British special forces seized a supertanker off Gibraltar carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European and U.S. sanctions against the war-torn country. Iran responded by declaring the action illegal and summoning the British ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran to explain the ship's arrest. The diplomatic row heightened tensions just as the U.K., France and Germany try to keep the Islamic Republic from walking away from an international deal to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.
Tighter new U.S. sanctions have proved more punishing than Iran's leaders expected, driving Tehran to hit back militarily and breach limits it had agreed to put on its nuclear program. This increasingly confrontational approach aims to raise the costs to the U.S. of its maximum-pressure campaign and to push Western European nations to offer economic relief, according to former Iranian officials and analysts.
As it has contemplated military action against Iran, the Trump administration has opened the door to virtually every legal authority it might use to justify an attack, from tying Iran to al-Qaeda, to President Trump's assertion that it would not involve American ground troops and "wouldn't last very long." Democrats and some Republicans have tried repeatedly to pin the administration down, including last week's unsuccessful attempt to muster 60 Senate votes for an amendment requiring Trump to ask Congress before launching any military engagement.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Mr Borrell has spoken out against US sanctions on Iran, saying he rejected "any kind of position that resembles an ultimatum from anyone and also from the United States". This is particularly troubling as his role as the new foreign policy chief will involve taking a lead on the bloc's negotiations with Tehran over the nuclear deal. In a February interview with Politico, Mr Borrell said: "It would be very bad for us if [Iran] goes on to develop a nuclear weapon ... Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it." Jason Brodsky from pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran, described Mr Borrell's appointment as "concerning".
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The European Union says it's in contact with signatories of the Iran nuclear agreement and will discuss with them what steps to take should the country ramp up uranium enrichment this weekend. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to "any amount that we want" beginning on Sunday, ramping up pressure on European nations to save the faltering nuclear deal from the damage inflicted by U.S. sanctions.
A European diplomatic official says that talks at all levels with Iran are in progress. But the official says if nothing changes, they could decide to trigger a dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear accord that could ultimately result in the re-imposition of sanctions. The official said on Thursday that talks with Tehran are aimed at de-escalating dangerously rising tensions, and buying time toward unwinding the crisis. The official asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
When it comes to saving Iran's nuclear deal, Europe finds itself in the impossible situation of trying to salvage an accord unraveling because of the maximalist U.S. sanctions campaign. Since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago, a slow fuse has burned through Iran. At first, it appeared Iranian officials thought they might be able to wait out Trump. They spoke about "strategic patience" as the U.S. 2020 presidential election loomed.
Iran will gain nothing by departing from the terms of its nuclear agreement, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday, responding to Tehran's announcement that it will boost the enrichment level of its uranium. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier said Iran would raise its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the 3.67% purity cap set in the 2015 deal.
A little over a year after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, Tehran's government responded by breaking a key covenant restricting its stockpile of nuclear material. International inspectors confirmed on July 1 that the Persian Gulf country had accumulated more than the 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium permitted under the 2015 accord.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The British marines and the port authorities in Gibraltar on Thursday detained a supertanker that was carrying crude oil from Iran to Syria, a violation of European Union sanctions against Syria. The seizure of the ship threatened to raise tensions between Iran and the West. Spain said the vessel had been detained at the request of the United States, and Iran summoned the British ambassador over what a Foreign Ministry spokesman called an "illegal" seizure.
A former leader of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said on Friday that the Islamic Republic should consider seizing a British oil tanker in response to authorities detaining an Iranian oil tanker off the coast Gibraltar. The comments by Mohsen Rezaei came amid heightened tensions over Iran's unraveling 2015 nuclear deal, which the U.S. withdrew from last year.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday he hoped a special trade channel set up with Iran would complete a first, limited transaction in the coming days. Set up by France, Britain and Germany, Instex is a barter trade mechanism that aims to avoid direct financial transfers by offsetting balances between importers and exporters on the European side.
White House national security adviser John Bolton on Thursday welcomed Britain's seizure of an oil tanker loaded with Iranian oil bound for Syria, saying the United States and its allies will continue to prevent Syrian and Iranian governments "from profiting off this illicit trade." British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran's fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.
Panama's Maritime Authority said on Thursday that Grace 1, a giant Iranian oil tanker seized by British Royal Marines in Gibraltar, was no longer listed in Panama's international boat registry as of May 29. The Panamanian authority added that Grace 1 had been de-listed after receiving an alert indicating that the ship had participated in or was linked to terrorism financing. Although the tanker flies a Panama flag, Iran claimed ownership and objected to the seizure of its ship.
The recent US sanctions on the Iraqi-based South Wealth Resources Company (SWRC) have shined a light on how Iranian-backed militias are continuing to receive arms legally despite sanctions. The SWRC, which was sanctioned for smuggling arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Iraqi militias linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is just one of many Iraq-based companies circumventing US sanctions using legal cover.
A top anti-smuggling official in Iran has said that around 11 million liters or close to 3 million gallons of gasoline is smuggled out of the country on daily basis, according to Fars news agency This is more than 10% of the daily fuel sold to drivers in the country. Iran offers the cheapest fuel for vehicles in the world according to International Energy Agency, with gasoline at around 7 US cents a liter, or 25 cents a gallon.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The U.S. Department of State has re-designated an Iranian Sunni militant, separatist group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on July 2. The group has been waging attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran's political and military targets, in which civilians have also died. The group, Jaysh al-Adl operates mainly in southeastern Iran, where there is a substantial concentration of Sunni Baluchis and a porous border with Pakistan.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
British soul singer Joss Stone says she was deported from Iran after arriving as part of a worldwide concert tour. Posting on Instagram, Stone says in a video: "Well, we got to Iran, we got detained and then we got deported." She said she knew solo performances by women were illegal, but she still wanted to see Iran. She posted images of herself boarding a flight to Iran's Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, which is an economic free zone that allows travel by all nationalities.
The Islamic Republic has executed at least 110 people between January 1 and June 30, 2019, in prisons or in public, Iran Human Rights Organization (IHRO) reports. The number shows a rise compared with the same period last year. Two juveniles were among the executed, IHRO says, adding, the executioners hanged them in the central prison in the city of Shiraz (known as Adel Abad, meaning "Prosperous Place of Justice" in Persian).
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. President Donald Trump warned Iran on Wednesday against making threats that can "come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before," after Tehran announced it would breach a 2015 nuclear deal. President Hassan Rouhani announced that after July 7 Iran would enrich uranium beyond a fissile purity of 3.67%, which is the maximum allowed by the deal and a level which is deemed suitable for electricity generation.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian most closely associated with the 2015 nuclear agreement, has come under fire in Tehran and Washington as the deal approaches collapse. Hard-liners in Tehran accuse him of falling for false promises from the Americans. Trump administration officials call him a trickster who acts like a moderate while remaining steadfastly loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.
Iranian hard-liners have long mocked their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as the make-believe American, after a character in a comic Iranian movie who puts on an accent, wardrobe and lifestyle to live out a fantasy of American life. A resident of the United States on and off for nearly 30 years, Mr. Zarif was the Iranian most closely associated with the negotiation of the 2015 deal that limited Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sweeping economic sanctions.
Iran said on Thursday that "active resistance' was an antidote to U.S. President Donald Trump's warning over Tehran's commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, state TV reported. "By exiting the nuclear deal, Trump has wounded the path of diplomacy ... the best antidote to all threats is active resistance," said spokesman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Keyvan Khosravi. "Iran is determined to go ahead with its plan to further scale back its nuclear commitments under the deal."
Iran will only negotiate with the U.S. if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agrees to it, a minister said. "Negotiation between Iran and America will take place if the supreme leader gives the permission," Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi was cited as saying by state-run IRNA news agency on Thursday. "The U.S. president thought that sanctions would bring Iran to its knees but the Islamic Republic will not succumb to negotiations under the pressure of global arrogance."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Syria is ready to retaliate against Israel's recent deadly airstrikes "twice as harsh", Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad announced Tuesday. "Syria is always ready to reciprocate twice as harsh" against Israeli attacks, according to Mekdad who was speaking at a press conference after a meeting between Foreign Minister Walid Moallem with senior aide of the Iranian foreign minister Ali-Asghar Khaji.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Houthi coup militias in Yemen claimed responsibility for terror attacks that killed dozens in the last two months. Boasting about the militia's missile, rocket and drone capabilities, a senior Houthi spokesman said Iran-armed group can strike targets inside neighboring Saudi territory. In parallel to Houthi militiamen scaling up attacks that violate a UN-brokered ceasefire deal for the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, coup leaders are openly debating on how to distribute illegitimately collected levies at docks and whether or not the money should be used to pay salaries to Houthi gunmen.
Saudi-led military coalition said on Thursday it had intercepted drones launched by Yemen's Al Houthi group that were targeting Jizan airport, a statement on Saudi state media said. Earlier, the Houthis said they carried out drone attacks on Jizan and Abha Saudi airports. Iran-aligned Al Houthis, who are fighting in neighbouring Yemen, have repeatedly launched attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition battling them.
In a growing and increasingly consistent sign that Iran is linked to the Houthi drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, Iranian media plastered their headlines with a story of drone attacks on Jizan airport in southern Saudi Arabia. The report from Fars News says that the Yemeni armed forces, their term for the Houthi rebels, launched a drone attack Thursday night on Jizan airport and "significant military targets" at the airport. The drones were described as Qasef K2 which were using precision guidance. The Houthis claimed the attack is the latest in a series retaliating for Saudi airstrikes over the last four years since Riyadh intervened in Yemen to stop the Houthis seizing the port of Aden.
IRAQ & IRAN
One of the largest Iran-backed militias in Iraq is criticizing an order by the prime minister to incorporate the militias into the military and place them under the army's command. A statement issued by the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, did not address whether the group would abide by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's orders issued this week. It suggested, however, that "criminalizing the mujahedeen" and harming them directly or indirectly may hurt "those elements supporting the security effort."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran summoned the British ambassador in Tehran over the "illegal seizure" of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday, Iranian state TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying. British Royal Marines seized an oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday accused of bringing oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that could escalate confrontation between the West and Iran.