Iran Digest: Week of February 5-12, 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.

Inside Iran

Hundreds more candidates allowed to contest Iran election

Iran's powerful election vetting body, the Guardian Council, decided on Saturday to allow hundreds more candidates to take part in a parliamentary election this month, in a move that rekindled the hopes of reformists and moderates.

A power struggle between Iranian conservatives and reformists has intensified since the removal of international economic sanctions against Tehran following its nuclear deal with the West. Hardliners fear Iranian voters will now be more inclined to reward reformist candidates.

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani, welcomed the decision. "The good news for the disqualified candidates is that 25 percent of them have now been allowed to run in the election ... so we will experience a competitive election in February," Rafsanjani was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency. (Reuters)

Nuclear Accord

Rouhani awards medals to nuclear negotiators

On Jan 31, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei awarded medals to sailors of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who had captured US sailors after they entered Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, an incident that had the potential to become an international crisis. Just over a week later, at a Feb. 8 ceremony, President Hassan Rouhani awarded medals to members of his Cabinet and Iran’s negotiation team for the final nuclear deal, a process that ended an international crisis.

At the ceremony, Rouhani said that the nuclear negotiations, which took a special urgency once he took office in 2013 and appointed his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to head them, were as “difficult and fateful” as some of the largest battles during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Rouhani said that he and the negotiation team were in constant communication the day of the final talks in Geneva and until 5 a.m. the next morning. (Al Monitor)

Iran's windfall from nuclear deal cut in half by debts - U.S. official

Iran gained access to about $100 billion (£69.1 billion) in frozen assets when an international nuclear agreement was implemented last month, but $50 billion of it already was tied up because of debts and other commitments, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

Stephen Mull, the State Department's coordinator for implementing the agreement, also told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee there was no evidence Iran had cheated in the first few weeks since the deal was implemented.

Mull and John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department office that oversees sanctions, faced heated questioning from some members of the committee, where some Democrats joined Republican lawmakers in opposing the nuclear pact reached in July. (Reuters)

U.S. - Iran Relations

Iran Mocks US Sailors in Revolution Day Parade

Marking the 37th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, Iran continued to publicly mock the 10 U.S. sailors its military forces detained in Iranian waters last month.

Groups of shackled Iranian men and at least one woman (many of them overweight) were paraded through the streets of downtown Tehran as part of the celebration. Dressed in fatigues meant to depict those of U.S. sailors, the men had guns pointed at them while kneeling on the ground with their hands behind their heads. Others were tied together with bags over their heads.

Crowds gathered to watch the mock reenactment of the heavily propagandized Jan. 12 incident. Ten American sailors were detained for roughly 24 hours after their Riverine command boats strayed into Iranian waters near Farsi Island. (ABC News)

Regional Politics

Iran urges Turkey over growing ties with Saudi Arabia

Iran has warned Turkey over its growing relationship with Saudi Arabia, as it described Riyadh as one of the losing countries in the region because of its wrong policies in the Middle East. “I believe Saudi Arabia has been left alone in its wrong move.

That’s what we tell our Turkish friends: Be cautious! Do not bet on the loser,” Deputy FM Ibrahim Rahmanpour said Feb. 10. Rahmanpour held talks with senior Turkish Foreign Ministry officials in a bid to discuss both bilateral and regional issues with particular emphasis on Syria.

Turkey and Iran are completely on different pages on Syria as the former has further aligned its policies with oil-rich Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia and even boosted military ties. “We are not concerned about Turkey,” Rahmanpour told the Hürriyet Daily News. “I am sure that Turkey takes the Iranian stance and interests into account while undertaking such initiatives. But we should wait and see whether this cooperation [between Turkey and Saudi Arabia] will be really put in place or whether they are only news stories.” (Hurriyet Daily News)

Iran reacts to Saudis' offer of troops in Syria

To Iran, Saudi Arabia sending troops to Syria is “suicidal,” at least according to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, who made the remark Feb. 6 at the funeral of a senior IRGC officer who was killed in Syria. Several other Iranian officials have also played down Saudi statements about an interest in contributing to the war on the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

“It’s a joke,” said an Iranian military source who asked not to be identified in a phone interview with Al-Monitor. “We couldn't wish [for] more than that. If they can do it, then let them do it — but talking militarily, this is not easy for a country already facing defeat in another war, in Yemen, where after almost one year they have failed in achieving any real victory.”

After meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters Feb. 8, "There is a discussion with regard to a ground force contingent, or a special forces contingent, to operate in Syria [under the] international US-led coalition against [IS]. … The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed its readiness to provide special forces to such operations should they occur.” (Al Monitor)

International Trade

Will French carmakers rev up Iran’s auto industry?

In his first trip abroad following the Jan. 16 implementation day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani toured Italy and France, where he signed major deals with Airbus SAS as well as PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA. The auto agreements are aimed at reviving Iran’s embattled vehicle manufacturers. Indeed, the resumption of Iran’s partnership with the French automakers is geared toward stimulating domestic demand and improving employment prospects within Iran in the short and medium term.

Of note, the auto industry is the biggest economic sector in Iran, after oil and gas, accounting for 10% of gross domestic product. It has been in decline in recent years after being hit with a double whammy of sanctions and currency depreciation, both of which drove up prices for imported parts. A 2015 World Bank report shows that the annual production of cars in Iran sharply declined to 700,000 in 2012, down from 1.6 million prior to the intensification of sanctions.

The World Bank has forecast that car production will climb to around pre-sanction levels “within the next two years” if industry officials manage to persuade global manufacturers to immediately resume operations in Iran. The Rouhani administration appears to have taken note of the latter point, as it is moving to reconnect with French partners to aid economic growth. (Al Monitor)

Women of Iran

Rouhani calls for more Iranian women to 'lean into’ politics

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani encouraged greater female participation in politics and culture at a conference Feb. 8 titled “Women, Moderation and Development.”

Rouhani said that women’s rights in Iran have come a long way since the first days of the 1979 revolution. He recalled that during those days, there were some clerics with “extreme ideologies” who had religious objections to women participating in protests. The clerics had gone as far as asking women to not chant slogans so that their voices would not be heard by unrelated men. Rouhani said that the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had rejected these extreme opinions and said that women were encouraged to both protest in the streets and chant slogans.

Rouhani also recalled how after the revolution, some had objected to female participation in the elections and female anchors sitting next to male anchors during news programs on state television. He said that Iran has now “passed this phase.” Rouhani also said that this view toward women is not unique to Iran, that even in the 20th century in Europe some women were not allowed to attend college or vote. He added that in Iran, “We do not accept feminism, but we also do not accept fanaticism.” (Al Monitor)

Iranians speak out over sexual harassment scandal

Allegations of sexual harassment at an Iranian TV station are emboldening Iranian women to break their silence and share their experiences of a problem traditionally not acknowledged inside the country.

Sheena Shirani, a news reader at Press TV, the state broadcaster's English language news channel, broke the taboo by speaking out about sexual harassment she says she endured from two of her managers over a prolonged period of time.

Her allegations went public in spectacular fashion when she posted online a recording of a phone conversation in which a man believed to be her boss, Hamid Reza Emadi, repeatedly asks her for sexual favours. (BBC)


Partial Syria ceasefire agreed at talks in Munich

By Ian Black and Kareem Shaheen

A cessation of hostilities is to come into force in Syria within a week and humanitarian aid is to be delivered to besieged areas across the country in the next few days, the US, Russia and other powers said late on Thursday night at talks in Munich. There was no clear commitment to end Russian airstrikes, however.

 US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov say humanitarian access is first priority, but fight against Isis will continue

Galvanised by mounting international concern over the war, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said progress had been made towards implementing a nationwide “cessation of hostilities”, although it was not clear how this could happen unless Russia stops bombing civilians and mainstream rebels who are fighting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Action against Islamic State would continue.

Western diplomats confirmed that there had been no agreement by Moscow to immediately end airstrikes – a key demand of the Syrian opposition, who are likely to be highly sceptical about the results of the talks.

Read the full article.