Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Eye on Iran: US Sanctions Vote 'Hostile', Says Top Iran Negotiator

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Iran's top nuclear negotiator said on Wednesday that new sanctions approved by the U.S. House of Representatives were "a hostile measure" that breached Washington's commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal. "The ongoing action in the U.S. Congress ... is very clearly a hostile measure against the Islamic republic of Iran," deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said, according to the ISNA news agency. Araghchi led the negotiating team that agreed the deal with world powers in 2015 known as the JCPOA, by which Iran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions. The new sanctions bill passed by the House on Tuesday, was merely "a compilation of previous U.S. sanctions in the non-nuclear fields," Araghchi said. "Still, it can influence the successful implementation of the JCPOA and reduce Iran's benefits under the JCPOA. That's why it is incompatible with various sections of the JCPOA which the US has committed to implement with good intention and in a constructive atmosphere," he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a veiled threat against Iran on Tuesday, warning Tehran to adhere to the terms of a nuclear deal with world powers or else face "big, big problems."  A week after certifying Iran as complying with the 2015 agreement negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, Trump made clear to thousands of raucous supporters that he remains extremely wary of Tehran.  Trump administration officials, briefing reporters last week, said new economic sanctions against Iran were being prepared over its ballistic missile program and for contributing to regional tensions.  Trump devoted part of his speech in Youngstown, Ohio, to Iran.  "If that deal doesn't conform to what it's supposed to conform to, it's going to be big, big problems for them. That I can tell you. Believe me," Trump said.  "You would have thought they would have said 'thank you United States. We really love you very much.' Instead, they've become emboldened. That won't take place much longer," he said.

A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning shots Tuesday near an Iranian vessel that American sailors said came dangerously close to them during a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf, the first such incident to happen under President Donald Trump. Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard later blamed the American ship for provoking the situation. The encounter involving the USS Thunderbolt, a Cyclone-class patrol ship based in Bahrain as part of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is the latest confrontation between Iranian vessels and American warships. It comes as Trump already has threatened to renegotiate the nuclear deal struck by his predecessor and after his administration previously put Iran "on notice" over its ballistic missile tests. The Thunderbolt was taking part in an exercise with American and other coalition vessels in international waters when the Iranian patrol boat approached it, 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said The Iranian ship did not respond to radio calls, flares and horn blasts as it came within 150 yards (137 meters) of the Thunderbolt, forcing the U.S sailors aboard to fire the warning shots, McConnaughey said.


Iran is vigilant enough not to play into the US hands in its game to push Tehran to withdraw from its commitments under the nuclear pact, a lawmaker said. The current US administration has toughened the policy on Iran since it came to office in January. Despite getting relief from nuclear sanctions under the accord in return for implementing temporary nuclear curbs, Tehran has been hit several US sanctions in the past few months over other excuses, including its ballistic missile development program. Iranian officials have threatened reciprocal action against US hostile moves. Jalil Rahimi cautioned that in doing so, the Islamic Republic should not forfeit the benefits of the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Asked whether it would be wise for Iran to reciprocate if US President Donald Trump carries out his threat to back out of the action plan, Rahimi said the agreement will hold even if the US were to pull out, as other countries would continue its implementation. "We have achieved our intended goals from JCPOA and there is no need to play the Americans' game," he said.


U.S. President Donald Trump attacked Iran and the Hizballah militia that it backs in Syria and Lebanon, blaming them for creating a "humanitarian catastrophe" and threatening peace throughout the region. "Hizballah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people, and the entire region," Trump said at a White House news conference with visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on July 25. "The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel," Trump said. "With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria." Hizballah's "true interests are those of itself and its sponsor, Iran," Trump said.

In testimony before a House committee Tuesday, the youngest son of a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran a decade ago urged greater sanctions on Iran if it does not account for his father and release U.S. citizens imprisoned in the country. Doug Levinson, who was 13 when Robert Levinson was last seen on Iran's Kish Island, described being crestfallen that his father was not among five Americans freed as part of a prisoner swap to accompany the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in 2016. "Do not let Iran off the hook. They know exactly where he is," Doug Levinson told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. "Hold their feet to the fire. Threaten them with sanctions. Do something. Do anything." Levinson was among three relatives of Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran who testified in support of a House bill calling for their freedom on humanitarian grounds. On Friday, the White House said President Trump is "prepared to impose new and serious consequences on the country if they are not released and returned."

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says his country will respond if U.S. legislation imposing sanctions on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program becomes law. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday and it now goes to the Senate. Without giving details, Rouhani said in a Wednesday cabinet meeting that Iran will "take any action that is necessary for the country's expedience and interests." State TV broadcast his remarks. He added that Iran will improve its "defensive means without attention to others." The U.S. legislation imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would also apply terrorism sanctions to the Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting increased trade with Iran, despite clear opposition to this policy by the Trump White House, according to multiple sources who described the agency's behavior as rogue and part of a lingering effort by the former Obama administration to promote international trade with the Islamic Republic. A July report released by USDA praises the Obama administration's efforts to open trade with Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement that dropped major sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The report contradicts White House policy on Iran, which has taken an increasingly hardline against increased relations with Iran under President Donald Trump. The report is being viewed by administration insiders and regional experts as the product of efforts by the former Obama administration to promote positive propaganda about Iran in a bid to boost support for the Iran deal.


New sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which stands accused of supporting terrorism, and North Korea, for its missile tests, are also included in the bill. Key among the provisions is one that handcuffs the US president by complicating any of the leader's unilateral efforts to ease penalties against Moscow in the future -- effectively placing him under Congress's watch. Trump has faced accusations that his administration had sought to reassure Moscow that sanctions imposed near the end of the Obama administration could be lifted under a President Trump. Initially, Trump resisted the legislation. But faced with near-total consensus among Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the White House blinked, but did not say directly that the billionaire president would sign it into law. "While the President supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president's desk," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.


Nothing is easy for Iran's economy these days, and things could soon get even tougher. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill Tuesday to put new sanctions on Russia, North Korea - and Iran. A Senate version passed overwhelmingly last month. Iran is being targeted for its activities in Syria, its ballistic missile program and other "destabilizing activities," according to the Senate's version of the legislation. Under the terms of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, Tehran is not immune to new sanctions as punishment for activities outside of the country's nuclear program.

On November 11, 2013, not long after that momentous telephone conversation between President Obama and President Rouhani, the French oil company Total announced it was considering its return to Iran. But it took more than 1,300 days for the plan to be confirmed, when Total's new CEO Patrick Pouyanné - he'd replaced CEO Christophe de Margerie, who had made the initial announcement back in 2013 - signed a $48 billion contract in Tehran on July 3, 2017. Problems between Total and Tehran go way back. Total stopped operations in Iran on October 17, 2010, in line with sanctions regulations. Now, 70 months later, the company has returned to Iran, at the same time entering a politically acrimonious and economically contentious environment.


A cyber spying group with links to Iran and active for the past four years is targeting countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the United States, security researchers said on Tuesday. A new report by Tokyo-based Trend Micro (4704.T) and ClearSky of Israel detailed incidents as recently as April of this year involving a group known as "CopyKittens". The group targets its victims using relatively simple techniques like creating fake Facebook pages, corrupting websites or Microsoft Word attachments with a malicious code, according to the report.  It was seen impersonating popular media brands like Twitter, Youtube, the BBC and security firms such as Microsoft, Intel and even Trend Micro. "CopyKittens is very persistent, despite lacking technological sophistication and operational discipline," the researchers said in a statement.  "These characteristics, however, cause it to be relatively noisy, making it easy to find, monitor and apply counter measures relatively quickly," they said.

More than one thousand Iranian teachers have issued a statement calling for the release of a teacher imprisoned for peacefully advocating for teachers' rights in the southern port city of Bushehr. "We believe the authorities should stop looking at trade union activities as a security threat and unconditionally free Mohsen Omrani," said the statement, signed by more than 1,600 teachers posted on the Telegram channel belonging to the Iranian Teachers Trade Association (ITTA) on July 20, 2017. "We believe trade unionists and labor organizations should give full support to teachers who are fighting to improve the educational system and improve teachers' livelihoods, especially in rural areas where teachers' rights advocates are treated worse by security agencies that hound and persecute them," continued the statement. "Imprisoning Mohsen Omrani will not put a dent in our struggle for our professional and educational rights," added the statement.


Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's first visit to Washington during the Trump administration will be difficult. Beirut has long been a headache for the United States, and he's going to have an uphill battle convincing U.S. policymakers to maintain assistance to Lebanon, which is commonly associated with dysfunction and domination by Iran's proxy Hezbollah. But as Tehran continues its quest for regional hegemony and as the idea of secular democracy appears more threatened than ever in the Arab world, abandoning this important-if imperfect-ally would be a serious mistake. Lebanon remains a natural Arab ally of Washington, particularly compared to others like Qatar-a monarchy that has spent decades exporting extremism. Its weakness made it a base for Hezbollah, but Lebanon was founded as a pluralistic, if flawed, republic, and has a religiously diverse and relatively Western and secular society.

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

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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