The Biden administration’s early efforts to resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are getting a chilly early response from Tehran. Though few expected a breakthrough in the first month of the new administration, Iran’s tough line suggests a difficult road ahead. Having made several significant overtures to Iran in its first weeks in office, the administration’s outreach has been all but shunned by the Iranians. They had already rejected Biden’s opening gambit: a U.S. return to the deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 if Iran resumes full compliance with its obligations under the accord.
The family of a father and son detained for years in Iran appealed Monday to President Joe Biden to make the freeing of Iranian American detainees a condition of any deals or concessions with that country. “It is beyond outrageous for Iran to continue playing with my father’s life,” said Babak Namazi, whose 84-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, is marking his fifth year under Iranian control. The Biden administration and Iranian officials have signaled to each other in recent months that they want to reenter a 2015 nuclear pact, in which Iran accepts limits on its nuclear program in exchange for easing of international sanctions.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday signaled that Tehran will not back down to the U.S. on nuclear activity and may enrich uranium up to 60 percent, Reuters reported. “Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20 percent. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs. ... We may increase it to 60 percent,” Khamenei said, according to state TV. The ayatollah went on to say “Americans and the European parties to the [2015 nuclear] deal have used unjust language against Iran. ... Iran will not yield to pressure. Our stance will not change.”
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Very large crude carriers Ethan (IMO 9293741) and Laka (IMO 9203253) will be removed from the registry by February 21, the registry’s head of technical department Paolo Favilli said in a letter this week to the non-governmental organisation United Against Nuclear Iran. The Washington-based UANI wrote to the Cook Islands registry on October 20, November 9 and January 19, about Laka, Ethan and a third VLCC, Ermis (IMO 9203265) … The registry contacted UANI on February 18 to let them know of the tankers’ de-flagging.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The United States will seek to strengthen and extend the agreement between world powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear programme, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday. The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Sunday it had struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of steps Tehran plans to take this week that include ending snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.
An Iranian government newspaper warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions in the nuclear wrangling with the West may lead to the country’s isolation after Tehran ended snap inspections by United Nations inspectors. Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, said it had ended implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol at midnight (2030 GMT) on Monday. The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections.
The situation regarding Iran’s nuclear programme is “worrying”, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his EU colleagues during a meeting in Brussels, his ministry said on Monday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier on Monday that Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to U.S. pressure over its nuclear activity, state television reported.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
South Korea has agreed to release “a part” of billions of dollars of Iranian money it had blocked in its banks for years because of United States sanctions. In a statement, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) said South Korean Ambassador to Tehran Ryu Jeong-hyun announced the news in a meeting his embassy called for. “In this meeting, necessary agreements were made on how the resources will be transferred to desired destinations and the central bank’s decision on the volume of resources to be transferred and destination banks were relayed,” the statement said, without mentioning the amount that will be released.
A major crisis was narrowly averted Sunday over Iran's nuclear facilities and the planned booting of IAEA inspectors from key sites, scheduled according to a prior Iranian parliament decision for Feb. 21. Tehran reached a last-minute agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog, now being described as a temporary "technical understanding" to keep the inspections going for another three months. According to the agreement, the IAEA will no longer conduct last-minute "snap inspections" after Tehran argued that it shouldn't be subject to such after the US tore up the deal under Trump.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A State Department spokesman has said the United States will hold Iran "responsible" for a rocket barrage on February 22 that targeted the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital. But it said it won't "lash out" in response. Iraq's army said earlier that there were no casualties when the embassy, within Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, was targeted by the rockets.
During the past weeks, the contours of the new administration’s Middle East policy have become clear. Speaking at the Department of State, President Joe Biden stated that the U.S. will limit military assistance to Saudi Arabia and cease supporting Riyadh’s efforts against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Blinken retracted the Trump administration’s efforts to initiate “snap back” measures against Iran, effectively conceding Iran’s right to import weaponry. That’s a one-two punch: reducing support for the Saudis and clearing the way for Iran’s military build-up.
Every time Tehran finds a new victim to continue its 40-year habit of abducting foreign nationals as bait for negotiations, I am painfully reminded of my own captivity in Iran. But the ordeal of Emad Shargi, the latest American taken hostage by Iranian authorities, strikes particularly close to home. Shargi, a longtime D.C. resident, was initially detained from April to December 2018. After eight months of brutal interrogations, confined to a cell for more than 23 hours each day, he was finally released, and in 2019 he was cleared of wrongdoing.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The U.S. and Iran appear poised to resume diplomacy, with a view to reviving the multilateral nuclear deal scrapped in 2018 by President Donald Trump. Last week, the Biden administration said it would accept a European invitation to participate in meetings with Iran the other signatories to the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But one of the most significant flaws of the JCPOA was that it did not address the tensions between Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbors.
IRAQ & IRAN
Rocket attacks on US forces and facilities are increasing in Iraq. Iran is likely behind them but the US doesn’t want to raise tensions with Tehran and portrays any response as playing into Iran’s hands. The US is also eyeing the return of diplomats after the Trump administration withdrew staff from the US embassy in Baghdad and threatened to close the embassy between September and December 2020.