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Week of January 26th

“Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Donald Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately. Whatever the outcome of those negotiations, today I have a solemn promise to Israel, to all the Middle East, and to the world: The United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Beyond the nuclear deal, we will also no longer tolerate Iran’s support of terrorism, or its brutal attempts to suppress its own people.”

- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, during a speech at Israel’s Knesset


ADDRESSING PROTESTERS CONCERNS
FILED UNDER:
 Domestic Affairs
Left: Bahman Cigarettes - 20 cigarettes = life versus possible death, "you be the judge" 
Right: Khuzestan - 20 days of breathing = life versus assured death, "you be the sufferer" (Twitter)

President Hassan Rouhani’s first interview after the protests failed to satisfy the public (Al-Monitor). In a televised interview with popular host Reza Rashidpour, the Iranian president answered detailed questions and rumors about himself and the country, turning the show into the first presidential interview where he didn’t talk about foreign policy or mention the nuclear deal. Even though the unrest wasn’t mentioned by the interviewer, Rouhani said, “Protest within the framework of the law is accepted, but undue tensions and unrest cause concerns for the people.” The president also addressed the recent debacle over the temporary blocking of Telegram, saying the government has suffered for unblocking the popular smartphone messaging app. Rouhani further explained that his attempts to unblock Twitter have failed so far. The interview didn’t lead to the outcome that Rouhani and Iran's state TV appear to have sought. Many Iranians took to Twitter to criticize the interview, including Sadegh Zibakalam, a prominent Reformist analyst: “I wish Mr. Rouhani could realize that every time he talks to people, he loses another part of his 24 million votes. I wish he could understand that he is insulting people’s intelligence by [focusing on] artificial nonsense and superficial questions and answers instead of addressing serious and real issues and problems in the society.”

Iran’s defense minister said the supreme leader ordered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to sell off business holdings and commercial assets “irrelevant” to their main function (Bloomberg). The comments made by Defense Minister General Amir Hatami to state-run IRAN Newspaper appear to be a trial to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by pragmatist President Rouhani since he took office in 2013. Hatami is the first non-IRGC-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years. Defense forces, especially the Guards, have extensive economic holdings in Iran’s construction, energy, banking, insurance and telecommunications industries. The IRGC has been subject to U.S. sanctions for decades. As a result, the Rouhani administration has managed to return the question of the IRGC’s role and duties to the center of the public debate (Al-Monitor).

Iranian authorities are scrambling to stem a growing crisis over air pollution in a province that produces a major share of the country’s oil (Bloomberg). A yellow smog has enveloped the southwestern Khuzestan region ever since a severe dust storm struck last Friday, shutting schools and offices and prompting criticism of the Rouhani administration across local media. So far, 1,530 people have been hospitalized with breathing problems. When pressed on the public-health implications on live television, President Rouhani said he was dispatching senior officials to the area. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved $100 million to “combat particles” in Khuzestan. The Iranian authorities’ quick decision-making is said to be a product of the recent protests in Iran.

Still reeling from social protests, Iran showed off a 70-kilogram, gold-plated model ship inscribed with the entire Koran (RFERL). Some Iranians shuddered at the opulence on display at the Fatima Masumeh Shrine weeks after the deadly protests that even President Rouhani has acknowledged were stoked by public despair over economic injustices.

Also, a prominent Sunni religious leader in said that the articles of Iran’s constitution should be revised (Radio Farda). During a speech in Zahedan, Molavi Abdolhamid reiterated, “People are not only under economic pressures; the political and social pressures should be addressed [as well], and all people of Iran should live freely according to the Constitution.” Zahedan is a predominantly Sunni-Baluch city and Molavi Abdolhamid is also the city’s Friday Prayer Leader.

After protests, Iran leadership pushes hard for “homegrown” apps (RFERL).


An important read: How corruption and cronyism in banking fueled Iran’s protests (New York Times).

How years of increasing labor unrest signaled Iran’s latest protest wave (Washington Post).

Reform or Revolution? Iran’s path to democracy (Foreign Affairs).

Iran after the protests: What comes next? (Washington Post). 


Interior Ministry issued report on the reasons for recent protests (Al-Monitor).


DAVOS WITH NO IRAN PRESENT
FILED UNDER:
 Foreign Policy

This week marked the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but Iran’s foreign minister had no plans to attend (ISNA).

Instead, Mohammad Javad Zarif penned an op-ed about how Iran could set a post-ISIS security policy for the region (Financial Times).

Gulf Arab officials used the World Economic Forum to slam Tehran for what they said was its destabilizing behavior in the region (Reuters).

Lebanon’s prime minister told Davos attendees during a panel his country must "deal with" Iran (CNBC). Saad Hariri said, “I, as a prime minister, I would like the best relationship with Iran, but I would like it to be state to state. Not for somebody to invest in Lebanon without telling me on this issue, like Hezbollah or others.” He added that, “Iran presents a challenge in the region maybe, but dialogue also is a part of resolving this issue.”

Israel’s prime minister met with Germany’s chancellor on the sidelines of Davos and discussed the Iran nuclear agreement (Haaretz). After the meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters he had opined to Angela Merkel that the “only option at the moment is to introduce real and non-cosmetic changes [to the deal] that will prevent the nuclearization of Iran.” Netanyahu said he expressed his appreciation for Merkel’s commitment to Israel’s security. “She said she understands our concerns about the nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu said, “but she does not necessarily agree with the way we want to deal with it.” Netanyahu also met with French President Emmanuel Macron (Haaretz). The two leaders discussed at length about the need to counter Iran’s aggression in the region. According to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu “expressed his opinion that it was impossible to leave the nuclear agreement as it is, because within a few years the agreement will lead to the nuclearization of Iran.”

The Iranian military has halted the routine harassment by its armed “fast boats” of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf (Wall Street Journal). The boats for at least two years would dart toward the U.S. vessels as they passed through the Persian Gulf, risking miscalculation, but haven’t done so for five months, according to U.S. military officials. Iran expert Ali Vaez, of the International Crisis Group, noted that Iran also curbed missile tests in the past few months with the exception of one mid-range ballistic missile test last February (Twitter). Vaez also explained that last summer, President Rouhani and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council ordered the IRGC to avoid unnecessary provocation while standing their ground. This suggests Tehran is keen to avoid giving the Trump administration easy pretext to point fingers and rally the Europeans against them on the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, President Rouhani called for boosting relations with the Iraqi Kurdish region as part of a united Iraq (Reuters). The call came during a visit by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the first such high-level trip to Iran since last year’s Kurdish independence referendum. The Kurdish referendum in September 2017 angered Iraq’s central government and neighbors Iran and Turkey, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that Turkey’s airstrikes against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in the northern Syrian city of Afrin will come to a speedy end (Al-Monitor). The statement fell short of an outright condemnation and shows the complex nature of Syria’s civil war.


Syria: Can Trump's anti-Iran strategy survive hostilities with Turkey? (Christian Science Monitor)

A good read: Understanding Iran's views on the future of regional security dialogue and architecture (Century Foundation).



RENEGOTIATING THE DEAL?
FILED UNDER:
 Iran Deal

The U.S. secretary of state said he sees progress in getting European support for new, tougher penalties against Iran that could prevent a U.S. withdrawal from the deal (PBS). After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said they had agreed to set up a working group of experts on fixing flaws in the landmark 2015 agreement that President Trump has warned he will walk away from this spring unless adjustments are made to his liking.

Germany is lobbying European allies to agree to new sanctions against Iran in an attempt to prevent President Trump from terminating the deal (Reuters). Der Spiegel magazine cited that diplomats in Brussels are saying that Germany was pushing for new sanctions together with Britain and France to show the United States that European allies were taking Trump’s criticism against Iran seriously.

A day after talks with British officials, Tillerson met with his French counterpart (AP). “There is a basic principle on which we are very firm, it’s the upholding of the (nuclear deal) to the extent it is respected,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, noting that the IAEA has indicated that Iran is in compliance. “If it is respected by Iran—which is what the IAEA says, and we don’t have any reason not to believe it—the signatories must stand by their word,” Le Drian added. “Because when an agreement is signed, each signatory must respect it. He (Tillerson) knows it.” France’s foreign minister said he would visit Iran to discuss its ballistic missile program and the nuclear deal (Reuters). In an interview with Le Figaro, Le Drian said he would discuss the landmark nuclear deal after President Trump’s January 12 ultimatum to Britain, France and Germany to “fix” the deal or he would withdraw.

Russia’s foreign minister said the nuclear deal cannot survive if the U.S. pulls out of the agreement (Reuters). Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations in New York, “This agreement cannot be implemented if one of the participants unilaterally steps out of it. It will fall apart, there will be no deal then.” Lavrov added that he believed the United States was “going to try to convince the European states to take the same position that Washington has taken.”

The U.S. and major European powers are holding group consultations to explore cooperation on Iran, but the Europeans say they will not renegotiate the deal (Al-Monitor).

Europe must fight to preserve the Iran Deal. Here’s how (Foreign Policy).

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator: Killing the nuclear deal will be bad for the U.S. (Reuters).

Iran deal won't survive beyond May 2018, says sanctions expert (CNBC).


#WHERE_IS_SHE?
FILED UNDER:
 Rights
Social media users say woman protester's name is Vida Movahed and that this is her (Twitter)

Some Iranians are asking what happened to the woman protester that waved her white headscarf (IranWire). A day before the Iran protests took off on December 27, Vida Movahed—a 31-year-old mother with a 19-month baby—took off her headscarf and waved it on a stick while on Tehran’s busy Enghelab (Revolution) Street. Movahed was arrested and released shortly afterwards, only to be arrested again, according to a Facebook post written by prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The photograph of Movahed was part of the White Wednesday campaign in which women in Iran wear white to protest Iran’s strict dress code. But as the protests kicked off, many confused Movahed’s brave act as being part of the Iran protests themselves. Since January 17, hashtags #Where_Is_the_Revolution_Street_Girl? (“#دختر_خیابان_انقلاب_کجاست” in Persian) and #Where_Is_She have been used on the Internet. Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Revolution Street Girl (Amnesty International).

Also, a second dead protester has been named in what Iranian officials called a shoot-out with security forces (CHRI). Twenty-four-year-old Kianoosh Zandi disappeared on January 2 amid the anti-government protests in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdish province. On January 13, Intelligence Ministry agents informed Zandi’s mother of his death, and on the same day he was buried. The agents told the mother to state that her son had died in a car accident and warned her not to speak to the media. Eyewitness accounts report that Zandi was with Saro Ghahremani—another protester who was said to have died under similar circumstances—in a car riddled with bullets in front of the Sanandaj bus terminal.
A 24-year-old man from the city of Karaj has also been identified as part of the dead (CHRI).

A lawyer representing the families of two protesters who died under suspicious circumstances is concerned about the fate of current detainees (CHRI).

155 lawyers call on Iran’s Judiciary to stop restricting detainees’ access to counsel (CHRI).

Are political prisoners forced to take hallucinogens? (IranWire)

A U.S.-based Iranian journalist received death threats after interviewing the father of a dead protester (IranWire).

U.S. sanctions abet Iranian internet censorship (Foreign Policy).

Protests underscore the potential power of Iran’'s access to information law (GlobalVoices).

Fictionville Studio’s Hamid Rahmanian talks to The Iranist about his Shahnameh audiobook, ancient Persian history, and why Game of Thrones resonates with the Persian epic.

OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS
+ Human Rights Watch blasts Iran for repressions, discrimination in annual report.
+ Death sentence against Swedish resident Ahmadreza Djalali under review.
Siamak Namazi: “This will be a death sentence for my father.”
+ Blogger working against dissidents awarded Harvard fellowship.

+ She studied singing in college but is banned from performing on stage.

DOMESTIC ISSUES
Hardliners consolidate control over university in the aftermath of the protests.
Mashhad in the spotlight: inequality plagues Iran’s holy city

Iranian directors see little respite despite support for Rouhani
If President Rouhani becomes supreme leader, he could transform Iran.
Why 9/11 truthers are obsessed with the Plasco high-rise fire in Tehran
+ Iran budges and votes to join convention against organized crime.
+ Icelandic musician discovers fan base in unlikely place
+ Women footballers forced to play in high levels of pollution.
+
Female skydiver aims ‘to prove that women are just as capable as men’.
+ Caches of arms and explosives found in Iran, says Intelligence Ministry.
+ Fire kills 3 workers at bitumen storage facility in Iran
+ Remains of 28 Iraq War martyrs to arrive in Iran
+ ‘Jesus is building his church’ inside Iran, millions watching Christian satellite television.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

On Mideast visit, U.S. house speaker vows to confront Iran.
+ U.S. Navy says it received Iran broadcast about naval exercise. + EU under fire for meeting with Iranian MP involved in Holocaust denial
+ Is Iran setting up new military forces in the West Bank
+ Iran says ready to expand ties with Cuba.

IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS
+ Turkey's Halkbank working with U.S. government after Iran sanctions case.  
+ Destroying the Iran deal while claiming to save it.  
+ U.S. government faces critical ‘brain drain’ of sanctions experts.

+ Comoros says abuse of passports-for-cash scheme worries Gulf allies.

ECONOMY + TRADE
+ Iran sues Deutsche Borse subsidiary for holding $4.9 billion of assets.
+ U.S. uncertainty over nuclear deal complicates Iran’s economy.  
+ Iran’s currency continues to slump as further sanctions loom.
+ Central bank warns speculators they face losses betting against Toman.  
+ Tehran halts private lender permits after crisis fueled protests.  
+ The lion and the dragon: Iran looks to China for trade and development

+ German Daimler to launch Mercedes-Benz manufacturing company in Iran.
+ Tehran to resume rice imports.  
+ Handmade carpet exports to hit $400 million.

ART + CULTURE
+ The Rubaiyat: History’s most luxurious book of poetry?

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