Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Eye on Iran: In Surprise Move, Iran's Ahmadinejad To Run For President

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Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday stunned the country by unexpectedly filing to run in the May presidential election, contradicting a recommendation from the supreme leader to stay out of the race. Ahmadinejad's decision could upend an election many believed would be won by moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal with world powers. Though Rouhani has yet to formally register, many viewed him as a shoe-in following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recommendation in September for Ahmadinejad to stand down and conservatives' inability to coalesce around a single candidate. Ahmadinejad's firebrand style could prove appealing for hard-liners seeking a tough-talking candidate who can stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump. His candidacy also could expose the fissures inside Iranian politics that linger since his contested 2009 re-election, which brought massive unrest.

The European Union on Tuesday extended until April 2018 sanctions against Iran for "serious human rights violations", a narrower measure than restrictions the bloc had already lifted after an international accord on Tehran's nuclear programme. The EU has pursued rapprochement with Iran since the 2015 nuclear deal, which reversed a decade of hard-hitting Western financial and trade sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Top EU officials have been shuttling in and out of Tehran since, often accompanied by large European business delegations. But the bloc has also extended by a year its travel ban and an asset freeze on 82 Iranian people and one entity, as well as a ban on exports to Iran of equipment for monitoring telecommunications and other gear that "might be used for internal repression."

A group of Republican lawmakers is pushing the Trump administration to investigate and unmask a company that may have violated Iran sanctions laws in the same way as Chinese mobile-phone maker ZTE Corp. ZTE agreed last month to pay as much as $1.2 billion after pleading guilty to shipping U.S.-origin products to Iran in violation of U.S. laws restricting the sale of American technology to the country. In a letter Tuesday, Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger of North Carolina, Alabama's Mike Rogers and eight other lawmakers, called on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to probe the actions of an unidentified company that ZTE has said also evaded U.S. export controls.


Any new US action in Syria "will not go unanswered", Iran's Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan warned Tuesday after America threatened to follow up a strike last week with more attacks. The United States last week fired a volley of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed 87 civilians in a rebel-held town. The White House on Monday warned that further use of chemical weapons or chlorine-laden barrel bombs could bring more US military retaliation. "The Americans will have to pay a heavy price if they repeat their action and they must know that their actions will not go unanswered," Dehgan said during a telephone conversation with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Dehgan accused American leaders of lying by saying they wanted to "fight terrorists".


The defense ministers of Russia and Iran have spoken on the phone to discuss coordination in Syria. In their Tuesday conversation, Russia's Sergei Shoigu and Iran's Hossein Dehghan denounced the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base as a violation of international law. The Russian Defense Ministry noted in a statement that the two ministers said the Islamic State group and other extremists had profited from the U.S. attack. The phone call comes as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow for talks set to be focused on Syria. Russia has rejected the U.S. accusations against the Syrian government for launching a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria. It has claimed that civilians there were exposed to toxic agents from a rebel arsenal that was struck by Syrian warplanes.

Iran's foreign minister restated Tehran's stance on the establishment of an international fact-finding mission to probe the recent chemical attack in Syria, condemning the US strike on a Syrian airbase that purportedly came in response to the gas attack. Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed the issue on Tuesday in separate phone calls with his counterparts from Italy, Turkey and Kuwait, namely Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al Sabah respectively, and also UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, IRNA reported. He had also held similar talks with EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as his Omani, Algerian and Syrian counterparts on Monday. The conversations between the top officials revolved around the recent chemical assault in Syria, the US reaction and other issues of the region.


A notorious gangster who was arrested in Pakistan last year was taken into military custody Wednesday early morning apparently for leaking sensitive information to Iran, the Pakistan Army has announced. According to a news report, Uzair Baloch has been arrested in accordance with the Pakistan Army Act. Uzair was arrested outside Karachi in January last year in what the paramilitary force said was a raid. The court had then handed him over to the police on remand. A JIT formed to probe the case in May 2016 said Uzair had allegedly worked for an Iranian intelligence agency, and had recommended that the head of the outlawed Peoples Amn Committee be tried by a military court for "espionage". According to the JIT report, Uzair was involved in "espionage activities by providing secret information regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian intelligence officers) which is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923".

In their final statement, the foreign minister also requested Iran's help to fight terrorism in the region. "We want Iran to play a constructive role in the region through support for political solutions, reconciliation and peace in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and other regions....and cooperation in the campaign against the spread of terrorism and extremism," part of the statement said, according to a translation of the statement posted on the IRNA Persian website. Also on Monday Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone phone call with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. Italy's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that Zarif repeated Tehran's condemnation of the "unacceptable use of chemical weapons" in a Syrian town last week. The statement said Alfano urged Iran to use its influence with the Syrian government "to avoid new attacks, completely eliminate chemical weapons and assure a cease-fire."


President Hassan Rouhani reiterated the readiness to work toward a detente with Saudi Arabia, in a sign of goodwill in the Islamic Republic's foreign policy. "Iran has been striving to engage in better relations with other regional countries. Our ties with neighbors, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq and other surrounding countries, even Kuwait and Oman in the south, have improved," the president was quoted as saying by his official website." Our policy revolves around efforts to promote relations with our neighbors and even with Saudi Arabia. If they [Saudis] are ready, we are also ready to help mend the fences." He made the announcement at a press conference in Tehran on Monday. The chief executive stressed the need to build on the progress made toward the restoration of hajj ties and called on the Saudi side to cease its airstrikes against Yemen.


Candidates began registering on Tuesday for Iran's May 19 presidential election with the clerical establishment hoping for a high turnout to shore up its legitimacy amidst widespread instability in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic regards the election in part as a show of defiance against renewed U.S. pressure under President Donald Trump, particularly after his missile attack last week on Iran's regional ally Syria. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who engineered Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that secured a removal of international financial and trade sanctions against Tehran, is expected to seek re-election but faces a stiff challenge from hardline conservative Ebrahim Raisi. Discontent has risen over steep rises in consumer prices and stubbornly high unemployment, with many Iranians struggling to make ends meet, despite the lifting of international sanctions that Rouhani had said would revive the economy.

Usually in the weeks before Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, downtown Tehran is jammed with traffic as shoppers pick up gifts in the brightly lighted shops surrounding the British and German embassies. But this year, the streets were noticeably quieter, the popular clothing and home appliance stores reporting much less business around the holiday in March. "Compared to last year, our sales were down at least 10%," said Mehdi Mosavi, 27, standing idle in his father's menswear shop. "In fact, in the past five years our sales have been plunging." The ongoing financial crunch in Iran, always the No. 1 topic on many Tehran residents' minds, has taken on added significance ahead of next month's presidential election, a test of voters' support for President Hassan Rouhani's efforts to stabilize an economy battered by international sanctions and official mismanagement.

Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described comments by the supreme leader suggesting he not run in May's presidential election as "just advice." Ahmadinejad made the comments at a Wednesday news conference after stunning election officials by registering. Ahmadinejad described his registering for the election as helping his former Vice President Hamid Baghaei, a close confidant. Baghaei registered alongside Ahmadinejad on Wednesday. Ahmadinejad previously said he wasn't going to run after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised him not to. But many hard-liners in Iran seek a tough-talking candidate to rally around who can stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump. Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal with world powers, is expected to run for re-election.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has defied the advice of the Islamic Republic's supreme leader and registered to run again for the nation's presidency. While the hard-line showman's candidacy still would need to be approved by authorities, his entering the race could upend politics in the country of 80 million people and affect global affairs. Here's why it matters: INTERNAL POLITICS: Ahmadinejad's decision runs directly counter to advice offered in September by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters. While Ahmadinejad described that directive as "only advice," his decision challenges Khamenei's authority. Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election sparked massive internal unrest. Coming back to the political stage now could reopen those wounds.


A consensus has developed in Washington, DC, for some "pushback" against Iran. Democrats and Republicans would be well-advised to learn from the Cold War: Don't compromise the battle on the ground for fear of compromising arms control. We should contain and roll back Iran and its growing army of proxy militias. We should target the clerical regime's Achilles' heel - popular disgust with theocracy. Human rights ought to be a priority for American Iran policy. The Green Revolt, which erupted in Iran in 2009 after a disputed presidential election, may be a faded memory for many in Washington, but it continues to haunt Iran. Contrary to the accepted wisdom of the Obama administration, the disturbances of that summer posed a serious threat to the Islamist order. In a 2013 speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admitted that the Green Movement brought the regime to the "edge of the cliff."

U.S. President Donald Trump, with the apparent support of the Republican Senate, appears poised to unveil new targeted sanctions on Iran in the coming days. While the details of the sanctions are unclear, the administration's acknowledgment and willingness to act strongly against Iran is a turning point for the Middle East. Indeed, Trump's administration has a grand opportunity to take a nuanced and holistic approach to Iran, strategically addressing Iran's regional behavior, while remaining committed to the promises America has made under the terms of the nuclear deal. The latest round of sanctions would continue a trend of tough talk against Iran that has characterized the Trump administration's first two months, and represent a marked departure from the softer, more conciliatory efforts of the previous administration.

When the rebellious Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Syrian president to step down from power, many were taken by surprise. The prevailing belief is that Shiites all back the Syrian regime and support its rule, and that what is happening in Syria is a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis. It shouldn't have come as a surprise when Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, as other Shiite leaders have previously also criticized the Assad regime and Shiite militias for him. On April 8, Sadr called on Assad to relinquish power, saying, "It would be fair for President Bashar al-Assad to resign and step down in love for Syria, to spare it the woes of war and terrorism. The rule would thus be handed over to influential popular parties capable of taking a stand against terrorism and preserving Syria's sovereignty as soon as possible. This would constitute a historic, heroic decision before it's too late." In fact, Sadr's stance on the Syrian regime is not new, as other clerics have criticized the Syrian regime for its atrocities against its own people. They have also criticized Shiite militias for backing Assad in the fight against the Syrian opposition.

It was just after sunrise on April 7 when the news of an American missile attack on Syria reached Tehran. At first, information about what precisely transpired was limited, yet the attack was received in the Iranian capital as a message from Washington to all parties fighting along the forces of Syria's defiant President Bashar al-Assad that the grace period given to all involved in the war-torn country by the United States had come to an end. In fact, the Syrian crisis seemed for a few months to have had some rules of engagement when it comes to major incidents like the one that occurred at the Shayrat air base near Palmyra, but this time the whole scene was a shock, given US President Donald Trump's previous statements with regard to Syria and the region in general. As such, those in Tehran who spoke to Al-Monitor see the missile attack as closer to political maneuvering than a complete change in strategy.

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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