Week of October 20 - 27
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 Research Fellow Shiva Darian and Research Associate Bryan Falcone. Please note that the news and views expressed in the articles below do not necessarily reflect those of AIC.
U.S. - Iran Relations
Tillerson Tells Iranian Militias In Iraq To 'Go Home'
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday urged Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to “go home,” and warned European companies doing business with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran that they could face “great risk” from sanctions.
Shiite militias mostly composed of Iraqi citizens but backed by Iran were instrumental in helping the Iraqi army drive the Islamic State from Mosul and other strongholds in Iraq. There have been reports of Iranian advisers among them. Tillerson said they have no business being on the battlefield now that the Islamic State has been routed.
“Certainly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, using two common acronyms for the Islamic State. “Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home, and allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors.” (The Washington Post)
Iran Sanctions Over Support For Hezbollah Pass U.S. House
The U.S. House passed new sanctions in response to Iran’s support for Hezbollah, part of a legislative package that stops short of addressing the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the multinational accord designed to curb its nuclear program.
Two bills received bipartisan support Wednesday and represent the first action from Congress against Iran since President Donald Trump earlier this month refused to certify the country is complying with the terms of the nuclear pact. A third measure addressing ballistic missiles is set for a vote Thursday.
Trump demanded a tougher stance from Congress that could include renegotiating or pulling out of the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known. The legislation doesn’t meet Trump’s request for trigger points that would automatically reimpose sanctions unless Iran meets a list of U.S. demands, including to curb its ballistic missile program. (Bloomberg)
Iran Says Defense Capabilities Not Negotiable Amid U.S. Pressure
Iran’s defense capabilities are not negotiable, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday in remarks made previously but which now come amid increased pressure from the U.S. government over Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
Ties between Iran and the United States have deteriorated under U.S. President Donald Trump and suffered another deep blow two weeks ago when he decided not to certify that Tehran is complying with a 2015 nuclear pact and warning he might ultimately terminate it.
Iran has reacted defiantly, dismissing Trump’s demands for the pact to be toughened up. Last week, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful military force in the country, said its ballistic missile program would accelerate despite U.S. and European Union pressure to suspend it. (Reuters)
Tillerson Warns Europe Against Iran Investments
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned Europeans on Sunday not to invest in certain Iranian businesses as the Trump administration considers walking away from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions against Iran.
Speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Tillerson said, "Both of our countries believe that those who conduct business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, any of their entities - European companies or other companies around the globe - really do so at great risk."
Mr. Tillerson appeared at a brief new conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, with the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard maintains monopoly control over large sectors of Iran's economy. (The New York Times)
Crisis In Iraq And Iran Support Higher Global Oil Prices
Geopolitical tensions in Iraq and Iran are supporting already strong oil markets led higher by seasonally robust demand and production cuts by the OPEC and non-OPEC alliance. The crisis in Iraq sparked by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s independence referendum has de-escalated following Baghdad’s swift takeover of the Kirkuk province from KRG forces but oil exports remain constrained and the political fallout from the turmoil remains uncertain.
While increased tensions and uncertainty about whether the United States will impose fresh sanctions on Iran do not pose an immediate threat to oil exports, a number of potential flash points are expected to inject a high level of volatility in the short term and a very real threat to global oil supplies in the medium term.
Prices for international benchmark Brent and the OPEC Basket rose to their highest levels in more than two years in October on escalating political risks, in a $55-58 per barrel (/bbl) range. Prices year to date over annual 2016 levels for Brent are up just over $9/bbl, and are now trading in a high $57.50-58/bbl range. (AGSIW)
Forest Destruction In Northern Iran Lowest In 10 Years
The rate of forest destruction in northern Iran has reached its lowest level in the past 10 years, thanks to the efforts of Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization, the head of FRWMO said.
“Data from the periodic maps of Iran’s northern forests show an increase of 225,500 hectares of forest cover in the past 60 years spanning 1955 to 2015,” Khodakaram Jalali added.
Although forest destruction still exceeded the rate of restoration and led to the reduction of 15,204 hectares of forest cover during the period, the trend is considered satisfactory. According to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2010, Iran’s forest canopy cover of more than 5% was 13 million hectares, but the figure improved in 2015 and reached 14.3 million hectares. (Financial Tribune)
U.N. Urges Iran To Stop Harassing BBC Persian Staff
A United Nations expert has urged Iran's government to stop harassing BBC Persian staff and their families. David Kaye, the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, confirmed he had received a complaint from the BBC about their treatment.
It came after Iran initiated a criminal investigation into 150 BBC staff, former staff and contributors for "conspiracy against national security". A subsequent court order froze the assets of the 150 staff involved.
That means they cannot inherit family assets and prevents them and their families from selling property or cars. BBC director general Tony Hall said Iran's action was "an unprecedented collective punishment of journalists" and against fundamental human rights. (BBC)
Swiss Formalize Intermediary Role Between Saudi Arabia, Iran
The Swiss government on Wednesday finalized agreements to act as a go-between for Iran and Saudi Arabia, more than 20 months after the two Middle Eastern powers broke off diplomatic ties.
Switzerland's executive body, the Federal Council, "gave the green light" to providing a "protecting power mandate" between the two countries, the Swiss government said in a statement. The arrangement was quickly formalized separately in Riyadh and Tehran.
The arrangement only involves consular services, such as helping Iranians who travel to Saudi Arabia for religious events, a Swiss diplomatic official said. For example, the Iranian consulate in the Saudi city of Jiddah will reopen under a Swiss flag, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. It will operate under supervision from the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh. (ABC News)
Abadi: Iraq Is Not The Place For U.S. And Iran To Fight Out Their Rivalry
As Iraqi forces reclaim the last stretches of territory held by the Islamic State, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would not allow his country to become an arena for the United States, Iran and Sunni powers to fight out their rivalries.
“We would like to work with you, both of you,” Abadi said of the United States and Iran. “But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq. You can sort it anywhere else.”
Abadi’s comments came in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday about the Kurdish referendum on independence last month, his decision to send troops into areas disputed by his government and the Kurds, and the anticipated post-Islamic State era. (The Washington Post)
Iran Sanctions Policy Increasingly Throttles Free Trade In Ideas
By: Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
In 1988, as legislators were creating the legal basis for the modern use of economic sanctions as a tool of American foreign policy, an important amendment was added to two laws, the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA) and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
The so-called Berman Amendment was devised to withdraw the president’s authority to use sanctions to prohibit the import or export of informational materials, whether directly or indirectly. Former Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), who put forward the amendment, felt that support for access to information was a cornerstone of American foreign policy and should not be undermined by any program of economic sanctions.
He stated: “The fact that we disapprove of the government of a particular country ought not to inhibit our dialog with the people who suffer under those governments…. We are strongest and most influential when we embody the freedoms to which others aspire.” In 1994, the provisions in the Berman Amendment were expanded in the Free Trade in Ideas Act in response to the fast changing media landscape.