Week of November 5, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Officials Stress Iran will Withstand U.S. Sanctions
- Prominent Artists and Activists Launch Campaign Against Sanctions
- European “Special Purpose Vehicle” Payments System Expected Soon
- Senior Parliamentary Official Leaves Door Open for U.S.-Iran Negotiations
- Iran Offers Comprehensive Cooperation over Denmark Assassination Accusation
- Communications Minister Says Iran Repels Israeli Cyber Attack
- Rouhani Administration Introduces Citizenship bill for Children Born to Iranian Mothers but Foreign Fathers
Iranian officials uniformly lambasted the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sectors. Figures from across the political spectrum generally described the sanctions as painful but emphasized that Iran would ride them out. A common thread in reactions was that the unilateral sanctions were isolating the U.S. and international efforts such as the yet-to-be implemented European “special purpose vehicle” would bear fruit for facilitating continued Iranian trade with the world.
However, one official, the head of the parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, delivered remarks on the importance of keeping the diplomatic option open towards the United States. Meanwhile, prominent Iranian artists and civil society activists, including celebrated filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, launched a petition and campaign against the sanctions. Iran’s communication minister also announced that the country had repelled an attempted Israeli cyber attack on its communications infrastructure, while the Rouhani administration introduced a bill to go to parliament on granting Iranian citizenship to children born to Iranian mothers but foreign fathers.
Iranian Responses to U.S. Sanctions
On November 5th, the day U.S. sanctions were reinstated, President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech at Iran’s economy ministry. In his remarks, he stated that the Islamic Republic would defeat U.S. sanctions “with pride.” He added: “In history we have no example of Iran being on one side and having international institutions and global powers and different countries on its side, and America being on the other side with just a few countries.”
Iran’s newly appointed economy minister Farhad Dejpasand also said of reinstated U.S. sanctions: “The situation of the country is very sensitive, but we have enough tools to overcome these conditions.”
On November 6th, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi discussed the U.S. sanctions and Iran’s foreign relations in a far-reaching television interview. Araghchi stated that the Trump administration had not only failed to get the international community on board with its pressure campaign but was deepening the divide between America and its traditional allies. “America tried to make the international community cooperate with it but the international community resisted. The current U.S. administration has achieved a political and moral defeat for itself,” he proclaimed.
Araghchi added: “The Europeans say it isn’t only about Iran but a matter of preserving their own political and economic independence against America. Everyone is concerned and worried about the dominance of America’s financial and economic system.”
Araghchi stated that the sanctions were weakening America’s economic power and were a sign of U.S. decline. “Trump with his overuse of the sanctions tool and imposing his demands is weakening America’s power. This is because countries are now trying to remove themselves from the dominance of U.S. sanctions,” he asserted. “We believe that America’s political, economic, and military powers is on a downhill trajectory and Trump is accelerating this. The experiences of Afghanistan, Iraq, West Asia, and now Syria show that America’s military, economic, and political policies are declining.”
Araghchi rebuked the Trump administration’s overall Iran policy and contended that the White House would eventually change its approach towards Iran. He stated: “I have no doubt that Trump will repeat the experience of Obama and will ultimately reach the conclusion that he must talk to the Iranian people with a language of reverence, not of threats of sanctions.”
He said of the Trump administration’s Iran policy: “There are people in Trump’s team who live in the delusion of regime change and Iran’s collapse … Trump perceives that Iran like some other countries will concede to pressure and will sit at another negotiating table for another deal. This is the peak of simplicity and false hope.
He added: “With our policies, we will be able to overcome the sanctions. We made the necessary predictions regarding these sanctions. The oil and banking sanctions are the main sanctions of America, which we experienced before but carried on despite them. But now our position is far better because Europe, China, and Russia are supporting Iran.”
Araghchi went on to express certainty that Europe’s “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran would be implemented. He stated: “This is a complex system. We expected it to be completed sooner, but it is now in its final stages … It might be that it will take some more time before this system is implemented, but I am sure it will be implemented.”
He then discussed on-going negotiations between Iran and the “P4+1” remaining signatories to the nuclear deal. He mentioned a then-upcoming meeting of technical experts on November 7th, stating: ” In this meeting, technical experts from legal, energy and other backgrounds from all the [P4+1] countries will be present.”
Araghchi also discussed a civil nuclear cooperation meeting between Iran and Europe planned for the end of November: “Holding this conference in these circumstances at a technical and political level is very important and sends a strong message to the Americans. In this meeting, Mr Salehi [Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] will participate alongside European officials.”
On November 5th, during his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi also discussed European efforts to create the SPV. Ghassemi stated that the SPV would be implemented, but that it would take more time: “This new mechanism dealing with monetary and financial areas is complex and takes time … I think if we are a little patient, very soon the entirety of the SPV will be announced and become clear. I hope that in a very short time we can get to its implementation.”
Ghassemi said on reinstated U.S. sanctions: “Americans, especially the current White House, are used to sanctions and have become addicted to them. We view this kind of step by the U.S. as a kind of self-sanctioning.”
On November 8th, Rasoul Sanaei-Rad, the political head of the “political ideology office of the commander-in-chief [Ayatollah Khamenei],” issued a statement in response to reinstated U.S. sanctions. Specifically, Sanaei-Rad reacted to comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a November 2nd press briefing on Iran sanctions, in which they partly discussed changing the regional “behavior” of Iranian leaders, including Qassem Soleimani—the head of the “Qods Force” foreign operations arm of the Revolutionary Guards.
Sanaei-Rad stated: “The victories of the resistance axis in Iraq and Syria under the stewardship of Qassem Soleimani defeated all of America’s plans for the region. It has resulted in them targeting our dear commander of Islam [Soleimani] with slander, lies, and fury.”
Sanei-Rad stressed that American setbacks in the region were not due to Iran, but to miscalculations by U.S. officials. “The Americans view Iran as the reason for their defeats [in the region], when in reality they should analyze their own role in their defeats. Their defeats are due to the imprudence of White House officials and inattention to regional developments.”
He added: “The Islamic Awakening [Arab Spring] and the creation of the resistance axis resulted in the people of the region no longer accepting American regional dominance. However, it is the incorrect strategies of the Americans that has inflicted numerous defeats on them.” He went on: “White House officials are stuck in a futile cycle and instead of changing their behavior and learning the lessons of their past failures, they are repeating their mistakes and day-by-day exacerbating their losses.”
On November 5th, Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati issued a response to reinstated U.S. sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank and reports that SWIFT—the international financial messaging system—would be cutting off some Iranian banks. “The reinstated sanctions were already predicted by the Central Bank and there has been planning for every situation, even for the scenario of sanctions beyond this,” he stated. “The necessary negotiations with countries that are our trade partners have been carried out and the method of how we will engage them has been coordinated.”
Hemmati stated that after months of volatility, the Iranian economy and currency market had been stabilized ahead of reinstated U.S. sanctions: “The necessary steps to precisely fine-tune the supply and use of currency has been taken and the situation of the country has been elevated to an optimal level—which we see in the stability that has characterized the currency and money market recently.”
On November 6th, Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri delivered an address at a ceremony initiating several newly appointed ministers in the Rouhani administration, where he commented on reinstated U.S. sanctions. Jahangiri stated: “The latest show from Trump and his colleagues was brought on the stage yesterday. In these circumstances, how we manage the country is important. The issues and decision-making in managing the country have to be meticulous.”
Jahangiri struck a more concerned tone and stressed the importance of the Iranian government working with the Iranian people to overcome sanctions. He declared: “What is vital is that we speak sincerely with the people. Because the people are the main owners of the country and the revolution and overcoming the difficult conditions ahead is not possible without the people’s cooperation.” He added: “But this isn’t [meant] to spread problems that may cause [people to] worry. Were it is not necessary, we shouldn’t worry the people. We must keep our worries to ourselves, but no other issue should be kept from the people.”
Jahangiri added: “The people must see that officials are sincerely endeavoring to overcome problems. If people see this, they will enter the arena and will not hesitate to make every help and sacrifice. We saw with our own eyes the sacrifices the people made during the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War].”
Jahangiri also said of the Rouhani administration’s shifting economic policy towards greater state intervention: “In these conditions, the administration is forced to change some of its policies, policies on government control in the currency market, exports, and imports.”
On November 8th, prominent Iranian artists and civil society activists launched a campaign against the reinstated U.S. sanctions, stressing that the Iranian people would be paying the biggest price. The signatories, which included celebrated filmmakers such as Asghar Farhadi, proclaimed: “Once again, the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran. Such measures have never brought to the people of Iran what politicians proclaim they will: human rights, freedom, and a better life. Every Iranian will personally pay the price for these sanctions.”
Potential for U.S.-Iran Negotiations?
On November 3rd, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, held a press conference before domestic and international media. In his remarks, Falahatpisheh touched on a wide range of topics, including prospects for U.S.-Iran negotiations and European efforts to keep Iran in the nuclear deal.
Falahatpisheh, who weeks ago stood out among Iranian officials for comments that there was “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America,” again touched on the potential for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. He declared: “America is not Trump. Even though this view has serious opponents, I believe we shouldn’t close all channels of negotiations with America if negotiations exist in different domains. We must create the right conditions. Especially given that there is serious opposition to the Trump administration.”
Falahatpisheh explained more, stating that negotiations could occur at different official or unofficial levels and that Iran could pursue any of these. He proclaimed: “Negotiations occur in different domains, such as intelligence, security, economics, political, and official diplomacy. Negotiations can even occur at the level of elites or secret negotiations can occur. The Islamic Republic of Iran has experience with all these types of negotiations in its history. If the country reaches the conclusion that negotiations will secure its interests, this step will be taken, even with respect to America.”
However, Falahatpisheh also stated that Trump’s current approach negated the potential for negotiations: “With Trump and [his] current policies, negotiations between Iran and America don’t make sense. The new American administration has chosen policies that explicitly challenged the trajectory of respectful diplomacy that had formed [previously].”
Falahatpisheh stressed repeatedly in his remarks that negotiations with the U.S. were no longer taboo for Iran. “Negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and America are not taboo. During the JCPOA era, Iran’s foreign minister at the level of the foreign ministry had permission to negotiate with the American side.”
He added that Iranian foreign policy was flexible: “Iran has reached a level of maturity in which there is no taboo in its foreign policy and any second we desire, we can enter a new foreign policy space. But in current circumstances, there is no strategy for negotiations with America.”
Falahatpisheh emphasized that Iran’s regional influence and missile program were non-negotiable: “Trump’s expectation is that Iran will give up two core features that provide for its strength: its [regional] strategic depth and missile strength. We are not a country like Iraq, to be besieged within our borders. We have a regional role and can take actions throughout the region and hold influence. Under no circumstances can they take these capabilities from us.”
Falahatpisheh then stated on Iran’s relations with Europe: “Iran’s relations with Europe at a political level have never been this good. This is a score. The Europeans know that if it wasn’t for Iran, ISIS would have reached the borders of Europe. Iran has also given 2,600 martyrs in combating smuggling into Europe.”
Falahatpisheh stated on Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA: “On multiple occasions our country’s officials have announced our position in this regard. Our commitment to the JCPOA depends on it securing our national interests. As long as it secures our national interests, we will remain in the deal.”
Falahatpisheh stated the European SPV might not be implemented until early 2019: “The implementation of the European plan might be delayed until the beginning of next year . We are looking at European help, but our look is not strategic. So if this help is not implemented, we won’t be shook in any serious way.”
Other Foreign Policy Developments: Denmark Accusation Fallout, Cyber Attack
On November 5th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had separate phone calls with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and Norway, discussing bilateral relations and the status of the nuclear deal. According to ISNA, the British foreign minister stressed the commitment of his country and other JCPOA signatories to the deal and emphasized the need to urgently implement Europe’s SPV to facilitate economic relations with Iran. The Norwegian foreign minister also declared his country’s support for the JCPOA’s implementation and stressed the need for increased bilateral cooperation between Iran and Norway.
Zarif and the Norwegian foreign minister also discussed the Denmark assassination plot accusation [covered in last week’s Iran Unfiltered], with Zarif promising Iran’s full cooperation on the case. Fararu states: “The claim of Denmark’s police regarding a Norwegian-Iranian citizen was another topic of conversation between the Norwegian foreign minister and Mohammad Javad Zarif, on which the Iranian foreign minister stressed the need to shed light on all dimensions of the issue and emphasized that Iran will cooperate in a comprehensive manner with European governments to clarify the facts.”
On November 4th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi said in his weekly press conference that the Swedish and Norwegian ambassadors to Iran, as well as Denmark’s charge d’affaires, were invited to the Iranian foreign ministry for a meeting.
Fararu wrote that the Iranian representatives raised the issue of Iranian separatists given refugee in these countries, some of whom publicly endorsed the August Ahvaz terrorist attack: “During this meeting, the Iranian foreign minister’s special assistant and the head of the Iranian foreign ministry’s office for European affairs explained Iran’s positions on the August terrorist attack in Ahvaz and dismissed the accusations of the Zionist regime [regarding the alleged Denmark assassination plot]. They also stressed the responsibility of these countries to confront terrorism and that it was unacceptable to give refuge to people who explicitly claim responsibility for the Ahvaz terrorist attack.”
Fararu added regarding Iran’s readiness to cooperate on the Denmark case: “In these meetings, Iran’s representatives declared the readiness of the Islamic Republic to engage in comprehensive and extensive cooperation on security issues with these countries, and to jointly investigate [the alleged Denmark plot] to clarify the facts.”
On November 5th, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, announced that Iran had thwarted an attempted cyber-attack targeting its communications infrastructure. Jahromi blamed the attempted attack on Israel, tweeting: “The regime that has a clear track record of using cyber weapons, such as Stuxnet, now has attempted to damage Iran’s communications infrastructure. But they had to leave empty-handed thanks to the vigilance of our technical teams. We will pursue this hostile move through international tribunals.”
Internal Developments: Detained Environmentalists, Potential Changes to Citizenship Law
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ali Motahari inquired about the case of eight detained environmentalists—four of whom were recently charged with the capital offense of “sowing corruption on Earth”—to Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi at a private meeting of the parliament’s National Security Committee. Motahari specifically inquired about the discrepancy between the intelligence ministry and a four-person task team created by President Rouhani, which found the environmentalists not guilty of espionage, and the on-going espionage case being brought against them by the judiciary.
Morteza Saffari Natanzi, a member of the parliament’s national security committee, said to the reformist newspaper Shargh of the encounter: “Motahari has not stated yet whether he was convinced of Alavi’s answers. If he is unconvinced, he may take his questions to the public parliamentary floor.”
According to Natanzi, the case against the environmentalists has been pursued by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency. Alavi told Motahari that the intelligence ministry was not involved in the case.
On November 4th, after a cabinet-level meeting, the Rouhani administration approved a bill for children born to Iranian mothers but foreign fathers to be given the option of applying for Iranian citizenship. The bill will go to the parliament for approval. Based on the bill, these children can apply for citizenship through their mother until they are 18-years old, and after 18 can themselves apply for Iranian citizenship and receive an Iranian national identification card. In an interview with IRNA, Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s special assistant on citizenship rights issues, stated that she is hopeful that the parliament will pursue “necessary and speedy cooperation” to approve the bill.
On November 5th, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli spoke at a conference on “Passive Defense and Sustainable Development,” where he stressed the importance of alleviating the people’s grievances. He stated: “How can we repay the people for being vigilant and for their sacrifices and patience? We can only do this by providing for their satisfaction and if we cannot do this we will be faced with a fundamental problem and will have to pay the price. Because the state of nature has mercy on no one.”
Rahmani-Fazli also spoke about Islamophobia: “The biggest threat today is the plot to push Islam in a deviant direction and towards a fake Islam which is based on violence and blood-letting. Today, the actors for this plot at the global level are ISIS and terrorist groups like it.”