The Trump administration on Thursday levied another round of sanctions against Iran, targeting 20 companies, officials and business executives it says have helped U.S.-designated terror groups attack American forces in Iraq. The action follows a series of deadly strikes by Iranian-backed forces in Iraq in an escalation of hostilities between Tehran and Washington, and comes as the administration faces increasing pressure to ease its sanctions campaign while Iran struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Standing over the still body of an intubated 5-year-old boy wearing nothing but a plastic diaper, an Iranian health care worker in a hazmat suit and mask begged the public for just one thing: Stop drinking industrial alcohol over fears about the new coronavirus. The boy, now blind after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus, is just one of hundreds of victims of an epidemic inside the pandemic now gripping Iran.
Bob Levinson deserved better from the country he served so faithfully. The former FBI agent went missing in Iran in 2007, making him the longest-held American hostage. His family had long clung to hope-they received a video in 2010 and photos in 2011-but this week announced they now believe he is dead. In a statement his wife and children put it this way: "We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody. We don't know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic."
UANI IN THE NEWS
The spread of COVID-19 has caused governments worldwide to mobilise in the face of this emergency. Countries have implemented emergency measures to protect their citizens and shown solidarity by providing supplies where appropriate. One nation, however, is an obvious outlier to this sentiment - Iran. Through systematic mismanagement and blatant disregard for the safety of its people, the regime has caused untold misery to its people.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The U.S. has cut its latest waiver allowing Iraq to import Iranian gas and electricity to 30 days, dialing up pressure on the government in Baghdad to cut back its ties to Iran as low oil prices push it to the brink of an economic crisis. Washington also sanctioned 20 individuals and entities it said had been taking advantage of the exemptions to channel money to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force.
The United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals on Thursday for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak. In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department accused those targeted of supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm and of transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all of which Washington deems foreign terrorist organizations.
The United States is turning up its "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran, slapping fresh sanctions on 20 companies and individuals for bolstering Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and elsewhere. The U.S. Treasury Department unveiled the latest round of sanctions Thursday, accusing the companies and individuals of acting as part of a front for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force. Officials said the network has helped transfer "lethal aid" to two Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, while also smuggling weapons to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Iran's Defence Minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami on March 26 said Iran has upgraded all its cruise missiles and is planning to increase the explosive power of their warheads, speed and maneuverability. According to a report by Iran's DEFA Press which covers military news, Brigadier-General Hatami said in the current Iranian year (which started on March 21) cruise missiles will become more responsive and capable of being deployed while on the move. Iranian-made air-launched cruise missiles are being worked on and may be unveiled during the current year, he was quoted as saying.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In a letter addressed to Iran's Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi on March 26 Amnesty International said Iranian authorities must "immediately and unconditionally" release hundreds of prisoners of conscience amid grave concerns over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran's prisons. "The authorities should take measures to protect the health of all prisoners and urgently consider releasing pre-trial detainees and those who may be at particular risk of severe illness or death," the letter said.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Tehran said on Thursday that a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in March 2007 had left the country years ago despite his family saying he had died in Iranian custody. "Based on credible evidence, Levinson has left Iran years ago for an unspecified destination," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to state television. "In the past years Iran has tried to find out his state but could not find any signs of him being alive."
A Navy veteran released from an Iranian prison last week on a medical furlough says he's sick with coronavirus symptoms and is requesting a humanitarian evacuation to the United States for medical treatment. Michael White was hospitalized Wednesday in a crowded ward for coronavirus patients in Iran and has experienced fever, fatigue, a cough and shortness of breath since his furlough last week, according to a statement from Jon Franks, a family spokesman.
Iran is dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus in the world, with a death toll surpassing 2,200 people. But getting help into the country is hindered both by a truculent Iranian leadership and strong U.S. sanctions. On Sunday and Monday, two cargo planes chartered by Doctors Without Borders landed in Iran. On board was an emergency medical team, along with material to build a 50-bed inflatable treatment unit destined for Isfahan, the country's third-largest city.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Iranian military has set up a 2,000-bed hospital in an exhibition center in the capital to shore up the local health care system as it battles the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, state TV reported. It said the new facility, which includes three units and several isolation wards, was set up in just 48 hours. It will be used for patients who are recovering from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.
Iran banned travel between cities as part of new social distancing measures to try and curb the deadly coronavirus outbreak, ordering people to return immediately to their hometowns or risk fines. The measure was only introduced weeks into the country's epidemic, and after millions of Iranians defied official calls to stay at home and traveled across the country to celebrate the Persian new year. Emergency services and cargo vehicles are exempt from the ban, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Iran's police chief as saying.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants to tap the country's sovereign wealth fund for $1 billion to support a healthcare system overstretched by a major coronavirus outbreak, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Rouhani wrote to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday requesting permission to withdraw the money from the National Development Fund, IRNA reported, quoting Rouhani's comments at a coronavirus task force meeting in Tehran.
A renowned Iranian dissident and former Islamic revolutionary has lambasted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for describing the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus as "biological warfare." In a statement published March 26 on an anti-Khamenei website, Abolfazl Qadyani (Ghadiani), a former advocate of the Islamic Republic has referred to the "Supreme Leader" as "Iran's current tyrant," whose comments are an insult to the wisdom of Iranians.