Officials Differ on European Trade Vehicle
Week of December 17, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Rouhani Son-in-law Appointment Spurs Allegations of Nepotism, Resignation
- Officials Differ on Purpose of Europe’s SPV
- Rouhani and Erdogan Discuss Broader Cooperation
- Conservatives Attack Rouhani over Regional Approach
- Foreign Ministry Condemns Albania’s Expulsion of Diplomats
- Security Forces Raid Homes of Protesting Workers
The appointment last week of President Rouhani’s son-in-law as deputy minister of industry, mines, and business last week spurred allegations of nepotism and led to his resignation. As Europe moves towards implementing its “Special Purpose Vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran, officials have taken different positions on whether it will be limited to only trade in food and medicine. President Rouhani was also hosted by Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara this week, where the two leaders discussed broadening economic, security, and political cooperation, including in Syria and the war in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Rouhani’s regional approach of seeking “win-win” regional solutions has been attacked by conservatives. Iran’s Foreign Ministry also rebuked Albania for expelling two Iranian diplomats and described it as part of efforts to drive a wedge between Iran and Europe. Security forces also raided the homes of the Ahvaz Steel Company protesting workers, arresting dozens.
Rouhani Son-in-Law Appointment
President Rouhani’s son-in-law Kambiz Mahdizadeh resigned as deputy minister of industry, mines, and business after his appointment one week ago spurred allegations of nepotism. After the resignation, Reza Rahmani, the minister of industry, mine, and business defended the appointment of Mahdizadeh: “[Mahdizadeh’s] appointment as deputy minister had no connection whatsoever with him being the president’s son in law.”
Rahmani defended Mahdizadeh as qualified for the post: “There are always complaints on why the youth aren’t utilized. The president’s son in law is both a youth and gifted. Whoever saw his resume and experience, congratulated us on his appointment.”
Maseeh Mohajeri, an ally of President Rouhani and editor of the Jomhuri Islami newspaper, was among the chorus of figures that criticized Mahdizadeh’s appointment: “It is a danger to the revolution and the Islamic Republic system that, in the present difficult conditions and given widespread unemployment in society, appointing family members by ministers, officials and senior managers is prevalent.”
Mohajeri added: “Officials have sacrificed meritocracy for their own personal goals and desires. It is clear these types of people are not of the quality of the revolution and the Islamic Republic system and are by no means qualified to remain in government positions.”
Officials Differ on Purpose of Europe’s SPV
During his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi discussed Europe’s shaping SPV and other issues. He said of the SPV: “Work has been done on this mechanism for some time. This mechanism will facilitate exchanges between Iran and European Union countries and will include many items.”
Ghassemi stated that the SPV will not be limited to trade in medicine and food and that other, non-European, countries could use the mechanism. He proclaimed: “Without a doubt, the basket of goods will include medicines and other imports that Iran requires from these countries … this mechanism can also be used for exchanges with other countries and has not been designed for only medicine and food.”
However, Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, said in a speech that he believes “this European channel will result in purchasing food and medicine.”
Rezaei also stated regarding the Trump administration’s objectives towards Iran: “Another stage in Trump’s plan is to decrease the value of Iran’s national currency to the level that no one will use the rial anymore and the rial exits the scene. They want the government to be unable to pay wages, factories to shut down, for riots and bloodshed to breakout, and for the MEK to take actions and under the excuse of human rights, for America to [militarily] interfere.”
Elsewhere in Ghassemi’s press conference, he said regarding reports that China’s CNPC was halting its investment in Iran’s South Pars natural gas field: “Regarding some reports on cancellations [of projects], until we hear from government officials, this news is considered psychological warfare. Our criterion is official negotiations and communications.”
Ghassemi added: “America is definitely pressuring the major countries and companies of the West and East and other countries to prevent cooperation with Iran. We will contemplate our final judgement on this news and the oil ministry will then make an announcement.”
Ghassemi also said regarding Iranian trade with Iraq: “As a good neighbor with which we share a 1,200 km border and have cultural, economic, historical, and civilizational connections with, Iraq has been and will remain a good neighbor of ours. Our cooperation will continue just like in the past with the same strength and precision.
Ghassemi said in response to a question on America’s sanctions waiver to Iraq: “We have received positive signals and our cooperation will continue. America’s misguided efforts to sabotage and create differences and tensions between our two countries and prevent economic cooperation are in vain.”
On December 17th, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former chief negotiator and a conservative presidential candidate in 2013, also commented on the SPV in a speech critical of the Rouhani administration. Jalili criticized the JCPOA, stating: “In the JCPOA, more than 100 rights of our nation have been denied, of which 23 of these have to do with research and development.”
Jalili welcomed Rouhani’s more nonconciliatory rhetoric in recent months and dismissed the value of Europe’s SPV. He stated: “We are happy that they [Rouhani and his allies] say that the West isn’t the entire world. However, then don’t make the country wait on [Europe’s] SPV. That the West isn’t the center of the world is a good discovery, but the Iranian nation has had this conclusion for years.”
Jalili added: “If you believe that the West isn’t the center of the world, then bring down the scarecrows of the West you have created [implying that Rouhani seeks to make Iranians scared of the West].”
Jalili then suggested that Iran should leave the JCPOA: “Was the JCPOA a shining dawn? No one wants to put the JCPOA on trial, but we shouldn’t ignore its problems. What happened to the JCPOA’s fruits? It was said that the JCPOA was a document of the UN Security Council and thus, would last. Well, America has left the JCPOA entirely, but they [Rouhani and his allies] say that we must continue to implement our commitments fully.”
Rouhani-Erdogan Meeting in Ankara
On December 20th, Turkish President Erdogan hosted President Rouhani and other senior Iranian officials for bilateral talks in Ankara. After a private meeting, the two presidents held a joint press conference.
During the press conference, Rouhani discussed a range of issues, including Iranian-Turkish efforts to boost economic cooperation despite U.S. sanctions and regional cooperation between the two countries. Rouhani stated: “Only a few countries share America’s belief and are violating a UN Security resolution. I believe that the era of imposing your will on others in the world has ended and the people of the region will make decisions based on their shared interests.”
He added regarding Iranian-Turkish cooperation: “Today, there was a meeting of the strategic council for relations between our two countries to review removing obstacles to developing relations. We exchanged views on financial, banking, commercial, customs, energy, transportation, tourism, and cultural cooperation matters between our two countries.”
Rouhani said of Iranian-Turkish ties: “We had an extensive private meeting with Mr. Erdogan and had good discussions on issues having to do with our two countries and regional and international issues. The foundation for the relationship between our two countries is religious, cultural, and based on common interests and the [economic] development of our two countries. No country has the ability to sabotage this brotherly and close relationship.”
Rouhani thanked Erdogan for his stance against U.S. sanctions on Iran: “I thank Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish government for their strong and clear position against unilateralism and America’s oppressive sanctions.”
Rouhani then vociferously denounced U.S. sanctions: “America’s actions against Iran are 100 percent terroristic because they are intimidating countries and companies and making them afraid of engaging in free trade. America’s approach is against international rules and UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which requires all countries to support the JCPOA and create the appropriate environment for trade with Iran.”
While Rouhani and Erdogan did not discuss the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria during the press conference, Rouhani stressed Iranian-Turkish cooperation over Syria. He declared: “On the regional front, both countries emphasize the continuation of our cooperation under the Astana agreement. Syria is very important for us. The fate of Syria’s future is in the hands of its people and the territorial integrity of Syria must be respected. Our two countries [Iran and Turkey] are in complete agreement and will continue our cooperation to establish peace and stability and security [in Syria].”
Rouhani also stated that Iran and Turkey would pursue cooperation over the war in Yemen: “Given the extremely difficult conditions for the people of Yemen, we have agreed to make plans to establish peace and stability in Yemen and help Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations and provide aid to the people of this country.”
On the eve of Rouhani’s trip to Turkey, his regional approach was criticized in a column in the conservative Jahan News. The piece censured Rouhani for seeking “win-win” solutions in the region, stating: “After the JCPOA, Hassan Rouhani tried to apply the ‘win-win’ model to the Islamic Republic’s regional policies. The win-win model for the region is based on a proposition that Rouhani has been saying since last year, that ‘instead of trying to become the region’s strongest country, we [regional countries] should make the region stronger.’”
The piece stated that Iran’s foreign ministry was attempting to build support for the “win-win” regional model: “In order to roll out the game of win-win in the region, the research center of the foreign ministry has been seriously working to advance this policy by holding briefings and preparatory conferences to create an atmosphere to support this policy.”
The article went on to state that the win-win model for the region was untenable, citing Saudi and Turkish foreign policies. It stated: “To cite one example, what positive signals can there be seen in the ruling family of a country like Saudi Arabia for there to be hope in a win-win with them? Right now, Saudi Arabia is hosting civilizational conferences on Islam and there is no representative from Iran there!”
The piece added: “Even Turkey, which stands out in engaging in regional cooperation with Iran and even having common goals, has a vision to return to the Ottoman Empire—or put differently—to become the most powerful regional country. Given this, the designers of the win-win theory are theorizing in an imaginary setting, not on the realities on the ground in the region.”
Foreign Ministry Rebukes Albania’s Expulsion of Iranian Diplomats
On December 20th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi addressed Albania’s expulsion of two Iranian diplomats over an alleged terrorist threat. Ghassemi stated the move was a continuation of efforts spearheaded by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage Iran’s relations with Europe: “This action and scenario was carried out under pressure from the U.S. government and the security services of the Zionist regime and with the cooperation of anti-Iranian terrorist groups and is based on unreal and incorrect claims aimed at sabotaging and impacting Iran’s relations with Europe.”
Ghassemi condemned the expulsion and expressed dismay that Iranian-Albanian relations had been damaged: “Such behavior from the Albanian government has no justification or basis or rationality. It is completely based on manufactured and wrong intelligence of some security services. [Albania’s action] is a condemnable and unacceptable act. It is unfortunate that the anti-Iran scenario-makers have now sacrificed Albania, which always had good relations with Iran, with their ominous plans.”
Ghassemi said of efforts to harm Iranian-European ties after America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA: “In recent months we have witness that as cooperation between Iran and Europe has grown more serious over negating America’s unilateral and illegal sanctions, there has been an increase in scenarios designed to sabotage Iran’s relations with Europe. However, with the vigilance and tactfulness [of Iran and Europe], these plans have been futile.”
Protesting Workers Arrested
On December 16th, security forces raided the houses of protesting workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel company, arresting dozens. The Ahvaz Steel Company workers have been protesting since early November over unpaid wages. According to BBC Persian, the workers are also aggrieved over a steel pipeline project being cancelled due to the unavailability of prerequisite raw materials.
Several days later, on December 19th, 11 of the workers were released. According to reports, at least 30 remained in custody.
On December 19th, Karim Yavari, the labor minister’s special representative, promised to deliver the raw materials needed to restart the factory’s operations. Yavari further stated: “No worker should be arrested over peaceful protests. We will continue efforts to free the imprisoned workers until they are all released.” (more on the recent labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company and Haft Tapeh Sugercane Factory in a previous Iran Unfiltered).