Monday, May 1, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran's Leader Rebuffs Rouhani's Detente Policy Ahead Of Vote

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Iranians should not thank Hassan Rouhani's policy of detente with the West for any reduction in the threat of war, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday, stepping up his criticisms of the president as elections approach. In comments that appeared to favor hardline candidates in the May 19 vote, Khamenei played down the benefits of Rouhani's landmark agreement to curb Iran's nuclear activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions. "Some say since they took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state media. "It's been people's presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country."

The European Union rallied behind Iran's nuclear deal during a high-level visit to the country over the weekend, vowing to safeguard the accord despite U.S. threats to scrap it and pledging to support the Islamic Republic's economy. With less than three weeks before Iran's presidential elections, the EU's push to bring the country into the international fold pits Brussels against Washington, which is ratcheting up pressure on Tehran for "not living up to the spirit" of the 2015 nuclear agreement-even as it fulfills its commitments. Differences over the Iran deal come as the EU puzzles over the U.S. stance on critical policies, while President Donald Trump seeks to execute a central campaign promise: rolling back his predecessor's landmark initiatives, including efforts to fight climate change and enact global trade agreements.

A dissident Iranian television executive was assassinated in Istanbul on Saturday evening, months after he was sentenced in absentia to a six-year prison term by an Iranian court for spreading propaganda. Saeed Karimian, the owner of Gem TV, a network of television channels that broadcasts in Farsi and other languages, was shot as he drove through an upscale neighborhood of northern Istanbul "minutes after leaving his office," Gem announced on Sunday. Also killed was his Kuwaiti business partner, whose name has not been released. The assailants fled, and their vehicle was found abandoned and partly destroyed in another part of Istanbul, according to reports by Gem and several Turkish news outlets. Sukru Genc, the mayor of the district in Istanbul where the attack occurred, confirmed the killing in an interview.


The Islamic Republic and the European Union will start the construction of an advanced nuclear safety center in Iran in the near future, Iran's nuclear chief says. Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi made the remarks in a joint press conference on Saturday with European Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, who is in Tehran to take part in the first-ever Iran-EU Business Forum on Sustainable Energy. Salehi added that the nuclear safety center would extend services to regional countries as well. He added that he has now held three rounds of talks with the EU commissioner over the past 1.5 years, adding that "very good achievements" have since been made and a large portion of the agreements have been implemented.


Iran has acknowledged discussing the fate of detained dual nationals with the United States, saying there have been "positive results" for prisoner trades in the past. Monday's comments by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi mark the first official government acknowledgement of discussing prisoners with the U.S. at a recent meeting in Vienna. That meeting last week focused on implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Ghasemi told journalists: "In the past ... we had talks for humanitarian reasons with Americans over (swapping) some (American) prisoners with Iranian prisoners jailed in the U.S. and it had positive results too." Among the dual nationals held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi. They are serving 10-year prison sentences for "cooperating with the hostile American government."

Economic sanctions have often been seen as a crude political tool with varying effectiveness in bending the will of governments, whether it was Cuba, North Korea or apartheid South Africa. But the continuing US sanctions against Iran have given some measure of personal satisfaction to dozens of American families who have begun to receive cash payments as compensation for the loss or maiming of loved ones in what the US has judged to be state-sponsored acts of terrorism. Among the recipients are the 53 Americans taken hostage in 1979 and held at their embassy in Tehran for 444 days. More than $1bn has been disbursed from a fund established by Congress. The money comes from nearly $9bn in penalties and fines the US government imposed on French Bank BNP Paribas for moving Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban deposits through the financial system in violation of American sanctions. The fund is expected to add to its coffers when Chinese telecom maker ZTE Corporation pays out more than $1bn in settling another sanctions case.


Iran said on Sunday it was now self-sufficient in petroleum production as President Hassan Rouhani opened a refinery in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.The Persian Gulf Star refinery has the capacity to produce 12 million litres of Euro IV petrol. Once fully operational, the refinery will produce 36 million litres of petrol. "By the opening of the first phase of this refinery an old dream came true ... We are self-sufficient in petrol production and in near future we will be able to export," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the oil ministry's news agency SHANA.


Wary of U.S. President Donald Trump's tough talk on Iran, the European Union is courting Tehran to show Iranians preparing to vote in a May 19 presidential poll that it is committed to a nuclear deal and they stand to benefit, EU diplomats say. Europe's energy commissioner is leading more than 50 European firms in a business forum in Tehran over the weekend - the latest bid to foster new ties in the 16 months since Iran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Of the six major powers who engineered the deal - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - EU nations bore the brunt of the oil embargo on Iran and stand to gain the most from a thaw they view as a victory for European diplomacy.

Tehran protested to Islamabad Friday over a cross-border raid by armed rebels who killed 10 Iranian guards in the restive southeast. "We expect those responsible for this terrorist attack to be arrested and prosecuted," President Hassan Rouhani said in a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The foreign ministry also called in the Pakistani ambassador to protest over Wednesday evening's raid in the Mirjaveh district of Sistan-Baluchistan province. The province has a large Sunni community and has seen repeated attacks by Sunni militants against the security forces of mainly Shiite Iran. The porous border region with Pakistan has also been prey to violence by drug smugglers.


When U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greeted Saudi Arabia's foreign minister at the Pentagon last month, the first thing he did was joke about the time "the Iranians tried to murder you." Mattis' reference to a foiled 2011 plot, denied by Iran, was a telling sign of how much more aligned President Donald Trump's administration is with Gulf allies about what they perceive to be the Iranian threat, a shift that seems to be setting the stage for greater U.S. involvement in Yemen, in particular. After long seeking to distance itself from Yemen's brutal civil war, the United States under Trump now appears increasingly to see the conflict through the Gulf's prism of Iranian meddling, even as Washington prioritizes a parallel fight against al Qaeda.


An Iranian filmmaker imprisoned over his work has been released from prison after serving about five months of his yearlong sentence. Keywan Karimi told The Associated Press on Sunday that he did not receive any of the 223 lashes that was part of his sentence. Karimi says: "I want to continue filmmaking, but I don't know how and in which country." Karimi is best known by international film critics for his 2013 black-and-white minimalist film, "The Adventure of the Married Couple." He is one of several artists, poets, journalists, models and activists arrested in a crackdown on expression led by hard-liners who oppose President Hassan Rouhani's more moderate policies and efforts to promote openness with the outside world. His release comes ahead of Iran's May presidential election.

There is a renewed focus on the handful of American citizens who remain locked up in Iran, after Politico recently reported that the Iranian prisoners released by the Obama administration last year were set free despite being deemed potential threats to national security. It was in January 2016 that we learned a group of American citizens in Iranian custody were finally being released as part of ongoing negotiations over the Iran nuclear agreement. Their return came in exchange for the release of several Iranians by the U.S., individuals who were described by then-President Obama as "civilians" who had never been "charged with terrorism or any violent offenses." As the president pointed out at the time, however, not every American believed to be trapped in Iran was coming home, and some are still missing to this day. Here is a list of Americans still being held in Iran.


Hardline conservative challengers accused Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an election debate on Friday of failing to revive the economy even after a diplomatic thaw with the West he has touted as the key to attracting new investment. During a three-hour debate carried live on state television, the pragmatist Rouhani's opponents sought to denigrate his economic record and said that the Islamic Republic would be harmed if he were re-elected on May 19. Rouhani secured Iran's nuclear accord with world powers in 2015, welcomed by many Iranians, but discontent has risen over the lack of broad improvement in living standards despite the lifting of most international sanctions in 2016 under the deal.

Just a few days ago, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi was the contender to watch in the race to unseat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. By the weekend, his candidacy was already in doubt. In the harsh, fast-paced politicking typical of Iran's campaign season, Raisi's candidacy quickly foundered after his poor performance in a live television debate. Six candidates approved by Iran's Guardian Council, a clerical oversight body, took the stage Friday in the first of three planned debates ahead of the May 19 election. Debates have become a popular feature of the country's elections, drawing large audiences and producing some of the most memorable moments of recent campaigns. They can also make or break candidates in an election period that takes place over a period of just a few weeks.

Iran's May 19 election is seen as a referendum on the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric who championed integrating Iran with the global economy and accepted limits on his nation's nuclear work in exchange for relief from sanctions. He entered his reelection campaign facing criticism from conservatives and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over his economic policies. The economy was a main theme of the first of three televised debates among Rouhani and his five challengers.

President Hassan Rouhani told Iranians on Saturday they could face greater authoritarianism if they replace him with a hardline rival in May's election. Rouhani was the surprise winner of the last presidential vote, in 2013, after eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose re-election for a second term in 2009 caused mass protests and a severe security crackdown. He now faces serious competition from hardliners, some of whom are close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has criticized Rouhani's economic record, saying his detente with the West and concessions on Iran's nuclear work had yet to yield economic benefits.


Crafting a new Middle East security policy is a daunting task. However, despite the war in Syria, the missile threats from Hamas and Hezbollah, the ongoing terrorist violence in Iraq, and the conflict in Yemen, 2017 may be, ironically, a particularly propitious time for U.S. security policy to move in a different direction, while also preserving what is right about U.S. policy and changing what is wrong. Iran's hostile behavior is of a long standing nature, having been initiated in 1979 and continued through this past decade. It is not new and is not a reaction to bad American actions. It is rooted in the very nature of the Iranian regime. Unless we face that reality, our efforts to eliminate Iran's pursuit of both nuclear weapons and a hegemonic role in the Middle East will be for naught.

The conversation in Washington about the nuclear deal with Iran has been on tactical issues like how many months it might take for Iran "to breakout" from constraints of the agreement-length of time Tehran would need to produce enough highly enriched uranium to make one nuclear weapon. To extend breakout time, the accord requires a restriction on uranium enrichment at two key sites, Fordow and Natanz, and that the core of a heavy-water reactor in Arak be rendered inoperable. Without doing so, a plutonium byproduct might have been reprocessed into weapons-grade material, which would be another route for Iran to acquire the Bomb Nuclear weaponization is the conduct of experimentation on large-scale high explosives.

Recent reports have indicated that the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran is even worse than its critics thought. Besides releasing over $130 billion dollars to a regime that has renounced neither its hopes for nuclear weapons nor its support for terrorism, the previous administration also released Iranians involved in high-tech smuggling. These revelations, along with provocations like banning international inspectors from military sites, provide excellent reasons for President Trump not only to discontinue the deal, but also to open a broader offensive against the Iranian regime. Deal or no deal, Iran's leadership has made plain its intention to continue its drive for nuclear weapons. This objective is not surprising, since the promise of nuclear weapons is the only accomplishment they have to offer the Iranian people.

Since being elected, President Trump has reversed or softened a number of problematic positions he took during last year's campaign. He has decided not to declare China a currency manipulator, he has not withdrawn the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement - as he threatened to do if Canada and Mexico didn't agree to "immediately" renegotiate its terms - and he hasn't followed through with a promise to "dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran" that placed limits on that country's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Yet on Iran, the president continues to send dangerously mixed signals that could jeopardize the nuclear agreement, divide the United States from its allies and embolden hard-liners in Iran. Trump is right to be concerned about Iran's support for militant groups in Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan, and its insistence on testing ballistic missiles that potentially could be used to deliver nuclear weapons. But he can respond to those provocations without repudiating - or hinting that he will repudiate - an agreement that is as much in this country's interest as it is Iran's.

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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