News Digest: Week of July 12

July 12

Diplomacy: The State Department said that the U.S. delegation was "prepared to return" to Vienna for a seventh round of talks "as soon as they are scheduled." 

Health: The European Union donated $17.7 million (15 million euros) to Iran to help with COVID-19 relief efforts and hosting of Afghan refugees. The funds will go to humanitarian organizations, as well as provide Iran with "urgent medical equipment," the European Commission said in a statement.



July 13

Diplomacy: Iran confirmed that it was negotiating a prisoner exchange with the United States. "‌Because of its humanitarian aims, Iran is ready to exchange all American political prisoners in exchange for the release of all Iranian prisoners who have been detained around the world at the behest of America," government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said.

Health: The Japanese government pledged that it would donate 2.9 million vaccine doses to Iran through the World Health Organization's COVAX program. Bahrain barred entry to travelers from Iran due to the spike of the COVID-19 delta variant.

Militias: Hossein Taeb, the intelligence chief for the Revolutionary Guards, told Iraqi Shiite militias to retaliate after the United States conducted airstrikes on June 27, Reuters reported. Taeb advised the militias to attack U.S. troops in Syria but urged them not to escalate too far, according to three militia sources. 


July 14


Nuclear: President Rouhani said that Iran could enrich uranium up to weapons grade level, if necessary.  "If we need it one day, and our reactors needs 90 percent enrichment, we can do it and we can do anything within the framework of peaceful activities,” he told his Cabinet. Rouhani, however, reiterated his support for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. He expressed hope that his successor, Ebrahim Raisi, "will be able to finish the job."

Oil: South Korea imported zero barrels of Iranian during June, the Korean Customs Service reported


July 15

Cyber: Facebook took down nearly 200 fake accounts used by Iranian hackers to target U.S., British and European military and defense personnel. The hackers, known as Tortoiseshell, sought to infect victims’ computers with malware and steal their login information. The malware used by the hackers was developed by Mahak Rayan Afraz (MRA), “an [information technology] company in Tehran with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),” according to Facebook’s cybersecurity team

The hackers, known as Tortoiseshell, posed as recruiters for the defense and aerospace industries, as well as employees in the hospitality industry, medicine, journalism, NGOs and civilian airliners. They reached out to their targets online to "build trust and trick them into clicking on malicious links," Facebook said in a statement. The hackers also ran several fake job recruiting websites, including one that mimicked the U.S. Department of Labor's job website, to steal their victims' login credentials. "This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation, while relying on relatively strong operational security measures to hide who’s behind it," the statement said

Sanctions: Seventeen Senate Republicans introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President-elect Ebrahim Raisi for human rights violations. "They've presided over the executions of thousands of political prisoners and the mass arrests of journalists, lawyers and American citizens," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo), one of the co-sponsors. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the main sponsor of the bill, accused Raisi of being "responsible for the butchering of tens of thousands of innocent Iranians" and said that Khamenei "uses corruption, violence, and confiscation to amass wealth stolen from the Iranian people."