Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eye on Iran: Election Gloves Come Off As Rouhani Attacks Iran Hardliners

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Thousands of young Iranians danced and sang along to pop and folk music as they waited for President Hassan Rouhani to arrive at a rally ahead of next week's election. Many wore purple and green wristbands and neck scarves, the colours of pro-democracy groups, and waved placards emblazoned with quotes from Mr Rouhani. "I have come to give you more freedom", read one. "We won't let history repeat itself," said another. When Mr Rouhani finally took to the stage, the centrist politician sought to tap into the mood. "We are here to tell pro-violence extremists that your era has come to an end," Mr Rouhani said. "You [hardliners] cannot stand against our youth's choice of freedom and progress."

President Donald Trump urged Russia to "rein in" Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad during a meeting with Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the White House said on Wednesday. "Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran, and Iranian proxies," the White House said in a statement. Trump had welcomed Vladimir Putin's top diplomat to the White House for Trump's highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian government official since he took office in January. Lavrov entered through the West Executive entrance, out of range for reporters to ask questions. Also attending was Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US who is at the center of many of the Trump administration's early Russia-related woes.

Four major U.S. companies that have recently announced plans to cut back on the number of jobs in their American divisions also have made clear they are ready for new business in Iran. Honeywell, Volvo, Volkswagen, and Schlumberger (the world's largest oilfield services provider) are eyeing Iran for new business ventures, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a bipartisan group opposed to the nuclear agreement with Iran. Newsmax asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday what the White House reaction was to the news provided by UANI. "I think that speaks for itself," Spicer replied, "The president was very clear on what he thinks of the Iran deal, and companies need to abide by the law."


A top French hotel chain is being taken to task by opponents of Iran's nuclear program over its growing presence in the Islamic Republic's tourism industry - including a partnership with a local company believed to be a front for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). In a detailed letter sent to Sebastien Bazin, the CEO and chairman of the Paris-based Accor Hotels Group, that was shared with The Algemeiner, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace - head of advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) - asserted that "the legal, political, financial, and reputational risks of doing business in Iran outweigh any theoretical benefit of commercial involvement in that market."


EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that the EU will stand by the Iran nuclear agreement, describing the deal as a "milestone" belonging to the entire international community. In her annual briefing to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Mogherini said the agreement could set a precedent for resolving global issues through diplomacy. "The nuclear deal with Iran shows the way forward to us, the Europeans. It set a milestone for non-proliferation," she said. The nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was inked between Iran and six world powers in July 2015 and took effect in January 2016. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit some aspects of its nuclear activities in exchange for the removal of all nuclear-related sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.


The largest annual convention in Iran's petroleum industry, known as the Iran Oil Show, opened in Tehran on Saturday. Conspicuous by their absence are the big names such as BP and Total. Under a cloud of caution and uncertainty, the 2017 'show' is the antithesis of last year's exhibit, when oil giants visited post-sanctions Iran with high hopes for investment and collaboration. According to officials, more than 800 international companies are present this year, an upgrade over the 634 that came in 2016. Many were left out for lack of accommodation. But you may get a wrong idea about the exhibit if you go only by numbers. A walk through the halls of the 22nd oil exhibition gives the uneasy impression that barely in one year, the international companies have grown noticeably reserved and reticent.


Panid Engineering Co., a private domestic firm based in Tehran, has reportedly reached an agreement with US-based Pall Corporation to build a plant for manufacturing filters for the oil industry, the managing director said. "Talks were held between Panid and a delegation from the American company on the sidelines of the 22nd International Oil, Gas, Refining and Petrochemical Exhibition in Tehran, said Neda Mousavizadegan, whose company is a member of the Society of Iranian Petroleum Industries Equipment Manufacturers, Shana reported Wednesday. "The two sides reached an agreement to establish a plant for manufacturing oil and gas filtration systems in Karaj (40 km west of Tehran). This is the first official collaboration between Iranian and American manufacturers in the petroleum sector (after the 1979 Islamic Revolution)" Mousavizadegan said.

Italy's Pininfarina automotive design house has signed a €70 million commercial agreement with Iran Khodro Group for the development of a technological automotive platform on May 9. The agreement between the two firms will help develop a modular automotive platform, able to house at least four different vehicles, and the first passenger car of the medium segment of the market, a press release from the Italian firm said. The 36-month deal by the two auto firms will see a new concept architecture developed as well as a new design concept for future vehicles. Chief Executive Officer of Pininfarina Group Silvio Pietro Angori said following the deal: "The agreement with Iran Khodro represents another important step in the growth strategy of Pininfarina on markets of the new Silk Road and the Middle East.

Iran says South Africa's MTN will invest as much as $1.1 billion in an ambitious fiber optic internet connectivity project which will be launched in eight major cities across the country.  Mohsen Baqeri-Chenari, the managing director of Iranian Net Communications and Electronic Services Company (INCESC), was quoted by the domestic media as saying that MTN would invest $560 million in the first phase of the project which is expected to start in the near future.  Baqeri-Chenari told reporters that the South African telecom giant on Monday signed an agreement on the same front with the INCESC - Iran's leading fiber optic connection provider - and Iran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

European exhibitors participating in the 22nd International Oil, Gas, Refining and Petrochemical Exhibition of Iran (Iran Oil Show 2017) believe that there is huge potential for business in Iran's oil, gas and petrochemical sectors. The exhibition, which was held at the Tehran Permanent International Fairgrounds from May 6 to 9, hosted some 2500 domestic companies and 1500 foreign participants from 37 countries including Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, China, South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and Canada. To find out the viewpoints of European companies willing to do business in Iran, the Tehran Times conducted interviews with a number of European participants of the exhibition which is among the most significant oil and gas events in the world in terms of the number of exhibitors and its diversity.

Austrian Ambassador to Tehran Friedrich Stift underlined that the banking and trade relations with Iran will soon become normalized. "We are highly hopeful about normalizing banking and trade ties with Iran in the near future and we have been through many challenges in this way so far," Stift said in Tehran on Monday. "Austria wants expansion of trade ties with Iran and makes its utmost efforts to normalize banking relations with Tehran," he added. Also, President of Vienna Chamber of Commerce and Industry Walter Ruck told reporters in Tehran that he and his team will soon start negotiations with major Austrian banks to establish banking relations with Iran, adding that they will use all means to persuade them.

Iran's state oil company NIOC is close to finalising a term contract to supply Austrian energy group OMV with 40,000 b/d of Iranian crude, managing director Ali Kardor said. Part of the proceeds for the crude will be used to repay debts Iran owes to the Austrian company for some exploration work carried out in Iran more than a decade ago, he said. "This agreement will help Tehran pay its outstanding debts to OMV," Kardor said in Tehran. OMV carried out exploration work at the Mehr block for five years after it was awarded the rights to explore the license in 2001. It went on to discover the Band-e-Karkheh oil field in 2007, when it was originally estimated to hold 2bn bl of oil. NIOC more than doubled this estimate to 4.5bn bl in 2009 after discovering a new oil layer. Kardor did not clarify what Iran's standing debt was to OMV, but said 7.25pc of the price of these barrels would go towards paying the debt off, with the remainder going to the country's treasury.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif has warned the U.S. and its allies against pursuing military action near Syria's borders amid international efforts to bring the six-year conflict in that country to a peaceful end. Zarif's comments Tuesday came in response to the commencement Sunday of the U.S. and Jordan's annual Exercise Eager Lion, described by the Army's regional deputy commanding officer, Major-General Bill Hickman, as the "largest and most complex to date," according to Al Jazeera. The drills will reportedly draw in 7,400 soldiers from 20 nations and include "for the first time ever a global strike mission" performed by U.S. B-51 bombers, according to Hickman. The massive mobilization has been regarded with deep suspicion by Iran, and Zarif told the Lebanon-based media outlet Al Mayadeen TV that U.S.-backed actions could not remove the Iran-backed government in neighboring Syria.


Pakistan and Iran have set up a joint commission to ensure better border management, two days after Islamabad summoned the Iranian envoy to express concern over Tehran's assertion that it will hit terror "safe havens" in its neighbouring country.  Pakistan on Tuesday summoned the Iranian ambassador to express its concern over Iran army chief's remarks that Tehran will hit "safe havens" of terrorists in Pakistan until Islamabad takes steps to stop militants from carrying out cross-border attacks. The commission has been set up to ensure better border management, Pakistan Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said yesterday.  Relations between the neighbours have been tense due to the killing of Iranian border guards in a clash with militants.


Millions of Iranians are consuming the latest twists and turns of the presidential and city council election season on their Telegram accounts and Twitter feeds, with voting scheduled for May 19. And during this time of expanded public debate in Iran, candidates should be speaking out for the country's many political prisoners. One of those prisoners is 28-year-old Atena Daemi, a children's rights activist who is serving a seven-year sentence in Tehran's Evin prison. Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested Daemi in October 2014 because of her activism, before releasing her on bail after 16 months.  A revolutionary court had already sentenced her to 14 years in prison on charges including "assembly and collusion against national security," and "propaganda against the state." Her sentence was later reduced to seven years by an appeals court.


Iran's highest leader said on Wednesday that any disrupters of national elections, which are less than two weeks away, would receive a "slap in the face," underscoring the political tensions lurking behind the vote. The warning came in a widely publicized speech by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to graduating cadets of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the powerful paramilitary force, in which he emphasized that security was the most important issue in the May 19 election, when Iranians will choose a new president and city and village councils. Ever since unprecedented antigovernment protests after the disputed 2009 presidential vote, elections have become delicate moments in Iran.

The charismatic 55-year-old mayor of Tehran seems a long-shot contender for Iran's presidency, but could emerge as the main threat to President Hassan Rouhani if he beats other hardliners to emerge as the sole challenger in a second round. A chisel-jawed former Revolutionary Guards commander with an action man persona, an airline pilot's license and a populist economic message, Baqer Qalibaf has so far defied the clerical establishment by refusing to drop out before the May 19 vote. In the last election four years ago, Qalibaf very nearly made it to the run-off, despite placing a distant second to Rouhani with just 16.5 percent of the vote. Rouhani, who promised to reduce Iran's international isolation and grant more freedoms at home, averted a second round by winning just over 50 percent.

Until just a few months ago, not many Iranians were familiar with the name Ebrahim Raisi. The 56-year-old cleric entered the game last year when he was appointed to head Iran's largest charitable foundation, Astan Quds Razavi, which oversees the holy shrine of the eighth Shiite imam, Reza, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. Raisi, a former prosecutor and deputy chief justice who once headed Iran's anti-corruption committee, wants to be the Islamic Republic's 12th president. Generally labeled as a Principlist, Raisi "wants to free himself from any partisan affiliation and run as an independent," according to an aide who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. Conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is attempting to project a nonpartisan image while adopting stronger positions against incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on candidates in this month's presidential election to avoid "immoral" outbursts that could damage the nation, after the contest turned increasingly confrontational. "Elections can bring us pride or weaken us," Khamenei said in a public address on Wednesday, according to his website. "If people participate with order and proceed with ethics and respect the limits of Islam and laws, it will lead to dignity for the Islamic Republic," he said. If they "turn immoral and with their spoken words give hope to the enemy, then the elections will turn to our disadvantage."

Iran's presidential election campaign is in full swing and what was perceived as an easy victory for the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani seeking reelection only a few weeks ago is now appearing more challenging. The reason: a resurgent wave of populism among Rouhani's conservative rivals.  From a pledge to double or triple monthly cash transfers (currently at $12) and offers of generous unemployment benefits to the creation of one million jobs annually, the anti-Rouhani faction has made it a point to remove him out of office at any cost-even if that means taking recourse to crude populism similar to what was espoused by former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  


In the United Kingdom, a referendum was held to decide whether to stay or withdraw from the European Union. The outcome of the referendum divided the British society. Even though the gap between proponents and opponents was narrow, and a group of people expressed regret about the verdict, the British government and EU member-states accepted the result, which amounts to showing respect for democracy. Now, the British Prime Minister has decided to hold an early election in which British people will choose their representatives. All the parties, even the extreme right-wing, will take part in this election. We also observed Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of a right-wing party, reaching the second round of elections in France...In total contrast, the Mullahs of Tehran are misusing religion to send terror to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan in what is widely described as an ill-advised and bankrupted policy.

Perched on the tails of Iran Air's aircraft is the mythical Persian bird known as the Homa. Versions of its legend describe how the Homa is periodically reborn, consuming itself in fire before rising reborn from the ashes. As Iran's aviation sector makes moves for an epic overhaul, the mascot seems particularly appropriate. Since January 2016, when the nuclear agreement negotiated with the United States and its five partners went into effect, President Hassan Rouhani's government has tried to pull Iran's economy out of its sanctions-era doldrums. On the campaign trail and in the first two presidential debates leading up to elections on May 19, Rouhani's conservative rivals have focused their attacks on his record on this issue, rather than the deal itself. "The Iranian people should decide whether they want the current situation - which means unemployment, social harms, and recession - to continue, or they seek a change," argued Tehran mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf, one of Rouhani's most prominent challengers.

Pakistan's tightrope walk between Iran and Saudi Arabia has suddenly become a lot tougher. Tehran, perhaps taking a leaf out of New Delhi's book, has warned it was prepared to carry out cross-border military strikes against Pakistan-based terrorists following the deaths of 10 Iranian border guards at the hands of Sunni militants. Islamabad has agreed to strengthen its military presence along the Iran-Pakistan border, but this is little more than a diplomatic band-aid on a much larger geopolitical wound. Pakistan has traditionally had close security ties with Saudi Arabia but has sought to maintain cordial relations with Iran, despite the open hostility between the two Gulf countries. However, partly out of concern at deepening relations between Riyadh and New Delhi, Pakistan has been tilting closer to Saudi Arabia.

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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