Flood Response Highlights Political Feuds

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

 

Flood Relief Efforts Highlight Differences between Rouhani and Revolutionary Guards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prominent Political Scientist Zibakalam Discusses Domestic Politics & Upcoming Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iraqi PM to Make First Trip to Iran

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

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Betraying Democracy: How Trump Abandoned The JCPOA And The Iranian People

The resignation by Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and the public response that hastened Iran’s political elites to demand he stay in office, strengthened the hand of the architect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal. But this incident also reinforces an important point: the nuclear agreement itself is a reflection of the popular will of the Iranian people.

Much has been said of the hypocrisy of the Trump administration’s claims to support democracy and sympathize with the plight of the Iranian people. Critics highlight the administration’s reimposition of sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians, as well as its approach to Saudi Arabia and National Security Advisor John Bolton’s support for the MEK—a cultish group formerly listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and that is overwhelmingly despised inside of Iran. Less is said, however, about how the administration’s very act of withdrawing from the JCPOA subverts the prospect for peaceful democratic change inside Iran.

Make no mistake, Iran is no democracy. At its essence, democracy is a system of governance in which “the people” rule. Levels of democratization vary throughout the world and Iran is a case in which the concept of democracy is complex and sometimes misunderstood. Iran’s system of governance exists in a dual state: one marked by a government of elected officials, and the other marked by an unelected ruling class embodied by the Supreme Leader. While the supreme leadership in Iran undercuts the ability of the elected government to carry out its duties unhindered, a civic society persists in spite of such great obstacles. As a consequence of this dual nature, Iran’s government cannot be considered democratic. However, since some of the features of representation do exist, Iranian citizens have engaged the system and staked their claim in the political sphere.

Read more on The Iranian.

Zarif’s Resignation Saga

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

 

Zarif’s Resignation Saga

On February 25th, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travelled to Tehran and met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, and Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, among other senior Iranian officials. Foreign Minister Zarif was notably absent from the meetings.

During their meeting, Ayatollah Khamenei praised Assad for his “steadfastness” and said he had “turned into a hero for the Arab world.” He also said the Syrian uprising was not a part of the Arab Spring, stating: “The enemy’s mistake was confusing Syria with some other Arab states. In those countries, the peoples’ movements were towards resistance, they were uprisings against America and its clients.”

In the evening of the same day (February 25th), Foreign Minister Zarif stated he was resigning in a post on Instagram. He said in the post: “I am thankful to the dear and brave people and respectful officials for being gracious over the past 67 months. I sincerely ask for forgiveness for my inability to continue to serve and for all my deficiencies and shortcomings.”

In the immediate aftermath of the resignation announcement, reports suggested that it was triggered by Zarif not being informed of Assad’s visit. Entekhab News said it received a text from Zarif in which he reportedly stated: “After the photos of the meeting today [of Assad in Teran], Javad Zarif has no credibility today as Iran’s foreign minister.”

The following morning (February 26th), President Rouhani gave a speech where he thanked Zarif, as well as Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh and Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemati, for their “steadfastness” in being the “frontline against America.” Rouhani further praised the three officials for “bearing and resisting pressures” and as “people who are holding resolute at the frontline of attacks.”

Rouhani was speaking at a Central Bank conference on the issue of sanctions and the necessity to approve the deadlocked anti-money laundering and terrorism financing legislation. Read more on the bills, which are designed to bring Iran into compliance with guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

During his address, Rouhani stressed the need to approve the FATF legislation and said none of Iran’s decision-making bodies opposed the bills, including Ayatollah Khamenei. He proclaimed: “Decision-making in the country is either with the presidential administration, the parliament, or the leader. The leader has on multiple occasions told me he doesn’t opposes the four [FATF] bills. The administration and parliament also don’t oppose them, so who does?”

He added on the necessity of passing the FATF legislation: “We can’t trade with suitcases. You can’t move millions of tons of cattle meat with suitcases. The banks have to be active. If our country’s relations with FATF are cut, our banking activities at the international level will be faced with difficulties.”

A previously conducted interview with Zarif by the Rouhani administration-affiliated Islamic Republic Newspaper was published on February 26th, which listed what many Iranian analysts believe were the reasons behind Zarif’s resignation. The newspaper did not give a reason for why the interview wasn’t published sooner. In the interview, Zarif made a range of complaints, including over the unapproved FATF legislation, slanted coverage of state radio and television regarding Iran’s current conditions, the situation in the Expediency Discernment Council, a lack of support given to the Rouhani administration in its negotiations with other countries, and a lack of coordination between different government institutions.

In the interview, Zarif said factional infighting was “poison” for Iranian foreign policy. He opined: “We must separate foreign policy from partisan and factional fights. We must trust our foreign policy officials at the national level. This requires domestic consensus.”

After Zarif announced he would resign, a host of Iranian diplomats and foreign ministry officials said they would leave their posts if his resignation becomes final, and over 160 members of parliament wrote to President Rouhani asking him to reject the resignation. Zarif said in response to the support from his foreign ministry colleagues: “For me serving alongside you all has been an honor. I hope my resignation brings the foreign ministry back to its rightful legal position on foreign policy.”

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ali Motahari said that the main reason for Zarif’s resignation was not his absence from the Assad meeting, but interference in foreign policy by other domestic entities. He added that President Rouhani should never have allowed “military forces” to interfere in foreign policy.

On February 27th, President Rouhani formally rejected Zarif’s resignation, keeping him at his post as Iran’s foreign minister. Rouhani said in a letter to Zarif that he agreed with Zarif on “preserving the status and credibility of the foreign ministry, and the position of the foreign minister as the highest official implementing the country’s foreign policy.”

Rouhani also stated that Ayatollah Khamenei believes Zarif is “honest, brave, and pious.” He added that “joy and celebration” of figures such as Israeli PM Netanyahu after Zarif’s resignation is a reason for Zarif’s “success.”

Qassem Soleimani also expressed support for Zarif as the “main official responsible for foreign policy” and said Zarif has always had support of senior officials, “especially” Ayatollah Khamenei. He added that Zarif’s absence in the meeting with Assad was “not deliberate” and was due to “some lack of coordination” in the executive branch.

After Rouhani rejected the resignation, Zarif wrote a new post on Instagram thanking the president for his support. He stated: “My concerns were nothing but promoting foreign policy and the credibility of the foreign ministry as responsible for advancing foreign policies and being the frontline for defending national interests and the noble Iranian peoples’ rights internationally.”

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Hardliners Rejoiced Over Zarif’s Short-Lived Resignation

Prominent hardline politicians, mostly associated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, rejoiced over Zarif’s resignation. Read more about Jebhe Paydari in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Javad Karimi Ghodousi, a conservative MP from Masshad, offered sweets to other parliamentarians for Zarif’s resignation. He also stated that “Zarif’s resignation has been accepted and is certain. [Oil Minister] Zangeneh will also certainly leave.”

Ali Naderi, the editor in chief of the far-right Raja News, stated: “Zarif has wanted to leave for some time. Not just Zarif but [oil minister] Zangeneh also wanted to flee from under the rubble of the Rouhani administration, the columns of which they had built. They want to run away from their responsibilities … they were just waiting for an excuse, which was found … acceptance of their resignation means the end of heroic flexibility.”

Mahmoud Nabavian, a former MP and student of ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, declared: “The man of the damaging agreements of Saadabad, Paris, Geneva, Lausanne, the JCPOA, and FATF has resigned. Thank God.”

Hamid Rasaee, another former hardline MP, stated: “Rouhani no longer has popularity. The disgraceful JCPOA agreement has reached a dead-end. Zarif is like a gambler who gambled his entire existence on trusting John Kerry and lost.”

Conservative politician Ruhollah Hosseinian added that Americans were sad with Zarif’s resignation, stating: “Americans are more unhappy than anyone about this resignation because Zarif was the only person who realized their old wish of negotiations with Iran.”

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Iran’s Freedom Movement Condemns U.S. Sanctions

On February 25th, the Freedom Movement, one of Iran’s oldest pro-democracy groups, wrote a letter condemning U.S. sanctions and “unilateral” U.S. policies against Iran. The letter says regarding the destructive impact of US sanctions: “It is the Iranian people who suffer the most harm and economic hardship from sanctions. These sanctions have weakened the middle class & the downtrodden & disrupts Iran’s democracy-seeking trend.”

The letter says that the Freedom Movement has been among the most ardent critics of Iran’s ruling system and that its members have been imprisoned and tortured. Despite this, the letter calls for the US to abide by the nuclear deal, calling it a guarantor of global peace and security.

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Qassem Soleimani Rejects Idea of Further US Negotiations

On February 28th, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, denounced the idea of reaching a “second JCPOA” with the United States. Soleimani said those seeking a “JCPOA 2” wished to “dry up Islamic movements.”

Soleimani suggested that former U.S. President Obama sought regime change with the JCPOA, and that President Trump simply seeks regime change on a shorter time scale. He stated: “For the enemy, the JCPOA was a triangle [with the JCPOA being one side of the triangle]. Obama believed that with time he would get to the two other sides [in subsequent “JCPOAs,” or U.S.-Iran agreements], but this impatient person who has come [Trump] insists on getting where they want in a hurry and he believes they can get there [meaning regime change].”

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Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant Shuts Down for Refueling and Repairs

On February 28th, Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), stated that the Bushehr nuclear power plant would temporarily shut down for “refueling and necessary repairs.”  Kamalvandi stated: “Based on the existing plan, Bushehr will be disconnected from the electricity grid on Monday for two months.”

Earlier this week, AEOI had warned that because of financial issues and the depreciation of Iran’s currency, the Bushehr nuclear power plant’s operations were under “ambiguity” for the next year. However, immediately after this warning, parliament approved funding for Bushehr’s operation.

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Armenian Prime Minister Travels to Tehran

On February 27th, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan travelled to Tehran and met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarif. During their meetings, the two sides signed trade and energy agreements.

During his meeting with Pshinyan, Ayatollah Khamenei rebuked U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who said last fall that the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue” as the U.S. enforces sanctions. Ayatollah Khamenei stated: “Iran and Armenia have never had problems with each other … but American officials like John Bolton have no understanding of these issues and humane relations.”

In his meeting with President Rouhani, Prime Minister Pshinyan emphasized Armenia’s support of the JCPOA and said it was worried about developments surrounding the agreement. He stated that regarding the JCPOA, Armenia will “work closely with Iran and other parties.”  

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Bahraini Shia Leader Travels to Qom

Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s majority-Shia population, has met with senior officials in Qom. Qassim was under house arrest in Bahrain for some time and has been stripped of his Bahraini citizenship. According to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim, Qassim discussed the situation in Bahrain and the conditions for Bahraini Shias in his meetings in Qom.

In 2016, after Qassim’s Bahraini citizenship was revoked, Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani warned Bahraini officials that the safety of Shia religious leaders in Bahrain was a “red line.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif to Travel to Damascus

On February 27th, Foreign Minister Zarif spoke on the phone with Syrian Foreign minister Walid Muallem. According to Iranian media, the two reviewed the “conclusions” of the recent meeting in Tehran between Syrian President Assad and President Rouhani, Ayatollah Khamenei, and other Iranian officials.

After the phone call, Syria’s ambassador to Tehran forwarded Syrian President Assad’s invitation to Zarif to travel for an official visit to Syria.

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Rouhani to Take First Iraq Trip of His Presidency

According to Tasnim, President Rouhani will travel to Baghdad for a state visit on March 11th with a large delegation of Iranian officials and businesspeople. The trip follows Iraqi President Barham Salih’s December 19th trip to Iran. It will be Rouhani’s first trip to Iraq of his presidency.

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Zarif Resignation May Bolster Iran’s Hardliners and Trump’s Hawkish Policies [updated]

Update (3/1/19): Javid Zarif’s resignation has since been rejected by President Rouhani, keeping him at his post as foreign minister. Read more about Zarif’s resignation saga in this week’s Iran Unfiltered

Javad Zarif’s pending resignation as Foreign Minister reflects a hardening posture in Iran following the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Rouhani now has to decide whether or not to accept the resignation—and it remains entirely unclear if he will do so. If Zarif reverses his decision in the wake of public outcry over his resignation announcement, which was made on Instagram, he could return with increased legitimacy and decision-making power.

The forthcoming decision on whether or not to accept Zarif’s resignation comes as the Rouhani administration has been warding off hardliners in order to preserve the nuclear deal in negotiations with Europe. As the chief negotiator on the Iranian side, and one of its biggest proponents domestically, Zarif’s resignation would be a boon for radical forces in Tehran who oppose the JCPOA and further engagement with the West. If his resignation materializes, it would further indicate that the political winds in Tehran are favoring domestic hardliners bent on following the Trump administration’s footsteps and leaving the JCPOA. It would also be a major signal that Zarif believes there is little room for a diplomat with his depth of knowledge of the United States and its political system, as there are likely to be no negotiations between the U.S. and Iran until 2021 at the earliest.

Zarif’s resignation also occurs in the midst of a contentious domestic debate over legislation to increase the transparency of Iran’s banking sector and to bring it in line with global standards. However, the bills have been opposed by domestic hardliners affiliated with the IRGC and others who benefit from an opaque banking sector and a sanctions economy. These actors recently threatened to impeach Zarif for linking opponents of the banking reforms to corruption. Zarif’s departure would better enable these elements to keep Iran’s banking system in the dark—ensuring that this key obstacle to Iran’s engagement with the world remains in place for the foreseeable future.

As Foreign Minister, Zarif has defended or deflected many of the most objectionable policies of his government—including the arrests of dual nationals and the country’s backing of the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who visited with Iran’s Supreme Leader and IRGC Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani today. Any review of Zarif’s tenure as Foreign Minister cannot overlook the abuses of the government that he represented.

However, over the past forty years, the U.S. and Iran have had few clear channels for negotiations, and Zarif has long been a major proponent of U.S.-Iran negotiations and deescalation. Trump’s plan to collapse the deal may indeed be aimed at empowering radicals in Iran. Hardliners in the U.S. have long cheered for Iran to be led by radical elements to make engagement difficult and validate calls for sanctions and military action. Should Zarif bow out of Iran’s political theater, Trump and his team may be getting exactly what they wish for.

Iran Warns Saudi Arabia & Pakistan Over Suicide Bombing

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

 

Financial Watchdog Extends Deadline for Iran to Pass Banking Reform Laws

On February 22nd, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks—extended the deadline for Iran to come into compliance with its standards. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the FATF’s standards. According to FATF’s statement, if by June 2019, Iran “does not enact the remaining legislation in line with FATF Standards, then the FATF will require increased supervisory examination for branches and subsidiaries of financial institutions based in Iran.”

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 remain 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. (Read more on the contentious domestic debate over the FATF legislation in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

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. Ahead of the FATF plenary this week, the Expediency Discernment Council held a meeting to decide on the Palermo convention, but its members failed to reach an agreement.

The Expediency Discernment Council meets every two weeks and will meet to discuss the Palermo convention bill on March 2nd. After it reaches a decision regarding the Palermo convention, the council will discuss whether or not Iran will accede to the terrorist financing convention.

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Foreign Minister Zarif and Other Senior Officials Travel to China

A delegation of senior Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, and Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, traveled to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials. In his meeting with Larijani, President Xi said China wished to increase cooperation with Iran in the fields of “security, confronting terrorism, and people-to-people exchanges.” He also called for China-Iran “coordination on international issues to promote a new type of international relations.”

President Xi praised what he said was Iran’s constructive role in the Middle East and expressed a willingness to cooperate with Iran on regional issues. He proclaimed that he “supports Tehran’s constructive role in preserving peace and stability” in the region and said that Beijing is ready to develop “close ties and cooperate with Tehran on regional issues.”

Larijani said that he discussed solutions to regional conflicts with President Xi. He stated: “We have discussed the political issues in our region, confronting terrorism, and the consultations that are necessary for peace in the region and for constructive dialogue.”

Larijani told President Xi that Iran wished to increase cooperation with China over energy and infrastructure projects. He stated: “The Islamic Republic is ready to offer China its unique capabilities in different areas including transportation, infrastructure, and energy.”

During their meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for “deeper strategic trust” with Iran and praised Foreign Minister Zarif’s address and interview last week at the Munich Security Conference. Yi stated: “I saw on television how you defended the rights of Iran loud and clear at the Munich Security Conference. I think an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese also watched what you said and you are a famous person now.”

Yi added: “I would like to take this opportunity to have this in-depth strategic communication with my old friend to deepen the strategic trust between our two countries and to ensure fresh progress of the bilateral comprehensive and strategic partnership.”

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Hardline MP Introduces Impeachment Bill Against President Rouhani

Conservative MP Mojtaba Zonnour, affiliated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, has introduced an impeachment bill against President Rouhani. The bill lists 14 reasons for Rouhani’s removal, four of which have to do with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The bill claims that Rouhani gave false promises that Iran’s “economy and industry can spin simultaneously with [uranium] centrifuges spinning” and that the JCPOA removed the threat of war.

Zonnour has also emphasized that he wants Rouhani removed over deteriorating economic conditions, stating: “Today we have no answers from the administration over issues it can alleviate, such as the peoples’ empty dinner tables, corruption, societal problems, unemployment, and smuggling. The people want answers from us and we have no answers. The law allows us to either impeach or question [the president].”

Last year, hardline MPs calling for Rouhani’s impeachment were rebuked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Read more about earlier efforts by hardliners to remove Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif from office in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered.

According to Iran’s constitution, if at least one-third of the parliament’s 290 members sign onto an impeachment bill, the president will be summoned to parliament for questioning. If two-thirds of parliamentarians give a vote of no confidence in the president’s answers before parliament, formal impeachment proceedings are then sent to the Supreme Leader.

In response to Zonnour’s impeachment bill, influential Iranian reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh said the aim was to take advantage of the “golden period of Trump” to remove Rouhani and to establish a “military administration” before Iran’s next parliamentary elections. Zonnour denied Tajzadeh’s allegation, stating: “Anybody seeking a military government is damn wrong and those saying this are damn wrong … I was the architect of this impeachment bill … I decided to introduce this bill. I did not consult with anyone inside or outside of parliament.”

All the major factions in the Iranian parliament voiced their opposition to Zonnour’s impeachment bill, and ultimately he only secured 18 signatures in support of the bill. President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said of the impeachment effort: “Those pursuing this are the same people who completely supported the previous administration [the Ahmadinejad presidency] and now completely oppose the current administration.”

Vaezi added: “For them, it doesn’t make a difference that the country is facing an economic war. They don’t work in line with national interests. However, we respect the parliament and don’t want to take a stance that would be in opposition to parliament.”

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Iranian Military Commanders Warn Pakistan and Saudi Arabia Over Zahedan Bombing

On February 21st, Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani denounced Saudi Arabia and proclaimed that Iran would not pursue JCPOA-like negotiations over regional issues. Soleimani stated that a “regional JCPOA”—meaning negotiations with the United states and other world powers on regional issues—would be aimed at “breaking the spirit and [forward] movement of Islamic Iran.” He added: “If we carry out a second JCPOA, they will pursue other ‘JCPOAs’ with the goal being to change the country’s identity from within.”

Soleimani blamed Saudi Arabia over last week’s suicide bombing of a bus carrying IRGC soldiers in southeastern Iran, which left 27 dead. He declared: “I say to the Pakistani people that Saudi money has infiltrated their country and with these actions they want to destroy Pakistan.”

Soleimani also issued a stern warning to Pakistan: “Iran should not be tested. Whoever has tested Iran has received a severe response. We talk as a friend to Pakistan and tell it not to allow its borders to be used to cause insecurity in a neighboring country … the Islamic Republic will definitely avenge the blood of its martyrs against the mercenaries who took this action.”

Other senior Iranian military figures, such as Supreme Leader advisor General Yahya Safavi and IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, issued unprecedented rebukes of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service in the wake of last week’s suicide attack. General Safavi accused Pakistan of sheltering the Jaish al-Adl terrorist organization, which claimed responsibility for the bombing: “We believe this silence is a kind of support for this group and the Pakistani intelligence organization should account for it.”

General Jafari said along the same lines: “Pakistan should also know that it should pay the cost for the Pakistani intelligence organization’s support for Jaish al-Zolm from now on and this price will no doubt be very heavy for them.”

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Families of Detained Labor Activists Report Harassment

According to Radio Farda, Iranian intelligence agents have threatened the families of detained labor protestors Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian in order to keep them silent about the cases. According to the Haft Tapeh factory workers’ Telegram channel, the families had earlier in the week protested outside of Shush’s courthouse. The Telegram channel also stated that Bakhshi and Gholian are being compelled to record another “confession” for state television. (Read more about their cases and the Haft Tapeh worker protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered)

On February 18th, President Rouhani’s new health minister Saeed Namaki said Iran would face difficult economic challenges in the upcoming Iranian year of 1397 (March 21, 2019-March 21, 2020). He stated: “We should know that next year will be a difficult year. Even though this country has persevered over many hardships, 1397 will be a very difficult year on the economic front.”

Namaki added: “We are managers who worked with $6-7 per barrel oil under the most difficult conditions [during the Iran-Iraq War]. God willing, by the blood of the martyrs, especially our Revolutionary Guards martyrs who died helplessly in Sistan and Baluchistan province [last week], we will overcome these problems. However, as men charged with running the country, we must tighten our belts and first look at our wallets and then spend money.”

The cases of political prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan has gone to an appeals court, according to their lawyer. Meysami and Khandan were recently sentenced to six years in prison. Meisami was arrested last July for protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law. He undertook a 145-day hunger strike, which ended on December 23rd. On January 5th, 2019 he wrote a letter lambasting the Trump administration and Tehran’s Revolutionary Court 15, as detailed in a previous Iran Unfiltered.

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IRGC Says It Was Aware of US Sabotage Efforts

On February 20th, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, said that the IRGC was aware of efforts to sabotage Iranian military armaments. He stated: “We were able to discover this conspiracy and have turned this major threat into an opportunity.” His comments follow a recent New York Times report about a U.S. program aimed at sabotaging Iran’s missile and rocket programs.

Hajizadeh also claimed that Iran had gained access to American military systems after commandeering U.S. drones flying over Syria and Iraq. He stated: “By infiltrating into U.S. military systems, including command and control and espionage systems, we have stopped their plans [for war].”

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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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NIAC Welcomes Extension, Urges Compromise to Secure Iran Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi issued the following statement in response to the decision to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:

“For those who favor a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute, it is critically important these negotiations will continue. A collapse of talks would have been unacceptable, returning both sides to the path of escalation and eventual war. Instead, the United States and Iran have been in serious and sustained dialogue with each other on the nuclear issue for over a year and have much to show for it. Slowly but surely, the negotiations have punctured the wall of distrust between the U.S. and Iran and advanced us closer than ever before to resolving the nuclear dispute.

“It is disappointing that a final agreement has been delayed, but the U.S. and Iran are committed to resolving this issue diplomatically and clearly understand that failure is not an option. The only question is whether each side can make the tough compromises necessary to reach a deal. Standing on the cusp of an historic agreement, both the U.S. and Iranians need to show the same courage that has got them this far and take the final steps towards sealing a nuclear deal. 

“Iran must show more willingness to compromise on size and scope of its enrichment program. The U.S. must show greater willingness to provide for sanctions relief in the initial stages of a deal, when any agreement is most vulnerable.

“Further delay will provide ammunition to hardliners on both sides intent on sabotaging the historic developments in U.S.-Iran relations. The domestic politics in Tehran and Washington pose challenges to compromise. These negotiations could very well fall victim to hostile domestic politics in Tehran and Washington, especially with a new Republican majority being sworn into the U.S. Senate this January. 

“It is critical that Congress continue to give U.S. negotiators the flexibility they need to win a strong nuclear deal. Passing new sanctions or setting the bar for an agreement at impossible heights risks dashing the hard work of our negotiators and setting us squarely back on the path towards military conflict. History would view any negative reaction from Congress as a needless tragedy.

“These negotiations offer a chance to prevent war, secure peace, and add stability to an unstable region. The sides came close but did not get there this time. They must get there soon because this window of opportunity will not last forever. The American people do not want another war. The Iranian people are suffering under sanctions. The sooner a deal is concluded, the sooner these issues impacting ordinary people can be resolved, and attention can be brought to resolve other critical issues, including regional challenges and Iran’s human rights situation.

“We are too close to the finish line to allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory. Efforts to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically must be redoubled. The time has come for the United States and Iran to make the tough decisions necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement.”

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