Iran Digest: Week of March 4-11, 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

After missile tests, U.N. urges Iran to act with restraint

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reacted to Iran's recent ballistic missile tests by urging Tehran to act with moderation and restraint and to avoid increasing regional tensions, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.

"In the current political atmosphere in the Middle East region, and so soon after the positive news of the lifting of sanctions against Iran, the secretary-general calls ... Iran to act with moderation, caution and the good sense not to increase tensions through hasty actions," Dujarric told reporters.

A series of ballistic missile tests this week conducted by Iran's Revolutionary Guard units drew international concern. The United States, France and other countries said that if confirmed, of launches nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would be a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution. (Reuters)

Iran: seven key human rights challenges facing President Rouhani

Boosted by the victory of his moderate allies in recent elections in Iran, the all-smiles President Hassan Rouhani is now in a stronger position to pursue the much-neglected human rights challenges facing his country.

Although rights violations in Iran are largely carried out by a judiciary and parallel intelligence apparatus that act independently of Rouhani’s government, the president, as the most senior elected official in the Islamic republic, is responsible under the constitution to protect his citizens.

In the first two years of his presidency, Rouhani’s focus was on resolving the nuclear impasse, which appeared to be as much a priority for his administration as it was for the electorate. With the nuclear dossier now almost closed and his main campaign promise delivered, Rouhani is being urged to shift his attention towards human rights, which critics say he has put on the backburner. His promise of establishing a citizens’ rights charter is yet to materialise. 

Rouhani challenges media ban on former president

On March 6, at his first press conference since the Feb. 26 Assembly of Experts and parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani thanked all the people who called on Iranians to vote. One of the most effective calls to vote was by former President Mohammad Khatami, who had made a video message asking Iranians to vote for the Reformist list. His “I repeat” moment in the video was by far the most viral and popular meme on social media and social messaging services ahead of the elections.

Given Rouhani’s acknowledgement of those who asked Iranians to vote, an Iranian journalist with Reformist Shargh Daily asked about the media ban on Khatami, who has been accused by some officials as being one of the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement protests.

“There is no resolution of media prohibition on Khatami,” Rouhani responded. “At no time and at no period was this issue present. I saw this with the consideration of when I was at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).” Rouhani was secretary of the SNSC from 1989 to 2007 and served as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the SNSC from 1989 to 2013. (Al Monitor)

Iran billionaire Babak Zanjani sentenced to death

Billionaire Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani has been sentenced to death for corruption, justice officials say. He was arrested in December 2013 after accusations that he withheld billions in oil revenue channelled through his companies. He denies the allegations.

Zanjani, 42, was convicted of fraud and economic crimes, a judiciary spokesperson said at a press briefing. One of Iran's richest men, Zanjani was blacklisted by the US and EU for helping Iran evade oil sanctions.

Two others were sentenced to death along with him and all were ordered to repay embezzled funds. The ruling can be appealed. (BBC)

Young Iranians are excited about travel, job prospects and domestic reforms - not a fight in Syria

Navid and his friends were wondering how much longer Iranian troops will be in Syria. They were worried about the rising deaths and injuries with seemingly no end to the conflict. They heard of a ceasefire, but did not think it will hold.

This was a personal concern for the four students. They would be liable for compulsory national service and they did not relish the prospect of being sent in harm’s way in another country, especially as they were looking forward to a future of reform and prosperity following the triumph of the liberals and their allies in the recent elections.

Standing outside Tehran University, the young men were careful not to blame their government too overtly for getting entangled in the war. It was mainly the fault of the Americans with their muddled policies, they said, and the Saudis and the Turks for creating the jihadists of Isis.

But Navid and young Iranians  – 60 per cent of the population is aged under 30 –  may avoid facing action in Syria. Greatly strengthened by the mandate from the polls, President Rouhani’s government has quietly made plans to bring as many as 2,500 Revolutionary Guards home from the conflict, leaving around 700 “advisers” behind (Independant)

Regional Politics

Saudi Arabia, Iran must shape 'cold peace,' Obama says

Wars and chaos in the Middle East will not end until Saudi Arabia and Iran can find a way to "share the neighborhood" and make some kind of peace, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a magazine interview released on Thursday.

"The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians, which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, requires us to say to our friends, as well as to the Iranians, that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace," Obama told The Atlantic.

In a wide ranging interview on foreign policy, Obama also put a share of the blame for the crisis in Libya on Washington's European allies. Libya is embroiled in political chaos after its 2011 uprising and facing a security vacuum and a growing threat from Islamic State. (Reuters)

IRGC commander: We are not pulling troops from Syria

Russia’s entrance into the Syrian civil war in September began a large-scale offensive coordinated among Russia, the Syrian army, Hezbollah and Iranian forces against armed organizations opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The number of Iranian casualties has since dramatically increased, and Western media have speculated about how long Tehran would continue to send what it calls “advisers” to the frontlines.

At a March 9 press conference, Amir Ali Haji-Zadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, rejected all notions about troop withdrawals. Haji-Zadeh said, “We are with the people of Syria, but the rate of our help to the government and people of Syria is based on the request of the government of Bashar al-Assad.” He added that there has been no suspension in deploying troops to Syria. (Al Monitor)

Nuclear Accord

Iran’s Missile Tests and the Nuclear Deal

Iran has infuriated American critics over the past few weeks with missile tests that skeptics say violate a United Nations Security Council resolution and call into question Iran’s commitment to the landmark nuclear agreement that took effect in January. The critics, including members of Congress from both parties and the Republican presidential candidates, say the Obama administration was naïve in asserting that the nuclear deal would lead to a more amicable atmosphere with Iran after more than three decades of enmity.

Q. Is Iran honoring the agreement?

A. Yes, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations. The agency reported on Feb. 26, in its first assessment since the deal took effect, that Iran is complying with the terms that are meant to block pathways to a nuclear weapon.

Q. How do we know Iran is not cheating?

A. The agency has a detailed accounting of Iran’s sharply reduced supply of nuclear fuel, working centrifuges and other equipment, and is empowered to monitor them. “The agency’s job is to make sure there is no backsliding,” said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based nonproliferation advocacy group. (The New York Times)

International Trade

Iran Invites Boeing for Talks, a Stride Toward Business Ties With the U.S.

Boeing has been invited to talks with Iranian officials about modernizing Iran’s aged commercial aircraft fleet, the country’s transport minister said Thursday, in what could be a precursor to the biggest business arrangement with an American company after more than three decades of estrangement.

The talks would be among the first tangible results of a less-hostile climate between the United States and Iran since a landmark international agreement on Iran’s disputed nuclear activities took effect in January. The agreement ended or relaxed many sanctions on Iran in exchange for its verifiable guarantees of peaceful nuclear work.

As part of the agreement, the United States will permit “the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran,”which despite political sensitivities could make the country a potentially big customer for the civilian American aerospace industry. (The New York Times)

Turkey, Iran seek to triple bilateral trade despite differences over Syria

Despite being on opposite sides of the Syrian war, Turkey and Iran are trying to find common ground in order to both stabilize the region and boost bilateral trade.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the two sides can work together to end sectarian conflict across the region if they can develop a "common perspective."

Russia and Iran have been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest supporters, providing him with urgently needed military and financial support. Turkey has been Assad's chief regional opponent and is backing rebel groups inside Syria.

"We may have different views, but we cannot change our history or our geography," Davutoglu said, standing alongside Iranian Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri. (Deutsche Welle)

Women of Iran

Iranian MP sparks outrage by stating 'women, donkeys and monkeys have no place in parliament'

A hardline Iranian MP was under mounting pressure to resign on Wednesday after being caught on camera stating that women and donkeys had no place in parliament. Nader Qazipour made the claims during a victory speech after being re-elected as an MP for the city of Urmia.

“Parliament is not the place for donkeys and foals, monkeys and women,” Mr Qazipour, 57, said to the cheers of his group of supporters, largely made up of men.

Earlier this week, the MP issued an apology and attempted to explain what he described as a "misunderstanding". “I was carried away by the jubilation of the election among my supporters, and said something in error,” he said. “I express my regret, and do hope the misunderstanding will be alleviated.” (The Telegraph)


Iran’s President Urges Action to Protect Environment

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for decisive action against those causing harm to the country’s natural resources, describing protection of the environment as a national duty.

After a cabinet session on Wednesday, President Rouhani planted a sapling as a symbolic gesture of respect for the Mother Nature, during the national week of Natural Resources.

Pointing to the deplorable statistics on destruction of the natural environment in Iran, the president highlighted the responsibility that all organizations and people should take for conservation of the environment.

He further stressed the need for decisive action against individuals seeking to illegally seize lands and cutting down the forests. (Tasnim News Agency)


The Obama Doctrine

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Friday, august 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

Obama, in whose Cabinet Kerry serves faithfully, but with some exasperation, is himself given to vaulting oratory, but not usually of the martial sort associated with Churchill. Obama believes that the Manichaeanism, and eloquently rendered bellicosity, commonly associated with Churchill were justified by Hitler’s rise, and were at times defensible in the struggle against the Soviet Union. But he also thinks rhetoric should be weaponized sparingly, if at all, in today’s more ambiguous and complicated international arena. The president believes that Churchillian rhetoric and, more to the point, Churchillian habits of thought, helped bring his predecessor, George W. Bush, to ruinous war in Iraq. Obama entered the White House bent on getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he was not seeking new dragons to slay. And he was particularly mindful of promising victory in conflicts he believed to be unwinnable. “If you were to say, for instance, that we’re going to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and build a prosperous democracy instead, the president is aware that someone, seven years later, is going to hold you to that promise,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, and his foreign-policy amanuensis, told me not long ago.

Read the full article.