France's PSA Group is pushing ahead with an Iranian plant investment and production ramp-up in the face of a hardened U.S. stance against Tehran under President Donald Trump that could play to the carmaker's advantage, a senior executive said. The group's Peugeot brand is about to begin production with local partner Iran Khodro, while PSA is also preparing to invest more than 100 million euros ($106 million) in a new Citroen plant with partner SAIPA, PSA Middle East chief Jean-Christophe Quemard [said]... Peugeot returned to Iran last year after an international deal to lift sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear activities, and has reclaimed its place as the country's top-selling car brand with a 32 percent market share last year, according to IHS Automotive data. The carmaker inked a 400 million euro ($424 million) Peugeot production agreement last June and a 300 million deal for Citroen four months later... "This is our opportunity to accelerate," he said. "It will become even harder for American companies to operate, that's for sure. We've opened up a lead and we plan to hold on to it"... German brands may be treading carefully because-unlike French rivals-Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have extensive U.S. sales and production... Mansour Moazami, Iran's deputy industry minister, told the Tehran conference that VW may soon finalise a production deal with an Iranian company. VW had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. Renault, PSA's larger domestic rival, is also adding production and new models with Iranian partners and may overtake Peugeot's sales by 2019 thanks to its low-cost vehicle architectures, IHS predicts.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven led a Swedish delegation to Iran. Lofven was received warmly by the Islamic Republic's political elite - Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted positively about his meeting with Lofven, adding that Sweden had a "good reputation" in Iran - and the two countries agreed upon a number of trade-related deals. Back home, however, coverage of the Swedish government delegation's trip to Tehran has focused on something else. As Sweden's media noted Monday, a number of female officials who joined the trip, including Trade Minister Ann Linde, chose to wear Islamic headscarves while in Iran... Lofven's Swedish government describes itself as a "feminist government," and it has spoken of the need for a "feminist" foreign policy. Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a human rights group and frequent critic of Iran , noted this apparent contradiction in a tweet shared Sunday night. Masih Alinejad, a journalist and activist who started a Facebook page that invited Iranian women to share photographs of themselves without a hijab, also criticized the Swedish delegation. "By actually complying with the directives of the Islamic Republic, Western women legitimize the compulsory hijab law," Alinejad wrote on Facebook. "This is a discriminatory law and it's not an internal matter when the Islamic Republic forces all non-Iranian women to wear hijab as well"... Other Swedish politicians were [also] critical. Jan Björklund, leader of the opposition Liberals party, told Aftonbladet newspaper that the headscarf is "a symbol of oppression for women in Iran" and that the Swedish government should have demanded that Linde and other female members of the delegation be exempted from wearing it.
Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who emerged as a key player in President Donald Trump's Iran strategy, resigned just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived for his first White House summit with Trump... The timing of Flynn's resignation was inopportune for Netanyahu... A key agenda item at the summit will be how to confront Iran given the strictures of the deal reached in 2015 between Iran and the international community trading sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran's nuclear program.
UANI IN THE NEWS
European governments are protesting Iran's treatment of an Iranian-born scientist, now a resident of Sweden, who was arrested last year in Iran and who could now face the death penalty. The scientist, Ahmadreza Djalali, a physician who specializes in disaster medicine and has taught at universities in Belgium, Italy and Sweden, was arrested in April while driving to his family's house after arriving in Iran for a conference, an Italian newspaper has quoted his wife as saying... The Swedish Embassy in Tehran has asked for "consular access" to the researcher, but when the newspaper Expressen asked Prime Minister Stefan Lofven about the matter, he said that the embassy still had not gotten word about Dr. Djalali and pledged to bring up the issue with the Iranian government. Mr. Lofven has begun facing pressure from critics who say the Swedish government should tie Dr. Djalali's case to discussions over sanctions. United Against Nuclear Iran, an organization founded by the American diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, took out a full-page ad in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, demanding the cessation of business contacts between Swedish companies and the Iranian government.
Former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said the Trump administration should "declassify" the entire Iran nuclear deal and "close the loophole" that allowed the Obama administration to directly pay Iran $1.7 billion without congressional approval. "The best thing the Trump administration can do is declassify the entire agreement and publish it so the Congress and the American people can look at it and see the negotiating record and understand all of the terms as they were put forward before the parties," Kirk said during a United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) Capitol Hill briefing on Thursday about the future of Iran policy... Kirk also encouraged the United States to work with Saudi Arabia to combat the Iran regime's actions such as sponsoring terrorism. He said the Saudis would jump at any chance to "screw" the Iran regime after its plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
The head of the United Nations' atomic agency said Tuesday the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has yet to be in touch with him or others about their criticism of the Iran nuclear deal.
Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, became the front-runner late Monday to replace Michael Flynn as the White House national security adviser, following lengthy discussions among top advisers to President Trump and several Cabinet members after Flynn resigned... According to his Navy biography, Harward is a native of Rhode Island who "grew up in a Navy family and graduated from the Tehran American High School in Iran"... Harward served under [Defense Secretary James] Mattis while he was at U.S. Central Command and remains an ally and friend of the defense secretary. The officials said Harward, who has been under consideration as a possible undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is seen by key players around Trump as a steady pick for the post following the tumult that surrounded Flynn. The officials also described Harward, who had a tour on the National Security Council during George W. Bush's presidency, where he worked on counterterrorism strategy, as someone who had a high profile in security circles but a low public profile, which is part of his appeal.
In his White House briefing room debut, Mr. Flynn declared that the administration was "officially putting Iran on notice" after the country launched a ballistic missile. "The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East, and place American lives at risk," he said, without specifying how the United States would respond. "In these and other similar activities," Mr. Flynn said, "Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region."
Iran says Russia's planemaker Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company is moving closer to a deal to sell its Superjet 100 aircraft to the country. Maqsoud As'adi Samani, the secretary of the Association of Iranian Airlines, was quoted by the domestic media as saying that Sukhoi had already started technical talks to obtain a license from the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to sell the planes to Iran... The 108-seat twin-engine SSJ-100 is among Iran's options for renovation of its fleet of regional jets, alongside Japan's Mitsubishi Regional Jet and Brazil's Embraer. Russia's media reported in December of last year that Sukhoi had sealed a basic deal with an unnamed Iranian company to study the projected sales of its SSJ-100s. Interfax news agency quoted an anonymous Russia aviation official as confirming the development. The official added, however, that the agreement was still not binding.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will visit Oman and Kuwait on Wednesday, state media reported, in his first visit to the Gulf Arab states since taking power in 2013... Kuwait's foreign minister paid a rare visit to Tehran late in January to deliver a message to Rouhani on a "basis of dialogue" between Gulf Arab states and arch-rival Iran.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Want a deal with Vladimir Putin in the Middle East? Then start with the real questions: Are the Russians prepared to abandon Iran and Bashar Assad's Syria? If so, what would it take to pull it off? Start by reminding yourself that Russia entered the Syrian battlefield upon Iranian request... The Russian-Iranian embrace is very tight. Virtually the entire Iranian nuclear program-whatever isn't North Korean-is Russian, from the reactors to the air-defense systems that protect them. The Iranians have committed to purchasing billions of dollars worth of weaponry, including advanced Russian torpedoes to attack the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, there is a powerful Russian and Iranian interest in increasing oil prices, and defeat of Iran in Syria and Iraq might drive petroleum prices down. Again, good for the U.S., but bad for Mr. Putin. On the other hand, an Islamist republic next door to Russia with a strong military and nuclear capabilities can't make Mr. Putin very happy. He knows that Iran produces a significant number of radical Islamic terrorists, both Sunni and Shiite. He also knows that the Iranians smuggled Qurans into the Soviet Union and supported separatist Muslim movements in the 'stans and Chechnya. Mr. Putin would be happier with a nonjihadi Iran that didn't aspire to become a nuclear power. But Mr. Putin isn't likely to join the U.S. in changing the nature of the Tehran regime, because a non-Islamist Iran with warm U.S. relations wouldn't be in Moscow's interest either. At the moment, Mr. Putin is arguably the most influential external force in the Middle East, and it is doubtful he wants to compete with Mr. Trump for that role. Thus, he'll try to cope with his Iran problems on his own... What, then, is the best American strategy? Iran continues its campaign against the U.S., and it won't end so long as the regime endures. Therefore American policy must rely on dismantling the Khamenei regime as peacefully as possible, perhaps from the inside out... With the Islamic Republic gone, the Trump administration would be in a much stronger position to strike a deal with Mr. Putin. The road to Moscow runs through Tehran.
Last week, US President Donald Trump's administration all but declared pending military action against Iran to push the Islamic Republic out of Arab lands... [the administration is] not going to tolerate Iranian harassment at sea any more. The suicide boat attack against a Saudi frigate off the coast of Yemen was the last straw... The United States is accepting GCC arguments that Iran is indeed behind the Houthi missile program and well as backing Houthis fighting against Saudi Arabia with almost daily intrusions into the Kingdom's two provinces, Jizan and Najran, America's toolkit is about to open for sending a strong message to Tehran... [T]his new round of DC-Tehran shouting has important implications... There are a number of Trump cards that are now in play. First, Trump is trying to get Iranian concessions by listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the terrorist list and not ripping up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear treaty at this time. Second is a message to Russia. The Trump administration is floating the idea to Moscow to trade Iran for Ukraine in a bold geo-political transactional move with the Kremlin. Russia is concerned by escalating rhetoric between the United States and Iran and sees itself as a negotiator which is pleasing to GCC ears. Third, the Trump administration wants to show that Washington is back in the region so they can help manage the Middle East conflict which means controlling Iraq and jointly operating with Arab partners to push back Iranian proxies. A maritime clash is also part of the Trump transactional approach. Naval exchanges are likely given that volume of harassment attacks by Iran and its proxies against US and Arab naval ships... The best-case scenario is that any confrontation is short and any damage to shipping returns to normal after 30 days and not last four years like the first Tanker War. But in terms of timeframe and assessment of severity of a Tanker War II, there are a number of potential escalatory outcomes. Any extended closure of maritime shipping will be costly. Again, we are looking at Iranian forces will most certainly try to block the Strait of Hormuz and paralyze international shipping. It would wreak havoc with the world's oil supply that would shoot oil prices higher that ironically provide some budgetary relief to OPEC and non-OPEC countries. Tehran will do its best to hinder US and allied naval operations by making it engaged in prolonged mine countermeasure operations. Thankfully, the US and the international community are ready for this potential Iranian action through several years of multilateral drills, IMCMEX.