Former Officials Defend the JCPOA at Washington Forums

“Once we have the nuclear deal reestablished, the next topic is to try to understand how you could have a security architecture in which Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s, Iran’s, other interests can be accommodated,” observed Rob Malley – President of the International Crisis Group and a former White House advisor on the Middle East under President Obama – at the Wilson Center last Tuesday. Malley is among several former U.S. officials who have warned that President Trump undermined U.S. diplomacy by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but that if the deal was salvaged, it could serve as a paradigm for a future administration to resolve other crises. While such a framework would take a long time, Malley indicated that Israeli-Iranian relations could be the next thorny challenge to tackle.

Similarly, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that President Trump had “put himself in a box” with his decision on the JCPOA because, she said, the JCPOA is a “good blueprint” for a nuclear agreement with North Korea. Albright warned that President Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA has “undermined our relations with other members of the P5+1” in terms of their ability to trust the U.S. on future agreements. She added that the withdrawal has further hurt U.S. credibility with respect to the Venezuelan and North Korean crises, stating “It’s undermining our policy, so it’s important to call that out.”

Malley emphasized the narrow focus of the diplomatic process that produced the JCPOA, a rare diplomatic success story in America’s troubled 40-year long relationship with the Islamic Republic, and argued that the U.S. needed to return to compliance. “I think the better way forward is to rejoin the nuclear deal, that’s a subject for maybe the next administration, and to use that model – without any illusions, without any naivete about how quickly relations are going to change – but understanding that Iran does have a place in the region that people are going to have to take into account.”

“Both Republican and Democratic Presidents, the last seven … have operated in a mix of coercion and engagement and both have failed, a clear case of bipartisan failure,” said Malley. “The one agreement that could have sustainably changed Iranian behavior on one issue … is the JCPOA, the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal.”

The JCPOA’s importance was also echoed in hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. Former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns testified that, if the Trump administration were to get a JCPOA-like deal with North Korea, it would be a “significant tangible step forward.” Burns added, “something like” the Iran deal with North Korea would be a “first step in dealing with North Korea, setting aside the irony of this, given the admin’s view of the Iranian nuclear agreement.”

In the House, Albright rebuked the Trump administration’s “lack of diplomacy” on foreign policy and cited President Trump’s decisions on Iran’s nuclear program, the INF Treaty and climate change as “mistakes.” Albright expressed support for the JCPOA, stating that she “supported the deal” because it dealt with the “most serious aspect of Iran’s behavior” in terms of its “capability” to develop nuclear weapons.

Albright made a final rebuke to the administration’s reneging on the Iran deal towards the end of her remarks, declaring: “Negotiations are negotiations, people make compromises and if you walk away from them, why would they trust you on the next one.”

The Slender Path Back to the Iran Nuke Deal — and Away from War

The past 40 years in U.S.-Iran relations have been riddled with missed opportunities. While the Iranians and Clinton administration failed to initiate serious dialogue after Mohammad Khatami’s election, the George W. Bush administration pocketed Tehran’s assistance after the U.S.invasion of Afghanistan, put the country in its “axis of evil,” and ignored its offer for a grand bargain. Under the Trump administration, however, we are likely witnessing the greatest missed opportunity in four decades: a failure to capitalize on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal. 

The drama over the resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif — though it was rejected and withdrawn — underscores how the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions has undermined moderates and bolstered hardliners. With the Trump administration seeking to collapse the nuclear deal and apparently searching for a casus belli, Tehran has less need of a chief diplomat distinguished by his engagement with the United States. This hardening posture in Iran plays into the hands of hawks on all sides bent on slamming shut the window for negotiations and opening the door to direct confrontation.

Yet there remains a slender path back to the JCPOA and away from war. U.S. policymakers outside the administration — there is little hope about those within it — must speak up about the need to return to the nuclear deal upon Trump’s departure from the White House.

Fortunately, momentum is building to return the United States to compliance with the deal. Most notably, the Democratic National Committee has adopted a resolution calling on the United States to re-enter the JCPOA, effectively prioritizing U.S.-Iran diplomacy as the party shapes its platform ahead of the 2020 elections. Already, several presidential hopefuls have signaled interest in salvaging the deal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has indicated that she would support returning to the JCPOA if Iran continues to abide by its terms, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar has warned that the United States.can’t balk on the agreement.

Read the rest of this article on Defense One. 

NIAC Statement on Bolton Seeking War with Iran

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on reports that John Bolton asked the Pentagon for options to attack Iran in September, rattling officials:

“John Bolton and fellow Iran hawks believe they have two years left to collapse the Iran nuclear deal and trigger a disastrous war that the American people want no part of. We know that Bolton and other administration officials preferred an Iran war to negotiations prior to serving Trump. Now there is confirmation that they are still seeking out opportunities to fulfill their war agenda.

“This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region. It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton’s request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration’s ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations.”

Expert Reacts to Sec. Pompeo’s Speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East Policies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 10, 2019
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | yasmina@unbendablemedia.com

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East policies:

“Secretary Pompeo’s speech failed to outline a coherent strategic logic for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. If Secretary Pompeo wants regional stability, human rights, and an end to U.S. military adventures and endless wars, he would press his boss to return to the Iran deal, pursue and facilitate good-faith diplomacy among all stakeholders, and honor our international agreements.

“Iran’s government engages in the unconscionable repression of its people and violates its international human rights commitments. Unfortunately, legitimate criticism of the Iranian government’s abuses and support for the Iranian people are undermined by this administration’s hypocrisy – from failing to uphold its own international commitments under the nuclear deal, to shielding the Saudi government from accountability for its killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to banning and sanctioning ordinary Iranians.

“A prudent alternative U.S. policy to the region must be predicated on using diplomacy as the preferred method of advancing U.S. interests, acting consistently on human rights, and ceasing our blank-check support for regional autocrats. A diplomacy-driven U.S. Middle East policy would not turn its back on regional people suffering under the yoke of strongmen or monarchs and would build on the successful diplomatic playbook of the Iran nuclear deal.

“If the administration continues on its current path of reflexively backing despotic regional regimes, simplistically blaming Iran as the source of all regional ills, and jeopardizing U.S. relations with European states seeking to preserve the nuclear accord, it will succeed at little other than fueling instability.”

# # #

The National Iranian American Council (www.niacouncil.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. We accomplish our mission through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building.

New Report Says U.S. Return to Iran Nuclear Deal is Possible, Urges Incoming Congress and 2020 Presidential Challengers to Make JCPOA Restoration Foreign Policy Priority

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, November 19th, 2018
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | yasmina@unbendablemedia.com | (407) 922-8149

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the National Iranian American Council has launched a first-of-its-kind report detailing the urgency and legislative feasibility for the United States to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The report makes the case that seeking to return the United States into the JCPOA should be a significant foreign policy priority for the incoming Congress, and central to the foreign policy platform of those seeking to challenge Trump in 2020.

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE REPORT HERE.

On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA and to re-impose all nuclear-related sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord following 90- and 180-day wind-down periods. The Trump administration also promised to utilize existing U.S. sanctions authorities to aggressively target Iran and companies engaged in sanctionable conduct therewith.

The report also outlines the damage to U.S. national interests triggered by the Trump administration’s violation of the deal, including strained relations with European Union allies and the ever-increasing threat of the U.S.-Iran conflict escalating into military action. The report concludes with recommendations to Congress and 2020 Presidential contenders to salvage the JCPOA and rehabilitate the United States on the global stage.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, explained:

“Donald Trump’s assault on the Iran nuclear deal sabotages America’s credibility and influence on the world stage, and threatens to provoke a new nuclear crisis in the Middle East. The President is armed with an ideologically hawkish cabinet on track to fully collapse the accord, increasing the risks of both war with Iran and an Iranian nuclear weapon. The incoming Congress and any 2020 Presidential challengers must vow to mitigate the damage from Trump’s Iran deal exit by signaling support for a return to the JCPOA. The benefits of re-entering the Iran Deal cannot be overstated: It would solidify Iranian nuclear concessions that last through 2030 and beyond, signal to Saudi Arabia that the blank check for their brazen behavior is at an end, and guarantee diplomacy with Iran that will take the United States away from the brink of yet another endless war in the Middle East.”

Expert Reactions to ‘Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

*Titles are for identification purposes only*

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

“It is crucial for America’s standing in the world that we work to re-enter the JCPOA in the near future. This report provides concrete steps that Congress can take now to ensure that we return to the promises we made to the international community. Without doing so, America will continue to act as a force of instability in the Middle East.”

Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa:

“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived rejection of the JCPOA and policy of ‘maximum pressure’ can no doubt inflict pain on the Iranian people. It can also court disaster in risking Iran’s resumption of its nuclear activities, further destabilization of the Middle East, and possibly even another costly US war in the region. Remaining quiet in the face of these predictable harms is not an option. This report offers timely and reasonable recommendations for keeping the JCPOA alive as a pathway for the re-emergence of a saner approach to Iran.”

Bijan Khajehpour, economist and a managing partner at Eurasian Nexus Partners

“The US rejoining the JCPOA and helping to sustain a multilateral agreement will not only reduce the likelihood of an unnecessary nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also prevent a radicalisation of Iranian politics. A moderate Iran is important for regional stability, the containment of jihadist movements and the future energy security for US allies globally.”

Hooman Majd, Iranian-American writer:

“It almost goes without saying that the best option for de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, and preventing nuclear proliferation, is for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA nuclear accord. It is unimaginable that Iran would agree to a new deal—or indeed any other deal on other issues of contention—without the U.S. first abiding by the commitments that it made when it signed on, along with five other powers, to the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College

“The JCPOA has successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program and remains the surest tool for preventing an Iranian bomb. The new Congress should do what it can to limit the serious damage done by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. If the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues to escalate, the odds increase that Iran will exit the agreement and move closer to a nuclear weapon, which could in turn spark a costly war.”

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University

“Candidates and legislators of all political persuasions would do well to read and heed this report. The Trump administration’s abandonment of arms control and diplomacy in favor of conflict and confrontation has brought the United States only isolation and infamy as well as heightened risk of war. It is not too late to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to a course that demonstrably serves U.S. interests better than the current policy does.”

Ned Price, Director of Policy and Communication at National Security Action

“There is much that we still don’t know about the Trump administration’s plans and intentions regarding Iran, but here’s what we do know: the withdrawal from the Iran deal was a political maneuver designed solely to satisfy the President’s base. It was manifestly not in our national security interest, as it has the potential to free Iran from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, while also simultaneously setting us on a possible path toward another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. What we also know, however, is that the new Democratic House now has the oversight tools to spotlight and constrain the administration’s recklessness, just as we begin to clear the path for the next administration’s reentry into the deal. There may be tactical disagreements regarding how to most effectively confront Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, but there must be a strategic recognition that only the JCPOA provides a baseline that allows us to achieve our most important objective: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at The Atlantic Council:

“I concur that the next US administration should return to the JCPOA– assuming Iran has remained compliant — and also lift the travel ban. The US should also request new talks with Iran both on repairing the damage from the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and on other issues of mutual concern.”

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col, USA (Ret), former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell

“NIAC’s report, “Restoring U.S. Credibility – Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement”, is not only a powerful indictment of the Trump Administration’s security policy, it is a clear and clarion call for redress. The report makes quite clear that without a resumption of our agreed responsibilities under the JCPOA, alliances will fracture, de-dollarization movements will proceed apace, enemies will gain ground, and Iran will not be substantially prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. War could even result. The wonder is that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in the first place; even more of a marvel–but entirely wise and proper–would be a successful return. Every concerned party should be working toward that end.”

For more information, or for interview with a NIAC spokesperson, please contact Yasmina Dardari at (407) 922-8149 or by email at yasmina@unbendablemedia.com

# # #

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

Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

For a text version of this report, please click here.

NIAC JCPOA Report

Hear from experts who support re-entering the JCPOA:

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col, USA (Ret), former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell:
“NIAC’s report, “Restoring U.S. Credibility – Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement”, is not only a powerful indictment of the Trump Administration’s security policy, it is a clear and clarion call for redress. The report makes quite clear that without a resumption of our agreed responsibilities under the JCPOA, alliances will fracture, de-dollarization movements will proceed apace, enemies will gain ground, and Iran will not be substantially prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. War could even result. The wonder is that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in the first place; even more of a marvel–but entirely wise and proper–would be a successful return. Every concerned party should be working toward that end.”

Hooman Majd, Iranian-American writer:
“It almost goes without saying that the best option for de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, and preventing nuclear proliferation, is for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA nuclear accord. It is unimaginable that Iran would agree to a new deal—or indeed any other deal on other issues of contention—without the U.S. first abiding by the commitments that it made when it signed on, along with five other powers, to the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Ned Price, Director of Policy and Communication at National Security Action:
“There is much that we still don’t know about the Trump administration’s plans and intentions regarding Iran, but here’s what we do know: the withdrawal from the Iran deal was a political maneuver designed solely to satisfy the President’s base. It was manifestly not in our national security interest, as it has the potential to free Iran from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, while also simultaneously setting us on a possible path toward another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. What we also know, however, is that the new Democratic House now has the oversight tools to spotlight and constrain the administration’s recklessness, just as we begin to clear the path for the next administration’s reentry into the deal. There may be tactical disagreements regarding how to most effectively confront Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, but there must be a strategic recognition that only the JCPOA provides a baseline that allows us to achieve our most important objective: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at The Atlantic Council:
“I concur that the next US administration should return to the JCPOA– assuming Iran has remained compliant — and also lift the travel ban. The US should also request new talks with Iran both on repairing the damage from the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and on other issues of mutual concern.

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:
“It is crucial for America’s standing in the world that we work to re-enter the JCPOA in the near future. This report provides concrete steps that Congress can take now to ensure that we return to the promises we made to the international community. Without doing so, America will continue to act as a force of instability in the Middle East.”

Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa:
“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived rejection of the JCPOA and policy of ‘maximum pressure’ can no doubt inflict pain on the Iranian people. It can also court disaster in risking Iran’s resumption of its nuclear activities, further destabilization of the Middle East, and possibly even another costly US war in the region. Remaining quiet in the face of these predictable harms is not an option. This report offers timely and reasonable recommendations for keeping the JCPOA alive as a pathway for the re-emergence of a saner approach to Iran.”

Bijan Khajehpour, economist and a managing partner at Eurasian Nexus Partners:
“The US rejoining the JCPOA and helping to sustain a multilateral agreement will not only reduce the likelihood of an unnecessary nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also prevent a radicalisation of Iranian politics. A moderate Iran is important for regional stability, the containment of jihadist movements and the future energy security for US allies globally.”

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College
“The JCPOA has successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program and remains the surest tool for preventing an Iranian bomb. The new Congress should do what it can to limit the serious damage done by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. If the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues to escalate, the odds increase that Iran will exit the agreement and move closer to a nuclear weapon, which could in turn spark a costly war.”

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University:
“Candidates and legislators of all political persuasions would do well to read and heed this report. The Trump administration’s abandonment of arms control and diplomacy in favor of conflict and confrontation has brought the United States only isolation and infamy as well as heightened risk of war. It is not too late to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to a course that demonstrably serves U.S. interests better than the current policy does.”

Ellie Geranmayeh, Deputy Head MENA program at The European Council on Foreign Relations
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the JCPOA, after months of negotiations with European allies earlier this year on pathways to sustain the agreement, was significantly damaging for transatlantic ties. This wound has been deepened by the manner in which the White House has sidelined European security interests and tried to impede their efforts to preserve the JCPOA, as enshrined by a UN Security Council. This report highlights the urgent need for the US executive and legislative branch to reassure European allies that in matters of foreign policy, the United States is a credible and consistent partner. Moreover, the US should reassure European capitals and companies that US sanctions policy will not seek to illegitimately target allies in pursuit of a maximalist policy that is unlikely to trigger fundamental changes in Iranian behaviour.”

US-Led Regime Change is not the Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Gears Up for the UN General Assembly

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

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

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

 

Rouhani and Zarif Head to New York

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

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

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

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

 

Debate Over FATF Reaches a Fever Pitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Foreign Policy Talk on Basra, Idlib, and Russia Ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Student Activist Arrested, Aggressive Online Campaign Rebuked, Resurgent Ahmadinejad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Trump’s Iran Endgame Undermines Major US Security Interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instability in Iran stands to damage each of these interests. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published on Atlantic Council.

Iran Debates Going to the UNGA Amid Outcry Over Executions

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

  • Ayatollah Khamenei Doubles Down on Supporting Rouhani Administration
  • President Rouhani Blasts Trump and Blames him for Closing Diplomatic Doors
  • Syria Summit brings Russian and Turkish presidents to Tehran
  • Rancorous Debate over Rouhani Attending UNGA and Trump’s Iran-focused UNSC meeting
  • IRGC Missile attack on Kurdish targets Amid Controversial Executions that Spurs Strike
  • Iran Nuclear Chief Declares that Centrifuge Production Facility Completed

Developments this past week consequentially affected Iran’s foreign relations and the domestic balance of power between its political factions. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s continued support of President Hassan Rouhani has marginalized hardline elements in the official political landscape, Rouhani himself has continued his trajectory of adopting a more assertive and less conciliatory stance towards the US. On the foreign policy front, Iran hosted the Russian and Turkish presidents for a summit of the Astana-process Syria peace talks, while the Revolutionary Guards launched a missile attack on the base of an armed Iranian Kurdish opposition group in Iraq. The attack was coupled with the controversial executions of three Iranian Kurds, spurring businesses to shutter in Western Iran and claims that the executions were timed to undermine Rouhani’s trip to New York for the upcoming UN General Assembly.

 

Fallout from Threat on Rouhani, Renewed Supreme Leader Support

The controversy over a placard raised at an anti-Rouhani gathering in Qom’s Feyziyeh seminary—widely seen as threatening Rouhani’s life if he negotiates with the US—has led to the arrests of several involved in the incident. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, chairman of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in a September 11th ISNA interview that four people were arrested in connection with the placard and are awaiting a legal trial.  

Hamid Rasaee, a prominent hardline cleric and former MP, blasted the arrests, accusing Rouhani of being insincere in his calls for unity and repeating the tacit threat. Rasaee proclaimed: “I am baffled by the level of hypocrisy Rouhani demonstrates. This morning he talked this way [about unity] at the Shahid Rajaee ceremony but in practice, for his political interests, he constructed a criminal case based on a slogan on a placard. I really hope that Farah’s pool will be your destination.”

During a September 6th address to members of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated his support of the Rouhani administration and warned of a “propaganda war” being waged against the country. Ayatollah told the Assembly of Experts—an elected body of clerics constitutionally mandated to appoint and supervise the Supreme Leader—that criticisms of governing institutions are important but that “the way we speak and take action should not be in a way that makes people pessimistic.” He added: “The path to resolving current problems is not through turning our back on the [Rouhani] administration and acquitting ourselves from governing institutions, but rather through creating a healthy relationship between the public and governing institutions. Speaking and criticizing, but at the same time providing intellectual and practical support.”

Prominent reformist writer and analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi argued in a September 6th column that hardline principlists overreached and have become marginalized after Ayatollah Khamenei’s staunch expressions of support for Rouhani. Zeidabadi wrote that the Feyziyeh event “backfired and was met with fierce and unprecedented reactions from two senior clerics” and prompted hardliners to switch from “an aggressive stance to a defensive one.” He added: “Ayatollah Khamenei’s strong and explicit support of the Rouhani administration, especially his remarks at his recent meeting with the Assembly of Experts, shows that the decision of the system in the current climate is not to follow the adventurous and never-ending path of the hardline ‘principlists,’ but to continue the current status quo in the system.”

On September 8th, President Rouhani gave a far-reaching speech in which he stressed the importance of national unity and claimed that the Trump administration had on numerous occasions reached out for negotiations. Rouhani proclaimed: “They on one side impose pressure on the Iranian people and on the other side through various channels send messages asking for negotiations. In such a situation, should we just take their word? Should we take into consideration your messages or your sinister actions as demonstrating your intentions?” He also stated regarding his domestic critics: “Today is the day of a great national test. No one should think that they’ll gain popularity by speaking against the government [the administration], the public respects brave people who don’t turn their backs and abandon the government.”

Rouhani defended his more assertive rhetoric towards the US. He said in response to criticism that he has grown less conciliatory: “In peaceful conditions, if the enemy hadn’t entered the battlefield and America hadn’t unsheathed its sword, I would certainly be speaking differently. But today is the day of war with the enemy, and we all must stand side by side in solidarity and with one heart. Today, the parliament, the presidency, and the judiciary are standing together.”

Rouhani strongly rebuked the Trump White House. He gave a pointed message to the Trump administration: “If you’re telling the truth and care for the Iranian people, why do you want to impose pressure on the livelihoods of the Iranian people? If you believe that with pressure and your actions the Iranian people will take to the streets and raise their hands in submission and surrender to America and the White House, you are mistaken.” He added: “Are the Iranian people a people that will get afraid in the face of pressure from a new group of rulers in the White House, who themselves don’t know what they’re saying or doing and are fighting everybody?”

 

Syria Peace Talks Brings Russian and Turkish Presidents to Tehran

On September 7th, the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey met in Tehran as part of the Astana-process Syria peace talks and released a 12-point statement on resolving the Syrian crisis. Before the Tehran summit, the three presidents met for Astana-process talks in Sochi, Russia in July 2018 and in Ankara, Turkey in April 2018. Rouhani declared at the summit that any political negotiations to resolve the Syrian crisis must safeguard Syria’s “territorial integrity and respect Syria’s independence.” He added that “America’s illegal presence and intervention in Syria has perpetuated insecurity in the country and must immediately end.” He further stated regarding the looming Idlib offensive: “The terrorists remaining [in Syria] have gathered in Idlib. These terrorists are engaging in provocative actions to use chemical weapons to end the ceasefire.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin commended cooperation between the three countries and stated their mutual aim was to eliminate terrorism in Syria. Putin stated: “Iran, Russia, and Turkey will actively continue their actions to eliminate terrorism to improve the humanitarian situation. We want to use the Astana process. The Astana process is a very appropriate way to revive the country of Syria.” He added that “our main goal is the destruction of terrorism in Syria” and that to date, “there have been 10 meetings of technical experts [within the Astana process] with participation from representatives of the three countries, the Syrian opposition, and representatives from the United Nations.”

While in Tehran, Turkish President Recep Tayeb Erdogan and President Putin also met separately with Ayatollah Khamenei. Ayatollah Khamenei said to Erdogan that “economic and political cooperation between the two countries must continue to grow,” adding that the US opposes this: “Unity and cooperation between Islamic nations will definitely lead to solving the region’s problems and for this reason, arrogant powers—of which America is at the forefront—are worried about cooperation between Islamic countries and the creation of an Islamic power.” Khamenei also stressed to the Turkish leader that “the Palestinian issue is forever important, and it shouldn’t be neglected for even a second.”

President Erdogan said to Ayatollah Khamenei that West’s actions are spurring greater cooperation between Islamic countries. He stated: “Given the way that the West is interacting with independent Islamic countries, conditions are more sensitive and this results in increasing the unique solidarity and brotherly ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey.”

In his meeting with Russian President Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei praised Iranian-Russian cooperation over Syria and called for the two sides to cooperate on containing America. Khamenei declared: “Cooperation between Iran and Russia on the Syrian issue is a great example and serves as a great experience of bilateral cooperation between the two countries which is truly mutually beneficial.” He added that the ” Americans have suffered a real defeat in Syria and did not reach their goals.” He further stated: “One area where the two sides can cooperate with one another is containing America, because America is a danger to humanity and containing it is feasible.”

Putin in his remarks to Khamenei stressed expanding economic and political ties. He stated: “In our meetings [with President Rouhani and Iranian officials] we have stressed expanding bilateral ties especially in the fields of economic and commercial cooperation.” He went on to describe mutual projects in the energy sector: ” In the field of energy, we have discussed constructing a new nuclear power plant and plants with lower capacity, as well as electrifying railways and increasing Iranian oil exports.”

Putin also stated that the US was committing a self-defeating mistake in sanctioning financial transactions and that Europe has no choice but to follow America’s lead on the JCPOA. He proclaimed: “The Americans are making a strategic mistake in creating limitations for financial transactions. For the price of a short-term political victory, they are deteriorating trust in the dollar internationally and weakening it.” He also said regarding Europe’s compliance with the JCPOA: “The Americans through misplaced actions destroyed the environment [that was created by the JCPOA] and the Europeans, because of their dependence on America in practical terms they follow America’s lead, despite their statements that they are seeking paths to preserve the JCPOA.”

 

Sharp Domestic Debate on Who Iran Should Send to the UNGA

The upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Trump White House’s decision to hold a special UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Iran on September 26th have elicited sharp debate in Tehran on what representatives Iran should send to New York. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan, wrote on September 11th that Rouhani should not attend the UNGA. “Rouhani refraining from participating in the UNGA can be a teeth-breaking response to Trump’s ceaseless insults against Islamic Iran and our honorable people. At the same time, can we say that Rouhani’s previous trips to the UNGA resulted in any achievements that his non-participation now would negate?”

Shariatmadari’s column spurred a sharp rebuke from Hesamodin Ashna, a senior Rouhani advisor. Ashna proclaimed: “Even in street fights ‘ceaseless insults’ aren’t met with ‘refraining from being present.’ I don’t remember that during the episode of the previous president [Ahmadinejad] at Columbia University, that the Kayhan-ists expressed concern over the insults against him and Iran, or if they ever questioned what he achieved.”

Calls for Rouhani to not attend the UNGA have not been limited to conservatives but have been echoed by reformist figures such as Ata’ollah Mohajerani, who served as a minister in former president Mohammad Khatami’s administration. Mohajerani stated: “Given the threatening and humiliating tone of Trump, is it necessary for Rouhani to participate in the UNGA?” Mohajerani said that Rouhani should stay at home and prioritize domestic issues, opining: “Ayatollah Hashemi [former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani] never participated in the UNGA and Ahmadinejad went to every UNGA of his 8 years in office. Given the priority to address the economic, financial, and banking situation of the country kept Rouhani from meeting the Assembly of Experts, should it not also keep him from the UNGA?”

On September 10th, the foreign ministry denied rumors that there were differences between foreign minister Zarif and Rouhani and some in his office—namely chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi—on whether Rouhani should attend the UNGA.

Conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, the head of the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts, warned against any U.S.-Iran negotiations at the UNGA. He declared: “Trump has a devilish aim to meet Rouhani at the sidelines of the UNGA. This is as the Supreme Leader has consistently said that no official has the right to negotiate with America, and the officials of the Rouhani administration that travel to New York should be cognizant of this.”

In a September 6th interview with the moderate Etemad, Qasem Mohebali, former director-general of political affairs of the Middle East in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, argued for Iran sending a representative to Trump’s UNSC meeting on Iran. Mohebali said Iran should wait and see if other world leaders would attend before Rouhani makes any decision on participating, and that if few leaders attended or if Trump was the sole head of state present, only Foreign Minister Zarif should attend. Mohebali said of the importance of Iran sending a representative to the UNSC meeting: “Because the subject of the meeting is Iran, Iran has the right to be present and must be present. Iran not participating will be to its detriment because the Americans want to maximize the anti-Iranian propaganda potential of this meeting and portray the Iranians as unwilling to talk.”

In a September 8th column, prominent reformist journalist Abbas Abdi wrote that now is not the time for Iran to engage in negotiations with the US. Abdi stated that Iran should only negotiate with the US when Washington shows in its actions, not its words, that it is ready for negotiations. He stated: “The start of any public and official negotiations should be based on agreements reached in non-official and backchannel negotiations … As such Trump’s suggestions for negotiations with Iran at the presidential level will not achieve results … Trump by leaving the JCPOA has shaken the very foundations of the concept of ‘agreement.'”

 

Missile Attacks on Kurdish Targets, Outcry over Executions of Three Iranian Kurds

On September 8th, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched a missile attack on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq, targeting a leadership meeting. In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards stated the strike was in response to a July 21st Kurdish separatist attack on a military outpost in Iranian border town of Marivan, which killed 11 Iranian soldiers. Seven surface-to-surface missiles, of the “Fateh” class, were fired “on a meeting of the leaders of the terrorists” in Koysinjaq in Iraqi Kurdistan, roughly 200km from the Iranian border. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq said in response to strikes: “We condemn this attack, while we reaffirm our disapproval of using the Kurdistan Region’s territory for attacks against neighbouring countries.”

On September 8th, the same day as the IRGC missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan, three Kurdish prisoners were executed inside Iran: Loqman Moradi, Zanyar Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi. The three were accused of belonging to an Iraq-based separatist militant Kurdish group, Komala, and of participating in attacks in Western Iran that led to several deaths. The executions spurred outrage on Iranian social media and a strike by businesses in parts of Iranian Kurdish regions, amid reports that the executed were not given a fair trial and confessed under torture.

Loqman Moradi and Zanyar Moradi were arrested in 2009 and Ramin Hossein Panahi in 2017. The charges against Loqman Moradi and Zanyar Moradi, reportedly cousins, included carrying out an attack on July 5th, 2009 in the Iranian town of Marivan, which led to deaths of three individuals, including the son of the local Friday prayer leader. The charges against Ramin Hossein Panahi included entering Iran from Iraq on June 23rd, 2017, as part of an armed four-man team tasked with carrying out an attack. The charges state that the four-man team was held up by security personnel in the Iranian city of Sanandaj, triggering a violent confrontation in which grenades and gun fire was directed at the Iranian security personnel. The confrontation led to the deaths of the three other members of Panahi’s team and his capture, according to the charges.

Loqman Moradi, Zanyar Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi all denied the charges against them. Panahi was sentenced to death last year by the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj and rejected the charges against him. Loqman and Zanyar Moradi were sentenced death by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. In a letter to the UN special human rights rapporteur for Iran they sent from prison five years ago, they proclaimed that their confessions were given under torture and that their integrators threatened to sexually assault them.

Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer for Loqman and Zanyar Moradi, in a September 11th interview BBC Persian denied the accusations against his clients and said they were not given a fair trial. Nikbakht stated that the pair were executed even though their legal file was still open in the Tehran prosecutor’s office and there were multiple flaws in the case brought against them, including that their confessions were not written by them and that they were forced to sign them. He stated that Zanyar was not politically active at all while Loqman, who he says was arrested and held for six months for allegedly supporting Komala but released without charge, “had completely distanced himself from all political activities and worked in his father’s construction crane business.” Nikbakht added: “What is in the Tehran’s prosecutor’s statement is a lie and not real.”   

The executions spurred many businesses to close across Iranian Kurdish regions on Wednesday, September 12th, in protest. According to reformist website Zeitoons, the strike in Iranian Kurdish regions is more a reaction to public anger over the executions rather than due to calls by Kurdish parties, including separatist parties such as Komala, to strike as a response to the IRGC missiles strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan. Zeitoons stated: “These claims [of some Kurdish parties and their media] have been rejected by civil society activists inside the country. Looking holistically at social media and Farsi sites it seems that the sensitives are on the issue of the executions of the youngsters.”

Reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, who shared time in prison with Loqman and Zanyar Moradi, wrote a deeply sympathetic note mourning their loss and suggesting the executions were timed to undermine President Rouhani’s upcoming trip to New York for the UNGA. Zeidabadi stated: “They were in prison for 10 years. Zanyar used to say that his grandmother had dreamed that he will be held for 10 years. So he believed after 10 years, he will be freed. He was freed but what a freedom.” He added: “But now on the verge of Rouhani’s and Zarif’s trip to the UN they are executed. What will be their answer when they are questioned by reporters? Will they respond that they do not know them? They have not heard their names? Will they say that the judiciary is independent and in these issues they can’t do anything? The reporters will laugh at these responses and Rouhani’s and Zarif’s arguments against sanctions and Trump will fall on deaf ears. Where is the expediency in executing them now after 10 years?”

 

Nuclear Chief Ali Akbar Salehi Says Iran Prepared to Ramp Up Nuclear Program

In a September 9th interview, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said in an interview that Iran had completed construction of a new advanced facility for producing modern centrifuges, as per instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in June. Salehi stated that Iran would respond “appropriately to any situation” regarding the JCPOA and make the “necessary decisions.” One such decision was to build a new facility for the construction of more efficient centrifuges.

Salehi stated that other decisions Iran could make include ceasing implementation of the Additional Protocol to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement and increasing the “scope and level of uranium enrichment.” He further stated: “The final scenario would be a full withdrawal from the JCPOA, which I am hopeful that, with the 4+1’s cooperation, will never occur because everyone will be harmed.”

In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Salehi said that the JCPOA could have led to an improvement in U.S.-Iran relations. He stated: “The withdrawal of the U.S. president from the nuclear deal has made him a loser in the eyes of history. This agreement could have opened the path to building the trust and confidence [in U.S.-Iran relations] that was lost.”

 



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

On September 11th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, chairman of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in an interview with ISNA that members of the committee had travelled to Qom and met with senior Ayatollahs and Qom’s Provincial council and officials. He reported that four people at the Feyziyeh gathering behind the placard that implicitly threatened President Rouhani were arrested and that a legal case was being brought against them.  

Hamid Rasaee, a hardline cleric and former MP, blasted the arrests, accusing Rouhani of being insincere in his calls for unity. He also repeated the tacit threat:

  • Rasaee: “The president’s office and the Qom governorship have been the plaintiff in this case! I am baffled by the level of hypocrisy Rouhani demonstrates. This morning he talked this way [about unity] at the Shahid Rajaee ceremony but in practice, for his political interests, he constructed a criminal case based on a slogan on a placard. I really hope that Farah’s pool will be your destination.”

On September 6th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with members of the Assembly of Experts—an elected body of clerics constitutionally mandated to appoint and supervise the Supreme Leader.

  • “Today the Islamic system is facing an all-out economic war which is being guided by a war room with total dedication and focus. But alongside this war, there is also a media and propaganda war being waged which is too often neglected.”
  • “Based on intelligence we have, the intelligence agencies of America and the Zionist regime, with financial support from the Qaroon wealthy countries (whose only purpose in life is to increase their wealth with no consideration for anybody else, especially the poor—referring to the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms) of our region, have created an infrastructure for this media war and they are pursuing this seriously and attempting to pollute the thinking and media environment of our society.”
  • “The goal of the propaganda war is to create anxiety, despair, hopelessness, and a sense that things are at a dead end and making people suspicious towards each other as well as towards governing institutions and exaggerating the perception of economic problems in society.”
  • “I am myself a critical person and do not hesitate to confront problems and governing institutions, but I stress that the way we speak and take action should not be in a way that makes people pessimistic.”
  • “The path to resolving current problems is not through turning our back on the Rouhani administration and acquitting ourselves from governing institutions, but rather through creating a healthy relationship between the public and governing institutions. Speaking and criticizing, but at the same time providing intellectual and practical support.”

On Friday, September 7th, reformist writer Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote that hardliners have overreached and weakened themselves in Iranian politics.

  • “Many analysts in the West viewed Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA from the angle that it would unprecedently empower hardliners in Tehran.”
  • “However, recent developments show that hardliners aren’t being empowered, but, to the contrary, they are experiencing a decline in their discourse at the official level and becoming politically isolated.”
  • “The beginning of this decline might have been the Feyziyeh event, which saw some hardliners attempting to ride on the wave of public economic grievances with the goal of drawing a redline against the Rouhani administration’s legitimacy and taking the initiative in the political arena.”
  • “However, the Feyziyeh event backfired and was met with fierce and unprecedented reactions from two senior clerics who support the political system.”
  • “This reaction took the hardliners from an aggressive stance to a defensive one, to the extent that they wanted to portray the whole issue as rising from a misunderstanding.”
  • “In this regard, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s strong and explicit support of the Rouhani administration, especially his remarks at his recent meeting with the Assembly of Experts, shows that the decision of the system in the current climate is not to follow the adventurous and never-ending path of the hardline ‘principlists,’ but to continue the current status quo in the system.”
  • “If the hardliners’ approach (on aggressive foreign policy & attacking Rouhani) is stifled, they won’t have anything to say and in this way they either have to join the moderate principlists or accept being quiet and marginalized.”
  • “The actions and positions of hardliners these days and comparing them to the comments of the Islamic Republic’s leader in his meeting with the members of the Assembly of Experts [which were starkly in contrast], reveals the reality of their position and stature in the official political space of the country.”

On September 8th, President Hassan Rouhani gave a far-reaching speech on domestic and foreign policy, defending his administration’s record. In the speech, Rouhani discussed the Iran-Iraq War and emphasized the importance of unity between political factions and the people during that period. He also sharply denounced the Trump administration’s Iran policy and claimed that U.S. had reached out multiple times for direct negotiations with Iran.

  • Rouhani in response to criticism that he has grown less conciliatory: “In peaceful conditions, if the enemy hadn’t entered the battlefield and America hadn’t unsheathed its sword, I would certainly be speaking differently. But today is the day of war with the enemy, and we all must stand side by side in solidarity and with one heart. Today, the parliament, the presidency, and the judiciary are standing together.”
  • Rouhani: “Today is the day of a great national test. No one should think that they’ll gain popularity by speaking against the government [the Rouhani administration], the public respects brave people who don’t turn their backs and abandon the government.”
  • Rouhani: “Are the Iranian people a people that will get afraid in the face of pressure from a new group of rulers at the White House, who themselves don’t know what they’re saying or doing and are fighting everybody?”
  • Rouhani: “The new group at the White House is not only clashing with the Islamic Republic of Iran but with its old and traditional allies and countries with whom it has deep economic ties with.”
  • Rouhani: “They on one side impose pressure on the Iranian people and on the other side through various channels send messages asking for negotiations. In such a situation, should we just take their word? Should we take into consideration your messages or your sinister actions as demonstrating your intentions?”
  • Rouhani to the Trump White House: “If you’re telling the truth and care for the Iranian people, why do you want to impose pressure on the livelihoods of the Iranian people? If you believe that with pressure and your actions the Iranian people will take to the streets and raise their hands in submission and surrender to America and the White House, you are mistaken.”

On September 7th, after their joint meeting in Tehran, the presidents of Iran, Turkey, and Russia released a 12-point joint statement on resolving the Syrian crisis.

  • The meeting was a part of the Astana-process Syria peace talks between the three countries, which has included ten meetings to date.
  • Before the Tehran summit, the three presidents met for Astana-process talks in Sochi, Russia in July 2018 and in Ankara, Turkey in April 2018.
  • During the Tehran summit, the three sides discussed “combating terrorists, how to support the legitimate government of Syria, delivering humanitarian aid, and finding a solution to the crisis.”
  • Rouhani stressed that any political negotiations to resolve the Syrian crisis must safeguard Syria’s “territorial integrity and respect Syria’s independence.”
  • Rouhani added: “America’s illegal presence and intervention in Syria has perpetuated insecurity in the country and must immediately end.” 
  • Rouhani: “The terrorists remaining [in Syria] have gathered in Idlib. These terrorists are engaging in provocative actions to use chemical weapons in order to end the ceasefire.”
  • Russian President Putin at the summit: “Iran, Russia, and Turkey will actively continue their actions to eliminate terrorism to improve the humanitarian situation. We want to use the Astana process. The Astana process is very a appropriate way to revive the country of Syria.”
  • Putin: “To date there have been 10 meetings of technical experts with participation from representatives of the three countries, the Syrian opposition, and representatives from the United Nations. Our main goal is the destruction of terrorism in Syria.”

 

On September 7th, Turkish President Recep Tayeb Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met separately with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei while in Tehran for the tripartite Astana-process Syria peace talks.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Erdogan: “Unity and cooperation between Islamic nations will definitely lead to solving the region’s problems and for this reason, arrogant powers—of which America is at the forefront—are worried about cooperation between Islamic countries and the creation of an Islamic power.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Erdogan: “The Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey are two respectable and powerful regional countries and have the same hopes for the region, as such political and economic cooperation between the two countries must continue to grow and reach new heights.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Erdogan: “The Palestinian issue is forever important, and it shouldn’t be neglected for even a second.”
  • President Erdogan to Ayatollah Khamenei: “Given the way that the West is interacting with independent Islamic countries, conditions are more sensitive and this results in increasing the unique solidarity and brotherly ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Putin: “Cooperation between Iran and Russia on the Syrian issue is a great example and serves as a great experience of bilateral cooperation between the two countries which is truly mutually beneficial.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Putin: “One area where the two sides can cooperate with one another is containing America, because America is a danger to humanity and containing it is feasible.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Putin: “The Americans have suffered a real defeat in Syria and did not reach their goals.”
  • Ayatollah Khamenei to Putin: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has until now abided by its commitments under the JCPOA but the Europeans have not abided by their responsibilities and it is unacceptable that we fully abide by our commitments and that the other side doesn’t implement its commitments.”
  • President Putin to Ayatollah Khamenei: “In our meetings [with President Rouhani and Iranian officials] we have tressed expanding bilateral ties especially in the fields of economic and commercial cooperation.”
  • President Putin to Ayatollah Khamenei: “In the field of energy, we have discussed constructing a new nuclear power plant and plants with lower capacity, as well as electrifying railways and increasing Iranian oil exports.”
  • President Putin to Ayatollah Khamenei: “The Americans are making a strategic mistake in creating limitations for financial transactions. For the price of a short-term political victory, they are deteriorating trust in the dollar internationally and weakening it.”
  • President Putin to Ayatollah Khamenei on the JCPOA: “The Americans through misplaced actions destroyed the environment [that was created by the JCPOA] and the Europeans, because of their dependence on America in practical terms they follow America’s lead, despite their statements that they are seeking paths to preserve the JCPOA.”

The upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Trump White House’s decision to hold a special UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Iran on September 26th have elicited sharp debate in Tehran on what representatives Iran should send to New York.

  • On September 11th, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan, wrote that Rouhani should not attend the UNGA.
  • Shariatmadari stated: “Now is a good opportunity for our president in an official and public protest to Trump taking the presidency of the UNSC for this month, to not participate in the annual UNGA, so as to in this way humiliate Trump and to have at least responded to some of America’s insults against Iran and the Iranian people.”
  • Shariatmadari added: “Rouhani refraining from participating in the UNGA can be a teeth-breaking response to Trump’s ceaseless insults against Islamic Iran and our honorable people. At the same time, can we say that Rouhani’s previous trips to the UNGA resulted in any achievements that his non-participation now would negate?”
  • Shariatmadari’s column spurred a sharp rebuke from Hesamodin Ashna, a senior Rouhani advisor: Ashna exclaimed: “Even in street fights ‘ceaseless insults’ aren’t met with ‘refraining from being present.’ I don’t remember that during the episode of the previous president [Ahmadinejad] at Columbia University, that the Kayhan-ists expressed concern over the insults against him and Iran, or if they ever questioned what he achieved.”

Reformist figure Ata’ollah Mohajerani, who served as a minister in former president Mohammad Khatami’s administration, also suggested Rouhani not attend the UNGA. He stated: “Given the threatening and humiliating tone of Trump, is it necessary for Rouhani to participate in the UNGA?”

  • Mohajerani added: “Ayatollah Hashemi [former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani] never participated in the UNGA and Ahmadinejad went to every UNGA of his 8 years in office. Given the priority to address the economic, financial, and banking situation of the country kept Rouhani from meeting the Assembly of Experts, should it not also keep him from the UNGA?”

On September 10th, the foreign ministry denied rumors that there were differences between foreign minister Zarif and Rouhani and some in his office—namely chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi—on whether Rouhani should attend the UNGA.

  • Fararu notes that Iranian officials have recently stated that during last year’s UNGA, the Trump administration through eight different channels communicated a desire for Trump to meet Rouhani. Rouhani also recently stated that every two weeks, the U.S. sends messages asking for negotiations.

Conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, the head of the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts, warned of a potential Rouhani-Trump meeting: “Trump has a devilish aim to meet Rouhani at the sidelines of the UNGA. This is as the Supreme Leader has consistently said that no official has the right to negotiate with America, and the officials of the Rouhani administration that travel to New York should be cognizant of this.”

In a September 6th interview with the moderate Etemad, Qasem Mohebali, former director-general of political affairs of the Middle East in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, argued for Iran sending a representative to Trump’s UNSC meeting on Iran.

  • Mohebali: “Because the subject of the meeting is Iran, Iran has the right to be present and must be present. Iran not participating will be to its detriment because the Americans want to maximize the anti-Iranian propaganda potential of this meeting and portray the Iranians as unwilling to talk.”
  • Mohebali: “Given the principle of equal representation, we must see that other than Trump, which presidents will participate in the meeting. If important leaders participate it is appropriate that President Rouhani himself is present in the meeting. But if few leaders participate and it’s just Trump, Zarif alone can attend.”

On September 8th, prominent reformist journalist Abbas Abdi wrote a column arguing that now is not the time for Iran to engage in negotiations with the United States. Abdi argued that Iran should only diplomatically engage the United States if Washington proves in its actions, not its words, that it is ready for negotiations.

  • Abdi: “The start of any public and official negotiations should be based on agreements reached in non-official and backchannel negotiations … As such Trump’s suggestions for negotiations with Iran at the presidential level will not achieve results … Trump by leaving the JCPOA has shaken the very foundations of the concept of ‘agreement.'”

On September 8th, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched a missile attack on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq, targeting a leadership meeting:

  • According to an IRGC statement, seven surface-to-surface missiles were fired “on a meeting of the leaders of the terrorists” in Koysinjaq in Iraqi Kurdistan, roughly 200km from the Iranian border.
  • Conservative Mashregh wrote the missile strikes came “precisely at the time when the leaders and main heads of the terrorist Kurdistan Democratic Party group were meeting. Specific intelligence regarding the time of the meeting and its locations were possessed by the Revolutionary Guards.”
  • Conservative Fars News wrote that the missiles used in the strike were of Iran’s “Fateh” class of missiles.
  • The Revolutionary Guards said the attack was in response to a July 21st attack on a military outpost in Iranian border town of Marivan, which killed 11 Iranian soldiers.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq said in response to the missile attack: “We condemn this attack, while we reaffirm our disapproval of using the Kurdistan Region’s territory for attacks against neighbouring countries.”

On September 8th, the same day as the IRGC missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan, three Kurdish prisoners were executed inside Iran: Loqman Moradi, Zanyar Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi. The three were accused of belonging to an Iraq-based separatist militant Kurdish group, Komala, and of participating in attacks in Western Iran that led to several deaths. The executions spurred outrage on Iranian social media and a strike by businesses in parts of Iranian Kurdish regions, amid reports that the executed were not given a fair trial and confessed under torture.

  • The charges against Loqman Moradi and Zanyar Moradi, reportedly cousins, included carrying out an attack on July 5th, 2009 in the Iranian town of Marivan, which led to deaths of three individuals, including the son of the local Friday prayer leader.
  • The charges against Ramin Hossein Panahi included entering Iran from Iraq on June 23rd, 2017, as part of an armed four-man team tasked with carrying out an attack. The charges state that the four-man team was held up by security personnel in the Iranian city of Sanandaj, triggering a violent confrontation in which grenades and gun fire was directed at the Iranian security personnel. The confrontation led to the deaths of the three other members of Panahi’s team and his capture, according to the charges.
  • Panahi was sentenced to death last year by the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj and rejected the charges against him.
  • Loqman and Zanyar Moradi were sentenced death by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. In a letter to the UN special human rights rapporteur for Iran they sent from prison five years ago, they proclaimed that their confessions were given under torture and that their integrators threatened to sexually assault them.

Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer for Loqman and Zanyar Moradi, in a September 11th interview BBC Persian denied the accusations against his clients and said they were not given a fair trial.

  • Nikbakht: “Zanyar was not politically active at all. His father was politically active but he himself was not. Loqman was arrested for six months on charges of supporting Komala, which did not result in him even being charged. After six months, he had completely distanced himself from all political activities and worked in his father’s construction crane business. What is in the Tehran’s prosecutor’s statement is a lie and not real.”   
  • Nikbakht stated that the pair were executed even though their legal file was still open in the Tehran prosecutor’s office and there were multiple flaws in the case brought against them, including that their confessions were not written by them and that they were forced to sign them.

The executions spurred many businesses to close across Iranian Kurdish regions on Wednesday, September 12th, in protest.

  • According to reformist website Zeitoons, the strike in Iranian Kurdish region is more a reaction to public anger over the executions rather than due to calls by Kurdish parties, including separatists parties such as Komala, to strike as a response to the IRGC missiles strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Zeitoons stated: “These claims [of some Kurdish parties and their media] have been rejected by civil society activists inside the country. Looking holistically at social media and Farsi sites it seems that the sensitives are on the issue of the executions of the youngsters.”   

On September 8th, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, who shared time in prison with Loqman and Zanyar Moradi, wrote a deeply sympathetic note mourning their loss and suggesting the executions were timed to undermine President Rouhani’s upcoming trip to New York for the UNGA.

  • Zeidabadi: “They were in prison for 10 years. Zanyar used to say that his grandmother had dreamed that he will be held for 10 years. So he believed after 10 years, he will be freed. He was freed but what a freedom.”
  • Zeidabadi: “Their lawyer said that their case was no longer a national security one, so they hoped their case will be resolved.”
  • Zeidabdi: “But now on the verge of Rouhani’s and Zarif’s trip to the UN they are executed. What will be their answer when they are questioned by reporters? Will they respond that they do not know them? They have not heard their names? Will they say that the judiciary is independent and in these issues they can’t do anything? The reporters will laugh at these responses and Rouhani’s and Zarif’s arguments against sanctions and Trump will fall on deaf ears. Where is the expediency in executing them now after 10 years?”

On September 9th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said in an interview that Iran had completed construction of a new advanced facility for producing modern centrifuges, as per instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in June.

  • Salehi also stated that if the JCPOA “is ended,” Iran will likely cease implementing the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.
  • Salehi stated that Iran would respond “appropriately to any situation” regarding the JCPOA and make the “necessary decisions.” One such decision was to build a new facility for the construction of more efficient centrifuges.
  • Another action, Salehi said, could be to stop implementation certain limitations of the JCPOA, such as “the scope and level of uranium enrichment.”
  • Salehi added: “The final scenario would be a full withdrawal from the JCPOA, which I am hopeful that, with the 4+1’s cooperation, will never occur because everyone will be harmed.”

On September 11th, Salehi also had an interview with the Associated Press, where he reiterated that he hoped the JCPOA will continue, but that Iran was prepared to jumpstart its nuclear program.

  • Salehi also stated: “The withdrawal of the U.S. president from the nuclear deal has made him a loser in the eyes of history. This agreement could have opened the path to building the trust and confidence [in U.S.-Iran relations] that was lost.”

 


 

 

Experts Push Back on White House Statement Blaming Iran for Recent Attacks in Iraq

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 11, 2018
CONTACT: Brett Abrams | brett@unbendablemedia.com

WASHINGTON, DC — Earlier today, the Trump Administration issued a statement blaming Iran for recent attacks in Iraq. Over the weekend, Iraqi protesters, angry over economic conditions and poor public services, burned the Iranian consulate. Unknown assailants also reportedly fired rockets as Basra airport, which houses the US consulate, and at the Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the US embassy. There is no evidence that Iran contributed to these attacks in anyway.

In reaction to the White House’s statement this afternoon, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“The White House statement this afternoon blaming Iran for attacks in Iraq in recent days ominously highlights the Trump administration’s eagerness to cross tripwires for conflict with Iran.

“The administration preemptively blaming Iran for future attacks on U.S. government facilities or personnel in Iraq invites any group eager for a U.S.-Iran war to plant the seeds for a disastrous conflict. It is critically important for all actors to step back from the brink and initiate backchannel dialogue to prevent escalation.

“The fact that the administration is stacked with those who have advocated war with Iran, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, should heighten scrutiny over the administration’s claim of Iranian responsibility for failing to rein in its proxies.”

 

# # # # #

Contentious Politics on the Rise as Iran’s Political Factions Try to Make Gains

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

  • Embattled Rouhani emerges unscathed from parliamentary questioning
  • Prominent activists and students given hefty sentences, parliamentarians push for clemency
  • Unprecedented rebukes of political and economic conditions by female parliamentarians
  • Foreign Minister Zarif faces accusations in parliament of abetting “soft regime change” efforts orchestrated by George Soros, the International Crisis Group, NIAC, and others
  • Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi writes a letter to the Assembly of Experts from house arrest, calling on them to hold Ayatollah Khamenei to account
  • Ayatollah Khamenei reiterates support for Rouhani, appoints new Revolutionary Guards navy commander, and dismisses potential for war

The past two weeks in Iran have seen increased politicking by the country’s various factions and centers of power. President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen two of his ministers impeached by parliament in the past month, was himself questioned by parliament, triggering speculation that his hold on office is growing precarious. Meanwhile, Green movement opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi and prominent female parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri both issued rare challenges to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also faced far-fetched accusations from a hardline MP, while several activists were given hefty sentences—spurring widespread outrage and calls for clemency.

 

Continued Threats Against Rouhani’s Life

A prominent principlist religious eulogist reiterated an implicit threat against Rouhani’s life if he returns to negotiating with the United States. On August 21st, Mansour Arzi, affiliated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction that organized a controversial Qom rally where a placard threatening Rouhani was raised, repeated the threat at a public religious ceremony in Tehran. The reformist Arman newspaper underscored that Arzi’s remarks came after senior religious leaders condemned the initial Qom gathering and stressed that the “ideology” behind such gatherings and slogans “needs to be identified.”

Meanwhile, a senior figure in Iran’s seminary system downplayed the threat and opined that most of the seminary was against Rouhani’s policies, including on negotiations. Mohammad-Hassan Nabavi, a deputy for propagation and practical training in the national seminaries, said that the placard was a “huge mistake” but questioned whether it could “really be interpreted that we will kill the president.” Nabavi stated: “I don’t get this from these words at all. Instead, it meant that whoever pursues negotiations, they might suffer problems.” He added that most in the seminary disapprove of the Rouhani administration’s policies on the economy and negotiations.

 

Activists Arrested, Outspoken MPs Decry Political & Economic Conditions

Parisa Rafiee, a 21-year-old arts student at the University of Tehran was sentenced to 7 years in prison and Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested. Rafiee’s lawyer said she was arrested in March and charged with “colluding to commit crimes against the country’s security, propagandizing against the state, and disturbing public order.” He said he would appeal the charges and suggested that military institutions intervened in her case. Meanwhile, Khandan was arrested 10 days after his wife, Sotoudeh, started a hunger strike. Soutedeh was arrested on June 23rd, after months of representing several women arrested in the anti-compulsory hijab protests of this past spring.

Fatemeh Saeedi, a Tehran MP, met with a senior judiciary official and wrote a letter to other senior officials regarding the case of Parisa Rafiee and other imprisoned activists, and expects a positive response. Saeedi discussed the cases of “prisoners such as environmental activists, students, and especially women prisoners” and said she was hopeful that an “ideal resolution” would be reached. Mohammad Reza Farahani, deputy minister for culture and students in the ministry of science, also said at a press conference that six of the fourteen medical science students arrested in the late December/early January protests have been exonerated. Two have been sentenced, however, and the files of the other six have yet to be addressed by the courts.

Two female MPs, Parvaneh Salahshouri and Hajar Chenarani delivered blistering critiques before the parliament on the political and economic climate. Reformist Tehran MP Salashouri explicitly directed her comments towards Ayatollah Khamenei and called for a referendum on issues such as “foreign policy, the management of state TV, and the Guardian Council’s stewarding of elections for parliament and the assembly of experts.” She also highlighted issues such as “the imprisonment of students, teachers, laborers, lawyers, and environment activists, the entrance of military forces in the fields of politics, economics, and culture” as major crises facing the Islamic Republic.

 

Rouhani Questioned by Parliament, Keeps Supreme Leader Support

President Rouhani was questioned before parliament on August 28th. The MPs were not satisfied with his answers to four of their five questions, which triggered a process to send the questions to the judiciary. The questions were on five issue areas: smuggling, sanctions, unemployment, economic recession, and the Rial’s depreciation. The MPs had 30 minutes to ask the questions and Rouhani had one hour to respond. In his responses, Rouhani stressed that Iran’s main challenge was the Iranian peoples’ lack of hope for the future. He proclaimed: “The key is that we have to explain to the people that these problems will be overcome with the guidance of the Leader, and coordination between the three branches and the armed forces.”

The episode represented the second time in the Islamic Republic’s history that a president was questioned before parliament, the first was Ahmadinejad in 2012. Parliamentary rules were changed after MPs judged Ahmadinejad as not taking the process seriously. The new rules, which were in effect for Rouhani, required any questions that a majority of MPs present were dissatisfied over the president’s answers to be sent to the judiciary. The judiciary would then investigate the matter and it could potentially lead to the president’s removal from office based on the ultimate decision of the Supreme Leader and Supreme Court.

However, the criteria for sending Rouhani’s file to the judiciary was not met, according to a senior parliamentary official. On September 2nd, Behrooz Nemati, spokesperson for parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, stated that Rouhani’s file would not be sent to the judiciary. He stated: “The speaker’s team in a meeting today reached the conclusion that because the issue with Rouhani’s questions was not that he failed to implement the law, and that the questioners also didn’t raise this issue, submitting the questions to the judiciary is not necessary.”

During his parliamentary questioning, Rouhani avoided making controversial statements and refrained from discussing “unspeakable topics,” which he previously hinted he would. During a TV interview several weeks earlier, Rouhani stated that the then-upcoming parliamentary questioning would be a “good opportunity to more easily … discuss certain topics and issues.” Analyst Hossein Bastani speculated that Rouhani’s meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei prior to his parliamentary questioning changed his mind in this regard. Bastani wrote: “At the beginning of his speech, Rouhani set the expectations for his address, stating: ‘I am hopeful that I will carefully cover the points the Leader told me in his suggestions for today’s meeting’ … Were some of the Leader’s suggestions regarding the president’s possible temptation to discuss unspeakable topics? It is not clear.”

The day after Rouhani’s parliamentary questioning, Rouhani and senior administration officials met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for an annual gathering marking “presidential administration week.” Ayatollah Khamenei lauded Rouhani’s parliamentary questioning as demonstrating the Islamic Republic’s strength and reiterated support for the Rouhani administration–ending speculation that the episode could lead to Rouhani’s removal from office. Khamenei declared: “The meeting yesterday in parliament was a demonstration of the power and stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran and may God give good tidings to the president and the legislature for this demonstration of power.”

In his meeting with Rouhani administration officials, Khamenei stressed that Iranian officials should have doubt in Europeans being able to salvage the JCPOA and proclaimed that Iran will remain in the JCPOA as long as it remains in its national interests. Khamenei stated: “Continuing negotiations with Europe is not a problem but–while continuing this–any hope in them on the issues regarding the JCPOA and the economy must be ended.” He added about Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA: “The JCPOA is not a goal but a vessel. If we reach the conclusion that with this vessel, we cannot secure our national interests, we will put it aside.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also reiterated his opposition to any negotiations with the United States. He stated: “The result of negotiations with the previous U.S. officials, who cared about their appearance, was this. Now with these hateful and hideous current officials who openly are holding a sword against Iranians what negotiations can we have? As such, no negotiations at any level will be held with the Americans.”

 

Javad Zarif Accused of Abetting “Soft Regime Change” Efforts

On September 2nd, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared before parliament and was questioned by principlist MP Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, who accused Zarif of abetting outside “soft regime change” efforts.  Ghodousi, affiliated with the hardline Jebhe Paydari, played a controversial documentary before parliament prior to questioning Zarif. The documentary and his questions sought to portray Zarif as having nefarious links with groups such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Chatham House, and NIAC. Ghodousi also suggested the JCPOA was dictated to Zarif by the International Crisis Group, opining: “In the Cobourg hotel, the president of the International Crisis Group came out with you on the balcony … International Crisis Group produced six reports for the JCPOA, of which the third one is based on documentation that formed the text Iran agreed to [in the JCPOA]. Mr. Zarif did you negotiate or did they give you the text of the agreement?”

Ghodousi also stated that Zarif’s foreign policy approach opens the door to American regional hegemony.   “In your recent trips, you went there [to the International Crisis Group] and declared that neither Iran or Saudi Arabia can establish regional hegemony. The hegemony of the Islamic Revolution is pure Islam, Saudis’ hegemony is Wahhabi Islam. If neither Iran or Saudis, then it will be American hegemony [in the region].”

Ghodousi also blasted Chatham House and NIAC. He claimed: “Chatham House is the strongest think tank in the world and an English, non-American think tank. It creates neo-colonialization plans, and this is the same place that nominated you [Zarif] and John Kerry for the Nobel Peace Prize, which you however did not attend. However, such a relationship is not normal.” He further opined: “The third group connected to you is NIAC, a group of Iranian Americans in America. When you went to America and in your communications with them exchanged intelligence, you may not realize the issues, but the results of these meetings and communications was to the benefit of Chatham House, NIAC, and their friends.”

In his rebuttals, Zarif denied that anyone on Iran’s nuclear negotiating had dual citizenship—which has become a persistent criticism by Rouhani’s conservative rivals. Zarif stated: “If someone even has a spouse that has dual citizenship, they cannot work for the foreign ministry, much less for themselves to be a dual citizen. However, utilizing foreign advisors is possible and is a norm in international relations.” Zarif also defended the “patriotism” of Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, an advisor to Iran’s negotiating team who was sentenced five years in prison in October 2017, but stated that “but I have no knowledge regarding other issues about him.”

 

Green Movement Leader Challenges Ayatollah Khamenei

On September 2nd, Green movement opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi released a critical letter addressed to the Assembly of Experts—the elected body constitutionally-mandated with appointing and supervising the Supreme Leader. The letter directly cast blame for Iran’s problems on Ayatollah Khamenei and called on the Assembly of Experts to hold him to account. Karoubi stated: “The Assembly of Experts must hold the Leader accountable for his policies over the past three decades that have led to the current situation. Why don’t they question him over the entrance of the Revolutionary Guards, Basij, and police forces into banking, selling oil, etc.?”

In response to Karroubi’s letter, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council—another constitutional body charged with vetting candidates who seek office—rebuked Karroubi and implied the letter was written by hostile foreign powers. Kadkhodaei stated: “The text of recent days of Mr. Karroubi is reminiscent of his statements in 2009. Statements that are seemingly not from him but are written for him, just like the decisions they make for him. If only he could escape the prison of those around him and think for himself. And decide for himself and write for himself.”

 

Other Developments

Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in his Telegram his thoughts on the need for the Iranian people to be vigilant in the face of foreign manipulation. Baeidinejad contended that America’s “official position” on Iran is “economic warfare.” He stated that the Trump administration seeks to fan the flames of discontent in Iran and urged the Iranian people to be discerning in the news they read. “Don’t trust everything you read or hear. Verify the validity of a report from a credible source your trust. Don’t forward every piece of news or analysis. Take seriously the psychological and propaganda war,” he opined.

Intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi gave a far-reaching TV interview on August 29th, touching on subjects ranging from combating terrorism and economic cooperation, to increased cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies. Alavi stated that Iran is actively confronting 32 terrorist groups, that Iran’s enemies want to “create a Syria situation for Iran,” and highlighted actions the intelligence ministry has taken to destroy ISIS cells and crackdown on economic corruption. He also stated that cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies was at a peak, declaring: “Under this administration, cooperation between the different intelligence institutions is greater than in previous eras, and the Leader has expressed happiness over the cooperation between the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence apparatus.”

Amid an ongoing scandal over a diaper shortage, columnist Davood Heshmati writes in the reformist Emtedad on discoveries of stockpiles of stored diapers. Heshmati argues that the main “battle” in Iranian politics is between those with hope in the future and those who are trying to destroy hope. Heshmati writes: “The issue of the rising costs of diapers has become a hot-button issue in recent days. From late August, through coverage by principlist outlets, it has been turned into an evident ‘problem.'” He added: “But if we paid attention, we see that at the same time 2 warehouses where diapers have been stockpiled have been discovered.”

Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Alireza Tangsiri as the commander of the Navy of the Revolutionary Guards, replacing Ali Fadavi. Conservative Javan noted that Tangsiri is well-known and feared by outside military powers operating in the Persian Gulf. It wrote: “Until now, the English twice, the Americans twice, the Australians once, and the Canadians once have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for violating Iranian waters. At the heart of all these arrests, one person’s name is above all, commander Alireza Tangsiri.”

Ayatollah Khamenei dismissed the possibility of a war in a meeting with commanders and officials from the Iranian Army’s Air Defense division on September 2nd. Ayatollah Khamenei stated that “based on political calculations, the possibility for a military war does not exist. However, the Armed Forces’ human and material capabilities must be improved on a day to day basis, with vigilance and by management that is efficient and flexible.”



Below please find a summary of key developments in Iran:

On August 21st, a prominent religious eulogist, Mansour Arzi, repeated an implicit threat against Rouhani’s life if he pursues negotiations with the United States.

  • The previous week [as covered in last week’s Iran Unfiltered], an anti-Rouhani group in Qom—mostly the far-right Jebhe Paydari faction—held a gathering that spurred immense controversy, particularly over a placard that threatened Rouhani. The gathering and the placard were condemned across Iran’s political spectrum, including by the Revolutionary Guards and senior Ayatollahs. Nevertheless, Arzi repeated the threat on Arafat Day prayers, an important Shia holiday.
  • Arzi: “This person [Rouhani] will die like the other in a pool [referring to Rafsanjani]. Those who commit treason will die in such a way that at the end, friend and enemy, believer and disbeliever, will ask what are they doing here?”

On August 25th, reformist Arman newspaper wrote of the threats against Rouhani:

  • “In a circumstance where society needs unity in words so that internally we can overcome our problems, someone with a high perch says words and slogans which clerics and marjas have condemned … it is not clear what aim they have. The important point is not that these gatherings occurred or who participated, but the ideology behind it which needs to be identified.”

On August 26th, Mohammad-Hassan Nabavi, a deputy for propagation and practical training in the national seminaries, sought to downplay the controversial placard and doubled down on criticizing Rouhani.

  • Nabavi: “This was a huge mistake and an excuse should not be provided to anyone, but the question is really that from this slogan [on the placard] can it really be interpreted that we will kill the president?”
  • “I don’t get this from these words at all. Instead, it meant that whoever pursues negotiations, they might suffer problems. But it was a bad thing to say, it was a horrible and bad slogan.”
  • “A majority in the seminary do not agree with the Rouhani administration’s economic policies, its policies in the arena of negotiations. What I see in the seminary is that most do not approve of the Rouhani administration.”

On August 26th, Parisa Rafiee, a 21-year-old student of the arts at Tehran University arrested in March for participating in protests—was sentenced to 7 years in prison by branch 27 of Tehran’s Revolution Court, according to her lawyer Saeed Khalili.

  • Khalili: “She was charged with colluding to commit crimes against the country’s security, propagandizing against the state, and disturbing public order and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.”
  • “None of the activities mentioned in her indictment or in the Revolutionary Guards’ report were against the law, unfortunately with this verdict, justice and legal and sharia principles were trampled, God Willing I will appeal.”
  • “Other than intelligence ministry, it’s better that other institutions do not intervene on such issues because military institutions are pillar of nation’s security and if their position is hurt, it’s to the detriment of national security.”

On September 4th, Reza Khandan, the husband of imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested.

  • Nasrin Sotoudeh was herself arrested on June 23rd. In the preceding months she was representing several women who were arrested in the anti-compulsory hijab protests of the spring of 2018.
  • Ten days before Khandan’s arrest, Sotoudeh announced that she was going on hunger strike to protest her arrest and the way her file was being addressed.
  • After the 2009 Green movement protests, Sotoudeh was a lawyer representing many arrested protesters. She was first arrested in September 2010, and after several rounds of going on hunger strike, was released in September 2013.

On August 31st, Fatemeh Saeedi, a member of parliament representing Tehran, said she met with a judiciary official and was promised that the sentences against Parisa Rafiee and other arrested students and women would be changed favorably.

  • Saeidi wrote on her Instagram page of her meeting with a senior judiciary official: “Yesterday I had a meeting with a senior judiciary official. We extensively discussed the situation of students and the heavy sentences that have been issued. He showed me a print-out belonging to the science minister which listed all the students who have been given heavy sentences, including Parisa Rafiee. He said he would do everything he can to change their sentences.”
  • Saeidi: “I was also promised that the cases of the women arrested in the July/August protests would be resolved quickly in favorable fashion.”

On September 3rd, Saeedi also stated that she had written a letter to the speaker of parliament Ali Larijani and senior judiciary officials asking for clemency regarding the imprisonment of three teachers and other prisoners.

  • She stated: “We have also had different meetings with judiciary officials regarding other prisoners such as environmental activists, students, and especially women prisoners, which we are hopeful will reach an ideal resolution.”

On August 29th, Mohammad Reza Farahani, deputy minister for culture and students in the ministry of science, said regarding the cases of students arrested during the late December/early January protests:

  • “6 of the 14 students arrested have been exonerated by the courts.”
  • “14 students from the medical science universities were arrested in the events of late December/early January. 2 of them have been sentenced … one is a student from Semnan who has been sentenced to attend Friday prayers for 2 years, the other is from Bandar Abbas who has been sentence to imprisonment.”
  • “For the other 6, their files are yet to be addressed by the courts.”

On September 4th, Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist member of parliament representing Tehran, delivered a fiery speech before parliament expressing dissent at current political and economic conditions in the country and calling for a referendum.

  • Salahshouri directed her comments towards Ayatollah Khamenei, because, she stated, “I believe the only way to overcome the current dire situation is for the Leader to enter the scene to save the country.”
  • Salahshouri said it was necessary to turn to a referendum on issues such as “foreign policy, the management of state TV, and the role of the Guardian Council in stewarding elections for parliament and the assembly of experts.”
  • Salahshouri highlighted issues such as “the imprisonment of students, teachers, laborers, lawyers, and environment activists,” “the entrance of military forces in the fields of politics, economics, and culture” as major crises facing the Islamic Republic.

On September 4nd, Hajar Chenarani, an independent MP representing the northeastern city of Nishapur, also delivered a fiery rebuke of the current political and economic conditions in the country:

  • Chenarani: “Iran is not stricken by war, disease, nor floods and is not bankrupt. But it is stricken by treason. Some have committed treason and are traitors.”
  • “The proud Iran has been belittled by the behaviors of some Islamic Republic officials.”

On August 26th, the Iranian parliament impeached President Rouhani’s minister of economics and finance, Masoud Karbasian. The vote was 138 in favor, 121 against, and 2 abstentions. It came weeks after Rouhani’s labor minister Ali Rabiee was also impeached.

  • There were 17 charges brought against Karbasian, including “not paying attention to the resistance economy, and failing to support domestic production” and blaming him for overseeing the economic downturn.
  • Karbasian had only been in his position for the past year.
  • Karbasian said at his impeachment hearing: “Some of the issues that have arisen on the economy have been exogenous and out of control of the administration. Some other issues aren’t structural, but due to the unreliability of the hegemonic system [the U.S.].”
  • Karbasian: “It cannot be expected that the problems that have arisen in the past year can be easily resolved.”
  • Karbasian: “Despite negative narratives pushed internationally, in 2017 more we had more than $5 billion in foreign investment, a 50% growth from previous year. In past year we had 3.7% economic growth.”  

On August 28th, President Hassan Rouhani appeared before parliament for questioning before 204 members (of the legislatures total 290 members). The questions were on five issues:

  1. The failure of administration to control smuggling.
  2. The resumption of economic sanctions.
  3. Failure to take proper action on unemployment.
  4. The economic recession.
  5. The depreciation of the Rial.

The MPs had 30 minutes to ask questions and Rouhani had one hour to respond. The MPs then voted on how convincing each answer was and referred the questions they weren’t convinced on to the judiciary. Highlights of Rouhani’s answers:

  • “Why has the people’s sense of hope changed? Why do they doubt Iran’s future and even more, some doubt the state’s greatness, power, and future growth and development? We have to cure this shock.”
  • “We have to speak with the people in a correct and honest way so that people are convinced that the problems of the past months will pass quickly.”
  • “The events of late Dec/early Jan [protests] persuaded Trump to take advantage of the situation and announce that he would withdraw from the JCPOA, unless Europeans and others supported him over the missile and regional issues.”
  • “The key is that we have to explain to the people that these problems will be overcome with the guidance of the Leader, and coordination between the 3 branches and the armed forces.”
  • “We have to tell the people that we won’t allow America’s plots to be successful. The people should be certain, we won’t allow a bunch of anti-Iranians in the White House to plot against us.”
  • “But our people aren’t content, which is justified. Why because there is still widespread unemployment. This chronic unemployment has existed for years. Many families still suffer from this issue.”
  • “But if the 11th & 12 administrations continued the work of the 9th & 10th admin [Ahmadinejad], today our rate of unemployment would be 22% instead of 12%, which is to the credit of our officials, who with help from the other branches & officials have managed this great achievement.”
  • “This is as we were the first administration since the end of the war that entered office facing a recession.”
  • “We have to ask how the currency issue reached what it is today? What is the cause? Political, psychological, or economic or a combination of all these?”
  • “I say on the currency issue, social, psychological, political, and foreign policy problems had a greater effect than the economic factor.”

On August 28th, Hassan Zeidabadi, a reformist columnist, wrote regarding Rouhani’s questioning in parliament and the implications of parliament not being convinced of his answers on four of their five questions and referring these questions to the judiciary.

  • “With the MPs not convinced on several of Rouhani’s answers, what are the legal and political implications?”
  • “It seems even many MPs don’t know the answer.”
  • “Parliament today implemented Article 88 of the constitution. This article gives the right of one-fourth of the parliamentarians to question the president.”
  • “This law cannot lead to the president’s impeachment but can lead to his dismissal by the Supreme Leader.”
  • “Impeaching the president has another legal route, which is in Article 89 of the constitution.”
  • “Articles 212 and 213 of the parliament’s internal rules of conduct deals with the method of questioning the president. What is relevant in this regard is a footnote of Article 213, which sets two conditions for sending the president’s file to the judiciary:
    1. Failing to convince a majority of the MPs present.
    2. The subject of the question deals with a violation of law or failing to implement the law.
  • “The parliament’s internal rules of conduct do not specify who must interpret the second condition. Violating the law or failing to implement the law are obtuse conditions and attaching them to today’s questions [of Rouhani] depends on the political configuration and inclinations in parliament.”
  • “So what if Rouhani’s file is sent to the judiciary? If this occurs, Rouhani’s dismissal will be based on Article 110 of the Constitution, which requires a vote of approval from the Supreme Court and then by the Supreme Leader. The only criteria in the constitution is whether it is expedient for the country, which is again the Leader’s responsibility to decide.”

On August 28th, news site Asr Iran also analyzed the implications of Rouhani’s answers being sent to the judiciary:

  • “To answer this question, we have to refer to the Parliament’s internal rules for conduct. In Article 213 it states: “If most of the MPs present questioning the president aren’t convinced of his answer, and the issue being questioned deals with a violation of the law or failing to implement the law, the question will be sent to the judiciary.”
  • “In the recent meeting, the first criteria—of most members present not being convinced of the president’s answer—was met. However, it must be investigated whether the issue being questioned represents a violation of the law or failing to implement the law.
  • “The Parliamentarians were not convinced with Rouhani’s answers to 4 of their questions regarding ‘smuggling, unemployment, recession, and currency depreciations.’  All these issues are administrative issues in nature and none represent a violation of any laws.”
  • “Thus from a legal view it can be set that the second criteria of Article 213 has not been met and sending Rouhani’s file to the judiciary will have no legal basis.”

An August 28th BBC Persian column by analyst Hossein Bastani discussed the fact that Rouhani did not shed light on “unspeakable” topics, as he had previously hinted he would.

  • “Three weeks ago, during his live widely-discussed TV interview, he himself stated that responding to the parliamentarian’s questions was a ‘good opportunity,’ because he would be able to ‘more easily than when he gives a speech or interview discuss certain issues and topics.’
  • “But at the beginning of his speech, Rouhani set the expectations for his address, stating: ‘I am hopeful that I will carefully cover the points the Leader told me in his suggestions for today’s meeting.'”
  • “Were some of the Leader’s suggestions regarding the president’s possible temptation to discuss unspeakable topics? It is not clear.”
  • “Rouhani is not the first Iranian president who went to parliament for questioning. That was Ahmadinejad in March 2012. But after Ahmadinejad didn’t take that seriously, the parliament amended its internal rules for conduct to increase the costs of the president not answering their questions.”

On September 2nd, Behrooz Nemati, the spokesperson for speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani, stated that Rouhani’s file would not be submitted to the judiciary.

  • Nemati: “The speaker’s team in its meeting today reached the conclusion that because the issue with Rouhani’s questions was not that he failed to implement the law, and that the questioners also didn’t raise this issue, submitting the questions to the judiciary is not necessary.”

On August 29th, the day after Rouhani’s appearance in parliament, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Rouhani and senior administration officials as part of “administration week” events in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei expressed support for Rouhani and commended his appearance before parliament as a display of the strength of the Islamic Republic—ending speculation that Rouhani might be impeached or removed from office by the Supreme Leader.

  • Khamenei said regarding the first year of Rouhani second term in office: “In this year, good work has been accomplished in the fields of economic and energy growth, increasing non-oil exports, and reducing imports. The trend of increasing exports and reducing imports must continue at a greater pace, and at the same time these achievements made clear to the people.”
  • Khamenei on the ongoing negotiations between Iran and Europe to salvage the nuclear deal: “Continuing negotiations with Europe is not a problem but–while continuing this–any hope in them on the issues of the JCPOA and the economy must be ended.”
  • “We must have a doubtful view towards their [European] commitments. We must very vigilant regarding the trajectory of this issue.”
  • On Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA: “The JCPOA is not a goal but a vessel. If we reach the conclusion that with this vessel, we cannot secure out national interests, we will put it aside.”
  • On negotiations with the U.S.: “The result of negotiations with previous U.S. officials, who cared about their appearance, was this. Now with these hateful and hideous current officials who openly are holding a sword against Iranians what negotiations can we have? As such, no negotiations at any level will be held with the Americans.
  • On Rouhani’s appearance in parliament: “The meeting yesterday in parliament was a demonstration of the power and stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran and may God give good tidings to the president and the legislature demonstrated this power.”
  • “Members of parliament ask questions of a president who was elected with over 23 million votes, and the president responds in a calm and sober way. This is the definition of religious democracy.”
  • On September 2nd, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared before parliament for questioning. Principlist MP Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, who represents a district in the religious city of Mashhad and is affiliated with the ultra-conservative Jebhe Paydari faction, accused Zarif’s foreign ministry of being infiltrated by foreign spies and facilitating U.S. efforts at regime change. (Links 1 & 2).
  •   Ghodousi played a controversial documentary at parliament prior to questioning Zarif. The documentary and Ghodousi’s questions sought to portray Zarif as having nefarious links with groups such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Chatham House, and NIAC.
  •   Ghodousi: “What was the head of the International Crisis Group doing in your room? In the Cobourg hotel, the president of the International Crisis Group came out with you on the balcony … International Crisis Group produced six reports for the JCPOA, of which the third one is based on documentation that formed the text Iran agreed to [in the JCPOA]. Mr. Zarif did you negotiate or did they give you the text of the agreement?”
  •   “This group [International Crisis Group] which is based in Belgium and many influential Americans and Europeans are there and its financial father is George Soros, produced six reports for Iran and only one report on how the JCPOA would be approved by America’s Congress and our previous Parliament.”
  •   “In your recent trips, you went there [International Crisis Group] and declared that neither Iran or Saudi Arabia can establish regional hegemony. The hegemony of the Islamic Revolution is pure Islam, Saudis’ hegemony is Wahhabi Islam. If neither Iran or Saudis, then it will be American hegemony [in the region].”
  •   “Chatham House is the strongest think tank in the world and an English, non-American think tank. It creates neo-colonialization plans, and this is the same place that nominated you [Zarif] and John Kerry for the Nobel Peace Prize, which you however did not attend. However, such a relationship is not normal.”
  •   “The third group connected to you is NIAC, a group of Iranian Americans in America. When you went to America and in your communications with them exchanged intelligence, you may not realize the issues, but the results of these meetings and communications was to the benefit of Chatham House, NIAC, and their friends.”
  •   Ghodousi: “I will give the documentary today to news outlets along with two other documentaries that were created by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit.”
  •   Zarif defended Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, an advisor to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team who in October 2017 was sentenced to 5 years in prison on charges of espionage.
  •   Zarif on Dorri-Esfahani: “I have no doubt about his patriotism, but I have no knowledge regarding other issues about him.”
  •   Ghodousi, in his 3 questions of Zarif, claimed that four members of Zarif’s nuclear negotiating team had foreign citizenship on top of their Iranian citizenship.
  •   Zarif said in response regarding individuals with dual citizenship: “I emphasize that no dual citizens had any role or responsibility in the negotiations. If someone even has a spouse that has dual citizenship, they cannot work for the foreign ministry, much less for themselves to be a dual citizen. However, utilizing foreign advisors is possible and is a norm in international relations.”

On September 2nd, a letter written by Mehdi Karoubi was posted on Saham News—a site affiliated with Karoubi. The Green movement opposition leader—who previously served as parliamentary speaker and in other senior posts—has been under house arrest since 2011 together with fellow 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The letter was addressed to members of the Assembly of Experts—a body constitutionally-mandated with appointing and supervising the Supreme Leader.

  • Karoubi in the letter: “Article 107 of the constitution delegates the power to appoint the supreme leader to the assembly of experts, which is directly elected by the people. Article 111 explicitly states: ‘In the case that the Leader proves incapable of carrying out his duties, is missing the criteria in tenets 50 and 109, or it becomes clear that these criteria were missing from the beginning, he will be removed from his office. Interpreting these conditions will be the responsibility of the Assembly of Experts.”
  • “The Assembly of Experts must hold the Leader accountable for his policies over the past three decades that have led to the current situation. Why don’t they question him over the entrance of the Revolutionary Guards, Basij, and police forces into banking, selling oil, etc.?”
  • Karroubi asked the Assembly of Experts to “hold to account the military and economic institutions under the purview of the Leader who have played a central role in creating today’s unfortunate situation for the people and country.”
  • “I believe in reforms, but of the kind that reforms the structure of the system in the direction of more sovereignty for the people and that gives no privileged position to any individual or groups.”

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council—another constitutional body charged with vetting candidates who seek office—responded to Karroubi’s letter on Twitter:

  • “The text of recent days of Mr Karoubi are reminiscent of his statements in 2009. Statements that are seemingly not from him but are written for him, just like the decisions they make for him. If only he could escape the prison of those around him and think for himself. And decide for himself and write for himself.”

On August 31st, Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in his Telegram his thoughts on the need for the Iranian people to be vigilant in the face of foreign manipulation:

  • Baedinejad: “Economic warfare against Iran is America’s official position.”
  • “Trump and the American foreign minister [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] have stressed that their intention with imposing pressure and sanctions is to create discontent and turn the Iranian people against Iran’s government to topple the Iranian government in this way.”
  • “Don’t trust everything you read or hear. Verify the validity of a report from a credible source you trust. Don’t forward every piece of news or analysis. Take seriously the psychological and propaganda war.”

On August 29th, Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi gave a far-reaching TV interview, touching on subjects ranging from combating terrorism and economic cooperation, to increased cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies.

  • “The terrorists forces aligned against the Islamic Republic of Iran consist of 32 terrorist groups.”
  • “They are seeking to create a Syria situation for Iran. They wanted to assassinated 5 Sunni clerics to start a Shia-Sunni war, but we suffocated this plot. Sunnis play an integral role in confronting these terrorist movements.”
  • “Standing against these groups is not easy. This month we discovered a plot to attacks facilities such as universities and the subway system.”
  • “In July 16th, we took down an ISIS cell in Tehran. We hope that with the people’s assistance we can continue this path successfully.”
  • “If we want a strong economy we have to confront corrupt economic actors. In the intelligence ministry we have created 130 files and arrested more than 180 accused. The intelligence ministry is also playing a unique role in confronting the smuggling of goods and currency.”
  • “We strive to make the environment secure for domestic producers and insecure for corrupt economic actors.”
  • “Under this administration, cooperation between the different intelligence institutions is greater than in previous eras, and the Leader has expressed happiness over the cooperation between the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence apparatus.”

On September 3rd, Davood Heshmati, wrote in the reformist Emtedad on the controversy over a diaper shortage and how the main “battle” in Iranian politics is between those with hope in the future and those who are trying to destroy hope.

  • Heshmati: “The issue of the rising costs of diapers has become a hot-button issue in recent days. From late August, through coverage by principlist outlets, it has been turned into an evident ‘problem.'”
  • “With the Leader’s recent address to administration officials [where he mentioned the diaper issue] it has taken greater form and become a more important issue.”
  • “But if we paid attention, we see that at the same time 2 warehouses where diapers have been stockpiled have been discovered. The first report from IRNA was of a discovery of a warehouse in Savojbolagh which was storing over 10 billion tomans worth of diapers.”
  • “The 2nd report was from ISNA of the discovery of one and half million packages of diapers in Alborz province.”
  • “Everyone is worried that the diaper they bought today will become more expensive tomorrow, so they hoard … what has to be reformed is bringing back hope. One side believes in creating ‘hope’ and the other in ‘ending hope,’ this is the main battle on-going right now.”

On August 23rd, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Alireza Tangsiri as the commander of the Navy of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, replacing Ali Fadavi. Conservative outlet Javan said of Tangsiri’s appointment:

  • “Most of the naval forces of outside powers in the Persian Gulf, because of the field of operations of the Revolutionary Guards navy, know admiral Tangsiri, and they all know that this appointment, in the midst of economic pressure against Iran, is not without reason.”
  • “Until now, the English twice, the Americans twice, the Australians once, and the Canadians once have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for violating Iranian waters. At the heart of all these arrests, one person’s name is above all, commander Alireza Tangsiri.”

On September 2nd, Ayatollah Khamenei met with commanders and officials from the Iranian Army’s Air Defense division and dismissed the possibility of a military conflict but stressed the need for the Iranian military to upgrade its capabilities.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei stated that “based on political calculations, the possibility for a military war does not exist. However, the Armed Forces’ human and material capabilities must be improved on a day to day basis, with vigilance and by management that is efficient and flexible.”
  • Khamenei also declared that “the Air Defense division is a very sensitive part of the Armed Forces and is on the frontlines against Iran’s enemies, and that the readiness and capabilities of its air defenses and personal must be increased.”