Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a new strategy on Monday for constraining Iran, centered around a demand that the United States’ European allies have already rejected: that Tehran enter negotiations in a new deal that would permanently ban Iran from any substantive manufacturing of nuclear fuel and, in turn, forever cut off a pathway to building a bomb. Mr. Pompeo is expected to call for broadening the number of countries engaging in the talks, perhaps hoping to pick up help from other nations, like Japan and Arab states, that were not involved in negotiating the 2015 deal with Iran that President Trump pulled out of about 10 days ago.
Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.
The European Commission is proposing that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties, an EU official said, in what would be the most forthright challenge to Washington’s newly reimposed sanctions. The step, which would seek to bypass the U.S. financial system, would allow European companies to repay Iran for oil exports and repatriate Iranian funds in Europe, a senior EU official said, although the details were still to be worked out.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The tinderbox that is the Middle East threatens to explode again. Consider what has happened in the last weeks: a direct military exchange in Syria between Israel and Iran; the President's walk away from the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal; the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem; and the Hamas-driven demonstrations in Gaza that sought to breach the Israeli border but failed, resulting in dozens of Palestinian deaths. None of these developments are likely to be limited in time or scope. If nothing else, they require a clear U.S. policy. To date, what President Trump is offering is far more rhetorical than practical.
According to David Daoud, a Hezbollah analyst at the Washington, DC-based United Against Nuclear Iran advocacy group, Syria is critical to Hezbollah first and foremost as its umbilical cord to Iran - both militarily and ideologically. "Hezbollah and the Iranians are the force on the ground; they're in control", Daoud told Al Jazeera. "Assad needs them, and he is never going to ask them to leave; and if he does, they are going to say, 'No, we are not, what are you going to do about it? We control your country'."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran could resume its 20 percent uranium enrichment if the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal failed to keep it alive following Washington's withdrawal, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Saturday.
Iran vowed to uphold the pact curbing its nuclear activities if the European Union can offset renewed U.S. sanctions, senior officials here said, advocating an approach that would widen a deepening schism between Washington and Brussels.
The European Union's efforts to protect Iran's benefits from the 2015 nuclear deal after the U.S. pull-out are not enough, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday… The deal's survival, Tehran has said, will depend on the EU's ability to keep its companies engaged in Iran and protect its oil sector from sanctions.
The U.S. State Department’s top policy official insists President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal hasn’t strained ties with European allies -- even though European allies are saying it has.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Saturday that the EU promised his country’s government it would rescue the nuclear deal that U.S. President Donald Trump decided to quit.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Saturday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to quit a multinational nuclear deal would not affect Tehran’s oil exports if the EU could salvage the pact.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The head of France’s business lobby in Iran said on Friday he feared a mass exodus of European firms following the U.S. decision to impose new sanctions and that EU government efforts to protect their companies were unlikely to be enough.
Brussels has moved to ban European companies from complying with US sanctions on Iran and protect them from American court judgement, as relations between the bloc and Donald Trump deteriorate further over Washington dumping the nuclear deal.
France is looking to see if the European Union could compensate European companies that might face U.S. sanctions for doing business with Iran, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday.
Germany’s No. 2 lender DZ Bank said on Friday it will suspend financial transactions with Iran in July following U.S. President Donald Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal with Tehran.
French gas and power group Engie said on Friday it would end its engineering contracts in Iran by November.
Poland’s dominant gas firm PGNiG plans to suspend a gas project in Iran because of the risk from U.S. sanctions, the company’s deputy chief executive said.
Global insurers are taking stock of how the U.S. withdrawal from an international agreement to deny Tehran nuclear weapons, and threatened sanctions against companies that do business with Iran, could affect them.
The US decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran could scare off European investors but oil-thirsty China may step into the void and ramp up business links with the country.
The plight of Chinese telecommunications giant Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation (ZTE) may have eased this week, as U.S. and Chinese officials met in Washington for high-level trade talks… [W]hat was initially seen as an enforcement action separate from a broader trade conflict between the United States and China shifted following two presidential tweets earlier this week. In a tweet on May 13, President Donald Trump linked the two, saying that he is working with the Chinese president to “give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast” and that the “Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” And in a May 14 tweet, President Trump wrote that the issue “is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China.” The timing of this possible accommodation raises a number of questions. It comes fewer than two weeks after President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the re-imposition of sweeping U.S. sanctions – notably those targeting companies and governments around the world doing business with Iran. In this context, why would the U.S. administration be willing to ease impactful trade restrictions against a Chinese firm that knowingly and repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions and export controls?
Compliance sanctions headaches have only just begun for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. parent companies, following President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, even as the European Union took contrary actions of its own.
An expert panel assesses sanctions and the future of U.S. Iran strategy in light of the Trump administration's exit from the nuclear deal.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The Trump administration has vowed to crack down on Iran’s support for powerful militias across the Middle East. But a low-level insurgency in the Kingdom of Bahrain represents a different sort of challenge for the United States. American authorities say insurgent activity in Bahrain, a key hub for U.S. naval operations, has increased over the past year as a handful of Iranian-backed groups armed with smuggled weapons plan attacks against security forces.
SYRIA, RUSSIA, ISRAEL & IRAN
Details are still emerging, but there are already multiple conflicting reports about the scope and cause of a series of massive explosions of Syrian air base in Hama. Coming relatively soon after a major Israeli aerial operation destroyed dozens of different targets in Syria on May 10, 2018, one report suggests the incident could have been another such strike against an advanced Iranian air defense system, but others sources say it was an accident of varying degrees of severity.
At least 28 pro-government fighters have been killed in a string of blasts at a regime airbase in central Syria earlier this weekend, a monitor said Sunday as it upped the death toll.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
As you may have heard, the risk of war between Israel and Iran is high. Even as Israel is determined to rid its borders of pro-Iranian actors, Iran is even more determined to extend and solidify its presence in Syria, and beyond into the wider region: politically, militarily and socially. Many people are pinning their hopes for avoiding such a war on Iran backing down, thinking that threats and sanctions and limited military engagements will make it quit stoking conflict with Israel, Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East. But that’s not going to happen.
Pressured at home and abroad, the Iranian regime's scope for action is severely limited.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Previously peaceful protests had been taking place for weeks in Kazeroon against a regional decision to divide some districts of the city and merge them into a new town
Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran and prominent liberal intellectual, sparked outrage in the Iranian conservative media with a tweet that questioned the government's bellicose stance and actions towards Israel. "If, God forbid, there is a war between us and Israel, we will have to tell future generations why we fought a war with a country 200 kilometers away that never threatened us or had any other dispute with us," Zibakalam wrote on Twitter on May 10.
After banning the widely used Telegram messaging app, the Iranian government is once again deepening its censorship and suppression of internet use in the country by forcing government agencies to use domestic, state-approved online search engines.
Iran’s Parliament (Majles) has discussed four regulatory bills at a closed-door session also attended by “a few senior security and executive officials” on Sunday May 20. MPs have disclosed that the discussions at the session evolved around international requirements against money laundering demanded from Iran, and that there have also been negotiations in this regard with the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It is five years since Iranian Masih Alinejad started a movement - since joined by thousands of women - protesting against the compulsory wearing of the hijab, or headscarf, in her country. It spread on social media and led to unprecedented demonstrations in the streets - but is it any closer to achieving its goal?
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal didn't draw much international applause, but three U.S. allies in the Middle East — Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — warmly welcomed the move. Israel had long said that the deal didn't do enough to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and Gulf Arab countries believed it gave Iran cover for an intensified campaign of destabilizing the Arab world. And they have plenty of ideas when it comes to drawing up a Plan B for a U.S.-led containment campaign against Iran.
HEZBOLLAH & LEBANON
The recent US and Arab Gulf sanctions against the Lebanese “Hezbollah” party may pose a new obstacle in government formation efforts in Lebanon. The process has not officially kicked off, but the political powers, namely “Hezbollah”, that have emerged victorious in the recent parliamentary elections are vying for greater power in the new cabinet. Information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat revealed that this time around, the party will not be content with non-service portfolios, but it has its sights set on main ones.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded the Lebanese government to take “all necessary measures to prohibit 'Hezbollah' from continuing to acquire weapons,” warning from the severe repercussions of the ongoing involvement of the pro-Iranian party in the Syrian crisis.
The best thing that could be said about the Lebanese parliamentary polls was that they took place on time and largely without a glitch.
The bloc has chosen to nurture its commercial ties with Iran, even if it is at the possible cost of a trade war with Washington.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqis are still haunted by memories of black-clad death squads roaming Baghdad neighborhoods a decade ago, cleansing them of Sunnis as the country was convulsed by sectarian violence. Many of the mass killings in the capital were done in the name of Moktada al-Sadr, a cleric best remembered by Americans for fiery sermons declaring it a holy duty among his Shiite faithful to attack United States forces. The militia he led was armed with Iranian-supplied weapons, and Mr. Sadr cultivated a strong alliance with leaders in Tehran.
Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shiite cleric whose political coalition beat out Iran's favored candidates to come in first in national elections, says he wants to form a government that puts Iraqis first… However, even as al-Sadr is in position to nominate a prime minister and set the political agenda for the next four years, he will find his choices limited by Iran.
Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc was declared the winner of Iraq’s parliamentary election, met Hadi al-Amiri, leader of a pro-Iran bloc, on Sunday in what Sadr portrayed as part of an inclusive discussion about government formation.