News Briefs

July 22, 2019
The United States sanctioned Chinese company Zhuhai Zhenrong and one of its executives, Youmin Li, for transporting Iranian crude oil. This action marks the first time that the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned a foreign entity involved in Iran’s oil exports since the United States declined to renew sanctions waivers in May which had previously allowed eight countries to buy Iranian oil. 
-- The Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2019
Mahin Mojtahedzadeh, a 74-year-old Iranian national, faces up to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to procuring turbine parts from two New York-based companies and exporting them to Iran. From 2013 to 2017, Mojtahedzadeh arranged for companies in Canada and Germany to purchase more than $3 million of gas turbine parts from the United States and send them to Iran. U.S. officials would not identify the supplier companies, but authorities raided the offices of New York-based Turbine Services Ltd. in June. Mojtahedzadeh’s co-conspirators, German nationals Olaf Tepper and Mojtaba Biria, both employees of Energy Republic GmbH, previously pled guilty to charges of conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
-- The Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY)
July 11, 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered radioactive traces in an Iranian warehouse which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously identified as a secret atomic site. Inspectors tested soil samples over several visits, most recently last March, and determined that the site contained “traces of radioactive material.” The warehouse is located on Maher Street in the Turquzabad District of Tehran. Netanyahu claimed that the site contained as much as 300 kilograms of nuclear-related equipment and material and that 15 kilograms of material was removed from the warehouse and hidden in other parts of Tehran.
-- The Times of Israel
July 8, 2019
Iran has begun enriching uranium to 4.5%, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed. This step is a violation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits uranium enrichment to 3.67%. This move comes days after Iran exceeded the 300 kilogram limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi acknowledged the increase and hinted that Iran is considering a further step of 20% enrichment as well as using additional centrifuges, which would also violate the JCPOA.
-- Associated Press
July 4, 2019
British and Gibraltar authorities seized a tanker carrying Iranian crude oil which was reportedly destined for the Banyas Refinery in Syria. Spanish Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell asserted that the seizure was “a request from the United States to the United Kingdom.” International monitors reported that the ship, Grace 1, turned off its electronic tracking system while in Iranian waters, a common tactic to avoid U.S. sanctions. Officials from the U.K. and Gibraltar, however, cited EU sanctions prohibiting oil sales to Syria in detaining the tanker. Iran acknowledged that Grace 1 was carrying Iranian oil but denounced the seizure as “illegal” and summoned the British Ambassador. 
-- The New York Times
June 30, 2019
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's national intelligence agency, noted in an annual report on Germany's national security that Iran made fewer attempts to aquire materials tied to nuclear proliferation in 2018 than in 2017. The report added that these efforts at procurement failed to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 treaty placing limits on Iran's nuclear program. The BfV noted that Iran was also trying to acquire materials for the development of ballistic missiles, which fall outside the JCPOA, at a higher pace in 2018 than in 2017. Another report, by the BfV's local counterpart in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, observed that Iran was still attempting to procure materials for weapons of mass destruction.
-- The Jerusalem Post
June 29, 2019
European leaders announced that the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchange (INSTEX) is now operational. INSTEX is designed to protect trade between Iran and the EU from U.S. sanctions by minimizing international cash flow and instead balancing transactions on each side internally. The program is working with an Iranian equivalent organization, the Special Trade and Finance Institute. In addition to the E3 (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany), other EU members are currently becoming INSTEX shareholders and European officials are open to the involvement of third party countries in the future.
-- Financial Tribune
June 28, 2019
Following a meeting between British, Chinese, French, German, Iranian, and Russian diplomats in Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran would move ahead with its plans to exceed limits on uranium enrichment set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), despite European objections. However, Araghchi lauded Britain, France, and Germany's progress on Instex, a special purpose vehicle designed to facilitate European trade with Iran by circumventing American economic sanctions. He implied that further progress on Instex could convince Iran to halt its plans to violate the JCPOA. Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden announced that they plan to become involved in Instex. The Netherlands added that it intends to join Instex as a shareholder.
-- The Wall Street Journal
June 23, 2019
The United States launched a cyberattack against Iranian military computer systems under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The strike temporarily disabled computer systems which control Iran’s missile and rocket launchers. According to government sources, the U.S. Cyber Command planned the strike following Iran’s recent attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The strike also comes in wake of an increase in Iranian cyberattacks against the United States, which appear to have started after U.S. sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector.
-- Associated Press
June 18, 2019
The United Kingdom reached an undisclosed settlement with Iran’s Bank Mellat on a £1.3 billion damages claim, avoiding a trial. The settlement ends a ten year dispute stemming from 2009 U.K. Treasury sanctions which were later overturned by the U.K. Supreme Court as “arbitrary and irrational.” Bank Mellat, 20 percent of which is owned by the Iranian government, denies any connection to financing Iran’s nuclear program.
-- The Guardian