Where the rubber meets the road
Sunday marked 90 days since the United Nations Security Council endorsed the Iran Deal. Known as Adoption Day, all parties must now adhere to their commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In a joint statement, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the adoption of a legislative framework for lifting all sanctions. Following in their footsteps, President Barack Obama signed a bill that allows the U.S. Treasury Department to begin issuing sanctions waivers. Sanctions are expect to be lifted in 2016 once the IAEA verifies Tehran has met its obligations by dismantling elements of its nuclear program, known as Implementation Day.
On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publically endorsed the Iran Deal, but with conditions. In a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani, he said, “In the statements of the E.U. and American president, it must be clearly mentioned that these sanctions are completely canceled. If the sanctions stay, the deal will be void.” The Supreme Leader also added that the JCPOA “suffers from several ambiguities, and structural weaknesses.” Without closer oversight, the nuclear deal could cause “great damage to the present and future” of Iran.
Rouhani responded to the Supreme Leader’s concerns in a letter, thanking Khamenei for his “stamp of approval” and promising to fully implement the agreement. The president wrote, "The Supreme National Security Council will closely monitor the other party regarding fulfilling its commitments ... We will make appropriate decision for suitable reaction as well.”
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) wants to ramp up sanctions on Iran after it launched a ballistic missile test last week.
Iran and Russia helped Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s ground offensive make gains on the outskirts of Aleppo against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other rebel forces. This takes place two weeks after ground offensives were launched in the provinces of Hama, Homs, and Latakia.
Phillip Smyth, a researcher on Shiite groups at the University of Maryland, said, “It’s not only one of the largest open deployments [by Iran and its proxies during the war] but it has also involved one of the largest Iraq-focused Shia militia recruitment efforts for Syria in years.” This comes as no surprise since Aleppo is Syria’s second largest city and was once the commercial capital.
The ground offensive hasn’t happened without fatalities. Nader Hamid, a member of the Basij—a volunteer arm of the IRGC—died in a Syrian hospital of gunshot wounds. Last week, five members of the IRGC were also killed.
Tehran continues to deny Iranian forces are on the ground, even though reports have emerged there are thousands of troops in Syria—although many are non-Iranian Shiite fighters funneled in from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, “We have decided to increase the number of our military advisers in Syria to help the fight against terrorists. The number of officers and advisers is not important. What is important is an unwavering will to fight against terrorism.”
On the sidelines of the offensive, Iran and Russia are preforming military exercises in the Caspian Sea for 12 days. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak discussed new projects in Iran, which included building a railroad and upgrading power plants while visiting Tehran.
War of words
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran keep rising. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Tehran of acting like a “colonizing state” and meddling in the affairs of not only Syria, but Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. He also said Tehran’s backing of Al-Assad forces prevents it from playing a role in establishing peace, even though the Kingdom’s actions don’t indicate a desire for peace either as they currently back Syrian rebel forces. The Saudi foreign minister responded to the Supreme Leader’s threats from September over the stampede in Mecca, adding, “We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people.”
Tehran rejected Riyadh’s comments and pointed fingers at the Kingdom for destabilizing region. Adding fuel to the fire, Saudi Arabia still has not provided an explanation or final death toll almost a month after the Hajj stampede that killed over 2110 pilgrims. Of the thirty countries involved, Iran had the highest death toll with at least 464 dead.
Drill baby, drill!
Asian and European oil companies are currently in intense competition for the best oil and gas fields in Iran—even going as far as abandoning exploration and cutting spending elsewhere —all the while U.S. firms watch from the sidelines. U.S. sanctions on Iran prohibit American companies from investing in Iran—and the Treasury Department doesn’t mess around. French bank Credit Agricole SA recently agreed to pay $787 million in fines to U.S. regulators for violating Iran and Sudan sanctions.
At an oil and gas conference, Iran’s energy minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said Tehran could increase oil production to 500,000 bpd immediately after sanctions are lifted and after seven months return to a pre-sanctions output level. Tehran hopes to target an output of 5.7 million bpd in five years time, which would make it the second-largest producer in OPEC.
Tehran will start soliciting bids from oil companies at the beginning of the Iranian calendar year (end of March). Seyed Mehdi Hosseini, the chairman of Iran's Oil Contract Restructuring Committee, said Tehran intends to sign oilfield-development contracts within two years at the latest. He added, “We have flexibility in that contract to adjust. I don’t think any two contracts will be the same.”
Pack your bags
Iran is preparing for a ‘tsunami’ of tourists, according to the country’s Vice President Masoud Soltanifar. In 2014 alone, over 5 million tourists visited the country. Soltanifar—who also serves as chief of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization—says Iran hopes to host 20 million tourists annually by 2025. However, it still lacks sufficient accommodation and transportation for such numbers. The country is also in need of new passenger airplanes and spare parts. Sanctions have prevented their purchases over the decades.
Tehran has begun issuing 30-day visas to certain nationalities upon arrival. However, this doesn’t apply to businessmen/women, government officials, and journalists.
Shocking report on sex workers
Iran’s Ministry of Health recently published a controversial report citing that five percent of the country’s sex workers suffer from HIV. According to Dr. Minoo Mohraz, head of the Iranian Research Center for HIV/AIDS, the average Iranian female sex worker is between the age of 18-56 years old. She claimed that 58 percent of the women are divorcees or have at least one time engaged in sigeh, temporary marriage. Only 32 percent of the female prostitutes tested for HIV. Mohraz noted that 44 percent of the sex workers used condoms, while others were paid extra money not to wear them. “We will witness the increase in the number of AIDS patients if the problems regarding marriage are not resolved,” Mohraz warned. She added that in order to counter the growing problem, Tehran should build a clinic for vulnerable women to empower them and provide women with any array of healthcare services.
According to UNAIDS, there are between 51,000 to 110,000 people infected with HIV in Iran. With the highest number of drug users in the world, more than 60 percent of Iranians who are HIV positive contracted the disease through the use of intravenous drugs like heroine. 500 drug-addicted women living in Tehran work as prostitutes to get money to purchase drugs.
A spitting image, or not?
A monument was erected in honor of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for his hard work on the Iran Deal. Needless to say, Iranian social media had a field day poking fun at the bronze bust. Some even went as far as saying the new statue resembled Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union.
See a resemblance?
With Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s verdict announced last week, many questions remain about his future. Foreign Minister Zarif said Iran is making efforts to resolve Rezaian’s case from a "humanitarian perspective." On Monday, MP Javad Karimi-Qoddusi accused Rezaian of being in cohorts with the United States government and that under an Iran Deal, the reporter believed Tehran could be “toppled within 48 months.” That’s all it takes, really?
Rezaian isn’t the first dual national journalist to be imprisoned by Iran. Just last week, Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi was arrested. Others have also been intimidated, particularly journalists. Azadeh Moaveni argues hardliners fear the Iran Deal “will gradually erode support internally, among the government itself, for Iran’s aggressive posture in the region and its severe restrictions at home.” Imprisoning people like Rezaiain stops this from happening.
Former detained American hiker Sarah Shourd believes there’s a pattern to being arrested and tried in Iran. The pattern is as follows: illegal arrest, allegations of espionage, lengthy, high-profile imprisonment, show trial, conviction, then “humanitarian” release. According to Shourd, Rezaiain should be upon his release date soon.
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