Week of April 15, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Officials Decry IRGC Terrorist Designation as Reflecting Failure of U.S. Policies
- Hardline MPs Call for Stronger Reaction to IRGC Designation
- Zarif Warns Counterparts Across the World on IRGC Designation
- Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activist Sentenced to One-Year Imprisonment
- International Aid Not Reaching Flood Victims, Red Crescent Official
- Lake Urmia Recovers After Heavy Rains
- Conservative Analyst Says Trump’s Iran Policy Failing, Supports Iran Remaining in the JCPOA
- Official Says IRGC Designation Won’t Affect FATF Financial Reform Bills
- Zarif Travels to Syria and Turkey Ahead of Astana Talks
- Outspoken Hardliner Spurs Controversy Over Remarks on Red Crescent and al-Qaeda
- Statistical Center of Iran Releases Report Detailing Economic Recession
The Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a part of Iran’s state-run military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) was mostly framed in Tehran as reflecting the failure of U.S. policies towards Iran. The highest military body in Iran, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, said in a statement that the designation had “no practical value and was condemned to fail.” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, similarly dismissed the designation as reflecting America’s “weakness, incapability, and resort to every desperate act.”
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said the IRGC designation came after President Trump was “unsuccessful” in “hurting” Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA and attempting to reduce “Iranian oil sales to zero.” He also reiterated Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA, stating: “There is no reason for Iran not to continue to adhere to an agreement that all the world accepts except for one country [the U.S.].”
President Rouhani strongly defended the IRGC and underscored that Iranian restraint should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He stated that Iranians are now “more united than ever” and proclaimed: “I tell the group of five [the remaining parties to the nuclear deal] that we are patient but our patience has an end and its possible that in this patience, Iran takes a different step.”
Rouhani went on: “If we are patient, it’s not because we are scared. It’s because we are prudent. We are afraid of no one, our path is the correct path and we hope that the others [the Trump administration] know that the future will judge them.”
Iran’s response of designating U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the arm of the military that oversees operations in the Middle East and Africa, was also presented as a necessary “tit-for-tat” measure. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in this regard that Iran’s response was a “defensive measure” and not a “declaration of war.”
However, in response to the IRGC designation, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, laid out a legal case for why Iran should close the Strait of Hormuz. He lambasted Rouhani for not “heeding the lessons of the JCPOA” and previously calling for “the Revolutionary Guards and army to return to their bases.”
Shariatmadari also criticized Rouhani’s efforts to pass anti-money laundering and terrorism financing bills in accordance to guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force, a global financial body. Shariatmadari said that Rouhani’s efforts to “impose” the bills sent a signal of “weakness” and “emboldened” the U.S. to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
Many prominent reformist dissidents expressed support for the IRGC after the FTO designation. For instance, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former political prisoner, stated: “The intervention of the Guards in the economy and domestic and foreign politics is against the law and hurts the country. However, I strongly condemn labelling them as terrorists by Trump. His aim is not confronting terrorism or defending democracy or peace. Instead, Trump seeks to increase pressure on the Iranian people to destabilize Iran and increase tensions in the region.”
On April 16, the Iranian parliament passed a bill, dubbed “reciprocal action against America’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization,” requiring that all U.S. military forces in West Asia be considered terrorists. The bill passed with 204 votes in favor, 2 in opposition, and 0 abstentions out of the 206 parliamentarians that were present.
Hardline MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a member of the Perseverance Front (Jebhe Paydari) fundamentalist faction, voted against the bill on the grounds that it wasn’t strong enough and should have given the IRGC permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. Haji Delijani stated: “In this bill, we should have given the Guards permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. We can have this ability. We must give the Guards greater authority so they can target the White House so that America doesn’t think it can take some damned action [i.e. military strikes] with its IRGC designation.”
Another hardline MP who voted against the bill, Mousavi Largani, said the bill was too weak and criticized President Rouhani. Largani stated: “If the president after America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA gave a definite order to restart 20 percent enrichment, then America would not have become so insolent.”
On April 10th, Foreign Minister Zarif wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warning that the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a “dangerous and illegal” act. Zarif said in the letter that the designation was a serious threat to regional and global security and raised tensions to a level that is “uncontrollable and provoking confrontation.”
Zarif also wrote a letter to his foreign minister counterparts across the world warning of the consequences of the IRGC terrorist designation. He stated that “all governments should work to get in the way of this unilateral and harmful action.” He further said that the Islamic Republic “warns of the long-term consequences and immediate implication of this action and asks governments to take a principled and precise position on this issue based legal precedent.” Zarif added that the IRGC designation and the “fake accusation of ties between Iran and al-Qaeda” are part of “an aim to ready the public opinion in America for a new adventurist action in West Asia and create grounds for America’s legal system to claim they have the authority to use military force against another country.”
Vida Movahed, an Iranian activist who triggered anti-compulsory hijab protests last year by removing her headscarf and brandishing it on a stick, was recently sentenced to one year in prison. According to her lawyer Payam Derefshan, Movahed’s was sentenced on charges of “encouraging corruption and prostitution to the public” in early March.
However, Derefshan says that she has since been paroled by the judge in her case and pardoned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Despite this, she has yet to be released from prison.
Movahed, who is the mother of a 2-year-old child, was first arrested on January 21, 2018, after standing on an electricity box in Tehran’s Revolution Street and removing her headscarf. Although she was released soon after on January 27th, she started a wave of similar actions by other anti-compulsory hijab activists—who became known as the “Girls of Revolution St.”
Movahed was re-arrested on October 29, 2018, after standing on another platform in Tehran’s Revolution Square and holding balloons. Her sentence stems from this second arrest, according to her lawyer.
On April 15th, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued a statement on the dire situation in Iran’s flood-affected regions. It stated that over 2 million people require humanitarian aid and that roughly 10 million Iranians in over 2,000 cities and villages in 31 provinces were impacted by the floods and heavy rains. IFRC further stated that based on the latest information, 78 people were killed, 1,136 injured, and over half a million displaced as a result of the floods.
Zahra Falahati, the Iranian Red Crescent’s international deputy, said that the conditions in some flooded regions was “catastrophic.” She said of the relief efforts: “This is one of the biggest rescue and relief efforts undertaken by the Red Crescent in our country’s history. We are using all the capabilities we have to save and help the people, but it’s not enough.”
Seyed Hashem, the IFRC’s Middle East and North Africa official, said the situation in Iran was an “emergency” and required international aid. He added: “We ask all members of the federation across the world to response to our plea for assistance.”
However, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent, Ali Asghar Peyvandi, stated that “foreign sanctions” have prevented foreign financial aid and donations from reaching Iran’s flood victims. He stated: “After the closure of the Red Crescent’s SWIFT and financial accounts due to sanctions, despite the announcement of aid amounts and figures [by foreign sources], nothing has been deposited in the Iranian Red Crescent’s accounts.”
Peyvandi also said that “not one dollar” in foreign aid, including from Iranians abroad, has reached Iran because of U.S. sanctions. He proclaimed: “Because of U.S. sanctions and the closure of financial accounts, aid from Iranians abroad, the European Union, and the International Red Cross has not been sent to Iran.” He added: “To date, not one dollar or euro has been donated to Iran.”
Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran, which has significantly dried up and shrunk in recent years, has greatly recovered in the wake of massive rainfalls. Compared to this time last year, the lake’s size has expanded by 580 square kilometers. The depth of the lake at its shallowest point has also increased by 1.26 meters.
Hassan Beheshtipour, a conservative foreign policy analyst, discussed in an interview his view on why the Trump administration’s Iran policy is failing and why Iran should remain in the JCPOA. Beheshtipour contended that U.S. sanctions aren’t working, stating: “America has never been successful with its sanctions and can’t create divisions inside Iran in this way. As we saw, all the different political factions and the people condemned America’s designation of the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists and expressed support for the Guards. This issue turned into a defeat for America and shows that sanctions policies against Iran don’t work.”
He also said that the U.S. would renew oil sanctions waivers on Iran in May. He contended that the U.S. and Iran were locked in a game-theory like “two-player game,” where the two sides are “moving head-on towards each other and the first to move loses.”
Beheshtipour also stated that Iran should stay in the JCPOA to prevent outside powers from uniting against it. He opined: “I believe that leaving the JCPOA will have more costs for us and result in more enemies … Because everyone knows that China and Russia voted for UN Security Council resolutions against Iran and considered us a danger. But right now China and Russia agree with Iran. As such, we should not give an excuse to the enemy by leaving the JCPOA and making the situation worse.”
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh—the chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission—said that efforts to pass contentious banking reforms should not be linked to Iran’s relations with America. A set of bills introduced by President Rouhani to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)— an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks—have been deadlocked in Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council for months. (Read more about the domestic debate over the FATF bills in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)
Many Iranian commentators and some officials said that the FATF bills—which require increased transparency of Iranian banks—would be rejected in the wake of the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. However, Falahatpisheh stated that “activities related to the FATF should not been seen through the framework of relations with America.” He added that the debate over passing the FATF bills was separate from the issue of the U.S. designation of the IRGC and that Iran should “should refrain from take actions that would result in its international isolation.”
Falahatpisheh also said that Iran’s designation U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization was a “reciprocal action” and not aimed at “exacerbating the crisis.” He also rebuked aggressive rhetoric from some Iranian figures after the IRGC designation, stating: “I don’t accept these comments that the Americans must await their coffins. As long as it’s not mandated by our defensive needs, we will not be happy with Americans getting killed.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traveled Syria and Turkey. In Damascus, he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and senior Syrian officials. His discussions in both countries centered on “coordinating positions on the most important regional and international issues with the aim of establishing peace and stability in the region.” In Ankara, Zarif also spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about issues pertaining to North Africa.
Zarif’s trips take place on the eve of the next round of Astana-process Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey, due to take place in Kazakhstan on April 25-26.
Saeed Ghasemi, an outspoken hardliner and staunch opponent of improved U.S.-Iran relations, spurred controversy after he said in an interview that the IRGC has used Iranian Red Crescent identities as cover in the past. Ghasemi said that during the Bosnian War during the 1990s, IRGC forces used the cover of being Iranian Red Crescent employees to “train jihadi forces” in Bosnia.
Ghasemi also said that al-Qaeda entered the Bosnian War after Iran and learned their “style” from Iranian forces. He stated: “Al Qaeda took our style, from headbands to flags to the shape of battalions. They implemented our style there [in Bosnia].
Ghasemi’s comments come at a time when large parts of Iran have been hit by floods and the Red Crescent is helping lead relief efforts. Given U.S. sanctions, the Iranian Red Crescent is one of the few organizations operating in Iran that coordinates international relief assistance.
His remarks also coincide with the Trump administration’s claim that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda and that consequently the option is legally open for military strikes using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that there is “no doubt there’s a connection” between Iran and Al Qaeda. Much like his hardline counterparts in Washington, Ghasemi has tried long tried to foreclose opportunities for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. During the nuclear negotiations he even called for Foreign Minister Zarif to be put on trial.
Both the Iranian Red Crescent and the IRGC strongly rejected and condemned Ghasemi’s remarks. The IRGC’s spokesperson Ramazan Sharif stated that Ghasemi was “long retired” from the IRGC and that his comments “lacked credibility.” He added that Ghasemi and others like him should refrain from “irresponsible and false opinions and not create excuses for the enemies of the revolution and the people.”
On April 14, the Statistical Center of Iran said that Iran’s economy shrunk by 3.8 percent in the last nine months of the Iranian year 1397 (which ended on March 21, 2019). According to the data, Iran’s oil industry has been hardest hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions and shrunk by 2.8 percent last summer and 7.9 percent last fall.