U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to use newly declassified U.S. intelligence on Tuesday to publicly accuse Iran of ties to al Qaeda, two people familiar with the matter said, as part of his last-minute offensive against Tehran before handing over to the incoming Biden administration. With just eight days left in office for President Donald Trump, Pompeo is expected to offer details on allegations that Iran has given safe haven to al Qaeda leaders and support for the group, the sources said, despite some skepticism within the intelligence community and Congress.
Reviving Iran’s nuclear deal must happen within the coming weeks, U.N. atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday after Tehran resumed 20% uranium enrichment and its parliament threatened to curb access for U.N. inspectors in February. “It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us. We have weeks,” Grossi said in an interview for the Reuters Next conference. Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20% fissile strength at the underground Fordow nuclear plant earlier this month in a further breach of the nuclear pact with major powers since the United States withdrew from it in 2018, possibly complicating efforts by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the deal.
Iran’s oil revenues have halved since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic in 2018, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported, citing an Instagram post of the governor of the Iranian Central Bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati. According to the head of the central bank of Iran, the country’s revenues from oil sales have dropped from more than US$40 billion in 2018 to less than US$20 billion in 2019 and 2020. The central bank also had very limited access to those revenues, Hemmati said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran demands the removal of the so-called snapback mechanism in its nuclear accord, which could revive all U.N. sanctions against Tehran, in the event of new talks with world powers, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for relief from U.S. and other sanctions. The accord includes the option of a snapback of U.N. sanctions if Iran breaches the deal, requiring Tehran to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research development.
The new US administration should not return to the spirit of the Iran deal, which could spark an arms race in the Middle East, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Monday at a Jewish People Policy Institute online conference. He criticized the 2015 Iran deal, which President Donald Trump left in 2018. President-elect Joe Biden seeks to return to it if Iran agrees to comply again with the agreement’s limitations on its nuclear program.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Foreign energy firms and contractors have to accept Iran’s new terms and conditions if they return to work in the country, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Monday. “If foreign companies come (to Iran), we will cooperate with them, but it doesn’t mean that we would abandon what we have achieved,” Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported, quoting the minister as saying on the sidelines of a ceremony on the signing of contracts with local firms to boost Iran’s crude oil production capacity.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The U.S. plans to designate the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a foreign terrorist group, a move some Western officials and aid agencies said would impede stalled peace talks and hurt the economy of an impoverished nation at risk of famine. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he intended to designate the Houthis and three of its leaders for the group’s “terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping.”
Iran’s use of ballistic missiles to strike at US forces at al-Asad base in Iraq last year was worse than initially reported. The attack was unprecedented but downplayed at the time. It came in the wake of the US killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was targeted after pro-Iran militias attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad and killed a US contractor in December 2019. Dan Lamothe at The Washington Post has written a new piece looking deeply at the effects of the attack. Many of those who were at the base have anxiety to this day, the article notes.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed on Sunday that Iran had supplied the regime of late Libya ruler Moammar al-Gaddafi with chemical weapons. He made the revelation in a State Department report that declassifies Iran’s use of chemical weapons. The report said: “The United States certifies Iran is in non-compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) due to (1) its failure to declare its transfer of chemical weapons (CW) to Libya during the 1978-1987 Libya-Chad war, (2) its failure to declare its complete holdings of Riot Control Agents (RCAs), and (3) its failure to submit a complete Chemical Weapons Production Facility (CWPF) declaration.”
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Last week Iran carried out extensive drone warfare exercises, with several hundred unmanned aircraft flying reconnaissance missions against fixed and mobile targets over land and sea, and mock attacks with machine guns, bombs and guided missiles as well as kamikaze strikes. One of the firsts for Iran was the launch of an air-to-air missile by a drone. This doesn’t mean that Iran will be unleashing a mass of Top Gun dogfighting drones on U.S. forces anytime soon, but it does hint at a significant new capability.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
After Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated publicly that Iran would ban any Western vaccine for the coronavirus, a number of officials have come to his defense over the decision. On Jan. 8, Khamenei said he had already informed Iranian officials that vaccines from the United States and the United Kingdom have been banned. He said he has “no confidence” in the vaccines produced in those countries and claimed that if they were so effective the countries would not be experiencing such a difficult time with the virus.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A statue in Beirut of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, erected on the anniversary of his killing by the United States, has stirred pride among his Lebanese supporters and anger from opponents who see it as a symbol of Iran's dominance. The bronze statue at the entrance to Beirut's mainly Shi'ite southern suburbs is the latest addition to a city where streets, squares and statues honour historic figures from French colonial leaders to victims of Lebanon's recent conflicts.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
South Korea’s vice foreign minister met with their Iranian counterpart to negotiate the release of the captured vessel and its crew, US-funded broadcaster Radio Farda reported. Choi Jong-kun met with Abbas Araqchi to discuss the South Korean-flaged MT Hankuk Chemi seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Jan. 4 as it was in the area of the Strait of Hormuz, the report added. Iran said the IRGC seized the ship because it was leaking oil in violation of environmental laws.