Domestic Dissidents Discuss Potential for Revolution

Week of December 10, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Prominent Reformist Dissidents Discuss Potential for Revolution
  • Revolutionary Guards Commander Confirms Recent Missile Test
  • Rouhani Advisor Reignites Debate Over House Arrest of Green Movement Leaders
  • Rouhani Signals Gas Price Hike
  • Detained Leader of Striking Workers Released
  • Ten Arrested in Connection with Chabahar Car Bombing
  • University Students Decry Suppression
  • Political Prisoner on Hunger Strikes Dies
  • Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions in Coming Year

Two prominent reformist dissidents, Abbas Abdi and Mostafa Tajzadeh, gave far-reaching interviews this week discussing the state of political reformism, the impact of U.S. sanctions, and prospects for revolutionary unrest in the country. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force also confirmed that Iran had recently tested a missile, becoming the first Iranian official to acknowledge a test after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo censured Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile earlier this month. A senior advisor to President Rouhani also spurred controversy after stating that the house arrest conditions of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have eased, while President Rouhani suggested that different prices for gasoline would be introduced for drivers depending on their level of gasoline consumption.

In other news, a detained leader of the Haft Tapeh workers has been released, as part of an agreement for the workers to end their strike. Iran’s police chief also announced that ten individuals have been arrested in connection with last week’s car bombing at the port city of Chabahar, which left two Iranian security guards dead and dozens injured. Ayatollah Khamenei also delivered a speech denouncing U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. University student organizations also issued letters and statements condemning a growing atmosphere of suppression in the country.


Reformist Dissidents Discuss Iran’s Political Climate

Abbas Abdi, an influential reformist and former political prisoner, gave an interview where he discussed the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and prospects of the Islamic Republic being toppled. Abdi emphasized the discontent of many Iranians towards the status quo should not be equated to support for U.S. policies. “The United States and Trump don’t pay attention to the fact that even if the people are not content with current conditions, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate with them,” Abdi stated. “Popular discontent doesn’t mean the people accept America’s hostile actions. The people don’t accept the current conditions, but this doesn’t mean they accept any and all alternatives.”

Abdi also said that the U.S. perception of events inside Iran was incorrect due to misinformation campaigns, which he compared to mistaken U.S. views of Iraq leading up to the 2003 invasion. Abdi stated: “Iran’s critics on social media have created a perception of Iran that is at odds with reality. Domestic analysts better analyze and understand the situation.”  He added: “These [online] critics try to create a perception and environment for [to influence] the United States, which is the same thing that happened towards Iraq [before the war]. The New York Times has even accepted that it was mistaken in its policy to support the Iraqi invasion and that it was misled by wrong intelligence from these same types of political opponents [U.S.-based Iraqi dissidents].”

Abdi went on to caution Iranian authorities to not take peaceful dissent for granted and make reforms before dissent turns violent.  Abdi agreed with the interviewer that despite the many grievances in Iranian society, the country is stable on the surface, as evident in the recent peaceful protests by workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz steel companies. However, Abdi stressed that the peaceful protests by the people should not be “misinterpreted and that officials shouldn’t believe that in the future nothing will happen.”

Mostafa Tajzadeh, another prominent reformist who was imprisoned from 2009-2016 in Evin prison, also gave an interview to IRNA on the state of political reformism in Iran. He stated: “The defeat of reformism can lead to a revolution, foreign intervention, and likely violence in the country. To not become engulfed in such a situation, we must keep reformism alive and preserve the peoples’ hope in reformism.”

Tajzadeh stated that reformists must become more forthright in pushing for substantive change in the country. He proclaimed: “Reformists can help keep paths to solutions open and on top of defending their own rights, strongly defend the rights of others. To open paths, we must speak more explicitly than in the past with the government and the people.”

Tajzadeh added: “The hidden [deep] state must be dismantled, military forces must return to their barracks, healthy elections must be held, private media stations must be permitted, filtering of the internet must end, and we must all recognize each other’s rights and respect each other’s lifestyles.”

Tajzadeh asserted that those who wish to topple the Islamic Republic need reformism to be sidelined. He opined: “The reason that those who want to topple the system say that reformists must either join them or be made so disreputable that they are eliminated from Iran’s political scene is because they believe that as long as reformism is alive in society, and as long as Khatami’s words are accepted by the public, neither a revolution will occur in Iran nor can foreign countries intervene [inside Iran].”

Tajzadeh stated that the idea of toppling the Islamic Republic was moot as long as most Iranians believe there is no alternative but reform. He opined: “As long as a massive percentage of the people, due to a variety of reasons including that things can get worse, oppose the toppling of the government, even if they don’t believe in the Islamic Republic and are opposed to it but prefer to reform it, the idea of toppling the system will remain only the slogan and wish of its supporters.”

Tajzadeh stated that the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring had created a fear of revolutionary unrest in Iran. He stated: “The developments in recent years after the Arab Spring have created a deep and widespread fear that revolutions in Middle Eastern countries can have devastating consequences. We have witnessed the opposite of the low-cost revolutions of Iran [the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the 1979 Islamic Revolution] with the Arab Spring. Foreign intervention in these countries have had widespread and deeply negative consequences.”

Tajzadeh then argued that other regional states succumbed to revolutionary chaos because they lacked strong reformist movements. He proclaimed: “I want to focus on important differences [between Iran and regional countries that have undergone social and political unrest in recent years], which it would be catastrophic for us to not pay attention to.”

He went on: “One of the main reasons for the disastrous situation today in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is that these countries lacked powerful reformist currents that simultaneously spoke and engaged with the state; prevented it from taking extremist, hardline, or criminal actions; and restrained its power. That could also talk to the people and explain that toppling the government at any cost would not solve problems and could create a situation for society that is far worse.”

Tajzadeh argued that reformism must succeed in Iran for the country to not suffer the fate of its war-torn neighbors. He declared: “If Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen are not partitioned and maintain their cohesion, they might be able to after two decades—if they have complete unity—achieve durable security. This experience has resulted in us saying that the most important reason for the existence of reformism is that Iran doesn’t experience such a fate.”

Tajzadeh concluded by stating that U.S. interventions had resulted in popular anger against it. He stated: “America has created enemies for itself in every Middle Eastern country it has intervened against. Why was the generation of the 1979 revolution anti-American? Because Washington supported the Shah and had 30 to 50 thousand personnel settled inside Iran.”


Missile Test, Chabahar Arrests

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, confirmed in an interview that Iran recently conducted a missile test. It marked the first confirmation by an Iranian official that the country had tested a missile since U.S. Secretary of State’s December 1st remarks censuring Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons (more on the Iranian reaction to Pompeo’s comments in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

In his comments, Hajizadeh said that Iran carries out 40 to 50 missile tests a year. He stated: “For the Americans to show a reaction to some of these tests reveals that they’re under pressure.” Hajizadeh did not disclose what type of missile was tested or whether it was a ballistic missile.

Iran’s Chief of Police Hossein Ashtari said that ten people had been arrested in connection with the December 6th car bombing in the Iranian port city of Chabahar.

Ashtari also commented on the case of Iranian border guards captured by Pakistan-based militants in October, stating: “The necessary efforts have been made through the foreign ministry and the armed forces and we are hopeful that all these guards will return to their families in full health” (more on the case of the captured border guards in a previous Iran Unfiltered).


Reignited Debate Over Mousavi and Karroubi

On December 9th, Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, delivered a speech at Tehran University and engaged in a back-and-forth with students on social, political, and economic issues.

Ashna stated that the house arrest conditions for 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had eased. He stated: “Don’t doubt that Mr. Mousavi’s conditions under house arrest have changed greatly. The arrest hasn’t been lifted, but in my opinion what remains from lifting the arrest is just a shell.” He added: “The Rouhani administration and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council have done what they needed to do, and what remains is the shell [of the house arrest]. I am hopeful with your prayers and with the efforts of those who’ve have paid costs in this regard, the arrest will be [fully] lifted.”

Ashna also discussed the possibility of changing the Iranian constitution in response to a question from a student. He stated: “Based on the constitution, when it comes to reviewing the document, four tenets are unchangeable: being Islamic, Republicanism, Velayat-e Faqih, and the government respecting the votes of the people. The other principles of the constitution are amendable.”

Ashna added: “If some have issues with these four principles, they must think of more difficult ways of pursuing the changes they want and must accept the costs they’ll have to pay in this regard. On the other hand, within the constitution, there is plenty of capacity to make changes without needing to amend it.”

Ashna’s comments on the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi sparked renewed discussion regarding their nearly eight-year-long detention. In response, hardline MP Mojtaba Zonnour asserted that the arrest was not lifted this past summer because of a sharply critical letter written by Karroubi to the Assembly of Experts. (more on the letter in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

Hossein Karroubi, the son of Mehdi Karroubi, addressed the comments by Ashna and Zonnour in an interview with Etemad newspaper. Karroubi stated: “The issue of lifting the house arrest was never seriously contemplated for Mr. Karroubi’s letter to have impacted this process … neither senior officials or the Supreme National Security Council, which is tasked with managing this issue, have seriously discussed lifting the house arrest.”

Hossein Karroubi said in response to Ashna: “What Mr. Ashna means is that there has been a slight opening on the issue of the house arrests. By this I mean that now their [Mousavi and Karroubi’s] family can visit them. But they’re still completely disconnected from the outside, so there hasn’t been a major difference. What Ashna meant by saying only a ‘shell’ remained of the house arrest is that now, after years, their family can visit them without needing prior permission.”


Human Rights

On December 12th, Ismail Bakshi, a leading representative of the Haft Tapeh striking workers, was released. The workers had previously reached an agreement with authorities to cease their strike in return for receiving unpaid wages and better job contracts as well as securing Bakhshi’s release (more on the Haft Tapeh strike in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

On December 12th, the family of political prisoner Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, who was on hunger strike for two months, was notified of his death. His demands while on hunger strike were to be transferred out of Qom’s Langarud prison—where he said conditions were poor and he had shared cells with dangerous criminals—and to have a fair trial.

The charges against him included “insulting the Leader and propagating against the political system.” Qom’s public prosecutor said in response to Nasiri’s death: “Nasiri was a prisoner in Langarud prison who was serving his sentence for insulting sacred beliefs on social media. He suffered from a liver disease and his physical condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital. After seven days in the hospital, he passed away. The precise cause of death is being investigated by forensic specialists.”

On December 8th, over 500 students active in academic publications wrote an open letter to President Rouhani warning of the consequences of they said was “widespread suppression of every independent civil institution and legal, peaceful protest.” The letter came a day after a similar statement was released by student councils of 35 universities, which deplored the “suppression of students” after last winter’s protests inside Iran. It stated that over 300 students have been arrested, over 100 cumulative years of imprisonment have been issued, and that some students have been whipped and barred from leaving the country.”


Rouhani Hints at Gas Price Hike

During a December 10th meeting with officials from the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, President Rouhani suggested that gasoline prices would be increased. He stated: “In our country gasoline has a fixed price. It’s not like this in other parts of the world. There is one price for the weekend, one price for a work day, one price for busy days … over here we’ve become used to a consistent gas price.”

The reformist Fararu notes that Iran’s gasoline subsidies have become increasingly costly as the price of the Iranian rial has fallen against the dollar over the past year. Fararu states: “In recent months it’s been heard that the price of gas will change and there will be two rates as before [under a system instituted by the Ahmadinejad administration]. Gasoline was changed back to one rate during Rouhani’s first term and has been sold for 1,000 tomans per liter. In the past year, the price of gas hasn’t changed, even though the cost of the dollar has increased rapidly.”

Fararu also states regarding the price and consumption of gasoline in Iran: “Gasoline consumption in Iran is very high and based on reports is roughly 3 billion liters every month. This figure has increased by 10 percent since last year … After Venezuela, Iran has the cheapest gasoline in the world. The price of every liter now is roughly 10 cents (in American dollars).”

Fararu states that many experts believe Iran must return to a policy of instituting gas consumption quotas and higher prices to control sharply increasing gasoline smuggling in border region. According to Fararu, the Rouhani administration is currently preparing the infrastructure to return to this policy.

Under this system, as instituted previously under the Ahmadinejad administration, every vehicle owner is allotted a specific gas quota per month. If this amount is passed, the owner would have to purchase gas at a higher price.

Fararu also states that the Rouhani administration aimed to increase the gasoline price last year with its budget bill but backtracked due to last winter’s protests. “Every year, when there is argument over the national budget bill, there is a debate on the issue of rising gasoline prices,” Fararu states. “Last year, there were whispers that the price would be increased by 50 percent, which was later confirmed by the administration. But the protests of last December and January resulted in the administration backtracking from the gas price hike.”

During his address, Rouhani also indirectly rebuked Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayer leader of Mashhad. Alamolhoda, a staunch conservative opponent of Rouhani, had earlier attacked the Rouhani administration’s bills to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as “not compatible with Islam.” (more on the contentious domestic debate over the FATF in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

Rouhani said in response, without directly referencing Alamolhoda: “How is it possible that in today’s world we don’t work with the global banks? And someone comes from a specific ideological corner and incites the people by saying that if this agreement or convention is signed or if we work with this financial group, Islam will be lost. How will Islam be lost? I wish you understood Islam!”


Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions

On December 12th, Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech lambasting U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. Khamenei said of U.S. aims towards Iran: “The Americans through the years have constantly been seeking to gain dominance over Iran just as they had before the revolution. They want to create the same conditions for Iran that they have in some weak regional countries which they see as cows to be milked. They have wanted this with dear, great, and proud Iran but haven’t reached this aim and from here out will definitely never reach it.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said of the Trump administration’s Iran approach: “Their aim was that through sanctions and actions affecting Iran’s security, within Iran they would create polarization, differences, war between groups, and draw some people into the streets. They named [this operation] ‘hot summer,’ but to their blinded eyes [an Iranian expression] this year’s summer was one of the best summers.”

However, Khamenei cautioned Iranians to be vigilant in the coming year. He proclaimed: “However, even though the enemy’s plan has been exposed, we have to preserve our vigilance because America is an evil and devious enemy. It may be intending to deceive so that this year it created a crisis, and for example it has plans for next year.”

Khamenei added: “We must not be inattentive for even a second and must all be awake and alert. My advice to the Iranian people, especially to the youth and different groups in the country and all classes and political currents, is to be careful to not make the environment ripe for the enemy. For if we become inattentive, even this weak enemy will unleash its poison.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also said regarding the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen: “The Saudis believed that within a few days or weeks, they would be able to establish their dominance over Yemen. But now it’s over four years and they haven’t been able to do anything and the more time passes, the harsher the damage inflicted on them will get.”



Terrorist Car Bombing in Chabahar as Students Demonstrate to Support Workers

Week of December 3, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Car Bomb Outside Police Headquarters in Chabahar Kills Two, Injures Dozens
  • University Students Demonstrate in Favor of Striking Workers
  • Demographer from Australian University Arrested
  • Condition of Political Prisoner under Hunger Strike Deteriorates
  • Rouhani Repeats Warning on Shuttering Strait of Hormuz
  • Zarif Defends Ballistic Missile Program after U.S. Rebuke
  • Rouhani Administration Submits National Budget to Parliament
  • Zarif Impeachment Bill Fizzles out in Parliament

A terrorist car bombing struck the Iranian port city of Chabahar Thursday morning, killing two and injuring at least 28 outside the city’s police headquarters. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group with a history of engaging in terrorism claimed responsibility. At several Iranian universities this week, students demonstrated in support of striking workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Meanwhile, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, was arrested while trying to leave the country. The condition of imprisoned women’s rights activist Farhad Meysami, who has been under a hunger strike, has also deteriorated. Another political dissident, journalist Hengameh Shahidi, has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison.

President Hassan Rouhani in a speech denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile and repeated a warning that no Persian Gulf oil would be exported if the U.S. seeks to force Iranian oil exports to zero. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also issued a defense of Iran’s ballistic missile program after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed a recent missile tested violated a UN Security Council resolution. On the domestic politics front, the Rouhani administration submitted its national budget for the upcoming Iranian year to parliament for approval, while an impeachment bill targeting Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has fizzled out in parliament.


Car Bombing in Chabahar

On the morning of December 6th, a car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar. The explosion killed two security guards and injured at least 28 others. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group operating in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province, claimed responsibility. The two guards killed in the attack were Dariush Ranjbar and Naser Darzadeh, the latter of whom was a Sunni Iranian Baluch.

Rahmdel Bameri, the mayor of Chabahar, suggested the attack was orchestrated by foreign powers: “At 9:55am one of the agents of global arrogance and our bloodthirsty enemy carried out a suicide bombing.”

Bameri added regarding the attack itself: “This suicide bomber packed explosives in a Nissan truck and intended to enter Chabahar’s police headquarters. However, he was confronted by security forces who successfully repelled him which resulted in him setting off the explosive outside the entrance.”

Revolutionary Guards Spokesperson Ramezan Sharif linked the attack to Saudi Arabia and vowed retaliation. He stated that “terrorist groups, mostly connected to the security services of countries such as Saudi Arabia, are always seeking to create insecurity in our border regions.” He added: “This terrorist attack will have a severe response, and not only will they [the group responsible] incur losses but the groups supporting them will be punished.”

An analysis in the Iranian outlet Asr Iran asked, “What connection is there in today’s explosion and Chabahar receiving a waiver from U.S. sanctions?” The analysis reflected widely-held sentiment among Iranian analysts and pundits that Chabahar was targeted due to its strategic value for Iran.

The Asr Iran column read: “Exactly one month ago, America waived Chabahar from its sanctions. Chabahar is Iran’s only ocean port and a free trade zone. In recent years, Chabahar has turned into a port for Indian investment, and Indian financial and strategic interests have become tied to this Iranian port. Through Chabahar, India wants to circumvent their regional rival Pakistan and have a pathway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

The article went on to assert that Saudi Arabia has an interest in destabilizing Chabahar. It stated: “The Saudis are upset that there is even one unsanctioned asset for Iran. They are ready to even sell their own oil at a lower price to Iran’s customers to inflict pain on Iran in every way possible.”

The piece added: “From long ago, terrorist groups in Pakistan and their counterparts in southeastern Iran have been infiltrated, guided, and supported by the Saudis … so we have to take seriously the idea that the terrorist attack in Chabahar is part of Saudi Arabia’s project to prevent Chabahar from developing during the sanctions period.”


Arrests and Student Demonstrations

Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, has been arrested. According to IRNA: “One of the country’s security agencies in cooperation with the judiciary has arrested a number of ‘infiltrators’ related to the field of population control.”

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, rebuked the arrest and said mockingly of security forces responsible: “Please let the honor of securitizing demographics fall to other people. For you, [securitizing] the environmental field is enough for now.” Ashna was referring to the imprisonment of eight environmentalists last January by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, which the Rouhani administration has opposed.

Mahmoud Behzadi, a judiciary lawyer, stated regarding Hosseini-Chavoshi’s access to a lawyer: “The issue now is that for people arrested on such charges, based on article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Code, they can only choose from among 20 lawyers which the head of the judiciary has designated. So as far as I know, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi has yet to choose from among these lawyers.”

The hardline Kayhan newspaper said of the arrest, using her initials: “MH is a dual-national demographer and was arrested while trying to leave the country in a successful operation by intelligence forces, as part of continuous efforts to confront the enemy’s infiltrators.”

On December 3rd, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist imprisoned since June, released a statement from prison on the condition of a fellow imprisoned activist, Farhad Meysami. Arrested in August for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law, Meysami has been on a hunger strike since then, with Sotoudeh warning his condition is seriously deteriorating.

In her statement, titled, “Farhad’s life is in danger!” she called on all civil society activists and human rights defenders to draw attention to Meysami’s situation. She wrote: “What I know is that Farhad’s life is in serious danger. I ask all conscious people to do everything they can to save the life of this educated citizen.”

On December 1st, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and former advisor to 2009 presidential candidate and Green Movement opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. She was previously imprisoned for three years after the 2009 election.

Shahidi was arrested again on June 26th, after which Tehran’s chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated: “We saw that everyday she made blatant insults against the judiciary branch and officials by posting very criminal tweets.”

On December 4th, students at several Iranian universities demonstrated in support of striking workers from the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Over the past several weeks, the workers have been protesting the company’s botched privatization and not having received four months of wages (more on the Haft Tapeh protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered). The company employs roughly 5,000 workers.

According to videos shared on social media, students demonstrated at universities including Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Kermanshah University, and Babol Noshirvani University. The students called for the release of the workers and teachers who have been arrested in recent months (more on the teacher protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

At Amir Kabir University in Tehran, there were reports of clashes between the demonstrating students and students belonging to the Basij paramilitary force. According to reports, on Tuesday morning Asal Mohammadi, an activist and pharmaceutical student at Azad University student in Tehran, was arrested.


Haft Tapeh Striking Workers Reach a Deal

On December 2nd, over the three weeks into the strike by Haft Tapeh workers, a meeting was held at the company’s headquarters between the workers, government officials, and company representatives. The meeting included the chief prosecutor of Khuzestan province, the mayor of the city of Shush, the chief judge and prosecutor of Shush, Shush’s member of parliament, and representatives of the workers except for Ismail Bakhsi—who was arrested several weeks ago.

In the meeting, Shush’s mayor promised that the workers would receive their unpaid wages within three weeks.  After the meeting, Fereydoon Nikoofar, the secretary of the Haft Tapeh worker’s union, stated in an interview: “During the meeting, the workers’ problems were discussed and based on the discussion, it’s been decided that the workers will return to work … and that the workers’ contracts would change from being daily contracts into six month contracts.”

The workers also stated that their return to work would be contingent on Ismail Bakhshi’s release from custody. In response, the prosecutor of Shush said that within the next days, the grounds would be created for release of Bakhshi.

On December 4th, the Haft Tapeh workers’ union released a statement saying that Ismail Bakhsi and Sepideh Ghelyan, an activist, had come “under severe psychological and physical pressure” while imprisoned. In response, judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani denied any workers had been tortured, stating: “If any claims [of torture] are true, the responsible official and security officer will be confronted severely, but based on reports this issue is false, and people who claim otherwise must provide evidence.”


Officials Rebuke U.S

On December 4th, President Rouhani delivered a speech during a provincial trip where he denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile. He proclaimed: “America is seeking to separate Iran from Europe, China, India, and our neighboring countries. This is as we are not and will not become enemies with any of our neighboring nations.”

Rouhani stated that Iran wishes to maintain good relations with its neighbors and other countries. He declared: “Today Iran has relations, more than ever, with the world. We have and will continue to have deep relations with our neighbors. America is unable to break our relations with the people of the region, who we’ve been friendly neighbors with through the centuries.”

Rouhani censured U.S. efforts to isolate Iran and reduce its oil exports: “The great and brave Iranian nation has not and will not give up with respect to the United States. The Americans wanted to prevent Iran from exporting oil and end Iran’s trade with world. Trump wants to isolate Iran from region and world … but the Iranian people have declared they will be victorious in all these fronts.”

Rouhani went on to assert that the U.S. has faced a string of political defeats. He stated: “The people should know that in the past several months, the Americans were defeated at the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the Hague in legal proceedings. This is a victory for Iranian diplomacy, lawyers, and the great Iranian people.”

Rouhani then repeated a tacit warning to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. sought to prevent all Iranian oil exports.  He declared: “America should know that we will sell our oil and that it’s not able to prevent us from exporting our oil. It should know that if one day it wants to stop Iranian oil exports, no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.”

On December 2nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of testing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, claiming that the test “violates UN Security Council resolution 2231.” In response, Iranian foreign minister said Iran’s missiles were designed only for conventional purposes and denounced the U.S. for violating UNSC Res. 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal.

Zarif stated during a press conference: “We don’t have a nuclear weapons program and we don’t design missiles to be nuclear-weapons capable. Given the Islamic Republic’s missiles have pin-point accuracy, they are designed only for conventional arms.” He added: “The Americans, both the previous administration and the current one, have announced that neither the JCPOA nor UNSC Res. 2231 limits Iran’s missile activities.”

Zarif stated that Iran’s missile program was aimed at deterrence: “We have always emphasized our defensive capability and have announced that we have a deterrence and defensive policy, and our track record reflects this. The countries that give opinions on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities have flooded our region with weapons and caused the region to become insecure. These countries cannot ask the Islamic Republic to have no defensive capabilities.”

Zarif then spoke about European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran: “The news I heard during our trip last week to Brussels and Geneva is that the final agreements have been reached [between the Europeans], and in the near future the SPV will be finalized.”

On December 6th, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh stated on the sidelines of the OPEC summit in Austria that Iran would under no circumstances reduce its oil production: “Because of the sanctions imposed on Iran, Iran will not reduce oil production at all, but will support OPEC to manage members’ [oil cuts] … reducing our production in present times is our red line.”

Zangeneh stated that the countries that recently increased their production levels should now reduce them: “Iran in the past month has not increased production whatsoever. As such, countries that increased their production in the past month must reduce their production.”

Zangeneh also criticized the meeting of the Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, and the Saudi oil minister at the sidelines of the OPEC summit. Zangeneh stated that the meeting was “completely unprofessional,” adding: “Trump wants to teach OPEC how it should operate, meaning he wants to put OPEC under pressure and this is extremely bad. Trump is dictating orders to OPEC. Most OPEC members will never submit to America’s demands.”


Other Domestic Political Developments

On December 6th, the Rouhani administration’s budget for the upcoming Iranian year 1398 (March 2019-March 2020) was sent to parliament for approval. Behrouz Nemati, the spokesman for the parliament’s presiding board, stated on the budget approval process: “Based on the parliament’s internal rules, technical commissions will review the budget bill from the time it’s received and MPs have 10 days to give their suggestions to these commissions. The commissions will then submit their review to the consolidation commission, where the entire budget will be reviewed for one month.”

Nemati added regarding the oil price and export levels the budget is based on: “Based on what we’ve heard, the administration’s budget bill is based on a $54 dollar per barrel of oil and selling 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.”

The Iranian parliament’s bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention, one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has been sent to the Expediency Discernment Council. After the bill returned to parliament from the Guardian Council, parliamentarians amended parts of the bill in line with the Guardian Council’s complaints but insisted on the original bill in other areas.

According to the Iranian constitution, when the Guardian Council finds faults with a bill approved by parliament, and the parliament insists on its version, the bill is sent to the Expediency Discernment Council to resolve the dispute. The parliament has approved all four FATF bills, but thus far only the bill on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing has been approved by the Guardian Council.

Ali Reza Rahimi, a member of the parliament’s presiding board, has said the number of signatories for a bill on Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s impeachment has fallen below the threshold necessary for the bill to proceed. The impeachment bill had been circulated by conservative MPs (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

Rahimi said to IRNA: “Impeaching Mr Zarif had 24 signatories, which has now fallen to nine. According to the parliament’s rules, if the number of signatures for impeachment drops below ten it’s no longer under consideration.”



Hardliners Seek Zarif and Larijani’s Ouster as FATF Debate Continues

Week of November 26, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Hardline MPs Seek Foreign Minister Zarif and Parliamentary Speaker Larijani’s Impeachment
  • Reformist Confirmed as Tehran Mayor after Controversial Delay
  • Earthquake hits Kermanshah Province, where Deadly Quake Struck Last Year
  • Rouhani calls Israel a “Cancerous Tumor”
  • Supreme Leader Calls for Improving Military Capabilities

Parliamentarians belonging to the far-right Jebhe Paydari faction have circulated bills calling for the impeachment of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani. Their opposition to Zarif and Larijani is rooted in the on-going contentious domestic debate over legislation to reform the Iranian banking system in line with guidelines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In other developments, reformist Pirouz Hanachi was formally approved by the Interior Ministry as Tehran’s mayor, two weeks after his election by the Tehran City Council. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake also struck Western Iran, resulting in no reported fatalities, while President Rouhani issued an uncharacteristically harsh denunciation of Israel and the Supreme Leader called for increasing the capabilities of Iran’s Armed Forces.


Calls for Zarif and Larijani’s Impeachment

On November 27th, a bill signed by 24 members of the fundamentalist “Jebhe Paydari” faction calling for the impeachment of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was handed to Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani’s office. The bill listed eleven reasons for Zarif’s removal, including: Zarif’s recent comments about money laundering inside Iran [covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered], “inattention to economic matters in the country’s diplomacy”; “inattention to developing ties with countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America”; “failing to take advantage of the opportunities created by resistance in the region.”

Ali Asghar Yousefnejad, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s office, stated that the bill would be sent to the parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee for review.

Jebhe Paydari MPs were previously rebuked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei over their calls for President Rouhani’s removal. Jebhe Paydari also spurred major controversy after a placard during an anti-Rouhani conference they organized in August tacitly threatened Rouhani’s life if he pursued renewed negotiations with the United States.

MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, one of the 24 signatories, cited Zarif’s money laundering comments— explained in a previous Iran Unfiltered—as the principal reason for his impeachment: “The foreign minister several days ago in an interview with one of the news sites made a claim that there was widespread money laundering in the country. To clear up this issue, parliamentarians have introduced a bill for Zarif’s impeachment.” He added: “In the impeachment bill it’s stated that Mr Zarif announce the names of those who engage in money laundering to parliamentarians.”

After Zarif’s money laundering comments, Iran’s attorney general asked Zarif for evidence regarding money laundering inside Iran. On November 24th, it was reported that Zarif had sent a 12-page letter to the attorney general’s office, which largely dealt with the money laundering issue.

The call for Zarif’s impeachment was rebuked by most in Iran’s political spectrum, including conservatives. Masoud Forghouni, a conservative newspaper columnist, said in response to the impeachment bill: “This bill is a good goal assist for Zarif and the Rouhani administration. Mr Zarif implemented the idea of the late [President] Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mr Rouhani on being friends with America, which resulted in the nuclear negotiations and the JCPOA. Zarif must stay until the end of the Rouhani’s term to make up for the great mistake of the JCPOA and the severe consequences Iran paid for getting too close to America.”

Forghouni added that the bill was a deadender in parliament: “Zarif’s impeachment will not garner enough votes and this issue will only enhance his image in public opinion. When these critics know that the current parliament doesn’t have the capabilities to remove a minister like Zarif, why do they enter a game they know they’ll lose?”

The Jebhe Paydari MPs also took steps this week to remove Ali Larijani as speaker of the parliament. Hardline MP Deligani stated that 27 MPs also supported impeaching Larijani. The reasoning Deligani provided was that Larijani sent the FATF bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention (CTF) to the Expediency Council to resolve differences between the Guardian Council and parliament over the bill [see a previous Iran Unfiltered for background on the bill]. Deligani contends that the bill should have returned to parliament for further debate.

Reformist Entekhab noted that the impeachment calls against Zarif and Larijani both have to do with the FATF issue. An Entekhab column also noted that the bills were unlikely to succeed: “The number of Jebhe Paydari MPs in the 10th parliament is limited. The rest of the principlists in parliament did not support their impeachment bills. As such, in a final voting in parliament these impeachment bills won’t have more than 40 to 50 votes.”  

As attacks on Zarif and Larijani increase, the bills on meeting FATF guidelines are getting closer to adoption. On November 27th, Ali Najafi, the spokesman for the parliament’s national security foreign policy committee, stated that some of the differences between parliament and the Guardian Council over the CTF bill had been resolved.

Najafi said of a recent meeting between representatives of the parliament and the Guardian Council: “In this meeting, the errors the Guardian Council had with the parliament’s CTF bill were reviewed with representatives of the Guardian Council.” He added: “At the end, representatives of the [foreign policy and national security] committee–from a legalistic approach and after explanations by the Guardian Council representatives–made changes to some parts [of the bill] and insisted on their previous positions on other parts.”


Supreme Leader Calls for Military Upgrades as Rouhani Lambasts Israel

On November 28th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with commanders of the Iranian army’s navy and issued a call for increasing Iran’s military capabilities. He stated: “The Islamic Republic does not intend to start a war with anyone but we must increase our capabilities such that not only will the enemy be afraid to attack Iran, but that—with authority and readiness in the arena—our armed forces will remove the shadow of [foreign] threats from the Iranian people.”

On November 27th, President Rouhani delivered remarks at the 32nd “Islamic Unity” conference, which takes place annually in Tehran. In his speech, he strongly denounced Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States–continuing a recent trajectory of more bellicose foreign policy rhetoric since the snapback of U.S. sanctions.

Regarding Israel, he stated: “How is it that a fake regime called Israel was formed in this region and how is it that the great and historical nation of Palestine was uprooted from its home and for years has been subject to murder and looting by the Zionists? … The creation of this cancerous tumor was on the basis that the West didn’t trust the region’s people and even the governments that were its puppets, and it had to create its own puppet power, which would listen 100 percent to it and ensure the West’s interests in the sensitive Middle East region.”

Regarding Saudi Arabia, he stated: “Depending on foreigners is the biggest historical mistake. You’ve given them $450 billion to provide for your security?”


Earthquake and Other Domestic Developments

On the evening of Sunday, November 25th, a 6.3 Richter earthquake struck Iran’s Western Kermanshah province. Among the towns damaged were Sar Pol-e Zahab, Gilan-e Gharb, and Gasr-e Shireen. Last year, an earthquake hit the same area, killing and injuring thousands.

Officials reported no deaths from the earthquake but stated that over 700 had been injured. The Head of Iran’s Red Crescent stated on Monday: “A review of 150 villages has been concluded and thankfully until now there have been no deaths … There have been 634 injured from escaping [buildings] or from damage. Both 72-hour food & one-month food packages have been sent to the affected regions.”

On November 28th, Pirouz Hanachi was officially confirmed as Tehran’s mayor. Hanachi was elected by Tehran’s reformist city council as mayor roughly two weeks ago.

However, his confirmation required approval from the Interior Ministry, which delayed in issuing it—leading to speculation that Hanachi would be rejected. According to some city council members and Interior Ministry officials, the reason for the delay in the Interior Ministry’s approval was that it was awaiting the Intelligence Ministry’s final review of Hanachi.

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Rouhani administration’s Planning and Budget Organization, announced that wages for government employees would increase by 20 percent in the Iranian government budget for next year. Nobakht also stated that the budget for the upcoming Iranian year 1398 (March 2019-March 2020) would be finalized on Sunday, December 2nd and be sent to the parliament for approval.

Nobakht also said about the impact of U.S. sanctions: “The shadow of sanctions will impact our income and consumption, but our skill will be demonstrated in using our ability and experience to work around the sanctions.”

Nobakht said of government support packages to help withstand sanctions: “We have increased the pensions of covered people by three to five times, and this trend will continue in 1398. People eligible for subsidies will also receive them. Government support and compensation packages will also continue and all of our efforts will be so that we can proudly overcome the sanctions situation.”




Workers Protest in Shush as Zarif Comes Under Fire

Week of November 12, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Protests by Workers at Private Haft Tapeh Company Enter Third Week, Amidst Arrests of Leaders
  • Some Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium Soccer Match for Second Time in Recent Months
  • “Sultan of Coins” and Accomplice Executed for Alleged Financial Crimes
  • Officials Deny Executions of Suspects Tied to September Ahvaz Terrorist Attack
  • Foreign Minister Zarif Faces Conservative Backlash after Comments on Money Laundering
  • Officials Caution Europe on Slow Pace of Implementing “Special Purpose Vehicle”

For the past three weeks, the southwestern Iranian city of Shush has been the site of protests by workers from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory over unpaid wages and job insecurity. In recent days, 18 of the protesting workers have been arrested, though officials have since stated that most have been released. In other news, a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the final match of the AFC Champions League in Tehran following pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies. However, this marked the second time in recent months that some women have been allowed inside the stadium for a soccer match.

Amidst an on-going corruption probe, the “Sultan of Coins,” a moniker for currency and gold dealer Vahid Mazloumin, was executed alongside an accomplice. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also come under intense criticism after comments linking some of the opposition to Iran reforming its anti-money laundering laws to powerful money launderers inside the country. The vociferous attacks have included a draft impeachment bill against him authored by conservative MPs. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has issued a stern warning to Europe highlighting the consequences of it failing to implement a “Special Purpose Vehicle” to facilitate Iran trade in the wake of U.S. sanctions.


Zarif Under Fire for Comments on Money Laundering

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come under fire from principlist and hardline forces after linking some of the opposition to a bill on Iran acceding to the convention on terrorism financing—one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—to money launderers inside Iran who stand to lose with the new regulations.

On November 12th, Zarif has stated during an interview with Khabar Online: “I believe that many of the concerns [regarding the FATF bills] are sincere. But I believe that behind some of the [anti-FATF] atmosphere that has been created are economic interests. Money laundering is a reality in the country. I don’t want to pin this money laundering on a specific place. But those places that launder thousands of billions [of rials], definitely have the financial ability to spend tens or hundreds of billions on propaganda and creating an atmosphere in the country against anti-money laundering laws.”

Conservative newspaper Kayhan immediately rebuked Zarif, stating: “Zarif’s strange comments and his accusations against the critics and opponents of the FATF bills, which have been broadly embraced by spiteful and anti-revolutionary foreign media, come despite money laundering already being illegal under law. The insult of money laundering directed towards critics and opponents without any supporting documents or evidence will definitely be pursued through legal means and the foreign minister must be held accountable.”

On November 20th, the conservative Fars News Agency stated that based on a new law, Zarif would be solicited for evidence regarding his money laundering accusation. Fars stated that “based on a new procedure, the judiciary would in response to crimes committed in the country—such as the money laundering accusation made by Zarif—send an official letter from the prosecutor’s office to the accuser giving him/her ten days to two weeks to provide evidence to be followed up on by the judiciary.”

Judiciary Chief Amoli Larijani also criticized Zarif’s comments, stating: “If there is widespread money laundering in the country how come they haven’t notified the judiciary of this? This issue is similar to the debate over the illegal imports of cars, which after several months was brought to the attention of the judiciary. Our law against money laundering was passed in the 1380s [2001-2011] and based on it those who are aware of money laundering are obligated to notify a judiciary official.”

On November 20th, principlist MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, stated that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment had been introduced in parliament. Deligani stated: “This bill is being written and it is expected that in the next days signatures will start being gathered in support of it.”

One political analyst told the reformist Fararu of the impeachment bill: “The MPs know well that it is extremely doubtful that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment will get enough votes. But they are pursuing this to at least keep him busy for a while.”


Worker Protest

Workers for the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory, a private company located in the city of Shush in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, are continuing weeks-long protests over unpaid wages and job insecurity. According to BBC Persian, over the past two decades, Haft Tapeh workers have on multiple occasions engaged in protests, demonstrations, and strikes against the company.

State outlet ILNA has written that some of Haft Tapeh’s shareholders and members of its board of directors were on the Iranian Central Bank’s list of foreign currency manipulators. The Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson has also stated that Haft Tapeh’s manager has fled and his whereabouts are unknown.

On November 18th, authorities arrested 18 of the protesting Haft Tapeh workers. Among the arrested were Ismail Bakhshi and Moslem Armand, two of the protesting workers’ representatives.

Haft Tapeh workers have stated that there are two paths to resolving the crisis: for Haft Tapeh to be governed by workers, or for the company to come under state control and be managed by a worker’s council.

Many student groups and organizations across Iran have voiced support for the Haft Tapeh workers. One statement, from the Muslim Society of Students of Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz, read: “The workers have in a completely peaceful way and to attain their basic rights engaged in protests in line with the constitution. However, unfortunately the way these workers have been treated is very improper.”

On November 20th, the public prosecutor of Shush, Mostafa Nazari, stated that 15 of the arrested workers had been freed. Nazari stated: “The demonstrations in recent days by workers, after the incitement of some is no longer only an economic issue and has resulted in the public’s order and comfort becoming disturbed and traffic across the city.” He added: “Haft Tapeh workers must be cautious of non-workers who—under the guise of caring about labor and economic issues—seek to take advantage of the stature and position that hardworking laborers have [in society].”


Reports of Executions Over Ahvaz Attack

On November 12th, reports surfaced that 22 individuals were executed in connection with the September 22nd terrorist attack on a military commemoration parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. Radio Farda said of these reports: “Some websites on Sunday reported that 22 individuals who were arrested based on charges of ‘connections’ with the attack on the military parade in Ahvaz, without prior notice being given to their families, were executed on November 8th in Ahvaz’s central prison.”

On September 24th, the Intelligence Ministry had in fact announced that 22 individuals “responsible” for the attack at the military parade, which led to the deaths of 25 civilians, were arrested in Ahvaz.

However, on November 12th Gholam-Reza Shariati, the governor of Khuzestan province denied any executions had taken place, describing the reports as “completely false.” Hossein Beigi, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, also rejected that executions had occurred and stated that the “execution sentence will only be carried out after approval from the Supreme Court.”


Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium

On November 10th, roughly 800 Iranian women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the AFC Champions League final between Persepolis from Iran and Kashima Antlers from Japan. This marked the second time in recent months, the first being an Iran-Bolivia friendly soccer match on October 16th, that a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium—challenging a convention against women attending soccer matches that has existed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Radio Farda said the female spectators were “handpicked and had their own seating area.”

The entrance of women into Azadi stadium was widely praised across Iranian society, especially by reformist news outlets. Reformist Shargh said the presence of women in the audience was the “most important and positive act in the [AFC Champions League] final.” Asr Iran wrote that “the men and women present in the stadium showed that they have the culture for this [women being present in stadiums alongside men] and the infrastructure for it is ready.”

MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy head of the reformist Hope faction in parliament, expressed dismay that pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies was necessary for women to be allowed to watch the match. Tabesh stated that women being allowed to enter Azadi stadium was the “will of the [political system].” He added: “Unfortunately this action was delayed and procrastinated on. To such an extent that FIFA and international federations entered the arena [to pressure Iran to allow women inside the stadium]. We ourselves could have made decisions on women being present in stadiums before international pressure was imposed on us. In this case we would have had both the approval of the people and religious values would have been upheld.”

On November 14th, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi—a prominent Shia marja, the highest rank in the Shia clerical hierarchy—delivered a speech where he dismissed the importance of women being allowed inside stadiums. He also discussed Iran’s international position in the wake reinstated U.S. sanctions and the prospects of U.S.-Iran negotiations.

In the speech, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi denounced the U.S. for leaving the nuclear deal. He stated: “The world we live in is a world in which a savage dictatorship is its ruler and some countries seek to dominate others … Even in the time of the Arab jahiliyyah [before Islam] agreements were respected. But today some countries leave agreements whenever their heart desires.”

He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “The government and people must know that we are in such a world and we must know with who we are expected to negotiate with. They push forward a bunch of irrelevant, wrong, and meaningless issues to advance their aims, such as the Revolutionary Guards disbanding, not having missiles, and leaving Syria.”

He then said about the presence of women in stadiums: “We must know that in such a world we have to be strong in the face of aggressors. We must strengthen to confront them. God willing the Rouhani administration thinks more of the people and with the issue of women in stadiums doesn’t distract people and thinks of realities.”


“Sultan of Coins” Execution Plays into Domestic Politics

On November 14th, Vahid Mazloumin, known as the “Sultan of coins,” and Mohammad Ismaeil Qasemi, were executed for financial crimes. Mazloumin was arrested in July while allegedly hoarding gold coins, and Qasemi was arrested last January. The official charges against Mazloumin and Qasemi were “sowing corruption on earth through creating a corrupt network disturbing the economic, foreign currency, and money system by engaging in illegal dealings and massive smuggling of currency and gold coins.”

Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor, said after the execution: “The charges against Vahid Mazloumin were disturbing the country’s economic system through manipulating the money and banking market. There is no basis to say he was executed for buying and selling gold coins.”

Also on November 14th, Masoud Nili, a senior economic advisor to President Rouhani and staunch advocate of free-market economics, resigned from his post. His resignation came several weeks after Abbas Akhoundi, another strong proponent of the free market, resigned as Minister of Roads and Urban Development, citing Rouhani’s shifting economic policy (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered). In recent months, President Rouhani has moved towards greater state intervention in the economy to combat U.S. sanctions and stabilize the country’s currency.

After the execution of Maloumin and Qasemi and Nili’s resignation, conservative newspaper Kayhan ran the provocative headline: “Two liberals leave the administration and two corrupt economic actors are executed, and the cost of the dollar decreases!” Mohammad Tabibian, an economist who served in the Hashemi Rafsanjani administration during the 1990s, said in response to the headline: “These efforts are aimed at nothing but damaging the public’s collective rationality and breaking down humanitarian values. Clearly, this won’t take the place of rational economic policymaking and pursuing humanitarian methods.”


Deputy Foreign Minister Cautions Europe

On November 19th, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi delivered a speech in which he discussed the return of U.S. sanctions and on-going European efforts to salvage the nuclear deal. Araghchi stated regarding U.S. sanctions: “No one in Iran will be raising their hands [in surrender] because of sanctions. We will find our own path, just like we have in the past.”

Araghchi also censured European powers for moving slowly on efforts to salvage the JPCOA and creating channels to continue commercial ties with Iran: “If the Europeans retreat, their sovereignty, reliability, and security will come under question. If Europe thinks that the West Asian region will be more secure without the JCPOA, it can test this. Our region has a collection of issues and problems, can Europe bear a new wave of terrorism and immigration and the start of a nuclear crisis? Without a doubt, the cost for the JCPOA’s destruction is higher for Europe than America. If Europe believes that the JCPOA is important for its sovereignty, security, and reliability, it must be ready to pay a cost for it.”

Araghchi said of European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran, which has yet to materialize: “Whether the Europeans don’t want to work with us and are playing with us or whether they want to but aren’t able to, at the end it doesn’t make a difference. The result is that the Europeans either didn’t want to or couldn’t do anything. However, we will stay in the JCPOA as long as it’s to the benefit of the country. If this ceases to be the case, staying in the  JCPOA will be useless.”


Other Domestic Developments

In a November 20th interview, a prominent principlist (conservative) figure, Mohammad Reza Mir Taj Al-Dini, discussed Iran’s shifting political climate and the possibility of principlists returning to power in the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections. Al-Dini stated that reformist and moderate forces inside Iran were losing popularity: “Some internal polling shows that reformist and moderate figures are losing popularity and people are turning away from them.”

He added that reformists/moderates have failed to deliver on their promises: “The people see that reformists in practice have not had any successes. They promised that they would maintain the value of the national currency, that they would solve economic problems and unemployment, but they did not abide by these slogans and election promises and have had these problems turn against them as people have seen the currency’s value drop.”

He then predicted that principlists would win in Iran’s upcoming elections, stating: “As such, it is predictable that in the next parliamentary and presidential elections, the people’s choices will be different.”

Meanwhile, on November 13th, the Tehran city council elected Pirouz Hanachi as mayor of Tehran. Hanachi, a reformist political figure who has held senior posts in the Tehran municipality and worked in the Rouhani administration’s Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, is the third mayor since reformists took control of Tehran’s city council after elections in May 2017. The first mayor elected by the reformist city council council, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, resigned on April 10th, 2018, citing health problems. His successor, Mohammad-Ali Afshani, came out of retirement to assume the position, but was removed after a new law passed in September forbid retirees from assuming government posts.




Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement


By withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) — the nuclear accord between the United States, other major world powers, and Iran and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council — the Donald J. Trump administration caused substantial damage to U.S. national security interests, the repercussions of which currently may only be faintly understood. Already, Trump’s decision has led to substantial reputational damage to the country, shaken the transatlantic alliance, and engendered international efforts to undo the U.S.’s effective domination of the global financial system. These consequences will far outlast the Trump administration if decisive efforts are not undertaken now to mitigate the damage and to ensure Trump and his team do not make good on their disastrous efforts to fully terminate the JCPOA and instigate a war with Iran.

There is still time to salvage the JCPOA and prevent further disastrous consequences. Much of the world, including America’s closest allies and supporters of the JCPOA inside Iran, are looking for a signal that Trump’s assault on the JCPOA and those who continue to uphold the agreement can be reined in. Indeed, with the 2018 midterm elections in the rearview mirror, the Trump administration may now be entering a lame-duck period. Seeking to return the United States into the JCPOA should be a significant foreign policy priority for the incoming Congress and central to the foreign policy platform of those seeking to challenge Trump in 2020. That, however, will require efforts in the interim period to signal that Congress and any successor administration will seek to realign the U.S. with long-standing international norms. Failing this, the damage done to U.S. interests might be irreparable and the U.S.’s position as global leader substantially weakened as the JCPOA collapses and the U.S. and Iran speed toward a military confrontation.


On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA and to re-impose all nuclear-related sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord following 90- and 180-day wind-down periods. The Trump administration also promised to utilize existing U.S. sanctions authorities to aggressively target Iran and companies engaged in sanctionable conduct therewith.

President Trump’s decision was met with dismay. The Joint Commission for the JCPOA — comprised of remaining participants in the nuclear accord — signaled their “regret” over the U.S.’s action and redoubled their commitments to upholding the accord. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all UN member-states to support the JCPOA and for the JCPOA’s remaining participants to abide by its terms.

Even America’s closest allies refused to fall in line, with the European Union (EU) most significantly announcing its development of alternative payment mechanisms by which legitimate trade with Iran could be facilitated. The French foreign ministry stated that these measures may go beyond Iran and be used to circumvent extraterritorial U.S. sanctions in the future.

Europe also took steps to amend an EU blocking regulation that prohibits European companies from complying with re-imposed U.S. sanctions targeting Iran, absent prior authorization from the relevant EU authorities. Under this amended regulation, if European companies sustain pecuniary damages from U.S. authorities for engaging in legitimate trade with Iran, such European companies can seek to recover damages from the United States, including — most dramatically — through the seizure of U.S. property held in Europe. More symbolically, Europe’s reinvigoration of the blocking regulation signaled the end of more than two decades of fervent cooperation between the U.S. and Europe on sanctions enforcement related to Iran and brought forth a new era where Europe will no longer accede to U.S. whims.

Beyond the consequences for U.S. leadership and influence with the international community, these damages to U.S. interests may pale in comparison if the U.S.-Iran conflict escalates into military action. While Trump himself routinely pillories the 2003 decision to invade Iraq, he has surrounded himself with hawks who seek the same fate for Iran. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have in the past openly called for regime change and bombing Iran. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a relative moderate within this administration who has cautioned against withdrawing from the JCPOA and may soon be headed for the exits, has even listed his three top threats in the region as “Iran, Iran and Iran.” Moreover, as former Secretary of State John Kerry has warned, Iran’s rivals in the region urged the Obama administration vociferously to bomb Iran. “Every leader I met with in the region…” warned Kerry, “said, ‘You have to bomb Iran, that is the only thing they understand and that is the only way you will stop them having a nuclear weapon.’” Those leaders hoping to “fight the Iranians to the last American” – in the words of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates – have since gained influence with the Trump administration by leaps and bounds. 

Even if Trump himself wants to avoid further military entanglements, it is his advisors in Pompeo and Bolton who maneuvered Trump out of the JCPOA and appear to be working closely with hawkish advisors outside the administration to edge the U.S. toward military confrontation. If they succeed in goading Iran to leave the constraints of the JCPOA, Bolton and Pompeo would have all the ammunition they need to replicate the Iraq war playbook and tee up a preventive war to stop Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Even if they fail, the spark for a massive military conflagration with Iran could come from multiple directions in the absence of deconfliction channels. A clash in the tight waterways of the Persian Gulf, U.S. maneuvers to push Iran out of Syria, or Iranian retaliation for perceived foreign support for terror within Iranian borders could be all warhawks in Washington and Riyadh would need to push headlong into a disastrous war.


Given the risks of President Trump and his administration fully collapsing the JCPOA and instigating war with Iran, the work needs to begin now in order to rein in the White House and prevent a disastrous war.

In this context, a top priority must be to signal that there is political will in Washington to reenter the JCPOA.


Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress should introduce legislation that would seek to return the U.S. to the JCPOA. Such legislation could indefinitely suspend all nuclear-related sanctions and additional sanctions contrary to U.S. JCPOA obligations. While such legislation may face an uncertain pathway to becoming law, it would send an important signal that there is significant political will in the United States to salvage the agreement.


Contenders for the 2020 Presidential elections should similarly make crystal clear that their intent is to return to the JCPOA if elected and build on it as the floor, rather than the ceiling. Wide support among 2020 contenders and key legislators in Congress would send a clear signal to all parties seeking to sustain the JCPOA that there is light at the end of the Trump tunnel. This would increase the likelihood that Europe and others can maintain the agreement and that Iran remains within the constraints of the JCPOA, reducing the threat of an Iranian exit instigating a crisis that leads to war.


Signals on reentry to the JCPOA should be coupled with strong steps to constrain the present administration’s ability to start a war. In the 115th Congress, legislation has been introduced by Sen. Tom Udall that would prohibit the administration from using funds to launch an unauthorized war against Iran. This builds on earlier efforts, including an acknowledgment in the conference report for the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which clarified that Congress is not aware of any legislative authorization for Trump to use force against Iran. Such efforts must be redoubled, with anyone concerned about the prospect of war with Iran demanding that any defense authorization include explicit prohibitions against Trump triggering war with Iran.


Additional steps could push back on the Trump administration’s bankrupt pressure campaign. The administration’s Oct. 16 and Nov. 5 announcements of new sanctions designations signal a clear intent to escalate financial war against Iran, with banks that were far removed from sanctionable activity and crucial to enabling some degree of humanitarian trade under previous administrations now subjected to sanctions under terrorism authorities. The intent appears to be to complicate future efforts to relieve sanctions in exchange for Iranian concessions, while starving the Iranian people of all basic goods, including humanitarian goods, in a dangerous move to destabilize the country and provoke an uprising. Not only is such a move immoral and likely illegal under international law, it is almost certain to backfire and empower hardline forces like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that thrive under sanctions. As a result, a strong effort should be made to effectuate humanitarian exemptions under Iran sanctions. Congress should seek accountability from the administration regarding the measures it is taking to ensure that trade in food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods for Iranians can continue.


The incoming Congress and a successor administration can respectively halt and repair much of the damage from Trump’s JCPOA exit by signaling the political will and intent for the U.S. to re-enter the JCPOA’s fold and resume obligations thereto, including via the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.

Resuming commitments under the JCPOA would deliver profound benefits for the U.S. national interest. First, it would signal to the world that the U.S. is a responsible actor in the international arena; the U.S. intends to live up to the political agreements that it makes with other countries; and the Trump administration was nothing more than an unfortunate aberration in the American political system. Nothing has caused more serious damage to U.S. interests than the growing trust deficit towards the United States. If states are unable to trust the United States, then not only is U.S. global leadership severely undermined but the international system that has been predominate since the end of the Second World War risks unraveling. By clearly showing the world that the U.S. intends to fully observe the commitments that it makes, a successor administration can begin to repair the damage wrought by President Trump. 

Second, the U.S.’s re-entrance into the JCPOA would have important non-proliferation benefits by effectively disincentivizing Iran from exiting the JCPOA itself and thus undoing the risk of a burgeoning nuclear crisis in the Middle East. In so doing, the U.S. would ensure the survivability of the tough and far-reaching constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that will be imposed by the JCPOA through 2030 and beyond. Iran’s nuclear program does not pose the risks it did in the pre-2015 era, and that is fully thanks to the JCPOA and the restrictions it imposes. Any policymaker should be eager to return to the JCPOA and, in so doing, re-secure hard-fought concessions that take an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran over its nuclear program off the table for the foreseeable future.

Third, reentry to the JCPOA would signal to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Donald Trump’s blank check for their increasingly brazen behavior is at an end, and that the U.S. has alternatives to outsourcing American policy in the region to an erratic kingdom that – in the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham – has double dealt on terror. Perversely, both the Trump administration and numerous Washington pressure groups have warned that the administration’s pressure campaign against Iran would be jeopardized if the U.S. dared to impose consequences on the kingdom over the brutal murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. Such warnings expose the current administration’s approach to the region as so hopelessly unbalanced that is susceptible to extortion by one morally bankrupt regime against another. The U.S. needs to move to a transactional relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran where we can impose consequences on each for such brazen misbehavior. In Iran, the U.S. has sanctioned itself out of influence, whereas with Saudi Arabia the U.S. is too afraid to use its substantial leverage to rein in the kingdom’s destructive course – whether on the disastrous war in Yemen or on the kingdom’s mounting human rights abuses. An alternative is available, and it should start with re-entry to the JCPOA.

Finally, U.S. participation in the JCPOA Joint Commission would guarantee diplomacy with Iran that does not presently exist amid the administration’s pressure campaign, and could lead to follow-on negotiations addressing the full spectrum of America’s concerns with Iran – including regional security and human rights. The present Trump administration approach of exiting the JCPOA and seeking its destruction prohibits the U.S. from affecting Iran’s calculations on issues beyond the nuclear file. Any policymaker with justifiable concerns with Iranian behavior or who seeks political solutions to the proxy conflicts that have gripped the region should be urging a return to the JCPOA.

Returning to the JCPOA and restoring U.S. credibility and influence with Iran is unlikely to be without cost, but will not be nearly as costly as the alternative. The U.S. reneged on its commitments and, barring Congressional intervention or a change of heart from President Trump himself, will have materially breached the accord by snapping back nuclear-related sanctions for a period of at least 32 months if there is a change in administration after the 2020 elections. Judging by recent sanctions designations, as well, the Trump administration does not appear intent to sit idly in the months ahead, but will proceed with a dramatic expansion of sanctions designations that may go well beyond previous sanctions campaigns. These will have a tremendous negative effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian people’s aspirations, in addition to the economies of our allies in Europe seeking to comply with the UNSC-endorsed JCPOA.

As a result, the next administration should seek to reenter the JCPOA by providing assurances that sanctions relief will flow as intended under the accord. For example, this could include immediately licensing the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran that was delayed and ultimately reneged on by the Trump administration. Moreover, the next administration should address the credible challenges that arose in effectuating sanctions relief while the U.S. was party to the deal.

Time will be of the essence to demonstrate good faith and restore American credibility. While the U.S. should refrain from seeking to influence Iran’s domestic political balance in any direction, Iran will hold pivotal parliamentary elections in May 2020 and Presidential elections in 2021. The current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is also 79 years old and Iran’s various factions are already jockeying over his potential successor. The political dynamics inside Iran may well determine how forward leaning the next administration can be in seeking to resolve remaining sources of conflict with Iran and it is critical that the U.S. act before it is too late to salvage the JCPOA and with it the political space to pursue diplomatic solutions.


The stakes of salvaging the JCPOA are incredibly high for American and regional security. At risk are the dual threats of a nuclear-armed Iran and a disastrous war that could make the Iraq war pale in comparison. The American people do not want to repeat the mistakes that led to the war in Iraq with Iran, and policymakers who clearly affirm their opposition to Donald Trump’s march to war are likely to be rewarded for their stand. Bold leadership is needed for the U.S. to navigate the treacherous waters ahead under Trump and re-enter and reinvigorate the key opening with Iran represented by the JCPOA.

Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

For a text version of this report, please click here.


Hear from experts who support re-entering the JCPOA:

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col, USA (Ret), former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell:
“NIAC’s report, “Restoring U.S. Credibility – Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement”, is not only a powerful indictment of the Trump Administration’s security policy, it is a clear and clarion call for redress. The report makes quite clear that without a resumption of our agreed responsibilities under the JCPOA, alliances will fracture, de-dollarization movements will proceed apace, enemies will gain ground, and Iran will not be substantially prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. War could even result. The wonder is that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in the first place; even more of a marvel–but entirely wise and proper–would be a successful return. Every concerned party should be working toward that end.”

Hooman Majd, Iranian-American writer:
“It almost goes without saying that the best option for de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, and preventing nuclear proliferation, is for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA nuclear accord. It is unimaginable that Iran would agree to a new deal—or indeed any other deal on other issues of contention—without the U.S. first abiding by the commitments that it made when it signed on, along with five other powers, to the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Ned Price, Director of Policy and Communication at National Security Action:
“There is much that we still don’t know about the Trump administration’s plans and intentions regarding Iran, but here’s what we do know: the withdrawal from the Iran deal was a political maneuver designed solely to satisfy the President’s base. It was manifestly not in our national security interest, as it has the potential to free Iran from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, while also simultaneously setting us on a possible path toward another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. What we also know, however, is that the new Democratic House now has the oversight tools to spotlight and constrain the administration’s recklessness, just as we begin to clear the path for the next administration’s reentry into the deal. There may be tactical disagreements regarding how to most effectively confront Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, but there must be a strategic recognition that only the JCPOA provides a baseline that allows us to achieve our most important objective: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at The Atlantic Council:
“I concur that the next US administration should return to the JCPOA– assuming Iran has remained compliant — and also lift the travel ban. The US should also request new talks with Iran both on repairing the damage from the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and on other issues of mutual concern.

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:
“It is crucial for America’s standing in the world that we work to re-enter the JCPOA in the near future. This report provides concrete steps that Congress can take now to ensure that we return to the promises we made to the international community. Without doing so, America will continue to act as a force of instability in the Middle East.”

Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa:
“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived rejection of the JCPOA and policy of ‘maximum pressure’ can no doubt inflict pain on the Iranian people. It can also court disaster in risking Iran’s resumption of its nuclear activities, further destabilization of the Middle East, and possibly even another costly US war in the region. Remaining quiet in the face of these predictable harms is not an option. This report offers timely and reasonable recommendations for keeping the JCPOA alive as a pathway for the re-emergence of a saner approach to Iran.”

Bijan Khajehpour, economist and a managing partner at Eurasian Nexus Partners:
“The US rejoining the JCPOA and helping to sustain a multilateral agreement will not only reduce the likelihood of an unnecessary nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also prevent a radicalisation of Iranian politics. A moderate Iran is important for regional stability, the containment of jihadist movements and the future energy security for US allies globally.”

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College
“The JCPOA has successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program and remains the surest tool for preventing an Iranian bomb. The new Congress should do what it can to limit the serious damage done by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. If the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues to escalate, the odds increase that Iran will exit the agreement and move closer to a nuclear weapon, which could in turn spark a costly war.”

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University:
“Candidates and legislators of all political persuasions would do well to read and heed this report. The Trump administration’s abandonment of arms control and diplomacy in favor of conflict and confrontation has brought the United States only isolation and infamy as well as heightened risk of war. It is not too late to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to a course that demonstrably serves U.S. interests better than the current policy does.”

Ellie Geranmayeh, Deputy Head MENA program at The European Council on Foreign Relations
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the JCPOA, after months of negotiations with European allies earlier this year on pathways to sustain the agreement, was significantly damaging for transatlantic ties. This wound has been deepened by the manner in which the White House has sidelined European security interests and tried to impede their efforts to preserve the JCPOA, as enshrined by a UN Security Council. This report highlights the urgent need for the US executive and legislative branch to reassure European allies that in matters of foreign policy, the United States is a credible and consistent partner. Moreover, the US should reassure European capitals and companies that US sanctions policy will not seek to illegitimately target allies in pursuit of a maximalist policy that is unlikely to trigger fundamental changes in Iranian behaviour.”

Iran Reacts to Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

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 [2019]. 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.”



Iran Braces for Reinstated U.S. Sanctions

Week of October 29, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Rouhani Stresses Iran will Withstand U.S. Pressure
  • Officials Reject Denmark Claims of Terrorist Plot, Call for Improving EU Ties
  • Quarrel Involving Senior Ayatollah Highlights Clerical Divisions
  • Israeli Prime Minister’s Oman Trip Viewed as Advancing Broader Anti-Iran Agenda
  • Parliament Approves Rouhani’s Ministerial Changes

As U.S. sanctions on Iran’s banking and oil sectors are set to be reinstated on November 5th, Iranian officials emphasize Iran can endure the pressure and will not change its regional policies. Officials have also strongly rejected accusations by Denmark regarding an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate an opposition figure associated with the al-Ahvaz separatist group. The charge has been characterized by the Iranian foreign ministry as aimed at reversing the improvement in Iran-EU ties and pushing Europe to join the Trump administration’s pressure campaign. A recent meeting between a senior Ayatollah and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami also spurred controversy inside Iran after the Ayatollah came under attack by prominent conservative official. Meanwhile, the recent trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman—often used as a Western backchannel to Iran—was perceived by some Iranian analysts as aimed at breaking Oman away from Iran.


Officials Defiant as U.S. Sanctions Return

On October 31st, President Hassan Rouhani held a cabinet-level meeting where he discussed the return of U.S. sanctions and contended that the U.S. was backing down in its pressure campaign. He proclaimed: “I am certain that America will not be victorious in this new plot against Iran. As we are seeing, they are backing down step by step.” He went on: “First, they said ‘we will reduce Iranian oil [exports] to zero,’ then they said in November it won’t be possible to reduce to zero but it will be in several more months, and later they slowly began saying we can’t reduce to zero but we only want to just reduce Iranian oil exports.”

Rouhani touched on the hardships that the Iranian people are facing and said his administration will successfully overcome the difficulties. He stated: “Maybe in the past several months our people have endured hardships and the next months will also be difficult, but the government will use all its capabilities to ease problems and God willing, with the help of the people, producers, exporters, and all economic actors, we won’t allow this trajectory to continue.”

Rouhani also contended that U.S. pressure was transient and called on other countries to maintain commercial ties with Iran. He declared: “To Iran’s commercial partners, I say that this American pressure is temporary but our relations with you are permanent. The Americans yell for a few days but will eventually leave. They cannot decide for this region and great nations in this regard.”

Rouhani also struck a more provocative tone by comparing the reinstatement of sanctions to the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Rouhani noted that the anniversary of the hostage crisis coincided with the reimposition of U.S. sanctions. He opined: “13 Aban [November 4th, anniversary of U.S. embassy hostage taking] was rooted in struggling against capitulation and struggling for the Iranian people’s independence and against American aggression … they [U.S. leaders] hoped that within a few months the revolution would crumble and they could gloriously and with complete dominance return to Iran and consolidate their control here.”

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated in his weekly press conference that Iran’s regional policies have not changed in response to the Trump administration’s pressure policies. He proclaimed: “Iran without a doubt is the same country it was previously with all the same features. It is the same country it was before Trump’s presidency, without any changes to its regional policies.”

Ghassemi also said that President Trump was making a mistake in neglecting regional history and was harming his own legacy. He stated: “It seems that Trump doesn’t have enough awareness regarding the region’s situation, the history and characteristics of the people of the region, and the developments that have taken place in this part of the world in recent years.” He went on: “His prominent advisors unfortunately neglect the interests of the American people and based on wrong intelligence attained from terrorist groups, are keen on getting America in confrontations in the Middle East. This is resulting in the American peoples’ interests and Trump’s reputation being destroyed.”


Tehran Reacts to Denmark’s Accusation of an Assassination Plot

On October 30th, Denmark’s security and intelligence agency announced that a Norwegian citizen of Iranian background, who allegedly intended to carry out an assassination on Danish soil, had been arrested and would be held until November 8th before going to trial. According to Danish intelligence chief Finn Borch Andersen, an Iranian intelligence agency was behind the plot, which was aimed at assassinating the head of the “Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz” (ASMLA), a group that calls for the separation of Iranian Arabs from Iran. Denmark subsequently recalled its ambassador to Iran and called for sanctions against Iran that are not contrary to the nuclear deal.

Iranian media and officials reacted to the allegation with disbelief and framed it as part of efforts to scuttle Iran’s relations with Europe as U.S. sanctions return. Moderate-conservative Alef stated: “Despite the atmosphere being created by some Western governments, it’s unthinkable for such an action to be taken on the eve of the return of U.S. oil and banking sanctions and at a time when Europe is to provide Iran its economic incentive package to win Iran’s acquiescence to stay in the nuclear deal.”

Reformist Fararu connected the allegation to Iran’s earlier rebukes of Denmark and other European states after the August 22nd Ahvaz terrorist attack. It stated: “In late September, Iran announced that Denmark, Norway, and Britain were providing refugee to several members of the ‘al-Ahvaz’ terrorist organization. The Islamic Republic views al-Ahvaz as responsible for the terrorist attack on the military commemoration parade on August 22nd in Ahvaz, which led to the death of 24 people.” Fararu added: “The separatist and terrorist Al-Ahvaz group claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the military commemoration parade in Ahvaz on August 22nd.”

Alef compared the charges to a similar episode in July, when some European states accused Iran of planning to attack an Iranian opposition gathering in Paris. It stated: “This comes after Belgian police, several months ago and just before President Rouhani’s trip to Europe, stated that two Belgian citizens of Iranian background were arrested while possessing a home-made bomb and aimed to attack the MEK gathering in Paris. At the time, the Zionist regime [Israel] also announced that it had discovered the plot and notified European governments.”

Iranian outlets and officials viewed reports that Israel’s spy agency Mossad provided the intelligence that led to the arrest by Denmark as confirming a sinister agenda behind the accusation. Fararu stated: “[Europe’s commitment to the nuclear deal] has greatly upset Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has expressed pride over influencing America to leave the deal, but despite his multiple trips to Europe, he has been unable to change the European position on the nuclear deal. Now at a very sensitive juncture, suddenly Iran is accused of a terrorist operation in Denmark. An accusation that comes just days before the implementation of American oil sanctions against Iran.” It added: “These [European] countries now must decide whether or not to continue their efforts against U.S. sanctions. This dilemma is to the benefit of Israel.”

Alef also stated regarding the potential impact of the Denmark accusation on European efforts to maintain the nuclear deal: “This development might cause them [Europe] to turn their backs on the commitments that they are supposed to implement before November 5th or for them to compel Iran into giving more concessions on their demands.”

On October 31st, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi stated that the Danish Ambassador to Iran, shortly before returning to Denmark due to being recalled, had a meeting with the head of the Iranian foreign ministry’s office for European affairs. Ghassemi said of the meeting: “In this meeting, our country’s protests were conveyed to the Danish ambassador in regards to the hasty political and media reactions by some Danish officials to the arrest of the Norwegian-Iranian citizen on charges of planning to assassinate an individual in Denmark.”

During their meeting, the Iranian representative told the Danish ambassador that the allegation advanced the agenda of forces opposed to improved European-Iranian relations. Ghassemi said of the meeting: “The head of the office for European affairs in this meeting stressed that Iran rejects the one-sided reports regarding an unsuccessful operation against an Iranian oppositionist in Denmark and accusations that the Islamic Republic was connected to this.” He went on: “[He stated that] Iran views this as a continuation of plots and conspiracies by known enemies of the good and improving relations between Iran and Europe in the current, special circumstances. The head of office for European affairs also stressed the necessity of these developments being managed in a wise and calculated way and warned of misconduct leading to consequences that are indecisive and controversial.”

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, stated that the “Denmark situation is an effort to bring Europe on board with the United States [in sanctioning Iran].” He added: “With their initial efforts [to separate Europe and Iran] having failed, on Tuesday a new case was created to bring Europe on board with U.S. sanctions under the excuse of terrorism. The confession of Mossad and Pompeo’s early celebration reveal their role. Relieving Saudi Arabia of international pressure over the murder of Khashoggi was another aim of this conspiracy. This was done even though Iran’s hand is strong and so now Mossad has sold this burnt case cheaply.”


Official’s Attack on a Senior Ayatollah Spurs Clerical Backlash

Ayatollah Musa Shobeiri Zanjani, who holds the highest rank of Marja Taqlid in the Shia clerical hierarchy, was the subject of controversy for recently meeting former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and other prominent reformists. During the same trip to Tehran, Shobeiri Zanjani also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, leading to speculation that he was attempting to reconcile Ayatollah Khamenei and senior reformist leaders—who have been long estranged.

However, the controversy over Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani’s meeting with Khatami negated any potential efforts to facilitate dialogue between excised reformists and Ayatollah Khamenei, highlighting the depth of Iran’s political divide.

Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani’s meeting was strongly criticized by Mohammad Yazdi, the conservative head of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts–an elected body constitutionally-mandated with monitoring and choosing the Supreme Leader. In a letter to Shobeiri Zanjani, Yazdi stated: “The release of pictures on social media which show his excellency [Shobeiri] next to some problematic individuals who have no respect for the Islamic Republic system and the supreme leader … has saddened and surprised many in the seminary.”

Yazdi went on to issue a stern warning to the senior Ayatollah: “I remember your position and the respect you held under the shadow of respect for the Islamic system, the Leader, and the dignity of Marjas. It is necessary for this respect and the dignity of Marjas to be respected and for arrangements to be made so that these types of issues don’t occur again.”

Yazdi’s letter triggered widespread outrage and backlash among politicians and religious centers.  Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ali Motahari said in response to the letter: “With your threatening sentence, have you respected the dignity of Marjas or not? Who said that a meeting between a Marja Taqlid and people with records of service to the revolution who—even if there might be some criticisms to be made against them—is against the dignity of marjas? Do you know the dignity of marjas better than they themselves do? Do people have to get permission for you to meet whoever they want?

Motahari added: “The position and respect of a Marja Taqlid [senior Ayatollah] is not necessarily derived from just respecting the Islamic system, but is more based on his positions towards this system, in supporting its correct actions and criticizing its incorrect actions and defending the rights of the people.”

The prominent “Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers” also sharply rebuked Yazdi. The organization stated in a letter: “Shia Marjas have been an independent institution who in times of crisis has been able to solve difficulties and help save Iran. This letter, putting aside the damage it does to the institution of Marjas and the Qom seminary, has hurt the link between Marjas and the [Islamic Republic] system and created a cleavage between these two institutions in the public arena.”

After Yazdi’s letter, Ayatollah Andalib Hamedani resigned from the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, another prominent clerical organization which Yazdi heads, citing his strong disapproval of Yazdi’s letter.


Netanyahu Trip to Oman Raises Concerns in Tehran

On October 26th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled for an official visit to Oman, the first such visit to the Persian Gulf state by an Israeli leader since 1996. Amir Mousavi, a former senior advisor to a previous Iranian defense minister, discussed Netanyahu’s trip to Oman in an interview with the reformist Fararu.

Mousavi stated that Israeli ties with Persian Gulf Arab states are not a new phenomenon. He said: “We have to take into consideration that these days attacking Iran is far more prevalent than Israel, and anti-Iranian propaganda has to a large degree paid off.” He added: “About Israel’s relations with Arab countries, this is nothing new at all. The only change that has occurred is that these ties were previously secret and now are public. Nearly all the Persian Gulf countries have old relationships with the Zionist regime. At first it was commercial in most cases and gradually expanded and reached security and now political levels.”

Mousavi contended that Saudi Arabia likely had a role in getting Oman to accept a visit by Netanyahu: “The next point is that it is not at all unlikely that Saudi Arabia had a role in the meeting [Netanyahu in Oman]. Given the pressures it was under over the murder of Khashoggi, it is likely to have given economic concessions to Muscat to allow for Netanyahu’s trip to Oman. Especially given that Saudi Arabia has problems with Oman over their borders. It is possible it was ready to give concessions.”

Mousavi then stated that Israel wishes to distance Iran and Oman from each other. He declared: “Oman has strategic and security relations with Iran and from long ago has been a country that we have had close relations with. I think this meeting [Netanyahu in Oman] is aimed at confronting Iran after November 5th when U.S. sanctions are reimposed.” He added:  “They have tried for a long time to create a cleavage between Iran and Oman … Sultan Qaboos has good relations with Iran, but there are others who aren’t aligned with his thought and Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to bring them to the forefront. If this trajectory continues, it is possible that after Sultan Qaboos there will be changes in relations between Iran and Oman.”

In other domestic politics news, the Iranian parliament this week approved all four of Rouhani’s proposed replacements of his cabinet. The changes include: Farhad Dejpasand as the minister of economy, Mohammad Eslami as minister of transport and urban development, Mohammad Shariatmadari as minister of cooperative, labor, and social welfare, and Reza Rahmani as minister of industry, mine and trade.




Sanctions Snapback: Trump Reverses Iranian Sanctions Relief

President Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran previously waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, will be finalized at midnight on Monday, November 5. While a portion of the sanctions previously waived under the JCPOA came back into force on August 7, the November 5 tranche of Iran sanctions includes many of the most impactful sanctions to be levied on Iran, including those targeting:

  • Iran’s port operators and shipping and shipbuilding sectors;
  • Petroleum-related transactions with the National Iranian Oil Company, Naftiran Intertrade Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company, including the purchase of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran;
  • Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of specialized financial messaging services to the Central Bank of Iran and certain Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of underwriting services, insurance, or reinsurance; and
  • Iran’s energy sector.

In addition, the Trump administration will re-impose sanctions that applied to persons removed from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”) and other U.S. sanctions lists pursuant to U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. This includes, for instance, the re-imposition of sanctions on most of Iran’s financial institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran.

Blowback from Snapback

The snapback of sanctions on Iran has precipitated a crisis in slow motion, threatening a range of U.S. national interests and tying America closer to the destabilizing campaigns of Saudi Arabia. The blowback from sanctions reimposition will:

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

  • Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions has eviscerated Iran’s benefit for complying with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of Iran halting its compliance with the accord and moving closer to a nuclear weapon.
  • The re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) threatens to disrupt international work to reduce proliferation risks at the Arak heavy water reactor and deeply buried Fordow facility.

Raise the Risk of War

  • Trump’s advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have pushed for war with Iran as an alternative to negotiations, as have Iran’s regional rivals who have increased sway with the Trump administration.
  • A spark for a military confrontation could come from several directions in the absence of diplomacy with Iran – whether over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Isolate the United States

  • The U.S. is in material breach of the UN Security Council-endorsed JCPOA, which all other parties to the accord – including our allies in Britain, France and the European Union (EU) – are seeking to keep alive.
  • JCPOA participants and Iran are seeking to establish independent payment channels, with ramifications that could undercut U.S. dominance of the global financial system and the power of U.S. secondary sanctions far into the future.

Raise Oil Prices

  • President Trump has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump more oil to offset Iranian oil that has been taken off the market, reducing spare capacity that could be key to respond to any emergency.
  • Iranian oil cannot be offset forever, and a crisis risks soaring oil prices and substantial harm for American consumers.

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

  • At a time when Saudi Arabia appears to be an increasingly unsavory partner for the U.S. after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has pigeonholed itself into an approach to the Middle East that relies on Saudi Arabia.
  • Overlooking Saudi Arabia’s crimes to pressure Iran bears eerie resemblance to America’s early backing of Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A more balanced approach to the region is needed.

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

  • Trump’s Iran sanctions are likely to crush the Iranian middle class and private sector, unleashing economic desperation in the country and limiting prospects for internal moderation.
  • Iran’s hardliners have been vindicated by Trump’s decision to violate the JCPOA and snap back sanctions, and will benefit from sanctions that crush forces for moderation while leaving them relatively unscathed.

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

  • Sanctions on Iran under the Obama administration triggered shortages of key life-saving medicines and contributed to the impoverishment of ordinary Iranians by depressing the economy and increasing the cost of basic goods. Similar effects are already being felt from Trump’s snapback.
  • The Trump administration has already targeted private Iranian financial institutions that facilitated humanitarian transactions, raising the risk of further humanitarian crises in the months ahead and more damage to American credibility.

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein…”

Read more on Foreign Policy.

Iran Moves Towards Greater State Control of Economy as US Sanctions Loom

Week of October 22, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Leading pro-free market ministers and advisors leave Rouhani administration
  • Limited Entry of Women to a Soccer Match met with Support and Backlash
  • Officials Break Two-Week Silence on Khashoggi murder
  • 12 Iranian Border Guards Kidnapped by Pakistan-based militants
  • Detained Environmentalists Charged with Capital Offense
  • Teachers Stage Sit-in Protests Across Iran

As hard-hitting U.S. sanctions are set to be reimposed on November 5th, President Hassan Rouhani is reshuffling his ministers and advisors and fundamentally altering his administration’s economic policy. Long a staunch advocate of liberal market reforms and increased privatization, the economic crisis brought on by foreign sanctions is compelling Rouhani to bolster social safety nets and pursue greater state intervention in the economy to control the Rial’s depreciation and rising inflation. In other news, the entrance of women into a recent soccer match at Azadi stadium spurred support from vast swathes of Iranian society, but backlash from some senior officials. Iranian officials also broke their two-week silence on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, condemning the killing and Saudi Arabia in vociferous terms.


Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium for a Soccer Match

On October 16th, a small number of women were permitted inside Azadi stadium to watch a soccer match for the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Roughly 200 women were allowed to enter the stadium. Fararu notes: “Specific measures were taken for the women to be present in the stadium, including a specific female-only section for them, a separate entrance, and female police to guard their entrance and exit.”

The decision to permit women to watch the game was made by the Sports Ministry and the Iranian Football Federation. Sports minister Masoud Soltanifar said in a tweet after the match: “The presence of women and families in the friendly match of our national team against Bolivia allowed our women to share in a moment of pride for our country’s athletics while preserving our Islamic and moral values.”

However, the decision to allow women into the stadium was harshly rebuked by Iran’s attorney general. Mohammad Jafar Montazeri stated: “The presence of women in Azadi stadium is damaging and has no basis in Sharia law. Why are we opposed? Because sins will occur. Watching a game is not an issue, but the sins that occur are the problem.”

Montazeri also threatened to act against officials who take steps to allow women into stadiums. He declared: “We will confront any managers trying to create a platform for the presence of women in stadiums. It cannot be that four people with whatever aims break the [people’s] privacy and we remain silent. First, we will give them advice, then we will confront them.”

Montazeri’s comments were criticized by figures from all sides of Iran’s political spectrum.  Fararu wrote of Montazeri’s comments: “The warning of the attorney general shows that the decision to have women present in Azadi Stadium was a [Rouhani] administration decision and did not reflect the opinion of the entire system. As a result, we cannot be too optimistic of what will happen in the future, at least in the short term.”

Principlist politician Ezzatollah Zarghami, a former head of state TV (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) wrote in response to Montazeri’s comments: “In soccer, the athletes are not half naked, so the presence of women in stadiums does not break people’s privacy. Don’t claw at women and families who already don’t have enough pastime activities! Threatening athletic managers with legal charges is not worthy thing to do!”

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs in the Rouhani administration, also said in response: “There are different views. But what is important is that we don’t have any laws on this issue (on the presence of women in stadiums). It is also not against Sharia and all religious rules are observed.”

Fatemeh Zolghadr, an MP representing Tehran, also stated: “On this issue, it has been planned to gradually prepare the infrastructure for the presence of women in stadiums.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Judiciary Chief Hadi Sadeghi said that a path could be created for women to be present in sports stadiums, but certain criteria would have to be met. He opined: “Some people challenge God’s law, or enter this arena with inappropriate methods, while we can address this in a rational way in line with Sharia law.” He added: “The solution for women to be freely present to watch sports competitions is not by fighting against God’s laws, but for officials and managers to wisely create an environment for their presence which is not at odds with Sharia and morality.”


Environmentalists Charged with “Sowing Corruption on Earth”

Several environmental activists detained last January on espionage charges have been charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” a capital crime inside Iran. The case of the environmentalists has divided Iran’s political and security institutions, with the Rouhani administration’s intelligence and interior ministries dismissing the espionage charges and the judiciary and Revolutionary Guards upholding them [as explained in a previous Iran Unfiltered].

On October 22nd, the head of Iran’s Environmental Agency, Abbas Kalantari, who has pushed back on the charges against the environmentalists, said that the new charges had still “not been officially announced.” He added: “This charge is not certain and there is a possibility for it to be reconsidered so it is better for us to wait a little bit for official announcements to be made. These are still rumours.”

However, on October 24th, Tehran’s public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated that the charges against four of the accused have been changed by the lead investigator on the case. Dolatabadi asserted: “Eight people are being pursuing in this case and the indictments against them have been sent to the court, and the charges against four of them is ‘sowing corruption on Earth.'” He added: “The charges against four of the accused have been changed by the investigator of this case. Those who have made criticisms on this should know that the investigator has the authority to decide on the charges.”


Iran Reacts to Jamal Khashoggi Killing

After Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing on October 2nd and was later confirmed to have been killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Iranian officials were uncharacteristically silent on the issue.

This silence broke on October 22nd, with Iran’s Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani denouncing the killing. This was followed by remarks by President Rouhani and other officials. Larijani stated that the Khahoggi’s killing represented the “terrorist-producing nature” of the Saudi government. He added that the killing was a “heinous murder” and stated: “The Saudis from the beginning with help from the West took steps to cover up this crime, and now that they have had no choice but to admit the killing they claim the crime was carried out by a number of people acting independently.”

Larijani accused Western countries of having “double standards” on human rights, stating: “On the death of this journalist, many Western countries are showing sensitivity and are superficially pursuing the matter, but on crimes such as what is happening in Yemen, they are silent.”

Rouhani also lambasted the murder and presented the United States as complicit. He proclaimed on October 24th: “No one thought that in today’s world and in this new century we would witness such an organized murder, and for institutions to plan for such a heinous murder. I don’t think that without America’s support any country would dare commit such a crime.” Rouhani added: “The tribal group that rules this country has marginal security and to commit this crime relies on a superpower which supports them and doesn’t allow international courts that deal with human rights abuses to take actions against them.”

Radio Farda said of the weeks-long silence of Iranian officials on Khashoggi’s murder: “Islamic Republic officials, despite the severe differences between Tehran and Riyadh, did not express any opinions on this issue. Even Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesman for the foreign ministry, did not reply to journalists’ questions about this issue.”


Rouhani Reshuffles Cabinet Away from Free Market Proponents

On October 20th, Rouhani accepted the resignation of Abbas Akhoundi as the Minister of Roads and Urban Development and Mohammad Shariatmadari as the Minister of Industry, Mines and Business. Shariatmadari was subsequently appointed as Minister of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare.

In his resignation letter, Akhoundi—a staunch advocate of the free market—cited differences over economic policy as his key reason for leaving the administration. He wrote: “It does not appear that I can do impactful work on advancing urban renewal plans in line with my views … I cannot align with the policies of maximum government intervention in the market and the approach to organizing economic affairs in country’s current climate.”

Akhoundi stressed that free-market principles shouldn’t be abandoned. He opined in the letter: “I believe that the three principles of rule of law, property rights, and an economic policy of market competition should not be abandoned under any circumstances.”

The reformist Fararu notes that Rouhani is turning towards individuals who favor greater state intervention and welfare. Fararu notes: “This resignation [of Akhoundi] can be seen as confirming Rouhani turning from Masoud Nili, an economist who believes in the free market, towards Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization.”

Political analyst Ahmad Shirzad tells Fararu that there is not yet uniformity within the administration on ceasing free market reforms. He states: “But on this issue right now there is not uniform consensus among Rouhani’s allies. Institutionalist economists [who favor greater state intervention], such as the 50 economists who wrote a letter to Rouhani, believe that the government should intervene in the currency market to bring down the cost of currency and the inflation rate.”

Shirzad notes that Akhoundi’s policy prescriptions would have worsened Iran’s economic conditions: “If we wanted to follow Mr Akhoundi’s prescriptions in these conditions, naturally any kind of state intervention would have been avoided and we would have been facing a dollar that costs 50,000 tomans.”

Shirzad states that Iran is being forced now to pursue greater state intervention in the economy due to foreign pressure. “Mr Akhoundi’s words are helpful and worthwhile at the appropriate time and place … However the current conditions, in which we are facing an economic war, give us no choice but to turn towards state control [of the economy].”

Shirzad adds that former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was similarly compelled towards central economic planning during the Iran-Iraq War: “In the administration of Mir Hossein Mousavi, because of the war with Iraq, we had no choice but to turn to a coupon distribution system. For this reason, Mousavi’s reputation was intertwined with the coupon system and state distribution of goods. This is while Mousavi had no choice to pursue these policies given the conditions of the period he served.”

Shirzad states that Rouhani is a supporter of the free market, but has no choice now but to pursue greater state intervention in the economy. He states: “Mr Rouhani is not inclined towards institutionalist and leftist economists. He is more a supporter of the free market. He is not far from what Mr Akhoundi said in his resignation letter, but the current conditions and the political pressures that have been imposed on the country leave the administration no choice but to intervene more in the economy.”


Vice President Jahangiri Comments May Divide Rouhani & Reformists

On October 21st, Rouhani’s first vice president and key economic advisor, Eshaq Jahangiri, spurred controversy by saying he lacked the authority to even replace his secretary. Jahangiri said in a speech at a ceremony marking the national day of exporters: “I have repeatedly said that, given the current situation, I want [state] managers that are risk takers. In response to me, some ask why I don’t replace managers. They think that I have a paper and pen in my hand and that I can replace a manager on the path I’m on. Up to now, I haven’t been given permission to replace my secretaries, much less lawyers, and ministers, and so on.”

Jahangiri’s comment led to speculation that he would leave the Rouhani administration. Elias Hazrati, a reformist Tehran MP, said after Jahangiri’s remarks: “In my view, the song is the song of Jahangiri leaving. My analysis is that he will leave the administration.”

However, many contend Jahangiri will remain in the administration as he is Rouhani’s strongest reformist ally. Sadegh Javadi Hesar, a reformist political analyst, tells Fararu: “If Jahangiri separates from the administration, a serious cleavage would be created between reformists and Mr Rouhani. Reformists would not follow along or cooperate with the administration anymore and will become radicalized with respect to the administration.”

Reformist political analyst Abdollah Nasseri explains that Jahangiri’s remarks are rooted in his increased marginalization in the administration during Rouhani’s second term. He states: “In Rouhani’s second term it became clear that Jahangiri was consulted less for many decisions and appointments.” He adds: “Jahangiri with these words wanted to tell society, elites, and activists that we shouldn’t have the same expectations of him as we did of the past Jahangiri [during Rouhani’s first term]. He wanted to say that Mr Rouhani and those close to him like Nobakht [Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, vice president and head of Planning and Budget Organization] and Vaezi [Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff] have created disarray in the administration.”

In response to the controversy, Jahangiri released two videos on Instagram addressing his critics. He defended his track record in the administration in the first video, proclaiming: “The reality is that in the 11th administration [Rouhani’s first term], we were able to bring stability back to the economy. We made the inflation rate single digit. The international environment became favorable. For 18 months, we engaged in hard negotiations with foreigners to reach an agreement. We broke many taboos to allow these negotiations to reach a result. It happened. Many friends share clips of me defending [this track record] with passion. I indeed passionately defend this work that was done.”

In the second video, Jahangiri sought to distance himself from the economic policies pursued by Rouhani in his second term. He declared: “The top priority of the president in his first term was to reach the JCPOA. Perhaps I spent more time on economic issues. In this term, the president is placing more time on economic issues … he has created an economic advisor post, who is also the head of the chamber of commerce. So we should have let Mr Nahavandian [Mohammad Nahavandian, current vice president for economic affairs] talk about these issues …”

Fararu analyzed Jahangiri’s video remarks thusly: “Jahangiri not only discusses his decreased authorities in the economic domain, but he implicitly lays responsibility at the feet of the president [for economic issues].”

However, after Jahangiri’s video remarks, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the head of the centrist Kargozaran political party and a former mayor of Tehran, said he didn’t believe Jahangiri would resign. Karbaschi told ILNA: “I have heard nothing about the issue of Jahangiri resigning and I don’t think it’s real. Definitely the absence of Jahangiri in the administration will be a blow to the forces allied with the administration, especially the reformist movement. But an even worse blow is if Jahangiri is not able to carry out his responsibilities and is unable to even replace a secretary.”


Kidnapping of Iranian Border Guards on Pakistan Border

On October 16th, 12 Iranian border guards in southwestern Sistan-Baluchistan province were kidnapped by militant groups based in Pakistan. On October 22nd, Shahriyar Heydari, the manager for border affairs in the Interior Ministry, stated: “The kidnapped border guards are healthy and are being held by a terrorist group.”

Heydari added that Tehran was negotiating for the guards’ release: “The necessary steps are being taken by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran through the foreign ministry and interior ministry and we are hopeful that this problem will be resolved through diplomacy.” He added that Iran was in talks with Pakistan to help ensure their release: “The interior minister has made his protests to the Pakistani government and asked this country to take every necessary action for the freedom of the border guards.”

Ramezan Sharif, spokesperson for the Revolutionary Guards, said that militants have increased their attacks on Iranian border bases in recent years. He stated: “In the past few years, they have attacked our border bases over 50 times and one method they’ve used is to infiltrate the bases with their people. They have always met failure but on this occasion were able to implement their plan.”


Teachers Stage Sit-in Protests

On October 14-15th, teachers in different Iranian cities engaged in a planned sit-in protest and did not go to their classes. BBC Persian notes: “According to images posted in Telegram, teachers engaged in the sit-in protests in the provinces of Fars, Tehran, Kermanshah, North Khorasan, Elam, Hamedan, Esfahan, and East and West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Bushehr.”

The protest was called for by the “Council for Coordination of Teacher Unions.” The group’s statement calling for the protests read: “The security and judiciary institutions instead of confronting criminals and corruption in society, threaten, expel, fire, or imprison teachers who seek justice.”

The statement added: “As representatives of wide part of the educational workforce, we have pursued all paths to change this terrible situation. Teachers have many times pursued different methods such as talking with officials, writing letters, releasing statements, starting campaigns, and holding [non-political] union demonstrations, to express our demands, but the state and administration have not taken a positive step to resolve the problems.”

Based on reports, Abdol Reza Ganbari, a teacher, poet, and literary critic, and Mohammad Reza Ramezanzadeh, the head of the “Council for Coordination of Teacher Unions,” were arrested on Saturday and Sunday (October 13th and 14th).



US-Led Regime Change is not the Path

The Trump administration has couched its aggressive Iran policy in the language of supporting the Iranian people and their aspirations for democratic change. This was exemplified during the UN General Assembly, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaiming in a speech before the hawkish “United Against Nuclear Iran” his “support for the Iranian people” and declaring that “our pledges of support do not end with our words.”

However, similar to Bush officials in the runup to the Iraq War, the Trump White House and its allies have provided no explanation for how their “maximum pressure” campaign—marked by an expressed aim to cut Iran from all international trade—will lead to positive political change in Iran. To the contrary, the logical conclusion of Trump’s Iran policy is destructive to the conditions necessary for the creation of a vibrant democracy that embraces classical liberal tenets such as individual rights, the rule of law, respect for minorities, and freedom of expression.

For much of Iran’s modern history, the Iranian people have been divided on issues such as traditionalism versus modernity and the nature of their relationship with the West. These divisions only highlight the need for organic political change to allow society to find common ground. However, outside political interventionism has been a constant setback, whether during the Constitutional Revolution period, the 1953 US/UK coup, or now with Trump’s exhortations and actions.

President Trump has gloated that his Iran policies have spurred “rampant inflation,” “riots in all [Iranian] cities,” and Iranian leaders to worry about “their own survival as a country.” While Trump sees advantage to be gained in the wake of a nationwide uprising, the reality is the Iranian people will be the biggest losers in his pressure onslaught. As United Nations Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy declared on August 22nd, “International sanctions must have a lawful purpose, must be proportional, and must not harm the human rights of ordinary citizens, and none of these criteria is met in this case [with Trump’s sanctions].” As the academic literature also upholds, sanctions and isolation have long track records of withering away the potential for democratic transition.

Importantly, despite sporadic protests since last January, there exists no cohesive revolutionary movement, that, as Iranian sociologist Asef Bayat notes, has developed “a powerful organization, a strategic vision, a progressive program, and a leadership capable of inspiring people to believe that another future is indeed possible.” The Trump administration’s characterizations of Iran today bear little resemblance to the country’s complex social and political reality. In May 2017, on the same day President Trump delivered a blistering anti-Iran address before an audience of autocrats and kings-for-life in Riyadh, Iran held a presidential election that saw incumbent Hassan Rouhani defeat his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi by roughly 24 million votes to 16 million, with a turnout of 73 percent. While Iranian elections have serious limitations—including the vetting of candidates by theGuardian Council—they are marked by sharp debate and campaigning, represent different worldviews, and consequentially affect state policy.

Democratic change is not something to be gifted or forced from abroad, as has proven to be the case with regime-change interventions that failed to produce strong, self-sustaining democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya. Unlike Trump’s regional allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—who have helped shape the administration’s Iran policy—Iran’s transition to a democracy will be easier, if the U.S. allows it to continue on a path of internal grassroots-led change. Iran has the key ingredients for such a transition: a strong, educated middle class, energetic civil society groups, and leaders ready to expend political capital on challenging conservative forces.

Tehran’s reactionary factions, which subsist on low participation in Iranian elections, have long relied on a strategy of sabotaging the agenda of Iranian reformists and moderates for political and social liberalization and disenchanting their middle-class supporters. This was exemplified in recent months by their role in instigating protests, banning the popular messaging app Telegram indefiance of Rouhani, and arresting human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh—a recipient of the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize—in the midst of Rouhani’s efforts to salvage the nuclear deal in on-going talks with Europe.  

When it comes to peaceful democratic change, Iranians inside the country are their own best advocates. While Iran has gone through immutable social and political change over the past decades, Trump’s policies are reversing democratic trends by fomenting discord and shrinking the political space of domestic actors that have staked everything in their fight for change. In the case of the Saudi absolute monarchy or the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, powerful religious or secular transnational movements have long informed their threat perceptions—whether it be pan-Arabism, Islamism, or liberal democracy. Indeed, alongside his calls for the “battle” to be taken “inside Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has branded as part of a “triangle of evil” Iran, Turkey, and Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The three of which all happen to have a degree of accountability to their constituents, in contrast to Saudi leaders.

An August 10th letter by prominent Iranian activists and political prisoners calling for far-reaching governmental reform stressed the need for citizens to speak up and to not let outside forces coopt Iranian grievances, stating: “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets.” While Trump and other administration officials regularly express care and concern for the Iranian people, their policies in practice are suffocating these voices for change inside Iran and diminishing Iran’s potential to transition to more open democratic rule.

At the same time Trump’s right-wing populism and demagoguery are making American democracy increasingly illiberal, his Iran policy is slated to crush the Iranian middle class, cripple Iranian civil society, and unleash economic desperation in the country. By abandoning President Obama’s engagement track, which alleviated the proliferation risk of Iran’s nuclear program and initiated Iran’s reintegration into the global economy, Trump is closing all diplomatic doors and pursuing a conflict that will devastate one group above all: the Iranian people.

This post was originally published by Harvard Belfer Center’s Iran Matters Special Initiative