Iran Digest: Week of May 30-June 5, 2015

Iran Digest

Weekly roundup of the most important Iran stories, compiled by the American Iranian Council to further educate the public.

Nuclear Deal

Israeli military cautiously upbeat on Iran nuclear deal

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The Israeli military cautiously welcomed on Thursday the expected international deal which would curb Iran's nuclear program, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied for tougher terms to be imposed on Tehran.

In remarks carried by several Israeli media outlets, an unnamed senior military officer said that if agreed by its June 30 deadline, the deal would provide clarity on the direction of Iran's nuclear program.

Western powers fear that Iran harbors ambitions to build an atomic bomb and years of talks have centered on eradicating the alleged threat. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The officer said that for now, measures sought by world powers such as stepped-up international inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities and scaling back of its uranium enrichment "allow for the supposition that, in the coming period of years, this is a threat in decline". (Reuters)

Why Iran’s Revolutionary Guard back a nuclear deal: It's just business

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the most powerful branch of Iran's military, is known for its fierce rhetoric, for supporting fellow Shiite Muslims across the Middle East, and for challenging American and Israeli regional influence by any means possible.

Domestically, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) wields substantial political influence and controls a multi-billion dollar business empire that accounts for at least one-tenth of Iran’s economy, and perhaps much more.

For many years, the IRGC profited, too, from economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, by presiding over everything from vast construction projects and smuggling to charitable foundations.

So why, as negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 powers near a June 30 deadline to agree on easing the sanctions in return for limits on the nuclear program, is the Guard supporting an emerging deal? (Christian Science Monitor)

Iran pilgrims prevent nuclear protest outside mosque

Iranian pilgrims at a Shiite holy site near the city of Qom intervened against the distribution of leaflets opposing Tehran's nuclear talks with world powers, state news agency IRNA reported Wednesday.

It said activists linked to the students' branch of the basij, Iran's Islamist volunteer militia, distributed the leaflets outside the Jamkaran mosque near the city in central Iran when several pilgrims stepped in to oppose their action.

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"Have you come here for the celebration of the 12th imam or are you after your own and your group's interests?" an unnamed pilgrim was quoted as saying.

"We're here for pilgrimage, and even here you're not leaving us alone? Why are you abusing people's religious feelings?" (The Daily Star)


Sanctions

Shell, BP openly admit Iran interest on possible atomic deal

European oil majors are for the first time openly declaring interest in Iran in anticipation of a possible end to sanctions against the country over its nuclear program.

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Leaders of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and Total SA all said Wednesday they were ready to return to the nation with the world’s second­-largest natural­ gas reserves and fourth­-biggest oil cache, after similar comments by Italy’s Eni SpA last month.

U.S. oil companies, constrained by the history of American sanctions against Iran dating from the 1979 Islamic revolution, are more cautious in their statements on a return. The current curbs have prevented investment in Iran for a decade.

“Iran is a wonderful country with a fantastic resource base,” Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of The Hague­ based Shell, said in an interview in Vienna at a conference of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. “As soon as there is legitimate opportunity, we will be looking at Iran.” (Bloomberg)

What’s OPEC going to do with Iran’s million barrels a day?

Just when it looked like OPEC was winning the war with U.S. shale­-oil drillers, a new front is opening up within its own ranks.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ summit on June 5 to determine the group’s output will come three weeks before a deadline for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The government in Tehran says it can add almost 1 million barrels to daily production within six months of sanctions being lifted.

That’s a million barrels that OPEC hasn’t had to worry about since it adopted a new strategy in November of favoring market share over propping up prices. The group is already pumping the most oil in more than two years to quash higher-­cost producers, and while Iran’s return would add to the pressure on OPEC’s rivals, it will also heighten competition within the group for buyers. (Bloomberg)


Regional Politics

Rouhani: Iran to back Assad until the end

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic will stand by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad "until the end of the road".

The Syrian army faces mounting pressure after the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria.

"The Iranian nation and government will remain at the side of the Syrian nation and government until the end of the road," Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying yesterday in a meeting with Syria's parliament speaker in Tehran.

"Tehran has not forgotten its moral obligations to the Syrian regime," he added. (Middle East Monitor)


Inside Iran

Washington Post reporter detained in Iran has hearing Monday

Detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian will face the second day of his closed­-door espionage trial on Monday, Iran’s semi­official ISNA news agency reported Wednesday.

The ISNA report quoted Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, as giving the hearing’s date. Rezaian’s brother, Ali, later told The Associated Press by email that the judge told Ahsan that Monday would be the next hearing. Rezaian had his first closed­-door hearing in May 26 in a Revolutionary Court on charges including espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The Post has said Rezaian faces 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted. (Al Arabiya)

First Christian football captain in Iran as Rouhani focuses on minorities

As Iran’s national football team prepared to head to the World Cup last year, Andranik Teymourian stood next to his teammates while they lined up to kiss the holy Islamic book, the Qur’an, as part of the farewell ceremony.

In April, Teymourian, who has played for Bolton Wanderers and Fulham, became the first Christian to lead Iran’s football team as its permanent captain.

“I’m happy that as a Christian I play in a Muslim team,” he said in a recent interview. “I have Armenian roots but I hold the Iranian passport and I’m proud of that, I hold my flag high. I hope I can enhance the good reputation of Armenian people in Iran.” (The Guardian)

Rouhani calls for free elections in Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that the government aims to hold "free" parliamentary elections next year, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Iranians will vote for a new parliament on 26 February 2016, when elections for the Assembly of Experts in charge of appointing, supervising and dismissing the Supreme Leader are also due.

Rouhani said politicians should be allowed to speak freely in public, regardless of their views. "Preventing someone from making a speech by sticking a label on him" is unacceptable, he said. (Middle East Eye)


Analysis

Iran's role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation?

By Alireza Nader

"The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has led to arguments in favor of U.S.-Iran cooperation in combating the group, as immediate American and Iranian interests in Iraq are very similar: Both countries view ISIL and the broader Sunni jihadi movement as major threats to their national interests. American and Iranian military forces in Iraq are fighting the same enemy and, on the surface, U.S. air power seems to complement Iran's on-the-ground presence in Iraq. While the United States and Iran ultimately have divergent long-term goals for Iraq, and face disagreements on many other issues, limited tactical cooperation in weakening ISIL in Iraq may be possible.

This paper examines Iranian objectives and influence in Iraq in light of ISIL's ascendance. In particular, the paper focuses on Iran's ties with Iraqi Shi'a parties and militias and the implications of Iran's sectarian policies for U.S. interests. In addition, the paper examines the role of specific Iranian actors in Iraq, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in addition to the clergy and the Rouhani government. Finally, the paper concludes with policy recommendations for the United States."

Read the full report.

 

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Kayvon Afshari

Kayvon Afshari managed the campaign to elect Hooshang Amirahmadi as President of Iran. In this role, he directed the campaign’s event planning, publicity, online social media, web analytics, and delivered speeches. Mr. Afshari has also been working at the CBS News foreign desk for over five years. He has coordinated coverage of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other stories of international significance. He holds a Master in International Relations from New York University’s Department of Politics, and graduated with distinction from McGill University in 2007 with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. At NYU, his research focused on quantitative analysis and the Middle East with an emphasis on US-Iran relations. In his 2012 Master’s thesis, he devised a formula to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, concluding that an overt strike would not materialize.