Iran Digest Week of February 9 - 16

Iran Digest

Week of February 9 - 16

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 Communications Associate Shahab Moghadam. Please note that the news and views expressed in the articles below do not necessarily reflect those of AIC.  

US-Iran Relations

Why These Animals Were Accused of Being International Spies

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Deep within uranium mines, lizards were lurking around, attracting atomic waves and delivering intel on the Iranian government.
Or at least that's the narrative Iranian military advisor Hassan Firuzabadi told media outlets earlier this week.
Firuzabadi's comments came after being asked about a group of environmentalists under arrest since late January. According to the Times of Israel, a local Iranian news agency quoted Firuzabadi as saying that, in the environmentalists' possession, they found lizards and chameleons. Allegedly these were deployed to find where Iran was mining and developing uranium. (National Geographic)

Iranian Academic’s Death Puts Spotlight on Political Infighting

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The feud turned more fraught over the weekend with the death of Kavous Seyed Emami, an academic, and confusion about the whereabouts of Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment.
Since his first election in 2013, Rouhani has been in the hardliners’ crosshairs over his desire to open Iran through a nuclear deal with world powers, and his declared commitment to greater personal liberties. His recent decision to tackle a growing crisis over heavy smog and a water shortage -- an issue where Iranians with Western links have been active -- has given rivals another opportunity to pounce on him. (Bloomberg)

Nuclear Accord

France says Iran's missile program must be put 'under surveillance'

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Iran’s ballistic missile program must be placed under international surveillance, French President Emmanuel Macron said, in an bid to get tougher on Tehran while preserving the nuclear deal that Donald Trump has threatened to scrap.
With the 2015 deal, aimed at stopping Iran developing nuclear weapons, put in jeopardy by the U.S. president, Britain, France and Germany are working on a plan to satisfy him by a May 12 deadline to address Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence.
Macron said France, one of the signatories to the nuclear deal, wanted to preserve it as nothing better had been offered. (Reuters)

Head of France’s Total Urged Trump to Stick with Iran Nuclear Deal: FT

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The head of French oil major Total recently urged U.S. President Donald Trump to stick with the nuclear deal with Iran, where it has investments, according to an interview with the Financial Times. 
Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne said he had raised the topic of Iran with Trump at a dinner in Davos in January, and asked the president to keep faith with the nuclear deal, arguing that oil and gas investment would help the cause of reformers in Tehran.
“I made the argument, but the question is how much time do we give to the reformists? Do we give them enough time to . . . help them to go towards more democracy?” Pouyanne was quoted as saying.  (Reuters)


Iran Raising Deposit Rates to Control Rial’s Depreciation, TV Reports

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Iran’s central bank will raise deposit rates to bolster the value of the Iranian rial after it dropped to record lows, the head of the central bank said, according to a report by state television on Thursday.
Iran’s national currency reached a record low around 50,000 in the free market this week, compared with 47,800 last week and 35,570 in mid-September.
“From Saturday for a period of two weeks, banks will be allowed to give interest rates of up to 20 percent on fixed one-year deposits,” state TV quoted central bank Governor Valiollah Seif as saying. One-year deposit rates are now capped at 15 percent. (Reuters)

Iran Holds 100 Traders and Freezes Accounts in Dollar Crackdown

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Iranian authorities have detained almost 100 currency traders and frozen bank accounts reportedly worth 200tn rials ($5.3bn) in the biggest crackdown on foreign exchanges in six years.
The operation is aimed at tackling a slide in the value of the rial, which is down more than 10 per cent this year, caused by a dollar shortage that has spooked businesses reliant on hard currencies.
Iran is facing renewed threats from Washington to reimpose sanctions lifted in 2015 and rumours of a co-ordinated move by the US and some Gulf states to up pressure on the Islamic Republic by further restricting its access to hard currencies. Iranians often obtain dollars via the United Arab Emirates. (Financial Times)

Women of Iran

Iran's female skier blazes a trail to Pyeongchang

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When Samaneh Bayrami Baher marches in Pyeongchang on Friday for the opening of the 2018 Winter Games, she will be one of only four athletes representing Iran's national colours.
Getting a spot to compete in the 23rd Olympic Games in South Korea was no easy feat for the 26-year-old athlete, who is the only female member of the country's national cross-country skiing team.  
Aside from limited financial resources, Iran also doesn't have enough facilities for ski training. While the world's top skiers train year-round, Iranian athletes are limited to about three months when it snows on the mountains.
This year has seen a lack of snow in Iran, meaning Samaneh travelled to Armenia and Turkey to train. (Al Jazeera)

Regional Politics

Israeli PM: Airstrikes Dealt ‘Severe Blows’ To Iran, Syria

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his nation dealt "severe blows" to Iranian and Syrian forces following the weekend downing of an Israeli fighter jet over northern Israel.
The Prime Minister said Israel would do so again if necessary.
"We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit; we will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us. This has been our policy and it will remain our policy." (CNN)

Iranian, Ansarullah Officials Discuss Political Solution for Yemen, Aid Delivery

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Senior officials of Iran and Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement have sat down for talks in Tehran on ways to help end the political conflict in the war-torn Arabian Peninsula state and provide humanitarian aid to its people.
On Monday, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, the Iranian foreign minister's special assistant for political affairs, met with Mohammad Abdulsalam, the Ansarullah movement’s spokesperson, in the capital
The two also explored ways of providing aid the people of Yemen, which has been under attack by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of its allies since March 2015. (PressTV)


Russia Can Keep the Peace Between Israel and Iran

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By: Joost Hiltermann

There are still many unanswered questions about the reported incident with the Iranian drone in northern Israel last week, but two things should be clear. First, the 12-year-old lull between Israel and Hezbollah will come to an end if a new understanding about the rules governing conflict in this region is not reached. And second, Russia will need to help broker that new understanding.
As for the incident itself: Israel claimed that it shot down an Iranian reverse-engineered Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel drone as it entered the country’s airspace from Jordan on February 10. The RQ-170 is a surveillance drone the size of a small airplane, with a wingspan of over 65 feet. Iran claimed to have downed one in 2011—a fact that the United States has acknowledged—and then used it to build one of its own. According to Israel, this RQ-170 was launched and operated from an Iranian base near the Syrian city of Palmyra. Israeli planes retaliated, targeting both the launch site and various other Iranian and Syrian regime assets in Syria. Iran has denied any role, and Jordan has yet to make a public statement about the apparent violation of its airspace.
(Read More)