China rejected on Thursday a planned push by the United States to extend a United Nations arms embargo on Iran and, if that fails, Washington’s assertion that it could trigger a return of all sanctions on Tehran at the U.N. Security Council. U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, publicly confirmed the U.S. strategy on Wednesday, two weeks after a U.S. official, speaking on condition anonymity, said the United States had told Britain, France and Germany of its plan.
The United States is considering measures it could take in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to crisis-stricken Venezuela, a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration told Reuters on Thursday. The United States has a “high degree of certainty” that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is paying Iran tons of gold for the fuel, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region, and we’re looking at measures that can be taken,” the official said.
The US has publicly threatened to trigger the restoration of all UN sanctions on Iran if the organization’s Security Council fails to extend an arms embargo on Tehran. It is due to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, confirmed the strategy on Thursday, two weeks after an American official said that Washington had informed Britain, France and Germany of its intentions.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran's foreign minister has dismissed US attempts to reenter the Iranian nuclear deal in order to apply sanctions on Iran. “The plan of the very idiotic claims by US officials are nothing new,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters May 14. He continued, “From those who recommend drinking disinfectant to be clean and not get the coronavirus, it is not unlikely that an agreement that they exited and in a statement wrote that they officially are ending their presence and participation in the JCPOA for them to now say they are members of the JCPOA.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Trump administration on Thursday issued guidelines to help ship owners and insurers avoid the risks of sanctions penalties, standards that maritime players and a senior State Department official said were modified following months of discussions with industry. The guidelines, known as a Global Maritime Advisory, concern sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Syria. The State Department said it is committed to disrupting sanctions evasion and smuggling of goods, including oil exports from Iran, which the Trump administration imposed sanctions on soon after pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.
Iran is taking advantage of a stock market boom to boost state revenues by selling stakes in state companies, but risks political repercussions if those buying shares get burned. While Iran’s already weak economy has been hit by the coronavirus crisis and an oil price slump, its stock market has risen 100% in local currency terms since March, encouraging many Iranians to seek higher returns than those available in cash. “People are withdrawing their savings from the banks to buy stocks. The daily interest rates have dropped from 15% to 8% in the past weeks,” one bank employee in Tehran told Reuters.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The wife of a detained Iranian journalist from the nation’s Gonabadi Dervish religious minority says she is distressed by authorities’ persistent refusal to temporarily free her husband from a coronavirus-plagued prison. In a Wednesday phone interview with VOA Persian from Tehran, Faezeh Abdipour said she had made repeated requests to Iranian officials to include her husband, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, in furloughs granted to tens of thousands of prisoners since late February.
International media-freedom watchdogs are urging Iran to stop jailing members of the press arbitrarily, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, after a local journalist started serving an 18-month prison sentence in Tehran's Evin prison. Hassan Fathi, a freelance columnist, began his prison term last week after his appeal in a 2018 criminal case stemming from an interview with the BBC’s Persian service was denied, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers news in Iran.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday called on Iran to release a journalist serving an 18-month sentence in a notorious Tehran prison for giving an interview to the BBC. Hassan Fathi, a freelance columnist and former editor of the Iranian daily Ettelaat, is an inmate at Evin Prison. His jail term began on May 6 after he lost an appeal against his 2018 conviction, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported. Fathi told the UK-based Iran International television channel that he was arrested on May 26, 2018 after he talked to BBC Persian Television about the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In its newly released Global Maritime Advisory (GMA), the U.S. government has advised the world's shipping lines to be vigilant about "Iran's, North Korea's and Syria's deceptions". The new advisory, prepared by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the U.S. Coast Guard, and published on Thursday, May 14, is a global guide to alert the maritime industry, and those active in the energy and metals sectors to deceptive shipping practices used to evade sanctions, with a focus on Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
An inspector general report detailed how tensions between Iran and its militia forces with the U.S. led to an accelerated transfer of several bases to Iraqi troops over force protection issues. From March 17 to March 30 the U.S. handed over four bases to Iraqi forces, to include an airfield near Mosul and a strategic outpost near the Iraq-Syria border known as al-Qaim. In April the coalition handed over a fifth base, Taqaddum air field, which fell outside the reporting quarter for the IG report.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran on Friday reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections in more than a month as it warned of clusters hitting new regions. Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 2,102 new cases were confirmed across the country in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall number to 116,635. That figure is the highest Iran has announced for a single day since April 6.
Iran's elected government under President Hassan Rouhani is embroiled in an internal power struggle against hardline factions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for control of the country's response to the COVID-19 crisis. The struggle has been exacerbated by two military disasters this year: January's accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner over Tehran, which killed 176 people; and last Sunday's failed naval missile test that accidentally killed at least 19 Iranian sailors and left more than a dozen still missing.