Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran's Khamenei Says Saudis Will Fall, Rouhani Calls For Better Ties

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Iran's hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday Saudi Arabia's rulers faced "certain downfall" for aligning themselves with the United States, hours after the country's pragmatist president called for improved ties with Gulf states. "They (Saudi leaders) act cordially towards the enemies of Islam while having the opposite behavior towards the Muslim people of Bahrain and Yemen," Khamenei told a religious gathering, according to his Twitter account. "They will face certain downfall," he told a Koran reading event marking the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Iran and the Gulf Arab states are backing opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen, and the unrest in Bahrain. Relations were further hit last weekend when U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and accused Tehran of supporting terrorism in the Middle East.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched a fierce attack against regional rival Saudi Arabia, saying it was being pumped "like a milking cow" by "infidel" Americans. "These people (the Saudis) appear to believe in the Koran... but in practice they act against its teachings," Khamenei said at a meeting on Saturday to mark the start of the holy month of Ramadan. "They are close with the infidels and offer the enemy the money they should be using to improve the lives of their own people. "But in reality there is no closeness and, as the Americans have said, they are just there to pump them for money like a milking cow, and later slaughter them," he added.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in an interview with "Face the Nation" Saturday that Iran is at the center of dysfunction in the Middle East and remains a threat around the world, echoing President Trump's tough talk on the country. "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson asked the retired Marine Corp general, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if he still stands by comments he made in 2011, when he ranked Iran as his top priority while he was the head of U.S. Central Command under President Barack Obama.  "I had a more -- let's just say, a narrower portfolio in those days," Mattis said. "And in the U.S. Central Region, what we find is wherever there are challenges, wherever there is chaos, wherever there is violence, whether it be in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, the attempts to unsettle Bahrain. We always find Iran and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] at it."


President Trump, who has never made a secret of his hostility toward Iran, called recently for a grand regional strategy among Sunni nations to isolate the country. But Tehran received that threat with surprising equanimity because, in practice, the Trump administration has shown a willingness to do business with the country. On the surface, it looked as if there was a lot of bad news recently for the Islamic Republic. At the recent Arab-American summit meeting in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump was the guest of the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a sworn enemy of Iran, and the countries signed a record-breaking $110 billion arms deal. "Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace," Mr. Trump said at the meeting, "all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism."

Boeing's planned multibillion-dollar aircraft sales to Iran are facing a growing backlash from Republicans in Washington, but one key politician has stayed silent: Donald Trump. The proposed sales have put the U.S. president in a tough spot, pitting his hostility to Iran and the recent nuclear deal against his ambition to boost American factory jobs. "My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran," Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign. He's also promised to boost American manufacturing and create 25 million new jobs. If he blocks the plane sales, Trump could undercut that second goal. Boeing said its agreements to sell 110 aircraft for nearly $20 billion to two Iranian carriers would support nearly 120,000 jobs.


It was only a couple of sentences but they were enough to cause a major amount of concern in the aerospace industry. In a hearing, US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin announced his intention to impose additional sanctions not only on Syria and North Korea, but also on Iran. Then he added, "both in the case of Boeing and Airbus, there are licenses that will be required and they are under review." A lot of money is at stake. Airbus has an order from Iran Air for 32 A320neo-s, six A320ceo-s, eight A321ceo-s, eight A330-200s, 28 A330-900neo-s and 16 A350-1000s.


The Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union aims to finalise a free-trade deal with Iran by the end of the year, in an attempt by Russia and its fellow members to deepen ties with Tehran. The trade overtures are taking place amid signs that Iran's relationship with the US will deteriorate under the administration of Donald Trump. The US president last week attacked Iran for fuelling "the fires of sectarian conflict and terror" during visits to the country's regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel, days after Iran re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani on a platform of international re-engagement. Russia and Iran co-operate on a number of geopolitical issues, most notably in the war in Syria. The two countries have sought to deepen their relationship since the EU and US imposed sanctions on Moscow in 2014.

The tender for Iran's Azadegan oilfield has started, the country's oil minister said on Monday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).  "Right now the tender for developing the Azadegan field is being carried out," said Bijan Zanganeh. The Azadegan field, in southwest Iran near the border with Iraq, is considered to be the biggest oilfield in the Islamic Republic, IRNA reported.  It has 37 billion barrels of oil, Petroleum Engineering and Development Company Managing Director Seyed Noureddin Shahnazizadeh told Mehr News agency this month.

French oil major Total still plans to conclude the Iran South Pars gas deal before summer, its chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told journalists on the sidelines of the company's annual general meeting. Pouyanne said the signing of U.S. sanctions waivers, among other hurdles, cleared the path for the deal to be signed. Total said earlier in February that a final decision on the deal hinged on the new U.S. administration renewing the waivers. Pouyanne also added he had met Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh in Vienna on the sidelines of the OPEC meeting


The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi'ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report. The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters - mostly Shi'ites of varying nationalities. Shi'ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.


Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has told the Qatari Emir that Tehran is ready for talks with Arab nations to reach a "real agreement toward peace and brotherhood. "Rouhani's website quoted him as saying in a phone conversation with Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, that the Muslim world is beset by divisions and should take steps "toward peace and brotherhood." "In this direction we are ready for talks aimed at reaching a real agreement," Rouhani was quoted as saying. The report added that the Qatari Emir said in response that talks between Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf should continue.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for improved relations with Gulf Arab countries during a telephone call with the emir of Qatar, which has come under fire from its Gulf neighbors over its relationship with Tehran. Iran and the Gulf Arab states are backing opposing sides in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts. Relations were further hit last weekend when U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and accused Tehran of supporting terrorism in the Middle East. Iran denies such accusations and says Saudi Arabia, its arch-foe, is the real source of funding for Islamist militants. Rouhani responded to Trump's criticism by saying stability could not be achieved in the Middle East without Iran's help.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani held a phone call in which the two leaders stressed the need for more joint efforts to resolve the Syria crisis and discussed economic ties, the Kremlin said on Saturday. The Kremlin added that Putin congratulated Rouhani on his recent election win. It clarified that the economic issues discussed included joint projects in the oil and gas sector and peaceful nuclear projects.

Iranian mortar fire on Saturday killed a Pakistani civilian in the western Baluchistan province that shares a long border with Iran, a regional Pakistani official said. Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been at a low ebb since 10 Iranian border guards were killed by militants last month. Iran said that, in that incident, Jaish al Adl, a Sunni militant group, had opened fire from inside Pakistan. Earlier this month the head of the Iranian armed forces warned Islamabad that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government did not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks. Abdul Jabbar, deputy commissioner of the Panjgur district in Baluchistan, said Iranian border security forces had fired "many" mortar shells and rockets over the last two days.


Iran has agreed in principle to renew its funding for the Hamas terror group, according to a report published in a London-based Arabic daily Tuesday.Palestinian officials told Asharq al-Awsat that Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of the Gaza-based terror group, will visit Tehran in the near future to bridge gaps between the parties and resolve old disagreements. The deal to restore Hamas's financial support came after marathon meetings in Lebanon between officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, the report said.


Iraq's Iran-backed Shi'ite paramilitary force said on Sunday it had dislodged Islamic State from a number of villages west of Mosul, scoring further progress toward the border with Syria. The villages taken by the Popular Mobilisation paramilitary force include Kojo, where Islamic State fighters abducted hundreds of Yazidi women in 2014, including Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, recipients of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. Kojo and the other villages of the Sinjar mountain region will be returned to the Yazidi community, a Popular Mobilisation leader, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, told Iraqi state television.

An Iraqi Shi'ite force backed by Iran said it pushed Islamic State out of several villages on the border with Syria on Monday, potentially reopening a supply route to send Iranian weapons to President Bashar al-Assad. The maneuver could also be the prelude to a connection with the Assad's Iranian-backed forces, although they are yet to reach the Iraqi border from the Syrian side. Syrian rebel sources have warned of advances by the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militia to reach the border. The territory taken by the Popular Mobilisation force on Monday is located north of the Islamic State-held town of Baaj. For Popular Mobilisation, it is a step towards achieving a linkup with Assad forces, giving him a significant advantage in fighting the six-year rebellion against his rule.

While Iraq's conventional military has been slowly clearing the Islamic State group from inside Mosul's complex urban terrain, Iraq's Iran-backed Shiite paramilitary forces have been working their way through less glamorous territory: vast deserts west and south of the city that run along and across Iraq's border with Syria. The territory, dotted with small villages and dusty roads, is home to key supply lines into neighboring Syria and connecting Iraq's north to the capital Baghdad. Control of the Iraqi-Syrian border would be a key strategic prize for the mostly Shiite paramilitary forces and their backer Iran, who also supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. One division of the Iraqi government-sanctioned paramilitary group known as the Popular Mobilization Forces first reached Iraq's border with Syria on Monday after securing a string of small villages west of Mosul and south of Sinjar, according to Ahmed al-Asadi, the group's spokesman. "This will be the first step to the liberation of the entire border," he said.

Hundreds of Iranian worshippers have rallied in Tehran to denounce a Bahrain police raid on the hometown of a prominent Shiite cleric this week that left five of his supporters dead and 286 arrested. The Iranian demonstrators took to the streets after Friday prayers in Tehran, chanting "Death to the House of Khalifa," a reference to the ruling family of Bahrain, and also, "Death to the House of Saud," a reference to the Saudi royal family Iranian media said similar rallies took place in other cities and towns across the country. Predominantly Shiite Iran sees itself as a protector of Shiites across the Muslim world.


The highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, cuts through the insurgent badlands of the western Iraqi desert, and these days any truck driver risks confrontation with roving bands of gunmen. In the future, though, the United States envisions the road as something like the New Jersey Turnpike, with service stations, rest areas, cafes and tollbooths. As part of an American effort to promote economic development in Iraq and secure influence in the country after the fight against the Islamic State subsides, the American government has helped broker a deal between Iraq and Olive Group, a private security company, to establish and secure the country's first toll highway.

A senior commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed fighting Islamic State west of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Tehran-based Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday.  It is the first time Iran has announced the death of a senior commander during the operations launched in October to drive the Islamist militants out of Mosul. "Commander Shaaban Nassiri was martyred in operations to free the area west of Mosul," the Tasnim news agency quoted the Revolutionary Guards as saying. The IRGC is the main backer of the Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary force known as Popular Mobilisation, fighting Islamic State west of Mosul. Nassiri was killed near Baaj, one of the last cities which remain under Islamic State control, near the Syrian border, according to Mashregh, an Iranian news website. Baghdadi is believed to be hiding in this region, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.


In the week before the May 19 presidential election in Iran, the eventual victor, Hassan Rouhani, criticised the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guards with rhetoric rarely heard in public in the Islamic republic. Now, in the eyes of his supporters, it is time to deliver. Millions of Rouhani's followers expect him to keep pushing on human rights issues.  "The majority of Iranians have made it clear that they want improvement on human rights," said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. "Expectations are running high." That message came through loud and clear shortly before Rouhani, who won re-election with more than 57 percent of the vote, took the stage at a gathering of supporters in Tehran last week.


Iranian newspapers say police dispersed dozens of protesters who had gathered outside the country's central bank in Tehran, demanding their money back from a credit company. The papers, including the reformist Shargh daily, say Monday's rally was staged by depositors of the Caspian Credit Institute, a government-backed low-interest-rate loan fund now long defunct. The reports say the protesters chanted "death to (Valiullah) Seif," the governor until they were dispersed. Similar gatherings took place in two other cities. The Caspian Credit Institute, founded in 1990s as a local low-interest-rate loan fund, attracted thousands of investors by paying higher interest rates but later failed to fulfill its promises. Occasionally, depositors gather for protests. Hundreds of similar funds are active across Iran but the government has struggled to manage them under banking regulations.

Defeated hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi has complained of voter fraud in Iran's presidential election and called on the judiciary and the election watchdog to investigate, the semi-official Fars news agency said on Monday. The allegations, likely to stoke up Raisi's conservative supporters, were among his strongest since losing the bitterly contested May 19 vote to incumbent Hassan Rouhani by a margin of 57 percent to 38. Indignant at Rouhani's re-election, hardliners have vowed to press their conservative agenda. The head of the judiciary on Monday separately criticised Rouhani's campaign promises to work for the release of two opposition leaders under house arrest. "Tampering with the numbers of people's participation is inappropriate. Not sending ballots to centers where the government's opponent has a chance of getting votes is very inappropriate," Raisi was quoted as saying.


President Trump has an Iran problem. He has inherited a nuclear deal that he opposes but that he cannot change. The financial and economic sanctions that forced Iran to negotiate are largely gone and ending the agreement would remove controls over Iran's nuclear activities. Trump's current approach is rhetoric, sticking to the nuclear deal, minor sanctions, and a policy review. Instead, he needs a strategy to fill President Barack Obama's policy gaps on nuclear weapons research, missiles, and human rights. Trump's first step must be to demand Iran reveal all its weaponization research. The world must know exactly how far the Islamic Republic progressed and which countries helped it. Without this knowledge, and given the regime's record of cheating, Iran will seek a nuclear weapon when the deal's restrictions start expiring after 2027. Without full disclosure, the Iran agreement delays, but does not deny, the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons ambitions.

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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