Rouhani & IRGC Differ on Negotiations

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

Rouhani Stresses Support for Negotiations

President Rouhani rejected the presence of foreign military forces in the Persian Gulf and called for the “coastal countries of this historic Gulf” to provide for its security. He further said that the U.S. call to form a military coalition in the Persian Gulf had not come to fruition: “All the slogans about creating a new coalition in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea are for show and are not able to be implemented.”

However, he added in this regard: “With a doubt, if any of these slogans are put into practice, it will not help the security of this region [the Persian Gulf].”

The Trump administration has called for a global coalition to police the waters of the Persian Gulf. According to the State Department, Washington invited 60 countries to join the would-be coalition. Germany, Japan, and Spain openly rejected the invitation. The UK said it would join, while Australia said it will review the matter. Israel said it is prepared to participate in the coalition.

Rouhani said that that Israel participating in such a coalition was an “absurd” suggestion. He stated that Israel was the “primary source for terrorism, war and killings in the region.”

Rouhani also defended negotiations in principle with other countries. He stated: “We will continue our path until the final victory sometimes with negotiations and sometimes with steadfastness and resistance.”

He again defended the JCPOA, saying the agreement removes arms sanctions against Iran next year and mandates the removal of all sanctions in three years. He said: “To make the obligations balanced, we have begun to reduce our compliance with the agreement while continuing negotiations. We are and always have been of the belief that we should never run away from [diplomatic] engagement and negotiations.”

Rouhani emphasized he supports negotiations if the environment is “conducive”, stating: “The environment should be conducive [for negotiations]. The other side should believe in negotiations and resolving the issues. In this case in which all the conditions are appropriate, we are always willing to engage with the world and negotiate with the other side to meet aims.”

Rouhani also stressed that he still advocates for diplomatic engagement, stating: “We are and have always been seeking engagement. This is the reason we have not left the JCPOA and are reducing our compliance in a planned, gradual way.”

Rouhani also stated that Iran was ready to further reduce its JCPOA compliance: “If at the end of the second 60-day period we don’t reach a result, we will definitely start the third stage. After this, we will give another 60 days for us to reach a logical, correct, and balanced path and to adhere to commitments in exchange for commitments.”

Last week, Rouhani suggested Iran would negotiate with the U.S. in exchange for sanctions relief: “We support negotiations. If America really wants to negotiate, it needs to remove all sanctions and cease its crimes and economic terrorism. The path for America is sincere repentance.”

Mahmoud Vaezi, President Rouhani’s chief of staff, has said that negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA are going well. He stated: “The negotiations with Europe have gotten more serious. Alongside these negotiations, there have been talks for us to reach a framework. We are hopeful that we will reach a position of getting the JCPOA’s benefits.”

However, Vaezi also said that if Europe and Iran do not reach a “conclusion,” there is “no doubt” Iran would take its third step to reduce its JCPOA compliance. Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi stated Iran would not negotiate while under pressure. He proclaimed: “For a long time they [the U.S.] had this expectation from the Islamic Republic [that it would negotiate]. However, this expectation is in vain because Iran will never participate in negotiations that do not abide by international law and regulations.”

He added: “No wise person would negotiate when they are under pressure and a weapon is pointed at them.”

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IRGC Chief Describes Negotiations as “Destroyed Logic”

IRGC chief Hossein Salami has said that negotiations are a “destroyed logic” and a “deception” aimed at “defeating” the Islamic Republic. Salami declared: “Everyone knows that the enemy will not create the conditions for overcoming our difficulties. Whatever the enemy says is a prescription for our defeat. Negotiations were a deception and aren’t even a solution. Through negotiations, the enemy has increased its pressures and demands. They want our surrender, not honor.”

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Iran to Shutter “Nature Schools”

Isa Kalantari, the head Iran’s Environmental Department, has said that “nature schools” are now illegal and will be shut down. Kalantari said that religious clerics say the schools are “against Sharia law” and that the Intelligence Ministry says its founders belong to the communist Tudeh Party.

The Tudeh Party was founded in 1941 and was outlawed by the Islamic Republic in 1983. Many of its members were imprisoned, tortured, and killed both before and after the 1979 revolution.

The first of the “nature schools” was opened 2013 and they received a license to operate from Iran’s Environmental Department. Their stated goal is to teach children “life skills.”

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Dual British-Iranian Academic Arrested

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian academic, was arrested on August 11th in Tehran, according to his family. The charges against him have not been announced and it is unclear which institution arrested him. Last year, Ahmady won the World Peace Foundation’s Literature and Humanities Award at George Washington University.

Ahmady’s wife, Shafagh Ahmady, has said that security forces raided their house: “Security forces came with Mr. Ahmady to our house. They totally messed up the place and took documents like birth certificates.”

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Members of the Baha’i Faith Arrested

At least ten members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested throughout Iran in recent days. On August 10th, three Baha’i Iranians were arrested in Tehran and sent to Evin prison. Another was arrested in Shiraz and has been imprisoned. Other Baha’i Iranians have been arrested in Birjand and Tehran recently.

According to reports, security forces searched the homes of all these individuals and confiscated their personal belongings, including cell phones, identification documents, and computers. Security forces also interrogated and searched the home of Jamaloldin Khanjani, the leader of the Baha’i Society of Iran. Khanjani was imprisoned from 2008 to 2017.

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Khamenei Meets Houthi Representatives

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with a delegation from Yemen’s Houthi movement, including its spokesperson Mohammad Abdolsalam. Abdolsalam delivered a letter to Khamenei from the leader of Houthi movement, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi. The details of the letter have not been disclosed. Ayatollah Khamanei’s senior advisor on foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati, was present during the meeting.

Khamenei stated that Saudi Arabia and the UAE seek to partition Yemen and called for Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue to preserve a unified Yemen. He proclaimed: “They are seeking to disintegrate Yemen. This plot must be resisted strongly and a united Yemen with its full territorial integrity must be supported.”

Khamenei added:  “Preserving a unified Yemen, given the different religious beliefs and ethnic groups in this country, requires Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue.”

Khamenei condemned what he said was the West’s “indifference” to the Yemen war.  He stated: “What is happening in Yemen shows the realities of today’s world and those who claim to support human rights.”

He then defended the Islamic Republic’s stance against the United States: “This position is not based on prejudice, but on reality and the actions of American and Western officials. They portray themselves as humanitarian, civil, and moral, but commit the worst crimes while always talking about human rights.”

Khamenei also said that the Yemeni people will go on to form a “strong government.” He stated: “With their deep civilization and history and their spirit of striving for God and being steadfast that they have shown in the past five years, the Yemeni people have a good future ahead of them. They will form a strong government and within the framework of that government, will progress.”

Houthi spokesperson Abdolsalam said the group will fight for a unified Yemen “until total victory”. He stated: “The Yemeni people are facing extremely difficult conditions and are standing against aggressors from seventeen countries empty handed but with faith and perseverance. We promise you that the Yemeni nation will be united and one and will continue to be steadfast against the oppressor’s aggression until total victory.” 

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Iran Warns Against U.S.-Led Persian Gulf Coalition

Week of August 5, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Former Reformist President Criticizes Rouhani & Parliament

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has criticized the performance of the Rouhani administration and the current parliament. He censured what he said were “shortcomings” and failing to follow through on “promises.” Khatami’s support proved critical to Rouhani winning his presidential elections and the coming to power of the reformist “Hope” coalition in parliament in 2016.

Khatami further criticized what he said was “silence” and a failure to “give warnings” about violations of law from the Rouhani administration and parliament.  He stated: “I wonder why an administration that came to power to attain the people’s rights and a parliament that claims to defend the nation and its fundamental rights, at least the reformists who went to parliament, does not shout or take actions.”

Khatami also stated in recent months that without tangible reforms, people will no longer listen to his call to turnout to vote. However, in another recent speech, he underscored the risk of war and said that people should “go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.”

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Iran Warns Against US-Led Persian Gulf Coalition

Defense Minister Amir Hatami held talks with his Omani, Kuwaiti, and Qatari counterparts and strongly rebuked the creation of a U.S.-led military coalition in the Persian Gulf. Hatami said such a force would cause “instability” in the Persian Gulf and that local countries should instead provide for the region’s security. Britain has said it would join the force, while Germany and Japan have explicitly said they will not.

Hatami also denounced the potential that Israel would join the coalition as “provocative” and auguring “catastrophic consequences.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi also said that an Israeli presence in the U.S. coalition would be a “flagrant threat against Iran’s national security.”

Mousavi added that Iran would respond to this threat “within the framework of the country’s defense policies” and that the U.S. and Israel would be responsible “for the consequences of this dangerous action.”

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Intelligence Minister Says Trump has Killed Chances for Diplomacy

Mahmoud Alavi, the Rouhani administration’s intelligence minister, has declared that President Trump has killed chances for diplomacy. He proclaimed regarding Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA: “Trump by violating this commitment, has delivered the finishing bullet to his chances for negotiating with Iran. He’ll take his wish for negotiations with Iran to the grave.”

Alavi also stated that national unity in Iran had increased as a result of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. He stated: “During this period, the nation’s cohesion, unity, and solidarity has increased. The U.S. President who thought he could bring Iran to its knees in six months has been disappointed.”

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Qods Force Commander Soleimani Meets with Zarif

Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani visited Foreign Minister Zarif after Zarif was sanctioned last week by the Trump administration. In their meeting in the foreign ministry building, Soleimani said the U.S. sanctions were “a sign of the definite defeat of the White House.”

Soleimani further proclaimed: “This action by America proves that you, as someone responsible for the country’s foreign policy, have a deep impact on public opinion, especially on the American people, regarding the ignorance of that country’s leader.”

Alireza Rahimi, a reformist member of parliament, said regarding the Soleimani-Zarif meeting:  “The valuable presence of commander Soleimani in the office of Dr. Zarif after his sanctioning reflects the practical and complete support of commander Soleimani for the country’s diplomacy. Such encouragement and sympathy represents the full unity of the field [i.e. on the ground efforts] and diplomatic presence [of the country] in confronting America at this difficult juncture.”

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Rouhani Defends Phone Call with Obama Six Years Ago

In a speech at Iran’s foreign ministry, President Rouhani defended his phone call with former U.S. President Barack Obama six years ago. Rouhani’s landmark phone conversation with Obama during the September 2013 UN General Assembly was the first between an Iranian and U.S. head of state since before Iran’s 1979 revolution. 

Rouhani said that if the call had not taken place, reaching the November 2013 interim nuclear deal (Joint Plan of Action, or JPOA) would have been fraught with “difficulty and delay.”

At the time, Rouhani was beset by domestic criticism from hardliners and Ayatollah Khamenei for taking the phone call from Obama. After his return from the 2013 UN General Assembly, he was greeted at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport by supporters and opponents, one of the latter of which threw a shoe at his car. Then-IRGC commander Mohammad Jafari also said the call was a “tactical mistake.” Ayatollah Khamanei indirectly criticized it by saying that “some of what occurred in New York was in my belief not right.”

It is unclear if Rouhani mentioned the 2013 call to simply rehash history or to highlight his belief in the importance of direct talks with the U.S. president to reduce tensions. Some Iranian analysts have viewed his comments as indicating the latter, given Tehran is debating but mostly rejecting the potential for negotiations with the Trump administration.

In the same speech, Rouhani also emphasized the value of peace and the cost of war for the United States. He stated: “As I said last year, making peace with Iran is the mother of all peace making. War with Iran would be the mother of all wars. If you want security and your soldiers in the region want security, this security will come for security [in return]. You cannot damage security and then expect security for yourself.”

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Official Says Iran Ready to Take Next Step on JCPOA

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said that Iran is ready to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA. He stated: “With the continuation of a lack of action from the Europeans to meet their JCPOA commitments, according to our declared plan, Iran will in about one month take its third step.”

Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA. Kamalvandi has said about what decision Iran will make: “We are holding meetings regarding this issue and the final decision will be taken by the high-ranking officials of the country depending on the situation which will then be implemented.” 

After a recent meeting of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal in Vienna, Russia announced that all the sides asked Iran to not take any further steps to reduce compliance with the accord.

Foreign Minister Zarif recently stated that Iran’s “third step” will not mean “the last step or an exit from the JCPOA.” However, Kamalvandi has said that “as we move forward, commitments have waned and in practical terms there will be no JCPOA left.”

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Phd Student Freed After Six years Imprisonment

Hamid Babaei, a Phd student who was arrested in August 2013, has been released from prison after six years. Babaei was studying in Belgium and was arrested after returning to Iran in 2013.  According to his relatives, he was arrested for refusing to cooperate with Iran’s intelligence services.

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Hardline Newspaper Attacks Zarif’s Defense of the JCPOA

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, wrote a piece sharply criticizing Foreign Minister Zarif. Shariatmadari was rebuking a response Zarif had given to a Kayhan journalist. 

The journalist had asked Zarif during a press conference: “Mr. Zarif, on February 1st, 2019, you wrote on Twitter that an agreement with America is not worth the ink it is written on. But a few weeks earlier you had said that if you could return to four years ago, you would again sign the JCPOA. My question is why should an agreement that isn’t worth the ink it’s signed on be signed again?”

Shariatmadari censured Zarif for what he said was his “long winded” answer to the question which raised “more baseless claims.” Zarif said in his answer that the JCPOA was not only an agreement with the United States, but with other world powers, and that its over 150 pages were testament to the carefulness of Iran’s diplomats.

Shariatmadari said he had a “short and logical” view, which he put thusly: “Rouhani and Zarif must be held accountable for throwing away the capabilities and opportunities the system gave them in the process of the nuclear negotiations.”

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Zarif Says Iran has No Problems with Saudi Arabia

Foreign Minister Zarif stated that Iran “has no problems with Saudi Arabia.” He added that “the end of the Yemen war would be a milestone for regional countries.” However, he also stated that “Saudi Arabia seeks victory in military conflicts, which cannot be realized.”  

Zarif further said that the Yemen war has no military solution. He stated: “From the beginning we stressed that the Yemen issue has no military solution. Right now, they [Saudi Arabia] must end the Yemen war. This is a war in which they have dismissed all political solutions to end and they believed they could win in several weeks.”

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IRGC Chief Says Iran’s Allies Deter War 

Hossein Salami, the head of the IRGC, has said that Iran’s network of regional allies is a “reason” that war has been deterred. He added: “The enemy cannot focus on Iran because in the sense of war, the geography will be vast. Everywhere there will be an outbreak of war and fire and danger for the enemy.”

He said any war would threaten Israel’s existence: “In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, a power has taken form. The enemy knows that in any war the Zionist regime [Israel] will be exposed to an all-out threat and irreversible collapse.”

Salami also stated that Iran was “not worried” about a war breaking out. He stated: “We are not worried about a military war because we have power and readiness and the enemy is incapable of having a will to attack or engage in a military war.” 

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Iran-Azerbaijan Increase Cooperation on North-South Corridor Trade Route

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the management and budgeting organization, said that Iran was increasing cooperation with Azerbaijan on the North-South Corridor. The North-South Corridor is a trade route that seeks to boost economic interconnectivity between India and Russia and the countries in between. It is seen by some as India’s rival to China’s One Belt, One Road project.

Bagher stated that Azerbaijan is cooperating with Iran to construct a new railway connecting the two countries as part of the North-South Corridor. Bagher stated it would be used for commercial purposes as well as by passengers.

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Iranian Officials Say Tanker Crisis Can Be Diplomatically Resolved

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

 

Officials Defend British Tanker Seizure, Call for Diplomatic Resolutions

 

President Rouhani declared that Iran and its neighbors are “primarily responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.” Rouhani was speaking after the British government said it would seek an increased military presence in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized a British oil tanker.

Rouhani stated that European countries must refrain from actions such as the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar by British forces weeks ago. Rouhani stated that if European countries “don’t stop their wrong actions such as what occurred in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran.” 

However, Ali Rabiee, the spokesperson for the Rouhani Administration, stated the seizure of the British tanker was not an act of retaliation by Iran. He asserted it was a “correct legal action.”

Rabiee contended that the two tanker seizures were not comparable. He stated that the British tanker had violated the “laws and regulations of seafaring” by “turning off its transponder” and instead of “going in the direction of the entrance to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, took a southern route and failed to listen to warnings from our forces.”

Rabiee said the British tanker was “stopped” in Iranian waters, while, according to Rabiee, “even Spanish officials say our tanker was stopped in Spanish waters.” Rabiee then stressed that the tanker crisis can be resolved through diplomacy.

On the other hand, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani stated that the seizure of the British tanker was a “response” to the capture of Iran’s tanker.

Mohammad Golpayegani, the head of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s office, said that the British had sent “intermediaries” to Iran to get the ship released. He proclaimed: “The country that once used to decide on who government ministers in Iran would be now has reached a place where it has to send intermediaries to ask for its ship to be freed.”

President Rouhani also proclaimed that “the entire world must thank the Revolutionary Guards for the Persian Gulf’s security.” He added: “We will not allow anyone to create disorder in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time, we are not after increasing tensions or a military confrontation.”

President Rouhani also emphasized that Iran was open to negotiations based on respect and not surrender. He stated: “As long as I have the responsibility for the country’s executive branch, we will always be ready for a negotiation that is just, legal, and has respect for the Iranian people and their rights.”

He added: “But we aren’t ready that under the name of negotiations, to sit at the table of surrender. We understand what negotiations are and what surrender is. We consider surrender unacceptable, our people and constitution will not accept it.”

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Imprisoned Political Prisoner Starts Hunger Strike

 

Imprisoned activist Sepideh Gholian has started a hunger strike. As detailed in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered, Gholian has been imprisoned since January 20th. She was first detained in November 2018 in connection to the labor protests led by workers from two companies in southwestern Iran. She was released after one month. 

After her release in December, Gholian said she was subject to torture. Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, who was held during the same period, also stated that he was tortured. Their claims spurred outrage and calls for investigations. Reformist MPs also invited Bakhshi to Parliament.

However, government officials denied their claims of torture after the Intelligence Ministry reportedly investigated the case.  Afterwards, Gholian and Bakhshi were rearrested based on a compliant from the Intelligence Ministry and on “security charges.” They will be tried in August.

The spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary said that a verdict was reached against the assailants that murdered an Iranian political prisoner months ago. The victim, 21-year-old Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, was killed by fellow inmates.

Mohammad Ali was arrested in August 2018 on charges of “insulting sanctities,” “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic,” “insulting the Leader,” and “propagandizing against the system.” He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

According to the judiciary spokesperson, the main assailant responsible for Mohammad Ali’s murder will be punished in accordance to qisas, or an “eye for an eye” punishment in Islamic law. The second assailant was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both also must pay financial compensation to the Mohammad Ali’s family.

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Deputy FM Travels to France with Proposal on Reducing U.S.-Iran Tensions

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi travelled to France to deliver a response to a French proposal on reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. According to foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi, Araghchi went to Paris as President Rouhani’s special representative. 

According to Iranian news outlet Alef citing knowledgeable sources, Araghchi was carrying President Rouhani’s counteroffer to a proposal that a French emissary recently delivered to Tehran. Read more about the French diplomat’s trip to Iran and President Macron’s effort to reduce U.S.-Iran tensions in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Macron’s proposal was widely reported as a “freeze for freeze” deal or “ceasefire” between the U.S. and Iran. According to some outlets, this would involve Iran ceasing from further reductions in its compliance with the JCPOA and the U.S. ceasing from imposing new sanctions and reissuing sanctions waivers for some importers of Iranian oil.

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Khamenei Advisor Warns Against Increasing Western Military Footprint in Persian Gulf

 

Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister and now military advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, has warned against moves to bolster Western military forces in the Persian Gulf. Amid reports that Britain is seeking a coalition to increase military patrols in the Persian Gulf, Dehghan declared: “Any change in the situation in the Strait of Hormuz will result in a dangerous confrontation.”

Dehghan also stated that Iran will “under no circumstances negotiate with the United States.” He added that Iran will speak to “no one” about its missile program.

Dehghan proclaimed that in the event of a war, “all U.S. bases in the region will come under attack by Iran’s armed forces.” He also repeated a line heard from many Iranian officials, that either “all countries can export their oil through the Strait of Hormuz, or no one can.”

Dehghan further stated that some Arab Persian Gulf countries had sent representatives to Tehran for peace negotiations.  He did not specify which countries, but added that the UAE had allowed itself to be turned into an “American military base to harm Iran’s national interests.”

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IRGC Initially Believed that U.S. Downed Iranian Drone

 

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has repeated that President Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone over the Persian Gulf was a “lie.” Dehghan said that the lie was “so big that we ourselves at first believed it.” Iran responded to Trump’s claim by denying it had lost any drone and releasing a video of an Iranian drone surveilling the U.S. vessel that Trump said shot the drone down.

Hajizadeh said “we couldn’t believe that he [Trump] would make such a big lie directly to the media.” He added: “For this reason, we delayed for a few hours before denying it. We saw that our unmanned drone surveilled the U.S. vessel from before its entrance into the Strait of Hormuz until after it passed through the strait.”

Hajizadeh then asserted that the “Americans themselves have now blamed John Bolton for this issue.”

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Intelligence Ministry Alleges Arrest of 17 U.S. Spies

 

The head of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s counterintelligence department announced the arrest of “17 spies trained by America’s intelligence agency.” The official said: “On June 18th of this year, the intelligence ministry was successful in destroying a spy network linked to America’s intelligence agency.” 

According to the official, indictments have been brought forward against the alleged spies and some will be executed. He added that they were employed in “sensitive and vital centers” and in “private sector jobs affiliated with these centers.” These included areas related to Iran’s economic, nuclear, military, and cyber sectors.

The official said that each of the alleged spies was handled by a “CIA officer.” He added that they were each an individual cell and that “none of them were in contact with each other.”

The official further said that the CIA had given the alleged spies guarantees regarding their safety, stating: “The CIA could not fulfill any of its guarantees. All of these spies are now engulfed in trouble for betraying the country.”

The official added, those who “engaged the intelligence ministry with total sincerity and whose remorse is proven, will be used against the Americans.”

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Next JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting Approaches

 

On July 28th, the JCPOA’s Joint Commission—comprised of the remaining parties to the accord—will meet in Vienna at the deputy foreign minister-level. The meeting was called for by the European members of the deal to discuss the “new situation” regarding the deal, referring to Iran reducing its compliance with the accord. 

The meeting will reportedly also be aimed at preparing the groundwork for another upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of the remaining JCPOA-signatory countries. Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, has reiterated that if the remaining JCPOA parties fail to meet their commitments under the deal, Iran will take “another step” in reducing its compliance with the deal in roughly 60 days. 

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Iranian Officials Deny Losing Drone

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

 

Political Prisoner Narges Mohammadi Censures Prison Conditions

Narges Mohammadi, a political prisoner and lawyer, has written a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi criticizing the poor conditions that imprisoned environmentalist activists are facing. Mohammadi said their conditions were “illegal and reflected torture” and called for ending “these inhumane practices.” Mohammad herself is serving a ten-year prison sentence.

The eight environmentalist activists have now been imprisoned for over 500 days. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist at France’s Sciences Po University, was arrested by IRGC intelligence while visiting Tehran. A spokesperson for the Iranian judiciary confirmed the arrest, but the Iranian foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of it.

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President Rouhani Talks to French President, Welcomes “Ceasefire” Idea

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Rouhani said Iran was “determined to keep open all paths to preserve the JCPOA.” However, Rouhani stated that the “passage of time and missed opportunities will force Iran to take a third step [in reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”

Rouhani also said Europe should strive for a “ceasefire in the U.S. economic war.”  He stated: “Europe must expedite its efforts to meet Iran’s legitimate interests and establish a ceasefire in the American economic war.”

During a visit to Tehran last week, Macron’s top diplomatic advisor had said that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.

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Rouhani-Aligned Analyst Calls for Enriching at 20-Percent

Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University and an advisor to the Rouhani administration during the nuclear negotiations, gave a far-reaching interview on U.S.-Iran tensions. Hadian is viewed as a centrist and West-leaning foreign policy analyst. He has also served as a senior researcher for Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council.

Hadian said Iran should begin enriching at the 20-percent level and then “immediately announce that we are ready for dialogue.” Hadian said he believes that Trump has reached the “conclusion that it is better not to make the situation worse [with Iran].”

Hadian said he further believes that the recent trip to Tehran of a senior diplomatic advisor to French President Macron was coordinated with Washington. He opined: “Trump has reached the conclusion that the Iranian government will not collapse as a result of maximum pressure and that another path must be pursued. France is trying to pave this new path, meaning a path out of the current situation.”

Hadian further stated that Europe and America both seek a mutual “freeze” deal with Iran. The French emissary last week said in Tehran that France seeks a “ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran.” Other outlets have described this potential mutual freeze agreement as entailing Iran returning to full compliance with the JCPOA and ceasing recent acts of regional escalation in return for the U.S. reissuing sanctions waivers to eight importers of Iranian oil and refraining from imposing new sanctions.

However, Hadian said such a “freeze” offer was “not to Iran’s benefit” and thus called on Iran to increase its level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent. 

Elsewhere in the interview, Hadian said that recent escalations in the Persian Gulf and in the region had changed President Trump’s calculations on his Iran policy. He stated: “The thesis of Bolton and Pompeo was that if we increase pressure on Iran it will submit. Trump accepted their view. However, Trump began doubting this when incidents started occurring in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz two months ago.”

Hadian added in this regard that Europe might be able to convince Trump to distance himself from his hawkish advisors and take a more realistic assessment of the situation. He stated: “He can listen to the Europeans and return to the JCPOA in a way that is gradual and unspecified. This will strengthen the mediation role of Europe between the U.S. and Iran and Iran will stop its gradual exit from the JCPOA.”

Hadian further stated that President Rouhani did not believe that Europe would be as incapable as it has been in resisting U.S. secondary sanctions. He stated: “We all knew that the position and capabilities of America are much higher than Europe … but all of us, including President Rouhani, did not think that Europe would be this incapable in facing America.”

Hadian explained why he believes that Europe will bear the brunt of the cost for any conflict with Iran: “Because most refugees and terrorists in the Middle East will head towards Europe. Political and social instability in this region and an increase in the price of oil will have far greater consequences for Europe than America.”

He then suggested Iran might build nuclear weapons if it comes under attack: “Additionally, Europe has security concerns that according to them include Iran developing atomic weapons or advanced missiles. They believe that if a war occurs, Iran will develop stronger weapons to defend itself.”

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Former Reformist President Khatami Calls for Unity Against Threat of War

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has declared that war is the “main danger” facing Iran and called for broad public unity against this threat. Khatami also emphasized that upcoming elections should not be boycotted by reformists. The next elections in Iran are for parliament on February 21, 2020.

Khatami stated that “reformists and discontented people must make a sacrifice and selfless act and go to the ballot boxes for the sake of Iran.” However, he added that reformists cannot “enter elections at any cost.” He stated that “God willing the atmosphere will be opened and the qualifications will be accepted [of reformist candidates running for office by the Guardian Council].”

Khatami also said that the current parliament and the Rouhani administration should be held to account over the campaign promises they made but failed to achieve.

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Officials Deny Losing a Drone

After President Trump said that the USS Boxer had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian officials denied having lost any drone. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesperson for Iran’s Armed Forces, stated in this regard: “Contrary to the claims that reflect Trump’s delusions, all of the drones belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one discussed by America’s president, have safely returned to their bases after conducting their surveillance and planned control operations.”

Shekarchi added that President Trump’s comments create “insecurity” in the Persian Gulf and the “strategic waterway of the Strait of Hormuz.” He added: “The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran view the control and preserving the security of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz as their legal responsibility.”

Hours later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards released footage of what they said was surveillance of the USS Boxer by an Iranian drone. The video alleges to show the drone surveilling the ship after the time Trump said an Iranian drone had been shot down.

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IRGC Chief Says Iran Might Shift to “Aggressive” Posture

IRGC chief Hossein Salami proclaimed that if there is a “strategic mistake by the enemy,” Iran’s “strategic military doctrine will shift from a defensive strategy to an aggressive one.” Salami stated: “We act in a defensive way. This means we will not be the initiator of any war … however, if necessary, all of our capabilities will become aggressive.” Salami was speaking during a visit to the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the greater and lesser Tombs, which the UAE contests.

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Officials Dismiss Oil Tanker Accusations

Iranian officials dismissed reports in some Western outlets that Iranian authorities had commandeered oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. According to some reports, one Emirati tanker’s radar went offline after entering Iranian waters and another oil-carrying vessel was captured by the IRGC.

Iranian officials stated that the commandeered vessel was a “foreign” ship that was carrying “one million liters” of “smuggled” Iranian oil. According to Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, the other vessel was an oil tanker that had broken down and appealed to Iran for assistance, which Iran provided in accordance to international law.

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Iran Further Reduces Compliance with JCPOA

Week of July 8, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Iran Further Reduces Compliance with JCPOA

On July 7th, Iran announced that it would halt compliance with the JCPOA’s limit on its level of uranium enrichment. Iranian officials declared that if Europe does not meet its JCPOA requirements, Iran will take a “third step” in reducing compliance with the deal starting on September 7th. 

Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period that has now been announced, Iran will start enriching uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said that increasing enrichment to the 20-percent level and “higher options” has been discussed in the Supreme National Security Council. However, Kamalvandi said that currently “there is no need for this.” He added that there are no “obstacles or problems” for Iran to produce 20-percent enriched fuel.

Kamalvandi further emphasized that Iran would take actions in line with its practical needs for nuclear fuel: “When the needs of the country are something else, we’re not going to take actions just to scare the other side with increased enrichment.”

Previously, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the spokesperson for President Rouhani, said that Iran would begin enriching at 20 percent and at higher levels if it left the JCPOA. AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi has also previously said that Iran could start 20-percent enrichment at Fordow in four days if the decision were made to do so.

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Top French Diplomat Visits Tehran

Emmanuel Bonne, the top diplomatic advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron, travelled to Tehran with the express aim of reducing U.S.-Iran tensions. However, Bonne said he did not “come as a mediator to Tehran” and had “no message from America for Iran.” Bonne was previously in Iran roughly one month ago after the sabotage of two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Bonne’s trip came after President Rouhani and Macron had a one-hour phone conversation on July 7th. It also occurred after Iran announced it would cease compliance with the JCPOA’s limit on its level of uranium enrichment and begin enriching at 4.5 percent. Previously, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s 300 kg limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

Bonne met with Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani. Bonne told Shamkhani regarding France’s aim: “Emmanuel Macron seeks joint initiatives for a ceasefire in America’s economic war against Iran. He believes such an action will reduce increasing tensions in the region.”

Before he met with Bonne, Zarif provided the criteria for the conditions under which Iran would negotiate about the JCPOA. He stated: “Negotiations are never conceivable under pressure. The pressures and economic war and terrorism against the people of Iran must be stopped then we can talk about implementing the JCPOA.”

Shamkhani told Bonne that Iran gradually reducing its JCPOA obligations was an “unchangeable strategy.” He stated: “Given that for one year Europe did not use the opportunity of Iran implementing its JCPOA commitments in a one-sided way, the definitive decision of our country is to implement our commitments in a way commensurate to the other sides’ actions. The time of taking one-sided actions is over.”

Shamkhani further said: “This path is in the framework of articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA and will continue until Iran’s gets all of its rights.”

Shamkhani also said that America was “taking European independence hostage.” He added: “The European Union countries must stand against American unilateralism to defend their identity and independence.”

Bonne also said to Shamkhani about France cooperation with Iran in the region: “Given Iran’s role and undeniable impact in the region, France is eager to continue dialogue and cooperation with Iran to manage the current crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.”

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Iranian Officials React to British Seizure of Tanker

After British sailors seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami described the action as “a type of piracy.” He further declared: “For sure this type of piracy will not go without a response from us.”

President Rouhani also strongly condemned the British action as “very wrong.” He added: “The British are creating insecurity in the seas. We hope they don’t continue this because if this is repeated, it will result in insecurity in the world which will harm everyone.”

Rouhani further proclaimed: “I remind the British that you have initiated insecurity and you will understand the consequences later. However, the British may have acted based off an order from America … but this would still have been a wrong action.

During the same press conference, Rouhani also said Iran was not “in a hurry” to leave the JCPOA. He declared: “We are not in a hurry to take an emotional action against an agreement which is on the basis of logic and the strength of Iran’s diplomacy and the capabilities of our negotiators in the face of global powers, which removed all UN Security Council resolutions against us … and that has now isolated the United States.”

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IRGC Launches Military Strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards released a statement saying it targeted Kurdish positions in Iraqi Kurdistan using missiles, artillery, and drones. The statement said the strikes were in response to militant attacks in Iran that killed three soldiers.

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Professors Call for Freedom of Detained Environmentalists

Week of June 24, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

101 University Professors Call on Judiciary Chief to Free Detained Environmentalists

101 prominent Iranian university professors have written a letter to the head of Iran’s judiciary calling for the release of eight environmentalist activists arrested last year. Read more about the case of the imprisoned environmentalists in past issues of Iran Unfiltered. 

The signatories of the letter say it has been “more than 500 days” that some of the most “renowned Iranian environmental specialists and activists” have been imprisoned on espionage charges. The letter highlighted the disagreement between the Revolutionary Guards charging the environmentalists with espionage and the Intelligence Ministry dismissing these charges.

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Outrage and Controversy Over Video of Police Beating Woman

A video went viral of two police officers physically confronting and forcefully arresting a woman in a Tehran park. The video was released by the “White Wednesdays” project and spurred controversy across social media and among politicians.

After the incident, Tehran’s police chief stated that the two officers “had been fired” because of their “improper conduct.” According to the police chief, three men and two women were arrested at the park for “resisting the instructions of police, breaking norms, confronting police, and improper hijab.”

Hours later, the police chief said that the action against the officers was “being halted.” A police statement said that “the implementation or suspension of charges against the officers will occur after an investigation.” The police chief said the reversal happened because of “new reports” regarding “events” at the park.

Parvaneh Salahshouri, a member of parliament, said that parliamentarians wished to question the interior minister over the “violent conduct of the police.” Salahshouri said that 30 members of parliament had written a complaint to the interior minister asking for an explanation regarding the incident.

Rouhani administration spokesperson Ali Rabiee also said that the police’s conduct was “unacceptable” and that Rouhani would speak to the interior minister about the incident. He further noted that the incident required a judicial response and added: “The reaction of law enforcement to the crime—if we assume a crime occurred—was totally unacceptable. We are certain the head of the council for the country’s security will give the necessary admonitions on this.”

Rabiee went on: “Our officers must know that in their hard work, they cannot use illegal and anti-Sharia (religious) methods. Such methods are opposed by the political system, the administration, and their own commanders.”

President Rouhani also stated in a speech that government interference in the private lives of people was “unhealthy.”

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Rouhani Strongly Blasts White House, Defends Khamenei Over Sanctions

After the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his office, President Rouhani issued a strong defense of Khamenei. Rouhani stated: “The Leader of Iran is not like other world leaders to have millions of dollars in foreign banks, for them to want to take or block these funds.”

Rouhani said the new sanctions were a “ridiculous and hideous” action, adding: “No country that has even a little bit of wisdom and prudence would sanction the highest official of a country. And not just a political official, but a religious, social, and spiritual figure who is not just the leader of Iran, but the leader of the lovers of the Iran and the Islamic revolution and of Shias in the Islamic world and across the world.”

Rouhani further said that U.S. sanctions were “against human rights” and amounted to “sanctioning the Iranian people.” He stated: “The actions that America takes today reflect the definite failure of America. I have no doubt about this because why would anyone wise engage in such actions?”

Rouhani went on to say that the White House was afflicted by “confusion” and “mental disability.” He said: “Among American rulers and the White House there is a bizarre frustration and a great confusion.” He added: “The White House is stricken with a mental disability and they don’t know what to do.”

Rouhani also proclaimed that Iran will not give permission for U.S. officials to enter Iran and that Trump is lying about wanting negotiations with Iran. Regarding comments by U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin that the U.S. would sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Rouhani stated: “The Americans lie when they say they are ready for negotiations.”

The Iranian foreign ministry also said that sanctions “against Iran’s leader and the commander of the country’s diplomacy [Javad Zarif] mean the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy with the desperate U.S. government.” A senior foreign ministry official also said that if Zarif is sanctioned, “he won’t receive visas [for travel]” and that his property would be “confiscated.” The source added: “However our foreign minister has no property or even a bank account in America or anywhere else in the world.”

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Khamenei Says U.S. Negotiations Offer a “Deception”

In a speech following the imposition of new U.S. sanctions, Ayatollah Khamenei once again voiced opposition to new negotiations and censured the United States. As in other recent speeches, Khamenei reiterated that the U.S. seeks to disarm Iran through negotiations, stating: “The Americans are terrified of the source of the Iranian nation’s power and are afraid to move forward (aggressively). As such, they want to take the source of Iran’s power away through negotiations to commit whatever blunder they want against the nation.”

Khamenei added that Trump’s offer of negotiations was a “deception.” He further said that U.S. sanctions were “oppressive” and that “the Iranian people won’t be affected by U.S. insults, nor will they retreat.”

Khamenei also stated that U.S. pressure had no effect on the Iranian people because they participate in elections and demonstrations. He said of Iran’s upcoming parliamentary election in February 2020: “There is an election at the end of this year [the Iranian year 1398]. I know that despite the doubts that some are trying to create, the nation will be present in the election with enthusiasm.”

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Rouhani Tells French President JCPOA Breaches “Reversible”

In a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron, President Rouhani stated that Iran will not negotiate again on a nuclear agreement. Rouhani also said that Iran has “no interest in increasing tensions in the region and has never been after war with any country, including with the United States.”

Rouhani emphasized to Macron that Iran’s plans to breach certain JCPOA limitations are “reversible.” He stated that Iran wants the other parties to implement their commitments under the deal, especially in the areas of resolving Iranian issues with banking and selling oil.

Rouhani also said that any violation of Iran’s territorial integrity was a redline for a military response. He told Macron: “If the Americans again violate Iran’s waters or airspace, Iran’s armed forces will oppose them and give a decisive response.”

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Rouhani Praises Iran’s Armed Forces for Downing U.S. Drone

President Rouhani highlighted the difficulty of identifying and shooting down the U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk drone and praised Iran’s armed forces. He stated in a speech: “Discovering a drone, especially at such immense heights, is not easy. In the first minutes that it violated our skies, and after giving multiple warnings, with Iranian radar systems and missiles we shot it down. I kiss the hands of all the experts in the defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards who developed our missile capabilities.”

Rouhani added that Iran is “not afraid of America, but is exercising strategic patience.” He further said: “They [the U.S.] didn’t think that Iran could shoot down their drone because discovering such a drone from a military angle is very difficult.”

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Former Tehran Mayor Aid Charged with Espionage

Isa Sharifi, the longtime deputy of former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, has been arrested and charged with “espionage.” Sharifi is reportedly a former IRGC commander and served alongside Ghalibaf for most of his 12-year tenure as Tehran’s mayor.

Initial reports that Sharifi had been executed have been denied, with judicial sources telling media outlets that Sharifi’s indictment will soon be announced. Sharifi was also involved in several corruption scandals and served in the Tehran city council for a short time until reformists took it over after elections in 2017. Sharifi was arrested several months later in August 2017.

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Iran Downs U.S. Drone, Will Breach Nuclear Deal’s Limits

Week of June 17, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone, Alleges It Violated Iranian Airspace

On June 20th, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in a statement that it had shot down a U.S. drone that allegedly violated Iranian airspace. The IRGC statement identified the unmanned aerial vehicle as a “Global Hawk” drone. It said the drone took off “from an American base in the south of the Persian Gulf” at 00:14 local time. While in “stealth” mode, the drone flew past the Strait of Hormuz towards the southeastern Iranian port city of Chabahar, as per the IRGC statement.

According to the IRGC statement, at 04:05 local time, the drone was targeted and destroyed by an air defense unit of the IRGC’s aerospace division “when it entered the airspace of the country.” The statement says the drone was shot down near the Kuh Mobarak region in Iran’s southern Hormozgan province. It added that the drone was engaged in “intelligence gathering and spying.”

Later that morning, the IRGC’s top commander Hossein Salami gave a speech in Iran’s Kurdistan province, where he mentioned the drone downing and discussed broader foreign policy issues. Salami said regarding the drone downing: “Early this morning, the IRGC’s aerospace division downed a spy aircraft of the enemy that had entered our borders and was violating our national security.”

Salami stated that Iran didn’t seek war but its redline was any violation of its borders. He declared: “The downing of the Americans’ spy aircraft had one obvious, clear, decisive, explicit, and precise message, which is that the defenders of our Islamic homeland of Iran will in the face of any violation of our territory by any foreigner show a reaction that is decisive, conclusive, and definitive.”

Salami added: “We declare that we have no intention of going to war with any country. However, we are fully prepared for war, and today’s incident gets this across very clearly.”

Salami also said that the U.S. seeks to disarm Iran through negotiations: “The enemy through negotiations wants to strip the Iranian people of their defensive weapons. A nation that is disarmed can easily be attacked. However, the enemy doesn’t dare transgress against a nation that remains steadfast.”

Salami further said of negotiations with the United States: “They [the U.S.] wanted to portray the path to resolving Iran’s economic problems as being through negotiations. However, we have our experiences and the lessons of recent history. We know we cannot trust the untrustworthy American government. To this day, we have grown through resistance and have been raised by the logic of resistance.”

Salami also said U.S. policies had failed in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere in the region: “In Lebanon, they were defeated by Hezbollah and their aggressive plans for that country were forever ended. The Palestinians have put aside their rocks and taken up missiles … They [the U.S.] wanted to collapse the Syrian state but have now been forced to run away from that country. With 150,000 troops they wanted to conquer Iraq. But today, Iraq is not under the control of American policies.”

He added: “In Yemen, they wanted to build a new political-geographic bridge but the Americans, Saudis, and their allies are in a quagmire and the situation has changed in favor of the Yemenis.”

Regarding the downed U.S. drone, a local IRGC official in Hormozgan province added the wreckage of the aircraft was in Iranian waters in the Raaz al-Shir area. The official said the decision to shoot down the aircraft was made after U.S. drones had “repeatedly violated Iranian airspace” in the Persian Gulf.

He added: “In recent days, American surveillance and spying flights in the Persian Gulf had increased and this was coupled with violating our airspace.”

After President Trump said Iran made a “very big mistake” in shooting down the drone, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said Iran doesn’t take Trump’s words seriously. Shamkani added: “Iran will not attack anyone, but if we are attacked, the aggressor will regret it.”

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IRGC Displays Wreckage, Says Warnings Were Given Prior to Downing Drone

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’S aerospace division, spoke at a ceremony displaying alleged parts of the downed U.S. drone. Hajizadeh stated: “Some of the wreckage of the American drone are spread out in the waters near Kuh Mobarak and some of the heavy parts have sunk.”

Hajizadeh said that Iran had issued multiple warnings before downing the drone: “Our last warning to the American spy drone was at 03:00 and came from a drone belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s army. After these warnings were disregarded, the drone was downed at 04:00.”

Hajizadeh said Iran also could have shot down a “P-8 U.S. espionage aircraft” that had a crew of 30 people. Hajizadeh said the P-8 aircraft was flying near the drone. He stated: “We could have shot it down, but we didn’t.”

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Iran & Russia Ink Agreements in Isfahan Economic Summit

Iran hosted the 15th “commission for economic and commercial cooperation” between Iran and Russia in Isfahan. Iran’s energy minister Reza Ardakanian said that Iran and Russia originally planned to sign seven agreements during the conference, but that because of the “interest that was shown,” 12 agreements were reached. They were mainly in the sectors of energy and transportation infrastructure.

Railways companies from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan also held meetings. Among the projects discussed were to develop electrical and railway infrastructure between the countries.

Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh and Russian oil minister Alexander Novak also met in Isfahan. They discussed an agreement to export Iranian oil to Russia among other issues.

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Iranian Security Chief Travels to Moscow, Discusses Afghanistan and Syria

On June 19th, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani travelled to Moscow to participate in a meeting of security officials from across the globe.  Shamkhani met with his Russia counterpart Nikolai Patrushev to discuss the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, among other issues.

In his meeting with Patrushev, Shamkhani praised the efforts of Iran, Russia, and Afghanistan’s other neighbors to create “a process for national unity” in that country. Shamkhani said a meeting to be held in Tehran later this year of senior security officials from Afghanistan’s neighbors would be an “appropriate opportunity to accelerate the process of establishing sustainable stability in Afghanistan.”

Patrushev also discussed with Shamkhani an upcoming trilateral meeting between Russia, Israel, and the U.S. about Syria. Patrushev said about the meeting, which is to take place in Israel: “We will inform the Islamic Republic of Iran, our strategic partner in the region, of the results of this meeting.”

Patrushev added: “Russia will definitely not support any actions that will exacerbate the crisis in Syria.”

Shamkhani also stated in Russia that “contrary to the propaganda by some against Iran, no war will occur because there is no reason for war to occur.”  He added that the U.S. was engaged in an “economic war” to bring the Iranian people “to their knees,” but that the “Iranian people are standing against them [the U.S.].”

Shamkhani further stated that in the face of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran will “gradually decrease its commitments” under the deal.

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Brother of Former President Tried for 2009 Election Fraud Claims

The trial Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and a former deputy parliamentary speaker, has concluded. Khatami was tried over remarks he made during a TV interview last year about Iran’s contested 2009 presidential election. Khatami had said in the interview that “around 7 to 8 million” votes were manipulated by the Interior Ministry.

After his trial, Khatami told the media that he had highlighted several cases of “fraud, interference, or [election] engineering, whatever you want to call it.” He said that his defense in court rested on three pillars, which were based on “statistics and documents from the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council.” This included a Guardian Council investigation after the election, which stated that 2 million votes were missing in the official count.

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Iran to Breach JCPOA Limit

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iran will begin the next stage of ceasing compliance with aspects of the JCPOA on July 7th. On May 8th, Iran had given Europe 60 days to meet its obligations under the JCPOA, or Iran would gradually leave limitations set out by the deal. (Read more about Iran’s earlier announcement in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered.)

According to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), in this period starting on July 7th, Iran will breach the JCPOA’s limitation on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). The JCPOA limits Iran to 300 kg of LEU enriched to the 3.67 percent level. Iran has also said it may restart enrichment at higher levels.

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Japanese PM Travels to Tehran Amid Tanker Sabotage

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Khamenei Issues Forceful Response to Trump Via Abe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Political Prisoner Murdered

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

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

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Rouhani Travels to Kyrgyzstan for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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Zarif Says Tanker Sabotage “Suspicious”

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

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

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NIAC Deeply Concerned by Continued Deterioration of the Iran Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abdi continued:

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

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

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

Flood Response Highlights Political Feuds

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

 

Flood Relief Efforts Highlight Differences between Rouhani and Revolutionary Guards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prominent Political Scientist Zibakalam Discusses Domestic Politics & Upcoming Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iraqi PM to Make First Trip to Iran

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

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Devastating Floods Sweep Large Swathes of Iran

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

Floods Devastate Parts of Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nuclear Chief Says New “Nuclear Achievements” to be Announced

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

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

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Conservative Newspaper Says Democrats & Republicans the Same on Iran

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

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

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

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

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UN Extends Human Rights Rapporteur Mandate

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

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

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

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Iran and Iraq Make Visas Free

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

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

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

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

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

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Nasrin Sotoudeh Won’t Appeal Sentence

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

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

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

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

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Khamenei Dismisses EU Efforts to Salvage JCPOA, Blasts Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Four Kidnapped Iranian Border Guards Freed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EU Holds Regional Talks with Iran in Brussels

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

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

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Three Former Bank Executives Sentenced in Anti-Corruption Probe

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

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INSTEX’s Parallel Structure Registered in Tehran

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

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

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

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

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