News Digest: Week of January 27

January 27

Politics: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for national unity ahead of February parliamentary elections. He urged high voter turnout and condemned the mass disqualification of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council, which was dominated by hardliners. “We should not let Trump succeed in creating gaps between the establishment and people ... We should remain united ... Don’t turn your back on (Feb. 21) elections. Let’s have a high turn out,” he said.

Military: Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, warned the United States that Iran would retaliate to threats against its generals. “I warn them to withdraw from this field,” he said. If not, they “will definitely regret it.” Last week, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook States had threatened to assassinate Esmail Ghaani, the successor of Qassem Soleimani, the Qods Force commander who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3.

Aviation: An Iranian airliner skidded off the runaway onto a busy highway during landing in Mahshahr. Two passengers were reportedly injured in the accident. The Caspian Airlines aircraft was over 25 years old.

 

January 28

Politics/Nuclear: Several Iranian lawmakers requested a debate on quitting the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The legislation was submitted to parliament’s leadership for review. If the bill is passed, it would go to the Guardian Council for final approval.

Politics: President Hassan Rouhani said that the Trump administration was the worst government in U.S. history. He said that a high voter turnout in parliamentary elections slated for February would counter U.S. allegations that Iran’s government is autocratic. “These elections are very important for our regional and international politics and our national power. If we see flaws and misunderstandings, and some paths go wrong, we must give advice, forgive and do not forget that the goal is to attend the elections,” Rouhani said on state television.

Diplomacy: Iranian officials dismissed the new U.S. Middle East peace plan presented by President Donald Trump. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the proposal “a delusional Deal of the Century.” In a later tweet, he renamed the plan “Sleepwalking into Catastrophe” and said that it was “a nightmare for the region and the world.”

Military: The Pentagon announced that 50 U.S. troops sustained traumatic brain during an Iranian strike on a U.S. coalition base in Iraq. President Trump had originally claimed that their injuries were “not very serious. On January 24, the Pentagon had announced that just 34 U.S. service members had suffered injuries during the strike.

 

January 30

Sanctions/Nuclear: Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook announced sanctions on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and its chief, Ali Akbar Salehi. But Hook said that that the United States would renew sanctions waivers on Iran’s nuclear projects for 60 days. The waivers have allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue work on the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and several other joint initiatives.

Human Rights/Diplomacy: The United States introduced a new Swiss humanitarian channel that would ensure the sale and delivery of cancer drugs to Iran. Humanitarian goods have always been exempt from U.S. sanctions, but foreign banks have been hesitant to conduct business with Iran. The new payment mechanism assured that companies had a "secure payment channel with a Swiss bank through which payments for their exports to Iran are guaranteed," according to the Swiss government.

Politics: The U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills to curb the president’s ability to take military action against Iran. The proposals would repeal the 2002 congressional authorization for the war in Iraq and prevent future tax dollars from funding military action against Iran without congressional approval. Repeal of the 2002 authorization passed by a vote of 236-166, and the funding restriction on Iran was approved by a 228-175 vote.

 

January 31

Military: General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, said that Iran had increased its malign activity in Afghanistan. He called it a “worrisome trend” that threatened the ongoing peace process with the Taliban. “Iran has always sort of dabbled a little bit in Afghanistan, but they see perhaps an opportunity to get after us and the coalition here through their proxies,” McKenzie said.

 

February 2

Diplomacy: The European Union announced that its new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will travel to Iran this week for nuclear negotiations. “Borrell received a strong mandate from the E.U. foreign ministers to engage in diplomatic dialogue with regional partners, to de-escalate tensions and seek opportunities for political solutions to the current crisis,” the European Union said in a statement.

Politics/Diplomacy: Tehran welcomed the appointment of new Iraqi prime minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi and called for U.S. troops to leave the country. “In continuing support for the independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and strengthening the foundations of democracy in Iraq along with the legitimate request by the government and people of Iraq for the exit of American forces from the soil of that country, Iran welcomes the selection of Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the new prime minister of this country,” said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

Human Rights: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Iran to release two French nationals detained since June 2019. Roland Marchal and Fariba Adelkhah, academics from Sciences Po university in Paris, were charged with espionage during a vacation to Tehran. “We know that they are not in a very good condition and that they are not always being treated well ... We think Iran would give a strong signal by releasing them,” Le Drian said.

 

Updated