The Trump administration on Thursday imposed a new round of economic sanctions against Iran’s financial sector, as Washington seeks to increase pressure on Tehran in the weeks leading up to the presidential election. The measure imposes penalties against 18 Iranian banks and comes days before a United Nations arms embargo on the country is set to expire. The action could effectively lock Iran out of the global financial system, further cratering its already collapsing economy. It was the United States’ latest round of sanctions against Iran after the Trump administration’s attempt last month to unilaterally restore international economic penalties that much of the rest of the world has refused to enforce.
U.S. prosecutors have seized a network of web domains which they said were used in a campaign by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread political disinformation around the world. In a statement released late on Wednesday, the Justice Department said it had taken control of 92 domains used by the IRGC to pose as independent media outlets targeting audiences in the United States, Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. “Today we are 92 domains closer to shutting down Iran’s worldwide disinformation campaign,” said U.S. Attorney David Anderson. “Iran cannot be allowed to hide behind fake news sites.”
Iran has released a prominent human rights activist who campaigned against the death penalty, Iranian media reported Thursday. The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted judiciary official Sadegh Niaraki as saying that Narges Mohammadi was freed late Wednesday after serving 8 1/2 years in prison. She was sentenced to 10 years in 2016 while already incarcerated. Niaraki said Mohammadi was released based on a law that allows a prison sentence to be commutated if the related court agrees.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of targeting Iran’s “remaining channels to pay for food and medicine” in the midst of the pandemic through new sanctions announced on Thursday. The United States slapped fresh sanctions on Iran’s financial sector, targeting 18 Iranian banks in an effort to further shut Iran out of the global banking system as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran weeks ahead of the U.S. election.
Since Iran emerged as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East, its leaders have called on the U.S. to suspend economic sanctions so that they can more effectively fight and contain the pathogen. The U.S. has instead forged ahead with its strategy and sees the pandemic as an opportunity to further weaken and destabilize the country. The U.S. State Department says that humanitarian goods, including medicine and medical supplies, are exempt and not subject to any trade restrictions.
Iran heralded an anti-ship ballistic missile as a strategic game-changer for the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf regions. The missile has a range up to 700 km., and Iran’s Fars News says it is a “new long arm” for the Islamic Republic. It was showcased during an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exhibit on the strength of the IRGC aerospace force. Iran has continued to show off new radars, drones and missiles in recent weeks, sending clear messages that are meant to threaten the US and its allies in the region.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran has freed a prominent female dissident jailed since 2015, her husband and state media say, following a yearslong campaign by international rights activists demanding an end to what they described as her unjust and cruel detention. Journalist and human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi, 48, was released from a prison in the northwestern city of Zanjan early Thursday, according to a tweet from her husband, Taghi Rahmani, who lives in exile in Paris with the couple’s two children.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
So much has happened since January that it is easy to forget that the US almost went to war with Iran. Tensions heightened when the US killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and in response, Iran fired rockets at US forces stationed in Iraq. Nine months later, tensions are still high. And as Election Day nears in the US, Iranians inside Iran are watching closely to see if they can make sense of what the next four years will bring. For them, whoever ends up in the White House could have an impact on security, sanctions and the economy in Iran.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Tehran ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients go from hospital to hospital in search of available beds, a physician said on Thursday as the country recorded a daily high of 4,392 new cases. Authorities have been warning for days of severe shortages of hospital beds during a third wave of infections that has hit the capital Tehran the hardest. “Due to the unavailability of beds in intensive care units and even in emergency units, ambulances go from one hospital to another to have patients admitted,” the official IRINN news site quoted the head of infectious diseases at the Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran as saying.
CHINA & IRAN
China says Iran’s foreign minister will visit the country from Friday to Saturday, a day after the Trump administration blacklisted virtually all of Iran’s financial sector in the latest step aimed at the oil-rich country’s economy. In a brief announcement, China’s foreign ministry said only that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was visiting at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. China has been a staunch Iranian ally and remains a party to the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement from which the U.S. has withdrawn while unilaterally reinstituting punishing sanctions on Iran.
China commands a certain mystique in the Middle East. For politicians in Lebanon, broke and on the brink of hyperinflation, it is an atm waiting to dispense billions if they can only find the passcode. For the regime of Bashir al-Assad in Syria it is a deus ex machina to rebuild a shattered country. Often caricatured, the Middle East is prone to draw caricatures of its own. On October 1st Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, declared a “major step” in Iran’s relations with China. For months the two have been discussing plans for a 25-year “strategic partnership”. But the details remain vague.