May 10, 2024

Iran Will Alter Its Nuclear Doctrine If Its Existence Is Threatened, Per Advisor to Khamenei, Leaked Khatami Audio Rejects Participation in Elections Under Current Guardian Council, Barzani’s Tehran Visit, and More

Week of May 6, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Kamal Kharrazi: Iran Will Alter Its ‘Nuclear Doctrine’ If Its Existence Is Threatened

In a recent interview with Al Jazeera Mubasher, Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, clarified that Iran does not intend to develop a nuclear bomb. However, he indicated a potential shift in this stance if the nation’s security is compromised, stating, “If Iran’s existence is threatened, we may have to change our nuclear doctrine.”

Kharrazi also discussed Iran’s missile strike on an Israeli military base, warning that any Israeli assault on Iranian nuclear facilities could lead to an enhanced state of deterrence by Iran. On the conflict in Gaza, Kharrazi affirmed Iran’s commitment to the “Axis of Resistance,” emphasizing that decisions within this group are independently made based on situational needs.

He further commented on the nature of resistance forces,  saying that they oppose Israel, not the countries they operate within. This perspective aligns with the views of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, and has elicited a range of reactions.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a former member of the Iranian Parliament, criticized the prospect of nuclearizationon X (formerly Twitter), suggesting that such weapons would increase military dominance over Iranian politics. He attributed Iran’s existential threats to poor governance, unchecked economic corruption, and a widening disconnect between citizens and officials.

Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, responded to the comments made by Kharrazi during a press conference.  He stated: “ So those comments are irresponsible, but as the President and Secretary have made clear, the United States will ensure one way or another that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.

This dialogue surfaced as Rafael Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded a visit to Tehran on May 6. His trip, which included meetings with key Iranian officials, aimed at rejuvenating the March 2023 joint statement between Tehran and the IAEA to foster trust and transparency.

Iranian officials continue to reject any intention of pursuing nuclear weapons under a peaceful guise, asserting their commitment to peaceful applications. But in a climate of heightened tensions with Israel, Ahmad Haq-Talab, commander of the Guard for the Protection and Security of Nuclear Centers in Iran, hinted that revisions to Iran’s nuclear policy are conceivable should Israel threaten nuclear sites.

Concurrently, Javad Karimi Ghoddousi, a noted hardliner, underscored Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons and potentially extend missile range capabilities to 12,000 kilometers. Iran’s current declared missile doctrine is to only field missiles that can strike within approximately 2,000 kilometers, or within the broader Middle East region. Fielding intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking at 12,000 kilometers would enable Iran not just to strike within Europe, but also the mainland United States. 

Kharrazi has previously acknowledged Iran’s capability to produce a nuclear bomb but reiterated no intention to proceed in this direction. Ali Akbar Salehi, a former Foreign Minister and two-time head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, also confirmed that any policy modifications would be under the prerogative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Recent tensions between Iran and Israel appear to have raised concerns among Iranian officials about a possible Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Despite recent remarks by Mr. Kharrazi and Mr. Haq-Talab, it appears that such statements could be aimed at deterring a potential Israeli attack – including by influencing the calculations of the United States.

Moreover, as time goes on and Iran incurs costs for its expansive nuclear program without the potential security benefits of a nuclear deterrent, it appears that internal resistance to weaponization is weakening. Also of note, whereas once the Permanent Five (P-5) members of the UN Security Council were on the same page regarding the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the U.S. decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal has replaced unanimity with division, highlighted by increasing military collaboration between Iran and Russia and warming of ties between Russia and China, despite ongoing weaponization concerns.

As Parliamentary Elections Enter Second Phase, Leaked Khatami Audio Surfaces: ‘We Will Not Participate in Elections Under This Guardian Council”

The second phase of the twelfth Iranian parliamentary elections commenced this morning, May 10, to fill 45 seats across 22 constituencies. The first round, held last solar year in Esfand – March 1, 2024 – was met with some of the lowest voter turnout figures in the Islamic Republic’s history, with official turnout reported at 40% and only 34% in Tehran.

This morning, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, after voting in the elections, emphasized that “the importance of the second phase is no less than the first.” This phase will see electronic voting implemented in some locations, with Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s Interior Minister, stating, “Eight constituencies are fully electronic, encompassing over 60% of representatives.”

Reports suggest that, like the first phase, the current round of elections has also been met with public disinterest. Recently, a leaked audio of former President Mohammad Khatami critiquing the reformists’ previous electoral strategy surfaced, where he stated, “I was the one who said we shouldn’t abandon the ballot box. In 2011, when the counter-revolutionaries called for a boycott, I voted.”

In the leaked audio, Khatami questioned the reformists’ current approach: “Now that the entire nature of elections has transformed, making them no longer elections, should we still participate, only benefiting those against elections, or should we align with the 60% of the population who have decided not to participate?”

He argues that the Guardian Council and other conservative governing bodies block reformists from entering parliament. “Even if they give four boxes to four minor figures, what ailment does it cure?” Khatami concludes, “Let us stand with the people for once.” He clarifies, “Not alongside the counter-revolutionaries and boycotters,” explicitly stating, “We won’t participate in elections as long as this parliament and this Guardian Council remain.”

The authenticity of the leaked audio has not been denied, and Javad Imam, head of the Baran Foundation and close to Khatami, on X (formerly Twitter), questioned, “Why is it that before every election, an audio clip or a whisper from Mr. Khatami gets published or leaked?” He attributed it to Khatami’s influence in the political arena. Previously in 2021, Ebrahim Raisi ascended to power in an election marked by the lowest voter turnout and after the field had been cleared of possible prominent alternatives.

Barzani’s Tehran Visit: “Disruptive Groups Must Exit Iraq”

Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, recently concluded a visit to Tehran, where he met with top Iranian officials including the Supreme Leader and the President. This meeting marks his first visit to Tehran since three years ago and comes in the wake of last year’s missile attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Erbil—a strike that escalated tensions and caused multiple fatalities, including a notable businessman and his young daughter.

Barzani’s discussions in Tehran focused on the implementation of Iran-Iraq security agreements and the status of Kurdish opposition groups within the Islamic Republic. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the need for Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure their territories are not used against Iran by “Zionist elements and counter-revolutionaries.” Raisi also called for the “complete disarmament and the removal of counter-revolutionary elements from Iraq.”

Iranian state media reported Barzani as saying it would be unwise to prioritize ties with a “failing regime”, referring to Israel, over a strong and friendly nation. His visit also aligns with efforts to fully implement a security agreement signed in March 2022 to bolster border security—a pact unveiled amid widespread protests within Iran and following Iran’s aggressive targeting of Kurdish factions in Iraq.

Iran’s military actions in Kurdistan have been repeatedly denounced by both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government as severe breaches of their sovereignty, with numerous casualties reported among Kurdish party members. Iran has designated groups like the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran and Komala as terrorist organizations, alleging their collaboration with Israel and involvement in nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022.

In retaliation for the deaths of its officials in Syria late in 2023, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched missile strikes near Erbil last December, claiming to have destroyed a Mossad base. This operation led the Kurdistan Region to charge the Guards with a “clear violation of national sovereignty.”

Barzani’s trip also intersects with an electoral crisis in the Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi Electoral Commission has set June 21 for local elections in the region, but Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party is pushing for a postponement. Conversely, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—the region’s second-strongest party—and other factions are advocating for the elections to go ahead as planned. Bafel Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union, has warned that delaying the elections could harm the region’s democratic structures.

Given the Patriotic Union’s close ties with Iran, one of Barzani’s goals seems to be to leverage these relationships to influence the electoral timetable. This move follows the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s decision three months ago to reorganize Kurdistan into four electoral districts and eliminate minority seats, a ruling that the Kurdistan Democratic Party has contested. Upon returning from Tehran, Barzani emphasized at a press conference that any groups defying legal norms and jeopardizing regional relations would find no sanctuary in the region and must adhere to the laws of the region, the Iraqi government, and the United Nations’ demands.

University Professors’ Association Secretary Reports: 25 Professors Dismissed, 200 Under Pressure Last Year

Karen Abrinia, the secretary of the University Professors’ Association in Iran, reports that approximately 200 university professors across Iran faced restrictions last year, with 25 of them being dismissed from their positions.

In an interview with Khabar Online, Abrinia pointed to “security issues and restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Interior and the National Security Council” as the main challenges within universities. He accused the government of Ebrahim Raisi of “excessive interference” in university affairs, suggesting that the Ministry of Interior seems to dictate university policies rather than the Ministry of Science.

“The past year was not a good one for the university,” Abrinia remarked. The practice of pressuring critical professors and students has persisted over the decades in Iran, intensifying following the 2022 protests when a significant number of students and professors joined the demonstrators, leading to increased disciplinary and security measures.

Abrinia highlighted that the restrictions targeted professors who had responded to the events of 2022 by signing statements or expressing their positions, including by rejecting or halting their efforts to convert their contracts from a provisional status to permanent employment.

He added that in some cases, annual promotions were obstructed, or the advancement of some professors from associate to full professorship was stopped. Amid these challenges, some professors were dismissed, while others, although not expelled, had their salaries suspended.

According to Abrinia, some universities have demanded that professors who signed statements about the 2022 events must sign a repentance letter if they wish to continue working. He also mentioned that apart from the protest-related restrictions, some professors were targeted due to their union activities within the Iranian University Professors’ Association, even though this association is officially recognized and authorized by the Ministry of Interior.

Previously, some university officials in Iran have denied any politically motivated dismissals of professors. For instance, Mohammad Moghimi, the head of the University of Tehran, has repeatedly dismissed the notion that professors at his institution have been expelled for political reasons, stating he is ready to debate with any professor who claims to have been dismissed on political grounds.

Moghimi asserted, “There has not been a single case of political dismissal at the University of Tehran, as dismissal carries a specific meaning. This implies that a professor’s formal employment contract with the university was unilaterally terminated for various reasons, which has not happened in the past 2.5 years. Instead, some professors were let go for reasons such as ‘ethical issues,’ ‘no longer needed by the department,’ or ‘low student evaluation scores.'”

In the early months of Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency, following the dismissal of several university professors, some Iranian newspapers referred to this wave of firings as a new “cultural revolution,” reminiscent of actions taken under the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which included the forced retirement of professors and the retirement of a group of seasoned professors.

Iranian Football Federation Enacts Unique Ruling: Matches to Host Only Female Spectators Amid Gender Discrimination Controversy

The Iranian Football Federation’s Disciplinary Committee has issued a landmark decision to host the upcoming home and away games between Persepolis and Sepahan exclusively with female spectators in Tehran and Isfahan. This unusual ruling comes in response to sexist insults hurled by some Sepahan fans at female Persepolis supporters during their match. Additionally, each club has been fined 200 million tomans due to fans using flares and offensive language.

This ruling, unique in the history of the federation’s disciplinary actions, aligns with other recent gender-specific decisions in Iranian sports. For instance, recent matches in Mazandaran Province were conducted without female fans, reflecting ongoing controversies regarding the restriction and presence of women at football games.

Following the disturbances at a Persepolis-Sepahan game, Keiomars Hashemi, Iran’s Minister of Sports and Youth, emphasized in a letter to the football federation that allowing women in stadiums is contingent upon improving infrastructure and the sporting environment. Critics claim the federation’s decision continues a distorted form of the Islamic Republic’s long-standing discriminatory practices. They argue that the ruling effectively makes women instruments in penalizing the clubs, a notion that subtly demeans their presence. Conversely, supporters of the decision applaud it as a corrective measure, exposing men to the discrimination that women have faced for over four decades under the regime.

More conservative elements within Iran, represented by media outlets like Kayhan and Javan—linked to the Supreme Leader’s office and the Revolutionary Guards respectively—have called for reinstating the ban on women in stadiums. The decision has sparked a broader debate on gender discrimination in Iranian football, underscored by the FIFA constitution, which strictly prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Critics of the federation’s ruling have argued that it not only contravenes FIFA’s statutes by using gender as a basis for punishment but also trivializes the broader issue of respect for women in society.

While some local media praised the decision as a bold and respectful gesture towards women’s status in Islamic society, others view it as a mere political maneuver, positioning the federation as a champion of women’s rights without genuinely addressing systemic gender biases.

Another Detainee From the 2022 Protests Sentenced to Death

In a poignant video release, Maryam Mehrabi – the sister of Mahmoud Mehrabi, a political prisoner in Iran facing the death penalty – shed light on the grave circumstances surrounding her brother’s conviction. According to Maryam, Mehrabi was sentenced to death for his online activism, which she claims was harmless. She expressed that the judge justified the execution on the basis of seeing no remorse in Mehrabi’s demeanor.

Mahmoud Mehrabi has been detained for over a year and reportedly subjected to torture. His sister describes him as a digital activist deeply involved in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, advocating for causes like those of Kian Pirfalak and Mahsa Amini.

Legal advocate Babak Farsani announced on May 6 that the Isfahan Revolutionary Court convicted Mehrabi of “corruption on earth,” a charge that carries the death sentence. Farsani’s disclosure on X highlights the severe penalties faced by protestors in Iran, particularly those involved in the recent unrest in Isfahan.

Details provided by Farsani reveal that Mehrabi was one of the many detained during the widespread “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, initially apprehended by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence forces on February 1, 2023. Since his arrest, Mehrabi has been held in Isfahan’s Central Prison.

The charges against Mehrabi, as released last year by the Mobarakeh Revolutionary and Public Prosecutor’s Office, include spreading misinformation on Instagram, propaganda against the state, inciting disobedience among military and police forces, provoking public unrest, and insulting foundational figures of the Islamic Republic.

Further complicating his case, an audio file leaked last summer featured Mehrabi stating that after 170 days in jail, his temporary detention was extended. He revealed enduring solitary confinement and torture for four months.

Mehrabi’s efforts to challenge the allegations through judicial queries have reportedly been ignored. His family has contended with years of legal troubles, asserting that since 2017, authorities have fabricated charges against him to suppress his activism.

In response to public and international outcry over Mehrabi’s situation, Mizan News Agency, associated with Iran’s judiciary, confirmed that his initial death sentence can be appealed to the Supreme Court. The agency noted that Mehrabi faced multiple indictments related to his alleged encouragement of violence and disrespect of authorities during the 2022 protests.

The Mashregh News website, which is close to security institutions, also reported:”According to investigations and evidence in the file, this individual has published content during the 2022 disturbances on social media, including instructions on making homemade weapons, calls for the destruction of public property, incitement of war and slaughter, and insults to sacred values. Furthermore, the accused has 52 private plaintiffs who have filed complaints against him for spreading lies. The court session to address Mehrabi’s charges was held in the presence of his two lawyers.The initial court verdict is appealable in the Supreme Court.”

Despite the judiciary’s stance that Mehrabi’s trial, which involved two of his lawyers, was fair, the broader implications of his case reflect ongoing tensions within Iran over the rights to free expression and judicial fairness, particularly in the wake of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests.

Controversy Surrounds Tehran Municipality’s Electric Vehicle Deal with China Amid Transparency Concerns

Recent revelations about Tehran Municipality’s contract for purchasing electric buses and taxis from China have stirred controversy, initially brought to light by Yashar Soltani’s publication of related documents on the matter. The City Council session on May 7, presided over by Mehdi Chamran, was marked by outbursts and the physical exit of seven council members following disputes over remarks made concerning the deal.

Chamran defended the confidentiality of the contracts, citing security concerns, a point of contention given the contract’s signing a month prior to the council’s approval of a non-competitive bidding procedure. This lack of transparency has drawn criticism from several council members who argue that the council should have been informed.

Mohammad Aghamiri, head of the Civil Committee of Tehran’s Islamic City Council, clarified that council members had access to the contract details, which also involved oversight from several national ministries due to partial government funding. In contrast, council member Jafar Tashakori Hashemi expressed his inability to review the contract, criticizing the municipality’s handling as potentially unlawful. “They claim to have provided the contract with the Chinese, but nothing has been shown,” he stated to Entekhab.

The contract itself involves Poly Changda Engineering Overseas, a subsidiary of the state-owned Chinese conglomerate Poly Group, which operates across various sectors including defense and international trade. The agreement, valued at 1.67 billion euros, stipulates the delivery of 2,500 electric buses, 10,000 vans, and 27,500 taxis. Critics have pointed out that the total value of the units falls 252 million euros short of the contract’s total, with additional discounts applicable for large-scale purchases.

Furthermore, the contract lacks provisions for after-sales services, requiring Tehran to appoint an intermediary in the United Arab Emirates, a strategy seen as necessary for circumventing international sanctions. Lotfollah Forouzandeh, Tehran’s Deputy Mayor for Financial and Economic Affairs, praised the agreement. “The contract with China is clear and a source of pride. These purchases were made using blocked funds that we managed to access,” he remarked.

This deal has sparked debate among observers about its cost-effectiveness compared to local production values. The controversy extends beyond financial aspects, highlighting issues of transparency and governance in public contracts. Critics argue that this contract reflects a broader disregard for local industry, exacerbating tensions with domestic manufacturers.

The Labor News Agency (ILNA) criticized the municipality’s approach as demeaning to local production and workers, urging the government to settle its debts with producers first. Mojtaba Hajizadeh, head of Iran’s Auto Workers’ Union, also weighed in, indicating that the concerns of domestic labor are often overlooked by those benefiting from such large-scale international deals.

The unfolding debate around Tehran’s contract with China underscores ongoing concerns about financial corruption and the execution of justice in Iran, painting a complex picture of the challenges facing public administration and economic policy in the country.

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