Flood Response Highlights Political Feuds

Week of April 1, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Flood Relief Efforts Highlight Differences between Rouhani and Revolutionary Guards

Ahmad Shojaee, the head of Iran’s Legal Medicine Organization, has said the death toll from two weeks of flooding across Iran has reached 62. The floods’ devastating impact comes as President Rouhani and other Iranian officials have said that U.S. sanctions have led to the closure of Iranian Red Crescent bank accounts and have “obstructed the provision of aid from Iranians abroad.”

Flood relief efforts in Iran have been marked by Rouhani administration officials and military officials trading accusations of failing to adequately provide relief. Many Iranians on social media also criticized the government response, underscoring a lack of preparedness for such a crisis and a failure to address underlying causes for the damage done by the floods.

A video went viral on Iranian social media of IRGC General Mohammad Pakpour lambasting the Rouhani administration for its response to the floods. A journalist recorded Pakpour talking on the phone to Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, as saying that Rouhani administration officials “don’t have the courage to get close to the affected regions and that the situation has become unruly.” He added that the situation of the flood victims was “wretched.”

The Rouhani administration’s Interior Ministry issued a statement in response: “Such comments in the media make the affected people and people across society disappointed and hopeless. Unintentionally, these comments make the revolution’s enemies happy and target the entire system.”

Earlier, President Rouhani had criticized an IRGC effort to divert floodwater in the northeastern Golestan province. Rouhani stated that the IRGC exploding roads and railways to divert floodwater had “no effect” and “moved the water from one direction to another.” In response, IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said he hoped that the Rouhani administration would stop “insults of moving water from one direction to another.”

On April 2nd, Ayatollah Khamenei met with Rouhani administration officials and military officials to discuss the flood crisis, with President Rouhani notably absent from the meeting. Khamenei stated that one “important outcome” from the flood crisis was “collaboration between different institutions and the presence of high-level officials and military commanders in the affected regions.” However, Khamenei also stated the “more important issue is preventing such damage, which should have been predicted before.”

Amid speculation that Rouhani sulked from the meeting, senior Rouhani advisor Hesamodin Ashna, said the meeting was originally planned to only be with Rouhani’s chief deputies and relief officials and military commanders. Rouhani’s first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, who was has helped lead relief efforts in flood-affected regions, was present in the meeting.

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Foreign Minister Zarif Says Iran Focusing Foreign Relations on Neighbors, not Europe

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview wherein he stated that Iran was not relying on Europe in the face of America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and instead is seeking to deepen ties with neighboring countries. He stated: “For this reason in recent years, even in the immediate aftermath of the JCPOA, most of our trips—the trips of the president and I—were to neighboring countries. It was to countries which are our old partners, such as Russia, China, Turkey, Iraq. Our focus for our future foreign relations is in this direction.” Zarif’s comments come several weeks after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued a stern call to not trust Europe [as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered].

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Prominent Political Scientist Zibakalam Discusses Domestic Politics & Upcoming Elections

Prominent Iranian political scientist and reformist thinker Sadegh Zibakalam gave an interview during which he discussed Iran’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections and electoral prospects for Iran’s reformist and conservative factions. Zibakalam told the reformist Fararu that the Iranian year 1397 (March 21, 2018 – March 21, 2019) was the “worst year for the reformist movement” since its creation over two decades ago.

Zibakalam said reformists should adopt an electoral strategy centered on distancing themselves from the increasingly unpopular President Rouhani and explicitly declaring a strategic aim of “wanting democracy.” He stated: “I believe that if reformists don’t make their position clear on Rouhani and don’t declare that freedom and democracy are their strategic aims, they will quickly decline.”

Zibakalam said that unlike the reformists, Iran’s conservative “principlist” factions are not facing major challenges. He stated: “I believe that Ebrahim Raisi’s 17 million votes in the May 2017 [presidential] elections, if it hasn’t increased it certainly hasn’t decreased due to Rouhani’s performance. As a result, the principlists have preserved their base in society.”

Zibakalam contended that the biggest threats to principlists were former President Ahmadinejad and principlist hardliners. He stated that if Ahmadinejad is allowed to run, he would take votes from the traditional principlists. He also said that hardline principlists have consistently diminished the number of votes for principlists.

Zibakalam stated that traditional principlists cannot collaborate with Ahmadinejad supporters or hardline principlists. He opined that the only way for principlists to unite is if reformists regain their popularity, which he said was unlikely.

Zibakalam further stated that Ahmadinejad and other prominent conservatives, such as former state TV and radio chief Ezzatollah Zarghami, were pursuing a “third way” electoral strategy. He stated: “Because everyone is aware of the unpopularity of principlists among more educated segments of society and also the diminishing popularity of reformists and hears slogans such as “reformists, principlists, it’s over,” they [Ahmadinejad, Zarghami] want to make themselves the representatives of the people who have lost hope in both factions.”

Zibakalam said that President Rouhani and his allies in the Development and Justice Party have no chance in the upcoming election on their own. He asserted that Rouhani’s electoral victories in 2013 and 2017 were due to his alliance with reformists. He said it was unlikely that reformists would form a coalition again with Rouhani and that the Development and Justice Party was now seeking an alliance with moderate principlists such as parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.

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Iran Welcomes Luxembourg Court Ruling on $1.6 Billion in Iranian Assets

Iran welcomed the decision by a Luxembourg court opposing a U.S. ruling that families of the 9/11 terrorist attacks can claim $1.6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in Luxembourg. U.S. sanctions have prevented Iran from repatriating the assets, while a U.S. court ruled in 2012 that the money can be claimed by the families of the 9/11 victims. Mohsen Mohebi, a senior legal official in the Rouhani administration, said that the decision was a “success” but urged “patience” for the money to be returned to Iran.

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Iraqi PM to Make First Trip to Iran

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is making his first trip to Iran on April 6th. According to an Iraqi official, Abdul-Mahdi’s trip will last two days and will focus on “issues related to trade between the two countries outside the framework of sanctions” and “on the convergent and neighborly views of Arab countries with Tehran.” Abdul-Mahdi will also travel to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, and the United States.

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NIAC Urges Treasury to Remove Impediments to Iran Flood Relief Aid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON D.C. — NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement on the need for the Treasury Department to take steps to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts for victims of Iranian flooding is not impeded by U.S. sanctions:

“Amid disastrous flooding that has devastated tens of thousands in Iran, we urge the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to take clear steps to ensure that sanctions no longer block assistance to victims of Iranian flooding in their hour of need.

“Over the past two weeks, devastating floods have struck large parts of Iran, killing at least 45 people, displacing tens of thousands, and cutting off many areas of the country from relief efforts. It is clear that many Iranians need assistance right now, and that recovery will take a tremendous amount of time.

“However, amid the massive scale of the unfolding crisis, reports indicate that U.S. sanctions are impeding the flow of relief to the Iranian Red Crescent. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘challenges caused by unilateral sanctions will affect the UN response and the accountability of UN to deliver the appropriate support.’

“The announcement that the U.S. is ready to assist the Iranian Red Crescent in overcoming sanctions complications and contribute to relief efforts is a welcome step that should be followed through on. While criticism of the Iranian government’s handling of these issues is warranted, right now is the time to ensure humanitarian relief is not blocked by US sanctions – not score political points at the expense of the Iranian people.

“If the administration is serious about addressing the crisis, there are several additional steps that the Treasury Department should take, including a public clarification or “comfort letter” indicating that all humanitarian relief efforts and associated services connected to the ongoing floods will be exempt from U.S. sanctions. Furthermore, OFAC should expand the scope of its current humanitarian licenses to allow U.S. persons to donate directly to Iranian non-government organizations engaged in relief efforts related to the ongoing flooding. Finally, OFAC should take steps to license financial institutions to engage in humanitarian transactions with Iranian banks.

“It is imperative that the United States demonstrate that it stands with the Iranian people at this critical time, especially given that this natural disaster comes in the backdrop of crushing U.S. sanctions. Failure to take steps to respond risks both impeding relief efforts on the ground and giving the impression that the U.S. will seek to exploit the tragedy afflicting the Iranian people to further its own geopolitical goals.”

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Devastating Floods Sweep Large Swathes of Iran

Week of March 25, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Floods Devastate Parts of Iran

Beginning on March 17th, parts of northeastern Iran experienced massive rainfall and devastating flooding. The impacted regions included the Golestan, Mazandaran, and North Khorasan provinces, which border the Caspian Sea. (Please see NIAC’s statement on the floods for information on how to safely donate to relief efforts.)

Heavy rainfall subsequently hit southern Iran, especially the Fars province, resulting in widespread flooding, damage, and loss of life. Videos on social media from Shiraz showed entire streets submerged and people and cars swept away by flash floods.

Two dams overflowed in Golestan province, leading to overflowing rivers that flooded the city of Gonbad-e Kavus and its surrounding areas. According to the deputy governor of the Golestan Province, between 25-30 percent of Gonbad-e Kavus has been damaged by floodwater. Roughly 1,000 homes in the surrounding villages have also been damaged according to initial estimates. Aqqala, another town in Golestan Province, is reportedly 70 percent flooded. According to deputy interior minister Esmail Najar, 6,000 homes in Mazandaran province have been damaged. Roughly 6,000 hectares of agricultural land has also been destroyed in Mazandaran Province according to a local member of parliament.

On March 28th, Hamid Reza Khanekeh, the deputy head of Iran’s Emergency Organization, said that 44 people died across the country due to the floods. According to Khanehkeh, 21 of the fatalities were in Shiraz province, 7 in Golestan, 5 in Mazandaran, 3 in North Khorasan, 2 in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, one in Kermanshah, one in Khuzestan, two in Lorestan, one in Hamedan, and one in Semnan.

The widespread flooding resulted in public criticism of inadequate government response and hardline attacks on the Rouhani administration. On Iranian social media, many initially criticized Golestan’s governor, who was on a trip abroad when the flooding occurred. The governor was subsequently fired by Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.

President Rouhani also faced criticism for remaining on vacation in Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf in the days after the flooding first hit the Golestan province. However, on March 27th, Rouhani visited Mazandaran Province to oversee relief efforts. At a meeting of the Council for Coordinating the Management of Crises, Rouhani said the floods demonstrated the “unity of the nation.”

Rouhani said the U.S. sought to use the floods to create divisions in Iranian society. He stated: “The enemies, after they were discouraged by the oppressive sanctions imposed in November, are now using the floods and are trying to ride the flood issue to create division.”

Rouhani also acknowledged that that one factor behind the devastation caused by the floods was “decades of mistakes and misconduct made with respect to nature.” Rouhani said the people were also responsible for “misconduct with respect to nature.”

Rouhani stated: “The recent floods were nature’s warning of the consequences for the people’s misconduct towards nature. For this crisis, all the country’s officials and people should acknowledge their responsibility. Blaming others or seeking to exonerate oneself will solve nothing for the people.”  

The Iranian army and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also participated in the flood relief efforts. Both IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari and Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces, traveled to affected areas and presented themselves as the front and center of relief efforts.

Bagheri stated while in Golestan Province: “I have come to directly oversee the work of our friends. I want to see what is lacking and see reports of how much progress has been made in relief work.”

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Nuclear Chief Says New “Nuclear Achievements” to be Announced

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said that Iran will announce new “nuclear achievements” on April 9th.  In announcing the April 9th date, Salehi said that the previous Iranian year 1397 (March 2018-March 2019) was “full of challenges for the people, but the good thing about these challenges is that they make us more resilient, mature, and experienced so that we can better stand against the enemy’s trickery.”

Salehi also stated that Iran’s experience with the JCPOA has made clear for Iranians that America is an enemy.  He stated: “It took awhile for many to believe that America is our enemy. But now everyone believes that America is our enemy. From supporters to opponents, from revolutionaries to anti-revolutionaries, everyone agrees that the American government is oppressive. From the beginning the Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] stressed that this government and American officials could not be trusted. Now this can be seen clearly and this itself is a huge achievement.”

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Conservative Newspaper Says Democrats & Republicans the Same on Iran

On March 18th, conservative newspaper Kayhan published a piece stating that a future 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential administration would not return to the JCPOA and that Democrats and Republicans were the same on Iran policy.  The piece highlights recent quotes from two former Obama officials, Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew, to make its case. It states that “even if a Democratic president comes to power in 2020, it is possible they won’t return to the JCPOA.” It also criticizes Rouhani for abiding by the deal “at any cost.”

The article asserts that the Obama administration had already violated the JCPOA. It criticizes former President Obama’s policies after the deal was reached and states that the Obama administration violated the deal with changes in America’s visa waiver law, the renewal of ISA sanctions, and a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on $2 billion in Iranian assets. It also states that the Obama administration made an “unprecedented decision” in refusing the appointment of Hamid Aboutalebi as Iran’s UN ambassador in 2014.

The piece goes on to criticize a “specific movement” in Iran for claiming there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on Iran. It then cites a May 2016 quote from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying that negotiations had successfully “reined in” Iran’s nuclear program and that the next U.S. administration should impose pressure to “rein in Iran’s missile program.”

The article concludes by censuring Rouhani for continuing to adhere to the JCPOA, stating: “Democrats, Republicans, the U.S. administration, and the Europeans have through different tests concluded that regardless of whatever they do against the JCPOA and whatever acts of enmity against Iran they commit, they won’t get any practical reaction from Rouhani.”

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UN Extends Human Rights Rapporteur Mandate

On March 22nd, the UN Human Rights Council voted to extend by one year the mandate of Javaid Rehman, its special rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iran. During the session, the representatives of 22 countries voted for the extension of Rehman’s mandate, while seven countries voted against, and 18 abstained. The countries that voted against were Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iraq, and Pakistan.

On March 11th, Rehman released his report on the human rights situation in Iran. The report detailed abuses against minority groups, labor activists, protesting teachers, journalists, and others. It also highlighted the negative impact of economic sanctions on the welfare of Iranians.

Esmail Baghaei, Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, stated that the measure was “not constructive and political.” He added: “This resolution and mandate of the special rapporteur only reinforces fictitious clichés about Iran.”

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Iran and Iraq Make Visas Free

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced that on April 1st, the cost of visas for travel between Iran and Iraq would become free. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi said that the agreement for free visas was reached during President Rouhani’s recent trip to Iraq. He stated: “Iran and Iraq agreed to waive all the cost for visas to facilitate relations between the two countries and connections between the people.

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Rouhani Blasts U.S. in Last Cabinet Meeting of the Iranian Year

During his last cabinet meeting of the Iranian year (which ended March 21st), President Rouhani strongly censured the U.S. and said the goal of U.S. sanctions was to take control of Iran. He stated: “Another issue in our country is that our enemies have sworn to use all their capabilities to try to obstruct the progress of the lives of Iranians and to take from the people the ability to have normal lives. Without any reason, the Americans left their commitments [under the nuclear deal] and imposed the most severe sanctions against the Iranian people.”

Rouhani added: “They [the U.S.] believe that if they increase these sanctions and pressures, they can return to Iran. The aim of the Americans is nothing less than to return to Tehran and gain dominance over the Iranian people.”

Rouhani further stated that Iranians should not forget who their enemies are and should curse and blame them for Iran’s current conditions. He stated:”We shouldn’t forget the main enemy and the main plotter. You should wish damnation on those who created these conditions for the country. The Americans, Zionists [Israel], and reactionary regional countries created this condition.”

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