The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Friday he is hopeful that stalled talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear program can reach an agreement. The talks between Tehran and world powers are deadlocked in part over Iran’s demand for the United States to lift a terrorist designation on the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of Seven major economies in Germany, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, said an EU envoy visited Tehran this week for talks that had “gone better than expected.”
Iran has capacity to double oil exports if there’s sufficient demand, a top official said, even as a deal on the country’s nuclear program that could pave the way for the lifting of sanctions remain elusive. Iran will “exert maximum effort to recoup its crude oil market share and revive its customers,” Mohsen Khojastehmehr, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Co., told reporters Saturday in Tehran. While Iran doesn’t publish figures for oil production or exports, analysts estimate that it sells as much as 1 million barrels per day. The government’s budget plan forecasts daily sales of 1.4 million barrels for the year through March 2023.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…From there, Iran’s oil exports climbed upward, but have yet to return to their June 2018 high. Iran exported 555,000 barrels per day in December 2019, 1.1 million barrels per day in December 2020, 1.4 million barrels per day in December 2021, and 1.1 million barrels per day in April 2022, according to the UANI’s tanker tracker. The sanctions against non-oil exports, however, failed to exert a comparable downward pressure. In 2017, Tehran exported $39.9 billion of non-oil goods. The following year, its exports slightly dropped to $39.6 billion, but in 2019 they jumped to $41 billion.
…Jason Brodsky, the policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), told me in an interview that Iran’s strategy “is likely to inflame tensions so as to undermine the social fabric” in Israel’s Arab communities. “This,” he observed, “invites the instability off which Iran thrives.” Brodsky pointed out that the Islamic Republic’s strategy is also “aimed at delegitimizing Israel.” In his view, this is an influence operation to serve that end. By encouraging violence among Israeli Arabs, Tehran is aiding the numerous elements that are engaged in a long-running campaign to weaken the Jewish state.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The U.S. State Department said on Friday it appreciated the European Union's efforts to revive talks on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but said there was no agreement yet and no certainty that one might be reached. "At this point a deal remains far from certain. Iran needs to decide whether it insists on extraneous conditions and whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly, which we believe would serve all side's interests. We and our partners are ready, and have been for some time. It's now up to Iran," said a U.S. State Department spokesperson on condition of anonymity.
After weeks of optimism around the prospect of restoring the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year, the fate of the agreement appears to be in limbo again with no further talks on the calendar and Washington’s attention focused on Ukraine. The push to revive the deal seems to have stalled over the US designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a “foreign terrorist organization”, with American officials reluctant to meet Tehran’s demand to remove the group from the blacklist to seal the deal.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
State firm National Iranian Oil Engineering and Construction Company has signed a 110 million Euro contract to repair and restart Venezuela's smallest refinery, the 146,000-barrel per day El Palito, Iran's official news agency IRNA said on Friday. The agreement follows negotiations led by Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji, who traveled to Venezuela earlier this month and met President Nicolas Maduro. As Owji met Maduro and his counterpart, oil minister Tareck El Aissami, in Caracas, two supertankers arrived in Venezuelan waters carrying Iranian crude and condensate. The South American nation is trying to boost crude exports and fuel output.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian authorities have arrested at least 22 demonstrators who had been protesting sudden price hikes of subsidized staple foods in two southern cities, state media reported early Friday. The arrests follow Iran’s announcement this week that the cost of cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk would rise by as much as 300%, as food prices surge across the Middle East due to global supply chain snarls and Russia’s invasion of major food exporter Ukraine. The state-run IRNA news agency reported that 15 people were arrested overnight in the southwestern city of Dezful in Khuzestan province, as well as seven others in the city of Yasuj in Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad Province in the south.
France has summoned a senior Iranian diplomat after two of its citizens were detained in Tehran in what Paris said was a baseless arrest – as wider talks on reviving a nuclear deal have reopened, the EU foreign policy chief said on Friday. Iran's intelligence ministry had said on Wednesday it had arrested two Europeans for allegedly fomenting "insecurity" there, but it had not revealed their nationalities. "The French government condemns this baseless arrest. It calls for the immediate release of these two French nationals," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday, adding that Iran's Charge d'Affaires had been summoned.
In among the relief and euphoria that attended the return to Britain of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and businessman Anoosheh Ashoori from Iranian jails in March, one family was feeling precisely the opposite emotions. The Foreign Office deal that finally brought Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori home was always supposed to involve three British prisoners. Morad Tahbaz, 66, has been incarcerated in Tehran for four years. Right up until a week before the deal was made, the Tahbaz family had been told categorically by Liz Truss’s department that Morad – along with his wife, Vida, 64, currently subject to a travel ban in Iran – would be part of any agreement.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A Hezbollah video circulating online purports to show that the terrorist group has some new munitions in its always expanding arsenal. Over the years, Hezbollah has stockpiled more than 100,000 missiles and rockets. However, the real danger of these weapons is that some have been upgraded or use new technology that enables them to be precision-guided munitions, or maneuvering munitions, drones and cruise missiles. A recent video posted online purports to show a glimpse of an “Abu Mahdi anti-ship cruise missile.”
Iran said on Monday it respected the votes cast by people in Lebanon’s parliamentary election, where unofficial results showed some of Tehran-backed Hezbollah's oldest allies suffering losses and their opponents gaining more seats. "Iran respects the vote of Lebanese people... Iran has never tried to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference. The Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah has worked hand in glove with Tehran across the Middle East since it was founded by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in 1982 to export Tehran's Islamic Revolution.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was formally elected president on Saturday, led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam in the region. Working behind the scenes for years as de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed, 61, transformed the UAE military into a high-tech force, which coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence internationally.
Iran's top diplomat is expected to visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said, welcoming the appointment of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as the Gulf state's president last week. "Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian is planning to travel to the UAE today," Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference. Iranian state media said Amirabdollahian had left Tehran to pay respects to the Gulf country's late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed who died on Friday.