Iran Digest: Week of December 18-25, 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.


HR 158 Bill: The US Visa Waiver Program

Tensions rise over U.S. visa measures that could affect Iran nuclear accord

Tensions mounted between Iran and the United States on Wednesday over a new American law that limits visa-free travel, which the Iranians regard as a sanction and a violation of the recently completed nuclear accord.

The Iranian foreign minister and Republican critics of Iran traded warnings about the visa law, which is barely a week old. The law applies to foreigners who would otherwise be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa. It denies that privilege to anyone who has visited Iran in the past five years or who holds Iranian citizenship. The same restriction applies to citizens of or visitors to Syria, Iraq or Sudan.

The law is part of an American antiterrorism response to the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and is primarily directed at suspected members and supporters of the Islamic State, the extremist Sunni group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria. Sudan and Iran were included partly because they have been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for many years. (The New York Times)

Looking Forward to International Visits from Friends and Family in 2016? Better Hope They’re Not Dual Nationals of Certain Countries.

December is the time for decking the halls, hitting the malls, and celebrating the holiday season with family and friends — many of whom are flying in from all over the world. 

Yet most Americans don’t know that Congress is poised to pass a law that will make it harder for many Europeans, Asians, Australians, and others to visit the U.S. In response to the November terrorist attacks in Paris, Congress and the White House hastily cobbled together a bill to tighten controls in the visa waiver program (VWP) and assured its passage by tacking it onto the must-pass government funding bill. What will be the net result of this rushed visa waiver bill, drafted on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Paris? A new law that enshrines discrimination against dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, who live in VWP countries. 

Established decades ago, the VWP facilitates international tourism, trade, and business among 38 countries. In 2014, more than 20 million travelers arrived here through the VWP, including more than 13 million from Europe. While here, these travelers “generated $190 billion in economic output and supported nearly one million American jobs,” according to the U.S. Travel Association. (ACLU)


Nuclear Accord

Iran deal nears a turning point

The Iran nuclear deal is entering a make-or-break phase. As Iran prepares to announce it has dismantled its nuclear program and thus should have its sanctions lifted on what will be known as “Implementation Day,” probably in January, sniping is growing on all sides. Opponents of the nuclear deal in Congress are urging President Barack Obama not to go easy on Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests and other non-nuclear activities just to try to save the agreement. Iranian officials, meanwhile, are pointing to recent changes in U.S. visa laws as a potential violation of the deal, saying the new rules will damage Iran's economy by penalizing legitimate business travelers and innocent Iranian dual nationals.

If Implementation Day comes and goes without a problem, it will bolster Obama's theory that diplomacy is worth trying even with a longstanding U.S. nemesis. If it is delayed significantly or scuttled completely, it will damage a major piece of the president's foreign policy legacy. (Politico)

Iran ready to ship enriched uranium stockpile to Russia

Iran will export most of its enriched uranium stockpile to Russia in the coming days as it rushes to implement a nuclear deal and secure relief from international sanctions, Tehran's nuclear chief was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Under the terms of the deal it reached in July with world powers, Iran must reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium to around 300 kg (660 lb), mothball most of its centrifuges, and remove the core of a heavy water reactor at Arak so it cannot be used to produce plutonium.

"In the next few days around nine tonnes of Iran's enriched uranium will be exported to Russia," nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. That is roughly the amount that Iran must export to bring its stock down to the required level. (NBC)


Regional Politics

'We don't need governments to make peace': Israel gets unofficial Iranian 'embassy'

A group of Jerusalem artists this week opened the city’s first unofficial Iranian ‘embassy of culture’ with a gathering of around 500 Israelis, many of whom moved to Israel after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Israelis from all walks of life converged on a three-room building in East Jerusalem’s French Hill settlement, which has been dedicated by the Jerusalem municipality to the Hamabul Art Collective. The new centre of Iranian culture in Israel will display original photography and art, and will host a radio station broadcasting in Hebrew and Farsi.

With an assortment of Iranian snacks like shahtoot (dried red mulberries), chagaleh badoum (salted unripe almonds) and halva, coupled with Persian music, the evening sparked nostalgia for many.

“My brother told me there was a Persian party, so I’m here,” said David Pikali, who emigrated to Israel with his family from Iran in 1958 when just seven years old. Pikali welcomed the chance to reconnect with his mother-culture, and savoured the rare opportunity to gather somewhere brimming with Iranian culture and to speak Farsi. (The Guardian)

Is Iran retreating from Syria?

Iranian military commanders have responded to reports in Western media that their country’s presence in Syria has decreased due to a mounting death toll in recent months.

In an interview with Fars News Agency on Dec. 22, Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was asked about “claims from Western media” regarding Iran’s decreasing deployment of forces in Syria. “Decreasing or increasing forces at any scene is a natural act,” Salami said. “But our strategy in this area and our roles in the battlefield and arena of politics have in no way been decreased.”

The question from Fars News was prompted by a Dec. 10 Bloomberg article titled “Western Officials: Iran Retreating From Syria Fight.” The article stated that due to the high level of casualties on the battlefront, US officials said they are seeing “significant numbers of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops retreat from the Syrian combat zone.”

In a Dec. 22 interview, Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff for the armed forces, also denied reports about Iran decreasing its role in Syria. Jazayeri said Iran’s support for Syria was based on a number of unchanging strategic and religious principles and “despite the false and unfounded news based on the exit or decrease of Iran’s advisory forces in Syria, which have been produced as part of the psychological war against the resistance front, our advisory presence will continue until an appropriate time in various dimensions and with the needs of the battlefront against takfiri terrorists in Syria.” Iranian military officials often refer to all Syrian opposition fighters as "takfiris," as in those who excommunicate other Muslims. (Al-Moitor)


International Trade

Alex Salmond and other SNP politicians hold Iran trade talks

SNP politicians have held talks on trade during a four-day visit to Iran. The former first minster Alex Salmond was joined by MSP Bill Kidd who hailed the trip to Tehran as "hugely positive". The six person delegation also included SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and vice-chairman of the Muslim Council for Scotland Azzam Mohammed.

Mr Salmond said the mission secured agreement for an exchange of full trade delegations this Spring. He said "We met the full range of government ministers and parliamentarians at the highest level, including foreign affairs minister Dr Zarif and speaker of the parliament Dr Ali Larijani."

"The key areas where Scottish expertise can be invaluable to Iran include oil and gas, finance and education. However, we also learned on our trip of outstanding opportunities in transport, communications and agriculture". (BBC)


Inside Iran

Iranians spontaneously create 'walls of kindness' to help the homeless

Faced with cold weather and a troubled economic situation, Iranians are organising spontaneous outdoor charity drives. But the "walls of kindness" appearing in major Iranian cities have also generated a debate online about efforts to help the poor.

The idea seems to have started in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, where someone installed a few hooks and hangers on a wall, next to the words: "If you don't need it, leave it. If you need it, take it." Donations of coats, trousers and other warm clothing started to appear.

The person who initially set up what came to be known as the "wall of kindness" wishes to remain anonymous, according to a local newspaper. But the idea quickly spread to other cities, fuelled by thousands of Iranians on social media. (BBC)

Rouhani and judiciary clash over ban on publishing images of former President Khatami

The Rouhani administration and the hardline-dominated Judiciary in Iran are engaged in an increasingly direct confrontation over the ability of Iranian media to publish images of the former (1997-2005) reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

With claims and counterclaims volleying back and forth over the existence of—and legality of—a ban on published images of Khatami, the brouhaha over the former president’s public profile illustrates the intensifying political battle underway in Iran between hardliners who wish to banish reformists from the political scene in Iran and moderate factions who wish to permit their continued political existence.

The current flare-up was sparked by the summoning of a well-known publisher to a Special Clerical Court within the Judiciary after a picture of Khatami was printed in one of his publications. But the controversy over Khatami has been building for years and reflects still unresolved tensions dating back to the 2009 disputed presidential election in Iran. (ICHRI)


 Analysis

Amirahmadi says Iran still "under yoke" despite PMD closure

By Hoshang Amirahmadi
President of the AIC

Closure of Iran’s PMD file won’t change the fact on the ground that the country is still “under the yoke” of the IAEA, UN Security Council, and the US for at least a decade, and perhaps far into the future, believes Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of American Iranian Council.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved a resolution on Dec. 15 on closure of the possible military dimensions (PMD) in Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The PMD file was closed because it was no longer useful as a problem subject in Iran-IAEA conflict,” Amirahmadi told Trend Dec. 16.

“Closing the file has a symbolic significance for Iran as it could never acknowledge any past diversion, but its value for the US in particular had long been diminished given the fact that even American spy agencies had said that Iran had stopped its “illicit” nuclear activities by the end of 2003.”

“The IAEA’s latest report, which provided the basis for the resolution, simply reaffirmed that conclusion,” he added.

Read the full article.