Monday, October 31, 2016

Eye on Iran: White House Angling for 'Clean' Renewal of Iran Sanctions

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The House plans to vote to renew expiring sanctions on Iran without adding provisions the White House would likely find objectionable, and sources say President Barack Obama is likely to let such a "clean" bill become law. At issue is the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, which targets the nation's energy sector and is due to expire Dec. 31. The White House says the president and Treasury Department already possess the sanctions-issuing authorities that the law grants. But Obama likely would not veto a "clean" renewal because administration officials have concluded it would not violate the terms of the nuclear deal the U.S. and other world powers brokered with Tehran last year, according to a source with knowledge of the White House's deliberations. One senior House GOP aide told Roll Call, "My understanding is that the bill being discussed is a clean renewal." White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday that he had no "veto threat to issue at this point," adding, "I won't prejudge at this point about whether or not the president would sign that bill." "That sanctions authority has been used to impose costs on Iran for their support for terrorism, for their violation of human rights," Earnest said. "So this is authority that the United States government retains and has used to deal with a wide range of concerns we have with Iran's behavior."

Gun trucks and humvees streamed north on a highway heading to Mosul on Sunday flying the banners of Shi'ite militias along with Iraqi flags while blaring religious songs. The convoys were the first clear sign of a new player on the battlefield in the U.S.-backed offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State: Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of Shi'ite militias. Although it reports officially to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the coalition is mostly made up of groups trained by Iran and loyal to its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They have close ties with General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Brigade, the extra-territorial arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. He was seen touring the frontlines around Mosul last week. Among the banners that could be seen flying from artillery cannons, communication towers and buildings recently retaken from Islamic State were those of Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, two of the main Iranian-backed groups, alongside the Badr Organization, considered the largest.

A senior commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said Wednesday that cooperation with foreign firms on oil projects was necessary, but putting them in charge would be a national "disgrace." While the oil ministry has sought to attract foreign capital and technology to Iran's energy sector, it has faced opposition from other parts of the regime.  "No one is against foreigners coming. We can have some cooperation with them," said Brigadier General Ebadollah Abdollahi, head of the Guards' industrial conglomerate Khatam Al-Anbia. "(But) it is a disgrace to be under the hands of foreigners when we have so many educated young people," the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying. Khatam al-Anbia is Iran's biggest industrial contractor and its leaders have opposed recent plans by the oil ministry to put international firms in charge of major projects. "We are not saying that up-to-date know-how should not be used, but we are stressing the fact that the necessary know-how exists in our country already," Abdollahi said.


Iranian-American dual citizen Reza (Robin) Shahini, who was handed an 18-year prison sentence in Iran in October 2016, has vowed to go on hunger strike until his death if the sentence is not reversed on appeal. "This is a tyrannical sentence," an informed source close to the case told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "If the sentence is not thrown out, he will go on a hunger strike until his death because he won't be able to tolerate such a heavy sentence." ...  "Reza blames (Iranian President) Hassan Rouhani because he repeatedly invited Iranian expats to return to Iran, but didn't protect them," added the source.


Attorney General Loretta Lynch is declining to comply with an investigation by leading members of Congress about the Obama administration's secret efforts to send Iran $1.7 billion in cash earlier this year, prompting accusations that Lynch has "pleaded the Fifth" Amendment to avoid incriminating herself over these payments, according to lawmakers and communications exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) initially presented Lynch in October with a series of questions about how the cash payment to Iran was approved and delivered. In an Oct. 24 response, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik responded on Lynch's behalf, refusing to answer the questions and informing the lawmakers that they are barred from publicly disclosing any details about the cash payment, which was bound up in a ransom deal aimed at freeing several American hostages from Iran. The response from the attorney general's office is "unacceptable" and provides evidence that Lynch has chosen to "essentially plead the fifth and refuse to respond to inquiries regarding [her] role in providing cash to the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism," Rubio and Pompeo wrote on Friday in a follow-up letter to Lynch, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.


Federal prosecutors charged two California men with conspiring to smuggle fighter-jet parts to Iran in a scheme they allege dates to 2009. The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said in a statement Friday that the pair worked with two Iranian nationals to break laws that restrict exports to the longtime U.S. adversary. A nine-count federal indictment unsealed Wednesday alleged that Zavik Zargarian of Glendale tried to help one of the Iranians purchase more than $3 million worth of parts for fighter jets, including F-15s and F-18s. Their would-be supplier was an undercover federal agent. Prosecutors also say Vache Nayirian of Los Angeles exported more than 7,000 fluorocarbon rubber O-rings, which could have military uses, including for aircraft landing gear. To evade detection, the shipments went to other destinations in the Persian Gulf before being routed to Iran, where the national air force received them, prosecutors said.


Imports of crude oil by Iran's four major buyers in Asia in September jumped more than 70 percent from a year ago as the producer continued to recoup market share lost under sanctions. Iran's top four Asian buyers, China, Japan, India and South Korea, imported nearly 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in September, government and ship-tracking data showed. That is down from the highest level in at least 5-1/2 years in August. But oil-purchase arrivals could rise again in October, with Asian buyers loading 1.83 million bpd of crude oil and condensate this month and about 1.96 million bpd in September, according to a source with knowledge of Iran's tanker schedules.

Abu Issa Holding, one of the largest retail and luxury goods firms in the Middle East, plans to expand into Iran next year and open stores in Tehran selling watches and confectionery as the market opens up after sanctions. The family-run Qatari firm is an example of a Gulf Arab business that could benefit from the lifting last January of nuclear-related sanctions that largely closed Iran off for years... "It's an obvious expansion for our business," 48-year-old Ashraf Abu Issa, chairman and chief executive of Abu Issa Holding, said at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit... "We will start with five or six stores in Tehran. We plan to open a similar number every year for the next five years and also in the city of Isfahan, which we expect to become a touristic hub in coming years."


Federica Mogherini told local Iranian media on Saturday that the EU "needed the cooperation of Iran, a key power, to solve the region's problems." Mogherini's comments came after meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran is a key supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and provides the regime with financial and military aid.


Mullah Zabihullah, the official spokesman of the "Afghan Taliban" and the second man in the movement revealed the presence of relations and new networks with Iran. "The movement is trying to benefit from all legitimate means to reach a regional agreement as part of the war against the American invasion; therefore, the Imara holds ongoing networks with a large number of regional and neighboring states." He said to the London based Asharq Al-Awsat in an email 18 months ago, that the movement had received drone planes, which help film suicidal operations.


State-sanctioned Shiite militias joined Iraq's Mosul offensive on Saturday with a pre-dawn assault to the west, where they hope to complete the encirclement of the Islamic State-held city and sever supply lines from neighboring Syria... The involvement of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias has raised concerns that the battle for Mosul, a Sunni-majority city, could aggravate sectarian tensions. Rights groups have accused the militias of abuses against civilians in other Sunni areas retaken from IS, accusations the militia leaders deny... Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, said his group and the other militias had advanced 4 miles (7 kilometers) toward Tal Afar and used anti-tank missiles to destroy three suicide car bombs that were heading toward them. He said the U.S.-led coalition, which is providing airstrikes and ground support to the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga, is not playing any role in the Shiite militias' advance. He said Iranian advisers and Iraqi aircraft were helping them.


Iran's justice minister has said the country should execute fewer people and revise its death penalty laws, local media reported Sunday. "These last years, the quantity of executions has not been effective. As a result, there must be a revision of the death penalty law," said Mostafa Pourmohammadi, according to the Tasnim news agency. "The judiciary as a whole shares this opinion," he said. Pourmohammadi called for "alternative penalties", but said it was not possible to abolish capital punishment entirely because "there are corrupt people in the country for whom there is no alternative but execution." ... The head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, said last month that drug laws were not "written in stone", but denied that the death penalty was ineffective. Earlier this year, an award-winning activist, Narges Mohammadi, was imprisoned for 10 years for forming an "illegal group" that pressed for an end to the death penalty.

Iran's Islamic Republic has arrested the organizers of a march last week near the tomb of the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great that attracted thousands of people celebrating the country's pre-Islamic glory. Crowds of mostly young Iranians attended the march near the ancient city of Pasargadae in central province of Fars on Friday to celebrate the day unofficially marked in the Iranian calendar as Cyrus Day. Videos released on social media show them chanting "Iran is our country, Cyrus is our father." Reuters could not independently verify the videos' authenticity. "The main leaders and organizers of this gathering who chanted unconventional slogans against the (Islamic Republic's) values have been arrested," said prosecutor Ali Salehi in the provincial capital Shiraz on Monday, according to Fars news agency.


Another Iranian bank has received sanctions relief earlier than anticipated under the nuclear deal with Iran.  The European Union's sanctions on state-owned Bank Saderat Iran and its London-based subsidiary, BankSaderat PLC, which were originally set to last until 2023, were quietly lifted this week.  The decision was made in April, in response to Bank Saderat's successful legal challenge of its 2010 designation.  However, instead of lifting the sanctions in April, the E.U. modified the reasons supporting the sanctions and extended them-but only for a period of six months, through October 22.  This is the latest in a series of concessions to Iran's financial sector, beyond what was agreed to in the nuclear deal. Bank Saderat was originally sanctioned by the E.U. in July 2010 for providing financial services to three entities linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programs: Defense Industries Organization (DIO), Iran Electronics Industries (IEI), and Mesbah Energy Company.

After two and half years since the post of president fell vacant, Lebanon's parliament is expected to meet next Monday to elect Michel Aoun to the post. Aoun had been one of the nominees of the so-called March 8 coalition that is dominated by Hezbollah and is aligned with Iran and Syria's Assad regime. His candidacy gained momentum when Saad Hariri, leader of the opposing March 14 coalition, nominated him after exhausting most other options. In return for his support, Hariri has been promised the position of prime minister. He needs this position to shore up both his political and financial fortunes which have been flagging. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has confirmed that his party will vote for Aoun and accept Hariri as prime minister, while other members of the March 8 coalition, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and former presidential rival Suleiman Franjiyeh, so far say they will not vote for Aoun, but will not block his election. Aoun's election is a clear victory for the pro-Iranian axis in the Levant and another climb down for Saudi Arabia.

At the conclusion of its regular plenary meeting in Paris last week, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released its "public statement" on "high-risk and noncooperative jurisdictions" -- a category that continues to include Iran. It was the first meeting of the international standard-setter for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) since the group suspended so-called countermeasures against Iran for a year while Tehran works to implement an "action plan" to address AML/CFT deficiencies. In its October 21 statement, the FATF urged members to "continue to advise their financial institutions to apply enhanced due diligence to business relationships and transactions with natural and legal persons from Iran." The organization also reiterated that Iran would remain on the public statement until it completes the full action plan. The FATF statement did not mention any Iranian progress in implementing the plan, which has faced strong domestic political opposition. As of mid-October, a special working group of the Iranian Majlis set up to review the plan had yet to determine whether the required measures conflicted with national interests... Although Iran's FATF action plan has not been publicly released, hardliners in Tehran have focused their objections on three areas: (1) amending the legal definition of terrorist financing to bring it in line with international standards, (2) recognition and implementation of international sanctions, and (3) international cooperation and information sharing... Looking ahead, Iran will need to find a way to implement the action plan before June 2017, at which time the FATF has said it will reimpose countermeasures. Even if Tehran succeeds on that front, it would still need to address the many other concerns that wary banks have about doing business with the Islamic Republic; indeed, it would still be far from full compliance with FATF standards, much less with the many other international regulatory requirements adopted over the decade since the global financial crisis. Yet failure to take even this first small step would be a significant setback in Iran's efforts to court global banks.

UK-based telecom giant Vodafone announced on October 18 plans to enter Iran's telephone operating market. Vodafone says it will work with Iran's HiWEB, a small privately owned phone operator... While Vodafone will not be a direct partner (calling it a 'non-equity Partner Market agreement'), the potential for complicity between Vodafone and Iran's existing telecommunication surveillance infrastructure is hard to ignore. Most countries have a precedent of forcing foreign telcos to cooperate with governments in communications surveillance. Iran, of course, is no exception. In Iran, observers got a taste of this problem in 2010, when Nokia Siemens aided in the surveillance and arrest of Iranian journalist and political reformer Isa Saharkhiz in June 2010. He was arrested after Iran's intelligence tracked his mobile phone location through a Nokia Siemens surveillance tool sold to Iran's state-controlled telecommunication providers... Despite this welcome step towards diversifying Iran's telecommunications market, it will be necessary to keep steady pressure and watch over the operations of Vodafone with Iranian carriers, especially with the precedent Vodafone has set in the UK and Egypt in cooperating with government surveillance efforts.

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

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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