Sina Toossi

Sina Toossi

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.

Hardliners Seek Zarif and Larijani’s Ouster as FATF Debate Continues

Week of November 26, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Hardline MPs Seek Foreign Minister Zarif and Parliamentary Speaker Larijani’s Impeachment
  • Reformist Confirmed as Tehran Mayor after Controversial Delay
  • Earthquake hits Kermanshah Province, where Deadly Quake Struck Last Year
  • Rouhani calls Israel a “Cancerous Tumor”
  • Supreme Leader Calls for Improving Military Capabilities

Parliamentarians belonging to the far-right Jebhe Paydari faction have circulated bills calling for the impeachment of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani. Their opposition to Zarif and Larijani is rooted in the on-going contentious domestic debate over legislation to reform the Iranian banking system in line with guidelines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In other developments, reformist Pirouz Hanachi was formally approved by the Interior Ministry as Tehran’s mayor, two weeks after his election by the Tehran City Council. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake also struck Western Iran, resulting in no reported fatalities, while President Rouhani issued an uncharacteristically harsh denunciation of Israel and the Supreme Leader called for increasing the capabilities of Iran’s Armed Forces.

 

Calls for Zarif and Larijani’s Impeachment

On November 27th, a bill signed by 24 members of the fundamentalist “Jebhe Paydari” faction calling for the impeachment of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was handed to Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani’s office. The bill listed eleven reasons for Zarif’s removal, including: Zarif’s recent comments about money laundering inside Iran [covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered], “inattention to economic matters in the country’s diplomacy”; “inattention to developing ties with countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America”; “failing to take advantage of the opportunities created by resistance in the region.”

Ali Asghar Yousefnejad, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s office, stated that the bill would be sent to the parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee for review.

Jebhe Paydari MPs were previously rebuked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei over their calls for President Rouhani’s removal. Jebhe Paydari also spurred major controversy after a placard during an anti-Rouhani conference they organized in August tacitly threatened Rouhani’s life if he pursued renewed negotiations with the United States.

MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, one of the 24 signatories, cited Zarif’s money laundering comments— explained in a previous Iran Unfiltered—as the principal reason for his impeachment: “The foreign minister several days ago in an interview with one of the news sites made a claim that there was widespread money laundering in the country. To clear up this issue, parliamentarians have introduced a bill for Zarif’s impeachment.” He added: “In the impeachment bill it’s stated that Mr Zarif announce the names of those who engage in money laundering to parliamentarians.”

After Zarif’s money laundering comments, Iran’s attorney general asked Zarif for evidence regarding money laundering inside Iran. On November 24th, it was reported that Zarif had sent a 12-page letter to the attorney general’s office, which largely dealt with the money laundering issue.

The call for Zarif’s impeachment was rebuked by most in Iran’s political spectrum, including conservatives. Masoud Forghouni, a conservative newspaper columnist, said in response to the impeachment bill: “This bill is a good goal assist for Zarif and the Rouhani administration. Mr Zarif implemented the idea of the late [President] Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mr Rouhani on being friends with America, which resulted in the nuclear negotiations and the JCPOA. Zarif must stay until the end of the Rouhani’s term to make up for the great mistake of the JCPOA and the severe consequences Iran paid for getting too close to America.”

Forghouni added that the bill was a deadender in parliament: “Zarif’s impeachment will not garner enough votes and this issue will only enhance his image in public opinion. When these critics know that the current parliament doesn’t have the capabilities to remove a minister like Zarif, why do they enter a game they know they’ll lose?”

The Jebhe Paydari MPs also took steps this week to remove Ali Larijani as speaker of the parliament. Hardline MP Deligani stated that 27 MPs also supported impeaching Larijani. The reasoning Deligani provided was that Larijani sent the FATF bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention (CTF) to the Expediency Council to resolve differences between the Guardian Council and parliament over the bill [see a previous Iran Unfiltered for background on the bill]. Deligani contends that the bill should have returned to parliament for further debate.

Reformist Entekhab noted that the impeachment calls against Zarif and Larijani both have to do with the FATF issue. An Entekhab column also noted that the bills were unlikely to succeed: “The number of Jebhe Paydari MPs in the 10th parliament is limited. The rest of the principlists in parliament did not support their impeachment bills. As such, in a final voting in parliament these impeachment bills won’t have more than 40 to 50 votes.”  

As attacks on Zarif and Larijani increase, the bills on meeting FATF guidelines are getting closer to adoption. On November 27th, Ali Najafi, the spokesman for the parliament’s national security foreign policy committee, stated that some of the differences between parliament and the Guardian Council over the CTF bill had been resolved.

Najafi said of a recent meeting between representatives of the parliament and the Guardian Council: “In this meeting, the errors the Guardian Council had with the parliament’s CTF bill were reviewed with representatives of the Guardian Council.” He added: “At the end, representatives of the [foreign policy and national security] committee–from a legalistic approach and after explanations by the Guardian Council representatives–made changes to some parts [of the bill] and insisted on their previous positions on other parts.”

 

Supreme Leader Calls for Military Upgrades as Rouhani Lambasts Israel

On November 28th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with commanders of the Iranian army’s navy and issued a call for increasing Iran’s military capabilities. He stated: “The Islamic Republic does not intend to start a war with anyone but we must increase our capabilities such that not only will the enemy be afraid to attack Iran, but that—with authority and readiness in the arena—our armed forces will remove the shadow of [foreign] threats from the Iranian people.”

On November 27th, President Rouhani delivered remarks at the 32nd “Islamic Unity” conference, which takes place annually in Tehran. In his speech, he strongly denounced Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States–continuing a recent trajectory of more bellicose foreign policy rhetoric since the snapback of U.S. sanctions.

Regarding Israel, he stated: “How is it that a fake regime called Israel was formed in this region and how is it that the great and historical nation of Palestine was uprooted from its home and for years has been subject to murder and looting by the Zionists? … The creation of this cancerous tumor was on the basis that the West didn’t trust the region’s people and even the governments that were its puppets, and it had to create its own puppet power, which would listen 100 percent to it and ensure the West’s interests in the sensitive Middle East region.”

Regarding Saudi Arabia, he stated: “Depending on foreigners is the biggest historical mistake. You’ve given them $450 billion to provide for your security?”

 

Earthquake and Other Domestic Developments

On the evening of Sunday, November 25th, a 6.3 Richter earthquake struck Iran’s Western Kermanshah province. Among the towns damaged were Sar Pol-e Zahab, Gilan-e Gharb, and Gasr-e Shireen. Last year, an earthquake hit the same area, killing and injuring thousands.

Officials reported no deaths from the earthquake but stated that over 700 had been injured. The Head of Iran’s Red Crescent stated on Monday: “A review of 150 villages has been concluded and thankfully until now there have been no deaths … There have been 634 injured from escaping [buildings] or from damage. Both 72-hour food & one-month food packages have been sent to the affected regions.”

On November 28th, Pirouz Hanachi was officially confirmed as Tehran’s mayor. Hanachi was elected by Tehran’s reformist city council as mayor roughly two weeks ago.

However, his confirmation required approval from the Interior Ministry, which delayed in issuing it—leading to speculation that Hanachi would be rejected. According to some city council members and Interior Ministry officials, the reason for the delay in the Interior Ministry’s approval was that it was awaiting the Intelligence Ministry’s final review of Hanachi.

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Rouhani administration’s Planning and Budget Organization, announced that wages for government employees would increase by 20 percent in the Iranian government budget for next year. Nobakht also stated that the budget for the upcoming Iranian year 1398 (March 2019-March 2020) would be finalized on Sunday, December 2nd and be sent to the parliament for approval.

Nobakht also said about the impact of U.S. sanctions: “The shadow of sanctions will impact our income and consumption, but our skill will be demonstrated in using our ability and experience to work around the sanctions.”

Nobakht said of government support packages to help withstand sanctions: “We have increased the pensions of covered people by three to five times, and this trend will continue in 1398. People eligible for subsidies will also receive them. Government support and compensation packages will also continue and all of our efforts will be so that we can proudly overcome the sanctions situation.”

 


 

 

Workers Protest in Shush as Zarif Comes Under Fire

Week of November 12, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Protests by Workers at Private Haft Tapeh Company Enter Third Week, Amidst Arrests of Leaders
  • Some Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium Soccer Match for Second Time in Recent Months
  • “Sultan of Coins” and Accomplice Executed for Alleged Financial Crimes
  • Officials Deny Executions of Suspects Tied to September Ahvaz Terrorist Attack
  • Foreign Minister Zarif Faces Conservative Backlash after Comments on Money Laundering
  • Officials Caution Europe on Slow Pace of Implementing “Special Purpose Vehicle”

For the past three weeks, the southwestern Iranian city of Shush has been the site of protests by workers from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory over unpaid wages and job insecurity. In recent days, 18 of the protesting workers have been arrested, though officials have since stated that most have been released. In other news, a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the final match of the AFC Champions League in Tehran following pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies. However, this marked the second time in recent months that some women have been allowed inside the stadium for a soccer match.

Amidst an on-going corruption probe, the “Sultan of Coins,” a moniker for currency and gold dealer Vahid Mazloumin, was executed alongside an accomplice. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also come under intense criticism after comments linking some of the opposition to Iran reforming its anti-money laundering laws to powerful money launderers inside the country. The vociferous attacks have included a draft impeachment bill against him authored by conservative MPs. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has issued a stern warning to Europe highlighting the consequences of it failing to implement a “Special Purpose Vehicle” to facilitate Iran trade in the wake of U.S. sanctions.

 

Zarif Under Fire for Comments on Money Laundering

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come under fire from principlist and hardline forces after linking some of the opposition to a bill on Iran acceding to the convention on terrorism financing—one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—to money launderers inside Iran who stand to lose with the new regulations.

On November 12th, Zarif has stated during an interview with Khabar Online: “I believe that many of the concerns [regarding the FATF bills] are sincere. But I believe that behind some of the [anti-FATF] atmosphere that has been created are economic interests. Money laundering is a reality in the country. I don’t want to pin this money laundering on a specific place. But those places that launder thousands of billions [of rials], definitely have the financial ability to spend tens or hundreds of billions on propaganda and creating an atmosphere in the country against anti-money laundering laws.”

Conservative newspaper Kayhan immediately rebuked Zarif, stating: “Zarif’s strange comments and his accusations against the critics and opponents of the FATF bills, which have been broadly embraced by spiteful and anti-revolutionary foreign media, come despite money laundering already being illegal under law. The insult of money laundering directed towards critics and opponents without any supporting documents or evidence will definitely be pursued through legal means and the foreign minister must be held accountable.”

On November 20th, the conservative Fars News Agency stated that based on a new law, Zarif would be solicited for evidence regarding his money laundering accusation. Fars stated that “based on a new procedure, the judiciary would in response to crimes committed in the country—such as the money laundering accusation made by Zarif—send an official letter from the prosecutor’s office to the accuser giving him/her ten days to two weeks to provide evidence to be followed up on by the judiciary.”

Judiciary Chief Amoli Larijani also criticized Zarif’s comments, stating: “If there is widespread money laundering in the country how come they haven’t notified the judiciary of this? This issue is similar to the debate over the illegal imports of cars, which after several months was brought to the attention of the judiciary. Our law against money laundering was passed in the 1380s [2001-2011] and based on it those who are aware of money laundering are obligated to notify a judiciary official.”

On November 20th, principlist MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, stated that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment had been introduced in parliament. Deligani stated: “This bill is being written and it is expected that in the next days signatures will start being gathered in support of it.”

One political analyst told the reformist Fararu of the impeachment bill: “The MPs know well that it is extremely doubtful that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment will get enough votes. But they are pursuing this to at least keep him busy for a while.”

 

Worker Protest

Workers for the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory, a private company located in the city of Shush in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, are continuing weeks-long protests over unpaid wages and job insecurity. According to BBC Persian, over the past two decades, Haft Tapeh workers have on multiple occasions engaged in protests, demonstrations, and strikes against the company.

State outlet ILNA has written that some of Haft Tapeh’s shareholders and members of its board of directors were on the Iranian Central Bank’s list of foreign currency manipulators. The Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson has also stated that Haft Tapeh’s manager has fled and his whereabouts are unknown.

On November 18th, authorities arrested 18 of the protesting Haft Tapeh workers. Among the arrested were Ismail Bakhshi and Moslem Armand, two of the protesting workers’ representatives.

Haft Tapeh workers have stated that there are two paths to resolving the crisis: for Haft Tapeh to be governed by workers, or for the company to come under state control and be managed by a worker’s council.

Many student groups and organizations across Iran have voiced support for the Haft Tapeh workers. One statement, from the Muslim Society of Students of Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz, read: “The workers have in a completely peaceful way and to attain their basic rights engaged in protests in line with the constitution. However, unfortunately the way these workers have been treated is very improper.”

On November 20th, the public prosecutor of Shush, Mostafa Nazari, stated that 15 of the arrested workers had been freed. Nazari stated: “The demonstrations in recent days by workers, after the incitement of some is no longer only an economic issue and has resulted in the public’s order and comfort becoming disturbed and traffic across the city.” He added: “Haft Tapeh workers must be cautious of non-workers who—under the guise of caring about labor and economic issues—seek to take advantage of the stature and position that hardworking laborers have [in society].”

 

Reports of Executions Over Ahvaz Attack

On November 12th, reports surfaced that 22 individuals were executed in connection with the September 22nd terrorist attack on a military commemoration parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. Radio Farda said of these reports: “Some websites on Sunday reported that 22 individuals who were arrested based on charges of ‘connections’ with the attack on the military parade in Ahvaz, without prior notice being given to their families, were executed on November 8th in Ahvaz’s central prison.”

On September 24th, the Intelligence Ministry had in fact announced that 22 individuals “responsible” for the attack at the military parade, which led to the deaths of 25 civilians, were arrested in Ahvaz.

However, on November 12th Gholam-Reza Shariati, the governor of Khuzestan province denied any executions had taken place, describing the reports as “completely false.” Hossein Beigi, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, also rejected that executions had occurred and stated that the “execution sentence will only be carried out after approval from the Supreme Court.”

 

Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium

On November 10th, roughly 800 Iranian women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the AFC Champions League final between Persepolis from Iran and Kashima Antlers from Japan. This marked the second time in recent months, the first being an Iran-Bolivia friendly soccer match on October 16th, that a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium—challenging a convention against women attending soccer matches that has existed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Radio Farda said the female spectators were “handpicked and had their own seating area.”

The entrance of women into Azadi stadium was widely praised across Iranian society, especially by reformist news outlets. Reformist Shargh said the presence of women in the audience was the “most important and positive act in the [AFC Champions League] final.” Asr Iran wrote that “the men and women present in the stadium showed that they have the culture for this [women being present in stadiums alongside men] and the infrastructure for it is ready.”

MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy head of the reformist Hope faction in parliament, expressed dismay that pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies was necessary for women to be allowed to watch the match. Tabesh stated that women being allowed to enter Azadi stadium was the “will of the [political system].” He added: “Unfortunately this action was delayed and procrastinated on. To such an extent that FIFA and international federations entered the arena [to pressure Iran to allow women inside the stadium]. We ourselves could have made decisions on women being present in stadiums before international pressure was imposed on us. In this case we would have had both the approval of the people and religious values would have been upheld.”

On November 14th, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi—a prominent Shia marja, the highest rank in the Shia clerical hierarchy—delivered a speech where he dismissed the importance of women being allowed inside stadiums. He also discussed Iran’s international position in the wake reinstated U.S. sanctions and the prospects of U.S.-Iran negotiations.

In the speech, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi denounced the U.S. for leaving the nuclear deal. He stated: “The world we live in is a world in which a savage dictatorship is its ruler and some countries seek to dominate others … Even in the time of the Arab jahiliyyah [before Islam] agreements were respected. But today some countries leave agreements whenever their heart desires.”

He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “The government and people must know that we are in such a world and we must know with who we are expected to negotiate with. They push forward a bunch of irrelevant, wrong, and meaningless issues to advance their aims, such as the Revolutionary Guards disbanding, not having missiles, and leaving Syria.”

He then said about the presence of women in stadiums: “We must know that in such a world we have to be strong in the face of aggressors. We must strengthen to confront them. God willing the Rouhani administration thinks more of the people and with the issue of women in stadiums doesn’t distract people and thinks of realities.”

 

“Sultan of Coins” Execution Plays into Domestic Politics

On November 14th, Vahid Mazloumin, known as the “Sultan of coins,” and Mohammad Ismaeil Qasemi, were executed for financial crimes. Mazloumin was arrested in July while allegedly hoarding gold coins, and Qasemi was arrested last January. The official charges against Mazloumin and Qasemi were “sowing corruption on earth through creating a corrupt network disturbing the economic, foreign currency, and money system by engaging in illegal dealings and massive smuggling of currency and gold coins.”

Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor, said after the execution: “The charges against Vahid Mazloumin were disturbing the country’s economic system through manipulating the money and banking market. There is no basis to say he was executed for buying and selling gold coins.”

Also on November 14th, Masoud Nili, a senior economic advisor to President Rouhani and staunch advocate of free-market economics, resigned from his post. His resignation came several weeks after Abbas Akhoundi, another strong proponent of the free market, resigned as Minister of Roads and Urban Development, citing Rouhani’s shifting economic policy (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered). In recent months, President Rouhani has moved towards greater state intervention in the economy to combat U.S. sanctions and stabilize the country’s currency.

After the execution of Maloumin and Qasemi and Nili’s resignation, conservative newspaper Kayhan ran the provocative headline: “Two liberals leave the administration and two corrupt economic actors are executed, and the cost of the dollar decreases!” Mohammad Tabibian, an economist who served in the Hashemi Rafsanjani administration during the 1990s, said in response to the headline: “These efforts are aimed at nothing but damaging the public’s collective rationality and breaking down humanitarian values. Clearly, this won’t take the place of rational economic policymaking and pursuing humanitarian methods.”

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Cautions Europe

On November 19th, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi delivered a speech in which he discussed the return of U.S. sanctions and on-going European efforts to salvage the nuclear deal. Araghchi stated regarding U.S. sanctions: “No one in Iran will be raising their hands [in surrender] because of sanctions. We will find our own path, just like we have in the past.”

Araghchi also censured European powers for moving slowly on efforts to salvage the JPCOA and creating channels to continue commercial ties with Iran: “If the Europeans retreat, their sovereignty, reliability, and security will come under question. If Europe thinks that the West Asian region will be more secure without the JCPOA, it can test this. Our region has a collection of issues and problems, can Europe bear a new wave of terrorism and immigration and the start of a nuclear crisis? Without a doubt, the cost for the JCPOA’s destruction is higher for Europe than America. If Europe believes that the JCPOA is important for its sovereignty, security, and reliability, it must be ready to pay a cost for it.”

Araghchi said of European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran, which has yet to materialize: “Whether the Europeans don’t want to work with us and are playing with us or whether they want to but aren’t able to, at the end it doesn’t make a difference. The result is that the Europeans either didn’t want to or couldn’t do anything. However, we will stay in the JCPOA as long as it’s to the benefit of the country. If this ceases to be the case, staying in the  JCPOA will be useless.”

 

Other Domestic Developments

In a November 20th interview, a prominent principlist (conservative) figure, Mohammad Reza Mir Taj Al-Dini, discussed Iran’s shifting political climate and the possibility of principlists returning to power in the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections. Al-Dini stated that reformist and moderate forces inside Iran were losing popularity: “Some internal polling shows that reformist and moderate figures are losing popularity and people are turning away from them.”

He added that reformists/moderates have failed to deliver on their promises: “The people see that reformists in practice have not had any successes. They promised that they would maintain the value of the national currency, that they would solve economic problems and unemployment, but they did not abide by these slogans and election promises and have had these problems turn against them as people have seen the currency’s value drop.”

He then predicted that principlists would win in Iran’s upcoming elections, stating: “As such, it is predictable that in the next parliamentary and presidential elections, the people’s choices will be different.”

Meanwhile, on November 13th, the Tehran city council elected Pirouz Hanachi as mayor of Tehran. Hanachi, a reformist political figure who has held senior posts in the Tehran municipality and worked in the Rouhani administration’s Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, is the third mayor since reformists took control of Tehran’s city council after elections in May 2017. The first mayor elected by the reformist city council council, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, resigned on April 10th, 2018, citing health problems. His successor, Mohammad-Ali Afshani, came out of retirement to assume the position, but was removed after a new law passed in September forbid retirees from assuming government posts.

 


 

 

Iran Reacts to Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

Week of November 5, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Officials Stress Iran will Withstand U.S. Sanctions
  • Prominent Artists and Activists Launch Campaign Against Sanctions
  • European “Special Purpose Vehicle” Payments System Expected Soon
  • Senior Parliamentary Official Leaves Door Open for U.S.-Iran Negotiations
  • Iran Offers Comprehensive Cooperation over Denmark Assassination Accusation
  • Communications Minister Says Iran Repels Israeli Cyber Attack
  • Rouhani Administration Introduces Citizenship bill for Children Born to Iranian Mothers but Foreign Fathers

Iranian officials uniformly lambasted the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sectors. Figures from across the political spectrum generally described the sanctions as painful but emphasized that Iran would ride them out. A common thread in reactions was that the unilateral sanctions were isolating the U.S. and international efforts such as the yet-to-be implemented European “special purpose vehicle” would bear fruit for facilitating continued Iranian trade with the world.

However, one official, the head of the parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, delivered remarks on the importance of keeping the diplomatic option open towards the United States. Meanwhile, prominent Iranian artists and civil society activists, including celebrated filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, launched a petition and campaign against the sanctions. Iran’s communication minister also announced that the country had repelled an attempted Israeli cyber attack on its communications infrastructure, while the Rouhani administration introduced a bill to go to parliament on granting Iranian citizenship to children born to Iranian mothers but foreign fathers.

 

Iranian Responses to U.S. Sanctions

On November 5th, the day U.S. sanctions were reinstated, President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech at Iran’s economy ministry. In his remarks, he stated that the Islamic Republic would defeat U.S. sanctions “with pride.” He added: “In history we have no example of Iran being on one side and having international institutions and global powers and different countries on its side, and America being on the other side with just a few countries.”

Iran’s newly appointed economy minister Farhad Dejpasand also said of reinstated U.S. sanctions: “The situation of the country is very sensitive, but we have enough tools to overcome these conditions.”

On November 6th, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi discussed the U.S. sanctions and Iran’s foreign relations in a far-reaching television interview. Araghchi stated that the Trump administration had not only failed to get the international community on board with its pressure campaign but was deepening the divide between America and its traditional allies. “America tried to make the international community cooperate with it but the international community resisted. The current U.S. administration has achieved a political and moral defeat for itself,” he proclaimed.

Araghchi added: “The Europeans say it isn’t only about Iran but a matter of preserving their own political and economic independence against America. Everyone is concerned and worried about the dominance of America’s financial and economic system.”

Araghchi stated that the sanctions were weakening America’s economic power and were a sign of U.S. decline. “Trump with his overuse of the sanctions tool and imposing his demands is weakening America’s power. This is because countries are now trying to remove themselves from the dominance of U.S. sanctions,” he asserted. “We believe that America’s political, economic, and military powers is on a downhill trajectory and Trump is accelerating this. The experiences of Afghanistan, Iraq, West Asia, and now Syria show that America’s military, economic, and political policies are declining.”

Araghchi rebuked the Trump administration’s overall Iran policy and contended that the White House would eventually change its approach towards Iran. He stated: “I have no doubt that Trump will repeat the experience of Obama and will ultimately reach the conclusion that he must talk to the Iranian people with a language of reverence, not of threats of sanctions.”

He said of the Trump administration’s Iran policy: “There are people in Trump’s team who live in the delusion of regime change and Iran’s collapse … Trump perceives that Iran like some other countries will concede to pressure and will sit at another negotiating table for another deal. This is the peak of simplicity and false hope.

He added: “With our policies, we will be able to overcome the sanctions. We made the necessary predictions regarding these sanctions. The oil and banking sanctions are the main sanctions of America, which we experienced before but carried on despite them. But now our position is far better because Europe, China, and Russia are supporting Iran.”

Araghchi went on to express certainty that Europe’s “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran would be implemented. He stated: “This is a complex system. We expected it to be completed sooner, but it is now in its final stages … It might be that it will take some more time before this system is implemented, but I am sure it will be implemented.”

He then discussed on-going negotiations between Iran and the “P4+1” remaining signatories to the nuclear deal. He mentioned a then-upcoming meeting of technical experts on November 7th, stating: ” In this meeting, technical experts from legal, energy and other backgrounds from all the [P4+1] countries will be present.”

Araghchi also discussed a civil nuclear cooperation meeting between Iran and Europe planned for the end of November: “Holding this conference in these circumstances at a technical and political level is very important and sends a strong message to the Americans. In this meeting, Mr Salehi [Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] will participate alongside European officials.”

On November 5th, during his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi also discussed European efforts to create the SPV. Ghassemi stated that the SPV would be implemented, but that it would take more time: “This new mechanism dealing with monetary and financial areas is complex and takes time … I think if we are a little patient, very soon the entirety of the SPV will be announced and become clear. I hope that in a very short time we can get to its implementation.”

Ghassemi said on reinstated U.S. sanctions: “Americans, especially the current White House, are used to sanctions and have become addicted to them. We view this kind of step by the U.S. as a kind of self-sanctioning.”

On November 8th, Rasoul Sanaei-Rad, the political head of the “political ideology office of the commander-in-chief [Ayatollah Khamenei],” issued a statement in response to reinstated U.S. sanctions. Specifically, Sanaei-Rad reacted to comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a November 2nd press briefing on Iran sanctions, in which they partly discussed changing the regional “behavior” of Iranian leaders, including Qassem Soleimani—the head of the “Qods Force” foreign operations arm of the Revolutionary Guards.

Sanaei-Rad stated: “The victories of the resistance axis in Iraq and Syria under the stewardship of Qassem Soleimani defeated all of America’s plans for the region. It has resulted in them targeting our dear commander of Islam [Soleimani] with slander, lies, and fury.”

Sanei-Rad stressed that American setbacks in the region were not due to Iran, but to miscalculations by U.S. officials. “The Americans view Iran as the reason for their defeats [in the region], when in reality they should analyze their own role in their defeats. Their defeats are due to the imprudence of White House officials and inattention to regional developments.”

He added: “The Islamic Awakening [Arab Spring] and the creation of the resistance axis resulted in the people of the region no longer accepting American regional dominance. However, it is the incorrect strategies of the Americans that has inflicted numerous defeats on them.” He went on: “White House officials are stuck in a futile cycle and instead of changing their behavior and learning the lessons of their past failures, they are repeating their mistakes and day-by-day exacerbating their losses.”

On November 5th, Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati issued a response to reinstated U.S. sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank and reports that SWIFT—the international financial messaging system—would be cutting off some Iranian banks. “The reinstated sanctions were already predicted by the Central Bank and there has been planning for every situation, even for the scenario of sanctions beyond this,” he stated. “The necessary negotiations with countries that are our trade partners have been carried out and the method of how we will engage them has been coordinated.”

Hemmati stated that after months of volatility, the Iranian economy and currency market had been stabilized ahead of reinstated U.S. sanctions: “The necessary steps to precisely fine-tune the supply and use of currency has been taken and the situation of the country has been elevated to an optimal level—which we see in the stability that has characterized the currency and money market recently.”

On November 6th, Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri delivered an address at a ceremony initiating several newly appointed ministers in the Rouhani administration, where he commented on reinstated U.S. sanctions. Jahangiri stated: “The latest show from Trump and his colleagues was brought on the stage yesterday. In these circumstances, how we manage the country is important. The issues and decision-making in managing the country have to be meticulous.”

Jahangiri struck a more concerned tone and stressed the importance of the Iranian government working with the Iranian people to overcome sanctions. He declared: “What is vital is that we speak sincerely with the people. Because the people are the main owners of the country and the revolution and overcoming the difficult conditions ahead is not possible without the people’s cooperation.” He added: “But this isn’t [meant] to spread problems that may cause [people to] worry. Were it is not necessary, we shouldn’t worry the people. We must keep our worries to ourselves, but no other issue should be kept from the people.”

Jahangiri added: “The people must see that officials are sincerely endeavoring to overcome problems. If people see this, they will enter the arena and will not hesitate to make every help and sacrifice. We saw with our own eyes the sacrifices the people made during the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War].”

Jahangiri also said of the Rouhani administration’s shifting economic policy towards greater state intervention: “In these conditions, the administration is forced to change some of its policies, policies on government control in the currency market, exports, and imports.”

On November 8th, prominent Iranian artists and civil society activists launched a campaign against the reinstated U.S. sanctions, stressing that the Iranian people would be paying the biggest price. The signatories, which included celebrated filmmakers such as Asghar Farhadi, proclaimed: “Once again, the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran. Such measures have never brought to the people of Iran what politicians proclaim they will: human rights, freedom, and a better life. Every Iranian will personally pay the price for these sanctions.”

 

Potential for U.S.-Iran Negotiations?

On November 3rd, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, held a press conference before domestic and international media. In his remarks, Falahatpisheh touched on a wide range of topics, including prospects for U.S.-Iran negotiations and European efforts to keep Iran in the nuclear deal.

Falahatpisheh, who weeks ago stood out among Iranian officials for comments that there was “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America,” again touched on the potential for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. He declared: “America is not Trump. Even though this view has serious opponents, I believe we shouldn’t close all channels of negotiations with America if negotiations exist in different domains. We must create the right conditions. Especially given that there is serious opposition to the Trump administration.”

Falahatpisheh explained more, stating that negotiations could occur at different official or unofficial levels and that Iran could pursue any of these. He proclaimed: “Negotiations occur in different domains, such as intelligence, security, economics, political, and official diplomacy. Negotiations can even occur at the level of elites or secret negotiations can occur. The Islamic Republic of Iran has experience with all these types of negotiations in its history. If the country reaches the conclusion that negotiations will secure its interests, this step will be taken, even with respect to America.”

However, Falahatpisheh also stated that Trump’s current approach negated the potential for negotiations: “With Trump and [his] current policies, negotiations between Iran and America don’t make sense. The new American administration has chosen policies that explicitly challenged the trajectory of respectful diplomacy that had formed [previously].”

Falahatpisheh stressed repeatedly in his remarks that negotiations with the U.S. were no longer taboo for Iran. “Negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and America are not taboo. During the JCPOA era, Iran’s foreign minister at the level of the foreign ministry had permission to negotiate with the American side.”

He added that Iranian foreign policy was flexible: “Iran has reached a level of maturity in which there is no taboo in its foreign policy and any second we desire, we can enter a new foreign policy space. But in current circumstances, there is no strategy for negotiations with America.”

Falahatpisheh emphasized that Iran’s regional influence and missile program were non-negotiable: “Trump’s expectation is that Iran will give up two core features that provide for its strength: its [regional] strategic depth and missile strength. We are not a country like Iraq, to be besieged within our borders. We have a regional role and can take actions throughout the region and hold influence. Under no circumstances can they take these capabilities from us.”

Falahatpisheh then stated on Iran’s relations with Europe: “Iran’s relations with Europe at a political level have never been this good. This is a score. The Europeans know that if it wasn’t for Iran, ISIS would have reached the borders of Europe. Iran has also given 2,600 martyrs in combating smuggling into Europe.”

Falahatpisheh stated on Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA: “On multiple occasions our country’s officials have announced our position in this regard. Our commitment to the JCPOA depends on it securing our national interests. As long as it secures our national interests, we will remain in the deal.”

Falahatpisheh stated the European SPV might not be implemented until early 2019: “The implementation of the European plan might be delayed until the beginning of next year [2019]. We are looking at European help, but our look is not strategic. So if this help is not implemented, we won’t be shook in any serious way.”

 

Other Foreign Policy Developments: Denmark Accusation Fallout, Cyber Attack

On November 5th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had separate phone calls with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and Norway, discussing bilateral relations and the status of the nuclear deal. According to ISNA, the British foreign minister stressed the commitment of his country and other JCPOA signatories to the deal and emphasized the need to urgently implement Europe’s SPV to facilitate economic relations with Iran. The Norwegian foreign minister also declared his country’s support for the JCPOA’s implementation and stressed the need for increased bilateral cooperation between Iran and Norway.

Zarif and the Norwegian foreign minister also discussed the Denmark assassination plot accusation [covered in last week’s Iran Unfiltered], with Zarif promising Iran’s full cooperation on the case. Fararu states: “The claim of Denmark’s police regarding a Norwegian-Iranian citizen was another topic of conversation between the Norwegian foreign minister and Mohammad Javad Zarif, on which the Iranian foreign minister stressed the need to shed light on all dimensions of the issue and emphasized that Iran will cooperate in a comprehensive manner with European governments to clarify the facts.”

On November 4th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi said in his weekly press conference that the Swedish and Norwegian ambassadors to Iran, as well as Denmark’s charge d’affaires, were invited to the Iranian foreign ministry for a meeting.

Fararu wrote that the Iranian representatives raised the issue of Iranian separatists given refugee in these countries, some of whom publicly endorsed the August Ahvaz terrorist attack: “During this meeting, the Iranian foreign minister’s special assistant and the head of the Iranian foreign ministry’s office for European affairs explained Iran’s positions on the August terrorist attack in Ahvaz and dismissed the accusations of the Zionist regime [regarding the alleged Denmark assassination plot]. They also stressed the responsibility of these countries to confront terrorism and that it was unacceptable to give refuge to people who explicitly claim responsibility for the Ahvaz terrorist attack.”

Fararu added regarding Iran’s readiness to cooperate on the Denmark case: “In these meetings, Iran’s representatives declared the readiness of the Islamic Republic to engage in comprehensive and extensive cooperation on security issues with these countries, and to jointly investigate [the alleged Denmark plot] to clarify the facts.”

On November 5th, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, announced that Iran had thwarted an attempted cyber-attack targeting its communications infrastructure. Jahromi blamed the attempted attack on Israel, tweeting: “The regime that has a clear track record of using cyber weapons, such as Stuxnet, now has attempted to damage Iran’s communications infrastructure. But they had to leave empty-handed thanks to the vigilance of our technical teams. We will pursue this hostile move through international tribunals.”

 

Internal Developments: Detained Environmentalists, Potential Changes to Citizenship Law

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ali Motahari inquired about the case of eight detained environmentalists—four of whom were recently charged with the capital offense of “sowing corruption on Earth”—to Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi at a private meeting of the parliament’s National Security Committee. Motahari specifically inquired about the discrepancy between the intelligence ministry and a four-person task team created by President Rouhani, which found the environmentalists not guilty of espionage, and the on-going espionage case being brought against them by the judiciary.

Morteza Saffari Natanzi, a member of the parliament’s national security committee, said to the reformist newspaper Shargh of the encounter: “Motahari has not stated yet whether he was convinced of Alavi’s answers. If he is unconvinced, he may take his questions to the public parliamentary floor.”

According to Natanzi, the case against the environmentalists has been pursued by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency. Alavi told Motahari that the intelligence ministry was not involved in the case.

On November 4th, after a cabinet-level meeting, the Rouhani administration approved a bill for children born to Iranian mothers but foreign fathers to be given the option of applying for Iranian citizenship. The bill will go to the parliament for approval. Based on the bill, these children can apply for citizenship through their mother until they are 18-years old, and after 18 can themselves apply for Iranian citizenship and receive an Iranian national identification card. In an interview with IRNA, Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s special assistant on citizenship rights issues, stated that she is hopeful that the parliament will pursue “necessary and speedy cooperation” to approve the bill.

On November 5th, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli spoke at a conference on “Passive Defense and Sustainable Development,” where he stressed the importance of alleviating the people’s grievances. He stated: “How can we repay the people for being vigilant and for their sacrifices and patience? We can only do this by providing for their satisfaction and if we cannot do this we will be faced with a fundamental problem and will have to pay the price. Because the state of nature has mercy on no one.”

Rahmani-Fazli also spoke about Islamophobia: “The biggest threat today is the plot to push Islam in a deviant direction and towards a fake Islam which is based on violence and blood-letting. Today, the actors for this plot at the global level are ISIS and terrorist groups like it.”


 

 

Iran Braces for Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

Week of October 29, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Rouhani Stresses Iran will Withstand U.S. Pressure
  • Officials Reject Denmark Claims of Terrorist Plot, Call for Improving EU Ties
  • Quarrel Involving Senior Ayatollah Highlights Clerical Divisions
  • Israeli Prime Minister’s Oman Trip Viewed as Advancing Broader Anti-Iran Agenda
  • Parliament Approves Rouhani’s Ministerial Changes

As U.S. sanctions on Iran’s banking and oil sectors are set to be reinstated on November 5th, Iranian officials emphasize Iran can endure the pressure and will not change its regional policies. Officials have also strongly rejected accusations by Denmark regarding an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate an opposition figure associated with the al-Ahvaz separatist group. The charge has been characterized by the Iranian foreign ministry as aimed at reversing the improvement in Iran-EU ties and pushing Europe to join the Trump administration’s pressure campaign. A recent meeting between a senior Ayatollah and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami also spurred controversy inside Iran after the Ayatollah came under attack by prominent conservative official. Meanwhile, the recent trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman—often used as a Western backchannel to Iran—was perceived by some Iranian analysts as aimed at breaking Oman away from Iran.

 

Officials Defiant as U.S. Sanctions Return

On October 31st, President Hassan Rouhani held a cabinet-level meeting where he discussed the return of U.S. sanctions and contended that the U.S. was backing down in its pressure campaign. He proclaimed: “I am certain that America will not be victorious in this new plot against Iran. As we are seeing, they are backing down step by step.” He went on: “First, they said ‘we will reduce Iranian oil [exports] to zero,’ then they said in November it won’t be possible to reduce to zero but it will be in several more months, and later they slowly began saying we can’t reduce to zero but we only want to just reduce Iranian oil exports.”

Rouhani touched on the hardships that the Iranian people are facing and said his administration will successfully overcome the difficulties. He stated: “Maybe in the past several months our people have endured hardships and the next months will also be difficult, but the government will use all its capabilities to ease problems and God willing, with the help of the people, producers, exporters, and all economic actors, we won’t allow this trajectory to continue.”

Rouhani also contended that U.S. pressure was transient and called on other countries to maintain commercial ties with Iran. He declared: “To Iran’s commercial partners, I say that this American pressure is temporary but our relations with you are permanent. The Americans yell for a few days but will eventually leave. They cannot decide for this region and great nations in this regard.”

Rouhani also struck a more provocative tone by comparing the reinstatement of sanctions to the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Rouhani noted that the anniversary of the hostage crisis coincided with the reimposition of U.S. sanctions. He opined: “13 Aban [November 4th, anniversary of U.S. embassy hostage taking] was rooted in struggling against capitulation and struggling for the Iranian people’s independence and against American aggression … they [U.S. leaders] hoped that within a few months the revolution would crumble and they could gloriously and with complete dominance return to Iran and consolidate their control here.”

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated in his weekly press conference that Iran’s regional policies have not changed in response to the Trump administration’s pressure policies. He proclaimed: “Iran without a doubt is the same country it was previously with all the same features. It is the same country it was before Trump’s presidency, without any changes to its regional policies.”

Ghassemi also said that President Trump was making a mistake in neglecting regional history and was harming his own legacy. He stated: “It seems that Trump doesn’t have enough awareness regarding the region’s situation, the history and characteristics of the people of the region, and the developments that have taken place in this part of the world in recent years.” He went on: “His prominent advisors unfortunately neglect the interests of the American people and based on wrong intelligence attained from terrorist groups, are keen on getting America in confrontations in the Middle East. This is resulting in the American peoples’ interests and Trump’s reputation being destroyed.”

 

Tehran Reacts to Denmark’s Accusation of an Assassination Plot

On October 30th, Denmark’s security and intelligence agency announced that a Norwegian citizen of Iranian background, who allegedly intended to carry out an assassination on Danish soil, had been arrested and would be held until November 8th before going to trial. According to Danish intelligence chief Finn Borch Andersen, an Iranian intelligence agency was behind the plot, which was aimed at assassinating the head of the “Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz” (ASMLA), a group that calls for the separation of Iranian Arabs from Iran. Denmark subsequently recalled its ambassador to Iran and called for sanctions against Iran that are not contrary to the nuclear deal.

Iranian media and officials reacted to the allegation with disbelief and framed it as part of efforts to scuttle Iran’s relations with Europe as U.S. sanctions return. Moderate-conservative Alef stated: “Despite the atmosphere being created by some Western governments, it’s unthinkable for such an action to be taken on the eve of the return of U.S. oil and banking sanctions and at a time when Europe is to provide Iran its economic incentive package to win Iran’s acquiescence to stay in the nuclear deal.”

Reformist Fararu connected the allegation to Iran’s earlier rebukes of Denmark and other European states after the August 22nd Ahvaz terrorist attack. It stated: “In late September, Iran announced that Denmark, Norway, and Britain were providing refugee to several members of the ‘al-Ahvaz’ terrorist organization. The Islamic Republic views al-Ahvaz as responsible for the terrorist attack on the military commemoration parade on August 22nd in Ahvaz, which led to the death of 24 people.” Fararu added: “The separatist and terrorist Al-Ahvaz group claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the military commemoration parade in Ahvaz on August 22nd.”

Alef compared the charges to a similar episode in July, when some European states accused Iran of planning to attack an Iranian opposition gathering in Paris. It stated: “This comes after Belgian police, several months ago and just before President Rouhani’s trip to Europe, stated that two Belgian citizens of Iranian background were arrested while possessing a home-made bomb and aimed to attack the MEK gathering in Paris. At the time, the Zionist regime [Israel] also announced that it had discovered the plot and notified European governments.”

Iranian outlets and officials viewed reports that Israel’s spy agency Mossad provided the intelligence that led to the arrest by Denmark as confirming a sinister agenda behind the accusation. Fararu stated: “[Europe’s commitment to the nuclear deal] has greatly upset Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has expressed pride over influencing America to leave the deal, but despite his multiple trips to Europe, he has been unable to change the European position on the nuclear deal. Now at a very sensitive juncture, suddenly Iran is accused of a terrorist operation in Denmark. An accusation that comes just days before the implementation of American oil sanctions against Iran.” It added: “These [European] countries now must decide whether or not to continue their efforts against U.S. sanctions. This dilemma is to the benefit of Israel.”

Alef also stated regarding the potential impact of the Denmark accusation on European efforts to maintain the nuclear deal: “This development might cause them [Europe] to turn their backs on the commitments that they are supposed to implement before November 5th or for them to compel Iran into giving more concessions on their demands.”

On October 31st, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi stated that the Danish Ambassador to Iran, shortly before returning to Denmark due to being recalled, had a meeting with the head of the Iranian foreign ministry’s office for European affairs. Ghassemi said of the meeting: “In this meeting, our country’s protests were conveyed to the Danish ambassador in regards to the hasty political and media reactions by some Danish officials to the arrest of the Norwegian-Iranian citizen on charges of planning to assassinate an individual in Denmark.”

During their meeting, the Iranian representative told the Danish ambassador that the allegation advanced the agenda of forces opposed to improved European-Iranian relations. Ghassemi said of the meeting: “The head of the office for European affairs in this meeting stressed that Iran rejects the one-sided reports regarding an unsuccessful operation against an Iranian oppositionist in Denmark and accusations that the Islamic Republic was connected to this.” He went on: “[He stated that] Iran views this as a continuation of plots and conspiracies by known enemies of the good and improving relations between Iran and Europe in the current, special circumstances. The head of office for European affairs also stressed the necessity of these developments being managed in a wise and calculated way and warned of misconduct leading to consequences that are indecisive and controversial.”

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, stated that the “Denmark situation is an effort to bring Europe on board with the United States [in sanctioning Iran].” He added: “With their initial efforts [to separate Europe and Iran] having failed, on Tuesday a new case was created to bring Europe on board with U.S. sanctions under the excuse of terrorism. The confession of Mossad and Pompeo’s early celebration reveal their role. Relieving Saudi Arabia of international pressure over the murder of Khashoggi was another aim of this conspiracy. This was done even though Iran’s hand is strong and so now Mossad has sold this burnt case cheaply.”

 

Official’s Attack on a Senior Ayatollah Spurs Clerical Backlash

Ayatollah Musa Shobeiri Zanjani, who holds the highest rank of Marja Taqlid in the Shia clerical hierarchy, was the subject of controversy for recently meeting former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and other prominent reformists. During the same trip to Tehran, Shobeiri Zanjani also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, leading to speculation that he was attempting to reconcile Ayatollah Khamenei and senior reformist leaders—who have been long estranged.

However, the controversy over Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani’s meeting with Khatami negated any potential efforts to facilitate dialogue between excised reformists and Ayatollah Khamenei, highlighting the depth of Iran’s political divide.

Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani’s meeting was strongly criticized by Mohammad Yazdi, the conservative head of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts–an elected body constitutionally-mandated with monitoring and choosing the Supreme Leader. In a letter to Shobeiri Zanjani, Yazdi stated: “The release of pictures on social media which show his excellency [Shobeiri] next to some problematic individuals who have no respect for the Islamic Republic system and the supreme leader … has saddened and surprised many in the seminary.”

Yazdi went on to issue a stern warning to the senior Ayatollah: “I remember your position and the respect you held under the shadow of respect for the Islamic system, the Leader, and the dignity of Marjas. It is necessary for this respect and the dignity of Marjas to be respected and for arrangements to be made so that these types of issues don’t occur again.”

Yazdi’s letter triggered widespread outrage and backlash among politicians and religious centers.  Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ali Motahari said in response to the letter: “With your threatening sentence, have you respected the dignity of Marjas or not? Who said that a meeting between a Marja Taqlid and people with records of service to the revolution who—even if there might be some criticisms to be made against them—is against the dignity of marjas? Do you know the dignity of marjas better than they themselves do? Do people have to get permission for you to meet whoever they want?

Motahari added: “The position and respect of a Marja Taqlid [senior Ayatollah] is not necessarily derived from just respecting the Islamic system, but is more based on his positions towards this system, in supporting its correct actions and criticizing its incorrect actions and defending the rights of the people.”

The prominent “Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers” also sharply rebuked Yazdi. The organization stated in a letter: “Shia Marjas have been an independent institution who in times of crisis has been able to solve difficulties and help save Iran. This letter, putting aside the damage it does to the institution of Marjas and the Qom seminary, has hurt the link between Marjas and the [Islamic Republic] system and created a cleavage between these two institutions in the public arena.”

After Yazdi’s letter, Ayatollah Andalib Hamedani resigned from the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, another prominent clerical organization which Yazdi heads, citing his strong disapproval of Yazdi’s letter.

 

Netanyahu Trip to Oman Raises Concerns in Tehran

On October 26th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled for an official visit to Oman, the first such visit to the Persian Gulf state by an Israeli leader since 1996. Amir Mousavi, a former senior advisor to a previous Iranian defense minister, discussed Netanyahu’s trip to Oman in an interview with the reformist Fararu.

Mousavi stated that Israeli ties with Persian Gulf Arab states are not a new phenomenon. He said: “We have to take into consideration that these days attacking Iran is far more prevalent than Israel, and anti-Iranian propaganda has to a large degree paid off.” He added: “About Israel’s relations with Arab countries, this is nothing new at all. The only change that has occurred is that these ties were previously secret and now are public. Nearly all the Persian Gulf countries have old relationships with the Zionist regime. At first it was commercial in most cases and gradually expanded and reached security and now political levels.”

Mousavi contended that Saudi Arabia likely had a role in getting Oman to accept a visit by Netanyahu: “The next point is that it is not at all unlikely that Saudi Arabia had a role in the meeting [Netanyahu in Oman]. Given the pressures it was under over the murder of Khashoggi, it is likely to have given economic concessions to Muscat to allow for Netanyahu’s trip to Oman. Especially given that Saudi Arabia has problems with Oman over their borders. It is possible it was ready to give concessions.”

Mousavi then stated that Israel wishes to distance Iran and Oman from each other. He declared: “Oman has strategic and security relations with Iran and from long ago has been a country that we have had close relations with. I think this meeting [Netanyahu in Oman] is aimed at confronting Iran after November 5th when U.S. sanctions are reimposed.” He added:  “They have tried for a long time to create a cleavage between Iran and Oman … Sultan Qaboos has good relations with Iran, but there are others who aren’t aligned with his thought and Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to bring them to the forefront. If this trajectory continues, it is possible that after Sultan Qaboos there will be changes in relations between Iran and Oman.”

In other domestic politics news, the Iranian parliament this week approved all four of Rouhani’s proposed replacements of his cabinet. The changes include: Farhad Dejpasand as the minister of economy, Mohammad Eslami as minister of transport and urban development, Mohammad Shariatmadari as minister of cooperative, labor, and social welfare, and Reza Rahmani as minister of industry, mine and trade.

 


 

 

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein…”

Read more on Foreign Policy.

Iran Moves Towards Greater State Control of Economy as US Sanctions Loom

Week of October 22, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Leading pro-free market ministers and advisors leave Rouhani administration
  • Limited Entry of Women to a Soccer Match met with Support and Backlash
  • Officials Break Two-Week Silence on Khashoggi murder
  • 12 Iranian Border Guards Kidnapped by Pakistan-based militants
  • Detained Environmentalists Charged with Capital Offense
  • Teachers Stage Sit-in Protests Across Iran

As hard-hitting U.S. sanctions are set to be reimposed on November 5th, President Hassan Rouhani is reshuffling his ministers and advisors and fundamentally altering his administration’s economic policy. Long a staunch advocate of liberal market reforms and increased privatization, the economic crisis brought on by foreign sanctions is compelling Rouhani to bolster social safety nets and pursue greater state intervention in the economy to control the Rial’s depreciation and rising inflation. In other news, the entrance of women into a recent soccer match at Azadi stadium spurred support from vast swathes of Iranian society, but backlash from some senior officials. Iranian officials also broke their two-week silence on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, condemning the killing and Saudi Arabia in vociferous terms.

 

Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium for a Soccer Match

On October 16th, a small number of women were permitted inside Azadi stadium to watch a soccer match for the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Roughly 200 women were allowed to enter the stadium. Fararu notes: “Specific measures were taken for the women to be present in the stadium, including a specific female-only section for them, a separate entrance, and female police to guard their entrance and exit.”

The decision to permit women to watch the game was made by the Sports Ministry and the Iranian Football Federation. Sports minister Masoud Soltanifar said in a tweet after the match: “The presence of women and families in the friendly match of our national team against Bolivia allowed our women to share in a moment of pride for our country’s athletics while preserving our Islamic and moral values.”

However, the decision to allow women into the stadium was harshly rebuked by Iran’s attorney general. Mohammad Jafar Montazeri stated: “The presence of women in Azadi stadium is damaging and has no basis in Sharia law. Why are we opposed? Because sins will occur. Watching a game is not an issue, but the sins that occur are the problem.”

Montazeri also threatened to act against officials who take steps to allow women into stadiums. He declared: “We will confront any managers trying to create a platform for the presence of women in stadiums. It cannot be that four people with whatever aims break the [people’s] privacy and we remain silent. First, we will give them advice, then we will confront them.”

Montazeri’s comments were criticized by figures from all sides of Iran’s political spectrum.  Fararu wrote of Montazeri’s comments: “The warning of the attorney general shows that the decision to have women present in Azadi Stadium was a [Rouhani] administration decision and did not reflect the opinion of the entire system. As a result, we cannot be too optimistic of what will happen in the future, at least in the short term.”

Principlist politician Ezzatollah Zarghami, a former head of state TV (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) wrote in response to Montazeri’s comments: “In soccer, the athletes are not half naked, so the presence of women in stadiums does not break people’s privacy. Don’t claw at women and families who already don’t have enough pastime activities! Threatening athletic managers with legal charges is not worthy thing to do!”

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs in the Rouhani administration, also said in response: “There are different views. But what is important is that we don’t have any laws on this issue (on the presence of women in stadiums). It is also not against Sharia and all religious rules are observed.”

Fatemeh Zolghadr, an MP representing Tehran, also stated: “On this issue, it has been planned to gradually prepare the infrastructure for the presence of women in stadiums.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Judiciary Chief Hadi Sadeghi said that a path could be created for women to be present in sports stadiums, but certain criteria would have to be met. He opined: “Some people challenge God’s law, or enter this arena with inappropriate methods, while we can address this in a rational way in line with Sharia law.” He added: “The solution for women to be freely present to watch sports competitions is not by fighting against God’s laws, but for officials and managers to wisely create an environment for their presence which is not at odds with Sharia and morality.”

 

Environmentalists Charged with “Sowing Corruption on Earth”

Several environmental activists detained last January on espionage charges have been charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” a capital crime inside Iran. The case of the environmentalists has divided Iran’s political and security institutions, with the Rouhani administration’s intelligence and interior ministries dismissing the espionage charges and the judiciary and Revolutionary Guards upholding them [as explained in a previous Iran Unfiltered].

On October 22nd, the head of Iran’s Environmental Agency, Abbas Kalantari, who has pushed back on the charges against the environmentalists, said that the new charges had still “not been officially announced.” He added: “This charge is not certain and there is a possibility for it to be reconsidered so it is better for us to wait a little bit for official announcements to be made. These are still rumours.”

However, on October 24th, Tehran’s public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated that the charges against four of the accused have been changed by the lead investigator on the case. Dolatabadi asserted: “Eight people are being pursuing in this case and the indictments against them have been sent to the court, and the charges against four of them is ‘sowing corruption on Earth.'” He added: “The charges against four of the accused have been changed by the investigator of this case. Those who have made criticisms on this should know that the investigator has the authority to decide on the charges.”

 

Iran Reacts to Jamal Khashoggi Killing

After Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing on October 2nd and was later confirmed to have been killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Iranian officials were uncharacteristically silent on the issue.

This silence broke on October 22nd, with Iran’s Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani denouncing the killing. This was followed by remarks by President Rouhani and other officials. Larijani stated that the Khahoggi’s killing represented the “terrorist-producing nature” of the Saudi government. He added that the killing was a “heinous murder” and stated: “The Saudis from the beginning with help from the West took steps to cover up this crime, and now that they have had no choice but to admit the killing they claim the crime was carried out by a number of people acting independently.”

Larijani accused Western countries of having “double standards” on human rights, stating: “On the death of this journalist, many Western countries are showing sensitivity and are superficially pursuing the matter, but on crimes such as what is happening in Yemen, they are silent.”

Rouhani also lambasted the murder and presented the United States as complicit. He proclaimed on October 24th: “No one thought that in today’s world and in this new century we would witness such an organized murder, and for institutions to plan for such a heinous murder. I don’t think that without America’s support any country would dare commit such a crime.” Rouhani added: “The tribal group that rules this country has marginal security and to commit this crime relies on a superpower which supports them and doesn’t allow international courts that deal with human rights abuses to take actions against them.”

Radio Farda said of the weeks-long silence of Iranian officials on Khashoggi’s murder: “Islamic Republic officials, despite the severe differences between Tehran and Riyadh, did not express any opinions on this issue. Even Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesman for the foreign ministry, did not reply to journalists’ questions about this issue.”

 

Rouhani Reshuffles Cabinet Away from Free Market Proponents

On October 20th, Rouhani accepted the resignation of Abbas Akhoundi as the Minister of Roads and Urban Development and Mohammad Shariatmadari as the Minister of Industry, Mines and Business. Shariatmadari was subsequently appointed as Minister of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare.

In his resignation letter, Akhoundi—a staunch advocate of the free market—cited differences over economic policy as his key reason for leaving the administration. He wrote: “It does not appear that I can do impactful work on advancing urban renewal plans in line with my views … I cannot align with the policies of maximum government intervention in the market and the approach to organizing economic affairs in country’s current climate.”

Akhoundi stressed that free-market principles shouldn’t be abandoned. He opined in the letter: “I believe that the three principles of rule of law, property rights, and an economic policy of market competition should not be abandoned under any circumstances.”

The reformist Fararu notes that Rouhani is turning towards individuals who favor greater state intervention and welfare. Fararu notes: “This resignation [of Akhoundi] can be seen as confirming Rouhani turning from Masoud Nili, an economist who believes in the free market, towards Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization.”

Political analyst Ahmad Shirzad tells Fararu that there is not yet uniformity within the administration on ceasing free market reforms. He states: “But on this issue right now there is not uniform consensus among Rouhani’s allies. Institutionalist economists [who favor greater state intervention], such as the 50 economists who wrote a letter to Rouhani, believe that the government should intervene in the currency market to bring down the cost of currency and the inflation rate.”

Shirzad notes that Akhoundi’s policy prescriptions would have worsened Iran’s economic conditions: “If we wanted to follow Mr Akhoundi’s prescriptions in these conditions, naturally any kind of state intervention would have been avoided and we would have been facing a dollar that costs 50,000 tomans.”

Shirzad states that Iran is being forced now to pursue greater state intervention in the economy due to foreign pressure. “Mr Akhoundi’s words are helpful and worthwhile at the appropriate time and place … However the current conditions, in which we are facing an economic war, give us no choice but to turn towards state control [of the economy].”

Shirzad adds that former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was similarly compelled towards central economic planning during the Iran-Iraq War: “In the administration of Mir Hossein Mousavi, because of the war with Iraq, we had no choice but to turn to a coupon distribution system. For this reason, Mousavi’s reputation was intertwined with the coupon system and state distribution of goods. This is while Mousavi had no choice to pursue these policies given the conditions of the period he served.”

Shirzad states that Rouhani is a supporter of the free market, but has no choice now but to pursue greater state intervention in the economy. He states: “Mr Rouhani is not inclined towards institutionalist and leftist economists. He is more a supporter of the free market. He is not far from what Mr Akhoundi said in his resignation letter, but the current conditions and the political pressures that have been imposed on the country leave the administration no choice but to intervene more in the economy.”

 

Vice President Jahangiri Comments May Divide Rouhani & Reformists

On October 21st, Rouhani’s first vice president and key economic advisor, Eshaq Jahangiri, spurred controversy by saying he lacked the authority to even replace his secretary. Jahangiri said in a speech at a ceremony marking the national day of exporters: “I have repeatedly said that, given the current situation, I want [state] managers that are risk takers. In response to me, some ask why I don’t replace managers. They think that I have a paper and pen in my hand and that I can replace a manager on the path I’m on. Up to now, I haven’t been given permission to replace my secretaries, much less lawyers, and ministers, and so on.”

Jahangiri’s comment led to speculation that he would leave the Rouhani administration. Elias Hazrati, a reformist Tehran MP, said after Jahangiri’s remarks: “In my view, the song is the song of Jahangiri leaving. My analysis is that he will leave the administration.”

However, many contend Jahangiri will remain in the administration as he is Rouhani’s strongest reformist ally. Sadegh Javadi Hesar, a reformist political analyst, tells Fararu: “If Jahangiri separates from the administration, a serious cleavage would be created between reformists and Mr Rouhani. Reformists would not follow along or cooperate with the administration anymore and will become radicalized with respect to the administration.”

Reformist political analyst Abdollah Nasseri explains that Jahangiri’s remarks are rooted in his increased marginalization in the administration during Rouhani’s second term. He states: “In Rouhani’s second term it became clear that Jahangiri was consulted less for many decisions and appointments.” He adds: “Jahangiri with these words wanted to tell society, elites, and activists that we shouldn’t have the same expectations of him as we did of the past Jahangiri [during Rouhani’s first term]. He wanted to say that Mr Rouhani and those close to him like Nobakht [Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, vice president and head of Planning and Budget Organization] and Vaezi [Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff] have created disarray in the administration.”

In response to the controversy, Jahangiri released two videos on Instagram addressing his critics. He defended his track record in the administration in the first video, proclaiming: “The reality is that in the 11th administration [Rouhani’s first term], we were able to bring stability back to the economy. We made the inflation rate single digit. The international environment became favorable. For 18 months, we engaged in hard negotiations with foreigners to reach an agreement. We broke many taboos to allow these negotiations to reach a result. It happened. Many friends share clips of me defending [this track record] with passion. I indeed passionately defend this work that was done.”

In the second video, Jahangiri sought to distance himself from the economic policies pursued by Rouhani in his second term. He declared: “The top priority of the president in his first term was to reach the JCPOA. Perhaps I spent more time on economic issues. In this term, the president is placing more time on economic issues … he has created an economic advisor post, who is also the head of the chamber of commerce. So we should have let Mr Nahavandian [Mohammad Nahavandian, current vice president for economic affairs] talk about these issues …”

Fararu analyzed Jahangiri’s video remarks thusly: “Jahangiri not only discusses his decreased authorities in the economic domain, but he implicitly lays responsibility at the feet of the president [for economic issues].”

However, after Jahangiri’s video remarks, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the head of the centrist Kargozaran political party and a former mayor of Tehran, said he didn’t believe Jahangiri would resign. Karbaschi told ILNA: “I have heard nothing about the issue of Jahangiri resigning and I don’t think it’s real. Definitely the absence of Jahangiri in the administration will be a blow to the forces allied with the administration, especially the reformist movement. But an even worse blow is if Jahangiri is not able to carry out his responsibilities and is unable to even replace a secretary.”

 

Kidnapping of Iranian Border Guards on Pakistan Border

On October 16th, 12 Iranian border guards in southwestern Sistan-Baluchistan province were kidnapped by militant groups based in Pakistan. On October 22nd, Shahriyar Heydari, the manager for border affairs in the Interior Ministry, stated: “The kidnapped border guards are healthy and are being held by a terrorist group.”

Heydari added that Tehran was negotiating for the guards’ release: “The necessary steps are being taken by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran through the foreign ministry and interior ministry and we are hopeful that this problem will be resolved through diplomacy.” He added that Iran was in talks with Pakistan to help ensure their release: “The interior minister has made his protests to the Pakistani government and asked this country to take every necessary action for the freedom of the border guards.”

Ramezan Sharif, spokesperson for the Revolutionary Guards, said that militants have increased their attacks on Iranian border bases in recent years. He stated: “In the past few years, they have attacked our border bases over 50 times and one method they’ve used is to infiltrate the bases with their people. They have always met failure but on this occasion were able to implement their plan.”

 

Teachers Stage Sit-in Protests

On October 14-15th, teachers in different Iranian cities engaged in a planned sit-in protest and did not go to their classes. BBC Persian notes: “According to images posted in Telegram, teachers engaged in the sit-in protests in the provinces of Fars, Tehran, Kermanshah, North Khorasan, Elam, Hamedan, Esfahan, and East and West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Bushehr.”

The protest was called for by the “Council for Coordination of Teacher Unions.” The group’s statement calling for the protests read: “The security and judiciary institutions instead of confronting criminals and corruption in society, threaten, expel, fire, or imprison teachers who seek justice.”

The statement added: “As representatives of wide part of the educational workforce, we have pursued all paths to change this terrible situation. Teachers have many times pursued different methods such as talking with officials, writing letters, releasing statements, starting campaigns, and holding [non-political] union demonstrations, to express our demands, but the state and administration have not taken a positive step to resolve the problems.”

Based on reports, Abdol Reza Ganbari, a teacher, poet, and literary critic, and Mohammad Reza Ramezanzadeh, the head of the “Council for Coordination of Teacher Unions,” were arrested on Saturday and Sunday (October 13th and 14th).


 

 

Iran Charges Detained Environmentalists, Moves Toward Global Financial Standards

Week of October 8, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Parliament passes key legislation to meet Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) global standards
  • Contentious debate over FATF bills sees protests and MPs threatened
  • Indictments brought against five of eight detained environmentalists
  • Intelligence Ministry spars with judiciary and IRGC over environmentalists
  • Officials laud prospective European payment system to facilitate Iran trade
  • Parliamentary speaker attends Eurasian parliamentary summit

Iran this week made progress towards passing legislation that would allow it to meet anti-money laundering and terrorism financing standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Paris-based FATF, an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks, has since 2016 suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to come in compliance with FATF standards. Ahead of a mid-October FATF deadline and after rancorous domestic debate, four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards have overcome major opposition in parliament, with a key bill passed this week. The bills have yet to all be approved by the Guardian Council and Expediency Council, but their final passage is now likely. In other developments, five of eight environmentalists detained last January have now been issued indictments. The case against the environmentalists on espionage charges has spurred immense controversy and division at the highest levels of government, with the intelligence ministry dismissing the charges made by the judiciary and the IRGC’s intelligence agency.

 

Fierce Parliamentary Debate Over Key FATF Bill

On Sunday, October 7th, one of the four bills for Iran meeting FATF standards, on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention, went to the parliament for review. Before it went up for a vote, a meeting was held to discuss the bill in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, which included the intelligence minister and foreign minister, the head of the economy ministry, the head of the central bank, and the legal deputy of President Hassan Rouhani.

Later, while MPs were speaking in favor or against the bill, a number of MPs from the conservative Velayat faction held up placards emphatically denouncing the bill. The signs read: “With the passing of the CFT, the people’s dinner table will shrink,” “I won’t give away intelligence on the country’s economy during an economic war,” “No to transparency for the enemy,” “I will not vote for a colonialist convention.”

During his remarks, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stressed the importance of passing the FATF bills if Iran is to continue trade with Russia, China, and Europe. Zarif stated: “The Chinese and Russians have told us, if Iran’s situation with the FATF is not normalized, we cannot work with Iran. The mechanism Europe is starting also cannot be implemented without FATF.” Zarif also attempted to set realistic expectations regarding the effect of the FATF measures, saying that while passing the bills will not solve all the country’s problems, not passing them will “give a major excuse to America to increase our problems.”

After Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani announced the bill would go up for a vote, conservative MP Mohammad Javad Abtahi went behind the parliament’s main podium and in protest ripped up papers he was holding on the parliament’s internal rules and procedures and threw them towards Larijani.

The final vote passing the bill was 143 in favor and 120 against, out of 271 MPs present. The bill must now go to the Guardian Council for approval. Fararu wrote on October 7th: “The bill on Iran ascending to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills to meet the FATF standards, for which Iran has less than 10 days left to implement the FATF guidelines.”

Outspoken reformist MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, in response to vociferous criticisms and even death threats, defended her vote for the bill. “From last night messages cursing me and making death threats have started … but the delvapasan (the “worried,” a term anti-JCPOA conservatives used to describe themselves inside Iran) should know that life is in the hands of God, not them,” Salahshouri proclaimed. “However, with these threats it’s possible that a person’s life will be cut short by one of these delvapasans, which itself would be a source of pride, to leave this world in the fight against corruption and money laundering and terrorism.”

On October 10th, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for Iran’s Guardian Council, announced that the errors it had previously found with two other FATF bills, namely the bill for implementing the Palermo convention (which deals with organized crime) and the bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law, have been resolved. However, Kadkhodaei stated that the errors found by the Expediency Council, another constitutional body ordained with settling disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament, are yet to be resolved. As such, the two bills are being returned to the parliament “to decide on the Expediency Council’s view.”

Kadkhodaei added that the Guardian Council has not yet reviewed the just-passed bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention. Meanwhile, the fourth FATF bill, on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing, has already been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council.

 

The Plight of Eight Detained Environmentalists

Last January, eight environmentalists working for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF) – including a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen – were arrested alongside PHWF’s chairman, Kavous Seyed-Emami. Two weeks after their arrest, authorities announced Seyed-Emami committed suicide while in custody. However, the family of Seyed-Emami rejected that suspicious narrative, with Seyed-Emami’s son stating: “There are so many inaccuracies in the official story, from the day that he died to how he died, that these contradictions just added more to our suspicions about what actually went down.”  

The remaining eight environmentalists have been held without formal charges since January. Allegations of espionage have been leveled against them by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, who claim the environmentalists gave classified information regarding a sensitive location to foreign intelligence agencies.

However, the espionage allegations have been dismissed multiple times by the Intelligence Ministry, which is under the purview of President Rouhani. The sharp divide over the environmentalists has elicited strong denunciations of the way the case against them has been pursued. Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s environmental agency, said in regard to their case: “We don’t say that these individuals should be freed or executed, but we want to know what is going to happen to them, which we are entitled to as part of our civil rights.”

State-news agency IRNA has also cast doubt on the case against the environmentalists. A recent IRNA piece stated: “Isn’t the long amount of time it has taken connected to [the judiciary] not having enough evidence for their cases?” It went on: “Why is it when the intelligence ministry is the principal responsible party regarding espionage and collecting evidence in this regard and has dismissed the espionage charges, why are judicial officials saying there is ‘enough documentation to prosecute this case?'”

On October 8th, the lawyer for two of the detained environments, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, said that indictments had been issued against five of eight environmentalists detained last January. The five who have now been issued indictments are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, and dual Iranian-American citizen Morad Tahbaz. The three who have yet to be issued indictments are Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Koughpayeh, and Sam Rajabi.

On October 8th, Aghasi met with one of his clients: Sam Rajabi. He told IRNA: “On Monday, an investigative meeting was held in the interrogation branch of the security prosecutor’s office, in which I participated as my client’s lawyer.” Aghasi added that this was the only meeting that the interrogator had allowed for Rajabi to have with the lawyer he requested.

Aghasi is hopeful that by next week, there will be positive news regarding Sam Rajabi’s case. Aghasi stated: “I believe by the middle of next week in his case the final decision of the prosecutor will be announced and that we can have good news for Sam Rajabi’s family.”

Aghasi has also said that an individual in the prosecutor’s office tried to scare the families of the detained environmentalists to get them to accede to choosing lawyers from a list of twenty lawyers provided to them. Aghasi said this judiciary official told the families that the accused would be charged with “sowing corruption,” a serious offense in Iran. However, Aghasi rebuked this as a scare tactic to get the families to accede to choosing lawyers from a list provided to them.

Aghasi says that a judiciary official has told him that low-level charges are being pursued against the environmentalists. Aghasi states that this judiciary official told him the charges being pursued against the environmentalists were of the “third grade,” meaning they are at a low level, whereas the charge of “sowing corruption” is the highest-level offense in Iran.

 

Other Developments

On October 7th, Mahdi Hajati, a member of Shiraz’s city council was released from custody after paying 200 million tomans in bail. He was arrested on September 27th for publicly defending two detained members of the Bahai faith.

In an interview with Iran newspaper, Hossein Salahvarzi, the head of Iran’s chamber of commerce, discussed the new payments system being devised by the EU to facilitate trade with Iran. Salahvarzi described the system as a replacement for SWIFT, the international financial transactions system that the Trump administration seeks to remove Iran from. Salahvarzi stated: “With this replacement for SWIFT, countries that wish to engage in non-dollar trade can do so with this system. This is a very appropriate action for Iran because now with the return of sanctions, our banking relations won’t be cut.”

Salahvarzi added that the EU aims to have the new payments system functioning before U.S. sanctions return on November 5th. He stated: “The European SWIFT is past the stage of talking and negotiation and has made a lot of progress and is close to dealing with technical issues.” He added: “The Europeans are trying to launch the SWIFT-like system before the reimposition of the second round of U.S. sanctions on November 5th, so countries can use it for banking relations with Iran. They are treating this as a deadline in terms of starting up this SWIFT-like system.”

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, vice president and head of the Planning and Budget Organization, went to parliament to discuss new social welfare systems being devised by the Rouhani administration to offset the impact of sanctions.  According to Salman Khodadadi, the head of the parliament’s society commission, this includes providing debit cards for the purchasing of goods: “The head of the planning and budget organization explained the administration’s support packages for low-income people in society … Mr. Nobakht in this meeting stated that debit cards with 100,000 tomans would be provided to 11 million people, which would allow them to buy from chain stores.”

Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani travelled to Turkey to participate in the third annual gathering of the Eurasian parliament. During the summit, he met with the head of Russia’s Duma legislative body. Larijani said to the head of Russia’s Duma: “The behavior of the Americans on international issues has gotten more hardline and problematic. We are continuing to endeavor to preserve the JCPOA, and expect the Europeans to meet their commitments [under the JCPOA] soon. At the same time, our economic and trade cooperation after the Volgograd agreement are being implemented in good fashion.”



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

On October 7th, after a contentious and dramatic debate in parliament that saw one MP tear up a document and throw it at parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the parliament passed one of the key bills on Iran meeting FATF standards, on ascending to the terrorist financing (TF) convention.

  • On Sunday, October 7th, the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention came under review in the Iranian parliament. Before the it went up for a vote, a meeting was held to discuss the bill in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, which included the intelligence minister and foreign minister, the head of the economy ministry, the head of the central bank, and the legal deputy of the president.
  • Fararu said of the meeting: “The national security and foreign policy committee held the meeting at the request parliamentarian, mostly of the Velayat faction, held a meeting to deliberate the bills on the TF convention and other FATF conventions with the presence of officials from the foreign ministry, intelligence ministry, central bank, and academic experts.”
  • While MPs were speaking in favor or against the bill, a numbers of MPs from the Velayat faction held up placards denouncing the bill, some which read: “With the passing of the CFT, the people’s dinner table will shrink,” “I won’t give way intelligence on the country’s economy during an economic war,” “No to transparency for the enemy,” “I will not vote for a colonialist convention.”
  • During the debate on the parliamentary floor, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, in response to a critic of the bill, presented a letter from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to show that he was not against parliament deciding on the bill.
  • Larijani: “After the Leaders ‘suggestions during a meeting with MPs, the Leader clarified that what he had stated to representatives was about Iran ascending to conventions in general, and not about any specific convention [such as convention on terrorism financing]. And that he was not opposed to the parliament analyzing any bills.”
  • During his remarks, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stressed that by passing the bill, all of the problems faced by the country won’t be solved, but that not passing it will give a “major excuse to America to increase our problems.”
  • Zarif stated: “The Chinese and Russians have told us, if Iran’s situation with the FATF is not normalized, we cannot work with Iran. The mechanism Europe is starting also cannot be implemented without FATF.”
  • When Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani announced that the bill would go for a vote, Mohammad Javad Abtahi, went behind the parliament’s main podium, and in protest ripped up papers he was holding on the parliament’s internal rules and procedures and threw them towards Larijani.
  • The final vote was: 143 in favor and 120 against, out of 271 MPs present.
  • The bill now goes to the Guardian Council for approval.
  • Fararu states: “The bill on Iran acending to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills to meet the FATF standards, of which Iran has less than 10 days left to implement the FATF guidelines.”

Outspoken reformist Tehran MP Parvaneh Salahshouri defended her support for the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing convention:

  • “Today, Kayhan [prominent conservative newspaper] wrote that we are scared to say we voted [for the bill]. In a message they also said that I went to parliament to vote with a broken neck to prove I’m a traitor! To Kayhan and the delvapasan (the “worried,” a term anti-JCPOA conservatives used to describe themselves in Iran) I am proud to say that I came with a broken neck to vote against the corrupt cycle of money laundering and financing for terrorism in the world.”
  • Salahshouri: “From last night messages cursing me and making death threats have started … but the delvapasan should know that life is in the hands of God not them. However, with these threats it’s possible that a person’s life will be cut short by one of these delvapasans, which itself would be a source of pride, to leave this world in the fight against corruption and money laundering and terrorism.”

On October 10th, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for Iran’s Guardian Council, announced that the council had resolved the errors it had previously found with two other FATF bills, the bill for implementing the Palermo convention (which deals with organized crime) and the bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law.

  • Kadkhodaei stated: “Given the amendments made in parliament, the errors that the Guardian Council had regarding these two bills have been resolved, and in the view of the council there are no errors.”
  • However, Kadkhodaei stated that the errors found by the Expediency Council, another constitutional body ordained with settling disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament, are yet to be resolved. As such, the two bills are being returned to the parliament to decide on the Expediency Council’s view.”
  • Kadkhodaei added that the bill the parliament had passed a few days prior on another of the four FATF bills, the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention, has still not been reviewed by the Guardian Council.
  • The fourth FATF bill, on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing, has already been approved by the parliament, Guardian Council, and Expediency Council.

On October 8th, the lawyer for two of the detained environments, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, said that indictments had been issued against five of eight environmentalists detained last January.

  • The environmentalists all worked for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF). The eight environmentalists, together with PHWF’s chairman Kavous Seyed-Emami, were arrested last January. Two weeks after their arrest, Seyed-Emami died under suspicious circumstances in prison, in what authorities deemed was suicide.
  • The other eight environmentalists who belong to PHWF have been held without formal charges since January.
  • The five who have now been issued indictments are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, and dual Iranian-American citizen Morad Tahbaz.
  • The three who have yet to be issued indictments are Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Koughpayeh, and Sam Rajabi.
  • On October 8th, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, the lawyer for two of eight environmentalists, met with one of his clients: Sam Rajabi.
  • Aghasi told IRNA: “On Monday, an investigative meeting was held in the interrogation branch of the security prosecutor’s office, in which I participated as my client’s lawyer.”
  • Aghasi stated that this was the only meeting that the interrogator had allowed for Rajabi to have with the lawyer he requested.
  • In the meeting, Aghasi says, a “final defense” was given of Rajabi. Aghasi states: “I believe by the middle of next week in his case the final decision of the prosecutor will be announced and that we can have good news for Sam Rajabi’s family.”
  • Aghasi also stated that an individual in the prosecutor’s office had told some of the families of the detained environmentalists that the accused would be charged with “sowing corruption,” a serious offense in Iran. However, Aghasi rebuked this and said it was a scare tactic to get the families to accede to choosing lawyers from a list of twenty lawyers provided to them.
  • Aghasi states that he was notified by a judiciary official that the charges being pursued against the environmentalists were of the “third grade,” meaning they were at a very low level, whereas being charged with “sowing corruption” is the highest-level offense in Iran.
  • However, Aghasi states that the charge that is to be level is espionage, although now one of that judiciary officials have yet reviewed the indictments.
  • Aghasi: “The interrogator (or investigator) after eight months of investigation ultimately made indictments for five of them to send to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to examine.”
  • Aghasi on the current state of the indictments: “After 25 days, the Tehran prosecutor returned the indictments against the five individuals to the investigators, it is heard that errors were found with the investigation. When these errors are resolved, the indictments cases will be sent to the court for a date to be determined [for a trial].”

The case of the detained environmentalists has been fraught with controversy and sharp disagreement at the high levels of the Iranian government.

  • The allegations of espionage against the environmentalists has been made by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, while the government’s official intelligence ministry—under the purview of President Hassan Rouhani—has on numerous occasions dismissed the allegations.
  • Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s environmental agency, has said in his defense of the detained environmentalists: “We don’t say that these individuals should be freed or executed, but we want to what is going to happen to them, which we are entitled to as part of our civil rights.”
  • The judiciary claims that the environmentalists gave classified information regarding a sensitive location to foreign intelligence agencies.
  • IRNA, an official state news agency, has stated regarding the length of time it has taken to address the cases of the environmentalists, who were detained in January: “Isn’t the long amount of time it has taken connected to [the judiciary] not having enough evidence for their cases?”
  • IRNA also asks that “why is it when the intelligence ministry is the principal responsible party regarding espionage and collecting evidence in this regard and has dismissed the espionage charges, why are judicial officials saying there is ‘enough documentation to prosecute this case?”
  • On September 18th, the families of the detained environmentalists wrote a letter, which was released publicly, to Ayatollah Khamenei, which requested they be given access to “lawyers [of their choosing] and a fair trial” and stressed their innocence.
  • The letter states that the environmentalists are the “best, most experienced activists and specialists regarding the environment and lovers of Iran’s nature.”
  • The families’ letter adds: “They always and within confines of the law, selflessly and with dedication gave their youth to preserving Iran’s environment.”

On Sunday, October 7th, Mahdi Hajati, a member of Shiraz’s city council was released from custody after paying 200 million tomans in bail. He was arrested on September 27th for publicly defending two detained members of the Bahai faith.

On October 7th, Hossein Salahvarzi, the head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with Iran newspaper discussed the new payment being set up by European countries to facilitate trade with Iran after the return of U.S. sanctions, which he described as a replacement for SWIFT (the international financial transactional system that Trump administration aims to blacklist Iran from).

  • Salahvarzi: “With this replacement for SWIFT, countries that wish to engage in non-dollar trade can do so with this system. This is a very appropriate action for Iran because now with the return of sanctions, our banking relations won’t be cut.”
  • Salahvarzi: “The European SWIFT is past the stage of talking and negotiation and has made a lot of progress and is close to dealing with technical issues. The Europeans are trying to launch the SWIFT-like system before the reimposition of the second round of U.S. sanctions on November 5th, so countries can use it for banking relations with Iran. They are treating this as a deadline in terms of starting up this SWIFT-like system.
  • Salahvarzi stressed that pasting the FATF standards was critical to this new SWIFT-like system: “The criteria for this SWIFT-like system and all of our banking relations and connections to Europe is that FATF … I ask that members of parliament to implement the FATF standard in the short time that remain and to not allow political constraints to take this opportunity away from Iran.”

On October 19th, Salman Khodadadi, the head of the parliament’s society commission, stated that Iranian vice president and head of Iran’s Planning and Budget Organization Mohammad Bagher Nobakht had come to parliament to discuss the new social welfare systems being devised by the Rouhani administration.

  • Khodadadi: “The head of the planning and budget organization explained the administration’s support packages for low-income people in society … Mr. Nobakht in this meeting stated that debit cards with 100,000 tomans would be provided to 11 million people, which would allow them to buy from chain stores.

On October 8th, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani travelled to Turkey participate in the third annual gathering of Eurasian parliament. During the summit, he met with the head of Russia’s Duma legislative body.

  • In his meeting, Larijani expressed thanks to Russia to initiative the yearly meetings of Eurasian parliaments, stating: “You have nurtured a good initiative … our two parliaments to support ties between our countries and agreements reached between our presidents and governmental bodies of our two countries, have made great efforts to combat terrorism.”
  • Larijani added to the head of Russia’s Duma: “The behavior of the Americans on international issues has gotten more hardline and problematic. We are continuing to endeavor to preserve the JCPOA, and expect the Europeans to meet their commitments [under the JCPOA] soon. At the same time, our economic and trade cooperation after the Volgograd agreement are being implemented in good fashion.”

 

 

US-Led Regime Change is not the Path

The Trump administration has couched its aggressive Iran policy in the language of supporting the Iranian people and their aspirations for democratic change. This was exemplified during the UN General Assembly, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaiming in a speech before the hawkish “United Against Nuclear Iran” his “support for the Iranian people” and declaring that “our pledges of support do not end with our words.”

However, similar to Bush officials in the runup to the Iraq War, the Trump White House and its allies have provided no explanation for how their “maximum pressure” campaign—marked by an expressed aim to cut Iran from all international trade—will lead to positive political change in Iran. To the contrary, the logical conclusion of Trump’s Iran policy is destructive to the conditions necessary for the creation of a vibrant democracy that embraces classical liberal tenets such as individual rights, the rule of law, respect for minorities, and freedom of expression.

For much of Iran’s modern history, the Iranian people have been divided on issues such as traditionalism versus modernity and the nature of their relationship with the West. These divisions only highlight the need for organic political change to allow society to find common ground. However, outside political interventionism has been a constant setback, whether during the Constitutional Revolution period, the 1953 US/UK coup, or now with Trump’s exhortations and actions.

President Trump has gloated that his Iran policies have spurred “rampant inflation,” “riots in all [Iranian] cities,” and Iranian leaders to worry about “their own survival as a country.” While Trump sees advantage to be gained in the wake of a nationwide uprising, the reality is the Iranian people will be the biggest losers in his pressure onslaught. As United Nations Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy declared on August 22nd, “International sanctions must have a lawful purpose, must be proportional, and must not harm the human rights of ordinary citizens, and none of these criteria is met in this case [with Trump’s sanctions].” As the academic literature also upholds, sanctions and isolation have long track records of withering away the potential for democratic transition.

Importantly, despite sporadic protests since last January, there exists no cohesive revolutionary movement, that, as Iranian sociologist Asef Bayat notes, has developed “a powerful organization, a strategic vision, a progressive program, and a leadership capable of inspiring people to believe that another future is indeed possible.” The Trump administration’s characterizations of Iran today bear little resemblance to the country’s complex social and political reality. In May 2017, on the same day President Trump delivered a blistering anti-Iran address before an audience of autocrats and kings-for-life in Riyadh, Iran held a presidential election that saw incumbent Hassan Rouhani defeat his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi by roughly 24 million votes to 16 million, with a turnout of 73 percent. While Iranian elections have serious limitations—including the vetting of candidates by theGuardian Council—they are marked by sharp debate and campaigning, represent different worldviews, and consequentially affect state policy.

Democratic change is not something to be gifted or forced from abroad, as has proven to be the case with regime-change interventions that failed to produce strong, self-sustaining democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya. Unlike Trump’s regional allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—who have helped shape the administration’s Iran policy—Iran’s transition to a democracy will be easier, if the U.S. allows it to continue on a path of internal grassroots-led change. Iran has the key ingredients for such a transition: a strong, educated middle class, energetic civil society groups, and leaders ready to expend political capital on challenging conservative forces.

Tehran’s reactionary factions, which subsist on low participation in Iranian elections, have long relied on a strategy of sabotaging the agenda of Iranian reformists and moderates for political and social liberalization and disenchanting their middle-class supporters. This was exemplified in recent months by their role in instigating protests, banning the popular messaging app Telegram indefiance of Rouhani, and arresting human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh—a recipient of the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize—in the midst of Rouhani’s efforts to salvage the nuclear deal in on-going talks with Europe.  

When it comes to peaceful democratic change, Iranians inside the country are their own best advocates. While Iran has gone through immutable social and political change over the past decades, Trump’s policies are reversing democratic trends by fomenting discord and shrinking the political space of domestic actors that have staked everything in their fight for change. In the case of the Saudi absolute monarchy or the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, powerful religious or secular transnational movements have long informed their threat perceptions—whether it be pan-Arabism, Islamism, or liberal democracy. Indeed, alongside his calls for the “battle” to be taken “inside Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has branded as part of a “triangle of evil” Iran, Turkey, and Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The three of which all happen to have a degree of accountability to their constituents, in contrast to Saudi leaders.

An August 10th letter by prominent Iranian activists and political prisoners calling for far-reaching governmental reform stressed the need for citizens to speak up and to not let outside forces coopt Iranian grievances, stating: “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets.” While Trump and other administration officials regularly express care and concern for the Iranian people, their policies in practice are suffocating these voices for change inside Iran and diminishing Iran’s potential to transition to more open democratic rule.

At the same time Trump’s right-wing populism and demagoguery are making American democracy increasingly illiberal, his Iran policy is slated to crush the Iranian middle class, cripple Iranian civil society, and unleash economic desperation in the country. By abandoning President Obama’s engagement track, which alleviated the proliferation risk of Iran’s nuclear program and initiated Iran’s reintegration into the global economy, Trump is closing all diplomatic doors and pursuing a conflict that will devastate one group above all: the Iranian people.

This post was originally published by Harvard Belfer Center’s Iran Matters Special Initiative

Iran Hits ISIS Over Ahvaz Attack as Rial Stops Downward Spiral

Iran Hits ISIS Over Ahvaz Attack as Rial Stops Downward Spiral

Week of October 1, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Continued Currency Fluctuations Surprisingly Lead to Rial Strengthening
  • Parliament to Review Key Anti-Money Laundering Bill to Meet FATF Standards
  • Drone and Missile Strikes Hit ISIS in Response to Ahvaz Attack
  • MP Denounces Arrest of Local Official Who Defended Bahais
  • Ayatollah Khamenei Delivers Defiant Anti-US Speech at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium  

After months of fluctuations and steady devaluation, the Iranian Rial rebounded sharply against the dollar this week. Analysts attributed the currency’s strengthening to multiple factors, from new authorities given to the Central Bank to currency speculators offloading dollars to maximize profits. Iran also launched missile and—for the first time—drone strikes against ISIS targets in Eastern Syria, which officials described as retaliation for last week’s Ahvaz terrorist attack. In domestic politics, a senior judiciary official announced that over 25 have been sentenced as part of an on-going corruption probe, with three sentenced to death. A city councilman in Shiraz has also been detained over remarks defending two recently arrested members of the Bahai faith. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei made a rare appearance in Tehran’s Azadi sport stadium, and in a defiant speech denounced U.S. pressure policies and called for resilience.

 

Iranian Rial Rebounds

On Monday, October 1st, the Rial reversed its downward trajectory and made gains against the dollar. The Rial’s gains came after the Economic Coordination Council—a body comprised of members of the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches of the Iranian government—gave new authorities to the Central Bank to intervene in the currency market on Saturday. The free-market rate for U.S. dollars dropped to roughly 15,000 tomans by close of the market on Monday evening, down from its peak of over 17,000 tomans that morning.

The new measures allow the Central Bank to provide hard currency to the market. According to news site Entekhab: “The permission granted to the Central Bank to intervene in the free market exchange rate through banks and currency dealers in the past week has resulted in the Central Bank obligating banks to provide hard currency to meet the needs of citizens. These needs include currency for students, research, medical purposes, and civilian aviation equipment.”

Experts attribute the Rial’s gains to multiple factors, from speculators playing the market to progress in Iran’s negotiations with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal. According to the economics-focused Donya Eqtesad: “Experts have two different views over the decrease in the price of the dollar. One group believes that the rapid price fall in the third day of the week was a price correction. In their view, the speculators gradually began selling off their purchases from past few weeks and are searching for a new floor to start buying again.”

Currency market speculators may have believed the price of the dollar had hit a ceiling and thus began selling dollars to maximize profits. Donya Eqtesad notes that last week, the cost of the dollar rose sharply, prompting speculators to sell. “Some currency traders at the beginning of the month [late September] bought dollars for around 14,000 tomans. After the cost of dollars reached a ceiling of 19,000 tomans, they gradually became sellers [of dollars] and made a lot of profit from such selling and buying.”

The new measures announced by the Central Bank may have also triggered currency speculators to begin selling dollars. Donya Eqtesad notes: “Other experts believe that the announcement of new policies by the Central Bank for providing currency, gave traders a signal to start selling … the signal was given to traders that the Central Bank has enough currency to intervene in the market and meet the country’s needs.”

Other reasons offered for the rial’s gains include news of a potential EU-Iran agreement to facilitate trade after U.S. sanctions come into force. According to Donya Eqtesad: “Other reasons are also heard in the market … the announcement of a new mechanism by which the Central Bank will provide currency, the likelihood that the FATF bills will be approved in the coming days, the positive view many traders have of the agreement between Iran and Europe, and the increase in the price of oil are all other reasons that, in the view of experts, have had an impact in changing the trajectory of the market.”

On Tuesday, October 2nd, the Economic Coordination Council held another meeting to further discuss giving the Central Bank increased authorities to control the currency market. The council passed a measure obligating the Central Bank to immediately make the necessary arrangements for the selling and purchasing of foreign currency from exports of petrochemicals, steel, and other exports products and making the currency available in the secondary exchange market. The council also passed a measure that would give five-year residency to citizens of foreign countries who invest at least $250,000 in Iran, based on criteria laid out by the government [Rouhani administration].

 

FATF Bills Make Headway in Parliament

The debate over Iran passing legislation to meet the action plan set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has gained intensity due to the prospect of parliament approving legislation for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing convention. Iran signing up to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to make Iran compliant with FATF standards (read more about the FATF bills in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

The controversial bill was sent to parliament for approval after an arduous debate among senior officials. On September 25th, after a meeting on the bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee—which included speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, representatives from the Intelligence Ministry and Foreign ministry, the head of the Central Bank, heads of the various parliamentary factions, and representatives from the Guardian Council—the bill was sent to parliament for review.

The proponents of Iran passing the FATF standards, of which the Rouhani administration is at the forefront, argue it is critical to maintaining financial ties with Europe, China, and Russia after U.S. sanctions are reimposed. Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi recently tweeted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei now also supports parliament passing the anti-money laundering bill in line with FA22TF.

Meanwhile, FATF opponents argue that the bills will hinder Iran’s ability to support regional allies such as Hezbollah. On Sunday, September 30th, roughly 200 demonstrators protested outside of parliament against the bill being passed. Among the demonstrators were MPs from the hardline Jebhe Paydari faction.

On October 3rd, MP Akbar Ranjbarzadeh, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s board, announced that head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will hold a meeting on Sunday (October 7th) to discuss the FATF bills.

 

Aftermath of Ahvaz Terrorist Attack

On Monday, October 1st, Iran launched missile and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Al Bukamal, Syria. According to Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the strikes killed 40 ISIS fighters, including a senior ISIS member who was Mosul’s district commander. Six ballistic missiles of the “Zolfaghar” and “Ghiam” designation were fired in the operation, which was coupled with a simultaneous attack by seven armed drones.

Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, declared that the strikes were in response to the September 22nd Ahvaz terrorist attack. Bagheri proclaimed: “The initial stage of revenge for the Ahvaz terrorist attack has been implemented, and the next stage of revenge will also take place.” He said of the Ahvaz attack perpetrators: “The terrorists took advantage of a parade and came into a crowd and blindly shot at people. These terrorists were supported by the terrorist group Daesh [ISIS] and another terrorist group, whose leaders are in European countries.”

Bagheri provided further details of the military operation. He stated: “The broad missile and drone operation of the Armed Forces had immense value in that it was the first time these drones traversed the skies of several countries and accurately struck their targets and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The missiles also traversed over 550 kilometers to right where the enemy was deployed. Another stage of revenge will also occur.”

Bagheri added that Iran had intelligence that the Ahvaz attack perpetrators were guided by ISIS. He declared: “Intelligence work by the various agencies has revealed that the terrorists, on top of having connections to anti-revolutionary groups, took instruction from Daesh and Daesh from Deir ez-Zabador [in Syria] guided them.”

On September 24th, a few days after the Ahvaz attack, Ayatollah Khamenei had blamed ISIS for the attack in a speech to Iranian athletes who won medals at the Asian Games. Ayatollah Khamenei stated at the time: “Based on reports, this cowardly act was the work of those same people who, whenever they are challenged in Syria and Iraq, the Americans come to save them, and their hands are in the pockets of the Saudis and Emiratis.”

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, used the missile strikes to respond to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks at a “United Against Nuclear Iran” summit in New York City last week, where Bolton warned Iran of “hell to pay” and “serious consequences.” Shamkhani declared: “Bolton announced that we should take them seriously. Commander Hajizadeh [head of the IRGC’s aerospace force] has taken you seriously and has fired missiles to within 3 miles of you.” He added: “Trump in all his remarks declared Iran to be a threat, so all of us in the face of this all-out war which he is waging against us, must embrace a war footing.”

The Ahvaz terrorist attack on a commemoration parade marking the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, which left 25 dead, was vociferously condemned by Iranian civil society. On September 24th, a group of 470 prominent Iranian political and civil society activists signed a letter condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attacks. Signatories included: dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar, Nobel Peace Prize-recipient Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi, leading reformist thinkers Mostafa Tajzadeh and Saeed Hajarian, former political prisoner and Velayat e-Faqih critic Alireza Rajaei, the sons of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, and many others.

The letter condemned the terrorist attack while also calling for removing economic and political drivers for domestic unrest. The letter stated: “We human rights and civil society activists who have attached our hearts to Iran’s independence and territorial integrity and global peace and stability, while expressing our condolences to the families affected by this savage crime, condemn the political, financial, and media accomplices of this type of violence and this terrorist action.” It added: “At the same level that we condemn this terrorist action and the cycle of violence, we believe that the economic and social grounds [of violence] must be removed through holistic development and eliminating every type of discrimination between all ethnic groups and religious sects.”

 

Corruption Probe Amid Exonerations and New Arrests

Bahram Parsaei, an MP representing Shiraz, denounced the recent arrest of a member of Shiraz’s city council, Mahdi Hajati, before parliament. Hajati was recently arrested after voicing support for two detained members of the Bahai faith. Parsaei declared to parliament: “In the days after Mr. Hajati’s arrest, I spoke with the governor, the head of the [security] council, and the political deputy of Fars province’s governor. We all believe that the arrest of Hajati under these circumstances is not in the interests of the [ruling] system. Mr. Hajati is the youngest member of the city council in Shiraz, who merely defended the rights of several citizens.”

Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s cultural deputy, announced that of the Tehran University students arrested during last winter’s protests, over 70 percent, or 25 of them, have been exonerated. Sarsanagi stated: “Fortunately, about 25 of the students were either exonerated or given light and suspended sentences. We are hopeful that the rest of the students remaining can in the same way in the appeals court be exonerated or given light sentences.”

Sarsanagi also announced that no students, regardless of whether they are still awaiting trial, would be prevented from signing up for classes and continuing their studies. He proclaimed: “Fortunately, for all the students who were faced with security problems, whether those exonerated or those still in the courts, there is no prohibition for them to continue classes and their studies at the university. All these students can register for class as they normally would and go to class.”

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, announced that 35 individuals have been tried for corruption, and that three of them would be executed. Ejei stated: “In regard to confronting economic corruption, special courts have been set up in Tehran which in recent days have sentenced 35 individuals. Of these, three individuals have been sentenced to execution … however this sentence will have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.”

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami delivered a speech where he stressed the necessity of reforms and greater freedoms. Khatami opined: “The system has to reform itself, or else it will face serious and big problems … Violence results not only from a lack of dialogue, but also from not meeting some of the needs of society, and hopelessness in meeting these needs.” He added: “Freedom of speech and freedom after speech is vital for increasing common understanding in society … We have to allow the opponents of religion to speak to produce greater thinking.”

 

Foreign Policy Developments

Former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian gave a far-reaching interview to the moderate-conservative Alef discussing his tenure and Iran’s foreign relations. Abdollahian stated that there are some differences between Iran and Russia over Syria: “One of the most successful areas of Iran-Russia cooperation is on Syria, but on [the question of] whether we have a common approach on everything regarding the Syrian issue, we will not have a common view on the Zionist regime and the resistance.”

Abdollahian said that while he initially believed Iran could not trust Russia, his view has since changed. He stated: “Four years ago I had a meeting with Putin’s representative for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov. I told him that the Iranian people’s historical experience with Russia is not positive and they believe that the Russians at the 90th minute abandon their friends and only act in line to advance their own interests.” He added: “However, my view was changed with the cooperation we had over Syria and in other parts of the region with Putin. I believe that Russia and Putin can be trusted, as long as there are mutual interests between Tehran and Moscow.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations during his UN General Assembly speech last week regarding alleged secret Iranian nuclear sites. Salehi mocked Netanyahu’s claims, declaring: “Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has really made a fool of himself this time. His lies are blatantly evident. We have an expression called Nakoja-Abad, but from Netanyahu’s remarks we don’t know if the place he’s referring to is Torquz-Abad or Dorquz-Abad … the AEOI totally rejects these claims by Netanyahu … What I can say is that definitely no documents have been taken from the AEOI.”

On October 3rd, Iran’s Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemati traveled to Moscow to implement agreements reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Iran. According to reports, Hemati was due to meet his Russian counterpart and other senior Russian officials.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a defiant speech calling for resilience in the face of U.S. pressure before an audience of Basij paramilitary forces at Tehran’s Azadi stadium. Ayatollah Khamenei strongly rejected Iran accepting U.S. terms, proclaiming: “The enemy wants the Iranian people to conclude that there is no solution other than submitting to America. I explicitly declare that people in the countries who promote this line of thinking are betraying the country. As long as I have life, I won’t allow this to happen in this country [giving into U.S. terms].”



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

On Saturday, September 29th, the Economic Coordination Council gave authority over the currency market to the Central Bank.

  • On Sunday, September 30th, the Central Bank announced that 11 banks would provide for the currency needs of the public and that their names would be announced in the coming days.

On October 2nd, reformist Entekhab gave a run-down of the situation with the currency exchange rate. Entekhab notes that currency dealers—who sold dollars at a high exchange rate—are incurring losses and are only willing to buy dollars for a low price to maximize their profit.

  • Gholamreza Tajgardoon, the head of the parliament’s committee on planning and the budget, said of the strengthening of the Rial: “We predict that if nothing special happens and the Central Bank can effectively manage the market, the trend of a lower exchange rate will continue until an appropriate average value is reached.”
  • Entekhab states: “The permission granted to the Central Bank to intervene in the free market exchange rate through banks and currency dealers in the past week has resulted in the Central Bank obligating banks to provide hard currency to meet the needs of citizens. These needs include currency for students, research, medical purposes, and civilian aviation equipment.”
  • Entekhab states: “The publication of this news that from now on banks and currency dealers will meet all the needs of the people for hard currency, has impacted the psychological mood of the free market exchange rate.”
  • Entekhab states: “Additionally, the agreement with Europe to create a vehicle for trade with Iran—despite the sanctions imposed by the US—can be one of the impactful reasons affecting the psychology of the currency market.”

On October 2nd, the Central Bank instructed all banks that are licensed for currency exchange to buy currency from the people.

On October 2nd, economics-focused outlet Donya Eqtesad published an in-depth report examining multiple factors for the rebounding Iranian Rial.

  • Donya Eqtesad states: “On the third day of the week [Monday], right at the beginning of the day the dollar reached its peak value at 17,000 tomans and after that began decreasing and reached around 15,000 tomans.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Experts have two different views over the decrease in the price of the dollar. One group believes that the rapid price fall in the third day of the week was a price correction. In their view, the speculators gradually began selling off their purchases from past few weeks and are searching for a new floor to start buying again.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Other reasons are also heard in the market. The new authorities given to the Central Bank to intervene in the market, the announcement of a new mechanism by which the Central Bank will provide currency, the likelihood that the FATF bills will be approved in the coming days, the positive view many traders have of the agreement between Iran and Europe, the increase in the price of oil … are all other reasons that, in the view of experts, have had an impact in changing the trajectory of the market.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “In the view of some experts, the price correction occurred because many traders had lost hope in the price [of the dollar] continuing to increase.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Some currency traders at the beginning of the month [late September] bought dollars for around 14,000 tomans. After the price of dollars reached a ceiling of 19,000 tomans, they gradually became sellers [of dollars] and made a lot of profit from such selling and buying.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “With the decrease in the cost of the dollar to 17,000 tomans, major traders attempted to slow down their selling and keep this price as the floor.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “According to the experts who believe that the decrease [in the cost of the dollar] on Monday was due to a price correction, the currency traders wanted to increase the selling of the dollars they had bought in the previous week to profit, and ready themselves to buy again at a lower price.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Another group believes that the authorities given to the Central Bank to intervene in the currency market caused speculators to stop buying dollars and start selling.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Others believe that the announcement of new policies by the Central Bank for providing currency, gave traders a signal to start selling … the signal was given to traders that the Central Bank that the Central Bank has enough currency to intervene in the market and meet the country’s needs.”

On Tuesday, October 2nd, the Supreme Economic Coordination Council held another meeting—chaired by President Hassan Rouhani and including the heads of Iran’s judiciary and legislative branches—to further discuss giving the Central Bank increased authorities to control the currency market.

  • The council passed a measure obligating the Central Bank to immediately make the necessary arrangements for the selling and purchasing of foreign currency from the exports of petrochemicals, steel, and other exports products and making the currency available in the secondary exchange market.
  • The Supreme Economic Coordination Council also passed a measure that would give five-year residency to citizens of foreign countries who invest at least $250,000 in Iran, based on criteria laid out by the government [Rouhani administration].

The debate over Iran passing legislation to meet the action plan set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has gained intensity due to the prospect of parliament approving legislation for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing convention—one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to make Iran compliant with FATF standards.

  • On September 25th, after a meeting on the bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee—which included speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, representatives from the Intelligence Ministry and Foreign ministry, the head of the Central Bank, heads of the various parliamentary factions, and representatives from the Guardian Council—the bill was sent to parliament for review.
  • The bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention is currently being debated in parliament.
  • FATF proponents argue that failure to meet the FATF standards will create major problems for European, Chinese, and Russian efforts to facilitate banking and financial relations with Iran in the face of reinstated U.S. sanctions.
  • FATF opponents argue that the four bills will hinder Iran’s ability to support regional Iranian allies such as Hezbollah.
  • On Sunday, September 30th, roughly 200 demonstrators protested outside of parliament against the bill being passed. Among the demonstratives were MPs from the hardline Jebhe Paydari faction.
  • Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi has recently tweeted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni now supports parliament passing the anti-money laundering bill in line with FATF.

On October 3rd, MP Akbar Ranjbarzadeh, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s board, announced that head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will hold a meeting on Sunday (October 7th) to discuss the FATF bills.

On Saturday, September 22nd, a terrorist attack on a commemoration parade—marking the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz—left 25 dead, including a four-year-old child. The five attackers were also killed.

  • Both a separatist group, the Ahvaz National Resistance, which claims to represent Iran’s Arab minority, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
  • Statements by Iranian officials blamed the United States and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates for supporting Iranian separatist groups and seeking to destabilize Iran.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Iran summoned the ambassadors of Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark—countries in which the Ahvaz National Resistance operates.
  • In the wake of the attack, spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces Abolfazl Shekarchi declared: “This terrorist attack occurred around 9am from a park behind where the parade was taking place in Qods Boulevard and the members of this terrorist team were connected to the takfiris, Mossad, and Saudi Arabia.”
  • Shekarchi: “The assailants first fired upon the people who were present during the parade, and in addition to martyring and wounding a number of the people, some of their bullets were then fired upon the military forces present at the parade and a number of them were also martyred and wounded.”
  • Shekarchi: “The terrorists wanted to move towards the officials who were present but the strong action of the security forces repelled them.”
  • Conservative Iranian MP Mojtaba Zolnour, said in response to the Ahvaz attack: “The terrorist attack in Ahvaz was the world of the mercenaries of global arrogance [the US] … the terrorist group ‘al-Ahvaz’ fought alongside [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein and the Baathists, and was supported by Saddam’s regime during the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War], is now taking the lives of the kidns and people of our country.”

On September 23rd, the Revolutionary Guards released an official statement denouncing the attacks and pledging retaliation.

  • “The terrorist crime by the mercenaries of global arrogance [the US] and the reactionary [state] of the region in Ahvaz at the beginning of the Holy Defense Week and simultaneous with Muharram and the raising of the flag of Ashura and mourning for Hossein and the demonstration of the nation’s power and defensive readiness of the armed forces of the country, shows that the sworn enemies of Islamic Iran especially the Satanic gharbi, ebri, arabi [Western, Hebrew, and Arabic] triangle, unable and defeated to achieve their aims and sinister intentions, with their enmity towards the Iranian peoples’ unity, strength, authority, perseverance, and glory, are pursuing  a project of creating insecurity inside our Islamic homeland. They don’t hold back from any effort or plot and even are ready to target innocent women, children, and people with terrorist actions.”
  • “We assure the Leader and the Commander-in-Chief and all the people of Iran, based on prudence and higher-up policies, that in creating the necessary conditions and equipment to find and strongly punish the criminals in the geographic area of the region and beyond, we will not hold back in taking every effort.”

On September 24th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei with Iranian athletes who won medals at the Asian Games. In his remarks, he partly discussed the Ahvaz attack and pointed the finger at ISIS as the perpetrator.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei: “This sour event shows yet again that the Iranian people in their honorable quest to progress and advance, have many enemies.”
  • Khamenei: “Based on reports, this cowardly act was the work of those same people who, whenever they are challenged in Syria and Iraq, the Americans come to save them, and their hands are in the pockets of the Saudis and Emiratis.”

On September 24th, a group of 470 prominent Iranian political and civil society activists signed a letter condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attacks.

Signatories included: dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar, Nobel Peace Prize-recipient Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi, leading reformist thinkers Mostafa Tajzadeh and Saeed Hajarian, former political prisoner and Velayat e-Faqih critic Alireza Rajaei, the sons of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, and many others.

  • The letter stated: “We human rights and civil society activists who have attached our heart’s to Iran’s independence and territorial integrity and global peace and stability, while expressing our condolences to the families affected by this savage crime, condemn the political, financial, and media accomplices of this type of violence and this terrorist action.”
  • “We believe that such a terrorist action results in nothing but increasing violence and the securitization of society. Because the cycle of violence is against the interests and security of the country and hurts the Iranian people.”
  • “At the same level that we condemn this terrorist action and the cycle of violence, we believe that the economic and social grounds [of violence] must be removed through holistic development and eliminating every type of discrimination between all ethnic groups and religious sects.”

On October 2nd, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced that missile and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Al Bukamal, Syria had killed 40 ISIS fighters, including a senior ISIS member who was Mosul’s district commander.

On October 2nd, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, responded to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks at a “United Against Nuclear Iran” summit in New York City last week, were Bolton warned Iran of “hell to pay” and “serious consequences.”

  • Shamkhani: “Bolton announced that we should take them seriously. Commander Hajizadeh [head of the IRGC’s aerospace force] has taken you seriously and has fired missiles to within 3 miles of you.”
  • Shamkhani: “Trump in all his remarks declared Iran to be a threat, so all of us in the face of this all-out war which he is waging against us, must embrace a war footing.”
  • Shamkhani: “I won’t say that sanctions have no effect, but our national capabilities are able to make them ineffective.”
  • Shamkhani: “We have been searching for the opportunity to eliminate the dependence our economy has on oil, and now conditions are ideal to achieve this.”

On October 1st, Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces—the highest ranking military commander in the country—commented on the missile and drone strikes against ISIS positions in Al Bukamal, Syria.

  • Bagheri: “The initial stage of revenge for the Ahvaz terrorist attack has been implemented, and the next stage of revenge will also take place.”
  • Bagheri: “The terrorists took advantage of a parade and came into a crowd and blindly shot at people. These terrorists were supported by the terrorist group Daesh [ISIS] and another terrorist group, whose leaders are in European countries.”
  • Bagheri: “The broad missile and drone operation of the Armed Forces had immense value in that it was the first time these drones traversed the skies of several countries and accurately struck their targets and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The missiles also traversed over 550 kilometers to right where the enemy was deployed. Another stage of revenge will also occur.”
  • Bagheri: “Intelligence work by the various agencies has revealed that the terrorists, on top of having connections to anti-revolutionary groups, took instruction from Daesh and Daesh from Deir ez-Zor [in Syria] guided them.”
  • Bagheri: “The region were Daesh is based, to the east of the Euphrates, is under the control of the American army. These missiles struck an area close to where the Americans are in control.”

On September 23rd, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami gave a speech before students from Tehran University’s Islamic Students Association and Medical Science, condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attack and discussing the country’s situation.

  • Khatami: “The system has to reform itself, or else it will face serious and big problems.”
  • Khatami: “What will calm our society and give it hope in the future, is for us to feel that that government officials listen to criticisms. The space for dialogue in society has been closed.”
  • Khatami: “Violence results not only from a lack of dialogue, but also from not meeting some of the needs of society, and hopelessness in meeting these needs.”
  • Khatami: “Today in this sensitive period, beyond the issues of reformists and principlists, the issue of saving Iran and having national unity and solidarity is what is important.”
  • Khatami: “Freedom of speech and freedom after speech is vital for increasing common understanding in society.”
  • Khatami: “We have to allow the opponents of religion to speak to produce greater thinking.”

On September 30th, Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s cultural deputy, announced that of the Tehran University students arrested during last winter’s protests, over 70 percent, or 25 of them, have been exonerated.

  • Sarsangi: “As has been announced, the appeal court process of many of the students arrested in the Day month [late December/early January] protests continued until the end of Shahrivar month [end of September], and only six of these students haven’t been sentenced and thus haven’t gone to the appeals court.”
  • Sarsangi: “Fortunately, about 25 of the students were either exonerated or given light and suspended sentences. We are hopefully that the rest of the students remaining can in the same way in the appeals court be exonerated or given light sentences.”
  • Sarsangi: “Fortunately, for all the students who were faced with security problems, whether those exonerated or those still in the courts, there is no prohibition for them to continue classes and their studies at the university. All these students can register for class as they normally would and go to class.”

On October 1st, Bahram Parsaei, an MP representing Shiraz, denounced the recent arrest of a member of Shiraz’s city council, Mahdi Hajati, before parliament. Hajati was recently arrested after voicing support for two detained members of the Bahai faith.

  • Parsaei stated: “In the days after Mr. Hajati’s arrest, I spoke with the governor, the head of the [security] council, and the political deputy of Fars province’s governor. We all believe that the arrest of Hajati under these circumstances is not in the interests of the [ruling] system. Mr. Hajati is the youngest member of the city council in Shiraz, who merely defended the rights of several citizens.”

On September 30th, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, announced that 35 individuals had been tried for corruption, and that three of them would be executed.

  • Ejei: “In regard to confronting economic corruption, special courts have been set up in Tehran which in recent days have sentenced 35 individuals. Of these, three individuals have been sentenced to execution … however this sentence will have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.”

On September 23rd, senior Rouhani advisor and Vice-President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, voiced opposition to negotiations with the United States and stressed the importance of Iran’s independence.

  • “The Iranian peoples’ pursuit of independence resulted in governance that doesn’t accept foreign [impositions] and in the past 40 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution it can pay the costs being independent.”
  • “Today the Iranian people and government, just as during the beginning of the revolution and the eight years of holy defense, are facing problems that are in response and a recompense for being independent.”
  • “For them to demand to align with their policies and negotiate goes against the strategic policies and principles of the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On September 24th, former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian gave a far-reaching interview to the moderate-conservative Alef discussing his tenure and Iran’s foreign relations.

  • Abdollahian said of Iran’s relations with Russia: “One of the most successful areas of Iran-Russia cooperation is on Syria, but on [the question of] whether we have a common approach on everything regarding the Syrian issue, we will not have a common view on the Zionist regime and the resistance.”
  • Abdollahian on America’s presence in Syria: “During the Trump era, the Americans don’t know what they’re doing in Syria. America’s approach in Syria is passive and symbolic now and Americans are unable to have any consequential role in Syria. This is because they’re confused in the face of the developments in Syria, but they nevertheless are making efforts to lie and take credit for the victories in Syria to the extent they can.”
  • Abdollahian on whether Iran can trust Russia: “Four years ago I had a meeting with Putin’s representative for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov. I told him that the Iranian people’s historical experience with Russia is not positive and they believe that the Russians at the 90th minute abandon their friends and only act in line to advance their own interests.
  • Abdollahian: “However, my view was changed with the cooperation we had over Syria and in other parts of the region with Putin. I believe that Russia and Putin can be trusted, as long as there are mutual interests between Tehran and Moscow.”

On October 1st, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations during his UN General Assembly speech last week regarding alleged secret Iranian nuclear sites.

  • Salehi: “Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has really made a fool of himself this time. His lies are blatantly evident. We have an expression called Nakoja-Abad, but from Netanyahu’s remarks we don’t know if the place he’s referring to is Torquz-Abad or Dorquz-Abad [expressions that in Persian mean “nowhere” or “middle of nowhere”]… the AEOI totally rejects these claims by Netanyahu.”
  • Salehi: “What I can say is that definitely not documents have been taken from the AEOI.”
  • Salehi: “Right now the level of cooperation between Iran and the IAEA is very good. The IAEA has until now on 12 occasions reported on Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities. In these reports, it is emphasized that Iran is abiding by all its commitments within the JCPOA, and its safeguards agreement and the additional protocol.”

On October 3rd, Iran’s Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hematitravelled to Moscow on Wednesday to implement agreements reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Iran.According to reports, Hemati was due to meet his Russian counterpart and other senior Russian officials.

On October 4th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a defiant speech calling for resilience in the face of U.S. pressure before an audience of Basij paramilitary forces at Tehran’s Azadi stadium.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei warned of a “media war” being waged against Iran: “The enemy uses this tool. The media tool in the hands of the enemy is dangerous. The media is just like chemical weapons in a real war.”
  • On the economy: “We have economic problems. We have an oil economy, which is a major problem. We don’t have a cultural of frugality and savings. But these aren’t the real problem. The real problem is hitting a dead end, which thankfully we have not.”
  • “The real problem is that the nation’s youth have no solution [to their problems] but to embrace the enemy. Some seek to tell this to our youth.”
  • On rejecting U.S. terms: “The enemy wants the Iranian people to conclude that there is no solution other than submitting to America. I explicitly declare that people in the countries who promote this line of thinking are betraying the country. As long as I have life, I won’t allow this to happen in this country [giving into U.S. terms].”
  • “The American president has told some people to be patient, that within two or three months the Islamic Republic will collapse. I remember the poetry that says, the camel dreams of cotton-wool [akin to hungry cat dreams of mice].”

 

 

Iran Gears Up for the UN General Assembly

Week of September 17, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif will Travel to New York on Sunday
  • Debate over Implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Standards
  • Student Activist Sentenced to Six Years in Prison
  • Iran Welcomes Russia-Syria Idlib agreement
  • Supreme Leader Aide Extolls Iran-Russia Ties, Details Putin Meeting
  • Former President Ahmadinejad Attacks Senior Intelligence Official

After weeks of uncertainty and debate about whether President Hassan Rouhani would attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), it was confirmed this week that he will travel to New York on Sunday for the annual gathering alongside Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  Domestically, debate has continued over Iran passing anti-money laundering and terrorist financing standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to avoid being blacklisted by the international financial regulator, ahead of an October deadline. A young female activist was also sentenced to six years in prison, as Iran welcomed the Russia-Turkey Idlib agreement and former President Ahmadinejad issued a scathing rebuke against the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit.

 

Rouhani and Zarif Head to New York

President Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announced that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, September 23rd. According to the statement, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN, in addition to his UNGA speech. Rouhani will also hold bilateral talks with various world leaders and conduct interviews with American and international press. He will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (September 26th).

Foreign Minister Zarif also separately stated that he would also travel to New York on Sunday. Zarif stated that the “P4+1” joint commission meeting—between Iran and the five remaining parties to the nuclear deal—will be held in the “early days” of his stay in New York. Zarif said of the UNGA’s importance: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to, at the highest level of the president, convey Iran’s perspectives … Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”

On the controversy regarding his meetings with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Zarif stated that such meetings between him and former officials are common. He said on September 18th: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, all kinds of people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there [in the US] mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”

In reaction to reports that the US was backing away from holding a UN Security Council meeting—the status of which is still unclear—Zarif stated that America was isolated. He opined: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”

 

Debate Over FATF Reaches a Fever Pitch

At a September 19th press conference, Zarif stressed the need for Iran to approve the FATF’s standards. In late June, FATF identified multiple “action items” Iran had to address to abide by its standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. FATF called on Iran to be in “full compliance with the FATF Standards by October 2018,” otherwise it would “decide upon appropriate and necessary actions at that time.”

To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared four bills and sent them to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.

Zarif called on the parliament to approve the administration’s bills ahead of the October deadline. Zarif proclaimed: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.” He added: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”

The Guardian Council, which must approve laws, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have resisted passage of some of the bills. Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”

However, Zarif stated that the Supreme National Security Council is the “decider” on passing the bills and has approved them. He declared: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament. Supporters of the bill also say that the view of the Parliament and Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.

Iran’s negotiators in ongoing talks with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal believe passing the FATF standards are critical to their efforts. Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated regarding a report issued to the parliament by Iran’s negotiating team: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

 

Foreign Policy Talk on Basra, Idlib, and Russia Ties

In his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra and said it was carried out by elements aiming to harm Iranian-Iraqi relations. Ghassemi stated: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationship between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments.” He added: “Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”

Ghassemi claimed that the attack was spearheaded by hostile regional countries. He proclaimed: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”

Ghassemi also ruled out even specifying conditions for U.S.-Iran negotiations and declared that Iran would not change its regional policies. He stated: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks.” He added regarding Iran’s overall foreign policy strategy: “We believe that our defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran. We don’t think to negotiate with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

Ghasemi also voiced support for the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria. He stated: “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria.”

Zarif also stated that Iran was always supportive of efforts to prevent a battle over Idlib. He proclaimed: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t breakout and that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and his recent meeting with Russian President Putin at a conference in Tehran. Velayati said of the importance of Iran’s relations with Russia and China: “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”

Velayati stated that his meeting with Putin was the longest ever of any Islamic Republic official with a Russian president. He stated: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”

Velayati also discussed his role in Iran’s foreign policy decision-making process and praised Rouhani in advancing a “Look to the East” foreign policy. He opined: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspectives.” He further stated regarding Rouhani’s foreign policy: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit. Salehi stated in his speech that the US never fully complied with its commitments under the nuclear deal, even under President Obama: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”

 

Student Activist Arrested, Aggressive Online Campaign Rebuked, Resurgent Ahmadinejad

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.  Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

Dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the online tactics of the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic. Zeidabadi stated the barandazan—whose online activity spiked after the winter 2017/2018 protests—engaged in online tactics so aggressive that they have inadvertently enhanced the popularity of reformists inside Iran. Zeidabadi stated: “Their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”

Zeidabadi’s censured the barandazan for attacking all their critics with a broad brush. He opined: “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.” He added: “What is provable is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe the day that they attain any power!”

Zeidabadi said the tactics of the barandazan were self-defeating for their cause. He wrote: “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces. Abdi stated that the Rouhani administration was best fit to negotiate the JCPOA, not deal with Iran’s current economic and political crisis. He stated: “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he sharply criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb. Ahmadinejad said that during his presidency he was opposed to Taeb and that Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”  

BBC Persian notes of Taeb: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”

Several days earlier, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally: “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to co-opt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”

Fararu also noted the restrictions on former reformist president Mohammad Khatami in comparison with Ahmadinejad. The piece stated: “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy” today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP. Nili defined the “unofficial economy” as consisting of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations). Nili stated that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implemented, resulting in lost tax revenues.



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announces that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, Sept 23rd.

  • In addition to his address before the UNGA, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN.
  • Rouhani will do interviews with international press, hold a press conference at the end of his trip, meet different leaders.
  • Rouhani will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (Sept 26th).

On September 18th, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced he would travel to New York for the UN General Assembly on Sunday, September 23rd. Zarif also addressed the controversy in the United States of his meeting with former Secretary of State John Kerry.

  • Zarif: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to at the highest level of the president convey Iran’s perspectives. The General Assembly meeting will also be important for this reason. Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”
  • Zarif on his meetings with Kerry: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, from top to bottom [Iranian expression, i.e. many people] people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”
  • Zarif stated that the “P4+1” JCPOA joint commission meeting will be held in the “early days” of his stay.
  • Zarif also said about the Russia-Turkey Idlib buffer zone agreement: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t break out & that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 19th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held a press conference on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, where he touched on a wide-range of topics, including the upcoming UNGA and the debate over implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards on combating money laundering and terrorist financing ahead of a looming deadline.

  • Zarif: “Next week we will again have a ‘P4+1’ meeting in New York and we will hopefully review the set of actions that have been accomplishing to this point and will report the result of the meeting to the supervisory board in Tehran and based on that our senior officials can make a decision.”
  • Zarif on the Trump administration backing down from holding a UN Security Council meeting on Iran: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”
  • Zarif on parliament approving the government’s bills to implement the FATF’s standards: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.”
  • Zarif: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”
  • Zarif: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament.

  • To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared 4 bills and sent it to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.
  • The Guardian Council, which must approve bills, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have both resisted passage of some of the bills.
  • Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”
  • However, supporters of the bill say that the view of the Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.
  • Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated that Iran’s negotiators in the on-going talks with Europe to salvage the JCPOA have stressed that passed the FATF standards is vital to their efforts. Mousavi said: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

On September 17th, in his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi in part discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra, Iraq and the Trump administration’s offers for negotiations.

  • Ghassemi: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationships between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments. Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks. Such an issue [negotiations] is not on our work agenda. So definitely there is no discussions for its conditions [of any negotiations]. As I said, we don’t think about this issue of negotiating with America.”
  • Ghassemi: “We believe that out defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran we don’t think to negotiations with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

On September 19th, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassem spoke about the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria.

  • “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can  provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria, while considering all humanitarian efforts to establish peace in Syria and help destroy terrorist groups in this country.”
  • “I hope that the result of the Sochi meeting will, in the framework of the positive and successful path of the Astana process and in continuation of the recent summit in Tehran and the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic efforts, quickly end the suffering of the Syrian people and accelerate the elimination of violent groups by exercising humanitarian caution.”

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

  • Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

On September 15th, dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic and whose online presence increased after the winter 2017/2018 protests—and arguing their aggressive online tactics of have benefitted the cause of reformists inside Iran.

  • Zeidabadi: “After the Dey month (December/January) street protests, the more furious segment of society, frustrated and pessimistic with reformists, turned their eyes and ears to a force outside the country who introduced themselves as the ‘overthrowers.'”
  • “The ‘overthrowers’ started a loud campaign on social media and portrayed themselves as an alternative to the ruling system. That same furious segment of society awaited their coming.”
  • “However, their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”
  • “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.”
  • “In reality, the situation has gotten so heinous and shameful, that some speculate that maybe domestic security forces have a hand in this abusive online army.”
  • “What is provable, is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe on the day that they attain any power!”
  • “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces.

  • “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”
  • “I expect that Rouhani lays out coherent policies and that other institutionalized forces understand that the situation is sensitive and dangerous, so that the administration can advances its aims. Overcoming this crisis is the most important demand anyone can have and there needs to be unity beyond the government.”
  • “I believe the root problem of the current crisis is that the system still does not officially recognize it critics and opponents and is not ready to allow them to participate in managing the country. This is not limited to reformist either, but goes beyond them.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb.

  • Ahmadinejad stated that during his president he was opposed to Taeb. He stated: Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”
  • BBC Persian notes: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”
  • Ahmadinejad further stated that Hossein Taeb was “fired from the intelligence ministry because he was a mischief-maker. Later they illegally gave him full authority in another place. and then they moved him somewhere else and gave him total authority with no legal accountability.”
  • In recent months, Ahmadinejad has also harshly attack the heads of Iran’s judiciary and parliament, Sadeq Larijani and Ali Larijani, respectively, as well as President Rouhani, who he said should resign.
  • In his new video, Ahmadinejad said his criticisms were not “insults against the [political] system or propaganda against the system, but we want to improve things. Are heart aches for the country, we says this is bad for the revolution, the system, Iran, the people, you are hurting yourselves.”
  • In the summer of 2017, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Ahmadinejad to be a member of the powerful Expediency Council.

On September 14th, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally:

  • “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to coopt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”
  • “Ahmadinejad, whether he wants to or not, whether it’s being coordinated or not, is playing on the side of the hardline opponents of the Rouhani administration, and it seems some of the anti-administration stances, which in recent weeks have been restrained due to the Supreme Leader’s suggestions and warnings, have been entrusted to Ahmadinejad.”
  • “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy at a conference in Tehran.

  • Velayati: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspective.”
  • Velayati on his July 12th trip to Moscow and meeting with Putin: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”
  • Velayati on Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and Rouhani’s approach: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”
  • “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”
  • “In the international arena, Russia has a higher place regarding defense matters, and on economic issues, China has a greater capability … as such each has its own capability, but we don’t follow any one’s path and look at our national interest.”
  • “As the Supreme Leader says, rather than the trenches being in Kermanshah, Esfahan, Kerman, or Tabriz, we have to face it [the trench] outside our borders.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit.

  • Salehi in his speech at the IAEA summit: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”
  • “The international reactions to this illegal action [America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA] has raised serious doubts about the rationality and reliability of that country’s [the US] policies.”
  • IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano in his introductory remarks announced that Iran has been fully compliant with its commitments under the JCPOA and its signed agreements with the IAEA.

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy,” which consist of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations) today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP.

  • According to Nili, this demonstrates that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implement, resulting lost tax revenues.  

 

 

Trump’s Iran Endgame Undermines Major US Security Interests

The logical conclusion of the Trump administration’s Iran policy seems not to be regime change but regime collapse. 

Though Secretary of Defense James Mattis has denied that either are on the agenda, the White House’s rhetoric and actions betray a different motive. The US president himself has trumpeted the harsh impact of reinstated sanctions and said that it is a “question” as to whether the Islamic Republic “will survive.” 

President Donald Trump’s approach is slated to impoverish the Iranian population, cripple Iranian civil society, and eliminate prospects for peaceful democratic change. Indeed, state collapse and domestic turmoil loom larger on the horizon.

Unfortunately, his administration has not thought through the negative implications of such an eventuality for US national interests.

The long shadow of past US meddling in Iran underscores the necessity for decision makers to set clear foreign policy goals and carefully assess their implications. A 1954 internal CIA review of Operation Ajax, the joint US-British covert operation that ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, noted that “possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers involved in this type of operation.” Such foresight was not exercised regarding the August 1953 coup d’état, which continues to serve as a textbook example for the unintended consequences of US interventions abroad.

The toppling of the popular Mossadegh had a radicalizing effect on the Iranian population, entrenching anti-Americanism and creating fertile ground for the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic movement. These festering resentments culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizing of US diplomatic hostages, which transformed Iran from a reliable US ally to a leading strategic challenge in the Middle East. Four decades later, US-Iran relations have bottomed out once again, as the Trump administration pursues a policy of “maximum pressure” with little regard for the lessons of the past.

In its quest to pressure Iran, the Trump administration has lost sight of America’s core strategic interests in the Middle East. As Harvard University’s Stephen Walt has explained, these are: “Keeping oil and gas from the region flowing to world markets, to keep the global economy humming; minimizing the danger of anti-American terrorism; and inhibiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.” 

Instability in Iran stands to damage each of these interests. 

The Persian Gulf accounts for roughly 28 percent of the world’s energy production. Over 35 percent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz—the strategic chokepoint through which Persian Gulf oil must pass to reach the Indian Ocean. Persian Gulf energy is thus a lifeline of the global economy and preventing any disruption in its supply has been a core US security interest since the end of World War II.

Under the status quo, Iran has a vested interest in the secure flow of hydrocarbons out of the Persian Gulf and has not interfered in this process save for occasional reminders of its capability to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of a conflict or economic blockade. However, if the Iranian state were to collapse in the face of the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero, nothing would prevent insurgent groups on the Iranian plateau from attacking energy installations in the Persian Gulf.  At a bare minimum, instability in Iran would pose a serious challenge to Persian Gulf security and require considerable outside intervention and expenditure to redress. Rising oil prices would undermine the global economy and cause hardship to US consumers.

With respect to the threat of terrorism, Iran has for years been on the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, primarily for its support of Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have primarily targeted US ally Israel. However, on the threat the European Parliament identified in 2013 as the main source of global terrorism—emanating from Sunni fundamentalists or Wahhabists—Iran has often been on the same side as the West. 

Iran helped lead the fight on the ground against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, efforts former Joint Chiefs’ chairman General Martin Dempsey proclaimed in 2015 “will in the main have been a positive thing”—in reference to dislodging ISIS from the Iraqi city of Tikrit. However, Iran’s regional influence also allows it to be a spoiler that can make it difficult for the United States to achieve its regional aims. A dangerous tit-for-tat is already taking hold with the Trump administration racheting up tensions and reports that Iran has started providing allied groups in Iraq with short-range ballistic missiles. If a US-Iran conflict erupts, Iran can draw on its regional proxies to raise the costs of hostility and negatively affect regional stability. 

Meanwhile, in the event that Trump’s policies successfully destabilize Iran, an opening will be created for Wahhabi terrorist organizations to fill power vacuums left in the wake of a chief adversary’s retrenchment, including in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Sunni Iranian border regions—where groups such as Jaish ul-Adl are already active. As these groups gain new strongholds, their threat to the West and the rest of the world will only increase.

On the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) threatens to undo an agreement that cut off Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon for more than a decade and established the highest standards on nuclear transparency and inspections ever negotiated. Some Iran hawks in Washington are now calling for US sanctions against entities charged with implementing key non-proliferation provisions of the agreement, including British and Chinese efforts to redesign Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor to negate its potential to produce weapons grade plutonium. Such an action would likely compel Tehran to abandon the JCPOA’s limitations and may reopen Iran’s plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon as well as eliminating restrictions on uranium enrichment.

Trump’s aggressive Iran policy is also serving to reinforce Iranian threat perceptions and empower Tehran’s hardliners. While Iran has always confined its nuclear program to within the letter of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iranian officials have hinted that their commitment to the NPT is waning. In April, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, stated that Iran was weighing exiting the NPT as a response to Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA. While Iran has yet to take such action and is currently engaged in negotiations with Europe to try to salvage the JCPOA, the option of Iran following the footsteps of North Korea—which left the NPT in 2003 and tested nuclear weapons starting in 2006—is now conceivable.

The toppling of Middle Eastern governments by outside powers has had a detrimental track record for regional stability and long-term US security interests. Iraq is a prime example. Trump administration officials must have a clear-eyed approach to Iran that carefully weighs the risk of state collapse and the implications of such an outcome for American interests. The White House’s current Iran policy not only disregards the threat of blowback, but ignores the potential benefits of US-Iran diplomacy for US interests and global peace and security. 

This post was originally published on Atlantic Council.