The Biden administration has cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of U.S. sanctions. In addition, as part of the deal, the administration has agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on the sanctions waivers late last week, a month after U.S. and Iranian officials said an agreement in principle was in place. Congress was not informed of the waiver decision until Monday, according to the notification, which was obtained by The Associated Press. The outlines of the deal had been previously announced and the waiver was expected.
Israel accused Iran on Monday of building an airport in southern Lebanon to be used as a launchpad for attacks against Israelis across the border, signaling a possible escalation in tensions between the regional foes. Speaking at a high-profile security conference hosted by Reichman University near Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed Iran has been building a runway that slices through forested mountains just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Israel’s northern border. Gallant displayed satellite photographs that he said showed the site, where the Iranian national flag and the flag of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group could be seen. Gallant alleged that Iran “is planning to act against the citizens of Israel,” using the runway as a base.
Last year, a machine learning expert in Silicon Valley embarked on a long-distance partnership with two neuroscientists in Tehran, Iran. They planned to gather data on how neurons respond to visual cues, hoping to develop a marker for early detection of Parkinson’s disease. “I’d handle the modeling and analysis, and we’d co-author papers,” says the U.S.-based computer scientist, who asked to remain anonymous because he has family in Iran. Then, on 16 September 2022, Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, died after Iran’s morality police detained her for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. Her death ignited months of protests across Iran. The government’s response included mass detentions and internet blackouts that disrupted domestic and international communications.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Jason Brodsky, policy director of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, said he believes the U.S. unfreezing of $6 billion should have been “more than enough” to secure the release of the Americans held by Iran. “The additional release of Iranians charged with U.S. crimes is an attempt by Tehran to create a false equivalence between the justice system in the United States and the injustice system in Iran,” Brodsky said.
…“The West Bank is a priority theater for the Islamic Republic. You can tell from the supreme leader’s recent remarks that he is laser-focused on developing a resistance network in the West Bank, namely through Palestinian Islamic Jihad and offshoots,” Jason Brodsky, the policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, tells The Dispatch. “They are focused on resourcing and radicalizing these elements to create a front against Israel.”
…USA non-partisan organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) started reporting on the transport of Iranian oil by Suez Rajan last year. "The oil was destined for purchasers in China before UANI’s discovery and public intervention, which effectively stranded the cargo and denied Iran its expected revenue from this oil smuggling operation", UANI said in an update February 15, 2023.
… The Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division is also prosecuting and litigating these matters. The Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Criminal Division provided significant assistance in this matter. The Department thanks United Against Nuclear Iran for its valuable assistance.
…Mark Wallace, CEO of the U.S. advocacy group 'United Against Nuclear Iran,' remarked, “It’s a message to every Iranian smuggler that there is an off-ramp from the mob.” Wallace, who utilizes satellite imagery to track tanker movements, was the first to notice that the Suez Rajan had received the oil from another vessel.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri-Kani has defended negotiations with the West as a means of securing “national interests.” During a speech on Monday, Bagheri-Kani leveled criticism at opponents of negotiations, accusing them of stripping the regime of a vital and crucial “instrument for securing national interests.” His remarks came amid an ongoing debate among the country’s politicians regarding the approach towards international negotiations over the country’s nuclear program. Bagheri-Kani's support for diplomatic interactions with the West seemed contrary to what his political camp was pushing for when hardliner Saeed Jalili was the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (2007-2013) and former president Hassan Rouhani held office (2013-2021).
Iran has the resources and technical know-how to "produce enough [weapons-grade uranium] for six nuclear weapons in one month, eight in two months, nine in three months, and ten in four months," according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a think tank that reviewed the latest disclosures about Tehran’s atomic stockpile from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is significantly faster than the three-to-four months it would have taken Iran to build just one nuclear weapon in 2020 when economic sanctions were at their strictest before the Biden administration took office. Now, it would take Iran just 12 days to produce the fuel needed for its first nuclear warhead and a total of six by the end of one month.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Of the individuals Iran is seeking in an exchange with the United States, four were charged with sanctions violations and a fifth with acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Iran, according to a list of names provided by the country’s mission to the United Nations. The individuals are Mehrdad Moein Ansari, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, Amin Hasanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi, the Iranian mission told Al-Monitor. A mutual release of prisoners held by the longtime adversaries is expected once more than $6 billion in Iranian funds is transferred from South Korea, where they were frozen under US sanctions, to an account in Qatar. US officials say Iran could only use the unblocked funds for humanitarian purchases like food and medicine.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's judiciary confirmed on Tuesday that it was holding a Swedish national, saying he had "committed crimes" in the Islamic republic. "This Swedish citizen has committed crimes in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the judiciary's spokesman Massoud Satayshi said, adding that he was sent "to prison with a legal order. Last week, the European Union said Swedish diplomat Johan Floderus, who had working for the bloc, had been detained illegally in Iran for more than 500 days.
Iran's rulers have intensified a clampdown on dissent nearly one year since the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini sparked protests which spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. HOW DID THE PROTESTS START? Protests began soon after the Sept. 16 death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested by morality police three days earlier for allegedly violating Iran's mandatory Islamic dress code. Amini, described as a shy person who minded her own business and stayed clear of politics, was detained as she stepped out of a train station in Tehran. News of her death circulated on social media. Protests erupted at her funeral in her hometown Saqez and then spread across the country with demonstrators chanting "Woman, life, freedom" in a furious challenge to Iran's clerical rulers.
Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 ended the imperial rule of the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian exiles have been notorious for spending more time feuding between themselves than opposing the theocratic leadership in Tehran. But the unprecedented protests that erupted last year, sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating Iran's Islamic dress code, created new momentum to help Iranians inside the country by creating a unified movement abroad. In February this year, the shah's son Reza Pahlavi joined with other figures who have often been at loggerheads to create the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom in Iran (ADFI), a coalition that then published a "Mahsa Charter", a roadmap setting out a path for a transition to a secular democracy.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
I believe economic issues are much more important than the topic of hijab," 41-year-old housewife Zahra told AFP. Nationwide protests under the popular slogan "woman, life, freedom" erupted after the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022. Amini had been arrested days earlier for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic's strict dress code, requiring women to dress modestly and cover their head and neck. "I, myself, have no problem with hijab but would be happier if the economic conditions get better," said Zahra. Like others interviewed by AFP, she declined to give her surname for fear of facing repercussions.
The one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder coincides with the Jewish New Year on September 16, prompting community leaders to warn Jews to stay off the streets.In a Telegram posting from Iran’s Jewish community on Monday, the leadership wrote “All worshipers are strongly requested to refrain from stopping and gathering in the streets for any reason during Rosh Hashanah and after performing religious duties in synagogues.” Alireza Nader, an Iran scholar based in Washington, DC, told Iran International, “The remaining few members of the Jewish community in Iran live in constant fear. Any sort of public pronouncement or guidance from their leadership should be seen in light of the community’s extreme vulnerability.” Nader has written about the persecution of Iranian Jews.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concerns Monday amid reports that the Biden administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion for Iran in exhange for five U.S. prisoners. Menendez said “one of the concerns” about negotiating for the release of American prisoners unjustly detained by foreign adversaries is that it encourages hostile nations to take more Americans hostage in the future. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concerns Monday amid reports that the Biden administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion for Iran in exhange for five U.S. prisoners. Menendez said “one of the concerns” about negotiating for the release of American prisoners unjustly detained by foreign adversaries is that it encourages hostile nations to take more Americans hostage in the future.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Monday led Senate Republican critics in panning the Biden administration’s decision to release $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the release of five American detainees, calling the move “shameful.” Cotton and other GOP senators reacted to news that the Biden administration issued a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money to facilitate the release of five Americans held by Iran. “First Joe Biden used 9/11 as an excuse to flee Afghanistan. Now he desecrates this day by paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Shameful,” Cotton said in a statement.