News Digest: Week of October 14

October 14

Economics: Iran’s oil ministry released images of the tanker Sabiti, which clearly showed two holes in its hull just above the waterline. President Hassan Rouhani claimed a foreign government was responsible for the October 11 attack, which occurred in the Red Sea some 60 miles away from the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah. “If a country thinks that it can create instability in the region without getting a response, that would be a sheer mistake,” Rouhani said.


Justice: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced the arrest of Ruhollah Zam, an exiled journalist who had been living and working in Paris. Zam was accused of fueling anti-government street unrest using social media. State television claimed Zam was “guided into the country” and captured through a “complex operation using intelligence deception.” 


October 15

Justice/Sanctions: The United States charged Halkbank, a major Turkish bank, with helping Tehran evade sanctions on its oil industry. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Halkbank fraudulently transferred $20 billion of illicit Iranian oil revenue by disguising the funds as humanitarian purchases of food and medicine, which were permitted under the sanctions.   

Economics: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasted that Iran’s economy would shrink by 9.5 percent in 2019, down from an estimated contraction of six percent. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook report also predicted a high annual inflation rate of 35.7 percent following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions that has disrupted Iran’s foreign trade, especially oil sales.


October 16

Justice: France called for the release of two academic researchers, Roland Marchal and Fariba Adelkhah, who had been detained in Iran since June. France’s foreign ministry confirmed for the first time that Marchal, a sub-Saharan Africa specialist at Paris university Sciences Po, was arrested while visiting Adelkhah in Tehran. “We want the Iranian authorities to show transparency in this affair and to act without delay to put an end to this unacceptable situation,” said France’s foreign ministry.

Justice: Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of President Hassan Rouhani and a senior negotiator in nuclear talks with the United States, began a five-year prison term in Tehran’s Evin prison. He was arrested in 2017 and initially sentenced to seven years in prison; an appeals court reduced the sentence to five years.

Diplomacy: Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Iran and Saudi Arabia both indicated a willingness to meet for talks. The announcement followed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Khan offered to host diplomats from both countries in Islamabad, as a neutral site for Tehran and Riyadh to “iron out their differences.”

Cyber: The United States carried out a covert cyber operation to disrupt Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda,” two U.S. officials told Reuters. The cyber strike was launched after September 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which the United States blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the reports of a U.S. cyber operation.   

Nuclear: Tehran said it would take a fourth step to reduce it commitments to the JCPOA by limiting international inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear sites. Senior Iranian officials said the move would take place at the beginning of November. “We will certainly take the fourth step of reducing commitments to the JCPOA; Europeans have not honoured their part of the commitments and we have not seen any practical step taken by the other side,” said the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s national security committee Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini.


October 18

Economics: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog on money laundering and terrorism financing, set a February 2020 deadline for Iran to comply with regulations. Parliament has passed four bills related to FATF compliance, but only two have become law and were being reviewed by the Guardian Council. Rouhani and his supporters viewed the reforms as key to attracting foreign investment. But hardliners were concerned that Iran’s ability to fund its regional proxies, such as Hezbollah, would be hampered.

Military: Japan announced it would not join a U.S. maritime coalition to protect merchant shipping in the Persian Gulf. “We won’t join the United States, but will cooperate closely with them,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. “Self Defense Force assets will ensure the safety of vessels related to Japan.” Tokyo said it would send warships and aircraft to patrol the waters.


October 20

Economics/Diplomacy: The United Arab Emirates released $700 million in frozen funds to Iran—a sign of improving relations between the two countries. “The Emiratis have… understood that Western countries and Saudi Arabia cannot provide the [UAE] with security in the current circumstances,” said Akbar Torki, a member of Iranian parliament. “Financial relations with Iran have improved and some Iranian exchange offices in Dubai have resumed activity.”