June 14, 2024

Who Will Be Iran’s Next President? Pezeshkian, Ghalibaf, or Jalili? Iranian Journalists Exposing Ghalibaf Corruption Arrested, Delay in Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement Between Iran and Russia, and More

Week of June 10, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Who Will Be Iran’s Next President? Pezeshkian, Ghalibaf, or Jalili?

The Guardian Council’s recent announcement of qualified presidential candidates has clarified the election dynamics among Iran’s political factions. Reformists have united behind Masoud Pezeshkian, the only candidate from their camp to gain approval, after other potential nominees were disqualified. Pezeshkian, a respected academic and former Minister of Health under Mohammad Khatami’s administration, is seen by some as a beacon of integrity and reform. Mohammad Khatami, the former president and leading figure among reformists, has declared his strong support for Pezeshkian’s candidacy.

In contrast, the conservative faction remains divided, unable to consolidate support around a single candidate. The landscape is currently split between traditional party conservatives, Ghalibaf supporters, the Stability Front, and new conservatives, with no clear consensus on who is most favored to represent the faction. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili are considered to have some potential, but neither commands enough broad-based support to be seen as a definitive conservative leader.

Neither of these candidates is likely to achieve the same level of support within the conservative faction as Raisi did in the previous election. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, along with his wife and children, face various credible accusations of corruption, previously exposed by a whistleblower (see below). They also have significant disagreements with other sectors of the government, evidenced by Ghalibaf’s fourth-place finish in the parliamentary elections among conservative candidates. Additionally, candidates supported by Saeed Jalili also suffered a significant defeat in the internal elections for the parliamentary presidency, indicating a lack of trust in them among conservatives.

Amidst these developments, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Secretary-General of the Islamic Society of Engineers, has endorsed Ghalibaf for the presidency. The endorsement came during a strategic gathering of the society’s central council and provincial secretaries, which also served as a platform to discuss the broader political climate and election strategies.

Saeed Leylaz, a well-known political analyst, commented on the significance of Pezeshkian’s candidacy, “In my opinion, the Islamic Republic of Iran has taken a great step by approving the qualification of Masoud Pezeshkian. The assumption of the government is that he may become president, and they are ready for this possibility.”

With the elections fast-approaching, the Electoral Commission has prepared for a global Iranian turnout by setting up 250 voting locations worldwide. Mohsen Islami, a spokesperson for the commission, confirmed that details about the voting procedures and locations would be communicated through Iranian embassies.

However, calls for an election boycott are intensifying on social media, prompting Iran’s Press Supervisory Board to categorize such content as criminal. Concerns about transparency and potential widespread fraud are echoed by external media sources, underscoring the contentious atmosphere surrounding the elections scheduled for June 28.

Recent polls from the Iranian Students Opinion Polling Agency (ISPA) reveal mixed sentiment among the electorate: 44.4% are certain to vote, while 28.7% intend to abstain. The survey also indicates that 39.5% of respondents are optimistic about improvements under a new administration, although many remain undecided or indifferent about the impact of the upcoming election.

Iranian Journalists Exposing Ghalibaf Corruption Arrested

The Iranian judiciary has confirmed the imprisonment of journalists Yashar Soltani and Saba Azarpeik for various charges related to their journalistic activities. The arrests were announced amidst the confirmation of six candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

According to the Mizan News Agency, which is linked to the judiciary, Soltani faces allegations from 17 different plaintiffs. He is accused of creating eleven instances of public disturbance through the dissemination of false information and has been sentenced to one year and two months in prison. Saba Azarpeik has been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine for five instances of misinformation and an additional one year for charges of threatening public safety. She has already commenced her prison sentence.

These arrests have sparked commentary on social media and have been criticized by some Iranian political and media figures, who suggest that the detentions are politically motivated given that the majority of their content reported on Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, current presidential candidate, as well as Kazem Sedighi, Tehran’s Imam Juma.

Yashar Soltani has been historically vocal in revealing alleged corruption involving these two high-profile figures. He also recently brought to light a questionable deal involving current Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani concerning the procurement of electric buses from China.

HRANA reports that Azarpeik, convicted of five counts of spreading misinformation, must also issue public apologies through official newspapers to regain her reputation, along with paying a monetary penalty. Her alleged victims include members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and representatives from Tehran and Isfahan.

After an appeals process, Soltani’s final sentence was confirmed, penalizing his efforts to expose economic corruption among the Republic’s officials, including a land fraud case linked to Sedighi. He will serve a total of one year and two months in prison.

Delay in Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement Between Iran and Russia

The development of the comprehensive cooperation agreement between Iran and Russia is reportedly facing delays. Hours after Russian state media reported its suspension, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, stated that Moscow and Tehran will still continue to pursue the bilateral comprehensive cooperation agreement, although “the timing of some events may change,” reiterating that “Russia intends to expand its relations with Iran.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also mentioned that Iran and Russia could sign the comprehensive agreement after Tehran resolves “some administrative issues.”

Iran’s official news agency (IRNA) had also refuted reports of the suspension of comprehensive cooperation. Kazem Jalali, Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, denied the reports as well, stating that “Our effort has been and continues to be to have this signed by the officials of the two countries in 2024.” 

Russian state agency RIA Novosti had quoted Zamir Kabulov earlier – a senior Russian foreign ministry official and Vladimir Putin’s special representative to Afghanistan – who stated that the comprehensive cooperation between Iran and Russia was temporarily suspended due to “problems that the Iranian partners have,” but clarified that the suspension was “not related to recent events and is a strategic decision by the leaders of the two countries.”

This announcement was met with immediate reactions from senior officials in Iran and Russia, partly because of speculation that the reported suspension might relate to the recent deaths of Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amirabdollahian in a helicopter crash on May 19, 2024.

This news comes at a time when military cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Russia’s attack on Ukraine began in February 2022. These closer ties also notably align with Supreme Leader Khamenei’s “Look East” foreign policy strategy, which emphasizes the prioritization of Eastern relations in order to create advantage and opportunity, as opposed to over-inclination toward the West.

The agreement was initially announced in September 2022 during a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan. In January of this year, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the new treaty between the two governments signifies an “unprecedented increase” in Russia-Iran relations. According to the report, the agreement was “in its final stages” at the time.

In recent years, Iran has fostered closer ties with Russia and China by joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as BRICS. Iran has also signed a 25-year comprehensive agreement with China. The budding relationships here have raised concern, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning this past April of the “alliance of authoritarian regimes” between Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea posing a threat to Western democracies.

Iran, Russia, and China have frequently criticized the “unilateral global order” of the United States and the sanctions imposed by Western countries, while simultaneously expanding their political, economic, and military relationships.

French National Released from Iranian Detention Arrives in Paris

On Thursday, June 13, Louis Arnaud, one of four French citizens detained in Iran, returned to France, landing at Le Bourget Airport near Paris. His release was facilitated through mediation by Oman and announced by French President Emmanuel Macron. Arnaud had been incarcerated since October 2022 under a five-year prison sentence. 

French television captured the moment Arnaud disembarked from the aircraft, greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Ségur and his parents in an emotional reunion. Minister Ségur noted ongoing diplomatic initiatives to secure the release of three other French detainees and welcomed Arnaud back, condemning his arbitrary detention in Iran. Currently, Cécile Kohler, Jacques Paris, and another French citizen known only as “Olivier” remain in Iranian custody.

President Macron, in a statement on social media platform X, expressed gratitude towards Oman for its role in securing Arnaud’s release and reiterated his call for Iran to release the remaining French detainees without delay.

Arnaud was originally arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran during widespread protests in 2022. He was subsequently convicted of participating in anti-government demonstrations, charges his parents claim are entirely unfounded. Throughout his detention, he was held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

A French diplomatic source revealed that Arnaud was released from prison early Wednesday June 12, received a health check, and then traveled to Oman before flying to France.

Before his incarceration, the 35-year-old financial consultant was an avid traveler, exploring various cultures with just a backpack. His journey took him through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia before reaching Iran. The French government has staunchly defended Arnaud, describing his conviction as “baseless” and criticizing the lack of legal representation during his trial.

This case highlights the broader tensions between Iran and France, particularly concerning the detention of foreign nationals. In May 2021, Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris – the remaining French detainees – were arrested during Labor Day events in Iran, with authorities later accusing them of conspiring against the Islamic regime. Their televised confessions have been dismissed by France as coerced and were also denounced internationally.

The ongoing detainment of French nationals in Iran continues to strain diplomatic relations, as calls for their release grow louder both within France and across the global community.

Iran Increases Uranium Enrichment Capacity in Response to IAEA Resolution

Iran has been expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities at two underground facilities, responding to a recent resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors, according to diplomats cited by Reuters. Despite these developments, the extent of the enrichment is reportedly not as alarming as initially feared.

The diplomatic sources, who requested anonymity, revealed to Reuters that Iran’s move comes after a prior IAEA resolution one and a half years ago, which saw Iran enrich uranium up to 60% purity—a level close to what is required for nuclear weapons development.

This expansion involves the installation of additional centrifuge cascades at one underground site. The IAEA released its most recent confidential report on Thursday, June 13, detailing Iran’s current activity at present, which reportedly confirms Iran’s progression at one of its underground sites.

During the IAEA’s latest quarterly meeting on June 5, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution drafted by the UK, France, and Germany concerning Iran’s nuclear activities. Out of 35 council members, 20 voted in favor, 12 abstained, and two—China and Russia—voted against the resolution.

The resolution calls on Iran to promptly cooperate with IAEA inspectors and to resolve any ambiguities about its nuclear program. It also urges Iran to allow access to expert IAEA inspectors, which Tehran had previously restricted.

Reacting strongly to the resolution, Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the measure as “a political and counterproductive action” and criticized it as part of “ongoing failed policies by some Western countries to use international mechanisms for political gain against sovereign states.”

Nevertheless, the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated that Iran remains committed to its technical cooperation with the IAEA, in line with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Safeguards Agreement, asserting its dedication to fulfilling international commitments despite the contentious political backdrop.

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