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August 7, 2020

Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Says Sanctions May Be Eased


Week of August 3rd, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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    Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Says Sanctions May Be Eased

    Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi said sanctions on Iran may be eased soon. Vaezi stated while visiting an automobile manufacturing plant: “With the signals that we have received from European and Asian countries and others, we are in the final days of sanctions. This is because the sanctioning country has reached none of its political, economic, social, and security goals. I must stress that the situation in the next months will be much better.”

    Earlier, President Rouhani said there might be an “economic opening soon.” Rouhani was speaking during his weekly cabinet meeting about the most recent meeting of the heads of the three branches of the Iranian government (president, parliament, and the judiciary).

    Rouhani stated: “During the meeting, a plan was discussed, and our opinions were very close to each other. God willing this plan will reach a result on Monday of next week when this meeting will continue. If this plan reaches a result and if the Leader agrees and we announce it, an economic opening will occur in the country which will free the hands of the administration somewhat.”

    There was much speculation in the Iranian press about what this “economic opening” plan could be. Some speculate it could be more “justice shares” made available to the public. Others said it could be the fast-tracking for approval of several bills designed to bring Iran into compliance with global banking standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based financial regulation body. (Read more about the FATF issue in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

    It is widely accepted that the FATF guidelines must be adopted for Iranian banks to operate internationally and facilitate trade. However, Alireza Moezi, Rouhani’s deputy for communications and information, dismissed speculation that the “economic opening” news was related to the FATF issue.

    Others speculated the “economic opening” news was related to selling oil-based securities. This would see the government sell people oil-based securities for the next two years and then give them a refund based on the price of oil and the exchange rate for the dollar at that future point of time.

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    Workers go on Strike in Iran’s Energy Sector

    Workers at several oil refineries and petrochemical plants in southern Iran have gone on strike. Workers at oil and gas refineries in Abadan, Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Qeshm, Lamerd, Dashte Azadeghan, and at the South Pars gas field have gone on strike. There are also reports of strikes in Isfahan and Asaluyeh. Strikes have been ongoing in a total of five provinces.

    The workers’ demands include: “Increased wages, the consistent payment of wages, improved dormitory and health facilities, and insurance that is appropriate for the level of wages.”

    Meanwhile, workers at the Haft Tapeh sugarcane factory in Khuzestan province have been protesting for over 50 days. According to the Haft Tapeh workers’ syndicate, they have gone on strike over 100 times since 2017. They have been protesting to reverse the company’s privatization and receive deferred wages. (Read about past strikes by the Haft Tapeh workers in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

    The number of labor protests and strikes in Iran has been increasing in recent years. According to one study cited by BBC Persian from a pro-Iranian labor group, in the Iranian year 1397 (March 2018-March 2019), there were 1700 labor protests in the production and service industries, as well as by retirees. This was a 27 percent increase compared to the previous Iranian year (1396).
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    Rouhani Calls for Domestic Unity to Address Economic Problems

    President Rouhani says his administration “alone” cannot resolve “all of the system’s” problems. Speaking during his weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani said: “The administration can solve problems on the condition that the parliament, judiciary, the arms forces, and the national TV and radio stand with it. Together, we can fight the enemy. The enemy does not seek to destroy the presidential administration, but the whole system.”

    Rouhani said the JCPOA significantly reduced sanctions pressure on Iran: “Even though those who signed the agreement did not implement it 100 percent and acted against their commitments in ways, we were able to sell our oil and our other goods normally, our banks could be active, and we were even getting ready to get credit from other countries.”

    Rouhani said Iran’s political system would not collapse because of sanctions. He said if Iran’s different branches of government cooperate closely, Iran could “even experience economic growth” this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

    Recently, Rouhani’s first-vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri said sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil export revenues from $100 billion a year to $7 billion a year.

    Rouhani’s comments calling for increased unity come as his administration has been under fierce attack recently. The new conservative-dominated parliament has spearheaded efforts to criticize and undermine his administration and a group of MPs introduced impeachment proceedings against him. (Read about the parliament’s questioning of Foreign Minister Zarif in a recent issue of Iran Unfiltered.)

    However, the calls for Rouhani’s impeachment died down after Ayatollah Khamenei voiced opposition. In a recent virtual speech to parliamentarians, Khamenei said that the Rouhani administration must “work until the end of its term.”

    Khamenei added: “At this sensitive time of the administration’s last year in office and the parliament’s first year, the two institutions must govern and manage their space in such a way as to not harm important work in the country.”

    During his weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani says he “promised” Khamenei he would remain in office until his term ends. Iran’s next presidential election is in May or June of next year and the new president will be sworn that August.

    Recently, there was a dispute between Rouhani and parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. The Iranian newspaper Etemad reported that during a recent meeting of the heads of the three branches of the Iranian government, Rouhani argued with Ghalibaf over an economic proposal Ghalibaf had given to Khamenei.

    Managing the economy is primarily the domain of the presidential administration in Iran. Some Iranian analysts said Ghalibaf was overreaching and trying to undermine Rouhani. However, Ali Rabiee, the spokesperson for the Rouhani administration, denied that there was any argument between Rouhani and Ghalibaf during the meeting.

    In a subsequent meeting with Ghalibaf and other officials, Rouhani proclaimed: “In a recent meeting the Leader emphasized the need for all branches to be ready and coordinate against the enemy’s economic warfare. He said the president must be the commander of this war and the other branches must stand alongside the administration.”

    Afterwards, on August 6th, Ghalibaf said in an interview there was “total coordination” among all government branches on economic policy. Ghalibaf added that “next week, the people will see preliminary plans and the beginning of changes in the field of economic stability.”
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    Iran Sends Aid After Lebanon Explosion

    Iranian officials offered condolences and said aid would be sent to Lebanon after an explosion destroyed most of Beirut’s port. President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani along with other officials said Iranian aid would arrive in Lebanon “immediately.”

    Ayatollah Khamenei also said he “stands alongside” the Lebanese people amid the “painful tragedy” of the explosion at the port. He added that “patience in the face of this incident will be testament to the honor of Lebanon.”

    Hours after the explosion, Iran’s embassy in Lebanon said the “first” Iranian plane with aid would be arriving soon. The plane will bring a field hospital, medicine and medical equipment, and a team of surgeon and specialist physicians.

    Iran has close relations with Lebanon, especially with Hezbollah and its allies. On the day of the explosion, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah was due to give a speech, which he postponed because of the incident.

    Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi condemned recent U.S. sanctions for increasing the hardships of the Lebanese people. Raisi said the explosion “pained the hearts of the friends of the people of that country and its resilient nation.” He said the blast cause “severe” damage to Beirut’s “economic infrastructure” which will “double” the “tragedy for the people of this country.”

    Raisi added regarding U.S. sanctions: “Given the oppressive and anti-human rights sanctions which the criminal American regime has imposed in the past several months which have created a serious obstacle to providing for the basic necessities of the Lebanese people, serious efforts need to be taken by all countries friendly to Lebanon and in international forums to suspend these sanctions immediately to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.”

    Raisi added: “The necessary action for today, while preserving national solidarity and being vigilant against division and likely efforts to stoke division by the enemies of Lebanon, is to immediately meet the basic needs of the Lebanese people.”
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    Zarif Talks with UAE Foreign Minister

    Foreign Minister Zarif held a video conference with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan. According to the Iranian foreign ministry, the two discussed “bilateral cooperation” and “mutual regional issues.”

    Both expressed a readiness to “expand cooperation in various fields based on mutual interests.” Zarif said during the meeting that while “others may try to benefit from regional destabilization, we as neighbors must think about the stability of the region.”

    Zarif and al Nahyan last had a bilateral discussion in April. During that meeting they primarily discussed the coronavirus pandemic.

    The Iranian outlet Khabar Mohem analyzed the Zarif-al Nahyan meeting and the current state of Iran-UAE relations. Khabar Mohem highlights that after the meeting with Zarif, Emirati Foreign Minister al Nahyan had a virtual meeting with Miguel A. Correa, the senior director for Persian Gulf Affairs in the Trump White House’s National Security Council.

    Al Nahyan and Correa discussed UAE-U.S. relations and “strategic cooperation.” According to an Emirati readout, they also “reviewed regional developments and a number of international issues of common concern, including Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Iran.”

    Former Iranian diplomat Ahmad Dastmalchian discussed the shifts in Emirati foreign policy with Khabar Mohem. Dastmanchian is Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan.

    Dastmalchian says the UAE has slowly distanced itself from Saudi Arabia in the past year. He cites the UAE’s partial disengagement from the Yemeni conflict as an example.

    Dastmalchian says the UAE is more flexible and realistic than Saudi Arabia with its foreign policy. He says the UAE recognizes that Iran is a powerful regional country and that unlike the United States, will always be in the region. He also says the UAE understand Trump might not stay in office and U.S. policies toward Iran and the Middle East may significantly change.

    Dastmalchian says the UAE is trying to improve relations with Iran and Syria and contain Turkish regional influence. He stated: “It appears the UAE’s efforts to normalize relations with Tehran and Damascus is in the framework of creating a regional balance.”

    Dastmalchian said the UAE wishes to turn Syria into a “strong and impenetrable barrier” against “Erdogan’s expansionism.” He added: “The silence of other Arab countries regarding the UAE’s normalization with Assad is testament to their approval of this issue.”
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