US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, downplaying the importance of who wins in Iran's June presidential election, has said it is clear “who the decider is in the Iranian system”, in an interview with the Financial Times in London on May 3.
In response to a question if the June elections in Iran can impact the indirect negotiations taking place between Tehran and Washington, Blinken made it clear that the real decision-making power rests with Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic.
The Secretary of State avoided giving his opinion if a win for hardliners in Iran could impact the negotiations, but he stated, “I think it’s clear who the decider is in the Iranian system, and that’s the supreme leader, and he’s the one who has to make the fundamental decisions about what Iran’s approach would be.”
Some have suggested that the United States has limited window of opportunity to make a deal with Iran before an expected win by a hardliner candidate in Iran, which presumably can make an agreement harder.
Blinken also said, “We still have a long way to go if we’re going to get anywhere, and in particular, we still have to see whether Iran is willing and able to make the necessary decisions on its part for returning to compliance. And I think as one of my colleagues said the other day, there is more road yet to go than road that’s been traveled, so let’s see where we get.”
Iran Has Enriched Uranium To Up To 63% Purity, IAEA Says
VIENNA, May 11 (Reuters) - "Fluctuations" at Iran's Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.
Iran's move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade. Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
"According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels... were experienced," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the confidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
"The agency's analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran)," it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
Tuesday's report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5%.
Iran Spokesman Says Talks In Vienna And With Saudi Arabia Are Going Well
President Hassan Rouhani’s spokesman Tuesday told reporters that Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna and negotiations with Saudi Arabia are progressing well and called for national unity at a sensitive time for the country’s diplomacy.
Referring to talks with Riyadh Ali Rabiei said Iran is hopeful that “fake issues” can be resolved in Iran’s regional relations and tensions reduced.
Asked about reaching an agreement in Vienna before May 24 when a temporary Inspection agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog ends, Rabiei expressed hope that all parties would do their best to reach conclude a deal in time.
The government spokesman however reiterated that all decisions and policymaking in this regard are the prerogative of “higher authorities.” This is a clear reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has the final say in all important policy matters.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a leaked audio recording published by Iran International on April 25, said that the military has hijacked Iran’s foreign policy and the foreign ministry has no input in policy making.
Rabiei said that there are some positive signs in talks with “regional countries”, but there is still work to be done to make sure that appropriate condition are created for stability and peace.
Iran's Guards Blame US Navy For Warning Shots Incident In Persian Gulf
Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday accused a US Coast Guard ship of "provocation" after it fired warning shots against Iranian military boats that approached it in the Persian Gulf.
The Pentagon said on Monday the US Coast Guard ship Maui fired about 30 warning shots after 13 fast boats from the Revolutionary Guards' navy came close to it and other American Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
A Revolutionary Guards statement accused US naval ships of "unprofessional behavior such as flying helicopters, firing flares and aimless and provocative shooting".
"It would be better for the Americans to avoid unprofessional behavior and not to endanger the security of the Persian Gulf by obeying the rules and regulations of the sea," said the statement carried by Iranian media.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday the Iranian vessels had been acting "very aggressively". The Iranian speedboats approached within 100 meters of the American ships.
It was the second time within the last month that US military vessels have fired warning shots because of what they said was unsafe behavior by Iranian vessels in the region, after a relative lull in such interactions over the past year.
The latest incident comes as world powers and Iran seek to speed up efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord.
US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Reportedly Agreed To Pay Hamas For Intelligence On Israeli Missiles
Israel’s Channel 12 reported Monday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to provide $30 million financial support monthly to the Palestinian Hamas in return for information on Israel’s missile capabilities and its missile locations.
The report says the agreement was reached in a meeting two weeks ago between nine senior members of the militant group and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Reports in the past put Iran’s financial support for Hamas at $70 million annually, but increasing the support to $30 million a month is unprecedented.
Iran is currently under tough US sanctions and its foreign currency reserves have evaporated. It faces serious economic problems, with very high inflation impoverishing nearly 60 percent of its population.
The US is currently negotiating to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, and lift most the sanctions the previous administration had imposed. Critics say that lifting sanctions will enable Iran to boost its financial support for militant groups across the region.
Iran has been supporting Hamas and other militant groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, in what it calls support for the “resistance front” against Israel. The leaders of the Islamic Republic have called for the annihilation of Israel in the past and threats to destroy the Jewish sate continue periodically by Iran’s hardliners and military leaders.
US Lawmakers Ask DOJ Why Company Violating Iran Sanctions Is Not Prosecuted
A group of 18 US lawmakers have written to US Attorney General Merrick Garland to inquire why the Justice Department did not prosecute a multinational German software company that illegally did business with clients in Iran for several years.
SAP SE is the largest non-American software company by revenue, the world's third largest publicly-traded software company by revenue, and the largest German company by market capitalization. It also offers cloud services worldwide.
The justice department announced on April 29 that SAP admitted to thousands of illegal exports of it s software products to Iran and entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the US government. It agreed to pay combined penalties of more than $8 million as part of a global resolution with the US Departments of Justice (DOJ), Commerce and Treasury.
The lawmakers in their letter ask DOJ, “If you had ample evidence that SAP violated U.S. sanctions, why did you choose to pursue a Non-Prosecution agreement rather than punitive action?”
The signatories also ask DOJ if it would conduct an investigation to see what US technologies ended up in the hands of the Iranian government and its extraterritorial military and intelligence arm, the Qods (Quds) Force.
The Biden administration is in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by former president Donald Trump. If an agreement is reached it would presuppose lifting significant sanctions imposed by the Trump team. But many critics of the Biden effort to reaqch a deal with Iran say that the Administration even now is not rigorously enforcing existing sanctions.
US Navy Ship Fires 30 Warning Shots After Encounter With Iranian Vessels
A US Coast Guard ship fired about 30 warning shots after 13 vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) came close to it and other American Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the warning shots were fired after the Iranian fast boats came as close as 150 yards (450 feet) of six US military vessels that were escorting the guided-missile submarine Georgia.
"It's significant... and they were acting very aggressively," he said, adding that the number of Iranian vessels was more than in the recent past.
The US coast guard cutter fired the warning shots from a .50 caliber machine gun before the Iranian vessels left, Kirby said.
The US Navy announced on April 27 that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard speedboats and a warship had engaged in dangerous maneuvers around US Navy vessels in the southern Persian Gulf earlier in April, the first such incident in at least a year.
That incident happened four days before Iran was set to start talks in Vienna with the participating countries of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, or the 2015 nuclear deal. In addition, indirect talks were scheduled between Iran and the United States in the same venue.
Reporting by Reuters
EU's Borrell Says Iran Nuclear Talks Moving To Crucial Stage
BRUSSELS, May 10 (Reuters) - Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.
U.S. officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.
"I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.
"But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna," he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.
"However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons," Maas said in Brussels.
Afghan Lawmaker Accuses Iran Of Role In Bloody School Bombing
Remarks by a member of Afghanistan’s parliament Monday accusing Iran of a behind the scenes role in a school bombing on May 8 led to disruptions in the legislature.
Shahpur Hassanzoy representing Logar province told a session of parliament that Iran had a direct role in the bombing and said, “Iran’s spies are present in Afghanistan’s parliament and defend Iran’s actions”.
The bombing of a girl’s school in a Shiite area in Kabul has killed 85 people, Afghan officials told CNN on Monday.
Hassanzoy, who belongs to the Sunni Pashtun ethnic group, did not present any proof for his accusations, but his remarks led to protests by some other members of parliament. A member of parliament from the Shiite community called Hassanzoy’s remarks pouring “salt on the wound”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has condemned the terror attack and blamed the Islamic State group for the violence. The Afghan government has blamed on the Taliban. The religious armed insurgents have attacked many schools before, but they have denied any role in the latest incident.
Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has condemned the attack in the strongest terms, saying, “Groups of people belonging to darkness and ignorance try to keep our children away from science and progress with such attacks.”
German FM Minister Says Time Is Of Essence In Nuclear Talks With Iran
Time is of the essence in the Vienna negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday, adding talks were lengthy but conducted in a good atmosphere.
US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and imposed crippling oil export sanctions, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
“The negotiations are tough and laborious but all participants are conducting the talks in a constructive atmosphere,” Maas said on the margins of a meeting with his European Union counterparts in Brussels.
One of the main issues is which sanctions the United States will lift in exchange for Iran returning to its obligations in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Iran has been breaking its obligations step-by-step demanding the US lift sanctions.
“However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” he added.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran might agree to extend a temporary agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, due to expire May 21, over inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear facilities. Khatibzadeh said this could be done if talks with world powers in Vienna were on “the right path.”
Reporting by Reuters