Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Eye on Iran: Lawmakers Back Measures To Protect Israel By Punishing Iran

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Aiming to prove their commitment to Israel, senior U.S. lawmakers are backing bipartisan legislation that would slap Iran with new sanctions while maintaining rigorous enforcement of the landmark nuclear deal. During Monday's session, House Speaker Paul Ryan declared the U.S. commitment to Israel "sacrosanct." But Ryan also derided the nuclear deal an "unmitigated disaster" that gives Iran "a patient pathway to a nuclear weapons capability." In exchange for Tehran rolling back its nuclear program, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil, trade and financial sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy. The House bill, which is co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, targets Iran's "illicit" ballistic missile development program. The measure would shut out of the international financial system Iranian and foreign companies involved in the missile program - along with the banks that back them.

Iran and the Gulf states, whose contest for power in the Middle East has been tipping toward open confrontation, are quietly trying to repair the damaged relationship as the U.S. takes a more confrontational stance toward Tehran. The longstanding rivalry flared last year when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric and angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy, smashing its windows and setting the compound on fire. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain responded by severing diplomatic ties with Iran, and other Gulf states sided with Riyadh. Now, even as public rhetoric remains strident, signs of a tentative rapprochement have surfaced in recent low-profile meetings between Iranian and Gulf officials, including a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Kuwait and Oman, and a recent agreement between Riyadh and Tehran to allow Iranians to join this year's hajj pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca. Iranians were excluded from last year's hajj-a religious duty Muslims should fulfill once in their lifetimes-after talks with Saudi officials collapsed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Reuters on Tuesday that Russia could use Iranian military bases to launch air strikes against militants in Syria on a "case by case basis." Russia and Iran are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have played decisive roles in the past 18 months to turn the tide of the Syrian conflict in his favor. Russian jets used an air base in Iran to launch attacks against militant targets in Syria last summer, the first time a foreign power had used an Iranian base since World War Two. The deployment ended abruptly however after some Iranian lawmakers called the move a breach of Iran's constitution which forbids foreign military bases, and the Iranian defense minister chided Moscow for publicizing the arrangement.


Relations between Iran and the U.S are going from bad to worse. Tehran slapped sanctions on 15 U.S. companies Sunday in retaliation for American sanctions announced last month. "Imposition of new sanctions by the U.S. is based on fabricated and illegitimate pretexts and amount to an action against international regulations," Iran's foreign ministry said in a statement. Boeing (BA) signed an $8 billion deal to sell 80 jets to Iran Air after many sanctions were lifted as part of an international deal on the country's nuclear program. The planemaker is not on the list of Tehran's targets, which includes Raytheon (RTN), Oshkosh (OSK) and Bushmaster. None of them currently does any business with Iran. "The sanctions from the Iranian side don't really have any practical importance to them," said Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy and an expert on Middle East energy and investment. "These U.S. defense companies obviously don't have any assets or activities in Iran. It's just trying to score political points."


Iran's president met Russia's prime minister on Monday in a bid to develop a warming relationship that has been greatly strengthened by both sides' involvement on the same side of the war in Syria. Beginning a visit to Moscow, President Hassan Rouhani told Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: "I hope that a new turning-point in the development of our relations will be reached." Iranian arms purchases and Russian investment in the Iranian energy sector are likely talking points for Rouhani, less than two months before Iran's May 19 presidential election. Iranian media say he will discuss several economic agreements - potentially valuable prizes for the moderate leader, who is keen to show his people that Iran is benefiting from its 2015 deal with world powers to rein back its nuclear programme in returning for an easing of international sanctions.

German exports to Iran rose by 26 percent last year and by more than 30 percent in January alone, an economist at Germany's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) said on Monday, as trade between the two countries picks up after sanctions were lifted. Trade between Germany and Iran was worth 2.9 billion euros in 2016, up from 2.4 billion euros in 2015, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Exports of German goods accounted for 2.6 billion euros of that amount. DIHK foreign trade economist Volker Treier told Reuters he was sticking to the aim of boosting trade in goods between Germany and Iran to 5 billion euros by the end of 2018. "With these growth rates, that's certainly achievable," he said, though he added that a previous prediction of trade volume reaching 10 billion euros within 10 years would probably take longer. "It's a stable upswing," he said. "But it's not the great success of which we dreamed and of which we are still dreaming."

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told reporters on Tuesday that a global oil cuts deal is likely to be extended, but that time is needed to discuss the subject thoroughly first. "It seems that most of the OPEC and non-OPEC (countries) are going to extend the agreement, but time is needed to evaluate the situation and to have face-to-face meetings and discussions with others," Zanganeh, who was visiting Moscow, said. Asked whether Iran would be ready to cut its own output under the possible extension, Zanganeh said: "I think it is necessary that all members comply with their commitments." Iran's current oil production stands close to 3.8 million barrels per day, he said. Zanganeh is part of a delegation led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani which is visiting Russia from March 27-28.

The cooperation agreement was finalized during the talks in Moscow between an Iranian delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Industry, Mines, and Trade Mansour Moazzami and officials with the Transmashholding. According to the MoU, the two companies agreed that the Russian side would finance production of railroad cars in Iran. The cooperation agreement is planned to be signed during a ceremony in Moscow later on Tuesday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in attendance. Heading a high-ranking politico-economic delegation, Rouhani arrived in Moscow Monday evening for a two-day official visit at the invitation of Putin. The Russian president is scheduled to officially welcome his Iranian counterpart at the Kremlin on Tuesday. Rouhani and Putin will then hold talks on regional and international issues and matters of mutual interest.


The Islamic State group threatened Iran for its role in the region's conflicts, in a rare Farsi-language propaganda video released on Monday.The 36-minute video, entitled "The Farsi Land: from Yesterday till Today", was issued through IS's social media channels from Diyala province in neighbouring Iraq. A masked man directs his message to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "O, Khamenei, you cursed person who controls the so-called Islamic Iranian regime, rest assured that soon we will destroy your house like this," he says, pointing to ruins behind him. Several captured soldiers are decapitated in the video, one of whom is wearing a "Ya Hossein" badge, indicating that he is a Shiite fighter. Shiite-majority Iran has been a key backer of the Syrian and Iraqi governments as they seek to root out IS and other Sunni rebels, sending thousands of fighters and military advisers.


Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, will meet from March 27 to 29. According to the Tehran Times, both sides are "preparing more than 10 documents for signing" on various economic and political issues. The meeting, set in Moscow, highlights the debate surrounding the real nature of post-Cold War relations between Moscow and Tehran. According to Western - particularly neoconservative - strategists, there is a way to stop Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria. Along with the Israeli right wing, they believe that while Iran and Russia form a united front against overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, they do not see eye to eye on a diplomatic solution to end Syria's civil war. For its part, Iran favors an alliance with the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militias largely made up of Pakistani, Afghan and Iraqi fighters. These non-government military groups fought on the ground to recapture Aleppo, a city emblematic of the revolt against the Syrian government.

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 press@uani.com.

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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