Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Eye on Iran: Iran Hostage-Taker: 'We Were The WikiLeaks of Our Day'

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The Iranian students who stormed the US embassy in 1979 and released thousands of secret CIA documents were the WikiLeaks of their time, their former lead spokesperson has told AFP. Every year on November 3-4, Iran celebrates the 444-day siege of the embassy when more than 50 diplomats, staff and spies were taken hostage by Islamist students demanding the extradition of the shah, who had fled to America after being deposed a few months earlier in the Islamic revolution. Massoumeh Ebtekar is now Iran's vice-president and one of its most recognisable politicians, feted globally for her work as head of the environment department. But back then, she was a 20-year-old medical student -- nicknamed "Mary" by the international press -- who became the face of the hostage crisis thanks to her fluent English. She now regrets the diplomatic isolation that followed the embassy siege, but she is still proud of their work in releasing documents found in the CIA's files -- some painstakingly reassembled after embassy staff frantically shredded as many as possible when the students stormed the building. "Revealing these documents was very similar to what WikiLeaks is doing these days. It was the WikiLeaks of those ages," Ebtekar told AFP.

Greece has spurned its European allies and Washington by blocking European Union sanctions on an Iranian bank the U.S. accuses of financing terrorism, officials familiar with the move say. Athens's action last month marked the first time a European country has picked apart the sanctions regime meant to remain in place after the July 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran. The regime is designed to constrain Iran's ability to resume illicit activities and pressure it to stick by the rules. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's government undertook to end the sanctions on Bank Saderat, a partly state-owned company that runs Iran's largest banking network, as Athens seeks to rebuild close economic ties with Iran, a key source of cheap energy for the country in the past. Athens has also been critical of EU sanctions on Russia. But the stance is potentially risky for Greece, which will host President Barack Obama this month. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned last year that any firm that deals with Bank Saderat "will risk losing its access to the U.S. financial system." ... But some U.S. observers worry that Greece's relief for Saderat could mark the beginning of a broader decay in European sanctions on Iran.

An already long list of international telecoms companies is lining up to enter the Iranian market to improve internet access and mobile services. Vodafone, Telecom Italia, AT&T and Nokia have rushed to get into Iran in recent months, striking deals with local groups, while Orange and Interoute, the London-based networking company, also plan to have a presence in the country. There have been 52 applications for licences to operate telecoms services since sanctions were lifted... Some believe foreign telecoms companies should steer well clear of Iran due to the repressive nature of the regime. Mark Wallace, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and now a representative of the United Against Nuclear Iran pressure group, said: "Partnering with telecoms companies in Iran is partnering with a regime that monitors, tracks, arrests, detains and even kills people that use this technology." In reaction to such fears, many companies remain cautious about investing directly in Iran.


It seems everyone has an opinion about the U.S. presidential election, including Iran's supreme leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized both Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump in a speech he gave on Wednesday marking the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In his remarks, Khamenei said Clinton and Trump's comments in the presidential debates "are sufficient for the annihilation of the reputation of the United States." ... He also described Americans as "liars, untrustworthy, deceitful and backstabbers" while saying he still opposed any direct negotiations with the U.S. following the nuclear deal.


Guidelines published last month by the Obama administration protect banks doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions even if their transactions end up benefiting sanctioned entities, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. That stance, experts and congressional sources tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is part of an ongoing battle inside the Obama administration over efforts being spearheaded by Kerry to bolster Iran's economy. Kerry, who was speaking Monday at an event in London honoring both the secretary and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif for cementing the nuclear deal last summer that lifted many Iranian sanctions, said that the guidelines told banks they could safely do business in Iran with "no extra due diligence, just normal due diligence... [and] not be held accountable" if their transactions involved organizations like sanctioned parts of Iran's military. The Obama administration had "come out and made it very, very clear" that U.S. sanctions would be governed by that standard, he added. Kerry's statement came just a few weeks after Adam Szubin, who leads the Treasury Department's sanctions enforcement division, told TWS that banks working with Iran would be expected to perform "an enhanced level of due diligence" to avoid transactions that benefit sanctioned entities. Szubin added that some violations would bring "the most draconian sanctions in our toolkit." ... The Treasury and State Departments have reportedly been at odds for months over Kerry's campaign to drum up foreign business for Iran.


International air traffic to and from Iran is booming. At the country's main airport in the capital Tehran, for instance, there were 140 more flights during a week last month than a week in May 2015 before the nuclear deal was signed. The map above uses data from FlightRadar24, a company that tracks real-time flight data. It shows a remarkable thickening in routes, as well as the narrow spindles of new ones. Much of the growth in international air traffic is due to airlines increasing capacity or frequency of existing routes. But it also includes many European airlines, such as Air France and British Airways, that have been able to restart flights to Iran after long hiatuses... "Iran went from a marginalized and difficult place in the world economy in 2013 to a place of growth," said Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations specializing on Iran.

Trade is growing between Britain and Iran and the government is working to resolve banking sector concerns which are limiting its further expansion, British trade minister Liam Fox said on Wednesday. Despite the removal of international banking restrictions in January, Tehran has secured ties with only a limited number of smaller banks as U.S. sanctions remain in force and large foreign institutions still fear potential fines. "Slowly but with increasing enthusiasm, British companies are starting to do business with Iran again ... we are seeing the first signs of growing trade between the UK and Iran," Fox told a City and Financial Global conference.


Iranian lawmakers approved three new ministers on Tuesday, signaling support for changes in the cabinet of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani seven months before a presidential election. State media reported that Reza Salehi Amiri, Saeed Soltanifar and Fakhredin Ahmadi Danesh-Ashtiani won votes of confidence to take over the ministries of Islamic guidance and culture, sport and youth affairs, and education. Their predecessors resigned after Rouhani criticized them for inefficiency and succumbing to pressures from outside the government.


The ascendancy of Michel Aoun, a former Christian general who once served a disputed term as prime minister of Lebanon in the 1980s, to the Lebanese presidency marks a milestone in the country's long national electoral nightmare.  There have been over 40 failed attempts alone at selecting a successor to the previous president, Michel Suleiman, since he stepped down in May 2014. While Beirut may not be in the global headlines every day, regional trends indicate a potentially dangerous turn of events in Lebanon for three reasons: the new president's alliance with Hezb'allah, Lebanon's shared border with Israel, and the mainstreaming of Iran's political power in the neighborhood... Aoun as president represents the effective mainstreaming of Iran as a political kingmaker.  Not only will Aoun carry the Hezb'allah imprimatur, but Nabih Berri, the Shiite speaker of Lebanon's parliament, received the political party's endorsement to continue in his current position.  Despite Berri's initial opposition to Aoun and his own tensions with Hezb'allah in the past, these developments demonstrate the power that Iran - vis-à-vis its proxy Hezb'allah - wields in the internal political dynamics of yet another country in the Middle East.  With Saudi Arabia dramatically pulling out from Lebanon in April after cutting $3 billion in military aid and $1 billion in assistance to Lebanese security forces, the country has become yet another destination in an Iranian sphere of influence, comprising Baghdad, Damascus, Sanaa, and now Beirut.

Lawmakers in Beirut agreed to elect Lebanon's next President on Monday, breaking a deadlock that had crippled government for 29 months. The decisive vote was cast in Tehran. Iran wanted a Lebanese President who would be an ally of Hezbollah, the Shiite terror group that its chief proxy in the country. It found one in the 81-year-old former general Michel Aoun... By accepting Mr. Aoun as President, the Saudi-backed anti-Iran coalition led by Mr. Hariri now formally concedes Tehran's position as the main outside power in Beirut. In that sense Mr. Aoun's rise reflects the wider regional balance of power, with the Iranians running the geopolitical table and traditional U.S. allies in retreat.

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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