Category Archives: Iran

(CNBC) Oil buyers must cut all Iranian crude imports by November, State Dept says

(CNBC)

  • Companies that buy Iranian crude oil must completely cut those exports by the start of November, a senior State Department official told CNBC.
  • That indicates the Trump administration will not allow countries to gradually phase out Iranian crude exports over many months, as the Obama White House allowed.
  • Oil prices spiked following the announcement, which comes at a time when oil markets are finely balanced and crude futures have recently hit 3½-year highs.

Oil buyers have to cut Iranian crude imports by November, a U.S. State official says  

Companies that buy Iranian crude oil must completely cut those exports by the start of November or else they will face powerful U.S. sanctions, a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday.

The State Department has conveyed that message to European diplomats in recent talks, the official said. The Trump administration has not yet held talks with China, India or Turkey about their purchases of Iranian crude, but it intends to pressure them to entirely cut their imports under threat of sanctions, the official added.

Oil prices spiked following the announcement, which indicates that President Donald Trump will not follow the Obama administration model of allowing countries to gradually phase out Iranian crude exports over many months. The hardline approach comes at a time when oil markets are finely balanced and crude prices have recently hit 3½-year highs.

Iran, OPEC’s third biggest oil producer, exports more than 2 million barrels a day. OPEC and other oil producers including Russia agreed last week to ease production caps that have been in place for 18 months in order to prevent prices from spiking as Venezuela’s output continues to sink and the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s exports loom.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May to pursue a maximum pressure campaign. At the time, his administration gave foreign companies either 90 or 180 days to wind down their business with Iranian counterparts, depending on the type of commercial activity.

A crucial question was whether the Trump administration would follow the model President Barack Obama put in place. His administration asked buyers to cut their imports of Iranian crude by 20 percent every 180 days when it ramped up its pressure campaign against Iran.

Oil hits 1-month high on Iran sanctions

Oil hits 1-month high on Iran sanctions  

If Trump followed the same model, that could have pushed the impact into the first half of 2019, according to RBC Capital Markets. But the State Department confirmed on Tuesday that Iranian crude buyers should be reducing purchases now, with the goal of zeroing out their purchases by Nov. 4, the 180-day mark from Trump’s nuclear deal pullout and the renewal of U.S. sanctions.

“That is why we’ve offered this window since May 8, as sort of a drawdown period,” the senior State Department official said.

The United States was able to quickly cut Iran’s shipments under Obama, largely because it had the support of its European allies. European countries imposed their own sanctions on Iranian crude exports, which wiped out the Continent’s purchases in about six months.

In contrast, Britain, France, Germany and the wider European Union have voiced strong opposition to Trump’s pullout and put in place measures designed to protect their companies from so-called secondary sanctions. Those secondary sanctions punish companies that engaged in sanctioned business with Iranian entities, threatening to lock them out of the massive U.S. market and isolate them from the international financial system.

The State Department official said diplomats have been in Europe garnering support for the U.S. position among the EU3, isolating streams of Iranian funding and highlighting “the totality of Iran’s malign behavior across the region.”

“On the diplomatic front, we have had secondary sanctions in place in Iran since 1996,” the official said. “These are discussions we are extremely used to having. We have a lot of diplomatic muscle memory” for urging partners to cut Iranian oil purchases.

To be sure, the United States has had secondary sanctions on the book for more than 20 years, but Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush chose not to enforce them for fear of sparking a diplomatic crisis and trade war with Europe.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal lifted sanctions on Iran in exchanged for its leaders in Tehran accepting limits on its nuclear program and allowing inspectors into its atomic facilities. The Trump administration left the deal after failing to reach an agreement with European partners over expanding the conditions to include limiting Iran’s ballistic missile program, addressing its role in Middle East conflicts and extending key parts of the accord that begin to expire in 2025.

The administration does not expect to grant any waivers to companies that purchase Iranian oil or invest in its energy industry, the official said.

(BBG) Iran Plans to Create a Secondary Forex Market

(BBG) Iran plans to establish a secondary market for foreign exchange to help get around a dollar shortage that has hurt trade and is likely to worsen as U.S. sanctions resume.

The secondary market will allow exporters of non-oil commodities to sell their foreign currency earnings to importers of consumer products, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif as saying.

The introduction of a secondary foreign exchange market is the latest in a series of steps Iran has taken to reduce the impact of renewed sanctions on its economy.

Even before Donald Trump announced in May that the U.S. would be leaving the nuclear accord, Iran’s central bank imposed tight restrictions on foreign currency transactions in an effort to shut down a flourishing black market and halt a slump in the value of the rial against the dollar.

The Islamic Republic has also sought to wean its economy off the dollar by doing more trade in the euro and other currencies, though traders and analysts say that will not be enough to mitigate the impact of sanctions on its economy.

(BBG) Iran Can Block OPEC Agreement, Yet Saudi Arabia Can Bypass Veto

(BBG) Bloomberg’s Annemarie Hordern reports on OPEC’s upcoming meeting.

Even with Iran threatening to block an increase in OPEC’s oil production, Saudi Arabia still has options.

Tehran says it has Iraqi and Venezuelan support to veto any proposal for more output, a position taken by both Saudi Arabia and Russia. “If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russia want to increase production, this requires unanimity,” Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, Iran’s OPEC representative, said on Sunday, before the group meets in Vienna on Friday.

The statute of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries does indeed give any member the right to block any deal, under Article 11 C:

“Each Full Member Country shall have one vote. All decisions of

the Conference, other than on procedural matters, shall require

the unanimous agreement of all Full Members.”

Yet Saudi Arabia can still bypass a veto. First, it can block any formal OPEC-wide communique. Then, it can gather a coalition of supporters within the group and publish its own statement, which could outline a new production policy.

That’s exactly what happened 18 years ago, when Iran rejected a Saudi-backed plan to boost output. Back then, eight countries joined the Saudis, resulting in an OPEC-9 communique that excluded Iran and Iraq.

Saudi Arabia may not choose that option this time. Unless it has backing from beyond its core supporters within OPEC, traditionally Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, it risks appearing isolated.

That leaves the option of no communique at all. That happened in 2011 when then-Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi walked out, saying the group had “one of the worst meetings we have ever had”. Within hours, the Saudis set their own policy unilaterally.

Another option for the Saudis is to accept defeat on a formal production increase, but start cheating on output quotas. While that would also be in line with OPEC tradition, it would be a first for Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih, who has stuck scrupulously to the agreements.

Iran acknowledged that both Saudi Arabia and Russia, which is part of the wider OPEC+ agreement, can bypass a veto, but warned that any such move would lead to the disintegration of the 2016 deal that has helped oil prices to more than double.

“If the two want to act alone, that’s a breach of the cooperation agreement,” Kazempour Ardebili said. “The market is well-supplied, and OPEC should abide by its decision up to the end of the year.”

(BBC) Iran to boost uranium enrichment if nuclear deal fails

(BBC)

Media captionWhat is the Iran nuclear deal?

Iran says it has begun work on increasing its uranium enrichment capacity, in case its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers collapses.

The head of Iran’s atomic agency told reporters that it was developing infrastructure to build advanced centrifuges at the Natanz facility.

The agency has informed the United Nations of the move, but said it would remain within the rules of the deal.

President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal with Iran last month.

European powers are now scrambling to salvage the nuclear agreement, which imposes restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting sanctions.

A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday that the agency had received a letter from Iran on 4 June informing it that there was a “tentative schedule to start production of UF6”, referring to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges.

What is the work designed to achieve?

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters on Tuesday that preparations were under way to build new centrifuges.

“If we were progressing normally, it would have taken six or seven years, but this will now be ready in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Mr Salehi said this was in line with instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ordered officials to be prepared to step up enrichment if the nuclear deal – known as JCPOA – falls apart completely.

“If the JCPOA collapses – please pay attention, if the JCPOA collapses – and if we decide to assemble new centrifuges, we will assemble new-generation of centrifuges. However, for the time being, we move within the framework of the JCPOA,” Mr Salehi said.

Image captionIran insists its nuclear programme is for purely designed to meet its energy needs

Is such work allowed under the accord?

Mr Salehi insists Iran is acting “within the framework of the rules and commitments of the nuclear deal”.

The accord signed with the US, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, and China, limits uranium enrichment by Iran to 3.67%, far below the roughly 90% threshold of weapons-grade material.

In exchange, the country received relief from crippling sanctions.

Under the agreement, Iran can build parts for the centrifuges as long as it does not put them into operation within the first decade.

President Trump argued that these conditions did not go far enough to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and pulled out of the agreement, leaving the remaining European signatories scrambling to save it.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. Its compliance with the deal has been verified by the IAEA.

What is the purpose of the Natanz facility?

It is Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility, and began operating in 2007 in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions.

It consists of underground buildings capable of holding up to 50,000 centrifuges. Uranium hexafluoride gas is fed into centrifuges, which separate out the most fissile uranium isotope U-235.

The facility produces low-enriched uranium, which has a 3%-4% concentration of U-235.

That can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but also be enriched to the much higher level of 90% needed to produce nuclear weapons.

Image captionNatanz currently produces low-enriched uranium

A clear signal from Tehran

Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

This is a clear signal from Tehran that it is not simply a bystander and that if the nuclear deal collapses it has options too.

It comes as key European countries struggle to keep the nuclear agreement on life support.

Major international companies are already beginning to distance themselves from Iran in fear of US sanctions.

The move inevitably increases the sense of tension and it probably does those countries eager to maintain the deal few favours.

It highlights the whole issue of Iran’s formerly ambitious enrichment programme and again raises the question as to exactly what this enrichment programme was ultimately for.

P.O. (BBG) Iran, EU Face Uphill Fight to Keep Nuclear Deal Alive Post-Trump

P.O.

…Make no mistake…

…The Iran nuclear deal is dead and buried…

…Today’s announcement was only the public notice of the funeral…

…No deal can survive with a veto from the United States…

…Just imagine if the US’s legal authorities start going after all the world’s companies that deal with Iran, on reinstated full sanctions…

…No way Jose.

…Regardless of all the crap one might listen to…

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira

(BBG) Donald Trump didn’t kill the Iran nuclear deal. He just shrank its membership by one.

That was the line taken by the European Union immediately after the U.S. president announced his withdrawal from the 2015 accord. Germany, France and the U.K. all said they’ll stick to their commitments. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he wants to see them deliver.

“I don’t trust these three countries either,” Khamenei said on his website. “If you want to have a deal, we need practical guarantees otherwise they will do the same as the U.S. If they can’t give definitive guarantees, it won’t be possible to continue.”

But it’s not clear whether the EU, China and Russia will be able to ensure Iran receives the promised economic benefits — including free access to international oil markets and accelerating flows of trade and investment — that persuaded the Islamic Republic’s leaders to sign up to an agreement capping its nuclear program.

Before Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he’ll pull the U.S. out of the deal, Western businesses had already been reluctant to take the plunge into a country still subject to multiple curbs imposed by Washington. The exit throws billions of dollars of European investments that had been planned into disarray. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will push to make the deal work but may step up uranium enrichment again if the efforts of the remaining parties don’t yield tangible results.

“The international reach of U.S. sanctions makes the U.S. the economic policeman of the planet, and that is not acceptable,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday in an interview on France Culture radio. He branded Trump’s decision a “major mistake” and said he’ll lobby Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week to grant exemptions for European firms. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to speak to Rouhani later in the day.

Oil rebounded to trade at the highest level since 2014 with the sanctions aimed at cutting exports from OPEC’s third-largest producer. Brent for July settlement climbed as much as 3.1 percent to $77.20 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange and was 2.9 percent higher at 12:46 p.m. in the British capital.

Trump’s now promising to introduce a host of new restrictions that will test an economy already under strain. Iran’s rial has hit record lows against the dollar in recent months, forcing Rouhani’s government to impose currency controls. Protests that spread through several Iranian cities in December and January were linked to stagnation and rising costs of living, as the nuclear deal failed to deliver economic liftoff.

‘Wind Down’

In Iran’s capital, where many were glued to Trump’s speech on TV, 32-year-old masters student Golnaz said she’s worried that hard times may be ahead. “What if the Europeans also apply sanctions,?” she said by phone from north Tehran. “If people go back to those times when money was tight, food was even difficult for many to buy, it’ll be really bad.” She declined to be identified by her family name because of the sensitivity of speaking to foreign media.

“Iran will now turn to the Europeans and say: “This happened. What are you going to do?’,” said Amir Handjani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Iran wants more than just political rhetoric from European leaders,” he said — and that won’t be easy to deliver. “It’s one thing for the EU to say we remain committed and we won’t take steps that will undermine the deal. It’s another for European companies and banks to trade and invest in Iran.”

The EU has policy tools available that it’s used in the past to protect companies from U.S. sanctions — but they’re often outweighed, in the eyes of executives, by the risk of losing access to the world’s biggest economy.

Pulling the Plug

French oil giant Total SA, for example, says it will pull out of a joint venture in Iran if Trump re-imposes sanctions and it can’t win an exemption. Siemens AG Chief Financial Officer Ralf Thomas said he is assessing the impact for business in the country and the company will always comply with export regulations. Volkswagen AG, which began selling vehicles in the Islamic Republic last year, also vowed to stick to the rules.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will also be seeking talks with the Iranian government to work out what happens next, describing the U.S. decision as “grave.” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged Trump’s criticisms of the deal — Tehran’s ballistic missile program, the sunset clause on the nuclear restrictions, and its regional meddling — but insisted the accord should serve as a foundation for broader agreement.

“Those are issues are need to be addressed and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that,” May told lawmakers in London Wednesday.

Russia said late Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” by the U.S. decision to pull out of the deal, and ready to work with other parties to keep it alive. China urged all parties involved to continue efforts to implement the agreement.

Rouhani said in a televised address that it was already clear the U.S. under Trump wasn’t committed to an accord also signed by Russia and China. He said his foreign ministry will start talks with all the other participants on how it can still be made to work. But Iran has ruled out renegotiation.

P.O. Bibi’s key words in the CNN video

CNN: “The nuclear deal we are discussing is premissed on the assumption that Iran will somehow become a peaceful country.

It is not. 

It’s became an Empire that is devouring one country after the other.

And that they are doing before they have nuclear weapons

This deal will give them unlimited enrichment of uranium.”

“Second it does not address their ballistic missiles in which they could carry the bombs”

That’s what this is all about.

Everything else is crap in my opinion.

FCMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.O. (FT) US decision on Iran nuclear deal ‘humiliating’ for Europe

…Of course it’s “humiliating” for Europe…

…But what Europe could expect after constantly trying to humiliate President Trump…?

…A slap in the face.

…And that is what Europe got.

FCMP

 

 

 

The FT’s US foreign policy and defense correspondent Katrina Manson says Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal is an ‘extraordinary shift for the transatlantic alliance’.

+++ (BBG) Why Killing the Iran Deal Was Only the First Step: Zev Chafets

And

…I would argue that Iran is not exactly a law abiding Country in any way…

FCMP

(BBG) Now that President Donald Trump has officially withdrawn the U.S. from the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the world has to figure out how to live with that decision. Strategic reappraisals are taking place in Tehran, Europe and, most importantly, Moscow.

There are only two leaders who are happier today than they were yesterday: One is Trump himself; the other is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu. Tearing up the Iran deal was Trump’s call, but it would not have happened without Netanyahu’s stubborn willingness to stand up to the world — and especially Israel’s own generally hawkish security experts.

The prevailing view among Israeli security experts remains one of pragmatic opposition to scrapping the deal. But Netanyahu rejects that view as accepting an unstable status quo when more radical action could achieve lasting change that would enhance Israeli and global security. Bibi may just be right.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak aired the consensus view: “Is it smarter to tear the deal apart or keep it in place?” he mused. His conclusion: “There’s a lot of logic in maintaining it in place.”

Barak’s rhetorical question recalls something I heard last October from Isaac Ben Israel, a retired major general who now heads the National Council for Space Research and chairs the Department of Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Before the deal, Iran was two months away from having enough fissile material to complete its project,” he told me. “It had enriched uranium, not only 3.5 percent but also 19.7 percent. This was acquired despite an international sanctions regime. If the deal collapses, is it likely that more sanctions will deter Iran from resuming its project?”

These comments reflect considered expert opinion more broadly. But decades in office have convinced Netanyahu that he knows more, and sees further, than his advisers and generals.

After all, it was against the better judgment of the same experts that Netanyahu made a long-odds bet on Donald Trump winning the presidency in 2016. Not only was Trump electable, he wagered, but for the first time there would be an American president who saw the dangers of Iran in his way.

After Trump’s Iran decision, Netanyahu no doubt feels vindicated. It appears that the two leaders now share the same playbook. But what happens next is crucial. For both Trump and Netanyahu, scrapping the Iran deal is only a first step to a bigger goal.

If Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reacts with threats or a visible move to restart Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a devastating, American-backed Israeli military response will likely follow. Netanyahu doesn’t want this (and it’s unlikely Trump does either). What they want in the short-term is regime change in Tehran. This does not mean an Iraq-style invasion; Trump would never have the public support for that. But tough new American sanctions could destabilize the Iranian regime. So, too, would Iranian casualties and military humiliations of the kind Israel is presently inflicting on Iranian proxies in Syria.

Trump and Netanyahu can’t do this alone, of course. Tomorrow Netanyahu will fly to a previously scheduled meeting with Putin. Netanyahu will tell Putin that Russia and the U.S. now have a once in a century chance to wipe away dysfunctional borders and redraw the map of the Middle East into mutually acceptable spheres of influence. Russia has its own strategic interests in Syria: It wants to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and project military influence in the region through its air and naval bases there. But Netanyahu will tell him that they are not necessarily inimical to U.S. or Israeli interests. Putin may want to stand by Iran to the bitter end, but that seems unlikely; the Russian leader is in the Middle East as an opportunity seeker, not a bodyguard for the Ayatollah or even the Syrian president at any price.

A Middle East without a “Death to America” government in Tehran — or a Hezbollah in Lebanon — has been a key U.S. interest since the administration of Ronald Reagan. Mediterranean seaports in Syria have been a Russian dream since the time of Peter the Great. And brokering a deal like this has been Netanyahu’s goal from the day Donald Trump entered the White House.

Back in October, Ben Israel, the retired general, dismissed the Trump-Netanyahu plan to end the Iranian nuclear deal as impractical. “They are two people who have their own opinion,” he said. “In both cases, it is not shared by their professional advisers and intelligence communities.” That is still true. But what Trump and Putin have to consider is a bigger picture. Expert opinion is important, but Netanyahu is betting that sometimes great deals just take two (or even three).

(BBG) Iran Protests Accelerate Trump’s Weighing of New Sanctions

(BBG) Deadly protests in Iran have intensified talks within the Trump administration about imposing fresh sanctions against the Islamic Republic, as the U.S. president seized on the crisis to justify his long-standing opposition to a 2015 nuclear agreement.

President Donald Trump met Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence and members of his national security team to discuss the protests amid deliberations already under way about reimposing suspended sanctions or adding new ones, according to two White House officials who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. The meeting came about 10 days before Trump must decide whether to continue waiving sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“We certainly keep our options open” on adding to U.S. sanctions, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday. Trump took to Twitter earlier in the day to say the “people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” while U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she’ll call for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

“We must not be silent,” said Haley, who rejected Iranian government accusations that the protests have been orchestrated from abroad. “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom.”

An administration official said that no decision on sanctions had been made, but one of the options being discussed was imposing targeted sanctions on Iranian officials. A more drastic option would be reinstating the sanctions suspended by the nuclear accord, but that would almost certainly destroy the agreement, and the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said such a step would not be taken lightly.

Trump last year requested that Congress set specific trigger points that would automatically re-impose sanctions unless Iran meets a list of U.S. demands, including to curb its ballistic missile program.

Rising Prices

Unrest in Iran began Dec. 28 with a rally against rising prices and the government’s handling of the economy, before turning into a wider protest against the political establishment. Nine people were killed in various cities during clashes Monday, according to state-run television, bringing the death toll to about 20. Since Saturday, 450 people have been held in the capital Tehran, 150 were arrested in Hamedan and an additional 138 have been detained in Mashhad, according to local officials.

Now, the protests may be slowing. There were no demonstrations or gatherings on Tuesday evening in downtown Tehran’s Enghelab Square, the vast intersection close to Tehran University that has historically been a focus of political protests in the capital and was the site of protests over the weekend.

Black armored police vans dotted the corners of the square. Scores of uniformed regular police holding batons and riot police clad in black anti-riot gear were deployed in the middle of the square and lined the main thoroughfare bisecting it, Enghelab Street. Many shops closed early while others were back to regular hours after having been forced to shut down over the past few nights because of clashes.

“They’re not out tonight, thank God,” said a shop owner who didn’t want to be named because of the sensitivity of speaking to foreign media.

The U.S. threat comes ahead of deadlines Trump faces this month on whether to continue waiving the sanctions that were frozen in return for Iran agreeing to curb its nuclear program. Trump declined last year to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, though Congress didn’t pass new sanctions that would probably scuttle the accord.

Oil hovered close to a 30-month high as the unrest in Iran heightened concern about potential supply disruptions in OPEC’s third-biggest crude producer. The country pumps about 3.8 million barrels a day.

The crisis has given Trump an opportunity to pressure critics of his approach to Iran and the nuclear accord, which he has long criticized as the “worst deal ever.” And by publicly praising protesters, Trump is also separating himself from the approach President Barack Obama took to street demonstrations that followed Iranian elections in 2009. At the time, the Obama administration said too much American support for protesters would only delegitimize their cause.

Referring to the nuclear deal, Trump tweeted on Tuesday that “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

International inspectors — and the five other countries than joined the U.S. in signing the nuclear deal with Iran — have found it’s abiding by its restrictions on its nuclear program, and Iranian official have protested that the purported benefits for their economy have been slow to materialize.

Trump’s tweets on the protests have drawn anger and ridicule from Iranians, who point to the inconsistency between his apparent support for them and his policy to bar them from getting U.S. visas. Iranian politicians are likely to use the president’s remarks to suggest that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, are stoking unrest to weaken the Islamic Republic.

Read a QuickTake Q&A on how Iran’s economic strains helped stoke protests

The protests are a rare public display of anger against a political establishment that has kept a tight grip on power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution against the pro-Western shah. The demonstrations, however, are smaller than the 2009 protests and don’t pose an “existential” threat to the regime, according to Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council.

“It doesn’t seem to have the organization and the leadership to really pose an existential threat to the regime, but it can really force to change the conversation and shake up the political landscape,” Parsi told Bloomberg TV.

While Iran’s president is elected every four years by a popular vote, his influence is kept in check by unelected officials within the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose job is to protect the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ultimate authority rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected for a second term last year, promised voters improved living conditions after the 2015 nuclear deal. His supporters point to a drop in the inflation rate to about 10 percent from more than 40 percent under his hard-line predecessor.

Foreign investments, however, were slow to follow in the final year of the Obama administration, with investors increasingly concerned after Trump took office with threats to tear up the accord.

“If there is a kind of scapegoat to Iran’s economic problems post-the nuclear deal, it would be the U.S. administration,” Jean-Paul Pigat, Dubai-based head of research at Lighthouse Research, told Bloomberg TV. “Donald Trump continues to threaten to renegotiate the nuclear deal. That does not encourage foreign investors to enter the market.”

(NYT) Iran Protests Have Violent Night; At Least 12 Dead Overall

(NYT)

A protester raised her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran on Saturday.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

TEHRAN, Iran — Protests across Iran saw their most violent night as “armed protesters” tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10 people, Iranian state television said Monday.

Later in the day, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three other officers during a demonstration in the central city of Najafabad, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran.

It was the first report of a police officer dying during five days of unrest and raised the death toll to at least 13.

The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, began Thursday in Mashhad over economic issues and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It said 10 people were killed by security forces during clashes Sunday night killed.

“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state TV said.

In a later report, state TV said killed six people were killed in the western town of Tuyserkan, 295 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Tehran, and three in the town of Shahinshahr, 315 kilometers (195 miles) south of Tehran. It did not say where the 10th person was killed.

Earlier Monday, the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Hedayatollah Khademi, a representative for the town of Izeh, as saying two people died there Sunday night. He said the cause of death wasn’t immediately known, though authorities later described one of the deaths as the result of a personal dispute.

Two protesters also were killed during clashes late Saturday in Doroud, some 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Lorestan province, authorities have said.

On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organize.

President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public’s anger over the Islamic Republic’s flagging economy, though he and others warned that the government wouldn’t hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

That was echoed Monday by judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to confront rioters, state TV reported.

“I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and the approach should be strong,” he said.

Rouhani also stressed Monday that Iran “has seen many similar events and passed them easily.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of the protesters, continued into the New Year, describing Iran as “failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration.”

“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years,” he wrote. “They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the protesters “brave” and “heroic,” said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday that the protesters sought freedom, justice and “the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.”

He criticized the Iranian regime’s response to the protests and also chided European governments for watching “in silence” as the protests turn violent.

While some have shared Trump’s tweets, many in Iran distrust him because he has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.

State TV has reported that some protesters invoked the name of the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and later died.

Iran’s economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the Guard would change its posture given the reported attacks on police stations and military bases. In Tehran on Monday, streets were calm, though a heavy police presence was noticeable.

Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri , the Guard commander and deputy chief of staff for Iran’s military, said Monday that Trump’s support of the protesters “indicates planning by the U.S. for launching a new sedition in Iran.”

(ZH) US Intelligence Reportedly Gives Israel Green Light To Assassinate Iran’s Top General

(ZH) According to reports circulating widely in Israeli media today, the United States has quietly given Israel the green light to assassinate Iran’s top military officer, Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The leader of Iran’s most elite force also coordinates military activity between the Islamic Republic and Syria, Iraq, Hezbollah, and Hamas – a position he’s filled since 1998 – and as Quds Force commander reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and oversees Iran’s covert operations in foreign countries.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have vowed to crack harshly down on protests currently gripping multiple major cities across the country, now in their fifth day, and after a particularly bloody night which saw 12 demonstrators killed – some of them reportedly shot by security forces.

 

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Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem
Soleimani. Image via The Iran Project

Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Image via The Iran Project
The report, though unconfirmed, originated in a Kuwaiti newspaper and is now going viral through a Times of Israel story. The Times of Israel summarizes the context as follows:

Thursday’s report by al-Jarida, which has been known to publish improbable-sounding stories about Israel, was widely picked up by Israeli media. There was no immediate reaction to the report from Jerusalem or Washington.

Three years ago, Israel came close to assassinating Soleimani near Damascus, al-Jarida quoted unnamed source as saying, but the Americans tipped off the Iranians against the background of intense disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.

That was during the Obama administration, which, according to reports at the time, was so focused on securing the 2015 Iran nuclear accord that it chose to overlook and even obstruct efforts to clamp down on Iranian-backed terror organizations. It’s not clear if the reported tip-off was related to efforts to secure the Iran deal.

And concerning the current go-ahead for new assassination plans reportedly given by US intelligence to the  Israelis:

The source was quoted by the paper as saying that Soleimani’s assassination would serve both countries’ interests and that US authorities have given Israel the go-ahead to carry it out.

Israel has been known to conduct high-risk secretive assassinations in foreign countries over the past years and decades. One notable headline grabbing operation, reportedly by Mossad agents, occurred in 2010 and resulted in the assassination of a top Hamas commander who had checked into a high end Dubai hotel after flying in from Syria.

An eleven man Israeli hit squad had entered the hotel while dressed in tennis gear and carrying tennis rackets, and were later reported to be traveling on fake Irish and French passports. After conducting surveillance the Mossad agents got Hamas’ Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to open his hotel room door and quickly suffocated him without arousing suspicion from other hotel guests. By the time the body was discovered, the assassins had flown out of Dubai to various locations around the world and were never seen again.

 

And in 2015 a secret document revealed by The Intercept as part of the Edward Snowden leaked NSA archives confirmed that Israeli agents had assassinated a top Syrian general and personal aide to President Assad in 2008 while the general dined at his family home near Tartus, along the Syrian coast. The daring operation involved Israeli naval commandos and snipers targeting Gen. Muhammad Suleiman’s house from the waters of the Mediterranean and shooting him in the head and neck. Israel considered him responsible for coordinating weapons and supplies between Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as overseeing an alleged nascent nuclear development program at Syria’s Al Kibar facility which had previously been bombed by Israeli jets.

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Leaked Top Secret NSA cable published by The Intercept in 2015 confirming the Israeli assassination of a top Syrian general.

Six months prior to Syrian General Suleiman’s murder, a top Hezbollah officer was killed by a joint CIA-Mossad operation in the heart of Damascus. According to former intelligence officials who confirmed the assassination plot to the Washington Post, a car bomb planted near a Damascus downtown restaurant instantly killed Imad Mughniyah – Hezbollah’s international operations chief who was believed to have masterminded several terror attacks targeting Americans.

So concerning these latest reports unconfirmed reports that Iran’s Qassem Soleimani might be in Mossad’s crosshairs, while such a high risk operation against a top Iranian official would be unlikely to succeed, it is certainly not without precedent.

(OBS) Liga Árabe pede à ONU para convocar reunião sobre “violações” do Irão

(OBS) A Liga Árabe, reunida este domingo no Egito, pediu ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU para convocar uma reunião para discutir as “violações” do Irão no Médio Oriente.

A Liga Árabe sublinhou que a ONU “deve assumir responsabilidades” com o objetivo de manter a paz e a segurança internacionais

A Liga Árabe, reunida este domingo no Cairo, Egito, pediu ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU para convocar uma reunião para discutir as “violações” do Irão no Médio Oriente.

Em comunicado, citado pela EFE, os vários ministros dos Negócios Estrangeiros e representantes dos países membros da entidade pan-árabe pediram que o grupo que os representa em Nova Iorque solicite à ONU uma reunião que aborde “a ameaça à segurança nacional árabe” do Irão e as suas infrações às resoluções internacionais.

Na reunião no Cairo, que foi convocada de urgência pela Arábia Saudita, os chefes da diplomacia convocaram também a ONU para esclarecer “as violações do Irão à resolução sobre o fornecimento de armas a milícias terroristas no Iémen”.

O encontro realizou-se porque a Arábia Saudita acusa o Irão de estar ligado ao míssil lançado no início do mês por rebeldes iemenitas contra Riade, intercetado pelas Forças Armadas sauditas, e por uma explosão ocorrida num oleoduto no Bahrein no dia 11.

Os líderes reunidos no Cairo exortaram assim o Conselho de Segurança a considerar o “míssil balístico feito pelo Irão” como “uma agressão por parte do Irão e uma ameaça para a segurança e a paz nacionais e internacionais”.

Numa conferência de imprensa conjunta com o ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros de Djibuti, Mahmoud Ali Yusuf, o secretário-geral da Liga Árabe, Ahmed Abulgueit, disse, no entanto, que ainda não foi decidido recorrer ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU, mas a evolução na região pode levar a isso. “Não vamos declarar guerra ao Irão”, disse Abulgueit aos jornalistas.

A Liga Árabe sublinhou que a ONU “deve assumir responsabilidades” com o objetivo de manter a paz e a segurança internacionais.

A entidade condenou as “interferências contínuas” do Irão nos assuntos árabes, que “alimentaram o sectarismo e o conflito sectário” e exigiu que pare de apoiar e financiar as milícias, em referência aos rebeldes no Iémen, que “ameaçam com mísseis os países vizinhos”.

A Liga Árabe culpou ainda o movimento xiita libanês Hezbollah, que classificou como “terrorista” de apoiar o “terrorismo” com “armas sofisticadas e mísseis balísticos”.

O conselho árabe argumentou que a Arábia Saudita tem “o direito de se defender legalmente no seu território, conforme estipulado no artigo 51.º da Carta das Nações Unidas”, e afirmou que apoiará o país em todas “as medidas que decidir tomar contra violações iranianas no âmbito da legitimidade internacional”.

Na reunião, o ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros da Arábia Saudita, Adel al Yubeir, disse que confia que os países árabes tomem uma decisão firme para enfrentar o Irão.

Al Yubeir assegurou que a “Arábia Saudita não ficará de braços cruzados perante a flagrante agressão [do Irão]” e que “não renunciará” a defender a segurança nacional.

A Arábia Saudita e o Irão, grandes rivais regionais, não mantêm relações diplomáticas desde janeiro de 2016 e apoiam lados opostos na guerra do Iémen e na crise do Líbano.

(BBG) As Iran Holds a Hostage, Britain Forgets Who It’s Dealing With

(BBG) No, a careless remark by the foreign minister is not causing problems. Tehran is the problem.

This time don’t blame Boris Johnson.

Photographer: Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images

A good rule of thumb for dealing with Iran is to always remember that the Islamic Republic is not a normal nation, guided by the rule of law. When it detains foreign nationals, they are not prisoners awaiting due process. They are hostages to be traded for concessions — by a regime founded by hostage takers.

This really should go without saying. But evidently Britain needs a reminder. Take the latest “scandal” involving a minister in the government of Theresa May, foreign secretary Boris Johnson. Critics of Johnson fault him for new charges being brought by Tehran against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British and Iranian citizen arrested last year on trumped-up national security charges.

Earlier this month in testimony before Parliament, Johnson incorrectly said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been involved in teaching people journalism. An Iranian judge pounced. He claimed that Johnson’s testimony proved she was also guilty of spreading propaganda against the regime, possibly doubling her sentence.

Johnson’s political opponents in the Labour Party are now blaming him for further endangering Zaghari-Ratcliffe. They are not alone. Richard Ratcliffe, the prisoner’s husband, told the Times of London, “There is a direct link between Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday and Judge Salavati, the harshest judge that you can find hearing her case on Saturday, where she is now facing a double sentence.”

Sir Paul Jenkins, the former chief of the British government’s legal department, tweetedthat the gaffe was “extraordinary even by the grotesque standards” of Johnson. He added: “Our nation suffers, individuals suffer because of his slack incompetence.”

Never mind that Johnson himself clarified his remarks both in Parliament and also to Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, that he was not asserting Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to teach journalism (heaven forbid), but rather expressing the most extreme version of the charges against her.

The problem with blaming Johnson for the cruelties of an Iranian judge is that it confers legitimacy to a kangaroo court. The judge in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, Abolghasem Salavati, has sentenced Iranians to jail for working with the U.S. on an AIDS prevention program. He metes out sentences to political reformers. He is a scourge to journalists, human-rights activists and students. To pretend that he is interested in evidence and procedure is delusion. He is a “judge” in the same sense in which Iran is a “republic.” Don’t let the title fool you.

Then there is the recent history of Iran’s detention and prosecution of dual nationals. The regime uses these prisoners as bargaining chits. That’s what happened with Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist arrested and detained on espionage charges because he had had the temerity to apply for a job at the Obama White House. Eventually the Iranians allowed him to leave the country with a few other Iranian-Americans, but only after the U.S. delivered palettes of cash and commuted the sentences of Iranian proliferators.

It’s not reasonable to think that a comment by Britain’s foreign secretary affects the standing of the detained citizen. She is a hostage, not a defendant. This is a shakedown, not a trial.

And hostage taking has worked for the Iranians. They traded the Americans at the U.S. Embassy it seized in 1979 for the Algiers Accord and a promise of American non-interference. A few years later, the Iranians traded hostages taken by Hezbollah in Lebanon for Israeli anti-tank missiles. The Omani government paid the Iranians to release American hikers in 2011.

The latest hostage is Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and the U.K. can’t afford to get distracted blaming anyone other than the guilty parties.

Nadhim Zahawi, a member of Parliament from Johnson’s Conservative Party, summed this up Thursday. He told me in an interview: “It’s worth remembering who the culprits are, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian regime. They are holding an innocent mother of a 3-year-old baby who is a British citizen, who should be home with her anxious husband in England.” He added that the Labour Party “needs to be careful not to be used as stooges for the Iranian regime.”

Zahawi was being charitable. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s leader, was paid to guest host a call-in show on Iran’s English-language propaganda network known as PressTV. That network lost its U.K. broadcasting license in 2012 after it aired a forced confession from a Newsweek journalist. And yet Corbyn appeared again on the network six weeks after its broadcast license was revoked.

None of this is to say the U.K. shouldn’t try to bargain with Iran for the return of British citizens. These are hard choices with no easy answers. But that bargain should be made with open eyes. Boris Johnson hasn’t provoked Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s jailors. To assert that he has is to pretend Iran’s hostage takers are statesmen, that its show trials are free and fair.

(Reuters) Trump strikes blow at Iran nuclear deal in major U.S. policy shift

(Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump announced the major shift in U.S. policy in a speech in which he detailed a more confrontational approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.

Trump accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon. He suggested Iran might be working with North Korea on its weapons programs, an accusation that has not been substantiated.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said.

While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he gave the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

That increases tension with Iran as well as putting Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord such as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

If Congress reimposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place.

NEW WARNING

Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

Trump’s harder line on Iran was likely to infuriate Tehran but was welcomed by Israel.

Israel’s intelligence minister described Trump’s speech as “very significant” and one that could lead to war given threats that preceded it from Tehran.

The move was part of Trump’s “America First” approach to international agreements which has led him to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

Trump on Friday also gave the U.S. Treasury Department broad authority to impose economic sanctions against people in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or entities owned by it in response to what Washington calls its efforts to destabilize and undermine Iran’s opponents in the Middle East.

“We hope that these new measures directed at the Iranian dictatorship will compel the government to re-evaluate its pursuit of terror at the expense of its people,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the latest strategy of coaxing Congress to act may not work.

“What we are laying out here is this is the pathway we think provides us the best platform from which to attempt to fix this deal,” he said. “We may be unsuccessful. We may not be able to fix it. And if we’re not then we may end up out of the deal.”

The Republican president has been under strong pressure from European leaders and U.S. lawmakers to swallow his concerns and certify the nuclear deal because international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with it.

European allies, some of which benefit economically from a relaxation of sanctions on Iran, have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say that putting the deal in limbo as Trump has done undermines U.S. credibility abroad.

International inspectors say Tehran is in compliance with the nuclear accord, under which crippling economic sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for it agreeing to drastic limits on its nuclear program. Iran always denied allegations that it aimed to build a nuclear bomb.

(Reuters) Fearing Trump torpedo, Europe scrambles to save Iran deal

(Reuters) European countries are scrambling to cobble together a package of measures they hope will keep the Iran nuclear deal on track if U.S. President Donald Trump ignores their pleas and decertifies the landmark 2015 agreement this week.

The package would include a strong statement backing the deal by European powers, together with efforts to lobby the U.S. Congress and put wider pressure on Iran, officials said.

But without strong U.S. support for the deal, senior officials in Berlin, Paris and London say it may be only a matter of time before the pact between Tehran and six world powers unravels, with grave consequences for Middle East security, nonproliferation efforts and transatlantic ties.

The two-year-old agreement, under which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program for 15 years in exchange for sanctions relief, is viewed in Europe as a rare triumph of international diplomacy in the Middle East.

As tensions over North Korea’s nuclear activities risk boiling over into all-out war, any move by the United States to undermine the Iran deal is seen in Europe as utter folly.

European capitals have been delivering this message to the White House and Congress in one of the most intense lobbying campaigns in recent memory. In the past weeks, European ambassadors have met dozens of U.S. lawmakers. And on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May lobbied Trump by phone.

Despite this, Trump is expected declare this week that Iran is not complying with the pact. He is also due to unveil a tough new strategy toward Iran – including designating its Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization – that could sink the deal.

“If the feeling is the United States no longer supports the agreement then the political reality is that the deal will be in serious jeopardy and its implementation will be very difficult,” a senior French diplomat told Reuters.

A decision by Trump to decertify would not automatically kill the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The expectation is that Trump would kick the ball to Congress, which would then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA.

THREE-PRONGED RESPONSE

European officials said they were preparing a three-pronged strategy if this does occur.

First, Berlin, London and Paris would issue statements reaffirming their commitment to the deal.

Second, they would redouble efforts to lobby Congress, which appears keen to keep the deal, against any rash moves.

And third, they would present measures to pressure Iran over its ballistic missile program and destabilizing policies in the Middle East — areas that fall outside the narrowly-focused nuclear deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron alluded to this at the United Nations last month. Diplomats said the package was still in the works and they had not yet briefed Brussels on it.

With the third step, the Europeans hope to build a bridge to Washington while keeping the JCPOA intact. But a German diplomat said ratcheting up pressure on Tehran was like walking a tightrope: push too hard and the whole deal could fall apart.

“We all knew the JCPOA wasn’t perfect, but by calling its benefits into question I see us only losing,” said a senior European diplomat who has been involved in negotiations with Iran since 2003, well before Washington joined the talks under President Barack Obama.

If Trump follows through on his threats it will be the second time in four months that he has distanced the United States from a major multilateral agreement despite intense lobbying by partners and members of his own cabinet.

But in Europe, the Iran move would be seen as far more damaging than Trump’s decision in June to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

“The threat from Iran in terms of nuclear proliferation is more immediate. This is far more dangerous,” said Elmar Brok, a veteran foreign policy expert in the European Parliament and party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

European officials and analysts fear a breakdown of the JCPOA could lead to an arms race in the Middle East, a military conflict between Iran and Israel and an escalation of regional proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

They fear it would also doom any chances, no matter how slim, for a negotiated deal with North Korea.

ALL ABOUT WAR

“At the end of the day it’s all about the risk of war,” said Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

There is also the danger of a further deterioration in transatlantic ties, especially if Washington targets European firms that do business in Iran.

Were that to happen, the EU ambassador to Washington, David O‘Sullivan, has said Brussels would revert to a 1990s-era law that shields European companies from extraterritorial sanctions.

 Even if the EU were to take such a step, the senior French diplomat said European companies could think twice about their Iran commitments.

Among firms that have announced big deals in Iran since the JCPOA went into force are planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA), French energy group Total (TOTF.PA) and Germany’s Siemens (SIEGn.DE).

“One of the big difficulties of the agreement is ensuring the economic operators have confidence in the system and key to that is confidence in the United States,” the diplomat said.

Any signs that European companies are pulling back could prompt the Iranians to reassess the merits of the nuclear deal.

“The agreement with Iran is like a delicate plant,” said Omid Nouripour, an Iranian-born lawmaker with the German Greens party, which is expected to be part of Merkel’s next coalition government.

“It is a sign of what diplomacy can achieve but it is fragile. The American president doesn’t appear to believe in diplomacy. He seems intent on crushing this plant.”

(Reuters) Trump made decision on Iran nuclear deal but does not reveal it

(Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he had made his decision on whether or not the United States will remain in a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, but he declined to reveal it.

“I have decided,” Trump told reporters when asked if he had made up his mind after having criticized the accord under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

Responding to Trump’s comments, a senior Iranian official told Reuters Iran was prepared for all scenarios if the United States walked out on the agreement and was capable of resuming its restricted nuclear activities immediately if necessary.

U.S. officials have sent mixed signals about the nuclear agreement hammered out between Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

In a pugnacious speech on Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders, Trump called the accord “an embarrassment.”

(Reuters) Exclusive: Trump to weigh more aggressive U.S. strategy on Iran – sources

(Reuters) President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi‘ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi‘ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.

ISLAMIC STATE FIRST

The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.

Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”

(TIME) Qatar Restores Diplomatic Ties With Iran Amid Regional Crisis

(TIME) (DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — Qatar has restored full diplomatic relations with Iran, ignoring the demands of Arab nations now trying to isolate the energy-rich country to downgrade its ties.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announced early Thursday that the country’s ambassador would return to Tehran. Qatar pulled its ambassador in early 2016 after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric sparked attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran.

Qatar said in a statement that the move “expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields.” Iranian state media acknowledged the development, without elaborating.

Qatar and Iran share a massive offshore natural gas field that requires communication between the two countries. Since the diplomatic dispute with Arab nations began in June, Iran has sent food shipments to Qatar.

(Reuters) U.S. Navy ship fires warning shots near Iranian vessel

(Reuters) A U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards (137 meters) on Tuesday in the first such incident since President Donald Trump took office in January, U.S. officials said.

The last major incident was earlier in January, though there have been instances when a U.S. vessel fired a flare as well as an event in March when a U.S. Navy ship was forced to change course after multiple fast-attack vessels from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard came too close.

In a statement, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the patrol craft, named Thunderbolt, fired the warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel after it ignored radio calls, flares and the ship’s whistle.

The Iranian vessel was from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the statement said, adding that it stopped its unsafe approach after the warning shots were fired.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Iranian boat was armed but that the weapons were unmanned. The Thunderbolt was accompanied by a number of other vessels, including those from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s navy issued a statement on Tuesday noting that an American “battleship” moved toward one of its patrol boats in international waters in the northern Gulf and fired two shots in the air, according to Sepah News, the official news site of the Guards.

“The Revolutionary Guards navy boat, without paying attention to this unprofessional and provocative behavior, continued its mission and after a short period of time the American ship left the area,” the statement said, according to Sepah News.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration, which has struck a hard line on Iran, recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the U.S. Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Such incidents occur occasionally. In January, a U.S. Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down.