Iranian officials said on Tuesday that a satellite launch that had been condemned by the Trump administration failed when the carrier rocket could not reach orbit. "I would have liked to make you happy with some good news, but sometimes life does not go as expected," Iran's minister of telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said in a Twitter post. He said the rocket, a Safir, long used for satellite launches, had failed in the final stage, falling short of placing its payload into the correct orbit. He did not offer any explanation.
The U.S. plans to grant no new waivers to buyers of Iranian oil as it intensifies efforts to eliminate the Middle Eastern producer's exports of crude, a senior official said. U.S. sanctions have so far cut Iran's exports to about 1 million barrels a day from a level of 2.7 million before Washington announced sanctions on the country. Of the eight buyers that secured initial U.S. waivers to buy oil from Iran, only five are still doing so, Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, said in an interview.
South Korea imported no Iranian oil for a fourth month in December following the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, cutting its 2018 imports from the major supplier by 60 percent, preliminary customs data showed on Tuesday. The world's fifth-largest crude importer won a six-month sanctions waiver from Washington in November, allowing it to purchase a limited amount of oil from Iran, but has been working to overcome payment and insurance issues.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
National Security Adviser John Bolton retweeted, with apparent approving comment, a report that accused Iran of fudging its reports to nuclear-disarmament watchdogs. Specifically, the report published by the Institute for Science and International Security accused Iran, based on satellite imagery and documents seized last year by Israeli intelligence, of not-identifying a former nuclear weapons site under Project 110 of the Amad Plan.
The Israelis captured copious secret Iranian documents that demonstrate the Islamic Republic long worked on underground nuclear facilities at Parchin. Now a detailed analysis of the Iranian scheme has come out, and it warrants close attention. The analysis shows that the Iranians' secret nuclear program was successfully hidden from Western intelligence services (including our own) and from the IAEA, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which is supposed to monitor Iranian operations.
Iran launched a satellite on Tuesday that failed to reach orbit, after the US warned against the launch earlier this month. The satellite "did not reach enough speed in the third stage and was not put into orbit," Mohammad Jahromi, the country's Minister of Communications and Information Technology, told the official IRNA news agency after a ceremony was held for the launch at Imam Khomeini Spaceport early Tuesday. The minister said Iran would launch another satellite soon.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Monir Farmanfarmaian, the grand dame of Tehran's vibrant art scene, has set a new record for a local female artist after an untitled mirror mosaic of hers fetched almost $1m at an art auction in the Iranian capital. The 96-year-old Iranian artist, who once hobnobbed with the likes of Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock in New York, topped 104 other artists, whose works were presented at the 10th Tehran Auction on Friday.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Next month Iran will mark 40 years since the founding of the Islamic republic. But as the regime enters middle age, it continues to partake in many of the same criminal acts that first put it on the international map. Now on the verge of that revolutionary anniversary comes news of yet another American gone missing in Iran. This one was not a dual national, as many of the recent Americans captured by the regime were, but rather a veteran of the U.S. Navy who was in Iran visiting his girlfriend.
A British-Iranian aid worker who has been jailed in Tehran is going on hunger strike in protest at her treatment, her employer and her husband said. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter after a family visit.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman held by Tehran, started a hunger strike after her interrogators tried to persuade her to become a spy, her husband has claimed. Richard Ratcliffe revealed his wife was calm as she began an initial three-day hunger strike in protest at the Iranian prison authorities' refusal to give her a clear written undertaking that she would receive medical help for a lump on her breast, as well as other concerns.
Iran's general prosecutor on Monday denied claims by a labor protest leader that he was tortured in prison following strikes at a sugar factory, state TV reported. "News of a Haft Tapeh sugar factory worker being tortured is an outright lie and no harm or torture has happened," Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying. "The individual who claims he has been tortured did this with a political purpose and a certain agenda," he added.
Iran's general prosecutor has hit back at a labor leader for two days in a row, saying there was no torture during his detention and he has lied "to cover-up his crimes". Mohammad Javad Montazeri did not say what crimes the labor leader is accused of, except a vague reference to membership in illegal organization, without providing details. He was speaking on state television on Tuesday.
Three years ago, American Ph.D. candidate Xiyue Wang left for what he thought would be a quick trip to Tehran to research 19th-century Central Asian politics, with his wife and 2-year-old son waiting behind at Princeton. Instead, he was arrested by Iranian police and became what many consider to be the latest pawn in the Islamic Republic's decades-long history of American hostage-taking. Wang is now one of at least four known Americans held prisoner in Iran, all accused of spying. Xiyue Wang's wife spoke out on his conditions in a sit-down interview with Fox News - and rejected the regime's allegations.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In a barnstorming tour that took him to eight countries in one week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo burned with one central message: "The need to counter the greatest threat of all in the Middle East, the Iranian regime and its campaigns of terrorism and destruction," as he put it in Cairo on Thursday. Jetting from capital to capital, meeting with kings, princes and presidents, his goal was to get Arab countries to work together to roll back Iranian influence in the region and take on the militias Iran is backing.
The U.S. will step up efforts to counter Iran's "dangerous activities" around the region including the financing and activities of proxy organizations such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, a senior U.S. official said Monday. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale spoke following talks he held with Lebanese politicians at the end of an official visit. It comes amid a domestic political crisis over an ongoing government vacuum and tensions along the southern border, with the discovery of what Israel says are cross-border tunnels dug by the Hezbollah group for attacks on Israel.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed The New York Times on Monday for what he called its "absurd criticism" of John Bolton after the paper warned the national security adviser could "precipitate a conflict with Iran." "This is an absurd criticism of Amb. Bolton," Rubio wrote his more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. "Shia militias in #Iraq are proxies of & controlled by #Iran," he added. "They want to use them to kill our troops but have deniability. Any attack by Shia militias against U.S. should be treated as an attack from Iran."
Members of the Trump administration vehemently denied attempting to create a backchannel for potential negotiations with Iran, after a senior confidant of Ayatollah Khamenei alleged overtures to this effect recently were made. Ali Shamkhani, who sits on Tehran's National Security Council, was quoted by Middle East media outlets as saying that, "During my visit to Kabul, [Afghanistan in December] the Americans...asked to hold talks."
Supporters of President Barack Obama attack President Donald Trump for reversing his predecessor's policies. To be sure, many of Trump's actions are debatable. But his approach to Iran and radical Islam are historic and vital correctives to the disastrous strategies pursued by Obama. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in particular, did a masterful job in his Cairo speech of making the president's case with the moral clarity his predecessor lacked.
The Wall Street Journal has a bombshell report revealing that President Trump's national security team sought options from the Pentagon for striking Iran. Daniel Drezner, a Tufts professor and Washington Post columnist, responded to the reports by calling national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "batshit insane," his unfortunately common response to those who disagree with him.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged Iran to quickly remove its forces from neighbouring Syria or face continued attacks on them by Israel. "Yesterday I heard the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman saying 'Iran has no military presence in Syria, we only advise them'," Netanyahu said at a Tel Aviv ceremony to install a new head of Israel's armed forces. "So let me advise them -- get out of there fast, because we'll continue our forceful policy of attacking, as we promised and are doing, fearlessly and relentlessly," he said.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif continued on Monday his official visit to Iraq, which coincides with the first trip in a decade by Jordan's King Abdullah II. The monarch had landed in Baghdad on Monday for talks with senior officials, including President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi. Zarif appeared to be alarmed by Jordan's rapprochement with Iraq, announcing that President Hassan Rouhani will be paying a visit to Baghdad in March.
Before the Iranian government arrested him as a spy, Jason Rezaian made a terrific Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post. No one in Iran was as qualified as he, and possibly nobody outside Iran could have gotten the requisite journalist visa. Rezaian was born and raised in Marin County, Calif., to an Iranian father and an American mother, his family maintained business as well as family ties to the old country and he's a dual national Iranian-American citizen, as familiar with and connected to each country as almost anyone else in the world