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Foreign Affairs, Defence and
The airstrike and its fallout
Australia’s reaction to the
Suleimani assassination and subsequent events
On 3 January 2020 the United States assassinated
Major General Qassim
Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps—Quds Force (IRGC-QF), in an airstrike on
his convoy as it left Baghdad’s International Airport. The attack also
killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy
commander of Iraq’s powerful
and IRGC-QF-backed Popular
Mobilization Forces (PMF). Suleimani’s assassination, condemned
by Iran as a criminal act and by Iraq as a violation
of its sovereignty, marked a major escalation in long simmering
US-Iran tensions and led to fears it could jeopardise
the coalition’s presence in Iraq and potentially embroil the Middle
East in another conflict.
This chronology tracks media coverage of Suleimani’s
assassination and its continuing fallout, up to and including the second
anniversary in early May 2020 of the Trump administration’s unilateral
withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. It also outlines the Australian
Government’s reaction to the assassination and ongoing events, including
its decision to participate in the US-led International Maritime Security
Construct in the Persian Gulf.
US-Iran relations most recently deteriorated following US
President Donald Trump’s 2017 introduction of a maximum
pressure strategy, which saw the US
unilaterally withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of
Action—JCPOA (a nuclear deal that Iran
was complying with), and impose
sanctions that included the 2019 proscription
of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) in an effort to force the
negotiation of a new deal. This was despite the designation
typically applying to non-state actors, and not a sovereign state’s
The Quds Force is ‘the
unit of the IRGC responsible for extra-territorial operations’, and
under Suleimani’s leadership, established
an Iranian ‘arc of influence’ that extends ‘from the Gulf
of Oman through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the eastern shores of the
Mediterranean Sea’. Suleimani
has been credited
with being ‘the leading exponent of a uniquely Iranian style of
insurgency’ that serves as both a core
part and key driver of Iran’s asymmetric power. While revered in
was reviled by those who suffered at the hands of Quds Force-backed militias
in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
to the designation by proscribing the US Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organisation and
doubling down on its own position. Following the US
ending of some sanctions waivers for the purchase of Iranian oil, Iran’s
military leadership threatened ‘if our crude is not to pass through
the Strait of Hormuz, others’ will not pass either’. A series of
sabotage attacks against petroleum tankers in the Gulf of Oman attributed
by the US and its Gulf allies to Iran, and the IRGC in particular,
continued to drive an escalation in tension, which saw Iran shoot down a
US surveillance drone and the US
conduct a retaliatory cyberattack and impose more
sanctions. It also saw the US
intensify its efforts to build a broad
international coalition against Iran, resulting in the establishment of an International
Maritime Security Construct (IMSC)
to protect maritime shipping in the Persian Gulf, to which a handful of
in September 2019 against two of Saudi Arabia’s most significant oil
facilities reportedly caused
the largest-ever disruption to global oil supply and were attributed by
the US to Iran. In October a wave of protests began to sweep across Iraq
amid widespread discontent with the government. They were brutally
repressed by Iraq’s security apparatus, including the IRGC-backed PMF,
further inflaming anger at Iran’s influence in Iraqi political affairs.
By December 2019 Iran was facing its own political unrest, the most serious the
country had experienced since its 1979 revolution. This began with protests
following a 50 per cent rise in fuel costs before reportedly
ballooning into ‘a
far more generalised expression of anger’ at the regime. For the
IRGC-QF, however, it seemed to have been business as usual until the US strike
early on 3 January.
and its fallout
The airstrike that killed Suleimani took place ‘at
the direction of’ US President, Donald Trump. Reporting
suggests a MQ-9 Reaper drone, launched from an unknown location, was used
to target Suleimani’s convoy at the airport. As with other US allies, Australia
received no prior warning.
In remarks following the strike, Trump
stated Suleimani was a terrorist and that on his order the military had
carried out a pre-emptive strike against a terrorist leader planning attacks
against the US. However, Suleimani was a General in charge of a unit within an
official branch of a sovereign country’s armed forces. This raised
a number of questions about whether
the airstrike violated international law. Suleimani’s assassination was
the first time since World War II that the US has ‘killed a major
military leader in a foreign country’. Concerns within and beyond US
Congress were reported too, as the domestic
legality of Trump’s order came
The Trump administration also found itself defending
its claim the President’s decision to strike was intelligence-driven.
Not only has the veracity
of the alleged intelligence been questioned, but so too have Trump’s
motivations. Additionally, in quite detailed and apparently leak-driven
New York Times and The
Washington Post laid out internal machinations and manoeuvring
within the Trump administration and Pentagon that were alleged to have played a
role in Trump’s decision to target Suleimani. Similar reporting also
appeared in CNN
Los Angeles Times coverage.
Iran’s initial response
Iran’s initial response to the US strike indicated
it would retaliate. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said that
Suleimani’s assassination was ‘extremely
dangerous and foolish’, and the US ‘bears responsibility for
all consequences of its rogue adventurism’. Iran’s Supreme Leader,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened revenge,
as did the country’s President, Hassan Rouhani.
In a 4 January letter to the UN Security Council, Iran
outlined how it considered Suleimani’s assassination to be ‘a
criminal act’ that constituted ‘a gross violation of the
fundamental principles of international law’, and stated it ‘reserves
all of its rights under international law to take necessary measures in this
regard, in particular in exercising its inherent right to self-defense’.
On 4 January a senior IRGC General was quoted in Iranian
that ‘some 35 US targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our
reach’, while also alluding
to ships being targeted in the Strait of Hormuz. The same day, and in
apparent response, Trump threatened to target ‘52 Iranian sites
(representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago)’
that are ‘important to Iran and the Iranian culture’.
reaction to the escalation of tension between Iran and the US was initially
one of alarm and there were widespread calls for restraint and de-escalation.
By 4 January the UK had announced
it would resume naval escorts of UK-flagged ships in the Gulf, and NATO
reported it was suspending training missions in Iraq.
On 5 January the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR),
to which Australia’s
Defence Force contributes, announced a pause
in coalition training activities in Iraq to focus on force protection, as
security concerns mounted. Media coverage included reporting
that Trump’s threats to target sites of cultural value in Iran would
constitute war crimes if carried out, as well as the Pentagon’s attempts
itself from his threats.
As media reports broke that Iran had indicated it would
longer abide by any of the limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal’,
the EU invited
Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif to Brussels for discussions as part of ongoing
efforts to salvage the deal and de-escalate tensions.
On 5 January Iraq’s parliament held
an extraordinary session and voted to expel US and coalition forces, in a
non-binding, but nonetheless symbolic, resolution. In response, US President
threatened Iraq with sanctions. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Ali
Abdul-Mahdi, also told the parliament that Suleimani
had been in Baghdad to respond to an Iraqi-led mediation effort between Saudi
Arabia and Iran, which had taken place at US President Trump’s
Confusion followed on 6 January, when the
Iraqi Prime Minister’s office circulated a letter it had obtained
which appeared to be from the Commander of US forces in Iraq acknowledging
parliament’s resolution and advising US forces were being repositioned
‘for onward movement’. Initially
dismissed as fake by the Pentagon policy office, it
later emerged the letter was genuine but a ‘draft’ that was
‘poorly worded’ and ‘should not have been released’.
US Secretary of Defence subsequently said ‘the letter is inconsistent of
[sic] where we are right now’ and there ‘has been no decision
whatsoever to leave’, Iraq’s
Prime Minister was reported to be treating the letter as a ‘withdrawal
announcement’ and allegedly requested a timetable for withdrawal.
The fallout continues
Also on 6 January, UN Secretary-General, Antonio
Guterres, called for the ‘exercise of maximum restraint’, and the
US denied Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif a visa, preventing him from
attending a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for 9 January.
On 7 January Germany,
Canada and NATO announced the ‘movement and withdrawal of some of their
troops’ from Iraq, and Suleimani’s
burial was postponed following a stampede that resulted in the deaths of 50
people after his funeral procession reached his hometown of Kerman. As coverage
of the targeting of Suleimani continued, some
media reported that US justifications for the strike were evolving.
By 8 January Iran
had retaliated, launching 16 missiles that struck Iraq’s al-Asad base,
which houses US forces, as well as another location in Erbil. The missiles
reportedly damaged several buildings on the base in a strike.
Ayatollah Khamenei told Iranians the strike was a ‘slap on the
face’ of the US while Foreign Minister Zarif stated:
Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in
self-defence under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly
armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves
against any aggression.
reacted to Iran’s missile strikes in a statement, saying it ‘rejects
these attacks and considers them a violation of Iraqi sovereignty’, and
indicated the Government would summon Iran’s ambassador.
Trump responds to Iran
Shortly after Iran’s strikes on 8 January, Trump
gave a national address about the Iran situation in which he said:
No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the
Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers
are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.
also called for the abandonment of the nuclear deal and the making of a new
one, announcing he would impose additional sanctions on Iran to force it to
accept a new deal. These sanctions included primary and secondary sanctions on
several Iranian officials and on sectors of the Iranian economy, including
construction, manufacturing, textiles, and mining.
also indicated he would continue to attempt to build an international coalition,
this time involving NATO, stating ‘Today I am going to ask NATO to become
much more involved in the Middle East process’. Perhaps in reference to
the Iranian Foreign Minister’s statement about the missile strikes
concluding Iran’s response to Suleimani’s assassination, Trump
also said that Iran ‘appears to be standing down’.
A Ukrainian airliner is downed
Iran’s missile strikes, a number of airlines re-routed flights to
avoid airspace over Iran and Iraq. However, Iran did not close its airspace to
civilian traffic, and shortly after the
missile strikes in Iraq, reports emerged of a Ukraine International Airlines
flight crashing minutes after take-off from Tehran’s airport. All 176
people on board were killed, including 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11
Ukrainians, and a number of other international travellers.
immediately following the incident, speculation began that the airliner did not
crash but had been shot down. Iran initially
denied its missiles brought down the flight. However, multiple videos
soon emerged that showed what appeared to be a missile strike and its
In an address
to the nation late on 9 January, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin
We have intelligence from multiple sources—including
our allies and our own intelligence—the evidence indicates that the plane
was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been
It was not the first time a
civilian airliner had been shot down as a consequence of US-Iran tensions. In
1988, during the ‘tanker war’, the USS Vincennes shot down an
Iranian airliner, killing all on board.
A muted US response
his initial response to the aircraft downing Trump stated that he had his
suspicions and went on to say:
It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood and somebody
could have made a mistake. Some people say it was mechanical. I personally
don’t think that’s even a question, personally. So we’ll see
He was, however, more outspoken about his ongoing effort
to build an international coalition against Iran, telling
reporters on 9 January that when he had proposed NATO’s extension to
include the Middle East to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg a day
earlier: ‘“I actually had a name: NATO, right, and then you have
ME—Middle East. NATOME. I said, what a beautiful name”’.
Later that day, the
US House of Representatives passed a non-binding War Powers Resolution in
an effort to limit Trump’s ability to use military force without first
obtaining congressional approval.
Global Coalition against Daesh
ceases military activities in Iraq
In a 9 January
statement released via Twitter the Global Coalition against Daesh announced
it had ‘paused military activities in Iraq to focus on protecting Iraqi
bases that host Coalition personnel’. It went on to say that ‘we
await further clarification on the legal nature and impact of the resolution on
foreign troops no longer being allowed to say in Iraq, passed on Sunday 5
January by the Iraqi parliament’.
Ukraine left out in the cold
On 10 January Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr
Zelensky, indicated that his
country had not received the intelligence other Western countries appeared to
have been provided, and which led them to cite evidence the Ukraine
International Airlines jet had been shot down. Shortly
afterwards, his spokeswoman reported he had received information from the US
and later that day would be speaking with
US Secretary of State Pompeo.
US justification evolves
Also on 10 January, US
special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, spoke to reporters following the
imposition of more sanctions against Iran, claiming ‘Now that we [the
US] are outside of the Iran nuclear deal, we are in a much better position to
deny Iran a nuclear weapon’. However, European
foreign ministers who also met on the same day reiterated their commitment to
the JCPOA, and indicated they had not discussed triggering the
agreement’s dispute resolution processes because they remained willing to
maintain the deal.
followed up his 9 January comment that Suleimani was killed because Iran
was ‘looking to blow up our embassy’, claiming
in a 10 January interview that four US embassies were being targeted.
Iran admits downing the airliner in
On 11 January Iran
admitted IRGC forces had shot down the Ukrainian airliner in error. In a
General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces acknowledged that the ‘aircraft
was targeted unintentionally due to human error’, and said IRGC
officials would provide further details. In
a subsequent statement to the media the head of the IRGC’s aerospace
full responsibility for the incident but also stated that officials
had refused a request for airspace to be closed.
after, protests were reported to have erupted across Iran amid what was
said to have been widespread anger at the regime’s initial denial that it
shot down the plane and the lack of safeguards put in place. On 12 January as
protests entered their second day, reports
emerged that Britain’s ambassador to Iran had been detained by security
forces who accused him of taking part in the protests. He was released
shortly thereafter, and his detention condemned by the UK and Germany.
The evolving narrative of the Trump
administration’s justification of Suleimani strikes
By 11 January reports
were also emerging that the
US strike against Suleimani was part of a broader effort to decapitate the IRGC
senior leadership. According to this reporting, on
the same day that Suleimani was targeted the US undertook a separate strike in
Yemen against Abdul Reza Shahlai, whom it was claimed was an IRGC commander
operating in the country. The strike against Shahlai reportedly failed.
Europe attempts to preserve the
Also on 11 January, European
leaders called for the preservation of the JCPOA—with Angela Merkel
and Vladimir Putin holding a joint press conference at which Merkel indicated
that the remaining partners to the deal would ‘continue to employ all
diplomatic means to keep this agreement alive, which is certainly not perfect,
but it is an agreement and it comprises commitments by all sides’. (This
followed a 9 January opinion
piece by former US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he argued that
Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, which Kerry had helped negotiate,
and Trump’s pursuit of a ‘reckless foreign policy’ had put
the US on ‘a path to armed conflict with Iran’).
Late on 12 January the
E3 (Germany, France and the UK) issued a statement in which it said it was
‘essential that Iran return to full compliance with its commitments under
the agreement’ and despite US criticism of the deal, reiterated its
support for the JCPOA.
More questioning of US intentions
in relation to Suleimani strike
On 13 January, US
Defence Secretary Mark Esper told US media he had not seen ‘the
intelligence about Iran posing an imminent threat to four US embassies but I
believe President Trump when he says there was one’. The
same day CNN reported that ‘State Department officials involved in US
embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US
embassies’. Also on 13 January,
US Attorney-General, William Barr said the question over the imminence of the
threat allegedly outlined in the intelligence was a ‘red herring’
and equated Trump’s decision to target Suleimani with Obama-era drone
strikes on the leaders of terrorist organisations. He
went on to say Suleimani’s killing was ‘a legitimate act of self-defence’
that ‘disrupted ongoing attacks and re-established deterrence’.
tweets on 13 January, Trump addressed negotiations with Iran over nuclear
weapons stating ‘Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate.
Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and “don’t kill
your protestors [sic]”’. He
also ‘weighed in’ with additional tweets about the protests in Iran,
with messages in English and Farsi. As scepticism mounted over Trump’s
reasons for targeting Suleimani, Trump
again took to Twitter on 14 January to defend the strike and claim that
Suleimani’s ‘horrible past’ meant the reasons ‘didn’t
The JCPOA flounders
Also on 14 January, US Secretary of
State Pompeo stated that US sanctions against Iran ‘will continue
until the regime stops its terrorist activity and commits to never having
nuclear weapons’. British
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made headlines calling for a ‘Trump
deal’ on Iran to replace the JCPOA. Iran’s
Foreign Minister tweeted in apparent response:
For 20 months, the E3—following UK appeasement
policy—has bowed to US diktat. That hasn’t gotten
anywhere—and it never will. E3 can save JCPOA but not by appeasing the
bully & pressuring the complying party. Rather it should muster the courage
to fulfil its own obligations.
Later that day reports emerged that the E3 had triggered
the JCPOA dispute mechanism. In
a lengthy statement the E3 foreign ministers said they were left with no
choice but to trigger the mechanism. Notably, they
made it clear they sought to preserve the agreement and were not joining
the ‘campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran’, stating
it was their hope ‘to bring Iran back into full compliance with its
commitments under the JCPOA’.
The Coordinator of the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, who
was responsible for overseeing the Dispute Resolution Mechanism process, also released
a statement on 14 January acknowledging receipt of a letter from the
foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK. The statement highlighted
their intention to ‘preserve the JCPOA in the sincere hope of finding a
way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic
dialogue’. It also noted:
The JCPOA is a significant achievement of sustained
multilateral diplomacy following years of negotiations. In light of the ongoing
dangerous escalations in the Middle East, the preservation of the JCPOA is now
more important than ever.
reaction to the mechanism being triggered reportedly included the Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani telling his cabinet in a 15 January speech that the
Middle East ‘could be unsafe for European soldiers in the same way it is
insecure for US troops’, and calling for Western forces to leave the
region. On 16 January Iran’s
Foreign Minister Zarif posted a series of tweets in relation to the
E3’s triggering of the dispute mechanism, claiming that the ‘E3
sold out remnants of JCPOA to avoid new Trump tariffs’ and that Iran had
previously triggered the mechanism, but that this had been ignored. The
same day he was reported to have held ‘frank’ discussions about the
status of the JCPOA with the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
US threats and claims of
On 16 January it emerged that the Trump
administration had threatened the E3 in an effort to get it to trigger the
dispute mechanisms within the JCPOA, which could then lead to a ‘snap
back’ of sanctions. In a warning sent several days prior to the
announcement, the E3 were
told that if they continued to support the JCPOA and did not trigger the
dispute mechanism the US would impose a 25 per cent tariff on European vehicles.
The same day, Germany’s
Defence Minister confirmed reports, saying ‘This expression or
threat, as you will, does exist’. The Defence Minister also reiterated
that Germany would not support the US maximum pressure campaign.
By 17 January US
media was reporting that 11 US service members had been injured
in the Iranian strikes, and were being treated for ‘concussion
symptoms’. A Pentagon
spokesman denied there had been any attempt to minimise or hide the casualties,
attributing the delay in casualty reporting to service members only presenting
with symptoms in the days after the attack.
Ayatollah Khamenei gives rare sermon
On 17 January Ayatollah
Khamenei gave a rare Friday sermon in Iran—his first in eight
years—in what was thought to be an attempt to settle domestic instability
arising from protests that had erupted following news that the Ukrainian
airliner had been downed in error by the IRGC, and public anger that it was
several days before this was disclosed. In his sermon Khamenei was reported to
his support for the IRGC, whose Quds force he said were ‘fighters without
borders’, and made calls for unity. On 19 January the speaker of
Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said:
… if the European powers, for any reason, adopt an
unfair approach in using the dispute mechanism, we will seriously reconsider
our cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
By 20 January Foreign Minister Zarif was reported
to have said Iran had finished scaling back commitments to the JCPOA. However,
he indicated Iran
may consider other actions such as withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) ‘if the Europeans continue their improper behaviour or
send Iran’s file to the Security Council’, the latter of which
would take place as step five in the JCPOA
dispute resolution process, which is currently in its early stages. Also on
20 January, Iran’s foreign ministry reported that Zarif
would not be attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos later that
week, which it indicated was a result of a program change that had not been
On 21 January reports emerged that an
Iranian MP had offered a reward of US$3 million to anyone who killed President
Trump. The same day reports also emerged of another MP saying:
If we had nuclear weapons today, we would be protected from
threats ... We should put the production of long-range missiles capable of carrying
unconventional warheads on our agenda. This is our natural right.
The following day President
Hassan Rouhani was reported to have said in a Cabinet meeting:
We have never sought nuclear weapons ... With or without the
nuclear deal we will never seek nuclear weapon ... The European powers will be
responsible for the consequences of violating the pact.
Rouhani’s chief of staff indicated on the same day
the JCPOA was a possible option for Iran, saying:
It was discussed that it’s possible some may take
Iran’s file to the (U.N.) Security Council ... If this happens we will
take tougher decisions such as leaving the nuclear deal[.]
He was also reported to have indicated
that Iran and Saudi Arabia ‘should work together to overcome
South Korea orders dispatch of
naval forces to Gulf, independent of the IMSC
On 21 January South
Korea announced it would send a naval unit to the Gulf, reportedly
comprised of a naval destroyer and 300 naval forces. It emphasised
its force would work independently of the IMSC.
On 22 January US media reported that US
Citizens and Immigration Services had announced Iranian nationals could no
longer enter the US on investment and trade visas, and those already in the
US with such visas must
leave once they had expired:
… due to the Oct. 3, 2018, termination of the 1955
Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights with Iran, Iranian
nationals are no longer eligible for E-1 treaty trader and E-2 treaty investor
changes or extensions of status based on the treaty.
On 23 January an Arabic-language publication reporting on
with US Special Envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said that he had threatened
successor would face the same fate ‘if he follows the same path of
killing Americans’. The same day US Treasury imposed
sanctions on a number of companies it alleged were helping Iran’s National
Iranian Oil Company export oil.
On 24 January the Pentagon
revealed that 34 service members had been diagnosed with traumatic brain
injuries or concussion, which marked an almost threefold rise in the number
initially reported injured from Iran’s strikes against US forces in Iraq.
E3 comments on JCPOA partners
On 24 January Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
was reported to have ‘warned against prematurely scrapping an
international nuclear deal with Iran, saying that it
would be wrong to abandon an “imperfect” deal with nothing better
in place’. This followed
a statement issued five days earlier by the other two members of the
E3—Britain and France—in which they ‘reiterated their
commitment to the JCPOA and also acknowledged the need to define a long-term
framework to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon’. Also on 24
January, the EU’s Josep Borrell outlined
in a statement that he had extended the time for dispute negotiations in
relation to the JCPOA:
All JCPOA participants reconfirmed their determination to
preserve the agreement which is in the interest of all.
Notwithstanding differences on modalities, there is agreement
that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved. The
timeline is therefore extended.
All agreed to pursue expert-level discussions addressing the
concerns regarding nuclear implementation, as well as the wider impacts of the
withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of
sanctions, concerning which all JCPOA participants have expressed regret.
The Joint Commission will review progress regularly. The next
meeting will take place in February.
Iran’s Foreign Minister gives
interview with German publication
Also on 24 January Germany’s
Der Spiegel published an interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister
Javad Zarif on the most recent tensions between the US and Iran, and the
state of the JCPOA. The interview attracted attention for a number of comments
Zarif made, and also prompted a Twitter response from Trump. On the issue of
the status of the JCPOA, Zarif said:
We are not violating the agreement; we are acting in
accordance with JCPOA. Let me make it very clear to the Europeans: If they want
to implement their obligations, we will be prepared to go back to full
compliance immediately. But implementing their obligations is not just about
making announcements that they are committed to JCPOA. I could also make the
same announcement: We are committed to the agreement, we love the agreement, we
want it to stay alive forever. Words are cheap. Europe should show us one
single action. But what have they done?
DER SPIEGEL: They established the Instrument
Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a special purpose vehicle to enable
companies to do business with Iran despite the U.S. sanctions.
Zarif: INSTEX is basically an accounting company.
More than a year and a half after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, the
Europeans haven’t succeeded in carrying out a single transaction.
again emphasised that Iran had concluded its formal response to the US
assassination of Suleimani, stating ‘The strike against the military
base in Iraq, from which the U.S. conducted its operation, was Iran’s
formal military response’. He also claimed
that in a communication to the US, passed via Swiss diplomatic channels,
Iran had told the US ‘that the action has ended and that we will not take
any more action if they don’t take any more action—and that we are
not responsible for the actions of others’.
When asked about the status of the JCPOA, and whether the
deal was ‘dead’, Zarif
responded as follows:
DER SPIEGEL: Is the nuclear deal dead?
Zarif: No. Inspections and transparency about
Iran’s activities are an important part of the agreement, and they are
still happening. The EU has not fulfilled parts of the agreement and Iran has
not fulfilled parts, but that doesn’t mean it is dead.
DER SPIEGEL: If Iran fails to reach an agreement
with the Europeans within 30 days, the matter will go to the UN Security
Council and UN sanctions will be imposed against Iran again. That would spell
the end of the agreement.
Zarif: The Europeans have no legitimate grounds
for resorting to this mechanism. They can’t just refer something to the
Security Council because they are Europeans and they have blue eyes. And
it’s not only us who think this, but also the Russians and the Chinese.
The Europeans will be up against a major battle.
What prompted US President Donald Trump to tweet about the
interview was Zarif’s
response to a question about the possibility of negotiations with the US:
DER SPIEGEL: Do you rule out the possibility of
negotiations with the U.S. following Soleimani’s murder?
Zarif: No, I never rule out the possibility that people
will change their approach and recognize the realities. For us, it
doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House. What matters is how
they behave. The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions
and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating
table. They’re the ones who left. The U.S. has inflicted great harm on the
Iranian people. The day will come when they will have to compensate for that.
We have a lot of patience.
On 26 January Trump
tweeted in apparent response to Zarif’s comments in the Der
Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with
The United States, but wants sanctions removed. @FoxNews@OANN No Thanks!
responded to Trump, also via Twitter, saying:
.@realdonaldtrump is better advised to base his foreign
policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his
Farsi translators To be better informed, he can read my entire interview (in
English) … [link provided]
Iranian and Omani foreign ministers
Also on 26 January, Zarif
met with Oman’s Foreign Minister, Yousef bin Alawi, for talks. The
two met a number of times in January. In this most recent meeting the two were
said to have discussed maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, which falls
within the territorial waters of both countries.
was a key interlocutor in JCPOA negotiations and has maintained strong
relations with Iran.
Iran’s domestic politics
continue to fracture
On 27 January President Hassan Rouhani pushed
for Iran to meet money laundering compliance requirements imposed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),
because of a looming February deadline.
Complying with FATF rules requires legislative action that hardliners in
Iran’s parliament oppose. In October 2018 Iran’s parliament ratified
a Combating the Financing of Terrorism Bill that would have met the
requirements, but the Bill then had to pass through the ‘Guardian
Council’, which subsequently rejected it along with another.
to Radio Farda reporting, the matter then progressed to the hardliner-dominated
Expediency Council for ‘arbitration’. The deadline
for a decision on the Bill was 22 January, which passed without any action,
leading some to claim this meant it had been rejected. A failure to meet FATF
requirements could see Iran become more financially isolated.
Increasing tension between
Iran’s hardliners and moderates
The divide between moderates and hardliners in Iran became
more pronounced in late January as the country approached a March election and hardliners
engaged in ‘mass disqualification of candidates’. This led
Iran’s President—himself considered moderate—to reportedly
‘lash out’ at hardliners and call
for unity, amid the country dealing with the ongoing effects of Trump’s
‘maximum pressure campaign’.
On 27 January supporters
of Iran’s hardliners took to the streets in front of the Foreign Affairs
Ministry to protest against Foreign Minister Zarif and demand his
resignation. The protesters were allegedly angered by the comments Zarif made
in the Der Spiegel interview, in which he indicated Iran had not walked
away from the possibility of negotiations.
On 28 January Reuters reported that Iran’s
parliament would debate a motion for the country to leave the NPT after the
minimum number of MPs necessary for such a motion to be debated signed the
request. That same day Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications
US media reporting that the country was readying for a satellite launch,
which the US alleges
is cover for its ballistic missile program. The failure of the JCPOA to address
the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile development was one of the key
reasons cited by Trump for withdrawing from the deal, and as such, the
satellite launch was seen by his administration as a further provocation.
Also on 28 January, an Iranian MP was reported to have
claimed that ‘twenty-three
law makers have filed a lawsuit against Foreign Minister Zarif and intend
to impeach him’. (It was not the first time hardliners within
Iran’s parliament have tried to impeach Zarif. In late November 2018 reports
emerged that hardliners were attempting to impeach Zarif, angered allegedly
by his stance that Iran should move to meet FATF guidelines in relation to
money laundering and counter-terrorism financing.)
Pentagon reveals up to 50 service
members injured in Iranian strikes
On 29 January the Pentagon
issued revised injury numbers for the Iranian strike, revealing that a
total of 50 troops had now been diagnosed with ‘traumatic brain injury’.
US announces new Iran sanctions,
waivers and a humanitarian channel via Switzerland
The following day US
Treasury announced the completion of the first transactions via a Swiss
‘humanitarian channel’, which allowed Iran to purchase medical
goods and treatments.
Reports also emerged that the Trump administration would be
announcing new sanctions, this time targeting ‘the head of the Atomic
Energy Organisation of Iran [AEOI]’, Ali Akbar Salehi. Although the
administration was reported to be sanctioning the AEOI chief, according to reports,
it was, however, allowing
the renewal of several waivers that allow foreign firms dealing with the AEOI
to continue their ‘nonproliferation
work’ without fear of US sanctions. The waivers were reportedly
renewed for a period of 60 days.
for the AEOI responded to reports saying, ‘Such measures will have no
impact on our nuclear program and Tehran’s civilian nuclear work will
continue with full force based on Iran’s needs’.
European maritime security mission
commences in the Persian Gulf
On 30 January a French
frigate commenced patrols in the Strait of Hormuz as part of the European
Maritime Awareness mission (EMASoH), the purpose of which was to ‘ensure
the freedom of navigation in the Gulf while promoting a de-escalation approach
with Iran’. This followed the 20 January declaration of the
creation of EMASoH, supported by eight European Union states:
… the Governments of BELGIUM, DENMARK, FRANCE, GERMANY,
GREECE, ITALY, THE NETHERLANDS, AND PORTUGAL politically support the creation
of a European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz
(EMASOH). We welcome any contribution in kind as already declared by DENMARK,
FRANCE, GREECE, and THE NETHERLANDS to this effort and look forward to further
commitments in the coming days.
In complementarity with existing maritime security efforts
and initiatives in the region, including IMSC, EMASoH aims to ensure a safe
navigation environment and to lower the existing tensions in the region.
In full accordance with international law, including the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the mission will
concretely provide enhanced maritime situation awareness and surveillance
through the deployment of additional maritime surveillance assets in the Gulf
and Arabian Sea. We are grateful to the UAE for offering to host the mission HQ
on their territory.
EMASOH will constitute a useful instrument in safeguarding
the freedom of navigation by ensuring adequate coordination and information
sharing mechanisms with all partners operating in the area, including the
maritime industry. Moreover, EMASOH aims to foster de-escalation and to
complement vital diplomatic efforts aiming at ensuring increased stability and
an inclusive regional dialogue in a critical context.
A Dutch frigate was reported
to be joining the mission.
EMASoH is a separate entity to the US-led IMSC, in which EU
countries declined to participate.
Japan sends naval destroyer to the
Gulf but does not join IMSC
Following earlier Cabinet approval, on
2 February Japan dispatched a naval destroyer along with two maritime
patrol planes to protect its shipping. The Japanese mission will operate
independently of both the IMSC and EMASoH and be limited to the Gulf of Oman.
Japan’s naval mission to the Gulf is the first of
its kind. At a farewell ceremony Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said
of Japanese ships ply those waters every year including vessels carrying nine
tenths of our oil. It is Japan’s lifeline’. The mission is
reported to be one year in duration with the possibility of extension via
EU Foreign Affairs chief visits
On 3–4 February the
EU’s Head of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, visited Iran and met
with President Hassan Rouhani and senior Iranian political figures in an
attempt to ‘convey the EU’s strong commitment to preserve the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action and to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation
between the European Union and Iran’. According
to an EU statement, Borrell had ‘a
strong mandate from the EU foreign ministers to engage in diplomatic dialogue
with regional partners, to de-escalate tensions and seek opportunities for
political solutions to the current crisis’.
During the visit Borrell
outlined that the EU was willing to extend the time limits for dispute
resolution contained within the JCPOA agreement, in an effort to avoid
progressing to the next stage of the process, which involves referring the dispute
to the UN Security Council, and
potentially, the introduction of additional sanctions.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was reported to have
indicated in response:
The Islamic Republic of Iran is still ready for interaction
and cooperation with the European Union for resolving issues and, whenever the
opposite side completely upholds their commitments, Iran will return to its commitments.
Iranian media reported
the President also said ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran is still
committed to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s supervision and the
process of supervision will continue like before unless we face new
Iran rules out bilateral talks with
While Iran remained open to EU dialogue, the
regime emphatically ruled out discussions with the US, with Iran’s
Foreign Ministry spokesman saying
on 3 February, ‘Iran does not have and will not have any kind of
bilateral negotiation with American [sic] and this is our policy’.
Iran-Ukraine relations deteriorate
following leaked recording
The same day, Ukraine’s President claimed
audio recording transcript of a conversation between the pilot of another
airliner and Tehran’s airport control tower—in which the pilot was
adamant he had seen the plane shot down—proved
Iran knew immediately that its forces had downed the aircraft. The audio
transcript was leaked to Ukrainian media after Iran provided it to Ukraine’s
government. In response to the leak and President Zelensky’s claim, Iranian
authorities said Iran would cease sharing material and information with
Swiss humanitarian channel begins
trial operations; criticised by Iran
Also on 3 February, the governments of Switzerland and the
US announced that
trial operations of a humanitarian channel called the Swiss Humanitarian Trade
Arrangement (SHTA), which provides a way to facilitate trade in medical and
pharmaceutical goods as well as food, had begun. Iranian officials,
however, were less enthusiastic, with Iranian media noting the
initiative was represented as if it were delivering aid rather than
facilitating trade of goods Iran had to purchase. Iran’s Foreign
Minister was also reported to have said
‘This is a small step and we thank the Swiss government for its efforts
(...) but this channel is not a sign of America's goodwill at all’.
The first SHTA transaction involved Iran’s
purchase of around €2.3 million worth of drugs needed for organ
transplants and cancer.
Iran proposes new alliance,
welcomes Iraq’s mediatory efforts
On 5 February Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi,
to confirm the former Iraqi Prime Minister’s claims that Qassim
Suleimani had been traveling to Baghdad to deliver a message from Iran as part
of Iraq-led mediation with Saudi Arabia when he was assassinated. Masjedi
reportedly said that the message Suleimani was delivering ‘set out
Tehran’s position on “fighting terrorism and achieving peace and
security in the region”’. Masjedi also said ‘Tehran
welcomes Iraq’s role in trying to solve differences between Iran and
Saudi’, and that Iran wished ‘to resolve differences and
challenges with Saudi and the UAE as quickly as possible’.
The same day, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mohammad
Ali Hosseini proposed
closer relations and a new alliance between Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and
China, noting that ‘the future of political power belongs to
IAEA announces that Iran has not
carried out any further breaches of JCPOA beyond its already reported fifth
On 6 February the
IAEA Director-General said there had been no further breaches by Iran in
the aftermath of its fifth breach, before going on to note that the country
continued to enrich uranium.
Iran satellite launch fails
On 9 February media
reported on Iran’s failed satellite launch, plans for which had been announced
by Iran’s Minister for Information and Communications Technology several
days earlier. Following the launch
failure, the minister tweeted
out news the launch ‘was not successful’ while earlier in the
day an Iranian defence official was reported to have said
the satellite ‘had launched successfully but not reached orbit’.
Iran’s space program, including its Space Agency, is
the subject of US sanctions. The US contends:
Space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies, such as those
developed by Iran’s space program, are virtually identical and
interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles. Iran’s civilian
space launch vehicle program allows it to gain experience with various
technologies necessary for development of an ICBM – including staging,
ignition of upper-stage engines, and control of a multiple-stage missile
On 11 February US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a
statement in relation to Iran’s launch and claimed it proved that
the JCPOA failed to ‘constrain testing that could support further
advancement of Iran’s ballistic-missile program’. He also alleged the JCPOA
‘lifted the prohibition on Iran’s missile testing and development
of systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and we are seeing the
dangerous consequences today’.
US announces more than 100 Iraq-based
US troops now diagnosed with brain injury
Also on 11 February, the Pentagon announced the number of
service members who suffered a brain injury—as a result of Iran’s
retaliatory missile attack after the assassination of General Suleimani—had climbed to over
100 service members. It further reported that of these, ‘76 had returned to
US warship seizes Iranian weapons
from vessel in Arabian Sea
US Central Command released a statement on 13 February outlining
the seizure by the USS Normandy of Iranian-made weapons from a vessel in the
Arabian Sea, which were believed destined for Houthi militants in Yemen.
According to the statement:
The weapons seized include 150 'Dehlavieh' anti-tank guided
missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs.
Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and
manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, Iranian thermal
imaging weapon scopes, and Iranian components for unmanned aerial and surface
vessels, as well as other munitions and advanced weapons parts.
Many of these weapons systems are identical to the advanced weapons and weapon
components seized by guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) in
the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019. Those weapons were determined to be of
Iranian origin and assessed to be destined for the Houthis in Yemen, which
would be in violation of a UN Security Council Resolution that prohibits the
direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis.
US Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) removes restrictions on US civilian flights over Gulf airspace
On 14 February the US FAA removed the restrictions it had
placed on US civil aviation operations and allowed a resumption of flights over
some countries in the Gulf region. In the background information to the notice,
the FAA noted:
Iran has de-escalated its military posture in the Persian
Gulf and the Gulf of Oman as of early February 2020. Given this de-escalation,
the FAA assesses there is sufficiently reduced risk of Iranian military
miscalculation or misidentification that could affect U.S. civil aviation
operations in the overwater airspace above the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of
Oman in the Kuwait Flight Information Region (FIR) (OKAC), Jeddah FIR (OEJD),
Bahrain FIR (OBBB), Emirates FIR (OMAE), and Muscat FIR (OOMM) to permit U.S.
civil flight operations to resume.
US Secretary of State Pompeo says
US willing to talk to Iran
On 19 February the
US Secretary of State told reporters the US was willing to ‘talk to
Iran “anytime”, but that Iran needed to “fundamentally”
change its behaviour and that a campaign of maximum pressure against it would
continue’. He reportedly went on to say
‘We are not rushed, the pressure campaign continues. It’s not just
an economic pressure campaign ... it’s isolation through diplomacy as
Iran’s government announces
first COVID-19 deaths
Also on 19 February, Iran’s
government reported its first two COVID-19 deaths in the city of Qom and announced
the establishment of a coronavirus health taskforce. Some media reported
‘mixed messages and confusion … emanating from Iran’ in the
week following its first coronavirus deaths, and in the lead-up to its
election, as authorities
sought to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak.
Iran’s 11th parliamentary
went to the polls on 21 February in the 11th parliamentary elections to
take place in the country following the 1979 Revolution. It was the first time
Iranians had gone to the polls since US President Donald Trump came to power
and reimposed sanctions that had crippled the country’s economy. However,
the outcome of the vote has little influence on Iran’s foreign and
security policy as these are controlled by Iran’s supreme leader.
The election was marred by controversy before it even began,
following the powerful Guardian Council’s disqualification
of thousands of candidates considered moderate, and ensuing criticism from
the moderate-leaning President, Hassan Rouhani. The President, however, lacked
the power to overrule the disqualifications, with Reuters noting:
Khamenei, the final authority in Iran’s complex system
of clerical rule and limited democracy, backed the Guardian Council, saying the
next parliament was no place for those scared of speaking out against foreign
This highlights the impact that tensions with the US have on
Iran’s domestic politics and the probable domination of hardliners in
Iran’s new parliament. Indeed, reporting
in the lead-up to poll seemed to suggest:
Big gains by security hawks would confirm the political
demise of the country’s pragmatist politicians, weakened by
Washington’s decision to quit a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions
in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
More hardliner seats in the Feb. 21 vote may also hand them
another prize — more leeway to campaign for the 2021 contest for
president, a job with wide day-to-day control of government.
Such wide command of the power apparatus would open an era in
which the elite Revolutionary Guards, already omnipresent in the life of the
nation, hold ever greater sway in political, social and economic affairs.
Other reporting highlighted
‘Confrontation with America, economic hardship and an airline tragedy
have battered Iranians’ confidence in their leaders, posing a potential
problem for the authorities in a parliamentary election this week’.
Despite this, government officials were reportedly
expecting the same degree of turnout as previous elections—around 60
In what appears to have been a symbolic move, on 21 February
US sanctioned five members of Iran’s Guardian council for their role
in disqualifying candidates in the elections.
The Financial Action Task Force
(FATF) blacklists Iran
The FATF met on 21 February and voted
to reimpose counter-measures on Iran, often referred to in commentary as
The outcome was not unexpected. Iran has been subject to multiple warnings, and
moderates within the parliament
had unsuccessfully attempted to secure the passing of the relevant legislation,
in an effort to prevent measures being enacted against Iran that would further
isolate it from financial markets. In a statement, the
Given Iran’s failure to enact the Palermo and Terrorist
Financing Conventions in line with the FATF Standards, the FATF fully lifts the
suspension of counter-measures and calls on its members and urges all
jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures.
Iran’s Central Bank chief said
The decision is politically
motivated and not a technical decision ... I can assure our nation that it will
have no impact on Iran’s foreign trade and the stability of our exchange
Iran’s poll attendance
announced—record low participation
On 23 February Iranian authorities announced a record
low 42 per cent participation rate in the parliamentary election, making it
the lowest on record since the country’s 1979 revolution. Supreme leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei blamed coronavirus fears stoked by Iran’s enemies for
the drop in turnout. The election result
saw conservatives dominate.
EMASoH reaches full operational
On 25 February the EMASoH’s military component, Operation
Agenor, operating out of a French naval base in Abu Dhabi, was declared to
full operational capacity.
COVID-19 fallout hits Iran’s
dropped to a one-year low against the US dollar on 26 February. The drop
was thought to be due in part to the closure of most of Iran’s borders as
a result of growing COVID-19 cases. Analysts
contended the consequences were dire—with border closures further
isolating Iran and hampering its ability to conduct cross-border trade in goods
not under sanction, which comprise a key part of its ‘economic
Remaining JCPOA parties meet
On 27 February JCPOA parties met as part of their continued
efforts to preserve the agreement. A Chair’s
Statement, issued after the meeting, said:
The meeting addressed both Iran's steps in reducing its
nuclear commitments under the JCPOA including its announcement of 5 January
2020, as well as longstanding concerns, recognised by all participants,
regarding the impact of the US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and the
re-imposition of sanctions by it.
In this context, serious concerns were expressed regarding
the implementation of Iran's nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Participants also acknowledged that the re-imposition of US sanctions did not
allow Iran to reap the full benefits arising from sanctions-lifting.
All participants reaffirmed the importance of preserving the agreement
recalling that it is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation
The statement also went on to say that an
additional four European countries had joined the INSTEX trading mechanism as
‘new shareholders, with more to follow’.
A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman provided
an update of China’s position, saying:
During the meeting, China stressed that the JCPOA, as an
important outcome of multilateral diplomacy, has been widely supported by the
international community. The US withdrawal from the JCPOA and its maximum
pressure against Iran is the root cause of the Iranian nuclear crisis. All
parties should proceed from the goal of preserving the JCPOA, deal with the
Iranian nuclear issue in an objective and fair way, and seek to resolve
disputes through consultation under the Joint Commission framework. It is
imperative for all parties to restore balance between rights and obligations
under the JCPOA. All parties reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the JCPOA,
agreed on the principle China proposed to resume implementing the agreement in
a gradual, step-by-step and reciprocal way, and promised to take concrete
measures to comprehensively and effectively implement the JCPOA. China will
continue to closely coordinate with all parties to safeguard the JCPOA and work
for a political and diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue.
US grants SHTA formal sanctions
On 28 February media reported the
US had formally granted a sanctions waiver for the Swiss Humanitarian channel
(SHTA) that had earlier in the month begun trial operations. The waiver
allowed for certain transactions to be conducted with Iran without fear of US
sanction and essentially allowed for trade in food, medicine and other
supplies. Iran, however, still has to purchase these supplies amid a growing
The following day, US
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in a statement at a US House Foreign
Affairs Committee meeting:
“We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to
help,” Pompeo said in a hearing at House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Their healthcare infrastructure is not robust and to date, their
willingness to share information about what’s really going on inside ... Iran
has not been robust and I am very concerned that ... it is Iran that is not
E3 offer Iran a €5 million
assistance package to deal with COVID-19
As Iran continued to battle a growing COVID-19 outbreak, the
E3 offered an assistance package, which was to be provided via the World
Health Organization and other UN agencies. According to a 2 March statement released
by Britain’s Foreign Office, the
E3 also sent medical supplies.
IAEA issues report highlighting
Iran’s non-compliance with requests
On 4 March the
IAEA reportedly released a confidential second report on Iran’s nuclear
activities to IAEA member countries, in which it rebuked the country for
its lack of cooperation, including denying IAEA officials access to certain
sites. The report was in addition
to the IAEA’s regular update on Iran, which detailed that Iran had
nearly trebled its stockpile of ‘low-enriched
uranium … to more than a tonne’. On 6 March US Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo called for Iran to be held to account, saying:
Iran’s intentional failure to declare such nuclear
material, as reported by the IAEA this week, would constitute a clear violation
of its safeguards agreements required by the NPT.
The regime must immediately cooperate with the IAEA and fully
comply with its IAEA safeguards obligations. All nations must hold Iran
accountable to its commitments, otherwise, the NPT isn’t worth the paper
that is written on.
response claimed the IAEA’s case was ‘based on “fabricated”
Israeli intelligence’ and stood by its decision to deny IAEA officials
access to two sites. Reuters
Diplomats who follow the IAEA say the decision to inspect
those sites to take environmental samples was based at least in part on a trove
of documents Israel says its intelligence agents seized in Iran. Israel calls
it an “archive” of past activities.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran does not want to set a
bad precedence by giving legitimacy to such alleged information,”
Iran’s mission to the IAEA in Vienna said in a statement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister and the EU’s Foreign
Policy Chief subsequently held
a telephone discussion regarding the report, the status of the JCPOA and
Iran’s COVID-19 efforts.
On 11 March US
authorities released details about Iranian nuclear sites to IAEA members,
claiming one may have hosted uranium metal, providing details of the locations
and other information.
Iran agrees to release Ukraine
airliner black boxes to Ukrainian authorities
Also on 11 March, an Iranian diplomat stated
Iran would send black boxes from the Ukrainian airliner to Ukraine for analysis,
following two months of stonewalling. According to Reuters:
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne described
the move as a step in the right direction.
“We welcome those words, but we will judge Iran
obviously by their actions,” he told reporters. Ottawa has repeatedly
pressed Iran to hand over the damaged boxes from the crash, in which 57
Iran had also made clear it would transfer the boxes to
France if need be, Champagne said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Iran in January
to send the recorders to France, one of the few countries with the ability to
read damaged black boxes.
US and coalition forces come under
rocket attack in Iraq
US and coalition forces at Iraq’s Camp Taji base came under rocket
attack on 11 March. According to ABC
reporting, ‘The US-led military coalition in Iraq said in a statement
that the 18 rockets that struck the base were 107 mm Katyusha missiles and
suggested they may have been fired from a truck’. Three service members
(two American and one British) were killed
and 14 others injured.
On 12 March the
US retaliated against Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, which is a part of
the Iran-backed PMF that the US suspected of carrying out the attack. The
retaliatory attack allegedly
killed Iraqi soldiers and a civilian at Karbala
Iran seeks US$5 billion emergency
IMF assistance to fight COVID-19 outbreak
With its economy in free-fall and dealing with one of the
world’s most severe COVID-19 outbreaks, Iran
sought emergency IMF assistance on 12 March. It was reportedly
‘Iran’s first request for IMF aid since the country’s 1979
Iran’s Central Bank reported it had sought
US$5 billion from the IMF, while the country’s foreign minister lobbied
the UN Secretary-General to assist with lifting US sanctions. (Several days
later Iran’s foreign minister stated on Twitter
that President Rouhani had also written to leaders of other countries (who were
not named), about US sanctions harming Iran’s ability to respond to
US House of Representatives votes
to limit President’s ability to ‘wage war against Iran’
Also on 12 March, the US House of Representatives voted on
a resolution intended to limit the President’s ability to ‘wage
war against Iran’. The Iran
War Powers resolution passed, but Trump indicated he intended to exercise
his powers of veto. For the Senate to overturn his veto a supermajority of
two-thirds would be required.
The same day, the head
of US Central Command said during a Senate hearing that in his view,
Iran’s outbreak of COVID-19 made the country ‘… more
dangerous rather than less dangerous’.
Taji complex again comes under
On 14 March the Taji complex where US, Australian and other
coalition forces are based again came
under rocket attack in what was assumed to be a response to the US
retaliatory strike of 12 March. Three
US service members along with two Iraqi air defence personnel were reported
injured in the barrage of 33 rockets fired at the base. A
group called ‘Usbat al-Thayyireen’ claimed responsibility for
this and an earlier 11 March attack on Taji, with Newsweek reporting:
they were to avenge the "assassinations of our martyred
commanders" in likely reference to the killing of Iran's
Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, and
Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a U.S.
drone strike at Baghdad International Airport in January.
Usbat al-Thayireen's logo and rhetoric bear similarities to
many other Shiite groups active in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, a Popular
Mobilization Forces spokesperson told Newsweek that
"there is no affiliation" with its forces.
The Iraqi military was widely reported to have
cautioned that the latest attack should not trigger a further US retaliatory
Iraq’s prior approval. The US Secretary of State said in a statement
on 16 March:
the Government of Iraq must defend Coalition personnel
supporting the Iraqi government’s efforts to defeat ISIS. Secretary
Pompeo underscored that the groups responsible for these attacks must be held
accountable. Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and
threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in
China urges lifting of US sanctions
On 17 March China’s
Foreign Ministry spokesman called for a lifting of US sanctions against Iran,
We urge the US to immediately lift unilateral sanction [sic]
on Iran. Continued sanction is against humanitarianism and hampers
Iran’s epidemic response & delivery of humanitarian aid by the UN and
China’s comments followed those of Russia a week
earlier, in which Russian
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said:
We called and are calling on the United States to abandon the
inhumane practice of applying unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has an
acute shortage of means to solve urgent health issues in the current situation
of the spread of the coronavirus.
Iran’s Foreign Minister calls
for sanctions relief on humanitarian grounds
On 18 March Iran’s
Foreign Minister released an English-language speech ahead of Nowruz (the
end of the Persian calendar year) in which he claimed US sanctions prevented
Iran from accessing medical supplies. He said:
Sadly, a huge part of the danger Iranian's face is due to
restrictions unjustly imposed on them by the United States Government. Iran
today is the most intensely sanctioned country in history, not in line with
United Nations decisions, but contrary to them. The economic siege imposed on
us impedes all legitimate trade and deprives us from our own resources, the
ones necessary to address the needs of our people, including their health and
livelihoods. Even amid this pandemic the US government has vengefully refused
to lift its unlawful and collective punishment, making it virtually impossible
for us to even buy medicine and medical equipment. The bigger tragedy is that
many companies and countries who officially oppose these sanctions have chosen
to comply with them, perhaps in hopes of avoiding the future wrath of the
United States, despite President Trump time and again proving that this is just
Iran’s President suggests
more retaliation for Suleimani assassination may be coming
The same day, in a televised speech to his Cabinet to mark
Nowruz, Iran’s President Rouhani said that
Iran had not left the US assassination of General Suleimani unanswered and
appeared to indicate there
may be a future retaliatory response for his death.
US adds more sanctions
The US State Department announced
more sanctions against Iran on 18 March, outlining it had ‘sanctioned
nine entities and three individuals who have engaged in activity that could
enable the regime’s violent behaviour’:
The actions of these individuals and entities provide revenue
to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing
activities, such as the recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces
located at Camp Taji in Iraq.
released in support of the announcement identified sanctioned entities,
including Chinese, Hong Kong and South African companies that were
‘trading in or transporting Iranian petrochemicals’.
The following day the US Treasury’s
Office of Foreign Assets Control also announced it had taken ‘action
against five United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based companies that facilitate the
Iranian regime’s petroleum and petrochemical sales’.
Trump’s and Pompeo’s
Nowruz messages strike different tones
On 20 March President Trump released a Presidential
Message marking the celebration
of Nowruz. In his message
The past year has been historic for the people of Iran. We
saw brave and courageous Iranians stand up in massive numbers across the entire
country to protest their government’s corruption and demand accountability.
The people of Iran have made it clear that they want leadership that represents
them, not the interests of its corrupt regime. The Iranian people deserve
leaders who listen to, respect, and invest in them, not leaders who target and
persecute them while wasting money to advance their nuclear ambitions and test
Nowruz is a time of renewal that encourages those observing
the holiday to embrace a refreshed sprit of optimism. The Iranian people have
great untapped potential. Their culture is vibrant, and Iranians excel in
fields from math and science, law, technology, and the arts. They deserve a
future of peace and prosperity at home and with all other nations. As they
begin this season of renewed hope, we join our partners and allies around the
world in praying for a brighter, freer future for Iran.
On behalf of the United States, I extend my warmest greetings
for a joyous and peace-filled Nowruz. Today, we are reminded once more that the
forces of freedom and liberty will always triumph over evil and oppression.
Secretary of State Pompeo’s message was less
political, and indicated
a US willingness to assist Iran:
I join President Trump in wishing a happy, healthy, and
prosperous Nowruz to all who celebrate this tradition across the world.
The arrival of spring reminds us of our many blessings.
Nowruz is a time to gather and recognize these blessings among friends and
family by paying visits and sharing meals. Unfortunately, we must exercise more
caution in our exchanges this year as the Coronavirus has affected many
countries, including those that celebrate Nowruz.
We are saddened to learn of the mounting deaths this virus
has caused, particularly in Iran. We are heartened by each recovery and share
hopes with the people of Iran and around the world that they can prevent the
spread of this virus. To support the recovery from this especially difficult
time, our offer still stands to send humanitarian and medical assistance to the
people of Iran.
As Nowruz also symbolizes rebirth, may this year serve as an
opportunity to refresh our commitments to health, hope, and renewal for all!
During a 20 March press conference, Pompeo was asked
about the possibility of relaxing sanctions on Iran because it was
‘particularly hard hit’ by COVID-19. He responded:
…The whole world should know that humanitarian
assistance into Iran is wide open. It’s not sanctioned. We’ve
offered to provide assistance to the Iranians as well. I talked with Dr. Ted
Rose from the World Health Organization about this. We’re doing
everything we can to facilitate both the humanitarian assistance moving in, and
to make sure that financial transactions connected to that can take place as
There is no sanction on medicines going to Iran. There’s
no sanctions on humanitarian assistance going into that country. They’ve
got a terrible problem there, and we want that humanitarian medical healthcare
assistance to get to the people of Iran.
Q But the sanctions themselves, no — no movement?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are — we are working to do all the
things we’ve had in place for the first three years here to deliver
security for the American people.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responds to
US offers of assistance
In a 22 March televised speech, Iran’s supreme leader,
Ali Khamenei, acknowledged US offers of assistance but rejected taking them up.
Iran’s PressTV reported
Americans have said several times that 'we are ready to help
with treatment and medicine; just ask us and we will help'. This is one of
the weirdest things which they tell us to ask them.
Firstly, you have a shortage yourself and this is what American
officials say. Secondly, you are accused of producing the virus. I do not know
how true this accusation is, but when such an accusation is made, which wise
person will ask for your help?
Khameni reportedly went on to say:
American officials are
mendacious, deceitful, shameless and greedy. They are all kinds
of charlatans who speak like charlatans. They are cruel, merciless, and
There is no trust in the Americans because they may send in
drugs that make the virus more prevalent or persistent in Iran, or may even
send people as healers to see the effect of the virus - part of which is said
to have been made for Iran - in order to complete their information
and increase their hostility. Therefore, what the Americans are
saying is not acceptable
Two days earlier, the Ayatollah had said in a speech
to mark the start of Nowruz that ‘Iran had benefited from
America’s sanctions. It made us self-sufficient in all areas’, and reportedly
went on to name the New Year ‘the
year of the jump in production’.
European Union provides aid to Iran
On 23 March the EU’s Josep Borrell reported that in
the coming weeks Iran would receive ‘20 million euros of
humanitarian help’, and confirmed
the EU would support requests Iran and Venezuela had made to the IMF.
We are going to support these requests because these
countries are in a very difficult situation, mainly due to the American
sanctions that prevent them from having income by selling their oil. On these
situations, we believe that is has to be reaffirmed that humanitarian trade,
such as goods, that can be delivered to these countries, food, medicines and
medical stuff, can be delivered to this countries and are not under American
sanctions. This has to be reaffirmed because many people believe that if they
participate in this kind of humanitarian trade, they can be under these
sanctions. This is not the case, but it has to be reaffirmed in order for
everybody to understand that they can participate in this humanitarian help.
UN Human Rights Commissioner calls
for lifting of sanctions
The following day, the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the lifting of broad sectoral
sanctions, including those on Iran, saying:
At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons,
and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries,
sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global
pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of
Reports of US citizen’s death
in Iranian custody
On 26 March reports emerged that missing US citizen and former
FBI agent, Bob Levinson, was believed to have died in Iranian custody. Iran
by claiming that Levinson had ‘left Iran years ago’. It also lobbied
for the release of Iranian prisoners in US custody because of
US adds more Iran-related sanctions
while granting Iraq a sanction waiver
Also on 26 March, the US Treasury reported
designated 20 Iran- and Iraq-based front companies, senior
officials, and business associates that provide support to or act for or on
behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) in
addition to transferring lethal aid to Iranian-backed terrorist militias in
On the same day, the US
granted Iraq a 30-day sanctions waiver enabling the country to purchase
Iranian energy, which still accounts
for around 30 per cent of Iraq’s energy needs despite growing US
pressure on the country to move away from Iranian supply.
Iran taps sovereign fund as 20 per
cent of budget allocated to COVID-19 response
In an indication of Iran’s increasingly troubled
economic situation, on 29 March President Rouhani declared the country would allocate
20 per cent of its budget to dealing with COVID-19. He also revealed he was
to access Iran’s sovereign wealth fund—which requires
permission from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
First INSTEX transaction takes
On 31 March the
E3 used the INSTEX trade mechanism for the first time to export medical
goods to Iran. According to a statement released
by the German Government:
France, Germany and the United Kingdom confirm that INSTEX
has successfully concluded its first transaction, facilitating the export of
medical goods from Europe to Iran. These goods are now in Iran. INSTEX aims to
provide a sustainable, long-term solution for legitimate trade between Europe
and Iran as part of the continued efforts to preserve the JCPOA. Now the first
transaction is complete, INSTEX and its Iranian counterpart STFI will work on
more transactions and enhancing the mechanism.
Trump claims Iran planning an
On 1 April the New York Times reported President
Trump had ‘strongly hinted’ if Iranian proxy militias in Iraq again
attacked US forces he would consider retaliating against Iran, and appeared
to indicate he would target senior officials, saying ‘If it happens
again, that would go up the food chain’. On 2 April Trump
tweeted that Iran was planning a ‘sneak attack’ on US interests in
Iraq, but provided no further details. He did, however, warn Iran that any
such attack would come with a ‘very
The same day, senior officials in the Trump administration told
media that the
US believed ‘Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was
directly involved in the killing of an Iranian dissident last November in
Turkey’. The US Secretary of State also tweeted about
the reports, claiming:
Reports that Iranian diplomats were involved in an
assassination of a dissident in Turkey are disturbing but fully consistent with
their assignments - Iran's "diplomats" are agents of terror and have
conducted multiple assassinations and bomb plots in Europe over the past
Iran denies reports it delayed
reporting coronavirus and was involved in dissident killing
On 2 April Reuters alleged that in late 2019 and
early 2020 Iranian
authorities had played down reports about the spread of coronavirus within the
country, fearing it could jeopardise the upcoming election. While there has
been previous coverage of Iran’s alleged under-reporting of figures, the Reuters
report outlined that the
warnings of doctors were initially ignored, and authorities delayed
‘releasing detailed information’ out of fear it would
‘unsettle the public ahead of parliamentary elections’. According
to the Reuters report,
another factor driving the downplaying of cases was a desire to protect
Iran’s relationship with China and that ‘Iran did not want to risk
disrupting its vital trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, one of its most
spokesperson contacted by Reuters said ‘The notion that there
was intentional concealing of facts is preposterous’.
On 3 April Iran’s Foreign Minister responded to
Trump’s sneak attack claims, tweeting:
Don’t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN,
@realDonaldTrump: Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike
the US — which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates —
Iran only acts in self-defence. Openly [sic]
Iran starts no wars, but teaches lessons to those who do.
Zarif’s comments came a day after an aide to
Iran’s supreme leader reportedly
warned the US ‘of consequences of provocative actions in Iraq’.
On 4 April an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman took
aim at the US Secretary of State’s tweet about Iranian diplomats
allegedly being involved in the killing of an Iranian dissident, saying:
Undisputed fact: US "diplomats" have long been in
the business of coups, arming terrorists, fueling sectarian violence,
supporting narcotics cartels, bullying governments & companies, spying on
even US allies, flirting with dictators, butchers and terrorists, etc…
(2) But @SecPompeo (#Mr_CIA aka #Secretary_of_Hate) & his
masters have taken the "job" to a whole new level:
#Medical_terrorism. That's why he has a conscience so filled with guilt that
resorts to such psychological projection.
European Leadership network members
issue call to ease humanitarian trade with Iran
On 6 April, 24 former high-ranking officials from across
Europe, NATO and the US made
a transatlantic call for the US to ease humanitarian trade with Iran, on
the grounds that Iran has been one of the countries most badly affected by the COVID-19
pandemic. The statement said:
Though never intended to kill, US “maximum
pressure” through sanctions on Iran are compromising the performance of
the Iranian healthcare system as Iran’s outbreak moves into its second
month. Despite humanitarian exemptions provided under US and international law,
these sanctions make the importation of medicine, medical equipment and raw
materials needed to produce these goods domestically slower, more expensive,
and complicated – when even possible – by deterring potential
suppliers out of fear of overstepping sanctions’ limits.
Like every country – even one as large and
wealthy as the United States – success in fighting the virus requires
that Iran have flexible, reliable and affordable means of importing these
crucial supplies through commercial channels. The Trump administration’s
sanctions on Iran are the most extensive coercive economic measures ever
imposed on a country. A focused reduction in overall pressure would have a
significant impact on the ability of Iran’s healthcare system to respond
to the COVID-19 outbreak, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of thousands
of ordinary Iranians and, by helping to curb the virus’ rapid spread
across borders, the lives of its neighbors, Europeans, Americans and others.
The statement also contended that although the US had
claimed it made offers of assistance to Iran, it ‘has not made the
details or any potential conditions public’ and that ‘given
the high level of tensions and mutual distrust between Tehran and Washington,
it is unrealistic to expect that Iran would tie itself to US aid to tackle a
national emergency or ask Washington for help’:
Offering aid with one hand while taking away much more
through the pressure of crippling economic sanctions with the other is not a
coherent posture. Iran has received timely and important aid from the E3/EU
(France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Union), as well as
Japan, China, Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and others.
While this aid has played an important role in the early days of the crisis,
Iran cannot depend on this limited assistance alone, especially as the pandemic
becomes more severe in many of the donor countries.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended every aspect of the
global economy and of human lives and health, it has drastically changed the
impact of a US policy designed for a different purpose and conditions. Just
because Iran has managed the crisis badly, that does not make its humanitarian
needs and our security ones any the less. Targeted sanctions relief would be
both morally right and serve the health and security interests of the United
States, Europe, and the rest of the world.
A series of immediate and further measures were laid out,
call for the US to abstain from interfering if the IMF board ‘votes in
favour of providing Iran with requested emergency financing’. The US
is the largest
shareholder in the IMF.
Iran taps sovereign fund; continues
Iranian officials also continued their campaign to have US
sanctions lifted, with a Foreign
Ministry spokesman saying at a 6 April news conference: ‘Iran has
never asked and will not ask America to help Tehran in its fight against the
outbreak ... But America should lift all its illegal unilateral sanctions on
Iran’. Iran’s Foreign Minister echoed this sentiment the
following day, tweeting:
Iran is rich in human & natural resources. We don't need
charity from @realDonaldTrump—who's forced to buy ventilators from
sources he's sanctioned.
What we want is for him to STOP preventing Iran from selling
oil & other products, buying its needs & making & receiving
On 7 April Ayatollah
Khamenei approved ‘the withdrawal of one billion euros from the
country’s sovereign wealth fund to help fight the coronavirus
epidemic’. His decision came amid reports
that Iran was ‘struggling to shield its economy from the coronavirus
On 8 April Iran’s
President continued the country’s push for the IMF to grant a $5 billion
emergency loan, reportedly saying
‘I urge international organisations to fulfil their duties ... We are a
member of the IMF’. The same day, in a conversation with French President
Emmanuel Macron, President Rouhani said that while the first INSTEX transaction
consisting of the export of medical goods to Iran was a positive step, it
was insufficient. Macron in turn reportedly called
on Iran to continue to uphold its nuclear obligations, ‘refrain from
taking new measures contrary to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
and contribute to the easing of regional tensions’.
IMF decision on Iran aid stalls
emerged on 15 April that ‘US opposition to opening new avenues of
funding for Iran and China’ was ‘preventing the International
Monetary Fund from deploying a powerful new tool to help countries fight the
economic impact of the coronavirus’. Elsewhere, it was reported that the IMF
was ‘still assessing Iran’s request for $5 billion in emergency
financing’, in part because ‘of the IMF’s limited
engagement with Tehran in recent times’.
Iranian IRGC naval vessels harass
US military ships in the Persian Gulf
On 15 April the US Navy reported
that ‘Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels
conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. military ships by
crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in
international waters’ in the Persian Gulf. At the time, US forces were
‘conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime
security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations’. The incident came a
day after the
IRGCN briefly detained a Hong Kong flagged tanker.
On 17 April Iran’s Defence Minister, speaking
on the sidelines of Iran’s Army Day Parade, claimed ‘What
creates insecurity in the Persian Gulf region is in fact the illegal and
aggressive presence of Americans, who have come near our borders from the other
side of the world’. Over the following two days Iran’s army
announced it had acquired
three new drones capable of flying at high altitudes and carrying bombs and
missiles, and had developed
two new long-range radar systems, as well as a ‘mobile
missile defence system’ to bolster its air defences.
The IRGC responded
to the US Navy’s statement on 19 April, saying:
‘We advise the Americans to follow international regulations and maritime
protocols in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and to refrain from any
adventurism and false and fake stories’. The IRGC
also reportedly said it was increasing its naval patrols.
On 20 April Iran’s IRGC’s Navy commander said
in an interview that Iran
had extended the range of its naval missiles to 700 km. He also discussed
the recent incident between Iranian and US naval forces, and the US presence in
the region, alleging
‘Since the arrival of the Americans in the region, 550 oil tankers
have been targeted … and regional security has been decreased by 55
Trump claims willing to assist
Iran; Iran lobbies Europe for sanctions relief; US stalls IMF vote
Also on 20 April, President
Trump said he would be willing to give Iran assistance in responding to the
COVID-19 pandemic. The same day, in a phone discussion with Italy’s
Prime Minister, Iran’s President called US pressure on Iran ‘inhumane’
and ‘against all human principles and international regulations’.
Italy and other European countries to ‘take appropriate stances
against such violation of the rules in these difficult circumstances’.
On 22 April Politico reported that the EU’s
Josep Borrell told a meeting of European foreign ministers that ‘I
regret that ... the United States are opposing the International Monetary
Fund to take this decision’ and that ‘From the humanitarian
point of view, this decision, this request should have been accepted’.
Iran launches military satellite;
Trump threatens to ‘shoot down’ Iranian naval vessels
On 22 April, Iran’s IRGC
announced it had successfully launched its first military satellite, which it
reported ‘was orbiting 425 km above the earth’s surface’. According
to an Israeli
analyst, the satellite’s ‘military use is limited’
because of its low altitude, hence ‘it can be used only for
reconnaissance, but with limited performance’. However, the technology
Iran used to launch the satellite is dual-use, which has further fuelled
concerns Iran is using its space program as cover for developing longer range
ballistic missiles capable of targeting more countries, and potentially
carrying nuclear warheads.
Several hours after Iran’s satellite launch, Trump
tweeted ‘I have instructed the United
States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they
harass our ships at sea’.
US reactions to Iranian satellite
launch and naval activity
The US Secretary of State was among the first US officials
to address Iran’s satellite launch at a press
briefing later that day:
… The Iranians have consistently said that these
missile programs were disconnected from their military, that these were purely
commercial enterprises. I think today’s launch proves what we’ve
been saying all along here in the United States: The IRGC, a designated
terrorist organization, launched a missile today. And I’ll leave to the
Department of Defense to talk about the details about that. But when you talk
about the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, I think every nation has an
obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch
was consistent with that Security Council resolution. I don’t think it
remotely is, and I need – I think Iran needs to be held accountable for
what they’ve done. They’ve now had a military organization that the
United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite.
In an article
covering US reactions to the launch and Iran’s naval activity, the New
York Times noted:
The United Nations resolution Mr. Pompeo referred to does not
explicitly prohibit such launches; instead, watered-down language agreed to as
part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal says that Iran is “called upon”
to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons,
for up to eight years. Iran insists it is not working on a nuclear weapon, and
thus none of its missiles are designed to be “nuclear capable.”
The appearance of the mobile launcher struck both American
and Israeli officials as a major advance. Previously Iran has launched its
satellites from fixed sites, which are easy to strike before a launch. But the
photos and video of this launch showed a mobile launcher similar to what the
North Koreans have increasingly used. The system reduces warning time, and thus
makes it harder to pre-empt a launch.
Pompeo also addressed Trump’s
tweet threatening to ‘shoot down’ Iranian naval vessels:
… You saw the President’s statement this morning.
The President’s been very clear to the Department of Defense and frankly
to the State Department team too to do everything we need to do to make sure
that we protect and defend our officers, our military officers, our diplomats
around the world, to continue to ensure that they are secure and safe. What he
said this morning and what I know he’s told all of us in leadership
inside the government is take whatever action is necessary to make sure that
you can defend and keep our people safe. I’m confident that the
Department of Defense will do that in response to what the President said this
morning as well.
Department of Defence officials responded to both the
satellite launch and the President’s tweet, with the US
Deputy Secretary for Defence stating:
DOD has and continues to monitor closely Iran's pursuit of
viable space-launched technology and how it may relate to its advancement of
its ballistic missile program. And Iran's ballistic missile program remains a
regional threat to U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners, and we
remain confident in our ability to deter and defend against [the] threat posed
by Iran and its proxies.
The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added that
the launch meant Iran ‘has
the ability, once again, to threaten their neighbors, our allies, and we want
to make sure that they can never threaten the United States’.
When asked about Trump’s tweet and ‘whether
Pentagon leadership has, in fact, received an order that changes policy or
changes procedures for handling encounters with Iranian gunboats’ the
MR. NORQUIST: So the president issued an -- an important
warning to the Iranians. What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the
right of self-defense, and people need to be very careful in their interactions
to understand the inherent right of self-defense.
Vice Chairman, did you want to add on that?
GEN. HYTEN: Well, I'll just say that every capability that we
deploy, every ship that deploys into harm's way has the inherent right of
self-defense, as the secretary just described. What that means is if we see a
hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond up to and
including lethal force, and if it happens in the Gulf, if it happens in any
way, we will respond with overwhelming lethal force, if necessary, to defend
ourselves, and it's really that simple. But nobody should doubt that the commanders
have the authority right now to respond to any hostile act or hostile intent.
Q: I have a quick follow-up to that. So what you seem to be
saying is that, of course, this has been existing policy for -- for a long time
of self-defense. So this communication from the president does not, in fact,
then, you're saying, represent a change in how you handle this.
MR. NORQUIST: The president's describing and responding to
poor behavior on the behalf of the Iranians, and he is emphasizing and warning
to them about the challenges of what they -- they create. So I think it was a
very useful thing that he put out, and I think it's an important thing for
other people to understand and take very seriously.
GEN. HYTEN: So I like that the president warned an adversary.
That's what he's doing. He's providing a warning. If you want -- if you want to
go down that path, we will come and we will come large, so don't go down that
path. That is what he's saying. He's saying it in clear, uncertain [sic] terms.
We understand that direction, and every commander that's deployed has the
ability to execute that.
At a press briefing later that day, Trump
was asked about his tweet and whether he was ‘going to change,
formally, rules of engagement for our U.S. military so that they can engage’:
THE PRESIDENT: No. We’re covered — we’re
covered 100 percent. We don’t want their gunboats surrounding our boats
and traveling around our boats and having a good time. We don’t want them
anywhere near our boats. And — so you know the order I gave. I
don’t think I have to say it again, but I’ve given that order.
Under the Obama administration, it was taking place all the
time. Under my administration, I gave this order early on and nothing happened.
They were very nice; they were no problem. But then I noticed yesterday, they
did that in a much lighter form, but they did that again. I said,
“We’re not going to — we’re not going to stand for
So if they do that, that’s putting our ships at danger
and our great crews and sailors at — in danger. I’m not going to
let that happen. And we will — they’ll shoot them out of the water.
Q So the U.S. military does not have to change its rules of
engagement in order to follow your directive?
THE PRESIDENT: No, that’s not rules of engagement;
that’s a threat when they get that close to our boat. And they have guns.
They have very substantial weapons on those boats. But we’ll shoot them
out of the water. Okay?
Trump was also asked about Iran’s
Q Mr. President, I wanted to ask you about the launch of the
military satellite by Iran. I wanted to get your response to that. Do you see
this an advancement of the missile program?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean the shot they took? Well, they say
no. Okay? They say all sorts. “It was for television”. Does anybody
really believe that? They want to have better television in Iran, so they say.
No, we’re watching Iran very closely. Very closely.
Q Are you concerned —
THE PRESIDENT: We know more about Iran than they do. Right
now, we know more than they do. So we know all about it. We watched it; we knew
it was going up. We followed it very closely. They say it was for television.
Iran responds with threats of its
Iran’s military and political leaders responded to
Trump’s tweet and also summoned
the Swiss ambassador, who acts as an interlocutor between Iran and the US.
On 23 April IRGC Commander, Hossein Salami, was reported by Tasnim News Agency to
We (warn) the Americans that we are fully determined and
serious in defending our national security, maritime borders, maritime
interests, maritime security and security of our forces at sea and any (wrong)
move (by enemies) will meet our decisive, effective and prompt response.
He also indicated
the IRGC has ‘also ordered our military units at sea that if a vessel or
military unit of the navy of the US terrorist military seeks to threaten the
security of our civilian ships or combat vessels, they should target that
(enemy) vessel or military unit’. This followed the IRGC releasing its
own video of the encounter between its vessels and the US Navy.
Iran’s Foreign Minister responded to the renewed
The US military is hit by over 5000 #covid19 infections.
@realdonaldtrump should attend to their needs, not engage in threats cheered on
by Saddam's terrorists.
Also, US forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home,
provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores.
Some Iranian officials also responded to US criticisms of
its satellite launch. The head of Iran’s Civil Defence Organisation reportedly
said ‘such [a] breakthrough in the space sphere proved the fact that
the sanctions cannot obstruct Iran’s progress’. He also noted
‘These realities demonstrate that we can make great and strategic strides
in the path to progress in spite of the sanctions’ and that such success
came as a result of Iran’s ‘rejection of a JCPOA on
E3 criticism of Iran’s
On 24 April France condemned the launch saying it was
in conformity with UNSCR 2231’. The statement went
on to say:
Given that the technology used for space launches is very
similar to that used for ballistic missile launches, this launch directly
contributes to the extremely troubling progress made by Iran in its ballistic
missile program. The role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Aerospace Force, an entity subject to EU sanctions, in this launch reflects the
close link between these two programs.
Iran’s ballistic missile program is of major concern
for regional and international security. It contributes to the destabilization
of the region and to mounting tensions.
We call on Iran to immediately halt any activity related to
the development of ballistic missiles designed to be able to carry nuclear
weapons, including space launch vehicles, and to comply with its obligations
under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
The UK Foreign Office also issued
Reports that Iran has carried out a satellite launch –
using ballistic missile technology – are of significant concern and
inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The UN has called upon
Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be
capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran must abide by this.
We have significant and longstanding concerns, alongside our
international partners, over Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which is
destabilising for the region and poses a threat to regional security.
was reported to have said that Iran’s missile program threatened to
destabilise the region and was unacceptable. Russia reportedly
‘rejected assertions the launch violated the UN Security Council’s
resolution in Iran, noting Iran had the right to develop its space program for
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman responded
to international criticism on 24 April and claimed that UNSCR 2231
‘is a resolution that the US regime has violated by withdrawing from the
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and continues to openly pressure other
independent states to violate …’. Iran’s Foreign Minister
US has been bullying all against UNSC Resolution 2231
since 2017. Europe obeyed US instead of 2231. Neither can lecture Iran based on
flimsy misreadings of UNSCR 2231. Iran neither has nukes nor missiles
“DESIGNED to be capable of carrying” such horrific arms …
The same day, Iranian media reported President Rouhani had called
for a strengthening of Iran’s space capabilities and for the
country’s armed forces to ‘pursue strategies that would ensure
and strengthen stability and sustainable security in the region’.
The following day—25 April—Rouhani told
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, that ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran is closely watching and
following the activity and movements of Americans, but will never be the
initiator of any tension and conflict in the region’. Two days later, in a
27 April phone call with China’s President, Xi Jinping, Rouhani
reportedly ‘asked Xi for help in ending US sanctions’, while
Iran’s Foreign Minister tweeted:
2 yrs ago, @SecPompeo and his boss declared "CEASING US
participation" in JCPOA, dreaming that their "max pressure"
would bring Iran to its knees. Given that policy's abject failure, he now wants
to be JCPOA participant. Stop dreaming: Iranian Nation always decides its
US-Iraq sanctions waiver
Also on 27 April, the
US renewed a waiver that allowed Iraq to continue importing Iranian
‘electricity’ for 30 days. The waiver renewal was again of a
shorter duration than those previously granted ‘for periods of 90 or 120
days’ and was reportedly designed to push Iraq away from its dependency
on Iranian oil. However, one
state department official claimed the short timeframe for this most recent
exemption was to ‘allow time for the formation of a credible
government’, a reference to political turmoil that engulfed Iraq following
the fall of its government in late 2019.
Iran’s military releases
statement about US and IMSC presence in Gulf
The same day, Iranian
media reported on a statement its military had issued in relation to
‘The American naval coalition in the Gulf’. According to PressTV,
statement said ‘High-risk behaviors, which make shipping [in regional
waters] insecure, have started since the adventurist and terrorist country of
America and some of its allies came to this sensitive region’. It also went on to
say ‘Any act of adventurism, harassment and provocation will be met
with the Iranian Armed Forces’ decisive response and hostile forces,
including the US, will be responsible for consequences’. The statement
also referenced the IMSC, which is currently led by the (UK) Royal Navy.
Reports emerge of US campaign to
extend UN Iran arms embargo
On 28 April reports
emerged of a new US strategy to extend the UN Security Council Iran arms
embargo, which expires in October 2020. According
to Reuters, a US intelligence official confirmed the JCPOA’s E3 had
been provided with a ‘US-drafted resolution to extend the embargo’.
The draft was not provided to Russia and China. Nor were other members of the
UN Security Council provided with the draft. The US
Secretary of State appears to have presaged the strategy in 18 April tweets:
The arms embargo on #Iran - the world's leading state sponsor
of terror - expires six months from today. The UN Security Council #UNSC must
extend the embargo before Iran's violence escalates and they start a new arms
race in the Middle East. The clock is ticking[.]
In the last year, #Iran fired ballistic missiles at its
neighbors, mined and captured oil tankers, smuggled weapons into conflict
zones, and shot down a civilian passenger jet. We can't risk Iran buying more
advanced weapons and transferring their arsenal to irresponsible actors.
also reported that if the resolution to extend the embargo failed,
‘the next step in the U.S. plan would be to try and trigger a so-called
snapback of all U.N. sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, using a
process outlined in the nuclear deal’, from which the US unilaterally
withdrew in May 2018. The ‘snapback’
refers to the re-imposition of ‘measures’, including sanctions,
which were previously in place and lifted as part of the nuclear deal.
When asked at his 29 April press conference about the US
campaign to renew the embargo, the
US Secretary of State said:
We’re not going to let that happen. The failures of the
Iran nuclear deal are legion. One of them is now upon us. It’s now just
several months out where China, Russia, other countries from around the world
can all sell significant conventional weapons systems to the Iranians in
October of this year. This isn’t far off. This isn’t some fantasy
by conservatives. This is a reality. Does anybody think that the nation that
today is conducting terror campaigns by Lebanese Hizballah or Iraqi Shia
movements or firing military missiles into the air ought to be permitted to
purchase conventional weapons systems in just a few months? I think the world
realizes that’s a mistake. We’re urging our E3 partners to take
action, which is within their capacity to do. We’ll go –
we’ll work with the UN Security Council to extend that prohibition on
those arms sales. And then in the event we can’t get anyone else to act,
the United States is evaluating every possibility about how we might do that. And
I’m not trying to be too clever by half. Your question was about us as a
In response to reports that the US could not use UNSC 2231—which
the JCPOA—because it had unilaterally withdrawn from the deal, he
The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is very clear: We
don’t have to – we don’t have to declare ourselves a
participant. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is unambiguous where the
United States is a participant in the UN Security – it’s just there
in the language. There’s nothing magic about this. There’s no fancy
– I – someone suggested this is fancy lawyering. It’s just
reading. (Laughter.) It’s unambiguous and the rights that accrue to
participants in the UN Security Council resolution are fully available to all
those participants. We’re going to – we are going to make sure that
come October of this year, the Iranians aren’t able to buy conventional
weapon that they would be given what President Obama and Vice President Biden
delivered to the world in that terrible deal.
In its report, Reuters
also quoted a Security Council diplomat who said the draft ‘will
be dead on arrival’, an acknowledgment that for the resolution to pass it
would require ‘nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the
United States, Britain or France’.
Iran sells shares in state
financial solvency was the subject of speculation on 29 April, amid reporting
the regime had ‘decided to sell the shares of loss-making state-owned
companies and banks to the public to raise money’. It was
also reported that ‘In order to encourage the people to buy these
shares, last week the government suddenly brought down the interest rates on
banking deposits’. According
to some estimates the scheme could raise ‘roughly 500,000 trillion
rials ($33 billion), or equal to 10 percent of the country’s annual
Iran’s response to US
campaign to extend arms embargo
On 29 April Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-e
in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency:
… it is unprecedented in the history of the United
Nations that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which has passed a
resolution, violates the resolution itself, and also encourages other countries
to violate it.
On 30 April Mohsen Rezaei, a senior Iranian government
official and former commander of the IRGC, reportedly
told Al Jazeera ‘The international arms embargo imposed
on us will end soon, and no one can prevent us from buying weapons from
international markets following that date’ and that ‘The position
of Washington and the European Union on the arms embargo on Iran is not binding
for Iranians and we will not adhere to it’.
Representative for Iran argues case for embargo extension
Also on 30 April, US Special Representative, Brian Hook, noting
the arms embargo was due to sunset in October, outlined a range of reasons why
it should continue, listing instances where Iran was caught exporting
weapons to proxies and saying:
So we can’t let the arms embargo expire. It was a
mistake to ever put this in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. And we have
drafted a resolution. It’s quite easy to renew the arms embargo, and
since the arms embargo has been voted on unanimously in the past, there’s
a lot of policy precedent to support renewing the arms embargo.
We have started our diplomacy on this. We’re hopeful
that we’ll be able to do this in a very clean way through the UN Security
Council, but we’re also prepared to use every diplomatic option available
to us if those efforts are frustrated.
Hook also refuted
claims the US cannot invoke a sanctions snapback because it was no longer a
part of the JCPOA.
Borrell says the US is no longer a participating member in the JCPOA
On the same day, EU Foreign Policy head Josep
Borrell reportedly said:
It's clear that in the statement by President Trump and the
U.S. presidential memorandum of last May, they announced that he was ending his
participation in JCPOA.
And I also want to recall that the U.S. has not participated
in any meetings of activities within the framework of this agreement since
then. So it's quite clear for us that the U.S. are no longer a participating
member in this agreement … [.]
It was also reported:
Borrell said the United States has a right to call for an
arms embargo, like any other U.N. member, if they wish.
Pointing out that the 2015 nuclear agreement stipulated that
the U.N. arms embargo on Iran would be lifted five years later, Borrell said
any member of the U.N. Security Council can go to the Security Council and
propose another measure, "let's see what the Security Council decides
then," he said.
US politicians urge more UN
diplomacy to secure Iran arms embargo extension
On 1 May Reuters
reported there was bipartisan consensus the Trump administration needed to
pursue more UN diplomacy, claiming:
Nearly 90% of U.S. House of Representatives members have
signed a letter urging the Trump administration to increase its diplomatic
action at the United Nations to renew an arms embargo on Iran.
to Reuters, ‘signatures were still being collected, and the letter
had not yet been sent to the State Department’. The
letter reportedly urged the Secretary of State ‘to work with US
allies and partners to extend the embargo, as well as UN travel restrictions on
Iranians involved with arms proliferation’.
US adds more sanctions
On 1 May the US Treasury
sanctioned an individual and company it alleged were involved in
‘IRGC-QF efforts to generate revenue and smuggle weapons abroad’. According to the
press release, the individual was allegedly involved in ‘efforts to
smuggle shipments from Iran to Yemen’, and his support for IRGC-QF included
‘efforts aimed at the shipment of weapons including missiles’. The
company was reportedly
involved in efforts ‘to procure an oil tanker’.
Arms embargo campaign controversy
Also on 1 May, Russian
diplomats commented on US threats to trigger the snapback of Iran’s
sanctions under the auspices of the JCPOA—from which it unilaterally
withdrew—calling them ‘ludicrous’. On 2 May an Iranian
Government spokesperson said in reaction to the US Iran arms embargo campaign
that ‘extension of the arms embargo on Iran contravenes the previous
agreements and will draw a harsh reaction from the Islamic Republic of Iran’.
also claimed ‘We believe that the JCPOA member states and the
permanent members of the Security Council will definitely oppose this American
In response to reporting about the US strategy, Iran’s
Permanent Representative to the UN office in Geneva tweeted:
“#US' invocation of #UNSCR2231 is a travesty, flouting
a fundamental principle governing intl relations;"...a party which disowns
or doesn't fulfill its own obligations cannot be recognized as retaining the
rights which it claims to derive from the relationship" (#ICJ, 1971)
Foreign Minister also tweeted about the US campaign to extend the UN arms
embargo against Iran:
The U.S. has long been the world's top - Military spender -
Arms seller - War initiator & instigator - Conflict profiteer. Yet
@SecPompeo is apparently so worried about Iran—a huge U.S. arms customer
till 1979—that he's pouring weapons all over the globe.
Iran revamps currency, cuts four
zeros, in effort to stem inflation
On 4 May Iranian
state media reported that Iran’s parliament had agreed to change the
country’s national currency, and ‘slash four zeros’ from
the existing currency, the rial. The decision to do so allegedly stemmed from
falls in the value of the currency. According
to New York Times reporting, Iran’s currency has ‘fallen
by roughly 60 per cent’ since the US reimposed sanctions on Iran, and
‘has been devalued 3,500 times since 1971’.
Rouhani briefs Cabinet about US
On 6 May Iran’s
President told his Cabinet ‘The United States and other countries
should know that Iran will not accept violation of Resolution 2231 under any circumstances’.
also indicated he had written to remaining JCPOA members about the US campaign,
‘if the arms embargo is extended in any form and through any
mechanism, our response will be what I have stated in the last paragraph of my
letter to the heads of JCPOA member states’, although no further details
were provided. Rouhani
also reportedly said ‘For the United
States, there is no return to the JCPOA. It is finished for them … unless
they come forward, ask for coming back and all the parties involved accept
their request and America lifts all the sanctions on Iran under special
Trump vetoes Iran War Powers
resolution; Senate vote fails to override the veto
On 7 May President Trump vetoed
War Powers Resolution that was introduced after he ordered
Suleimani’s assassination and which had passed both houses of Congress. A
vote in the Senate the following day failed
to reach the two-thirds ‘supermajority’
required to override his veto.
Also on 7 May, the
US Secretary of State told Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Mustafa
al-Kadhimi, that the US would provide a lengthier sanctions waiver allowing
Iraq to continue importing Iranian energy, saying: ‘In support of the new
government the United States will move forward with a 120-day electricity
waiver as a display of our desire to help provide the right conditions for
Russian Foreign Minister writes to
Iranian Foreign Minister regarding US sanctions
On the same day, Iranian
media reported on a letter from Russia’s Foreign Minister,
Sergei Lavrov, to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif, in which he
criticised the US for not lifting sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic,
writing ‘We have always called on the United States to lift these
sanctions and not to prevent a full-scale fight against the coronavirus
Two-year anniversary of the US
withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement
The EU’s Josep Borrell and Iran’s Foreign
Minister Javad Zarif discussed
the JCPOA in an 8 May telephone conversation. The same day, Mikhail
Ulyanov, Russia’s Permanent Representative to International Organisations
in Vienna, including the IAEA, tweeted:
Two years ago today #US withdrew from #JCPOA. Now we can see
that this step resulted in deteriorated security in P. #Gulf, development of
nuclear programme of #Iran beyond the agreed limits and desperate efforts of US
to restore the status of a participant of the #IranDeal.
When asked a question by a Twitter user about a potential
sanctions ‘snapback’, the
Russian ambassador replied:
SnapBack is not associated with voting. It is automatic. But
first US will need to convince all members of UNSC and the rest of
international community that it is not kidding and that it really remains a
participant of IranDeal. It can be done only through verifiable compliance.
He also went on to say:
Confusion is caused by ridiculous and not well calculated
attempts of US to claim that it retains the status of a JCPOA participant. Very
cynical in view of well known national decision to withdraw. Unique situation in
the work of UN Security Council.
On 9 May the US
Secretary of State released a statement in relation to the JCPOA, in which
Two years ago, President Trump announced the bold decision to
protect the world from Iran’s violence and the nuclear threats it poses
by exiting from the flawed Iran Deal and its façade of security. Since
that time, we have built the strongest sanctions in history and prevented Iran
from funding and equipping terrorists with many billions of dollars. Today, the
American people are safer and the Middle East is more peaceful than if we had
stayed in the JCPOA.
statement also made clear ‘The United States will exercise all
diplomatic options to ensure the UN arms embargo is extended. We will not
accept their status quo level of violence and terror. And we will never allow
Iran to have a nuclear weapon’.
Also on 9 May, the Iranian Foreign
Ministry published a letter Foreign Minister Zarif wrote to the UN
Secretary-General in relation to the JCPOA. The same day, Iran’s
envoy to the UN was reported by Iranian state media to have addressed the UNSC,
in which he said:
The illegal unilateral actions of the U.S., with its
excessive addiction to sanctions and economic terrorism as well as its policy
to withdraw from international instruments and institutions, are alarming.
One of the living examples of the systematic mockery of
international law is the violation of the Council’s resolution 2231 by
the U.S. which is brazenly threatening others to either violate that resolution
or face punishment.
Such bullying policies and unlawful practices are growingly
eroding the pillars of multilateralism, tarnishing the credibility of this
Organization and mainly the Security Council.
With the passing of the second anniversary of the US
withdrawal from the JCPOA marked by a renewed US campaign to extend the UN arms
embargo against Iran due to sunset in October, tensions between the two
countries look set to continue. Indeed, they may further inflame as Trump’s
re-election campaign gathers momentum, and in which the Iran issue will most
certainly feature. As the 11 May Iranian friendly
fire naval incident shows, the waterways of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf
of Oman remain dangerous—not only as a result of deliberate military
actions, but also from mishaps in what has become an increasingly crowded
reaction to the Suleimani assassination and subsequent events
reaction to Suleimani’s assassination and the events that followed
has thus far been relatively muted. On 3 January after news broke of
Suleimani’s assassination, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called
for restraint and de-escalation. He also reiterated Australia’s
commitment to the coalition effort in Iraq and said the Government continued to
closely monitor the situation. In a 9 January press conference following
Iran’s retaliatory missile strike the previous day, the
Prime Minister indicated Australian forces would remain in Iraq as
‘the situation overnight has stabilised’.
On 10 January, responding
to reports the Ukrainian Airliner was downed by Iranian missiles, the Prime
Minister said, ‘This is not a deliberate attack … it’s a
terrible accident’. He also said he had offered Canada assistance, noting
‘We have an embassy in Tehran and Canada does not’.
Second military contribution to the
The Royal Australian Navy’s Anzac Class frigate HMAS
Toowoomba departed for the Middle East on 13 January as part of
Operation Manitou (a maritime security operation). Additionally, Toowoomba
to the IMSC,
along with six
other IMSC members, in efforts to safeguard maritime security in the
Persian Gulf. (The RAAF 8A-Poseidon aircraft deployed following the
announcement that Australia was contributing to the IMSC, returned
in late 2019. In October 2019 a small number of ADF personnel also joined
the IMSC headquarters in Bahrain.)
Safety of Australian troops in Iraq
On 15 January there were reports of a rocket attack on
Iraq’s Taji base where around 300 Australian
military personnel were based at the time. According to the
OIR spokesperson, while ‘no Coalition troops were affected by this
small attack’, it did wound two Iraqi personnel. Defence Minister Linda
Reynolds was also reported
to have said, ‘We are always closely monitoring what is happening in
a very volatile region of the world (and) we are making sure that our people
Status of detained Australian
On 17 January Foreign
Minister Marise Payne reportedly spoke to her Iranian counterpart about the
status of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian
academic detained by Iran on espionage charges that are rejected by the
Australian Government and Dr Moore-Gilbert. The conversation took place on the
sidelines of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi. The following day, an Iranian
Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied
a conversation took place.
Australian Defence Force Personnel
Middle East deployment
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds released
a media statement on 7 February regarding a rotation of ‘more than
200 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel’ to the Middle East.
Minister Reynolds did not cite the ADF operation to which the personnel were
deploying. As such, it is unclear whether the forces were deploying as part of
the IMSC or other ADF operations.
Australia bans Iranian travellers
from entry following COVID-19 outbreak
On 1 March Australia
banned travellers who had been in Iran from entering the country for
‘an initial 14 day period’ as a result of Iran’s COVID-19
outbreak. Only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their dependants
were exempted, and were required to self-isolate at home for a period of 14
days. The move followed Australia’s Foreign Minister directing
Iran-based non-essential Australian embassy staff and dependants to leave the
Australian Member of Parliament
Dave Sharma raises Dr Moore-Gilbert’s case in parliament
On 2 March Government MP Dave Sharma spoke
about Dr Moore-Gilbert’s case, and reported that he had met with
Iran’s ambassador to convey his concern. He made the case that Dr
Moore-Gilbert’s plight demands special attention:
A young woman is being held far from home in very trying
conditions. The Australian government does not accept the charges that have
been made against her. Her future is bleak. As her letters make clear, she is
rapidly losing hope, and her health is in danger. In addition to the trying
nature of what appears to be solitary confinement, I also draw attention to
media reports of a possible outbreak of coronavirus at Evin Prison and the
shortage of treatment medicines available for prisoners at that prison.
Australia’s response to IAEA
reports on Iran
At a 10 March IAEA Board of Governors meeting,
Australia’s representative to the IAEA, Richard Sadleir, made
the following statement:
Australia thanks the Director General for his 3 March report
on verification and monitoring in Iran, which provides a comprehensive update
on Iran’s implementation of nuclear related obligations under the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
We also thank the Secretariat for the informal technical
briefing provided on 5 March.
Australia remains deeply concerned by the many steps Iran has
taken to wind back compliance with the JCPOA, most recently its 5 January
announcement that the Iranian Government will no longer be constrained by any
of the limits set by the JCPOA.
We have said many times that we find Iran’s reduction
in compliance on the basis of ‘less-for-less’ to be unacceptable.
It is therefore a matter of deep regret that, instead of
returning to full compliance at the urging of the international community, Iran’s
steps away from the JCPOA have only extended further.
We are particularly concerned that Iran’s expansion of
research and development capability, beyond the limits of the JCPOA, has
continued, bringing with it irreversible implications.
Australia remains of the view that the JCPOA can continue to
serve the international community’s interests.
But for this objective to be realised, Iran must recommit
itself to the terms of the deal, return to compliance, and engage in
constructive diplomatic dialogue.
In light of this, Australia again strongly urges Iran to
reverse its actions and to return immediately to full compliance with all of
its obligations under the JCPOA.
Australia recognises the efforts of France, Germany and the
United Kingdom to preserve the JCPOA and provide an avenue for ongoing dialogue
by referring Iran’s non-compliance to the Joint Commission, under the
Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRM).
We call upon Iran to refrain from any further actions that
might jeopardise these efforts, and encourage Iran to engage constructively in
the DRM with a view to preserving the JCPOA and its important non-proliferation
benefits. We would like to underline that the provisional application by Iran
of its Additional Protocol with the IAEA, in accordance with the terms of the
deal, remains fundamental to Australia’s ongoing support for the JCPOA.
We take note of ongoing interactions between Iran and the
Agency in relation to natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin
detected in Iran. We urge Iran to provide timely and full responses to
questions put to it by the Agency.
Finally, Australia expresses strong support for the
Agency’s work on monitoring and verification in Iran and for its ongoing
judgement on reporting to the Board of Governors.
We thank the Agency and its staff for their sustained
courage, rigour, professionalism, and independence.
Foreign Minister provides update in
relation to Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert
On 12 March Foreign Minister Payne responded
to a question about the wellbeing of Dr Moore-Gilbert in view of
Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak. In her response, Minister Payne reported that
the Australian Government had been:
… very focused on communicating with the Iranian
authorities about our expectations for Kylie Moore-Gilbert. There is the
threshold issue of course that we don't accept the charges upon which she is
detained and we continue to make that case. But at the moment our concern is
for her health and her safety. We've sought assurances from the Iranian system
in relation to that.
Department of Defence statement on
The Department of Defence issued
a media release on 12 March confirming reports of a rocket attack on the
Taji Military Camp, where Australian personnel are based alongside their
coalition partners. It confirmed all
Australian service members were safe, and reported the situation was being
Another statement was issued on 14 March after Taji again came
under attack following a US retaliatory strike against Iran-supported Iraqi
militia. The Department of Defence statement said:
"Defence condemns these attacks and continues to closely
monitor the situation along with our Coalition partners.
"The safety of our personnel deployed on operations is
our highest priority."
Iran releases prisoners
On 17 March it was reported that Iran
temporarily freed ‘around 85,000 people from jail’. There were
no indications that Australian academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was among them.
On 19 March reports
emerged that ‘Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 prisoners
including political ones’. Again, there were no indications Australian
academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was among them.
ADF makes changes to its Middle
East posture as a result of COVID-19
On 23 March it was reported
Australian troops would be temporarily moved from Iraq and Afghanistan as a
precautionary measure following the growing spread of COVID-19. In a statement Defence
Minister Reynolds said: ‘Non-essential personnel will be relocated to
Australia’s main logistics base in the Middle East and those who are
close to concluding their operational duties will be able to return
also emphasised that ‘There will be no impact to the force-protection
of ADF personnel remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan’. For operational
reasons no further detail was provided.
Media reports Australian academic
in poor condition; family issues denial
On 8 May the US-based ‘Center for Human Rights in
a statement in relation to Dr Moore-Gilbert. It
contained unverified information in relation to her condition and called on
the Australian and British governments to do more to secure her release and
ensure her wellbeing. According to media reporting, Australia’s
ambassador to Iran spoke with Dr Moore-Gilbert on 21 April, and the embassy in
Tehran continues to ‘impress on Iranian authorities the importance of Dr
Moore-Gilbert’s maintaining regular contact with her family and consular
officials in Tehran’, and ‘advocate strongly’ on her behalf.
(On 17 May Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family issued
a statement denying recent reporting that claimed she had attempted
self-harm, or that she had been subject to torture by the IRGC.)
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