Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
The Iranian military presence in Syria has rapidly escalated in recent days, with hundreds of fresh troops reported to be arriving at an airport in Latakia governorate already being used by Russian warplanes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 15 that its observors on the ground noted the arrivals at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for the current dictator's son), near Jableh. The report comes as the Syrian army has launched a major offensive north of the strategic city of Homs. The report comes a day after Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, met the Syrian parliament speaker in Damascus. "If Syria makes a request [for Iranian forces], we will study the request and make a decision," Boroujerdi told AFP before the meeting. "Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism. We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisers to Syria and Iraq." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 15)
A group of top Iranian jurists and theologians approved the nuclear deal with world powers on Oct. 14, marking the completion of the last step before implementation of the deal may begin. The Iranian Parliament accepted the nuclear agreement the previous day and moved the process on to the Guardian Council, which determined the legislation was consistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The nuclear agreement is now law in Iran, which has the power to withdraw if world powers do not hold up their end of the deal regarding the lifting of economic sanctions. Officials request that the sanctions be removed by January at the latest. Iran has yet to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and the IAEA must report on the matter by Dec. 15.
Iran's regime on Aug. 26 hanged Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani at Orumieh prison, in the country's west. The death sentence was carried out two days after more than 80 members of his family and human rights activists gathered outside the prison gates to demand a halt to his execution. Prison guards and anti-riot forces broke up the protest. Alkhani's execution took place even as Iran's Supreme Court had yet to respond to an appeal of his sentence. "Carrying out a death sentence while a prisoner is awaiting the outcome of his appeal is a serious violation of both Iranian and international law, and is an affront to justice," said Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International's Middle East program.
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers concluded in a nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14. Under the JCPOA, Iran agrees not to create a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have permanent access to Iran's nuclear facilities to monitor activity, and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany will continue to meet with Iran's leaders at least every two years to review implementation of the agreement. The European Union sanctions will be lifted either eight years from the date of adoption or when the IAEA verifies Iran's nuclear materials are being used for non-aggressive purposes—whichever is sooner. However, all sanctions will be put back in place if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Iran must remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, ship all spent fuel from the reactor out of the country, and limit uranium research and development to a single facility. President Barack Obama stated in an address that he plans to veto any legislation from Congress that blocks the implementation of this deal.
At least 500 people have been arrested and the majority sentenced to flogging in Shiraz, southern Iran, for failing to observe the daytime fast during the holy month of Ramadan, authorities announced July 1. At least two sites in the city serving food during daylight hours were shut down by the paramilitary Bassij force. Another 2,699 individuals received verbal warnings and 261 others were given written notices by the Bassij patrols. Anyone in Iran caught eating or drinking in public during daytime in Ramadan may receive 74 lashes in addition to a prison term of up to two months, judicial authorities have threatened. Special patrols are stationed on streets and in public parks to enforce the edict. Public floggings have soared in Iran in recent months, with the actual number of floggings said to be much higher than officially announced. (NCRI, July 1)
The interminable cartoon wars now move back to Iran, where 28-year-old artist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. Her crime? A cartoon that depicts members of parliament as animals—seemingly a ruse to avoid specifically identifying them, so as to avoid trouble. According to Amnesty International, she was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system," "insulting members of parliament through paintings," and "gathering and colluding against national security." The offending cartoon depicted parliamentarians as monkeys, cows or goats as they cast votes for proposed laws that would ban some types of birth control and restrict women's access to contraception.