Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Wednesday European powers were incapable of bypassing sanctions imposed on Tehran by the US after it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Iran and six world powers agreed on a deal in 2015 that severely restricted Tehran's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief and economic incentives. However President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal -- technically called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- last May, reimposing punishing sanctions on the Islamic republic.
South Korea has begun testing super-light U.S. oil sold by energy firm Anadarko Petroleum Corp as a substitute for Iranian crude as it awaits word from Washington whether it can keep buying oil from the Middle Eastern nation, sources said. South Korea is one of Iran's biggest Asian customers, and was one of eight importers that received waivers to keep buying Iranian oil when the United States re-imposed sanctions in November.
The case for getting tougher with Iran grows daily, and Tuesday offered a two-fer: The State Department blamed Tehran for the deaths of hundreds of US servicemen in Iraq, while a new report shed fresh light on Iran's past nuclear activities - and its ongoing efforts to lie about them. Citing newly declassified reports, Special Representative Brian Hook held Iran "responsible" for "at least" 608 US deaths, up about 100 from an earlier count and 17 percent of the entire US toll in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reaffirmed Iran's compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). "I don't see activities that are contrary to the Iran nuclear agreement ... but we need to monitor very, very carefully," Yukiya Amano said in an interview with CBS on Wednesday.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's oil minister on Wednesday urged local oil and gas firms to help with providing aid to victims of severe flooding, as one international aid agency announced extra funds to bolster relief efforts. At least 26 of Iran's 31 provinces have been hit by heavy downpours that began on March 19. The flooding - the country's worst in a decade - has killed 62 people, the head of crisis management at the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization said on Wednesday, according to student news agency ISNA.
Two influential Democratic senators for the first time are urging President Trump to use sanctions relief for countries that want to do business with Iran as leverage to help secure the release of Americans unjustly imprisoned in the Islamic republic. Sens. Tim Kaine and Chris Coons, both senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Trump Monday imploring him to use "all leverage possible" in trying to free Americans imprisoned in Iran and elsewhere.
Traders in Lebanon are angry over a surge in imports of cheap Iranian steel and iron this year, which no one is admitting to bringing in for fear of US sanctions imposed for doing business with Tehran. Businessmen are accusing each other and Hezbollah, Tehran's main political ally in Lebanon, for the low-cost Iranian imports that have disrupted the local market. Traders quietly held a meeting with the Minister of Economy to discuss the issue but all are reluctant to speak publicly.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Since I was released from captivity in Iran in January 2016, Iran has continued its 40-year habit of taking foreign nationals hostage. I write about this issue extensively, in large part because it seems as though there is a new case every month. But of the many innocent people being held as political leverage by the regime in Tehran, there is one case that has, from the very start, been harder than the rest for me to stomach.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The U.S. military has revealed it believes Iran has helped kill 608 U.S. troops in Iraq since 2003, according to newly revealed and formerly-classified numbers. "In Iraq, I can announce today, based on declassified U.S. military reports, that Iran is responsible for the deaths of at least 608 American service members," Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, said during a State Department briefing Tuesday. "This accounts for 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.
President Hassan Rouhani has once again attacked the United States for imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic, accusing Washington of blocking international aid from reaching flood-hit Iran. At a meeting with the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday, April 3, Rouhani maintained, "Those who did not let Iranians residing outside the country send aid to their own people should be ashamed."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An Iraqi journalist suspected of spying for Iran has been arrested in Sweden, according to British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper said Stockholm-based Iraqi journalist Raghdan al-Khazali was arrested in Sweden for allegedly spying on members of a group of Ahwazis- members of Iran's minority Arab community- for Iran's government.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian media are reporting that the number of dead from recent flooding has risen to 62, up from 57 the day before. A Wednesday report by the semi-official Fars news agency quotes Ahmad Shojaei, head of the country's forensic medicine department, as saying the casualties were in various provinces that experienced flooding over the past two weeks.
As Iran returns to business after the Nowruz holidays, lawmakers are resuming discussions on a controversial draft motion that has the potential to alter parliamentary politics. The proposed bill, which was first brought to the floor by 120 parliamentarians last November, calls for parliamentary elections to be held at provincial levels. At present, constituencies commonly cover towns and cities.
As non-stop heavy downpours continued to wreak havoc upon Iran, the country's supreme leader expressed gratitude to the nation for Iranians' "mobilized efforts" and "spirit of solidarity" in their cooperation with the government-led relief process. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was addressing Iran's political elite as well as ambassadors from Muslim countries in the capital Tehran March 3, in a traditional speech for the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's first revelation.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is visiting Lebanon, denies US claims that his country harbours Hezbollah cells. "He said that the US sometimes accuses Venezuela of having Hezbollah cells but that's not true," Lebanese MP Yassine Jaber said after meeting Mr Arreaza on Wednesday. Mr Jaber, head of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, replaced Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri to meet Mr Arreaza. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business in early February that Hezbollah had active cells in Venezuela.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Yemen's Houthi rebels have refused to rule on an appeal against a prominent Baha'i leader who has been sentenced to death. Hamed Bin Haydara, has been in Houthi detention since 2013, and is charged with espionage and apostasy. A hearing was held for Mr Haydara on Tuesday but remained inconclusive, and the next court session is scheduled for the end of the month, according to the US Baha'i office of Public Affairs.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi will travel to Iran on Saturday, a member of his office said, in his first official visit to the country rivaling Washington for influence over Baghdad. The US reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran's energy and finance sectors last year but has granted Baghdad several exemptions to keep temporarily importing Iranian gas and electricity, crucial to Iraq's faltering power sector.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
The Ministry of Defense in Kabul has denied reports that the members of Iran-supported Liwa Fatemiyoun have returned to Afghanistan. Liwa Fatemiyoun, also known as Fatemiyoun Division, is an Afghan Shi'ite militia formed, trained and funded by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) beginning in 2014 to fight in Syria on the side of Bashar Assad's forces. Reportedly, by late 2017, the unit numbered between 10,000-20,000 fighters.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has criticized a letter three European powers have sent to UN's secretary general asking for a full report on Islamic Republic's missile activities. Zarif has accused Britain, France and Germany of trying to appease U.S. President Donald trump. In their letter the three countries have accused Iran of developing missile technology "inconsistent" with UN resolution 2231, which wrapped up the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and called for limiting Tehran's missile program.
Britain's Sky News says U.S.-based cybersecurity experts have found that a group linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has carried out two cyberattacks on British institutions in recent years. A Wednesday report by the British news agency said the California-based cyber experts, whom it did not identify, determined that a suspected IRGC-linked group was behind a previously undisclosed attack on British public and private entities on Dec. 23, 2018, and a previously reported attack on the British parliament's email network on June 23, 2017.
Iran has been accused of launching a number of cyber attacks on the Post Office and the UK's local government networks in the lead-up to Christmas, it has been reported. According to Sky News, the attacks took place on December 23, with more than 10,000 pieces of data records stolen, such as email addresses, postal addresses, company positions and phone numbers, including the mobile number of Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells and at least 10 peers and MPs.