Iran has lost $10 billion in revenue since U.S. sanctions in November have removed about 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude from global markets, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday. Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative on Iran, said in remarks at the CERAWeek energy conference that due to a global oil surplus - in part due to record U.S. production - the United States is accelerating its plan of bringing Iranian crude exports to zero.
A senior U.S. Treasury Department official has told a Congressional subcommittee that U.S. has "engaged extensively with European countries on the significant risks" of providing Iran with a special facility for trade. Under Secretary of U.S. Treasury Sigal Mandelker, the head of Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) told the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services on March 12, the U.S. continues "to maximize economic pressure on the regime to combat its weapons proliferation, terrorism, and regionally destabilizing activities."
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency says the country's Revolutionary Guard is holding a drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz to test dozens of Iranian-made drones, including armed drones. Thursday's report says it's the first time such a high number of offensive drones are being used in a drill. It quotes Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh of the Guard's aerospace division as saying Iran has the region's biggest offensive drone fleet. It says the drones flew for about 1,000 kilometers, or 620 miles, then hit their targets."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States aims to cut Iran's crude exports by about 20 percent to below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from May by requiring importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid U.S. sanctions, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump eventually aims to halt Iranian oil exports and thereby choke off Tehran's main source of revenue.
Iran is running short of options to replace its aging fleet of tankers and keep oil exports flowing because renewed U.S. sanctions are making potential sellers and flag registries wary of doing business with Tehran, Western and Iranian 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 and Panama has also removed at least 21 Iranian tankers from its registry forcing Tehran to put the vessels under its own flag, the sources said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stressed Washington's commitment to swiftly bring Iranian crude oil exports to zero, saying Tehran's role in the energy market has been diminishing due to US pressure. Washington reimposed oil sanctions on Iran last year, sharply reducing its volume of crude exports in the past several months in an effort to curb Tehran's nuclear, missile and regional activities.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In their perverse way, dictatorships know full well they're doing wrong when they imprison dissidents. They betray this by the absurdity of the accusations they make against their critics, as if trying to conceal the real intent of their persecution. The result, of course, is the opposite - the silenced dissenter emerges as the righteous accuser, the tyrant as crook.
A report critical of Iran's human rights situation and its crackdown on people protesting declining living standards is under review this week at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The U.N. special investigator on the human rights situation in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said the country faces myriad challenges, many related to rising inflation and deteriorating economic and social conditions such as late or unpaid wages, food shortages and lack of health care.
The United Arab Emirates says seven Emiratis and two Egyptians held by Iran since January after being detained in the Persian Gulf have been freed. The Emirati Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday the nine were detained while on a fishing trip. It said those detained were released into the care of the UAE Coast Guard. Iranian media quoted Emirati media on the release, without elaborating on the case.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed China's mass detention of Muslims but took a lighter hand on North Korea as the State Department released its annual human rights report Wednesday. Iran also came in for harsh criticism while rival Saudi Arabia, cited for many identical domestic rights abuses as well as the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was given easier treatment.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian photographer Ebrahim Noroozi has made a career out of capturing the unseen in his homeland. The three-time World Press Awards winner is unafraid to focus on dark, heavy, troubling subjects, such as the spectacle of public execution, or the residual impact of extreme domestic violence. While these series have been focused on the immediate and visible, this week we're looking at one of Noroozi's most beautiful - but no less tragic - collections: The Lake on its Last Legs.
At least four people were killed and five others injured on Thursday in a gas pipeline explosion in southwest Iran, the Iranian Students News Agency ISNA reported. "Gas leakage from a pipeline that linked the gas network from Mahshahr city to Ahvaz city, caused the blast," ISNA quoted local official Kiamars Hajizadeh as saying. "At least four people, including one child and a woman, were killed in the blast and five people were wounded."
A statement made by the National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC) on Wednesday March 13, revealed that the Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC), the center-piece of a major financial scandal being investigated at a Tehran court, has failed to return 500 million euros of its debts since 2013. This clearly contradicts an earlier statement by Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jaafari Dolatabadi who had insisted there was no embezzlement in the case and the suspects simply "mishandled funds" from export of petrochemicals to the tune of interest on 4 million euros in their accounts.
Organisers of a fashion show in Iran were charged after videos of the event, which featured fantasy-inspired dresses and women not wearing hijabs, surfaced on social media. The outfits were considered by the public prosecutor to have strayed too far from traditional Islamic clothing. An Iranian fashion label organised a private show in a high-end salon on March 1 in Lavasan, an affluent suburb of Tehran, sending women down the runway without hijabs, a violation of the country's strict laws mandating that women appear in public with headscarves.
Thousands of Iranian actors, filmmakers, and other artists are on a secret blacklist banning them from performing or presenting their work publicly, a former director of Iran's state-run radio and TV has revealed. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-run entity that monopolizes all radio and TV broadcasting in the country, even bans some artists from entering IRIB buildings, former IRIB Director-General Mohammad Sarafraz told pro-reform daily Sharq March 12.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The threat posed by Hezbollah and Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior operative in Hezbollah, was unmasked by Israel on Wednesday. Daqduq was responsible for the "abduction and execution of five American servicemen in Iraq in 2007," the IDF said. The role of Hezbollah members in neighboring states is an illustration of how groups allied with Iran are continuing to build a web linking Tehran to Beirut via a "road to the sea" that transits Iraq and Syria.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Yemen's government accused the Houthi group on Wednesday of committing acts of genocide against civilians in Hajjah province. Members of the Hajoor tribe have been fighting the Iran-backed rebels in the mountain areas of Kushar district, in the northern province, for more than a month. "The Iranian-backed rebels are using heavy weapons such as ballistic missiles to target villages, killing at least 100 people and displacing more than 400 civilians," Muammar Al Eryani, Yemen's Information Minister, said on Wednesday.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani capped his state visit to Iraq on Wednesday by meeting the country's most respected religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani- a sit-down that has eluded previous Iranian presidents and American leaders alike. The meeting signals to Washington that the religious, cultural and economic bonds that tie Iran and Iraq will not be undermined by a focused U.S. effort to isolate Tehran, analysts said. At the same time, it is likely to bolster Rouhani's standing at home.
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday that Iraqi sovereignty must be respected and weapons kept in state hands, a veiled reference to increasingly influential Iran-backed militias. It was the first meeting between an Iranian president and the 88-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics but exerts wide influence over Iraqi public opinion.
The geo-economic aspects of President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Iraq couldn't be more pleasing to Iran's conservatives. Ever since the US departure from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last May, conservatives have urged Rouhani to bypass Washington's reinstated sanctions by focusing on trade with neighbors like Iraq as opposed to the Europeans.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's General Prosecutor says that Tehran has referred to Interpol the case of a woman in Canada accused in his country's petrochemicals scandal and expects extradition. The news website of Iran's Judiciary quotes Mohammad Jaafar Montazeri as saying that an arrest warrant for Marjan Sheikholeslami has been issued and sent to Interpol, and he hopes "they will cooperate".