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Iran Signs Oil For Goods Deal With Russia

Iran signed an agreement with Russia under which it has broken free from the petrodollar, and will “sell”, or rather barter crude oil to Russia in exchange for products. The announcement was made by Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, as reported by Russia’s RIA and TASS news agencies.

“The deal has been concluded. We are just waiting for the implementation from the Russian side. We have no difficulties; we signed the contract, everything is coordinated between the parties. We are waiting for Russian oil companies to send tankers,” he said, as quoted by Russian news agencies. While sanctions against Iran have been lifted, restrictions on trade in US dollars for the country’s banks remain, making it difficult to sell oil on the open market.

As reported here just over three years ago, the $20 billion agreement was initially signed in April 2014 when Iran was under Western sanctions over its nuclear program. Russian traders were to participate in the selling of Iranian oil. In exchange, Iran wanted essential goods and technology from Russia.

This is what Reuters reported in April 2014 when the deal was first announced:Iran and Russia have made progress towards an oil-for-goods deal sources said would be worth up to $20 billion, which would enable Tehran to boost vital energy exports in defiance of Western sanctions, people familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.
In January Reuters reported Moscow and Tehran were discussing a barter deal that would see Moscow buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods.

The White House has said such a deal would raise “serious concerns” and would be inconsistent with the nuclear talks between world powers and Iran.

Little did the US know back in 2014 that less than three years later, Russia would also be running the US, courtesy of wholesale manipulation of tens of millions of Americans, whom it hacked and convinced to vote for Trump.

Sarcasm aside, when the sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the deal was no longer necessary. However, Novak said in March 2017 that the plan was back on the table with Russia buying 100,000 barrels per day from Iran and selling the country $45 billion worth of goods, Russia Today reported.

Russia and Iran discussed energy, electricity, nuclear energy, gas and oil, as well as cooperation in the field of railways, industry, and agriculture.

Novak had announced in February that Russia’s state trading enterprise Promsirieimport has been authorized by the government to carry out the purchase of Iran’s oil through the oil-for-goods program under study by both countries. Meanwhile, Zanganeh had been quoted by the media as saying that Iran would be paid in cash for half of the oil that would be sold to Russia. The due payments for the remaining half would be made in goods and services, the Iranian minister had said.

A February report by the International Monetary Fund said that while Iran has been reconnected to SWIFT, significant challenges prevent Iranian banks fully-reconnecting to global banks still exist mostly due to remaining US sanctions.

US primary sanctions apply to US financial institutions and companies, including their non-US branches (but not their subsidiaries). Moreover, with very limited exceptions, businesses and individuals related to the US continue to be generally prohibited from dealing with Iran, including with the government,” the IMF said.

“US dollar clearing restrictions have not been lifted and pose a significant challenge for non-US banks who may do business with Iran, but may not be paid in US dollars,” it added.

And since necessity is the mother of invention, what better way to bypass the world’s reserve currency than to go back to the way commerce was conducted before currencies were even created: through barter.

Source:  Zerohedge.com

 

Iran must stop prosecuting Baha’is

Sir:

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha’is have been systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy. During the first decade of this persecution, more than two hundred Baha’is were killed or executed.
Hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs, access to education, and other rights solely because of their religious beliefs.
Since 2005, more than 935 Baha’is have been arrested, and the number of Baha’is in prison rose from fewer than five to more than 100 at one point. It is currently 93. The list of prisoners includes all seven members of a former leadership group serving the Baha’i community of Iran.
In 2010, the seven were wrongly sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest term then facing any prisoner of conscience in Iran. In late 2015, reports indicated that their sentences had been belatedly reduced from 20 years to 10 years, in line with changes to the Iranian Penal Code introduced in May 2013.
The constant threat of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment are among the main features of Iran’s persecution of Baha’is today. In all, at least 81 Baha’i were arrested in 2016, up from 56 in 2015, evidence that the persecution is not subsiding.
In January 2017, sixteen Baha’is were arrested.
ROOPLALL DUDHNATH

(This was sent to editor @ The Gleaner)

Iran police disperse angry protesters


Iranian newspapers say police dispersed dozens of protesters who had gathered outside the country’s central bank in Tehran, demanding their money back from a credit company.

The papers, including the reformist Shargh daily, say Monday’s rally was staged by depositors of the Caspian Credit Institute, a government-backed low-interest-rate loan fund now long defunct.

The reports say the protesters chanted “death to (Valiullah) Seif,” the governor until they were dispersed. Similar gatherings took place in two other cities.

The Caspian Credit Institute, founded in 1990s as a local low-interest-rate loan fund, attracted thousands of investors by paying higher interest rates but later failed to fulfill its promises. Occasionally, depositors gather for protests.

Hundreds of similar funds are active across Iran but the government has struggled to manage them under banking regulations.

Source: Miami Herald

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article153300564.html#storylink=cpy

Tehran-Hamas ties warming up

                   Iran has allegedly decided to resume financial backing for Hamas, Palestinian sources said on Tuesday.

The move came after representatives from the Islamic Republic and the Palestinian terror group conducted intensive discussions in Lebanon over the last two weeks, according to London-based Arab language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and senior Hezbollah figures were among those at the talks in Lebanon.

Last week, Hassan Rouhani, considered by many to be a moderate was reelected as Iran’s president, beating a more fundamentalist rival.

According to the report, Iran and Hamas were also due to resume diplomatic relations to the level that they were before the Syrian civil war, when the sides broke off their close ties.

As part of the process, it was also reported that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was slated to visit Tehran in the near future.

According to the report, Iran relinquished it’s demand that Hamas take Iran’s side in its long battle with Saudi Arabia. Relations between the two sides have been tense since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Hamas’s refusal to support the regime of President Bashar Assad, Iran’s major ally in the region, has angered Tehran, prompting it to cut off its financial and military aid to the Gaza-based movement.

According to the Palestinian sources cited in the Asharq Al-Awsat report, Hamas’s decision to seek warmer ties with Tehran was spurred in part by the Gaza-based Islamist group’s recent disassociation with the Muslim Brotherhood – of which it is an offshoot – along with condemnation as a terrorist group by US President Donald Trump.

Hamas rejected Trump’s linking it to terrorism and said his description of the group showed his “complete bias” towards Israel.

Trump made the remarks during an address to the leaders of 55 Muslim countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and said they must take the lead in combating radicalization.

“The statement describing Hamas as a terror group is rejected and is a distortion of our image and shows a complete bias to the Zionist occupation (Israel),” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.The US State Department has designated Hamas on its list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997.

Source: Jerusalem Post

Rouhani Faces Pressure to Improve Human Rights

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – In the week before the May 19 presidential election in Iran, the eventual victor, Hassan Rouhani, criticised the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guards with rhetoric rarely heard in public in the Islamic republic.

Now, in the eyes of his supporters, it is time to deliver. Millions of Rouhani’s followers expect him to keep pushing on human rights issues.

“The majority of Iranians have made it clear that they want improvement on human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. “Expectations are running high.”

That message came through loud and clear shortly before Rouhani, who won re-election with more than 57 percent of the vote, took the stage at a gathering of supporters in Tehran last week.

“Ya Hussein, Mirhossein” went the thunderous chant, a reference to Mirhossein Mousavi, a presidential candidate in the 2009 election, who, along with fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi disputed the results, spurring widespread protests.

Dozens of protestors were killed and hundreds arrested in the crackdown that followed, according to human rights groups.

Mousavi, his wife Zahra, and Karroubi, were placed under house arrest in 2011 after calling for protests in Iran in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East.

The trio’s continued detention is a divisive political issue in Iran and one that Rouhani has promised to resolve.

But if he keeps pushing, he will face a backlash from his hardline opponents which could undermine his second term, analysts say.

  • CLEAR MESSAGE

At the rally, it took several minutes for the announcer to quiet the crowd before another chant broke out: “Our message is clear, house arrest must be broken”.

Along with those arrests, more than 20 journalists and activists were arrested in the lead-up to the elections according to CHRI, an issue which has also been raised by Rouhani supporters.

Many political prisoners are kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to see their families for long periods of time, according to human rights groups.

Iran has one of world’s highest rates of capital punishment. At least 530 people were executed in 2016, according to a United Nations report.

Rouhani’s supporters also expect him to fight for basic rights that affect their daily lives, like preventing security forces from harassing women for the way they dress or the judiciary from cancelling concerts.

During his first term, Rouhani made the signing of an agreement with Western powers, which lifted a large number of sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, his top priority.

As a result, human rights issues were sidelined, analysts say. But now that the nuclear agreement is being implemented, his supporters are waiting for change.

Rouhani’s decisive election win may have finally given him the opportunity to address human rights issues.

“As the head of the executive branch, Mr. Rouhani and his colleagues must use this opportunity to the maximum,” parliamentarian Gholamreza Tajgardoon said last week, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

But signs are emerging that hardliners are ready for a fight.

Iran’s judiciary chief hit back at Rouhani on Monday for bringing up the issue of the house arrest of opposition leaders during his campaign.

“Who are you to break the house arrests?” Larijani said without naming Rouhani, according to the judiciary news site Mizan.

Larijani said the Supreme National Security Council must take the initial decision to end the house arrests and then the judiciary would step in.

Any attempt to resolve this issue outside this legal procedure would be seen as an attempt to stoke up unrest similar to 2009, he said, according to Mizan.

“We’re issuing a warning that they should wrap this issue up otherwise the judiciary, with authority, will wrap this issue up itself,” Larijani said.

Meanwhile, the restrictions continue.

Karroubi, 79, served as speaker of parliament before running for president in 2005 and 2009. He now stays largely on the upper floor of his house in Tehran and gets exercise by walking indoors, according to his son Mohammad Taghi. His only sources of information are local newspapers and state TV.

Security agents stay on the premises around the clock and do not allow him to have access to the phone or Internet.

Taghi, speaking by telephone, said the hosue arrest had

backfired, raising the profile and importance of his father and the other detainees.

“If the goal is to cut off their political ties, what we’ve seen is that the passage of these six or seven years hasn’t had any effect,” he said. “In fact, the limitations and problems have increased their impact in society.”

Little progress can be made on any human rights issue without the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest power in the country.

“Since becoming Supreme Leader in 1989, Khamenei has sought to weaken every Iranian president in their second term,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.

“Given how directly Rouhani challenged Khamenei during the campaign this tradition is likely to continue.”

UN human rights expert condemns “defamatory” Iran report

UN human rights expert condemns “defamatory” Iran press report

GENEVA (24 April 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, has denounced a report published by the Iranian News Agency (IRNA) alleging that she was planning to undertake a visit to Saudi Arabia in order to defame the authorities in Tehran.

The report also suggested that Ms. Jahangir intended to carry out the mission on behalf of military interests. But the Special Rapporteur has condemned and vehemently denied the news item.

“I am appalled by this fabricated and malicious news story which is clearly aimed at compromising my integrity and independence, both of which are recognized internationally,” said Ms. Jahangir.

“Anyone who has a substantive disagreement with a Special Rapporteur’s assessment can always express their doubts. However, it is unacceptable for mandate holders to be subjected to defamation campaigns when discharging their duties, which are established by the United Nations Human Rights Council,” she stressed.

“These accusations unfortunately reinforce the assessment I made in my first report to the UN Human Rights Council about the climate of fear which exists in Iran, where similar methods are used to silence those expressing dissenting opinions,” she added.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated that campaigns of vilification would neither put her on the defensive nor compromise her independence in reporting the challenges faced by Iranians with regard to their rights, dignity and freedoms.

ENDS

Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Human Rights Council in September 2016. Ms. Jahangir was elected as President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Over the years, she has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her contribution to the cause of human rights and is a recipient of major human rights awards. She has worked extensively in the field of women’s rights, protection of religious minorities and in eliminating bonded labour. She is a former Special Rapporteur on summary executions, and on freedom of religion.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Give North Korea the Iran treatment

In dealing with North Korea, the Trump administration should look to Iran. Specifically, it should take a page out of the Obama administration’s Iran sanctions playbook and apply against North Korea the tool used successfully to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiating table — “secondary sanctions” on those who do business with the regime.

North Korea is not, by any stretch, “sanctioned out.” Despite a broad set of international and U.S. sanctions, North Korea has gotten off relatively easy, especially as compared with Iran. That is largely because the United States has historically been reluctant to impose secondary sanctions to isolate North Korea, particularly against China, the regime’s principal legitimate trading partner. Certainly, the Trump administration should do its best to bring the Chinese government on board. But if China drags its feet, President Donald Trump should proceed anyway.

Secondary sanctions are both simple and enormously powerful. They work by presenting a stark choice to a foreign bank: It can process transactions for a bank already facing sanctions (for example, one of the many North Korean banks that have been listed by the United States) or it can maintain its access to the U.S. financial system, but it cannot do both. That presents an easy choice, because access to the U.S. financial system, which also means access to the U.S. dollar, is a practical necessity for almost any bank anywhere in the world.

As a recent assessment by a special U.N. committee reportedly concluded, North Korean banks and trading companies operate in China through China-based front companies. These front companies, in turn, have accounts at Chinese banks, from which they are able to do business globally, including in the United States.

If the United States were to adopt secondary sanctions against North Korea, that move would almost certainly force some Chinese banks to choose between facilitating the regime’s international banking capacity and maintaining their own access. Some observers fear that this move would so irritate the Chinese government as to make secondary sanctions inadvisable.

History teaches that we should not worry too much about an adverse Chinese reaction.

When I was serving in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, we employed secondary sanctions to significantly ramp up pressure on the Iranian government. Hundreds of foreign banks that had been transacting with sanctioned Iranian banks voluntarily severed those relationships, thereby isolating much of the Iranian banking system.

But two banks in particular continued to work with sanctioned Iranian banks. One was China-based Kunlun Bank, a midsize institution that, our financial intelligence told us, “provided hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of financial services” to a half-dozen sanctioned Iranian banks. Despite repeated warnings to the Chinese government, Kunlun refused to stop such activity. So in August 2012, Treasury used the secondary sanctions tool and cut off Kunlun from the U.S. financial system.

What happened next is instructive. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a relatively tepid and formulaic protest — and, behind the scenes, the Chinese government directed Kunlun to stop. Despite what some had feared, employing secondary sanctions against Kunlun neither led China to stop cooperating on Iran nor soured our relations with Beijing in any other respect.

China reacted this way for several reasons — all of which have parallels to the current situation with North Korea.

First, we had made clear to Chinese authorities our intention to close loopholes in the sanctions against Iran. Likewise, for several years, the U.S. government has complained to Chinese authorities that North Korean front companies’ access to Chinese banks weakens financial sanctions against North Korea. So there would be no surprise if we took action to close that loophole.

Second, the Chinese understood that our financial pressure campaign against Iran was designed to spur negotiations over its nuclear program. By the same token, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy toward North Korea also appears designed to produce a negotiation over the regime’s ballistic missile and nuclear program. And, as with Iran, the Chinese have been pressing the United States to seek a negotiated resolution of concerns with North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Finally, as with Iran, China is worried about the alternative — military action to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Whatever sanctions pain China was willing to endure to avert a military strike by the United States (or Israel) against Iran, its deep-seated fear of a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula means its pain tolerance for secondary sanctions against North Korea would be even higher.

The Trump administration should start by applying secondary sanctions against midsize Chinese banks that aid North Korean front companies, leaving the larger ones for later, if necessary. Imposing secondary sanctions would send a strong message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the financial noose is tightening in a way that could drive a wedge between Kim and the Pyongyang elite critical to his continued hold on power. And it would demonstrate, to North Korea and China alike, that the United States is serious about generating the leverage necessary for a successful negotiation.

Washington Post

David S. Cohen served as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence during the Obama administration.

Guess what else Obama gave away in the Iran deal?

If you thought you’d already heard the worst about what the Obama administration gave away in order to conclude its nuclear deal with Iran, guess again.

In a blockbuster exposé, Politico’s Josh Meyer reports that Team Obama overruled veteran prosecutors to free seven Iranians, claiming publicly they’d merely violated economic sanctions. In fact, they were charged with posing threats to US national security as part of a weapons procurement ring.

More, the administration also dropped charges against 14 fugitives involved in smuggling sophisticated weapons to Iran and its terrorist subsidiaries. That move ended the international arrest warrants against the 14 — and Obama & Co. had been obstructing efforts to apprehend them.

Time and again, top officials at the White House, Justice and State departments denied prosecutors’ requests to lure one of the fugitives to friendly countries where he could be arrested. Soon, the arms merchants vanished off US law enforcement radar.

The president’s men also slowed down extradition efforts against suspects in custody and began slow-walking investigations and prosecutions of US-based procurement.

In effect, the administration deliberately derailed its own National Counter-proliferation Initiative at a time, Meyer reports, “when it was making significant headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

And Iran got a green light to continue defying international law.

At the time of the release, the White House said freeing the seven “civilians” was a “one-time gesture” that also brought freedom for Americans held captive in Iran.

In fact, it was all part of a “do whatever’s needed” to get Iran’s agreement — and a “say whatever’s needed” to sell it to the American public.

Tehran saw how desperately Obama wanted the deal and took full advantage.

At the time of the prisoner exchange, we said the way Team Obama “got it done is ugly indeed.” Little did we know — until now.

Source: New York Post

Iran rejects detained British-Iranian woman’s final appeal, family says

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A British-Iranian woman detained in Iran while on a trip with her toddler daughter has exhausted all chance of having her five-year prison sentence overturned in court, her family said Monday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of several dual nationals held in Iran by hard-liners in the country’s judiciary and security services on espionage charges, likely to be used as bargaining chips in future negotiations with the West. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, found out this weekend her final appeal to Iran’s supreme court had been denied, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said in a statement.

Ratcliffe said he wants the British government to publicly call for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, rebut the Iranian spy allegations against her and have the British ambassador in Tehran visit her in prison.

She still has not been allowed to know the exact charges for which she was convicted, Ratcliffe said.

“It is a not such a surprise that this final appeal failed. We have had two secret trials and now a closed panel review,” he said. “But it is still nonsense that even at this stage Nazanin still does not have firm details of the charges against her.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at the airport last year while she was with her 2-year-old daughter, Gabriella, according to Amnesty International. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been visiting her parents in the Iranian capital.

Authorities confiscated Gabriella’s British passport and she was sent to stay with her grandparents, Amnesty International reported. She is not Iranian.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in solitary confinement for 45 days before she was moved to a group cell.

Iranian news agencies have said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was convicted of plotting the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government. Her family says Iran’s paramilitary Revolution Guard tried to get her to confess on camera she trained and recruited spies, something she refused.

“I would like to reiterate that I am entirely convinced of Nazanin’s innocence,” said Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “She is not a spy but an innocent mother who travelled to Iran only to show her baby to her parents.”

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran on Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Iran does not recognize dual nationality and rarely allows consular visits to dual nationals in Iranian jails.

Among the dual nationals known to be held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his octogenarian father, Baquer Namazi, who are serving 10-year prison sentences for “cooperating with the hostile American government.” Iranian-American Robin Shahini is serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government,” though he recently received bail .

Yet to be tried is Iranian-American Karan Vafadari, an art gallery manager held along with his Iranian wife. Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a member of the country’s team that negotiated the nuclear deal, is believed to have been indicted.

Still missing is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran 10 years ago while on an unauthorized CIA mission.

Source: CBS News

Advocates For Father And Son Imprisoned In Iran Appeal To UN For Help

WASHINGTON ― A lawyer representing two American citizens imprisoned in Iran appealed to the United Nations on Tuesday to intervene on behalf of his clients.

In a 27-page petition submitted to the U.N. Working Group On Arbitrary Detention, Jared Genser argued that the Iranian government is arbitrarily depriving Siamak Namazi, 45, and his father Baquer, 80, of their liberty. Their treatment in Evin Prison amounts to torture, and risks causing “irreversible damage to their physical and mental health, or even death,” wrote Genser, the founder of Freedom Now, a nonprofit that works to free prisoners of conscience.

The U.N. working group, established in 1991, can issue opinions on individual cases and urge countries to free prisoners who are being detained unlawfully. It has little ability to compel countries to abide by its recommendations, but a statement on the Namazis from the group could help apply pressure on Tehran.

The decision by the Namazi family to make a public appeal to the U.N. group is part of a broader strategy meant to increase public awareness of Siamak and Baquer’s plight and to urge the Trump administration to strike a deal with Tehran to secure their release.

Genser released his submission to the U.N. just before a delegation from the U.S. was scheduled to meet in Vienna with counterparts from Iran and the five other countries that helped negotiate a 2015 agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. He and Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother and Baquer’s son, plan to hold a press conference in Vienna just before the world powers meet to discuss the Iran nuclear deal.

“This will be the first face-to-face discussions between the U.S. and Iran since the inauguration of President Trump,” Genser wrote in an email. “We have been informed that the U.S. delegation will raise the Namazi cases directly to the Iranian delegation.”

The State Department declined to comment on the Namazis specifically but a spokesman said the agency “continue[s] to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas.”

Until recently, the Namazi family took a very different approach to getting Siamak and Baquer out of prison. When Siamak was arrested in October 2015, his family stayed quiet, hoping to give the previous administration room to negotiate. But when the Obama administration finalized a prisoner swap with Iran last year, Siamak was left behind. The month after the prisoner swap, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Forces arrested Baquer too. In their final days in office, Obama administration officials made a last-ditch effort to negotiate the Namazis’ release, but they were unsuccessful.

After quiet patience proved ineffective, the Namazis decided to speak out. Last month, Babak Namazi briefed a group of reporters and human rights activists in Washington on Siamak and Baquer’s condition. He gave a detailed narrative of the family’s saga since Siamak was arrested in 2015 and said he hoped President Donald Trump would be able to accomplish what his predecessor could not.

According to the petition filed by Genser, Siamak’s physical and mental state has deteriorated dramatically since he was first imprisoned. He is often kept in solitary confinement in a cell without a bed, forcing him to sleep on the concrete floor. He has been tortured by guards, beaten, hit with stun guns, and forced to watch government propaganda with images of him and his father in prison, Genser wrote. He has lost 26 pounds in prison as a result of a hunger strike.

Baquer’s physical health conditions are even more serious. He has a heart condition that caused him to undergo triple bypass surgery before he was imprisoned. He has been hospitalized at least twice since his arrest but has not been allowed to see his heart specialist while in prison.

Tehran’s denial of “medically appropriate detention conditions for the Namazis constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Genser wrote in the petition.

Despite being held in the same prison, Siamak and Baquer first saw each other in February, more than a year since Baquer entered Evin, Genser alleged in the petition.

Siamak and Baquer have both been convicted of cooperating with a “foreign state” against Iran ― a reference to the U.S. ― and have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

They were only allowed to meet with the attorneys in Iran for a half-hour several days before the hearing, which was closed to the public and the media. According to Genser, they were not allowed to present evidence, call witnesses, or meaningfully challenge charges or evidence against them.

The case against the Namazis appears to rely heavily on their past affiliation with Western organizations. Siamak held fellowships with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Endowment for Democracy ― both of which receive funding from Congress. Baquer worked with the humanitarian relief organization UNICEF for over 10 years. At the time of their arrests, Siamak was working at an oil and gas company in Dubai and Baquer was retired and living Iran.

Genser’s petition to the U.N. group is just as much an appeal to the U.S. government to focus on getting Siamak and Baquer released. He is conveying a message to the Trump administration that because of their deteriorating health and Baquer’s age, they don’t have much time to negotiate a deal.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump tweeted that he wouldn’t let Iran imprison Americans and demand money for their release if he became president.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department sanctioned the Tehran Prisons Organization and senior prison official Sohrab Soleimani for human rights abuses. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned Siamak and Baquer by name when he discussed the sanctions.

Last week, an American imprisoned for three years in Egypt returned home after the Trump administration negotiated her release. Her release was possible, in part, because of the Trump administration’s willingness to drop pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to improve the country’s human rights record. 

But it’s not clear what leverage the Trump administration will have with Tehran. Unlike in Egypt, where he was eager to patch up relations, Trump has vowed to take a tougher stance in Iran. And he repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for giving up too much in last year’s prisoner swap, which means it would be hard for him to accept significant American concessions to bring Siamak and Baquer home.

Source: HUFFPOST

By Jessica Schulberg

Iran’s Presidential Charade: Another Slap Coming?

In old Hollywood, the word “chestnut” denoted a formula which though lacking originality could still provide the kernel for a moderately successful B-movie.

iranian_deomcracy2016

Anyone following the latest presidential election campaign in the Islamic Republic in Iran is bound to notice stark similarities between this Islamicized chestnut and those of old Hollywood.

Every four years, Iranians and others interested in Iranian affairs are invited to participate in or at least observe what is presented as a dramatic quest for power by rival factions defending sharply different programs. Thus a few weeks of excitement are created out of thin air to give the impression that the peculiar system created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini is an Islamic version of the cursed democracy promoted by the “Infidel”. The show is also used to blame all that is wrong in the country on the president in charge for the past four years and, almost always, end up re-electing him for four more years.

The “chestnut” script provides for the presence in the election of at least three candidates representing “the bad”, “the worse” and “the worst”.

This is important for confusing not only Iranians but also foreign powers interested in or bothered by Iran.

In 1997, quite a few Iranians fell for the fiction that Muhammad Khatami, a mid-ranking mullah, represented “the bad” option against Ali-Akbar Nateq Nuri, another mid-ranking mullah, who was cast as representative of “the worst”. Khatami won and Iran ended up with eight years of a presidency that witnessed the chain-killing of intellectuals, mass arrests of regime critics, strict censorship, increased support for terrorist groups and, finally, the massive expansion of Iran’s clandestine nuclear project.

In the 2005 presidential campaign, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, branded “the worst” candidate, emerged victorious. Paradoxically, in some important cases, he turned out not to be as bad as Khatami. He overlooked corruption that was spread like wildfire, but toned down the crackdown organized against critics and dissidents. His clownish performance amused some and revolted many more but it did not translate into a substantial increase in the Islamist regime’s repressive measures.

Four years ago, US President Barack Obama bent backward to help Hassan Rouhani, then believed to represent “the bad” for fear that Saeed Jalili, identified as “the worst”, might become Iran’s president. Rouhani’s four-year stint has been even worse than that of Khatami’s first term. Iran is now the world’s number one in executions, number two in political prisoners and on top of the list of states sponsoring international terrorism.

To add more spice to the mix, the regime and its lobbyists in the West also urge support for the candidate supposed to be farther from the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. That was supposedly the case with Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.

This year, the candidate supposed to represent “the worst” while being closest to Khamenei is Ibrahim Rais al-Sadat, alias Raisi, a mid-ranking mullah who was recently appointed as head of the Imam Reza Foundation in Mash’had, perhaps the most lucrative post in the Islamic Republic.

Barring a last minute surprise, Rouhani will remain in the race as “the bad” candidate, wearing his trademark smile and waving the cardboard key that symbolizes his promise to “open all doors”.

Not surprisingly the old chestnut themes are back.

Tehran lobbyists in the West are going around demanding support for Rouhani who is supposed to be determined to do in the next four years what he couldn’t or didn’t want to do in the last.
One US-based apologist, Abdul-Karim Sorush, alias “The Martin Luther of Islam”, invites Iranians to choose “the bad”, which he dubs “Aslah” (the most qualified), meaning Rouhani.

Others have identified Raisi as the candidate closest to Khamenei and thus deserving a thrashing from an angry electorate. The list of candidates this time may also include the same old Jalili, “the worst” of four years ago who, presumably will be only “the worse” this time.

However, the fact is that in 1997 Nateq-Nuri was not Khamenei’s favored candidate just as in 2005 “The Supreme Guide” did not particularly favored Ahmadinejad. The only time that Khamenei has indicated a personal opinion about any presidential candidate was when, in 2005, he made it clear he did not want his old friend and new foe Hashemi Rafsanjani to regain the presidency.

For Khamenei, the presidential election is nothing but a four-year endorsement of the Khomeinist system, a kind of referendum on the regime’s legitimacy rather than a choice of an individual president. In the current election, too, I doubt that Khamenei is particularly keen on seeing Raisi become president. True, Raisi is an old protégé of Khamenei, hailing from his native Mash’had and holding the same narrow view of things as the “Supreme Guide”. However, Khamenei won’t mind if Rouhani wins again or if any of the other candidates whom he has pre-approved end up victorious.

Though a protégé of the late Rafsanjani, Rouhani has a 30-year record of service to the security services controlled by Khamenei. He is also close to powerful elements in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who provide the backbone of domestic support for the regime.

The only factor that might have concerned Khamenei as far as Rouhani is concerned would have been the latter’s tentative attempts at easing tension with the United States. However, with President Barack Obama no longer around to do the pas-de-deux, Rouhani, has quickly switched to Khamenei’s “looking East” strategy of alliance with Russia. In fact, Rouhani launched his presidential campaign with a flash visit to Moscow and a photo-op with Vladimir Putin.

Four years ago Rouhani, like Khatami before him, promised reform. Now, however, it is once again clear that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed. In his time, Ahmadinejad promised to end corruption, discrimination, and poverty, exactly as Raisi did today. Eight years later, Iran ended with more poverty, discrimination, and corruption.

The problem is not about who plays the role of president in a charade of pseudo-democracy. The problem is about an atrophied system in which all paths to reform, development and progress are rundown.

Thus the question Iranians face is not about which of the various puppets is “aslah”. The real issue is whether they wish this broken system to continue. If they have no interest in taking part in this charade. Four years ago, the presidential election scored the lowest rate of voter participation and Rouhani won with the smallest margin in Islamic Republic’s history.

In its limited way, the last election was a slap in the face for the Khomeinists. Will we see another such slap this time, too?


By Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

Three deaths that will likely set back Rouhani

By Rohollah Faghihi


 

This past Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, was not favorable to moderate President Hassan Rouhani, despite his expectations. Rather, it turned out to be an ominous year, in the span of which the three main high-ranking clerics who backed Rouhani from the very beginning of his campaign for office in 2013 and through the ups and downs of his presidency died.

In Iran, clerics have consistently had a major impact on people’s views and opinions over the past centuries. A prominent example of this is the “tobacco fatwa,” which was issued in response to a British citizen being granted a full monopoly over the production, sale and export of tobacco for 50 years. Back then, mosques and hosseiniehs (prayer halls used to mark the martyrdom of Shiite imams and figures mostly in the Islamic months of Muharram and Safar) were the most influential media in Iran. The impact of these venues was such that various shahs and governments were loath to issue contentious decrees or sign controversial treaties with foreigners on dates close to Muharram and Safar. The tobacco concession led to a revolt in Iran and climaxed in the 1891 “tobacco fatwa” issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi. The religious edict, which was issued with consideration for the situation and expediency of the country, outlawed the use of tobacco and labeled it as tantamount to waging war against the 12th Shiite Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed to emerge from occultation at the end of time.

More recently, the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was led by clerics, with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at its helm. Indeed, some argue that the revolution first started in the seminaries and among clerics, who were trusted and respected by the people. Thus, it is clear that clerics have long played a significant role in Iranian politics.

In the 2013 presidential vote, Ayatollahs Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Abbas Vaez Tabasi and Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili all threw their weight behind Rouhani to prevent the election of another hard-liner, given the performance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), who is seen by many analysts as having damaged the country’s economy and foreign relations. In the span of the past 12 months or so, these three senior clerics — and important supporters of Rouhani — have died.

Ayatollah Tabasi died on March 4, 2016, only weeks before the beginning of the Iranian calendar year 1395. A leading figure in the Islamic Republic, Tabasi was appointed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini to the important position of custodian of the holy shrine of the eighth Shiite Imam Reza. The shrine is located in the northeastern city of Mashhad. Tabasi was also a close friend of current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — a long friendship that dated back to the years before the 1979 revolution. He harbored moderate views and actively opposed the hard-liners. Indeed, he largely supported Rafsanjani and his policies over the past decades. In this vein, despite being recognized as a conservative, he did not back fellow conservative Ahmadinejad. Rather, he supported Rafsanjani in the 2005 presidential elections. As such, he rarely, as is customary, used to welcome then-President Ahmadinejad upon his visits to Mashhad.

Tabasi, who was also in charge of Razavi Khorasan province’s seminary, was a supporter of Rouhani. “His [Rouhani’s] relationship … with the seminaries is very strong and firm and he doesn’t think about anything except the advancement of Islam and enforcing the divine and Islamic laws,” Tabasi said of the Iranian president in August 2014. Following his demise, Mashhad — one of the largest cities in Iran — has rather rapidly turned into a new base for the hard-liners, dealing a direct blow to Rouhani’s presidency.

Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili died on Nov. 23, 2016. He served as chief of the Iranian judiciary in 1981-1989, and then returned to the holy city of Qom, where he acted as a marja (the highest clerical rank in Shiite Islam). Another strong supporter of Rouhani, Mousavi Ardebili played an important role in mobilizing Qom and its clerics in favor of the incumbent both before and after the 2013 presidential elections. He had a good relationship with other grand ayatollahs, including Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani, making him an invaluable supporter for Rouhani. On Aug. 7, 2013, only days after Rouhani’s inauguration, Mousavi Ardebili commended him and made particular note of his promised foreign policy, saying, “He [Rouhani] is a resourceful and experienced person. The social and political situation of Iran is very variable, and we need stability. The policy of detente is useful, good and necessary.”

Last, but certainly not least, Ayatollah Rafsanjani died on Jan. 17, 2017. The figurehead of the “moderation” camp and the paramount patron of Rouhani, his unexpected death has left the president alone in dealing with tough challenges ahead. Rafsanjani is widely seen as having been one of the most influential figures in Iran, having held a number of important positions over the decades, including serving as president for two terms (1989-1997). After having his candidacy in the 2013 presidential elections disqualified by the Guardian Council, which is tasked with vetting candidates, Rafsanjani, who was expected to win by a landslide according to several opinion polls, publicly announced his support for Rouhani. His longstanding support didn’t end when Rouhani took office; Rafsanjani repeatedly criticized the hard-liners for questioning the incumbent’s achievements, and especially the 2015 nuclear deal.

As such, Rouhani — who intends to run in the May 19 presidential elections — has started the new Iranian year on a heavy note. Although he has lost his three main supporters within the clergy, he still enjoys a good rapport with the high-ranking clerics in Qom — unlike his predecessor, who was banished by some grand ayatollahs. However, already under fire over his handling of the economy and other issues, it appears evident that Rouhani is likely to become even more vulnerable to attack looking ahead.

Source: Al Monitor

|Trump Told Our Adversaries ‘America Is Back’|

Charles Krauthammer agrees with President Trump’s decision to launch 59 missiles targeting a Syrian air base in response to the recent chemical weapons attack on civilians.

He said it was “extremely important” for Trump to show Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his allies Russia and Iran, and anyone else watching around the world that the Trump administration will not be reluctant to show strength.

“The world had looked at this area and seen the profound abdication for eight years, where the United States had disappeared,” Krauthammer said. “America is back, and it is liable to react. … That, I think, is going to change a lot in the world from a single response like this.”

Krauthammer pointed out that Trump only ordered airstrikes on one Syrian government air base, as opposed to all six. He said that shows that Trump just wanted to “send a message.”

“He just wanted to say, ‘It’s not that there’s a new sheriff in town. There is a sheriff in town. There was an absence for eight years. America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want,” Krauthammer said. “That in and of itself is going to have a big effect.”

Source: Fox News


Charles Krauthammer is an American syndicated columnist, author, political commentator, and non-practicing physician whose weekly column is syndicated to more than 400 publications worldwide.

Iran: Fears grow for health of jailed journalist on hunger strike

Fears are growing for a jailed journalist and political activist whose health has deteriorated sharply after 30 days on hunger strike, said Amnesty International.

Hengameh Shahidi, 41, who has a pre-existing heart condition, went on hunger strike on 9 March in protest at her arbitrary arrest that day. She is in a critical condition in Tehran’s Evin prison where she is being held in solitary confinement. She has also stopped taking her medication and is refusing intravenous fluids.

“Hengameh Shahidi’s arbitrary arrest and detention shows again the Iranian authorities’ utter contempt for human rights. They must release her immediately and unconditionally as she appears to be held solely for exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“One month into Hengameh Shahidi’s detention, the authorities have still not provided her access to a specialist heart doctor. Instead of prolonging her suffering, the authorities must immediately give her the specialized medical treatment she needs.”

Capture

The Office of the Prosecutor informed Hengameh Shahidi’s family this week that doctors from the Legal Medicine Organization, a state forensic institute, will visit Evin prison to examine her within days. This follows repeated requests from her family for her to receive specialist medical care.

According to her mother, Hengameh Shahidi told her interrogator: “if something happens to me, you will have to answer for it… The President, Ministry of Intelligence, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the judiciary [will be] responsible for my death.”

The authorities have not informed Hengameh Shahidi of the charges against her and have refused to allow her to have any contact with her lawyer. She has been allowed only limited contact with her family.

Hengameh Shahidi, a political prisoner who was arrested in early March, is seen in this undated handout photo said to be taken in Tehran

Hengameh Shahidi was also previously arrested in 2009 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on charges of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”, in relation to her journalism and activism. She was released on medical grounds in May 2011.

Hengameh Shahidi is among several journalists who have been detained as part of a wave of arrests ahead of Iran’s presidential elections in May. They include newspaper editor Ehsan Mazandarani who was arrested by Revolutionary Guards officials on 11 March, and editor-in-chief of Goftegoo (Conversation) magazine Morad Saghafi, who was arrested on 15 March. A number of administrators of channels on the mobile messaging app Telegram, which is a platform used by millions of people in Iran, have also been arrested.

 

 

 

Source: Amnesty International

US missile strike reverberates on Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry

By


The stunning US missile strike in Syria gives a boost to American-allied Saudi Arabia and moderate Sunni regimes in their struggle for regional primacy with Iran, a close ally of the Russian-backed Assad regime, which has now suffered a setback.

A jubilant Riyadh on Friday wasted no time in voicing its “full support” for the strikes, praising the “courageous decision” to undertake them by US President Donald Trump and saying the Assad regime bore responsibility for eliciting the US action with a chemical weapons attack Tuesday, according to a statement by the SPA state news agency that was cited by Reuters. Iran, by contrast, said it “strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes,” the Students News Agency ISNA quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

“Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” the spokesman said.

The comments came after two US warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean at an airbase controlled by Assad’s forces in response to the poison gas attack in a rebel-held area Tuesday, US officials said.
For Riyadh, a supporter of rebels fighting the Assad regime in the six year old civil war, the US action brings to an end years of frustration at the absence of forceful US intervention against the Assad regime. This absence of US potency was most evident when the Obama administration failed to respond militarily after the Assad regime used chemical weapons in 2013 even though President Barack Obama had warned this was a “red line” and would not be tolerated.

The Saudis hope the strike marks a reversal of US policy of watching largely from the sidelines as Moscow, with an active role by Iran, successfully turned the tide against the rebels through massive military backing of Assad and aerial bombardments beginning in 2015.

This was a blow to Saudi interests and prestige and raised questions in Riyadh as to whether Washington could be counted on in its struggle for regional primacy with Iran.

Now, the US has finally wielded the stick of military force in Syria and thereby taken a major step to reestablishing its regional credibility, foremost with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.

“The regional allies of the US-Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Egypt are elated with the fact the US has shown resolve and determination,” said Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at the University of Haifa.”For the first time in many years, the US has shown itself worthy of being trusted by its friends and feared by its enemies.”

“Iran and Hezbollah are on Russia’s side condemning this because they are fearful that they could be next,” Ben-Dor added. “They are worried the US might take military action against them as well on occasion or at least that the US will be determined to defeat their forces fighting in Syria.” In Ben-Dor’s view “the Assad regime is not the real issue here.

The real issue is much bigger: What will the US do? Will it back Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and others against radical Shiites led by Iran. Syria is merely a test case for a much bigger confrontation looming.”

The message of the strike, Ben-Dor says, is that the US will back the Saudis and its other allies against Iran.

Joshua Teitelbaum, a Saudi specialist at Bar Ilan University, adds: “The Saudis are definitely delighted. They finally see the US breaking out of its past lethargy. This signals to the Gulf countries that the US is back in the game.”

Still, Teitelbaum cautions against overestimating the impact on Riyadh of one single action. “It was a fairly limited strike on an empty airfield where everyone was warned in advance. It looks to the Saudis like things are going in the right direction but they will still wait and see.”
The airstrike could help facilitate US efforts to organize a regional peace conference in the summer attended by Israel, the Palestinians and the Gulf states. Fledgling attempts towards that end were first reported last week in The Jerusalem Post. “Because this gives the US many points with the moderate Arab Sunnis, the US will have more clout trying to prod them into a political process with Israel,” says Ben-Dor.

“This will give the process of trying to hold a regional peace conference more momentum. They feel indebted to Washington and have more trust in the ability of Washington to lead a process and make it stick.”

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Congress plans aggressive crackdown on Iran

By Joel Gehrke


 

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are proceeding with the most aggressive crackdown on Iran since former President Barack Obama’s first term.

House and Senate lawmakers unveiled separate sanctions legislation last week, just in time for the 2017 AIPAC policy conference, which began Sunday. The legislation, which has critical bipartisan support on both ends of the Capitol, imposes mandatory sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and tightens enforcement of an international ban on selling weapons to Iran. The packages diverge in one key area — the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization — that holds significant policy ramifications and the threat of political pain, as well.

Curiously, the often slow-moving Senate took the more aggressive approach, applying the terrorist label to the IRGC. “This legislation demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said when announcing the bill. “These steps will allow us to regain the initiative on Iran and push back forcefully against this threat to our security and that of our allies.”To designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization would be no small thing.

It’s the first time that such a label has been applied to a government entity, albeit one responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War. President Trump’s administration has declined to use existing law to do so, in part because national security officials worry that it would impede tacit coordination against the Islamic State in Iraq, if not lead Iranian-backed militias to attack U.S. forces.

The designation could also hurt Iran’s economy by deterring foreign investment in companies controlled by the IRGC. That’s why Iran hawks love the idea so much, but the Obama administration never pulled the trigger on the designation, and proponents of the Iran deal say it could shatter the nuclear pact. Any U.S. action to hurt Iran’s economy violates the nuclear deal, according to the National Iranian American Council, because the nuclear deal calls for Western powers to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

So, Corker had good reason to brag about the bipartisanship. The legislation has seven Democratic co-sponsors, including five who voted for Obama’s Iran deal. That means it has 59 votes, one shy of a filibuster-proof majority, even before the debate begins. And yet, the House version of the bill doesn’t contain that language.

But the designation has Democratic support as well. “I, personally, would not be opposed to having terrorism in our bill as well,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the Washington Examiner. “What we want, however, and what was important and what we worked on to emphasize, is we believe strongly that this does not implicate the JCPOA, the nuclear deal.”

Corker doesn’t plan to let those worries stand in the way of his sanctions package, however. House members will have to vote on the IRGC language in order to pass legislation identical to the Senate so it can be sent to Trump’s desk.

“Sen. Corker will continue to work with the administration and his colleagues in both chambers of Congress to advance this important legislation,” a Foreign Relations Committee spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner. “Each element in the bill has received strong bipartisan, bicameral support, and we do not expect the IRGC provision to be a sticking point as we move forward.”

That’s where the gamesmanship on the House side may be coming into play. By deferring to skeptics, however temporarily, House Republicans created an opportunity to create a wedge issue to use against any Democrats who support the current House bill but oppose the IRGC proposal.

“Certain Republicans would welcome the chance to force Democrats to take what shouldn’t be, but might be, a tough vote, specifically one designating the IRGC, which has the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands,” a senior official at a pro-Israel organization closely involved in the Iran sanctions fight told the Washington Examiner. “Democrats know that. That’s yet another reason why Democrats would be willing to see IRGC sanctions added in one form or another to the broader legislation.”

Either way, Iran hawks are confident that it’s only a matter of time before the IRGC is labeled a foreign terrorist organization.

Source: Washington Examiner

Iran-backed group planned assassinations

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain is alleging a 14-member group backed by Iran planned assassinations in the island kingdom.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying 11 members of the group “are suspected of receiving overseas military training under the supervision of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Iraq.”

It says police had arrested 14 suspects in raids that saw officers seize weapons and explosives. It says the group’s two leaders are abroad in Iran.

Iran’s government called the allegation a “futile and baseless lie.”

Sunni-ruled Bahrain, like other Gulf Arab nations, remains suspicious of Shiite power Iran and periodically announces similar arrests.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has seen unrest present since its 2011 Arab Spring protests escalate recently amid a government crackdown on dissent.

Source:  The Associated Press

Russia and Iran’s growing cooperation hints at a new Middle East

By


Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, will meet for the eighth time in four years from March 27 to 29. According to the Tehran Times, both sides are “preparing more than ten documents for signing” on various economic and political issues.

The meeting, set in Moscow, highlights the debate surrounding the real nature of post-Cold War relations between Moscow and Tehran.

According to Western — particularly neoconservative — strategists, there is a way to stop Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria. Along with the Israeli right wing, they believe that while Iran and Russia form a united front against overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, they do not see eye to eye on a diplomatic solution to end Syria’s civil war.

For its part, Iran favors an alliance with the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militias largely made up of Pakistani, Afghan and Iraqi fighters. These non-government military groups fought on the ground to recapture Aleppo, a city emblematic of the revolt against the Syrian government.

In November 2016, military groups allied with Iran and the Syrian governments suffered between ten and 15 fatal casualties every day, according to personal interviews I conducted with French military officials at that time.

Russia, on the other hand, is keen to preserve Syrian state institutions and does not support the Shiite religious proselytism of some of these military groups, such as the Hezbollah and Shia militias.

  • Russia wants to remain a major player in Syria

But does that spell the end of the Russian-Iranian post-Cold War understanding? Several factors tend to suggest otherwise.

According to Middle East experts I met in Moscow last February, Russia has no interest in being a junior partner to the US in the war against Islamic State. And it’s keen to maintain a partnership with Tehran in which it appears as the dominant power.

Since the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s, Tehran and Moscow have a shared distrust of Western powers and their possible links with rebel Sunni Islamist groups.

And Russia is skeptical of a Trump administration that is already proving unpredictable. The consequence is likely to be a continuation of the Russian diplomatic strategy of entente with all countries in the region – Iran, Israel, and the Gulf’s oil-rich kingdoms.

Russia will no doubt continue to leverage its relationship with Iran in its dealings with Washington to obtain concessions, such as the easing of economic sanctions targeting Moscow since the annexation of Crimea.

To be able to do so, it must reinforce and develop its cooperation with Iran, both in the region (fighting against “terrorism”) and in crucial strategic areas, such as civil nuclear activities. Russia is currently helping Iran build two new reactors for the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the Iranian gulf coast. And it has provided its S-300 anti-aircraft system to the country.

Faced with a Trump administration that appears anxious to drive a wedge between its Iranian and Russian rivals, Russia is more likely to take up the position of mediator it held during tensions between Iran and the West during George W. Bush’s presidency (2000-2008).

Russia had then opposed both American threats to use force against Tehran in order to solve the nuclear question and Washington’s policy of unilateral sanctions against Iran. What has changed since Russia decided on military intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, is a bilateral effort between Russia and Iran to fight “terrorism” – Sunni jihadist groups, especially those Tehran labels takfiri (apostate).

  • A new Middle East driven by Russia?

Above and beyond a circumstantial deepening of ties arising from the emergence of a new Middle East, Russian military presence in Syria has led these two countries into a new military alliance against Sunni jihadists. But the Russian military intervention in Syria also represents a challenge to Iranian military doctrine on regional security.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, which created a government centered around a religious power, Tehran has insisted on the need for Western Asian countries (the Iranian name for the Middle East) to reject all military interference from powers outside the region.

Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia speak on the sidelines of a summit in Astrakhan, September 29, 2014 (Presidency of Iran)

Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia speak on the sidelines of a summit in Astrakhan, September 29, 2014 (Presidency of Iran)

Iranian diplomats often make a distinction between so-called independent states, such as Iran, Russia and China, and those subservient to the United States, such as the oil-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf. Russian military intervention in Syria then constitutes a challenge to Iran, which opposes the international system dominated by major powers.

When Russia revealed in August 2016 that its armed forces had used the Noje airbase, just outside Hamadan in Iran, it provoked a controversy in the Islamic Republic as the country’s constitution prohibits the establishment of military bases on Iranian soil by foreign powers.

The chairman of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, specified that the Russian air force only used the base temporarily, in order to bomb “terrorists” in Syria.

Despite the inherent limits of an asymmetrical partnership between a world power and a regional one, the Iranian political elite must be given their due for transforming the old Russian enemy into a partner, a feat which the Iranian communists from the Tudeh party failed to achieve in the time between the end of the second world war and their exit from the Iranian political stage in 1983.


 

Source: The Conversation

Clément Therme is Research fellow at École des Hautes Études en sciences sociales (EHESS)

Translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.

 

Iran strikes back at US with ‘reciprocal’ sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Sunday sanctioned what it described as 15 American companies, alleging they support terrorism, repression and Israel’s occupation of land Palestinians want for a future state, likely in retaliation for sanctions earlier announced by the U.S.

The wide-ranging list from an American real estate company to a major arms manufacturer appeared more symbolic than anything else as the firms weren’t immediately known to be doing business anywhere in the Islamic Republic.

A Foreign Ministry statement carried by the state-run IRNA news agency said the sanctions barred companies from any agreements with Iranian firms and that former and current directors would not be eligible for visas. It also said any of the company’s assets in Iran could be seized.

“The sanctioned companies have, directly and/or indirectly, been involved in the brutal atrocities committed by the Zionist regime in the occupied Palestinian territories, or they have supported the regime’s terrorist activities and Israel’s development of Zionist settlements on the Palestinian soil,” the IRNA report said.

The IRNA report referred to the sanctions as a “reciprocal act,” without elaborating. Iran’s new sanctions comes after the Trump administration in February sanctioned more than two dozen people and companies in retaliation for a recent ballistic missile test.

The companies named did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday. They included ITT Corp., missile-maker Raytheon Co. and United Technologies Corp. Denver’s Re/Max Holdings Inc., a real estate company, also made the list. One of the named companies, Israeli defense contractor Elbit, declined to comment on the matter.

Another firm on the list, truck maker Oshkosh, has worked closely with Israeli armored products maker Plasan, including on the Sand Cat armored vehicle that is used by several countries, including Israel. The Israeli Defense Ministry is reportedly seeking to buy some 200 tactical trucks from the Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based company.

Kahr Arms and Magnum Research, two sanctioned firms which share the same parent company, advertise .44-caliber Magnum and .50-caliber “Desert Eagle” pistols — a product line that previously has been made in Israel.

Meanwhile, a senior Iranian lawmaker said Iran would consider a bill branding the U.S. military and the CIA as terrorist groups if the U.S. Congress passes a bill designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

Allaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted by Iranian state television as saying the move to further sanction the Revolutionary Guard goes against the 2015 nuclear deal Iran reached with the United States and other world powers.

The nuclear deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions. In the time since, Chicago-based Boeing Co. has struck a $16.6 billion deal with Iran for passenger planes.

Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, when militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostages for 444 days. Tensions eased slightly with the nuclear deal struck by moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, though hard-liners have detained those with Western ties in the time since.

Sunday’s sanctions announcement also comes ahead of a May presidential election in which Rouhani is expected to seek re-election.

___

Source: The Seattle Times 

Iran after Khamenei: the Debate Starts

By Amir Taheri

Is Tehran preparing the ground for the succession of “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Rife for many years, speculation attained a new degree of intensity earlier this month with a number of declarations by various officials, among them the revelation at a press conference by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami that the Assembly of Experts, the organ supposed to choose the next “Supreme Guide”, had appointed a committee to pick candidates.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receives a handwritten Quran as a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receives a handwritten Quran as a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015.

Khatami claimed that the committee had been in place for years, and had already “noted” 10 potential candidates whose names could only be supplied to Khamenei.

Both claims are open to question.

Khatami wants us to believe that there is neither immediacy nor urgency and that no single candidate could start building a profile as the successor.

Nevertheless, the fact that the issue is raised in public may be a sign that urgency is involved. The bit about “10 potential candidates” is designed to prevent the focalization of attention on any one of the mullahs regarded by Tehran political circles as possible successors to Khamenei.

The claim that the Assembly of Experts chooses the “Supreme Guide” is equally open to doubt.

The first “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini wasn’t elected but simply declared himself as a new Imam and acted as if he had divine mandate. Khamenei wasn’t elected either, but merely acclaimed by the Assembly after the late Hashemi Rafsanjani, flanked by Khomeini’s son Ahmad, claimed that the late “Imam” had designated “Ali Agha” as successor.

Khatami’s statement as spokesman for the Assembly of Experts, includes a hint that the next “Supreme Guide” may be named by Khamenei who will be given “the chosen names” with the implicit notion that he could strike any of them off, retaining the assembly’s position as nothing but a rubber stamp.

In regimes where one man holds absolute or semi-absolute power the temptation to dictate the future is always present.

In other words, the constitutional mechanism for electing the “Supreme Guide” has never been tested.

Foreign commentators often describe the Islamic Republic as a theocracy ruled by the “top mullah”. The truth is that the Islamic Republic is a secular regime that uses a religious narrative; in it, the mosque has been annexed by the state not the other way round. Nor is the “Supreme Guide” the “top mullah” by any stretch of imagination.

Khomeini was one of some 200 Ayatollahs and never considered by others as “supreme “ in anything. His limited knowledge of theology and history and his inability to master Persian and Arabic at a high level meant he would never attain the summit within the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy. Khomeini was a politician and owed his place in the Iranian panorama to the success of his political movement against various rivals and adversaries.

Khamenei’s knowledge of theology and history is certainly superior to that of Khomeini.
He also has a better command of both Persian and Arabic. Had Khamenei built a career within the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy he would have had a good chance of reaching higher rungs of the ladder than Khomeini.

Nevertheless, Khamenei has never been on that ladder.

From the start he has been a political figure, serving as Deputy Defense Minister and, later, President of the Republic.

The fact that the “Supreme Guide” dresses up as a mullah does not mean that he is head of the clergy, and even less that the clergy govern Iran. When Archbishop Makarios was President that didn’t mean that the Orthodox Christian priesthood ruled Cyprus. Nor did Archbishop Abel Muzorewa’s presidency symbolize rule by the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

Even Mullah Hassan, who briefly ruled Somalia, never claimed he was ruling on behalf of Islam; he called himself Shah. In old Yemen where Imam Yahya could claim he exercised on behalf of the Zaidi faith, he emphasized his political rather than any religious function as a member of the ulema.

Thus, the post of the “Supreme Guide” in Iran’s Islamic Republic is a political one and choosing its occupant is a political process.

And in any domain that is political what matters is to mobilize energies needed for winning power.

Propelling Khamenei as Khomeini’s successor was relatively easy.

The traditional clergy was anxious not to get involved in politics and had no desire to advance any of its leaders as candidate for the post. More importantly, Rafsanjani’s scheme was to enlarge the powers of the President of the Republic, a post he soon captured for himself, by reducing that of the “Supreme Guide”.

Rafsanjani’s calculation didn’t work. Khamenei did not turn out to be the quiet and obedient little mullah more interested in committing poetry than exercising power. He acted the opposite of the role that Rafsanjani has scripted for him by enlarging the powers of the “Supreme Guide”.

Moreover, while Rafsanjani applied his energies to enriching his family and entourage, Khamenei surrounded himself with a new generation of the military, men who now occupy all key positions of command in the army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the Baseej (Mobilization) and the regime’s security services.

If Khamenei, soon to be 78, lives as long as Khomeini he may be around for another decade. But even if he stumbles his successor won’t be chosen by the “Assembly of Experts” but by military-security networks that provide the backbone of the system.

Rafsanjani and his associates have talked of constitutional reform for years. In his last speech, Rafsanjani suggested that the constitution be amended without spelling out what he meant. A similar call has come from Ayatollah Nateq Nuri former Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament.

One idea is to officialize the political nature of the “Supreme Guide” by merging it with the post of the President. Another idea is to de-emphasize its political aspect by creating a five-mullah council charged with nothing more than deciding whether legislation conforms to Islamic tenets. That means promoting the President, which currently has little real power, as head of state, commander of the armed forces and ultimate decision-maker on executive matters.

Radical critics of the regime, argue that Khamenei’s demise should signal the end of the Islamic Republic itself, allowing Iranians to choose a different path for their nation.

Whatever happens next, one thing is clear: the debate has already started on the future of Iran after Khamenei.


Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.