Iran Digest Week of December 14 - 21

Iran Digest

Week of December 14-21

AIC’s Iran digest project covers the latest developments and news stories published in Iranian and international media outlets. This weekly digest is compiled by Research Fellow Shiva Darian and Communications Associate Shahab Moghadam. Please note that the news and views expressed in the articles below do not necessarily reflect those of AIC.


Global Traders Halt New Iran Food Deals as US Sanctions Bite


Cargill, Bunge and other global traders have halted food supply deals with Iran because new U.S. sanctions have paralyzed banking systems required to secure payments, industry and Iranian government sources say.

Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed this year after U.S. President Donald Trump said in May he was walking away from a 2015 international deal over Iran's nuclear program.

But the U.S. measures targeting everything from oil sales to shipping and financial activities have deterred many foreign banks from all Iranian business, including humanitarian deals. Many smaller banks that had dealt with Iran under a previous round of sanctions have also stopped dealings this time. (VOA)

Swiss Exploring Payment Channel for Iran Humanitarian Trade


Switzerland is looking for ways to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran that’s been impeded by renewed U.S. sanctions on the Persian Gulf country.

“Switzerland is working on establishing a payment channel for the export of food, medicine and medical devices to Iran,” the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said in a statement, adding that it’s “striving to make this channel operational as soon as possible.”

Switzerland, home to drugmakers Roche Holding AG and Novartis AG and food group Nestle SA, has been a partner of Iran in humanitarian trade. It has been negotiating with the U.S. to ensure food and drugs can still find their way to the Islamic Republic. (Bloomberg)

China National Petroleum Corp may cut Kunlun bank's ties to Iran: sources


China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) may stop its banking unit from conducting most of its Iranian-related financial services because of concerns over U.S. sanctions, two persons with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Bank of Kunlun, which has been the main official channel for money flows between China and Iran since before the last round of sanctions which started in 2012, is majority owned by CNPC’s listed financial arm CNPC Capital.

U.S. President Donald Trump in May ordered sanctions to be reimposed after withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that ended the previous round of restrictions. The U.S. left the accord because of concerns over the country’s ballistic missile program and its support for Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters in Yemen. (Reuters)

India Plans to Pay Five Iran Banks for Oil Purchases


India will use escrow accounts of five Iranian banks held with UCO Bank Ltd. to deposit money for oil purchases from the Middle East producer to overcome U.S. sanctions, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Iran will use part of the deposits for purchasing essential goods from India and to meet expenditure incurred by its diplomatic missions in the South Asian nation, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. All spending will be in Indian rupees.

Continued supplies is crucial for India, a country that imports nearly 80 percent of its annual crude requirement, as Tehran offers better credit terms than other Middle East oil producers and, in the past, has accepted payments in Indian rupees, rather than U.S. dollars. The south Asian nation purchased crude worth about $9 billion from Iran in the financial year ended March 31. (Bloomberg)

French court fines oil group Total in Iran bribery case


A Paris court fined French oil and gas group Total 500,000 euros ($570,000) on Friday for bribing foreign public officials in a case related to Iranian contracts in 1997.

Total, was charged with paying $30 million under the cover of a consultancy contract to facilitate a deal for the South Pars gas field more than two decades ago, which the Paris prosecutor said covered “corruption payments”.

Court documents said that from around 1995 to 2004, at the request of an Iranian official cited as Medhi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Total and intermediaries made illicit payments to middlemen designated by Medhi to help the company. (Reuters)

Regional Politics

Albania expels Iranian diplomats on national security grounds

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Albania has expelled Iran’s ambassador and another diplomat for “damaging its national security”, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday. Albania did not identify the two, and did not say when they were expelled or if they had left the NATO member country, but told Reuters it had consulted its alliance partners on the decision. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday the move was made under pressure from Israel and the United States.

“I believe that this is a step aimed at harming Iran’s ties with Europe at such a sensitive time,” the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying. (Reuters)

Syria Pullout by U.S. Tilts Mideast Toward Iran and Russia, Isolating Israel


The American decision to withdraw from Syria has abruptly scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East, clearing the way for Iran to expand its influence across the region, leaving Israel virtually alone to stop it, and raising the prospect that thousands of Islamic State prisoners could be set free.

Beyond the region, President Trump’s announcement ricocheted Thursday from Moscow, where it was praised, to Washington, where it was the catalyst for the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The decision shows that even a relatively small move — the United States has only about 2,000 troops in Syria — can have far-reaching consequences in a complex war, leaving allies struggling to cope and adversaries pleased and emboldened. (NYT)

Syria war: Russia, Iran and Turkey fail to agree on new constitution body


Talks in Geneva on setting up a constitutional committee for Syria have ended without a clear outcome.

The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey attended the United Nations-sponsored talks to build a sustainable peace in the country, but failed to agree on the committee's makeup.

The UN says more work needs to be done before it is set up.

The ministers called for the committee to meet early next year to kick off the peace process. (BBC)

As U.N. mulls how to back Yemen truce, U.S. wants to call out Iran

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The United States wants the United Nations Security Council to condemn Iran in a draft resolution being negotiated to back a ceasefire deal in Yemen’s Hodeidah region, but Russia has rejected the move, diplomats said on Wednesday.

After a week of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden, the Iranian-aligned Houthi group and Saudi-backed Yemen government foes agreed last Thursday to stop fighting in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah and withdraw forces. The truce began on Tuesday.

The 15-member Security Council is now considering a British-drafted resolution to endorse the deal and ask U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to submit proposals on how to monitor the ceasefire and redeployment of forces. (Reuters)


Trump’s Syria ‘Victory’ Likely to Be Celebrated in Iran, Russia

By: Ben Holland


Donald Trump campaigned on a vow to get U.S. troops out of intractable Middle East wars. He also promised to push back against rising Iranian power in the region.

With his abrupt order to pull troops out of Syria, Trump took a step toward keeping his first promise -– and triggered a firestorm in Washington as critics said he’s going soft on the second.

Trump declared that the U.S. had won the battle against Islamic State, saying that was “my only reason for being there.” But that decision leaves both Iran and Russia to wrap up their victory in the wider -- and still ongoing -- Syrian war. (Bloomberg)