The Biden administration lashed out at Iran on Saturday for accusing it of delaying a proposed prisoner swap to force a quick resumption of indirect nuclear talks. The State Department slammed as “outrageous” comments made by Iran’s deputy foreign minister who alleged the U.S. and Britain were holding the swap “hostage” to the negotiations over salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Iran plans to ship a cargo of oil from a port in the Gulf of Oman next week, its first crude export from outside the Persian Gulf and beyond the Strait of Hormuz. “The first vessel has arrived in the Jask region and we expect operations to load heavy crude to start Monday noon,” Vahid Maleki, director of the Jask Oil Terminal, told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. He didn’t elaborate on the size of the cargo or its destination. The port, which receives oil through the 1,000-kilometer (620 mile) Goreh-Jask pipeline stretching across the Persian Gulf coast, is expected to be able to export 350,000 barrels of oil per day in its first phase.
A group of 17 Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Friday that seeks to impose sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ebrahim Raisi, who was elected president in June. The bill calls on President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on the two in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. “The Biden administration has rushed to dismantle sanctions on the Iranian regime and is looking to remove what’s left of American pressure,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led the legislation, said in a statement.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York group that campaigns against Tehran’s nuclear program, says the number of foreign vessels involved in transporting the country’s oil has risen to 123 from 70 in November 2020. Almost half of such vessels are now flagged in Panama, which had deregistered ships involved with Iranian oil under pressure from the Trump administration, according to the group. Meanwhile, the election of Mr. Raisi as president last month is adding complications to the talks, said an Iranian diplomat and an adviser to the president-elect. Mr. Raisi is keen on obtaining concessions on sanctions to revive the Iranian economy, they said. The change to a new administration, however, also means a new negotiating team with potentially different views on a prospective deal, they said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Over the past year, Iran has made significant advances in its ability to amass enriched uranium, complicating the Biden administration’s effort to revive a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s atomic ambitions. Washington has sought to restart the accord, which was abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018. After a delay of several weeks, Iran on Wednesday signaled that it would be ready to return to the negotiating table next month after the country’s newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office.
The United States on Saturday accused Tehran of an "outrageous" effort to deflect blame for the impasse in Iran nuclear talks and denied that any agreement had been reached on a prisoner swap. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said earlier on Twitter that the next round of negotiations in Vienna must wait until the new Iranian administration takes office in August but insisted that a prisoner exchange could take place quickly if the United States and Britain would stop linking it with the nuclear issue.
July 14 marked the six-year anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As negotiations continue in Geneva, the Biden administration holds tremendous leverage as Iran seeks sanctions relief from the maximum pressure campaign of the Trump administration. That leverage should be exercised to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and not simply push its breakout time to one year. The international community came together to eliminate nuclear programs in Libya, South Africa, and Ukraine. We can do so again with Iran, but it takes political will.
Iran has launched one of its new stealthy catamaran “missile corvettes” according to open source intelligence analyzed by expert H.I Sutton who runs the Cover Shores website. He noted that this took place as many have been distracted by monitoring the Iranian Makran warship which is sailing close to the UK this week. Meanwhile a new boat put to sea in the last weeks. “The boat, which is a large stealthy catamaran design, was launched at a yard on Qeshm Island between June 27 and July 2,” notes Sutton. This ship is described as one of several under construction that will be called the Shahed Soleimani class of ships. At 65 meters it will apparently wield anti-ship missiles and air defense.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian police opened fire late Sunday night amid protests against water shortages in southwestern Iran, a video showed, the latest unrest after days of demonstrations that have seen at least one person killed. The video from the Human Rights Activists News Agency by Human Rights Activists in Iran showed the shooting in Susangerd, which has been an epicenter of demonstrations in Iran’s restive Khuzestan province. A police officer fires into the air with a pistol and at least one other shot can be heard in the footage.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran insisted on Sunday that a prisoner swap deal has been agreed with the United States, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, a day after Washington denied such an agreement had been reached. "'Outrageous' = the US denying simple fact that there IS an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees. Even on how to announce it," Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a tweet. "Humanitarian swap was agreed with US & UK in Vienna-separate from JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)- on release of 10 prisoners on all sides. Iran is ready to proceed TODAY."
The U.S. rejected an Iranian effort to separate the fate of four Americans held in Iran from talks on a nuclear deal, calling it an “outrageous effort to deflect blame.” The comments by State Department spokesman Ned Price in Washington and Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, are the latest evidence of an impasse in negotiations on a possible U.S. return to the agreement abandoned by former President Donald Trump. Araghchi took to Twitter on Saturday to demand the U.S. and the U.K. “stop linking a humanitarian exchange” with the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
In June, two important events vaulted Iran's navy into international headlines. The first was the sinking of the IRIS Kharg in the Persian Gulf on June 2. Kharg, a British-built Ol-class replenishment tanker, was the Iranian navy's flagship and one of its most important vessels. The second important development was the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by two Iranian warships, the seabase ship IRINS Makran and the frigate IRIS Sahand, on June 4.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
A magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck Fars province in southern Iran on Sunday, Iranian state TV reported. There were no immediate reports of fatalities or damage in the area of the quake, which was centred near the town of Khesht, according to Iran's semi-official Fars news agency. The quake was also felt in neighboring Iraq, in the southern city of Basra, the Iraqi state news agency INA reported.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
The Taliban's advances in Afghanistan have put neighbouring Iran on edge, but the Islamic republic appears to be adopting a pragmatic approach and seeking a rapprochement with the resurgent militia. With US and allied forces rushing for the exit and the Afghan government wobbling after a string of victories by the hardline Sunni group, Shiite Iran fears an influx of refugees fleeing sectarian violence alongside the danger of an ideological rival taking power next door.
Facebook says it has taken down about 200 accounts run by a group of hackers in Iran as part of a cyber-spying operation that targeted mostly American military personnel and people working at defence and aerospace companies. The social media giant said on Thursday that the group, dubbed "Tortoiseshell" by security experts, used fake online personas to connect with targets, build trust sometimes over the course of several months and drive them onto other sites where they were tricked into clicking on malicious links that would infect their devices with spying malware.