels over the last decade and similar components may link Iran to drone attacks in eight countries. A report by Conflict Armament Research on Wednesday provided a rare window into the extent of Houthi use of drones and how the group revolutionized Iran's drones. It also helped map out a much wider pattern of drone components used from Sudan to Afghanistan.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Campaigning officially ended on Thursday for Iran's parliamentary election, state media said, a day before a vote seen as a litmus test of the popularity of the Islamic republic. The vote to pick 290 lawmakers is Iran's first since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers in 2018, to reimpose sanctions that have hit the economy hard. "The campaigning ended at 8:00 a.m. (0430 GMT) and any campaigning beyond this time is a violation of election regulations," state television quoted election organizers as saying.
"They've been stealing the money. Cut off their hands, make them pay and answer," shouted an elderly woman in a black chador, suddenly standing up at a conservative election rally in south Tehran. Mohammad Hosseini, Iran's minister for culture and Islamic guidance from 2009 to 2013 under the then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, replied. If elected, he said, he would always be available to his people. He even read out his phone number to the crowd to underline his sincerity.
Iran is holding its parliamentary elections Friday, and one thing seems all but certain: It will be a major victory for the country's conservative hard-liners. This week will see 7,148 candidates vetted by Iran's unelected religious and legal authorities compete for 290 seats across 31 provinces. But much of the country's youth, particularly in the capital Tehran, plan to stay at home, foreshadowing what's expected to be the lowest voter turnout in years.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The U.S. military says Iran is continuing to send "advanced weapons" to Yemen's Huthi rebels as part of their fight against the Saudi-backed government in the war-torn nation. The comments on February 19 came more than a week after the U.S. Navy seized advanced weapons and weapon components believed to be of Iranian "design and manufacture" intended for the rebels in Yemen. It was the second such seizure of dhow vessels that were sailing without a flag following a previous such incident on November 25.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran said the black box of a Ukrainian airliner it mistakenly shot down is significantly damaged, complicating an already protracted investigation of an incident that sparked domestic protests and angry calls for greater government accountability. After Iran's military admitted to shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 and killing all 176 people on board on Jan. 8, Iranian officials indicated the country would send the flight data recorders recovered from the jet's wreckage to another country-likely Ukraine or France-where the data could be downloaded in what they called a "neutral" laboratory.