The Iran nuclear deal frayed further Wednesday after President Hassan Rouhani said his country was unlikely to reach a much-anticipated agreement with Europe this week and would unveil further plans to boost its atomic activities. At the same time, Rouhani added that Tehran would give the Europeans two more months to find a way around punishing U.S. sanctions on its oil exports, a sign he was in no rush to scuttle the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.
Iran has established a new military base in Syria and has plans to house thousands of troops at the location, according to multiple Western intelligence sources. The classified Iranian project, called the Imam Ali compound, was approved by top leadership in Tehran and is being completed by the Iranian al-Quds Forces. Using a civilian satellite company, Fox News verified the information and obtained images that show a base being constructed on the Syria-Iraq border.
The State Department imposed sanctions against Iran's space program on Tuesday following a failed attempt to launch a rocket last week, which the U.S. suspects was an effort to advance its ballistic missile program. The failed launch drew tweets from President Trump, who posted a photo of the failure and said the U.S. didn't have any role in the incident. In a statement, the State Department said the new sanctions are the first to target Iran's civilian space agency.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Over the past two weeks, we have seen a serious escalation of tensions on Israel's norther border with Lebanon. Whereas the western media is focusing on day-to-day events on the border, few analysts have bothered to connect the dots and analyze these developments in the wider context of Iran's dangerous long-term strategy for Israel.
America does not seek to confront Iran, but it cannot shirk its responsibilities to protect its national interests. Standing up to what amounts to guerilla tactics requires the resolve of the world's most powerful naval force and US allies must line up beside it, shoulder to shoulder, to thwart aggression from Tehran. Iran is a nation that craves power and the ability to impose fear. America and its allies must combat Iran's ability to achieve either.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A French diplomat warns that Iran would send a "bad signal" if the country takes additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear agreement on Friday. France is leading diplomatic talks to try to save the nuclear deal - from which the United States withdrew - and get a de-escalation of tensions in the Gulf region. The French diplomat, who was speaking anonymously because he was not allowed to speak publicly on the sensitive talks, said Iran seeks to get $15 billion through oil exports.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gave European powers another two months to save a 2015 nuclear deal on Wednesday, but warned that Tehran was still preparing for further significant breaches of the pact that would have "extraordinary effects". His statement came as Iranian officials gave mixed signals in response to a French proposal to save the agreement by offering Iran about $15 billion in credit lines until year-end if Tehran comes fully back into compliance.
Iran is capable of resuming production of 20% enriched uranium within two days, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Tuesday. "If Iran decides, it can have 20% enriched fuel within one to two days," Fars news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying. Enriching uranium up to 20% purity is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed for a bomb.
Iran's next moves to scale back its nuclear commitments will have "extraordinary" effects, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday according to state TV, two days ahead of a deadline set by Tehran for Europe to save a 2015 nuclear deal. "The third step (in reducing Iran's commitments) will be the most important one and it will have extraordinary effects," Rouhani said, without elaborating.
Iranian officials ratcheted up pressure Wednesday ahead of a weekend nuclear deadline for European nations to come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad in the aftermath of escalated U.S. sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani reiterated a threat that Tehran would take additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear accord on Friday and accelerate its nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide a solution, calling it Iran's third, "most important step" away from the deal.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States imposed sanctions on Iran's civilian space agency and two research organizations on Tuesday, saying they were being used to advance Tehran's ballistic missile program. The U.S. Treasury sanctions targeted the Iran Space Agency, Iran Space Research Center and the Astronautics Research Institute, according to a statement on its website. "The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Iran rejected on Wednesday as "ineffective" U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran's civilian space agency and two research organisations for allegedly being used to advance the country's disputed ballistic missile programme. "Americans are addicted to sanctions. These sanctions are totally ineffective," Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Foreign Ministry Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying.
Russia and India said on Wednesday they planed to continue legitimate economic and trade cooperation with Iran, the RIA news agency reported, citing a joint statement issued after talks between the two country's leaders. The statement was released after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks at an economic forum in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In a letter to the head of the Islamic Republic's judiciary, sixteen Iranian legislators have protested the imprisonment of a young photographer, Nooshin Ja'fari, and harsh verdicts issued against labor rights activists. Four female members of Majles (parliament) are among the signatories of the letter. Also protesting harsh sentences for three female activists, the MPs have insisted they have not committed any crime and the presence of the detainees at rallies marking the International Labor Day on May 1 were not against the country's constitution.
Mehdi Rajabian is an Iranian musician who has been jailed twice for producing albums and supporting prohibited artists and female vocalists, who are forbidden to sing in Iran. At 30 years old, Rajabian runs a production company called Bargmusic, and he fears he could be arrested again at any time. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, music on TV and the radio has been banned in the Islamic republic. Former Ayatollah Khomeini compared music with opium and said it made the mind idle and senseless.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
As the U.S. tries a new way to protect shipping across the Persian Gulf amid tensions with Iran, it finds itself sailing into uncertain waters. For decades, the U.S. has considered the waters of the Persian Gulf as critical to its national security. Through the gulf's narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz, 20% of all crude oil sold passes onto the world market. Any disruption there likely will see energy prices spike. The U.S. has been willing to use its firepower to ensure that doesn't happen. It escorted ships here in the so-called 1980s "Tanker War."
As Iran continues to up the ante on its nuclear program, reportedly stockpiling low-enriched uranium beyond the limitations outlined in the contentious 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country always will say "no" to bilateral talks with the United States. "There have been a lot of offers for talks but our answer will always be negative," he said Tuesday at a session of Parliament, the BBC reported.
Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wanted to lay a trap for the Iranians after the country's armed forces downed a US drone, he revealed in his new book. Mattis was fired by former President Barack Obama for being too hawkish on Iran when he was serving as the head of US Central Command, and he was forced to leave the Pentagon early as secretary of defense by President Donald Trump after the retired Marine Corps general abruptly resigned over a dispute with the president.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
In July of 2017, the White House was at a crossroads on the question of Iran. President Trump had made a campaign pledge to leave the "terrible" nuclear deal that President Barack Obama negotiated with Tehran, but prominent members of Trump's cabinet spent the early months of the administration pushing the mercurial president to negotiate a stronger agreement rather than scotch the deal entirely. Thus far, the forces for negotiation had prevailed.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The Hezbollah center and mosque in Germany that boasted about its pride in terrorism has a broad network of Hezbollah friends and supporters in Lebanon and in the federal republic, raising questions about German Angela Merkel's tolerance of an antisemitic terrorist organization.
The Adrian Darya 1, the Iranian oil tanker that the U.S. has pursued for several days, is now fewer than 10 nautical miles from the shores of Syria, intelligence sources tell Fox News. The captain of the vessel, Akhilesh Kumar, has been refusing to cooperate with a planned oil delivery and has asked to be dismissed or replaced, the sources added.
The Israeli army announced Tuesday that it identified a Hezbollah precision missile development and enhancement site, which is operated in partnership with Iran. The Shi'ite group has begun evacuating the site over the past several days out of fear of strikes in the area, the Israeli army stated.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The owner of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero said on Wednesday Iran was set to free seven of the 23 crew members being held although they had yet to receive and official confirmation of the release date. The Swedish-owned Stena Impero was detained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.
An Iranian oil tanker blacklisted and pursued by the U.S. turned off its tracking beacon off the coast of Syria, leading to renewed speculation Tuesday that its oil will end up there, despite earlier assurances it wouldn't. The disappearance of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off their Automatic Identification System to try and mask where they deliver their cargo amid U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's energy industry.
Saeid Mollaei should have been focusing on the defence of his World Judo Championship title. Instead, the Iranian judoka was fretting about his safety and his family's safety. While competing in Tokyo, Mollaei claims his coach received two calls from the Iranian authorities instructing him to withdraw his fighter from the tournament to avoid the possibility of meeting Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the final.