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Iran reacts coolly to US talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

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Iran will “immediately reverse” actions in its nuclear programme once US sanctions are lifted, its foreign minister said on Friday (19 February), reacting coolly to Washington’s initial offer to revive talks with Tehran aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Parisa Hafezi.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday (18 February) it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. Former President Donald Trump left the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran said Washington’s move was not enough to persuade Iran to fully respect the accord.

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When sanctions are lifted, “we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Since Trump ditched the deal, Tehran has breached the accord by rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.

However, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal.

“But first they should return to the deal. Then within the framework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronise steps can be discussed,” the official said. “We have never sought nuclear weapons and this is not part of our defence doctrine,” the Iranian official said. “Our message is very clear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance.”

The European Union is working on organising an informal meeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the United States, which has already signalled willingness to join any gathering, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Adding to pressure for a resolution to the impasse, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 23 to cancel the sweeping access given to UN inspectors under the deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

The United States and the European parties to the accord have urged Iran to refrain from taking the step, which will complicate Biden’s efforts.

EU aims for meeting on Iran nuclear deal with US, official says

UK says Iran must come back into compliance with nuclear deal

“We have to implement the law. The other party must act quickly and lift these unjust and illegal sanctions if they want Tehran to honour the deal,” said the Iranian official.

The IAEA’s short-notice inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed to honour under the deal.

While Iran’s demand for a lifting of all U.S. sanctions is unlikely to be met anytime soon, analysts said, Tehran faces a delicate choice about how to respond to Biden’s overture with an upcoming presidential election in June.

With growing discontent at home over economic hardship, the election turnout is seen as a referendum on the clerical establishment -- a potential risk for Iran’s rulers. Hardliners, set to win the vote and tighten their grip, have been pushing to squeeze more concessions from Washington for reviving the deal.

Iran’s fragile economy, weakened by U.S sanctions and coronavirus crisis, has left the ruling elite with few options.

“Hardliners are not against dealing with Washington. But their tactic is to stall any engagement to get more concessions until a hardline president is at the office,” said a senior government official.

Some Iranian hardliners said top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tough stance had forced Washington to cave in. On Wednesday (17 February) he demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to restore the deal.

“They have reversed some measures ... It is a defeat for America ... but we are waiting to see whether there will be action on lifting sanctions,” state media quoted Tabriz city’s Friday prayer leader Mohammadali Ale-Hashem as saying.

Biden has said that he will use the revival of the nuclear deal as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s ballistic missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has ruled out negotiations on wider security issues such as Iran’s missile programme.

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Time to investigate the 1988 massacre in Iran and the role of its next president - Ebrahim Raisi

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On 5 August, the Iranian regime will inaugurate its new president, Ebrahim Raisi, trying to whitewash his history of human-rights abuses. In 1988, he played a key role in the regime’s massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were activists with the main opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (or MEK).

Based on a fatwa by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, “death commissions” throughout Iran ordered the execution of political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs. Victims were buried in secret mass graves, the locations of which were never revealed to relatives. In recent years, the regime has systematically has destroyed those graves to hide any evidence of the crime, which has been described by renowned jurists throughout the world as one of the most tragic crimes against humanity to take place in the second half of the 20th century.

The massacre has never been independently investigated by the UN. The perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, with many of them occupying the most senior government positions. Raisi is now the most notable example of this phenomenon, and he has never denied his role as a member of the Tehran Death Commission.

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On 3 September 2020, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs wrote to Iranian authorities stating that the 1988 extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances “may amount to crimes against humanity”. In May, a group of more than 150 rights campaigners, including Nobel laureates, former heads of state and former UN officials, called for an international investigation into the 1988 killings.

As the UN experts’ letter confirms, families of the victims, survivors and human rights defenders are today subject of persistent threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks because of their attempts to seek information on the fate and whereabouts of the victims. With Raisi’s rise to the Presidency, an investigation into the 1988 massacre is more vital than ever.

On June 19, 2021, Amnesty International’s secretary-general said in a statement: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”

Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said on 29 June that over the years his office has gathered testimonies and evidence of the state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He said his office was ready to share them if the UN Human Rights Council or another body sets up an impartial investigation, adding: “It’s very important now that Raisi is the president-elect that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals."

On Tuesday (27 July) it was announced that prosecutors in Sweden had charged an Iranian with war crimes over the mass execution of prisoners in 1988. The suspect was not named but is widely believed to be 60-year-old Hamid Noury.

Documents registered with the Swedish Prosecution Authority include a list of 444 PMOI prisoners who were hanged in Gohardasht prison alone. A book entitled “Crimes against Humanity” names more than 5,000 Mojahedin, and a book entitled “Massacre of Political Prisoners” published by the PMOI 22 years ago, names Hamid Noury as one of many known perpetrators of the massacre, and the memoirs of a number of PMOI members and sympathizers.

Prosecutors were invoked the principle of "universal jurisdiction" for serious crimes in order to bring the case. In a statement released on Tuesday, Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the charges related to the suspect's time as assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardasht prison in Karaj. Noury was arrested at Stockholm airport on 9 November 2019 upon his arrival from Tehran. He has been held behind bars ever since and his trial is scheduled for 10 August.

According to documents in the case, Noury exchanged emails with an Iranian-Swedish dual national by the name of Iraj Mesdaghi 10 months prior to his trip to Sweden. Ironically, Mesdaghi is one of the plaintiffs in the case against Noury and testified against him. The War Crimes Unit (WCU) of the National Operations Department (NOA) of the Swedish Police found Iraj Mesdaghi’s email address on Hamid Noury's phone and noted that he had sent two emails to that address on January 17, 2019. This has created questions about Mesdaghis true role and objective.

When faced with questioning, Noury did his utmost to evade answering investigating officers, and Mesdaghi said he could not remember the email exchange. But the evidence draws attention to investigation which confirmed that Mesdaghi had been summoned to Evin Prsion by Noury years ago and he practically acceptedto collaborate with the regime. 

Iran policy has always been a vexing issue for the West but come August 5, the West has to make a decision: Whether to call for a UN investigation of the 1988 massacre and role of the Iranian officials including Raisi, or to join the ranks of those who have violated their principles and turned their backs on Iranians by engaging with the Iranian regime. What is at the stake is no longer just Iran policy, but also the sacred values and moral principles that the West has fought for generations.

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Raisi versus Jansa - obscenity versus courage

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On 10 July, the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa (pictured) broke with a precedent that was regarded as a taboo by “professional diplomats”. Addressing an online event of the Iranian opposition, he said: “The Iranian people deserve democracy, freedom, and human rights and should be firmly supported by the international community.” Referring to Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s role in executing 30,000 political prisoners during the 1988 massacre, the Prime Minister said: “I therefore once again clearly and loudly support the call of the UN investigator on human rights in Iran who has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners and the role played by the President-elect as Tehran deputy prosecutor,” writes Henry St. George.

These words caused a diplomatic earthquake in Tehran, some EU capitals and were picked up as far away as Washington as well. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately called Joseph Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and pushed the EU to denounce these remarks or deal with the consequences. The regime’s apologists in the West, too, joined in to help with the effort.

But there has been another front that strongly welcomed Janez Jansa’s remarks. Two days after the Prime Minister spoke at the Free Iran World Summit, among others, former Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird said: “I am really pleased to be able to recognize the moral leadership and courage of the Prime Minister of Slovenia. He has called to hold Raisi to account for the 1988 massacre of 30,000 MEK prisoners, he has angered the zealots and the mullahs, and friends, he should wear that as a badge of honor. The world needs more leadership like this.”

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Giulio Terzi, former Italian Foreign Minister, wrote in an opinion piece: “As a former Foreign Minister of an EU country, I believe that the free media should applaud the Prime Minister of Slovenia for having the courage to say the impunity must end for Iran’s regime. The EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell should end ‘business as usual’ with a regime led by mass murderers. Instead, he should encourage all EU member states to join Slovenia in demanding accountability for Iran’s greatest crime against humanity.”

Audronius Ažubalis, former Lithuanian foreign minister, said: “I just want to express my sincere support to the Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa, later supported by Senator Joe Lieberman. We have to push for President Raisi to be investigated by the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity, including murder, forced disappearance, and torture.”

And Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General of the United States, stated: “Here I join Prime Minister Jansa of Slovenia, who courageously called for Raisi to be tried and incurred the wrath and a criticism of the Iranian regime. That wrath and criticism does not stain the Prime Minister's record; he should wear it as a badge of honor. Some people suggest that we should not demand that Raisi be tried for his crimes because that will make it difficult for him to negotiate it or impossible for him to negotiate his way out of power. But Raisi has no intention of negotiating his way out of power. He takes pride in his record, and he claims that he is always, in his words, defending the people's rights, security and tranquility. In fact, the only tranquility that Raisi has ever defended is the tranquility of the graves of the 30,000 victims of his perfidy. He does not represent a regime that can change.”

Mukasey was referring to Ebrahim Raisi’s statement in his first press conference after being declared winner in the globally disputed presidential election. When asked about his role in executing thousands of political prisoners, he proudly said that he has been a protector of human rights all his career and he should be rewarded for removing those who stood as a threat against it.

Considering the Iranian regime’s record of human rights, its behavior towards its neighbors and also contemplating the very rationale that the world is trying to reason with the regime in Vienna, it might be appropriate to digest what the Slovenian PM did.

Is it a shame for a head of a state to take a stance against another state while not a shame to install someone like Ebrahim Raisi as head of a state? Is calling for an investigation by the UN into crimes against humanity and challenging the systemic “impunity” that keeps taking its toll in Iran wrong? Is it wrong to speak at a rally where an opposition group that has shed light on Tehran’s human rights violations, its numerous proxy groups, its ballistic missile program, and its entire Quds Force hierarchy and also exposed the very nuclear program that the world struggles to defuse?

In history, very few leaders have dared to break traditions as Mr. Jansa did. As World War II began, US President, Franklin Roosevelt, rightly understood the great danger that the Axis Powers were posing against the world order. Despite all the criticism and being called a “warmonger”, he found ways to help Great Britain and the Chinese Nationalists in their struggle against the Axis. This criticism was largely silenced in the public arena after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but still some persisted in the belief that Roosevelt knew of the attack beforehand.

Indeed, no one can expect that those who benefit the most from the status-quo put conscience before interests and take the hat off for political bravery. But perhaps, if historians would care enough to calculate the stunning number of deaths and the amount of money that could be saved by preventing a strongman to become strong, world leaders might be able to pay tribute to courage and dismiss obscenity.

Do we need a Pearl Harbor to realize the Iranian regime’s true malign intentions?

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Darkening horizon for US oil producers - the return of Iranian oil exports

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The National Iranian Oil Corporation has started to talk to its clients in Asia, particularly in India, to estimate the demand for its oil since Joe Biden took office.  According to Refinitiv Oil Research, Direct and indirect Iranian oil shipments to China increased in the last 14 months, reaching a record high in January-February. Oil output has also grown since Q4 2020.

Iran pumped as much as 4.8 million barrels per day before the sanctions were reimposed in 2018, and S&P Global Platts Analytics expects an agreement could bring full sanctions relief by Q4 2021, which could see volumes ramp up to 850,000 barrels per day by December to 3.55 million barrels per day, with further gains in 2022.

Iran has confirmed its readiness to increase oil production sharply. As a result of the nuclear deal and the lifting of international and unilateral sanctions, the country could have increased its oil exports by 2.5 million barrels per day.

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Much of Iran's production is of heavier grades and condensate, and a relaxation of the sanctions will put pressure on the likes of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Oman, and even Texas frackers.

The refining hubs of Asia – China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore – have regularly processed Iranian grades, as the high sulphur content and heavy or medium density fit the diet of these complex plants.

European refineries, especially those in Turkey, France, Italy, Spain and Greece, are also likely to return to purchasing Iranian oil once the sanctions are removed, as the additional volumes figure to be price-advantaged to Brent-linked crudes from the Mediterranean.

US seeking to mend fences with China?

It will be possible to judge the obvious signs of such rapprochement by the degree of progress on the Iranian issue. If trade restrictions on oil with Iran are eased or lifted - the main beneficiary (the recipient of oil) will be China and Chinese companies - from the largest to a huge number of small and medium-sized businesses. The decision on Iran is an indicator of US-China relations much more than public bickering.

And all this is happening against a backdrop of hard pressure on the brink of economic terror against the American shale production, and Shell has already become a victim. It is impossible not to recall the letter from 12 senators to President Biden, who warned of the negative consequences of the current administration's energy policy.

US fuel under pressure: aggressive energy policy of the Biden administration

Pressures on the oil and gas industry are growing along with concern over climate change. The Biden era has started with sharp moves against fossil fuel. Nobody expected fossil fuel to come under such an immediate attack.

Biden signed an executive order aimed to end fossil-fuel subsidies that suspends new oil and gas leases on public lands and directs federal agencies to purchase electric cars. Fossil fuel stocks have plunged on his actions, and banks, including Goldman Sachs Group have warned of a drop in U.S. crude supplies.[1]

Benefits to the climate from a ban on new oil and gas leases could take years to realise, according to economic analysts. Companies could respond by shifting some of their activities onto private lands in the U.S., and more oil would likely come in from overseas, said economist Brian Prest, who examined the effects of a long-term leasing ban for the research group Resources for the Future. As a result, almost three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emission reductions from a ban could be offset by oil and gas from other sources, said Prest. The net reduction would be about 100 million tons (91 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide annually, or less than 1% of global fossil fuel emissions, according to a study by a nonprofit research group.[2]

President Joe Biden has directed the federal government to develop a strategy to curb the risk of climate change on public and private financial assets in the U.S. The move is part of the Biden administration’s longer-term agenda to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030 and transition to a net-zero economy by mid-century while curbing the damage climate change poses to all economic sectors.

This strategy may occur in quite a significant number of job cuts in the oil industry and that is while the U.S. economy recovers from job losses arising from the pandemic. Even limited job losses could profoundly affect local economies in oil-dependent states (such as Wyoming and New Mexico).

US domestic opposition to Biden’s energy policy

A group of GOP senators led by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., sent a letter to President Biden in June. The senators see the strategy as “a fundamental threat to America’s long-term economic and national security”.[3]

The senators have urged the president to "take immediate actions to put America back on a path of energy independence and economic prosperity."

"If we are to overcome the economic consequences of the pandemic, it is imperative that necessities such as fuel take as little out of family budgets as possible.” Senators also noted that high energy costs "disproportionately affect low- and fixed-income households."

Republican Senators Tillis, John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Steve Daines of Montana, Rick Scott of Florida, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee signed the letter.

 OPEC: global oil market prospects for 2H 2021

An approximate growth in supplies in 1H 2021 amounted to 1.1 million barrels per day compared to 2H 2020. Following this, in 2H 2021, oil supplies from countries outside OPEC, including natural gas liquids from OPEC, are predicted to grow by 2.1 million barrels per day compared with 1H 2021 and by 3.2 million barrels per day year-on-year.

It is expected that supplies of liquid hydrocarbons from countries outside OPEC will increase by 0.84 million barrels per day year-on-year in 2021. At the regional level, in 2H 2021, it is expected that approximately 1.6 million barrels per day from total added production of 2.1 million barrels per day will come from OECD countries, with 1.1 million barrels per day coming from the USA and the rest – from Canada and Norway. At the same time, in 2H 2021, growth in supply of liquid hydrocarbons from regions other than OECD is forecasted at only 0.4 million barrels per day. In general, it is expected that the recovery of the global economy growth and, as a result, recovery of oil demand will gain momentum in 2H 2021.

At the same time, successful actions under the cooperation agreement have in fact paved the way for rebalancing of the market. This long-term outlook, along with constant and continuous joint monitoring of developments, as well as the expected recovery across various sectors of the economy, continue to indicate support for the oil market.


[1] Fotune.com: https://fortune.com/2021/01/28/biden-climate-oil-and-gas/

[2] AP.com: https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-donald-trump-technology-climate-climate-change-cbfb975634cf9a6395649ecaec65201e

[3] Foxnews.com: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/gop-senators-letter-biden-energy-policies

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