Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Eye on Iran: Iranian-American Held in Iran Gets 18-year Sentence

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An Iranian-American held in Tehran has reportedly been sentenced to 18 years in prison for "collaboration with a hostile government," yet another dual national convicted in a secret trial since Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. The sentence handed down to Robin Shahini, a 46-year-old graduate student who lives in San Diego, is the harshest yet for those detained in what analysts believe is hard-liner plan to use them as bargaining chips in future negotiations. Shahini told Vice News in an interview aired late on Monday that he "just laughed" after hearing his sentence. He acknowledged supporting the protests that followed Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, but denied being involved in any sort of spying. "Whatever information they had is all the pictures I posted in Facebook, in my web blog, and they use all those evidence to accuse me," Shahini said in a telephone call from prison... For Shahini, he said he wasn't sure whether he'd file an appeal, but said he also had another option to protest his sentence. "I do a hunger strike - until either they free me or I die," he said.

Just as conservative opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran had warned, Tehran seems to be moving aggressively to expand its regional influence while working to counter American interests throughout the Middle East. Yet, just as proponents of the deal had promised, Iran is also slowly opening up, cutting deals with Western businesses, establishing phone links with the United States, speeding up the internet, welcoming hordes of European tourists and relaxing some social restrictions on its own people. What would seem to be a puzzling contradiction is in fact a carefully thought-out, two-track policy being pursued by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the circle of leaders around him. Iranian generals are directing the ground war in Syria. Iranian advisers are training Shiite militias fighting in Iraq and Syria. Iranian arms and other support help the Houthi rebels in Yemen. In addition to sanctioning the country's more aggressive military footprint in the region, Ayatollah Khamenei regularly issues broadsides against the United States, promising there will be no softening of Tehran's stance against the Great Satan, while quietly opening the door to Western capital and expertise.

Iran says Germany's Deutsche Bank has started to provide financial services related to the country's oil trade - an announcement that could show the ice in doing business with the Islamic Republic in a post-sanctions era is already thawing. Iran's Deputy Petroleum Minister for International Affairs Amir-Hossein Zamaninia was quoted by domestic media as saying that the new phase of cooperation between Deutsche Bank and Iran had started last week after a halt of about 10 years. Zamaninia added that Iran expects to see several other major European banks to follow suit and resume cooperation with the country over its oil-related financial transactions. "Previously, merely certain small European banks were ready to cooperate with Iran over its oil-related transactions," the official told Mehr News Agency. Still, a larger number of European banks - particularly major ones - are today approaching Iran, he added. Zamaninia further emphasized that several important European banks are set to start providing services to Iran "within the next few days."


A dual American-Iranian citizen was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Iran over the weekend on charges relating to espionage and "collaborating with a hostile government." Reza "Robin" Shahini, 46, was visiting his mother north-east Iran in July when he was arrested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps while walking to a restaurant with friends. "It was a terrifying moment, and they blindfolded me and they took me to the custody and I did not know where I was," Shahini said, speaking to VICE News via phone from prison... Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said he was "shocked" at the severity of Shahini's sentence. "That is an unprecedented sentence for that charge," he said. "It's extremely harsh. It really demonstrates that the Iranian judiciary is out of bounds." ... Shahini told VICE News that he was planning to go on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

A dual Iranian-American citizen sentenced to 18 years in prison for insulting the Islamic republic and engaging in espionage for the United States was convicted based on his social-media posts, according to a close acquaintance. Robin Shahini, who has been jailed in Iran since July and was reportedly sentenced by the country's judiciary this week, had a speedy trial and was convicted based on "no evidence except for a few Facebook and blog posts," the U.S.-based acquaintance told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on October 24. The source's observations, which were based on a telephone call with Shahini after the trial, were shared on condition of anonymity. "We're still in a state of shock," the acquaintance said of Shahini's sentencing, which followed his arrest this summer while visiting family in northern Iran. "We expected him to be sentenced to prison, but not 18 years." ... Speaking by telephone, the source said that the trial lasted only three hours, and that all in all Shahini's lawyer only had about 15 to 30 minutes to defend his client. "Out of the three hours, [the judge presiding over the trial] was away for one hour, apparently to pray, then it took them one hour to fill in the forms and write down details such as his name and last name."

The Obama administration is forging a pathway for Iran to purchase American-made airliners that are likely to be converted for use in the Islamic Republic's military, drawing concerns on Capitol Hill amid a flurry of recent attacks by Iranian-backed forces on U.S. military assets in the Middle East, according to conversations with lawmakers and fleet information obtained by the Washington Free Beacon... Iran currently uses at least six Boeing aircraft as part of its air force fleet. These planes were put on display last week when Iran launched a series of war drills aimed at deterring Western attacks. As Iran angles to purchase 80 new jets from Boeing, which has lobbied heavily in favor of these sales, the Obama administration is being accused of helping to pave the way for Iran to transfer these commercial liners for use in its war fleet, according to lawmakers and sources familiar with Iran's military buildup. Iran has a history of transferring commercial jets purchased from America to its air force for use in military operations and the transfer of weapons and other illicit material abroad. Lawmakers worry that the White House's efforts to facilitate new airliner sales to Iran Air, the country's national airline, will help Tehran bolster its war fleet at a time when it is threatening military action against Western forces in the region.


The United States will harshly retaliate against any bank or company caught doing business that involves sanctioned Iranian entities, despite a recent announcement from the Treasury Department that had been broadly interpreted as loosening American sanctions against previously prohibited transactions with Iran, a top Obama administration official said on Thursday. The threat, made by Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin, came after THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked about a recent statement from Iran's Central Bank (CBI) that Treasury's new language had now made it "unacceptable" for foreign banks to deny Iran access to the U.S. dollar, even for business with entities controlled by Iran's heavily-sanctioned Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). "You cannot do business with IRGC companies," Szubin said. "If you do, and you're doing so knowingly, you are risking the most draconian sanctions in our toolkit, and that governs not just U.S. persons but actors all around the world." Szubin also said that the U.S. continued to ban and sanction "the vast majority" of dollar transactions that Iran would want to engage in, because they would have "to come through a U.S. bank." "That is not legal, that is not okay, and you better be careful," he said.


The British government has announced that it has removed Bank Saderat Iran (BSI) from its list of sanctioned entities. The announcement was made by the UK Treasury which added that the BSI assets had also been unfrozen. The Treasury said in a release that the Iranian bank had been blacklisted as a result of nuclear sanctions against Iran. The decision to delist the bank, it said, was in line with the amended regulations by the European Union regarding the lifting of sanctions against Iran. The regulations required the sanctions against the BSI to be maintained until 22 October 2016. "As that date has now passed, Bank Saderat Iran and Bank Saderat PLC are no longer subject to the restrictive measures set out in the Regulation, including the asset freeze," read part of the British Treasury announcement. Britain has previously lifted sanctions against three other Iranian banks. In January, the Bank of England announced that it had reactivated the licenses of Melli Bank, Persia International Bank and Bank Sepah International - that had been subject to EU and US sanctions - thus allowing them to resume operations in the UK.

We are excited to announce that we have reinstated our services in Iran. This means that our customers can once again utilise our global network, large fleet of vessels and equipment, weekly departures, superior transit times and innovative suite of e-business solutions, both to and from Iran, subject to country specific regulations... At Maersk Line, we recognise the strong potential of the Iranian market and the crucial role it has in global trade. Marcus Connolly, Head of Sales, UAE Cluster, reaffirms "It is hugely exciting that after a 5 year absence, we are again able to offer Maersk Line services to customers to and from Iran. After a period of relative isolation, access to this new market will present significant growth opportunities for Maersk Line in a market that today represents approximately 700,000 FFE but is expected to grow significantly in the coming years."

Dutch flag carrier KLM has resumed flights to Iran after a three-year hiatus. Carrying a Dutch trade mission, headed by Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen, on board, a KLM flight landed in Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport on Sunday at 00:05 Tehran local time. "KLM has tried to strengthen its network by adding Tehran as its 14th new destination in 2016," KLM President and Chief Executive Officer Pieter Elbers was quoted by the news portal of Iran's Ministry of Roads and Urban Development as saying. As per the new schedule, four weekly services will be operated on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Tehran.

DHL Freight enables streamlined access to the Iranian market for European companies. For this purpose, DHL Freight installed two competence centers at the gateways in Frankfurt, Germany, and in Istanbul, Turkey, for seamless exports to Iran. Due to the reduction of economic sanctions and the positive development of trade in Iran, the demand for logistics solutions is increasing. DHL Freight supports companies exporting their goods to the region by offering pan-European part- and full truck loads as well as weekly departures for groupage shipments. "We are delighted about the new possibilities arising in the Iranian market. The recent political and economic developments present great potential for doing business. With its years of expertise our competence centers want to support companies realizing this potential by expanding their trade relations in Iran," stated Amadou Diallo, Chief Executive Officer, DHL Freight.

Iranian and German transportation ministers have signed six contracts for promotion of cooperation in marine, road and railway transportation. The first document, signed by Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development and German Ministry of Transportation, concerns comprehensive transportation cooperation, the second document concerns joint statement for cooperation between the two ministries in ports and navigation. The third document foresees educational cooperation between Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development and German Siemens Company, and the fourth protocol forecasts cooperation between Iranian Railway Company and German Thales Group. Furthermore, the fifth document was signed by Iranian Railway Company and German Siemens Company for cooperation in connection with signaling of Isfahan-Shiraz and Kerman-Zahedan axes, and the final document concerned cooperation between Iran's Railway Company and German Siemens Company in raising speed of transportation on the Tehran-Tabriz axis.

Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed says Malaysian Petronas and Al Bukhary are to come back to Iran. Mohamed told Iran-Malaysia Trade Session in Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines, and Agricutlure that the two Malaysian companies are to talk with National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) officials on Sunday. He said Malaysia is keen on cooperating with Iran in oil and gas. "The two Malaysian companies, active in oil and gas, want to come back and to this end, talks will be continued to be held with the NIOC."

The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) and Singaporean Tru Marine recently signed an agreement of cooperation in technology and information sharing and repair of turbochargers for main engines and diesel ship generators, a report said. The deal was signed on the sidelines of the 18th Marine Industries Exhibition, NITC Technical and Navigation Operations director Akbar Jebalameli was quoted as saying in the Iran Daily report, which cited Shana. Azarpad Engineering & Procurement Company, as the representative of NITC, signed the contract with the Singaporean Tru Marine Company, Jebalameli said.

Spanish hotel group Grupo Martinon has officially declared its readiness to invest in the construction of three hotels in Iran. In a letter to the Tourism Holding of Social Security Organization (known locally by its Persian acronym HEGTA), the Madrid-based group formally declared its intention to invest in three hotels being built by Homa Hotel Group, one each in Tehran, Mashhad and Isfahan, Donyaye Safer reported.


Deutsche Börse has been swept up in a lawsuit against Iran over alleged connections between the Islamic Republic and the hijackers who carried out of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The families of several 9/11 victims have demanded that Deutsche Börse, which owns the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, turn over $6.6 billion (€6.05 billion) in Iranian assets that its subsidiary Clearstream managed for the Iranian state and central bank. Fiona Havlish, whose husband died in the attacks, and the families of other victims filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Iran provided material support to the 9/11 hijackers. A federal district court in New York ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2011 and they are now seeking damages.


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah cast the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar Assad as a facade designed to weaken Iran's regional access and make "changes to the map", vowing to stay in the country until it could "defeat the apostate project." Nasrallah in a speech Sunday afternoon said the Syrian rebellion is "not about the fall of the regime, but about targeting the axis of resistance," a reference to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance. Assad has long provided a corridor for Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese militant group which grew out of the resistance to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon's south between 1982 and 2000. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters are on the ground in Syria in defense of Assad's government and senior commanders in Iran's powerful Republican Guard are in advisory positions.


The Baha'i International Community said Tuesday that Iran's effort to crush the religious minority has continued unabated and intensified on some fronts despite President Hassan Rouhani's promises to end religious discrimination. In a 122-page report, the community said Rouhani's government has stepped-up its "campaign to incite hatred against Baha'is" including by disseminating more than 20,000 pieces of anti-Baha'i propaganda in the Iranian media. Since Rouhani was inaugurated in August 2013, the report said at least 151 Baha'is have been arrested, and at least 388 incidents of economic discrimination have been documented ranging from threats and intimidation to shop closings. The report also said that under Rouhani, thousands of Baha'is have been blocked from attending universities and 28 followers have been expelled.


The final judgment may rest with God. But there is a lot of manoeuvring in Tehran to influence the decision on who will be Iran's next supreme leader. There is no public succession plan for the most powerful position in the Islamic republic, which has been entrusted since 1989 to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Discussion of the subject is all but forbidden while the 77-year-old remains active, delivering speeches and attending military parades. Nevertheless Iran's landmark deal with the US and other major powers to scrap its nuclear programme - triggering a lifting of nuclear-related sanctions imposed on the country since 2011- is being interpreted by many in terms of what it may mean for a post-Khamenei Iran and who might run the country... Ayatollah Khamenei rarely cries during public speeches. So when state media showed him bursting into tears at a March meeting of the Experts' Assembly, the clerical body tasked with choosing his successor should he die during its eight-year term, viewers found it shocking. "Infiltration [into Iran's political system] is a serious plot by Americans," he told senior clerics. "This infiltration has targeted officials ... to make decisions that it [the US] pursues ... and make people change belief in political Islam." The speech to the Experts' Assembly - and others made by the supreme leader this year - have been interpreted as a sign that the succession has become an even heavier burden on him since the completion of the nuclear deal with the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany. Observers say his anxiety is driven by fears over the possible effects of the accord on Iran's political and economic structures and its subsequent choice of supreme leader.

As Iran seeks to normalize relations with the West and to enter its multilateral bodies like the World Trade Organization, the international community must demand that it stop sponsoring anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As some advocate to ease business restrictions on the world's largest state sponsor of terror, we should push even harder for Tehran to take concrete action to tamp down its illiberalism and behave like a reasonable actor on the world stage. Going forward, one way European leaders - particularly in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Poland - can send this message is by insisting that, before every meeting with an Iranian official in Europe, the visiting dignitary takes time to visit a Holocaust memorial, museum or historic site. This is something that many other foreign leaders routinely do in visits to those countries where the Nazis' Final Solution was implemented. It is time for Iranian leaders to follow suit. Such a measure would be more than a gesture. It would be an important symbol to show the world that Iran actually is behaving like a normal country, that it is taking meaningful steps to officially recognize the horrors of the Holocaust, an undeniable and defining moment of the 20th century.

Iran's diplomatic charm offensive, which began in the summer of 2013 with the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, and the nuclear agreement signed with the Western powers in the summer of 2015, raised the question of whether Iran's foreign policy towards Israel had become more moderate. Generally speaking, Iranian policy is predicated on a revolutionary ideological vision, but in the past the Iranian regime has been pragmatic concerning its national and political interests. However, its foreign policy towards Israel remains unchanged.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email press@uani.com.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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