The European Union is set to agree to sanction several Iranian individuals on Wednesday for human rights abuses, the first such measures since 2013, three EU diplomats said. EU envoys are expected to agree to impose travel bans and asset freezes on the individuals, the diplomats said, and their names would be published next week, when the sanctions take effect. They gave no further details. The European Union declined to comment. Like the United States, the European Union has an array of sanctions over human rights since 2011 on more than 80 Iranian individuals which have been renewed annually every April
Iran will not stop its 20% uranium enrichment before the United States lifts all sanctions, Iranian state TV quoted an unnamed official as saying on Tuesday, as Washington considered ways to jump-start nuclear talks. The Biden administration has been seeking to engage Iran in talks about both sides resuming compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement removed economic sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon — an ambition Tehran denies.
China and Iran signed a deal over the weekend that their foreign ministers said was designed as a strategic partnership to last for the next quarter of a century. The details have not been published yet, but the assumption is that China, in defiance of American sanctions, will buy Iranian oil. It will, in turn, invest some of its wealth in Iran. Sanctions have starved Iran of foreign investment. It is the latest extension to China's vast infrastructure project, the Belt and Road initiative, which is creating the connections Beijing needs to continue its expansion as a global power.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…The third day of the forum ended with a panel on "UAE-USA relations under the new White House Administration", featuring Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the United States and Norman Roule, a senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran, who joined the forum remotely for this panel moderated by news anchor Hadley Gamble. The forum, held annually in Abu Dhabi as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation's keenness to encourage interaction between ministers, officials, UAE ambassadors and representatives abroad, aims to promote the exchange of views on regional and international developments while improving the effectiveness of the UAE’s foreign policy.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Efforts to sketch out initial U.S. and Iranian steps to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled and Western officials believe Iran may now wish to discuss a wider road map to revive the pact, something Washington is willing to do. U.S. President Joe Biden’s aides initially believed Iran, with which they have not had direct discussions, wanted to talk about first steps toward a revival of the agreement that Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018. The agreement eased economic sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs to the Iranian nuclear program designed to make it harder to develop an atomic weapon - an ambition Tehran denies.
The Biden administration's efforts to re-engage with Iran over its nuclear program are coming up against three major obstacles: a lack of direct channels of communication, divisions within the leadership in Tehran, and looming Iranian presidential elections, U.S. officials involved in the talks tell me. Why it matters: Putting Iran’s nuclear program “back in the box” is one of the Biden administration’s top foreign policy priorities, but the sides have yet to hold direct talks.
Xiyue Wang was a captive of the Iranian government for 40 months. He spent some of that time imprisoned with journalists, academics, former government officials and religious minorities. Before his 2019 release, they had a request. "We need you to tell the world and for the world to better understand the malign behavior and oppression of the regime,’" Wang told Fox News. "And today, I think I must do that." Wang has become an active participant in the renewed debate over American Iran policy.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported a build in crude oil inventories of 3.910 million barrels for the week ending March 26. Analysts had predicted a much smaller inventory build of 107,000 barrels for the week. In the previous week, the API reported a build in oil inventories of 2.927 million barrels after analysts had predicted a build of 272,000 barrels. Oil prices were trading down on the day prior to the data release, with WTI trading down $0.96 at 2:45 p.m. EDT at $60.60, while Brent crude traded down $0.78 at $64.20 per barrel.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran is “obsessively” executing death row inmates despite a decline in public support for capital punishment, rights activists said Tuesday as they released a report on the death penalty in the country. Iran executed at least 267 prisoners last year, according to the report by the Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) and Iran Human Rights (IHR). At least four were juvenile offenders while nine were women, the annual report said.
Some of Iran’s most outspoken political prisoners are being moved to new jails far from their families as part of a campaign of harassment against the regime’s most-effective critics, a human rights group has said. Campaigners say the transfer of lawyers, labour campaigners and women’s rights activists from Tehran’s notorious Evin jail accelerated in the last year as the leadership seeks to dilute the influence of significant opposition figures. Women, in particular, have been targets, campaigners say.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran said on Tuesday a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic had taken hold in western and central areas of the country, triggered by widespread travel and celebrations during the current Iranian New Year holidays. “A fourth coronavirus wave has definitely begun in many parts of the west and centre of the country and is advancing towards the east,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state television. New cases jumped by more than 900 to 10,255 in the past 24 hours, a more-than-three-month high, Lari said.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel issued travel warnings for the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey and other countries neighboring Iran as it allowed vaccinated citizens to board flights amid an uptick in tensions with the Islamic Republic. “Over the past few months, Iranian groups have threatened to hit Israeli targets,” the National Security Council said in a statement, noting a small explosion in January near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi that Indian officials linked to Iran. Since then Israel and Iran have accused each other of explosions targeting shipping. In November, Iran pledged to avenge the killing of a top nuclear scientist, an assassination it blamed on Israel and the U.S.
The multiplying news reports about Israel sabotaging tankers transporting oil from Iran to Syria for the past two and a half years are nearing an end. High-ranking defense and intelligence officials assess that the reports have already damaged national security. The reports forced Iran to respond, they claim, by sabotaging ships owned by Israelis. That in turn stepped up pressure on Israel by the United States, international shipping companies and insurance companies to desist from brawling on the open seas.
CHINA & IRAN
The 25-year comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement between China and Iran, which was signed in Tehran on Saturday, is a major breakthrough for the two countries and will have long-term effects on the geopolitical balance of the Gulf and the region as a whole. After five years of negotiations, the inking of the deal, which covers various economic, political and security issues, comes at a time when relations between Beijing and Washington are at their worst.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah said on Tuesday that a UN-sponsored political settlement was the only solution to the crisis in Syria. In remarks at a Brussels virtual donors conference on Syria, he called on Iran to halt its efforts to make demographic and sectarian change in Syria. The reconstruction of the war-torn country hinges on reaching the desired settlement, he stressed. He underscored Saudi Arabia’s ongoing support for efforts to reach a solution to the crisis in a way that ensures the security of the Syrian people and protects them from terrorist organizations and sectarian militias that are hampering a real settlement.
IRAQ & IRAN
It was a stark message: A convoy of masked Shiite militiamen, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, drove openly through central Baghdad denouncing the US presence in Iraq and threatening to cut off the prime minister’s ear. The ominous display underscored the growing threat that rogue militias loyal to Tehran pose for Iraq. It came at a time when Baghdad seeks to bolster relations with its Arab neighbors and is gearing up for early elections, scheduled for October, amid a worsening economic crisis and a global pandemic.
A hacking group associated with the Iranian government targeted senior medical researchers in the U.S. and Israel over the past few months, new research released Wednesday found. Cybersecurity group Proofpoint found as part of its report that the Iranian hacking group, known as “Phosphorous” or “Charming Kitten,” had begun targeting around 25 medical professionals in the fields of genetic, neurology and oncology research in both the U.S. and Israel in December. The Iranian hackers went after their targets in an effort to obtain personal account credentials, using malicious phishing emails to lure the targets to a page masquerading as a Microsoft login page.