The world powers that remain party to the nuclear deal with Iran expressed "serious concerns" Wednesday about Tehran's violations of the pact, while acknowledging that time was running out to find a way to salvage it. Wang Qun, Chinese ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, told reporters after talks in Vienna between the parties to the deal, including Iran, that they are "racing against time to work out a specific solution so as to safeguard" the landmark 2015 agreement.
Parties to Iran's nuclear deal made little progress on Wednesday toward saving the agreement as Iran is still breaching many of its central terms in response to U.S. sanctions, but efforts to ease Tehran's economic pain continued, delegates said. Wednesday's meeting of senior officials came more than a month after European parties to the deal - France, Britain and Germany - formally accused Iran of violating its terms, setting off a process that could eventually reimpose international sanctions lifted under the agreement.
Iran is emerging as the center of an outbreak of the new coronavirus across the Middle East, where cases in at least five countries have been linked to patients who traveled to Iran in recent weeks, authorities said. In Iran, 139 people have contracted the virus, including the deputy health minister and a prominent member of parliament. Nineteen people have died, according to the Health Ministry - the largest death toll from the virus outside China, where it first appeared. The government has struggled to contain the spread of infections after reporting the first confirmed cases in the holy Shiite city of Qom last week.
UANI IN THE NEWS
... David Daoud, a research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) told Al Arabiya English that while Hezbollah may have been hit by US sanctions, the group has five annual charity drives, and their revenue is derived from legitimate businesses in Lebanon and abroad, as well as through illicit means domestically and outside Lebanon. The US understanding of how drastically Hezbollah had been impacted by sanctions on Iran may be exaggerated, Daoud said.
Iran's predictable response to being blacklisted by the world's premier financial terrorism monitoring agency was to point the finger of blame at everyone else. According to the Foreign Ministry, the decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to demote Iran from the 'graylist' to the 'blacklist' was down to malicious, "politically motivated" plotting by "the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime." In reality, Iran has nobody to blame but itself. And after years of kicking the can down the road, stretching back at least as far as February 2008, the FATF finally had enough.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
World leaders from countries still committed to the Iran nuclear deal are working quickly to salvage the agreement. Officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia met at the United Nations in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss possible resolutions that would save the 2015 agreement from ruin, according to the Associated Press. The nuclear treaty members are "racing against time to work out a specific solution so as to safeguard" the agreement, said Chinese Ambassador to the U.N. Wang Qun.
The parties to the Iran nuclear deal met late Wednesday for the first time since several crucial changes have taken place, with the surprising signal being that the trajectory of the US-Iran standoff has cooled off a bit from deterioration to deadlock. This slight cooling off is surprising because it would seem to be the opposite of the worsening deterioration that has taken place over the last two months.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The state-owned Russian Railways has pulled out from a $ 1.3 billion project for electrification of a railway line between Garmsar, in Iran and Ince Burun (Narrow Cape) in Turkey. The Russain company has given up the project under the pressure of U.S. sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Interfax reported on Tuesday, February 25. The project envisaged the electrification of 495 km, including 203 km through mountainous terrain-the line, with 31 stations, expected to pass through 95 tunnels.
Iran's rial hit a one-year low against the dollar on Wednesday as a sharp rise in coronavirus cases forced the closure of most of its borders, threatening the non-oil exports that are its main economic lifeline. The dollar was being offered at as much as 158,500 rials on Wednesday, well below its official rate of 42,000 rials and 10% lower than a week earlier, according to foreign exchange website Bonbast.com, which tracks the free market.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The United States has declared the leader of the Iran-backed Kataib Hizbullah (KH) militant group in Iraq a terrorist following a number of recent rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq. A State Department official on February 26 said the United States had listed Ahmad al-Hamidawi, head of the armed faction of the group, as a "specially designated global terrorist." The action will freeze U.S. assets that he might hold and make any transactions with him a crime. Kataib Hizbullah wasdeclared a terrorist group in 2009.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's failure to prevent violence against its own people by security forces, or to hold senior officials to account, will not dissuade protesters, said the president of the International American Council following the release of a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). "Straightforward repression and the use of brute force is something that Iranian people have been enduring for a long time, and they can be expected to continue pushing back against it with extraordinary resilience," Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, who is also a political scientist at Harvard University, told Arab News.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Twenty two people have died so far from the new coronavirus in Iran, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported in a chart it published on Thursday. The number of people diagnosed with the disease is 141, the chart showed. It did not specify whether those who have died were included in the tally of those infected. Iranian officials on Wednesday reported a total of 139 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.
Iran has no plans to quarantine any cities and towns despite the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak across the country, its president has said. Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting that health authorities would continue to "only quarantine individuals". Officials have asked people not to go to Qom, the centre of the outbreak, but have not shut a shrine in the city that attracts millions of Shia pilgrims. Iran has reported 139 cases and 19 deaths in the past week.
What if you held a national election and no one turned out? That's the situation currently confronting Iranian officials, who are grappling with the aftermath of a truly disastrous outcome in last week's parliamentary elections. According to the official Fars News Agency, just 42 percent of Iranians voted in the country's latest parliamentary elections, which took place on Friday. That's the lowest percentage ever recorded in the 41-year history of the Islamic Republic.
"What if you held a national election and no one turned out?" Ilan Berman mock-asks at National Review. "Just 42 percent of Iranians voted in the country's latest parliamentary elections," which is "the lowest percentage ever recorded" in the Islamic Republic's 41 years - and even that number is likely "inflated." The "lackluster showing" should be no surprise: Two years of "persistent protests" indicate a population "profoundly disaffected with the country's clerical regime," and the "accidental Jan. 8 downing of a Ukrainian airliner" convinced "many Iranians that their government is dangerously incompetent."
CONGRESS & IRAN
A bipartisan pair of senators is urging the United Nations to renew sanctions on Iran that are set to expire in October. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) are introducing a resolution this week calling on the United Nations to "at a minimum" renew the penalties, which include an arms embargo and travel restrictions. "Clearly the Iranian regime plans on continuing to destabilize the region and provoke America and its allies," Toomey said in a statement obtained by The Hill ahead of its release.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran is shipping sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, drones and other missiles to its allies across the Middle East. A seized shipment, revealed by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Feb. 19, included drone and cruise missile components reportedly linked to an attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil facility last September. To confront the threat, Israel rolled out a new multi-year plan to transform its armed forces' ability to both fight a multi-front war and to confront Iran. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is trying to do something unique in history by preparing the army for a potential future war that does not look like any before.