Iran Digest Week of March 17 - 24

Iran Digest

Week of March 17 - 24

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.

U.S. - Iran Relations

Trump Sends Holiday Greetings to Iranians, Does Not Mention Travel Ban

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has sought to ban travelers from Iran and other Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, issued a holiday greeting on Wednesday to Iranians celebrating the New Year holiday known as Nowruz.
Trump, who has also criticized the nuclear deal between Iran and western powers negotiated during President Barack Obama's administration, did not refer to the travel ban in his statement.
"Nowruz means 'new day' in Persian. It is an occasion to celebrate new beginnings, a sentiment that is particularly meaningful for so many Iranians who have come to our country in recent decades to make a new start in a free land," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House. (Reuters)

Senators Set Bipartisan Bill to Tighten Sanctions on Iran

Iran would face tighter U.S. sanctions over ballistic missile launches and other non-nuclear activities under a bill announced on Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators, echoing a harder line on Tehran espoused by Republican President Donald Trump.
The bill has seven Republican and seven Democratic sponsors, and aides said it has a good chance of eventually becoming law.
It would set mandatory sanctions for anyone involved with Iran's ballistic missile program. And it would apply sanctions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), putting into law sanctions imposed via executive order on individuals tied to what the bill's sponsors describe as Iranian support for terrorism. (Reuters)

Iranian Leaks About Missing American Led the Levinson Family to Sue Iran

A U.S. lawyer for the family of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 10 years ago says the family is suing Tehran for damages based in part on leaked information from Iranian sources.
“Iran, like the United States, leaks information,” said attorney David McGee in an interview with VOA Persian’s LateNews program Wednesday. McGee represents the Florida-based family of the missing American, Robert Levinson.
“There are people who are in a position to know and who have talked, who have identified Bob as being in Iranian custody during this period of time.”  (VOA News)

Nuclear Accord

U.N. Atomic Chief: Iran Inspections at Risk Without More Money

The inspections regime put in place to closely monitor Iran's nuclear activity is in jeopardy unless the U.S. and other nations contribute more money, the head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday.
Yukiya Amano, the agency's director general, said he used his visit to Washington to make the case for an increase to the Trump administration and to U.S. lawmakers who control the federal budget. He said the Vienna-based agency in 2018 needs a 2.1 percent increase to its regular operating budget of roughly 370 million euros, about $400 million.
"Without an increase, the IAEA will not be able to implement the verification and monitoring activities in Iran," Amano said. (ABC News)

U.S Will Honor Iran Nuclear Deal: Trump's Advisor

US President Donald Trump’s nuclear advisor says Washington will honor the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six major world powers, including the United States.
Christopher Ford, the White House National Security Council's senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation, made the remarks during a conference in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
Ford told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the Trump administration will stick to the Iran nuclear pact unless otherwise is decided. (Press TV)


ZTE Pleads Guilty to Violating Sanctions on Iran Tech Sales

ZTE Corp. pleaded guilty as part of an agreement to pay as much as $1.2 billion to resolve allegations that the Chinese company violated U.S. laws restricting the sale of American technology to Iran.
The company agreed to pay $892 million in fines and forfeitures and be subject to an additional $300 million in penalties if it violates the terms of the settlement. A federal judge in Dallas accepted the plea deal on Wednesday.
Although it’s the largest U.S. criminal fine against a Chinese company, an obscure provision in the plea agreement may deny the Justice Department the kind of cooperation that it typically receives from such deals. (Bloomberg Markets)

Inside Iran

Here's One Country Where Hard-Liners Might not be Poised for Election Success: Iran

Iran’s conservatives have been vocal in their criticism of President Hassan Rouhani, dismissing his outreach to the West as naive and the nuclear deal he championed as an economic failure.
But when it comes to challenging the moderate Rouhani for reelection in May, the hard-liners, who oppose expanding political and social freedoms, are struggling to agree on a message or candidate.
Ten possible candidates put forward by a bloc of political leaders this month are all seen as lacking the stature to oppose the first-term incumbent. (The Los Angeles Times)

Iran's Khamenei Warns He Will Confront Any Interference in May Election

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Tuesday he would confront anyone trying to interfere in Iran's May presidential election, in which conservative hardliners will seek to defeat moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
Khamenei referred to major street unrest after the disputed 2009 presidential election as an overt attempt to manipulate the outcome, but said there had been other cases of attempted interference including in the 2013 vote won by Rouhani.
Khamenei, a hardliner who has the ultimate say on all major foreign and domestic policy in the Islamic Republic, did not specify what attempted tampering occurred in the 2013 election. (VOA News)

Regional Politics

Iran Steps Up Supplies to Houthis, Including 'Kamikaze" Drones

They are nicknamed "kamikaze" drones. Houthi forces and those aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen are using them to target the missile-defense systems of Saudi-led coalition forces, weapons analysts say.
According to a study by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a London-based organization funded by the European Union to monitor the movement and use of conventional weaponry, Iran has been supplying Houthi forces and Saleh loyalists with weaponry since the start of the two-year conflict that has left 10,000 civilians dead and an estimated 40,000 injured.
Among the weapons — unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which CAR researchers say in their report released Wednesday have been supplied in batches to Houthi and Saleh’s forces. (VOA News)


How Iran Justifies its Costly Syria Intervention at Home

By: Maysam Behravesh

The political and strategic significance of Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is all too evident. Even by the most conservative assessments, it is not easy to deny the fact that Iranian support for the Assad regime has been a key guarantor of its survival. Some analysts even have gone so far as to claim that the Syrian government owes its survival to Tehran.
Helping sustain the rule of the Assad regime as Tehran’s sole strategic ally in the Middle East, however, has cost the Islamic Republic dearly. Comparisons have been invoked to the ultimately catastrophic US campaign in Vietnam, as a metaphor for how Iran’s intervention in Syria may finally fare.
Given these high costs and stakes, Iranian leaders have resorted to two main discourses or narratives to legitimise their involvement in the Syrian civil war - which incidentally represents the Islamic Republic’s first systematic intervention in a foreign country since its birth in 1979.
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