Week of November 11th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Rouhani Says a Deal was Possible at the UN
- Rouhani Spars with Judiciary Over Anti-Corruption Drive
- Gasoline to be Rationed, New Revenue Redistributed
- Officials Discuss Efforts at Negotiations with the UAE, Saudis
- Sweden Arrests Iranian Implicated in 1988 Executions
- Outlet Analyzes Iran’s Options on JCPOA
- Khamenei Pardons Prisoners
President Rouhani has said that during the UN General Assembly in September, “good proposals were given to break America’s sanctions.” Rouhani said Iran did not accept these proposals.
Rouhani said a deal could potentially have been reached if another U.S. president was in power: “We could have decided to break the sanctions. The situation was such that we had to trust the U.S. president which was a very difficult thing. Potentially if there was a different U.S. president, this could have been accomplished by September 23rd.”
In the leadup to the UN General Assembly in September, there were efforts from multiple sides to facilitate a new U.S.-Iran deal. This included an Iranian offer that it would return to full compliance with the JCPOA and agree to indefinitely to abide by the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement—allowing for permanent intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities—in return for the complete lifting of U.S. sanctions.
At the time, there were also reports of the U.S. considering a French proposal for a credit line to Iran for oil purchases. As detailed in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, after returning to Tehran from the UNGA, Rouhani said the U.S. had messaged its willingness to remove sanctions, but that the main hindering obstacle was on the sequencing of potential sanctions removal.
Rouhani further said in his speech this week that the country was not in a “normal condition and is in a difficult and complex situation.” He added: “When the country has problems selling oil, how are we supposed to govern the country? From the beginning of the revolution until now, we have not had such issues to sell oil and move an oil tanker.”
Rouhani also defended Iran staying in the JCPOA, both for security reasons and to benefit from the removal of a UN arms embargo next year. He stated: “We can exit the nuclear deal but the UN security council resolutions against Iran will return. Our interests are to stay in the JCPOA. We will preserve the JCPOA but at the same time gradually reduce our compliance.”
President Rouhani and officials in his administration have criticized the judiciary for its approach to cracking down on corruption. Rouhani refenced the case of Babak Zanjani, who allegedly embezzled billions of dollars during the tenure of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani said regarding the case of the imprisoned Zanjani: “It is still not clear to us how someone stole 2.7 billion dollars and was sentenced to death, where this money has gone.”
Rouhani also accused the anti-corruption drive of not targeting the “big fish.” He further said to judiciary officials: “Our honorable prosecutors and judges should not be scared and should not focus on this faction or that faction. They should confront these cases with transparency.”
Rouhani added: “The people won’t be fooled by taking some people to court based on fighting corruption. The people need to know what happened to the enormous amounts of money taken from public funds.”
Ali Rabiee, the Rouhani administration’s spokesperson, also censured the “propaganda” generated out of the judiciary’s anti-corruption crackdown. He said this media coverage was not in a way that showed the crackdown as “all-encompassing” [i.e. targeting people from all political factions].
In response, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi stated his institution won’t be distracted, stating: “We won’t be distracted by marginal disputes and will more resolutely than before continue our work confronting corruption.”
Raisi added: “Unity in our opinion is strategic and any division or disunity is the wish of the enemy.”
Since Raisi assumed the position of judiciary chief in March, his self-avowed primary aim has been to combat corruption. His critics say that he has partisan aims. Iran has an upcoming parliamentary election in February 2020, and candidates will begin to register for that election on December 1st.
The National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company announced that gasoline would begin to be rationed and the price set at different rates. The price of heavily subsidized gasoline will be increased by 50 percent (to 1500 tomans per liter). This price would hold for a consumption of 60 liters per month. Beyond that, a new “free rate” will be set at 3,000 tomans per liter (an increase of three times from the previous rate).
President Rouhani said that the proceeds from this gasoline price hike would go to help the poorer segments of society. Rouhani stated: “The main aim was, on one hand, for there not to be a lot of increased hardship for the people, and on the other, for people who have a normal daily consumption of gasoline for the price not to get expensive. For this reason, 60 liters is for one rate and the free rate is different.”
Rouhani said he would give a further explanation on how the increased revenue would help “approximately 75 percent” of society, or 60 million people. He said this segment of the population would receive the revenue from this gasoline price hike. He added: “We are making efforts to deposit this money monthly into the accounts of families. The first withdrawal can be made on November 22nd (the first of the month of Azar on the Iranian calendar.”
Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said “political negotiations” are the only path to resolving regional problems. He said Iran would use “all of its capabilities” to create an environment for such negotiations.
Mousavi’s comments came in response to remarks by Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs. Gargash said that continued escalation in the region was to no country’s benefit and that the UAE believed space for “successful collective diplomacy” existed. He called for negotiations between Iran and regional and global powers on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to its regional policies.
Mousavi echoed the call for “dialogue and political negotiations” and reiterated several Iranian proposals. He called for a “forum for regional dialogue” and “non-aggression pacts.” He also cited the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor,” unveiled by President Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in September, as a sign of Iran’s “seriousness” in this regard.
In an interview on the sidelines of high-profile nonproliferation summit in Moscow, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi discussed regional developments. Araghchi said that Iran’s call for a “regional dialogue forum” had not been strongly welcomed by other regional states.
Araghchi said that “hidden hands” sought to increase divisions between Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. He said these actors wanted to take “things in a direction that the people do not want.”
Araghchi said that the Saudi King did not give a “positive response” to a recent letter from President Rouhani. He added that the only dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia now was on the Haj pilgrimage.
However, Araghchi acknowledged that there have been meetings between Iranian and Emirati officials. He stated: “The reactions of the Emiratis to the Hormuz Peace Endeavor was better [than the Saudis]. At the political level, reciprocal trips took place and in our belief, a greater understanding exists between Iran and the Emirates. We hope that a calmer atmosphere is created between Iran and the Emirates and this results in more calmness in the region.”
A court in Sweden ordered the arrest of an Iranian national implicated in mass executions in Iran in 1988. The accused, Hamid Nouri, reportedly used the alias “Hamid Abbasi.” The court has given complainants one month to provide their evidence against Nouri while he is in prison.
Nouri’s arrest marks the first time an Iranian national has been arrested abroad in connection to the 1988 executions. Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted, “Important first step towards justice for the 1988 massacre #Iran: This would be the very first time that someone is charged in relation to the events that took place in 1988 in Iran, during which thousands of detainees were killed.”
Iranian reformist outlet Fararu analyzed the European response to Iran’s latest JCPOA reduction. Fararu also discussed three potential scenarios for Iran going forward.
After renewed Iranian enrichment at the Fordow facility was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the E3 (Germany, France, and the UK) issued a statement. The E3 warned Iran that they would consider triggering the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism, which would start a process that could lead to the reimposition of UN Security Council resolutions against Iran.
Fararu notes this marks the first time the E3 has “officially and openly” threatened Iran with triggering the dispute resolution mechanism. Fararu surmised that the Europeans no longer seek to preserve the JCPOA through attempts to provide Iran with economic benefits. Instead, they seek to prevent Iran from further decreasing compliance with the accord through “diplomatic pressure and warnings.”
Fararu then cited a recent interview of Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who said that if UN sanctions are reimposed, Iran would change its “nuclear doctrine.” Araghchi stated: “If the reward for Iran after all these negotiations and cooperation with the IAEA is that it again will be put under Chapter VII of the UN charter, this means that our ‘nuclear doctrine’ was wrong and that we have to review our nuclear doctrine.”
Fararu said there were three potential scenarios and options for Iran going forward: 1) continue its incremental steps to reduce compliance with the JCPOA and risk the dispute resolution mechanism being triggered; 2) Iran convinces Europe to secure its economic interests through nuclear and diplomatic leverage; 3) Iran remains in the JCPOA despite not receiving its economic benefits.
Fararu stated that the Rouhani administration supported the third option. According to the outlet, President Rouhani believes staying in the JCPOA still has security benefits. Fararu asserts that the first option risks Iran falling under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, opening the door for a potential military attack. The second option, it states, is also untenable due to U.S. sanctions.
Fararu then referred to comments by Rouhani saying that if Iran remained in the JCPOA, it would benefit from a UN arms embargo expiring next year. Rouhani said during a recent provincial trip in this regard: “With the expiration of arms sanctions on Iran, Iran will be able to buy and sell conventional weapons. The Americans have on multiple occasions expressed their worry about this and for this reason, are trying to destroy the JCPOA as soon as possible.”
Fararu ended on a skeptical note, stating that even if the arms embargo was lifted, Iran would be hard pressed to find partners to buy and sell weapons. It stated: “When out of the fear of [US] sanctions, countries stop buying Iranian oil, which is not a weapon, we can guess how much they will refrain from buying weapons from Iran.”
Ayatollah Khamenei has reportedly pardoned to 3552 prisoners, including 32 people held on “national security” charges, which includes journalists and students. The pardoning has come on a holiday marking the Islamic Prophet’s birthday and reportedly came at the request of judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.