News Digest: Week of January 20

January 20

Nuclear: Iran said that it could withdraw from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if its case is referred to the U.N. Security Council. “If the Europeans continue their improper behavior or send Iran’s file to the Security Council, we will withdraw from the NPT,” said Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. The threat came less than a week after Britain, France and Germany declared Iran non-compliant with the 2015 nuclear deal and launched a dispute mechanism that could send the case back to the Security Council.

 

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Zarif cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Foreign Ministry said that his decision was due to a change in the summit’s agenda. 

Espionage: A German-Afghan man went on trial in Germany on charges of treason for spying for Iranian intelligence. The former military translator allegedly sent secret documents to Iran in 18 different cases. The trial was closed to the public due to security concerns.

 

January 21

Military: South Korea announced that it would temporarily expand the scope of maritime security operations operating off the coast of Africa to also cover the Strait of Hormuz. The Defense Ministry said the anti-piracy mission was meant to protect South Korean vessels traveling through the waterway. Seoul added that the operation would be independent of the U.S.- led mission in the Persian Gulf.

Military: Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization acknowledged that the military had fired two Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles at a Ukrainian airliner. But the report stopped short of admitting blame for the crash of the aircraft. “The impact of these missiles on the accident and the analysis of this action is under investigation,” the report said.

 

January 22

Crime: Masked gunmen killed Abdolhossein Mojaddami, a senior Basij forces commander, in southwestern Iran. Two men on a motorcycle attacked Mojadddami with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle. Local media described Mojadddami as an associate of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Qods Force who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3.

Nuclear: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned European countries not to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal. He said that Iran did not seek to produce nuclear weapons. “Do you want to make the same mistake [as the United States]? ... I am emphasizing that if the Europeans make a mistake and violate the deal, they will be responsible for the consequences of their actions,” Rouhani said.

 

January 23

Economics: The U.S. Treasury Department designated four companies accused of purchasing Iranian oil and petrochemical products in violation of U.S. sanctions. Two companies based in Hong Kong, one company based in Shanghai and another company based in Dubai allegedly helped Iran’s state-owned oil company export millions of dollars’ worth of petroleum products. The United States also sanctioned Ali Bayandrian, who is linked to Hong Kong-based Triliance Petroleum, and Zhiqing Wang, who has ties to Shandong Oiwangwa.

Military: The United States threatened to assassinate Esmail Ghaani, the successor of Qassem Soleimani, the Qods Force commander who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3. “If Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” said U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.

 

January 24

Nuclear/Diplomacy: E.U. Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell announced that signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal would have additional time to save the agreement after Britain, France and Germany launched the accord’s dispute mechanism on January 15. The dispute mechanism triggered a 15-day period to resolve issues with Iran. “There is agreement that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved. The timeline is therefore extended,” Borrell said.

Military/Diplomacy: Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi condemned a U.S. threat to assassinate Qods Force commander Esmail Ghaani. “The remarks by this State Department official are an official publicizing and blatant unveiling of targeted and state terrorism by the United States,” Mousavi said. “Now, after the Zionist regime [of Israel], the US is the second regime to officially announce that it has employed the resources of its government and armed forces for acts of terrorism and that it will continue them in the future.”

Military: The Pentagon said that 34 U.S. service members had suffered traumatic brain injuries during Iran’s strike on a U.S. coalition base in Iraq on January 8. President Trump had originally claimed that their injuries were “not very serious.” Nine service members were still receiving treatments for their injuries at a hospital in Germany.

 

January 25

Nuclear: Ali Asghar Zarean, an aid to Iran’s nuclear chief, said that the country’s enriched uranium stockpile had greatly exceeded the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal. “Iran is increasing its stockpile of the enriched uranium with full speed,” Zarean said. He reported that Iran had stockpiled 1,200 kilograms of uranium, well over the 202.8 kilograms limit restricted by the deal.

January 26

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Zarif said that Tehran was still willing to negotiate with the United States and would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognize the realities.” He told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that Iran would restart negotiations if the United States first lifted all sanctions.

President Trump tweeted that Washington would not lift sanctions to pave the wave for negotiations with Iran. It appeared to be a response to demands made by Zarif earlier in the day.

Updated