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 Halts Compliance with Aspects of the JCPOA

Week of May 6, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Iran Halts Compliance with Aspects of the JCPOA

On May 8th, President Rouhani stated in a letter to the remaining parties to the JCPOA—Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China—that Iran will halt compliance with aspects of the accord. Rouhani stated in the letter that Iran would cease selling its surplus stockpiles of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water. The JCPOA limits Iran to 300 kg of uranium enriched to the 3.67 percent level and 130 metric tons of heavy water.

Importantly, these two JCPOA limitations were recently targeted by U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration revoked sanction waivers allowing international entities to buy Iran’s excess heavy water and enriched uranium as per the JCPOA, obstructing Iran’s ability to meet these limitations.

During a subsequent cabinet meeting, Rouhani stated that Iran’s decision on the JCPOA did not amount to a withdrawal from the deal. He stated Iran’s actions were permitted by the agreement, particularly its clause that Iran will treat the reintroduction or reimposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” Rouhani stated: “Today we don’t want to exit the JCPOA. All our people and the world should know that today is not the day of the JCPOA’s end.”

A statement from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC)—the country’s top decision-making body on national security matters—detailed the steps Iran would take in regard to the JCPOA. The SNSC called on “the remaining participants” in the JCPOA to meet their commitments under the deal, especially in the areas of “banking and oil.”

The SNSC added: “If our requests are met, we will re-engage our commitments, but if not, the Islamic Republic of Iran will gradually cease its other commitments under the accord.”

The SNSC statement gave the remaining parties to the accord 60 days to meet Iran’s expectations regarding sanctions relief. If this does not occur, the SNSC stated that Iran would cease compliance on JCPOA limits on the level of uranium enrichment and cease renovation work to remove the proliferation risk of its Arak Heavy Water reactor.

The SNSC statement reads: “The window that is now open for diplomacy will not be open for long and the responsibility for the JCPOA’s failure and any possible consequences will be fully on America and the remaining participants in the JCPOA.”

During a visit to Moscow, Foreign Minister Zarif also stressed that Iran’s actions did not mean that Iran was “withdrawing from the JCPOA.” Zarif stated: “We showed that we are a patient country that engages in resistance to attain its rights. Now it is the turn of the rest of the world to abide by its commitments.”

Zarif stated that Iran had not made a permanent decision regarding its compliance with the JCPOA. He declared: “Unfortunately, the EU and other members of the international community did not have the capability to stand against U.S. pressure and as such the Islamic Republic of Iran has found it expedient to not implement, for now, some of the commitments that it voluntary agreed to under the JCPOA.”

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, stated that Iran had peaceful intentions with its JCPOA decision. He stated: “Iran’s actions with respect to the JCPOA send a peaceful message. We could have taken worse actions, such as ending access for all IAEA inspectors and restarting our entire program. But we have tried with a peaceful message to respond to America’s actions and the JCPOA participants to give them an opportunity [for diplomatic resolution].”

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Prominent Hardline Cleric Lambasts Rouhani, Calls for Accelerating Nuclear Program & War Posture

On May 10th, Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad, strongly criticized President Rouhani and called for Iran to start 20-percent level enrichment. Alamolhoda called on the Rouhani administration official to assume a “war posture” in line with a recent speech by Ayatollah Khamenei. He said: “If you aren’t the commanders for this war posture, step aside and let someone who is fit to come.”

He further said to Rouhani: “You knew our nation is against America and has been fighting its arrogance for 40 years, so why did you accept to take responsibility [as president]? Now that you have done this, you must proceed as a commander.”

Alamolhoda also attacked Rouhani for negotiating the JCPOA, stating: “From the beginning the Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] said that America and the West cannot be trusted and will not remain faithful to their commitments. Some did not accept this and despite the Leader expressing this danger, he left the path open so this would become an experience [for why Iran shouldn’t trust the U.S.].”

He added: “Now with this experience great harm has been inflicted on our country and nuclear program. This experience has shown, as the Leader said, that America must be fought and Europe is traitorous. In light of this, you [Rouhani] must assume a war posture.”

Almolhoda then called on Rouhani to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program and start 20-percent enrichment. He stated: “Restart 20-percent enrichment, bring back our centrifuges, and go with strength into the arena. The people will be with you. Our people have shown for 40 years that they don’t want to reconcile with America. For 40 years, our elderly, our young, our women and men have showed that they will not stop being anti-arrogance.”

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Rouhani Warns That European Security Will Deteriorate

In his letter to the remaining parties to the JCPOA, Rouhani also warned that Iran’s inability to derive its JCPOA benefits would affect European security. Rouhani stated that by not receiving the sanctions relief it was due under the deal, Iran could not pay the cost for confronting drug smuggling, accepting refugees, and confronting terrorism.

He said to European countries: “We don’t want you to act for what’s expedient for Iran, but to take actions for your own interests and future.”

Rouhani stated that Iran had stopped the “flood of immigrants to Europe” by accepting refugees and has been the biggest “roadblock against drug smuggling” into Europe. He said that thousands of Iranian security forces had been killed over the years confronting drug cartels and traffickers, which has stifled the flow of drugs into Europe.

Rouhani also stated that Iran has played a decisive role in providing for the Persian Gulf’s security and combating terrorism. He said that if not for Iran, “terrorists would today be parading in European capitals.”

Rouhani added: “Doing all of these actions costs billions of dollars and with the situation that America has created, we can’t pay this cost. It can’t be that there is a JCPOA and we only pay the costs for it.”

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Deputy Foreign Minister Says Iran will Gradually Leave JCPOA, but Diplomacy Still an Option

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated that Iran would take a “step by step” approach with respect to exiting from the JCPOA. However, he stated that Iran’s actions “at this stage” are aimed “at preserving and continuing the JCPOA and not destroying it.”

Araghchi added: “An option in our agenda is exiting the JCPOA, but on a step by step basis. But if our requests are met, we are ready to return [to our commitments] on a step by step basis.”

Araghchi said Iran’s approach was centered on “diplomacy” and giving the other side “opportunities” to “make up for shortcomings.” Araghchi stated that “no country” could accuse Iran of leaving or violating the JCPOA because “Iran’s actions today were within the framework of the JCPOA.”

Araghchi also said regarding how much Iran would increase its stockpile of enriched uranium and heavy water: “How much Iran’s stockpiles will increase will be our decision. It will be based on our capabilities, needs, and the negotiations that can occur.”

Araghchi added that without the JCPOA, the Middle East will “definitely not become more secure” and this will “directly impact European security.” He proclaimed: “This is not a threat but a reality. Over these past many years, the only issue in our region that was resolved diplomatically and in a win-win manner was the Iranian nuclear issue. And now Trump wants to destroy this achievement. This will have negative consequences for the region and Europe.”

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran can Restart 20-Percent Enrichment in Days

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said the JCPOA experience proved Iran’s credibility and reliability. He stated: “America previously claimed that Iran was against negotiations. With the JCPOA this claim became baseless. They then claimed that Iran would not abide by its commitments. We now have 14 reports from the IAEA confirming that Iran has abided by its commitments [under the JCPOA].”

Salehi added: “Iran has been able to show international public opinion that it is the oppressed party and the U.S. is the oppressor.”

Salehi also stated that Iran can return to enriching uranium at the 20 percent level within four days. He stated: “If tomorrow they [senior decision makers] say that we should return to enriching at the 20 percent level, as I have previously said we have the capability to start 20-percent enrichment within four days at an acceptable level.”

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UN Ambassador Says Diplomatic Window Open

On May 9th, Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi said that the “window for diplomacy was not closed.” He stated: “We have to see what occurs in the next 60 days. The window for diplomacy is not closed. We believe that Iran will negotiate with the remaining parties in the nuclear deal and we will have to see the results of these negotiations.”

Takht-Ravanchi also cast doubt on prospects for negotiations between Iran and the Trump administration, stating: “Negotiating with someone who carelessly ripped up an international agreement has no benefits. This agreement was not just between Iran and the U.S., but the European countries were also part of this deal … how can you trust a person who acts so carelessly and inconsiderately?”

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Conservative Website Analyzes John Bolton’s Threatening Statement

Following U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s threat of “unrelenting force” against Iran in response to an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East, a commander in Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMU) stated that the force would support Iran in any war. Jabar al-Mamouri, who is also the head of the “Union of Islamic Clergy” in Iraq’s Diyala province, stated: “Iraqi society has not forgotten the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stance during the war against ISIS. When other countries had abandoned us, Iran supported us with weapons and advisory forces.”

Al-Mamouri added: “If Tehran is transgressed by any party, the Union of Islamic Clergy will announce a war to the public. We will send our children to defend Iran.”

Al-Mamouri’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq and met with the Iraqi president and prime minister. According to a statement from the Iraqi president’s office, Pompeo asked the Iraqi officials to protect U.S. interests and forces in Iraq. The statement also said that the U.S. will renew sanction waivers for Iraqi trade with Iran.

An analysis in the conservative Alef said regarding U.S. military forces in the Middle East in response to Bolton’s statement: “America has roughly 12 declared bases in Iraq, in which there are roughly 3,000 U.S. military forces. Without a doubt, the presence of America in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the hatred of regional people for them is the main cause of their hyperbolic fears and delusions.”

The analysis also said regarding Iran potentially targeting U.S. forces in the region: “Today, all of the heroes of the resistance front in Iran are waiting for the enemy to make the smallest strike against our mujahid (holy warrior) people. In this event, all of the enemy’s military bases and assets not just in the region but across the world can come under danger and attack.”

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NIAC Deeply Concerned by Continued Deterioration of the Iran Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 7, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, reports broke that Iran will halt compliance with two limits in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, a year following Trump’s violation of U.S. sanctions lifting commitments.

In response, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement:

“Iran’s announcement that it will halt compliance with certain limits under the Iran nuclear deal if parties to the agreement do not uphold their promises on sanctions relief carries substantial risk. It is precisely what John Bolton and other Iran hawks have sought via their efforts to ratchet up tensions in recent weeks: a deteriorating nuclear deal that they will exploit to justify actions that move the U.S. toward war. Via their sabotage, Bolton and the Trump administration own the consequences as the agreement moves closer to collapse.

“If Iran continues to adhere to significant elements of the accord, it will still be possible for all parties to return to compliance with this vital agreement. Yet, barring political will in Europe and the United States to stand up to Donald Trump as he lets John Bolton shatter yet another vital nonproliferation agreement, the JCPOA has moved closer to outright collapse – and the U.S. and Iran closer to war.

“Remaining parties to the deal should take steps to ensure Iran receives some benefit if it adheres to the accord, while Congress and presidential contenders should state clearly that they would shore up Iranian compliance by returning the U.S. to its commitments. The time is running short, and the risks of war are growing longer. Failure to act risks foreclosing the exit ramps to conflict permanently.”

Abdi continued:

“The Trump administration’s incoherent and self-defeating Iran policy is now entering a new stage of costs for the U.S. and security in the Middle East with the resumption of the Iranian nuclear crisis. Meanwhile, the Iranian people continue to be the biggest victims of the escalation ladder, as they become further impoverished in the face of a growing the threat of war.

“It is important to keep Iran’s announcement in context. The text of the JCPOA makes clear that Iran reserves the right to cease compliance with the JCPOA – in whole or in part – in response to the reimposition of sanctions. That is precisely what Iran has begun via its decision to cease observing two thresholds outlined in the deal that were targeted by Trump administration sanctions. One, a soft cap on Iran’s ability to produce heavy water, is not directly relevant to Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The second, a 300 kg limit on Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile that is supposed to last through 2030, delivers substantial nonproliferation benefits. Yet, given that Iran reduced its enriched uranium stockpile by 97% as part of the JCPOA, the near term risks of the decision are limited.

“However, while Iranian President Rouhani has stressed that the door to diplomacy is still open and that Iran is ready to fully return to its commitments under the deal if others deliver on sanctions relief, he also issued a conditional threat to cease compliance with all enrichment limits and to resume work at the Arak reactor in 60 days, which would pose substantial risks and further strain the accord.”

Iran Reacts to Termination of U.S. Oil Waivers

Week of April 22, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Officials and Analysts React to Trump’s Termination of Oil Waivers

On April 24th, Ayatollah Khamenei addressed workers and labor representatives and dismissed the Trump administration’s decision to terminate sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil.  Khamenei stated: “Our active people and alert officials have shown that they can breakdown all barriers and definitely this effort by America will not get anywhere. The Islamic Republic will export as much oil as it needs and that it wills.”

Khamenei also warned that Iran would take retaliatory steps. He declared: “You [U.S. officials] should know that your enmity will not go unanswered. The Iranian people are not a people that you can plot against and that will sit back and watch.”

Khamenei stated that the U.S. aim was to “bring Iran to its knees.” He proclaimed: “By focusing on the economic issue, the Americans want to bring the Iranian nation to its knees. But they should know that this latest action by them will be futile and that the great and dear Iranian people will never drop to their knees before the Great Satan.”

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh also said that the U.S. will fail to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero.  He stated: “Definitely the dream to reduce the purchasing of Iranian oil to zero will not be realized. The oil ministry will use all its capability to break America’s sanctions. The situation with demand in the oil market is fragile. The statement released by America and its regional allies to give confidence to the oil market and prevent a rise in prices reflects their worry of destabilizing the oil market.”

In a column for the reformist Etemad newspaper, analyst Meisam Sharifi contended that the Trump administration’s termination of sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil would have little impact. Sharifi outlined “different paths” Iran’s oil ministry could take to continue exporting oil and stated that given these options, “it doesn’t seem that the issuance or non-issuance of the [U.S.] waivers will make a difference.”

He added on Iran’s options to export oil: “By changing [identifying] documents and using interlocutors, we can continue to export oil. Other countries like China, because of their trade tensions with America, will ignore the waiver issue and buy Iranian oil in the coming months.”

In a piece for the conservative Alef outlet, analyst Mehdi Mohammadi explained why he believes “America’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran has failed.” He argues that the main aim of U.S. pressure was to “create unrest across the country and turn the people against the government.” He states this has not only failed but it has created increased “national solidarity” within Iran.

Mohammadi further contends that Trump’s pressure campaign has diminished the credibility of “pro-West” forces to such an extent in society that they fear speaking out in favor of renewed U.S.-Iran negotiations. He went on: “America’s economic pressures have not increased the demand within Iranian society for compromise with America. Instead, it has led to the entrenching of the conclusion that negotiations and agreements with America are fundamentally worthless and that Iran must pursue other paths to resolve its problems.”

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Tehran Police Chief Confirms Texts Sent to Women “Without Hijab”

On April 25th, Tehran’s police chief Hossein Rahimi confirmed reports that drivers of cars with women “without hijabs” have been sent text messages summoning them to the “ethical security police.” Rahimi stated that the recipients of the texts had to go to the police station and give a “written commitment” to observe hijab. He added: “If in future instances this action [no hijab] is seen again in their vehicles, their case will be sent to the judiciary.”

According to Radio Farda, hundreds of people in Tehran have received these texts over the past several days. Last week, Rahimi also stated that “undercover ethical police force” of 7,000 men and women was being launched.

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IRGC Chief Unexpectedly Replaced

On April 21st, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Hossein Salami as the new commander-in-chief of the IRGC. The outgoing IRGC head, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was appointed as head of the Hazrat Baqiatollah al-Azam Cultural and Social Headquarters, an ideological and propaganda organization. Salami, who had been Jafari’s deputy for the past ten years, was elevated to the rank of major general. Jafari had served as the IRGC’s commander-in-chief since 2007.

Jafari’s departure was unexpected, as his formal mandate ran through next year. Khamenei’s edict appointing Salami expressed a “necessity to replace the commander of the Guards.” However, the reason for this necessity and the premature replacement of Jafari was not explained.

According to the reformist Fararu, “commander Salami is among the military figures who has the most anti-American and anti-Zionist [Israeli] rhetoric in his track record.” Fararu said his appointment reflects that Iran “will not back down” in the face of the Trump administration’s pressure policies and demands.

Fararu stated that Salami is also known for refraining from intervening in domestic politics. While many IRGC commanders have over the years criticized Iranian political figures and the work of Iran’s presidential administrations, Salami has not. He has also not publicly criticized President Rouhani or his administration. Fararu states that this quality of Salami can help “preserve unity among political forces and the political, military, and security institutions within the country.” Fararu further said that “maybe during the period of Commander Salami, the Guards will become more military focused and less involved in other fields.”

During Salami’s official inauguration ceremony, Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, praised Jafari’s tenure as IRGC commander. Bagheri outlined what he said were Jafari’s main achievements, stating: “Commander Jafari’s tenure was marked by major developments within the IRGC, the most important were the creation of provincial Guards, the IRGC’s evolution plan, paying special attention to cultural issues, growing the resistance axis and backing the Qods Force. The resistance axis today has suppressed terrorism, and this is a big difference to the period before [Jafari].”

Bagheri also stated that Salami’s appointment comes as a time of high tensions with the United States. He said: “Salami’s service coincides with a sensitive period in the history of the revolution. In this period, we are witnessing the anger of America and a new era of plots and sanctions from the enemy. The IRGC can have a major role in neutralizing these efforts. The period of Salami will definitely be the period of the enemy’s defeat.”

Meanwhile, in his inauguration speech, Salami praised the IRGC’s Qods Force, which is headed by Major General Qasem Soleimani. He stated: “Our Qods Force, with its courageous and righteous commander, has surmounted mountains and plains to end American hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. It has reached the Red Sea and turned Islamic lands into lands of Jihad.”

Salami also said he will work to advance Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent edict on the “second phase” of the Islamic Revolution and make the IRGC a global force. He proclaimed: “In the second phase of the revolution we have to turn Islamic governance into an Islamic civilization. The Guards must play a decisive role in the second phase of the revolution. We have to expand the sphere of our authority from the region to the world so that there is no safe spot for the enemy in the world.”

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“National Unity” Talks Reportedly Underway Between Principlists & Reformists

An informed source told the Iranian outlet ILNA that “national unity” talks are reportedly underway between “important and consequential figures of the reformist and principlist movements.” Former reformist President Khatami—who has been excised from the ruling system and has an official media ban against him—has long called for national unity dialogue. According to this source, the “details of these meetings and who is in them are not going to be released.”

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Outspoken Hardliner Summoned to Court

Saeed Ghasemi, an outspoken hardline figure who spurred controversy last week by saying that the IRGC used the Red Crescent as cover for its operations during the Bosnian war, has been summoned to court. Read more about Ghasemi’s recent remarks and the subsequent backlash in last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered.

According to Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili, both the IRGC and the Red Crescent have issued legal complaints against Ghasemi. Esmaili stated: “The Revolutionary Guards and the Red Crescent have both made legal complaints and he must come to court and be held accountable to the allegations.”

Esmaili added that the case against Ghasemi, a figure with close ties to powerful hardline factions and institutions, would be “investigated thoroughly and fully.”

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Pakistani PM Imran Khan Visits Iran

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan travelled to Iran and met with senior officials including Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani. Rouhani stated in a press conference that both countries were committed to improving their economic and political ties and would not let third countries damage their relations. After a period of rising tensions between the two countries in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in southwestern Iran from Pakistan-based militants, Rouhani praised Pakistan’s “confrontation with terrorists.”

Rouhani also announced that Iran and Pakistan were setting up a joint force to combat terrorism. He stated: “We have agreed to set up a rapid reaction force between our two countries comprised of border forces and intelligence forces from both countries to combat terrorism.”

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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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Flood Response Highlights Political Feuds

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

 

Flood Relief Efforts Highlight Differences between Rouhani and Revolutionary Guards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prominent Political Scientist Zibakalam Discusses Domestic Politics & Upcoming Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iraqi PM to Make First Trip to Iran

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

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Devastating Floods Sweep Large Swathes of Iran

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

Floods Devastate Parts of Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nuclear Chief Says New “Nuclear Achievements” to be Announced

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

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

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Conservative Newspaper Says Democrats & Republicans the Same on Iran

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

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

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

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

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UN Extends Human Rights Rapporteur Mandate

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

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

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

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Iran and Iraq Make Visas Free

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

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

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

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

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

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Nasrin Sotoudeh Won’t Appeal Sentence

Week of March 18, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Nasrin Sotoudeh Won’t Appeal Sentence, Citing Unfair Judicial Process

Reza Khandan, the husband of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, has said his wife won’t appeal her sentence. Sotoudeh was recently sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. According to Khandan, who was also recently sentenced to six years in prison, Sotoudeh faced 33 years imprisonment for seven charges but only the charge with the longest sentence, which is 12 years, will be enforced.

Khandan said Sotoudeh will not appeal her sentence because of the “unfair judicial process” and in protest at the “useless sentence” against her. The charge for which Sotoudeh has been sentenced is related to her activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and defense of anti-compulsory hijab protesters last year. Iran’s judiciary branded the charge as “promoting corruption and prostitution.”

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Khamenei Dismisses EU Efforts to Salvage JCPOA, Blasts Saudi Arabia

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in his address marking the Iranian New Year in Mashhad, dismissed European efforts to salvage the JCPOA as lackluster and issued a scathing condemnation of Saudi Arabia. Khamenei stated: “Europeans have in practical terms exited the JCPOA. Because they are not abiding by their obligations under the JCPOA.”

Khamenei dismissed the efficacy of INSTEX, the not-yet-operational European financial mechanism aimed at facilitating trade with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. He stated: “This financial channel is more like a joke. A sour joke. Just like in the past, the Europeans stab [us] in the back.”

Khamenei further said that European states should have “stood strongly” after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and implemented their commitments under the deal. Instead, he said, Europe has imposed new sanctions against Iran while warning Iran not to leave the deal. He added: “After America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, European countries should have stood up against the U.S. and sanctions should have been removed entirely.”

However, Khamenei said that he was not suggesting that Iran sever ties with Europe. He asserted that his criticisms of European states should not be interpreted as a suggestion to “end relations” with Europe, stating: “Relations aren’t a problem, following them and trusting them [Europe] is a problem.”

Khamenei added that Rouhani administration officials had reached the conclusion that “maybe Iran’s approach had to change” with respect to the JCPOA.  He added that Western politicians, despite “wearing suits and using cologne and samsonite briefcases are savages on the inside.” He then said that he was against both “prejudice against the West and Westoxification (infatuation with the West).”

Khamenei also stated that he knows of no government worse than the Saudi government. He proclaimed: “I know of no country in this region or perhaps anywhere in the world as bad as the Saudi government.” He further said that the Saudi government was “corrupt, tyrannical, oppressive, and dictatorial.”

Khamenei further asserted that the U.S. was supporting Saudi Arabia’s nuclear and missile projects. He stated: “They [the US] have announced they will build nuclear reactors and missile production facilities for this [Saudi] government. This isn’t a problem because it’s dependent on and owned by them [the U.S.].”

Khamenei then suggested that the country’s nuclear infrastructure would eventually fall in the hands of Islamic forces. He said he wasn’t “personally upset” by potential Saudi nuclear reactors because, he opined: “I know that in the not too distant future, these [nuclear projects] will fall in the hands of Islamic mujahedin (holy fighters).”

Khamenei also discussed U.S. sanctions and said that “we shouldn’t complain about sanctions.” He explained: “We shouldn’t have any other expectations from those countries imposing sanctions … From Westerners, we can expect conspiracies, betrayals, and stabs in the back, but we can’t expect help or sincerity from them.”

He added that only some of Iran’s economic problems were attributable to foreign sanctions. He stated: “The country’s chief problem is economic problems and the livelihoods of lower classes.” He went on: “Some of the problems are from sanctions by Western powers, meaning America and Europe, and some are from weaknesses and deficiencies in domestic management.”

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Four Kidnapped Iranian Border Guards Freed

On March 21st, the Pakistani military announced that it had freed four kidnapped Iranian border guards after a military operation near the Afghanistan border. Last October, 12 Iranian border guards were captured in Iran’s southwestern Sistan-Baluchistan province by Jaish al-Adl, a Wahhabi-Salafist terrorist organization.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi thanked Pakistan for “a successful operation freeing these border guards.” Ghassemi expressed hope that the remaining guards will be freed as soon as possible. Five of the captured guards had already been freed last year.

Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for a February 11th suicide bombing of a bus carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guards soldiers, killing 27 and wounding 12.  

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Top Iranian Military Commander Meets with Syrian and Iraq Counterparts, Discusses Opening Strategic Border Crossing

On March 18th, Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces met in Damascus with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts as well as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. During his meeting with the top-ranking Iraqi and Syrian military commanders, Bagheri called for the expulsion of all foreign forces in Syria “who have a presence in the country without the permission of the Syrian government.” Bagheri also said that the military actions of their three governments “would continue until the complete defeat of all terrorists.” Bagheri also visited the Deir ez-Zor region in southern Syria.

During the meeting, the Syrian and Iraqi commanders said that the Abu Kamal border crossing between their two countries would be opened. This would establish a ground connection between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, which the Trump administration and Israeli officials have strongly opposed.

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub also gave an ultimatum to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed predominately Kurdish militia. Ayyoub stated during the meeting: “The only card that the coalition led by America has left in Syria is the SDF. We give them [the SDF] two options. The first is national reconciliation and the second option is freeing the areas they control through military means.”

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EU Holds Regional Talks with Iran in Brussels

The European Union announced that it has held a new round of talks with Iran on the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. According to the EU, this was the fifth meeting of its kind between EU and Iranian officials discussing regional issues. The meeting was chaired by Helga Schmid, the Secretary General of the European External Action Service, and was attended by representatives from France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The Iranian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi-Ansari.

The talks focused on the implementation of a ceasefire agreement in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and on following up on the Astana Process Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey. Recently, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Iran had to abide by its commitments on the withdrawal of Houthi forces in Hodeidah. Iran’s foreign ministry said in response that Iran had made no commitments regarding Yemen. However, the Iranian foreign ministry previously did confirm that Yemen was discussed during Hunt’s trip to Tehran last November.

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Three Former Bank Executives Sentenced in Anti-Corruption Probe

In an on-going anti-corruption probe into Bank Sarmayeh, three former managers at the bank were sentenced to 20 years in prison, 74 lashes, and a permanent ban from government jobs. One of the convicted managers, Parviz Kazemi, served as a cabinet minister in former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration. Iran’s judiciary has described Bank Sarmayeh infractions as “massive corruption.” The bank is privately owned and has more than 160 branches in the country.   

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INSTEX’s Parallel Structure Registered in Tehran

On March 19th, Iran’s Central Bank announced that the parallel Iranian institution to INSTEX has been registered in Iran. INSTEX is a financial mechanism launched by Europe to facilitate trade with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. Its Iranian counterpart is called “Special Trade and Finance Instrument, or STFI. The launch of STFI follows a visit to Tehran last week of INSTEX’s president.

The official IRNA news agency said of STFI’s launch: “The instrument for trade and finance between Iran and Europe has been registered as the parallel Iranian organization to INSTEX and a group of Iranian private and public banks and companies will participate in it.”

Iran’s Central Bank Chief Abdolnaser Hemati said his expectation is that INSTEX and STFI will help alleviate limitations brought by U.S. sanctions. He stated: “With the registration of this company in the last days of the current [Iranian] year, the expectation is that this institution in collaboration with its European parallel institution will be able to facilitate trade between Iran and Europe and have a consequential impact on lifting restrictions brought on by U.S. sanctions.”

However, the Iranian foreign ministry recently said “don’t have hope that this financial channel [INSTEX and STFI] will create miracles.”

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