Iran has challenged the need for it to ship sensitive material abroad if its stock exceeds a limit set by its nuclear deal with major powers. The challenge raises the prospect of a confrontation with the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump because diplomats say Iran is only months away from reaching that cap. The 2015 deal restricts Iran's atomic activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Tehran. One restriction is on its stock of heavy water, a moderator used in a type of reactor that can produce plutonium, like an unfinished one at Arak that had its core removed under the accord. Iran has already exceeded the 130-tonne limit on its heavy water stock twice. The latest standoff with Washington over the issue was only defused in December when Iran shipped the excess amount to Oman, where the heavy water is being stored until a buyer can be found. In a letter to the U.N. nuclear watchdog circulated to member states on Thursday and posted on the agency's website, however, Iran argued that the deal does not require it to ship excess heavy water out of the country.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Monday the government's economic policies had fallen short and called for a new "resistance economy" to create jobs, piling pressure on the president before May elections. Hardliners led by Khamenei have repeatedly criticised President Hassan Rouhani, particularly for the terms of the nuclear deal he reached with world powers which lifted economic sanctions and was supposed to boost the economy. "I feel the pain of the poor and lower class people with my soul, especially because of high prices, unemployment and inequalities," Khamenei said in his New Year's message. "The government has taken positive steps but they do not meet people's expectations and mine," he added, setting out a clear battle line before the presidential vote.
Iran's hardline judiciary has sentenced the daughter of late Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to jail for "anti-state propaganda, spreading lies against the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards Corps", the opposition website Kalemeh reported on Friday. The Islamic Republic has piled pressure on the pro-reform opposition ahead of a presidential election on May 19, when hardline rivals of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani hope to regain control of executive power. "Again Faezeh Hashemi has been sentenced to six months' jail because of her critical remarks about Judiciary and the Guards," Kalemeh reported. Judicial officials were not immediately available to comment. The 55-year-old Hashemi, a women's rights activist and a former member of parliament, has 21 days to appeal the sentence. She was also jailed for six months in 2012 for "spreading anti-state propaganda".
Iran dismissed as "nonsense" comments made after U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that condemned Tehran's destabilizing regional influence, state news agency IRNA reported on Friday. Mattis and Prince Mohammed, who is the kingdom's defense minister, met on Thursday and discussed U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in the fight against Islamic State. A statement issued by the Pentagon said they also discussed tackling "Iran's destabilizing regional activities." IRNA cited Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, blaming the Saudi prince for the comments. "This Saudi official, who is one of the key players in the Saudi war against innocent people in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and other countries in the region ... has made an irrelevant remark out of desperation," Qasemi was quoted as saying.
After international sanctions on Iran were relaxed last year, Iranian-Americans started looking to invest money in their homeland. With Donald Trump in the White House, many are planning to pull it out. "For the first part of last year we were getting a lot of calls from people looking to explore business opportunities in Iran," said Erich Ferrari, a U.S. sanctions lawyer based in Washington. "That has pretty much stopped since the election. We have in the last month or so been getting a lot of requests for licensing to sell property or to move assets." Optimism among the estimated 1 million Americans of Iranian descent has dimmed given Trump's labeling of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as a "disaster" and his vow to deal aggressively with the Islamic Republic. A recent Iranian missile test triggered a warning from Washington that it was putting the country "on notice."
Total is seeking a 50 percent stake in a $4 billion project in Iran's giant South Pars gas field, the French energy firm said in a regulatory filing on Friday detailing talks held with Iranian officials on several projects in 2016. Total signed a preliminary deal for the South Pars project last year, becoming the first Western oil major to sign an energy agreement after the European Union and the United States eased sanctions as part of a pact to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. In a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Total said the South Pars 11 project would require investment of about $4 billion, with the French firm financing 50.1 percent with equity contributions and payments in non-U.S. currency. If finalised, Total would operate the project with a 50.1 percent stake, China's CNPC would own 30 percent through one of its subsidiaries and Iran's Petropars would have 19.9 percent.
Iran will increase oil exports to Europe by 60 percent by the next two months, National Iranian Oil Company's managing director said, IRNA reported on Saturday. "Currently, oil exports to Europe stands at 500 thousand barrels per day and we are planning to raise it to 800 thousand barrels per day by the next two months," IRNA quoted Ali Kardor as saying. After the lifting of the sanctions, Shell and Total each have imported two consignments of Iranian oil, each to the tune of two million barrels, he said. "Eni has also bought two million barrels of oil. Moreover, we have exported some oil to Spain," Kardor explained. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that Iran will expand its oil production capacity by 400,000 bpd to reach 4.15 million bpd in 2022.
In honor of Iranian mother's day, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to Twitter Sunday to share his views on gender issues, asserting that the West considers women to be "goods and means of pleasure" and that this is the product of the "Zionists' plot." The seven-tweet ramble came on the birth anniversary of Fatimah Zahra, the daughter of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, which is also designated as mother's day in the country. Accordingly, Khamenei began his message by identifying Fatimah's positive traits that make her the "perfect role model for Muslim women." These included "grandeur & stature beyond human's understanding and imagination."
In a sign of the Iranian government's increasing openness over its involvement in Syria's civil war, state television will air a documentary during the Iranian New Year known as "Nowruz" praising the thousands of pro-Iranian fighters who died in Syria over the years. The documentary is in 13 parts and will air for 13 days, corresponding with the 13-day celebration of New Year in Iran. The documentary, which will present pro-Iranian fighters as the guardian of Zeinab shrine, a major Shi'ite holy site in Syria, will be aired on Iran's official TV Channel, IRIB 2 in a show titled "From Heaven." Experts say that by airing the documentary during Nowruz, Iran wants to ensure that it reaches most of its citizens in the country, because television viewership increases dramatically during the holiday season in the country.
Gholamali Khoshroo also on Sunday called on the United Nations Security Council to register Iran's statement on the peaceful settlement of the Syria crisis as an official document at the international body. He made the request in a note sent to Matthew Rycroft, the president of the Security Council for the month of March. The note was released through a Telegram channel by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Khoshroo said the Islamic Republic welcomes the peaceful settlement of the armed conflict in Syria as stressed in a joint statement by the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Moscow on December 20, 2016 and the communique issued at the end of two-day intra-Syrian talks which concluded in the Kazakh capital of Astana on January 24.
Reacting to the recent meetings between U.S. and Saudi officials, Iran's Foreign Ministry lambasted Riyadh on Friday for acting under the illusion that security is a "buyable" luxury, saying it is committing a "big mistake" in prompting foreign intervention in the Middle East. "The history of the region teaches a lesson to all and those countries who thanks to petrodollars and acting under the illusion that security is buyable keep giving the green light to foreign actors to meddle (in the region) that they commit a big mistake," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Friday. "Foreign intervention has always caused instability, division, expansion of terrorism and violence, and has never benefitted the people of the region." U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday and they discussed U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in the Middle East, two days after a meeting with business-minded President Donald Trump.
Iranian pilgrims will participate in this year's annual Hajj, Saudi Arabia has said, after an absence last year during tensions between the regional rivals. "The ministry of hajj and the Iranian organisation have completed all the necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform Hajj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries," the official Saudi Press Agency said on Friday, referring to this year in the Islamic calendar. For the first time in nearly three decades, Iran's pilgrims - which would have numbered about 60,000 - did not attend the Hajj in 2016 after the two countries failed to agree on security and logistics. Riyadh and Tehran have no diplomatic relations, and tensions remain as Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia repeatedly accuses Iran of fuelling regional conflicts by supporting armed Shia movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.
Iranian MPs have criticized the arrests of journalists and social media organizers ahead of the presidential election in May, with one directly accusing the elite Revolutionary Guards in a letter published Saturday. The arrests in recent days are alleged to have targeted unnamed people who run channels on the popular messaging site Telegram supporting reformists and the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani. Two prominent journalists - Ehsan Mazandarani and Morad Saghafi - have also been detained. Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist MP, wrote an open letter to Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad-Ali Jafari, calling on the organization to stay out of politics.
When Sadegh married his college sweetheart, he never thought he'd end up as one of those Iranians facing ruin and even prison because of huge sums demanded by his wife's family. But the "mehrieh" (affection) system, in which future husbands agree to pay a number of gold coins to the bride in the event of divorce, has left thousands of men in Iran languishing in jail and many more destitute. "Our mehrieh was high, around 800 gold coins, but when we were planning the wedding, we didn't think about how it might end," said Sadegh, who was divorced last year after eight years of marriage. Each gold coin is worth around 10 million rials ($300). A worker on Iran's average wage would need 50 years to earn 800 gold coins. But then his wife's family got involved, and suddenly Sadegh found himself in court where he was told to pay 110 coins instantly or go to jail. "The thought of ending up in prison for this, like in the movies, seemed ridiculous," he said.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Iran will hold another Potemkin election in May, and we can already predict the media narrative if one of the so-called hard-liners wins the Iranian Presidency. The blame will lie with the Trump Administration for failing to show sufficient respect for "moderate" incumbent Hasan Rouhani. Except Mr. Rouhani's rule hasn't been moderate. Witness the latest repression targeting the mullahs' usual suspects. Tehran's Prosecutor-General on Sunday announced it had sentenced a couple to death because they had founded a new "cult." The announcement was short on details, but the charges could mean anything from running a New Age yoga studio to a political-discussion club. The authorities have also detained Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter with the reformist newspaper Etemad ("Trust"), according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The nature of the charges against Mr. Mazandarani isn't clear, and his relatives say he is on hunger strike in Tehran's Evin Prison. He had previously served most of a two-year sentence on trumped-up security charges.
Iran's conservatives have been vocal in their criticism of President Hassan Rouhani, dismissing his outreach to the West as naive and the nuclear deal he championed as an economic failure. But when it comes to challenging the moderate Rouhani for reelection in May, the hard-liners, who oppose expanding political and social freedoms, are struggling to agree on a message or candidate. Ten possible candidates put forward by a bloc of political leaders this month are all seen as lacking the stature to oppose the first-term incumbent. Arguably the country's most respected conservative, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, has thrown his support behind Rouhani. While the field of aspirants won't be finalized until April, analysts say it is becoming clear that Rouhani - a soft-spoken cleric who has staked his presidency on ending Iran's isolation and reopening its economy to foreign investment - is likely to secure a second term in the May 19 vote.
After six years that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein described to the UN Human Rights Council as "the worst man-made disaster since World War II," encouraging news came from Astana, Kazakhstan, last week. The third round of Russia-led talks on reconciliation in Syria began with an announcement that a special team would be set up to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire on the ground. The members of the team will be Turkey, Russia, and Iran. According to a statement by Alexander Lavrentiev, head of Russia's delegation to the talks, the parties agreed to provide maps showing the location of terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front). But in case anyone thought, even for a moment, that any light was visible at the end of this blood-drenched tunnel, the reports from Damascus brought them back to reality: two terror attacks, one at the Damascus court complex and the other at a nearby restaurant, that killed more than 25 people.