Iran and the European Union formally confirmed Jan. 16 that Tehran has kept its commitments under the nuclear deal reached withe world powers in July. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the agreement at a press conference in Vienna, as the European Council issued a statement saying it has "lifted all economic and financial sanctions against Iran related to the nuclear program." In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order revoking sanctions on transactions by non-US citizens with the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company. A White House official said Iran will have access to some $50 billion worth of assets that were frozen by the US. Iranian President Hassan Rohani tweeted: "Congrats on this glorious victory!" Average Iranians took to social media to express joy and relief at the lifting of sanctions and the easing of Iran's international isolation.
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 after Saudi authorities executed a dissident Shi'ite cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men beheaded in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region. Hundreds of al-Nimr's supporters also protested in his hometown of al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's east, and in neighboring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas and birdshot. (NYT, AP, Jan. 2) Days before the Saudi executions, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI reported that Iranian authorities are preparing the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners in the Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) prison in Karaj, northwest of Tehran. At least 27 Sunni death-row political prisoners at Gohardasht have had their sentences upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. They have been charged with offenses including "acting against national security," "propaganda against the state," "spreading corruption on earth," and "moharabeh" (waging war against God).
The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), seeking autonomy for the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran's southwest, held its third annual conference in Copenhagen last week—drawing attendance this time from George Sabra, former leader of the opposition Syrian National Council. Sabra told the conference, "What unites our two nations is our joint path and destiny in the struggle to gain our freedom and human dignity." ASMLA chairman Habib Jabor charged that "the mullahs' savage regime has enforced ethnocide policies against the Ahwazi Arab people and other non-Persian peoples... Several million Ahwazi Arabs are denied equal rights by the Iranian regime under a system of apartheid, defined as a deliberate policy of racial or ethnic segregation... [T]he international community's lack of reaction concerning the state of human rights in the Ahwaz region...has given the Iranian regime and its elite a right of life and death over entire communities. Ahwazi Arabs...are victimized, robbed and plundered because of their ethnicity."
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
The Iranian military presence in Syria has rapidly escalated in recent days, with hundreds of fresh troops reported to be arriving at an airport in Latakia governorate already being used by Russian warplanes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 15 that its observors on the ground noted the arrivals at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for the current dictator's son), near Jableh. The report comes as the Syrian army has launched a major offensive north of the strategic city of Homs. The report comes a day after Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, met the Syrian parliament speaker in Damascus. "If Syria makes a request [for Iranian forces], we will study the request and make a decision," Boroujerdi told AFP before the meeting. "Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism. We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisers to Syria and Iraq." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 15)
A group of top Iranian jurists and theologians approved the nuclear deal with world powers on Oct. 14, marking the completion of the last step before implementation of the deal may begin. The Iranian Parliament accepted the nuclear agreement the previous day and moved the process on to the Guardian Council, which determined the legislation was consistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The nuclear agreement is now law in Iran, which has the power to withdraw if world powers do not hold up their end of the deal regarding the lifting of economic sanctions. Officials request that the sanctions be removed by January at the latest. Iran has yet to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and the IAEA must report on the matter by Dec. 15.
Iran's regime on Aug. 26 hanged Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani at Orumieh prison, in the country's west. The death sentence was carried out two days after more than 80 members of his family and human rights activists gathered outside the prison gates to demand a halt to his execution. Prison guards and anti-riot forces broke up the protest. Alkhani's execution took place even as Iran's Supreme Court had yet to respond to an appeal of his sentence. "Carrying out a death sentence while a prisoner is awaiting the outcome of his appeal is a serious violation of both Iranian and international law, and is an affront to justice," said Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International's Middle East program.
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)