In less than nine months, an assassin on a motorbike fatally shot an Al Qaeda commander given refuge in Tehran, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist was machine-gunned on a country road, and two separate, mysterious explosions rocked a key Iranian nuclear facility in the desert, striking the heart of the country’s efforts to enrich uranium. The steady drumbeat of attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by Israel, highlighted the seeming ease with which Israeli intelligence was able to reach deep inside Iran’s borders and repeatedly strike its most heavily guarded targets, often with the help of turncoat Iranians.
Negotiators in Vienna have begun drafting proposals for the United States and Iran to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, officials involved in the talks said Monday. “Practical solutions are still far away,” Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian delegate to the talks, said on Twitter. “But we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal.” Enrique Mora, the European Union diplomat coordinating the discussions, said progress had been made.
Iran said on Monday it would welcome any talks with Saudi Arabia after Iraq intensified its mediation between the feuding Middle Eastern powers at a critical juncture. Tehran sees dialog with the kingdom as “beneficial to the people of both countries and regional peace and stability,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. His comments were echoed by a senior government official in neighboring Iraq, who said Baghdad had pushed for indirect and unofficial talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which cut diplomatic ties in 2016, because of the situation in the region, referring to tensions that have roiled oil markets and fueled wars from Syria to Yemen.
UANI IN THE NEWS
… In an open letter to the Biden administration from the non-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the issue of uranium enrichment was addressed along with the other flaws of the JCPOA. The letter stated, “We must return to the principle of zero enrichment or reprocessing or risk a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
OVER 100 tankers and gas carriers said to be part of Iran’s “rogue armada” of sanctions-skirting ships have been identified by a US non-government organisation. The Washington DC-based United Against Nuclear Iran says the 115 vessels are distinct from the state-owned Iranian fleet of tankers, but are performing the same role as they exploit regulatory loopholes to ship millions of barrels of Iranian oil. The list was included on the UANI website to accompany a blog about the rising number of tankers now deployed on sanctioned trades involved in the practice of flag-hopping.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal. An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
A Russian diplomat taking part in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal said Monday that the negotiations had entered “the drafting stage,” though solutions to some of the issues were “still far away.” The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to in turn step up its nuclear activities.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed trade and economic issues in a meeting in Jakarta on Monday with his Indonesian counterpart, the two countries said. Zarif emphasized the importance of finalizing a preferential trade agreement in his talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. He expressed Iran’s readiness to continue negotiations, it said in a statement. “Supporting the international law as well as exchanging views on the latest developments in the Afghanistan peace process were among other issues discussed in the meeting,” it said.
A high court hearing designed to resolve the UK’s non-payment of a £400m debt to Iran has been postponed again, leaving the families of dual nationals detained in Iran distraught since they believe the debt is critical to their release of loved ones. Neither Iran nor the UK would explain why the court hearing – scheduled for Tuesday – had been postponed. Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is still held in Tehran despite completing a five-year sentence, said he would be demanding an explanation for the postponement from the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
After a period of stagnation, the US and Iran have in recent weeks embarked on negotiations for a mutual return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Until now, Iran has played hardball, demanding that the US move first and fully lift the sanctions it had placed on business with the Islamic Republic. But Iran may not have the economic fortitude that would allow it to sustain its stubbornness and economically survive under sanctions.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Despite it being four months since a New York Times opinion contributor was arrested on charges of operating as an Iranian agent, the Times has not immediately appended a note on the articles under the bylines of the accused, warning readers of his alleged unlawful ties. Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, a political scientist who resides in the United States, was arrested Jan. 18 on charges of “acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of … Iran, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA),” according to the Department of Justice, as previously reported. FARA mandates that agents of foreign countries engaged in political activity in the U.S. must regularly disclose their relationship.
Iranian media announced the death of the Quds Force deputy over the weekend. However, the words used to describe his death have left doubts among citizens and led to speculation about the true cause of his death. Mohammad Hejazi, 62, reportedly died of a heart attack according to Iranian media. Immediately after the announcement, some media outlets began referring to him as a “martyr,” which is a reference only used for individuals who are killed while engaged in official duty. On state television, another theory was put forward.
Satellite images show that four new buildings have gone up at Iran’s Parchin military complex, where explosives experiments related to nuclear weapons were conducted in the early 2000s. The structures are surrounded by steep walls made of compacted earth to deflect explosions, intelligence consultancy group The Intel Lab said. This comes after the completion of the nearby extension in November 2020, comprising a dozen new buildings surrounded by High and Thick concrete blast walls.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
On April 10, an explosion rocked the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran—the most recent salvo in a long-running shadow war between the Islamic Republic and the forces seeking to prevent it from reaching the military nuclear threshold. Foreign media sources attributed the blast to a covert operation by Israel’s Mossad, but no party has officially taken responsibility, and Washington has explicitly denied playing any role. The functional damage to Iran’s nuclear program appears to be significant—but Iran’s nuclear ambitions have hit a speed bump, not a brick wall.
TURKEY & IRAN
Iranian dissidents in Turkey are unsure whether the country is still a refuge after what appears to be a new wave of arrests and deportation orders targeting asylum seekers from the Islamic Republic. Afshin Sohrabzadeh, 31, a Kurdish political activist, faced torture and solitary confinement during seven years in prison in Iran before he managed to escape during a hospital visit and flee across the border to Turkey in 2016, followed by his wife the following year.