Monday, April 10, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran Seeks Stronger Russia Alliance After U.S. Strikes In Syria

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Following a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base, Iran has sought to buttress ties with a key ally: Russia. On Saturday, several Iranian military officials and diplomats discussed the conflict in Syria with Russian counterparts, after dozens of U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on Thursday targeted the Shayrat Airfield near Homs, Syria The U.S. strikes marked the first time during Syria's civil war that the U.S. directly targeted the regime of Iran's close ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and represented the most significant display of American military force under President Donald Trump. The Syrian regime has remained defiant. Its warplanes continued to take off from the Shayrat Airfield on Friday following hasty repairs there, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group.

A statement released by "the joint command operation center of Syrian allies," a group that includes Russia and Iran, warned the U.S. against further military actions in the war-torn country, following a missile strike on a Syrian air base last week. Referring to its defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the group warned that they would support Syria and its people "with all means that we have." "The United States crossed red lines by attacking Syria, from now on we will respond to anyone, including America if it attacks Syria and crosses the red lines," the statement read. "America knows very well our ability and capabilities to respond well to them, [and] we will respond without taking into consideration any reaction and consequences." The statement did not include critical details like what kind of military operation would cross such a red line, or what kind of response would be made on the part of Syria and its allies, but noted that they would work to "liberate" Syria from occupation.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that "terrorists" were applauding his US counterpart Donald Trump for launching a missile strike on an airbase of his Syrian government ally. But he backed calls for an independent inquiry into a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria on Tuesday that Trump blamed on the Damascus regime. "This man who is now in office in America claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism but today all terrorists in Syria are celebrating the US attack," Rouhani said in a speech aired by state television. "Why have you attacked the Syrian army which is at war with terrorists? Under what law or authority did you launch your missiles at this independent country?" Iran and Russia are the closest allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


Iran on Sunday celebrated the National Nuclear Technology Day with an exhibition of the latest accomplishments of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which included devices jointly produced with international partners. In a separate ceremony on Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani lifted the curtain on two nuclear-related products, a stone centrifuge and a high temperature condensate pump, his official website reported. The machine is used for oilfield exploration and the pump will be deployed in Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in southern Iran. Three nuclear centers were also inaugurated by Rouhani through a video linkup: one for the production and development of nuclear medicine in Alborz Province; another designed to host industrial irradiation in Qazvin Province; and one for upgrading uranium ore in Yazd Province.The president also visited the AEOI exhibition and was briefed by experts of Iran's atomic industry on their advancements.

Iran's nuclear chief highlighted the positive developments following the 2015 nuclear agreement, citing among other things the recent injection of uranium gas into Iran's latest generation of centrifuge machines. The landmark accord between Iran and P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) has been in effect since January 2016 to scale down Tehran's nuclear work in return for relief from international sanctions. The interim curbs on the nuclear program included a pledge to keep the uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 367% enriched uranium hexafluoride, also known as UF6, the form in which uranium can be enriched in centrifuges. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran released a statement in late January, announcing that it had begun injecting UF6 into advanced IR-8 centrifuges. AEOI Director Ali Akbar Salehi has said the process has advanced more smoothly than expected.


Iran's exiled crown prince wants a revolution. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah to rule before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has seen his profile rise in recent months following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who promises a harder line against the Shiite power. Pahlavi's calls for replacing clerical rule with a parliamentary monarchy, enshrining human rights and modernizing its state-run economy could prove palatable to both the West and Iran's Sunni Gulf neighbors, who remain suspicious of Iran's intentions amid its involvement in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. But the Mideast is replete with cautionary tales about Western governments putting their faith in exiles long estranged from their homelands. Whether Pahlavi can galvanize nostalgia for the age of the Peacock Throne remains unseen.

American runner Charlie Barkowski had everything lined up ahead of what would've been his 52nd marathon on Friday. He had a flight picked out; his hotel was ready; he looked forward to revisiting some of the same cafes and sites he had seen in 2013 when he first traveled to Iran. On Tuesday, however, Barkowski, who currently lives in Greece, learned he wouldn't be getting a visa for his second trip. I was literally ready to go to the airport and get my visa in Athens," the 35-year-old told The Washington Post on Friday, just hours after what was being billed as Iran's first marathon in Tehran had concluded. "It was kind of sad," he said, noting that because he remained on the email list of participants he had seen photographs of the event, as well as the medals each entrant received. "I'm sorry I couldn't participate."


Iran's top security body is still reviewing the Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC) model, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted as saying on Sunday, as the contracts aimed at attracting foreign investors appear to face fresh delays. In January, Iran named 29 companies from more than a dozen countries as being allowed to bid for oil and gas projects under the IPC, which Tehran hopes will boost production after years of sanctions. But the IPC model has been delayed several times due to opposition from hardline rivals of President Hassan Rouhani. "The new oil contracts (IPCs) are currently being reviewed by the Supreme National Security Council," Zanganeh told parliament, the students' news agency ISNA reported. Zanganeh did not elaborate or say how long the review might take, ISNA and other agencies reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Sunday said a new multi-billion dollar deal between Boeing and an Iranian airline "should be canceled." "We should be increasing sanctions significantly on Iranian and Russian interests that are helping Assad. In particular, this Boeing deal should be canceled," Rubio said. Last week, Boeing said it had agreed to sell $3 billion in airplanes to an Iranian airline, though President Trump could thwart the deal. Rubio also said Sunday he is "concerned" about the Trump administration's Syria strategy following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's comments about tackling the Islamic State before stabilizing Bashar Assad's country. The Foreign Relations Committee member is worried that new comments by Tillerson do not take the necessary steps against helping Syria and its allies.


IranAir may get its first new Boeing jetliner a year earlier than expected under a deal to take jets originally bought by cash-strapped Turkish Airlines, Iranian media and industry sources said. Iran had been expected to receive the first of 80 aircraft ordered from the U.S. planemaker in April 2018, but at least one brand-new aircraft is reported to be sitting unused because it is no longer needed by the Turkish carrier. Industry sources said Boeing was in negotiations to release at least one 777-300ER originally built for Turkish Airlines, which is deferring deliveries due to weaker traffic following last year's failed coup attempt in Turkey. Boeing said it never comments on talks with customers. The airlines involved were not immediately available for comment.  Iran's Deputy Roads and Urban Development Minister Asghar Fakhrieh-Kashan told the semi-official Mehr news agency the first Boeing 777 aircraft would reach Tehran within a month. It would be the first new U.S.-built jet delivered to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran will cut some benefits to Indian state-run refiners on crude purchases after the South Asian country decided to reduce the amount of oil it buys from the Persian Gulf nation, people with knowledge of the matter said. National Iranian Oil Co. will cut the credit period on crude oil sales to 60 days from 90 days for refiners such as Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd. and Indian Oil Corp.,  the people said, asking not be identified as the matter isn't public yet. Iran will also reduce the discounts it offers on the shipping of crude to 60 percent from 80 percent, they added. The lower incentives will make Iranian purchases costlier and less competitive in a world awash with crude oil where rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are seeking to expand their market share. Iran's crude sales to India more than doubled in 2016 after the lifting of sanctions over its nuclear program. India is Iran's second biggest customer and the emerging center of global oil demand.


Jordan's Foreign and Expatriates Affairs Ministry summoned on Sunday the Iranian ambassador to Jordan, Mojtaba Ferdosipour, and protested the remarks made by an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson against Amman and its leadership. In a statement issued on Sunday, the foreign ministry said the comments delivered by the Iranian foreign ministry official "reflected a failed attempt to distort the pivotal role of Jordan in pursuing regional security and stability, fighting terrorism, countering attempts to sow strife or using Arab causes for own benefit." The ministry stressed that Iran should adhere to a good neighborly relationship with Arab countries, non-interference in their affairs and show respect for international conventions and norms in its action and approach towards Arab countries, Petra news agency said. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi had said last week that the Jordanian king made a "strategic mistake" in defining terrorism.


Syrian state media says President Bashar Assad has spoken with his Iranian counterpart following last week's U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the strike on Friday a "blatant violation" of Syrian sovereignty and affirmed his country's support for Assad's government. Assad accused the U.S of trying to boost the morale of "terror groups" in Syria. The government refers to all those fighting against it as terrorists. The U.S. says the strike was in response to a nerve gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last week, which has been widely blamed on government forces. The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons. Iran has provided crucial military and economic assistance to Assad throughout the six-year civil war.


Fears are growing for a jailed journalist and political activist whose health has deteriorated sharply after 30 days on hunger strike, said Amnesty International. Hengameh Shahidi, 41, who has a pre-existing heart condition, went on hunger strike on 9 March in protest at her arbitrary arrest that day. She is in a critical condition in Tehran's Evin prison where she is being held in solitary confinement. She has also stopped taking her medication and is refusing intravenous fluids. "Hengameh Shahidi's arbitrary arrest and detention shows again the Iranian authorities' utter contempt for human rights. They must release her immediately and unconditionally as she appears to be held solely for exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Over two hundred female participants of Tehran's first international marathon were barred from jogging the streets and forced to run a short distance in a closed-off stadium away from their male counterparts. While men ran through Iran's capital in the morning, women were allowed to run just 10 kilometres (six miles) in Azadi stadium in the afternoon with no male spectators or officials permitted. Many were baffled by the move, since there are no rules against men and women running together in Iran and joggers of both sexes are often seen in parks and public areas.


Hardline Shi'ite cleric Ebrahim Raisi announced on Sunday he would run in Iran's May presidential election, challenging moderate President Hassan Rouhani's economic record and his policy of detente with the West. The former prosecutor-general may struggle for recognition among voters though analysts say Raisi, thanks to the support he enjoys from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could pose a real challenge to Rouhani's bid for a second term. Raisi has faulted Iran's economic performance under Rouhani and his pursuit of detente that in 2015 yielded a landmark deal with world powers under which Tehran curbed its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. "People are asking why despite all our resources and human talents ...our country is in this situation," Raisi said in a statement published by Iranian news agencies.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for an impartial probe of this week's suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria and warned that U.S. missile strikes in response risked escalating extremism in the region. Washington accused the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the attack and on Friday launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase that the Pentagon said was involved. "We are asking for an impartial international fact-finding body to be set up... to find out where these chemical weapons came from," Iran's Rouhani said in a speech on Saturday. Tehran is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main regional ally and has provided military and economic support for his fight against rebel groups and Islamic State militants. While the Syrian opposition applauded the U.S. cruise missile attack on the airbase near Homs, it said it should not be a one-off and was not enough on its own to stop government warplanes from hitting rebel-held areas.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani defended his economic record in a press conference Monday but stopped short of formally announcing his candidacy for next month's presidential election. Rouhani pushed back against criticism from conservatives over his economic performance, saying there had been measurable improvements in agriculture, healthcare, energy and internet coverage, especially in villages and poor suburbs. He also focused on his key achievement, a nuclear deal with world powers that ended some sanctions in return for limits to Iran's atomic program. "In every aspect that you consider, figures tell us that after the (nuclear deal), there is more space for movement and progress," he said. Rouhani is expected to run for a second term on May 19, but said this press conference was "not about elections".


A consensus has developed in Washington for some "push back" against the Islamic Republic of 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.

Iran's presidential election will be held on May 19th. Many in the West are interested to know if the so-called "reformist" Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent, will be reelected, or will he be replaced by a candidate of the "hardliners"? And will Iran head towards real change following this presidential election? Ever since the current theocracy rose to power back in 1979, the mullahs established an Islamic caliphate or "Islamic state" and brought to life one of the most ruthless and repressive dictatorships in modern history. Despite such a characteristic, they continue to hold presidential elections. The 38-year history of this regime and structure clearly shows nothing will change in this theocracy with Rouhani being reelected, or a new face like Ebrahim Raisi, the new candidate who was appointed as a member of the "Death Commission" tasked to supervise the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoner, taking over. The question is why don't elections render any changes in Iran's religious dictatorship, and why does this regime even resort to holding elections?

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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