Iran Digest: Week of September 9-16, 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

Close encounters with Iran show need for rules of behavior: U.S. Navy

A series of close encounters between the U.S. navy and Iranian combat vessels in the Gulf show the need for Iran and the United States to agree rules of behavior to avoid risky miscalculations, the head of the U.S. Navy said on Monday.

Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. chief of naval operations, said agreements of this type between the United States and Russia and China had helped reduce such risks.

"These are some of these potentially destabilizing things, where a tactical miscalculation, the closer you get to these sorts of things, the margin for error gets smaller and the human error can play a bigger and bigger role," Richardson said. (Reuters)

Iranian agency: US contacted Tehran to hold secret talks on Yemen

The US sent secret letters to Iran asking it to partake in talks to determine the fate of Yemen, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Fars quoted an informed source as saying: “On 12 August US Secretary of State John Kerry sent a message to the Iranian Embassy in Muscat (via the Omani government), suggesting that US-Russian-Iranian negotiations begin to determine the fate of the war, without any mention of Saudi Arabia.”

Iran has not responded to the letters, the source said. “The Islamic Republic did not welcome the letters and did not respond to them yet.”. (Middle East Monitor)

Nuclear Accord

Iran Nuke Deal: Yet Another Secret Side Deal Emerges

First, we learned last year that the Obama administration made a secret side deal with Iran that allowed the regime to effectively inspect itself—collecting its own soil samples, instead of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, at the Parchin military complex.

Then we learned last month that the Obama administration made a secret $400 million ransom payment to Iran, in which “wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane” on the very same day that U.S. hostages were released.  

Now it appears the Obama administration has cut yet another secret deal with Iran—this one allowing Iran to evade some of the restrictions on its nuclear program. (Newsweek)


Iran's Plan to Lure Big Oil

Far away from the bloody Syrian conflict and continuing rancor of the Iran nuclear deal, influential policymakers in Tehran are debating the future of the country’s energy resources. They know Iran needs vastly increased foreign investment to revive its ailing economy after years of international sanctions and economic isolation.

President Hassan Rouhani and his oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, have come up with a master plan to reverse decades of indifference from Western majors. But the question for them, and the giant global oil companies they want to entice, is whether pressure from Tehran's hardliners and potential blowback from the U.S. government will make investing in Iran's oil fields too risky a bet for foreigners to undertake. (Bloomberg)

Women of Iran

Khamenei Issues Fatwa: Women May Not Ride Bicycles

In an article on September 13 by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, they report on the fatwa issued by Ali Khamenei, the mullahs' supreme leader, banning women's bicycling in public and in front of strangers.

He said, "Riding bicycle often attracts the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption, and thus contravenes women's chastity, and it must be abandoned,”according to the state-run media, September 10, 2016. 

Khamenei defined women's only "role and mission" as "motherhood and housekeeping" in his declaration a week before, when he spoke about the "direction of the state" and general policies on "family." 

These remarks, and this fatwa, reveal the contempt of the fundamentalist rulers for the Iranian people and particularly women. 

The regime has recently been beset by growing crises, and is stepping up repression and discrimination against women. (Iran News Update)

Iranian Women Stoke Surfing Revolution

An intrepid group of women is riding the waves of change in deeply conservative Iran.

A woman's testimony is considered half of a man's in the country's court. Buses are segregated by gender and it is illegal for women to attend men's volleyball games for fear they will be corrupted by the sight of the athletes' bare legs. In public, women have to cover most of their bodies in accordance with Islamic law.

But this hasn't stopped Mona Seraji. She helped set up the country's first surf club three years ago — which was made up entirely of women.

Now men have also joined her in taking to the waves off an isolated beach some 1,100 miles south of Tehran in lawless Sistan and Baluchestan.

"We said, 'Let's make a surf culture here and we can make it grow into a surf school and it can grow bigger and bigger and bigger,'" the 32-year-old events manager told NBC News. "I was really into surfing my entire life. What could be better than that?"  (NBC News)


Iran's Pistachio Farms are Dying of Thirst

The pistachio trees at the village in southern Iran are long dead, bleached white by the sun — the underground water reserves sucked dry by decades of over-farming and waste.

The last farmers left with their families 10 years ago, and the village has the look of an abandoned Martian colony.

The dome-roofed, mud-walled homes are crumbling, once-green fields are now nothing but dirt furrows, and the only sign of life is a couple of drifters camping out in an old storehouse.

Pistachios are Iran’s biggest export after crude oil, with 250,000 tons of the nut produced last year — a figure only recently topped by the United States.

In Kerman province in southern Iran, cities have grown rich from pistachios, but time is running out for the industry as unconstrained farming and climate change take a devastating toll. (Japan Times)

Inside Iran

Iran Begins Construction of 2nd Nuclear Power Plant

Iran has begun building its second nuclear power plant.

Russia is helping Iran with the construction of the facility near the southern port city of Bushehr, the site of Iran's other operational nuclear plant.

Construction of the site is expected to take about 10 years and cost up to $10 billion.

The facility is Iran's first nuclear power plant to be built since signing a deal with world powers last year restricting Iran's nuclear capacity.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called the pact a success, saying, "All of Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon remain closed." He said the deal, implemented in January, has pushed the time-frame for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon if it violated the agreement from two or three months to "about a year." (Voa News)

Iran's Revolutionary Guard unveils high-speed catamaran

Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday unveiled a new high-speed vessel the force says is capable of carrying a helicopter and up to 100 people, Iranian state TV reported.

The report follows a series of close encounters between American warships and Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf.

The TV showed a catamaran-type ship described as 55 meters (yards) long and 14 meters (yards) wide, carrying a light civilian helicopter, while the official IRNA news agency said its speed capability is 28 knots.

The vessel was painted with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's call for U.S. forces to "Go back to the Bay of Pigs." In May, Khamenei criticised the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf region in an apparent reference to the 1961 failed invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by 1,500 CIA-trained exiles. (The Telegraph)


Iran and Russia: A Partnership in the Making

By Eric Wheeler and Michael Desai

The relationship between Iran and Russia has been characterized more by competition than by cooperation in modern political history. Military incidents during the Soviet era created an atmosphere of distrust, but Russia has become an increasingly prominent economic and political partner of Iran as both countries have been targeted by Western sanctions regimes. More recently, upheaval in global energy markets and the deteriorating security situation in Syria have led to the forging of stronger commercial and political bonds between the two countries.

Some have speculated that these factors suggest only a temporary warming of relations between Moscow and Tehran. However, there is greater reason to believe that these changes signal the roots of a much closer alliance characterized by cooperation in energy and power generation, joint infrastructure development, and military aid. Trade turnover, particularly in advanced weaponry, heavy machinery, and ground vehicles has increased dramatically just in the past year: overall volume has increased by 71 percent, and while Russian-Iranian trade reached only $1.68 billion due to sanctions in 2014, this figure could rise to more than $10 billion as Iran’s economy re-emerges.

Read the full article.