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Presidential Election

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 20 May 2013
  • Posted By Conor Hughes
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Presidential Election, Uncategorized

When a Shark Stirs the Water for Iran’s Presidential Hopefuls

With the Guardian Council set to announce the final list of Iranian presidential candidates on Tuesday, after vetting a staggering amount of  hopefuls (686 to be exact), a few contenders have been making some prominent headway.

Prior to the registration deadline it seemed as if many Iranian voters were going to sit out these elections due to a lack of reformist candidates. Yet in the final minutes of the deadline, former president, and supposed reformist candidate Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani–referred to by some as “the Shark”–entered the fray. To add to the strange mix of events, President Ahmadinejad accompanied his right hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei at the last minute as well.

In the conservative camp, the so called 2+1 coalition made up of International Affairs advisor to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayeti, Tehran mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, and former parliament Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel have all thrown their weight in the mix.

What does all this mean for the June 14th election? For one thing, this truly shows that the Islamic Republic has domestic politics where contenders are vying for support in different camps. As one local Iranian analyst put it, “Conservatives had been very comfortable with their prospects before Rafsanjani entered the race,” yet now, “they face a major challenge, since they know his presence will attract voters to the ballot box, and likely not in their favor.”

Second, this election cycle is shaping up to be as contentious as ever, which is not what the Iranian leadership would have hoped for this time around.  Principlists have been highly critical of  Mashaei for his “deviant” view of Islam, and quick to discredit Rafsanjani for his support of the 2009 Green Movement. Some have even made claims that the 78-year-old Rafsanjani should be barred from the presidency on the count that he is too old to lead the country.

Yet even if Rafsanjani clears the vetting process, any president’s policies is going to be constrained by the Supreme leader’s ultimate approval, as well as an economic system in pieces from sanctions and government mismanagement. As the conservatives attempt to unify their candidates to one representative, it will be interesting to see if the Guardian Council approves of Rafsanjani’s bid, and if they do, will reformists rally around Rafsanjani or another candidate entirely.

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.

Iran News Roundup 01/04

Daylight between Romney and Santorum on war with Iran?

GOP candidate Mitt Romney, responding to Rick Santorum’s rhetoric regarding strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, said that he does not want to threaten any “specific action right now,” in regards to Iran, but endorses military options (Think Progress 01/03).

Santorum has said he would order airstrikes on Iran if the country was going to acquire nuclear weapons, but reasoned to Glen Beck that this was an effort to prevent war (Think Progress 01/04).

Meanwhile, IPS reports that President Obama believes the U.S. could distance itself from Israeli strikes on Iran (IPS 01/03).

And White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the latest threats made by Iran concerning naval operations in the Persian Gulf indicates that “Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” and “is isolated and seeking to divert attention from its domestic problems” (The Hill 01/03).

Nuclear rod will not bring Iran closer to nuclear capability

Experts say that Iran’s recent claim that it has developed and tested it’s first nuclear rod will not bring Iran any closer to having atomic bombs (Reuters 01/04).

Meanwhile, a Russian defense official, responding to a series of tests conducted by Ira near the Strait of Hormuz, said that Iran has no long-range missiles (AFP 01/03).

Iranian political activist’s message leaked

A well-known Iranian political activist, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, has recorded a video from inside Iran’s infamous Rajayishahr prison dismissing Iran’s repressive measures aimed at silencing dissent and predicts they will ultimately fail (Rferl 01/03).

Iran News Roundup 12/16

GOP candidates get fact checked for Iran claims at debate

Michelle Bachmann made the claim that the IAEA report proves that “Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that [nuclear] weapon.”  Fact checks from CNNThe Washington Post, and the New York Times said Bachmann got it wrong.

Mitt Romney accused President Obama of having said “pretty please” in order to have the American recently fallen drone returned and Rick Perry said the Obama should have used military  destroy of retrieve the drone.  But the New York Times says:

In fact, American military officials considered an operation to retrieve the drone but rejected it as too dangerous, since it would require a sizeable force traveling more than 200 miles into the country and likely facing a large Iranian protection force.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum repeated his very un-covert calls for “covert activities” against Iran. “We need to plan a strike against their facilities and say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you.” (New American 12/16).

Iran News Roundup 12/15

Broad Iran sanctions approved by the House

The House of Representatives approved central bank sanctions on Iran as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be sent to the President by the end of the week (Newsweek 12/15).

The House also approved two standalone Iran sanctions bills, H.R. 1905 and H.R.2105.  H.R.1905 eliminates the President’s humanitarian waiver to allow for parts and repairs of Iranian civilian airplanes, puts legal restrictions on contacts between U.S. and Iranian officials, and places sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. The bill must now go to the Senate for consideration, which is not expected until after the New Year (The Hill 12/14).

Reuters reports that Asian countries China, India, South Korea, and Japan are increasingly worried about oil in light of new Iran sanctions. (Reuters 12/15). China is looking to obtain discounted Iranian oil as the U.S. increases pressure on Iran. “Any restriction on oil supplies from Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, could drive up already high oil prices and threaten economies already facing the impact of the euro zone debt crisis.”

“This is an issue that could have a big impact on the global economy in terms of crude prices, so our nation will pay close attention to this with grave concern,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

Growing concern over the number of executions in iran

Amnesty International warned of “a new wave of drug offence executions”  in a report published yesterday. Public and secret hangings have increased in what has been called “a killing spree of staggering proportions” (Guardian 12/14).

War watch

On Tuesday former Vice-president Cheney advised the Obama administration to launch a “quick air strike” against Iran after it had captured the U.S. drone.  NIAC’s Trita Parsi says, “the Obama administration’s decision not to risk war by going in and destroying the drone reflects its desire to avoid catastrophic escalation” (Salon 12/12).

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, speaking to CNN, said he’d commit to a ground invasion to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon (Think Progress 12/14).

Revolutionary Guards commander Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali said Iran would move the uranium enrichment centers to safer locations if Iran were attacked (Reuters 12/14).

Additional Notable News:

State department official Frederick Hof toldCongress that Syrian president Assad’s hold on power will be short-lived despite the repression of protestors.

Iran News Roundup 12/14

How covert operations can spiral out of control

Barry Lando writes on the dangers of increasing covert operations against Iran. “Predictably, aggressive acts will provoke retaliation from Iran — a situation, which, in the context of America’s superheated presidential primaries, could spiral dangerously out of control. Which is just what militants in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington may be out to provoke” (Lando Huffington Post 12/13).

Increased sanctions and higher oil prices

The Obama administration and European allies are seeking assurance that Saudi Arabia will boost oil output in order to prevent higher oil prices and damage to the global economy because of sanctions (Los Angeles Times 12/13). Yet Iran’s oil minister, at an OPEC meeting, said Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi has agreed not to increase oil output to replace Iranian oil (Boston Globe 12/14).

Human rights

The U.S. placed sanctions on two top Iranian military figures for human rights violations in the wake of the June 2009 election: Lieutenant Commander of IRGC Ground Force Abdollah Agragi and Chief of Staff of the Joint Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Firouzabadi (AFP 12/13).

Nokia Siemens Networks announced that it would stop doing business with Iran–gradually reduce its existing commitments starting next year (Wall Street Journal 12/13). Nokia Siemens Networks came under fire in 2009 after providing the Iranian government with surveillance equipment used against peaceful protestors.

Mitt Romney on the M.E.K.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was asked whether he supported the removal of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations.

“I have not heard of the MEK, so I can’t possibly tell you whether I support the MEK. I’ll take a look at the issue,” said Romney. Romney’s special advisor on foreign policy, Mitchell Reiss, is an advocate for the group.

Notable opinion: 

In a Washington Post op-ed, Thomas Erdbrink discusses the growing fears and concern amongst ordinary Iranians regarding the possibility of war and the negative impact international sanctions are having on everyday lives.

Instead of sharing that sense of defiance, however, many ordinary Iranians are increasingly worried that war could be catastrophic.

As tension rises, many have started taking precautionary measures. Some are stocking up on basic goods. Others are changing their money into foreign currencies, or obtaining visas to move abroad.

Anxiety is also being fueled by the latest rounds of international sanctions against Iran. While Iranian officials continually say the country can cope with the growing limitations, average Iranians are faced with soaring prices and a plummeting exchange rate for their currency, the rial. It has lost 48 percent of its value against the dollar since 2008.

To read the full piece click here.

Additional Notable News:

Iran’s intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi met the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud to refute U.S. claims that Tehran planned to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, according to a senior Iranian official.

Iran News Roundup 12/9

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Drone update

The Washington Post reports that a video of the drone that went down earlier this week aired on Iranian state television. Officials deny that the drone could have been brought down by Iran’s military (Washington Post 12/8). Military hardware expert Peter Singer doubts the authenticity of the drone shown in the video (Guardian 12/8).

Suggestions of military action against Iran continues  

GOP presidential hopeful and frontrunner Gingrich calls for joint operations with Israel against Iran’s nuclear program if Israel chose to attack Iran, saying, “I would rather plan a joint operation conventionally than push the Israelis to a point where they [the Iranians] go nuclear.”(Think Progress 12/8). video of Wednesday’s Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) forum where republican candidates suggested military action against Iran’s nuclear program is now available (Think Progress 12/8).  

President Barack Obama reiterated that the United States is “considering all options” in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon (Reuters 12/8).

Reuters reports that everyday Iranians are increasingly concerned and fearful of the potential for war. Maryam Sofi, a university teacher a mother of two, says she “cannot sleep at night, thinking about destruction and bloodshed if Israel and America attack Iran.” (Reuters 12/8). According to a senior geopolitical risk analyst at Barclays Capitol, the chance of a military strike on Iran has roughly tripled in the past year (Reuters 12/8).

Imprisoned Iranian journalists

 The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the number of imprisoned journalists worldwide has risen up 20% with Iran being the worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars (CPJ 12/8).  Other independent journalists contest that the real figure is nearly double.

Notable Opinion:

 In a Huffington Post op-ed Robert Naiman discusses how The National Defense Authorization Act, blocking European banks and companies from doing business with Iran’s Central Bank, would raise oil prices and weaken the U.S. economy.

This is a big deal, because Iran is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, and blocking Iranian oil exports to Europe would raise the price of oil, in Europe and in the United States.

Kirk’s amendment would hurt the U.S. economy, at a time when economic contraction in Europe could push the U.S. back into recession.

Raising the price of oil will hurt the U.S. economy directly. In addition, hurting the European economy will also hurt the U.S. economy by causing U.S. exports to Europe to fall. Furthermore, adding to Europe’s economic problems now would undermine attempts to contain the European financial crisis, as the trader’s joke about sanctions helping Italy, Spain and Greece to collapse suggests. And if efforts to contain Europe’s financial crisis fail, we’re going to feel that pain in the U.S., just as Europe felt the 2008 U.S. financial crisis.

To read the full piece click here.

Additional Notable News:

Farideh Farhi writes that the spin that never materialized in the IAEA report, and the rising pressure on Iran, has diminished political space in Iran in favor of hardliners, particularly regarding the the nuclear program and Iran’s stance towards the U.S.

Shirin Ebadi and Hadi Ghaemi write in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. and EU should press European satellite providers to halt broadcasting services for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting in retaliation for Iran’s signal jamming of outside broadcasts.

Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, currently under house arrest, met with his family over the weekend.

Iran News Roundup 12/8

Presidential candidates continue war rhetoric

Republican presidential candidates continued their war rhetoric towards Iran on Wednesday (Reuters 12/7). Front running candidate Mitt Romney said that “covert and overt” actions are needed to pressure Iran.  Candidate Jon Huntsman added that “you have to have all options on the table.” Presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman said “the Pentagon must prepare a war plan.”

Stephen Walts argues against any covert or overt actions against Iran based on four grounds: the risk of undesirable escalation, the overestimation of the nuclear threat, the inevitable risk of “blowback,” and the reaffirmation of deep suspicions between the United States and Iran (Walts Foreign Policy 12/7). 

Sanctions watch

The Washington Post reports that AIPAC has endorsed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank despite concerns that the sanctions would raise oil prices and benefit Iran financially (Washington Post 12/7). Platts reports that Iran may divert petrochemical cargoes meant for Europe to Asia if new sanctions are imposed by the European Union (Platts 12/7).

 Jayshree Bajoria details expert opinion on how increased sanctions would weaken European economies, shrink global oil supplies and raise prices, and do little to divert Iran’s nuclear ambitions (Bajoria Huffington Post 12/7).

M.E.K. status update

Republican legislators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to remove M.E.K. from its list of terrorist organization (NY Times 12/7).

Fallen drone

According to a Washington Post article, the fallen drone incident highlights a growing covert strategy against Iran (Washington Post 12/7).  Iran’s PressTV broadcast the first images of the fallen drone.  U.S. officials say they doubt Iran can make use of the drone (AFP 12/7).

Notable Opinion:

In a Guardian op-ed, Seumas Milne says that an attack on Iran would turn a regional “maelstorm into a global firestorm.”

Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the US and US Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.

All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, said last week it would be a “catastrophe”. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that it could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret”.

To read the full piece click here.

Iran News Roundup 11/17

Top Story

Action on Iran at the UN: With the IAEA Board of Governors meeting today, the Washington Post is reporting that China and Russia have agreed to sign on to a resolution condemning Iran, over the IAEA’s most recent report that will not include the harsher language that the U.S. had sought (Washington Post 11/17). Additionally, IAEA director Amano is saying he wants a high-level mission to go to Iran to investigate questions raised in the IAEA report(NY Times 11/17). For its part, Iran has announced that it is going to send an “analytical” response to the IAEA over the allegations posed in their report (AFP 11/16).

Meanwhile, the Saudis are pushing the U.N. to adopt a resolution denouncing the alleged Iranian assassination plot against their Ambassador to the U.S  (Washington Post 11/16). In response, Iran has issued a letter to the U.N. calling the resolution “politically motivated” and saying, that if passed, it would undermine the credibility of the body. (Iran Primer USIP 11/17)

Noteworthy Opinion

MJ Rosen writes in the Huffington Post that Rep. Brad Sherman’s “Iranian plane crash provision” in the House sanctions bill explicitly targets ordinary Iranians and is endemic of a sanctions policy that makes little sense.

Death in the Air: House Bill Bans Fixing Iranian Civilian Aircraft:

No doubt Brad Sherman will hold forth about the merits of his legislation that will ensure that Iran’s civilian air fleet is the most dangerous in the world. And he will be cheered. If we are lucky, Howard Berman will respond that one can sanction Iran without crashing its planes, but perhaps not. He rarely, if ever, deviates from the AIPAC line either.

The bottom line is that our Iran policy is nuts, and not just Brad Sherman’s either. Our sanctions policy in general makes little, if any distinction, between targeting the Iranian regime and targeting Iran’s people. Although most supporters of sanctions have not specifically gone after civilians, as Sherman does, few seem to care that it is civilians and not the mullahs or the Revolutionary Guard, who suffer because of them.

Read more at Huffington Post

Additional Notable News:

Mark Fizpatrick of IISS tells Haaretz that Netanyahu is more likely to tell Obama “I’m not asking for a green light, I’m just telling you” that Israel is striking Iran, and that  the Obama Administration would have little recourse in midst of the election season.

Obama is taking a “gradualist” approach on Iran, according to Leon Hadar Huffington Post op-ed, that takes non-military steps to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but that could still lead U.S. to war.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a public appearance in Canada that he is “not very optimistic“ about prospects of U.N. passing strong sanctions against Iran.

Iran’s High Council for Human Rights Mohamad Javad Larijani says in CNN interview that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, and regarding reformist leaders, that “no one is currently under house arrest without trial or judicial order.”