U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are vowing to counter what they call Iran's aggression in the Middle East. "We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world," Netanyahu said Wednesday, noting U.S. pressure on Iran is already having an impact.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday in a new year speech broadcast on state TV that the Islamic Republic successfully resisted "unprecedented, strong" U.S. sanctions. Iran has faced economic hardship since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions. Khamenei also said that economic hardship and the fall of the currency remain top problems and that the government should confront these issues by boosting production.
Japanese refiners are unlikely to continue buying Iranian crude from April onwards, the president of the Petroleum Association of Japan said as quoted by Reuters. However, Takashi Tsukuoka added they would continue importing Iranian crude if Tokyo agreed on a sanction waiver extension, which it was currently negotiating with Washington. This makes Japan the second country to try and negotiate a waiver extension, after India entered identical talks earlier this month.
UANI IN THE NEWS
On Tuesday 12 March, the European People's Party (EPP) Vice President Sandra Kalniete presented a report to the European Parliament calling for the EU to reassess its relationship with Russia. It was a small intervention which many will have missed. Kalniete said that "the EU should stand ready to consider adopting further sanctions if Russia's violation of international law continues." The EPP is right to highlight the aggressive behaviour of Russia. The recognition of the need to sanction Russia, however, invariably raises another more worrying issue: the links between Russia and Iran, and the ways in which sanctions on the two countries are intertwined. It is the nature of these relationships that warrants more than ever our very close attention.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian leaders vowed on Thursday to control soaring prices, bring stability to the national currency and create jobs as the nation marked the end of a year of economic crisis fueled by renewed U.S. sanctions. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a new year speech that the Islamic Republic successfully resisted the U.S. sanctions, and called on the government to boost national production to face enemy pressures.
A 90-day U.S. waiver allows Iraq to continue to pay for electricity from Iran, a State Department official said on Wednesday. The official said the new waiver extension exempting Iraq from U.S. sanctions on Iran was granted on Tuesday.
"Mahan Air will have to halt its Paris flights as of April 1. They notified me in an email," tweeted an Iranian passenger who had booked a flight to the French capital. Airline officials have confirmed the cancellations, saying French government sanctions forced the ban. Mahan is Iran's second-largest carrier with its Paris schedule covering four flights on a weekly basis. The airline has already suffered similar bans, including one imposed by Germany in January.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the economic difficulties of Iranians the main and most urgent problem of the country Thursday, and the country's president and top diplomat also used holiday messages to speak out against sanctions re-imposed by the US last year. Iran has faced increased economic hardship in the last 12 months which was aggravated after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last May.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards are looking to fill a vacuum in the energy sector created by western companies that pulled out of the Islamic republic following the reimposition of US sanctions. Saeed Mohammad, head of Khatam-ul-Anbia, the construction arm of the elite force, said his organisation was ready to replace Total, the French company, in the development of phase 11 of the South Pars gasfield, the republic's flagship hydrocarbons project.
Iran's Central Bank announced on Wednesday that a company matching Europe's trade mechanism, INSTEX was registered in Tehran. Three days earlier, the head of the central bank announced that Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI) will be established in Iran to work with Europe's Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), to facilitate limited trade in the face of U.S. economic sanctions reimposed on Iran in 2018.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has promised to increase the salaries of public servants in the country with the start of the Persian calendar on Thursday. According to Radio Farda, the announcement was unexpected, as earlier this month the Iranian government said it was unsure about whether or not salaries would be raised because "raising salaries and wages is a decision made by the parliament and the government does not have the authority to dismiss the legislature's decision."
The trial of Esmaeil Bakhshi, Ali Nejati and other defendants arrested amid protests and strikes at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex in the city of Shush, southwest Iran, has been referred to the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The Revolutionary Courts, set up after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, are tasked with trying those suspected of crimes like espionage, blasphemy, smuggling, attempting to overthrow the government, and other national security crimes.
The lawyer who saved my life was just sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in Iran. I first met Nasrin Sotoudeh - an internationally renowned human rights lawyer, and our country's foremost campaigner for women's rights and against child executions - when I was being harassed and violently intimidated by Iran's intelligence services.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday lauded the White House's warm ties with Israel during a visit to the country and promised to step up pressure on Iran, giving a public boost to Israel's prime minister at the height of a tight re-election campaign. Pompeo was on a regional tour focused largely on Iran, but the meeting and his cushy words on Netanyahu's leadership will likely be seen as support from U.S. President Donald Trump's administration amid the Israeli premier's re-election fight.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Four of the Iranian border guards kidnapped last year by a Sunni militant group on the border with Pakistan were released on Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said. Spokesman Bahram Qasemi thanked the Pakistani government for its efforts to facilitate the release of the guards, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the economic difficulties of Iranians the main and most urgent problem of the country in a message aired Thursday on state TV. Iran has faced increased economic hardship in the last 12 months, which was aggravated after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last May. The renewal of American sanctions, which had been eased in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program, sent shockwaves through Iran's economy.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on the country's political factions to end infighting and unite against foreign enemies in a new year speech broadcast on state TV on Thursday. Hardliners in Iran have criticized Rouhani after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal, which Rouhani supported, and reimposed sanctions last year.
Wedged in the corner of a squat brick building in this holy Muslim city, Sheikh Aladdin al-Jazari's cramped office belies his ties to a powerful patron: the supreme leader of Iran. The furniture is sparse, and the rooms dimly lit. But Jazari is a key liaison to the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, whom Jazari says he has met multiple times.
Iranians on Wednesday were preparing for the annual Nowruz holiday that marks the Persian new year and the arrival of spring. The holiday, dating back to at least 1700 B.C. and incorporating ancient Zoroastrian traditions, is the most important evIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged on Wednesday that Iran could blackmail his main election rival, Benny Gantz, after hacking the former armed forces chief's phone, even as Tehran denied doing so.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on a diplomatic mission to scuttle Syria's readmission to the Arab League. On Thursday, he is expected in Lebanon, where he is set to target another one of Iran's allies, Hezbollah. Pompeo is scheduled to hold talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and is expected to ask him to make greater efforts to shield Lebanese policies from Iranian influence - while knowing that that may be hard to achieve since Hezbollah has three appointees in Hariri's cabinet and, along with its allies, controls 70 of the 128 seats in parliament.
A Hezbollah commander who allegedly headed a 2007 raid on an American base in Iraq, which ended with the slaying of kidnapped American soldiers, is now building a secret force that could attack Israel from Syria, according to an Israeli military intelligence report. Their report was released in the days leading up to a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also is stopping in Kuwait and Lebanon, where discussions will include the threat of Iran and Hezbollah.
Cellphones of Sara and Yair Netanyahu, the wife and son of the Israeli prime minister, were not hacked by Iran, the Prime Minister's Office asserted Tuesday. Netanyahu accused rival Israeli sources in the elections of being responsible for such rumors to divert attention from the scandal of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz's whose phone was hacked. Earlier, a report stated that Iran hacked the phones of Netanyahu's wife and son in an attempt to eavesdrop on conversations with the premier.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
The U.S. ambassador to Yemen blamed the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on Thursday for the stalling of a U.N.-led peace deal in the main port of Hodeidah and said the group's weapons pose a threat to other countries in the region.
The Association of Abductee Mothers condemned Houthi militias for kidnapping dozens of their children four years ago and transferring them to secret prisons dubbed "exchange houses." They also accused the insurgents of starving and neglecting the health conditions of their love-ones, leading to the spread of diseases, especially infectious ones.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has returned from his first-ever trip to Iraq with a raft of agreements for expanded trade, cross-border infrastructure, and pledges of greater cooperation with Baghdad. Leaders of both countries embraced strengthening ties - something Washington has been watching closely. Iran is upping its game in Iraq as U.S. influence recedes, deepening ties with its war-weary neighbor and betting on bilateral economic activity to help offset tough sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
TURKEY & IRAN
Turkey said on Wednesday Turkish and Iranian military commanders had agreed to continue "simultaneous and coordinated operations" against Kurdish militants, though Iran's armed forces later said there were no joint operations. Earlier this week Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey and Iran were carrying out a joint operation against Kurdish militants.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Under cover of the predawn darkness of April 21, 2018, two tall, burly men lay in wait for Fadi al-Batsh. He took no special precautions as he left his apartment building to head for the mosque where he often prayed. Spotting him, the two men approached and shot him 14 times at close range. He didn't stand a chance. The security cameras in the area did not pick up anything, and the pair - who were carrying false passports from Serbia and Montenegro - fled on a motorbike.