Iran threatened on Tuesday to block short-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities, demanding Washington reverse economic sanctions before it returns to compliance with a nuclear deal that President Joe Biden aims to restore. Biden, who took office last week, aims to reverse a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to pull out of the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers. The agreement lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to Iran’s nuclear programme, but after Trump quit and reimposed sanctions, Iran violated its conditions.
The decision by US President Joe Biden to suspend some sanctions against the Houthi militia in Yemen has raised concerns about a possible escalation in Iran-backed terror attacks. The US Treasury on Monday said that the sanctions — announced by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo as one of the outgoing Trump administration’s last acts — will be suspended for a month, pending a review by newly appointed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The review is also expected to consider reversing the Houthi militia’s designation as a terrorist organization.
It’s true that it is impossible to predict the future, but that should not prevent the world from internalizing important lessons from the past. On January 27, as we observe Holocaust Remembrance Day -- 76 years after the liberation of the hell that was the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz -- I believe we should be casting our eyes slightly further back to the pre-war years. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called World War II "the Unnecessary War." In his seminal 1946 speech he said: "There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran has "no leverage left" over the U.S. that would enable them to pressure the Biden administration to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland told "The Story" Tuesday. "Between the sanctions that Trump put on and the low price of oil, their economy is in tatters," McFarland told host Trace Gallagher, added that the suggestion of Iranian leverage "would be a joke except for the fact that nuclear weapons are involved and the security of the entire region."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The U.S. is trying to seize around 2 million barrels of what it thinks is Iranian oil, according to people familiar with the matter, in Washington’s latest attempt to block the Islamic Republic’s energy exports. The crude is on board the Liberia-flagged Achilleas, which is sailing to the U.S. after the Department of Justice issued a seizure order, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak to media.
Iranian oil exports are climbing in January after a boost in the fourth quarter despite U.S. sanctions, three assessments showed, in a sign that the end of Donald Trump’s term as U.S. President may be changing buyer behaviour. Iran’s exports have shrunk since Trump in 2018 withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions. New President Joe Biden has said if Tehran resumed compliance with the deal, Washington would too.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Nasrin Sotoudeh, an attorney and human rights activist often called “Iran’s Nelson Mandela,” is back in an overcrowded prison cell, separated from those she loves. Under arrest since 2018, she was granted a brief medical leave this month, but it was abruptly canceled on Jan. 19, the same day the government froze her family’s bank accounts. That afternoon, her husband, Reza Khandan, drove her to Qarchak's prison for women, accompanied by their daughter Mehraveh and son Nima. Imagine what each of them was thinking and feeling during that hour-long drive — the dread and the heartbreak.
An Iranian-American has been sentenced to prison on spying charges, Iran's judiciary reported Tuesday, the latest dual national held in the country amid tensions with the West. Iran's judiciary did not name the man sentenced but said he had been free on bail and re-arrested while trying to flee the country. Iranian media said a businessman named Emad Sharghi was arrested while trying to leave the country through a western border. Iranian media said Sharghi is a dual U.S.-Iranian national, and that his wife's passport was also confiscated to prevent her leaving the country.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Pentagon sent a B-52 bomber across the Persian Gulf region on Tuesday, the sixth such sortie since last fall, in a show of deterrence to Iran. The B-52H Stratofortress, a long range heavy bomber, flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Tuesday and was expected to make a continuous flight across Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and down the eastern Saudi coastline near the United Arab Emirates and Qatar before returning to the U.S., a senior military official said. “Our intent is to maintain that enduring defensive posture, to deter any aggression in the region, promote regional security and assure our allies,” the senior military official said.
Two Americans and a U.S. permanent resident whom Washington says were held hostage by Iran for years until it freed them during the term of former President Donald Trump have urged his successor Joe Biden not to make gestures toward Tehran until it frees other U.S. hostages. In messages to VOA Persian in recent days, U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, Chinese American researcher Xiyue Wang and Lebanese U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka said Iran’s release of its remaining American hostages should be a precondition for any U.S. negotiations or concessions to Tehran under President Biden, who took office last week.
A frequent contributor to The New York Times confessed to being paid by Iranian entities in the United Nations after he was accused earlier this month for acting as a secret foreign agent of the Iranian government, the Algemeiner reported, according to the US Department of Justice and court documents. Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 63, reportedly published dozens of opinion pieces and letters to the editor in the Times for years before the charges against him were made.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel’s military chief Tuesday warned the Biden administration against rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, even if it toughens its terms, adding he’s ordered his forces to step up preparations for possible offensive action against Iran during the coming year. The comments by Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi came as Israel and Iran both seek to put pressure on President Joe Biden ahead of his expected announcement on his approach for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. In Iran, leaders said they would not wait indefinitely for Biden to act. The 2015 deal put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of crippling economic sanctions.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Senior leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency traveled to Iran Tuesday to “exchange views” on U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between warring Afghan parties. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the insurgent team had been formally invited to Tehran for bilateral meetings “to review (the) Afghan peace process.” Iran’s official media quoted Khatibzadeh as saying that the Taliban’s visit was “part of Tehran’s policy to reach out to key Afghan parties in the Afghan peace process.”
TURKEY & IRAN
He is American, she is Iranian and they live together in a small seaside town in Turkey. Yet what they hoped would be an idyll has become a living nightmare. Fatemeh Khoshro said her phone buzzed constantly with threatening messages, and that she and her fiancé, Nicolas Aryan, are harassed by men they believe are agents of Iran’s government. Their fears have been heightened by a kidnapping and a murder of Iranian dissidents in Turkey in recent months.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Indonesian authorities have detained the Iranian and Chinese crewmembers of two tankers that were seized for illegally transferring oil in Indonesian waters, an official said Tuesday. “The Iranian-flagged MT Horse and Panamanian-flagged MT Freya are on the way to Batam island now. The crews are being detained for further investigation,” Maritime Security Agency spokesperson Wisnu Pramandita said. He said 36 Iranian and 25 Chinese crewmembers were detained, and documents from the vessels were seized.