Washington has disrupted planned Iranian fuel deliveries to Venezuela by threatening sanctions against shippers, U.S. officials said Wednesday, temporarily thwarting a burgeoning economic alliance between two of America’s biggest rivals. Two Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned vessels loaded with Iranian oil products and headed to Venezuela halted their deliveries after the sanctions threat, U.S. officials said. The two tankers—the Bering and the Bella—were expected to arrive in Venezuela in the wake of three Iranian tankers carrying gasoline that have reached the country, the most recent on Wednesday.
A U.S. decision to terminate sanctions waivers that have allowed foreign companies to do some work at Iranian nuclear sites will not affect Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) said on Thursday. The United States said on Wednesday it will terminate the waivers, which had allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out work at Iranian nuclear sites. The role of the foreign firms was agreed in Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, and was intended to help ensure Iran’s nuclear programme would not be used to make weapons.
The Venezuelan navy said it escorted a fourth tanker bringing Iranian fuel through its waters on Thursday, while the United States called the shipments to the gasoline-starved country a distraction from problems facing President Nicolas Maduro. The oil industries of Iran and Venezuela are both under U.S. sanctions. Iran is providing its fellow OPEC member up to 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and refining components to help ease an acute shortage, the result of the near-complete breakdown in its refining network as well as the sanctions.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…"The level of Iranian reprisals thus far certainly has not risen to match the significance of the Soleimani killing, but this should not be seen as an indication that Iran has abandoned its desire to seriously harm U.S. interests in the Middle East," warned Jordan Steckler, research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). "Even the coronavirus has not fully slowed Iran's malign targeting of the U.S. The regime has followed a familiar playbook, continuing external aggression to distract from its own corruption and ineptitude."…"Esmail Qaani's portfolio was heavily centered on Quds Force operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan," noted Steckler. "His relationships with Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi political and militia leaders aren't as strong as Soleimani's were, and we have seen Hezbollah step in to fill that void in the interim as Qaani gains his footing."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Crushed by U.S. sanctions and weak oil prices, Iran has one of the world’s most battered economies. It also hosts one of the best-performing stock markets. The Tehran Stock Exchange’s main index has shot-up nearly 100% since mid-February, making it a top performer in local currency terms. Tehran is using the market boom to sell off state assets, generate cash and shore up its deteriorating finances, even at the risk of backlash from burned investors if the bubble bursts.
Iran's stock market has been booming for months, despite a collapse in the country's economy and a rampant coronavirus that has struck the country hard. Even President Hassan Rouhani has sounded surprised. Rouhani has described the market's performance as "astounding," a view echoed by analysts and diplomats, who have been scratching their heads to understand why disease, runaway inflation at 35% and a shrinking economy have not sent the stock market in the opposite direction. Iranian investors this year seem undeterred by contagion, the plunging value of the Iranian currency, the rial, or U.S. sanctions.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for new protections for women after a 14-year-old girl was allegedly murdered by her father in a so-called "honor killing," sparking outrage in the country. Romina Ashrafi's father is suspected of killing her with a farming sickle after she ran away from her family home in northern Iran's Talesh county with a 29-year-old man, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. Police have arrested the teenager's father. Ashrafi's death has been widely covered by Iranian media across reformist, moderate and pro-government news outlets.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Thursday warned the United States against its naval presence in the Gulf as they received 110 new combat vessels. The vessels included Ashura-class speedboats, Zolfaghar coastal patrol boats and Taregh submarines, state television reported. "We announce today that wherever the Americans are, we are right next to them, and they will feel our presence even more in the near future," the Guards' navy chief Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said during a ceremony in southern Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
It was only a matter of time before smaller this happened. A new vessel, shown in public for the first time this week, is either a very small submarine, or a very large Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV). It appears to be the latter. If correct, this will add a new dimension to Iran’s systematic warfare capability. It will also mean that Iran joins an elite club of only the U.S. Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy in now having such large UUVs.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The comedy series “Payetakht” (Capital) has been one of the most popular shows on Iranian state tv since it began airing in 2011. It follows a family from the north who get into all sorts of trouble. In one season, for example, they take a balloon ride in Turkey—and end up in Syria, fighting jihadists. Such storylines allow the show to promote official policy, such as Iran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But in a more recent episode the shot of two newly-weds on a motorcycle (pictured) enraged conservatives. It seemed to emulate a film made before the Islamic revolution in 1979, a period they view with sanctimonious disdain.
The Iranian authorities have arrested members of a separatist group in the country’s southwest. The move follows a protest in the oil-rich Khuzestan province with a large Arab population. Iranian police said they arrested 14 members of “takfiri and separatist groups” on Wednesday, according to the US government-funded Radio Farda, which covers news in Iran. “Takfiri” is an Arabic-language term referring to Muslims who commit apostasy. The Iranian authorities sometimes use it to refer to their enemies.
Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf who was elected as the Speaker of Iran's parliament (Majles) on Thursday May 28, has 40 years of experience in military, political, economic, policing and urban management. Nonetheless, he is best known for being implicated in major financial corruption cases. He was the first IRGC general who became the Mayor of Tehran. Now, he is the first general who serves as Majles Speaker, and the first IRGC commander who leads one of the three branches of government.
Ali Larijani presided over the last session of Iran’s tenth parliament on May 21, officially putting an end to his speakership career, which lasted 12 consecutive years, making him the longest-serving speaker in the history of the Islamic Republic. Larijani’s closing speech was a rosy portrayal of the outgoing parliament and a fiery counterattack against critics, who have long accused the assembly of incompetence.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Tensions between Israel and Iran have been escalating amid the coronavirus disease pandemic. The heightened tensions are in danger of spiraling out of control and leading to a war between the two rivals, who were once staunch allies during the Tehran regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. This week, Iran’s state-controlled media outlets and politicians specifically targeted Israel. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that “will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.” He compared Israel to a virus that needs to be eliminated.