In September, a senior Iranian commander made an unannounced visit to one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest sites in the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala. Hassan Pelarak, a top officer in the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, had recently been sanctioned by the U.S. for weapons smuggling. He was checking in on a construction project led by a firm he owns together with other Revolutionary Guards, a foundation linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader. This foundation too is under U.S. sanctions.
India wants to diversify its oil imports, including the resumption of supplies from Iran and Venezuela, after Joseph Biden becomes president of the United States, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Wednesday. “As a buyer I would like to have more buying places. I should have more destinations to go for purchasing (oil),” Pradhan said in response to a question about his expectations for the resumption of oil imports from Iran and Venezuela under a Biden presidency.
The international community must not relent in pressuring Iran to behave more responsibly, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said at the opening of the first Bahrain-US Strategic Dialogue on Tuesday. “We want our partnership with the US to be an integral part of this process, in exposing the ongoing challenges of the theocratic [Iranian] regime and its proxies, but also ensuring Bahrain and other regional allies continue to have the capabilities to effectively protect their people against such threats,” Al Zayani said.
UANI IN THE NEWS
President-elect Biden's choices for senior foreign policy and national security staff appointments and cabinet-level positions uniformly served in the Obama administration, and their experience negotiating the Iran nuclear deal will naturally inform their counsel. However, president-elect Biden's interest in reengaging with Tehran is unlikely to be quickly reciprocated by Iranian regime forces that have gripped control of power in recent years.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said he is against a bill aimed at ending nuclear inspections, saying it could harm efforts to revive the nuclear deal with world powers. The proposal ratified by the conservative parliament on Tuesday to bar international inspections of atomic sites as early as next month if the U.S. doesn’t lift key sanctions “is harmful to diplomatic efforts,” Rouhani said in a statement broadcast on state TV. The legislation isn’t final and needs approval from the powerful Guardian Council, which vets legislation.
Iranian lawmakers urged the Rouhani government to restrict United Nations inspections of its nuclear activities and boost uranium enrichment, following the killing last week of a top nuclear scientist. On Tuesday, a majority members of parliament agreed on the outlines of a motion that would allow Iran to curtail access for U.N. inspectors to Iranian facilities that are not declared nuclear sites, and begin stocking highly enriched uranium, an essential step in producing fissile material for a possible nuclear weapon. The law has been under discussion for weeks.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran’s government presented a draft state budget of about $33.7 billion to parliament on Wednesday, promising less reliance on oil revenues and higher growth despite U.S. sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy, Iranian media reported. The value of the draft budget is set about 8,413 trillion rials, up 74% from last year’s figures in rial terms but lower than last year’s budget of $38.8 billion in hard currency terms because of the sharp fall of Iran’s currency.
Germany, France and Britain urged the Trump administration in late October to reconsider broad, new sanctions against Iran’s banks, arguing that the move would deter legitimate humanitarian trade and hurt the allies’ common interests, diplomatic correspondence shows. Germany’s Bundesbank also kept a multi-billion-euro deposit facility open for Iranian banks, including two that faced fresh U.S. sanctions, giving Tehran a much-needed banking lifeline at a time its access to the global financial system was largely cut off, according to central bank data and interviews with bankers, Western diplomats and officials.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Swedish-Iranian scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, sentenced to death in Iran on espionage charges, may face imminent execution, rights groups said on Tuesday. “On 1 December, a judge said Ahmadreza was to be transferred to Rajai Shahr prison TODAY to proceed with his imminent execution,” Amnesty International said on Twitter. “His lawyer was informed that Ahmadreza would be transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison ... today (Tuesday, Dec. 1),” Iran Human Rights said in a statement, quoting his wife Vida Mehrannia.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In a criticism of President Hassan Rouhani's government, a member of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office, Rasool Sanaei Rad, said that those seeking "a resumption of negotiations with the United States" had "partisan and electoral goals." Speaking to the state-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) on Friday, Rad, the deputy of the "Political Ideological Bureau of the Commander-in-Chief" for political affairs, implied that Iranian government officials wanted to gain "specific benefits" from the new situation, and "return to the political arena."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry denied on Tuesday reports that a Revolutionary Guards commander was killed in a drone strike on the Syria-Iraq border a day earlier. “We have not received any report in this regard, and it seems more like media propaganda,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency. He added, however, that questions on the matter should be directed to Iran’s armed forces.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs on Tuesday criticised Iran’s foreign minister for implicating Riyadh in the killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. “Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif is desperate to blame the Kingdom for anything negative that happens in Iran. Will he blame us for the next earthquake or flood?,” minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in a tweet. Jubeir’s remarks appeared to be a response to comments made on Monday by Mohammad Javad Zarif which suggested a covert meeting in Saudi Arabia between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contributed to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqi Minister of Defense Juma Inad paid an official visit to Tehran Nov. 14 in response to the invitation of his Iranian counterpart Minister of Defense Amir Hatami a few weeks ago. Hatami said, “The Iranian Ministry of Defense is ready to beef up Iraq’s defense capacities and provide the needs of the armed forces.” The Iranian chief of staff stated that, as part of the past military cooperation between the two countries, Iraq received military equipment from Iran. He said, “We will soon sign a comprehensive military agreement that involves the purchase of Iranian military equipment, joint military maneuvers and exchange of experience.
The killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist has exposed security gaps which suggest its security forces may have been infiltrated and that the country is vulnerable to further attacks. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing on Friday followed two other big security lapses -- the theft of Iran’s nuclear archive and a fire at a nuclear facility this year that some Iranian officials blamed on cyber sabotage. With Fakhrizadeh the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist killed in targeted attacks since 2010, security experts are suggesting Iran’s enemies have found its Achilles’ heel.