The U.S. special representative for Iran insisted Thursday that a pressure campaign of sanctions targeting Iran would persist into the administration of Joe Biden, even as the president-elect has pledged to potentially return America to Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Elliott Abrams, who also serves as the U.S. special representative to Venezuela, said sanctions targeting Iran for human rights violations, its ballistic missile program and its regional influence would go on. That, as well as continued scrutiny by United Nations inspectors and American partners in the Mideast, would maintain that pressure, he said.
Iran will reduce the access international nuclear inspectors have to its sites following a new watchdog report indicating Tehran is stockpiling more than 12 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear agreement. Mojtaba Zonnour, chair of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic will continue to reduce the access granted to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is tasked with performing oversight on Iran’s contested nuclear sites. The agency will only be permitted to perform supervisory actions, severely limiting the IAEA’s ability to keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear advancements.
Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point revealed Thursday a new type of ransomware that is traced back to Iran. According to the report obtained by Fox News, the new, never-seen-before strain dubbed "Pay2Key" targeted more than a dozen Israeli companies a few weeks ago. The hackers used the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) of employees who worked from home. According to the investigation carried out at Check Point, four Israeli victims of the attacks have decided to pay the ransom, which enabled its experts to track the payment transfers between crypto wallets.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Hassan Rouhani said today that he believes the era of maximum pressure on Iran is over. “There are signs from America to Europe that show the world has understood that maximum pressure will not yield results, and it is coming to an end,” Rouhani said, speaking via videoconference to mark the inauguration of several national projects. The term "maximum pressure" has been used to describe US policy toward Iran. The Trump administration exited the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reapplied US sanctions on Iran.
Iran is continuing to enrich uranium that could one day be used in a nuclear weapon, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report, increasing its stockpiles to 12 times that allowed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. As of November 2, the IAEA said Iran had a stockpile of 2,442.9 kilograms (5,385.7 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, up from 2,105.4 kilograms on August 25, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. This is 12 times the 202.8-kilogram limit agreed under the 2015 deal, which has been in limbo since President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States will increase economic pressure against Iran through the transition to the Biden administration, according to State Department officials. The Trump administration will implement “a steady stream of sanctions through the end of the administration” as a “continuation of our policy,” according to a senior State Department official. Senior Trump administration officials are also warning the incoming administration against relaxing pressure against Iran.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Iran’s intelligence ministry arrested a leader of a separatist group allegedly involved in the killing of dozens of people during a military parade in 2018, state-run IRNA news agency reported Thursday. The report said the ministry announced that Farajollah Cha’ab was arrested and called him “the main person in the terrorist attack” in September 2018 in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. The report did not elaborate on when or where he was arrested. The statement said Cha’ab had been planning more attacks in Tehran and Khuzestan province.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran, battling a third wave of the coronavirus, is considering imposing a two-week total lockdown in the capital, state media reported, as its death toll from the disease rose by 461 to 40,582 on Friday. Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that Iran, the Middle East country worst hit by Covid-19, had identified 11,737 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 738,322. Iranian media said discussions were underway among government and health officials to impose a two-week total lockdown in Tehran, which could be announced as early as Saturday.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Former National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster for the Trump administration said in an interview with Fox News Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden should not rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal upon taking office in on January 20. McMaster said to Fox host Bret Baier that then-Secretary of State John Kerry was wrong and did not consider the "hostile ideology" of the Iranian regime, in addition to its involvement in regional proxy wars and aggression against the United States. "These big payoffs to Iran when the deal was signed, as well as the relief of sanctions ... what did they do with that money?" McMaster asked.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia's King Salman urged world powers Thursday to take a "firm stance" against its arch-rival Iran, as expectations mount that US President-elect Joe Biden will seek to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Riyadh appears wary of Biden's pledge to revisit the nuclear pact between major powers and Iran, a landmark deal that was negotiated when he served as vice president under Barack Obama. The king's remarks come a day after the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, warned that Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium has risen to more than 12 times the limit permitted under the 2015 deal since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqis who have worked closely with the U.S. military in their country have grown increasingly alarmed that they could be targeted for attack, fearing their personal identifying information has been obtained by Iranian-backed militias. Protesters burn a building in front of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad in December 2019. Iraqis who have worked alongside U.S. forces fear they have become targets for Iranian-backed militias. At a time when militia attacks on supply convoys for the U.S.-led coalition and against other U.S. interests have been on the rise, the sharing of this information — including names, addresses and license plate numbers — could present a heightened threat to hundreds of Iraqis who have long worked with American forces, in particular as translators.