Elliott Abrams, Washington's special representative on Venezuela, told Reuters Friday that the Trump administration has warned foreign governments, seaports, shipping companies, and insurers that they could face stiff sanctions for abetting Iranian oil shipments to Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that two Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned vessels transporting Iranian oil products to Venezuela canceled their deliveries after the US threatened to block the Greek tankers' access to insurance and international banking. However, the five-ship Iranian convoy currently bringing up to 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and refining components to Venezuela remains undeterred, the fourth ship arriving in Venezuelan waters Thursday. Although Tehran denies it, the Nicolás Maduro regime is believed to be paying 9 tons of gold, worth $500 million, for the Iranian cargo.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent a letter Friday to Attorney General Bill Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging them to investigate Twitter for willfully violating American sanctions on Iran by providing social media accounts and services to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.
Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Donmez announced Friday Turkey may begin oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean within three or four months in line with the November 27, 2019 agreement with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) defining their maritime boundaries, which Greece and Cyprus claim encroaches on their territorial waters. The EU sided with Greece and Cyprus, a statement issued during a December 12, 2019 summit saying: "The Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean Sea infringes on the sovereign rights of third States, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party and its MHP ally will proceed with legislation to preclude new opposition parties from participating in possible snap elections. For a party to run in parliamentary elections it must have held a congress and formed a party structure in half of Turkey's provinces or already have at least 20 MPs in parliament. The legislation would prevent sitting MPs from transferring to new parties thereby enabling the new parties to circumvent the other qualifications. The opposition CHP used such a maneuver to permit the Iyi Party to contest the 2018 elections and Erdogan fears that a similar scheme could allow the Deva Party and Future Party, each headed by AKP defectors, to participate in elections.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said Friday Riyadh transferred $40 billion from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority's (SAMA) foreign exchange reserves to the Kingdom's Public Investment Fund (PIF) in March and April. SAMA disclosed in April that its net foreign assets fell in March to $464 billion, the lowest in 19 years. Despite the April OPEC+ oil-price stabilization deal, Moody's in early May downgraded Saudi Arabia's issuer rating from "stable" to "negative."
Russian President Vladimir Putin directed Russia's defense and foreign ministries to ensure Syria allocates more territory to the areas covered by the free-of-charge 49-year lease currently under negotiation for the naval facility at Tartus and Hmeymim air base.
Rami Makhlouf, President Bashar al-Assad's cousin and one of Syria's richest men, announced Thursday he will relinquish assets to his charity, Ramak Development and Humanitarian Projects, rather than let the government seize them, purportedly to pay outstanding taxes. Makhlouf has posted multiple videos on Facebook in recent weeks accusing the government of extorting money from his business empire and imploring President Assad to intercede. Since then, the Syrian government froze many of his assets, along with those of his wife and children, and imposed a travel ban on him.
The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Thursday that the State Department approved the sale of 84 interceptor missiles, built by Lockheed Martin and worth $800 million, to Kuwait, along with $425 million worth of training and technical assistance and $200 million in repairs to the country's existing Patriot missile system.
ISIS released an audio message late Thursday read by the group's chief spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi. In it, he denounced Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as an "American agent," condemned Saudi Arabia's COVID-19-inspired prayer restrictions at Mecca's Grand Mosque, and called for daily attacks against the group's enemies. "Don't let a single day pass without making their lives awful."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum