News Digest: Week of October 21

October 21

Justice/Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran sent the United States a list of names for a proposed prison swap. Tehran did not publicize the list, but Zarif said he hoped to hear “good news” regarding the release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani. The United States arrested Soleimani last year for trying to export vials of growth hormone to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Espionage: Russian hackers reportedly hijacked an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to mask their identities and attack government and industry organizations in at least 20 countries. The Russian network, known as “Turla,” gained access to Iranian cyber tools and computer infrastructure to deploy its own malicious code. British security officials said the campaign mainly targeted entities in the Middle East but also attacked organizations in Britain.

Espionage: Facebook announced it had uncovered four state-backed disinformation campaigns—three originating in Iran and one from Russia. The company said the cyber operations, which targeted people in North Africa, Latin America and the United States, involved state actors disguised as genuine users. "Today, what we're basically announcing is that we found a set of campaigns. They are highly sophisticated. They signal that these nation-states intend to be active in the upcoming elections," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Diplomacy: Officials from more than 40 countries met in Bahrain to discuss maritime security in the Persian Gulf and efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. The United States and Poland co-sponsored the two-day meeting, which stemmed from a Middle East conference held in Warsaw in February. "The meeting is an occasion to exchange views on how to deal with the Iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation," said Bahrain’s foreign ministry. 


Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Zarif said he would welcome a meeting with Saudi officials. “If suitable conditions are provided, I would be ready to travel to Riyadh to settle differences,” Zarif told ISNA. “Tehran welcomes any initiative that aims to ease tensions in the region and will cooperate [with other parties] to end Yemen’s war.”


October 22

Military: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington would ask NATO allies to contribute additional resources to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran. Esper specifically urged France, Britain and Germany to contribute more to the Gulf security initiative. He also said Saudi Arabia would “help underwrite” some of the U.S. costs for the additional aid. 


October 23

Military: Albania announced it uncovered an IRGC paramilitary network that targeted exiled members of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group outlawed by Tehran. Police chief Ardi Veliu said Albania had foiled another attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in March. In 2014, 2,500 MEK members moved from Iraq to Albania, where the group is now based.  


October 24

Diplomacy: Saudi Minister of State Adel al Jubeir said a maximum pressure campaign was the only way to make Iran negotiate. “We think that appeasement doesn’t work. Actions count, not words. Members of the Iranian government talk, but have no power. Those who have, like the Revolutionary Guards, don’t want to negotiate,” he said. Jubeir was in Paris for talks with French officials on Yemen and regional tensions. French President Emmanuel Macron has led an initiative to get the United States to engage with Iran directly.

Diplomacy: Iran said the United States refused to grant visas to members of its delegation for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington. Farhad Dejpasand, Iran's finance and economy minister, called the actions “illegal, unprecedented and hostile” in a letter to the president of the World Bank. Dejpasand cancelled his trip to Washington in protest of the visa denials.  

Human Rights: Javaid Rehman, the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Iran, said the Islamic Republic had executed seven child offenders in 2018 and two in 2019. He told the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee that at least 90 children under 18 are currently on death row in Iran. Rehman said Iran still had one of the highest execution rates in the world despite a decrease from 507 in 2017 to 253 in 2018.  


October 25

Justice: The United States sentenced Behrooz Behroozian, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iran, to 20 months in federal prison for illegally exporting gas and oil pipeline parts to Iran in violation of export control laws. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Behroozian used his Ohio computer parts company to conceal the illicit sale of pipeline components, which had commercial and military value.

Economics: The U.S. Treasury announced a new financial channel “to ensure unprecedented transparency into humanitarian trade with Iran.” The Treasury said the mechanism would allow “permissible trade” to support the Iranian population. The United States also designated Iran as a "jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern" under Section 311 of the U.S. Patriot Act, which could discourage global financial institutions from conducting permitted business with Tehran.