U.S. citizen Michael White who has been detained in Iran since 2018 has been released on Thursday on medical furlough, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. navy veteran was currently under the custody of the Swiss government. "His release on humanitarian grounds was conditioned upon him staying in Iran. Michael is now in the custody of the Swiss embassy and will undergo medical testing and evaluation," Pompeo said in a statement.
The Trump administration this week sent a stark message to Iran in three new rounds of sanctions: The U.S. won't ease its economic pressure campaign even as the coronavirus pandemic batters the country. The Trump administration, amid growing calls to ease its sanctions campaign, said it has no plans to loosen restrictions. On Thursday, the Treasury Department sanctioned five firms, adding to actions earlier in the week by the State and Commerce Departments.
President Donald Trump told his top national security advisers last week that because of the coronavirus pandemic he didn't think an aggressive response to new attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias was the right move, according to one former and four current senior U.S. officials. Trump expressed concern that hitting back hard at Iran at this time would make the U.S. look bad given the extent to which Iran and the rest of the world are struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19, the officials said.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The era of arms-control diplomacy in U.S.-Iran relations has ended. The Trump administration will not be able to negotiate a new nuclear agreement with Iran. And should the Democrats reclaim the White House, they will not be able to revive the old one. None of this has much to do with the fact that Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rather, it is the result of the ascendance of Islamist hardliners and scientists who are more interested in the bomb than in another accord with America.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a live speech on state TV for the start of Iranian new year, said the United States' sanctions has forced the country to become self-sufficient, calling on Iranians to preserve unity. "With unity we put behind a very difficult year ... I thank Iranians for displaying a significant show of unity and solidarity ... I am naming the new year, the year of jump in production," Khamenei said. "Iran benefited from America's sanctions. It made us self-sufficient in all areas."
The United States imposed fresh Iran-related sanctions on Thursday, targeting five firms, the Treasury Department said on its website. The firms include Petro Grand FZE, Alphabet International DMCC, Swissol Trade DMCC, Alam Althrwa General Trading LLC, and Alwaneo LLC Co., according to the website.
The minister of security for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fahrudin Radončić, wrote on his Instagram page on Monday that a Bosnian company engaged in negotiations with Iran's embassy in Sarajevo to sell illicit material that could be used for Tehran's nuclear program in violation of EU and US sanctions. "In a statement from the management of Alumina, they themselves revealed that they had organized and held a meeting with people from the 'Economic Section of the Embassy of Iran in Sarajevo," Radončić wrote, who said his agency stopped the deal.
The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on five United Arab Emirates-based companies, accusing them of having collectively purchased hundreds of thousands of metric tons of petroleum products from Iran last year. The move was the latest sign that Washington is showing no signs of backing away from squeezing Iran's economy, even as the Islamic Republic struggles to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The family of a young Iranian man who was killed when Iran shot down a passenger airplane in January said they were facing threats and intimidation following the death of their son. Amir Hossein Saeedinia, a 25-year-old student at the University of Alberta in Canada, was one of the 176 passengers killed in the plane crash. The family, which has reportedly fled to Canada, told VOA's Persian service that Iranian officials coerced them to make statements in favor of the country's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran has released U.S. Navy veteran Michael White from prison on a medical furlough to the Swiss embassy, the State Department said Thursday, a response to a soaring rate of new coronavirus infections the country. Mr. White, 48 years old, was released on the condition he remains in Iran. The Swiss Embassy has represented U.S. interests in the country since 1980. A statement by his family welcomed the decision.
The Trump administration on Thursday announced the release of two Americans imprisoned overseas and said it had intensified demands for a third, amid global fears that the coronavirus could quickly spread among detainees and result in deaths. Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese-born naturalized American citizen, was headed to his home state, New Hampshire, from Beirut, where he had been detained for months on decades-old charges of torturing Lebanese prisoners.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak rose by 149 to 1,433 on Friday, a health ministry official tweeted, adding that that total number of confirmed infections had increased by 1,237 to 19,644. Iran is one of the countries outside China most affected by the pandemic.
Greeting the coming Iranian New Year the Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has released a video message saying the lesson he has learned from fighting the deadly coronavirus outbreak calls for the need to "reconstruct the system of governance" and to engage in "capacity building" for non-governmental organizations (NGOs.) "Let me honestly tell you that fighting against coronavirus and [U.S.] sanctions requires mental cleansing on our part. Combating coronavirus taught us the necessity of renewing our method of governance," Zarif reiterated on the occasion of Nowruz, March 20.
Iranians are preparing to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year - even as they confront an expanding coronavirus pandemic. The combination is likely to result in calamity. Nowruz, when Iranians mark the transition from winter to spring, is the equivalent of New Year's and Christmas rolled into one. Most institutions in the country shut down for two weeks. Those who can afford it usually chose this time to travel. With foreign air routes mostly shut to Iran because of the virus, that travel was already destined to be almost entirely domestic.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Hundreds of Bahraini pilgrims are stranded in Iran, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, as Bahrain struggles to evacuate its citizens from a country with which it has no diplomatic ties. Jamal, who has been in the Shi'ite holy city of Mashhad with his wife and daughter since early February, told Reuters he was awaiting news of repatriation plans after a government-chartered flight was delayed last Thursday and again this Thursday.
Americans taken hostage in the 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy in Iran sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. over David Rockefeller's role in persuading the U.S. to allow the deposed Iranian leader into the country. According to the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in New York, Rockefeller, then chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, lobbied the Carter administration to let the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, seek medical treatment in the U.S. That decision in turn incited the embassy takeover, in which some U.S. personnel were held for over a year.