US-Led Regime Change is not the Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIAC Condemns John Bolton’s Saber Rattling

The National Iranian American Council condemned National Security Advisor John Bolton’s saber rattling speech outside the UN in which he ominously threatened that ‘there will be hell to pay’ for Iran:

“Bolton has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for over a decade and is now in the driver’s seat of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. His threats are aimed at inflaming tensions, preventing any possibility that his boss might negotiate with Iran, and goading Iran into to doing something that could justify a U.S. attack. The Trump Administration has also callously adopted the language of human rights, even as it threatens war, levels sanctions that will destroy Iranian lives, and undermines efforts by Iranians to organize indigenously to claim their political freedoms from a repressive government.

“Bolton’s past rhetoric raises serious questions about this Administration’s activities when it comes to Iran. Before entering the White House, Bolton publicly urged Trump to back separtist groups and terrorist organizations that could work to destabilize Iran. This past weekend, a terrorist attack inside Iran killed 27 people in the city of Ahvaz, and separatists and terrorist organizations claimed credit. The Trump Administration issued a condemnation of the attack but the fact that the National Security Advisor has endorsed such heinous efforts significantly undermines the credibility or morality of such condemnations.

“No serious person believes that Bolton and this Administration is working towards a diplomatic end with Iran. He earned his credentials in the Bush White House as an Iraq war architect, he made his intentions for war with Iran well known as a private citizen, and he is now putting that plan into action. Whether Bolton’s ultimate plan is for the U.S. to attack Iran or to attempt to destabilize Iran and turn it into the next Syria, he must be reigned in now. When the President’s National Security Advisor steps out of the shadows to publicly threaten war on behalf of the United States, it must be taken as a wake up call as to where we are headed. Congress must take steps now to ensure this Administration does not start a new military adventure with Iran, including by passing legislation to block the likes of Bolton from starting another war and conducting stringent oversight over all elements of the Administration’s Iran strategy.”

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The Ahvaz terror attack in Iran may drag the US into a larger war

In this photo provided by Fars News Agency, a woman takes her children to shelter as an army member tries to help them, during a shooting at a military parade marking the 38th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Gunmen attacked the military parade, killing several and wounding others, state media said. (Fatemeh Rahimavian/Fars News Agency via AP)

Iran has been hit by yet another terrorist attack. At least 29 people were killed in the southwestern city of Ahvaz when gunmen opened fire on a crowd watching a military parade on Iran’s equivalent of Memorial Day. But unlike previous terror attacks, this one may spark a much larger regional conflagration – involving not just regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also the United States. In fact, it may have been designed to trigger just that.

The terrorist attack, which was first claimed by an Arab separatist group with alleged connections to Saudi Arabia, the Ahvaz National Resistance, did not occur in a vacuum. Iran’s regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have increasingly taken their decades-long behind-the-scenes pressure on the US to bomb Iran into the open.

What used to be said in private is now increasingly declared in public. Moreover, these monarchies are no longer limiting themselves to pushing the US to take military action, but are announcing their own readiness to attack Iran.

Saudi and UAE threats towards Iran

Only a year ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman explained in an interview that Saudi Arabia would take the fight to “inside Iran“.

“We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran.” His statement was widely interpreted as a sign that Riyadh would dramatically escalate tensions with Iran and intensify its support for various armed groups opposing the government in Tehran.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an adviser to the Abu Dhabi government, justified the Ahvaz attack on Twitter, arguing that it wasn’t a terrorist attack and that “moving the battle to the Iranian side is a declared option“. Attacks of this kind, he ominously warned, “will increase during the next phase”.

If the terrorist attack in Ahvaz was part of a larger Saudi and UAE escalation in Iran, their goal is likely to goad Iran to retaliate and then use Tehran’s reaction to spark a larger war and force the US to enter since Riyadh and Abu Dhabi likely cannot take on Iran militarily alone (indeed, after spending roughly $6bn a month, they have failed to defeat the Houthi guerillas in Yemen).

If so, the terrorist attack is as much about trapping Iran into war as it is to trap the US into a war of choice. As former secretary of defense Bob Gates said in 2010, the Saudis “want to fight the Iranians to the last American“.

Iran hawks inside Trump’s administration

But the Trump administration may not be innocent bystanders to such a scheme. Trump’s own actions and the close coordination we have seen between his administration, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel on Iran raises the prospects of a different explanation: one in which the US itself is actively pushing its allies and being pushed by its allies towards war with Iran.

The Ahvaz attack comes only one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a strong threat to Iran, declaring it would be held “accountable” if there were any more attacks on US consulates in Iraq.

The US consulate in Basra, Iraq, has come under attack in the past week allegedly by Iraqi Shia forces close to Iran. The Trump administration has not presented any evidence that Iran had any involvement in that attack, but has declared that it will attack Iran if any more such attacks take place.

The Iranian consulate in Basra, in turn, has been attacked several times during this same period, with Tehran laying the blame at the feet of the US (also without clear evidence).

‏The difference being that the US has issued a stern threat declaring it will take action against Iran for events neither Washington nor Tehran can provide any evidence for.

This pattern of bellicose statements and actions fits well with a memo National Security Adviser John Bolton – who has a history of manipulating intelligence in order to drag the US into war – wrote in August 2017, before he joined the Trump team.

The memo details how the US should coordinate with Israel and Saudi Arabia to build support – domestically and internationally – for a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and a much more aggressive policy on Iran.

It specifically mentions “providing assistance” to Khuzestan Arabs – the minority group in Iran that the Ahvazi attack perpetrators claim to represent. Bolton also argues that the Trump administration should demand payment from Iran for its non-existing role in the 9/11 September attacks while disingenuously offering Iran dialogue amid a policy of confrontation.

The Trump administration’s Iran policy is following the Bolton memo almost point by point. The plea to provide assistance to Khuzestani separatists is particularly damning. This raises legitimate suspicions that if the terror attack has Saudi and UAE fingerprints on it, it may not be so much an attempt by them to drag the US into war as Trump operating in the driver’s seat.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this makes strategic sense. Their ability to compete with the much larger and more cohesive Iranian state in the long run is highly questionable. If they can trap the US into doubling down on its military presence in the Middle East, however, then they can use American power to balance Iran.

For America, which is already overextended in the Middle East at the expense of its strategic interest in Asia as well as at home, this makes little to no sense.

This post originally appeared on Middle East Eye.

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.

Iran Unfiltered, Week of September 3rd

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

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 Unfiltered, Week of August 20th

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

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.”

 

 

NIAC’s Reaction to Mike Pompeo’s ‘Iran Action Group’

WASHINGTON, DC — Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is forming an ‘Iran Action Group’ to coordinate and manage U.S. policy toward Iran after the administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo announced on Thursday afternoon that the Iran Action Group would be “directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity.” The group will be headed by Brian Hook, the State Department’s former director of policy planning.

In reaction to the announcement, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“Not only is the Trump administration content to sabotage a successful nonproliferation agreement with Iran and collectively punish 80 million Iranians with harsh sanctions, the State Department’s new “Iran Action Group” is nothing more than an attempt to bypass the State Department’s civil servant experts to implement Pompeo’s dangerous vision to destabilize Iran and close diplomatic off-ramps.

“The Iran Action Group echoes the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the George W. Bush administration launched the ‘Office of Special Plans’ out of the Pentagon to cherry-pick intelligence and make the case for a bloody war. It is particularly alarming that Brian Hook, a person who touted his ties to John Bolton and oversaw a disastrous deterioration of Iran policy, is tasked with escalating tension with Iran and sabotaging diplomatic opportunities.

“The Trump administration should reverse course on the nuclear accord and return to the diplomatic table, end the outrageous ban on Iranians obtaining visas, and mitigate the snapback of sanctions that hurt the Iranian people and many in the United States.”

# # #

Iran Unfiltered, Week of August 13th

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

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.”

 

Risks Rise As US Reimposes Sanctions on Iran

Several undesirable consequences are becoming more likely.

This week, a set of Iran sanctions previously lifted under the Iran nuclear deal will snap back into effect as part of President Trump’s complete violation of the accord. Thus far, Iran has avoided rash action, instead seeking to secure concessions from Europe, Russia, and China that could reduce the sanctions’ impact. The cautious response may have lulled the Trump administration into thinking its approach is working, but several potential consequences loom on the horizon.

Renewed proliferation: Before the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, Iran’s heavy-water reactor at Arak was close to going online; it could have produced weapons-grade plutonium for several nuclear weapons per year. Moreover, the deeply buried Fordow facility was already being used to enrich uranium. However, under the nuclear accord Iran destroyed the core of the Arak reactor and agreed to redesign it with international partners so that it would not produce significant amounts of weapons-grade plutonium. Similarly, international partners in collaboration with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, or AEOI, are working to turn Fordow into a research-and-development facility, ensuring that Iran experiments with zinc or other benign materials instead of uranium at the site.

Read More at Defense One

Memo: Consequences of Sanctions Snapback on Iran

Not satisfied with withdrawing from the Iran nuclear accord, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), the Trump administration intends to start sanctioning foreign parties that seek to comply with the terms of the international agreement. As outlined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the Trump administration will begin re-imposing those sanctions lifted pursuant to the JCPOA on August 7, 2018 and continuing up until November 4, 2018, at which time all formerly lifted sanctions will be re-imposed on Iran.

Because such U.S. sanctions primarily target foreign parties transacting or otherwise dealing with Iran, the Trump administration will be actively undermining efforts by the international community to act consistent with the JCPOA and ensure its survivability. This includes, most dramatically, undermining efforts by foreign countries and entities to take those measures identified in the JCPOA to reduce or eliminate the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran. This move is a dangerous gambit that pits the U.S. in opposition to the rest of the world—including the U.S.’s closest partners and allies—and risks re-invigorating nuclear proliferation efforts in Iran.

Considering the dramatic consequences for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the Trump administration should not be given free reign to plunge the United States into a confrontation with its closest allies and partners — such as those in Europe — and risk a new war in the Middle East. Congress should assert its own constitutional prerogatives and ensure that the Trump administration acts consistent with long-standing U.S. policy objectives, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation. This could include, for instance, legislative measures to restrain the Trump administration from abrogating the JCPOA or sanctioning foreign parties seeking to comply with the terms of the nuclear accord. At the very least, Congress should hold hearings to adjudicate the potential negative consequences of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and undo the global consensus in favor of the diplomatic agreement aimed at restraining Iran’s nuclear program.

Re-Imposition of U.S. Sanctions Lifted Under the JCPOA

Beginning August 7, 2018, the Trump administration will take steps to re-impose those U.S. sanctions lifted pursuant to the JCPOA. In its initial phase, this will include the immediate re-imposition of sanctions on:

  • The purchase or acquisition of U.S. dollar banknotes by the Government of Iran;
  • Iran’s trade in gold or precious metals;
  • The direct or indirect sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of graphite, raw, or semi-finished metals such as aluminum and steel, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes;
  • Significant transactions related to the purchase or sale of Iranian rials or the maintenance of significant funds or accounts outside the territory of Iran denominated in the rial;
  • The purchase, subscription to, or facilitation of the issuance of Iranian sovereign debt; and
  • Iran’s automotive sector.

By November 4, 2018, the United States will re-impose all remaining sanctions targeting Iran that had been lifted pursuant to U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. This will include the re-imposition of sanctions on:

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

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

Undermining International Compliance with a Successful Nonproliferation Agreement

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions will pose immense difficulties for other major world powers’ compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.  Failure by the remaining JCPOA participants to fulfill the terms of the nuclear accord will prompt Iran to abandon some or all of the JCPOA’s limitations on its nuclear program, thus risking renewed proliferation efforts in Iran and threatening a new war in the Middle East.   

Pursuant to the JCPOA, major world powers — including Europe, Russia, and China — agreed to take steps to ensure effectiveness relating to the lifting of national and international sanctions. These commitments were geared towards ensuring that Iran received practical economic benefit from its agreement to maintain long-term restrictions on its own nuclear program. The JCPOA obligated all parties to take adequate measures “to ensure . . . effectiveness with respect to the lifting of sanctions under th[e] JCPOA” and committed JCPOA participants to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.” The JCPOA was envisioned as an effective quid pro quo, whereby Iran agreed to long-term limitations on its nuclear program in return for practical economic benefits — including the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions — from major world powers.  

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, however, will risk the compliance of remaining JCPOA participants, as Europe and other JCPOA parties will have grave difficulties ensuring “effectiveness” with respect to the lifting of sanctions under the JCPOA. For instance, while the European Union and its respective states intend to continue the lifting of national and Union-wide sanctions targeting Iran–consistent with the JCPOA–European companies and persons will nonetheless remain subject to U.S. secondary sanctions targeting their own transactions or dealings with Iran.

The most notable consequences in this respect will be oil and banking transactions. To the extent that Iran is unable to export its oil and repatriate its oil revenues, the JCPOA will become a moot agreement, as Iran is highly unlikely to continue its adherence to limitations on its nuclear program while deriving no practical economic benefit from the nuclear accord. Re-imposed U.S. sanctions expressly target foreign banks — including foreign central banks — and foreign parties engaged in transactions related to the import of Iranian-origin oil. The Trump administration has sent conflicting signals as to whether it will grant exemptions to foreign countries importing Iranian-origin oil — including China, Europe, India, Japan, and South Korea. Similarly, to the extent that Iran’s financial institutions are isolated from the global financial system and unable to reconnect to foreign banks to process trade-related and other transactions, the Iran nuclear deal will not survive. Re-imposed U.S. sanctions will re-designate most Iranian financial institutions for sanctions and render foreign bank dealings with such Iranian financial institutions as sanctionable, thus expressly targeting foreign countries’ compliance with the nuclear accord.

Sanctioning Beneficial Work at Arak and Fordow

Pursuant to the JCPOA, Iran agreed to convert its enrichment facility at Fordow into a research center absent of proliferation risk. To do so, however, Iran required international collaboration, including in the form of scientific joint partnerships in agreed areas of research. In addition, the JCPOA required Iran — as part of an international partnership — to redesign and rebuild a modernized heavy-water reactor in Arak that would drastically reduce its potential output of plutonium.

However, these measures aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran are under serious threat, as re-imposed U.S. sanctions render sanctionable conduct by foreign parties with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. For instance, the Trump administration has stated that it will re-impose those sanctions that applied to persons removed from OFAC’s SDN List pursuant to the JCPOA. This appears to include the re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (“AEOI”) — the body responsible for Iran’s nuclear program — pursuant to Executive Order 13382. By designating the AEOI pursuant to E.O. 13382, entities that provide or attempt to provide financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, the AEOI would be exposed to U.S. sanctions and risk designation under E.O. 13382 themselves. Foreign parties participating in an international partnership with the AEOI — consistent with the JCPOA — to convert the Arak nuclear reactor into a reactor absent of proliferation risk would thus be engaged in sanctionable conduct, as such parties would be prima facie engaged in the provision of material support to the AEOI  — thus meeting the criteria for designation under E.O. 13382.  

In addition, the U.S.’s re-designation of the AEOI pursuant to E.O. 13382 will render foreign financial institutions that facilitate significant transactions for or on behalf of the AEOI — including transactions consistent with the terms of the JCPOA — exposed to U.S. sanctions under § 104(c)(2)(E) of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act (“CISADA”) and § 1247 of the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act (“IFCA”). Such financial institutions would risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system and would thus be unlikely to facilitate transactions involving the AEOI, even if such transactions are consistent with the JCPOA and reduce the risk of proliferation in Iran.  

In the Trump administration’s zeal to kill the Iran nuclear deal, the administration will perhaps fatally undermine efforts to ensure the conversion of Iran’s nuclear facilities into facilities absent of proliferation risk, thus gravely undermining U.S. and regional security.

The Need for Congressional Intervention

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran risks splitting the United States irrevocably from its historical allies and partners, including those in Europe; threatens to undermine the future use of economic sanctions to secure national security and foreign policy objectives; and encourages the reinvigoration of nuclear proliferation risks in Iran. Such consequences implicate critical U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and warrant increased oversight over the administration’s actions.

Congress should be involved in any decision implicating U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. In this case, Congress should assert its own prerogatives in the realm of foreign policy and resume U.S. compliance with the JCPOA, including, but not limited to, the continued lifting of U.S. sanctions as obligated under the nuclear accord. Absent such a dramatic measure, however, Congress should seek to restrain the President from re-imposing those U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA and should at least limit the damage re-imposed U.S. sanctions could cause to the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe. If the U.S.’s historical allies and partners in Europe believe that their own national security interests demand their continued compliance with the JCPOA, then the Trump administration should be restricted from imposing sanctions on European companies engaged in commercial trade with Iran that is permissible under European law.

Shockingly, Congress — which held numerous hearings on the U.S.’s assent to the JCPOA — has proven unwilling to conduct significant oversight regarding the potential consequences inherent in the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. In failing to assess the risks and dangers associated with the Trump administration’s actions, Congress has rendered itself incapacitated on an issue of critical import to U.S. national security. Following midterm elections, Congress should reassert its prerogatives in the field of national security and ensure that the Trump administration is not able to undermine long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives — including the objective of nuclear non-proliferation — through its rash decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord and re-impose those U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.


¹ Other U.S. sanctions may be applicable to transactions involving the AEOI and incident to the fulfillment of the terms of the JCPOA, including, for instance, menu-based sanctions on foreign parties that sell, supply, or transfer to Iran graphite, raw, or semi-finished metals such as aluminum and steel, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes, if the material is sold, supplied, or transferred for use in connection with Iran’s nuclear program. Section 1245(a)(1)(C) of IFCA does not distinguish between those transactions aimed at converting Iran’s nuclear facilities into facilities absent of nuclear proliferation risk and is thus likely to counteract international efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran.  

NIAC Statement on Recent Demonstrations in Iran

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on ongoing protests in Iran:

“Like many, we are monitoring the demonstrations reported in parts of Iran. We are particularly disturbed by reports of clashes between protestors and police forces in Isfahan and a heavily securitized atmosphere in Shiraz. We reiterate our call to the Iranian government to uphold its international human rights obligations, including to allow the right to free expression, to respect the dignity and safety of every Iranian and to refrain from violence.

“We stand in solidarity with Iranians who seek a government that prioritizes the economic prosperity of Iranians, respects their human rights, and democratically represents them.

“Ultimately, like any other country, it is up to Iranians living in Iran to decide their country’s destiny. Outside countries or interests who seek to exploit the legitimate grievances of Iranians in order advance their own ulterior agendas only undermine the will of the Iranian people. As outside observers, we will continue our efforts to defend universal human rights and hold the Iranian government accountable to its international human rights obligations.”