News Digest: Week of December 14

December 14

Diplomacy/Nuclear Program: President Hassan Rouhani said that the United States must return to the 2015 nuclear deal without preconditions. “Joe Biden has stated that he would like to return to the nuclear deal, but this time they are looking for a stronger agreement that would include the missile program and Iran’s regional influence,” he said. Rouhani added that Iran’s missile program and regional policy were non-negotiable.

Oil: Iran used a disguised tanker to help Venezuela export its oil, Reuters reported. The Liberian-flagged Calliop disguised itself as a vessel named Ndros that was scrapped in 2018. The tanker loaded 1.9 million barrels of heavy crude oil from Venezuela for shipment to Asia. 

Sanctions: The Treasury Department sanctioned two Iranians allegedly involved in the disappearance of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. Levinson was abducted on Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007. Thirteen years later, in March 2020, Levinson’s wife and children said that they believed he had died in Iranian custody, based on information provided by U.S. officials. Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, senior Ministry of Intelligence and Security officials, “were involved in the abduction, detention, and probable death of Mr. Levinson,” Secretary Pompeo said.


December 15

Elections: Iran's parliament banned dual nationals, U.S. green card holders and foreign residents from running in presidential elections. The measures were targeted at Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who hardliners suspected held dual U.S. citizenship. Zarif has denied ever applying for green card.

Health: COVID-19 deaths in Tehran province had dropped significantly due to health protocols and lockdown measures, the provincial governor said. “Although we have not reached stable circumstances, the disease is being better managed compared to last month,” Governor Anoushiravan Mohseni-Bandpey said. He warned that easing restrictions prematurely could trigger a new rise in infections.

Sanctions: The State Department designated Saraya al Mukhtar, a Bahrain-based militia with ties to Iran, as a terrorist organization. Saraya al Mukhtar “plotted attacks against U.S. personnel in Bahrain and has offered cash rewards for the assassination of Bahraini officials,” Secretary Pompeo said. It also allegedly received financial and logistic support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Saraya al Mukhtar’s goal is to overthrow the monarchy. The listing cut off Saraya al Mukhtar from the U.S. financial system and banned U.S. citizens from dealing with it.


December 16

Sanctions: The Treasury Department sanctioned four companies – two based in China and two based in the United Arab Emirates – for facilitating the export of Iranian oil by a previously designated firm, Triliance. Four companies, including Triliance, were sanctioned in January 2020 for collectively transferring hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of exports from the National Iranian Oil Company.

Diplomacy: In a speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that U.S. enmity toward Iran will not end with the Trump administration. He cautioned against trusting Washington and urged officials to focus more on neutralizing sanctions than removing them. But Khamenei also said that he didn’t oppose the Rouhani government’s diplomatic efforts. “If the sanctions can be lifted, we should not delay even one hour...If the sanctions can be lifted in the right, wise... and dignified way, this must be done,” he said.

Diplomacy/Nuclear Program: The joint commission of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), held its 17th meeting via videoconference. The commission was chaired by Helga-Maria Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action and was attended by representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran. Participants discussed ongoing work to preserve the JCPOA and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides in light of existing challenges.