The families of four U.S. citizens detained in Iran years ago on espionage charges are appealing to President Biden to secure their release, as nuclear talks with Tehran that were expected to include their release have stalled. Their request follows the release in March of two British citizens imprisoned in Iran since 2016 and last month’s release of U.S. national Trevor Reed, who had been detained in Russia since 2019. “We implore you, Mr. President, to fulfill a priority you, your administration, and Congress have repeatedly stated of bringing home our American hostages still held in Iran,” the families wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The European Union's coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held talks in Tehran on Wednesday with the Islamic republic's chief negotiator, state media reported. The meeting between Mora and Iranian Deputy Vice President Ali Bagheri is "currently taking place", according to state news agency IRNA, which circulated pictures of the encounter without providing further details. Talks between world powers and Iran have stalled since mid-March as negotiators seek to return to the landmark accord that curtailed the Islamic republic's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Shortly before the European Union envoy met Iran’s nuclear negotiator in Tehran on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to salvage Iran’s atomic deal with world powers, the country’s Intelligence Ministry announced that authorities have detained two Europeans. Photos surfaced of the EU coordinator of the nuclear talks, Enrique Mora, looking stern as he shook hands awkwardly with Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, who beamed and waved. The Intelligence Ministry gave scant details about the detained Europeans, saying only that they shared the same nationality, which was not identified, and sought to “take advantage” of the protests springing up in several Iranian provinces as laborers and teachers press for better wages.
UANI IN THE NEWS
A Russian-flagged oil tanker stuck off the Greek island of Evia since April 8 has changed its flag, BIRN has found out, most likely to avoid EU and US sanctions on Moscow. Claire Jungman, head of the US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, UANI, told BIRN that the Lana “is now flying an Iranian flag while anchored in Greek waters”. Many Russian vessels have changed flags lately to conceal their ties to Moscow and avoid being sanctioned, Bloomberg has reported. Miltiadis Sarigiannidis, Associate Law Professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, told BIRN: “Changing the Russian flag for an Iranian one may be a Russian manoeuver to facilitate Russians exports”.
… “Is this the way to negotiate? Mora should go home,” one of the 52 American diplomats Iran held hostage in 1979, Barry Rosen, told the Sun. Ever since that hostage crisis at the onset of the Khomeini revolution, the Islamic Republic has used the arrest, torture, and execution of Westerners as one of its top tools for advancing diplomacy. “The Iranian regime’s threat to execute Ahmadreza Djalali and its most recent move to detain more European nationals are simply more examples of its heinous proclivity to take hostages to use as political leverage to accomplish its goals,” Mr. Rosen said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The lifting of the foreign terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a matter unrelated to the Iran nuclear deal, a senior US State Department official has said. Speaking exclusively to The National, State Department Counsellor Derek Chollet said that a “clear offer” has been made to the Iranians “after weeks of painstaking negotiations”. He added that “the ball is in Iran's court right now”. However, the Iranians have yet to respond to the offer, as they seek to expand the benefits reaped from a potential deal, including removing the IRGC from the US blacklist of foreign terrorist organisations, a listing dating back to 2019 under president Donald Trump.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has set about major reforms in the country’s subsidies system amid continued efforts to give new momentum to stalled talks aimed at restoring the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The president announced, during a televised late-night interview on Monday, that he is gradually transforming a subsidies system introduced by his predecessor to stabilise prices in the face of sanctions, but that mostly ended up breeding corruption.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) director, Rafael Grossi, announced that he was “extremely concerned” about Iran’s refusal to disclose its full nuclear activity in recent weeks. The announcement comes as the months-long nuclear negotiations between the “P5+1” powers and Iran have stalled in Vienna. To revive the talks, Enrique Mora, the European Union’s representative at the Vienna talks, is scheduled to visit Tehran and meet with Iranian officials to discuss ways to break the deadlock. Grossi told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the IAEA had been “trying to clarify a number of still open matters with Iran”—so far without success.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Venezuelan oil production is set to get a boost from record inflows of Iranian crude used to improve the quality of the Latin American nation’s supplies. Iran has delivered 6.8 million barrels of oil to beleaguered Venezuela this year, a 48% increase over the full-year 2021 figure. Most of the Iranian shipments involved a lightweight type of oil known as condensate that the Venezuelans mix with the local sludgy crude to produce Merey 16, the country’s most-exported crude grade. State oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA has been relying on Persian cargoes to boost domestic production and finance President Nicolas Maduro’s administration.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Vida Mehrannia is trying to save her husband’s life. Iran is scheduled to put him to death within nine days — by May 21. To Iran, the 50-year-old Ahmad Reza Jalali is a spy for Israel. To his colleagues, he is a respected physician specialized in disaster medicine, a most demanding field. To Mehrannia, he is a beloved husband. “It’s a nightmare,” she told The Associated Press from Stockholm, where she lives with her 10-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter who have not seen their father in the six years since his arrest. “They want to sacrifice my husband.”
Iran's intelligence ministry said on Wednesday it arrested two European nationals for allegedly fomenting "insecurity" in the country, state media reported, as the EU pushes to revive Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. The pair were accused of "organising chaos and social disorder aimed at destabilising (Iran)" in conjunction with foreign intelligence services, state TV cited the ministry as saying, without revealing their nationalities. The arrests coincided with a visit to Tehran by the European Union's Iran nuclear talks coordinator Enrique Mora, who held talks with his Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri Kani, according to Iranian media.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An Iranian satellite placed into orbit earlier this year reportedly has sent back a photo of the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain as part of its first batch of high-resolution images. The Noor 2 satellite, which was launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in March, also captured photos of the southern Iranian provinces of Fars and Bushehr, Press TV is reporting, citing the IRNA news agency. "Who would have thought that one day an Iranian satellite stationed at an orbit of 311 miles can carry out color imaging from the entire surface of the Earth and send the images to ground stations that have also been built by the Iranian youth," Issa Zarepour, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, reportedly wrote in an Instagram post.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Iranian government’s decision to cut subsidies for imported wheat has led to a spike in the cost of flour and flour-based products, including bread, pasta, and confectioneries. The move by the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi has sparked widespread anger. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has supported the measures. Other hard-liners have said that food prices should be controlled, although they have not criticized the decision to cut subsidies.
A group of Iranian archeologists have expressed concern over a bill in parliament that calls for measures to turn Iran into a regional hub for trading antiquities, fearing it will turn the country into a marketplace for illegal trade. In a letter addressed to parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 61 archeology professors called on parliament to scrap the proposal, dubbed the "optimal utilization of ancient objects and treasures," warning it will pave the way for the misuse of historical artifacts and monuments by traffickers and looters.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran's Revolutionary Guards artillery fire hit an area north of the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil on Wednesday, targeting what Iranian state television described as terrorist bases. Iraqi Kurdish media reported that a shell had landed in a village in the Sidekan area near the Iranian border, around 60 miles (100 km) northeast of Erbil. Iraq's foreign ministry condemned the Iranian shelling, which it said targeted some locations in the Sidekan area.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sets the overall direction of the country, so understanding the psychological milieu of the leader and the political establishment is important in interpreting and anticipating Iran’s foreign policy. Khamenei was considered a pragmatist before he became leader in 1989, according to a CIA report published in 1986. However, in office, he took the views of radical Iranian leftists, adopting extremist slogans against the west and the United States.