Week of September 8 - 15
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
Iran Nuclear Deal Critics Push Plan For ‘Global Economic Embargo’
Opponents of the Iran nuclear deal are pushing a proposal that calls for President Donald Trump to declare that Tehran has failed to comply with the agreement and to threaten an unprecedented economic embargo designed to rattle the regime.
The document, which has been circulating on Capitol Hill and in the White House, says the president should declare to Congress next month that the deal is no longer in the national security interest of the United States. Then the president would make clear his readiness to hit Iran with a “de-facto global economic embargo” if it failed to meet certain conditions over a 90-day period, including opening military sites to international inspectors.
“This would be a 21st century financial version of [John F.] Kennedy’s Cuba quarantine,” according to a copy of the proposal obtained by Foreign Policy. The embargo would involve reimposing sanctions lifted under the deal, as well as additional measures including restrictions on oil exports. (Foreign Policy)
US Military Readying a More Aggressive Approach Against Iran
The United States is looking to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East with a more aggressive approach in cyberspace.
“They operate almost entirely in what we refer to as the gray zone, that space between normal international competition and armed conflict,” the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, said Wednesday in Washington, calling it “an area ripe for cyberspace operations.”
“We at CENTCOM are examining ways to compete in the gray zone,” he said. “Integrating cyberspace operations as part of a holistic approach is clearly a critical part of that.” (VOA News)
US Denies Iran Report of Confrontation with US Vessel
An Iranian military vessel confronted an American warship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat, Tasnim news agency reported on Sunday, but the U.S. Navy denied any direct contact with Iranian forces.
The American vessel turned away after the warning from the Iranian ship, which belonged to the naval branch of the Iranian army, according to Tasnim. The Iranian military vessel then towed the fishing boat, which had sent out a distress signal after taking on water, back to shore.
The agency did not specify when the incident, close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, took place.
In statement, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) said the coastal patrol USS Tempest, operating in the Gulf of Oman on Sept. 6, heard the distress call of an unidentified small boat about 75 nautical miles from the Tempest’s position. (Reuters)
US Extends Some Iran Sanctions Relief Under Nuclear Deal
The United States on Thursday extended some sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal but said it has yet to decide whether to preserve the deal itself, the State Department said.
President Donald Trump, who must make a decision by mid-October that could undermine the agreement, said Iran is violating “the spirit” of the 2015 deal under which Iran got sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear program.
In a sign of Trump’s desire to put pressure on Iran, which denies violating the deal, the U.S. Treasury announced new cyber-related and other sanctions on seven Iranian individuals, two Iranian entities and two Ukraine-based entities. (Reuters)
US is Testing Support for Extending Nuclear Limits
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is consulting U.S. allies in Europe as he seeks a way to toughen restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program a month before President Donald Trump faces a deadline to decide whether to walk away from what he’s called “the worst deal ever.”
U.S. diplomats have approached European officials to see if they would join in demanding an extension to limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment that are set to expire in 2025 and 2030 under the nuclear accord reached in 2015, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The U.S. also has asked foreign ministers of nations that agreed to the deal to meet on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly debate in New York next week to discuss the agreement’s flaws, a senior State Department official said. The session has been agreed on for Sept. 20, according to a European diplomat. It would be Tillerson’s first encounter as the top U.S. diplomat with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Bloomberg)
Trump Signals He Will Choose Approach on Iran That Preserves Nuclear Deal
President Trump kept the Iran nuclear deal alive on Thursday as a critical deadline lapsed, a sign that he is stepping back from his threat to abandon an agreement he repeatedly disparaged. He is moving instead to push back on Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East in other ways.
Thursday’s congressionally imposed deadline, to renew an exemption to sanctions on Iran suspended under the 2015 deal, was significant because had the president reimposed economic punishments on Iran, he would have effectively violated the accord, allowing Tehran to walk away and ending the agreement. But Mr. Trump was convinced by top Cabinet members and aides that he would also blow up alliances and free Iran to produce nuclear weapons material.
The move was more consequential than the decision the president faces in October about whether to recertify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the deal, which has no effect on the nuclear agreement itself. (NYTimes)
Iran, China Sign $10 Billion Finance Deal
China's CITIC Trust will extend $10 billion credit line for supporting projects in lran, based on an agreement signed between the company and five Iranian banks at CITIC Group headquarters in Beijing on Thursday.
Export Development Bank of Iran, Bank of Industry and Mine, Parsian Bank, Bank Pasargad Iran and Refah Bank are designated to act as the agent banks for using the Chinese finance on water management, energy, environment and transport projects in Iran, the official news portal of the Iranian government reported.
The Iranian delegation, headed by Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, has traveled to China in an attempt to enhance bilateral banking relations. (Financial Tribune)
Report: Iran Detains Islamic State Group Leader Near Tehran
An Iranian news outlet is reporting that authorities have arrested a leader of the Islamic State extremist group.
The Wednesday report from semi-official YJC.ir says the suspect was in contact with 300 IS members and was planning attacks during Shiite ceremonies across the country next month/
Members of the elite Revolutionary Guard detained the suspect in a town near Tehran, according to the report, which did not identify the suspect. It said he spent a night in the Tehran neighborhood of Dolatabad, an Iraqi community, after arriving in the country.
Iran sometimes announces the detention of IS-linked extremists and the defusing of plots to carry out attacks. (Washington Post)
Decades After Ban, Iran Admits It Has a Problem
For most of his life, alcohol rehab for Mehdi consisted of regular stretches in prison and lashings that left dark marks on his back. Now, at 36, he has prematurely gray hair, but with the help of an Alcoholics Anonymous group he swears he has finally stopped drinking.
In recent years, Iran, where alcohol has been illegal since the 1979 revolution and is taboo for devout Muslims, has taken the first step and admitted that, like most other nations, it has an alcohol problem.
Since 2015, when the Health Ministry ordered addiction treatment centers to care for alcoholics, dozens of private clinics and government institutions have opened help desks and special wards for alcoholics. The government has also allowed a large and growing network of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, modeled after those in the United States. (NYTimes)
Iran Cracks Down on Revolutionary Guards Business Network
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is being forced to shrink its sprawling business empire and some of its senior members have been arrested as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to curb the elite force’s role in the economy.
In the past year, the guards, who have interests in sectors ranging from oil and gas to telecoms and construction, have had to restructure some holding companies and transfer ownership of others back to the state, a regime insider and a government official told the Financial Times. At least a dozen guards members and affiliated businessmen have been detained in recent months, while others are being forced to pay back wealth accrued through suspect business deals, the officials said. One manager of a large holding company affiliated to the guards was arrested a few months ago and cash worth millions of dollars was confiscated from his house, said a businessman who has worked with the guards. A brigadier general — described as the corps’ economic brain — was also arrested this year, but released on bail, the regime insider said. (Financial Times)
The Case Against the Iranian Nuclear Deal is One Big Lie
By: Stephen M. Walt
Imagine we were back in 1948. Suppose Joseph Stalin offered to halt the Soviet Union’s efforts to develop its own atomic bomb for up to 15 years. As part of the deal, suppose he agreed to let inspectors from the United Nations enter the USSR and monitor all of its nuclear facilities. Suppose he’d even said these U.N. officials could also inspect other Soviet facilities, provided they had valid reasons to suspect proscribed activities were occurring there. To sweeten the offer even more, imagine Stalin said he would also give up a substantial portion of the enriched uranium the USSR had already accumulated, leaving it well short of the amount needed to make a bomb. What did he want in exchange? Just some economic concessions to help rebuild the war-ravaged Soviet economy.
In making this offer, suppose Stalin insisted on retaining the capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes (such as power reactors or medical uses). And let’s also suppose he made it clear he wasn’t going to withdraw the Red Army from Eastern Europe or stop trying to spread communism in other parts of the world. The Cold War would go on, in short, but the Soviet Union would not be a nuclear weapons state for as long as the agreement remained in force.