The United States on Monday will sanction more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs, a senior U.S. official said, putting teeth behind U.N. sanctions on Tehran that Washington argues have resumed despite the opposition of allies and adversaries. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Iran could have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year and that Tehran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea. He did not provide detailed evidence regarding either assertion.
President Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will square off this week at the United Nations General Assembly, as Washington threatens still more sanctions to escalate its already formidable pressure on Tehran. The annual gathering of world leaders has been relegated to a largely virtual format by the novel coronavirus pandemic and will feature few of the sideline meetings that have made the assembly a signature event for the world’s diplomats.
The chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard threatened Saturday to go after everyone who had a role in a top general’s January killing during a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. The guard’s website quoted Gen. Hossein Salami as saying, “Mr. Trump! Our revenge for martyrdom of our great general is obvious, serious and real.” U.S. President Donald Trump warned this week that Washington would harshly respond to any Iranian attempts to take revenge for the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, tweeting that “if they hit us in any way, any form, written instructions already done we’re going to hit them 1000 times harder.”
UANI IN THE NEWS
…The two men, Mehdi Farhadi and Hooman Heidarian, targeted computers in New Jersey and around the world for theft and defacement, the Justice Department said in its Wednesday statement. It said hacks included instances where the defendants obtained information regarding Iranian dissidents, human rights activists and opposition leaders. The revelation of Iranian cyberattacks against opposition figures puts further spotlight on the regime’s efforts to silence the Iranian diaspora, according to Jason Brodsky, policy director for the Washington-based advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran. “The recent designations demonstrate the regime's pervasive fear of Iranian dissidents and of its own people,” Brodsky told VOA.
…Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Media Line: “I don’t think normalization in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is imminent, but they are inching toward that goal. King Salman publicly stated − only days ago − that the Arab Peace Initiative is a precondition to normalization. However, that calculus could change after succession.” Ibish feels it is difficult to imagine normalization taking place while Salman is still in power.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Trump administration’s push to kill off what’s left of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran comes to a head this weekend at the United Nations, where allies and adversaries argue the U.S. effort to restore sanctions is groundless and a diplomatic crisis is set to explode. The U.S. bid to restore all UN sanctions on Iran -- which Secretary of State Michael Pompeo contends will go into effect on Sunday in the middle of the UN General Assembly -- deepens a chasm between the U.S. and most other nations. Even European allies say the U.S. has no right to invoke the accord’s “snapback” provision because President Donald Trump quit the multinational deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program two years ago.
As Iran counts down the minutes to the end of an arms embargo so that it can begin importing much-needed technology and dual-use equipment for weapons, a senior US official alleged that it is resuming work with North Korea on long-range missiles. Iran also could have enough material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. The report was part of a larger Reuters report about new US sanctions against up to two dozen people and entities that will be slapped onto Iran. The US has urged the UN to snap back sanctions on Iran after Washington says Iran violated a 2015 deal.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Britain, France and Germany told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that U.N. sanctions relief for Iran - agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal - would continue beyond Sept. 20, when the United States asserts that all the measures should be reimposed. In a letter to the 15-member body, seen by Reuters, the three European parties to the nuclear deal and long-time U.S. allies said any decision or action taken to reimpose U.N. sanctions “would be incapable of legal effect.” The United States quit the nuclear deal in 2018.
Halkbank on Friday urged a judge to dismiss a U.S. indictment accusing the state-owned Turkish lender of helping Iran evade American sanctions, even as it seeks the judge’s recusal for alleged bias. At a hearing in Manhattan federal court, a lawyer for Halkbank said its status as a Turkish “instrumentality” shielded it from prosecution because of sovereign immunity. The U.S. Department of Justice charged Halkbank last October with using money servicers and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to evade sanctions, enable revenue from oil and gas sales to be spent on gold, and facilitate sham food and medicine purchases.
Iran has quietly been developing a dangerous, militaristic space program, an Israeli defense expert said Friday. While China and Russia have made headlines for their development of satellite fleets, anti-satellite missile production, and burgeoning strategic partnership in space, Iran has developed its own growing space program below the international radar. According to missile defense expert Dr. Uzi Rubin, Iran’s rapid progress in developing its civilian and military space programs is a real concern, with 2020 being a watershed year for Iran’s space designs.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A leading Iranian human rights lawyer has been hospitalized a month after launching a hunger strike seeking better prison conditions and the release of political prisoners amid the pandemic, her husband said Saturday. Reza Khandan said that healthcare professionals decided to hospitalize his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, because of heart and respiratory problems as well as low blood pressure. Khandan said Sotoudeh was transferred to a hospital in north Tehran from the notorious Evin Prison earlier on Saturday.
Iran has reportedly sentenced four men, who were tried in juvenile court, to have their fingers amputated for stealing, a brutal punishment still on the books under the country's Islamic penal code. According to the London-based Iran International, the three minors -- Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Sharafian, Kasra Karami and Mehdi Shahivand -- lost their appeals in the Iranian Supreme Court this week and were subsequently ordered to have four fingers severed from their right hands. The boys were initially tried last November on charges of four counts of robbery in the northern city of Urmia and have remained behind bars ever since.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier safely transited on Friday through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important chokepoint for oil shipments, the U.S. Navy said, as tensions with Iran continue to simmer. In a “scheduled” maneuver, the U.S. sent the carrier and several other warships through the strait, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, according to the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th fleet. The Nimitz, America’s oldest carrier in active service, carries some 5,000 sailors and Marines. American aircraft carriers have for decades sailed through the international oil shipping route in what the U.S. describes as “defensive” operations aimed at keeping the strait open.
Last week’s U.S. announcement that it would withdraw more than 2,000 of its troops from Iraq this month appears to have emboldened Iran-backed Shiite militias, with some groups vowing to keep up their fight against the remaining American troops in the country. The commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine General Frank McKenzie, said September 9 that the U.S. would reduce its troops in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Bahrain’s interior ministry said on Sunday it had foiled a “terrorist attack” early this year that was backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The statement confirmed earlier media reports about an alleged planned attack and added a timeframe. Earlier on Sunday Saudi state television Al-Ekhbariya and Bahraini newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej reported that interior ministry investigations found that a new group called the “Qassem Soleimani Brigade” had planned to attack several public and security structures in Bahrain. The reports had not given a timeframe.
The legitimate Yemeni government urged on Saturday the need to extend the arms embargo against Tehran after busting a Houthi cell that confessed to smuggling weapons from Iran. In a series of tweets, Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani said the cell admitted to receiving training in Iran and to having connections to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. “This is damning evidence of Iranian complicity in running smuggling operations and supporting the militias with weapons (ballistic missiles and drones) to implement their destructive agenda in the region,” he said.
Iranian hackers, most likely employees or affiliates of the government, have been running a vast cyberespionage operation equipped with surveillance tools that can outsmart encrypted messaging systems — a capability Iran was not previously known to possess, according to two digital security reports released Friday. The operation not only targets domestic dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities and antigovernment activists abroad, but can also be used to spy on the general public inside Iran, said the reports by Check Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity technology firm, and the Miaan Group, a human rights organization that focuses on digital security in the Middle East.