Iran on Saturday imposed sanctions on dozens more Americans, many of them from the U.S. military, over the 2020 killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike. Iran's Foreign Ministry said the 51 Americans had been targeted for what it called "terrorism" and human rights violations. The step lets Iranian authorities seize any assets they hold in Iran, but the apparent absence of such assets means it will likely be symbolic. The ministry said in a statement carried by local media that the 51 had been targeted for "their role in the terrorist crime by the United States against the martyred General Qassem Soleimani and his companions and the promotion of terrorism and violations of fundamental human rights".
Iran wants a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers that removes sanctions, including on oil exports, and won’t settle for an interim agreement, its foreign ministry said on Monday. The comments came as envoys continue efforts in Vienna to revive a 2015 accord that limited Iran’s atomic activities in return for U.S. sanctions relief. With negotiations moving toward a state of limbo in recent months, diplomats have contemplated outcomes that fall short of fully restoring the pact, which the U.S. pulled out of in 2018. “Iran is seeking a sustainable and reliable deal and any agreement that doesn’t meet these requirements won’t be on the agenda,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh.
Thousands of rocket launchers, machine guns, sniper rifles and other weapons seized in the Arabian Sea by the U.S. Navy in recent months likely originated from a single port in Iran, according to a confidential United Nations report that provides some of the most detailed evidence that Tehran is exporting arms to Yemen and elsewhere. The draft report prepared by a U.N. Security Council panel of experts on Yemen said small wooden boats and overland transport were used in attempts to smuggle weapons made in Russia, China and Iran along routes to Yemen that the U.S. has tried for years to shut down.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Illicit Iranian oil shipments jumped by 40 percent in 2021, with China and Syria the top importers of this heavily sanctioned crude, according to figures published by a watchdog group that highlight the Biden administration's lax enforcement of U.S. sanctions. From 2020 to 2021—when the Biden administration began negotiations with Iran surrounding a revamped nuclear deal and began to unwind sanctions on the hardline regime—Iranian oil exports increased by 123 million barrels, or 40 percent, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which closely tracks Tehran's armada of illegal oil tankers.
…United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group that seeks to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons, issued a statement on Friday condemning Mousavian. “Princeton scholar Hossein Mousavian … recently sounded gleeful over the fact that American citizens and their families were concerned by death threats received from supporters of the Iranian regime in a documentary … UANI strongly condemns Mousavian and calls upon Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber to dismiss him from any association or affiliation with Princeton without delay,” the statement said.
…In a Friday statement condemning Mousavian, advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) called on Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber “to dismiss him from any association or affiliation with Princeton without delay”, noting that “Ambassador Mousavian’s affiliation with Princeton is a stain on the university’s reputation and credibility”. Late in December, an American academic who was imprisoned in Iran for 1,216 days, said Mousavian is sympathetic to the Iranian regime, claiming that he stymied efforts to free him from prison. Mousavian, who traveled to Iran to attend the funeral service of Soleimani, was Tehran’s ambassador to Germanywhen four Iranian dissidents were assassinated at Berlin's Mykonos restaurant in 1992.
…From 2020 to 2021—when the Biden administration began negotiations with Iran surrounding a revamped nuclear deal and began to unwind sanctions on the hardline regime—Iranian oil exports increased by 123 million barrels, or 40 percent, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which closely tracks Tehran’s armada of illegal oil tankers. China was by far the top importer, signaling a growing alliance between the two rogue regimes. Beijing took in a total of 310 million barrels of crude oil and gas condensates from January to September of last year, according to UANI.
… United Against a Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group critical of the Iranian regime, called on Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber to fire Mousavian "from any association or affiliation with Princeton without delay." Mousavian "sounded gleeful over the fact that American citizens and their families were concerned by death threats received from supporters of the Iranian regime," former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) and former U.S. ambassador Mark Wallace, UANI’s leaders, said in a statement. They also called Mousavian’s role at Princeton a "stain on the university’s reputation and credibility." "At a time in which the U.S. intelligence community assesses that the Islamic Republic is working to develop networks for terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, there should be no room at Princeton or any other U.S. institution for Ambassador Mousavian," Lieberman and Wallace said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Israel will not be bound by any nuclear deal with Iran and will continue to consider itself free to act against its nemesis if necessary. "In regard to the nuclear talks in Vienna, we are definitely concerned ... Israel is not a side to the agreements. Israel is not bound by what will be written in the agreements, if they are signed, and Israel will continue to maintain full freedom of action anywhere any time, with no constraints," he said in public remarks in a briefing to a parliamentary committee.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday about the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran. Six weeks after the pair met in Paris, Lapid and Macron “held a long conversation,” according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The discussion centered on “nuclear talks and Israel’s demand to put pressure on Iran,” said Lapid. His office said the two also discussed bilateral ties and that Macron “reiterated his commitment to the security of Israel and emphasized the importance he places on the warm relationship between Israel and France.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The World Bank has approved $90 million in additional financing for Iran, to help fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, a spokesperson said Friday. The Washington-based development lender's board of directors approved the aid on December 21, a World Bank spokesperson said, which "will be utilized only for procuring additional lifesaving, essential medical equipment to strengthen Iran's pandemic response." "This funding will not go to the Iranian budget and all loan proceeds, as well as procurement and disbursements, are being managed by the World Health Organization," the spokesperson said.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Activists opposed to the Iranian regime celebrating the torching of a statue of former Quds leader Qassem Soleimani, who was taken out in a U.S. strike two years ago, with activists claiming it showed their increased ability to fire back at the regime. The Iranian ISNA news agency carried a statement by officials who said the new statue, in Shahrekord, was set on fire "in a brazen act." The statue had reportedly been unveiled just hours earlier, according to the Times of Israel. Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Forces, was killed by a Jan. 3 U.S. strike in Baghdad, days after Iranian-backed militia supporters stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq.
Hundreds of Iranian judiciary employees gathered in front of the parliament building in Tehran on the second day of protests over the lack of pay raises despite previous government promises. Many in the rare demonstration on January 9 expressed anger at Parliamentary Speaker Mohmmad Baqer Ghalibaf, chanting "liar, liar" and "Ghalibaf, disgrace." Ebrahim Raisi, the ultra-conservative Iranian president who took office in August, had proposed salary increases in the final weeks of his previous job as judicial chief.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran will face severe consequences if it attacks Americans, the White House said on Sunday, including any of those sanctioned by Tehran for the 2020 killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Iran's sanctions on Saturday came as Tehran's proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East. "We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran," Sullivan said in a statement. "Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 52 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences."
Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is slamming President Biden for sidestepping congressional calls for a full accounting on how Iranian sanctions relief bolsters terrorist groups. In comments made exclusively to The Washington Times, Mrs. Haley accused Mr. Biden of concealing the full picture of U.S. sanctions relief as he attempts to reengage Iran in nuclear talks. “It is irresponsible and downright dangerous for President Biden to go against Congress to get back into the Iran deal,” she said.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The spokesman for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Saturday that Iran’s recent show of force in military drills was acting as a deterrent for Israel’s “empty threats” against Tehran. Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif claimed that Israel had subdued its rhetoric against Iran in the wake of military drills held by Tehran. Most recently, Tehran held a five-day annual exercise last month which culminated in the firing of multiple ballistic missiles that generals said were a warning to Israel and included a mock strike on Israel’s nuclear facility.
CHINA & IRAN
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will visit China by the end of the week to discuss the 25-year cooperation agreement signed by the two countries, the spokesman of the foreign ministry told a news conference in Tehran on Monday. China and Iran signed in March 2021 a "comprehensive strategic partnership" agreement to boost economic and political relations. China became a lifeline for Iran's economy after the U.S. withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear agreement agreed between major powers and Tehran.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said Saturday that the Houthi militias continue to violate international navigation in the Red Sea through acts of piracy backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Houthis' use of civilian sites as fortresses will turn Hodeidah and Salif ports into legitimate military targets, the Coalition said. "We do not want to target the ports... We want to reach a comprehensive political solution, but when they use civilian sites... they forfeit the immunity... thus it (Hodeidah and Salif ports) will be a legitimate military target,” Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Malki said in a press conference.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iran is still some time away from officially recognising the Taliban as the government of neighbouring Afghanistan, its foreign ministry says, after a meeting with the group in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Sunday’s high-level talks with Taliban representatives were “positive”, but Iran is still “not at the point of officially recognising Taliban”. “The current condition of Afghanistan is a major concern for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the visit of the Afghan delegation was within the framework of these concerns,” he added in a press conference on Monday.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran said on Friday it was prepared to hold bilateral talks with concerned countries over a Ukrainian airliner downed by its forces in 2020, ignoring a joint statement on reparations made by Canada and other states whose citizens were killed. Canada, Britain, Sweden and Ukraine said on Thursday they had abandoned efforts to talk to Tehran about reparations for an airliner brought down by Iran and would try to settle the matter according to international law. Most of the 176 people killed when Iran shot down the Ukrainian airliner in January 2020 were citizens from those four nations, which formed a group aiming to hold Tehran to account.