Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Eye on Iran: Powerful Saudi Prince Sees No Chance For Dialogue With Iran

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Saudi Arabia's powerful deputy crown prince ruled out on Tuesday any dialogue with arch rival Iran and pledged to protect his conservative kingdom from what he called Tehran's efforts to dominate the Muslim world. In unusually blunt remarks, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said any struggle for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and the revolutionary Shi'ite theocracy ought to take place "inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia". He did not elaborate. Prince Mohammed, also defence minister and a son of King Salman, also said in a nationally televised interview that Riyadh had the resources to crush Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in Yemen, where Saudi forces head an opposing coalition of Arab states, but that the cost would be heavy on both sides.

An influential Iranian clerical body on Tuesday threw its support behind presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, giving him a boost before the country's election on May 19. Raisi, a hard-line cleric who served for years on Iran's judiciary, is considered the main rival to President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who is running for reelection. Four other candidates have also entered the race, including Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri.  The clerical association, commonly referred to as Jame Modarresin in Farsi, is a group of seminary teachers from the holy city of Qom and has a number of high-profile hard-line clerics among its members.  A statement posted on the group's website Tuesday said that extensive discussions had taken place and that Raisi was chosen as the "best candidate."

Iran's president must get a second term to secure the economic benefits that he promised would result from a diplomatic thaw with the West, Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar said ahead of a May 19 election. Hassan Rouhani's hardline challengers for the presidency, some of whom are close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, say he traded away too much in a 2015 deal with world powers that limited Iran's nuclear work but failed to deliver sufficient rewards. In a rare interview with a trio of foreign reporters at an EU-Iran business forum on Sunday, Ebtekar, one of Iran's 12 vice presidents, said voters should not give up on Rouhani.


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that the next Iranian government should honor the international 2015 nuclear deal to improve Iranians' living standards, predicting that U.S. President Donald Trump will extend sanctions waivers as enshrined in the nuclear accord.  The nuclear deal, officially called the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was brokered between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and the European Union in July 2015. It went into effect in January 2016. Under the the deal, sanctions against Iran were lifted in exchange for a limit on Tehran's nuclear program. "Time has come for efforts made within the framework of the JCPOA to bear fruit," the foreign minister said in an interview with ISNA published on Tuesday.


Ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and a former U.S. attorney general seem "surprisingly disingenuous" and dismissive of the seriousness of criminal charges facing a wealthy Turkish businessman they've been hired to represent, a judge said on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman commented at a Manhattan court hearing designed to help him decide if Reza Zarrab understands conflicts of interest posed by hiring Giuliani and former U.S Attorney General Michael Mukasey as lawyers to help resolve the case against him diplomatically outside court. In affidavits written last month, Giuliani and Mukasey used nearly identical language to say they were hired to try to resolve the case against Zarrab, a well-known personality in Turkey accused of violating sanctions against Iran, as part of a deal between the United States and Turkey to promote U.S. national security interests.


President Hassan Rouhani said a strong rebound in domestic economy fresh out of years of severe sanctions hinges upon a thriving export sector."Today, Iranian workers' demands go beyond just payment issues. They want their products to be presented to the world. The government has been striving to pave the way for increased exports," the president was quoted as saying by his official website.He was addressing a gathering of workers on the occasion of International Workers' Day on Monday.Rouhani acknowledged that he has not been able to generate as much employment as he promised during his election campaigning in 2013. He has filed for reelection in the presidential polls later this month."The government has created two million jobs but we are all still suffering from the pain of three million unemployed people," he said.


Iran will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary in support of President Bashar al Assad's forces, a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was quoted on Tuesday as saying. Iran has provided military support to Assad's forces since at least 2012, but initially did not comment publicly on its role. But as the military support increased and Iranian casualties also rose, officials began to speak more openly. "The advisory help isn't only in the field of planning but also on techniques and tactics," the Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guard ground forces, as saying. "And because of this the forces have to be present on the battlefield" "We will continue our advisory help as long as they (the Syrians) need it," he added.

"Do we need a new policy on Syria?" This was the provocative question put by Iranian Diplomacy, a forum for retired diplomats of the Islamic Republic, in its latest issue in April. The writer, Mussavi Kahlakhali, claimed that Russia and the United States are approaching a tacit accord to divide the Syrian "cake" between them, leaving Islamic Iran to look for the crumbs. "We may soon find ourselves marginalized by the big powers in Syria," the writer claims. The writer recalls the Syrian government's decision to replace English with Russian as the country's official diplomatic language as a sign that Moscow is raising its profile in the war-torn country. Assad's Ambassador to Moscow Riyad Haddad is quoted as saying that the decision is an indication that Russia is now the key force in shaping Syria's future.


Pakistan says it has reached an agreement with Iran to strengthen security along the border, where gunmen killed 10 Iranian border guards last week. The porous border is frequented by drug smugglers as well as Islamic militants, both of whom have attacked border patrols in the past. Iranian media blamed last week's attack on "terrorists" without providing further details. Pakistan said the agreement was struck Wednesday during talks between visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.


Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic's fighting force into an "offensive" juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill. Iranian officials announced late last month that Iran's defense budget had increased by 145 percent under President Hassan Rouhani and that the military is moving forward with a massive restructuring effort aimed at making it "a forward moving force," according to regional reports.


The campaign headquarters of reformists in Khorasan Razavi Province, northeastern Iran, was shuttered on May 2, 2017-three weeks before the country's presidential and local council elections on May 19, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned. The order to shut down the Committee of Reformists in Khorasan Razavi Province was issued by Judge Hassan Heidari, the deputy prosecutor of Mashhad, Iran's second largest city. An informed source told CHRI the headquarters were shuttered because posters of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) had been hung up on the walls along with green banners, a symbol of Iran's Green Movement. The movement arose from the widespread peaceful protests that broke out across Iran in 2009 over the results of that year's presidential election.


Iran's reformist former president Mohammad Khatami has skirted a media ban to endorse moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani for a second term over conservative challengers in a tight May 19 election. Khatami, who during his 1997-2005 presidency oversaw a rapprochement with the West, has been barred from speaking openly since mass protests against the disputed reelection of his hardline successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. The hardliner's replacement by Rouhani in 2013 has seen a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that led to the lifting of most international economic sanctions but is threatened by a tougher stance from the new U.S. administration of Donald Trump.


It would be easy to assume that Hassan Rouhani is destined to win re-election in this month's Iranian presidential vote. His presidency produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement, or JCPOA, which reduced the chances of war with the United States and removed the most onerous sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran's oil output has increased as inflation has decreased, and the political system has achieved a degree of consensus and stability. But the Iranian president is not guaranteed a second term. Rouhani is poised to face off against hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi -- a largely unknown mid-ranking cleric, but also a loyal and trusted member of the revolutionary establishment Rouhani, although deeply committed to the regime, has never been fully trusted by the security forces, especially Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and he has at times disagreed with Iran's ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

President Trump's administration has correctly squared off with Iran, Syria and North Korea, indicating to all parties involved the years of appeasement with dictators has come to an end. As Tehran is coming to understand such policy overhauls from the United States, Trump should also place his crosshairs on Iran's notorious human rights violations. While Iran does pose a major military threat, through supporting what has been described by Trump as "radical Islamist terrorism," Tehran's ongoing human rights abuses should finally receive the long overdue attention they deserve. In fact, U.S. interests can be advanced through a robust challenging of Iran's domestic dissent crackdown. U.S. strategy seeking to confront Iran would receive a correct boost through combating Tehran's authoritarian dogma.

We were recently witness to the first debate of Iran's 2017 presidential election, which can be evaluated from a variety of perspectives. One simple conclusion is that all candidates failed to provide any hope for a better future. Remembering how the 2009 debates paved the way for nationwide uprisings rattling the regime's entire establishment, this year's debate was shortened in timing to prevent any uncontrollable sparks. Despite all this, the arguments provided a very vivid view into the regime's critical domestic crises. More important is the fact that, similar to all previous so-called "elections" in this regime, no candidate was able to provide a comprehensive political and economic agenda. Twelve rounds of presidential elections, parliamentary polls and votes for city councils have provided nothing but more of the same.

If President Trump travels to Riyadh later this month, as reported, he will find that the six leaders of the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) countries hold widely divergent views on Iran, the extent of the Iranian threat, and how to resolve the conflict in Yemen. This divergence has made it difficult to coordinate on a policy to challenge Iran's bad behavior without tipping the region into open conflict. So far, such efforts have focused on improving regional defense capabilities and U.S.-GCC security cooperation. In particular, the Trump administration has indicated it will help the Saudi-led coalition fight the pro-Iranian Houthi insurgency in Yemen by providing advanced munitions as well as logistics and intelligence support.

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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