News Digest: Week of March 13

March 11

Domestic: More than 100 people “responsible for the recent school incidents” -- the government's description for the mass poisoning of schoolgirls -- across 11 provinces had been detained, the Interior Ministry said. Some of the detainees had “hostile motives” and sought to instill terror in people. “Initial inquiries show that a number of these people, out of mischief or adventurism and with the aim of shutting down classrooms and influenced by the created psychological atmosphere, have taken measures such as using harmless and smelly substances,” the ministry added. The ministry was also investigating a “possible connection” with Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group. 


March 12

International: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed that Iran and the United States had agreed to a prisoner swap. U.S. officials denied the report, which was a “cruel lie,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “Unfortunately, Iranian officials will not hesitate to make things up, and the latest cruel claim will cause more heartache for the families of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz,” a National Security Council official told Al Arabiya English. 

International: The U.S. and Israeli air forces began a two-week exercise in Nevada. The two countries would practice “achieving aerial superiority in the region, joint aerial strikes, area defense, interception of enemy aircraft, low-altitude flights and striking in an unfamiliar area with an abundance of anti-aircraft defenses,” the U.S. Air Force said in a statement. The exercise would also “provide aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties.” 


March 13

Domestic: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had pardoned more than 22,000 people arrested during the nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022, according to the judiciary. The detainees were not guilty of theft or violent crimes, Chief Justice Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said. More than 82,000 detainees and people charged with crimes had been pardoned in total.

Domestic: Schoolgirls were reportedly poisoned in Baneh, Kurdistan province, and Mahshahr, Khuzestan province. Some 13,000 schoolgirls had been treated for symptoms linked to the poisonings as of March 12, according to Deputy Health Minister Saeed Karimi.

Domestic: The Ministry of Intelligence and Security reported that it had exposed “sabotage networks” that intended to attack gatherings on Chahar Shanbe Soori, the Festival of Fire in the runup to Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The 21 detainees were allegedly linked to the MEK. The ministry charged that they had been involved in widespread protests and intended to set “fire to public property, especially buses at busy intersections,” and destroy private property. “In addition to producing hand grenades, [authorities] produced and stockpiled a large number of Molotov cocktails and designed plans to create fake blockades, attack specific centers, and carry out sabotage.” 

Raisi and Lukashenko
Presidents Raisi of Iran and Lukashenko of Belarus

Domestic/International: President Ebrahim Raisi met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. During the Lukashenko's visit, Iran and Belarus signed an agreement to enhance bilateral cooperation. “Today we achieved an agreement on a comprehensive roadmap between Iran and Belarus,” said Raisi. “This comprehensive roadmap between Iran and Belarus outlines political and economic conditions and encompasses all areas of interest between the two countries.” The two countries signed eight pacts on areas including trade, mining, and transportation.


March 14

Domestic: Protesters gathered ahead of Chahar Shanbe Soori in cities including Tehran, Mashhad, and Sanandaj. In Tehran, demonstrators chanted, “The struggle continues,” and “Death to the dictator” in defiance of the government’s harsh crackdown. In Kurdistan province, protesters lit tires on fire and blocked roads.

International: France charged that Iran had broken a treaty by arbitrarily detaining French citizens. “Obviously, these positions and the measures taken by France will not help in the negotiations for the prisoners,” said Nasser Kanaani, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre claimed that Tehran had acknowledged that it was in breach of the treaty with Kanaani’s remarks.


March 15

International: Saudi Arabia could “very quickly” invest in Iran, said Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al Jadan. Tehran and Riyadh had agreed to restore ties on March 10. “There are a lot of opportunities for Saudi investments in Iran,” al Jadan said. “We don't see impediments as long as the terms of any agreement would be respected.” 

Military: Iran, China, and Russia began a joint naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman. “This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies ... and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” China's foreign ministry said. The United States downplayed concern over the drill. “We’re going to watch it, we’ll monitor it, obviously, to make sure that there’s no threat resulting from this training exercise to our national security interests or those of our allies and partners in the region,” said National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby. “But nations train. We do it all the time. We’ll watch it as best we can.”


March 19

International: Saudi Arabia invited President Ebrahim Raisi to make an official visit to the kingdom. “In a letter to President Raisi … the King of Saudi Arabia welcomed the deal between the two brotherly countries [and] invited him to Riyadh,” tweeted Raisi’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, Mohammad Jamshidi. The invitation comes amid preparations for talks between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers. 


International: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian again claimed that the United States and Iran had reached a deal for a prisoner swap. The United States had denied that the agreement exists. “We have signed a document in March last year through a representative introduced by the United States from a third country,” said Abdollahian. “We consider the issue of prisoner exchange to be a completely human issue. In recent weeks, there have been indirect discussions to update that document regarding the exchange of prisoners.” 



Picture Credits: Raisi and Lukashenko via