Iran Digest: Week of December 4-11, 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.

Senate Bill HR 158

Beheading the blacksmith of Balkh: Iranian Americans scapegoated again

A radicalised, American-born Pakistani went to Saudi Arabia and married another Pakistani brainwashed with an extremist version of Wahhabism that is the Saudi state religion. The couple came to the US and shot up a Christmas office party killing 14 people.

Guess who is being chosen for punishment for this despicable crime? Iranian Americans, who have never shared that extremist ideology and who, as far as we know, have never had anything to do with this or any other act of terrorism anywhere in the world.

The passage by the United States House of Representatives of the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, or HR 158, brings to mind a Persian story about a ruler who heard a blacksmith had committed a crime in the city of Balkh, now in northern Afghanistan. In his desire to appear swift in meting out justice he ordered the arrest and beheading of the culprit. (The Guardian)

Iranians upset by potential changes to U.S. visa waivers

Hours before the US House of Representatives voted to tighten visa-free travel to the US, many Iranians, especially those living in America, Europe and Australia, took to social media to express concern at the consequences of the bill.

The measure is designed to make it harder for the likes of those who carried out the Paris attacks and hold EU citizenships to use the programme known as the "visa waiver" to enter the US. Citizens of 38 countries, many in the EU, can currently fly to the US without applying for a visa under America's Visa Waiver Program.

The new legislation initially said those eligible for the waiver programme who had travelled to "terrorist hotspots" like Iraq and Syria where IS controls territory would need to obtain a US visa. But the final version included Iran and Sudan to the list of countries because they are considered "state sponsors of terrorism" by the US. (BBC)

House votes to require visas for Iraq, Syria travelers

The House overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to bar people who have visited Iraq and Syria in the past five years from a program that allows visa-free entry to the U.S.

The measure, passed 407-19, is part of lawmakers’ efforts to improve domestic security after terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris and 14 in San Bernardino, California. One of the San Bernardino attackers had come to the U.S. on a fiancee visa but didn’t participate in the State Department’s visa waiver program.

"We simply cannot give people from other countries special access to our country if we don’t have all the information we need to ensure they are not a threat to our national security," said bill sponsor Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican. "Obviously the world is a very different place" than when the visa waiver program was created, she said. (Bloomberg)

Nuclear Accord

Russia expects Iran nuclear deal to be implemented in January

Russia's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday he expected a historic nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to be implemented in January, leading to sanctions against Tehran being lifted.

At talks in Vienna, senior officials from those major powers discussed with Iran a text they have prepared that would close the International Atomic Energy Agency's 12-year investigation of Tehran's past activities while ensuring the IAEA could still check for signs of suspicious behavior.

Under the deal, Iran must scale back its nuclear program, including its stockpile of low-enriched uranium - which it plans to do via a swap for non-enriched forms of uranium with Russia, to remove concerns it could be put to developing nuclear bombs. (Reuters)

U.S. conducting 'serious review' of alleged Iran missile test


The United States is reviewing and seeking to confirm reports that Iran launched a ballistic missile last month in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Tuesday.

"The U.S. is conducting a serious review of the reported incident," Power told reporters after a meeting of the Security Council on unrelated issues. She added that if Washington confirmed the reports that Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Nov. 21 in violation of U.N. resolutions, the United States would bring the issue to the 15-nation council and seek appropriate action.

A Western diplomatic source said last week on condition of anonymity that the test of a Ghadr-110, a spinoff of the Shahab-3 missile, was held near Chabahar, a port city near Iran's border with Pakistan. He said it was a liquid-fueled missile with a 1,900 km (1,180 mile) range and was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. (Reuters)

  Regional Politics

To solve the Syria crisis, we need to overcome these three obstacles

The global powers that met two times in Vienna for landmark discussions on ending the war in Syria may meet again in New York this month while several hurdles remain. In a March 2015 op-ed for the National Interest, I proposed a six step plan with 10 principles to resolve the Syrian conflict. During the past two years, I have sought to promote this proposal in numerous international seminars and conferences. In late October, the International Syria Support Group agreed in Vienna on principles virtually identical to my six step proposal. 

During their subsequent meeting in November, the ISSG elaborated on the specific phases of a conflict resolution plan that echoed those I laid out in my March op-ed. The differing side agreed on a Jan. 1 deadline to form a broad-based forum comprised of President Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition groups. The forum agreed to establish within six months, a "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian" transitional government that would determine the schedule for drafting a new constitution. Within 18 months, a free and fair U.N.-supervised election will also be held. (Huffington Post)

Saudi-Iran rivalry sets scene for OPEC showdown over output

It used to be said of OPEC that it was like a teabag – it only worked in hot water. If that is so, conditions on world oil markets could hardly be more difficult as prices languish at almost seven-year lows near $40 a barrel.

Yet, rather than closing ranks, OPEC is finding that an intensifying battle for market share, worsened by deep regional differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is driving it further apart.

Halfway through last Friday's six-hour meeting, an unexpected dispute erupted over the defining feature of the cartel. In a move sources say was masterminded by Saudi Arabia, ministers finally agreed for the first time in decades to drop any reference to the 13-member group's output ceiling. (Reuters)

Inside Iran

Iran arrests 53 people for running pro-Islamic State websites

Iran's cyber police chief said on Monday officers had arrested 53 people for running websites supporting the Islamic State militant group (IS), Tasnim news agency reported.

Shi'ite Muslim power Iran said last month it had broken up a cell recruiting fighters for the hardline Sunni Muslim group in Kermanshah, a western province close to the Iraqi border. The area has a large Sunni Kurdish population that has risen up against Tehran in the past

The cyber police chief, Kamal Hadianfar, said most of those arrested had been based "in provinces near border areas", without specifying where. IS has seized swathes of territory in both neighboring Iraq and also in Syria, where Iran has sent security officers to help President Bashar al-Assad's forces battle the militants. (Reuters)


MasterCard preparing to set foot in Iran

Global payment operator MasterCard Incorporation is preparing to penetrate into the Iranian market as soon as the sanctions against Iran are lifted, the country’s media reported on Saturday.

Tasnim news agency reported that MasterCard has launched a channel in instant messaging app Telegram through which it sends posts in Persian “to attract Iranian users to its services”.  

“The Telegram channel has introduced different services that the customers can receive in Iran,” said Tasnim.  MasterCard has also advertised on its channel a 24-hour voicemail which responds to Iranian customers in Persian, it added.

An important service which is being advertised in MasterCard’s channel for Iranians in Telegram concerns the dollar-based payments, the report added. (PressTV)



The struggle inside Iran

By The Week Staff

A power struggle that could define the country's future. The nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other world powers was a major victory for moderate Iranian leaders, particularly President Hassan Rouhani. He and other moderates have desperately sought a lifting of the economic sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy and isolated the country from the world. But the deal was strongly opposed by the hard-liners who dominate the military, the Revolutionary Guards, and the powerful Guardian Council. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reluctantly approved the agreement to get relief from the crippling sanctions, probably because he feared that hardship among the Iranian people could eventually lead to a popular uprising. But the moment the deal was signed, Iran's attitude toward the U.S. became even more overtly hostile.

Read the full article.