The United Arab Emirates has pressed the U.S. to make more muscular moves to deter Iran after the Islamic Republic’s military seized two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in recent weeks, U.S. and Gulf officials said. The Emirati complaints, expressed to U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi and Washington in recent weeks, mark another moment of disappointment among America’s Middle East partners with security in the Persian Gulf, where more than a third of the world’s seaborne crude-oil transits. Gulf officials say the U.S. has failed to do enough to deter attacks in recent years from Iranian proxies, undermining their faith in Washington’s commitment to the region.
Russia launched its third attack in 24 hours Tuesday night, sending 31 Iranian-made kamikaze drones into Ukraine, most of them aimed at Kyiv. Ukrainian Air Defense Forces said they shot down 29 drones. However, there was still extensive damage caused. One person was killed and 13 injured in a fire at a residential building caused by falling debris from a drone, Kyiv’s military administration reported. The latest attack came as Kyiv moved to sanction the Kremlin’s main supplier of drones — Iran.
A senior Iranian military commander downplayed tensions between Iran and the Taliban on Monday, placing the blame on unnamed “enemies” who he claimed were attempting to incite a conflict between the Islamic Republic and Afghanistan’s rulers. This follows an incident on Saturday near a border post between Iran and Afghanistan, where two Iranian border guards and a Taliban fighter were killed in a gunfire exchange. “Regarding Afghanistan, there have been incidents on the border, but they are being managed by the forces that are there … there is not much to worry about,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
It's been five years since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal. What followed: the U-S re-imposed crushing sanctions, over time, Iran stopped adhering to the limits the deal had set and day-by-day its nuclear program crept forward. So how close is Iran to a bomb? What can the U.S. do to stop Iran, if it chooses to pursue one? And how are regional and global shifts changing the equation? NPR's Mary Louise Kelly puts these questions to the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, and to Vali Nasr with the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Brett McGurk, President Biden’s senior Middle East adviser, took a low-profile trip to Oman earlier this month for talks with Omani officials on possible diplomatic outreach to Iran regarding its nuclear program, according to five U.S., Israeli and European officials. Why it matters: The Biden administration has said it is extremely concerned about the advances in Iran's nuclear program and the risk of it leading to a regional military escalation. Axios reported in April that the Biden administration discussed with its European and Israeli partners a possible proposal for an interim agreement with Iran that would include some sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran freezing parts of its nuclear program.
Israel is worried by reports of an interim nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran being reached “in the coming days and weeks,” Israeli media reported on Monday. Specifically, Jerusalem is concerned about a deal that would allow the regime in Tehran to freeze part of its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, according to Kan News. A source close to the White House told Kan that “diplomacy is the best way to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons,” and it was reported that messages have been broadcast between Washington and Tehran on the nuclear issue.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
In February, an oil tanker transmitted a signal showing it was sailing west of Japan. But the tanker’s path was highly unusual. Over the course of a day, its signals showed erratic behavior as the ship rapidly changed position. A satellite image, taken during this time, deepened the mystery: There was no ship there at all.
South Korean media say Seoul and Washington are mulling over ways to release Iran’s $7 billion funds frozen due to US sanctions on Tehran. In an article on Tuesday, the Korea Economic Daily said the move will help Seoul resume its business ties with Tehran as well as President Joe Biden in the 2024 US presidential election. Citing diplomatic and government sources in Seoul, the conservative business daily said Korean and US government officials are involved in working-level discussions under Washington’s leadership to unfreeze the Iranian funds. South Korea has blocked $7 billion which it owes for importing Iranian oil prior to full imposition of US sanctions in May 2019.
The European Union slapped Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with a fresh round of sanctions over the brutal crackdown on protesters following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested for improperly wearing the required hijab. More than 200 Iranian individuals and 37 entities have now been blacklisted by the EU in an eighth round of sanctions over the violent repression of protests that erupted in the weeks after her death. Five new names were added to the list on May 22, including Sirjan County Prosecutor Moshen Nikvarz; Tehran police commander Salman Adinehvand; and the secretary of Iran's Supreme Council for Cyberspace, Seyyed Mohammad Amin Aghamiri.
The U.S. and Israel are both responding to dangerous new escalations from Iran, this week, in the form of a new ballistic missile and reports on the construction of a potentially bomb-proof underground nuclear facility. The Kheibar missile, named after an ancient Jewish fortress conquered by Muslims, is capable of reaching Israel. Iranian defense officials say it can penetrate enemy air defense systems and evade radar detection. To the West, it's considered a dangerous move that can't be ignored. "Despite the restrictions on Iran's missile-related activities under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran continues to seek a range of missile technologies from foreign suppliers and to conduct ballistic, ballistic missile tests in defiance of the resolution," said State Dept. Spokesperson Matthew Miller.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights. Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.
The head of the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has warned the country's film industry that dissent will be dealt with harshly after several people from the sector participated in the Cannes Film Festival without obtaining permission from Tehran. Mohammad Khazaie said on May 29 that the individuals who traveled to the French seaside resort for the festival earlier this month will be barred from operating in Iran's film industry, saying they cannot both "wear the coat of opposition" and work in Iranian cinema.
It was a balmy 1:30 a.m. nearly a year ago in Shahin Shahr, a city in central Iran, and the rapper Toomaj Salehi was sitting on the roof of his apartment building, jotting down some new lyrics. On the street below, he watched as the driver emerged from a small, boxy Saipa Pride and started rummaging through a trash dumpster. It was a depressingly familiar sight. The irony, Mr. Salehi pointed out to me as we briefly DM’d on Twitter that night, is that a Saipa Pride used to be among the most affordable cars in Iran. ow it’s 2 billion Iranian rial — or about $3,900 at the official exchange rate — while the average minimum salary hovers around $100 a month. “We’re being finished off,” he wrote, referring to how the clerical establishment is wearing down the people of Iran. A little over four months later, Mr. Salehi was in prison, where he remains today.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Last week, deadly clashes broke out between Afghan and Iranian guards at their border raising fears of a new conflict. Both sides have accused each other of initiating the shooting in which at least two Iranian and one Afghan guard were killed. However, they have issued measured statements aimed at de-escalating the situation. Following the border violence, Iranian authorities closed the Milak-Zaranj border post, an important commercial crossing – and not the site of the clash – until further notice, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.