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📢 Special coverage of UNGA and Ahvaz terror attack
Week of September 28th

“Despite requests, I have no plans to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Maybe someday in the future. I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!”

- U.S. President Donald Trump, on Twitter


UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY COVERAGE

Iran's president speaking at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Peace Summit (tadbirvaomid.ir)

Iran not interested: Shortly after Trump’s tweet (above), CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed the Iranian president. During the interview, Amanpour read Trump’s tweet to Rouhani, who with an amused smile dismissed the comment, claiming the U.S. president is “playing with words and will not get us to any solutions.” The day before, Rouhani told NBC News that there were no plans for a meeting. He added, “Naturally, if someone is keen on having a meeting and holding dialogue and creating progress in relationships, that person would not use the tool of sanctions and threats [and bring] to bear all of its power against another government and nation.” In an op-ed for the Washington Post on September 21, Rouhani wrote: “Trump’s offer of direct talks with Iran is not honest or genuine. How can we be convinced of his sincerity while his Secretary of State has gone so far as to set a long list of openly insulting pre-conditions for talks?” The Iranian government said that the U.S. has requested to meet a total of eight times during 2017 (Atlantic Council).  At a conference, President Rouhani told reporters that Tehran does not intend to go to war with Washington in the Middle East (Reuters).

Read U.S. President Donald Trump’s UNGA speech
Read Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s UNGA speech

Avoiding U.S. sanctions: On the sidelines of the UNGA, the European Union’s foreign policy chief announced that the P4+1 is creating a financial transition mechanism to bypass U.S. sanctions (CNBC). Federica Mogherini said the “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) would “assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran.” The technical details of the SPV will be discussed in future meetings, but analysts have doubts about whether it can protect companies from U.S. sanctions. The White House national security advisor issued a warning to the EU for their “special purpose vehicle” that will ignore U.S. sanctions (New York Times). During the United Against Nuclear Iran’s annual conference, an organization that is critical of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), John Bolton said that the U.S. would be “aggressive and unwavering” in enforcing sanctions on Iran, and threatened “terrible consequences” for any country that tries to undermine them. Bolton also issued a stark warning to Iran, “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens there will indeed be hell to pay” (BBC).

UNSC meeting: President Trump chaired a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and defended the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord (RFE/RL). He asked members of the UNSC to work with Washington to make sure Tehran “changes its behaviour and never acquires a nuclear bomb.” Trump’s calls for other countries to join in re-imposing sanctions were rejected by the remaining signatories of the JCPOA: Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron disagreed with Trump and insisted that the JCPOA is the best way to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. May said during the session that “ensuring non-proliferation also requires collective leadership” such as what led to the JCPOA (Gov.uk). Iran’s foreign minister responded to Trump's comments on Twitter: “Once again, the U.S. abused the UNSC only to find itself further isolated in its violation of #JCPOA and SC resolution 2231. When will it learn its lesson?”

The Netanyahu show: During his speech at the General Assembly, Israel’s prime minister claimed Iran is hiding a “secret atomic warehouse” in Tehran that contains nuclear equipment and radioactive material (Reuters). Benjamin Netanyahu showed an aerial photograph of the site marked with a red arrow, and pointed to what he says was a previously secret warehouse holding nuclear material. Netanyahu accused European leaders of appeasing Iran and called for new sanctions on the country. The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman called the accusations “baseless and ridiculous” (Haaretz). Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Zarif tweeted, “No arts & craft show will ever obfuscate that Israel is only regime in our region with a *secret* and *undeclared* nuclear weapons program - including an *actual atomic arsenal*. Time for Israel to fess up and open its illegal nuclear weapons program to international inspectors.”

Dual nationals: At the annual UN General assembly, families of detained dual nationals in Iran called on world leaders to pressure the Iranian government to release their loved ones (Radio Farda). According to Human Rights Watch, Iranian intelligence has increased its targeting of dual and foreign nationals who have ties with Western academic, cultural, or economic institutions (HRW).

MEK meeting: At a summit in New York, Trump’s personal lawyer and confidante said that the Iranian government will be overthrown (Reuters). Rudy Giuliani spoke in New York at the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, which has ties to the Iranian exile group called Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK). Giuliani’s comments run contrary to the Trump administration’s denial of pushing for regime change in Tehran. The MEK has set up what many describe as “a state within a state” inside Albania (Independent). Meanwhile, a statement released by the National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon says that the U.S. president risks a potential war with Tehran if it does not pursue diplomacy (Politico). Among the signatories are former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


AHVAZ TERROR ATTACK COVERAGE
Families fleeing the scene of the attack (ISNA)

Ahvaz terror attack: At a military parade in Tehran, marking the anniversary of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, President Rouhani said that Trump would fail in confronting Iran, just as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did (Al Jazeera). On the same day, a terror attack took place at a military parade in Khuzestan province, killing at least 24 people and injuring 68 (The Guardian). Among those dead at the Ahvaz parade were members and conscripts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and army, as well as a four-year-old boy, a journalist, and a disabled Iran-Iraq war veteran. President Rouhani blamed the attack on the United States and its Persian Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (AP). The Iranian Foreign Minister said on Twitter that “terrorists recruited, trained, armed and paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz.” The IRGC claimed that the terrorists were affiliated with a group backed by Saudi Arabia, and vowed a “deadly and unforgettable” vengeance in the near future” (Reuters). The Supreme Leader called the attack “a continuation of the plots of the regional states” and said that their “goal is to create insecurity” in Iran (Reuters).

Who was behind the attack? There was initial confusion about the identities of those behind the attack. One Ahvaz separatist group was blamed. Then a Denmark-based separatist group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), also known as the Ahvaz National Resistance, claimed responsibility. Yacoub al-Tostari, the spokesman for ASMLA, gave several interviews and called the attack “heroic” (Copenhagen Post). He added that ASMLA had no knowledge or details of the attack since they are the political branch responsible for the Ahwaz National Resistance movement (ANR). The Iranian foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Denmark, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, accusing them of harboring separatist groups in their countries (AP). ISIS also claimed responsibility on its Amaq news service, and later released an unusual video of the fighters (New York Times). The terrorists never said which group they belonged to, and did not pledge allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, like other ISIS members have done in the past. All five terrorists were killed by Iranian security forces (IRNA ف). However, Iran’s intelligence minister said that most of the terrorists affiliated with the attack were arrested (IRNA).

Reactions to attack: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told Iran to “look in the mirror” for the causes behind the attack in Ahvaz (BBC). Nikki Haley told CNN that the Iranian president has “got the Iranian people. . . protesting, every ounce of money that goes into Iran goes into his military, he has oppressed his people for a long time and he needs to look at his own base to figure out where that’s coming from.” President Rouhani fired back on Twitter, saying, “What would Americans think if we were to say such a thing about the 9/11 terrorist attacks?” The U.S. defense secretary called Iran’s accusations “ludicrous” (Reuters). James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, “They’ve so far blamed at least three countries and I think one terrorist group. We’ll see how long the list goes. But it’d be good if they knew what they’re talking about before they started talking.” Western ambassadors to Tehran condemned the terrorist attack, while no comment was made by any of Iran’s Arab neighbors. According to the International Crisis Group, “Tehran is likely to interpret silence as a tacit admission of guilt and this could raise tensions when there is also an opportunity to lower them.” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince once threatened, “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran.”


ECONOMY + SANCTIONS

Declining rial: This week, the Iranian rial hit a record low of 186,000 to the U.S. dollar (Reuters). As a result of rising prices, Iranian truck drivers started another nationwide strike (VOA). While the re-imposition of sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, “the unexpected depth of the rial’s decline owes less to U.S. policy than to poor decision-making in Tehran and structural weaknesses in Iran’s economy” (Foreign Affairs). Similarly, though a number of factors have contributed to a declining Iranian economy—sanctions, corruption, and mismanagement—it is not collapsing (Atlantic Council). According to an economics analyst based in Iran, “Oil exports will decline but not to zero, which the Trump administration is aiming for. The inflation rate will increase but not on the path of hyperinflation. The GDP will decline but still not as low as it was in 2012, when the economy contracted by 6.8 percent.”

Sanctions issues: India announced that it would not be buying oil from Tehran in November, when the second U.S. sanctions are re-imposed (Bloomberg). India is Iran’s second largest oil buyer after China. However, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, India is still committed to buying the country’s oil (Reuters). Meanwhile, Iranian oil tankers have started turning off their tracking devices since September 16 to avoid detection (Financial Times). The tactic was popularized during the last round of sanctions. Also, Swedish truckmaker Volvo has stopped assembling trucks in Iran due to U.S. sanctions preventing it from receiving payment (Reuters).


OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS
For the first time in three years, Narges Mohammadi has gone on furlough (CHRI).
Hunger-Striking activist Farhad Meysami refuses to be hospitalized in shackles (CHRI).
Fourth women’s rights activist arrested in less than a month (CHRI). 
Families of detained environmentalists urge Supreme Leader to release their loved ones (CHRI). 
Nasrin Sotoudeh sends heart-breaking apology to son for missing first day of school (CHRI).
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health condition has “gotten worse” in Evin Prison (CHRI).
Iranian Nobel laureate warns against “state violence” after Ahvaz terrorist attack (CHRI).
Iran should fulfill its UN commitments and recognize sign language (CHRI).
“Iran was like hell”: the young refugees starting new lives in Serbia (The Guardian).


DOMESTIC ISSUES
Why Rouhani, facing political storm in Iran, is secure in face of US threats (Christian Science Monitor).
Rafsanjani’s daughter calls for a referendum (AP). 
Satellite images show a missile launcher following Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei (Quartz).
Iranian official who campaigned for Salman Rushdie’s death now lives in London (IranWire).
Iran puts on ‘show of strength’ military exercise in Gulf (Reuters).


FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The U.S. and Iran are competing to shape Iraq’s new government. Both are failing. (Washington Post)
Powerful Shiite trio agrees on Iraqi prime minister candidate (Al-Monitor).
Pompeo threatens Iran over attacks on U.S. in Iraq (CNN).
What are prospects of limited engagement between Iran and U.S. in Afghanistan?(Al-Monitor).
Iran more assertive regionally after Trump withdrawal from JCPOA (Atlantic Council).

  
IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS
Team Trump fears he’ll cut a deal with Iran (Daily Beast).
+ As U.S. sanctions near, Europe fails to protect Iran deal (Reuters).
+ U.S. pressuring German firms 'daily' over Iran sanctions (AFP).
Without waivers, U.S. sanctions on Iran will cripple Iraq (Axios).
Could Trump put an end to the Iranian art boom? (CNN).
Iran's domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters (AP).
US sanctions prevent Iranians from marking Ashoura in Iraq (Al Jazeera).


ECONOMY + TRADE
+ Oil prices would be 'cheaper' if Trump would stop tweeting, Iran official says (CNBC).
Russia and Iran, military allies, are fast becoming economic rivals (Wall Street Journal).
...تا هفته بعد
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