Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran Nuclear Deal Reviewed As Uncertainty Grows

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Iran and major powers were set to review adherence to their 2015 nuclear agreement on Tuesday, as uncertainty grows about the landmark accord's future under US President Donald Trump. The regular quarterly meeting was expected to hear, as Washington confirmed last week, that Iran is sticking to its deal with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The accord saw Tehran drastically curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of Western and UN sanctions. However, Trump has ordered a 90-day review, saying last Thursday that Iran was "not living up to the spirit" of the "terrible" deal because of its actions in other areas. This refers to Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, rebels in Yemen and militias in Iraq and in Lebanon as well as Tehran's ballistic missile program.

Iran's supreme leader said candidates in next month's presidential election should pledge not to rely on foreign investment to strengthen the economy, reinforcing his apparent differences with incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who has sought to woo international investors. All candidates need to "promise the people that in order for the country to progress, for economic growth and to untie the knots, their eyes won't be set outside our borders but on the nation itself," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told officials on Tuesday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The May 19 election will help determine whether Iran remains committed to Rouhani's engagement with the West. The moderate cleric is facing mounting frustration over the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that critics say hasn't yet benefited poor Iranians -- criticism echoed recently by Khamenei, who has final say over state matters.

President Obama's controversial release last year of seven prisoners with ties to Iran was presented as a goodwill gesture linked to the larger nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, but a new report claims some of those released were deemed threats to national security. The agreement which freed the U.S. prisoners was part of a flurry of related deals that unfroze more than $100 billion in Iranian assets and brought home five Americans held by Tehran. But Politico, in an exhaustive report, claims there was more to what President Obama presented as a "one-time gesture" of releasing prisoners described as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere "sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo." "In reality, some of them were accused by Obama's own Justice Department of posing threats to national security."


Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi underlined after a meeting with Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano in Vienna that Tehran has remained committed to undertaking under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The meeting between Araqchi and Amano on Monday came a day before the seventh scheduled meeting of the Joint Commission of Iran and Group 5+1, which monitors the implementation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). "As the entire world knows and repeated reports by the agency have confirmed, Iran has always been committed to its obligations and carefully implemented the JCPOA," Araqchi, who is the Iranian head of the commission, said.


A relative of two Iranian-American citizens imprisoned in Iran says their health is failing rapidly due to inhumane conditions and is urging U.S. President Donald Trump to take "personal responsibility" for their lives. Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, were sentenced to 10-year prison terms last year for "collusion with an enemy state" - the United States. Babak Namazi has been working behind the scenes since then, seeking the release of his father and brother. Their supporters deny the charges and say the two are being held as leverage on the U.S. Their supporters went public with their campaign Tuesday, appealing to Trump and formally asking the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for "urgent action" to secure their release.

A senior Iranian official says the United States will be "explicitly" violating a nuclear deal with Iran and five other countries if it refuses to extend the suspension of American nuclear-related sanctions against the Islamic Republic on the due date. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made the remark on Monday. Iran had a range of sanctions by the US, the United Nations (UN), and the European Union (EU) terminated after it reached the deal - known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - with the P5+1 group of countries, namely the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany, in Vienna in 2015.


Iran ranked as South Korea's second-biggest oil exporter over the first three months of 2017 as it ramped up output to regain market share after sanctions were lifted last year, the first time ever it has claimed the No.2 spot on a quarterly basis. South Korea's March imports from Iran more than doubled from a year ago to a record 18.54 million barrels, or 597,935 barrels per day (bpd), data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) showed on Monday. For the January-March period of 2017, Iran seized the No.2 spot with shipments of 46.73 million barrels, also more than double from the same period last year and the highest on record for a quarter.


After Friday prayers April 14, Jordanians gathered in the northern city of Mafraq burning Iranian flags and pictures of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while demanding the expulsion of Iran's ambassador from the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel along with its pro-US orientation seems to have put the country on a collision course with Iran. The demonstrations came in response to a war of words between senior Jordanian and Iranian officials. In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post on April 6, King Abdullah II addressed the challenge of growing Israeli settlement construction while trying to fight terrorism. He warned, "These issues give ammunition to the Iranians, to [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and ISIS [Islamic State]."


Iran and Russia are moving closer together in their military alliance, working to boost ties and coordination in Syria and elsewhere in the region following the U.S. decision to launch a military strike in Syria, according to regional reports and experts. Iran's defense minister is slated to visit Moscow at the end of the month to discuss increased military ties, a move that is meant to deter U.S. action in the region and show a sign of increased force, according to regional experts who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon. The Tehran-Moscow axis has been growing since the landmark Iran nuclear deal, with Russia making good on a series of weapons deliveries, including the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system. The two countries have been signing an additional number of military deals in recent months and that cooperation is likely to increase in light of the Trump administration's decision to launch strikes against embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is being backed by both Russia and Iran.


Of all the places one might encounter Shirin Ebadi, Tallahassee should not be one. I was to meet her in the state capital of what is officially known as America's sunshine state, but is more widely regarded as America's weirdest state. Ebadi was in Florida for PeaceJam, which connects Nobel peace prize laureates with youth. But I found it hard to imagine the greatest Iranian human rights icon spending Persian New Year week at a teen camp on the Florida panhandle. "I go everywhere, I live on planes," she tells me on the phone and indeed days later I'm scheduled to meet her closer to my home in New York City. On the phone I hold my breath every time we speak - her informal, easy Persian contrasts with mine, layered with too much cloying etiquette, the kind you prepare for some relative of your dreams. Persian is my first language - I use it to speak to my family and Iranian friends, but recently I feel anxious. I consider the prospect of translating Persian for those trapped in legalese at airports during the "Muslim ban", and I don't trust my tongue.

Iran's Supreme Court has upheld a five-year jail sentence for a British-Iranian charity worker who was convicted on unspecified charges relating to national security, her husband said on Monday. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by the elite Revolutionary Guards in April 2016 at a Tehran airport, as she was about to return to Britain with her two-year-old daughter after a family visit. Iranian media have said she was convicted of plotting the "soft overthrow" of Iran's clerical establishment, a charge denied by the Foundation and her family. She was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in September.


Unemployment in Iran weighed heavily on the fourth day of the presidential campaigns as candidates exchanged accusations and contested with numbers. While conservative candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf vowed on Monday to provide five million jobs if he wins the election, he was accused by the Iranian president's ally and vice president, candidate Eshaq Jahangiri of "duping the people." Without naming Ghalibaf, Jahangiri said: "Some people present slogans about creating job opportunities at specific levels. Those launching the promises had either never offered job opportunities, or had missed the numbers and statistics of unemployment." Jahangiri added: "Those speaking about creating millions of job opportunities clearly want to fool the people." However, Ghalibaf quickly fired back from Qom by saying: "Those saying there is an impossibility to provide five million job opportunities are looking at other places (the West) Today, brokers manage the economy."


Iran's presidential election next month was all set to be a routine exercise of power in which Hassan Rouhani would be returned to office. He has ended the nuclear crisis with the great powers, and replenished the treasury. And he certainly has history on his side: no Iranian president has ever lost a re-election bid. That history was upended with the announced candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. A looming succession crisis and a contentious economic debate may yet doom Mr Rouhani to a single-term presidency. The 56-year-old Mr Raisi is a former student of the supreme leader and has spent much of his life in the enforcement arm of the Islamic Republic. Soon after the revolution, the young Mr Raisi was appointed to a succession of positions in the judiciary, rising to become the prosecutor-general and the head of the General Inspection Office. In 1988, he proved his mettle by serving on the "Death Commission" that sanctioned the massacre of thousands of political prisoners.

In two statements in August 2014, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the Islamic State was a threat to the region. "The danger does not recognize Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, or Druze, Yazidis, Arabs, or Kurds," he said. "This monster is growing and getting bigger." He argued that ISIS threatened the Arab monarchies stretching from Jordan to the Gulf. Then he revealed the real goal of his Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement. "Going to fight in Syria was, in the first degree, to defend Lebanon, the resistance in Lebanon and all Lebanese." Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Iran, Hezbollah, and the various Shia militias in Iraq that make up the Hashd al-Shaabi are riding a wave of victories. Never before have Iran's proxies, extremist militias, had such legitimacy and power in some areas, while in others they play a polarizing role.

Geopolitics appears to be entering into a new phase in the Middle East region. Although Iran's role on geopolitical issues, more specifically on the fate of Syria, increased steadily during Obama administration, it seems that Trump will reverse policies adopted by the previous administration. This appears to be aimed at reducing Iranian influence in the region. Furthermore, in case a conservative candidate wins the presidential elections scheduled to be held in May, 2017, Iran's isolation will probably go to the next level. Yet Iran continues to have considerable influence in the region. Its place in world politics are relative to the following factors as they shape the country's foreign policy.

Ties between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been strained for years. Incidents such as the stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage in 2015, in which hundreds of Iranian pilgrims were crushed to death; the execution of prominent Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January 2016; and the subsequent attacks on Saudi diplomatic compounds in Iran ultimately led to a cut in diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh. This cooling soon engulfed other GCC member states, except Oman, which has traditionally enjoyed good ties with Iran. Despite the efforts of smaller players such as Kuwait and Oman to defuse tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is little on the horizon suggesting an end to Riyadh's determination to directly confront Tehran. In Iran's view, the Arab states have little desire to create tensions but are rather under Saudi pressure to follow Riyadh's policies.

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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