Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Eye on Iran: U.S., Russia, Iran Draw New Red Lines In Syria

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Russia, Iran and the United States are drawing new red lines for each other in Syria, with Moscow warning Washington on Monday it would treat any U.S.-led coalition planes in its area of operations as potential targets after the U.S. air force downed a Syrian jet. Tensions escalated on Sunday as the U.S. army brought down the jet near Raqqa and Iran launched missiles at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria - the first time each state has carried out such actions in the multi-sided Syrian war. A pro-Damascus commander said Tehran and Washington were drawing "red lines". Russia, like Iran an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, issued a warning of its own to the United States in response to the downing of the Syrian jet, saying on Monday it would view as targets any planes flying west of the Euphrates River, though it stopped short of saying it would shoot any down. The incidents reflect mounting competition for areas of Syria where Islamic State (IS) insurgents are in retreat, leaving swathes of territory up for grabs and posing the question of what comes next for U.S. policy that is shaped first and foremost by the priority of vanquishing the jihadists.

Iran says its ballistic missile strike targeting the Islamic State group in Syria was not only a response to deadly attacks in Tehran, but a powerful message to archrival Saudi Arabia and the United States, one that could add to already soaring regional tensions. The launch, which hit Syria's eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Sunday night, appeared to be Iran's first missile attack abroad in over 15 years and its first in the Syrian conflict, in which it has provided crucial support to embattled President Bashar Assad. It comes amid the worsening of a long-running feud between Shiite powerhouse Iran and Saudi Arabia, with supports Syrian rebels and has led recent efforts to isolate the Gulf nation of Qatar. It also raises questions about how U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which had previously put Iran "on notice" for its ballistic missile tests, will respond. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force in charge of the country's missile program, said it launched six Zolfaghar ballistic missiles from the western provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan. State television footage showed the missiles on truck missile launchers in the daylight before being launched at night.

Saudi Arabia said on Monday that its navy had seized three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards piloting a boat loaded with explosives toward a Saudi offshore oil drilling rig. The claim was not confirmed but threatened to further fray relations between the rival powers, which have accused each other of fomenting terrorism and instability against a growing backdrop of tensions roiling the Middle East. Iran denied the Saudi claim and accused the Saudi Navy of having shot at boats belonging to "simple fishermen" from Iran's southern Persian Gulf port of Bushehr in an unprovoked attack that had left one Iranian dead. About the only thing both sides appeared to agree on was that the episode happened on Friday, when Iran's state media first reported its version of events. The Saudis said over the weekend that their navy had fired warning shots at three small boats and two had escaped, but it reported nothing about arrests made or explosives found. Why the Saudis amended their side of the story on Monday was not made clear.


Iran has called in the Swiss charge d'affaires, who looks after U.S. interests, to protest against comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backing "peaceful transition" in the Islamic republic. The administration of President Donald Trump has taken an increasingly hawkish position towards Iran since taking office in January but Tillerson's testimony to a Congressional committee last week appeared to be the first expression of support for a change of government. "The Swiss charge d'affaires was summoned to the foreign ministry to be a handed a strong protest from the Islamic Republic of Iran against the comments by the U.S secretary of state.... which were contrary to international law and the UN. charter," ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi told Iranian media. Alongside Monday's summoning of the Swiss envoy, Iran also sent a protest letter to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres, the ISNA news agency reported.


A tender for developing Iran's Azadegan oilfield has been delayed by another few months to allow energy companies more time to study the field, a senior Iranian oil official said on Tuesday. Tehran is looking to increase its crude output, and with 37 billion barrels of oil the Azadegan field is Iran's largest, shared with neighbouring Iraq. It is located in southern Iran, 80 km west of the Khuzestan provincial city of Ahvaz. Iran said this month that international energy companies including France's Total, Malaysia's Petronas and Japan's Inpex, have presented technical surveys for the development of the Azadegan oil field for the tender. "The tender will not happen in this government because we have not signed memorandum of understandings with some companies and they need three to four months to study the field," the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Ali Kardor, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who was re-elected in May's election, will form a new government in August.


Total will go ahead with development of a giant Iranian gas field this summer, its CEO told Reuters, in the first major western energy investment in the country since Tehran signed an international nuclear deal. Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said the French group would make an initial $1 billion investment after the United States extended sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 agreement. Washington has warned that it could cancel the sanctions waivers if it believes Tehran is not curbing its nuclear programme in line with the deal with world powers "It is worth taking the risk at $1 billion because it opens a huge market We are perfectly conscious of some risks. We have taken into account (sanctions) snap-backs, we have to take into account regulation changes," Pouyanne said in an interview.

Iran expects to sign a contract to develop part of the world's biggest natural gas field in the next two weeks in what would be the first investment in the country by international energy companies since sanctions were eased last year.  Energy giants Total SA and China National Petroleum Corp. signed a "heads of agreement" with National Iranian Oil Co. in November to develop phase 11 of the South Pars gas field, a deal that was valued then at $4.8 billion. Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne told Euronews television on Tuesday that the company will sign a contract for the offshore gas project in the next few weeks. "The text of the contract on phase 11 of the South Pars has been finalized and we think the contract will be signed within a week or two," NIOC Managing Director Ali Kardor told reporters Tuesday, without specifying which companies would be signing. Iran also plans to hold a bidding round for rights to develop the Azadegan oil field in southwestern Iran in the next three to four months, he said.

Eni has signed a provisional agreement with Iran to carry out feasibility studies on the development of oil and gasfields in the country, with government officials pointing to the move as the latest sign that global companies are not being deterred from investing in the country despite tensions between the country and regional rival Saudi Arabia. Italy's largest oil and gas group signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), the state-owned energy group, to explore a potential investment in the Kish gasfield in the Gulf and the third phase of development of the Darquain oilfield in south-west Iran within the next six months. Iran had signed provisional agreements at the end of last year on the two fields with Royal Dutch Shell, Russia's Gazprom, Philippines' PNOC and an Iran's Ghadir Investment Company.


Russia Monday threatened aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition in Syrian-controlled airspace and suspended a hotline intended to avoid collisions in retaliation for the U.S. military shooting down a Syrian warplane. The U.S. said it had downed the Syrian jet a day earlier after it dropped bombs near the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces conducting operations against Daesh (ISIS), adding that was something it would not tolerate. The downing of the warplane - the first time in the 6-year-old conflict that the U.S. has shot down a Syrian jet - came amid another first: Iran fired several ballistic missiles Sunday night at Daesh positions in eastern Syria in what it said was a message to archrival Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The developments added to already soaring regional tensions and reflect the intensifying rivalry among the major players in Syria's civil war that could spiral out of control just as the fight against Daesh in its stronghold of Raqqa is gaining ground. Russia called on the U.S. military to provide a full accounting as to why it decided to shoot down the Syrian Su-22 bomber.


Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Saudi Arabia Monday on a tour that will also take him to Riyadh's rival Iran and to Kuwait. His visit comes with the Gulf region in turmoil after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other allies cut ties with Qatar two weeks ago. They accuse Doha of supporting extremist groups, including some backed by Iran, "that aim to destabilise the region". Kuwait, which did not follow its neighbours in severing diplomatic relations with Qatar, has been trying to mediate. Abadi is to hold talks with Saudi King Salman, Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during his tour of the region. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef greeted Abadi when he landed in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for the one-day visit, state media reported.


The Saudi navy said it had captured three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards from a boat seized last week as the vessel approached Saudi Arabia's offshore Marjan oilfield, Riyadh has said. Iran's interior ministry denied the Saudi claim, however, saying that the Saudi navy had opened fire on two Iranian fishing boats.  Relations between the two countries are at their worst in years, as they support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and each accuses the other of destabilising regional security. In a statement on Monday, the Saudi information ministry said:"This was one of three vessels which were intercepted by Saudi forces. It was captured with the three men on board, the other two escaped. "The three captured members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are now being questioned by Saudi authorities," the statement said, citing a Saudi official.

Saudi Arabia said Monday its forces had captured and were questioning three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard who were intending to carry out an attack on a major offshore oilfield in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia's Information Ministry said in a statement the three were onboard a boat carrying a large number of explosives headed toward the Marjan oil field, located off the kingdom's eastern shores between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The statement said the three were detained on Friday and accused them of intending to carry out a terrorist operation in Saudi territorial waters. Earlier in the day, a statement published on the state-run Saudi Press Agency said Saudi naval forces had disrupted a planned attack by three boats "bearing red and white flags" that raced toward its Marjan offshore oil field. It said sailors fired warning shots and captured one of the boats while two others escaped in the assault. It said the captured boat "was loaded with weapons for (a) subversive purpose."


Earlier this month Iran's government banned Zumba, the popular exercise dance class, leaving Iranian health nuts livid with a religious elite that appears increasingly out-of-touch with the Islamic Republic's growing middle classes. The head of the Sports for All Federation, which promotes healthy lifestyles in the country, said the Latin American-inspired activity was contrary to Islamic values. "In light of activities such as Zumba, performing rhythmic movements or dancing in any form is not legal in any shape or title and the prohibition of movements such as this is requested," Ali Majdara wrote in a public letter to the Ministry of Youth Affairs. This elite has embarked on the banning of several everyday activities to prevent what its members believe to be sinful. Here's what else the country's authorities have outlawed in the first half of 2017.


The leader of a Sunni Muslim militant group was killed by the Revolutionary Guards in southeast Iran during operations in recent days, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Monday.  Three members of the Ansar al-Furqan group, which has attacked security forces and civilians, according to Iranian officials, were also killed by Iranian forces in the southeast region of the country last week, state media said. Jalil Qanbar-Zahi, leader of Ansar al-Furqan, had been pursued by Iranian security forces for 25 years and was killed by the Guards near the city of Qasr Qand, IRNA reported.  Iranian security forces have carried out a string of raids and arrests after a complex terror attack last week targeted the Iranian parliament in Tehran and the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, south of the capital, leaving 18 dead. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.


As the Financial Action Task Force convenes for its annual meeting this week in Spain, it's an opportunity for the international governing body on combating money laundering and terrorism financing to call for a reinstatement of sanctions against Iran. This year's meeting marks a critical moment for Iran, which along with North Korea are the only two countries in the world identified by the FATF as serious risks to global financial security. Iran received a 12-month reprieve from sanctions at last year's FATF meeting following the nuclear deal. It was an opportunity for Tehran to prove its commitments to fiscal propriety and to distance itself from funding acts of terror. That reprieve has been for naught. One year later, Iran remains the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism. It has done little to enact the anti-money laundering policies requested by the FATF. With no proof of tangible results, the FATF must call on its members to bring back the sanctions against Iran.

On Sunday, six ballistic missiles launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched from western Iran, and came crashing down on their targets in Syria's eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor. The attack, Iranian officials said, was retaliation for the Islamic Sate's June 7 terror attacks in Tehran, which left 18 people dead.  An IRGC spokesman said the attack was also a "warning message" for the terror group's "regional and international allies." Iran's top leadership has left little doubt who it believes those allies are. In an earlier speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to President Donald Trump's remarks accusing Iran of being the godfather of terrorism in the Middle East. "You [the United States] and your agents are the source of instability in the Middle East," the Iranian leader charged. "Who created the Islamic State? America."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email press@uani.com.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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