Iran Digest: Week of October 9-16, 2015

Iran Digest

AIC’s Iran digest project covers the latest developments and news stories published in Iranian and international media outlets. This weekly digest is compiled by Communications Associates Alexander Benthem de Grave and Bradford Van Arnum.

Nuclear Deal

Iran Is Set to Put Nuclear Deal, Now Ratified, in Motion

The final step for Iran to start carrying out the nuclear agreement was completed Wednesday, after an oversight panel ratified the bill passed by Parliament supporting the deal with six world powers.

The ratification by the veto-wielding panel, the 12-member Guardian Council, made within 36 hours after Parliament accepted the details of the agreement, now clears the way for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to start dismantling thousands of centrifuges and redesign a heavy-water reactor into a much less a dangerous light-water reactor. It also needs to take several other measures.

In exchange, as soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies the steps, sanctions against Iran will be lifted. Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, speaking on state television on Tuesday, predicted that the process would take about two months. (The New York Times)

Iran hard-liners call parliament vote on nuclear deal illegal

With 161 votes in favor, 59 against and 13 abstentions, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament approved the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on Oct. 13. The approval lifts one obstacle to implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed upon in July, according to which Iran will reduce its nuclear activity in return for sanctions relief. Iranian parliamentarians and media outlets opposed to the deal, however, have not given up, suggesting that the process to approve the deal violated the law.

Mehrdad Bazrpash, a Tehran parliamentarian and the editor of hard-line Vatan-e Emrooz, criticized the process by which the vote came about yesterday, and said, “The JCPOA, which was the result of 22 months of negotiations, should not get 15 minutes” for a vote. In the session for the vote of the nuclear deal, parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was accused of pushing the vote forward and not allowing parliament members to offer amendments or recommendations. Iran's parliament had in the days previous been debating the deal and had even convened a special committee. (Al-Monitor)

Regional Politics

Iran ramps up troop deployment in Syria in run-up to ‘anti-rebel offensive’

Iran is escalating its role in the war in Syria, sending hundreds of men from its elite forces to support Bashar al-Assad and dispatching its most celebrated Revolutionary Guards commander to an area where an anti-rebel offensive is expected shortly.

Arab diplomats and analysts said on Wednesday that Iran had already sent hundreds of troops to northern and central Syria, after reports that up to 2,000 are to be deployed alongside fighters from Tehran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah and foreign Shia militia units under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Iran has backed the Assad regime from the start of the war four and half years ago, but its role so far has been relatively low-profile. Pictures of Gen Qassem Suleimani, commander of the al-Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards, addressing fighters in Syria, reinforce the perception that a new stage of deeper Iranian involvement may be beginning. (The Guardian)

U.S. official: 'Psychological blow' in ISIS killing of Iranian general in Syria

The death of a top Iranian military commander in Syria this week has dealt a "psychological blow" to elements backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

The killing of a commander in the Revolutionary Guards Corps at the hands of ISIS also highlights the extent of Iranian involvement in Syria and the dire straits in which Assad finds himself, Washington-based analysts say. Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani was killed outside Aleppo, Syria, where he was advising the Syrian army in its fight against extremists, Iranian state media reported Friday.

Iranian media carried messages of condolence from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who described Hamedani's death as a big loss and applauded the senior commander for his bravery.

"He was in charge of [Iranian] operations inside Syria," said former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht. "He's been involved in this from A to Z, so in the short term, it's probably a fairly significant loss." (CNN)

International Trade

Rouhani sees global surge for Iran trade

President Hassan Rouhani says there is a global surge of interest in new business opportunities in Iran, adding the country is ready to open its arms to international entrepreneurs if they bring in investment and technology.

“We are witnessing a global fascination with the lucrative environment for economic activity in Iran,” he told the opening of an international symposium on industry and trade in Tehran Saturday.

“We are ready to host and invite foreign entrepreneurs if they bring investment and technology to Iran where a part of our 80-million market could be placed at their disposal and a joint exports market created for both sides,” he added.

The government is pushing to fire economic growth after bringing down inflation from more than 40% at the start of President Rouhani's office in 2013 to an annual rate of around 15%. (PressTV)

Japan ready to up oil imports from Iran

Japan has voiced its readiness to increase imports of Iranian oil as soon as the international sanctions imposed against Tehran due to its nuclear energy program are lifted. This was announced by Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh on October 12, local Iranian media reported.

After a meeting held with the visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Zanganeh told journalists that Tokyo has agreed to increase its oil exports from Iran to the levels that existed before the sanctions.

"Kishida and the Japanese business leaders who are accompanying him were briefed on Iran’s new oil and gas investment opportunities, as well as the new format of energy sector contracts," he said.

Zanganeh also noted that the Japanese companies are also interested in investing in Iran’s upstream projects and a significant potential exists for the Japanese companies to participate in a variety of oil and gas projects in Iran. (AzerNews)

Inside Iran

Iranian media says Post correspondent Jason Rezaian convicted

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, imprisoned in Tehran for more than 14 months, has been convicted following an espionage trial that ended in August, Iranian media reported Monday. The verdict — belated and opaque — was strongly condemned by the journalist’s family and colleagues, as well as the U.S. government.

State-run TV and the Iranian Students’ News Agency both quoted Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, a spokesman for Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, as saying Rezaian, 39, had been found guilty. But ­Mohseni-Ejei offered no specifics on which charges were involved or whether a sentence had been imposed.

“He has been convicted, but I don’t have the verdict’s detail,” said Mohseni-Ejei, a hard-liner and former prosecutor who criticized Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for shaking hands with President Obama during a chance encounter at the United Nations last month, comparing the gesture to consorting with the enemy. (The Washington Post)

Iran reveals huge underground missile base with broadcast on state TV


Iranian state television broadcast unprecedented footage on Wednesday of an underground tunnel packed with missiles and launcher units, which officials said could be used if “enemies make a mistake”.

The pictures were released just three days after Iran tested a new long-range missile that the US said may have breached a UN Security Council resolution.

The footage also came a day after Iran’s parliament approved the country’s 14 July nuclear deal with six world powers.

Iranian officials have said the nuclear agreement will not affect its military forces, particularly its ballistic missile programme. The missile launch and underground footage followed pressure from lawmakers to prove the military had not been weakened by the deal. (The Guardian)


Changing Course on Economy in Iran

By Djavad Salehi-Isfahani

On October 13, Iran’s parliament approved the July 14 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the Council of Guardians granted final approval a day later. The parliament proceedings were heated. One member of parliament had a heart attack and was taken to hospital. Another threatened Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, who were attending the proceedings, with death.

Outside the chamber the reception to the removal of the last legal obstacle to the historic deal between Iran and the West was decidedly cold. The public had anticipated economic improvements to continue into President Hassan Rouhani’s second year and after the signing of JCPOA. But the opposite has happened: the economy seems to be doing worse than last year.

Read the full article.