A group of boats from Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed two U.S. Coast Guard ships earlier this month in the Persian Gulf, Navy officials said, the first such incident in a year. The incident occurred April 2, just as the U.S. and Iran announced they would conduct negotiations toward renewing the 2015 multilateral nuclear accord. Those talks began earlier this month in Vienna. The episode hasn’t been previously disclosed.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed in recently leaked audio that John Kerry, when he was serving as Secretary of State during the Obama administration, informed him of more than 200 Israeli operations in Syria. Kerry has previously been accused of colluding with Iranian leaders to undermine the Trump administration. Kerry is now a part of the Biden administration and has a seat on the National Security Council as the special presidential envoy for climate.
Talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord will resume on Tuesday, the European Union said on Monday, the latest of several rounds of talks to bring the United States back into the deal and to convince Tehran to end its breaches. Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been meeting in Vienna to agree steps that would be needed if the agreement, which was abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, is to be revived.
UANI IN THE NEWS
If there was any doubt that Iran wants and needs sanctions relief, it was removed on April 11. Rather than using what seemed like Israeli sabotage at Natanz, Iran’s largest uranium enrichment site, as pretext to walk away from the talks in Vienna — as many argued they would — the Iranians remain engaged with the British, French, Germans, Russians and Chinese, who are acting as mediators between the Islamic republic and the United States. There was no disruption of the talks, aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A recording of Iran’s foreign minister offering a blunt appraisal of diplomacy and the limits of power within the Islamic Republic has been leaked, providing a rare look inside the country’s theocracy. The release of the comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif set off a firestorm within Iran, where officials carefully mind their words amid a cut-throat political environment that includes the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader. Zarif has been suggested as a possible candidate for Iran’s June 18 presidential election as well.
Since 2002, the Iranian nuclear file has been a vital issue in relations between Iran’s regime and the major world powers. It could even be argued that this issue has been Tehran’s primary source of leverage in its relationship with the West. In the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, it succeeded in making the case that the development of its missiles program was solely concerned with giving it a deterrent capability to protect itself against any attacks similar to the US-backed one carried out by Iraq in the 1980s.
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program just got more interesting. And if President Joe Biden wants them to succeed, he should insist they proceed with one fewer member. The news from Vienna this week is about a recording made in March for an oral history project. On the recording, which was first leaked to the Persian news channel Iran International and then the New York Times, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledges that he was often undermined and overruled by his country’s own security forces in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran could be willing to give up its advanced missile systems currently in development in exchange for a broader nuclear deal with the US, a former American diplomat said on Monday. Its arsenal of ballistic missiles is achieving ever-greater accuracy, size and sophistication, a webinar held by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank heard. This is attracting considerable concern in security circles, participants said.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Boris Johnson criticized Iran after British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to another year in jail on charges of propaganda. Zaghari-Ratcliffe completed a five-year sentence in Tehran in March, after being accused of plotting against the state. A court has now given her another one-year jail term and a one-year ban on leaving Iran, the BBC reported. Johnson said his government would “redouble our efforts” to get her home with her husband and young daughter in London.
Iran has shown resolute determination over its desire to rob its Baha’i population of all citizenship rights. Having just marked the year 1400 in the Iranian calendar and 178 of the Baha’i calendar (March 20), let’s take a snapshot of the situation. Iran’s human rights violations against Baha’is have been distinctly state-driven, multifaceted, and severe. Though the Baha’i Faith has never been included amongst the recognized religions in Iran, non-recognition and discrimination yielded a formal policy of hostility against its members with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iranian scientist Kaveh Madani’s career was in full bloom as he settled into his seat in early 2018 for a flight home from Bangkok to Tehran. Though raised in the Iranian capital, the civil engineer had left the country at 22 to continue his studies abroad, earning renown for his research into how climate change affects water supplies. About six months earlier, however, the Iranian government had wooed the 36-year-old away from a prestigious professorship in London to a cabinet-level post as deputy environment minister. On this day, he was finishing up a four-country trip representing Tehran at meetings on water resources and other environmental issues. After takeoff, he connected to the Wi-Fi and checked his Twitter feed.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Republicans on Monday called on John Kerry to resign from President Joe Biden’s National Security Council over claims that he revealed sensitive information about Israeli military operations to Iran. According to leaked audio revealed Sunday by The New York Times, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Kerry told him that Israel attacked Iranian assets in Syria “at least 200 times.” Zarif added that he was surprised that Kerry would reveal that sensitive information to him, according to the audio.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
It appears that it’s not a regular week in Iran unless the country is showing off more drones and warning about how it can strike at Israel or everywhere else in the Middle East. People are taking notice as well because US Central Command head Kenneth McKenzie has warned that US air superiority has suffered due to Iran’s drone threat. The latest is a ceremony where Iran showed off a series of small drones, some of which look like the usual Iranian kamikaze drones, often modelled after their Ababil series. This type of drone, as well as the Qasef, have been exported to Yemen.
Iran sought to produce and source weapons of mass destruction as recently as 2020, efforts that are likely ongoing, according to a new intelligence report issued by a German government security agency. Iran is working to expand its "conventional arsenal of weapons through the production or constant modernization of weapons of mass destruction," according to a German-language report issued last week by the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a state security agency equivalent to the FBI. The report, which covers the year 2020 and was independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon, provides the firmest evidence to date that Iran is misleading the world about the nature of its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, pro-Iranian groups used a drone to strike against U.S. forces in Iraq for the first time. It was just the latest in a series of attacks carried out against American troops in the country, many of which have involved volleys of small rockets. And it highlighted the growing threat of Iranian drone attacks in the Middle East. The drone threat is setting off alarms at the Pentagon. General Kenneth McKenzie, who leads the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on April 20 that “for the first time since the Korean War, we are operating without complete air superiority.” Central Command, which deals with the increasing threat of drone attacks from countries such as Iran and terrorist groups such as ISIS, argues that better air defense is needed to track and thwart such attacks.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Covid-19 death toll in Iran passed 70,000 on Monday, according to health ministry figures, with a record 496 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours. Iran is battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak, and is struggling amid the latest wave of the infections. Monday's figures bring the total number of deaths to 70,070, with over 2.4 million cases. The previous record single-day death toll was 486 in November. Some officials have admitted actual virus numbers are likely higher than official figures.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps warned Israel on Monday against carrying out any further “mischiefs,” saying they will be responded to with great force. The comments, made by commander Gen. Hossein Salami in an interview with the Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news channel, apparently referred to the recent unrest in Jerusalem and at the Gaza border, as well as the shadow maritime war between Tehran and Jerusalem and a recent explosion at a nuclear facility that Iran has attributed to Israel.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A senior Israeli delegation is due to arrive in Washington on Monday for talks on matters including opposition to the US returning to the nuclear deal with Iran and recent attacks on Iranian targets, which have been blamed on Israel. The delegation will include Mossad chief Yosef Cohen, head of military intelligence Tamir Hayman, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israeli media reported. The Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, Aviv Kohavi, will no longer be joining the delegation after a recent increase in tension between Hamas and Israel.