"The White House announced on Sunday that the United States was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East because of "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" related to Iran. The deployment was intended "to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force," said John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, in a statement released Sunday night."
The Trump administration is reportedly expected to announce additional sanctions on Iran within the coming week. The sanctions, which are slated to be announced Wednesday, will significantly impact a new sector of the Iranian economy, Axios reported Sunday, citing two senior administration officials. They did not tell the news outlet which sector would be affected, but said it will not be energy.
Iran says it will continue uranium enrichment and heavy water production despite U.S. pressure on the country to end it. State TV quotes Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani as saying Saturday that under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has the right to continue developing uranium enrichment and heavy-water production. "Under the deal, we have not done anything wrong. We continue enriching," he says.
UANI IN THE NEWS
In recent years, the myth of moderation has become a go-to refrain for those who have built careers out of making excuses for the Iranian regime. But the mullahcracy in Tehran has continued its decadeslong history of trampling on human rights. That regime's recent imprisonment of celebrated lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and execution of teenagers Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat should dispel any doubts about how this regime operates and what it values. A robust response consisting of an economic boycott and diplomatic isolation is required.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran signaled that it may scale down on its commitments as part of the 2015 nuclear deal to retaliate against an exit by the U.S. from the international accord and the Trump's administration's reimposition of sanctions. While leaving the nuclear deal isn't on the agenda, Iran is set to introduce minor and general reductions on some of its commitments, an Iranian official involved with the deal's implementation was cited as saying by the state-run Iranian News Agency.
The United States has tightened restrictions on Iran's nuclear programme by revoking two key sanctions waivers in a bid to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant. The two waivers - one that allowed Iran to store excess heavy water produced in the uranium enrichment process in Oman, and another that allowed Iran to swap enriched uranium for mined uranium "yellowcake" with Russia - were not renewed, the State Department said on Friday.
The European Union, France, Germany and the U.K. expressed concern about the American decision not to extend waivers on oil trade with Iran and not to fully renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects. "We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following their withdrawal" from the Iran nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the EU's foreign policy chief and foreign minsters of France, German and the U.K. said in a statement on Saturday.
One of Iran's greatest diplomatic achievements in recent years was getting the world to recognize its right to enrich uranium suitable for nuclear fuel. The Trump administration has now undermined it. On Friday, the State Department renewed some exemptions to U.S. sanctions on Iran's nuclear activities and ended others. The renewals initially attracted more attention than the terminations.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States' allies in Europe have criticized its recent decisions to restrict oil trade with Iran and to limit the extension of waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects. "We ... take note with regret and concern of the decision by the United States not to extend waivers with regards to trade in oil with Iran," Britain's foreign office said in a joint statement with its German and French counterparts and the European Union.
Iran has mobilized all its resources to sell oil in a "grey market", bypassing U.S. sanctions that Tehran sees as illegitimate, state media quoted Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia as saying on Sunday. The United States, which last year withdrew from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, has told buyers of Iranian oil to stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appointed a new chief for the national carrier, Iran Air, the country's state media reported on Monday. The state-owned IRAN daily said the decision to name Touraj Zanganeh the CEO of the airline was made during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday night. Zanganeh succeeds Farzaneh Sharafbafi, who was the first female CEO of Iran Air and who was in the post since 2017. The report did not elaborate on the reason for the replacement.
Iran's offshore oil production hasn't seen any reduction and the country just loaded crude for export, said Hamid Bovard, head of the Iranian Offshore Oil Co. It loaded the latest batch of crude from its offshore fields for export three days ago, Bovard said at a press conference, without elaborating on the volume or the destination. Exports are underway as planned, he said. The U.S. government terminated waivers allowing a handful of countries to buy Iranian crude in an effort to reduce Iran's critical oil exports to zero.
In July 2015, after more than a decade of on-and-off negotiations, world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium and reduce centrifuges. In return, all UN Security Council and multilateral sanctions were lifted. But not everyone was happy with the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the deal was a "stunning historic mistake", as well as US Republican presidential candidates at the time.
President Trump and his aides say the outcome of their confrontation with Iran is already clear: They're winning. Iran has fallen into a deep recession; its economy may shrink 6% this year. Inflation is heading toward 40%, and the nation's currency has virtually collapsed. Newly tightened oil sanctions have deprived the Tehran government of at least $10 billion in revenue.
"The best strategy is always to be very strong, first generally, then at the decisive point," as the 19th Century Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz observed. In the US-Iran oil confrontation, four powers really matter. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but is any strong enough for a decisive victory? The struggle between the US and its oil-exporting Gulf Arab allies on one side, Iran on the other, its key customer China and various other concerned players is waged on numerous battlegrounds...
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A top Iran resistance group is calling on European nations to shut down Tehran's embassies in response to the regime's alleged use of embassies to plot terror attacks against its political opponents across the continent -- as the Trump administration ramps up sanctions against the Islamic republic led by President Hassan Rouhani. "What we are calling for is closing the Iranian regime's embassies," National Council of Resistance of Iran Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh told reporters at a news conference in Washington, D.C. this week. "These diplomatic relations have allowed the regime to plot terrorist attacks and assassinations in the West."
An Iranian newspaper says one of its reporters was detained by police earlier this week while she was covering a protest marking International Workers' Day, in which dozens of labor activists were also arrested. The pro-reform Shargh newspaper said Saturday that Marzieh Amiri was detained at a demonstration outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran. It said authorities detained some 30 protesting workers including two workers' leaders, Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeedi.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Trump administration plans to target a new sector of the Iranian economy with significant new sanctions this week, two senior administration officials told me, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to reveal the new sanctions. The officials would not say what sector the administration will target, but it won't be the energy sector. The administration will likely announce this new wave of sanctions on Wednesday - marking the one year anniversary of President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
President Trump has made no secret of his desire to isolate and impoverish Iran. After withdrawing last year from the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and five other nations, Mr. Trump launched his campaign of "maximum pressure" designed to change Iran's behavior - and perhaps its leadership. Mr. Trump dialed up the heat again this week by lifting waivers that had allowed eight countries (including China, India, South Korea and Turkey) to continue importing limited quantities of Iranian oil.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in New York on the pretext of attending UN meetings but used the opportunity to visit US media, intellectual and research institutions in an attempt to induce the elites there to agree with his country's stance. However, the truth is that Zarif needed this visit to fix his broken image inside Iran itself. The foreign minister wanted to prove that he is a "shrewd dealer" who can make the West buy anything - as he did with the EU and the Barack Obama administration in the past.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
IRGC Commander Hossein Salami says Iran is engaged in an "intelligence war" and that the "Iranian Intelligence community" is active around the clock. "We are engaged in a serious global intelligence war with the enemies around the clock," said the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) commander during a meeting with Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and his deputies.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency says President Hassan Rouhani's brother has been sentenced to an unspecified prison term for corruption. ISNA said Saturday that Hossein Fereidoun, a close confidante of the president, will be able to appeal the verdict. The financial misconduct charges date back to 2016, and were brought by hard-liners who dominate the country's judiciary. Rouhani, a relative moderate within Iran's political system, changed his surname decades ago.
Iran's religious leaders have been moving to expand their influence over the Shiite Muslim establishment in neighboring Iraq in a gamble aimed at gaining sway over Iraq's largest religious group. The Iranian campaign is most apparent here in the holy city of Najaf, home to Iraq's clerical hierarchy and a gateway to the wider Shiite population, which represents about two-thirds of all Iraqis.
A fire broke out at an oil pipeline in southwest Iran after an accident on Monday and is under control, the Tasnim news agency reported. The fire started when a construction loader vehicle collided with a pipeline during an attempt to repair a section of it between the cities of Ahvaz and Omidiyeh, Tasnim reported, citing local official Kiamars Hajizadeh.
The Islamic Republic Attorney General has once again lambasted what he called "out of control cyberspace", describing two popular messaging apps, Telegram and Instagram, as "infernal," and called for restrictions on social media. The ultraconservative mid-ranking clergyman Mohammad Jafar Montazeri also explicitly threatened the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, with judicial consequences.
Iran's education minister pledged May 3 to "make sure" not to implement UNESCO's 2030 education agenda, after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attacked the international accord on May 1. Education Minister Mohammad Bathayi echoed Khamenei's wrods, saying he will not implement an agenda which aims to alter "national and religious identity" and bring foreign influences.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Hezbollah's control over Lebanon's governmental institutions will turn the country into an "axis of resistance", with Beirut's foreign policy now being dictated by one party's views, Sami Gemayel, the head of Lebanon's Kataeb opposition party, told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview. Speaking to Al Arabiya's Reema al-Maktabi, Gemayel said that Lebanon today is "aligned with the Iran-Hezbollah-Bashar al-Assad axis", adding that several political parties "agreed to electing Hezbollah's candidate as president of the republic and to then manage political life under a clear ceiling which is not to discuss Hezbollah's weapons."
Militant groups in Gaza said Monday they had reached a cease-fire with Israel after two days of the deadliest fighting since the 2014 war. Israel lifted security restrictions in the south near Gaza in a sign that it expected calm, though it didn't officially confirm the truce. Four Israelis and 27 Palestinians were killed since Friday evening after militants launched nearly 700 rockets, and Israel said it hit more than 350 military targets in Gaza in response.
A photo of Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil carrying a rocket presented to him by Hezbollah officials during his visit to the city of Jbeil north of Beirut sparked wide controversy and condemnations in the country. The rocket, a remnant of the party's battle with Al-Nusra Front in the Arsal border region in 2017, was offered to Bassil during a visit to the town of Ras Osta in the Jbeil district. The rocket was carrying the flags of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which is headed by Bassil, and Hezbollah, along with a phrase that read: "Greetings of appreciation and love to His Excellency the Resistant Minister Jebran Bassil."
Iran's Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned what it called Israel's "savage" attack on Gaza, and blamed "unlimited U.S. support" for Israel, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. "Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran strongly condemned the Zionist regime's (Israel) savage attack ... which martyred and wounded dozens of Palestinians, including women and children," Fars reported.
The Israeli government has announced that in a targeted attack a man who had been helping transfer millions of dollars from Iran to Gaza militants was killed. Israeli tweets in Persian and Arabic identified the person as Hammed Ahmad al-Khudari (Ghudari) , who apparently was a senior Hamas military field commander. The Israeli government has also published the photo of a demolished car, in which it said al-Khudari was killed in.
IRAQ & IRAN
The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will open an office in Iraq, the semi-official Fars News Agency said on Saturday. The new office "will facilitate cooperation in the oil industry and the transfer of engineering and technical services" to Iraq, it said. The announcement comes as Iran faces U.S. sanctions on its oil exports.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed a law last week labeling U.S. military forces in the Middle East a terrorist organization. This step follows the U.S. designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. For some, setting aside the irony of Tehran's declaration, this may confirm fears that the designation of the IRGC would spark a dangerous escalation. In reality, history suggests that calling adversaries and terrorists by name is not the primary danger.