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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.

 

 

Iran Policy: Pre-emptive Surrender is No Option

By Amir Taheri 

Earlier this month, the daily Kayhan, reputed to reflect the views of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Guide” of the Islamic Republic, published an essay about the “containment” strategy that US President Harry S Truman adopted vis-a-vis the Soviet Union in the late 1940s.

Kayhan justified giving space to such esoteric subject by claiming that some American “think-tanks” are recommending the adoption of a similar policy towards the Islamic Republic in Tehran, among them The Woodrow Wilson Foundation and The Carnegie Foundation.

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Khamenei and several top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards

Kayhan’s claim is sustained by recent op-eds by Iran lobbyists in the US, among them former US diplomats, business brokers, and “anti-war” activists.

The Truman-era containment policy was the brainchild of George Kennan in 1946 when he was in Moscow as charge d’affaires at the US Embassy. He spelled it out in an 8,000 word report, later to be known as “the Long Telegram”, addressed to the Secretary of State.

A year later, back in Washington Kennan deepened his expose in an article signed “X”.

Thanks to the Americans’ penchant for hyperbole, the “Telegram” and the “X” article ensured Kennan’s abiding reputation as a visionary strategist, and, believe it or not, the man who prevented a Third World War.

Even today, some believe that Kennan’s idea enabled the US to “contain” the USSR, securing the broader interests of Washington and its allies.

However, a less starry-eyed reading of the facts may suggest a different picture.

To start with the very concept of “containment” is too inexact to provide a solid basis for a serious strategy. The side that seeks the containment of an adversary has no control on what that adversary might do.

The only thing that the “containing” side is certain to be able to do is to contain itself. And, that means unilaterally relinquishing all other options which will remain open to the adversary.

This is exactly what happened in US-USSR relations in the following decades.

Before “containment” became fashionable in Washington, the USSR contained itself whenever it felt it had gone too far in provoking the US. For example, in 1946, President Truman made it clear to Soviet leader Josef Stalin that he could not keep his Red Army in two Iranian provinces occupied since 1941. After a brief attempt at wiggling out, Stalin complied and withdrew his troops without firing a shot.

Another example came in the same period when Washington made it clear to Moscow that the US would not allow Soviet-backed armed Communists to seize control of Greece. Anxious not to provoke the US which, at the time, had a monopoly of nuclear weapons, Stalin also agreed to scale down support for Communist rebels in the Chinese civil war where the Americans backed the Nationalists.

In Eastern and Central Europe the USSR played with “coalition” and “popular front” gimmicks, allowing pro-West parties and personalities to retain a share of power.

Shackling the US with “containment” released the USSR from whatever constraints it had imposed on itself.

“Containment” gave the USSR freedom to pursue a hegemonic strategy.

First, it expelled “liberal” partners in Eastern and Central Europe by establishing full-blood Communist regimes run from Moscow.

Stalin also stepped up support for the Chinese Communists while recruiting, training and arming the Kim Il-sung band in the Korean Peninsula.

He also launched his “Peace Movement”, a façade for KGB-controlled Communist parties in Western Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Within two years of the “X” article, Moscow had created 18 new Communist parties across the globe. At the same time, Moscow sponsored a series of “anti-colonial” groups in Asia and Africa, making sure that key US allies such as Britain and France would have their military bogged down in colonial struggles for years to come.

Six years after the “X” article, the Warsaw Pact was in place as cover for the Soviet war machine.

Assured by “containment” that the US would not react, Stalin formalized the annexation of the Baltic Republics and allowed Finland to survive as a semi-sovereign state thanks to “Finlandization”.

“Containment” encouraged Stalin to speed up a nuclear program which, two years after the “X” article, gave him the much-coveted atom bomb.

After Stalin’s death in March 1953 “containment” gave Moscow the assurance needed against punitive action by the US and allies- an assurance that was put to good use when the USSR crushed popular uprisings in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and created a client state in East Germany. In all those places, Soviet tanks could roll in with the certainty that the US was disarmed by its own policy of “containment.”

The true name of the metaphorical “Iron Curtain” was “containment.”

The “Long Telegram” and the “X” essay gave the Soviets a free hand in what was to be known as the Cold War. It was not until President Ronald Reagan replaced “containment” with his “roll-back” strategy that the clock started ticking for the USSR till its disintegration in 1991.

Kennan made the mistake of narrowing down options vis-a-vis the USSR to two: full-scale war or neutralizing the US with “containment.”

Knowingly or not, those who promote the idea of “containment” in the case of the Islamic Republic make the same mistake. Opportunist regimes like the defunct USSR and the Khomeinist hodge-podge in Tehran cannot be contained, especially when they claim legitimacy based on fake messianic missions.

The USSR was an anomaly in Europe.

It had to either make the whole of the continent like itself or to become like the rest of the continent.

The Khomeinist regime is in a similar position: either it imposes its brand on the whole of the greater Middle East or become like the rest of the region where Iran is located.

In dealing with the USSR yesterday and with the Islamic Republic today options are not limited to full-scale war or illusory containment.

In both contexts “containment” is another word for preemptive surrender.


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.

 

Iran MP slams Guards for social media arrests

TEHRAN: Iranian MPs have criticised the arrests of journalists and social media organisers ahead of the presidential election in May, with one directly accusing the elite Revolutionary Guards in a letter published Saturday.

The arrests in recent days are alleged to have targeted unnamed people who run channels on the popular messaging site Telegram supporting reformists and the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani.

Two prominent journalists — Ehsan Mazandarani and Morad Saghafi — have also been detained.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist MP, wrote an open letter to Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad-Ali Jafari, calling on the organisation to stay out of politics.

“Some incidents in recent days, including the simultaneous arrests of managers of Telegram channels with close associations to reformists and supporters of the government, which has apparently been done by the intelligence arm of the Sepah (Revolutionary Guards), has raised a wave of concern in society,” Sadeghi wrote in the letter published by the ILNA news agency.

Several other MPs have also criticised the arrests in open letters this week. Outspoken moderate-conservative MP Ali Motahari threatened to seek the impeachment of the intelligence minister if he did not provide details of the arrests.

The Revolutionary Guards operate their own intelligence wing independently of the government and answerable only to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani, who will seek re-election on May 19, has united moderates and reformists with his efforts to improve relations with the West, despite largely failing to win the release of jailed opposition leaders or improve civil rights as he promised during the 2013 campaign.

Telegram, which has an estimated 20 million users in Iran, has become the leading site for political and cultural discussions in a country where Facebook and Twitter are banned.

The authorities have tried to control the site, demanding that channels with more than 5,000 followers register with the government.

A reformist newspaper also reported Saturday that Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of revolutionary founder Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had again been sentenced to six months for “spreading falsehoods” after she accused the judiciary of corruption.

Hashemi, a vocal supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi during the mass protests that followed the disputed 2009 election, previously served six months in jail for “disrupting public opinion” in 2012-13.

Source: The Express Tribune

UK woman jailed in Iran: government ‘should condemn sentence’

The family of a British-Iranian woman held in Iran has said the UK government should do more to support her.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained while trying to leave the country with her baby daughter in April 2016. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Jones, a GP who works in Cwmbran, Torfaen, said the Foreign Office should “publicly condemn” what has happened.

The Foreign Office said it had supported the family since the arrest. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a charity worker from London – was sentenced to five years in prison in September on charges that have not been disclosed.

An appeal was launched but the ruling was upheld in January. Speaking on BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement programme, ahead of an event in Cardiff to mark the plight of her sister-in-law, Dr Jones said: “It would be nice if someone high up in the government publicly condemned this.

“We’ve had the shadow foreign secretary publicly condemn what’s happened to Nazanin but nobody from the government. “This is a terrible miscarriage of justice and everybody can see it but the government hasn’t stood up and said that yet.” Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s two-year-old daughter is being cared for by her grandparents in Iran. She sees her mother once a week during a prison visit.

Dr Jones added: “Politically there’s a lot going on in Iran at the moment… and obviously since Brexit, [the UK government] wants trade deals with Iran. “There’s money in Iran and I don’t think they want our family to jeopardise that.” It might be the wrong take on things but it’s difficult not to get cynical. We’re a year down the line and neither my sister-in-law nor my niece has been released.”

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said Iran continues to refuse UK consular access to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have both previously raised this case with their counterparts,” she said. “We have been supporting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family since we were first made aware of her arrest.”

Source : BBC

Iran pre-nups land thousands of men in jail

TEHRAN: When Sadegh married his college sweetheart, he never thought he’d end up as one of those Iranians facing ruin and even prison because of huge sums demanded by his wife’s family.

But the “mehrieh” (“affection”) system, in which future husbands agree to pay a certain number of gold coins to the bride in the event of divorce, has left thousands of men in Iran languishing in jail and many more destitute.

“Our mehrieh was high, around 800 gold coins, but when we were planning the wedding, we didn’t think about how it might end,” said Sadegh, who was divorced last year after eight years of marriage.

Each gold coin is worth around 10 million rials (US$300). A worker on Iran’s average wage would need 50 years to earn 800 gold coins.

“Even when the problems started and we talked about separation, it was supposed to be mutual and no mehrieh was going to be paid,” said Sadegh, who spoke to AFP on condition that his full name not be used.

But then his wife’s family got involved, and suddenly Sadegh found himself in court where he was told to pay 110 coins immediately or go to jail.

“The thought of ending up in prison for this, like in the movies, seemed ridiculous,” he said.

“Mehrieh is good as a financial support for women in a patriarchal society like Iran, but it has become a business.”

Pleading he was broke, the judge brokered a deal in which Sadegh agreed to pay the equivalent of 120 coins, one per month.

That meant a decade of payments, each taking just under half his photographer’s salary.

Then, five months in, he lost his job.

  • “SWORD OVER MAN’S HEAD”

It could have been even worse. At last count, the judiciary said 2,297 men were in jail for failing to pay their mehrieh after a divorce.

A glimmer of hope surfaced this week in Tehran, where a ceremony was held to celebrate the work of donors who pay off the debts of prisoners as a show of Islamic charity.

They have freed 1,700 mehrieh-convicts over the past year.

“Unfortunately, today competition among families has led to ever-increasing mehrieh,” said Hadi Sadeghi, a cleric and judiciary official who helps coordinate the releases.

He said mehrieh, whose level is negotiated by the families at the time of a couple’s engagement as per ancient Islamic custom, had lost its simple traditional function as a form of dowry for the newly-weds to buy furniture.

Now the payment is usually delayed and brandished against men as a threat in case of divorce, or even worse, is used by unscrupulous families for extortion.

“The worst case is when families turn it into a business. Boys need to be careful not to be deceived,” said the cleric.

“Using mehrieh as a sword over the man’s head is wrong too. It only leads to more arguments and divorces.”

Officials agree that mehrieh has in recent decades degenerated into a status symbol, and that families are often just too stubborn to back down when a marriage falls apart.

“Many families, when they go to wed their girls, their first question is mehrieh,” said Alireza Afsary, who runs a foundation supporting prisoners.

“Some laws need to be amended and some cultural and social issues need to change.”

The courts have tried to intervene, saying they will only force husbands to pay a maximum of 110 gold coins, but even this is beyond the means of many Iranians.

  • WAY TO REDRESS BALANCE

Still, many women see mehrieh as a way of redressing the balance for divorced women, who are often shunned by society.

Some exchange mehrieh for promises they will be allowed to work or study, or have child custody in the event of a divorce.

“A woman who gets married is always afraid of not having real rights at the time of separation, so she tries to guarantee her rights through mehrieh,” said Safi, a married woman in her 20s.

But all agree it has done nothing to slow soaring divorce rates in Iran as the country modernises and women enjoy increased freedoms. There we

165,000 this year, up 15 percent compared to five years ago.

“If they are looking for ways to support women, and for men to show loyalty to their families, they should have new rules… for example giving them a legal right to half the man’s property,” said another young woman, Shima, 28.

As for Sadegh, he is trapped, still having to come up with 10 million rials a month despite being unemployed. He missed the last payment. The threat of prison hangs heavy over him.

“We were classmates and were together for a year or two before marriage. Her family said they have a tradition of high mehrieh and couldn’t reduce it. My family tried to refuse, but I loved her so we didn’t insist.

“We thought everything was going to go on smoothly forever.”

Iran jails two journalists, threatens more

Iran jails two journalists, threatens more with Nowruz only a week away

Iran arrested two journalists and threatened several more as the Iranian New Year comes up on March 20, Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported.

Henghameh Shahidi and Ehssan Mazndarani were arrested by the courts, the Revolutionary Guards and the ministry of intelligence, which have received condemnation from RSF.

Shahidi, a editor for blog Painveste, was arrested in the northeastern city of Mashhad. Upon her arrest, she said that she had been a target of “threats from government organs.”

RELATED: Reporters Without Borders exposes Iran’s 38 years of media repression

Mazndarani, editor of newspaper Farhikhteghan, was arrested with the use of violence by the Revolutionary Guards under the claim that he had not fully served his sentence.

He was freed early last month after completing a two-year sentence.

Ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Iran is one of the world’s five biggest prisons for media personnel, with a total of 30 journalists and citizen journalists detained.

Source: Al Arabiya

Political Repression, Abuse and Executions In Iran

UN Rights Monitor Highlights Political Repression, Abuse, Executions In Iran

Reformists in Iran are under pressure, detainees face torture and abuse, and people are being executed at an “alarming” rate, a UN monitor studying human rights in the tightly controlled country says.

The bleak picture presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 13 comes ahead of a May 19 presidential election in Iran.

“All reports indicate a high level of control over citizens and that democratic space is severely limited,” Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for Iran, told the council in Geneva.

Jahangir did not refer directly to the election, but she noted that three opposition figures who publicly challenged the official results of Iran’s 2009 presidential election — former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi; his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard; and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi — have been kept under house arrest for nearly six years without being formally charged.

Jahangir also voiced concern about state pressure on media workers and censorship efforts by the Iranian establishment.

As of December 13, 2016, “at least 24 journalists, bloggers, and social media activists were reportedly either in detention or sentenced for their peaceful activities,” she said in a written report on human rights violations in Iran, which was released on March 6.

Jahangir said she has received reports indicating that Iran continues to place restrictions on access to information by blocking websites, intimidating and prosecuting Internet users, bloggers and social media activists, and throttling Internet speeds.

In the March 6 report, Jahangir expressed deep concern over “the alarming level of executions” in Iran, where she said that at least 530 people were executed last year and 156 have been put to death this year.

At least five of those executed in 2016 were below the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offense, she said, noting that Iran has reportedly executed the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world during the past decade.

Jahangir urged the Iranian establishment to “immediately and unconditionally prohibit the sentencing of children to death and to engage in a comprehensive process of commutation of all death sentences handed down on persons currently on death row for crimes committed under the age of 18.”

She also reiterated calls made by her predecessor to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

Iran has one of the highest execution rates in the world. Most people who are executed have been convicted of drug-related crimes.

Jahangir said that since her appointment last year, she has received “numerous reports about the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” including the continued use of amputations, blinding, and flogging, as well as the use of prolonged period in solitary confinement for detainees.

She cited reports by Iranian media about a blinding sentence that was carried out in November in a prison near the capital, Tehran, and finger amputation sentences that were carried out in December for two men detained in Orumieh prison in northwest Iran.

Jahangir also highlighted child marriages in Iran where, according to the Tehran-based Association to Protect the Rights of Children, approximately 17 percent of all marriages involve girls married with old men.

She called on Iran to prohibit all forms of child marriage and raise awareness about the “harmful practice.”

Jahangir also said that the situation of Iran’s recognized and unrecognized minorities remain of “serious concern.”

“Bahai’s continue to be systematically discriminated, targeted, and deprived of the right to a livelihood,” Jahangiri said in her March 6 report.

The Baha’i faith is not recognized in the constitution of Iran, which has been ruled by a conservative Muslim establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Jahangir said that 90 Baha’i believers are currently detained in Iran’s prison detained solely because of their religious beliefs and practices.

Jahangir also expressed concern over the state targeting of Iranian Christian converts and members of Sufi groups.

“These groups continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, and detention and are often accused of national security crimes such as ‘acting against the national security’ or ‘propaganda against the state.’”

Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Netanyahu hits back at Iran FM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at the Iranian foreign minister on Monday, blasting the Iranian regime for repeatedly calling for Israel’s annihilation while speaking of tolerance, a day after Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the Israeli leader of selling “bigoted lies” with the charge while asserting that Iranians had “saved Jews 3 times” throughout history.

“Iran’s FM speaks of tolerance while the regime hangs gays, jails journalists and calls for Israel’s annihilation. Who are they kidding?” Netanyahu tweeted on Monday.

Over the past several day, the Israeli prime minister had made several references to Iran or ancient Persia ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrated over the weekend in most of the world, and on Monday in Jerusalem.

On Saturday, while visiting a synagogue, Netanyahu told young children celebrating the festival that Iran wants to kill the Jews just as the Persians did.

And in a meeting with Putin in Moscow on Friday, Netanyahu said Persia had made “an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed” some 2,500 years ago, an event commemorated on Purim.

On Sunday, Zarif took to Twitter to accuse Netanyahu of distorting history by repeatedly making the claim

“To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” Zarif tweeted.

In an attachment to the post, Zarif wrote “once again Benjamin Netanyahu not only distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past — including Jewish scripture. It is truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved the Jews three times in its history.”

“The Book of Esther tells of how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day,” he wrote, referring to the king known in the Purim story as Ahasuerus.

Jews don’t view Ahasuerus as a savior, as he originally approved Haman’s order to kill the Jews; rather, they look to the Jewish Queen Esther as the heroine of the tale.

“Again, during the time of Cyrus the Great, an Iranian king saved the Jews — this time from captivity in Babylon; and during the Second World War, when Jews were being slaughtered in Europe, Iran gladly took them in,” Zarif wrote.

Iran has been accused of frequent Holocaust denial.

Also on Sunday, Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani criticized Netanyahu for his comparison between ancient Persia and modern Iran, saying “apparently, [Netanyahu] is neither acquainted with history, nor has read the Torah,” according to Iranian media reports.

Larijani said that Netanyahu “has distorted the Iranians’ pre-Islam historical era and attempted to misrepresent events. Of course, nothing more than presenting such lies is expected from a wicked Zionist,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Purim, which started Saturday night, commemorates the Biblical tale of an averted genocide of the Jews in the Persian empire some 2,500 years ago, and is a festive occasion celebrated with costumes, parades and street parties in cities around Israel.

In the biblical Purim story, retold in the Book of Esther, the Persian viceroy Haman plotted to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. King Ahasuerus initially supported the plan, but eventually his Jewish wife, Esther, convinced him that he should not allow Haman to kill the Jews. Ahasuerus had Haman and his sons killed and the Jews were given leave to kill all those who wanted to destroy them.

Although historians disagree as to the precise dating of the story, all agree that it is set in the time of the Achaemenid Empire during the 5th century BCE, over 1,000 years before the rise of Islam.

Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews who are a recognized minority and are allocated one seat in parliament.

Source: The Times of Israel

Iran to grant citizenship to Afghan fighters in Syria

Iran is preparing to grant citizenship to the families Afghan volunteers who have died fighting for in Syria and Iraq, according to reports released on Monday. Members of the Fatemiyoun Division, affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have reportedly already been given Iranian citizenship, as reported by Javanonline news site.

Since 2013, Iran has increased its military presence in Syria and deployed hundreds of its special operation troops as well as militants. The country has allegedly been recruiting young people from poor countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India with the promise of granting them citizenship in return for military service.

Last year, Iran passed a law allowing the government to grant citizenship to the families of foreigners killed while fighting for the republic. The law could apply to volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are fighting in Syria and Iraq against extremists, including those from Daesh.

The Fatemiyoun Division, an Afghani Shiite militia group formed in 2014 to fight in Syria and organized by Iran, comprises the majority of volunteers sent from Iran to fight in Syria and Iraq.

In recent days, more than 2,000 soldiers have lost their lives in the conflict in Syria, the reports stated. Iran has sent military advisers as well as volunteer fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to work with Assad’s forces. They are known in Iran as “defenders of the shrines,” in reference to sacred Shiite sites in Syria.

Iran denies having any boots on the ground in Syria, and insists its commanders and generals of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations wing act as “military advisers” both there and in Iraq. Iranian media regularly report on the death of Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani people in Syria, whose bodies are buried in Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran has gained a strong position in Syria. The country has helped the Assad regime throughout the war, dispatching thousands of soldiers, mobilizing the Hezbollah group and delivering millions of dollars, despite its troubled economy due to international sanctions. Playing the sectarianism card to keep relations tight with Shiite minorities and armed groups across the world, the Tehran administration has gone into a deadly war against civilians, not only in Syria but also in Iraq, by giving unconditional support to the Hashd al-Shaabi militants, who are infamous for their brutal acts against Iraq’s Sunni citizens.

Source: Daily Sabah

Direct Dialogue Between U.S. and Iranian Opposition

By Jay Solomon

Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s last monarch, called for a direct dialogue between U.S. and Iran’s democratic opposition amid signs that President Donald Trump intends to significantly harden Washington’s position towards Tehran.

Reza Pahlavi, shown with Yasmine Pahlavi, in New York. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

Reza Pahlavi, shown with Yasmine Pahlavi, in New York. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

“We say, ‘Yes,’ if they want to have a dialogue,” said Mr. Pahlavi, who heads a political movement called the Iran National Council for Free Elections, in an interview in Washington on Wednesday. “It’s about time you start talking to voices outside the regime.”

The Obama administration reached a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran’s Islamist government in 2015 that resulted in Iran scaling back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.

But Mr. Pahlavi, who supported the deal, and other Iranian opposition leaders, have been critical of what they said was former President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to promote democratic forces in Iran.

Millions of Iranians protested in 2009 against what they believed was the fraudulent re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Obama muted U.S. criticism of the vote, concerned that U.S. involvement would allow Tehran’s government to demonize the protesters as Western tools.

Mr. Pahlavi said Wednesday the Trump administration should directly engage Iranian opposition leaders. He said, ultimately, relations between Iran and the West will only improve with the removal of Tehran’s theocratic government.

“We need regime change in Iran to get rid of this problem,” said Mr. Pahlavi.

The Trump administration last week placed Iran “on notice” and said it would aggressively challenge Tehran for its recent ballistic missile tests and its support for militant groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. Treasury on Friday also sanctioned 25 Iranian-linked companies and individuals.

Some top Republicans have called for Mr. Trump to appoint a special envoy to the Iranian opposition, viewing it as another way to pressure Tehran. A White House official said Wednesday no decision had been made on this issue.

Iran’s opposition is split among royalists, left-wing groups and youth and student movements that have emerged in recent years. Mr. Pahlavi’s father, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. The younger Pahlavi, 56 years old, was training at a U.S. Air Force base in Texas at the time and has lived in exile ever since.

 Source: WSJ

Iran Should Take American Threats Seriously

by Shireen T. Hunter

It was not surprising that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, national security adviser to President Donald Trump, “officially put…Iran on notice,” following what he cited as “recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants.” President Trump himself later confirmed these comments.

In view of President Trump’s statements before and during the presidential campaign and given the ideological bent of his key advisers, a hardening of American position towards Iran was inevitable. In fact, even if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, Iran would no doubt have faced even tougher times than during the Obama administration.

Yet many Iranians, including political leaders, somehow deluded themselves into believing that as a businessman Donald Trump would be willing to cut a deal. Shortly after the presidential election, I warned in Lobelog that the only deal that Donald Trump likes is one that he wins totally. I also wrote that any deal based on the concept of win-win, of which Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is so fond, is not the kind of deal that appeals to President Trump. Furthermore, in emphasizing America’ s honor and pride, Trump would be reluctant to deal with a country that he believes has humiliated America, including the incident of captured US Navy personnel in January 2016 .

Despite warnings by the United States, echoed by others as well, Iran decided to take the measure of the Trump administration by conducting a ballistic missile test only a few days after the new president assumed office. If indeed Tehran wanted to see how the new administration would respond, it got its answer: Iran has now been verbally rebuked and slapped with new US sanctions. As has been the habit of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian government’s immediate response to these warnings was defiance and tit-for-tat retaliation. Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted that Iran is “unmoved by threats,” although he did add that “We’ll never initiate war.” Iranian newspapers repeated Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous saying that America won’t dare do anything against Iran. Then Iran denied entry to a US wrestling team (later rescinded), and the Iranian media kept asking President Hassan Rouhani to retaliate against American sanctions.

The Islamic Republic has always walked too close to the edge in its foreign policy behavior, especially regarding relations with the United States, which has combined mostly rhetorical defiance with actual pragmatism. Whenever the risks of an actual confrontation have been great, Iran has backed off and even tried to cut a deal with the US, as at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. However, as soon as the immediate threat has passed, it has reverted to its defiant posture. For example, only days after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect in October 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tested a medium-range Emad ballistic missile, thus greatly dissipating any good will that might have been generated by the agreement. At the time, some moderate elements in Iran questioned the wisdom of this action.

This aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is a direct result of its distorted priorities. Instead of focusing on Iran’s interests as a country and nation, the Islamic Republic has pursued a policy shaped by a warped version of Islamic universalism. Ironically, Iran is not accepted in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim world as truly Muslim. Over the years, it has spent billions of dollars on Syria, which is Sunni-majority but Alawite-dominated, including shipments of cheap oil. It has also supported various Palestinian groups that every time have turned against it, as when Arafat supported Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran, and more recently Hamas, which has backed Saudi Arabia’s role in Syria. By picking an unnecessary fight with Israel, Iran has actually brought Israelis and some Arabs closer together.

Iran’s dispute with Israel has been the main reason for its troubled relations with America and Europe and to some extent even Russia and China. As long as Iran does not reach a modus vivendi with Israel, as it had in pre-Islamic Revolutionary times, it cannot expect normal relations with other countries. The threat of some form of military action, by the United States and/or Israel, will remain. In October 2016, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Iran “to improve its relationship with Israel if it wanted to establish closer economic ties with Germany and other western powers.”

Meanwhile, all of Iran’s neighbors, big and small, have taken advantage of the country’s international isolation in every possible way. For instance, though it boasts that it will not bow to America, Iran remained silent when tiny Turkmenistan cut gas supplies to the country during the current tough winter. A government that so often talks about Iran’s honor, pride, and dignity does not seem bothered by these insults and slights and many others like them. But it considers even talking to America against its national dignity.

Iran has paid a huge price for its distorted set of priorities and for privileging religion over national interests, including economic advancement. In fact, since the revolution, Iran has lost decades of economic development, not to mention the losses caused by the eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88). There have also been costs associated with sanctions, rampant corruption, and managerial deficiencies. Even the country’s birth rate has become negative, reflecting its people’s low expectation of future possibilities. Iran is facing both an environmental and a demographic disaster.

The Trump administration’s policies now confront the Islamic Republic and its leaders with a stark choice: either to give priority to protecting Iran’s survival as a country, nation, and culture or to risk sacrificing it on the altar of some vague notion of Islamic universalism and anti-imperialist struggle. Unfortunately, some in Iran would willingly sacrifice Iran to bring about a cataclysmic denouement in the Middle East. A US-Iranian confrontation that might even lead to open conflict might provide just such an opportunity.

As the new U.S. administration decides what to do about Iran’s behavior—and before it chooses to escalate its threats even to the point of a possible military confrontation—it should be aware that some Iranians would welcome a chance to entangle America in a long war, even if their country becomes the greatest victim of such a conflict. But perhaps Iran’s Islamists will realize before it is too late that, if Iran ceases to exist as country, they will be left with nothing and nowhere to go. Coming to their senses, they will thus step back from the brink before it is too late.

Source: Lebelog

New Directions for American Foreign Policy

With the U.S. Senate endorsing the nomination of Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State, President Donald J Trump’s national security team is now complete, ready for action.

The Trump team differs from those of previous presidents in a number of ways.

To start with, Trump has decided to seek a tighter grip for himself by granting Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, or even Svengali as critics claim, a seat at the National Security Council (NSC).

Next, he has decided that his National Security Advisor, Lt. General Michael Flynn, would fix the NSC’s agenda
in consultation with Bannon.

This would give the inner-circle of presidential advisers a tighter grip on the choice of issues that the administration wishes to focus on.

Another important decision is to deprive the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top echelon of the U.S. armed forces, of a permanent presence in the NSC. Under Trump, the chiefs would be invited only to sessions that discuss matters directly related to their area of competence and authority.

Lowering the profile of the Top Brass need not be regarded as a major event if only because the top echelon of the Trump administration includes two retired four-star generals, Defence Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Secretary John F. Kelly, plus Flynn who has three stars.

The new Trump configuration also diminishes the role of the State Department, the vehicle for American diplomacy. Trump believes that the department has morphed into an exclusive club for cosmopolitan liberals more concerned about the sensibilities of foreign foes than the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Thus, the department will lose the seat traditionally reserved for the Deputy Secretary of State, even though the post may now go to a loyal Trumpist.

Tillerson’s choice as Secretary of States indicates Trump’s determination to shake the State Department. A businessman, Tillerson would be able to cast a fresh glance at all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, disregarding the receive wisdom dished out by the State Department’s “tired” diplomats.

It would be interesting to see how long would Tillerson resist “going native” and adopting the discourse and style of the State Department professionals.

The “inner circle” also includes Kt McFarland, a veteran of all Republican administrations since President Richard Nixon, who has been named Deputy National Security Adviser. Legal “know-how” for the inner circle would be provided by Don McGahan, named as White House Counsel.

Also expected to be part of the inner circle is Nikki Haley, named as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations with a seat on the Cabinet.

Two more members of the administration are likely to acquire some influence, at least on aspects of Trumps policy related to international trade and the changing patterns of the global energy market.

They are Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The Trump ream differs from previous administrations in a number of ways.

To start with it consists mostly of people who have been successful in their respective fields of activity and do not owe their place and prestige to political patronage. This means that we could expect real debate at least within the inner circle.

Under Obama, the standard response of senior administration members was “yes, sir”. Under Trump one may get a better deal, at least with “yes, but.”

The average American public servant is often excessively concerned about “what-is-in-it-for me”, with an eye on the next rung of the ladder he might climb. Trumps team may be different if only because of the age of its members, six years older than the average for members of the last three administrations and the fact that most members do not envisage further political careers. Another factor is the personal wealth of the members of the new team that includes several billionaires. (Obama’s administration had no billionaires; most of its members were only millionaires.)

But what will the new team do?

Though no definite answer could be suggested as yet, there are indicators pointing to the direction that U.S. foreign policy might take at least in certain domains.

Some analysts, especially in Europe, have seen the Trump slogan of “America First” as an indication that the new administration tilts towards isolationism.

The “America First” slogan of Trump isn’t new however; it was launched in the late 1930s by people like the politician Huey Pierce, Father Charles Coughlin and the aviator Charles Lindbergh with a view to keep the United States out of the looming Second World War. At that time, the slogan meant a policy of disengagement or even benign neglect wherever possible.

With Trump, however, it means active engagement with the aim of securing better “deals” for the United States.
In the 1930s the slogan was really meant to convey an “America Alone” sentiment. Trump reads it differently to imply that America must come first in relation to, and competition with, other nations.

That sentiment is shared by the vast majority of Trump’s new team, men and women who have extensive experience of the outside world plus command of foreign languages.

Trump’s “America First” slogan is laced with a feeling of resentment prompted by the belief that the U.S. has been “made a sucker of” by friend and foe alike.

The average American could be world champion of friendship and generosity even to the point of fighting and dying on distant battlefields to save friends and allies. But he simply goes mad if he gets the feeling that the friends and allies he has saved simply took advantage of him, and pour scorn on him in secret.

Trumps promise, not to say threat, to tear up trade agreements is largely motivated by that anger. However, once it becomes clear that even the worst trade agreements have served U.S. interests, the “America First slogan might be given a different tonality.

What remains to be seen is the ability of the new team to translate what is a simple, not to say simplistic, slogan into the backbone of a coherent world-view and practical foreign policy.

Unlike Obama who believed, or pretended to believe, that his own ersatz charm and persiflage could move the biggest hurdles, Trump feels that what matters when the chips are down is the relative power of any two sides involved in a relationship. That point is amply made clear in Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” in which he recommends bullying, bluster and bluffing as legitimate tools of negotiations.

In Trump’s vision of the world, no nation is assigned a permanent label, and even the United States’ oldest friends cannot expect automatic indulgence when they act in an unfriendly manner.

A nation could be an ally or even a friend but act as an adversary or even an enemy in particular instances and on specific issues. Trump has two cases most in mind. The first concerns the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which he has described as “obsolete.”

This does not mean he wants to abolish NATO; in fact last month he indicated he wants to strengthen it. But he certainly would insist on the allies meeting their commitments both in terms of financial contribution and allocation of resources.

Next, Trump has served notice on allies, including Japan South Korea, Taiwan and friendly Arab states, not to expect the U.S. to continue providing police service for their protection on a no-tomorrow basis. But here, too, the outcome may well be a strengthening of U.S. commitment to the defence of its allies.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump will be “soft” on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his projection of power in the area of influence of the deceased Soviet Empire. However, Putin’s strategy is primarily aimed at promoting his own image as a strong nationalist leader standing up against Western bullies.

Obama fell into Putin’s trap by talking tough and doing nothing to increase the cost of Russian expansionism. Trump is likely to do the opposite: turning the volume down on Putin but making sure he pays the maximum price for his cheat-and-retreat shenanigans. This is why Trump’s 30-minute long telephone conversation with Putin did not include any reference to the easing of sanctions on Russia.

Trump may adopt a similar tactic against the Islamic Republic in Tehran. There, too, the mullahs have made maximum propaganda mileage by claiming that are standing against “the only Superpower” and winning. They have set aside the fact that the same “only Superpower” went out of its way to smuggle cash to them to pay the salaries of Iranian security services.

In fact, Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani has publicly stated that without Obama’s help in the context of the “nuclear deal” Iran would be in the same state of economic meltdown as Venezuela is today.

There is much speculation regarding Trump’s intention to scrap the Iran “nuclear deal”, a point hinted at by Tillerson in his Senate confirmation hearings.

However, no such dramatic action may be necessary. Instead, the new administration may do two things. First, it could stop operating as a lobby for the mullahs, as Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry did. That would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the mullah’s regime remains a pariah and has a long way before qualifying for “business as usual.”

Secondly, Trump may administer some of the mullahs’ own medicine in the form of low-intensity operations and proximity pressure. In fact, Gen. Flynn, followed by Trump himself, this week put Tehran on notice that the Islamic Republic is now under close observation and that its’ every move would receive the response it merits.

That is in contrast with Obama’s policy of boasting about “all options are on the table” while violating international law to help the mullahs under the table.

The Middle East, with special attention paid to Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in addition to Iran, is likely to feature prominently in Trump’s global strategy.

The Trump administration has better and more direct knowledge of the region than did that of Obama. General Mattis was in command in Iraq and has a vast network of contacts among politicians, the military, tribal chiefs and religious figure there. He also has a smattering of Arabic and those who know him closely claim he genuinely wants Iraq to succeed in building itself as an independent and democratic nation.

Both generals Kelly and Flynn to could be regarded as old Middle East hands having visited the region and served therein various capacities since the 1990s.

The fact that Trump has cited the “total destruction” of ISIS (Da’esh in Arabic) as a top priority adds to the importance of reviewing Washington’s policy on Iraq.

Eliminating ISIS also requires a Syrian policy different from Obama’s confused musings.

Here, too, the conventional wisdom claiming that Trump would allow Russia to take sole charge of the Syrian dossier may be misguided. In a Machiavellian sense that wouldn’t be a bad policy, keeping Russia bogged down in the Syrian quagmire and wasting rare resources on keeping Bashar al-Assad nominally in power in a tiny corner of Damascus.

However, the new administration’s aims, as put by Tillerson during the Senate hearings, include two objectives that do not tally with such a Machiavellian scheme. Tillerson fixed two goals: The departure from power of Assad and the destruction of ISIS.

More importantly, perhaps, Tillerson insisted that the two objectives should be attained together.

This means that Washington is unlikely to pursue Obama’s policy under which U.S. military capabilities would be used in Syria only to strengthen Assad by attacking his non-ISIS opponents.

Obama’s policy failed because the U.S. military chiefs, and Pentagon as a whole, opposed working with Russia to achieve their military objectives.

Trump may offer a new “deal” under which Washington and Moscow can pull resources to destroy ISIS with the assurance that Assad, too, is flushed out. Such a joint venture would also prevent Russia from inheriting a totally ruined Syria which it won’t be able to rebuild on its own.

According to Washington sources, the new administration is already preparing contingency plans to help “domestic democratic force” in Lebanon where the new President, Michel Aoun, though beholden to Tehran, is known for his ability to change course when and if necessary.

Only thanks to Gen. Flynn, a specialist in Turkish affairs, relations with Ankara are also in line for a major review. There, evolving a balance between Washington’s traditional support for Kurdish rights and its interest in consolidating Turkey’s position as key member of NATO may prove difficult to achieve but not impossible.

The fact that Iran is singled out as America’s chief adversary in the region also means a higher U.S. profile in Yemen where rebel forces backed by Iran appear to be in some disarray.

An infusion of massive Iranian support could still prevent the total defeat of the Houthis and their allies, at least for the time being. The Trump administration’s aim is to make Tehran understand the true cost of such an adventure in Yemen. That understanding may persuade Tehran strategists to review a policy that is visibly leading nowhere.

In his style as a deal-maker, Trump may also enlist Russia as second-fiddle in reining in China’s growing ambitions in the Far East and Siberia.

The new Trump team has the great advantage of being bound together with a set of clear ideas which, though debatable, could provide the U.S. with a clear direction, ending eight years of rudderless zigzag under Obama.

This new team believes that America’s enemies have little power but use all of it against the U.S. while the U.S. has a lot of power but has been afraid of using even a tiny it of it against its foes.

The new team claims its aim is to make sure that fear changes camp and that cowardice finds a home with America’s adversaries.

How well, or how badly, the new team may pursue that aim remains to be seen.


 

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.

Obama, Trump and the Muslim Ban

As expected, the decision by the new American President Donald Trump to impose a 90-day ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries has provoked violent reactions in many parts of the world, including the United States.

The fact that the majority of citizens of the countries concerned are Muslims has led some commentators to claim that the ban is anti-Islamic and violates the United States’ Constitution which guarantees respect for all religions.

A few politicians, mostly in Western Europe, have gone further by comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. (Incidentally, though Hitler and Mussolini were similar they were also different!)

Deconstructing Trump’s move might show that the hysteria is misplaced if not counter-productive. It may also offer an insight into Trump’s modus operandi as president.

The first thing to settle is whether or not the move is anti-Islam.

There is nothing in Trump’s Executive Order (EO) to indicate that this is the case. Although a majority of the citizens of the nations concerned are Muslims, the EO applies to non-Muslim citizens as well.

The measure is not aimed against citizens of those countries as such; it is aimed at passports issued by governments of those countries. If a citizen of those countries has another passport, as is the case with an estimated 4.5 million dual-nationals who have European or even American passports, he would not be covered by the ban.

Muslims form a majority of populations in 57 out of the world’s 198 countries. Muslims are also found in almost all other countries. The United Sates itself is home to an estimated 6.5 million Muslims while a further 4.5 million Muslims hold American permanent residency known as the Green Card.

In the case of Iran, one of the seven countries, no fewer than 1,500 senior officials of the Islamic Republic are holders of American Green Cards, according to the Islamic Majlis in Tehran. The children of many top Khomeinist officials are among the 16,000 Iranians attending American universities.

The countries concerned – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen -account for just under 10 per cent of the world’s total population of Muslims.

None of the five countries with the largest number of Muslims, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, are included in the list of seven unwanted ones.

Only two of the seven, Iran and Sudan, describe themselves as Islamic Republic. Three other Islamic Republics, Mauritania, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are not included.

The malicious seven have been singled out because of the threat they are supposed to pose to American security. Whether or not that threat is real could be debated; but it seems plausible on several grounds.

Take Iran, for example, it has been in a state of war against the United States since 1979 when it raided the U.S. Embassy and held its diplomats hostage, a casus belli under international law.

Since then, hardly a day has passed without the Islamic Republic holding some U.S. citizens hostage in Tehran or Beirut.

Every year, Tehran hosts an international conference known as “End of America” and attended by individuals and groups that, for a variety of reasons, seek the destruction of the United States.

Iraq, also on the list, is included despite the close relationship it has with the U.S. The reason is that ISIS (or Da’esh in Arabic) still controls three of Iraq’s provinces plus its third most populous city Mosul.

In 2015, Baghdad authorities announced that ISIS had seized thousands of Iraqi passports and might use them to send infiltrators abroad.

In an even more precarious situation than Iraq, Syria suffers from similar problems. There, too, ISIS, is in control of vast chunks of territory and in possession of an unknown number of stolen passports.

In Libya, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates are established in areas larger than Switzerland, a metaphorical marshland where mosquitoes of terror breed.

A similar situation exists in Somalia with al-Shabab and the remnants of gangs that lynched 18 U.S. Marines in Mogadishu in December 1992 are still active.

Sudan, home to the leaders of Al-Qaeda and other terror groups for decades, hosted the Popular Islamic Congress which selected a nine-man leadership council with the mission to launch their version of Jihad across the globe.

Since then, Sudan has changed and is trying to distance itself from terrorist groups. However, groups that have struck roots there for decades cannot be weeded out in a few years.

In Yemen, al-Qaeda is in control of a chunk of territory while the Houthi militia, backed by Iran, launched at least two attacks on U.S. naval vessels in 2016.

The list of the malicious seven is not a brainchild of Trump. It was established by President Barack Obama in 2016 as a new version of the list of “States Sponsors of International Terrorism” promulgated by the Bush administration in 2002.

In the same year, the Bush administration pushed through an amendment to the section 306 of The Immigration and Naturalization Act to impose a total ban on travel by citizens of the seven countries listed as “State Sponsors of international terrorism.” The amendment gave the president the right to waive the ban when and if he desired, something that both Bush and Obama used extensively.

What Trump has done is to insist on the full implementation for 90 days of an act passed under George W Bush in 2002.

The original list of “sponsors of terrorism” included Cuba and North Korea instead of Syria and Yemen.

At that time, Syria was regarded as an ally. Between 1992 and 2002 three successive U.S. secretaries of states paid a total of 29 visits to Damascus.

At the time, Yemen, under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was also regarded as an ally. In other words, changes in political and security circumstances could alter Washington’s perception of friend and foe.

Last year, Obama paid his photo-op visit to Havana and had to remove Cuba from the “terrorist list”. Obama also removed North Korea from his list of “Countries of Concern”, presumably because he realized that no one from there might want to visit the U.S. as a tourist or on a business trip.

During his campaign, Trump promised to impose a temporary ban on all Muslims wishing to travel to the U.S. What he has come up with, however, is a temporary ban on citizens of a small number of Muslim countries.

In a sense, he has acted in Obama’s style of faking action, doing something that like candy-floss, looks big at first but melts into nothingness in a consumer’s mouth.

Obama’s authenticity was fake. Will Trump’s fakery turn out to be authentic?


 

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.

Iran’s missile test ‘not a message’ to Trump

Iran said on Monday a recent missile trial launch was not intended to send a message to new U.S. President Donald Trump and to test him, since after a series of policy statements Iranian officials already “know him quite well”.

Iran test-fired a new ballistic missile last week, prompting Washington to impose some new sanctions on Tehran. Trump tweeted that Tehran, which has cut back its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers easing economic sanctions, was “playing with fire”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying: “Iran’s missile test was not a message to the new U.S. government.

“There is no need to test Mr Trump as we have heard his views on different issues in recent days… We know him quite well.”

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking National Day of Space Technology in Tehran, Iran February 1, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking National Day of Space Technology in Tehran, Iran February 1, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the 2015 deal, but the latest test on January 29 was the first since Trump entered the White House. Trump said during his election campaign that he would stop Iran’s missile program.

Qasemi said The U.S. government was “still in an unstable stage” and Trump’s comments were “contradictory”.

“We are waiting to see how the U.S. government will act in different international issues to evaluate their approach.”

Despite heated words between Tehran and Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday he was not considering strengthening U.S. forces in the Middle East to address Iran’s “misbehavior”.

Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted on Monday that the U.S. government “should de-escalate regional tension not adding to it”, and Washington should “interact with Iran” rather than challenging it.

Iran announced on Saturday that it will issue visas for a U.S. wrestling team to attend the Freestyle World Cup competition, reversing a decision to ban visas for the team in retaliation for an executive order by Trump banning visas for Iranians.

Source: Reuters 

 

Zarif Says ‘Difficult Days’ Ahead

  • Zarif expects Trump may try to renegotiate the nuclear deal
  • Iran, other signatories don’t want to reexamine the deal


Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to try and renegotiate the nuclear accord, heralding “difficult days” ahead for the Islamic Republic.

Zarif, in remarks published by the Tehran-based newspaper Ettelaat, said that neither Iran nor other signatories will accept reexamining the 2015 landmark accord that lifted a host of sanctions on Iran in return for curbing its nuclear program.

Kerry and Zarif

Kerry and Zarif

Trump said during the presidential campaign that he wants to “tear up” or renegotiate the terms of the deal he called “a disaster.” While he hasn’t repeated these statements since stepping into the White House, his administration on Friday imposed sanctions against a list of entities accused of having ties to Iran’s missile program after Tehran carried out a ballistic missile test.

“I believe Trump may try to renegotiate,” Zarif, who led the Iranian team that negotiated the agreement, said. “So, we will have difficult days ahead.”

The U.K, Germany, France, China and Russia remain supportive of the accord. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who met this month with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, another critic of the deal, said on Monday that the nuclear deal was “vital” and needed to be “properly enforced and policed.”

Source: Bloomberg

Details of Iran nuclear deal still secret

By Andrew O’Reilly

President Trump could come under new pressure to lift the curtain on secret elements of the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, especially as the Islamic Republic continues its war of words with his administration.

Only days after the Iran nuclear deal was announced in July of 2015, news began to leak out about secret side agreements made between the Islamic Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Some of those agreements have been subsequently released, but with the tension ratcheting up between Iran and Trump, who has criticized the deal, the White House could reveal more details.

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” Trump tweeted last week, quickly adding: “Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the U.S. came along and gave it a life-line in the form of the Iran Deal: $150 billion.”

Talk of secret “side agreements” involving Iran’s past testing and inspection methods began almost as soon as the deal was reached. President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice acknowledged that the documents between Iran and the IAEA were not public, but said Obama administration was informed of their contents and planned to share the details with Congress in a classified briefing.

Since then, however, a number of other alleged side deals have come to light and many Republicans in Congress – including former Kansas congressman and President Trump’s current CIA director Mike Pompeo – continued to demand that the full context of the deal with Iran is revealed, especially following the country’s recent failed  ballistic missile test.

“The fact that there are side deals to begin with is a problem,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News. “The deal was sold to us as transparent and that hasn’t been the case.”

PJMedia columnist Roger Simon, in an article that was picked up by numerous conservative blogs, called for a full airing of the nuclear deal. “The time is long since past for the complete details of this quondam deal to be released,” read the column.

Diplomats cheering the deal

Diplomats cheering the deal

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), forced Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium, a material that can be used in nuclear weapons and in exchange received widespread relief from U.S. and international sanctions that had crippled the Iranian economy.

One of the contentious issues brought up in the side deals is Iran’s claim that they can develop ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers and that the tests are legitimate because they are not designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

“We will follow two restrictions: The first is mentioned in the JCPOA, in the matter of no nuclear planning, and the second is the range of 2,000 km, which has already been noted previously by all elements in Iran,” Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi told local media back in 2015.

Officials from the U.S. and other Western nations contend that Tehran agreed two years ago to an eight-year extension of a ban on ballistic work during the nuclear negotiations. That agreement was codified in a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in parallel, but independently from the nuclear accord.

Besides the ballistic missile tests, there have also been a number of side deals revealed since the nuclear deal was announced a year and a half ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that Washington paid a $1.7 billion ransom for U.S. hostages held in Iran and agreed to lift UN sanctions on two major Tehran banks. The Obama administration also agreed to lift sanctions on Air Iran that were first imposed when it was revealed that the airline was ferrying weapons and supplies for the country’s Revolutionary Guard.

Another side deal with the IAEA relaxed key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in a decade, rather than the original 15 years agreed upon, and also gave the country the right to collect its own soil samples, instead of IAEA inspectors, at the Parchin military base.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump pledged to be “tough on Iran” and openly criticized the Iran deal as bad for the U.S. While his administration last week ordered sanctions against more than two dozen people and companies in retaliation for Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, the new sanctions represent a continuation of the Obama administration’s limited punishment for Iran’s ballistic missile activity and avoid a direct showdown with Tehran over the nuclear deal itself.

The sanction targets were drawn up before Obama left office – as Trump press secretary Sean Spicer noted – and don’t affect Iran Air, a big Iranian bank or any major government entity, making it unclear how effective they’ll prove as deterrents.

Still analysts and conservative lawmakers, like Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker of Tennessee, believe that Trump’s sterner approach to U.S.-Iranian relations puts the country in a good position when it comes to renegotiating the terms of the deal with Iran.

Trump spoke on Sunday with King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the White House said the two leaders “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would bring up the Iran issue with Trump when the two leaders meet next week.

“The new administration is in a good position to call for Iran and the IAEA to release all the documents,” Ben Taleblu said. “If Trump wants to renegotiate the deal, he can really hold Iran’s feet to the fire by vigorously enforcing of the existing agreement.”

Source: FoxNews

Global Criticism of Trump Ban Builds From Germany to Google

by Shannon Pettypiece and Steve Geimann


Global opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump intensified on Sunday, as world leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced his decision to limit entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the name of fighting terrorism.

Trudeau, in a tweet, said Canada would welcome those fleeing “persecution, terror and war. Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” Merkel expressed her concerns about the temporary ban during a call with Trump on Saturday, her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

The chancellor “is convinced that the necessary, decisive fight against terrorism doesn’t justify placing people of a particular origin or faith under general suspicion,” Seibert said on Twitter, adding that Merkel had told Trump that international law requires states to “take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds.”

The condemnations signal the growing concern among some U.S. allies about the direction of foreign policy under Trump, and its impact on key issues from Middle East stability to climate change and global trade. Relations between Mexico and the U.S. have broken down over Trump’s plans to build a wall along their border, while the president’s repeated suggestion that NATO is obsolete has alarmed governments in Europe.

photo_2017-01-29_15-12-26Criticism of the travel ban also extended beyond the world of politics: Netflix Inc.’s chief executive officer said the changes were “un-American.” Alphabet Inc.’s Google advised staff who may be affected by the order to return to the U.S. immediately.

  • ‘Extreme Vetting’

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW,” Trump told his almost 23 million Twitter followers early Sunday, after two judges temporarily blocked his administration from enforcing portions of the order that would have led to the removal from U.S. airports of refugees, visa holders and legal U.S. residents from the seven countries.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings.

Under the order, the admission of all refugees would be suspended for 120 days. Citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya would be banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days, while the government determines what information it needs to safely admit visitors.

  • ‘Visible Insult’

The ban is a “visible insult” to Muslims and Iran “will reciprocate with legal, consular and political undertakings,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. Iran also summoned Switzerland’s ambassador in Tehran in his capacity as the head of U.S. interests in the country, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported. The U.S. and Iran haven’t had formal diplomatic ties since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Sudan also summoned the U.S. envoy to protest the ban, the state-run Sudan New Agency reported.

“We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday in a statement, two days after meeting Trump to begin work on a trade accord. Her earlier refusal to condemn the order unleashed a flood of criticism in the U.K., including from some of her own Conservative Party colleagues.

May held a conference call on Sunday with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, instructing them to raise concerns about the ban with their U.S. counterparts in the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, according to her office. Johnson said on Twitter it was “divisive and wrong to stigmatize because of nationality.”

  • ‘Shameful’

London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Facebook called the ban “shameful and cruel” and said the new policy “flies in the face of the values of freedom and tolerance that the USA was built upon.” Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox said on Twitter that the executive order had “united the world” against Trump.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said refugees deserve a safe haven regardless of their background or religion, while Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said the U.S. decision was unfair.

“The new U.S. president has taken office and his first acts in office show that he’s apparently serious,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told a crowd of supporters at the Social Democrat Party headquarters in Berlin on Sunday. “We as Germans and Europeans would do well rely on our own strengths and not to look out into the world with fear and submissiveness.”

U.S. Democrats labeled it a “Muslim ban” and criticized it as inhumane. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, likened the order to the country’s slow response to the Holocaust prior to U.S. entry into World War II.

“Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the United States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide and terror,” Durbin said in a statement calling Trump’s order a “ban on Muslims in the United States.”

“During the Holocaust we failed to fulfill our duty to humanity,” he said. “We cannot allow mindless fear to lead us into another regretful chapter in our history.”

Bloomberg

Iran Tries To Sabotage Its Own Economy To Spite The West

Correction: Since the initial report that Iran would revoke the citizenship of dual nations last week, some Iranian news sources have since stated the plan has not been finalized and some in the Iranian government have tried to walk back part of the proposal. This article has been amended to address new media claims.


Just before the one-year anniversary of Jason Rezaian’s freedom from an Iranian prison, Iran announced plans that will sabotage its own economy to spite the West. Last week, Al-Arabiya news reported that  Iran’s judiciary decided to revoke the Iranian citizenship of anyone holding dual citizenship with another country . The finality of this proposal is unclear due to conflicting media reports. This could target men and women like Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, and Siamak Namazi, an American businessman who is currently in a notorious Tehran prison. While the action may satisfy the paranoid and power-hungry Revolutionary Guard that is responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of dual nationals – mostly American and British citizens – it would seriously hamper Iran’s ability to attract the foreign investment and engage its economy needs.

Dual nationals, many raised abroad, often have a cultural and linguistic fluency with Iran that non-Iranians lack, no matter their language training or cultural emersion. Moreover, since the Islamic Revolution, Americans who also held Iranian passports have travelled there more easily. Once in Iran, though, they have often faced harassment and recently imprisonment, as Rezaian did. Since the 1979 Revolution, dual nationals, some born abroad, have regularly returned to visit family, study and engage in business as natural conduits between cultures and economies.

During Iran’s tumultuous years of reform, conservative retrenchment and protest, dual-national journalists like Rezaian and former Time Magazine correspondent, Azadeh Moaveni, explained the changing Iran to western audiences. Their reporting (and those of their colleagues) helped sweep away the 1980s-era images of Iran as a black-robed, America-hating, hostage-taking society. They revealed a dynamic and politically engaged contemporary

Iranian society that consumes western television via illegal satellite dishes and subverts the regime’s dress code. At the same time, however, westerners – often through the work of dual-national journalists – witnessed the terrible reality of Iranian political oppression during mass protests such as the Green Revolution. Journalists have also chronicled the arrest and imprisonment of other dual nationals, based on trumped-up charges.

The Iranian government’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens would hurt Iran’s opportunity to attract foreign business and investment. Iranian regulations often require business negotiations to be conducted in Farsi, particularly when the government is an involved party. Dual nationals with Persian language skills, cultural familiarity and connections are crucial for bringing business opportunities to Iran. Already, dual citizens faced imprisonment and other threats from Tehran, yet they still traveled to Iran.

However, without Iranian citizenship, these people who could so naturally make connections and engage in cross-border business will face much greater difficulties traveling to Iran. Since the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Iran’s economy has been slowly rejoining the global markets. As it seeks foreign investment to reinvigorate its energy industry and global trade participation (post-sanctions) this could only hinder Iran’s economic growth.

Forbes


 

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and scholar of the energy industry.  She writes and consults on the intersection of geopolitics and energy.


 

 

Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse

Heshmat Alavi


The pro-Iran engagement policy camp long advocated how a nuclear agreement with Iran would lead to a slate of numerous changes sought in the regime, rendering benefits to go around for everyone. More than one year down this road, the world has witnessed many changes in Iran. However, they are nothing to boast about.

The nuclear accord, while it should have never been supported or discussed by the international community in the first place, has been successively violated by the Iranian regime. Tehran continues its atrocious executions, human rights violations and ongoing oppression of ordinary citizens inside the country. And the mullahs in Tehran have continued their mantra of exporting “Islamic Revolution” by engulfing the entire Middle East, and beyond, into mayhem, as we are unfortunately witnessing so vividly today in Syria.

The main “change” we have witnessed in Iran has been the numerous instances where the regime has either stretched or actually violated the flaw-riddled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the heavy water-level limit aggression being the latest such case.

The reinstatement of the Iran Sanctions Act with 99 votes in favor was a very important first step. This move has set an example of what is needed to guarantee Iran understands there will be consequences for agreement violations. And yet we need to go beyond and build upon this momentum.

This is the time to counter Iran’s terrorism in the region and the world. Iran is and has been, of course, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism. Iran is busy destabilizing Syria with an incredible human catastrophe, as in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, boasting about enjoying control over four Arab capitals of the region.

The “change” we have seen in this regard is that Tehran is willing to dispatch tens of thousands of proxy militias to Syria and repeat a Srebrenica-style massacre, caring not an iota about how the international community might respond. Let us hope Aleppo has opened our eyes to the horrific potential in Iran’s support for extremism and its export of Islamic fundamentalism.

The “change” the world has witnessed in Iran’s pursuit of a vast weapons-of-mass-destruction program is its bold new approach in proliferating efforts related to mastering ballistic missiles. Iran’s missile tests have continued to violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, yet there has been hardly any serious global response.

Iran’s ballistic missile tests “are not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report.

As we speak, reports indicate the Iran-fostered and -nurtured Lebanese Hezbollah vaunts of stocking over 120,000 missiles in its arsenal. If gone unanswered, there is no limit to what extent Iran will exploit the lack of will diseasing the international community.

This is the time to confront Iran over its violation of human rights on its own home turf. In 2009, the Iranian people revolted for their God-given rights, shaking the very pillars of the regime’s foundations. And yet former U.S. President Barack Obama, then recently elected to the White House by the American people with high hopes of “change,” failed to respond to their cries for support. The oppression and repression of the mullahs’ regime that followed is something the world should never forget.

As Obama continued his devastating appeasement policy with Iran, the mullahs have not changed their course. They have not changed their designs. They have not changed their hegemonic focus.

This is a time for the United States to respond. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has in cooperation with Senator Robert Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Countering Iran Threat Act. This, too, is an initiative that the next Congress can and is recommended to build upon.

If so, this can be the building blocks of the West, spearheaded by America, deterring Iranian aggression. This can lead us, as a world, in moving to a better day and a higher hope where the Iranian people can ultimately achieve the freedoms and blessings the democratic world enjoys today.

The world now finds itself before an opportunity to counter Iran’s continuing threats. We are entering a new era in American foreign and national security policy.

In a letter hand-delivered to U.S. President Donald Trump, nearly two dozen former senior U.S. government officials–representing a rare bipartisan spectrum–urged Washington to work with the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.

As Iran continues its domestic oppression and military buildup, this should be one focus of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and the agenda of the new Congress.

Forbes

Oscar nominee from Iran won’t attend the ceremony

Two-time Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi, who wrote and directed The Salesman, Iran’s entry for best foreign-language film, announced Sunday he would not attend the Academy Awards next month even if he were granted an exception to President Trump’s visa ban for citizens from Iran.

In a statement released by Farhadi’s representative Fredell Pogodin on Sunday, Farhadi said he had hoped to attend the awards and express his opinions. “However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me …”

Instead, via the statement, Farhadi expressed what he says he would have said to the news media if he made the trip to the Oscars:

Hard-liners, despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way. In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an “us and them” mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of “them” and inflict fear in the people of their own countries.

This is not just limited to the United States; in my country hardliners are the same. For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.

However, I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences. I believe that the root cause of many of the hostilities among nations in the world today must be searched for in their reciprocal humiliation carried out in its past and no doubt the current humiliation of other nations are the seeds of tomorrow’s hostilities. To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.

He went on to condemn the “unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries,” and expressed “hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations.”

In a statement to USA TODAY on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts Sciences said, “The Academy celebrates achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic or religious differences. As supporters of filmmakers — and the human rights of all people — around the globe, we find it extremely troubling that Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning film from Iran A Separation, along with the cast and crew of this year’s Oscar-nominated film The Salesman, could be barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.”

Farhadi became the first Iranian to win an Oscar, for his 2011 film, A Separation.

On Thursday, Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, star of the The Salesman, tweeted she would boycott the Oscars — whether allowed to attend or not — in protest of Trump’s immigration policies, which she called “racist.”

USA Today