Software company SAP SE admitted it provided millions of dollars in software to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, becoming the first company to benefit from a Justice Department program that encourages companies to self-report criminal export violations in exchange for leniency, U.S. authorities said Thursday. Between 2010 and 2017, the German enterprise-software giant sent upgrades and software patches more than 20,000 times to users in Iran, and allowed its cloud businesses to give 2,360 Iranian users access to U.S.-based cloud services, the Justice Department said.
Sweden’s Security Service disclosed in its 2020 intelligence report that the Islamic Republic of Iran seeks Swedish technology for its nuclear weapons program, The Jerusalem Post can reveal. Iran, China and Russia are Sweden’s biggest security threats, according to the report. A damning section states that “Iran also conducts industrial espionage, which is mainly targeted against Swedish hi-tech industry and Swedish products, which can be used in nuclear weapons programs. Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden.”
The bombshell leak of an audio recording with Iran's foreign minister has exposed bitter internal divisions in Iran, threatening to complicate delicate negotiations between Tehran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement. The leaked interview, in which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complains about being undercut by Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard Corps, has set off a firestorm and dominated news coverage this week in Iran. The leak has inflamed a debate raging in Iran over the nuclear deal as rival factions prepare for a presidential election in June.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
World powers are working to restore their nuclear agreement with Iran by the middle of May, before a key monitoring deal expires, with talks now in their third week bogged down over which sanctions the U.S. intends to lift. Two European officials involved in mediating the process confirmed the target date, asking not be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations in Vienna. Though the U.S. and Iran have made headway, there’s still a long way to go before an understanding is reached, they said.
UANI IN THE NEWS
For months, President Biden and his surrogates have consistently claimed that their goal in engaging Iran and in any potential re-entry into the Iran nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — is to create a “longer and stronger” agreement. In truth, it’s been an empty slogan, and whatever hopes that critics of the JCPOA had of President Biden explicitly seeking a fortified agreement may have been dashed when the State Department revealed its intention to willingly consider lifting economic sanctions on the regime.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
French energy group Total is not considering returning to Iran for now due to uncertainty regarding sanctions on the country, Chief Financial Officer Jean-Pierre Sbraire told an analysts’ conference call on Thursday. Earlier this week, world powers and Iran sought to speed up efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, as the United States reassured its Gulf Arab allies on the status of the talks.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group have pleaded not guilty to Danish charges of financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing. The three, who are members of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) and were arrested in February last year, risk 12 years in prison if found guilty in the trial that started in Copenhagen on April 29. ASMLA is based in Denmark and the Netherlands and is considered a terrorist group by Iran.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The United States has reiterated its concern about Iran’s poor human rights record in its first official comment on the Islamic republic’s election last week to the United Nations’ top legislative body on women’s rights. But it fell short of the explicit denunciation of the outcome that many rights advocates had hoped for. The remarks, which were provided to VOA on Thursday and largely repeated later at a State Department briefing, mark the United States' stand on the election of Iran to the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Amid efforts to revive the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, relatives of Europeans held in Iran say their governments are kowtowing to Tehran. In recent interviews, relatives of five dual nationals and one French citizen described the efforts of European governments to end their loved ones' detention as ineffective. Most said they felt officials had been too soft on Iran and implored them to take more assertive action to secure their relatives' release.
Iranian authorities are banning members of the persecuted Baha’i minority from burying their loved ones in empty plots at a cemetery near Tehran that they have used for decades, instead insisting they bury them between existing graves within the cemetery or at the nearby Khavaran mass grave site for victims of the 1988 prison massacres, said Amnesty International today.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency and its ambassador to Washington on Thursday, and the Israeli officials expressed "deep concern" about Iran's nuclear activities, according to a person familiar with the matter. The meeting in Washington followed talks this week between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart in which the Israeli delegation stressed their "freedom to operate" against Iran as they see fit, the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said John Kerry needs to come clean about his discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and three House Republicans are calling on the State Department’s independent watchdog to launch an investigation. Kerry, the climate czar for the Biden administration, sparked controversy when a leaked audiotape of an interview between Zarif and an Iranian journalist surfaced this week and revealed that Kerry allegedly told Zarif that Israel attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times.
US President Joe Biden vowed on Wednesday diplomacy on the "serious threat" of the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea. "We'll be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy and stern deterrence,'" Biden said in a speech. The United States is holding indirect talks with Iran in Vienna in a bid to re-enter a 2015 denuclearization accord trashed by former US President Donald Trump. The Biden administration is separately reviewing policy on North Korea after Trump's unusually personal diplomacy that included three meetings with leader Kim Jong Un.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Authoritarian rulers have clamped down on dissidents trying to organize online in recent years, with some attempting to emulate the firewall that insulates China’s homegrown web from the world outside. Iran has taken a different approach. Knowing its filters aren’t enough to keep Iranians off global social-media platforms, it floods them with propaganda, aiming to turn them to its advantage. The latest is Clubhouse. Activists complain that Iranian authorities are co-opting the app to create a facade of democracy ahead of presidential elections in June to boost voter turnout, which the state has often used as a badge of legitimacy.
Hesamoddin Ashena, a longtime aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and an influential member of his office, has resigned, according to reports circulated across Iranian media April 29. Rouhani appointed government spokesman Ali Rabiei as the director of the Center for Strategic Research, affiliated with Iran's Presidential Office, where an interview with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was conducted for confidential archives but was leaked to foreign-based Persian media last week.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Republicans on Thursday called on President Biden to launch an investigation into allegations that climate envoy John Kerry released sensitive information to Iran while serving as Secretary of State under Barak Obama. In a letter to the president, the group of 19 GOP senators called for Kerry’s immediate removal from the administration’s National Security Council while the investigation is conducted. Kerry was accused earlier this week of informing a top Iranian diplomat of at least 200 Israeli-backed airstrikes on Iranian targets during his time as Secretary of State.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
An Israeli cabinet minister sharpened his country’s warnings against what it would deem a bad new nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, saying war with Tehran would be sure to follow. As President Joe Biden explores a possible U.S. return to the 2015 deal to contain Iran's nuclear programme that his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned, Israel has stepped up calls for more sweeping curbs to be imposed on sensitive Iranian technologies and projects.
Iran was suspended by judo’s world governing body on Thursday as punishment for refusing to let its athletes face opponents from Israel. The International Judo Federation imposed a four-year ban after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ordered a disciplinary review last month which said a previous indefinite ban was not allowed. The CAS judges had been tough on Iranian officials from the national Olympic and judo bodies and government sports ministry, saying the case “clearly reveals an institutionalized scheme” to prevent athletes facing Israelis.
Allegations by the Iranian foreign minister that former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him of hundreds of Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria is shining new light on the regime’s presence in the country. Kerry has strongly denied the allegations by Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif that he informed him of more than 200 Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, but it has quickly led to calls for Kerry to be investigated or even resign.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
…“Iran is deporting the Iraqi experiment to Yemen, and this is what should be taken into consideration in the peace track in Yemen,” Jason Brodsky, a Middle East analyst and a fellow of the Wilson Center and United Against Nuclear Iran, also commented. Brodsky claimed that the commander of the Quds Force, Hassan Erlo, has worked to escalate the military and operational violence of the Houthis since his arrival in Sana’a, and that the militia has stepped up its attack against Marib and Saudi Arabia, after they were removed from the US list of terrorist organizations.
Iran on Thursday welcomed what it called a change of tone from Saudi Arabia and said it hoped they could work together to secure peace, amid moves to ease tensions between the regional rivals. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman made the statement days after Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said his country wanted better relations with Tehran. "With constructive views and a dialogue-oriented approach, Iran and Saudi Arabia ... can enter a new chapter of interaction and cooperation to achieve peace, stability and regional development by overcoming differences", Iranian media quoted foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has restated Tehran’s support for a cease-fire in Yemen and talks between the country’s Houthi rebels and the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. Zarif met with Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam in Muscat, Oman’s capital, Wednesday. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said its top diplomat “emphasized our country’s support for a cease-fire and Yemeni-Yemeni talks.”
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Abraham Accords between Israel and Gulf nations have taught us the important lesson that long-standing animosities can be set aside when greater national interests are served by making peace. Which raises the question: Do national interests make a compelling case for a thaw in the Gulf? Ongoing discussions among Gulf watchers about the need to de-escalate the protracted gray-zone conflict between Iran and her neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are really discussions about pathways to normalization. Viewed through the lens of national interests, it appears that détente, with the prospect of normalization, would carry substantial benefits for all parties.
Israel is bracing for a wave of Iranian-inspired cyberattacks that will try to disrupt the Israeli internet and deface local websites on Jerusalem Day, Israel’s cyber authority said Wednesday. Al-Quds Day (Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem) was declared by the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It’s held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.