Thursday, March 9, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran's Khamenei Says Economic Progress Limited Despite Lifting Sanctions

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Iran's supreme leader criticised the country's slow pace of economic recovery on Thursday despite the lifting of sanctions and called on President Hassan Rouhani's government to champion greater self-sufficiency, state TV reported. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's criticism comes ahead of Iran's presidential election in May, when the pragmatist president is expected to seek re-election. "Of course the government has taken remarkable steps but if the resistance economy had been implemented fully and widely, we could witness a tangible difference in people's lives," state TV reported Khamenei as saying. The "resistance economy" promoted by Khamenei is aimed at making Iran' economy more self-sufficient. Rouhani's popularity and his efforts to end Iran's economic and political isolation have panicked hardline allies of Khamenei, who fear losing power and aim to reclaim the presidency for their faction. Most sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme were lifted in 2016, in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear work under a deal with six major powers in 2015.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested two Christians - a mother and her son - in late February as part of a brutal crackdown on Catholicism in the country's West Azerbaijan Province. The family's bibles and literature on Christian theology were also seized during the draconian raid, according to a March 5 report on the website of the Iranian Christian News Agency, Mohabat. "The arrest of two newly Christian converts - Anousheh Rezabakhsh and Soheil Zargarzadeh (mother and son, respectively) - in Urmia, a northern city in Iran, is very sad and concerning, especially as they both are dealing with health issues. It's been more than two weeks that Iranian authorities have not provided any news on them," Eliot Assoudeh, an Iranian-American academic at University of Nevada, told Fox News on Wednesday. He said Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in Iran, and many Christian converts "have to risk their lives attending underground churches."

The United States supports the U.N.-led Syria peace talks, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Wednesday, saying Syria could no longer be a "safe haven for terrorists" and that it was important "we get Iran and their proxies out." Haley spoke to reporters after U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on 10 days of talks between the warring parties in Geneva, which ended last week. She did not respond to questions on whether the United States believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, should step down. All eyes have been on how Washington would approach ending the six-year war in Syria, given pledges by President Donald Trump to build closer ties with Russia, especially in the fight against Islamic State. Trump's Syria policy has been unclear. "The United States absolutely supports Staffan de Mistura and the work that he's doing, we support the U.N. process, we support the talks in Geneva, we want to see them continue," Haley said. Iran is backing fighters in Syria from Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah.


Iran's own media have also published reports vividly depicting Iran's growing concerns in this regard. The latest measures taken by United Against Nuclear Iran has raised eyebrows amongst senior Iranian regime officials. This groups "intends to go the limits to prevent Iran from going nuclear," according to the Tabnak website, voicing the views of former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaie, currently the secretary of the regime's Expediency Council that oversees disputes between the parliament and ultraconservative Guardian Council. UANI has recently described an agreement signed between Austria and Iran to cooperate in the oil industry as "terrifying" and "concerning." This international organization has written letters to companies such as Caterpillar, Terex, and Komatsu asking them to end their economic relations with Iran, and they have responded positively. "This group has formed based on the idea of introducing Iran as a global nuclear threat to public opinion across the globe. On the other hand UANI is continuing its efforts to place pressure on major international firms to literally sanction Iran," according to the semi-official Fars news agency citing Iran's Ministry of Intelligence.


President Trump and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran have made no secret of their mutual contempt, raising fears of possible armed confrontation and doubts about the nuclear agreement reached under Mr. Trump's predecessor. Equally uncertain are the fates of at least seven people in Iran, five of them American citizens. Four were imprisoned after the nuclear accord took effect and relaxed sanctions against Iran in exchange for its verifiable guarantees of peaceful nuclear work. Relatives of the imprisoned and their advocates have been speaking out, frustrated and wondering how Mr. Trump will deal with the problem. As a candidate, he promised to resolve the prisoner issue but since the inauguration has said little about it. Last month, on the anniversary of the elder Mr. Namazi's imprisonment, Unicef exhorted the Iranian authorities to release him. "After a lifetime of humanitarian service, he has earned a peaceful retirement," a Unicef statement said. Mr. Trump has frequently railed against the nuclear agreement, describing it as a giveaway to Iran. He also vowed as a candidate to bring home Robert Levinson, an American who has been missing in Iran for 10 years.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus said Wednesday that if the U.S. decides to nullify the 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers, the move would likely isolate the U.S more than it does Tehran. Trump has called the agreement "the worst deal ever negotiated." Reuters reported that the Trump administration is reviewing the deal, which could take months. Petraeus, now a chairman of the KKR Global Institute, made the remarks at the Montgomery Summit, a tech investors meeting in Los Angeles. Petraeus pointed to some positives from the deal, including the reduction of Tehran's atomic activities. Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N. agency monitoring the Iran nuclear deal, said Monday that he emphasized the benefits of the pact in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He said he is confident his message was heard.The issue is important because Trump promised to "tear up" the pact during campaigning, saying it fell short of the aim of sufficiently crimping Tehran's nuclear programs. Amano said he told Tillerson last week that because of the deal the IAEA now has the "strongest verification" tools to monitor Tehran's atomic activities. As well, he said, "the nuclear activities of Iran are reduced."

The Trump administration is emphasizing warnings against travel to Iran by U.S. citizens in light of the Islamic Republic's latest effort to implement a travel ban on Americans, which comes in response to the White House's new immigration order temporarily halting all immigration from Iran and several other Muslim-majority nations designated as terrorism hotspots, according to U.S. officials. Iranian officials announced this week that they are poised to implement their own travel ban on U.S. individuals and entities they described as aiding "terrorist groups or [helping] regional dictatorial rulers crack down on their nations," according to comments carried in the country's state-controlled media. Iran said the effort is part of a package of reprisals against the United States for the Trump administration's latest immigration order, which stops Iranian citizens and others from entering the United States for several months as American authorities seek to strengthen vetting procedures

Donald Trump's revised executive order - which keeps a blanket travel ban on all Iranians - will punish a segment of Iranian society that is largely critical of the country's regime, academics and analysts have warned. The US president modified his previous travel ban on Monday by excluding Iraq from a previous list of seven predominantly Muslim countries. But nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are still subjected to restricting measures that include a suspension of visa issuance for at least 90 days. In Iran, the main victims of Trump's order are likely to be highly talented students and academics, said Kamiar Alaei, an HIV specialist who was jailed for three years after visiting the US to attend academic conferences."A lot of Iranian students have already been admitted to MA and PhD programmes and even have secured university funding but now can't come to this country," Alaei, who is currently the director of the global of institute for health and human rights at the State University of New York at Albany, told the Guardian. Trump's ban will have a similar chilling effect on international study, he warned.

The State Department has approved a resumption of weapons sales that critics have linked to Saudi Arabia's bombing of civilians in Yemen, a potential sign of reinvigorated U.S. support for the kingdom's involvement in its neighbor's ongoing civil war. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's approval this week of the measure provides an early indication of the new administration's more Saudi-friendly approach to the conflict in Yemen and a sign of its more hawkish stance on Iran. Officials in Riyadh allege that the Houthis have received substantial support from Saudi Arabia's main regional rival, Iran. At the same time, officials reaffirmed other kinds of military support, part of a carrot-and-stick approach reflecting U.S. eagerness to smooth things over with a crucial Middle Eastern ally that was sharply critical of Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. Now, President Trump, who has also voiced opposition to the nuclear deal, has an opportunity to recalibrate that support and reset ties with Riyadh. An ongoing Yemen policy review is also a chance for Trump to demonstrate a tougher approach to Iran and its activities throughout the Middle East. Trump and some of his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have called Tehran a chief threat to American security. A senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the Trump administration hopes to roll back Iranian influence in large part in Yemen. "We'll be looking for ways to blunt Iranian malign influence in the region. And we'll be looking for all the tools that the U.S. government has," the official said. "In that context, I think you have to look at Yemen."


India is keen on expediting development of Chabahar Port in Iran and hopes to complete the first phase of the project next year, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has said. Located in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation's southern coast, the port is easily accessed from India's western coast, bypassing Pakistan. "We can complete the work on the first phase of the project in 2018... The funds are likely to be released shortly," Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister Gadkari told PTI. Kandla Port has floated tenders inviting global bids for supply and commissioning of terminal tractor trailers, forklifts, reach stackers, empty container handlers and yard cranes among other equipment at Shahid Beheshti Port, Chabahar, Iran. The Cabinet has already approved funds for development of the project. For greater trade and investment flow with Iran and neighbouring countries, the Cabinet last year had cleared proposals for development of Chabahar port including through a USD 150 million credit from Exim Bank. It also authorised the Shipping Ministry to form a company in Iran for implementing the Chabahar Port Development Project and related activities. As per the MoU signed between the two nations in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of USD 85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of USD 22.95 million on a ten year lease. Ownership of equipment will be transferred to Iranian side on completion of 10-year period or for an extended period, based on mutual agreement. The Iranian side had requested for provision of a credit of USD 150 million in accordance with the MoU.

French automaker Renault exported 13,449 cars to Iran in January marking a significant rise in the firm's vehicles in the burgeoning local automotive market. The new figures indicate a threefold increase in the company's exports to Iran year-on-year. However, month-on-month the company showed a 9% fall in exports. In December the firm exported 14,738 cars to Iran, according to local automotive blog, Asbe Bokhar. The report said 108,536 units of Renault were exported to Iran during 2016, indicating a 110% increase compared to the year earlier Renault is pushing aggressively its brand in the country since the economic sanctions were eased in early 2016. The company signed a deal with the Industrial Renovation Organization of Iran in 2016 to create a new separate venture to produce low-cost vehicles. Sales of its high-end vehicle range are now handled by its local subsidiary Negin Khodro.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks in Qatar on Wednesday with the country's ruler about improving relations, soured by a dispute last year between Tehran and Gulf Arab powerhouse Saudi Arabia. Tasnim news agency said Zarif also met his Qatari counterpart during the trip to Doha, his second this year Qatar and two other Gulf Arab states recalled their envoys from Tehran in January 2016 in solidarity with Saudi Arabia after Iranian protesters torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Iran. However, in a signal that he is looking to defuse tension with the Arab oil-exporting monarchies, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Kuwait and Oman last month in his first trip to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013. An Iranian diplomat in Doha, who declined to be named, said Zarif discussed on Wednesday with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani how to "better ties" between the two countries. Qatar has yet to reinstate its ambassador to Iran.

Russia's Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow welcomes talks between Iran and Arab countries over political issues of the region. Iranian officials have called for setting up a regional platform to hold dialogue and settle differences, and President Hassan Rouhani recently visited Kuwait and Oman to help improve ties between Iran and Persian Gulf Arab states. In his remarks televised on Sunday in Russian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov underlined the significant role of Iran in solving problems concerning Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. He was also quoted as saying by IRNA on Tuesday that "Iran has had a profound influence on eliminating tensions throughout the region." In a recent interview with the Al-Hayat newspaper, Bogdanov dismissed accusations about Iran's involvement in regional crises and said, "I do not believe such claims since no proof have been offered ... and the issue needs a comprehensive review." Iran has been providing military advisory support to both Iraq and Syria in their campaign against terrorism at the request of the two countries' governments.


Speaking at a press conference held at the Tasnim News Agency central office on Wednesday, Seyed Hashem al-Moussavi highlighted the involvement of al-Nujaba forces in the Syrian government's military campaign against foreign-backed terrorists and said they will not leave Syria until "the last terrorist" leaves the Arab country. "After recent victories (in Syria), we have established the Golan Liberation Brigade," he said, adding that the forces are well-trained. "If the Syrian government requests, we are ready to take actions to liberate Golan," the spokesman underlined. He went on to say that the Golan Liberation Brigade is comprised of highly-equipped special forces, who have not left a region unless they ended a conflict there. The al-Nujaba Movement is an offshoot of Iraqi voluntary forces, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units or Hashid al-Shaabi, which is active both in Iraq and Syria. Syria has been gripped by civil war since March 2011 with various terrorist groups, including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL), currently controlling parts of it. According to a report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced nearly half of the country's pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The conflict in Syria is likely to top the agenda. But the Israelis are also concerned about Iran and Hezbollah's expanding ground operations in the Golan Heights, which Tel Aviv considers a major security threat. Russia's leadership will also receive official visits by the leaders of Turkey, and Germany. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu are scheduled to meet to discuss "joint efforts against international terrorism" and "key aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement," according to a Kremlin statement. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to meet with his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, particularly to discuss the simmering conflict in Ukraine. Gabriel and Putin might also meet later in the day.

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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