News Digest: Week of December 19

December 19

Security: Three members of the Basij paramilitary and an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps member were killed in Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan province. State media reported that they were killed in a clash with a “terrorist group.” For years, Baluch separatists have operated in the region. 

Nuclear: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials left Iran after talks between IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Massimo Aparo and Mohammad Eslami, Tehran’s nuclear chief. State media reported that the delegations had discussed “future joint cooperation” and safeguards issues. Iran had stonewalled an investigation into uranium traces at undeclared nuclear sites. 

International: Rosemary DiCarlo, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Security Council on implementation of Resolution 2231, which enshrined the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran planned to stockpile more 60 percent-enriched uranium at the Fordow enrichment plant and bring new centrifuges online at the Natanz plant, DiCarlo reported. Tehran had already stockpiled at least 18 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal. 

The United States, France, Germany, and Britain accused Iran of sending drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, which Iran and Russia both denied. Iran blamed the U.S. “unrealistic and rigid approach” for the impasse in talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. The United States also accused the United Nations of “yielding to Russian threats” by not investigating the Iran-Russia drones transfer. France, Germany, and Britain joined the United States in calling for a U.N. investigation.

International: Iran appeared to be too preoccupied with quashing protests at home to devote much resources to meddling in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, said William Hartman, chief of the Cyber National Mission Force at U.S. Cyber Command. “We collectively saw much less focus from foreign adversaries, particularly the Russians,” he said.

Domestic: Thousands of protesters reportedly began three days of renewed demonstrations and strikes. People protested and went on strike in many cities, including Tehran, Karaj, Rasht, Mashhad, Sanandaj, Kerman, Bushehr, Kermanshah, and Isfahan. Activists and organizers had called for three days of protests throughout the country from December 19 to December 21. 


December 20

Nuclear Negotiations: A video of President Biden during a November 3 election rally saying the nuclear deal was “dead” spread on social media. “It is dead, but we are not gonna announce it. Long story,” Biden said in California.


Regional: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian arrived in Jordan for a regional summit focused on Iraq. Abdollahian joined the heads of state from France, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan along with officials from the European Union, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia at the summit.

Nuclear: E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and E.U. nuclear negotiator Enrique Mora met with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollian and Foreign Ministry Political Deputy Ali Bagheri in Jordan. Borrell said that the European Union and Iran “must keep communication open” and restore the 2015 nuclear deal based on the Vienna negotiations. He also called on Iran to “immediately stop military support to Russia and internal repression in Iran.”

Economy: Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov said that Moscow sought to work with Tehran on gas turbine production. Iran had previously agreed to send Russia dozens of turbines.


December 21

Economy: Oil production increased to three million barrels per day, Oil Minister Javad Oji announced during a cabinet meeting. He also said that the government sought to improve oil quality in refineries throughout the country.

International: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian tweeted that Saudi Arabia was willing to resume talks to restore relations with Iran. The two countries had 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. 

International: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned Iran for supporting Russia's war against Ukraine in a speech to Congress. “Russia found an ally in this genocidal policy: Iran,” he said. “Iranian deadly drones sent to Russia in hundreds became a threat to our critical infrastructure. That is how one terrorist has found the other.”