The US government believes that Iran is behind a series of increasingly sophisticated rocket attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities in Iraq, several US officials tell CNN. The attacks have taken place as the US has grown increasingly concerned that Iran may be planning new provocations against US troops and interests in the region. The US military strongly believes Iranian-backed groups inside Iraq are responsible according to a US official with direct knowledge of the recent incidents.
In a letter to the Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani, 160 prominent Iranian lawyers have called for an investigation of the deadly mid-November protests in Iran and punishment of those responsible for killing protesters. Attributing the protests to "foreign plots", as well as "ignoring the causes and the objective reasons of people's dissatisfaction," would have no result other than recurrence of similar events in the future, the lawyers said in their open letter to Rouhani.
Iran's budget for next year expects oil prices at $50 a barrel, head of Planning and Budget Organization Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht said in a press conference on Monday. Nobakht was quoted as saying by oil ministry's news agency SHANA that the government had prepared the budget on expectations of selling one million barrels per day (bpd) of oil at an average price of $50. The next Iranian calendar year starts on March 20, 2020.
UANI IN THE NEWS
UANI Policy Director Jason Brodsky discusses President Hassan Rouhani's upcoming trip to Japan and how Iran and the United States are still far apart in their demands for negotiations. Iran wants sanctions relief for a P5+1 meeting and the United States wants a meeting without preconditions.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Three years into the Trump presidency, 18 months after he pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and six months after he ended sanctions waivers, we have a pretty good idea of what President Donald Trump has gotten right on the nuclear standoff with Iran and what he has gotten wrong. In one line, Trump has succeeded in winning many tactical battles, but appears to be consistently failing at stopping Iran's slow but steady march toward a nuclear weapon.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
A U.S. judge threatened to hold Turkish bank Halkbank in contempt and impose fines for refusing to acknowledge the sanctions evasions charges filed against it by federal prosecutors in New York. The state-owned bank was indicted in October for allegedly participating in a scheme to help Iran access $20 billion in frozen oil revenue. Since then, Halkbank and its lawyers have refused to accept service of the indictment or the legal summons to appear in court, and neither its lawyers nor executives have entered a plea on its behalf.
President Hassan Rouhani presented his administration's proposed budget to parliament on Dec. 8, and while Rouhani's subsequent speeches after the budget presentation were upbeat, they belie difficult economic times ahead. The administration appropriately named the budget for the following calendar year "Standing and persevering in the face of sanctions." Rouhani said that this time last year, when the previous budget was presented, Iran was "under the most challenging conditions of sanctions."
There's a sprinkling of wishful thinking in all budget announcements. Governments always want to foster a sense of hope among their citizens, never more so than during hard times. But the budget unveiled over the weekend by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seems to have been created out of whole cloth. For starters, the official exchange rate it uses, which suggests that spending will add up to about $115 billion, is pure fiction. In real market terms, the budget will be closer to $37 billion, and that's including $5 billion in promised loans from Russia that haven't yet been finalized.
Iran's currency rial lost more value against the U.S. dollar on Monday reaching a low of 138,000. One month ago, the rial was trading just above 120,000 to the dollar. The 15 percent drop started with widespread anti-government protests on November 15 and has since continued. This is the lowest point for the rial in the past six months. Since 1978, the Iranian rial has depreciated almost 2,000-fold. Before the Islamic revolution (1979) one dollar bought just 70 rials.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
BBC's Persian section says harassment directed at its journalists and their relatives who are in Iran has intensified and is appealing to UN bodies. BBC Persian appealed to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Monday to stop Iran's harassment of journalists' family members in Iran who have been subjected to various threats and even been put in "degrading prison conditions and interrogation" during and after the November protests.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, one of the most prominent Iranian human rights defenders has published a statement from prison demanding a full independent investigation of government's bloody crackdown on November protests that killed hundreds. Sotoudeh, a lawyer, is serving a 38-year sentence for defending women's right to reject compulsory hijab. She was arrested in 2018. More than one million people in the world have signed a petition for her release.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday the Islamic republic is ready for a full prisoner exchange with the United States, tweeting: "The ball is in the US' court". "After getting our hostage back this week, fully ready for comprehensive prisoner exchange," Zarif said. The United States and Iran on Saturday swapped prisoners - American graduate student Xiyue Wang, detained for three years on spying charges, and imprisoned Iranian stem-cell researcher Massoud Soleimani, accused of sanction violations - in a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday that "American disengagement" in the Middle East will benefit only Iran and Russia, indirectly criticizing President Donald Trump's pledges to pull forces out of the region. While stressing that he's no longer in government, Cheney's comments in Dubai cut to the core of several policies taken by Trump, including the sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. The former vice president mentioned Trump by name only once in praising him for pulling out the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
In a fiery speech on Monday an outspoken female Iranian lawmaker criticized the Islamic Republic for "grim despotism" and the ever-increasing powers of parallel, unelected centers of power. In her speech Parvaneh Salahshouri who is a representative of Tehran in the Majles (Iranian parliament) said the concentration of power in unelected bodies is destroying the "republican nature of the system". Salahshouri blasted the existence of parallel and even multiple parallel entities that rule alongside the elected bodies and said parallel entities "get away from taking responsibility" for their actions.
Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani, announced plans to replace the country's internet with a state-run intranet, granting the government increased control over online activity. The announcement comes shortly after the Iranian government quelled mass protests by cutting off internet access across the country, CNET reports. With its own state-controlled network, Iran would be able to nip future protests in the bud by rapidly identifying dissidents and cutting them off from one another - a disturbing blow against online freedom and privacy.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Monday dismissed a threat by Israel's foreign minister about a possible bombing of Iran as a sign of "weakness and impotence". Abba Mousavi told reporters in Tehran that the Islamic Republic will respond "with a crushing blow" to "any aggression or foolhardy action", to make the perpetrator regret it. Israel's foreign minister Yisrael Katz had told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, on Saturday that "An Israeli attack on Iran is an existing possibility that is under discussion".
IRAQ & IRAN
Four rockets landed inside the Baghdad international airport Sunday night, U.S. military officials have told Fox News, blaming Iran and its proxy forces for the attack. The rockets hit a building called the Diplomatic Support Center, located on the opposite side of the airport from the civilian runway and passenger terminal where U.S. military personnel are present. The rockets landed between 100 and 400 yards away from American troops and civilians, one official said Five Iraq soldiers were wounded by shrapnel, the officials said. It's not clear how severe the injuries were.
Iraqis fed up with corruption and the slow pace of recovery from the wreckage left by the war with Islamic State have been in the streets protesting since early October. As in Lebanon, demonstrators have channeled their anger into demands for the abolition of the country's sectarian political system, which was fathered by the U.S. after it overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. They also want to roll back the control wielded by Iraq's neighbor Iran.
These are trying times for Iran's ayatollahs. They continue to confront the worst nationwide protests since they took power four decades ago. The Trump administration's sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy, and are a major reason why the protests have yet to be fully contained. And ongoing unrest in Lebanon and Iraq, especially in the latter, is undermining Tehran's efforts to establish its hegemony throughout the Middle East. Iran's involvement in Iraq differs in kind from its activities elsewhere in the region, notably Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday his country is arranging a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because it wants to play a greater role in resolving a nuclear impasse between Tehran and Washington and in relieving tensions in the Middle East, the source of more than 80% of Japan's oil. Japan, a U.S. ally that has traditionally had friendly relations with Iran, seeks to serve as a mediator between the U.S. and Iran, a role that is also expected by the international community, Abe said.