Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a rare appearance at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, putting aside his publicly stated skepticism of the organization as he sought to broaden support for the hard-line American stance on Iran. In particular, he accused Iran of having destabilized the Middle East and beyond, through what he described as the "reckless" development of ballistic missiles systems.
As U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran last month, hackers scrambled to break into personal emails of American officials tasked with enforcing them, The Associated Press has found - another sign of how deeply cyberespionage is embedded into the fabric of US-Iranian relations.
An Iranian political activist jailed for his messages on social media has died after spending 60 days on hunger strike, his family says. Vahid Sayadi Nasiri had been accused of insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other offences. He was released last March after serving two-and-a-half years in prison but detained again five months later.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Last month I was surprised to learn that the German airline Lufthansa has direct flights to Iran. In fact, there are two other major European carriers that also have direct flights to the Islamic Republic: Alitalia and Austrian Airlines. One would think that countries that were directly involved in causing World War II and the deaths of millions would have learned the lessons of history. Evidently they have not. In light of dangerous developments involving Iran and its loyal proxy Hezbollah, I urge readers to think twice before booking their next flight on one of these airlines.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The United States will push the U.N. Security Council to toughen its stance to prevent Iran from working on ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and carrying out test launches, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday. Pompeo also told the Security Council an arms embargo on Iran should not be lifted in 2020 and called on the council to establish "inspection and interdiction measures, in ports and on the high seas, to thwart Iran's continuing efforts to circumvent arms restrictions."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlined the significance of Iran's nuclear accord for international security, urging the global community to make efforts to uphold the hard-earned deal. In a report to the United Nations Security Council on the implementation of sanctions on Iran cited by Reuters on Tuesday, the UN chief called on all countries to "ensure the continuity of this agreement that is fundamental to regional and international peace and security".
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
OPEC said on Wednesday it had offset a drop in sanctions-hit Iranian oil exports and lowered the 2019 forecast of demand for its crude, underlining the challenge the producer group faces to prevent a glut even after last week's decision to trim output. In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said 2019 demand for its crude would fall to 31.44 million barrels per day, 100,000 bpd less than predicted last month and 1.53 million less than it currently produces.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Wednesday that, because of U.S. sanctions, India had refused to allow a Russian-owned Indian refinery to use Iranian crude oil that India had obtained under waivers. Zanganeh was responding to a question in an interview on Iranian state television about why Iran had not bought refineries overseas. He said large investments were needed, and the refineries would be under the jurisdiction of the host country.
China-based Yantai Jereh Oilfield Services Group Co Ltd has agreed to pay more than $2.7 million to settle 11 "apparent violations" of sanctions against Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday. "The apparent violations involved the exportation or re-exportation, and attempted exportation or re-exportation of U.S.-origin goods ultimately intended for end-users in Iran by way of China," the department said in a notice on its website.
China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) has suspended investment in Iran's South Pars natural gas project in response to US pressure and to minimize tensions amid trade talks between Beijing and Washington, three Chinese state oil executives said. South Pars is the world's largest gas field and CNPC's investment freeze is a blow to Tehran's efforts to maintain financing for energy projects amid the re-imposition US sanctions on its energy sector earlier this year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the U.S. would form and lead a coalition of countries to oppose Iran's ballistic missiles in an attempt to curb the program and its development. Mr. Pompeo, attending a U.N. Security Council semiannual meeting on Iran, said the council should not lift an arms embargo on Iran as scheduled in 2020 and should toughen inspection and surveillance activities in "ports and high seas" to block Iran from weapon transfers.
This week Iran confirmed that it recently test-fired a missile, which the U.S. categorized as a medium-range ballistic missile "capable of carrying multiple warheads," a transgression of a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution. Unfortunately, this was hardly news: Iran has made a habit out of testing, using and even transferring ballistic missiles across the Middle East.
The UN Security Council convened Dec. 12 to address the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). US Secretary of State Pompeo said that Iran's pace of missile activities has not diminished since the JCPOA and that the United States seeks to reimpose ballistic missile restrictions that were outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 1929.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
One of the objectives of Iran's annual budget for the next year is to decrease poverty, according to Iranian officials. This comes after news of the latest report by the parliament's research center, which says 11 percent more people have fallen below the poverty line in the Tehran region as the national currency rial has lost value dramatically over the past seven months. The parliament puts the poverty line in the Iranian capital, Tehran, at about $233 based on the free market exchange rate or $480 based on the official exchange rate (roughly a monthly income of around 28 million rials) for a family of four and slightly more than one-fourth of that for a single person.
Following the publication of its damning report on a three-decade long campaign of misinformation by the Iranian authorities about the mass prisoner killings of 1988, Amnesty International today published a video interview from December 1988 showing Iran's then prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, denying and distorting the truth about these crimes against humanity. The video clip has been released in response to a public debate ignited since the report's publication about the extent to which Mir Hossein Mousavi and his government were aware of the mass killings while they were taking place between late July and early September 1988, and his role in the official campaign to conceal the truth about what happened.
Dissident Iranian lawyer Ghasem Sholesaadi has been sentenced to six years in prison, his lawyer said Wednesday. Sholesaadi was arrested Aug. 18 while taking part in a small protest outside the Iranian Parliament against the barring of candidates from elections. The conservative-dominated Guardian Council reserves the right to veto any candidates from presidential and parliamentary elections.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Almost halfway through his term, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has yet to launch a coordinated assault against Hezbollah's terrorist finance networks in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, the Iran-backed terrorist group's most active financial hub in the region. That may be about to change, though.
President Trump has revived most of the U.S. sanctions on Iran that were dropped during Barack Obama's 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. More sanctions are coming. But to halt Iran's march toward enriched uranium and functional ballistic missiles for good, the White House must convince more Americans and U.S. allies to join in raising pressure on the regime. The fruits of Tehran's imperialism won't wither until the world chokes its roots.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he wants to build a "coalition of responsible nations" to push back against malign Iranian actions -- as European countries took to the U.N. Security Council to ramp up pressure on the regime. "The United States will continue to unite sovereign nations in their responsibility to work for the peace and security of their own people and a stable international order," he said at a meeting of the council on non-proliferation. "The United States will continue to be relentless in building a coalition of responsible nations who are serious about confronting the Iranian regime's reckless ballistic missile activity."
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians on Wednesday to stay united, saying the United States would exploit divisions and was likely to launch plots against Iran in 2019. Iran is struggling with the economic impact of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and re-impose sanctions.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that Iran is defying U.N. Security Council resolutions on its missile programme and called on council members to take action to protect against the malign activity. "This threat is real and upon us. We clearly see that the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) didn't succeed in stopping this malign activity," Pompeo told reporters after attending a council meeting.
Washington's special envoy for Iran says the U.S. administration is looking into the visas of relatives of Iranian officials who are residing in the United States with an eye to possible action to expose hypocrisy within the ranks of Iran's government. Brian Hook announced the review in a December 11 video in which he said the United States was "working" on the issue, without providing details.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran needs some 500 planes and would likely back buying the Sukhoi Superjet 100 if Russia is willing to sell them to its airlines, Iranian news agencies reported the country's top civil aviation official as saying on Wednesday. Iran needs to upgrade its ageing passenger fleet and is seeking to avert U.S. sanctions on Tehran. The U.S. Treasury has revoked licences for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell passenger jets to Iran after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May and reimposed sanctions.
From a desert hillside guarded by Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries, commander Qassem Muslih can spot Daesh (ISIS) hideouts across the frontier in Syria. But he also keeps a wary eye on U.S. warplanes soaring overhead. "The Americans are spying on us," he says, squinting skyward. "But we can hold the borders. We'll fight whoever lays a finger on Iraq and its holy shrines."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh joined Twitter, citing the need for more effective communication with Iranians and the world. "I have come to Twitter for a more dynamic and effective relationship with domestic and foreign audience," read his first tweet. The Oil Ministry's public-relations office confirmed @BijanZanganeh is the minister's Twitter handle.
Since February 2011, Iranian opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi have been effectively under house arrest with virtually zero access to the outside world. The punishment without trial came after Mousavi and Karroubi, two of the defeated candidates in the country's 2009 presidential elections, leveled accusations of vote rigging and called for public protests.
The Iranian parliament's research center says a worsening domestic economy means a broader range of Iranians are living in poverty, based on their monthly incomes. In a report released Tuesday, the parliamentary researchers said the poverty line for a family of four living in the capital city of Tehran rose to a monthly income of 27 million rials in the June to September quarter, or $650, according to Iran's official exchange rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel does not rule out acting militarily inside Iran's border if it feels that is necessary for its security, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. Asked at an annual appearance before the foreign press if Israel would act inside Iran's borders, Netanyahu said, "Our redline is our survival. We do what is necessary to protect Israel against the Iranian regime that openly calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state."
IRAQ & IRAN
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry tweeted on Thursday that he had discussed energy cooperation with Iraqi Kurdish leader Masrour Barzani. "My final meeting in Iraq was with @masrour_barzani, Chancellor of Kurdistan Security Council, where we continued discussions on the importance of energy collaboration and the role that Kurdistan plays in an energy secure Iraq and eliminating the influence of Iran," he said.