News Digest: Week of September 18

September 18

Diplomacy: Iran released five Americans as part of a prisoner swap with the United States. The four men and one woman had been imprisoned on unproven charges of espionage. One had been held since 2015. In return, the Biden administration released five Iranian men imprisoned in the United States, including two who had been held since 2019. The United States also issued a waiver so South Korea could transfer $6 billion of frozen Iranian oil revenues to Qatar, which will oversee limited Iranian purchases of humanitarian goods, including medical, education and agricultural goods. 

Military: A military drone crashed during a test flight in the northern city of Gorgon due to a technical failure. The incident damaged buildings and wounded two people.

Sports: Iranian freestyle wrestler Amirhossein Zare won a gold medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Zare beat former world champion Geno Petriashvili from Georgia.


September 19 

International: In his U.N. address, President Joe Biden said that the United States was working with partners “to address Iran’s destabilizing activities that threaten regional and global security and remain steadfast in our commitment that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Military: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Iranian Defence Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Revolutionary Guards aerospace chief Amir Ali Hajizadeh, and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Akbar Ahmadian at a missile and drone exhibition. Russia-Iran ties have reached “new highs,” Shoigu said. He outlined the Kremlin’s intent for bilateral military cooperation and “boosting” its strategic partnership with Iran as well as further collaboration in stabilizing the Middle East. Ashtiani told Shoigu that Iran was committed to countering shared challenges, including U.S. “unilateralism.” 

International: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, about improving bilateral relations and Baku’s military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan home to ethnic-Armenian separatists.


September 20

International: President Biden discussed threats posed by Iran with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. President Biden confirmed that the United States would ensure that Iran “never acquires a nuclear weapon.”

Domestic: Parliament passed a bill increasing penalties – including fines and prison sentences of up to 10 years  – for women seen not adhering to the strict Islamic dress code. The vote on the “Hijab and Chastity” bill was 152 in favor, 34 against, and seven abstentions. The law will be implemented on a trial basis for three years. The powerful Guardian Council was expected to approve it soon.

International: Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed concerns about Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon in an interview with Fox News. Salman stated that if Iran got a bomb, Saudi Arabia would "have to get one, for security reasons, for balancing power." Salman also described recent U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange as a positive step for future diplomacy.

Sport: Saudi Arabian soccer team Al-Nassr visited Iran for a match against the team Persepolis in the Asian Champions League. It was the first visit of a Saudi team to Iran since diplomatic ties were severed in 2016. Iranian soccer fans welcomed Al-Nassr’s captain, star player Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Culture: The Iranian Independent Filmmaker Association called upon the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to select an alternative film to represent Iran for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards. They rejected the one submitted by Farabi, a state-controlled foundation. “Over the past year, Iranian filmmakers have been imprisoned, interrogated, and intimidated, with Farabi being a key player in implementing this severe repression,” the association said. “How can an institution known for its censorship and repression represent Iranian cinema?”


September 21

International: The U.S. Treasury and 3M reached a settlement in which the company agreed to pay nearly $10 million for violations of Iran sanctions. “3M has agreed to settle its potential civil liability for 54 apparent violations of OFAC sanctions on Iran that arose from its subsidiary’s sale of reflective license plate sheeting to an Iranian entity controlled by the Iranian Law Enforcement Forces,” the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control said.The sales in question took place between 2016 and 2018.   

Domestic: An Iranian court sentenced the perpetrator of the terrorist attack on August 13 on the Shah Cheragh shrine to death. Rahmatollah Nowruzof of Tajikstan was accused of cooperating with the Islamic State. The attack on Shah Cheragh, in the southern province of Fars, left two dead.

Diplomacy: Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister, participated in talks with the European Union’s coordinator Enrique Mora. The discussions were held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The two officials had a detailed conversation on easing sanctions on Iran and reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Bagheri Kani tweeted that the “consultations will be continued in future.”


September 22

Diplomacy: Tehran and Moscow implemented an agreement on visa-free tourist travel between the two states signed in March. The deal allowed visa-free travel for 15 days by tourists in groups of up to 50.

Military: General Esmail Ghaani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, visited several regions in Syria to oversee a military exercise with the Syrian military. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will be by the side of the Syrian people and leadership in dealing with challenges,” he pledged.


September 24

Security: The Ministry of Intelligence announced that security forces had defused 30 bombs in Tehran and apprehended 28 terrorists affiliated with ISIS in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The ministry claimed that the attacks were planned to mark the anniversary of anti-government protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022.

Some of the information in this article was originally published on September 20, 2023.