The United States, Britain and Israel on Sunday all accused Iran of carrying out a drone attack last week on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea that killed two people on board, raising fears of an escalating maritime war in the Middle East, as Tehran denied responsibility for the strike. American and Israeli officials had previously said that Thursday’s attack on the Liberian-flagged Mercer Street bore the hallmarks of an operation by Iran, which has been accused of deploying attack drones in the past. The Mercer Street is managed by Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company owned by an Israeli billionaire.
Days before a new hard-line president is set to be inaugurated in Iran, Biden administration officials have turned sharply pessimistic about their chances of quickly restoring the nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump dismantled, fearing that the new government in Tehran is speeding ahead on nuclear research and production and preparing new demands for the United States. The concerns are a reversal from just a month ago, when American negotiators, based in part on assurances from the departing Iranian government, believed they were on the cusp of reaching a deal before Ebrahim Raisi, 60, a deeply conservative former head of the judiciary, takes office on Thursday.
Protests in Iran against a range of grievances - including a severe lack of water and power blackouts - have drawn attention to the country's wider water problems. Experts have raised concerns about the situation for many years, so what's to blame for Iran's water crisis? In April, the Iranian Meteorological Organisation warned of an "unprecedented drought" and rainfall levels which were substantially below long-term averages. In the oil-producing province of Khuzestan, residents took to the streets over water shortages, and there were protests against hydroelectric power cuts in other cities.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Germany’s foreign minister is signaling growing impatience with Iran, saying that a revival of the country’s frayed nuclear accord with world powers won’t be possible “forever,” a German magazine reported Friday. The countries that remain parties to the agreement — Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran — have been trying during six rounds of talks in Vienna to resolve how the United States can rejoin and how Tehran can return to compliance. President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018, but successor Joe Biden has said the U.S. wants to return.
An Iranian national who lives in Montreal allegedly exported lab equipment that is controlled for nuclear nonproliferation reasons from the United States to Iran through Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, aka Reza Sarhang, was charged with two violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as well as one count of conspiracy, one count of causing a failure to submit export information, and six counts of money laundering, according to an indictment from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
With summer dragging on, the United States and Iran seem far from reaching an agreement on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal as a more conservative president prepares to take office next week. On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly chastised President Hassan Rouhani, along with his cabinet, in a meeting broadcast on state television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work,” Khamenei said. He went on to accuse the United States of nitpicking and duplicity in negotiations in Vienna, saying that U.S. negotiators insisted on including a sentence that would set the stage for talks on aspects not covered under the nuclear agreement.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran’s ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi will be inaugurated on Tuesday as the new president of the Islamic republic, a country mired in deep economic crisis and hit by crippling US sanctions. He replaces the relatively moderate president Hassan Rouhani, whose landmark achievement was the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. Raisi, 60, will have to tackle the nuclear talks aimed at reviving the deal from which the US unilaterally withdrew.
Ebrahim Raisi, who will be sworn in on Thursday as Iran’s eighth president, inherits a troubled economy whose fate has been intertwined with political upheavals. The “revolutionary” government he’s promised to form has a Herculean task ahead to fix an economy that suffers from a toxic mix of United States sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and structural issues that have taken hold after decades of mismanagement. One inescapable economic hardship that increasingly makes everyday life more difficult for Iranians is inflation, which many Iranian economists and analysts expect to remain above 40 percent at least until later this year.
Prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are getting murkier by the day. What seems clear, though, is that the U.S. is unlikely to secure a broader agreement that addresses Iran’s missile arsenal and network of heavily armed proxy forces. Finding other ways of containing and degrading those threats — all the more dangerous in combination — should be a priority. This won’t be easy. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has called into question the Biden administration’s resolve under pressure.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The International Olympic Committee is facing outcry after it allowed an alleged member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to compete and win gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Javad Foroughi secured the gold medal in the 10-meter air pistol on Saturday, the first and only medal so far for Iran in Tokyo. In the days since, international critics, including some from Iran, have accused Foroughi, 41, of being a member of IRGC, a powerful ideological Iranian military branch that answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Iranian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" release those detained during protests against water shortages and economic hardships in Khuzestan and other provinces and to investigate the abusive use of lethal force. Demonstrations than began on July 15 in dozens of towns and cities in Khuzestan, a province with a large ethnic Arab population, later expanded to other regions of Iran, including parts of Tehran, amid the worst drought in Iran in at least 50 years that has triggered weeks of power blackouts.
The highest-ranking and most popular Sunni cleric in Iran, Mawlawi Abdul-Hamid, expressed concern for the overall situation of minorities in Iran under the Islamic Republic, saying the same ethnicities in neighboring countries and the Persian Gulf region "are better off." "When comparing their lives to people in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf nations, our fellow Arab countrymen clearly find themselves in livelihood hardships," the cleric told Sunni Online, a news outlet that monitors the situation of Iran's Sunni community.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Biden administration wants to ramp up pressure on Iran amid stalled talks to rejoin the nuclear deal, but internal calculations in Tehran are difficult to predict as the nation faces rising unrest at home. The options on the table for the U.S., which are said to include tighter restrictions on Iran's oil exports as well as new sanctions on its missile and drone programs, are likely to further strain tensions amid the months-long efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the Obama-era nuclear deal that the U.S. exited in 2018 under then-President Trump.
How many Iranian slaps in the face will it take for President Biden to accept that he can’t change Tehran’s malign behavior by returning to the 2015 nuclear deal? The latest provocation was an attack Thursday night in the Arabian Sea on a commercial oil tanker that killed two crew members. The tanker Mercer Street is managed by a London-based company owned by an Israeli billionaire. Israel fingered Iran for the attack, and Iran denied it. On Sunday the U.S. and U.K. joined Israel in holding Iran responsible.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Experts from the Tony Blair Institute have created a model to assess the threat posed by Iran’s revolutionary guard under the new presidency of Ebrahim Raisi. Analysts Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi have examined the hierarchy and internal feuding in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to help foreign powers to assess its power and influence under the incoming regime. Mr Raisi will assume Iran’s presidency on Thursday, having been elected with a low turnout in June from a small field of predominantly conservative politicians.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s outgoing president on Sunday acknowledged his nation at times “did not tell part of the truth” to its people during his eight-year tenure, as he prepares to leave office with his signature nuclear deal with world powers in tatters and tensions high with the West. President Hassan Rouhani’s comments, aired on state television, come as officials in his government have appeared rudderless in recent months amid a series of crises ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to parching droughts fueling public protests.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will officially confirm Ebrahim Raisi as the Islamic Republic’s new president in a ceremony on Aug. 3, marking the end of Hassan Rouhani’s government. Both Khamenei and Raisi are scheduled to give speeches in the televised event that will formally approve his presidency, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. A swearing-in ceremony will take place on Aug. 5, during which Raisi is expected to present his proposed cabinet, including his picks for minister of foreign affairs and minister of petroleum.
Iranians are warning of public anger and drawing parallels with the world's most oppressive regimes as legislation makes its way through the country's parliament that could intensify online censorship and further restrict Internet access. Iranian authorities already block tens of thousands of websites and regularly throttle or cut Internet connectivity during crucial periods, including a near-total shutdown for nearly a week amid antiestablishment protests following a disputed election in 2019.
CHINA & IRAN
In 1979, both Iran and China underwent revolutionary transformations. In China, Deng Xiaoping inaugurated formal diplomatic relations with the United States, repudiating the Maoist Cultural Revolution that had devastated the country. In Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was replaced by an Islamist regime committed to opposing the United States and exporting its revolutionary ideology. One of these upheavals has led to China’s unprecedented wealth and power, while the other has left Iran mired in economic stagnation.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq is beset with crises. In the scorching summer heat, the country is suffering from electricity and water shortages, longstanding challenges that have routinely resulted in violent protests as part of wider grievances around lack of services and rampant corruption. On July 12, a hospital fire killed at least 60 people as a result of negligence and mismanagement. On July 19, the Islamic State group (ISIS) carried out a deadly attack, killing at least 35 people in Baghdad.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
He was a 28-year-old student and member of a communist group in Iran serving a 10-year prison sentence in 1988 when, according to his family, he was called before a committee and executed without a trial or defense. Family members said they did not get the body, a will or the location of a burial site. They received a duffle bag with a wristwatch, a shirt and a certificate that did not specify execution as the cause of death. The student, Bijan Bazargan, was among an estimated 5,000 prisoners belonging to armed opposition and leftist groups in Iran, who Amnesty International and other rights groups say were executed in the summer of 1988.