Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Eye on Iran: Trump Mulls Squeezing Iran With Tougher Sanctions

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The Trump White House is poised to ratchet up existing sanctions against Iran and is weighing a much stricter interpretation of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and major world powers. The administration is inclined to adopt a "more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal," a senior White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). No final decision has been taken by the president or the cabinet. But officials said some decisions will need to be taken soon. On April 25, Iran and the six governments that negotiated the nuclear deal with Tehran, including the United States, are due to meet in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord.

President Hassan Rouhani's popularity may not be enough to win him another four years in office, according to the findings of a poll released on Monday. While the majority of respondents in a survey conducted by the Toronto-based company IranPoll have a favorable view of the president, they also said that his first term and the nuclear accord he championed have not improved the economy and the living standards of average Iranians. More than 40 percent said he's "somewhat likely" to lose the election and 14 percent said his defeat was "very likely."

At a wake in Iran's holy city of Qom in February, a small group of Bahraini emigres and clerics mourned a young militant killed in a gun battle with Bahrain's security forces. The eulogy was delivered by an exiled Bahraini cleric who has called for the island's Shi'ite Muslim majority to uproot the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy in a holy war. "The choice of resistance is widening and spreading on the ground," said the cleric, Murtada al-Sanadi, who has been named by the United States as a "specially designated global terrorist" backed by Iran. The ceremony shines a light on Iran's widening influence over an armed fringe of the opposition in Bahrain, a country with a strategic value that belies its small size. It hosts a U.S. naval base and is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival. A quickening tempo of mostly crude bombing and shooting attacks has accompanied a government crackdown, which culminated last year in the dissolution of the main opposition bloc.


Aryan's timing was impeccable: Months after he returned to Iran from college in Canada, job offers started to pile up. A decade of economic sanctions was drawing to an end in early 2016 as he settled back home, prompting a frenzied chase for Iran's small pool of white-collar professionals. "It's a battle for talent," said Aseyeh Hatami, founder and managing director of Iran's leading jobs website, Iran Talent. Those with skills "and who are fit for a professional work environment are seized immediately," she said. The thriving metropolitan upper middle class that includes Aryan is a natural constituency for moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that ended Iran's isolation, as he seeks a second term at May 19 elections. Less clear is the degree of his support among the poor, leaving him vulnerable to accusations by hardline critics that his policies have failed to spread the benefits.

Hormoz Pasargad Bitumen Products Co. , Iran's biggest producer of the asphalt material used to pave roads, plans to boost output almost 15 percent in the next two years, with all of the increased supply going to overseas buyers led by India and the United Arab Emirates. Hormoz's bitumen production will grow to 4 million metric tons a year, from 3.5 million tons currently, with exports climbing to 2 million from 1.5 million tons, Managing Director Keyvan Alaei said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran. Hormoz is in talks to ship on vessels of the the state-run National Iranian Tanker Co. and European lines, he said. Iran is boosting oil production a year after the easing of sanctions on its economy, and this allows for greater output of byproducts such as bitumen or Raw materials used in buildings and roads are set to benefit as infrastructure investment in the U.S., China, India and Europe is expected to rise 7.8 percent a year on average over the next 10 years, or by at least $26 trillion spent in those regions by 2027, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report in March.

Iran's interior minister stressed the need for achieving a free trade pact with Pakistan, saying closer economic ties between the two neighbors will contribute to sustainable security along the common border. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Iran-Pakistan economic cooperation in Tehran on Monday, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said a target of the session is to hammer out an agreement on free trade between the two countries. "We are trying to increase the value of economic and trade exchanges between Iran and Pakistan to five billion dollars," the minister added.


Iran, Russia, and Turkey plan to hold a trilateral expert-level meeting in Tehran on Tuesday to exchange views about the latest efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi announced. Delegations of military experts from Iran, Russia, and Turkey are slated to participate in the one-day talks in preparation for the next "Astana Meeting", Qassemi said at his press conference in Tehran on Monday. He further expressed the hope that the meeting, which would be held in continuation of the recent talks between the three countries in the Kazakh capital of Astana, would yield positive results. The spokesman also said that representatives of Tehran, Moscow, and Ankara will once again convene in Astana on May 3 to discuss the Syrian issue.


A former director of Venezuela's Office of Identification, Migration and Foreigners said that during his 17 months in the post, the socialist government gave at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports and other documents to citizens of Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo said the operation was headed by current Vice President Tareck El Aissami. He said most passports and visas were granted in the Venezuelan Consulate in Damascus, Syria's capital." Today we don't know where these people are, nor what they are doing," said Medrano, who currently resides in the United States.

Iranian defence minister Hossein Dehghan will visit Moscow on April 25-26 and will take part in a security conference, RIA news agency cited a source in the Iranian embassy as saying on Tuesday. The agency also said Dehghan would meet Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.


Iran wants to turn Yemen into a "missile base" from which it can threaten Saudi Arabia, according to a Saudi general. Saudi Gen. Ahmed Asiri claimed Saudi Arabia prevented an "Iranian plot" from threatening the country's security and stability in an interview with Saudi Arabia's al-Arabiya news Sunday. He added that the Iranians planned to use Yemen's Houthi rebels to implement their scheme, allowing Iran to deploy missiles and use Hezbollah suicide bombers against the country. Saudi Arabia "did not need to wait for Yemen to become another missile base that threatens the security and safety of Saudi Arabia, as the Iranians planned to do, to turn Yemen into a military base, from which they could attack the kingdom," said Asiri, who serves as both the spokesman for Saudi operations in Yemen and as advisor to the defense minister.


The Iranian authorities must urgently stop the imminent execution of two long-time death row prisoners who were children at the time of their arrest, Amnesty International said today. One of the men, Mehdi Bahlouli, is due to be executed tomorrow morning in Karaj's Raja'i Shahr Prison, after more than 15 years on death row. He was sentenced to death by a criminal court in Tehran in November 2001 for fatally stabbing a man during a fight. He was 17 at the time of the crime. The execution of the second man, Peyman Barandah, is scheduled to take place just three weeks later, on 10 May, in Shiraz Central Prison, Fars Province. He was arrested at the age of 16 and spent nearly five years on death row, after being convicted in August 2012, also for stabbing a teenager to death during a fight.

After disqualifying the initial reformist winner, Iran's conservative Guardian Council has now barred most reformist candidates from running in the second-round election for Isfahan's vacant parliamentary seat. The vote will occur when Iranians head to the polls on May 19, 2017 to elect their new president and city and village councils. Reformist politician Minoo Khalegi won the February 2016 parliamentary election in Isfahan, central Iran, after receiving the third highest number of votes in the city. However, the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates, nullified her victory in March 2016 after photos emerged of her allegedly shaking hands with a man during a trip abroad.


Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani criticized registering candidacy for the presidential elections by individuals who lack required criteria - he considered what happened in the past days "here" as "a worldwide scandal and an a mockery of the regime." According to Iran's official electoral commission, more than 1,636 people have registered their candidacies since the registration process began - it is a record score in the history of presidential elections in Iran. IRNA agency reported that only 32 of the candidates have a chance to pass the stage of revising applications. During the period dedicated to receive candidacy applications 11-15 April, the media revealed that hundreds of candidates of various motives have turned over to submit their applications, causing sarcasm in the Iranian street.


The strikes ordered on April 6 by President Trump to respond to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attack helped restore America's credibility in the region after years of retreat. But if the president wants to really hurt Assad, he should push back against Iran, the strongman's chief protector. Disrupting Iran's airlifts to Syria by re-sanctioning its civil aviation sector would be a good place to start. Even after the Iran nuclear deal reached in 2015, the United States can still use non-nuclear sanctions to counter Iran's regional ambitions and ongoing support for terrorism. In practice, however, this measure has been rarely used, especially with regards to Iran's ongoing airlifts to the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Regrettably, the deal lifted U.S. aviation sanctions against Iran exactly at a time when the sector became vital to Tehran's war efforts in Syria. Put simply: the deal has made it legal to sell aircraft to airlines that are accessories to Assad's war crimes and keep Hezbollah armed to the teeth. The president should reverse this and bar any new aircraft from reaching Tehran until Iran stops fueling Syria's civil war with its commercial airliners.

Despite Iran's important role in degrading IS, the terrorist group has not been able to carry out any attacks inside the Islamic Republic, unlike much of the rest of the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic has been under constant domestic and foreign threats. As a result, it has developed a sophisticated intelligence and surveillance network that has effectively dealt with internal threats. In terms of external threats, Iran prefers to fight them in neighboring countries and has in those endeavors managed to prop up and support various proxies including Shiite, Sunni and secular groups across the region. Perhaps the most potent aspect of this strategy to deal with external threats has been the streamlining of the Iranian decision-making process.

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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