Iran said on Monday it will block snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from next week if other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal do not uphold their obligations, a challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden’s hope of reviving the accord. “If others do not fulfil their obligations by Feb. 21, the government is obliged to suspend the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “It does not mean ending all inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog...All these steps are reversible if the other party changes its path and honours its obligations,” he said, alluding to the United States.
Iranian and Russian militaries have kicked off a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean aimed at boosting security of maritime trade in the region, Iran’s state TV reported on Tuesday. The TV said units from Iran’s Navy and the powerful Revolutionary Guard’s navy will take part in the exercise dubbed “Iran-Russia Maritime Security Belt 2021” in the northern part of Indian Ocean, spanning a stretch of about a 17,000 kilometers (10,600 miles).
When Ethiopia’s intelligence agency recently uncovered a cell of 15 people it said were casing the embassy of the United Arab Emirates, along with a cache of weapons and explosives, it claimed to have foiled a major attack with the potential to sow havoc in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. But the Ethiopians omitted a key detail about the purported plot: who was behind it. The only clue was the arrest of a 16th person: Accused of being the ringleader, Ahmed Ismail had been picked up in Sweden with the cooperation of friendly “African, Asian and European intelligence services,” the Ethiopians said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran reiterated Monday that its opposition to nuclear weapons was official policy as laid down by its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the wake of controversial remarks by a minister. "Iran's position remains unchanged. Iran's nuclear activities have always been peaceful and will remain peaceful," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference. "The supreme leader's fatwa banning weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons is still valid," he added, referring to Khamenei's religious edict.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran said an attempt by the U.S. government to seize 2 million barrels of oil aboard a Greek-owned tanker was “an act of piracy,” as tensions between Washington and the Islamic Republic show little sign of easing under Joe Biden’s presidency. Washington claims the crude on the Achilleas ship was exported covertly by Tehran to avoid U.S. trade sanctions. The Department of Justice filed a suit in a U.S. court this month, alleging Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps disguised the oil’s origin and made it seem as if it came from Iraq.
Iran’s oil reserves risk becoming stranded assets unless the new U.S. administration eases sanctions that have left the country lagging rivals in output capacity and losing a race against time as the transition to low carbon energy gathers pace. Iran, which sits on the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, relies heavily on oil revenue, but sanctions have prevented it from pumping at anywhere near capacity since 2018. The penalties were tightened under former U.S. president Donald Trump and although the new President Joe Biden is more conciliatory, top officials in his administration have said Washington would not take a quick decision on any deal with Iran.
Iran’s army test fired a sophisticated short-range missile on Sunday, state media reported. The report by the official IRNA news agency quoted the chief of the army’s ground forces, Gen. Kioumars Heidari, as saying that the missile’s range was 300 kilometers, or 186 miles. Gen. Heidari said the “smart” missile is capable to work in under “any weather condition.” He did not say where the test took place. Iran’s national army controls short-range missiles, although longer-range ones capable of travelling up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) — far enough to reach archenemy Israel and U.S. military bases — are controlled by the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Pensioners and retired government employees staged protests on February 14 in more than a dozen cities across Iran to complain over their financial situation and their state pension, which they said is insufficient to cover the rising cost of living, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported. Retirees of the State Welfare Organization protested in the capital Tehran, Karaj, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz, and several other cities while calling for an increase of their pensions, which they said leave them below the poverty line.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran has expressed concern over reports that the country has subjected lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children to “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” In a report released last week, Javaid Rehman said such practices, which violate Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reportedly include “electric shocks and the administration of hormones and strong psychoactive medications.”
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
President Biden had managed to assemble his foreign policy team with remarkably little trouble — until last week. His picks to lead the State and Defense Departments, and to fill senior intelligence posts, drew little controversy and almost no Republican opposition. But a political crossfire erupted when the Biden administration announced the selection of Robert Malley to be its envoy for Iran. The choice of Mr. Malley, a longtime diplomat and conflict mediator, instantly resurrected a bitter Washington debate about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abrogated by President Donald J. Trump and whether to restore it.
The State Department is refusing to provide details or even confirm statements by the Chinese government indicating the U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley recently spoke to Communist Party officials about the Biden administration’s efforts to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord. Chinese vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu "had a phone conversation with U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley at the latter's request, and the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on the Iranian nuclear issue," China’s foreign ministry announced late last week.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's head of the judiciary, Ibrahim Raisi, is currently the conservatives’ leading candidate, even though he has not officially announced his nomination for the presidential elections scheduled for next June. Last week, the election committee announced it will receive candidacy applications between May 11 and 15, before the Guardian Council announces the final selection for the presidential race at the end of May. The Combatant Clergy Association, Iran’s leading conservative clerical association, supports the candidacy of Raisi for the 2021 presidential election, announced its spokesman.
CONGRESS & IRAN
More than 100 Democratic and Republican House lawmakers have called on President Biden to “remain firm” in holding the Iranian government accountable for its destabilizing activities in the region, including its nuclear program, and hold it accountable for human rights violations. The bipartisan letter was sent to the president Thursday and corresponded with the introduction of a resolution co-sponsored by 112 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reaffirming U.S. support for Iranian civil society.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Qatar’s foreign minister met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a rare high-level visit by a Persian Gulf Arab official to Tehran, signaling a push to end the crisis between Iran and the U.S. that last year threatened to touch off war. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Monday that Qatar was ready to play a “key and effective role” following a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to a statement released by Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
Saudi-led Arab coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the Houthi militias in Yemen do not have the power to make independent decisions as they are being controlled by Iran. In remarks to Al Arabiya, he said the Houthis are part of Iran’s political games and their actions demonstrate that they are waging its proxy war. He added that the Houthis’ claiming of the February 10 attack against Saudi Arabia’s Abha international airport proves their “lack of political or legal understanding” of the consequences of their actions.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
A fuel tanker exploded Saturday afternoon at a crowded border post in western Afghanistan, setting off an enormous fire that spread to more than 100 other tankers as intense flames slowed the response of firefighters and rescue vehicles, Afghan officials reported. The officials said they had not determined what caused the first tanker to explode at the Islam-Qala customs post on the border with Iran shortly after noon. They expressed alarm Saturday evening that the fire was rapidly spreading at the congested customs complex and could engulf hundreds more tankers lined up at the border.
nkers lined up at the border.