Iran Tepidly Welcomes European Mechanism for Sanctions Relief

Week of January 28, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Note from the editor: There was no Iran Unfiltered last week because author Sina Toossi took part in an expert briefing on Capitol Hill. See a write-up of the event here.

This week, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, rebuked China for slowing down its efforts at redesigning Iran’s Arak Heavy Water reactor as required by the JCPOA. He also announced advances in increasing Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry was lukewarm on the EU’s launch of its long-awaited “special purpose vehicle” to facilitate trade with Iran, now dubbed “INSTEX” (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges). Conservative officials, including former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and powerful cleric Ahmad Jannati, have issued strong warnings against relying on the West.

Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council continued to debate bills designed to bring Iran into compliance with the guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. Some officials have noted that the matter may be resolved in a popular referendum. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the National Security Council, also said that Iran won’t increase the range of its missiles as per its “defense doctrine.”

President Rouhani, meanwhile, has called on the public to blame America, not his administration, for the impasse between the two countries. He also strongly rebuked the Iranian government’s longstanding policy of blocking Internet sites and applications. His communication minister further stated that Friday Prayer leaders wish to remove the ban on the popular messaging app Telegram and denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked.

On the foreign policy front, President Rouhani’s first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, to discuss Syrian reconstruction efforts among other issues. Foreign Minister Zarif also censured the UAE for clamping down on Iranian traders amid reports that Iran’s trade with Oman and Qatar is increasing. A senior analyst at a Rouhani administration-linked think tank also gave a far-reaching interview on the importance of the JCPOA for Iran and America’s posture in the Middle East.

In human rights-related developments, two prominent political prisoners, including an activist who wrote a letter rebuking the Trump administration’s Iran policy, were sentenced to six-years imprisonment. Two activists that were arrested in recent labor protests, Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, have been rearrested after state television aired their “confessions.” An investigative journalist who uncovered an embezzlement scheme was also sentenced to five years in prison, while two members of a pro-labor group have been arrested. Meanwhile, a University of Melbourne demographer arrested in December has been released from prison, while the trial of eight environmentalist activists arrested last January has begun.

 

Nuclear Chief Rebukes China, Announces Nuclear Advances

On January 30th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that China has reduced the “speed” of its cooperation with Iran over renovating the Arak Heavy Water reactor in line with JCPOA requirements. Salehi said that Chinese cooperation over the Arak reactor slowed after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA last May because of China’s “fear” of U.S. sanctions.

Salehi said Iran had notified China that it was prepared to redesign the Arak reactor itself. He stated: “We announced to them [the Chinese], if they don’t continue construction on the Arak reactor, we ourselves will continue the work.” Salehi added that “we have prepared ourselves for the worst scenario … The responsibility for the reactor’s design is with Iran and roughly 900 specialists are working on the renovation project.”

Salehi also said Iran had created the infrastructure necessary to increase its uranium enrichment capacity, in line with an instruction from Ayatollah Khamenei last May. He proclaimed: “We have taken all the steps to have the capability of reaching 190,000 SWU (a unit measuring uranium enrichment capacity).”

Salehi discussed a new centrifuge production hall in the Natanz enrichment facility that has been built as part of efforts to attain a 190,000 SWU capability. He stated: “Right now, in this facility, we produce IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. This facility can nominally hold between 50-60 centrifuges.”

He added regarding Iran’s centrifuge models: “Right now, IR-4 and IR-2 centrifuges have reached the stage of mass production. Iran is now experimenting on IR-6 and IR-7 centrifuges.”

On January 30th, Iranian authorities also announced that 30 tons of mined uranium “yellowcake” have been transported to Iran’s uranium hexafluoride conversion facility in Isfahan. Salehi said of Iran’s yellowcake production facility in the city of Ardakan: “On an annual basis this factory converts 84 thousand tons of uranium ore to yellowcake. In the past two years, this factory has been upgraded, and in the past one and a half years, on an experiential basis, it has produced 40 tons of yellowcake.”

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Foreign Ministry Tepidly Welcomes EU Sanctions Relief Mechanism

On February 1st, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the EU’s launch of INSTEX to facilitate trade with Iran. He stated: “Iran’s requests that Europe implement all of its commitments in the shortest amount of time that is possible.”

Ghassemi said INSTEX’s launch was “just the first step by Europe to implement its commitments to Iran.” He stated that INSTEX’s launch was “very late” and stressed that the EU must ensure that the mechanism “compensates for some of America’s illegal sanctions.”

He added that Iran had not received sanctions relief from Europe since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA: “Despite the EU’s political position regarding preserving the JCPOA and the need for Iran to derive economic benefits from the deal and the limited steps taken by the EU such as updated its blocking regulation laws, unfortunately we have not witnessed yet tangible results and practical actions that benefit Iran.”

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Former Chief Nuclear Negotiator Cautions Iran Against Relying on Europe

On February 1st, Saeed Jalili, the conservative former chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the National Security Council, warned against Iran trusting Europe. He stated: “Those would want to stand up against Americans by relying on Europe are on the wrong path.”

He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “Some say we should take excuses away from the enemy. However, an enemy that is after excuses will move against us regardless.”

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Powerful Conservative Cleric Denounces Officials Who Look to the West

On February 1st, hardline cleric Ayatollah Jannati, the secretary of the Guardian Council and chair of the Assembly of Experts, censured officials seeking to improve ties with the West. He stated: “Unfortunately, some officials today, more than thinking about the people think about themselves or do not have the capability to fix problems. Today we see that many officials are materialistic. God damn this wrong thinking that some officials have which believes that the West and the Americans can solve our problems.”

He added: “The American government is declining and today even its allies don’t listen to its words and aren’t afraid of it. We shouldn’t show fear towards America.”

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Debate on FATF Bills Continues in Expediency Discernment Council

The domestic fight over Iran passing laws to align its banking sector with FATF standards continues in the Expediency Discernment Council. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the standards (see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered for more information on the contentious FATF debate).

Of the four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards, two have been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council, while the other two are still in limbo. The bill on reforming Iran’s laws on anti-money laundering (AML) and confronting terrorism financing have been passed. However, while parliament accepted the other two bills on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention and Palermo conventions, both bills were rejected by the Guardian Council.

The TF and Palermo convention bills have been under debate in the Expediency Discernment Council—a body constitutionally mandated with resolving disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. Recently, Ahmad Vahidi, the head of the Expediency Discernment Council’s political-defense committee, stated that “if the Palermo bill reaches a dead end in the expediency council, it will be put up for a vote by the public.”

Most of the opponents of the terrorist financing and Palermo bills are political opponents of the Rouhani administration. Vahidi himself has stated that the goal of getting Iran to accede to these conventions is to weaken Iran’s “defense and atomic strength.”

However, on January 28th, Expediency Council member Majid Ansari predicted that the Palermo bill would be approved by the council. He said that although a referendum is an option in the event of a deadlock, it wouldn’t be necessary because the bills would be “resolved” in the Expediency Council.

According to Ansari, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a prominent conservative figure, supports the FATF bills. Ansari says that Jalili called for the bills to be passed in a handwritten letter.

Ansari also asserted that the FATF debate was being manipulated. He opined: “A suspicious current is taking advantage of the pure and real emotions and concerns of the faithful, young people, and students, in order to take this issue out of its natural path.” He added that he has received death threats via text message, just as parliamentarians did during their debate on the FATF bills.

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National Secretary Council Secretary Says Iran Won’t Increase Range of Missiles

On January 29th, National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani declared that Iran had “no intention” of increasing the range of its missiles. Shamkhani stressed that the reason for this had to do with Iran’s “defense doctrine” and that otherwise, Iran has the capability to increase the range of its missiles.

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Rouhani Blames America for Economic Woes

On January 30th, President Rouhani gave a speech denouncing U.S. pressure policies. He stated: “In America’s recent confrontation with the Iranian people, which began last January (2018), it has been defeated politically, legally, and on the regional and international fronts. On the economic front, with self-sacrifice and steadfastness from the people, they will be certainly defeated as well.”

Rouhani stated that the U.S., not Iran, is isolated: “The whole world, except for a few countries, is supporting Iran and accusing the United States. America has not only been unreliable towards the Iranian people, we shouldn’t analyze things incorrectly.”

Rouhani stressed that the U.S. government is to blame for the current impasse, not his administration: “Today we shouldn’t lay accusations at the hardworking government of the Islamic system instead of America. The U.S. also broke its commitments regarding Europe, China, NAFTA, and against Muslims and Palestinians … the mistakes of America aren’t two or three. No one should say that Iran’s government didn’t have foresight. The criteria for making a commitment isn’t this, it’s not how long the other party stays. The core of our commitment [under the JCPOA] was in the interests of the country and still is today.”

Rouhani then stated that the level of economic pressure on Iran today is greater than at any point since the 1979 Revolution: “The government, people and the guidance of the Leader, can altogether help us overcome all problems. At this moment, the greatest economic pressure of the past 40 years since the revolution is being exerted on the Iranian people. But with unity we will overcome all these problems.”

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Rouhani Rebukes Policy of Blocking Websites as Futile

On January 21st, President Rouhani gave a speech during which he discussed freedom of speech and the futility of blocking websites. He stated to an audience of managers from the communications ministry that fighting “public demands” was neither “legal nor legitimate.”

Rouhani added: “In the country, we don’t have free media. There is only state media. To have freer access to information, the people seek access to social media. We are thus seeing an inflated use cell phones and social media.”

Rouhani said that groups of different persuasions in Iran need their own media. He stated: “If different groups in the country have their own radio and television stations, they would express themselves through these mediums. This would naturally reduce the inflated use of mobiles and social media.”

Rouhani further said that every faction in Iran needs a media outlet. He stated that if each expressed their positions “officially and openly,” it would be become clear “who says what and who supports which party or faction.”

Rouhani then stated that the Iranian government’s policy of blocking internet sites and applications was a “mistake.” He stated: “We have to admit that we made a mistake in thinking that if we say using such and such medium is prohibited, everyone would listen. We saw that every time after blocking different mediums, methods to work around these blocks were created … at the end, the damage done especially to our youth and children from using workarounds has been greater than if they would have been able to naturally use the software that we blocked.”

In May 2018, six Rouhani administration ministers and two parliamentarians who serve on the “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content,” wrote a letter to Iran’s attorney general asking for Twitter to be unblocked. The decision to block or restrict access to websites and applications is made by either this committee or the judiciary. The judiciary blocked the popular messaging application Telegram last year.

The “Committee for Identifying Criminal Content” is comprised of 12 members and headed by the attorney general. The members consist of six government ministers, two members of parliament, the chief of police, the head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the head of the state media organization, and a representative from the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution—a Qom-based cultural body.

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Communications Minister Says Friday Prayer Leaders Want Telegram Unblocked, Denies Rumors of Looming Instagram Ban

On January 28th, Communications and Information Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi stated that Friday Prayer leaders across Iran have called for the popular-messaging application Telegram to be unblocked. Telegram was blocked last May with an order from the Iranian judiciary, despite opposition from the Rouhani administration. Jahromi said that despite opposition from Friday prayer leaders, the judiciary was unwilling to remove the ban.

Jahromi stated: “The judiciary as the main decision maker in this regard is still holding on to its position and we see no change in the judiciary’s beliefs on this issue. They believe that the reasons for ban still exist and haven’t been resolved for it to be lifted.”

Jahromi also denied rumors that Instagram would be blocked. Jahromi made his statement on Twitter after conservative MP Javad Karimi Ghodousi said that “blocking Instagram is the decision of the government and the minister of communications told me himself he would soon carry this out.”

Jahromi contradicted Ghodousi, stating: “The view of one institution is not the view of the government. No order has been given to the administration to block Instagram.”

Over the past month, there have been several contradicting accounts by officials that Instagram would be blocked. Weeks ago, Javad Javidinia, the social media deputy for Iran’s attorney general, claimed there was a judicial order to block Instagram.

However, Mohammad Ali Sajani, a member of a parliamentary oversight body, dismissed Javidnia’s remark. He said that according to the attorney general, Instagram would not be blocked.

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Vice-President Jahangiri Meets with Bashar al-Assad

On January 28th, President Rouhani’s first-vice president Eshaq Jahangiri travelled to Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jahangiri was accompanied by a delegation of senior Iranian officials and businesspeople.

Jahangiri said of his trip: “Great agreements have been reached in the direction of advancing cooperation between our two countries. These agreements prove that the Islamic Republic will stand with the Syrian government and people in their reconstruction efforts just as it stood with them during the period of confronting terrorism.”

He added: “The prerequisite for economic cooperation is banking cooperation. For this reason, during this trip, agreements have been reached between central bank heads of our two countries.”

Syrian President Assad said that the agreements signed with Iran had “strategic significance” and “reinforce the two countries’ resistance and perseverance against the economic war being waged by some Western countries.” He added: “After the complete liberation of Syria, reconstruction will become the most important priority of the Syrian government. We desire broader cooperation with Iranian government and private companies in different areas.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Rebukes the UAE as Iranian Trade with Oman and Qatar Increases

On January 28th, Foreign Minister Zarif sharply rebuked Emirati policies towards Iran in response to criticism that the foreign ministry was not reacting to an Emirati clampdown on Iranian traders and currency dealers. He said that “because of political and strategic mistakes of Emirati officials, the Emiratis entered the level of behaving in an unacceptable way.”

Zarif stated that Iran was exploring countermeasures, stating that the “approach being taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran, in addition to diplomatic steps, is to create the necessary opening points for countries that can replace the Emirates [as a major Iranian trade partners] and finding alternative methods so that we maintain our economic relations without worry of Emirati actions.”

According to reports, many Iranian traders have left the UAE for Oman and Qatar. While the UAE used to be Iran’s largest training partner, it has been replaced in recent years by China. According to official Iranian statistics, the UAE’s exports to Iran in the past nine months has dropped by 29 percent to under $5 billion. In contrast, Iran’s imports from Oman in the past nine months have increased nearly threefold, reaching $400 million.

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Rouhani Administration-linked Analyst Discusses Importance of JCPOA

On January 13th, Diako Hosseini, the director of the World Studies Program at the Rouhani administration-linked Center for Strategic Studies think tank in Tehran, discussed the importance of the JCPOA and America’s posture in the Middle East. He stated: “I don’t think America is worried about Iran leaving the JCPOA, but it is in fact eagerly counting down for Iran to do this … I believe that the main aim of America’s economic and political pressures against Iran is to make Iran tired and incentivize [it] to leave the nuclear deal.”

Hosseini asserted that the U.S. wishes to reduce its presence in the Middle East but had to balance this aim with maintaining its credibility with allies. He stated: “The Trump administration knows well that America no longer has far-reaching interests in this region and must, as quickly as possible, readjust its military and economic focus to another vital area, the Asia Pacific.”

He added: “However, this action requires gaining confidence that a gradual reduction of America’s presence in the Persian Gulf and West Asia will not create a power vacuum and doesn’t lead to the creation of challenging and hostile powers [to the U.S.], which would threaten U.S. allies and ultimately destroy Washington’s credibility in supporting its allies.”

Hosseini also contended that U.S. efforts to create international consensus against Iran would not be successful. He stated: “Naturally, Pompeo’s trip to the region is a continuation of efforts to create international consensus against Iran. Successfully creating international consensus against Iran to a large degree hinges on first successfully creating regional consensus against Iran.”

He continued: “America must prove that Iran is really a regional danger and that international consensus to help U.S. regional allies against the Iranian threat is necessary. This is not an easy task because Iran in reality is not a threat to its neighbors and because it seems that Iran’s neighbors do not agree on an Iranian threat.”

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Labor Activists Rearrested

On January 20th, activist Sepideh Gholian was arrested again in Ahvaz. Gholian was first arrested in November in connection to the labor protests led by workers from the Hafte Tapeh sugarcane factory and from Ahvaz Steel company.

According to a Hafte Tapeh media channel, security forces entered Gholian’s family home to detain her without an arrest warrant. After a physical confrontation with her brother, both Gholian and her brother were arrested.

BBC Persian reported that an audio clip has been released of Gholian from the time of her first arrest, in which she tells an intelligence official that she would commit suicide if her “confession” was released publicly. On January 26th, Iranian state TV aired the “confessions” of Gholian and labor leader Esmail Bakhshi.

Bakhshi was also re-arrested on January 20th.  As detailed previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Bakhshi’s torture allegation spurred outcry, investigations, and eventual denials from officials that he had been tortured.

In the aftermath Bakhshi’s rearrest, 21 Iranian judiciary lawyers wrote a letter emphasizing that Bakhshi could not receive a fair trial in Shush. The lawyers said that given Bakhshi claims of having been tortured while in the custody of authorities in Shush, the court would not be a neutral party.

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Political Prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan Handed Six-Year Sentences

On January 19th, Abolqasem Salavati, the head judge of Tehran’s infamous Revolutionary Court Branch 15, handed out six-year sentences against political prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan. Their lawyer says the ruling is not final and that they will appeal it. A previous issue of Iran Unfiltered detailed a letter by Meysami rebuking both the Trump administration’s Iran policy and Revolutionary Court Branch 15.

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Investigative Journalist Sentenced to Five-Years Imprisonment

On January 23rd, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Two years ago, Soltani had released a report documenting corruption in the Tehran municipality related to giving away government property for political purposes.

According to his lawyer, the charges include “collecting and publishing classified information related to the Judiciary’s General Inspection Office and publishing false information with the aim of disturbing public sentiment.” Soltani has 20 days to appeal his sentence.

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University of Melbourne Professor Released from Prison

On January 27th, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne arrested in December, was released. As covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered, Hosseini-Chavoshi was arrested under charges of “infiltration,” i.e. being a foreign agent seeking to engineer “soft regime change” by changing the Islamic Republic from within.

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Two Members of a Pro-Labor Group Arrested

On January 29th, the “Confederation of Free Workers” announced in a statement that Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, respectively the secretary and member of the managing committee of the confederation, have been arrested. Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2016 and was released after undertaking a two-month hunger strike. Mohammadi had in recent months written articles condemning the government’s reaction to protests by the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel workers.

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Trial of Detained Environmentalists Begins

On January 30th, Iranian outlets reported that the trial of eight environmentalists arrested last January has begun in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court Branch 15, under judge Abolqasem Salavati. Read about the case of the detained environmentalists in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Mohammad Hossein Aghassi, the lawyer for one of the defendants, said that he wasn’t given permission to be in the court because the judiciary had chosen its own lawyers for the suspects. Aghassi said that the charges against four of the defendants was “sowing corruption on Earth,” a capital offense in Iran. Three others were charged with espionage, and one with “acting against national security.”

Aghassi added: “The actions that some of these suspects have committed was approaching military facilities as they were doing environmental activities and gathering military information from these areas.”

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Hardline Official Attacks JCPOA as Sanctions Relief Channel Looms

Week of January 14, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Ahmad Jannati, the powerful secretary of the Guardian Council and chairman of the Assembly of Experts, criticized the Rouhani administration this week for not withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Jannati referenced a 2016 declaration by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stating that Iran would “burn” the JCPOA in response to a U.S. violation. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, also stated that Iran is ready and able to increase its level of uranium enrichment and stockpile of enriched uranium. Jannati and Salehi’s remarks come amid growing frustration in Iran over European efforts to launch a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran. However, the official IRNA news agency this week cited a “senior European spokesperson” as saying that the SPV was on the “eve of its launch.”

In other news, Iran ignored U.S. warnings and conducted a satellite launch, though the satellite failed to reach Earth’s orbit. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards said in response to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iranian military “advisors” would remain in Syria. Iran is reportedly also ending narcotics and refugee cooperation with Europe after new EU sanctions and news that Poland would host a U.S. summit on Iran. Foreign Minister Zarif also travelled to Iraq and lambasted what he said was U.S. intervention in the Iran-Iraq relationship. The foreign ministry also denied rumors regarding Iran withdrawing from the JCPOA and Foreign Minister Zarif resigning and blamed them on “domestic elements.”

On the societal front, several editors of an online pro-labor magazine have been arrested. Imprisoned British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi also ended a three-day hunger strike after prison officials met their demand of seeking medical treatment outside of prison. Officials also continue to deny that labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was tortured, despite contravening accounts by other inmates. In a far-reaching interview, senior Rouhani advisor Hesamodin Ashna discussed last year’s protests and the viability of the Iranian government.

 

Guardian Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati Calls for Leaving JCPOA

On January 17th, Ahmad Jannati, the influential secretary of the Guardian Council and chairman of the Assembly of Experts, criticized officials for not withdrawing from the JCPOA. The conservative cleric stated: “Unfortunately on the JCPOA issue, our country’s officials have not paid attention to the recommendation of the leader of the revolution and to date they have yet to reach any results.”

In June 2016, Ayatollah Khamenei had said that “if the Americans violate the nuclear deal, we will set it on fire.” Jannati stated in this regard: “We must complain to officials about why they haven’t carried out this action. Ultimately, this action has to be taken.”

Jannati also warned against Iran relying on Europe: “Without a doubt the Europeans, if not worse than America, are no better. As such, on the JCPOA issue they are just wasting time. Some of their countries even support the MEK. Trusting Europe is foolish.”

He rebuked Iranian officials who seek to improve U.S.-Iran ties, stating: “According to the leader of the Islamic revolution, America is declining, but still some in our country have their eyes on America [to improve ties]. Today, after many defeats in the region they [the U.S.] have reached a place that to enter Iraq, they have to use a plane with its lights off and cannot receive an official reception.”

Jannati also dismissed concerns of a U.S.-Iran war, stating: “Today, the enemy is not after a military war, but creates division through psychological war and with weaponized media.”

Jannati also warned of Iran’s economic troubles. He stated: “The economic situation of some of the people is not in a good state. We must all endeavor to improve this situation. The government [Rouhani administration] must stop excess spending and sell government properties to improve the people’s economic situation. The current economic situation must not create hopelessness in society. If people become hopeless, they will no longer be vigilant.”

Jannati also seemed to weigh against efforts to further clamp down on social media and block Instagram in Iran. He stated: “Social media is like a double-edged razor. We must use it cautiously. At the beginning of the revolution, there were some who opposed using radios and television. But we’ve been able to use such media to get the correct benefits.”

He added: “Experts on social media believe that such a medium can be used to the benefit of the revolution and Islam. So we should enter this arena with a revolutionary and jihadi mindset.”

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran Can Restart 20-percent Enrichment in Days

On January 15th, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that Iran was ready to increase its uranium enrichment activities. He stated: “If we want, we can increase our level of uranium enrichment and stockpile of enriched uranium immediately.”

Salehi stressed that Iran currently has no practical need for 20-percent enriched fuel or large stockpiles of enriched uranium. He stated: “Right now, we have no need for 20-percent enriched uranium. We have saved enough to last several years, and if we produce more we will have to save it.”

He added in this regard: “If we want, we can remove the 300 kg amount [JCPOA limit on Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile]. Right now, our operations are such that we don’t reach 300 kg, but if we leave the JCPOA we can go beyond this amount and use it to convert into fuel for the Arak reactor.”

Earlier, on January 13th, Salehi had stated that Iran had created “designs for modern 20-percent enriched fuel to use in the Tehran Research Reactor” (TRR). He stated that the TRR has operated on old fuel but that the more modern fuel would increase the reactor’s efficiency.

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IRNA Cites European Spokesperson as Saying SPV Launch Imminent

On January 17th, the official IRNA news agency cited a “spokesperson for the European Union” as saying that Europe’s “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) is on the “eve of its launch.” IRNA stated that the official wished to remain anonymous.

The European spokesperson said the EU was committed to preserving financial ties, stating: “To preserve the JCPOA, the EU has pursued robust solutions. We updated our blocking regulations law. The European parties to the nuclear deal are also committed to preserving effective financial channels with Iran, especially regarding creating a special new financial channel. The SPV is now in its final stage before launch.”

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Satellite Launch Fails

On January 15th, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi announced that an attempted satellite launch had failed. Jahromi said in a tweet that the satellite, named “Payam” (message), successfully completed the first two stages of its launch, but did not attain sufficient speed to reach Earth’s orbit in its third stage. The satellite was launched by Iran’s carrier rocket Simorgh.

Amir Motamadi, the head of Amir Kabir University where the Payam satellite was created, stated regarding the lauch’s failure: “The launch vehicle that was supposed to give the satellite velocity had a problem and it might be related to the fuel.”

Motamedi stated that the satellite had no issues with respect to path of its launch and flight. He stated: “Based on instructions from the minister of communication, the process of designing and building the next version of this satellite, to be named ‘Payam 2,’ has begun based on the technical knowledge we have now gained and it will be completed in less than a year.”

Iran had proceeded with the launch despite warnings from the U.S. government. The Trump administration claims that Iran’s space rocket launches violate UN Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal but also “calls upon” Iran to not test ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iranian officials reject the U.S. charge.

Jahromi further announced that he is hopeful the launch of Iran’s next satellite, named “Doosti” (friendship), would be successful.

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IRGC Commander Says Military “Advisors” to Remain in Syria

On January 16th, Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, declared that Iranian military advisors would remain in Syria. He stated: “We will preserve all of the military and revolutionary advisors and all the equipment and weapons that we have given to train and empower the fighters of the Islamic resistance and to support the oppressed Syrian people in this Islamic country (Syria).”

Jafari’s remarks were framed as response to recent comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iranian military forces must leave Syria or would face increased Israeli attacks. Jafari said to Netanyahu: “Be certain that we don’t take your ridiculous threat seriously at all. Know that you are playing with the tail of a lion. Be afraid of the day that the roar of Iran’s precision-guided missiles land on your head and the spilt blood of all of the oppressed Muslims of the region is avenged.”

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Iran Scales Back Cooperation with Europe

Reports circulated in Iranian media that Iran plans to cease its cooperation with Europe in the areas of confronting drug trafficking and refugees. This was framed in Iranian media reports as a response to increasing hostility from Europe in recent months, including Denmark, Holland, and Albania expelling Iranian diplomats, Germany detaining an Iranian diplomat, and EU sanctions against an Iranian intelligence agency.

On January 17th, a Polish newspaper reported that Iran would stop issuing tourist visas to Polish people in response to the announcement that  Warsaw would host a U.S. summit on Iran in February. However, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi denied the report.

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Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Visits Azerbaijan

On January 15th, Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, traveled to Azerbaijan. He went with a delegation of high-level military officials for meetings with the Azerbaijani prime minister, defense minister, and other senior officials.

After meeting the Azeri defense minister, Bagheri stated: “The current depth of ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Azerbaijan Republic does not match the capabilities of both states. As such, each side must strive to enhance ties.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Iraq

On January 17th, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticized what he said was U.S. interference in the Iran-Iraq relationship. During a trip to Iraq, Zarif stated that the U.S. had “no right” to interfere in the relationship between the two countries.

Zarif stated amid his visit to Iraq: “We can’t allow those who have no interest in improving our conditions prevent an Iran-Iraq relationship.”

He said of the Iran-Iraq relationship: “Our relations are not artificial, we are each other’s brothers. This is the longest trip that I’ve had to a country and this is emblematic of the unique relationship between our two peoples and countries.”

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Foreign Ministry Denies Zarif Resignation & JCPOA Withdrawal Rumors

On January 12th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi denied rumors that Iran is to withdraw from the JCPOA and Foreign Minister Zarif resign from his post. Ghassemi stated: “It seems to me that elements inside the country with the objective of weakening the position of the foreign ministry and the country’s diplomatic services, given their vital and major role in the country’s current condition … are putting out such fake and incorrect news.”

He added regarding the domestic “elements” spreading these rumors: “These people want to cause chaos and disorder in the market to advance their profit-making interests. By publishing biased and fake news, they want to create a negative atmosphere in the market, but thankfully due to the intelligence of the people, their actions won’t get anywhere.”

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Pro-Labor Magazine Editors Arrested

On January 17th, Amir Amir-Goli, a member of the editorial board of the leftist Gam magazine was reportedly arrested. Amir-Goli’s father confirmed his arrested in an interview with BBC Persian, though it has yet to be officially confirmed. The magazine supported and wrote reports on the recent labor protests by workers of the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel companies.

Previously, on January 9th, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far and Sanaz Allah-Yari, another member of its editorial board, were arrested. Assal Mohammadi, another member of the magazine’s editorial board, was arrested last month but released earlier this month.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe & Narges Mohammadi End Three-Day Hunger Strike

On January 14th, Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a detained British citizen in Iran, said that his wife’s interrogators offered to release her in December in exchange for her spying for Iran. According to Richard Ratcliffe, “She was told it would be safer for her and safer for her family afterwards if she agreed to do this.”

On January 2nd, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe released a statement together with Narges Mohammadi, an imprisoned human rights activist and lawyer, stating that they would start a three-day hunger strike if their medical needs were not met. They started on the hunger strike on January 14th.

On January 16th, Richard Ratcliffe said his wife and Narges Mohammadi had ended their hunger strike after prison officials agreed to their receiving medical treatment outside of prison.  Richard Ratcliffe also stated that his wife has a tumor in her breast and was losing feeling in her hands and feet. Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt had earlier summoned Iran’s UK Ambassador to protest Ratcliffe’s conditions in prison.

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Labor Leader Torture Controversy Continues

On January 14th, Assal Mohammadi, a civil rights activist recently freed from prison in Ahvaz, wrote on Instagram that she witnessed the “torture” of two detainees while in custody, including labor leader Esmail Bakhshi. (See background on the Bakhshi torture controversy in a previous Iran Unfiltered.)

Mohammadi wrote: “I witnessed the hours-long interrogations of Sepideh Galian. From 10:00am until midnight almost every day this process would repeat. I heard the shouting and insults of her interrogators from the room next door. We witnessed a day where they put so much pressure on her to make a fake confession that she scratched her face and wished for death.”

She said regarding Esmail Bakhshi: “I continuously heard Esmail Bakhshi coughing and having severe shortness of breath from the interrogator’s room and the officers mocking him and saying he was faking. One day, when I went to the prison yard to catch some air, I heard the interrogators shouting and insulting him. I am willing to bear witness to what I saw and heard.”

Upon her release, Sepideh Galian also wrote on her Twitter that she witnessed Bakhshi being “savagely” beaten and his interrogators “humiliating” him.

Mohammadi and Galian’s comment came after various government institutions launched investigations into Bakhshi’s allegation of torture. As covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered, Bakhshi also met with several members of parliament to discuss his treatment while in prison.

Many officials have since dismissed Bakhshi’s allegation of torture. Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced this week: “It has become clear that reports of a worker for the Haft Tapeh factory being tortured were a lie and that there was no beating or torture.”

On January 16th, MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy head of the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament, also said Bakhshi was not tortured. He said: “What we have realized is that Esmail Bakhshi was not tortured.” Tabesh stated that a fight erupted between security officers and Bakhshi as he was being driven to Ahvaz, which caused him injury.

Farzaneh Zilabi, Bakhshi’s lawyer, said in response to officials dismissing Bakhshi’s torture allegation: “These people either don’t know the definition of torture or are fooling themselves.”

She added: “Some seek to limit the period when torture occurred to when Bakhshi was transported to the detention center and restrict punishment to a few police officers. They want to dismantle my client’s case by presenting his confessions as obtained legally.”

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Senior Rouhani Advisor Discusses Protests & Islamic Republic’s Viability

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, conducted a far-reaching interview with ISNA this week. In it, he discussed the state of the Islamic Republic and the protests that swept parts of the country in late December 2017 and January 2018.

Ashna said regarding how the government should deal with protests: “We have enough experience in this regard to know that using violent methods against the people is neither beneficial nor will it have an impact.”

He added in this regard: “Our impression is that violence begets violence … when the voice of the people can be heard in parliament, in the media, and close to the president, their demands are aggregated, this aggregation creates power, and this power can push forward their demands.”

Ashna said about opposition to the Islamic Republic: “I explicitly say that as long as we have an opposition that is supported by Trump, we feel comfortable that nothing will occur in the country.”

Ashna contended the Iranian people have an aversion to foreign intervention. He stated: “Our experience since the 1953 coup, which has been a national experience, says that our people hate any actions that has support from outside powers.”

He added: “There has always been a very small minority, which still exists, that even during the George W. Bush administration called for Iran to be bombed. These words and claims aren’t new for us and most of society is not moved by such calls.”

Ashna also touched on the question of reformism inside Iran and emphasized the need for consensus in decision-making. He stated: “If we have a president who is able engage the leader, parliament, the Guardian Council, and the Armed Forces, one thing will occur. On the other hand, if the president stands against them and squabbles with them, another thing will occur.”

He went on: “In a situation of conflict, the [president’s] authorities on paper do not matter, and in a situation of cooperation and agreement, without anything [authorities] written on paper, work progresses.”

Ashna also stated that last year’s protests was triggered by a number of factors, including actions by conservative opponents of President Rouhani. He opined: “Different analysis exists. There is analysis that some thought they could weaken Rouhani’s administration, but not weaken the system. But experience since then shows that weakening the Rouhani administration and the system is the same path. The grounds for last year’s protests are diverse and they had different sparks, which are all worthy of study.”

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Political Prisoner Decries Trump and Iranian Judiciary

Week of January 7, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

A political prisoner arrested for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and who recently ended a 145-day hunger strike wrote a letter censuring both Iran’s judiciary and the Trump administration. Another activist, a labor leader imprisoned for nearly one month, spurred widespread outrage and prompted government investigations after he wrote on Instagram that he was tortured while in custody.

In other civil rights-related developments, nine reported environmentalists have been arrested in Kurdistan province for what officials say is their role in a Kurdish separatist attack. Meanwhile, state television attacked imprisoned British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, while the interior minister assessed the country’s internal security situation a year after last winter’s protests. The grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder also warned officials about the need for maintaining legitimacy.

On the foreign policy front, officials confirmed that Iran has been negotiating with the Taliban but maintained that the talks were being carried out with the knowledge of the Afghan government and aimed at advancing a peace process in Afghanistan. Senior officials also raised doubt regarding Europe’s ability to operationalize its long-awaited “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran. Foreign Minister Zarif also made another overture for talks with the Arab Persian Gulf states, while the foreign ministry condemned the European Union for imposing sanctions on an Iranian intelligence agency and two Iranian citizens.

 

Political Prisoner Writes Letter Censuring Trump & Iranian Judiciary

On January 5th, political prisoner Farhad Meysami wrote a letter from Evin prison criticizing both the Iranian judiciary and the U.S. Department of State. Meysami was arrested on July 31st for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and began a hunger strike within 24 hours of his arrest.

Meysami’s hunger strike lasted for 145 days until December 23rd. He ended it after fellow political prisoner Reza Khandan—husband of human rights activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh—was released from prison.

Meysami titled his letter “twin writings” and directed it towards “Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court” and “Trump’s Department of State.” In the letter, Meysami describes himself as a “transformationalist” who wants change through reform.

He censured the Iranian judiciary thusly: “The repeated, persistent, and systematic violation of the law from the judicial institution removes any qualifications to label it as a court.”

Meysami outlined the type of reformism he believes could lead to substantive change: “Changing the behavior of autocratic states, especially their ‘hard nucleus,’ might at first glance appear impossible. However, ‘reformism seeking transformation’ thinks and acts on the belief that the cumulative effects of sustained action and enlightened activities, together with resistance in suitable times and places, could lead to changes even in the ‘hard nucleus’ of the state.”

Meysami then said he was surprised the U.S. State Department commented on his case: “I was flipping through the newspaper when suddenly I saw an article that shocked me to my core! Apparently, the Trump administration’s Department of State has called for my freedom … I was astonished at how the ‘Trump’s State Department,’ ‘Freedom,’ and ‘myself’ could possibly be connected.”

He then rebuked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, declaring: “Before his appointment, Mike Pompeo (Trump’s Secretary of State) had been a strong proponent of the “Bomb Iran!” campaign.”

Meysami went on to renounce any support from the U.S. and sharply criticized the Trump administration’s approach to Iran and abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal. He stated: “I would rather spend all my life imprisoned by a group of oppressors from my own wrong-doing countrymen and spend my life trying to reform their wrongdoing, but to not spend a second submitting to disgraceful support from those who broke their commitments and withdrew from the rational and peaceful JCPOA against all principles of morality and international law, and by reimposing inhumane sanctions, have plunged millions of my fellow countrymen into poverty.”

He added: “I am certain that if the leaders of my country made them [the U.S.] a partner in the plundering and milking of our resources, they would have simply closed their eyes not only to the imprisonment, but to the butchering and dismembering with a bonesaw of dozens of individuals like myself [in reference to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi].”

Meysami went on to express hope for the freedom of the American people from President Trump: “Perhaps it would be more appropriate for us, the children of Iran, to wish for the speedy ‘freedom’ of the great nation of the United States from this great catastrophe, and hope for their return to the previous period of rationality. Because the continuation of this situation is not only disastrous for our two nations but brings damage and destruction to humanity as a whole.”

He ended the letter by again disavowing support from the Trump administration: “I’d like to ask people like Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to save their crocodile tears for themselves.”

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Labor Leader Torture Claim Spurs Outcry & Investigations

On January 4th, Esmail Bakhshi, a representative of the Haft Tapeh factory protesting workers who was arrested in November and held for nearly a month by the intelligence ministry, wrote on his Instagram page that he had been tortured while in custody. He stated: “Without reason or saying anything they tortured me to near death. They kicked and punched me so much that for 72 hours I couldn’t move in my cell. Now after two months I still have pain in my broken teeth, kidneys, left ear, and testicles.”

In his Instagram post, Bakhshi invited Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi to engage in a “live television debate” with him. Bakhshi’s claim of being tortured spurred widespread outrage and calls for authorities to be held to account. (more on Bakhsi’s release and the Haft Tapeh factory protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

Ali Motahari, second deputy parliamentary speaker and principlist MP representing Tehran, wrote in Etemad newspaper regarding Bakhshi’s allegation: “Mr. Bakhshi’s letter to the intelligence minister must awaken all people of conscious and supporters of citizen’s rights to follow this issue until a clear conclusion is reached.”

Motahari stated that the accusation was damaging for the Islamic Republic as it approached its 40th anniversary: “Is it seemly for the Islamic Republic on its 40th anniversary to face such accusations when in chapter three of its constitution every form of physical or mental torture to elicit confessions is prohibited?”

Motahari stated that if torture was committed, the perpetrators must be brought to justice: “If Mr. Bakhshi’s remarks are true, the perpetrators must be brought to light as soon as possible and punished. And in any case, the intelligence minister must give answers.”

On January 7th, the head of Iran’s judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, addressed Bakhsi’s accusation, stating: “I have instructed the honorable attorney general to assemble a team today and travel to the region [Khuzestan], and review this issue and promptly deliver their results to me and our dear people.”

Larijani added: “The different dimensions of this issue have to be reviewed, and before this investigation we will not make denials regarding anyone. It is possible that a worker committed an offense, but under no circumstance is it acceptable for illegal acts to be committed against them. At the same time, possible misconduct by one interrogator should not be used to blame a whole institution.”

Also on January 7th, Bakhshi’s lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi told Rouydad 24 that “my client has come under pressure to retract his words [regarding being tortured].”

On January 8th, Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, wrote on his Telegram: “With an explicit order from the president, the claims of violence against an imprisoned individual will be investigated quickly and precisely.”

However, later on January 8th, the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee held a meeting to review Bakhshi’s accusation, which included Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. Afterwards, Ali Najafi Khoshroudi, the committee’s spokesperson, stated: “Esmail Bakhsi, the worker for the Hafte Tapeh sugarcane factory, was in no way tortured.”

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman for the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, stated after the committee’s meeting: “In today’s meeting, after the film of Esmail Bakhshi’s confession and the intelligence minister’s explanation, the conclusion was reached that Bakhshi confessed without torture to spying in cooperation with a communist labor party.”

President Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi also dismissed Bakhshi’s torture allegation after meeting with intelligence officials. He stated after a cabinet meeting that “today the intelligence ministry reported that there is no truth to this issue [of Bakhshi’s torture]” and that the “intelligence ministry and the political system are within their rights to issue a complaint against Bakhshi for his remarks.”

However, on January 9th, Laya Joneydi, President Rouhani’s vice president for legal affairs, stated after a cabinet meeting: “A group has been formed by the president to look into this [Bakhshi’s claims]. It will do its work and announce its conclusions. I believe the intelligence ministry will also announce the results of its investigation. The goal of the speaker of parliament is that Esmail Bakhshi’s words are heard. He has been invited to parliament to speak his words.”

“If Bakhshi’s claims are true, what took place would be a violation of the constitution and this should be severely confronted. If on the other hand nothing occurred or what happened was not as claimed, the biggest resource of any country which is trust would have been sabotaged.”

On January 10th, Fatemeh Saeedi, spokeswoman for the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament, stated that members of parliament had met with Esmail Bakhshi. She stated: “Despite what some have said, on Tuesday, Bakhshi came with his lawyer to parliament and met with four members of the Hope coalition, one of which was me … the meeting lasted nearly two hours and afterwards we [the MPs] met with officials from the intelligence ministry.”

She said of the meeting with Bakhshi: “In this meeting, we heard his words. Our efforts to follow up on his allegation continue and the results of the investigation will be announced after the review by the judiciary and the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee are completed … It has also been decided that a group from the Hope coalition will travel to the city of Shush to investigate Bakhshi’s claims.”

Saeedi further stated that Bakhshi’s claim of being tortured was discussed in their meeting with intelligence officials. She stated: “In this meeting, the intelligence minister offered an explanation regarding Bakhshi’s claims and the Khuzestan intelligence official presented evidence.”

Jalal Mirzaei, the chair of the Hope coalition’s political committee, discussed the meeting with Bakhshi and the details of his torture allegation in an interview with Khabar Online. Mirzaei stated of the meeting: “According to Mr. Bakshi, he was detained by Shush’s intelligence department and after three hours of interrogation was transported by car, along with four other suspects and two security officers, to Ahvaz. During this trip, which took two hours, Mr. Bakhshi claims that he was beaten.”

Mirzaei added: “According to Bakhshi himself, throughout the 25-day detention itself he was treated with respect, but he says that his cell was next to ISIS prisoners, which he says caused him psychological duress.”

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Environmentalists Arrested in Kurdistan Province

On January 7th, reports emerged that upwards of nine environmentalist activists were detained in Kurdistan province over the course of the previous week. Hossein Khosheqbal, Kurdistan province’s deputy for political, security, and police affairs stated that the arrests were made in connection with an attack on an ambulance, stating: “Over the summer [Iranian month of Tir] the driver of a Red Crescent ambulance in the city Kamyaran was attacked in a cowardly action and hit by several bullets from several people connected with separatist groups and the PJAK foreign group.”

Khosheqbal added: “In this terrorist act, Kuhsar Fatehi, the driver of the ambulance and a native of the province was martyred … A number of anti-revolutionary terrorist groups connected with the martyrdom of the ambulance driver—who had taken the cover of being environmentalists and had the responsibility of supporting the perpetrators [of the murder]—have been identified and will be dealt with legally.”

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State TV Attacks Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

On January 8th, Iranian state television attacked Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, showing the moment she was refused entry on her flight departing Tehran in 2016. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British citizen arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” through “soft war” tactics.

On January 3rd, Zaghari-Ratcliffe co-wrote a letter with imprisoned human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, in which they said they would start a three-day hunger strike in protest at how “their heath situation was being handled.”

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Foreign Ministry Confirms Detention of U.S. Citizen & Rebukes EU Sanctions

On January 9th, during his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi confirmed that U.S. citizen Michael White has been detained inside Iran. He stated: “An American citizen named Michael White was arrested some time ago in Mashhad. The American interests section in Tehran was notified of the arrest in the immediate days after his arrest.”

Ghassemi denied reports that White was being held in “poor conditions and being harassed,” but did not clarify on what charges he was being held for.

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Interior Minister Assesses Iran’s Internal Security Situation

On December 27th, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli gave a speech where he spoke on Iran’s internal security situation on the anniversary of protests that swept parts of the country in late December 2017 and January 2018. He said about differences inside the country: “The differences that exist in the country are familial and we aren’t worried about such differences. After the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, our enemies seek to pressure Iran to reach their goals. Through reliance on countries like Saudi Arabia and led by America and the Zionist regime and some other countries they are pursuing their objective but have been unsuccessful. However, we should not be negligent with respect to their plots.”

Faszli then stated that none of the protests in the country since last year were “organized,” stating: “Not in last winter’s protests or the protests of the truckers and bazaaris or the problems of ethnic minorities were there signs of leadership by political organizations or their organized presence. This shows the awareness and intelligence of people and their attachment to the revolution and security of the country.”

He said of protests inside the country: “Foreign media intensely invest in the smallest issues inside Iran in order to portray a lack of unity in the country to the best of their ability. But none of these issues threaten Iran’s national security. However, it is better that before such issues start, which enables the enemies to try and coopt them, we should address them and prevent them.”

Fazli concluded regarding the country’s internal security situation: “In the area of security, I won’t say that we have no threats, but we are not worried of these threats because we rely on public legitimacy and the people’s security. We regularly monitor and control the situation. The most important issue for the country after unity is the satisfaction of the people in social and economic areas.”

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Grandson of Islamic Republic Founder Warns Officials

On December 29th, Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stated in a speech before an audience of government officials: “We have to understand and observe the rules of human behavior and the causes of collapse and success otherwise there is no guarantee that we will stay and others will go. If you don’t observe these rules, you will be taken from the arena.”

Khomeini went on to warn officials of the need to maintain legitimacy among the people: “The foundation of any society is ethics and people’s level of content.  Continuously segmenting society, repeatedly showing grudges, portraying hypocrisy, making it such that people in society feel compelled to become double faced, or for each of us to become distant from honesty are all signs of failing governments. If we see that our principles are lost and that we are abusive, this is an alarm bell that this society has a problem.”

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Officials Confirm Talks with the Taliban

On December 26th, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, publicly acknowledged that Iran was engaging in negotiations with the Taliban during a trip to Kabul. Shamkhani had travelled to Afghanistan with a delegation of Iranian military and security officials for talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib as well as President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan officials.

Shamkhani stated that Iran was engaging in talks with the Taliban in order to resolve security issues inside Afghanistan, stating: “A series of communications and talks have taken place with the Taliban with the knowledge of the Afghan government and this trend will continue.”

Shamkhani also said the danger of ISIS “infiltration” into Afghanistan was “serious” and stressed the need to take “practical action.” He warned of what he deemed was an “ominous plan” in Afghanistan being supported by the U.S. and “reactionary” regional countries.

While in Afghanistan, Shamkhani referred to a recent summit in Tehran which brought together senior security officials from Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China, and India. He said the meeting resulted in constructive agreements, stating: “Establishing mechanisms based on continuous negotiations and the active participation of regional countries in security processes can guarantee stability and durable development for the people of the region.”

Shamkhani also said to his Afghan counterpart Mohib: “The Islamic Republic has always been one of the main pillars establishing security in the region and without a doubt cooperation between our two countries to resolve Afghanistan’s security problems will be very effective.”

On December 30th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated that a Taliban delegation had engaged in extensive negotiations with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Tehran.  MP Morteza Safari Natani said that these negotiations are “not ideal for us” but that “we have to accept that the Taliban control part of Afghanistan” and that “in current circumstances this group cannot be ignored.”

On January 4th, Mahmoud Vaezi, chief of staff to President Rouhani, stated that Iran notified the Afghan government before starting talks with the Taliban: “I have not seen any reports that say that the Afghan government is upset about negotiations between Iran and the Taliban. Before starting negotiations with the Taliban, we discussed the issue with the Afghan government. Our goal with the negotiations is to establish peace and security in the region and create the grounds for ‘Afghan-Afghan’ negotiations. Under no circumstances will we interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.”

Vaezi added: “Iran’s neighbors are faced with many problems such as civil war. Peace and stability in the region are matters of great importance for Iran, as insecurity inside Afghanistan can spread to Iran.”

On January 7th, Shamkhani stated at a conference in Tehran that the Taliban was seeking to compromise with the Afghan government, stating: “We are in pursuit of helping the Afghan government establish stability in Afghanistan. The Taliban are also seeking to compromise with the Afghan government. In this regard, the Islamic Republic, with the intention of seeking peace and preventing domination, wants to help the Afghan government reach a formula for peace and stability.”

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Senior Official Discusses U.S. Syria Troop Withdrawal, Says U.S. Reached Out for Talks

At the January 7th conference in Tehran, Shamkhani also stated that the U.S. reached out to him for negotiations while he was in Afghanistan. He stated: “In Afghanistan, the Americans again sent messages for negotiations with me. They lie when they say that we are sending them [Iran] messages for negotiations.”

Shamkhani also stated regarding President Trump’s announced troop withdrawal from Syria: “America had no role in toppling ISIS in Syria. America’s strategy in Syria was defeated and it was faced with a predicament in the region west of the Euphrates. This situation left America no choice but to exit Syria.”

He went on to say the U.S. would leave the Persian Gulf in the future as well: “Today, the presence of free regional peoples stretches from Syria to the Red Sea. This year, the Americans were compelled to leave the region, and in the future they will be compelled to start withdrawing from the Persian Gulf.”

Regarding Iran’s role in Syria, an analysis in the reformist Fararu discussed Iran’s reconstruction aims in the country. The piece stated: “Based on a report published by the United Nations in 2017, the cost for reconstruction in Syria is $388 billion. This is as Bashar Assad, this country’s president, said in meeting with representatives from Russia’s parliament that this figure is $410 billion.”

The piece said that Iran’s priority was rebuilding Syria’s communications and mobile phone network: “According to reports, Iran has allocated $8 billion in this area and Iran’s primary aim is rebuilding Syria’s communications and mobile phone network.”

He added that Iran was focused on Daraa province as well: “Iran is also endeavoring to have a decisive role in reconstruction efforts in southern Syria, particularly in Daraa province. The Syrian government’s extensive cooperation with Iran over its investment is one of the factors that gives Tehran a better position in Syria after the war in comparison to other countries.”

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Doubts Increase Regarding European SPV

At the January 7th conference in Tehran, Shamkhani said that time had run out on Europe to launch its SPV, stating: “The opportunity has ended for the Europeans to make their JCPOA commitments, particularly on the SPV.”

On January 8th, during a trip to New Delhi, Foreign Minister Zarif also lowered expectations regarding the SPV, stating: “We will continue our cooperation with Europe on the SPV but will not wait for them.”

Zarif went on to praise an agreement between an Indian and Iranian bank, stating: “In the area of banking, we are very happy that the Indian bank UCO and Iranian bank Pasargad have started cooperation in the area of trade. We are optimistic that despite U.S. sanctions, Iran and India will boost cooperation in line with the interests of their people.”

Zarif stated that rather than wait on Europe, Iran will go on to strike similar deals as reached with the Indian bank: “The Europeans have made efforts but they haven’t managed to make progress in line with our expectations. We will expand cooperation efforts such as the channel established with India.”

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Zarif Reiterates Call for Negotiations with Arab Persian Gulf States

While in New Delhi, Zarif reiterated that Iran was open to negotiations with its Persian Gulf neighbors. He stated: “Right now, the time has come for countries in our region to put aside two delusions. The first is that security can be bought or imported. The other is that security can be achieved through the insecurity of others.”

He added: “We again extend our hand out in friendship to our neighbors in the Persian Gulf.”

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Foreign Ministry Condemns EU Sanctions

During his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi condemned the European Union’s move to designate an Iranian intelligence agency and two Iranian citizens on a “terrorist list.” Ghassemi labeled the actions as “irrational and surprising” and said Iran will “within the framework of a reciprocal action, take the necessary and appropriate steps.”

He also stated: “Instead of putting terrorist and criminal groups like the MEK and al-Ahvaz on their sanctions list, they let them freely take their anti-human and terrorist actions and even support them.”

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