The United States and Iran had their latest near miss Monday, after three vessels controlled by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps buzzed two American ships at what the U.S. military called “dangerously high speed.” The USS Sirocco, a Cyclone-class patrol ship, and the USNS Choctaw County, a fast transport vessel, were in routine transit through international waters in the Persian Gulf when three Iranian boats designed for fast attack approached the Sirocco head on, according to a U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the encounter.
Many factors are to blame for the dying prospects of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But perhaps nothing has hobbled the Biden administration’s efforts more than the legacy of President Donald J. Trump. It was Mr. Trump, of course, who withdrew in 2018 from the nuclear pact brokered with Iran by the Obama administration, calling it “the worst deal ever.” But Mr. Trump did more than pull the plug. U.S. officials and analysts say his actions vastly complicated America’s ability to negotiate with Tehran, which has made demands outside the nuclear deal that President Biden has refused to meet without receiving concessions.
Iran is escalating its uranium enrichment further by preparing to use advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordow site that can more easily switch between enrichment levels, a United Nations nuclear watchdog report seen by Reuters on Monday showed. The move is the latest of several steps Iran had long threatened to take but held off carrying out until 30 of the 35 countries on the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors backed a resolution this month criticizing it for failing to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…US-Saudi relations are critical to countering malicious actions by Iran, according to Roule, who spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East. For nine of those years, he was the national intelligence manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and he currently serves as a senior adviser to the political advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran. Tehran may view the Biden visit as a threat, and the country and its proxies may attempt to disrupt the visit, according to Roule.
… On Monday, June 6, the seizure of an Emtrasur plane, controlled by Conviasa, at Ezeiza airport, near Buenos Aires, brought back memories of Aeroterror. The plane had Iranians and Venezuelans among its crew and the fate of its cargo is a mystery. As investigations roll in Argentina, Crusoe spoke with Jason Brodsky, policy director at the NGO United Against Nuclear Iran, UANI, in Washington. Brodsky coordinates the institution's research department and spoke about the case.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran said on Monday that Tehran is ready to reach a "good deal" with world powers, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised news conference, blaming the U.S. for stalling talks to revive their 2015 nuclear pact. "Even today, we are ready to return to Vienna to reach a good deal if Washington fulfils its commitments," Khatibzadeh said. The nuclear pact seemed near revival in March but talks were thrown into disarray partly over whether the United States might remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls elite armed and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of a global terrorist campaign, from its Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
The United Arab Emirates hopes Iran will work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide reassurances to the international community and the region about Iran's nuclear programme, the UAE's IAEA envoy Hamad Al Kaabi told reporters on Friday.
Senators in both parties briefed recently by senior Biden administration officials on negotiations with Iran say they doubt Tehran will agree to any new deal to limit its development of nuclear weapons. Lawmakers say the administration has an offer on the table, but that Iran is showing little willingness to reestablish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which placed significant restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Former President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 deal, which was one of former President Obama’s biggest foreign policy accomplishments.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran said Greece is preparing legal documents required for the release two Greek ships seized by the Islamic Republic in retaliation for an Iranian oil cargo that Athens detained to enforce US sanctions. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told reporters that he hopes the Greek government will “in practice” in return release the Iranian tanker and cargo it seized. His comments come after a court in Greece overturned a decision that allowed the cargo to be confiscated. The seizures have stoked tensions in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, where tit-for-tat attacks on ships and energy installations have been frequent since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran on Monday morning hanged a man convicted of killing two clerics in a stabbing attack in April at a revered Shiite shrine, the country’s state television reported. The report says the death penalty was carried out by hanging after the country’s Supreme Court upheld a verdict issued earlier by a Revolutionary Court in northeastern city of Mashhad, the place of the attack. The convicted man was identified as Abdollatif Moradi and authorities said he had stabbed three clerics. Two died, one instantly, the other later in a hospital. No further details were available following the attack at the city’s Imam Reza shrine, a rare act of violence at the major pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims.
Faced with soaring inflation, Iranians renewed protests and gatherings denouncing deteriorating living conditions at a time when the government of President Ebrahim Raisi insists on pushing onwards with plans to stop subsidizing basic commodities. Retirees and pensioners of the Social Security Organization took to the streets again on Saturday. Protesters in the city of Kermanshah demonstrated against reduced access to food while business owners in the Ahwaz city called on “incompetent” officials to resign.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Iranian regime is made up of “evil theocrats” who are aiming to destroy the US and Israel, in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya, criticizing President Joe Biden’s approach to handling the Middle Eastern country. “We know who the Iranian regime is. These are evil theocrats intent on the destruction of the nation of Israel and the United States of America. We ought not to be negotiating to figure out how much money to give them in exchange for an ephemeral promise for just a moment to slow down their enrichment and weapons program,” Pompeo told Al Arabiya…
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran will soon put on trial what it said were three Mossad-linked agents arrested in April, state news agency IRNA quoted a judiciary official as saying on Tuesday, amid simmering tensions between the Islamic Republic and arch-foe Israel. "The three were planning to assassinate our nuclear scientists according to intelligence assessments," Mehdi Shamsabadi said, without specifying the nationality of the detainees. IRNA reported in April the arrest of three people it said were spies linked to the Israeli intelligence agency in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
Israel is intensifying its campaign to thwart Iran’s nuclear, missile and drone programs with a series of covert operations targeting a broader range of key targets, said people familiar with the effort. The new moves are the latest evolution of a strategy that has been dubbed the Octopus Doctrine by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who aims to bring Israel’s battle against Iran onto Iranian territory after years of targeting Iranian agents and Tehran’s proxies outside the country in places such as Syria. “In the past year, the state of Israel has taken action against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against the arms as was done in previous decades,” Mr. Bennett told a parliamentary committee earlier this month.
Iran and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding today concerning the establishment of mutual trade centers. One center will be located in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and the other in Russia’s Baltic port city St. Petersburg. They will facilitate trade between the two countries in the energy, transportation, electronics, agriculture, food, pharmaceuticals and construction sectors. The goals of the memorandum are to help Iranian and Russian businesspeople establish contact and conduct financial transactions.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
It would be premature to speak of Iran and Saudi Arabia reopening embassies in each other's capitals, Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday, after five rounds of talks since last year between the rivals on improving ties. "It is too early to talk about the reopening of embassies by Tehran and Riyadh," the spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told a televised news conference when asked whether the travel of Iranian Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia could signal a restoration of diplomatic relations. A first batch of 39,635 Iranian Haj pilgrims authorised to perform their religious duty in Mecca arrived in Saudi Arabia this month.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure from the US' key Middle East allies to come up with a viable plan to constrain Iran, with hopes for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal fading as Biden prepares for his first trip as President to Israel and Saudi Arabia next month. On a visit to Washington earlier this month, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman -- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's brother -- told Biden's senior national security officials that he was pleased the US-Saudi relationship was getting back on track, sources familiar with the discussions said.
False rocket warning sirens that were activated in Jerusalem and Eilat on Sunday evening were likely caused by a cyberattack, the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) confirmed on Monday morning. By Monday, there was rampant speculation that Iran was the perpetrator of the hack, with a slew of cyber experts opining as such in interviews about the possibility of Iranian involvement. However, a diplomatic source said there was still uncertainty whether the Islamic Republic was the source of the attack.