Iran is engaged in a brazen policy of hostage taking of foreigners to extract concessions from the West, activists say, with further Western nationals arrested and others even facing execution. Campaigners accuse Iran of a systematic policy of hostage taking over four decades from the earliest period of the Islamic republic after the ousting of the shah, starting with the 1979-1981 siege at the US embassy in Tehran. France said Thursday that two of its citizens had been detained in Iran, with sources identifying them as a French teachers' union official and the unionist's spouse, and the foreign ministry denouncing a "baseless arrest".
Two months after negotiators left Vienna, expectations are fading that Iran nuclear talks will resume, leaving the world with the remains of an agreement no one’s willing to pronounce dead. A media tent erected in anticipation of a grand announcement has been quietly dismantled, showy multilateral pow-wows in the Austrian capital giving way to furtive messages exchanged between the US and Iran via the European coordinator. European Union envoy Enrique Mora is in Tehran this week for a last-ditch effort to revive the landmark 2015 accord, which curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, including on oil.
Qatar’s emir met with Iranian leaders on Thursday, offering support for efforts to revive the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, even as talks on the tattered accord remain deadlocked. Despite its small size, the tiny Gulf Arab sheikdom plays a strategic role as a quiet mediator and negotiator in a region rife with sectarian and political conflict. Qatar’s ties with both Washington and Tehran allow Doha to relay viewpoints between the two. “We believe that negotiation is the solution of the problem,” the official IRNA news agency quoted visiting Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as saying after meeting President Ebrahim Raisi.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…The Maldives' STS exchange was new for Venezuela, but Iran has conducted at least one prior exchange in waters near the archipelago, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), an advocacy group that monitors Iran-related tanker traffic. "As Maximo Gorki was making its voyage toward Venezuela, Iran was able to send out a NITC tanker to meet it near The Maldives," said Claire Jungman, UANI's chief of staff. "The location is strategically convenient for Iran, taking roughly five days for the Iranian tankers to get from Khor Fakkan to Male," The Maldives capital.
The European Union’s envoy charged with reviving Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, Enrique Mora, was in Tehran Wednesday in another—some call it last-ditch—effort to get the clerical regime to come to terms. During the past 16 months of negotiations—many of them “proximity talks,” with negotiators in separate rooms—Washington reportedly granted Tehran numerous technical accommodations and massive sanctions relief. The two sides apparently overcame Vladimir Putin’s 11th-hour effort to use such relief as a means to void sanctions against Russia. Washington and Tehran likely have agreed, as they did in 2015, to ignore the International Atomic Energy Agency’s questions about Iran’s undeclared manipulated uranium—a prerequisite for a bomb.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Talks between Iran and world powers over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal are currently in a state of deadlock, a French diplomatic source said Thursday, expressing pessimism over the prospects of progress. The talks have stalled since mid-March as negotiators seek to return to the landmark accord that curtailed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app. “The negotiations are at a point of deadlock,” said the source, adding a deal had been ready back in March but had “slipped away” due to a dispute over the status of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
It’s been nearly five months since White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said there were only “weeks” left to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Rejoining the flawed accord was always a bad idea, but the West continues to hope despite growing evidence that the effort is futile and dangerous. The latest evidence comes from Rafael Grossi, who runs the International Atomic Energy Agency. “We, in the last few months, were able to identify traces of enriched uranium in places that had never been declared by Iran as places where any activity was taking place,” Mr. Grossi told the European Parliament on Tuesday. “The situation does not look very good. Iran, for the time being, has not been forthcoming in the kind of information we need from them.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Newly emerging trade routes are slashing transport times between Europe, western Asia and the Middle East from upwards of six weeks to as little as six days, saving consumers and exporters shipping expenses, insurance fees, and refrigeration costs. There is just one catch. The truck routes, which were first launched last year with lorries travelling from the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan to Turkey, pass through Iran, further integrating Tehran into the global economy, adding to its coffers and increasing its clout despite years of efforts by the United States to isolate it.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
France’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that two French nationals have been arrested in Iran and French authorities have “fully mobilized” to secure their swift release. Prominent trade union Workers’ Force identified the two Thursday as a teachers’ union official named Cecile Kohler, and her partner. It said they were on a tourist trip to Iran as part of an Easter vacation break. The union said it was made aware of the arrests Wednesday. France’s Foreign Ministry said its ambassador in Tehran has already attempted to obtain consular access to the couple and the charge d’affaires at Iran’s Paris embassy has been summoned for explanations.
Protests broke out in Iran Thursday after the government cut subsidies for food, sending prices through the roof as authorities brace for more unrest in the following weeks. In videos shared on social media, protesters can be seen marching through Dezful and Mahshahr in the southwestern province of Khezestan, chanting "Death to Khamenei! Death to Raisi!" referring to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions, and rescue the economy.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Israel’s Mossad spy agency has claimed it recently thwarted an Iranian assassin’s plot to murder a US general stationed in Germany, an Israeli diplomat in Turkey and a journalist in France. Mossad agents said the man they apprehended late last month on Iranian soil is an alleged gang member with ties to Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday. The suspect, Mansour Rasouli, 52, admitted during the April 30 interrogation that he’d been assigned to carry out the triple assassination, the outlet said.
The top US military general for the Middle East said in a recent interview that Iran was the “most destabilizing force” in the region, noting that countering this threat needed regional cooperation. “I view Iran as the most destabilizing force in the Middle East. The United States’ position is that we will not allow a nuclear Iran. However, our concerns about Iran go beyond its nuclear capability,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. Erik Kurilla told Al Arabiya during Tuesday’s interview in Saudi Arabia.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata reportedly said Thursday that Israel is not interested in a military solution to Iran’s nuclear program. “We are not looking for a confrontation with Iran — we don’t consider that to be a solution,” Hulata said during at a closed conference held for the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University. He added that Israel “does not want to drag the United States into a military confrontation” with the Islamic republic and indicated that Jerusalem was looking into other options of dealing with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Jewish Federations of North America held its Washington Conference on Wednesday and Thursday, featuring US senators and Israeli officials. Israeli Ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog, in his remarks about the Abraham Accords, said that the agreements were “really an amazing achievement and a key to a better future in our region.” “This is a warm peace, it’s not just a cold peace between governments,” he said. “The sky's the limit, it really is a success story, and people look at it and say ‘We want to join.’ We are now looking to deepen the agreements but also to expand them and to add additional countries.
New information has emerged in what appears to be a continued public relations war over an Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official who was nabbed and interrogated by the Mossad, with broad implications for US-Iran diplomacy. Iran International TV in Persian provided significant additional details on Thursday about Mansour Rasouli’s connections with the IRGC. It had been reported last week that the Mossad got Rasouli to admit that he was assigned to assassinate an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, a journalist in France, and most significantly for the diplomatic front, a senior US general in Germany.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran’s supreme leader urged his country and Qatar to substantially strengthen economic and political ties following a visit to Tehran by the ruler of the Gulf Arab monarchy. “The current level of economic relations between the two countries is too low and it must be several times what it is,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement on his website. Political ties should also be developed, he said, as “there’s room for a further exchange of views.”
Israel appeared to have been the main topic in a meeting between Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the visiting Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Tehran on May 12. "Wherever they set their feet on, the Zionists [Israel] cause corruption," Khamenei declared, according to a report published by his official website. "The Arab world is expected to openly enter the field of political action against [Israel's] obvious crimes." In what appeared as a word of caution to Sheikh Tamim, the Iranian leader suggested that relations with Israel do not promise any "power and privilege" and that Israel "is in no position that one should be sacred by."
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq has agreed to pay $1.6 billion in debt to Iran by June 1 to secure a steady gas supply for power generation through the summer, its electricity minister said. Chronic underinvestment through decades of war and sanctions has left Iraq dependent on imports from its eastern neighbour for a third of its gas needs. But US sanctions on Iranian oil and gas have complicated Iraq's payments for the imports, leaving it in heavy arrears and prompting Iran to respond by periodically switching off the taps.