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Week of February 9th

“Narges Hosseini did not even appear in court to express remorse for her action. She said she objects to the forced hijab and considers it her legal right to express her protest. Hosseini is being held in difficult circumstances in Gharchak Prison [south of Tehran] but she’s not prepared to say she’s sorry. She believes she’s innocent.”

-Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh,
on the detention of Iran’s second anti-hijab protester


SURVEY ON VIEWS AFTER THE PROTESTS
FILED UNDER:
 Domestic Affairs

A new poll offers preliminary insights into public sentiment in Iran following last month’s nationwide protests (Washington Post). The survey, released by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and IranPoll, found comparatively little support for changing Iran’s political system or relaxing strict Islamic law, and suggested that criticism of Iranian foreign policy in Syria and Iraq was not as widely shared by the general population. Iranians also felt expressions of support for the protesters from President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials carried no favorable impact, with 39 percent saying they hurt the protesters’ demands and nine percent saying they helped. 85 percent of Iranians were found to have a very unfavorable opinion on the U.S. government. 69 percent of Iranians described the economy as bad, the highest measured by IranPoll since it began gathering data in 2015.

Watch "Iranian Public Opinion after the Protests" at the Atlantic Council for more on the poll numbers (Atlantic Council).

A man wielding a machete was shot while trying to enter the offices of President Hassan Rouhani (New York Times). The 35-year-old assailant wore a white martyr’s shroud, a symbol in Shiite Islam signifying willingness to sacrifice his life. He brushed past a lone guard at the entrance of the presidential complex, then attacked a second guard, who fired once into the air before shooting the assailant in the leg. The man was hospitalized. President Rouhani was not on premises at the time of the incident.


OLYMPICS ⛷
FILED UNDER:
 Sports
Samaneh Bayrami Baher on the slopes in Iran (Al Jazeera)

Four Iranians are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics (Al Jazeera). Forough Abbasi women’s alpine, Mohammad Kia-Darbandsari men’s alpine, Samaneh Beyrami women’s cross-country, and Seyyed Sattar Seyd men’s cross-country.

Iran summoned South Korea’s envoy after its athletes were not included in a giveaway of Samsung smartphones, apparently because of concerns over sanctions (The Guardian). Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave an ultimatum to Samsung that unless the decision was overturned immediately, he would give up using his personal Samsung. Many Iranians went on to Twitter advocating a boycott of Samsung products, using the hashtag #BanSamsung (#تحریم_سامسونگ in Persian). The South Korean company has a huge business presence in Iran but event organisers appeared to have blocked Iranian and North Korean athletes from its giveaway of 4,000 of its newest $1,100 (£785) handset—an “Olympic edition” Galaxy Note 8 phone—Iranian media said, reportedly because of fears over breaking U.S. sanctions. Within hours, the International Olympic Committee
reversed its decision and said that athletes from Iran and North Korea would receive phones (Washington Post).


A COMING WAR WITH IRAN?
FILED UNDER:
 Foreign Policy

Iran accused the United States of threatening Russia with new atomic weapons, after the Trump administration published a document outlining plans to expand American nuclear capabilities (The Guardian). In a televised speech, President Rouhani said, “The Americans are shamelessly threatening Russia with a new atomic weapon.” Rouhani, who opened the way to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, added: “The same people who supposedly believe that using weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity . . . are talking about new weapons to threaten or use against rivals.”

Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review risked “bringing humankind closer to annihilation.” (Twitter) He added, “No wonder the Doomsday Clock is at its most dangerous since 1953. Trump’s obduracy in killing the JCPOA stems from the same dangerous imprudence.”

Bush administration official writes about how he helped sell the Iraq war with false information, and how it’s now happening with Iran (New York Times).

The Interpreter breaks down why there’s no coming war with Iran (New York Times).

Meanwhile, Iran called on Turkey to stop its military operation in the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in Syria, saying it will only result in more deaths on both sides (Al Jazeera).  Turkey is waging a military campaign to take Afrin, while pursuing an outspoken public relations campaign to threaten the Syrian city of Manbij and make U.S. forces depart, so that Syrian militias aligned with Turkish forces can seize the area from Washington’s Kurdish-led allies. Tehran’s stance on Afrin puts Iran on the same side with the United States, which also opposes the military operation and supports the Syrian Kurdish armed group, YPG.

How Iran sees Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria (Al-Monitor).

Iraqi Kurds maneuver to get closer to Iran (Al-Monitor).

The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed to meet in Istanbul to discuss the conflict in Syria (Reuters). The date of the summit would be set in coming weeks.

Israel, Hezbollah and Iran: Preventing another war in Syria (Crisis Group).


ARRESTS AND SANCTIONS
FILED UNDER:
 Iran Deal
Ahmad Sheikhzadeh leaves Brooklyn Federal Court in New York (Reuters)

President Rouhani said that Iran is unwilling to hold talks on curbing its ballistic missile program (RFERL). During a press conference in Tehran, the Iranian president said, “We will negotiate with no one on our weapons.” He added, “Iranian-made missiles have never been offensive and never will be. They are defensive and are not designed to carry weapons of mass destruction, since we don’t have any.”

The Iranian foreign minister played down the likelihood of the Trump administration tearing up the nuclear deal (Al-Monitor). Mohammad Javad Zarif told state television that he cannot claim the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “could have been drafted better, but I can claim that the JCPOA was neither all the things we wanted nor all the things the other parties—including the United States—sought.” On President Donald Trump, Zarif said that while Republican candidate Trump made it his priority to tear up the nuclear deal, “approximately 390 days into his presidency, such a thing hasn’t happened.”

Iran’s oil minister lashed out at Washington, saying that hostile comments by President Trump had torpedoed new oil and gas contracts (AFP). Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said at a press conference, “Trump is trying to destabilize market conditions for those who want to work in Iran. For the past year, every three or four months, he has destabilized the market. One cannot say that this is not without effect.” Zanganeh revealed that Tehran was currently negotiating with “more than 20 foreign companies” to develop its oil and gas fields, but didn’t say who as to protect them from pressure to not sign contracts.


Fourteen senators called on President Trump to toughen sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program (Radio Farda).

Also, a former consultant to Iran’s mission to the United Nations was sentenced to three months in prison for tax evasion and money transfers that violated U.S. sanctions (Reuters). Ahmad Sheikhzadeh, an Iran-born U.S. citizen, made the unusual decision to take the witness stand at his sentencing hearing before a U.S. district judge. Sheikhzadeh addressed the judge before he was sentenced, saying prosecutors had targeted him in order to pressure him to act as an informant from within the Iran mission. “That’s a red line and I won’t do it,” he recalled telling authorities. Sheikhzadeh said he had accepted responsibility by pleading guilty. Sheikhzadeh says that he was charged when he refused to spy for the FBI on his employer (The Intercept).

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said Sheikhzadeh’s imprisonment was “politically motivated” (Reuters). Bahram Qassemi said in a weekly news conference that the accusations against the former consultant to Iran’s mission are “unacceptable and baseless” and that the United States is “constantly engaging in psychological warfare against Iran.”

Iran sentenced an unnamed person to six years in jail for selling information about its nuclear program to the United States and a European country (Reuters). Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told judiciary news website Mizan that the convicted person had met nine times with U.S. and European agents to hand over information “about sanctions and nuclear matters” and had received unspecified sums of money in return.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted Hezbollah’s financial network with sanctions, in a bid to crack down on revenue that the group uses to fund terrorist activities (Bloomberg). According to an anonymous U.S. official, Hezbollah depends on its ally Iran for more than $700 million a year. The Treasury levied sanctions against six individuals and seven entities that Washington says are tied to the group.


#FREETHENAMAZIS
FILED UNDER:
 Human Rights
Baquer Namazi (Reuters)

An Iranian-American was released from prison on medical leave only to be ordered back to jail (New York Times). 81-year-old Baquer Namazi, a former diplomat for UNICEF, was released on medical leave on January 28 from Evin Prison. His doctors recommended a further three-month medical leave, but rather than heed to the advice, officials sent him back to prison. Namazi had been rushed to the hospital on January 15 after suffering a severe drop in blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. It was the fourth time he had been hospitalized in the past year, including for emergency heart surgery in September to install a pacemaker. Namazi was arrested when he came to Iran to try to secure the release of his son, Siamak, a businessman who had been arrested a few months earlier. Both men were eventually convicted of espionage and collaborating with a foreign government. Analysts believe that Iran is holding Namazi and others as bargaining chips for future negotiations with the West.

The White House holds Iran “fully accountable” for Namazi’s well-being, according to press secretary statement (White House).

The New York Times Editorial Board penned an op-ed on Namazi’s return to prison (New York Times). They write, “Mr. Trump and his State Department should continue trying to engage Iran. It’s not in the interest of either country for Mr. Namazi, or any other political prisoner, to die in jail.”

The Trump administration secretly reached out to Tehran in December to propose creating a direct channel to negotiate the release of prisoners held by each side (Wall Street Journal). According to U.S. officials briefed about the discussions, Iran did not respond and despite at least three subsequent offers from Washington, they have refused to engage. The failed attempts were the first U.S. diplomatic overture to Iran on the issue under President Donald Trump. The Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi tweeted out an Iranian official’s comment (Twitter). She said: “My story on Trump administration's secret offer to Iran for talks is making big waves in Iran… A senior Iranian official tells me Iran is not engaging because Trump needs to learn to respect Iran and can't have his cake & eat it too.”

An Iranian official dismissed the Wall Street Journal report as “old news” (New York Times). Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to the hardliners around the supreme leader, said that Tehran had rejected the entreaties then and would never enter into discussions with the Trump administration. “In the nuclear deal, they have shown themselves as dishonest, so what is the use of new talks anyway?” he said, referring to President Trump’s continuing threats to kill the Iran Deal.

The office of the president released a three-year-old report on Iranian views of the hijab (New York Times). According to the report, 49.8 percent of Iranian men and women consider hijab a private matter and think the government should have no say in it. President Rouhani’s decision to release the report puts him directly against the hardline judiciary and is likely a signal to temper their responses to the anti-hijab protests. The Islamic headscarf, or hijab, is seen by Iranian ideologues as a pillar of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The law regarding hijab has been enforced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is obligatory for every woman in the country, even tourists and visiting foreign dignitaries.

Hijab protests expose Iran’s core divide (New Yorker).


OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS
Iran: Three minors executed in January.
Iran rejects review of academic's death sentence.
Three activists on hunger strike after violent prison transfer.
At least 6 human rights defenders arrested in coordinated raids, at risk of torture.
Christians appeal lengthy sentences issued by Iran's revolutionary court.  
Imprisoned Iranian-American art dealer accuses IRGC of judicial interference.
Authorities ignore potential cancer diagnosis for U.S. resident, deny him medical care.
UK resident detained by IRGC for more than a year without charge or access to counsel.
Bill that restricts protests to designated areas adds “more limits” to freedom of speech

DOMESTIC ISSUES
30 sugar plant workers arrested in for demanding unpaid wages
Iranian lawmaker says 5,000 arrests during January protests.
Former President Ahmadinejad criticizes judiciary after arrests of supporters
Iran officials trying to explain away widespread protests
Hardline cleric says protesters should be sentenced to death
Iran’s Fajr Film Festival opens amid charged atmosphere.  
Iranian women win apology over TV advice to kiss husbands' feet
Female singers get boost from Iranian pop idol Benyamin Bahadori
Conserving Iran and Iraq’s wetlands.
More quake survivors perishing in cold without adequate shelter.  
2869 kg narcotic haul seized in Eastern Iran
Fire extinguished at Energy Ministry building after 48 hours
Drought and dust storms suffocate Iran’s Khuzestan province.
Iran intercepts four foreign boats, arrests 16 crew members.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Why Iran is not a Mideast hegemon
Germany sold technology to Iran that ended up being used in Syrian chemical attacks
Iran accuses U.S. of aiding ISIS in Afghanistan
Islamic State threatens Iran from 'Tora Bora' borderlands
Iran could be winner, U.S. a loser from UAE-Qatar tensions
Bahrain arrests 4 in pipeline blast, laying blame on Iran
Blowback: how a CIA-backed coup led to the rise of Iran’s ayatollahs.

IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS
Sydney couple accused of breaching UN sanctions with nickel exports to Iran.

ECONOMY + TRADE
Iran oil production, exports surge in 10 months
Tehran can boost output fast if OPEC ends cuts, oil minister says.
Total CEO Pouyanné Considers measures to protect European business in Iran.
Iran canceled contract with Norwegian Hemla to jointly develop an LNG export project
France pushing Iran business ties despite nuclear deal 'limbo'.
EU mulls strategy to shield firms against U.S. threats
IranAir CEO says no problems financing plane deals.        
Expanding international ties key to attracting vital investment
Comparing Rouhani and Ahmadinejad’s budgets.        
Dropping interest rates could increase inflation in Iran

ART + CULTURE
Iranian cinema produces largest number of films in the region.
+ The Ardabil carpet is alive with dynamic tensions.

SPORTS
+ Ali Karimi faces discipline after attacks on football federation.
+ FIFA president to visit Iran late February.

OTHER
This saffron rice recipe is my fullest expression of Iranian food.
When British Indian troops met the Red Army in Iran.

EVENTS
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