They change offices every few months and store documents only in hard copy. They scan their businesses for covert listening devices and divert all office calls to their cellphones. They know they are under surveillance, and assume their electronics are hacked. They are not spies or jewel thieves but Iran's oil traders, and they are suddenly in the cross hairs of international intrigue and espionage. "Sometimes I feel like I am an actor playing in a thriller spy movie," said Meysam Sharafi, a veteran oil trader in Tehran.
A former senior German diplomat who was due to head a body designed to facilitate European trade with Iran has pulled out of the job after reports he defended Tehran's ballistic missile program. Germany's Foreign Ministry confirmed a report Thursday by daily Bild that Bernd Erbel had informed officials "that he won't be available for personal reasons" to head the organization, called INSTEX.
Well, well, look who's coming to the rescue of the British and shipping in the Middle East. None other than the Trump Administration that is supposed to be an unreliable ally. The Brits now say they're joining a U.S.-led coalition to protect merchant shipping after they failed to get help from the rest of Europe.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
After the recent death of the treaty covering intermediate-range missiles, a new arms race appears to be taking shape, drawing in more players, more money and more weapons at a time of increased global instability and anxiety about nuclear proliferation. The arms control architecture of the Cold War, involving tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, was laboriously designed over years of hard-fought negotiations between two superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union. The elaborate treaties helped keep the world from nuclear annihilation.
Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi says inspectors monitoring Iran's nuclear deal could benefit from more openness and suggested his country's nuclear program holds a lesson for Iranian leaders. As a top candidate to head the International Atomic Energy Agency, Grossi faces the prospect of walking the tightrope between keeping tabs on Iran and other crises while steering the nominally technical agency through geopolitics.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
China imported Iranian crude oil in July for the second month since a U.S. sanctions waiver ended, according to research from three data firms, with one estimate showing some oil entered tanks holding the country's strategic reserves. According to the firms, which track tanker movements, between 4.4 million and 11 million barrels of Iranian crude were discharged into China last month, or 142,000 to 360,000 barrels per day (bpd).
The U.S. military is warning that Iranian naval forces may increase "aggressive actions" against American and allied commercial ships, citing reports from crews that experienced navigation and communications jamming. "Vessels have reported GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning," U.S. Central Command said in a statement Wednesday night that suggested Iranian forces may be attempting to steer ships into its waters to provoke a confrontation.
As a U.S. coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf takes shape, Iran's defense minister warned on Thursday that a U.S.-led armada would "increase insecurity in the region." "The military coalition that America is seeking to form with the excuse of securing maritime transport will only increase insecurity in the region," Defense Minister Amir Hatami said in a conference call with counterparts from Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Women should be able to attend all football (soccer) matches in Iran, the International Football Federation has responded to a Radio Farda's query. Earlier, it was reported that FIFA had set a deadline for Iran to pave the way for women to freely enter sports arenas and watch men's live soccer matches. In a letter to the head of Iran's Football Federation in June the president of FIFA demanded to be informed of the "concrete steps" the Iranian government would be taking to lift its ban on women entering stadiums by September.
An Appeals Court has upheld an eight-month sentence for a renowned Iranian author, poet, and member of Iran Writers Association (IWA). "The verdict against the Iranian poet and writer, Nima Saffar, is unfair," IWA said in a statement Wednesday, August 7, adding, "The ruling, as well as all other similar decisions, should be repealed." The intelligence agents affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) detained Nima Saffar in November 2015, in the city of Gorgan, northern Iran.
This week marks the third year since my former colleague Xiyue Wang was imprisoned in Iran. A graduate student at Princeton, Wang has no professional involvement in international politics. He is simply a bookish historian who traveled to Iran for research in 2016 and became swept up in the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. Trapped in Iran's notorious Evin prison with minimal contact with his wife and young son, Wang faces the prospect of seven more years behind bars for committing no crime.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The wife of an American held for three years in an Iranian prison appealed to President Trump on Thursday to help secure her husband's release, invoking Mr. Trump's recent assistance to another detainee navigating a foreign justice system: ASAP Rocky. The wife, Hua Qu, said she has seen no progress on the case of her husband, Xiyue Wang, since the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018. "My husband and our family have become innocent victims in an ever-intensifying quarrel between world powers," Ms. Qu, a Chinese citizen, told reporters in Washington.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked South Korea to send troops to join a U.S.-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, Yonhap news agency said on Friday. Esper made the request during a meeting with Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in South Korea, it added. Jeong told Esper Seoul was considering various options, since South Korean people and vessels are also using the strait.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said no one is authorized to speak to Iran on behalf of the United States, and he accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending "mixed signals" to Tehran over possible talks. "I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself," Trump said in a series of tweets.
Iran's intelligence minister has said that by pulling out of the nuclear agreement, President Donald Trump lost his last chance to talk with Iran and will take his wish for negotiations "to his grave with him". Mahmoud Alavi was quoted by Iranian media on Thursday as saying that the U.S. president gave the coup de grace to his "last chance" to negotiate with Tehran. Alavi added, the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement known as JCPOA, and the reimposition of sanctions was a "violation of international commitments" and insisted that "ultimately victory will be with Iran".
President Trump really likes selling high-tech weapons to oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. Not only that, he has proven himself a pretty darned good salesman. At the same time, Trump has threatened Iran with "obliteration" and repeatedly demanded that Iran "behave like a normal nation." The rub, however, is that Iran behaves the way that it does for one very simple reason: survival. Iran's "malign" behavior amounts to a deterrent against attack by a host of extremely well-armed, fiercely hostile rival states.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Recent Iranian ship interceptions highlight Iran's military challenge and continue to drive a regional arms race. Whereas Gulf Cooperation Council states spend lavishly on high-end, off-the-shelf, U.S.-built platforms, decades of sanctions and post-revolutionary strategic decisions to be militarily self-sufficient has led Islamic Republic to focus more on its own indigenous industries. Direct comparisons of defense spending between Arab states and Iran is difficult.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
A top hardliner cleric in Iran has expressed concern over the decline in the budget allocated to religious institutions, as U.S. sanctions have affected the government's ability to fund ideological centers meant to strengthen the regime's influence in society. Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi said on Thursday August 8 that many seminaries had to fire some of the "scholars" working for them. He complained that the Iranian government has refused to allocate the budget it used to give to seminaries.
The political life of Reformist leader Mohammad Reza Aref is being brought to an end - not by hard-liners, but by Aref himself. Aref, a Stanford graduate, nominated himself in the 2013 presidential election. He was not the official candidate of the Reformist camp, having made the decision on his own. He declared that he would withdraw if Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stepped forward. Moderate Hassan Rouhani, a protege of Rafsanjani, was also ready to drop out of the race in deference to the senior statesman.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The head of the Iranian armed forces has warned that Israel joining a U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf region would upset regional stability and sought more support from Arab states in resisting the initiative. Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami held rare telephone talks Thursday with his counterparts Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al Sabah of Kuwait, Badr bin Saud al-Busaidi of Oman and Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah of Qatar in an effort to turn the nearby Sunni Muslim monarchies against U.S. efforts to expand the presence of foreign powers near the Strait of Hormuz amid heated tensions and instances of unrest.
A Lebanese businessman designated by US authorities as an important financial supporter of Hezbollah was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million, the Justice Department said Thursday. Kassim Tajideen, 63, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to launder money as part of a scheme to evade US sanctions.
What began as a small shooting incident in the mountain village of Qabr Shmoun is now a full-fledged political crisis threatening the future of Lebanon. From weaving an 'assassination attempt' in an alleged 'ambush' the crescendo has gone to arguing the powers of the President and the Prime Minister. This is an issue that most Lebanese politicians have avoided discussing either because they are convinced that it is untreatable but only kept at bay, or feel it is futile to handle in a dangerous regional climate.
CHINA & IRAN
Despite the increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington, the Chinese government remains willing to help in the case of a Chinese-American historian imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage, the scholar's wife said on Thursday. Wang Xiyue, a doctoral student at Princeton University, travelled to Iran in 2016 to begin archival research into Eurasian history, but was arrested after he tried to gain access to digital files at a library.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
In late 2018, as it became clear that the United States was contemplating a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Iranian military announced that it was taking charge of the security of the border between Afghanistan and Iran. This indication of Tehran's increased concern resulted from the prospect of renewed instability and insecurity. Just a few weeks later came an exchange of visits between Tehran and Taliban delegations. Iranian and Taliban representatives weren't meeting for the first time, but, in a departure from the past, the Iranians publicized these meetings.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Top security firms have removed British guards from ships in the Gulf because of fears that Iran could try to capture UK nationals as tensions soar in the Middle East. Ambrey, the biggest company in the sector, and Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST) said they had replaced UK citizens with guards from other countries. The move is a response to Iran's dramatic seizure of a UK-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, three weeks ago in the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important shipping lane for oil and other fuels.
American intelligence officials are monitoring a social media disinformation campaign that attempted to falsely implicate the White House National Security Adviser in a global money laundering and drug trafficking operation. On Monday, a Twitter user claiming to be a high-ranking Canadian law enforcement official posted records supposedly showing a $350,000 wire transfer from a Canadian children's apparel company to a Swiss bank account owned by National Security Adviser John Bolton's daughter.