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Week of July 27th

“To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

- U.S. President Donald Trump, responding to his Iranian counterpart on Twitter


U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS
by Nick Anderson (WPWG 2018)

Pompeo’s Iran speech: The U.S. secretary of state delivered his “Supporting Iranian Voices” speech at the Ronald Reagan Library and Foundation in California (State Department). Mike Pompeo told an audience mostly made up of Americans who are not of Iranian descent that the Iranian government was spreading violence in the Middle East, and that the clerics were filling their own pockets while the rest of Iran suffered under their hands. The New York Times fact-checked Pompeo’s speech. Analysts weighed in on the speech, mostly with criticism. Former Ambassador John Limbert, who was a hostage during the 444-day Iran hostage crisis, wrote: “Pompeo’s speech has demonstrated that this administration has no knowledge of or interest in history” (LobeLog). According to U.S. officials, Pompeo’s scathing speech was part of a collection of public discourse and online communications meant to “foment unrest” and “pressure Iran” (Reuters).

Read how members of the Iranian diaspora reacted to the speech (Los Angeles Times).

Why Trump tweeted: Shortly after Pompeo delivered his speech, U.S. President Trump threatened Iran on Twitter. It was in response to comments made by President Rouhani during a meeting with Iranian diplomats, where he cautioned about a potential U.S. invasion of Iran (Reuters). The Iranian president said, “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” echoing an expression used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991 during the invasion of Kuwait. Following Trump’s tweet, his national security advisor rattled sabers again, saying the president told him that if Tehran "does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price few countries have ever paid” (The Guardian).

Tehran reacts to Trump: The Iranian response to the inflammatory tweet was “slower and more measured” (Atlantic Council). Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani—who Pompeo called in his speech a “thieving thug” worth $300 million—said that “any illogical move by the United States would entail a memorable response.” Trump’s Iran policy appears to have unified the country’s political factions. As the editor of state-run Mehr News Agency tweeted: “Tonight, I retweeted tweets from reformists that under normal circumstances I would’ve never retweeted. The opposite has happened for sure, too. Mr. Pompeo, you’re a fool to have united us!” It wasn’t until evening time in Tehran that the Iranian foreign minister responded with “COLOR US UNIMPRESSED.” Mohammad Javad Zarif then offered commentary on Iran having been around for millennia and having seen the fall of empires, including its own. He also warned the U.S. president to “BE CAUTIOUS.” A day later, on July 25, the Iranian president finally commented on the matter (AP). Rouhani told members of his cabinet in a meeting, “There is no need for us to respond to any nonsensical comment and answer back to them.” This was followed by the foreign ministry spokesman saying that Iran would never take part in “one-sided negotiations” with Washington threatening Tehran (Reuters). It is becoming evident that the Iranian government plans to wait out Trump’s term, and to re-engage the U.S. when the next American president takes office. A senior reformist politician told the Financial Times, “When we face unfair attacks, we have no choice but to answer those attacks. This U.S. approach is not sustainable and we should wait until there is a change in the next Congress or administration.”

Trump wants to talk: Only days after his threatening tweet, Trump claimed that he would still like to negotiate with Tehran (Reuters). During a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the U.S. president said, “We’ll see what happens, but we’re ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster.”

Is a war coming? Since the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, there has been talk of war with Tehran. Trump’s tweet, which was highlighted in our Quote of the Week, carries the beating of war drums. On July 22, the chief of the Iranian armed forces argued that though the U.S. did not talk about war openly, it was trying to convince its military of an invasion of Iran, according to “precise existing information” (Radio Farda). Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri did not elaborate on what the “information” was. This week, the Western media gave a lot of attention to these Trump tweets from 2011-2013:

The New York Times explains why we shouldn’t be anticipating a war with Iran, but how it could get nasty. However, senior Australian ministers told Australian ABC that they are preparing for the possibility that the U.S. could strike Iran’s nuclear facilities as early as next month, and that Australia intends to help identify possible targets (The Guardian). The Australian prime minister said there was “no reason” to believe Trump was planning an attack.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Iranian government shake-up: Iran’s governor of the central bank was fired and replaced (New York Times). Valiollah Seif was accused of mismanaging the country’s monetary policy, which contributed to a rapid drop in the value of the Iranian rial. Some Iranians also blamed Seif for failing to foresee that President Trump would withdraw from the Iran deal. Rouhani’s cabinet approved Abdolnaser Hemmati, the former managing director of Bank Melli and Sina Bank, to replace Seif as governor. In May, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Seif, accusing him of “moving millions of dollars” for the IRGC. The head of the Management and Planning Organization of Iran, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, has also been replaced (Reuters). Nobakht said that President Rouhani had not accepted his resignation.

Minority returns to city council: A ban by the Guardian Council on a Yazd city council politician of the Zoroastrian faith has been lifted (RFE/RL). Sepanta Niknam has been a member of the council body since May 2016, and was the only non-Muslim official elected to public office in Yazd. He was suspended after a fellow councillor filed a complaint. The Guardian Council ruled that minorities should not have a representative in Muslim-majority cities and towns. Niknam returned to his position after a public outcry—including disapproval from President Hassan Rouhani—and a big push from reformist politicians. The Iranian constitution designates five reserved seats in the 290-seat parliament for Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, as they are recognized as religious minorities.


OIL SHIPMENT DRAMA

Strait of Hormuz: The Supreme Leader appeared to back President Rouhani’s statement early this month, saying that “if Iran's oil is not exported, no regional country's oil will be exported.” (RFE/RL). The Iranian foreign ministry warned that Tehran would respond with “equal countermeasures” if the U.S. blocks its oil imports (RFE/RL). While the head of the IRGC said that “an oil threat can easily be answered” (Reuters). On July 26, the IRGC Qods Force commander responded to Trump’s threat (Washington Post). Qassem Soleimani claimed that as a soldier it was his duty to respond to Trump, and mocked the American president as using the language of  “night clubs and gambling halls”. Soleimani said that the U.S. “may begin the war, but it will be us who will end it.” He also added that the Red Sea—an important waterway linking the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean—was “no longer secure” with U.S. military presence. On the same day, Saudi Arabia said it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea, after Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis rebels attacked two ships in the waterway (Reuters). Some analysts believe this is what Tehran meant by “equal countermeasures”. Kuwait is now deciding whether to halt oil exports through the Red Sea (Reuters).


IMPRISONED DUAL NATIONALS

Karan Vafadari and Afarin Neyssari. (CHRI)

Art gallery owners bailed: A wealthy Iranian-American art gallery owner and his wife were released on bail after being sentenced to long prison terms on espionage and other charges earlier this year (CHRI). Karan Vafadari, a member of the Zoroastrian faith, was sentenced to 27 years in prison, 124 lashes, and a cash fine of $243,000, as well as the confiscation of all his assets, according to a letter he wrote. His Iranian wife Afarin Neyssari received a 16-year prison sentence. The two were reportedly arrested by the IRGC in July 2016. Little information has come out about their case since then, though some reports suggested they were detained for having parties where men and women mingled and alcohol was served. According to Iranian law, Zoroastrians are allowed to have alcohol and aren’t subject to Iran’s Islamic laws.

Dual national case update: As suspected, Iran is holding a British-Iranian mother for ransom (CHRI). The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said that a Tehran judge had informed her that she would not be released until Iran received payments for an old military arms debt owed by Britain since the 1970s. The judge reportedly told her, “You know they won’t send you on furlough, or give you parole, or give you clemency until the money is paid that the UK owes Iran.”


OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS
Narges Mohammadi’s sister banned from travel as state continues to harass her family
Detained teachers’ rights activist denied months of salary due to “fault of others”.
Labor reps protest disappearing benefits as workers struggle under ailing economy.
Judiciary closes acid attack cases with no convictions but promises compensation.
Baha’i woman sent to prison for BIHE volunteer work.
The woman who defied Iran.
Iran: Crackdown on student activists
“30 million Iranians bypass” internet filtering using two domestic apps.


DOMESTIC ISSUES
Iran arrests top state managers as anti-corruption drive forges ahead
Tehran court lifts curtain on widespread corruption at bankrupted lender
Iran’s reformist press criticizes Rouhani; Hardliners’ daily threatens neighbors
Violence against women at center of debate on landmark bill in Iran.
Iran prevents public commemoration at grave of celebrated poet Shamlou
Iran hit by series of earthquakes, 150 people injured.


FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Analysts uncover new “highly active” espionage group believed to be from Iran.
Will China undermine Trump’s Iran strategy?
Moscow and Beijing Have Tehran’s Back.
Khamenei adviser’s Moscow visit stirs foreign policy debate in Iran.
+ Iran maneuvers to protect its interests in Syria.
+ Will Iranian Kurds be on front lines of US conflict with Iran?
Militants kill 10 Iranian soldiers near Iraqi border.


IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS
EU struggles to counter U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Iran to allow more Russian, Chinese, Indian influence as sanctions loom.
Congress drops bid to crack down on ZTE over Iran sanctions violations.
Turkey against severing economic ties with Iran despite U.S. sanctions.
HPCL cancels Iran oil shipment after insurer excludes coverage.
Iran offers India oil cargo insurance and ships to boost sales.
Iran becomes India’s No. 2 oil supplier, ahead of Saudi Arabia.
Sanctions threaten Iran’s dream of becoming Eurasian transport hub.
Iran’s iconic carpet making industry faces disaster.
U.S. Senator Tom Cotton’s bill targets Iran over captives


ART + CULTURE
Judge orders return of ancient limestone relief to Iran.

OTHER
An Iranian caricaturist got a visa despite the travel ban—now she’s drawing Trump.
...تا هفته بعد
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