Eye on Iran: Iran Vows to Pursue Missile Program Despite New U.S. Sanctions

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Reuters: "Iran will pursue its development of ballistic missiles despite the U.S. blacklisting of more Iranian companies linked to the program, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said on Monday. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired several ballistic missiles this month, drawing condemnation from Western leaders who believe the tests violate a United Nations resolution. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted on Thursday two Iranian companies, cutting them off from international finance over their connection to the missile program. Washington had imposed similar sanctions on 11 businesses and individuals in January over a missile test carried out by the IRGC in October 2015. 'Even if they build a wall around Iran, our missile program will not stop,' Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC's aerospace arm, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. 'They are trying to frighten our officials with sanctions and invasion. This fear is our biggest threat.' U.S. officials said Iran's missile test would violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to conduct 'any activity' related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons... President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic conservative, said on Sunday that boosting Iran's defense capabilities is a 'strategic policy' though Iran should take care not to provoke its enemies." http://t.uani.com/1RnwWy8

WSJ: "The Obama administration on Thursday imposed new sanctions against Iranian defense firms and units of Tehran's elite Revolutionary Guard, for their alleged role in supporting their country's recent ballistic-missile launches. The Treasury Department also blacklisted firms in the U.K. and United Arab Emirates for allegedly serving as business fronts for Iran's Mahan Air, which was sanctioned in 2011 for facilitating the movement of arms for the Revolutionary Guard. The Obama administration's moves came as it faces increasing pressure from Congress to press back against Iran for the missile tests and disruptive regional activities, despite the nuclear accord reached last July between Tehran and global powers. Iran has conducted a string of ballistic-missile tests in recent weeks that U.S. officials said may have violated a United Nations Security Council Resolution. Iranian officials say the missiles are defensive, aren't part of a nuclear program and are legal. Tehran has also continued to provide arms and other military support to the Assad regime in Syria. 'We will continue to use all of our tools to counteract Iran's ballistic missile program and support for terrorism, including through sanctions,' acting Undersecretary of the Treasury Adam Szubin said on Thursday. Thursday's sanctions targeted firms that have allegedly aided Mahan Air in conducting business across Europe and the Middle East. Treasury has accused Mahan of regularly ferrying supplies into Syria on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard. 'Mahan Air regularly uses the same aircraft it flies to Syria to fly commercial routes to international destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia,' Treasury said." http://t.uani.com/1RFrRNg

AP: "The Obama administration is leaving the door open to new sanctions relief for Iran, including possibly long-forbidden access to the U.S. financial market, prompting increased concern from Republican opponents of last year's nuclear deal. Rep. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, expressed alarm in a letter this week to the president that the U.S. could grant Iranian businesses the ability to conduct transactions in dollars within the United States or through offshore banks. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he is 'deeply troubled' by the possibility. The concession would go a long way to meet Iran's complaints that it hasn't been sufficiently rewarded by the West for taking thousands of uranium-spinning centrifuges offline, exporting its stockpile of the bomb-making material and disabling a facility that would have been able to produce weapons-grade plutonium. But critics of the Iran deal say the action would break pledges the administration made while selling the seven-nation agreement last summer. Asked if such a move was being considered, the Treasury Department told The Associated Press in an emailed statement: 'We will continue to analyze the sanctions lifting and its effects.' ... Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress after the July accord that Iran would still be 'denied access to the world's largest financial and commercial market.' 'Iran will not be able to open bank accounts with U.S. banks, nor will Iran be able to access the U.S. banking sector,' Adam Szubin, the department's sanctions chief, told a House panel at the time. He said that would hold true even for simple transactions to 'dollarize' a foreign payment. But asked specifically about that commitment earlier this week, Lew allowed for future U.S. action to 'make sure Iran gets relief.' At home and abroad, critics of President Barack Obama's outreach to Iran fear the administration is backtracking on its promises to only end 'nuclear-related' sanctions on Iran, not those related to the Islamic Republic's terrorism and human rights records." http://t.uani.com/1PABcob

U.S.-Iran Relations

NYT: "The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed an indictment against seven computer specialists who regularly worked for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, charging that they carried out cyberattacks on dozens of American banks and tried to take over the controls of a small dam in a suburb of New York. The indictment, while long expected, represents the first time the Obama administration had sought action against Iranians for a wave of computer attacks on the United States that began in 2011 and proceeded for more than a year, paralyzing some banks and freezing customers out of online banking. The indictment stops short of charging that the attacks were directed by the Revolutionary Guards, a branch of the Iranian military. But it referred to the seven Iranians as 'experienced computer hackers' who 'performed work on behalf of the Iranian government, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.' Nothing in the indictment addresses the motives for the attacks. But intelligence experts have long speculated that the cyberactions directed at roughly four dozen financial institutions - including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One and PNC Bank - were intended to be retaliation for an American-led cyberattack on Iran's main nuclear enrichment plant. That attack, which employed the so-called Stuxnet virus, was revealed in 2010... But the case of the Bowman Dam in Rye, N.Y., was entirely different: It appeared to be an effort to take over the dam itself. The attempt failed because the dam was under repair and offline, but in some ways it worried American investigators more because it was aimed at seizing control of a piece of infrastructure." http://t.uani.com/22Hzhv5

AP: "The indictment charging seven Iranian hackers with attacking dozens of banks and a small dam near New York City is part of a strategy to name and shame foreign governments that support such attacks, the Justice Department's top national security official said Friday... U.S. officials say the strategy known colloquially as 'name and shame,' in place since 2012... The most recent case, announced Thursday, accuses Tehran-linked hackers of reaching into the U.S. infrastructure and disrupting its financial system. It was the first time the FBI attributed a breach of a U.S. computer system that controls critical infrastructure to a hacker linked to a foreign government. The intrusions between 2011 and 2013 targeted 46 victims, disabling bank websites and interfering with customers' ability to do online banking, the indictment states. The entire coordinated campaign occurred sporadically over 176 days and cost the institutions tens of millions of dollars in remediation costs; no customers lost money or had their personal information stolen. The hackers worked for two Iranian computer companies linked to the Iranian government, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S. said. Charges include violating U.S. laws on computer hacking and gaining unauthorized access to a protected computer." http://t.uani.com/1ZGrpo4

Bloomberg: "Iran brushed aside cyber-attack charges brought against seven of its citizens by U.S. prosecutors, accusing Washington of putting millions of Iranians in danger with its own attacks on Iran's nuclear program. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, told reporters that the U.S. 'is not in any position to charge citizens of other countries, not least Iran's, without providing any documentary evidence,' according to the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency on Saturday... 'Iran has never had dangerous actions in cyberspace on its agenda nor has it ever supported such actions,' Jaberi Ansari said, adding that the U.S. was behind a series of cyber-attacks on Iran's nuclear program that put 'the lives of millions of innocent people' at risk of an environment disaster." http://t.uani.com/1LUeeOg

Free Beacon: "Leading foreign policy voices in Congress say they are preparing to fight against an Obama administration effort to provide Iran unprecedented access to U.S. financial resources as part of an expanded package meant to address new demands from the Islamic Republic's for greater economic concessions, according to several conversations between the Washington Free Beacon and top lawmakers. The Obama administration is currently exploring new options to grant Iran more sanctions relief than promised under the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached last year, just days after Iran's Supreme Leader gave a speech accusing the United States of interfering with Iranian banking. Top foreign policy voices in Congress told the Free Beacon in recent days that they are exploring a range of responses if the Obama administration goes through with reported plans to grant Iran further concessions beyond the purview of the nuclear deal, which dismantled key nuclear-related U.S. sanctions against Iran. At least part of this action could violate current U.S. laws, they said... 'Any administration effort to get foreign financial institutions or foreign-based clearing houses to enable Iran's terror-sponsoring regime to conduct transactions in U.S. dollars ignores American laws and the Financial Action Task Force,' Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) told the Free Beacon. 'Such an effort would benefit Iran's terror financiers while fundamentally undermining the USA PATRIOT ACT 311 finding that Iran's entire financial sector is a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern,' Kirk said. It would also undermine 'the Financial Action Task Force's ongoing calls for international countermeasures to protect financial sectors from Iran's terrorist financing,' explained Kirk, who is backing a new effort in Congress to increase sanctions on Iran as a result of its recent ballistic missile tests, which violate United Nations resolutions. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that the Obama administration's latest move could set the stage for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, to gain a foothold in the U.S. economy." http://t.uani.com/1PACu2E

Sanctions Relief

Reuters: "French oil and gas firm Total has signed a confidential agreement with Tehran to develop Iran's South Azadegan oil field which it shares with Iraq, state-run Press TV reported on Thursday, quoting Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh. The parties have agreed to keep the articles of the accord confidential, the report said, adding Total was 'studying its participation in the (development of) the oil field,' one of Iran's largest." http://t.uani.com/1pUjyaI

Reuters: "Pakistan and Iran aim to increase annual trade volumes between the two countries to $5 billion by 2021, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday. Sharif spoke at a business conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who arrived in Islamabad on Friday for two-day talks focused on increasing Pakistan's electricity imports from Iran, boosting trade relations and reviving plans for a gas pipeline between the two countries. 'In the five years strategic action plan signed yesterday we have aimed at boosting our bilateral trade to the level of US Dollars five billion by 2021,' Sharif said. 'More land routes for trade on our border, trade exhibitions, industrial and agricultural cooperation and mutual recognition of standards will boost trade.' Trade between Pakistan and Iran fell to $432 million in 2010-11 from $1.32 billion in 2008-09, according to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, after western powers imposed sanctions on Tehran aimed at halting a nuclear program they suspected was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb." http://t.uani.com/1XY6wUa

Syria Conflict

Reuters: "The presidents of Russia and Iran agreed on Monday to step up bilateral contacts, including over the Syrian conflict, in which both countries are allies of President Bashar al-Assad... The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani had exchanged views on the conflict and a range of other topical issues during a telephone call. It gave no further details. Rouhani was quoted as saying cooperation and coordination between Tehran and Moscow were essential for peace in Syria. 'During the ceasefire, the political talks (among Syrian groups) should be accelerated but this should not halt the fighting against terrorists in Syria,' Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted the president as saying. Both the Kremlin and the secretary of the Iranian National Security Council (NSC) have congratulated Assad on the success of his forces in recapturing the desert city of Palmyra from Islamic State militants. 'The Iranian government and armed forces will continue their full support of Syria and the Axis of Resistance,' NSC Secretary Ali Shamkhani was quoted as saying. Iran refers to the regional anti-Israel alliance as the 'axis of resistance.'" http://t.uani.com/1pUjQOX

Regional Destabilization

AFP: "Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Sunday that Iran must change its 'behaviour' towards his country if it wants normal ties with the oil-rich Sunni kingdom. Jubeir, speaking at a joint news conference with his South African counterpart, said Riyadh 'wants to have peaceful relations' with Tehran and that it had tried to forge closer ties with Iran for more than three decades but 'in exchange we received nothing'. Instead of 'relations and friendship' with Iran, Saudi Arabia has been 'confronted with interferences in our domestic affairs... attacks against our embassy,' he said. Saudi Arabia severed all links with the Islamic republic of Iran in January after crowds attacked the kingdom's embassy in Tehran and a consulate in second city Mashhad... Jubeir said Iran 'knows what to do to have normal relations with Saudi Araba and the rest of the Islamic world and that is to change its behaviour... and the door will be open for normal relations.'" http://t.uani.com/1MML9zc

Human Rights

ICHRI: "Details of torture inflicted upon twelve Baha'is by interrogators three years ago at Amir Abad prison and detention centers in Iran's Golestan Province-and the Iranian Judiciary's complete lack of any response to the formal letter of complaint that was sent in 2012 by the victims of that torture to the head of the Judiciary of Golestan Province, were recently revealed to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. A copy of the six-page, typed, formal letter of complaint was obtained by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. It was written and signed by twelve Baha'is who were arrested on October 17, 2012, and sent directly to the Prosecutor General of Golestan Province after the twelve were released on bail, following detainments that ranged from 11 to 45 days." http://t.uani.com/1oguDRG

IHR: "Iranian Supreme Court judges have reportedly ordered the removal of the eye of a 28-year-old man who has only been identified as Saman. The blinding punishment is part of a retribution sentence issued by the Supreme Court to Saman for allegedly blinding another man during a street fight. According to a report by Shahrvand, an Iranian daily newspaper, Saman was 23 years old at the time he was allegedly involved in a physical altercation with Jalal, who was 25 years old at the time. During his interrogations, Saman reportedly claimed that he had unintentionally blinded Jalal with a metal rod." http://t.uani.com/1RFdjNJ

Journalism Is Not a Crime: "An Iranian appeals court has sentenced the prominent television producer and writer Mostafa Azizi to two years in prison, reducing his initial sentence of eight years, according to his son. Mostafa Azizi, a Canadian resident, was arrested in February 2015 while visiting his family in Iran. He was convicted of several offenses for exercising his right to freedom of expression, including posting on social media. In June 2015, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Azizi to eight years in prison on charges of 'collusion against national security,' 'insulting the Supreme Leader' and 'spreading propaganda against the system.' Before his trial took place, he spent a month in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin Prison, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards, where he was harshly interrogated and given no access to his family or a lawyer. He was then transferred to Evin's communal Ward 8." http://t.uani.com/1UpAouk

Domestic Politics

Bloomberg: "A powerful supervisory council in Iran has disqualified a newly-elected female member of parliament, throwing down an unprecedented challenge to moderate President Hassan Rouhani. The conservative Guardian Council ruled that Minoo Khaleghi couldn't take her seat less than a month after she and other allies of Rouhani had made significant gains in parliamentary elections. It was the first time the council, which vets prospective candidates as well as proposed legislation, had made such a move after an election. The council didn't give a reason for ruling out Khaleghi, who received the third-highest vote among the five lawmakers elected from the central district of Isfahan, the state-run Mehr news agency cited Isfahan Governor Rasoul Zargarpour as saying on Wednesday. The dispute over Khaleghi is the first big test for Rouhani since an alliance of so-called reformist and moderate lawmakers supportive of his agenda to reintegrate Iran into the world economy edged out conservatives as the largest bloc in the 290-seat parliament. 'It's not surprising that the first victim is a woman,' said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. 'It's a convenient way to demonstrate that the old guard still stands.'" http://t.uani.com/1UX2fB0

ICHRI: "The reformist MP Minoo Khaleghi, newly elected to Parliament from the city of Isfahan and one of 14 women who ran successfully in Iran's recent elections, has been disqualified by the Guardian Council. No reason has been given for Khaleghi's disqualification, and the disqualification of a candidate after being vetted, allowed to run, and elected is extremely rare, although not unprecedented in Iran. 'What hardliners couldn't achieve through the ballot box, they're trying to achieve through post-election maneuvering,' said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. 'The Guardian Council abused their power to vet candidates by disqualifying the vast majority of reformist candidates. And when reformists still scored impressive gains, they abuse it again by negating those gains after-the-fact,' Ghaemi added. Reformists have called on President Hassan Rouhani to prevent this move by hardliners to block their candidates from serving even after they are elected." http://t.uani.com/1RnzRXs

Foreign Affairs

AP: "Iran's Hassan Rouhani arrived Friday in Pakistan on a landmark visit, his first since becoming president, at a time when Saudi Arabia is courting Islamabad to increase participation in a new Saudi-led military alliance of mostly Sunni nations, a coalition perceived by Tehran as an anti-Shiite block. In a televised statement following meetings between Rouhani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the two leaders said they wanted to forge a relationship built on economic development and shared interests. Inside the prime minister's residence in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the two leaders announced the signing of several memorandums of understanding in fields such as health, diplomatic training, trade and commerce. They also announced the opening of two additional border crossings between the two nations. Speaking through an interpreter, Rouhani said Pakistan's security was as important to Iran as its own. He said terrorism is a scourge both countries face." http://t.uani.com/22U6ccp

Independent: "The Prince of Wales is expected to visit Iran, in what will be the first official royal trip to the country for more than 40 years.  The Foreign Office and Clarence house are in talks with the authorities in Tehran about arranging a tour for Prince Charles this autumn, a royal source told The Sunday Times... It is hoped that Prince Charles' trip will help to boost trade and commercial links between the two countries, as well as marking a significant change in Anglo-Iranian relations. A Clarence House spokesman said: 'The autumn tour is not confirmed.' But the newspaper source was quoted as saying: 'The prince is very keen to visit Iran. He hopes he would be able to use his role as a diplomat to further encourage the relationship and dialogue between the two countries.' ... Should the trip go ahead, he hopes to meet President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian business leaders, as well as visiting ancient cities such as Isfaham and Shiraz." http://t.uani.com/1WSI3PJ   

Opinion & Analysis

Zalmay Khalilzad in WSJ: "The conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., seems to be that Iraq is hopelessly lost to Iran. The best that the U.S. can do, this view suggests, is to destroy Islamic State there and develop a special relationship with an independent or semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan. Washington should do those things. But it also should not abandon the rest of Iraq. Based on recent meetings in Baghdad with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, I believe that the country is not lost. It's true that Iran has considerable influence in Iraq. The total withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011 created a vacuum that Iran and its regional rivals tried to fill, pulling the country apart. The disintegration of the Iraqi army and the rise of Shiite militias to combat Islamic State, also known as ISIS, increased Iranian influence further. Yet many Iraqi Shiite leaders are growing disillusioned with Iran and want to strengthen ties with the U.S. First, although Iran's security support was useful in halting the initial advance of ISIS, it has been insufficient to retake major territory. The limited effectiveness was evident in the stalled offensive to recover Tikrit and the militias' failure to hold Baiji on their own. In both cases it was American advice and focused U.S. air power that allowed the Iraqis to achieve their objectives last spring and summer. In the eastern province of Diyala, deadly ISIS attacks are continual reminders of the cost of putting Iran's proxies in charge of a battleground. In January the Iranian-backed Shiite militias of the Badr Organization claimed victory in the province without U.S. support, but it is far from being ISIS-free today. Second, Iraqi leaders fear that the militias will outlive their useful role against ISIS and become parties to, or instruments in, a Shiite civil war. Some of the more extreme leaders, like Moqtada al-Sadr, are trying to ride on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with poor governance and the slow pace of reform in Baghdad. Tensions among Iraqi Shiite groups are overall on the rise, as are the risks of a direct confrontation and violent clashes between Mr. Sadr and the Iraqi government. The resurgent threat he poses is an added reason for many Shiite leaders to look for more U.S. support. Third, there is strong resentment over Iranian heavy-handedness and disrespect for Iraqi sovereignty. I heard complaints that Qasim Suleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, attends classified security meetings in Baghdad without a visa or announcement. In November, Iran sent half a million people, not all of them innocent pilgrims, across the border without proper documents. There are hard-line Iraqi Shiites-like Mr. Sadr and several pro-Iranian militia groups, such as the Asiaeb Al Haq-who want no or minimal relations with the U.S. But a majority, in my view, want good relations with both Iran and America. These include Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, and the prime minister. I even met a few who are hostile to Iran and very friendly to the U.S. To make the most of this opportunity for increased U.S.-Iraq relations, here are a few things that Washington should do." http://t.uani.com/22Hy5b5

Abdullah Al-Saud in WSJ: "There was something different about the Saudi monarch on the evening of March 26, 2015. I was at a family dinner attended by King Salman. On this particular night, he seemed distracted and burdened. He left the dinner early without saying his usual good byes. When I woke the next morning, I began to understand what was weighing on King Salman: Saudi Arabia and its allies had launched 'Operation Decisive Storm,' a military campaign to restore stability to Yemen, a country in chaos on our southern border. The action was urgently requested by Yemen's President Abd-Rabu Mansur Hadi, after Iranian-backed Houthi militias occupied most of the country, including its capital, San'a. As we approach the cease-fire and peace negotiations scheduled for next month, and the April 21 Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, which President Obama will attend, it is worth reviewing events since Operation Decisive Storm began one year ago... When the capital fell to the Houthis in December 2014, flights between Tehran and San'a quadrupled overnight, some of which carried weapons and military advisers to support the Houthis. Pushing farther south in 2015, the Houthis were at the doorstep of the port city of Aden, the last remaining bastion of legitimacy in Yemen, where the government and many embassies had relocated after the takeover of San'a. Something had to be done. Saudi Arabia shares a border with Yemen that stretches for almost 1,000 miles. The events in Yemen had become a direct threat to Saudi Arabia's national security. Our neighbor was almost completely controlled by a militia influenced and supported by Iran, an internationally recognized state sponsor of terrorism. This armed militia on the border was in control of ballistic missiles and an air force." http://t.uani.com/21P8lDS

Mark Dubowitz & Jonathan Schanzer in WSJ: "The bruising battle between the president and Congress surrounding the Iran nuclear deal is over. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, despite its many troubling flaws, is already being implemented. Yet now another nasty battle is brewing. Even as Washington prepared to release an estimated $100 billion in restricted Iranian oil assets and paved the way for Tehran to regain access to the Swift network (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication)-allowing it to transfer funds across the global electronic banking system-the Obama administration vowed that the Islamic Republic would never get the ultimate prize: access to the U.S. financial system or dollar transactions... The Europeans are permitting Iranian banks to rejoin Swift. That's their decision. But until Congress can get the intelligence community to verify that Iranian banks have stopped financing terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas-not to mention money laundering and other financial crimes-you can bet that Congress will oppose Iran's access to the U.S. financial system." http://t.uani.com/1URpSw7