The list of challenges facing Iran's next president would confound the most capable of leaders. Iran is in negotiations with the United States over how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, and in talks with regional nemesis Saudi Arabia. The country is in the throes of an economic crisis and is under mounting pressure to reform. And there are growing questions about succession plans for the 82-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Amid these tides of change, Iran's political elite has decided that the next face of the Islamic Republic should be a figure steeped in its conservative roots and directly linked to some of the darkest chapters of its history.
Iran regained its vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Friday after the United States enabled Tehran to use funds frozen in South Korea to pay some $16 million it owed to the world body. Iran lost its vote in the 193-member General Assembly in January because it was more than two years in arrears. It owed a total of more than $65 million, but paid the minimum amount needed to regain its vote. "Iran has paid the minimum amount due," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Friday, confirming Iran could vote again.
European Union negotiators said international talks that resumed Saturday on the Iran nuclear agreement were on track to revive the deal, which crumbled after the United States withdrew in 2018. Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain concluded a 90-minute meeting with Iranian representatives at a hotel in the Austrian capital. “We are making progress, but the negotiations are intense and a number of issues (remain), including on how steps are to be implemented,” EU representative Alain Matton told reporters in Vienna.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…“As a hardliner, Raisi is dedicated to upholding the Islamic Republic’s repressive, Islamist ideology,” added Jordan Steckler, Research Analyst for United Against Nuclear Iran. “Tehran continues to target political dissidents and ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities for execution and still carries out the death penalty for minors. The regime further denies the Iranian people freedom of expression, of assembly, and of the press. It has brutally cracked down on every major protest movement since the founding of the Islamic Republic. At every stage, Raisi has been a party to Iran’s systemic human rights abuses.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Diplomats from outside the European Union cautioned Sunday that negotiations with Iran to salvage a landmark nuclear deal still need more time, as leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations reaffirmed a commitment to stop the Islamic republic from building nuclear weapons. Iranian envoys held another round of negotiations with international delegations in Vienna a day after EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran's nuclear activities had narrowed further.
Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline cleric widely tipped to replace President Hassan Rouhani, said he’ll continue talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if he’s elected, but won’t treat the accord as a major national concern, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Raisi believes in continuing with the nuclear deal but intends to approach it as a “marginal matter that mustn’t be tied to national problems”, IRNA reported, quoting Alireza Afshar, a senior member of Raisi’s campaign headquarters.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in an interview that aired on Sunday that his agency was "flying blind" due to not having a deal in place with Iran. Speaking with Axios's Margaret Talev, Grossi said it is "essential to have a deal" with Iran "because Iran has a very big, ambitious, sophisticated, developed nuclear program." Talev noted that the absence of a deal prevented the IAEA from monitoring Iran's nuclear program.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
China told the U.S. to stop “shilly-shallying” in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal and move “decisively” to complete the thorough removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, according to a tweet by its embassy in Vienna. Ambassador Wang Qun, who is representing China in multilateral talks in the Austrian capital aimed at restoring the 2015 accord, said world powers should also take “effective measures” to avoid a repeat of the U.S.’s exit from the agreement three years ago.
The U.S. lifted some sanctions on Iran on Thursday as it seeks to find a way forward in negotiations to rejoin the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. The sanctions were lifted on companies that ship and trade petrochemical products, along with former senior National Iranian Oil Co. officials, the Treasury Department said, according to The Wall Street Journal. There is “absolutely no connection” between lifting these sanctions and the negotiations, said Ned Price, State Department spokesperson.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran’s theocratic regime is paving the way for a hardliner, who is linked to mass executions and human rights abuses, to become the country’s next president -- as dissidents cry foul over what they see as a rigged election, and are calling for mass boycotts. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s judiciary chief who lost the 2017 contest against now-outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, is seen as the favorite to win the June 19 vote. Raisi was one of a number of officials sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2019 over human rights abuses.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Saturday slammed President Biden's response to Iran sending warships into the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting the president needs to "forcefully" confront the issue. Rubio shared his comments in a tweet containing photos of the Iranian ships and condemned Biden for his "desperation." "#Iran’s largest military vessel & most modern missile destroyer are days away from delivering missiles & attack boats to the #MaduroRegime & conducting exercises off our coast," Rubio wrote.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An Iranian navy destroyer ship has reached the Atlantic Ocean, Iran's deputy army commander, Admiral Habibullah Sayyari said, according to official news agency IRNA. Accompanied by a logistical vessel, the ship's voyage marks the first time Iran has been able to reach the Atlantic using naval vessels without docking in any international ports, Sayyari said. The ships set sail over a month ago from the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, he added.
In 2019, the deputy head of the Hashd al-Shaabi, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, vowed to establish an air force. The Hashd is known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a group of mostly Shi’ite militias in Iraq that are an official paramilitary force. First established seven years ago to fight ISIS, the PMF has morphed into a huge organization. On Saturday, they showcased some of their new “air force,” which consists of Iranian-designed drones and UAVs of the type that have been used increasingly in attacks on US forces in Iraq.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran held a final presidential debate Saturday that showed the fissures within the Islamic Republic’s politics, as hard-liners referred to those seeking ties to the West as “infiltrators” and the race’s two other candidates brought up the unrest that surrounded Tehran’s disputed 2009 election. Analysts and state-linked polling put hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as the clear front-runner in Friday’s upcoming vote, with the public now largely hostile to the relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani after the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Like many young Iranians yearning for democracy, Shirin doesn't believe elected officials want to deliver greater political and social freedoms, and doubts Iran's ruling theocracy would let them even if they tried. How many share her frustration may become apparent in a June 18 vote, when Iran holds a presidential election seen as a referendum on the Islamic Republic's handling of an array of political and economic crises. Official polls suggest record low participation, a prospect critics of the government ascribe to economic hardship and to a lack of choice at the ballot box for an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions.
The former speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani demanded on Saturday an explanation from an election watchdog on why he was barred from running in next week’s presidential vote. Last month, the hardline Guardian Council approved just seven hopefuls to stand in Friday’s poll and disqualified several prominent candidates, including Larijani and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “I urge the esteemed Guardian Council...to formally, publicly and transparently provide all the reasons behind my disqualification,” Larijani said in a tweet hours before the final presidential debate.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Republican senators introduced a bill Friday that would make any deal with Iran over its nuclear program subject to Senate approval as the GOP looks to head off one of President Biden’s top foreign policy priorities. The effort is being led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has been a vocal critic of Biden’s efforts to get Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. The bill would deem any deal made with Tehran a treaty, which requires the Senate to sign off with a two-thirds majority before it goes into effect.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The outgoing chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service has offered the closest acknowledgment yet his country was behind recent attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program and a military scientist. The comments by Yossi Cohen, speaking to Israel’s Channel 12 investigative program “Uvda” in a segment aired Thursday night, offered an extraordinary debriefing by the head of the typically secretive agency in what appears to be the final days of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rule.
Iran does not expect Israeli foreign and security policy to change under its new government, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday, according to ISNA news agency, a day after Israel's parliament ended Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year run as prime minister. "Iran's enemies are gone and powerful Iran is still here. I don't think Israel's policies will change with the new government," Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
IRAQ & IRAN
Pro-Iranian factions in Iraq have been without leadership to steer their actions since Jan. 3, 2020. On that day, a US drone strike killed the commander of the Iranian Quds Force Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). Muhandis had these factions under control and was considered the final decision-maker and the balance-maker in their relations with the Iraqi government. In light of his absence, especially in recent months, signs of internal disputes have surfaced among the factions.