The Trump administration plans a pre-election volley of sanctions against Iran intended in part to fortify its pressure campaign against any future effort to unwind it, according to people familiar with the matter. With former Vice President Joe Biden leading in most national and battleground state polls, Trump administration officials fear his plan to reengage with Iran could upend the diplomatic leverage they believe is critical to strong-arm Tehran into signing a new nuclear and security deal. The Trump administration has levied some sanctions under counterterrorism authorities, which analysts view as the most potentially difficult to undo.
Iran on Friday blacklisted the U.S. ambassador in Iraq and two other diplomats, following a similar move by the United States against Iran’s envoy to Baghdad, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said. Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter that ambassador Matthew Tueller “has had a central role in coordinating terrorist acts in Iraq & beyond” including the assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad in January.
Iran’s supreme leader Saturday urged authorities to prioritize public health above any economic or security concerns, amid the Mideast’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Iran’s death toll from the global pandemic topped 32,000 this week. The government has resisted a total lockdown fearing it would further devastate its economy, already weakened by unprecedented U.S. sanctions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told officials during a meeting with the country’s top counter-coronavirus committee that “the main priority in decision-making is people’s health.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Flag-carrier IranAir is resuming its European flights which had been suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, an airline spokesman told the state news agency IRNA on Friday. Scheduled flights to England, France, Austria, Germany, and Italy are among flights being resumed, Hossein Jahani told IRNA. “IranAir now has about seven scheduled European routes,” he said.
Iran says the era of oil for goods will officially start within a week, per the Minister of Oil and the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), who announced the government's plan to exchange oil for goods and expressed hope that Iran's foreign trade would increase. In a joint meeting with the Ministers of Industry, Mines and Trade, Jihad Keshavarzi (Agriculture) and the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) on Thursday, the Minister of Oil, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, has endorsed his Ministry's new plan.
With the reimposition of the harsh sanctions against Iranian oil exports in 2018 by the Trump administration, officials in Iran have focused on non-oil exports as the only viable way to meet the country's foreign exchange needs. But the country's trade policies have failed to resolve the bottleneck created in the absence of petrodollars. In terms of commodity diversity, most of the country's non-oil exports are still dependent on oil and mineral products. These products cannot be considered industrial goods due to their low value add, as they are not upgraded into higher value products and thus bring in less revenue for the country.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Australia is seeking information from Iran on reports that a British Australian academic who was convicted of espionage has been moved to a mystery location, the foreign minister said on Monday. Kylie Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was arrested in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018. She was moved in August to Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, but the Iranian Association of Human Rights Activists reported she was moved to an unknown location on Saturday.
The wife of a jailed Iranian dissident has criticized Iran’s government for refusing to grant her husband a single day of sick leave in his 14 months of detention despite his multiple ailments and risk of coronavirus exposure in prison. In an interview with VOA Persian from her home in Mashhad this week, Sedigheh Maliki-Fard said her husband, Hashem Khastar, 67, a teachers' rights advocate, has been “exhausted” by health problems and poor living conditions at the city’s Vakilabad prison, where he has been jailed since February.
Iran has made the imprisonment of a mother and her daughter who campaigned against its compulsory public veiling of women harsher – denying the daughter medical care and refusing to grant her mother a furlough for no apparent reason, according to an informed source. The source spoke to VOA Persian in an Oct. 16 interview from Iran, describing several recent examples of authorities at Tehran’s Evin prison engaging in harsh treatment of 22-year-old activist Saba Kord Afshari and her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi. VOA is unable to independently verify the source’s account due to being barred from reporting inside Iran.
Tragic footage of police mistreating a helpless man in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, has triggered a series of angry protests on the Persian social media. Mehdi Akhlaqi, the military prosecutor of Khorasan Razavi province in northeast Iran, announced on Saturday that a legal case had been filed to investigate the security forces' role in the death of a young man in its custody. The video, widely circulated on social media, shows a police officer using pepper spray and taser on the face and body of a man handcuffed and tied to a metal bar.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
State and local officials hastened to reassure Americans this week that the nation’s election systems are secure after the country’s top intelligence official accused Iran of sending threatening emails to voters in several states and the United States said Russia obtained voter information from at least one county. U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts said the activity did not appear to include penetration of voting systems or access to voter registration databases, or the hacking of equipment that could be tampered with to alter election results.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Sunday they have deployed troops along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia, following stray fire from the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. "Units of (the Guards) ground forces have been dispatched to and stationed in the region," their commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said, quoted by state news agency IRNA. Their mission was "to protect national interests and maintain peace and security".
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Saturday for strict punishments for violators of COVID-19 restrictions as the Middle East’s hardest-hit nation battled a third wave. Latest officials figures showed the coronavirus had killed 32,320 Iranians and infected 562,705, with 5,814 new cases and 335 fatalities in the previous 24 hours. Taking a swipe at arch-foe the United States, Khamenei said Iran must enforce curbs better and end disputes between institutions over the pandemic.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Saturday slammed insults directed at President Hassan Rouhani. The comments appear to shed light on growing anger and rifts in Iran. While the specifics of the insults were not mentioned, the regime said criticism of the president was acceptable, but insults were not. It appears that Rouhani is facing criticism due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and poverty in some regions. Iran is also under tough US sanctions, and its promises that the regime could circumvent US sanctions have not materialized.
IRAQ & IRAN
Pro-Iranian paramilitary groups are upping their threats against the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq after months of rocket and bomb attacks targeting U.S. forces. The escalating campaign threatens one of the few remaining partners that Washington has in Iraq, as Iran and its allies in Iraq push to remove U.S. forces. With the U.S. election nearing, Iran appears to be gambling that the U.S. would react harshly to attacks on U.S. forces but would not be as focused on the Kurdish region, where U.S. forces are based.