Monday, May 8, 2017

Eye on Iran: Miners At Disaster Site Besiege Iranian President's Car

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Angry coal miners besieged a car carrying Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday after he visited the site of a deadly mine explosion, a rare protest targeting the nation's top elected official as he campaigns for re-election. Soot-covered miners, enraged over the disaster that reportedly killed at least 35 miners Wednesday in Iran's northern Golestan province, kicked and beat the armored SUV carrying Rouhani. The incident offered an extraordinary sign of very public dissent ahead of Iran's May 19 presidential poll, a contest largely viewed as a referendum on Rouhani and his nuclear deal with world powers. Official state media did not immediately report on the incident, first brought to light by videos posted online by the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies. Both are believed to have links to Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force that Rouhani criticized during a televised presidential debate on Friday.

President Hassan Rouhani's trip to the coal mine in northern Iran was all going to plan, until the crowd massed in front of his car chanting "it's a day of mourning for workers". Seconds later, shaky footage of Sunday's protest showed a man jumping onto the bonnet and stamping hard on the metalwork, a rare direct confrontation against the background of a highly-charged election race that keeps returning to one subject - Iran's stuttering economy. Rouhani was officially there to visit families bereaved by an explosion at Zemestanyurt mine last week. But the protest slogans broadened out into other areas - poor safety standards, late payments, poor insurance coverage and seasonal unemployment.

When Iran last year cemented a landmark nuclear agreement with six world powers to remove many of the sanctions against it, Hassan Rouhani, the country's reformist president, said it would aim to attract at least $30bn a year of foreign investment. "From today, merchants and entrepreneurs in our country can benefit from normal ways of banking transactions to start their exports," he said. "From today, our banks are reconnected to the world's banking system. Today is the day of victory." The hope was that as Iran came in from the cold, international banks would begin to finance business in the country, spurring foreign investment and driving economic growth that had long been stunted by widespread trade restrictions.


Each of Iran's six presidential candidates committed Friday to uphold a nuclear deal with world powers should he win the May 19 election, a vote widely seen as a potential referendum on the accord's benefits for average Iranians. The statements of support came during a debate that was broadcast live on Iranian state television, the second of three scheduled for the short campaign season. President Hassan Rouhani, whose government negotiated the deal in exchange for sanctions relief, is facing five challengers. His critics have blasted the agreement, whose signatories include the United States, saying it has failed to usher in economic prosperity. The moderate Rouhani sought to defend his signature achievement against such criticisms, saying that without it, "instead of producing 2 million barrels of oil a day, that number would be as low as 200,000 barrels a day."

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has used a presidential TV debate to accuse the country's powerful revolutionary guards of attempting to sabotage its nuclear agreement with the west by testing ballistic missiles with provocative anti-Israeli messages written on them. The moderate cleric, who is seeking re-election in a six-man race scheduled for 19 May, came under attack about his administration's performance in Friday's three-hour-long televised debate focused on domestic and foreign policy. But Rouhani defended his record, and accused his domestic opponents of rooting for Donald Trump. "We saw what they did in order to disrupt Barjam," Rouhani said referring to the Persian acronym for the landmark nuclear agreement. "They wrote messages on the missiles so that we won't be able to reap its benefits," he said, mentioning the elite force's testing of two ballistic missiles in March 2016, just two months after sanctions were lifted.


Citing a POLITICO investigation, Republican leaders of the House oversight committee said Friday they have launched a sweeping investigation into whether the Obama administration, in trying to win support for a nuclear deal and prisoner swap with Tehran last year, undermined an ambitious U.S. counterproliferation effort to thwart Iranian weapons trafficking networks. Also in response to the POLITICO investigation, 13 Republican senators have demanded answers about whether the Obama administration jeopardized U.S. national security as a result of its protracted top-secret negotiations with Tehran, and then misled the American public when disclosing the terms of the two deals in January 2016.

A bipartisan group of House members are pressing President Donald Trump to take concrete steps to secure the unconditional, safe return of several U.S. citizens and permanent residents imprisoned in Iran after the administration leveled sanctions last month on its prison system and officials who run it. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Ted Poe (R., Texas), Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), this week introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on Trump to make the release of at least six U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents the "highest of priorities" and urging the U.S. and its allies who also have citizens detained in Iran to create a multi-national task force to secure their release. Ros-Lehtinen blamed the Obama administration for giving Tehran an incentive to take more U.S. hostages with its $1.7 billion payment to Tehran last year, $400 million of which was paid in cash and timed to ensure the release of four U.S. hostages.


A consortium of two French companies that had signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran last year has failed to develop the international Imam Khomeini Airport City (IKAC). The investment agreement came in seven articles, said IKAC CEO Mahmoud Navidi, adding Iran repealed the contract four months ago when the French side did not keep up, Fars news agency reported May 6. The development project related to Iranshahr Terminal of the IKAC and the French side had agreed to offering financing and engineering services and more, Navidi said. He nevertheless added that Iran has held a tender to replace the French consortium, adding currently 50 Iranian and foreign companies have placed bids. The memorandum of understanding awarding Bouygues BOUY.PA the contract was agreed in January 2016.

A preliminary deal signed by Bouygues (BOUY.PA) last year to build and run a new terminal at Tehran's Khomeini airport has been canceled, a spokesman for the French construction group said on Friday. The memorandum of understanding awarding Bouygues the contract was agreed in January 2016. The project was hindered by the company's struggle to get financial backing from international banks, which are still wary of U.S. sanctions over their activities in Iran, online newspaper La Lettre de l'Expansion earlier reported. "The MoU is now void but there are still ongoing discussions with Iranian authorities," the Bouygues spokesman said. Aeroports de Paris (ADP.PA), initially Bouygues' partner for the Tehran airport terminal development, said in February it would no longer take part in the project.


Iran is buying equipment to avert a possible disruption in output at its share of the world's biggest natural gas field, in the event the U.S. decides to impose additional sanctions on its economy, the head of state-run operator Pars Oil & Gas Co. said. The company is buying "essential equipment" it would need to avert a halt in operations at the offshore South Pars deposit, in case the U.S. imposes new curbs on Iran, Managing Director Mohammad Meshkin Fam said in an interview in Tehran. Under new sanctions, the company's purchase of a simple valve for the field would become "a most challenging task," he said. "They will not be able to stop our work altogether, but they will greatly slow down the progress here at South Pars gas field and make it astronomically more expensive," Meshkin Fam said Sunday.

South Africa's MTN Group has agreed to invest more than $295 million in Iranian Net, a fixed line broadband network in which it is to buy an initial 49 percent stake. The outline deal announced on Monday extends MTN's interests in the Iranian telecoms market that has opened up to foreigners following the lifting of international sanctions, which has also allowed MTN to repatriate $1 billion in accumulated dividends from its 49 percent stake in wireless network operator Irancell. The latest agreement, which is still at a non-binding stage, is the second for MTN in Iran this year after Africa's biggest wireless networks group invested in Iran Internet Group, which runs a car hailing app called


Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed in a memorandum signed on May 4 to establish four separate de-escalation zones in Syria for at least six months, according to a text detailing the agreement published by the Russian foreign ministry on Saturday. The largest de-escalation zone includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The other three zones are in northern Homs province, the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital Damascus and along the Jordanian border in southern Syria.  The guarantors will finalize maps of the de-escalation zones by June 4, and the agreement can be extended automatically if the three guarantor states agree.

A top Russian general said troops from Iran will join with Turkey and Russia in securing four safe zones in Syria under an initiative aimed at shoring up a shaky cease-fire, even as Syrian rebel groups are resisting the plan because they oppose an Iranian role. Lt. General Sergei Rudskoi said that Syrian government forces will refrain from attacking rebel groups, including by air, if they're observing the truce in the so-called de-escalation zones, according to an emailed statement from the Defense Ministry in Moscow. He said that Russia has already halted air assaults in those areas as of May 1. The zones, which may be expanded to include other locations, cover areas inhabited by about 2.7 million people, he said. They're in northern Syria in territory covering parts of the provinces of Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama, as well as the north of Homs province, the east Ghouta suburb of the capital Damascus and in southern Syria on the border with Jordan.


The head of the Iranian armed forces warned Islamabad on Monday that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government does not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks. Ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants last month. Iran said Jaish al Adl, a Sunni militant group, had shot the guards with long-range guns, fired from inside Pakistan. The border area has long been plagued by unrest from both drug smuggling gangs and separatist militants. "We cannot accept the continuation of this situation," Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. "We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases." "If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are," he said.


Iran's armed forces warned President Hassan Rouhani against discussing the country's defence program after he criticized the anti-Israel slogans written on the side of ballistic missiles, local media reported Saturday. During an election debate Friday, Rouhani took the rare step of criticizing the elite Revolutionary Guards for the provocative messages they wrote on ballistic missiles before testing them. "We saw how they wrote slogans on missiles and showed underground (missile) cities to disrupt the JCPOA (nuclear deal)," he said during the debate, which comes ahead of the May 19 election. Armed Forces spokesman General Masoud Jazayeri responded that the missile program had "no connection" to the nuclear deal.


Adel al-Shuja, a member of the General People's Congress which was the party of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, accused the Houthis of selling Yemen to Iran for a cheap price. Shuja said on his Facebook page that the Houthis are linked to Iran as their statements scandalize them, adding that the slogan "death to America" is an Iranian tune. He also said that the slogan represents a ritual of the Khomeini culture and it has transferred from Tehran to Beirut's southern suburb and then to Sanaa. Shuja also said that the practices of Houthi militias are based on a racial and extremist ideology as the Houthis believe that there is no other way for them persist unless they rely on their dogmatism.


Iran will hit back at most of Saudi Arabia with the exception of Islam's holiest places if the kingdom does anything "ignorant", Tehran's defense minister was quoted as saying on Sunday after a Saudi prince threatened to move the "battle" to Iran. "If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina," Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying. "They think they can do something because they have an air force," he added in an apparent reference to Yemen, where Saudi warplanes regularly attack Iran-aligned Houthi forces in control of the capital Sanaa. Dehghan, speaking to Arabic-language Al-Manar TV, was commenting on remarks by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said on Tuesday any contest for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and the revolutionary Shi'ite theocracy ought to take place "inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia".


Hardline rivals challenged President Hassan Rouhani in a pre-election debate on Friday over the lack of economic revival since his nuclear deal with big powers, but he said oil exports had resurged and the economy only needed more time to recover. Rouhani was elected by a landslide in 2013 on pledges to end Iran's international isolation that had crippled the economy and to ease restraints on society in the Islamic Republic. He seeks re-election on May 19 against hardline rivals, though even supporters voice disappointment at his performance in office. In a debate in Tehran carried live on state TV, Rouhani battled criticism that few Iranians had enjoyed any tangible benefits from the 2015 deal under which Iran curbed its disputed nuclear activity in exchange for relief from global sanctions.

Iran's supreme leader on Sunday criticized the government of President Hassan Rouhani for promoting a "Western-influenced" United Nations education plan which his hardline allies have said contradicts Islamic principles. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's remarks came ahead of May 19 polls, in which the president is seeking re-election. "In this country, the basis is Islam and the Koran. This is not a place where the faulty, corrupt and destructive Western lifestyle will be allowed to spread its influence," Khamenei told a gathering of educators, according to his website. "It makes no sense to accept such a document in the Islamic Republic," Khamenei said, referring to the Education 2030 plan proposed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani faced furious protests from victims' families on Sunday when he visited the site of a mine accident that claimed dozens of lives, two weeks ahead of an election. Local news agencies showed people stamping on Rouhani's car and beating the windows as it tried to make its way through an angry crowd at the site in the northern Golestan province, where at least 26 people were killed by an explosion on Wednesday. "Why is there no safety at the mine? Why does no one care?" shouted one emotional spokesman for the miners at the scene, in a video shared on social media. "Last year, we gathered in front of the governor's office together with our wives because we were unpaid for 14 months. And you, the president, didn't even notice," he added.

Iran's state TV Saturday censored a documentary released by President Hassan Rouhani's campaign, ahead of the upcoming presidential election. A report by the semi-official ILNA did not elaborate but a Rouhani campaign official confirmed to The Associated Press that state TV had cut parts of "President Rouhani".He said one censored segment showed supporters chanting for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house-arrest since 2011 and whose Green Movement hard-liners oppose. Also omitted was a picture of former President Mohammad Khatami, whose name and image have been banned in Iranian media since 2015. He said state TV also cut out a remark by a student in which he said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenea supported the 2015 landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

In countries with state-controlled media, being president usually gives you command of the airwaves. Not in Iran, where power rests both with elected leaders and guardians of the Islamic Republic. So as he seeks a second term in the May 19 election, moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters are increasingly circumventing the nation's censors using social media. A campaign video released by Rouhani's team was aired on state television on Saturday only after the broadcaster cut extracts that it deemed politically sensitive, including chants in favor of a former premier who's been under house arrest since 2011. Within minutes, the offending clips had been released by the president's campaign office and were circulating via the popular messaging app Telegram, which has some 40 million users in Iran.


On Apr. 17, 2017, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson described the Iran nuclear deal as a failure but said Tehran was complying with its terms. Tillerson stopped short of threatening to abandon the 2015 accord brokered by the major powers or saying if the Trump administration would penalize Iran with new sanctions on ballistic missiles or state-sponsored terrorism. Tillerson announced the National Security Council (NSC) would review the accord. For Iran, being a state sponsor of international terrorism and proliferator of ballistic missiles since Jan. 1984 are two sides of the same coin. The State Department designated Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984; Iran continued its terrorist-related activity through 2014, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza (Hamas), Lebanese Hezbollah, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, which are a threat to allies like Israel and friends, such as Jordan and the Gulf States. Tehran also transferred short-and mid-range ballistic missiles to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Foreign policy has traditionally come second to domestic issues in Iranian presidential elections. Yet ever since the 2013 presidential election, foreign policy debates have come to the fore. Four years ago, Hassan Rouhani ran for president with a symbolic key to open the doors to resolve Iran's mainly economic challenges. As in the 2013 presidential polls, foreign policy has increasingly become a key component of Iran's presidential elections. During the 2013 election, Rouhani argued that many difficulties were rooted in the country's foreign policy, declaring that it's time for foreign policy to serve Iran's economy. He also said in yet another highly symbolic sentence that the spinning of uranium enrichment centrifuges is valuable once the economy's wheels also spin. Therefore, his foreign policy agenda focused on resolving both the nuclear issue and easing tensions with Iran's Arab neighbors. Nonetheless, resolving the nuclear issue through engagement with six world powers came first, paying off with the signing of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian media outlets voiced their anger following Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent interview. He was clear and frank as he stated that Iran must choose to either be a civil state which is possible to agree with within the framework of mutual interests and according to the pillars of secular work or it can remain a revolutionary state that bases its foreign policy on doctrinal myths. The prince also spoke about Moscow during the interview. He said Russia is a country that's possible to agree with as no matter how different its projects and orientations are, it's still possible to agree with it because there is a common background and because the basis of negotiations is based on developments on the ground, on the calculations of interests and on seeking points of weakness and strength. 

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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