Week of June 22nd, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council
- Rouhani Gives Conditions for U.S. Negotiations
- Explosion in Eastern Tehran
- Rial Continues to Depreciate
- COVID-19 Infections Rising
- Oil Pipeline Circumventing Strait of Hormuz Under Construction
- Iran & Afghanistan Reach Border Agreement
Rouhani Gives Conditions for U.S. Negotiations
President Rouhani called on the IAEA to remain independent. His remarks come after the IAEA reprimanded Iran in a resolution last week for not providing inspectors access to two sites where nuclear work is alleged to have happened decades ago.
Rouhani said he is worried the U.S. and Israel are “polluting” the IAEA and “deviating it from its path.” Rouhani added that Iran’s “behavior toward the IAEA is friendly and lawful.”
However, Rouhani further said Iran is “ready” to accept IAEA oversight within the framework of existing regulations. He said Iran’s “intention is to cooperate with the IAEA.”
Rouhani also said that European countries “apologize” and are “ashamed” in private about their “inaction regarding their legal commitments” under the JCPOA.
Rouhani then outlined conditions for negotiations with the United States: “The second America announces that it will return to UN regulations, implements its JCPOA obligations, and Congress and the White House reverse their wrong path, we will be ready for negotiations that second.”
Rouhani added: “They must surrender to the law, apologize, and compensate the Iranian people for the losses they have inflicted.”
Explosion in Eastern Tehran
Footage on social media showed a bright light and what appeared to be an explosion in the eastern part of Tehran late in the evening on June 25th. According to Defense Ministry spokesperson Davood Abdi, the explosion was caused by a leak in a gas tank and occurred in the vicinity of the Parchin military base. There were no reported casualties.
Abdi said firefighters put out the fire and that an investigation has been launched.
Rial Continues to Depreciate
The value of the rial has depreciated to below 200,000 rials to one dollar. The rial has depreciated by 75 percent in the last eight months. Last November, one dollar was the equivalent of about 110,000 rials. This depreciation accelerated rapidly after the Iranian New Year in March, after the country shut down and closed its borders due to the coronavirus.
According to BBC Persian, the “recent turbulence in the currency market began four days ago when the IAEA passed a resolution against Iran backed by France, Germany, and the UK.” Read about the IAEA resolution in last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered.
President Rouhani has blamed the depreciation on “psychological operations.” He stated in his weekly press conference: “The recent fluctuations in the foreign exchange market and the shock that has been caused does not have a structural economic reason. The main reasons are psychological actions and operations at the international level and an unrealistic worry among the people about the cause of the turbulence in the foreign exchange market.”
Rouhani added: “We should all work to prevent the psychological effect of the appreciation of the dollar on the price of other goods and services and be careful so that the fluctuations are short-term and transient.”
However, Rouhani also called on the Central Bank to “identify” exporters who have not returned foreign currency back to the country. These exporters have until June 21st to return foreign currency revenues to the country before being identified and sent to the judiciary.
Central Bank chief Abdol Naser Hemmati says the rial’s depreciation is the result of a “natural and transient shock.” However, he also said the IAEA’s resolution dealt a “psychological shock.”
In the previous Iranian year (March 2019-March 2020), non-oil exports amounted to $42 billion according to official statistics. The Central Bank has said that $27 billion of Iran’s export revenues have not been returned to the country. It says these exporters will lose their tax-exempt status if they fail to return the money.
Meanwhile, Rouhani administration spokesperson Ali Rabiee has said some of Iran’s assets held abroad will be released. He said the foreign ministry “will announce this soon.”
Hamid Hosseini, the secretary of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce, has highlighted how the COVID-19 outbreak has slashed exports. He says that Iran’s monthly exports to Iraq amounted to $750 million for the past year but have been reduced to $300 million due to the virus. He says Iran’s monthly exports to China have also decreased from $800 million to $350 million.
COVID-19 Infections Rising
The number of official COVID-19 deaths in Iran has surpassed 10,000. Sima Sadat Lari, the new Health ministry spokesperson, said on June 25th that in the previous 24 hours, there were 2,595 new cases and 134 deaths.
Over the past week, more than 100 have died each day from the virus. This marks an increase in the death rate, as the official death rate was below 100 per day for the past two months.
The rate of infections has been steadily rising since authorities easing social distancing rules in mid-April. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is at 215,096 currently.
Particularly hard hit has been the southwestern province of Khuzestan. Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the virus is currently “peaking” in Khuzestan but will decline in the “next several days.”
President Rouhani has confirmed that COVID-19 infections and deaths have been increasing in the past two weeks. However, he says that “overall statistics show a decrease in the prevalence of the disease in the country.”
Rouhani said Iran is “entering a new phase” and that there is “no choice” but to wear masks. Currently, wearing masks is only required while using public transportation, but according to reports many people have skirted this rule.
Oil Pipeline Circumventing Strait of Hormuz Under Construction
President Rouhani described an oil pipeline under construction as his administration’s “most strategic plan.” The pipeline will stretch from the city of Goreh near the northern coast of the Persian Gulf to the port city of Jask on the coast of the Indian Ocean, beyond the Strait of Hormuz.
Rouhani said the pipeline was of “great importance to Iran’s national security” and will allow it to continue exporting oil if the Strait of Hormuz is closed. He said Iran was the only regional country that had not developed an alternate route to export its oil.
The plan to build the pipeline required foreign investment. The pipelines require pipes that are 42 inches in diameter, which Iran had to import.
However, since the return of U.S. sanctions, Iran has been unable to import these pipes. According to Rouhani, three Iranian companies are now indigenously producing the required pipe.
Roughly 440 kilometers of the over 1,000 km long pipeline has already been completed. Rouhani says the project is expected to be completed by next February. It will have a capacity of transferring 1 million barrels of oil a day.
Iran & Afghanistan Reach Border Agreement
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry has announced that Iran and Afghanistan have reached an agreement on border security. The agreement comes amid the recent deaths of Afghan migrants at the Iranian border, which many in Afghanistan claim was perpetrated by Iranian border guards, something Iranian officials strongly deny.
The Afghan foreign ministry has released the 15-point agreement. The agreement calls for finalizing a document for “strategic cooperation” between Kabul and Tehran, support for Afghanistan’s peace process, and support for the conditions of Afghan migrants in Iran.
In the agreement, Iran also expresses its willingness to host intra-Afghan peace talks in Iran.
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