May 8, 2020

Health Ministry Says Covid-19 Cases Increasing

Week of May 4th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

Health Ministry Says Covid-19 Cases Increasing

Health Ministry Spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases was again increasing. He reiterated that Iranians should practice strict social distancing.

As of May 6th, Iran has had 101,650 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 6,418 deaths. Roughly 81,000 have recovered from the disease and 2,735 are currently in intensive care. The country has carried out 531,000 Covid-19 tests.

Iran has eased its Covid-19 lockdown in recent weeks, allowing many businesses to reopen and travel to restart within provinces. This has raised fears that Iran will be hit with a second wave of infections. According to the Health Ministry, Covid-19 infections are now increasing again in 15 provinces.

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Rouhani Discusses Arms Embargo, Potential UN Sanctions Snapback

President Rouhani said that Iran “will not accept any violation” of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani derided the Trump administration’s aim to renew a conventional arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October in accordance with UNSCR 2231. He also warned against any U.S. attempt to reinstate UN sanctions against Iran.

Rouhani added that the end of the arms embargo was an “integral” part of the JCPOA. He said if the arms sanctions would be renewed in “any way” or through “any mechanism,” Iran’s response will be what he mentioned in the “last paragraph” in a letter to the heads of the P4+1 countries (the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany). He did not elaborate other than saying this would be a “historic defeat” for the United States.

Rouhani stated regarding the end of the conventional arms embargo: “Iran’s legitimate right is that it will soon no longer be under weapons sanctions in accordance to Resolution 2231. If we produce or buy any weapons, it will be to defend our nation. Our weapons do not add fuel to the fire but rather are water poured on the fire. We won’t allow a war to start.”

Rouhani discussed the importance of Iran getting out of UN sanctions with the JCPOA. He said that Trump left the JCPOA on May 8, 2018 under the “pressure of American hardliners, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and due to his stubbornness in relation to the previous [U.S.] president.”

Rouhani said that Trump and his advisers believed Iran would leave the JCPOA in response and that UN sanctions could easily be reimposed. Rouhani stated: “Their thinking was that when they exited the deal, Iran would immediately also leave and that then they could then send Iran’s file to the United Nations Security Council and that we would then lose everything we had gained [i.e. UNSC sanctions would be reimposed].

Rouhani added: “This troubled dream of Trump was not realized due to the system’s prudence.”

Rouhani then said that “the Americans got very angry” because Iran did not leave the JCPOA. Rouhani said that all of Trump’s advisors had told him that Iran would exit the deal.

Rouhani proclaimed that the Trump administration’s policies against Iran had failed: “In these two years, America has not been successful in any of the paths it has taken. It tried to bring Europe to its position but was not successful. It tried to have a new deal written which was not successful. It tried to arrange a meeting in the United Nations about Iran chaired by Trump himself but was not successful.”

Rouhani said that the US cannot trigger the “snapback” of UN sanctions because the JCPOA “does not exist for them and is finished for them.” He said the U.S. would only be back as a part of the JCPOA if “they ask, all the other members of the deal accept, all the violations are compensated for, and all the sanctions are removed.”

Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, also discussed the arms embargo issue in an interview with an Iranian outlet. Ravanchi said that the US “knows” that the UNSC members will not approve a new arms embargo against Iran, and thus they are pushing for the “scenario” of snapback.

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Parliament Passes Bill Curtailing Guardian Council Oversight

The outgoing Iranian parliament has passed a bill that reforms Iran’s “Election Law.” The bill limits the Guardian Council’s ability to disqualify candidates seeking political office.

The Guardian Council is an oversight body that vets candidates running for political office and legislation passed by the parliament. It consists of six clerics appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei and six jurists approved by parliament.

In last February’s parliamentary election, the Guardian Council disqualified over 100 incumbent MPs. The Council has for years disqualified reform-minded and independent candidates not affiliated with the ruling political system.

The new parliamentary bill would make it more difficult for the Guardian Council to disqualify candidates. Previously, the Guardian Council disqualified candidates based on their subjectively determined view that they did not believe in Islam or the Islamic Republic’s constitution. Now this bill says that only if someone professes a disbelief in Islam or if a court proves financial corruption or amorality that denotes a disbelief in Islam, can a candidate be disqualified.

The bill also removes the IRGC as an institution that should help vet political candidates. The institutions the bill designates for this are the intelligence ministry, the attorney general’s office, the national organization for civil registration, and the police.

However, Ahmad Jannati, the current secretary of the Guardian Council, has already lashed out at the parliamentary bill. He said the aim of the bill was to “make useless” the process of determining the “qualification of candidates.”

Jannati said he hopes that the next parliament, which is dominated by conservatives aligned with him, will take up this issue. Jannati’s opposition eliminates any possibility that the current parliamentary bill will be approved by the Guardian Council and made law.

After the last round of Guardian Council disqualifications, President Rouhani had stated: “The biggest danger for democracy and a national government will be on the day that elections become ceremonies.”

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Parliamentary Bill Changes Currency, Drops Zeros

The parliament passed a bill to change the Iranian currency and eliminate four zeros. The bill will still need to be approved by the Guardian Council to be implemented.

If adopted, the Iranian currency will be changed from the Rial to the Toman and four zeros will be dropped from it. The toman is already informally used inside Iran to refer to the currency, with one toman currently equivalent to 10 rials.

The new bill will make 10,000 rials equivalent to one toman. At the current exchange rate, one U.S. dollar is equivalent to 150,000 rials. If the new bill is implemented, one dollar would be equivalent to 15 tomans.

Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati has said the change will take “two to five years” to implement. It will involve printing the new currency and collecting the old rials.

The Rouhani administration has supported the bill. The administration said the aim is to end issues such as “the high volume of currency in circulation, using large numbers in daily transactions, ending the use of coins in economic transactions, the weakened appearance of Iran’s currency in comparison to other currencies, and the depreciation of bank notes.”

President Rouhani has said that it is unlikely the change will impact “economic growth or inflation.” He said the benefit will be in “bookkeeping and making the national currency more beautiful in comparison to other currencies.”

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Analyst Examines Improving Iran-UAE Ties

Iranian geopolitical analyst Mahsa Mojdehi argues that Iran’s ties with the UAE are improving. Writing for the Khabar Online outlet, Mojdehi said both countries were “cautiously” ready to improve relations with one another.

Mojdehi says that there have been signs that Iran-UAE relations have been improving since last summer. She says this includes assistance the UAE has given Iran in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and recent telephone calls between Iranian and Emirati officials.

Mojdehi asserts that de facto Emirati ruler Mohammad bin Zayed wishes to reconfigure UAE foreign policy. She says MBZ wants to take the country in the direction of being a “trustworthy and not troublesome Middle Eastern power.”

She states that an Emirati delegation’s trip to Tehran in July of last year was significant. She said this trip facilitated negotiations on “illegal crossings of people” and “faster communication and transfer of information between the two countries.”

She added about the trip: “It was evident that the region was in a new phase and new groupings.”

Mojdehi says that after this trip, the UAE announced that it would be withdrawing some of its troops from Yemen. In response, the Houthis said they would no longer target Emirati forces.

Mojdehi also says that the UAE has offered to help Iran with its “financial and banking issues.” She cites an Arabic paper saying that the UAE has been helping Iran export oil.

Mojdehi says that Emirati foreign policy is decided by consensus among the seven emirates that comprise the UAE. She says that the rulers of Dubai and Sharjah seek better relations with Iran and that this is one reason why the UAE’s approach to Iran is changing.

She also says that “MBZ and his son” are getting more distant from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. She says that they view MBS as only prioritizing ties with the United States and not caring about “support from Arab powers.” She states that MBS has also increased the “sense of insecurity” of other Arab countries.

Mojdehi adds that the coronavirus crisis has catalyzed an improvement of Iran-Emirati ties. She says the UAE was one of the first countries to send Iran aid.

Recently, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said there is “more reason and logic” to the Iran-UAE relationship amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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