Iran January 2021 –

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Iran on Diana’s Wednesday
Al Jazeera: Iran news

16 June
Why Iran’s Elections Are a Critical Turning Point for Khamenei’s Regime
Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi
(TIME) Friday’s vote is set to trigger a transformation of the country’s political system, marking a new stage of the Islamic Revolution.
… in 2019, Khamenei launched a manifesto outlining his future vision, which involves installing a generation of young Khamenei loyalists across the government, to water down the regime’s “republican” aspects. Aware that factional faultlines may emerge after his death—perhaps causing the clerical regime to suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union—Khamenei is doing all he can to ensure his Islamist ideology outlives him.
As hardline cleric and Khamenei ally Mehdi Taaeb recently declared “we have now reached the stage for the purification of the Islamic Revolution.” The Guardian Council’s extensive election engineering reflects this; of 529 people who registered to stand, just seven candidates were approved. Only two have any chance of winning and shaping the new administration, and they share identical political agendas, ideological support bases and loyalty to the leader: Saeed Jalili, former hardline nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad, and Ebrahim Raisi, the current chief justice tipped as Khamenei’s choice to succeed him.
… We can expect the Quds Force to become much bolder in pursuit of the regime’s ideological and strategic objectives in the near future: from furthering Shia militancy in the Middle East to advancing its policy of “wiping Israel from the face of the earth”. The rise in Quds Force operations on European soil since 2015—infiltrating charities, for example, and educational institutions—suggests this threat is not confined to the Middle East.

6 June
Foreign Affairs Backstory: Iran’s June 18 election is expected to bring to power a more hard-line leader than Hassan Rouhani, the term-limited Iranian president whose government negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal. Could a political transition in Tehran change the outcome of ongoing talks in Vienna to revive that accord? The ascendance of conservatives has “[pushed] moderate voices in favor of engagement and diplomacy to the margins,” Vali Nasr wrote earlier this year. “To have any hope of salvaging the agreement, the new U.S. administration will have to move fast.”

25 May
Iran Needs the Nuclear Deal to Keep Russia and China at Bay
Geopolitical Gains Will Last Longer Than Military Concessions
By Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy
(Foreign Affairs) Iran has vocally insisted that “the nuclear deal it made” in 2015 be restored and “implemented word by word.” But in practice, the Islamic Republic has actually shown considerable flexibility. A senior member of Iran’s parliament, taking his cue from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has suggested that negotiations in Vienna will result in “a new and binding agreement.” The diplomatic door is open for the United States and Iran to reach a more robust deal that will weather transitions of administrations in both countries.
To begin with, Iran has advanced its nuclear program considerably. Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement freed Iran to seek higher levels of uranium enrichment. … By continuing enrichment, Iran has demonstrated to itself and to the world that it can overcome strikes against its nuclear facilities and the assassinations of its scientists. Once a reinstated deal sunsets or at a renegotiated later date, Iran can stay at breakout capability or proceed to test a nuclear weapon—depending on its strategic and geopolitical needs at that time. Thus, the international agreement is no longer an absolute obstacle to Iran’s nuclear quest.
On the other hand, eliminating sanctions would greatly benefit the country economically and geopolitically. Direct and indirect financial pressure from the United States has made Iran dependent on a handful of trading partners. By 2019, China had gained a stranglehold of 48.3 percent of Iran’s exports and 27.5 percent of the country’s imports. So long as sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on its trading partners stay in place, Tehran remains economically vulnerable and reliant on those nations that dare to breach Washington’s will.
Russia has emerged as Iran’s primary security guarantor, military collaborator, and materiel supplier. China has also rapidly expanded its cooperation in those sectors.
Reviving the nuclear deal will loosen the grip of these two superpowers on Tehran. Factions within Iran’s political system would then become less amenable to foreign pressure and more mindful of Iran’s geopolitical autonomy.
… diplomacy can realistically achieve quite a lot. … Economic and geopolitical gains outweigh military concessions, because tactical advancements can be resumed in the future, within the Iranian calculus. But to reach these goals, the United States needs to stop speaking through its partners and rivals, such as the European Union and Russia, and rejoin the Vienna negotiations to negotiate directly with Iran.

27 April
Explosive-laden ‘drone’ boat targets Saudi port of Yanbu
(AP) — Details remained scarce, but the incident comes after a series of attacks on shipping in the wider Mideast region amid a shadow war between Iran and Israel and against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between Tehran and world powers over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal.

For diplomacy to work, Iran must understand that it cannot overplay its hand
By Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, counselor and William Davidson distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
(WaPo) The Iranians are pressing for the lifting of all the sanctions imposed since 2015, including the sanctions and designations that the Trump administration imposed for Iranian involvement in terrorism. In effect, the Iranians are essentially saying that if you apply any sanctions on us for human rights or terrorism, we will engage in nuclear blackmail.
But even that is not enough for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as he is also insisting on how the JCPOA must be resumed, declaring that Iran will reverse its steps that breach the JCPOA only after the United States verifiably lifts all the sanctions in a way that actually has Iran selling its oil, gaining access to frozen accounts and doing business. In other words, the United States must go beyond what is required of it to come back into compliance with the JCPOA first, and only then will the Iranians act — but in a way that will fall short of completely reversing its acts of noncompliance. After all, the know-how and experience the Iranians have acquired with regard to advanced centrifuges cannot be reversed.

14 April
Iran’s Rouhani says 60% enrichment is an answer to attack at Natanz site
(Reuters) – Iran’s move to enrich uranium up to 60% purity is a response to the sabotage at its key nuclear facility, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, adding the Islamic Republic had no intention of building a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear chutzpah in the Middle East
Israel’s temerity, Iran’s bellicosity and America’s ambiguity could plunge the region in turmoil
(Al Jazeera) Iran has accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear site in Natanz, portraying the attack as a “very bad gamble”, a desperate “revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting international sanctions”. Once again, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has tried hard to put a brave face on a humiliating situation, threatening “revenge against the Zionists”.
Israel has responded on script with a conspicuous “no comment” posturing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated his apocalyptic mantras about Iran’s evil intentions to develop nuclear weapons in order to “wipe out” Israel and his determination to stop it in its tracks, come what may.
…the repercussions of Israeli attacks on Iran could lead to a catastrophic escalation.
Already, Iran has bombastically declared its intention to begin enriching uranium up to 60 percent from its current 20 percent level, getting it ever closer to a weapons-grade level. It has argued that it needs such high-grade fuel to power nuclear ships, but it has no such vessels in its navy.
This is sure to elicit another Israeli attack. The situation is on the brink of spiralling out of control, leading to serious regional turmoil and leaving American diplomacy in tatters.

12 April
Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz nuclear site
(AP) — Iran blamed Israel on Monday for an attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges — sabotage that imperils ongoing talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal and brings a shadow war between the two countries into the light.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility.

7 April
Iran ship serving as Red Sea troop base near Yemen attacked
(AP) — An Iranian cargo ship believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz, suspected to have been carried out by Israel. The assault came as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks about the U.S. potentially rejoining Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, showing that challenges ahead don’t rest merely in those negotiations.
Israel-Iran Sea Skirmishes Escalate as Mine Damages Iranian Military Ship
(NYT) The explosion came the same day as progress was reported in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposes.
Iran sets new record for virus infections amid holiday surge
(AP) The country is in the midst of one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date, following a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which drove millions to travel to popular vacation spots across the country, crowd markets and congregate in homes for parties in defiance of government health guidelines.

6 April
Roadmap to rescue Iran nuclear deal agreed in Vienna talks
(The Guardian) A broad roadmap designed to rescue the Iran nuclear deal undermined by Donald Trump has been agreed in talks in Vienna, with the aim of bringing Iran and the US back into compliance in as little as two months.
Two working groups have been set up to examine the economic sanctions on Iran that the US will need to lift to come back into compliance with UN security council resolutions, and the steps Iran will need to take to bring its nuclear programme in line with the terms set out in the 2015 deal.
Since the US pulled out of the deal in 2018, Iran has taken a series of steps away from it, including on the use of advanced centrifuges, enriched uranium levels and limiting access for UN weapons inspectors to its nuclear sites.
Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, hailed the outcome as “successful”. He said two groups tasked to identify measures for Washington and Tehran to take had started work immediately, but it was impossible to say how long the process would be. A further meeting between diplomats is expected on Friday, suggesting the pace of the talks is designed to be intense, and already has a base of prepared background technical work on which to draw. Iran talks set up delicate dance for Biden team

27 March
Iran and China sign 25-year cooperation agreement
Deal signed in Tehran is expected to increase bilateral trade and military cooperation as US rivals move to deepen ties.
(Al Jazeera) Iran and China have signed a long-gestating 25-year cooperation accord as both countries remain under Unites States sanctions. The agreement is said to have been in the works since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran in 2016, also agreeing to increase bilateral trade more than 10-fold to $600bn in the next decade.
No details of the agreement have yet to be officially published, but it is expected to be a sweeping “strategic accord” that includes significant Chinese investments in Iran’s key sectors such as energy and infrastructure, in addition to military cooperation.
As China and Iran are approaching 50 years of official diplomatic ties, an exhibition of diplomatic documents and achievements between the two countries was opened at the foreign ministry building in Tehran on Saturday.
But the cooperation pact has also been a subject of contention inside Iran, where a discussion on its objectives and merits has divided people and officials alike.
Proponents of the deal say Iran will benefit from turning east as the US and the West adopt an increasingly hostile approach, while critics say Iran may be giving up too much in its quest to boost ties with China.

20 March
A New Year in Iran, but the country’s crises remain the same
(AP) — The Persian New Year, Nowruz, begins on the first day of spring and celebrates all things new. But as families across Iran hurried to greet the fresh start — eating copious crisp herbs, scrubbing their homes and buying new clothes — it was clear just how little the country had changed.
A year into the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated Iran, killing over 61,500 people — the highest death toll in the Middle East — the nation is far from out of the woods. And although Iranians had welcomed the election of President Joe Biden with a profound sigh of relief after the Trump administration’s economic pressure campaign, the sanctions that have throttled the country for three years remain in place.
The virus has touched all aspects of daily life, infecting some 1.78 million people, overwhelming hospitals, filling vast cemeteries and pummeling an economy already reeling from U.S. sanctions.
Iran’s economy shrank 5% last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Over 1 million people lost their jobs in 2020, reported the Interior Ministry. Inflation has soared to nearly 50% compared to 10% in 2018, before then-President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers and re-imposed sanctions. The prices of basic goods, including Nowruz staples like spiced nuts and clothes, have doubled or tripled.

18 March
Canadian officials say Iran failed to prove Flight 752 was shot down in error
Canadian safety officials said today that Iran’s investigation of the destruction of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 failed to support its claim that the passenger jet was shot down due to human error.
(CBC) In its final report released yesterday, Iran’s civil aviation authority concluded the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane was shot down accidentally in January 2020 after being “misidentified” by an air defence unit as a “hostile target.”
Kathy Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said the report offers no detailed explanation or evidence regarding the underlying factors that led the air defence unit to launch two surface-to-air-missiles at the plane shortly after it took off from Tehran’s main airport in the early hours of Jan. 8.
“We believe that the final report issued by Iran yesterday is incomplete. It raises more questions than it answers. It does provide some basic information about the factors that led to [the] military shoot down of PS752 but it falls short of answering many of the detailed questions of the underlying factors that caused that,” said Fox.

4 March
Iran and IAEA clear potential roadblock to talks with US on nuclear deal
European nations to shelve censure motion after agreement to hold technical meetings
(The Guardian) A potential roadblock to talks between Iran and the US on the future of the nuclear deal has been cleared after the UN nuclear inspectorate said it had won Iran’s agreement to return to Tehran to hold focused talks on doubts over the veracity of the country’s previous declarations about its nuclear sites.
Rafael Grossi, the director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said … Iran had now agreed to take part in direct, focused technical meetings at the beginning of April, with the aim for inspectors to report back to an IAEA board meeting in June.

25 February
Biden orders airstrikes against infrastructure used by ‘Iranian-backed militant groups’ in Syria
(Business Insider) The Iranian government supports a number of militant groups in Iraq and Syria and has pledged continued retaliation for the January 2020 killing of its general, Qassim Suleimani. That assassination came after Iraqi militant groups, days earlier, had killed another US military contractor in a rocket attack.
Thursday’s strikes, according to defense officials, were primarily aimed at the militants’ “infrastructure,” not necessarily their personnel.

19 February
Biden administration takes major steps to restoring Iran nuclear deal, offering to join European allies for talks with Tehran
The president has made restoring the deal a major foreign-policy goal.
Iran nuclear deal: Tehran plays down hopes of nuclear talks with US
(BBC) Iran says that despite an EU offer to broker talks with the US aimed at reviving a nuclear deal, America “must act” first and lift sanctions.
“Gestures are fine,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted, adding: “Remember, Trump left the room.”l.
Iran nuclear deal: Clock ticks as rivals square up
The window for saving the international nuclear deal with Iran is rapidly narrowing – and a power-struggle inside the Islamic republic between those for and against it could soon seal its fate.
Iran holds crucial presidential elections in June, and hardliners who see the deal as a humiliation want to stall its revival before the polls. The incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate and champion of the deal, cannot stand again following two terms in office. Anti-deal conservatives – already dominant in parliament – hope to replace him with a figure of their own.

9 February
Secret recording suggests Iranian official concedes truth about downing of Flight PS752 may never be revealed
(CBC) The Canadian government and security agencies are reviewing an audio recording in which a man — identified by sources as Iran’s foreign affairs minister — discusses the possibility that the destruction of Flight PS752 was an intentional act, CBC News has learned.
The individual, identified by sources as Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, is heard saying on the recording that there are a “thousand possibilities” to explain the downing of the jet, including a deliberate attack involving two or three “infiltrators” — a scenario he said was “not at all unlikely.”
He is also heard saying the truth will never be revealed by the highest levels of Iran’s government and military.
Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and member of the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague, said the recording now in the hands of Canada’s intelligence agencies is a “highly significant” piece of new evidence.
He said Zarif is not involved directly in military or intelligence operations, so the recording is not a “smoking gun” offering conclusive proof that the aircraft’s destruction was intentional.
Zarif understands the inner workings of the IRGC and is a “highly influential and well-informed member of the highest level of the Iranian government,” Akhavan said, adding the recording suggests Iran did not conduct a proper investigation.

7 February
Biden says Iran must return to negotiating table before U.S. lifts sanctions
(CNBC) Biden, in a clip from a CBS interview on Sunday, indicated that Iran would have to stop enriching uranium before his administration would lift sanctions.
When asked if the U.S. would lift sanctions to get Iran back to the negotiating table, Biden said “no.”

20 January
Iran nuclear deal: What are Biden’s plans and challenges
(BBC) US President Joe Biden says he wants to restore the nuclear deal with Iran – making it a top foreign policy priority. Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and during his time in office the two countries came to the brink of war.
So, with so much hostility – and mistrust – between Washington and Tehran, will President Biden be able to revive the deal?

2 January
Trump may launch ‘reckless’ attack on Iran, experts fear
(Al Jazeera) Trump administration’s ‘sabre-rattling and aggressive rhetoric’ raise fears about a potential confrontation with Iran before Joe Biden takes office.
The US flew B-52 bombers over the Gulf three times in the past month, most recently on Wednesday, in what the Trump administration called a deterrence measure to keep Iran from retaliating on January 3, the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing in a US drone strike.
Why an Iran Attack Could Be Biden’s ‘Hour One’ Crisis
Speculation is rampant that Trump will launch a military strike, but it could be the new president who has to decide how to balance the safety of Americans with the chance for re-engagement with Iran.
(Politico) The evidence for a post-Jan. 20 confrontation has been accumulating for some weeks. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cautioned on December 16 that Iran’s revenge would come “at its own time and place,” and thus not necessarily under Trump, who has pledged to strike back hard if Americans are harmed. Inside Iraq, the key Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, has warned against revenge attacks until Trump is gone, and even Mohammed al-Hashemi, an Iraqi government envoy sent to Iran, was quoted in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper as beseeching Tehran to maintain calm “until the Biden administration takes over the presidency from Trump.”

1 January
Iran says it will enrich uranium up to 20 percent, UN nuclear watchdog says
(France 24) Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it intends to produce uranium enriched to up to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by the 2015 Vienna accord, the UN nuclear watchdog said Friday.
According to the latest report available from the UN agency, published in November, Tehran was enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the Vienna agreement (3.67 percent) but not exceeding the 4.5 percent threshold, and still complied with the Agency’s very strict inspection regime.

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