Iran Unfiltered, Week of November 5th

Iran Reacts to Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

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 Unfiltered, Week of October 29th

Iran Braces for Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

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.

 


 

 

Experts on the Reimposition of Sanctions on Iran in Violation of the Nuclear Deal

For Immediate Release: November 2, 2018
Contact:
 Brett Abrams | brett@unbendablemedia.com

WASHINGTON, DC — At midnight on Monday, President Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be finalized. While a portion of the sanctions previously waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came back into force on August 7, the November 5 tranche of Iran sanctions includes many of the most impactful sanctions to be levied on Iran, including those targeting Iran’s energy and financial sectors.

The decision by the United States to violate the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions has already caused economic pain for Iran’s population of 80 million. However, Iran has ruled out negotiations with the Trump administration for the foreseeable future.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, a leading voice for the Iranian-American community and expert on US-Iranian relations, issued the following statement reacting to the implementation of snapback sanctions against Iran:  

“These sanctions are a slap in the face to the Iranian people who have been squeezed between the repression of their government and the pressure of international sanctions for decades. Impoverishing ordinary Iranians will not hurt the regime or achieve any of America’s security interests, but it will set back the Iranian people’s aspirations for years to come.

“The Obama administration left a playbook for how to secure concessions from Iran through patient, multilateral diplomacy. Unfortunately, Trump and his team have ripped the diplomatic playbook to shreds, opting for policies that echo the drumbeat for war that led up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Trump, his war cabinet and regional cheerleaders in Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman do not have the Iranian or American people’s best interests at heart. Instead, they are blowing up an agreement that supports U.S. interests and the aspirations of the Iranian people while planting the seeds for a disastrous war. The U.S. must reverse course before irreparable harm is done to the Iranian people, regional security and America’s international standing.”

In a memo to U.S. lawmakers, the National Iranian American Council warns that the snapback of sanctions on Iran has precipitated a crisis in slow motion, threatening a range of U.S. national interests and tying America closer to the destabilizing campaigns of Saudi Arabia. In the memo, NIAC warns that the blowback from sanctions reimposition will:

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

  • Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions has eviscerated Iran’s benefit for complying with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of Iran halting its compliance with the accord and moving closer to a nuclear weapon.
  • The re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) threatens to disrupt international work to reduce proliferation risks at the Arak heavy water reactor and deeply buried Fordow facility.

Raise the Risk of War

  • Trump’s advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have pushed for war with Iran as an alternative to negotiations, as have Iran’s regional rivals who have increased sway with the Trump administration.
  • A spark for a military confrontation could come from several directions in the absence of diplomacy with Iran – whether over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Isolate the United States

  • The U.S. is in material breach of the UN Security Council-endorsed JCPOA, which all other parties to the accord – including our allies in Britain, France and the European Union (EU) – are seeking to keep alive.
  • JCPOA participants and Iran are seeking to establish independent payment channels, with ramifications that could undercut U.S. dominance of the global financial system and the power of U.S. secondary sanctions far into the future.

Raise Oil Prices

  • President Trump has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump more oil to offset Iranian oil that has been taken off the market, reducing spare capacity that could be key to respond to any emergency.
  • Iranian oil cannot be offset forever, and a crisis risks soaring oil prices and substantial harm for American consumers.

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

  • At a time when Saudi Arabia appears to be an increasingly unsavory partner for the U.S. after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has pigeonholed itself into an approach to the Middle East that relies on Saudi Arabia.
  • Overlooking Saudi Arabia’s crimes to pressure Iran bears eerie resemblance to America’s early backing of Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A more balanced approach to the region is needed.

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

  • Trump’s Iran sanctions are likely to crush the Iranian middle class and private sector, unleashing economic desperation in the country and limiting prospects for internal moderation.
  • Iran’s hardliners have been vindicated by Trump’s decision to violate the JCPOA and snap back sanctions, and will benefit from sanctions that crush forces for moderation while leaving them relatively unscathed.

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

  • Sanctions on Iran under the Obama administration triggered shortages of key life-saving medicines and contributed to the impoverishment of ordinary Iranians by depressing the economy and increasing the cost of basic goods. Similar effects are already being felt from Trump’s snapback.
  • The Trump administration has already targeted private Iranian financial institutions that facilitated humanitarian transactions, raising the risk of further humanitarian crises in the months ahead and more damage to American credibility.

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The National Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.

Letter to Trump Administration on Sanctions Snapback

Sanctions Snapback Letter

Read the text of the letter below:

Secretaries Pompeo and Mnuchin,

The re-imposition of U.S. secondary economic sanctions against Iran as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has raised deep concerns in the Iranian-American community and across the globe. These sanctions follow President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw the U.S. from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal (known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA), despite opposition from the international community, including America’s traditional allies in Europe. While the stated purpose of the sanctions is to elicit “behavior change” from the Iranian government, they are not attached to a diplomatic process aimed at finding compromise. Instead, the administration’s sanctions risk triggering a severe humanitarian crisis inside Iran and edging the U.S. towards another catastrophic Middle Eastern war.

While Secretary Pompeo and other administration officials have said the U.S. is pursuing a “campaign of pressure” in “solidarity with the long-suffering Iranian people,” reinstated U.S. sanctions are in practice amounting to collective punishment of ordinary Iranians, not the Iranian government. Unlike U.S. sanctions against Russia and other countries, which were crafted to focus pressure on key decision-makers, the administration’s Iran sanctions are suffocating the entire Iranian economy, causing the price of life-saving medicine to soar, shortages in previously abundant everyday medicines, and rapid inflation that is making even essential foodstuffs unaffordable for many Iranians.

Despite humanitarian exemptions on food, medicines, and agricultural products, U.S. banking and shipping sanctions are precluding most of this trade for the Iranian people. Fear of running afoul of sanctions and being excluded from the U.S. market or hit with hefty fines has led to most international companies avoiding any dealings with Iran. As a result, even Iranian private charities have been unable to import the drugs they desperately need. The chief executive of one such Iranian charity, which provides care to children with cancer, recently told the Christian Science Monitor: “The reality is that no companies, no banks want to be involved in any operation with Iran’s name, because they don’t know what will happen to them … Can you ask these sanctions designers what we should do?” It is cases such as this that led the International Court of Justice to recently rule that the United States needs to ensure Iran can acquire humanitarian goods and for both sides to avoid taking steps that would exacerbate the situation.

Sanctions have increased human suffering across Iranian society. As Sussan Tahmasebi, a prominent Iranian women’s rights activist, has said: “Sanctions and poor economic conditions tend to impact the most vulnerable groups hardest: women, children, the poor, and those living on the margins of society.” The Iranian middle class is also among the groups that will bear the brunt of reinstated U.S. sanctions. A BBC analysis of the previous round of U.S. sanctions showed that Iran’s middle class was “hit the hardest,” with the average household budget of middle class families falling by 20 percent. This impoverishment of Iran’s strong, educated middle class is a major blow to the country’s organized civil society movement and diminishes prospects for peaceful democratic change.

Indeed, U.S. sanctions are empowering hardline forces who use their re-imposition to discredit their moderate rivals for negotiating with the West and as a pretext to harshly repress opposition voices under the guise of countering U.S.-led aggression. These anti-reform forces are far more threatened by Iran’s reintegration into the global economy than confrontation with the United States and are well positioned to take advantage of the economic desperation that sanctions are unleashing inside the country. Their influence will only grow as financial resources accumulate to only the unaccountable, well-connected few.

By offering little by way of diplomatic off-ramps, the administration’s pressure campaign also dramatically increases the risks of a direct military confrontation with Iran. As a recent letter by former U.S. national security officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned, “the Administration has left Iran the option of either capitulation or war.” In the absence of any serious diplomacy, the tripwires to a U.S.-Iran conflict could come from several directions, including over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions, or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf. As the signatories of the letter emphasize: “The intentional escalation of tensions and promotion of brinksmanship between the U.S. and Iran significantly increases the risk that neither side will be able to prevent a small, unintended clash from spiraling into a large, strategic conflict.”

The damage to American credibility from the President’s about face on Iran is not limited to our standing with the Iranian people. Unlike the multilateral sanctions of the Obama era, which were partly based on UN Security Council resolutions, the Trump White House’s reinstated sanctions have no international legal basis, are contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, violate U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and have been met with global resistance. Rather than winning buy-in from key international partners, the administration has resorted to threatening other countries, including close U.S. allies in Europe, to cease doing business with Iran or lose access to the U.S. financial system. Such use of secondary sanctions is inherently aggressive and serves to diminish the long-term leverage of U.S. economic power.

There is an alternative to an unrelenting pressure campaign that will harm a population of 80 million far more than the government that rules them. The prior administration proved that tough, multilateral diplomacy with Iran can secure American interests while relieving the pressure on the Iranian people. Unfortunately, the current administration appears to have thrown out that successful playbook in favor of a maximum pressure approach that led to the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. For the good of the people of Iran and the region, we implore you to end the administration’s pressure campaign, reenter the JCPOA and pursue your goals with Iran through negotiations instead of threats and maximalist demands.

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

Sanctions Snapback: Trump Reverses Iranian Sanctions Relief

President Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran previously waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, will be finalized at midnight on Monday, November 5. While a portion of the sanctions previously waived under the JCPOA came back into force on August 7, the November 5 tranche of Iran sanctions includes many of the most impactful sanctions to be levied on Iran, including those targeting:

  • Iran’s port operators and shipping and shipbuilding sectors;
  • Petroleum-related transactions with the National Iranian Oil Company, Naftiran Intertrade Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company, including the purchase of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran;
  • Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of specialized financial messaging services to the Central Bank of Iran and certain Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of underwriting services, insurance, or reinsurance; and
  • Iran’s energy sector.

In addition, the Trump administration will re-impose sanctions that applied to persons removed from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”) and other U.S. sanctions lists pursuant to U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. This includes, for instance, the re-imposition of sanctions on most of Iran’s financial institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran.

Blowback from Snapback

The snapback of sanctions on Iran has precipitated a crisis in slow motion, threatening a range of U.S. national interests and tying America closer to the destabilizing campaigns of Saudi Arabia. The blowback from sanctions reimposition will:

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

  • Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions has eviscerated Iran’s benefit for complying with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of Iran halting its compliance with the accord and moving closer to a nuclear weapon.
  • The re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) threatens to disrupt international work to reduce proliferation risks at the Arak heavy water reactor and deeply buried Fordow facility.

Raise the Risk of War

  • Trump’s advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have pushed for war with Iran as an alternative to negotiations, as have Iran’s regional rivals who have increased sway with the Trump administration.
  • A spark for a military confrontation could come from several directions in the absence of diplomacy with Iran – whether over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Isolate the United States

  • The U.S. is in material breach of the UN Security Council-endorsed JCPOA, which all other parties to the accord – including our allies in Britain, France and the European Union (EU) – are seeking to keep alive.
  • JCPOA participants and Iran are seeking to establish independent payment channels, with ramifications that could undercut U.S. dominance of the global financial system and the power of U.S. secondary sanctions far into the future.

Raise Oil Prices

  • President Trump has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump more oil to offset Iranian oil that has been taken off the market, reducing spare capacity that could be key to respond to any emergency.
  • Iranian oil cannot be offset forever, and a crisis risks soaring oil prices and substantial harm for American consumers.

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

  • At a time when Saudi Arabia appears to be an increasingly unsavory partner for the U.S. after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has pigeonholed itself into an approach to the Middle East that relies on Saudi Arabia.
  • Overlooking Saudi Arabia’s crimes to pressure Iran bears eerie resemblance to America’s early backing of Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A more balanced approach to the region is needed.

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

  • Trump’s Iran sanctions are likely to crush the Iranian middle class and private sector, unleashing economic desperation in the country and limiting prospects for internal moderation.
  • Iran’s hardliners have been vindicated by Trump’s decision to violate the JCPOA and snap back sanctions, and will benefit from sanctions that crush forces for moderation while leaving them relatively unscathed.

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

  • Sanctions on Iran under the Obama administration triggered shortages of key life-saving medicines and contributed to the impoverishment of ordinary Iranians by depressing the economy and increasing the cost of basic goods. Similar effects are already being felt from Trump’s snapback.
  • The Trump administration has already targeted private Iranian financial institutions that facilitated humanitarian transactions, raising the risk of further humanitarian crises in the months ahead and more damage to American credibility.

Public Charge FAQ

برای خواندن این متن به فارسی اینجا کلیک کنید

The Trump administration is once again attempting to close the door to immigration by significantly expanding what types of public assistance preclude individuals from receiving a visa or permanent residency. These changes may significantly impact Iranians.

How is the current public charge rule applied?

Prospective immigrants have long been susceptible to inadmissibility, deportation, and preclusion from receiving permanent residency for receiving certain public benefits. When they receive a certain threshold of benefits they are determined to be a “public charge” or someone who is likely to become reliant on public benefits. Past field guidance defined a “public charge” as someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” However, only 3% of noncitizens use benefits like cash payments that are included in this limited definition. The Trump administration plans to dramatically expand what benefits are included.

MAIN TAKE-AWAY: If you are likely to become reliant on public benefits then your status will likely be at risk once this new rule takes effect.

What is the proposed change?

The proposed policy rejects earlier Clinton-era guidance that excludes non-cash benefits and instead defines a “public charge” as any alien who receives one or more public benefits. This means that an individual who receives benefits or is expected to receive benefits based on age, education, health, income, or education will likely be considered a public charge – and be at risk of visa denials, visa extension denials, and being precluded from permanent residence and/or citizenship – if they receive any public funds directly or indirectly and even if they are not primarily dependent on the government.

The administration justifies this definition based on a medley of case law and dictionary definitions that “generally suggest that an impoverished or ill individual who receives public benefits for a substantial component of their support and care can be reasonably viewed as being a public charge.”

The proposed policy specifically defines a public charge as anyone who receives benefits including medical care (e.g., Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy & Medicaid except in the case of an emergency medical condition), housing (e.g., Section 8), and food (e.g., SNAP – informally known as food stamps) that exceed 15% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) for a household of one within a period of 12 or non-monetized benefits that are received for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. The federal poverty level for a single person in a 12-month period is $12,140 and monetized benefits cannot exceed 15% of this figure which is $1,821. This is severely limiting for individuals with disabilities, students, parents, and many others. Earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level and limited education will also be applied negatively against the individual. This may have the effect of chilling benefits requests.

Will the changes be applied retroactively?

The government claims that the policy is not retroactive. In other words, you will not be held accountable for public aid received before the changes go into effect.

What common benefits will be excluded from the public charge consideration?

Common benefits that will be excluded from consideration in public charge determinations are student loans, emergency medical care, women infants and children (WIC), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program, subject to change), and disaster relief.

Asylees and refugees are not subject to the public charge determinations.

Will the changes apply to the issuance and/or extension of non-immigrant visas?

Yes.

Should I drop my benefits if I am a foreign national?

The short answer is not yet. The “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” proposal will remain on the Federal Register for comments until December 10, 2018. According to USCIS’s own FAQ, the rule will be prospective (i.e. it will only apply to benefits received at the time or after its effective date, but not to past benefits). After the proposed rule is considered for public comments on the Federal Register, the DHS will issue a final rule with an effective date. So your benefits will not count against you until this final effective date; however, you should plan accordingly as there is a strong chance this rule will take effect. We will update our own FAQ as things develop. Please note that if you are a refugee or asylee the proposed rule does not apply to you.

Ultimately, each individual will have to make their own risk calculation. We understand that for some individuals their present need for assistance will be more important than long-term concerns about status. We do not think this is fair and it is for this very reason that we are opposed to the changes.

How can I express my opposition to the proposed changes?

You can express your opposition to the proposed rule by visiting this link, clicking on the “Comment Now” tab, entering your comment in the text box, and following the prompts. Do not submit the same comment or ask others to submit the same comment more than once as it will not be counted twice. Comments are being accepted through December 10, 2018.

*This document is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.*

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 Unfiltered, Week of October 22nd

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

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).


 

 
NIAC Policy Brief

From the Hill: NIAC Asks if the U.S. and Iran are on a Collision Course

NIAC Policy Brief

The Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran risk “impoverishing the Iranian middle class, crushing the Iranian civil society and eliminating prospects for peaceful democratic change,” warned Sina Toossi. “It is really creating a destructive situation internally.”

Toossi was speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill examining the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran. Moderated by Laicie Heeley, the editor-in-chief of Inkstick, the panel included Ned Price, a former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs who currently works at National Security Action; Sina Toossi, a research associate at NIAC; and Barbara Slavin, the Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Price highlighted that the Trump administration’s push was highly focused on pressuring Iran, but that it was likely to fall short of the efforts of the Obama administration which had secured the buy-in of the international community. Regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands of Iran, it was unclear to Price “how the administration could come close to any one of these objectives, let alone all twelve.” According to the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin, Trump’s exit out of the JCPOA humiliated our allies in Europe, who helped negotiate the nuclear accord, engaged with the State Department’s Brian Hook to seek to improve it and were furious when Trump decided to snap back sanctions anyway.

Price argued that the administration’s frequent statements on Iran were designed not only to try to increase pressure on Iran but also to “engender additional domestic political support for the administration’s hardline approach to Iran” that is similar to the approach toward Iraq undertaken by the George W. Bush administration. Price also warned that there is an increasingly likelihood of a confrontation in Syria, where the administration has stationed troops and begun to shift goals from ISIL to forcing Iran out of the country. “The administration has gone to great lengths to say that regime change whether by proxies or by force is not the goal,” stated Price. “[B]ut I think that is belied by the fact that this administration has begun… to implement this maximalist position.”

Toossi gave further insights into the effects of Trump’s Iran policy on the political spectrum inside Iran. He called Trump’s narrative of Iran’s regime being on its last legs, “wishful thinking” given that there is not currently a broad revolutionary movement within the country. He emphasized how these policies not only harm forces pushing for greater openness and moderation, but also stiffen hardline opposition to the administration’s demands and deepen their opposition towards negotiating with the West all together.

Slavin further warned that the Trump administration’s Iran policy has highlighted the danger of “putting all our eggs in one basket in a region,” following the “brutal murder” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of thugs in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

“It’s pretty devastating that it had to take the murder of a U.S. resident and Washington Post contributor to put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of the Trump administration’s policy towards the Middle East,” stated Price. He noted that Mike Pompeo’s article on the administration’s Iran policy in Foreign Affairs this week included a section entitled “Acting with Moral Clarity.” Yet, Price noted “this is the same Mike Pompeo that we saw yesterday smiling with Mohammed bin Salman” in Riyadh following Khashoggi’s murder. The hypocrisy combined with America’s isolation following the snapback of sanctions will “shine a very harsh light” on Trump’s approach to the Middle East, warned Price.

Response to Lindsey Graham’s Racist Remark on Fox & Friends

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to Lindsey Graham’s racist remark on Fox and Friends this morning:

“It is absolutely disgusting for Senator Graham to state on Fox and Friends that it would be ‘terrible’ to discover that he had Iranian ancestry from a DNA test. This is not the first time that Graham has made bigoted remarks about Iranians. In 2015, he said ‘I know Iranians are liars’ based on his experience in his dad’s pool hall.

“If you dread the notion of Iranian ancestry and believe all Iranians are liars, you are hopelessly bigoted and unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate where votes affect tens of millions of Iranians and millions more of Iranian ancestry in the diaspora.

“Graham must apologize for his remarks in 2015 and recant his atrocious attempt at a joke on Fox and Friends this morning. The Iranian-American community will not forget such casual racism, nor will it forget which party has enacted policy on the basis of such racism by banning our family members from Iran.”

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Iran Unfiltered, Week of October 8th

Iran Charges Detained Environmentalists, Moves Toward Global Financial Standards

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