The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency on Monday urged that inspections not be used as a "bargaining chip" as Iran, the United States and other nations lock horns over how to revive their beleaguered nuclear deal. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi appealed to all sides to engage in “constructive discussions” as the Vienna-based agency’s 35-nation board met Monday. Iran enacted a law late last month that restricted snap access for inspectors to some sites and surveillance cameras, complaining that it is not reaping the economic rewards it was promised under the 2015 deal in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Wally Adeyemo, President Joe Biden’s nominee as deputy Treasury secretary, underscored his commitment to rigorous enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Russia and other countries. In written responses to queries from members of the Senate Finance Committee, Adeyemo said Iran should only enjoy sanctions relief if it resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord. He said Treasury would look carefully at “any Iranian efforts to evade sanctions and abuse the international banking system” to fund terrorist activities.
The Pentagon said Monday that a U.S. airstrike last week in eastern Syria killed one fighter in an Iranian-backed militia and wounded two others. "What I can tell you is that we believe right now there was likely one militia member killed, and two militia members wounded," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters. The Biden administration had earlier said it was unclear what the casualty toll was from the bombing raid, which was carried out in retaliation for a deadly rocket attack on a U.S.-led coalition base in northern Iraq as well as two other rocket attacks.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Britain, France and Germany are pressing ahead with a U.S.-backed plan for a resolution by the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board criticising Iran for curbing cooperation with the agency, despite Russian and Iranian warnings of serious consequences. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors is holding a quarterly meeting this week against the backdrop of faltering efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers now that U.S. President Joe Biden is in office. Iran has recently accelerated its violations of the 2015 deal in an apparent bid to raise pressure on Biden, as each side insists the other must move first.
A series of back-and-forth retaliatory moves and antagonizing statements between Washington and Tehran are putting the Biden administration’s plans for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal into greater peril by the day. “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, describing his message to Iran after he ordered airstrikes against buildings in eastern Syria that the Pentagon says were being used by Iranian-backed militia.
Iran has rejected an opportunity to discuss the future of a nuclear deal with the United States, keeping both nations on a confrontational path instead of a diplomatic one. On February 18, Washington accepted an offer to hold informal talks with Tehran brokered by the European Union. The goal was for both sides to negotiate a way forward so the US could reenter the multinational pact that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief the Trump administration left in 2018. After that exit, Iran pressured America to lift those penalties by, among other things, enriching uranium above agreed-to levels in the accord.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran Monday repeated its call for the United States to drop sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for talks on resume on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. At a news conference in Tehran Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said if the U.S. truly wants to begin renegotiating the nuclear deal, the path is clear: the U.S. must effectively remove the sanctions. He said there was no need for negotiations in this path.
Lawyers representing Meng Wanzhou tried to discredit evidence presented by U.S. officials in her extradition hearing, arguing a banker at HSBC Holdings Plc knew that a company doing business with Iran was actually an affiliate of Huawei Technologies Co. One of Meng’s lawyers, Frank Addario, told the Supreme Court of British Columbia that the Department of Justice presented “misleading and unreliable” evidence when it described a meeting Meng had with an HSBC executive in a Hong Kong tea room in 2013.
The US Defense Department released aerial surveillance video of a ballistic missile attack launched by Iran early last year on an Iraqi military base used by American personnel. The footage, first aired by CBS News on Sunday, shows a barrage of more than one-ton missiles smashing into maintenance and dining facilities at Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq. The Iranian attack, which also struck a military coalition air base at the Erbil International Airport in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, wounded over 100 US military personnel with concussive injuries.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran’s foreign ministry said it wasn’t the right time for direct talks with the Biden administration and European powers to find a way to end the stalemate over the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Donald Trump. “Considering US/E3 positions & actions, time isn’t ripe for the proposed informal meeting,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a tweet. The U.S. “can’t continue to uphold the maximum pressure policy and sanctions... and sit at the table anew,” Khatibzadeh said in a press briefing in Tehran Monday.
Presidents Obama, Trump and now Biden have all vowed to reduce the amount of attention the America pays to the Middle East, but events keep frustrating that goal. Last week the Biden administration launched two carefully calibrated strikes in the region: a military strike against a Syrian border post used by Iran-linked militias that are said to be involved in recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq, and a political strike against Saudi Arabia involving the release of a Central Intelligence Agency assessment linking Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for a mysterious attack on an Israeli-owned freighter loaded with vehicles in the Gulf of Oman last week, pledging that his government would retaliate. “This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” Netanyahu said in a radio interview that aired Monday. “Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel. I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region.” The Helios Ray, a freighter that had offloaded vehicles at several ports in the gulf on its way to Singapore, was struck by several blasts of unknown origin Friday as it steamed along the Iranian coast near the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani said on Monday that Iranian media close to the Supreme leader have reported that Tehran is “behind Houthi escalation in Marib,’ state news agency SABA reported. He claimed that reports by “Kayhan newspaper” show that Tehran was behind the military escalation of the Houthi militia in Marib, as well as the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia, and the attack on a ship in the Sea of Oman.