Iran said Thursday it would abandon constraints on nuclear research set out in the 2015 nuclear deal, in another violation of the accord that raises the risk of its collapse as Europe pursues efforts to salvage it with sanctions relief for Tehran. Iran's move comes after the Trump administration appeared to dismiss efforts led by France to throw Tehran a possible $15 billion economic lifeline in return for its full compliance with the nuclear accord.
The U.S. has placed new sanctions on Iran and a top American official has said more measures will follow, further restricting the Islamic Republic's ability to export oil. Iran is exporting a fraction of the crude it previously shipped because of sanctions and the U.S. may look to tighten the flow of other oil products next. The U.S. Treasury Department imposed new restrictions on a shipping network controlled by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Wednesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated that "dropping sanctions against Iran is not going to happen at this time." Trump made the remark during a telephone conversation with his French Counterpart President Emmanuel Macron, Special assistant to the President of and white House deputy press secretary Judd Deere tweeted on Thursday August 5. Deere added that the two Presidents agreed it was imperative "to curb Iran's actions threatening freedom of navigation and commerce in the Persian Gulf."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran's foreign minister has defended his country's plan to take further steps away from a 2015 nuclear deal if Europe fails to provide solution on reviving it. Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking Friday at a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta. Zarif did not say what exact steps his country will take as a deadline it gave Europeans to save the deal is to expire on Friday. He said the measures that his country has taken are in response to U.S. sanctions, which he called economic terrorism.
The state-run IRNA news agency is reporting that Iran will halt its commitments on research and development as a third step to move away from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. IRNA said the Foreign Ministry announced the move from a detail in a letter from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The report said further details would be announced later. Iran has yet to say officially what exact steps it will take as a deadline it gave Europeans to salvage the deal is to expire Friday.
Germany said on Friday it was not too late for Iran to change course after Tehran earlier said it had taken a step to further downgrade its commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal. "We urge Iran not to aggravate the situation further," a German Foreign Ministry spokesman told a regular news conference in Berlin. "It is not too late for Iran to leave the wrong path it has gone down."
France's foreign ministry on Thursday called on Iran to refrain from any concrete action that does not comply with its 2015 nuclear deal obligations after Tehran said it would develop centrifuges for faster uranium enrichment. "Iran must refrain from any concrete action that is not in line with its commitments and that may hinder de-escalation efforts," Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily online briefing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed during a meeting in London on the need to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, Downing Street said on Thursday. "Both Prime Ministers agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilizing Iranian behavior. The Prime Minister stressed the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Iran said it would violate the 2015 nuclear deal for the third time in four months and set a new November deadline for additional potential violations, if a French compromise does not materialize. Statements by both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Wednesday indicated that Tehran would start using more of its advanced centrifuges in violation of the deal.
Moving further away from the 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran said Thursday it had stopped honoring the deal's limits on research and development, a potentially important breach of the accord. The step was Iran's third retaliatory suspension of compliance with a provision of the accord since President Trump renounced it last year and reimposed severe sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's economy. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, conveyed the country's latest step in a letter to Federica Mogherini, the top foreign policy official of the European Union, who has been trying to save the nuclear deal from unraveling.
Despite exchanges of reassurances by Hezbollah and the Israeli government that they were not seeking war, the Israeli army announced the transfer of Patriot missile batteries to bolster its air defenses and maintained a partial state of alert. Its former chief of staff, Dan Halutz, said the situation was tense on the border and could explode at every moment.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday warned that anyone around the world who helps fuel Iranian vessels blacklisted by Washington runs the risk of being designated as well. The Treasury Department blacklisted the Adrian Darya, a tanker at the center of a confrontation between Washington and Tehran, on Aug. 30. Washington has warned that it would regard any assistance given to the ship as support for a terrorist group, namely, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Figures received by Radio Farda from Kpler, a data intelligence firm show Iran's oil exports in August declined to 160,000 barrels per day, versus 365,000 in July. Last year in August Iran exported around two million bpd; before the United States imposed oil sanctions in November. Kpler's figures indicate Iran exported 22 thousand bpd to Turkey, 33 thousand to Syria and 105 thousand to China during August.
Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson for the State Department, addressed on FOX Business' "Bulls & Bears" what the United States' overall point of maximum pressure should be toward Iran and China. The former Fox News anchor broke down the "Rewards for Justice Program," a $15-million package awarded to individuals who can find information pertaining to Iran's financial networks and oil sectors. The program was introduced one year after President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
"They are the exporter of instability across the region," US Secretary of Defense Mattis, his voice gruff and no-nonsense as usual, said in late July 2018. He was talking about Iran. On Syria, he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Keep your eye on the ball." There were some nations, such as Russia and Iran, keeping Assad in power. "Our job is to try to find a way in the midst of this chaos to help the innocent people."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A Norway-based Iranian human rights organization reports that 38 people were executed in Iran in August, double the rate in the same period last year. Iran Human Rights (IHR) says based on information it has collected 32 of those executed were convicted of first-degree murder, six were hanged for major narcotics and drug trafficking convictions. Two prisoners were executed on charges of "Moharebeh", which in Islamic law means "waging war against God".
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that it appeared Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held, days after U.S. President Donald Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York. "It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it'll play out that way," Esper said at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.
A U.S. official offered several million dollars to the captain of an Iranian oil tanker reportedly heading to Syria. The State Department confirmed to The Hill that Brian Hook, head of the Iran Action Group, emailed the captain of the Adrian Darya 1 about sailing the tanker out of its course so the U.S. could seize the ship. The tanker in question was suspected of carrying oil to Syria and was impounded in July by U.K. authorities in Gibraltar.
The State Department is offering $15 million in reward money for information on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) illicit financial networks and oil sector. The new measure is part of the department's Rewards for Justice Program, which coincides with the Treasury Department's latest sanctions on an oil shipping network with ties to Iran's guards.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared resigned on Thursday to a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, after voicing opposition to world powers opening a dialogue with Iran. The Israeli leader, who earlier in the day asserted that this was not the time to hold talks with Iran, said he recognized the possibility of a Trump-Rouhani meeting, and that it was not up to him to tell Trump with whom he could meet.
US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell on Friday demanded the German government ban Hezbollah in its entirety, saying that the Lebanese paramilitary organization sponsors terrorism and anti-Semitism. In an op-ed published in the German daily Die Welt, Grenell called Hezbollah Iran's "most-violent terrorist representatives," who have "murdered innocent people" for 37 years. It is not the first time Grenell has asked Germany to ban the organization.
CHINA & IRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's visit to the G-7 summit in France late last month was a surprise to many in the West. Some even viewed it as a good omen. But for the Iranian leadership, Zarif's quick trip to Biarritz was always a long shot and with little chance to turn the tide in the U.S.-Iranian standoff. Such doubts were confirmed in the days that followed. U.S. President Donald Trump's administration still refuses to lift sanctions on Iranian oil, and Tehran will not engage in direct talks with Washington until some unequivocal relief from sanctions is first provided by the U.S. side.
IRAQ & IRAN
The Iraqi militia group Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), announced the formation of their own air force on Thursday, September 5. A statement by the PMF, a close ally of Iran, circulated through Iraqi news outlets said PMF's deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes ordered the formation of the air force directorate, appointing Salah Mahdi Hantoush as its caretaker. The decision comes a few weeks after a series of suspicious air raids targeted PMF locations in Baghdad and other provinces of Iraq.
Iraqi journalists, activists and researchers are facing a wave of accusations and threats by shadowy online groups they suspect are linked to powerful pro-Iran factions. Parties, armed groups and even officials in Iraq benefit from legions of supporters dubbed "electronic armies," which take to social media to anonymously sing their praises or mock their detractors.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Benjamin Netanyahu has met Boris Johnson in London as part of a drive to discourage world powers from dialogue with Iran. The Israeli prime minister was in Downing Street with his preoccupied British counterpart on Thursday for 29 minutes, but speaking ahead of the substantive discussions, Netanyahu said he wished to discuss Iran and Johnson voiced his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu praised Johnson for his "staunch stance against antisemitism and ... support for Israel's security".