Iran Digest: Week of November 6-13, 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 Accord

Iran has stopped dismantling nuclear centrifuges: senior official

Iran has stopped dismantling centrifuges in two uranium enrichment plants, state media reported on Tuesday, days after conservative lawmakers complained to President Hassan Rouhani that the process was too rushed.

Last week, Iran announced it had begun shutting down inactive centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow plants under the terms of a deal struck with world powers in July that limits its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Iran's hardliners continue to resist and undermine the nuclear deal, which was forged by moderates they oppose and which they see as a capitulation to the West.

"The (dismantling) process stopped with a warning," Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the National Security Council, was quoted as saying by the ISNA student news agency. (Reuters)

Anniversary of embassy siege in Iran shows rifts over US nuclear pact

The 36th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran unfolded Wednesday with the familiar protests and chants of “Death to America.” But there was also a new twist: growing battles between hard-liners and their opponents over how much Iran will change after a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other powers.

And in the middle was Iran’s ultimate power, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is trying to fine-tune his message that the nuclear accord can stand but that future openings to Washington are not an option.

The demonstration Wednesday in front of the brick walls at the former U.S. diplomatic compound — scene of a 444-day hostage standoff — was just the latest show of resolve by Iranian conservatives in a running showdown with reformers that goes back decades. (The Washington Post)

US-Iran Relations

Rouhani says US-Iran ties could be restored but US must apologize

The nuclear deal reached between world powers and Iran could lead to better relations between Tehran and Washington if the United States apologized for past behavior, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The pragmatist president, who championed the July 14 deal, has pushed for closer engagement with the West since his 2013 landslide election win.

But Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has continued to rule out normalizing ties with the "Great Satan", as he routinely calls the United States.

In an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper, Rouhani suggested that the United States and Iran could open embassies in each other's capitals after decades of mutual hostility, but said Washington should apologize, without going into further detail. (Reuters)

Regional Politics

Why Iran and Syria aren't as closely aligned on Syria as you might think

Common and immediate objectives have united Iran and Russia on Syria in the short run, and this unity will probably be flexed against the West’s influence in the long term. However, when it comes to some key aspects of Syria’s future — including the nature of the government and the rebuilding of the Syrian military — differences between Tehran and Moscow are bound to come to the surface.

In broad terms, Iran and Russia have embarked on the same path and entered a new phase of the geopolitical game in Syria. A major power, Russia is trying to redefine its role in the world, as evidenced by its actions in Ukraine and Syria. After 40 years, Moscow has returned to the Middle East to prove that today’s world is different — and multipolar. Iran’s strategy also revolves around redefining its geopolitical role. Iran’s game in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and even Yemen shouldn't be considered only from an ideological point of view, but rather as the Islamic Republic seeking what can be defined as living space. (Al-Monitor)

International Trade

Iran, Russia agree on major loans

Iran said on Thursday that Russia has agreed to give it a major loan worth $7-8 billion.

The announcement was made by Iran’s First Deputy Industrial Minister Mojtaba Khosrowtaj in an interview with RIA Novosti. Khosrowtaj added that Moscow and Tehran have agreed on the main conditions of allotting the loan that he said will be provided under joint projects with Russian companies. 

“The loan would be applied to purveyors from Russia and buyers in Iran for the realization of projects,” he said.

“Yes, we have reached such a high-level agreement. Now it’s the work of the banks to agree on the technical details of work in this scheme,” Khosrowtaj added. (PressTV)

Iran to develop trade with Azerbaijan

Iran is prepared to supply agricultural products to Russia through Azerbaijan. The two countries plan to discuss development of relations, in particular in the economic sphere, during a future visit of an Iranian delegation to Baku.

The delegation, led by the head of the Iranian province of Ardebil Majid Khodabakhsh, will soon visit Azerbaijan, said Arjang Azizi, deputy head of the province for international affairs.

Azizi noted that the purpose of the visit is to develop relations between the two countries, in particular in the economic sphere. “The supply of agricultural products produced in Ardabil to the Russian market will be discussed with Azerbaijani officials during the visit,” said Azizi. (Azer News)

Inside Iran

Iran's economy plagued by structural problems

It’s 10pm and Elham, a 45-year-old mother of two, is driving her car looking for passengers. She was recently laid off from her full-time job and now has to work as an unofficial taxi driver.

“They fooled us all for two years, saying the [nuclear] deal is imminent,” she mumbled while driving. “For two years they told us to be patient, saying after the deal Iran will turn into heaven, sanctions will be lifted. What happened to all those promises?”

More than two years into the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and three months into the nuclear deal with six world powers, many in the middle class in Iran feel the government - which has called itself the government of prudence and hope - has not delivered on its promise of economic improvement. (The Guardian)

Iran's Jewish community sees signs of hope as country opens to West

Iran may be known for its controversial nuclear program and demonstrations featuring chants of "Death to Israel," but the country also is home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East. For the first time in years, that ancient group now has reason to hope for a brighter future after many years of pressure under the Islamic Republic.

The Jewish community has protected legal status — guaranteed a seat in Parliament — but Jews are barred from holding high office. During the Iranian Revolution, Jewish leaders were executed. More recently, anti-Semitism has colored Iranian politics: Ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously questioned whether the Holocaust happened and Iran has challenged Israel's right to exist.

Now, though, there's signs of a shift. Iran's reformist President Hassan Rouhani offers New Year's greetings to Jews on Rosh Hashanah — and the Jewish community in Iran is hopeful that a July nuclear deal signed by Iran, U.S. and five other world powers could bring an end to international isolation and improve their place in society. (NBC)


Iran's plan to confront a post-Assad era

By Shahir Shahidsaless

The Iran-Syria alliance was formed shortly after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The kinship that emerged between the two governments was not due to the fact that Iranians were Shia adherents and that the Syrian government was led by Hafez al-Assad (President Bashar's father), an Alawite and a follower of an offshoot of Shia Islam. Rather, it was because both systems were threatened by three formidable adversaries: the US, Israel, and Iraq.

With the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, Syria was the only Arab country that stood by Iran and consequently was isolated in the Arab world. In an effective move, Syria shut down the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline and deprived Iraq of half of its remaining oil export capacity. In return, Syria received heavily subsidized oil from Iran.

Read the full article.