◢ Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo sought Wednesday to bolster a united front against Iran during a Middle East tour that will include talks with key ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Israeli elections. The US secretary of state kicked off his regional tour in Kuwait where he met Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Israel and Lebanon.
◢ The United States is extending a waiver to let energy-hungry Iraq keep buying power from Iran, despite Washington's campaign of sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran, an official said. "While this waiver is intended to help Iraq mitigate energy shortages, we continue to discuss our Iran-related sanctions with our partners in Iraq," a State Department official said.
◢ Iran's Mahan Air has been forced to cancel its Paris flights over "sanctions", its customer services team said Tuesday weeks after Germany banned the airline. "We have been told that (flights to France) have been cancelled... as of the first of April," an operator at the airline's office in Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport told AFP.
◢ Iran isn’t facing a Venezuela-style collapse, but renewed U.S. sanctions have slashed oil revenue, battered the rial and pushed prices beyond the reach of many. Shortages, in meat, medicine, even gasoline in some regions, are spreading; proof, say hardline conservatives, that President Hassan Rouhani’s engagement with the West has failed.
◢ Tehran is preparing a lawsuit in Iran against US individuals involved with economic sanctions imposed by Washington, President Hassan Rouhani said Monday. Rouhani said the presidency's legal affairs office as well as the justice and foreign ministers have been tasked with "drawing up a lawsuit against all those within America involved with designing and executing these sanctions.”
◢ US officials said the global oil market can withstand the removal of all Iranian crude exports this year, a conclusion that could be pivotal in the coming weeks as President Donald Trump weighs whether to end sanctions waivers granted to several nations. The message from American officials comes as OPEC and its allies prepare for a ministerial meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.
◢ Uncertainty over U.S. waivers for buyers of Iranian oil is starting to grip the market again, under very different circumstances than when American sanctions were set to go into effect last year. The Trump administration, for its part, says the aim is still to completely halt Iran’s oil shipments as it seeks to increase economic pressure on Tehran.
◢ Iran's Hassan Rouhani met Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq's Najaf on Wednesday, an AFP photographer reported, in the first encounter between an Iranian president and the country's chief Shiite cleric. Sistani famously called Iraqis to arms against the Islamic State group in 2014, giving rise to the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance, which includes Iran-backed Shiite groups.
◢ In the contest for Iraq’s loyalty, geography is proving irresistible. Baghdad is being urged to take sides in the U.S.-Iran confrontation that’s escalated into one of the Middle East’s top flash-points. President Donald Trump is pushing Iraq to stop buying natural gas and electricity from its neighbor. President Hassan Rouhani wants it to purchase more to ease the pain imposed by American sanctions.
◢ The commander of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, a key figure in the battle against the Islamic State group, has received Iran's highest military award, the country's supreme leader announced Monday.
◢ Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrived Monday in Iraq for his first official visit, as Baghdad comes under pressure from Washington to limit political and trade ties with its neighbor. Shiite-majority Iraq is walking a fine line to maintain good relations with its key partners Iran and the United States who themselves are arch-foes.
◢ Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has demanded Pakistan act "decisively against anti-Iranian terrorists" in a phone call with the country's premier, Tehran said, a month after a bloody attack on security forces. Iran says a Pakistani suicide bomber was behind the February 13 attack that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards in its volatile southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
◢ The trial has started in an Iranian court for 13 petrochemical industry executives charged with embezzling EUR 6.6 billion USD 7.4 billion) in one of the nation’s biggest corruption cases, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
◢ International monitors reminded Saudi Arabia this week that it still has work to do before delving deeper into an ambitious nuclear program that could transform how the kingdom generates its energy. Focus on Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has risen in the last month after the U.S. Congress opened an investigation into the potentially illegal transfer of sensitive technologies to the kingdom.
◢ Iran hopes to have its part of a new payments vehicle—devised to bypass US sanctions—ready within a fortnight, its Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on Wednesday. "We hope it will be before the end of the Iranian calendar year," Araghchi told reporters in Vienna, referring to March 20 when the Iranian year ends.
◢ Iran and France are set to exchange ambassadors, officials said on Wednesday, after months of tensions including over an alleged Iranian plot to bomb an opposition rally near Paris. Bahram Ghasemi, a former envoy to Spain and Italy and current spokesman of the foreign ministry, has been appointed as Iran's new ambassador to France, an official source in Tehran told AFP.
◢ The world’s atomic watchdog said it’s ready to meet shortages of nuclear medicines in Iran created by the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, as top diplomats gather to salvage a 2015 deal with Tehran. The Islamic Republic has struggled to obtain some humanitarian goods as suppliers worry over contravening U.S. penalties, prompting Switzerland and the European Union to open new trade channels.
◢ The Netherlands has recalled its ambassador from Tehran in a dispute over an alleged Iranian plot to
assassinate regime opponents on Dutch soil, the Dutch foreign minister said Monday. Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the envoy was called back "for consultations" after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats in February in a row over the murders of two Iranian dissidents in 2015 and 2017.
◢ A state visit by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to Iran has resulted in an agreement between the two countries to cooperate on the potential transiting of Iranian gas through Armenia to Georgia. The possible export of Iranian gas to Georgia was first raised in 2016 with the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) making successive claims of a deal with both the Georgian state and an unnamed private sector company.
◢ Iran will merge five lenders linked with military institutions into state-run Bank Sepah amid a wider push by President Hassan Rouhani for the armed forces to divest from businesses. The entities being consolidated include Ansar Bank, Ghavamin Bank, Hekmat Iranian Bank, Mehr Eqtesad and the Kowsar financial credit institution, the Central Bank of Iran said in a report on its website Saturday.
◢ Sanctioned by the U.S., Iran has found a sweet way to use the cash it is accumulated from trading oil: Purchase sugar from India. The Government Trading Corporation of Iran will buy 150,000 tons of raw sugar from Indian mills for delivery in March-April, paying in rupees from escrow accounts held at UCO Bank.
◢ Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's resignation on Wednesday, the government's official website said. "I believe your resignation is against the country's interests and do not approve it," Rouhani wrote in a letter to Zarif, the website said.
◢ Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who led his country’s nuclear negotiations with world powers, signaled that his surprise decision to resign was because he was undermined in his role. About 150 Iranian lawmakers, or a third of the chamber, signed a letter addressed to the president petitioning to keep Zarif in his role, state-run media reported.
◢ Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was the lead negotiator in the 2015 nuclear deal, announced his resignation on Instagram on Monday, which can only take effect once President Hassan Rouhani accepts it. "I apologize for my inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my term in office," Zarif said in a message posted on his verified Instagram account.
◢ German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came under fire for a congratulatory telegram sent to Iran for the Islamic revolution's 40th anniversary, with a Jewish leader on Monday joining a chorus of criticism. At the government's weekly briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said there had been a "misunderstanding.”
◢ Iran President Hassan Rouhani on Monday brushed off attacks against his telecom minister over charges of failing to create a "safe environment" in social media and leaving Iranian data vulnerable to espionage, state television reported. According to the judiciary, 2,000 people in the southwestern city of Ahvaz and the general prosecutor's office have lodged a complaint against the minister, Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi.
◢ A pawn in a game of international chess, Jason Rezaian, the Tehran correspondent for The Washington Post, spent 544 days in an Iranian prison. Rezaian, 42, who was born and raised in California, recounts his 18-month ordeal in a memoir, "Prisoner," which came out at the end of January.
◢ Iran has been adhering to a deal with world powers governing its nuclear program, the UN atomic watchdog said Friday, as diplomatic wrangling continues over the future of the accord. The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was still complying with the restrictions to its nuclear activities under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
◢ The trial of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's brother, who was arrested two years ago on charges of financial violations, opened Tuesday in Tehran, the judiciary's news website Mizan Online reported. Hossein Fereydoun, a key adviser to Rouhani, was arrested in July 2017 following long-running corruption allegations, with the judiciary saying at the time that he was the subject of "multiple investigations.”
◢ Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said Monday it has arrested three "terrorists" involved in last week's deadly suicide bomb attack on security forces in a region bordering Pakistan. "Safe houses in (the cities of) Saravan and Khash were identified and eliminated, and the terrorists based in them were arrested," the force said on its official Sepah news agency.
◢ Iran's foreign minister on Sunday launched a blistering attack on US Vice President Mike Pence, saying his allegations that Tehran was plotting a "new Holocaust" were "hateful" and "ignorant.” Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Munich Security Conference that Pence's demands for the EU to follow the US in abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal amounted to asking Europe to undermine its own security.