China agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy under a sweeping economic and security agreement signed on Saturday. The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undercut American efforts to keep Iran isolated. But it was not immediately clear how much of the agreement can be implemented while the U.S. dispute with Iran over its nuclear program remains unresolved. President Biden has offered to resume negotiations with Iran over the 2015 nuclear accord that his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, abrogated three years after it was signed.
To talk or not to talk. Iran’s political leaders are divided over how to respond to U.S. President Biden’s overture to start negotiations aimed at reviving an international agreement that puts limits on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief. The split, reflecting disagreements over how long Iran can withstand the economic damage inflicted by sanctions and political jockeying ahead of presidential elections in June over who will be able to claim credit if they are lifted, has made it hard to predict when and under what conditions Iran would be willing to meet with the U.S., diplomats say.
The Department of Justice has taken down two websites used by the Iraqi Shi'ite militia group Kata'ib Hezbollah, an ally of Iran that regularly launches attacks against American and allies targets in Iraq. The DOJ released a statement on Thursday noting it seized the "r-m-n.net" and "Almaalomah.com" websites on Thursday via a seizure warrant in the Eastern District of Virginia. These sites were part of a wider Kata'ib Hezbollah network. The DOJ had already seized "Aletejahtv.com" and "Aletejahtv.org" in Arizona on August 31, 2020, and "Aletejah.tv" and "kataibhezbollah.com" on October 14, 2020 in the Eastern District of Virginia.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Who might take the first step to resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is not an issue for the United States, a U.S. official said on Friday, suggesting greater flexibility on the part of Washington. “That’s not the issue, who goes first,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Like, we are going to go at 8, they are going to go at 10? Or they go at 8, we go at 10? That’s not the issue,” the official said. “The issue is do we agree on what steps are going to be taken mutually.”
In the weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, British, French, and German diplomats approached the new administration with a plan to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. They proposed lifting some of the sanctions that had been removed by President Barack Obama and then reimposed by President Donald Trump. The idea was to bring the United States closer to compliance with the nuclear accord it had walked away from, and to put the onus on Iran to reciprocate, according to two European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of negotiations.
The odds of Washington and Tehran making progress to revive the 2015 nuclear deal before Iran’s June elections have dwindled after Iran opted to take a tougher stance before returning to talks, diplomats and officials told Reuters. US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is ready to talk to Iran about both nations resuming compliance with the accord, which scrapped broad economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbs intended to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons - something Iran says it does not want.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The online presence of the anti-government campaign, “no to the Islamic Republic”, calling for the removal of the clerical regime has gained popularity in the recent days, TV news channel Al Arabiya reported. The campaign launched in March against the current government has gained traction in the recent days with more than 600 anti-regime Iranians, including political activists, artists, athletes and academics. Supporters of the campaign say the current regime is an obstacle to the growth and advancement of the country—some advocates of the movement are relatives of Iranians killed by the regime.
Human rights violations by the Iranian regime and its militia groups across the Middle East are becoming much more egregious and appalling, with Iran’s leaders and their proxies appearing to act with impunity. In Iran, there are several categories that the international community ought to focus on. First of all, the suppression and execution of political prisoners and those who protest against the theocratic establishment have reached an unprecedented level. According to the recent Human Rights Watch “World Report 2021,” the Tehran regime is one of the leading executioners in the world.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran reported its highest number of daily coronavirus infections in more than three months after millions defied government guidelines and traveled during a weeklong public holiday. The country reported 8,751 new Covid-19 cases, the highest since Dec. 11, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Sunday, adding that some 89 people had died from the disease overnight. With more than 1.8 million infections so far and some 62,000 deaths, Iran has the Middle East’s worst outbreak of coronavirus.
Iran expects to start domestic production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in April, the RIA news agency cited the Iranian ambassador to Moscow as saying on Friday. Iran approved Sputnik V for domestic use in January, and says it has received more than 400,000 of the 2 million doses it ordered from Russia.
CONGRESS & IRAN
A group of Republican and Democratic senators sent Thursday a letter to President Joe Biden outlining the need to use the full force of Washington’s diplomatic and economic tools to reach an agreement that prevents Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons and constrains its destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East. “Democrats and Republicans may have tactical differences, but we are united on preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior,” the senators wrote in a letter led by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Mendez and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The sun was rising on the Mediterranean one recent morning when the crew of an Iranian cargo ship heard an explosion. The ship, the Shahr e Kord, was about 50 miles off the coast of Israel, and from the bridge the sailors saw a plume of smoke rising from one of the hundreds of containers stacked on deck. The state-run Iranian shipping company said the vessel had been heading to Spain and called the explosion a “terrorist act.” But the attack on the Shahr e Kord this month was just one of the latest salvos in a long-running covert conflict between Israel and Iran.
CHINA & IRAN
Iran and China signed a wide-ranging economic and security cooperation agreement, defying U.S. attempts to isolate Iran and advancing Tehran’s longstanding efforts to deepen diplomatic ties outside Western powers. Foreign ministers Javad Zarif and Wang Yi signed on Saturday what both sides bill as a “strategic partnership” that will last for 25 years. The deal, which was five years in the making, was signed in Tehran. Details about the agreement weren’t immediately published, but a draft of the agreement circulated last year included Chinese investments in projects ranging from nuclear energy, ports, railroads and other infrastructure to transfer of military technology and investment in Iran’s oil-and-gas industry.
China and Iran struck a deal on Saturday that will last for 25 years. On the surface it seems meaningful; in exchange for a steady supply of oil, Beijing agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran, The New York Times reports. But there's skepticism among Middle East experts about whether it actually signals a significant new phase in Tehran-Beijing relations. Dina Esfandiary, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group and co-author of a book about Iran's relations with China and Russia, told The Wall Street Journal the pact "allows Iran to be a little more intransigent," which could make "Europe and the U.S. a little more nervous because it looks like Iran may have a way out of economic strangulation."
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia said on Friday that its air defense systems had intercepted a ballistic missile over the southern city of Najran. It was the latest in a series of escalating attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have consistently targeted Saudi infrastructure in retaliation for the Saudi-led war against their insurgency in neighboring Yemen. Another missile struck an Aramco petroleum distribution terminal in the city of Jizan overnight, leading to a fire at one of the terminal's tanks, the Saudi Energy Ministry said in a statement. The Houthis were quick to claim the attacks, along with attempted kamikazi drone strikes.
“The Saudi initiative for Yemen is a project to perpetuate the war, and to continue the occupation and war crimes,” tweeted Hasan Irlu, Iran's ambassador to Sanaa. Irlu was one of a number of Iranian officials who have dismissed the peace plan unveiled by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan March 23. The Saudi initiative urges dialogue between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government. As part of Farhan’s package, a UN-monitored ceasefire will be in place and the blockade on Yemeni ports will be lifted.
IRAQ & IRAN
Astain on Iraq’s sovereignty.” That is how an Iraqi army officer describes the billboard glorifying Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian commander who was killed in an American airstrike on Iraqi soil in January 2020. The hoarding looms over Baghdad’s administrative district, known as the Green Zone. Many Iraqis once hailed Soleimani as hero for mobilizing local forces that beat back ISIS militants, The Economist reported. But public sentiment in Iraq has turned. The masses who cheered Iran as a liberator increasingly see it as an occupying power. Iraqi politicians are trying to loosen its grip.