Wall Street Journal: Iran Uses Iraqi Waters to Transfer Oil And Evade Sanctions | Page 2 | Iran International

Wall Street Journal: Iran Uses Iraqi Waters to Transfer Oil And Evade Sanctions

Wall Street Journal cited American officials saying Iranian oil tankers are constantly using Iraqi waters to transfer their cargo to other tankers.

According to the report, Iranian oil tankers transfer their oil to other tankers near the al-Faw port.

Wall Street Journal added: During this transfer, Iranian oil is mixed with other cargo in order to hide the source and finally be sold in global markets.

According to the report, this operation is part of a very profitable business during which Iranian oil cargos are transferred several times to other ships and get mixed with other cargo and are finally sold as Iraqi oil, which is more expensive than Iranian oil.

The WSJ sources say satellite images show these activities are on the rise in response to the increased pressure of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The WSJ recently reported from informed sources that the Trump administration is designing more sanctions against Iran before the presidential election to solidify the Maximum Pressure Campaign and prevent the efforts to render it ineffective in the future.

A former official in the Trump administration says that if Biden comes to power, he might be able to remove some sanctions on Iran as a gesture of goodwill, but he won’t be able to remove the bigger sanctions related to terrorism.

Biden has said that if he becomes president, he would return the US to Iran nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance with its commitments.

Iran Imported 80 CT Scan Machines With World Bank Loan

Iran’s Deputy Minister of Health announced that the ministry has bought 80 CT Scan machines with the loan that it received from the World Bank. Kamel Taqavinejad said these machines have been imported and installed in Iranian hospitals during the past four months.

He did not reveal the amount of the loan, but last Summer Iranian media had reported that after 15 years, the World Bank has given a $50 million loan to Iran.

In February 2019, Iranian officials announced that Iran has requested a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There is still no report on the approval or disapproval of the IMF, but the United States had disapproved of the loan, and Iran has not received any loan from the IMF yet.

The United States explained its objection to the loan, saying the US believes these loans are never spent on the Iranian people: “Their background is clear, they will put this money in their own pocket, and also spend it on their proxy terrorist groups in the Middle East.

 In response, Iran accused the IMF of politicizing the matter, and President Rouhani accused the US of “financial terrorism and medical terrorism.”

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are two global financial institutions connected to the United Nations.

 

Saudi Minister Optimistic US Ties Will Be 'Excellent' Under Biden

DUBAI, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has voiced optimism that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be "excellent" under new U.S. President Joe Biden, Al-Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Thursday.

Appointments made by Biden show "understanding of the common issues" by the new U.S. administration, Prince Faisal bin Farhan added, according to Twitter posts by the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based TV channel.

"The Biden administration will find that our targets regarding Yemen are the same," Al-Arabiya quoted him as saying.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group after it seized the capital Sanaa.

Biden pledged during his election campaign to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies have long been allies of the United States, sharing the objective of protecting oil supplies from the Gulf region and containing Iran.

Rights Groups Say Kurdish Arrests Continue, 50 Detained In 11 Days

The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights on Thursday [January 21] reported that Iranian security forces had arrested more 50 Kurds in 11 days in various Iranian cities. Three had been released and 47 remained in custody.

On Tuesday, Hengaw reported that Intelligence Ministry agents had arrested at least eight people, including two women in the mainly Kurdish city of Bukan, West Azarbaijan Province, and seven others in other Kurdish cities in the same province, including Naghadeh (Naqadeh) and Piranshahr.

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), which has published the names of some of the detainees, said a wave of arrests of Kurdish activists in various cities including Tehran had begun on January 9. Security forces had carried out the arrests without warrants, KHRN reported, had used “strong verbal and physical violence,” and had confiscated detainees’ phones and laptops.

“Most of the detainees are civil, cultural, environmental and student activists and a number of them are ordinary citizens,” said Kaveh Kermanshahi, a KHRN official. “This approach of the regime is not new. [These arrests] had never stopped during recent years, to say they have started again. It’s just that occasionally they increase in number.”

Kermanshahi warned over possible psychological and physical torture of detainees, and urged rights organizations and activists to appeal to Iranian security forces and judiciary to release them immediately. The judiciary and intelligence bodies have not announced the arrests, nor any charges against those detained.  

Iran Government Managers Reported In Line For 50% Pay Rise

Government managers are in line for at least a 50 percent pay rise despite a huge budget deficit and the increasing hardship facing ordinary Iranians, the conservative Mehr news agency reported on Thursday. Quoting “an informed source,” Mehr suggested that new legislation would boost government monthly salaries above 250 million rials to 600 million, or just under $3,000 monthly based on current market exchange rates.

Most wage earners in both the public and private sectors currently receive 25-35 million rials monthly.

In 2015, the salaries for senior managers were limited by law to 200 million, equivalent at that time to around $7,000 a month. Since then, the Iranian currency has lost its value sevenfold and most senior bureaucrats and managers of state companies officially make less than $2,000.

The salary of ordinary workers has not kept pace with three consecutive years of inflation above 30 percent and the ensuing hardship is a potential source of unrest. The government has run budget deficits since United States sanctions after 2018 substantially reduced Iran’s oil exports, which traditionally financed at least half of the budget. The government has resorted to expanding the money supply, fueling more inflation.

Comparatively high salaries for government managers have been a bone of contention in the past five years, highlighted by both politicians and the media. Iran has a large state bureaucracy due to public ownership of major companies and banks.

Korean Official Says Biden May Help Free Korean Tanker Held In Iran

A senior South Korean official on Thursday [January 21] said the country expected the new United States administration of President Joe Biden help resolve the issue of Iran’s seizure of a Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf on January 4. “We believe that there will come a situation in which we can find a swift resolution of the issue regarding the seized vessel,” said the official, quoted anonymously by Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

Tehran denied any connection between the impounded vessel and $7 billion of Iranian funds frozen in Korea due to fear of US secondary sanctions. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Navy on January 4 said the ship had been detained after “repeated violations of environmental protocols” at sea. The IRGC reported the MT Hankuk Chemi, carrying “oil-chemical products,” and its 20 crew were held at Bandar Abbas on Iran’s southern coast.

The expectation in Seoul appears to be that the Biden administration will ease sanctions.

“The frozen asset issue is not because of a lack of our will, but of the structural factor vis-a-vis the U.S. sanctions environment,” the South Korean official said, responding to a suggestion from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi that a “lack of political will” rather than US sanctions explained Korea’s freeze on Iranian funds.

Araghchi met Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Tehran on January 10, but the ministers failed to agree a solution.  Negotiations continue, with Korea reportedly trying to involve Qatar. Tehran has pressed for the funds’ release to finance humanitarian imports related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Food Prices In Iran Rose By 60 Percent Last Month Amid High Inflation

The high rate of inflation continued in Iran in December-January, with food prices rising 60 percent compared with the same period last year, Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) reported on Thursday.

The SCI reported that during the Iranian month of Day (December 21-January 20), overall inflation was 46.2 percent compared with the same period last year, but food prices accelerated much faster, putting even more pressure on ordinary people.

Iran’s relatively manageable inflation took off in 2018 when the United States imposed tough sanctions after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The currency rial began to lose value and its fall continued in 2019 and 2020. At one point in August 2020 the rial had lost its value more than tenfold.

However, the reason for such a steep rise in food prices remains unclear. The government supplies dollars to importers of essential goods at a much lower rate, similar to pre-sanctions days, and government prices for electricity and fuel have not changed much. There have been serious accusations of corruption and profiteering for rising food prices.

In 2019, bloody nationwide protests erupted when the government raised gasoline prices. The high rate of inflation remains a constant political threat to the government. SCI reported that the average rate of inflation excluding food prices was 40 percent. SCI reported in October that certain foodstuffs experienced triple-digit inflation.

The purchasing power of workers has fallen drastically with the high rate of inflation. An ordinary wage earner or office worker earns between $100-150 a month, while in 2017 salaries were equal to at least $400 a month.

Biden Intends To Lengthen & Strengthen Nuclear Constraints On Iran: White House

In her first press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said President Joe Biden intends to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues of concern regarding Iran with world leaders and US allies.

According to Psaki, the Biden administration intends to lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran through diplomacy, and Biden will discuss the matter with other countries involved.

"The president has made clear that he believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the United States seeks to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed," Psaki said in the press conference.

Biden said during his campaign that if Tehran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington will also return to the deal.

"We would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts and foreign leaders will be with partners and allies and you would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussions,” Psaki added.

President Trump unilaterally exited the nuclear deal in 2017, calling it the worst deal that the United States has made. Since then, he implemented the 'maximum pressure' policy, by imposing harsh sanctions on Iran’s main industries and exports. In response, Iran has increased its uranium enrichment speed.

Biden To Appoint Robert Malley As Special Representative For Iran

It was reported that President Biden intends to appoint Robert Malley, former Obama administration’s national security advisor on the Middle East as the new US Special Representative for Iran. Malley, born in Egypt, is the son of a Jewish Syrian citizen.

In November of last year, Malley had criticized the assassination of IRGC’s nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and said the attack would make returning to diplomacy with Iran difficult for Trump’s successor.

Robert Malley also in 2019 met with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

In 2008, Malley was removed from President Obama’s election campaign after reports of his meeting with members of Hamas surfaced, but later in 2014 he was appointed as President Obama’s senior advisor on Middle East affairs.

In the last year of Obama’s administration, Malley was the coordinator on the affairs regarding the ISIS terrorist group.

Robert Malley will replace Elliott Abrams, who last year replaced Brian Hook. Brin Hook was in charge of President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign for the majority of its implementation.

The maximum pressure campaign was implemented by the Trump administration to coerce the Islamic Republic of Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal. The campaign consisted of imposing heavy sanctions on Iran’s oil and metal and mineral industries which crippled Iran’s economy.

Iran Symbolically Sanctions Trump And Ten American Officials

Hours before the end of the Trump administration’s term in office, the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran said it is sanctioning President Donald Trump and several officials in his administration and the previous administration.

The spokesman for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Tuesday, January 19 that the ministry has sanctioned 10 high-ranking US officials including the current president in accordance with the “Opposing US human rights violation and its adventurous activities including terrorism in the region” bill which was recently passed by the parliament.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper and Christopher Miller, Former Secretary and the current acting Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Director of Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel, Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, former and current US State Department representatives on Iran Brian Hook and Elliott Abrams, and the director of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Andrea Gacki, are among the sanctioned officials, according to Khatibzadeh.

The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry says these individuals have been sanctioned due to their role in “ordering and guiding” the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Previously the Foreign Ministry had announced that it has delivered the request for the arrest of Donald Trump to Interpol.

Explosions Near Baghdad Result Of 'ISIS Attack', Not US Airstrikes

While pro-Iran media claimed the explosions near power transmission towers in Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad were caused by US airstrikes, a source close to the Iraqi Armed Forces has confirmed that the incident was an ISIS attack on power infrastructure, not a US airstrike.

Security Media Cell, a Twitter account said to be close to Iraq's military in a tweet on Tuesday morning denied reports that people had been killed or wounded in airstrikes in the Jurf al-Sakhar area in Babil. Some local media had earlier reported at least nine casualties.

In another tweet the Security Media Cell also announced that the explosion was a result of ISIS militants' attack on electric power transmission towers in the Behbehani area, north of Babel Governorate, not airstrikes.

On Monday night, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news reported that explosions were heard near Jurf al-Sakhar overnight after drones targeted sites belonging to the Iraqi Armed Forces in the area. Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, however, claimed that the sites belonged to the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and reported several deaths and injuries.

The US Central Command Spokesman Captain Bill Urban in a tweet on Tuesday refuted the claims about US involvement in the attacks. “Explosions reported earlier today about 40 miles outside of Baghdad, Iraq, in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, were not the result of US military action,” Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesman," he said.

Iran's Currency Continues Edging Up Ahead Of Biden Inauguration

The Iranian foreign-exchange (Forex) market opened with another hike in the value of the rial on Tuesday [January 19] in expectation of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday and Washington’s possible return to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.

The Melli Exchange Company (MEX), which leads Forex rates in Iran, dropped its opening dollar sale rate by 9,000 rials to 21,290. On Monday the MEX opened with a dollar selling price of 22,200 rials.

The falling Iranian national currency on October 1 reached the milestone of 300,000 rials to the dollar, a ten-fold fall in the three years since Trump indicated that he would withdraw from the nuclear agreement and impose sanctions on Iran. Draconian third-party sanctions on Iran’s oil exports have deprived the government of its major foreign-currency revenue source.

Forex experts, however, believe that the market may become favorable to the national currency for a while, but the upward trend may be reversed soon. "Further drop in the rate of the dollar could not be expected if more than 800 cases of sanctions are not lifted," Tala News, an economic and financial website, wrote on Monday. "The market will again be waiting for the news after an initial downward trend [following the end of Trump's presidency]," the article said.

The rial traded at a stable rate of just 70 to the dollar in the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution, but it began a steady fall that has continued since 1979. Compared to pre-revolution era, the rial has lost its value 3,000-fold.  

 

Iran Conducts More Military Drills One Day Before Biden Inauguration

Iran’s military has launched ground forces drills on Tuesday [Jan. 19] along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, following naval exercises last week as the new US administration is set to assume power.

State TV reported that commando units and airborne infantry were participating in the annual drills, along with warplanes, helicopters and military transport planes. Claims made by Iran’s military cannot be verified since no independent journalists had access to information.

Iran’s frequent military drills lately are seen as an attempt to pressure President-elect Joe Biden over the 2015 nuclear deal that Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 and imposed sanctions. Biden has said he intends to return to the agreement but Tehran under tremendous economic pressure wants a quick reprieve.

“The general goal of this drill is to assess the offensive and penetrative power of the ground forces against the enemy from air, ground and sea,” said Kiomars Heidari, chief of ground forces as saying.

On Saturday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard conducted a drill, launching anti-warship ballistic missiles at a simulated target at a distance of some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) in the Indian Ocean, a day after the Guard’s aerospace division launched surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones against “hypothetical enemy bases” in the country’s vast central desert.

Iran is also ratchetting up its nuclear pressure on the West by increasing uranium enrichment to 20 percent, cutting the time needed to achieve the degree of purity needed for nuclear weapons.

Spokesman Warns Of More Power Outages As Cold Front Approaches Iran

In the coming days Iran will face more problems in supplying electricity to residential and industrial customers due to an approaching cold front that will increase consumption, the spokesman of the state electricity network said Tuesday.

Mostafa Rajabi-Mashhadi told ILNA news website that citizens must do their utmost to reduce gas and electricity consumption.

In recent weeks unexpected and widespread power outages have hit major Iranian cities amid the winter cold, prompting controversy over who is responsible. At the same time heavy smog enveloped cities as reports emerged of power plants burning dirty fuel because of a shortage in natural gas supplies. The fuel called Mazut is rarely used in any country due to its dangerous polluting impact.

Many have also blamed cryptocurrency ‘mining farms’ that use a lot of electricity for creating the crunch amid the high-consumption winter season. Cryptocurrency mining depends on large computer farms that solve complex problems and record data in exchange for earning bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. 

Officials have repeatedly promised to inform the public of impending power cuts, but that has not happened and consumers are angry over the unscheduled power outages. Some have even speculated that electricity cuts can be the result of hacker attacks on the network.