The first vessel in an Iranian convoy of ships bringing desperately needed fuel arrived in Venezuela, demonstrating both nations’ determination to undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the governments in Tehran and Caracas. The Iranian tanker Forest entered Venezuelan waters early on Monday, according to tanker-tracker data collected by Bloomberg. It’s heading to El Palito refinery port, said union leader Ivan Freites. It’s one of three vessels bringing hundreds of thousands of barrels of the fuel.
Saudi Arabia said Monday its security forces uncovered a “terrorist cell” with alleged ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and have detained 10 people in connection. A statement issued by the Presidency of State Security, which is overseen by the king and crown prince, said three of those detained had received training in Iran by the paramilitary group in October 2017 on manufacturing explosives. The cell was broken up by security forces on Sept. 23, with weapons such as sniper rifles and pistols confiscated at two locations, the security agency said.
China's imports from Iran have dropped to the lowest record in the past decade, with Chinese customs data showing the number falling below $322 million in August. In total, Iran's exports to China in the first eight months of the Iranian calendar year (beginning March 20, 2020) amounted to $3.85 billion, which is a 62% decrease compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, in the first eight months of 2020, China's exports to Iran fell only by 6.7 percent to $5.95 billion.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Diplomacy with Iran is coming. Whichever candidate wins in November, it seems likely they will attempt renewed engagement with Tehran over its nuclear weapons program, either by reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or pursuing a new agreement. Simply returning to the 2015 deal would be seriously mistaken.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has set "conditions" for the United States to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. "The return of the United States to the nuclear deal is the first step that they should take. For this return, [the U.S.] must compensate for damage it caused to the Iranian nation, as well as for measures taken by the US to undermine the nuclear deal and promise not to do it again," Zarif told Russian news outlet Sputnik.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran lost $150 billion of revenue since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on its economy, President Hassan Rouhani said. The U.S. measures are also hampering imports of medical and food supplies, Rouhani said in a statement Saturday on state television. Iran’s economy has shrunk over the past two years, inflation and unemployment are rising. Crude exports that the nation depends on for most of its foreign exchange are less than 10% of their level before the U.S. withdrew from the multilateral agreement in May 2018.
Iranian oil exports have risen sharply in September in defiance of U.S. sanctions, three assessments based on tanker tracking showed, throwing a lifeline to the Islamic Republic and its collapsing economy. Exports have shrunk from over 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) since the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions in 2018. Still, Iran has been working to get around the measures and keep exports flowing.
Once again, the dollar's value has gained momentum against the Iranian national currency, the rial. In another jump on Saturday, September 26, the dollar passed the 290,000 rials mark and sold for 29,3000 rials in the local open markets. In late July, after a few critical days in the foreign exchange market, the price of the dollar reached about 250,000 rials. Shocked by the increase, the Iranian government rushed in and injected billions of dollars into the market. The dollar's soaring price paused for a while, falling to 210,000 rials.
Iran's missile program is the elephant in the room in discussions about renewed U.S. sanctions on Tehran. This month the Trump administration sought to snap back sanctions on Iran, a demand that has been met with a cold shoulder by Russia, China and even U.S. allies in Europe. While the main point of contention has generally been Iran's nuclear program, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated that Iran's ballistic missile threat is also a major target of U.S. sanctions.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
“It is unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk to COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition,” the experts said. “We urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision, accept her requests to recuperate at home before undergoing a heart procedure, and allow her to freely choose her own medical treatment,” they added in a statement.
The 47 countries present at this week's United Nations Human Rights Council meeting condemned the sudden execution of the young Iranian wrestler, Navid Afkari, also demanding the release of Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi and an end to the repeated violations of human rights in Iran. In a joint statement, read by the German representative to the UN Human Rights Council, the member nations expressed concern over repeated human rights violations in Iran, including "arbitrary detentions, unfair trials," forced confessions, and acts of torture against detainees arrested in recent protests in Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy Commander revealed on Friday new information about the surveillance and detection of a US strike group, including USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri told Iranian television that the US carriers were monitored by the army’s naval forces and IRGC’s navy under the supervision of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the leadership of Khatam al-Anbiya Central Headquarters. He said Iran monitored the US naval forces by air and by sea, adding that the flotilla has not entered the Gulf area for the past 10 months.
CHINA & IRAN
China has flagged Iran and Saudi Arabia as its bridgeheads for expanding its influence in Middle East, taking advantage of Tehran’s international isolation and Riyadh’s focus on nuclear energy. Faced with renewed pressure from the United States, which has attempted to disrupt Iran’s economic lifelines, including critically important oil and gas exports, and much more, Iran has reached out to China for support.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The Trump administration is considering new steps to intensify pressure on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, including a potential foreign terrorist organization designation, according to several officials, in a bid to further isolate the group’s patron, Iran. The officials cautioned that no decision has been made but said the administration was discussing several possible moves, which could also include naming individual Houthi leaders as “global terrorists.” Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq’s foreign minister arrived Saturday in Tehran for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials, according to the state-run news agency. IRNA reported that Fuad Hussein planned to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, in what marked his first visit to the Iranian capital. Zarif visited Baghdad in mid-July, when he met with Hussein and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. It was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since a U.S. airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport.
Iran and Iraq on Saturday pledged to improve border cooperation and boost trade between the two neighbours that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. “We remain committed to increasing political, economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries,” President Hassan Rouhani told visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, according to a government website. Hussein called for implementing bilateral accords in areas including border cooperation, transportation and trade between the two countries, the website said.
Days after the United States extended a sanctions waiver that enables Iraq to continue importing gas and electricity from Iran, Iraq announced that three thousand megawatts would soon be added to the country's power grid. "Iraq will 'soon' add 3,000 megawatts of power to the country's electricity grid as it seeks to decrease dependence on imported Iranian gas," Iraq's spokesman for the Electricity Ministry, Ahmed Moussa al Abadi, told the country's official news agency on Friday, September 25.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
In dealing with Iran’s rogue regime, the Trump administration has shown clear and decisive leadership on the world stage. Unfortunately, Europe has not helped the American cause by taking a more nuanced position vis-a-vis Tehran, particularly its nuclear programme. China and Russia, the other major global powers, have thrown in their lot with the regime. It is not surprising, therefore, that the US did not wait for the UN Security Council to reconvene on October 18 to push for an extension of the arms embargo in place against Iran (they will expire the next day).