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Tuesday’s Iran Mini Report – January 15, 2019

Tuesday's Iran Mini Report - January 15, 2019

• Iranian Satellite Launch Ends in Failure
The New York Times: Iranian officials said on Tuesday that a satellite launch that had been condemned by the Trump administration failed when the carrier rocket could not reach orbit Iran’s minister of telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said in a Twitter post. He said the rocket, a Safir, long used for satellite launches, had failed in the final stage, falling short of placing its payload into the correct orbit. He did not offer any explanation.

• No More Waivers for Buyers of Iran’s Oil, Says U.S. Envoy
Bloomberg: The U.S. plans to grant no new waivers to buyers of Iranian oil as it intensifies efforts to eliminate the Middle Eastern producer’s exports of crude, a senior official said. U.S. sanctions have so far cut Iran’s exports to about 1 million barrels a day from a level of 2.7 million before Washington announced sanctions on the country. Of the eight buyers that secured initial U.S. waivers to buy oil from Iran, only five are still doing so, Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said in an interview.
• S. Korea Imports No Iran Oil in Dec; 2018 Imports Fall 60 Pct
Reuters: South Korea imported no Iranian oil for a fourth month in December following the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, cutting its 2018 imports from the major supplier by 60 percent, preliminary customs data showed on Tuesday. The world’s fifth-largest crude importer won a six-month sanctions waiver from Washington in November, allowing it to purchase a limited amount of oil from Iran, but has been working to overcome payment and insurance issues.
• Bolton Endorses Report Accusing Iran of Hiding Nuclear Facilities
Washington Times: National Security Adviser John Bolton retweeted, with apparent approving comment, a report that accused Iran of fudging its reports to nuclear-disarmament watchdogs. Specifically, the report published by the Institute for Science and International Security accused Iran, based on satellite imagery and documents seized last year by Israeli intelligence, of not-identifying a former nuclear weapons site under Project 110 of the Amad Plan.
• Jailed British-Iranian Aid Worker Begins Hunger Strike
Reuters: A British-Iranian aid worker who has been jailed in Tehran is going on hunger strike in protest at her treatment, her employer and her husband said. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter after a family visit.
• Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Was Told To Spy for Iran, Says Husband
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman held by Tehran, started a hunger strike after her interrogators tried to persuade her to become a spy, her husband has claimed. Richard Ratcliffe revealed his wife was calm as she began an initial three-day hunger strike in protest at the Iranian prison authorities’ refusal to give her a clear written undertaking that she would receive medical help for a lump on her breast, as well as other concerns.
• Wife of US Scholar Imprisoned in Iran Speaks Out: ‘His Only Crime is He’s American’
Fox News: Three years ago, American Ph.D. candidate Xiyue Wang left for what he thought would be a quick trip to Tehran to research 19th-century Central Asian politics, with his wife and 2-year-old son waiting behind at Princeton. Instead, he was arrested by Iranian police and became what many consider to be the latest pawn in the Iran regime’s decades-long history of American hostage-taking. Wang is now one of at least four known Americans held prisoner in Iran, all accused of spying. Xiyue Wang’s wife spoke out on his conditions in a sit-down interview with Fox News – and rejected the regime’s allegations.
• Senior US Official Vows to Counter Iran on Lebanon Visit
Associated Press: The U.S. will step up efforts to counter Iran’s “dangerous activities” around the region including the financing and activities of proxy organizations such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a senior U.S. official said Monday. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale spoke following talks he held with Lebanese politicians at the end of an official visit. It comes amid a domestic political crisis over an ongoing government vacuum and tensions along the southern border, with the discovery of what Israel says are cross-border tunnels dug by the Hezbollah group for attacks on Israel.
• Rubio Slams NY Times for ‘Absurd Criticism’ Of Bolton Over Iran
The Hill: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed The New York Times on Monday for what he called its “absurd criticism” of John Bolton after the paper warned the national security adviser could “precipitate a conflict with Iran.” “This is an absurd criticism of Amb. Bolton,” Rubio wrote his more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. “Shia militias in #Iraq are proxies of & controlled by #Iran,” he added. “They want to use them to kill our troops but have deniability. Any attack by Shia militias against U.S. should be treated as an attack from Iran.”
• Planning For Military Strikes on Iran Is Actually the Responsible Thing to Do
Washington Examiner: The Wall Street Journal has a bombshell report revealing that President Trump’s national security team sought options from the Pentagon for striking Iran. Daniel Drezner, a Tufts professor and Washington Post columnist, responded to the reports by calling national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “batshit insane,” his unfortunately common response to those who disagree with him.

• White House Sought Options to Strike Iran
The Wall Street Journal President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said. The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells-launched by a group aligned with Iran-landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

• Iran Says It Is Taking Initial Steps to Design Reactor Fuel
Reuters: Iran is taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent for reactors instead of having to copy foreign designs, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Sunday. Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade. Iran is, however, allowed to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories to the deal.
• U.S. Not Looking To Grant Further Iran Oil Sales Waivers: U.S. Official
Reuters: The United States is not looking to grant more waivers for Iranian oil imports after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, the U.S. special representative for Iran said on Saturday, underlining Washington’s push to choke off Tehran’s income. “We are not looking to grant any waivers or exemptions to the import of Iranian crude,” Brian Hook told an industry conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.
• Joe Lieberman: Asking Pentagon for Strike Options Against Iran ‘Very Reasonable And Rational Thing’ To Do
CNS News: National Security Advisor John Bolton has not commented on the claims, but speaking in defense of the reported request on Sunday was Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic senator who chairs the bipartisan lobby group, United Against a Nuclear Iran. In an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Lieberman said asking the Pentagon for options would be “a very reasonable and rational thing for John Bolton to do.” “Think about it: Iranian-backed militias, extremists, fired mortars in the vicinity of our embassy in Baghdad and our consulate in Basra, Iraq,” he said. “That’s a sort of declaration of war,” Lieberman said. “But let’s not go that far. It was a hostile act. And if you let a country like Iran get away with it, they’ll do it again. And next time, they will hit our embassy or our consulate.”

• Nuclear Chief Says Iran Exploring New Uranium Enrichment
Associated Press: The head of Iran’s nuclear program said Sunday that the Islamic Republic has begun “preliminary activities for designing” a modern process for 20-percent uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signalling new danger for the nuclear deal. Restarting enrichment at that level would mean Iran had withdrawn the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that President Donald Trump already pulled America out of in May.
• India’s Iranian Oil Imports Slide in December Under U.S. Pressure
Reuters: India’s oil imports from Iran fell by 41 percent in December to 302,000 barrels per day oil (bpd), ship tracking data reviewed by Reuters showed, as pressure from U.S. sanctions took effect. The United States introduced tough sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s oil revenue-dependent economy in November but gave a six-month waiver to eight nations, including India, which allowed them to import some Iranian oil.

• United States Determined To Drive Iran’s Oil Exports Down To Zero
Atlantic Council: The United States is determined to drive Iran’s oil exports down to zero in its effort to maximize economic pressure and force Tehran back to the negotiating table to discuss a “comprehensive deal” in place of the nuclear agreement US President Donald J. Trump abandoned last year, Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran and senior policy advisor to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said at the Atlantic Council’s 2019 Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi on January 12.
• Iran Is Preparing A Launch. but Is It For A Space Rocket Or A Missile?
NPR: About once a day, little satellites zip over northern Iran and snap a few pictures of the Imam Khomeini Space Center. The satellites, operated by a company in San Francisco called Planet, haven’t recorded much – until recently. “We’re seeing all kinds of activity,” says Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who is analysing the images as they come in. In recent days, he’s noticed cars and trucks moving around the site.
• British-Iranian Woman’s Health Deteriorates In Iran Prison
Associated Press: The head of the Thomson Reuters Foundation said Monday she’s “sincerely worried” about a detained British-Iranian national going on hunger strike to protest her treatment in the Islamic Republic. Monique Villa said in a statement that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “health is already at its poorest” and that she hasn’t received access to serious medical care after discovering lumps in her breasts. “This is slow and cruel torture, yet one more injustice inflicted upon her,” Villa said.
• Family Of Navy Veteran Held In Iran Says He Had Valid Visa And Is No Spy
New York Times: The family of Michael R. White, a Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran half a year ago, said Friday that he had travelled there with a valid visa to visit a female friend, rejecting any suggestion that he might have been engaged in espionage. “We want to be very clear – Michael spent much of his time in the Navy as a cook and recently worked as a commercial janitor – he is not now, nor has he ever been a spy,” the family said in a statement.
• No US Assistance on Syria Reconstruction Until Iran Is Out: Top US Diplomat
CNBC: Top U.S. diplomats are stridently pledging the Trump administration’s determination to drive Iran out of Syria, even as it prepares to withdraw its military presence. Doubling down on the Trump’s administration’s anti-Iran message, the senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Brian Hook, vowed no U.S. reconstruction assistance to the war-torn country until Iranian forces and its proxies are completely driven out.
• Brian Hook: We Won’t Permit Iran to Lebanonize Yemen
Al Arabiya: United States Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al Arabiya English that Washington “would save no effort to prevent Iran from Lebanonizing Yemen”. He added in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English that US is committed to the efforts led by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and that they have called to an urgent end to the fighting in Yemen.
• Pompeo Urges Gulf States to Resolve Dispute, Unite Against Iran |
The Wall Street Journal: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reinforced support for the U.S. relationship with Qatar on Sunday while promising to renew attempts to resolve a standoff between the tiny Gulf nation and its rivals led by Saudi Arabia that has complicated the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate Iran. During a visit to Doha as a part of a nine-country Middle East tour, Mr. Pompeo signed a memorandum of understanding with his Qatari counterpart on expanding Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East with some 13,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.