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U.S. and Iran participated in expert-level negotiations as sabotage attack targeted nuclear facility, prompting Tehran to ramp up enrichment activities. New diplomatic process commenced as Iran and P4+1 (UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) 2 April held virtual session of nuclear deal’s Joint Commission, which concluded with commitment to continue discussions in person in Austria’s capital Vienna in P4+1/EU format; U.S. same day confirmed it would send diplomats there. Talks 15 April held in Vienna and third round of negotiations 27 April began with parallel working groups discussing nuclear steps, sanctions relief and sequencing. President Rouhani 20 April suggested that “talks have progressed about 60, 70 per cent”. Complicating diplomatic efforts, Iran’s atomic energy organisation 11 April reported “incident” at Natanz nuclear facility that knocked “a number” of centrifuges offline, subsequently describing it as “sabotage”; Iranian FM Javad Zarif next day called attack “nuclear terrorism” and suggested Israel as likely suspect. In response, Tehran 13 April announced expansion of enrichment rates at Natanz from 20% (on par with pre-deal levels) to 60% using IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. UK, France and Germany next day expressed “grave concern” over decision while U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken called it “provocative”. Meanwhile, IAEA 21 April verified installation of six cascades of IR-2m and two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges; IAEA 19 April confirmed parallel talks with Iran on clarifying safeguards concerns. Regional tensions continued with U.S. and Israel. Foreign ministry 7 April acknowledged reports that Iranian ship Saviz had been hit by explosion in Red Sea; U.S. official, according to New York Times, confirmed Israel carried out operation. Israeli-owned vessel 13 April reportedly struck by missile in Gulf of Oman. U.S. navy reported 2 and 26 April Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s “unsafe and unprofessional” manoeuvres near U.S. vessels, raising “risk of miscalculation and/or collision”; incidents are first reported cases of U.S.-Iran naval tension since April 2020. EU 12 April sanctioned eight individuals and three entities for “violent response” to Nov 2019 demonstrations. Iranian and Saudi officials 9 April commenced talks in Iraqi capital Baghdad (see Saudi Arabia).
Tehran continued to ramp up its nuclear activity and regional tensions stayed high as U.S. and Iran remained at odds over how to return to mutual compliance with 2015 nuclear deal. Efforts to jumpstart nuclear negotiations with U.S. fell flat as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei 21 March reaffirmed that Iran would return to its nuclear commitments only after effective lifting of sanctions. Iran continued to expand nuclear activity. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)Director General Rafael Grossi 1 March said Tehran was still not satisfactorily answering questions on safeguards concerns at four separate undeclared sites, visits to three of which had revealed man-made uranium particles. IAEA’s quarterly report 4 March revealed Tehran’s stockpile of enriched uranium stands at 14 times nuclear deal limit. IAEA 8 March confirmed operationalisation of new IR-2 centrifuge cascade at Natanz site – third such cascade, with another three in works – and cascade of IR-4s. Iran’s atomic energy organisation 19 March announced plan to “cold test” Arak nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, U.S. Biden administration 9 March unveiled first Iran-specific sanctions, designating two individuals identified as Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps interrogators for human rights abuses during 2019-2020 protests. U.S. National Intelligence Council 15 March issued report asserting that Iran conducted “multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s re-election prospects” during 2020 elections. Regional tensions remained fraught. Iran’s UN envoy 14 March condemned U.S. 25 Feb strikes in Syria on sites U.S. said linked to “Iranian-backed militant groups”, denied Iranian involvement in attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq. U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley 17 March observed: “It’s not really helping the climate in the U.S. to have Iranian allies take shots at Americans in Iraq or elsewhere”. Following late Feb explosion on Israeli-owned ship in Gulf of Oman, for which Israel blamed Tehran, Israeli PM Netanyahu 1 March said: “We are striking at [Iran] all over the region”. Iranian cargo ship in Mediterranean Sea 10 March reportedly suffered explosion that Iranian shipping official 12 March called “terrorist attack”; incidents could signal maritime domain becoming new front where Israel and Iran engage in tit-for-tat attacks.
Tehran expanded nuclear activity and edged closer to reducing international monitoring of nuclear sites despite diplomatic efforts to resurrect nuclear deal. Authorities continued to expand nuclear activity in violation of 2015 deal: Iran’s envoy to International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) 2 Feb announced operationalisation of two centrifuge cascades, or sets of centrifuges, at Natanz facility, with work under way on centrifuge cascades at Fordow facility; IAEA 8 Feb reported production of 3.6g of uranium metal, banned for 15 years under 2015 deal, at Isfahan site; IAEA 17 Feb said Iran informed it of intention to set up two centrifuge cascades at Natanz site; E3 (UK, France and Germany) 12 Feb expressed “grave concern”. In indication of Tehran’s willingness to move beyond restrictions solely aimed at nuclear capabilities, IAEA 15 Feb announced Iran will limit agency inspection access to nuclear sites from 23 Feb; IAEA chief Rafael Grossi 20 Feb visited capital Tehran and next day reached temporary measures to ensure “necessary degree of monitoring and verification”. On diplomatic front, U.S. and Iran expressed support for resurrecting 2015 nuclear deal but both called on other to move first: U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 16 Feb said “first step would be Iran returning to compliance” and then “we would do the same” while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei next day said “if we see action on the part of the other side, we will take action, too”. Incoming U.S. ambassador to UN 18 Feb informed presidency of Security Council that U.S. was rescinding Trump administration’s contention of having snapped back all pre-nuclear deal UN sanctions on Iran; Biden administration also relaxed Trump-era restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York. FM Javad Zarif next day reaffirmed U.S. must first “unconditionally and effectively lift all sanctions”. Iran and U.S. expressed support for EU diplomatic role: Zarif 14 Feb said EU could “choreograph” next steps while U.S. 18 Feb indicated it would attend EU-proposed meeting of nuclear deal parties; Iranian Foreign Ministry 28 Feb said “time isn’t ripe” for informal meeting. U.S. 25 Feb launched airstrikes in Syria on Iran-linked targets (see Syria).
Tehran continued to violate 2015 nuclear deal and tensions with outgoing Trump administration ran high; new U.S. administration could take steps to re-enter nuclear deal in Feb. Iran 4 Jan began enriching uranium at 20 per cent – major increase from current 4.5 per cent cap and on par with pre-nuclear deal levels; FM Javad Zarif same day underscored that move and Iran’s other violations “are fully reversible upon full compliance by all”. U.S. 4 Jan called move “nuclear extortion” while UK, France and Germany (E3) 6 Jan said it “carries very significant proliferation-related risks”. International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi 11 Jan underscored that “we have weeks” to salvage nuclear deal. IAEA 13 Jan reported Iran was working on components for production of uranium metal at Isfahan plant, banned by nuclear deal until 2031; E3 16 Jan said move “has potentially grave military implications”. Meanwhile, outgoing Trump administration continued to impose unilateral sanctions, including 13 Jan on two Iranian foundations, and 15 Jan on Iranian shipping and metals with potential military application, as well as on three Iranian organisations. Regional tensions persisted: FM Zarif 2 Jan claimed that “Israeli agent provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans” in Iraq; Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) same day described Lebanon as “front line of confrontation” (see Lebanon) and 4 Jan detained South Korean-flagged tanker along with its crew. U.S. 8, 17 and 27 Jan dispatched B-52 bombers to region. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 12 Jan alleged existence of “Iran-al-Qaeda Axis”; FM Zarif same day called accusation “warmongering lies”. Iran launched multiple military drills, including 15 Jan test firing ballistic missiles and drones. As U.S. President Biden’s new administration 20 Jan entered office, hopes rose of U.S. taking steps to re-enter nuclear deal in Feb in case of Iran’s full compliance, as Biden previously pledged; FM Zarif 22 Jan suggested that U.S. had to take initiative, while warning that window of opportunity “will not be open forever”; U.S. 29 Jan appointed Robert Malley, Obama-era official previously involved in negotiations on 2015 nuclear agreement, as special envoy for Iran.
Parliament passed law mandating further steps away from 2015 nuclear deal, while U.S. continued to roll out unilateral sanctions. In response to killing of senior Iranian nuclear scientist in Nov, parliament 2 Dec approved law described as “strategic action to lift sanctions” mandating govt to immediately expand uranium enrichment rates to 20 per cent – major increase from current 4.5 per cent and on par with pre-nuclear deal levels – and suspend enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access if sanctions relief fails to materialise by Feb 2021; President Rouhani same day said legislation is “detrimental to the process of diplomatic activities”. UK, France and Germany 7 Dec expressed “great concern” over envisioned steps and denounced Iranian moves to deploy advanced centrifuges at Natanz facility in violation of nuclear deal. After U.S. President-elect Biden 1 Dec expressed willingness to rapidly re-enter nuclear deal once in office, Rouhani 14 Dec remarked “if the P5+1 returns to all its commitments, we will immediately return to all our commitments”. Joint Commission of nuclear deal 16 Dec met at political director level and 21 Dec at ministerial level; joint statement underscored “commitment to preserve the agreement” and noted “prospect of a return of the U.S.” to deal. Iran 31 Dec informed IAEA of intent to enrich at 20 per cent at Fordow facility. Meanwhile, U.S. administration throughout month continued to expand unilateral sanctions designations, including: 8 Dec sanctioning Tehran’s envoy to Huthis in Yemen; 14 Dec designating two Iranian intelligence officials implicated in 2007 disappearance of U.S. citizen; and 16 Dec sanctioning five companies and one individual for involvement in Iranian energy exports. Following 20 Dec rocket attack against embassy in Iraq’s capital Baghdad blamed on “Iranian-backed rogue militia group”, U.S. President Trump 23 Dec warned U.S. would “hold Iran responsible” if U.S. citizen killed; U.S. dispatched B-52 bombers to Persian Gulf and submarine to Middle-East region ahead of first anniversary on 3 Jan of U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Govt 12 Dec executed Ruhollah Zam, manager of popular social media platform critical of govt during 2017 protests, prompting international condemnation.
Iran remained in breach of 2015 nuclear deal, while U.S. administration maintained maximum pressure policy on Tehran. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general 18 Nov informed agency’s Board of Governors that traces of uranium “at a location in Iran not declared to the Agency still needs to be fully and promptly explained by Iran”. IAEA next day derestricted latest report on Iranian compliance with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); report concluded that Iran continued to exceed limitations on uranium stockpile, which as of 2 Nov stood at 12 times JCPOA’s cap. Tensions with U.S. continued. The New York Times 16 Nov reported President Trump 12 Nov had considered military action against Iran’s main nuclear site; reporting underscored risk of growing friction between Iran and U.S./U.S. allies during Trump’s final months in office. Iran 27 Nov confirmed death of senior nuclear scientist in ambush east of capital Tehran; FM Zarif claimed “serious indications of Israeli role”. Meanwhile, U.S. continued to roll out unilateral sanctions designations: Treasury 10 Nov sanctioned “a network of six companies and four individuals that facilitated the procurement of sensitive goods” for Iranian military company as well as intelligence minister; Treasury 18 Nov targeted Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation, describing it as “a key patronage network for the Supreme Leader”; State Dept same day blacklisted two Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps officials for role in suppressing Nov 2019 protests; U.S. 25 Nov sanctioned four China and Russia-based companies “for supporting Iran’s missile program”. Following U.S. election victory of Democratic candidate Joe Biden, FM Zarif 17 Nov reiterated Iran “will resume honouring its commitments under the JCPOA” if new U.S. administration lifts sanctions in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Meanwhile, third wave of COVID-19 prompted authorities 21 Nov to implement lockdown in Tehran and 150 other cities for initial two-week period; cases and fatalities continued to reach record levels throughout month, with 948,700 cases and 47,875 fatalities reported as of 29 Nov.
As country faced worsening economic crisis and enduring COVID-19 effects, Tehran hailed technical expiration of UN arms restrictions while U.S. continued to roll out unilateral sanctions. Following U.S. efforts in Aug-Sept to “snap back” pre-nuclear deal sanctions on Iran and thereby extend UN arms embargo, UN arms restrictions on Tehran technically expired 18 Oct; Iran’s MFA same day hailed expiration as “a momentous day” and assuaged fears of major weapons procurement by stating “a buying spree of conventional arms ha[s] no place in Iran’s defence doctrine”; Iranian defence officials predicted sales would outpace purchases. Meanwhile, U.S. rejected expiration of embargo; Sec State Pompeo 17 Oct said “virtually all U.N. sanctions on Iran returned” when Washington unilaterally triggered “snapback” on 19 Sept; Pompeo next day warned, “We are prepared to use domestic authorities to sanction individuals or entities contributing to these arms sales.” U.S. also continued to expand its sanctions designations against Iran and Iran-linked targets. U.S. Treasury 8 Oct blacklisted 18 Iranian banks; Iranian FM Javad Zarif same day accused Washington of wanting “to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food and medicine”. U.S. 19 Oct blacklisted eight additional companies and persons linked to Iran’s Shipping Lines company; 22 Oct sanctioned “five Iranian entities for attempting to influence U.S. elections” and Iranian ambassador in Iraq; 26 Oct blacklisted energy targets on counter-terrorism authorities; and 29 Oct sanctioned eight entities for “their involvement in the sale and purchase of Iranian petrochemical products”. Iran continued to face worsening economic hardship and rampant third wave of COVID-19 cases: national currency mid-Oct hit new historic low of 322,000 rial to U.S. dollar before regaining some ground; authorities 27 Oct announced highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 with 346 confirmed dead. Central bank governor 12 Oct announced agreement with Baghdad on release of estimated $5bn in Iranian assets held in Iraq, part of tens of billions in funds govt says are blocked worldwide. MFA 7 Oct announced it had issued letters of protest to Armenia and Azerbaijan after stray mortars and rockets fell within Iranian territory amid hostilities between two countries (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
U.S. ratcheted up pressure on Iran by unilaterally declaring restoration of all pre-nuclear deal UN sanctions on Iran, despite widespread international opposition to move. After triggering “snapback” mechanism of Resolution 2231 in Aug, U.S. 19 Sept declared “the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions” on Iran that were lifted following Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), warning that it will use its “domestic authorities” if UN member states fail to implement sanctions. However, UK, German and French (E3) UN envoys 20 Sept reiterated their view that U.S. snapback notification “is incapable of having legal effect” and restoration of pre-2231 sanctions “would also be incapable of having any legal effect”. Given wide divergence between U.S. on one side and UN Security Council members and JCPOA signatories on other, President Rouhani 16 Sept said U.S. “was left alone” at UN, and hailed its failure as “great and historic victory”. U.S. rolled out sanctions throughout month: Treasury 3 Sept blacklisted six entities linked to already-sanctioned petrochemical company; Treasury 17 Sept unveiled sanctions against “Iranian cyber threat group Advanced Persistent Threat 39 (APT39)”; executive order 21 Sept accompanied by “sweeping” nuclear, missile and conventional arms designations; State Dept 24 Sept blacklisted Iranian judicial officials and entities for human rights violations. Meanwhile, Joint Commission of JCPOA 1 Sept convened with all sides underscoring continued commitment to salvaging nuclear deal; in positive sign, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General 14 Sept confirmed that agency had already visited one of two sites previously in dispute with Iran and expected to inspect second site soon. Non-nuclear tensions persisted with U.S.; President Trump 14 Sept echoed media report that Iran may be planning attack against U.S. in retaliation for killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani in Jan and vowed retaliation “1,000 times greater in magnitude!”; IRGC head 19 Sept remarked “we will target those who had an either direct or indirect role” in attack. Amid concern of third wave of COVID-19 infections, national currency 20 Sept hit a historic low of 273,000 rial to dollar.
U.S. triggered mechanism under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsing 2015 nuclear deal to reimpose all pre-agreement UN sanctions on Iran, raising prospect that tensions could escalate in Sept. UN Security Council 14 Aug resoundingly rejected U.S. resolution aimed at indefinitely extending UN arms embargo on Iran set to expire in Oct; U.S. 20 Aug triggered “snapback” mechanism of Resolution 2231 to reinstate within 30 days all UN sanctions in place prior to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at midnight GMT 20 September; all remaining JCPOA parties and majority of Security Council members disputed U.S.’s legal standing to invoke “snapback”, citing U.S. withdrawal from deal in 2018. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran 26 Aug announced “agreement on the resolution of the safeguards implementation issues specified by the IAEA”; deal facilitates IAEA access to two sites following months-long standoff. U.S. 14 Aug announced that it had seized Iranian petroleum of four tankers bound for Venezuela; in apparent attempt to retrieve seized fuel, Iranian security forces two days earlier had briefly boarded Liberian-flagged tanker near Strait of Hormuz. U.S. 19 Aug sanctioned two United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based companies and one UAE-based Iranian national for links to U.S. blacklisted Iranian airliner. Regional tensions with both U.S. and its allies remained high: Iran 7 Aug called on UN to hold U.S. accountable for intercepting Iranian airliner in Syrian airspace in July; Israel’s army chief of staff 7 Aug said Israel had “thwarted a squad sent by Iran” during 2 Aug incident at Israel-Syria border that prompted retaliatory airstrikes. President Rouhani 15 Aug described normalisation of Israel-UAE relations as “a big mistake”; in response to Rouhani’s “inflammatory” remarks, UAE next day summoned Iranian envoy to Abu Dhabi; Emirati coast guard 17 Aug opened fire on Iranian fishermen, killing two; Iran same day seized Emirati vessel for “illegally entering Iranian waters” and 18 Aug summoned UAE’s envoy to Tehran over fishermen’s killing. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran 23 Aug said July explosion at Natanz nuclear facility was result of “sabotage”. Guardian Council 24 Aug scheduled presidential elections for June 2021.
Amid ongoing U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, tensions over implementation of 2015 nuclear deal continued while sensitive Iranian facilities suffered spate of incidents. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 3 July announced receipt of Iranian letter triggering Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) Dispute Resolution Mechanism; Iran foreign ministry same day said move was motivated by last month’s resolution from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted by France, Germany and UK (E3) urging Iranian cooperation on agency access requests and E3’s “continued non-abidance” with their JCPOA commitments; Borrell 17 July announced extension of resolution mechanism timeline. Meanwhile, IAEA director general 15 July underscored “absolute necessity” for Iran to cooperate on agency access to two sites of concern; discussions with Tehran ongoing. Washington continued diplomatic efforts to garner support for Security Council resolution extending UN arms embargo on Iran due to expire in Oct 2020. Following late June explosions in “public area” of Parchin and at medical centre in Tehran that killed 19, Iran suffered spate of further incidents, including 2 July blast at Natanz nuclear facility, 15 July combustion of more than six ships at Bushehr shipyard and 19 July explosion at Isfahan power plant. Iranian officials confirmed Natanz incident caused “significant damage” and warned of response if foreign govt responsible, while Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz 5 July said Israel was not “necessarily” behind every incident in Iran; while unconfirmed, incidents at sensitive sites hint at possibility of new, covert phase of “maximum pressure” campaign by U.S. and/or its regional allies. U.S. military 23 July reported “visual inspection” of Iranian airliner over Syria; Iranian officials described incident as “illegal and dangerous”. Iran continued to struggle with COVID-19 pandemic: authorities 28 July reported deadliest day to date with 235 deaths; economically, rial currency continued to lose value through most of month.
Dispute continued between Iran and UN’s nuclear watchdog and European signatories of 2015 nuclear deal over Iran’s past and present nuclear activities, while Iran and U.S. made rare diplomatic breakthrough on prisoner exchange. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 5 June issued quarterly report on Iran’s compliance with 2015 nuclear deal, documenting Iran’s continued uranium enrichment and stockpiling beyond deal’s limits; second report same day noted “serious concern” over Iran’s lack of cooperation on access to two sites; Iran’s IAEA envoy 17 June said country had maintained “constructive engagement” with IAEA’s requests for access but cited concern about “endless process of verifying and cleaning-up of ever-continuing fabricated allegations.” IAEA Board of Governors 19 June passed resolution, submitted by France, Germany and UK (E3) and voted against by Russia and China, urging Tehran “to fully cooperate with [IAEA] and satisfy [IAEA’s] requests without further delay”; E3 foreign ministers same day issued joint statement calling for ministerial meeting with Iran. In rare instance of constructive diplomatic engagement, U.S. and Iran 4 June exchanged prisoners: Tehran released Michael White, U.S. citizen detained in 2018, while U.S. allowed Majid Taheri, Iranian-American dual national jailed for sanctions violations, to visit Iran; in purportedly unrelated act, U.S. 2 June released Iranian national Sirous Asghari detained in 2017. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 4 June said “while we are pleased that Iran was constructive in this matter, there is more work to do”; President Trump next day tweeted “Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!”. U.S. sanctions against shipping company Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and China-based E-Sail Shipping Company, announced in Dec 2019, came into effect 8 June. U.S. 24 June sanctioned captains of five Iranian vessels who delivered fuel to Venezuela and next day sanctioned nine companies linked to Iranian metal industry. In joint news conference 29 June, Saudi FM and U.S. Iran envoy called for extension of UN arms embargo on Iran, due to expire in Oct. Israel PM Netanyahu 25 June said Israel “taking action without respite” against Iran and Iran-allied forces in Syria (see Syria).
U.S. continued to expand its sanctions designations against Iran and Iran-linked targets and warned of reimposing pre-nuclear deal sanctions, while regional tensions with both U.S. and Israel persisted. President Rouhani 6 May said govt “will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended” beyond Oct expiry date. U.S. special representative for Iran 13 May confirmed plans to reinstate all pre-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action sanctions if UN Security Council votes against upcoming U.S. resolution to extend arms embargo; Chinese and Russian UN missions next day separately voiced opposition to planned resolution. U.S. govt 27 May announced termination in 60 days of sanctions waivers for civil nuclear projects but extended waiver for Bushehr plant by 90 days; Iran next day said decision “will not in practice have any effect on Iran’s work” while UK, France and Germany 30 May said they “deeply regret the U.S. decision”. U.S. govt imposed series of sanctions, including: 19 May on Chinese company Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited for acting as general sales assistant for U.S. blacklisted airline Mahan Air; 20 May on Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli over alleged role in human rights abuses during Nov 2019 anti-govt protests; and 27 May on two Iranian nuclear officials. Israeli military 9 May reportedly launched cyberattack on Iran’s largest port facility at Bandar Abbas in retaliation to alleged 24-25 April cyberattack on Israeli water infrastructure. Supreme Leader Khamenei 17 May insisted that “Americans cannot stay for long in Iraq or Syria, and they will be expelled”; outgoing Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett next day claimed Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-backed forces were forcing Iran to begin withdrawing from Syria (see also Israel and Syria). Tanker Fortune 25 May arrived in Venezuela; first of reported five tankers delivering gasoline from Iran. Authorities 16 May sentenced French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah to six years imprisonment on national security charges; French govt same day condemned arrest as politically motivated and called for Adelkhah’s release. New parliament inaugurated 27 May; Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf next day elected to speakership.
Elevated tensions with the U.S. continued in Iraq and the Gulf, while govt remained in breach of 2015 nuclear deal although it did not intensify nuclear-related activities during month. President Trump 1 April tweeted that Iran and proxies plan to attack U.S troops or assets in Iraq, warning “Iran will pay a very heavy price”. Iranian naval forces 14 April boarded Hong Kong-flagged tanker in Sea of Oman and briefly detained vessel in Iranian waters. U.S. military next day said eleven Iranian ships “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” toward six U.S. vessels in international waters; Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) 19 April dismissed claims, accused U.S. forces of “illegal, unprofessional, dangerous and adventurist” manoeuvres. Trump 22 April tweeted that he has instructed U.S. navy to “destroy any and all Iranian gunboats that harass our ships”. IRGC 22 April launched military satellite Noor; U.S. 25 April urged extension of UN embargo and sanctions against missile program. U.S. 26 April extended by 30 days Iraq sanction waiver for Iranian electricity imports. Govt continued nuclear-related activities at same tempo as in March, and International Atomic Energy Agency continued inspections of nuclear facilities. Chief of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran 5 April announced intention to install new centrifuges at Natanz fuel enrichment plant. During 20 April meeting with Syrian President Assad in Damascus, FM Zarif criticised U.S. for maintaining sanctions on Iran and Syria throughout COVID-19 crisis. Govt continued to await official response from International Monetary Fund for March request for $5bn emergency loan to tackle COVID-19; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 14 April said Iran should not receive financial assistance “which will be used to fund its proxy wars”. President Rouhani 5 April announced gradual lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions; 19 April extended furlough for prisoners temporarily released in March to 20 May.
New tensions between govt and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over possible undeclared nuclear sites fuelled U.S.-Iran antagonism, attacks escalated between Iran-backed militia and U.S. in Iraq, and COVID-19 spread rapidly with serious humanitarian and economic consequences. IAEA’s 3 March quarterly report on implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action said Iran had trebled its stockpile of enriched uranium between Nov and Feb. IAEA Director General 3 March circulated separate report identifying three sites potentially used for undeclared nuclear-related activity and requesting access to two; govt denied requests and refused to clarify situation. U.S. 16 March imposed sanctions on five Iranian nuclear scientists due to “unacceptable nuclear escalations”; 18 March put sanctions on twelve entities and individuals involved in transporting Iranian petrochemicals; next day U.S. Treasury levied sanctions on five other companies. U.S. 26 March announced additional sanctions against twenty companies and individuals in Iran and Iraq. In Iraq, rocket attack on Taji military camp hosting anti-Islamic State (ISIS) coalition personnel 11 March killed two Americans and one British soldier; U.S. next day accused “Iranian-backed Shia militia groups”. U.S. 12 March launched retaliatory strikes targeting five weapons depots used by Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hizbollah. Second rocket attack on Taji camp 14 March wounded coalition and Iraqi soldiers. In 12 March letter to UN Sec-Gen, FM Zarif called for lifting of U.S. sanctions in light of COVID-19 outbreak; U.S. 26 March extended sanctions waiver for Iraqi imports of Iranian electricity, but did not lift sanctions. COVID-19 had killed over 2,900 by 31 March, university study concluded outbreak had not yet peaked, and health ministry said it urgently needed medical supplies and equipment. Media reported significant declines in domestic business including complete collapse in tourism and official reported 18% drop in trade. Govt 9 March released 70,000 prisoners to reduce COVID-19 spread in prisons; 17 March announced temporary release of further 85,000 detainees including political prisoners; 29 March furlough of 100,000 prisoners confirmed up to 19 April.
Govt slowed escalation on nuclear front after E3 (France, Germany and UK) triggered 2015 nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism mid-Jan and conservative coalition won a majority in parliamentary elections. President Rouhani assured EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who visited Tehran 3-4 Feb, that Iran would continue to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. IAEA 5 Feb assessed that Iran’s uranium production and enrichment was not at critical level. U.S. 9 Feb seized significant haul of weapons “of Iranian design and manufacture” in Arabian Sea. Following Iran’s failed satellite launch 9 Feb, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 11 Feb accused govt of using satellite launches to enhance ballistic missile technology; Iran next day rejected allegations. U.S. 13 Feb implemented 45-day sanctions waiver to allow Iraq to import gas from Iran; U.S. Senate same day passed war powers resolution aimed at preventing President Trump from engaging in military action against Iran without declaration of war or specific authorisation by Congress, Trump vowed to veto bill. Iran-Israel tensions persisted following reports by Syrian state media that missile attacks into Syria 6 and 13 Feb came from Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israeli defence minister 8 Feb said U.S. and Israel had agreed they would counter Iran in Iraq and Syria respectively. Guardian Council 13 Feb published final list of 7,100 vetted candidates for 21 Feb parliamentary elections having disqualified over 8,000 including 75 sitting lawmakers. Rouhani 16 Feb said elections in 44 of 208 districts were not competitive and criticised mass disqualification of moderate candidates; U.S. 20 Feb sanctioned five Iranian officials for their roles in disqualifying candidates. Alliance of conservative candidates won most seats, enough to hold majority in 290-seat parliament. Turnout at 42.5% was lowest since 1979.
Iran-U.S. tensions soared early Jan as U.S.’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani provoked Iran to strike U.S. military installations in Iraq, and in response to Iran’s further breach of nuclear deal, three European states triggered dispute resolution mechanism, which could potentially lead to deal’s collapse. In Iraq, U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport 3 Jan killed Major General Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds Force, expeditionary wing of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hizbollah. Iranian missile strikes 7 Jan hit U.S. bases at Ain al-Assad and Erbil in Iraq but killed no personnel; Pentagon said 64 U.S. soldiers injured. Iran 5 Jan for fifth time breached Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by announcing it would no longer observe deal’s limits on number of centrifuges Iran may operate. In response, UK, France and Germany 14 Jan activated deal’s dispute resolution mechanism, which could eventually result in restoration of pre-JCPOA EU and UN sanctions on Iran. U.S. 30 Jan extended by 60 days four waivers for Iran civil nuclear cooperation projects and sanctioned Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and its head. U.S. 10 Jan imposed further sanctions on Iran’s heavy industries and blacklisted over two dozen firms and ships linked to its metals trade; U.S. 17 Jan imposed sanctions against IRGC general for human rights violations during violent suppression of Nov 2019 protests. Hundreds of thousands joined Soleimani’s funeral procession in provincial capital Kerman 8 Jan, stampede left 56 dead. Anti-govt protests re-erupted nationwide when IRGC, after initial attempts to cover up its involvement, 11 Jan admitted that it had unintentionally shot down Ukrainian airliner near capital Tehran 8 Jan, killing all 176 civilian passengers. Authorities 12 Jan used live ammunition to disperse protesters in Tehran. Guardian Council 12 Jan published initial list of approved candidates for 21 Feb parliamentary elections; council approved 5,000 of 14,000 would-be candidates.
Iran-U.S. tensions rose as U.S. responded to series of attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq with strikes on Iran-backed militia there; tensions could spiral further in Jan, especially around Iran’s planned further violation of nuclear deal 6 Jan. In Iraq, attacks on U.S. assets intensified: unidentified assailants 3, 5, 9 and 11 Dec launched rockets at military bases housing U.S. troops; rocket attack on base outside Kirkuk 27 Dec killed U.S. contractor. U.S. Sec State Pompeo blamed “Iran’s proxies”. U.S. airstrikes 29 Dec hit bases in Iraq and Syria of Iran-backed Kataib Hizbollah militia, part of paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, killing at least 25 fighters. In response, supporters and members of Kataib Hizbollah protested outside U.S. embassy, 31 Dec broke into compound. Chair of joint commission of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during meeting in Austria 6 Dec noted “serious concern” in relation to Iran’s incremental violations of nuclear deal. Russia’s State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom 5 Dec announced suspension of work ostensibly for technical reasons at Fordow nuclear facility, where in Nov Iran restarted uranium enrichment. U.S. 15 Dec withdrew sanctions waiver for international civil nuclear cooperation at Fordow. Iran and U.S. exchanged prisoners in Switzerland 7 Dec; Iran released Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang in exchange for release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani held since 2018 for sanctions violations. U.S. 11 Dec announced new sanctions against Iranian shipping and aviation industries. NGO Amnesty International 16 Dec reported that nationwide protests over fuel prices in Nov had led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces that left 304 demonstrators dead. Govt 11 Dec said it had foiled “state sponsored” cyberattack on national banking system; 15 Dec said it had foiled another cyberattack.
Violent crackdown on protests over rise in fuel prices led to deaths of over 100 demonstrators and govt further breached 2015 nuclear deal. Govt raised fuel prices 15 Nov sparking protests nationwide, which security forces sought to disperse forcibly; NGO Amnesty International 29 Nov reported deaths of at least 161 protesters. U.S. 22 Nov sanctioned Iran information minister following internet blackout during protests. President Rouhani 5 Nov announced Iran was going ahead with further violation of nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by resuming uranium enrichment at Fordow nuclear facility. European parties to JCPOA (France, UK and Germany) and EU 11 Nov raised possibility of invoking agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 7 Nov claimed Iran had temporarily prevented one of its inspectors from leaving country. IAEA 17 Nov affirmed Iran had accumulated more heavy water than JCPOA’s 130 tonne limit. U.S. Treasury Department 4 Nov imposed sanctions on Iranian armed forces general staff and nine individuals associated with Supreme Leader Khamenei including his son and Iran’s judiciary chief. Govt 8 Nov said it had intercepted drone in south west without commenting on its provenance.
Iran-U.S. tensions remained high, relations between Iran and United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to ease and unclaimed explosions damaged Iranian tanker in Red Sea. President Rouhani 13 Oct repeated that opening of Iran-U.S. negotiations depended on U.S. first lifting its sanctions on Iran and returning to nuclear deal. Govt 16 Oct denied that U.S. carried out cyber-attack on Iran in Sept as reported by Reuters. UAE 20 Oct unfroze $700mn of Iranian funds. On request of U.S. President Trump, Pakistan PM Khan 13 Oct visited Iran and 15 Oct Saudi Arabia in bid to ease tensions between two states; visits yielded no breakthrough. Iranian official 31 Oct announced Saudi Arabia had released nineteen Iranian fishermen, eleven detained since Dec 2018, eight since Jan. Two explosions 11 Oct damaged Iranian tanker in Red Sea off Saudi coast; FM Zarif 15 Oct said “one or a number of governments’’ had attacked tanker. Australia 5 Oct said Iranian authorities had released two of its citizens arrested for allegedly photographing “military and banned zones” and same day freed Iranian whom U.S. was trying to extradite. France 16 Oct said Iran was detaining French scholar Roland Marchal and urged his release; Iran has been detaining another French scholar with dual Iranian nationality since June.
Alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities caused tensions to rise sharply between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia and U.S. on other and significantly raised tensions in region. Iranian delegation met French officials in Paris 2-3 Sept to discuss France’s proposed deal, namely that Europe provides Iran $15bn credit line until end of 2019 enabled by U.S. sanctions waivers in return for Tehran returning to full compliance with nuclear deal and negotiating table to discuss broader agreement. U.S. 4 Sept ruled out sanctions waivers. Following 14 Sept missile and drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities, Yemen’s Huthis claimed they launched attacks but Saudi Arabia and U.S. held Iran responsible, Tehran denied. FM Zarif 19 Sept warned that any strike on Iran would trigger “all-out war”. U.S. 20 Sept said it would deploy military forces and equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to deter Iran. E3 (France, Germany and UK) 23 Sept held Iran responsible for attacks. Despite efforts by French President Macron to facilitate face-to-face meeting, Presidents Rouhani and Trump declined to meet during UN General Assembly. Iran 7 and 16 Sept seized two ships in and near Strait of Hormuz which it accused of smuggling fuel. UK 10 Sept accused Iran of selling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Rouhani 22 Sept launched regional cooperation initiative to enhance Gulf maritime security. Govt made good on threat to further violate nuclear deal if by 6 Sept parties had not mitigated economic impact of U.S. sanctions; 7 Sept said it had started using more advanced centrifuges. Rouhani said Iran would further violate deal if parties did not provide economic relief by 5 Nov. U.S. continued to impose additional sanctions on Iran, including on its central bank. In north west near Iraqi border, clashes between border guards and unidentified gunmen in Marivan 6 Sept left at least two dead.
Iran-U.S. tensions remained high over maritime security and Iran’s continued threat to further breach in Sept 2015 nuclear accord if European parties do not mitigate economic impact of U.S. sanctions. Iran 4 Aug said it had detained Iraqi tanker in Persian Gulf 31 July, accusing it of smuggling fuel. UK, Bahrain and Aus-tralia joined U.S.-led maritime security initiative for Middle East; Israel 6 Aug re-portedly indicated it was supporting with intelligence. FM Zarif 12 Aug said naval build-up in Persian Gulf would increase “risk of combustion”. Gibraltar 15 Aug re-leased Iranian tanker it had detained since early July on suspicion of transporting oil to Syria; U.S. 16 Aug issued warrant for tanker’s seizure, which Gibraltar reject-ed 18 Aug. Iran 26 Aug said it had dispatched one destroyer and one aircraft carri-er to Gulf of Aden. Iran continued to threaten that it would further breach 2015 nuclear deal on 6 Sept if agreement’s European parties failed to mitigate econom-ic impact of U.S. sanctions. Former German ambassador to Iran who was due to head mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran bypassing U.S. sanctions (INSTEX) 8 Aug withdrew from post. After Iran breached deal’s cap on low enriched uranium stockpile in July, Iranian nuclear official 13 Aug said its stockpile was “growing rapidly”. Israeli media 5 Aug reported that Iran increased its financial assistance to Hamas to $30mn per month. Delegation of Yemen’s Huthi movement in Teh-ran 11-17 Aug met FM Zarif, Supreme Leader Khamenei and Western ambassa-dors. Huthis 17 Aug announced appointment of ambassador to Iran. FM Zarif held discussions with French officials in Paris 23 Aug and returned to France 25 Aug for further consultations with E3 (France, Germany and UK) on sidelines of G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. President Rouhani 27 Aug said U.S. should lift sanc-tions as condition for talks. Kurdish militants 27 Aug killed member of paramili-tary force in Piranshahr in north west; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) next day said it had killed two militants responsible. U.S. 28-30 Aug imposed several further sanctions on Iran, including on Iranian tanker released from Gi-braltar.
Relations between Iran and its allies on one side and U.S. and its allies on other remained tense as maritime confrontations intensified and Iran breached limits of 2015 nuclear deal, raising risk of military clash in Aug. British navy 4 July detained tanker off Gibraltar suspected of trying to smuggle Iranian oil to Syria. In Strait of Hormuz, Iranian boats 10 July allegedly tried to impede British tanker before British warship warned them off, Iran denied responsibility; U.S. President Trump 18 July said U.S. had downed Iranian drone, Iran denied; Iran 18 July claimed to have seized Panamanian tanker; Iranian security forces 19 July seized British-flagged tanker and temporarily detained another British-owned tanker. U.S. 19 July said it was developing multinational maritime security framework for Middle Eastern waterways. UK 23 July unveiled plan for separate European-led maritime security coalition to defend shipping in Middle East. Iran 24 July test-launched medium-range missile. United Arab Emirates officials attended 6th Iran-UAE meeting on maritime affairs in Tehran 30 July, first such meeting since 2013. Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium exceeded nuclear deal’s limit 1 July. Iran 7 July said it had raised uranium enrichment beyond limit and set 6 Sept as new deadline for deal’s parties to protect it from U.S. sanctions, threatening further violations. EU foreign policy chief Mogherini 15 July said infringements would not push P4+1 (UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) to activate dispute resolution mechanism for non-compliance, which could lead to re-imposition of sanctions. U.S. 18 July sanctioned individuals and firms it said were involved in acquiring materials for Iran’s nuclear program; 31 July sanctioned FM Zarif and announced extension of sanction waivers allowing countries to continue civil nuclear projects with Iran for 90 days. Suspected Kurdish militants 9 July killed three soldiers in Piranshahr in north west near Iraq. In south east near Pakistan border, clashes between Iranian border guards and unidentified gunmen 21 July left two guards dead.
Tensions between Iran and U.S. and its Gulf allies rose to alarming levels, raising risk of more intense political and military confrontation in July. Unidentified assailants 13 June caused explosions on two tankers (one Norwegian-owned, one Japanese-owned) in Gulf of Oman; U.S. blamed Iran, which denied responsibility. U.S. 14 June released video it said showed Iranian vessel removing unexploded ordinance from side of one of tankers after attack. U.S. 16 June said Iranian missile 13 June had tried but failed to hit U.S. drone surveying damaged tankers and that Iranian-backed Huthis in Yemen had downed U.S. drone there 6 June. U.S. 18 June said it would deploy 1,000 additional troops to Middle East. Iran 20 June downed U.S. drone off Iranian coast; Iran claimed drone was in Iranian airspace, U.S. said it was in international airspace. President Trump 20 June approved airstrikes in Iran; next day Trump said he had called off attack because it would have been disproportionate. Foreign leaders including German FM, Japanese FM and high level EU official visited Tehran to ease Iran-U.S. tensions and salvage 2015 nuclear deal. Mechanism created by E3 (France, Germany and UK) to facilitate trade with Iran 13 June held consultations in Tehran; same day E3 ambassadors to Iran said “both sides have agreed a roadmap to expedite progress”. FM Zarif 1 July said Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium had exceeded deal’s limit. E3 28 June said mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran avoiding U.S. sanctions, Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), was operational. U.S. issued more sanctions to squeeze Iran’s economy: 7 June on exporters of Iran’s petrochemicals; 11 June on companies facilitating Iranian oil exports to Syria; and 12 June on company alleged to have trafficked weapons to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. U.S. 15 June extended Iraq’s sanctions waiver, allowing it to continue importing Iranian energy for another 120 days. U.S. 24 June imposed sanctions on Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Tension between Iran and U.S. increased markedly. Citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran, U.S. 5 and 10 May announced it would bolster military assets in Middle East, including naval and air forces and missile defence systems. U.S. 24 May announced additional deployment of 1,500 troops, a dozen fighter jets and drones to Middle East. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 7 May visited Iraq to meet senior officials, referring to indications of imminent attacks on U.S. assets. Tension rose further following unclaimed attacks on four oil tankers (two Saudi, one Emirati, one Norwegian) off United Arab Emirates coast 12 May and drone attacks on pipeline in Saudi Arabia 14 May claimed by Huthi forces in Yemen; Saudi officials accused Iran of guiding Huthis’ actions. U.S. 15 May ordered non-essential U.S. personnel to leave Iraq. In Iraq, rocket landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone about a mile from U.S. embassy 19 May causing no casualties. President Trump 19 May tweeted that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran”. U.S. waivers allowing countries to import Iranian oil expired 2 May. U.S. revoked nuclear-related waivers 3 May, no longer permitting countries to purchase Iran’s surplus heavy water and low enriched uranium (LEU). Tehran 8 May responded by downgrading compliance with LEU and heavy water limits in Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and also threatened to step up uranium enrichment if P4+1 (UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) failed to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from sanctions within 60 days; U.S. same day announced restrictions on Iran’s metal industries. EU/E3 (France, Germany and UK) 9 May said they rejected any Iranian ultimatums but underscored their commitment to JCPOA.
Tehran maintained focus on strengthening regional ties particularly with Iraq as U.S. stepped up “maximum pressure” campaign toward Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency 5 April reiterated assessment that Iran was complying with terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Nevertheless, U.S. designated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian security force primarily responsible for Iran’s regional policies, as Foreign Terrorist Organisation, effective 15 April; Iran promptly blacklisted U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S.’s military command covering Middle East and Central Asia, and President Rouhani 9 April approved for now mostly symbolic installation of more advanced IR-6 centrifuges in Natanz. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 April said U.S. would not grant any more sanctions waivers allowing countries to import Iranian oil; current waivers due to expire 2 May. Iraqi PM Mahdi in Tehran 6 April met Supreme Leader Khamenei and Rouhani. Iranian FM Zarif 16 April met Syrian President Assad in Damascus, and visited Ankara 17 April. While in New York 23-28 April Zarif proposed swap of Iranians jailed in U.S. for U.S. detainees in Iran. Iran, Russia and Turkey held new round of talks on Syria in Nursultan, renamed capital of Kazakhstan (formerly Astana) 25-26 April, no significant outcome. In response to flooding that reportedly caused 80 deaths, foreign aid included donations from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates; Pompeo 2 April expressed condolences to victims while blaming Tehran for mismanagement in urban planning and emergency preparedness; govt blamed U.S. sanctions for impeding humanitarian relief.
International Atomic Energy Agency 6 March published quarterly report confirming Iran has continued to abide by terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI), Iranian sister organisation of Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), mechanism created by European JCPOA members in Jan to facilitate Iran’s purchases of humanitarian goods, formally registered in Iran 19 March. President Rouhani 11-13 March visited Iraq, first time as president, meeting senior Iraqi politicians, businessmen and religious leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Iran and Iraq signed five memoranda of understanding to deepen economic and diplomatic ties. Iranian officials and counterparts from France, Germany, UK and Italy convened 18 March under Iran-E4 framework in Brussels to discuss regional issues, notably Yemen. Supreme Leader Khamenei 7 March appointed hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as new Chief Justice, to replace Sadeq Larijani, appointed as new chairman of Expediency Council – constitutional arbitrator between parliament and Guardian Council. U.S. 22 March issued sanctions designation against 31 individuals and entities linked to Iranian nuclear program; 26 March issued sanctions on additional companies and individuals in Iran, Turkey and United Arab Emirates for alleged sanctions evasion. Israel 27 March carried out airstrike near Aleppo in northern Syria reportedly targeting Iranian weapons depot and killing several Iraqi and Iranian fighters.
On 40th anniversary of 1979 revolution, govt insisted on right to develop “defensive power”, meanwhile rift between U.S. and Europe over Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) widened. Following 31 Jan launch by European JCPOA participants (Germany, France and UK) of Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran avoiding unilateral U.S. sanctions, U.S. VP Pence at Munich Security Conference 16 Feb urged Europeans to “stop undermining U.S. sanctions” and to “withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal”. U.S. and Poland chaired ministerial meeting in Polish capital Warsaw 13-14 Feb titled Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, which focused on countering Iran’s regional policies; meeting failed to deliver diplomatic breakthroughs, but Israeli PM Netanyahu attended alongside Arab leaders. Iran 11 Feb commemorated 40th anniversary of 1979 revolution; President Rouhani said “we have not – and will not – ask for permission from anybody for improving our defensive power” and Supreme Leader Khamenei 13 Feb counselled against trusting European govts and negotiating with U.S.. FM Zarif resigned 25 Feb without giving reasons; Rouhani 27 Feb rejected resignation and Zarif continued duties. Satellite launch failed 5 Feb. Suicide attack claimed by Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vehicle 13 Feb killed 27 in south east, govt accused Pakistan of sheltering group and accused Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) of involvement.
As implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) entered fourth year 16 Jan, deal’s future became increasingly uncertain. U.S. sanctions on Iran have significantly reduced its crude oil exports and dissuaded international companies from doing business there. Remaining JCPOA participants continued efforts to ease trade with Iran: European participants 31 Jan launched Special Purpose Vehicle to support trade with Iran, originally expected late 2018. Govt’s purported hand in series of assassinations and attempted attacks against Iranian political dissidents in several European countries further strained EU-Iran relations, leading EU 8 Jan to impose sanctions on unit of intelligence ministry and two Iranian individuals. U.S.-Iran tensions continued: U.S. Sec State Pompeo 10 Jan pledged to pursue American campaign “to stop Iran’s malevolent influence and actions” and 15 Jan protested Iranian launch of satellite, accusing govt of using it as cover for developing ballistic missile capabilities. Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Syria against installations it claimed Iran and pro-Iranian militias were using south of Damascus 25 Dec and 11, 20 and 21 Jan; latter strike targeted Al-Quds Force and Syrian air defences, twelve reported dead. Expediency Council – constitutional arbitrator between parliament and Guardian Council – 5 Jan approved second of four bills aimed at shoring up measures against money laundering and terrorism financing.
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