Two Americans held hostage by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen were freed on Wednesday as part of a U.S.-backed trade that returned more than 200 of the group’s loyalists to the fractured Middle East country, according to U.S. and Saudi officials. A Royal Oman Air Force plane carrying the two Americans and the remains of a third flew out of Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital of Sana’a, hours after the jet and a companion flight brought the militants back to the country following years stuck in Oman.
The British-Iranian investigative journalist Potkin Azarmehr revealed on Wednesday that a new witness has provided additional evidence to the widespread view that Iran’s regime murdered the innocent champion wrestler Navid Afkari for a crime he did not commit. Human rights groups and sports organizations accused Iran’s regime of framing Afkari for a killing he did not commit. “My sources also name Moslem Rahimi, a supermarket owner, who witnessed the murder, who has stated Afkari was not the killer,” Azarmehr wrote on the website of The Investigative Project on Terrorism in a highly detailed account of Afkari’s case.
More than 160 current and former United Nations officials are calling on Iran to end the "horror and pain" for two Iranian-American dual nationals who are currently spending their fourth and fifth year in Tehran's Evin jail, respectively. 49-year-old Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi was arrested and imprisoned on October 13, 2015, on charges of "collaborating with the U.S. government." A year later, his 84-year-old father, Baqer Namazi, who had traveled to Iran to help secure his release, was also arrested.
UANI IN THE NEWS
In 2001, then-Defense Minister of Iran Ali Shamkhani decided to run for the presidency. He launched a longshot bid, having never run for elected office, and faced off against his boss at the time, President Mohammad Khatami. Shamkhani, a former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and Artesh, or Islamic Republic of Iran Army, naval commander, justified his candidacy by arguing it was time for a “military man” to ascend to the presidency, and that he had the “authority to take action instead of mouthing slogans.” He lost that race, but that campaign illustrates the intrigue surrounding the decision of another military man and his former deputy, Hossein Dehghan, to run for the presidency exactly twenty years later, in 2021.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Ali Safavi, a member of Iran’s parliament in exile, said on Wednesday that Iran has built a nuclear weapons site that it has been hiding from the rest of the world in violation of international law. Safavi, who said the details of the nuclear site would be revealed at a press conference on Friday by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), added that the world needed to act not only to block Iran’s production of nuclear weapons but to stop the regime’s repression and brutality against its people.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
South Korea imports no Iran crude oil for September and a year ago, preliminary data from Korea Customs Service showed on Thursday. The world’s fifth-largest crude buyer imported a total 10.6 million tonnes of crude last month against 10.5 million tonnes imported a year ago, the data also showed. Final data for South Korea’s crude oil imports last month will be published by state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) later the month. The KNOC data is considered the industry standard for South Korea’s oil imports.
With sanctions on Iran still in place following the U.S.’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, Tehran has been relying on the tried-and-tested sanctions-busting measures to continue to export increasing volumes of crude oil, as exclusively revealed by OilPrice.com in August. These measures include the re-labelling of Iranian oil into Iraqi oil on the border and at the shared oil reservoirs of the two allies, the use of international brokers to hide Iranian oil movements under the guise of other clients, ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian oil in the territorial waters of Malaysia, Indonesia, and China, and the amalgamation of Iranian oil in Iraq’s oil pipeline export routes.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran has moved a step closer to re-imprisoning a female human rights advocate for her peaceful expressions of opposition to the nation's Islamist rulers. Speaking to VOA Persian from Iran earlier this month, a source close to activist Jila Karamzadeh Makvandi said she was sentenced to six years in prison for participating in anti-government street protests and expressing anti-government views on social media. The source said a Tehran branch of Iran’s Revolutionary court notified Makvandi and her lawyer of the sentence on Sept. 28.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the U.S. is committed to providing robust arms sales to Saudi Arabia as partners in confronting Iran’s actions in the region. The secretary was speaking alongside Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, in Washington following a morning meeting of the first U.S. and Saudi strategic dialogue. Pompeo and his Saudi counterpart will continue to meet throughout the day. “Today we reaffirmed our mutual commitment to countering Iranian malign activity and the threat it poses to regional security and prosperity and the security of the American people as well,” Pompeo said in short remarks Wednesday morning.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
For the third time in a week, Iran on Wednesday marked its highest single-day record for new deaths and infections from the coronavirus, with 279 people killed and 4,830 new cases. A Health Ministry spokeswoman, Sima Sadat Lari, made the announcement as Iran, with a population of more than 83 million, struggles with the worst outbreak in the Middle East. Since the first cases of the virus were announced in February, the country has had more than 513,000 confirmed cases and over 29,300 deaths.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani exulted Oct. 14 over a soon-to-come moment of triumph as a UN arms embargo on his country is set to expire Oct. 18. “Thanks to the nation’s resistance and our diplomats’ efforts, and despite America’s push in the past four years, this unjust embargo is to be lifted,” he said of the removal, which has been made legally possible under UN Resolution 2231 and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The overall threat from Russia, China and Iran is growing in severity and complexity, the UK’s MI5 spy chief Ken McCallum said on Wednesday. McCallum, in his first major remarks since being named as the new boss of MI5 in March when Britain was under national lockdown, said terrorist threats also persist. "One of the toughest challenges facing MI5 and indeed government is that the differing national security challenges presented by Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are growing in severity and in complexity – while terrorist threats persist at scale,” he said.
Iran says allegations that an Iranian diplomat held in Belgium over an alleged bomb plot threatened authorities with retaliation if found guilty are completely false and an attempt at steering the case in a pre-determined direction. Last week, Reuters news agency published a report claiming that Vienna-based Assadolah Assadi, who was charged in October 2018 with planning to bomb a meeting of an Iranian opposition group in France, warned of potential retaliation if the trial does not go his way.
The fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan comes at a particularly bad time for Iran. At home, it faces an extremely difficult economic situation thanks to U.S. sanctions. Abroad, it is involved in multiple unfinished geopolitical adventures in the Arab world—from Iraq to Syria and beyond—in which it has invested considerably in recent years. Although it might like to involve itself in the conflict in the South Caucasus, where it has played the role of mediator before, Tehran’s bandwidth to do so is considerably less than its geographic proximity to the conflict might suggest.