Iran on Saturday dismissed new U.S. sanctions on four Iranians over an alleged plot to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist, saying the move reflects Washington’s "addiction to sanctions". The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday sanctioned the four, saying they were intelligence operatives behind the failed plot. "Supporters and merchants of sanctions, who see their sanctions tool box empty due to Iran’s maximum resistance, are now resorting to Hollywood scenarios to keep the sanctions alive,” the Foreign Ministry said in a tweet, quoting spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.
The president of Iran said Saturday that the country was ready to resume nuclear talks, but added that it would like to do so without “pressure” from Western countries. "The Westerners and the Americans are after talks together with pressure ... What kind of talks is that? I have already announced that we will have talks on our government's agenda but not with ... pressure," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on state TV, according to Reuters. Raisi stated that one of his goals for the talk would be to get sanctions lifted from Iran.
An Iranian tanker carrying fuel bound for Lebanon was at anchor in the Red Sea on Friday ahead of the final leg of a voyage to Syria, which is set to pose the biggest test yet to US sanctions imposed on two arch regional foes. The tanker is expected in the Syrian port of Baniyas early next week, in defiance of US sanctions that prevent oil exports from Iran and imports to Syria, which have both been subject to stringent US-imposed restrictions on trade.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Last month we marked the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since then, Israel has signed normalization agreements with Morocco and Sudan. These four Arab countries, together with Egypt and Jordan, represent great hope for the future of the Middle East. In order to nurture that hope, the international community must unite to confront Iran and its destructive behavior in the region. To do that, it is first important to see the big picture. Too often, when violence breaks out in the Middle East, there are very few analysts who are able to connect the dots and help us understand the wider regional context.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers had to lead to the removal of sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s economy. In a phone call on Sunday, Raisi told Macron that Iran wasn’t interested in “negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” according to a statement published on the official president.ir website. The Iranian government hasn’t yet given any indication of when the talks -- on hold since Raisi’s election in June -- are likely to resume.
United States and European efforts to coax Iran back into nuclear negotiations as soon as this month are being blunted by support Tehran’s already emboldened leaders are receiving from China and Russia, according to Bloomberg. The result is that three years after former President Donald Trump imposed his “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has enriched uranium close to weapons-grade while its economy is showing some signs of stabilizing with the help of Beijing and Moscow, even as crucial oil exports remain heavily sanctioned.
The Biden administration “can’t wait forever” for Iran to decide it wants to restart talks on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump quit in 2018, the top U.S. envoy for the negotiations said. The U.S. still hasn’t received any indication that Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is prepared to commit to a seventh round of talks to come back into compliance with the accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, envoy Robert Malley said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
UN human rights experts have urged Iranian authorities to immediately halt the imminent execution of an Iranian-Kurdish prisoner whom they say was subject to enforced disappearance and pre-trial torture. “The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the execution of Heidar Ghorbani and annul the death sentence against him and grant him a retrial in compliance with their international obligations,” the experts, including the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran and the special rapporteur on minority issues, said in a statement issued on Friday.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Antony Blinken is one of Joe Biden’s closest officials. In 2009, when Biden was VP, Blinken served as his national security adviser. Later, he became deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017. Shortly after Biden was declared the 2020 presidential election winner, he announced that Blinken would be his top diplomat. Blinken, 58, was born in New York to Jewish parents. During his first month in office as US secretary of state, Blinken primarily dedicated his time to China, widely considered America’s main competitor.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A close military aide to Iran’s supreme leader who led the armed forces for 27 years and once accused Western enemies of deploying lizards to spy on Iranian nuclear activities has died from Covid-19. The death of Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, 70, was reported Friday by Iranian news outlets as the country grapples with its fifth wave of coronavirus infections — and as Iranians have grown increasingly irate at the government’s response. The Delta variant has overwhelmed Iran’s hospitals, and last month the country reported record daily deaths and infections.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran will receive a “large volume” of Sinopharm vaccines from China in the coming days and through September, the Iranian Foreign Ministry says in a statement, without specifying the number.
Iran’s Guardian Council announced the resignation of its prominent member, Sadeq Larijani, a few months after he criticized the 12-member body for excluding the candidacy of his brother, Ali Larijani, from presidential elections later won by Ebrahim Raisi. Ali Larijani had served as parliament speaker in Iran. In a decree on Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei assigned a cleric, Hosseini Khorasani, to replace Larijani. Khorasani is one of the six Guardian Council jurists that Khamenei named. The Chief Justice selects the other six members.
Head of the Assembly of Experts Council Ahmed Jannati said that the government is demanded to pay attention to the people's living and economic issues, urging the new president and his team to be serious in this regard. Speaking during the semi-annual meeting of the council, Jannati said four years is a short period to provide services to the people, but it should be exploited to the fullest extent. He also demanded that the Assembly play a significant role in naming the government.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
On the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 31, a cease-fire agreement was reached between the so-called "reconciled rebels" in the rebel-held city of Daraa al-Balad and the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The agreement provides for government forces to lift the monthslong siege on the city, which in recent days has been attacked and shelled by Assad's forces in an attempt to take control of it. The terms of the agreement allow the Russian military police and a security committee linked to the Syrian regime to travel to the area to consolidate the cease-fire.
Israeli missile strikes hit military positions used by pro-Iran groups near the Syrian capital Damascus overnight, a war monitor said Friday. The strikes on the suburbs of Barzeh and Jamraya “targeted Syrian regime military positions that are used by pro-Iran groups” to store and develop weapons, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory, which is based in Britain and relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its reports, said it could not immediately confirm if there were any casualties. The official SANA news agency said Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Last week, Iraq hosted a regional summit intended to encourage archrivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to resolve their differences and ease tensions in several countries in the Middle East that have become their proxy battlegrounds. Reconciliation between the two could pave the path for peace in Yemen, save Lebanon from a total collapse, and aid Iraq’s, and maybe in time even Syria’s, economic recovery. Although Iraq was applauded for opening its doors to discuss a possible end to the cold war that has been fought between Riyadh and Tehran for hegemony of the Muslim world, no breakthrough was achieved.
Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads in Yemen have blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for targeting its Eastern Province with what Riyadh said was a ballistic missile. “The Arab coalition has intercepted a ballistic missile launched from Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis toward the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia,” Al Arabiya reported, quoting official sources. The Houthis were responsible for “deliberately targeting civilians and civilian objects,” the report said. “The coalition stressed that its forces are taking operational measures to protect civilians and deal with any threats.”
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iran rebuked the Taliban for its capture of Afghanistan’s northern Panjshir valley, the last remaining opposition bastion, breaking with its largely muted stance since the fundamentalist group swept to power. Iranian officials developed covert ties with the Taliban over recent years, united by a common enemy, the U.S., and now hope those links will enable the neighbors to rub along without tensions erupting along the 900 kilometer (560 mile) border. But Tehran had helped finance anti-Taliban resistance fighters prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan 20 years ago, many of them in Panjshir.