…United Against Nuclear Iran, a nonprofit organization that includes many former U.S. and foreign government security officials, first brought attention to the likelihood that the Suez Rajan was carrying illicit oil in February 2022, citing satellite imagery. The organization’s chief executive, Mark Wallace, a former ambassador in the George W. Bush administration, said that a Greek company that managed the vessel ultimately brought another of its ships to Texas to complete the offloading. He praised the company, Empire Navigation, for braving what he portrayed as transnational intimidation by Iran and eventually “doing the right thing.” But he said that the length of time it had taken to resolve the matter underscored a larger problem, and that his group had identified some 300 other such tankers likely engaged in Iranian oil smuggling, based on similar data.
A group of American victims of Iranian terrorism, who hold more than $400 million dollars in court judgments against the Islamic Republic for its sponsorship of terrorist attacks, have moved to enjoin the Biden Administration from releasing an estimated $40 billion in frozen Iranian assets. The United States has pledged to unfreeze the funds belonging to the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which are primarily held in overseas bank accounts, under an upcoming prisoner release agreement being currently negotiated with Tehran. The families claim that releasing the funds will prevent them from enforcing their judgments against these assets, and as a practical matter may preclude them from ever collecting on their judgments.
Iran's limited steps to slow its buildup of near-weapons-grade uranium may help ease U.S.-Iranian tensions but do not signify progress toward a wider nuclear deal before the 2024 U.S. elections, say analysts. According to U.N. nuclear watchdog reports seen by Reuters, Iran has reduced the rate at which it is making uranium enriched up to 60% purity, close to the roughly 90% that is weapons grade, and has diluted a small fraction of its 60% stockpile. But that stockpile continues to grow. Iran now has nearly enough uranium enriched to 60%, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) theoretical definition. It also has enough uranium enriched to a lower level to make even more bombs.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…It also noted that the US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela were loosening, which could ease high oil prices. Iran is ramping up output and exports, with September production expected to reach 3.4m bpd — just 400,000 bpd short of its all-time high. August shipments to China already hit a record over 1.5m bpd, taking in over 90% of Iran’s total exports, according to preliminary figures from tanker trackers at US monitoring group United Against Nuclear Iran. Additionally, Western sanctions on Russian oil will be tested with Urals crude firmly breaching the G7 price cap. Supply constraints risk further pump price increases.
…Attention focused on the Suez Rajan beginning in February 2022, when the group United Against Nuclear Iran said it suspected the tanker carried oil from Iran’s Khargh Island, its main oil distribution terminal in the Persian Gulf. For months, the ship sat in the South China Sea off the northeast coast of Singapore before suddenly sailing for the Gulf of Mexico without explanation. The vessel discharged its cargo to another tanker, which released its oil in Houston, Texas, in recent days. The court documents seen Thursday confirm the U.S. government seized the oil.
…The court papers reveal details of an oil smuggling operation that involved falsifying cargo records and employing other techniques to evade U.S. sanctions. The seizure of the oil raises concerns that Iran may attempt to hijack more tankers in an effort to deter the United States. The United Against Nuclear Iran organization believes there are approximately 300 other tankers engaged in Iranian oil smuggling based on similar data.
…Investigations into the Marshall Islands-flagged Suez Rajan began last February after US monitoring group United Against Nuclear Iran alleged it had conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the Panama-flagged very large crude carrier Virgo (IMO: 9236250), who UANI said had previously loaded Iranian crude from Kharg Island. The factual statement – which is part of the plea agreement and cites UANI’s research - conrms these allegations. UANI’s chief executive Mark Wallace said Empire Navigation should be commended for its cooperation with US authorities. “It's a message to every Iranian smuggler that there is an off ramp from the mob. Other shippers that are engaging in this activity, should see this off ramp, take it, and work with us and US authorities to end their smuggling with Iran,” he told Lloyd’s List.
…The oil was seized by the US government and brought over from the South China Sea for unloading after the alarm was raised by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors tankers carrying sanctioned Iranian crude.
…Mark Wallace, former US ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, who heads United Against Nuclear Iran, praised Empire Navigation for agreeing to the request. He described Iranian oil smuggling as a “mafia-like” operation and urged other countries to abandon the trade. “They faced Iranian assassination threats in Greece,” Wallace told the AP. “They took the exit ramp to leave the crowd.” Wallace declined to give further details, and US court documents offered no details of the alleged threat.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Iranian foreign minister's mention of a "September document" has sparked speculations of a potential new agreement to replace the 2015 nuclear deal. However, Tehran insists that the document refers to the draft agreement prepared last autumn to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the formal name of the nuclear accord. Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog has ahead of the quarterly meeting of its Board of Governors relayed that Iran has slowed down its accumulation of highly enriched uranium. The development could indicate that Tehran seeks to ease tensions with the west, particularly as the United Nations General Assembly is around the corner.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian state-owned animal feed importer SLAL is believed to have purchased animal feed corn sourced from Brazil in an international tender which closed on Tuesday, European traders said on Thursday. The volume purchased was unclear. The tender has sought up to 180,000 metric tons. No purchase was initially reported of 120,000 tons of soymeal also sought. Shipment of both was sought between Sept. 20 and Oct. 20. Payment problems for Iranian businesses because of western sanctions had made participation in recent tenders from Iran difficult, traders said. Traders said Iran was offering payment via banks in Turkey and Iraq.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Calls to shut down an Iran-linked mosque are growing among Iranians in Finland after the Islamic center admitted that one of its imams snatched a protester’s cellphone. Parvin Shokri, an Iranian protest organizer based in Helsinki, was returning from an anti-regime demonstration on April 24, when her cellphone was seized by a stranger in the street. She was streaming live on Instagram, something the snatcher was not aware of. As the footage shows, he grabbed the phone, ran away for nearly a minute and while panting took a peek at the phone screen, making his face seen by Shokri’s followers. Upon seeing his face on the phone screen, the snatcher decided to bury the phone in a nearby lawn in eastern Helsinki, where Shokri would ultimately find it via geolocation, she told Iran International.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
An Iranian journalist who interviewed the father of Mahsa Amini said she was sexually assaulted during her latest arrest and was now on hunger strike in prison, according to an audio message published Wednesday by several Persian media outlets and rights groups. Nazila Maroufian, 23, has been repeatedly targeted by the Iranian authorities since she published an interview with Amjad Amini, whose daughter died in custody on September 16, 2022, sparking months of protests. Rights groups have accused the Iranian authorities of stepping up an already intense crackdown to prevent the upcoming one-year anniversary of Amini's death being marked by new protests.
The father of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman whose death in police custody last year sparked months of anti-government protests, tells VOA that plans are under way to commemorate the anniversary of his daughter's death. "We are resolute in organizing the anniversary ceremony to pay tribute to the name and memory of Zhina [Mahsa], the martyr, the oppressed, the innocent girl, and for the happiness of her pure soul," Amjad Amini said in an exclusive interview with VOA’s Persian Service. “It also provides solace for the family, relatives and all her supporters. However, given the current circumstances, we cannot formally extend invitations to the public or dissuade them from attending.”
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Israel’s Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel met on Wednesday in London with several Iranian activists and journalists in part of a monthslong campaign by the senior Israeli official to establish public channels with Iranian exile groups, as protests against the regime in Tehran approach their one-year anniversary. A source close to Gamliel told Al-Monitor that the senior Israeli official spoke with the Iranian guests on the importance of getting the West to join the battle in Iran for human rights and freedom, and that Iran continues its terror campaign not only against Israel but also in other places in the world. The minister told her interlocutors about her cooperation with Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah of Iran, who visited Israel last April and is part of preparations for "the day after" in Iran. The ministry's spokesperson declined to say where exactly the meeting took place.
CONGRESS & IRAN
A US House of Representative subcommittee will hold a hearing next week to examine the Biden administration’s secret dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs of the House Oversight Committee will hold the hearing titled “A Dangerous Strategy: Examining the Biden Administration’s Failures on Iran.” The session will examine “how the Biden administration has repeatedly engaged in secret negotiations with Iran, ignoring the emerging threats arising from Iran and its proxies.” The hearing on September 13 “will also look at ways the Biden administration has fallen short in assisting Americans trapped abroad and circumstances around dismissals of high-level officials.”
A group of Republicans are accusing US President Joe Biden of arranging a "secret agreement" with the Iranian government related to its nuclear proliferation. The accusations, detailed in a letter to Biden, follow more than two years of the Biden administration's attempt to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which former President Obama signed in 2015 and his successor Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. The three signatories, Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Elise Stefanik of New York and Michael T. McCaul of Texas, expressed concerns in their letter that any deal or agreement that the US made with Iran would not halt its nuclear ambitions.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran and Iraq have announced that work on a railroad linking the two countries that was initially envisioned decades ago has officially begun. When complete, it will facilitate the movement of millions of Iranian pilgrims heading to holy sites in Iraq. Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani marked the start of construction on the Shalamcheh-Basra railroad along their border on Saturday. So what is the rail project, what are the challenges and why does it matter geopolitically to both countries? The railroad is to connect the Iranian border town of Shalamcheh with the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra to transport passengers and cargo. Iranian officials said the 32km (20-mile) railroad will be completed in 18 to 24 months.
Turkish and Iranian meddling in Arab affairs were at the top of the agenda during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday. The Egyptian capital hosted the 160th Arab League Council meeting of Foreign Ministers, with Morocco acting as the session’s chair, taking over from Egypt, which headed the previous session. The proceedings saw a number of committees convening to discuss various issues including the readmission of Syria to the Arab League, the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to Iran and Turkey’s perceived interference in Arab affairs. The session sought to address nine main areas through four ministerial committees. They included discussions centred around aiding Palestinians in light of the increased aggression by Israel, and ways to mitigate Iranian and Turkish influence in the region. The committee on Iran, was led by Saudi Arabia and attended by the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. A proposed plan on how to mitigate Iranian influence in Arab affairs will be drafted and presented to the general session, a communique said without offering further details.