Week of July 22, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Officials Defend British Tanker Seizure, Call for Diplomatic Resolutions
- Imprisoned Political Prisoner Starts Hunger Strike
- Deputy FM Travels to France with Proposal on Reducing U.S.-Iran Tensions
- Khamenei Advisor Warns Against Increasing Western Military Footprint in Persian Gulf
- IRGC Initially Believed that U.S. Downed Iranian Drone
- Intelligence Ministry Alleges Arrest of 17 U.S. Spies
- Next JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting Approaches
Officials Defend British Tanker Seizure, Call for Diplomatic Resolutions
President Rouhani declared that Iran and its neighbors are “primarily responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.” Rouhani was speaking after the British government said it would seek an increased military presence in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized a British oil tanker.
Rouhani stated that European countries must refrain from actions such as the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar by British forces weeks ago. Rouhani stated that if European countries “don’t stop their wrong actions such as what occurred in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran.”
However, Ali Rabiee, the spokesperson for the Rouhani Administration, stated the seizure of the British tanker was not an act of retaliation by Iran. He asserted it was a “correct legal action.”
Rabiee contended that the two tanker seizures were not comparable. He stated that the British tanker had violated the “laws and regulations of seafaring” by “turning off its transponder” and instead of “going in the direction of the entrance to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, took a southern route and failed to listen to warnings from our forces.”
Rabiee said the British tanker was “stopped” in Iranian waters, while, according to Rabiee, “even Spanish officials say our tanker was stopped in Spanish waters.” Rabiee then stressed that the tanker crisis can be resolved through diplomacy.
On the other hand, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani stated that the seizure of the British tanker was a “response” to the capture of Iran’s tanker.
Mohammad Golpayegani, the head of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s office, said that the British had sent “intermediaries” to Iran to get the ship released. He proclaimed: “The country that once used to decide on who government ministers in Iran would be now has reached a place where it has to send intermediaries to ask for its ship to be freed.”
President Rouhani also proclaimed that “the entire world must thank the Revolutionary Guards for the Persian Gulf’s security.” He added: “We will not allow anyone to create disorder in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time, we are not after increasing tensions or a military confrontation.”
President Rouhani also emphasized that Iran was open to negotiations based on respect and not surrender. He stated: “As long as I have the responsibility for the country’s executive branch, we will always be ready for a negotiation that is just, legal, and has respect for the Iranian people and their rights.”
He added: “But we aren’t ready that under the name of negotiations, to sit at the table of surrender. We understand what negotiations are and what surrender is. We consider surrender unacceptable, our people and constitution will not accept it.”
Imprisoned Political Prisoner Starts Hunger Strike
Imprisoned activist Sepideh Gholian has started a hunger strike. As detailed in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Gholian has been imprisoned since January 20th. She was first detained in November 2018 in connection to the labor protests led by workers from two companies in southwestern Iran. She was released after one month.
After her release in December, Gholian said she was subject to torture. Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, who was held during the same period, also stated that he was tortured. Their claims spurred outrage and calls for investigations. Reformist MPs also invited Bakhshi to Parliament.
However, government officials denied their claims of torture after the Intelligence Ministry reportedly investigated the case. Afterwards, Gholian and Bakhshi were rearrested based on a compliant from the Intelligence Ministry and on “security charges.” They will be tried in August.
The spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary said that a verdict was reached against the assailants that murdered an Iranian political prisoner months ago. The victim, 21-year-old Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, was killed by fellow inmates.
Mohammad Ali was arrested in August 2018 on charges of “insulting sanctities,” “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic,” “insulting the Leader,” and “propagandizing against the system.” He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
According to the judiciary spokesperson, the main assailant responsible for Mohammad Ali’s murder will be punished in accordance to qisas, or an “eye for an eye” punishment in Islamic law. The second assailant was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both also must pay financial compensation to the Mohammad Ali’s family.
Deputy FM Travels to France with Proposal on Reducing U.S.-Iran Tensions
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi travelled to France to deliver a response to a French proposal on reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. According to foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi, Araghchi went to Paris as President Rouhani’s special representative.
According to Iranian news outlet Alef citing knowledgeable sources, Araghchi was carrying President Rouhani’s counteroffer to a proposal that a French emissary recently delivered to Tehran. Read more about the French diplomat’s trip to Iran and President Macron’s effort to reduce U.S.-Iran tensions in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.
Macron’s proposal was widely reported as a “freeze for freeze” deal or “ceasefire” between the U.S. and Iran. According to some outlets, this would involve Iran ceasing from further reductions in its compliance with the JCPOA and the U.S. ceasing from imposing new sanctions and reissuing sanctions waivers for some importers of Iranian oil.
Khamenei Advisor Warns Against Increasing Western Military Footprint in Persian Gulf
Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister and now military advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, has warned against moves to bolster Western military forces in the Persian Gulf. Amid reports that Britain is seeking a coalition to increase military patrols in the Persian Gulf, Dehghan declared: “Any change in the situation in the Strait of Hormuz will result in a dangerous confrontation.”
Dehghan also stated that Iran will “under no circumstances negotiate with the United States.” He added that Iran will speak to “no one” about its missile program.
Dehghan proclaimed that in the event of a war, “all U.S. bases in the region will come under attack by Iran’s armed forces.” He also repeated a line heard from many Iranian officials, that either “all countries can export their oil through the Strait of Hormuz, or no one can.”
Dehghan further stated that some Arab Persian Gulf countries had sent representatives to Tehran for peace negotiations. He did not specify which countries, but added that the UAE had allowed itself to be turned into an “American military base to harm Iran’s national interests.”
IRGC Initially Believed that U.S. Downed Iranian Drone
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has repeated that President Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone over the Persian Gulf was a “lie.” Dehghan said that the lie was “so big that we ourselves at first believed it.” Iran responded to Trump’s claim by denying it had lost any drone and releasing a video of an Iranian drone surveilling the U.S. vessel that Trump said shot the drone down.
Hajizadeh said “we couldn’t believe that he [Trump] would make such a big lie directly to the media.” He added: “For this reason, we delayed for a few hours before denying it. We saw that our unmanned drone surveilled the U.S. vessel from before its entrance into the Strait of Hormuz until after it passed through the strait.”
Hajizadeh then asserted that the “Americans themselves have now blamed John Bolton for this issue.”
Intelligence Ministry Alleges Arrest of 17 U.S. Spies
The head of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s counterintelligence department announced the arrest of “17 spies trained by America’s intelligence agency.” The official said: “On June 18th of this year, the intelligence ministry was successful in destroying a spy network linked to America’s intelligence agency.”
According to the official, indictments have been brought forward against the alleged spies and some will be executed. He added that they were employed in “sensitive and vital centers” and in “private sector jobs affiliated with these centers.” These included areas related to Iran’s economic, nuclear, military, and cyber sectors.
The official said that each of the alleged spies was handled by a “CIA officer.” He added that they were each an individual cell and that “none of them were in contact with each other.”
The official further said that the CIA had given the alleged spies guarantees regarding their safety, stating: “The CIA could not fulfill any of its guarantees. All of these spies are now engulfed in trouble for betraying the country.”
The official added, those who “engaged the intelligence ministry with total sincerity and whose remorse is proven, will be used against the Americans.”
Next JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting Approaches
On July 28th, the JCPOA’s Joint Commission—comprised of the remaining parties to the accord—will meet in Vienna at the deputy foreign minister-level. The meeting was called for by the European members of the deal to discuss the “new situation” regarding the deal, referring to Iran reducing its compliance with the accord.
The meeting will reportedly also be aimed at preparing the groundwork for another upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of the remaining JCPOA-signatory countries. Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, has reiterated that if the remaining JCPOA parties fail to meet their commitments under the deal, Iran will take “another step” in reducing its compliance with the deal in roughly 60 days.