The President Donald Trump administration announced its plan this week to officially designate Iran's military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), effective April 15. The unprecedented move garnered swift reaction from critics as well as the Iranian government, which subsequently labeled the U.S. a terrorism supporter and Centcom, U.S. Central Command, a terrorist group.
The U.S. Treasury Department levied sanctions against a Lebanese currency exchange for allegedly laundering money for Colombian drug cartels and handling transactions for Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group designated by the U.S. as terrorists.
The era of the U.S.-Europe dispute over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers is over, says an American diplomat, adding, "EU's new proposal (Special Purpose Vehicle or SPV) for trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran is nothing, but a paper tiger." In a meeting on Thursday, April 11, in Brussels, the U.S. Representative to the EU, Gordon Sondland, described Washington-EU talks in recent months as "highly constructive."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
As one of the biggest corruption trials in Iran's history continues, the legal counsel to the prime suspect maintains that his client assisted the Islamic Republic in profiting from exporting petrochemicals, which was banned by UN sanctions. The prime suspect is the former CEO of National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC), Reza Hamzehlou, who was assisted in the alleged conspiracy by a member of the same company's board of directors, Abbas Samimi.
Iran's oil exports to its five clients rose to 1.7 million barrels per day (mb/d) in March, the highest level since the United States imposed sanctions on Iran in November 2018, Platts reported April 9. Along with the sanctions, the U.S. also gave a six-month exemption or wavier to eight friendly countries: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece to continue buying Iranian oil until May 2, but they were asked to cut Iranian oil intake by 20 percent "in average" during the six-month wavier period.
Oil prices rose on Friday as involuntary supply cuts from Venezuela, Libya and Iran supported perceptions of a tightening market, already underpinned by a production reduction deal from OPEC and its allies. Brent crude oil futures were at $71.39 per barrel at 0832 GMT, up 56 cents from their last close and heading for a weekly gain of 1.5 percent, their third weekly gain in a row.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranians have rallied against the U.S.'s decision to designate the country's powerful Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. Thousands of worshippers came out of mosques after Friday prayers and burned flags of both the U.S. and Israel while also chanting traditional anti-U.S. slogans at such rallies of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." State media said similar demonstrations took place in other Iranian cities and towns on Friday.
A few years before he became president, Donald Trump's family probably did business with associates of Iran's ideological armed force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). An article published in the New Yorker in 2017 says a tower bearing the Trump name in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, was built by a company with links to the Guards. But on April 8th his administration blacklisted the force. Officials hailed the move as the first time America had branded a national army a terrorist outfit.
Michael Rubin's take-down of the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) misses a critical point: The reason this Iranian opposition group has survived for so long is precisely because it has support inside Iran. Consider the evidence: Number one: In July 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was compelled to "drink the cup of poison" and agree to a cease-fire with Iraq, after having sacrificed the lives of almost 1 million Iranians.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran and its regional allies have vowed to support its Revolutionary Guards against the United States, which has labeled the elite military branch a terrorist organization. In a statement translated by Iran's semi-official Press TV, the general staff of the Iranian armed forces called President Donald Trump's move "unwise" and warned it "will be treating all the forces enlisted with Centcom [the U.S. central command] as terrorists."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
While rotations and replacements of diplomats and ambassadors are usually routine administrative procedures, they sometimes can signify important policy shifts. The latter may be the case in Iran, where the country's Foreign Ministry has in the past four months been replacing several heads of mission and representatives abroad. Tensions between Iran and the United States have in particular made the appointment of Iranian representatives to the UN in New York a complicated process.
Sweat rolling down his cheek, Ghasem Arabi filled sandbags to prop-up a makeshift dyke as flood waters surged just metres behind him in Iran's deluge-stricken southwest. "Our youth are working day and night," said the 37-year-old nurse as he helped shovel sand into plastic sacks held by fellow residents in the agricultural town of Hamidiyeh. "God willing this flood will not reach their homes... that's all they have left," he said, adding that many had already lost their farmlands to the rising waters.
Inhabitants of Arab cities southwestern Iran are facing more hardships after Karun and Karkheh rivers have for the first time joined each other near Ahvaz and are now flowing towards the oil-rich city. Floods have displaced some 500,000 people from Ahvaz, days after Coordinating Deputy of Iran's Army Habibollah Sayyari confirmed to the state TV that 200,000 areas had to be evacuated, IRNA reported. Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said 400,000 people were threatened by the floods, according to IRNA.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that his movement would respond to the Trump administration designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group earlier this week, a move which will weaken Iran's position in Syria to Russia's advantage, analysts say. "At the right moment there will be an appropriate reaction," Mr Nasrallah said on Wednesday night, quoted by the Lebanese state-run National News Agency (NNA).
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed stressed that Operation Decisive Storm was the strongest signal against Iran's hostile agenda against the Arab nation and its proxy, the Houthi militias, in Yemen. On the fourth anniversary of the launch of the operation, Asharq Al-Awsat sat down with Saeed to assess peace prospects in his war-torn country. "Since the launch of numerous UN-sponsored peace consultations in 2016, we have reached the same conclusion that we as Yemenis had already known that the coupists cannot be approached for peace," he stressed.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's foreign ministry says it welcomes Egypt's reported decision to withdraw from a US-led "Arab NATO" initiative, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. Bahram Qasemi, the ministry spokesman, told IRNA on Thursday that the reports on Cairo's move were not confirmed officially yet, but if the news is true, Tehran would welcome it. "Egypt is an important and powerful country both in the Arab and in the Muslim world that can play a key role in creating peace, stability and security in the West Asia region," said Qasemi. "In case the news is confirmed, we will welcome that."
Given that Iran's alliance with Sudan came to an abrupt end in 2016, Iranian officials have opted for a diplomatic silence when it came to protests in the country over the last four months. However, among Iranian journalists and on social media, there has been a spectrum of reactions to the Sudanese military's announcement that President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for 30 years, has been taken into custody.