The scaling back of contacts between Iran and the West over the crackdown on the protest movement has intensified the anxiety and uncertainty of the families whose loved ones are held by the Islamic republic. Iran is accused by campaigners of holding over two dozen foreign nationals, some for years on end, in a deliberate strategy of "hostage diplomacy" aimed at extracting concessions from the West. In the past, many foreign passport holders finally won their release from Iranian jails following secret backroom negotiations that controversially often saw Iranians released abroad or assets unfrozen in exchange.
European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree further sanctions targeting members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps at their meeting in Brussels on Monday, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Office said on Friday. Asked at a regular government news conference in Berlin whether sanctions could hamper diplomatic efforts to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, the spokesperson said: "The focus of our policy currently is increasing pressure on the Iranian regime."
Iran's armed forces general staff, which coordinates activities between its conventional army and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, warned the European Union on Thursday not to list the elite force as a terrorist entity, state media reported. On Wednesday, the European Parliament called for the EU to list the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, blaming it for the repression of domestic protesters and the supply of drones to Russia's military engaged in Ukraine. Following are some questions and answers about the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran's dominant military force, with its own army, navy, air force and intelligence wing.
UANI IN THE NEWS
… In fact, earlier this week, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called on Washington to pressure Panama to stop “helping” Iran to evade sanctions. Bush is a member of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which seeks to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.
… About 39% of ships moving Iranian oil are flagged by Panama, Mr Bush said citing UANI data, and called for the US to sanction the entire fleet. “Since 2020, the Panama Maritime Authority — the world’s biggest ag registry — has been presented with evidence gathered by UANI on 130 vessels of concern, but the PMA has deflagged just 18 of them, allowing the others to continue their suspected function as mules for the Iranian regime,” Mr Bush wrote. Lloyd’s List has seen several letters sent by UANI to the registry containing detailed evidence of vessels engaging in deceptive and unsafe shipping practices to obfuscate shipments of Iranian cargoes.
… The Panamax tanker arrived on Wednesday at Pascagoula's PAS2 terminal, said organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors vessel traffic.
… “President Biden needs to give an Iran speech and set a clear Iran policy,” the policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, told the Sun. “Ambiguity sets a lot of conspiracy theories, so America needs to be clear.”
… United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) said it had written nearly 50 letters related to some 140 vessels but only 18 had been deflagged. UANI officials said they had provided evidence through satellite imagery, bills of lading and given details of the manipulation of AIS equipment The group said that at least four ships currently sanctioned by the US for Iran-related trades remain flagged by AMP… Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and an advisory board member of UANI, wrote recently that Panama was “unworthy” of leading the IMO. UANI said nearly 40% of tankers carrying Iranian crude operate under the flag of Panama. UANI identified a tanker in 2021 off the coast of Iran after weeks of uncertainty about its location.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran’s oil exports are surging, offering solace to both Tehran and a global market fretting over the prospect of sanctions squeezing Russian supply. Much of it appears to be finding its way to China. The Persian Gulf country’s oil exports surged to about 1.3 million barrels a day in November, and last month held near the highest in four years, according to data from Vortexa Ltd. and Kpler, two well-known shipping analytics firms.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Four people, detained in Turkey on charges of abducting opponents of the Islamic Republic on Turkish soil, have been released after negotiations of the two countries in Ankara. The release of prisoners came following the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Turkey this week. The four were arrested last year on charges of complicity with the security organizations of the Islamic Republic to kidnap an opponent of the regime in Turkey.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Ireland's foreign minister said Thursday the government was doing all it could to secure the release of a French-Irish citizen held in Iran after his family urged Dublin to intensify talks because of concerns for his health following a hunger strike. Micheal Martin told a news conference in Dublin that "we're going to do everything we possibly can" to help release Bernard Phelan, a 64-year-old Paris-based travel consultant arrested in October while traveling through Iran in the wake of anti-regime protests. "I think we have been very active in respect of Bernard's situation," Martin told reporters. "We've sought his release on humanitarian grounds from the Iranian government, and we're waiting a response from the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Iran. We've been engaged with the ambassador here as well." Martin's comments followed a plea from Phelan's sister Caroline Masse-Phelan for Dublin to step up its negotiations with Tehran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's mission to the United Nations has denied reports regarding a meeting of US special envoy for Iran with the ambassador of the Islamic Republic to the UN. Iran International had earlier reported exclusively that Robert Malley and Saeed Iravani had held three meetings and the US State Department did not deny the report after being specifically asked. In response to questions submitted by Iran International on January 17, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “We have the means to deliver specific and firm messages to Iran when it is in America’s interest to do so.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Some Iranian ‘moderate conservative’ politicians suggest that Iran should act to compensate for the damage and isolation caused by a problematic foreign policy. Correcting Iran's policy regarding Russia's war in Ukraine, by adopting a neutral stance, is a recurrent suggestion. As the European parliament overwhelmingly voted to support the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the IRGC, as a terrorist organization, University lecturer and former housing minister Abbas Akhoundi suggested that Tehran should enter transparent and direct talks with the EU to shed light on its positions about the war in Ukraine.
Following an eventful row between Iran’s parliament and administration, the budget bill is finally getting the approval of lawmakers, but there is a catch about the country’s oil exports. When the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi submitted the substantially enlarged draft state budget last week, it was apparent that the government has come up with plans to depend more on tax revenues instead of oil income. But now that the parliament has started reviewing the bill, it has become clearer that the administration plans to outsource most of its oil sales to military and religious organs. In the budget bill for the next Iranian year, which starts March 21, the government has granted new permits to some departments such as the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic and Astan Quds Razavi -- the Mashhad-based custodian and the administrative organization which managing a major religious shrine -- as well as a number pension funds to sell oil products on behalf of the government and earn some of the income.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone call with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday, the Kremlin said, their second conversation in nine days. In a brief readout of the call, it said the two presidents discussed the situation in Syria - where both have backed President Bashar al-Assad in a long-running civil war - and cooperation in transport and energy. The statement made no reference to the war in Ukraine. Iran has taken on greater importance as a partner for Russia since Putin's invasion of Ukraine last February triggered waves of Western sanctions against Moscow. Tehran has acknowledged supplying Russia with military drones, though it says they were sent before the war started. The United States said last week that Iran could be contributing to war crimes in Ukraine by providing drones to Russia.
“We recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity within the framework of international law, and for this reason, despite excellent relations between Tehran and Moscow, we have not recognized the separation of Crimea from Ukraine,” he said. “We have not recognized the separation of Luhansk and Donetsk from Ukraine because we insist on our consistent principle in foreign policy.” At the same time, he stressed that Russia’s war against Ukraine is a “difficult situation” caused by “provocations from NATO and Western countries.”