The United Nations said Thursday that it had suspended the voting rights of Iran and four smaller countries for delinquent dues. The move provoked a furious reaction from Iran, which called it “astonishingly absurd” and blamed the country’s arrears on U.S. sanctions that had frozen Iranian funds in banks worldwide. The episode threatened to inject another irritant into the estranged U.S.-Iranian relationship, entangling the United Nations just as diplomats are seeking to advance negotiations aimed at restoring American and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers.
The United States expects to have a sixth round of indirect talks on reviving compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and probably more, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday. The European Union envoy coordinating the talks on Wednesday said he believed a deal would be struck at the next round starting next week, but other senior diplomats have said the most difficult decisions still lie ahead. Price said hurdles remained after the fifth round of talks that concluded on Wednesday and offered a more cautious outlook than the EU official, even as he did not rule out the possibility of an agreement in the next round.
There is a common misperception that those of us who opposed the Iran nuclear deal are simply opposed to diplomacy with Iran. Nothing could be further from the truth. In more than 25 years in Congress, we have consistently supported diplomacy backed by sanctions, with the objective of ending Iran’s dangerous nuclear plans and curbing its regional aggression. That is why we believe there is an opportunity for President Biden to think beyond the mere restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal that the Obama administration, its European partners, China and Russia reached with Iran in 2015.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran could send energy prices higher — even if it means more supply in the oil markets, according to Goldman Sachs’ head of energy research. While it appears to be contradictory, a deal that brings Iranian barrels back to the market could actually see oil prices rise, said Damien Courvalin, who is also a senior commodity strategist at the bank. Talks in Vienna are ongoing as Iran and six world powers — the U.S., China, Russia, France, U.K. and Germany — try to salvage the 2015 landmark deal.
Among the many revelations in a recently leaked interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is a passing reflection on the nuclear deal his country signed with the world powers in 2015. Zarif admits he was “naive” to assume that U.S. President Barack Obama could keep a bargain he had made without approval from Congress. He’s right. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is formally known, has been a case study in the limitations of presidential power in dealmaking.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies are closely tracking two Iranian ships that Tehran claims are bound for Venezuela. At the Pentagon and other agencies, officials said that at the moment the ships' passage is not a concern, but they are being monitored and the intelligence community is working to assess what Iran's intentions are. The two countries -- both the subject of harsh US sanctions -- are allies and trading partners that have helped each other withstand the American measures.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Satellite photographs taken Thursday show the burned hulk that remains of Iran’s biggest warship after it caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman. The photos from Planet Labs Inc., analyzed by The Associated Press, show the 207-meter (679-foot) Kharg just off the coast of the Iranian port city of Jask, surrounded by a sea of oil-slicked waters. Iranian officials have not acknowledged the pollution left behind by the ship’s sinking on Wednesday. The photos show the ship partially submerged, with debris floating in the water around it.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
A huge blaze broke out at an Iranian oil refinery south of Tehran on Wednesday, a spokesman for Iran's emergency department said, according to state media. At least 11 people have been injured. The head of Tehran's Provincial Crisis Management Office, Mansour Darajati, said that "a leak at a liquid gas pipeline at the facility sparked the fire," Reuters reported. Gholamreza Nouferesti, the local public prosecutor, visited the refinery on Thursday and has ordered a judiciary investigation into the incident, according to the semi-official KhabarOnline website.
In spite of the Iranian regime’s claims that it holds democratic presidential elections, the system is fundamentally an authoritarian one disguised as a democracy. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in February boasted about the regime’s political system and the people’s important role in influencing and shaping the political establishment. He said: “The Islamic revolution transformed the rule of a country from a despotic monarchy into a popular, democratic republic run by the people.
In two weeks, when Iran is scheduled to hold its presidential election, Narges Mohammadi will be staying home. One of her country’s most courageous human-rights activists, she views the upcoming vote as a sham. “The principle of absolute jurisprudence has invalidated all the principles of the Iranian constitution and reduced the power of other institutions to zero,” she told me in an WhatsApp interview from Iran. The country’s unelected supreme leader and the country’s Guardian Council, which vets presidential candidates and can overturn laws passed by Iran’s legislature, have consolidated power.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
A French tourist by the name of Benjamin Briere, who has been held in an Iranian prison for the past year, is set to be prosecuted for espionage and propaganda against the regime, along with other charges. Briere had been on the adventure of a lifetime. He fitted out his van and in 2018 began a long journey across Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Iraq’s Kurdistan, and Iran. This adventure came to a brutal end in May 2020. While he was in a desert area close to the Turkmenistan border, the Iranian authorities arrested him and he has since then been held in a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad.