NIAC Statement on Trump’s Tweet Threat to “End” Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sunday, May 19, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, President Trump threatened to “end” Iran in a tweet on the heels of reports that rockets landed near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.

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

“President Trump’s saber-rattling about Iran has reached a dangerous new low with his threat to “end” Iran—a country of 83 million men, women, and children. Since the President reneged on the Iran nuclear deal last year, the administration’s policies have been geared towards provoking Iran into retaliation to give cover for a perilous escalation favored by administration hawks. There is no doubt that National Security Advisor John Bolton will use the slightest Iranian action—even bereft of reliable intelligence—as a pretext to push for the war he’s always wanted.

“Trump’s belligerent threat to destroy Iran comes on the heels of reports that a “low-grade” rocket landed in an empty lot near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. Last September, a similar incident led to Bolton asking the Pentagon for options to militarily strike Iran. At the time, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis shot down Bolton’s plans. With Mattis gone today, Bolton is well positioned to push Trump and the U.S. into a conflict that would be catastrophic for U.S. interests and regional and global stability.

“The fact is that the United States and the world should not be in this position where a war with Iran is even a possibility. America’s traditional allies in Europe, as well as the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, have repeatedly warned that the administration’s actions are leading to a dangerous tit-for-tat with Iran. Simply stated, the current state of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran is exclusively due to the policies of the Trump administration, which abandoned a nonproliferation agreement that was working in favor of a so-called “maximum pressure campaign.”

“President Trump has claimed that he doesn’t want war, but his bombastic rhetoric is ensuring that he walks into one. Threats of destruction, a la “fire and fury,” will not get him a deal with Iran, just as they haven’t with North Korea. Instead, if Trump is sincere about wanting diplomatic compromise, he should cease his policy of economic warfare that is strangling the Iranian people and pursue a tone of mutual respect with Tehran. Foremost, this would require him to fire John Bolton, who has made clear he opposes U.S.-Iran diplomacy in principle.”

Iranian Officials Discount Possibility of War

Week of May 13, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Tehran University Students Protest Compulsory Hijab

On May 13th, students at Tehran University staged a demonstration against “hijab and chastity plans.” In a statement, the students said they were protesting “the presence and deployment of ‘women’s protection forces’ that have joined the previous guards.” They said these new security forces amounted to a “clear offense to students’ private lives and directly violated their human rights and were a naked injustice against female students.”

Videos of the demonstration showed clashes between the protesting students and students belonging to the state-backed Basij force.

The statement of the protesting students said that defending the “freedom of clothing” was an “obvious right.” The statement also said that the “minimal freedom on clothing that exists at Tehran University” was due to “resistance and pressure” from students. The protesting students shouted slogans against mandatory hijab and their placards called for the freedom of three activists arrested during May Day protests on campus: Marzieh Amiri, Atefeh Rangriz, and Neda Naji.

Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s vice president for cultural affairs, stated that no “morality police” had been deployed to Tehran University. He stated: “Some are ignorantly and deliberately creating tensions in the students’ environment.”

However, Sarsangi stated that more strict social rules were indeed being implemented due to the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan. He said: “The only thing that has happened is that—just like every year for Ramadan—to preserve the sanctity of this month there should be no visible signs of not observing fasting or wearing attire that doesn’t respect the sanctity of this month.”

He added: “To this end, security forces are at Tehran University to give warnings to people who don’t respect the sanctity of fasting.”

Sarsangi also stated that Tehran University must implement the law, but that it doesn’t have a say in whether the law is “good or bad.” He also stated that it was “unfortunate” that there were clashes between students who have “different beliefs and ideas.” He added: “We tried to calm down the students who were angry … we hope that we never have to see such behavior at the university.”

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New IRGC Chief Briefs Parliament, Discounts Possibility of War

On May 12th, new IRGC commander Hossein Salami debriefed the Iranian parliament on tensions with the United States. According to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the meeting was already planned and was primarily meant to introduce Salami to parliamentarians.

According to Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, Salami discounted the possibility of a U.S.-Iran war. Falahatpisheh said the “most important” part of Salami’s remarks was that Iran was ready for war, but that the “strategic analysis” was that war will not occur.

Falahatpisheh added that war would not occur because “the behavior of the Americans and their movements in the field shows that they’re not after war and are just creating the psychological atmosphere of war.”

Among Iranian officials during the Trump era, Falahatpisheh has consistently been more dovish and has continued to dangle prospect of U.S.-Iran negotiations. Last October, Falahatpisheh stated that there was a “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America.”

After the parliament’s meeting with Salami this week, Falahatpisheh said that Trump will have to convey a “more serious” desire for negotiations rather than just asking for a phone call. He added that if Trump conveys this more serious desire for negotiations, he will see that “Iran is different than any country, even North Korea.”

He further stated: “With their initial positions right now, the Americans have shown that their policy for now is not negotiations. If Americans want to create conditions for negotiations they must backtrack from some of their policies.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran has unused leverage, stating: “The Americans have played their hand, while Iran has yet to reveal its hand. America’s hand was just its old sanctions. Iran hasn’t played its hand yet because it doesn’t want to escalate tensions. I believe the Americans will change their stance in the future.”

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Officials Dismiss Trump Phone Call Request, Call for Practical Steps to Save JCPOA

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Russia, India, Japan, and China this week to discuss prospects to preserve the JCPOA, among other issues. In Beijing, Zarif stated: “Saving the nuclear deal is possible through practical steps, not just releasing statements in support of the agreement.”

Zarif said regarding what he meant by practical steps to save the JCPOA: “If the international community feels that this agreement is a valuable achievement, it must, like Iran, take practical steps to preserve it. The meaning of practical steps is clear: Iran’s trade relations must become normalized.”

Last week, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said Iranian oil exports must be facilitated and banking limitations on the country lifted. If not, Iran would gradually cease abiding by JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more details on Iran’s announcement that it would cease compliance with aspects of the JCPOA.)

Kamal Kharazi, a senior advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on diplomatic affairs, stated that Iran would “definitely” not call U.S. President Donald Trump. In response to Trump’s request that Iran call him, Kharazi stated: “We definitely don’t want to call. He wants to talk to everyone and take pictures just for propaganda purposes for himself.

Kharazi added: “America cannot be trusted. We can’t forget that America left the nuclear deal and has violated international laws.”

Kharazi, who was speaking while in France, also denied accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the Emirati port of Fujairah. He said a “third party” was likely behind the sabotage with the aim of taking advantage of the current tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

He further stated: “There was definitely no Iranian interference in this issue. There needs to be an investigation to identify who was responsible for this action.”

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Iran Starts Process to Halt Full JCPOA Compliance

On May 15th, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that it was starting the process of halting compliance on the JCPOA’s limitations on Iran’s heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEO) stockpiles. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated last week that Iran would no longer export surplus quantities of heavy water and LEU. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more information of Iran’s decision to halt compliance with these JCPOA limitations.)

To meet the JCPOA’s limitations, Iran was exporting its surplus LEU stockpile to Russia and heavy water to Oman. However, Iran’s decision to cease these exports was preempted by the Trump administration threatening new sanctions against buyers of Iranian heavy water and LEU. Iran’s ability to meet these JCPOA requirements was thus already obstructed by the United States.

The AEOI also announced that media outlets would soon be invited to view the nuclear work that Iran is restarting. AEOI stated: “In the coming days, in order to inform the public of the steps that have been taken, there are plans to have media outlets visit the facilities at Natanz and Arak.”

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Khamenei Rules Out War or Negotiations with Trump

On May 15th, in a meeting with senior officials, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that there won’t be a U.S.-Iran war nor will Iran negotiate with the United States. He stated: “These confrontations aren’t of a military nature. Because there is not going to be a war. Neither us nor them [the U.S.] is after a war. They know that a war won’t be to their benefit.”

However, Khamenei added that “Iran will resist” and that “in this confrontation, America will have no choice but to retreat.”

Khamenei also said that negotiations with the Trump administration would be “poison.” He said about the prospects for negotiations: “Some domestically ask what is wrong with negotiations? Such negotiations are poison as long as America is what it is right now. Negotiations with the current administration are a poison.”

Khamenei ruled out any negotiations over the range of Iran’s missiles and Iran’s “strategic depth” in the region. He stated: “Negotiations portend a transaction and giving and getting something. However, what America seeks is our sources of strength.”

He added: “They want to negotiate over our defensive weapons. They ask, why do you develop missiles with such a range? Lower this range so that if we attack you, you can’t strike our bases and retaliate. Or they say, let’s talk about your strategic depth in the region. They want to take this from us.”

President Rouhani also stated at the same meeting that Iran was undergoing a “divine test” and that “without a doubt, with steadfastness and resistance, Iran will surmount this stage.”

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IRGC Deputy Attacks “Western-Oriented” Politicians

On May 16th, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the IRGC’s deputy for parliamentary affairs, criticized “Western-oriented movements” in Iran that warn of a U.S.-Iran war. Jokar stated that “Western-oriented movements” in the country “were playing a part in the enemy’s puzzle” by presenting “a binary of either war or negotiations.”

Jokar stated that such domestic forces were after “imposing another JCPOA on the country.” He further said that these movements have been able to “gather votes by creating false perceptions and politicking.” He added that the “interests of some capitalists and Western-oriented movements was to rumormonger about war and starvation.”

Jokar said the possibility of a war was “null” and that American society cannot “bear the costs of a new war.

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Regional Countries Attempting to Mediate U.S.-Iran Tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said after a cabinet meeting this week that neither the U.S. nor Iran sought war with each other. Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came on the heels of an unannounced trip last week to Iraq by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  

Abdul-Mahdi also stated that he has received signals from both Iran and the United States that indicate that “everything will be resolved in a positive manner.”

Qatar’s foreign minister also travelled to Tehran this week to find a path to resolve the “growing crisis between the U.S. and Iran and its consequences for the region.” According to Al Jazeera, Washington was made aware of the trip and the Qatari foreign minister had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

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Iran Halts Compliance with Aspects of the JCPOA

Week of May 6, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Iran Halts Compliance with Aspects of the JCPOA

On May 8th, President Rouhani stated in a letter to the remaining parties to the JCPOA—Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China—that Iran will halt compliance with aspects of the accord. Rouhani stated in the letter that Iran would cease selling its surplus stockpiles of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water. The JCPOA limits Iran to 300 kg of uranium enriched to the 3.67 percent level and 130 metric tons of heavy water.

Importantly, these two JCPOA limitations were recently targeted by U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration revoked sanction waivers allowing international entities to buy Iran’s excess heavy water and enriched uranium as per the JCPOA, obstructing Iran’s ability to meet these limitations.

During a subsequent cabinet meeting, Rouhani stated that Iran’s decision on the JCPOA did not amount to a withdrawal from the deal. He stated Iran’s actions were permitted by the agreement, particularly its clause that Iran will treat the reintroduction or reimposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” Rouhani stated: “Today we don’t want to exit the JCPOA. All our people and the world should know that today is not the day of the JCPOA’s end.”

A statement from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC)—the country’s top decision-making body on national security matters—detailed the steps Iran would take in regard to the JCPOA. The SNSC called on “the remaining participants” in the JCPOA to meet their commitments under the deal, especially in the areas of “banking and oil.”

The SNSC added: “If our requests are met, we will re-engage our commitments, but if not, the Islamic Republic of Iran will gradually cease its other commitments under the accord.”

The SNSC statement gave the remaining parties to the accord 60 days to meet Iran’s expectations regarding sanctions relief. If this does not occur, the SNSC stated that Iran would cease compliance on JCPOA limits on the level of uranium enrichment and cease renovation work to remove the proliferation risk of its Arak Heavy Water reactor.

The SNSC statement reads: “The window that is now open for diplomacy will not be open for long and the responsibility for the JCPOA’s failure and any possible consequences will be fully on America and the remaining participants in the JCPOA.”

During a visit to Moscow, Foreign Minister Zarif also stressed that Iran’s actions did not mean that Iran was “withdrawing from the JCPOA.” Zarif stated: “We showed that we are a patient country that engages in resistance to attain its rights. Now it is the turn of the rest of the world to abide by its commitments.”

Zarif stated that Iran had not made a permanent decision regarding its compliance with the JCPOA. He declared: “Unfortunately, the EU and other members of the international community did not have the capability to stand against U.S. pressure and as such the Islamic Republic of Iran has found it expedient to not implement, for now, some of the commitments that it voluntary agreed to under the JCPOA.”

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, stated that Iran had peaceful intentions with its JCPOA decision. He stated: “Iran’s actions with respect to the JCPOA send a peaceful message. We could have taken worse actions, such as ending access for all IAEA inspectors and restarting our entire program. But we have tried with a peaceful message to respond to America’s actions and the JCPOA participants to give them an opportunity [for diplomatic resolution].”

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Prominent Hardline Cleric Lambasts Rouhani, Calls for Accelerating Nuclear Program & War Posture

On May 10th, Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad, strongly criticized President Rouhani and called for Iran to start 20-percent level enrichment. Alamolhoda called on the Rouhani administration official to assume a “war posture” in line with a recent speech by Ayatollah Khamenei. He said: “If you aren’t the commanders for this war posture, step aside and let someone who is fit to come.”

He further said to Rouhani: “You knew our nation is against America and has been fighting its arrogance for 40 years, so why did you accept to take responsibility [as president]? Now that you have done this, you must proceed as a commander.”

Alamolhoda also attacked Rouhani for negotiating the JCPOA, stating: “From the beginning the Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] said that America and the West cannot be trusted and will not remain faithful to their commitments. Some did not accept this and despite the Leader expressing this danger, he left the path open so this would become an experience [for why Iran shouldn’t trust the U.S.].”

He added: “Now with this experience great harm has been inflicted on our country and nuclear program. This experience has shown, as the Leader said, that America must be fought and Europe is traitorous. In light of this, you [Rouhani] must assume a war posture.”

Almolhoda then called on Rouhani to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program and start 20-percent enrichment. He stated: “Restart 20-percent enrichment, bring back our centrifuges, and go with strength into the arena. The people will be with you. Our people have shown for 40 years that they don’t want to reconcile with America. For 40 years, our elderly, our young, our women and men have showed that they will not stop being anti-arrogance.”

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Rouhani Warns That European Security Will Deteriorate

In his letter to the remaining parties to the JCPOA, Rouhani also warned that Iran’s inability to derive its JCPOA benefits would affect European security. Rouhani stated that by not receiving the sanctions relief it was due under the deal, Iran could not pay the cost for confronting drug smuggling, accepting refugees, and confronting terrorism.

He said to European countries: “We don’t want you to act for what’s expedient for Iran, but to take actions for your own interests and future.”

Rouhani stated that Iran had stopped the “flood of immigrants to Europe” by accepting refugees and has been the biggest “roadblock against drug smuggling” into Europe. He said that thousands of Iranian security forces had been killed over the years confronting drug cartels and traffickers, which has stifled the flow of drugs into Europe.

Rouhani also stated that Iran has played a decisive role in providing for the Persian Gulf’s security and combating terrorism. He said that if not for Iran, “terrorists would today be parading in European capitals.”

Rouhani added: “Doing all of these actions costs billions of dollars and with the situation that America has created, we can’t pay this cost. It can’t be that there is a JCPOA and we only pay the costs for it.”

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Deputy Foreign Minister Says Iran will Gradually Leave JCPOA, but Diplomacy Still an Option

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated that Iran would take a “step by step” approach with respect to exiting from the JCPOA. However, he stated that Iran’s actions “at this stage” are aimed “at preserving and continuing the JCPOA and not destroying it.”

Araghchi added: “An option in our agenda is exiting the JCPOA, but on a step by step basis. But if our requests are met, we are ready to return [to our commitments] on a step by step basis.”

Araghchi said Iran’s approach was centered on “diplomacy” and giving the other side “opportunities” to “make up for shortcomings.” Araghchi stated that “no country” could accuse Iran of leaving or violating the JCPOA because “Iran’s actions today were within the framework of the JCPOA.”

Araghchi also said regarding how much Iran would increase its stockpile of enriched uranium and heavy water: “How much Iran’s stockpiles will increase will be our decision. It will be based on our capabilities, needs, and the negotiations that can occur.”

Araghchi added that without the JCPOA, the Middle East will “definitely not become more secure” and this will “directly impact European security.” He proclaimed: “This is not a threat but a reality. Over these past many years, the only issue in our region that was resolved diplomatically and in a win-win manner was the Iranian nuclear issue. And now Trump wants to destroy this achievement. This will have negative consequences for the region and Europe.”

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Nuclear Chief Says Iran can Restart 20-Percent Enrichment in Days

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said the JCPOA experience proved Iran’s credibility and reliability. He stated: “America previously claimed that Iran was against negotiations. With the JCPOA this claim became baseless. They then claimed that Iran would not abide by its commitments. We now have 14 reports from the IAEA confirming that Iran has abided by its commitments [under the JCPOA].”

Salehi added: “Iran has been able to show international public opinion that it is the oppressed party and the U.S. is the oppressor.”

Salehi also stated that Iran can return to enriching uranium at the 20 percent level within four days. He stated: “If tomorrow they [senior decision makers] say that we should return to enriching at the 20 percent level, as I have previously said we have the capability to start 20-percent enrichment within four days at an acceptable level.”

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UN Ambassador Says Diplomatic Window Open

On May 9th, Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi said that the “window for diplomacy was not closed.” He stated: “We have to see what occurs in the next 60 days. The window for diplomacy is not closed. We believe that Iran will negotiate with the remaining parties in the nuclear deal and we will have to see the results of these negotiations.”

Takht-Ravanchi also cast doubt on prospects for negotiations between Iran and the Trump administration, stating: “Negotiating with someone who carelessly ripped up an international agreement has no benefits. This agreement was not just between Iran and the U.S., but the European countries were also part of this deal … how can you trust a person who acts so carelessly and inconsiderately?”

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Conservative Website Analyzes John Bolton’s Threatening Statement

Following U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s threat of “unrelenting force” against Iran in response to an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East, a commander in Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMU) stated that the force would support Iran in any war. Jabar al-Mamouri, who is also the head of the “Union of Islamic Clergy” in Iraq’s Diyala province, stated: “Iraqi society has not forgotten the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stance during the war against ISIS. When other countries had abandoned us, Iran supported us with weapons and advisory forces.”

Al-Mamouri added: “If Tehran is transgressed by any party, the Union of Islamic Clergy will announce a war to the public. We will send our children to defend Iran.”

Al-Mamouri’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq and met with the Iraqi president and prime minister. According to a statement from the Iraqi president’s office, Pompeo asked the Iraqi officials to protect U.S. interests and forces in Iraq. The statement also said that the U.S. will renew sanction waivers for Iraqi trade with Iran.

An analysis in the conservative Alef said regarding U.S. military forces in the Middle East in response to Bolton’s statement: “America has roughly 12 declared bases in Iraq, in which there are roughly 3,000 U.S. military forces. Without a doubt, the presence of America in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the hatred of regional people for them is the main cause of their hyperbolic fears and delusions.”

The analysis also said regarding Iran potentially targeting U.S. forces in the region: “Today, all of the heroes of the resistance front in Iran are waiting for the enemy to make the smallest strike against our mujahid (holy warrior) people. In this event, all of the enemy’s military bases and assets not just in the region but across the world can come under danger and attack.”

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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.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Says Iran on Cusp of Leaving JCPOA

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

 

Deputy FM Says Iran on Cusp of Leaving JCPOA

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran Executes Two Minors

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

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

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May Day Protestors Arrested Outside Parliament

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

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

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Khamenei Says U.S. in a “War Posture”

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

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

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

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

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

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Rouhani Says Iran has Other Ways to Export Oil

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

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

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

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IRGC General Soleimani & Other Officials Reject Negotiations with the US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran Reacts to Termination of U.S. Oil Waivers

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

Officials and Analysts React to Trump’s Termination of Oil Waivers

On April 24th, Ayatollah Khamenei addressed workers and labor representatives and dismissed the Trump administration’s decision to terminate sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil.  Khamenei stated: “Our active people and alert officials have shown that they can breakdown all barriers and definitely this effort by America will not get anywhere. The Islamic Republic will export as much oil as it needs and that it wills.”

Khamenei also warned that Iran would take retaliatory steps. He declared: “You [U.S. officials] should know that your enmity will not go unanswered. The Iranian people are not a people that you can plot against and that will sit back and watch.”

Khamenei stated that the U.S. aim was to “bring Iran to its knees.” He proclaimed: “By focusing on the economic issue, the Americans want to bring the Iranian nation to its knees. But they should know that this latest action by them will be futile and that the great and dear Iranian people will never drop to their knees before the Great Satan.”

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh also said that the U.S. will fail to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero.  He stated: “Definitely the dream to reduce the purchasing of Iranian oil to zero will not be realized. The oil ministry will use all its capability to break America’s sanctions. The situation with demand in the oil market is fragile. The statement released by America and its regional allies to give confidence to the oil market and prevent a rise in prices reflects their worry of destabilizing the oil market.”

In a column for the reformist Etemad newspaper, analyst Meisam Sharifi contended that the Trump administration’s termination of sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil would have little impact. Sharifi outlined “different paths” Iran’s oil ministry could take to continue exporting oil and stated that given these options, “it doesn’t seem that the issuance or non-issuance of the [U.S.] waivers will make a difference.”

He added on Iran’s options to export oil: “By changing [identifying] documents and using interlocutors, we can continue to export oil. Other countries like China, because of their trade tensions with America, will ignore the waiver issue and buy Iranian oil in the coming months.”

In a piece for the conservative Alef outlet, analyst Mehdi Mohammadi explained why he believes “America’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran has failed.” He argues that the main aim of U.S. pressure was to “create unrest across the country and turn the people against the government.” He states this has not only failed but it has created increased “national solidarity” within Iran.

Mohammadi further contends that Trump’s pressure campaign has diminished the credibility of “pro-West” forces to such an extent in society that they fear speaking out in favor of renewed U.S.-Iran negotiations. He went on: “America’s economic pressures have not increased the demand within Iranian society for compromise with America. Instead, it has led to the entrenching of the conclusion that negotiations and agreements with America are fundamentally worthless and that Iran must pursue other paths to resolve its problems.”

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Tehran Police Chief Confirms Texts Sent to Women “Without Hijab”

On April 25th, Tehran’s police chief Hossein Rahimi confirmed reports that drivers of cars with women “without hijabs” have been sent text messages summoning them to the “ethical security police.” Rahimi stated that the recipients of the texts had to go to the police station and give a “written commitment” to observe hijab. He added: “If in future instances this action [no hijab] is seen again in their vehicles, their case will be sent to the judiciary.”

According to Radio Farda, hundreds of people in Tehran have received these texts over the past several days. Last week, Rahimi also stated that “undercover ethical police force” of 7,000 men and women was being launched.

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IRGC Chief Unexpectedly Replaced

On April 21st, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Hossein Salami as the new commander-in-chief of the IRGC. The outgoing IRGC head, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was appointed as head of the Hazrat Baqiatollah al-Azam Cultural and Social Headquarters, an ideological and propaganda organization. Salami, who had been Jafari’s deputy for the past ten years, was elevated to the rank of major general. Jafari had served as the IRGC’s commander-in-chief since 2007.

Jafari’s departure was unexpected, as his formal mandate ran through next year. Khamenei’s edict appointing Salami expressed a “necessity to replace the commander of the Guards.” However, the reason for this necessity and the premature replacement of Jafari was not explained.

According to the reformist Fararu, “commander Salami is among the military figures who has the most anti-American and anti-Zionist [Israeli] rhetoric in his track record.” Fararu said his appointment reflects that Iran “will not back down” in the face of the Trump administration’s pressure policies and demands.

Fararu stated that Salami is also known for refraining from intervening in domestic politics. While many IRGC commanders have over the years criticized Iranian political figures and the work of Iran’s presidential administrations, Salami has not. He has also not publicly criticized President Rouhani or his administration. Fararu states that this quality of Salami can help “preserve unity among political forces and the political, military, and security institutions within the country.” Fararu further said that “maybe during the period of Commander Salami, the Guards will become more military focused and less involved in other fields.”

During Salami’s official inauguration ceremony, Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, praised Jafari’s tenure as IRGC commander. Bagheri outlined what he said were Jafari’s main achievements, stating: “Commander Jafari’s tenure was marked by major developments within the IRGC, the most important were the creation of provincial Guards, the IRGC’s evolution plan, paying special attention to cultural issues, growing the resistance axis and backing the Qods Force. The resistance axis today has suppressed terrorism, and this is a big difference to the period before [Jafari].”

Bagheri also stated that Salami’s appointment comes as a time of high tensions with the United States. He said: “Salami’s service coincides with a sensitive period in the history of the revolution. In this period, we are witnessing the anger of America and a new era of plots and sanctions from the enemy. The IRGC can have a major role in neutralizing these efforts. The period of Salami will definitely be the period of the enemy’s defeat.”

Meanwhile, in his inauguration speech, Salami praised the IRGC’s Qods Force, which is headed by Major General Qasem Soleimani. He stated: “Our Qods Force, with its courageous and righteous commander, has surmounted mountains and plains to end American hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. It has reached the Red Sea and turned Islamic lands into lands of Jihad.”

Salami also said he will work to advance Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent edict on the “second phase” of the Islamic Revolution and make the IRGC a global force. He proclaimed: “In the second phase of the revolution we have to turn Islamic governance into an Islamic civilization. The Guards must play a decisive role in the second phase of the revolution. We have to expand the sphere of our authority from the region to the world so that there is no safe spot for the enemy in the world.”

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“National Unity” Talks Reportedly Underway Between Principlists & Reformists

An informed source told the Iranian outlet ILNA that “national unity” talks are reportedly underway between “important and consequential figures of the reformist and principlist movements.” Former reformist President Khatami—who has been excised from the ruling system and has an official media ban against him—has long called for national unity dialogue. According to this source, the “details of these meetings and who is in them are not going to be released.”

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Outspoken Hardliner Summoned to Court

Saeed Ghasemi, an outspoken hardline figure who spurred controversy last week by saying that the IRGC used the Red Crescent as cover for its operations during the Bosnian war, has been summoned to court. Read more about Ghasemi’s recent remarks and the subsequent backlash in last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered.

According to Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili, both the IRGC and the Red Crescent have issued legal complaints against Ghasemi. Esmaili stated: “The Revolutionary Guards and the Red Crescent have both made legal complaints and he must come to court and be held accountable to the allegations.”

Esmaili added that the case against Ghasemi, a figure with close ties to powerful hardline factions and institutions, would be “investigated thoroughly and fully.”

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Pakistani PM Imran Khan Visits Iran

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan travelled to Iran and met with senior officials including Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani. Rouhani stated in a press conference that both countries were committed to improving their economic and political ties and would not let third countries damage their relations. After a period of rising tensions between the two countries in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in southwestern Iran from Pakistan-based militants, Rouhani praised Pakistan’s “confrontation with terrorists.”

Rouhani also announced that Iran and Pakistan were setting up a joint force to combat terrorism. He stated: “We have agreed to set up a rapid reaction force between our two countries comprised of border forces and intelligence forces from both countries to combat terrorism.”

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NIAC Statement on End to Oil Waivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 22, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that the U.S. would terminate waivers for foreign nations purchasing Iranian oil – including China, India, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea:

“The tail is wagging the dog on Trump’s Middle East policy, with U.S. actions dictated entirely by the interests of Middle East autocracies vested in a proxy war. The decision to end oil waivers will make the United States and global economy increasingly dependent on the Saudi and UAE autocracies that are driving Trump’s escalation and have promised to backfill the oil gap that results. This foolhardy move comes on the heels of President Trump using his veto pen to protect Saudi Arabia and block legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“Trump’s so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is destroying the livelihoods of ordinary Iranians and creating an increasingly intolerable situation for the country. Indeed, the decision to end Iranian oil waivers comes as large parts of Iran are reeling from devastating floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands. Instead of ensuring that U.S. sanctions aren’t obstructing humanitarian aid to flood victims, Trump is now piling on even more economic pressure on the Iranian people.

“The unprecedented decision to try to eliminate Iranian oil exports—the lifeblood of the country’s economy—evokes the U.S.-supported British blockade of Iran in the lead up to the 1953 coup against democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh. This ugly historical parallel has not deterred the Trump White House, which is seemingly following the same playbook to force Iran to leave the nuclear deal and set off a reciprocal escalation cycle that risks war.

“Iranian leaders have until now worked with other global powers to preserve the nuclear deal and wait out the Trump administration. The attempt now to forgo oil waivers and spur Iran’s economic collapse signals a desperate attempt to coerce Iran to restart its nuclear program in order to invite a dire confrontation. Trump is bizarrely set on this destructive policy even as it threatens U.S. security and risks American voters digging deeper into their pockets to pay for rising gas prices.

“U.S.-Iran tensions have reached a precipice. By now it should be clear that the Trump administration’s obsession with Iran is beyond any semblance of strategic logic and has no attainable policy objective short of increasing the Iranian peoples’ suffering. The decision to sanction importers of Iranian oil will now put the U.S. at further loggerheads with powers such as Turkey, India, and China. Their willingness to resist or placate the administration’s demands will decide not only the course of U.S.-Iran relations, but the future of U.S. economic power.”

Iran Reacts to IRGC Terrorist Designation

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

 

Officials Decry IRGC Terrorist Designation as Reflecting Failure of U.S. Policies

The Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a part of Iran’s state-run military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) was mostly framed in Tehran as reflecting the failure of U.S. policies towards Iran. The highest military body in Iran, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, said in a statement that the designation had “no practical value and was condemned to fail.” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, similarly dismissed the designation as reflecting America’s “weakness, incapability, and resort to every desperate act.”

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said the IRGC designation came after President Trump was “unsuccessful” in “hurting” Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA and attempting to reduce “Iranian oil sales to zero.” He also reiterated Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA, stating: “There is no reason for Iran not to continue to adhere to an agreement that all the world accepts except for one country [the U.S.].”

President Rouhani strongly defended the IRGC and underscored that Iranian restraint should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He stated that Iranians are now “more united than ever” and proclaimed: “I tell the group of five [the remaining parties to the nuclear deal] that we are patient but our patience has an end and its possible that in this patience, Iran takes a different step.”

Rouhani went on: “If we are patient, it’s not because we are scared. It’s because we are prudent. We are afraid of no one, our path is the correct path and we hope that the others [the Trump administration] know that the future will judge them.”

Iran’s response of designating U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the arm of the military that oversees operations in the Middle East and Africa, was also presented as a necessary “tit-for-tat” measure. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in this regard that Iran’s response was a “defensive measure” and not a “declaration of war.”

However, in response to the IRGC designation, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, laid out a legal case for why Iran should close the Strait of Hormuz. He lambasted Rouhani for not “heeding the lessons of the JCPOA” and previously calling for “the Revolutionary Guards and army to return to their bases.”

Shariatmadari also criticized Rouhani’s efforts to pass anti-money laundering and terrorism financing bills in accordance to guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force, a global financial body. Shariatmadari said that Rouhani’s efforts to “impose” the bills sent a signal of “weakness” and “emboldened” the U.S. to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Many prominent reformist dissidents expressed support for the IRGC after the FTO designation. For instance, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former political prisoner, stated: “The intervention of the Guards in the economy and domestic and foreign politics is against the law and hurts the country. However, I strongly condemn labelling them as terrorists by Trump. His aim is not confronting terrorism or defending democracy or peace. Instead, Trump seeks to increase pressure on the Iranian people to destabilize Iran and increase tensions in the region.”  

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Hardline MPs Call for Stronger Reaction to IRGC Designation

On April 16, the Iranian parliament passed a bill, dubbed “reciprocal action against America’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization,” requiring that all U.S. military forces in West Asia be considered terrorists. The bill passed with 204 votes in favor, 2 in opposition, and 0 abstentions out of the 206 parliamentarians that were present.

Hardline MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a member of the Perseverance Front (Jebhe Paydari) fundamentalist faction, voted against the bill on the grounds that it wasn’t strong enough and should have given the IRGC permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. Haji Delijani stated: “In this bill, we should have given the Guards permission to develop missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. We can have this ability. We must give the Guards greater authority so they can target the White House so that America doesn’t think it can take some damned action [i.e. military strikes] with its IRGC designation.”

Another hardline MP who voted against the bill, Mousavi Largani, said the bill was too weak and criticized President Rouhani. Largani stated: “If the president after America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA gave a definite order to restart 20 percent enrichment, then America would not have become so insolent.”

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Zarif Warns his Global Counterparts and UN Secretary General on IRGC Designation

On April 10th, Foreign Minister Zarif wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warning that the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a “dangerous and illegal” act. Zarif said in the letter that the designation was a serious threat to regional and global security and raised tensions to a level that is “uncontrollable and provoking confrontation.”

Zarif also wrote a letter to his foreign minister counterparts across the world warning of the consequences of the IRGC terrorist designation. He stated that “all governments should work to get in the way of this unilateral and harmful action.” He further said that the Islamic Republic “warns of the long-term consequences and immediate implication of this action and asks governments to take a principled and precise position on this issue based legal precedent.” Zarif added that the IRGC designation and the “fake accusation of ties between Iran and al-Qaeda” are part of “an aim to ready the public opinion in America for a new adventurist action in West Asia and create grounds for America’s legal system to claim they have the authority to use military force against another country.”

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Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activist Sentenced to One-Year Imprisonment

Vida Movahed, an Iranian activist who triggered anti-compulsory hijab protests last year by removing her headscarf and brandishing it on a stick, was recently sentenced to one year in prison. According to her lawyer Payam Derefshan, Movahed’s was sentenced on charges of “encouraging corruption and prostitution to the public” in early March.

However, Derefshan says that she has since been paroled by the judge in her case and pardoned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Despite this, she has yet to be released from prison.

Movahed, who is the mother of a 2-year-old child, was first arrested on January 21, 2018, after standing on an electricity box in Tehran’s Revolution Street and removing her headscarf. Although she was released soon after on January 27th, she started a wave of similar actions by other anti-compulsory hijab activists—who became known as the “Girls of Revolution St.”

Movahed was re-arrested on October 29, 2018, after standing on another platform in Tehran’s Revolution Square and holding balloons. Her sentence stems from this second arrest, according to her lawyer.

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International Aid not Reaching Flood Victims, Red Crescent Official

On April 15th, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued a statement on the dire situation in Iran’s flood-affected regions. It stated that over 2 million people require humanitarian aid and that roughly 10 million Iranians in over 2,000 cities and villages in 31 provinces were impacted by the floods and heavy rains. IFRC further stated that based on the latest information, 78 people were killed, 1,136 injured, and over half a million displaced as a result of the floods.

Zahra Falahati, the Iranian Red Crescent’s international deputy, said that the conditions in some flooded regions was “catastrophic.” She said of the relief efforts: “This is one of the biggest rescue and relief efforts undertaken by the Red Crescent in our country’s history. We are using all the capabilities we have to save and help the people, but it’s not enough.”

Seyed Hashem, the IFRC’s Middle East and North Africa official, said the situation in Iran was an “emergency” and required international aid. He added: “We ask all members of the federation across the world to response to our plea for assistance.”

However, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent, Ali Asghar Peyvandi, stated that “foreign sanctions” have prevented foreign financial aid and donations from reaching Iran’s flood victims. He stated: “After the closure of the Red Crescent’s SWIFT and financial accounts due to sanctions, despite the announcement of aid amounts and figures [by foreign sources], nothing has been deposited in the Iranian Red Crescent’s accounts.”

Peyvandi also said that “not one dollar” in foreign aid, including from Iranians abroad, has reached Iran because of U.S. sanctions. He proclaimed: “Because of U.S. sanctions and the closure of financial accounts, aid from Iranians abroad, the European Union, and the International Red Cross has not been sent to Iran.” He added: “To date, not one dollar or euro has been donated to Iran.”

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Lake Urmia Recovers After Heavy Rains

Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran, which has significantly dried up and shrunk in recent years, has greatly recovered in the wake of massive rainfalls. Compared to this time last year, the lake’s size has expanded by 580 square kilometers. The depth of the lake at its shallowest point has also increased by 1.26 meters.

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Conservative Analyst Says Trump’s Iran Policy Failing, Supports Iran Remaining in the JCPOA

Hassan Beheshtipour, a conservative foreign policy analyst, discussed in an interview his view on why the Trump administration’s Iran policy is failing and why Iran should remain in the JCPOA. Beheshtipour contended that U.S. sanctions aren’t working, stating: “America has never been successful with its sanctions and can’t create divisions inside Iran in this way. As we saw, all the different political factions and the people condemned America’s designation of the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists and expressed support for the Guards. This issue turned into a defeat for America and shows that sanctions policies against Iran don’t work.”

He also said that the U.S. would renew oil sanctions waivers on Iran in May. He contended that the U.S. and Iran were locked in a game-theory like “two-player game,” where the two sides are “moving head-on towards each other and the first to move loses.”

Beheshtipour also stated that Iran should stay in the JCPOA to prevent outside powers from uniting against it. He opined: “I believe that leaving the JCPOA will have more costs for us and result in more enemies … Because everyone knows that China and Russia voted for UN Security Council resolutions against Iran and considered us a danger. But right now China and Russia agree with Iran. As such, we should not give an excuse to the enemy by leaving the JCPOA and making the situation worse.”

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Official Says IRGC Designation Won’t Affect FATF Financial Reform Bills

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh—the chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission—said that efforts to pass contentious banking reforms should not be linked to Iran’s relations with America. A set of bills introduced by President Rouhani to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)— an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks—have been deadlocked in Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council for months. (Read more about the domestic debate over the FATF bills in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

Many Iranian commentators and some officials said that the FATF bills—which require increased transparency of Iranian banks—would be rejected in the wake of the Trump administration’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. However, Falahatpisheh stated that “activities related to the FATF should not been seen through the framework of relations with America.” He added that the debate over passing the FATF bills was separate from the issue of the U.S. designation of the IRGC and that Iran should “should refrain from take actions that would result in its international isolation.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran’s designation U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization was a “reciprocal action” and not aimed at “exacerbating the crisis.”  He also rebuked aggressive rhetoric from some Iranian figures after the IRGC designation, stating: “I don’t accept these comments that the Americans must await their coffins. As long as it’s not mandated by our defensive needs, we will not be happy with Americans getting killed.”

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Zarif Travels to Syria and Turkey Ahead of Astana Talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traveled Syria and Turkey. In Damascus, he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and senior Syrian officials. His discussions in both countries centered on “coordinating positions on the most important regional and international issues with the aim of establishing peace and stability in the region.” In Ankara, Zarif also spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about issues pertaining to North Africa.

Zarif’s trips take place on the eve of the next round of Astana-process Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey, due to take place in Kazakhstan on April 25-26.

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Outspoken Hardliner Spurs Controversy Over Remarks on Red Crescent and al-Qaeda

Saeed Ghasemi, an outspoken hardliner and staunch opponent of improved U.S.-Iran relations, spurred controversy after he said in an interview that the IRGC has used Iranian Red Crescent identities as cover in the past. Ghasemi said that during the Bosnian War during the 1990s, IRGC forces used the cover of being Iranian Red Crescent employees to “train jihadi forces” in Bosnia.

Ghasemi also said that al-Qaeda entered the Bosnian War after Iran and learned their “style” from Iranian forces. He stated: “Al Qaeda took our style, from headbands to flags to the shape of battalions. They implemented our style there [in Bosnia].

Ghasemi’s comments come at a time when large parts of Iran have been hit by floods and the Red Crescent is helping lead relief efforts. Given U.S. sanctions, the Iranian Red Crescent is one of the few organizations operating in Iran that coordinates international relief assistance.

His remarks also coincide with the Trump administration’s claim that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda and that consequently the option is legally open for military strikes using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that there is “no doubt there’s a connection” between Iran and Al Qaeda. Much like his hardline counterparts in Washington, Ghasemi has tried long tried to foreclose opportunities for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. During the nuclear negotiations he even called for Foreign Minister Zarif to be put on trial.

Both the Iranian Red Crescent and the IRGC strongly rejected and condemned Ghasemi’s remarks. The IRGC’s spokesperson Ramazan Sharif stated that Ghasemi was “long retired” from the IRGC and that his comments “lacked credibility.” He added that Ghasemi and others like him should refrain from “irresponsible and false opinions and not create excuses for the enemies of the revolution and the people.”

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Statistical Center of Iran Releases Report Detailing Economic Recession

On April 14, the Statistical Center of Iran said that Iran’s economy shrunk by 3.8 percent in the last nine months of the Iranian year 1397 (which ended on March 21, 2019). According to the data, Iran’s oil industry has been hardest hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions and shrunk by 2.8 percent last summer and 7.9 percent last fall.

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Memo: A Snapshot of Visas and Waivers Over One Year of the Muslim Ban

Lack of information on the implementation of the Muslim Ban has served as one of the greatest impediments to challenging it. January 27, 2019 marked two years since the Muslim Ban first went into effect as Executive Order 13769. It was repackaged as Executive Order 13780, signed on March 6, 2017, and finally Presidential Proclamation 9645, issued on September 24, 2017. Last week, the State Department finally delivered statistics on the Muslim Ban to Senator Van Hollen thanks to his tireless efforts to seek answers. Below are some key findings based on the statistics released:

Iranians Only Granted Waivers in 1.6% of Cases

  • Between December 8, 2017 and October 31, 2018:
    • 19,163 Iranians rejected under ‘undue hardship’ or ‘national interest’ criteria.
    • 5,978 languished in administrative processing for the national security element of the waiver process.
    • Iranians represent 21,089 out of 31,304 total nonimmigrant visas and 8,545 out of 17,352 total immigrant visas subject to ban during this period.
    • Of those rejected for a waiver for failure to prove undue hardship or national interest criteria, Iranians represent 77% of rejections. 19,163 out of 24,584 total.
    • Only 413 met the conditions for a waiver. This is an abysmally low 1.6%.
    • In other words, for every one Iranian who qualified for a waiver, 46 were rejected.
    • Not all of those who qualified for a waiver received a visa. For every 71 applicants, only 1 Iranian was issued a visa.

Iranian Students Exempted But Still Impacted

  • All Iranian immigrant visa applicants were subject to the ban, however it makes an exception for Iranian nationals under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas. Out of 25,752 Iranian nonimmigrant visa applicants, 21,089 were subject to the Muslim Ban and 4,663 were exempted under F, M, and J visas.
  • However, State Department statistics that are released monthly show that only 2,160 F, M, and J visas were actually issued during this period. Numerous students who previously received visas were unable to renew them and complete their studies. For some perspective, in 2015, there were 4,944 F, M, and J visas issued to Iranian nationals according to the State Department’s annual statistics. This is an approximately 56% drop.

Numbers Reveal that the Ban is Still a Muslim Ban Despite the Addition of Venezuela and North Korea

  • Venezuela was added to Proclamation 9645 (Muslim Ban 3.0) in an embarrassingly transparent effort by the Trump administration to distract from the Islamophobic nature of the ban. However, the Venezuelan ban only applies to B-1/B-2 visas and only to officials of select government agencies such as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. Thus the addition of Venezuela was meaningless and the newly released numbers reflect as much:
    • Out of 3,093 Venezuelan immigrant visa applicants and 87,573 nonimmigrant visa applicants not a single one was subject to the ban.
  • Visas are suspended for all North Korean nationals but due to the nature of U.S.-North Korean relations this has only impacted 62 visa applicants compared to tens of thousands from other countries.

Memo on Trump Administration’s Decision to Name IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The Trump administration designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) is a dangerous and unprecedented escalatory move that could set the stage for a catastrophic conflict with Iran. It marks the first time a state-run military, one into which ordinary Iranians are often conscripted for mandatory military service, has been designated as an FTO.

Given the IRGC is already one of the most sanctioned entities on the planet, the designation achieves little in terms of economic restrictions or penalties for the IRGC. Instead, it needlessly puts U.S. servicemen and bases across the Middle East at risk, diminishes U.S. diplomatic and military connections in countries like Iraq and Syria, and further limits the potential for future diplomatic de-escalation with Iran. The Pentagon has long warned against the move, and the CIA voiced reservations about this decision.

There is no doubt that the IRGC engages in a wide range of activities that undermine regional security and repress the Iranian people. Yet, the IRGC has been a major beneficiary of broad sanctions on the Iranian economy and rising U.S.-Iran tensions.

Members of Congress should denounce this decision as a needlessly reckless move that serves no purpose other than to increase the risk of conflict in an already turbulent Middle East.

The following is an overview of the potential consequences of an IRGC FTO designation:

Risk to U.S. Servicemen and Bases

  • Designating the military wing of a foreign state an FTO is an unprecedented action that could subject U.S. troops to similar treatment from adversaries and risk withdrawing the legal protections that accompany them in theaters of war. This is one of the major reasons that the Department of Defense and retired military officers have been steadfastly opposed to designating the IRGC an FTO.
  • Designating the IRGC an FTO risks retaliation against American troops in Iraq and Syria, where such troops are in close proximity to the IRGC or its partner militias. Both the Pentagon and the CIA have reportedly warned about the severe consequences to U.S. troops and broader U.S. interests in the Middle East that could accompany this designation.
  • Iranian officials and military commanders have stated than they would reciprocate an IRGC FTO designation with a similar designation against the U.S. military. Over 250 Iranian members of parliament have signed a statement calling for such a reciprocal action, while the head of the IRGC has also vowed a tit-for-tat response and said that U.S. forces in the region will “lose their current status of ease and serenity.”
  • While the U.S. military and the IRGC were on opposite sides in Iraq for years after the 2003 U.S. invasion, the counter-ISIS campaign saw them fight a common enemy. The IRGC was at the center of Iranian efforts to roll back ISIS in Iraq, with U.S. forces operating in close proximity in coordination with the Iraqi army. The fact that the Trump administration has now pocketed Iran’s assistance and turned around and designated the IRGC an FTO will not be forgotten when it comes to deconfliction in future conflicts.

 

Negligible Economic Penalty

  • The legal effect of designating the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization is negligible. The sanctions consequences of an FTO designation are entirely duplicative of existing U.S. sanctions authorities. The IRGC is designated under multiple U.S. sanctions programs, many of which have much more substantial force than an FTO designation. For this reason, designating the IRGC an FTO has nothing to do with exerting more pressure on Iran.
  • Because an FTO designation does not have any additional legal consequences for the IRGC, the intended purpose of this action appears to be to foment a military conflict with Iran. The Trump administration is taking this action not in spite of the risks of a new war in the Middle East but precisely because it embraces those risks and hopes to see them through to fruition.  

Limiting U.S. Diplomatic Options

  • Designating the IRGC an FTO dramatically escalates U.S.-Iran tensions and further negates the possibility for successful diplomacy between the two countries, whether over regional crises, detained Americans in Iran or Iranian nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
  • The Trump administration is seeking to constrain a future President from being able to return the United States to compliance with the JCPOA.  Designating the IRGC is further evidence of this intent. Even if the FTO designation does not lead to an outbreak of conflict with Iran, the Trump administration believes that the designation will deter foreign investment in Iran and will be politically difficult to undo. This move is thus intended to undermine a future President’s efforts to re-enter the JCPOA and comply with U.S. obligations thereto.       
  • The designation also limits U.S. diplomatic and military options across the region in countries where the IRGC has influence, especially in Iraq and Lebanon. In these countries, U.S. military and diplomatic personnel may be prevented from contact with senior Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who have contact with the IRGC. According to reports, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have raised concerns about this impact of the designation in reducing U.S. regional influence.

NIAC Responds to Reports that Trump May Designate IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, April 5, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, DC – Moments ago, reports emerged that the Trump Administration would potentially designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“This potential designation isn’t about adding pressure on the IRGC, one of the most heavily sanctioned entities on the planet that has arguably benefitted more than anyone from U.S. sanctions. It is a well-advertised step in the playbook of Washington hawks who seek to provoke Iran into leaving the nuclear deal and sow the seeds of an eventual military conflict with Iran.

“This is a step long cautioned against by the Pentagon, which wants a clear division between state militaries—which the IRGC is, however detestable its actions—and terrorist organizations. Trump’s team clearly sees the clock on their Iran agenda expiring—which makes their approach ever more escalatory and dangerous. There is an urgent need for Congress to rein Trump in on Iran before he can start a war that will devastate the U.S., Iran, and the Middle East for generations to come.”

The Story Of Esther And Netanyahu’s Attack On Iranian History

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that he believes it is “possible” that President Trump was sent by God to protect the Jewish people from Iranians. Pompeo’s remarks came during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, after he was asked if “President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace.” In likening Trump to Esther, Pompeo added that he was “confident that the Lord is at work here.”

Aside from the preposterous notion that President Trump enjoys divine support, Pompeo’s remarks distort the story of Esther and demonize the Iranian people and their history. Nor is Pompeo’s framing of this Biblical story new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long twisted the Old Testament’s book of Esther to advance a hawkish agenda on Iran. Such rhetoric from Pompeo and Netanyahu is demagogic hyperbole at best and dangerous incitement against the Iranian people at worst.

Esther denouncing Haman (Ernest Normand)

Importantly, Pompeo’s comments occur in the context of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, marked by a unilateral withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the imposition of draconian U.S. sanctions that are impoverishing ordinary Iranians, and senior Trump officials exploring options to launch U.S. military strikes.

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