Iran Dismisses Warsaw Summit as a Failure

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

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry Blasts Warsaw Summit as Failing to Isolate Iran

The Iranian foreign ministry blasted as a failure the Trump administration’s co-hosted summit in Warsaw on “peace and security” in the Middle East. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated: “Despite the far-reaching efforts of Washington to organize an inclusive summit and create a new coalition against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the summit was a failure before it ended. The small number of attendees and low-level representatives refused to cooperate with any anti-Iranian initiative.”

Ghassemi added: “The concluding statement was a useless document. Its text came only from the two countries that hosted the summit and lacked any credibility or semblance of a decision.”

He further stated: “How can a conference about peace and security in the Middle East be successful when the main regional players such as Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are not present? And important countries such as China and Russia and many major European countries and other countries are not present or sent very low-level officials?”

A columnist for the conservative Alef analyzed the Warsaw summit: “The U.S. regime has pursued Iranophobia because of the Islamic Republic’s role in politically isolating the U.S. at the international level and America’s defeat and frustration in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”

The writer said of the Iranian foreign ministry’s role in diminishing the effectiveness of the Warsaw summit: “The active diplomacy of the foreign ministry caused U.S. officials to become troubled and retreat from their original claims out of fear of organizing a useless gathering. They altered the original aim of the summit and declared that the summit wasn’t targeted against any one country (Iran).”

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Islamic Republic Celebrates 40 years as Ayatollah Khamenei Calls for “Second Great Leap”

On February 11th, the Islamic Republic celebrated its 40th anniversary with marches in Tehran and across the country. According to official outlets, millions marched in the annual state-backed rallies.

At a speech in Tehran’s Azadi Square, President Rouhani lauded what he said was Iran “freeing itself from despotism, colonialism, and dependency 40 years ago.” He also praised the country’s military strengths, stating: “We will continue this path, and I say this clearly to the people of Iran, that Iran’s military power in the past 40 years, especially in the recent five years, has amazed the entire world.”

A column in the conservative Alef discussed the February 11th rallies and the question of the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy. It asked: “In all these years one question has always existed about what the secret has been behind the presence and participation of a more or less consistent amount of people in 22 Bahman (February 11th) rallies?”

The writer went on: “It was especially expected this year that because of economic and societal crises that the level of people’s participation would decrease in a visible way … what explains the people’s presence and cooperation at a time when many officials across the three branches of government are facing a drop in public trust?”

The piece, reflecting a conservative point of view, noted: “It is clear that despite all shortcomings, deficiencies, and embezzlements, the political and social lives of Iranians has tangibly changed and the Islamic Republic is present in society’s fabric. It breathes, resists, and progresses. However, just like any living being at times in fails or even regresses.”

It added: “The transformation of government and the creation of a national government was one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic and is the main foundation that is preserving it. National government here means the stake that [ordinary] Iranians have in institutions from the Leadership to local government and city councils and the opportunity for them to contribute in a real way.”

The author concluded: “The constitutional revolution started the process of transitioning Iran from a tribal government to a national government. But the total amount of efforts taken during the constitutional and Pahlavi period led to no more than five percent of people having a stake in the government. The Islamic Revolution in the least optimistic view raised the stake of people in government to 40 percent, and in recent years it has remained above 30 percent [of people participating in government affairs].”

Ayatollah Khamenei also released a statement on the 40th anniversary of the revolution, in which he called on Iranian youth to take a “second great leap” to advance the revolution. In the statement, Khamenei gave an overview of achievements and events that had taken place since the revolution and a set of recommendations to the Iranian people, especially the youth.

Khamenei acknowledged regarding the situation of “justice and confronting corruption” in the country: “I explicitly say that there is a wide gap between what has happened and what should happen.”

He said of Iran’s support for regional proxies: “If back then the West’s problem was stopping Iran from purchasing basic weaponry, today its problem is the transfer of advanced weapons from Iran to resistance forces.”

Khamenei also called the United States and some European states “cowardly and untrustworthy.” He dismissed the idea of negotiations with the United States, proclaiming: “No issues can be resolved and other than moral and material harms nothing will come out of negotiations [with the U.S.].”

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Suicide Bomber Targets Bus Carrying IRGC Soldiers

On February 13th, a suicide bomber killed 27 and wounded 13 in an attack on a bus carrying Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldiers in southwestern Iran. The bomber drove a car full of explosives into the bus, which was travelling to the city of Zahedan. The Wahhabi-Salafist “Jaish al-Adl”—a group with a history of engaging in such terrorist attacks—claimed responsibility.

In a statement, IRGC commander Mojtaba Fada said that those killed were all from Isfahan province. He said the funeral for the soldiers would be Saturday.

Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the bombing on Iran’s regional rivals. He stated: “The connection is certain between the perpetrators of this criminal act and the spy agencies of some regional countries.” He added that the “responsible [Iranian] agencies” have been instructed to “focus” on this connection and “seriously pursue it.”

President Rouhani also linked the attack to “the White House, Tel Aviv, and their regional cronies.”

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Workers Write to International Labor Group for Support

On February 13th, the Iran-based “Confederation of Free Workers” wrote a letter to the International Labour Organization calling on the head of the organization to press the Iranian government to “unconditionally release imprisoned labor activists.” The letter specifically pointed to the labor activists Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, members of the confederation who were arrested in January. (More on their case in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

The confederation underscored a “new trend in repressing laborers” inside Iran. The letter cited the case of imprisoned labor activists Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati and noted that 40 workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel Company remain imprisoned.

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FATF Debate Coming to a Head

On February 16th, the Expediency Discernment Council is expected to reach its final decision regarding a bill introduced by the Rouhani administration to reform Iran’s anti-money laundering laws. The bill is part of a set of legislation designed to bring Iran into compliance with standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. The Expediency Discernment Council decision will come as the FATF deadline for Iran to reform its banking sector looms at the end of February. (For more background on the contentious domestic debate on the FATF bills, see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi recently sparked controversy after saying that the Expediency Discernment Council would be responsible for any consequences resulting from rejecting the FATF legislation. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the body’s standards. Vaezi had stated: “If the FATF legislation isn’t passed, pressure on us will increased. If the Expediency Discernment Council doesn’t approve these bills, it should accept the results of this action.”

On February 11th, Ebrahim Raisi, who ran as the main conservative presidential candidate in 2017 challenging Rouhani and heads the influence Astan Qods Razavi religious foundation, dismissed the importance of Iran passing the FATF bills. He stated: “Some state that if we don’t want to give an excuse to the enemy, we should sign these agreements and conventions. Who can guarantee that if we sign, the enemy will stop its excuses? Wasn’t the nuclear issue an excuse?”

He added: “The only solution with respect to the enemy has been steadfastness and resistance. This is an important signal and symbol to give the enemy.”

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Announcement on New Judiciary Chief Imminent

Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Eje’i has stated that the new head of the judiciary—replacing incumbent Sadegh Larijani—will be appointed by the end of the current Iranian year (March 21st). Eje’I said: “God willing the new head of the judiciary branch will be introduced and begin work before the end of the year and before the start of the new year.”

According to some Iranian media reports, hardline 2017 presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi will replace Sadegh Larijani as Iran’s judiciary chief on March 15th, securing one of the Islamic Republic’s most senior posts.

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President Rouhani Attends Syria Peace Talks in Russia

On February 14th, President Rouhani joined Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan for the fourth round of “Astana-process” Syria peace talks in Sochi. According to Iranian media outlets, Rouhani called on the international community to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and to support reconstruction efforts in Syria. He also said that the presence of foreign troops, namely American forces, remain in Syria “without the invitation of the [Syrian] government” and that this must “end as soon as possible.”

Rouhani said of the Astana process: “Our cooperation has managed to greatly diminish the fires of war and merciless killing that had overtaken Syria for years. Dialogue between the various sides has seen [political] differences substitute guns and bullets. Today, after over seven years since the start of the crisis, in most of this country there is security and stability except for a small part of the country.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Lebanon

On February 11th, Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Lebanon for a two-day visit and met with figures ranging from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In his meeting with Hariri, the prime minister called on Iran to release Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen and information technology expert arrested and accused of being a U.S. spy in 2015.

 

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Supreme Leader Calls for “Structural Reforms”

Week of February 4, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani and Foreign Ministry Respond to Trump’s State of the Union

On February 5th, President Rouhani responded to comments by President Trump that the U.S. would keep a base in Iraq to be “looking a little bit at Iran.” He said to Trump: “You say in a degrading and non-diplomatic way that we [the U.S.] will stay in Iraq. Before this, you said we were in Iraq to confront terrorism, but it’s good that you have said what’s in your heart now.”

Rouhani also asserted that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was not aimed at confronting terrorism, stating: “Why do you need to occupy a country if you have an air force? Why do you lie? You are there [Afghanistan] to be vigilant of the power of Russia, China, and Iran.”

On February 6th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi responded to President Trump’s State of the Union comments that Iran was the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and “threatens genocide against the Jewish people.” He stated Trump’s remarks were “baseless, fantastical, and irrational.”

Ghassemi added regarding Iran’s Jewish population: “Religious minorities including Jewish people in the Islamic Republic of Iran live under full freedom and have an independent member of parliament.”

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Iran and Europe to Discuss INSTEX in Paris

According to ISNA, technical meetings are due to take place soon in Paris between Iran and the three European states launching INSTEX. The Iranian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. INSTEX was launched last week as a mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. Read more about it in a previous Iran Unfiltered.

INSTEX has been met with criticism from conservative quarters. Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the parliament’s conservative Vilayi faction, has said INSTEX is a “trap” Europe has designed in coordination with the United States.

Others, such as former foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asafi, have criticized its limited scope in dealing only with humanitarian goods. Asafi has stated: “Definitely the expectation is that this mechanism will include broader goods” and will not be “limited to these three European countries.”

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Ayatollah Khamenei Orders “Structural Reforms” Within Four Months

On February 6th, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had given an “order to reform the country’s structure” within the next four months. Larijani stated: “He has ordered that within the next four months structures in the country be reformed. This may lead to reforming the national budget [for the upcoming Iranian year], which will be pursued after work on the budget in the parliament is completed.”

Larijani provided no further details of the instruction but stated: “In this regard domestic consensus and international unity are the key requirements of domestic politics.”

Amir Hossein Qazizadeh, a member of the parliament’s governing body, has said the order “doesn’t have to do with reforming the country.” Instead, he says, it has to do with “reforming the structure of the budget.”

Qazizadeh also recounted Ayatollah Khamenei’s response to questions from parliamentarians on the timeline for budget reforms. He said of Khamenei’s response: “I will give you four months to do everything you can to provide a budget bill for 1398 [the upcoming Iranian year]. On the matters that you don’t get to, you can add as amendments in Ordibehest (Iranian month between April 21-May 21).”

The Rouhani administration submitted its national budget bill to parliament for approval on January 5th. On February 4th, the parliament’s commission on consolidating the budget completed its technical review of the bill, which included adding amendments. The rest of the parliament now has ten days to give their suggestions on the budget bill.

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Rouhani Suggests Iran Would Deal with “Repentant” United States

On February 6th, President Rouhani suggested before an audience of foreign ambassadors and diplomats in Tehran that Iran would deal with a “repentant” United States. Rouhani stated that the U.S. was an “oathbreaker” and that Iran had “proven in these years that it’s precise when it comes to signing commitments” and that it “stands by its signature.”

Rouhani dangled the possibility of engaging the United States: “If America reverses course on its wrong path and apologizes for its past interventions and talks with respect with our people, we are ready to accept its repentance.”

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Ayatollah Khamenei’s Office Details Conditions for Clemency of Prisoners

On February 7th, Ayatollah Khamenei released details on the conditions for granting clemency to prisoners on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Every year, on the occasion of religious holidays or government celebrations, some prisoners are granted clemency. However, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani has said a higher amount—upwards of 50,000 prisoners—will be pardoned for the revolution’s upcoming anniversary. The conditions released by Khamenei’s office include stipulations for either commuting the sentences of prisoners or releasing them.

In response to speculation on whether political prisoners would be freed, Larijani has said that “we have no convicted detainees who are political prisoners.” He added: “If someone commits actions against national security, this is a separate criminal offense that must be addressed.” According to DW Farsi, there are currently hundreds of prisoners charged under offenses such as “actions against national security, propagandizing against the political system, and disturbing public sentiment.”  

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran Willing to Share Nuclear Knowledge, Clarifies Arak Reactor Remarks

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated that Iran is willing to share its knowledge of nuclear power and constructing research reactors with neighboring countries. Salehi said such cooperation can be grounds for rebuilding trust between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors.

Salehi also stated that Iran was conducting experiments on advanced IR-8 centrifuges, which he said would take five to six years. He added: “Our activities are within the framework of the nuclear agreement, in which there is no limitation on research on modern centrifuges.”

Salehi also expanded on his controversial recent comments that Iran had bought replacement parts for its Arak heavy water reactor during the nuclear negotiations. He stated that Iran had not bought the “tubes” secretly but had notified its negotiating partners, who were told Iran needed them as potential replacements in case the other side reneged on the JCPOA.

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Oil Minister Says Conditions Harsher than Iran-Iraq War

On February 5th, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh said that current U.S. sanctions are “more difficult” than the Iran-Iraq War. He stated: “I grasped the Imposed War (Iran-Iraq War). But this war [U.S. sanctions] is more difficult. He added: “We will use all of our capabilities and utilize all paths possible” to overcome oil sanctions.

Zangeneh further stated that Iran is having trouble selling oil to Europe and receiving payments from Iraq:  “Europeans except for Turkey have not bought oil. Greece and Italy have waivers to buy Iranian oil but haven’t done so. I don’t know why, they don’t reply to us.” He added that Iraq owes Iran $2 billion for gas and electricity imports but that Iraq says “Iran is sanctioned and they won’t pay us.”

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Iran and Iraq Reach Agreement to Facilitate Payments

On February 6th, the head of Iran’s Central Bank announced that he had reached a “mechanism” with his Iraqi counterpart for Iraqi debts to be paid. Iranian Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemati had travelled to Baghdad for negotiations. He stated: “An agreement on a mechanism for Iraq to pay for electricity and gas and other goods was reached.”

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Syrian FM & UN Envoy in Tehran Ahead of Sochi Talks

On February 5th, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria, travelled to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials. Their visit comes before trilateral talks between Iran, Turkey, and Russia in Sochi on February 14th as part of the Astana Syria peace process.

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Security Council Head Warns Israel of Retaliation

On February 5th, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, said that if Israeli attacks in Syria continue, Israel would face a “resolute and appropriate response.” He stated: “If these actions continue, the measures that have been predicted for deterrence and responding resolutely and appropriately will be activated such that it would be a lesson for the lying and criminal leaders of Israel.”

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Concerns Mount Over Condition of Imprisoned Labor Activists

On February 4th, the Telegram channel of the Haft Tapeh factory workers said they haven’t had contact with detained activist Sepideh Gholian for some time. The channel also said that the condition of labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was “very terrible” and that he hadn’t been released despite posting bail. (More on the rearrests of Bakhshi and Gholian in a previous Iran Unfiltered.)

On February 3rd, Haft Tapeh factory worker and activist Mohammad Khanifar was arrested. The Haft Tapeh Telegram channel has announced that it will stage a demonstration calling for the release of Bakhshi and Gholian.

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Attack in Western City of Khorramabad Kills One

On February 6th, a conscripted Iranian soldier was killed and a police officer wounded in an attack by unknown assailants in Khorramabad in western Iran. The attackers also fired on a fuel tanker at a gas station, causing an explosion that shattered the windows of nearby buildings.

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India and Russia Sign MOU on North-South Corridor Including Iran

On February 5th, India and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to expedite the creation of the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to facilitate trade via Iran. The project aims to connect St. Petersburg and northern Europe with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The MOU was signed between a Russian railways company and India’s largest rail container transport operator.

The North-South Corridor has strategic significance for Iran. Former diplomat and MP Nasrollah Tajik wrote on the project in Etemad newspaper, stating: “The implementation of this corridor, which has been delayed for years … will give a unique role to involved countries to develop Eurasia economically.”

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Parliament Approves New Health Minister

On February 4th, parliament confirmed President Rouhani’s choice for new health minister, Saeed Namaki. The previous minister of health had resigned in January over spending cuts to health insurance programs in next year’s national budget.

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Iran Tepidly Welcomes European Mechanism for Sanctions Relief

Week of January 28, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Note from the editor: There was no Iran Unfiltered last week because author Sina Toossi took part in an expert briefing on Capitol Hill. See a write-up of the event here.

This week, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, rebuked China for slowing down its efforts at redesigning Iran’s Arak Heavy Water reactor as required by the JCPOA. He also announced advances in increasing Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry was lukewarm on the EU’s launch of its long-awaited “special purpose vehicle” to facilitate trade with Iran, now dubbed “INSTEX” (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges). Conservative officials, including former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and powerful cleric Ahmad Jannati, have issued strong warnings against relying on the West.

Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council continued to debate bills designed to bring Iran into compliance with the guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. Some officials have noted that the matter may be resolved in a popular referendum. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the National Security Council, also said that Iran won’t increase the range of its missiles as per its “defense doctrine.”

President Rouhani, meanwhile, has called on the public to blame America, not his administration, for the impasse between the two countries. He also strongly rebuked the Iranian government’s longstanding policy of blocking Internet sites and applications. His communication minister further stated that Friday Prayer leaders wish to remove the ban on the popular messaging app Telegram and denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked.

On the foreign policy front, President Rouhani’s first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, to discuss Syrian reconstruction efforts among other issues. Foreign Minister Zarif also censured the UAE for clamping down on Iranian traders amid reports that Iran’s trade with Oman and Qatar is increasing. A senior analyst at a Rouhani administration-linked think tank also gave a far-reaching interview on the importance of the JCPOA for Iran and America’s posture in the Middle East.

In human rights-related developments, two prominent political prisoners, including an activist who wrote a letter rebuking the Trump administration’s Iran policy, were sentenced to six-years imprisonment. Two activists that were arrested in recent labor protests, Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, have been rearrested after state television aired their “confessions.” An investigative journalist who uncovered an embezzlement scheme was also sentenced to five years in prison, while two members of a pro-labor group have been arrested. Meanwhile, a University of Melbourne demographer arrested in December has been released from prison, while the trial of eight environmentalist activists arrested last January has begun.

 

Nuclear Chief Rebukes China, Announces Nuclear Advances

On January 30th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that China has reduced the “speed” of its cooperation with Iran over renovating the Arak Heavy Water reactor in line with JCPOA requirements. Salehi said that Chinese cooperation over the Arak reactor slowed after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA last May because of China’s “fear” of U.S. sanctions.

Salehi said Iran had notified China that it was prepared to redesign the Arak reactor itself. He stated: “We announced to them [the Chinese], if they don’t continue construction on the Arak reactor, we ourselves will continue the work.” Salehi added that “we have prepared ourselves for the worst scenario … The responsibility for the reactor’s design is with Iran and roughly 900 specialists are working on the renovation project.”

Salehi also said Iran had created the infrastructure necessary to increase its uranium enrichment capacity, in line with an instruction from Ayatollah Khamenei last May. He proclaimed: “We have taken all the steps to have the capability of reaching 190,000 SWU (a unit measuring uranium enrichment capacity).”

Salehi discussed a new centrifuge production hall in the Natanz enrichment facility that has been built as part of efforts to attain a 190,000 SWU capability. He stated: “Right now, in this facility, we produce IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. This facility can nominally hold between 50-60 centrifuges.”

He added regarding Iran’s centrifuge models: “Right now, IR-4 and IR-2 centrifuges have reached the stage of mass production. Iran is now experimenting on IR-6 and IR-7 centrifuges.”

On January 30th, Iranian authorities also announced that 30 tons of mined uranium “yellowcake” have been transported to Iran’s uranium hexafluoride conversion facility in Isfahan. Salehi said of Iran’s yellowcake production facility in the city of Ardakan: “On an annual basis this factory converts 84 thousand tons of uranium ore to yellowcake. In the past two years, this factory has been upgraded, and in the past one and a half years, on an experiential basis, it has produced 40 tons of yellowcake.”

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Foreign Ministry Tepidly Welcomes EU Sanctions Relief Mechanism

On February 1st, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the EU’s launch of INSTEX to facilitate trade with Iran. He stated: “Iran’s requests that Europe implement all of its commitments in the shortest amount of time that is possible.”

Ghassemi said INSTEX’s launch was “just the first step by Europe to implement its commitments to Iran.” He stated that INSTEX’s launch was “very late” and stressed that the EU must ensure that the mechanism “compensates for some of America’s illegal sanctions.”

He added that Iran had not received sanctions relief from Europe since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA: “Despite the EU’s political position regarding preserving the JCPOA and the need for Iran to derive economic benefits from the deal and the limited steps taken by the EU such as updated its blocking regulation laws, unfortunately we have not witnessed yet tangible results and practical actions that benefit Iran.”

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Former Chief Nuclear Negotiator Cautions Iran Against Relying on Europe

On February 1st, Saeed Jalili, the conservative former chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the National Security Council, warned against Iran trusting Europe. He stated: “Those would want to stand up against Americans by relying on Europe are on the wrong path.”

He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “Some say we should take excuses away from the enemy. However, an enemy that is after excuses will move against us regardless.”

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Powerful Conservative Cleric Denounces Officials Who Look to the West

On February 1st, hardline cleric Ayatollah Jannati, the secretary of the Guardian Council and chair of the Assembly of Experts, censured officials seeking to improve ties with the West. He stated: “Unfortunately, some officials today, more than thinking about the people think about themselves or do not have the capability to fix problems. Today we see that many officials are materialistic. God damn this wrong thinking that some officials have which believes that the West and the Americans can solve our problems.”

He added: “The American government is declining and today even its allies don’t listen to its words and aren’t afraid of it. We shouldn’t show fear towards America.”

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Debate on FATF Bills Continues in Expediency Discernment Council

The domestic fight over Iran passing laws to align its banking sector with FATF standards continues in the Expediency Discernment Council. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the standards (see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered for more information on the contentious FATF debate).

Of the four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards, two have been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council, while the other two are still in limbo. The bill on reforming Iran’s laws on anti-money laundering (AML) and confronting terrorism financing have been passed. However, while parliament accepted the other two bills on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention and Palermo conventions, both bills were rejected by the Guardian Council.

The TF and Palermo convention bills have been under debate in the Expediency Discernment Council—a body constitutionally mandated with resolving disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. Recently, Ahmad Vahidi, the head of the Expediency Discernment Council’s political-defense committee, stated that “if the Palermo bill reaches a dead end in the expediency council, it will be put up for a vote by the public.”

Most of the opponents of the terrorist financing and Palermo bills are political opponents of the Rouhani administration. Vahidi himself has stated that the goal of getting Iran to accede to these conventions is to weaken Iran’s “defense and atomic strength.”

However, on January 28th, Expediency Council member Majid Ansari predicted that the Palermo bill would be approved by the council. He said that although a referendum is an option in the event of a deadlock, it wouldn’t be necessary because the bills would be “resolved” in the Expediency Council.

According to Ansari, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a prominent conservative figure, supports the FATF bills. Ansari says that Jalili called for the bills to be passed in a handwritten letter.

Ansari also asserted that the FATF debate was being manipulated. He opined: “A suspicious current is taking advantage of the pure and real emotions and concerns of the faithful, young people, and students, in order to take this issue out of its natural path.” He added that he has received death threats via text message, just as parliamentarians did during their debate on the FATF bills.

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National Secretary Council Secretary Says Iran Won’t Increase Range of Missiles

On January 29th, National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani declared that Iran had “no intention” of increasing the range of its missiles. Shamkhani stressed that the reason for this had to do with Iran’s “defense doctrine” and that otherwise, Iran has the capability to increase the range of its missiles.

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Rouhani Blames America for Economic Woes

On January 30th, President Rouhani gave a speech denouncing U.S. pressure policies. He stated: “In America’s recent confrontation with the Iranian people, which began last January (2018), it has been defeated politically, legally, and on the regional and international fronts. On the economic front, with self-sacrifice and steadfastness from the people, they will be certainly defeated as well.”

Rouhani stated that the U.S., not Iran, is isolated: “The whole world, except for a few countries, is supporting Iran and accusing the United States. America has not only been unreliable towards the Iranian people, we shouldn’t analyze things incorrectly.”

Rouhani stressed that the U.S. government is to blame for the current impasse, not his administration: “Today we shouldn’t lay accusations at the hardworking government of the Islamic system instead of America. The U.S. also broke its commitments regarding Europe, China, NAFTA, and against Muslims and Palestinians … the mistakes of America aren’t two or three. No one should say that Iran’s government didn’t have foresight. The criteria for making a commitment isn’t this, it’s not how long the other party stays. The core of our commitment [under the JCPOA] was in the interests of the country and still is today.”

Rouhani then stated that the level of economic pressure on Iran today is greater than at any point since the 1979 Revolution: “The government, people and the guidance of the Leader, can altogether help us overcome all problems. At this moment, the greatest economic pressure of the past 40 years since the revolution is being exerted on the Iranian people. But with unity we will overcome all these problems.”

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Rouhani Rebukes Policy of Blocking Websites as Futile

On January 21st, President Rouhani gave a speech during which he discussed freedom of speech and the futility of blocking websites. He stated to an audience of managers from the communications ministry that fighting “public demands” was neither “legal nor legitimate.”

Rouhani added: “In the country, we don’t have free media. There is only state media. To have freer access to information, the people seek access to social media. We are thus seeing an inflated use cell phones and social media.”

Rouhani said that groups of different persuasions in Iran need their own media. He stated: “If different groups in the country have their own radio and television stations, they would express themselves through these mediums. This would naturally reduce the inflated use of mobiles and social media.”

Rouhani further said that every faction in Iran needs a media outlet. He stated that if each expressed their positions “officially and openly,” it would be become clear “who says what and who supports which party or faction.”

Rouhani then stated that the Iranian government’s policy of blocking internet sites and applications was a “mistake.” He stated: “We have to admit that we made a mistake in thinking that if we say using such and such medium is prohibited, everyone would listen. We saw that every time after blocking different mediums, methods to work around these blocks were created … at the end, the damage done especially to our youth and children from using workarounds has been greater than if they would have been able to naturally use the software that we blocked.”

In May 2018, six Rouhani administration ministers and two parliamentarians who serve on the “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content,” wrote a letter to Iran’s attorney general asking for Twitter to be unblocked. The decision to block or restrict access to websites and applications is made by either this committee or the judiciary. The judiciary blocked the popular messaging application Telegram last year.

The “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content” is comprised of 12 members and headed by the attorney general. The members consist of six government ministers, two members of parliament, the chief of police, the head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the head of the state media organization, and a representative from the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution—a Qom-based cultural body.

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Communications Minister Says Friday Prayer Leaders Want Telegram Unblocked, Denies Rumors of Looming Instagram Ban

On January 28th, Communications and Information Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi stated that Friday Prayer leaders across Iran have called for the popular-messaging application Telegram to be unblocked. Telegram was blocked last May with an order from the Iranian judiciary, despite opposition from the Rouhani administration. Jahromi said that despite opposition from Friday prayer leaders, the judiciary was unwilling to remove the ban.

Jahromi stated: “The judiciary as the main decision maker in this regard is still holding on to its position and we see no change in the judiciary’s beliefs on this issue. They believe that the reasons for ban still exist and haven’t been resolved for it to be lifted.”

Jahromi also denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked. Jahromi made his statement on Twitter after conservative MP Javad Karimi Ghodousi said that “blocking Instagram is the decision of the government and the minister of communications told me himself he would soon carry this out.”

Jahromi contradicted Ghodousi, stating: “The view of one institution is not the view of the government. No order has been given to the administration to block Instagram.”

Over the past month, there have been several contradicting accounts by officials that Instagram would be blocked. Weeks ago, Javad Javidinia, the social media deputy for Iran’s attorney general, claimed there was a judicial order to block Instagram.

However, Mohammad Ali Sajani, a member of a parliamentary oversight body, dismissed Javidnia’s remark. He said that according to the attorney general, Instagram would not be blocked.

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Vice-President Jahangiri Meets with Bashar al-Assad

On January 28th, President Rouhani’s first-vice president Eshaq Jahangiri travelled to Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jahangiri was accompanied by a delegation of senior Iranian officials and businesspeople.

Jahangiri said of his trip: “Great agreements have been reached in the direction of advancing cooperation between our two countries. These agreements prove that the Islamic Republic will stand with the Syrian government and people in their reconstruction efforts just as it stood with them during the period of confronting terrorism.”

He added: “The prerequisite for economic cooperation is banking cooperation. For this reason, during this trip, agreements have been reached between central bank heads of our two countries.”

Syrian President Assad said that the agreements signed with Iran had “strategic significance” and “reinforce the two countries’ resistance and perseverance against the economic war being waged by some Western countries.” He added: “After the complete liberation of Syria, reconstruction will become the most important priority of the Syrian government. We desire broader cooperation with Iranian government and private companies in different areas.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Rebukes the UAE as Iranian Trade with Oman and Qatar Increases

On January 28th, Foreign Minister Zarif sharply rebuked Emirati policies towards Iran in response to criticism that the foreign ministry was not reacting to an Emirati clampdown on Iranian traders and currency dealers. He said that “because of political and strategic mistakes of Emirati officials, the Emiratis entered the level of behaving in an unacceptable way.”

Zarif stated that Iran was exploring countermeasures, stating that the “approach being taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran, in addition to diplomatic steps, is to create the necessary opening points for countries that can replace the Emirates [as a major Iranian trade partners] and finding alternative methods so that we maintain our economic relations without worry of Emirati actions.”

According to reports, many Iranian traders have left the UAE for Oman and Qatar. While the UAE used to be Iran’s largest training partner, it has been replaced in recent years by China. According to official Iranian statistics, the UAE’s exports to Iran in the past nine months has dropped by 29 percent to under $5 billion. In contrast, Iran’s imports from Oman in the past nine months have increased nearly threefold, reaching $400 million.

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Rouhani Administration-linked Analyst Discusses Importance of JCPOA

On January 13th, Diako Hosseini, the director of the World Studies Program at the Rouhani administration-linked Center for Strategic Studies think tank in Tehran, discussed the importance of the JCPOA and America’s posture in the Middle East. He stated: “I don’t think America is worried about Iran leaving the JCPOA, but it is in fact eagerly counting down for Iran to do this … I believe that the main aim of America’s economic and political pressures against Iran is to make Iran tired and incentivize [it] to leave the nuclear deal.”

Hosseini asserted that the U.S. wishes to reduce its presence in the Middle East but had to balance this aim with maintaining its credibility with allies. He stated: “The Trump administration knows well that America no longer has far-reaching interests in this region and must, as quickly as possible, readjust its military and economic focus to another vital area, the Asia Pacific.”

He added: “However, this action requires gaining confidence that a gradual reduction of America’s presence in the Persian Gulf and West Asia will not create a power vacuum and doesn’t lead to the creation of challenging and hostile powers [to the U.S.], which would threaten U.S. allies and ultimately destroy Washington’s credibility in supporting its allies.”

Hosseini also contended that U.S. efforts to create international consensus against Iran would not be successful. He stated: “Naturally, Pompeo’s trip to the region is a continuation of efforts to create international consensus against Iran. Successfully creating international consensus against Iran to a large degree hinges on first successfully creating regional consensus against Iran.”

He continued: “America must prove that Iran is really a regional danger and that international consensus to help U.S. regional allies against the Iranian threat is necessary. This is not an easy task because Iran in reality is not a threat to its neighbors and because it seems that Iran’s neighbors do not agree on an Iranian threat.”

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Labor Activists Rearrested

On January 20th, activist Sepideh Gholian was arrested again in Ahvaz. Gholian was first arrested in November in connection to the labor protests led by workers from the Hafte Tapeh sugarcane factory and from Ahvaz Steel company.

According to a Hafte Tapeh media channel, security forces entered Gholian’s family home to detain her without an arrest warrant. After a physical confrontation with her brother, both Gholian and her brother were arrested.

BBC Persian reported that an audio clip has been released of Gholian from the time of her first arrest, in which she tells an intelligence official that she would commit suicide if her “confession” was released publicly. On January 26th, Iranian state TV aired the “confessions” of Gholian and labor leader Esmail Bakhshi.

Bakhshi was also re-arrested on January 20th.  As detailed previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Bakhshi’s torture allegation spurred outcry, investigations, and eventual denials from officials that he had been tortured.

In the aftermath Bakhshi’s rearrest, 21 Iranian judiciary lawyers wrote a letter emphasizing that Bakhshi could not receive a fair trial in Shush. The lawyers said that given Bakhshi claims of having been tortured while in the custody of authorities in Shush, the court would not be a neutral party.

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Political Prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan Handed Six-Year Sentences

On January 19th, Abolqasem Salavati, the head judge of Tehran’s infamous Revolutionary Court Branch 15, handed out six-year sentences against political prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan. Their lawyer says the ruling is not final and that they will appeal it. A previous issue of Iran Unfiltered detailed a letter by Meysami rebuking both the Trump administration’s Iran policy and Revolutionary Court Branch 15.

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Investigative Journalist Sentenced to Five-Years Imprisonment

On January 23rd, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Two years ago, Soltani had released a report documenting corruption in the Tehran municipality related to giving away government property for political purposes.

According to his lawyer, the charges include “collecting and publishing classified information related to the Judiciary’s General Inspection Office and publishing false information with the aim of disturbing public sentiment.” Soltani has 20 days to appeal his sentence.

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University of Melbourne Professor Released from Prison

On January 27th, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne arrested in December, was released. As covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered, Hosseini-Chavoshi was arrested under charges of “infiltration,” i.e. being a foreign agent seeking to engineer “soft regime change” by changing the Islamic Republic from within.

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Two Members of a Pro-Labor Group Arrested

On January 29th, the “Confederation of Free Workers” announced in a statement that Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, respectively the secretary and member of the managing committee of the confederation, have been arrested. Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2016 and was released after undertaking a two-month hunger strike. Mohammadi had in recent months written articles condemning the government’s reaction to protests by the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel workers.

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Trial of Detained Environmentalists Begins

On January 30th, Iranian outlets reported that the trial of eight environmentalists arrested last January has begun in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 15, under judge Abolqasem Salavati. Read about the case of the detained environmentalists in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Mohammad Hossein Aghassi, the lawyer for one of the defendants, said that he wasn’t given permission to be in the court because the judiciary had chosen its own lawyers for the suspects. Aghassi said that the charges against four of the defendants was “sowing corruption on Earth,” a capital offense in Iran. Three others were charged with espionage, and one with “acting against national security.”

Aghassi added: “The actions that some of these suspects have committed was approaching military facilities as they were doing environmental activities and gathering military information from these areas.”

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Hardline Official Attacks JCPOA as Sanctions Relief Channel Looms

Week of January 14, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Ahmad Jannati, the powerful secretary of the Guardian Council and chairman of the Assembly of Experts, criticized the Rouhani administration this week for not withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Jannati referenced a 2016 declaration by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stating that Iran would “burn” the JCPOA in response to a U.S. violation. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, also stated that Iran is ready and able to increase its level of uranium enrichment and stockpile of enriched uranium. Jannati and Salehi’s remarks come amid growing frustration in Iran over European efforts to launch a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran. However, the official IRNA news agency this week cited a “senior European spokesperson” as saying that the SPV was on the “eve of its launch.”

In other news, Iran ignored U.S. warnings and conducted a satellite launch, though the satellite failed to reach Earth’s orbit. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards said in response to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iranian military “advisors” would remain in Syria. Iran is reportedly also ending narcotics and refugee cooperation with Europe after new EU sanctions and news that Poland would host a U.S. summit on Iran. Foreign Minister Zarif also travelled to Iraq and lambasted what he said was U.S. intervention in the Iran-Iraq relationship. The foreign ministry also denied rumors regarding Iran withdrawing from the JCPOA and Foreign Minister Zarif resigning and blamed them on “domestic elements.”

On the societal front, several editors of an online pro-labor magazine have been arrested. Imprisoned British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi also ended a three-day hunger strike after prison officials met their demand of seeking medical treatment outside of prison. Officials also continue to deny that labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was tortured, despite contravening accounts by other inmates. In a far-reaching interview, senior Rouhani advisor Hesamodin Ashna discussed last year’s protests and the viability of the Iranian government.

 

Guardian Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati Calls for Leaving JCPOA

On January 17th, Ahmad Jannati, the influential secretary of the Guardian Council and chairman of the Assembly of Experts, criticized officials for not withdrawing from the JCPOA. The conservative cleric stated: “Unfortunately on the JCPOA issue, our country’s officials have not paid attention to the recommendation of the leader of the revolution and to date they have yet to reach any results.”

In June 2016, Ayatollah Khamenei had said that “if the Americans violate the nuclear deal, we will set it on fire.” Jannati stated in this regard: “We must complain to officials about why they haven’t carried out this action. Ultimately, this action has to be taken.”

Jannati also warned against Iran relying on Europe: “Without a doubt the Europeans, if not worse than America, are no better. As such, on the JCPOA issue they are just wasting time. Some of their countries even support the MEK. Trusting Europe is foolish.”

He rebuked Iranian officials who seek to improve U.S.-Iran ties, stating: “According to the leader of the Islamic revolution, America is declining, but still some in our country have their eyes on America [to improve ties]. Today, after many defeats in the region they [the U.S.] have reached a place that to enter Iraq, they have to use a plane with its lights off and cannot receive an official reception.”

Jannati also dismissed concerns of a U.S.-Iran war, stating: “Today, the enemy is not after a military war, but creates division through psychological war and with weaponized media.”

Jannati also warned of Iran’s economic troubles. He stated: “The economic situation of some of the people is not in a good state. We must all endeavor to improve this situation. The government [Rouhani administration] must stop excess spending and sell government properties to improve the people’s economic situation. The current economic situation must not create hopelessness in society. If people become hopeless, they will no longer be vigilant.”

Jannati also seemed to weigh against efforts to further clamp down on social media and block Instagram in Iran. He stated: “Social media is like a double-edged razor. We must use it cautiously. At the beginning of the revolution, there were some who opposed using radios and television. But we’ve been able to use such media to get the correct benefits.”

He added: “Experts on social media believe that such a medium can be used to the benefit of the revolution and Islam. So we should enter this arena with a revolutionary and jihadi mindset.”

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran Can Restart 20-percent Enrichment in Days

On January 15th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that Iran was ready to increase its uranium enrichment activities. He stated: “If we want, we can increase our level of uranium enrichment and stockpile of enriched uranium immediately.”

Salehi stressed that Iran currently has no practical need for 20-percent enriched fuel or large stockpiles of enriched uranium. He stated: “Right now, we have no need for 20-percent enriched uranium. We have saved enough to last several years, and if we produce more we will have to save it.”

He added in this regard: “If we want, we can remove the 300 kg amount [JCPOA limit on Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile]. Right now, our operations are such that we don’t reach 300 kg, but if we leave the JCPOA we can go beyond this amount and use it to convert into fuel for the Arak reactor.”

Earlier, on January 13th, Salehi had stated that Iran had created “designs for modern 20-percent enriched fuel to use in the Tehran Research Reactor” (TRR). He stated that the TRR has operated on old fuel but that the more modern fuel would increase the reactor’s efficiency.

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IRNA Cites European Spokesperson as Saying SPV Launch Imminent

On January 17th, the official IRNA news agency cited a “spokesperson for the European Union” as saying that Europe’s “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) is on the “eve of its launch.” IRNA stated that the official wished to remain anonymous.

The European spokesperson said the EU was committed to preserving financial ties, stating: “To preserve the JCPOA, the EU has pursued robust solutions. We updated our blocking regulations law. The European parties to the nuclear deal are also committed to preserving effective financial channels with Iran, especially regarding creating a special new financial channel. The SPV is now in its final stage before launch.”

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Satellite Launch Fails

On January 15th, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi announced that an attempted satellite launch had failed. Jahromi said in a tweet that the satellite, named “Payam” (message), successfully completed the first two stages of its launch, but did not attain sufficient speed to reach Earth’s orbit in its third stage. The satellite was launched by Iran’s carrier rocket Simorgh.

Amir Motamadi, the head of Amir Kabir University where the Payam satellite was created, stated regarding the lauch’s failure: “The launch vehicle that was supposed to give the satellite velocity had a problem and it might be related to the fuel.”

Motamedi stated that the satellite had no issues with respect to path of its launch and flight. He stated: “Based on instructions from the minister of communication, the process of designing and building the next version of this satellite, to be named ‘Payam 2,’ has begun based on the technical knowledge we have now gained and it will be completed in less than a year.”

Iran had proceeded with the launch despite warnings from the U.S. government. The Trump administration claims that Iran’s space rocket launches violate UN Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal but also “calls upon” Iran to not test ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iranian officials reject the U.S. charge.

Jahromi further announced that he is hopeful the launch of Iran’s next satellite, named “Doosti” (friendship), would be successful.

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IRGC Commander Says Military “Advisors” to Remain in Syria

On January 16th, Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, declared that Iranian military advisors would remain in Syria. He stated: “We will preserve all of the military and revolutionary advisors and all the equipment and weapons that we have given to train and empower the fighters of the Islamic resistance and to support the oppressed Syrian people in this Islamic country (Syria).”

Jafari’s remarks were framed as response to recent comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iranian military forces must leave Syria or would face increased Israeli attacks. Jafari said to Netanyahu: “Be certain that we don’t take your ridiculous threat seriously at all. Know that you are playing with the tail of a lion. Be afraid of the day that the roar of Iran’s precision-guided missiles land on your head and the spilt blood of all of the oppressed Muslims of the region is avenged.”

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Iran Scales Back Cooperation with Europe

Reports circulated in Iranian media that Iran plans to cease its cooperation with Europe in the areas of confronting drug trafficking and refugees. This was framed in Iranian media reports as a response to increasing hostility from Europe in recent months, including Denmark, Holland, and Albania expelling Iranian diplomats, Germany detaining an Iranian diplomat, and EU sanctions against an Iranian intelligence agency.

On January 17th, a Polish newspaper reported that Iran would stop issuing tourist visas to Polish people in response to the announcement that  Warsaw would host a U.S. summit on Iran in February. However, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi denied the report.

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Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Visits Azerbaijan

On January 15th, Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, traveled to Azerbaijan. He went with a delegation of high-level military officials for meetings with the Azerbaijani prime minister, defense minister, and other senior officials.

After meeting the Azeri defense minister, Bagheri stated: “The current depth of ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Azerbaijan Republic does not match the capabilities of both states. As such, each side must strive to enhance ties.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Iraq

On January 17th, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticized what he said was U.S. interference in the Iran-Iraq relationship. During a trip to Iraq, Zarif stated that the U.S. had “no right” to interfere in the relationship between the two countries.

Zarif stated amid his visit to Iraq: “We can’t allow those who have no interest in improving our conditions prevent an Iran-Iraq relationship.”

He said of the Iran-Iraq relationship: “Our relations are not artificial, we are each other’s brothers. This is the longest trip that I’ve had to a country and this is emblematic of the unique relationship between our two peoples and countries.”

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Foreign Ministry Denies Zarif Resignation & JCPOA Withdrawal Rumors

On January 12th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi denied rumors that Iran is to withdraw from the JCPOA and Foreign Minister Zarif resign from his post. Ghassemi stated: “It seems to me that elements inside the country with the objective of weakening the position of the foreign ministry and the country’s diplomatic services, given their vital and major role in the country’s current condition … are putting out such fake and incorrect news.”

He added regarding the domestic “elements” spreading these rumors: “These people want to cause chaos and disorder in the market to advance their profit-making interests. By publishing biased and fake news, they want to create a negative atmosphere in the market, but thankfully due to the intelligence of the people, their actions won’t get anywhere.”

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Pro-Labor Magazine Editors Arrested

On January 17th, Amir Amir-Goli, a member of the editorial board of the leftist Gam magazine was reportedly arrested. Amir-Goli’s father confirmed his arrested in an interview with BBC Persian, though it has yet to be officially confirmed. The magazine supported and wrote reports on the recent labor protests by workers of the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel companies.

Previously, on January 9th, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far and Sanaz Allah-Yari, another member of its editorial board, were arrested. Assal Mohammadi, another member of the magazine’s editorial board, was arrested last month but released earlier this month.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe & Narges Mohammadi End Three-Day Hunger Strike

On January 14th, Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a detained British citizen in Iran, said that his wife’s interrogators offered to release her in December in exchange for her spying for Iran. According to Richard Ratcliffe, “She was told it would be safer for her and safer for her family afterwards if she agreed to do this.”

On January 2nd, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe released a statement together with Narges Mohammadi, an imprisoned human rights activist and lawyer, stating that they would start a three-day hunger strike if their medical needs were not met. They started on the hunger strike on January 14th.

On January 16th, Richard Ratcliffe said his wife and Narges Mohammadi had ended their hunger strike after prison officials agreed to their receiving medical treatment outside of prison.  Richard Ratcliffe also stated that his wife has a tumor in her breast and was losing feeling in her hands and feet. Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt had earlier summoned Iran’s UK Ambassador to protest Ratcliffe’s conditions in prison.

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Labor Leader Torture Controversy Continues

On January 14th, Assal Mohammadi, a civil rights activist recently freed from prison in Ahvaz, wrote on Instagram that she witnessed the “torture” of two detainees while in custody, including labor leader Esmail Bakhshi. (See background on the Bakhshi torture controversy in a previous Iran Unfiltered.)

Mohammadi wrote: “I witnessed the hours-long interrogations of Sepideh Galian. From 10:00am until midnight almost every day this process would repeat. I heard the shouting and insults of her interrogators from the room next door. We witnessed a day where they put so much pressure on her to make a fake confession that she scratched her face and wished for death.”

She said regarding Esmail Bakhshi: “I continuously heard Esmail Bakhshi coughing and having severe shortness of breath from the interrogator’s room and the officers mocking him and saying he was faking. One day, when I went to the prison yard to catch some air, I heard the interrogators shouting and insulting him. I am willing to bear witness to what I saw and heard.”

Upon her release, Sepideh Galian also wrote on her Twitter that she witnessed Bakhshi being “savagely” beaten and his interrogators “humiliating” him.

Mohammadi and Galian’s comment came after various government institutions launched investigations into Bakhshi’s allegation of torture. As covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered, Bakhshi also met with several members of parliament to discuss his treatment while in prison.

Many officials have since dismissed Bakhshi’s allegation of torture. Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced this week: “It has become clear that reports of a worker for the Haft Tapeh factory being tortured were a lie and that there was no beating or torture.”

On January 16th, MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy head of the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament, also said Bakhshi was not tortured. He said: “What we have realized is that Esmail Bakhshi was not tortured.” Tabesh stated that a fight erupted between security officers and Bakhshi as he was being driven to Ahvaz, which caused him injury.

Farzaneh Zilabi, Bakhshi’s lawyer, said in response to officials dismissing Bakhshi’s torture allegation: “These people either don’t know the definition of torture or are fooling themselves.”

She added: “Some seek to limit the period when torture occurred to when Bakhshi was transported to the detention center and restrict punishment to a few police officers. They want to dismantle my client’s case by presenting his confessions as obtained legally.”

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Senior Rouhani Advisor Discusses Protests & Islamic Republic’s Viability

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, conducted a far-reaching interview with ISNA this week. In it, he discussed the state of the Islamic Republic and the protests that swept parts of the country in late December 2017 and January 2018.

Ashna said regarding how the government should deal with protests: “We have enough experience in this regard to know that using violent methods against the people is neither beneficial nor will it have an impact.”

He added in this regard: “Our impression is that violence begets violence … when the voice of the people can be heard in parliament, in the media, and close to the president, their demands are aggregated, this aggregation creates power, and this power can push forward their demands.”

Ashna said about opposition to the Islamic Republic: “I explicitly say that as long as we have an opposition that is supported by Trump, we feel comfortable that nothing will occur in the country.”

Ashna contended the Iranian people have an aversion to foreign intervention. He stated: “Our experience since the 1953 coup, which has been a national experience, says that our people hate any actions that has support from outside powers.”

He added: “There has always been a very small minority, which still exists, that even during the George W. Bush administration called for Iran to be bombed. These words and claims aren’t new for us and most of society is not moved by such calls.”

Ashna also touched on the question of reformism inside Iran and emphasized the need for consensus in decision-making. He stated: “If we have a president who is able engage the leader, parliament, the Guardian Council, and the Armed Forces, one thing will occur. On the other hand, if the president stands against them and squabbles with them, another thing will occur.”

He went on: “In a situation of conflict, the [president’s] authorities on paper do not matter, and in a situation of cooperation and agreement, without anything [authorities] written on paper, work progresses.”

Ashna also stated that last year’s protests was triggered by a number of factors, including actions by conservative opponents of President Rouhani. He opined: “Different analysis exists. There is analysis that some thought they could weaken Rouhani’s administration, but not weaken the system. But experience since then shows that weakening the Rouhani administration and the system is the same path. The grounds for last year’s protests are diverse and they had different sparks, which are all worthy of study.”

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Political Prisoner Decries Trump and Iranian Judiciary

Week of January 7, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

A political prisoner arrested for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and who recently ended a 145-day hunger strike wrote a letter censuring both Iran’s judiciary and the Trump administration. Another activist, a labor leader imprisoned for nearly one month, spurred widespread outrage and prompted government investigations after he wrote on Instagram that he was tortured while in custody.

In other civil rights-related developments, nine reported environmentalists have been arrested in Kurdistan province for what officials say is their role in a Kurdish separatist attack. Meanwhile, state television attacked imprisoned British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, while the interior minister assessed the country’s internal security situation a year after last winter’s protests. The grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder also warned officials about the need for maintaining legitimacy.

On the foreign policy front, officials confirmed that Iran has been negotiating with the Taliban but maintained that the talks were being carried out with the knowledge of the Afghan government and aimed at advancing a peace process in Afghanistan. Senior officials also raised doubt regarding Europe’s ability to operationalize its long-awaited “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran. Foreign Minister Zarif also made another overture for talks with the Arab Persian Gulf states, while the foreign ministry condemned the European Union for imposing sanctions on an Iranian intelligence agency and two Iranian citizens.

 

Political Prisoner Writes Letter Censuring Trump & Iranian Judiciary

On January 5th, political prisoner Farhad Meysami wrote a letter from Evin prison criticizing both the Iranian judiciary and the U.S. Department of State. Meysami was arrested on July 31st for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and began a hunger strike within 24 hours of his arrest.

Meysami’s hunger strike lasted for 145 days until December 23rd. He ended it after fellow political prisoner Reza Khandan—husband of human rights activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh—was released from prison.

Meysami titled his letter “twin writings” and directed it towards “Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court” and “Trump’s Department of State.” In the letter, Meysami describes himself as a “transformationalist” who wants change through reform.

He censured the Iranian judiciary thusly: “The repeated, persistent, and systematic violation of the law from the judicial institution removes any qualifications to label it as a court.”

Meysami outlined the type of reformism he believes could lead to substantive change: “Changing the behavior of autocratic states, especially their ‘hard nucleus,’ might at first glance appear impossible. However, ‘reformism seeking transformation’ thinks and acts on the belief that the cumulative effects of sustained action and enlightened activities, together with resistance in suitable times and places, could lead to changes even in the ‘hard nucleus’ of the state.”

Meysami then said he was surprised the U.S. State Department commented on his case: “I was flipping through the newspaper when suddenly I saw an article that shocked me to my core! Apparently, the Trump administration’s Department of State has called for my freedom … I was astonished at how the ‘Trump’s State Department,’ ‘Freedom,’ and ‘myself’ could possibly be connected.”

He then rebuked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, declaring: “Before his appointment, Mike Pompeo (Trump’s Secretary of State) had been a strong proponent of the “Bomb Iran!” campaign.”

Meysami went on to renounce any support from the U.S. and sharply criticized the Trump administration’s approach to Iran and abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal. He stated: “I would rather spend all my life imprisoned by a group of oppressors from my own wrong-doing countrymen and spend my life trying to reform their wrongdoing, but to not spend a second submitting to disgraceful support from those who broke their commitments and withdrew from the rational and peaceful JCPOA against all principles of morality and international law, and by reimposing inhumane sanctions, have plunged millions of my fellow countrymen into poverty.”

He added: “I am certain that if the leaders of my country made them [the U.S.] a partner in the plundering and milking of our resources, they would have simply closed their eyes not only to the imprisonment, but to the butchering and dismembering with a bonesaw of dozens of individuals like myself [in reference to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi].”

Meysami went on to express hope for the freedom of the American people from President Trump: “Perhaps it would be more appropriate for us, the children of Iran, to wish for the speedy ‘freedom’ of the great nation of the United States from this great catastrophe, and hope for their return to the previous period of rationality. Because the continuation of this situation is not only disastrous for our two nations but brings damage and destruction to humanity as a whole.”

He ended the letter by again disavowing support from the Trump administration: “I’d like to ask people like Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to save their crocodile tears for themselves.”

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Labor Leader Torture Claim Spurs Outcry & Investigations

On January 4th, Esmail Bakhshi, a representative of the Haft Tapeh factory protesting workers who was arrested in November and held for nearly a month by the intelligence ministry, wrote on his Instagram page that he had been tortured while in custody. He stated: “Without reason or saying anything they tortured me to near death. They kicked and punched me so much that for 72 hours I couldn’t move in my cell. Now after two months I still have pain in my broken teeth, kidneys, left ear, and testicles.”

In his Instagram post, Bakhshi invited Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi to engage in a “live television debate” with him. Bakhshi’s claim of being tortured spurred widespread outrage and calls for authorities to be held to account. (more on Bakhsi’s release and the Haft Tapeh factory protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

Ali Motahari, second deputy parliamentary speaker and principlist MP representing Tehran, wrote in Etemad newspaper regarding Bakhshi’s allegation: “Mr. Bakhshi’s letter to the intelligence minister must awaken all people of conscious and supporters of citizen’s rights to follow this issue until a clear conclusion is reached.”

Motahari stated that the accusation was damaging for the Islamic Republic as it approached its 40th anniversary: “Is it seemly for the Islamic Republic on its 40th anniversary to face such accusations when in chapter three of its constitution every form of physical or mental torture to elicit confessions is prohibited?”

Motahari stated that if torture was committed, the perpetrators must be brought to justice: “If Mr. Bakhshi’s remarks are true, the perpetrators must be brought to light as soon as possible and punished. And in any case, the intelligence minister must give answers.”

On January 7th, the head of Iran’s judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, addressed Bakhsi’s accusation, stating: “I have instructed the honorable attorney general to assemble a team today and travel to the region [Khuzestan], and review this issue and promptly deliver their results to me and our dear people.”

Larijani added: “The different dimensions of this issue have to be reviewed, and before this investigation we will not make denials regarding anyone. It is possible that a worker committed an offense, but under no circumstance is it acceptable for illegal acts to be committed against them. At the same time, possible misconduct by one interrogator should not be used to blame a whole institution.”

Also on January 7th, Bakhshi’s lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi told Rouydad 24 that “my client has come under pressure to retract his words [regarding being tortured].”

On January 8th, Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, wrote on his Telegram: “With an explicit order from the president, the claims of violence against an imprisoned individual will be investigated quickly and precisely.”

However, later on January 8th, the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee held a meeting to review Bakhshi’s accusation, which included Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. Afterwards, Ali Najafi Khoshroudi, the committee’s spokesperson, stated: “Esmail Bakhsi, the worker for the Hafte Tapeh sugarcane factory, was in no way tortured.”

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman for the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, stated after the committee’s meeting: “In today’s meeting, after the film of Esmail Bakhshi’s confession and the intelligence minister’s explanation, the conclusion was reached that Bakhshi confessed without torture to spying in cooperation with a communist labor party.”

President Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi also dismissed Bakhshi’s torture allegation after meeting with intelligence officials. He stated after a cabinet meeting that “today the intelligence ministry reported that there is no truth to this issue [of Bakhshi’s torture]” and that the “intelligence ministry and the political system are within their rights to issue a complaint against Bakhshi for his remarks.”

However, on January 9th, Laya Joneydi, President Rouhani’s vice president for legal affairs, stated after a cabinet meeting: “A group has been formed by the president to look into this [Bakhshi’s claims]. It will do its work and announce its conclusions. I believe the intelligence ministry will also announce the results of its investigation. The goal of the speaker of parliament is that Esmail Bakhshi’s words are heard. He has been invited to parliament to speak his words.”

“If Bakhshi’s claims are true, what took place would be a violation of the constitution and this should be severely confronted. If on the other hand nothing occurred or what happened was not as claimed, the biggest resource of any country which is trust would have been sabotaged.”

On January 10th, Fatemeh Saeedi, spokeswoman for the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament, stated that members of parliament had met with Esmail Bakhshi. She stated: “Despite what some have said, on Tuesday, Bakhshi came with his lawyer to parliament and met with four members of the Hope coalition, one of which was me … the meeting lasted nearly two hours and afterwards we [the MPs] met with officials from the intelligence ministry.”

She said of the meeting with Bakhshi: “In this meeting, we heard his words. Our efforts to follow up on his allegation continue and the results of the investigation will be announced after the review by the judiciary and the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee are completed … It has also been decided that a group from the Hope coalition will travel to the city of Shush to investigate Bakhshi’s claims.”

Saeedi further stated that Bakhshi’s claim of being tortured was discussed in their meeting with intelligence officials. She stated: “In this meeting, the intelligence minister offered an explanation regarding Bakhshi’s claims and the Khuzestan intelligence official presented evidence.”

Jalal Mirzaei, the chair of the Hope coalition’s political committee, discussed the meeting with Bakhshi and the details of his torture allegation in an interview with Khabar Online. Mirzaei stated of the meeting: “According to Mr. Bakshi, he was detained by Shush’s intelligence department and after three hours of interrogation was transported by car, along with four other suspects and two security officers, to Ahvaz. During this trip, which took two hours, Mr. Bakhshi claims that he was beaten.”

Mirzaei added: “According to Bakhshi himself, throughout the 25-day detention itself he was treated with respect, but he says that his cell was next to ISIS prisoners, which he says caused him psychological duress.”

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Environmentalists Arrested in Kurdistan Province

On January 7th, reports emerged that upwards of nine environmentalist activists were detained in Kurdistan province over the course of the previous week. Hossein Khosheqbal, Kurdistan province’s deputy for political, security, and police affairs stated that the arrests were made in connection with an attack on an ambulance, stating: “Over the summer [Iranian month of Tir] the driver of a Red Crescent ambulance in the city Kamyaran was attacked in a cowardly action and hit by several bullets from several people connected with separatist groups and the PJAK foreign group.”

Khosheqbal added: “In this terrorist act, Kuhsar Fatehi, the driver of the ambulance and a native of the province was martyred … A number of anti-revolutionary terrorist groups connected with the martyrdom of the ambulance driver—who had taken the cover of being environmentalists and had the responsibility of supporting the perpetrators [of the murder]—have been identified and will be dealt with legally.”

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State TV Attacks Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

On January 8th, Iranian state television attacked Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, showing the moment she was refused entry on her flight departing Tehran in 2016. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British citizen arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” through “soft war” tactics.

On January 3rd, Zaghari-Ratcliffe co-wrote a letter with imprisoned human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, in which they said they would start a three-day hunger strike in protest at how “their heath situation was being handled.”

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Foreign Ministry Confirms Detention of U.S. Citizen & Rebukes EU Sanctions

On January 9th, during his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi confirmed that U.S. citizen Michael White has been detained inside Iran. He stated: “An American citizen named Michael White was arrested some time ago in Mashhad. The American interests section in Tehran was notified of the arrest in the immediate days after his arrest.”

Ghassemi denied reports that White was being held in “poor conditions and being harassed,” but did not clarify on what charges he was being held for.

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Interior Minister Assesses Iran’s Internal Security Situation

On December 27th, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli gave a speech where he spoke on Iran’s internal security situation on the anniversary of protests that swept parts of the country in late December 2017 and January 2018. He said about differences inside the country: “The differences that exist in the country are familial and we aren’t worried about such differences. After the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, our enemies seek to pressure Iran to reach their goals. Through reliance on countries like Saudi Arabia and led by America and the Zionist regime and some other countries they are pursuing their objective but have been unsuccessful. However, we should not be negligent with respect to their plots.”

Faszli then stated that none of the protests in the country since last year were “organized,” stating: “Not in last winter’s protests or the protests of the truckers and bazaaris or the problems of ethnic minorities were there signs of leadership by political organizations or their organized presence. This shows the awareness and intelligence of people and their attachment to the revolution and security of the country.”

He said of protests inside the country: “Foreign media intensely invest in the smallest issues inside Iran in order to portray a lack of unity in the country to the best of their ability. But none of these issues threaten Iran’s national security. However, it is better that before such issues start, which enables the enemies to try and coopt them, we should address them and prevent them.”

Fazli concluded regarding the country’s internal security situation: “In the area of security, I won’t say that we have no threats, but we are not worried of these threats because we rely on public legitimacy and the people’s security. We regularly monitor and control the situation. The most important issue for the country after unity is the satisfaction of the people in social and economic areas.”

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Grandson of Islamic Republic Founder Warns Officials

On December 29th, Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stated in a speech before an audience of government officials: “We have to understand and observe the rules of human behavior and the causes of collapse and success otherwise there is no guarantee that we will stay and others will go. If you don’t observe these rules, you will be taken from the arena.”

Khomeini went on to warn officials of the need to maintain legitimacy among the people: “The foundation of any society is ethics and people’s level of content.  Continuously segmenting society, repeatedly showing grudges, portraying hypocrisy, making it such that people in society feel compelled to become double faced, or for each of us to become distant from honesty are all signs of failing governments. If we see that our principles are lost and that we are abusive, this is an alarm bell that this society has a problem.”

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Officials Confirm Talks with the Taliban

On December 26th, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, publicly acknowledged that Iran was engaging in negotiations with the Taliban during a trip to Kabul. Shamkhani had travelled to Afghanistan with a delegation of Iranian military and security officials for talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib as well as President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan officials.

Shamkhani stated that Iran was engaging in talks with the Taliban in order to resolve security issues inside Afghanistan, stating: “A series of communications and talks have taken place with the Taliban with the knowledge of the Afghan government and this trend will continue.”

Shamkhani also said the danger of ISIS “infiltration” into Afghanistan was “serious” and stressed the need to take “practical action.” He warned of what he deemed was an “ominous plan” in Afghanistan being supported by the U.S. and “reactionary” regional countries.

While in Afghanistan, Shamkhani referred to a recent summit in Tehran which brought together senior security officials from Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China, and India. He said the meeting resulted in constructive agreements, stating: “Establishing mechanisms based on continuous negotiations and the active participation of regional countries in security processes can guarantee stability and durable development for the people of the region.”

Shamkhani also said to his Afghan counterpart Mohib: “The Islamic Republic has always been one of the main pillars establishing security in the region and without a doubt cooperation between our two countries to resolve Afghanistan’s security problems will be very effective.”

On December 30th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated that a Taliban delegation had engaged in extensive negotiations with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Tehran.  MP Morteza Safari Natani said that these negotiations are “not ideal for us” but that “we have to accept that the Taliban control part of Afghanistan” and that “in current circumstances this group cannot be ignored.”

On January 4th, Mahmoud Vaezi, chief of staff to President Rouhani, stated that Iran notified the Afghan government before starting talks with the Taliban: “I have not seen any reports that say that the Afghan government is upset about negotiations between Iran and the Taliban. Before starting negotiations with the Taliban, we discussed the issue with the Afghan government. Our goal with the negotiations is to establish peace and security in the region and create the grounds for ‘Afghan-Afghan’ negotiations. Under no circumstances will we interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.”

Vaezi added: “Iran’s neighbors are faced with many problems such as civil war. Peace and stability in the region are matters of great importance for Iran, as insecurity inside Afghanistan can spread to Iran.”

On January 7th, Shamkhani stated at a conference in Tehran that the Taliban was seeking to compromise with the Afghan government, stating: “We are in pursuit of helping the Afghan government establish stability in Afghanistan. The Taliban are also seeking to compromise with the Afghan government. In this regard, the Islamic Republic, with the intention of seeking peace and preventing domination, wants to help the Afghan government reach a formula for peace and stability.”

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Senior Official Discusses U.S. Syria Troop Withdrawal, Says U.S. Reached Out for Talks

At the January 7th conference in Tehran, Shamkhani also stated that the U.S. reached out to him for negotiations while he was in Afghanistan. He stated: “In Afghanistan, the Americans again sent messages for negotiations with me. They lie when they say that we are sending them [Iran] messages for negotiations.”

Shamkhani also stated regarding President Trump’s announced troop withdrawal from Syria: “America had no role in toppling ISIS in Syria. America’s strategy in Syria was defeated and it was faced with a predicament in the region west of the Euphrates. This situation left America no choice but to exit Syria.”

He went on to say the U.S. would leave the Persian Gulf in the future as well: “Today, the presence of free regional peoples stretches from Syria to the Red Sea. This year, the Americans were compelled to leave the region, and in the future they will be compelled to start withdrawing from the Persian Gulf.”

Regarding Iran’s role in Syria, an analysis in the reformist Fararu discussed Iran’s reconstruction aims in the country. The piece stated: “Based on a report published by the United Nations in 2017, the cost for reconstruction in Syria is $388 billion. This is as Bashar Assad, this country’s president, said in meeting with representatives from Russia’s parliament that this figure is $410 billion.”

The piece said that Iran’s priority was rebuilding Syria’s communications and mobile phone network: “According to reports, Iran has allocated $8 billion in this area and Iran’s primary aim is rebuilding Syria’s communications and mobile phone network.”

He added that Iran was focused on Daraa province as well: “Iran is also endeavoring to have a decisive role in reconstruction efforts in southern Syria, particularly in Daraa province. The Syrian government’s extensive cooperation with Iran over its investment is one of the factors that gives Tehran a better position in Syria after the war in comparison to other countries.”

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Doubts Increase Regarding European SPV

At the January 7th conference in Tehran, Shamkhani said that time had run out on Europe to launch its SPV, stating: “The opportunity has ended for the Europeans to make their JCPOA commitments, particularly on the SPV.”

On January 8th, during a trip to New Delhi, Foreign Minister Zarif also lowered expectations regarding the SPV, stating: “We will continue our cooperation with Europe on the SPV but will not wait for them.”

Zarif went on to praise an agreement between an Indian and Iranian bank, stating: “In the area of banking, we are very happy that the Indian bank UCO and Iranian bank Pasargad have started cooperation in the area of trade. We are optimistic that despite U.S. sanctions, Iran and India will boost cooperation in line with the interests of their people.”

Zarif stated that rather than wait on Europe, Iran will go on to strike similar deals as reached with the Indian bank: “The Europeans have made efforts but they haven’t managed to make progress in line with our expectations. We will expand cooperation efforts such as the channel established with India.”

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Zarif Reiterates Call for Negotiations with Arab Persian Gulf States

While in New Delhi, Zarif reiterated that Iran was open to negotiations with its Persian Gulf neighbors. He stated: “Right now, the time has come for countries in our region to put aside two delusions. The first is that security can be bought or imported. The other is that security can be achieved through the insecurity of others.”

He added: “We again extend our hand out in friendship to our neighbors in the Persian Gulf.”

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Foreign Ministry Condemns EU Sanctions

During his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi condemned the European Union’s move to designate an Iranian intelligence agency and two Iranian citizens on a “terrorist list.” Ghassemi labeled the actions as “irrational and surprising” and said Iran will “within the framework of a reciprocal action, take the necessary and appropriate steps.”

He also stated: “Instead of putting terrorist and criminal groups like the MEK and al-Ahvaz on their sanctions list, they let them freely take their anti-human and terrorist actions and even support them.”

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Officials Differ on European Trade Vehicle

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

  • Rouhani Son-in-law Appointment Spurs Allegations of Nepotism, Resignation
  • Officials Differ on Purpose of Europe’s SPV
  • Rouhani and Erdogan Discuss Broader Cooperation
  • Conservatives Attack Rouhani over Regional Approach
  • Foreign Ministry Condemns Albania’s Expulsion of Diplomats
  • Security Forces Raid Homes of Protesting Workers

The appointment last week of President Rouhani’s son-in-law as deputy minister of industry, mines, and business last week spurred allegations of nepotism and led to his resignation. As Europe moves towards implementing its “Special Purpose Vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran, officials have taken different positions on whether it will be limited to only trade in food and medicine. President Rouhani was also hosted by Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara this week, where the two leaders discussed broadening economic, security, and political cooperation, including in Syria and the war in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Rouhani’s regional approach of seeking “win-win” regional solutions has been attacked by conservatives. Iran’s Foreign Ministry also rebuked Albania for expelling two Iranian diplomats and described it as part of efforts to drive a wedge between Iran and Europe. Security forces also raided the homes of the Ahvaz Steel Company protesting workers, arresting dozens.

 

Rouhani Son-in-Law Appointment

President Rouhani’s son-in-law Kambiz Mahdizadeh resigned as deputy minister of industry, mines, and business after his appointment one week ago spurred allegations of nepotism. After the resignation, Reza Rahmani, the minister of industry, mine, and business defended the appointment of Mahdizadeh: “[Mahdizadeh’s] appointment as deputy minister had no connection whatsoever with him being the president’s son in law.”

Rahmani defended Mahdizadeh as qualified for the post: “There are always complaints on why the youth aren’t utilized. The president’s son in law is both a youth and gifted. Whoever saw his resume and experience, congratulated us on his appointment.”

Maseeh Mohajeri, an ally of President Rouhani and editor of the Jomhuri Islami newspaper, was among the chorus of figures that criticized Mahdizadeh’s appointment: “It is a danger to the revolution and the Islamic Republic system that, in the present difficult conditions and given widespread unemployment in society, appointing family members by ministers, officials and senior managers is prevalent.”

Mohajeri added: “Officials have sacrificed meritocracy for their own personal goals and desires. It is clear these types of people are not of the quality of the revolution and the Islamic Republic system and are by no means qualified to remain in government positions.”

 

Officials Differ on Purpose of Europe’s SPV

During his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi discussed Europe’s shaping SPV and other issues. He said of the SPV: “Work has been done on this mechanism for some time. This mechanism will facilitate exchanges between Iran and European Union countries and will include many items.”

Ghassemi stated that the SPV will not be limited to trade in medicine and food and that other, non-European, countries could use the mechanism. He proclaimed: “Without a doubt, the basket of goods will include medicines and other imports that Iran requires from these countries … this mechanism can also be used for exchanges with other countries and has not been designed for only medicine and food.”

However, Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, said in a speech that he believes “this European channel will result in purchasing food and medicine.”

Rezaei also stated regarding the Trump administration’s objectives towards Iran: “Another stage in Trump’s plan is to decrease the value of Iran’s national currency to the level that no one will use the rial anymore and the rial exits the scene. They want the government to be unable to pay wages, factories to shut down, for riots and bloodshed to breakout, and for the MEK to take actions and under the excuse of human rights, for America to [militarily] interfere.”

Elsewhere in Ghassemi’s press conference, he said regarding reports that China’s CNPC was halting its investment in Iran’s South Pars natural gas field: “Regarding some reports on cancellations [of projects], until we hear from government officials, this news is considered psychological warfare. Our criterion is official negotiations and communications.”

Ghassemi added: “America is definitely pressuring the major countries and companies of the West and East and other countries to prevent cooperation with Iran. We will contemplate our final judgement on this news and the oil ministry will then make an announcement.”

Ghassemi also said regarding Iranian trade with Iraq: “As a good neighbor with which we share a 1,200 km border and have cultural, economic, historical, and civilizational connections with, Iraq has been and will remain a good neighbor of ours. Our cooperation will continue just like in the past with the same strength and precision.

Ghassemi said in response to a question on America’s sanctions waiver to Iraq: “We have received positive signals and our cooperation will continue. America’s misguided efforts to sabotage and create differences and tensions between our two countries and prevent economic cooperation are in vain.”

On December 17th, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former chief negotiator and a conservative presidential candidate in 2013, also commented on the SPV in a speech critical of the Rouhani administration. Jalili criticized the JCPOA, stating: “In the JCPOA, more than 100 rights of our nation have been denied, of which 23 of these have to do with research and development.”

Jalili welcomed Rouhani’s more nonconciliatory rhetoric in recent months and dismissed the value of Europe’s SPV. He stated: “We are happy that they [Rouhani and his allies] say that the West isn’t the entire world. However, then don’t make the country wait on [Europe’s] SPV. That the West isn’t the center of the world is a good discovery, but the Iranian nation has had this conclusion for years.”

Jalili added: “If you believe that the West isn’t the center of the world, then bring down the scarecrows of the West you have created [implying that Rouhani seeks to make Iranians scared of the West].”

Jalili then suggested that Iran should leave the JCPOA: “Was the JCPOA a shining dawn? No one wants to put the JCPOA on trial, but we shouldn’t ignore its problems. What happened to the JCPOA’s fruits? It was said that the JCPOA was a document of the UN Security Council and thus, would last. Well, America has left the JCPOA entirely, but they [Rouhani and his allies] say that we must continue to implement our commitments fully.”

 

Rouhani-Erdogan Meeting in Ankara

On December 20th, Turkish President Erdogan hosted President Rouhani and other senior Iranian officials for bilateral talks in Ankara. After a private meeting, the two presidents held a joint press conference.

During the press conference, Rouhani discussed a range of issues, including Iranian-Turkish efforts to boost economic cooperation despite U.S. sanctions and regional cooperation between the two countries. Rouhani stated: “Only a few countries share America’s belief and are violating a UN Security resolution. I believe that the era of imposing your will on others in the world has ended and the people of the region will make decisions based on their shared interests.”

He added regarding Iranian-Turkish cooperation: “Today, there was a meeting of the strategic council for relations between our two countries to review removing obstacles to developing relations. We exchanged views on financial, banking, commercial, customs, energy, transportation, tourism, and cultural cooperation matters between our two countries.”

Rouhani said of Iranian-Turkish ties: “We had an extensive private meeting with Mr. Erdogan and had good discussions on issues having to do with our two countries and regional and international issues. The foundation for the relationship between our two countries is religious, cultural, and based on common interests and the [economic] development of our two countries. No country has the ability to sabotage this brotherly and close relationship.”

Rouhani thanked Erdogan for his stance against U.S. sanctions on Iran: “I thank Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish government for their strong and clear position against unilateralism and America’s oppressive sanctions.”

Rouhani then vociferously denounced U.S. sanctions: “America’s actions against Iran are 100 percent terroristic because they are intimidating countries and companies and making them afraid of engaging in free trade. America’s approach is against international rules and UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which requires all countries to support the JCPOA and create the appropriate environment for trade with Iran.”

While Rouhani and Erdogan did not discuss the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria during the press conference, Rouhani stressed Iranian-Turkish cooperation over Syria. He declared: “On the regional front, both countries emphasize the continuation of our cooperation under the Astana agreement. Syria is very important for us. The fate of Syria’s future is in the hands of its people and the territorial integrity of Syria must be respected. Our two countries [Iran and Turkey] are in complete agreement and will continue our cooperation to establish peace and stability and security [in Syria].”

Rouhani also stated that Iran and Turkey would pursue cooperation over the war in Yemen: “Given the extremely difficult conditions for the people of Yemen, we have agreed to make plans to establish peace and stability in Yemen and help Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations and provide aid to the people of this country.”

On the eve of Rouhani’s trip to Turkey, his regional approach was criticized in a column in the conservative Jahan News. The piece censured Rouhani for seeking “win-win” solutions in the region, stating: “After the JCPOA, Hassan Rouhani tried to apply the ‘win-win’ model to the Islamic Republic’s regional policies. The win-win model for the region is based on a proposition that Rouhani has been saying since last year, that ‘instead of trying to become the region’s strongest country, we [regional countries] should make the region stronger.’”

The piece stated that Iran’s foreign ministry was attempting to build support for the “win-win” regional model: “In order to roll out the game of win-win in the region, the research center of the foreign ministry has been seriously working to advance this policy by holding briefings and preparatory conferences to create an atmosphere to support this policy.”

The article went on to state that the win-win model for the region was untenable, citing Saudi and Turkish foreign policies. It stated: “To cite one example, what positive signals can there be seen in the ruling family of a country like Saudi Arabia for there to be hope in a win-win with them? Right now, Saudi Arabia is hosting civilizational conferences on Islam and there is no representative from Iran there!”

The piece added: “Even Turkey, which stands out in engaging in regional cooperation with Iran and even having common goals, has a vision to return to the Ottoman Empire—or put differently—to become the most powerful regional country. Given this, the designers of the win-win theory are theorizing in an imaginary setting, not on the realities on the ground in the region.”

 

Foreign Ministry Rebukes Albania’s Expulsion of Iranian Diplomats

On December 20th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi addressed Albania’s expulsion of two Iranian diplomats over an alleged terrorist threat. Ghassemi stated the move was a continuation of efforts spearheaded by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage Iran’s relations with Europe: “This action and scenario was carried out under pressure from the U.S. government and the security services of the Zionist regime and with the cooperation of anti-Iranian terrorist groups and is based on unreal and incorrect claims aimed at sabotaging and impacting Iran’s relations with Europe.”

Ghassemi condemned the expulsion and expressed dismay that Iranian-Albanian relations had been damaged: “Such behavior from the Albanian government has no justification or basis or rationality. It is completely based on manufactured and wrong intelligence of some security services. [Albania’s action] is a condemnable and unacceptable act. It is unfortunate that the anti-Iran scenario-makers have now sacrificed Albania, which always had good relations with Iran, with their ominous plans.”

Ghassemi said of efforts to harm Iranian-European ties after America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA: “In recent months we have witness that as cooperation between Iran and Europe has grown more serious over negating America’s unilateral and illegal sanctions, there has been an increase in scenarios designed to sabotage Iran’s relations with Europe. However, with the vigilance and tactfulness [of Iran and Europe], these plans have been futile.”

 

Protesting Workers Arrested

On December 16th, security forces raided the houses of protesting workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel company, arresting dozens. The Ahvaz Steel Company workers have been protesting since early November over unpaid wages. According to BBC Persian, the workers are also aggrieved over a steel pipeline project being cancelled due to the unavailability of prerequisite raw materials.

Several days later, on December 19th, 11 of the workers were released. According to reports, at least 30 remained in custody.

On December 19th, Karim Yavari, the labor minister’s special representative, promised to deliver the raw materials needed to restart the factory’s operations. Yavari further stated: “No worker should be arrested over peaceful protests. We will continue efforts to free the imprisoned workers until they are all released.” (more on the recent labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company and Haft Tapeh Sugercane Factory in a previous Iran Unfiltered).


 

 

Domestic Dissidents Discuss Potential for Revolution

Week of December 10, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Prominent Reformist Dissidents Discuss Potential for Revolution
  • Revolutionary Guards Commander Confirms Recent Missile Test
  • Rouhani Advisor Reignites Debate Over House Arrest of Green Movement Leaders
  • Rouhani Signals Gas Price Hike
  • Detained Leader of Striking Workers Released
  • Ten Arrested in Connection with Chabahar Car Bombing
  • University Students Decry Suppression
  • Political Prisoner on Hunger Strikes Dies
  • Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions in Coming Year

Two prominent reformist dissidents, Abbas Abdi and Mostafa Tajzadeh, gave far-reaching interviews this week discussing the state of political reformism, the impact of U.S. sanctions, and prospects for revolutionary unrest in the country. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force also confirmed that Iran had recently tested a missile, becoming the first Iranian official to acknowledge a test after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo censured Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile earlier this month. A senior advisor to President Rouhani also spurred controversy after stating that the house arrest conditions of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have eased, while President Rouhani suggested that different prices for gasoline would be introduced for drivers depending on their level of gasoline consumption.

In other news, a detained leader of the Haft Tapeh workers has been released, as part of an agreement for the workers to end their strike. Iran’s police chief also announced that ten individuals have been arrested in connection with last week’s car bombing at the port city of Chabahar, which left two Iranian security guards dead and dozens injured. Ayatollah Khamenei also delivered a speech denouncing U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. University student organizations also issued letters and statements condemning a growing atmosphere of suppression in the country.

 

Reformist Dissidents Discuss Iran’s Political Climate

Abbas Abdi, an influential reformist and former political prisoner, gave an interview where he discussed the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and prospects of the Islamic Republic being toppled. Abdi emphasized the discontent of many Iranians towards the status quo should not be equated to support for U.S. policies. “The United States and Trump don’t pay attention to the fact that even if the people are not content with current conditions, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate with them,” Abdi stated. “Popular discontent doesn’t mean the people accept America’s hostile actions. The people don’t accept the current conditions, but this doesn’t mean they accept any and all alternatives.”

Abdi also said that the U.S. perception of events inside Iran was incorrect due to misinformation campaigns, which he compared to mistaken U.S. views of Iraq leading up to the 2003 invasion. Abdi stated: “Iran’s critics on social media have created a perception of Iran that is at odds with reality. Domestic analysts better analyze and understand the situation.”  He added: “These [online] critics try to create a perception and environment for [to influence] the United States, which is the same thing that happened towards Iraq [before the war]. The New York Times has even accepted that it was mistaken in its policy to support the Iraqi invasion and that it was misled by wrong intelligence from these same types of political opponents [U.S.-based Iraqi dissidents].”

Abdi went on to caution Iranian authorities to not take peaceful dissent for granted and make reforms before dissent turns violent.  Abdi agreed with the interviewer that despite the many grievances in Iranian society, the country is stable on the surface, as evident in the recent peaceful protests by workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz steel companies. However, Abdi stressed that the peaceful protests by the people should not be “misinterpreted and that officials shouldn’t believe that in the future nothing will happen.”

Mostafa Tajzadeh, another prominent reformist who was imprisoned from 2009-2016 in Evin prison, also gave an interview to IRNA on the state of political reformism in Iran. He stated: “The defeat of reformism can lead to a revolution, foreign intervention, and likely violence in the country. To not become engulfed in such a situation, we must keep reformism alive and preserve the peoples’ hope in reformism.”

Tajzadeh stated that reformists must become more forthright in pushing for substantive change in the country. He proclaimed: “Reformists can help keep paths to solutions open and on top of defending their own rights, strongly defend the rights of others. To open paths, we must speak more explicitly than in the past with the government and the people.”

Tajzadeh added: “The hidden [deep] state must be dismantled, military forces must return to their barracks, healthy elections must be held, private media stations must be permitted, filtering of the internet must end, and we must all recognize each other’s rights and respect each other’s lifestyles.”

Tajzadeh asserted that those who wish to topple the Islamic Republic need reformism to be sidelined. He opined: “The reason that those who want to topple the system say that reformists must either join them or be made so disreputable that they are eliminated from Iran’s political scene is because they believe that as long as reformism is alive in society, and as long as Khatami’s words are accepted by the public, neither a revolution will occur in Iran nor can foreign countries intervene [inside Iran].”

Tajzadeh stated that the idea of toppling the Islamic Republic was moot as long as most Iranians believe there is no alternative but reform. He opined: “As long as a massive percentage of the people, due to a variety of reasons including that things can get worse, oppose the toppling of the government, even if they don’t believe in the Islamic Republic and are opposed to it but prefer to reform it, the idea of toppling the system will remain only the slogan and wish of its supporters.”

Tajzadeh stated that the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring had created a fear of revolutionary unrest in Iran. He stated: “The developments in recent years after the Arab Spring have created a deep and widespread fear that revolutions in Middle Eastern countries can have devastating consequences. We have witnessed the opposite of the low-cost revolutions of Iran [the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the 1979 Islamic Revolution] with the Arab Spring. Foreign intervention in these countries have had widespread and deeply negative consequences.”

Tajzadeh then argued that other regional states succumbed to revolutionary chaos because they lacked strong reformist movements. He proclaimed: “I want to focus on important differences [between Iran and regional countries that have undergone social and political unrest in recent years], which it would be catastrophic for us to not pay attention to.”

He went on: “One of the main reasons for the disastrous situation today in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is that these countries lacked powerful reformist currents that simultaneously spoke and engaged with the state; prevented it from taking extremist, hardline, or criminal actions; and restrained its power. That could also talk to the people and explain that toppling the government at any cost would not solve problems and could create a situation for society that is far worse.”

Tajzadeh argued that reformism must succeed in Iran for the country to not suffer the fate of its war-torn neighbors. He declared: “If Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen are not partitioned and maintain their cohesion, they might be able to after two decades—if they have complete unity—achieve durable security. This experience has resulted in us saying that the most important reason for the existence of reformism is that Iran doesn’t experience such a fate.”

Tajzadeh concluded by stating that U.S. interventions had resulted in popular anger against it. He stated: “America has created enemies for itself in every Middle Eastern country it has intervened against. Why was the generation of the 1979 revolution anti-American? Because Washington supported the Shah and had 30 to 50 thousand personnel settled inside Iran.”

 

Missile Test, Chabahar Arrests

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, confirmed in an interview that Iran recently conducted a missile test. It marked the first confirmation by an Iranian official that the country had tested a missile since U.S. Secretary of State’s December 1st remarks censuring Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons (more on the Iranian reaction to Pompeo’s comments in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

In his comments, Hajizadeh said that Iran carries out 40 to 50 missile tests a year. He stated: “For the Americans to show a reaction to some of these tests reveals that they’re under pressure.” Hajizadeh did not disclose what type of missile was tested or whether it was a ballistic missile.

Iran’s Chief of Police Hossein Ashtari said that ten people had been arrested in connection with the December 6th car bombing in the Iranian port city of Chabahar.

Ashtari also commented on the case of Iranian border guards captured by Pakistan-based militants in October, stating: “The necessary efforts have been made through the foreign ministry and the armed forces and we are hopeful that all these guards will return to their families in full health” (more on the case of the captured border guards in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

 

Reignited Debate Over Mousavi and Karroubi

On December 9th, Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, delivered a speech at Tehran University and engaged in a back-and-forth with students on social, political, and economic issues.

Ashna stated that the house arrest conditions for 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had eased. He stated: “Don’t doubt that Mr. Mousavi’s conditions under house arrest have changed greatly. The arrest hasn’t been lifted, but in my opinion what remains from lifting the arrest is just a shell.” He added: “The Rouhani administration and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council have done what they needed to do, and what remains is the shell [of the house arrest]. I am hopeful with your prayers and with the efforts of those who’ve have paid costs in this regard, the arrest will be [fully] lifted.”

Ashna also discussed the possibility of changing the Iranian constitution in response to a question from a student. He stated: “Based on the constitution, when it comes to reviewing the document, four tenets are unchangeable: being Islamic, Republicanism, Velayat-e Faqih, and the government respecting the votes of the people. The other principles of the constitution are amendable.”

Ashna added: “If some have issues with these four principles, they must think of more difficult ways of pursuing the changes they want and must accept the costs they’ll have to pay in this regard. On the other hand, within the constitution, there is plenty of capacity to make changes without needing to amend it.”

Ashna’s comments on the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi sparked renewed discussion regarding their nearly eight-year-long detention. In response, hardline MP Mojtaba Zonnour asserted that the arrest was not lifted this past summer because of a sharply critical letter written by Karroubi to the Assembly of Experts. (more on the letter in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

Hossein Karroubi, the son of Mehdi Karroubi, addressed the comments by Ashna and Zonnour in an interview with Etemad newspaper. Karroubi stated: “The issue of lifting the house arrest was never seriously contemplated for Mr. Karroubi’s letter to have impacted this process … neither senior officials or the Supreme National Security Council, which is tasked with managing this issue, have seriously discussed lifting the house arrest.”

Hossein Karroubi said in response to Ashna: “What Mr. Ashna means is that there has been a slight opening on the issue of the house arrests. By this I mean that now their [Mousavi and Karroubi’s] family can visit them. But they’re still completely disconnected from the outside, so there hasn’t been a major difference. What Ashna meant by saying only a ‘shell’ remained of the house arrest is that now, after years, their family can visit them without needing prior permission.”

 

Human Rights

On December 12th, Ismail Bakshi, a leading representative of the Haft Tapeh striking workers, was released. The workers had previously reached an agreement with authorities to cease their strike in return for receiving unpaid wages and better job contracts as well as securing Bakhshi’s release (more on the Haft Tapeh strike in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

On December 12th, the family of political prisoner Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, who was on hunger strike for two months, was notified of his death. His demands while on hunger strike were to be transferred out of Qom’s Langarud prison—where he said conditions were poor and he had shared cells with dangerous criminals—and to have a fair trial.

The charges against him included “insulting the Leader and propagating against the political system.” Qom’s public prosecutor said in response to Nasiri’s death: “Nasiri was a prisoner in Langarud prison who was serving his sentence for insulting sacred beliefs on social media. He suffered from a liver disease and his physical condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital. After seven days in the hospital, he passed away. The precise cause of death is being investigated by forensic specialists.”

On December 8th, over 500 students active in academic publications wrote an open letter to President Rouhani warning of the consequences of they said was “widespread suppression of every independent civil institution and legal, peaceful protest.” The letter came a day after a similar statement was released by student councils of 35 universities, which deplored the “suppression of students” after last winter’s protests inside Iran. It stated that over 300 students have been arrested, over 100 cumulative years of imprisonment have been issued, and that some students have been whipped and barred from leaving the country.”

 

Rouhani Hints at Gas Price Hike

During a December 10th meeting with officials from the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, President Rouhani suggested that gasoline prices would be increased. He stated: “In our country gasoline has a fixed price. It’s not like this in other parts of the world. There is one price for the weekend, one price for a work day, one price for busy days … over here we’ve become used to a consistent gas price.”

The reformist Fararu notes that Iran’s gasoline subsidies have become increasingly costly as the price of the Iranian rial has fallen against the dollar over the past year. Fararu states: “In recent months it’s been heard that the price of gas will change and there will be two rates as before [under a system instituted by the Ahmadinejad administration]. Gasoline was changed back to one rate during Rouhani’s first term and has been sold for 1,000 tomans per liter. In the past year, the price of gas hasn’t changed, even though the cost of the dollar has increased rapidly.”

Fararu also states regarding the price and consumption of gasoline in Iran: “Gasoline consumption in Iran is very high and based on reports is roughly 3 billion liters every month. This figure has increased by 10 percent since last year … After Venezuela, Iran has the cheapest gasoline in the world. The price of every liter now is roughly 10 cents (in American dollars).”

Fararu states that many experts believe Iran must return to a policy of instituting gas consumption quotas and higher prices to control sharply increasing gasoline smuggling in border region. According to Fararu, the Rouhani administration is currently preparing the infrastructure to return to this policy.

Under this system, as instituted previously under the Ahmadinejad administration, every vehicle owner is allotted a specific gas quota per month. If this amount is passed, the owner would have to purchase gas at a higher price.

Fararu also states that the Rouhani administration aimed to increase the gasoline price last year with its budget bill but backtracked due to last winter’s protests. “Every year, when there is argument over the national budget bill, there is a debate on the issue of rising gasoline prices,” Fararu states. “Last year, there were whispers that the price would be increased by 50 percent, which was later confirmed by the administration. But the protests of last December and January resulted in the administration backtracking from the gas price hike.”

During his address, Rouhani also indirectly rebuked Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayer leader of Mashhad. Alamolhoda, a staunch conservative opponent of Rouhani, had earlier attacked the Rouhani administration’s bills to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as “not compatible with Islam.” (more on the contentious domestic debate over the FATF in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

Rouhani said in response, without directly referencing Alamolhoda: “How is it possible that in today’s world we don’t work with the global banks? And someone comes from a specific ideological corner and incites the people by saying that if this agreement or convention is signed or if we work with this financial group, Islam will be lost. How will Islam be lost? I wish you understood Islam!”

 

Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions

On December 12th, Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech lambasting U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. Khamenei said of U.S. aims towards Iran: “The Americans through the years have constantly been seeking to gain dominance over Iran just as they had before the revolution. They want to create the same conditions for Iran that they have in some weak regional countries which they see as cows to be milked. They have wanted this with dear, great, and proud Iran but haven’t reached this aim and from here out will definitely never reach it.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said of the Trump administration’s Iran approach: “Their aim was that through sanctions and actions affecting Iran’s security, within Iran they would create polarization, differences, war between groups, and draw some people into the streets. They named [this operation] ‘hot summer,’ but to their blinded eyes [an Iranian expression] this year’s summer was one of the best summers.”

However, Khamenei cautioned Iranians to be vigilant in the coming year. He proclaimed: “However, even though the enemy’s plan has been exposed, we have to preserve our vigilance because America is an evil and devious enemy. It may be intending to deceive so that this year it created a crisis, and for example it has plans for next year.”

Khamenei added: “We must not be inattentive for even a second and must all be awake and alert. My advice to the Iranian people, especially to the youth and different groups in the country and all classes and political currents, is to be careful to not make the environment ripe for the enemy. For if we become inattentive, even this weak enemy will unleash its poison.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also said regarding the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen: “The Saudis believed that within a few days or weeks, they would be able to establish their dominance over Yemen. But now it’s over four years and they haven’t been able to do anything and the more time passes, the harsher the damage inflicted on them will get.”


 

 

Terrorist Car Bombing in Chabahar as Students Demonstrate to Support Workers

Week of December 3, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Car Bomb Outside Police Headquarters in Chabahar Kills Two, Injures Dozens
  • University Students Demonstrate in Favor of Striking Workers
  • Demographer from Australian University Arrested
  • Condition of Political Prisoner under Hunger Strike Deteriorates
  • Rouhani Repeats Warning on Shuttering Strait of Hormuz
  • Zarif Defends Ballistic Missile Program after U.S. Rebuke
  • Rouhani Administration Submits National Budget to Parliament
  • Zarif Impeachment Bill Fizzles out in Parliament

A terrorist car bombing struck the Iranian port city of Chabahar Thursday morning, killing two and injuring at least 28 outside the city’s police headquarters. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group with a history of engaging in terrorism claimed responsibility. At several Iranian universities this week, students demonstrated in support of striking workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Meanwhile, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, was arrested while trying to leave the country. The condition of imprisoned women’s rights activist Farhad Meysami, who has been under a hunger strike, has also deteriorated. Another political dissident, journalist Hengameh Shahidi, has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison.

President Hassan Rouhani in a speech denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile and repeated a warning that no Persian Gulf oil would be exported if the U.S. seeks to force Iranian oil exports to zero. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also issued a defense of Iran’s ballistic missile program after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed a recent missile tested violated a UN Security Council resolution. On the domestic politics front, the Rouhani administration submitted its national budget for the upcoming Iranian year to parliament for approval, while an impeachment bill targeting Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has fizzled out in parliament.

 

Car Bombing in Chabahar

On the morning of December 6th, a car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar. The explosion killed two security guards and injured at least 28 others. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group operating in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province, claimed responsibility. The two guards killed in the attack were Dariush Ranjbar and Naser Darzadeh, the latter of whom was a Sunni Iranian Baluch.

Rahmdel Bameri, the mayor of Chabahar, suggested the attack was orchestrated by foreign powers: “At 9:55am one of the agents of global arrogance and our bloodthirsty enemy carried out a suicide bombing.”

Bameri added regarding the attack itself: “This suicide bomber packed explosives in a Nissan truck and intended to enter Chabahar’s police headquarters. However, he was confronted by security forces who successfully repelled him which resulted in him setting off the explosive outside the entrance.”

Revolutionary Guards Spokesperson Ramezan Sharif linked the attack to Saudi Arabia and vowed retaliation. He stated that “terrorist groups, mostly connected to the security services of countries such as Saudi Arabia, are always seeking to create insecurity in our border regions.” He added: “This terrorist attack will have a severe response, and not only will they [the group responsible] incur losses but the groups supporting them will be punished.”

An analysis in the Iranian outlet Asr Iran asked, “What connection is there in today’s explosion and Chabahar receiving a waiver from U.S. sanctions?” The analysis reflected widely-held sentiment among Iranian analysts and pundits that Chabahar was targeted due to its strategic value for Iran.

The Asr Iran column read: “Exactly one month ago, America waived Chabahar from its sanctions. Chabahar is Iran’s only ocean port and a free trade zone. In recent years, Chabahar has turned into a port for Indian investment, and Indian financial and strategic interests have become tied to this Iranian port. Through Chabahar, India wants to circumvent their regional rival Pakistan and have a pathway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

The article went on to assert that Saudi Arabia has an interest in destabilizing Chabahar. It stated: “The Saudis are upset that there is even one unsanctioned asset for Iran. They are ready to even sell their own oil at a lower price to Iran’s customers to inflict pain on Iran in every way possible.”

The piece added: “From long ago, terrorist groups in Pakistan and their counterparts in southeastern Iran have been infiltrated, guided, and supported by the Saudis … so we have to take seriously the idea that the terrorist attack in Chabahar is part of Saudi Arabia’s project to prevent Chabahar from developing during the sanctions period.”

 

Arrests and Student Demonstrations

Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, has been arrested. According to IRNA: “One of the country’s security agencies in cooperation with the judiciary has arrested a number of ‘infiltrators’ related to the field of population control.”

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, rebuked the arrest and said mockingly of security forces responsible: “Please let the honor of securitizing demographics fall to other people. For you, [securitizing] the environmental field is enough for now.” Ashna was referring to the imprisonment of eight environmentalists last January by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, which the Rouhani administration has opposed.

Mahmoud Behzadi, a judiciary lawyer, stated regarding Hosseini-Chavoshi’s access to a lawyer: “The issue now is that for people arrested on such charges, based on article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Code, they can only choose from among 20 lawyers which the head of the judiciary has designated. So as far as I know, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi has yet to choose from among these lawyers.”

The hardline Kayhan newspaper said of the arrest, using her initials: “MH is a dual-national demographer and was arrested while trying to leave the country in a successful operation by intelligence forces, as part of continuous efforts to confront the enemy’s infiltrators.”

On December 3rd, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist imprisoned since June, released a statement from prison on the condition of a fellow imprisoned activist, Farhad Meysami. Arrested in August for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law, Meysami has been on a hunger strike since then, with Sotoudeh warning his condition is seriously deteriorating.

In her statement, titled, “Farhad’s life is in danger!” she called on all civil society activists and human rights defenders to draw attention to Meysami’s situation. She wrote: “What I know is that Farhad’s life is in serious danger. I ask all conscious people to do everything they can to save the life of this educated citizen.”

On December 1st, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and former advisor to 2009 presidential candidate and Green Movement opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. She was previously imprisoned for three years after the 2009 election.

Shahidi was arrested again on June 26th, after which Tehran’s chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated: “We saw that everyday she made blatant insults against the judiciary branch and officials by posting very criminal tweets.”

On December 4th, students at several Iranian universities demonstrated in support of striking workers from the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Over the past several weeks, the workers have been protesting the company’s botched privatization and not having received four months of wages (more on the Haft Tapeh protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered). The company employs roughly 5,000 workers.

According to videos shared on social media, students demonstrated at universities including Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Kermanshah University, and Babol Noshirvani University. The students called for the release of the workers and teachers who have been arrested in recent months (more on the teacher protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

At Amir Kabir University in Tehran, there were reports of clashes between the demonstrating students and students belonging to the Basij paramilitary force. According to reports, on Tuesday morning Asal Mohammadi, an activist and pharmaceutical student at Azad University student in Tehran, was arrested.

 

Haft Tapeh Striking Workers Reach a Deal

On December 2nd, over the three weeks into the strike by Haft Tapeh workers, a meeting was held at the company’s headquarters between the workers, government officials, and company representatives. The meeting included the chief prosecutor of Khuzestan province, the mayor of the city of Shush, the chief judge and prosecutor of Shush, Shush’s member of parliament, and representatives of the workers except for Ismail Bakhsi—who was arrested several weeks ago.

In the meeting, Shush’s mayor promised that the workers would receive their unpaid wages within three weeks.  After the meeting, Fereydoon Nikoofar, the secretary of the Haft Tapeh worker’s union, stated in an interview: “During the meeting, the workers’ problems were discussed and based on the discussion, it’s been decided that the workers will return to work … and that the workers’ contracts would change from being daily contracts into six month contracts.”

The workers also stated that their return to work would be contingent on Ismail Bakhshi’s release from custody. In response, the prosecutor of Shush said that within the next days, the grounds would be created for release of Bakhshi.

On December 4th, the Haft Tapeh workers’ union released a statement saying that Ismail Bakhsi and Sepideh Ghelyan, an activist, had come “under severe psychological and physical pressure” while imprisoned. In response, judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani denied any workers had been tortured, stating: “If any claims [of torture] are true, the responsible official and security officer will be confronted severely, but based on reports this issue is false, and people who claim otherwise must provide evidence.”

 

Officials Rebuke U.S

On December 4th, President Rouhani delivered a speech during a provincial trip where he denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile. He proclaimed: “America is seeking to separate Iran from Europe, China, India, and our neighboring countries. This is as we are not and will not become enemies with any of our neighboring nations.”

Rouhani stated that Iran wishes to maintain good relations with its neighbors and other countries. He declared: “Today Iran has relations, more than ever, with the world. We have and will continue to have deep relations with our neighbors. America is unable to break our relations with the people of the region, who we’ve been friendly neighbors with through the centuries.”

Rouhani censured U.S. efforts to isolate Iran and reduce its oil exports: “The great and brave Iranian nation has not and will not give up with respect to the United States. The Americans wanted to prevent Iran from exporting oil and end Iran’s trade with world. Trump wants to isolate Iran from region and world … but the Iranian people have declared they will be victorious in all these fronts.”

Rouhani went on to assert that the U.S. has faced a string of political defeats. He stated: “The people should know that in the past several months, the Americans were defeated at the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the Hague in legal proceedings. This is a victory for Iranian diplomacy, lawyers, and the great Iranian people.”

Rouhani then repeated a tacit warning to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. sought to prevent all Iranian oil exports.  He declared: “America should know that we will sell our oil and that it’s not able to prevent us from exporting our oil. It should know that if one day it wants to stop Iranian oil exports, no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.”

On December 2nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of testing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, claiming that the test “violates UN Security Council resolution 2231.” In response, Iranian foreign minister said Iran’s missiles were designed only for conventional purposes and denounced the U.S. for violating UNSC Res. 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal.

Zarif stated during a press conference: “We don’t have a nuclear weapons program and we don’t design missiles to be nuclear-weapons capable. Given the Islamic Republic’s missiles have pin-point accuracy, they are designed only for conventional arms.” He added: “The Americans, both the previous administration and the current one, have announced that neither the JCPOA nor UNSC Res. 2231 limits Iran’s missile activities.”

Zarif stated that Iran’s missile program was aimed at deterrence: “We have always emphasized our defensive capability and have announced that we have a deterrence and defensive policy, and our track record reflects this. The countries that give opinions on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities have flooded our region with weapons and caused the region to become insecure. These countries cannot ask the Islamic Republic to have no defensive capabilities.”

Zarif then spoke about European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran: “The news I heard during our trip last week to Brussels and Geneva is that the final agreements have been reached [between the Europeans], and in the near future the SPV will be finalized.”

On December 6th, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh stated on the sidelines of the OPEC summit in Austria that Iran would under no circumstances reduce its oil production: “Because of the sanctions imposed on Iran, Iran will not reduce oil production at all, but will support OPEC to manage members’ [oil cuts] … reducing our production in present times is our red line.”

Zangeneh stated that the countries that recently increased their production levels should now reduce them: “Iran in the past month has not increased production whatsoever. As such, countries that increased their production in the past month must reduce their production.”

Zangeneh also criticized the meeting of the Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, and the Saudi oil minister at the sidelines of the OPEC summit. Zangeneh stated that the meeting was “completely unprofessional,” adding: “Trump wants to teach OPEC how it should operate, meaning he wants to put OPEC under pressure and this is extremely bad. Trump is dictating orders to OPEC. Most OPEC members will never submit to America’s demands.”

 

Other Domestic Political Developments

On December 6th, the Rouhani administration’s budget for the upcoming Iranian year 1398 (March 2019-March 2020) was sent to parliament for approval. Behrouz Nemati, the spokesman for the parliament’s presiding board, stated on the budget approval process: “Based on the parliament’s internal rules, technical commissions will review the budget bill from the time it’s received and MPs have 10 days to give their suggestions to these commissions. The commissions will then submit their review to the consolidation commission, where the entire budget will be reviewed for one month.”

Nemati added regarding the oil price and export levels the budget is based on: “Based on what we’ve heard, the administration’s budget bill is based on a $54 dollar per barrel of oil and selling 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.”

The Iranian parliament’s bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention, one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has been sent to the Expediency Discernment Council. After the bill returned to parliament from the Guardian Council, parliamentarians amended parts of the bill in line with the Guardian Council’s complaints but insisted on the original bill in other areas.

According to the Iranian constitution, when the Guardian Council finds faults with a bill approved by parliament, and the parliament insists on its version, the bill is sent to the Expediency Discernment Council to resolve the dispute. The parliament has approved all four FATF bills, but thus far only the bill on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing has been approved by the Guardian Council.

Ali Reza Rahimi, a member of the parliament’s presiding board, has said the number of signatories for a bill on Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s impeachment has fallen below the threshold necessary for the bill to proceed. The impeachment bill had been circulated by conservative MPs (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

Rahimi said to IRNA: “Impeaching Mr Zarif had 24 signatories, which has now fallen to nine. According to the parliament’s rules, if the number of signatures for impeachment drops below ten it’s no longer under consideration.”


 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Calls for Zarif and Larijani’s Impeachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Supreme Leader Calls for Military Upgrades as Rouhani Lambasts Israel

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

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

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

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

 

Earthquake and Other Domestic Developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

Workers Protest in Shush as Zarif Comes Under Fire

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

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

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

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

 

Zarif Under Fire for Comments on Money Laundering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Worker Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reports of Executions Over Ahvaz Attack

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

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

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

 

Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Sultan of Coins” Execution Plays into Domestic Politics

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

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

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

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

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Cautions Europe

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

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

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

 

Other Domestic Developments

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

Iran Reacts to Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

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

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

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

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

 

Iranian Responses to U.S. Sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Potential for U.S.-Iran Negotiations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Other Foreign Policy Developments: Denmark Accusation Fallout, Cyber Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Internal Developments: Detained Environmentalists, Potential Changes to Citizenship Law

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

Iran Braces for Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

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

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

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

 

Officials Defiant as U.S. Sanctions Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tehran Reacts to Denmark’s Accusation of an Assassination Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Official’s Attack on a Senior Ayatollah Spurs Clerical Backlash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Netanyahu Trip to Oman Raises Concerns in Tehran

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

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

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

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

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