Iran Digest: Week of October 16-23, 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 Nuclear Deal Wins Tepid Endorsement From Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday publicly endorsed for the first time the July nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, state news agencies reported. But the provisional endorsement was accompanied by a warning that Tehran expected all sanctions to be lifted or it would walk away from the deal.

The support of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the final step in an approval process involving the Supreme National Security Council, the Iranian Parliament and the Guardian Council. Iran can now begin carrying out the measures outlined in the agreement, including dismantling thousands of centrifuges used for enrichment and downsizing a heavy water plant so it can no longer produce plutonium.

The endorsement was included in a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani that included accusations against the United States, Iran’s longtime enemy, and pointed out several flaws in the deal, state television reported. (The New York Times)

The U.S. Prepares Iranian Sanctions Relief After Landmark Nuclear Deal

The U.S. has begun preparations to suspend nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as part of Washington’s commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was officially adopted on Sunday. However, punitive economic measures will not be lifted until Tehran complies with every agreed measure to limit its nuclear program, according to the White House.

The announcement marked “adoption day” of the agreement that was signed in Vienna on July 14 by Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the E.U., and endorsed 90 days ago by the U.N. Security Council.

It is an “important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a White House statement on Sunday. (TIME)

International Relations

Pope Francis to meet Iran’s Rouhani next month, reports say

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to meet with with Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican next month, Reuters reports, citing a "diplomatic source."

According to the news agency, the visit will take place on Nov. 14-15 during a trip to Italy that would also see the Iranian president meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Sergio Mattarella.

Rouhani's visit to Italy would mark his first official visit to a European Union country. It comes after an agreement reached in July between Iran and a number of world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. (The Washington Post)

Regional Politics

Iran sending more advisers to Syria to defeat 'terrorism', says deputy minister

Iran has boosted the number of military advisers it has sent to Syria where it is determined to help defeat “terrorism”, a senior official has confirmed, while insisting that the future of Bashar al-Assad can be decided only by the Syrian people.

In an interview with the Guardian during a visit to London, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said there was “no [Iranian] fighting force, as such,” on the ground. But he said advisers were helping the Syrian army. Recent reports have described Tehran sending in thousands of troops, though many are Shia militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Amir-Abdollahian lashed out at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s longstanding regional rival and a leading supporter of anti-Assad rebel groups, saying that its “radical policies” had encouraged the growth of al-Qaida and Isis. (The Guardian)

Israel’s Nuclear Advisory Panel Endorses Iran Deal

In defense establishment discussions of the Iranian nuclear agreement, Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, which advises the government on nuclear issues, has endorsed the pact, a source familiar with the commission’s stance told Haaretz Thursday. The panel’s position runs directly counter to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cabinet ministers and most of the political opposition.

The commission’s members say they are convinced that the April 2 agreement between Iran and the world powers will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. In recent years these experts have been analyzing information about Iran’s nuclear project, and estimating how far away the Islamic Republic was from developing a bomb. The panel’s viewpoint deals only with the technical aspects of the agreement, and not with the geostrategic implications of its non-technical clauses, such as the gradual lifting of sanctions on Iran. (Haaretz)

International Trade

Scotland sets sights on trade with Iran

The prospect of oil giant Iran opening up for business in the coming months might not on the face of it seem like good news for Scotland's oil capital, Aberdeen, but that's not how the Scottish National Party's Alex Salmond sees things.

"This is not just a good opportunity," he told an audience at a BBC debate on the fringe of the SNP conference in Aberdeen. "It's an unambiguously a great one. Scotland has much to offer. Benefits can flow both directions."

Iran struck a deal in July over its disputed nuclear programme. Under the terms of the agreement, once Iran delivers on its commitments the European Union and the US will end sanctions on Iran's trade, financial and energy sectors. It is expected that this will happen sometime early next year. (BBC)

Inside Iran

Why Iran Should Gear Up for a "Tsunami" of Tourists


Iran's vice-president and the head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has recently given an interview to The Associated Press, where he presented eye-opening statistics on Iran's tourism sector, promising that the country should get ready for a "tsunami" of foreign tourists in the coming months and years.

Like almost every aspect of Iranian life and economy, tourism was also hit hard by the tormenting sanctions that the United States and the European Union slapped on the country over its contentious nuclear program. Traveling to Iran had become an aching challenge as many European airliners had suspended their flights to Iran's major cities, the hardline government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn't willing to issue visas to so many European and American tourists, several nations including France and Britain were advising their citizens against traveling to Iran and above all, the foreign tourists thought of Iran as a frightening place where they could end up in prison or get kidnapped. (Huffington Post)

Iran holds public funeral for commander killed in Syria

Iran held a public funeral on Tuesday for a senior paramilitary fighter killed fighting in Syria, the fourth commander to die this month as Tehran intensifies its support for President Bashar al-Assad against insurgents.

Nader Hamid died in a Syrian hospital last week of gunshot wounds sustained in a gunbattle several days earlier, Iranian agencies reported. He was a member of the Basij, the volunteer arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Iranian fighters have been arriving in Syria to reinforce Syrian government troops in an offensive in the contested northern city of Aleppo and other insurgent-held areas.

Two regular IRGC senior officers were killed in an undisclosed part of Syria on Oct. 12, and a top IRGC general was killed near Aleppo on Oct. 8, according to the Tasnim news agency which is close to the Guards. (Reuters)


How will hajj stampede impact Iran-Saudi relations?

By Abbas Aslani

When President Hassan Rouhani took office two years ago, there was some hope among Iranians that relations with Saudi Arabia could improve. But after the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, such hopes have faded as the new rulers in Riyadh continue to fail to show sufficient flexibility and eagerness about engagement with Iran. Indeed, things have turned out for the worse with the recent string of developments marring relations between Tehran and Riyadh. The last incident, the hajj stampede in which hundreds of Iranians were killed, caused great controversy and has deteriorated the situation. It will surely have domestic implications for both Iran and Saudi Arabia — and also internationally, as both countries seek more active and influential roles in the region.

For Iran, after some time of internal debate on how to deal with the kingdom, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could now score the initiative by taking the lead on foreign policy. Indeed, if there previously were differing voices in Iran on how to behave toward the Saudis, one can now see unity between the Rouhani administration and the wider political establishment’s positions toward Riyadh. This is happening against the backdrop of ongoing serious discussions in Tehran about the quality of engagement with the West.

Read the full article.