Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Eye on Iran: Are The U.S. And Iran On A Collision Course In Syria?

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A U.S. air raid against Iranian-backed fighters in southern Syria last week represents a volatile new phase of the conflict that could trigger a wider confrontation between the United States and Iran - and their allies on the ground. Until last week's strike, the United States and Iran had managed to steer clear of a direct confrontation in Iraq and Syria, where each has hundreds of military advisors on the ground, embedded with local forces. In Iraq, they share a common enemy in the Islamic State. In Syria, the two sides are waging different wars: U.S. aircraft and special operations forces are pushing to roll back Islamic State militants, while Iran is backing the Syrian regime against opposition forces in a multi-sided civil war.

'Israelis are murdered by terrorists wielding knives and bombs. Hamas and Hezbollah launch rockets into Israeli communities where schoolchildren have to be trained to hear the sirens and to run to the bomb shelters - with fear but with speed. 'ISIS targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues and storefronts. And Iran's leaders routinely call for Israel's destruction.' 'Not with Donald J. Trump,' he boomed, stopping to accent each part of his name. And as he frequently does, he departed from his prepared remarks to add a Trumpian exclamation point:  'Believe me!' 'The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,' he declared, and halting their support of terrorists and militias.' 'So we are telling you right now that Iran will not have nuclear weapons. America's security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever.'

Two top U.S. intelligence officials offered varying takes on Iran's behavior in the Middle East since signing a nuclear accord, tempering President Donald Trump's condemnation of the agreement reached during the Obama administration as the "worst deal ever." Iran continues to adhere to terms of its 2015 agreement with world powers to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. At the same time, the Islamic Republic continues to be a destabilizing force in the Middle East, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, said. Differences arose when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham pressed Coats and Stewart on whether Iran has increased its aggressive behavior in the Middle East.


A senior Iranian official declared on Tuesday that Iran will "never stop" developing advanced missile technology in violation of international accords barring such action, according to comments that came in reaction to President Donald Trump's strong rhetoric against Iran during a trip through the Middle East. Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, a spokesman for the Iranian government, said that Iran's missile program-which the U.S. intelligence community suspects could be used to fire a nuclear-armed weapon-is non-negotiable and will not cease. Iran will continue to invest in its missile program, Nobakht said.


Iran has signed a deal worth $615 million - or euros 550 million - with a Spanish-Iranian consortium under which the group will provide pipes used in Iran's oil industry. It's the first major deal since President Hassan Rouhani's re-election last week to another term in office on a platform of reform. The consortium, which includes Spain's Tubacex S.A. and Iran's Foolad Isfahan Company, will produce pipes made of a corrosion resistant alloy for a network of 600 kilometers, or about 370 miles, over three years. Wednesday's statement says the pipes will be produced using Japan's JFE Steel Corporation technology, and that the know-how will eventually be given to the Iranians. Iran has been trying to renovate its oil industry since the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

Two-thirds of the contract are financed by the Chinese government with a very low interest rate, with the remaining third covered by Chinese insurer Sinosure, Asghar Fakhrieh-Kashan, who oversees Iranian firms' talks with international businesses, told The Financial Tribune. "Issues regarding the government guarantees were resolved during Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyebnia's recent visit to China," he added. Tayyebnia attended the One Belt, One Road summit in Beijing earlier this month. "Only drafting and other paperwork remains," Fakhrieh-Kashan said, announcing that CMC representatives will be in Iran in June to sign the contract.

Iran's oil industry bounced back from sanctions last year, cranking up output to recover market share from other OPEC producers. Now that its surge has topped out, Iran supports an extension of the group's cuts to preserve those gains. Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh's willingness to embrace a deal that leaves Iran room to pump about 3.8 million barrels a day signals the country is already producing near capacity, according to analysts from BNP Paribas SA and Energy Aspects Ltd. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is expected to extend curbs by nine months at a Vienna meeting this week. "We do not have any problem between six or nine months," Zanganeh told reporters Wednesday in Tehran, referring to two different scenarios for a possible extension.  "We will go along with what the majority agrees with." He added that "there has been no hint regarding a cutback in production by Iran as of now," when asked if other OPEC members have requested the country to trim output under a renewed deal.

Iran's oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said Wednesday that OPEC will continue its production curb but there is debate among members about how long it will continue, the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported on Wednesday. "It could be three, six or nine months," Zanganeh said. Zanganeh said Iran will not decrease its own production and that regional rival Saudi Arabia is trying to drive up oil prices, ISNA said. The re-election of president Hassan Rouhani last Friday helped remove "obstacles" to oil contracts, ISNA quoted Zanganeh as saying. Zanganeh said he has not yet been asked to serve in Rouhani's new cabinet.


Iran's Army Ground Force launched a military exercise in central parts of the country on Wednesday to put into operation the latest homegrown weapons. The war game, codenamed Beit ul-Muqaddas-29, is being held in Nasrabad region in the central province of Isfahan, with the participation of various units including the infantry, the armor units, the artillery, rapid reaction forces, elite commandos of the 65th Brigade, drone units as well as choppers from the Ground Force Airborne Unit. The purpose of the exercise is to bring into operation the latest military equipment and weapons manufactured by the local experts.


The persecution of the Baha'i religious minority in Iran has grown worse under President Hassan Rouhani, the spokesperson for the community at the United Nations in Geneva told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). "Unfortunately, the situation has not changed in the past four years and if we look at the number of Baha'i citizens arrested, it has actually become worse," Simin Fahandej told CHRI in a recent interview."There are currently about 90 Baha'is in prison, Baha'i students are still denied university education, and hundreds of their businesses have been shut down, not to mention the abuse the community endures on a daily basis," she said. "Before he was elected in 2013, Mr. Rouhani gave a lot of hopeful slogans about equality and justice for all Iranians and he won," added Fahandej. "But in the past four years, the rights of Baha'i citizens have been violated in every way."


Iranian security forces forcibly dispersed mass protests in the southern region of Ahwaz on Monday and Tuesday against what people say were electoral fraud in the recent municipal elections. People came out to protest against what they say was a falsification of the results of the municipal elections for the benefit of the immigrants in the city and at the expense of the Arabs, amid reports of the arrest of a number of activists and use of violence against protesters, including an old man. This comes while the director of the electoral office in Ahwaz has confirmed that there are indeed false votes in the ballot boxes as a whole, where tens of thousands of votes were copied and thrown in favor of certain candidates, stressing the need to punish all offenders.


News must be new but it needn't be surprising. The decidedly unsurprising news out of Iran last week: There was an election (of sorts) and the winner was Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent president. An apparently mild-mannered cleric with a beatific smile, he has presided over Iran for four years - a period of egregious human rights violations, the Iranian-backed slaughter in Syria, the taking of American and other hostages, and increasing support for terrorists abroad. Nevertheless, you'll see him described in much of the media as a "moderate." At most he is a pragmatist, one with a keen sense of how credulous Western diplomats and journalists can be. He knows they won't judge him based on such quotes as this: "Saying 'Death to America!' is easy. We need to express 'Death to America!' with action."

On Wednesday, the Trump administration made clear that its Iran policy review is headed toward the position shared by the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate foreign relations committees that the United States should take a firmer stance against Iran's non-nuclear malign activities. Even if tensions between Congress and the administration over Russia continue to increase, these steps make it clear that Iran policy is an arena in which the two branches can and should work very effectively together. The administration renewed a statutory waiver of nuclear sanctions against Iran's petroleum exports. In explaining his decision to renew the waiver, President Trump explained that he was doing so "[a]s my administration conducts a review of its Iran policy, and consistent with United States commitments specified in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)."

"I want to tell you," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to President Donald Trump during a joint press conference Monday, "how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East." So how is Trump's first foreign trip as president playing out? Suddenly, the scandal-mired President seems like a plausible world leader. He is certainly a more welcome guest in the capitols of America's traditional allies than his predecessor, President Barack Obama. In addition to enjoying the show, viewers at home-the ones who voted for Trump last fall-likely appreciate the $110 billion arms deal Trump struck with Saudi Arabia. With another $350 billion to come over the next decade, those contracts will certainly help put assembly-line Americans back to work.

In elections on Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won a second term and reform candidates gained seats in municipal councils across the country. A right-wing conservative in the 1980s, Rouhani ran as a moderate in 2013, and today reformists are celebrating his landslide victory. How does this shift illuminate Iran's changing politics? Pro-democracy voters in Iran have become increasingly pragmatic in recent years. To compete in elections, candidates must first be approved by the Guardian Council. In 2013, the reformists' main presidential candidate, Hashemi Rafsanjani, was disqualified, and reformists decided to back Rouhani as an alternate. And again in the 2016 parliamentary elections, pro-reform voters supported a reformist list, despite the Guardian Council disqualifying even their second- and third-tier candidates.

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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