Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran Joins Russia In Denouncing U.S. Strike On Syria, But Stops There

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The punitive American missile strike on Syria for the chemical weapons attack a week ago brought Syria's most important backers, Russia and Iran, publicly closer together - whether the Iranians want to be or not. Far from accepting the Trump administration's version of the chemical weapons assault, the Iranians joined the Russians in rejecting it and doubling down on their expressions of support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Nonetheless, Iran and Russia do not see eye to eye on everything in a relationship shaped by mistrust, a legacy of Iranian resentment of Russia's historical expansionism and Soviet-era attempts at domination. Iranian political analysts say there has been no sign that Iran is prepared to take one key step on Syria: granting Russia's air force full access to Iranian air bases. Such a move would greatly increase Russia's firepower and maneuvering space in Syria, and it would pose a new challenge for United States aircraft in the region.

President Donald Trump's decision to launch missiles into Syria risked raising tensions with Iran, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad in a conflict with dangerously blurry battle lines. Tehran has condemned the missile attack on the Shayrat airfield, and officials have raised the possibility of consequences. The friction underscores a challenge for Washington, which has long supported opposition groups fighting Assad and his Iranian allies without joining the fray itself. Deeper U.S. involvement in Syria means greater chances of direct conflict with an often unpredictable and aggressive Iranian foe. Retaliatory measures by Iran could have ripple effects in the region, targeting everything from U.S. Navy warships to U.S.-allied Arab governments. Iran could also use Hezbollah and other Shiite militias to hit American forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, or attack the many U.S. allies in the region.

In the first few weeks of the Trump administration, some senior figures began floating a new plan: President Trump's improved relations with Moscow would help the White House force a split between Russia and Iran, both staunch allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "If there's a wedge to be driven between Russia and Iran, we're willing to explore that," said a senior administration official to the Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon in February about the "emerging strategy." But a few weeks later, it's clear that the White House has neither the diplomatic savvy nor the conditions on the ground needed to create such a wedge. The American airstrikes launched last week against a Syrian airfield has ratcheted up the tension between the United States and Russia. The strike was intended to deliver a "message" to Assad and his allies that the United States will no longer tolerate chemical weapons attacks on civilians, but it has also rallied Assad's patrons around him.


Congress should as soon as possible consider a bill that slaps sanctions on Iran over its illicit non-nuclear activities, Democratic lawmakers who supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said during a hearing last week that the bill had hit some delays, citing "concerns about how the European Union might react and [Iranian] elections that are coming up." A Corker aide specified to TWS on Thursday that the bill was being held up by a Democratic objection. Maryland senator Ben Cardin, the committee's top Democrat, denied that the measure had been delayed over concerns about Iran's May presidential election. He said he was working to get more support for the bill and had "been meeting with a lot of different groups." Asked whether he knew of any Democratic objections, Cardin said, "You have to ask the Democrats. ... I don't know." Multiple Democratic co-sponsors of the measure advocated for advancing the legislation-and fast.

President Trump should cancel airplane sales to Iranian airlines that facilitate terrorism, a pair of Republican lawmakers urged Monday. "Iran's commercial airlines have American blood on their hands," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., wrote in a letter to Trump. A government decision to block the aircraft sales would provoke an uproar at home and abroad. It would cost Boeing, which has inked a pair of deals to sell 110 to Iran-based airlines, about $20 billion. It could deter American and European businesses from investing in Iran, which the regime's leaders have argued amounts to violation of the nuclear agreement that former President Barack Obama's team negotiated.


Hyosung Corp., South Korea's leading chemical and textile company, is accelerating its foray into Iran, a country rich in natural gas and oil reserves and dubbed as the gateway to other markets in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.  According to chemical industry sources on Sunday, Hyosung recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iran's state-run National Petrochemical Company in the business of polypropylene (PP), thermoplastic polymer used in making plastic products and home appliance, products. The Korean company said it has been in talks with its Iranian counterpart to determine the feasibility of its PP business in the country, but has not made any conclusion yet.  Industry experts expect Hyosung looking to expand its offshore manufacturing network would set up a PP production base in Iran. The company has inked an agreement with Vietnamese government to build a PP plant at a cost of $336 million in February last year.


Russia and Iran have issued a joint call for an "unbiased investigation" into the chemical weapons incident which provoked Donald Trump to launch missiles at an airbase in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif agreed to make the call on Monday while denouncing the US attack on the Syrian airbase as "an act of aggression against a sovereign nation". It comes as the UK and US prepare to lobby allies at the G7 in Italy for a tough statement against the Assad regime in Syria and Russia's backing for it. China scorns Trump with call for US to 'preserve Syria's sovereignty' Since Mr. Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield in Syria's Homs province, the US and UK on one side, and Russia and Iran on the other, have made reciprocal threats of further military action.

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret.) said this morning that retaliation for the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base is most likely to come from Iran. The Fox News strategic analyst discussed with Shannon Bream the overall effectiveness of the strikes, which came in response to Syrian forces' use of chemical weapons against civilians.  Peters noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was warned that the missile attack was coming, but didn't even try to stop it.  "He knew he couldn't," said Peters, noting that Iran sees itself as "on a roll" in the region and may lash out in Iraq.  He warned of Iran directing suicide attacks at U.S. forces in Iraq or taking Americans prisoner as retaliation.


Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi said militias behind the coup in Yemen have "sold themselves to the Iranian project which wants to control Yemen and target the entire region." Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources have recently said. A senior Iranian official told Reuters news agency last month that Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force - the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - met top IRGC officials in Tehran to look at ways to "empower" the Houthis.


The son of late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who publicly condemned the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, has criticized the newly announced presidential candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi. In an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Montazeri noted that Raisi, who was part of the four-man special tribunal that ordered the mass executions, "does not have a day of experience in government." "It sounds more like a joke," he told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on April 8, 2017. "We have many experienced politicians from various factions and some of them have more than a decade of experience in government." "Mr. Raisi's candidacy is an insult to all of them and an insult to the people of Iran," added Ahmad Montazeri, who released an audio recording of his father's condemnation of the tribunal in 2016.

The number of executions worldwide dropped by 37 percent in 2016 compared to the year before, mainly because Iran hanged fewer people, Amnesty International said in its 2016 global review of the death penalty published on Tuesday... At least 856 executions were carried out across the MENA region in 2016, a drop of 28 percent from 2015 which had seen a sharp increase from previous years. Iran executed at least 567 people alone, accounting for 66 percent of all the confirmed executions in the region.


Iran has opened registration for those hoping to run in the May 19 presidential race. The official IRNA news agency said Tuesday that prospective candidates can register through the end of Saturday. They will then be vetted by the Guardian Council, a clerical body that will announce a final list of candidates by April 27. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, is eligible to run for another term. Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hamid Baghaei, a close ally of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have announced plans to run. The election is expected to serve as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, under which Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.


In July 17, 2016, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, turned 77. Rumors that he suffers from cancer have circulated for over a decade, and in 2014, the state-run news agency published photos of him recovering from prostate surgery. Although Khamenei's prognosis remains closely guarded, the Iranian government is evidently treating his succession with urgency. In December 2015, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a kingmaker, broached the usually taboo subject when he publicly admitted that a council within the Assembly of Experts, the body that selects the supreme leader, was already vetting potential successors. And last March, after new members of the assembly were elected to an eight-year term, Khamenei himself called the probability that they would have to select his replacement "not low."

Iran's relationship with Russia has always been characterized by a mix of hope and dread. While one faction in Tehran wants to expand ties, another faction has been traditionally concerned about Moscow's trustworthiness. The Syrian crisis has, however, brought the two countries closer together given their shared support for President Bashar al-Assad. The unanticipated US military strikes in Syria have opened a new chapter in the conflict that could eliminate disagreements between Iran and Russia regarding the future of Syria. Despite the current collaboration, there is constant concern that Russia might turn its back on Iran for a better deal, or that Moscow might maneuver in Syria in a manner that will not safeguard Iran's interests in the region.

The Qatari Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) on March 14 issued the 2016 results of the Arab Index, its annual survey of Arab public opinion. The center dispatched 840 Doha-based researchers to Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Palestine to conduct polls last Sept. 7-22 on various issues, including how Palestinians view the foreign policies adopted by Middle Eastern and international powers. According to the survey, Palestinians have a negative impression of Iranian policy in the region, especially in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, and of its stance toward the Palestinian cause. Ahmad Hussein, a Palestinian researcher at ACRPS, told Al-Monitor, "The survey showed that Palestinians have a negative view toward Iran, which contributes to the region's crises and fuels sectarian and ethnic disputes in order to play a more effective, influential role. Seventy percent of Palestinians believe Iranian policy toward the Arab region is negative."

The United States military took decisive action early Thursday morning through launching a total of 59 precision guided Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting a Syrian airbase north of Damascus. This site was believed to be used by Bashar Assad to carry out a horrific chemical weapons attack last Tuesday, leaving more than 500 killed and injured in Idlib Province of northwest Syria. Entire families were devastated, such as Abdulhamid al-Yussof, who lost 25 members of his family, including his wife and 9-month twin babies, Ahmed and Aya. US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike, carried out by two US warships, the USS Porter and USS Ross, prior to his meeting with the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, possibly also sending a message also to North Korea about its nuclear ambitions.

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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