News Digest: Week of November 15

November 15

Human Rights: Iran, the United States and human rights groups marked the one-year anniversary of massive anti-government protests sparked by an overnight gas price hike. The regime did not officially comment, but five days before the anniversary, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned 157 dissidents and political prisoners who had been convicted of various charges, including propaganda against the system, assembly and collusion, and taking part in riots. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the regime for continuing to detain thousands. Amnesty International marked the anniversary with a new website featuring videos of the protests, names of the adults and children killed, and details of the government cover-up, including an internet shutdown for five days to prevent images from spreading over social media.


November 16

Health: Iran's COVID-19 outbreak broke another record high, with 13,053 new infections and 486 death in a single day. 


November 17

Economy: President Rouhani pledged economic relief to businesses hurt by the lockdown measures in next year's budget, which will be submitted to parliament by December 5. 


November 18

Diplomacy: Iran could quickly come back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden lifts economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran, a state-run newspaper. “If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill U.S. commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord... and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5 + 1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States),” he said. “The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders.”

Nuclear: Iran had fed uranium gas into advanced centrifuges at Natanz starting on November 14, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report seen by Reuters. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran was only allowed to use first generation IR-1 centrifuges at the underground facility.   

Nuclear: The IAEA and the United States urged Iran to provide more information about uranium particles found nearly two years ago at Turqazabad, an undeclared site. “We believe they need to give us information which is credible. What they are telling us from a technical point of view doesn’t add up, so they need to clarify this,” IAEA Director Genral Rafael Grossi told reporters. Iran initially claimed the warehouse was a carpet-cleaning facility after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed its existence in a speech to the United Nations in September 2018.

Sanctions: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud for complicity in human rights abuses, including the violent crackdown on protestors in November 2019. Treasury also designated Bonyad Mostazafan, or the Foundation of the Oppressed, as well as 10 men and 51 companies controlled or owned by the foundation and involved in the energy, finance and mining sectors. Five of the men held senior positions within Bonyad Mostazafan. The foundation, allegedly controlled by Khamenei, was established after the 1979 revolution, to help the poor and disabled. “Iran’s Supreme Leader uses Bonyad Mostazafan to reward his allies under the pretense of charity,” Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. 

The State Department separately sanctioned two senior Revolutionary Guards--Brigadier General Heidar Abbaszadeh and Colonel Reza Papi--for their roles in the 2019 protests, when nearly 150 people were killed in the city of Mahshahr.

Security: Israel’s military said that it hit eight Syrian and Iranian targets across a wide swath of Syria from the Golan Heights to the outskirts of Damascus. The Iranian targets reportedly belonged to the Qods Force, the elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for external operations. Israel said it was responding to an Iranian-led Syrian attempt to plant explosives near an Israeli military base in the occupied Golan Heights.



Health:  Iran recorded another all-time high, with 13,421 new cases. More than 800,000 people had been infected since February.