Things are quiet in Vienna — and that’s becoming a problem. As nuclear negotiators from Iran, the U.S. and other world powers continue to put off returning to the bargaining table in the Austrian capital, the bad news has started to pile up and the rhetoric is turning more pessimistic. The prolonged stalemate — ongoing since June — has some now speculating that the window to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is closing. The latest blow came Tuesday night, when the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), presented two confidential reports, seen by POLITICO, describing Iran’s refusal to provide satisfactory answers to a probe into its past nuclear activities.
The 33,000 metric tonnes of Iranian fuel oil reported by a maritime monitoring group to be bound for Lebanon will only cover around three days of the country’s needs, Lebanese fuel importers and private generator owners told The National on Wednesday. Two Iranian ships are reportedly on their way to Lebanon following a controversial deal struck by Lebanese Iran-backed group Hezbollah via Lebanese Shiite businessmen and Iran. Lebanon is suffering from crippling fuel shortages that have caused the near-collapse of its electricity sector.
The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said Wednesday it will launch a new task force that incorporates airborne, sailing and underwater drones after years of maritime attacks linked to ongoing tensions with Iran. Navy officials declined to identify which systems they would introduce from their headquarters on the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. However, they promised the coming months would see the drones stretch their capabilities across a region of chokepoints crucial to both global energy supplies and worldwide shipping.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Post-Trump, Iran crude exports are rising and exceeded 843,000 barrels per day in July, with more than 40% shipped to China, figures from United Against Nuclear Iran show. The New York-based non-governmental organisation has done more than the US State Department and Office of Foreign Assets Control to identify sanctions-busting activities so far this year, including publishing a list of the 130 or so ships involved. While crude has flowed into China and Syria via complex but visible maritime logistics networks, the Biden administration’s sanctions have targeted Mexican drug lords, Pakistani human traffickers and regimes in China, Burma, Syria, Belarus, Yemen and Nicaragua. There have been few direct measures taken against subterfuge oil trades and the fleet of tankers supporting them. In August, the US State Department blacklisted the very large crude carrier Oman Pride and sanctioned an Omani oil trader owner for shipping Iranian crude. The timing was peculiar: four weeks earlier, a seafarers’ union had resolved an abandoned vessel case involving the vessel and it was no longer trading.
Tanker analysts are using satellite imagery to detect more and more desperate ships trying to disguise themselves from their sanctions-busting activities by covering their decks with nylon tarps. “Over the past year, we have seen a lot of oil tankers pull up in port in both Iran and Venezuela to load up on a couple of million barrels at a time. To better disguise themselves from satellites, the crew spend a day or two deploying large sheets of nylon tarp. The majority go for blue but the orange ones seem pretty nice,” Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, told Splash today. Other ship spotters have also been tracking this phenomenon including non-profit United Against Nuclear Iran. Commenting on the various images of barely camouflaged tankers, Adis Ajdin, Splash’s chief correspondent, quipped: “It’s like disguising an elephant with an ant really.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran's president on Wednesday warned Western states against rebuking Tehran at the U.N. atomic watchdog after its latest reports criticised his country, while the top U.S. diplomat said time was running out to revive a nuclear deal with world powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in reports to member states reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday that there had been no progress on two central issues: explaining uranium traces found at several old, undeclared sites and getting urgent access to some monitoring equipment so that the IAEA can continue to keep track of parts of Iran's nuclear programme.
The U.S. and Germany on Wednesday stepped up pressure on Iran to return soon to talks on its nuclear program, with Germany’s foreign minister saying that a delay of two or three months floated by Tehran is too long. The remaining parties to the 2015 accord with world powers meant to contain Iran’s nuclear program held several rounds of talks in Vienna earlier this year on how to bring the U.S. back into the deal and how Iran can return to compliance with its terms. But the last round ended in June and no date has been set for their resumption.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday that time was running out for Iran to return to a nuclear deal after a scathing report by the UN atomic watchdog and Tehran's signals that it would take a while to return to talks. The IAEA released a strongly-worded report Tuesday saying monitoring tasks in Iran have been "seriously undermined" after Tehran suspended some of the UN agency's inspections of its nuclear activities. After ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi took over as new president of the country, Iran had also suggested that talks aimed at reviving the stalled JCPOA were unlikely to resume for two to three months.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Donald Trump’s White House asked the Pentagon to play down and delay reports of brain injuries suffered by US troops from an Iranian missile attack on Iraq last year, according to a former defense spokeswoman. Alyssa Farah said she fended off the pressure from the White House, which came after Trump had first claimed there had been no casualties and then dismissed the injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious”. More than 100 US troops were ultimately diagnosed as having suffered traumatic brain injuries in the missile attack on two bases in Iraq housing US troops on 8 January 2020, launched by Tehran in retaliation for the US drone killing of Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Suleimani five days earlier.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iran’s Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani spoke to parliament during a closed session Tuesday about the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. According to Iranian parliamentarian Alireza Soleimani, Ghaani said Iran had a number of priorities in Afghanistan. The first was that Iran’s security in Afghanistan not be “compromised.” Ghaani said the US goal is to have Iran’s government involved in conflicts with Sunni actors. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a Shiite state and the majority of Iranians are Shiite.
While the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and its recent establishment of a new Islamic Emirate government have grabbed the world's attention, nowhere have these developments had more impact than among the country's immediate neighbors. All six nations are grappling with the fallout. On Wednesday, the most senior working diplomats of China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan took part in their first-ever virtual summit to discuss a regionwide approach to their common neighbor.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the country will keep its border crossings with Afghanistan open to facilitate the settlement of problems in the neighboring country and will proceed with trade with the Afghans. In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Amirabdollahian and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai talked about the latest developments in Afghanistan. “The Islamic Republic of Iran wants Afghanistan to be free from war and terrorism,” the Iranian foreign minister told Karzai.