News Digest: Week of October 28

October 28

Justice: The Iranian lawyer of two French citizens detained in Tehran said prosecutors had provided no evidence of espionage or security-related charges. Roland Marchal was arrested in June while visiting his Iranian-French colleague Fariba Adelkhah, who was also detained. The attorney said the cases were still under review by the prosecutor and have not gone to trial. 

Diplomacy: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States would increase economic pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. “We will continue to ramp up, more, more, more ... I just came from a very productive working lunch with your team. They gave us a bunch of very specific ideas that we will be following up,” Mnuchin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a trip to Jerusalem.


Diplomacy/Military: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of developing the capability to strike Israel with a precision-guided missile from Yemen. “Iran wants to develop precision-guided missiles that can hit any target in Israel within five to ten meters,” Netanyahu said in a speech in Jerusalem. Israeli officials suggested that Israel could conduct a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s proxies to eliminate the threat.


October 29

Human Rights: Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 47-page report criticizing Washington’s punitive economic measures for making it difficult for Iranians to receive proper healthcare. “Broad restrictions on financial transactions, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from U.S. officials, have drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment,” according to the report. U.S. sanctions have deterred foreign banks and companies from engaging with Iran, including trade in humanitarian goods that is allowed under sanctions.


Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was ready for discussions with the international community, including the United States, over its nuclear program. But Zarif said Tehran would not accept a “zero-sum game” that does not favor Iranian interests. He added that U.S. attempts to isolate Iran from any regional arrangement “will just not work.” Zarif was speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Qatar.


October 30

Economics: The United States and six Gulf countries—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait—imposed sanctions on a financing network controlled by Iran’s military and linked to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia and political movement. The Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a multinational body focused on combating illicit finance schemes, targeted 25 corporations, banks and individuals with ties to Tehran’s proxy groups in the region.


Diplomacy: Iran criticized the U.S. plan to maintain a military presence in Syria to protect oil fields. “Iran and Russia are there on the invitation of the Syrian government, and we intend to stay there as long as the Syrian government and Syrian people want us to be there,” Foreign Minister Zarif said during Syria talks in Geneva.

Diplomacy/Nuclear: The United States will allow issue waivers to sanctions that prevent foreign firms from working with Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), according to Reuters. The waivers sanctions would allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue working on non-proliferation projects at Iranian nuclear facilities.


October 31

Justice: Saudi Arabia freed 19 Iranian fishermen held since December and January. The crews of two fishing boats were captured when “bad weather forced the boats into Saudi Arabia’s territorial waters,” according to Tasnim News Agency. The men were released following talks between the two countries.

Economics: The United States announced sanctions on Iran’s construction sector and the sale of certain materials used in Tehran’s nuclear, military or ballistic missile programs. The sale of raw and semi-finished metals, graphite, coal, and software for integrating industrial purposes would be prohibited if the materials were deemed to be used in Iran’s construction industry. The State Department also announced the renewal of waivers for an additional 90 days that allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue working on non-proliferation projects at Iranian nuclear facilities.


November 1

Diplomacy: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. He criticized the latest round of U.S. sanctions and said “Iranians will never submit to bullying.”


November 2

Society: Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the student leaders of the 1979 U.S. Embassy seizure, said he regretted the attack and the 444-day hostage crisis. “We, the students, take responsibility for the first 48 hours of the takeover. Later, it was out of our hands since the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the establishment supported it,” he told The Associated Press. “Our plan was one of students, unprofessional and temporary.” Asgharzadeh said the repercussions of the incident still cause tensions between the United States and Iran today.

Economics: Italy announced a ban on flights by Iran’s Mahan Air set to begin in mid-December 2019. Italy’s air authority ENAC made the decision after pressure from the United States, which first imposed sanctions on Mahan in 2011 for transporting arms and fighters to designated groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.


November 3

Society: Protestors in Iraq attacked the Iranian consulate in Karbala. The demonstrators scaled concrete barriers, lobbed firebombs over the wall and replaced an Iranian flag with an Iraqi flag. Security forces opened fire on the protestors, killing three and wounding 19 others.

Diplomacy: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not lift its ban on talks with the United States. He accused Washington of “aggressive, vicious behavior” and said Iran would never bow to American pressure. “Those who believe that negotiations with the enemy will solve our problems are 100 percent wrong,” he said on state television.