The United States does not face a quick decision on whether to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by U.S. President Donald Trump, two of President-elect Joe Biden’s top national security nominees said on Tuesday. Biden, who takes office on Wednesday, has said that if Tehran resumed strict compliance with the 2015 agreement - under which Iran restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions - Washington would too.
An author who has presented himself as a foreign relations expert and political scientist was really a paid mouthpiece for the Iranian government and has been charged with violating the law requiring foreign agents to register with the U.S. government, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian-born veteran academic who has been a lawful resident of the United States for more than 35 years and who received his education in this country, was taken into custody by FBI agents in Massachusetts on charges that he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires individuals working as agents in the United States on behalf of foreign countries to register.
Iran sanctioned President Trump and nine other U.S. officials, in a parting shot against an outgoing administration that has pummeled the country and its top officials with sanctions. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the U.S. officials were designated for their role in terrorist activities against Iran, including sanctions and last year’s killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. The Iranian sanctions also targeted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former and current special representatives for Iran Brian Hook and Elliott Abrams, as well as former national security adviser John Bolton.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iran has resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent in its secretive Fordow facility, which is literally built inside a mountain. Enrichment to this level puts Iran in a position where getting to weapons grade fissile material is not a big leap. It is certainly the most problematic of all the Iranian breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal. Why is this happening now? Iran has clearly decided to build pressure on the incoming Biden administration, conveying, in effect, that whatever its priorities, it had better deal with the Islamic Republic soon.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday to return to a 2015 nuclear deal and lift crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Biden, who takes office on Wednesday, has said the United States will rejoin the pact that includes restrictions on Iran's nuclear work if Tehran resumes strict compliance. "The ball is in the U.S. court now. If Washington returns to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact," Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, said on Tuesday “we are a long ways” from Iran coming back into strict compliance with the Iran nuclear deal and she supports taking an aggressive stance toward the threat from China. “(Biden) has indicated that if Iran were to come back into compliance, that he would direct that we do so as well. And I think, frankly, that we are a long ways from that,” Haines told lawmakers.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
South Korean banks wary of U.S. sanctions are holding tight to billions of dollars of Iranian funds, Iran says, apparently unwilling to budge before Joe Biden assumes the U.S. presidency. The banks won’t release $7 billion of payments for Iranian oil that are stuck in won-denominated deposits in South Korea, not even to a special humanitarian trade channel partly overseen by the U.S. government itself, said the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Abdolnaser Hemmati, who met with a top South Korean diplomat last week.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo painted an alarmist picture of the close ties between Al Qaeda and Iran. The timing and content of the remarks indicate that the current administration is primarily concerned not with the threat of Al Qaeda, but with raising the pressure on Iran. Viewing all Middle East issues from this lens of Iran, which the next administration also seems set to do, masks the hard reality of Al Qaeda and drives the United States away from effective counterterrorism policy.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Retired Army General Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon, said on Tuesday that Iran posed a threat to American allies in the region and forces stationed there. “Iran continues to be a destabilizing element in the region. ... It does present a threat to our partners in the region and those forces that we have stationed in the region,” Austin said during his confirmation hearing. “If Iran were ever to get a nuclear capability, most every problem we deal with in the region would be tougher to deal with because of that,” he added.
President-elect Biden’s nominee for secretary of State, Antony Blinken, participated in a marathon confirmation hearing with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, as part of efforts to quickly put in place the administration’s national security team. Blinken, who served as staff director of the committee between 2002 and 2008 before joining the Obama administration in senior national security roles, was praised by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to public service and his experience in foreign policy and government.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The Iranian army began a military drill in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday. Iran's military has conducted several military exercises in the last few days at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. The drill involved the army’s ground forces and took place on the Makran coast in southeast Iran. This area is in the Gulf of Oman across from the eponymous country. The exercise utilized paratroopers, motorcycles and rocket launchers and tested the army’s combat readiness, according to the state-run Press TV.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States, a broad and fairly cohesive political coalition of Middle Eastern capitals are preparing to present the new administration in Washington with a clear and determined stand: There is no going back to the original 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran. Iran must not be rewarded for its actions. Conditions have changed as has the situation on the ground. The United States must leverage the achievements of the sanctions on Iran.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Qatar is urging Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region to seek dialogue with Iran and says it is willing to act as a mediator after mending its own rift with rival neighbors. In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Monday, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said his government was “hopeful” that a summit between Iranian officials and leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would happen soon. “We still believe this should happen,” Thani said, adding that it “is also a desire that’s shared by other GCC countries.”
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Talks aimed at overcoming a years-long deadlock over disarmament at the United Nations began in acrimony on Tuesday with two countries blocking rivals from taking part in widely criticised manoeuvres that sparked concern about the forum’s future. Iran blocked Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from joining as observers, lashing out at the former’s military record, while Turkey blocked Cyprus in a trend that marks a significant departure from normal U.N. protocol and might set a precedent for other bodies that operate on a consensus basis.