Iran can enrich uranium up to 20 percent within four days, its atomic energy chief said on Tuesday, a comment apparently aimed at showing Tehran could quickly expand its enrichment program if its nuclear deal with world powers collapses. Iran's 2015 accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of posing a missile threat after Tehran defied his warnings and tried to put a satellite into orbit, albeit unsuccessfully. Pompeo renewed his charge that the launch defied UN Security Council resolution 2231 of 2015, which endorsed an international agreement, from which the United States has withdrawn, on ending Iran's nuclear weapons. "In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, Iran's regime fired off a space launch vehicle today," Pompeo tweeted.
Prosecutors in Germany say an army employee has been detained on suspicion of spying for the Iranian intelligence service. The federal prosecutor's office said in a statement that the 50-year-old German-Afghan dual citizen, whose name was only given as Abdul Hamid S. in line with German privacy rules, was detained Tuesday in the Rhineland in western Germany. He worked as a translator for the German army and is accused of having passed on information to the Iranian intelligence service.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The latest news to rattle the Washington establishment is that John Bolton, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, has asked the Pentagon for military options against Iran. The commentariat and the Democrats in exile are aghast, and insist that such bellicosity will only invite belligerence from Iran. Many former Obama administration officials fear that Bolton's truculence may lead Iran to resume its nuclear program. But the truth is that when dealing with Iran, threats usually work while blandishments only whet the appetite of the mullahs who run the country.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
An Iranian satellite-carrying rocket blasted off into space Tuesday, but scientists failed to put the device into orbit in a launch criticized by the United States as helping the Islamic Republic further develop its ballistic missile program. After the launch, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated his allegation that Iran's space program could help it develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to the mainland U.S., criticism that comes amid the Trump administration's maximalist approach against Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
The Iranians say they are getting ready to fight, a reaction to the austerity imposed by new U.S. sanctions that is causing domestic instability. It may be a bluff, but the threats are real. The head of Iran's nuclear program said Sunday that his organization "is on the threshold" of a more efficient way to produce enriched nuclear fuel, something Iran promised not to do in the 2015 nuclear freeze agreement with the United States and five other major signatories. Enriched nuclear fuel is a feed stock for nuclear weapons.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Trump administration is leaving itself wiggle room to continue allowing Iran to export oil, potentially setting up another catalyst for lower crude prices later this year. The administration's special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, last weekend refused to say with certainty whether the White House will enforce sanctions more strictly on the Islamic Republic's oil exports. Instead, he left the door open to extending exemptions that have allowed some of Iran's biggest customers to continue importing its crude.
India's soymeal sales to Iran are set to spike as the oil producer uses the rupees it receives for its crude exports to cover its animal feed demand amid U.S. sanctions that have crimped the country's ability to import necessities. Iran has agreed to sell crude oil to India, the world's third-largest oil consumer, in exchange for rupees after sanctions imposed by the United States blocked its access to the global financial system.
The U.S. government is planning on taking a tougher line on Iran in the months ahead, redoubling its efforts to cut Iran's oil exports down to zero. Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, boasted earlier this week about the U.S.' success in curtailing Iran's oil exports to date. In an interview with Bloomberg, Hook noted that when the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last May, Iran was exporting 2.7 million barrels per day (mb/d). Now, he says, Iran's exports are down near or below 1 mb/d.
India will not share the limited supply of Iranian crude allowed under a US waiver from sanctions with private refiners, according to the sources. The government has asked its four state refiners led by Indian Oil Corp. to share the entire 9 millions barrels of Iranian oil available every month under a 180-day waiver from US sanctions, the people said, asking not to be identified.
An Iranian satellite launch failed yesterday after its rocket left the atmosphere, Tehran said after launching the spacecraft despite criticism from the United States. It is the first of two satellites Iranian leaders said they were planning to launch. The second satellite is "waiting for orbit," per Iran's telecommunications minister. Experts had expected the flights to take place sometime in the first eleven days of February, as Iran celebrates a national holiday linked to the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in 1979.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
How does it feel when your wife is on hunger strike? It is fine to support their right to do it in theory. It feels different as the days roll on. Nazanin and I had a long autumn. She regularly despaired that nothing was moving, warned that she couldn't cope anymore stuck in an unjust imprisonment while governments haggled. She threatened a hunger strike as a last resort. I kept getting her to postpone, saying that we weren't at last resort yet. That got us past Christmas and even her 1,000 days.
UN human rights experts urged Iran on Wednesday to grant urgently needed medical attention to two detainees, including British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who launched a hunger strike over a lack of care. The six UN experts also appealed on behalf of Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who was arrested in 2015 and jailed for 10 years for "forming and managing an illegal group" and who has joined Zaghari-Ratcliffe's hunger strike.
The Iranian ambassador to Britain has rejected Jeremy Hunt's pleas to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Foreign Secretary summoned Hamid Baeidinejad over the case for the first time on Monday to complain about a lack of medical treatment for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41. The ambassador said little to Mr Hunt at the time, but later denounced Britain for 'meddling in Iran's internal affairs'.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Iranian Embassy in Beirut says recent comments by visiting U.S. officials are a blatant interference in other people's business and an attempt to dictate orders. The rare statement referred to comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a regional tour and those by David Hale, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs on a visit to Lebanon. Both vowed to step up efforts to counter Iran's activities around the region and expel from Syria "every last Iranian boot."
The English-language arm of Iran's state television broadcaster is reporting that its prominent American-born news anchor was arrested after flying into the United States. Press TV broke into its broadcast on Wednesday to report that Marzieh Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin of New Orleans, was arrested after arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Sunday. The broadcaster, citing her family, said Hashemi was taken into FBI custody and brought to the Washington area.
A day after a senior U.S. envoy pressed Lebanese officials on the actions of Hezbollah, the Iranian Embassy in Beirut Tuesday criticized Washington for its "blatant intervention" in Lebanon and the region.
As tensions increase on the Israeli-Lebanese border following the discovery of Hezbollah-built tunnels last month and with President Donald Trump announcing a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, the possibility is growing that a confrontation with Iran may move from Syria to Lebanon. Lebanon is increasingly viewed within the prism of containing Iranian influence, mainly as an arena to pushback on Iran's key nonstate ally Hezbollah.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Forty years ago today, Iran's then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic. Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen expressed on Tuesday their regret at accepting the conditions of the Sweden ceasefire deal on Hodeidah that was reached in December. A minister in the Houthis' illegitimate government, Hassan Zeid, said that the militias committed a "strategic error" in agreeing to the deal because they lost several humanitarian cards that they were exploiting for their interests before the international community and United Nations.
Iran will keep military forces in Syria, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday, defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria unless they quickly get out of there.
Israel needs to prepare for the possibility that its battle to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria may have to be expanded to Lebanon or to Iran directly, according to an assessment by the Institute for National Security (INSS). That is one of the recommendations that appeared in INSS's Strategic Assessment for Israel 2018-2019 that was released and rolled out by the Tel Aviv-based think tank at a ceremony at Beit Hanasi on Wednesday.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian officials traveled to Baghdad this week to push for expanded trade and energy ties as it tries to undercut U.S. efforts to weaken Iraq's economic links to its neighbor. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is in Iraq this week with a delegation of more than 50 companies. The visit comes a week after Iranian energy officials traveled to Baghdad to discuss strengthening energy links and keeping Iranian natural gas flowing to Iraq, where it accounts for over 40% of the country's electricity needs.
"Zarif maneuvering in Baghdad." That's how pro-Reform daily Etemad described a four-day visit by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to neighboring Iraq. The top Iranian diplomat, accompanied by a large delegation comprising over 100 business leaders, attended a conference in Baghdad with their Iraqi counterparts to discuss trade. The Iranian foreign minister gave assurances to the participants that US sanctions will not affect bilateral business.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
German police have arrested a 50-year-old Afghan-German man suspected of passing military secrets to Iran. Federal prosecutors named the army linguist only as Abdul Hamid S. He is understood to have known details of German military operations in Afghanistan. Prosecutors said he was suspected of "having passed on his knowledge to an Iranian intelligence service".
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale has not invited Lebanon to the Warsaw global conference expected in Poland on February 13 and 14 to discuss issues related to the Middle East and means to counter Iran's power in the region. Observers believe that Washington decided to omit Lebanon over the sensitivity of the matter.
Following a wave of terror plots on European soil, the EU has finally woken up to the growing threat Iran poses to global security. Last week, it announced new measures against Tehran - yet when compared with the robust sanctions regime Washington has implemented in recent months, Brussels' response is hardly likely to cause the Iranian clerics any sleepless nights. The sanctions come after a series of Iranian-sponsored plots that have been uncovered in Europe since the signing of the controversial nuclear deal with Tehran in 2015.