Iran’s parliament gave preliminary approval to draft legislation that could end inspections of its nuclear sites by early next year, a move that would further weaken the country’s commitment to an already fragile nuclear deal. Inspections by international monitors would be restricted if U.S. oil and banking sanctions aren’t lifted within three month’s of the bill’s approval. The proposal still requires final approval by parliament and the Guardian Council that vets laws. In accordance with the multi-party nuclear pact struck five years ago, Iran agreed to give United Nations inspectors more intrusive access to atomic sites.
Amid vows to avenge the killing of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran's leadership promised Monday to push ahead with its nuclear program while casting doubt on the future of negotiations with the West. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination — and the pressure now on Iran’s leadership to retaliate after an embarrassing security failure — could undermine President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to return to a negotiated nuclear deal with Iran and world powers. President Trump left the pact in 2018 while ratcheting up economic sanctions and pressure on Iran.
An air strike killed a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards at the Iraq-Syria border sometime between Saturday and Sunday, Iraqi security and local militia officials said on Monday. They could not confirm the identity of the commander, who they said was killed alongside three other men travelling in a vehicle with him. The vehicle was carrying weapons across the Iraqi border and was hit after it had entered Syrian territory, two Iraqi security officials separately said.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…When, how and if such a reprisal could occur has world leaders – and critical players in the region – on edge. "The calculation is that the Iranians are unlikely to respond now because they want to preserve the option for future talks due to the economic problems of the country," Jason Brodsky, the policy director for United Against a Nuclear Iran (UNAI), told Fox News. "Nevertheless, the assassination could impact the political debate in Iran in the near-term, further weakening Rouhani's already eroded domestic political standing."
…Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, a watchdog group that tracks Tehran's nuclear progress, said the nuclear deal has not deescalated tension in the region. "The argument that the JCPOA deescalates tensions in the region is fundamentally untrue," Brodsky told the Washington Free Beacon. "The experience of the JCPOA has shown that nuclear-related sanctions relief today risks non-nuclear destabilization tomorrow." Since the deal was inked, Iran has sent troops to several Middle Eastern nations and armed the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon. Brodsky also pointed out that Fakhrizadeh "wasn't a civilian," an important distinction when discussing killings of this nature.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Biden administration will "try to revitalize" the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland predicted Monday. “The Iran nuclear deal, which was the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement, really was kind of all smoke and mirrors," McFarland told "America's Newsroom." "There was never anything to it. It didn’t stop Iran’s nuclear program, it delayed it a few years." McFarland added that rather than “stopping” Iran’s “terrorism program,” the agreement “endorsed and supported it.”
France, Germany and the UK must move quickly to set out a roadmap for Iran and the incoming Biden administration in the US to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal, some of Europe’s leading diplomats have said. They warn that unless the three countries, known as the E3, coordinate a joint public statement setting out what both sides must do to end the impasse, there is a real risk that Joe Biden will come to power facing only escalating tensions with Iran.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said he expected an OPEC meeting on Monday to be difficult because of differences of opinion over whether to extend existing oil cuts from January, when OPEC+ is due to start increasing output. He told an Iranian journalist in Tehran before the meeting, which is being held virtually, that “some members” had different views. “This makes it difficult,” the minister said. Iran is exempt from the OPEC+ cuts.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Freed academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has paid tribute to her family, friends and colleagues who campaigned for her release while she was held in Iranian prisons for more than two years. After 804 days in prison on espionage charges widely dismissed as baseless, Moore-Gilbert was released last week in a complex and dramatic prisoner swap for three convicted Iranian bombers in prison in Thailand. Through the Twitter account of a campaign group, Moore-Gilbert posted: “I honestly do not know where to start or how I can ever thank you for all of your incredible efforts to campaign for my release.
"We were told at the Ministry of Intelligence that 'it was a simple mistake,'" prominent Iranian writer Farkhondeh Hajizadeh says in an interview with Radio Farda. "By a simple mistake, they killed, dismembered, and mutilated two people," Farkhondeh is the sister of Hamid Hajizadeh, a poet and teacher from Kerman, who was stabbed to death on September 22, 1998, along with his nine-year-old son, Karoun, in his house.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
President Donald Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner will travel to the Middle East this week amid heightened tensions over the assassination of a top Iranian scientist who had been credited with overseeing Tehran's now moribund covert nuclear program. Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, will travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a source familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY. The trip was first reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. The official said Kushner's trip will be focused on healing a long-standing rift between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Iranian defense minister vowed on Monday to find and punish those responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, while another senior official offered an account of the attack radically different from initial reports in the Iranian state news media. “We chase the criminals to the end,” the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, said at a ceremony mourning Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot and killed outside Tehran last Friday while traveling with his bodyguards. Iranian state news outlets initially reported that gunmen had killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck explosion — and even interviewed a supposed witness.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A top Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to remotely kill a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic's military nuclear program in the 2000s. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, made the comment at the funeral for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, where Iran's defense minister separately vowed to continue the man’s work “with more speed and more power.” Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.