The United States will host an international summit next month to promote stability and freedom in the Middle East, focusing on Iran's regional influence, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an exclusive Fox News interview, while traveling in the Middle East. "We'll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world," said Pompeo, announcing the February 13-14 event in Poland. "Countries will all come together to focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence."
The US will work with allies to "expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says. Mr Pompeo warned there would be no US reconstruction aid for areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad until Iran and its proxies had left. He also criticised ex-President Barack Obama's Middle East policy, saying he had made "dire misjudgements".
Iran will see its crude exports severely curtailed for a third month in January as it is struggling to find new buyers amid fresh U.S. sanctions even though its traditional customers secured waivers, according to tanker data and industry sources. Iran's crude exports in November plummeted to below 1 million barrels per day, from regular sales of 2.5 million bpd before sanctions were imposed in May, and taking them back to where they stood during the previous round of sanctions in 2012-2016.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged that Iran would not tolerate the simultaneous restriction of its economy and its nuclear program. "This bad dream will never come true," Khamenei said in June 2018. Yet Iran has accepted exactly that. Iran has continued to comply with the restrictions on its nuclear program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was implemented three years ago this month.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iraq's oil minister says Iraq and Iran are jointly exploring two oil fields shared by the two countries, despite U.S. efforts to isolate Iran from global oil markets. Thamer Ghadhban says Iraq is honoring an existing exploration agreement with neighboring Iran. He received Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh in Baghdad on Thursday. The U.S. has been pressuring Iraq to break its energy dependence in Iran since it reinstated sanctions against the Islamic Republic last year. Iraq imports gas and electricity from Iran to meet its energy needs.
EU trade turnover has declined significantly since the United States reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran, including oil exports and banking. According to official statistics, released by Iran's Trade Promotion Organization, European Union's exports to the country declined 19% year-on-year to $6.792 billion during nine months of current Iranian fiscal year, which started on March 21, 2018. Iran's non-oil exports to EU also shrank 19% to $868 million.
A Norwegian Air jet diverted into Shiraz, Iran, last month because of a technical issue, but the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft hasn't been able to leave the country since. The 186 passengers left Dubai and were heading to Oslo, Norway, when the incident occurred. Another aircraft was able to pick up the passengers and all made it to Oslo a day later. The original plane, however, still hasn't moved.
The government of Iran is prone to belligerent defiance about the resilience of its economy in the face of U.S. sanctions, but Radio Farda noted on Wednesday that even the dubious data officially released by Tehran depicts a country in "deep recession" with staggering unemployment rates.
The modest sanctions imposed against Iran this week by the European Union are a reflection of Tehran's increasingly reckless approach to conducting terrorist operations on European soil. And they also raise questions about why the EU, when faced with compelling evidence of Iranian terrorist activity on its own territory, still refuses to back the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the controversial nuclear deal with Iran.
Iran will put two satellites into orbit in coming weeks using domestically made missiles, President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, a week after Washington warned it not to pursue three planned space rocket launches. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Tehran against pursuing launches that he said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issued a stinging rebuttal to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Thursday speech on the Middle East, saying that "chaos, repression and resentment follow" international actions taken by the United States. Sharing a Twitter response to Pompeo's remarks, which were made during a visit to Egypt, Zarif suggested the U.S. has never gotten over its loss of Iran as an ally back in the late 1970s. He also criticized Washington's human rights record.
Iran's Establishment Resists Calls To Look Into Torture Claims | Radio Farda
A heated debate is taking place over the torture of a prominent labor activist in Iran. Esmail Bakhshi was arrested on November 20, 2018, along with journalist and civil rights activist Sepideh Qolian during demonstrations by workers demanding unpaid wages.
Iran State TV Airs Video Making Case For Jailing Of British-Iranian Dual National | Al Monitor
A video aired on Iranian state television has compared accusations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 US presidential elections with biased and fake news to the efforts of the UK-funded BBC to influence Iranian domestic policy and topple its government - in the process airing footage of the arrest of a jailed dual British-Iranian citizen and her alleged links to outlawed Iranian websites.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration's Mideast policies on Thursday as he denounced the former president for "misguided" and "wishful" thinking that diminished America's role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran. In a speech to the American University in Cairo, Pompeo unloaded on President Donald Trump's predecessor for being naive and timid when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011.
Iran's foreign minister mocked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech on Thursday in which he said "when America retreats, chaos follows," by asserting the opposite was true. "Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression and resentment follow," Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. "The day Iran mimics US clients & @SecPompeo's 'human rights models' - be it the Shah or current butchers - to become a 'normal' country is the day hell freezes over. Best for the US to just get over loss of Iran."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought the Trump administration's anti-Iran message to Gulf Arab states on Friday, arriving in Bahrain to continue a nine-nation tour of the Middle East aimed at reassuring America's partners that withdrawing troops from Syria does not mean Washington is abandoning the region. Pompeo was traveling to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates where he will call for increasing pressure on Iran and push for unity among Gulf neighbors still embroiled in a festering dispute with Qatar.
Iran has reacted to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech in Cairo with both ridicule and disdain, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning against taking seriously anything coming out of the Donald Trump administration - whether threats or promises. Why it matters: In explaining his perception of the Middle East, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo portrayed Iran as the root of all evil, promising intensified punishment for the Islamic Republic until it abandons its nuclear and missile programs as well as its present foreign policy priorities.
The first American detained overseas during the Trump administration is being held in one of the president's least favorite places: Iran. On Wednesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry acknowledged that it had arrested Michael White, a US Navy veteran, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. A lot of questions remain, such as why White is being detained, and how long he's been imprisoned. It's also unclear how White even received a visa to Iran, a country that severely restricts the number of American visitors.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
On the campaign trail in 2007, Senator John McCain sang a parody to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann": "Bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb Iran." That sentiment resonates in the Donald Trump administration, and it's understandable. The Iranians continue to push their influence throughout the Middle East: using proxies to threaten U.S. allies; supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria; fueling the war in Yemen through support for Houthi rebels; and seeking to destabilize Iraq and gain further influence in Lebanon.
Iran's Air Force kicked off a massive military exercise in central region on Thursday, official IRNA news agency reported. The annual war game, named Defenders of Velayat Skies, began at Shahid Babaei air base in Iranian central province of Isfahan. The drills' spokesman Alireza Angizeh said that other air bases across the country would join the maneuvers.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
On Christmas Eve (not that it matters in Iran), Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, one of Tehran's most understated powerbrokers, died after a particularly grueling year combating cancer. Despite his relative anonymity outside Iran compared to his more outspoken and controversial clerical colleagues, Shahroudi was a quintessential establishment figure with unfettered access to the apex of power and, rather unusually, reasonable relations across factional lines.
President Hasan Rouhani's remarks at commemorations in Tehran on January 9 and 10 to mark the second anniversary of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's death has revealed rifts at the top level of Iran's political system. This comes while Rafsanjani's death still remains shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories fanned by hardliners in Tehran and Qom and occasional comments by the former president's family.
When an Afghan TV host highlighted censorship on neighboring Iran's state-controlled broadcaster, it didn't go down well with everyone. Former soccer player-turned-sportscaster Ali Ansarian responded by suggesting that Iranians are better off than Afghans. He said his Afghan counterpart, Amanullah Qaisari, should stick to reporting and refrain from commenting on the state of affairs in Iran.
Against the backdrop of an ailing yet dominant banking system that is struggling to upgrade its operations, Iranian fintech firms are slowly but steadily fashioning a position for themselves. Local developments in the past year have made it clear that fintech firms will be a major part if not the architects of the future landscape of financial services in Iran.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday Hezbollah is a major presence in Lebanon, but the U.S. won't accept this as the status quo. Pompeo also described the United States was a "force for good" in the Middle East and remained committed to the "complete dismantling" of the Daesh (ISIS) threat despite its decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot said Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah was planning to infiltrate 1,500 fighters into Israel through the series of tunnels the military has recently discovered along the border. Eisenkot made the comments in an interview with Hadashot News on Thursday. Israel embarked on Operation Northern Shield in early December to expose and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels.
As Iran and Venezuela become increasingly isolated and sanctioned by the U.S and much of the international community, the two governments are said to be tightening their bond - with the help of Tehran's proxy group, Hezbollah, in the middle of the action. "Training between Iran and Venezuela has increased in the past few years as part of a larger plan between the Venezuelan regime, consisting of increasing the number of Hezbollah operatives and their supporters across Latin America," Johan Obdola, President of the Canada-based Global Organization for Intelligence (IOSI) and former counter-narcotics chief in Venezuela, told Fox News. "(Hassan) Rouhani and (Nicolas) Maduro have established a very firm and close relationship, which was of course initiated by (Hugo) Chavez."
The U.S. military said Friday it has begun withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave. U.S. forces have "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria," Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State said. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements."
A draft paper outlining US plans for withdrawing from Syria includes leaving troops in place at a position near the Iraqi and Jordanian border seen as a key stopgap against Iranian entrenchment in the country. The document, described as a proposal, was presented to Turkish officials as US National Security Adviser John Bolton visited Ankara earlier this week to discuss the planned pullout, according to London-based news website Middle East Eye, citing an unnamed Turkish official.
A top Iranian general has said Iran will annihilate Israel, boasted that Iran could easily defeat Saudi Arabia, and threatened to overrun American military bases in the Middle East. Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Deputy Commander for Cultural and Social Affairs, said in a December 28 interview with the Iraqi television network Al-Nujaba that the "Islamic revolution in Iran will not back down" from the goal of "wiping out" the Jewish state.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A bomb-laden drone launched by the Houthi rebels, which exploded on Thursday over a Yemeni military parade at al-Anad Air Base in the southern province of Lahj, was most likely manufactured by Iran, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The attack, 50 kilometers north of Aden, left four troops dead and another 20 injured. The government described the attack as "a message of blatant defiance to the international community and outright rejection to peace efforts."
The Yemeni Council of Ministers denounced Iran's disobeying of UN resolutions on Thursday, saying that "it won't stop until it is strongly deterred by the International Community." The Yemeni legitimate government said that Houthi militias are challenging the international community and its decisions, in a press release.
Qatar did well by putting the record straight and calling things by their names. It officially announced, through its ambassador to Moscow, its true position towards the Iranian occupation of Syria, by considering that Iran has "legitimate" interests in Syria and supporting Tehran's quest to maintain those interests; and that the "Syrian regime, which oppressed its opponents, is responsible for allowing for international and regional foreign intervention, which should not be blamed on others."
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran and Iraq held a meeting designed to boost their bilateral ties just one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Iraqi officials as part of a broader Middle Eastern tour aimed at curbing Tehran's influence in the region. Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Zangeneh met Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, whose office said he "confirmed the deep relations between the two countries, the two neighboring peoples and the importance of strengthening them in areas that serve the interests of the two peoples, foremost of which is cooperation in the fields of oil and gas."
Iraq's large and well-armed Shiite militias are now running many of the Sunni areas they helped liberate from the Islamic State, fostering local resentments that could fuel a resurgence of support for the extremist group. After winning nearly a third of the seats in parliamentary elections last year, the Shiite militias, including several ideologically aligned with Iran, are enjoying unprecedented military and political power in Iraq.
Phishing attacks only work when the target takes the bait. The email containing the link or attachment that will compromise the target's computer has to look legitimate, from a recognizable domain. A new report says that someone - likely Iran - has been hijacking domains related to entities across the Middle East and North America, which could allow Iran to launch more, and more successful, cyber attacks.