The European Union on Tuesday agreed to place a unit of the Iranian Intelligence ministry and two of its staff on the EU terrorist list for planning assassinations in Europe, the Danish Foreign Ministry and EU diplomats said. The decision, which freezes financial assets in the bloc belonging to the unit and the two individuals, comes after Denmark said last year it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service of carrying out an assassination plot on its soil.
... Pompeo opens his trip in Jordan and will deliver an address on Middle East policy in Egypt, whose military ruler turned president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been a key partner of Trump. Another major focus of the tour will be sustaining a regional coalition to counter Iran, the main enemy of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. "This is a coalition that understands that the largest threats -- terrorism and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- are things that we ought to work on jointly and we will be marshaling all of the resources, theirs and ours, to achieve them," Pompeo said.
Iran has been holding an American Navy veteran in prison on unspecified charges since late July, when he was seized while visiting an Iranian girlfriend, his mother said Monday. The imprisonment of the veteran, Michael R. White, 46, from Imperial Beach, Calif., could further complicate relations between the United States and Iran. Tension between the countries worsened substantially after President Trump renounced the nuclear accord with Iran last May and reimposed severe sanctions.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran hopes India will strive to get another waiver from U.S. sanctions as New Delhi plans to continue buying oil from Tehran, Iran's deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy Gholamreza Ansari said on Tuesday. In November, the Unites States granted a six-month waiver from sanctions to India and allowed New Delhi to continue to import a limited quantity of Iranian oil.
Iranians contacted by NPR are losing income and looking for who's at fault as U.S. sanctions start to bite.
In next Iranian budget $800 million has been set aside to deal with the mess created by unlicensed credit institutions; a considerable burden for a country in the throes of an economic crisis. This sum is equal or greater than the budget of many ministries, but the state has little choice in the matter. If these institutions go under, angry people who would lose their savings might trigger protests and unrest in the country.
Between 2004 and 2015, the European Union (EU) coordinated a series of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. In the early stages, the negotiations took place in the format of the EU and E3-the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. In 2006, the negotiating framework evolved to the P5+1 format-the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. In 2015, an agreement was finally reached, with the EU at the helm of the negotiations, in the form of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Yet distrust of Iran continued after the signing of the JCPOA. One of the strongest criticisms is that by excluding curbs on Iran's ballistic missile program, the JCPOA left Iran with one part of the formula for a fully functioning nuclear weapon, namely the delivery vehicle.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian activist Esmail Bakhshi has been out of jail for a month, but says he still bears the physical and psychological scars from being tortured "to the verge of death" during his 25-day jail stay in Khuzestan Province. Bakhshi was arrested on November 20 for his role in weeks-long protests over unpaid salaries at a local sugar factory. He was charged with disruption of public order and collusion against national security and spent weeks in jail before his release on bail on December 12.
Responding to reports that the Iranian prison authorities have prevented the jailed UK charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from having a regular telephone call with her husband Richard after an announcement that she and fellow detainee Narges Mohammadi would begin a hunger strike protest against their imprisonment next week, Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK's Director, said: "It's utterly disgraceful that the Iranian authorities are heaping more punishment on Nazanin and Narges like this."
If he's alive, retired FBI agent Robert "Bob" Levinson remains the longest-held American hostage in history - having disappeared in Iranian territory almost 12 years ago. But there's no "if" in the eyes of his children, who refuse to give up hope and are convinced he's very much alive, and being held by the Iranian regime. "He is being held against his will, with no human rights or access to his family," David Levinson, 31, told Fox News in an interview last week. "It's inconceivable that, almost 12 years later, we have no answers. The Iranian government knows what happened to my father and needs to send him now. We continue to push for more action by our government, and awareness of his case worldwide."
Three years after his release from a Tehran prison, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian is set to testify in federal court Tuesday that he was taken hostage and psychologically tortured by the Iranian government to extract U.S. concessions before the 2016 implementation of a historic pact limiting Iran's nuclear program. Rezaian, 43, and family members are expected to take the witness stand and provide the most detailed public accounting yet of his 18 months in captivity, from 2014 to 2016 and the two-month imprisonment of his wife, Yeganeh Salehi.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading out on what may prove his toughest trip yet, a weeklong swing through the Middle East in which he will give a major speech about America's role in the region and privately reassure Arab allies that the U.S. remains committed to them. In his speech, to be given in Cairo, Pompeo plans to repudiate the Middle East vision of former President Barack Obama, who famously delivered an address to the broader Muslim world while in Egypt in 2009. Pompeo will slam Obama's engagement with Iran, sources told POLITICO, while asserting that President Donald Trump has the region's best interests at heart.
One of Washington's most vocal critics of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has joined the Trump administration in a senior policy role, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Richard Goldberg, who has called on US President Donald Trump to bring Iran's economy "to its knees," will become Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Security Council.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
An Iranian lawmaker says Tehran's foreign policy has "a lot of unnecessary costs" which can "leave us paralyzed on the streets of Tehran." In an unprecedented speech before the start of parliament's official agenda on January 6, Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi said, "Unnecessary costs which are not a priority should be removed." As an example of potential risks, he cited the collapse of the former Soviet Union despite its nuclear arsenal and influence around the world.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Last year was full of challenges for Iran. There were countless pressures and challenges for the regime at the domestic, regional and international levels. At the beginning of the year, there were mass protests in cities and towns across the country, with demonstrators chanting slogans such as, "No to soaring prices." These quickly escalated, with protesters demanding the fall of the regime and the end of its Wilayat Al-Faqih ideology.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The US-based online payment service PayPal has shut the account of The Third Way, a neo-Nazi party, after a series of Jerusalem Post articles revealed the German group's links to Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and support for the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. The PayPal donation section on Der Dritte Weg (the Third Way) website currently states: "This recipient is currently unable to receive money."
President Trump's sudden announcement that the U.S. would pull out of Syria stunned the key players in the conflict, prompted America's panicked Kurdish allies to turn to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. Between the lines: Nearly three weeks later, the withdrawal seems to be getting less imminent by the day.
One of President Trump's final foreign policy decisions of 2018 was also among his most controversial: the withdrawal of the remaining 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The order was an astonishing reversal of U.S. policy, and it raised concerns among Washington national security professionals that the Kurds-who have served as U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS-will suffer losses while the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey gain. This weekend, the president's national security advisor, John Bolton, seemingly reversed course again, announcing that U.S. forces would remain in Syria until ISIS was defeated and the Turks provided guarantees that they wouldn't strike the Kurds.
A heated public debate took place recently between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and a reporter from the French weekly Le Point. Le Point asked Zarif in an interview, among other things, about Iran's intention to destroy Israel and why Iran's ballistic missiles are inscribed with the words "death to Israel." Zarif rejected the question out of hand. "When did someone say that Iran would destroy Israel? Show me one person who said this."
National Security Adviser John Bolton said in Israel over the weekend that the removal of U.S. troops from Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State. Mr. Bolton was likely soothing allies concerned about the pace of President Donald Trump's withdrawal plan. Otherwise, such a condition would commit the United States to an endless deployment as a combatant in someone else's civil war - and on behalf of an adversarial power, Iran. Mr. Trump correctly observes that the United States is doing Iran a favor by fighting ISIS. Hence, it makes no sense to base American policy on removing a thorn from Tehran's paw. Indeed, the president's logic suggests that the White House should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq as well as Syria.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber stressed on Monday that the Kingdom supports the political process in the war-torn country and will not allow it to become a "new Somalia." Speaking from Riyadh, he warned that the Iran-backed Houthi militias must not become a "new Hezbollah" on Saudi borders. "We hope the political course will succeed and believe that it is the solution," he added.
Yemen's army shot down a Houthi military aircraft west of Al-Jouf province on Tuesday, Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported. A statement issued on the Yemeni Ministry of Defense's official website 'September Net' read that "the military forces shot down a plane carrying explosives this morning in the Masloub Directorate, and after examining the wreckage it was found to be made in Iran."
IRAQ & IRAN
The number of Iranians working in Iraq has dropped from 20,000 to 5,000 since Baghdad stopped issuing work visas for the citizens of the Islamic Republic, says the Governor General of Kurdistan province, western Iran. Bahman Moradnia has not elaborated on the reasons behind Iraq's decision to stop issuing work visas for Iranians.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Nearly 800,000 Afghan migrants returned or were deported back to Afghanistan from Iran in 2018 -- an increase of two-thirds compared to the previous year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on January 8. Laurence Hart, the chief of the IOM mission to Afghanistan, said the trend was accelerated by the renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran which sent the Iranian currency into freefall and fueled inflation.