News Digest: Week of September 11

September 11

International: Israel “would have to act” if Iran enriched uranium above 60 percent, just below the weapons-grade level of 90 percent, Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi vowed. “There would not be any choice,” he added, as such an escalation would indicate that “we have reached the moment when Iran is clearly telling the world that it is going for a [nuclear] bomb.” 

Nuclear: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Grossi expressed concern over a “decrease in interest” from the U.N. nuclear watchdog member states in regard to Iran. “There is a certain routinization of what is going on there (in Iran) and I am concerned about this, because the issues are as valid today as they were before,” he warned in a press conference after the Board of Governors meeting.

International: Iran was constructing an airport some 12 miles from the Israel-Lebanon border, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said. The facility was used for “terror purposes” against Israel. ““In other words: the land is Lebanese, the control is Iranian, and the target is Israel,” he said.

International: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani stressed Iran’s commitment to “respond to any foolish aggression” a day after Israeli Mossad Chief David Barnea threatened Iranian leaders for plotting against Israeli and Jewish targets. “You have been hit by us before,” he said in a statement. 


September 12

International: The judiciary confirmed that Iran held E.U. employee Johan Floderus in prison. “The Swedish national has been lawfully imprisoned following a preliminary inquiry and the results of a full investigation into his case made by the prosecutor's office will be sent in the coming days to a competent court,” Spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said. Floderus had been detained in April 2022 for accusations of espionage.

Human Rights: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on policymakers to “take seriously the grave nature of religious freedom violations in Iran” in a country update on the Islamic Republic. The report, which focused on the year following nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022, described violations ranging from state-perpetrated killings, imprisonments, torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances targeting religious minority and dissident groups.

International: President Ebrahim Raisi blamed the West for unrest in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in detention. “Those who intend to abuse Madam Amini’s name, under this pretext to be an agent of foreigners to create this instability in the country, we know what ... would happen to them,” he threatened. “And they know that endangering the security of people and (the) security of society will create a big cost.” He also justified the regime’s crackdown, which targeted “those who…undermine security” while protecting “freedom of speech.” 

Raisi also discussed the prisoner deal with the United States, which would see five Americans released from Iranian custody in exchange for the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korea. The funds would be held by Qatari banks and free for humanitarian purchases under the deal. But Raisi maintained that the “money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money.” Humanitarian meant “whatever the Iranian people needs,” he asserted, “and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”

International: The State Department rebutted President Raisi’s claim that the Iranian government had the authority to determine how it could spend the $6 billion in Iranian funds unfrozen under the prisoner deal with the United States. “When this money arrives in these accounts in Qatar, it will be held there under strict oversight by the United States Treasury Department and the money can only be used for humanitarian purposes, and we will remain vigilant in watching the spending of those funds and have the ability to freeze them again if we need to,” Spokesperson Matthew Miller said. 

In response to criticism for releasing the funds, Miller said that the United States had to make “tough choices and engage in tough negotiations to bring these American citizens home.” He added that Washington maintained its support for the Iranian people. Miller pointed out that “as many as one in three Iranians used U.S.-supported anticensorship and digital security tools” during the protests.


September 13

Nuclear: 63 IAEA member states called on Iran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in a joint statement. The group shared “the Director General’s regret that no progress has been made” in Iran’s implementation of a cooperation agreement with the IAEA. The countries called on Iran to address:

  • “Outstanding safeguards issues in relation to nuclear material detected at undeclared locations in Iran,”
  • “The discrepancy in the amount of nuclear material verified by the Agency at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility,” and
  • “Implementation of…the Safeguards Agreement, including the provision of the required early design information.”

Nuclear: The IAEA would not pass a resolution against Iran during the Board of Governors meeting, Iranian nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami told reporters. “Political moves can be made by any group at any moment, yet the current trend does not show that the atmosphere will go toward a resolution or move that would compel Iran to take firm and decisive legal reactions,” he said.

Nuclear: The United States, Britain, France and Germany called on Iran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog and threatened a future resolution against Tehran. “If Iran fails to implement the essential and urgent actions contained in the November 2022 Resolution and the 4th March Joint Statement in full, the Board will have to be prepared to take further action in support of the (IAEA) Secretariat to hold Iran accountable in the future, including the possibility of a resolution,” the four countries said in a joint statement to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Nuclear: Britain, France, and Germany – the E3 states – said that Iran continued to violate the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “Iran has continued escalating its nuclear program to an alarming level clearly beyond credible civilian justification, and has displayed no will to implement the transparency commitments laid out in the Joint Statement agreed with the IAEA last March,” the countries told the IAEA Board of Governors. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was more than 18 times the level allowed in the JCPOA. Tehran had also stonewalled verification and monitoring efforts for more than two years, they added. 

“We have made significant efforts to negotiate and agree a return to the JCPOA, for which viable deals were tabled in March and in August 2022,” the E3 said. “In both cases, it is Iran that refused to sign these agreements, making unacceptable demands going beyond the scope of the JCPOA.” The European countries expected “swift and meaningful further steps” from Iran to implement its IAEA commitments.

Domestic: President Ebrahim Raisi warned demonstrators ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in detention on September 16. “Those who intend to abuse Mahsa Amini’s name under this pretext, to be an agent of foreigners, to create this instability in the country, we know what will happen to them,” he said in a television interview.


September 14

International: Britain, France, and Germany announced that they would maintain “nuclear proliferation-related measures…as well as arms and missile embargoes” on Iran that were set to expire on October 18 under the 2015 nuclear deal. The sanctions targeted the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s ballistic missile program, and any transactions with Tehran that involved ballistic missiles or drones. The countries cited the Islamic Republic’s “consistent and severe noncompliance” with the JCPOA since 2019. Iran’s violations included exporting drones to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine as well as developing ballistic missiles. The sanctions would become domestic law in the three countries.

International: Six Iranian and French-Iranians filed a criminal complaint in Paris accusing Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami, Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib, and Qods Force chief Esmail Qaani of “death threats and justifying terrorism.” They cited rhetoric from the men during nationwide protests that threatened demonstrators. “The regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its agents are keeping up a long tradition of threatening Iranian opposition figures in exile with death, hunting and murdering them on French and European soil,” the complaint said.

International: The foreign ministry summoned the Australian chargé d’affaires to condemn new Australian sanctions and “interventionist remarks” over the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations. Canberra had sanctioned four Iranians and three entities “responsible for the oppression of people in Iran, including women and girls.”

International: Iran was set to implement the prisoner deal with the United States, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al Thani. 


September 15

Maritime: The Revolutionary Guards Navy seized Panamanian- and Tanzanian-flagged tankers in the Persian Gulf for allegedly smuggling some 400,000 gallons of Iranian oil and gas, according to Iranian media. A Guards commander reported that 37 crew members of the two ships were in judicial custody. 



Some of the information in this article was originally published on September 13, 2023.