Sina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
Week of August 5, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Former Reformist President Criticizes Rouhani & Parliament
- Iran Warns Against US-Led Persian Gulf Coalition
- Intelligence Minister Says Trump has Killed Chances for Diplomacy
- Qods Force Commander Soleimani Meets with Zarif
- Rouhani Defends Phone Call with Obama Six Years Ago
- Official Says Iran Ready to Take Next Step on JCPOA
- Phd Student Freed After Six years Imprisonment
- Hardline Newspaper Attacks Zarif’s Defense of the JCPOA
- Zarif Says Iran has No Problems with Saudi Arabia
- IRGC Chief Says Iran’s Allies Deter War
- Iran-Azerbaijan Increase Cooperation on North-South Corridor Trade Route
Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has criticized the performance of the Rouhani administration and the current parliament. He censured what he said were “shortcomings” and failing to follow through on “promises.” Khatami’s support proved critical to Rouhani winning his presidential elections and the coming to power of the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament in 2016.
Khatami further criticized what he said was “silence” and a failure to “give warnings” about violations of law from the Rouhani administration and parliament. He stated: “I wonder why an administration that came to power to attain the people’s rights and a parliament that claims to defend the nation and its fundamental rights, at least the reformists who went to parliament, does not shout or take actions.”
Khatami also stated in recent months that without tangible reforms, people will no longer listen to his call to turnout to vote. However, in another recent speech, he underscored the risk of war and said that people should “go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.”
Defense Minister Amir Hatami held talks with his Omani, Kuwaiti, and Qatari counterparts and strongly rebuked the creation of a U.S.-led military coalition in the Persian Gulf. Hatami said such a force would cause “instability” in the Persian Gulf and that local countries should instead provide for the region’s security. Britain has said it would join the force, while Germany and Japan have explicitly said they will not.
Hatami also denounced the potential that Israel would join the coalition as “provocative” and auguring “catastrophic consequences.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi also said that an Israeli presence in the U.S. coalition would be a “flagrant threat against Iran’s national security.”
Mousavi added that Iran would respond to this threat “within the framework of the country’s defense policies” and that the U.S. and Israel would be responsible “for the consequences of this dangerous action.”
Mahmoud Alavi, the Rouhani administration’s intelligence minister, has declared that President Trump has killed chances for diplomacy. He proclaimed regarding Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA: “Trump by violating this commitment, has delivered the finishing bullet to his chances for negotiating with Iran. He’ll take his wish for negotiations with Iran to the grave.”
Alavi also stated that national unity in Iran had increased as a result of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. He stated: “During this period, the nation’s cohesion, unity, and solidarity has increased. The U.S. President who thought he could bring Iran to its knees in six months has been disappointed.”
Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani visited Foreign Minister Zarif after Zarif was sanctioned last week by the Trump administration. In their meeting in the foreign ministry building, Soleimani said the U.S. sanctions were “a sign of the definite defeat of the White House.”
Soleimani further proclaimed: “This action by America proves that you, as someone responsible for the country’s foreign policy, have a deep impact on public opinion, especially on the American people, regarding the ignorance of that country’s leader.”
Alireza Rahimi, a reformist member of parliament, said regarding the Soleimani-Zarif meeting: “The valuable presence of commander Soleimani in the office of Dr. Zarif after his sanctioning reflects the practical and complete support of commander Soleimani for the country’s diplomacy. Such encouragement and sympathy represents the full unity of the field [i.e. on the ground efforts] and diplomatic presence [of the country] in confronting America at this difficult juncture.”
In a speech at Iran’s foreign ministry, President Rouhani defended his phone call with former U.S. President Barack Obama six years ago. Rouhani’s landmark phone conversation with Obama during the September 2013 UN General Assembly was the first between an Iranian and U.S. head of state since before Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Rouhani said that if the call had not taken place, reaching the November 2013 interim nuclear deal (Joint Plan of Action, or JPOA) would have been fraught with “difficulty and delay.”
At the time, Rouhani was beset by domestic criticism from hardliners and Ayatollah Khamenei for taking the phone call from Obama. After his return from the 2013 UN General Assembly, he was greeted at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport by supporters and opponents, one of the latter of which threw a shoe at his car. Then-IRGC commander Mohammad Jafari also said the call was a “tactical mistake.” Ayatollah Khamanei indirectly criticized it by saying that “some of what occurred in New York was in my belief not right.”
It is unclear if Rouhani mentioned the 2013 call to simply rehash history or to highlight his belief in the importance of direct talks with the U.S. president to reduce tensions. Some Iranian analysts have viewed his comments as indicating the latter, given Tehran is debating but mostly rejecting the potential for negotiations with the Trump administration.
In the same speech, Rouhani also emphasized the value of peace and the cost of war for the United States. He stated: “As I said last year, making peace with Iran is the mother of all peace making. War with Iran would be the mother of all wars. If you want security and your soldiers in the region want security, this security will come for security [in return]. You cannot damage security and then expect security for yourself.”
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said that Iran is ready to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA. He stated: “With the continuation of a lack of action from the Europeans to meet their JCPOA commitments, according to our declared plan, Iran will in about one month take its third step.”
Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.
The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA. Kamalvandi has said about what decision Iran will make: “We are holding meetings regarding this issue and the final decision will be taken by the high-ranking officials of the country depending on the situation which will then be implemented.”
After a recent meeting of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal in Vienna, Russia announced that all the sides asked Iran to not take any further steps to reduce compliance with the accord.
Foreign Minister Zarif recently stated that Iran’s “third step” will not mean “the last step or an exit from the JCPOA.” However, Kamalvandi has said that “as we move forward, commitments have waned and in practical terms there will be no JCPOA left.”
Hamid Babaei, a Phd student who was arrested in August 2013, has been released from prison after six years. Babaei was studying in Belgium and was arrested after returning to Iran in 2013. According to his relatives, he was arrested for refusing to cooperate with Iran’s intelligence services.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, wrote a piece sharply criticizing Foreign Minister Zarif. Shariatmadari was rebuking a response Zarif had given to a Kayhan journalist.
The journalist had asked Zarif during a press conference: “Mr. Zarif, on February 1st, 2019, you wrote on Twitter that an agreement with America is not worth the ink it is written on. But a few weeks earlier you had said that if you could return to four years ago, you would again sign the JCPOA. My question is why should an agreement that isn’t worth the ink it’s signed on be signed again?”
Shariatmadari censured Zarif for what he said was his “long winded” answer to the question which raised “more baseless claims.” Zarif said in his answer that the JCPOA was not only an agreement with the United States, but with other world powers, and that its over 150 pages were testament to the carefulness of Iran’s diplomats.
Shariatmadari said he had a “short and logical” view, which he put thusly: “Rouhani and Zarif must be held accountable for throwing away the capabilities and opportunities the system gave them in the process of the nuclear negotiations.”
Foreign Minister Zarif stated that Iran “has no problems with Saudi Arabia.” He added that “the end of the Yemen war would be a milestone for regional countries.” However, he also stated that “Saudi Arabia seeks victory in military conflicts, which cannot be realized.”
Zarif further said that the Yemen war has no military solution. He stated: “From the beginning we stressed that the Yemen issue has no military solution. Right now, they [Saudi Arabia] must end the Yemen war. This is a war in which they have dismissed all political solutions to end and they believed they could win in several weeks.”
Hossein Salami, the head of the IRGC, has said that Iran’s network of regional allies is a “reason” that war has been deterred. He added: “The enemy cannot focus on Iran because in the sense of war, the geography will be vast. Everywhere there will be an outbreak of war and fire and danger for the enemy.”
He said any war would threaten Israel’s existence: “In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, a power has taken form. The enemy knows that in any war the Zionist regime [Israel] will be exposed to an all-out threat and irreversible collapse.”
Salami also stated that Iran was “not worried” about a war breaking out. He stated: “We are not worried about a military war because we have power and readiness and the enemy is incapable of having a will to attack or engage in a military war.”
Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the management and budgeting organization, said that Iran was increasing cooperation with Azerbaijan on the North-South Corridor. The North-South Corridor is a trade route that seeks to boost economic interconnectivity between India and Russia and the countries in between. It is seen by some as India’s rival to China’s One Belt, One Road project.
Bagher stated that Azerbaijan is cooperating with Iran to construct a new railway connecting the two countries as part of the North-South Corridor. Bagher stated it would be used for commercial purposes as well as by passengers.
Week of July 29, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Officials React to U.S. Sanctioning Zarif
- Three Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activists Given Long Prison Sentences
- Rouhani Defends JCPOA & Says Agreement with Europe Possible
- New INSTEX Chief Appointed
President Rouhani described the U.S. sanctioning of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as a “childish” act rooted in a “fear” of Zarif. He said the action showed that the “enemy” is “helpless.”
Rouhani said that the sanctions reflected the contradictions in U.S. policy towards Iran, stating: “On one hand they said they are ready for negotiations and on the other they sanction our foreign minister.”
Rouhani said that the sanctions on Zarif were preceded by “greater wrongs,” including “sanctioning the leader [Ayatollah Khamenei].”
Abbas Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for Iran’s conservative-leaning Guardian Council, said the sanctions were “evidence” of Trump’s “lie of seeking negotiations.” He stated: “America is not only afraid of Iran’s missiles, but also of Iran’s words. Sanctioning Iran’s foreign minister means that all the words of Donald Trump and the other heads of that regime about seeking negotiations and dialogue with Iran are lies. It means that all America’s claims about freedom of speech are false. It means the collapse of the Statue of Liberty.”
Eshaq Jahingiri, Rouhani’s reformist first vice president, stated: “The sanctioning of Iran’s foreign minister by the Trump administration is a new sign of the irrationality, helplessness, and adventurism of a bullying power. Even the wise enemies know of Zarif’s unmatched skills and capabilities in dialogue and seizing opportunities to avoid war. Sanctioning Zarif is another reason reflecting the hypocrisy and lies of [the U.S.] seeking negotiations.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) condemned as “ridiculous” the sanctioning of Zarif, stating: “America adding the names of the officials and commanders of the holy Islamic Republic system to its so-called sanctions list is an inconsequential action that has precedent. However, the Americans sanctioning our respected foreign minister who is responsible for our country’s diplomatic institution, shows yet again their anger from the inspirational and anti-arrogance rhetoric of the Islamic Revolution and makes clear to everyone their enmity with the political system and people of Iran.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs, said in response: “America doesn’t even have the ability to confront the precise and proven logic of the Islamic Republic.”
Three anti-compulsory hijab activists, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz have been sentenced to a cumulative 55 years and six months in prison. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), if the sentences are upheld, each will have to serve 10 years in prison. Under Iranian law, the longest sentence against a defendant is the one enforced.
According to HRANA, the sentences were passed in court during a session in which the lawyers of the three women were not present. Their lawyers also said they were not allowed to represent their clients during their interrogation or trial. They said they will appeal the ruling.
The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Musa Ghazanfarabadi, has said that anyone sending videos or pictures to Masih Alinejad would face charges of between one and ten years in prison. Alinejad is a U.S.-based activist who campaigns against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and collects footage of Iranian women removing their hijabs.
According to Amnesty International, at least 39 people have been arrested in Iran during the past year for protesting against compulsory hijab.
In a speech in the northwestern city of Tabriz, President Rouhani defended the negotiation of the JCPOA and argued for preserving the deal. Rouhani said that the JCPOA was an agreement that was accepted by “all” institutions in the Iranian government. This is in contrast to recent remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei seeking to distance himself from the deal and pin responsibility for it on Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif.
Rouhani stated that if the JCPOA lasts, next year Iran will be able to purchase weapons in the global arms market. He stated: “If this agreement lasts until next years, all the UN sanctions on armaments against Iran will be completely removed. This means that we can buy or sell any weapons.”
Rouhani also commented on ongoing negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA and said it was possible an agreement would be reached. He stated: “It is possible that in the upcoming weeks we reached a positive solution in the negotiations. If we don’t, we will take our third step [to reduce compliance with the JCPOA].”
However, Rouhani stated that the European offers have not been “balanced” and that Iran does not “accept them.” He added that in its negotiations with the Europeans, Iran is “not acting on the basis” that it will have to take a “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance.
Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.
Former German Ambassador to Iran Bernd Erbel has been appointed the new head of INSTEX. Per Fischer, a former Commerzbank executive, is stepping down from the role. INSTEX is the financial mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to save the JCPOA and preserve some trade with Iran.
According to European officials, INSTEX began facilitating transactions with Iran roughly one month ago. However, Iranian officials say that unless Europe can facilitate its JCPOA-obligated sanctions relief, particularly in the areas of buying Iranian oil and normalizing banking relations, Iran will continue to reduce compliance with the JCPOA.
Erbel is a veteran diplomat who also served as Germany’s ambassador to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait. He is reportedly fluent in Persian, Arabic, and English.
In an interview conducted two weeks ago, Erbel discussed Iran’s political conditions and regional tensions. In the interview, Erbel said that if the JCPOA was implemented as President Obama envisioned and President Rouhani was able to improve Iran’s economy, Rouhani could have become Ayatollah Khamenei’s successor.
Erbel stated that the Trump administration’s policies have offset this scenario of Rouhani succeeding Khamenei.
Week of July 22, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Officials Defend British Tanker Seizure, Call for Diplomatic Resolutions
- Imprisoned Political Prisoner Starts Hunger Strike
- Deputy FM Travels to France with Proposal on Reducing U.S.-Iran Tensions
- Khamenei Advisor Warns Against Increasing Western Military Footprint in Persian Gulf
- IRGC Initially Believed that U.S. Downed Iranian Drone
- Intelligence Ministry Alleges Arrest of 17 U.S. Spies
- Next JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting Approaches
President Rouhani declared that Iran and its neighbors are “primarily responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.” Rouhani was speaking after the British government said it would seek an increased military presence in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized a British oil tanker.
Rouhani stated that European countries must refrain from actions such as the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar by British forces weeks ago. Rouhani stated that if European countries “don’t stop their wrong actions such as what occurred in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran.”
However, Ali Rabiee, the spokesperson for the Rouhani Administration, stated the seizure of the British tanker was not an act of retaliation by Iran. He asserted it was a “correct legal action.”
Rabiee contended that the two tanker seizures were not comparable. He stated that the British tanker had violated the “laws and regulations of seafaring” by “turning off its transponder” and instead of “going in the direction of the entrance to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, took a southern route and failed to listen to warnings from our forces.”
Rabiee said the British tanker was “stopped” in Iranian waters, while, according to Rabiee, “even Spanish officials say our tanker was stopped in Spanish waters.” Rabiee then stressed that the tanker crisis can be resolved through diplomacy.
On the other hand, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani stated that the seizure of the British tanker was a “response” to the capture of Iran’s tanker.
Mohammad Golpayegani, the head of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s office, said that the British had sent “intermediaries” to Iran to get the ship released. He proclaimed: “The country that once used to decide on who government ministers in Iran would be now has reached a place where it has to send intermediaries to ask for its ship to be freed.”
President Rouhani also proclaimed that “the entire world must thank the Revolutionary Guards for the Persian Gulf’s security.” He added: “We will not allow anyone to create disorder in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time, we are not after increasing tensions or a military confrontation.”
President Rouhani also emphasized that Iran was open to negotiations based on respect and not surrender. He stated: “As long as I have the responsibility for the country’s executive branch, we will always be ready for a negotiation that is just, legal, and has respect for the Iranian people and their rights.”
He added: “But we aren’t ready that under the name of negotiations, to sit at the table of surrender. We understand what negotiations are and what surrender is. We consider surrender unacceptable, our people and constitution will not accept it.”
Imprisoned activist Sepideh Gholian has started a hunger strike. As detailed in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Gholian has been imprisoned since January 20th. She was first detained in November 2018 in connection to the labor protests led by workers from two companies in southwestern Iran. She was released after one month.
After her release in December, Gholian said she was subject to torture. Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, who was held during the same period, also stated that he was tortured. Their claims spurred outrage and calls for investigations. Reformist MPs also invited Bakhshi to Parliament.
However, government officials denied their claims of torture after the Intelligence Ministry reportedly investigated the case. Afterwards, Gholian and Bakhshi were rearrested based on a compliant from the Intelligence Ministry and on “security charges.” They will be tried in August.
The spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary said that a verdict was reached against the assailants that murdered an Iranian political prisoner months ago. The victim, 21-year-old Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, was killed by fellow inmates.
Mohammad Ali was arrested in August 2018 on charges of “insulting sanctities,” “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic,” “insulting the Leader,” and “propagandizing against the system.” He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
According to the judiciary spokesperson, the main assailant responsible for Mohammad Ali’s murder will be punished in accordance to qisas, or an “eye for an eye” punishment in Islamic law. The second assailant was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both also must pay financial compensation to the Mohammad Ali’s family.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi travelled to France to deliver a response to a French proposal on reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. According to foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi, Araghchi went to Paris as President Rouhani’s special representative.
According to Iranian news outlet Alef citing knowledgeable sources, Araghchi was carrying President Rouhani’s counteroffer to a proposal that a French emissary recently delivered to Tehran. Read more about the French diplomat’s trip to Iran and President Macron’s effort to reduce U.S.-Iran tensions in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.
Macron’s proposal was widely reported as a “freeze for freeze” deal or “ceasefire” between the U.S. and Iran. According to some outlets, this would involve Iran ceasing from further reductions in its compliance with the JCPOA and the U.S. ceasing from imposing new sanctions and reissuing sanctions waivers for some importers of Iranian oil.
Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister and now military advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, has warned against moves to bolster Western military forces in the Persian Gulf. Amid reports that Britain is seeking a coalition to increase military patrols in the Persian Gulf, Dehghan declared: “Any change in the situation in the Strait of Hormuz will result in a dangerous confrontation.”
Dehghan also stated that Iran will “under no circumstances negotiate with the United States.” He added that Iran will speak to “no one” about its missile program.
Dehghan proclaimed that in the event of a war, “all U.S. bases in the region will come under attack by Iran’s armed forces.” He also repeated a line heard from many Iranian officials, that either “all countries can export their oil through the Strait of Hormuz, or no one can.”
Dehghan further stated that some Arab Persian Gulf countries had sent representatives to Tehran for peace negotiations. He did not specify which countries, but added that the UAE had allowed itself to be turned into an “American military base to harm Iran’s national interests.”
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has repeated that President Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone over the Persian Gulf was a “lie.” Dehghan said that the lie was “so big that we ourselves at first believed it.” Iran responded to Trump’s claim by denying it had lost any drone and releasing a video of an Iranian drone surveilling the U.S. vessel that Trump said shot the drone down.
Hajizadeh said “we couldn’t believe that he [Trump] would make such a big lie directly to the media.” He added: “For this reason, we delayed for a few hours before denying it. We saw that our unmanned drone surveilled the U.S. vessel from before its entrance into the Strait of Hormuz until after it passed through the strait.”
Hajizadeh then asserted that the “Americans themselves have now blamed John Bolton for this issue.”
The head of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s counterintelligence department announced the arrest of “17 spies trained by America’s intelligence agency.” The official said: “On June 18th of this year, the intelligence ministry was successful in destroying a spy network linked to America’s intelligence agency.”
According to the official, indictments have been brought forward against the alleged spies and some will be executed. He added that they were employed in “sensitive and vital centers” and in “private sector jobs affiliated with these centers.” These included areas related to Iran’s economic, nuclear, military, and cyber sectors.
The official said that each of the alleged spies was handled by a “CIA officer.” He added that they were each an individual cell and that “none of them were in contact with each other.”
The official further said that the CIA had given the alleged spies guarantees regarding their safety, stating: “The CIA could not fulfill any of its guarantees. All of these spies are now engulfed in trouble for betraying the country.”
The official added, those who “engaged the intelligence ministry with total sincerity and whose remorse is proven, will be used against the Americans.”
On July 28th, the JCPOA’s Joint Commission—comprised of the remaining parties to the accord—will meet in Vienna at the deputy foreign minister-level. The meeting was called for by the European members of the deal to discuss the “new situation” regarding the deal, referring to Iran reducing its compliance with the accord.
The meeting will reportedly also be aimed at preparing the groundwork for another upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of the remaining JCPOA-signatory countries. Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, has reiterated that if the remaining JCPOA parties fail to meet their commitments under the deal, Iran will take “another step” in reducing its compliance with the deal in roughly 60 days.
Week of July 15, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Political Prisoner Narges Mohammadi Censures Prison Conditions
- President Rouhani Talks to French President, Welcomes “Ceasefire” Idea
- Rouhani-Aligned Analyst Calls for Enriching at 20-Percent
- Former Reformist President Khatami Calls for Unity Against Threat of War
- Officials Deny Losing a Drone
- IRGC Chief Says Iran Might Shift to “Aggressive” Posture
- Officials Dismiss Oil Tanker Accusations
Narges Mohammadi, a political prisoner and lawyer, has written a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi criticizing the poor conditions that imprisoned environmentalist activists are facing. Mohammadi said their conditions were “illegal and reflected torture” and called for ending “these inhumane practices.” Mohammad herself is serving a ten-year prison sentence.
The eight environmentalist activists have now been imprisoned for over 500 days. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.
Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist at France’s Sciences Po University, was arrested by IRGC intelligence while visiting Tehran. A spokesperson for the Iranian judiciary confirmed the arrest, but the Iranian foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of it.
In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Rouhani said Iran was “determined to keep open all paths to preserve the JCPOA.” However, Rouhani stated that the “passage of time and missed opportunities will force Iran to take a third step [in reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”
Rouhani also said Europe should strive for a “ceasefire in the U.S. economic war.” He stated: “Europe must expedite its efforts to meet Iran’s legitimate interests and establish a ceasefire in the American economic war.”
During a visit to Tehran last week, Macron’s top diplomatic advisor had said that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.
Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University and an advisor to the Rouhani administration during the nuclear negotiations, gave a far-reaching interview on U.S.-Iran tensions. Hadian is viewed as a centrist and West-leaning foreign policy analyst. He has also served as a senior researcher for Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council.
Hadian said Iran should begin enriching at the 20-percent level and then “immediately announce that we are ready for dialogue.” Hadian said he believes that Trump has reached the “conclusion that it is better not to make the situation worse [with Iran].”
Hadian said he further believes that the recent trip to Tehran of a senior diplomatic advisor to French President Macron was coordinated with Washington. He opined: “Trump has reached the conclusion that the Iranian government will not collapse as a result of maximum pressure and that another path must be pursued. France is trying to pave this new path, meaning a path out of the current situation.”
Hadian further stated that Europe and America both seek a mutual “freeze” deal with Iran. The French emissary last week said in Tehran that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.
However, Hadian said such a “freeze” offer was “not to Iran’s benefit” and thus called on Iran to increase its level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent.
Elsewhere in the interview, Hadian said that recent escalations in the Persian Gulf and in the region had changed President Trump’s calculations on his Iran policy. He stated: “The thesis of Bolton and Pompeo was that if we increase pressure on Iran it will submit. Trump accepted their view. However, Trump began doubting this when incidents started occurring in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz two months ago.”
Hadian added in this regard that Europe might be able to convince Trump to distance himself from his hawkish advisors and take a more realistic assessment of the situation. He stated: “He can listen to the Europeans and return to the JCPOA in a way that is gradual and unspecified. This will strengthen the mediation role of Europe between the U.S. and Iran and Iran will stop its gradual exit from the JCPOA.”
Hadian further stated that President Rouhani did not believe that Europe would be as incapable as it has been in resisting U.S. secondary sanctions. He stated: “We all knew that the position and capabilities of America are much higher than Europe … but all of us, including President Rouhani, did not think that Europe would be this incapable in facing America.”
Hadian explained why he believes that Europe will bear the brunt of the cost for any conflict with Iran: “Because most refugees and terrorists in the Middle East will head towards Europe. Political and social instability in this region and an increase in the price of oil will have far greater consequences for Europe than America.”
He then suggested Iran might build nuclear weapons if it comes under attack: “Additionally, Europe has security concerns that according to them include Iran developing atomic weapons or advanced missiles. They believe that if a war occurs, Iran will develop stronger weapons to defend itself.”
Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has declared that war is the “main danger” facing Iran and called for broad public unity against this threat. Khatami also emphasized that upcoming elections should not be boycotted by reformists. The next elections in Iran are for parliament on February 21, 2020.
Khatami stated that “reformists and discontented people must make a sacrifice and selfless act and go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.” However, he added that reformists cannot “enter elections at any cost.” He stated that “God willing the atmosphere will be opened and the qualifications will be accepted [of reformist candidates running for office by the Guardian Council].”
Khatami also said that the current parliament and the Rouhani administration should be held to account over the campaign promises they made but failed to achieve.
After President Trump said that the USS Boxer had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian officials denied having lost any drone. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesperson for Iran’s Armed Forces, stated in this regard: “Contrary to the claims that reflect Trump’s delusions, all of the drones belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one discussed by America’s president, have safely returned to their bases after conducting their surveillance and planned control operations.”
Shekarchi added that President Trump’s comments create “insecurity” in the Persian Gulf and the “strategic waterway of the Strait of Hormuz.” He added: “The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran view the control and preserving the security of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz as their legal responsibility.”
Hours later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards released footage of what they said was surveillance of the USS Boxer by an Iranian drone. The video alleges to show the drone surveilling the ship after the time Trump said an Iranian drone had been shot down.
IRGC chief Hossein Salami proclaimed that if there is a “strategic mistake by the enemy,” Iran’s “strategic military doctrine will shift from a defensive strategy to an aggressive one.” Salami stated: “We act in a defensive way. This means we will not be the initiator of any war … however, if necessary, all of our capabilities will become aggressive.” Salami was speaking during a visit to the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the greater and lesser Tombs, which the UAE contests.
Iranian officials dismissed reports in some Western outlets that Iranian authorities had commandeered oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. According to some reports, one Emirati tanker’s radar went offline after entering Iranian waters and another oil-carrying vessel was captured by the IRGC.
Iranian officials stated that the commandeered vessel was a “foreign” ship that was carrying “one million liters” of “smuggled” Iranian oil. According to Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, the other vessel was an oil tanker that had broken down and appealed to Iran for assistance, which Iran provided in accordance to international law.
Week of July 8, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Iran Further Reduces Compliance with JCPOA
- Top French Diplomat Visits Tehran
- Iranian Officials React to British Seizure of Tanker
- IRGC Launches Military Strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan
On July 7th, Iran announced that it would halt compliance with the JCPOA’s limit on its level of uranium enrichment. Iranian officials declared that if Europe does not meet its JCPOA requirements, Iran will take a “third step” in reducing compliance with the deal starting on September 7th.
Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period that has now been announced, Iran will start enriching uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said that increasing enrichment to the 20-percent level and “higher options” has been discussed in the Supreme National Security Council. However, Kamalvandi said that currently “there is no need for this.” He added that there are no “obstacles or problems” for Iran to produce 20-percent enriched fuel.
Kamalvandi further emphasized that Iran would take actions in line with its practical needs for nuclear fuel: “When the needs of the country are something else, we’re not going to take actions just to scare the other side with increased enrichment.”
Previously, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the spokesperson for President Rouhani, said that Iran would begin enriching at 20 percent and at higher levels if it left the JCPOA. AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi has also previously said that Iran could start 20-percent enrichment at Fordow in four days if the decision were made to do so.
Emmanuel Bonne, the top diplomatic advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron, travelled to Tehran with the express aim of reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. However, Bonne said he did not “come as a mediator to Tehran” and had “no message from America for Iran.” Bonne was previously in Iran roughly one month ago after the sabotage of two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Bonne’s trip came after President Rouhani and Macron had a one-hour phone conversation on July 7th. It also occurred after Iran announced it would cease compliance with the JCPOA’s limit on its level of uranium enrichment and begin enriching at 4.5 percent. Previously, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s 300 kg limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
Bonne met with Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani. Bonne told Shamkhani regarding France’s aim: “Emmanuel Macron seeks joint initiatives for a ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran. He believes such an action will reduce increasing tensions in the region.”
Before he met with Bonne, Zarif provided the criteria for the conditions under which Iran would negotiate about the JCPOA. He stated: “Negotiations are never conceivable under pressure. The pressures and economic war and terrorism against the people of Iran must be stopped then we can talk about implementing the JCPOA.”
Shamkhani told Bonne that Iran gradually reducing its JCPOA obligations was an “unchangeable strategy.” He stated: “Given that for one year Europe did not use the opportunity of Iran implementing its JCPOA commitments in a one-sided way, the definitive decision of our country is to implement our commitments in a way commensurate to the other sides’ actions. The time of taking one-sided actions is over.”
Shamkhani further said: “This path is in the framework of articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA and will continue until Iran’s gets all of its rights.”
Shamkhani also said that America was “taking European independence hostage.” He added: “The European Union countries must stand against American unilateralism to defend their identity and independence.”
Bonne also said to Shamkhani about France cooperation with Iran in the region: “Given Iran’s role and undeniable impact in the region, France is eager to continue dialogue and cooperation with Iran to manage the current crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.”
After British sailors seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami described the action as “a type of piracy.” He further declared: “For sure this type of piracy will not go without a response from us.”
President Rouhani also strongly condemned the British action as “very wrong.” He added: “The British are creating insecurity in the seas. We hope they don’t continue this because if this is repeated, it will result in insecurity in the world which will harm everyone.”
Rouhani further proclaimed: “I remind the British that you have initiated insecurity and you will understand the consequences later. However, the British may have acted based off an order from America … but this would still have been a wrong action.
During the same press conference, Rouhani also said Iran was not “in a hurry” to leave the JCPOA. He declared: “We are not in a hurry to take an emotional action against an agreement which is on the basis of logic and the strength of Iran’s diplomacy and the capabilities of our negotiators in the face of global powers, which removed all UN Security Council resolutions against us … and that has now isolated the United States.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards released a statement saying it targeted Kurdish positions in Iraqi Kurdistan using missiles, artillery, and drones. The statement said the strikes were in response to militant attacks in Iran that killed three soldiers.
Week of June 24, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- 101 University Professors Call on Judiciary Chief to Free Detained Environmentalists
- Outrage and Controversy Over Video of Police Beating Woman
- Rouhani Blasts White House, Defends Khamenei Over Sanctions
- Khamenei Says U.S. Negotiations Offer a “Deception”
- Rouhani Tells French President JCPOA Breaches “Reversible”
- Rouhani Praises Iran’s Armed Forces for Downing U.S. Drone
- Former Tehran Mayor Aid Charged with Espionage
101 prominent Iranian university professors have written a letter to the head of Iran’s judiciary calling for the release of eight environmentalist activists arrested last year. Read more about the case of the imprisoned environmentalists in past issues of Iran Unfiltered.
The signatories of the letter say it has been “more than 500 days” that some of the most “renowned Iranian environmental specialists and activists” have been imprisoned on espionage charges. The letter highlighted the disagreement between the Revolutionary Guards charging the environmentalists with espionage and the Intelligence Ministry dismissing these charges.
A video went viral of two police officers physically confronting and forcefully arresting a woman in a Tehran park. The video was released by the “White Wednesdays” project and spurred controversy across social media and among politicians.
After the incident, Tehran’s police chief stated that the two officers “had been fired” because of their “improper conduct.” According to the police chief, three men and two women were arrested at the park for “resisting the instructions of police, breaking norms, confronting police, and improper hijab.”
Hours later, the police chief said that the action against the officers was “being halted.” A police statement said that “the implementation or suspension of charges against the officers will occur after an investigation.” The police chief said the reversal happened because of “new reports” regarding “events” at the park.
Parvaneh Salahshouri, a member of parliament, said that parliamentarians wished to question the interior minister over the “violent conduct of the police.” Salahshouri said that 30 members of parliament had written a complaint to the interior minister asking for an explanation regarding the incident.
Rouhani administration spokesperson Ali Rabiee also said that the police’s conduct was “unacceptable” and that Rouhani would speak to the interior minister about the incident. He further noted that the incident required a judicial response and added: “The reaction of law enforcement to the crime—if we assume a crime occurred—was totally unacceptable. We are certain the head of the council for the country’s security will give the necessary admonitions on this.”
Rabiee went on: “Our officers must know that in their hard work, they cannot use illegal and anti-Sharia (religious) methods. Such methods are opposed by the political system, the administration, and their own commanders.”
President Rouhani also stated in a speech that government interference in the private lives of people was “unhealthy.”
After the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his office, President Rouhani issued a strong defense of Khamenei. Rouhani stated: “The Leader of Iran is not like other world leaders to have millions of dollars in foreign banks, for them to want to take or block these funds.”
Rouhani said the new sanctions were a “ridiculous and hideous” action, adding: “No country that has even a little bit of wisdom and prudence would sanction the highest official of a country. And not just a political official, but a religious, social, and spiritual figure who is not just the leader of Iran, but the leader of the lovers of the Iran and the Islamic revolution and of Shias in the Islamic world and across the world.”
Rouhani further said that U.S. sanctions were “against human rights” and amounted to “sanctioning the Iranian people.” He stated: “The actions that America takes today reflect the definite failure of America. I have no doubt about this because why would anyone wise engage in such actions?”
Rouhani went on to say that the White House was afflicted by “confusion” and “mental disability.” He said: “Among American rulers and the White House there is a bizarre frustration and a great confusion.” He added: “The White House is stricken with a mental disability and they don’t know what to do.”
Rouhani also proclaimed that Iran will not give permission for U.S. officials to enter Iran and that Trump is lying about wanting negotiations with Iran. Regarding comments by U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin that the U.S. would sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Rouhani stated: “The Americans lie when they say they are ready for negotiations.”
The Iranian foreign ministry also said that sanctions “against Iran’s leader and the commander of the country’s diplomacy [Javad Zarif] mean the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy with the desperate U.S. government.” A senior foreign ministry official also said that if Zarif is sanctioned, “he won’t receive visas [for travel]” and that his property would be “confiscated.” The source added: “However our foreign minister has no property or even a bank account in America or anywhere else in the world.”
In a speech following the imposition of new U.S. sanctions, Ayatollah Khamenei once again voiced opposition to new negotiations and censured the United States. As in other recent speeches, Khamenei reiterated that the U.S. seeks to disarm Iran through negotiations, stating: “The Americans are terrified of the source of the Iranian nation’s power and are afraid to move forward (aggressively). As such, they want to take the source of Iran’s power away through negotiations to commit whatever blunder they want against the nation.”
Khamenei added that Trump’s offer of negotiations was a “deception.” He further said that U.S. sanctions were “oppressive” and that “the Iranian people won’t be affected by U.S. insults, nor will they retreat.”
Khamenei also stated that U.S. pressure had no effect on the Iranian people because they participate in elections and demonstrations. He said of Iran’s upcoming parliamentary election in February 2020: “There is an election at the end of this year [the Iranian year 1398]. I know that despite the doubts that some are trying to create, the nation will be present in the election with enthusiasm.”
In a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron, President Rouhani stated that Iran will not negotiate again on a nuclear agreement. Rouhani also said that Iran has “no interest in increasing tensions in the region and has never been after war with any country, including with the United States.”
Rouhani emphasized to Macron that Iran’s plans to breach certain JCPOA limitations are “reversible.” He stated that Iran wants the other parties to implement their commitments under the deal, especially in the areas of resolving Iranian issues with banking and selling oil.
Rouhani also said that any violation of Iran’s territorial integrity was a redline for a military response. He told Macron: “If the Americans again violate Iran’s waters or airspace, Iran’s armed forces will oppose them and give a decisive response.”
President Rouhani highlighted the difficulty of identifying and shooting down the U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk drone and praised Iran’s armed forces. He stated in a speech: “Discovering a drone, especially at such immense heights, is not easy. In the first minutes that it violated our skies, and after giving multiple warnings, with Iranian radar systems and missiles we shot it down. I kiss the hands of all the experts in the defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards who developed our missile capabilities.”
Rouhani added that Iran is “not afraid of America, but is exercising strategic patience.” He further said: “They [the U.S.] didn’t think that Iran could shoot down their drone because discovering such a drone from a military angle is very difficult.”
Isa Sharifi, the longtime deputy of former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, has been arrested and charged with “espionage.” Sharifi is reportedly a former IRGC commander and served alongside Ghalibaf for most of his 12-year tenure as Tehran’s mayor.
Initial reports that Sharifi had been executed have been denied, with judicial sources telling media outlets that Sharifi’s indictment will soon be announced. Sharifi was also involved in several corruption scandals and served in the Tehran city council for a short time until reformists took it over after elections in 2017. Sharifi was arrested several months later in August 2017.
Week of June 17, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone, Alleges It Violated Iranian Airspace
- IRGC Displays Wreckage, Says Warnings Were Given Prior to Downing Drone
- Iran & Russia Ink Agreements in Isfahan Economic Summit
- Iranian Security Chief Travels to Moscow, Discusses Afghanistan & Syria
- Brother of Former President Tried for 2009 Election Fraud Claims
- Iran to Breach JCPOA Limit
On June 20th, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in a statement that it had shot down a U.S. drone that allegedly violated Iranian airspace. The IRGC statement identified the unmanned aerial vehicle as a “Global Hawk” drone. It said the drone took off “from an American base in the south of the Persian Gulf” at 00:14 local time. While in “stealth” mode, the drone flew past the Strait of Hormuz towards the southeastern Iranian port city of Chabahar, as per the IRGC statement.
According to the IRGC statement, at 04:05 local time, the drone was targeted and destroyed by an air defense unit of the IRGC’s aerospace division “when it entered the airspace of the country.” The statement says the drone was shot down near the Kuh Mobarak region in Iran’s southern Hormozgan province. It added that the drone was engaged in “intelligence gathering and spying.”
Later that morning, the IRGC’s top commander Hossein Salami gave a speech in Iran’s Kurdistan province, where he mentioned the drone downing and discussed broader foreign policy issues. Salami said regarding the drone downing: “Early this morning, the IRGC’s aerospace division downed a spy aircraft of the enemy that had entered our borders and was violating our national security.”
Salami stated that Iran didn’t seek war but its redline was any violation of its borders. He declared: “The downing of the Americans’ spy aircraft had one obvious, clear, decisive, explicit, and precise message, which is that the defenders of our Islamic homeland of Iran will in the face of any violation of our territory by any foreigner show a reaction that is decisive, conclusive, and definitive.”
Salami added: “We declare that we have no intention of going to war with any country. However, we are fully prepared for war, and today’s incident gets this across very clearly.”
Salami also said that the U.S. seeks to disarm Iran through negotiations: “The enemy through negotiations wants to strip the Iranian people of their defensive weapons. A nation that is disarmed can easily be attacked. However, the enemy doesn’t dare transgress against a nation that remains steadfast.”
Salami further said of negotiations with the United States: “They [the U.S.] wanted to portray the path to resolving Iran’s economic problems as being through negotiations. However, we have our experiences and the lessons of recent history. We know we cannot trust the untrustworthy American government. To this day, we have grown through resistance and have been raised by the logic of resistance.”
Salami also said U.S. policies had failed in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere in the region: “In Lebanon, they were defeated by Hezbollah and their aggressive plans for that country were forever ended. The Palestinians have put aside their rocks and taken up missiles … They [the U.S.] wanted to collapse the Syrian state but have now been forced to run away from that country. With 150,000 troops they wanted to conquer Iraq. But today, Iraq is not under the control of American policies.”
He added: “In Yemen, they wanted to build a new political-geographic bridge but the Americans, Saudis, and their allies are in a quagmire and the situation has changed in favor of the Yemenis.”
Regarding the downed U.S. drone, a local IRGC official in Hormozgan province added the wreckage of the aircraft was in Iranian waters in the Raaz al-Shir area. The official said the decision to shoot down the aircraft was made after U.S. drones had “repeatedly violated Iranian airspace” in the Persian Gulf.
He added: “In recent days, American surveillance and spying flights in the Persian Gulf had increased and this was coupled with violating our airspace.”
After President Trump said Iran made a “very big mistake” in shooting down the drone, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said Iran doesn’t take Trump’s words seriously. Shamkani added: “Iran will not attack anyone, but if we are attacked, the aggressor will regret it.”
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’S aerospace division, spoke at a ceremony displaying alleged parts of the downed U.S. drone. Hajizadeh stated: “Some of the wreckage of the American drone are spread out in the waters near Kuh Mobarak and some of the heavy parts have sunk.”
Hajizadeh said that Iran had issued multiple warnings before downing the drone: “Our last warning to the American spy drone was at 03:00 and came from a drone belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s army. After these warnings were disregarded, the drone was downed at 04:00.”
Hajizadeh said Iran also could have shot down a “P-8 U.S. espionage aircraft” that had a crew of 30 people. Hajizadeh said the P-8 aircraft was flying near the drone. He stated: “We could have shot it down, but we didn’t.”
Iran hosted the 15th “commission for economic and commercial cooperation” between Iran and Russia in Isfahan. Iran’s energy minister Reza Ardakanian said that Iran and Russia originally planned to sign seven agreements during the conference, but that because of the “interest that was shown,” 12 agreements were reached. They were mainly in the sectors of energy and transportation infrastructure.
Railways companies from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan also held meetings. Among the projects discussed were to develop electrical and railway infrastructure between the countries.
Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh and Russian oil minister Alexander Novak also met in Isfahan. They discussed an agreement to export Iranian oil to Russia among other issues.
On June 19th, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani travelled to Moscow to participate in a meeting of security officials from across the globe. Shamkhani met with his Russia counterpart Nikolai Patrushev to discuss the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, among other issues.
In his meeting with Patrushev, Shamkhani praised the efforts of Iran, Russia, and Afghanistan’s other neighbors to create “a process for national unity” in that country. Shamkhani said a meeting to be held in Tehran later this year of senior security officials from Afghanistan’s neighbors would be an “appropriate opportunity to accelerate the process of establishing sustainable stability in Afghanistan.”
Patrushev also discussed with Shamkhani an upcoming trilateral meeting between Russia, Israel, and the U.S. about Syria. Patrushev said about the meeting, which is to take place in Israel: “We will inform the Islamic Republic of Iran, our strategic partner in the region, of the results of this meeting.”
Patrushev added: “Russia will definitely not support any actions that will exacerbate the crisis in Syria.”
Shamkhani also stated in Russia that “contrary to the propaganda by some against Iran, no war will occur because there is no reason for war to occur.” He added that the U.S. was engaged in an “economic war” to bring the Iranian people “to their knees,” but that the “Iranian people are standing against them [the U.S.].”
Shamkhani further stated that in the face of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran will “gradually decrease its commitments” under the deal.
The trial Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and a former deputy parliamentary speaker, has concluded. Khatami was tried over remarks he made during a TV interview last year about Iran’s contested 2009 presidential election. Khatami had said in the interview that “around 7 to 8 million” votes were manipulated by the Interior Ministry.
After his trial, Khatami told the media that he had highlighted several cases of “fraud, interference, or [election] engineering, whatever you want to call it.” He said that his defense in court rested on three pillars, which were based on “statistics and documents from the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council.” This included a Guardian Council investigation after the election, which stated that 2 million votes were missing in the official count.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iran will begin the next stage of ceasing compliance with aspects of the JCPOA on July 7th. On May 8th, Iran had given Europe 60 days to meet its obligations under the JCPOA, or Iran would gradually leave limitations set out by the deal. (Read more about Iran’s earlier announcement in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered.)
According to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), in this period starting on July 7th, Iran will breach the JCPOA’s limitation on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). The JCPOA limits Iran to 300 kg of LEU enriched to the 3.67 percent level. Iran has also said it may restart enrichment at higher levels.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei told Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran that his country “will not negotiate under pressure.” His meeting with Abe was followed by new acts of sabotage against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, raising concerns of a full-blown conflict erupting. While the perpetrator is unknown, the United States and Iran are increasingly locked in a stalemate that neither can afford to live with. The potential still exists for negotiations, provided President Donald Trump makes a course correction and offers credible incentives for a deal.
A year after reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran has crash-landed. Not only is the regime in Tehran still standing despite the expectations of senior Trump advisors, but Iranian leaders remain defiant in the face of Trump’s calls for talks. This was reinforced by Khamenei during his meeting with Abe, with him saying that he does not trust the United States or believe that it seeks “genuine negotiations.”
Iranian officials have made clear they will not negotiate while bearing the brunt of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. In fact, Iran’s modus operandi in response to pressure has long been to increase its own pressure. To not do so, Iranian leaders have conveyed, is to signal weakness and invite even more egregious demands and pressure. Iran followed this strategy to get the July 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Recent Iranian rhetoric and actions suggest it is following a similar playbook this time around.
Week of June 10, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Rouhani Tells Shinzo Abe Iran Doesn’t Want a War with the U.S.
- Khamenei Issues Forceful Response to Trump Via Abe
- Political Prisoner Murdered
- Rouhani Travels to Kyrgyzstan for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit
- Zarif Says Tanker Sabotage “Suspicious”
On June 12th, President Rouhani met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran. It was the first trip by a Japanese prime minister to Iran since before the 1979 revolution.
Abe said at a press conference after the meeting that Japan wants to play the “maximum role” in preventing conflict in the region. Abe said that “peace and stability in the Middle East is of the utmost importance not just for the region but for the entire world.” Abe said the primary reason for him travelling to Tehran was to reduce regional tensions.
Rouhani told Abe that Iran will not start any wars, “even with the U.S.,” but added that any war against Iran would have a “decisive response.” Rouhani also noted that he had told Abe that the roots of the current tensions with the U.S. stem from “America’s economic war” against Iran. He emphasized that this war must be “stopped.”
Rouhani noted that Abe was optimistic about the future and sees “positive changes” on the way. Rouhani also stated that Japan was eager to continue to buy Iranian oil.
Rouhani further said that Iran’s future actions with respect to the JCPOA would be within the framework of the deal.
On June 13th, Ayatollah Khamenei met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran. Prior to his trip, Abe discussed the “situation in Iran” in a phone conversation with President Trump.
At the beginning of the meeting, Abe said that he had a message for Ayatollah Khamenei from Trump. The message has not been detailed in any media reports, but Khamenei’s answers suggest that Trump reiterated that the U.S. does not seek regime change and seeks negotiations for a new nuclear deal.
Khamenei told Abe that “we don’t accept negotiations while under pressure.” He added that Iran’s experience with the JCPOA was “sour” and that “we will under no circumstances repeat such negotiations.”
Khamenei emphasized that he won’t communicate with Trump, stating: “I don’t believe a person like Trump is worthy of exchanging messages with. I do not and will not have any responses for him.
Khamenei dismissed Trump’s claim that he doesn’t seek regime change in Iran, stating: “This is a lie. If America could have done this [regime change], it would have done so. But it cannot.”
Khamenei also dismissed the notion of new nuclear negotiations, pointing to Iran’s experience with the JCPOA: “For five or six years, Iran negotiated on the nuclear issue with America and Europe within the framework of the P5+1. We reached a result. However, America has decisively reneged on this agreement. As such, how would any wise person negotiate again with a country that has reneged on all agreements?”
Khamenei stressed that Iran doesn’t seek nuclear weapons: “We are against nuclear weapons and I have issued a fatwa making the production of nuclear weapons haram [forbidden]. However, this should be known that if we wanted to build nuclear weapons, America can’t do anything. America not giving us permission creates no obstacles for us.”
Khamenei also rejected the idea that Trump seeks “sincere negotiations” with Iran: “We don’t believe this at all. No sincere negotiations can happen with someone like Trump. Sincerity is very rare among U.S. officials.”
Khamenei further stated that the Iranian nation was capable of developing without relying on the United States: “By God’s grace, without negotiations with America and despite sanctions, we will develop and progress.”
A conservative Iranian analyst said of Khamenei’s remarks: “The Leader’s remarks show the Islamic Republic’s strategy against Trump’s America. The foreign ministry should take lessons from Khamenei’s meeting with Abe. They should eliminate all their hope in the West and not wait for the end of Trump’s presidency. The problem of America is innate. There is no difference between Trump and Obama and this enmity has existed from the start of the Islamic revolution.”
On June 14th, Shinzo Abe spoke with President Trump on the phone upon his return to Japan. They discussed Abe’s trip to Tehran. Abe said he and Trump agreed on the need to cooperate to create stability in the Middle East.
Abe also said that Trump “expressed appreciation” for Abe travelling to Iran and trying to lower tensions.
Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, a 21-year-old political prisoner, was murdered by fellow cellmates in a prison is southern Tehran. He was arrested last year for his activities on social media and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Amnesty International has condemned the killing as “shocking.” The group has called for an immediate, consequential, and independent investigation.
President Rouhani travelled to Kyrgyzstan for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. On the sidelines of the summit, Rouhani held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rouhani told President Jinping that the U.S. seeks hegemony over all of Asia. He stated: “The pressure that the U.S. government imposes against Iran, China, and other countries is aimed at imposing its hegemony over all of Asia and the world.”
Rouhani said that China and Iran’s resistance to U.S. unilateralism benefited both countries. Rouhani added: “The Iranian people have shown that they don’t tremble before foreign pressure but become more unity and more resistant.”
Rouhani said that Iran wants to cooperate with China more closely, especially on the One Belt One Road project. He stated: “Given Iran’s geographic location, Iran is ready to play an important role in the One Belt One Road project.”
Xi Jinping told Rouhani that America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA was the “main reason for the increase of regional tensions.” Xi also stressed that China wants to “improve relations” with Iran regardless of “current international conditions and the tension-ridden situation in the Persian Gulf.”
Foreign Minister Zarif said that the sabotage of two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf was “suspicious.” He attributed them to the so-called “B-team,” a reference to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the sabotage.
Zarif said reports of the sabotage came as Japanese Foreign Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei. Zarif said the aim of accusing Iran was “to ruin the diplomacy of Shinzo Abe and to cover for economic terrorism against Iran.”
Week of June 3, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Iranian Human Rights Lawyers Sentenced to Prison
- Rouhani Says Negotiations Require Practical Actions, Not Words from Trump
- Parliamentary Official Claims U.S. Sanctions to be Lifted Soon
- Khamenei Blasts “Deal of the Century” on Israel-Palestine, Calls for Referendum
- Responding to Trump, Khamenei Says Iran Won’t Get Close to America
On June 5th, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that in the past year, three Iranian human rights lawyers have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. They are: Amir-Salar Davoudi, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Mohammad Najafi.
The latest to be indicted is Amir-Salar Davoudi. According to his wife, he has been indicted by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 15 due to his social media postings. The charges against him include “cooperating with a hostile government through an interview” and “propagandizing against the state.”
Masoud Kazemi, a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Sedaye Parsi newspaper, has also been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. According to his lawyer, his charges include “insulting the Leader” and “publishing falsehoods.” His lawyer added that once his charges are “confirmed,” he will serve two years in prison.
Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist member of parliament, called for the release of all political prisoners on occasion of the Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan. She requested that judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi use the holiday, on which some prisoners are usually released, to grant “amnesty to all the men and women who have been imprisoned for expressing their beliefs.” Salahshouri said such an action would be a step towards “forming national unity.”
The Iranian government regularly imprisons individuals for their political beliefs, including human rights activists, workers, artists, poets, and members and supporters of religious minorities. One imprisoned human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, is currently in critical condition after surgery. Authorities have reportedly not provided her with proper treatment and medicine.
President Rouhani has said that there “might be circumstances for resolving problems” with the U.S., but this would only occur if the U.S. “accepted responsibility” and made up for “damages.” He said that a change in the “tone and words” of U.S. officials was not enough.
Rouhani, who was speaking before Ayatollah Khamenei at a ceremony marking the end of Ramadan, also praised what he said was Iran’s “patience” against the United States. He stated: “In its plans against the Iranian people, the enemy failed to account for two forms of patience. One of the political system and government officials and the second from the Iranian people. Therefore, the enemy has continuously made miscalculations.”
Rouhani asserted that the Trump administration wished to bait Iran into leaving the JCPOA but failed to do so. He explained: “They left an international agreement to end our patience and for us to leave the deal. America would then have been able to impose international sanctions against us without suffering any cost.
He added: “But the strategic patience of the political system and the people resulted in their ominous plans in leaving the JCPOA failing. They had no choice but to bear the weight of the responsibility for their violation, and Iran was victorious in international political and public opinion.”
Rouhani said that Iran cannot now be blamed for halting compliance with some of its JCPOA commitments. He stated: “Today, after one year of strategic patience, if we lower our commitment to the JCPOA, no one can blame us. But we must use the opportunities presented by this deal against those who’ve violated it.”
Last week, President Rouhani also stated that Iran needed to see “practical action” and “not words” from the Trump administration for negotiations to occur. He proclaimed: “Our criteria is not words but action. When they stop their oppression against the Iranian people and end their repressive sanctions and uphold their commitments and return to the negotiation table that they left. The path for them is not closed.”
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s foreign policy and national security commission, tweeted that the “period of US sanctions being removed is nearing.” He added: “Iran and the US have managed tensions in such a way that extremists have been pushed to the periphery. There is no reason for the continued presence of U.S. naval ships [in the Persian Gulf].” Falahatpisheh gave no further explanation for why sanctions would soon be lifted.
Among Iranian officials during the Trump era, Falahatpisheh has consistently been more optimistic about the prospect for U.S.-Iran negotiations. Last October, Falahatpisheh stated that there was a “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America.”
In his speech marking the Islamic holiday of Eid-e Fitr, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that the “plan known as the deal of the century will never be realized.” Khamenei was referring to the Trump administration’s yet-to-be-revealed plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khamenei stated that the plan was “the number one issue for the Islamic world.”
Khamenei censured Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for laying the groundwork deal of the century plan. He said of Bahrain, which is hosting an economic conference on Palestine as part of the so-called deal of the century: “This conference belongs to the Americans, but the Bahraini rulers are hosting it and laying the groundwork for it due to their weakness, incapability, and anti-public and anti-Islamic spirits. The rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia should know what a swamp they’ve stepped in.”
In a separate speech, Khamenei proclaimed that Iran was seeking a referendum regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He stated: “Contrary to the views of some old Arab leaders who believed that the Jews should be thrown in the sea, the Islamic Republic doesn’t believe this. We believe that the Palestinians should continue their struggle in every facet, militarily, politically, and culturally, until the usurpers submit to their vote.”
Khamenei explained that this vote would be a referendum among the “Muslim, Christian, and Jewish occupants of Palestine as well as Palestinian refugees regarding the framework for the political system of this country.”
In a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the death of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran’s development and progress rested on not being close to America. Khamenei was indirectly responding to President Trump’s remarks in Tokyo recently stating that Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership” and that he wasn’t seeking regime change.
Khamenei said that Iranian officials and people shouldn’t fall for “Trump’s sly political games.” He added: “We can’t get close to the Americans. Wherever the Americans have put their feet, there has either been war or internal discord.”
Week of May 27, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Students Protest Government Repression & Sanctions
- IRGC Commander Says U.S Aircraft Carrier Hasn’t Moved to the Persian Gulf
- Ex-Tehran Mayor Murders Wife, Spurring Major Controversy
- Khamenei Says Iran Will Meet Pressure with Pressure, Doesn’t Want Nuclear Weapons
- Rouhani Addresses Attendees of Anti-Iran Summit in Mecca
On May 26th, students at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba’i University protested “foreign sanctions” and “domestic repression.” The students expressed support for imprisoned teachers, workers, environmental activists, and Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
In a statement, the students declared their opposition to “war, sanctions, and authoritarianism.” They said they represented a people “stuck between domestic and foreign bullies” and vowed to not “bow to either.”
The students also declared to the Iranian government: “We warn domestic rulers that they don’t have a right to gamble with the everyday livelihoods of the people. They don’t have the right to sacrifice the material wealth of the public on risky policies.”
The students also criticized the Iranian government for contributing to insecurity with its repression. They stated: “How can one talk about insecurity when everyday we witness arrests and the imprisoning of critics of the status quo. Over the past decades, the government’s actions and accepting only one voice has created a situation where the university is like a military base and the smallest actions are suppressed.”
The students also criticized outside Iranian opposition groups that encourage foreign sanctions and war: “As long as this opposition is indifferent to the suffering and hardship of people and hopes it can achieve their liberty through their poverty and misery, they have no meaningful difference with the groups governing the country and they themselves are part of the current deterioration of status quo.
The statement went on: “They should realize that the aversion of the people towards current situation does not justify the inhumane policy they have adopted in the political realm.”
Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of the IRGC, has dismissed reports that the U.S. has increased its military presence in the Middle East. Fadavi stated: “Currently, the U.S. has the weakest presence it has ever had in the Persian Gulf and the lowest amount of vessels it has ever had in the Persian Gulf.”
Fadavi rejected reports that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier has moved to the Persian Gulf. He proclaimed: “Even the aircraft carrier that was moving towards the region as part of a previous plan has been halted in the Indian Ocean because of their fear. It has not entered the Persian Gulf.”
Fadavi also dismissed the need for Iran to engage in diplomacy with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. He stated: “We shouldn’t talk about these small and weak entities like Saudi Arabia. When America is on the other side and the subject of the quarrel, we shouldn’t talk about those who aren’t consequential.”
Fadavi’s comments come as Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Baghdad, where he said Iran sought “balanced” and “the best” relations with all the Persian Gulf countries. Zarif also reiterated a previous call he had made for a “non-aggression pact” between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors.
On May 28th, the head of Tehran’s criminal prosecutor’s office announced that Mitra Ostad, the wife of former Tehran major Mohammad-Ali Najafi, had been killed. Hours later, Najafi turned himself in to the police and confessed to murdering his wife.
Najafi’s confession was aired on state TV during an interview at the Tehran criminal prosecutor’s office. Najafi is a member of the reformist faction and, in addition to a months-long stint as Tehran’s mayor, served in the cabinet of President Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
According to Najafi’s lawyer, he has been charged with “premeditated murder” and “possessing an illegal firearm.” Najafi’s license for his firearm reportedly expired four years ago.
Najafi’s case has spurred immense controversy in Iran, particularly over state television’s coverage of his confession. In the video, Najafi calmly explains his side of the story while drinking tea. Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, said this issue will be pursued by the “oversight council of state television.”
Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated in a speech that negotiations with the U.S. have “no benefits” and cause “harm.” He stated: “We don’t negotiate on core issues related to the revolution’s honor. We don’t negotiate about our military capabilities. The meaning of negotiations in this area [for the U.S.] is a transaction. Meaning that we give up our defensive capabilities.”
Khamenei said that the U.S. uses negotiations as mean of increasing pressure. He asserted: “Pressure is the strategy the Americans use to get something they want from a country. Negotiations are a tactic of this pressure. They bring pressure so the other side gets tired and then they say let’s negotiate … but their strategic aim is not negotiations, it’s pressure.”
Khamenei declared that Iran had to meet pressure with pressure. He stated: “The way to confront this is for the other side to use pressure in order to decrease pressure on itself. But if it is fooled into negotiations and thinks there is no need to use its means of imposing pressure, then this is a definite defeat [for the side facing the U.S.].”
Khamenei suggested that Iran would leave further JCPOA limits to increase pressure on the U.S. He stated: “The only path for us is to confront U.S. pressure by using our means of imposing pressure. Contrary to the propaganda that is out there, our pressure tools aren’t only of a military nature, though if needed we will use military means.
He added: “But what the Supreme National Security Council did in saying that we will not implement our commitments in certain areas and will leave our commitments [with the JCPOA], this was the right thing.” Khamenei was referencing Iran’s recent decision to cease compliance with aspects of the JCPOA, detailed in a recent issue of Iran Unfiltered.
Khamenei further said that if Iran “doesn’t use its pressure tools,” the “other side will feel comfortable to increase pressure.”
Khamenei also proclaimed that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons. He stated: “We are not after nuclear weapons. Not because of U.S. sanctions, but because we view them as forbidden on religious grounds.”
He further emphasized the point: “Some say that we should produce nuclear weapons but not use them. This is also a mistake. Because we will produce them at great cost but won’t use them and the other side knows we won’t use them, so it has no use for us.”
President Rouhani released a letter directed to the representatives of the Arab countries gathered for a summit in Mecca by Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman described the gathering as an “emergency summit” to counter Iran. Rouhani criticized Saudi Arabia for not inviting Iran to what he dubbed as a gathering of Islamic countries.
Rouhani said Iran was “fully ready” to “cooperate” with the “family of the Islamic world.” He also rebuked U.S. support for Israel, citing the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. He said these actions reflected “total enmity not just against Palestine, but the entire Islamic world.”