The United States and Israel said Wednesday they are exploring a “Plan B” for dealing with Iran if the Islamic Republic does not return in good faith to negotiations to salvage the languishing landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said discussions between their two countries have begun on “other options” should Iran reject an offer to come back into compliance with the agreement if the U.S. rejoins it. They did not elaborate on what those options might be, but there are a wide range of non-diplomatic options that could be considered, ranging from stepped up sanctions to covert or military actions. A Biden administration priority has been to revive the deal and abandoning that goal would be a blow to its foreign policy objectives.
I am a blogger and Internet freedom activist in Iran, and I have a message that millions of Iranians are desperate for you to hear: The Western media is failing the Iranian people. There have been five nationwide uprisings against the regime in our country in the past four years. Our government has slaughtered protesters and tortured political prisoners to suppress them. Yet most people in the West—even those who consider themselves informed on Iran—don’t know our reality because foreign media coverage consistently overlooks or denies our reality. For us, it is as if there are two Irans—the one where we live and another that you read about. Your Iran is defined by a pesky nuclear negotiation. Ours is much worse. It is a religious police state where we live in fear, with countless red lines that most dare not cross. It is a country of repression, censorship and violence. I would know—I have spent six years in its jails.
Azerbaijan freed two Iranian prisoners, suggesting the bordering countries are trying to reduce tensions and avoid a possible conflict over critical transit routes and Israel’s presence in the region. The release was reported a day after Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov spoke by phone in the first direct effort to address tensions that began escalating two weeks ago. “The sides noted the harmful rhetoric observed recently, which does not correspond to the level of friendly relations between our countries, and the need to resolve all differences through dialogue,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…WHY WERE SANCTIONS LIFTED? The group United Against Nuclear Iran is questioning why the Treasury Department has lifted sanctions against two Iranian missile producers, Mammut Industrial Group and its subsidiary Mammut Diesel, without explanation. “Reducing economic pressure on Tehran absent meaningful behavioral change would signal to the Iranian regime that it can extract concessions from the U.S. through its intransigence,” the group said in a press release. “Rather than undoing sanctions, the Biden administration should prepare to wage a full-scale diplomatic offensive in favor of extending the Iranian ballistic missile development restrictions contained in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 — set to expire just 24 months from now.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Biden administration’s special representative for Iran admitted Wednesday that America and its allies must brace for a world in which Tehran’s theocratic government “doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program” as talks aimed at reviving the moribund 2015 nuclear deal grind on in Vienna. During an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robert Malley said that the US has made clear to Iran’s representatives that “we are prepared to remove all of the sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration that were inconsistent with the [nuclear] deal, and therefore we could get back to the business that we should have been on.”
Israel’s foreign minister said Iran draws closer every day to having a nuclear weapon and warned his country will use force if it must to keep that from happening, a blunt threat that underscored his government’s growing frustrations as world powers seek to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said during a visit to Washington Wednesday that Israel reserves the right to act “at any given moment in any way” given Iran’s longtime vow to wipe Israel from the map. He said Iranians are “clearly dragging their heels, trying to cheat the world.”
The Iranian military said Wednesday it has successfully tested anti-missile defences for "sensitive" sites during war games in central Iran, after Israeli and US warnings over its nuclear programme. "The country's air defences are perfectly prepared to protect sensitive and vital installations through a multi-layered defence system," said General Amir-Qader Rahimzadeh, commander of Hazrat Khatam al-Anbiya air base in Semnan, quoted by Fars news agency. The exercises, begun on Tuesday, combined the army's "Majid" defence system with the "Dezful" system of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps to destroy incoming cruise missiles.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Amnesty International has called on Iran to carry out an "impartial and transparent" investigation into the "suspicious" death in custody of prisoner Shahin Naseri, who claimed that he witnessed the torture of champion wrestler Navid Afkari before his execution on homicide charges. The London-based rights group said it has received information that a day before his death in custody, Naseri called at least two people from the prison clinic using another prisoner's phone, expressed fears about his life being in danger, and indicated he'd been transferred from his regular ward to a cell intended for solitary confinement, but at the time used to detain several prisoners.
The security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran aided in the release of a man who reportedly shot three young women in the back while they were riding bikes in the city of Isfahan in August. Persian language media outside of Iran reported on Wednesday about the alleged Iranian regime misconduct. The US government outlet Radio Farda reported that “According to the mother of one of the shot girls, the officers first asked them not to leak the news so that they could find out which person or group did that.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced on Tuesday that it had arrested an Iranian national accused of conspiring to sell hundreds of kilograms of heroin in the U.S. Malek Mohammad Balouchzehi, 38, was detained by authorities in Nairobi, Kenya, and later taken to the U.S. on Oct. 9. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn on Tuesday. According to the DEA, Balouchzehi is a drug trafficker who distributes methamphetamine while also manufacturing and distributing heroin. At one point in 2019, he allegedly discussed importing 400 kilograms of heroin into the U.S.
The Biden administration is grappling with a new dilemma as nuclear negotiations with Iran remain frozen: whether more pressure on Iran would help push the Iranians back to the 2015 deal, or lead Iran to escalate its nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios. Why it matters: The Iranian nuclear program has made significant advances in recent months that will be difficult to roll back — and that could potentially undercut the benefits of salvaging the 2015 accord, particularly if a deal isn’t reached soon.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
In a meeting with the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi called for “digitizing” the government while also expanding controls over the internet. Raisi said that the council can “take significant steps in making up for its ineffectiveness and in the management of cyberspace.” He added that the “health and security” of the internet must be prioritized given that “the enemy invades the personal environment and space of the people and the country.” Raisi called it “unacceptable for any institution to ignore this arena.”
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Two archrivals in the Middle East seem to be making surprising progress in rebuilding relations. This could possibly help end the war in Yemen, and prove to be the most dramatic step in a wave of de-escalation in the region. In 2020, negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran began quietly with three informal but substantial meetings involving senior security and intelligence officials from Riyadh and Tehran. A fourth round was reportedly held on September 21 at Baghdad international airport, with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi playing host to the head of Iran's national Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, and the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iranian and Pakistani military leaders vowed to improved cooperation and discussed Afghanistan on Wednesday. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, met his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Nadeem Raza in Rawalpindi south of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. The two delegations expressed a “serious desire” to expand cooperation between the Iranian and Pakistani militaries. They also discussed the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
TURKEY & IRAN
Turkish authorities have detained eight people, including two alleged Iranian agents, who attempted to abduct a former Iranian soldier back to Iran, Turkey’s state-run agency reported Wednesday. The Anadolu Agency said the eight were caught in the eastern province of Van, which borders Iran, in a joint operation by Turkey’s police and intelligence agency on Sept. 24. A Turkish government official confirmed the arrests on Wednesday but did not elaborate. Anadolu said the Iranian agents were sent to Turkey with the purpose of creating a “network” that would kidnap and smuggle the soldier back to Iran.