In a move designed to circumvent sweeping U.S. sanctions on Iran, European countries closed their first transaction with the Islamic Republic using a trade mechanism that the Trump administration has heavily criticized. The move, announced Tuesday by Britain, France and Germany, underlined diverging European and U.S. strategies for dealing with Iran. European officials said they were confident that the transaction, the export of medical goods to Iran, would be the first of many despite past threats by U.S. officials that they could sanction the trade mechanism and people involved with it, if it provided a significant economic lifeline to Iran's economy.
Iran's president said on Wednesday that the United States had lost a historic opportunity to lift sanctions on his country over the coronavirus, while adding that the penalties had not hampered Tehran's fight against the infection. On Tuesday, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Washington might consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus, but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so.
Iran's foreign ministry Wednesday warned about American "military moves" in Iraq leading to "disastrous instability" in the region. The official warning came after expressions of concern by Iranian officials and allegation of U.S. preparing some sort of military operation. The ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi sounded the warning in reaction to reports and speculations about a possible U.S. attack on Iran's militia proxy forces in Iraq.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran hawks in Congress are unhappy with the Donald Trump administration's announcement that it will extend four waivers enabling other countries to cooperate with Tehran on certain civil nuclear activities. The waivers are among the last remnants of former President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018. And while Trump's maximum pressure campaign and stinging sanctions on Iran have pleased some of his closest Republican allies, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas lawmaker expressed disappointment over today's announcement.
Steve Mnuchin's recent besting of Mike Pompeo on whether to waive sanctions on Iran's nuclear program raises questions about the Trump administration's resolve vis-à-vis Iran. This week marked the end of a 60-day waiver on U.S. sanctions against European, Russian, and Chinese companies operating at Iran's civilian nuclear plants. But despite the strenuous objections of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department announced that it will renew the waivers.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's vice president for economic affairs lamented the free fall of the country's oil revenue. Mohammad Nahavandian told Iranian state TV that oil inventory has dropped to one-eighth of where it stood in 2011. The comments came after the global oil market was rattled by the coronavirus pandemic, which has slashed international demand for crude. The damage to Iran, the world's fifth largest oil producer, has been particularly disruptive.
Turkey's state-owned Halkbank pleaded not guilty Tuesday to U.S. charges that the bank helped Iran evade sanctions on billions of dollars in oil funds. The plea, entered on behalf of the company by its lawyer, Robert Cary, comes after months of legal wrangling over the bank's response to allegations of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. The arraignment was conducted by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan by teleconference after many in-person hearings were halted over coronavirus fears.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Iran is deeply alarming, as are the severe difficulties facing the Iranian government - which continues to mishandle its response - in dealing with the outbreak, treating the ill, and taking necessary preventive measures. Iran ranks sixth worldwide for confirmed cases of COVID-19, and fourth for deaths from the virus. The reality is likely far worse, considering the lack of testing capacity and the government's inclination to lie.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Reports received by Radio Farda indicate during rebellions in two prisons in the city of Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, at least three inmates were killed and several others injured. The first disturbance took place in Sepidar prison on Monday, March 30, which led to the death of three prisoners. This apparently led to a riot in Shiban prison on Tuesday, which led to security forces surrounding the facility and firing tear gas at the inmates.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The fear that World War III would begin after the January killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani always was overwrought. But a crisis provoked by Iran is never far off, even during a pandemic. After a series of rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq, the Pentagon reportedly is drawing up plans to eliminate Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite militia in the country. President Trump hasn't announced a policy change as his advisers debate whether the U.S. should do more to deter Tehran's proxies.
Progressives in Congress - Sen. Bernie Sanders, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, etc. - want to lift sanctions on Iran to combat the virus outbreak. That sounds compassionate, but it isn't even close to reality. "Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people's hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend" them to help fight the virus, said the lawmakers. Yet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notes that America is already "doing everything" it can to "facilitate humanitarian assistance" and ensure "financial transactions connected to that" take place.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 3,036, with 138 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Wednesday, adding that the country had 47,593 infected cases. "We had 2,987 new cases of infected people in the past 24 hours and 15,473 people have recovered from the disease," Jahanpur said.
Faced with a shortage of medical supplies and a worsening coronavirus outbreak, Iran's government has cracked down on hoarders stockpiling masks and disinfectant. Yet, on Sunday, a youth arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it was ready to dispatch a cargo of those badly-needed supplies as humanitarian aid for people in the U.S. Days earlier, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami had waved off an unspecified offer from President Trump to help Iran combat Covid-19 as "deception and lies."
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
More than 130,000 Afghans have fled the coronavirus outbreak convulsing Iran to return home to Afghanistan amid fears they are bringing new infections with them to the conflict-ridden and impoverished country. The huge spike in Afghans crossing the porous border from Iran, in one of the biggest cross-border movements of the pandemic, has led to mounting fears in the humanitarian community over the potential impact of new infections carried from Iran, one of the countries worst affected by the virus.
TURKEY & IRAN
An explosion in eastern Turkey Tuesday damaged a natural gas pipeline and halted gas flows from Iran, Turkey's state-run news agency reported. The explosion occurred in the town of Dogubayazit, near the Gurbulak border gate with Iran, Anadolu Agency reported. Flames caused by the explosion could be seen from nearby villages before the fire was extinguished. The agency said the cause of the explosion was under investigation.