Iran warned the Biden administration on Tuesday that it will not have an indefinite time period to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Iran also said it expects Washington to swiftly lift crippling economic sanctions that former President Donald Trump imposed on the country after pulling America out of the atomic accord in 2018, as part of what he called maximum pressure against Iran. Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile program among other issues in withdrawing from the accord. And when the Trump administration increased sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
Iranian users of the Signal messaging service said Monday they have lost access to the app on their mobile devices. Users in several neighborhoods in the capital Tehran and at least three other major cities contacted by The Associated Press said access to the app was blocked gradually beginning in the afternoon. They said they could use the system through virtual private networks, services that shield internet users by encrypting their data traffic. Some still had access through desktop version of the app.
The Iranian regime's lethal assaults on decorated Iranian athletes continued unabated, with the execution of a second champion wrestler on Monday. The Jerusalem Post reported two weeks ago that the execution of wrestler Mehdi Ali Hosseini was imminent. He is from Andimeshk in the province of Khuzestan, and was arrested in 2015 and charged with pre-meditated murder, supposedly committed during a group fight. It is unclear whether the Islamic Republic authorities forced Hosseini to confess to a crime he did not commit.
UANI IN THE NEWS
U.S. policy on Iran has at times fallen victim to the belief that Washington has the capacity to empower moderates within the regime. Given its pledge to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the new Biden administration may be similarly tempted. But instead of chasing ghosts, the White House should prepare to defend against a strong, deep bench of hardliners eager to stymie the United States’ best-laid plans. True enough, the regime needs to negotiate. It is suffering severe financial strain at the very moment it needs financial stability given an eventual leadership transition with an octogenarian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran's foreign ministry on Monday said that Tehran does not intend to expel the UN nuclear watchdog's inspectors, clarifying the implications of a controversial law approved by parliament last month. The law, passed by the conservative dominated legislature despite opposition from the government, mandates Iran to discontinue certain inspections by late February if key conditions are not met, stoking international concerns about a possible expulsion of inspectors. However, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday that under the December law "Iran's cooperation with the (International Atomic Energy Agency) will not cease and it does not mean expelling the agency's inspectors."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has asked Indonesia to provide details about the seizure of an Iranian-flagged vessel, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday, a day after Jakarta said it had seized Iran and Panama-flagged tankers in its waters. Indonesia said on Sunday its coast guard had seized the Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya vessels over suspected illegal oil transfer in the country’s waters. Khatibzadeh said that the seizure was over a “a technical issue and it happens in shipping field”.
With the U.S. campaign of “maximum pressure” now over, Iran’s oil customers may be growing a little bolder. Iranian crude remains subject to American sanctions and exports are still just a fraction of levels seen three years ago, before Donald Trump cracked down to cajole Tehran into renegotiating a nuclear pact. But as new president Joe Biden seeks to revive the existing accord, firms that monitor Iran’s output -- Petro-Logistics SA, Kpler Ltd. and SVB International LLC -- have seen it creep higher. “The output and export increase is an anticipation of Biden’s softer approach toward Iran,” said Sara Vakhshouri, SVB’s founder and president.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A British-Australian academic detained in Iran for two years has spoken out two months after her release to call for freedom for other innocent people currently jailed by the Tehran regime. Kylie Moore-Gilbert spent more than two years in jail in the Iranian capital on unsubstantiated charges of espionage, before being freed late last year. She initially faced a 10-year sentence, but was released early as part of a prisoner swap with Iran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran has no plans to hold talks with the Biden administration and is waiting for the new U.S. president to take the first step to lift sanctions and return the U.S. to the 2015 multinational nuclear agreement, Tehran's U.N. ambassador told NBC News on Monday. In his first interview since President Joe Biden was sworn in last week, Amb. Majid Takht Ravanchi told NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel that Iran has not spoken to the new administration yet. "No, there has not been any conversation between Iran and the U.S. after Biden came into office," Ravanchi said.
The U.S. military is exploring the possibility of using a Red Sea port in Saudi Arabia and additional two airfields in the kingdom amid heightened tensions with Iran, the military said Tuesday. While describing the work as “contingency” planning, the U.S. military said it already has tested unloading and shipping cargo overland from Saudi Arabia’s port at Yanbu, a crucial terminal for oil pipelines in the kingdom. Using Yanbu, as well as air bases at Tabuk and Taif along the Red Sea, would give the American military more options along a crucial waterway that has come under increased attack from suspected mine and drone boat attacks by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
How relations between the United States and Iran will take shape under the new Biden administration remains to be seen, but one U.S. general says the two foes are entering a “period of opportunity.” Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads the U.S. Central Command, made the remarks to reporters as he flew to the Middle East. Some analysts had predicted Iran, or its proxies in the region, might lash out in the final weeks of the Trump administration as payback for the tough stance toward Tehran taken by Washington, particularly the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An Iranian commander has said that the Islamic Republic has the ability to sink US warships. The comments indicate a continuation of hostile rhetoric toward the United States now that Joe Biden is president. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Gen. Rahim Noei-Aghdam said the military has the capability to destroy US Navy ships that are close to Iranian territory. “If once the US presence in the international waters near Iran was considered as a threat to the country, today thanks to our deterrent power and surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, surface-to-coast, coast-to-coast, coast-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles, we have the ability to destroy American ships,” said Noei-Aghdam, according to the state-run Mehr News Agency.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Baluchi activists say Iranian authorities have demolished the foundations of a Sunni mosque in the city of Iranshahr in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province in order “to pressure” the Sunni minority in the region. According to the Europe-based Campaign Of Baluch Activists, the demolition took place on January 23, while all the necessary permits had been obtained by the municipality and the prosecutor’s office. But Iranshahr Mayor Noorahmad Darkhosh told the official government news agency IRNA that the construction had not been approved by the authorities.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
In an unprecedented interview, a former senior Iranian cleric and current opposition figure spoke with an Israeli television news channel Monday night from Tehran, and called for an end to hostilities between the countries. “It is time for the Iranian regime to stop inventing enemies that don’t exist,” the former ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani told Israel’s Channel 12 news.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Yemeni society will be completely changed by Iranian influence and Houthi ideology, the British ambassador to Yemen has warned. Michael Aron told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran’s grip on the north would become even tighter unless a solution to the war was found soon. The Houthi militia, which sparked the war in Yemen when it seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, is armed and supported by Iran. It was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US earlier this month.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s first batch of imported coronavirus vaccines could be sourced from U.K.-based AstraZeneca Plc, the country’s top epidemiologist said, working around a ban the country’s Supreme Leader placed on jabs from the U.S. and Britain earlier this month. “The Ministry of Health is pursuing imports of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Sweden,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Minoo Mohraz, a member of the country’s coronavirus taskforce, as saying, adding that the shots could arrive within weeks.