Iran Digest: Week of August 28-September 4, 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 Associates Alexander Benthem de Grave and Bradford Van Arnum.

Nuclear Deal

Obama secures key vote to protect Iran nuclear deal in U.S. Congress

President Barack Obama on Wednesday secured the 34th Senate vote needed to sustain a veto of any congressional resolution disapproving a nuclear deal with Iran, ensuring the accord will not fail in the U.S. Congress.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her support for the agreement, becoming the 32nd Senate Democrat, along with two independents, to back a pact announced on July 14, which exchanges sanctions relief for Iran for Tehran's agreeing to curtail its nuclear program.

The move means Obama's fellow Democrats will have enough votes to protect the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in the U.S. Congress. Their next goal is to see if they can gather at least 41 votes in the Senate to use the filibuster procedural rule to block a disapproval resolution in the Senate and keep Obama from having to use his veto power. (Reuters)

Three more Senate Democrats back Iran deal

Senate Democrats who've been wobbly on the Iran deal are breaking President Barack Obama's way.

Three key Democratic holdouts threw their support behind the nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday — one day after Obama clinched enough votes to guarantee Congress can’t kill his agreement.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Warner of Virginia and Cory Booker of New Jersey formally announced their backing. All of them said the deal isn't flawless but beats the alternative.

“It is not a perfect deal nor is this deal about trust,” Heitkamp said Thursday. “It’s about making sure we have in place the strongest mechanisms possible to accomplish our goal by holding Iran to the most sweeping concessions about its nuclear program it has ever made.” (Politico)

Khamenei says Iran parliament 'should not be sidelined' on nuclear deal

Iran’s supreme leader has said that he supports a parliamentary vote on its nuclear deal reached with world powers and called for sanctions against Tehran to be lifted completely rather than suspended, state television reported.

“Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue ... I am not saying lawmakers should ratify or reject the deal. It is up to them to decide,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state policy in Iran.

“I have told the president that it is not in our interest to not let our lawmakers review the deal,” the top Shi’ite Muslim cleric said in remarks broadcast live on state TV. President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist whose 2013 election paved the way to a diplomatic thaw with the west, and his allies have opposed such a parliamentary vote, arguing this would create legal obligations complicating the deal’s implementation. (The Guardian)

Regional Politics

Senior Iranian official says Assad has 'pivotal' role to play in any Syria solution

President Bashar Assad has a "pivotal" role to play in the war on terrorism and in any political settlement to Syria's devastating civil war, a senior Iranian official said Thursday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said after meeting with Assad that any "successful" attempt to find a solution should take into consideration the right of the Syrian people to shape their future.

Iran is a key backer of Assad and has said it is working on a four-point initiative to end the Syrian civil war.

Abdollahian said Iran "highly appreciates the pivotal and central role of Syrian President Bashar Assad in preserving the national unity of Syria and in combating terrorism." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

International Trade

High-ranking Spanish trade delegation to visit Iran

A 70-member Spanish trade delegation is scheduled to arrive in Iran on September 6 for a three-day visit to study investment opportunities in the country.  

Spanish Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister Jose Manuel Soria will lead the delegation, which will consist of Spanish traders and businessmen mainly active in the field of implementing infrastructure, development and road building projects.  

Spanish Public Works and Transport Minister Ana Maria Pastor Julian and Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo will accompany the delegation. Spain was the 16th leading importer of Iranian non-oil goods during spring 2015 according to the Iran Customs Administration. (Tehran Times)

Iran, Azerbaijan keen to expand trade relations - envoy

Tehran and Baku working on enhancing trade relations following Tehran's nuclear agreement with the six world powers in Vienna on July 14, Iranian Envoy to Azerbaijan Mohsen Pakayeen said on Wednesday.

 'Following the nuclear agreement, a proper bed is being set for both countries' tradesmen to expand ties and increase the volume of their bilateral trade,' Pakayeen said.

He said that Iranian and Azeri businessmen, in a joint meeting in Baku, discussed removal of existing impediments to the further expansion of trade ties.

The envoy called on Iranian traders to create a think-tank and plan a road map for the development of trade relations with the Azeris. He added that while expanding banking relations with Baku is among Tehran's priorities, joint ventures could be made in both countries in various fields, including energy, transportation, and tourism. (Trend News Agency)


Iran's fragile ecosystems under pressure

The rescue plan for Lake Urmia, a vast but dwindling salt lake, is Iran’s most expensive and highest profile environmental project ever. But the country has many other hot spots where the needs of a burgeoning population are taking a toll on the fragile ecosystems of this vast, water-poor land. Risking the wrath of hardliners, Iranian scientists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are speaking out about the crises—and in some cases making headway toward solving them.

In a good year, Iran’s semiarid heartland receives just enough precipitation to keep the rivers flowing and supply the needs of cities, farms, and ecosystems. “Water is our biggest resource constraint in Iran,” says Gary Lewis of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iran, the top U.N. official in the country. But a drought stretching into its fifth year is having devastating consequences. (Science Now)

Huge dust swirl storms Iraq and Iran

As if the area wasn’t tense enough socially and politically, Iran and Iraq are also facing major environmental concerns in the form of huge dust swirls. Iran’s capital city of Tehran is suffering most from an increasing amount of dust storms as winds at speeds of up to 80 kilometers broke trees and shattered the windows of houses, smashing power lines and filling up cities with dust.

A massive dust storm took place in Tehran on June 2, 2014 at 16:50 (local time). 5 men were killed and more than 30 people were injured, and a few cars were destroyed as well. Falling trees and objects in balconies caused 1200 electric 20 KW lines to become disconnected. That storm wasn’t an isolated event, and in recent years, more and more dust storms seem to threaten the country and its neighbor, Iraq. In February, another massive storm blanketed most of southern Iran in a thick coat of dust, and now, it’s happening again. (ZME Science)

Inside Iran

Iranians erase "Death to America" graffiti on wall of former U.S. Embassy

Reports in Iranian state media over the weekend appeared to show a handful of Iranian men painting over anti-American graffiti on the wall of what was once the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The removal of the "Death to America" slogan from the side of a very sensitive political site may be a sign, the Jerusalem Post muses, of "a new era." A majority of Iranians support the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and world powers, which could eventually lead to a wider rapprochement with Washington.

Diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States were formally severed in April 1980, five months after militant supporters of the 1979 Islamic revolution ransacked the U.S. Embassy and took Americans hostage, holding them for more than a year. The building is now preserved as sort of museum to the revolution, replete with a host of plaques and signs decrying U.S. imperialism, as well as wax statues of American officials plotting their sabotage. (The Washington Post)

Two years into Rouhani presidency, Iranians ask for more

 Across from the public garden on 28th street, in the Khani Abad neighbourhood near the Grand Bazaar, 39-year-old Ali passes a hot summer’s day leaning against his old motorcycle. The 2013 presidential elections came soon after he was released from a four-year prison term for theft.

Ali’s older brother suggested voting for Hassan Rouhani as a “solid” man. “The country was in shambles and everyone’s situation was so desperately horrible,” says Ali. “I’d been free only for two months, and prison had taken a toll on me. My brother said Rouhani would bring more jobs. So we voted for him and I encouraged some of my friends from prison to vote for him too.”

This August marks the end of Rouhani’s second year as president, but Ali says his hopes have not come to fruition. “Two years ago we were sitting right here, around my motorcycle, smoking cigarettes, and right now here we’re doing the same.” (The Guardian)


How AIPAC lost the Iran deal fight

By Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello

Not since George H.W. Bush was president has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sustained such a public defeat on an issue it deemed an existential threat to Israel’s security.

But the Iran nuclear deal has Washington insiders wondering if the once-untouchable lobbying giant has suffered lasting damage to its near-pristine political reputation.

In fighting the deal, AIPAC and its affiliates mustered all of its considerable resources: spending tens of millions on  television ads in the home states of undecided lawmakers and organizing a fly-in to blitz lawmakers on Capitol Hill – another is planned for next week when Congress returns from August recess to vote on a resolution of disapproval. But all that noise amounted to a humbling and rare defeat this week, when President Obama secured a strong enough plurality in the Senate to protect the pact from efforts to dismantle it.

Read the full article.