News Digest: Week of November 18

November 18

Economics: The government announced that 12 people had been killed in clashes with security forces during protests against a sudden fuel price hike. But activists claimed that at least 40 people had died.  Government Spokesman Ali Rabiei claimed that attendance in demonstrations had dropped by 80 percent compared to the previous day. Rabiei said that the government would soon restore access across the country, which had largely been blocked since November 16.


Nuclear: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will cancel sanctions waivers for projects at Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant effective December 15. “The right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s largest state sponsor of terror is zero ... There is no legitimate reason for Iran to resume enrichment at this previously clandestine site,” Pompeo said. The waivers had allowed foreign firms to work on Iran’s civil nuclear program without penalties.

Nuclear: A U.N. watchdog report revealed that Iran had breached the 2015 nuclear deal by accumulating more than 130 metric tons of heavy water. Tehran had reportedly informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the violation on November 16. On the following day, the IAEA verified that Iran had 131.5 metric tons of heavy water.

Heavy water reactors can produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. But heavy water poses less of a proliferation concern than uranium because spent fuel from heavy water reactors must be reprocessed to separate the plutonium.


November 19

Economics: Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told reporters that protests had subsided. “Calm has been restored in the country,” he said. But videos posted to social media showed that protests continued in several cities. Three members of the security forces were reportedly stabbed to death near Tehran overnight, according to ISNA news agency.  

Human Rights: The U.N. human rights office condemned violence against protestors and urged the government to reign in security forces. The United Nations estimated that dozens of demonstrators had been killed. U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville also called on Iran to restore internet service across the country, which had been cut off since November 16.

Human Rights: Amnesty International estimated that at least 106 protestors had been killed since demonstrations began on November 15. The watchdog reported that “snipers have shot into crowds of people from rooftops and, in one case, a helicopter.” Amnesty International also called on the government to end its near-total block on internet access.


Nuclear: France criticized the U.S. decision to cancel sanctions waivers for the Fordow nuclear facility but also condemned Iran’s latest breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. “We regret the decision of the United States, following Iran’s resumption of enrichment on the Fordow site, to terminate an exemption that would facilitate the conduct of civilian projects on this site,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll. “Iran’s resumption of enrichment activities at the Fordow site, with potentially serious proliferation consequences, is a new step that marks a regrettable acceleration of Iran’s withdrawal from the Vienna agreement.”

Military: The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said that Iran is likely to purchase new advanced fighter jets and tanks from Russia and China when the U.N. arms embargo is lifted in October 2020. The DIA also warned that Iran had increased its use of drones in attacks and surveillance missions in the Persian Gulf. The report added that Iran’s has continued to upgrade its cyber capabilities.

Diplomacy: Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, met with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, to discuss joint military efforts to counter regional insecurity. Shamkhani also urged collective action to thwart what Iran saw as U.S. attempts to dominate the region.


November 20

Economics: President Hassan Rouhani claimed victory over protestors during a cabinet meeting. He said that the “spontaneous” pro-government rallies held throughout the country were the “greatest sign” of the power of the Iranian people. State media aired footage of rallies in several cities. “The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country’s management,” Rouhani said. 

Diplomacy: Iran summoned Swiss ambassador Mark Leitner, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to the foreign ministry to protest Washington’s support for the demonstrations. The ministry accused the United States of encouraging rioters.

Diplomacy: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud blamed Iran for “chaos and destruction” in the region and said that Riyadh will continue to defend itself against Tehran’s aggression. “Though the kingdom has been subjected to attacks by 286 ballistic missiles and 289 drones, in a way that has not been seen in any other country, that has not affected the kingdom’s development process or the lives of its citizens and residents,” he told the Kingdom’s Shura Council in an annual address. Saudi Arabia has held Iran responsible for attacks by Houthi militants in Yemen, which Tehran has supported.

Justice/Espionage: An Iranian court sentenced six wildlife activists convicted of espionage to between six to 10 years in prison. The group was accused of taking pictures and video of sensitive military sites under the guise of filming Iran’s endangered cheetahs. Morad Tahbaz, an American and British dual national, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.


November 21

Economics: Iran began to restore internet access across the country after a near-complete shutdown that began November 16. Officials said that the internet was restored in “some areas and, according to reports so far, fixed line internet has been restored in Hormozgan, Kermanshah, Arak, Mashhad, Qom, Tabriz, Hamadan and Bushehr provinces, and parts of Tehran.” The government allegedly restricted internet access to prevent protestors from documenting the demonstrations with videos on social media.

Nuclear: The U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Tehran had not provided an adequate explanation for the discovery of uranium particles at an undeclared site in early November  2019. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) planned to meet with officials in Tehran the following week to dicuss the issue. “We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved,” said IAEA acting chief Cornel Feruta.


November 22

Economics: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Iran’s communications minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, for his role in internet censorship. The U.S. government blamed Jahromi’s ministry for blocking internet access in the country “for several days in November” after widespread protests broke out over increased fuel prices. The Treasury said that the disruption of internet connectivity followed similar patterns that occurred during other protests in Iran in 2017 and 2018.


Justice: The IRGC arrested around 100 protest leaders, who could face “severe punishment,” according to judiciary chief Ebrahimi Raisi. “Those who in recent days misused the atmosphere and the people’s demands and concerns, instigated riots in the society, created insecurity, made the hearts of women and children tremble, attacked public property and looted people’s belongings, they and their masters must know that a harsh punishment is awaiting them,” Raisi said.

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the European Union for offering support to protestors. “Instead of interfering in Iran's internal affairs, defending thugs, and shedding crocodile tears in defense of those who destroy public and private property in Iran the European countries should better honor their nuclear commitments to Iran and deal with their own problems,” Zarif said.

Justice: A U.S. judge ordered Iran to pay $180 million to Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was detained in Iran for 544 days from July 2014 to January 2016. Rezaian had designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as the defendant in the lawsuit. It was unclear how the money would be distributed to Rezaian.


November 23

Diplomacy: French Defense Minister Florence Parly criticized the United States for not responding to attacks in the Persian Gulf earlier in 2019 and said that U.S. deterrence was losing power in the region. “We’ve seen deliberate, gradual U.S. disengagement,” Parly said at the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain. “It had been in the cards for a while but it became clear when fighter jets remained on the tarmac in 2013 after the Syrian chemical attacks or later, after the downing of a U.S. UAV and the bombing Saudi oil facilities.”


Military: The United States and France said that they were working together to improve Saudi air defense capabilities following attacks on oil facilities in September 2019 that were blamed on Iran. French Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters that France would send Saudi Arabia “a robust package of advanced warning” to prevent a similar attack. “It will be in Saudi Arabia in the coming days so it will be operational very, very rapidly. But there is an analysis to be done in order to better identify how to fill the gap,” Parly said.

Diplomacy: Tehran warned that there would be consequences for countries in the region that allegedly helped foment unrest in Iran the previous week. “Some countries in the region should know that they will not have an easy life in the region if clues are found that show they intervened to create unrest in Iran,” said Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.


November 24

Justice: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps called for the judiciary to give harsh prison sentences to “mercenaries” who led protests the previous week. “We caught all the mercenaries who openly confessed they were doing mercenary work for America and, God willing, the judicial system of the country will give them maximum punishments,” said Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi. He claimed that demonstrators were killed by thugs shooting from within the crowds. Citizens had, however, posted videos of snipers on rooftops.