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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.

Iran News Roundup 01/10


Hooman Majd, Vali Nasr, Bret Stephens, and Hillary Mann Leverett discuss the effects of sanctions, the probability of negotiations, and the likelihood of war on Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Chinese foreign minister rejects Iran sanctions as Europe and Japan move forward

China’s vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai, responsible for U.S. relations, repudiated the idea of sanctioning Iranian oil. “The normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue,” he stated.  Cui rejected the argument that normal business dealings with the Iranian government financially supports Iran’s nuclear program. “According to this logic, if the Iranians have enough money to feed their population, then they have the ability to develop nuclear programs,” Cui told reporters. “If that is the case, should we also deny Iran the opportunity to feed its population?” (Washington Post 01/09).

These comments coincide with U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s trip to Asia seeking support from China and Japan for boosting financial pressure on Iran (WSJ 01/09). Meanwhile, Europe and Japan have moved ahead in planning for cuts in Iranian oil imports. Japan has asked Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help it make up any shortfall in case it joins the international embargo on Iranian oil (Reuters 01/10).

Iran begins uranium enrichment at Fordow site

On Monday, Iran confirmed the start of uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear plant near Qom (Huffington Post 01/09).

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, in a daily press briefing, said enrichment at the Fordow nuclear plant constitutes a “further escalation” of Iranian violations of international obligations (Christian Science Monitor 01/09).

Germany and Britain also criticized Iran’s decision. UK foreign secretary William Hague said that “If Iran has nothing to hide, it should seek every opportunity to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions.” Germany’s foreign ministry described Iran’s decision as a “further escalation.”  (Financial Times 01/09) 

Iran reiterated, however, that all activities at the Fordow site are under the permanent supervision of the IAEA. Fordow “was declared more than two years ago and since then the agency has continuously monitored all the activities,” said Iran’s delegate to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh. “Every step we have taken so far and will take in the future has been and will be under IAEA containment and surveillance” (Business Week 01/10). Soltanieh also said that Western reactions to the news have “political purposes” (Reuters 01/10). 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his tour of Latin America, dismissed allegations that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon (Huffington Post 01/10).

Meanwhile, oil prices have risen to around $113 a barrel as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program increase (Reuters 01/10).

State Department condemns U.S. national’s death sentence

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned Amir Hekmati’s death sentence handed down by Iran’s Revolutionary Court. “Allegations that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are simply untrue,” said Nuland said (Think Progress 01/09).

A website has been launched in support of Amir Hekmati by his family.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has called on Iran’s Judiciary to reverse Hekmati’s death sentence.

Santorum claims principle motivation of Iran is martyrdom

GOP candidate Rick Santorum made several contested statements about Iran.  In a contention disputed by most experts, he said that Iran’s leadership is inherently irrational and suicidal, which is encouragement for Iran to use a nuclear weapon (Think Progress 01/09).  Santorum also said that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not start a war (Thinking Progress 01/10).

Iran News Roundup 01/03

Iran proposes new nuclear negotiations

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has proposed a new round of talks with the P5+1 nations concerning its nuclear program (Guardian 12/31). Salehi said that Iran is prepared to reenter negotiations based upon the “step by step” plan proposed by Russia in July.

A EU foreign policy spokesman said The European Union is open to talks with Iran provided there are no preconditions (Jerusalem Post 12/31).

This comes as Iran announces it has produced its first domestically-made nuclear fuel rod and inserted it into the Tehran Research Reactor, which is used for medical purposes (NY Times 01/01).

President signs new Iran sanctions into law

On Saturday, president Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA), which includes a measure targeting Iran’s central bank and financial sector (AFP 01/01).

In the president’s signing statement, he notes that the [Iran sanctions] section “1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.”

Political analysts said that Washington hopes these sanctions will push foreign banks to change their behavior before the U.S. is required to freeze them from the U.S. financial markets (Reuters 01/02).

Reuters provides a detailed list of sanctions on Iran by the European Union, the United States and the United Nations over the last thirty years(Reuters 01/02).

Greece open to Iran sanctions

A Greek official has stated that if the EU decides to impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, Greece will join and not break ranks with its European Union partners (Reuters 01/03).

Meanwhile, Oil prices jumped to over $101 a barrel amid concerns over crude oil disruptions (Bloomberg 01/03).

Upcoming parliamentary elections a challenge for Iran hardliners

The New York Times reports on how a boycott by reformers and dire economic circumstances may undermine Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections, posing a challenge to Iran’s conservative Islamic establishment (NY Times 01/02).

Iran News Roundup 12/22

Iran’s currency troubles

The Financial Times reports that Iran’s currency has dropped almost 10 percent in recent days, a record low against the U.S. dollar.  While sanctions and economic mismanagement are likely culprits, some Iranian media have accused Ahamdinejad’s government of “engineering a deliberate devaluation to boost the rial value of its oil income in the final months of the fiscal year” to attempt to reduce the budget deficit, which some say could be as high as 7% of GDP (Financial Times 12/21).

Do GOP voters prefer diplomacy over war?

In an op-ed, Scott Clement writes that, although Republican voters see Iran as a threat, more than six in 10 pick “economic and diplomatic efforts” as the best Iran policy rather than military options (Washington Post 12/21).

Ambassador Rice discusses Iran’s nuclear program and diplomacy 

U.S. Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear program during a U.N. Security Council briefing, specifically about the possibility of secret underground enrichment facilities in Iran. In her assessment, the Security Council “must redouble its efforts to implement the sanctions already imposed,” barring weapons and nuclear-related business with Iran in order to buy “more time to resolve this crisis through diplomatic means” (Think Progress 12/21).

Rice also noted, “[S]anctions are only a means to an end. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that Iran enters into full compliance with all its international nuclear obligations and takes the steps necessary to resolve outstanding questions” (State Department 12/21).

Iran News Roundup 12/21

Iran’s currency tumbles

On Tuesday, Iran’s currency plummeted in value to its lowest level ever against the dollar (NY Times 12/20).

The Washington Post reports that the sudden drop followed the announcement by Iranian officials that Iran had cut trade ties with the UAE because of “anti-Iranian positions.” After Tuesday’s plunge, Iranian Vice President Rahimi backtracked on these statements, saying that the UAE had simply been “warned” not to go along with sanctions proposed by the U.S (Washington Post 12/20).

DOD walks back Panetta’s recent comments on Iran

 Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that Iran could have a nuclear weapon as soon as next year. Pentagon officials clarified that this assertion is based on a highly aggressive timeline and actions that Iran has not yet taken (NY Times 12/20).

Camp Ashraf closure delayed

Iraqi’s prime minister Malaki said today that he has granted a six-month extension to the December 31st deadline (Salon 12/21).

American officials had expressed fears that MEK leadership may order the massacre of camp residents, rather than allow a peaceful disbandment of Camp Ashraf.  The Christian Science Monitor interviewed recent MEK defectors who say that further dramatic acts may occur as the deadline quickly approaches. Shahram Heydari, who left Camp Ashraf two months ago, said that “It’s clear to me, [MEK leadership] wants people to get killed, and send it to the media,” in order to keep the camp open.  Although several high-ranking U.S. officials have been paid by the MEK to make its case to get the MEK off the US terror list, family members of those inside the camp have held protests asking for the release of their children, whom they say are imprisoned in the camp (Christian Science Monitor 12/20).

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 12/9

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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.