The United States is grappling with a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Iraq after militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry, including armed drones, have hit some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded U.S. defenses. At least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that Tehran wanted action and not promises from six world powers for the revival of their 2015 nuclear deal. "I have told our negotiators that actions, not promises (by the six powers), are needed for the restoration of the nuclear deal," Khamenei said in a televised speech. Tehran and global powers have been in talks since early April aimed at bring back Washington and Tehran into full compliance with the deal that former U.S. President Donald Trump exited in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
Iranians are being urged by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to vote June 18 in a presidential election that’s expected to produce the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. The vast majority of moderate and reformist contenders for the position were disqualified from running, leaving the field dominated mostly by arch conservatives. The country’s powerful clerics have based their political legitimacy on a circumscribed electoral process they say reflects the will of the people.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Britain, France, Germany and the United States will not push for a resolution against Iran at next week's meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's board despite Tehran's failure to explain uranium traces found at three sites, diplomats said on Friday. A resolution could have prompted an escalation between Tehran and the West that would have jeopardised talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal taking place in Vienna, where the atomic watchdog is also based.
Iran nuclear deal negotiators are ending the week unexpectedly back in their home countries, with talks stuck over several central points of contention. Still, as officials departed, several stressed the U.S. and Iran could soon find common ground and forge a path back to compliance with a 2015 agreement that curbed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief. Negotiators have produced at least 20 pages of text with various options on how to solve the remaining hurdles.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Oil pulled back after hitting fresh multi-year highs on Monday, as investors awaited the outcome of this week's talks between Iran and world powers over a nuclear deal that is expected to boost crude supplies. Brent crude futures for August fell 66 cents, or 0.9%, to $71.23 a barrel by 0645 GMT, after earlier hitting $72.27, their highest since May 2019. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for July touched $70 for the first time since October 2018 but reversed course to be at $69.10 a barrel, down 52 cents, or 0.8%.
The UN said on Friday it was in talks with Iran over $16.3 million in overdue fees, which Tehran says have become impossible to pay due to US sanctions. Iran and the Central African Republic have lost their voting rights in the 193-member UN General Assembly because they are in arrears on contributions to the world body’s operating budget. “It's not from lack of willingness of the Iranians to pay or no lack of willingness for us to engage with them in finding a solution to this issue,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Friday.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Two Iranian ships have rounded the Cape of Good Hope, appearing to head for the Atlantic Ocean and on to Venezuela, according to reports. The move presents a significant and aggressive step during a tense moment in relations between the U.S. and Iran. The two ships – an Iranian frigate and the Makran, an oil tanker that was converted to a floating forward staging base – made their way south along the Eastern coast of Africa and rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Friday.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Candidates in Iran's presidential election this month traded strong barbs in a debate on Saturday, accusing each other of treason or of lacking the education to run an economy devastated by three years of U.S. sanctions. While the five hardline candidates attacked the eight-year performance of outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, the leading moderate candidate, former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, blamed hardliners for heightened tensions with the West that he said had worsened Iran’s economic woes.
Iran’s Guardian Council said on Friday that the vetting body will soon announce a review of candidates barred from this month’s presidential vote following the Supreme Leader’s intervention. “The orders of the Supreme Leader are final and his ruling must be obeyed. The Guardian Council will soon announce its opinion, acknowledging that it is not immune to error,” council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai said in a tweet.
Iran’s supreme leader has said that some candidates rejected from this month’s presidential election had been “wronged” and unfairly smeared, but the country’s powerful Guardian Council said the decision to ban them would not be reversed. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on Iran’s affairs, last month endorsed the watchdog’s rejection of several prominent candidates – including former parliament speaker Ali Larijani – for the 18 June vote. But in a speech on Friday, Khamenei said some of the disqualified candidates had been treated unfairly.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid has painstakingly assembled a coalition government from an eclectic bloc of rival politicians to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His next task to repair frayed ties with Democrats in the United States could prove just as difficult. Netanyahu burned his bridges with many Democrats through his outspoken efforts to torpedo then-President Barack Obama’s signature diplomatic initiative: the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in an ambush set by ISIS in central Syria. ISIS ambushed a military convoy in al-Sukhnah area, east of Palmyra city in the eastern Homs countryside, killing IRGC military adviser Hassan Abdullahzadeh and his companion Mohsen Abbasi. Iranian media announced the death of both IRGC members on Thursday. Sources said Abdullahzadeh was the security officer at the Sayyida Zainab region, south of Damascus, then Alboukamal area, and was one of the most prominent Iranian military advisors during the Damascus and Aleppo battles.
CHINA & IRAN
China is one of the few actors which could potentially save Israel from Iran in favor of stability, a new report by the Institute for National Security Studies exclusively first obtained by The Jerusalem Post. According to the report, with Dr. Kevjn Lim as lead author on behalf of INSS, China has started to try harder to portray itself as a “more responsible global power.” In that light and due to the Islamic Republic’s deep reliance on Beijing, it may be “one of only very few actors, if willing, capable of changing the balance in the Middle East in favor of stability.”
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said they refused Iran’s proposal to pay $150,000 as compensation for each victim of the PS752 plane victims, local media reported. Oleg Nikolenko said compensation to families is an important step to justice, but first the full truth behind the circumstances of the plabe crash are needed. “Only then can we talk about the compensation. The specific amount should be set with the agreement of all the governments of the states whose citizens died in the plane crash, and [should] not [be] a unilateral decision,” one of the country’s biggest TV news channels TSN quoted him.