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Special report on Iranian Shahab 3 launch from Fabian Hinz, ELN Iran expert tiger team member




Special report on Iranian Shahab 3 launch from Fabian Hinz, ELN Iran expert tiger team member: On Thursday, July 25, an anonymous US official revealed to the New York Times that the day before Iran had conducted a test launch of a Shahab 3 missile. According to the unnamed source, the missile was launched from the country’s southern coastal areas and hit its target east of Tehran at a distance of 1100km.  With tensions between Iran and the West still running high, it came as no surprise that the news generated headlines around the world and was widely interpreted as yet another Iranian provocation. From a strictly technical point of view, the launch seems much less significant though.  Among Iran’s vast array of missiles, the Shahab 3 constitutes a relatively old system. First presented to the public in 1998, the Shahab 3 is based on the North Korean Nodong and has a maximum range of1350 km, enabling Iran to strike Israel from its Western border. Having been part of Iran’s missile arsenal for two decades, the Shahab 3 has technologically matured and has been tested at least fifteen times. Thus, while helping to strengthen operational readiness, any further test of a regular Shahab 3 does not significantly advance Iran’s ballistic missile program. Even though not yet observed, a potential precision-guided version of the older Shahab 3 would increase the test’s military significance but again would not constitute a major change to Iran’s testing pattern.  While single events make for good headlines, it is worthwhile to take a look at the bigger picture of Iranian missile testing. Since the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has increased the number of its missile tests, with many launches going unreported in both Iranian and international media. Some of these missile tests have a particular significance, such as testing of Khorramshahr, which is still technically immature but once operational has the potential to increase Iran’s missile range beyond its current self-imposed limit of 2000km. In general, however, it is less single missile tests that concern Western decisionmakers but the overall increased pace of Iranian testing and the gradual advancement of Iran’s capabilities it reflects.

The simple first step towards any negotiations with Iran should be the temporary restoration of the oil waivers by the Trump administration. In reality, it is a minor concession from Trump which doesn’t really end maximum pressure, but one that would still be meaningful enough for the Iranian side to get them to take any offer of talks seriously. Esfandyar Batmangheidj comments at Foreign Policy

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the reimposition of US secondary sanctions on Iran. Iran is stepping up its pressure on Europe to devise a successful workaround that will provide economic relief. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said late last month that if negotiations with remaining signatories of nuclear deal do not result in anything, Iran will take a third step in reducing their commitments under the JCPOA at end of the 60-day period in early September. At that point, Iran plans to give another 60 days to negotiate and to find solutions, as they are holding to their desire to balance not promoting war and tension but also not surrendering to US bullying. President Rouhani spoke at length last week in defence of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his government’s strides in foreign policy, including the signing of the JCPOA. However, hardline newspapers did not take too kindly to the president’s address. 

BBC Monitoring reports:  Javan, which has ties to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said Rouhani had delivered a “eulogy for the JCPOA at the funeral for the JCPOA”. Keyhan, whose managing director is appointed by the supreme leader, pointed to rising prices of goods and wrote sarcastically that the government “still talks about the blessings of the JCPOA!” Pro-reform outlets mostly focused on the security-related talking points of Rouhani’s speech and used quotes from his address in their headlines. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned that a war between Iran and the US would be “the mother of all wars”, as Tehran announced joint naval patrols with Russia. “Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace; war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” he said. “A strait for a strait. It can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us.” An Iranian navy commander was in Russia and said that the drills would take place later this year after both countries signed an agreement. Although Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi gave no details about the area where the drills would be held, in late July he said that manoeuvres could take place in the Strait of Hormuz. 

The TelegraphTimesIndependent and Reuters report via BICOM. Iran declared that it runs security in the Strait of Hormuz and would no longer tolerate “maritime offences” there, a day after the Islamic Republic said it had seized a second oil tanker near the strategic waterway that it accused of smuggling fuel. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps diverted the Iraqi tanker to its shores and detained its seven crew, state media reported. IRGC Commander Ramezan Zirahi was quoted as saying it was carrying 700,000 liters of fuel. The seizure of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, which prompted Iran to threaten reciprocal actions, is at the heart of the crisis unfolding the Gulf. Apparently, Gibraltar updated its sanctions enforcement regulations 36 hours before Royal Marines impounded the Iranian tanker when it stopped for supplies in the territory, lawyers have said. The legal changes, reported by the blog EU Sanctions, suggest both that the operation was meticulously planned and that the authorities feared it would need a clearer legal basis. Gibraltar incorporated Sanctions Regulations 2019 into local law on July 3, specifically giving its authorities the right to “designate and detain” ships if the chief minister suspects they are being used to breach EU sanctions. The Times reports.

Last month the Guards said they had impounded the Panama-flagged MT Riah for alleged fuel smuggling as well as the British-flagged Stena Impero for breaking “international maritime rules”. In response to such incidents, the US has been seeking to form a coalition—dubbed Operation Sentinel—to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. Last month Britain, while still led by former prime minister May, proposed a European-led maritime protection force. But both plans struggled to find partners, with European countries believed to be reluctant to be dragged into a conflict.

Britain said last week that it will join forces with the United States to protect merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions with Iran, after Tehran taunted Washington that its allies were too “ashamed” to join the mission. Britain’s decision to form the joint maritime taskforce with the United States marks a departure in policy under new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after efforts under his predecessor Theresa May to form a European-led grouping. Britain was also at pains to stress that it had not changed its broader policy towards Tehran. “We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. AFP reports via Bourse & Bazaar.

China may escort Chinese commercial vessels in the Gulf under a US proposal for a maritime coalition to secure oil shipping lanes, its envoy to the UAE said last week. “If there happens to be a very unsafe situation we will consider having our navy escort our commercial vessels,” Chinese Ambassador Ni Jian told Reuters in Abu Dhabi. “We are studying the US proposal on Gulf escort arrangements,” China’s embassy later said in a text message. Reuters reports.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced Germany’s refusal to join a US-led military mission to safeguard the international shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz from Iranian aggression and criticized what he called America’s “maximum tension” approach. The Atlantic Council reports. The Iranian government approved a measure to knock four zeroes off of the national currency – the rial – and make the unofficial but popular currency – the toman (equal to ten rials) – the official unit of the Iranian currency. The government has said the decision “has nothing to do with inflation” but it is a move to “make the currency compatible with society’s norms” since the rial is rarely used. The decision will not be enforced until it goes through the parliament and Guardian Council. BBC Monitoring reports. 

Two Iranian ships carrying Brazilian corn were unable to return home whilst off the Brazilian coast for over a month after being refused fuel, leading to a diplomatic standoff. A Brazilian judge ordered that Petrobras refuelled the ship. Brian O’Toole, former OFAC senior advisor and IC analyst, current Bank Sanctions Head and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, commented: A prime example of the stupidity of this maximalist Iran policy, which is just plain counterproductive. This shipment is for food exports, which are not sanctionable and which US firms can export too. But now there’s a court order mandating refueling. The US could easily have cut off any court order by providing comfort this wouldn’t be sanctionable, but now they’ve got one sitting as precedent in Brazilian courts for permissible trade. That order’s very existence will complicate any efforts in the future to get in the way of something the US really should care about; say machine parts. You may think that one of these in Brazil isn’t a big deal and you may be right. But this same pattern is going on in Europe with INSTEX. And an EU court order could be disastrous. This whole sanctions stuff really isn’t that hard, but the stubborn refusal to countenance anything that “benefits” Iran, permissible or not, is backfiring now and will undermine legitimate efforts to constrain Iran’s bad behavior.      
During an hour-long conversation, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered Senator Rand Paul ideas about how to end the nuclear impasse and address Trump’s concerns. “As a diplomat, I have to always think about alternatives,” he told us. Among them was the idea that the Iranian Parliament could codify, in law, a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader, originally in 2003 and again in 2010, that forbids the production or use of nuclear weapons. “We consider the use of such weapons as haraam [forbidden] and believe that it is everyone’s duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, in 2010.  But if Trump wanted more, he would also have to offer more, Zarif suggested. Another possibility was moving forward one of the later steps of the nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015—the accord Trump had abandoned in May, 2018. Zarif said that Iran could bring forward ratification of the so-called Additional Protocol, which is currently due to be implemented by 2023—potentially this year. The protocol, which has already been signed and ratified by a hundred and forty-six nations, allows more intrusive international inspections—on both declared and undeclared nuclear sites in member states—in perpetuity. =

“The Additional Protocol is a crucial means by which the world verifies that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me on Friday. “If you don’t trust the Iranians, you want inspections in perpetuity.” By ratifying the protocol, Iran would forfeit one of the so-called sunset clauses in the 2015 deal, which had triggered deep skepticism among Republicans, some Democrats, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. In exchange, Zarif suggested, Trump could go to Congress to lift sanctions on Iran, as originally provided under the JCPOA but not ratified in legislation. Both sides would then feel more secure in the commitments sought in the original deal. The New Yorker reports.

Since that meeting, the United States sanctioned Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It has been reported that President Trump offered to host Foreign Minister Zarif at the Oval Office and passed the message through Senator Rand Paul that if he attended the meeting he would not be sanctioned. The offer was rejected because Zarif told Paul that the decision to meet Trump in the Oval Office was not his to make; he would have to consult with Tehran. He expressed concern that any meeting might end up as little more than a photo-op, without substance. Daniel Larison gives an overview of reactions at the American Conservative.   Zarif responded on Twitter: “The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world. Is the truth really that painful? It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”

The insult provoked a predictably display of unity from Iranian officials: Iranian officials reacted with unified irritation on Thursday to the Trump administration’s decision to sanction Iran’s foreign minister, calling the move petty and provocative — further evidence, they said, of Washington’s insincerity when it talks of peace. Iran’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on 1 August condemned the US move saying that the action “indicates the US government’s desperation”Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces have described the move as “ridiculous”. BBC Monitoring reports. 

The decision was roundly condemned in the US as well: “The Zarif designation is one of the most ridiculous steps I’ve seen this Administration take,” tweeted Richard Nephew, a Brookings Institution fellow who helped oversee the expansion of sanctions against Iran under the Obama administration and served as sanctions adviser to the American team that negotiated the nuclear deal. “It won’t meaningfully affect Zarif’s diplomacy, it probably won’t result in much in terms of asset freeze or complications for him, and will annoy other world leaders.”

The EU said that it would continue to work with Zarif, and leading US allies in Europe have likewise expressed their opposition to the decision: France said on Thursday voiced concern over a U.S. move to impose sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister and said that along with Britain and Germany it disagreed with the decision, the French Foreign Ministry said.

“We consider that all diplomatic channels should stay open, particularly in a context of high tensions,” the ministry said. Iran has asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to push back against the US after it imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, describing the move as “a dangerous precedent.” In a letter to Guterres, Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi accused the US of a “brazen violation of the fundamental principles of international law” and urged the international community to condemn US behaviour. “Coercing nations into complying with the United States’ illegal demands threatens multilateralism, as the foundation of international relations, and sets a dangerous precedent, paving the way for those who aspire to rather divide, not unite, nations,” he wrote. Reuters reports. 

At the same time, the United States extended waivers for three civilian nuclear projects in Iran. “This is a short 90 day extension,” said White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, a champion of the hawkish policy towards Tehran. “We are watching those nuclear activities very, very closely, they remain under daily scrutiny,” he told Fox Business. The projects include the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Arak heavy water reactor, which has been modified under the supervision of the international community to render it impossible to produce plutonium for military use, and the Fordow fuel enrichment plant. “The action today will help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran’s ability to shorten its ‘breakout time’ to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Bourse & Bazaar reports. The decision will upset Iran hawks in Washington and be welcomed by Russia, China, European allies and the Iranian leadership. The issue is emblematic of the tension inside the administration over the implementation of President Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy. In an Oval Office meeting, Trump sided with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who argued that the administration should again renew sanctions waivers related to five separate parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Mnuchin prevailed over the objections of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to six administration officials. Pompeo, who is the lead official on the issue, will nevertheless support Trump’s decision when it is announced later this week. Mnuchin, these six officials said, argued to Trump that if the sanctions were not again waived as required by law by Aug. 1, the United States would have to sanction Russian, Chinese and European firms that are involved in projects inside Iran that were established as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Treasury Department asked for more time to navigate the collateral effects of these sanctions.

The Washington Post reports. Earlier this week, the State Department published a video in which Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook sought to dispel several “myths about sanctions that continue to be promoted by the Iranian regime,” including “myth” that sanctions target humanitarian trade. Back in December of last year, the State Department provided a supportive statement to the Financial Times in response to questions about the Swiss payment channel, declaring: “We understand the importance of this activity since it helps the Iranian people. It has never been, nor is it now, U.S. policy to target this trade.” Officials at the NSC apparently disagree. 

BBC News examines the impact of US sanctions on medical supplies in Iran: official Iranian figures show a snapshot of the past 16 months of overall Iranian imports of medical drugs and devices. These imports reached a peak of $176m (£145m) in September 2018, then fell significantly. By June 2019, imports of medical supplies had fallen by 60% to approximately $67m. This fall coincides with the imposition of US sanctions but the data is limited and it’s not possible to say with any certainty that sanctions are responsible. “The most depressing aspect of the inhumane sanctions is that shortage of medicines in Iran has given rise once again to a black market, controlled by the regime’s hardliners and their cronies. The black market only enriches the most radical elements in Iran, those who benefit from continuing tension between Iran and the United States, and were assailed as “merchants of sanctions”  by President Rouhani. The same profiteering happened during the Obama years, but has now returned in a much worse fashion because the shortages and desperation they cause are so much greater.

We should recall that, according to UNICEF, the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s killed at least 576,000 Iraqi children due to malnutrition and medical shortages. Given that the current sanctions imposed on Iran are even more severe, and that Iran’s population is three times greater than Iraq’s, there is every reason to believe that the continuation or aggravation of the sanctions regime will translate into the deaths of even more children in Iran.” Muhammad Sahimi comments at LobeLog.

In addition, in November of last year, as the Trump administration reimposed secondary sanctions on Iran and embarked on its “maximum pressure” policy, the Swiss government opened discussions with the Treasury and State Departments to ensure that Switzerland’s significant sales of pharmaceutical products and medical devices—technically exempt from U.S. sanctions—could continue unimpeded. But the hardline sanctions policy being pushed by the National Security Council has so far prevented a Swiss effort to ease trade in food and medicine in a remarkable subversion of longstanding U.S. protections for humanitarian trade with Iran, which is unprecedented. Bourse & Bazaar reports.

Twenty-eight lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties are pushing legislation to ban the use of funds for military action against Iran without congressional authorization, according to an internal letter obtained by Foreign PolicySimilar legislation has failed before, but lawmakers are hoping they can fold this into a must-pass defense policy bill expected to be finalized in the fall.  “Bipartisan majorities in both chambers have spoken up to defend Congress’ constitutional authority over matters of war and peace,” the senators and members of congress wrote in the letter, addressed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, which oversee the defense bill. “With regional tensions high, the risk of the U.S. entering into war with Iran without authorization remains acute.”

The letter represents the latest political battle to pare back the president’s ability to wage war without congressional authorization amid mounting fears that the Trump administration could stumble into a conflict with Iran. The new push sets up a potential showdown over Iran policy in Congress that will play out during negotiations over the final defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

In an interview, Middle East expert and former White House adviser Vali Nasr warns of the danger of a new war in the region and calls on Europeans to oppose Washington’s Iran policy. Der Spiegel reports.  DER SPIEGEL: It doesn’t sound very encouraging when you compare the situation in the Middle East with the situation in Europe immediately before the outbreak of World War I. Nasr: Because of that, it is so important that the US start a serious strategic conversation with Iran. We now have a situation in which the US is saying to Iran: “Give up your nuclear capability, give up your missiles” and, meanwhile, we will give $100 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel. In addition, you have to leave all the Arab countries that surround you. Why would the Iranians do that? The U.S has to start with getting a sense of what Iran’s security interests are and, hence, it’s strategic calculus. When Henry Kissinger met secretly with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1971, the first thing he asked was: “What is your strategic doctrine? What are your security concerns?” Unfortunately, I don’t see a man like Kissinger in the White House. One point of agreement for the presidential candidates: The nuclear deal needs to be restored. All the candidates said that by breaking the deal President Trump had damaged American interests and credibility, and had given Iran, which had been in full compliance, reason to inch back into nuclear activities the deal had prohibited. The New York Times reports.

Where do presidential candidates stand on the JCPOA? CFR invited the Democratic candidates to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues before the second set of presidential debates. The questionnaire was sent to all candidates on July 8. Candidates’ answers were posted exactly as they were received. 

Confusion and contradictions have not brought Tehran back to make a new nuclear deal but instead have strengthened hard-liners on both sides, the USA Today Editorial Board comments:

“Trump seems trapped between his own competing interests: an urge to dismantle Obama policy even as he tries to renegotiate a similar deal; a desire to avoid a new war while looking tough and threatening; and a need to form alliances with other Iran-deal signatories — Britain, France and Germany — unhappy with the US withdrawal. All is being run from a White House buffeted by disagreement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to favor regime change to end Iran’s bad-actor behavior of developing ballistic missiles and using proxy forces to create havoc in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. National security adviser John Bolton has gone further in advocating the use of force. But Trump ruled out regime change and is skittish about starting a new war in the Middle East after promising voters he would pull the United States back from foreign entanglements.

He prudently called off a counterstrike after Iran shot down an American drone in June (The United States took down an Iranian drone a month later). The confusion and contradictions don’t stop there: Trump covets a diplomatic resolution and tweeted on May 15 that “Iran will want to talk soon.” But nothing has come of it and the White House oddly sanctioned Iran’s chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif. As Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., noted on Twitter: “If you sanction diplomats you’ll have less diplomacy.” Just last month, with Trump’s blessing, Paul had invited Zarif to an Oval Office meeting, according to The New Yorker. Last month, after Iran allegedly sabotaged oil tankers and seized a British merchant ship (two more vessels have since been taken), the US military announced creation of a coalition to guard shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Only Britain has joined. Others might have been dissuaded by Trump’s contradictory June tweet that “countries should be protecting their own ships.”  Trump has often called the 2015 Iran deal a “disaster.” But he extended for 90 days the sanction relief protecting a key part of the accord in which Russian, Chinese and European technicians help Tehran shape its nuclear program for peaceful purposes. Evidently, it’s not all bad.” “To be sure, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has succeeded in slashing Iran’s oil exports by 95%, afflicting the nation’s economy with rising inflation, sagging wages and higher housing costs. Hardest hit is Iran’s middle class —  the very sector that pushes for more reform. Conversely, there are signs the crisis is strengthening the hold that hard-line clerics have on the country. Trump’s erratic Iran policy has allowed the clerics to scapegoat Washington, provoked Tehran’s aggressive pushback, established that America won’t keep its word, and potentially reignited a nuclear crisis that had been quelled at least into the next decade. If that’s winning, we’d hate to see what losing looks like.”    

NEW REPORT FROM CRISIS GROUP, “Averting the Middle East’s 1914 Moment”:  

What’s new? The Trump administration designed its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear program and regional reach by draining its finances. But Iran has pushed back in a series of incidents, showing its ability to harm U.S. interests and potentially the world economy. Meanwhile, the 2015 nuclear accord is slowly unravelling.

Why does it matter? Growing tensions between Iran and the U.S. have put the two countries on the precipice of military confrontation. A spark could set off not just a limited clash between the two adversaries but a conflagration spreading across regional flashpoints.

What should be done? In the absence of direct communication between the two sides, third parties should intensify efforts to defuse the crisis, taking steps to salvage the nuclear accord and de-escalate regional tensions.      

The JCPOA Joint Commission met in late July, with representation at the ministerial level. The meeting — only the commission’s second since the Trump administration in May revoked waivers that previously allowed eight nations to continue importing reduced amounts of Iranian oil — was chaired by Helga Schmid, the European Union’s deputy foreign policy chief. The meeting also included deputy foreign ministers and senior diplomats from France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi called the meeting “constructive,” but said Iran must be able to sell some oil in return for the curbs on its nuclear program it has observed under the deal. Al-Monitor reports. 

“They (the European parties) have set out their commitments and announced them, they (include) the sale of Iran’s oil, the transportation of Iran’s oil, and the return of Iran’s oil income,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“It is clear that today’s tensions and problems are due to America’s economic terrorism and Europe’s inability to fulfil its commitments which means going along with America’s economic terrorism,” he said, quoted by state media. “We raised our stance and the importance of the fulfilment of the commitments of other parties to the JCPOA, in particular European countries,” he said, referring to the deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. BBC Monitoring shares media reactions to the Vienna meeting:  Pro-reform Etemad said the foreign parties to the JCPOA agreed that Fordo (Fordow) and Arak nuclear sites should continue their activities. Reformist Ebtekar argued that developments regarding the nuclear deal would now “gain pace”. Hardline Javan, along with centrist Jomhuri-e Eslami, cited Araghchi in their headlines that Iran will continue to reduce its nuclear commitments until its interests are secured. Another hardline outlet, Keyhan, and conservative Jaam-e Jam attacked the European financial mechanism INSTEX.  They say the West sought to use the mechanism “to gather information on Iranian financial transactions”.

As Boris Johnson hurtles toward a no-deal Brexit that could leave the UK diplomatically adrift and economically vulnerable, President Trump is looking to seize an opportunity to lure the country away from Europe on a top foreign policy priority: Iran. However, Johnson is seemingly fond of Iran and was the only UK prime minister who had visited Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution (although not in his capacity as PM). Thus, it could equally remain a point of contention. Bloomberg reports.

In light of this, hawkish US National Security Adivser John Bolton started two days of meetings in London yesterday with key figures in Boris Johnson’s government as the US pitches to steer a post-Brexit UK further away from Europe on a range of issues including trade, the Iran nuclear deal and the role of the Chinese technology firm Huawei. Bolton is the most senior Trump official to visit since Johnson became prime minister, and the move is seen to have increased the chances of the UK leaving the EU on 31 October without a withdrawal agreement – a position more in line with the Brexit policy favoured by the US president.

Bolton will be testing how the UK intends to position itself as a country “freeing itself of the shackles of the EU” at the G7 summit to behosted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Biarritz later this month. Bolton is hoping that a Johnson administration will gradually adopt a foreign policy on Iran more independent of its two former EU partners Germany and France after Brexit, and closer to the policy of maximum economic pressure on Tehran imposed by Trump. The summit, the first opportunity for Trump to meet Johnson since he became prime minister, is likely to be dominated by transatlantic disagreements over Iran and the value of multilateralism. In an admission that the UK may be edging closer to the US, Macron is not looking for a declaration signed by all seven countries, but coalitions of the willing on specific subjects instead. His visit is a chance to test how far Johnson’s premiership is leading to tangible initial changes in UK security policy. If Britain were abandon the concept of a European maritime security force in the Gulf, for example, that could be seen as a prelude to a deeper shift on Iran. The Guardian reports. 

French President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to trigger initiatives to preserve the JCPOA. At the end of July, the Iranian and French presidents discussed in a 100-minute phone call the possibilities for saving the deal. According to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Macron invited President Hassan Rouhani to attend the G-7 summit Aug. 24 at the coastal resort of Biarritz, France, to meet with US President Donald Trump. Macron promised that many issues between Tehran and Washington beyond the JCPOA would be solved. Rouhani, however, declined to attend or send a representative, which naturally would have been Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Al-Monitor reports.

However, a French diplomat has insisted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not been invited to this month’s G7 summit, denying a media report published as European leaders seek to defuse Tehran-Washington tensions. Reuters reports. 

US President Donald Trump tweeted“Iran is in serious financial trouble. They want desperately to talk to the US, but are given mixed signals from all of those purporting to represent us, including President Macron of France. I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself. No one is authorized in any way, shape, or form, to represent us!”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement, “On Iran, France speaks with total sovereignty. France commits strongly to peace and security in the region, and commits to enabling de-escalation. France requres no authorization to do so.” Bloomberg reports.  

NIAC Research Associate Sina Toosi commented in reaction: “[Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani had welcomed Macron’s idea of a “ceasefire” or “freeze for freeze” deal between the US and Iran. According to reports, this may have entailed US reissuing oil waivers and Iran curtailing regional escalation/not reducing further its compliance with the JCPOA. Now Trump is publicly rebuking Marcon’s efforts at mediating. The ceasefire idea would have been a smart move towards de-escalation and [a] stepping stone to broader negotiations. Trump shooting it down yet again indicates he’s not sincere in seeking any negotiations.”

Al-Mayadin Arabic news network had reported that French President Emmanuel Macron has told Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani over the phone Europe is ready to deposit $15 billion in INSTEX trade mechanism in return for Iran not to further reduce its commitments under the JCPOA. But Abbas Mousavi, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said in an interview with Iran’s state broadcaster that several proposals were made during the Macron-Rouhani phone conversations, but “none are definitive”. He added that until now there is no proposal that can be considered certain and reliable. Radio Farda reports. 

China imported Iranian crude oil in July for the second month since a US 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, between 4.4mn and 11mn barrels of Iranian crude were discharged into China last month, or 142,000 to 360,000 barrels per day (bpd). The upper end of that range would mean July imports still added up to close to half of their year-earlier level despite sanctions. Reuters reports.

Iran and modern China appear to have little in common. Yet both countries have spawned ancient and great civilizations. Today, both also have a common adversary: the United States. Sebastian Rees explores the diplomatic relationship between “two fellow travellers” at Albawaba: Earlier this month, the speaker of the Iranian Majlis Ali Larijani met with Song Tao the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China in Tehran. Larijani told reporters that US hostility towards Iran and China was ‘strategic and deep’ and proposed that ‘strategic thinking should be followed to counter this animosity’.

Song expressed enthusiasm for Larijani’s proposal to draw up a 25-year plan for relations between the two countries and stressed the ideological affinities between their two states: ‘Iran and China’s experience suggest that developing countries do not need to copy the Western developmental model.’ The meeting fits into a broader pattern of increasing dialogue between the two states. Mr Larijani had met with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping in February to express Iran’s readiness to co-operate with China on its landmark One Belt, One Road project which would traverse Iranian territory. Mr Xi returned the favour, declaring ‘No matter how the international and regional situations change, China’s resolve to develop comprehensive strategic partnerships with Iran will remain unchanged’.

Project Alpha’s latest case study examines US allegations that aluminium suppliers in China have made undeclared exports of controlled nuclear materials to Iran. Under the JCPOA, Iran’s procurement of materials that can be used in the manufacture of gas centrifuges is restricted. Gas centrifuges are used for the enrichment of uranium, a common process in the production of nuclear fuel materials.

Materials and equipment which have a nuclear application must be acquired by Iran through the official “Procurement Channel”, allowing the United Nations Security Council to maintain oversight and restrictions on the imports of such materials to the country. Any such procurements made outside of the official Procurement Channel would be a serious violation of the terms of the JCPOA.The United States recently designated several Chinese entities for supplying goods to Iran. The materials are alleged to have either been sourced directly by the Iranian Enrichment Technology Company, TESA, or procured through Iranian sub-contractors, in one case using an international front company in Belgium. Company registration data suggests these alleged transfers would have happened after the JCPOA was adopted. This would mark a serious violation of the agreement.      
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo penned an op-ed for USA Today claiming that the US maximum pressure campaign has raised the cost of the Iranian regime’s expansionism. While US secondary sanctions have harmed the Iranian economy, a wide range of observations and data do not support the argument that sanctions have caused Iran to retrench in the region. In 2019, Trump administration officials assert that the US maximum pressure campaign is already working to roll back Iran’s regional influence. In particular, they cite reports that Iran’s chief proxy, Hezbollah, has acknowledged financial constraints by appealing for public donations. However, there are no indications that either Iran’s nor Hezbollah’s capabilities or intent to continue helping Assad have changed. Both remain significantly engaged in Syria, and Iran’s posture in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere remains virtually unchanged. Kenneth Katzman comments at the Atlantic Council

It is naive to believe, as National Security Adviser John Bolton does, that Iranians have no historical memory and they will rise in revolt to topple their regime when it is cornered by outside forces. Anti-imperialism has deep roots within Iranian political culture and 40 years of clerical despotism has not altered this fact. Washington’s choice of close allies in the Middle East also guarantees the failure of its foreign policy towards Iran. It is no secret that Trump’s new hardline posturing has been carefully coordinated with a cast of unscrupulous actors: the Saudi crown prince, the Emirati crown prince and the prime minister of Israel. Are Iranians supposed to view these notorious figures as their natural allies? While it is true there is a deep desire for political change in Iran, Iranian nationalism remains a powerful force regardless of one’s views of the Islamic Republic. Nader Hashemi comments at Al-Jazeera

Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran-aligned forces have faltered, people briefed on the talks say, setting back United Nations attempts to prevent the four-year war from fueling a broader regional conflict with Tehran. Diplomats have been struggling to gain momentum for a cease-fire as hostilities intensify between Iran and its adversaries. In recent weeks, Houthi forces in Yemen have carried out a series of rocket and drone attacks that Riyadh and Washington view as Iran’s handiwork—allegations that Tehran denies.  The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project estimates that more than 90,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015, including more than 11,000 civilians. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were responsible for two-thirds of the civilian deaths, the group found. The Wall Street Journal reports.

Signs suggest that Dubai may be seeking to repair its trade relationship with Iran. The presence of Iranians in Dubai’s economy has diminished significantly in recent years due to sanctions and regional politics. During the last financial crisis, capital flight from Iran offered a hidden bailout for Dubai as global investors pulled back. With a new crisis on the horizon, Iranian business leaders are wondering—how long can Abu Dhabi afford to freeze them out? Esfandyar Batmanghelidj comments at LobeLog.

Following on the heels of the UAE decision to withdraw forces from Yemen, Emirati and Iranian officials met for the first time in six years to discuss maritime security in an important development towards regional de-escalation. The Washington Post reports. In addition, Iranian and Qatari Coast Guards later met in Tehran to discuss “new approaches to cooperation” on maritime borders. IFP News reports. Iran’s Defence Minister Amir Hatami told his counterparts from Qatar, Oman and Kuwait: “The maritime coalition that the US is trying to form will create more instability and insecurity.” He also warned that any Israeli involvement in a US-led naval operation in the Strait of Hormuz would have “disastrous consequences” for the region. BICOM reports.

The UAE does not want war. The most important thing is security and stability and bringing peace to this part of the world,” said an Emirati official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive foreign policy issues. Abu Dhabi has embarked on an influence campaign in Washington that has given the UAE a potent voice in the White House, helping shape Middle East policy at the highest levels.

The UAE was a vocal critic of the JCPOA and it supported Trump’s decision to walk away from the deal last year. However the UAE never intended the US withdrawal from the deal to lead to confrontations such as those that have taken place in the Persian Gulf, Emirati officials say. Rather, they say, the UAE continues to hope, in line with Washington’s declared policy, that the tough sanctions imposed on Iran by the Trump administration will bring Iran back to the negotiating table. That has all fed speculation about where the UAE stands in the US-Iran dispute, said Karasik, the analyst.

“It’s the big question. Is the UAE breaking away from the U.S.?” he said. “There are domestic economic problems and divisions over what do about Iran. But at the end of the day, the UAE sits under the American security umbrella, and that is what matters.” The Washington Post reports.           Find out more about our activities:    Facebook Twitter ELN Website YouTube   Forward to Friend    

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