Iran's President Hassan Rouhani kept open the door to diplomacy on Wednesday, backing European efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal despite rebuffing French attempts to broker a meeting between him and President Trump at the United Nations last week. Mr. Rouhani said he broadly agreed with a French proposal under which the U.S. would lift sanctions in return for Iran's full compliance with all terms of the nuclear pact and its guarantee for the security of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
Failed efforts to ease U.S.-Iran tensions on the sidelines of the United Nations have left both sides hardening their positions and diplomats warning of growing mistrust and a risk of escalation. French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe each tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani as they shuttled around midtown Manhattan during the UN General Assembly last week.
Satellite images released on Thursday show that a once-detained Iranian-flagged oil tanker sitting off the coast of Syria has been approached by a smaller Iranian tanker, an indication the ship could be preparing to transfer its cargo. Images released by Maxar Technologies show the Jasmine alongside the Adrian Darya 1 on Wednesday, with mooring lines between them and a crane deployed on the larger vessel.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran supports a plan by European countries to bolster a nuclear deal that Tehran reached with the West in 2015 and from which the United States withdrew last year. Rouhani said the plan included preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, securing its support for regional peace, lifting U.S. sanctions and the immediate resumption of Iranian oil exports. Speaking during a weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani said: "We agree with the general framework by the Europeans."
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered the Atomic Energy Organization to press ahead with a phased reduction in the country's commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The reductions had begun in May, involving three different "steps," with the fourth in the works unless Iranian leaders are convinced that the European signatories to the nuclear deal abide by their part of the agreement and provide the promised economic relief.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
More than 20 ships carrying around one million tonnes of grain are stuck outside Iranian ports as U.S. sanctions create payment problems and hamper the country's efforts to import vital commodities, sources directly involved in the trade said. Trading companies such as Bunge (BG.N) and China's COFCO International have been hit by payment delays and additional costs of up to $15,000 a day as the renewed U.S. restrictions stifle the processing of transactions, trade sources said.
There's growing speculation the Iranian-flagged oil supertanker that was previously detained off Gibraltar is about to offload its cargo onto a smaller vessel. Adrian Darya 1, which had been held by the U.K. on suspicion that it was supplying crude to Syria in breach of sanctions, is now tethered to another Iran-flagged vessel called Jasmine, according to a satellite image from Maxar Technologies Inc.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In the week since President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York, we have learned several surprising details about what could have been a groundbreaking diplomatic achievement for both men. We learned, for instance, that French President Emmanuel Macron spent a frantic 48 hours shuttling back-and-forth between the two leaders with a draft document in hand, desperately trying to get both to sign on the dotted line.
U.S.-Iranian tensions have reached new heights since President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), last year and imposed a wide range of sanctions designed for "maximum pressure." A number of surprise attacks against U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf can only be ascribed to the audacity and precision of Iran, according to Washington.
US President Donald Trump's recent decisions to avoid military action against Iran in the face of tactical humiliation and strategic threats have been smart, subtle and ethically unimpeachable. They're also a gamble. According to intelligence sources in the Middle East and the West, recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities were launched from Iranian soil. Iran has been blamed by the US, UK, France and Germany among others for being behind the cruise missile attacks; claims that the Houthi rebels in Yemen were responsible were dismissed as implausible.
While domestic attention this week is focused on the Ukraine impeachment saga, our foreign policy attention is on China and North Korea. But we would do well to keep a close eye on Iran as well. As U.S.-Iran tensions escalate and Iranian attacks, such as the recent strikes against Saudi oil facilities, go largely unpunished, there is a growing risk that Iranian hardliners will attack U.S. interests. My specific concern is that Iran will go beyond shooting down American drones, and instead endanger American lives. There are two issues here.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commanders to prepare themselves for "big events." Speaking to IRGC leaders who went to see him at the end of a 3-day national gathering of Revolutionary Guard commanders, on Wednesday October 2, Khamenei said: "Do not fear the enemy at all. Be alert and have thorough assessment of the enemy's potentials."
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it thwarted plans by unspecified foreign intelligence agencies to kill General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Guard's elite Qods Force unit, the IRGC's Sepah News reported. Several people have been arrested in connection with the plot, which was devised by Arab and Israeli security services, Hossein Taeb, head of intelligence for the IRGC to told an annual gathering of senior military officers in Tehran, according to Sepah news. He didn't elaborate.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's state TV says the constitutional watchdog has ratified a bill granting citizenship to children of Iranian mothers but non-Iranian fathers. Wednesday's ratification came after parliament approved the bill in May following decades-long demands by rights activists. Under the new law, children born to Iranian mothers will be eligible for Iranian citizenship.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that there was no evidence that Iran was responsible for an attack on Saudi oil infrastructure last month and that the United States had not presented any proof of Iran's role. France tried to set up a meeting between the leaders of Iran and the United States after the attack but failed to because Tehran wants Washington to remove its sanctions, Putin said at an energy conference in Moscow.
Israel is fighting off Iranian expansion across the Middle East, but danger for the Jewish state lurks near its own borders. Painstaking work by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their loyal proxies has succeeded in laying the groundwork for a second Iranian front with Israel in the Golan Heights. The first front is to Israel's north in South Lebanon. The Golan, which Israel won from Syria in 1967, lies further east. Though Israel rules the skies, the Syrian land adjoining Israel's border appears increasingly to belong to Iran.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps head General Hossien Salami said that Iran has "the capability to annihilate" Israel and that it must be "wiped off the world" map, during an IRGC commanders gathering on Monday. During his speech, Salami said this idea is within Iran's reach. "The second step of the revolution is the step that rearranges the constellation of power in favor of the revolution," he said. "Iran's Islamic revolution will be on top of this constellation... In the second step we will be thinking of the global mobilization of Islam."
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran's oil minister sought to defuse tensions with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, calling his counterpart in Riyadh "a friend" and saying Tehran was committed to stability in the region. The comment came at a top Russian energy conference chaired by President Vladimir Putin, where Iran's oil minister Bijan Zanganeh met Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and OPEC's Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are reportedly in contact following a destructive drone attack on a Saudi oil refinery, despite denials from Riyadh. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told al-Jazeera TV on Tuesday that Tehran "welcomes any negotiations with Saudi Arabia ... because talks with Riyadh can resolve many regional problems and issues." Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei told journalists that Tehran "has received an indirect message from Riyadh from the leader of another country," but he refused to say which one.
IRAQ & IRAN
Two border crossings between Iran and Iraq, including one due to be used by hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslim worshippers at an annual pilgrimage this month, have been closed because of unrest in Iraq, Iran's border guards said on Thursday. Anti-government protests have turned violent in recent days in Iraq, with at least 18 people reported killed. Iranian border guards commander General Qasem Rezaei said the Khosravi and Chazabeh crossings had been closed since late Wednesday, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
As violent protests continued for a second day in Baghdad and other southern Iraqi cities, head of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) Falih al-Fayyadh arrived in Washington to meet with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper Oct. 2. This comes in conjunction with the US Embassy in Baghdad urging all parties to avoid using violence. The mass protests erupted on Tuesday. According to the Iraqi government, at least two people were killed and more than 200 wounded, including 40 security officers, during the first day of protests.