Iran Digest: Week of August 7-14, 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.

Nuclear Deal

Switzerland Lifts Sanctions on Iran

The Swiss Federal Council officially lifted Switzerland’s sanctions against Iran Wednesday in the wake of a landmark nuclear deal.

“The Federal Council wishes today’s steps to be seen as a sign of its support for the implementation of the nuclear agreement and its interest in deepening bilateral relations with Iran,” the Council said in a statement.

In July, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions in a deal negotiated by the U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The deal still awaits approval in some places and implementation. The Federal Council said it “reserves the right to reintroduce the lifted measures” if the the implementation of the international agreement fails. (TIME)

Dozens of retired generals, admirals back Iran nuclear deal

Three dozen retired generals and admirals released an open letter Tuesday supporting the Iran nuclear deal and urging Congress to do the same.

Calling the agreement “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” the letter said that gaining international support for military action against Iran, should that ever become necessary, “would only be possible if we have first given the diplomatic path a chance.”

The release came as Secretary of State John F. Kerry said U.S. allies were “going to look at us and laugh” if the United States were to abandon the deal and then ask them to back a more aggressive posture against Iran. (The Washington Post)

Former US national security advisor endorses Iran deal

In a draft op-ed that was shared in part with Al-Monitor on Aug. 13, Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush and a trusted confident of many of Bush’s successors, said that in his view the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran “meets the key objective, shared by recent administrations of both parties, that Iran limit itself to a strictly civilian nuclear program with unprecedented verification and monitoring by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the UN Security Council.”

“To turn our back on [the JCPOA] would be an abdication of America’s unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends,” Scowcroft wrote. (Al Monitor

Regional Politics

Iran, Ready for a Political Solution in Syria

The military victories of the Islamic state in Syria worry Iran. All the more so as neither Turkey (focused on the Kurds) nor Saudi Arabia (stuck in Yemen) seem to be really bothered by the western extension of Daesh. The modification of the military situation has spawned a diplomatic ballet that can be analyzed in the following terms.

On the one side, Russian diplomats, led by Sergey Lavrov, and Iranians, conducted by Javad Zarif, try to find a political solution that would safeguard Bachar-al-Assad's sovereignty while reducing the role of the Hezbollah. This inflection has been prepared for several months. It can be explained by the losses suffered by the Guardians of the Islamic revolution in Syria and the existing tensions with the Syrian General Staff. (The World Post)

Saudi Arabia must see the realities in region: Iran's Zarif

Iran’s foreign minister has dismissed claims by Saudi Arabia of Tehran's interference in the affairs of other countries in the region, calling on Riyadh to adopt a realistic approach with regard to the issues of the Middle East.

Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Lebanese daily Assafir in an interview published on Thursday that Saudis should see the realities in the region as they are.

He said it was not Iran that backed Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein against Saudi Arabia, rather it was Riyadh that gave its support to the dictator against Iran during the eight-year war Iraq imposed on the Islamic Republic in the 1980s.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the top Iranian diplomat said the issue of Iran's nuclear program was a marginal case, which Iran managed to settle, adding that the fundamental and actual issues lie in the region. (PressTV)

Iran vice president says Tehran ready to increase humanitarian aid to Yemen

Iran's First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic is prepared to increase humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

He made the remarks during a meeting with Peter Maurer, the president of the ICRC, in Tehran. Jahangiri called on the ICRC to play a more active role in expanding humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni nation.

The Iranian official deplored the killing of Yemeni children and women in Saudi airstrikes, saying that the United Nations Security Council could have played a more constructive role to prevent such a catastrophic situation in the Arab country. (PressTV)


Sanctions-free Iran looks to Japan’s carmakers for eco-friendly vehicles

Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar said Thursday the country plans to provide subsidies for hybrid cars and electric vehicles to make environmentally friendly cars widely available, and urged Japanese carmakers to look at building plants there.

In an interview with Kyodo News in Tehran, Ebtekar, who doubles as head of Iran’s Environmental Department, said eco-friendly cars have a “great future in Iran,” and expressed hope that Japanese automakers will produce vehicles in Iran for export as well.

Iran can become an export hub for the whole region, Ebtekar said, noting its access to “open seas and land to export to regional countries such as Turkey or even Europe and Africa.” (The Japan Times)

The big business of trophy hunting in Iran

The furore over the killing by a US dentist of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has thrown a spotlight on trophy hunting - but while Africa is commonly associated with the sport, American enthusiasts are finding another popular hunting destination - the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every year, Iran's Environment Protection Agency issues about 500 licences to foreign visitors to hunt rare and protected breeds. Many of these hunters come from the US, despite the absence of diplomatic relations and a state of tension between the two countries for the past 35 years.

President Rouhani and his high-profile Environment Affairs Minister, Massoumeh Ebtekar, will be faced with the difficult choice between promoting animal trophy hunting as a cultural tool for increased openness between the two nations, or cracking down on hunting and incurring an economic loss. (BBC)

Inside Iran

A Jewish journalist's exclusive look inside Iran

Pasagardae, Iran —— In the heart of Fars Province on Iran’s high desert plateau in the South, a stark and bare large limestone tomb juts out of the landscape. It’s in the middle of nowhere. But the understated burial place of Cyrus the Great still draws Iranians on pilgrimage.

Mohammad Parvi, a retired sugarcane factory worker, told me he was there with his family on this pitilessly hot and shadeless July afternoon because he wished to pay homage to “our ancestor, the grandfather of all Iranians.”

Cyrus, way back in the sixth century BCE, he averred, “exported human rights to the other nations. He denounced slavery. He made people respect each other.”

Historians reject each of these claims. But many Iranians believe them, thanks in part to a relentless propaganda campaign conducted by the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to legitimate his own rule as Cyrus’s heir in the early 1970s. And for the shah’s theocratic successors, that can sometimes be a concern. (Forward)

I live in Iran. Here's how sanctions have shaped my life.

It is 2007, and I am an undergraduate at the University of Tehran. I'm very particular. I take notes with Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens, in purple and green, and on this particular day I've run through the stash I keep in my desk at home. There is a small office supply store next to the university cafeteria, I've bought my pens there before. Before lunch I go to pick up some more Fineliners.

"We're out," says Farid, the young Kurdish boy who works in the store. "The supplier says there won't be anymore at all."

"Why not?" I ask.

"They say because of sanctions, but I'm not sure," he says. (Vox)

Here's What Iranians Hope and Fear About the Future of Western Sanctions

The staff at the Dr. Sapir Hospital in Tehran know well the impact of Western sanctions on Iran. The 70-year-old charity hospital was founded by Iranian Jews but now mostly serves Muslims in a poor and working class neighborhood of the city.

As recently as 2013, hospital staff, pharmacists, and ordinary Iranians couldn't get certain pharmaceutical drugs except on the black market. The illicit drugs smuggled from abroad sold for as much as three times the normal price.

Sanctions aren't supposed to work that way. The US and European powers claimed to impose "smart sanctions" that only punished Iranian leaders. Food and medicine were explicitly excluded. (VICE News)


How Obama could salvage the Iran deal

By Michael Crowley

If Congress votes down the Iran nuclear deal, President Barack Obama says, the agreement will collapse and war will come “soon.”

But Obama has broad powers to act alone — even against the will of Congress — say experts and former administration officials familiar with internal deliberations. Using his executive branch authority, Obama could effectively halt many U.S. sanctions on Iran, they say, in a bid to persuade Tehran to meet its end of the bargain.

“It might not be everything,” said a former administration official familiar with Iran policy. But the president’s powers “can get you a lot of the way” toward sanctions relief for Tehran.

Read the full article.