Iran’s top leader said Wednesday that his country would keep negotiating with world powers over how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, quashing speculation that Iran’s delegation would boycott or quit participating in protest of the apparent Israeli sabotage of a major uranium enrichment site. The declaration by the top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on security matters in the country of 80 million, came three days after an explosive blast at the Natanz enrichment site plunged the heavily guarded facility into a blackout and disabled or destroyed hundreds of underground centrifuges used to process uranium into fuel.
Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth looking at,” attempting to pressure world powers after an attack on the country’s main nuclear enrichment site. The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran’s president similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned Tehran its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous.”
An attack targeting Iran’s primary nuclear-fuel facility and Tehran’s retaliatory vow to begin enriching uranium close to weapons grade will confront diplomats seeking to revive a stricken atomic agreement when they meet on Thursday. Envoys from Iran and six world powers will convene in Vienna for a third meeting in 10 days with the Persian Gulf once again convulsed by the crisis. They’re trying to coordinate a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and Iranian compliance with its enrichment commitments. Hopes for a breakthrough are low and the immediate challenge will be to defuse tensions.
UANI IN THE NEWS
.…In many cases, however, United Against Nuclear Iran has managed to thwart illicit STS transfers in real time using proprietary tracking technologies used to determine the contours of these operations, while working with tanker operators like Maersk to prevent the transfer from completing. This is helpful, of course, but inadequate. The full weight of the White House is required to stop the flow of Iranian oil into Chinese ports. The Biden administration ought to explicitly raise Beijing’s provocative actions and link compliance to other elements of U.S.-China policy.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
For all of his disorganization in other policy areas, Donald Trump had a pretty clear vision for Mideast policy: The U.S. would become closer to its allies and more hostile toward its longtime adversary, Iran. The Trump administration embraced Israel and Saudi Arabia, avoiding almost any criticism of their governments. That part of that strategy seemed to work. The new diplomatic closeness helped lead to the Abraham Accords, in which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first Arab governments in a quarter-century to recognize Israel.
Saudi Arabia believes any revival of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers should be a starting point for further discussions bringing in regional states aimed at expanding the deal’s provisions, an official said on Wednesday. Ambassador Rayd Krimly, head of policy planning at the Saudi foreign ministry, told Reuters that any agreement that does not effectively address concerns about Iran’s missile programme and support for regional proxies would not work.
President Joe Biden’s negotiators should use leverage gained against Iran by the previous U.S. administration to reach a better nuclear deal with Tehran in talks in Vienna, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington said. The UAE and Saudi Arabia had supported former President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to quit the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers and reimpose harsh sanctions on their foe. “You (U.S.) are essentially in the driver’s seat to get to a point to where we can address what I believe were shortcomings in JCPOA,” envoy Yousef Al Otaiba said in a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Wednesday, using an acronym for the deal. He listed the shortcomings as the deal’s duration, that it did not address Iran’s missiles programme and support for regional proxies and that it still allowed uranium enrichment.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Reviving the Iran nuclear deal would seem like a simple task for US President Joe Biden. Iran wants him to lift sanctions in exchange for Tehran's return to compliance. But as Iran and the United States resume indirect talks in Vienna led by the European Union, the Biden administration faces the question of which sanctions exactly are on the table. Further casting a shadow over the talks is an explosion at a key Iranian nuclear facility purportedly carried out by Israel, a sworn foe of the 2015 accord, which led Tehran to announce it was ramping up uranium enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A television station controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran censored over 100 broadcast shots of a female referee during the Sunday British soccer match between Manchester United and Tottenham, sparking criticism on social media because of the regime’s sexism. Sardar Pashaei, a world champion gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling for Iran, tweeted: "Last night, Iran TV interrupted the important game between Manchester United and Tottenham dozens of times, censoring its images, just because one of the referee's match was a woman (@SianMasseyRef)[Sian Massey]. Will @FIFAcom [International Federation of Association Football] voice its objection to this gender discrimination by Iran?”
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The United States and Iran will reconvene indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal on Thursday in Vienna, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. There have been doubts about whether the indirect talks, which began last week, might resume this week following an explosion at Iran’s key nuclear site on Sunday, which Tehran blamed on Israel, as well as Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60%, bringing the fissile material closer to bomb-grade.
Iran warned the U.S. that time’s running out on its troubled bid to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, as an attack on a major Iranian atomic facility and Tehran’s subsequent vow to enrich uranium nearer to weapons grade risk plunging multilateral talks into crisis. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the disruption on Sunday at Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, which Iranian officials blamed on Israel, had “unleashed a dangerous spiral.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran's announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity “provocative,” saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna. Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 percent - a big step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade from the 20 percent maximum it has reached so far - in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s 13th presidential election, scheduled for June, will be held at a critical moment for Tehran due to the regime’s nuclear defiance, the unprecedented level of isolation the regime is facing, the rising discontent domestically, and the US sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and devalued its currency. These issues raise questions about whether the next president will be capable of addressing the country’s economic problems, the fury of Iranian citizens, and Tehran’s lowly regional and international standing.
Iran’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic has been riddled with turbulence since the outbreak began in February 2020. Entering its fourth wave, the country, which has the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths and cases in the Middle East, continues to experience a surge of infections under difficult circumstances. This is partly due to US sanctions but also because of the Iranian government’s mismanagement and corruption, which in turn could influence and further depress voter turnout in the June presidential election.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Iran’s government is likely to continue to challenge Washington’s influence in the Middle East and pursue espionage within the United States in the coming years, according to an intelligence report newly released by the Biden administration. Despite — or perhaps because of — US pressure on Tehran, the Iranian government is likely to continue seeking to build and maintain influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, according to the report.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The former Israeli prime minister said that Iran needed to “cool down” amid nuclear threats by Tehran. Iran is frustrated over an alleged cyber attack it says was done by Israel that sabotaged one of Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities. “I’m not certain that Israel did it, and I would advise the Iranians to cool down,” Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview on WABC Radio show “The Rita Cosby Show.” Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, said that Iran will enrich their uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack.
An Israeli blogger who was contacted via Instagram by Iranian intelligence agents who tried to lure him to the United Arab Emirates urged caution on Wednesday about speaking to strangers online, days after the ploy was publicly revealed by Israel’s intelligence agencies. The Iranian intelligence operatives would set up fake Instagram profiles, usually of women in the tourism business, and use them to contact Israelis. They attempted to draw Israelis to meetings abroad with business propositions or offers of romantic rendezvouses with the intent of kidnapping or otherwise harming them, the Shin Bet security service and Mossad intelligence agency said in a joint statement Monday.
Was the decision to launch the two recent attacks on Iran, last week’s strike on the spy ship Saviz in the Red Sea and Sunday’s sabotage of the uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, influenced by Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to wreck the powers’ nuclear talks with Iran and create a better situation for him to finally form a government?
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it was concerned about Iran’s intention to start enriching uranium to 60% purity and said such a move could not be considered part of a peaceful nuclear programme. A foreign ministry statement called on Iran to avoid escalation and engage seriously in talks with global powers about a 2015 nuclear pact. The statement also urged the international community to reach an agreement “with stronger parameters of a longer duration”.