Iran’s ambitious agenda for its oil-and-gas industry is running up against the caution of big energy companies. At a major energy conference here, Iranian officials said French oil giant Total SA’s commitment of $1 billion toward a gas project this month marked a new chapter in the country’s energy business since the end of Western sanctions. Iranian officials promised 10 contracts like it in the next year and said they were seeking $92 billion in foreign investment to raise oil production by a third and gas exports by 15-fold by 2021.
Following a pause in executions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, executions in Iran have dramatically increased since Saturday July 1. In the past twelve days, Iran Human Rights has reported on 56 executions carried out in Iran. 31 of the 56 prisoners were reportedly hanged on drug related charges. Only seven of the 56 executions were reported by official Iranian sources, including the Judiciary and state-run media.
Iranian state television is reporting that an Iranian cancer researcher who was denied entry to the U.S. has returned to Tehran. Images aired on state television Thursday showing Mohsen Dehnavi’s return confirmed that he was the same man who previously headed a student branch of volunteer paramilitary militia. An earlier report in the semi-official Fars news agency said Dehnavi was appointed the head of the student Basij force at Iran’s Sharif University in September 2007. The Basij is a volunteer militia that is linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He later served on the unsuccessful 2013 presidential campaign of a prominent hard-liner, former nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
Iran and the European Union have launched their first joint project aimed at strengthening bilateral nuclear safety cooperation on the eve of the second anniversary of Tehran’s nuclear deal with six world powers. At a Wednesday meeting in Tehran, the EU delegation, headed by Oliver Luyckx, the director of the EU nuclear safety unit, and the Iranian side led by Hojjatollah Salehi, the director of Iran’s nuclear safety center, officially announced the start of the 2.5-million-euro project. The project was signed in April within the framework of the 2015 nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It is part of a five-million-euro package approved in 2016 with regard to Iran-EU cooperation on nuclear safety. Under the agreement, Tehran-EU nuclear safety cooperation will last for a period of three and a half years. One of its key objectives is to enhance Iran’s nuclear safety capabilities in different spheres including, the establishment of a nuclear safety center as foreseen in the JCPOA.
NUCLEAR & BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAM
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who was in Tehran on Tuesday for talks Iranian deputy ministers Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-Ravanchi, has said that Moscow categorically disagrees with the U.S. claims that Iran’s missile program contravenes the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and great powers. The resolution 2231, adopted immediately after the conclusion of the nuclear deal, calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Under the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran only accepted limits to its nuclear program not its missile defense program. “Neither JCPOA nor SC Res prohibits Iran from missiles not designed for nuke warheads,” Zarif wrote in March 2016.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new version of a Russia and Iran sanctions bill on Wednesday, hoping to send a message to President Donald Trump to maintain a strong line against Moscow. Seeking to force Republican House leaders to allow a vote, Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced legislation unchanged from what passed the Senate by 98-2 on June 15 but has been stalled ever since. While the new bill is identical to what the Senate passed, it will be labeled as House legislation to avoid a procedural issue that prompted House Republican leaders to send the measure back to the Senate. However, there was no sign of support from Trump's fellow Republicans, who control majorities in both the House and the Senate and control what legislation comes up for a vote. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, dismissed the Democrats' action as "grandstanding."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson must declare Iran non-compliant with the nuclear agreement in order to avoid "rewarding Iran's belligerence," according to a group of Republican senators. "We believe that a change in that policy is long overdue," Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and three colleagues wrote to Tillerson in a letter Tuesday. "In light of Iran's malign actions since the signing of the [nuclear deal], the only reasonable conclusion is that the full suspension of U.S. sanctions is not in the vital national security interests of the United States and that Iran has consistently violated the terms of the [nuclear deal]." If Tillerson were to follow their advice, that would represent a significant step towards scrapping the international agreement that former President Barack Obama and his administration negotiated with Iran and other western powers.
Finland-based Wartsila will provide engineering and equipment for two baseload power plants to Iranian energy companies Baran Niroo Beshel Company and Tamin Niroo Saam Company. Wartsila is a leading provider of complete life-cycle marine and energy solutions and services to customers globally. Wartsila will supply the first decentralised power plants of its kind to Iran to support power generation in its transition towards more flexible and smarter technologies, said a statement from the company.
Iran Railways says it has signed a preliminary agreement with Italy's state railway to construct two high-speed links in Iran. Four memoranda of understanding worth some $1.36 billion were announced July 11. They refer to the construction of high-speed railways between Qom and Arak and the capital, Tehran, and Isfahan. They also include co-operation agreements between Iranian and Italian universities. Iran is looking to revive its aging infrastructure following the lifting of international sanctions under the 2015 nuclear agreement. In April 2015, Iran signed an $8 million deal with the French company AREP to modernize three train stations, in Tehran, Qom and Mashhad.
Rouhani said on Wednesday, as a diplomatic crisis persists in the Gulf. "Iran and Oman have for years had fraternal relations and the best must be made of these good relations to reinforce them," Rouhani said as he met Oman's foreign minister. The Iranian government's website reported Foreign Minister Yussef Bin Alawi as replying: "Omani leaders believe our ties should be developed." The remarks come after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt last month severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing extremism and being too close to Riyadh's arch-rival Tehran. They imposed a series of isolation measures on Qatar including cutting air, land and maritime links to the small gas-rich emirate. Oman, which has maintained ties with Qatar, took part this week in a string of Kuwaiti and US-led talks towards resolving the crisis.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
The fight to eject the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Mosul — the terror group’s last stronghold in Iraq — has demonstrated that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government can be a proven counterterrorism partner in rolling back ISIS gains. Beyond this immediate goal, the Trump administration must turn its attention to three key governance issues that will determine Baghdad’s future beginning the day after it reclaimed Iraq’s second largest city: Stanching Iranian influence at the highest levels of government; Restraining powerful Shiite militias, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs); and Empowering Sunni elements within the Iraqi security architecture. Failing to curb Iranian meddling risks replanting the seeds that gave rise to the ISIS onslaught.
Every 90 days, the State Department must certify whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal that former President Barack Obama struck with the Tehran tyranny in 2015. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is approaching one of these 90-day deadlines. Instead of rubber-stamping re-certification, as his predecessor John Kerry did regardless of Iran's behavior, Tillerson should finally do something the U.S. government hasn't been doing for years. He should tell the truth about Iran's flagrant noncompliance with the deal, thus opening the way for Congress to impose sanctions against the rogue regime. This is what four Republican senators — Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and David Perdue, R-Ga. — urged him to do this week.
Last week the Iranian authorities arranged a rare international visit to one of the country’s most infamous places of detention – Evin Prison in Tehran. This visit wasn’t arranged for an international prison expert or a human rights body. It was for representatives of over forty foreign diplomatic missions from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. The UK had a representative there. The foreign delegates were shown around some limited areas of the prison, and there was a roundtable discussion, held outdoors in a lush garden. There are photos in circulation and you can see various countries’ flags perched on al fresco tables, the Union Jack amongst them. By the standards of diplomatic meetings, it all looks rather idyllic. But what was it all for? For the Iranian authorities it was very clearly a PR exercise.
Iran has opened the door – just a crack – to provide a glimpse of life in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, home to many of the country’s highest-profile political prisoners. Foreign ambassadors for 45 countries visited Evin last week, an attempt, “to rebut the false human rights claims made by some western governments and media, including on our prison conditions,” according to Kazem Gharib Abadi, deputy of foreign affairs for the High Council for Human Rights which arranged the visit. Following the visit, Tasnim News Agency, which is close to hardliners in Iran, claimed several ambassadors were “astonished” by the quality of this prison. Less astonishing is the fact that none of the political prisoners serving sentences there after seriously flawed trials participated in meetings with any of the foreign diplomats. Nor was the topic of due process rights even reported to have been discussed in the visit.