Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran's Re-Engagement With The World At Stake In Friday Presidential Vote

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Iranians vote for president on Friday in a contest likely to determine whether Tehran's re-engagement with the world stalls or quickens, although whatever the outcome no change is expected to its revolutionary system of conservative clerical rule. Seeking a second term, pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, 68, remains the narrow favorite, but hardline rivals have hammered him over his failure to boost an economy weakened by decades of sanctions. Many Iranians feel a 2015 agreement he championed with major powers to lift sanctions in return for curbing Iran's nuclear program has failed to produce the jobs, growth and foreign investment he said would follow. The normally mild-mannered cleric is trying to hold on to office by firing up reformist voters who want less confrontation abroad and more social and economic freedom at home.

One of the leading hard-line candidates for Iran's presidency withdrew from the race on Monday, in a move aimed at consolidating the conservative vote ahead of Friday's election. The candidate, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, threw his support behind Ebrahim Raisi, a former top official of the judiciary, who is seen as the main threat to the moderate incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani. Recent polls have put the combined support for the two conservative candidates at just over 50 percent, with Mr. Rouhani at around 42 percent. That is not to say, however, that all of Mr. Qalibaf's supporters will automatically vote for Mr. Raisi. In suspending his campaign, the third unsuccessful run he has made at the presidency, Mr. Qalibaf released a statement calling the Rouhani camp of moderates and reformists "pseudorevolutionaries" who are "consuming the roots of the revolution like termites."

Donald Trump's administration is likely to uphold its part of the historic nuclear deal with Iran this week, despite the US president's fierce criticism of the agreement, people close to the issue have told the Financial Times. Three people said that the administration was set to renew waivers that exempt non-US companies from sanctions for doing business with Iran, adding that officials from the US and elsewhere had already informed Tehran the waivers would remain in place. The waivers, which otherwise would expire in the coming days, are a central feature of the 2015 deal in which Tehran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.


A former CIA analyst said Monday the Iranians are continuing to help North Korea with weapons technology as Pyongyang's new missile test over the weekend was described as "a significant advance." North Korea's launch of an intermediate ballistic missile test on Sunday appears to be a new model and shows an improved capability to reach U.S. military bases on Guam. Also, experts said the new missile is a mid-range ballistic missile and suggests Pyongyang maybe getting more proficiency with reentry technology that could be used for longer-range missiles. Such reentry mastery would be required for a nuclear warhead to withstand extreme temperatures and other stresses of atmospheric reentry of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).


Top officials from the Obama administration are working to stymie congressional pressure on Iran, including through a quiet push in Congress by an organization that has been criticized for helping mislead the public about the Iran deal, according to correspondence obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The Ploughshares Fund, described by the Obama White House as a key promoter of the nuclear deal, distributed a letter to congressional staffers last week written by former Obama Treasury official Adam Szubin that harshly criticizes pending Iran sanctions legislation. Ploughshares came under fire last May for giving hundreds and thousands of dollars to media outlets and fueling what Obama Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was an "echo chamber." A Ploughshares official cc'd Szubin on the email with the letter, and welcomed congressional staffers to reach out to him for further discussion. The sanctions bill is expected to move forward in coming weeks.


French carmakers PSA and Renault are turning their U.S. absence into an Iranian advantage by piling into a resurgent market still off-limits to foreign rivals fearful of sanctions under Donald Trump's administration. The French investment has been seized upon by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election this week, as evidence that his pursuit of a nuclear detente and attempts to attract foreign money will pay off for the economy. PSA - the maker of Peugeots and Citroens - and Renault have pushed hard into Iran since its 2015 deal with world powers that saw international sanctions lifted in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear activities. PSA has signed production deals worth 700 million euros ($768 million), while Renault has announced a new plant investment to increase its production capacity to 350,000 vehicles a year.

IranAir is set to take delivery of four ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft on Tuesday, part of plans to rebuild its fleet after nuclear-related sanctions against Iran were lifted last year. The four turboprop aircraft, painted in IranAir colors, are due to be handed over at ATR's Toulouse headquarters on Tuesday and are scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Wednesday, European and Iranian aviation industry officials said. The deliveries will bring to seven the number of new Western aircraft delivered to Iran since trade reopened under a deal between Tehran and major powers to drop most sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear research activities. The state airline, which has ordered 20 of the planes made by a joint venture between Airbus (AIR.PA) and Italy's Leonardo (LDOF.MI), is set to use the four aircraft on underserved regional routes. The 70-seat ATR 72-600 is worth $26.8 million at list prices. IranAir is expected to take delivery of the remaining 16 ATR aircraft by the end of 2018, including another five this year.


Iran has changed the course of a land corridor that it aims to carve to the Mediterranean coast after officials in Iraq and Tehran feared a growing US military presence in north-eastern Syria had made its original path unviable. The new corridor has been moved 140 miles south to avoid a buildup of US forces that has been assembled to fight Islamic State (Isis). It will now use the Isis-occupied town of Mayadin as a hub in eastern Syria, avoiding the Kurdish north-east, which had earlier been mooted by Iranian leaders as a crucial access route. The changes have been ordered by Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds force, and Haidar al-Ameri, the leader of the Popular Mobilisation Front in Iraq, whose Shia-dominated forces have edged closer to the Iraqi town of Ba'aj, a key link in the planned route and where the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is known to have been based for much of the past three years.


For 18 days last month, a team of computer security experts found themselves engaged in a digital version of hand-to-hand combat with a group of hackers determined to break into the network of a military contractor. Every time the hackers, believed to be Iranian, gained a toehold in one server, the defenders shut down their access. A few days later, the hackers would come in through another digital door, and again the defenders would block them. While dueling with the hackers, the security experts said they encountered something that they had never seen before when dealing with an Iranian cyberattack: a Russian connection. Specifically, they found that the Iranians were using a tool set developed by a known Russian hacker-for-hire and sold in underground Russian forums. The tool had popped up in connection with an attack in Ukraine in 2015, when Russian hackers successfully shut down parts of Ukraine's power grid.


Almost 40 years ago a plot of land in the north of Tehran was confiscated from its wealthy owners in the wake of Iran's Islamic revolution. It was one of many such land grabs by the country's new leaders who promised to help the poor and win their support. Today that same 4,000 sq m site is home to a newly-built tower block. But rather than housing the city's poor, it is occupied by some of its wealthiest residents. The 10-storey building features tennis courts and a snooker hall on the ground floor; a garden and swimming pool on the roof; Porsche sports cars sit in the parking lot and Venetian chandeliers hang in the elegant high-ceiling lobby. Even the smallest of the 30-plus apartments would cost at least 120bn rials ($3.8m) to buy.

As a college student studying mechanics, Hamidreza Faraji had expected after graduation to land a steady job with a fixed salary, a pension plan and the occasional bonus. He envisioned coming home at 6 p.m. to his family and vacationing at a resort on the Caspian Sea. But Mr. Faraji, 34, has long since given up on all that. These days, he said, the only people who lead such predictable lives are government employees. Their jobs are well paid and offer security, but are hard to get in part because older employees stay on well past retirement age, limiting opportunities for the next generation. So millions of Iranians, particularly younger ones, find themselves caught like Mr. Faraji in a vicious cycle of hidden poverty, an exhausting hustle to stay afloat, working multiple jobs and running moneymaking schemes just to keep up. The youth unemployment rate is 30 percent.

Iran has a history of cracking down on the independent press ahead of elections, with authorities arresting journalists and forcing reformist outlets to shut down. As Iranians prepare to vote in presidential and city council elections on May 19, authorities have turned their attention to Telegram, arresting several channel administrators for the app. With mainstream social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter blocked for most users in the country, Telegram has become a popular way for Iranians to share news. A tech expert and a journalist with whom CPJ spoke said that Telegram played a critical role in the 2016 parliamentary Iranian election--in which dozens of moderate and reformist leaning candidates were elected to the Majles (Iran's parliament)--by allowing users to circumvent censorship. A video of former president Mohammad Khatami, for instance, in which he encouraged people to vote for reformist candidates, was widely shared on Telegram. Iranian media are banned from showing Khatami and YouTube is blocked, leaving Telegram as one of the few ways for supporters to share Khatami's message inside Iran.

Iran's May 19 election is seen as a referendum on the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric who accepted limits on his nation's nuclear work in exchange for relief from international sanctions. In seeking re-election, Rouhani, 68, has faced criticism from conservatives and from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he's failed to deliver on promises that the nuclear deal would bring prosperity. He got a break when his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was ruled ineligible to join the race. But then one of his top challengers dropped out to support the other, posing a serious threat from the right. At stake in the election is whether Iran will continue integrating with the rest of the world or backtrack toward isolation.

"The regime has been given enough chance to come clean. It hasn't, for good reason. Therefore, I say forget about the regime, think about the people." He is the oldest son of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Now Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi says he is fighting for the soul of his nation. During his father's time, Tehran was a reliable ally and America was not the Great Satan as the U.S. has been so often called in Iran today. That ended when Pahlavi's family was overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. Now Pahlavi wants the Iranian people to rise up against the regime and establish a Parliamentary democracy based on democratic values, freedom and human rights.

An Iranian news agency says suspects behind the deadly attack on security forces in the southern city of Ahvaz have been arrested. Tuesday's report by the semi-official Tasnim agency cited the Revolutionary Guard commander for Khuzestan province, Gen. Hassan Shahvarpour, as saying the gunmen who killed two policemen on Monday have been arrested. He did not elaborate. On Monday, gunmen attacked a police station in Ahvaz, setting off a shootout that also wounded four policemen. Ahvaz was the scene of a series of deadly bombings and shootouts blamed on Arab separatists living in the region.


Iran's upcoming presidential election on May 19th has all the hallmarks of a Western-style democracy: a series of television debates, endorsements by elder statesmen and catchy campaign banners adorning cityscapes. But it is all window dressing. In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - and not the President - wields the ultimate power. Regardless of whoever is declared the winner, the Iranian people cannot expect any real change for the better either domestically or in their country's posture toward the outside world. The Supreme Leader controls the field of candidates from the beginning. He personally appoints half of the Guardian Council, which is the vetting arm of the Islamic Republic. The Judiciary Chief names the other half, yet the Supreme Leader installs the Judiciary Chief. In 2017, the Guardian Council whittled down 1,600 presidential aspirants to six final "acceptable" candidates by the Guardian Council.

I know what you're thinking: Why would any American favor Ibrahim Raisi, the hardest-line candidate for Iran's presidency in the May 19 election, over the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who is widely praised in world capitals as a moderate? There are two reasons, and the first is that Rouhani is not a moderate-or is at best a moderate utterly without influence. Consider both Iran's foreign and domestic policies during Rouhani's five years in office. On the domestic side, there has been zero improvement on human rights. The two reformist candidates in the 2009 presidential election, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Moussavi, were placed under house arrest in 2011. When Rouhani was elected president in 2013 everyone expected they'd be released-and indeed during his campaign he had promised to get them released. But they have not been. Persecution of the Baha'i has not moderated one iota under Rouhani, and the entire Baha'i community leadership is this week completing nine years in prison.

In the run up to President Trump's visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia next week, preparations included a visit to the White House by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday. The crown prince likely discussed the president's anti-ISIS and anti-terrorist agenda, how to blunt Iranian aggression and the robust U.S.-UAE economic and trade partnership. The crown prince's visit to Washington underscores what has become an exceptionally strong bilateral relationship - one focused not just on defense and security but on trade and commerce, as well as common values. To be sure, the UAE is a critical trade partner to the United States. In fact, the UAE is one of the few partners with which the U.S. has a very large trade surplus.  In 2016, the U.S. enjoyed a $19-billion trade surplus with the UAE, the third-largest among our global trading partners. That is because the UAE is the single largest export market for the U.S. in the broader region - larger than Israel and even India.

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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