Iran Digest: Week of January 22-29, 2016

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.

U.S. - Iran Relations

Iran in talks to renew direct flights to US

Iran is hoping to renew direct flights from Iran to the US, the head of Iran Air said Sunday. “Iran Civil Aviation Organization is conducting talks on direct flights between Iran and the US,” Farhad Parvaresh, Chairman and Managing Director of Iran Air, said, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency. He added that “daily flights to New York used to take place before the Islamic Revolution and they will hopefully get resumed in near future.”

Referring to Iran’s recent purchase of 114 Airbus jets to upgrade and expand its ageing fleet, Parvaresh said talks with manufacturing companies had commenced when talks on a nuclear deal began. That deal was eventually sealed earlier this month and all nuclear sanctions were lifted by the UN, the EU and the US. (The Times of Israel)

Regional Politics

Pope Francis and Hassan Rouhani of Iran Discuss Mideast Unrest

Pope Francis met with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Tuesday — the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian leader in nearly 17 years — and urged Iran to play an “important role” in finding political solutions for the various conflicts afflicting the Middle East.

The two leaders stressed “the importance of interreligious dialogue” to achieve this aim and the responsibilities of religious communities “in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace,” the Vatican said in a statement.

The private, 40-minute encounter with the pope came midway into Mr. Rouhani’s packed agenda on his four-day visit to Italy and France, where he is trying to re-establish trade and business ties after years of crippling sanctions. The trip follows the lifting of sanctions on Jan. 16, after Iran was judged to have complied with last summer’s deal with six world powers to limit nuclear activities. (The New York Times)

U.S. Visa Waiver Program

U.S. rolls out tighter Visa Waiver Program rules

The visa waiver program allows visitors to the United States from 38 countries, mostly in Europe, to enter and stay in the U.S. for 90 days without a visa or interview overseas. About 20 million travelers come to the U.S. this way every year. But the growth of radicalized foreign fighters who have joined forces with Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria and then return to Europe has led U.S. officials to tighten the program.

This week, the Obama administration began enforcing a law passed by Congress last month that prevents anyone from a visa waiver country who has dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Sudan from visiting the U.S. visa-free. (PBS)

International Trade

Deals and warm words flow as Iran president visits Europe

Italy and Iran signed billions of dollars of business deals on Monday at the start of a visit to Europe by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani aimed at rebuilding his nation's ties with the West after years of economic sanctions.

Heading a 120-strong delegation of business leaders and ministers, Rouhani will spend two days in Rome before flying to France on Wednesday, looking to polish Tehran's diplomatic credentials at a time of turmoil in the Middle East.

An Italian government source said the Iranians would sign up to 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) worth of deals in sectors from energy to infrastructure and from steel to shipbuilding. (Reuters)

Iran's leader says never trusted the West, seeks closer ties with China

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday called for closer economic and security ties with China, saying Iran had never trusted the West, as the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade more than 10-fold to $600 billion in the next decade.

Iran's most powerful figure told Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit Iran wanted to expand ties with "more independent countries", adding the United States was "not honest" in the fight against terrorism in the region.

"Iranians never trusted the West... That's why Tehran seeks cooperation with more independent countries (like China)," Khamenei said.

Xi is the second leader of a U.N. Security Council member to visit Tehran since the nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran in November. (Reuters)

Iran's Rouhani in France to revive business ties after nuclear deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told French business leaders on Wednesday that Iran was open for investment as he started a visit in France to revive business ties despite diplomatic differences.

On Rouhani's first trip abroad since Iran's sanctions-ending nuclear accord with world powers took effect, Italy this week already rolled out the red carpet for the moderate Iranian president and his 120-member delegation of business leaders and cabinet ministers, signing a raft of deals.

But with France having taken a hard line in the nuclear negotiations, being outspoken in its condemnation of Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and having close ties with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab rivals of Shi'ite Iran, the Paris leg of Rouhani's European trip was lower key. (Reuters)

Inside Iran

Hope but also frustration for Iranians after sanctions lifted

The lifting of sanctions on Iran has given Mohammad Sadeghzadeh hope of saving his struggling textile factory -- as long as the impact of the changes is felt quickly.

"The sanctions have ruined my business. In six months I will close down if it goes on like this. We need to see some tangible results," he said by telephone from the northern city of Rasht.

Iranians are delighted the United States, United Nations and European Union agreed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Jan. 16 in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

But many are frustrated not to have seen immediate changes now Iran's isolation is over and fear the benefits will not be felt for a long time as foreign banks, companies and governments tread carefully for fear of violating residual U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)

Could Iran become the next Dubai, an aviation superpower?

Sounds highly unlikely, right?  On both counts: a warm greeting and a logical destination. After all, the reputation of Tehran’s old international airport was forever nailed in the movie Argo, as a place to flee rather than arrive, reinforced by what happened last weekend when the Swiss flight taking Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian to freedom sat on the runway for hours until his wife and mother were allowed to board.

But you never know. Stranger things have happened. For example, if you had been told just ten years ago that the world’s busiest airport for international traffic would soon be one sitting in an Arabian desert, you would no doubt have thought it bonkers.

However, the surprising reality is that the whole geography of international air routes is going through a disruptive revolution—and the Middle East is the principal disruptor. (The Daily Beast)

Iranians launch boycott of Saudi businesses


In Iran, a campaign to boycott Saudi products was initiated more than three weeks ago. The campaign, which was launched following a similar initiative in neighboring Iraq, was quickly joined by prominent Iranian actors such as Rambod Javan.

Javan posted the message “Never threaten an Iranian” on the messaging app Telegram. The phrase was famously uttered by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a tense moment during the nuclear negotiations in Austria last summer.

The boycott campaign follows Saudi Arabia’s Jan. 3 decision to cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran. The rupture was triggered by the attacks on Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran after Riyadh executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr Jan. 2. (Al Monitor)


What Happens To The U.S.-Iran Relationship Without Kerry And Zarif?

By Jessica Schulberg

For two countries that are not officially on speaking terms, the U.S. and Iran have had an impressive few weeks of diplomatic breakthroughs. That's largely because of the unique relationship between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

After hours of last-minute delays, Kerry signed off on paperwork granting Iran sweeping sanctions relief on Jan. 16, once the U.N. nuclear watchdog verified that Iran had fulfilled its obligations to dismantle the bulk of its nuclear program under the historic July 2015 accord.

That same evening, Iran released four American prisoners in exchange for a U.S. offer of clemency for seven Iranians accused of sanctions violations. The swap was the culmination of 14 months of negotiations spearheaded by Kerry and Zarif.

Read the full article.