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US Announces Ways To Provide Help For Quake Victims In Iran

A woman mourns at an earthquake site in Sarpol-e-Zahab in western Iran, November 14, 2017

U.S. Department of the Treasury officially highlighted on Tuesday, November 14, the ways in which Americans can provide humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people.

“In light of the tragic earthquake in Iran, we would like to highlight some of the ways in which Americans can provide humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people, consistent with the Iran-related sanctions administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)” U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran cited OFAC as saying.

General License E (GL E), issued by OFAC in 2013, authorizes nongovernmental organizations to export services to Iran in support of the provision of relief services related to natural disasters, the provision of donated health-related services, and the distribution of donated articles (such as food, clothing, and medicine) intended to be used to relieve human suffering in Iran” U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran reported.

Furthermore, according to OFAC’s statement, “In addition, GL E authorizes transfers of up to $500,000 per 12-month period in support of these activities, subject to certain conditions”.

However, OFAC has noted, “Donations of food, clothing, and medicine, when intended to be used to relieve human suffering, are exempt from the sanctions on trade between the United States and Iran, as long as the donations are not being sent to the Government of Iran or any Iranian individual or entity on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List)”.

Finally, OFAC states, “Subject to certain requirements, OFAC authorizes U.S. financial institutions to process noncommercial, personal remittances to Iran, which may include a personal transfer of funds from the United States to Iran to assist a friend or family member.

Further information on Iran-related sanctions administered by OFAC, including specific guidance and FAQs, can be found here: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/iran.aspx.”

The preliminary magnitude 7.3 quake, with its epicenter located about 19 miles south of Halabjah, Iraq, recorded at 9:18 p.m. (local time GMT+3:30) on Sunday, was felt as far away as Turkey and Pakistan.

The earthquake has been described as the world’s largest in current year.

In a statement on Monday, US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “The United States expresses its sincere condolences to all of those affected by the earthquake in Iran and Iraq.”

“We keep the families of those who were killed, and injured, in our thoughts as well as the communities that have suffered damage to homes and property,” she added.

Earlier, in late August Iran had voiced solidarity with the storm-stricken Americans as well as the families of the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and claimed over forty lives.

U.S. severed its diplomatic relations with Iran after 52 of its embassy staff were taken hostage in 1979 in Tehran.

Why Iran Quietly Abolished Death Penalty For Some Drug Crimes

Critics say the extensive use of the death penalty -- including frequent mass hangings that the public is encouraged to attend -- has done little to stop drug use and trafficking in Iran.

Iran has some of the toughest antidrug laws in the world, with authorities handing out the death sentence to offenders trafficking or possessing as little as 30 grams of hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.

So it was a major turnaround when the parliament and the Guardians Council, the powerful clerical body that must approve all proposed legislation, abolished the death penalty for some drug-related crimes.

The amendments to the law, which came into effect on November 14, increase the threshold for the use of the death penalty. Capital punishment is reserved for those charged with trafficking 2 kilograms of hard drugs or more than 50 kilograms of cannabis or opium. The death sentence still applies for repeat offenders and lethal drug-related offences.

The changes to the decades-old laws -- expected to curb the number of executions in the Islamic republic, which has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world -- have been driven by both international and domestic factors.

Read the full article

Iranian Currency Reaches New Lows As Inflation Remains High

A money changer poses for the camera with a U.S dollar (R) and the amount being given when converting it into Iranian rials (L), at a currency exchange shop at Tehran's business district. File photo

The value of the Iranian rial has again dropped in recent days, reaching a new record low for the national currency. On November 13, one U.S. dollar was exchanged at 41,100 rials, indicating an increase of more than 500 rials in just under two weeks.

The euro showed a similar trend reaching 48,900 rials, jumping more than 1,000 rials compared with the beginning of November.

One of the main reasons for rial’s downward spiral is the continuous high inflation rate. According to Iran's central bank, the inflation rate has hovered close to 10 percent for the past six months, more than three times the current global average.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected Iran would not experience a positive change in this regard anytime soon. Based on the recent IMF report, Iran's inflation rate in 2017 will be 10.5 percent and 10.1 percent by the end of 2018.

Inflation being a structural problem, there are also other factors in play.

The recent decision by the central bank to lower interest rates for long- and short-term deposits from more than 20 percent to 15 percent. Following that decision, Iranian media have reported that people are less inclined to deposit their money in banks. Under such circumstances, buying foreign currencies seems a safer investment, which also pushes the exchange rate higher.

At the same time, it is possible the Iranian government wants to see the currency rate rise to certain levels in order to fill its budget deficit. In a country where the state controls major parts of the economy, the government is the main source of foreign currencies for the market.

10000 Rials Bank note used just before the Islamic revolution in Iran. It was valued at around $150.
10000 Rials Bank note used just before the Islamic revolution in Iran. It was valued at around $150.

Iran -- 10000 Rials Bank note which is used since 90'sin Iran. Its value is now 25 cents.
Iran -- 10000 Rials Bank note which is used since 90'sin Iran. Its value is now 25 cents.

Currently, foreign currencies are traded at two different rates: one a free market rate, which was at around 41,100 rials to the dollar as of November 13, and an official rate offered to some by the government for subsidized transactions such as vital imports, set by the central bank at 35,249 rials. The two-rate system has resulted in widespread corruption. By manipulating regulations or through their ties to bank officials, some receive foreign currencies at the government’s preferred rate and sell it on the free market for a considerable profit.

The Iranian government has long spoken of its plan to eliminate the two-tier system, but it has hesitated because of fears of uncontrolled negative consequences, such as skyrocketing prices of goods and services. It is possible that higher currency rates are a sign of a one-rate system being implemented in the near future.

While the devaluation of the rial can be a short-term solution for the budget deficit and encourage more exports by domestic producers, the Iranian government cannot continue devaluating the currency indefinitely. Rather, it needs to implement some vital reforms in the budget structure and financial system.

Currently, there are many institutions that swallow a big chunk of the country's financial resources without having a transparent record, including religious and military institutions mostly controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

If President Hassan Rouhani wants to make Iran's economy stable, he needs to address this issue first and make institutions transparent and accountable without delay.

Hardline Newspaper Kayhan Blasts Government For Brief Shutdown

Hossein Shariatmadari is the managing editor of Kayhan, a conservative Iranian newspaper.

After a two-day suspension last week of his hardline conservative newspaper Kayhan, Managing Editor Hossein Shariatmadari said the ban was politically motivated.

In an interview with Fars, a news agency run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Shariatmadari, himself an IRGC member and appointed to his editorial post by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissed the suspension of the daily newspaper as unlawful.

Earlier, the government’s official news agency, IRNA, had reported that Tehran’s prosecutor-general’s office had said Kayhan’s headlines were against Iranian policy on security and regional matters and, as a punishment, it would be banned from publishing for two days.

In a controversial banner headline on November 6, Kayhan had applauded “Ansar-Allah’s Missile Fired at Riyadh; the Next Target, Dubai.”

The headline referred to a missile fired on November 4 by Houthi rebels in Yemen, targeting Riyadh’s airport. However, the missile was intercepted and brought down by Saudi Arabia’s missile shield.

Reacting to the headline, Ala’uddin Zohourian, secretary to the press supervisory board affiliated with the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, said the headline was against national security and that the daily had been given notice.

Nevertheless, Kayhan stood firm on November 7, saying it was in Iran's national interests to defend the Yemeni people rather than "Dubai’s skyscrapers."

Now after the suspension ended, Shariatmadari has once again defended his daily’s approach, maintaining the real reason behind the suspension was not the controversial headline but rather the newspaper’s revelations about mismanagement by Rouhani’s government.

“The government lacks sufficient capability and expertise to recognize national interests,” Fars cited Shariatmadari as saying. “The government has indeed harmed the country in many ways during the past four years.”

Elaborating further, Shariatmadari presented a long list of damages he says Rouhani’s administration has incurred on Iran and Iranians during his presidency. Referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, as a disaster, he also listed cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, and the UNESCO 2030 document as “devastating” results of the incumbent’s performance.

Shariatmadari said it was also devastating when, in the middle of heated arguments and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear case, the government declared that Iran’s national treasury had run out of funds. “It was also damaging that [Rouhani’s government] created the illusion that the U.S. was capable of demolishing Iran’s military facilities by dropping only a single nuclear bomb,” he said.

Kayhan daily newspaper front page headline saying, “Ansarallah’s missile launch against Riyadh, Dubai next target”.
Kayhan daily newspaper front page headline saying, “Ansarallah’s missile launch against Riyadh, Dubai next target”.

Accusing the government of mismanagement of the economy, Shariatmadari noted, “The government’s destructive policies led to many factories and manufacturing units shutting down. The officials were paid astronomical sums of cash as salary and bonuses.”

Shariatmadari also cited Rouhani’s government repeatedly targeting the IRGC missile program as further evidence that Iran’s current executive organ is incapable of discerning national interests.

Kayhan (meaning Cosmos in Persian) was established in 1943 while Iran was occupied by allied forces during World War II. It went on to become one of the region’s most popular dailies. In the months leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, its circulation reached 1 million.

Though there are no dependable statistics in Iran, it is believed Kayhan’s circulation has dropped over the past decades and is currently estimated to be 30,000 to 35,000 copies a day. However, many believe most of Kayhan’s readers are either state-run entities forced to subscribe or people interested in reading obituaries.

Shariatmadari carries the title of ayatollah Khamenei’s representative and is known to be close to the Supreme Leader.

Many have gone further, saying that what appears in Kayhan is a reflection of Khamenei’s opinions, and that it was Kayhan that laid the groundwork for Khamenei to order an annulment of UNESCO 2030, a document for developing education all over the world.

Kayhan, under Shariatmadari, has long been described as the main mouthpiece for Khamenei and his hard-liner and ultraconservative allies, who wield the real power in Iran, even when they lose elections.

So far, Kayhan has enjoyed a hidden privilege that allows it to target Khamenei’s critics with total impunity.

Neither Khamenei nor Rouhani and his ministers have reacted yet to Kayhan’s recent headline or Shariatmadari’s latest comments on the government’s “disastrous” performance.

Shariatmadari has managed the Kayhan publishing house, which includes the daily newspaper, since 1993.

Earliest Evidence Of Winemaking Found In Georgia - Beating Iran's Record

Grapes collected during a harvest near the village of Vazisubani, Georgia. New research indicates that wine has been made in the country for at least 8,000 years. (file photo)

The world's earliest evidence of grape winemaking has been detected in 8,000-year-old pottery jars unearthed in Georgia, making the tradition almost 1,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said on November 13.

Previously, the oldest chemical evidence of wine in the Near East dated to 5,400-5,000 BC and was from the Zagros Mountains of Iran, said a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a U.S. journal.

The world's very first wine is thought to have been made mostly from rice in China around 9,000 years ago, followed by the grape-based alcohol found in Iran. The find in Georgia dates to about 6,000 BC, the researchers said.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said co-author Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto.

Georgia, using the same Eurasian grape variety, Vitis vinifera, remains a major wine-growing region today.

"The wine was probably made similarly to the traditional qvevri method in Georgia today, where the grapes are crushed and the fruit, stems, and seeds are all fermented together," Batiuk said.

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David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum who helped lead the research, said wines made in Georgia today still use large qvevri jars similar to the ancient ones, which measured 80 centimeters tall and 40 centimeters wide.

The team of researchers hailed from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel, and Georgia. They have been working for the past four years to re-analyze archeological sites that were found decades ago.

The fragments of ceramic casks, some decorated with grape motifs and able to hold up to 300 liters, were found at two archaeological sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora dating from the Neolithic period, about 50 kilometers south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Researchers used a combination of mass spectrometry and chromatography techniques to identify the compounds found in wine in the ancient jar fragments.

Their chemical analysis "confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine," they said in their report.

Wine 'Central' To Western Civilization

Researchers also found three organic acids associated with wine -- malic, succinic and citric -- in the residue from the jars.

"The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia," Batiuk said, adding that the domestication of the grape "eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region."

"Alcohol had an important role in societies in the past just as today," he said. "Wine is central to civilization as we know it in the West."

"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies, and society in the ancient Near East," he said.

But the study's lead author, Patrick McGovern, a scientific director at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia who also co-authored the 1996 Nature study that placed the earliest evidence for grape wine in Iran, said the search for the truly oldest wine artifacts will continue.

"Other sites in the South Caucasus in Armenia and Azerbaijan might eventually produce even earlier evidence for viniculture than Georgia," McGovern said.

"The Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey are also a prime candidate for further exploration with its monumental sites at Gobekli Tepe and Nevali Cori at the headwaters of the Tigris River," dating as far back as 9,500 BC, he said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

As Syria Peace Talks Loom, Israel Warns It Will Act To Keep Iran Away From Border

Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Naser al-Hariri and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend a round of negotiation, during the Intra Syria talks, in Geneva, May 16, 2017

Saudi Arabia is set to host what it has called an “expanded” conference for the Syrian opposition this month, aiming to unify its position ahead of United Nations-backed peace talks, the state news agency SPA reported on Monday, November 13.

Apparently, Riyadh has already gained Moscow’s support for holding the three-day conference on 22-24 November, in Riyadh.

Earlier on November 8, the Russian foreign ministry had announced that Moscow supports Saudi Riyadh’s efforts to form a unified delegation from the Syrian opposition to participate in the Geneva talks, the Russian news agency, TASS reported.

Saudi Arabia backs a grouping of anti-Assad figures called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) led by Riyad Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister under Assad, Reuters reported on Monday.

The HNC has represented the Syrian opposition at previous Geneva talks. A number of other political opposition groups and figures backed by other countries including Russia and Egypt also exist.

The kingdom, a leading backer of Syrian rebels, supports an international agreement on the future of Syria but insists that President Bashar al-Assad should have no role in any transition to bring the war there to an end.

However, several rounds of U.N. talks in Geneva between the Damascus government and the opposition have made little progress, so far.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on Monday that Israel would take military action in Syria whenever it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.

Israel has long accused the Islamic Republic, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria's civil war to send its Islamic Revolution Guard Corps forces and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah into southern Syria, close to the border with the Jewish state.

While it has sought to avoid being dragged into the fighting in Syria, Israel has carried out dozens of air strikes aimed at what it has called “preventing arms deliveries [from Iran] to Lebanese Hezbollah, which fights alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces”.

Israel was reportedly demanding a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some fifty kilometers (thirty miles), but an agreement reached last week between the United States, Russia and Jordan fell short of that demand, Israeli media said.

"I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria -- including in southern Syria -- according to our understanding and according to our security needs," Netanyahu told senior members of his Likud party, according to a party statement. "This is what is happening, and this is what will continue to happen", Netanyahu cautioned.

The November 8 agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia seeks to build on a ceasefire already in place in southwestern Syria.

On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights, AFP reported.

"We will not allow the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria" as a base for operations against Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement after the incident.

Later Monday, Netanyahu echoed his defense minister’s position, while insisting that some of Israel's “moderate’ Arab neighbors shared its concerns.

"We stand side by side with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, confronting radical Islam, no matter where it comes from, be it Iran, the Islamic State group or elsewhere," he asserted, without naming the countries.

"I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace," he added.

"Iran knows very well, and everyone else should be aware, that we shall not agree to nor accept its military deployment in Syria," Netanyahu noted.

Based on reporting by Reuters and DPA

Powerful Earthquake Wrecks Havoc In Western Iran -- Photogallary

Labor Activist Returned to Prison Amid Health Concerns

Mahmoud Salehi , labor activist, in chains while in hospital.

Imprisoned labor rights’ activist Mahmoud Salehi was transferred to the central prison in the city of Saqqez on November 11 despite doctors’ saying his health is too fragile.

Salehi’s wife, Najiba, who acts as the spokeswoman for the committee petitioning for his freedom, has accused Iran’s justice department and Intelligence Ministry of “joining hands to do their best to stop granting Salehi medical furlough.”

Security agents arrested Salehi on October 29 to commence his one-year prison sentence but five days later he was taken to the hospital in Saqqez for heart failure.

Meanwhile, Salehi’s family, citing local cardiologists, say the labor activist needs an advanced medical facility and should be transferred to a better-equipped hospital in Tabriz, Tehran, or Urmia.

Salehi’s son, Sarmand, had earlier told Radio Farda that his 45-year-old father has had two previous heart operations this year.

Salehi is a baker from the city of Saqqez in Kurdestan Province. He is one of the founders of the Coordinating Committee of Labor Organization and has been arrested several times for allegedly organizing strikes and launching labor rights movements.

“My father lost his kidneys during the last detention in 2015, but now we are really worried for his life,” Sarmand told the Iran Human Rights Monitor.

Iranian officials have not yet responded to the allegation.

Reportedly, Salehi was watched by three prison guards who had shackled and handcuffed him as he was bedbound in the hospital.

Salehi, who suffers from diabetes and lost his kidneys while imprisoned at the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the city of Sanandaj, regularly needs dialysis.

Seven Iranian labor associations have joined international human rights institutions in condemning the humiliating treatment. In a joint statement, they called upon the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the labor activist.

“The topmost executive and judiciary authorities will be responsible for any possible harm to Salehi’s health,” they said.

Meanwhile, 536 Iranian labor, teachers, and social activists signed a statement protesting what they call “inhuman behavior.”

Pictures of Salehi and another prisoner of conscience, Mohammad Nazari, handcuffed and shackled on their hospital beds triggered a widespread wave of criticism on social media.

“It is regrettable that Iranian officials, instead of immediately releasing Salehi and Nazari, have treated them as criminals, persecuting, humiliating, and tying them to their beds,” AI’s researcher for Iran-related cases, Raha Bahreini, told Radio Farda.

In a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General-Secretary Sharan Burrow also voiced her deep concern over Salehi’s deteriorating health.

“Salehi should not be returned to prison and all charges against him must be canceled,” she wrote.

In an interview with Radio Farda, ITUC Iranian consultant Mehdi Kouhestaninejad insisted Salehi’s case is being watched closely.

Referring to the pictures of Salehi in his hospital bed, Kouhestaninejad criticized what he branded as Iran’s “boundless cruelty” toward labor activists.

“Despite the ruling system’s constant attempts to scare off workers and labor activists from demanding their absolute rights, we have recently witnessed a significant increase in the number of labor protest rallies,” he said.

Kouhestaninejad said the number of attempts to launch independent and nongovernmental labor unions in Iran has also increased in recent months, which, by itself, shows that Iran has failed in its systematic efforts to scare off workers.

Iran’s government has apparently decided to avoid commenting on the recent labor developments so far.

Bankruptcy of ‘Illegal’ Banks Leads To Protests In Iran

Protesters in front of a Caspian bank branch demand their deposits.

Iran is facing a wave of protests by customers of several bankrupt credit institutions who have lost their savings. Angry protesters gather in front of government buildings almost on daily basis demanding action against what they believe is large scale fraud and asking for redress.

The crisis has its roots particularly in the expansion of the so-called cooperatives which have been functioning as mini banks, without following standard rules and regulations for many years.

Cooperatives are a simple concept but their banking activities have enormous consequences.

Here is how it works. Several persons create a small association, called Ta’avoni or cooperative to support each other. The Ta’avoni, which can rely on government subsidies, uses the capital invested by its members to engage in business activities, construct or buy houses, or even provide financial services.

The original law on cooperatives was passed in 1971; however the institutions first started to flourish in the 1990s when the government encouraged their creation as part of its effort to privatize the economy.

Over the years, their number climbed to more than 7,000 and their financial activities expanded beyond the original purpose, overlapping with those of conventional banks.

They started to invest in a wide range of fields, pay interest for deposits and provide loans to their customers. Some of them were able to attract hundreds of thousands of depositors by promising much higher interest rates than regular banks.

Usually such activities need permission from Iran’s Central Bank. But experts say that the cooperatives did not seek such permission and their role in banking has been tolerated.

During the era of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the central bank was “nice” to cooperatives, Tahmasb Mazaheri, the former head of Iran's Central Bank stated recently in an interview, referring to the fact that the cooperatives were able to operate in a gray area. However when several of them became bankrupt, the government started to label them as illegal.

Victims of financial institutions during a protest in Tehran. The child hold a placard saying, "Where is my daddy's car".
Victims of financial institutions during a protest in Tehran. The child hold a placard saying, "Where is my daddy's car".

For a long time, Iran’s Ministry of Cooperatives --without having enough qualification in the banking field-- was in charge of issuing permits for credit institutions. Some of them even did not seek any permit. Their work was tolerated, nevertheless.

For the first time in 2007 a law was passed by the Iranian parliament bringing the activities of all financial institutions under the supervision of the Central Bank. But even the Central Bank was too sloppy in regulating them as the authorities now admit.

Lack of proper supervision led to widespread corruption in the cooperatives. The main shareholders were able to use the capital of their institutions for personal gain, buying property end luxury cars for themselves and their relatives.

In 2013, approximately 25% of the cash flow in the country’s financial market was handled by such institutions which were not under the supervision of the central bank, Valiollah Seif, the current president of Iran’s Central Bank announced in July. Since then, he added, the number has dropped to 8%.

In August Seif promised that all “illegal” financial cooperatives will be shut down by the end of the current Persian year (March 21, 2018). At the same time, he asked citizens not to be deceived by higher interest rates offered by “unknown” and “illegal” financial institutions.

The warning came too late for many investors who already had lost their savings.Judicial officials now blame the depositors for their loss and say the government is not responsible. But the fact is that credit institutions were allowed to operate outside banking rules for more than two decades. State media ran their commercials at prime time and the executive or the judiciary branches did not warn people to be wary.

Radio Farda’s economic analyst, Fereydoon Khavand, says that if there was transparency in Iran and the government did its job properly, then depositors could be fully held responsible for the risks they took. “But this is not the case in Iran. People do not even know which institutions are licensed to operate” as proper banks.

For the same reason many people who lost their money due to investment in the so-called “illegal financial institutions” protest on daily basis in different Iranian cities, chant slogans against the head of Iran’s central bank and demand compensation for their loss.

Reuters - US Signals Caution To Saudis Despite Shared Concern About Iran

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud welcome U.S. President Donald Trump during a reception ceremony in Riyadh.

WASHINGTON, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Despite President Donald Trump's full-throated support for Saudi Arabia, the United States appears to be signaling a desire for Riyadh to take a more cautious approach in its regional power struggle with Iran, experts say.

The Trump administration, which shares Saudi Arabia's view of Iran as a regional menace, has strongly backed the Kingdom in the wake of a failed missile attack from Iran-aligned forces in Yemeni territory that demonstrated an ability to strike the Saudi capital.

Trump has cultivated much warmer ties with the Saudis after a fraught relationship with the Obama administration - the president made Riyadh his first stop on his maiden international trip - and has vowed to take strong action to confront Iran.

Nevertheless, Washington, which has U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, is telegraphing a more tempered stance toward the confrontation in a region beset with turmoil.

On Thursday, the State Department called for "unimpeded access" for humanitarian aid to Yemen, after Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on the country to stem the flow of arms to Iran-aligned Houthi fighters.

A day later, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear he still recognized as Lebanon's prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who unexpectedly announced his resignation on Nov. 4 from Riyadh.

In announcing his decision on television, Hariri said he feared assassination and accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world, thrusting Lebanon into the front line of the competition between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran.

Two U.S. officials said the Saudis, led by Crown Prince Mohammed, had "encouraged" Hariri to leave office and Lebanese officials say he is being held in Saudi Arabia, a charge Riyadh denies. Hariri has not commented publicly on whether he is free to come and go as he pleases.

In a statement on Saturday, the White House said it "rejects any efforts by militias within Lebanon or by any foreign forces to threaten Lebanon's stability...or use Lebanon as a base from which to threaten others in the region."

When asked to comment on whether the United States was pushing for a more cautious Saudi response, both the White House and State Department referred to Saturday's statement on Lebanon.

Tillerson was "not going along with the Saudi position in describing the Lebanese state as under capture by Hezbollah,” said Paul Salem, the senior vice president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.

"That’s significant." Tillerson was also "signaling to the Israelis ... that now is not the time to go after Lebanon," said Salem, referring to long-standing Israeli concerns about Hezbollah's growing military prowess.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believed the Trump administration was still seeking to help the Saudis advance their interests against Iran without destabilizing the region.

"This is a delicate balancing act. It involves supporting allies in a policy that the administration agrees with, while trying to mitigate aspects of it that it (sees as) overstated," Takeyh said.

Tillerson's statement also urged "all parties both within Lebanon and outside" to respect Lebanon's independence and said there was no role for any foreign forces.

The United States regularly criticizes Iran and Hezbollah for their role in Lebanon. Tillerson's backing of Hariri and the Lebanese government contrasted sharply with the approach taken by Saudi Arabia, which has lumped Lebanon with Hezbollah as parties hostile to it.

"I see Rex Tillerson as being an old fashioned American diplomat and old fashioned American diplomacy in the Middle East is all about stability," said F. Gregory Gause, chairman of the International Affairs Department at Texas A&M University."I'm not entirely sure that that is the position of the chief executive of the United States," Gause added.

CONCERNS WITH SAUDI PURGE

The Saudi actions coincide with an anti-corruption purge by the country's future king that tightened his grip on power.

Trump tweeted on Monday that he had "great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia" following the mass arrests - the biggest such purge of the kingdom's affluent elite in its modern history. Trump also tweeted that "they know exactly what they are doing."

Former and current U.S. officials with deep knowledge of Saudi Arabia say Trump's enthusiastic support for Prince Mohammed has emboldened the youthful Saudi leader.

Tillerson told reporters the purge appeared "well intended" but the mass arrests, which have swept up officials long known in Washington, also fueled U.S. concerns. "It raises a few concerns until we see more clearly how these particular individuals are dealt with," Tillerson added.

Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser, who has cultivated a close relationship with Prince Mohammed, recently returned from Saudi Arabia, fueling speculation on whether he may have had wind of the Crown Prince's plans. A senior administration official said they had no advance knowledge.

'We Have No Problem with Lawful Protest Rallies' – Tehran’s Governor

Tehran's governor and former Interior Ministry official, Mohammad Hossein Moghimi, undated.

During Hassan Rouhani’s presidency licensed political, electoral or protest rallies have never been confronted by force, Tehran’s Governor-General has maintained.

Mohammad Moghimi, who before being appointed as governor was a senior staffer at the Interior Ministry, has described his comment as “important”.

In an interview with state run Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, Moghimi has also claimed, “In last May’s presidential election, hundreds of speeches were delivered but we had no problem at all and none of the participants or organizers of the gatherings” were subjected to any harsh treatment.

The Interior Ministry, however, usually rejects requests by independent entities, syndicates and unions for holding rallies. Practically, licenses for any sort of assembly are issued only for the institutions affiliated to the regime.

Moghimi also argued, “The reason behind holding rallies without any clashes was the fact that police and security forces behaved properly, while the organizers and participants at the assemblies complied with law and regulations”.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s governor has insisted that protest rallies in front of parliament have never led to any security problems.

Admitting that restrictions have recently been imposed for holding rallies in front of the parliament, Moghimi has said, “The restrictions were imposed after IS attacks. Nevertheless, as a security measure, we are going to find a location nearby exclusively for holding legal and licensed protest rallies”.

However, reports on protest rallies contradict Tehran’s governor.

Last September it was reported that security agents and police forces, riding motorbikes stormed into a peaceful protest rally at two industrial units in Arak. Dozens of participants in the rally, protesting unpaid salaries, were wounded and taken to hospitals.

Police and security agent’s reaction to the peaceful assembly was so heavy handed that members of parliament to write two separate letters to Moghimi’s boss, Minister of Interior and condemn the police brutality.

Furthermore, the deputy speaker of parliament, Ali Motahari, insisted on September 24, “Not only worker have a right to protest, but everyone, provided they are unarmed and not violating Islamic rules. No one should confront such protests.”

Article 27 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution explicitly provides for freedom of assembly, "provided arms are not carried" and the assemblies "are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam".

Nonetheless, instances of police and security forces clashing with peaceful protest rallies have significantly increased in recent months.

Moreover, many workers, teachers and human rights activists have arbitrarily been placed behind bars, in some cases even without being charged.

US Air Force Official: Missile Targeting Saudis Was Iranian

A TV garb shows Yemeni Burkan 1 missile. Undated.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital and remnants of it bore "Iranian markings," the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday, backing the kingdom's earlier allegations.

The comments by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force's Central Command in Qatar, further internationalizes the yearslong conflict in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.

Riyadh quickly backed up Harrigian's allegations in a statement to The Associated Press.

"There have been Iranian markings on those missiles," Harrigian told journalists at a news conference in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Air Show. "To me, that connects the dots to Iran." There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.

Saudi Arabia says it shot down the missile Nov. 4 near Riyadh's international airport, the deepest yet to reach into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry later said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving "the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them."

It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch.

French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the missile as "obviously" Iranian.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday that the July launch involved an Iranian Qiam-1, a liquid-fueled, short-range Scud missile variant.

A picture released by Iranin Defence Ministry on August 20, 2010 shows the test firing at an undisclosed location in Iran of a surface-to-surface Qiam missile, entirely designed and built domestically and powered by liquid fuel.
A picture released by Iranin Defence Ministry on August 20, 2010 shows the test firing at an undisclosed location in Iran of a surface-to-surface Qiam missile, entirely designed and built domestically and powered by liquid fuel.

Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted Islamic State group militants in Syria over twin militant attacks in Tehran.

Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile U.S. officials believed it was, nor did he show any images of the debris. He also didn't explain how Iran evaded the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, which intensified after the missile targeting Riyadh.

"How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time," the lieutenant general said. "What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from."

The Houthis have described using Burkan-2 or "Volcano" Scud variants in their recent attacks, including the one Nov. 4.

PrintInfographic - Iran's missiles
PrintInfographic - Iran's missiles

Those missiles are reminiscent of the Qiam, wrote Jeremy Binnie of Jane's Defense Weekly in a February analysis. "The Burkan-2 is likely to heighten suspicions that Iran is helping Yemen's rebel forces to develop their ballistic missile capabilities," Binnie wrote.

Adding to that suspicion is the fact that Yemen's missile forces previously never had experience in disassembling and rebuilding the weapons, said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy who previously worked in Yemen.

It is "not a stretch to believe that Tehran is supporting the Houthi missile program with technical advice and specialized components," Knights wrote in an analysis Thursday. "After all, the Houthis have rapidly fielded three major new missile systems in less than two years while under wartime conditions and international blockade."

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information later contacted the AP and sent military briefing papers alleging Iran smuggled weapons into Yemen by boat and truck.

"The parts are later assembled under supervision of Iranian military experts, who also help the Houthi militia plan attacks targeting Saudi civilians," the ministry said in a statement to the AP. "Smuggled Iranian Qiam or Zelzal warheads are mounted onto Yemeni-made Burkan ballistic missiles."

The U.S. already is involved in the war in Yemen and has launched drone strikes targeting the local branch of al-Qaida, though it stopped offering targeting information under the Obama administration over concerns about civilian casualties.

That prohibition continues today, though the Air Force continues to refuel warplanes in the Yemen theater and offers support in managing airspace over the country, Harrigian said. The Saudi-led coalition also uses American-made bombs and ordinance in its attacks.

The U.S. has come under attack once amid the Yemen war. In October 2016, the U.S. Navy said the USS Mason came under fire from two missiles launched out of Yemen. Neither reached the warship, though the U.S. retaliated with a Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen's Red Sea coast.

At the time, authorities said the missiles used in that attack were Silkworm missile variants, a type of coastal defense cruise missile that Iran has been known to use.

When the Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014, their allied fighters also took control of the country's ballistic missile stockpile. The Yemeni military was widely believed to possess around 300 Scud missiles at the time, though exact figures remain unknown.

The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015 on the side of Yemen's internationally recognized government. It then attacked Sanaa's ballistic missile base in April 2015, touching off massive explosions that killed several dozen people.

Saudi Arabia implied at the time that the Scud arsenal in Yemen had been seriously degraded, if not entirely destroyed, as a result of the airstrikes.

But by June 2015, the rebels fired their first ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia near the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait. In the time since, Yemen's rebels have fired over 70 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' missile defense project.

For its part, Iran long has denied offering any arms to Yemen, though it has backed the Houthis and highlighted the high civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition's campaign of airstrikes. But others in Iran have been coy about the ballistic missiles in Yemen.

Mehdi Taeb, an influential hard-line cleric who is a brother to the intelligence chief of the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said in April that Iran tried three times to send missiles to Yemen. The Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees Iran's missile program.

The cleric said ultimately the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the transfers stopped over negotiations on the nuclear deal with world powers, without offering a specific time for the attempted shipments. "They said come back because the Americans said, 'If you send missiles to Yemen, we will end the negotiations,'" Taeb said.

Opposition Figure Says Regime Won’t Even ‘Acknowledge’ Her

Zahra Rahnavard, wife of Iran's presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi. UNDATED

A prominent political figure protesting the results of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Zahra Rahnavard, has bitterly criticized being ignored by the secretary of the Supreme Security Council of Iran (SSCI).

SSCI head Ali Shamkhani recently said that the term “under house arrest” didn’t apply to the “gentlemen” who protested Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009.

After being under house arrest for nearly seven years, Rahnavard told her daughters, “They don’t even bother to admit they have chained up a woman for seven years.”

While meeting with her two daughters on November 7, Rahnavard was responding to Shamkhani’s recent comments, a website close to the Iran Green Movement, Kalemeh, reported.

Ten days earlier, Shamkhani had cautioned, “It is not correct to use the term ‘under house arrest’ for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.”

Though Shamkhani was trying to dismiss the fact that Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrest but he did not acknowledge that Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, has also been confined with her husband since February 2011.

Rahnavard’s daughters cited her as saying, “We did not expect Shamkhani to make such a comment. The ‘gentlemen’ have chained up a woman for seven years and, depriving her of university, art, and social activities, kept her under ruthless house arrest but do not bother to even acknowledge it.”

Rahnavard, who meets weekly with her daughters, insisted she has no demands.

However, on November 8, Kalemeh cited Karroubi’s son, Mohammad Hossein, as saying he had witnessed a “breakthrough” in his father’s case but not in that of the Mousavis.

Karroubi, the former speaker of the Iranian Parliament, has recently been allowed to receive more visitors. His fragile health has raised serious concerns, and several analysts argue that is the main reason behind relaxing restrictions against him.

The legality of keeping the trio under house arrest has in recent years been a bone of contention between President Hassan Rouhani’s administration and the judiciary.

Karroubi and Mousavi were Ahmadinejad’s main challengers in the 2009 presidential election. Ahmadinejad was officially declared the winner, but the challengers protested the outcome, calling it an engineered result.

Their protest led to more than five months of demonstrations and was met with a harsh crackdown that left several killed and hundreds imprisoned.

Later, in February 2011, the Mousavis and Karroubi were confined to their houses after they called for street demonstrations in solidarity with the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements in Egypt and Tunisia.

NGOs Urge UN To Support Human Rights In Iran

In a letter addressed to the United Nations, 34 nongovernmental organizations from around the world have urged General Assembly member states to actively support human rights in Iran, pressure it to stop persecuting its own citizens, and end the pattern of abuse and non-cooperation.

Specifically, the NGOs urged the assembly to support a resolution that will keep Iran’s human rights record under scrutiny, according to Amnesty International official Raha Bahreini.

“The human rights situation has regretfully shown no improvement during the past year,” she told Radio Farda’s Roya Karimi Majd in an interview. “The letter specifically refers to the high number of executions, widespread discrimination against women and minorities, and arbitrary detentions, as well as the fact that Iran still refuses to issue visas for UN special rapporteurs to assess the situation.”

Speaking of the tangible impact of human rights resolutions on Iran, Bahreini explained, “Though such resolutions are legally nonbinding, Iranian officials can feel ashamed at international forums. That’s why they are heavily invested in convincing the UN that the human rights situation in Iran should not be a case for concern.”

Amnesty International official, Raha Bahreini
Amnesty International official, Raha Bahreini

Meanwhile, the NGOs’ letter, dated November 7, says, “By voting in favor of this resolution, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the Iranian authorities that the international community looks to see genuine human rights improvements in the country in line with Iran’s treaty obligations and voluntary pledges.”

The letter also insists that Iran’s human rights record has shown no improvement during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency. “By the end of Hassan Rouhani’s first term as president, expectations that his government would enact human rights reforms have not yet materialized,” it continues. “Hassan Rouhani’s recent re-election now reinforces the Iranian authorities’ responsibility to deliver on his electoral promises and take action on long-awaited human rights reforms.”

Referring to cases of human rights violation, the letter notes, “The Iranian authorities have also continued to arbitrarily detain hundreds of human rights defenders including minority activists, environmental rights activists, trade unionists, as well as journalists, political figures, online media workers for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion or belief.”

The NGOs also averred that the high number of executions in Iran is a matter of concern, saying, “Indeed, Iran remains among the top executioners in the world and has executed at least 440 people since the start of 2017.”

Furthermore, it has highlighted the fact that “in the past year, Iran has failed to seize opportunities to cooperate meaningfully with UN human rights mechanisms in order to address these challenges. The country has continued to deny independent monitoring from key human rights experts.”

Insisting on the necessity of passing the resolution to keep Iran’s human rights record under UN supervision, the signatories reiterate, “By voting in favor of this resolution, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the Iranian authorities that the international community looks to see genuine human rights improvements in the country in line with Iran’s treaty obligations and voluntary pledges.”

Imprisoned Labor Activist’s Family Worried For His Life

Mahmoud Salehi a labor activist, who has been suffering from kidney and heart problems, is shackled in a hospital bed.

While imprisoned labor activist Mahmoud Salehi, who is suffering from serious kidney and heart problems, was first taken to the prison’s clinic and then to Imam Khomeini’s hospital in Saqqez, where he is still in intensive care, his family has voiced concerns over his health.

“The doctors have insisted Salehi should be transferred to a better-equipped hospital in Tehran, Urmia, or Tabriz to continue the treatment,” his family maintained. “Nevertheless, the prison officials have not yet responded to our demands for transferring him.”

Salehi’s son, Sarmand, had previously told Radio Farda that his father had already had two heart operations this year.

Moreover, his kidneys need dialysis every second week.

Salehi has explicitly declared on Facebook that he developed serious kidney problems in 2015 while being incarcerated. “While being behind bars at the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the city of Sanandaj, I lost my kidneys after being deprived of medical treatment, and I received my medicine with much delay,” he said.

On Wednesday November 9, Iranian judicial and intelligence officials rejected the family's request to transfer him to a better hospital in Tehran.

Radio Farda's labor issues reporter, Roozbeh Bolhari says that Iranian intelligence and some judiciary officials seem to have a special sensitivity toward Mr. Salehi.

Meanwhile, media photos show Salehi handcuffed and shackled to a hospital bed, while three security officers watch over him.

Pictures of Salehi and another prisoner of conscience, Mohammad Nazari, handcuffed and shackled on their hospital beds triggered a widespread wave of criticism on social media.

International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also condemned the move as unacceptable.

“It is regrettable that Iranian officials, instead of immediately releasing Mahmoud Salehi and Mohammad Nazari, have treated them as criminals, persecuting, humiliating, and tying them to their beds,” AI’s researcher for Iran-related cases, Raha Bahreini, told Radio Farda.

International law allows the use of tools such as fetters and handcuffs only for prisoners who are at risk of harming themselves or attacking others and trying to escape, AI reiterated.

Furthermore, using chains and shackles that humiliate prisoners’ dignity and cause pain is unlawful under any circumstances.

Referring to its investigation and research, AI announced that Iran’s judiciary and prison officials repeatedly violate international law and insist on shackling and handcuffing political prisoners whenever they are taken to hospital.

“As a rule, such behavior is aimed to humiliate, persecute, punish, and bring extra pain upon prisoners and, in many cases, has delayed or disturbed their medical treatment,” AI noted.

Meanwhile, the chairman of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has also protested the violations of labor prisoners’ rights.

In a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ITUC General-Secretary Sharan Burrow voiced her deep concern over Salehi’s deteriorating health.

“Salehi should not be returned to prison and all charges against him must be canceled,” she wrote.

Salehi, 45, is a baker from the city of Saqqez in Kurdestan. He is one of the founders of the Coordinating Committee of Labor Organization and has been arrested several times for allegedly organizing strikes and launching labor rights movements.

“My father lost his kidneys during the last detention in 2015, but now we are really worried for his life,” his son, Sarmand, told the Iran Human Rights Monitor.

Reuters-Iran's Revolutionary Guards Arrest More Dual Nationals

The families of two British-Iranian dual-nationals jailed in Iran are calling on the UK government to do more to secure their release. From Right: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, left, and Kamal Foroughi.

(Reuters) EXCLUSIVE- Iran's Revolutionary Guards have arrested at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges, according to lawyers, diplomats and relatives, twice as many as earlier reported by local or international media.

The number marks a sharp rise since 2015, when an international nuclear deal raised hopes of detente with the West. In the years before that the number of dual nationals detained at any given time was in single figures.

It also points up a new trend as a majority of those arrested since then, 19 out of the 30, have citizenship in Europe. Previously most of the detainees were Iranian Americans.

Detainees' relatives and lawyers said the Guards were using them as bargaining chips in international relations and to put off European firms that sought business in Iran after the government agreed the deal with world powers to lift sanctions.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has vast business interests as well as being Iran's most powerful security force and has criticized the government for handing contracts to foreigners.

The Guards did not respond to several requests for comment. The Iranian government referred Reuters to the judiciary, which also did not respond to repeated approaches.

Iranian authorities have previously denied holding detainees for ransom and accuse Western governments of holding Iranians on trumped-up charges.

Relatives of dual nationals detained in Iran, their lawyers and Western diplomats shared information such as name, date of arrest and any charges, on condition neither they nor the detainees were identified, citing fear of repercussions.

Iran does not routinely announce arrests or charges and does not recognize dual nationals, whose rights to consular assistance are enshrined in the U.N. Vienna Convention.

In all cases, the sources said the detainees had not carried out any espionage and were arrested only because of their second citizenship. They explained their willingness to share details be saying they had been kept in the dark by both the Iranian authorities and Western governments.

Several governments argue that maintaining a low profile is in the best interests of the detainees. "This is very much what guides our approach," a UK government source said. Dutch Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Daphne Kerremans said identifying detainees "could get the prisoners into trouble".

BREAKING SILENCE

Some relatives only break their silence once their initial hopes have been dashed.

The wife of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-based Iranian scientist arrested in 2016 after attending a conference in Tehran, decided to speak out in February.

"We were all hopeful that he would be released soon. He was calling us from jail, saying he had not been officially charged. They had told him that he would be released after answering a few questions," Vida Mehrannia said by telephone from Stockholm.

"I made the case public to media after nine months when he was threatened with a death sentence by a prosecutor and went on a hunger strike," she added.

Djalali was sentenced to death in October on espionage charges.

A flyer during a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Brussels for Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian academic detained in Tehran for nearly a year and reportedly sentenced to death for espionage, February 13, 2017
A flyer during a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Brussels for Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian academic detained in Tehran for nearly a year and reportedly sentenced to death for espionage, February 13, 2017

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at the time: “We will point out that this will affect the relationship with the EU, and this in a time when Iran and the EU need to cooperate, not least with the nuclear deal we have with Iran.”

The deal to lift sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program was international, but significant U.S. restrictions remained in place.

Official confirmation of new arrests sometimes emerges indirectly. Records of a session of the European Parliament in June 2017 showed three Dutch-Iranian nationals were in jail in Iran. Only one case has been reported.

Asked about the two unknown cases, Dutch Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kerremans told Reuters the individuals were arrested in November 2012 and January 2016 and said government actions were mostly "aimed at ensuring an honest trial, not demanding release".

"It is very difficult for the Dutch government to lend support since Iran does not recognize the Dutch nationality of the prisoners, and gives little to no information about them," she said.

In January 2016, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the issue of three dual UK-Iran nationals held in Iranian prisons in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, according to a transcript posted on the Downing Street website. Only two of those cases were known to the public at the time.

Iran confirmed on SundayXiyue Wang (right), a U.S. citizen, Baquer and Siamak Namazi (middle) two Iranian-Americans and Nizar Zakka (left) a U.S. resident from Lebanon
Iran confirmed on SundayXiyue Wang (right), a U.S. citizen, Baquer and Siamak Namazi (middle) two Iranian-Americans and Nizar Zakka (left) a U.S. resident from Lebanon

Contacted for comment, a UK foreign ministry spokesman declined to specify how many British-Iranian dual nationals had been arrested. London raised all cases with Iran at every available opportunity, he said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British aid worker employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 while on holiday in Iran and later charged with plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment.

The foundation and her family have repeatedly denied the accusations.

“The only thing that as a family we can do is to point out the injustice of this,” said her husband Richard Ratcliffe.

He and others said this week that Foreign Minister Boris Johnson had made inaccurate comments about her to members of parliament that had been seized on by the Iranian judiciary and used to frame her.

Johnson had said, “she was simply teaching people journalism.” He subsequently said "the UK government has no doubt that she was on holiday in Iran" and that his comments "could have been clearer".

“My point was that I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that I wanted to lend any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity,” he said.

PRISONER EXCHANGE

In 2016, Iran released five U.S. citizens in a prisoner exchange as the nuclear deal was implemented.

One remained behind and six American citizens or permanent residents have been arrested since, their lawyers or relatives have told media, of whom one has been freed on bail.

A U.S. State Department official confirmed three cases, did not comment on two others and mentioned another detainee, Nizar Zakka, saying he was unjustly held and calling for his release without clarifying his U.S. status.

Asked for more details about Zakka and other detained US citizens and legal residents, the official said the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad was a top priority, adding: "Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

In an October 25 letter to the U.N. Secretary General seen by Reuters, Zakka’s lawyer Jason Poblete said his client was a U.S. permanent resident and "is being held as a hostage, as are other innocent persons, to exact political concessions from the United States and other governments", including on sanctions.

For its part, Iran says its nationals are detained unjustly in the West. Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of Iran's Council for Human Rights, part of the judiciary, has said more than 56 Iranians are imprisoned in the United States and an unspecified number in other countries.

“Some of those are detained under baseless charges, including bypassing sanctions,” he was quoted as saying by state media on Sunday.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle declined to comment on Gharibabadi's figure, saying the Justice Department does not track prosecutions by nationality and the U.S. government's Bureau of Prisons does not track how many inmates have Iranian nationality.

He said inmates in U.S. federal prison "are serving sentences handed down by federal judges after thorough due process of law".

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Johan Ahlander in Stockholm and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Interview: CIA Files On Cooperation Between Iran And Al-Qaeda

A grab from a video provided by the CIA titled 'Despotism of Big Money' recovered during the 2011 raid on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, shows Bin Laden speaking.

Bill Roggio a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think-tank in Washington D.C., and a scholar on Global Terrorism says practical relations between Al-Qaeda and Islamic Republic of Iran is still going on.

Bill Roggio along with Thomas Joscelyn another FDD senior fellow were given an advance opportunity to preview the documents, images, and audio and video files recently released by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) relating to Iran, Saudi Arabia, the insurgency in Iraq, al Qaeda leadership, and more.

In an exclusive interview with Nader Sadighi, Radio Farda’s Senior Correspondent in Washington, Mr. Roggio answers questions about various aspects of CIA File on Bin Laden.

Q : Mr. Roggio, in your analysis of the CIA documents you have focused on 19-page piece which is published for the first time and provides details of Iran offering assistance and help to senior Al-Qaeda members such as money, arms and training by Hezbollah members in their camps in exchange for striking US interests in the region and beyond. How credible these claims are?

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Q : The CIA File specifically mentions two individuals, Hamza Bin Laden the son of Osama bin Laden, who wed in Iran and is now being groomed as a leader of al Qaeda, and Mohammad Islambuli brother of Khalid Islambuli assassin of late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt who lived in Iran for much of the post 9/11 period.

How CIA did find all these and particularly in such detail?

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Q: What was the outcome of these collaborations between Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and al-Qaeda and was there any attack against US interests in the region or somewhere.

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Q: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Djavad Zarif had reacted to the CIA File and called it “Fake News”. What would you say in response to Mr. Zarif?

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Q: And finally, do you have any evidence that they are still talking to each other and collaborating?

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The CIA document cache reviewed by Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, FDD scholars includes 6,681 audio files, 10,256 video files, 72,195 images, and 18,367 documents. The files do not include the vast amount of pornography found in the Abbottabad compound, certain copyrighted material, and other files deemed still operationally sensitive.

Dari Or Farsi? Afghanistan's Long-Simmering Language Dispute

The Afghan government is itself divided along ethno-linguistic lines, with President Ashraf Ghani (left) and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah -- who draw support from the Pashtun and ethnic Tajik communities, respectively -- uneasily sharing power.

What to call the Persian language in Afghanistan? It's a question Afghans have grappled with and sparred over for decades.

The long-simmering dispute was reignited after the BBC changed the name of one of its local-language Facebook pages to BBC Dari, prompting a backlash from many Afghan Persian speakers who despise the word officially used to describe their language.

Many Persian speakers in Afghanistan prefer and use the name Farsi, the official language in Iran. They say the term Dari has been forced on them by the dominant Pashtun ethnic group as an attempt to distance Afghans from their cultural, linguistic, and historical ties to the Persian-speaking world, which includes Iran and Tajikistan.

Language has long been a sore point in Afghanistan, where it has exposed unresolved tensions among the country's ethnic and linguistic groups.

Same Language

"Dari is not the Afghan dialect of Farsi," says Partaw Naderi, a prominent Afghan poet and minority-rights activist. "Dari is the name of a language that is also known as Farsi."

Naderi says historical documents prove that the word Dari, along with Parsi, dates as far back as the sixth century, when it was used to describe the Persian language. After the language adopted the Arabic script centuries later, it fell out of use and was replaced by the term Farsi.

Naderi says he prefers to use the word "Farsi-Dari" to describe the Persian language, calling it a solution to the current standoff. Any change would require a constitutional amendment.

Naderi says that while the Persian spoken in Afghanistan and neighboring Iran have distinct accents and variations in vocabulary and usage, the language is the same. There are dozens of regional variations of Persian inside Iran and Afghanistan, Naderi says.

Dari is the lingua franca in Afghanistan, where it is the native tongue of ethnic Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimaqs as well as being spoken by Pashtuns in and around the capital, Kabul. Many educated Afghans are bilingual, speaking both Dari and Pashto, the country's other official language.

Dari is the lingua franca in Afghanistan, where it is the native tongue of ethnic Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimaqs as well as being spoken by Pashtuns in and around the capital, Kabul.
Dari is the lingua franca in Afghanistan, where it is the native tongue of ethnic Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimaqs as well as being spoken by Pashtuns in and around the capital, Kabul.

Continue reading the article

IRGC Says Not Seeking To Pressure The Government

Ramazan Sharif, Head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, Public Relations Office - File photo

The head of public relations for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Ramazan Sharif, has insisted the military elite is helping the government to be more efficient and is not seeking any advantages.

In an interview with the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) on November 7, Sharif outlined the IRGC’s policies on the current situation in Iran and tried to elaborate on its relations with various state institutions.

“From the IRGC’s point of view, helping the government means promoting the ruling system’s efficiency. That’s why the IRGC has never refrained from assisting the government and will never do so in future,” he said.

However, he noted that the IRGC’s assistance depends on what the government requests.

“Some governments, for electoral purposes or their political future, might table matters not related to the IRGC. Nevertheless, the IRGC has always patiently responded to such matters. Regarding assistance to [successive] governments, the IRGC has established principles that are defined according to the supreme leader’s instructions.”

President Hassan Rouhani’s relationship with the IRGC has been rocky in recent months.

In June, Rouhani slammed the IRGC’s role in Iran’s economy, lamenting, “Part of the economy was controlled by an unarmed government, but we surrendered it to a government armed with guns.”

The remarks triggered an outcry among top commanders who accused Rouhani and his administration of weakening the IRGC.

Nevertheless, within two months of Rouhani’s re-election and his private meeting with the IRGC’s leadership, the president’s comments had softened to such an extent that, in response to recent U.S. sanctions imposed on the IRGC, he called it “beloved of the people of Iran.”

The IRGC has also softened its tone.

“The IRGC has never tried to pressure the government to gain any special advantages,” Sharif said. “The IRGC’s tasks are keeping the country safe, neutralizing plots [against Iran], and constructing and developing the country.”

The Iranian people and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei trust the IRGC, he maintained.

Referring to the IRGC’s role and position during elections, Sharif said, “It seems false fears have been created concerning the IRGC’s influence in elections. Is there any doubt about the IRGC defends the Islamic Revolution and that it is dutybound to immediately act against conspiracies during crucial periods like elections?”

“One should not interpret the IRGC’s confrontation with enemy plots as its meddling in elections,” he added.

Political dissidents and opposition groups both in Iran and abroad have long accused the IRGC of engineering elections for its own advantage, particularly in the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections that saw Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s victory.

Critics have also referred to a speech by IRGC Chief-Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as evidence of having engineered the 2009 election. Speaking in 2014, Jafari said the IRGC’s main concern at the time was preventing reformists from returning to power.

Nonetheless, the IRGC has always dismissed such accusations as unfounded. On May 13, the supreme leader’s representative to the IRGC, mid-ranking clergy Ali Saeidi reiterated that the IRGC had never and would never interfere in elections.

However, a day before the comments, semi-official Mehr News Agency reported that during the final presidential debate, IRGC-run news agency Tasnim was busy publishing damaging reports about Rouhani and his first deputy, Eshaq Jahangiri.

AI Slams Iran For Humiliating Two Prisoners Of Conscience

Amnesty International, AI, has slammed the Islamic Republic for shackling and handcuffing two prisoners of conscience who are bedbound in a hospital.

It is regrettable, AI notes, that Iranian officials instead of immediately releasing Mahmoud Salehi and Mohammad Nazari have humiliated them.

According to AI, Salehi and Nazari who needed medical treatment were transferred to a hospital where they have been shackled to their beds.

“It is regrettable that Iranian officials, instead of immediately releasing Mahmoud Salehi and Mohammad Nazari, have treated them as criminals, persecute, humiliate and tying them to their beds”, AI’s researcher for Iran related cases, Raha Bahreini told Radio Farda.

International laws allow using tools such as fetters and handcuffs only for the prisoners who might harm themselves or attack others and try to escape, AI reiterated.

Furthermore, using chains and shackles that humiliate prisoners’ dignity and bring pain upon them is unlawful at any given situation.

Earlier, several prisoners in Iran, while needing medical treatment, had preferred to stay in their cells and avoid putting on prison uniform and being handcuffed.

Referring to its investigation and research, AI has announced that the judiciary and prison officials in the Islamic Republic are constantly violating international laws and insist on shackling and handcuffing political prisoners whenever they are taken to hospital.

“As a rule, such behavior is aimed to humiliate, persecute, punish and bring extra pain upon prisoners and, in many cases, has delayed or disturbed their medical treatment”, AI noted.

Political prisoner Mohammad Nazari
Political prisoner Mohammad Nazari

Earlier, AI had called upon the Islamic republic officials to immediately and unconditionally release Mohammad Nazari and Mahmoud Salehi and ensure their regular access to special medical treatment until setting them free.

Mohammad Nazari, who has been behind bars for the past 24 years, has called for implementation of the new Islamic Penal Code in his case which decreases his prison term to fifteen years, which automatically would lead to his release.

Nevertheless, his demand was dismissed and Nazari, in protest, has been on hunger strike for nearly hundred days.

““Now, in the 24th year of my imprisonment, I am alone, with no one to rely on,” he has written in a letter, adding, “I am on hunger strike because I have no options left.”

Calling for help, Nazari has also written, “Don’t abandon me, I don’t have anyone. My father, mother and brother were laid to rest years ago... Your helping hand is my only hope. Help me. Help me so that my voice can be heard. Help me gain the freedom I am legally entitled to.”

Mahmoud Salehi, a labor activist. File photo
Mahmoud Salehi, a labor activist. File photo

The spokesman for the Organizational Committee to Establish Trade Unions, Mahmoud Salehi, who has been imprisoned since April 9, 2007 is also seriously ill.

Amnesty International believes that he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and his association with the 2004 May Day demonstration.

“I have lost my kidneys since I did not have access to medical treatment and received my medicine with much delay”, Salehi has disclosed on his Facebook account.

The Islamic Intelligence Ministry and judiciary have not yet responded to the claim.

New Argentina Probe Says Prosecutor Nisman Was Murdered

A woman holds a sign reading "Justice" during a demo at Mayo square, in Buenos Aires on January 26, 2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A new police report has dramatically revived one of the greatest criminal mysteries in Argentine history — the possible murder of a crusading prosecutor that has roused grave suspicions about a president and added to doubts about the probe into the country's most deadly terrorist attack.

An investigation by the country's border police agency has concluded that the man who led that terror probe was murdered just four days after he formally accused then-President Cristina Fernandez of covering up the role of former Iranian officials who had been charged in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people.

The new report, which was obtained by The Associated Press, bases its conclusions on controversial new evidence and sharply contradicts earlier official findings that Alberto Nisman likely killed himself.

Nisman, 51, was found dead on Jan. 18, 2015, with a bullet in his right temple. A .22 caliber pistol was found next to him.

Coming just days after Nisman challenged Fernandez, the death became a politically charged controversy. Allies of Fernandez suggested Nisman took his own life because he couldn't back up his allegations. Many other Argentines insisted he had been murdered because of them. It triggered anti-government protests ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

Fernandez has insistently denied any wrongdoing and says her government had no role in the prosecutor's death. The initial police reports and autopsies concluded there was no sign anyone else had been present when Nisman died. While the national forensics team said there was no concrete evidence it was a homicide, the federal police said the prosecutor shot himself in his bathroom.

Firemen, policemen and rescuers search as wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994
Firemen, policemen and rescuers search as wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994

Federal prosecutor Eduardo Taiano told the AP that Nisman's death is "the most complicated" criminal case he has ever investigated. Taiano, who took over the stalled case from another judge in 2016 following a Supreme Court order, ordered a multidisciplinary border police team to provide a fresh look for an investigation that had been highly questioned for mishandling of evidence and other irregularities. Taiano said that the agency, whose main role is to guard borders and fight drug trafficking, was chosen because it hadn't been involved in the earlier, much-questioned probe.

The border police report says Nisman was beaten by two people who drugged him and placed him in front of his bathtub. While one of the attackers held him under the armpits "as in a hug," the other one placed the gun on his head and shot him. It was about 2:46 a.m. on a Sunday.

The investigation listed key evidence that wasn't mentioned in previous reports: Nisman's nasal septum was broken. He had suffered blows to his hip and other areas. Ketamine, a substance with strong anesthetic power, was in his body.

The new report concludes the attackers tried to stage a suicide, but it notes that other experts throughout the series of probes never found any traces of gunpowder on Nisman's hands.

The 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Fernandez's government struck a 2013 accord with Iran portrayed as a way to reach the truth behind the attack, but the deal, which was approved by Congress, was later ruled unconstitutional by an Argentine court. Nisman believed Fernandez was using the deal with Iran to secretly negotiate and help shield the Iranian officials allegedly behind the attack.

Former Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks to reporters as she leaves the court in Buenos Aires, October 26, 2017
Former Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks to reporters as she leaves the court in Buenos Aires, October 26, 2017

Taiano told the AP that he will compare the new report with previous ones and decide whether to treat Nisman's death as a murder, suicide or induced suicide. His decision, which will be sent to a judge, will guide the next steps of the investigation.

A report by forensic experts on behalf of Nisman's family in 2015 also argued that the prosecutor did not shoot himself. However, forensic experts for the family said only one attacker carried out the killing by holding Nisman's right hand and pulling the trigger to make it look like a suicide.

The fatal shot was fired from a gun that had been loaned to Nisman by aide Diego Lagomarsino, a computer technician who said the prosecutor asked for the weapon because he feared for his and his daughters' lives.

A forensic report sent by Lagomarsino's defense to Taiano contends Nisman shot himself standing in front of a mirror and then fell back, hitting his head. It says there is no proof Nisman was under the effects of ketamine and argues he suffered injuries on his left hip and ankle several hours before his death. A lesion on his bottom lip could have happened while the body was being transported, it says. The death was said to have taken place between 8 a.m. and noon, several hours later than estimated by the border police report.

Taiano said a major challenge for the investigation was contamination of the crime scene. More than 60 people walked carelessly in Nisman's luxury apartment for several hours after the body was found by his mother and security guards.

People march towards Plaza de Mayo square under a heavy rain during the "Marcha del silencio" (March of Silence) called by Argentine prosecutors in memory of their late colleague Alberto Nisman in Buenos Aires on February 18, 2015. More than 400,000 peop
People march towards Plaza de Mayo square under a heavy rain during the "Marcha del silencio" (March of Silence) called by Argentine prosecutors in memory of their late colleague Alberto Nisman in Buenos Aires on February 18, 2015. More than 400,000 peop

In addition, Nisman's cellphone and computer were tampered with to delete any traces of the information and calls that he received in the hours before his death. And the apartment building's security cameras had not been working for days before he died.

"The challenge is very complex," Taiano said. "If this had been investigated differently from the start, this would be a whole different thing."

Federal police officers who were in charge of Nisman's security also are being investigated, and experts say the differing conclusions on what happened could point to negligence or the mishandling of information.

"There's a serious contradiction in the broken nasal septum," criminalistics expert Olga Fernandez told the AP. "You'd have to find out who's telling the truth, and who's not."

But, she added, it is not rare to have contradictory opinions in Argentine investigations.

"Unfortunately, in these types of cases, you get pressured to deliver quick results, which can make getting exhaustive results more difficult. And there's also pressure so that the results turn out one way or another," she said.

Exclusive: Sister Of NYC Suspect Fears Saipov 'Brainwashed,' Pleads For 'Fair Trial'

Sayfullo Saipov's sister said her family became alarmed when her brother recently started wearing a full beard in the style of some extreme religious elements. (file photo)

A sister of New York City terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov has told RFE/RL from their native Uzbekistan that her family believes the 29-year-old was "brainwashed" and has pleaded with U.S. authorities to give him "time" and a "fair trial."

Umida Saipova, 27, offered condolences to the families of the victims of the October 31 rampage in which Saipov is accused of plowing a pickup truck through a bike path in Manhattan, killing eight people and leaving around a dozen others injured.

"My mother says she didn't notice any sign of [radicalization] when she visited him in the U.S. twice," Saipova said of 50-year-old Muqaddas Saipova, who was last in the United States to visit her son earlier this year. "My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything."

Saipov was shot in the abdomen and apprehended by police, reportedly after fleeing the rented truck, which authorities say contained messages expressing support for radical Islamist group Islamic State (IS). The perpetrator was said to have shouted, "Allahu akbar," as he left the scene of the attack.

New York Attack Suspect's Arrest Caught On Video
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The incident was the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Al-Qaeda militants slammed hijacked passenger jets into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2001, killing more than 2,600 people.

Prosecutors reported that Saipov said he was inspired by IS and "felt good about what he had done," even demanding to hang an IS banner in his hospital room.

'IS Soldier'

IS on November 3 declared in an article in the group's weekly newspaper that "one of the soldiers of the Islamic State attacked a number of crusaders on a street in New York City," according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The group called the attacker a "soldier of the caliphate."

Informed in Tashkent of her brother's reported request to hang the IS flag in the hospital, Saipova said "there was no sign" of a problem.

ALSO READ: Acquaintance Of New York Terror Suspect 'Shocked,' But Cites 'Aggressive' Behavior

"We don't know who has brainwashed him," Saipova said, speaking in Uzbek by telephone. "We don't know his circumstances. We don't know. Perhaps he's become part of some organized group."

She added: "I don't know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I'm sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”

But she acknowledged that the family had been alarmed in recent years after Saipov's 2013 marriage to see an image of him with a full beard in the style of some extreme religious elements.

"When we first time saw him on Skype with a beard, we got scared, honestly. We were terrified," she said. "I cried and called him and asked him why."

Saipova said her brother told him about having been stopped in his car and mugged, and said he grew a beard to appear older and "to scare them."

'Normal' Conversation

The family had a "normal" conversation with her brother, a permanent legal U.S. resident since 2010, one day before the attack in New York, she said.

"I spoke with him by the phone a day before," Saipova told RFE/RL. "He was in a good mood. It was a usual, good conversation."

He had told them he was eating his mother's "favorite pastry" on his way to pick up a client at the airport, she said.

Saipov worked as an Uber driver in the New Jersey area for about six months before the attack.

Sayfullo Saipov's parents's house on the outskirts of Tashkent.
Sayfullo Saipov's parents's house on the outskirts of Tashkent.

Saipova said she was prepared to travel to the United States to speak with her brother in hopes of discovering what might have driven him to violence.

The criminal complaint filed with an injured Saipov present in federal court on November 1 said that the accused had waived his right to remain silent or have an attorney present in speaking to investigators from his Manhattan hospital bed.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested Saipov was radicalized after he arrived in the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010 via the U.S. Diversity Visa Immigrant Program, known as the green-card lottery.

'Message To Trump'

In the hours after the attack, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out calls for "the NYC terrorist" to be sent to Guantanamo, the military facility in Cuba where U.S. officials have kept designated "enemy combatants" since 9/11.

But Trump later cited "something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed" and suggested the process "should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"

"We don't think he should be given the death penalty immediately," a crying Saipova told RFE/RL. "We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it's possible, to talk to him."

She urged U.S. authorities to "give him a bit more time," adding, "Please pass my message to Trump, if possible.”

Both of Saipov's parents and an uncle were said be undergoing questioning by authorities in Uzbekistan, and Saipov's sister said on November 3 that the family "still doesn't know where" her father and uncle "are now."

She said her mother had returned to their Tashkent-area home on November 3 from the hospital, where she was taken to be treated for what Saipova described as "shock."

Later efforts on November 3 to contact Umida Saipova by telephone or at the home on the outskirts of Tashkent were unsuccessful.

Oil Major Total Sees Risks To Saudi Reform Drive

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017.

LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's push for reforms could face a backlash from within and there is no guarantee the drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will succeed, one of the biggest oil investors in the Middle East, France's Total , said on Thursday.

"You don't change into a secular regime just like that," Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne told an event in London.

While most of Saudi Arabia's young population, roughly 70 percent of the total, support the reforms, the older generation might be reluctant to accept such changes, he said.

"Do you remember what happened to (Mikhail) Gorbachev?” said Pouyanne when asked if Prince Mohammed was a reformist like the last Soviet president, who was quickly stripped of power in 1991 in a coup led by communist party conservatives before being left jobless by the collapse of the Soviet Union later the same year.

"As you remember chaos came before stabilization happened,” said Pouyanne.

"It is difficult to be optimistic or pessimistic at that stage about Saudi reform."

Total Is one of the most active and biggest investors in the Middle East. It has a major refining site in Saudi Arabia, large concessions with the UAE and Qatar and this year it signed a deal to develop part of Iran's South Pars, the world's largest gas field.

"Total is perceived in most of those countries as representing France. We benefit, even if we are a commercial company, from this position of France. Total has a nationality and that nationality is a strength in the oil and gas business."

U.S. Senate Calls On Iran To Release Imprisoned Americans

Iran has handed down10-year jail terms against Xiyue Wang (right), a U.S. citizen, Baquer and Siamak Namazi (middle) two Iranian-Americans and Nizar Zakka (left) a U.S. resident from Lebanon.

United States Senate called on Iranian government to release detained U.S. citizens and provide assistance for locating a missing retired FBI agent.

In a resolution passed unanimously on October 31st, the U.S. senators said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had taken several United States citizens, including Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi, and Xiyue Wang, as well as United States legal permanent resident alien Nizar Zakka as “hostage” and demanded their release from Tehran.

Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, who is in poor health, were sentenced to 10 years in prison last year for "collaborating with a hostile government", namely the United States.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and a U.S. green card holder who was invited by the Iranian government to attend a conference along with Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen who was conducting research for his dissertation in Iran were accused of espionage for United States and also convicted to 10 years in prison.

Senate resolution 245 also mentioned Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who disappeared in Kish Island in March 2007, saying that according to officials of previous U.S. administration, the Iranian government had committed itself to try and gather information about Mr. Levinson's possible whereabouts, but this has not happened yet.

The senate “urges the Government of Iran to take meaningful steps toward fulfilling its repeated promises to assist in locating and returning Robert Levinson, including immediately providing all available information from all entities of the Government of Iran regarding the disappearance of Robert Levinson to the United States Government.”

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and DEA agent, who disappeared in Iran since 2007, undated
Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and DEA agent, who disappeared in Iran since 2007, undated

On Jule 21, U.S. President Donald Trump warned that Iran faces "new and serious consequences" unless all "unjustly detained" American citizens are released and returned, the White House said on July 21.

Mr. Levinson’s family has accused the Iranian government of kidnapping the former FBI agent and has already filed a lawsuit against Tehran over that.

In their resolution, U.S. senators accused the Iranian government of seeking to receive economic or political concessions in exchange for the release of prisoners and said that this practice was banned by the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 17, 1979, and acceded to by the Government of Iran on November 20, 2006, and other international legal norms.

The resolution also urged the U.S. President to make the release of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents detained in Iran its highest priority and to take “whatever steps are in the national interest” to reach this goal. It also requested that the United States and its allies whose nationals and residents have been detained in Iran establish a multinational task force to secure the release of the detainees.

“We have a moral imperative to speak for the silenced and shackled, to hold those responsible in Iran to account for detaining and mistreating our people, and to fight for the release and return of those held hostage by the Islamic Republic of Iran”, Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement on Wednesday following the passage of the resolution by the U.S. Senate and added that he will continue to work with his colleagues to ensure that the United States brings the detainees back to America safely.

“There are few more egregious violations of human rights and human dignity than to wrongfully imprison innocent people under harsh conditions for purposes of extortion, which the Government of Iran engages in as a matter of state policy and practice,” Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement regarding the resolution. Leahy pointed to the case of the ill Baquer Namazi and urged President Trump’s administration to use diplomatic tools to obtain the freedom of the imprisoned U.S. citizens.

AP -- Bin Laden Files Back Up U.S. Claims On Iran Ties To Al-Qaida

Hamza bin Laden is seen as an adult at his wedding, undated -- Released recently

(AP) — The CIA's release of documents seized during the 2011 raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden appears to bolster U.S. claims that Iran supported the extremist network leading up to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

U.S. intelligence officials and prosecutors have long said Iran formed loose ties to the terror organization from 1991 on, something noted in a 19-page al-Qaida report in Arabic that was included in the release of some 47,000 other documents by the CIA.

For its part, Iran has long denied any involvement with al-Qaida. However, the report included in the CIA document dump shows how bin Laden, a Sunni extremist from Iran's archrival Saudi Arabia, could look across the Muslim world's religious divide to partner with the Mideast's Shiite power to target his ultimate enemy, the United States.

"Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric," the report reads.

The Associated Press examined a copy of the report released by the Long War Journal, a publication backed by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank fiercely critical of Iran and skeptical of its nuclear deal with world powers.

The CIA gave the Long War Journal early access to the material. The material also included never-before-seen video of bin Laden's son Hamza, who may be groomed to take over al-Qaida, getting married. It offers the first public look at Hamza bin Laden as an adult. Until now, the public has only seen childhood pictures of him.

The release comes as President Donald Trump has refused to recertify Iran's nuclear deal with world powers and faces domestic pressure at home over investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The 19-page report included in the CIA release was available online Wednesday. The CIA later issued a warning about the files on its website, saying that since the material "was seized from a terrorist organization ... there is no absolute guarantee that all malware has been removed."

The CIA then took down the files entirely early Thursday, saying they were "temporarily unavailable pending resolution of a technical issue." "We are working to make the material available again as soon as possible," the CIA said.

The unsigned 19-page report is dated in the Islamic calendar year 1428 — 2007 — and offers what appears to be a history of al-Qaida's relationship with Iran. It says Iran offered al-Qaida fighters "money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia."

This coincides with an account offered by the U.S. government's 9/11 Commission, which said Iranian officials met with al-Qaida leaders in Sudan in either 1991 or early 1992.

The commission said al-Qaida militants later received training in Lebanon from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which Iran backs to this day.

U.S. prosecutors also said al-Qaida had the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in their 1998 indictment of bin Laden following the al-Qaida truck bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

Al-Qaida's apparent siding with Iran may seem surprising today, given the enmity Sunni extremists like those of the Islamic State group have for Shiites. But bin Laden had run out of options by 1991 — the one-time fighter against the Soviets in Afghanistan had fallen out with Saudi Arabia over his opposition to the ultraconservative kingdom hosting U.S. troops during the Gulf War.

Meanwhile, Iran had become increasingly nervous about America's growing military expansion in the Mideast. "The relationship between al-Qaida and Iran demonstrated that the Sunni-Shiite divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations," the 9/11 Commission report would later say.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, Iran would allow al-Qaida militants to pass through its borders without receiving stamps in their passports or with visas gotten ahead of time at its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the 19-page report. That helped the organization's Saudi members avoid suspicion.

They also had contact with Iranian intelligence agents, according to the report. This also matches with U.S. knowledge. Eight of the 10 so-called "muscle" hijackers on Sept. 11 — those who kept passengers under control on the hijacked flights — passed through Iran before arriving in the United States, according to the 9/11 Commission.

However, the commission "found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack."

For its part, Iran has denied having any relationship with al-Qaida since the 1998 attacks on the embassies. Iran quietly offered the U.S. assistance after the Sept. 11 attacks, though relations would sour following President George W. Bush naming it to his "axis of evil" in 2002.

On Thursday, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, dismissed the CIA documents as "a project against Tehran."

The 19-page report describes Iranians later putting al-Qaida leaders and members under house arrest sometime after the Sept. 11 attacks.

It mentions the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, saying it put increasing pressure on Iran, especially with the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq. "They decided to keep our brothers as a card," the report said.

That would come true in in 2015 as Iran reportedly exchanged some al-Qaida leaders for one of its diplomats held in Yemen by the terror group's local branch.

While Yemen described it as a captive exchange, Tehran instead called it a "difficult and complicated" special operation to secure the Iranian diplomat's freedom from the "hands of terrorists." "The repercussions ... of the Sept. 11 attacks were undoubtedly very large and perhaps above (our) imagination," the al-Qaida report said.

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