Thursday, March 16, 2017

Eye on Iran: After Mosul, Will U.S.-Iran Rivalry Undermine Iraq?

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In the battle against Islamic State, the U.S. and Iran have become de facto allies in Iraq, a convergence of interests that permitted both nations to tacitly cooperate and avoid open conflicts. Once Islamic State is defeated, however, Washington's and Tehran's interests are likely to diverge, especially if President Donald Trump makes good on his pledge to aggressively contain Iranian power in the region. To many Iraqis, this poses a challenge: will their country, just as it emerges from the devastating war against Islamic State, get sucked into in a new round of rivalry between its two most important partners? Such a conflict in Iraq, after all, has the potential to reverberate across the Middle East-and to set off a new wave of bloodshed. "Iraq has a divided loyalty-between the Unites States and Iran-and it has to find its balance," Hoshyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish politician who served as Iraq's foreign minister for more than a decade after the 2003 U.S. invasion, explained the dilemma.

Rosatom said that the construction and installation work phase was started on March 14. Representatives of the Russian general contractor participated in the official ceremony. In November 2014, Nuclear Power Production and Development Company of Iran (NPPD) and Russia's Atomstroiexport signed two contracts for the construction of units 2, 3 of Bushehr-2. The total capacity of two units of WWER-1000 (Water-Water Energetic Reactor) will be 2,100 megawatt. Back in September 2016, Iran and Russia started the construction of the second unit of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in a ceremony attended by the head of the country's Atomic Energy Agency (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, and Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom. The second unit is expected to take 9 years to complete (October 2024). A third unit will also begin to be built 18 months later after that (April 2026).

Iran's official news agency is reporting that authorities have detained two Iranian nationals and charged them with spying. The Wednesday report by IRNA said the two had "espionage devices" while pretending they were on a tourist visit to Abu Musa Island in the Persian Gulf. It is the largest in a three-island cluster controlled by Iran but also claimed by the United Arab Emirates. The report said there would be further investigation but did not elaborate. In the past, espionage devices have included communications, camera and GPS devices. Iran occasionally announces the arrest of spies without further reporting their fates. More than a dozen suspects have been arrested and jailed for spying in recent years. Last month, Iran said it sentenced a 62-year-old man to 10 years on espionage charges.


Iran is on track to out-produce Qatar, the world's biggest LNG exporter, at the vast natural gas deposit they share in the Persian Gulf. But as much as they might want, the Iranians won't have much gas to export because they are likely to use most of the new production themselves.

"I believe this trend will be maintained in the next two or three years and bilateral trade volume will reach $10 billion," Russia's Rossiya Segodnya quoted him as saying on Wednesday. According to Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Asian Affairs, trade turnover between Iran and Russia rose 80% to more than $2 billion in 2016, with energy, agriculture and defense sales forming the bulk of the transactions. President Rouhani is about to visit Moscow soon, during which 11 documents are expected to be signed for cooperation, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi has said.

Iranian petrochemical production could increase by more than 50% by 2020, according to industry consultants AmanpourConsult Iran currently produces 60 million mt of petrochemical products, but this could increase by at least 28 million mt between 2016 and 2020 with about half of the expansion coming through production of methanol. Speaking at S&P Global Platts European Petrochemical Conference in Dusseldorf on Wednesday, Aman Amanpour said that investments in Iran would see ethylene production expand by 5 million mt, propylene by 5 million mt, methanol 15 million mt, MEG by 2 million mt and aromatics and derivatives by at least 2 million mt. "The methanol figure of 15 million mt a year is particularly mind-boggling. It is high, but even if it is 10 million mt then it is huge and will have a big impact," Amanpour told the conference.


According to Commander of Iran's First Naval Zone Admiral Hossein Azad, the Pakistani flotilla comprising Navy ships Tippu Sultan and PNS Jurrat and a chopper on Wednesday left the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas for the east of the Hormuz Strait where the drills will be held. The Iranian Navy's Jamaran Destroyer as well as a missile-launching frigate and a helicopter will join the Pakistani fleet, he added. The commander noted that some 800 personnel of the Iranian and Pakistani navies will participate in the drills. The Pakistani flotilla berthed at Bandar Abbas on Sunday and was officially received by the Iranian Navy's officers.

Turkey shares Jerusalem's concern about Iran's regional ambitions and nuclear potential but differ when it comes to strategy, the country's new ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Iran's "nuclear file is a concern for everyone," said Okem, speaking briefly to the Post after delivering a wide ranging policy speech at Tel Aviv University that was followed by a question and answer session. Ankara, he said, believes the best way forward is through containment not isolation. "We have had a common border [with Iran] for hundreds of years which remains unchanged. They see us as a strategic competitor... We saw the need for engaging and containing their ambitions," he said.


Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan hailed on Wednesday Iran's military achievements in the current Iranian year which will end on March 20, saying that the Islamic Republic will continue boosting its defensive capabilities, ISNA reported. Iran's defense capabilities, including its new weapons and warfare products, show a huge growth compared to the previous year, he emphasized, announcing plans to bolster the country's defense capabilities and the Armed Forces' combat and operational power in the incoming year. "In the coming year, the efforts by Iranian experts in the area of military technology will bear fruit and the combat and operational power of the Armed Forces will boost remarkably," he said. General Dehqan further said that defense industries have made huge progress in different missile, aerospace, telecommunications, electronics, optics and engineering fields in recent years.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels working to take power in Yemen are using a new weapon that is raising fears of seaborne attacks on both military and commercial shipping in the region. The weapon is an Iranian-designed remotely piloted small boat filled with explosives, a defense official told Inside the Ring. The exact number of the explosive drone boats is not known, but the rebels are believed to have enough to threaten ships that pass through the strategic sea lanes off the Yemeni coast. The Navy has intelligence photos of the deadly boats but declined a request to release them. The boats were first detected after one was used in an attack Jan. 30 on a Saudi frigate in the Red Sea. Iran is backing Houthi rebels as part of a strategy of seeking to encircle its rival, Saudi Arabia, and ultimately to take control of the peninsula.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are looking forward to the day when they see no Iranian interference in their domestic affairs, a senior Kuwaiti official has said. "We always stress that the Iranian interference must come to an end and we insist that our dialogue with Tehran must be based on the non-existence of any Iranian interference in the domestic affairs of our countries," Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah said. "What is happening in Bahrain is interference that impacts dialogue, relations, security and stability in the region. Therefore, we look forward to the day when we do not see any form of Iranian interference in our affairs," Al Jarallah said, quoted by Kuwaiti daily Al Rai on Thursday. The deputy minister was talking to reporters on the sideline of the meeting of the international anti-Daesh coalition in Kuwait City on Wednesday.


Iran has officially become a country guaranteeing the truce in Syria, along with Russia and Turkey, Head of the Russian delegation and Presidential Envoy for Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentyev said on Wednesday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. "Very importantly, today's consultations have resulted in the Iranian delegation's decision to officially sign a document on joining the agreement in the form of a guarantor country," the envoy said. The next expert consultations on the Syrian peace talks will be held in Tehran in April, according to Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister Akylbek Kamaldinov. The fourth round of Astana-hosted peace talks is scheduled for May 3-4.  According to Lavrentyev, there is no threat of disruption of the intra-Syrian negotiations in Astana.


My neighbors in my building complex in west Tehran debate just about everything - the dogs taken for walks around the grounds, the young people who have too many guests over, the screaming children who wake up the elderly during their afternoon naps. Tuesday night was different. All of the neighbors gathered in the small square between the 26-story buildings to jump over fires, hoping for fresh energy for the new year. Iran's authorities, led by conservative Muslim clerics, strongly dislike the pre-Islamic festival of Chaharshanbe Suri, or Fireworks Wednesday, as it would be called in English. They call it dangerous and against Islam. But my neighbors, young and old, love it. The preparations for Fireworks Wednesday started Tuesday afternoon when the gardeners carefully laid out seven small piles of sand near the square. Seven is regarded as a holy number in Iran's pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith. They then brought over several wheelbarrow loads of firewood. I noticed several of my neighbors peeking down from their balconies.


Forging a coherent policy on Syria would tax any administration. One critical priority is defeating ISIS in a way that neither leaves a vacuum nor fosters deeper sectarian differences after liberating Raqqa. Another is managing Turkey's opposition to our arming and use of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Forces in fighting ISIS - and making sure that Turkey does not confront the Kurds instead of the so-called Islamic State. And, of course, this says nothing about the efforts to bring to an end the war that the Assad regime has largely inflicted on the Syrian people. In this connection, Russia with the help of Turkey has worked out a tenuous ceasefire in Syria; the odds of its holding and turning into a real political process are poor. Assad has killed too many Syrians for any significant part of the opposition to accept his long-term presence.

President Trump's hardline but pragmatic approach to Iran is paving the way for the restoration of a semblance of order and regional stability. That's a significant accomplishment for an administration still in its first 100 days. Effective foreign policy is not necessarily a matter of complicated treaties that take years to negotiate or opaque theories on international relations that only PhDs can understand. A simple message and tone set at the top is often all that's needed. By making known that under his watch, the U.S. will be taking a more traditional, "realistic" and conservative approach to the Middle East, Trump has already restored a stronger sense of order. The message is clear to everyone from Gulf monarchs to illiterate conscripts in the Iranian army, and marks a clear improvement in two big elements of Middle East policy.

Do you know about the Iranian Feast of NowRuz? It's the Persian New Year, and falls on March 21. Now means new and ruz means day, so NowRuz means new day. Here we know it as the vernal equinox and the start of springtime. In Iran, it's also a pre-Muslim holy day for Zororastrians, a day when Iranian families visit each other and talk about what they hope to see in the new year. It would be a good opportunity for President Trump to mark a new day in US-Iran relations - one that corrects his predecessor's poor treatment of the Iranian people. March 21, 2017, will be the 38th NowRuz since the 1979 fall of the shah and the Khomeinist revolution. How cruel the promise of a happy new year must have seemed during all those years! Have you seen photos from pre-Khomeini Iran? They're heartbreaking. They show women fashionably dressed in the city or in bathing suits at the beach, boys and girls together on the sidewalks of Tehran.

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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