A U.S. State Department spokesman called on Tuesday for Iran to immediately release two French nationals, after Iranian state television showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
Iran said Tuesday it inaugurated a production line for manufacturing a new military drone in Tajikistan, a first for both nations. A report by the official IRNA news agency said the ceremony took place during a visit to the Central Asian nation by Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces. The move is seen as an effort by Iran to address the balance of power in the region: Afghanistan under its Sunni Muslim Taliban rulers poses a threat to its two neighbors, predominantly Shiite Iran and secular Tajikistan. The report said the drone is dubbed the Ababil-2 after a bird in the Quran.
Iran’s government has hiked payments for the poor to help offset a sharp increase in food prices that has stirred unrest. Prices of staple goods including cooking oil, chicken, pasta and eggs have almost doubled after the government this month stopped providing importers with foreign currency at fixed, heavily discounted rates. The scheme had been blamed for fueling corruption, smuggling and profiteering. The subsequent surge in prices of basics like bread -- already elevated due to Russia’s war on Ukraine -- triggered protests, especially in restive areas where grievances over discrimination and underinvestment fester, with reports of some fatalities.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said diplomatic efforts to revive the nuclear agreement have “taken steps forward” when compared to the stalemate before Enrique Mora, the European Union’s nuclear talks coordinator, visited Tehran last week. Mora had held two days of discussions with Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked. Nevertheless, Khatibzadeh said on Monday that Iran awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a deadlock in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 deal.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian media are admitting the country has severe economic hurdles ahead. This is an issue that affects the whole world and not just Iran. Supply-chain problems have become the norm during the pandemic. China, which has lockdowns in the key city of Shanghai, is spreading global economic chaos. Iran is vulnerable because it is already under sanctions and also because Tehran signed a 25-year deal with Beijing and relies on China.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran arrested a number of bus drivers who have staged protests in Tehran for the second consecutive day over their living conditions, media in the country reported on Tuesday. “A number of drivers were detained yesterday during a gathering in front of the central office of the Tehran Bus Company,” Mohsen Bagheri, a company official, was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency. “A number of drivers were also arrested during today’s protest,” he added. Bagheri did not say why the drivers were arrested, only expressing hope that they would be released soon.
When I walked out of my apartment in Tehran on the morning of Feb. 23, plainclothes agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surrounded me and rushed me into a van. This is the group that many in the U.S. foreign-policy elite argue should be removed from the American terrorist sanctions list. A few months before, I acknowledged in these pages that the article I was writing “could land me back in prison,” but contended that “if that’s the price” of telling the truth about Iran, “it will be worth it.” I have been arrested by the Islamic dictatorship in Iran four times before and have been in the custody of most of the “national security” agencies, but this time they took me to a prison I had never been to, which had much higher security.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will conduct a simulated airstrike on Iran during a monthlong military drill that begins at the end of May. Multiple Israeli media outlets reported on the planned drill, and Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, confirmed the military exercise during a radio interview. The Jerusalem Post referred to the simulation, which is reportedly being dubbed "Chariots of Fire," as the "largest military drill" in Israel's history, with thousands of soldiers and reservists taking part. Almost all units of the IDF will participate in the monthlong maneuvers, scheduled to start on May 29, according to The Times of Israel.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A Yemeni minister said the Iran-backed Houthi militia is undermining efforts to reach complete peace by violating the agreed-upon ceasefire terms, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday citing the Yemeni state-run news agency. The claim was made by the Yemeni Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Moammar al-Eryani, who said that the militia continues to “avoid its commitment to lift the seize on Taiz governate.” US Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg had earlier said separate talks would be held to open roads in disputed Taiz region, but no progress has yet been reported.
Iran's foreign ministry said on Tuesday there has been "no new development" since April in talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported, shortly after a lawmaker said top diplomats of the rival countries will meet soon. Earlier, an Iranian lawmaker told the semi-official Fars news agency that Iran's Hossein Amirabdollahian will soon meet his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in Iraq to discuss issues such as the reopening of embassies and the Yemen crisis.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The UK failed to pay a historic debt that secured the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for nearly three years despite key government figures backing the move, MPs heard on Tuesday. A committee investigating state hostage-taking heard that the prime minister, foreign and defence secretaries wanted to pay a historic £400 million ($490.6m) arms debt to Iran from about May 2019 but the UK failed to act swiftly to settle it. The debt, related to an aborted 1970s arms deal, was finally repaid this year and was soon followed by the release of British-Iranian citizens Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori in March 2022.
Iranian and Cuban officials met in Tehran today for a meeting of the Iran-Cuba Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation. Iran’s Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Ehsan Khandouzi hosted a Cuban delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas. Khandouzi called for boosting economic ties between the two countries, particularly in the health and agricultural sectors, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Cabrisas also asked for “expertise and technology” from Iranian companies to help Cuba with its food security issues arising from the war in Ukraine, according to the agency.