Monday, April 3, 2017

Eye on Iran: Even Bold Foreign Investors Tiptoe In Iran

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In recent weeks, Total, the French energy giant, has been sending small amounts of euros from banks in Europe to Tehran. It was the corporate equivalent of setting up a direct deposit. Total wanted to test the banking system and learn how difficult it was to make day-to-day transactions in Iran. As it considers investing in Iran, the company is moving cautiously. It has assigned a full-time compliance officer to the country to ensure it doesn't run afoul of any rules: It can't allow any Americans to work on its projects there, and has to be careful to avoid sanctioned Iranians. Like many international oil players, Total has been lured by the promise of a large and lucrative market with vast energy reserves. But the changing geopolitical landscape has made companies wary of the sanctions and restrictions tied to working there.

Iran rejected an allegation by U.S Defense Secretary James Mattis that it was "the primary exporter of terrorism" and said on Saturday that the main source was U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. "Some countries led by America are determined to ignore the main source of Takfiri-Wahhabi terrorism and extremism," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted by Iran's state news agency IRNA as saying. He was referring to hardline Sunni Muslim groups and Saudi Arabia's official Wahhabi school of Islam. Saudi Arabia denies backing terrorism and has cracked down on jihadists at home, jailing thousands, stopping hundreds from traveling to fight abroad and cutting militant finances.

Iran's defense minister called on the U.S. Thursday to leave the Persian Gulf, apparently in response torecent accusations from a top U.S. military official that Iran's foreign policy had a negative influence in the region. Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan said Washington behaved like an "insane armed robber" by establishing dozens of bases in the Gulf and conducting military operations on foreign soil, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported. A day earlier, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, called Iran "the greatest long-term threat to stability" in the Gulf. Dehghan questioned the U.S role in the region and urged Washington to withdraw. "What are Americans doing in the Persian Gulf? They had better get out of this region and not cause nuisance for the regional countries," Dehghan said, according to a press release published by Iran's Tasnim News Agency.


Iran's hard-liners are hoping they can benefit from the rise of Donald Trump in upcoming elections, arguing that their own country needs a tougher leader to stand up to an American president whose administration has put the Islamic Republic "on notice." They say it's time for a "revolutionary diplomacy" to confront the U.S. after four years of a more conciliatory policy under moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Hard-liners feel energized by the Trump administration's repeated criticism of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement found little support among the group, who feel Iran gave too much away in exchange for too little in the way of sanctions relief. The U.S. president's tough talk on Iran plays into hard-liners' hands too, reinforcing anti-American sentiments they can use to rally their base.

Army General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, on Wednesday called Iran "the greatest long-term threat to stability" in the Middle East, saying the US should consider using "military means" against the country.  "You should know that Iran is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan and any adventurism will bring about regret for you," Mohsen Rezaei said on Monday in remarks addressed at Votel.  Rezaei commanded the IRGC for less than two decades and is currently the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, which advises Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. Votel, speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, accused Iran of "destabilizing" the region through "lethal aid facilitation," using "surrogate forces" and cyber operations.

The men who built the secret bomb factory had been clever - suspiciously so, Bahraini investigators thought, for a gang known mostly for lobbing molotov cocktails at police. The underground complex had been hewed, foot by foot, beneath the floor of a suburban villa, with no visible traces at street level and only a single entrance, hidden behind a kitchen cabinet. But the real surprises lay inside. In one room, police found $20,000 lathes and hydraulic presses for making armor-piercing projectiles capable of slicing through a tank. Another held box upon box of the military explosive C-4, all of foreign origin, in quantities that could sink a battleship. "Most of these items have never been seen in Bahrain," the country's investigators said in a confidential technical assessment provided to U.S. and European officials this past fall that offered new detail on the arsenals seized in the villa and in similar raids that have occurred sporadically over nearly three years. In sheer firepower, the report said, the caches were both a "game-changer" and - matched against lightly armed police - "overkill."

"The US Army, Pentagon and CIA are sponsors of terrorists in the region and are disturbing peace in the Middle East on a large scale," Larijani said on Saturday. He added that Iranian lawmakers would thoroughly study this issue and make "important" decisions in this regard. Larijani's comments come as some US representatives on Capitol Hill are reportedly pushing legislation that would direct the State Department to designate Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. This as a bipartisan group of US senators in Congress also on March 23 introduced a bill that would apply sanctions on the IRGC. Iran has vehemently dismissed allegations against the forces.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to Turkey to meet with the country's president and sought meetings with U.S. government officials in an attempt to end U.S. prosecution of a wealthy Turkish gold trader charged with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, Manhattan federal prosecutors said. The moves were disclosed in a letter on Friday to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who is overseeing the case in which the trader, Reza Zarrab, is accused of conspiring with others to conduct illegal transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of Iran's government and other Iranian entities. The new disclosures highlight the politically charged nature of a case that expanded in scope earlier this week with the arrest in New York of an executive at a Turkish state-owned bank charged with conspiring with Zarrab to evade sanctions.


Indian state refiners will cut oil imports from Iran in 2017/18 by a fifth, as New Delhi takes a more assertive stance over an impasse on a giant gas field that it wants awarded to an Indian consortium, sources familiar with the matter said. India, Iran's biggest oil buyer after China, was among a handful of countries that continued to deal with the Persian Gulf nation despite Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme. However, previously close ties have been strained since the lifting of some sanctions last year as Iran adopts a bolder approach in trying to get the best deal for its oil and gas. Unhappy with Tehran, India's oil ministry has asked state refiners to cut imports of Iranian oil. "We are cutting gradually, and we will cut more if there is no progress in the matter of the award of Farzad B gas field to our company," one of the Indian sources said.


Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has said that there is already a "concrete agreement" between Russia and Iran for purchase of 12 planes. Iran has shown interest in purchasing 100 Russia's medium-haul Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) passenger planes, but the agreement has only been reached regarding 12 aircraft as of the moment, the Sputnik news agency quoted Novak as saying on Saturday. "We are working out with our Iranian partners [on] supply of our Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft. Our colleagues have confirmed that there is a concrete agreement for 12 planes already. In the short term, we are considering 30 aircraft. This is just the beginning because overall, the Iranians are interested in purchasing 100 Sukhoi Superjet aircraft," Novak said. He further said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Iran in November 2015 made key developments in relations between the two states.


Beji Caid Essebsi made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Reza Salehi Amiri at the presidential Carthage Palace in Tunis, IRNA news agency reported. "The Zionist regime [of Israel] is the Islamic Republic's only enemy in the region. Therefore, we hope that all Muslim and Arab countries would stand by Iran," Essebi said, according to IRNA. Essebi called Iran a great country with a rich cultural heritage, saying it has a role to play in the Middle East despite efforts by certain sides to push the Islamic Republic into a Shia-Sunni strife. "Unfortunately, the Zionist regime and its sponsors were trying to isolate Iran, but, by God's grace, the Islamic Republic succeeded to return to the political scene of the region," he added.


Houthi militia captured and arrested by Yemeni forces on Sunday have confessed they received training from Iranian and Lebanese experts. Mohammed Sharad, one of the captured militants, made the confession and said he was treated well by Yemeni legitimate forces Yemen's national army recaptured more posts in Midi city following fierce clashes with the Houthi militia near the suburbs of the besieged district Scores of Houthis militia and guards of the ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh were killed and injured on Sunday. Two were captured - one of them a sniper - both later confessed to receiving training from Iranian and Lebanese experts. Militia have been pushed out of al-Hawd, Tabat al-Khanadik and Tabat al Haroura areas of the district so far. Earlier, military sources referred to coalition air strikes targeting the supply routes of the militias in the district.

The absence of U.S. military assistance to the Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen has emboldened the insurgent Houthis over the past two years, according to policy experts. The Defense Department recently recommended that President Donald Trump commit resources to help forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates counter Iranian influence in Yemen. The Trump administration has begun weighing greater involvement in Yemen that would include a broader strategy to counter Iran and defeat regional branches of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda, according to several reports. A policy proposal is expected next month. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation last month that would require the administration to submit to Congress a regional strategy to counter the threat from Iran, including the Islamic Republic's support of Houthi rebels in Yemen.


Mustafa Zahrani, head of strategic affairs at the Institute for Political and International Studies of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed that his country does not have a strategy to get out of the war in Syria. He added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will turn his back on Iran and ally with Russia because Moscow can challenge and stand up to the United States. In an article published by the "Iranian diplomat" website of Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran's former ambassador to the UN, Zahrani disclosed that "Syria will side with whoever can keep Bashar al-Assad in power, and in this equation, the Russians were more supportive. Although Iran has played a great role in the field, in terms of air cover and international privileges, Russia has the upper hand. Assad will turn his back on Iran and shake hands with Russia. " "We were optimistic that the war in Syria would be short and that the enemy was weak and we could end the battle quickly. The majority of the countries that intervened in Syria were optimistic too and did not plan for an exit strategy, including Iran and Turkey," said the head of strategic affairs at the Institute for Political and International Studies of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Russia, on the other hand, has an exit strategy, because its role was limited to air cover unlike us."

A new wave of violence seems to be shaking the fragile truce in Syria. On March 19, opposition groups launched a surprise attack on Damascus in apparent coordination with a separate offensive in the countryside of Hama province. The escalation was not solely aimed at the Syrian regime, but also at the two international de facto "caretakers" of the Syrian crisis, Russia and Turkey. According to an Arab diplomatic source in Beirut who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, the aim of the opposition attacks has been to remind all the parties involved in the Syrian war that no one is totally in control. In this regard, the source said, "The US and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states were completely absent for the past 6 months, from the US [presidential] election until the Saudi deputy [crown prince and apparent] heir, Mohammad bin Salman, visited Washington. The visit was probably the turning point."


The family of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran marked the first anniversary of her detention by tying yellow ribbons on the branches of trees at a park near her home. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran for one year on allegations she conspired to overthrow the country's cleric-run government. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has dual British-Iranian citizenship, was returning home to Britain after visiting her family in Tehran with her toddler daughter Ahead of the anniversary event in northwest London on Sunday, she described her wish to see her husband and child dancing to Michael Jackson in "the middle of our sitting room." Supporters also affixed to the trees quotes from Zaghari-Ratcliffe's fellow inmates at Evin prison in Iran describing what they would do with one day of freedom.

An Iranian-American detained in Iran since last summer has been released on bail of approximately $60,000, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported Sunday. Robin Reza Shahini was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards while visiting family in the northeastern city of Gorgan last July and subsequently sentenced to 18 years imprisonment on charges of threatening national security, according to HRANA. Shahini went on a hunger strike for a month recently and his health situation had been deteriorating, the HRANA report said. Two other Iranian-Americans are still being held in the Islamic Republic. Iran's Revolutionary Guards detained Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his mid-40s with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship, in October 2015 while he was visiting family in Tehran.


The way forward for the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump is to tighten enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, aka, the nuclear deal) and impose sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program rather than dismantle the JCPOA. There are several topics the Trump administration confronts regarding the JCPOA: heavy water, inspections, compliance, and nuclear sanctions. Heavy water reactors permit use of natural uranium as fuel, while light water reactors require enriched uranium, which is much more difficult to produce. As a member of Congress, President Trump's Director of Central Intelligence Agency, then-Rep. Mike Pompeo cosponsored a bill passed by the House on July 13, 2016, that prevents Iran from purchasing heavy water from the United States. Inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities are necessary to ensure compliance, so Iran is unable to "breakout," "sneakout," or "creepout." The last one concerns both open and covert, legal and illicit activities designed to negate JCPOA restrictions prior to the agreed-upon time in which Tehran would be able to do so.

It appears the recent Arab League Summit in Jordan should be considered an important development in the path of further isolating Iran in the Middle East. At a first glance, this was a conference in which the highest number of state leaders participated in comparison to previous such gatherings. A more in-depth perspective places us before this important conclusion that most speakers strongly criticized Iran's meddling and highlighted the necessity of solidarity and alliance amongst Arab states to confront this phenomenon. Leaders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan specifically expressed their grave concerns over Iran's interference across the region, especially Syria, sectarian warmongering and Tehran's state sponsorship of terrorism. "Tehran provokes sectarianism and hinders efforts to resolve regional crises," said Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

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.

American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, P.O. Box 1028, New York, NY 10185-1028

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