NIAC Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest Sanctions on Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, September 20, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to the Trump administration’s announcement of new sanctions on Iran for its alleged role in attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Ryan Costello, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“President Trump’s recent sanctions designations appear duplicative at first glance, but in fact will likely eviscerate humanitarian trade with Iran that had already been sharply reduced following the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) had continued to play a major role in existing humanitarian trade with Iran, despite its prior designation, due to preexisting exemptions set down by Congress and the prior administration. 

“The new terrorism authorities (EO 13224) that the Central Bank of Iran has been designated under contains no similar exemption, nor has the Trump administration updated its guidance to add a new exemption. In fact, the Treasury guidance hints at this potential complication by noting that the U.S. ‘will continue to consider requests related to humanitarian trade with Iran as appropriate.’ Such actions were previously exempted by general license.

“The end result of this shift in policy – whether out of criminal negligence or willful vindictiveness – is likely to be pain for the Iranian people in the form of more medicine shortages for drugs produced in the West and sharply rising prices for food. 

“Congress and prior administrations understood the importance, and basic humanity, of exempting humanitarian goods from sanctions. The Trump administration has never updated its guidance related to humanitarian trade, creating a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and now appears to have deliberately removed one of the pillars allowing further humanitarian trade with the Iranian people. If the Trump administration does not immediately reverse its decision, Congress needs to legislate an exemption with haste. 

“After the crisis triggered by attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the President should be doing everything he can to undo his senseless actions that once again brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Instead, he is building a sanctions wall designed to lock both the Trump administration and a potential future administration into a playbook for war. There is no bigger loser of this policy than the Iranian people, who are crushed between their own government’s repression and inhumane sanctions that will now deliberately target humanitarian trade. This latest move – which could be illegal under international law – should be a wake-up call to all in the United States who claim support for the Iranian people. You can’t support maximum pressure and the Iranian people at the same time. It’s imperative that this dangerous step be reversed before the full impact is felt.”

Iran Reacts to Bolton’s Ouster & the Blue Girl’s Death

Week of September 9th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Passing of “Blue Girl” Following Self-Immolation Spurs Outrage

The death by self-immolation of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who tried to enter a soccer match in Tehran, has sparked an outcry in Iran. Her suicide was widely mourned on Persian social media and used as a rallying cry against Iran’s soccer stadium ban against women. Parliamentarians, Rouhani administration officials, and prominent Iranian soccer players and leagues also commented on her death.

Citing an interview with Sahar’s sister, BBC Persian explained the background to Sahar’s suicide. She was first arrested in March of this year while trying to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium to watch a match between the Iranian club Team Esteghlal and the Emirati team al-Ain.

According to her sister, Sahar was disguised as a man in order to enter the stadium but after seeing guards doing body checks, she announced that she was a woman. She was then arrested and her bail was set at 50 million tomans (roughly five thousand dollars). She was held for two days until her family was able to come up with the money.

According to her sister, last week Sahar went to a court in Tehran regarding her case, but the court date was cancelled due to an emergency for the judge. Sahar then went to retrieve her cell phone from the court authorities. It was at this point that she heard that she could be sentenced to six months in prison if she was charged.

Sahar’s sister stated: “She went to the courthouse to get her cell phone. It seems that over there she heard from someone that she would be imprisoned for six months.”

According to Sahar’s sister, she then set herself on fire with gasoline outside of the court building. She received third degree burns on 90 percent of her body and was taken to a hospital. She passed away one week later. Sahar’s father has denied rumors that the family was not given her body for burial. It is unclear if the family has come under pressure from authorities. 

According to her sister, Sahar suffered from bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide once before, for which she was hospitalized. Sahar’s sister stated before her passing: “My sister has bipolar disorder. Since two years ago she has been under the supervision of a doctor and we have all the documents which we gave to the court. But after her altercation with the police, they treated her like a healthy individual in the judicial review and sent her to Varamin prison.”

Mizan News, an outlet connected to the judiciary, said she was arrested in March for “improper clothing and getting into an altercation with the police and insulting them.” The editor of Mizan also said that reports that Sahar had been sentenced to six months in prison were a “total lie.”

He stated: “With deep sorrow over the passing of the woman who recently self-immolated, reports of a verdict of six months against her are a total lie. Last week, she came to a court on charges of getting into altercations and insulting the police in March. The judge was not there due to the death of a relative. No judicial action was taken and no indictment was made.”

Reformist parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri said about Sahar, who has been described as the “blue girl” due to her support for blue-jersey-wearing Esteghlal: “She was not just the blue girl. She was a daughter of Iran. In a place where men assign the tasks of women and strip them of their most basic rights. And where women join men in this outright oppression of women. We are all responsible for the imprisonment and burning of the Sahars of this country.”

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Rouhani’s vice-president for the affairs of women, also released a statement outlining her efforts on Sahar’s case. Ebtekar said she sent her assistant for citizens’ rights to visit Sahar and her family in the hospital. Ebtekar then prepared a report based off her assistant’s account and sent it to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. Ebtekar says she also discussed the actions taken on Sahar’s case during President Rouhani’s cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Sahar’s death spurred renewed debate in Iran about the soccer stadium ban for women. Ali Rabiee, the Rouhani administration’s spokesperson, said the infrastructure has been prepared for women to enter stadiums to watch soccer matches, such as a separate seating area and separate bathrooms.

Rabiee also said that the administration has made plans for women to attend matches of the national soccer team, but not yet for club games.

Laya Joneydi, President Rouhani’s vice president for legal affairs, has also said there is no law against women attending soccer matches. She stated: “There is no legal obstacle to women entering stadiums (to watch soccer games). Depriving of rights has no meaning and the administration is of this position and believes we should support this.”

Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar announced that the proper environment has been established for women to attend soccer matches by Iran’s national team. Women will reportedly be able to attend the next match of the national team against Cambodia at Azadi stadium on October 10th.

Many senior Ayatollahs in Iran support the stadium ban, but some support lifting it. For example, Ayatollahs Alavi Gorghani and Makarem Shirazi have spoken against permitting women to watch soccer matches at stadiums. On the other hand, Ayatollah Kazem Mousavi-Bojnourdi and conservative Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian are in support of lifting the ban.

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Officials Say Bolton’s Ouster Not Enough for Negotiations

Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Majid Takht-Ravanchi said John Bolton’s ouster was not sufficient for Iran to negotiate with the United States. He stated: “We have announced many times and the Iranian president has also explicitly said that as long as these oppressive sanctions and economic terrorism of the U.S. government against the Iranian people continues, there is no room for talk and negotiations.”

Takht-Ravanchi said that U.S. policies towards Iran must change: “Our policy towards the U.S. has no bearing on changes [of personnel] within the Trump administration. If the policy of economic terrorism of America is not ended, there is no room for dialogue.”

Takht-Ravanchi also said that new sanctions announced after Bolton’s ouster were an indication of the continuation of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. These new sanctions targeted several Iranian individuals connected to the Revolutionary Guards.

After Bolton’s ouster, President Rouhani stated that “the warmongers must leave and America’s maximum pressure must be removed.”

Separately, in a phone call with French President Macron after Bolton’s ouster, Rouhani also discussed the possibility for U.S.-Iran negotiations. He stated: “From the perspective of the government, parliament, and people of Iran, in the condition that sanctions remain, negotiations with America have no meaning.”

Rouhani stated that if an agreement was finalized with Europe, Iran would return to full compliance with its JCPOA commitments. He also raised the possibility of renewed multilateral talks with the U.S. within the framework of the P5+1 countries, stating: “For new dialogue among the P5+1, first America’s sanctions must be removed.”

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Deputy FM Welcomes French Proposal, Discusses Potential Negotiations

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reiterated that Iran would return to full JCPOA compliance if it can sell its oil. He stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran as has been announced many times will only return to full compliance with the JCPOA if it can sell its oil and get access to the revenue in a way that is totally usable and without any restrictions.” 

Araghchi stated that the French proposal for a $15 billion credit line achieved this Iranian condition. He stated: “The amount from this credit line is for $15 billion for a period of four months, meaning until the end of this year [2019]. So if there is an agreement, in the next four months Iran will either sell its oil or get a credit line in the form of a pre-purchase for 100 percent of the equivalent amount of oil. 

Araghchi said that Iran would be willing to enter negotiations on how to better implement the JCPOA after receiving the $15 billion. He declared: “From the perspective of the Islamic Republic, there will be no renewed negotiations regarding the JCPOA. But the topic of negotiations can be on the desirable implementation of the JCPOA, given that the other side has had serious shortcoming in this regard.” 

Araghchi also said that securing regional waterways can be another topic for potential negotiations. He stated: “Also, security in all the international waterways can be a topic for talks. The Islamic Republic, on the condition of all of its ships being provided with security in all waterways, is ready to engage in dialogue on the security and freedom of passage for ships in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.”

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New JCPOA Compliance Reductions Detailed

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), detailed Iran’s “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance. Iran has been reducing its JCPOA compliance gradually in 60-day increments and has said it would return to full compliance if Europe restarts Iranian oil imports and payment for them. In the first two steps, Iran exceeded the JCPOA’s limits on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and level of uranium enrichment.

President Rouhani said last week that Iran would cease compliance on all “research and development” limitations in the JCPOA with its third step. Kamalvandi explained that this would include installing and feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into more advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium faster.

Kamalvandi said that “chains” of 20 IR4 and 20 IR6 centrifuges have already been started. He said that in roughly two months, Iran would begin feeding gas into a “chain” of 10 IR-5s centrifuges. In the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit itself to 5060 operating IR-1 centrifuges for 10 years.

Kamalvandi stressed that it will get more difficult to save the JCPOA as time passes. He stated: “The European side should know that time is running out. If they are going to take any action, they must take it sooner.”

Kamalvandi also identified eight limitations in the JCPOA which Iran will gradually lower compliance with. These include limitations related to Iran’s heavy water reactor, heavy water production facility, reprocessing spent fuel, the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, research and development, the Fordow facility, stockpiles of enriched uranium, and the IAEA’s level of access and oversight.  

The reformist outlet Fararu cited an Iranian analyst as saying Iran’s “third step” might facilitate a four-month interim deal with Europe. This deal would be over a French proposal for a $15 billion credit line to Iran for oil imports.

The analyst Rahman Ghahramanpour stated: “The success of this agreement would depend on whether Europe, the US, and Iran have successful negotiations at the UN General Assembly.”

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Official Denies Hidden Nuclear Activities

Iranian officials have denied recent accusations of concealing nuclear activities from the IAEA. This comes after reports that the IAEA has found traces of uranium at a compound near Tehran.

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, dismissed “any allegations about hidden nuclear activities by Iran.” Gharibabadi stated: “Any efforts to create disturbance or diversions with respect to the constructive and active cooperation between Iran and the IAEA, and imposing improper pressure on the agency, is destructive and will be met with appropriate actions from Iran.”

Cornel Feruta, the acting head of the IAEA, travelled to Iran and met with AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other Iranian officials. Feruta emphasized the IAEA’s desire to continue cooperation with Iran and stressed the importance of the IAEA’s “independence” and “impartiality.”

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Labor Protestors Handed Heavy Sentences

Revolutionary Court Branch 28 handed out heavy sentences to workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory and Ahvaz Steel Company, who were engaged in protests last year. Read more on the labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company and Haft Tapeh Sugercane Factory in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Labor activists Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi were sentenced to seven years in prison each. Both were rearrested earlier this after they said they were tortured during their original time in custody last year. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Nine other labor activists as well as several editors of the pro-labor Gam magazine were also given lengthy prison sentences. As detailed in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, the editors were arrested in January.

After the sentences were announced to widespread outcry, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said in a letter they would be revised. Raisi said he had given a “special” order for the “revision” of the sentences and “fair treatment” in relation to the “sentences of some recent cases” at a branch of the Revolutionary Court.

Mohammad Shariatmadari, the minister of Labor in the Rouhani administration, thanked Raisi and announced his willingness to create a joint committee with the judiciary on labor issues. In his letter to Raisi, Shariatmadari said the sentences against the labor protesters was “shocking.”

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Impounded British Tanker May Be Released Soon

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said that the Stena Impero, the British tanker Iran seized in July, could be released soon. He stated: “This ship is currently in the last stages of judicial and legal proceedings and we hope that in the near future it will be released.” 

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Hardline Cleric Says Negotiations with U.S. Not Forbidden

Ahmad Khatami, a prominent hardline cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts, has said that negotiations with the U.S. are not forbidden. He stated: “They [the U.S.] are seeking to dictate their demands to Iran and to get the Iranian nation to surrender to these demands.” He added: “Anyone who has religious honor will be pessimistic about the enemy and will never be optimistic about America.”

However, he added regarding negotiations with the U.S.: “We don’t forbid negotiations with America or Europe. But such a negotiation is poison. They are after this negotiation for their own survival.”

He further added: “The nation will not forget anyone who negotiates with the enemy at this point.”

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NIAC Congratulates Trump for Firing Bolton

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Just now, reports broke that President Donald Trump dismissed John Bolton from his role as National Security Advisor.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi released the following statement:

“We congratulate President Donald Trump on what may become the best decision of his Presidency. This single move dramatically reduces the chances of a new, catastrophic war in the Middle East. We have long said that the key first step in resolving the crisis with Iran was for Trump to fire Bolton. So long as Bolton was in the administration, he would always be the fox in the henhouse working to sabotage diplomacy.

“John Bolton should have never been in the White House to begin with and nearly took this country into the disastrous war with Iran that he has long dreamed of. Bolton came into Trump’s administration with a long agenda on Iran to kill the nuclear deal, start a disastrous war, and empower radical undemocratic groups like the MEK. Now the work can finally begin to put out the fires that Bolton started.

“The timing of this move is fortuitous given recent French efforts to facilitate dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. Bolton was a major obstacle to any resumption of diplomacy and, now that he has been dismissed, the Trump Administration should take proactive steps to enable dialogue and a diplomatic resolution with Iran. As with Bolton’s time in office, the time has come to dispense with the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and halt necessary sanctions to enable talks to move forward.

“If Trump prefers to be a dealmaker rather than a war-starter, his Administration and National Security Advisor must reflect this. We hope the White House will find someone to succeed Bolton who aims to resolve challenges through diplomacy rather than endless wars.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Intent to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran would reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this Friday. This is the third time Iran has taken such steps since the Trump Administration abrogated the agreement last year. The latest declaration comes ahead of the deadline set by Iran for Europe to uphold sanctions lifting obligations in exchange for Iran’s continued compliance with the nuclear accord. 

Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for returning to full compliance with the deal. The proposal includes a $15 billion credit line to offset oil revenue lost under U.S. sanctions, but its payout requires a commitment from the U.S. not to block the funds.

In response to these latest developments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement: 

“Iran’s announcement is a predictable consequence of the Trump administration seemingly closing off every opportunity to resolve the Iran standoff diplomatically. A U.S. failure to pivot from maximum pressure to the diplomatic opportunities initiated by France and other American allies ensures a continued cycle of escalation that could quickly spin out of control.

“Iran’s decision to stop abiding by further JCPOA restrictions risks playing into the escalation trap set by John Bolton and other diplomatic spoilers. While France and other mediators have sought to mitigate U.S.-Iran tensions and safeguard the JCPOA, Bolton and other administration hawks are furiously attempting to fuel the flames of hostility.

“Importantly, Iran’s actions on the JCPOA are reversible and it has indicated its readiness to return to full compliance with the deal if parties to the accord provide Iran with sanctions relief. The current French proposal to establish a $15 billion credit line for Iran stands to achieve this, but only if President Trump allows it to materialize. 

“The ball is in the President’s court. He has the option to de-escalate the dangerous tensions with Iran and move the two countries off the path to war. But only if he shifts away from counterproductive “maximum pressure” and towards practical actions that build the confidence necessary for successful diplomacy.”

Iranian Officials Stress They Won’t Negotiate with Trump

Week of August 26th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani Walks Back Comments Suggesting He Would Meet Trump

After Foreign Minister Zarif and French President Macron met at the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, President Rouhani signalled a willingness to meet President Trump.  Rouhani said after the Zarif-Macron meeting: “I believe that every tool should be used to achieve the country’s interests. If I know that I go a meeting and see someone and in the end the country can get prosperous and the people’s problems solved, I won’t hesitate. This is our main national interest.”

Macron said after meeting Zarif that he was optimistic that Trump and Rouhani would meet. He said “a roadmap has sort of been set” for diplomacy. He disclosed that “in the next few weeks,” he hopes a meeting will take place between the two leaders that he predicts “is going to lead to bringing an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this [standoff].” Macron also said that Rouhani had told him he would be willing to meeting Trump.

However, a day later Rouhani walked back his seeming remarks that he would be open to meeting Trump. Rouhani emphasized he was not seeking a photo-op with Trump: “We are not after taking pictures for someone to take a picture with Hassan Rouhani. This is not acceptable. Even it being photoshopped is not acceptable.”

Rouhani then reiterated a longstanding position that U.S. sanctions must first be removed before any meeting: “To record a real picture is not possible unless the Americans give up on all their oppressive sanctions and respect the rights of the Iranian people. At that time, there will be a new situation and it would be possible to think and take an action that is based on our national interests.”

Zarif’s trip to France and meeting with Macron spurred negative reactions from conservative factions in Iran. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, said to Rouhani: “The clearest result of your negotiations with America was the JCPOA. No one, and I emphasize no one, can have any doubt about how disastrous that was.”

 Kayhan also said Zarif’s trip to France was “improper.” It said the French proposal was aimed at “extending the nuclear deal to the areas of missiles and the region” and was in practice, “a repeat of America’s 12 crude conditions [for negotiations].”

Tasnim, an outlet close to the Revolutionary Guards, said that Zarif’s trip to France was “not necessary.” Tasnim called for Iran to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in order to make the other side’s “proposals more realistic and appealing.”

The reformist outlet Fararu highlighted that after the G7 developments, the U.S. imposed new sanctions, Trump officials revealed the U.S. had launched a cyberattack, and John Bolton ruled out removing any sanctions before reaching a deal.

Fararu analyzed thusly: “The possibility exists that elements in the Trump administration are trying to exacerbate distrust and doubt between the U.S. and Iran. These elements are worried about a potential meeting between Rouhani and Trump.”

Fararu also said that no Rouhani-Trump meeting would take place until Iran had increased its bargaining position. It stated: “A meeting with Trump or negotiations with America in general have requirements. Experience shows that Iran enters negotiations with America when it has enough leverage to pressure the other side.”

Fararu mentioned that this pressure may include Iran returning to enriching uranium at the 20-percent level.

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Deputy FM says Iran Only Seeks Negotiations with Europe

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stressed that Iran was only pursuing negotiation with Europe, not America. He stated in an interview after the G7 developments: “Our negotiations are with Europe for our demands to be met. We don’t have any negotiations with America. No country will accept negotiations while under maximum pressure because if it does, it is negotiations for surrender.”

Araghchi said that Europe must either buy Iranian oil directly or give Iran credit for future purchases. He stated: “We have told the Europeans either to buy our oil or if they cannot to give credit for the equivalent purchases of Iranian oil and in this way, pre-purchase Iranian oil.”

Araghchi said that if Europe makes this commitment on Iranian oil purchases, Iran will remain in the JCPOA. If not, Araghchi said, Iran will in 10 days (on September 7th) takes it third step to reduce compliance with the deal.

Araghchi also said of Iran’s conditions for negotiations with the U.S.: “America must remove the sanctions and return to the JCPOA. In this way, within the framework of the P5+1, negotiations can occur. No negotiations or meeting will occur if sanctions are not removed.”

Separately, President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said an Iranian delegation was traveling to France next week. According to Vaezi, the team will be comprised of Iranian economic experts. 

Vaezi stated that progress has been made in negotiations with Europe: “Since last week the progress in negotiations [with Europe] has not been bad. It has been good. A delegation will travel to France next week and engage in detailed discussions on the issues. When that delegation returns to Iran, then we can better comment on implementing the third step [of Iran reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”

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Senior Cleric Calls for Major Reforms

Hashem Hashemzadeh Herisi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, has criticized conditions in Iran and called for a change in government policies. The Assembly of Experts is an elected body constitutionally mandated with choosing and supervising the Supreme Leader.

Herisi said Iran’s leaders had to change “everything.” He said that with the continuation of the status quo “the livelihood and fate of the people is in danger.” He added: “We have to change not only our words but everything about us.”

Herisi called for top-down change in Iran: “Solving these problems through bottom-up change is very costly. It would destroy Islam, the revolution, the clergy, and Iran. But if we engage in top-down reform and start with changing our words, actions, and political management style, the people will support us.”

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Two Senior Clerics Meet after Public Feud

Two senior clerics, Sadegh Larijani and Mohammad Yazdi, have met publicly after recently getting in a vitriolic public feud. Both are conservative figures and former heads of Iran’s judiciary. Larijani is the current head of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council and Yazdi is a member of the Guardian Council.

In pictures released by Abbas Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council’s spokesman, Larijani and Yazdi are seen talking to each other and smiling. Earlier, Yazdi had publicly criticized Larijani. Larijani responded with a letter to Yazdi that was also released publicly 

Larijani had said in his letter to Yazdi: “In the Guardian Council, the imprecise, unjustified, and even irrelevant remarks by you is something that is clear to the members.”

In his initial remarks, Yazdi suggested Larijani had illicit sources of wealth: “This person says that if you take this action, I’ll go to Najaf [in Iraq]. So go! You think that with you leaving Qom will fall apart? You being in Qom has barely had a consequence. Much less you leaving to Najaf … You created a mansion under the guise of a seminary school [in Qom]. Is this from your father’s inheritance? Where did you get this [money]?”

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports in the Iranian press against Larijani amid a self-proclaimed crackdown against corruption by current judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi succeeded Larijani as judiciary head in March.

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Rouhani Says Economic Conditions Have Stabilized

President Rouhani said that Iran’s economic conditions are better than last year when the U.S. left the nuclear deal. He stated that “all domestic indicators” indicate that the country’s economic situation had improved and is “more stable.”

President Rouhani also said that last year a European leader told him that Trump believed that if Europe joined U.S. sanctions, Iran’s government would collapse in months. Rouhani said in this regard: “This person who claimed this will himself leave and his political party will leave power. But the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain for hundreds of years more fortified than today.”

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IRGC Official Sheds New Light on U.S. Drone Downing

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has shed new light on Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone in June. Hajizadeh said Iran didn’t believe a war would break out: “They launched a major psychological operation to indicate that they would start a war against us. Even the intelligence agencies of our friends said that we would be attacked. But we knew that nothing would occur.

Hajizadeh contended the downing of the drone has removed the risk of war: “This [psychological operation] was a hoax to bring us to negotiating table. The shadow of war was removed with the downing of the U.S. drone.”

Hajizadeh said Iran was ready to target U.S. bases across the region: “We were confident that if the first U.S. missile or bomb hit our land, we would have hit their bases in the region and ships in the Gulf of Oman that were already in our targets.”

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Russia & China Offer to Sell Iran Military Aircraft, Official Says

Abdolkarim Banitarafi, the head of the Iranian Armed Forces’ Aviation Industries, attended the MAKS weapons exhibition in Moscow.  Also attending the show were Chinese representatives and Turkish President Reccip Tayeb Erdogan, who expressed interest in buying Russian fighter jets.

Banitarafi said that Russia and China had made proposals to sell fighter aircraft to Iran. If the JCPOA survives, UN sanctions on Iran purchasing armaments will expire next year. Banitarafi said that until these sanctions are removed, Iran will only be engaged in “negotiations and talk” about buying the military aircraft.

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NIAC Congratulates Sharif University Students on 2019 AIAA Win

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 29, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding travel and sanctions restrictions placed on Iranian students from Sharif University of Technology, who won the engine design competition at the 2019 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum:

“We would like to commend the group of Sharif students who defied the odds to win an engine design competition at a prestigious AIAA forum, as well as to extend our apologies on behalf of our elected government for the ridiculous and offensive hurdles placed in these students’ way.

“This group of engineering students from Sharif University entered the AIAA competition only to have their entry into the U.S. denied due to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban that denies visas for all Iranians with few, apparently arbitrary, exceptions. Undeterred, the group participated by video conference and managed to win the competition only to learn that they could not receive the cash prize for their program due to U.S. sanctions.

“These students are among Iran’s best and brightest, and U.S. policies should seek to empower them and allow humanity to benefit from their ingenuity. However, instead of celebrating their successes, these extraordinary students have been met with hurdles and indignities. This is a microcosm of the self-defeating and nonsensical treatment of Iranians by U.S. government policies. The Iranian people already have to deal with their own government’s deplorable human rights record, corruption, and other failings. Unfortunately, our American government often chooses to makes the situation worse. 

“NIAC reiterates its condemnation of the Trump administration’s unjust and xenophobic Muslim ban and the broad sanctions policies that are punishing ordinary Iranians. NIAC calls for an end to these destructive measures and for a U.S. approach towards Iran that prioritizes peace and engagement. We will continue our work to press for change and remain determined to remove barriers and instead build bridges between the American and Iranian people.”

Rouhani & IRGC Differ on Negotiations

Week of August 12, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani Stresses Support for Negotiations

President Rouhani rejected the presence of foreign military forces in the Persian Gulf and called for the “coastal countries of this historic Gulf” to provide for its security. He further said that the U.S. call to form a military coalition in the Persian Gulf had not come to fruition: “All the slogans about creating a new coalition in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea are for show and are not able to be implemented.”

However, he added in this regard: “With a doubt, if any of these slogans are put into practice, it will not help the security of this region [the Persian Gulf].”

The Trump administration has called for a global coalition to police the waters of the Persian Gulf. According to the State Department, Washington invited 60 countries to join the would-be coalition. Germany, Japan, and Spain openly rejected the invitation. The UK said it would join, while Australia said it will review the matter. Israel said it is prepared to participate in the coalition.

Rouhani said that that Israel participating in such a coalition was an “absurd” suggestion. He stated that Israel was the “primary source for terrorism, war and killings in the region.”

Rouhani also defended negotiations in principle with other countries. He stated: “We will continue our path until the final victory sometimes with negotiations and sometimes with steadfastness and resistance.”

He again defended the JCPOA, saying the agreement removes arms sanctions against Iran next year and mandates the removal of all sanctions in three years. He said: “To make the obligations balanced, we have begun to reduce our compliance with the agreement while continuing negotiations. We are and always have been of the belief that we should never run away from [diplomatic] engagement and negotiations.”

Rouhani emphasized he supports negotiations if the environment is “conducive”, stating: “The environment should be conducive [for negotiations]. The other side should believe in negotiations and resolving the issues. In this case in which all the conditions are appropriate, we are always willing to engage with the world and negotiate with the other side to meet aims.”

Rouhani also stressed that he still advocates for diplomatic engagement, stating: “We are and have always been seeking engagement. This is the reason we have not left the JCPOA and are reducing our compliance in a planned, gradual way.”

Rouhani also stated that Iran was ready to further reduce its JCPOA compliance: “If at the end of the second 60-day period we don’t reach a result, we will definitely start the third stage. After this, we will give another 60 days for us to reach a logical, correct, and balanced path and to adhere to commitments in exchange for commitments.”

Last week, Rouhani suggested Iran would negotiate with the U.S. in exchange for sanctions relief: “We support negotiations. If America really wants to negotiate, it needs to remove all sanctions and cease its crimes and economic terrorism. The path for America is sincere repentance.”

Mahmoud Vaezi, President Rouhani’s chief of staff, has said that negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA are going well. He stated: “The negotiations with Europe have gotten more serious. Alongside these negotiations, there have been talks for us to reach a framework. We are hopeful that we will reach a position of getting the JCPOA’s benefits.”

However, Vaezi also said that if Europe and Iran do not reach a “conclusion,” there is “no doubt” Iran would take its third step to reduce its JCPOA compliance. Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi stated Iran would not negotiate while under pressure. He proclaimed: “For a long time they [the U.S.] had this expectation from the Islamic Republic [that it would negotiate]. However, this expectation is in vain because Iran will never participate in negotiations that do not abide by international law and regulations.”

He added: “No wise person would negotiate when they are under pressure and a weapon is pointed at them.”

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IRGC Chief Describes Negotiations as “Destroyed Logic”

IRGC chief Hossein Salami has said that negotiations are a “destroyed logic” and a “deception” aimed at “defeating” the Islamic Republic. Salami declared: “Everyone knows that the enemy will not create the conditions for overcoming our difficulties. Whatever the enemy says is a prescription for our defeat. Negotiations were a deception and aren’t even a solution. Through negotiations, the enemy has increased its pressures and demands. They want our surrender, not honor.”

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Iran to Shutter “Nature Schools”

Isa Kalantari, the head Iran’s Environmental Department, has said that “nature schools” are now illegal and will be shut down. Kalantari said that religious clerics say the schools are “against Sharia law” and that the Intelligence Ministry says its founders belong to the communist Tudeh Party.

The Tudeh Party was founded in 1941 and was outlawed by the Islamic Republic in 1983. Many of its members were imprisoned, tortured, and killed both before and after the 1979 revolution.

The first of the “nature schools” was opened 2013 and they received a license to operate from Iran’s Environmental Department. Their stated goal is to teach children “life skills.”

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Dual British-Iranian Academic Arrested

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian academic, was arrested on August 11th in Tehran, according to his family. The charges against him have not been announced and it is unclear which institution arrested him. Last year, Ahmady won the World Peace Foundation’s Literature and Humanities Award at George Washington University.

Ahmady’s wife, Shafagh Ahmady, has said that security forces raided their house: “Security forces came with Mr. Ahmady to our house. They totally messed up the place and took documents like birth certificates.”

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Members of the Baha’i Faith Arrested

At least ten members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested throughout Iran in recent days. On August 10th, three Baha’i Iranians were arrested in Tehran and sent to Evin prison. Another was arrested in Shiraz and has been imprisoned. Other Baha’i Iranians have been arrested in Birjand and Tehran recently.

According to reports, security forces searched the homes of all these individuals and confiscated their personal belongings, including cell phones, identification documents, and computers. Security forces also interrogated and searched the home of Jamaloldin Khanjani, the leader of the Baha’i Society of Iran. Khanjani was imprisoned from 2008 to 2017.

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Khamenei Meets Houthi Representatives

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with a delegation from Yemen’s Houthi movement, including its spokesperson Mohammad Abdolsalam. Abdolsalam delivered a letter to Khamenei from the leader of Houthi movement, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi. The details of the letter have not been disclosed. Ayatollah Khamanei’s senior advisor on foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati, was present during the meeting.

Khamenei stated that Saudi Arabia and the UAE seek to partition Yemen and called for Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue to preserve a unified Yemen. He proclaimed: “They are seeking to disintegrate Yemen. This plot must be resisted strongly and a united Yemen with its full territorial integrity must be supported.”

Khamenei added:  “Preserving a unified Yemen, given the different religious beliefs and ethnic groups in this country, requires Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue.”

Khamenei condemned what he said was the West’s “indifference” to the Yemen war.  He stated: “What is happening in Yemen shows the realities of today’s world and those who claim to support human rights.”

He then defended the Islamic Republic’s stance against the United States: “This position is not based on prejudice, but on reality and the actions of American and Western officials. They portray themselves as humanitarian, civil, and moral, but commit the worst crimes while always talking about human rights.”

Khamenei also said that the Yemeni people will go on to form a “strong government.” He stated: “With their deep civilization and history and their spirit of striving for God and being steadfast that they have shown in the past five years, the Yemeni people have a good future ahead of them. They will form a strong government and within the framework of that government, will progress.”

Houthi spokesperson Abdolsalam said the group will fight for a unified Yemen “until total victory”. He stated: “The Yemeni people are facing extremely difficult conditions and are standing against aggressors from seventeen countries empty handed but with faith and perseverance. We promise you that the Yemeni nation will be united and one and will continue to be steadfast against the oppressor’s aggression until total victory.” 

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Iran Warns Against U.S.-Led Persian Gulf Coalition

Week of August 5, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Former Reformist President Criticizes Rouhani & Parliament

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has criticized the performance of the Rouhani administration and the current parliament. He censured what he said were “shortcomings” and failing to follow through on “promises.” Khatami’s support proved critical to Rouhani winning his presidential elections and the coming to power of the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament in 2016.

Khatami further criticized what he said was “silence” and a failure to “give warnings” about violations of law from the Rouhani administration and parliament.  He stated: “I wonder why an administration that came to power to attain the people’s rights and a parliament that claims to defend the nation and its fundamental rights, at least the reformists who went to parliament, does not shout or take actions.”

Khatami also stated in recent months that without tangible reforms, people will no longer listen to his call to turnout to vote. However, in another recent speech, he underscored the risk of war and said that people should “go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.”

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Iran Warns Against US-Led Persian Gulf Coalition

Defense Minister Amir Hatami held talks with his Omani, Kuwaiti, and Qatari counterparts and strongly rebuked the creation of a U.S.-led military coalition in the Persian Gulf. Hatami said such a force would cause “instability” in the Persian Gulf and that local countries should instead provide for the region’s security. Britain has said it would join the force, while Germany and Japan have explicitly said they will not.

Hatami also denounced the potential that Israel would join the coalition as “provocative” and auguring “catastrophic consequences.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi also said that an Israeli presence in the U.S. coalition would be a “flagrant threat against Iran’s national security.”

Mousavi added that Iran would respond to this threat “within the framework of the country’s defense policies” and that the U.S. and Israel would be responsible “for the consequences of this dangerous action.”

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Intelligence Minister Says Trump has Killed Chances for Diplomacy

Mahmoud Alavi, the Rouhani administration’s intelligence minister, has declared that President Trump has killed chances for diplomacy. He proclaimed regarding Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA: “Trump by violating this commitment, has delivered the finishing bullet to his chances for negotiating with Iran. He’ll take his wish for negotiations with Iran to the grave.”

Alavi also stated that national unity in Iran had increased as a result of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. He stated: “During this period, the nation’s cohesion, unity, and solidarity has increased. The U.S. President who thought he could bring Iran to its knees in six months has been disappointed.”

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Qods Force Commander Soleimani Meets with Zarif

Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani visited Foreign Minister Zarif after Zarif was sanctioned last week by the Trump administration. In their meeting in the foreign ministry building, Soleimani said the U.S. sanctions were “a sign of the definite defeat of the White House.”

Soleimani further proclaimed: “This action by America proves that you, as someone responsible for the country’s foreign policy, have a deep impact on public opinion, especially on the American people, regarding the ignorance of that country’s leader.”

Alireza Rahimi, a reformist member of parliament, said regarding the Soleimani-Zarif meeting:  “The valuable presence of commander Soleimani in the office of Dr. Zarif after his sanctioning reflects the practical and complete support of commander Soleimani for the country’s diplomacy. Such encouragement and sympathy represents the full unity of the field [i.e. on the ground efforts] and diplomatic presence [of the country] in confronting America at this difficult juncture.”

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Rouhani Defends Phone Call with Obama Six Years Ago

In a speech at Iran’s foreign ministry, President Rouhani defended his phone call with former U.S. President Barack Obama six years ago. Rouhani’s landmark phone conversation with Obama during the September 2013 UN General Assembly was the first between an Iranian and U.S. head of state since before Iran’s 1979 revolution. 

Rouhani said that if the call had not taken place, reaching the November 2013 interim nuclear deal (Joint Plan of Action, or JPOA) would have been fraught with “difficulty and delay.”

At the time, Rouhani was beset by domestic criticism from hardliners and Ayatollah Khamenei for taking the phone call from Obama. After his return from the 2013 UN General Assembly, he was greeted at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport by supporters and opponents, one of the latter of which threw a shoe at his car. Then-IRGC commander Mohammad Jafari also said the call was a “tactical mistake.” Ayatollah Khamanei indirectly criticized it by saying that “some of what occurred in New York was in my belief not right.”

It is unclear if Rouhani mentioned the 2013 call to simply rehash history or to highlight his belief in the importance of direct talks with the U.S. president to reduce tensions. Some Iranian analysts have viewed his comments as indicating the latter, given Tehran is debating but mostly rejecting the potential for negotiations with the Trump administration.

In the same speech, Rouhani also emphasized the value of peace and the cost of war for the United States. He stated: “As I said last year, making peace with Iran is the mother of all peace making. War with Iran would be the mother of all wars. If you want security and your soldiers in the region want security, this security will come for security [in return]. You cannot damage security and then expect security for yourself.”

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Official Says Iran Ready to Take Next Step on JCPOA

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said that Iran is ready to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA. He stated: “With the continuation of a lack of action from the Europeans to meet their JCPOA commitments, according to our declared plan, Iran will in about one month take its third step.”

Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA. Kamalvandi has said about what decision Iran will make: “We are holding meetings regarding this issue and the final decision will be taken by the high-ranking officials of the country depending on the situation which will then be implemented.” 

After a recent meeting of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal in Vienna, Russia announced that all the sides asked Iran to not take any further steps to reduce compliance with the accord.

Foreign Minister Zarif recently stated that Iran’s “third step” will not mean “the last step or an exit from the JCPOA.” However, Kamalvandi has said that “as we move forward, commitments have waned and in practical terms there will be no JCPOA left.”

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Phd Student Freed After Six years Imprisonment

Hamid Babaei, a Phd student who was arrested in August 2013, has been released from prison after six years. Babaei was studying in Belgium and was arrested after returning to Iran in 2013.  According to his relatives, he was arrested for refusing to cooperate with Iran’s intelligence services.

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Hardline Newspaper Attacks Zarif’s Defense of the JCPOA

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, wrote a piece sharply criticizing Foreign Minister Zarif. Shariatmadari was rebuking a response Zarif had given to a Kayhan journalist. 

The journalist had asked Zarif during a press conference: “Mr. Zarif, on February 1st, 2019, you wrote on Twitter that an agreement with America is not worth the ink it is written on. But a few weeks earlier you had said that if you could return to four years ago, you would again sign the JCPOA. My question is why should an agreement that isn’t worth the ink it’s signed on be signed again?”

Shariatmadari censured Zarif for what he said was his “long winded” answer to the question which raised “more baseless claims.” Zarif said in his answer that the JCPOA was not only an agreement with the United States, but with other world powers, and that its over 150 pages were testament to the carefulness of Iran’s diplomats.

Shariatmadari said he had a “short and logical” view, which he put thusly: “Rouhani and Zarif must be held accountable for throwing away the capabilities and opportunities the system gave them in the process of the nuclear negotiations.”

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Zarif Says Iran has No Problems with Saudi Arabia

Foreign Minister Zarif stated that Iran “has no problems with Saudi Arabia.” He added that “the end of the Yemen war would be a milestone for regional countries.” However, he also stated that “Saudi Arabia seeks victory in military conflicts, which cannot be realized.”  

Zarif further said that the Yemen war has no military solution. He stated: “From the beginning we stressed that the Yemen issue has no military solution. Right now, they [Saudi Arabia] must end the Yemen war. This is a war in which they have dismissed all political solutions to end and they believed they could win in several weeks.”

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IRGC Chief Says Iran’s Allies Deter War 

Hossein Salami, the head of the IRGC, has said that Iran’s network of regional allies is a “reason” that war has been deterred. He added: “The enemy cannot focus on Iran because in the sense of war, the geography will be vast. Everywhere there will be an outbreak of war and fire and danger for the enemy.”

He said any war would threaten Israel’s existence: “In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, a power has taken form. The enemy knows that in any war the Zionist regime [Israel] will be exposed to an all-out threat and irreversible collapse.”

Salami also stated that Iran was “not worried” about a war breaking out. He stated: “We are not worried about a military war because we have power and readiness and the enemy is incapable of having a will to attack or engage in a military war.” 

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Iran-Azerbaijan Increase Cooperation on North-South Corridor Trade Route

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the management and budgeting organization, said that Iran was increasing cooperation with Azerbaijan on the North-South Corridor. The North-South Corridor is a trade route that seeks to boost economic interconnectivity between India and Russia and the countries in between. It is seen by some as India’s rival to China’s One Belt, One Road project.

Bagher stated that Azerbaijan is cooperating with Iran to construct a new railway connecting the two countries as part of the North-South Corridor. Bagher stated it would be used for commercial purposes as well as by passengers.

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Iranian Officials React to U.S. Sanctioning Zarif

Week of July 29, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Officials React to U.S. Sanctioning Zarif

President Rouhani described the U.S. sanctioning of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as a “childish” act rooted in a “fear” of Zarif. He said the action showed that the “enemy” is “helpless.”

Rouhani said that the sanctions reflected the contradictions in U.S. policy towards Iran, stating: “On one hand they said they are ready for negotiations and on the other they sanction our foreign minister.”

Rouhani said that the sanctions on Zarif were preceded by “greater wrongs,” including “sanctioning the leader [Ayatollah Khamenei].”

Abbas Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for Iran’s conservative-leaning Guardian Council, said the sanctions were “evidence” of Trump’s “lie of seeking negotiations.” He stated: “America is not only afraid of Iran’s missiles, but also of Iran’s words. Sanctioning Iran’s foreign minister means that all the words of Donald Trump and the other heads of that regime about seeking negotiations and dialogue with Iran are lies. It means that all America’s claims about freedom of speech are false. It means the collapse of the Statue of Liberty.”

Eshaq Jahingiri, Rouhani’s reformist first vice president, stated: “The sanctioning of Iran’s foreign minister by the Trump administration is a new sign of the irrationality, helplessness, and adventurism of a bullying power. Even the wise enemies know of Zarif’s unmatched skills and capabilities in dialogue and seizing opportunities to avoid war. Sanctioning Zarif is another reason reflecting the hypocrisy and lies of [the U.S.] seeking negotiations.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) condemned as “ridiculous” the sanctioning of Zarif, stating: “America adding the names of the officials and commanders of the holy Islamic Republic system to its so-called sanctions list is an inconsequential action that has precedent. However, the Americans sanctioning our respected foreign minister who is responsible for our country’s diplomatic institution, shows yet again their anger from the inspirational and anti-arrogance rhetoric of the Islamic Revolution and makes clear to everyone their enmity with the political system and people of Iran.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs, said in response: “America doesn’t even have the ability to confront the precise and proven logic of the Islamic Republic.” 

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Three Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activists Given Long Prison Sentences

Three anti-compulsory hijab activists, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz have been sentenced to a cumulative 55 years and six months in prison. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), if the sentences are upheld, each will have to serve 10 years in prison. Under Iranian law, the longest sentence against a defendant is the one enforced.

According to HRANA, the sentences were passed in court during a session in which the lawyers of the three women were not present. Their lawyers also said they were not allowed to represent their clients during their interrogation or trial. They said they will appeal the ruling.

The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Musa Ghazanfarabadi, has said that anyone sending videos or pictures to Masih Alinejad would face charges of between one and ten years in prison. Alinejad is a U.S.-based activist who campaigns against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and collects footage of Iranian women removing their hijabs.

According to Amnesty International, at least 39 people have been arrested in Iran during the past year for protesting against compulsory hijab.

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Rouhani Defends JCPOA & Says Agreement with Europe Possible

In a speech in the northwestern city of Tabriz, President Rouhani defended the negotiation of the JCPOA and argued for preserving the deal. Rouhani said that the JCPOA was an agreement that was accepted by “all” institutions in the Iranian government. This is in contrast to recent remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei seeking to distance himself from the deal and pin responsibility for it on Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif.

Rouhani stated that if the JCPOA lasts, next year Iran will be able to purchase weapons in the global arms market. He stated: “If this agreement lasts until next years, all the UN sanctions on armaments against Iran will be completely removed. This means that we can buy or sell any weapons.”

Rouhani also commented on ongoing negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA and said it was possible an agreement would be reached. He stated: “It is possible that in the upcoming weeks we reached a positive solution in the negotiations. If we don’t, we will take our third step [to reduce compliance with the JCPOA].”

However, Rouhani stated that the European offers have not been “balanced” and that Iran does not “accept them.” He added that in its negotiations with the Europeans, Iran is “not acting on the basis” that it will have to take a “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance.

Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

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New INSTEX Chief Appointed

Former German Ambassador to Iran Bernd Erbel has been appointed the new head of INSTEX. Per Fischer, a former Commerzbank executive, is stepping down from the role. INSTEX is the financial mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to save the JCPOA and preserve some trade with Iran.

According to European officials, INSTEX began facilitating transactions with Iran roughly one month ago. However, Iranian officials say that unless Europe can facilitate its JCPOA-obligated sanctions relief, particularly in the areas of buying Iranian oil and normalizing banking relations, Iran will continue to reduce compliance with the JCPOA.

Erbel is a veteran diplomat who also served as Germany’s ambassador to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait. He is reportedly fluent in Persian, Arabic, and English.

In an interview conducted two weeks ago, Erbel discussed Iran’s political conditions and regional tensions. In the interview, Erbel said that if the JCPOA was implemented as President Obama envisioned and President Rouhani was able to improve Iran’s economy, Rouhani could have become Ayatollah Khamenei’s successor.

Erbel stated that the Trump administration’s policies have offset this scenario of Rouhani succeeding Khamenei.

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Iranian Officials Say Tanker Crisis Can Be Diplomatically Resolved

Week of July 22, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Officials Defend British Tanker Seizure, Call for Diplomatic Resolutions

 

President Rouhani declared that Iran and its neighbors are “primarily responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.” Rouhani was speaking after the British government said it would seek an increased military presence in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized a British oil tanker.

Rouhani stated that European countries must refrain from actions such as the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar by British forces weeks ago. Rouhani stated that if European countries “don’t stop their wrong actions such as what occurred in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran.” 

However, Ali Rabiee, the spokesperson for the Rouhani Administration, stated the seizure of the British tanker was not an act of retaliation by Iran. He asserted it was a “correct legal action.”

Rabiee contended that the two tanker seizures were not comparable. He stated that the British tanker had violated the “laws and regulations of seafaring” by “turning off its transponder” and instead of “going in the direction of the entrance to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, took a southern route and failed to listen to warnings from our forces.”

Rabiee said the British tanker was “stopped” in Iranian waters, while, according to Rabiee, “even Spanish officials say our tanker was stopped in Spanish waters.” Rabiee then stressed that the tanker crisis can be resolved through diplomacy.

On the other hand, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani stated that the seizure of the British tanker was a “response” to the capture of Iran’s tanker.

Mohammad Golpayegani, the head of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s office, said that the British had sent “intermediaries” to Iran to get the ship released. He proclaimed: “The country that once used to decide on who government ministers in Iran would be now has reached a place where it has to send intermediaries to ask for its ship to be freed.”

President Rouhani also proclaimed that “the entire world must thank the Revolutionary Guards for the Persian Gulf’s security.” He added: “We will not allow anyone to create disorder in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time, we are not after increasing tensions or a military confrontation.”

President Rouhani also emphasized that Iran was open to negotiations based on respect and not surrender. He stated: “As long as I have the responsibility for the country’s executive branch, we will always be ready for a negotiation that is just, legal, and has respect for the Iranian people and their rights.”

He added: “But we aren’t ready that under the name of negotiations, to sit at the table of surrender. We understand what negotiations are and what surrender is. We consider surrender unacceptable, our people and constitution will not accept it.”

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Imprisoned Political Prisoner Starts Hunger Strike

 

Imprisoned activist Sepideh Gholian has started a hunger strike. As detailed in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Gholian has been imprisoned since January 20th. She was first detained in November 2018 in connection to the labor protests led by workers from two companies in southwestern Iran. She was released after one month. 

After her release in December, Gholian said she was subject to torture. Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, who was held during the same period, also stated that he was tortured. Their claims spurred outrage and calls for investigations. Reformist MPs also invited Bakhshi to Parliament.

However, government officials denied their claims of torture after the Intelligence Ministry reportedly investigated the case.  Afterwards, Gholian and Bakhshi were rearrested based on a compliant from the Intelligence Ministry and on “security charges.” They will be tried in August.

The spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary said that a verdict was reached against the assailants that murdered an Iranian political prisoner months ago. The victim, 21-year-old Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, was killed by fellow inmates.

Mohammad Ali was arrested in August 2018 on charges of “insulting sanctities,” “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic,” “insulting the Leader,” and “propagandizing against the system.” He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

According to the judiciary spokesperson, the main assailant responsible for Mohammad Ali’s murder will be punished in accordance to qisas, or an “eye for an eye” punishment in Islamic law. The second assailant was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both also must pay financial compensation to the Mohammad Ali’s family.

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Deputy FM Travels to France with Proposal on Reducing U.S.-Iran Tensions

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi travelled to France to deliver a response to a French proposal on reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. According to foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi, Araghchi went to Paris as President Rouhani’s special representative. 

According to Iranian news outlet Alef citing knowledgeable sources, Araghchi was carrying President Rouhani’s counteroffer to a proposal that a French emissary recently delivered to Tehran. Read more about the French diplomat’s trip to Iran and President Macron’s effort to reduce U.S.-Iran tensions in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Macron’s proposal was widely reported as a “freeze for freeze” deal or “ceasefire” between the U.S. and Iran. According to some outlets, this would involve Iran ceasing from further reductions in its compliance with the JCPOA and the U.S. ceasing from imposing new sanctions and reissuing sanctions waivers for some importers of Iranian oil.

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Khamenei Advisor Warns Against Increasing Western Military Footprint in Persian Gulf

 

Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister and now military advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, has warned against moves to bolster Western military forces in the Persian Gulf. Amid reports that Britain is seeking a coalition to increase military patrols in the Persian Gulf, Dehghan declared: “Any change in the situation in the Strait of Hormuz will result in a dangerous confrontation.”

Dehghan also stated that Iran will “under no circumstances negotiate with the United States.” He added that Iran will speak to “no one” about its missile program.

Dehghan proclaimed that in the event of a war, “all U.S. bases in the region will come under attack by Iran’s armed forces.” He also repeated a line heard from many Iranian officials, that either “all countries can export their oil through the Strait of Hormuz, or no one can.”

Dehghan further stated that some Arab Persian Gulf countries had sent representatives to Tehran for peace negotiations.  He did not specify which countries, but added that the UAE had allowed itself to be turned into an “American military base to harm Iran’s national interests.”

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IRGC Initially Believed that U.S. Downed Iranian Drone

 

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has repeated that President Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone over the Persian Gulf was a “lie.” Dehghan said that the lie was “so big that we ourselves at first believed it.” Iran responded to Trump’s claim by denying it had lost any drone and releasing a video of an Iranian drone surveilling the U.S. vessel that Trump said shot the drone down.

Hajizadeh said “we couldn’t believe that he [Trump] would make such a big lie directly to the media.” He added: “For this reason, we delayed for a few hours before denying it. We saw that our unmanned drone surveilled the U.S. vessel from before its entrance into the Strait of Hormuz until after it passed through the strait.”

Hajizadeh then asserted that the “Americans themselves have now blamed John Bolton for this issue.”

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Intelligence Ministry Alleges Arrest of 17 U.S. Spies

 

The head of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s counterintelligence department announced the arrest of “17 spies trained by America’s intelligence agency.” The official said: “On June 18th of this year, the intelligence ministry was successful in destroying a spy network linked to America’s intelligence agency.” 

According to the official, indictments have been brought forward against the alleged spies and some will be executed. He added that they were employed in “sensitive and vital centers” and in “private sector jobs affiliated with these centers.” These included areas related to Iran’s economic, nuclear, military, and cyber sectors.

The official said that each of the alleged spies was handled by a “CIA officer.” He added that they were each an individual cell and that “none of them were in contact with each other.”

The official further said that the CIA had given the alleged spies guarantees regarding their safety, stating: “The CIA could not fulfill any of its guarantees. All of these spies are now engulfed in trouble for betraying the country.”

The official added, those who “engaged the intelligence ministry with total sincerity and whose remorse is proven, will be used against the Americans.”

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Next JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting Approaches

 

On July 28th, the JCPOA’s Joint Commission—comprised of the remaining parties to the accord—will meet in Vienna at the deputy foreign minister-level. The meeting was called for by the European members of the deal to discuss the “new situation” regarding the deal, referring to Iran reducing its compliance with the accord. 

The meeting will reportedly also be aimed at preparing the groundwork for another upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of the remaining JCPOA-signatory countries. Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, has reiterated that if the remaining JCPOA parties fail to meet their commitments under the deal, Iran will take “another step” in reducing its compliance with the deal in roughly 60 days. 

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NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

Iranian Officials Deny Losing Drone

Week of July 15, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Political Prisoner Narges Mohammadi Censures Prison Conditions

Narges Mohammadi, a political prisoner and lawyer, has written a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi criticizing the poor conditions that imprisoned environmentalist activists are facing. Mohammadi said their conditions were “illegal and reflected torture” and called for ending “these inhumane practices.” Mohammad herself is serving a ten-year prison sentence.

The eight environmentalist activists have now been imprisoned for over 500 days. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist at France’s Sciences Po University, was arrested by IRGC intelligence while visiting Tehran. A spokesperson for the Iranian judiciary confirmed the arrest, but the Iranian foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of it.

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President Rouhani Talks to French President, Welcomes “Ceasefire” Idea

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Rouhani said Iran was “determined to keep open all paths to preserve the JCPOA.” However, Rouhani stated that the “passage of time and missed opportunities will force Iran to take a third step [in reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”

Rouhani also said Europe should strive for a “ceasefire in the U.S. economic war.”  He stated: “Europe must expedite its efforts to meet Iran’s legitimate interests and establish a ceasefire in the American economic war.”

During a visit to Tehran last week, Macron’s top diplomatic advisor had said that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.

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Rouhani-Aligned Analyst Calls for Enriching at 20-Percent

Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University and an advisor to the Rouhani administration during the nuclear negotiations, gave a far-reaching interview on U.S.-Iran tensions. Hadian is viewed as a centrist and West-leaning foreign policy analyst. He has also served as a senior researcher for Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council.

Hadian said Iran should begin enriching at the 20-percent level and then “immediately announce that we are ready for dialogue.” Hadian said he believes that Trump has reached the “conclusion that it is better not to make the situation worse [with Iran].”

Hadian said he further believes that the recent trip to Tehran of a senior diplomatic advisor to French President Macron was coordinated with Washington. He opined: “Trump has reached the conclusion that the Iranian government will not collapse as a result of maximum pressure and that another path must be pursued. France is trying to pave this new path, meaning a path out of the current situation.”

Hadian further stated that Europe and America both seek a mutual “freeze” deal with Iran. The French emissary last week said in Tehran that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.

However, Hadian said such a “freeze” offer was “not to Iran’s benefit” and thus called on Iran to increase its level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent. 

Elsewhere in the interview, Hadian said that recent escalations in the Persian Gulf and in the region had changed President Trump’s calculations on his Iran policy. He stated: “The thesis of Bolton and Pompeo was that if we increase pressure on Iran it will submit. Trump accepted their view. However, Trump began doubting this when incidents started occurring in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz two months ago.”

Hadian added in this regard that Europe might be able to convince Trump to distance himself from his hawkish advisors and take a more realistic assessment of the situation. He stated: “He can listen to the Europeans and return to the JCPOA in a way that is gradual and unspecified. This will strengthen the mediation role of Europe between the U.S. and Iran and Iran will stop its gradual exit from the JCPOA.”

Hadian further stated that President Rouhani did not believe that Europe would be as incapable as it has been in resisting U.S. secondary sanctions. He stated: “We all knew that the position and capabilities of America are much higher than Europe … but all of us, including President Rouhani, did not think that Europe would be this incapable in facing America.”

Hadian explained why he believes that Europe will bear the brunt of the cost for any conflict with Iran: “Because most refugees and terrorists in the Middle East will head towards Europe. Political and social instability in this region and an increase in the price of oil will have far greater consequences for Europe than America.”

He then suggested Iran might build nuclear weapons if it comes under attack: “Additionally, Europe has security concerns that according to them include Iran developing atomic weapons or advanced missiles. They believe that if a war occurs, Iran will develop stronger weapons to defend itself.”

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Former Reformist President Khatami Calls for Unity Against Threat of War

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has declared that war is the “main danger” facing Iran and called for broad public unity against this threat. Khatami also emphasized that upcoming elections should not be boycotted by reformists. The next elections in Iran are for parliament on February 21, 2020.

Khatami stated that “reformists and discontented people must make a sacrifice and selfless act and go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.” However, he added that reformists cannot “enter elections at any cost.” He stated that “God willing the atmosphere will be opened and the qualifications will be accepted [of reformist candidates running for office by the Guardian Council].”

Khatami also said that the current parliament and the Rouhani administration should be held to account over the campaign promises they made but failed to achieve.

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Officials Deny Losing a Drone

After President Trump said that the USS Boxer had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian officials denied having lost any drone. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesperson for Iran’s Armed Forces, stated in this regard: “Contrary to the claims that reflect Trump’s delusions, all of the drones belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one discussed by America’s president, have safely returned to their bases after conducting their surveillance and planned control operations.”

Shekarchi added that President Trump’s comments create “insecurity” in the Persian Gulf and the “strategic waterway of the Strait of Hormuz.” He added: “The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran view the control and preserving the security of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz as their legal responsibility.”

Hours later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards released footage of what they said was surveillance of the USS Boxer by an Iranian drone. The video alleges to show the drone surveilling the ship after the time Trump said an Iranian drone had been shot down.

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IRGC Chief Says Iran Might Shift to “Aggressive” Posture

IRGC chief Hossein Salami proclaimed that if there is a “strategic mistake by the enemy,” Iran’s “strategic military doctrine will shift from a defensive strategy to an aggressive one.” Salami stated: “We act in a defensive way. This means we will not be the initiator of any war … however, if necessary, all of our capabilities will become aggressive.” Salami was speaking during a visit to the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the greater and lesser Tombs, which the UAE contests.

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Officials Dismiss Oil Tanker Accusations

Iranian officials dismissed reports in some Western outlets that Iranian authorities had commandeered oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. According to some reports, one Emirati tanker’s radar went offline after entering Iranian waters and another oil-carrying vessel was captured by the IRGC.

Iranian officials stated that the commandeered vessel was a “foreign” ship that was carrying “one million liters” of “smuggled” Iranian oil. According to Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, the other vessel was an oil tanker that had broken down and appealed to Iran for assistance, which Iran provided in accordance to international law.

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