Japanese PM Travels to Tehran Amid Tanker Sabotage

Week of June 10, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Rouhani Tells Shinzo Abe Iran Doesn’t Want a War with the U.S.

On June 12th, President Rouhani met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran. It was the first trip by a Japanese prime minister to Iran since before the 1979 revolution.

Abe said at a press conference after the meeting that Japan wants to play the “maximum role” in preventing conflict in the region. Abe said that “peace and stability in the Middle East is of the utmost importance not just for the region but for the entire world.” Abe said the primary reason for him travelling to Tehran was to reduce regional tensions.

Rouhani told Abe that Iran will not start any wars, “even with the U.S.,” but added that any war against Iran would have a “decisive response.” Rouhani also noted that he had told Abe that the roots of the current tensions with the U.S. stem from “America’s economic war” against Iran. He emphasized that this war must be “stopped.”

Rouhani noted that Abe was optimistic about the future and sees “positive changes” on the way.  Rouhani also stated that Japan was eager to continue to buy Iranian oil.

Rouhani further said that Iran’s future actions with respect to the JCPOA would be within the framework of the deal.

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Khamenei Issues Forceful Response to Trump Via Abe

On June 13th, Ayatollah Khamenei met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran. Prior to his trip, Abe discussed the “situation in Iran” in a phone conversation with President Trump.

At the beginning of the meeting, Abe said that he had a message for Ayatollah Khamenei from Trump. The message has not been detailed in any media reports, but Khamenei’s answers suggest that Trump reiterated that the U.S. does not seek regime change and seeks negotiations for a new nuclear deal.

Khamenei told Abe that “we don’t accept negotiations while under pressure.” He added that Iran’s experience with the JCPOA was “sour” and that “we will under no circumstances repeat such negotiations.”

Khamenei emphasized that he won’t communicate with Trump, stating: “I don’t believe a person like Trump is worthy of exchanging messages with. I do not and will not have any responses for him.

Khamenei dismissed Trump’s claim that he doesn’t seek regime change in Iran, stating: “This is a lie. If America could have done this [regime change], it would have done so. But it cannot.”

Khamenei also dismissed the notion of new nuclear negotiations, pointing to Iran’s experience with the JCPOA: “For five or six years, Iran negotiated on the nuclear issue with America and Europe within the framework of the P5+1. We reached a result. However, America has decisively reneged on this agreement. As such, how would any wise person negotiate again with a country that has reneged on all agreements?”

Khamenei stressed that Iran doesn’t seek nuclear weapons: “We are against nuclear weapons and I have issued a fatwa making the production of nuclear weapons haram [forbidden]. However, this should be known that if we wanted to build nuclear weapons, America can’t do anything. America not giving us permission creates no obstacles for us.”

Khamenei also rejected the idea that Trump seeks “sincere negotiations” with Iran: “We don’t believe this at all. No sincere negotiations can happen with someone like Trump. Sincerity is very rare among U.S. officials.”

Khamenei further stated that the Iranian nation was capable of developing without relying on the United States: “By God’s grace, without negotiations with America and despite sanctions, we will develop and progress.”

A conservative Iranian analyst said of Khamenei’s remarks: “The Leader’s remarks show the Islamic Republic’s strategy against Trump’s America. The foreign ministry should take lessons from Khamenei’s meeting with Abe. They should eliminate all their hope in the West and not wait for the end of Trump’s presidency. The problem of America is innate. There is no difference between Trump and Obama and this enmity has existed from the start of the Islamic revolution.”

On June 14th, Shinzo Abe spoke with President Trump on the phone upon his return to Japan. They discussed Abe’s trip to Tehran. Abe said he and Trump agreed on the need to cooperate to create stability in the Middle East.

Abe also said that Trump “expressed appreciation” for Abe travelling to Iran and trying to lower tensions.

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Political Prisoner Murdered

Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, a 21-year-old political prisoner, was murdered by fellow cellmates in a prison is southern Tehran. He was arrested last year for his activities on social media and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Amnesty International has condemned the killing as “shocking.” The group has called for an immediate, consequential, and independent investigation.

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Rouhani Travels to Kyrgyzstan for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit

President Rouhani travelled to Kyrgyzstan for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. On the sidelines of the summit, Rouhani held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Rouhani told President Jinping that the U.S. seeks hegemony over all of Asia. He stated: “The pressure that the U.S. government imposes against Iran, China, and other countries is aimed at imposing its hegemony over all of Asia and the world.”

Rouhani said that China and Iran’s resistance to U.S. unilateralism benefited both countries. Rouhani added: “The Iranian people have shown that they don’t tremble before foreign pressure but become more unity and more resistant.”

Rouhani said that Iran wants to cooperate with China more closely, especially on the One Belt One Road project. He stated: “Given Iran’s geographic location, Iran is ready to play an important role in the One Belt One Road project.”

Xi Jinping told Rouhani that America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA was the “main reason for the increase of regional tensions.” Xi also stressed that China wants to “improve relations” with Iran regardless of “current international conditions and the tension-ridden situation in the Persian Gulf.”

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Zarif Says Tanker Sabotage “Suspicious”

Foreign Minister Zarif said that the sabotage of two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf was “suspicious.” He attributed them to the so-called “B-team,” a reference to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the sabotage.

Zarif said reports of the sabotage came as Japanese Foreign Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei. Zarif said the aim of accusing Iran was “to ruin the diplomacy of Shinzo Abe and to cover for economic terrorism against Iran.”

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Iranian Official Claims U.S. Sanctions to be Lifted

Week of June 3, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

 

Iranian Human Rights Lawyers Sentenced to Prison

On June 5th, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that in the past year, three Iranian human rights lawyers have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. They are: Amir-Salar Davoudi, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Mohammad Najafi.

The latest to be indicted is Amir-Salar Davoudi. According to his wife, he has been indicted by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 15 due to his social media postings. The charges against him include “cooperating with a hostile government through an interview” and “propagandizing against the state.”

Masoud Kazemi, a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Sedaye Parsi newspaper, has also been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. According to his lawyer, his charges include “insulting the Leader” and “publishing falsehoods.” His lawyer added that once his charges are “confirmed,” he will serve two years in prison.

Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist member of parliament, called for the release of all political prisoners on occasion of the Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan. She requested that judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi use the holiday, on which some prisoners are usually released, to grant “amnesty to all the men and women who have been imprisoned for expressing their beliefs.” Salahshouri said such an action would be a step towards “forming national unity.”

The Iranian government regularly imprisons individuals for their political beliefs, including human rights activists, workers, artists, poets, and members and supporters of religious minorities. One imprisoned human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, is currently in critical condition after surgery. Authorities have reportedly not provided her with proper treatment and medicine.

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Rouhani Says Negotiations Require Practical Actions, Not Words from Trump

President Rouhani has said that there “might be circumstances for resolving problems” with the U.S., but this would only occur if the U.S. “accepted responsibility” and made up for “damages.” He said that a change in the “tone and words” of U.S. officials was not enough.

Rouhani, who was speaking before Ayatollah Khamenei at a ceremony marking the end of Ramadan, also praised what he said was Iran’s “patience” against the United States. He stated: “In its plans against the Iranian people, the enemy failed to account for two forms of patience. One of the political system and government officials and the second from the Iranian people. Therefore, the enemy has continuously made miscalculations.”

Rouhani asserted that the Trump administration wished to bait Iran into leaving the JCPOA but failed to do so. He explained: “They left an international agreement to end our patience and for us to leave the deal. America would then have been able to impose international sanctions against us without suffering any cost.

He added: “But the strategic patience of the political system and the people resulted in their ominous plans in leaving the JCPOA failing. They had no choice but to bear the weight of the responsibility for their violation, and Iran was victorious in international political and public opinion.”

Rouhani said that Iran cannot now be blamed for halting compliance with some of its JCPOA commitments. He stated: “Today, after one year of strategic patience, if we lower our commitment to the JCPOA, no one can blame us. But we must use the opportunities presented by this deal against those who’ve violated it.”

Last week, President Rouhani also stated that Iran needed to see “practical action” and “not words” from the Trump administration for negotiations to occur. He proclaimed: “Our criteria is not words but action. When they stop their oppression against the Iranian people and end their repressive sanctions and uphold their commitments and return to the negotiation table that they left. The path for them is not closed.”

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Parliamentary Official Says U.S. Sanctions to be Lifted

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s foreign policy and national security commission, tweeted that the “period of US sanctions being removed is nearing.” He added: “Iran and the US have managed tensions in such a way that extremists have been pushed to the periphery. There is no reason for the continued presence of U.S. naval ships [in the Persian Gulf].” Falahatpisheh gave no further explanation for why sanctions would soon be lifted.

Among Iranian officials during the Trump era, Falahatpisheh has consistently been more optimistic about the prospect for U.S.-Iran negotiations. Last October, Falahatpisheh stated that there was a “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America.”

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Khamenei Blasts “Deal of the Century” on Israel-Palestine, Calls for Referendum

In his speech marking the Islamic holiday of Eid-e Fitr, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that the “plan known as the deal of the century will never be realized.” Khamenei was referring to the Trump administration’s yet-to-be-revealed plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khamenei stated that the plan was “the number one issue for the Islamic world.”

Khamenei censured Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for laying the groundwork deal of the century plan. He said of Bahrain, which is hosting an economic conference on Palestine as part of the so-called deal of the century: “This conference belongs to the Americans, but the Bahraini rulers are hosting it and laying the groundwork for it due to their weakness, incapability, and anti-public and anti-Islamic spirits. The rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia should know what a swamp they’ve stepped in.”

In a separate speech, Khamenei proclaimed that Iran was seeking a referendum regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He stated: “Contrary to the views of some old Arab leaders who believed that the Jews should be thrown in the sea, the Islamic Republic doesn’t believe this. We believe that the Palestinians should continue their struggle in every facet, militarily, politically, and culturally, until the usurpers submit to their vote.”

Khamenei explained that this vote would be a referendum among the “Muslim, Christian, and Jewish occupants of Palestine as well as Palestinian refugees regarding the framework for the political system of this country.”

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Responding to Trump, Khamenei Says Iran Won’t Get Close to America

In a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the death of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran’s development and progress rested on not being close to America. Khamenei was indirectly responding to President Trump’s remarks in Tokyo recently stating that Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership” and that he wasn’t seeking regime change.

Khamenei said that Iranian officials and people shouldn’t fall for “Trump’s sly political games.” He added: “We can’t get close to the Americans. Wherever the Americans have put their feet, there has either been war or internal discord.”

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Students Protest Repression & Sanctions

Week of May 27, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Students Protest Government Repression & Sanctions

On May 26th, students at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba’i University protested “foreign sanctions” and “domestic repression.” The students expressed support for imprisoned teachers, workers, environmental activists, and Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

In a statement, the students declared their opposition to “war, sanctions, and authoritarianism.” They said they represented a people “stuck between domestic and foreign bullies” and vowed to not “bow to either.”

The students also declared to the Iranian government: “We warn domestic rulers that they don’t have a right to gamble with the everyday livelihoods of the people. They don’t have the right to sacrifice the material wealth of the public on risky policies.”

The students also criticized the Iranian government for contributing to insecurity with its repression. They stated: “How can one talk about insecurity when everyday we witness arrests and the imprisoning of critics of the status quo. Over the past decades, the government’s actions and accepting only one voice has created a situation where the university is like a military base and the smallest actions are suppressed.”

The students also criticized outside Iranian opposition groups that encourage foreign sanctions and war: “As long as this opposition is indifferent to the suffering and hardship of people and hopes it can achieve their liberty through their poverty and misery, they have no meaningful difference with the groups governing the country and they themselves are part of the current deterioration of status quo.

The statement went on: “They should realize that the aversion of the people towards current situation does not justify the inhumane policy they have adopted in the political realm.”

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IRGC Commander Says U.S Aircraft Carrier Hasn’t Moved to the Persian Gulf

Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of the IRGC, has dismissed reports that the U.S. has increased its military presence in the Middle East. Fadavi stated: “Currently, the U.S. has the weakest presence it has ever had in the Persian Gulf and the lowest amount of vessels it has ever had in the Persian Gulf.”

Fadavi rejected reports that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier has moved to the Persian Gulf. He proclaimed: “Even the aircraft carrier that was moving towards the region as part of a previous plan has been halted in the Indian Ocean because of their fear. It has not entered the Persian Gulf.”

Fadavi also dismissed the need for Iran to engage in diplomacy with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. He stated: “We shouldn’t talk about these small and weak entities like Saudi Arabia. When America is on the other side and the subject of the quarrel, we shouldn’t talk about those who aren’t consequential.”

Fadavi’s comments come as Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Baghdad, where he said Iran sought “balanced” and “the best” relations with all the Persian Gulf countries. Zarif also reiterated a previous call he had made for a “non-aggression pact” between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors.

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Ex-Tehran Mayor Murders Wife, Spurring Major Controversy

On May 28th, the head of Tehran’s criminal prosecutor’s office announced that Mitra Ostad, the wife of former Tehran major Mohammad-Ali Najafi, had been killed. Hours later, Najafi turned himself in to the police and confessed to murdering his wife.

Najafi’s confession was aired on state TV during an interview at the Tehran criminal prosecutor’s office. Najafi is a member of the reformist faction and, in addition to a months-long stint as Tehran’s mayor, served in the cabinet of President Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

According to Najafi’s lawyer, he has been charged with “premeditated murder” and “possessing an illegal firearm.” Najafi’s license for his firearm reportedly expired four years ago.

Najafi’s case has spurred immense controversy in Iran, particularly over state television’s coverage of his confession. In the video, Najafi calmly explains his side of the story while drinking tea. Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, said this issue will be pursued by the “oversight council of state television.”

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Khamenei Says Iran will meet Pressure with Pressure, Doesn’t want Nuclear Weapons

Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated in a speech that negotiations with the U.S. have “no benefits” and cause “harm.” He stated: “We don’t negotiate on core issues related to the revolution’s honor. We don’t negotiate about our military capabilities. The meaning of negotiations in this area [for the U.S.] is a transaction. Meaning that we give up our defensive capabilities.”

Khamenei said that the U.S. uses negotiations as mean of increasing pressure. He asserted: “Pressure is the strategy the Americans use to get something they want from a country. Negotiations are a tactic of this pressure. They bring pressure so the other side gets tired and then they say let’s negotiate … but their strategic aim is not negotiations, it’s pressure.”

Khamenei declared that Iran had to meet pressure with pressure. He stated: “The way to confront this is for the other side to use pressure in order to decrease pressure on itself. But if it is fooled into negotiations and thinks there is no need to use its means of imposing pressure, then this is a definite defeat [for the side facing the U.S.].”

Khamenei suggested that Iran would leave further JCPOA limits to increase pressure on the U.S. He stated: “The only path for us is to confront U.S. pressure by using our means of imposing pressure. Contrary to the propaganda that is out there, our pressure tools aren’t only of a military nature, though if needed we will use military means.

He added: “But what the Supreme National Security Council did in saying that we will not implement our commitments in certain areas and will leave our commitments [with the JCPOA], this was the right thing.” Khamenei was referencing Iran’s recent decision to cease compliance with aspects of the JCPOA, detailed in a recent issue of Iran Unfiltered.

Khamenei further said that if Iran “doesn’t use its pressure tools,” the “other side will feel comfortable to increase pressure.”

Khamenei also proclaimed that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons. He stated: “We are not after nuclear weapons. Not because of U.S. sanctions, but because we view them as forbidden on religious grounds.”

He further emphasized the point: “Some say that we should produce nuclear weapons but not use them. This is also a mistake. Because we will produce them at great cost but won’t use them and the other side knows we won’t use them, so it has no use for us.”

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Rouhani Addresses Attendees of Anti-Iran Summit in Mecca

President Rouhani released a letter directed to the representatives of the Arab countries gathered for a summit in Mecca by Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman described the gathering as an “emergency summit” to counter Iran. Rouhani criticized Saudi Arabia for not inviting Iran to what he dubbed as a gathering of Islamic countries.

Rouhani said Iran was “fully ready” to “cooperate” with the “family of the Islamic world.” He also rebuked U.S. support for Israel, citing the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. He said these actions reflected “total enmity not just against Palestine, but the entire Islamic world.”

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Khamenei Distances Himself from the JCPOA

Week of May 20, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Khamenei Scapegoats Blame for the JCPOA, Says Political System Needs Change

In a speech to university students, Ayatollah Khamenei sought to further distance himself from the JCPOA and shift blame for the deal on President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. He stated: “They [some people] link the approval of the JCPOA to the leader. Well, you have eyes and ears and have seen everything. You can see the letter that was written about the JCPOA and the conditions that were mentioned for its implementation.”

Khamenei was referencing an October 2015 letter he wrote to President Rouhani outlining nine conditions for Iran implementing the JCPOA. He added in his speech: “If these conditions were not implemented, it is not the responsibility of the leader to interfere.”

Khamenei stated in his speech that he had notified Rouhani and Zarif of his complaints with the deal on many occasions. He declared: “I did not strongly believe  in the way that the JCPOA was implemented. I have said this on many occasions to the president and foreign minister and we gave them notice in many instances.”

He added on why he didn’t prevent the deal: “My position is that the Leader shouldn’t interfere in executive actions unless in areas where the entire the revolutionary movement is being harmed.”

This isn’t the first time that Khamenei has expressed his displeasure with the way the JCPOA was implemented. In March 2016, shortly after the deal was implemented, he cited Javad Zarif as saying that Iranian diplomats were unable to meet some of Iran’s redlines.

In his speech this week, Khamenei also said that the structure of the Islamic Republic must be changed. He stated: “The legal foundations [of the Islamic Republic] are good. But its foundations can become complete and its defects can be resolved. For example, we once didn’t have an Expediency Discernment Council and now we do. It is like this in all political systems. Consequently, while the foundation doesn’t have problems, there must be additions and subtractions [to the political system].”

He dismissed the idea that Iran would switch to a parliamentary system, which he dangled as a possibility in a speech several years ago. He stated: “There have been discussions about a parliamentary system. We extensively discussed this matter in a conference reviewing the constitution. The conclusion was that the problems with a parliamentary system are greater than those of a presidential system.

In a 2011 speech, Khamenei had said Iran might switch to a parliamentary system, stating: “If one day, likely in the distant future, it is decided that a parliamentary system is better to elect executive officials, there is no problem with this.”

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Several Journalists Arrested

Journalist Masoud Kazemi, the editor of a monthly magazine and former reporter for the reformist Shargh, has been imprisoned. Kazemi was first arrested last October but freed after several days. His charges now include “propagandizing against the system” and “insulting the Leader.”

In recent weeks, Keivan Samimi of the reformist Iran Farda and Marzieh Amiri of the reformist Shargh newspaper were arrested.

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Rouhani Says He Needs More Authority

President Rouhani gave a speech to senior clergy where he stated that the office of the presidency should be given greater authority because of the crises facing Iran.  Rouhani stated: “During the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War] when we reached the point where we were facing problems, the Council for Supporting the War was created. This council had all the authority. Even the parliament and the judiciary could not interfere in this council’s decision making. Today, we are now facing an economic war.”

Rouhani emphasized that executive authority should be concentrated similar to how it was during the Iran-Iraq War. He said: “Just as during the 8-year war authority was delegated by Imam Khomeini. We were able to manage the war and even created many opportunities. Today we require the same level of authorities.”

Rouhani’s comments echo a speech he gave last week where he said that his administration’s authorities in various fields were limited. He had stated: “When the administration is questioned or when demands are made, there needs to be a look at the other side and at whether on these questions the administration has the relevant authorities.”

Rouhani specified in that speech that his administration lacked authority in the fields of foreign policy, cultural issues, and social media. He stated: “We have to see how much authority the administration has in these fields. The demands of the administration should be in the areas where it has enough authority to meet them.”

Mohammad Reza Khabaz, a former governor appointed by Rouhani, stated that Rouhani needed to set up a council to address Iran’s current challenges. Khabaz said Iran’s situation today was more difficult in some ways than the Iran-Iraq War, stating: “The sanctions today are not comparable to the time of the war. During the war, we only couldn’t buy weapons, but no one was preventing us from selling our oil. Today, we are in a situation that they are preventing us from selling oil in order to impose pressure on the people. The situation is worse than during the war.”

He added: “The current situation is sensitive and it’s necessary to form a ‘Council to Support the Economic War.'”

Rouhani’s comments also spurred criticism, particularly from conservative officials and institutions, arguing that Rouhani is failing to use the authority he has effectively. Abbas Kadkhodaie, the Guardian Council’s spokesperson, stated in this regard: “Presidents have extensive authority under the constitution. During this period, even greater authority has been given commiserate with the conditions faced by the country. Has this extensive authority been used to resolve problems?”

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Senior Officials Says Iran Won’t Enter Direct or Proxy War with the US

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, has said that the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf seek to draw the U.S. into a war against Iran. Falahatpisheh said that accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the UAE’s Fujairah port were driven by people “whose aim is dragging the Americans into the region and starting a war.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran would not enter a direct or proxy war with the United States. He stated: “Not starting a war is the policy of the Islamic Republic. No group can claim that is entering a proxy war on Iran’s behalf.”

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Prominent Reformist Says the U.S. Can’t Invade Iran

Prominent reformist figure Sadegh Zibakalam has said that Iran cannot be invaded the same way as Iraq because the ruling system has a greater degree of legitimacy. He stated: “The Islamic Republic, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, has support from enough people who would take up arms to defend it against a foreign aggressor. Iran has 80 million people. Even if 10 percent were willing to take up arms to fight off an American attack, that would be 8 million people. This would make any such endeavor impossible for Washington.”

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Iranian Officials Discount Possibility of War

Week of May 13, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Tehran University Students Protest Compulsory Hijab

On May 13th, students at Tehran University staged a demonstration against “hijab and chastity plans.” In a statement, the students said they were protesting “the presence and deployment of ‘women’s protection forces’ that have joined the previous guards.” They said these new security forces amounted to a “clear offense to students’ private lives and directly violated their human rights and were a naked injustice against female students.”

Videos of the demonstration showed clashes between the protesting students and students belonging to the state-backed Basij force.

The statement of the protesting students said that defending the “freedom of clothing” was an “obvious right.” The statement also said that the “minimal freedom on clothing that exists at Tehran University” was due to “resistance and pressure” from students. The protesting students shouted slogans against mandatory hijab and their placards called for the freedom of three activists arrested during May Day protests on campus: Marzieh Amiri, Atefeh Rangriz, and Neda Naji.

Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s vice president for cultural affairs, stated that no “morality police” had been deployed to Tehran University. He stated: “Some are ignorantly and deliberately creating tensions in the students’ environment.”

However, Sarsangi stated that more strict social rules were indeed being implemented due to the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan. He said: “The only thing that has happened is that—just like every year for Ramadan—to preserve the sanctity of this month there should be no visible signs of not observing fasting or wearing attire that doesn’t respect the sanctity of this month.”

He added: “To this end, security forces are at Tehran University to give warnings to people who don’t respect the sanctity of fasting.”

Sarsangi also stated that Tehran University must implement the law, but that it doesn’t have a say in whether the law is “good or bad.” He also stated that it was “unfortunate” that there were clashes between students who have “different beliefs and ideas.” He added: “We tried to calm down the students who were angry … we hope that we never have to see such behavior at the university.”

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New IRGC Chief Briefs Parliament, Discounts Possibility of War

On May 12th, new IRGC commander Hossein Salami debriefed the Iranian parliament on tensions with the United States. According to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the meeting was already planned and was primarily meant to introduce Salami to parliamentarians.

According to Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, Salami discounted the possibility of a U.S.-Iran war. Falahatpisheh said the “most important” part of Salami’s remarks was that Iran was ready for war, but that the “strategic analysis” was that war will not occur.

Falahatpisheh added that war would not occur because “the behavior of the Americans and their movements in the field shows that they’re not after war and are just creating the psychological atmosphere of war.”

Among Iranian officials during the Trump era, Falahatpisheh has consistently been more dovish and has continued to dangle prospect of U.S.-Iran negotiations. Last October, Falahatpisheh stated that there was a “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America.”

After the parliament’s meeting with Salami this week, Falahatpisheh said that Trump will have to convey a “more serious” desire for negotiations rather than just asking for a phone call. He added that if Trump conveys this more serious desire for negotiations, he will see that “Iran is different than any country, even North Korea.”

He further stated: “With their initial positions right now, the Americans have shown that their policy for now is not negotiations. If Americans want to create conditions for negotiations they must backtrack from some of their policies.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran has unused leverage, stating: “The Americans have played their hand, while Iran has yet to reveal its hand. America’s hand was just its old sanctions. Iran hasn’t played its hand yet because it doesn’t want to escalate tensions. I believe the Americans will change their stance in the future.”

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Officials Dismiss Trump Phone Call Request, Call for Practical Steps to Save JCPOA

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Russia, India, Japan, and China this week to discuss prospects to preserve the JCPOA, among other issues. In Beijing, Zarif stated: “Saving the nuclear deal is possible through practical steps, not just releasing statements in support of the agreement.”

Zarif said regarding what he meant by practical steps to save the JCPOA: “If the international community feels that this agreement is a valuable achievement, it must, like Iran, take practical steps to preserve it. The meaning of practical steps is clear: Iran’s trade relations must become normalized.”

Last week, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said Iranian oil exports must be facilitated and banking limitations on the country lifted. If not, Iran would gradually cease abiding by JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more details on Iran’s announcement that it would cease compliance with aspects of the JCPOA.)

Kamal Kharazi, a senior advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on diplomatic affairs, stated that Iran would “definitely” not call U.S. President Donald Trump. In response to Trump’s request that Iran call him, Kharazi stated: “We definitely don’t want to call. He wants to talk to everyone and take pictures just for propaganda purposes for himself.

Kharazi added: “America cannot be trusted. We can’t forget that America left the nuclear deal and has violated international laws.”

Kharazi, who was speaking while in France, also denied accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the Emirati port of Fujairah. He said a “third party” was likely behind the sabotage with the aim of taking advantage of the current tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

He further stated: “There was definitely no Iranian interference in this issue. There needs to be an investigation to identify who was responsible for this action.”

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Iran Starts Process to Halt Full JCPOA Compliance

On May 15th, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that it was starting the process of halting compliance on the JCPOA’s limitations on Iran’s heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEO) stockpiles. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated last week that Iran would no longer export surplus quantities of heavy water and LEU. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more information of Iran’s decision to halt compliance with these JCPOA limitations.)

To meet the JCPOA’s limitations, Iran was exporting its surplus LEU stockpile to Russia and heavy water to Oman. However, Iran’s decision to cease these exports was preempted by the Trump administration threatening new sanctions against buyers of Iranian heavy water and LEU. Iran’s ability to meet these JCPOA requirements was thus already obstructed by the United States.

The AEOI also announced that media outlets would soon be invited to view the nuclear work that Iran is restarting. AEOI stated: “In the coming days, in order to inform the public of the steps that have been taken, there are plans to have media outlets visit the facilities at Natanz and Arak.”

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Khamenei Rules Out War or Negotiations with Trump

On May 15th, in a meeting with senior officials, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that there won’t be a U.S.-Iran war nor will Iran negotiate with the United States. He stated: “These confrontations aren’t of a military nature. Because there is not going to be a war. Neither us nor them [the U.S.] is after a war. They know that a war won’t be to their benefit.”

However, Khamenei added that “Iran will resist” and that “in this confrontation, America will have no choice but to retreat.”

Khamenei also said that negotiations with the Trump administration would be “poison.” He said about the prospects for negotiations: “Some domestically ask what is wrong with negotiations? Such negotiations are poison as long as America is what it is right now. Negotiations with the current administration are a poison.”

Khamenei ruled out any negotiations over the range of Iran’s missiles and Iran’s “strategic depth” in the region. He stated: “Negotiations portend a transaction and giving and getting something. However, what America seeks is our sources of strength.”

He added: “They want to negotiate over our defensive weapons. They ask, why do you develop missiles with such a range? Lower this range so that if we attack you, you can’t strike our bases and retaliate. Or they say, let’s talk about your strategic depth in the region. They want to take this from us.”

President Rouhani also stated at the same meeting that Iran was undergoing a “divine test” and that “without a doubt, with steadfastness and resistance, Iran will surmount this stage.”

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IRGC Deputy Attacks “Western-Oriented” Politicians

On May 16th, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the IRGC’s deputy for parliamentary affairs, criticized “Western-oriented movements” in Iran that warn of a U.S.-Iran war. Jokar stated that “Western-oriented movements” in the country “were playing a part in the enemy’s puzzle” by presenting “a binary of either war or negotiations.”

Jokar stated that such domestic forces were after “imposing another JCPOA on the country.” He further said that these movements have been able to “gather votes by creating false perceptions and politicking.” He added that the “interests of some capitalists and Western-oriented movements was to rumormonger about war and starvation.”

Jokar said the possibility of a war was “null” and that American society cannot “bear the costs of a new war.

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Regional Countries Attempting to Mediate U.S.-Iran Tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said after a cabinet meeting this week that neither the U.S. nor Iran sought war with each other. Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came on the heels of an unannounced trip last week to Iraq by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  

Abdul-Mahdi also stated that he has received signals from both Iran and the United States that indicate that “everything will be resolved in a positive manner.”

Qatar’s foreign minister also travelled to Tehran this week to find a path to resolve the “growing crisis between the U.S. and Iran and its consequences for the region.” According to Al Jazeera, Washington was made aware of the trip and the Qatari foreign minister had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

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Iran Reacts to IRGC Terrorist Designation

Week of April 15, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Officials Decry IRGC Terrorist Designation as Reflecting Failure of U.S. Policies

The Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a part of Iran’s state-run military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) was mostly framed in Tehran as reflecting the failure of U.S. policies towards Iran. The highest military body in Iran, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, said in a statement that the designation had “no practical value and was condemned to fail.” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, similarly dismissed the designation as reflecting America’s “weakness, incapability, and resort to every desperate act.”

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said the IRGC designation came after President Trump was “unsuccessful” in “hurting” Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA and attempting to reduce “Iranian oil sales to zero.” He also reiterated Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA, stating: “There is no reason for Iran not to continue to adhere to an agreement that all the world accepts except for one country [the U.S.].”

President Rouhani strongly defended the IRGC and underscored that Iranian restraint should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He stated that Iranians are now “more united than ever” and proclaimed: “I tell the group of five [the remaining parties to the nuclear deal] that we are patient but our patience has an end and its possible that in this patience, Iran takes a different step.”

Rouhani went on: “If we are patient, it’s not because we are scared. It’s because we are prudent. We are afraid of no one, our path is the correct path and we hope that the others [the Trump administration] know that the future will judge them.”

Iran’s response of designating U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the arm of the military that oversees operations in the Middle East and Africa, was also presented as a necessary “tit-for-tat” measure. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in this regard that Iran’s response was a “defensive measure” and not a “declaration of war.”

However, in response to the IRGC designation, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, laid out a legal case for why Iran should close the Strait of Hormuz. He lambasted Rouhani for not “heeding the lessons of the JCPOA” and previously calling for “the Revolutionary Guards and army to return to their bases.”

Shariatmadari also criticized Rouhani’s efforts to pass anti-money laundering and terrorism financing bills in accordance to guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force, a global financial body. Shariatmadari said that Rouhani’s efforts to “impose” the bills sent a signal of “weakness” and “emboldened” the U.S. to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Many prominent reformist dissidents expressed support for the IRGC after the FTO designation. For instance, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former political prisoner, stated: “The intervention of the Guards in the economy and domestic and foreign politics is against the law and hurts the country. However, I strongly condemn labelling them as terrorists by Trump. His aim is not confronting terrorism or defending democracy or peace. Instead, Trump seeks to increase pressure on the Iranian people to destabilize Iran and increase tensions in the region.”  

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Hardline MPs Call for Stronger Reaction to IRGC Designation

On April 16, the Iranian parliament passed a bill, dubbed “reciprocal action against America’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization,” requiring that all U.S. military forces in West Asia be considered terrorists. The bill passed with 204 votes in favor, 2 in opposition, and 0 abstentions out of the 206 parliamentarians that were present.

Hardline MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a member of the Perseverance Front (Jebhe Paydari) fundamentalist faction, voted against the bill on the grounds that it wasn’t strong enough and should have given the IRGC permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. Haji Delijani stated: “In this bill, we should have given the Guards permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. We can have this ability. We must give the Guards greater authority so they can target the White House so that America doesn’t think it can take some damned action [i.e. military strikes] with its IRGC designation.”

Another hardline MP who voted against the bill, Mousavi Largani, said the bill was too weak and criticized President Rouhani. Largani stated: “If the president after America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA gave a definite order to restart 20 percent enrichment, then America would not have become so insolent.”

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Zarif Warns his Global Counterparts and UN Secretary General on IRGC Designation

On April 10th, Foreign Minister Zarif wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warning that the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a “dangerous and illegal” act. Zarif said in the letter that the designation was a serious threat to regional and global security and raised tensions to a level that is “uncontrollable and provoking confrontation.”

Zarif also wrote a letter to his foreign minister counterparts across the world warning of the consequences of the IRGC terrorist designation. He stated that “all governments should work to get in the way of this unilateral and harmful action.” He further said that the Islamic Republic “warns of the long-term consequences and immediate implication of this action and asks governments to take a principled and precise position on this issue based legal precedent.” Zarif added that the IRGC designation and the “fake accusation of ties between Iran and al-Qaeda” are part of “an aim to ready the public opinion in America for a new adventurist action in West Asia and create grounds for America’s legal system to claim they have the authority to use military force against another country.”

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Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activist Sentenced to One-Year Imprisonment

Vida Movahed, an Iranian activist who triggered anti-compulsory hijab protests last year by removing her headscarf and brandishing it on a stick, was recently sentenced to one year in prison. According to her lawyer Payam Derefshan, Movahed’s was sentenced on charges of “encouraging corruption and prostitution to the public” in early March.

However, Derefshan says that she has since been paroled by the judge in her case and pardoned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Despite this, she has yet to be released from prison.

Movahed, who is the mother of a 2-year-old child, was first arrested on January 21, 2018, after standing on an electricity box in Tehran’s Revolution Street and removing her headscarf. Although she was released soon after on January 27th, she started a wave of similar actions by other anti-compulsory hijab activists—who became known as the “Girls of Revolution St.”

Movahed was re-arrested on October 29, 2018, after standing on another platform in Tehran’s Revolution Square and holding balloons. Her sentence stems from this second arrest, according to her lawyer.

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International Aid not Reaching Flood Victims, Red Crescent Official

On April 15th, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued a statement on the dire situation in Iran’s flood-affected regions. It stated that over 2 million people require humanitarian aid and that roughly 10 million Iranians in over 2,000 cities and villages in 31 provinces were impacted by the floods and heavy rains. IFRC further stated that based on the latest information, 78 people were killed, 1,136 injured, and over half a million displaced as a result of the floods.

Zahra Falahati, the Iranian Red Crescent’s international deputy, said that the conditions in some flooded regions was “catastrophic.” She said of the relief efforts: “This is one of the biggest rescue and relief efforts undertaken by the Red Crescent in our country’s history. We are using all the capabilities we have to save and help the people, but it’s not enough.”

Seyed Hashem, the IFRC’s Middle East and North Africa official, said the situation in Iran was an “emergency” and required international aid. He added: “We ask all members of the federation across the world to response to our plea for assistance.”

However, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent, Ali Asghar Peyvandi, stated that “foreign sanctions” have prevented foreign financial aid and donations from reaching Iran’s flood victims. He stated: “After the closure of the Red Crescent’s SWIFT and financial accounts due to sanctions, despite the announcement of aid amounts and figures [by foreign sources], nothing has been deposited in the Iranian Red Crescent’s accounts.”

Peyvandi also said that “not one dollar” in foreign aid, including from Iranians abroad, has reached Iran because of U.S. sanctions. He proclaimed: “Because of U.S. sanctions and the closure of financial accounts, aid from Iranians abroad, the European Union, and the International Red Cross has not been sent to Iran.” He added: “To date, not one dollar or euro has been donated to Iran.”

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Lake Urmia Recovers After Heavy Rains

Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran, which has significantly dried up and shrunk in recent years, has greatly recovered in the wake of massive rainfalls. Compared to this time last year, the lake’s size has expanded by 580 square kilometers. The depth of the lake at its shallowest point has also increased by 1.26 meters.

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Conservative Analyst Says Trump’s Iran Policy Failing, Supports Iran Remaining in the JCPOA

Hassan Beheshtipour, a conservative foreign policy analyst, discussed in an interview his view on why the Trump administration’s Iran policy is failing and why Iran should remain in the JCPOA. Beheshtipour contended that U.S. sanctions aren’t working, stating: “America has never been successful with its sanctions and can’t create divisions inside Iran in this way. As we saw, all the different political factions and the people condemned America’s designation of the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists and expressed support for the Guards. This issue turned into a defeat for America and shows that sanctions policies against Iran don’t work.”

He also said that the U.S. would renew oil sanctions waivers on Iran in May. He contended that the U.S. and Iran were locked in a game-theory like “two-player game,” where the two sides are “moving head-on towards each other and the first to move loses.”

Beheshtipour also stated that Iran should stay in the JCPOA to prevent outside powers from uniting against it. He opined: “I believe that leaving the JCPOA will have more costs for us and result in more enemies … Because everyone knows that China and Russia voted for UN Security Council resolutions against Iran and considered us a danger. But right now China and Russia agree with Iran. As such, we should not give an excuse to the enemy by leaving the JCPOA and making the situation worse.”

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Official Says IRGC Designation Won’t Affect FATF Financial Reform Bills

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh—the chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission—said that efforts to pass contentious banking reforms should not be linked to Iran’s relations with America. A set of bills introduced by President Rouhani to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)— an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks—have been deadlocked in Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council for months. (Read more about the domestic debate over the FATF bills in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

Many Iranian commentators and some officials said that the FATF bills—which require increased transparency of Iranian banks—would be rejected in the wake of the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. However, Falahatpisheh stated that “activities related to the FATF should not been seen through the framework of relations with America.” He added that the debate over passing the FATF bills was separate from the issue of the U.S. designation of the IRGC and that Iran should “should refrain from take actions that would result in its international isolation.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran’s designation U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization was a “reciprocal action” and not aimed at “exacerbating the crisis.”  He also rebuked aggressive rhetoric from some Iranian figures after the IRGC designation, stating: “I don’t accept these comments that the Americans must await their coffins. As long as it’s not mandated by our defensive needs, we will not be happy with Americans getting killed.”

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Zarif Travels to Syria and Turkey Ahead of Astana Talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traveled Syria and Turkey. In Damascus, he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and senior Syrian officials. His discussions in both countries centered on “coordinating positions on the most important regional and international issues with the aim of establishing peace and stability in the region.” In Ankara, Zarif also spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about issues pertaining to North Africa.

Zarif’s trips take place on the eve of the next round of Astana-process Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey, due to take place in Kazakhstan on April 25-26.

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Outspoken Hardliner Spurs Controversy Over Remarks on Red Crescent and al-Qaeda

Saeed Ghasemi, an outspoken hardliner and staunch opponent of improved U.S.-Iran relations, spurred controversy after he said in an interview that the IRGC has used Iranian Red Crescent identities as cover in the past. Ghasemi said that during the Bosnian War during the 1990s, IRGC forces used the cover of being Iranian Red Crescent employees to “train jihadi forces” in Bosnia.

Ghasemi also said that al-Qaeda entered the Bosnian War after Iran and learned their “style” from Iranian forces. He stated: “Al Qaeda took our style, from headbands to flags to the shape of battalions. They implemented our style there [in Bosnia].

Ghasemi’s comments come at a time when large parts of Iran have been hit by floods and the Red Crescent is helping lead relief efforts. Given U.S. sanctions, the Iranian Red Crescent is one of the few organizations operating in Iran that coordinates international relief assistance.

His remarks also coincide with the Trump administration’s claim that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda and that consequently the option is legally open for military strikes using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that there is “no doubt there’s a connection” between Iran and Al Qaeda. Much like his hardline counterparts in Washington, Ghasemi has tried long tried to foreclose opportunities for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. During the nuclear negotiations he even called for Foreign Minister Zarif to be put on trial.

Both the Iranian Red Crescent and the IRGC strongly rejected and condemned Ghasemi’s remarks. The IRGC’s spokesperson Ramazan Sharif stated that Ghasemi was “long retired” from the IRGC and that his comments “lacked credibility.” He added that Ghasemi and others like him should refrain from “irresponsible and false opinions and not create excuses for the enemies of the revolution and the people.”

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Statistical Center of Iran Releases Report Detailing Economic Recession

On April 14, the Statistical Center of Iran said that Iran’s economy shrunk by 3.8 percent in the last nine months of the Iranian year 1397 (which ended on March 21, 2019). According to the data, Iran’s oil industry has been hardest hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions and shrunk by 2.8 percent last summer and 7.9 percent last fall.

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Memo on Trump Administration’s Decision to Name IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The Trump administration designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) is a dangerous and unprecedented escalatory move that could set the stage for a catastrophic conflict with Iran. It marks the first time a state-run military, one into which ordinary Iranians are often conscripted for mandatory military service, has been designated as an FTO.

Given the IRGC is already one of the most sanctioned entities on the planet, the designation achieves little in terms of economic restrictions or penalties for the IRGC. Instead, it needlessly puts U.S. servicemen and bases across the Middle East at risk, diminishes U.S. diplomatic and military connections in countries like Iraq and Syria, and further limits the potential for future diplomatic de-escalation with Iran. The Pentagon has long warned against the move, and the CIA voiced reservations about this decision.

There is no doubt that the IRGC engages in a wide range of activities that undermine regional security and repress the Iranian people. Yet, the IRGC has been a major beneficiary of broad sanctions on the Iranian economy and rising U.S.-Iran tensions.

Members of Congress should denounce this decision as a needlessly reckless move that serves no purpose other than to increase the risk of conflict in an already turbulent Middle East.

The following is an overview of the potential consequences of an IRGC FTO designation:

Risk to U.S. Servicemen and Bases

  • Designating the military wing of a foreign state an FTO is an unprecedented action that could subject U.S. troops to similar treatment from adversaries and risk withdrawing the legal protections that accompany them in theaters of war. This is one of the major reasons that the Department of Defense and retired military officers have been steadfastly opposed to designating the IRGC an FTO.
  • Designating the IRGC an FTO risks retaliation against American troops in Iraq and Syria, where such troops are in close proximity to the IRGC or its partner militias. Both the Pentagon and the CIA have reportedly warned about the severe consequences to U.S. troops and broader U.S. interests in the Middle East that could accompany this designation.
  • Iranian officials and military commanders have stated than they would reciprocate an IRGC FTO designation with a similar designation against the U.S. military. Over 250 Iranian members of parliament have signed a statement calling for such a reciprocal action, while the head of the IRGC has also vowed a tit-for-tat response and said that U.S. forces in the region will “lose their current status of ease and serenity.”
  • While the U.S. military and the IRGC were on opposite sides in Iraq for years after the 2003 U.S. invasion, the counter-ISIS campaign saw them fight a common enemy. The IRGC was at the center of Iranian efforts to roll back ISIS in Iraq, with U.S. forces operating in close proximity in coordination with the Iraqi army. The fact that the Trump administration has now pocketed Iran’s assistance and turned around and designated the IRGC an FTO will not be forgotten when it comes to deconfliction in future conflicts.

 

Negligible Economic Penalty

  • The legal effect of designating the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization is negligible. The sanctions consequences of an FTO designation are entirely duplicative of existing U.S. sanctions authorities. The IRGC is designated under multiple U.S. sanctions programs, many of which have much more substantial force than an FTO designation. For this reason, designating the IRGC an FTO has nothing to do with exerting more pressure on Iran.
  • Because an FTO designation does not have any additional legal consequences for the IRGC, the intended purpose of this action appears to be to foment a military conflict with Iran. The Trump administration is taking this action not in spite of the risks of a new war in the Middle East but precisely because it embraces those risks and hopes to see them through to fruition.  

Limiting U.S. Diplomatic Options

  • Designating the IRGC an FTO dramatically escalates U.S.-Iran tensions and further negates the possibility for successful diplomacy between the two countries, whether over regional crises, detained Americans in Iran or Iranian nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
  • The Trump administration is seeking to constrain a future President from being able to return the United States to compliance with the JCPOA.  Designating the IRGC is further evidence of this intent. Even if the FTO designation does not lead to an outbreak of conflict with Iran, the Trump administration believes that the designation will deter foreign investment in Iran and will be politically difficult to undo. This move is thus intended to undermine a future President’s efforts to re-enter the JCPOA and comply with U.S. obligations thereto.       
  • The designation also limits U.S. diplomatic and military options across the region in countries where the IRGC has influence, especially in Iraq and Lebanon. In these countries, U.S. military and diplomatic personnel may be prevented from contact with senior Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who have contact with the IRGC. According to reports, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have raised concerns about this impact of the designation in reducing U.S. regional influence.

Iran Dismisses Warsaw Summit as a Failure

Week of February 12, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry Blasts Warsaw Summit as Failing to Isolate Iran

The Iranian foreign ministry blasted as a failure the Trump administration’s co-hosted summit in Warsaw on “peace and security” in the Middle East. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated: “Despite the far-reaching efforts of Washington to organize an inclusive summit and create a new coalition against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the summit was a failure before it ended. The small number of attendees and low-level representatives refused to cooperate with any anti-Iranian initiative.”

Ghassemi added: “The concluding statement was a useless document. Its text came only from the two countries that hosted the summit and lacked any credibility or semblance of a decision.”

He further stated: “How can a conference about peace and security in the Middle East be successful when the main regional players such as Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are not present? And important countries such as China and Russia and many major European countries and other countries are not present or sent very low-level officials?”

A columnist for the conservative Alef analyzed the Warsaw summit: “The U.S. regime has pursued Iranophobia because of the Islamic Republic’s role in politically isolating the U.S. at the international level and America’s defeat and frustration in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”

The writer said of the Iranian foreign ministry’s role in diminishing the effectiveness of the Warsaw summit: “The active diplomacy of the foreign ministry caused U.S. officials to become troubled and retreat from their original claims out of fear of organizing a useless gathering. They altered the original aim of the summit and declared that the summit wasn’t targeted against any one country (Iran).”

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Islamic Republic Celebrates 40 years as Ayatollah Khamenei Calls for “Second Great Leap”

On February 11th, the Islamic Republic celebrated its 40th anniversary with marches in Tehran and across the country. According to official outlets, millions marched in the annual state-backed rallies.

At a speech in Tehran’s Azadi Square, President Rouhani lauded what he said was Iran “freeing itself from despotism, colonialism, and dependency 40 years ago.” He also praised the country’s military strengths, stating: “We will continue this path, and I say this clearly to the people of Iran, that Iran’s military power in the past 40 years, especially in the recent five years, has amazed the entire world.”

A column in the conservative Alef discussed the February 11th rallies and the question of the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy. It asked: “In all these years one question has always existed about what the secret has been behind the presence and participation of a more or less consistent amount of people in 22 Bahman (February 11th) rallies?”

The writer went on: “It was especially expected this year that because of economic and societal crises that the level of people’s participation would decrease in a visible way … what explains the people’s presence and cooperation at a time when many officials across the three branches of government are facing a drop in public trust?”

The piece, reflecting a conservative point of view, noted: “It is clear that despite all shortcomings, deficiencies, and embezzlements, the political and social lives of Iranians has tangibly changed and the Islamic Republic is present in society’s fabric. It breathes, resists, and progresses. However, just like any living being at times in fails or even regresses.”

It added: “The transformation of government and the creation of a national government was one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic and is the main foundation that is preserving it. National government here means the stake that [ordinary] Iranians have in institutions from the Leadership to local government and city councils and the opportunity for them to contribute in a real way.”

The author concluded: “The constitutional revolution started the process of transitioning Iran from a tribal government to a national government. But the total amount of efforts taken during the constitutional and Pahlavi period led to no more than five percent of people having a stake in the government. The Islamic Revolution in the least optimistic view raised the stake of people in government to 40 percent, and in recent years it has remained above 30 percent [of people participating in government affairs].”

Ayatollah Khamenei also released a statement on the 40th anniversary of the revolution, in which he called on Iranian youth to take a “second great leap” to advance the revolution. In the statement, Khamenei gave an overview of achievements and events that had taken place since the revolution and a set of recommendations to the Iranian people, especially the youth.

Khamenei acknowledged regarding the situation of “justice and confronting corruption” in the country: “I explicitly say that there is a wide gap between what has happened and what should happen.”

He said of Iran’s support for regional proxies: “If back then the West’s problem was stopping Iran from purchasing basic weaponry, today its problem is the transfer of advanced weapons from Iran to resistance forces.”

Khamenei also called the United States and some European states “cowardly and untrustworthy.” He dismissed the idea of negotiations with the United States, proclaiming: “No issues can be resolved and other than moral and material harms nothing will come out of negotiations [with the U.S.].”

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Suicide Bomber Targets Bus Carrying IRGC Soldiers

On February 13th, a suicide bomber killed 27 and wounded 13 in an attack on a bus carrying Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldiers in southwestern Iran. The bomber drove a car full of explosives into the bus, which was travelling to the city of Zahedan. The Wahhabi-Salafist “Jaish al-Adl”—a group with a history of engaging in such terrorist attacks—claimed responsibility.

In a statement, IRGC commander Mojtaba Fada said that those killed were all from Isfahan province. He said the funeral for the soldiers would be Saturday.

Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the bombing on Iran’s regional rivals. He stated: “The connection is certain between the perpetrators of this criminal act and the spy agencies of some regional countries.” He added that the “responsible [Iranian] agencies” have been instructed to “focus” on this connection and “seriously pursue it.”

President Rouhani also linked the attack to “the White House, Tel Aviv, and their regional cronies.”

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Workers Write to International Labor Group for Support

On February 13th, the Iran-based “Confederation of Free Workers” wrote a letter to the International Labour Organization calling on the head of the organization to press the Iranian government to “unconditionally release imprisoned labor activists.” The letter specifically pointed to the labor activists Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, members of the confederation who were arrested in January. (More on their case in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

The confederation underscored a “new trend in repressing laborers” inside Iran. The letter cited the case of imprisoned labor activists Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati and noted that 40 workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel Company remain imprisoned.

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FATF Debate Coming to a Head

On February 16th, the Expediency Discernment Council is expected to reach its final decision regarding a bill introduced by the Rouhani administration to reform Iran’s anti-money laundering laws. The bill is part of a set of legislation designed to bring Iran into compliance with standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. The Expediency Discernment Council decision will come as the FATF deadline for Iran to reform its banking sector looms at the end of February. (For more background on the contentious domestic debate on the FATF bills, see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi recently sparked controversy after saying that the Expediency Discernment Council would be responsible for any consequences resulting from rejecting the FATF legislation. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the body’s standards. Vaezi had stated: “If the FATF legislation isn’t passed, pressure on us will increased. If the Expediency Discernment Council doesn’t approve these bills, it should accept the results of this action.”

On February 11th, Ebrahim Raisi, who ran as the main conservative presidential candidate in 2017 challenging Rouhani and heads the influence Astan Qods Razavi religious foundation, dismissed the importance of Iran passing the FATF bills. He stated: “Some state that if we don’t want to give an excuse to the enemy, we should sign these agreements and conventions. Who can guarantee that if we sign, the enemy will stop its excuses? Wasn’t the nuclear issue an excuse?”

He added: “The only solution with respect to the enemy has been steadfastness and resistance. This is an important signal and symbol to give the enemy.”

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Announcement on New Judiciary Chief Imminent

Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Eje’i has stated that the new head of the judiciary—replacing incumbent Sadegh Larijani—will be appointed by the end of the current Iranian year (March 21st). Eje’I said: “God willing the new head of the judiciary branch will be introduced and begin work before the end of the year and before the start of the new year.”

According to some Iranian media reports, hardline 2017 presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi will replace Sadegh Larijani as Iran’s judiciary chief on March 15th, securing one of the Islamic Republic’s most senior posts.

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President Rouhani Attends Syria Peace Talks in Russia

On February 14th, President Rouhani joined Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan for the fourth round of “Astana-process” Syria peace talks in Sochi. According to Iranian media outlets, Rouhani called on the international community to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and to support reconstruction efforts in Syria. He also said that the presence of foreign troops, namely American forces, remain in Syria “without the invitation of the [Syrian] government” and that this must “end as soon as possible.”

Rouhani said of the Astana process: “Our cooperation has managed to greatly diminish the fires of war and merciless killing that had overtaken Syria for years. Dialogue between the various sides has seen [political] differences substitute guns and bullets. Today, after over seven years since the start of the crisis, in most of this country there is security and stability except for a small part of the country.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Lebanon

On February 11th, Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Lebanon for a two-day visit and met with figures ranging from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In his meeting with Hariri, the prime minister called on Iran to release Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen and information technology expert arrested and accused of being a U.S. spy in 2015.

 

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