Bipartisan support is growing on Capitol Hill for a Republican-led resolution condemning Iran’s alleged human rights violations and sponsorship of militant groups in the Middle East. Lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to President Biden, noting that support for the bill was expected to “steadily increase” in the House, while telling the president that lawmakers were “encouraged to know that you are standing up for democracy and human rights around the world.”
A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning shots during a confrontation with three Iranian vessels on Monday in the Persian Gulf, officials said, in a second high-risk encounter between U.S. and Iranian naval forces in the past month. The incident on Monday and another in the region on April 2 marked the first in a year involving American warships. They occurred as the Biden administration presses for talks on renewing the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran. Talks began in Vienna earlier this month.
Iran's recent acts of aggression against the U.S. and its allies follow a long history of terror by the state, including a recent modernization of tactics in the form of cyber hacks and disinformation campaigns. New images released on Tuesday by the U.S. Navy show Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships performing "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers around American ships in the Persian Gulf. This is the latest provocation by Iran -- the second-largest country in the Middle East -- as it prepares to negotiate with the U.S. and other world leaders about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
World powers resumed high-level talks in Vienna on Tuesday focused on bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, in their first session since comments surfaced from the Iranian foreign minister alleging that Russia once tried to scupper the pact. The Russian Foreign Ministry has not responded to requests for comment on the remarks from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, made in a seven-hour interview with a think tank associated with the Iranian presidency that leaked over the weekend.
The head of the US military's Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, on Tuesday described the 2015 nuclear deal between major world powers and Iran as “flawed”, but said it ensured a collaborative response to a challenging issue. The assessment that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was imperfect but better than nothing “is still accurate", Gen McKenzie said at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. “When you deal with a security issue or a malign actor or nation, you are always better when the response is a collective response from a group of nations that come together,” the four-star general said.
Washington is dispatching its Special Envoy for Iran for indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iranian Nuclear deal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. “Rob Malley, I believe, is either on his way to the region or there now to take part in an additional round of negotiations," Psaki told reporters.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran’s central bank is reportedly allowing the country’s financial institutions to use cryptocurrency, derived from sanctioned miners, to pay for imports. According to a report by the Financial Tribune on Saturday, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has notified money changers and banks of its amended regulatory framework for crypto payments. The amendment means those institutions will now be able to pay for goods and services from other countries in a bid to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions.
A major threat is brewing for international oil and commodity markets in the coming months. There has been an increase in the amount of drone and missile attacks on Saudi oil and transportation infrastructure in the last couple of years, and now it seems that threat is evolving. The Saudi ministry of defense stated that an explosive-laden boat was intercepted off the Red Sea port of Yanbu, one of Saudi Arabia’s main oil export ports. The media is still waiting on further details to emerge from Saudi Arabia, but maritime security sources stated that it would likely have involved an attack on another vessel in the area.
The United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group “to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East Region,” the White House said on Tuesday. The announcement comes following a bilateral meeting of US and Israeli delegations at the Israeli embassy earlier.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Last week, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women. The commission defines itself as “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” Beginning next year, for four years, this entity will include one of the world’s most brutal violators of women’s rights. The commission will have in its ranks a country where the testimony of a woman in a criminal trial is valued as half that of a man’s, and “the monetary compensation awarded to a female victim’s family upon her death is half that owed to the family of a male victim,” said Freedom House in its 2021 Freedom in the World report…
Iran said Tuesday it was seeking the release of all Iranian prisoners held in the U.S. amid talks in Vienna meant to bring Tehran and Washington back into the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei also hinted that another exchange of prisoners between Iran and America was possible, saying that “the idea of a swap of prisoners has always been on the agenda” and adding they should be released because of “humane concerns.”
The Iranian regime claims that the 42-year-old was working against the state when she was arrested on a visit to the country to see her parents with her daughter in April 2016. In March, aid worker Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from house arrest and had her ankle tag removed after her five-year prison term expired - but she has now been sentenced to another year in jail on charges of "propaganda activities against the regime" in Iran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
For years, Republicans have been arguing that John F. Kerry has loose lips unbefitting an American diplomat. Before, it was a strained argument that the former secretary of state had violated the Logan Act by talking to Iran. And now, some Republicans are calling for Kerry’s resignation as President Biden’s climate envoy over leaked audio of Iran’s foreign minister. On the tape, the Iranian official claims Kerry shared secrets with him about the military actions of Israel, a top U.S. ally. What to make of the situation?
For the second time in a month, vessels from Iran and the United States came dangerously close in the Persian Gulf on Monday night, the Navy said on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two nations as their negotiators have resumed talks toward renewing the 2015 nuclear deal. According to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, three fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sailed close to a Navy coastal patrol ship and a Coast Guard patrol boat as the two American vessels were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.
While Mike Pompeo was secretary of state and advising Donald Trump, Biden climate czar and former Secretary of State John Kerry was acting in the same role - except he was advising Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Pompeo told "Hannity" Tuesday. Kerry, who served as secretary of state during the Obama administration, reportedly advised Zarif of Israeli covert operations, something that host Sean Hannity noted top Republicans like Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Daniel Sullivan of Alaska summarily condemned.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
It’s not a coincidence that the head of US Central Command has been warning about drone threats and that the US and Israel are increasingly working on efforts to confront drones. A readout of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s bilateral meeting with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat on April 27 revealed that the “United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East Region.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
An audiotape of Iran's top diplomat bemoaning the military's influence was leaked to sow "discord" during talks on reviving an international nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, after the recording stirred domestic controversy. The recording of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was published by media outside Iran ahead of presidential elections.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Leaders of the US Congress urged President Joe Biden and the UN Security Council to hold Iran accountable for its abuse of diplomatic freedoms to support violence. More than 220 members of Congress have endorsed HR 118, a resolution expressing support for “the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic of Iran” while condemning “violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism” by Tehran.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
US and Israeli officials meeting in Washington on Tuesday discussed their serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear program and agreed on the “significant threat” posed by Iran’s behavior in the Middle East, the White House said. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat also agreed in their meeting to establish an inter-agency working group to focus attention on the growing threat from Iran providing drones and precision-guided missiles to its allies, the White House said.
A fake Facebook account purporting to belong to an anti-Netanyahu activist named Noa Shamir, which was active for the past few months and disappeared suddenly about a week ago, came back on line again a few days ago.
Foreign students from China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa will be exempt from the remaining travel bans imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, opening up the possibility of a significant rebound in international-student enrollment at U.S. schools this fall. The U.S. State Department said in an update online, dated Monday, that students and academics, as well as journalists and a few other categories of individuals from those countries, will be allowed into the U.S. with proper visas.