Iran Digest: Week of September 23 - 30

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

US House passes bill rebuking 'ransom payments to Iran

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday to outlaw cash payments to Iran, in a rebuke of the Obama administration’s decision to send Tehran what Republicans charge was “ransom” on the same day American prisoners were released.

The 254 to 163 vote, which fell nearly along party lines, comes as lawmakers are making a final push toward the campaign trail, where Republicans bet their wholesale rejection of President Barack Obama’s deals with Iran will play big with voters.

Thursday’s measure is just the latest in a series of steps Republican House leaders have taken to decry the administration’s pursuit of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran their members opposed, as well as the circumstances surrounding its implementation. (Gulf News)

Did US approach Iran about Yemen?

When Iran’s supreme leader cited on Sept. 18 what he described as US attempts to engage in talks with his country on regional issues, it appeared to be a confirmation of Sept. 14 media reports that Washington had approached Tehran via Oman suggesting that US-Iranian-Russian talks begin to discuss the crisis in Yemen. The report, first run by Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar and later published by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, quoted an “informed source” as saying that Iran did not welcome the correspondence and had not responded. The same source recalled a similar incident during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), when Great Britain allegedly offered to negotiate but was turned down by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

A senior Iranian diplomat approached by Al-Monitor about the Sept. 14 reports wholly dismissed them. On Sept. 18, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi reiterated that denial, adding, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received no letter whatsoever to engage in talks with third parties over the crisis in Yemen. This claim is completely baseless.” (Al-Monitor)


Nuclear Accord

Iran warns enduring sanctions threatening nuclear deal

The head of Iran's atomic energy agency has warned that his country's landmark nuclear deal with five world powers could be jeopardized by foot-dragging on a pledge of sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran's commitment to curb atomic activities.

Ali Akbar Salehi said on Monday that "comprehensive and expeditious removal of all sanctions" outlined in the agreement "have yet to be met," even though his country is honoring all its obligations under the historic pact. 

Salehi didn't blame particular countries in comments to the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference. But other Iranian officials have faulted the United States for delays in lifting financial sanctions.(Al-Jazeera)

Iran atomic chief sees no threat to Nuclear Accord if Trump becomes US President

A landmark nuclear accord sealed last year between Iran and six world powers will not be in danger if Donald Trumps wins the U.S. presidential election in November, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said on Wednesday.

Republican presidential candidate Trump has called the accord "the worst deal ever negotiated" and said it could even lead to "nuclear holocaust", although he has also conceded it would be hard to rip up a deal enshrined in a U.N. resolution.

Trump has also blasted his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton for her role as Secretary of State in 2009-13 in helping to pave the way for the talks culminating in the deal, which curbs Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. (Business Insider)


Economy

Iran's President says Economy withstands Low Oil Price Trouble

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Iran has been spared the economic troubles that other oil-producing countries have been facing with the low crude prices, as the government has managed to curb inflation and add billions of dollars to the country’s reserves, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reports.

Speaking to a crowd during an official trip in Iran, Rouhani said his government had been managing the economy with ‘relative ease’, while some of the wealthiest oil producers have had a tough road, with widening budget deficits and spending restrictions. He may have been referring to regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia, which has been struggling with high budget deficits, and has recently cut perks for government employees.

While Rouhani is traveling his country praising the government’s economic policy, his oil minister Bijan Zanganeh dashed hopes for an OPEC deal on output that would prop up the low crude prices. As OPEC members and non-OPEC producers are holding informal talks on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum in Algiers, Iran and Saudi Arabia remain too far apart in positions, and on Tuesday, Iran turned down the Saudi offer that it may be willing to cut if Iran freezes its output. (Oil Price)

Iranian Bankers said to meet Austrian Lenders to resume ties

Austrian and Iranian bankers were to meet in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss the resumption of trade financing, people familiar with the plans said.

The meeting comes after talks on Tuesday between the governors of the two nations’ central banks, Ewald Nowotny and Valiollah Seif. Austria’s top three banks Erste Group Bank AG, UniCredit Bank Austria AG and Raiffeisen Bank International AG would be among the participants, according to people, who asked not to be identified discussing the private discussions.

Major European banks have kept their distance from Iran, despite its nuclear deal with world powers, for fear of running foul of remaining U.S. sanctions. Iran’s Seif said Tuesday that progress with foreign banks has been “slow,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. (Bloomberg)


Women of Iran

Iranian Women's Rights Activist is given 16-Year Sentence

An Iranian appeals court has confirmed a 16-year sentence for one of Iran’s most prominent women’s rights activists, her lawyer said Wednesday.

The activist, Narges Mohammadi, 44, a human rights lawyer, has been in and out of jail over the past 15 years and has had several confrontations with Iran’s hard-line dominated judiciary. Her arrest in 2015 and conviction a year later were severe blows to Iran’s small and embattled community of women’s rights activists, highlighting the severe pressures they face.

“She has committed no crime and has just been doing her job as a lawyer and citizen,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer and prominent activist who spent two years in prison but who was granted an early release in 2013. (The New York Times)


Environment

This is what Climate Change is doing to Iran

Lake Urmia, in the mountains of northwestern Iran, was once a source of national pride and one of the country’s top tourism destinations. It’s emerging now as something else entirely: Iran’s most visible symbol of the damage being wrought by global climate change.

The lake has lost more than 90 percent of its surface water since the 1970s as agriculture in the region has boomed and farmers have tapped the lake and many of the sources that feed it for irrigation. Warming temperatures have also played an important role, and the receding water has left behind what looks like a post-apocalyptic landscape of rusting ships half-buried in the sand and piers that lead to nowhere. The flamingos and pelicans that once stopped at the lake have ceased visiting, and its tourism industry has disappeared.

Scientists who study the lake also point to Iran's inefficient system of dams. And a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment in April concluded that even efforts that succeeded in reducing how much of the lake's water was used could have a limited impact because of climate change. (Vox)


Inside Iran

Iran's Next Leader will likely be No Friend of the West

It is often suggested that the most consequential barrier to Iranian pragmatism is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Once the elderly Khamenei passes from the scene, the argument goes, his successors will embrace prevailing international norms. The sunsetting restrictions of the nuclear deal need not be of concern, for a revamped Islamist regime will find global integration too tempting to discard for the sake of nuclear arms. The only problem with such expectations is that the candidate Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are grooming to ascend to the post of supreme leader is one of the most reactionary members of Iran's ruling elite. Ibrahim Raisi, Iran's probable next supreme leader, could be the only person in the Islamic Republic who could cause people to miss Khamenei.

Raisi is 56 years old and, like Khamenei, hails from the city of Mashhad. After a stint in the seminary, he has spent his entire career in the Islamic Republic's enforcement arm, serving as prosecutor general, head of the General Inspection Office and lead prosecutor of the Special Court of the Clergy, which is responsible for disciplining mullahs who stray from the official line. In one of his most notorious acts, he served as a member of the "Death Commission" that, in the summer of 1988, oversaw the massacre of thousands of political prisoners on trumped-up charges. (The Record)


Analysis

Iran's Next Leader will likely be No Friend of the West

By Ray Takeyh

It is often suggested that the most consequential barrier to Iranian pragmatism is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Once the elderly Khamenei passes from the scene, the argument goes, his successors will embrace prevailing international norms. The sunsetting restrictions of the nuclear deal need not be of concern, for a revamped Islamist regime will find global integration too tempting to discard for the sake of nuclear arms. The only problem with such expectations is that the candidate Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are grooming to ascend to the post of supreme leader is one of the most reactionary members of Iran’s ruling elite. Ibrahim Raisi, Iran’s probable next supreme leader, could be the only person in the Islamic Republic who could cause people to miss Khamenei.

Raisi is 56 years old and, like Khamenei, hails from the city of Mashhad. After a stint in the seminary, he has spent his entire career in the Islamic Republic’s enforcement arm, serving as prosecutor general, head of the General Inspection Office and lead prosecutor of the Special Court of the Clergy, which is responsible for disciplining mullahs who stray from the official line. In one of his most notorious acts, he served as a member of the “Death Commission” that, in the summer of 1988, oversaw the massacre of thousands of political prisoners on trumped-up charges.

Read the full article.


A Conversation with Javad Zarif

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke with Fareed Zakaria at the Council on Foreign Relations while in New York City for the Opening Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Here is the video and transcript of their conversation: 

Watch the full conversation.