Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday formally accused Iran of breaking the 2015 agreement that limited its nuclear program, taking the first step toward reimposing United Nations sanctions. The European countries started the clock running on what could be some 60 days of negotiations with Iran about coming back into full compliance with the nuclear deal. Under the agreement, if they cannot resolve their dispute, that could revive United Nations sanctions on Iran that had been suspended under the deal, including an arms embargo.
Iran's foreign minister, addressing days of unrest in his country, said Wednesday that demonstrators were angry at being "lied to" following the accidental downing of a Ukrainian plane last week that killed all 176 people on board. The comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to Iran's refusal for days to disclose the cause of the crash, after an Iranian air defense battery shot down the plane. The incident occurred during a week of heightened military tensions with the United States.
Hit by sanctions curbing oil sales, Iran's economy is set to fall deeper into recession this fiscal year and foreign reserves could drop to $73 billion by March, a loss of almost $40 billion in two years, the Institute of International Finance said. The economy shrank by 4.6% in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and the contraction is expected to deepen to 7.2% in the current fiscal year, the IIF, a finance industry body, said this week.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran can have enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb by the end of the year, Haaretz reported, citing Israeli military intelligence assessments. According to the assessments, Iran doesn't have a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead, and would need at least two years to develop one, the newspaper said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Western countries on Tuesday to reimpose sanctions on Iran following its declaration that it no longer considers itself bound by its international obligations to restrict the enrichment of uranium.
Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran on Tuesday of violating the terms of its 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear programme, which eventually could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions lifted under the deal. The European powers said they were acting to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation adding to an escalating confrontation in the Middle East. Russia, another signatory to the pact, said it saw no grounds to trigger the mechanism and Iran dismissed the step as a "strategic mistake."
Britain is willing to work with the United States and European partners to build a broader initiative which would address not just Iran's nuclear ambitions but its destabilising activity in the region, foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday. "We believe, as of now, that the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is the best available deal for restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions and we want Iran to come back into full compliance," Raab told parliament.
The United States supports Europe's move to initiate the dispute mechanism in Iran's nuclear deal, the U.S. top envoy for Iran told Reuters on Tuesday, but would like to see Europeans join Washington in its efforts to diplomatically isolate Tehran. France, Britain and Germany formally triggered the dispute mechanism in Iran's nuclear deal, the strongest step the Europeans have taken so far to enforce an agreement that requires Iran to curb its nuclear program.
For half a decade, President Trump has railed against the 2015 nuclear deal forged between Iran and other world powers. In the last year of his term, he may finally witness what he has long wanted: The pact's complete dissolution. On Tuesday, the three European countries that were signatories to the deal triggered a dispute mechanism within the agreement that now raises the possibility of U.N. sanctions snapping back on the Iranian regime.
France, Britain and Germany formally triggered the dispute mechanism in Iran's nuclear deal with world powers on Tuesday, the strongest step they have taken so far to enforce the agreement that requires Iran to curb its nuclear programme. The European powers said they had taken the step to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation being added to an escalating confrontation in the Middle East.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil have cut Iran's oil revenues drastically over the past year. Still, Iran continues to export some oil, mostly to Syrian and Chinese customers. On Maria Bartiromo's Sunday morning talk show, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin revealed that the U.S. is working with China to reduce the amount of Iranian oil the Chinese are clandestinely importing in contravention of U.S. sanctions.
The United States sanctioned 17 Iranian metals producers and mining companies on Friday but the impact to global supply would be minimal as the country is not a major producer, analysts say. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions, which are in addition to those imposed in May 2009, were as a result of Iran's attack on U.S. troops in Iraq last week. "Iran does produce small quantities of metals but it's not really on a scale that is big enough to have an impact on metals prices," said Capital Economics senior commodities analyst Caroline Bain.
Iran's Tasnim news website close to the Revolutionary Guard has published new photos it claims to show "missile cities", where "solid fuel" rockets are housed. Tasnim also said that out of 15 missiles fired at U.S. bases in Iraq on January 8, two fell on Iranian territory, apparently due to technical malfunction. The release of photos by Tasnim coincides with the decision of the United Kingdom, France and Germany to trigger the dispute mechanism of the 2015 nuclear deal as a response to Iran gradually reducing its commitments.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Antigovernment protests in Iran, which broke out after the country's military shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, present the Trump administration with an opportunity to appeal to moderates who might agree to negotiations with the U.S., administration officials said. Protesters took to the streets for a third day on Monday to denounce what they called lying and incompetence by the country's leadership. They received a series of endorsements on social media from President Trump and his aides over the weekend.
Iranians called on social media on Wednesday for fresh demonstrations a week after the shooting down of a passenger plane, seeking to turn the aftermath of the crash into a sustained campaign against Iran's leadership. Protesters, with students at the forefront, have staged daily rallies in Tehran and other cities since Saturday, when after days of denials the authorities admitted bringing down a Ukrainian plane last week, killing all 176 aboard.
For a brief moment this month, Iran's rulers appeared buoyed by the wave of nationalist sentiment that swept the country after the U.S. killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Now that support has been clouded by anger, as public outrage grows over Tehran's accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner last week. After days of denial, Iran's armed forces said Saturday that the plane - Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 - was shot down when they mistook it for a hostile aircraft. Since then, sporadic protests criticizing the government have flared in Tehran and other cities.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Speaking at Stanford University on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had an improbable request for Iran's revolutionary Islamist government. "We just want Iran to behave like a normal nation," he said. "Just be like Norway," he added wryly, drawing laughs from the crowd. But as Mr. Pompeo and other Trump administration officials know full well, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the generals who guard his power in Tehran will never shape their foreign policy to the United States' liking.
The six Democratic presidential candidates who debated Tuesday night in Des Moines agreed on one point: President Trump threw away a nuclear deal that was working and is now recklessly speeding toward war with Iran. But they all turned vague when pressed on how they would accomplish their key goals - preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear capability, stopping the revival of the Islamic State and disarming North Korea - without backing up diplomacy with the threat of military force.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned in a televised speech Wednesday that European soldiers - not just Americans - "could be in danger" after leaders in Britain, France and Germany began the so-called "dispute process" for the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal with world powers. "Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger," Rouhani said in a televised speech before his Cabinet. He did not elaborate.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Reporters for Iran's state media routinely toe the government line. In the chaotic aftermath of Iran's admission that it shot down a Ukrainian airliner, that admission appears to have pushed several journalists to resign, shaking Tehran's grip on the national narrative. On Wednesday, Iranian state television reported the deaths of 80 U.S. soldiers in Iranian strikes against bases in Iraq in response to the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. In the following days, the same outlets continued to repeat claims that technical problems had caused the crash of a Ukraine-bound passenger jet shortly after its takeoff from Tehran.
In his more than three decades in charge of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has battled to consolidate power at home and expand the regime's influence across the region. But the 80-year-old leader is facing his toughest challenge yet as he seeks to unify a fractured establishment and calm people angry at the alleged cover-up of the cause of a plane crash last week.
At a weekly press briefing in Tehran Jan. 14, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili, announced "several" arrests were made in connection with the crash of a Ukrainian passenger jet last Wednesday. All 176 people on board were killed. It took Iranian authorities three days to admit that a missile battery operator "mistakenly" shot down the aircraft. At the time, the country's armed forces were in a state of high alert in anticipation of a US attack in response to a barrage of Iranian missiles on two American bases in neighboring Iraq.
CONGRESS & IRAN
A measure that would force President Trump to win congressional authorization before taking further military action against Iran now has enough Republican support to pass the Senate, a key Democratic senator said Tuesday. The senator, Tim Kaine of Virginia, said at least four Republicans would break ranks to pass a bill to curtail Mr. Trump's war-making powers, underscoring growing dissatisfaction with the president's Iran strategy among members of his own party. It would be a rebuke to the president as his impeachment trial gets underway and will most likely set up the seventh veto of his presidency.
For more than 40 years, the United States and Iran have had a troubled relationship. Because of the Iranian regime's insistence on spreading terror throughout the region and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, multiple administrations have considered a broad range of options - both military and diplomatic - to counter these threats. The legality of many of these actions has been murky at best, and this has not always been the fault of just the executive branch. Far too often, Congress has been the one to shirk its responsibility to debate the proper use of force to meet global threats.
The U.S. Congress has never declared war on Iran. And yet, earlier this month, the U.S. government ordered the assassination of a high-ranking Iranian military official. President Trump's strike against Qasem Soleimani produced no small amount of collateral damage. The missiles that killed the Iranian commander also wiped out the Iraqi parliament's hospitality, the Iranian government's will to comply with all terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and the last vestiges of Congress's putative authority over matters of war and peace.
CHINA & IRAN
The United States and Iran may have taken a deep breath after last week's standoff, but the crisis is far from over. Ratcheting up conflict in the Middle East wasn't supposed to be on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Instead, the 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States and the 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy have sought to refocus U.S. grand strategy on the emerging threat posed by two particular great powers: China and Russia.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
As they breathe a collective sigh of relief that the U.S. and Iran have not stumbled into a war in their backyard, the bickering Gulf Arab countries have been reminded they still have powerful common interests. The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman - have worked to reduce tensions since the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani and several key henchmen. One of the biggest disagreements within the GCC has been over attitudes towards Tehran.
The Saudi cabinet reiterated on Tuesday the Kingdom's condemnation of Iran's attacks against bases housing US forces in Iraq. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz chaired the cabinet meeting that was held in Riyadh. The ministers stressed that Saudi Arabia "stands by Iraq against all challenges that threaten its security, stability and Arab identity."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's president warned Wednesday that European soldiers in the Mideast "could be in danger" after three nations challenged Tehran over breaking the limits of its nuclear deal. Tehran's top diplomat meanwhile acknowledged that Iranians "were lied to" for days following the Islamic Republic's accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner that killed 176 people. President Hassan Rouhani's remarks in a televised Cabinet meeting represent the first direct threat he's made to Europe as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington over President Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the deal in May 2018.
Surveillance video from Iran circulating on social media Tuesday appears to show two missiles hitting the Ukrainian passenger jet downed over Tehran, fired approximately 30 seconds apart, providing new information about the tragedy that killed 176 people on the plane. The video was verified by Storyful, a social-media-intelligence company owned by News Corp, parent of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones. It raises new questions about how forthcoming Iranian authorities were when, after three days of denial, they admitted they had mistakenly struck the Ukraine International Airlines flight without mentioning a second missile.
Canada on Tuesday dismissed as "nonsense" Tehran's insistence that only a few Canadians died last week when Iran shot down an airliner and demanded full accountability for what it called a horrible crime. The remarks by Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne were some of the toughest from a Canadian official since the disaster in which 176 people died, 57 of them Canadian.
Shortly after Iran lobbed two-dozen missiles into two U.S. military bases in Iraq last week, the country's foreign minister tweeted that Iran had "concluded" its "proportionate" response to the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani. Few people in the U.S. military are taking this statement at face value. Iran is likely to step up its harassment of the U.S. using its network of proxy groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. If history is any guide, that response will include cyber attacks against the U.S. government, companies and high-profile individuals-and possibly even the 2020 elections.