Hardline Official Attacks JCPOA as Sanctions Relief Channel Looms

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

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

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

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

 

Guardian Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati Calls for Leaving JCPOA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IRNA Cites European Spokesperson as Saying SPV Launch Imminent

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

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

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Satellite Launch Fails

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

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

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

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

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

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IRGC Commander Says Military “Advisors” to Remain in Syria

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

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

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Iran Scales Back Cooperation with Europe

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

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

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Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Visits Azerbaijan

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

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

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Iraq

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

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

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

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Foreign Ministry Denies Zarif Resignation & JCPOA Withdrawal Rumors

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

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

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Pro-Labor Magazine Editors Arrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Labor Leader Torture Controversy Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senior Rouhani Advisor Discusses Protests & Islamic Republic’s Viability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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