The Trump administration is ending sanctions waivers that allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to work on sensitive Iranian nuclear sites, dealing another major blow to the Iran nuclear deal and raising the prospect of covert advances in Tehran’s nuclear program, according to U.S. officials and documents obtained by The Washington Post. Nonproliferation experts say the waivers, which are supported by U.S. allies in Europe, reduce Iran’s incentive to enrich uranium at higher levels and provide a window into the country’s atomic program.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy is giving Iran a choice between negotiating with the United States or managing the economic collapse caused by U.S. sanctions, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Wednesday. “Because of our pressure, Iran’s leaders are facing a decision: Either negotiate with us or manage economic collapse,” Hook told reporters during a conference call.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled scores of new and upgraded defensive speedboats with a warning to the U.S. that it won’t shy away from challenging American naval power. “Today we announce that wherever the Americans are, we’re right there beside you, and in the near future you will sense us even more,” IRGC Navy Commander Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said on the sidelines of a ceremony in the Persian Gulf, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Thursday. While battling sanctions and a major coronavirus outbreak, Iran is still determined to make a display of strength as tensions with the U.S. continue to simmer.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Despite winning the vote, Qalibaf may still face suspicion from other lawmakers, particularly over his ambitions, wrote Jason Brodsky, the policy director of the Washington-based group United Against Nuclear Iran. “Some factions view his bid with suspicion given rumors Qalibaf wants to use the speakership as a means to run for the presidency in 2021,” Brodsky wrote. “Also, because of his previous election campaigns facing off against Rouhani, Qalibaf would preside over a more combative parliament.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States said on Wednesday it will terminate sanctions waivers that had allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out work originally designed to make it harder for Iranian nuclear sites to be used for weapons development. The waivers, which officials said expire on July 27, covered the conversion of Iran’s Arak heavy water research reactor, the provision of enriched uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor and the transfer of spent and scrap reactor fuel abroad.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday pledged to begin charging citizens for gasoline, as the fourth cargo of a five-tanker flotilla bringing fuel from Iran approached the South American nation's exclusive economic zone. Iran is providing the country with up to 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and components to help it ease an acute scarcity that has forced Venezuelans to wait in hours-long lines at service stations or pay steep prices on the black market.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday the U.S. will end all sanction waivers that allowed Chinese, European and Russian companies to work with Iranian nuclear sites without coming under U.S. sanctions. “Today, I am ending the sanctions waiver for JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]-related projects in Iran, effective in 60 days,” Pompeo said in a Tweet Wednesday. “Iran’s continued nuclear escalation makes clear this cooperation must end. Further attempts at nuclear extortion will only bring greater pressure on the regime.”
The arrival of Iranian fuel tankers to Venezuela has been hailed by officials from both countries as they look to resist threats of intervention against their trade by the United States. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the U.S. during a cabinet session Wednesday of seeking "to interfere in the normal trade between Iran and a friendly country in carrying an oil product," something he argued "has nothing to do with them and is not compatible with any law."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old Iranian girl by her father, who reportedly used a farming sickle to behead her as she slept, has prompted a nationwide outcry. Reza Ashrafi, now in custody, was apparently enraged when he killed his daughter Romina on Thursday after she ran away with 34-year-old Bahamn Khavari in Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran. In traditional societies in the Middle East, including Iran, blame would typically fall on a runaway girl for purportedly having sullied her family’s honor, rather than on an adult male luring away a child.
France’s threats and interference have complicated the case of a French-Iranian academic jailed in Iran, a spokesman for the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, according to the official IRNA news agency. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday relations with Iran had become more difficult after Tehran sentenced Fariba Adelkhah to prison in what he said was a politically motivated decision. Adelkhah, who has been in prison for a year, was this month sentenced to six years in jail on charges of breaching national security.
The Law Enforcement Commander of Khuzestan Province on Wednesday said the security police of Mahshahr Port has arrested "fourteen agents of Takfiri and separatist groups". Brigadier General Heydar Abbaszadeh said those who have been arrested had shot bullets at police and Basij headquarters, hoisted "the fake flag of Al-Ahwaziyoun group around the city, and sent video clips showing that to foreign [media]". The Police Chief also claimed that the accused "have confessed to the crimes they committed".
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran and the United States have long been sworn enemies, and despite rare prisoner swaps in recent years, they still hold a number of each other's nationals behind bars. Among those released were Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, exchanged in 2016 for seven Iranians held in the US, and Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist swapped for US academic Xiyue Wang in December. The fate of the remaining detainees has seemingly worsened since 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian lawmakers elected former Revolutionary Guards air force commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf on Thursday as the speaker of the hardliner-dominated parliament for one year, state television reported. State TV said 230 lawmakers, out of 264, voted for Qalibaf, whose record as a veteran of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and as a national police chief has endeared him to Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and boosted his chances of becoming speaker.
Iran installed a parliament dominated by hardliners who have opposed the governments of President Hassan Rouhani, setting the stage for an uneasy cohabitation as ministers attempt to protect what’s left of the landmark nuclear deal and confront the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak. Rouhani on Wednesday urged the new assembly to show “brotherhood” with his cabinet of more moderate technocrats, and so far conservative lawmakers have vowed to put aside differences to focus on Iran’s embattled economy.
Iran’s 11th parliament officially began its mandate May 27 following a ceremony attended by many of the country's most powerful men, including moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi and several high-ranking military commanders. In a message read by his representative, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei envisioned the pathway ahead of the new lawmakers, urging them to refrain from “sideshows” and instead unite to uproot corruption and pursue the “resistance economy,” a strategy Khamenei has been promoting in recent years to fight off the US “maximum pressure” policy.
IRAQ & IRAN
Two diplomats are quietly leading Iran’s push to influence politics in Iraq, in a departure from the more blunt enforcement employed by Qassem Soleimani, a top commander slain in a U.S. air strike. The consensual tactics in a country where Iran has wrestled with Washington for influence for nearly two decades was designed to break a political deadlock in Baghdad and hasten the departure of nearly 5,000 U.S. troops from Iraq, according to three senior Iranian officials involved in the process.