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 February 12, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Iranian Foreign Ministry Blasts Warsaw Summit as Failing to Isolate Iran
- Islamic Republic Celebrates 40 Years as Ayatollah Khamenei Calls for “Second Great Leap”
- Suicide Bomber Targets Bus Carrying IRGC Soldiers
- Workers Write to International Labor Group for Support
- FATF Debate Coming to a Head
- Announcement on New Judiciary Chief Imminent
- President Rouhani Attends Syria Peace Talks in Russia
- Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Lebanon
The Iranian foreign ministry blasted as a failure the Trump administration’s co-hosted summit in Warsaw on “peace and security” in the Middle East. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated: “Despite the far-reaching efforts of Washington to organize an inclusive summit and create a new coalition against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the summit was a failure before it ended. The small number of attendees and low-level representatives refused to cooperate with any anti-Iranian initiative.”
Ghassemi added: “The concluding statement was a useless document. Its text came only from the two countries that hosted the summit and lacked any credibility or semblance of a decision.”
He further stated: “How can a conference about peace and security in the Middle East be successful when the main regional players such as Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are not present? And important countries such as China and Russia and many major European countries and other countries are not present or sent very low-level officials?”
A columnist for the conservative Alef analyzed the Warsaw summit: “The U.S. regime has pursued Iranophobia because of the Islamic Republic’s role in politically isolating the U.S. at the international level and America’s defeat and frustration in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”
The writer said of the Iranian foreign ministry’s role in diminishing the effectiveness of the Warsaw summit: “The active diplomacy of the foreign ministry caused U.S. officials to become troubled and retreat from their original claims out of fear of organizing a useless gathering. They altered the original aim of the summit and declared that the summit wasn’t targeted against any one country (Iran).”
On February 11th, the Islamic Republic celebrated its 40th anniversary with marches in Tehran and across the country. According to official outlets, millions marched in the annual state-backed rallies.
At a speech in Tehran’s Azadi Square, President Rouhani lauded what he said was Iran “freeing itself from despotism, colonialism, and dependency 40 years ago.” He also praised the country’s military strengths, stating: “We will continue this path, and I say this clearly to the people of Iran, that Iran’s military power in the past 40 years, especially in the recent five years, has amazed the entire world.”
A column in the conservative Alef discussed the February 11th rallies and the question of the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy. It asked: “In all these years one question has always existed about what the secret has been behind the presence and participation of a more or less consistent amount of people in 22 Bahman (February 11th) rallies?”
The writer went on: “It was especially expected this year that because of economic and societal crises that the level of people’s participation would decrease in a visible way … what explains the people’s presence and cooperation at a time when many officials across the three branches of government are facing a drop in public trust?”
The piece, reflecting a conservative point of view, noted: “It is clear that despite all shortcomings, deficiencies, and embezzlements, the political and social lives of Iranians has tangibly changed and the Islamic Republic is present in society’s fabric. It breathes, resists, and progresses. However, just like any living being at times in fails or even regresses.”
It added: “The transformation of government and the creation of a national government was one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic and is the main foundation that is preserving it. National government here means the stake that [ordinary] Iranians have in institutions from the Leadership to local government and city councils and the opportunity for them to contribute in a real way.”
The author concluded: “The constitutional revolution started the process of transitioning Iran from a tribal government to a national government. But the total amount of efforts taken during the constitutional and Pahlavi period led to no more than five percent of people having a stake in the government. The Islamic Revolution in the least optimistic view raised the stake of people in government to 40 percent, and in recent years it has remained above 30 percent [of people participating in government affairs].”
Ayatollah Khamenei also released a statement on the 40th anniversary of the revolution, in which he called on Iranian youth to take a “second great leap” to advance the revolution. In the statement, Khamenei gave an overview of achievements and events that had taken place since the revolution and a set of recommendations to the Iranian people, especially the youth.
Khamenei acknowledged regarding the situation of “justice and confronting corruption” in the country: “I explicitly say that there is a wide gap between what has happened and what should happen.”
He said of Iran’s support for regional proxies: “If back then the West’s problem was stopping Iran from purchasing basic weaponry, today its problem is the transfer of advanced weapons from Iran to resistance forces.”
Khamenei also called the United States and some European states “cowardly and untrustworthy.” He dismissed the idea of negotiations with the United States, proclaiming: “No issues can be resolved and other than moral and material harms nothing will come out of negotiations [with the U.S.].”
On February 13th, a suicide bomber killed 27 and wounded 13 in an attack on a bus carrying Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldiers in southwestern Iran. The bomber drove a car full of explosives into the bus, which was travelling to the city of Zahedan. The Wahhabi-Salafist “Jaish al-Adl”—a group with a history of engaging in such terrorist attacks—claimed responsibility.
In a statement, IRGC commander Mojtaba Fada said that those killed were all from Isfahan province. He said the funeral for the soldiers would be Saturday.
Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the bombing on Iran’s regional rivals. He stated: “The connection is certain between the perpetrators of this criminal act and the spy agencies of some regional countries.” He added that the “responsible [Iranian] agencies” have been instructed to “focus” on this connection and “seriously pursue it.”
President Rouhani also linked the attack to “the White House, Tel Aviv, and their regional cronies.”
On February 13th, the Iran-based “Confederation of Free Workers” wrote a letter to the International Labour Organization calling on the head of the organization to press the Iranian government to “unconditionally release imprisoned labor activists.” The letter specifically pointed to the labor activists Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, members of the confederation who were arrested in January. (More on their case in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
The confederation underscored a “new trend in repressing laborers” inside Iran. The letter cited the case of imprisoned labor activists Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati and noted that 40 workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel Company remain imprisoned.
On February 16th, the Expediency Discernment Council is expected to reach its final decision regarding a bill introduced by the Rouhani administration to reform Iran’s anti-money laundering laws. The bill is part of a set of legislation designed to bring Iran into compliance with standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. The Expediency Discernment Council decision will come as the FATF deadline for Iran to reform its banking sector looms at the end of February. (For more background on the contentious domestic debate on the FATF bills, see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)
President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi recently sparked controversy after saying that the Expediency Discernment Council would be responsible for any consequences resulting from rejecting the FATF legislation. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the body’s standards. Vaezi had stated: “If the FATF legislation isn’t passed, pressure on us will increased. If the Expediency Discernment Council doesn’t approve these bills, it should accept the results of this action.”
On February 11th, Ebrahim Raisi, who ran as the main conservative presidential candidate in 2017 challenging Rouhani and heads the influence Astan Qods Razavi religious foundation, dismissed the importance of Iran passing the FATF bills. He stated: “Some state that if we don’t want to give an excuse to the enemy, we should sign these agreements and conventions. Who can guarantee that if we sign, the enemy will stop its excuses? Wasn’t the nuclear issue an excuse?”
He added: “The only solution with respect to the enemy has been steadfastness and resistance. This is an important signal and symbol to give the enemy.”
Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Eje’i has stated that the new head of the judiciary—replacing incumbent Sadegh Larijani—will be appointed by the end of the current Iranian year (March 21st). Eje’I said: “God willing the new head of the judiciary branch will be introduced and begin work before the end of the year and before the start of the new year.”
According to some Iranian media reports, hardline 2017 presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi will replace Sadegh Larijani as Iran’s judiciary chief on March 15th, securing one of the Islamic Republic’s most senior posts.
On February 14th, President Rouhani joined Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan for the fourth round of “Astana-process” Syria peace talks in Sochi. According to Iranian media outlets, Rouhani called on the international community to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and to support reconstruction efforts in Syria. He also said that the presence of foreign troops, namely American forces, remain in Syria “without the invitation of the [Syrian] government” and that this must “end as soon as possible.”
Rouhani said of the Astana process: “Our cooperation has managed to greatly diminish the fires of war and merciless killing that had overtaken Syria for years. Dialogue between the various sides has seen [political] differences substitute guns and bullets. Today, after over seven years since the start of the crisis, in most of this country there is security and stability except for a small part of the country.”
On February 11th, Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Lebanon for a two-day visit and met with figures ranging from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In his meeting with Hariri, the prime minister called on Iran to release Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen and information technology expert arrested and accused of being a U.S. spy in 2015.
The Trump administration has sought to break out of its international isolation on Iran by pressuring nations to go to Warsaw for a summit on peace and security in the Middle East. But the administration has failed to craft an effective multilateral approach towards Iran based on common concerns and a realistic understanding of what is achievable.
Despite White House backtracking from an initial expressed aim to focus on Iran, US officials and regional leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the occasion to unleash rhetorical barbs against Iran—which was not invited.
Many other key countries and parties, such as Russia, China, Turkey, Qatar and the Palestinians, boycotted the Warsaw meeting; US European allies, apart from Brexit-burdened Britain, sent only mid-level representatives.
The Trump administration has attempted to compel key partners into adopting its objectives towards Iran, such as withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, other powers have made clear their desire to continue to engage Iran politically and economically. Indeed, these powers have not lost sight of the fact that Iran—for reasons having to do with its size, location and natural resources—is and will continue to be a regional power no matter what its form of government. This is not only reflected in their aim to preserve the JCPOA, but also their belief that Iran must be a component of any sustainable order in the Middle East.
Notably, the Warsaw summit overlapped with the latest round of Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia and Turkey in Sochi. These “Astana-process” negotiations highlight another approach to multilateralism: one based on fostering cooperation between opposing powers based on mutual interests. In Sochi, the parties continued negotiations on a political settlement in Syria, hashing out details of a constitutional committee comprised of figures approved by the Syrian government and opposition.
Week of February 4, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Rouhani and Foreign Ministry Respond to Trump’s State of the Union
- Iran and Europe to Discuss INSTEX in Paris
- Ayatollah Khamenei Orders “Structural Reforms” Within Four Months
- Rouhani Suggests Iran Would Deal with “Repentant” United States
- Ayatollah Khamenei’s Office Details Conditions for Clemency of Prisoners
- Nuclear Chief Says Iran Willing to Share Nuclear Knowledge, Clarifies Arak Reactor Remarks
- Oil Minister Says Conditions Harsher than Iran-Iraq War
- Iran and Iraq Reach Agreement to Facilitate Payments
- Syrian FM and UN Envoy in Tehran Ahead of Sochi Talks
- Security Council Chief Warns Israel of Retaliation
- Concerns Mount Over Condition of Imprisoned Labor Activists
- Attack in Western City of Khorramabad Kills One
- India and Russia Sign MOU on North-South Corridor Including Iran
- Parliament Approves New Health Minister
On February 5th, President Rouhani responded to comments by President Trump that the U.S. would keep a base in Iraq to be “looking a little bit at Iran.” He said to Trump: “You say in a degrading and non-diplomatic way that we [the U.S.] will stay in Iraq. Before this, you said we were in Iraq to confront terrorism, but it’s good that you have said what’s in your heart now.”
Rouhani also asserted that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was not aimed at confronting terrorism, stating: “Why do you need to occupy a country if you have an air force? Why do you lie? You are there [Afghanistan] to be vigilant of the power of Russia, China, and Iran.”
On February 6th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi responded to President Trump’s State of the Union comments that Iran was the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and “threatens genocide against the Jewish people.” He stated Trump’s remarks were “baseless, fantastical, and irrational.”
Ghassemi added regarding Iran’s Jewish population: “Religious minorities including Jewish people in the Islamic Republic of Iran live under full freedom and have an independent member of parliament.”
According to ISNA, technical meetings are due to take place soon in Paris between Iran and the three European states launching INSTEX. The Iranian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. INSTEX was launched last week as a mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. Read more about it in a previous Iran Unfiltered.
INSTEX has been met with criticism from conservative quarters. Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the parliament’s conservative Vilayi faction, has said INSTEX is a “trap” Europe has designed in coordination with the United States.
Others, such as former foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asafi, have criticized its limited scope in dealing only with humanitarian goods. Asafi has stated: “Definitely the expectation is that this mechanism will include broader goods” and will not be “limited to these three European countries.”
On February 6th, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had given an “order to reform the country’s structure” within the next four months. Larijani stated: “He has ordered that within the next four months structures in the country be reformed. This may lead to reforming the national budget [for the upcoming Iranian year], which will be pursued after work on the budget in the parliament is completed.”
Larijani provided no further details of the instruction but stated: “In this regard domestic consensus and international unity are the key requirements of domestic politics.”
Amir Hossein Qazizadeh, a member of the parliament’s governing body, has said the order “doesn’t have to do with reforming the country.” Instead, he says, it has to do with “reforming the structure of the budget.”
Qazizadeh also recounted Ayatollah Khamenei’s response to questions from parliamentarians on the timeline for budget reforms. He said of Khamenei’s response: “I will give you four months to do everything you can to provide a budget bill for 1398 [the upcoming Iranian year]. On the matters that you don’t get to, you can add as amendments in Ordibehest (Iranian month between April 21-May 21).”
The Rouhani administration submitted its national budget bill to parliament for approval on January 5th. On February 4th, the parliament’s commission on consolidating the budget completed its technical review of the bill, which included adding amendments. The rest of the parliament now has ten days to give their suggestions on the budget bill.
On February 6th, President Rouhani suggested before an audience of foreign ambassadors and diplomats in Tehran that Iran would deal with a “repentant” United States. Rouhani stated that the U.S. was an “oathbreaker” and that Iran had “proven in these years that it’s precise when it comes to signing commitments” and that it “stands by its signature.”
Rouhani dangled the possibility of engaging the United States: “If America reverses course on its wrong path and apologizes for its past interventions and talks with respect with our people, we are ready to accept its repentance.”
On February 7th, Ayatollah Khamenei released details on the conditions for granting clemency to prisoners on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Every year, on the occasion of religious holidays or government celebrations, some prisoners are granted clemency. However, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani has said a higher amount—upwards of 50,000 prisoners—will be pardoned for the revolution’s upcoming anniversary. The conditions released by Khamenei’s office include stipulations for either commuting the sentences of prisoners or releasing them.
In response to speculation on whether political prisoners would be freed, Larijani has said that “we have no convicted detainees who are political prisoners.” He added: “If someone commits actions against national security, this is a separate criminal offense that must be addressed.” According to DW Farsi, there are currently hundreds of prisoners charged under offenses such as “actions against national security, propagandizing against the political system, and disturbing public sentiment.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated that Iran is willing to share its knowledge of nuclear power and constructing research reactors with neighboring countries. Salehi said such cooperation can be grounds for rebuilding trust between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors.
Salehi also stated that Iran was conducting experiments on advanced IR-8 centrifuges, which he said would take five to six years. He added: “Our activities are within the framework of the nuclear agreement, in which there is no limitation on research on modern centrifuges.”
Salehi also expanded on his controversial recent comments that Iran had bought replacement parts for its Arak heavy water reactor during the nuclear negotiations. He stated that Iran had not bought the “tubes” secretly but had notified its negotiating partners, who were told Iran needed them as potential replacements in case the other side reneged on the JCPOA.
On February 5th, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh said that current U.S. sanctions are “more difficult” than the Iran-Iraq War. He stated: “I grasped the Imposed War (Iran-Iraq War). But this war [U.S. sanctions] is more difficult. He added: “We will use all of our capabilities and utilize all paths possible” to overcome oil sanctions.
Zangeneh further stated that Iran is having trouble selling oil to Europe and receiving payments from Iraq: “Europeans except for Turkey have not bought oil. Greece and Italy have waivers to buy Iranian oil but haven’t done so. I don’t know why, they don’t reply to us.” He added that Iraq owes Iran $2 billion for gas and electricity imports but that Iraq says “Iran is sanctioned and they won’t pay us.”
On February 6th, the head of Iran’s Central Bank announced that he had reached a “mechanism” with his Iraqi counterpart for Iraqi debts to be paid. Iranian Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemati had travelled to Baghdad for negotiations. He stated: “An agreement on a mechanism for Iraq to pay for electricity and gas and other goods was reached.”
On February 5th, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria, travelled to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials. Their visit comes before trilateral talks between Iran, Turkey, and Russia in Sochi on February 14th as part of the Astana Syria peace process.
On February 5th, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, said that if Israeli attacks in Syria continue, Israel would face a “resolute and appropriate response.” He stated: “If these actions continue, the measures that have been predicted for deterrence and responding resolutely and appropriately will be activated such that it would be a lesson for the lying and criminal leaders of Israel.”
On February 4th, the Telegram channel of the Haft Tapeh factory workers said they haven’t had contact with detained activist Sepideh Gholian for some time. The channel also said that the condition of labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was “very terrible” and that he hadn’t been released despite posting bail. (More on the rearrests of Bakhshi and Gholian in a previous Iran Unfiltered.)
On February 3rd, Haft Tapeh factory worker and activist Mohammad Khanifar was arrested. The Haft Tapeh Telegram channel has announced that it will stage a demonstration calling for the release of Bakhshi and Gholian.
On February 6th, a conscripted Iranian soldier was killed and a police officer wounded in an attack by unknown assailants in Khorramabad in western Iran. The attackers also fired on a fuel tanker at a gas station, causing an explosion that shattered the windows of nearby buildings.
On February 5th, India and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to expedite the creation of the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to facilitate trade via Iran. The project aims to connect St. Petersburg and northern Europe with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The MOU was signed between a Russian railways company and India’s largest rail container transport operator.
The North-South Corridor has strategic significance for Iran. Former diplomat and MP Nasrollah Tajik wrote on the project in Etemad newspaper, stating: “The implementation of this corridor, which has been delayed for years … will give a unique role to involved countries to develop Eurasia economically.”
On February 4th, parliament confirmed President Rouhani’s choice for new health minister, Saeed Namaki. The previous minister of health had resigned in January over spending cuts to health insurance programs in next year’s national budget.
On February 6th, President Rouhani suggested before an audience of foreign ambassadors and diplomats in Tehran that Iran would deal with a “repentant” United States. Rouhani stated that the U.S. was an “oathbreaker” and that Iran had “proven in these years that it’s precise when it comes signing commitments” and that it “stands with its signature.”
Rouhani dangled the possibility of engaging the United States: “If America reverses course on its wrong path and apologizes for its past interventions and talks with respect with our people, we are ready to accept its repentance.”
Week of January 28, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
Note from the editor: There was no Iran Unfiltered last week because author Sina Toossi took part in an expert briefing on Capitol Hill. See a write-up of the event here.
- Nuclear Chief Rebukes China, Announces Nuclear Advances
- Foreign Ministry Tepidly Welcomes EU Sanctions Relief Mechanism
- Former Chief Nuclear Negotiator Cautions Iran Against Relying on Europe
- Powerful Conservative Cleric Denounces Officials Who Look to the West
- Debate on FATF Bills Continues in Expediency Discernment Council
- National Secretary Council Secretary Says Iran Won’t Increase Range of Missiles
- Rouhani Blames America for Economic Woes
- Rouhani Rebukes Policy of Blocking Websites as Futile
- Communications Minister Says Friday Prayer Leaders Want Telegram Unblocked, Denies Rumors of Looming Instagram Ban
- Vice-President Jahangiri Meets with Bashar al-Assad
- Foreign Minister Zarif Rebukes the UAE as Iranian Trade with Oman and Qatar Increases
- Rouhani Administration-linked Analyst Discusses Importance of JCPOA
- Labor Activists Re-arrested
- Political Prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan Handed Six-Year Sentences
- Investigative Journalist Sentenced to Five-Years Imprisonment
- University of Melbourne Professor Released from Prison
- Two Members of a Pro-Labor Group Arrested
- Trial of Detained Environmentalists Begins
This week, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, rebuked China for slowing down its efforts at redesigning Iran’s Arak Heavy Water reactor as required by the JCPOA. He also announced advances in increasing Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry was lukewarm on the EU’s launch of its long-awaited “special purpose vehicle” to facilitate trade with Iran, now dubbed “INSTEX” (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges). Conservative officials, including former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and powerful cleric Ahmad Jannati, have issued strong warnings against relying on the West.
Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council continued to debate bills designed to bring Iran into compliance with the guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. Some officials have noted that the matter may be resolved in a popular referendum. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the National Security Council, also said that Iran won’t increase the range of its missiles as per its “defense doctrine.”
President Rouhani, meanwhile, has called on the public to blame America, not his administration, for the impasse between the two countries. He also strongly rebuked the Iranian government’s longstanding policy of blocking Internet sites and applications. His communication minister further stated that Friday Prayer leaders wish to remove the ban on the popular messaging app Telegram and denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked.
On the foreign policy front, President Rouhani’s first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, to discuss Syrian reconstruction efforts among other issues. Foreign Minister Zarif also censured the UAE for clamping down on Iranian traders amid reports that Iran’s trade with Oman and Qatar is increasing. A senior analyst at a Rouhani administration-linked think tank also gave a far-reaching interview on the importance of the JCPOA for Iran and America’s posture in the Middle East.
In human rights-related developments, two prominent political prisoners, including an activist who wrote a letter rebuking the Trump administration’s Iran policy, were sentenced to six-years imprisonment. Two activists that were arrested in recent labor protests, Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, have been rearrested after state television aired their “confessions.” An investigative journalist who uncovered an embezzlement scheme was also sentenced to five years in prison, while two members of a pro-labor group have been arrested. Meanwhile, a University of Melbourne demographer arrested in December has been released from prison, while the trial of eight environmentalist activists arrested last January has begun.
On January 30th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that China has reduced the “speed” of its cooperation with Iran over renovating the Arak Heavy Water reactor in line with JCPOA requirements. Salehi said that Chinese cooperation over the Arak reactor slowed after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA last May because of China’s “fear” of U.S. sanctions.
Salehi said Iran had notified China that it was prepared to redesign the Arak reactor itself. He stated: “We announced to them [the Chinese], if they don’t continue construction on the Arak reactor, we ourselves will continue the work.” Salehi added that “we have prepared ourselves for the worst scenario … The responsibility for the reactor’s design is with Iran and roughly 900 specialists are working on the renovation project.”
Salehi also said Iran had created the infrastructure necessary to increase its uranium enrichment capacity, in line with an instruction from Ayatollah Khamenei last May. He proclaimed: “We have taken all the steps to have the capability of reaching 190,000 SWU (a unit measuring uranium enrichment capacity).”
Salehi discussed a new centrifuge production hall in the Natanz enrichment facility that has been built as part of efforts to attain a 190,000 SWU capability. He stated: “Right now, in this facility, we produce IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. This facility can nominally hold between 50-60 centrifuges.”
He added regarding Iran’s centrifuge models: “Right now, IR-4 and IR-2 centrifuges have reached the stage of mass production. Iran is now experimenting on IR-6 and IR-7 centrifuges.”
On January 30th, Iranian authorities also announced that 30 tons of mined uranium “yellowcake” have been transported to Iran’s uranium hexafluoride conversion facility in Isfahan. Salehi said of Iran’s yellowcake production facility in the city of Ardakan: “On an annual basis this factory converts 84 thousand tons of uranium ore to yellowcake. In the past two years, this factory has been upgraded, and in the past one and a half years, on an experiential basis, it has produced 40 tons of yellowcake.”
On February 1st, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the EU’s launch of INSTEX to facilitate trade with Iran. He stated: “Iran’s requests that Europe implement all of its commitments in the shortest amount of time that is possible.”
Ghassemi said INSTEX’s launch was “just the first step by Europe to implement its commitments to Iran.” He stated that INSTEX’s launch was “very late” and stressed that the EU must ensure that the mechanism “compensates for some of America’s illegal sanctions.”
He added that Iran had not received sanctions relief from Europe since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA: “Despite the EU’s political position regarding preserving the JCPOA and the need for Iran to derive economic benefits from the deal and the limited steps taken by the EU such as updated its blocking regulation laws, unfortunately we have not witnessed yet tangible results and practical actions that benefit Iran.”
On February 1st, Saeed Jalili, the conservative former chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the National Security Council, warned against Iran trusting Europe. He stated: “Those would want to stand up against Americans by relying on Europe are on the wrong path.”
He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “Some say we should take excuses away from the enemy. However, an enemy that is after excuses will move against us regardless.”
On February 1st, hardline cleric Ayatollah Jannati, the secretary of the Guardian Council and chair of the Assembly of Experts, censured officials seeking to improve ties with the West. He stated: “Unfortunately, some officials today, more than thinking about the people think about themselves or do not have the capability to fix problems. Today we see that many officials are materialistic. God damn this wrong thinking that some officials have which believes that the West and the Americans can solve our problems.”
He added: “The American government is declining and today even its allies don’t listen to its words and aren’t afraid of it. We shouldn’t show fear towards America.”
The domestic fight over Iran passing laws to align its banking sector with FATF standards continues in the Expediency Discernment Council. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the standards (see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered for more information on the contentious FATF debate).
Of the four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards, two have been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council, while the other two are still in limbo. The bill on reforming Iran’s laws on anti-money laundering (AML) and confronting terrorism financing have been passed. However, while parliament accepted the other two bills on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention and Palermo conventions, both bills were rejected by the Guardian Council.
The TF and Palermo convention bills have been under debate in the Expediency Discernment Council—a body constitutionally mandated with resolving disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. Recently, Ahmad Vahidi, the head of the Expediency Discernment Council’s political-defense committee, stated that “if the Palermo bill reaches a dead end in the expediency council, it will be put up for a vote by the public.”
Most of the opponents of the terrorist financing and Palermo bills are political opponents of the Rouhani administration. Vahidi himself has stated that the goal of getting Iran to accede to these conventions is to weaken Iran’s “defense and atomic strength.”
However, on January 28th, Expediency Council member Majid Ansari predicted that the Palermo bill would be approved by the council. He said that although a referendum is an option in the event of a deadlock, it wouldn’t be necessary because the bills would be “resolved” in the Expediency Council.
According to Ansari, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a prominent conservative figure, supports the FATF bills. Ansari says that Jalili called for the bills to be passed in a handwritten letter.
Ansari also asserted that the FATF debate was being manipulated. He opined: “A suspicious current is taking advantage of the pure and real emotions and concerns of the faithful, young people, and students, in order to take this issue out of its natural path.” He added that he has received death threats via text message, just as parliamentarians did during their debate on the FATF bills.
On January 29th, National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani declared that Iran had “no intention” of increasing the range of its missiles. Shamkhani stressed that the reason for this had to do with Iran’s “defense doctrine” and that otherwise, Iran has the capability to increase the range of its missiles.
On January 30th, President Rouhani gave a speech denouncing U.S. pressure policies. He stated: “In America’s recent confrontation with the Iranian people, which began last January (2018), it has been defeated politically, legally, and on the regional and international fronts. On the economic front, with self-sacrifice and steadfastness from the people, they will be certainly defeated as well.”
Rouhani stated that the U.S., not Iran, is isolated: “The whole world, except for a few countries, is supporting Iran and accusing the United States. America has not only been unreliable towards the Iranian people, we shouldn’t analyze things incorrectly.”
Rouhani stressed that the U.S. government is to blame for the current impasse, not his administration: “Today we shouldn’t lay accusations at the hardworking government of the Islamic system instead of America. The U.S. also broke its commitments regarding Europe, China, NAFTA, and against Muslims and Palestinians … the mistakes of America aren’t two or three. No one should say that Iran’s government didn’t have foresight. The criteria for making a commitment isn’t this, it’s not how long the other party stays. The core of our commitment [under the JCPOA] was in the interests of the country and still is today.”
Rouhani then stated that the level of economic pressure on Iran today is greater than at any point since the 1979 Revolution: “The government, people and the guidance of the Leader, can altogether help us overcome all problems. At this moment, the greatest economic pressure of the past 40 years since the revolution is being exerted on the Iranian people. But with unity we will overcome all these problems.”
On January 21st, President Rouhani gave a speech during which he discussed freedom of speech and the futility of blocking websites. He stated to an audience of managers from the communications ministry that fighting “public demands” was neither “legal nor legitimate.”
Rouhani added: “In the country, we don’t have free media. There is only state media. To have freer access to information, the people seek access to social media. We are thus seeing an inflated use cell phones and social media.”
Rouhani said that groups of different persuasions in Iran need their own media. He stated: “If different groups in the country have their own radio and television stations, they would express themselves through these mediums. This would naturally reduce the inflated use of mobiles and social media.”
Rouhani further said that every faction in Iran needs a media outlet. He stated that if each expressed their positions “officially and openly,” it would be become clear “who says what and who supports which party or faction.”
Rouhani then stated that the Iranian government’s policy of blocking internet sites and applications was a “mistake.” He stated: “We have to admit that we made a mistake in thinking that if we say using such and such medium is prohibited, everyone would listen. We saw that every time after blocking different mediums, methods to work around these blocks were created … at the end, the damage done especially to our youth and children from using workarounds has been greater than if they would have been able to naturally use the software that we blocked.”
In May 2018, six Rouhani administration ministers and two parliamentarians who serve on the “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content,” wrote a letter to Iran’s attorney general asking for Twitter to be unblocked. The decision to block or restrict access to websites and applications is made by either this committee or the judiciary. The judiciary blocked the popular messaging application Telegram last year.
The “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content” is comprised of 12 members and headed by the attorney general. The members consist of six government ministers, two members of parliament, the chief of police, the head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the head of the state media organization, and a representative from the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution—a Qom-based cultural body.
Communications Minister Says Friday Prayer Leaders Want Telegram Unblocked, Denies Rumors of Looming Instagram Ban
On January 28th, Communications and Information Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi stated that Friday Prayer leaders across Iran have called for the popular-messaging application Telegram to be unblocked. Telegram was blocked last May with an order from the Iranian judiciary, despite opposition from the Rouhani administration. Jahromi said that despite opposition from Friday prayer leaders, the judiciary was unwilling to remove the ban.
Jahromi stated: “The judiciary as the main decision maker in this regard is still holding on to its position and we see no change in the judiciary’s beliefs on this issue. They believe that the reasons for ban still exist and haven’t been resolved for it to be lifted.”
Jahromi also denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked. Jahromi made his statement on Twitter after conservative MP Javad Karimi Ghodousi said that “blocking Instagram is the decision of the government and the minister of communications told me himself he would soon carry this out.”
Jahromi contradicted Ghodousi, stating: “The view of one institution is not the view of the government. No order has been given to the administration to block Instagram.”
Over the past month, there have been several contradicting accounts by officials that Instagram would be blocked. Weeks ago, Javad Javidinia, the social media deputy for Iran’s attorney general, claimed there was a judicial order to block Instagram.
However, Mohammad Ali Sajani, a member of a parliamentary oversight body, dismissed Javidnia’s remark. He said that according to the attorney general, Instagram would not be blocked.
On January 28th, President Rouhani’s first-vice president Eshaq Jahangiri travelled to Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jahangiri was accompanied by a delegation of senior Iranian officials and businesspeople.
Jahangiri said of his trip: “Great agreements have been reached in the direction of advancing cooperation between our two countries. These agreements prove that the Islamic Republic will stand with the Syrian government and people in their reconstruction efforts just as it stood with them during the period of confronting terrorism.”
He added: “The prerequisite for economic cooperation is banking cooperation. For this reason, during this trip, agreements have been reached between central bank heads of our two countries.”
Syrian President Assad said that the agreements signed with Iran had “strategic significance” and “reinforce the two countries’ resistance and perseverance against the economic war being waged by some Western countries.” He added: “After the complete liberation of Syria, reconstruction will become the most important priority of the Syrian government. We desire broader cooperation with Iranian government and private companies in different areas.”
On January 28th, Foreign Minister Zarif sharply rebuked Emirati policies towards Iran in response to criticism that the foreign ministry was not reacting to an Emirati clampdown on Iranian traders and currency dealers. He said that “because of political and strategic mistakes of Emirati officials, the Emiratis entered the level of behaving in an unacceptable way.”
Zarif stated that Iran was exploring countermeasures, stating that the “approach being taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran, in addition to diplomatic steps, is to create the necessary opening points for countries that can replace the Emirates [as a major Iranian trade partners] and finding alternative methods so that we maintain our economic relations without worry of Emirati actions.”
According to reports, many Iranian traders have left the UAE for Oman and Qatar. While the UAE used to be Iran’s largest training partner, it has been replaced in recent years by China. According to official Iranian statistics, the UAE’s exports to Iran in the past nine months has dropped by 29 percent to under $5 billion. In contrast, Iran’s imports from Oman in the past nine months have increased nearly threefold, reaching $400 million.
On January 13th, Diako Hosseini, the director of the World Studies Program at the Rouhani administration-linked Center for Strategic Studies think tank in Tehran, discussed the importance of the JCPOA and America’s posture in the Middle East. He stated: “I don’t think America is worried about Iran leaving the JCPOA, but it is in fact eagerly counting down for Iran to do this … I believe that the main aim of America’s economic and political pressures against Iran is to make Iran tired and incentivize [it] to leave the nuclear deal.”
Hosseini asserted that the U.S. wishes to reduce its presence in the Middle East but had to balance this aim with maintaining its credibility with allies. He stated: “The Trump administration knows well that America no longer has far-reaching interests in this region and must, as quickly as possible, readjust its military and economic focus to another vital area, the Asia Pacific.”
He added: “However, this action requires gaining confidence that a gradual reduction of America’s presence in the Persian Gulf and West Asia will not create a power vacuum and doesn’t lead to the creation of challenging and hostile powers [to the U.S.], which would threaten U.S. allies and ultimately destroy Washington’s credibility in supporting its allies.”
Hosseini also contended that U.S. efforts to create international consensus against Iran would not be successful. He stated: “Naturally, Pompeo’s trip to the region is a continuation of efforts to create international consensus against Iran. Successfully creating international consensus against Iran to a large degree hinges on first successfully creating regional consensus against Iran.”
He continued: “America must prove that Iran is really a regional danger and that international consensus to help U.S. regional allies against the Iranian threat is necessary. This is not an easy task because Iran in reality is not a threat to its neighbors and because it seems that Iran’s neighbors do not agree on an Iranian threat.”
On January 20th, activist Sepideh Gholian was arrested again in Ahvaz. Gholian was first arrested in November in connection to the labor protests led by workers from the Hafte Tapeh sugarcane factory and from Ahvaz Steel company.
According to a Hafte Tapeh media channel, security forces entered Gholian’s family home to detain her without an arrest warrant. After a physical confrontation with her brother, both Gholian and her brother were arrested.
BBC Persian reported that an audio clip has been released of Gholian from the time of her first arrest, in which she tells an intelligence official that she would commit suicide if her “confession” was released publicly. On January 26th, Iranian state TV aired the “confessions” of Gholian and labor leader Esmail Bakhshi.
Bakhshi was also re-arrested on January 20th. As detailed previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Bakhshi’s torture allegation spurred outcry, investigations, and eventual denials from officials that he had been tortured.
In the aftermath Bakhshi’s rearrest, 21 Iranian judiciary lawyers wrote a letter emphasizing that Bakhshi could not receive a fair trial in Shush. The lawyers said that given Bakhshi claims of having been tortured while in the custody of authorities in Shush, the court would not be a neutral party.
On January 19th, Abolqasem Salavati, the head judge of Tehran’s infamous Revolutionary Court Branch 15, handed out six-year sentences against political prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan. Their lawyer says the ruling is not final and that they will appeal it. A previous issue of Iran Unfiltered detailed a letter by Meysami rebuking both the Trump administration’s Iran policy and Revolutionary Court Branch 15.
On January 23rd, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Two years ago, Soltani had released a report documenting corruption in the Tehran municipality related to giving away government property for political purposes.
According to his lawyer, the charges include “collecting and publishing classified information related to the Judiciary’s General Inspection Office and publishing false information with the aim of disturbing public sentiment.” Soltani has 20 days to appeal his sentence.
On January 27th, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne arrested in December, was released. As covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered, Hosseini-Chavoshi was arrested under charges of “infiltration,” i.e. being a foreign agent seeking to engineer “soft regime change” by changing the Islamic Republic from within.
On January 29th, the “Confederation of Free Workers” announced in a statement that Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, respectively the secretary and member of the managing committee of the confederation, have been arrested. Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2016 and was released after undertaking a two-month hunger strike. Mohammadi had in recent months written articles condemning the government’s reaction to protests by the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel workers.
On January 30th, Iranian outlets reported that the trial of eight environmentalists arrested last January has begun in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 15, under judge Abolqasem Salavati. Read about the case of the detained environmentalists in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.
Mohammad Hossein Aghassi, the lawyer for one of the defendants, said that he wasn’t given permission to be in the court because the judiciary had chosen its own lawyers for the suspects. Aghassi said that the charges against four of the defendants was “sowing corruption on Earth,” a capital offense in Iran. Three others were charged with espionage, and one with “acting against national security.”
Aghassi added: “The actions that some of these suspects have committed was approaching military facilities as they were doing environmental activities and gathering military information from these areas.”
“Iran is a country rich in tradition and thousands of years of history. It’s just a pity that the perception of Iran around the world is not the right or real one, nor the one the Iranian people deserve,” Carlos Queiroz, the outgoing coach of Iran’s Team Melli, told GQ last year.
Queiroz announced his departure in an emotional Instagram post on Monday, after spending nearly eight years as Team Melli’s longest-tenured coach and taking Iran to two World Cups.
“There are no words to express my gratitude to these players, for everything they have done all over these years, for their effort, support and commitment,” he stated, “This was one of the best football families of my career.”
For Queiroz and Iranian soccer fans, the love and admiration has long been mutual. When Queiroz took over the reins of Team Melli in 2011, he faced an almost impossible challenge in resuscitating a soccer team long battered by political problems and sanctions. The latter left him facing a constant lack of resources, as Team Melli struggled to travel, arrange friendly matches, or even buy basic equipment under overly broad U.S. sanctions.
However, Queiroz took the challenges in stride, declaring in 2018: “These difficulties become a source of inspiration to the people, it makes them more united, to fight for their country. These boys deserve a smile from the rest of the world.”
Queiroz tapped into his international network of contacts to work wonders for Team Melli and went above and beyond in standing up for his players on and off the pitch. He didn’t lose a single one of Iran’s ten qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup, making Iran the first team to qualify for the tournament. Under his watch, Team Melli went on to play valiantly in their group — beating Morocco, stymying Cristiano Ronaldo to draw with Portugal, and losing to Spain by the narrowest of margins.
The 2018 World Cup also brought with it many frustrations, particularly with Nike’s refusal to supply Team Melli with soccer cleats in an abhorrent case of overcompliance with U.S. sanctions. Since the tournament, Iran has also been barred from receiving the $8 million in World Cup appearance money that it is owed because, as Queiroz has explained, the money is “stuck in FIFA and stuck in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation).”
Queiroz has long denounced the “cruel sanctions” that he says have “victimized” Iranian soccer players. He eloquently stated in 2018: “My message for international football is very simple: let us play. Our players deserve that opportunity. Don’t let sanctions create this stigma. Don’t let this go against the spirit of the game. We have football players who love the game.”
Carlos Queiroz leaves Iran with the gratitude of millions of Iranians both in- and outside Iran. Throughout these years of intense hardship for the Iranian people, Queiroz stood out as a figure that empathized with them and voiced their struggles to the world. His legacy at Team Melli will not be forgotten, nor will his commitment to his players. As he said in 2018: “I’ve never, in all my career, seen players deliver so much after receiving so little as I have with these Iran boys.”
Today, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Two years ago, Soltani had released a report documenting corruption in the Tehran municipality having to do with giving away government property for political purposes.
According to his lawyer, his charges include “collecting and publishing classified information related to the Judiciary’s General Inspection Office and publishing false information with the aim of disturbing public sentiment.”
Soltani has 20 days to appeal his sentence.
On Saturday, Abolqasem Salavati, the head judge of Tehran’s infamous Revolutionary Court Branch 15, handed out 6-year sentences against political prisoners Farhad Meysami & Reza Khandan.
Their lawyer says the ruling is not final & they will appeal it.
On January 5th, Meysami had written a letter criticizing both the Revolutionary Court 15 & the Trump administration’s policies.
In the aftermath of the rearrests over the weekend of activist Sepideh Gholian & labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, 21 Iranian judiciary lawyers have signed a letter saying that Bakhshi can’t get a fair trial in Shush.
The lawyers say that to try him in Shush would have no “legal justification” given Bakhshi’s allegation of torture while in the custody of Shush judicial authorities.
Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was rearrested last night in Iran.
He was first held for a month over his role in the Hafte Tapeh worker protests in the city of Shush. Upon release, he alleged he was tortured, leading to public outcry and investigations by various government institutions.
Officials eventually stated that Bakhshi was not tortured and state television aired a film of Bakhshi’s “confession” on Saturday.
Another former detainee alleging torture, activist Sepideh Gholian, was also arrested again over the weekend. She has since called for a public trial.
Today, activist Sepideh Gholian was arrested once again in Ahvaz.
She was first arrested in November in connection with the labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company. On Saturday, Iranian state TV aired a film of her “confession.” She, along with labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, says she was tortured while in custody.