A host of barriers to the revival of Iran’s nuclear deal remain firmly in place ahead of talks due to resume this week between Tehran and world powers, suggesting a return to compliance with the 2015 accord is still a way off, four diplomats, two Iranian officials and two analysts say. Iranian demands about sanctions relief and Western concern over Iran's expanding nuclear know-how are among questions that may need weeks or possibly months of further negotiations, the diplomats and analysts said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said he anticipates that even if Iran and the United States return to compliance with the nuclear deal, hundreds of U.S. sanctions on Tehran would remain in place. “I would anticipate that even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes,” Blinken told a Senate committee.
Iran’s approach toward restoring its nuclear deal with world powers won’t change after this month’s presidential election, a top official said, amid expectations that Hassan Rouhani will be succeeded by a hardliner critical of the accord. Diplomats are trying to broker an agreement between Iran and the U.S. that will revive the pact abandoned by former President Donald Trump and ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s economy in exchange for it scaling back its atomic activities. A top atomic body on Monday said the negotiations in Vienna are at a “decisive” point.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran is rapidly developing its nuclear program, arguing that returning to the 2015 deal that former President Donald Trump quit is a necessary first step to prevent Tehran from acquiring a bomb. “Iran’s nuclear program is galloping forward,” Blinken said Tuesday during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department’s budget. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions only led Iran to enrich “at higher levels” and build more “advanced centrifuges,” he said.
During a crucial IAEA board meeting in Vienna, the U.S. accused Iran of violating the very nuclear deal that U.S. negotiators are trying to reinstate. "Since this Board last met, Iran has also exceeded JCPOA constraints by enriching uranium to 60 percent U-235," the U.S. delegation said in a statement. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, issued a similar warning. "My expectations about this process, of course, were not met," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director said. "We have a country that has a very developed and ambitious nuclear program, which is enriching at very high levels, enriching uranium at very high levels, very close to weapons-grade."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A man serving a five-year jail sentence on political charges in Iran has died in custody, activists said, accusing the authorities of contributing to his death by neglecting his medical conditions. Sasan Niknafs had since July 2020 been serving a sentence on charges including disseminating “propaganda” against the state and Iran’s leadership, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) and Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in separate statements late Monday. Both said that they held the head of the Iranian judiciary Ebrahim Raisi responsible for his death, the cause of which was not specified.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran on Tuesday rejected as interference a reported U.S. monitoring of Iranian navy vessels that may be headed to Venezuela, saying Tehran would not be breaching international law even if it sent arms to its Latin American ally. Western media including CNN and Politico have said that the United States has been monitoring two Iranian warships that may be headed to Venezuela, possibly with a cargo of arms. Last year, Tehran began sending tankers carrying gasoline to Venezuela to help ease an acute fuel shortage there. Both Iran and Venezuela face U.S. sanctions.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The results of the latest polling ahead of Iran's key presidential election indicate growing apathy among the Iranian public toward the polls. The survey was conducted by Iran Students Polling Agency (ISPA), which is affiliated with the country's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Covering over 1,500 respondents, the polling estimated the final voter turnout to stand around 38%. ISPA's results also showed that only 34% of eligible voters are "absolutely" going to the ballot boxes.
The seven men running to become Iran’s president have once again traded barbs in their second debate, while also criticising state television for the way the sessions are being conducted. Several of the candidates, both conservative and moderate, recognised that the peculiar format of the debates – the first of which was held on Saturday – stifle meaningful dialogue on the major issues at hand ahead of the June 18 polls. In Tuesday’s three-hour debate, each candidate was randomly posed a question and then had four minutes to reply, after which his microphone was automatically turned off.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iranian-backed armed Lebanese political group Hezbollah, said on Tuesday that it was ready to go to Iran to seek fuel to help Lebanon deal with a shortage. "We, Hezbollah, can go to Iran and negotiate with the Iranian government and buy shipments of fuel," Nasrallah said. Lebanon is in the throes of a deep financial crisis, and shortages in essential goods such as fuel and medicine have been worsening.
Syrian air defense forces reportedly intercepted an Israeli missile strike over the Syrian capital of Damascus, Syrian state media reported. The missiles targeted the central and southern regions of Damascus and didn't result in any casualties, the media said. Syrian military defectors said the missiles may have targeted Iranian-backed militias, according to Reuters. The strikes reportedly hit Homs province, a region that borders central Lebanon. The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah, an Islamist political party and militant group, maintains influence and presence in the region.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq has released an Iran-aligned militia commander arrested in May on terrorism-related charges after authorities found insufficient evidence against him, in the latest blow to government attempts to rein in armed groups. Security forces arrested Qasim Muslih, an Iran-aligned paramilitary leader who operates mostly in Iraq's western Anbar province and is from the southern holy city of Kerbala, on May 26.
The drone, packed with explosives, used the civilian flight path into Irbil airport to disguise its intent. It crashed into a CIA warehouse on the American airbase beside the civilian airport in April. US forces described feeling the shockwave across the base, which now has the biggest concentration of US and British forces in Iraq. The warehouse was left in ruins, but no-one was hurt. "They knew what they were hitting, but they didn't know what was inside," said one US commander.
On May 18, Behzad Mahmoudi, a Kurdish asylum seeker from Iran, set himself on fire in front of the United Nations office in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq. Four years ago, the 26-year-old fled his home city of Boukan in western Iran, hoping to find a better future away from the persecution and discrimination many Kurds in Iran say they face. But when Mahmoudi arrived in the KRG, he was unable to find a stable job or income.
Drones are an increasing threat to US forces in Iraq. There have been at least four drone attacks, most recently on Sunday, when drones, likely operated by Iranian-backed militias, attacked Ain al-Asad Airbase. They were shot down. On May 8, another drone incident took place, and in April, a drone attacked a secret CIA hangar at Erbil International Airport in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. There was also a drone attack on May 11. At a briefing on Monday with Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, he discussed the increasing drone threat.