Friday, February 24, 2017

Eye on Iran: Top General: No Change in Iran's Behavior since Trump Put Country 'on Notice'

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The top U.S. general said Thursday that he hasn't seen a change in Iranian behavior since President Trump put the country "on notice" earlier this month. "No, I haven't detected a change in Iranian behavior," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told a crowd at the Brookings Institution. "From my perspective, the major export of Iran is actually malign influence across the region," Dunford said, a phrasing he's used in the past. "You've got a very aggressive proxy war; we've seen that in Yemen. We see their influence in Syria. We see their malign influence in Lebanon, as well as in Iraq and the rest of the region. So, I haven't seen a change, certainly in the past month." Trump and former national security adviser Michael Flynn said in early February that Iran was "on notice" after it conducted its first ballistic missile test since Trump took office. They also cited Iran's support for groups such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

BASF said it was in talks with Iran over a possible investment of its oil and gas division in the country but no decision was on the cards because of uncertainty over the status of economic sanctions. "We can't see that the lifting of sanctions is being implemented at the speed that was initially expected," BASF Chief Executive Kurt Bock told a news conference after the release of 2016 earnings. "We are trying to assess whether it's possible for our oil and gas business to gain a foothold in Iran. We have been invited by the national authorities. The evaluation process is ongoing," he said, adding the outcome was uncertain. He specified that such talks were limited to investments in oil and gas exploration and production and did not extend to downstream petrochemical processing plants.

Bidding to ease public anger over a mounting environmental crisis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday visited an oil-rich southwestern province that has been crippled by sandstorms and power blackouts. Residents of Khuzestan province have long struggled with high levels of dust because of desertification, but the problems worsened this month when severe rains washed the fine particles into power transmission equipment. That caused several days of electricity blackouts last week in Ahvaz, the provincial capital and home to more than 1 million people. Schools and government agencies in much of the province were closed temporarily, and water supplies were disrupted, forcing residents to buy jerrycans of water to drink. Many residents took to the streets of Ahvaz to protest until police issued a warning that anyone participating in "illegal gatherings" would be punished. Authorities in Tehran, the capital, also prevented a demonstration planned last week to show solidarity with Khuzestan.


An economic delegation led by New Zealand's Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Saturday to scope out trade opportunities in agriculture and dairy industries, Iran's ambassador to New Zealand, Jalaledin Namini Mianji, announced.  The delegation includes, among others, the representative of Fonterra Cooperative Group, the world's largest dairy exporter.  "Iran's butter imports from Fonterra once reached $150 million a year, making it the biggest customer of the company. Encouraging the company to invest in northern Iranian provinces like Golestan has been pursued by the Iranian Embassy in Wellington," IRNA quoted Mianji as saying.

German Athos Solar GmbH (link is external) recently became the first investor to install and launch two high-performance solar parks in Iran. The two systems reach a combined peak output of 14 MWp. The two solar parks cover an area of 100,000 square meters, making them the first of their scale in Iran. In early February, the two systems officially commenced operations, with both German Ambassador Michael Klor-Berchtold and Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian attending the ceremony. "Construction of large-scale solar-energy plants in Iran only became possible since the spring of 2016, when the sanctions were lifted, meaning our systems are the first of their kind," explains Christian Linder, CEO of Athos Solar. "The joint endeavour was initiated by two business partners from Iran and England, who also developed the rights to the project and sold them to the newly founded joint holding. We realised the project together with our trusted partners from Germany, and contracted Iranian providers for both preparatory landscaping work and subsequent electrical work."


After at first covertly sending thousands of undocumented Afghans to fight on the Syrian front, Iran is trumpeting their sacrifice with increasingly public funerals for the fallen and a giant rally planned for Friday in a Tehran square. Authorities in Kabul and human rights groups have roundly criticized the Iranian government for sending Afghans living in Iran to Syria to fight alongside forces of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in support of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Thousands of Afghans from Iran are in the "Fatemiyon Brigade," the second-largest group of foreigners fighting for Assad in Syria. Western media estimate their numbers at between 10,000 and 12,000. Many of the Afghans were reportedly sent against their will, Human Rights Watch reported, or agreed to fight because of economic remuneration to their families... According to Iranian pro-state Mashregh News, the Tehran municipality will hold a ceremony on Friday to honor at least four members of the Afghan militia killed in Syria. "A commemoration ceremony for the Fatemiyon Brigade martyrs will be held on Friday in Tehran," the pro-IRGC news portal said. Sayed Hassan Sajjadi, a high-ranking conservative cleric with links to the IRGC, has been reportedly invited as a keynote speaker to the event.


Four Iranian ethnic Azerbaijanis have been issued long prison sentences for peacefully defending their rights, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned. One defendant, Alireza Farshi, told the Campaign that Branch 1 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison and two years in exile while three of his colleagues-Akbar Azad, Behnam Sheikhi and Hamid Manafi-had each been sentenced to 10 years in prison and two years in exile. The four men were arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents in 2014 during a peaceful event marking International Mother Language Day (February 21) and released on bail after being charged with "forming an illegal group" and "assembly and collusion against national security." The written verdict against the four, obtained by the Campaign, alleges that their activities were "secessionist" in nature. They plan to appeal their sentences within the 20-day time limit, said Farshi.


Both sides have kept their part of the bargain; the uranium and the centrifuges are dealt with, Iran shows no sign of deliberate cheating, and the UN Security Council's nuclear-related economic sanctions have all been lifted. Although Donald Trump has inveighed against the deal, in office he has shown no sign of seeking to scrap it. Most observers, including even the Israeli army and intelligence services, think it would be a mistake to do so. However-and this is a crucial point-other sanctions on Iran remain. America, in particular, still has a large array of them, imposed a decade earlier to penalise a number of Iranian transgressions, especially human-rights abuses, support for terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction, including the missiles that can be used to deliver them. These sanctions were tightened several times by the generally doveish Barack Obama to punish Iran for a missile test. The law that mandates them was extended for ten more years in December. The vote in Congress was hardly a cliffhanger: the Senate backed the extension by 99-0 and the House by 419-1. American firms are still banned from doing business with Iran, though the president can always waive sanctions. After the nuclear deal, Mr Obama did so in many areas, for instance letting Boeing join Airbus in selling planes to Iran. None of these prior sanctions had anything to do with the nuclear programme and everything to do with Iran's record of making trouble, which it continues unabated. Iran is helpful in taking on Islamic state. But, as Mr Lieberman noted, it still poses the largest threat to the stability of the Middle East. Its Shia proxy armies, aided by the Quds force, its own overseas special-forces unit, have extended its hard power far beyond its borders. Iraq is now virtually an Iranian client state. Hizbullah, an Iranian marionette, is the strongest force in Lebanon and menaces Israel. In Syria Iran props up the vile regime of Bashar al-Assad. In Yemen it arms and trains the Houthi rebels who overthrew the government two years ago. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which both have large Shia populations, accuse it of organising terror cells in their countries. America should not tear up the nuclear deal. It is not perfect, but it was better than confronting an Iran only months from possessing nukes. But sticking with the nuclear deal does not stop America from being tough elsewhere. Indeed, responding to missile-tests and other transgressions signals that the world will react to nuclear breaches, too. Until Iran stops acting as though it is hellbent on recreating the Sassanian empire, Mr Trump is right to apply targeted sanctions against the individuals and companies that are helping the Middle East's chief empire-builder puff itself up.

Chaotic, fractious and bafflingly inconsistent though the Trump administration may be, on one issue it appears united: Iran. There is ample evidence that since the signing in mid-2015 of the deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has taken advantage of the easing of sanctions and the unfreezing of about $100bn worth of overseas assets to project its power across the region with greater boldness. Barack Obama, the new team believe, let it off the hook. Since the deal, Iran has stepped up its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria to the point where, with Russian air support, his regime's survival appears assured for the foreseeable future. Iran has also worked with Russia to supply Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia militia fighting in Syria, with heavy weapons. It has poured other Shia militias into Syria from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iraq, meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias are fighting alongside American-supported Iraqi security forces against Islamic State (IS). But once IS is ejected from Mosul, they will be a potent weapon in Iran's attempt to turn Iraq into a dependent satrapy. In Yemen the civil war is a proxy struggle between Sunni Gulf Arabs, who back the recognised government, against Shia Houthi rebels whom Iran supplies with training and weapons, including anti-ship missiles that have been fired at American warships in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has conducted a series of tests of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead in defiance, though not clear violation, of UN Security Resolution 2231, which underpins the nuclear deal. The latest, on January 29th, resulted in the US Treasury slapping new sanctions on several Iranian individuals and companies connected to the missile programme. The response was measured (and probably dusted off from something prepared by the Obama administration). But it was backed up by a statement from the short-lived national security adviser, Mike Flynn, that Iran was "officially being put on notice" about its behaviour.

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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