Iran Digest Week of February 22- March 1

Iran Digest Week of February 22- March 1

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 Associate Michel Gomes 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

Iranians are paying for US sanctions with their health


Ali only had two hours to save his baby's life. He careened through traffic and sped along highways to an east Tehran government pharmacy. When he saw some 800 people queued outside the facility, he dropped to his knees. Like him, they were waiting to obtain state-funded medications.

"I cried and screamed, begging people to let me get through," Ali -- whom we have not fully identified for security reasons -- recalls.  Eventually, he skipped the line and returned with the medicine in time for his one-year-old daughter, Dory, to recover.

The incident happened just as Iran's landmark nuclear deal with six world powers led by the US was being signed in 2015. It was a moment when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had promised Iranians an easier life, free of medicinal and food shortages, and where desperate scenes such as Ali's outside the pharmacy would become a thing of the past.  (CNN)


Iran’s top banks launch blockchain platform to boost ailing banking system


The biggest players in Iranian banking have joined forces in an effort to empower an ailing banking system that has long suffered from a slew of major issues — including a hefty credit crunch. There is no shortage of potential pitfalls and challenges, but the blockchain-enabled platform they have established — and its native gold-backed cryptocurrency — may prove a crucial source of cash and public trust in a not too distant future.

During the past year, the technology and payment system arms of four major Iranian banks — Parsian, Pasargad, Mellat and Melli —- in addition to Tosan, a leading provider of banking software solutions, have been developing Kuknos (“Phoenix”). Using distributed ledger technology, the blockchain platform’s ultimate goal is to make it possible for financial entities to issue digital tokens for a variety of assets and therefore increase financial inclusion. Its most immediate target, however, is to allow banks to tokenize and then liquidize their so-called “frozen” or non-productive assets. (Al-Monitor)

Iran Buys Indian Sugar to Ease Its Oil-Money Headache

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Sanctioned by the U.S., Iran’s found a sweet way to use the cash it’s accumulated from trading oil: Purchase sugar from India.

Iran is struggling to spend the rupees it’s made from oil sales to India that are sitting in the south Asian nation’s banks. Meanwhile, sugar stockpiles are stacking up in India after a bumper crop. Now the two have struck a deal that eases each other’s woes -- albeit only to some extent.

The Government Trading Corporation of Iran will buy 150,000 tons of raw sugar from Indian mills for delivery in March-April, paying in rupees from escrow accounts held at UCO Bank. Indian sweeteners regain access to an old market, which has been dominated by Brazil, the world’s biggest producer and exporter. (Bloomberg)


The environment was once a safe space for activism in Iran. No longer

In early 2018, nine environmental experts and activists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) were arrested in Iran. Disregarding their international reputation for tireless efforts to protect Iran’s endangered Asiatic cheetahs, the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) accused them of being agents of the CIA, Mossad and MI6. The IRGC, which acts as an alternative, hardline centre of power in Iran, claimed that PWHF was using environmental activism as a cover for a mission to disrupt national security. It accused them of collecting “sensitive” environmental information and using camera traps to monitor Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

A few weeks later, one of them, Kavous Seyed Emami, died suspiciously in an alleged suicide at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. His grieving wife, Maryam Mombeini, is still banned from leaving the country to join her two sons in Canada. The rest of the group are still in “temporary detention”. Four of them have been charged with “spreading corruption on the earth”, a crime that can carry the death penalty. The rest face serious security charges for “cooperation with hostile governments” and “acts against national security”. Their 300-page indictment was finally disclosed to them in a trial behind closed doors that began a few weeks ago. (The Guardian)

Inside Iran

Iran president rejects Foreign Minister Zarif's resignation

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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has rejected the resignation of his Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

In a letter, Mr Rouhani praised Mr Zarif's record and said: "I think your resignation is against the country's interests and I do not accept it."

Mr Zarif offered to resign on Monday, saying he hoped to allow his ministry to reclaim its "proper statutory role".

His role negotiating the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers exposed him to sharp criticism from hardliners. (BBC)

Iran’s top diplomat offers resignation after being iced out of Syria talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suddenly resigned Monday in a post on Instagram where he expressed gratitude “to the dear and honorable Iranian people for the last 67 months” while apologizing for “all the shortcomings during my service.” Zarif was the face of Iranian diplomacy throughout the nuclear talks and their aftermath and has faced relentless criticism from hard-liners over his outreach to the West.

Why it matters: The timing of Zarif’s resignation, which has so far not been accepted by President Hassan Rouhani, coincides with a visit from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at which the foreign minister was noticeably absent. That has fueled speculation that Zarif quit after losing influence.  (Al Monitor)

Iran launches cruise missile from sub during drill


Iran launched a cruise missile from a submarine for the first time during an ongoing annual military drill in the Strait of Hormuz, local media reported Sunday.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported on the Sunday launch and released an image of a green submarine on the surface of the water launching an orange missile. It said other submarines have the same capability. It did not provide details on the missile's range.

State TV showed a video of the launch in which a missile fired from a submarine hit a pre-determined target. Adm. Hamzeh Ali Kaviani, spokesman for the drills, said "by achieving various types of sub-surface missile and torpedoes, we have completed our chain of defensive power under water." (Military Times)

Regional Politics


Israel hopes Zarif resignation reveals cracks in Iran's Syria policy

The resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was good news for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, it was great news. He spared no effort to show his glee. To make sure Iranians were aware of how delighted he was, Netanyahu's Persian-language Twitter account on the morning after Zarif’s resignation read: “Zarif went. We are rid of him. As long as I am here, the Iranian regime will not acquire nuclear weapons.”

But now Zarif appears to be back, and that’s bad news for Israel given Zarif’s warm ties with many of his European counterparts. Zarif’s smiling face and veneer of moderation get under the skin of Netanyahu and many in Israel.  (Al Monitor)

Rouhani To Pay First Official Visit To Iraq


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will pay an official visit to Iraq, starting March 10 “to strengthen relations while Iran is under U.S. sanction”, Tasnim news agency reports.

This is the first official visit of Rouhani to Iraq, which has been organized by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, his deputy Abbas Araqchi and head of Iran’s Central Bank Abdolnaser Hemmati, according to Tasnim.

Last November, Iraqi president Barham Saleh visited Iran and in January, Zarif paid an extended visit to Iraq. (Radio Farda)


War with Iran would be terrible. Doing it without an AUMF would be worse


By: Daniel DePetris

While President Trump is boldly proclaiming to the public that “ great nations do not fight endless wars,” his own national security advisers appear to be preparing a legal rationale for a new one.

Senior Trump administration officials are discussing options for possible U.S. military strikes on Iran in retaliation for hosting of al Qaeda militants on its soil, the Washington Times reported this month. If such an operation were to commence, at least some of those officials believe the White House could go to war without explicit congressional approval under the 18-year-old 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. (Washington Examiner)