Iran has told the U.N. nuclear watchdog it will dramatically scale back cooperation with it in a week, a report by the agency to its member states showed on Tuesday, ratcheting up protests against U.S. sanctions still choking its economy. Iran has accelerated its breaches of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers in recent months, partly as demanded by a law passed in response to the killing in November of its top nuclear scientist, which Tehran has blamed on its foe Israel.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will discuss the situation regarding Iran at a meeting on Feb. 18 featuring his counterparts from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, said the French foreign ministry on Wednesday. The planned meeting on Thursday comes after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the latest challenge to new President Joe Biden to take the first step towards a thaw.
With tensions rising with Iran, Israel is concerned that the Islamic Republic could deploy up to 200 long-range missiles in Iraq that could be used to attack the Jewish state. Iran is already believed to have hundreds of missiles that can reach Israel. While the chances of a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran are deemed low, heightened tensions in the North amid the possibility of a confrontation in Syria or Lebanon, could also draw Iran to retaliate.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, said the current developments do not mean that the “window is closing on diplomacy”, for Iran’s supreme leader has authorised talks under both hardline and moderate presidencies. “The Rouhani administration is trying to make it appear as if the window for diplomacy is closing,” Brodsky explained, “because the Rouhani presidency is in its final months. But he has an ulterior motive here in trying to bolster his own legacy at home and, in the process, attempting to improve the political fortunes of the pragmatists ahead of Iran’s presidential election.”
…"Iran does not necessarily want to acquire a nuclear weapon, which might call for opposition from the international community, harsh sanctions and a possible attack to dissuade it," said Jordan Steckler, a researcher at the New York-based United Against Nuclear Iran Organization. In an interview with Al-Hurra, Steckler suggested that Iran is "seeking" to acquire nuclear weapons, because this pursuit will provide it with the possibility of development and thus production at a time of its choosing, which would give it the same benefits as possessing a nuclear weapon.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the latest challenge to new President Joe Biden to take the first step towards a thaw. Tehran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, or Iran will take its biggest step yet to violate the nuclear deal -- banning short notice inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Bulgarian customs officials confiscated more than 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of heroin from a ship transporting goods from Iran, prosecutors said Tuesday. The drugs were divided in 487 packages and hidden among asphalt rollers the ship was carrying, prosecutor Vladimir Chavdarov. Customs officials in the Black Sea port of Varna valued the seized heroin at 18 million euros ($22 million). Two Bulgarian men - the owner of the receiving company and a customs officer - were detained and could face up to 20 years in jail, if convicted on drug trafficking charges.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian human rights activists and journalists said on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic killed a Dervish prisoner of conscience after he was forcibly sent to a psychiatric clinic that disrupted his medical treatment. Video footage reviewed by The Jerusalem Post showed the mother of Ebrahim Ketabdar, who was murdered during the 2019 massacre of Iranian protestors, stating: "Today, these murderers killed Behnam Mahjoubi. When I went to court they said: 'We did a good thing by killing your son.’”
The UK has joined 57 other countries in denouncing “coercive diplomacy,” while calling on Iran to release dual nationals detained for political purposes, after a virtual conference on Monday. A declaration proposed by Canada, and joined by the US, Australia and almost all of the EU, called for the end of “the practice of arbitrary arrest, detention or sentencing to exercise leverage over foreign governments.” The declaration made no reference to any specific country, but UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab singled out Iran in a statement afterwards.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday “the path to diplomacy is open right now” with Iran over its 2015 nuclear deal but would not address whether the Biden administration has had any direct engagement with Iranian officials. “The path to diplomacy is open right now. Iran is still a ways away from being in compliance (with the deal). So we’ll have to see what it does,” Blinken told National Public Radio according to a transcript provided by the broadcaster. Asked if there was any move under way to resume direct diplomacy, Blinken pointed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s public stance that if Iran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal the United States would do so too.
It is still too soon to know whether the foreign policy of the Biden administration will fall on the left or the right side of the liberal internationalist consensus among centrist Democrats. Indeed, U.S. President Joe Biden’s team can’t know the answer themselves, for it is only in reaction to unforeseen events that a president’s foreign policy fully reveals itself. Nevertheless, there are telltale signs, and both sides are eager to assign them meaning.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran said the number of patients confirmed to have contracted a variant of the coronavirus originating in the UK has risen to 17. According to the Iranian Health Ministry’s Public Relations Director, Kianoush Jahanpour, at least seven of those cases were identified in Qazvin province, 150 kilometers west of the capital Tehran. Elsewhere, Health Minister Saeed Namaki sounded louder alarm on those new cases, saying he believes that the real number of the cases caused by the new mutation is greater than what has been established.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
As US President Joe Biden works to revive the landmark Iranian nuclear agreement, Israel’s envoy to the United States suggested Tuesday that Israel may not consult with the new administration on its steps to reenter. Biden has pledged to engage with allies and partners, including Israel, before making any moves to join the deal. But Reuters reports that some Israeli officials believe consulting with the Biden administration could backfire for Israel “by falsely signaling its consent for any new deal that it still opposes.”
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran has an opportunity to help resolve the conflict in Yemen, said U.S. special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking on Tuesday while calling for the Islamic Republic to “put its best foot forward” amid the Biden administration’s renewed push for diplomacy. Iran is the primary backer of the militant-separatist Houthis who control the north of Yemen and are engaged in a more than six-year civil war against the internationally recognized and Saudi-backed government in the south.
IRAQ & IRAN
The United States said on Tuesday that creating a conducive environment for elections in Iraq later this year includes tackling Iran-backed militias, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the country and remaining Islamic State elements. Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq that one of the highest barriers to creating a conducive environment for credible, peaceful and inclusive elections “is the presence of armed militias, violent extremists and spoilers.”
Iran said on Tuesday it opposed any acts that harmed Iraq's security and denied suggestions by some Iraqi officials that it had any link to a little-known group that has claimed responsibility for an attack on U.S.-led forces in the country. "Iran considers Iraq's stability and security as a key issue for the region... and rejects any action that disturbs the peace and order in that country," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state media. He condemned "suspicious attempts to attribute (the attack) to Iran.”