The Trump administration is preparing to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, U.S. officials said, a step that would vastly escalate the American pressure campaign against Tehran but which has divided U.S. officials. The decision, which could be announced as early as Monday following months of deliberation, would mark the first time that an element of a foreign state has been officially designated a terrorist entity.
Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline accused by the West of transporting military equipment to Middle East war zones, on Monday launched a direct flight to Venezuela, as Tehran voices support for Caracas against a U.S. backed opposition. Mehr news agency quoted the spokesman of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization Reza Jafarzadeh as saying that the route was launched in the early hours of Monday, and the plane will carry foreign ministry officials to Caracas.
Germany's government will pull the plug at the end of 2019 on public funding for a radical pro-Iranian-regime organization- the Islamic Community of Shi'ite Communities of Germany - that is packed with antisemitic representatives who urge the destruction of Israel. After a series of exposés in Germany's top selling paper Bild, the newspaper reported on Thursday that the interior ministry announced in a letter the stoppage of funds for the Shi'ite umbrella organization.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
As many as 114 achievements in the field of nuclear technology will be unveiled on Tuesday during a ceremony marking Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day. A ceremony will be held on Tuesday April 9 at Iran International Conference Center in capital Tehran to mark the country's National Nuclear Technology Day. The ceremony will be attended by President Hassan Rouhani and a number of ministers, officials and commanders, during which 114 nuclear achievements that came to fruition last year.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. sanctions have prevented the Iranian Red Crescent from obtaining any foreign financial aid to assist victims of flooding that has killed at least 70 people and inundated some 1,900 communities, the group said on Sunday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington was ready to help via the Red Cross and Red Crescent, but accused Iran's clerical establishment of "mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness."
Iran and Iraq have reached an understanding about developing two oilfields on their mutual border, Iran's oil minister was quoted saying on Sunday, a day after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for increased trade between the two countries. The focus of the understanding is the development of the Naft Shahr and Khorramshahr oilfields, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said according to a report on Iran's oil ministry website on Sunday, without giving any details of the plan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi visited Tehran over the weekend and assured Iran over US sanctions against its military presence. On the sidelines of his Sunday meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Chief of General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said Iraq has guaranteed for Tehran that the presence of the US troops is merely restricted to training Iraqi forces and they are doing their job under the control of the Iraqi military force.
Tomato prices have doubled in Iran in two days after the government lifted a ban on its export, official news outlet IRNA reported. In recent weeks, other vegetables, such as onions and lettuce suddenly became expensive until their export was banned and prices decreased somewhat. One kilo of tomatoes is now around 40 US cents, but the export price is around 70 cents, pushing merchants to send the produce to neighboring countries. It is not clear why the government lifted the export ban on tomatoes.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Top Iranian officials have threatened retaliation against American forces in the Middle East in response to the U.S. plan to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, amplifying tensions between countries that have clashed repeatedly over the Islamic Republic's footprint in the region. The Trump administration is expected to make the declaration on Monday in an effort to squeeze the IRGC's financial resources and shrink its military presence in the Middle East.
The Trump administration is preparing to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "foreign terrorist organization," an unprecedented move against a national armed force that could have widespread implications for U.S. personnel and policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Officials informed of the step said an announcement was expected Monday, after a monthslong escalation in the administration's rhetoric against Iran, its support for militia groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, as well as anti-Israel groups in the region and beyond.
Iran's foreign minister said on Sunday U.S. officials aiming to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist group want to "drag the U.S. into a quagmire" on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organisaton) of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region. In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf," Mohammed Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A submarine battery exploded in an Iranian military shipyward on Saturday, killing three workers, state broadcaster IRIB said. "Three Defense Ministry staff were martyred after a submarine battery exploded at the Shahid Darvishi shipyard in (the Gulf port of) Bandar Abbas..., which builds and repairs military ships and submarines," IRIB said on its website.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Nationwide floods in Iran have displaced tens of thousands of people and left dozens dead in the past two weeks. More rain is forecast in the coming days. Heavy rain began in mid-March in the northeastern province of Golestan, which received 70 percent of its average annual rainfall in one day. The flooding has steadily spread across the nation, inundating communities in at least 26 of Iran's 31 provinces.
Flood damage in western Iran exceeds the government's budget for disaster relief and officials will have to tap the country's sovereign wealth fund to cover reconstruction costs, the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency reported. Around 9.5 trillion rials -- equivalent to $230 million at Iran's official exchange rate -- of damage has been caused to agricultural fields in the southwestern province of Khuzestan alone, Keykhosro Changlavaee, head of the Agricultural Administration of Khustanestan said, according to ISNA.
Iran continued to evacuate more people on Saturday from flood-hit regions as the death toll from the flooding hit 70. Many residents of Susangerd, with a population of about 50,000, and five other communities in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan were being moved to safer areas, state TV reported. "An evacuation order has been issued and we are recommending women and children to leave but we are asking the men and youth to stay and help us build floodwalls so we can keep the water out of these cities," the provincial governor, Gholamreza Shariati, told state TV.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
An Iranian news portal in Latin America has published an article claiming that Israel uses Palestinian prisoners for "new medical trials." Despite citing no evidence for the claim, the HispanTV report Wednesday has spread to outlets across Latin America, including the El Ciudadano monthly in Chile and the website of an association of Cuban jurists. It was published on Uruguay's La Republica website but taken down Friday after a reader complained.
Barely a fortnight after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Lebanon and threatened Hezbollah's political allies to contain the group or face US sanctions, some of them have flown to Washington, DC, to lobby against them and assuage US concerns. Officially, however, the Lebanese delegation is travelling to attend the 2019 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The tolerance shown by some actors in the international community towards the Houthis militias in Yemen reflects a lack of deep understanding and awareness of the nature of the dilemma that the Yemenis suffer by this ideological militia. In the sense that, this is not just a bloody, sectarian and racial coup by Iranian-backed militia against the state and its institutions, rather, it is most serious, where the militia, besides the aggressive and cruel war against Yemenis, is waging another brutal war against all coexistence, equality and civil values in a systematic way, using state institutions and potentials that they seized by force and intimidation.
Details of the lavish payments made by Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood organisations in Europe, including furnishing funds the academic Tariq Ramadan has used for legal fees to fight rape allegations, have emerged in a new book. Qatar Papers - How the emirate finances Islam in France and Europe, written by two French journalists, publishes evidence that cheques and money transfers from Qatar have been used to underwrite more than 140 projects around Europe, where the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to expand its influence.
The Arab Coalition in Yemen intercepted and destroyed a drone launched by the Iranian-aligned Houthi militias toward Asir city in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Press Agency said late on Sunday. No injuries or damage were reported, SPA added.
Yemeni Minister of Information Muamer al-Iryani has slammed Iran-backed Houthi militias for indoctrinating students in their ideology. Such measures present a threat to the country's social fabric, said al-Iryani during talks with the head of the German parliament's human rights committee in Berlin. The minister told Gyde Jensen that Yemen's humanitarian situation has become very difficult since the Houthis carried out their coup in 2015.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iraq on Saturday to demand U.S. troops leave "as soon as possible", during a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that showed off Tehran's strong influence in Baghdad despite U.S. pressure. Iran and the United States have been competing for clout in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, an enemy of both countries.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has visited Tehran for talks with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, marking a further deepening of ties between the two neighbours. At a joint news conference on Saturday, Rouhani hailed Iran and Iraq's shared stance on key regional issues. "We hold common viewpoints on Al-Quds [Jerusalem] being the permanent capital of Palestine, Golan being an inseparable part of Syria and that the war in Yemen should finish soon and that the solution to the Yemeni crisis should be a political one," he said.
President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for Iran and neighbouring Iraq to expand their gas and electricity dealings and boost bilateral trade to $20 billion, state TV reported, despite difficulties caused by U.S. sanctions against Tehran. "The plans to export electricity and gas and hopefully oil continue and we are ready to expand these contacts not only for the two countries but also for other countries in the region," Rouhani said after a meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in remarks carried by state television.
Iraq on Saturday closed its Sheeb border crossing with Iran to travellers and trade until further notice, Iraqi security sources said, as flooding continues to submerge villages in the south of Iran. The Sheeb crossing is in Iraq's southern Miysan province.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations broadly agreed on issues during a two-day meeting, but were unable to bridge differences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to deal with Iran, France's top diplomat said on Saturday. "Despite the crisp air of Dinard, we couldn't overcome some of our differences," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the end of a two-day meeting in western France. "I think the talks were constructive and pleasant both in tone and in the fundamentals."