German exports to Iran fell by nearly half in the first six months of 2019, data showed on Monday, suggesting companies are scaling back business ties with Tehran to avoid trouble with the United States after Washington reimposed sanctions. Sales to Iran plunged by 48% to 678 million euros ($758.8 million) from January through June year-on-year, data from the Federal Statistics Office reviewed by Reuters showed. Imports from Iran declined by 43% to nearly 110 million euros.
Iran's foreign minister on Monday blamed the US for turning the Persian Gulf into a "matchbox ready to ignite" by bolstering its military presence in the region and selling arms to countries in the Middle East.
A once-successful Iranian businessman says he is lucky to be alive after being tortured by the Iranian authorities into a false confession of spying for Israel and assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists - a crime punishable by hanging. The story of Mazyar Ebrahimi, who now lives abroad, also sheds a light on a bitter rivalry between Iran's intelligence agencies, as BBC Persian's Jiyar Gol reports.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran will restructure its budget in a way that should reduce the country's dependence on oil revenues to zero, a senior government official told Mehr news agency. "Given the difficult times of sanctions, we will be losing a considerable amount of budget resources; therefore, it is necessary to make sure that the reforms in the budget structure for the next year will be able to cut down direct dependency on oil revenues to zero," Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht, the head of Iran's Plan and Budget Organization, said.
A federal US appeals court over the weekend overturned a previous ruling allowing the government to seize a Manhattan skyscraper claimed to be effectively controlled by Iran, pointing out problems with that verdict. In June 2017, a jury found an Iranian-American charity knew that the New York City building it owns on 650 Fifth Avenue was 40-percent owned by a front company for an Iranian state-owned bank, violating US sanctions on the Islamic Republic and prompting the government to say it was ready to seize the tower and sell it for an estimated sum of almost a billion dollars.
It has been a year since the Trump administration began to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. The first phase kicked in on August 7, 2018, targeting transactions with Iran involving dollar banknotes, precious metals, steel and passenger aircraft, among other things. US imports of Iranian rugs and food items were also proscribed. Three months later, the Trump administration sanctioned Iranian oil exports, banks, ships and ports - all part of what it billed a "maximum pressure" campaign against the Islamic Republic.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
At least 10 political activists were arrested in the Iranian city of Mashhad this week, during a protest supporting an activist who took part in an open letter calling for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to resign from his position earlier in June. Kamal Jafari Yazdi, the activist, reported the arrests to Radio Farda, claiming that he saw more than 10 activists arrested at the Mashhad court when he arrived for his own court hearing on Sunday.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a "matchbox ready to ignite", according to Al Jazeera television. Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a U.S.-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran's oil exports.
As the United States maintains its "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, tension is on the rise in the Gulf, raising concerns over a full-blown military escalation. While the US has beefed up its military presence in the region, the administration of President Donald Trump has been seeking allies for an international naval coalition to "combat Iranian aggression" in the Strait of Hormuz - one of the world's busiest and most important shipping routes.
Iran has criticized the massive amount of weapons sold by the United States and its partners to their Middle Eastern allies, warning such arms sales were destabilizing the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued on Monday that the U.S. "sold $50 billion of weapons to this region" last year, pointing out that "some of the countries in the region with less than a third of our population spend $87 billion on just military procurement."
America's growing volume of military assets in the Persian Gulf is about deterrence, not war, senior Navy commanders told CNBC aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. "Our goal is not to go to war with Iran. Our deterrence seeks to add to stability in the region, freedom of movement, and trade," Capt. William Reed, the air wing commander on the carrier, told CNBC's Hadley Gamble over the weekend.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned allies about the approaching end of some of UN arms and other sanctions against Iran. In a tweet August 13, Pompeo shows a countdown clock and says, "The clock is ticking. Time remaining before the UN arms embargo on Iran expires..." According to UN resolution 2231 following the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear agreement, a deadline was set for a series of sanctions to end by October 18, 2020.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
In late July, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, the conservative head of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, announced publicly that the Iranian regime had identified a new "hostile government" with whom interaction was henceforth banned, punishable by up to a decade in prison. That entity wasn't the Trump administration, which has launched an escalating campaign of economic pressure against the Islamic Republic over the past year.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
At the Iranian Club, steam tables overflow with kebabs, rice with barberries and pistachios, bread and stew. Hot tea is served with rock candy to sweeten it. Men wear dark business suits, while women cover their heads. For decades, the club has catered to those in those in Dubai who wanted to get a taste of home across the Persian Gulf. But with tensions in the region running high and U.S. sanctions making daily life more difficult for Iranians, Dubai's Iranian community is under pressure. Organizations that cater to them are struggling.
IRAQ & IRAN
For a second time in less than a month, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have sustained losses at their bases, as fire broke out Monday at a weapons depot causing explosions on the outskirts of Baghdad. In July, it was reported that a drone dropped explosives on a base belonging to Iran-linked Shi'ite paramilitary groups in northern Iraq, killing at least one person. Later, Israeli sources hinted at a targeted operation by the Jewish state to disrupt Iran's presence in neighboring countries.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Gibraltar said on Tuesday it was seeking to de-escalate issues arising with Iran since the detention of the Grace 1 tanker. British Royal Marines seized the Iranian oil tanker on July 4 off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria, which Tehran denies. "We continue to seek to de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1," a spokesman for Gibraltar said.
Iran said on Tuesday that Britain might free its oil tanker Grace 1 soon, after some documents were exchanged that would help the seized ship's release. "Britain is interested in releasing Iran's oil tanker Grace 1 ... following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon," the deputy head of Iran's ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, said in remarks reported by IRNA news agency.
An official of the Iranian Ports and Shipping Organization says Iran and the United Kingdom have exchanged documents in a bid to release an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar. Meanwhile, Gibraltar also announced on Tuesday August 13 that it is seeking to de-escalate tensions arising from the of the Iranian supertanker, adding that the current detention order ends Saturday night. Breaking the news, Jalil Eslami, the deputy to the organization's chief, did not elaborate on the nature of the documents or any other details.