When Iran's president on Saturday compared the country's economic distress under hardening American sanctions to the miseries Iran endured during its worst war, it was a signal that Iranians are suffering deeply under the Trump administration's tightening financial chokehold. But in his address to political activists, President Hassan Rouhani also seemed to send a second signal: Iran has no intention of capitulating. He appeared to throw cold water on White House hopes that it can push Iran back into a room to renegotiate a nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has changed the schedule for his latest trip to Europe, substituting a stop in Brussels for one in Moscow to discuss Iran and other issues with European officials. A State Department official says Pompeo, who departed Sunday night, is still expected to meet Tuesday in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The official isn't authorized to discuss the itinerary by name and requested anonymity.
Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers were attacked while sailing toward the Persian Gulf, adding to regional tensions as the U.S. increases pressure on Iran. The Saudi tankers were damaged in "a sabotage attack" off the United Arab Emirates coast on Sunday, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported. The vessels were approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important chokepoint for oil shipments. The U.A.E. foreign ministry on Sunday reported an attack on four commercial ships near its territorial waters.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is calling for unity and says that his country is facing 'unprecedented' pressure as the U.S. continues to ratchet up sanctions. Tehran said last week it will no longer comply with portions of the negotiated nuclear agreement, an agreement which the U.S. left last year, while several European countries remain committed to the deal. Iran's threat to no longer comply is widely seen as an ultimatum meant to pressure European countries to convince Washington to back off of increased sanctions demands. European countries have indicated they will reject any ultimatums.
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been ruled by a hardline theocratic leadership motivated by the concept of "exporting the Islamic revolution". To this end, Iran has dedicated an entire arm of its military to supporting terrorism. It is called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC. Given the fact that the international media too often ignores the destructive role of Iran and the IRGC in the region, it's important to ask: What would the Middle East look like without the IRGC?
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The European Union fully supports the international nuclear accord with Iran and wants rival powers to avoid any further escalation over the issue, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday. "We will continue to support it as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will," Mogherini told reporters before a meeting with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, who are signatories to the deal.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has described Tehran's threat to resume nuclear work -- in what would be a contravention of its commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal -- as a "bad reaction", calling on Tehran to show "political maturity". "Iran has had a bad reaction, faced with a bad US decision to withdraw from the Vienna agreements and impose sanctions," Le Drian said in an interview published online by Le Parisien, referring to the 2015 deal signed in Vienna.
...For Iran, the pressure phase looks nowhere near over; just this week, the United States dispatched an aircraft carrier and other military assets to the region and imposed yet another round of sanctions, as Trump has done repeatedly since pulling out of what he called the "disastrous" nuclear deal a year ago. But Trump also said this week that he wished the Iranians would call him, and his administration has frequently held out the prospect of negotiations-perhaps a lot like the ones with Kim.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Saudi Arabia's stock market fell on Sunday, in line with most Gulf markets, after the U.S. Pentagon approved the deployment of a warship and Patriot missiles to the Middle East. The Tadawul All-Share Index was down 1.8 percent to 8,699 points, its lowest level since the end of March. The benchmark is down almost 7 percent this month. "The increased military tension between the U.S. and Iran are pressuring markets down," said Mohammed Ali Yasin, chief strategy officer at Al Dhabi Capital in Abu Dhabi.
Farzaneh Sharafbafi, the first-ever female CEO of Iran Air, has just lost her job, a victim of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Appointed in July 2017, Sharafbafi's tenure was dogged by failures beyond her control. Of the 200 aircraft Iran ordered from Boeing, Airbus, and ATR, only 21 were delivered before the U.S. Treasury revoked the relevant licenses as part of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran.
A top aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says EU has two months to prevent the demise of the nuclear deal with Iran by operationalizing the European financial channel INSTEX set up to help Iran. Chairman of Iran's Strategic Council of Foreign Relations (SCFR) Kamal Kharrazi delivered the message while currently visiting France.
An Iranian trade official has insisted that complying with international financial transparency rules has nothing to do with Europe's efforts to facilitate trade with Iran. The UK, Germany and France have established the Instrument for Trade and Exchanges (INSTEX) in a bid to satisfy Iran's demands for trade despite U.S. sanctions. Iran in turn has set up a matching channel called Special Trade and Finance Instrument (STFI).
A senior Iranian official has been criticised after bemoaning the cost of more than three million Afghan refugees living in the country, claiming US sanctions are making it hard to support them. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said that displaced Afghans are taking up the country's jobs, school places and clogging up its healthcare system, in an interview with Irna, a state-linked news agency, on Saturday.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
It is a common misconception that since Iran's theocratic establishment is Shiite, it will not cooperate with non-Shiite terrorist groups and militias. For example, some policy analysts, scholars and politicians continue to promote the argument that Tehran and Al-Qaeda are not natural allies due to their religious differences. Analyses that view the Iranian regime solely through the prism of religion are extremely simplistic.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran said on Monday it had sentenced an Iranian woman to 10 years prison for spying for Britain, as tension rises between Tehran and some Western countries over its nuclear and missile programs. "An Iranian who was in charge of Iran desk in the British Council and was cooperating with Britain's intelligence agency... was sentenced to 10 years in prison after clear confessions," Gholamhossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, said on the state television.
Iran's parliament struck a blow for women's rights by overwhelmingly voting to confer citizenship on children born to an Iranian mother and foreign father. Currently, children of "mixed marriages" are only eligible for citizenship if their Iranian parent is a man. If the decision is approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful body of senior clerics and judges, then the offspring of mixed marriages would be eligible for citizenship, regardless of whether their mother or father is the Iranian national.
Iranian authorities shut down a reformist magazine that had urged negotiations with the United States, local media reported Sunday. The weekly magazine Seda was handed a suspension order Saturday by a court in Tehran, the reformist newspaper Arman reported. Seda's most recent front page had shown a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet and the caption "At the crossroads between war and peace."
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian officials rebuffed President Donald Trump's suggestion that they call him to try to defuse frictions as the U.S. ratcheted up its actions against Tehran. Several top Iranian aides and lawmakers predicted Sunday that the current tensions wouldn't lead to war, calling the U.S. deployment of an aircraft carrier, warship, bomber jets and missile defenses to the Middle East a propaganda stunt. Antagonism between the countries, already high, has worsened this month since Trump eliminated exceptions to U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil.
President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for unity among Iran's political factions to overcome conditions which he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, state media reported, as the country faces tightening U.S. sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran's leaders talk with him about giving up their nuclear program and said he could not rule out a military confrontation.
Britain warned Monday that conflict might break out "by accident" between the United States and Iran amid rising tensions, as European Union powers gathered to thrash out ways to keep afloat the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. The warning came after the United States announced the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged but still-unspecified threat from Iran, the latest in a long line of such deployments to the strategic region.
A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group rushes toward the Persian Gulf. Decades-old B-52 bombers rumble down runways at desert air bases. The Pentagon, meanwhile, routes a Patriot missile battery and an amphibious supply ship to return to the region. These military deployments in the Persian Gulf, beginning with a sudden May 5 order from the White House citing still-unspecified threats from Iran, comes as Tehran has begun setting its own deadlines over its unraveling nuclear deal that President Donald Trump pulled America of out of a year ago.
Iran is an active threat to American interests as it sows chaos in the Middle East, but the White House would "of course" welcome the opportunity to negotiate with Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday. Speaking with CNBC's Hadley Gamble, America's top diplomat said he's seeing increased threats from Iran, and that President Donald Trump's administration is reinforcing its capacity to respond to any offensive action from Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week threatened to resume uranium enrichment unless the European signatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed trade with his country in violation of United States sanctions. This came one year to the day after President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the decades old Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Weapons.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Sunday the U.S. military presence in the Gulf used to be a serious threat but now represents a target, the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported. The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East in a move that U.S. officials said was made to counter "clear indications" of threats from Iran to American forces in the region.
The US government has approved the deployment of a Patriot missile defence battery and another warship to the Middle East amid increasing tensions between the US and Iran. The USS Arlington, which transports marines, amphibious vehicles, and rotary aircraft, will join the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which already passed through Egypt's Suez Canal on Thursday, and is currently sailing in the Red Sea, according to CNN.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) rejected negotiations with Washington and denied the likelihood of a US attack. This came a day after President Donald Trump urged Iran's leaders to hold talks on giving up their nuclear program, adding that he couldn't rule out a military confrontation. "No talks will be held with the Americans, and the Americans will not dare take military action against us," Yadollah Javani, the IRGC's deputy head for political affairs, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency on Friday.
Would Iran close the Strait of Hormuz, could it, and would the United States reply by force of arms if Tehran made the attempt? Maybe, maybe, and yes. There is precedent: it assailed merchant and naval shipping during the "Tanker War" of the 1980s. Then, it was attacking the export earnings of its archfoe Iraq. The United States, the mullahs' Great Satan, isn't nearly so dependent as was Saddam Hussein's Iraq on merchantmen plying the Persian Gulf.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has called for unity among political factions to overcome conditions that he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, state media reported, as the country faces tightening US sanctions. Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran's leaders to talk with him about giving up their nuclear programme and said he could not rule out a military confrontation.
Iranian authorities have launched an investigation into "disturbing" social media videos of schoolgirls dancing to a pop song. Education minister Mohammad Bathaei said a team of specialists had been appointed to trace the source of the videos, featuring the music of US-Iranian rapper Sasy. "The enemy is trying different ways to create anxiety among the people including by spreading these disturbing videos," he said.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
An Israeli cabinet minister warned on Sunday of possible direct or proxy Iranian attacks on Israel should the stand-off between Tehran and Washington escalate. The United States has increased economic and military pressure on Iran, with President Donald Trump on Thursday urging its leaders to talk to him about giving up their nuclear program and saying he could not rule out an armed confrontation.
Files leaked to the New York Times from Venezuela's security services apparently confirm Hezbollah's presence in the country and its ties to one of embattled President Nicolas Maduro's closest confidantes. Venezuelan Industry Minister Tareck El Aissami has been investigated for his alleged ties to the country's criminal underworld and Hezbollah, which is thought to have expanded its presence in the Triple Frontier area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to include operations within Venezuela.
Syrian security officers hung Muhannad Ghabbash from his wrists for hours, beat him bloody, shocked him with electricity and stuck a gun in his mouth. Mr. Ghabbash, a law student from Aleppo, repeatedly confessed his actual offense: organizing peaceful antigovernment protests. But the torture continued for 12 days, until he wrote a fictional confession to planning a bombing.
IRAQ & IRAN
The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) decided May 4 to open an economic representative office in Iraq. The decision was made during a meeting bringing together executives at Iraq's Oil Ministry and Iranian oil industry equipment producers, on the sidelines of the Iran Oil Show 2019. Ramin Gholampour Dezfouli, NIOC's director for support, construction and goods supply, said only Iranian companies approved by the NIOC will be able to partake in Iraqi Oil Ministry projects.
Few in Iraq's oil capital, Basra, look forward to the fetid humidity of summer, when temperatures can soar to 55C. But for Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraqi prime minister, the coming months will be especially nerve-racking, as his government races to prevent a repeat of protests over electricity blackouts that brought Basra to its knees last year. But to do this, he requires the help of neighbouring Iran.