The Trump administration is considering a more-aggressive enforcement of its economic sanctions on Iran-targeting more companies and financial institutions that do business with the Islamic Republic in an attempt to cut off lucrative sources of U.S. dollar-denominated hard currency, U.S. officials said. The new sanctions on banks and businesses would be aimed at choking off trade including Iran's petrochemical sales to Singapore and its consumer-goods sales to Afghanistan.
The US is sanctioning friends and foes that import Iranian oil starting Thursday, but analysts say the White House might find it harder to eliminate Tehran's energy exports than it expects and Trump administration officials are bracing for Iran's response. As the administration ends waivers that allowed eight countries to continue purchasing Iranian crude and condensate, one administration official told CNN that they are concerned about the response from Tehran, which could target US assets in the Middle East and escalate tensions with the US and in the region.
The murder of an imam ought to provoke horror. But after a bodybuilder gunned down Mostafa Qassemi, a cleric in the western Iranian city of Hamedan, on April 27th over 100,000 people followed the killer on Instagram. Posts by his followers railed against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "One less cleric," women mutter on Tehran's underground. Such is the anger at Iran's ruling clerics, who preside over a shrinking economy. American sanctions on oil exports have sent the currency crashing.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The leader of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qassem Soleimani said this week that Iran will never negotiate with the Trump Administration after the U.S. ended its practice of issuing waivers to countries that buy oil from Iran. The move, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week, is an effort to increase the pressure of economic sanctions on Iran. "The enemy wants to make us sit at the negotiating table by economic pressures," Soleimani was quoted as saying on Monday. "Such a negotiation is an instance of surrendering, but our people are vigilant and wise and believe that negotiation with the enemy under the present circumstances means surrendering."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's oil minister warned that OPEC is in danger of collapse as some nations seek to undermine their fellow members, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia's pledge to fill the supply gap created by U.S. sanctions on Iranian exports. "Iran is a member of OPEC for its interests and any threat from member states won't go unanswered," Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said after a meeting with OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo in Tehran on Thursday, according to the oil ministry's Shana news agency.
Exports of crude and condensate from the OPEC countries of the Persian Gulf, which account for about 75 percent of total OPEC output, fell for a third month in April to their lowest level since the OPEC+ group of countries began output cuts in January 2017. The latest drop was driven by a slump in the volume of oil shipped from Iran, as waivers from U.S. sanctions on the country's oil sales were set to expire in early May.
The United States, as of this writing, has 7,967 sanctions in place. Treasury Department data show them in many sizes. There are sanctions on individual people, like the Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman; on companies, like Cubacancun Cigars and Gift Shops; and even on entire governments or their branches, like on Iran and its main security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. There may even be sanctions ahead for some U.S. allies, who are facing a deadline to stop importing Iranian oil or get hit in the administration's economic-pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.
Turkey will be unable to diversify oil imports quickly after the United States ended waivers on purchases from Iran, the Turkish foreign minister said on Thursday, a day after a U.S.-imposed sanctions deadline passed. Turkey's statement follows comments by China, which said last month it opposed "long-armed jurisdictions implemented by the United States" and would continue "rational and legal" cooperation with Iran.
Iran will not remain silent if other OPEC members threaten its interests, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Thursday after meeting OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo in Tehran. "Iran is a member of OPEC because of its interests and if other members of OPEC seek to threaten Iran or endanger its interests, Iran will not remain silent," Zanganeh was quoted as saying by oil ministry's news agency SHANA.
Rampant inflation has forced Hamideh, a 44-year-old Iranian woman, to cut down on the amount of red meat she eats. But in a determined effort to keep her spirits up, even as US sanctions make life in Tehran harder, she still buys cosmetics. "I used to buy about 3kg of red meat per month, which has gone down to 1.5kg," said Hamideh, who lives on an income of about 20m rials ($150) a month. "But when it comes to cosmetics, I feel I need them even more than before to look good under these depressing conditions."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian authorities violently dispersed gatherings of independent Iranian labor organizations and arrested dozens of activists who were protesting in association with International Workers' Day (May Day). According to the labor organizations involved, dozens of people have been arrested so far. Protesters gathered May 1 in front of Iran's parliament building, where a number of well-known protesters - including Reza Shahabi, Kayvan Samimi, Hassan Saedi, Vahid Fereydouni and Mohammad Ali Eslaghi - were arrested. Teachers, retirees and students also joined the protests.
The Teachers' Coordinating Council Of Iran (TCCI) says dozens of teachers have been arrested for participating in widespread protests on Thursday, May 2, across the country. Thousands of educators, celebrating National Teachers Day, had rallied on Thursday in front of the Education Department offices in at least thirteen large provinces to protest lack of government attention to their demands.
The US and human rights groups have expressed outrage over reports that Iran has executed two 17-year-old boys. Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat were 15 when they were convicted in 2017 on multiple rape charges, after what activists said was an unfair trial. They are believed to have been moved from a juvenile facility to a prison a day before their deaths last Thursday. Iranian authorities reportedly did not inform the boys' families or lawyers that they had been sentenced to death.
A popular movie star has been targeted by hardliners on Iranian social media after she took a "fake news" post too seriously and shared it with millions of her fans. The hardliners have accused Mahnaz Afshar, also known for her charity work and sympathy for political prisoners, of encouraging violence after she shared a post that alleged a cleric had asked Iranian women to sleep with Iraqi militia based on "sighe" temporary marriage contract allowed in the Shiite sect.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
"Who's not acting like a normal state?" The rhetorical question from Iran's foreign minister to a New York audience took aim at President Donald Trump's administration for exiting global treaties on issues from arms control to climate change. Yet foremost in Mohammed Javad Zarif's mind was the U.S. decision to rip itself free from the 2015 nuclear accord. Trump blames the breakdown on Iranian military meddling in the Middle East, and he's struck at the nation's economic jugular to try and force it to change behavior.
On his latest trip to New York, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made the usual rounds of think tanks and TV studios, and delivered the now-familiar mix of scare and snark. Amid an escalating conflict over sanctions with the U.S., about the only new proposal he managed to air was an exchange of prisoners. The Trump administration should dismiss that suggestion out of hand. Four Americans are known to be held in Iran's prisons, and a fifth has been missing there since 2007.
The familiar mantra is getting louder from Iran's Western apologists, who say President Trump's sanctions policy is counterproductive, probably because the opposite is true: There is growing evidence that Iran is cash-poor and its Middle East patrons are suffering. That's why it is time to declare what seemed unthinkable when Trump ran for president: His Iran policy, focused primarily on pressuring the Islamic Republic to end its sponsorship of militias throughout the Middle East and to renegotiate the nuclear deal, appears to be bearing fruit.
The Iranian foreign ministry on May 2 accused the United States of "attempting a coup" in Venezuela and condemned U.S. policy in regards with Maduro's government. Abbas Mousavi, the spokesperson of the foreign ministry said, "Iran strongly condemns America's attempt to execute a coup in Venezuela and the statements of American officials aimed at creating turmoil and violence in that country."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The commander Of Iran's regular army has asked his forces to be ready as though an attack on the country is imminent. IRNA, the official government news agency quoted General Abdolrahim Mousavi on May 2 as saying, "All forces should prepare themselves as though an attack can occur tomorrow and continuously engage in war exercises". Iranian officials have been increasingly raising the issue of a possible military attack on Iran, as part of a plan by the U.S. and Israel to change the ruling regime in the country.
The former head of Iran's State TV Mohammad Sarafraz has accused IRGC Intelligence Organization of obstructing attempts to counter financial corruption. Sarafraz who was appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the head of the state TV in October 2014, resigned in May 2016 over a controversy created after his special inspector was allegedly told by IRGC Intelligence to leave the country or face detention as a "spy".
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian drivers queued up in long lines at gasoline stations in the Iranian capital and several other cities on May 1 to fill their gas tanks amid rumors that gasoline rationing would go into effect on May 2. Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh denied the rumors, calling them a "lie" and saying that there will be an explanation "later." He did not elaborate.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Once-hidden Russian-Iranian disagreements over Syria are starting to surface. Moscow and Tehran are jostling to wield the main influence over the government of President Bashar al-Assad, adding further complexity to the still-far-from-complete endgame of Syria's brutal civil war, say diplomats and analysts. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Iranians want to be able to present themselves as the true victors of the conflict that has left almost half-a-million people dead and to reap geo-strategic and business benefits from their propping up of President Assad, according to analysts.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Thursday his Iran-backed terror group would "annihilate and destroy" the Israeli military if the latter entered Lebanon in a future war. "Israel wants a war? Let it go to war. The Israeli units and brigades that dare to enter southern Lebanon will be annihilated and destroyed on live television before the whole world," he said, according to multiple media reports in Israel and Lebanon.
Tareck el Aissami, a close confidant of Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro, who was indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges in March, played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America, reports The New York Times.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Bahrain's foreign minister has said that Iran "will not be allowed to close for one day the Strait of Hormuz" and has called on Tehran to reconsider its regional policies. In an interview in Paris with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa indirectly criticized the 1025 nuclear agreement with Iran, saying that it dealt with Tehran's nuclear program but did not address the issue of its missile program and its interventions in regional countries. "Iran made major mistakes when it intervened in the affairs of the countries of the region and sent its money, weapons and militias.
Yemen's Houthi rebels have launched armed drone attacks with far more precision and reach than the U.S. and its Gulf allies have publicly acknowledged, people familiar with the matter said, showing how readily available technology is creating new dangers for America and its allies in the Middle East. A Houthi drone hit a Saudi Aramco oil refinery outside the capital Riyadh in July, a company executive and a Gulf official said. That month, a Houthi drone evaded Emirati air defenses and exploded at Abu Dhabi's international airport in the United Arab Emirates, people familiar with the matter said.
A degree of normalcy has returned to Yemen's biggest seaport, Hodeidah, thanks to a cease-fire among the country's warring factions that has held since December 2018. But beyond the port's outskirts, a vicious fight between Houthi insurgents and a Saudi-led military coalition rages on. The death toll keeps climbing; malnutrition and hunger are rampant. Yemen's humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warned in February, is the worst in the world today.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Seeking to reset bilateral ties, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan traveled to Tehran recently, making his first visit there since assuming office in August. In February, a suicide attack killed 27 Iranian soldiers near the border, and just before Khan arrived in Tehran, a lethal attack took place at Ormara in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, targeting Pakistani soldiers and members of the naval coast guard.