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A weekly newsletter on all things Iran.
The Iranist
Week of March 10th

"This is very much about a political solution now ... and that basically means that Syria can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists, we've got to make sure we get Iran and their proxies out, we've got to make sure that, as we move forward, we're securing the borders for our allies as well."
 

- U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley,
after Security Council meeting

 

Over 2,100 fighters from Iran killed in Syria and Iraq (IranWire).


AHMADINEJAD'S BACK--ON TWITTER
FILED UNDER:
 Domestic Affairs

Former hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a comeback by joining the social media site Twitter (Washington Post). Ahmadinejad posted a video request in English for people to follow him (@Ahmadinejad1956). Twitter is banned in Iran, but many Iranian government officials have active accounts. Ahmadinejad's Twitter bio describes him as: “Husband, Dad, Grandfather, University Professor, President, Mayor, Proud Iranian.”

It’s unclear why the former Iranian president joined Twitter. His former Vice President and Chief of Staff Hamid Baghaei will be running in the May presidential election—a move seen to be with Ahmadinejad’s backing.

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has set up a formal campaign headquarters (Al-Monitor).


Iran’s conservatives try a bit of democracy: Will it work? (LobeLog)

Meanwhile, Iran successfully tested its Russian-made S-300 missile defense system during a military exercise (Deutsche Welle). Tehran claims these are solely tests not acts of aggression. The $800 million defense system was finally delivered in October 2016 after years of delays due to UN-imposed sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. The system has a range of 125 miles (200 km) and can target various flying objects, including ballistic missiles and drones.


Multiple IRGC fast-attack vessels came within 600 yards of the USNS Invincible, forcing the tracking ship to change course in the Strait of Hormuz (Reuters). Similar incidents have happened. The most recent serious case was in January when a U.S. Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels.


HAJJ TALK PROGRESS
FILED UNDER:
 Foreign Policy

Tehran plans to send some 80,000 pilgrims to the Hajj in Mecca this year if issues about security are resolved with Riyadh (Tasnim News Agency). The Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Reza Salehi-Amiri reiterated that Iran is ready to send pilgrims to this year’s Hajj if Saudi Arabia accepts the country’s conditions. Iranian pilgrims could not attend the pilgrimage in 2016 since Saudi officials failed to ensure their security after the Mecca stampede of 2015 that killed over 2,000 pilgrims, including 464 Iranians.

China offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia (IRNA). Tehran said it welcomes all efforts, but added in a statement, "the differences between the two neighboring countries are disparity in attitudes, practices and policies."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Qatar to discuss bilateral relations after a flurry of diplomatic activity recently between Iran and Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Al-Monitor). 

Also, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed hope for removing obstacles to improve relations with Egypt (Tasnim News Agency). The countries ceased relations after the 1979 revolution. In 2016, the Iranian Oil Ministry claimed Cairo was interested in purchasing crude oil from Tehran, but the Egyptian government denied it.

What an Egypt-Iran thaw would mean for U.S. foreign policy in the region (The Hill).

Donald Trump helped build a hotel in Azerbaijan that appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (New Yorker).


NUCLEAR TEAM ARREST
FILED UNDER:
 IRAN DEAL

The Iranian judiciary indicted an unnamed member of the country’s nuclear team (AP). Most likely, the individual is Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, who was previously detained on suspicion of espionage. Since the signing of the Iran Deal in 2015, many hardliners have pushed for purging dual nationals working in the Iranian government. Now, they are doing the same for major domestic companies (Trend News Agency).

Lawyers for victims of September 11 persuaded a judge in Luxembourg to freeze $1.6 billion of assets belonging to Iran’s central bank, despite the possibility of undermining the nuclear deal (New York Times). However, according to Central Bank of Iran, the Luxembourg court dismissed the U.S. request for the freeze (PressTV). Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi also rejected the freeze as "completely unlawful and baseless."


A Chinese telecom equipment maker agreed to plead guilty and pay as much as $900 million to settle U.S. sanction case that accuses the company of violating laws restricting sale of American technology to Iran (Reuters). A five-year investigation found ZTE conspired to evade U.S. sanctions by buying U.S. components, incorporating them into ZTE equipment and illegally shipping them to Iran.


HIGHEST BPD SINCE 1979
FILED UNDER:
 ECONOMY + TRADE

Iran’s crude oil exports hit a peak of three million bpd, the first time since the 1979 Revolution (Bloomberg). The level only lasted a day. Since the lifting of sanctions in January 2016, Tehran has recovered quickly to pre-sanctions levels. The country hopes to target five million bpd by 2021, with the help of foreign investment. According to Bloomberg tanker-tracking data, Iran’s crude oil exports have averaged 2.45 million bpd since February 19.

A team of strategists from RBC Capital Markets claim Iran is currently one of the most potent geopolitical risks in the oil market (CNBC). This is a consequence of the actions by the Trump administration.

Iran “understands” why Total wants to wait and see what happens to U.S. trade policy with Tehran (AP).


MONTAZERI'S SON SENTENCE SUSPENDED
FILED UNDER:
 HUMAN RIGHTS

The six-year prison term for Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri’s son was suspended (AP). Ahmad Montazeri was sentenced after releasing an audio file of his father, a dissident cleric, condemning the 1988 massacre of thousands of prisoners inside Iran.

Donald Trump is under pressure to get answers from Iran on missing ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson (New York Times).

Among Questions for Trump on Iran: What about American prisoners? (New York Times)


CARTOON OF THE WEEK
March 8th was International Women's Day. In this cartoon by Mana Neyestani, everyday should be International Women's Day.

Women in Iran post empowering videos on social media of themselves not wearing veils on International Women’s Day (New York Times)

A good read: To veil or not to veil when visiting Iran—that is a complex question (LobeLog).

Reza Aslan, the internationally renowned scholar of religions and writer, spoke to The Iranist about his new show on CNN, sectarianism, and what it’s like being Iranian-American under a Trump presidency.


OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS

+ Iranian Catholic converts arrested in northwestern Iran.

+ New charges against reformist journalist Soroush Farhadian.

+ Revolutionary guards seeking “revenge” by blocking political prisoner’s hospitalization.
 
+ Imprisoned Iran-born Swedish resident on hunger strike in desperate bid for justice.
 
+ Doctors call for release of Ayatollah Nekoonam—again.
 
+ Narges Mohammadi’s family shattered by justice system in Iran.
 
+ Evin Prison violating law by keeping political prisoners in wards with violent offenders.
 
+ He couldn't get higher education in Iran—now he's running an ed tech startup.
 
+ Shirin Ebadi: With advances in technology come advances in censorship.
 
+ Jailed Iranian-American Robin Shahini on 20th day of hunger strike.
 
+ Specialists recommend Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe be admitted to hospital for treatment.
 
+ PM Theresa May urged to show 'compassion' for imprisoned British-Iranian mother.

DOMESTIC ISSUES

+ Hardliners float name of major human rights violator for Iran’s next supreme leader.
 
+ This Trojan horse app sneaks vital info to women in Iran.
 
+ Tehran blocks mobile app Waze due to its Israeli background.
 
+ Iranian cartoon hails demise of U.S. Navy in imagined Persian Gulf battle.
 
+ Iran unveils new multi-purpose helicopter.
 
+ Tehran claims 'radar evading' fighter jet almost ready.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

+ What’s stopping President Rouhani from reaching out to Donald Trump?

+ Trump’s obsession with generals could send us straight into war with Iran.
 
+ Trump didn’t start the anti-Iranian fire.
 
+ Iranian MP says Tehran will ramp up defense to counter U.S. threats.
 
+ Trump and Israeli PM had a long phone conversation about threats posed by Iran.
 
+ Tehran behind 80 percent of Israel's security problems, according to Netanyahu.
 
+ Iran’s geopolitical predicament and its consequences.

+ Israel tried blocking sale of advanced Russian-made missile defense system to Tehran.

+ Tehran is expanding its reach and raising questions over U.S. ambitions to contain Iran.
 
+ Bahrain says 25 arrested in bust of Iran-linked terror cell.

IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS

+ New Iran sanctions risk the threat of war.
 
+ Iranian FM downplays possibility of U.S. failure to remove sanctions.
 
+ Can Congress compromise on bipartisan Iran sanctions law?

ECONOMY + TRADE

+ International sanctions are hindering work on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
 
+ U.K.’s Iranian-owned banks, freed of sanctions, now face trust barriers.
 
+ Iran ready to sell oil to South Africa and buy refinery shares.
 
+ Iranian retailers feel cornered by foreign brands.
 
+ Allure of riches draws young Iranians to network marketing.
 
+ Why Iran’s auto ambitions will benefit economy, not consumers.
 
+ Iran’s private sector having hard time financing expansion.
 
+ French firm eyes to enter Iran’s insurance market.
 
+ Banque de France to finance Iran-France projects.
 
+ Iran and Azerbaijan to join railways as part of freight route.
 
+ No MasterCard in Iran for now.

SCIENCE + ENVIRONMENT

+ Ex-NASA engineer Payam Banazadeh makes shoebox-sized satellites.
 
+ Iranian university professor among world top 1 percent scientists.

ART + CULTURE

+ Stunning collection of modern art goes on display in Tehran.

+ Iranian artists defy Western stereotypes in a new group exhibition.
 
+ Israeli rock star and his Iranian counterpart come together in song.
 
+ Iran's Abbasi: The Middle East's most beautiful hotel.
 
+ Former NASA scientist Firouz Naderi sets the record straight about the Oscars.

OTHER

Trump travel ban will hit Iranian critics of regime hardest, analysts warn.

'I'm proud of my sin': the 'criminal' stars of Iranian TV promoting women's rights.

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