Religious pilgrims, migrant workers, businessmen, soldiers and clerics all flow constantly across Iran's frontiers, often crossing into countries with few border controls, weak and ineffective governments and fragile health systems. Now, as it struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Iran is also emerging as the second focal point after China for the spread of the disease. Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates - even one in Canada - have all been traced to Iran, sending tremors of fear rippling out from Kabul to Beirut.
Iran will be able to produce more than 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per day once the final platform is installed at the South Pars offshore field, its oil minister was quoted as saying on Monday by the official IRIB news agency. South Pars, which Qatar calls North Field, is the world's largest gas field and is shared between Iran and Qatar. "Of the two last platforms at South Pars, one was installed today and the next platform will be installed before (March 20)," Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said.
The German federal government is slated to again allow an Iranian regime-sponsored demonstration calling for the obliteration of Israel's nearly 7 million Jews to take place in the heart of Berlin. German Jews and politicians urged the Berlin authorities to pull the plug on the scheduled May Al Quds Day protest against the existence of Israel.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Wednesday, the EU's diplomatic service announced, after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process over Iran's successive pullbacks. The office of EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell - who is tasked with convening the commission under the dispute mechanism - said the get-together would be chaired on his behalf by senior official Helga Schmid. The meeting comes as the European parties try to find a way to persuade Iran to come back into line with the deal after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest at the US pulling out and reimposing sanctions.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Ever since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed in principle in 2015 by Iran and the P5+1 group of nations (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China plus Germany), the Islamic Republic has teetered between fully committing to being a moderate, Western-friendly regime or a hardline, anti-West but pro-Russia and China state. The strong showing in last week's four-yearly parliamentary elections of the hardline ('Principlist') faction, comprising religious conservatives supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), portends a decisive shift towards the latter hardline state model, reinforced by the existing political structure of the country.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The threat of war with Iran didn't end with Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani's death. Indeed, the risk is high that the conflict might reignite this year, before Election Day. The Iranian regime believes it prevented a U.S. president's reelection in 1980 and likely assesses that it can do so again. The consequences of such an attempt in 2020 are unpredictable and dangerous, as political considerations might preclude a sober assessment of interests.
Not quite two months in, 2020 is already proving to be Ali Khamenei's annus horribilis. In word, deed and vote, Iranians are demonstrating a profound loss of faith in the Islamic Republic, and a deep contempt for its Supreme Leader. Trust in Iran is also dwindling in its neighborhood, and in the international community. If he were capable of self-reflection, Khamenei would recognize that he bears most of the blame. Instead, the ageing theocrat continues to rail against the U.S., and more generally the West, for all that ails Iran.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
On Friday Iran held its 11th parliamentary elections since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, and the first since the Trump administration renewed sanctions on Iran and battered its economy. The voting turnout - 42.5 percent - was the lowest since 1979, and a loose alliance of conservative candidates won. In Tehran, the capital, where about 75 percent of the voters chose not to vote, all 30 seats were won by the conservative candidates loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday. Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year. "Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection," said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran. The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has emerged as one of the most powerful Iranian leaders of the last century and wields control over all aspects of the country's government, military and media. Khamenei was born on July 16, 1939, to a traditional family. His father was a cleric, and Khamenei began a religious education at a young age. He rose to power after Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was ousted in 1979, an initiative that Khamenei championed for many years. He served as minister of defense and then supervisor of the Revolutionary Guards.
CONGRESS & IRAN
U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran has reached a stalemate. So two Iran hawks from different parties have teamed up to promote a new scheme they think could result in a new and better nuclear deal. If they can just convince their colleagues and President Trump, it could be the start of a diplomatic path forward. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was not the only U.S. senator conducting some quiet Iran-related diplomacy earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday banned all flights to and from Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus, just a day after its spread from the Islamic Republic was announced across multiple Mideast nations. Iran meanwhile raised the official death toll from the virus to 15 killed amid 95 confirmed infections. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran's 80 million people.
Tehran and Muscat have for decades maintained close relations, a tradition that was upheld even after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. However, Oman's long-serving leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, died Jan. 10 at the age of 79, and the prospect of cordial Iran-Oman relations is subject to speculation. Some concern had already been sparked by recent news of the sultan's deteriorating health after a long battle with colon cancer. The iconic mediator played an effective role in the most contentious Iran-related cases on the international stage, from the marathon nuclear negotiations between Tehran and world powers - which involved historic direct Iran-US talks - to the release of American prisoners over the years.
IRAQ & IRAN
When the grip of Iraq's Tehran-backed Shi'ite Muslim parties and militias threatened to slip following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, they turned to an unpredictable rival. At meetings in the Iranian holy city of Qom, they struck a deal with populist Shi'ite cleric Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands a following of millions of Iraqis. According to senior Iraqi officials and militia insiders, they promised Sadr a greater say forming a new Iraqi government and an augmented spiritual leadership role among Shi'ite paramilitary groups.
A short letter to the editor was sent to the New York Times the day after its February 16, 2020, biased and distorted report about life at Ashraf-3, home to thousands of members of the main Iranian opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK). As the Times has failed to publish that letter, we are posting the letter in its original, longer version here, to set the record straight.