German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is meeting his French and British counterparts in Berlin on Monday for talks focussing on the nuclear deal with Iran, a German foreign office spokeswoman said, adding Iran was violating the agreement systematically. “Together with our partners, we strongly call on Iran to stop violating the deal and return to fulfilling all its nuclear obligations completely,” the spokeswoman said.
The Trump administration intensified pressure Friday on Iraq and Iran by reducing the length of a sanctions waiver that allows Iraq to power its already overstretched energy grid. The Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign against Iran has left Iraq dependent on the rolling waivers, which exempt it from sanctions when it purchases a tranche of Iranian gas and electricity products that account for about a third of its energy needs. A spokesman for the State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had extended the waiver for 45 more days, leaving the Trump administration with a final decision on whether to extend it or cut it altogether before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized a Panama-registered vessel in the Gulf suspected of smuggling 300,000 litres of fuel and detained its crew of 10, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Friday. The agency did not give the nationality of the crew members or other details of the incident in its report. Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the fall of its national currency as it faces U.S. sanctions, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighbouring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent message to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, said on Sunday there should be no return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by President Donald Trump. Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he would rejoin the accord if Tehran first resumed strict compliance, and would work with allies “to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilising activities”. The agreement, which world powers reached with Iran, sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons in return for the easing of economic sanctions.
Saudi Arabia’s U.N. envoy on Sunday dismissed the idea that the United States would re-enter the Iran nuclear deal under a Joe Biden administration, saying nobody would be “naive enough” to go back to a deal that has “proven its failure to the entire world.” Abdallah Al-Mouallimi made the comments during an appearance on Fox News’ ‘America’s News HQ’ with host Leland Vittert. Vittert said U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East shifted dramatically under President Trump’s administration, most notably with the May 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran unveiled a new ship over the weekend called the Shahid Roudaki. It is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was given a spotlight at Bandar Abbas port near the strategic Straits of Hormuz on Thursday. The ship is so interesting to Iran watchers that the United States Naval Institute ran a story about it. On its surface this is just a transport ship, but Iran has crowded its deck with all sorts of weapons to show off what it can do.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran has imprisoned an ailing female dissident who signed a 2019 letter calling on its Islamist ruler to quit, rejecting her pleas to delay the start of an effective 27-month prison term until she is treated for severe pain, according to her husband. Speaking to VOA Persian from Iran on Tuesday, Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi, the husband of Shahla Jahanbin, said she had gone to Tehran’s Evin prison on November 14 in response to her latest summons, and had hoped to be granted a further delay in starting her prison term for medical reasons.
One year after Iran's deadliest crackdown on anti-establishment protests, no one has been held responsible for the killing of hundreds of citizens. Officials have instead pressured the families of some of those killed to remain silent and warned them not to hold public memorials for their loved ones. Among them is the family of Ameneh Shahbazi, a 34-year-old mother of three who was shot dead as she was trying to help a wounded person during a November 17, 2019, protest in the city of Karaj, just west of Tehran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended his tour of Gulf Arab states and the Trump administration’s continued efforts to squeeze Iran, even as a new U.S. administration led by Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House in January. Although Pompeo has not taken questions from U.S.-based reporters traveling with him over the past 10 days, he sat down with the Saudi-owned broadcaster Al-Arabiya in Dubai for brief televised remarks Sunday.
US top diplomat Mike Pompeo has used a late term Middle East tour to cement Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran, so President-elect Joe Biden can't easily reverse it. As the Donald Trump era draws to a close, US Secretary of State Pompeo has made containing the Islamic republic a key focus of his trip and even refused to rule out a military strike in a newspaper interview published Sunday.
The U.S. military deployed B-52 bombers to the Middle East Saturday, just days after the Trump administration announced a partial withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. Central Command said the U.S. Air Force B-52H “Stratofortress” aircrews conducted the mission on "short notice" to "deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies." “The ability to quickly move forces into, out of and around the theater to seize, retain and exploit the initiative is key to deterring potential aggression," said Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, 9th Air Force commander.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Yemeni Houthi forces fired a missile that struck a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah, a Houthi military spokesman said on Monday. There was no immediate Saudi confirmation of the claim. The Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sarea, said foreign companies and residents in Saudi should exercise caution as “operations will continue”. The strike had been carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen, he said.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran on Saturday shuttered businesses and curtailed travel between its major cities, including the capital of Tehran, as it grapples with the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the Mideast region. Top Iranian officials initially downplayed the risks posed by the virus outbreak, before recently urging the public to follow measures like wearing masks and avoiding unessential travel. Iran has recorded daily death tolls of above 430 over the past five days. The Iranian Health Ministry said on Saturday that the total number of confirmed cases has risen to above 840,000.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran on Sunday vowed to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of "hit and run" attacks by Israel there was over, days after Israel carried out air strikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country. Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces against rebels and militants since 2012.
When it comes to confronting the Iranian regime, without a doubt Israel has been fortunate in the past four years. The Trump administration’s Iranian policy has been in alignment with Israel’s objectives. The maximum pressure policy served Israel’s interests as it significantly weakened the theocratic establishment of Iran on several fronts. From the outset, the Israeli leaders were opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, and lobbied against it, partly due to the fact that it provided the ruling clerics of Iran with extra revenue.
President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state, turning to a trusted diplomat and foreign-policy adviser to oversee his work to rebuild U.S. relationships around the globe, according to people familiar with the decision. The former vice president is also expected to nominate diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and to select Jake Sullivan, a State Department veteran, to serve as national security adviser, the people said.