Iran Hits ISIS Over Ahvaz Attack as Rial Stops Downward Spiral

Iran Hits ISIS Over Ahvaz Attack as Rial Stops Downward Spiral

Week of October 1, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Continued Currency Fluctuations Surprisingly Lead to Rial Strengthening
  • Parliament to Review Key Anti-Money Laundering Bill to Meet FATF Standards
  • Drone and Missile Strikes Hit ISIS in Response to Ahvaz Attack
  • MP Denounces Arrest of Local Official Who Defended Bahais
  • Ayatollah Khamenei Delivers Defiant Anti-US Speech at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium  

After months of fluctuations and steady devaluation, the Iranian Rial rebounded sharply against the dollar this week. Analysts attributed the currency’s strengthening to multiple factors, from new authorities given to the Central Bank to currency speculators offloading dollars to maximize profits. Iran also launched missile and—for the first time—drone strikes against ISIS targets in Eastern Syria, which officials described as retaliation for last week’s Ahvaz terrorist attack. In domestic politics, a senior judiciary official announced that over 25 have been sentenced as part of an on-going corruption probe, with three sentenced to death. A city councilman in Shiraz has also been detained over remarks defending two recently arrested members of the Bahai faith. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei made a rare appearance in Tehran’s Azadi sport stadium, and in a defiant speech denounced U.S. pressure policies and called for resilience.

 

Iranian Rial Rebounds

On Monday, October 1st, the Rial reversed its downward trajectory and made gains against the dollar. The Rial’s gains came after the Economic Coordination Council—a body comprised of members of the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches of the Iranian government—gave new authorities to the Central Bank to intervene in the currency market on Saturday. The free-market rate for U.S. dollars dropped to roughly 15,000 tomans by close of the market on Monday evening, down from its peak of over 17,000 tomans that morning.

The new measures allow the Central Bank to provide hard currency to the market. According to news site Entekhab: “The permission granted to the Central Bank to intervene in the free market exchange rate through banks and currency dealers in the past week has resulted in the Central Bank obligating banks to provide hard currency to meet the needs of citizens. These needs include currency for students, research, medical purposes, and civilian aviation equipment.”

Experts attribute the Rial’s gains to multiple factors, from speculators playing the market to progress in Iran’s negotiations with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal. According to the economics-focused Donya Eqtesad: “Experts have two different views over the decrease in the price of the dollar. One group believes that the rapid price fall in the third day of the week was a price correction. In their view, the speculators gradually began selling off their purchases from past few weeks and are searching for a new floor to start buying again.”

Currency market speculators may have believed the price of the dollar had hit a ceiling and thus began selling dollars to maximize profits. Donya Eqtesad notes that last week, the cost of the dollar rose sharply, prompting speculators to sell. “Some currency traders at the beginning of the month [late September] bought dollars for around 14,000 tomans. After the cost of dollars reached a ceiling of 19,000 tomans, they gradually became sellers [of dollars] and made a lot of profit from such selling and buying.”

The new measures announced by the Central Bank may have also triggered currency speculators to begin selling dollars. Donya Eqtesad notes: “Other experts believe that the announcement of new policies by the Central Bank for providing currency, gave traders a signal to start selling … the signal was given to traders that the Central Bank has enough currency to intervene in the market and meet the country’s needs.”

Other reasons offered for the rial’s gains include news of a potential EU-Iran agreement to facilitate trade after U.S. sanctions come into force. According to Donya Eqtesad: “Other reasons are also heard in the market … the announcement of a new mechanism by which the Central Bank will provide currency, the likelihood that the FATF bills will be approved in the coming days, the positive view many traders have of the agreement between Iran and Europe, and the increase in the price of oil are all other reasons that, in the view of experts, have had an impact in changing the trajectory of the market.”

On Tuesday, October 2nd, the Economic Coordination Council held another meeting to further discuss giving the Central Bank increased authorities to control the currency market. The council passed a measure obligating the Central Bank to immediately make the necessary arrangements for the selling and purchasing of foreign currency from exports of petrochemicals, steel, and other exports products and making the currency available in the secondary exchange market. The council also passed a measure that would give five-year residency to citizens of foreign countries who invest at least $250,000 in Iran, based on criteria laid out by the government [Rouhani administration].

 

FATF Bills Make Headway in Parliament

The debate over Iran passing legislation to meet the action plan set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has gained intensity due to the prospect of parliament approving legislation for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing convention. Iran signing up to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to make Iran compliant with FATF standards (read more about the FATF bills in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

The controversial bill was sent to parliament for approval after an arduous debate among senior officials. On September 25th, after a meeting on the bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee—which included speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, representatives from the Intelligence Ministry and Foreign ministry, the head of the Central Bank, heads of the various parliamentary factions, and representatives from the Guardian Council—the bill was sent to parliament for review.

The proponents of Iran passing the FATF standards, of which the Rouhani administration is at the forefront, argue it is critical to maintaining financial ties with Europe, China, and Russia after U.S. sanctions are reimposed. Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi recently tweeted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei now also supports parliament passing the anti-money laundering bill in line with FA22TF.

Meanwhile, FATF opponents argue that the bills will hinder Iran’s ability to support regional allies such as Hezbollah. On Sunday, September 30th, roughly 200 demonstrators protested outside of parliament against the bill being passed. Among the demonstrators were MPs from the hardline Jebhe Paydari faction.

On October 3rd, MP Akbar Ranjbarzadeh, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s board, announced that head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will hold a meeting on Sunday (October 7th) to discuss the FATF bills.

 

Aftermath of Ahvaz Terrorist Attack

On Monday, October 1st, Iran launched missile and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Al Bukamal, Syria. According to Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the strikes killed 40 ISIS fighters, including a senior ISIS member who was Mosul’s district commander. Six ballistic missiles of the “Zolfaghar” and “Ghiam” designation were fired in the operation, which was coupled with a simultaneous attack by seven armed drones.

Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, declared that the strikes were in response to the September 22nd Ahvaz terrorist attack. Bagheri proclaimed: “The initial stage of revenge for the Ahvaz terrorist attack has been implemented, and the next stage of revenge will also take place.” He said of the Ahvaz attack perpetrators: “The terrorists took advantage of a parade and came into a crowd and blindly shot at people. These terrorists were supported by the terrorist group Daesh [ISIS] and another terrorist group, whose leaders are in European countries.”

Bagheri provided further details of the military operation. He stated: “The broad missile and drone operation of the Armed Forces had immense value in that it was the first time these drones traversed the skies of several countries and accurately struck their targets and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The missiles also traversed over 550 kilometers to right where the enemy was deployed. Another stage of revenge will also occur.”

Bagheri added that Iran had intelligence that the Ahvaz attack perpetrators were guided by ISIS. He declared: “Intelligence work by the various agencies has revealed that the terrorists, on top of having connections to anti-revolutionary groups, took instruction from Daesh and Daesh from Deir ez-Zabador [in Syria] guided them.”

On September 24th, a few days after the Ahvaz attack, Ayatollah Khamenei had blamed ISIS for the attack in a speech to Iranian athletes who won medals at the Asian Games. Ayatollah Khamenei stated at the time: “Based on reports, this cowardly act was the work of those same people who, whenever they are challenged in Syria and Iraq, the Americans come to save them, and their hands are in the pockets of the Saudis and Emiratis.”

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, used the missile strikes to respond to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks at a “United Against Nuclear Iran” summit in New York City last week, where Bolton warned Iran of “hell to pay” and “serious consequences.” Shamkhani declared: “Bolton announced that we should take them seriously. Commander Hajizadeh [head of the IRGC’s aerospace force] has taken you seriously and has fired missiles to within 3 miles of you.” He added: “Trump in all his remarks declared Iran to be a threat, so all of us in the face of this all-out war which he is waging against us, must embrace a war footing.”

The Ahvaz terrorist attack on a commemoration parade marking the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, which left 25 dead, was vociferously condemned by Iranian civil society. On September 24th, a group of 470 prominent Iranian political and civil society activists signed a letter condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attacks. Signatories included: dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar, Nobel Peace Prize-recipient Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi, leading reformist thinkers Mostafa Tajzadeh and Saeed Hajarian, former political prisoner and Velayat e-Faqih critic Alireza Rajaei, the sons of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, and many others.

The letter condemned the terrorist attack while also calling for removing economic and political drivers for domestic unrest. The letter stated: “We human rights and civil society activists who have attached our hearts to Iran’s independence and territorial integrity and global peace and stability, while expressing our condolences to the families affected by this savage crime, condemn the political, financial, and media accomplices of this type of violence and this terrorist action.” It added: “At the same level that we condemn this terrorist action and the cycle of violence, we believe that the economic and social grounds [of violence] must be removed through holistic development and eliminating every type of discrimination between all ethnic groups and religious sects.”

 

Corruption Probe Amid Exonerations and New Arrests

Bahram Parsaei, an MP representing Shiraz, denounced the recent arrest of a member of Shiraz’s city council, Mahdi Hajati, before parliament. Hajati was recently arrested after voicing support for two detained members of the Bahai faith. Parsaei declared to parliament: “In the days after Mr. Hajati’s arrest, I spoke with the governor, the head of the [security] council, and the political deputy of Fars province’s governor. We all believe that the arrest of Hajati under these circumstances is not in the interests of the [ruling] system. Mr. Hajati is the youngest member of the city council in Shiraz, who merely defended the rights of several citizens.”

Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s cultural deputy, announced that of the Tehran University students arrested during last winter’s protests, over 70 percent, or 25 of them, have been exonerated. Sarsanagi stated: “Fortunately, about 25 of the students were either exonerated or given light and suspended sentences. We are hopeful that the rest of the students remaining can in the same way in the appeals court be exonerated or given light sentences.”

Sarsanagi also announced that no students, regardless of whether they are still awaiting trial, would be prevented from signing up for classes and continuing their studies. He proclaimed: “Fortunately, for all the students who were faced with security problems, whether those exonerated or those still in the courts, there is no prohibition for them to continue classes and their studies at the university. All these students can register for class as they normally would and go to class.”

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, announced that 35 individuals have been tried for corruption, and that three of them would be executed. Ejei stated: “In regard to confronting economic corruption, special courts have been set up in Tehran which in recent days have sentenced 35 individuals. Of these, three individuals have been sentenced to execution … however this sentence will have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.”

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami delivered a speech where he stressed the necessity of reforms and greater freedoms. Khatami opined: “The system has to reform itself, or else it will face serious and big problems … Violence results not only from a lack of dialogue, but also from not meeting some of the needs of society, and hopelessness in meeting these needs.” He added: “Freedom of speech and freedom after speech is vital for increasing common understanding in society … We have to allow the opponents of religion to speak to produce greater thinking.”

 

Foreign Policy Developments

Former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian gave a far-reaching interview to the moderate-conservative Alef discussing his tenure and Iran’s foreign relations. Abdollahian stated that there are some differences between Iran and Russia over Syria: “One of the most successful areas of Iran-Russia cooperation is on Syria, but on [the question of] whether we have a common approach on everything regarding the Syrian issue, we will not have a common view on the Zionist regime and the resistance.”

Abdollahian said that while he initially believed Iran could not trust Russia, his view has since changed. He stated: “Four years ago I had a meeting with Putin’s representative for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov. I told him that the Iranian people’s historical experience with Russia is not positive and they believe that the Russians at the 90th minute abandon their friends and only act in line to advance their own interests.” He added: “However, my view was changed with the cooperation we had over Syria and in other parts of the region with Putin. I believe that Russia and Putin can be trusted, as long as there are mutual interests between Tehran and Moscow.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations during his UN General Assembly speech last week regarding alleged secret Iranian nuclear sites. Salehi mocked Netanyahu’s claims, declaring: “Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has really made a fool of himself this time. His lies are blatantly evident. We have an expression called Nakoja-Abad, but from Netanyahu’s remarks we don’t know if the place he’s referring to is Torquz-Abad or Dorquz-Abad … the AEOI totally rejects these claims by Netanyahu … What I can say is that definitely no documents have been taken from the AEOI.”

On October 3rd, Iran’s Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemati traveled to Moscow to implement agreements reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Iran. According to reports, Hemati was due to meet his Russian counterpart and other senior Russian officials.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a defiant speech calling for resilience in the face of U.S. pressure before an audience of Basij paramilitary forces at Tehran’s Azadi stadium. Ayatollah Khamenei strongly rejected Iran accepting U.S. terms, proclaiming: “The enemy wants the Iranian people to conclude that there is no solution other than submitting to America. I explicitly declare that people in the countries who promote this line of thinking are betraying the country. As long as I have life, I won’t allow this to happen in this country [giving into U.S. terms].”



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

On Saturday, September 29th, the Economic Coordination Council gave authority over the currency market to the Central Bank.

  • On Sunday, September 30th, the Central Bank announced that 11 banks would provide for the currency needs of the public and that their names would be announced in the coming days.

On October 2nd, reformist Entekhab gave a run-down of the situation with the currency exchange rate. Entekhab notes that currency dealers—who sold dollars at a high exchange rate—are incurring losses and are only willing to buy dollars for a low price to maximize their profit.

  • Gholamreza Tajgardoon, the head of the parliament’s committee on planning and the budget, said of the strengthening of the Rial: “We predict that if nothing special happens and the Central Bank can effectively manage the market, the trend of a lower exchange rate will continue until an appropriate average value is reached.”
  • Entekhab states: “The permission granted to the Central Bank to intervene in the free market exchange rate through banks and currency dealers in the past week has resulted in the Central Bank obligating banks to provide hard currency to meet the needs of citizens. These needs include currency for students, research, medical purposes, and civilian aviation equipment.”
  • Entekhab states: “The publication of this news that from now on banks and currency dealers will meet all the needs of the people for hard currency, has impacted the psychological mood of the free market exchange rate.”
  • Entekhab states: “Additionally, the agreement with Europe to create a vehicle for trade with Iran—despite the sanctions imposed by the US—can be one of the impactful reasons affecting the psychology of the currency market.”

On October 2nd, the Central Bank instructed all banks that are licensed for currency exchange to buy currency from the people.

On October 2nd, economics-focused outlet Donya Eqtesad published an in-depth report examining multiple factors for the rebounding Iranian Rial.

  • Donya Eqtesad states: “On the third day of the week [Monday], right at the beginning of the day the dollar reached its peak value at 17,000 tomans and after that began decreasing and reached around 15,000 tomans.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Experts have two different views over the decrease in the price of the dollar. One group believes that the rapid price fall in the third day of the week was a price correction. In their view, the speculators gradually began selling off their purchases from past few weeks and are searching for a new floor to start buying again.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Other reasons are also heard in the market. The new authorities given to the Central Bank to intervene in the market, the announcement of a new mechanism by which the Central Bank will provide currency, the likelihood that the FATF bills will be approved in the coming days, the positive view many traders have of the agreement between Iran and Europe, the increase in the price of oil … are all other reasons that, in the view of experts, have had an impact in changing the trajectory of the market.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “In the view of some experts, the price correction occurred because many traders had lost hope in the price [of the dollar] continuing to increase.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Some currency traders at the beginning of the month [late September] bought dollars for around 14,000 tomans. After the price of dollars reached a ceiling of 19,000 tomans, they gradually became sellers [of dollars] and made a lot of profit from such selling and buying.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “With the decrease in the cost of the dollar to 17,000 tomans, major traders attempted to slow down their selling and keep this price as the floor.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “According to the experts who believe that the decrease [in the cost of the dollar] on Monday was due to a price correction, the currency traders wanted to increase the selling of the dollars they had bought in the previous week to profit, and ready themselves to buy again at a lower price.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Another group believes that the authorities given to the Central Bank to intervene in the currency market caused speculators to stop buying dollars and start selling.”
  • Donya Eqtesad: “Others believe that the announcement of new policies by the Central Bank for providing currency, gave traders a signal to start selling … the signal was given to traders that the Central Bank that the Central Bank has enough currency to intervene in the market and meet the country’s needs.”

On Tuesday, October 2nd, the Supreme Economic Coordination Council held another meeting—chaired by President Hassan Rouhani and including the heads of Iran’s judiciary and legislative branches—to further discuss giving the Central Bank increased authorities to control the currency market.

  • The council passed a measure obligating the Central Bank to immediately make the necessary arrangements for the selling and purchasing of foreign currency from the exports of petrochemicals, steel, and other exports products and making the currency available in the secondary exchange market.
  • The Supreme Economic Coordination Council also passed a measure that would give five-year residency to citizens of foreign countries who invest at least $250,000 in Iran, based on criteria laid out by the government [Rouhani administration].

The debate over Iran passing legislation to meet the action plan set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has gained intensity due to the prospect of parliament approving legislation for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing convention—one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to make Iran compliant with FATF standards.

  • On September 25th, after a meeting on the bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee—which included speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, representatives from the Intelligence Ministry and Foreign ministry, the head of the Central Bank, heads of the various parliamentary factions, and representatives from the Guardian Council—the bill was sent to parliament for review.
  • The bill on Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention is currently being debated in parliament.
  • FATF proponents argue that failure to meet the FATF standards will create major problems for European, Chinese, and Russian efforts to facilitate banking and financial relations with Iran in the face of reinstated U.S. sanctions.
  • FATF opponents argue that the four bills will hinder Iran’s ability to support regional Iranian allies such as Hezbollah.
  • On Sunday, September 30th, roughly 200 demonstrators protested outside of parliament against the bill being passed. Among the demonstratives were MPs from the hardline Jebhe Paydari faction.
  • Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi has recently tweeted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni now supports parliament passing the anti-money laundering bill in line with FATF.

On October 3rd, MP Akbar Ranjbarzadeh, a member of the parliamentary speaker’s board, announced that head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will hold a meeting on Sunday (October 7th) to discuss the FATF bills.

On Saturday, September 22nd, a terrorist attack on a commemoration parade—marking the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz—left 25 dead, including a four-year-old child. The five attackers were also killed.

  • Both a separatist group, the Ahvaz National Resistance, which claims to represent Iran’s Arab minority, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
  • Statements by Iranian officials blamed the United States and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates for supporting Iranian separatist groups and seeking to destabilize Iran.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Iran summoned the ambassadors of Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark—countries in which the Ahvaz National Resistance operates.
  • In the wake of the attack, spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces Abolfazl Shekarchi declared: “This terrorist attack occurred around 9am from a park behind where the parade was taking place in Qods Boulevard and the members of this terrorist team were connected to the takfiris, Mossad, and Saudi Arabia.”
  • Shekarchi: “The assailants first fired upon the people who were present during the parade, and in addition to martyring and wounding a number of the people, some of their bullets were then fired upon the military forces present at the parade and a number of them were also martyred and wounded.”
  • Shekarchi: “The terrorists wanted to move towards the officials who were present but the strong action of the security forces repelled them.”
  • Conservative Iranian MP Mojtaba Zolnour, said in response to the Ahvaz attack: “The terrorist attack in Ahvaz was the world of the mercenaries of global arrogance [the US] … the terrorist group ‘al-Ahvaz’ fought alongside [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein and the Baathists, and was supported by Saddam’s regime during the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War], is now taking the lives of the kidns and people of our country.”

On September 23rd, the Revolutionary Guards released an official statement denouncing the attacks and pledging retaliation.

  • “The terrorist crime by the mercenaries of global arrogance [the US] and the reactionary [state] of the region in Ahvaz at the beginning of the Holy Defense Week and simultaneous with Muharram and the raising of the flag of Ashura and mourning for Hossein and the demonstration of the nation’s power and defensive readiness of the armed forces of the country, shows that the sworn enemies of Islamic Iran especially the Satanic gharbi, ebri, arabi [Western, Hebrew, and Arabic] triangle, unable and defeated to achieve their aims and sinister intentions, with their enmity towards the Iranian peoples’ unity, strength, authority, perseverance, and glory, are pursuing  a project of creating insecurity inside our Islamic homeland. They don’t hold back from any effort or plot and even are ready to target innocent women, children, and people with terrorist actions.”
  • “We assure the Leader and the Commander-in-Chief and all the people of Iran, based on prudence and higher-up policies, that in creating the necessary conditions and equipment to find and strongly punish the criminals in the geographic area of the region and beyond, we will not hold back in taking every effort.”

On September 24th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei with Iranian athletes who won medals at the Asian Games. In his remarks, he partly discussed the Ahvaz attack and pointed the finger at ISIS as the perpetrator.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei: “This sour event shows yet again that the Iranian people in their honorable quest to progress and advance, have many enemies.”
  • Khamenei: “Based on reports, this cowardly act was the work of those same people who, whenever they are challenged in Syria and Iraq, the Americans come to save them, and their hands are in the pockets of the Saudis and Emiratis.”

On September 24th, a group of 470 prominent Iranian political and civil society activists signed a letter condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attacks.

Signatories included: dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar, Nobel Peace Prize-recipient Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi, leading reformist thinkers Mostafa Tajzadeh and Saeed Hajarian, former political prisoner and Velayat e-Faqih critic Alireza Rajaei, the sons of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, and many others.

  • The letter stated: “We human rights and civil society activists who have attached our heart’s to Iran’s independence and territorial integrity and global peace and stability, while expressing our condolences to the families affected by this savage crime, condemn the political, financial, and media accomplices of this type of violence and this terrorist action.”
  • “We believe that such a terrorist action results in nothing but increasing violence and the securitization of society. Because the cycle of violence is against the interests and security of the country and hurts the Iranian people.”
  • “At the same level that we condemn this terrorist action and the cycle of violence, we believe that the economic and social grounds [of violence] must be removed through holistic development and eliminating every type of discrimination between all ethnic groups and religious sects.”

On October 2nd, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced that missile and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Al Bukamal, Syria had killed 40 ISIS fighters, including a senior ISIS member who was Mosul’s district commander.

On October 2nd, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, responded to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks at a “United Against Nuclear Iran” summit in New York City last week, were Bolton warned Iran of “hell to pay” and “serious consequences.”

  • Shamkhani: “Bolton announced that we should take them seriously. Commander Hajizadeh [head of the IRGC’s aerospace force] has taken you seriously and has fired missiles to within 3 miles of you.”
  • Shamkhani: “Trump in all his remarks declared Iran to be a threat, so all of us in the face of this all-out war which he is waging against us, must embrace a war footing.”
  • Shamkhani: “I won’t say that sanctions have no effect, but our national capabilities are able to make them ineffective.”
  • Shamkhani: “We have been searching for the opportunity to eliminate the dependence our economy has on oil, and now conditions are ideal to achieve this.”

On October 1st, Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces—the highest ranking military commander in the country—commented on the missile and drone strikes against ISIS positions in Al Bukamal, Syria.

  • Bagheri: “The initial stage of revenge for the Ahvaz terrorist attack has been implemented, and the next stage of revenge will also take place.”
  • Bagheri: “The terrorists took advantage of a parade and came into a crowd and blindly shot at people. These terrorists were supported by the terrorist group Daesh [ISIS] and another terrorist group, whose leaders are in European countries.”
  • Bagheri: “The broad missile and drone operation of the Armed Forces had immense value in that it was the first time these drones traversed the skies of several countries and accurately struck their targets and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The missiles also traversed over 550 kilometers to right where the enemy was deployed. Another stage of revenge will also occur.”
  • Bagheri: “Intelligence work by the various agencies has revealed that the terrorists, on top of having connections to anti-revolutionary groups, took instruction from Daesh and Daesh from Deir ez-Zor [in Syria] guided them.”
  • Bagheri: “The region were Daesh is based, to the east of the Euphrates, is under the control of the American army. These missiles struck an area close to where the Americans are in control.”

On September 23rd, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami gave a speech before students from Tehran University’s Islamic Students Association and Medical Science, condemning the Ahvaz terrorist attack and discussing the country’s situation.

  • Khatami: “The system has to reform itself, or else it will face serious and big problems.”
  • Khatami: “What will calm our society and give it hope in the future, is for us to feel that that government officials listen to criticisms. The space for dialogue in society has been closed.”
  • Khatami: “Violence results not only from a lack of dialogue, but also from not meeting some of the needs of society, and hopelessness in meeting these needs.”
  • Khatami: “Today in this sensitive period, beyond the issues of reformists and principlists, the issue of saving Iran and having national unity and solidarity is what is important.”
  • Khatami: “Freedom of speech and freedom after speech is vital for increasing common understanding in society.”
  • Khatami: “We have to allow the opponents of religion to speak to produce greater thinking.”

On September 30th, Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s cultural deputy, announced that of the Tehran University students arrested during last winter’s protests, over 70 percent, or 25 of them, have been exonerated.

  • Sarsangi: “As has been announced, the appeal court process of many of the students arrested in the Day month [late December/early January] protests continued until the end of Shahrivar month [end of September], and only six of these students haven’t been sentenced and thus haven’t gone to the appeals court.”
  • Sarsangi: “Fortunately, about 25 of the students were either exonerated or given light and suspended sentences. We are hopefully that the rest of the students remaining can in the same way in the appeals court be exonerated or given light sentences.”
  • Sarsangi: “Fortunately, for all the students who were faced with security problems, whether those exonerated or those still in the courts, there is no prohibition for them to continue classes and their studies at the university. All these students can register for class as they normally would and go to class.”

On October 1st, Bahram Parsaei, an MP representing Shiraz, denounced the recent arrest of a member of Shiraz’s city council, Mahdi Hajati, before parliament. Hajati was recently arrested after voicing support for two detained members of the Bahai faith.

  • Parsaei stated: “In the days after Mr. Hajati’s arrest, I spoke with the governor, the head of the [security] council, and the political deputy of Fars province’s governor. We all believe that the arrest of Hajati under these circumstances is not in the interests of the [ruling] system. Mr. Hajati is the youngest member of the city council in Shiraz, who merely defended the rights of several citizens.”

On September 30th, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, announced that 35 individuals had been tried for corruption, and that three of them would be executed.

  • Ejei: “In regard to confronting economic corruption, special courts have been set up in Tehran which in recent days have sentenced 35 individuals. Of these, three individuals have been sentenced to execution … however this sentence will have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.”

On September 23rd, senior Rouhani advisor and Vice-President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, voiced opposition to negotiations with the United States and stressed the importance of Iran’s independence.

  • “The Iranian peoples’ pursuit of independence resulted in governance that doesn’t accept foreign [impositions] and in the past 40 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution it can pay the costs being independent.”
  • “Today the Iranian people and government, just as during the beginning of the revolution and the eight years of holy defense, are facing problems that are in response and a recompense for being independent.”
  • “For them to demand to align with their policies and negotiate goes against the strategic policies and principles of the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On September 24th, former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian gave a far-reaching interview to the moderate-conservative Alef discussing his tenure and Iran’s foreign relations.

  • Abdollahian said of Iran’s relations with Russia: “One of the most successful areas of Iran-Russia cooperation is on Syria, but on [the question of] whether we have a common approach on everything regarding the Syrian issue, we will not have a common view on the Zionist regime and the resistance.”
  • Abdollahian on America’s presence in Syria: “During the Trump era, the Americans don’t know what they’re doing in Syria. America’s approach in Syria is passive and symbolic now and Americans are unable to have any consequential role in Syria. This is because they’re confused in the face of the developments in Syria, but they nevertheless are making efforts to lie and take credit for the victories in Syria to the extent they can.”
  • Abdollahian on whether Iran can trust Russia: “Four years ago I had a meeting with Putin’s representative for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov. I told him that the Iranian people’s historical experience with Russia is not positive and they believe that the Russians at the 90th minute abandon their friends and only act in line to advance their own interests.
  • Abdollahian: “However, my view was changed with the cooperation we had over Syria and in other parts of the region with Putin. I believe that Russia and Putin can be trusted, as long as there are mutual interests between Tehran and Moscow.”

On October 1st, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations during his UN General Assembly speech last week regarding alleged secret Iranian nuclear sites.

  • Salehi: “Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has really made a fool of himself this time. His lies are blatantly evident. We have an expression called Nakoja-Abad, but from Netanyahu’s remarks we don’t know if the place he’s referring to is Torquz-Abad or Dorquz-Abad [expressions that in Persian mean “nowhere” or “middle of nowhere”]… the AEOI totally rejects these claims by Netanyahu.”
  • Salehi: “What I can say is that definitely not documents have been taken from the AEOI.”
  • Salehi: “Right now the level of cooperation between Iran and the IAEA is very good. The IAEA has until now on 12 occasions reported on Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities. In these reports, it is emphasized that Iran is abiding by all its commitments within the JCPOA, and its safeguards agreement and the additional protocol.”

On October 3rd, Iran’s Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hematitravelled to Moscow on Wednesday to implement agreements reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Iran.According to reports, Hemati was due to meet his Russian counterpart and other senior Russian officials.

On October 4th, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a defiant speech calling for resilience in the face of U.S. pressure before an audience of Basij paramilitary forces at Tehran’s Azadi stadium.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei warned of a “media war” being waged against Iran: “The enemy uses this tool. The media tool in the hands of the enemy is dangerous. The media is just like chemical weapons in a real war.”
  • On the economy: “We have economic problems. We have an oil economy, which is a major problem. We don’t have a cultural of frugality and savings. But these aren’t the real problem. The real problem is hitting a dead end, which thankfully we have not.”
  • “The real problem is that the nation’s youth have no solution [to their problems] but to embrace the enemy. Some seek to tell this to our youth.”
  • On rejecting U.S. terms: “The enemy wants the Iranian people to conclude that there is no solution other than submitting to America. I explicitly declare that people in the countries who promote this line of thinking are betraying the country. As long as I have life, I won’t allow this to happen in this country [giving into U.S. terms].”
  • “The American president has told some people to be patient, that within two or three months the Islamic Republic will collapse. I remember the poetry that says, the camel dreams of cotton-wool [akin to hungry cat dreams of mice].”

 

 

Iran Gears Up for the UN General Assembly

Week of September 17, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif will Travel to New York on Sunday
  • Debate over Implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Standards
  • Student Activist Sentenced to Six Years in Prison
  • Iran Welcomes Russia-Syria Idlib agreement
  • Supreme Leader Aide Extolls Iran-Russia Ties, Details Putin Meeting
  • Former President Ahmadinejad Attacks Senior Intelligence Official

After weeks of uncertainty and debate about whether President Hassan Rouhani would attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), it was confirmed this week that he will travel to New York on Sunday for the annual gathering alongside Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  Domestically, debate has continued over Iran passing anti-money laundering and terrorist financing standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to avoid being blacklisted by the international financial regulator, ahead of an October deadline. A young female activist was also sentenced to six years in prison, as Iran welcomed the Russia-Turkey Idlib agreement and former President Ahmadinejad issued a scathing rebuke against the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit.

 

Rouhani and Zarif Head to New York

President Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announced that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, September 23rd. According to the statement, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN, in addition to his UNGA speech. Rouhani will also hold bilateral talks with various world leaders and conduct interviews with American and international press. He will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (September 26th).

Foreign Minister Zarif also separately stated that he would also travel to New York on Sunday. Zarif stated that the “P4+1” joint commission meeting—between Iran and the five remaining parties to the nuclear deal—will be held in the “early days” of his stay in New York. Zarif said of the UNGA’s importance: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to, at the highest level of the president, convey Iran’s perspectives … Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”

On the controversy regarding his meetings with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Zarif stated that such meetings between him and former officials are common. He said on September 18th: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, all kinds of people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there [in the US] mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”

In reaction to reports that the US was backing away from holding a UN Security Council meeting—the status of which is still unclear—Zarif stated that America was isolated. He opined: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”

 

Debate Over FATF Reaches a Fever Pitch

At a September 19th press conference, Zarif stressed the need for Iran to approve the FATF’s standards. In late June, FATF identified multiple “action items” Iran had to address to abide by its standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. FATF called on Iran to be in “full compliance with the FATF Standards by October 2018,” otherwise it would “decide upon appropriate and necessary actions at that time.”

To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared four bills and sent them to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.

Zarif called on the parliament to approve the administration’s bills ahead of the October deadline. Zarif proclaimed: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.” He added: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”

The Guardian Council, which must approve laws, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have resisted passage of some of the bills. Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”

However, Zarif stated that the Supreme National Security Council is the “decider” on passing the bills and has approved them. He declared: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament. Supporters of the bill also say that the view of the Parliament and Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.

Iran’s negotiators in ongoing talks with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal believe passing the FATF standards are critical to their efforts. Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated regarding a report issued to the parliament by Iran’s negotiating team: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

 

Foreign Policy Talk on Basra, Idlib, and Russia Ties

In his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra and said it was carried out by elements aiming to harm Iranian-Iraqi relations. Ghassemi stated: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationship between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments.” He added: “Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”

Ghassemi claimed that the attack was spearheaded by hostile regional countries. He proclaimed: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”

Ghassemi also ruled out even specifying conditions for U.S.-Iran negotiations and declared that Iran would not change its regional policies. He stated: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks.” He added regarding Iran’s overall foreign policy strategy: “We believe that our defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran. We don’t think to negotiate with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

Ghasemi also voiced support for the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria. He stated: “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria.”

Zarif also stated that Iran was always supportive of efforts to prevent a battle over Idlib. He proclaimed: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t breakout and that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and his recent meeting with Russian President Putin at a conference in Tehran. Velayati said of the importance of Iran’s relations with Russia and China: “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”

Velayati stated that his meeting with Putin was the longest ever of any Islamic Republic official with a Russian president. He stated: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”

Velayati also discussed his role in Iran’s foreign policy decision-making process and praised Rouhani in advancing a “Look to the East” foreign policy. He opined: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspectives.” He further stated regarding Rouhani’s foreign policy: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit. Salehi stated in his speech that the US never fully complied with its commitments under the nuclear deal, even under President Obama: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”

 

Student Activist Arrested, Aggressive Online Campaign Rebuked, Resurgent Ahmadinejad

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.  Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

Dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the online tactics of the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic. Zeidabadi stated the barandazan—whose online activity spiked after the winter 2017/2018 protests—engaged in online tactics so aggressive that they have inadvertently enhanced the popularity of reformists inside Iran. Zeidabadi stated: “Their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”

Zeidabadi’s censured the barandazan for attacking all their critics with a broad brush. He opined: “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.” He added: “What is provable is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe the day that they attain any power!”

Zeidabadi said the tactics of the barandazan were self-defeating for their cause. He wrote: “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces. Abdi stated that the Rouhani administration was best fit to negotiate the JCPOA, not deal with Iran’s current economic and political crisis. He stated: “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he sharply criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb. Ahmadinejad said that during his presidency he was opposed to Taeb and that Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”  

BBC Persian notes of Taeb: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”

Several days earlier, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally: “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to co-opt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”

Fararu also noted the restrictions on former reformist president Mohammad Khatami in comparison with Ahmadinejad. The piece stated: “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy” today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP. Nili defined the “unofficial economy” as consisting of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations). Nili stated that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implemented, resulting in lost tax revenues.



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announces that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, Sept 23rd.

  • In addition to his address before the UNGA, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN.
  • Rouhani will do interviews with international press, hold a press conference at the end of his trip, meet different leaders.
  • Rouhani will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (Sept 26th).

On September 18th, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced he would travel to New York for the UN General Assembly on Sunday, September 23rd. Zarif also addressed the controversy in the United States of his meeting with former Secretary of State John Kerry.

  • Zarif: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to at the highest level of the president convey Iran’s perspectives. The General Assembly meeting will also be important for this reason. Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”
  • Zarif on his meetings with Kerry: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, from top to bottom [Iranian expression, i.e. many people] people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”
  • Zarif stated that the “P4+1” JCPOA joint commission meeting will be held in the “early days” of his stay.
  • Zarif also said about the Russia-Turkey Idlib buffer zone agreement: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t break out & that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 19th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held a press conference on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, where he touched on a wide-range of topics, including the upcoming UNGA and the debate over implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards on combating money laundering and terrorist financing ahead of a looming deadline.

  • Zarif: “Next week we will again have a ‘P4+1’ meeting in New York and we will hopefully review the set of actions that have been accomplishing to this point and will report the result of the meeting to the supervisory board in Tehran and based on that our senior officials can make a decision.”
  • Zarif on the Trump administration backing down from holding a UN Security Council meeting on Iran: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”
  • Zarif on parliament approving the government’s bills to implement the FATF’s standards: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.”
  • Zarif: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”
  • Zarif: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament.

  • To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared 4 bills and sent it to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.
  • The Guardian Council, which must approve bills, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have both resisted passage of some of the bills.
  • Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”
  • However, supporters of the bill say that the view of the Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.
  • Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated that Iran’s negotiators in the on-going talks with Europe to salvage the JCPOA have stressed that passed the FATF standards is vital to their efforts. Mousavi said: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

On September 17th, in his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi in part discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra, Iraq and the Trump administration’s offers for negotiations.

  • Ghassemi: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationships between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments. Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks. Such an issue [negotiations] is not on our work agenda. So definitely there is no discussions for its conditions [of any negotiations]. As I said, we don’t think about this issue of negotiating with America.”
  • Ghassemi: “We believe that out defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran we don’t think to negotiations with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

On September 19th, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassem spoke about the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria.

  • “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can  provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria, while considering all humanitarian efforts to establish peace in Syria and help destroy terrorist groups in this country.”
  • “I hope that the result of the Sochi meeting will, in the framework of the positive and successful path of the Astana process and in continuation of the recent summit in Tehran and the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic efforts, quickly end the suffering of the Syrian people and accelerate the elimination of violent groups by exercising humanitarian caution.”

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

  • Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

On September 15th, dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic and whose online presence increased after the winter 2017/2018 protests—and arguing their aggressive online tactics of have benefitted the cause of reformists inside Iran.

  • Zeidabadi: “After the Dey month (December/January) street protests, the more furious segment of society, frustrated and pessimistic with reformists, turned their eyes and ears to a force outside the country who introduced themselves as the ‘overthrowers.'”
  • “The ‘overthrowers’ started a loud campaign on social media and portrayed themselves as an alternative to the ruling system. That same furious segment of society awaited their coming.”
  • “However, their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”
  • “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.”
  • “In reality, the situation has gotten so heinous and shameful, that some speculate that maybe domestic security forces have a hand in this abusive online army.”
  • “What is provable, is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe on the day that they attain any power!”
  • “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces.

  • “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”
  • “I expect that Rouhani lays out coherent policies and that other institutionalized forces understand that the situation is sensitive and dangerous, so that the administration can advances its aims. Overcoming this crisis is the most important demand anyone can have and there needs to be unity beyond the government.”
  • “I believe the root problem of the current crisis is that the system still does not officially recognize it critics and opponents and is not ready to allow them to participate in managing the country. This is not limited to reformist either, but goes beyond them.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb.

  • Ahmadinejad stated that during his president he was opposed to Taeb. He stated: Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”
  • BBC Persian notes: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”
  • Ahmadinejad further stated that Hossein Taeb was “fired from the intelligence ministry because he was a mischief-maker. Later they illegally gave him full authority in another place. and then they moved him somewhere else and gave him total authority with no legal accountability.”
  • In recent months, Ahmadinejad has also harshly attack the heads of Iran’s judiciary and parliament, Sadeq Larijani and Ali Larijani, respectively, as well as President Rouhani, who he said should resign.
  • In his new video, Ahmadinejad said his criticisms were not “insults against the [political] system or propaganda against the system, but we want to improve things. Are heart aches for the country, we says this is bad for the revolution, the system, Iran, the people, you are hurting yourselves.”
  • In the summer of 2017, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Ahmadinejad to be a member of the powerful Expediency Council.

On September 14th, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally:

  • “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to coopt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”
  • “Ahmadinejad, whether he wants to or not, whether it’s being coordinated or not, is playing on the side of the hardline opponents of the Rouhani administration, and it seems some of the anti-administration stances, which in recent weeks have been restrained due to the Supreme Leader’s suggestions and warnings, have been entrusted to Ahmadinejad.”
  • “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy at a conference in Tehran.

  • Velayati: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspective.”
  • Velayati on his July 12th trip to Moscow and meeting with Putin: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”
  • Velayati on Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and Rouhani’s approach: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”
  • “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”
  • “In the international arena, Russia has a higher place regarding defense matters, and on economic issues, China has a greater capability … as such each has its own capability, but we don’t follow any one’s path and look at our national interest.”
  • “As the Supreme Leader says, rather than the trenches being in Kermanshah, Esfahan, Kerman, or Tabriz, we have to face it [the trench] outside our borders.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit.

  • Salehi in his speech at the IAEA summit: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”
  • “The international reactions to this illegal action [America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA] has raised serious doubts about the rationality and reliability of that country’s [the US] policies.”
  • IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano in his introductory remarks announced that Iran has been fully compliant with its commitments under the JCPOA and its signed agreements with the IAEA.

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy,” which consist of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations) today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP.

  • According to Nili, this demonstrates that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implement, resulting lost tax revenues.  

 

 

Trump’s Iran Endgame Undermines Major US Security Interests

The logical conclusion of the Trump administration’s Iran policy seems not to be regime change but regime collapse. 

Though Secretary of Defense James Mattis has denied that either are on the agenda, the White House’s rhetoric and actions betray a different motive. The US president himself has trumpeted the harsh impact of reinstated sanctions and said that it is a “question” as to whether the Islamic Republic “will survive.” 

President Donald Trump’s approach is slated to impoverish the Iranian population, cripple Iranian civil society, and eliminate prospects for peaceful democratic change. Indeed, state collapse and domestic turmoil loom larger on the horizon.

Unfortunately, his administration has not thought through the negative implications of such an eventuality for US national interests.

The long shadow of past US meddling in Iran underscores the necessity for decision makers to set clear foreign policy goals and carefully assess their implications. A 1954 internal CIA review of Operation Ajax, the joint US-British covert operation that ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, noted that “possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers involved in this type of operation.” Such foresight was not exercised regarding the August 1953 coup d’état, which continues to serve as a textbook example for the unintended consequences of US interventions abroad.

The toppling of the popular Mossadegh had a radicalizing effect on the Iranian population, entrenching anti-Americanism and creating fertile ground for the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic movement. These festering resentments culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizing of US diplomatic hostages, which transformed Iran from a reliable US ally to a leading strategic challenge in the Middle East. Four decades later, US-Iran relations have bottomed out once again, as the Trump administration pursues a policy of “maximum pressure” with little regard for the lessons of the past.

In its quest to pressure Iran, the Trump administration has lost sight of America’s core strategic interests in the Middle East. As Harvard University’s Stephen Walt has explained, these are: “Keeping oil and gas from the region flowing to world markets, to keep the global economy humming; minimizing the danger of anti-American terrorism; and inhibiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.” 

Instability in Iran stands to damage each of these interests. 

The Persian Gulf accounts for roughly 28 percent of the world’s energy production. Over 35 percent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz—the strategic chokepoint through which Persian Gulf oil must pass to reach the Indian Ocean. Persian Gulf energy is thus a lifeline of the global economy and preventing any disruption in its supply has been a core US security interest since the end of World War II.

Under the status quo, Iran has a vested interest in the secure flow of hydrocarbons out of the Persian Gulf and has not interfered in this process save for occasional reminders of its capability to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of a conflict or economic blockade. However, if the Iranian state were to collapse in the face of the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero, nothing would prevent insurgent groups on the Iranian plateau from attacking energy installations in the Persian Gulf.  At a bare minimum, instability in Iran would pose a serious challenge to Persian Gulf security and require considerable outside intervention and expenditure to redress. Rising oil prices would undermine the global economy and cause hardship to US consumers.

With respect to the threat of terrorism, Iran has for years been on the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, primarily for its support of Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have primarily targeted US ally Israel. However, on the threat the European Parliament identified in 2013 as the main source of global terrorism—emanating from Sunni fundamentalists or Wahhabists—Iran has often been on the same side as the West. 

Iran helped lead the fight on the ground against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, efforts former Joint Chiefs’ chairman General Martin Dempsey proclaimed in 2015 “will in the main have been a positive thing”—in reference to dislodging ISIS from the Iraqi city of Tikrit. However, Iran’s regional influence also allows it to be a spoiler that can make it difficult for the United States to achieve its regional aims. A dangerous tit-for-tat is already taking hold with the Trump administration racheting up tensions and reports that Iran has started providing allied groups in Iraq with short-range ballistic missiles. If a US-Iran conflict erupts, Iran can draw on its regional proxies to raise the costs of hostility and negatively affect regional stability. 

Meanwhile, in the event that Trump’s policies successfully destabilize Iran, an opening will be created for Wahhabi terrorist organizations to fill power vacuums left in the wake of a chief adversary’s retrenchment, including in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Sunni Iranian border regions—where groups such as Jaish ul-Adl are already active. As these groups gain new strongholds, their threat to the West and the rest of the world will only increase.

On the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) threatens to undo an agreement that cut off Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon for more than a decade and established the highest standards on nuclear transparency and inspections ever negotiated. Some Iran hawks in Washington are now calling for US sanctions against entities charged with implementing key non-proliferation provisions of the agreement, including British and Chinese efforts to redesign Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor to negate its potential to produce weapons grade plutonium. Such an action would likely compel Tehran to abandon the JCPOA’s limitations and may reopen Iran’s plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon as well as eliminating restrictions on uranium enrichment.

Trump’s aggressive Iran policy is also serving to reinforce Iranian threat perceptions and empower Tehran’s hardliners. While Iran has always confined its nuclear program to within the letter of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iranian officials have hinted that their commitment to the NPT is waning. In April, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, stated that Iran was weighing exiting the NPT as a response to Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA. While Iran has yet to take such action and is currently engaged in negotiations with Europe to try to salvage the JCPOA, the option of Iran following the footsteps of North Korea—which left the NPT in 2003 and tested nuclear weapons starting in 2006—is now conceivable.

The toppling of Middle Eastern governments by outside powers has had a detrimental track record for regional stability and long-term US security interests. Iraq is a prime example. Trump administration officials must have a clear-eyed approach to Iran that carefully weighs the risk of state collapse and the implications of such an outcome for American interests. The White House’s current Iran policy not only disregards the threat of blowback, but ignores the potential benefits of US-Iran diplomacy for US interests and global peace and security. 

This post was originally published on Atlantic Council.

Contentious Politics on the Rise as Iran’s Political Factions Try to Make Gains

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

  • Embattled Rouhani emerges unscathed from parliamentary questioning
  • Prominent activists and students given hefty sentences, parliamentarians push for clemency
  • Unprecedented rebukes of political and economic conditions by female parliamentarians
  • Foreign Minister Zarif faces accusations in parliament of abetting “soft regime change” efforts orchestrated by George Soros, the International Crisis Group, NIAC, and others
  • Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi writes a letter to the Assembly of Experts from house arrest, calling on them to hold Ayatollah Khamenei to account
  • Ayatollah Khamenei reiterates support for Rouhani, appoints new Revolutionary Guards navy commander, and dismisses potential for war

The past two weeks in Iran have seen increased politicking by the country’s various factions and centers of power. President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen two of his ministers impeached by parliament in the past month, was himself questioned by parliament, triggering speculation that his hold on office is growing precarious. Meanwhile, Green movement opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi and prominent female parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri both issued rare challenges to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also faced far-fetched accusations from a hardline MP, while several activists were given hefty sentences—spurring widespread outrage and calls for clemency.

 

Continued Threats Against Rouhani’s Life

A prominent principlist religious eulogist reiterated an implicit threat against Rouhani’s life if he returns to negotiating with the United States. On August 21st, Mansour Arzi, affiliated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction that organized a controversial Qom rally where a placard threatening Rouhani was raised, repeated the threat at a public religious ceremony in Tehran. The reformist Arman newspaper underscored that Arzi’s remarks came after senior religious leaders condemned the initial Qom gathering and stressed that the “ideology” behind such gatherings and slogans “needs to be identified.”

Meanwhile, a senior figure in Iran’s seminary system downplayed the threat and opined that most of the seminary was against Rouhani’s policies, including on negotiations. Mohammad-Hassan Nabavi, a deputy for propagation and practical training in the national seminaries, said that the placard was a “huge mistake” but questioned whether it could “really be interpreted that we will kill the president.” Nabavi stated: “I don’t get this from these words at all. Instead, it meant that whoever pursues negotiations, they might suffer problems.” He added that most in the seminary disapprove of the Rouhani administration’s policies on the economy and negotiations.

 

Activists Arrested, Outspoken MPs Decry Political & Economic Conditions

Parisa Rafiee, a 21-year-old arts student at the University of Tehran was sentenced to 7 years in prison and Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested. Rafiee’s lawyer said she was arrested in March and charged with “colluding to commit crimes against the country’s security, propagandizing against the state, and disturbing public order.” He said he would appeal the charges and suggested that military institutions intervened in her case. Meanwhile, Khandan was arrested 10 days after his wife, Sotoudeh, started a hunger strike. Soutedeh was arrested on June 23rd, after months of representing several women arrested in the anti-compulsory hijab protests of this past spring.

Fatemeh Saeedi, a Tehran MP, met with a senior judiciary official and wrote a letter to other senior officials regarding the case of Parisa Rafiee and other imprisoned activists, and expects a positive response. Saeedi discussed the cases of “prisoners such as environmental activists, students, and especially women prisoners” and said she was hopeful that an “ideal resolution” would be reached. Mohammad Reza Farahani, deputy minister for culture and students in the ministry of science, also said at a press conference that six of the fourteen medical science students arrested in the late December/early January protests have been exonerated. Two have been sentenced, however, and the files of the other six have yet to be addressed by the courts.

Two female MPs, Parvaneh Salahshouri and Hajar Chenarani delivered blistering critiques before the parliament on the political and economic climate. Reformist Tehran MP Salashouri explicitly directed her comments towards Ayatollah Khamenei and called for a referendum on issues such as “foreign policy, the management of state TV, and the Guardian Council’s stewarding of elections for parliament and the assembly of experts.” She also highlighted issues such as “the imprisonment of students, teachers, laborers, lawyers, and environment activists, the entrance of military forces in the fields of politics, economics, and culture” as major crises facing the Islamic Republic.

 

Rouhani Questioned by Parliament, Keeps Supreme Leader Support

President Rouhani was questioned before parliament on August 28th. The MPs were not satisfied with his answers to four of their five questions, which triggered a process to send the questions to the judiciary. The questions were on five issue areas: smuggling, sanctions, unemployment, economic recession, and the Rial’s depreciation. The MPs had 30 minutes to ask the questions and Rouhani had one hour to respond. In his responses, Rouhani stressed that Iran’s main challenge was the Iranian peoples’ lack of hope for the future. He proclaimed: “The key is that we have to explain to the people that these problems will be overcome with the guidance of the Leader, and coordination between the three branches and the armed forces.”

The episode represented the second time in the Islamic Republic’s history that a president was questioned before parliament, the first was Ahmadinejad in 2012. Parliamentary rules were changed after MPs judged Ahmadinejad as not taking the process seriously. The new rules, which were in effect for Rouhani, required any questions that a majority of MPs present were dissatisfied over the president’s answers to be sent to the judiciary. The judiciary would then investigate the matter and it could potentially lead to the president’s removal from office based on the ultimate decision of the Supreme Leader and Supreme Court.

However, the criteria for sending Rouhani’s file to the judiciary was not met, according to a senior parliamentary official. On September 2nd, Behrooz Nemati, spokesperson for parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, stated that Rouhani’s file would not be sent to the judiciary. He stated: “The speaker’s team in a meeting today reached the conclusion that because the issue with Rouhani’s questions was not that he failed to implement the law, and that the questioners also didn’t raise this issue, submitting the questions to the judiciary is not necessary.”

During his parliamentary questioning, Rouhani avoided making controversial statements and refrained from discussing “unspeakable topics,” which he previously hinted he would. During a TV interview several weeks earlier, Rouhani stated that the then-upcoming parliamentary questioning would be a “good opportunity to more easily … discuss certain topics and issues.” Analyst Hossein Bastani speculated that Rouhani’s meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei prior to his parliamentary questioning changed his mind in this regard. Bastani wrote: “At the beginning of his speech, Rouhani set the expectations for his address, stating: ‘I am hopeful that I will carefully cover the points the Leader told me in his suggestions for today’s meeting’ … Were some of the Leader’s suggestions regarding the president’s possible temptation to discuss unspeakable topics? It is not clear.”

The day after Rouhani’s parliamentary questioning, Rouhani and senior administration officials met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for an annual gathering marking “presidential administration week.” Ayatollah Khamenei lauded Rouhani’s parliamentary questioning as demonstrating the Islamic Republic’s strength and reiterated support for the Rouhani administration–ending speculation that the episode could lead to Rouhani’s removal from office. Khamenei declared: “The meeting yesterday in parliament was a demonstration of the power and stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran and may God give good tidings to the president and the legislature for this demonstration of power.”

In his meeting with Rouhani administration officials, Khamenei stressed that Iranian officials should have doubt in Europeans being able to salvage the JCPOA and proclaimed that Iran will remain in the JCPOA as long as it remains in its national interests. Khamenei stated: “Continuing negotiations with Europe is not a problem but–while continuing this–any hope in them on the issues regarding the JCPOA and the economy must be ended.” He added about Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA: “The JCPOA is not a goal but a vessel. If we reach the conclusion that with this vessel, we cannot secure our national interests, we will put it aside.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also reiterated his opposition to any negotiations with the United States. He stated: “The result of negotiations with the previous U.S. officials, who cared about their appearance, was this. Now with these hateful and hideous current officials who openly are holding a sword against Iranians what negotiations can we have? As such, no negotiations at any level will be held with the Americans.”

 

Javad Zarif Accused of Abetting “Soft Regime Change” Efforts

On September 2nd, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared before parliament and was questioned by principlist MP Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, who accused Zarif of abetting outside “soft regime change” efforts.  Ghodousi, affiliated with the hardline Jebhe Paydari, played a controversial documentary before parliament prior to questioning Zarif. The documentary and his questions sought to portray Zarif as having nefarious links with groups such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Chatham House, and NIAC. Ghodousi also suggested the JCPOA was dictated to Zarif by the International Crisis Group, opining: “In the Cobourg hotel, the president of the International Crisis Group came out with you on the balcony … International Crisis Group produced six reports for the JCPOA, of which the third one is based on documentation that formed the text Iran agreed to [in the JCPOA]. Mr. Zarif did you negotiate or did they give you the text of the agreement?”

Ghodousi also stated that Zarif’s foreign policy approach opens the door to American regional hegemony.   “In your recent trips, you went there [to the International Crisis Group] and declared that neither Iran or Saudi Arabia can establish regional hegemony. The hegemony of the Islamic Revolution is pure Islam, Saudis’ hegemony is Wahhabi Islam. If neither Iran or Saudis, then it will be American hegemony [in the region].”

Ghodousi also blasted Chatham House and NIAC. He claimed: “Chatham House is the strongest think tank in the world and an English, non-American think tank. It creates neo-colonialization plans, and this is the same place that nominated you [Zarif] and John Kerry for the Nobel Peace Prize, which you however did not attend. However, such a relationship is not normal.” He further opined: “The third group connected to you is NIAC, a group of Iranian Americans in America. When you went to America and in your communications with them exchanged intelligence, you may not realize the issues, but the results of these meetings and communications was to the benefit of Chatham House, NIAC, and their friends.”

In his rebuttals, Zarif denied that anyone on Iran’s nuclear negotiating had dual citizenship—which has become a persistent criticism by Rouhani’s conservative rivals. Zarif stated: “If someone even has a spouse that has dual citizenship, they cannot work for the foreign ministry, much less for themselves to be a dual citizen. However, utilizing foreign advisors is possible and is a norm in international relations.” Zarif also defended the “patriotism” of Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, an advisor to Iran’s negotiating team who was sentenced five years in prison in October 2017, but stated that “but I have no knowledge regarding other issues about him.”

 

Green Movement Leader Challenges Ayatollah Khamenei

On September 2nd, Green movement opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi released a critical letter addressed to the Assembly of Experts—the elected body constitutionally-mandated with appointing and supervising the Supreme Leader. The letter directly cast blame for Iran’s problems on Ayatollah Khamenei and called on the Assembly of Experts to hold him to account. Karoubi stated: “The Assembly of Experts must hold the Leader accountable for his policies over the past three decades that have led to the current situation. Why don’t they question him over the entrance of the Revolutionary Guards, Basij, and police forces into banking, selling oil, etc.?”

In response to Karroubi’s letter, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council—another constitutional body charged with vetting candidates who seek office—rebuked Karroubi and implied the letter was written by hostile foreign powers. Kadkhodaei stated: “The text of recent days of Mr. Karroubi is reminiscent of his statements in 2009. Statements that are seemingly not from him but are written for him, just like the decisions they make for him. If only he could escape the prison of those around him and think for himself. And decide for himself and write for himself.”

 

Other Developments

Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in his Telegram his thoughts on the need for the Iranian people to be vigilant in the face of foreign manipulation. Baeidinejad contended that America’s “official position” on Iran is “economic warfare.” He stated that the Trump administration seeks to fan the flames of discontent in Iran and urged the Iranian people to be discerning in the news they read. “Don’t trust everything you read or hear. Verify the validity of a report from a credible source your trust. Don’t forward every piece of news or analysis. Take seriously the psychological and propaganda war,” he opined.

Intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi gave a far-reaching TV interview on August 29th, touching on subjects ranging from combating terrorism and economic cooperation, to increased cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies. Alavi stated that Iran is actively confronting 32 terrorist groups, that Iran’s enemies want to “create a Syria situation for Iran,” and highlighted actions the intelligence ministry has taken to destroy ISIS cells and crackdown on economic corruption. He also stated that cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies was at a peak, declaring: “Under this administration, cooperation between the different intelligence institutions is greater than in previous eras, and the Leader has expressed happiness over the cooperation between the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence apparatus.”

Amid an ongoing scandal over a diaper shortage, columnist Davood Heshmati writes in the reformist Emtedad on discoveries of stockpiles of stored diapers. Heshmati argues that the main “battle” in Iranian politics is between those with hope in the future and those who are trying to destroy hope. Heshmati writes: “The issue of the rising costs of diapers has become a hot-button issue in recent days. From late August, through coverage by principlist outlets, it has been turned into an evident ‘problem.'” He added: “But if we paid attention, we see that at the same time 2 warehouses where diapers have been stockpiled have been discovered.”

Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Alireza Tangsiri as the commander of the Navy of the Revolutionary Guards, replacing Ali Fadavi. Conservative Javan noted that Tangsiri is well-known and feared by outside military powers operating in the Persian Gulf. It wrote: “Until now, the English twice, the Americans twice, the Australians once, and the Canadians once have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for violating Iranian waters. At the heart of all these arrests, one person’s name is above all, commander Alireza Tangsiri.”

Ayatollah Khamenei dismissed the possibility of a war in a meeting with commanders and officials from the Iranian Army’s Air Defense division on September 2nd. Ayatollah Khamenei stated that “based on political calculations, the possibility for a military war does not exist. However, the Armed Forces’ human and material capabilities must be improved on a day to day basis, with vigilance and by management that is efficient and flexible.”



Below please find a summary of key developments in Iran:

On August 21st, a prominent religious eulogist, Mansour Arzi, repeated an implicit threat against Rouhani’s life if he pursues negotiations with the United States.

  • The previous week [as covered in last week’s Iran Unfiltered], an anti-Rouhani group in Qom—mostly the far-right Jebhe Paydari faction—held a gathering that spurred immense controversy, particularly over a placard that threatened Rouhani. The gathering and the placard were condemned across Iran’s political spectrum, including by the Revolutionary Guards and senior Ayatollahs. Nevertheless, Arzi repeated the threat on Arafat Day prayers, an important Shia holiday.
  • Arzi: “This person [Rouhani] will die like the other in a pool [referring to Rafsanjani]. Those who commit treason will die in such a way that at the end, friend and enemy, believer and disbeliever, will ask what are they doing here?”

On August 25th, reformist Arman newspaper wrote of the threats against Rouhani:

  • “In a circumstance where society needs unity in words so that internally we can overcome our problems, someone with a high perch says words and slogans which clerics and marjas have condemned … it is not clear what aim they have. The important point is not that these gatherings occurred or who participated, but the ideology behind it which needs to be identified.”

On August 26th, Mohammad-Hassan Nabavi, a deputy for propagation and practical training in the national seminaries, sought to downplay the controversial placard and doubled down on criticizing Rouhani.

  • Nabavi: “This was a huge mistake and an excuse should not be provided to anyone, but the question is really that from this slogan [on the placard] can it really be interpreted that we will kill the president?”
  • “I don’t get this from these words at all. Instead, it meant that whoever pursues negotiations, they might suffer problems. But it was a bad thing to say, it was a horrible and bad slogan.”
  • “A majority in the seminary do not agree with the Rouhani administration’s economic policies, its policies in the arena of negotiations. What I see in the seminary is that most do not approve of the Rouhani administration.”

On August 26th, Parisa Rafiee, a 21-year-old student of the arts at Tehran University arrested in March for participating in protests—was sentenced to 7 years in prison by branch 27 of Tehran’s Revolution Court, according to her lawyer Saeed Khalili.

  • Khalili: “She was charged with colluding to commit crimes against the country’s security, propagandizing against the state, and disturbing public order and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.”
  • “None of the activities mentioned in her indictment or in the Revolutionary Guards’ report were against the law, unfortunately with this verdict, justice and legal and sharia principles were trampled, God Willing I will appeal.”
  • “Other than intelligence ministry, it’s better that other institutions do not intervene on such issues because military institutions are pillar of nation’s security and if their position is hurt, it’s to the detriment of national security.”

On September 4th, Reza Khandan, the husband of imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested.

  • Nasrin Sotoudeh was herself arrested on June 23rd. In the preceding months she was representing several women who were arrested in the anti-compulsory hijab protests of the spring of 2018.
  • Ten days before Khandan’s arrest, Sotoudeh announced that she was going on hunger strike to protest her arrest and the way her file was being addressed.
  • After the 2009 Green movement protests, Sotoudeh was a lawyer representing many arrested protesters. She was first arrested in September 2010, and after several rounds of going on hunger strike, was released in September 2013.

On August 31st, Fatemeh Saeedi, a member of parliament representing Tehran, said she met with a judiciary official and was promised that the sentences against Parisa Rafiee and other arrested students and women would be changed favorably.

  • Saeidi wrote on her Instagram page of her meeting with a senior judiciary official: “Yesterday I had a meeting with a senior judiciary official. We extensively discussed the situation of students and the heavy sentences that have been issued. He showed me a print-out belonging to the science minister which listed all the students who have been given heavy sentences, including Parisa Rafiee. He said he would do everything he can to change their sentences.”
  • Saeidi: “I was also promised that the cases of the women arrested in the July/August protests would be resolved quickly in favorable fashion.”

On September 3rd, Saeedi also stated that she had written a letter to the speaker of parliament Ali Larijani and senior judiciary officials asking for clemency regarding the imprisonment of three teachers and other prisoners.

  • She stated: “We have also had different meetings with judiciary officials regarding other prisoners such as environmental activists, students, and especially women prisoners, which we are hopeful will reach an ideal resolution.”

On August 29th, Mohammad Reza Farahani, deputy minister for culture and students in the ministry of science, said regarding the cases of students arrested during the late December/early January protests:

  • “6 of the 14 students arrested have been exonerated by the courts.”
  • “14 students from the medical science universities were arrested in the events of late December/early January. 2 of them have been sentenced … one is a student from Semnan who has been sentenced to attend Friday prayers for 2 years, the other is from Bandar Abbas who has been sentence to imprisonment.”
  • “For the other 6, their files are yet to be addressed by the courts.”

On September 4th, Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist member of parliament representing Tehran, delivered a fiery speech before parliament expressing dissent at current political and economic conditions in the country and calling for a referendum.

  • Salahshouri directed her comments towards Ayatollah Khamenei, because, she stated, “I believe the only way to overcome the current dire situation is for the Leader to enter the scene to save the country.”
  • Salahshouri said it was necessary to turn to a referendum on issues such as “foreign policy, the management of state TV, and the role of the Guardian Council in stewarding elections for parliament and the assembly of experts.”
  • Salahshouri highlighted issues such as “the imprisonment of students, teachers, laborers, lawyers, and environment activists,” “the entrance of military forces in the fields of politics, economics, and culture” as major crises facing the Islamic Republic.

On September 4nd, Hajar Chenarani, an independent MP representing the northeastern city of Nishapur, also delivered a fiery rebuke of the current political and economic conditions in the country:

  • Chenarani: “Iran is not stricken by war, disease, nor floods and is not bankrupt. But it is stricken by treason. Some have committed treason and are traitors.”
  • “The proud Iran has been belittled by the behaviors of some Islamic Republic officials.”

On August 26th, the Iranian parliament impeached President Rouhani’s minister of economics and finance, Masoud Karbasian. The vote was 138 in favor, 121 against, and 2 abstentions. It came weeks after Rouhani’s labor minister Ali Rabiee was also impeached.

  • There were 17 charges brought against Karbasian, including “not paying attention to the resistance economy, and failing to support domestic production” and blaming him for overseeing the economic downturn.
  • Karbasian had only been in his position for the past year.
  • Karbasian said at his impeachment hearing: “Some of the issues that have arisen on the economy have been exogenous and out of control of the administration. Some other issues aren’t structural, but due to the unreliability of the hegemonic system [the U.S.].”
  • Karbasian: “It cannot be expected that the problems that have arisen in the past year can be easily resolved.”
  • Karbasian: “Despite negative narratives pushed internationally, in 2017 more we had more than $5 billion in foreign investment, a 50% growth from previous year. In past year we had 3.7% economic growth.”  

On August 28th, President Hassan Rouhani appeared before parliament for questioning before 204 members (of the legislatures total 290 members). The questions were on five issues:

  1. The failure of administration to control smuggling.
  2. The resumption of economic sanctions.
  3. Failure to take proper action on unemployment.
  4. The economic recession.
  5. The depreciation of the Rial.

The MPs had 30 minutes to ask questions and Rouhani had one hour to respond. The MPs then voted on how convincing each answer was and referred the questions they weren’t convinced on to the judiciary. Highlights of Rouhani’s answers:

  • “Why has the people’s sense of hope changed? Why do they doubt Iran’s future and even more, some doubt the state’s greatness, power, and future growth and development? We have to cure this shock.”
  • “We have to speak with the people in a correct and honest way so that people are convinced that the problems of the past months will pass quickly.”
  • “The events of late Dec/early Jan [protests] persuaded Trump to take advantage of the situation and announce that he would withdraw from the JCPOA, unless Europeans and others supported him over the missile and regional issues.”
  • “The key is that we have to explain to the people that these problems will be overcome with the guidance of the Leader, and coordination between the 3 branches and the armed forces.”
  • “We have to tell the people that we won’t allow America’s plots to be successful. The people should be certain, we won’t allow a bunch of anti-Iranians in the White House to plot against us.”
  • “But our people aren’t content, which is justified. Why because there is still widespread unemployment. This chronic unemployment has existed for years. Many families still suffer from this issue.”
  • “But if the 11th & 12 administrations continued the work of the 9th & 10th admin [Ahmadinejad], today our rate of unemployment would be 22% instead of 12%, which is to the credit of our officials, who with help from the other branches & officials have managed this great achievement.”
  • “This is as we were the first administration since the end of the war that entered office facing a recession.”
  • “We have to ask how the currency issue reached what it is today? What is the cause? Political, psychological, or economic or a combination of all these?”
  • “I say on the currency issue, social, psychological, political, and foreign policy problems had a greater effect than the economic factor.”

On August 28th, Hassan Zeidabadi, a reformist columnist, wrote regarding Rouhani’s questioning in parliament and the implications of parliament not being convinced of his answers on four of their five questions and referring these questions to the judiciary.

  • “With the MPs not convinced on several of Rouhani’s answers, what are the legal and political implications?”
  • “It seems even many MPs don’t know the answer.”
  • “Parliament today implemented Article 88 of the constitution. This article gives the right of one-fourth of the parliamentarians to question the president.”
  • “This law cannot lead to the president’s impeachment but can lead to his dismissal by the Supreme Leader.”
  • “Impeaching the president has another legal route, which is in Article 89 of the constitution.”
  • “Articles 212 and 213 of the parliament’s internal rules of conduct deals with the method of questioning the president. What is relevant in this regard is a footnote of Article 213, which sets two conditions for sending the president’s file to the judiciary:
    1. Failing to convince a majority of the MPs present.
    2. The subject of the question deals with a violation of law or failing to implement the law.
  • “The parliament’s internal rules of conduct do not specify who must interpret the second condition. Violating the law or failing to implement the law are obtuse conditions and attaching them to today’s questions [of Rouhani] depends on the political configuration and inclinations in parliament.”
  • “So what if Rouhani’s file is sent to the judiciary? If this occurs, Rouhani’s dismissal will be based on Article 110 of the Constitution, which requires a vote of approval from the Supreme Court and then by the Supreme Leader. The only criteria in the constitution is whether it is expedient for the country, which is again the Leader’s responsibility to decide.”

On August 28th, news site Asr Iran also analyzed the implications of Rouhani’s answers being sent to the judiciary:

  • “To answer this question, we have to refer to the Parliament’s internal rules for conduct. In Article 213 it states: “If most of the MPs present questioning the president aren’t convinced of his answer, and the issue being questioned deals with a violation of the law or failing to implement the law, the question will be sent to the judiciary.”
  • “In the recent meeting, the first criteria—of most members present not being convinced of the president’s answer—was met. However, it must be investigated whether the issue being questioned represents a violation of the law or failing to implement the law.
  • “The Parliamentarians were not convinced with Rouhani’s answers to 4 of their questions regarding ‘smuggling, unemployment, recession, and currency depreciations.’  All these issues are administrative issues in nature and none represent a violation of any laws.”
  • “Thus from a legal view it can be set that the second criteria of Article 213 has not been met and sending Rouhani’s file to the judiciary will have no legal basis.”

An August 28th BBC Persian column by analyst Hossein Bastani discussed the fact that Rouhani did not shed light on “unspeakable” topics, as he had previously hinted he would.

  • “Three weeks ago, during his live widely-discussed TV interview, he himself stated that responding to the parliamentarian’s questions was a ‘good opportunity,’ because he would be able to ‘more easily than when he gives a speech or interview discuss certain issues and topics.’
  • “But at the beginning of his speech, Rouhani set the expectations for his address, stating: ‘I am hopeful that I will carefully cover the points the Leader told me in his suggestions for today’s meeting.'”
  • “Were some of the Leader’s suggestions regarding the president’s possible temptation to discuss unspeakable topics? It is not clear.”
  • “Rouhani is not the first Iranian president who went to parliament for questioning. That was Ahmadinejad in March 2012. But after Ahmadinejad didn’t take that seriously, the parliament amended its internal rules for conduct to increase the costs of the president not answering their questions.”

On September 2nd, Behrooz Nemati, the spokesperson for speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani, stated that Rouhani’s file would not be submitted to the judiciary.

  • Nemati: “The speaker’s team in its meeting today reached the conclusion that because the issue with Rouhani’s questions was not that he failed to implement the law, and that the questioners also didn’t raise this issue, submitting the questions to the judiciary is not necessary.”

On August 29th, the day after Rouhani’s appearance in parliament, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Rouhani and senior administration officials as part of “administration week” events in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei expressed support for Rouhani and commended his appearance before parliament as a display of the strength of the Islamic Republic—ending speculation that Rouhani might be impeached or removed from office by the Supreme Leader.

  • Khamenei said regarding the first year of Rouhani second term in office: “In this year, good work has been accomplished in the fields of economic and energy growth, increasing non-oil exports, and reducing imports. The trend of increasing exports and reducing imports must continue at a greater pace, and at the same time these achievements made clear to the people.”
  • Khamenei on the ongoing negotiations between Iran and Europe to salvage the nuclear deal: “Continuing negotiations with Europe is not a problem but–while continuing this–any hope in them on the issues of the JCPOA and the economy must be ended.”
  • “We must have a doubtful view towards their [European] commitments. We must very vigilant regarding the trajectory of this issue.”
  • On Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA: “The JCPOA is not a goal but a vessel. If we reach the conclusion that with this vessel, we cannot secure out national interests, we will put it aside.”
  • On negotiations with the U.S.: “The result of negotiations with previous U.S. officials, who cared about their appearance, was this. Now with these hateful and hideous current officials who openly are holding a sword against Iranians what negotiations can we have? As such, no negotiations at any level will be held with the Americans.
  • On Rouhani’s appearance in parliament: “The meeting yesterday in parliament was a demonstration of the power and stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran and may God give good tidings to the president and the legislature demonstrated this power.”
  • “Members of parliament ask questions of a president who was elected with over 23 million votes, and the president responds in a calm and sober way. This is the definition of religious democracy.”
  • On September 2nd, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared before parliament for questioning. Principlist MP Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, who represents a district in the religious city of Mashhad and is affiliated with the ultra-conservative Jebhe Paydari faction, accused Zarif’s foreign ministry of being infiltrated by foreign spies and facilitating U.S. efforts at regime change. (Links 1 & 2).
  •   Ghodousi played a controversial documentary at parliament prior to questioning Zarif. The documentary and Ghodousi’s questions sought to portray Zarif as having nefarious links with groups such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Chatham House, and NIAC.
  •   Ghodousi: “What was the head of the International Crisis Group doing in your room? In the Cobourg hotel, the president of the International Crisis Group came out with you on the balcony … International Crisis Group produced six reports for the JCPOA, of which the third one is based on documentation that formed the text Iran agreed to [in the JCPOA]. Mr. Zarif did you negotiate or did they give you the text of the agreement?”
  •   “This group [International Crisis Group] which is based in Belgium and many influential Americans and Europeans are there and its financial father is George Soros, produced six reports for Iran and only one report on how the JCPOA would be approved by America’s Congress and our previous Parliament.”
  •   “In your recent trips, you went there [International Crisis Group] and declared that neither Iran or Saudi Arabia can establish regional hegemony. The hegemony of the Islamic Revolution is pure Islam, Saudis’ hegemony is Wahhabi Islam. If neither Iran or Saudis, then it will be American hegemony [in the region].”
  •   “Chatham House is the strongest think tank in the world and an English, non-American think tank. It creates neo-colonialization plans, and this is the same place that nominated you [Zarif] and John Kerry for the Nobel Peace Prize, which you however did not attend. However, such a relationship is not normal.”
  •   “The third group connected to you is NIAC, a group of Iranian Americans in America. When you went to America and in your communications with them exchanged intelligence, you may not realize the issues, but the results of these meetings and communications was to the benefit of Chatham House, NIAC, and their friends.”
  •   Ghodousi: “I will give the documentary today to news outlets along with two other documentaries that were created by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit.”
  •   Zarif defended Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, an advisor to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team who in October 2017 was sentenced to 5 years in prison on charges of espionage.
  •   Zarif on Dorri-Esfahani: “I have no doubt about his patriotism, but I have no knowledge regarding other issues about him.”
  •   Ghodousi, in his 3 questions of Zarif, claimed that four members of Zarif’s nuclear negotiating team had foreign citizenship on top of their Iranian citizenship.
  •   Zarif said in response regarding individuals with dual citizenship: “I emphasize that no dual citizens had any role or responsibility in the negotiations. If someone even has a spouse that has dual citizenship, they cannot work for the foreign ministry, much less for themselves to be a dual citizen. However, utilizing foreign advisors is possible and is a norm in international relations.”

On September 2nd, a letter written by Mehdi Karoubi was posted on Saham News—a site affiliated with Karoubi. The Green movement opposition leader—who previously served as parliamentary speaker and in other senior posts—has been under house arrest since 2011 together with fellow 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The letter was addressed to members of the Assembly of Experts—a body constitutionally-mandated with appointing and supervising the Supreme Leader.

  • Karoubi in the letter: “Article 107 of the constitution delegates the power to appoint the supreme leader to the assembly of experts, which is directly elected by the people. Article 111 explicitly states: ‘In the case that the Leader proves incapable of carrying out his duties, is missing the criteria in tenets 50 and 109, or it becomes clear that these criteria were missing from the beginning, he will be removed from his office. Interpreting these conditions will be the responsibility of the Assembly of Experts.”
  • “The Assembly of Experts must hold the Leader accountable for his policies over the past three decades that have led to the current situation. Why don’t they question him over the entrance of the Revolutionary Guards, Basij, and police forces into banking, selling oil, etc.?”
  • Karroubi asked the Assembly of Experts to “hold to account the military and economic institutions under the purview of the Leader who have played a central role in creating today’s unfortunate situation for the people and country.”
  • “I believe in reforms, but of the kind that reforms the structure of the system in the direction of more sovereignty for the people and that gives no privileged position to any individual or groups.”

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council—another constitutional body charged with vetting candidates who seek office—responded to Karroubi’s letter on Twitter:

  • “The text of recent days of Mr Karoubi are reminiscent of his statements in 2009. Statements that are seemingly not from him but are written for him, just like the decisions they make for him. If only he could escape the prison of those around him and think for himself. And decide for himself and write for himself.”

On August 31st, Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in his Telegram his thoughts on the need for the Iranian people to be vigilant in the face of foreign manipulation:

  • Baedinejad: “Economic warfare against Iran is America’s official position.”
  • “Trump and the American foreign minister [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] have stressed that their intention with imposing pressure and sanctions is to create discontent and turn the Iranian people against Iran’s government to topple the Iranian government in this way.”
  • “Don’t trust everything you read or hear. Verify the validity of a report from a credible source you trust. Don’t forward every piece of news or analysis. Take seriously the psychological and propaganda war.”

On August 29th, Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi gave a far-reaching TV interview, touching on subjects ranging from combating terrorism and economic cooperation, to increased cooperation between Iran’s intelligence agencies.

  • “The terrorists forces aligned against the Islamic Republic of Iran consist of 32 terrorist groups.”
  • “They are seeking to create a Syria situation for Iran. They wanted to assassinated 5 Sunni clerics to start a Shia-Sunni war, but we suffocated this plot. Sunnis play an integral role in confronting these terrorist movements.”
  • “Standing against these groups is not easy. This month we discovered a plot to attacks facilities such as universities and the subway system.”
  • “In July 16th, we took down an ISIS cell in Tehran. We hope that with the people’s assistance we can continue this path successfully.”
  • “If we want a strong economy we have to confront corrupt economic actors. In the intelligence ministry we have created 130 files and arrested more than 180 accused. The intelligence ministry is also playing a unique role in confronting the smuggling of goods and currency.”
  • “We strive to make the environment secure for domestic producers and insecure for corrupt economic actors.”
  • “Under this administration, cooperation between the different intelligence institutions is greater than in previous eras, and the Leader has expressed happiness over the cooperation between the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence apparatus.”

On September 3rd, Davood Heshmati, wrote in the reformist Emtedad on the controversy over a diaper shortage and how the main “battle” in Iranian politics is between those with hope in the future and those who are trying to destroy hope.

  • Heshmati: “The issue of the rising costs of diapers has become a hot-button issue in recent days. From late August, through coverage by principlist outlets, it has been turned into an evident ‘problem.'”
  • “With the Leader’s recent address to administration officials [where he mentioned the diaper issue] it has taken greater form and become a more important issue.”
  • “But if we paid attention, we see that at the same time 2 warehouses where diapers have been stockpiled have been discovered. The first report from IRNA was of a discovery of a warehouse in Savojbolagh which was storing over 10 billion tomans worth of diapers.”
  • “The 2nd report was from ISNA of the discovery of one and half million packages of diapers in Alborz province.”
  • “Everyone is worried that the diaper they bought today will become more expensive tomorrow, so they hoard … what has to be reformed is bringing back hope. One side believes in creating ‘hope’ and the other in ‘ending hope,’ this is the main battle on-going right now.”

On August 23rd, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Alireza Tangsiri as the commander of the Navy of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, replacing Ali Fadavi. Conservative outlet Javan said of Tangsiri’s appointment:

  • “Most of the naval forces of outside powers in the Persian Gulf, because of the field of operations of the Revolutionary Guards navy, know admiral Tangsiri, and they all know that this appointment, in the midst of economic pressure against Iran, is not without reason.”
  • “Until now, the English twice, the Americans twice, the Australians once, and the Canadians once have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for violating Iranian waters. At the heart of all these arrests, one person’s name is above all, commander Alireza Tangsiri.”

On September 2nd, Ayatollah Khamenei met with commanders and officials from the Iranian Army’s Air Defense division and dismissed the possibility of a military conflict but stressed the need for the Iranian military to upgrade its capabilities.

  • Ayatollah Khamenei stated that “based on political calculations, the possibility for a military war does not exist. However, the Armed Forces’ human and material capabilities must be improved on a day to day basis, with vigilance and by management that is efficient and flexible.”
  • Khamenei also declared that “the Air Defense division is a very sensitive part of the Armed Forces and is on the frontlines against Iran’s enemies, and that the readiness and capabilities of its air defenses and personal must be increased.”

 

 

Skip the War, Save the Environment

In the past few months, President Trump has withdrawn from the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran, re-imposed sanctions, and threatened to bomb Iran on Twitter. But while many have written on the military, humanitarian and economic impact of war with Iran, not much has been said on how it will impact the environment. A look into America’s past wars offers disturbing insights into what the disastrous environmental impact of war with Iran could have.

The first threat to the environment is oil. During the Persian Gulf War, oil refineries were the target of constant bombings and over 700 oil wells were destroyed in Kuwait alone. Over the years, the equivalent of 60 million barrels of oil polluted the soil, driving air toxicity to hazardous levels. In Baghdad, air pollution reached 705% of pre-war levels. Given that Iran’s oil reserves exceed those of Iraq and Kuwait, the potential fallout of an Iranian war could be even greater.

Burnings and bombings are symptomatic of modern warfare. Both release hazardous compounds in the air, and are a primary contributor to the increased frequency of wildfires in the region. During the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious for its “scorched-earth” tactics, meaning that they burned anything potentially useful to the enemy. As a result, the nation lost a substantial percentage of its forests to combustion––a disruption in the ecosystem that, on top of worsening air quality, led to the deaths of countless endangered animals.

Iran already suffers from severe environmental stressors and a war could be the breaking point. The region’s air is dense with pollutants, especially in cities. The country faces severe drought and an ongoing water shortage, with Lake Urmia, the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, having shrunk 90% since the 1970s. Instead of cracking down on these issues, the Iranian government’s response has been to jail and exile its scientists––both local and foreign––for “spying”, among other bizarre accusations. It is nothing short of naive to believe that during wartime, when these respective crises are escalated, there will be any significant allocation of government resources into the environment rather than the war effort. If a war takes place in Iran, the government will either be apathetic to the cause, or could collapse entirely as happened in Iraq.

Already, continued international isolation and conflict with the U.S. has exacerbated the situation. In 2010, when Obama’s international sanctions coalition was at its height, Iran was no longer able to import refined oil. As a result, the nation needed to refine its own oil quickly and cheaply to keep up with the rising demand. Carbon emissions skyrocketed, causing immense damage to the environment.

Climate change is a global issue––war never stays confined to one space, and always outlives its time. In Syria, six million Syrians have fled the country since the beginning of the war, entering other nations in a way that isn’t sustainable to their respective societal infrastructures and provoking right-wing backlash. A war in Iran, exacerbating pollution and water shortages, will likely also produce an exodus of refugees. Given that Iran is over four times more populated than Syria, a refugee crisis of similar proportions would put further strains on political systems and humanitarian resources.

War is already a horror, but when factoring in the environmental devastation, there is one more reason for policymakers in Washington and Tehran to avoid it.

Iran’s Fundamentalists Overplay their Hand Amid Continued Calls for Change

Week of August 20, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Official statements and reports address size, scope, and triggers of August and January protests
  • Prominent political and civil society activists release open letter calling for major reforms driven by domestic forces
  • Fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari leading calls for Rouhani’s removal despite Supreme Leader’s recent rebuke against resignation or impeachment
  • Anti-Rouhani forces accused of overreach in Qom gathering, elicit backlash over threats to Rouhani and attacks on traditional clergy
  • Officials view State Department’s “Iran Action Group” as a sign of desperation over failing to mobilize international support for sanctions

Iran continues to grapple with fallout from widespread protests, the first wave of reimposed U.S. sanctions, and major addresses by President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The fast-moving developments have been treated as an opportunity by some, including Rouhani’s bitter rivals in a reclusive, but powerful and increasingly forthright hardline faction. Meanwhile, the country’s embattled activists continue their efforts to foster political change as officials respond to the creation of the State Department’s “Iran Action Group” and brace for the Trump administration’s economic siege.

Aftermath of Early August’s Protests

On August 21st, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli gave an interview with Iran newspaper—the official outlet of the Iranian presidency—offering details on the protest wave that hit parts of the country in late July and early August. “In the recent protests, in 27 cities in 13 provinces there were gatherings of between 20 and 500 people. The largest gathering was of 500 in Eshtehard in Karaj,” Fazli stated. “In total, around 3,800 people participated according to our reports.”

The Rouhani administration official added that the protests reflected “social tensions” and were not a “security issue.” However, amid increased clashes with Iraq-based Kurdish militants on Iran’s western border, including a July skirmish that saw ten Iranian soldiers killed, Fazli stated that Iran has observed a growth in the “training, equipment, ammunition, and financial and intelligence backing” of “terrorist groups” in the past six months.

While the protests have tapered for the time being, calls for change from the country’s dissident voices have not. On August 10th, a group of prominent political and civil society activists, including political prisoners, wrote an open letter highlighting 12 areas of governance in need of far-reaching reform. They characterized their action as a continuation of Iran’s struggle for a constitutional republic that was set into motion by Iran’s 1906 Constitutional Revolution and carried forward by events such as Mohammad Mossadegh’s premiership, the 1979 revolution, the reformist movement, and the Green movement. “One path is to deny everything. Not recognize any achievements and yet again, demand to break from our historic trajectory,” the letter stated. “The other path is to reread history and see the weak roots and build on the achievements of our ancestors.”

The authors went on: “We choose the second path, not just to draw on our experiences and energies, but to support the century of struggles of our ancestors and see the saving on Iran on a continuous path of wisdom of the freedom-seekers of the homeland.”

The dissidents also stressed the need make their voices heard to offset the ability of hostile outside powers to make inroads into Iran: “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets. So we will follow the path of our ancestors and we will pursue the demands we see as necessary to save Iran.”

In other protest-related news, prominent Iranian sociologist Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi argued in a August 16th column for the reformist Etemad that historically, populations do not rebel due to poverty or hunger, but due to losing their agency and trust in the state. Tabrizi stated. “The designers of sanctions hope that with these pressures to weaken Iran’s political system and create an irreversible cleavage between the people and the state.” He added: “The only way to confront this aim is to create trust and reciprocal respect between the people and the state through increased transparency in the executive and judicial functions of the state.”

On August 29th, Fatemeh Zolghahr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee, said the committee had approved the private sector entering the TV and radio market. The private sector will be able to produce radio and TV stations, she said, provided it abides by regulations set up by a new trustee board for state TV comprised mostly of figures selected by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Hardliners Put Rouhani in their Crosshairs

The Trump administration’s reneging on the nuclear deal has debilitated centrist President Rouhani, who invested much of his political capital pushing for diplomatic engagement with the U.S. and negotiating the nonproliferation agreement. Since Trump decertified the deal last October and wavered on renewing sanctions relief waivers in January, Rouhani has faced increased calls for his resignation or impeachment.

An August 16th editorial in Etemad asked: ” Who was the intended audience for the Leader’s remarks regarding those who want Rouhani removed?”—referring to Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent address where he denounced those calling for Rouhani’s removal as “playing a role in the enemy’s plan.” The column traced the roots of the call to MPs belonging to the far-right Jebhe Paydari (The Front for Preserving the Islamic Revolution) political faction.

It stated: “In February, Ahmad Saleh, a current MP of the same mindset as Koochakzadeh [a former Jebhe Paydari MP who also called for Rouhani’s removal], repeated this matter again and from his parliamentary perch, and in mid-April began talk of bringing down the Rouhani administration … it was at least the beginning of using distinct keywords such as “Rouhani’s inadequacy [to be president.].”

Meanwhile, Jebhe Paydari’s spiritual leader, fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, proclaimed in an August 19th speech that Iranian officials must admit they made a mistake in agreeing to the JCPOA. The hardline cleric, who critics describe as seeking the “North Korea” model for Iran, also warned against trusting any foreign powers. “We must confess and say God, we made a damn mistake. Please forgive us for being optimistic about the JCPOA and negotiations with the enemy … Please forgive us for being optimistic towards the Europeans,” he stated. “Some have tied their hearts to Russia and China, they are making a mistake as well.”

Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, the deputy governor for political, social, and political affairs of Razavi Khorasan province, home of Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad, said in an August 20th press conference that “hardline oppositionists” started the protests that began in Mashhad last December and spread to other parts of the country. “Some of the late December, early January protests were organized by irrational hardline oppositionists, who created space for the enemy,” Norouzian stated. “Some believe they had good intentions, but in reality they had an incorrect understanding of the environment.”

Norouzian went on to announce that specific locations will be set up in Iranian cities to hold protests, including two locations for Mashhad. “These locations cannot be inaccessible, must not disturb people’s movements and activities, and must be inside the cities,” he stated. “We will soon announce locations for the people and different groups who have grievances, to get a permit to protest their grievances at these locations.”

He added: “This action is being implemented by the [Rouhani] administration, but we won’t allow whoever wants to create chaos to threaten the security and stability of the city.”

Outcry over Anti-Rouhani Gathering in Qom’s Feyziyeh Seminary School

An August 16th gathering at a seminary school in Qom organized by anti-Rouhani clerics, mostly from the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, spurred widespread outrage after a placard at the event went viral. The sign implied that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani—who died in January 2017 after swimming in a facility that was formerly a palace of the late Shah’s wife Farah Pahlavi—was killed and that Rouhani would meet a similar end. It read: “Oh you whose slogan is negotiations, Farah’s pool is your fate.”

The event triggered sharp condemnation from two senior Ayatollahs, Naser Makarem Shirazi and Hossein Noori Hamedani. Makarem Shirazi described the gathering as a “catastrophe” and demanded answers from officials and the Revolutionary Guards. He said, using an Iranian expression, that the episode “threw water in the enemy’s watermill” by advancing the cause of creating division and discord amongst Iran’s ruling elites.

Tehran MP Fatemeh Saeedi said she and other MPs had signed a letter for the impeachment of Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli over the “Qom gathering and the threat against the president.” She stated: “It has to be made clear who these people are who allow themselves to threaten the president.” Centrist MP Ali Motahari also stated:
“The intelligence ministry should take up this issue and reveal its results to the nation. Maybe the issue of the sudden and unbelievable death of the head of the Expediency Council [Rafsanjani] will be cleared up.”

In response to the outcry, the Revolutionary Guards released a statement that denied any role in organizing the event and “strongly condemned some of the slogans and placards of the cleric in Qom.”  The Governor of Qom also stated that he had sent a report on the event’s slogans to senior provincial officials and that security services were following up on the issue. Meanwhile, Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Fars News reported that the two individuals who held up the placard were confronted immediately by the organizers at the event, who “took and ripped up the placard.”

The Qom gathering also elicited controversy over remarks by a keynote speaker, Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, who accused the clerical establishment and seminaries of opening the door to secularism in the country. Azghadi opined: “Figh [religious law] that has no connection to daily life results in daily life that has no connection to figh. Seminary lectures that don’t theorize governance and religious civilization. They are implicitly pursuing a secular figh.”

Azghadi’s comment amounted to an unprecedented right-wing rebuke of Iran’s clerical establishment, in effect arguing it had failed to turn Iran into a proper theocracy four decades after the Islamic revolution. In response, Ayatollah Noori Hamedani proclaimed that the seminary “is not secular, has never been secular, and never will be. Why do they bring someone to the seminary who knows nothing about it?”

In an August 20th column, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi discussed the Qom event and how it marked a new stage in the relationship between the traditional clerical establishment and “a group that is visible and invisible and that in times of crisis tries to take political initiatives”—which he identified primarily as Jebhe Paydari.

Zeidabadi explained: “It seems that because of the recent public and explicit support of Hassan Rouhani’s administration by the leader of the Islamic Republic, this current with the cover of being revolutionary and even of ‘defending velyate-faqih,’ is trying to take advantage of the intricate current political and economic climate of the country, and trying to discredit and potentially collapse the Rouhani administration.”

Zeidabadi added that the anti-Rouhani forces had overreached this time. “The reaction of Misters Makarem Shirazi and Nouri Hamedani shows that this time, the political system will not allow them to take the initiative and if they try to put their feet past their rug [overreach] and insist on their position, they will be eliminated from the circle of power.”

Official Reactions to the State Department’s “Iran Action Group”

Iranian officials responded to the State Department’s August 17th announcement on creating an “Iran Action Group” by framing it as a  sign of desperation from a U.S. side that was having difficulty in getting other countries on board with renewed sanctions. “After great efforts by America to get other countries to join it in reimposing sanctions against Iran, America has been met with complaints and has been isolated,” declared MP Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a member and former spokesman for the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated in a press conference that the “Iran Action Group” should be viewed from a “psychological angle” and in terms of the “economic warfare” waged by Trump. He proclaimed: “This is more of a game and psychological warfare that the war-mongers in Trump’s team have undertaken—especially given it coincides with the 1953 coup anniversary, which this reminds us of.”



Below please find a summary of key developments in Iran:

On August 21st, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli gave an interview with the Rouhani administration outlet Iran Newspaper in which he gave statistics regarding the country-wide protests that occurred in late July/early August, discussed how security services should view the protests, and warned of the rise of terrorist groups in the country.

  • “In the recent protests, in 27 cities in 13 provinces there were gatherings of between 20 and 500 people. The largest gathering was of 500 in Eshtehard in Karaj. In total, around 3800 people participated according to our reports.”
  • “The recent protests reflected social tensions. We still do not view or identify them as a security issue. We also don’t categorize every act of violence as a security issue.
  • “In the past six months we have seen a rise in terrorist groups, a growth in their training, equipment, ammunition, and financial and intelligence backing. We see the terrorists’ footprints in the smuggling of fuel, drugs, and even humans.”

On August 10th, a group of prominent political and civil society activists wrote an open letter highlighting 12 areas of governance in need of far-reaching reforms and echoing a recent speech by former President Mohammad Khatami.

  • “The national movement under the leadership of Dr. Mossadegh was a revival of the constitutionalist movement and emphasized the nation’s independence. The 1979 revolution was also a call against tyranny and against the destruction of the constitutionalist movement’s principles, even though in its thunderous roar it undid some of its achievements. The reformist movement and after it, the Green movement, were two other upheavals for a return to the true spirit of the rule of law and tried to—while preserving previous achievements—focus only on shortcomings and take a more gradual path towards reaching constitutionalist demands.”
  • “One path is to deny everything. Not recognize any achievements and yet again, demand to break from our historic trajectory. The other path is to reread history and see the weak roots and build on the achievements of our ancestors. We choose the second path, not just to draw on our experiences and energies, but to support the century of struggles of our ancestors and see the saving on Iran on a continuous path of wisdom of the freedom-seekers of the homeland.”
  • “Mr. Khatami’s suggestions bring a vision that supersedes partisanship or political differences and that all people who care for the country can support in its totality and approach.”
  • “Our answer is that same as what Mir Hossein Mousavi said in his 9th statement: ‘It is our historic responsibility to continue our protest and not stop from striving for the rights of the people.'”
  • “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets. So we will follow the path of our ancestors and we will pursue the demands that we see as necessary to save Iran.”

On August 20th, former reformist MP and current editor-in-chief of the Etemad newspaper Elias Hazrati gave an interview to the online news outlet ILNA in which he discussed former reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s recent speech on the need for far-reaching reforms and stated that the media ban on the former president has been relaxed.

  • “What he said was vital even though Khatami himself has no official position in the country anymore. With his apology to the people, Khatami wanted to show that the path to dialogue with a people who are angry, frustrated, worried and are bearing immense pressures is to first apologize.”
  • “Despite us reformists having serious issues with Rouhani and his decisions, but we clearly and explicitly declare that we do not regret our votes and support of him.”
  • “In the current climate and Trump’s rock-throwing, the president must more seriously carry out his duties and must talk to the people so they feel there is a strong umbrella above their heads protecting them.”
  • In response to a question regarding Rouhani’s first Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri recently stating an opportunity may be arising on Khatami’s limitations: “From what I’ve heard and have knowledge about the efforts that have been taken to remove the limitations on Mr. Khatami have reached a result.”

On August 16th, Iranian sociologist Behrooz Ghamari Tabriz wrote an op-ed in the reformist Etemad arguing that historically, populations are driven to revolution not by poverty or hunger, but by losing their trust in the state and their agency.

  • “History shows that people rarely take to the streets over hunger and revolt. In history we have many examples of the majority of people in a society going hungry but not rebelling.”
  • “People rebel when their social consciousness is under pain. Seeking justice is main driver of any social rebellion.”
  • “Officials should know that is it not the ‘stomach pains of hunger’ that creates protests, but rather distrust and disbelief in the promises and commitments that brings people to the streets.”
  • “The designers of sanctions hope that with these pressures to weaken Iran’s political system and create an irreversible cleavage between the people and the state. The only way to confront this aim is to create trust and reciprocal respect between the people and the state through increased transparency in the executive and judicial functions of the state.”

On August 29th, Fatemeh Zolghahr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee, said that cultural committee had approved the private sector entering the TV and radio market:

  • “Approval of the Parliament’s cultural committee: the private sector can with permission from state TV [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB], create TV and radio broadcasts.”
  • “Fatemeh Zolghadr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee: based on today’s approval of the cultural committee, a trustee board for IRIB will be created comprised of the follows: head of the IRIB, four legal persons selected by the Supreme Leader for 5 years. And the head of the trustee board, who will one of the people selected by the leader.”
  • The private sector with the permission of IRIB will be able to enter all areas of media, based on the regulations of the trustee broads, and produce radio and TV stations.”

On August 16th, an editorial in the reformist Etemad newspaper asked, “Who was the intended audience for the Leader’s remarks regarding those who want Rouhani removed?” It investigated calls for Rouhani’s removal in the past six months and identifies the principal accusers as members of the far-right Jebhe Paydari (The Front for Preserving the Islamic Revolution).

  • “The Leader of the revolution referred to one of the keywords used against the Rouhani administration in recent months, and fully came out against these types of attacks. The Leader emphasized: ‘Those who say the administration must be impeached are playing a role in the enemy’s plan … The government must stay in power and with strength accomplish its responsibilities to alleviate problems.”
  • “He also discussed the rights and responsibilities of the administration and the parliament, stating:  ‘Both branches, while practicing their rights, respect the other branch’s dignity and the 3 branches must cooperation to end the problems of the people.'”
  • “Seeing the narratives and controversies in the media over the past months against the Rouhani administration shows that the Leader’s emphasize on this matter was extremely important. The undeniable importance of this may have been why the Leader made these remarks at the end of his speech as part of the conclusions of this historic address.”
  • “If we are to talk about a person who initially started talking about Rouhani’s ‘inadequacy [to be president]’ the holder of this prize would be Mehdi Koochakzadeh, the Jebhe Paydari MP representing Tehran, who said this until he lost his seat [in the 2016 parliamentary elections].”
  • “In February, Ahmad Saleh, a current MP and of the same mindset as Koochakzadeh, repeated this matter again and from his Parliamentary perch, and in mid-April began talk of bringing down the Rouhani administration—which if we don’t say it started at this time, it at least was the beginning of using distinct keywords such as “Rouhani’s inadequacy [to be president.].”
  • The hand of this stand of Rouhani’s opponents was fully revealed when Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a Jebhe Paydari MP representing Shahinshahr in Isfahan province, talked of the activities of his like-minded colleagues to implement the plan regarding ‘Rouhani’s inadequacies].’ He told Etemad Online in June: ‘When we took the bill for the impeachment of the economic minister to get signed by different MPs, they told us why don’t you bring the bill on Rouhani’s inadequacy?'”

On August 19th, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of the Jebhe Paydari movement, said in a speech that Iranian officials should admit they made a mistake in agreeing to the JCPOA and warned of trusting foreign powers.

  • “We must confess and say God, we made a damn mistake. Please forgive us for being optimistic about the JCPOA and negotiations with the enemy.”
  • “Please forgive us for being optimistic towards the Europeans.”
  • “Some have tied their hearts to Russia and China, they are making a mistake as well.”

On August 20th, Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, the deputy governor for political, social, and political affairs of Razavi Khorasan province, gave a press conference where he discussed in part how the January protests were started by “hardline currents”:

  • “Some of the late December/early January protests were organized by irrational hardline oppositionists, who created space for the enemy. Some believe they had good intentions, but in reality they had incorrect understanding of the environment.”
  • Norouzian also announced that in Mashad two locations will be set up for protests with permits, and other cities will each have one designated location. “These locations cannot be inaccessible, must not disturb people’s movements & activities, and be inside the cities.”
  • Norouzian: “We will soon announce locations for the people and different groups who have grievances, to get a permit to protest their grievances at these locations.”
  • Norouzian: “This action is being implemented by the [Rouhani] administration, but we won’t allow whoever wants to create chaos to threaten the security and stability of the city.”
  • Norouzian: “Our current conditions aren’t worse than the past & the period of UNSC resolutions. Then, we had all the UNSC resolutions and countries against us, now there is division both within America & with its allies … the international space is not good for the US, it’s better for us now.”
  • Norouzian: “A psychological atmosphere has been created that wasn’t strong during the peak of the previous sanctions & the previous [Ahmadinejad] admin, even though our conditions are better, there is this psychological atmosphere.”
  • Norouzian: “If we can manage and direct this psychological atmosphere, we won’t have a problem with the sanctions.”

A rally in Qom organized by anti-Rouhani clerics, largely from the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, spurred outrage after a placard held up at the gathering read: “Oh you whose slogan is negotiations, Farah’s pool (where Rafsanjani died) is your fate.”

  • Two senior Iranian Ayatollahs condemned the event and the slogans used: Ayatollahs Naser Makarem Shirazi and Hossein Noori Hamedani. Makarem Shirazi described the gathering as a “catastrophe” and demanded answers from government officials and the Revolutionary Guards.
  • Makarem Shirazi further stated–using an Iranian expression–that the event & slogans “threw water in the enemy’s watermill”–i.e. worked to advance cause of creating division & discord amongst Iran’s ruling elites
  • After the outcry from the senior Ayatollahs and other officials, the Revolutionary Guards have released a statement saying the event was spontaneous and organic and denied any role in organizing the event.
  • The Revolutionary Guards statement “strongly condemned some of the slogans and placards of the clerics in Qom.”
  • The Governor of Qom has since also stated he has sent a report on the event’s slogans to senior provincial officials and that security services are following up on the issue.
  • Tehran MP Fatemeh Saeedi: “Today we have signed the impeachment of the interior minister over the Qom gathering and the threat against the president. It has to be made clear who these people are who allow themselves to threaten the president.”
  • Fars news: at the beginning of the gathering, two people held up the placard saying “…” and immediately the organizers confronted them and took and ripped up the placard.”
  • Ali Motahari: “This slogan can be a clue for the way the late ayatollah which for many minds remains a mystery. The meaning of this slogan is that the president, the same way we took hasemi’s head under the water, we’ll take yours. The intelligence ministry should take up this issue and reveals its results to the nation. Maybe the issue of the sudden and unbelievable death of the head of the expeiendicy council will be cleared up.”

On August 20th, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote of the gathering:

  • In my assessment, it shows new developments in their relationship [senior Ayatollahs] with a group that is visible and invisible who in times of crisis tries to take political initiatives.
  • These clerics and clerics-in-training, mostly of whom are in the Paydari front, introduce themselves as the “only revolutionary force” in relation to other governmental forces—such as reformists, government bureaucrats, moderate principlists, traditional seminary clerics—and seek to confront them and portray them as irremediable in order to remove them from the circle of “revolutionaries” and ultimately, the political system.
  • Important representatives of this forces, especially in recent years, target traditional movements in the seminary by accusing them of “secularism.
  • It seems that because of the recent public and explicit support of Hassan Rouhani’s administration by the leader of the Islamic Republic, this current with the cover of being revolutionary and even of “defending velyate-faqih,” is trying to take advantage of the intricate current political and economic climate of the country, and trying to discredit and potentially collapse the Rouhani administration.
  • However, the reaction of Misters Makarem Shirazi and Nouri Hamedani shows that this time, the political system—because of the heightened sensitivity of current circumstances and potential for an uncontrollable crisis emanating from these forces—who have a presence in different institutions—will not allow them to take the initiative and if they try to put their feet past their rug [overreach] and insist on their appoint, they will be eliminated from the circle of power.

Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, a religious and political speaker who spoke at the Qom gathering, also spurred the ire of the Ayatollahs for saying that Iran’s seminaries had opened the door to secularism

  • “Figh [religious law] that has no connection to daily life, daily life that has no connection to figh. Lessons that don’t theorize governance and religious civilization. They are implicitly pursuing a secular figh. A personal figh … that has nothing to say about economics, politics, banking and international relations. This is secularism. Everyone talks about secularism in the universities. The roots of secularism are in our seminaries.”

Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani responded that the seminary “is not secular, has never been secular, and never will be. Why do they bring someone to the seminary who knows nothing about it?”

Conservative MP Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a member and former spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee on the State Department’s new “Iran Action Group”.

  • Hosseini suggests the Iran Action Group was set up because Trump administration in was meeting severe pushback from other countries in trying to sanction Iran, and that it will try to coordinate efforts to reimpose sanctions.
  • Hosseini: “After great efforts by America to get other countries to join it in reimposing sanctions against Iran, America has been met with complaints and has been isolated.”
  • Hosseini: “Today, the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will discuss the Iran Action Group to find solutions to any actions it might take.”
  • Hosseini went on to express disappointment at European efforts to salvage the JCPOA and said time is running out on Iran deciding what to do in response Trump’s JCPOA withdrawal.
  • Hosseini: “Time has run out for the Europeans. They must announce their position on the JCPOA soon so that Iran can make the necessary decision on this issue.”

On August 20th, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi held a press conference where in part he discussed the State Department’s “Iran Action Group” and Iran’s view of the progress in talks with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal:

  • “This [The Iran Action Group] is more from a psychological angle and the economic war and must be viewed in this way. It is in contravention to all international rules. As in the past, this will not lead to anything and will be defeated with the Iranian peoples’ resistance and the options that are available. This is more of a game and psychological warfare that the war-mongers in Trump’s team have undertaken—especially given it coincide with the 1953 coup anniversary, which this reminds us of.”

 

 

FAQ on H.R. 392

Could H.R. 392 pass? Where does it stand in the legislative process?

The “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017” (H.R. 392 in the House of Representatives & S. 281 in the Senate) has been added via amendment to the House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Neither the House nor the Senate homeland security appropriation bill has passed the full chamber, and the Senate version does not include language that would eliminate per-country limits for employment-based immigration. If the House provision is included in the final version of the appropriation bill, it could pass each chamber and ultimately be sent to Donald Trump for signature. It remains in play whether this will happen and the legislation will ultimately pass into law.

Who will be impacted?

All nationals of countries other than India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines who seek to gain permanent residency through the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 categories will face increased wait times that will be measured in years but likely less than a decade. Individuals under the EB-1 category will likely experience the shortest wait times which are projected at approximately three years, whereas second and third preference categories will probably experience a longer wait time. However, those impacted by the Muslim Ban and subjected to single-entry visas would be kept inside the country while their family is kept out, which will effectively prevent them from seeing their family during this period.

What impact will this proposed legislation have on Iranians and other nationalities impacted by the Muslim Ban?

These changes will eliminate per-country limits for employment-based immigration which means the wait time to transition to a green card will increase by years. This is because eliminating per-country limits will benefit larger countries with a greater number of citizens working in the U.S. who are currently subject to a significant backlog. However, any policy change that extends the wait time for permanent residency will particularly impact Iranians and other nationalities impacted by the Muslim Ban since many find themselves on single-entry visas and their family members are banned from visiting.

Could speaking out against H.R. 392 be used against a non-citizen impacted by the Muslim Ban?

We are aware that some groups have sought to intimidate Iranians and others with threats of false accusations of visa fraud based on the accusation that Iranians on nonimmigrant visas are demonstrating an intent to remain in the U.S. by speaking against H.R. 392. We cannot offer legal advice on this issue, however, we can assure individuals that they should not be intimidated by these threats. Student visas (F/J) are nonimmigrant visas and require a nonimmigrant intent, whereas H-1B visas are dual intent visas. However, people, including visa holders, are able to criticize an unfair policy, and mere criticism does not demonstrate a preexisting intent to use a nonimmigrant visa to remain in the U.S. We are disturbed that some groups are seeking to intimidate our community with veiled threats. Criticisms of H.R. 392 should focus on the policy itself rather than any particular case or circumstances.  If you have a specific legal question then please contact an immigration attorney.

What corporations have supported and/or lobbied for H.R. 392?

These companies include Amazon, Deloitte LLP, Equifax Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Salesforce.com and Texas Instruments among others. However, the bills will likely negatively affect many of their own employees, including those targeted by the Muslim ban.

How exactly does H.R. 392 change current immigration policy and why do some groups support it?

The current policy is that no one country can account for more than 7% of visas leading to a green card in any given year. This policy has kept wait times for smaller countries that naturally fall below that 7% threshold short and it assures that our immigrant pool remains diverse. However, it has also created a backlog of decades for large countries such as India. Republican lawmakers have routinely blocked efforts to expand immigration altogether even though U.S. corporations become increasingly reliant on high-skilled foreign employees, especially in the STEM fields. Consequently, some major corporations that rely on employees from larger countries and nationals from those countries have pushed to do away with the per-country limits. But this will produce the unintended and harsh consequence of forcing victims of the Muslim Ban to choose between remaining in the U.S. or seeing their family.

Shifting Social and Political Landscape in Iran As Trump Ramps up Pressure

Week of August 13, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Iran’s political elites have rejected immediate talks, though some have signaled flexibility if the U.S. returns to the nuclear deal
  • Hardliners scapegoat Rouhani amid measured support from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei
  • U.S. pressure has spurred increased calls for unity among  parts of the ruling elite
  • Continued protests highlight depth of generational divide, institutional incapacities 
  • Reformist leaders and Green Movement leaders under house arrest issue calls for major change but condemn foreign intervention

Amid continued sporadic protests and reinstated U.S. sanctions, the political and social landscape inside Iran is in a state of flux. The depreciation of the Rial and rising inflation have fueled economic grievances and spurred intense debate over both domestic shortcomings and foreign threats. However, bitter jockeying between political factions has given way to a collective sense of needing to put aside differences for the sake of preserving stability and the ruling system. Senior officials have also united in rejecting Donald Trump’s offer for an unconditional meeting with President Rouhani but have differed on the nature and severity of their opposition to renewed U.S.-Iran negotiations.

Demonstrations

A new wave of protests that began in the city of Isfahan on July 31st spread to other parts of the country, including Tehran, Mashhad, Hamedan, Kazeroun, and Shiraz. Though small in scope, the protests lasted for days and underscored the failure of governmental institutions to address the economic and political grievances that have brought many Iranians to the streets since late December 2017. According to journalists and human rights activists, dozens of protesters were arrested across the country and one protestor, 26-year-old Reza Outadi, was killed on August 3rd in Karaj, north-west of Tehran. The Prosecutor General of Karaj has since stated that an investigation has been launched into the killing.

The protests and deteriorating economic situation have been used by Iran’s competing political factions to advance their contrasting agendas. President Rouhani has sought to push ahead with his 2017 presidential campaign promises of increased institutional transparency and economic liberalization, particularly with respect to the privatization of semi-public or Revolutionary Guards-operated industries. On the other hand, conservative rivals of Rouhani have held him responsible for the country’s economic woes, placing more blame on his management of the economy than U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, prominent reformists and Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi–who along with 2009 reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi continues to be under house arrest–have called for immediate and far-reaching reforms but have also condemned foreign intervention and urged unity between ruling elites and the general population.

Prominent sociologist Maghsoud Farasatkhah discussed the protests in a recent interview with the reformist Shargh newspaper. He opined: “We cannot lose sight of the fact that these protests are not representative of the voice of all the people in Iranian society, they aren’t even representative of critics and dissidents in society, but they are nonetheless an important voice and have the right to be heard and must be heard.” Farasatkhah further stated: “The youth have played an important role in these protests .. we are talking about a generation that is up to date in the world on communication and information and will, despite any limitations, connect to the world, and familiarize themselves with different issues.”

“Resistance” Economy vs. Rouhani Calls for Breaking Up IRGC Economic Power

A recent letter by Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts—charged with monitoring and appointing the Supreme Leader—laid much of the blame for Iran’s economic downturn on Rouhani. “What has caused the current unacceptable economic conditions is weak economic management and non-belief in the ‘resistance economy’ and infiltration by the enemy and corruption … and having an economic pivot to foreigners,” the letter stated. “It is expected that the President, without hesitation, changes in a major way his cabinet and senior economic managers.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei also entered the fray in a recent speech in which he censured the Rouhani administration’s handling of the economy. “Most economic experts and many officials say that the cause all of these problems are not sanctions but are due to internal problems and the method of management and implementing policies,” Ayatollah Khamenei stated. “I won’t say that sanctions have no effect, but most of our recent economic problems are related to actions than have been taken and, if better, more prudent, and stronger actions are taken, the sanctions will not have much of an effect and we can stand against them.”

However, Ayatollah Khamenei also voiced support for President Rouhani in the face of calls for his resignation by some conservatives, declaring: “Those who say the administration must be impeached are playing a role in the enemy’s plan … The government must stay in power and with strength accomplish its responsibilities to alleviate problems.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also lauded a letter by 38 economists friendly to the Rouhani administration outlining prescriptions for addressing Iran’s economic crises. Notably, the economists’ letter stated that Iran’s current downturn was partly due to “figures not responsible for foreign policy entering foreign policy arena” and called for “clear and wise positions based on positive diplomatic engagement to be officially announced regarding foreign policy,” increased privatization, and the end of military (i.e. Revolutionary Guards) involvement in the economy. The economists’ call for non-foreign ministry officials refraining from commenting on foreign policy was likely a reference to comments by the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, who personally penned a letter to Trump and vociferously rejected his offer of unconditional talks with Rouhani.

Condemnations of Leaders “Looking to the West”

The return of U.S. sanctions has also spurred renewed talk of Iran’s foreign policy orientation and whether it can rely on the West or should pivot decisively towards rising powers such as Russia and China. The conservatives, known as “principlists,” have sought to downplay the effect of economic sanctions largely because of their fundamental opposition to detente with the United States and belief that Iran must overcome its problems by relying on domestic resources. The principlist school of thought in Iran is rigidly attached to the ideological principles of the Islamic revolution and sees an unavoidable clash between an independent Iran and the United States.

A recent editorial in the principlist Kayhan criticized officials that “look to the West” to solve the country’s economic problems. “The manager who isn’t able to make effort to solve problems gives the wrong address, and says we have problems because there are sanctions and the path we must take is negotiations and deals with America,” the editorial stated. Another recent Kayhan editorial called for Iran to form deeper ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) countries, stating: “Countries in the SCO have 50 percent of the global population and a third of the global production of goods and services. The future of the global economy is in the east … the sooner Iran realizes that the West won’t secure its interests, it will have a better future.”

Negotiations with the U.S.

Ayatollah Khamenei also ruled out negotiations with the Trump White House, stating that the administration was ” playing a worn-out tactic that is worthless politically … one of them says without condition [we will meet], the other lays out the conditions.” He went on: “Even if the impossible occurred and we negotiated with the Americans, we definitely won’t negotiate with the current administration.” However, he also added a caveat:  “We can only enter the dangerous game of negotiations with the U.S. when we feel we’ve reached a point of economic, political, & cultural authority and U.S. pressures and blackmail don’t affect us—but for now negotiations will definitely be to our detriment and are forbidden.”

President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have in recent interviews stressed that Iran was not the side that left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) and that Iran is not intransigent regarding pursuing diplomatic compromise. “We negotiated on every word on JCPOA and Trump with one signature voided it. And now he comes and talks of negotiations? This just a propaganda ploy,” Zarif proclaimed in an August 6th press conference.

In an August 15th meeting with administration officials, Rouhani blamed Trump for shuttering the diplomatic channels that had formed between the two countries under the Obama administration and called for Trump to first rebuild these connections before speaking of meeting. “The U.S. itself has acted in such a way that has destroyed the circumstances required for negotiations. It has burned its bridges,” Rouhani proclaimed. “Now, the U.S. is standing on the other side … If it is honest, it should fix that bridge again.”

 



Below please find a summary of key developments in Iran:

Fatemeh Karroubi, wife of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, recently met with former President Mohammad Khatami and delivered a message from the opposition leader under house arrest.

  • “Hojatoleslam Karroubi has for the entirety of his detention and more than his own fate has thought about the people, the country, and is worried about the condition of the people and the revolution and Iran being hurt by external and internal dangers.”
  • “Hojatoleslam Karroubi while condemning the pressures against the Rouhani administration, criticizes the shortcomings that we witness in government officials and asks that tangible, coherent, and immediate steps be taken to alleviate current problems and eliminate the dangers that face our dear Iran.”
  • “Hojatoleslam Karroubi asks all Iranians who care for the revolution and the country to put aside their differences, and especially the different reformist currents, to show that they understand the pain of the people and country through coordination and solidarity.”

Ayatollah Khamenei in a major speech on August 13 ruled out negotiations with the Trump administration and defended the Rouhani administration against calls for his resignation.

  • Khamenei on the nuclear negotiations leading to the JCPOA: “I pushed strongly for hard positions. However, the red lines I outlined were not met.”
  • On negotiations with the U.S.: “We can only enter the dangerous game of negotiations with the United States when we feel we’ve reached a point of economic, political, & cultural authority & U.S. pressures and blackmail don’t affect us—but for now negotiations will definitely be to our detriment and are forbidden.”
  • “We will not negotiate with Americans for reasons based on precise arguments, our past experience, and the wide-ranging costs of negotiations with a regime that is untrustworthy and aggressive, and in the light of unity between the people and officials, we will easily pass through this period.”
  • On effect of U.S. sanctions: “Most economic experts and many officials that the cause of all these problems are not sanctions but are due to internal problems and the method of management and implementing policies.”
  • “I won’t say that sanctions have no effect, but most of our recent economic problems are related to actions taken and if better, more prudent, and stronger actions were taken, the sanctions will not have much of an effect and we can stand against them.”
  • Khamenei voiced his support for a letter from 38 economists to Rouhani outlining recommendations for alleviating Iran’s current economic crisis. The economists are allied to Rouhani: “Recently some economic specialists, who are not against the [Rouhani] administration and some are renowned, wrote a caring letter to the respected president and on top of reviewing the structural and current economic problems, offered solutions, of which most of these were correct.”
  • The letter by the economists stated that Iran’s current currency crisis is rooted in “public distrust”, the “instability in positions that have been taken domestically to confront increasing foreign tensions”, and “the figures not responsible for foreign policy entering foreign policy arena.” They called for “clear and wise positions based on positive engagement to be officially announced on foreign policy.” They called for increased privatization and the removal of any military involvement in the economy, among numerous other measures. Link.  
  • Called for aggressive actions against corruption, supported letter of head of judiciary.
  • On negotiations with the U.S.: “I stress there won’t be a war and we will not negotiate.”
  • “On this issue they are playing a worn-out tactic that is worthless politically, one of them says without condition [we will meet], the other lays out the conditions.”
  • “Given America’s formula for approach to negotiations, any government in the world that negotiates with them will have problems, unless they are totally aligned with the U.S., which even today is actually not the case as we see the current American government tries to force/bully the Europeans.”
  • “Even if the impossible occurred and we negotiated with the Americans, we definitely won’t negotiate with the current administration.”
  • “Negotiations with a bullying and demanding country like America is not a means to lower their hostility but it is a means of giving them tools with which they can more effectively commit hostility and reach their goals.”
  • “They are pursuing economic warfare to create discontent in the hopes this will turn into unrest and instability.

Iranian sociologist Maghsoud Farasatkhah on the protests in an interview with the reformist Shargh blames the government for failing to taking the steps necessary to alleviate grievances that cause protests. Stresses generational divide and structural inability to address problems:

  • “It’s not just the Rouhani administration and the executive branch that has responsibilities for these developments, but the entire government must take responsibility. Our entire social system and the prominent figures in our society must take responsibility and not just scapegoat the [Rouhani] administration.
  • “We cannot lose sight of the fact that these protests are not representative of the voice of all the people in Iranian society, they aren’t even representative of critics and dissidents in society, but they are nonetheless an important voice and have the right to be heard and must be heard.”
  • “At the present, there are many criticisms between the ruling elite. As long as there is not real reconciliation, there can’t be a minimum consensus on the problems in cities, the inequalities that exist, so they can reach an understanding of the poverty [that exists.]”
  • “The youth have played an important role in these protests .. we are talking about a generation that is up to date in the world on communication and information and will, despite any limitations, connect to the world, and familiarize themselves with different issues.”
  • “Our governmental institutions in many areas have not changed in accordance to the changes in society. These institutions are not even capable of seeing these changes. Some of the decisions that are taken for this society, have no meaning and are unacceptable by society.”
  • “They blame some issues on the executive branch, who in turn blames other branches. This is as the main issue is how people in society live … These voices have to be taken seriously and it’s necessary for [government-society] relations to change, such issues should not be reflexively viewed through a security lens.”
  • “If we had a strong civil society, there would be no need for these protests. Civil society is a calm space that in a peaceful and public way reflects on public issues and wisely engages in dialogue on these issues. When civil society is more aware, all pains are quickly heard and civil society can help the government to solve the problems by bringing psychological pressure.”

Iranian sociologist Saeed Madani in an interview with Shargh also emphasizes lack of opportunity for the youth:

  • “The phenomenon of unemployment among the youth and the educated [those with university degrees] has long afflicted the Iranian labor market and has expanded.”
  • “In the fall of 1393 (2014), unemployment was 10.5% and for the youth from ages 15 to 29 it was 21.8%. These numbers are far worse today given the economic recession.”
  • “Unfortunately there is no sign that the government has had the least bit of a clear and realistic understanding of the protests. If the voice of the protests were heard by officials, we should have witnessed serious changed in major policies. I have not seen the slightest change in policies affecting the economy, society, or culture.”

Donya Eqtesad piece arguing that many of the issues facing Iran today are due to the gradual weakening and undermining of the executive branch. It calls for more unity and less attacks on the executive branch/Rouhani administration:

  • “The current conditions are partly due to internal fights and foreign pressures, or to be more specific, the economic-psychological-security war of the United States against Iran.”
  • “The Iranian executive branch, which from 1360 to 1390 (2012) was the principal institution of the country after the Leadership, in that year became an ineffectual institution and even became a weight on the foot of other institutions.”
  • “The weakening of the executive branch … has two major implications that may be the biggest threats to national interests and security in all the years since the revolution. The first is the weakening of the political system speaking with one voice and an increase in contradictory comments by officials and non-officials.”
  • “The second is the message sent to society that nothing can be expected of the executive branch and public requests should be directed elsewhere. This means that the responsibility for shortcomings of the executive but that the whole system must be accountable. The small and sporadic protests of last winter and this past few weeks reflect this belief.”
  • “To escape the current situation, it is enough that, first senior officials believe that the system is stable, second, everyone rereads the constitution regarding what their areas of responsibility are and aren’t, and third, give message to society that the responsibilities of the executive branch now have the attention of all institutions, and they should remember that the biggest demonstration of stability is to have calm and respectful dialogue.”

Prominent sociologist Hamid-Reza Jaleipour lauds Rouhani’s TV address:

  • “In my opinion Rouhani’s comments were overall good and in the current time of tension spurred calmness domestically and projected strength abroad … Rouhani also left the door open to negotiations with honor with America.”
  • “The impact of this calculated was seen the next day. The same day Trump imposed the first waves of sanctions against the Iranian people, we saw that the cost of gold dropped by 12 percent and the Euro lost 7 percent of its value against the Rial.”
  • “On foreign policy Rouhani made the right points. He said we had negotiations with America. We negotiated and reached an agreement and now Trump has turned his back on America’s promise. So the ball is on Trump’s side.”
  • “At the same time Rouhani was aware that for the Congressional elections, Trump needs a picture with Rouhani. But Rouhani, without ruling out negotiations, has essentially pushed the issue of negotiations with Trump to after the U.S. elections.”

Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami gave a speech last week to former parliamentarians in which he highlighted the need for reforms and offered 15 suggestions to alleviate Iran’s current problems. Highlights from the speech:

  • “[Outside] regime-changers know that as long as reformism is alive there is no room for regime change. Internally there are also those who are set on avenging and eliminating reformists—they’re other side of same scissor.”
  • “The passivity of the [Rouhani] administration and the surprise reaction of reformists in the face of such propaganda is shocking.”
  • “creating chaos in the hope of removing the Islamic Republic will not solve country’s problems. Actions by foreign powers sound alarm bells regarding threat of breaking up (partitioning) Iran.”
  • “The system must be reformable. Hopelessness regarding the system’s ability to reform is a serious problem that would be irreversible.”
  • “As a citizen who cares about Iran and Islam, from the bottom of my heart I apologize for shortcomings and deficiencies that currently exist.”
  • Khatami then outlined 15 suggestions to alleviate current crises faced by Iran:
    1. Creating and strengthening unity among all the different political factions. Removing zero-sum mentalities.
    2. Unity among all forces committed to aims of Iran’s glory, progress, and safety and security of Iranian people. National dialogue.
    3. Changing state TV’s programming angle. State TV shouldn’t just be representative of one perspective in society.
    4. Creating political atmosphere that is open, safe, and free.
    5. Eliminating thinking that narrows specialists, scientists, and politicians to those who “are like us.”
    6. Ending house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
    7. Freeing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscious.
    8. Announcing public amnesty; giving trust to many specialist Iranians inside and outside the country to work for Iran’s progress.
    9. Removing unjust limitations; having elections that are open and free and centered on people’s aspirations and hope
    10. Ending extremism/radicalism; all factions have to works towards this.
    11. 3 branches of government must become more efficient and coordinate more.
    12. Hearing people’s grievances. We all need to hear these grievances and instead of preventing protests, we must work towards removing problems leading to protests.
    13. Accountability by Rouhani admin. Shortcomings cannot be blamed on political rivals, administration must prove its efficiency.
    14. Maintain people’s trust in parliament.
    15. Forming courts with juries selected from the ordinary people.

Sociologist Hamid Reza Jaleipour on Khatami’s speech, states that while reformists have lost votes as recent elections show, they still have most legitimacy among public in comparison with other opposition groups/”forces of change”:

  • “Khatami offered guidelines to escape the current crises, criticized the regime-changers, and did not attack the system but instead offered them a path. Khatami focused on ‘rebuilding public trust in public institutions” to escape the current crises.”
  • “It is said that people have moved past reformism and Khatami. This is true to an extent and reformists have lost votes … However, there are other issues to consider. For example, look at the situation of the ‘forces of change’ in the present time and compare them and see who is trustworthy: the Rajavists [MEK], the Shahis [Reza Pahlavi supporters], the Mesbahis [support of a fundamentalist cleric], the Shireen Ebadis, or the Khatamis. The situation for reformists in public opinion may not be good, but in comparison to other forces pushing for change, they have the most credibility.”
  • “Also, if Trump increases his threats, the positive but sleeping Iranian nationalism will be awoken and will increase participation in public life.”
  • “The regime changers slander every freedom-seeking person who has striven for change inside Iran. Their slanders have not only been aimed at Khatami or Mostafa Tajzadeh, but even Ebrahim Yazdi and Amir Entezami.”

Former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad releases video calling for Rouhani’s resignation and blaming the whole political system for the protests:

  • Ahmadinejad: “The people are totally discontent. They don’t accept the [Rouhani] administration. They don’t accept the other government institutions either.”
  • “The best way for Rouhani to gain approval is to no longer continue [as president].”
  • “The economy is on the verge of collapse. Public trust in the entire system is almost zero. Discontent has reached a peak. Poverty is widespread. Who is responsible for this? All officials. All three branches. More than anyone Rouhani.”
  • “Rouhani gave massive concession and got nothing” in his nuclear negotiations.
  • Threatens Rouhani: “For you to stay will be harmful both to the country and to you yourself.”

Raja News, far-right/hardline outlet issues a warning to the parliament: the start of new negotiations with the U.S. would be the “last bullet” for Rouhani’s qualification to be president. Negotiations with Trump would “mean this administration has no ability to manage the country’s affairs.” Link.  

Article in reformist Shargh by former member of National Front (Mossadegh’s party). Says Iran cannot rely much on Russia or China and must convince Europeans to come out stronger against the US. So unlike Kayhan, this piece argues that Iran should have more reliance on Europe. Link.

  • “Some groups in Iran stand alongside Israel’s lobbies and U.S. Republicans in their desire for the defeat of the JCPOA.”
  • “What Russia and China are up to is clear, in this threatening environment, they are using the Iran card to maximize the economic and even diplomatic concessions they can get from the West. We shouldn’t rely on them, but the EU on the other hand has certain capabilities.”

Article in Etemad Daily, close to Green Movement Leader Mehdi Karroubi. Author Farid Marjaee says in reaction to Trump’s offer of unconditional negotiations:

  • Before the start of any negotiations Trump must make his position on Pompeo’s 12 conditions clear. If Iran must accept these conditions what is the point of negotiations? Especially because Pompeo declared that Iran should satisfy some conditions after Trump’s offer of unconditional negotiation.
  • Trump must go back to JCPOA and start negotiations from there. The JCPOA was an international agreement accepted by all powers.

Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari wrote a letter to Trump responding to his offer for a meeting with Rouhani without conditions. The letter was provocative and ruled out any possibility for negotiations. Link.

  • “Mr. Trump, Iran is North Korea to give you a positive response to your desire for negotiations. You should know the Iranian people’s religion and faith was revived by Islam and nurtured by Imam Khomeini and they have many differences with hegemonic nations and will never allow their officials to negotiate with the Great Satan.”
  • “You are a president that is unprofessional in politics … previous presidents whether from military or political backgrounds who knew more than you or learned that Iran and Iranians are not susceptible to threats and would unite and become one in the face of any foreign threat or pressure.”
  • “You should ask your specialists and experts with experience and who are impartial whether they accept your games or whether they believe in the conclusion that you expect? Our revelatory and secret intelligence shows they do not.”
  • “You will take your desire that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s officials will want to negotiate with you or that they will get permission from the Iranian people to negotiate with you. You will never see this day. Sit in your black palace [means the White House] and stay there with your delusions about negotiating with Iran and know that this wish will not only stay with you until the end of your presidency but will be unfulfilled for future American presidents as well.”

 

Analyzing the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Muslim Ban

The Supreme Court’s Muslim Ban opinion can be divided into three parts: (1) the majority opinion, also known as the opinion of the Court; (2) concurring opinions that support the opinion of the Court but wish to expand upon it; and (3) the dissenting opinions that disagree with the opinion of the Court. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch to uphold the latest iteration of the Muslim Ban. This means that the case returns to the lower court for additional litigation but the Muslim Ban will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. The summary below is intended to provide a basic outline of the decision for a reader unfamiliar with law and some of the Court’s more complex arguments have been simplified for clarity.

  • Summary of the Majority Opinion:  It is within President Trump’s discretion to suspend the entry of aliens to the US if he determines their entry would be detrimental to US interests or if the policy is plausibly related to the Government’s stated objective which in this case is to protect the country’s national security. Therefore, Proclamation 9645 is lawful.
    • The President has broad discretion under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to suspend the entry of aliens into the US. The INA §1182(f) gives the President “ample power” to restrict entry of aliens if their entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
    • The President is also not required to provide an end date for his suspension of entry and the existing vetting procedures do not address the failure of particular high-risk countries to provide reliable information.
    • The INA distinguishes between admissibility, i.e. general eligibility to receive a visa, and allocation of immigrant visas. It is forbidden to discriminate based on nationality in the case of visa issuances but the President is permitted to restrict eligibility in the first place on the basis of nationality.
    • When the Court strikes down a policy under rational-basis scrutiny it looks to see if the policy is divorced from any factual basis and this is not the case for the Proclamation because the Muslim-majority countries included in it were previously designated and a worldwide review process was undertaken by the Trump administration.
    • The majority addressed the dissent’s reference to Korematsu v. United States, a Supreme Court case from 1944 that upheld the policy of placing Japanese Americans in internment camps, and determined that the set of facts between the two cases are entirely different. However, the Court took the opportunity to formally reject the Korematsu decision.
  • Summary of Dissenting Opinions: Proclamation 9645 should fail the rational-basis scrutiny test because it is not rooted in facts and there is an extensive record of anti-Muslim animus among President Trump and others in his administration involved in the implementation of the Muslim Ban. Additionally, publicly available information suggests that the waiver process has not been applied adequately which further places the intent of the Muslim Ban into question because a significant number of individuals who do not pose a national security risk to the US should qualify for a waiver. Lastly, the record itself does not indicate that there is any evidence that the Muslim Ban was designed based on national security concerns.
    • The dissent written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justice Kagan rejects the majority opinion that Proclamation 9645 was not significantly affected by animus against Muslims. It places significant emphasis on whether the waiver provision of the ban is being implemented fairly and Justice Breyer writes “How could the Government successfully claim that the Proclamation rests on security needs if it is excluding Muslims who satisfy the Proclamation’s own terms? At the same time, denying visas to Muslims who meet the Proclamation’s own security terms would support the view that the Government excludes them for reasons based upon their religion.” Justice Breyer expressed serious concern that the waiver provision is not being applied adequately both due to the lack of guidance provided to consular offices and based on publicly available information that shows low waiver issuances and dwindling visas even for categories that are permitted under the ban such as student visas.
    • Justice Sotomayor wrote a separate dissent and was joined by Justice Ginsburg. It opens by asserting that “based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus. That alone suffices to show that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.” The Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbids the government from favoring or disfavoring any one religion. Justice Sotomayor argued that the background of the ban is enough to convince a reasonable observer that it was enacted for the purpose of disfavoring Muslims. She accused the majority of downplaying the full record of President Trump’s hostility toward Muslims to simply gloss over a few of his most egregious anti-Muslim statements and then fail to address them in its analysis. The dissent questions the majority’s use of rational-basis scrutiny as a standard of review rather than heightened scrutiny which it argues should be applied in the case of a policy involving discrimination on the basis of religion.
    • Justice Sotomayor contends, however, that even under rational-basis scrutiny, the Muslim Ban is unconstitutional because it is divorced from any factual context that could discern a relationship to a legitimate state interest. She asserts that the worldwide review process was conducted by officials who themselves have expressed hostility toward Muslims and the inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela in the ban was intended “precisely so the Executive Branch could evade criticism or legal consequences for the Proclamation’s otherwise clear targeting of Muslims.” Furthermore, former high-ranking national security officials have indicated that the ban does not enhance the security of the US and Congress has already erected a statutory scheme that adequately protects national security interests.

Iran Nuclear Deal Could Spell End of the War That Never Was

In less than a week, the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran will be clear. According to one P5+1 diplomat, the possibilities — ranging from most to least likely — are an extension of the talks, a comprehensive agreement, or an agreement in principle.

Not on the menu — at least among the principals at the negotiations — is a return to the escalatory cycle that defined the past decade and threatened constantly to spill over into war. As the U.S.’s lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, remarked at a conference in Washington last month, if the talks fail, “escalation is the name of the game, on all sides, and none of that is good.” In other words, failure is not an option.

This — not surprisingly — comes as a disappointment to some in Washington. Little more than a decade after having advocated war on Iraq, many of the same personalities have sought to bring the U.S. and Iran to the precipice of military conflict. Their efforts were only narrowly averted last summer when secret negotiations in Oman yielded November’s interim agreement on the nuclear issue. Since then, President Obama’s detractors have taken aim at the talks itself, pouncing on any and all U.S. compromises as paving the way towards nuclear holocaust.

But their messaging, besides being histrionic, has been confused. In the same week where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “the alternative to a bad deal is not war,” but more sanctions, leading U.S. hawks, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, wrote that the “wise[] bet is that sanctions will fail…” — at least “without other forms of coercion.”

What “other forms of coercion” did they have in mind? War, of course.

This cross-signaling bespeaks a broader problem for Washington’s warmongers: the nuclear talks have de-escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran not just on the nuclear issue, but on others as well. This has made their lives difficult because, instead of merely invoking Iran to garner support for their hard-line position, they are now forced to argue the point and to justify why turning our back on dialogue is the right approach.

Because let’s face it: Having been involved in constant negotiations with each other for the past year, the U.S. and Iran understand each other better now than at any point over the past 35 years. Moreover, with the Middle East in a turmoil never before seen, both countries have been forced to revisit a calculus that had made each other implacable enemies, incapable of cooperation. If the Middle East and the U.S.’s role in it is to be salvaged, it will have to be on the back of a broader U.S.-Iran détente.

It is a difficult point to argue. With most U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year and the White House prepared to put more boots-on-the-ground in Iraq — all the while U.S. fighter jets pound Islamic State outposts in Syria — the idea that the United States can open up a new front with Iran is unsound. Americans have neither the appetite for a new war nor the ability to wage one, and the empty braggadocio of U.S. hawks won’t change that fact.

That leaves U.S. hawks in the unenviable position of having to swim against the tide in U.S.-Iran relations. At a time when so many are hopeful for a peaceful resolution to this conflict – both in the United States, in Iran, and around the world – those pushing for war look and sound perverse in their efforts to thwart compromise and kill the negotiations.

Being the last, best chance the United States has at limiting Iran’s nuclear program, this pulls the thin veneer that long masked their intentions off for good. Pushing conflict with Iran has never been about the nuclear program, as much as it has about that old desire to reconfigure the Middle East via regime change. How else can we explain U.S. hard-liners’ adamant opposition to an interim deal that, by all accounts, has stalled Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade and allowed international inspectors daily access to check on Iran’s nuclear facilities? How else to explain the shrillness that greets mere letter-writing to Iran’s leader at a time when the nuclear deadline nears and the Middle East goes up in flames?

U.S. hawks are pulling no punches, because they have no more punches to pull. They recognize well enough that if a nuclear deal is cemented in the weeks ahead, their push for war is close to being all for naught.

That doesn’t mean they won’t try to spoil an agreement. Two weeks ago, Republicans swept to majorities in both houses of Congress during the mid-terms, giving U.S. hard-liners a pedestal on which to preempt a nuclear deal. Already, some members of Congress have designs on scurrying any agreement reached between the U.S. and Iran — either by preventing the president from implementing a deal or by imposing new sanctions on Iran.

However, if the White House has the wherewithal to withstand Republican-led attacks on a nuclear deal, U.S. hawks will be without any further means to advance us towards war against Iran. A nuclear agreement will take hold; both sides will adhere to their reciprocal obligations; and the world will be free of both renewed conflict and a new nuclear-weapons power.

President Obama’s legacy will then be defined not merely as bringing to a close two wars inherited from his predecessor, but as spelling the end of the war that never was. That will be — in the great scheme of things — his singular triumph in office. It will also be the last throw of cold-water on war plans a decade-in-the-making.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.