UN Urged To Open Query Into Iran's 1988 Killings And Raisi Role

TOP STORIES 

UN Urged To Open Query Into Iran's 1988 Killings And Raisi Role | Reuters  

Prominent former U.N. judges and investigators have called on U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet to investigate the 1988 "massacre" of political prisoners in Iran, including the alleged role of its current president, Ebrahim Raisi, at that time. The open letter released on Thursday, seen by Reuters, was signed by some 460 people, including a former president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Sang-Hyun Song, and Stephen Rapp, a former U.S. ambassador for global criminal justice. Raisi, who took office in August, is under U.S. sanctions over a past that includes what the United States and activists say was his involvement as one of four judges who oversaw the 1988 killings. His office in Tehran had no comment on Thursday. 

Russia Pushes Back Expectations Of Clinching Iran Nuclear Deal | Bloomberg 

Russia’s chief negotiator for Iran nuclear talks estimated it will take more time to reach an agreement than he previously thought possible, as the U.S. warns that the window for saving the accord is closing.  “If the talks continue at the pace they’re currently going, in principle it’s quite realistic to reach agreement by the end of February,” Mikhail Ulyanov told Rossiya-24 on Wednesday night, adding that a deal could be implemented by April. Last month he said he thought it would be possible to conclude talks to restore the deal by early February. U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that it’s “not time to give up” on reviving the Iran accord, which unraveled after the Trump administration quit it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that negotiations to revive the deal, now in their eighth round, cannot be allowed to drag on too long.  

As Iran Nears Uranium Breakout Capacity, US Mulls Bomb-Making Scenarios | Voice Of America

With the United States warning that Iran is just weeks from developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, there is disagreement among Washington experts on the likelihood of Iran rushing to build such a weapon, and how the U.S. and its allies should deal with that risk. "[Iran] is getting to the point where its breakout time, the time it would take to produce fissile material for a bomb, is getting down to a matter of a few weeks," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a virtual event Monday. The U.S. and Iran have been negotiating indirectly since last April to see if they can secure a mutual return to compliance with a 2015 deal in which Tehran promised to curb nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for sanctions relief from the U.S. and other world powers. 

UANI IN THE NEWS 

Washington Vows More Sanctions On Houthi Leaders | Asharq Al-Awsat 

Commenting on the steps taken by the US administration, Norman Roule, a former official in the CIA and a current senior advisor to the “United Against Nuclear Iran” project, said that Washington had hoped to force the Houthis to return to negotiations for a peaceful solution in good faith. However, the Houthi attacks and speeches indicate a “terrorist organization.” Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Roule pointed to Iran encouraging Houthis. Because of this, the group has repeatedly refused diplomatic operations and attacked dozens of civilian targets in the hope of causing great human losses. However, Roule believes that relisting Houthis as a terrorist group will not be easy. According to the expert, there are people in the US administration who believe the redesignation will impede humanitarian operations and make a political settlement out of reach. The Houthis have been more willing to consider a political settlement when they face military setbacks, and neither the Biden administration nor Europe is likely to support military action, “so I don’t think the administration will be able to do much in that regard,” said Roule. 

NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM 

US, Israeli National Security Advisers Discuss State Of Iran’s Nuclear Program | The Times Of Israel 

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Dr. Eyal Hulata conduct a virtual meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group (SCG). They are joined by various foreign affairs and security officials. The sides “discussed significant regional developments since the last SCG meeting in December, including advances in Iran’s nuclear program,” according to a White House statement. “Mr. Sullivan emphasized that while the United States remains committed to diplomacy as the best means for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the United States is preparing alternative options, in coordination with its partners, should diplomacy fail.”

Iranian Press Calls Direct Talks With US A 'Trap' | Al- Monitor 

After Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian opened the door for the possibility of direct Iran-US talks if there is a “good deal,” Iranian and Western media outlets have been rife with speculation. The Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani, even weighed in with a tweet on the possibility of direct Iran-US talks. However, shortly after, the SNSC website attempted to tone down the speculation. Nour News, which is the SNSC website, titled their article on the possibility of talks between Iran and the United States “Commotion for nothing, currently there is no need to negotiate directly with the US.” The article stated that the current negotiations in Vienna with the original members of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, minus the United States, which exited in 2018, have always been about a good deal and that Iran is not interested in “negotiations under pressure, negotiations for the sake of negotiations, or wasting time and searching for excuses why the Western countries have fled from their commitments.”

U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS 

Biden Admin: Former Trump Iran Envoy Facing ‘Serious and Credible’ Threats | The Washington Free Beacon

The Trump administration's Iran envoy is facing "serious and credible" threats to his safety, according to a non-public assessment produced this month by the State Department and viewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The determination was delivered to Congress amid a campaign of public death threats by Iran aimed at former president Donald Trump and top administration officials. The State Department in an unclassified but non-public assessment provided to Congress on Jan. 11 determined that a "specific threat persists with respect to former special representative [for Iran] Brian Hook," who helmed the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign on Tehran and was instrumental in the assassination of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani. The document does not name the actors behind the threats, describing them only as a "foreign power or the agent of a foreign power." 

MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS 

Washington Again Signals Readiness To Hold Houthis To Account | Asharq Al-Awsat 

The US administration once signaled the option of "holding Houthis accountable" after the Iran-backed militias targeted Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi cities for the second time in less than a week.In official statements by the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense, the administration stressed its support to its Saudi and Emirati partners against the attacks targeting their security and stability. In continuation of the US administration's diplomatic efforts in the region, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with both Saudi Ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar, and UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba. They discussed ongoing Houthi attacks against civilian targets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, resulting in civilian casualties in both countries. 

IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS

Iran Arrests 17 Pranksters Over Videos That ‘Spread Panic’ | Associated Press  

In Tehran in recent weeks, men have smashed cream pies into the faces of hapless bystanders on metro escalators. Actors posing as private taxi drivers have opened fire on passengers with red paint guns. Young people have tossed eggs at unwitting pedestrians. The stream of prank videos captured on Tehran’s real-life streets and circulating on Iranian social media are not all fun and games to the Iranian authorities. Iranian police on Wednesday announced the arrest of 17 pranksters who posted the videos on a dozen Instagram pages, saying they’d incited public panic. The clips racked up thousands of views, attracting fans and imitators. “Police strongly confronted such illegal acts,” the country’s state-run IRAN newspaper quoted Tehran police chief Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying. “Publishing such clips plays with people’s nerves, security and peace.” 

Virus-Ravaged Iran Finds Brief Respite With Mass Vaccination | Associated Press 

As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic. After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety. Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a monthslong lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago. Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong. Meanwhile, Iranians have received doses more recently and are feeling off the hook with their immunity still robust. 

RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN 

Analysis: Lebanon Slips Further Into Iran's Orbit As Hariri Bows Out | Reuters

A decision by Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri to step away from Lebanese politics opens the way for Shi'ite Hezbollah to extend its already deep sway over the country, rendering it ever more a bastion of Iranian influence on the Mediterranean. Three times prime minister, Hariri declared on Monday he would suspend his role in public life and boycott a general election in May, citing Iranian influence as one of the reasons he saw little hope of positive change. It opens a new phase in Lebanon's sectarian politics, governed by a system of power-sharing among its many sects, and adds to the uncertainties facing a country suffering a financial meltdown that marks the biggest threat to stability since a 1975-90 civil war. 

GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN 

Yemen PM: Iran Uses Yemen as Base for Attacking Neighbors | Asharq Al-Awsat 

Yemen’s prime minister on Tuesday accused the Houthi militia of allowing Iran to use the war-torn country as a base for attacking other states, the official news agency SABA reported. Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed told British Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim that the Houthis have shunned peace efforts to end the war and have served as a stooge for the Iranian regime to launch attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and undermine international maritime navigation through the Red Sea. He repeated his government’s appeals to the international community to name and shame the Houthis for inflaming violence, aggravating the humanitarian crisis, attacking the country’s neighbors, and rejecting peace initiatives. 

Iran Government Agency Says Qatari Visit Not Mediation For Talks With US | Iran International

Iran's official news agency Thursday said Qatari foreign minister's visit to Tehran should not be interpreted as mediation for direct talks with Washington. "Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit amid speculations regarding holding direct talks with the US in Vienna has fueled some misconceptions about the nature of the visit," IRNA said in a note entitled "Mistaken Interpretation Of Iran, Qatar Foreign Ministers' Visit" Thursday. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met in Tehran Thursday morning. Some domestic and foreign media interpreted the meeting as a possible Qatari mediation effort to facilitate direct US-Iran talks. 

IRAQ & IRAN 

Iraqi Parliament Speaker’s Home Targeted Amid Power Plays | Al-Monitor  

“Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi’s residence, as well as other areas in his native district of Karma, were targeted by at least three rockets late Tuesday night in what appears to be the latest in a long string of attacks by Iran-linked armed factions. Karma, sometimes spelled Garma or al-Karmah, is in the eastern part of Anbar province and is less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Baghdad. The attack happened hours after the Federal Court approved Halbusi’s re-election at the head of the country’s legislative body, as wrangling continued over the makeup of the next government coalition. Halbusi’s party got the largest number of votes among Sunni factions in the October elections. Though a video was circulated in which men with their faces covered and going by the name of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah were seen threatening Halbusi for allegedly backing “normalization of ties with Israel,” many scoffed at the unusual way the young men spoke and claimed it was a badly executed attempt to foist the blame for the attack on Sunni Islamist factions. The government-linked Iraqi Security Media Cell called the attack a “cowardly terrorist act.”