Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath
An Iranian looks at a newspaper with a picture of US President Donald Trump on the front page, as the people’s interest in the presidential poll outcome soar in the country. (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath
  • Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared

DUBAI: Top officials in Iran say the upcoming US election doesn’t matter, but nearly everyone else there seems to be holding their breath.
The race for the White House could mean another four years of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Or it could bring Joe Biden, who has raised the possibility of the US returning to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
In the upper levels of Iran’s Islamic republic, overseen by 81-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, anti-Americanism is as deeply entrenched as at any time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with presidents from both parties seen as equally repugnant.
“America has a deep-rooted enmity against the Iranian nation and whether Trump is elected or Biden, it will not have any impact on the US main policy to strike the Iranian nation,” parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf said in September, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
But noticeably, Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared. State-run radio rebroadcast a BBC Farsi-language service simulcast of the presidential debates live — even as Iran continues to target journalists for the British broadcaster.
That interest allegedly includes Iran’s security apparatus as well. US officials accuse the Islamic republic of sending emails to voters seeking to intimidate them into voting for Trump. It may have been an attempt to link the president to apparent election interference in order to sow chaos, like Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election. Tehran denies being involved.
The Iranian public is paying attention. The state-owned polling center ISPA said this month that 55 percent of people believe the outcome of the election will affect Iran “a lot.” Over half expected Trump would win, while a fifth said Biden. ISPA said it surveyed over 1,600 people by telephone, and did not provide a margin of error.
Trump’s reelection would mean the extension of his pressure campaign, including sanctions on Khamenei and other senior officials. Some of the sanctions are largely symbolic — Khamenei has only once traveled to America and does not hold any US bank accounts — but others have devastated the economy and sent the local currency into freefall. As a hedge, Iranians have poured money into foreign currency, real estate, precious metals and the stock market — which hit a record high in August.
Trump on the campaign trail has hit on that and his decision to launch a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January — a move that led Tehran to launch a retaliatory ballistic missile strike, wounding dozens of American troops.
To cheers, Trump has described the general, Qassem Soleimani, as “the world’s No. 1 terrorist,” likely due to him being blamed for the improvised explosive devices that maimed US troops in Iraq and for supporting Syria’s Bashar Assad. Many Iranians revered Solemani for fighting against Daesh and in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and millions flooded the streets for his funeral processions.
“The first call I get when we win will be from the head of Iran, let’s make a deal. Their economy is crashing,” Trump told a campaign rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Monday. “They will call and I want them to do well, but they cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Biden has left open the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have remained committed to the agreement and allowed a UN arms embargo to expire as part of the deal, despite a White House push to keep it in place.
After Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored crippling sanctions, Iran began publicly abandoning the agreement’s limits on enrichment. It now has at least 2.32 tons of low-enriched uranium, according to a September report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Experts typically say 1.15 tons of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched for one nuclear weapon.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and still allows IAEA inspectors to monitor its atomic sites. But experts say the “breakout time” needed for Iran to build one nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so has dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months.
Iran in the past also has threatened to abandon a nuclear nonproliferation treaty or expel international inspectors. It recently began construction at an underground nuclear site, likely building a new centrifuge assembly plant after a reported sabotage attack there earlier this year.
“’America First’ has made America alone,” Biden said at a televised ABC town hall this month, playing on a longtime Trump slogan. “You have Iran closer to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb.”
What a return to the deal means, however, is in question. Biden’s campaign website says he would use “hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it.” One criticism of the accord was its narrow focus on the nuclear program, despite concerns by the US, Israel and its Gulf Arab allies over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its presence in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Iran maintains that its ballistic missile program is vital for deterring potential attacks and non-negotiable. It is also unlikely to cease its military activities in Syria and Iraq, where it spent considerable blood and treasure in the war against Daesh.
But ensuring the survival of the Islamic republic, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, may require the same flexibility that saw Iran agree to negotiations with the US in the first place. Iran will hold a presidential election in June, but any decision to re-engage with Washington would have to be made by the supreme leader.
“Khamenei’s revolutionary path actually leads to America — that is, by seeking a stable, safe, and meticulously measured relationship with the United States, he believes he can guarantee the survival of both the regime and its revolutionary content and orientation,” wrote Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian who is an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Tehran’s objective is therefore a scandalous paradox: Deal with America to remain anti-American.”


US issues fresh sanctions on several individuals it says linked to Hezbollah

US issues fresh sanctions on several individuals it says linked to Hezbollah
Updated 4 sec ago

US issues fresh sanctions on several individuals it says linked to Hezbollah

US issues fresh sanctions on several individuals it says linked to Hezbollah

WASHINGTON: The United States sanctioned four individuals it said had ties to the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, according to a post on the US Treasury website on Friday. 


Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Updated 31 min 15 sec ago

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
  • Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran to join important trade links across Eurasia

Iran joined a rapidly expanding central Asian security body led by Russia and China on Friday, calling on the countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West.
The body, formed in the 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
In a sign of its growing influence, the body’s summit in Tajikistan was the first appearance abroad of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahimi Raisi, since taking office in August.
Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran, as a country along China’s “Belt and Road” route, to join important trade links across Eurasia. Iranian television described Iran’s membership as giving it access to huge markets across the continent.
In his speech to members, Raisi compared sanctions on Iran to terrorism, and said the organization should design a mechanism that helps Tehran avert them.
Russia and China, along with Western countries, are parties of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions. Negotiations this year to revive it have been stalled since Raisi’s election.
“Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations,” Raisi said. “Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”


New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
Updated 17 September 2021

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said is unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial collapse.
The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.
The Mikati government, which took office a week ago, has promised action to address the crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a start to reforms.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday there had been courtesy calls with members of the new government and the Fund stood ready to engage in the period ahead. Talks between the previous government and the IMF broke down last year.
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is one of the worst on record.
The currency has slumped more than 90 percent since 2019, more than three quarters of the population have been driven into poverty, the banking system is paralyzed and a hard currency crunch has led to shortages of vital imports, including fuel.
Lebanon has been suppressing fuel prices by providing dollars at subsidised exchange rates well below the pound’s price on the parallel market, with the stated aim of shielding people hit by the collapse.
Critics say the system has given rise to smuggling and hoarding, contributing to shortages that have crippled normal life and spawned a black market where gasoline has been sold at enormously inflated prices.
Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.
“This is the stage before last of lifting the subsidy,” said Georges Braks, a member of the Petrol Station Owners’ syndicate, who expects the subsidy to be removed by the end of September.
He said the new prices were based on an exchange rate around 12,000 pounds per dollar.
This compares with a rate of 8,000 pounds per dollar that the previous government agreed for fuel prices last month, but is still below the rate on the parallel market, where dollars were changing hands at 14,600 on Friday.
The central bank said last month it could no longer afford to provide dollars for fuel at heavily subsidised rates.
The move means importers will still be sourcing dollars from the central bank rather than the market and so a subsidy still applies, said Mike Azar, a senior Beirut-based financial adviser.
The pound has strengthened from around 19,000 per dollar since Mikati took office, ending a year of political conflict over cabinet seats that left Lebanon rudderless.
The IMF has recommended Lebanon unify the multiple exchange rates along with other steps including the central bank audit.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.
A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the finance ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF last year broke down largely due to a dispute over the scale of losses in the financial system. A plan drawn up by the previous government said these amounted to some $90 billion, a figure endorsed by the IMF but rejected by Lebanese banks and the political elite.


Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials
Updated 17 September 2021

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

LONDON: Police in Yemen's province of Marib arrested a group of Houthi militia planning to bomb public places with the aim to assassinate government military officials, state news agency Saba reported on Thursday.
The commander of Special Forces in Marib Brig. Gen. Saleem Al-Sayyaghi told Saba that a cache of explosives and maps of bomb sites were seized in possession of the Houthi members.
Initial investigations, he said, revealed that those arrested “steered by the Iran-backed Houthi militia” and were tasked with bombing civilian crowds and military leaders.

Sayyaghi claimed that the plot comes as the militia failed to take Marib in the battlefield despite sending fighters towards the army positions over the past months.  


Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
Updated 17 September 2021

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
  • The head of Iran’s prison system admitted that videos purportedly obtained by a self-described hacker group that show abuses at the Islamic Republic’s notorious Evin prison are real

NICOSIA: Amnesty International has condemned the “climate of impunity” that prevails in Iran over deaths in custody despite reports of more than 70 such cases over the past decade.
“Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture or other ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials,” said the London-based rights group.
The latest documented case involved a 31-year-old whose death was reported to his family by intelligence ministry officials in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province on September 8, Amnesty said in a statement.
“Reports of the death of Yaser Mangouri in suspicious circumstances further exposes how the prevailing climate of impunity further emboldens security forces to violate prisoners’ right to life without any fear of consequence or accountability,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
The group’s report follows an admission by Iran’s prisons chief last month that “unacceptable behavior” had taken place at a notorious Tehran prison after videos published abroad appeared to show violence against detainees.
The footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Evin prison.
Amnesty International said the leaked video footage “offered disturbing evidence of beatings, sexual harassment, and other ill-treatment of prisoners by prison officials.”
It said that in 46 of the 72 deaths in custody, informed sources said they had resulted from “physical torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of intelligence and security agents or prison officials.”
Another 15 deaths were caused by the use of firearms or tear gas by prison guards to suppress protests over Covid-19 safety fears, said Amnesty.
For the remaining 11 cases, the deaths occurred in suspicious circumstances, but no further details about potential causes were available, it added.
“Iranian authorities typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, drug overdose or illness in a rushed manner and without conducting any independent and transparent investigations,” the watchdog said.
In July, Amnesty and nine other rights groups urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mechanism to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes committed in the Islamic republic.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the United Nations or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.