Iran Digest: Week of November 13-20, 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 Associate Alexander Benthem de Grave and Research Associate Bradford Van Arnum.

Regional Politics

Iran stresses UN role in seeking Yemen political solution


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has stressed the importance of the United Nations’ role in seeking a political solution for the crisis in Yemen.

Zarif made the comments during a meeting with UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Tehran on Wednesday.

Tehran supports all the measures by the UN to resolve the conflict in Yemen and calls on all the Yemenis to make every effort to smooth over the situation in the country, the Iranian foreign minister noted.

“Months of aggression and military approaches have led to nothing but the destruction of Yemen's infrastructure and the death and injury of the innocent people of the country,” Zarif added. (PressTV)

Iran likely to join war on Isis following Francois Hollande's plea for unity

Iran is likely to emerge as a member of a coalition fighting Isis in the aftermath of the Paris massacre, according to senior diplomatic sources.

Tehran’s long-held wish to play a part in the conflict, and thus come in further from the diplomatic cold, may be fulfilled as a realignment begins to take shape between Russia and the West in the effort to defeat the extremist Islamist group.

François Hollande, who has declared that France was “at war” following the attacks that claimed 132 lives, is seeking a broad united front against Isis. This morning Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani telephoned his French counterpart to stress the “crucial importance to fighting against terrorism and Daesh [Isis] with all our might”, as he expressed his condolences over the deaths. (Independent)


Khamenei says Iran must go green

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a 15-point list of policy directives to address the country’s environmental needs. The Nov. 17 letter, titled “General Policies of the Environment,” was published on the leader’s website and addressed to President Hassan Rouhani, parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and head of judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. General policies issued by the supreme leader often serve as guidelines for future policies, legislation and initiatives from the three branches of Iran’s government.

In the letter, Khamenei stressed the need to “manage climate change and environment threats such as desertification, especially dust pollution [and] drought.” A number of Iranian cities have been hit with crippling dust pollution this year. In February, public buildings in 11 cities in Khuzestan province were shut down because of dust pollution, with dust content reaching 66 times permissible levels. Most surprising of all, unprecedented dust storms hit Tehran, leading to a number of deaths.

Khamenei called for continuous monitoring and control of sources and agents of various environmental pollutants, including “adverse changes in the climate.” (Al Monitor)

Iran lacks sufficient funds to tackle environmental problems

Iran is experiencing a range of drastic ecological and environmental problems that need to be urgently addressed. The Iranian government has been taking various measures to tackle these problems over the years. However, its efforts have not been effective.

An Iranian official had recently admitted that the organization to deal with ecological problems did not have sufficient resources to wage its fight and deal with environmental issues. Esmail Kahrom, the deputy head of the Iranian Department of Environment within the President’s Office, said the department currently suffers from lack of funds and human resources.

Kahrom told Trend that 80-85 percent of desertification in Iran has been happening because of dying forests. Lack of funds and human resources have been preventing the department from taking proper measures to protect the forests. (Azer News)

Nuclear Accord

Iran starts dismantling nuclear equipment, U.N. report says

Iran has disconnected almost a quarter of its uranium-enriching centrifuges in less than a month, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday, suggesting it is racing to implement an agreement restricting its nuclear activities. 

Under the July deal, sanctions against Iran will be lifted in exchange for measures including slashing the number of centrifuges in operation and reducing its stockpile of uranium.

Officials have been speculating about the speed at which Iran can dismantle the centrifuges, sensitive machines that spin at supersonic speeds to purify uranium to levels at which it can be used as fuel in power stations or, potentially, weapons. (Reuters)

Tensions in Iran After Nuclear Deal Grow in Hostility

Tensions between the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and more conservative authorities over the country’s nuclear agreement and its future are turning increasingly bitter, punctuated by public exchanges and growing signs of an anti-American backlash, including arrests.

Mr. Rouhani is insisting that the nuclear deal signed in July not only will create the basis for an end to Iran’s prolonged economic isolation, but could be the start of new relations with the United States under certain conditions. Yet even his cautious statement of optimism has provoked a stormy reaction.

The tensions, which political analysts foresee lasting into next year at least, are in some ways an expected outcome of the nuclear agreement, which rolls back Iran’s atomic program in exchange for a broad lifting of sanctions. Many hard-liners opposed the accord as a submission to foreign powers, especially the United States. With the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsing the agreement, they turned their criticism directly on Mr. Rouhani and his aides. (The New York Times)

Inside Iran

Delicate but pivotal: Iran's factional politics explained

Iranian politics is entering a delicate and perhaps pivotal period. Factional struggles, always lively, have intensified since July’s nuclear agreement with world powers, while the reformists are also pushing gently to return to mainstream politics.

The economy has slipped, perhaps back into recession, as Iran waits for financial and energy sanctions to ease early in 2016. While growth should resume next year, this is an awkward time for the government of Hassan Rouhani as elections loom in February for both parliament and majles-e khobregan (Assembly of Experts), the directly elected body of clerics that chooses the supreme leader.

Of all the political manoeuvring going on in Iran, that surrounding the Experts Assembly is the most opaque. And yet February’s election for Khobregan is potentially of historic importance given the reasonable chance that it will during its next eight-year term chose a successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 76 and who last year underwent prostate surgery. (The Guardian)

Iran arrests cartoonist as crackdown on free expression goes on

Iranian authorities have arrested a cartoonist and sent him to prison to complete a suspended jail sentence, his lawyer said on Tuesday, joining a growing list of journalists, artists and activists detained on security charges.

Hadi Heidari, a cartoonist at the Shahrvand newspaper, was arrested on Monday and sent to Tehran's Evin prison, his lawyer told Reuters in a telephone interview from Tehran.

"He was convicted two years ago for his cartoons and was sentenced to one year in jail. The authorities had a different interpretation of his cartoons than he had," the lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said. Heidari had served about a month of the original sentence, Nikbakht said. (Reuters)


How Paris attacks have strengthened Iran's position over Syria

By Saeed Kamali Dehghan

The attacks in Paris may have postponed Hassan Rouhani’s highly-anticipated visit to the Élysée Palace, which was scheduled for this week, but the Iranian president will soon travel to France with a better bargaining position over Syria. 

Iran, an ally of Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the conflict started in 2011, has been arguing that the west should prioritise the fight against Islamic State (Isis) and step aside from the position that the Syrian leader, considered by them to be a part of the problem, must leave. 

Critics say Tehran is trying to shield Assad behind a bigger evil and is doing whatever it can to protect its strategic ally while many others believe that the invasion of Iraq and the oustings of Saddam Hussein, and more recently Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, are signs that power vacuums in such a volatile region have proved to be a major challenge. 

Read the full article.