The U.S. embassy in Germany said on Thursday it was seeking additional details about a new European mechanism to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran, but did not expect it to affect its effort to apply maximum economic pressure on Tehran.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday called U.S. intelligence chiefs "extremely passive and naive" on Iran and dismissed their assessments of the threat posed by North Korea a day after they contradicted his views during congressional testimony. His comments drew criticism from some of his fellow Republicans in Congress, some of whom have introduced legislation that would counter Trump's policies on national security in an unusual break from their party's leader.
The US ambassador to Germany called on European countries with diplomats in the Islamic Republic of Iran to condemn the January public hanging of man who was found guilty of violating the country's lethal anti-gay law. The US envoy, Richard Grenell, wrote on his Twitter feed on Sunday, "Many of our European allies have Embassies in Tehran. This barbaric act must not go unanswered. Speak up."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Nearly all of Iran's advanced centrifuges used for enriching uranium potentially towards a nuclear bomb are failing, one of the world's leading nuclear weapons experts revealed to The Jerusalem Post this week. Many have been worried that if Iran succeeds in developing advanced centrifuges, the machines which spin rapidly to enrich uranium, it could "sneak out" a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks without being detected.
Iran is carrying out its commitments under its nuclear deal with major powers, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said in the text of a speech posted online by his agency on Wednesday. "Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA," Amano said, repeating his position on the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. "It is essential that Iran continues to fully implement those commitments."
Tehran says that China has slowed down working on its redesign of a heavy water reactor in Iran, following the U.S. withdrawal from Tehran's nuclear agreement with world powers. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear agency, was quoted by state-run news agency IRNA as saying that "the Chinese side decreased the speed of cooperation with us despite their commitments." He says Iran has "alternative" choices if China cannot not fulfill its job.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog policing Iran's deal with major powers said on Wednesday that attempts to pressure it on inspections were "counter-productive and extremely harmful", though it stopped short of naming those responsible.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian crude oil imports by Asia's top four buyers dropped to the lowest volume in three years in 2018 amid U.S. sanctions on Tehran, but China and India stepped up imports in December after getting waivers from Washington. Asia's top four buyers of Iranian crude - China, India, Japan and South Korea - imported a total 1.31 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, down 21 percent from the previous year, data from the countries showed.
France, Germany and Britain have set up a European mechanism for non-dollar trade with Iran to avert U.S. sanctions, although diplomats acknowledged it is unlikely to yield big commercial transactions Tehran says it needs to keep a nuclear deal afloat.
Iran may be discussed during Chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to Japan next week but other countries are not immediately expected to join a European mechanism to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran, a senior German government official said on Thursday.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A U.S.-born anchor for Iran's state-run Press TV arrived in Iran on Wednesday after 10 days of detention in the United States, Press TV reported, after U.S. authorities said she had testified as a material witness in an undisclosed federal investigation. The anchor, Marzieh Hashemi, was freed on Thursday.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's theological seats of learning appear set to face major difficulties in the coming Iranian year (beginning March 21) as the government has significantly reduced their budget allocations. Various institutions and seminaries receive money from the government to promote religion and train clerics. In the budget bill submitted by the administration to the parliament, religious institutions and seminaries are facing a serious reduction in their annual budgets.
Dog-walking has reportedly been banned from public places in Iran's capital. "Certain people who bring their dogs to public places cause panic and anxiety among the public," Tehran's chief of police Hossein Rahimi told state news agency Young Journalists Club, or YJC. He added that local police have obtained permission from the judiciary to confront dog owners walking their pets in public. "People who walk their dogs in public places shall be dealt with severely," he told YJC.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
As Moscow urges Damascus and Ankara to cooperate and to revive the Adana agreement, Russian-Iranian relations in Syria face their next challenge. The controversy between Moscow and Tehran has always been a part of the Syrian conflict. However, the debates between the two have started to become more political in nature, influencing the future of Syria's armed forces and other military entities.
The top US intelligence chief warned that Israel's ongoing strikes against Iranian targets in Syria increase the threat of regional war. "We assess that Iran seeks to avoid a major armed conflict with Israel," Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday. "However, Israeli strikes that result in Iranian casualties increase the likelihood of Iranian conventional retaliation against Israel."
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
U.S. lawmakers said on Wednesday they expect Congress will pass a resolution ending U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, which would force President Donald Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency in order to continue supporting the Saudi-led coalition.
The Arab Coalition in Yemen shot down a "Iranian specification" drone launched by Houthi rebels towards Abha, a Saudi city in the kingdom's south-west. Saudi authorities "tracked an unidentified object (over) the city of Abha and dealt with it in accordance with the rules of engagement", coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al Malki said in a statement published by the Saudi state news agency on Wednesday.
While Israel is once again pushing back against the Iranian buildup in Syria, Iran is marking the fourth anniversary of its rise to power on Saudi Arabia's border. Out of sight and out of the headlines, the Yemen conflict should not escape the attention of those concerned about the future of the region, and Iran's role in it.
Asghar Farhadi, the most successful director in the history of Iranian cinema, may have little interest in global politics, but global politics are interested in him. On Jan. 27, 2017, less than a week after "The Salesman," Farhadi's seventh feature film, was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language movie, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, more commonly known as the Muslim ban. Under its terms, citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Iran among them, were barred from entering the United States for 90 days - apparently the time it would take the new president to figure out "what the hell is going on."