About one year after the United States decided to leave the Iran nuclear deal, the State Department is set to announce that all countries will have to completely end their imports of Iranian oil or be subject to U.S. sanctions. This is an escalation of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign, which seeks to force Tehran to end its illicit behavior around the world.
Iran's supreme leader has replaced the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, state media reported Sunday, two weeks after the Trump administration designated the elite force of the Iranian military as a foreign terrorist organization. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not specify why he was removing the Revolutionary Guards commander, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, who had held the post since 2007.
The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran's Revolutionary Guards after the group's designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former U.S. officials. The exemptions, granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and described by a State Department spokesman in response to questions from Reuters, mean officials from countries such as Iraq who may have dealings with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, would not necessarily be denied U.S. visas.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The IRGC proscription follows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to Beirut in March, in which he presented a stark warning to Lebanon. It essentially read as a 'them or us' choice between US support for the country, or allowing Hezbollah to grow. Nasrallah's response to the US designation of the IRGC was to be expected, according to analysts. "The only reason the IRGC designation may in any way affect Lebanon is because of Hezbollah's presence - this isn't an attack on Lebanon itself," said David Daoud, a research analyst on Hezbollah and Lebanon at United Against Nuclear Iran, a Washington DC-based advocacy group.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Trump administration is poised to end a program that has allowed five large nations, including China and India, to buy Iranian oil despite American sanctions, two senior American officials said on Sunday, a decision that is intended to squeeze Tehran's government but could lead to higher oil and gasoline prices. The move to choke off all exports of Iranian oil is part of an increasingly aggressive pressure campaign by the Trump administration to starve Iran of revenue with the goals of forcing political change among its ruling clerics and getting it to rein in its military actions across the Middle East.
The United States is expected to announce on Monday that buyers of Iranian oil need to end imports soon or face sanctions, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, triggering a 3 percent jump in crude prices to their highest for 2019 so far. Officials in Asia opposed the expected move, pointing to tight market conditions and high fuel prices that were harming industry. The source confirmed a report by the Washington Post that the administration will terminate the sanctions waivers it granted to some importers of Iranian oil late last year.
Oil topped $74 a barrel on Monday, the highest since November, with the United States set to announce a further clampdown on Iranian oil exports, tightening global supplies. The United States is expected to say later on Monday that buyers of Iranian oil need to end imports soon or face sanctions, a source familiar with the situation said, confirming an earlier Washington Post report. "This does bring a lot more uncertainty in terms of global supplies," said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix. "It is a bullish surprise for the market."
China consistently opposes unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday amid reports that Washington is expected to announce that buyers of Iranian oil must halt imports soon or face sanctions. Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, speaking at a daily news briefing, said China's bilateral cooperation with Iran was in accordance with the law.
Tehran has denied it took part in negotiations over possible limitations on its missile program, prior to the U.S. withdrawal in May 2018 from the Iran nuclear agreement . Earlier, the French ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, had asserted that before Washington's withdrawal, there were talks underway to reach an agreement over Tehran's missile program, and adding it as a supplement to the JCPOA, or the nuclear agreement.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The United States has decided to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This is a major step toward effectively countering Tehran's systemic use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft. It is also welcome news for the Iranian people, whose efforts over 40 years to bring about change have been violently suppressed at every turn by the Guard.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Sadaf Khadem had been interested in sports as a child in Iran in the 2000s. She began by playing basketball and then in her teenage years, added a punching bag to the makeshift gym in her family's garage and finally convinced her parents to let her join a boxing club. Earlier this month, the 24-year-old Khadem won the first ever victory by an Iranian female boxer at the international level.
The Islamic Republic of Iran's center in Vienna, Austria announced in a lethal homophobic video YouTube that homosexuality spells the end of humanity. The Center of Islamic Culture Imam Ali's video targets children and is part of a series that launches attacks on liberal, western values and societies. The Austrian paper Kurier reported the video was deleted on Friday after being online for three months.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Two weeks since the storms started, relentless rain and flooding throughout Iran has left some 2 million people facing a humanitarian crisis. The deluge has swamped large swaths of the country, from the mountains in the north down to the Persian gulf in the south. Twenty-five out of 31 of Iran's provinces have been affected. Officials say say 76 people have been killed so far, with some 150,000 homes partially or completely destroyed. Bridges across the country and miles upon miles of road have been left unusable.
Some 300,000 flood-hit Iranians are to be housed in flood shelters in Iran's Khuzestan Province following the declaration of a state of emergency in the three cities of Abadan, Khorramshahr and Shadegan, local officials have announced on Saturday April 20. The Iranian Red Crescent Society says its 2800 relief workers have offered relief aid to some 600,000 individuals and airlifted at least 8,340 to safer areas during the past month.
Iran's latest monthly inflation rate has hit 51.4 percent, according to the Iranian Statistical Center (ISC). The first month of the Iranian year (March 21-April 20) showed a more than 50 percent rise in prices compared to the same month last year. ISC also reported that the inflation rate in the past 12 months reached 30.6 percent. This is lower than the International Monetary Fund's estimate of inflation in Iran in 2018, at 31.2 percent. For 2019, IMF has predicted inflation at 37.2 percent.
Iran's leaders have been underplaying the country's economic crisis, despite many Iranian people continuing to suffer financially. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last month highlighted his optimism in a pre-recorded video broadcast on Iran's state TV. He said: "In the face of severe, and according to them unprecedented, sanctions from America and Europe, the Iranian people showed a strong and powerful reaction both in the field of politics and the economy."
In about two weeks, from mid-March to the beginning of April, some 70 percent of the annual precipitation fell in Iran. About 1,900 cities and villages - some estimates cite 4,500 communities in about 21 districts - were flooded with water and mud. More than 70 people were killed and about two million are in need of food and medicines. Some 150,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged, dozens of bridges collapsed or were rendered unsafe and some 12,000 kilometers of roads, about one third of Iran's paved roads, have been damaged or destroyed. According to a preliminary assessment the damage is $2.2 billion.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
France has warned Lebanon that Israel will not tolerate the existence of an Iranian-backed manufacturing facility for precision-guided missiles located inside the country, the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Saturday. Diplomatic sources from within the Arab world told the newspaper details of the facility were conveyed to France from the US and originated with Israel.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A summit organized by Iraq brought together regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on Saturday as part of a broader effort by Iraqi leaders to fashion the country's image as a friend among neighbors. Scarred by more than three decades of war, Iraq is recasting itself as a mediator among neighbors who are often at odds over weighty issues, including the civil war in Syria and U.S. sanctions against Iran. The summit, hosted by Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, brought together top lawmakers of Iraq's six neighbors: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned top military commanders in a private meeting this week that there will be a war with Israel this summer and that he may not be around to support them, according to Elijah J. Magnier, a writer for the Kuwaiti Al Rai news. "I may not remain among you for very long; it is possible that the entire first level of leadership could be killed, including myself," Nasrallah reportedly told the commanders. "Measures and procedures have already been taken to be ready even if this extreme case happens."
Houthi rebels were stopping relief convoys from reaching dozens of civilians, some of whom were being used as human shields in the centre of the Al Durayhimi district, eastern Hodeidah. The Iran-backed rebels, who control a small neighbourhood in Al Durayhimi, prevented an Emirates Red Crescent relief convoy from providing aid to 50 civilians in the district on Saturday, which was 90 per cent liberated by pro-government forces in August 2018. "We called on the Houthis who still hold that neighbourhood, urging them to leave peacefully or allow the detained civilians to reach the relief convoy, which stopped about one kilometre away," Col Wathah Al Dubaish, spokesman for the joint forces in Hodeidah, told The National. "But they shot at us and at some of the women."
The Yemeni army has accused Houthi militias of smuggling dozens of African fighters into the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah to fight alongside the insurgents. Yemeni National Army spokesman Brigadier General Abdo Abdullah Majali told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis have forced a large number of migrants coming from the Horn of Africa region to enroll in their camps. The insurgents later deployed them on several fronts, he said. Majali urged the international community to take action to stop the militias from recruiting African migrants and children.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
A group of militants crossed the border from neighboring Iran earlier this week and carried out a deadly attack against Pakistan armed forces in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing 14, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday. The ministry said in a letter to the Iranian government that the assailants were from a newly formed Baluch separatist group, Raji Aajoi Sangar, and that they were based in Iran's adjacent Baluchistan province.
It urged Iran to act against the attackers who had fled back across the border. Groups operating within Pakistan's and Iran's Baluchistan provinces, which share a long border, seek independence from both countries. The ministry said the "killing of 14 innocent Pakistanis by terrorist groups based in Iran is a very serious incident that Pakistan protests strongly."
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Iran on Sunday to discuss security and regional issues, Iranian state TV reported, a day after Islamabad urged Tehran to act against militants behind killings in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. A new umbrella group representing various insurgent groups operating in Baluchistan claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday when 14 passengers were killed after being kidnapped from buses in the province, which borders Iran.