News Digest: Week of March 14

March 14

Nuclear: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed that it arrested a “network” of individuals who planned to sabotage the Fordo nuclear facility on behalf of Israel.

Security: Iranian intelligence reportedly broke up two cells of militants, including “six armed terrorists” who had come to Iran to assassinate “several foreign nationals” working on infrastructure projects in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan.

Cyber: The website of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was hacked by supporters of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group. Photographs of MEK leaders appeared on the pages.

United States/Nuclear: In a letter, 49 Republican senators expressed their opposition to the deal on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna between Iran and the world’s major powers. “The nuclear limitations in this new deal appear to be significantly less restrictive than the 2015 nuclear deal, which was itself too weak, and will sharply undermine U.S. leverage to secure an actually ‘longer and stronger’ deal,” they warned. “What is more, the deal appears likely to deepen Iran’s financial and security relationship with Moscow and Beijing, including through arms sales.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was the only Republican senator to abstain from signing. “Condemning a deal that is not yet formulated is akin to condemning diplomacy itself, not a very thoughtful position,” he said.


March 15

Diplomacy: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian traveled to Moscow to discuss the nuclear talks and the situation in Ukraine with Foreign Minister Lavrov. “There is no link between events in Ukraine and Vienna talks,” Amir-Abdollahian said at a joint press conference. Lavrov said that Russia received “written guarantees” on the issue of Western sanctions. “They are included in the text of the agreement itself on the resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program.” Russia had previously demanded that U.S. and European sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine not interfere with Russian trade and cooperation with Iran. 


March 16

Human Rights: Iran released two British-Iranian detainees, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. They were both allowed to leave Iran following months of quiet diplomacy and Britain’s payment of a longstanding $524 million debt. Iran, under the monarchy, ordered tanks from a subsidiary of the British defense ministry. The payment went through but Britain canceled the order after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, who is also a U.S. citizen, was released from prison on furlough. “The repayment of the debt in parallel with the release of our nationals reflects steps taken by both U.K. and Iran to resolve issues of serious disagreement between our two countries,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.