The United Nations' atomic agency's board picked a new leader Tuesday with strong U.S. backing who has pledged to shake up the body and strictly monitor Iran's nuclear activities. Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi, 58 years old, is likely to be formally elected when he receives the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency's full membership, which is expected in the next few weeks. Mr. Grossi, who was a senior IAEA official before becoming Argentina's ambassador to U.N. institutions in Vienna, has signaled a stricter line on Tehran, whose behavior has become increasingly problematic for the body charged with overseeing nuclear activities world-wide.
The day after anti-government protests erupted in Iraq, Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani flew into Baghdad late at night and took a helicopter to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where he surprised a group of top security officials by chairing a meeting in place of the prime minister. The arrival of Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, signaled Tehran's concern over the protests, which had erupted across the capital and in Iraq's Shiite heartland, and included calls for Iran to stop meddling in the country.
The U.S. has a message for buyers of sanctioned Iranian crude: we're watching you. The Trump administration routinely examines the effectiveness of its sanctions and is monitoring nations buying oil from Iran, said Kurt Donnelly, deputy assistant secretary for energy diplomacy from the Bureau of Energy Resources at the U.S. Department of State, without elaborating. While South Korea and India have halted purchases, customs data show that China is still regularly taking crude from the Persian Gulf nation, albeit at much smaller quantities.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The U.N. nuclear watchdog's board on Tuesday picked Argentina's Rafael Grossi to become the agency's next chief, and he immediately pledged to act independently and neutrally on issues including Iran. Grossi, 58, succeeded Yukiya Amano, who died in office. Grossi had been running neck-and-neck with Amano's former right-hand man and current acting director general, Cornel Feruta of Romania, in repeated votes by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors until Grossi took the lead on Monday.
The Trump administration faces a self-imposed Tuesday deadline to decide whether to extend waivers allowing other world powers to work with Iran on civilian nuclear projects without facing U.S. sanctions. Speaking at an Oct. 16 Senate hearing, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said the Iran nuclear waivers renewed by the State Department for 90 days on July 30 expire on Oct. 29. He said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have to make a decision by then on canceling the five waivers or renewing any of them for an additional period.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Banks in Malaysia are closing the accounts of Iranian individuals and companies, nearly a dozen affected people told Reuters, in a sign that U.S. sanctions are having a far-reaching impact on citizens of the Islamic republic. Although Malaysian banks seemed to be more cautious in dealing with Iranians than those elsewhere, some Iranians and one embassy official said, there were "mass closures" in the Southeast Asian country in recent months.
Iran would need oil priced at $194.6 a barrel to balance its budget next year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said. Hurt by tighter US sanctions, Iran - a key member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - is expected to have a fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent this year and 5.1 percent in 2020, the fund said in a report on Monday. On Friday, international benchmark Brent crude closed trading at just above $62 a barrel.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
An Iranian beauty queen who has been stuck in a Manila airport for nearly two weeks says she can't return home and is seeking asylum in the Philippines, according to Philippine authorities. Bahareh Zare Bahari, 31, was detained the morning of Oct. 17 by the country's Bureau of Immigration after arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila from Dubai, the department said in a press release last week.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran is ready to engage with the international community including the United States over its nuclear programme, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said, adding, however, that Tehran would not take part in discussions that did not take into account the Iranian interests. Speaking on the sidelines of the core group meeting of the Munich Security Conference in the Qatari capital, Doha, Zarif said on Tuesday Iran would not accept a "zero-sum game" approach to solve a worsening crisis following a US decision last year to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The representative of Iran's Supreme Leader in the main conservative newspaper in Iran has once again demanded the "capture" of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. He had made a similar threat in early October. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of hardliner Kayhan newspaper, directly controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has again alleged that protests in Iraq "are being managed by the embassies of America and Saudi Arabia". Iranian officials have been making the allegation since the protests in Iraq against corruption and mismanagement began in early October, without presenting any evidence.
Iranian politician and former intelligence officer Ali Rabiei wrote an article on Sunday that claimed al-Baghdadi's death at the hands of US troops does not mean the fight against ISIS is over, just as killing former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden didn't bring terrorism to an end. He said: "Baghdadi's death is the end of a symbol of injective-destructive terrorism: injecting a lethal ideology into the hearts of human societies and destroying the image of Islam in the eyes of the public.
The Pentagon isn't going to sit by and let Iran think it could attack Saudi Arabia. In response to the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced plans to deploy additional personnel and air and missile defense assets to the Middle East - including one Patriot battery, four Sentinel radars, and 200 support personnel. This deployment represents the latest American effort to deter Iranian aggression and highlights the growing and evolving air and missile threat to the United States and its partners.
The Straits of Hormuz are vital for global shipping and any infringement on that would provoke a strong response from Washington. The recent mining of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, attributed to Iran by the United States, offers an important window into the strategic thinking of Iran and similarly situated regional powers. The incident is notable because the act of mining a limited number of vessels makes relatively little sense when viewed through the lens of traditional patterns of coercive behavior.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
In an Oct. 2 speech to the top commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asked them to be ready for "big events." In characteristically vague language, Khamenei was issuing a warning to his domestic opponents, President Hassan Rouhani, and the country's foreign foes. His choice of speaking to the IRGC bosses was anything but coincidental. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Khamenei ascending to the top job. His reign began on slippery ground.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Since its completion nearly a decade ago, "The Paternal House" has been surrounded by controversy. The film was directed by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Kianoush Ayyari, who is known for his explicit realism. Set in a traditional house in Tehran, Ayyari's drama chronicles 70 years in the life of a family ruled by strict patriarchy, and how the curse of an honor killing haunts one generation after another. The climax is the murder of a female character by her father and brother, who dump the body in the basement, which serves as a horrifying symbolic spot for a suicide and a deadly stroke years later, both triggered by the original killing.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran and Russia on Tuesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to maintain a military presence near oil fields in northeastern Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying any exploitation of resources would be illegal. Trump's suggestion on Sunday that Exxon Mobil Corp or another U.S. oil company operate Syrian oil fields drew rebukes from legal and energy experts. The United States will strengthen its military presence in Syria with "mechanized forces" to prevent Islamic State fighters seizing oil fields and revenue, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday.
Iran on Tuesday called for unity among Lebanon's political groups after Saad al-Hariri resigned as Lebanon's prime minister amid protests. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement that Tehran "calls for unity among all political groups and parties in Lebanon to maintain security and stability in the country and meet the legitimate demands of the Lebanese people." He added that Iran hopes Lebanon would pass through "this dangerous and sensitive phase" successfully.
Iran on Wednesday accused the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel of stoking unrest in Lebanon and Iraq, and called for calm in both countries. "Our advice has always been to call for peace and (stopping) interference by foreign forces in these countries," President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi was quoted as saying by state media. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel were riding a wave of popular demands and providing those forces with financial support, he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of seeking means to launch missiles at Israel from Yemen, where Tehran supports Houthi rebels. Netanyahu made the remark during a visit by a U.S. delegation, including presidential adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin. Netanyahu is calling for tougher sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu spoke of Iran's threat to Israel at an event in Jerusalem on Monday, coinciding with the visit of high U.S. officials.
In the wake of warnings in recent days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about threats from Iran, Israeli media report of steps the government is taking to be prepared for any eventuality. Netanyahu warned October 28 during a visit by a U.S. delegation that Iran is preparing a attack on Israel using precision munitions to be launched form a third country such Iraq or Yemen. Today, Israeli media say that several Israeli embassies have been out on notice to raise their alert level.
As mass demonstrations sweep Iraq and Lebanon, conspiracy theories on pro-Iranian media outlets have gotten wilder. The protest movement erupted in the two countries to deflect from the political crisis in Israel, announced the Arabic broadcast of Iran's Al Alam television on Sunday. The upheaval has been similar in that demonstrators want the ruling class in Beirut and Baghdad removed, without exception, threatening the grip of Iran's Shiite militia clients.
A court in Germany has charged two suspected former Syrian intelligence officers with crimes against humanity. One of them, Anwar R., is suspected of being involved in the torture of at least 4,000 people in 2011-12. This resulted in the deaths of 58 people. The other suspect, Eyad A, is charged with torture in at least 30 cases.Key evidence was gathered after a UN exhibition in 2015, which depicted the corpses of torture victims in Syria under President Bashar al-Assad.
Federal prosecutors say two brothers charged with conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the U.S. to Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon are "dangerous" and should remain in custody while they await trial, according to a court document filed Monday. Usama and Issam Hamade are charged with conspiracy to violate U.S. export laws. Usama Hamade is also charged with smuggling.
Hundreds of Lebanese supporters of the militant Hezbollah group, some wielding sticks, attacked a protest camp set up by anti-government demonstrators in central Beirut, burning some of its tents and dismantling others Tuesday. The violence came shortly after dozens of other Hezbollah supporters, also wielding sticks, attacked a roadblock set up by the protesters on a main thoroughfare in the capital.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran's foreign ministry has asked citizens to postpone trips to Iraq in light of violent protests in that country, especially southern cities, where Iranian pilgrims visit most. In recent days, large and noisy protests have resumed in Iraq, including in Najaf and Karbala, where Iranian often visit as holy Shiite sites. There were bloody incidents in Karbala Monday night, when security forces opened fire on protesters, reportedly killing more than ten people.