Iran Digest: Week of January 29-February 5, 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.

Nuclear Accord

House passes bill again to restrict Obama lifting Iran sanctions

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved legislation on Tuesday that would restrict President Barack Obama's ability to lift sanctions under the international nuclear deal with Iran, nearly three weeks after a similar vote was canceled.

House members voted 246-181 to pass the "Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act," almost entirely along party lines, with almost every "yes" vote coming from Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly opposed to it.

The legislation is not expected to become law, even though Republicans control both the House and Senate. Even if it were passed by the Senate, Obama has promised a veto, saying the measure would kill the landmark nuclear agreement.

The House narrowly passed the legislation last month, but the vote was voided after nearly a third of the chamber showed up too late to cast their votes. (Reuters)

With Iran nuclear deal in place, key senators look to slap new sanctions on country


Just weeks after the Iran nuclear deal took effect, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking fresh aim at Tehran with stepped-up sanctions to punish the Islamic Republic for aggressive non-nuclear activities.

Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and at least one other senator are crafting new measures to address everything from Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests to the country’s human rights violations to a reauthorization of the soon-expiring Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). The measures, which are likely to come up in February, will be Congress’ latest attempts to ensure President Obama punishes Tehran for bad behavior in the wake of the now-implemented nuclear deal.

“We are looking at ways of having a much stronger pushback on the violations that took place,” Corker said of his proposed sanctions aimed at Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests. (The Washington Post)

U.S. Visa Waiver Program

Discriminatory new visa law keeps German-Iranian professor out of U.S.


Dr. Amin Shokrollahi was planning to do something he had done many times before: take a flight from his home in Switzerland to the United States. Shokrollahi, a dual German-Iranian citizen, is a renowned mathematician, computer scientist, and a professor at the prestigious École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. Once in the U.S., he was to deliver an address at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSC) in San Francisco.

“There are many accomplished Iranian-European dual citizens working for multinational corporations and universities who often need to travel urgently and without much prior planning, something which makes getting a U.S. visa a major impediment,” said Kayvon Afshari, communications director at the American Iranian Council. “As a result of the new visa waiver regulations, they can no longer freely travel to the United States like their fellow European citizens, something that can have real negative impacts on both economic activity and academic development.” (The Intercept)

U.S. - Iran Relations

House chairman demands answers from Kerry over ‘ransom’ to Iran

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce is demanding answers from Secretary of State John Kerry on why the administration last month paid Iran a $1.7 billion settlement, which many Republicans have likened to a “ransom” payment tied to the recent release of American prisoners.

The administration contends the payment was made to settle long pending claim before an international tribunal in The Hague set up to resolve disputes between the United States and Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis spanning from 1979 to 1981.

But congressional Republicans have raised questions about its timing, arguing it coincided with the release of prisoners, including the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, as well as the implementation date of the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers in July. (The Washington Post)

Regional Politics

Diplomacy only solution to Syria crisis: Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says a political approach through intra-Syrian dialogue is the only solution to the crisis in Syria.

“From the beginning of the crisis in Syria we have maintained that a political resolution through inter-Syrian talks is the only way out,” Zarif said while addressing a donor conference on Syria in London on Thursday.

“We have also underlined that outside actors should facilitate such dialog and not seek to dictate its parameters or outcome,” he added.

Zarif also called for UN-brokered Syrian peace talks to resume after they were suspended on Wednesday. “We hope that the pause in the Geneva talks is only temporary," he said. (PressTV)

International Trade

Airline battle brews in Gulf as Iran eyes regional hub role


An economic battle is likely for dominance of the skies over the Gulf after Iran decided to invest $27 billion in an airline fleet capable of taking on the region's supercarriers.

By ordering dozens of long-distance European jets last month after the lifting of sanctions, Iran is positioning Tehran as a potential long-term transit point between East and West to rival regional hubs such as Dubai, air officials and analysts say.

The move is underscored by Tehran's choice of Airbus A380, which is the world's largest jetliner and is used by other Gulf carriers, and sends a political warning to Iran's neighbours not to ignore the Islamic Republic's emergence from isolation.

"Certainly this is our historical position: we have always been a center for communications in the region," Transport Minister Abbas Akhouni said in an interview. (Reuters)

Why US companies aren't rushing to do business with Iran

As European companies from Airbus and Peugeot to oil-and-gas contractor Saipem lined up this week to sign deals with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, news of the billion-dollar contracts raised a big question: Shouldn’t American companies be getting in on the bonanza, too?

After all, the United States is a signatory to the nuclear deal that granted Iran more than $100 billion in sanctions relief in exchange for steps reversing its nuclear program. Mr. Rouhani was in Italy and France this week spending some of Iran’s post-sanctions cash.

But two competing lines of thought continue to feed the debate in the US over whether closer business and economic ties should accompany America’s diplomatic opening to Iran. (CS Monitor)


Wetlands for our future: sustainable livelihood

On the occasion of World Day of Wetlands, UN resident coordinator in Iran has wrote an article on the wetlands of Iran and their current condition.

“About 10 years ago things were very different. Boats were working these waters. Fishermen were hauling in their catches. As far as the eye could see there was water. Things were green. It was like a work of art. The Hamouns was alive,” says Hassan - a resident of the Hamouns. The Hamouns are – or were – three large wetlands located on the Afghan border in southeast Iran.

“Today the situation is different,” Hassan continued. “There is drought.  Boats are stranded and upturned. Our houses are covered in sand. We are struggling to make ends meet. The result of this environmental catastrophe is that all my friends are migrating to other parts of the country. The water no longer comes in from Afghanistan and it looks like the end.” (Mehr News Agency)

Women of Iran

An uphill task for Iran’s women climbers

In the mountains of north-western Iran, Farnaz Esmaeilzadeh clings to a sheer rock face, ignoring the dizzying height and icy wind as she searches for the next handhold.

The 27-year-old, who has been rock climbing since she was 13, has distinguished herself in international competitions despite the barriers she faces as a female athlete in conservative Iran.

Gyms in the Islamic Republic, including the facility where she practices on an artificial climbing wall, have separate and limited hours for women. Rock climbers, like other female athletes, must adhere to the country’s conservative dress code by wearing long, loose garments and covering their hair.

“For me, climbing rocks is part of life, a symbol of overcoming the barriers of life,” Esmaeilzadeh said. “What I do is to change things that people think are norms. I feel there is no difference between men and women.” (The National)

Inside Iran

In Iran, fierce political winds buffet a grandson of the revolution

Official veneration of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s 1979 revolution, is as natural as breathing in the Islamic Republic. So Monday’s ceremony marking the anniversary of Mr. Khomeini’s return from exile was larger than life. It began at 9:27 a.m., the moment the black-turbaned cleric set foot on Iranian soil 37 years ago.

In the vast gilt-domed shrine housing Khomeini’s remains south of Tehran, girls wearing wings and boys in taekwondo outfits waved Iranian flags. Amid chants of “Death to America,” officials, clerics and police and military units knelt on the carpeted floor to reaffirm their revolutionary path.

Surprisingly missing from the pageantry, however, was the ayatollah’s grandson in charge of the shrine, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, who despite his grandfather’s colossal legacy has been caught up in political maneuvering by hard-liners ahead of elections this month.

The younger Mr. Khomeini’s followers laud him as a “keepsake of the Imam,” using the highest honorific title in Shiite Islam for his famous grandfather. But in a move that has caused an uproar, he has been disqualified as a candidate for the Assembly of Experts, the 88-member body that could choose Iran’s next supreme leader. (CS Monitor)

Heinz or Delpazir: the state of Iran's homegrown industries

Multinationals looking to swoop into Iran as most sanctions lift will find important sectors of the 80 million-strong market already conquered by domestic brands. While most domestic industries are uncompetitive by global standards, they are strong enough to create both risks and opportunities for all players.

Iranians are hungry for foreign brands, but 95% of Iran’s food market and 80% of its pharmaceutical market have been “captured” by Iranian companies, according to a poll mapping the frequency with which Iranians mentioned the brands they use in daily life.

Iranian brands also dominate sales of hair products, clothing, and vehicles, according to the poll, which was conducted in October 2015 by Toronto-based in partnership with Tehran Bureau. (The Guardian)


Will Saudi's cut to trade with Iran really matter?

By Alireza Ramezani


Tension seems to be escalating further between Tehran and Riyadh after the Jan. 2 storming of the Saudi Embassy and consulate by a number of “extremists” in Iran. Although the administration of President Hassan Rouhani has distanced itself from the attackers, the Saudi regime was quick to cut diplomatic relations with Iran and call on its Arab allies to follow its lead. Attempts to de-escalate the situation have so far failed. Even the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers shaking hands on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week did little to help the two regional rivals come closer over their differences, including the Syrian crisis.

For decades, the two oil-rich countries have been competing for a larger share in the politics of the Middle East, to spread their ideological influence throughout the region and to play a key role in pricing oil as a crucial development tool. That particular power is gaining more significance as crude hit a 12-year low last week, putting overwhelming pressure on the oil-based economies of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia ran a budget deficit of $98 billion in 2015 and is on track for an $80 billion deficit this year. Falling oil prices coupled with international sanctions have also left Iran with a budget deficit of at least $8.3 billion in the Iranian fiscal year ending March 19. Yet neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia seem willing to compromise despite the looming consequences of their dispute.

Read the full article.