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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Deputy Foreign Minister Says Iran on Cusp of Leaving JCPOA

Week of April 29, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Deputy FM Says Iran on Cusp of Leaving JCPOA

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated during a trip to Turkey that the JCPOA was under threat and that Iran might leave the deal at any moment. He stated: “America is trying hard to provoke Iran to leave the JCPOA. They first left the JCPOA and then reimposed sanctions. Then they ended their waivers that gave eight countries permission to import Iranian oil … the Americans seek to force Iran to the negotiating table and to reach a ‘better deal.’ This is a funny policy, that by leaving a deal you can reach a better deal.”

Araghchi added: “What America must know is that Iran will not negotiate under pressure, and I think no country would.”

Araghchi said that the JCPOA was nearing its end. He proclaimed: “Unfortunately, the JCPOA is very, very close to its end. As I have said, the JCPOA belongs to the international community and it is withering away. It is unfortunate that it should end, but its end will not be Iran’s fault.

Araghchi said that Iran has up until now exercised patience with regard to the Trump administration’s policies. He stated: “Iran could have left the JCPOA one year ago. However, it gave the international community, from Europe to the other parties of the deal to the UN Security Council, one year to find a way to save the deal but they could not do this. This is a defeat for everyone.”

Aragchi also asserted that Iran sought stability in the region, stating: “Iran seeks peace and stability in the region. We have done our share to realize this in the region. From Afghanistan to Iraq to elsewhere in the region we have fought terrorism and have come to the help of our neighbors.”

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Iran Executes Two Minors

Amnesty International reported that two Iranian youths under the age of 18 were executed in Adelabad prison in Shiraz on April 25th. Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat were arrested at the age of 15 and convicted on multiple rape charges. According to Amnesty, their sentences were carried out in secret without their families being notified, a fact that “reinforces the organization’s concern that the real number of executions of juvenile offenders in the country is actually higher than the figure it has recorded.” Their executions were also not covered by Iranian media.

According to Amnesty, Iran has executed 97 individuals under the age of 18 between 1990 and 2018 in violation of the international conventions to which it is party. This includes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran ratified in 1994 but on the condition that “if the text of the Convention is or becomes incompatible with the domestic laws and Islamic standards at any time or in any case, the Government of the Islamic Republic shall not abide by it.”

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May Day Protestors Arrested Outside Parliament

On May Day, workers protested outside the Iranian parliament in response to a call from the “Independent Worker Organizations.” The demonstration resulted in a confrontation with the police and more than 30 protestors were arrested. The demonstration was simultaneous with a government ceremony involving labors groups such as the “House of Workers” and the “Islamic Council of Work” organization.

Teachers, retirees, and students also protested alongside the workers outside of parliament in solidarity. The text of the statement from the Independent Worker Organizations calling for the demonstration cited issues such as “low or delayed wages, widespread and unsuccessful privatization, and pressure on unions and labor organizations.”

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Khamenei Says U.S. in a “War Posture”

On May 1st, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared that Iran is faced with a “war posture from the enemy” and that the Iranian people must assume a reciprocal “posture.” Khamenei said the United States and Israel are pursuing aggressive political and economic policies and seek to harm Iran through “intelligence infiltration” and “social media.”

However, Khamenei added that the “enemy’s war posture” was not of a military nature. He stated: “From what it appears, the enemy does not have a war posture militarily. However, our military forces must be vigilant. Against the war posture of the enemy, the people must also take the appropriate posture.”

Khamenei added: “Against this war posture, the people have to take a war posture as well. The most important thing is to preserve complete unity and solidarity. Everyone should be careful to not oppose each other over small differences regarding their preferences. The strength of this nation and what gives it pride is its solidarity.

On May 1st, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army, declared that the Iranian army must take its level of readiness to the level of “the night before an attack.”

Khamenei also emphasized that the current U.S. pressure faced by Iran is not “specific to the current U.S. administration.” He proclaimed that the Obama administration “did the same things with a velvet glove.” He went on: “The current U.S. administration has helped us by taking off this glove and now everyone can see the hidden iron hands under their gloves.”

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Rouhani Says Iran has Other Ways to Export Oil

On April 30th, President Rouhani said in a speech in Tehran that the U.S. would be unable to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero. Rouhani declared that through economic pressure and reducing Iran’s oil exports, the U.S. seeks to reduce the Iranian government’s revenues but that “with the help of God, we will bring America to its knees.”

Rouhani stated that “preventing Iranian oil exports and reducing it to zero reflects incorrect thinking and an incorrect decision by the Americans.” He added that in the coming months, the U.S. will see that “Iran will continue exporting oil.”

Rouhani added: “The Americans might have closed one route [for Iran to export its oil]. But this action doesn’t only have one route that America can bring all its pressure on the route to close it. We have six other routes that they don’t know about. We will export oil with strength.”

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IRGC General Soleimani & Other Officials Reject Negotiations with the US

Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander the IRGC’s extraterritorial Qods Force, has proclaimed that negotiations with the U.S. would “utter submission against the enemy.” Soleimani was speaking at a gathering of local police commanders and stated that America intends to bring Iran to a “negotiating table” with its pressure and that such negotiations would be tantamount to “utter submission.”

Soleimani’s comment comes after Foreign Minister Zarif’s trip to New York City last week, where he publicly expressed Iran’s willingness for a prisoner swap with the United States. Soleimani further stated: “By using the two levers of pressure and economic sanctions and disrupting the country’s security, the enemy seeks to hurt us and is using all of its capabilities towards this end.”

Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani has also stated that negotiations with the U.S. would be a “strategic mistake” and said that American rhetoric was one of “submission and humiliation.” Larijani added: “Some thoughtlessly say that we should negotiate. Negotiations with this person [Donald Trump] have no meaning.”

However, Larijani said that Iran was not opposed to negotiations with Saudi Arabia. He stated: “We haven’t said that we shouldn’t negotiate with Saudi Arabia. They are going on the wrong path but we still haven’t closed the door on negotiations.”

On May 3rd, Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami also sharply denounced the idea of renewed U.S.-Iran negotiations. Khatami stated that negotiations under the current circumstances “meant submission” and that with Trump, if Iran “took one step back, he would take ten steps forward.”

Khatami also stated that Iran was in the midst of an “economic war” and that now was the time for “resistance.” He denounced Trump as “insane,” a “thief,” and “ignorant.” He also said accused the U.S. government of being the “stupidest in the world,” but stated that “we have no fight with the American people.”

Ali Motahari, the conservative deputy parliamentary speaker known for his more pragmatic and moderate political stances, also stated that in the “current conditions negotiations with America are not expedient.”

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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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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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Rouhani’s Iraq Trip Highlights His High Ambitions

Week of March 11, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Nasrin Sotoudeh Sentenced to 12-year Imprisonment, According to Husband

Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, has said his wife has been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Previous reports that Sotoudeh faced up to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes were the maximum sentence for her charges. Read more on Sotoudeh’s sentence in last week’s Iran Unfiltered.

Khandan, speaking to BBC Persian, said that a copy of Sotoudeh’s sentence was handed to her. He stated: “According to the law, the convictions are bundled together and the highest conviction is enforced. Of the 33 years of imprisonment for the seven charges against her, the longest one, which is 10 years, will be enforced. But based on the law, people who have more than three charges against them can have their sentenced increased by up to one and a half times. So the judge gave my wife a sentence of 12 years.”

Sotoudeh’s sentencing has sparked a worldwide backlash, and prompted the European parliament to pass a resolution calling for her release. Norway also summoned Iran’s ambassador in protest at Sotoudeh’s sentencing. Sotoudeh, who was awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2012, was arrested last summer by Iran’s judiciary in the midst of President Rouhani’s efforts to salvage the nuclear deal in ongoing talks with Europe.

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Rouhani’s Iraq Trip Highlights His Ambitions, Spurs Backlash

President Rouhani made a three-day visit to Iraq for the first time of his presidency. Rouhani was accompanied by a large delegation, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi, and other senior officials and businesspeople.

In addition to receiving a state welcome from Iraqi officials, Rouhani met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the most prominent and influential Shia clerics. It was the first time Sistani, an Iranian-born cleric, had met with an Iranian president. Sistani played a major role in shaping the post-2003 Iraqi government and issued a fatwa after ISIS took control of parts of Iraq in 2014 that led to the creation of the influential Hash al-Shaabi militia.

According to Iranian outlets, Rouhani explained the results of his meetings with Iraqi officials to Ayatollah Sistani and stressed the need to improve Iranian-Iraqi ties. Sistani stated that he supports any actions that improve Iraq’s relations with its neighbors based on the interests of each country and on respect for sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Sistani also highlighted Iraq’s war against ISIS and stated that “Iraq’s friends” had a role in the victory against the terrorist organization.

After meeting with Sistani, the Rouhani administration’s official media arm released a controversial video on the “outcomes of Hassan Rouhani’s meeting with Ayatollah Ali Sistani.” It was released in the context of Foreign Minister Zarif’s recent short-lived resignation, which he attributed largely to concerns that the role of the foreign ministry was being undermined. The video also came as IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani, who exercises significant influence over Iran’s regional policies, was awarded Iran’s highest military honor (the Order of the Zulfiqar) from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Notably, the video was removed shortly after it was uploaded.

The video stated that Rouhani’s meeting with Sistani carried “three powerful messages to three principal recipients.” The first two messages stoked controversy. The first was for “Iraqi leaders” regarding the “notable power” of President Rouhani and how it was unnecessary for Iraqi leaders to negotiate with “military figures.” The second message was to “Iranian leaders” regarding Rouhani’s reception from “one of the highest and most influential Iraqi marjas (the highest rank in the Shia clerical hierarchy).”

The video specified that Rouhani had “notable power and that it was unnecessary for Iraqi leaders to talk with other [Iranian] institutions or military figures regarding tactical issues and that they could achieve this work with Rouhani as the head of Iran’s government.”

The video did not specify who it was referring to in mentioning Iranian “leaders” or “military figures,” but the latter was widely interpreted to be referring to Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani plays a major role in shaping and implementing Iranian policies in Iraq and is frequently in the country meeting with senior Iraqi officials and military commanders. Last week, the deputy commander of the Qods Force also stated that “we have many differences in our views with the Rouhani administration.”

Conservative media in Iran reacted with outrage to the video, with many claiming it was part of a “psychological war” by Rouhani to influence the Supreme Leader’s succession and undermine the Qods Force. Sajjad Moqadam-Nia, a conservative analyst, wrote on Telegram that Rouhani’s trip to Iraq was guided by “self-interested aims” based on “enhancing his and his administration’s political position in Iran and the region” and “weakening the position of the Qods Force.”

Mehrdad Zabani, another conservative analyst, wrote that “the likes of Qassem Soleimani destroyed ISIS in Iraq and now Rouhani is trying to show off his trip to Iraq.” He added: “If these military figures like Soleimani didn’t exist, Rouhani would have had to go to Iraq in the darkness, just like his boss [Trump].”

The Iranian reformist website Entekhab translated a column by journalist Ali Hashem for BBC Arabic on Rouhani’s trip to Iraq, in which Hashem compared U.S. and Iranian influence in the country.  Hashem stated in the piece: “On the west bank of the Tigris river in Baghdad stretches the U.S. embassy, which is this country’s largest embassy in the Middle East. On the opposite east bank of the river, in different parts of the Baghdad, pictures of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the former leader of Iran’s revolution Ayatollah Khomeini strike the eye. And these are alongside pictures of Hashd al-Shaabi militia killed while fighting ISIS.”

Hashem went on to argue that people-to-people connections between Iran and Iraq have deepened over the years, which is something the U.S. lacks and that contributes to its lower influence in Iraq. Hashem stated: “In this context, Iraq is stuck between constant U.S.-Iran tensions … but Iraq today is taking a different position on the [U.S.-Iran] dispute than in the past and seeks to be neutral in this direct U.S.-Iran confrontation.”

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INSTEX President Travels to Tehran

On March 11th, Per Fischer, the president of INSTEX, the European trade mechanism set up to facilitate trade with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions, traveled to Tehran. Fischer is the former head of the German Commerzbank. On Tuesday, he held technical-level negotiations on operationalizing INSTEX with Iranian experts and representatives of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

The French embassy in Tehran tweeted regarding Fischer’s trip to Iran: “This is an important step in the direction of dialogue with our Iranian counterparts on operationalizing the trade mechanism between Iran and the European Union.”

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Ebrahim Raisi Elected Deputy Head of Powerful Assembly of Experts

On March 12th, one day after Ebrahim Raisi was appointed judiciary chief, Raisi was also elected as the deputy head of the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts is an elected constitutional body mandated with supervising and selecting the Supreme Leader. Raisi’s recent elevations have significantly boosted his position in Iran’s political system. Read more on his appointment as Iran’s judiciary chief in last week’s Iran Unfiltered.

Raisi was elected as deputy head of the Assembly of Experts with 43 out of a total 73 votes cast. Coming in second place was Sadegh Larijani, the outgoing judiciary chief and incumbent head of the Expediency Discernment Council, who received 27 votes. Third place was Fazel Golpayegani, who received five votes. The current head of the Assembly of Expert is conservative cleric Ahmad Jannati.

On March 11th, Raisi officially assumed his duties as judiciary chief. In a speech, he declared: “No one in any situation or any position will have the right to circumvent or violate the law.”

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Khamenei Warns Officials “Not to Quarrel with Each Other” in FATF Debate

In a meeting with the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Khamenei called on supporters and opponents of the contentious FATF legislation to “not to quarrel with each other.” The vociferous domestic fight over the FATF bills, aimed at bringing Iran into compliance with anti-money laundering and terrorism financing standards set out by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has led the to remaining legislation being deadlocked in the Expediency Discernment Council. (Read more on the domestic debate over the FATF bills in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

While Ayatollah Khamenei did not specifically mention the FATF bills, he did note: “When this or that convention or treaty is under debate and its supporters and opponents make their arguments, the two sides should not accuse each other of acting in line with the enemy or quarrel with each other.” The opponents of the FATF bills are mostly critics of President Rouhani and often frame their arguments against the legislation as abetting Iran’s enemies.

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Iranian Officials React to Israeli Naval Threats, Regional Nuclear Projects

Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami responded to recent threats by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Israeli navy could take action against “covert” Iranian oil shipments that were trying to “circumvent” U.S. sanctions.” Hatami stated: “If they [Israel] have such an intention, this will be an act of creating international insecurity and piracy.”

Hatami added that “the Islamic Republic has the capability to address this issue and if necessary, issue a strong response.” He further stated that that the “international community will not accept” such an Israeli action.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that some regional countries were using “oil dollars” to pursue “suspicious nuclear projects.” He added: “These actions can create a danger for the region and the world worse than the threat of ISIS and terrorism.”

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Appointment of Ebrahim Raisi to Head Iran’s Judiciary Signals Resurgence of Hardline Elements

For Immediate Release: March 7, 2019
Contact: Mana Mostatabi | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C.—Today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree appointing hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, as head of the country’s Judiciary.

In response to the appointment, Mana Mostatabi, Communications Director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), noted:

The appointment of Ebrahim Raisi today to head Iran’s Judiciary—a tremendously powerful institution that has overseen countless miscarriages of justice—is deeply concerning. Raisi, a hardliner who was soundly defeated by Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s 2017 presidential elections, brings a shameful track record to the Judiciary—including his involvement in the committee that oversaw the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

In a fair and just system, the appointment of such an individual to head the Judiciary would be impossible. Unfortunately, the Judiciary is among Iran’s unelected institutions that are not accountable to Iran’s civil government and that have long ensured that Iran does not abide by its international human rights obligations.

Raisi’s selection as Judiciary head is yet another grim sign that the same hardliners who faced significant setbacks after the JCPOA was successfully negotiated with Iran are now resurgent following Trump’s abrogation of the nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions. Ultimately, it is the Iranian people who endure the impacts of any U.S. pressure policies—not the hardline forces responsible for human and civil rights abuses.

In the wake of Raisi’s appointment, NIAC reiterates its call for Iran to fully abide by its international human rights obligations and to release all prisoners of conscience unjustly detained.

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What Iran Wants

On Christmas Eve, Iran’s Supreme Leader took to twitter to score some points against America. Hashtaging #Ferguson and #Gaza, he tweeted that if “Jesus were among us today he wouldn’t spare a second to fight the arrogants&support the oppressed.” He also shot off a few tweets hashtaging #BlackLivesMatter. Four days later, he commemorated the Wounded Knee massacre by asking on Twitter if killing millions of Native Americans and enslaving Africans constitute “American values”?

Coming in the midst of Iran’s negotiations with the US and the P5+1 (the Permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), President Barack Obama ending decades of enmity with Cuba, as well as peculiar “non-coordination” between the US and Iran against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, Khamenei’s tweets raises the question: What does Iran really want with America?

After Havana, does Tehran want to be next? Does it seek to end the enmity with America, or just lower its intensity? Or do the leaders in Iran fear not having America as an enemy?

Many in Washington have argued that Iran is addicted to its enmity with the US. “It’s a pillar of the revolution,” one often hears. Coming to terms with America would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. Yet, many of those voices also categorically rejected the idea that Iran would engage the US in bilateral negotiations, have its foreign minister become email pals with Secretary John Kerry, or have its President tweet Happy Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews worldwide.

A simplistic, one-dimensional (mis)understanding of the Iranian leadership generated crude and ultimately erroneous predictions of Iranian behavior. The surprising flexibility of the Iranian decision-makers could not be captured since Washington’s read of Tehran was surprisingly inflexible.

Rather than categorical rejection of ties with the US or open desire for such a relationship, the truth may simply be that Tehran itself did not know until recently what path to pursue in regards to Washington.

About three years ago, a debate emerged within Iran’s security establishment on redefining Tehran’s relations with the Great Powers, particularly the US. A realization had occurred that due to geopolitical changes in the region, some form of a relationship with Washington was necessary – the question was the parameters of that relationship and the manner it would come about.

It was an intense debate; perhaps the most important and difficult one the leaders of the Islamic Republic have experienced since the Iraq-Iran war. With the fast changing situation in the region, the debate never reached a finale. There are some indications, however, that Tehran has come closer to a conclusion in the past few weeks. On December 17, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, told the Financial Times that even if a nuclear deal is reached, the US and Iran can still not cooperate in the region. But, Shamkhani explained, the two “can behave in a way that they do not use their energy against each other.”

This is a critical statement that sheds light on where the debate in Tehran is tilting. Rather than partnership, Tehran is offering a truce.

A top Iranian official explained it to me a year ago: Iran’s relationship with the United States would at best be a cordial rivalry, not an alliance or partnership. But the operative term is cordial, not rivalry. Just as Shamkhani hinted, contrary to their past behavior, the US and Iran would not be challenging or undermining each other. There can even be tactical and strategic collaboration between the two, although Tehran likely will prefer to keep that behind-the-scenes. Or as in Shamkhani’s interview, flat out deny that collaboration is in the cards.

But why can’t Tehran shred its past objections and opt for a less conflicted approach to America? This is where the value of rivalry comes in. Iran does not aspire to be just a normal power. Both the current regime, as well as the regime of the Shah, seeks a strong regional leadership role. While the Shah used Persian nationalism internally, and an alliance with the US and Israel externally to become the undisputed power of the region, the Khomeini regime’s instruments have been political Islam and rejection of America’s presence in the region.

If Tehran joined the American camp, it would become a normal power whose influence would be determined solely by its economic and military prowess. This wouldn’t take Iran very far, Tehran fears. It would at best be a second tier state, below the United States.

By keeping its rivalry with the US alive and challenging America’s vision for the region, Iran would catapult itself into a higher level of regional influence, Tehran believes. By positioning itself as a rival, Iran would approach the US as an equal, rather than compete with Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia for the role of America’s most valuable proxy in the region.

Keep this in mind next time Ayatollah Khamenei takes to twitter to challenge the US or point out America’s double standards. In an era where the US and Iran may secretly collude against Sunni Jihadists, where trade between the two may flow once again, and where quiet collaboration between the two may become commonplace to stabilize regional hotspots, the optics of rivalry must desperately be kept alive where it matters the most. On twitter that is.

 

This article was originally published in Middle East Eye.

Pen-Palling With the Ayatollah

Only ideologues and the ignorant don’t understand that Obama’s letter to Khamenei is just pragmatic politics.

If wearing a tan suit at a press conference is enough to bring on a deluge of criticism , President Barack Obama probably shouldn’t be surprised that sending a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made some heads spin. That’s too bad. Obama’s letter to Khamenei just points out the obvious: that Iran and the United States share a common interest in defeating the Islamic State and that real cooperation cannot take place until the nuclear issue is resolved.

The real outrage is that communicating with key players in the Middle East in order to advance U.S. security is still considered outrageous in far too many policy and political circles in Washington. The “outrage”  Sen. John McCain has expressed reminds us why the American public over and over again has rejected his foreign-policy vision. 

It’s not as if President George W. Bush didn’t understand the importance of Iran to regional politics. His administration started secret negotiations with Tehran after 9/11 and coordinated with Iran both in the military campaign against the Taliban and subsequently in the campaign to establish a new constitution for Afghanistan. Once Tehran’s help no longer was deemed necessary, Bush put Iran in the “Axis of Evil” and ruined the opportunity for the United States to collaborate with Iran for years to come. Incidentally, not long thereafter, Iran and the United States ended up competing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in turn rendered the stabilization of these two countries all the more difficult.

Some were angered by the letter to Ayatollah Khamenei because Obama didn’t get “approval” from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah first. But the president of the United States has no obligation to seek permission from Israel, Saudi Arabia, or any other country when it comes to advancing his country’s security.

The emergence of the so-called Islamic State threatens the very foundation of the state system in the Middle East. Despite their many faults, the reality is that strong states in the Middle East are less dangerous to each other and to their populations than failed states. The Islamic State’s success wouldn’t just turn the Middle East into a region with failed states; it would turn it into a failed region. Such a problem could not easily be contained. Spillover effects into Europe, Central Asia, and beyond are all but certain. Every policymaker in the Middle East — and in the West — realizes this.

The United States cannot and should not shoulder the responsibility for stopping the Islamic State alone. Nor can U.S. bombs alone pave a path out of the Middle East’s perilous situation. Real cooperation and coordination is needed between key players. Iran — the Middle East’s second-largest country by population and a major influence on the Shiite Muslim world — is one of these key players. Moreover, Iran shares 900 miles of border with Iraq and has good relations with governments in both Baghdad and Damascus. Like it or not, Iran is an unavoidable player in the fight against the Islamic State.

In fact, according to both the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government, Iran was the first country to provide support for the fight against the Islamic State by sending both weaponry and advisors. Recently, pictures surfaced of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, posing with Kurdish Peshmerga forces after having wrestled several Iraqi villages out of the hands of the Islamic State.

But if Obama realizes that he needs Iran as a kind of ally in Iraq right now, he also has his eye on a longer-term strategy — certainly far more than Bush did. Republicans claim that by raising the issue of the Islamic State with the Iranians, the president has weakened the United States’ hand in the nuclear talks. In reality, the changing regional context has made continuing enmity with the United States — on the nuclear issue and more — harder for the Iranians to keep up. A door could be opening for a broader understanding between the two countries.

According to press accounts, the letter made clear that the mutually beneficial collaboration between the United States and Iran against the Islamic State could only take place once the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program has been resolved. As an added incentive for Iran to agree to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities and strong limitations on its enrichment program, Obama raised the prospects of expanded collaboration on areas of mutual interest.

Tehran’s need to stop the Islamic State’s rampage across the neighborhood gives Obama leverage. I had a lengthy conversation with a top Iranian official only a few days after Mosul fell to the Islamic State jihadists in July of this year. He told me that even the Supreme Leader, known to be more hard-line than the government of President Hassan Rouhani, agrees that neither the United States nor Israel constitutes the main threat to Iran’s security at this point. Sunni jihadists and the spread of sectarianism shine brightest on Iran’s threat radar, not only because a region defined by the Sunni-Shiite rift is one in which the majority of Iran’s neighbors would become its enemies, but also because sectarianism can unravel Iran’s internal ethnic and religious balance.

The Iranian official readily admitted that Iran could not on its own defeat the Islamic State, lest it add fuel to the sectarian fire. At the same time, neither the United States nor Iraq can fight back the Islamic State on their own. Only through broad collaboration could this common threat be defeated, the official said. But, he added, Tehran has to make up its mind, pointing to the debate in Iran on whether a nuclear deal should open the door for better relations with Washington.

 But this is exactly what those stirring the pot in Washington fear the most. Iran is simply too valuable of an enemy. A nuclear accord that eliminates an Iranian path to a bomb and helps reorient Iran toward a more constructive relationship with the United States is too much to stomach for those who have spent the better half of the last two decades systematically pushing the United States and Iran to the brink of war. Some simply fear peace more than they fear war. To them, the idea of losing an enemy in the Middle East is unpalatable.

And that’s the real controversy. Thinking that a peaceful Middle East is something to avoid at all costs makes anger over a tan suit look pretty reasonable.

Trita Parsi is the author of A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran and President of theNational Iranian American Council.

 

This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.