Iran Digest Week of March 15-22
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.
Pompeo says God may have sent Trump to save Israel from Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said it is "possible" that President Donald Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network during a high-profile trip to Israel, he said it was his faith that made him believe that.
He also praised US efforts to "make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains".
The comments came on a Jewish holiday celebrating rescue from genocide.
The holiday, Purim, commemorates the biblical rescue of the Jewish people by Queen Esther from the Persians, as the interviewer noted to Mr Pompeo. (BBC)
2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal
Re-entry into the nuclear deal with Iran is fast becoming a litmus test for Democrats hoping to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.
No fewer than five declared candidates have told Al-Monitor over the past few weeks that they would rejoin the deal without preconditions should they win the presidency — as long as Iran continues to live up to its end of the 2015 pact. These include well-known lawmakers such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who both voted for the deal in 2015, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who was elected in 2016.
The trend comes as pro-deal advocacy groups are ramping up their outreach to Democrats ahead of the first primary debate in June. Al-Monitor has learned that National Security Action, a group of former Barack Obama administration officials, has circulated a draft memo to all declared Democratic candidates asking them to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“While we won’t speak to private conversations, the message we have been sending is clear and simple,” said Ned Price, the group’s policy director. “If Iran remains in compliance, the next administration should rejoin the Iran deal and use principled diplomacy to negotiate a follow-on agreement to keep the Iranian nuclear program in a box for the long term.” (Al-Monitor)
Rouhani Promises Wage Increases As High Inflation Persists
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has promised a 20 percent increase in public sector employee salaries beginning in the new year, which starts March 21, according to the Persian calendar.
The announcement comes as a surprise, since earlier in the month Rouhani’s government had said it could not guarantee the wage increases approved by Parliament. Speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani argued at the time, “Raising salaries and wages is a decision made by the parliament and the government does not have the authority to dismiss the legislature’s decision.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Labor Council of Iran, the body responsible for setting the minimum wage, announced March 19 that it has proposed toraise the minimum wage from the current 11.2 million rials ($90) per month to $140 (based on free market exchange rate) beginning March 21. (Radio Farda)
US extends waiver for Iraq to import Iranian gas despite sanctions
The United States has extended a waiver to allow Iraq to continue purchasing energy from Iran, a US official told Reuters, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The State Department on Tuesday issued a second three-month exemption from Iran sanctions for Iraq, which is heavily reliant on Iranian gas and electricity to cope with chronic blackouts that have triggered protests and anger.
"While this waiver is intended to help Iraq mitigate energy shortages, we continue to discuss our Iran-related sanctions with our partners in Iraq," said a State Department official.
The official said that increasing Iraq's capacities and diversifying imports "will strengthen Iraq's economy and development as well as encourage a united, democratic and prosperous Iraq free from malign Iranian influence". (Middle East Eye)
Iran's foreign minister urges government to join international money laundering watchdog
There's an internal fight underway in Iran over whether the country should join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — the international coalition combating money laundering and terrorist financing — and it's pitting hardliners against those who want more economic alignment with the West.
FATF has given Iran until June to join or face being added to a financial blacklist, a move that could further cripple its economy by affecting trade and financial dealings with the EU and other FATF member states.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Tuesday that not joining the FATF would "harm the national interests of the country." Iran was taken off the blacklist in 2016.
His comments to the Iranian Labour News Agency came just days after Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body that vets legislation, issued an unprecedented statement saying Iran's membership in FATF would be a "strategic mistake." (CNBC)
Iran turns to crypto to enable easier spending by tourists
When US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018 and reinstated harsh sanctions on Iran, many feared that Iran’s tourism sector, which has been continuously growing in recent years, would take a hit.
But while the number of tourists, mainly from Europe, has declined, the devaluation of the Iranian rial — triggered by sanctions and exacerbated due to poor management — lured many more foreign tourists to Iran, especially from neighboring countries. The rial lost more than 60% of its value in 2018, making Iran, already a price-competitive tourist destination, even cheaper. Intensified pressures also prompted both the government and the private sector to fast-track projects long in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies have recently become hot-button topics in Iran, more so after US sanctions were reimposed. Many high-profile projects are currently in the works in Iran. (Al-Monitor)
Lipar, a small lake in pink
Lipar, a small lake which usually turns pink, is an off-the-radar tourist destination in Iran, which has never been introduced completely!
When people look at the lake, they think it is filled with strawberry syrup.
Due to the special type of the soil surrounding the lake, its water surface seems shining with pink color during some five months of the year and it reportedly covers an area of 10 hectares.
The lake and a nearby lagoon of the same name boast beautiful and unique landscapes, a potential attraction for domestic tourists and foreign travelers. They are situated some 20 kilometers east of Chabahar in Sistan-Baluchestan province. Chabahar is a humid port city commonly considered as one of the warmest places in Iran.
Water levels of the seasonal lake routinely depend on the amount of rainfall. Gaz shrubs, whim, and straw are amongst its topmost vegetation. It is also home to flamingos, pelicans, white and gray hawks amongst other birds. (Tehran Times)
Clues to the identity of Iran’s next supreme leader in the back alleys of a holy city
Wedged in the corner of a squat brick building in this holy Muslim city, Sheikh Aladdin al-Jazari's cramped office belies his ties to a powerful patron: the supreme leader of Iran.
The furniture is sparse, and the rooms dimly lit. But Jazari is a key liaison to the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, whom Jazari says he has met multiple times.
As rumors swirl that Khamenei, 79, is laying the groundwork for his successor after three decades in power, clerics such as Jazari, from his perch next door in the spiritual heart of Shiite Islam, have rare visibility into a transition process known for its secrecy.
He says that Iran’s next supreme ruler may not come from a list of more obvious candidates now circulating among analysts and insiders. He bases his assessment both on experience and, given his proximity to Khamenei’s inner circle, a degree of insight into the future. (Washington Post)
Iranians’ economic woes dampen Nowruz celebrations
Iranians famously say that the New Year would not reach their door if they did not clean their homes before spring’s arrival. Nowruz, or the ancient Persian New Year’s celebration, requires a deep household clean, new clothes and for the family to prepare colorful pastries and nuts, tea and fruits to serve visitors. It is no secret that, this particular year, many Iranian families are suffering from financial hardship.
Iran has the world’s most famous pistachios and is one of the biggest exporters of the nut, but today they are considered a luxury good that even middle-class families cannot afford. They used to be an extremely popular “must-have” delicacy for Nowruz. However, everything is extremely expensive for Iranians as the New Year of 1398, which begins on March 21 on the Gregorian calendar, approaches. Many are so frustrated that all they can hope and pray for is that the situation won’t be so bad next year. (Arab News)
Trying to Kill the Iran Deal Could End Up Saving It
By: Kathy Gilsinan
The Trump administration has made a priority of punishing and pressuring Iran. But the same administration that withdrew from the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump dubbed “a great embarrassment” may actually end up preserving it.
Iran and all the other signatories are still observing the deal’s terms for now. The U.S. reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic last fall, driving down its oil exports and further stressing its weak economy. But even as the administration pursues what it calls a “maximum pressure” campaign against the country, it has also made exceptions through sanctions waivers that have helped keep Iranian oil flowing and even preserved some international nuclear cooperation with the country. (The Atlantic)