Iran said on Tuesday it was holding talks on prisoner exchanges with the United States aimed at securing the release of Iranians held in U.S. jails and other countries over violations of U.S. sanctions. "Negotiations are under way on the exchange of prisoners between Iran and America, and we will issue more information if Iranian prisoners are released and the country's interests are secured and the talks reach a conclusion," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said. "Because of its humanitarian aims, Iran is ready to exchange all American political prisoners in exchange for the release of all Iranian prisoners who have been detained around the world at the behest of America," he told a news conference carried on a government website. There was no immediate U.S. comment on his remarks.
An Iranian oil executive removed from U.S. financial blacklists last month because he had resigned from Iran’s national oil company now holds senior positions with two Iranian energy firms linked to the Iranian government, according to company officials and regulatory filings. The executive’s role at the two companies appears to violate U.S. sanctions, analysts said, and is expected to fuel concern among U.S. lawmakers critical of the administration’s Iran policy. Both companies contract with Iran’s state energy firms, including the blacklisted National Iranian Oil Company, and one of the firms is substantially owned by a sanctioned state-owned Iranian bank.
The United States will not impose a deadline on a seventh round of talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, but only Tehran can determine when talks will resume, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday. “We’re not imposing a deadline on these talks, but ... we are conscious that as time proceeds Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of ultimately returning to the JCPOA,” Price said.
UANI IN THE NEWS
… In separate incidents in December and January, two vessels managed by Maersk Tankers almost took on cargoes of Iranian oil whose origin was concealed. The STS operations were halted before the cargoes were transferred after Maersk Tankers was alerted by U.S. pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). UANI, which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic through ship and satellite tracking, said it was aware of multiple illicit oil transfers that affected shipping companies conducting regular trade. "Most often, by the time the STS gets to a large company, such as Maersk Tankers, the vessels have engaged in numerous STS in an attempt to mask the origin of the cargo," Claire Jungman of UANI said.
Thousands of ethnic Afghan foreign fighters with the Iranian-backed Fatemiyoun Division and Zeynabiyoun Brigade have fought and died in Syria’s civil war over the last decade. Shia fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan have been critical not only to Iran’s successful quest to restore Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime, but as an asset for Tehran in its fight for regional primacy against Israel and other rivals. Fatemiyoun fighters will continue to serve on the frontlines of Iran’s proxy wars across the Middle East long into the future. This report assesses what made the IRGC’s transformation of the origin story of Afghan and Pakistani Shia marginalization in South Asia into an effective means of rallying armed proxies to its cause for a generation and turned the Fatemiyoun into a weapon of war against its adversaries in Syria. Based, in part, on a review of the wide array of Persian language battlefield memoirs written by Fatemiyoun fighters as well as social media produced by the Fatemiyoun’s media and cultural affairs unit, this report analyzes the narratives and tropes that have served as a through line in the IRGC’s promotion of proxy propaganda.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Israeli defense establishment believes that Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei has not yet decided whether to adopt the new nuclear deal with the United States. The final decision is in his hands and the chances that it will be signed may diminish after the inauguration of the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, on August 5. The Biden administration has been eager to secure an agreement before Raisi takes office. The original agreement between Western powers and Iran on the restriction of its nuclear project was signed in 2015, but former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
Saudi Arabia and Oman stressed on Monday the importance of good neighborliness and respect of international resolutions to avoid destabilizing the region. They also underscored the need for cooperation and seriously tackling the Iranian nuclear file, as well as its ballistic missile program, read a statement at the conclusion of a visit by Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq to the Kingdom. The two neighbors stressed support to Saudi Arabia’s initiative to resolve the conflict in Yemen and ease the suffering of its people. Both sides exchanged similar views over the need to maintain efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
One of the key defenses of the Biden administration’s strategy toward Iran is that the Trump administration approach, called “maximum pressure,” failed. The Trump approach was based on an assessment of the Iranian economy. The theory was that if Trump won re-election and Iran was faced with four more years of intense economic pressure, it would agree to a serious and comprehensive negotiation. That negotiation would include not only Iran’s nuclear program but its support for terrorism and its missile program.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Reports from Iran say that 1.3 million metric tons of “essential goods” have arrived in Iranian waters but cannot be unloaded because importers have not been able to obtain hard currency from the goverment to pay foreign vendors in full. When Iran’s currency began to depreciate at the beginning of 2017, the government decided to supply cheap dollars to companies that would import food, medicine and other essential goods. The rest of importers had to buy dollars at higher rates. In short, the government began subsidizing essential imports to help citizens survive in the inflationary environment. Importers of essential goods receive each US dollar from the government for 42,000 rials, while the value of the US currency is 250,000 rials on the open exchange market. However, importers often must wait a long time to receive the cheap dollars. Due to US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports the government simply does not have enough dollars to distribute. The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported Monday that besides the 1.3 million tons of goods on ships waiting near Iranian ports, another 5.5 million tons of essential imports are also backed up at ports, again mostly due to lack of foreign currency.
Iran has unveiled a state-sanctioned Islamic dating app aimed at facilitating “lasting and informed marriage” for its youth, state television reported. Called Hamdam – Farsi for “companion” – the service allows users to “search for and choose their spouse”, the broadcaster said on Monday. It is the only state-sanctioned platform of its kind in the Islamic republic, according to Iran’s cyberspace police chief, Colonel Ali Mohammad Rajabi. While dating apps are popular in Iran, Rajabi said that all other platforms apart from Hamdam were illegal.
World-renowned chess player Garry Kasparov has spoken out about the plight of everyday Iranians at the hands of the regime and urged the US to cease negotiations with Iran, calling them a “terrible mistake.” Kasparov, who now works as chairman of the New York-based Human rights Foundation, told an Iranian opposition event attended by Arab News: “For all the foreign interference, terror, and war caused by the illegitimate Iranian regime, it is vital to remember that no one suffers more than the citizens of that regime.”
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to accuse Israel’s ally Jordan of aiding Iran’s nuclear program via a never-implemented pipeline deal Monday. Netanyahu’s comments were aimed at prime minister Naftali Bennett, whose government recently agreed to double the amount of water Israel exports to Jordan, which is experiencing a severe shortage. “[Bennett] doesn’t understand that when he gives King Abdullah water, Abdullah is simultaneously giving oil — to who? To Iran,” said Netanyahu at a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset on Monday.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša may hold the rotating EU Council presidency, but he “does not represent” the EU in foreign policy, the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said Monday — a reaction to comments by Janša that sparked tensions with Iran. Borrell’s unusual statement to reporters came after Janša on Saturday demanded an international inquiry into the 1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners. These killings led to at least 2,000 deaths, according to Amnesty International, with some observers putting the number much higher.
After Switzerland’s president Guy Parmelin congratulated the Islamic Republic of Iran’s designated president Ebrahim Raisi, the Swiss foreign ministry declined Friday to openly condemn the Iranian regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial. In response to a series of detailed The Jerusalem Post press queries sent last week to the Swiss foreign ministry, Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, a ministry spokesman said with respect to Iranian regime antisemitism and Holocaust denial that” Switzerland maintains a critical dialogue with Iran on all issues related to human rights and international law, as it does with many countries with a disputable record.”
The European Union gave almost $18 million in humanitarian aid to Iran as negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal and lift U.S. sanctions remain on hold. In a statement, the EU said “over compliance of pharmaceutical and shipping companies as well as banks with U.S. sanctions, despite humanitarian exemptions” had challenged Iran’s ability to respond to the pandemic and procure essential medical goods. There’s no sign when indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran -- mediated by the EU -- to revive the landmark pact will resume.
The Israeli Parliament’s Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Ram Ben Barak hinted at Israel’s role in a cyberattack attack on Iran’s railway network. On Saturday, Iran’s national railway's website and cargo services were disrupted in a cyberattack. Iran reported unprecedented chaos at stations with hundreds of trains delayed or canceled. Iranian Minister of telecommunications Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi warned about possible cyberattacks though ransomwares. Ben Barak said that Iran continues to launch attacks against Israeli institutions and bodies.