Two Iranian men were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday, accused of a brazen hacking and disinformation campaign that targeted American voters in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Seyyed Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, allegedly sent threatening emails to try to scare voters, attempted to break into several states’ voting-related websites and gained access to a U.S. media company’s computer network. Officials say the pair emailed thousands of voters in October, including many Democrats. They allegedly claimed to be Proud Boys and threatened the email recipients with physical attacks if they did not change party affiliation and vote for President Donald Trump.
An armed drone strike last month on an American military base in southern Syria was Iranian retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria, according to eight American and Israeli officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The drone attack, which caused no casualties, would be the first time Iran has directed a military strike against the United States in response to an attack by Israel, an escalation of Iran’s shadow war with Israel that poses new dangers to U.S. forces in the Middle East.
France's foreign minister warned Iran on Friday not to come to the next round of talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with a "sham" negotiating stance, a day after Paris urged the board of the U.N. atomic watchdog to send Iran a tough message. Tehran had earlier responded to Paris by saying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which verifies Tehran's compliance with the 2015 deal with world powers limiting Tehran's nuclear programme, must be "free of any political conduct.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The stated U.S. aim when indirect U.S.-Iranian talks resume this month is to see if the two can revive a 2015 nuclear deal, but Washington's unspoken goal may be to win support from China and Russia to pressure Iran if the talks fail, diplomats said. Western diplomats have said time is running low to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, earning Iran's fury and the dismay of the remaining major powers in the pact - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Under the agreement, Iran limited its nuclear program in exchange for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. economic sanctions.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog's governing board must send a strong message to Iran when it convenes next week, France said on Thursday after two agency reports highlighted Iran's continued disputed nuclear activities and lack of cooperation. The International Atomic Energy Agency issued two reports on Wednesday detailing its conflicts with Iran, from rough treatment of its inspectors to re-installing monitoring cameras at Iranian sites the IAEA deems essential for the revival of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The United States has not changed its approach to sanctions on Iran ahead of nuclear talks, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Thursday.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The US House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a draft resolution condemning the state-sponsored persecution of the Baha'i community of Iran in a bipartisan move. Voices are mounting in Congress criticizing these violations against the Baha'i community. The Iranian regime and its affiliated militias, like the Houthis in Yemen, are accused of persecuting the Baha'is. The draft resolution, introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch, condemns the longstanding state-sponsored persecution of the Iranian Baha'i religious minority and calls on the Iranian government to release the imprisoned Baha'is immediately.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The US and GCC Working Group on Iran condemned a range of aggressive and dangerous Iranian policies, including the proliferation and direct use of advanced ballistic missiles and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The weapons have been used by Iran or its proxies in hundreds of attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, according to a statement issued by the US State Department. Senior US officials and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members convened their Working Group on Iran in Riyadh on November 17, as decided by the US-GCC Foreign Ministerial on September 23.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The departure of an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander from Syria this month has led to some speculation in regional media that the Syrian regime is seeking to recalibrate its relations with Tehran. Two Saudi news outlets claimed that the officer was removed at the direct order of President Bashar Assad. According to the reports, in Al Arabiya and Al Hadath, the independent activities of the officer, in violation of Syrian sovereignty, led to the order for his removal.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The US and European powers told Gulf countries on Thursday that they were determined to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. The comments came during talks in Riyadh between officials from France, Germany, the UK and GCC countries, along with US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley. Jordan and Egypt were also represented. Malley and the Europeans condemned Iran’s “destabilizing activities in the region, including the use and transfer of ballistic missiles and UAVs (drones) that have led to attacks against regional partners,” a State Department spokesperson said.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric who emerged as a winner in last month’s general elections on Thursday called on the country’s myriad pro-Iran Shiite armed factions to disband if they want to join his upcoming government. Muqatada al-Sadr also asked the factions to hand over their weapons to the government-sanctioned umbrella known as Popular Mobilization Forces. In turn, he also asked the PMF to “purify” its ranks from “undisciplined elements” and surrender “corrupt individuals” to the judiciary. The militias are certain to reject the demands, which in turn could complicate al-Sadr’s efforts to form a government after the vote. It could also increase tensions between Shiites who support the pro-Iran factions and al-Sadr’s own followers.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement of condemnation in response to a UN resolution that has raised alarm on human rights violations committed by the Islamic Republic. The resolution discussed and passed by the General Assembly Third Committee expressed "serious concern at the alarmingly frequent use of the death penalty." It urged Iranian authorities to drop such sentences against child offenders. Sending 246 convicts to the gallows last year, Iran was the world’s second top executioner after China.