Eye on Iran: Iran's Supreme Leader Rejects Calls to Release Leaders of the 2009 Green Movement Protests
Iran's Supreme Leader Rejects Calls to Release Leaders of the 2009 Green Movement Protests | Los Angeles Times
Three months before presidential elections in Iran, it appears incumbent Hassan Rouhani will not fulfill a key pledge he made before winning office: to free opposition leaders held under house arrest since a 2009 crackdown. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected calls for “national reconciliation,” effectively guaranteeing that opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi — leaders of the “Green Movement” protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election — will remain under house arrest. It was the latest setback to reformists who back the moderate Rouhani, who signed the historic nuclear agreement that improved Iran’s relations with the West, but is facing criticism from conservatives as the economy has failed to improve even as many international sanctions were lifted.
Lebanese Fear Being Caught in Trump’s Push on Iran | The Wall Street Journal
No country is more important for Iran’s regional influence than Lebanon, where the Shiite militia Hezbollah plays an outsize role. Now that President Donald Trump seeks to roll back this Iranian sway, many Lebanese fear their country will end up paying the price... Hezbollah is by far the most important of these Iranian regional proxies and the shift in Washington came just as Hezbollah, benefiting from regime victories in Syria, reached unprecedented authority inside Lebanon. “Today, Hezbollah is acting as the main decision maker in Lebanon,” said parliament member Samy Gemayel, president of the predominantly Christian Kataeb party which belongs to the Sunni-led political grouping known as the March 14 alliance. “This is very dangerous. The Lebanese state as a whole can be sanctioned if it is considered to be under the umbrella of Hezbollah. This is what we fear.” There are many ways the Trump administration could squeeze Lebanon if it so desired—from targeting its banks to curtailing funding for the national army and for some 1.5 million Syrian refugees living here. “Lebanon would be uniquely vulnerable to a U.S.-Iran escalation. Its banking system is exposed to Treasury actions that can be imposed quickly and painfully,” said Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Iran Uses Palestinian Conference to Spotlight Anti-Israel Rhetoric | Voice of America (VOA)
Iran has held its first conference in six years supporting Palestinian uprisings, a forum that it says drew hundreds of delegates from 80 countries, reflecting the country’s resurgent clout on the world stage. The two-day Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada ended Wednesday in the Iranian capital, Tehran, with Iran’s president pledging more aid for Palestinians fighting against Israel. Tehran has long provided monetary and military assistance to Palestinian militants. Iranian state media quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying his people “have paid a high cost for supporting the Palestinians and opposing the Zionist regime of Israel’s actions, but they will continue their support with determination.” State media said Rouhani made the comments while meeting Palestinian National Council chairman Salim al-Zanoun on the forum’s sidelines. Speaking to conference delegates, Rouhani also called Israel a “fake regime” that should be replaced by a Palestinian state for “Muslims, Christians and Jews.”
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
UN Hopeful Iran Nuclear Deal Will Not Unravel despite Trump Attack | Financial Times
The head of the UN’s atomic watchdog is confident the US will not scupper Iran’s nuclear deal, despite President Donald Trump’s swingeing criticism of the accord. Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Financial Times that the agreement, which Mr Trump this month described as the “worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated”, was proving more durable than expected. “As long as it is implemented, this agreement is more robust than many people think,” Mr Amano said, referring to the deal, which the IAEA monitors and verifies. “Finding [an]other solution would be extremely difficult.” He highlighted Iran’s compliance with the agreement’s provisions and said that Republicans in Congress were growing more aware of the benefits provided by the deal. “I don’t claim the verification system is perfect, but it is the best we can expect under the circumstances,” Mr Amano said, while making clear it was not up to Washington alone to decide whether to keep or ditch the deal. “This is not bilateral, this is not an agreement among several [parties], but the whole international community.”
Lawyer for US Resident Held in Iran Calls Him a 'Hostage' | AP
A Washington-based lawyer for a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned in Iran has described him as a "hostage." Jason Poblete said in a statement on Thursday that Iranian allegations that Nizar Zakka confessed to authorities are "completely false." A semi-official Iranian news agency on Wednesday published remarks from a Revolutionary Guard commander saying Zakka confessed to trying to "encourage decadence" in Iranian society. Poblete demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Zakka, a Lebanese computer expert whose organization previously did contract work for the U.S. government , and all other Westerners held by Iran.
ZTE Braces For Hefty Penalties In Iran Sanctions Row | Law360
ZTE Corp. is currently working with the U.S. government to settle allegations that it secretly conducted business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, but the company nevertheless has warned its investors that it will likely incur severe penalties in the process. In a Friday filing required by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, China-based ZTE said it was still cooperating with the various U.S. government agencies probing its alleged dealings with Iran, but that penalties and fines are expected. “The outcome of the settlement issues still remains uncertain but will likely have a material impact on the financial conditions and operating results of the company,” ZTE said. “The company will make announcements of material development of the above matters as soon as practicable.”
Money Talks Louder Than Trump for Iran in Natural Gas Push | Bloomberg News
Iran is hard at work gaining a foothold in the global energy market, and it’s not letting U.S. President Donald Trump’s confrontational tone stop it from trying. Political rhetoric is unlikely to turn into tangible impediments for Iran’s s ambition to join Russia and Norway in the ranks of major gas exporters, according to Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia. The nation has about $7 trillion worth of gas reserves sitting underground, based on European benchmark prices, and its doors are open to those who will help it cash in on the fortune. Zamaninia thinks those sorts of figures mean the business case for Iranian energy is too tempting for the world to pass up, even as its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Trump exchange barbs... “There are concerns and the international capital is scarce, but our projects and our environment are so attractive that we don’t think we will face a great deal of difficulty,” Zamaninia said in an interview last week at the CWC Iran LNG & Gas Summit in Frankfurt. “We don’t think that the new administration in the U.S. will pose a big problem in this department, in the oil and gas business.” ... “Iran’s got just a huge amount of potential but I don’t see anything major happening for some time,” said Christopher Haines, head of oil and gas at BMI Research in London. “We need a lot more trust between operators and the government and confidence in the political environment.”
Swedish Investment Firm to Buy Stake in Danone's Iran Producer | Bloomberg News
Swedish investment firm Serkland Invest AB agreed to buy a stake in Iran’s Sahar Dairy Co., which makes Danone and Le Groupe Bel SA products in the country. Serkland, which invests in consumer goods, will spend "tens of millions of euros" on the minority holding in Sahar, and may secure further investment from other European firms for the stake, founder Omid Gholamifar said in an interview in Tehran on Sunday. "Consumer goods companies know that Iran is the very last frontier," Gholamifar said. "The investments you can make here, you can’t make anywhere else in the world."
India Register of Shipping Earns Iran Recognition and Opens Tehran Office | Seatrade Maritime
Indian Register of Shipping (IRClass) has received authorisation as a recognised organisation from Iran’s maritime administration – Ports and Maritime Organisation. Strengthening its presence further in the Middle East, IRClass has also set up an office in Tehran to offer its services to the Iranian maritime sector. The agreement was signed on 5 February 2017 at a ceremony held in Tehran. “The Middle East is a key focus market and we see significant potential for growth. India and Iran share strong historical ties both in terms of trade as well as culture,” said Suresh Sinha, md of IRClass. “The trade between two countries is expanding rapidly. We are confident that this development will further the cause of increasing trade and benefit the maritime industry in both countries,” said Sinha. IRClass has also been engaged with Iranian Classification Society and had signed a MOU for co-operation in January 2015.
Iran-EU Trade up 78% in 2016: Eurostat | Tehran Times
The European Union’s trade with Iran amounted to €13.7 billion in 2016, a 78 percent rise compared to 2015, based on the latest figures released by the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat. The figure was €7.68 billion in 2015, Tasnim news agency reported. Iran’s exports to the EU stood at €5.46 billion in 2016, with 4.5-fold rise from €1.23 billion in the preceding year. The noticeable increase is due to the EU’s resumption of oil imports from Iran... While the EU’s imports from Iran rose noticeably in 2016, its exports to the country increased just by 27 percent and reached €8.24 billion from €6.45 billion in 2015.
Iran's Steel Market in 'New Normal' Era | Mehr News Agency (Iran)
Holding of the 7th Iran Steel Market Conference (ISMC) on February 14-15 in Tehran provided the impetus for reviewing present opportunities and challenges in the country’s steel industry as well as analyzing venues for reaching envisaged goals in the 6th five-year National Development Plan (NDP). The international event was attended by over a thousand domestic and foreign activists in the steel market or related industries. Key figures who made presentations in the opening ceremony included Minister of Industries, Mines and Trade Mohammadreza Nematzadeh, Deputy Minister and Chairman of Board of Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) Mehdi Karbasian, Former Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, Deputy Minister and Chairman of the Board of Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (abbreviated RAI) Saeid Mohammadzadeh as well as Managing Director of Iran Mercantile Exchange (IME) Hamed Soltaninejad. Also, Italy’s Danieli CEO Gianpietro Bendetti, Managing Director of Spain’s Sarralle Equipos Siderogicos Javier Esquiroz, CEO of Germany’s SMS Group Burkhard Dahmen, Russia’s INTECO Chairman and CEO Harald Holzgruber as well as Market Analyst in Turkish Steel Exporters Association Cihan Akdeniz were foreign guests who presented lectures on the opening day of ISMC 2017.
Iran Sends Military Students to Syrian Front | Voice of America (VOA)
Iran is increasingly using Syrian battlefields as a proving ground for fresh military officers in training, according to Iranian media reports and Syrian opposition figures. Tehran-based Imam Hossein University, a school affiliated with The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said it recently deployed military leadership students to fight in Syria as part of an educational program designed for future officers, according to state-run media. Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi'ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Son of Dissident Cleric Begins Prison Term | AP
Iran's semi-official Fars news agency is reporting that the son of late dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has begun serving a six-year prison term. In November, a clerical court sentenced Ahmad Montazeri to six years in prison for publishing a tape recording of his father condemning the execution of thousands of prisoners in 1988 at the end of the country's protracted war with Iraq. A website close to his family confirmed Wednesday that Ahmad Montazeri has been sent to prison after being summoned by the court.
Iranian Sunni Leader Worried By Alleged 'Secret Order' To Quickly Execute Prisoners | RFE/RL
The spiritual leader of Iran's Sunnis has written to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to express concern over "rumors" of a secret order for the speedy execution of Sunni prisoners convicted of drug trafficking. Molavi Abdolhamid, the Friday Prayers leader of the southeastern city of Zahedan in the restive Sistan-Baluchistan Province, calls in his letter to Khamenei for "wise and fatherly" intervention into the issue. Abdolhamid, who's been outspoken about the rights of Sunnis and the discrimination they face in Iran, appears to be referring to a recent report by a news site close to the country's reformist politicians that is making the rounds on social media. The report issued earlier this week by Amadnews.com claims that the head of Iran's hard-line judiciary has ordered Sunni prisoners convicted of drug smuggling to be executed as soon as possible so they won't be subject to a parliament bill that proposes the elimination of the death penalty for prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses.
Iran Renews Destructive Cyber Attacks on Saudi Arabia | Washington Free Beacon
After a four-year hiatus, Iran recently resumed destructive cyber attacks against Saudi Arabia in what U.S. officials say is part of a long-term strategy by Tehran to take over the oil-rich kingdom and regional U.S. ally. Late last month, the Saudi government warned in a notice to telecommunications companies that an Iranian-origin malicious software called Shamoon had resurfaced in cyber attacks against some 15 Saudi organizations, including government networks. The Shamoon malware was last detected in the 2012 cyber attack against the major Saudi state oil producer Aramco. That cyber attack damaged or destroyed some 30,000 computers and was considered one of the more destructive state-linked cyber attacks to date... A cyber security expert familiar with details of the latest Saudi cyber attack who spoke on condition of anonymity said the November incident was “Iranian-directed” and linked to two hacker groups in Iran known as "Cadelle and Chafer” in cyber security circles. The new Shamoon 2 "is meant to do damage," the expert said, noting that the recent cyber attack was not as effective as the earlier one in 2012.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Hezbollah Losing Its Luster Under Soleimani | Hanin Ghaddar in The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The deteriorating relations between Hezbollah and Syrian regime fighters are no longer secret. Lebanese social media platforms affiliated with Shiite supporters of Hezbollah are replete with mockery of the Syrian army's incompetence, corruption, clumsiness, cowardice, and lack of resources. Bashar al-Assad's forces are often blamed for causing Hezbollah losses or hampering operations against the rebels. While this trend has seemingly inflated egos among the group's core supporters back home, it also suggests that political and military alliances are more complicated on the ground in Syria. Relations between Hezbollah fighters and their commanders in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are similarly complicated, but much more problematic to discuss publicly. Hezbollah remains Iran's most skilled militia, but anecdotal accounts indicate that it may no longer enjoy its privileged status with Tehran, at least in terms of how its forces are treated on the battlefield. The war in Syria has uncovered Iran's true expansionist intentions, along with a Persian arrogance toward Arab Shiites that Hezbollah fighters are not used to. To get a better sense of how the group's members perceive these dynamics, this article draws on author interviews with a large number of Hezbollah fighters and commanders. Although there is no way to tell how representative their views are, the high level of agreement they express on certain issues is telling. In particular, they tend to blame IRGC-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani for the deteriorating relations.
President Trump, Don't Walk Away From The Iran Deal. Not Yet | Yoel Guzansky & Oded Eran in Forbes
Trump should start pushing back on Iran's ambitions in the Middle East, moving away from Obama's narrow approach--seeing the latter through an arms-control lens--and not shy away from presenting a credible threat to use force against Iran for its propping up dictators such as Bashar al-Assad and supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. Israel and others in the region may publicly cheer you, President Trump, if you do walk away from the JCPOA, but they would rather have you wriggle out from the Iranians more concessions, than create a situation where the Iranians were made free of obligations which they have accepted. While Iran may enjoy the situation of a wedge driven between the U.S. and the other P5+1 negotiators, they will have to face the challenge created by the U.S., which convinced the others that their serious omissions in the agreement need to be rectified.U.S. allies in the Middle East have been looking to an assertive, not destructive, U.S. policy. The other five in the P5+1 who negotiated with Iran may, albeit reluctantly, agree to approach Iran on the issues which the JCPOA left out, like missiles. However, they will leave the U.S. alone if the latter walks out of it. Key issues and decisions which were handled feebly by the outgoing administration, call for reassessment and reassertion by the U.S. combination of U.S power projection, of a U.S toughened-up diplomacy and willingness to rethink long-held truths. There is lot to be said--for example, for a grand bargain between the U.S. and Russia. It can include Russia's conduct in Europe, the political future of Syria and a revamped JCPOA. If all fail, there is always the possibility of walking away. But not yet.
A Threefold Challenge for Trump against Iran | Amos Yadlin & Avner Golov in The Institute for National Security Studies (Israel)
The first front on which Iran challenges the new American administration is that of the nuclear agreement. In response to Trump’s call during the campaign to reopen the July 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5+1, Iran declared that it is unwilling to do so. Recently, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran even stated that it intends to input enriched material into advanced centrifuges (IR-8), in order to advance the research and development program of centrifuges that are more efficient than those currently used in Iran. The Iranian goals are to develop its technological ability to enrich uranium, to quickly amass fissile material, to reduce the size of installations required for future industrialized enrichment, and to make it easier to hide enrichment facilities should it choose to do so. This is not a blatant violation of the nuclear agreement, but rather “gray area” activity that depends on one’s interpretation of the agreement. Iran is attempting to force its interpretation, which naturally is more permissive than the American interpretation, and is testing American resolve to enforce the agreement in accordance with its own interpretation. The second front pitting the Trump administration against Tehran appeared in the headlines this month thanks to a failed Iranian test of a North Korean-model ballistic missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead some 4000 kilometers. Although the United States and Germany declared that the test launch violated UN Security Council resolution 2231, this resolution does not unequivocally prohibit Iran from performing such a test, but “calls” for it not to carry out tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weaponry. Just as with the nuclear issue, Iran is not violating the resolution, but challenging it in practice and testing American willingness to respond. Furthermore, it has been reported that Iran tested a cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. This action also does not violate the Security Council resolution, which does not relate to cruise missiles, but only ballistic missile tests. The third front where Washington faces Tehran is in the non-nuclear realm. Iran works to expand its regional power against its main enemies—Israel and Saudi Arabia—by establishing militias and military proxies, as well as by providing Iranian weaponry and support to terror organizations.
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