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Lawmaker Says Iran Halted 20-Percent Uranium Enrichment

Iranian state television showed these centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium at the Natanz nuclear facility in 2012.
An Iranian parliamentarian has said Iran has halted the enrichment of uranium at a level of 20 percent and has produced enough to fuel an experimental nuclear reactor in Tehran.

In comments posted on October 22 on the website of the Iranian parliament, lawmaker Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, deputy chairman of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said there is "no need for more production."

The Tehran reactor is intended to produce medical isotopes; however, the United States and other countries believe the enrichment program is intended to produce nuclear weapons.

Hosseini also said Tehran is ready to convert all its 20-percent-enriched uranium to fuel rods for the reactor, which he said would "remove concerns over its nonpeaceful use."

Iranian negotiators reportedly offered to halt 20-percent enrichment during a recent round of international talks in Geneva. However, the Iranian government hasn't publicly commented on that.

Based on reporting by "The New York Times" and AP

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Iranian Lawmaker Says New Hijab Plan Prohibits Physical Punishment

Iranian parliament member Hossein Jalali (file photo)

An Iranian parliamentarian says the government's new strategy to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab will eliminate physical punishment for women and instead carry financial and administrative penalties that have been approved by the leader of the Islamic republic.

Iranian parliament member Hossein Jalali said on March 27 that the new plan includes a financial penalty of up to 30 billion Iranian Rials ($60,000) for those who breach the compulsory hijab law, while additional penalties consist of revoking a person's driver's license, canceling their passport, and prohibiting Internet access for those women who do not adhere to the hijab requirement.

Under the new proposals, physical punishment will not be allowed, Jalali said. Violators instead will be punished according to a predetermined table.

To help limit physical confrontations, surveillance cameras will be used to monitor public spaces for women not wearing the hijab and offenders will be tracked down and punished afterward. Police and judicial authorities will be tasked with collecting evidence and identifying violators, Jalali said.

SPECIAL REPORT: The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System

The Cultural Commission of the Iranian parliament said earlier that shop owners and the operators of businesses such as shopping malls and accommodation centers will also be responsible for implementing the rules.

Officials have recently moved to seal off the businesses of some "violators," including this week when a hotel in the city of Kashan and a shopping center in the capital, Tehran, were closed because employers were not observing the mandatory hijab rule.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Long-simmering tensions boiled over after the death in custody in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, with Iranians flooding streets across the country in protest. Women and even schoolgirls have put up unprecedented shows of defiance in the unrest, one of the biggest threats to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters. Rights groups say more than 500 people have died in the protests.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Saudi, Iranian Foreign Ministers To Meet During Muslim Holy Month

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have agreed to meet during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi state news agency SPA said on March 27, under a deal to restore ties. Both ministers spoke by phone for the second time in a few days, SPA said. "The two ministers also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting between them during the ongoing month of Ramadan," SPA said. Ramadan is likely to end on April 20. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.K. Says Iran Resupplies To Russia Of Kamikaze Drones Fueling More March Attacks

The wreckage of an Iranian kamikaze drone (file photo)

The British Defense Ministry said on March 26 that Russia had "likely launched" at least 71 Iranian Shahed kamikaze drones against Ukraine after a two-week letup in late February. The resumption suggests that "Russia has started receiving regular resupplies of small numbers of Shahed" uncrewed aerial drones, the U.K. military added in its daily intelligence assessment. It said Russian forces were probably launching the Iranian drones from the Krasnodar region in the east and Bryansk region in the northeast, cutting down flight times in the north to further "stretch Ukrainian air defenses."

Tehran Condemns U.S. Strikes On Iran-Linked Groups In Syria

Washington said it launched the retaliatory raids after a strike by a drone "of Iranian origin" that struck a U.S.-led coalition base in Syria. 

Tehran has condemned U.S. air strikes on Iran-linked forces in Syria that reportedly killed 19 people, which Washington said it carried out following a deadly drone attack on U.S. forces. The Iranian Foreign Ministry late on March 25 condemned "the belligerent and terrorist attack of the American army on civilian targets" in the eastern Syrian region of Deir el-Zor. Washington said it launched the retaliatory raids after a U.S. contractor was killed -- and another contractor and five military personnel wounded -- by a drone "of Iranian origin" that struck a U.S.-led coalition base in Syria.

Iran-Backed Fighters On Alert In East Syria After U.S. Strikes, Activists Say

Iran-backed fighters were on alert in eastern Syria on March 25, a day after U.S. forces launched retaliatory air strikes on sites in the war-torn country, opposition activists said. The air strikes came after a suspected Iranian-made drone killed a U.S. contractor and wounded six other Americans on March 23. The situation was calm following a day in which rockets were fired at bases housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria. The rockets came after U.S. air strikes on three different areas in Syria's eastern province of Deir el-Zour, opposition activists said. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Biden: U.S. Does Not Seek Conflict With Iran But Will 'Forcefully' Protect Americans In Syria

U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the United States does not seek conflict with Iran but will respond to protect its personnel in Syria and elsewhere.

The United States is prepared "to act forcefully to protect our people. That's exactly what happened last night," Biden said after he ordered a retaliatory air strike on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Biden, who spoke to reporters during a visit to Ottawa, Canada, ordered the air strike after a U.S. contractor was killed and six other Americans were injured in an attack on March 23 blamed on groups affiliated with Iran in northeast Syria.

The deadly attack by a kamikaze drone struck a maintenance facility on a base of the U.S.-led coalition near Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, the Pentagon said.

The United States has maintained about 900 troops in posts across northeastern Syria to keep pressure on groups affiliated with the Islamic State group and to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against the Syrian government.

The Pentagon said two F-15 fighters launched the retaliatory attack early on March 24. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack killed 11 pro-Iranian fighters -- six at a weapons depot in Deir el-Zour city and five others at military posts near two towns.

Two Syrian opposition activist groups later on March 24 reported a new wave of air strikes in eastern Syria against positions of Iran-backed militias.

The new wave of air strikes came after rockets were fired at a Conoco gas plant that has a base housing U.S. troops. It was not immediately clear if U.S. warplanes carried out the attack.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in the Pentagon statement that the U.S. intelligence community had determined the drone that killed the U.S. contractor was of Iranian origin but offered no evidence to support the claim.

The statement said its retaliatory "precision" strikes were intended to protect and defend U.S. personnel and were "proportionate and deliberate" and intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties.

"As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing," Austin said. "No group will strike our troops with impunity."

With reporting by AP and AFP

Iranian Activist Sentenced To 18 Years After Calls For Khamenei's Resignation

Activist Fatemeh Sepehri

Iran's judiciary has confirmed an 18-year prison sentence for activist Fatemeh Sepehri, an outspoken critic of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after calling on him to resign.

In February, Asghar Sepehri, Sepehri's brother, wrote on Twitter that his sister had informed him during a phone call from prison that the Islamic Revolutionary Court had handed her the sentence.

He said the sentence includes 10 years for propaganda activities against the Islamic republic, five years for cooperation with hostile governments, two years for insulting the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, and one year for gathering and conspiring against national security.

On March 23, Dostali Makki, Fateme Sepehari's lawyer, said the sentence had been confirmed by the court and that the sentence would be implemented.

Makki added that the court did not accept his representation of Sepehri, thus keeping them from appealing the initial verdict.

According to the laws of the Islamic republic, if a convict is sentenced to several prison sentences in one case, the longest prison sentence will be implemented. In this case, Sepehri must spend the next 10 years in prison.

Sepehri is one of 14 activists in Iran who have publicly called for Khamenei to step down. She has been arrested and interrogated several times in recent years.

She and the other activists have also called for a new political system within the framework of a new constitution that would secure dignity and equal rights for women.

Criticism of Khamenei, who has the last say on almost every decision in Iran, is considered a red line in Iran, and his critics often land in prison, where political prisoners are routinely held in solitary confinement and subjected to various forms of torture.

Sepehri was arrested by security forces on September 21, at the beginning of nationwide protests in Iran over the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was taken into custody by Iran's morality police for allegedly violating the country's hijab law. She died while in detention.

Since the unrest erupted, lawmakers and security officials have threatened harsher and harsher treatment for protesters and anyone expressing dissent.

Human rights groups say the crackdown has left more than 500 people dead and hundreds more injured. Several people have been executed.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Sky Hunters: Ukrainian Border Guards Gun Down Iranian-Made Drones

Sky Hunters: Ukrainian Border Guards Gun Down Iranian-Made Drones
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Ukrainian soldiers have been honing their skills to shoot down Iranian-made drones with machine guns. Russian forces have been using the drones to launch attacks across Ukraine, including on residential housing and civilian infrastructure. The Ukrainian military says it is having success gunning down the drones, even as Russia continues to change tactics.

Iranian Women Arrested After Altercation With Hijab Enforcer

The three women were visiting a tourist site in the city of Yazd on March 21. (file photo)

Three Iranian women have been arrested after arguing with another woman who was attempting to enforce rules on wearing a head scarf in the central city of Yazd.

According to a report published by the Asr Iran news website, the three women were visiting a tourist site in the city of Yazd on March 21, the first day of the Iranian New Year, when another woman warned them to observe the country's hijab law.

A physical fight ensued. Police intervened to break up the fight and arrested the three women, who were accused of not observing the hijab law. The woman who gave the warning and instigated the conflict was not arrested.

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran, where the country's Hijab and Chastity Law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public.

In recent weeks, officials have warned women to respect the hijab law and have threatened to punish violators. The authorities have also shut down businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases pharmacies due to the failure of owners or managers to observe Islamic laws and hijab rules.

Judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei warned on March 6 that women who violate the hijab rule will be punished, saying that removing the head scarf shows “enmity towards the establishment and its values.”

Since the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after allegedly breaking the hijab law, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls putting up unprecedented shows of support in what is considered one of the biggest threats to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

'I Will Keep Protesting': Anti-Regime Demonstrations Continue To Rock Iran's Baluchistan, Even As Nationwide Rallies Subside

Photos of some of the Baluch protesters killed in Zahedan on a poster seen at a recent protest in Zahedan.

Thousands of people pour into the streets and stage anti-regime rallies in Iran’s southeastern city of Zahedan after Friday Prayers every week.

The weekly demonstrations have occurred since September 30, when government forces gunned down scores of people following antiestablishment protests in the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchistan Province, which is home to Iran’s Baluch ethnic minority.

Among those participating in the weekly rallies in Zahedan is Ahmad, who was among the more than 300 people wounded in the deadly crackdown, referred to as “Bloody Friday.”

SPECIAL REPORT: The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System

At least 94 people were killed that day, according to the U.S.-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Several members of the security forces also reportedly died.

“I still can’t move my arm properly,” said Ahmad, who did not reveal his full name for fear of retribution. “But I protest every Friday because our rights have been violated for the past 44 years,” he added, referring to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that brought the current clerical regime to power.

The crackdown on September 30 was the single deadliest day of the nationwide anti-regime protests that erupted after Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman, died on September 16 following her arrest by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

While the protests have largely subsided across most of Iran, the demonstrations have continued in Sistan-Baluchistan, fueled by anger over the deadly state crackdown and historical grievances.

Sistan-Baluchistan is one of Iran’s poorest provinces. Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi’a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.

The authorities have yet to take action against Molavi Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared.
The authorities have yet to take action against Molavi Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared.

The sermons of Molavi Abdolhamid, the outspoken Friday Prayer’s leader in Zahedan, have also helped motivate protesters. In a rare show of dissent, Abdolhamid has publicly criticized the authorities for alleged human rights abuses and repression of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities.

The authorities blamed Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni militant group, for the September 30 killings, a claim rejected by local and independent sources.

But Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were responsible, saying security forces shot “indiscriminately” at people after raiding the central mosque in Zahedan and the nearby Great Mosalla, a religious site.

The cleric has called on the authorities to bring those responsible for the deaths to justice. The failure to conduct a transparent investigation has added to public anger in Sistan-Baluchistan.

The authorities have yet to take action against Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared. A document from the hard-line Fars news agency that was leaked in November suggested Khamenei had told security and military officials to try and discredit Abdolhamid instead of arresting him.

A protester in Zahedan holds a placard that reads: "Political prisoners must be released."
A protester in Zahedan holds a placard that reads: "Political prisoners must be released."

One of his aides, Molavi Abdolmajid Moradzehi, was arrested in January and charged with “disturbing public opinion and numerous communications with foreign individuals and media outlets.”

Days before his arrest, Moradzehi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that protests would continue in Zahedan "until the issue of Bloody Friday and the people of Zahedan who were killed and injured is resolved.”

Shirahmad Shirani of Haalvsh, a Baluch rights group, told RFE/RL that Abolhamid has become a trusted and widely respected figure.

“Abdolhamid is based inside the country and people trust him. It’s not just because of the past six months, but due to his actions in recent years. People know him and they see him as someone they can rely on,” said Shirani.

“[The protesters] are demanding the rights of the Baluchis and the Sunnis that have been systematically violated during the past 40 years,” he added. “In the province, where 90 percent are Baluch, we don’t have any Baluch in senior positions, in the security bodies, or even in the education system.”

Iranian security forces seen in Zahedan earlier this month.
Iranian security forces seen in Zahedan earlier this month.

Shirani, a rights activist who was jailed in Iran after being convicted of acting against national security, said the protests in Zahedan have become “more organized” in recent weeks.

“If, during the first days of the protests, people were driven by anger and outrage, today it’s a mix of anger and ideals. They’re protesting knowing that they can get arrested or killed, yet they still come into the streets,” he said.

Human Rights Watch reported in December that since the Bloody Friday crackdown, security forces have killed at least eight people in Sistan-Baluchistan. Haalvsh has identified 121 people it said were killed between September 30 and March 20 in Zahedan and the nearby city of Khash.

Haalvsh has reported increased security measures in Zahedan as well as the arbitrary arrests of protesters in the city. Authorities have also routinely disrupted the Internet in Zahedan to prevent the weekly protests.

Videos posted online appeared to show protesters chanting “Death to Khamenei” and “Mullahs get lost” in Zahedan on March 24.

Despite the risks, Ahmad said he remains determined to continue making his voice heard.

“I will keep protesting, even though when I leave home I don’t know if I’ll return,” he said, adding that Sistan-Baluchistan has now become “the voice of all Iranian people."

Iranian National Soccer Team's Assistant Coach Fired For Supporting Protesters Online

Rahman Rezaei (third right at back) poses with Iran's national soccer team in 2006.

An assistant coach with Iran's national soccer team has been fired amid a campaign by hard-liners to oust him over social media posts he made criticizing the government's response to protests sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody.

Rahman Rezaei, a former star player on the Iranian men's national soccer team, had come increasingly under fire after being named last week as an assistant coach for his comments online about the regime's crackdown on demonstrators, including one last October where he said, "Enough is enough. You should be tried in the nation's courts."

On March 20, an official of the Sports Ministry wrote on Twitter: "Do you think that someone who insults the Islamic republic so brazenly can be trusted to serve honestly under the holy flag?"

Soon after, the semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced Rezaei's dismissal.

FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has repeatedly warned the Iranian Football Federation over government interference in national team affairs. There was no immediate comment by FIFA.

Since the start of nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, numerous Iranian celebrities and sports personalities have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated after voicing support for the protests.

The unrest has put women's rights in Iran and the lack of freedoms in general in Iran in the spotlight.

Authorities have responded to the unrest with a wave of brutal and often deadly repression.

Another Iranian professional soccer player, Amir Nasr-Azadani, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for "assisting in waging war against God." Nasr-Azadani had faced a potential death sentence.

Ali Karimi, a former soccer player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran's national soccer team, has also been a target of the government for his support of the protesters and his posts on social media, including on Instagram, where he has nearly 15 million followers.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described efforts by celebrities to support the protesters as "worthless" and has called for judicial action against them.

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Thousands more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran Sentences Five To Death For Alleged Spy Operations With Israel

A man who identified himself as Mansur Rasuli admitted he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as a U.S. general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France. (video grab)

Five Iranians -- four men and one woman -- in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia have been sentenced by a court to death for allegedly engaging in intelligence cooperation and espionage activities that benefited Israel.

Hengaw, a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran's Kurdish regions, said one of those sentenced to death is Mansur Rasuli, whose interrogation by Mossad agents in Iran made headlines last year.

At least five other people have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the case, the report added.

Last year, Israeli media reported that agents for the Mossad security service captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps inside Iran.

Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Rasuli admitted he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as a U.S. general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war. Tensions have been nearing a boiling point in recent years.

In November, the semiofficial Mehr News agency reported that Iran sentenced to death four people accused of collaborating with Israel. The four were accused of having interrogated people in Iran with intelligence cooperation from Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Tensions have also flared between the two countries as negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked. In the absence of a deal that would curb Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, Tehran has reduced its commitments and expanded its nuclear activities.

Iran has been roiled in recent months by nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman while she was being held in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Tehran has blamed Israel, the United States, and other Western countries for the unrest, which has seen security forces kill more than 500 people, according to human rights groups, including dozens of minors.

Officials have not shown any evidence to back up their accusations that the West has been involved in the anti-government uprising.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

The Farda Briefing: Iranians Celebrate Norouz Under The Shadow Of An Economic Crisis And State Crackdown

People celebrate the Persian New Year in Tehran this week.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following over the past week, and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iranians are celebrating Persian New Year, Norouz, under the cloud of a dismal economic situation and currency drop, and amid a brutal state crackdown on antiestablishment protests that rights groups say has claimed the lives of more than 500 people.

Many Iranians, already struggling to make ends meet, can't afford to treat their families during the Norouz holidays due to soaring prices. Domestic media have reported that there's little holiday cheer due to an economy that has been crushed by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

"The spirit of Norouz is not flowing in society," the daily Taadol said in a recent report, adding that astronomical prices have broken people's backs. Others have said they're not in the mood for celebration due to the blood spilled in the deadly state crackdown.

In recent days, relatives of some of those killed have gathered at their loved ones' graves to keep their memories alive, while others have turned their traditional Haftsins into altars for victims of the state crackdown.

Why It Matters: This Persian New Year has arrived in an atmosphere of gloom and growing frustration with the clerical establishment. Yet Iranians fighting for freedom and democracy, particularly women, should be proud of their bravery and defiance against the repressive Iranian establishment.

"It's true that we have become poorer, but at the same time we became more united, and our fight received international attention," a woman in the Iranian capital told me.

What's Next: There are few signs that the economy will improve in the new Iranian year amid warnings by economists that the inflation rate, currently at about 50 percent, could worsen. Talks on the restoration of the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled, and Tehran has become more isolated due to its deadly crackdown on protesters and its supply of drones that Russia is using in its unprovoked war against Ukraine.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Hundreds of people, including scores of children, have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on antiestablishment protests. Here, we look back at the significance of the demonstrations and list the more than 300 people whose deaths we have independently verified.

Women in the Iranian capital, Tehran, burned their head scarves during celebrations of the annual fire festival known as Chaharshanbe Suri ahead of Persian New Year, as parliament proposed new measures to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab, including the use of surveillance cameras.

What We're Watching

Iran has been engaged in increased regional diplomatic outreach, as evidenced by the Chinese brokered agreement between Tehran and Riyadh announced on March 10 and other recent steps.

A senior Iranian official said President Ebrahim Raisi has welcomed an invitation by King Salman to visit Riyadh. There has been no confirmation from Saudi officials.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that Tehran has proposed to Saudi Arabia three locations for a meeting with his Saudi counterpart.

Amir-Abdollahian also said Tehran hopes for improved relations with Bahrain and the removal of some of "the obstacles" between Tehran and Manama. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were among countries that followed Saudi Arabia in severing ties with Iran in 2016 in the wake of attacks on Saudi missions in Iran and the execution of a prominent Shi'a cleric by the kingdom.

Separately, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, visited the United Arab Emirates to improve ties, while also signing a border-security agreement with Iraq to increase coordination and the "strengthening of cooperation in several areas of security."

Why It Matters: Iran appears determined to improve its relations with regional foes and neighbors and to strengthen diplomatic and trade relations in an attempt to decrease its isolation and lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions that have crippled the country's economy.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Wednesday.

From Our Regions: Norouz Celebrations Welcome Spring

U.S. Announces Sanctions Aimed At Iranian Network Used To Purchase Drone Parts

The U.S. Treasury Department announced the new sanctions on March 21. (file photo)

The United States has imposed new sanctions on Iranian firms and individuals accused of procuring equipment used to make drones.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) coordinated with the FBI to designate four entities and three people in Iran and Turkey for allegedly buying equipment to be used for Iran’s drone and weapons programs.

“Iran’s well-documented proliferation of [drones] and conventional weapons to its proxies continues to undermine both regional security and global stability,” Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a news release issued on March 21.

“The United States will continue to expose foreign procurement networks in any jurisdiction that supports Iran’s military industrial complex," he said.

Among those blacklisted in the new round of sanctions are the Iran-based Defense Technology and Science Research Center (DTSRC), its procurement firm Farazan Industrial Engineering, and two other firms along with the companies’ purchasing agents.

The Treasury Department said this procurement network operates on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), which oversees several firms involved in drone and ballistic missile development.

U.S. defense officials say Iran is supplying Russia with drones, which have been used on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine as the Kremlin presses its invasion.

The action follows OFAC’s designations on March 9 of a network based in China in connection with Iran’s drone procurement efforts, as well as several previous OFAC actions targeting Iran’s UAV manufacturers and their executives since September 2022.

The individuals named are Amanallah Paidar, who has served as a commercial manager and procurement agent for the DTSRC; Murat Bukey, a procurement agent who has supported Paidar and his DTSRC-related procurement; and Asghar Mahmoudi, who has facilitated the supply of items, including marine electronics, to Paidar and the DTSRC, according to the OFAC.

Bukey attempted to provide European-origin engines with drone and surface-to-air missile applications to Paidar and Farazan Industrial Engineering, OFAC said, adding that he separately sold more than 100 European-origin drone engines and related accessories worth more than $1 million to companies that likely shipped the items to Iran.

The sanctions freeze any property held in U.S. jurisdiction by the three individuals and the entities. In addition, people in the United States who engage in transactions with those designated may themselves be exposed to sanctions, the Treasury Department said.

With reporting by AP

Protests In Western Iran Met With Force Despite New Year Holiday

People attend a protest on the Persian New Year holiday in western Iran on March 20.

Fresh anti-government protests in several Kurdish cities in western Iran, held as the country celebrates the Persian New Year holiday, have been met with violence from security forces.

Reports published on social media show that in the western cities of Iran, including Mahabad, Oshnavieh, Bukan, Piranshahr, Saqez, Sanandaj, and Dehgolan, people took to the streets on March 20 with several of the gatherings encountering attacks by government forces.

According to local sources, including the website of the Hengaw human rights group, people in the western Iranian city of Saqez gathered at the grave of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody last September -- an event that sparked months of protests across the country.

Those who gathered to protest chanted anti-government slogans, as well as "The martyr will never die."

Meanwhile, protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood and elsewhere in the capital chanted "Death to the dictator," a reference to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, from windows and rooftops as the Persian New Year began.

Amini's death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests that authorities have met with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed -- without providing evidence -- the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran's Protest Anthem Played At White House Norouz Celebration

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for Baraye at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on February 5.

A video of Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour performing the protest anthem Baraye played on March 20 at a White House celebration marking Norouz, the Persian New Year. The video was played just before President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted the event. Biden told the audience that the traditional New Year inspired "hope for women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms." The song instantly became associated with the political upheaval in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody for an alleged violation of Iran's hijab law.

EU Extends Iran Sanctions To Judges, Clerical Council

European ministers agreed to add eight Iranians and one of the Tehran government's most powerful bodies to EU sanctions lists, alleging human rights violations. The individuals -- including clerics, judges, and a broadcaster -- are accused of playing leading roles in Iran's crackdown on anti-government protests. The EU said it was in particular "sanctioning members of the judiciary responsible for handing down death sentences in unfair trials and for the torturing of convicts." The government institution, the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, was said to have "promoted several projects undermining the freedom of girls and women and discriminating against minorities."

Iranian Teachers' Union Warns Government Over Failing To Meet Its Demands

In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions.

A teachers' union in Iran has warned the government that if its demands are not met, its members will take to the streets in May, adding to the social and economic unrest that has plagued the country for almost a year.

The Coordinating Council of Teachers' Syndicates said in a statement on March 19 that imprisonment, dismissal, deportation, and court sentences have failed to deter teachers from their desire to accompany the people of Iran in the direction of fundamental changes in the Islamic republic.

"The tyranny can no longer stand against The Power of Powerless", the statement added, referring to a political essay written by the Czech communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel.

In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions. In response, the authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters and activists, actions that have failed to stop the rallies.

The statement, published just ahead of the beginning of the Persian New Year on March 21, referred to the last year as "a year full of glory and complaints" and added that "the stance of teachers and students together will promise days full of awareness."

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian Rights Violations May Amount To Crimes Against Humanity, UN Expert Says

Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (file photo)

Iran's authorities have committed violations in recent months that may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN-appointed expert told the Human Rights Council on March 20, citing cases of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. Iran has been swept by protests since the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in custody last September. Addressing the Geneva-based council, Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said he had evidence that Amini died "as a result of beatings by the state morality police." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Britain Sanctions More Iranian Officials Involved In Rights Abuses, Financing IRGC

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

Britain on March 20 sanctioned more Iranian officials responsible for financing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and for committing human rights abuses. They include five members of the body that manages the IRGC's investments and two IRGC commanders from Tehran and Alborz provinces who committed "gross human rights violations," the Foreign Office statement said. "Today we are taking action on senior leaders within the IRGC who are responsible for funneling money into the regime’s brutal repression.... We will continue to stand with the Iranian people as they call for fundamental change in Iran," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

Jailed Iranian Activist Says 'Overthrow' Of The Regime Is 'Logical' Step

Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat

In a message on the eve of the Persian New Year to honor the hundreds of victims killed in recent nationwide protests, leading jailed Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat said the "overthrow" of the Islamic regime as a "logical" step following months of unrest.

In a letter written from the women's ward of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Hedayat said on March 19 that while toppling the Islamic government was not the initial intent of the movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the hijab law, "this demand has become the objective on a scale that cannot be ignored.”

Hedayat, who is currently in prison for participating in the anti-government protests that erupted after Amini's death last September, listed the names of several protesters who were killed during the unrest, as well as four protesters who were sentenced to death and then executed as part of the judiciary's crackdown aimed at intimidating the demonstrators, thousands of whom have been arrested.

She added that the Islamic authority "has become the most immoral element of Iranians' daily lives and its survival is a denial of our survival, our children's survival, and our land. Therefore, the logic of overthrow is still in place."

The letter emphasizes the protesters' determination to "take back Iran" after the death of Amini.

Along with the execution of four protesters, Iran's judiciary has handed several others death sentences after what rights groups and the U.S. government have called "sham trials."

The executions and death sentences are part of the government's brutal, and often violent, crackdown on demonstrators. Lawmakers have pushed for harsh punishments to try and quell what has become the biggest challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times. Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during the nationwide protests.

The activist HRANA news agency has said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran's Foreign Minister Says He Has Agreed To Meet Saudi Counterpart

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) greets his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in Tehran on January 29. In recent weeks, Iran has expressed interest in holding meetings with regional leaders.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that he had agreed to meet his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, proposing three locations during a news conference. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on March 10 to reestablish relations and reopen embassies within two months after years of hostility, following talks in China. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Zelenskiy Announces Sanctions On Hundreds Of Individuals, Including Syrian President, Iranian Drone Makers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced sanctions against hundreds of individuals and companies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranians associated with the production of Shahed drones.

Zelenskiy said on March 18 that most of the more than 400 individuals and companies designated for sanctions are Russian and are involved in the defense industry, but Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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According to a decree issued by Zelenskiy, the sanctions against Assad are imposed for 10 years. The new sanctions also list Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

In addition, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' drone force was placed on the sanctions list. Sanctions were also introduced against other Iranian citizens.

Ukraine severed diplomatic relations with Syria last year. Assad recently visited Moscow and declared his full support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling Russia's war against Ukraine a struggle "with "old and new Nazis."

Russia has backed the Syrian Army in its fight against rebel forces in northern Syria, and Assad has said the presence of Russian troops in Syria is legitimate as his government has requested Moscow's support.

Zelenskiy's sanctions decrees list 141 legal entities, including companies from Russia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia.

"We study in depth each of our sanctioning steps," he said on Telegram. The sanctions are aimed at "all those who produce weapons for terror against Ukraine, who help Russia incite aggression, in particular by supplying Shahed drones, and who support Russia’s destruction of international law."

Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure, including electrical substations and water facilities.

Iran Court Sentences Two To Death Over Deadly Shrine Attack

Workers clean up the scene following an armed attack at the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the Iranian city of Shiraz on October 26, 2022.

An Iranian court has handed death sentences to two men over an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 people in October and was claimed by the militant group Islamic State (IS), the official news agency IRNA reported on March 18. Fars Province judiciary head Kazem Mousavi said the two men had been found guilty of charges including "spreading corruption on Earth" and acting against national security, IRNA reported, adding that the sentences can be appealed. The men are alleged to have collaborated with IS members in the attack. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

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