U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, blasted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Iraq and accused his government of trying to control Iraq by fueling sectarian conflict in the country. In an interview with Alhurrha TV, Hook said Rouhani's visit is not in the best interest of the Iraqi people, adding that Iran does not support the security and sovereignty of Iraq.
A senior Iranian security official on Wednesday accused regional powers of spending money on "suspicious nuclear projects", and warned that such threats would force Tehran to revise its defense strategy. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, did not name the countries - but a proposed transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia has raised concerns in Tehran.
Israel said a Hezbollah operative accused of killing U.S. troops is establishing a terror network in the disputed Golan Heights, spotlighting threats the militant group poses to its security as the Netanyahu government pushes for sovereignty over the strategic area. The U.S. charged Ali Mussa Daqduq with orchestrating the 2007 kidnapping and murder of five American soldiers in Iraq.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran is discreetly scouring the globe for second-hand oil tankers to replace its ageing fleet and keep crucial crude exports flowing as U.S. sanctions start to bite, Iranian and Western sources said. Since U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions in November, exploratory talks with South Korea for up to 10 new supertankers have stalled, Panama has removed at least 21 Iranian tankers from its registry and Tehran is now looking for extra vessels in places such as Vietnam, the sources said.
Oil prices rose on Wednesday, pushed up by ongoing supply cuts from producer group OPEC and by U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. International Brent crude oil futures were at $66.95 a barrel at 0751 GMT, up 28 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $57.23 per barrel, up 36 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last settlement.
The U.S. has not ended the exemption to sanctions for purchases of Iranian oil - received by India and seven other countries last November when sanctions came into effect - following its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the "Iran Deal". This was conveyed in an email to The Hindu by a State Department spokesperson. The exemptions were initially meant to last six months and therefore due to expire in March.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Iranian-Hamas relations have been growing warmer, especially after the new Hamas leadership was elected in May 2017, which re-established the movement's relationship with Tehran and resolved all differences that resulted from Hamas' neutral stance on the conflict in Syria in 2012. Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force Qasem Soleimani said during an event held in the northern Iranian city of Babol on Feb. 21 that Hamas was one of Tehran's friends in the Arab region, praising what he called "the firm foundations" of Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement with Iran.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, according to her family. Sotoudeh is well known for representing human rights defenders, dissidents and women who protested against the compulsory wearing of a headscarf in Iran. According to IRNA, Iran's state-owned news service, the human rights lawyer was convicted of "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security" and for "insulting the Supreme Leader."
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to an extra 10 years in jail on top of the five-year term she is already serving, her husband Reza Khandan said on Tuesday. Sotoudeh is an award-winning rights activist who was arrested last June and told she had been found guilty in absentia of espionage charges and sentenced to five years.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo will meet with top oil executives before he addresses a conference on Tuesday, seeking to get them to help the administration's effort to boost crude exports to Asia and to support its policy of isolating Iran, according to three people at two companies briefed on the agenda. The outreach represents a significant new effort to sway industry executives to the Trump Administration's "energy dominance" agenda that seeks to advance diplomatic and policy objectives through rapidly expanding U.S. oil and gas exports.
Iran's Hassan Rouhani is on a hectic trip to neighboring Iraq, his first official visit to the country since he became president in 2013. A diverse political and economic agenda with implications for Iran, Iraq and the wider region at a critical time has made the state visit highly significant. At home, Rouhani's trip served as a point of convergence for rival political factions, which rarely see eye to eye on foreign policy. "Deal in Mesopotamia," wrote moderate daily Iran, using the ancient name to underline the historical affinity Iran holds with Iraq.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi has swiftly emerged as one of Iran's most powerful figures and a contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last week, he was named chief of the judiciary and on Tuesday he was elected deputy chief of the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the clerical body responsible for choosing the supreme leader.
Iran's newly appointed head of all-powerful Judiciary has also been elected as deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which elects the Supreme Leader in Iran. Ebrahim Raeesi (Raeisi) was elected on Monday with 43 votes out of 78 members present, defeating the former head of the Judiciary, ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani and Fazel Golpaygani, Mehr news agency reported on Tuesday.
As part of its strategy to counter US economic sanctions, Iran has effectively granted subsidized foreign currency to importers of essential goods. The aim of this has been to ensure that the prices of basic products such as food and medicine do not rise considerably despite the drastic drop in the value of the rial on the open market. Yet food prices have soared significantly over the past few months, indicating that the allocation of cheap hard currency to food importers has been ineffective.
top Iranian military figure known for his shadowy role in Iran's foreign intervention in Iraq and Syria has received his country's highest military honor at a ceremony Monday alongside supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' expeditionary Quds Force, became the first Iranian general to receive the Order of the Zulfiqar since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew a West-sponsored monarchy.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran will respond firmly to any Israeli naval action against its oil shipments, Iran's defence minister said, a week after Israel warned its navy could act against what it called Iranian oil smuggling to evade US sanctions. US President Donald Trump last year quit a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed some sanctions, aiming to cut Tehran's oil exports to zero.
Russia's push to bring Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab fold and open the doors to reconstruction is facing opposition from some of Donald Trump's Arab allies. Bolstered by military assistance from Russia and Iran, Assad has regained control of most of the country after eight years of civil war. But a lack of unity among Arab governments, and concerns about spreading Iranian influence, have put the brakes on its efforts to win the peace.
In the run-up to elections, Turkish government officials tend to claim that Turkey and Iran will conduct a joint operation against outlawed Kurdish militants along the border. When Turkey was preparing for the general elections in June 24, 2018, Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had announced that Turkey and Iran were planning to launch joint operations on the Qandil Mountains, where the headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is located.
The visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Baghdad this week - his first since he took office six years ago - comes amid heavy pressure on the Iraqis exerted by the Tehran regime, which wants to use Iraq as an escape route away from American sanctions. Given these pressures and threats, do we have to worry that Iraq will become an Iranian satellite? Tehran succeeded in entering the Iraqi arena following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
The Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen attacked on Tuesday the government team of the Redeployment Coordination Committee in Yemen's Hodeidah city, reported the Saudi Press Agency. The militants fired a Katyusha rocket at the gatherers of a meeting that was preparing to carry out the first phase of the redeployment.
A prominent Yemeni Baha'i leader is expected to appear in a Houthi court on Tuesday, amid international concerns of rebel persecution against the religious minority group. Hamed bin Haydara, 52, who has been in Houthi detention in Sanaa since 2013, was sentenced to death by a Houthi court for charges of espionage and apostasy. UN human rights representatives have called for the rebels to overturn his death sentence.
IRAQ & IRAN
In the contest for Iraq's loyalty, geography is proving irresistible. Baghdad is being urged to take sides in the U.S.-Iran confrontation that's escalated into one of the Middle East's top flash-points. President Donald Trump is pushing Iraq to stop buying natural gas and electricity from its neighbor. President Hassan Rouhani wants it to purchase more to ease the pain imposed by American sanctions. So far, Rouhani's winning.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's foreign ministry warned the UK on Tuesday that giving diplomatic protection to a British-Iranian mother jailed in Tehran would not make the situation "easier", state news agency IRNA reported. Britain on Friday extended the status to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in Tehran in 2016. "What is certain is that the British government's move lacks goodwill and is in no way constructive or positive," said ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on Tuesday.
The absence of a deal and the dynamics of the February North Korea-US summit in Vietnam showed the importance of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, INSS Arms Control Director Emily Landau has said. In a recent INSS post she co-authored with former senior foreign ministry official Shimon Stein, Landau wrote that, "For the international community the lesson is clear: Iran must be stopped before it reaches its goal."