News Digest: Week of September 27

September 27

Diplomacy: Iraqi officials said that Baghdad had hosted Iranian and Saudi officials for a fourth round of bilateral talks – the first round since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August. The regional rivals severed diplomatic relations in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al Nimr, a popular local Shiite cleric, and Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran in retaliation

Military: The Revolutionary Guards announced that two of its members had were killed in an unexplained fire at a “research self-sufficiency center” west of Tehran.  

Human rights: In a joint letter, dozens of prominent writers and actors called on President Ebrahim Raisi to release three Iranian writers — Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi— allegedly imprisoned on “spurious” charges of propaganda and colluding against national security. The letter, organized by PEN America, was signed by JM Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk, both Nobel laureates, as well as Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and others.


September 28

Sanctions: An senior U.S. official told Reuters that the United States had called on China to reduce its purchases of Iranian oil. “We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to Iranian sanctions evasion, including those doing business with China, and will continue to do so if necessary,” he said. “We have been approaching this diplomatically with the Chinese as part of our dialogue on Iran policy and think that, in general, this is a more effective path forward to address our concerns.”

In response, China’s foreign ministry called on the United States to lift all sanctions on Iran and to drop its “long-arm jurisdiction.” On September 29, spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that China-Iran commerce was conducted within the framework of international law.

Nuclear: Vice President and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami arrived in Moscow to discuss cooperation in the nuclear power field. 

Nuclear: Some 63 percent of Americans support restarting nuclear talks with Iran, according to a Reuters public opinion poll conduced between August 27 and September 1. The remaining 37 percent of Americans opposed negotiations and instead favored economic sanctions to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Security: Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh rejected Azerbaijan’s concerns over military drills that Iran conducted along the shared border. He said the exercises were a matter of “sovereignty” and “national security.” Iran “will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders,” he said, an apparent reference to Azerbaijan’s close ties with Israel.


September 29

Nuclear: Norway charged a German-Iranian professor with violating sanctions for inviting four Iranian researchers to a laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “The serious thing here is that people from Iran had access to knowledge, and this is knowledge that could be useful to Iran’s nuclear program. We do not say that it is, but it is the potential danger here that is serious,” the prosecutor said. The professor faced up to 10 years in prison.  

Media: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed hardliner Peyman Jebeli to head the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization (IRIB), the state broadcaster. Born in 1966, Jebeli has held senior positions at IRIB and previously served as ambassador to Tunisia.


September 30

Trade: Khamenei declared that Iran must “firmly block” the import of South Korean home appliances to protect Iranian producers. “The two [South] Korean companies...will break the back of domestic manufacturers, which have just started to stand on their own feet,” he wrote in a message to President Ebrahim Raisi. Khamenei appeared to be referring to Samsung and LG. 

Regional: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Bahrain and reportedly discussed cooperation on responding to Iranian drone attacks, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Lapid met with Bahrain’s king, prime minister and foreign minister. During the visit, Lapid toured the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. In what appeared to be a message to Iran, Lapid posed for a photo near the USS Peral Harbor with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, U.S. Vice Admiral Brad Cooper and U.S. chargé d’affaires Maggie Nardi. 

Iran criticized Bahrain for hosting the Israeli official. “It is unfortunate that Bahrain’s rulers ignore the Zionist regime’s daily crimes against the oppressed but resilient people of Palestine,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Khatibzadeh said. “This stain will not be erased from the reputation of Bahrain’s rulers.”

Military: ImageSat International (ISI), an Israeli satellite imaging company, published photos showing evidence of an explosion at an IRGC facility on September 26. The IRGC had previously reported that two of its members died in an unexplained fire. ISI claimed that the facility was a secret base key involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. 


October 1

Diplomacy: U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss urged Iran to release Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian who also holds British and U.S. citizenship, on the occasion of his 66th birthday. U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley retweeted Truss’s tweet.