China lacks the technology to play a role in expanding Iran’s oil and gas industry, an energy expert and fossil fuels analyst in Iran told the Iranian Labour News Agency on Sunday.
Morteza Behruzifar was reacting to the 25-year strategic cooperation agreement signed between the Islamic Republic and China on March 27 that has led to strong reactions among the public as a sell-out of Iran’s national interests.
The analyst said that China in the oil industry technology “has nothing to show” and these the know-how in refining, petrochemicals and exploration “belongs to the United States and a few European countries.”
Behruzifar added that “China has one of the biggest shale gas reserves but is also one of the biggest importers of natural gas. If this country has the technology, it would at least provide for its domestic needs.”
The Islamic Republic has been under various Western and international sanctions for most of its 42-year history and has been unable to upgrade and modernize its oil industry. Production has fallen by one-third since the 1979 revolution that toppled the monarchy.
Referring to Russia as a large oil and gas producer, Behruzifar said that “none of Russian’s LNG projects depends on domestic or Chinese technologies. It is all Western.” He added, “The Eastern bloc is not dependable in the oil and gas sector.”
State Department Reportedly Looking Into Allegation Qatar Funded IRGC
The US State Department is looking into an allegation by Israel that Qatar has supplied funds to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), US-designated terror organization, Washington Examiner reported on Friday.
The report said that a State Department spokesman told the publication earlier this month about the ongoing investigation, stressing the important of US-Qatari relationship. US has an important military base in the small Persian Gulf Arab country, that has maintained good relations with Iran, despite serious concerns about Iran’s policies among its Arab neighbors, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Times of Israel had reported also says Israel’s outgoing president Reuven Rivlin shared intelligence with President Joe Biden about the alleged funding of IRGC by Qatar during their White House meeting last month. Contacted by the Washington Examiner, Israeli officials did not deny confirm or deny the story.
Allegations against Qatar that it has supported militant Islamist groups are nothing new. It has been accused of financing both the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Islamic State group.
A report by Stars and Stripes on July 1 said that ““the U.S. has closed sprawling bases in Qatar that once stored warehouses full of weaponry and transferred the remaining supplies to Jordan, in a move that analysts say positions Washington to deal better with Iran and reflects the military’s changing priorities in the region.”
Fears For Jailed Swedish-Iranian Scientist ‘Surge’ With Raisi Election
Fourteen organizations based in Europe and the United States have called on the European Union, European states and the US to “act immediately to secure the release” of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian disaster-medicine specialist who was sentenced to death in Iran in 2017 by a revolutionary court for ‘corruption on earth’ after charges he had supplied intelligence to Israel.
A statement issued by the organizations − including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the UK-based International Observatory of Human Rights, and the German Rectors’ Conference − July 21 said their fears for Djalali’s life had “surged” with Iran’s election as president of Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi), whom they described as a “hard-line judge who sentenced thousands of political dissidents to death.”
Raisi was Tehran’s deputy prosecutor in 1988 when 2,500-6,000 prisoners, mainly from the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an armed opposition group at the time allied to Saddam Hussein, were executed. In a test of universal jurisdiction, Sweden will soon put on trial in connection with the executions Hamid Nouri, allegedly an Iranian assistant prosecutor in 1988, who was arrested visiting Stockholm in 2019.
Djalali, who has held university posts in Belgium, Italy, and Sweden, was arrested in 2016 when visiting Iran for seminars. He was reportedly moved into solitary confinement in November 2020 in preparation for execution but was returned in April to a shared cell.
The statement suggested Djalali has been “denied access to appropriate medical care for numerous health complications…[including] leukemia, severe weight loss, chronic gastritis, low heart rate and hypotension, gallstones,” and several other serious health problems.
Iran's Guards Claim Seizure Of Arms And Ammunition
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) forces guarding the north-western border areas announced on Friday that they seized a load of weapons and ammunition from “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”.
The IRGC’s Hamzeh Seyyedolshohada Division operates in the Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces bordering Turkey and Iraq, where Kurdish insurgents are known to operate. IRGC occasionally claims seizure of weapons or clashes with “anti-revolutionary” forces in the area, usually meaning Kurdish armed groups.
The statement issued by the division did not provide any detail or say for which group the arms were intended for. In the past, reports about capturing “terrorists” or seizing weapons have usually been devoid of concrete information with no follow-up news of investigation or trials.
Observers have said that during real or expected unrest in the country IRGC tends to make similar claims to show potential danger to security and sovereignty of the country.
Since July 15 there have been intense protests in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province during which eight citizens and possibly two security personnel have been killed.
Such claims cannot be independently verified.
US Forces In Iraq Transitioning From Combat Role To Support
WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - The United States and Iraq are expected to formalize the end of Washington's combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year and continue the transition toward training and advising Iraqi forces, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State. The move is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.
But the announcement, set to come after President Joe Biden meets his Iraqi counterpart in Washington next week, will be at a politically delicate time for the Iraq government and could be seen as a victory domestically in Baghdad.
"The key point that you're going to hear conveyed and I think is just incredibly important, is that the Biden administration wants to stay in Iraq because the Iraqi government has invited us and requested that we continue to do so," a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
"The mission doesn't change ... how we support the Iraqi security forces in the defeat ISIS mission is what we're talking about," the official added.
The official said there would be a focus on logistics, maintenance of equipment and helping Iraqi forces further develop their intelligence and surveillance capabilities.
At home, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi faces increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups who perceive him as siding with the United States.
Alinejad Meets US Senators To Thank Them For Support
Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad who recently was a target of kidnapping by Iran’s government, met United States Senators on Wednesday to thank them for their support and warn against similar plots by Tehran.
Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement on Thursday saying, “It was an honor to meet Masih Alinejad” and added, “The Iranian regime’s attempt to kidnap her on U.S. soil in order to silence dissent proves just how far the regime is willing to go to spread its terror agenda.”
Alineajd, thanking Sen Risch said, “If we do not deter Tehran, if we do not impose consequences, then we are likely to face further such peril because flagrant disregard for international law is in the nature of the Islamic Republic.”
The US Justice Department announced on July 13 that four intelligence agents of the Iranian government were indicted in absentia for a months-long plot to kidnap Alinejad and take her to Iran, possibly via Venezuela.
Senator Bill Hagerty (R- Tennessee) also met Alinejad and tweeted that her "human rights work so terrifies the Iranian regime that Iranian operatives plotted to kidnap her, an American citizen, from the streets of New York. Masih and so many other brave Iranian activists deserve our full support."
The Islamic Republic has a long record of assassinations and kidnappings of critics and dissidents abroad.
Bipartisan Bill Proposed To Hold Iranian Leaders Accountable
Two US Representatives, Republican James French Hill and Democrat Al Lawson, Thursday reintroduced a bipartisan bill which will require the Department of Treasury to brief Congress on how the funds used by Iranian leaders are acquired and used.
"By combining publicly available information with U.S. intelligence that can be made public, the legislation can provide a valuable window into the corrupt business practices of Iran’s top kleptocrats and limit their financial holdings which are used to support and sponsor terrorism," a Congress press release said.
“The Ayatollahs, the Mullahs, and the Iranian military are all profiting at the expense of ordinary Iranian citizens and the Iranian people are rightfully calling for accountability. I stand with the Iranian people and this legislation will provide transparency into the corruption and illicit behavior of the leaders of Iran," said Hill while the democrat co-author of the bill, Al Lawson, stressed that it is vital that the United States holds Iran's leaders accountable.
The bill is entitled "Holding Iranian Leaders Accountable Act of 2021" and would make public the "funds obtained in an illegal or corrupt manner held by Iran’s authoritarian, theocratic regime," the press release said.
In an op-ed published by the Washington Examiner July 22, Hill said President Biden’s determination to return to the Iran nuclear deal is further undermining security in the greater region. "With the recent election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as president, I see little hope that the country will change course," he wrote.
Chinese Firm Takes Center Stage In Iran, Venezuela Oil Trade
A Chinese logistics firm has emerged as a central player in the supply of sanctioned oil from Iran and Venezuela, even after it was blacklisted by Washington two years ago for handling Iranian crude, seven sources with knowledge of the deals told Reuters.
The more prominent role of China Concord Petroleum Co, also known as CCPC, and its expansion into trading with Venezuela, have not previously been reported and highlight the limitations of Washington's system of restrictions, analysts say.
The details of the deals were described to Reuters by a range of individuals including one China-based source familiar with CCPC's operations, Iranian officials and a source at Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA.
Many refineries worldwide, including state-run players in China, stopped buying crude from Iran and Venezuela after the U.S. imposed sanctions, cutting millions of barrels per day from exports and billions of dollars from their income.
Dependent on oil revenues to run their countries, Tehran and Caracas have since engaged in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with Washington to keep exporting crude, employing numerous techniques to avoid detection, including ship-to-ship transfers, shell companies and middlemen who operate outside the U.S. financial sphere. read more
In the past year, CCPC has acquired at least 14 tankers to transport oil from Iran or Venezuela to China, two of the sources said.
Iran's oil ministry has declined to comment.
"China maintains normal, legitimate trades with Iran and Venezuela under the framework of international law that shall deserve respect and protection," a spokesman for China's foreign ministry said in response to questions about the role of Chinese companies in the trading of sanctioned oil.
"China strongly opposes unilateral sanctions and urges the United States to remove the 'long-arm jurisdiction' on companies and individuals."
Iranian officials familiar with the matter confirmed that CCPC was a central player in Tehran's oil trade with China.
China received a daily average of 557,000 barrels of Iranian crude between November and March, or roughly 5% of total imports by the world's biggest importer, according to Refinitiv Oil Research, returning to levels last seen before former U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018. read more
The US Treasury declined to comment when asked about CCPC’s critical role in facilitating oil trade from Iran and Venezuela, but said that the agency pursues actions on an ongoing basis.
The 14 tankers acquired by CCPC have a capacity of around 28 million barrels of oil. At least one other tanker is also linked to CCPC, boosting their capacity to some 30 million barrels, the two sources said.
Iran exported more than 600,000 bpd of crude in June, a Reuters survey showed. That compares with a high of 2.8 million bpd in 2018, before sanctions were imposed, but up from 300,000 bpd in 2020, according to assessments based on tanker tracking data.
Reporting by Reuters
Iran Launches Oil Terminal In Gulf Of Oman To Bypass Strait of Hormuz
DUBAI, July 22 (Reuters) - Iran has opened its first oil terminal in the Gulf of Oman, President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, to allow Iranian tankers to avoid using the strategically vulnerable Strait of Hormuz, which has been a focus of regional tension for decades.
"This is a strategic move and an important step for Iran. It will secure the continuation of our oil exports," Rouhani said in a televised speech. "This new crude export terminal shows the failure of Washington's sanctions on Iran."
Rouhani said Iran aimed to export 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Bandar-e Jask, a port on Iran’s Gulf of Oman coast, just south of the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has often threatened to block the Strait if its crude exports were shutdown by U.S. sanctions, reimposed by Washington three years ago when then president Donald Trump abandoned Tehran's nuclear deal with six major powers.
Tehran and U.S. President Joe Biden's administration have been in indirect talks in Vienna since early April to revive the deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.
"The implementation of the Goreh-Jask port crude oil transfer project took place with about $2 billion investment," Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said, according to the ministry's SHANA website.
The Strait is a narrow channel at the mouth of the Gulf through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes from Middle East producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
There have been periodic confrontations between Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and the U.S. military in the area.
Report: Rise In Iran Executions After Elections, Most Executions In 2021 Done Secretly
Iran Human Rights (IHR), a Norway-based non-profit with members inside and outside Iran, in its most recent report published Wednesday said that the number of executions in Iran has gone up sharply after the presidential elections of June 18.
According to IHR's report, 89 of 117 executions in Iran in the past six months had been carried out secretly, with no announcements by officials of media.
Of the 117 people executed, six were women and 111 men. "Executions were halted for nine days before the elections and resumed two days after,” the report said. “Iran Human Rights has previously warned of the correlation between political events such as the elections and a rise in the number of executions.”
According to IHR, 63 of the 117 death sentences were for murder, 40 for drug-related offenses, six for rape, six for moharebeh (armed rebellion), and two for baghy (enmity against God).
IHR, which opposes capital punishment, said in its report that the 40 drug-related executions in the past six months were significantly higher than the same period last year when seven were executed on similar charges.
IHR commissioned a survey in October – done by the Netherlands-registered Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN) – that found 44 percent of Iranians opposed the death penalty while 26 percent approved only in certain cases. Over 85 percent of the 24,000 surveyed, of whom 86 percent lived in Iran, opposed the death penalty for anyone under 18.
Earlier in 2020, GAMAAN conducted a survey that found only 32 percent of Iranians regarded themselves as Shia Muslims. Iran has the highest number of executions in the world after China.
Internet Slow Across Iran Amid South-West Water Protests
NetBlocks confirmed Wednesday evening that mobile internet connections in Iran had been disrupted from July 15 amid protests in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. The Twitter account of the United Kingdom-based Internet watchdog suggested the incident was ongoing.
Social media users had reported disruptions in their connections in Khuzestan since Thursday last week in many areas affected by protests over water shortages.
"[Regional] blocking of international data [gateways] is a new technic [sic] used by the Communications Infrastructure Company [of Iran],” London-based Iranian-British internet researcher, Nariman Gharib wrote in a tweet Thursday. “They reduce the speed in a region so much that [internet pages] cannot practically be accessed. Disruption mostly affects mobile Internet, not broadband.”
According to official figures published August, 94 percent of Iranians have access to mobile internet while only around 11 percent use broadband. Authorities often reduce connection quality and speed, mainly in mobile internet, to prevent the spreading of videos and photos of protests.
In November 2019, NetBlocks reported a major disruption of the Internet amid nationwide protests over an increase in fuel prices. On the first anniversary of the protests, NetBlocks reported a partial disruption in multiple networks, which it said corroborated user reports of issues accessing international services, including VPN services used to bypass blocking of content or specific sites.
Khamenei Reacts To Protests By Posting Old Remarks From 2016
One week after the start of protests in Khuzestan Province triggered by water shortages, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reacted by posting a statement he made more than four years ago on his Instagram page.
“Officials have a duty to deal with Khuzestan’s current problems, and if someone thinks about the people, he cannot stay indifferent toward the difficult problems of Khuzestan. It is the urgent, clear and constant duty of governments to think about the people,” the quote from 2016 said.
People in multiple cities and towns in Iran’s oil-rich province have come out every night since July 15 to protest water shortages and government mismanagement. The richest region of the country suffers from multiple environmental problems as well as lack of jobs and poverty.
Protesters have chanted slogans against Khamenei, and the Islamic Republic, while security forces have deployed troops from other regions to quell the unrest. So far, seven protesters and two security personnel have been killed.
Khamenei is seen by an increasing number of Iranians as the ultimate decision maker and the top man responsible for multiple crises facing the country. Inflation hovers above 50 percent while the Covid pandemic runs virtually unchecked in the country.