A weekly newsletter on all things Iran.
The Iranist
Week of September 21st

“The nuclear agreement is not a love affair. It was a sensible compromise. Iran is prepared to continue adhering to it for as long as it serves our interests. That is a purely practical issue, not an emotional one. International relations are rooted in give and take. If this balance is destroyed by the actions of the Americans and the passivity of the Europeans, we will react accordingly.”

- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with Der Spiegel

U.S. President Donald Trump's comments on Twitter

Kerry and Zarif controversy: The Trump administration slammed a former US secretary of state for meeting with Iran’s foreign minister (New York Times). During a radio interview with Fox News to promote his new book, “Every Day is Extra,” John Kerry said that he had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif “three or four times” since Trump took office in January 2017. The meetings were publicized and with other members of the P5+1 to salvage the 2015 nuclear agreement. This prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to tweet: “John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people. He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!” Kerry then replied to Trump on Twitter: “Mr. President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran’s FM. But if you want to learn something about the nuclear agreement that made the world safer, buy my new book.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Kerry for the meeting and accused him of “actively undermining” the Trump administration’s policy on Iran (Reuters). Pompeo told reporters at a press conference that the meetings were “unseemly and unprecedented” and “beyond inappropriate.” The Iranian foreign minister also weighed in on the controversy (Radio Farda). Zarif told reporters in Tehran, “When I go to New York, everyone from [Henry] Kissinger to Kerry and the House representatives come to see me. This is normal and it is a reality that shows Iran’s influence.”

Oil sanctions: According to the latest figures, U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil are working (New York Times). Between the months of June and September, Iran’s oil exports dropped to around 600,000 bpd or more than 25 percent. When the second round of sanctions are reimplemented on November 4, exports are expected to drop another half a million bpd, bringing the total to roughly 2.7 million bpd this year alone. Earlier this week, Iran accused Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. of “turning OPEC into a tool for the US” and leaving the “organisation has not much credit left" (AFP). Meanwhile, OPEC is concerned about the Trump administration’s policy of cutting Iranian oil exports to zero (Bloomberg). An adviser to Iran’s oil minister said that sanctions could not reduce the country’s oil sale to zero because of high demand in the market (Reuters).

VW withdrawal?: German carmaker Volkswagen is pulling out of Iran, according to the U.S. ambassador to Germany (Bloomberg). Ambassador Richard Grenell has taken credit for the withdrawal of BASF, Siemens, and now Volkswagen. However, VW denied the claim made by the U.S. ambassador (Reuters).


UNGA Preparation: A plan for President Trump to hold a United Nations Security Council meeting focused on Iran has been disowned (Washington Post). U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had announced that Trump would chair a meeting to “address Iran’s violations of international law and the general instability Iran sows throughout the entire Middle East region.” Concerns were raised that the meeting would mostly be focused on disagreements between Washington and its European allies over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). U.S. officials were also concerned that a UN Charter article would allow Iran to participate as a “party to a dispute under consideration,” which would then put Tehran and Washington in a UNSC standoff. Also, the U.S. special envoy for Iran said that the Trump administration wants to negotiate a treaty with Iran (Reuters). Speaking at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., Brian Hook said that the treaty with Iran would include the release of imprisoned Americans, withdrawing its forces in the Middle East, and ending its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs. Asked about whether Trump would be meeting with his Iranian counterpart at UNGA, Hook said that Iranian officials “have all indicated that they are not interested in talking. That is their position. We respect that. Though that does not change our plans. We have a sanctions regime that is underway, the stronger measures are yet to come.” Meanwhile, the Iranian foreign minister confirmed that he and President Hassan Rouhani will attend this year’s UNGA (Radio Farda). Over the past few weeks, there’s been a domestic debate over whether the Iranian president should attend the annual assembly (Bloomberg).

Syria bombing: Israel reportedly targeted an arms depot near an airport in Damascus (Haaretz). According to Syrian state media, several Israeli missiles were intercepted by their air defense systems. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the country does not comment on foreign reports. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Israeli strikes on Syria have killed 113 Iranian soldiers and Iran-backed militia fighters (Haaretz). Meanwhile, the director general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission said that Iran and Syria posed significant proliferation threats to the Middle East and called for the UN to take action (Reuters). Zeev Snir added that, “These outrageous threats require Israel to take immediate action and continue to protect and defend its nuclear facilities.” Iran retaliated by asking the UN to condemn what it described as threats against Tehran, and asked the international body take action “to eliminate all Israeli nuclear weapons.” Last week, Israel’s intelligence minister threatened that Tehran will face “military” action if it continues to pursue a nuclear program.

Retaliation for PDKI attack: Iran said its embassy in France was attacked by Kurdish activists (Reuters). According to the Paris police, “individuals” threw objects and smashed windows of the embassy. Fars News Agency reported that 15 Kurdish activists burned the Iranian flag and broke windows, but were unable to enter the premises. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said that though some of the protesters were arrested, “the French police did not arrive as expected on the scene on time.” Another group of protesters also attacked the Iranian embassy in Greece (RFE/RL). According to Athens police, ten protesters broke the windows of the embassy with iron bars and threw red paint on the property. The anarchist Rubicon group claimed it carried out the attack in solidarity with the “Kurds of Iran.” Last week, the IRGC fired seven missiles at the base of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), killing at least 11 people. The PDKI wants more autonomy for Iran’s almost 10 million Kurdish citizens. Tehran accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Kurdish armed groups. The head of the IRGC said that the military operation against PDKI was a message to the “superpowers” that think they can bully and plot against Iran (Reuters).

Iran hacking: A cybersecurity firm is reporting that Iranian hackers launched a campaign targeting energy firms based in the Middle East ahead of the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Tehran (AP). According to FireEye, the “spear-phishing” email campaign steals information from computers infected by the malware. But digital cybersecurity expert Amin Sabeti said on Twitter this is more of a PR stunt by FireEye since “Iranian hackers have been active since 2009” and will launch attacks “due to their nature.”

MEK bots: According to a report, an exiled Iranian opposition group has an online trolling and bot factory (Al Jazeera). Defectors of the Mujahadeen-e Khalq (MEK), which operates from a base in Albania and pushes for regime change in Tehran, claim that they attacked academics, activists, and journalists online. They also use the hashtags #FreeIran and #IranRegimeChange and tweet opposition to the Iranian government. The Iranian foreign minister tweeted the report and accused Twitter of closing the accounts of “real” Iranians (Al-Monitor). He added, “How about looking at actual bots in [the Albanian capital of] Tirana used to prop up ‘regime change’ propaganda spewed out of [Washington] DC? #YouAreBots.” The Al Jazeera report prompted an outcry from some activists on social media who claimed that Foreign Minister Zarif had delegitimized opposers of the Islamic Republic.

Activists arrested after mass strike in Iran’s Kurdistan province against “revenge” executions (CHRI).
Satirist arrested by IRGC, held incommunicado with no access to lawyer (CHRI).
Nasrin Sotoudeh sacrifices family visits to protest prosecutor’s demand she wear full hijab (CHRI).
Mandatory hijab hunger strike enters 50th day (Al-Monitor).
In just six months, universities expelled 50 Baha’i students (CHRI).
Rouhani should be called to account for human rights abuses at UN gathering (CHRI).

New hardline voices rise in Iran’s theocratic center (Atlantic Council).
Iran orders the closure of a pro-reform newspaper (AP). 
Iranian singer’s “sickening” anti-Islam post embarrasses hardliners (Al-Monitor).
Iran’s rich, influential religious singers eclipse clerics (Al-Monitor).
Iranians lash out at preferential treatment of pilgrims (Al-Monitor).
Backlash in Iran as some veterans circumvent new retirement law (Al-Monitor).
Teen suicide on the rise in Iran (IranWire).

New Iranian exile group calls for regime change (Radio Farda).
U.K. warns British-Iranian dual nationals over travel to Iran (Reuters).
France holds off on Iran envoy nomination after Paris bomb plot (Reuters).
Iranian attacks in Iraq are more about messaging than reality (Atlantic Council).
Iran-India logistical cooperation set to jump amid scaled-back energy ties (Al-Monitor).

U.S. imposes sanctions on Thai company it accuses of aiding Iran (Reuters).
New book offers vital background on the Iran nuclear deal (Washington Post).
Trump’s Iran sanctions trigger a booming cash smuggling business (Bloomberg).
Falling rial stymies Iranian travel abroad (Wall Street Journal).
Iran had big plans for its tourism industry, then the U.S. reintroduced economic sanctions (CNBC).

What rial devaluation means for Iranian government (Al-Monitor).
Surging prices may push Iran's housing sector back into recession (Al-Monitor).

Mullahs’ messengers say Iran’s Oscar choice long on art, short on politics (RFE/RL).
Rhythm revolution: Young Iranians revive ancient drumming traditions (CNN).
Iranian comedies thrive at box office as audiences look to lift gloom (The Guardian).
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