Iran Dismisses Warsaw Summit as a Failure

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

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry Blasts Warsaw Summit as Failing to Isolate Iran

The Iranian foreign ministry blasted as a failure the Trump administration’s co-hosted summit in Warsaw on “peace and security” in the Middle East. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated: “Despite the far-reaching efforts of Washington to organize an inclusive summit and create a new coalition against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the summit was a failure before it ended. The small number of attendees and low-level representatives refused to cooperate with any anti-Iranian initiative.”

Ghassemi added: “The concluding statement was a useless document. Its text came only from the two countries that hosted the summit and lacked any credibility or semblance of a decision.”

He further stated: “How can a conference about peace and security in the Middle East be successful when the main regional players such as Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are not present? And important countries such as China and Russia and many major European countries and other countries are not present or sent very low-level officials?”

A columnist for the conservative Alef analyzed the Warsaw summit: “The U.S. regime has pursued Iranophobia because of the Islamic Republic’s role in politically isolating the U.S. at the international level and America’s defeat and frustration in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”

The writer said of the Iranian foreign ministry’s role in diminishing the effectiveness of the Warsaw summit: “The active diplomacy of the foreign ministry caused U.S. officials to become troubled and retreat from their original claims out of fear of organizing a useless gathering. They altered the original aim of the summit and declared that the summit wasn’t targeted against any one country (Iran).”

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Islamic Republic Celebrates 40 years as Ayatollah Khamenei Calls for “Second Great Leap”

On February 11th, the Islamic Republic celebrated its 40th anniversary with marches in Tehran and across the country. According to official outlets, millions marched in the annual state-backed rallies.

At a speech in Tehran’s Azadi Square, President Rouhani lauded what he said was Iran “freeing itself from despotism, colonialism, and dependency 40 years ago.” He also praised the country’s military strengths, stating: “We will continue this path, and I say this clearly to the people of Iran, that Iran’s military power in the past 40 years, especially in the recent five years, has amazed the entire world.”

A column in the conservative Alef discussed the February 11th rallies and the question of the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy. It asked: “In all these years one question has always existed about what the secret has been behind the presence and participation of a more or less consistent amount of people in 22 Bahman (February 11th) rallies?”

The writer went on: “It was especially expected this year that because of economic and societal crises that the level of people’s participation would decrease in a visible way … what explains the people’s presence and cooperation at a time when many officials across the three branches of government are facing a drop in public trust?”

The piece, reflecting a conservative point of view, noted: “It is clear that despite all shortcomings, deficiencies, and embezzlements, the political and social lives of Iranians has tangibly changed and the Islamic Republic is present in society’s fabric. It breathes, resists, and progresses. However, just like any living being at times in fails or even regresses.”

It added: “The transformation of government and the creation of a national government was one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic and is the main foundation that is preserving it. National government here means the stake that [ordinary] Iranians have in institutions from the Leadership to local government and city councils and the opportunity for them to contribute in a real way.”

The author concluded: “The constitutional revolution started the process of transitioning Iran from a tribal government to a national government. But the total amount of efforts taken during the constitutional and Pahlavi period led to no more than five percent of people having a stake in the government. The Islamic Revolution in the least optimistic view raised the stake of people in government to 40 percent, and in recent years it has remained above 30 percent [of people participating in government affairs].”

Ayatollah Khamenei also released a statement on the 40th anniversary of the revolution, in which he called on Iranian youth to take a “second great leap” to advance the revolution. In the statement, Khamenei gave an overview of achievements and events that had taken place since the revolution and a set of recommendations to the Iranian people, especially the youth.

Khamenei acknowledged regarding the situation of “justice and confronting corruption” in the country: “I explicitly say that there is a wide gap between what has happened and what should happen.”

He said of Iran’s support for regional proxies: “If back then the West’s problem was stopping Iran from purchasing basic weaponry, today its problem is the transfer of advanced weapons from Iran to resistance forces.”

Khamenei also called the United States and some European states “cowardly and untrustworthy.” He dismissed the idea of negotiations with the United States, proclaiming: “No issues can be resolved and other than moral and material harms nothing will come out of negotiations [with the U.S.].”

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Suicide Bomber Targets Bus Carrying IRGC Soldiers

On February 13th, a suicide bomber killed 27 and wounded 13 in an attack on a bus carrying Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldiers in southwestern Iran. The bomber drove a car full of explosives into the bus, which was travelling to the city of Zahedan. The Wahhabi-Salafist “Jaish al-Adl”—a group with a history of engaging in such terrorist attacks—claimed responsibility.

In a statement, IRGC commander Mojtaba Fada said that those killed were all from Isfahan province. He said the funeral for the soldiers would be Saturday.

Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the bombing on Iran’s regional rivals. He stated: “The connection is certain between the perpetrators of this criminal act and the spy agencies of some regional countries.” He added that the “responsible [Iranian] agencies” have been instructed to “focus” on this connection and “seriously pursue it.”

President Rouhani also linked the attack to “the White House, Tel Aviv, and their regional cronies.”

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Workers Write to International Labor Group for Support

On February 13th, the Iran-based “Confederation of Free Workers” wrote a letter to the International Labour Organization calling on the head of the organization to press the Iranian government to “unconditionally release imprisoned labor activists.” The letter specifically pointed to the labor activists Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi, members of the confederation who were arrested in January. (More on their case in a previous Iran Unfiltered).

The confederation underscored a “new trend in repressing laborers” inside Iran. The letter cited the case of imprisoned labor activists Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati and noted that 40 workers belonging to the Ahvaz Steel Company remain imprisoned.

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FATF Debate Coming to a Head

On February 16th, the Expediency Discernment Council is expected to reach its final decision regarding a bill introduced by the Rouhani administration to reform Iran’s anti-money laundering laws. The bill is part of a set of legislation designed to bring Iran into compliance with standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks. The Expediency Discernment Council decision will come as the FATF deadline for Iran to reform its banking sector looms at the end of February. (For more background on the contentious domestic debate on the FATF bills, see previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi recently sparked controversy after saying that the Expediency Discernment Council would be responsible for any consequences resulting from rejecting the FATF legislation. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the body’s standards. Vaezi had stated: “If the FATF legislation isn’t passed, pressure on us will increased. If the Expediency Discernment Council doesn’t approve these bills, it should accept the results of this action.”

On February 11th, Ebrahim Raisi, who ran as the main conservative presidential candidate in 2017 challenging Rouhani and heads the influence Astan Qods Razavi religious foundation, dismissed the importance of Iran passing the FATF bills. He stated: “Some state that if we don’t want to give an excuse to the enemy, we should sign these agreements and conventions. Who can guarantee that if we sign, the enemy will stop its excuses? Wasn’t the nuclear issue an excuse?”

He added: “The only solution with respect to the enemy has been steadfastness and resistance. This is an important signal and symbol to give the enemy.”

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Announcement on New Judiciary Chief Imminent

Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Eje’i has stated that the new head of the judiciary—replacing incumbent Sadegh Larijani—will be appointed by the end of the current Iranian year (March 21st). Eje’I said: “God willing the new head of the judiciary branch will be introduced and begin work before the end of the year and before the start of the new year.”

According to some Iranian media reports, hardline 2017 presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi will replace Sadegh Larijani as Iran’s judiciary chief on March 15th, securing one of the Islamic Republic’s most senior posts.

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President Rouhani Attends Syria Peace Talks in Russia

On February 14th, President Rouhani joined Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan for the fourth round of “Astana-process” Syria peace talks in Sochi. According to Iranian media outlets, Rouhani called on the international community to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and to support reconstruction efforts in Syria. He also said that the presence of foreign troops, namely American forces, remain in Syria “without the invitation of the [Syrian] government” and that this must “end as soon as possible.”

Rouhani said of the Astana process: “Our cooperation has managed to greatly diminish the fires of war and merciless killing that had overtaken Syria for years. Dialogue between the various sides has seen [political] differences substitute guns and bullets. Today, after over seven years since the start of the crisis, in most of this country there is security and stability except for a small part of the country.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Lebanon

On February 11th, Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Lebanon for a two-day visit and met with figures ranging from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In his meeting with Hariri, the prime minister called on Iran to release Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen and information technology expert arrested and accused of being a U.S. spy in 2015.

 

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Supreme Leader Calls for “Structural Reforms”

Week of February 4, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani and Foreign Ministry Respond to Trump’s State of the Union

On February 5th, President Rouhani responded to comments by President Trump that the U.S. would keep a base in Iraq to be “looking a little bit at Iran.” He said to Trump: “You say in a degrading and non-diplomatic way that we [the U.S.] will stay in Iraq. Before this, you said we were in Iraq to confront terrorism, but it’s good that you have said what’s in your heart now.”

Rouhani also asserted that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was not aimed at confronting terrorism, stating: “Why do you need to occupy a country if you have an air force? Why do you lie? You are there [Afghanistan] to be vigilant of the power of Russia, China, and Iran.”

On February 6th, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi responded to President Trump’s State of the Union comments that Iran was the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and “threatens genocide against the Jewish people.” He stated Trump’s remarks were “baseless, fantastical, and irrational.”

Ghassemi added regarding Iran’s Jewish population: “Religious minorities including Jewish people in the Islamic Republic of Iran live under full freedom and have an independent member of parliament.”

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Iran and Europe to Discuss INSTEX in Paris

According to ISNA, technical meetings are due to take place soon in Paris between Iran and the three European states launching INSTEX. The Iranian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. INSTEX was launched last week as a mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. Read more about it in a previous Iran Unfiltered.

INSTEX has been met with criticism from conservative quarters. Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the parliament’s conservative Vilayi faction, has said INSTEX is a “trap” Europe has designed in coordination with the United States.

Others, such as former foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asafi, have criticized its limited scope in dealing only with humanitarian goods. Asafi has stated: “Definitely the expectation is that this mechanism will include broader goods” and will not be “limited to these three European countries.”

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Ayatollah Khamenei Orders “Structural Reforms” Within Four Months

On February 6th, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had given an “order to reform the country’s structure” within the next four months. Larijani stated: “He has ordered that within the next four months structures in the country be reformed. This may lead to reforming the national budget [for the upcoming Iranian year], which will be pursued after work on the budget in the parliament is completed.”

Larijani provided no further details of the instruction but stated: “In this regard domestic consensus and international unity are the key requirements of domestic politics.”

Amir Hossein Qazizadeh, a member of the parliament’s governing body, has said the order “doesn’t have to do with reforming the country.” Instead, he says, it has to do with “reforming the structure of the budget.”

Qazizadeh also recounted Ayatollah Khamenei’s response to questions from parliamentarians on the timeline for budget reforms. He said of Khamenei’s response: “I will give you four months to do everything you can to provide a budget bill for 1398 [the upcoming Iranian year]. On the matters that you don’t get to, you can add as amendments in Ordibehest (Iranian month between April 21-May 21).”

The Rouhani administration submitted its national budget bill to parliament for approval on January 5th. On February 4th, the parliament’s commission on consolidating the budget completed its technical review of the bill, which included adding amendments. The rest of the parliament now has ten days to give their suggestions on the budget bill.

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Rouhani Suggests Iran Would Deal with “Repentant” United States

On February 6th, President Rouhani suggested before an audience of foreign ambassadors and diplomats in Tehran that Iran would deal with a “repentant” United States. Rouhani stated that the U.S. was an “oathbreaker” and that Iran had “proven in these years that it’s precise when it comes to signing commitments” and that it “stands by its signature.”

Rouhani dangled the possibility of engaging the United States: “If America reverses course on its wrong path and apologizes for its past interventions and talks with respect with our people, we are ready to accept its repentance.”

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Ayatollah Khamenei’s Office Details Conditions for Clemency of Prisoners

On February 7th, Ayatollah Khamenei released details on the conditions for granting clemency to prisoners on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Every year, on the occasion of religious holidays or government celebrations, some prisoners are granted clemency. However, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani has said a higher amount—upwards of 50,000 prisoners—will be pardoned for the revolution’s upcoming anniversary. The conditions released by Khamenei’s office include stipulations for either commuting the sentences of prisoners or releasing them.

In response to speculation on whether political prisoners would be freed, Larijani has said that “we have no convicted detainees who are political prisoners.” He added: “If someone commits actions against national security, this is a separate criminal offense that must be addressed.” According to DW Farsi, there are currently hundreds of prisoners charged under offenses such as “actions against national security, propagandizing against the political system, and disturbing public sentiment.”  

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran Willing to Share Nuclear Knowledge, Clarifies Arak Reactor Remarks

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated that Iran is willing to share its knowledge of nuclear power and constructing research reactors with neighboring countries. Salehi said such cooperation can be grounds for rebuilding trust between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors.

Salehi also stated that Iran was conducting experiments on advanced IR-8 centrifuges, which he said would take five to six years. He added: “Our activities are within the framework of the nuclear agreement, in which there is no limitation on research on modern centrifuges.”

Salehi also expanded on his controversial recent comments that Iran had bought replacement parts for its Arak heavy water reactor during the nuclear negotiations. He stated that Iran had not bought the “tubes” secretly but had notified its negotiating partners, who were told Iran needed them as potential replacements in case the other side reneged on the JCPOA.

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Oil Minister Says Conditions Harsher than Iran-Iraq War

On February 5th, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh said that current U.S. sanctions are “more difficult” than the Iran-Iraq War. He stated: “I grasped the Imposed War (Iran-Iraq War). But this war [U.S. sanctions] is more difficult. He added: “We will use all of our capabilities and utilize all paths possible” to overcome oil sanctions.

Zangeneh further stated that Iran is having trouble selling oil to Europe and receiving payments from Iraq:  “Europeans except for Turkey have not bought oil. Greece and Italy have waivers to buy Iranian oil but haven’t done so. I don’t know why, they don’t reply to us.” He added that Iraq owes Iran $2 billion for gas and electricity imports but that Iraq says “Iran is sanctioned and they won’t pay us.”

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Iran and Iraq Reach Agreement to Facilitate Payments

On February 6th, the head of Iran’s Central Bank announced that he had reached a “mechanism” with his Iraqi counterpart for Iraqi debts to be paid. Iranian Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemati had travelled to Baghdad for negotiations. He stated: “An agreement on a mechanism for Iraq to pay for electricity and gas and other goods was reached.”

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Syrian FM & UN Envoy in Tehran Ahead of Sochi Talks

On February 5th, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria, travelled to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials. Their visit comes before trilateral talks between Iran, Turkey, and Russia in Sochi on February 14th as part of the Astana Syria peace process.

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Security Council Head Warns Israel of Retaliation

On February 5th, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, said that if Israeli attacks in Syria continue, Israel would face a “resolute and appropriate response.” He stated: “If these actions continue, the measures that have been predicted for deterrence and responding resolutely and appropriately will be activated such that it would be a lesson for the lying and criminal leaders of Israel.”

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Concerns Mount Over Condition of Imprisoned Labor Activists

On February 4th, the Telegram channel of the Haft Tapeh factory workers said they haven’t had contact with detained activist Sepideh Gholian for some time. The channel also said that the condition of labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was “very terrible” and that he hadn’t been released despite posting bail. (More on the rearrests of Bakhshi and Gholian in a previous Iran Unfiltered.)

On February 3rd, Haft Tapeh factory worker and activist Mohammad Khanifar was arrested. The Haft Tapeh Telegram channel has announced that it will stage a demonstration calling for the release of Bakhshi and Gholian.

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Attack in Western City of Khorramabad Kills One

On February 6th, a conscripted Iranian soldier was killed and a police officer wounded in an attack by unknown assailants in Khorramabad in western Iran. The attackers also fired on a fuel tanker at a gas station, causing an explosion that shattered the windows of nearby buildings.

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India and Russia Sign MOU on North-South Corridor Including Iran

On February 5th, India and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to expedite the creation of the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to facilitate trade via Iran. The project aims to connect St. Petersburg and northern Europe with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The MOU was signed between a Russian railways company and India’s largest rail container transport operator.

The North-South Corridor has strategic significance for Iran. Former diplomat and MP Nasrollah Tajik wrote on the project in Etemad newspaper, stating: “The implementation of this corridor, which has been delayed for years … will give a unique role to involved countries to develop Eurasia economically.”

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Parliament Approves New Health Minister

On February 4th, parliament confirmed President Rouhani’s choice for new health minister, Saeed Namaki. The previous minister of health had resigned in January over spending cuts to health insurance programs in next year’s national budget.

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Iran Tepidly Welcomes European Mechanism for Sanctions Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nuclear Chief Rebukes China, Announces Nuclear Advances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreign Ministry Tepidly Welcomes EU Sanctions Relief Mechanism

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

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

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

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Former Chief Nuclear Negotiator Cautions Iran Against Relying on Europe

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

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

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Powerful Conservative Cleric Denounces Officials Who Look to the West

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

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

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Debate on FATF Bills Continues in Expediency Discernment Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rouhani Blames America for Economic Woes

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

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

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

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

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Rouhani Rebukes Policy of Blocking Websites as Futile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vice-President Jahangiri Meets with Bashar al-Assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rouhani Administration-linked Analyst Discusses Importance of JCPOA

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

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

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

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

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

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Labor Activists Rearrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Investigative Journalist Sentenced to Five-Years Imprisonment

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

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

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University of Melbourne Professor Released from Prison

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

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Two Members of a Pro-Labor Group Arrested

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

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Trial of Detained Environmentalists Begins

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

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

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

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Hardline Official Attacks JCPOA as Sanctions Relief Channel Looms

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

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

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

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

 

Guardian Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati Calls for Leaving JCPOA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IRNA Cites European Spokesperson as Saying SPV Launch Imminent

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

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

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Satellite Launch Fails

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

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

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

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

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

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IRGC Commander Says Military “Advisors” to Remain in Syria

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

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

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Iran Scales Back Cooperation with Europe

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

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

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Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Visits Azerbaijan

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

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

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Foreign Minister Zarif Travels to Iraq

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

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

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

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Foreign Ministry Denies Zarif Resignation & JCPOA Withdrawal Rumors

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

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

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Pro-Labor Magazine Editors Arrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Labor Leader Torture Controversy Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senior Rouhani Advisor Discusses Protests & Islamic Republic’s Viability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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