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February 26, 2021

Protests Erupt in Sistan & Baluchestan after Fuel Carriers Killed

Week of February 22nd, 2021 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Protests Erupt in Sistan & Baluchestan Province after Fuel Carriers Killed

Protests have erupted in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan province after security forces reportedly fired on fuel carriers at the Pakistan border. Sistan and Baluchestan province is one of the poorest regions of Iran and home to Iranian Baluchis, a Sunni ethnic minority. Smuggling fuel across the border to Pakistan is a key economic activity for some in this part of Iran.

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), at least two were killed and two more injured after IRGC forces fired on a group of fuel carriers in the border city of Saravan. HRANA stated: “The previous day, border guards blocked the route used by fuel carriers. In protest, they demonstrated at an IRGC base where they were met with gunfire from military forces.”

Mohammad Hadi Marashi, the political-security deputy of Sistan and Baluchestan’s governor, says Pakistani border guards fired at the fuel carriers. Marashi says a large group of fuel carriers were at a border crossing in Saravan and that Pakistani border guards fired at the crowd, which led to one death and four injuries.

According to Euro News, other sources say 10 fuel carriers were killed at the border crossing. After these killings, protests broke out in parts of Sistan and Baluchistan province.

Euro News said of the protests in Saravan: “Videos posted on social media show protestors entering the governor’s office building and other videos show a tense atmosphere and scattered confrontations [between protestors and security forces] in the city of Saravan. Among the images shared on social media on the unrest in Saravan is a police vehicle set on fire.”

HRANA cited the “Baluch Activists Campaign” as saying: “The protest in front of the governor’s office in Saravan became violent after security forces arrived and fired at citizens using pellet guns and tear gas.”

There were also reports of internet disruptions in Sistan and Baluchistan province. Euro News notes that some Iran-based journalists, like Sina Ghanbarpour, say they have had internet communications with contacts in Saravan.

Euro News quoted Ghanbarpour on shop closures in Saravan. Ghanbarpour said “some believe the shops closed because of protests and confrontations between security forces and the fuel carriers and the deaths and injuries of a number of the people [of this city]. Others believe the shops did not open for fear of being damaged.”

Molavi Abdul Hamid, the Sunni Friday Prayer Leader of Zahedan, has issued a statement condemning the kills and calling for calm. Abdul Hamid, who is a popular figure in the region, also condemned the shootings of the fuel carriers as “unlawful and “against religious law.”

Abdul Hamid stated: “Many people in the province have no choice but to buy and sell fuel. Being a fuel carrier is not a crime and is not smuggling. Fuel carriers are the breadwinners of their families. Thousands of families are provided for in this way. However, military and police officials must combat the smuggling of weapons and drugs.”

Abdul Hamid also called for the prosecutions of those who shot at the fuel carriers, stating: “The perpetrators of this painful incident should be tried and punished as soon as possible.”

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Iran Considering Talks with U.S. on a JCPOA Return

Iranian officials are considering an EU proposal for talks on a JCPOA return. The Biden administration has accepted an EU proposal for talks on a JCPOA return that would include Iran and the U.S., UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia (the “P5+1”).

Foreign Minister Zarif said Iran will not agree to an “official” meeting with the United States. Zarif emphasized that the U.S. is “not a part of the JCPOA” but said Iran is “considering” whether to have a “non-official” meeting with the United States.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh also said Iran was considering the proposal for Iran-P5+1 talks. Khatibzadeh stated: “We are considering the proposal from the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs [Josep Borrell] about America being present as a guest during a meeting of the P4+1.”

Khatibzadeh said the U.S. “is not part of the JCPOA for it to want to participate in a meeting of its members.” He added that Iran believes the efforts of Borrell are “within the framework of seeking to preserve the JCPOA.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi also said Iran was considering the EU proposal for Iran-P5+1 talks. Araghchi said “after reviewing we will announce our view.”

Many Iranian analysts dismissed recent U.S. actions on Iran diplomacy as insignificant. At the Munich Security Security conference last week, President Biden expressed his desire to “re-engage” Iran on the nuclear issue. The Biden administration also rescinded the previous administration’s claim that UN sanctions on Iran have been reimposed and lifted stringent movement restrictions on Iranian diplomats in NYC imposed by the Trump administration.

Amirali Abolfath, a Tehran-based political analyst, rebuked Biden for not saying “anything about sanctions” during his Munich address. He also said the recent U.S. actions “don’t have any effect on changing the current situation with the JCPOA” and were “far from Iran’s expectations.”

Abolfath said “Biden does not have a strong will to revive the JCPOA.” He said this is evident in Biden’s refusal to approve Iran’s request for a “$5 billion loan from the IMF to combat the coronavirus pandemic.” Abdolfath said approving this loan “would have shown goodwill to Iran.”

Abdolfath then cited a letter President Rouhani sent to European leaders when Iran first began to reduce its compliance with the JCPOA during the Trump presidency. According to Abdolfath, Rouhani said in this letter that if the other parties to the JCPOA do not return to their commitments under the deal, Iran may leave the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

However, several days after the Munich Security Conference, Iran reached an agreement with the IAEA to allow it to continue monitoring its nuclear program. This is as Iran ceased compliance with the Additional Protocol, a provision of the JCPOA that allowed enhanced inspections and monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program, on February 23rd.

Iran ended compliance with the Additional Protocol due to a law passed by the conservative-dominated parliament in December. The law requires Iran to further reduce compliance with the JCPOA until the U.S. and the other parties to the JCPOA return to the deal. (In this analysis for Just Security, I argue the law was an act by Iranian hardliners aimed at scuttling prospects for a JCPOA return in the last few months of the Rouhani presidency).

The deal allows the IAEA to continue “necessary” monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. According to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, compliance with the Additional Protocol has ceased, but the agreement with the IAEA will see Iran continue to record “the data of some of its nuclear activities and monitoring equipment.” This data will then be turned over to the IAEA if the U.S. returns to the JCPOA within three months.

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Hardliners Attack IAEA Deal as Khamenei Talks about 60% Enrichment

The agreement with the IAEA on the additional protocol issue sparked a fury in Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament. MPs accused the Rouhani administration of not abiding by parliament’s law to end compliance with the Additional Protocol on February 23rd.

Most MPs voted that the IAEA agreement was “against the law” and to send it to the judiciary to cancel it. Of 239 MPs present for the vote, 221 voted for this, 6 against, and 7 abstained.

MP Malek Shariati said the IAEA agreement was “suspicious” and said Rouhani and his senior officials should be prosecuted. MP Zohre Elahian also said Rouhani officials were “guilty” of violating the law and should be “punished.”

However, Ayatollah Khamenei gave a speech later in the same day the IAEA agreement was announced. Khamenei reiterated his support for the parliamentary bill mandating nuclear expansion but called for the Rouhani administration and parliament to resolve their differences.

Khamenei said differences between parliament and Rouhani administration over the parliament’s bill were “resolvable.” He said these differences should not escalate because then Iran would be talking with “two voices.”

Khamenei said on the parliamentary bill mandating nuclear expansion: “The government [Rouhani administration] is committed to enforcing the law. This law, which is a good law, must be implemented precisely.”

Khamenei said that when America reneged on the JCPOA, the “Quran instructs that we leave our commitments as well.” He added: “Despite this, the respectful government [Rouhani administration] did not leave our commitments and slowly reduced compliance with some of them.”

Khamenei said that “Islamic thinking and principles” are what prohibit Iran from developing nuclear and chemical weapons that “kill ordinary people.” His comment on this issue came weeks after Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi talked about Iran potentially rescinding Khamenei’s fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons.

Khamenei added that the ceiling for Iran’s level of enrichment “will not be 20 percent.” He said the nuclear capabilities Iran needs to “meet the country’s needs” could be 60-percent enrichment for producing “nuclear propellants.”

After Khamenei’s speech, parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf announced the formation of a commission in parliament to resolve differences with the Rouhani administration. Two anti-JCPOA conservative parliamentarians, Fereydoon Abbasi and Mojtaba Zolnour, are heading this commission.

Meanwhile, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, criticized parliament for opposing the IAEA agreement. Shariatmadari was appointed to his editor position by Khamenei. His comments suggest Khamenei supports the IAEA agreement.

Shariatmadari said the extent of the opposition to the IAEA agreement in parliament was “unnecessary.” He said the IAEA agreement was approved by the Supreme National Security Council, which is officially in charge of the nuclear file.

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