Nearly 17 years after U.S. troops largely pulled up stakes from the kingdom, the U.S. is now back in force. Here in a base of tents in the desert about 60 miles southeast of Riyadh, some 2,500 U.S. military personnel are launching F-15 fighter jets in soaring arcs overhead and manning Patriot missile batteries in shifts. Or they play chess and video games to pass the hours, with an NFL-themed video game splashed on a flat-screen TV inside a recreation tent. The return of the U.S. troops-after maintaining a much smaller footprint for nearly two decades-reflects the alarm of Saudi and American leaders at the current threat posed by another regional power: Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday hit out at China and Iran for their response to the outbreak of coronavirus, accusing the two governments of censorship and of trying to cover up the severity of the spread of the deadly illness. Pompeo assailed Beijing for expelling three Wall Street Journal reporters and said a free press was needed to ensure accurate information about the virus is available to the public and medical personnel. He also said Iranian authorities must "tell the truth" about the virus amid signs the outbreak there may be far wider than officially acknowledged.
Iran criticized a U.S. move to deploy low-yield nuclear missiles on submarines, saying at a disarmament conference on Tuesday it made nuclear war "more likely". The U.S. Defense Department said earlier this month the Navy had fielded a low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, something the Pentagon says is needed to deter adversaries like Russia. Moscow has already expressed alarm at the decision. "Such provocative actions must be condemned," Mohsen Baharvand, Iran's deputy foreign minister for international and legal affairs, told the Conference on Disarmament in the U.N. building in Geneva.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The remaining parties to the faltering Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Wednesday in their first gathering after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process over Tehran's successive pullbacks. The meeting comes as the parties try to find a way to save the landmark 2015 agreement, which has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran. The Europeans hope to persuade Tehran to come back into line with the deal curbing Iran's nuclear program after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest at the US pull-out.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States announced on Tuesday it was imposing sanctions on 13 foreign entities and individuals in China, Iraq, Russia, and Turkey for supporting Iran's missile program. The State Department said the action included new sanctions against three Chinese firms, a Chinese individual and a Turkish company. It named the Chinese as Luo Dingwen and the three Chinese entities as Baoding Shimaotong Enterprises Services Co. Ltd, Gaobeidian Kaituo Precise Instrument Co Ltd, and Wuhan Sanjiang Import and Export Co Ltd. It named the Turkish firm as Eren Carbon Graphite Industrial Trading Co Ltd.
The Iranian government has vowed to take necessary measures to reduce the impact of the country's listing on the Financial Action Taskforce's (FATF) blacklist. Head of the Iranian presidential office and chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi said the government will work hard to create an appropriate climate for economic activities. "We are trying to create solutions to reduce the impact of the current conditions on the economy in light of sanctions and extreme pressure exerted by the enemies," he said.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on members of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to take urgent action to address the "brutal crackdown" by Iranian security forces on anti-government protests that rocked Tehran and more than 100 other cities and towns late last year. Iranian authorities have failed to hold security forces accountable for "excessive and unlawful use of lethal force" in dealing with the weeklong protests that began on November 15 following a government decision to raise fuel prices.
She may just have won the Geneva Summit 2020 International Women's Prize but Iranian activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh says she can't feel happiness anymore -- not while her friends and other women's rights activists remain imprisoned in Iran. "I'm not a happy person and I feel guilty all the time," she told CNN in a candid interview last week, adding that she fears women's rights activists in Iran have "no hope" and that international condemnation of their treatment by authorities has had little impact.
An Iranian human rights group on February 25 reported that a court has sentenced five individuals arrested during November protests to a total of thirty years in prison as well as flogging and exile. Iranian authorities have not officially announced how many were arrested during the protests in November. It is also not clear how many of the arrested protesters are still being held in detention. Some of the protesters, however, have been put on trial in various regions.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's top national security body, accused the White House on Tuesday of withholding information about an Iranian missile attack on a U.S. base in Iraq. Shamkhani did not give details in a tweet reacting to accusations by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic may have withheld information about the spread of coronavirus inside the country.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's deputy health minister and a member of parliament have tested positive for the coronavirus as the death toll inside the country rose to 16 and Iranians worried that authorities could be underestimating the scale of outbreak. Iran has the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside China, where the virus emerged in December and more than 2,600 have died. "My corona test is positive ... I don't have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world," Mahmoud Sadeghi, the parliamentarian from Tehran, wrote on Twitter.
I write this letter to my daughters and their generation, 41 years after a revolution that my generation helped to bring about. I hope you forgive us for the mistake we made. Although we did not intend it, we have darkened your world. Yes, we wanted to make the world a better place. We were dreamers. We dreamed of creating a country where both human rights and human dignity would be guarded by strong democratic institutions. We thought that we had every right to translate these beautiful ideas into reality.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced one Saudi citizen to death and seven others to jail on charges of treason and spying for Iran, Saudi state television tweeted on Tuesday. The seven sentenced to jail were found to have "associated and cooperated with people working in the Iranian embassy", the broadcaster tweeted without providing more details.
TURKEY & IRAN
All 132 passengers and crew on a Turkish Airlines plane from Tehran will be quarantined for 14 days and tested for possible coronavirus infection at a hospital in Ankara, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Tuesday. The flight from Tehran was carrying Turkish nationals home after Ankara closed its border with Iran this weekend following a coronavirus outbreak there, Koca said in a written statement. An aviation source said earlier the flight was originally due to land at Istanbul, one of the world's largest airports, but was diverted to Ankara. The Health Ministry denied this.