Friday, May 26, 2017

Eye on Iran: Senate Panel Approves Stiff Iran Sanctions And Says Russia Is Next

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved on Thursday the most sweeping sanctions against Iran since the United States and five other nations reached an agreement with Tehran in 2015 to sharply limit that nation's nuclear capability, and the committee warned Russia that it was almost certain to be the next target. Because Iran has complied with the nuclear accord, the Senate committee had to find other reasons to impose the sanctions, and linked the penalties to Iran's continued support for terrorism and its human rights violations, among other concerns. But the timing of the long-planned punishment was awkward, coming right after Iranians overwhelmingly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, who has moved to expand personal freedoms in the country and integrate its economy with the West.

The Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah said on Thursday Saudi Arabia was on a losing path to more bloodshed in its struggle with Iran and instead urged Riyadh to seek dialogue and negotiations with Tehran. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed group, said Riyadh aimed to pull the United States into its conflict with Tehran after a summit where President Donald Trump signaled firm backing for Saudi Arabia while criticizing Iran. Nasrallah's group is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. "I advise Saudi to set aside struggle, hatred and war. Your only solution for the sake of all Muslims, the whole region ... is dialogue with Iran and to negotiate with Iran," Nasrallah said in a televised speech. "This path you are taking will only lead to spending billions more dollars and spilling more blood and you will be the ones who lose. You will fail," he said.

Iran is trying to gain a military base near the Israeli-Syrian border, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers warned the Trump administration. "A permanent Iranian military base in Syria, potentially near the border with Israel or Jordan, would increase Iran's operational capacity to inflict serious damage against two of our closest allies in the region," Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. That warning points to the strategic significance of the Syrian civil war, beyond the importance of defeating the Islamic State. Trump's team has authorized an intense barrage of airstrikes on ISIS, while opening the door to cooperation with Russia; a senior State Department official recently attended a peace talks summit between Syrian President Bashar Assad and opposition forces that was led by the Russians. But Russia is propping up Assad in partnership with Iran, which means the defeat of ISIS could inaugurate a new phase of regional rivalry.


Recently re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at the Trump administration this week, describing it as ignorant and saying that Iran "needs missiles" to confront the United States and its allies, according to recent remarks certain to rile leaders in Washington, D.C. Just days after President Donald Trump blasted the Islamic Republic for its illicit ballistic missile program and support of terrorism in the Middle East, Rouhani confirmed that Iran would not cease its missile activity, despite repeated calls by U.S. officials. "We need missiles and the enemy should know that we make everything we need and we don't pay an iota of attention to your words," Rouhani was quoted as saying on Wednesday during a meeting with Iranian cabinet members. "The remarks by the enemies of the Iranian nation against Iran's missile power are out of ignorance."


Iran hopes to sign groundbreaking deals with oil majors such as Total and Lukoil this year as the re-election this month of reformist Hassan Rouhani to the presidency should boost investments. Iran's veteran oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told Reuters in an interview he saw his country adding around a quarter to its production capacity in the next five years thanks to new projects with international companies. The development of new fields as well as improved oil recovery from mature reservoirs should allow Iran, OPEC's No.3 oil producer, to have the capacity to pump 5 million barrels per day, or 5 percent of global crude, versus 4 million bpd now. Gas condensate output capacity should increase to 1 million bpd from about 600,000 bpd now. "One important step was the election, because in this election Iranian people said 'yes' to positive interaction with the world," Zanganeh said in Vienna after a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

An Iranian bank sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department has opened its first branch in Italy, Iranian state media reported Wednesday. The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Saman Bank has opened a branch in Rome following meetings between officials with the Central Bank of Iran and Italian delegates last month. "Saman Bank opened its first agency in Rome in order to provide financing, investment, banking, and legal consulting services and also to create conditions for investment, and to introduce investment opportunities to the European, especially Italian, investors," the report read.

Norway, Denmark and Sweden will negotiate with Iran on May 29-30 aiming to modernize and liberalize commercial air travel agreements, the Norwegian Ministry of Transportation and Communications said in a statement on Friday. Top Scandinavian carriers SAS and Norwegian Air Shuttle currently do not fly to Iran.


IRGC Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen Ghassem Soleimani congratulated Ismail Haniyeh on his election as new leader of the Political Bureau of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). "We are hopeful about your efforts on institutionalizing Resistance along the Hamas' jihadi line and a virtuous fate for Palestinians at your hands," Soleimani has said in his message. He underlined the evil plots of Zionism and global Arrogance who seek weakening the Islamic Ummah; "they are trying to distract Ummah's jihad from its Islamic path and are seeking seizure of the Holy Qudas while the supporters of the city lack the will to save it."


The chief of Lebanon's Hezbollah group is telling Saudi Arabia that dialogue with Iran is the only way forward, lashing out at the kingdom's lavish royal welcome of U.S. president Donald Trump. In a speech Thursday, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah says the U.S. president is 'only interested in money' and is the most 'racist' U.S. president against Arabs and Muslims. He says the Saudi welcome and deals signed are a sign of the kingdom's weakness. Nasrallah was speaking days after Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia aimed at bolstering Saudi security, and after the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieddine.


The re-election of President Hassan Rouhani on May 19, 2017 was due in large part to the perception by the Iranian citizenry that his government would do more to improve human rights in Iran than his rivals-an outcome clearly desired by a majority of voters. During Rouhani's campaign rallies, not only did he make explicit references to issues of political and social freedom and promises to uphold such freedoms in his second term, his supporters also repeatedly made clear their demands for improvements in human rights. Despite Iran's tradition of giving the incumbent a second term, Rouhani's re-election was uncertain.


For Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, winning re-election may have been the easy part. His wide-margin victory over a hard-line rival shows a majority of Iranian voters prefer his promises of greater liberalization at home and deeper engagement with the world It is a win that brings hope to Iran's reform-minded urbanites and bulging youth population, who long to see their country move past its image as an oppressive and insular nation cut off from the West. That was clear from the throngs of chanting, clapping and dancing supporters who poured into Tehran's streets to celebrate his victory. "I hope we can enjoy more freedom and security in the next four years," said one, Ramin Mirzai, a 21-year-old Tehran University student. "I expect Rouhani to lift the house arrest" of opposition leaders, said another, drafting technician Farnoosh Kazemi, 26. "Work with neighboring and other international countries to make a better atmosphere in the country. We need more investment."

A majority of Iranians voted May 19 to give moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani a second term, but conservatives appear unwilling to accept the results of the balloting. Conservatives have been protesting the election process since the first hours of election day and are now accusing the Rouhani administration of violating the law. Such is not unprecedented. In 2016, prominent Iranian conservative Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel claimed that the government had violated the law during parliamentary elections, but without documentation to substantiate his claim. That election saw moderates and Reformists voted into parliament in large numbers.


The quixotic American pursuit of Middle East peace is a perennial. It invariably fails, yet every administration feels compelled to give it a try. The Trump administration is no different. It will fail as well. To be sure, no great harm has, as yet, come from President Trump's enthusiasm for what would be "the ultimate deal." It will, however, distract and detract from remarkable progress being made elsewhere in the Middle East. That progress began with Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia, the first of his presidency - an unmistakable declaration of a radical reorientation of U.S. policy in the region. Message: The appeasement of Iran is over. Barack Obama's tilt toward Iran in the great Muslim civil war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arabs led by Saudi Arabia was his reach for Nixon-to-China glory. It ended ignominiously.

On May 19, Iran held presidential elections. The moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, won a second four-year term by a landslide. Rouhani ran on a platform of engagement with the world, including the United States and Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors, and domestic social, political, and economic reforms. The hardliners ran on a populist and isolationist platform, and they lost the election by a large margin. But that doesn't mean that the battle is over; hardliners are now seeking to oppose Rouhani more forcefully by creating a shadow government. The idea of a shadow government has floated around Iran's political circles in the past. In 2005, reformists who had lost the election to hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised the possibility. But it never materialized, mostly because the regime tends to favor stability and continuity and likes to present an image of unity. But campaign seasons, although short in Iran, can be brutal.

More than 40 million Iranians voted last Friday in a presidential election to choose their country's future path: between one of engagement and diplomacy with the West and one based on a self-reliant economic populism. With a 73 percent turnout, Iranians overwhelmingly chose moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani in what was a clear defeat for the main conservative challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, and a major setback for the conservative camp. The uncertainty and high stakes involved in the election yet again confirms the importance of genuine electoral competition within the bounds of the Iranian political system and the serious role given to popular input and participation - as opposed to other Muslim states in the Middle East.

Complaints of media bias seem to be reaching a fever pitch-from conservatives and liberals alike. Right-wingers accuse a broad swath of the press of trying to undermine the presidency of Donald Trump. Left-wingers lament the airtime and credence outlets give to Trump supporters. Both groups object to what the media report and how they report it, but they point fingers at different culprits. Neither seemed to notice last week that one big story was narrated the same way by virtually every outlet: the presidential election in a country where chants of "Death to America" are a routine occurrence. "In the closing stretch of Iran's presidential race, it's a moderate reformer against a hard-line cleric," PBS NewsHour reported in the run-up to Iran's May 19 election. Those who know anything about life in Iran-or how many of its citizens have been deprived of it in the last few years-should have bristled to discover that the "moderate reformer" was incumbent president Hassan Rouhani.

Supporters of the "Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017" (S.722) will claim that it provides more tools for the United States to counter Iran's support for terrorism in the region. It sounds strong. Members of Congress are seeking to disrupt Iran's capabilities to aid violent extremism and destabilize the Middle East, and at first glance, it appears this bill attempts to do just that.  But in reality it is a symbolic move that would accomplish little other than delivering on a political talking point to be "tough on Iran," while carrying with it risks that Iran and other signatories to the deal will interpret it as signaling a lessening of the United States' commitment to the deal.

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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