In a ceremony carried out online on Thursday [December 10] Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the first rail link between the two countries, offering landlocked Afghanistan a freight connection through Iran to Central Asia, Turkey, Europe, and the Persian Gulf.
Rouhani said Iran had succeeded in completing the line despite crippling sanctions imposed on the country by the United States. Ghani called the railroad a “precious gift from Iran” that would help restore the ancient Silk Road.
The 140km (90-mile) line connects Khaf in Iran’s Razavi Khorasan Province to Rozanak in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. A further 85km (53-mile) railway from Rozanak to the city of Herat is still to be completed by the Afghan government, with Iranian funding.
The whole project, which began in 2007, is costed at around $75 million. Mohammad Eslami, Minister of Roads and Urban Development, said on Thursday that it had the potential to transport 1 million passengers and 6 million tons of cargo a year.
Afghanistan imports more from Iran than from any other country. In 2019, Iran exported commodities including fuel, wheat, machinery, cooking oil, metals and electric appliances worth over $1.2 billion to its eastern neighbor. Afghanistan’s total imports amounted to $8.3 billion.
Afghanistan’s developing rail network has three lines for cargo trains in the north of the country connecting it to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The rail line from Khaf to Herat, when completed, will also include passenger service, and Afghanistan has further plans to build a line from Herat to Mazar Sharif in the north.
Tehran Plans To Lock Waste Containers To Prevent Garbage Picking
Tehran municipality is planning to put locks on large waste containers in the streets to prevent garbage pickers from accessing waste, a city official told Iran’s ILNA news website on Tuesday.
With the rise of poverty, the number of people sifting through waste containers for food or other items has increased in Iran. Anecdotal information say even former middle class people who still have cars, stop and look through waste containers in the streets.
Iran’s economy has deteriorated in the past decade and specially since 2018, when the United States imposed fresh sanctions to force Tehran to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Sadroddin Alipour, director of Tehran’s waste management company said that the municipality has decided to change waste containers or place them in a double haul that could be locked.
Thousands of children go through the streets of the capital to pick through garbage. Hamshahri newspaper reported that there are 4,700 children picking waste in Tehran and some of them are employed by people who make profit from what citizens throw away. Many children in Iran are street beggars or garbage pickers instead of going to school.
The same phenomenon exists also in other cities. In Bojnourd, a small city of 210,000 residents, the municipality estimated that are 600 garbage pickers.
Biden Admin Report To Congress Shows Drastic Impact Of Iran Sanctions
A non-public report submitted by the Biden Administration to Congress in September confirms that US sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration on Iran drastically reduced Tehran’s trade with the world, The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday.
The report is not classified but not released publicly. Free Beacon obtained a copy and reported that Iran’s $46 billion trade in 2019 was cut to $28 billion as US oil export and banking sanctions persuaded most countries to restrict their dealings with Tehran. Iran’s oil exports and trade had begun to shrink in 2018, when former President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2108 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions.
The information is not new and even the Iranian government has been reposting loss of trade and revenues, but it is an official confirmation by the Biden Administration about the effectiveness of sanctions in reducing Iran’s financial resources.
President Joe Biden during last year’s presidential campaign strongly opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal (JCPOA) and the reimpostion of sanctions.
After taking office his foreign policy team launched indirect talks with Tehran in April to revive the deal. So far, the talks have failed to achieve a breakthrough, but the US has said it is willing to lift the most effective sanctions, to convince Iran to abandon its retaliatory measures of breaking uranium enrichment limits set under the deal.
UK 'Will Not Rest' Over Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iran Detainees Minister Says
AP - London - Sept 20 - UK Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said on Monday that Britain would "not rest" until all its dual nationals being held in Iran were returned home.
He said the UK's new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, was due to meet her Iranian counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later on Monday, and call for the immediate release of UK nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
"I have no doubt that she will apply that energy to these negotiations and we will continue pushing and pushing and pushing until we get our British dual nationals home," he told British broadcaster Sky News.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been held Iran since 2016, on spying charges, which she has always denies.
Her husband, Richard, said he had talked with Truss on the phone on Sunday and that it was unclear how negotiations with Iran would go.
He described his wife as feeling "disorientated" with the recent UK government cabinet shuffle and that she had felt former Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had been making some headway with her case.
He said they were still waiting for a date for an appeal over her second prison sentence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's is currently staying with her mother in Iran.
Iran's VP In Women's Affairs Disagrees With Limiting Child Marriage
President Ebrahim Raisi’s vice president in women’s affairs has refused to support an age limit in child marriage arguing that other factors such as mental and social growth should play a role.
Ensiyeh Kazali, known as a religious conservative, in her first press conference on Monday said that she married when she was 16 years old.
Child marriage is a controversial social and political issue in Iran, as Islamic law in essence allows girls who are nine years old to be wed, based on a tradition that prophet Mohammed married a girl who was nine years old.
Vice presidents in charge of women’s affairs have usually been more protective of women’s rights and have advocated a legal age limit for children’s marriage, but Khazali, daughter of an ayatollah, apparently follows the ideology of most Moslem clerics in Iran who do not believe marriage for girls younger that 13 should be forbidden.
She has been one of the opponents the UNESCO 2030 agenda that advocates equality in education and access for females and all social groups.
Child marriage has increased in Iran in recent years, partly linked to growing poverty. The Statistical Center of Iran reported last month that marriage of girls aged between 10-14 increased by 10.5 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, with more than 31,000 cases in one year.
Family Of Detained Rapper In Iran Concerned About His Life
Iranian dissident rapper, Toomaj Salehi, who was detained on September 13 was arrested by the intelligence ministry in Esfahan, family sources have told Iran International. They are extremely worried about the safety of the young singer.
The underground rapper was apparently arrested for his latest song distributed on social media, condemning the Islamic Republic for oppression and those whom he accuses of whitewashing its crimes.
Iran International has also learned that the singer known with his first name Toomaj is being kept in the central prison in Esfahan. His lawyer Amir Raisian was quoted by a website in Iran as saying that he does not have exact information about charges his client faces, but “unofficially his father was told he is accused of propaganda against the regime.”
In his song, “Buy a rat hole”, Toomaj without naming individuals refers to those whom he accuses of perpetrating injustice or justifying it, from regime "agents" and "executioners" to political groups such as reformists in Iran and the US-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
The Washington-based group condemned Toomaj’s arrest on September 16, after many on social media criticized indifference toward the latest crackdown on freedom of speech.
Amnesty International has also condemned the arrest in a statement issued September 17. Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has also slammed the arrest, saying that protest artists are reflecting public opinion in Iran in favor of a regime change.
Syrian Military Chief Makes Rare Visit To Jordan Over Border Security
Syria's defense minister visited Jordan on Sunday to discuss stability on their mutual border, the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted a decade ago, officials said.
The meeting comes after Syria's army reestablished control this month over Deraa, a city south of Damascus and near Jordan’s border, in a Russian brokered deal that averted an all-out military assault.
Jordanian army head Lieutenant General Yousef Hunaiti met Syrian Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub over the Deraa situation and to discuss issues such as the fight against terrorism and drug smuggling in the area, Jordan's army said.
Jordan had for years supported mainstream Western-backed rebels who controlled southern Syria until a campaign by the Syrian army in 2018 aided by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias retook the province. Some insurgents remained in Deraa but left the area with Russian mediation after Iranian-backed forces began an assault in August.
Amman, with close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, remains concerned over the presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border.
Jordanian officials have accused Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement of being behind drugs smuggling in the area. The group has repeatedly denied allegations made by the West and others that it is involved in any such smuggling network.
Reporting by Reuters
New Defense Minister Says Iran Will Defend Itself Against Israeli Threats
Iran’s new defense minister General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani has called threats made against Iran “rants by enemies” vowing that Iran will defend itself.
Ashtiani, who was speaking at a gathering of senior managers at the defense ministry on Monday referring to “rants by the leaders of the Zionist regime”, said that Iran has prepared itself against all kinds of threats.
Israeli officials have intensified their warnings over Iran’s nuclear program and its support for militant groups recently. In August, defense minister Benny Gantz issued warnings that Israel must be prepared to act against the Islamic Republic, when a tanker was attacked in July by what appeared to be Iranian drones.
Ashtiani stressed that Iran has made advancements in military technology and would ward off all threats, But the new defense chief also underlined that Iran’s military capabilities was to defend its territory against attack and did not use customary threats against Israel. He said that “the Zionist enemy” has suffered from multiple defeats at the hands of Iran and has resorted to rants.
Since early July 2020, important facilities in Iran have suffered mysterious attacks, generally believed to have been sabotage operations by Israel. Iran’s top nuclear scientist was killed in November 2020 near Tehran in a sophisticated assassination plot involving no human attackers on the ground.
Third Iranian Tanker Sails Carrying Fuel For Hezbollah In Lebanon
A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution by Hezbollah in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Iran-backed Hezbollah, constitute a breach of Lebanon's sovereignty.
Hezbollah announced in August that it had asked Iran to send fuel to Lebanon, which is experiencing the world’s worst economic crisis in modern history. Iran readily agreed, saying it would be a victory for the “resistance front” a term used by Tehran to refer to its allies and proxies in the region.
Local media reported earlier that Hezbollah will distribute part of the fuel to hospitals and other essential public institutions and will sell the rest to the private sector, or at low prices to private hospitals, bakeries, etc., Al Hurra TV reported on September 16.
SO far there are no reports about which institutions have received fuel from the shipment. Hezbollah stands to make large profits if Iran gave the fuel for free or at very low prices. Both Iran and Hezbollah are sanctioned by the United States.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there tanker trucks began transporting the fuel to Lebanon.
Iran's Oldest And One Of Largest Banks On Verge Of Bankruptcy
Iran’s Bank Melli, the oldest and one of the biggest banks in the country is on the verge of bankruptcy after losing 675 trillion rials last year, equaling $2.8 billion in free market exchange rate. The losses equal 73 percent of the bank’s capital.
The bank has published its financial reports for the previous Iranian calendar year ending March 20, 2021, after years of silence. Iranian law says that if an entity’s losses exceed 50 percent of its capital the shareholders should convene a meeting and dissolve the company.
The bank was established in 1927 by an act of parliament as part of Iran’s modernization process. A former US State Department trade official, Arthur Chester Millspaugh, was its founder who helped Iran free itself borrowings from foreign governments and banks at unfavorable terms. Millpaugh reorganized the country’s finances by establishing modern budget and management practices during the reign of Reza Shah, Iran’s modernizing king.
At the time Iran regarded the United States as a liberator that helped its independence in the face of British and Russian influence and pressures.
Iran’s banks are all directly or indirectly owned by the state or state entities and have suffered from corruption and mismanagement in recent years. Government and its companies borrow money from their banks that ultimately lose money and turn to the Central Bank to be rescued.