Thursday, April 6, 2017

Eye on Iran: Leading Iranian Cleric Enters Election In Threat To Rouhani

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The announcement that a prominent conservative cleric will run for Iran's presidency next month has transformed the race, potentially unifying opponents to President Hassan Rouhani in a strong challenge to his re-election. Ebrahim Raisi declared his candidacy on Thursday, according to Tasnim news agency, a day after two other conservatives, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, bowed out. The emergence of a single strong opponent could not only narrow Rouhani's chance of winning on May 19, but also position Raisi as the front-runner to succeed 77-year-old Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, when he dies. "This is going to be a very serious race with huge consequences for the Iranian electorate," Sanam Vakil, an associate fellow at Chatham House, said by phone. "The stakes are very high."

Former hardline Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday he would support a long-time ally in May's presidential election. In his first press conference for four years, Ahmadinejad said he will back Hamid Baghaie, his former vice president who headed the tourism board. "I have no plans to present myself. I support Mr Baghaie as the best candidate," said Ahmadinejad. Baghaie was imprisoned for seven months in 2015 for reasons that were never made public. Ahmadinejad last year ruled out a comeback of his own after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicated it could have a polarising effect on the nation. Meanwhile, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said Wednesday he would not stand for the presidency. He had been considered one of the leading options for mainstream conservatives, and had run twice before. "I think all those who want to save this country from the economic and social crises must unite," said Ghalibaf.

Iran has sold all the oil it had stored for years at sea and Tehran is now struggling to keep exports growing as it grapples with production constraints, shipping and oil sources say. Since the easing of international sanctions in January 2016, Iran tried to make up for lost sales by releasing millions of barrels parked on tankers offshore. Tanker tracking and oil sources said Iran had sold its last stocks from the floating storage in the past two weeks. Much of the oil stored was condensate, a very light grade of crude. With no more stocks at sea, Iran has lost a vital resource that had propped up exports."We do think that (floating storage) has been the primary cause of the boost in exports," Energy Aspects analyst Richard Mallinson said, adding that now floating storage had ended total exports of crude and condensate were likely to slip. "We see a very difficult path for Iran to raise crude output until it can get the Western expertise and investment back into the upstream, which has been notably slow to materialize," he added.


The agreement will be inked during a meeting between AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi and Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen. Iranian and Hungarian authorities have made several reciprocal visits, including Salehi's visit to Budapest in 2016. Back in February 2016, Salehi said Iran has proposed a project with Hungary to design and develop a small nuclear reactor that could be sold across Asia and Africa and also built in the Islamic republic. "One particular project that I suggested was to see if we can... together design a small reactor of 25 megawatts," Salehi said. "It was received well and we hope that we can start this project, just on paper." The project "requires a lot of scientific work to come up with such a design, certainly a number of years of hard work. We want to see if we can do this," he further said. Following the lifting of international sanctions on Iran, Tehran has strived to fully utilize economic and scientific opportunities, including the pursuit of peaceful nuclear activities.


The role of the Iranian lobby in the US during the presidency of Barack Obama grew unprecedently. In the past, Obama has become a public intermediary between Tehran and Washington. He played a prominent role in the signing of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and the six largest countries until President Donald Trump's arrival in Washington "when things went back to the starting point," as proclaimed by Hooshang Amirahmadi, founder of the Iranian-American National Council of the pro-Tehran lobby in Washington. Amirahmadi, one of the most prominent figures in the Tehran lobby, said that Iran's relations with the US had returned to zero after the arrival of Trump. In response to a question on the "Election" website about the future of relationships between Washington and Tehran, Ahmadi who is currently visiting Iran, said "after the arrival of Trump in the White House, the honeymoon period of Iran and the US ended. All of those who sought to establish relations between the two countries left."


A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered that he be given more detail about former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and another lawyer's representation of a Turkish gold trader charged with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan said he needed extra information to ensure that conflicts of interest did not prevent Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey from effectively representing Reza Zarrab, who is in US. custody. Zarrab is accused of conspiring to conduct illegal transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of Iran's government. Prosecutors said in a court filing last week that eight of the U.S. banks involved in the case were clients of Giuliani or Mukasey's law firms, and Giuliani's firm was a registered agent of Turkey, posing potential conflicts. Benjamin Brafman, an attorney for Zarrab, said at a court hearing on Tuesday that Giuliani and Mukasey were working on a "diplomatic solution" to the case and would not represent Zarrab in court.


After the implementation of Iran's nuclear accord with world powers, the country has negotiated its way to attract $50 billion worth of foreign finance expected to flow into the country soon, a report by Economy Ministry's Organization for Investment, Economic and Technical Assistance of Iran has revealed. According to the report, countries that have shown interest in Iran's investment potentials include South Korea, China, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway, Russia and Brazil. "To foster foreign investment and develop ties with international banks and export credit agencies, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance has put security of investment and stability in economic, political and legal affairs on top of its agenda," the report published by the official news service Shada reads. In line with this, the Economy Ministry "entered into negotiations with more than 15 ECAs and banks, and as of March 2, negotiations have been held with various countries for approximately $50 billion of foreign investment in the form of finance".


An Iranian-supported militia, Al-Nujaba, says that it has formed the "Golan Liberation Army" to fight Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports. "This army has been trained and has detailed plans. If the Syria regime asks us to, we are ready to act to liberate the Golan [from Israel] along with our allies," Al-Nujaba spokesman Hashem Al-Mousawi said in a March 8 interview with Iran's Tasnim news agency. Al-Mousawi also admitted that the new militant group is "part of the PMU [Popular Mobilization Units]," an Iraqi-backed umbrella organization comprised of numerous Shia militias, including some with close ties to Iran. The Golan Liberation Army emerged from the Iranian led "resistance" axis and consists of "special forces who have received training and equipment," he said. "Iran is the only country that has helped us," Al-Mousawi said, "and sent us its military advisers, led by Qassem Soleimani."


Separate but not equal isn't the tagline of this weekend's upcoming marathon in Tehran, but it could be. On Wednesday, race organizers confirmed to the Associated Press that while the men get to enjoy an outdoor course Friday, the country's strict laws are forcing female participants to run the roughly 26-mile race on an indoor track."Personally I do not agree with that," Dutchman Sebastiaan Straten, who is helping to organize what's being billed as Iran's first international marathon, told the AP. "We are trying to find other ways to make step[s] [forward] for female running in Iran." The laws which require men and women to compete apart from each other stem from the country's 1979 revolution that goes so far as to even ban women from watching men's sporting events in person and vice versa. Iran also requires women to wear Islamic headscarves and be covered save for their face, hands and feet. Women, despite competing separately from men, will still be required to uphold those strict wardrobe rules during the run, the marathon's website states. Men, meanwhile, can wear standard running gear, including shorts that go well above the knee and tank tops.


Hojatoleslam Seyed Ebrahim Raeesi, the chief custodian and trustee of the Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable organization holding trusteeship of the eighth Shiite Imam's shrine, would seek the presidency in Iran's upcoming election. Addressing a political gathering in Tehran on Thursday, Mayor of Mashhad Sowlat Mortazavi, who attended the event on behalf of Hojatoleslam Raeesi, said the senior cleric has officially announced his candidacy for president. Known as a leading figure of the "principalist" political faction, Mr. Raeesi is believed to become a serious rival for President Hassan Rouhani, who will be seeking a second term The 12th presidential election in Iran will be held on May 19.

Mayor and two-time presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has announced that he does not intend to run in the presidential elections May 19. The move came amid widespread speculation that Ghalibaf would take a third shot at the presidency, having been the runner-up to Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 elections. Following his statement, there were reports in Iranian media indicating that Ghalibaf is upset with the conservative coalition's decision to not back him as its consensus candidate. Some reports claim that Ghalibaf has reached an agreement with conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, the custodian of the holy shrine of Shiite Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad, to serve as his vice president if the latter runs and is ultimately elected. According to the moderate Entekhab news site and the conservative Tasnim news agency, Raisi's candidacy is certain, as he has reportedly resigned from the election monitoring committee, as required by law. However, Entekhab is quoting sources claiming that Raisi has not agreed to the conservative coalition's demand that all conservative candidates "withdraw at the last minute in favor of the sole conservative candidate who has the greatest chance [of winning the vote]."

It is now an established tradition that Iran's supreme leader travels to Mashhad on the first day of the Iranian New Year, which fell on March 21 this year, to deliver his most important annual policy speech. This year's speech was significant as it almost entirely dealt with economic conditions, an indication that the economy, especially unemployment, is a key concern of Iran's top leadership. To realize Iran's economic potential, the supreme leader and the government need to take steps to allow genuine private sector expansion.  When referring to the "enemy's" desire to depict economic shortcomings as proof that the Islamic Republic is incapable of managing the country, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, acknowledged some internal deficiencies. He admitted, "Of course, there are some weaknesses, but these weaknesses are related to our management."

The Russian media portrayed the visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Moscow March 27-28 as a big deal Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart discussed numerous issues, ranging from international conflicts to culture, signed 16 cooperation agreements and declared an unprecedented increase in bilateral trade as the pivotal indicator of their successful relations. Analysts were largely optimistic about the meeting, forecasting a bright future for the Moscow-Tehran alliance, or at least a credible effort. The real reasons for the meeting between the two leaders, who could have settled issues without a high-ranking official display, lies offstage. One reason was Rouhani's desire to make his last official trip before presidential elections a memorable and high-profile visit.

Iran's presidential elections are fast approaching, and, as always, all the political groups, from the reactionary fundamentalists to the traditional conservatives, moderates and reformists, have been trying for months to position themselves for a strong run in May. But what is different this time around is the influence of the "deep state" the secret and semi-secret networks of military, security and intelligence forces that allegedly profess support for Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei which is setting itself up to decide the future president of Iran. The next few weeks are crucial. Currently, a coalition of reformists and moderate conservatives is in favor of extending Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a second term. The traditional conservatives, who refer to themselves as the osoolgaraayaan, or the principlists, have been trying to agree on a single candidate to oppose Rouhani, but there are deep fissures in their ranks that may prevent them from unifying behind a single candidate.

The Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's takeover of the Yemeni capital Sanaa through the power of arms marked the end of the Yemenis' peaceful uprising and the beginning of the war. I was certain that the war be will long and tough for several reasons. For instance, former president, Saleh, was still in control of the armed forces and the Houthi movement is a group that takes orders from Iran This is in addition to the lack of a central authority in Yemen and the country's rough terrains. The Iranian links to the war could be traced since the beginning and Iran did not hide them because it viewed the war as regional. Iran believes that opening a front against Saudi Arabia in Yemen is part of the geopolitical balance in Syria and Bahrain's conflicts. Although many observers have denied this possibility since the beginning and mocked it, they later admitted Iran's involvement. What's interesting is that Tehran had not even bothered to hide it.

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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