Iran and China are seeking to cement a wide-ranging partnership that would deflect U.S. economic pressure and ease Tehran’s global isolation. An initial draft of the Iran-China deal, which still requires Iranian parliamentary approval, would pave the way for Chinese investments in Iranian free-trade zones and for joint projects in other countries, such as Syria and Iraq. It would expand cooperation between the two countries in defense and counter terrorism. And it says that under a 25-year partnership, China would import “sustainable” levels of Iranian oil, but offered no further details.
As Iran’s center for advanced nuclear centrifuges lies in charred ruins after an explosion, apparently engineered by Israel, the long-simmering conflict between the United States and Tehran appears to be escalating into a potentially dangerous phase likely to play out during the American presidential election campaign. New satellite photographs over the stricken facility at Natanz show far more extensive damage than was clear last week. Two intelligence officials, updated with the damage assessment for the Natanz site recently compiled by the United States and Israel, said it could take the Iranians up to two years to return their nuclear program to the place it was just before the explosion.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized an independent U.N. human rights expert’s report insisting a American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January was a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law. The report presented by Agnes Callamard to the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council on Thursday chronicled events around the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the legal implications of his killing as part of a broader look on the use of drone strikes.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran is determined to develop its oil industry in spite of U.S. sanctions imposed on the country, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a televised speech on Saturday. “We will not surrender under any circumstances ... We have to increase our capacity so that when necessary with full strength we can enter the market and revive our market share,” said Zanganeh. The minister was speaking before the signing of a $294-million contract between the National Iranian Oil Company and Persia Oil & Gas, an Iranian firm, to develop the Yaran oilfield that is shared with neighbouring Iraq’s Majnoon field.
An agreement between the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and an organization controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader was signed today to develop and expand an exisiting oil field. Shana news agency connected with NIOC reported the deal, without mentioning that the contractor, Persia Oil and Gas Industry Development Company, belongs to Imam’s Executive Headquarters, an organization operating under the control of the Supreme Leader. Organizations and companies operating under the aegis of the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guard and other regime-connected centers in Iran are not accountable to the parliament or any other institution.
According to the latest figures released by Russia's Federal Customs Service (FTS) it exported $692 million worth of goods to Iran from January to May, which indicates a 31 percent growth in comparison with the same period last year. In the first five months of 2019 Russia's exports to Iran amounted to $528 million showing another 31 percent growth compared with the same period in 2018. Russian exports to Iran have grown despite the drop in trade between Iran and its major partners such as China, India, Korea, Japan, Turkey and the European Union in 2019 and in the first five months of 2020.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the pandemic could lead to street protests over economic problems, his website reported. In a regular Cabinet meeting on the coronavirus, Rouhani said the easiest way to fight the virus is to close off all activities. But “then people come and stage protests because of chaos, famine and problems," he said. Confirmed virus cases and deaths reached a record low in May after mass lockdowns were imposed in Iran.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed Iran’s use of torture and abuse to extract forced confessions from prisoners detained during anti-government protests, and appealed to Tehran to ensure defendants received fair trials. In a statement issued by the group on Friday, HRW also condemned Tehran’s use of “vaguely defined” charges against detainees, and their heavily restricted access to proper legal counsel. Amnesty International reported that at least 304 demonstrators were killed, and many thousands more detained, in November 2019 when economic protests in Iran morphed into widespread anti-regime demonstrations.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A US judge has ordered Iran to pay another $879.1 million over a 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US airmen, ruling again that Tehran bore responsibility. President Donald Trump's administration hailed the judgment, the latest over the attack against Iran, which denies involvement and refuses to pay. Saudi Hezbollah, a militant group from the conservative Sunni kingdom's Shiite minority, allegedly carried out the attack by driving an explosives-laden truck into the eight-story Khobar Towers complex where Western and Saudi forces were staying.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reiterated that Washington is committed to providing security help for the Persian Gulf Arab countries in the face of the Islamic Republic of Iran's increasing missile capability. Responding to a question during a briefing for foreign reporters July 9, Pompeo stressed that Washington is working in "more than one way" with its Arab partners to offset a growing missile threat from Tehran. One of these ways, Pompeo noted, is to prevent the lifting of Iran's arms embargo, which will end on October 18, and if not extended, it will have "serious, tragic consequences" for the Middle East.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
In a rare address to the Iranian parliament (Majles), Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it clear that impeaching President Hassan Rouhani is out of the question. Speaking via video link on Sunday July 12, Khamenei said: "I strongly believe that governments should carry on doing their job until the last day of their term of office." He also advised that the Rouhani administration "should not slow down its momentum by any means."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran has signed an agreement to improve Syria’s largely antiquated and ineffective air defenses. However, any substantial effort by Tehran will likely be foiled by Israel, which is resolute in its determination to remove Iran’s military presence from its northern neighbor. In a July meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s military chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri signed an agreement pledging to improve Syria’s air defense systems.
CHINA & IRAN
Negotiations between Iran and China over the creation of a 25-year strategic accord appear to have concluded, with The New York Times on Sunday publishing excerpts from an 18-page agreement labeled “final version” that could see Beijing invest $400 billion over the next 25 years in exchange for discount oil. The document — which The Times said was dated June 2020 and has yet to be approved by the Majles, Iran’s parliament — detailed how Beijing would receive Iranian oil at a sharply reduced price for the next quarter century in exchange expanding its economic involvement in a variety of fields, including banking and infrastructure, such as telecommunications and transport.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi launched a new campaign on Saturday against corruption at the country's borders, saying millions of dollars were being lost by not properly taxing imported goods. Speaking at the Mandili crossing on the border with Iran, Kadhimi said Iraq's frontier had become "a hotbed for corrupt people". "This is the beginning of our promise to combat corruption. The first phase is to protect border crossings with new security forces," he said.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation blamed a misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air defence operator and his commanders for the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January that killed 176 people aboard. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight with a ground-to-air missile on Jan. 8 shortly after the plane took off from Tehran,in what Tehran later acknowledged as a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.
The annual report of the German Federal Intelligence Service warned against Iran’s increasing use of IT infrastructures to access sensitive information with the aim to circumvent sanctions. There are increased cyber activities by Iran in Germany, the 388-page report said, detailing the internal threats faced in the country. The report pointed to Iran’s increasing ability in recent years to launch cyber-attacks, which it said were linked to tensions in the Gulf region. The aim of these attacks is to “circumvent the sanctions imposed on Iran and to provide decision-makers with basic information about the planned political maneuvers,” it underlined.