Eye on Iran: Amazon Discloses Iranian Business Ties, Warns of Penalties

TOP STORIES 

Amazon Discloses Iranian Business Ties, Warns of Penalties | Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc. on Friday disclosed Iranian business ties that may have violated U.S. sanctions, warning that it may be penalized after a regulatory review of the activities. The company said in a regulatory filing that from 2012 to 2016 it "processed and delivered orders of consumer products for certain individuals and entities located outside Iran covered by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (ITRA)"... Amazon said Friday it sold a variety of consumer products to individuals and unspecified groups controlled or owned by the Iranian government. The goods ranged from apparel to software to pet products and cost $50 to about $2,400, according to the filing. Amazon said it doesn't plan to sell to these accounts in the future.

Trump Administration Committed to Upholding Iran Deal, EU Official Says | Wall Street Journal

Senior U.S. officials have given assurances to the European Union that the Trump administration is committed to the Iranian nuclear deal, the bloc's foreign-policy chief said Friday. The EU's high representative in charge of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, speaking to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior administration officials on Thursday, said the officials told her they would uphold the nuclear deal... Ms. Mogherini, who also met with Mr. Flynn and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, said the accord isn't a bilateral or multilateral agreement but "belongs to the international community as a whole." "For me it was extremely important to stress the need to stick to the full implementation of the nuclear deal as we see is happening now," she said. "The deal is working." The State Department declined to provide a readout of the meeting between Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Mogherini.

Iranians Trample on US Flag, Mark 1979 Islamic Revolution | AP

Iranians on Friday marked the anniversary of the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution with nationwide celebrations and mass rallies that saw people step on large U.S. flags laid out on the streets while President Hassan Rouhani called the new American administration "a problem." This year, the anniversary came against the backdrop of remarks by President Donald Trump, who has already engaged in a war of words with Iran's leadership and put Tehran "on notice" over its recent ballistic missile test. At the Tehran rallies Friday, demonstrators chanted traditional slogans against the United States and Israel, and later, hundreds of thousands marched toward the city's central Azadi Square, where Rouhani addressed the crowds, telling them that Iran will strongly answer any threat from its enemies.

U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS

Iranian Student Studying in U.S. is Trapped by Trump's Travel Ban | Toronto Star

When he arrived at Brown University in August 2015, it was the first time Babak Hemmatian had ever left Iran... Hemmatian, 25, is a Ph.D student in cognitive science, a beloved only son and a self-confessed nerd. But he's also gay. In Iran, his sexuality could get him jailed or even killed, so he kept it hidden. The visa that allowed him to travel to the United States for graduate school was a ticket to a different kind of life - an opportunity to be open about who he was... But now it could all vanish. Under the executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump, citizens of Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries were barred from entering the United States for at least 90 days. This includes people like Hemmatian who hold visas to study or work here... Making matters worse, Hemmatian's father is battling stage four colon cancer and has only a slim chance of surviving until Hemmatian's graduation in two years. If the young man travels home to see his father one last time, he may not be allowed back to finish his degree.

Calculating Trump Not to Enter A Confrontation with Iran: Velayati | Tasnim (Iran)

Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati said US President Donald Trump will not risk getting entangled with an "iron dam" like Iran, saying the US would suffer an "unprecedented defeat" if he ever wanted to chance his luck in a war on Iran.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Khamenei Says Sweden Has Good Name among Iranians | Reuters

Iran's supreme leader said on Saturday the United States and Western powers are regarded with suspicion in the Middle East because of their interference, but that Sweden has a good name among Iranians and is seen as a reputable economic partner... [Ayatollah Khamenei said that] at a meeting with visiting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven... During Lofven's visit, the two countries signed initial accords on cooperation in areas including science and technology, higher education and research, roads, telecommunications, technology, and women and family. Khamenei said many agreements Iran had signed with foreign countries had not been realised, however, and he expressed hope that would not also be the case with Sweden... The Swedish prime minister told Swedish journalists the subject of human rights was brought up. Among the issues are the fate of Ahmadreza Djalali, a researcher at Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet who is imprisoned in Iran and at risk of a death sentence, according to Amnesty International. Lofven, however, gave no details on human rights issues, Swedish news agency TT reported."

Sweden Defends Officials Wearing Headscarves in Iran | BBC

The Swedish government has defended its decision to have its officials wear headscarves during a trip to Iran, saying that failing to do so would have broken the law. Trade Minister Ann Linde led a business team last week and faced criticism for wearing a headscarf, or hijab. Sweden says it has the world's first "feminist government". A prominent Iranian women's rights activist and Swedish politicians have criticised the decision. "It is ruinous to what is called a feminist foreign policy" said Liberal party chief Jan Bjorklund, who said Iran oppressed women through legislation. The Swedish government should have requested that female members of the delegation should not have been required to wear a headscarf, he said, and that if the request were not granted any trade agreements should have been signed in Sweden or a third country. But Ms Linde told the Aftonbladet newspaper that she was not willing to break Iranian law. She said that since the only other option would be to send an all-male delegation, she was required to wear a headscarf. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was also in Iran and said he raised human rights issues with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani... Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, posted an image of Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin signing a climate bill surrounded by female colleagues earlier this month next to one of several female Swedish government officials wearing headscarves and greeting Mr Rouhani. The image of Ms Lovin was widely seen as mocking a picture of Donald Trump signing an anti-abortion executive order surrounded by male aides and advisers. Women in the Swedish government "should have condemned an equally unfair situation in Iran," Ms Alinejad posted to My Stealthy Freedom, a popular Facebook page she runs that encourages Iranian women to post pictures of themselves without the hijab. "Because if you are feminists and you care about equality then you should challenge inequality everywhere," she told the BBC. "They must stand for their own values."

Polish Refiner Lotos Aims for Long-Term Oil Supply Deal with Iran | Reuters

Poland's second-biggest oil refiner Lotos is interested in securing a long-term supply deal with Iran once it completes a new coking unit at its Gdansk refinery next year, its chief executive said. State-run Lotos wants to diversify its imports of oil and gas away from Russia, its largest supplier. It signed an agreement last year with National Iranian Oil Company and the first tankers carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil arrived in Poland in mid-August. It is now in talks to receive another 2 million barrels.... Lotos could potentially agree a long-term contract with Iran after it finishes construction of the 2.3-billion zloty ($570 million) coking unit at its Gdansk refinery in 2018, he said.

Luxembourg FM to Visit Iran for Key Talks | Press TV (Iran)

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn will hold key talks in Iran about ways to improve relations and the latest regional and international developments. Asselborn plans to meet Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani in Tehran on Monday. The Luxembourgian foreign minister and the SNSC secretary will exchange views about the development of bilateral cooperation, particularly in the economic sector, after the implementation of the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement... They will also hold talks on leading regional and international issues, especially the developments in the Middle East... Asselborn paid a visit to Tehran in November 2015 and held talks with senior Iranian officials...

VW's Scania Says Renews Public Bus Systems in Iran | Reuters

[Scania s]ays renews public bus systems in Iran... Says has signed an agreement in principle with Iranian province of Isfahan and Shahr-e atiyeh investment company on delivery of 1,350 buses for public transport for Isfahan and four other Iranian cities... Says he first of these new buses will be in operation at the end of 2017.

"We Want to Export Swedish Work Culture to Iran": Scania Boss | Local (Sweden)

Iran is already one of truck and bus manufacturer Scania's biggest markets. Now the company's CEO also wants to export Swedish working values to the Islamic Republic... Scania... was one of the companies that chose to remain in the country during the period of economic sanctions, which led it having a large part of the Iranian market for trucks and buses. The company's competitors today are mainly Chinese manufacturers... Scania's CEO Henrik Henriksson... visited Iran seven times last year - more than any other country. But doing business with Iran remains subject to risk, says the CEO. The remaining US sanctions, those which are not subject to the nuclear agreement, affect financing options. Most banks do not want to risk US fines and are biding their time, reports TT. "It is no secret that it is difficult to do business. Channels must be opened if the market is really to take off," said Henriksson. The Scania boss believes that his firm could double its exports, which are expected to reach 3 billion SEK ($336 million) this year, if financing was made easier.

MILITARY MATTERS

Why Iran's Air Force Is Still Flying American Planes | Sebastien Roblin in National Interest

One of the ironies of the bitter relations between the Iran and the United States today is that half a century ago they were the closest of allies. The repressive, secular government of the shah had come to power thanks to a CIA-orchestrated coup, and was lavished with then latest American weaponry, including F-14 Tomcat fighters, AH-Cobra attack helicopters and TOW antitank missiles. So when the CIA asked Iran if it could conduct aerial spying flights into the Soviet Union, the response was "How many bases will you need?" and "Can our pilots ride backseat?" and, even, "Can we buy spy planes from you to help out?"... With the overthrow of the shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran, official Iranian-American relations were suspended and the spying program was discontinued. But relations between the Islamic revolutionary Iran and the atheist Soviet Union only worsened as the latter continued to supply weapons to Iraq, which invaded Iran in 1980... Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia does not have any land borders with Iran, though it can and does conduct trade directly via the Caspian Sea. The two nations are now cooperating to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War, though their objectives in that war-ravaged country are not entirely in sync. At one point Moscow even bragged that Tu-22M Backfire bombers were flying air strikes in Syria from Iranian airbases. The new Trump administration simultaneously desires warmer relations with Moscow while questioning the nuclear deal with Tehran, which could complicate relations between all three countries. For now, though, Iranian pilots no longer have cause to fear Moscow's jets, particularly as they are flying some of their own-alongside a large fleet of aging American aircraft acquired when the two countries were partners in espionage.

Report: Drone Crashes in Southern Iranian Port Town | AP

An Iranian semi-official news agency is reporting that a drone belonging to the Iranian navy has crashed in the southern port town of Jask. The Sunday report... said thick smoke rose from the crash site in downtown Jask, some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) southeast of the capital Tehran... Jask, a fishing port, hosts an Iranian navy base in the Sea of Oman.

TERRORISM

Hezbollah Deputy Chief Urges Cooperation with Iran | Daily Star (Lebanon)

Iran has always extended a hand to Saudi Arabia and countries of the region to cooperate and maintain the stability of the region, Hezbollah's deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said.

Hezbollah Leader Says 'Idiot' Trump Makes Him Optimistic | AP

The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group says the world will benefit from having an "idiot" in the White House. Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Sunday that his group is much stronger than when it was created in the early 1980s and should not be concerned about threats from the West. Referring to U.S. President Donald Trump, Nasrallah said "we are very optimistic that when an idiot settles in the White House and boasts about his idiocy, this is the beginning of relief for the oppressed around the world."

Iran Says Holds Eight Foreigners Planning Attacks | Reuters

Iranian security forces have arrested eight hardline Sunni Islamists suspected of planning attacks to disrupt celebrations for Iran's Islamic revolution in the past week, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said... [he] said the eight were "Takfiri" foreigners, some of whom were linked to a "Takfiri" leader who had been killed in Iran... "Takfiri" is a word used by predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Iran to refer to hardline, armed, Sunni Islamist groups... Although Alavi did not identify which country Iran suspected of guiding the suspects, Iranian officials often accuse regional rival Saudi Arabia of backing ultrahardline Sunni militant group Islamic State. Riyadh denies the charges and says Tehran destabilises the region and sponsors terrorism, an accusation rejected by Iran.

SYRIA CONFLICT

Iran Allowing Syria-Bound Russian Planes to Use Airspace-Report | Reuters

Iran has again allowed Russian planes to use its airspace during recent operations in Syria, a senior Iranian security official was quoted as saying on Saturday. In August, Russian aircraft for the first time used an Iranian air base to conduct strikes in Syria. The Russian military said its fighters had completed their tasks, but left open the possibility of using the Hamadan base again if circumstances warranted... It was not immediately clear if the recent missions were linked to Russian air strikes on Thursday that accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers during an operation against Islamic State in Syria, according to the Turkish military.

IRAQ CRISIS

Iraq: Leave Us Out of U.S.-Iran Tensions

Iraq won't take part in any regional or international conflicts, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told state TV on Saturday. The comment came after Abadi had spoke in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump during which tensions with Iran were mentioned.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Italy Voices 'Extreme Concern' at Academic's Arrest in Iran | Daily Star (Lebanon)

The Italian government expressed alarm Monday about the fate of an Iranian academic detained in Tehran for nearly a year and reportedly sentenced to death for espionage. Ahmadreza Djalali, who used to work at the University of Eastern Piedmont, was arrested on April 25, 2016 when in the Iranian capital for a conference, according to Italian media... Stressing his academic links, the ministry sought information about Djalali's detention - he is reportedly in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison - and asked "that he be quickly returned to his family." Djalali's wife, who is living in Stockholm with the couple's two children, told Corriere della Sera that he faced "the death penalty for collaboration with enemy states."

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Power Restored in Iran Oil Regions, Output Loss to Be Compensated | Reuters

Power supply has been restored within hours of an outage in southwestern Iran that hit crude oil production by 700,000 barrels on Saturday, and efforts are underway to compensate for the output drop, a senior oil official said. It was not immediately clear if oil exports would be affected by the electricity outages, which have been frequent in the oil-producing Khuzestan province... Iran produces about 3.7 million barrels per day of crude oil, some 1.5 million bpd of which are used at home.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Disarming the Iran Threat | UANI Advisory Board Member Ambassador John Bolton in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Trump and Netanyahu can make progress toward accomplishing several objectives at this week's meeting. First, they should fashion a diplomatic strategy to recreate the West's common political resolve to prevent the ayatollahs from ever getting nuclear weapons. The emphasis should be on "effective." Strong rhetoric, military maneuvering and economic sanctions all have their place, but even the now-defunct sanctions regime had not slowed down Iran's nuclear and missile efforts. Putting a tough-minded Western coalition against Iran back together will face heavy going, but it is both vital and urgent. Second, and to that end, Israel and America must enhance their intelligence-gathering capabilities and cooperation. We know already that Iran has significantly shredded the Vienna deal's provisions regarding heavy-water production and missile testing. Since the ayatollahs' project to obtain deliverable nuclear weapons has been an animating desire of their regime since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, we can safely assume they are still at it, likely violating many other provisions of the Vienna deal... Moreover, we know that Iran and North Korea, the two leading rogue states, have cooperated for over 25 years on ballistic missiles, and there is compelling anecdotal evidence they are similarly cooperating on nuclear matters. Working with South Korea, Japan and others, America and Israel must do far more to investigate potential linkages than in the past eight years. Third, Trump and Netanyahu must address how to eradicate ISIS without enhancing Iran's influence across the Middle East. Obama's approach to ISIS, a slow-motion campaign that could take years to reach its objectives, if ever, actually strengthens Tehran's hand in the region along with its surrogates and allies, such as Hezbollah, the Assad regime and the current Baghdad government. Even if ISIS is ultimately defeated under Obama's approach, Iran will emerge the real victor.

A History of What Works with Tehran | Michael Morell in Cipher Brief

The Trump Administration is correct that the U.S. should focus on the significant threat posed by Iran's misbehavior in the Middle East. Luckily, history provides a guide on how we can change that behavior. Some say that the threat from Iran's malign behavior is overstated. Some say that the malign behavior itself is overstated. Not so.  Just look at the facts... There is good news here, though. Iran has shown at least three times since the 1979 Revolution that it is willing to change strategic direction. Each time it has done so, the regime was under intense pressure. This would suggest that it is possible to achieve a similar strategic change in Iran's regional behavior -- if the right pressure is brought to bear. In doing so, we should focus on what hurts Iran, not on what makes us feel big and strong.  Big difference.  We should again focus on raising the costs to the Iranian economy for the purpose of creating domestic political pressure on the regime. Sanctions that apply only to U.S. companies and sanctions that apply only to specific Iranian individuals or entities do little good. Sanctions need to be broad, and they are most effective if they interfere with Iran's ability to sell oil or interact with the international financial system.  The only way for sanctions to achieve our goals is for us to work with our allies around the world. This means tending to our key alliances, and encouraging our allies to broaden and deepen sanctions every time the Iranians misbehave. For those who believe that this is not possible, realize that the same was said when the Obama Administration started working to put together the nuclear-related sanctions.  What not to do is as important as what to do.  Most importantly, we should not ignore Iran's behavior in the region as successive administrations have done. We should also not threaten Iran militarily because it will cost us the support of our allies - who will fear that we are going down the Iraq road. Doing so will strengthen the position of Iranian hardliners and solidify the political position of the regime at home.

"In the Business of Oppression" | Annika Hernroth-Rothstein in Folkbladet (Sweden)

"I love Iran and its people and that is the very reason why I urge the Swedish government not to do business with the regime that ruins Iran and systematically oppresses its people. Being a humanitarian superpower comes with a responsibility to do the right thing, even when it is neither economically or politically expedient, and to be a clear and consistent voice for those who have none of their own."

Walk of Shame: Sweden's "First Feminist Government" Don Hijabs in Iran | UN Watch

Trade minister Ann Linde and other members of Sweden's "first feminist government in the world" walked past Iranian President Rouhani yesterday as they covered their hair in compliance with Iran's compulsory hijab law, despite Stockholm's promise to promote "a gender equality perspective" internationally, and to adopt a "feminist foreign policy" in which "equality between women and men is a fundamental aim"... Linde "sees no conflict" between her government's human rights policy and signing trade deals with an oppressive dictatorship that tortures prisoners, persecutes gays, and is a leading executioner of minors. In doing so, the Swedish female politicians ignored the recent appeal by Iranian women's right activist Masih Alinejad, who urged Europeans female politicians "to stand for [their] own dignity" and refuse to wear the hijab when visiting Iran.

How America Could Stumble into War with Iran | Karim Sadjadpour in Atlantic

While the Obama administration sought to ignore and defuse such tensions with Iran, the Trump administration appears eager to confront them.... In contrast to the Obama administration, however, which actively encouraged global investment in Iran, the Trump administration has reversed course... While unilateral U.S. sanctions will not be sufficient to moderate Iranian behavior, they are likely to trigger an Iranian response, and a process of escalation... The Obama administration was reluctant to vigorously counter Iran's regional activities for fear of jeopardizing the nuclear deal; the Trump administration has expressed no such concerns... The opportunities for confrontation are multifold. The U.S. and Iran are on opposing sides of numerous regional military and political disputes... In contrast to the United States, and other democratic countries, the Iranian regime's foreign-policy adventurism is far less constrained by popular opinion... a U.S.-Iran escalation could potentially build for years before the nuclear deal collapses... History has shown that Iran only responds to pressure when it is encircled with a united international front. Unilateral U.S. pressure, however significant, is insufficient if Tehran feels it has escape doors in Europe, Russia, and Asia... What is the likelihood that Trump himself would authorize military action against Iran's nuclear sites or military assets? One of Trump's core beliefs, taught to him by his former lawyer Roy Cohn, is "When attacked, hit back harder"... How will he react if Iran continues to defy him despite his repeated taunts and tweets? Trump's confrontational style is coupled with a core national-security team that is universally cynical about Iran... Among the important lessons of the 2015 nuclear deal is that two policies often thought of as opposites-coercion and engagement-are in fact complementary... In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, the Obama administration only employed one aspect of this formula-engagement-to try to compel Iran to reconsider its longtime regional policies. In contrast to the enormous costs Tehran endured for its nuclear intransigence, it has paid little penalty for being the chief accomplice to a Syrian regime responsible for one of the greatest humanitarian crises in modern history. While the Trump administration seeks to counter Iran's regional policies, its strategy is missing two essential ingredients: multilateralism and U.S. engagement. Nearly all Iranian economic trade is with countries other than the United States. For pressure to work it is essential that Washington closely coordinate with Iran's largest economic and strategic partners, namely China, Russia, Europe, India, and South Korea. Trump's derisiveness toward U.S. allies and denunciations of a nuclear deal most of the world deems necessary for global stability will make it difficult to compel these countries to forsake their own commercial and strategic interests with Iran to please Washington.

On Iran, Netanyahu May Not Get What He Wants From Trump | Amos Harel in Haaretz

Despite all the talk, Netanyahu's expectations for decisive steps against Iran by the Trump administration should also be kept within realistic bounds. Despite the militant tone and the promises to make America great again, Trump has already managed in his just three weeks as president to retreat from his aggressive statements on China and postpone indefinitely the plans for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. For now, North Korea too provided a challenge for him last weekend when it announced a ballistic missile test. Given these circumstances, the question is whether Trump will decide to continue to confront the Iranians at all, or even take any operative steps against them.

Why Russia Won't Help Trump on Iran | Ilan Berman in Foreign Affairs

By all appearances, the Donald Trump administration is preparing to attempt a historic reconciliation with Russia. In part, the strategy is aimed at driving a wedge into the long-running strategic partnership between Moscow and Tehran. With the proper incentives, the thinking goes, it might be possible to "flip" Russia. "There's daylight between Russia and Iran, for sure," one foreign official familiar with the White House's deliberations explained. "What's unclear is what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would demand in return for weakening the alliance." The new president and his advisers may soon find, however, that precipitating a Russian-Iranian split is an exceedingly tall order. The past decade has provided ample proof that the military, political, and economic bonds that Russia and the Islamic Republic have built over the past quarter-century are remarkably resilient. And today, there is reason to believe that the strategic partnership between the two countries is stronger than ever.

Here's What Putting Iran 'On Notice' Could Mean | Sarah Westwood in Washington Examiner

But putting Iran "on notice" doesn't have to mean taking military action against Tehran, at least not yet. Experts say there is still a range of economic and diplomatic options at Trump's disposal to deploy against a regime that grew immensely stronger on Barack Obama's watch. Here are four ways Trump could follow through on his pledge to put Iran "on notice." 1. More non-nuclear sanctions... 2. Designate the IRGC as a terrorist group... 3. Review previously-sanctioned entities... 4. Strengthening military presence in the region.

Iran's Republican Guard Must Be Designated As Terrorists | Baria Alamuddin in Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

The question should not be whether the Trump administration should designate Iran's Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) as terrorists, but why this was not done long ago. The IRGC's primary objectives are rooted in combatting the US and the West by conventional and non-conventional methods. Why should proxies, offshoots and branches of the IRGC be designated without holding to account the entity that is pulling the strings? If we claimed that Daesh should be left alone because it might lash out if we provoked it, we would rightly be laughed at. However, this is the argument being used by opponents of designating the IRGC. Such fears are rooted in the knowledge that the IRGC, directly or through its proxies, will violently retaliate. This is precisely the kind of entity that counter-terrorism legislation was written for. The IRGC invented modern terrorism. During the 1980s, its proxies were the first forces to exploit suicide bombings as a military tactic since World War II. The mass coordinated attacks, which we today associate with Daesh, were first perfected by the IRGC.

Iran Building High-Speed Catamaran | Michael Rubin for American Enterprise Institute

The Islamic Republic responded to years of sanctions that undercut its ability to import advanced weaponry and spare parts by creating a formidable indigenous military industry. Even after most sanctions have been lifted as a result of the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian authorities have appeared to invest as much if not more effort in their domestic arms industry than in simply purchasing capabilities from abroad. If Iranian firms-in this case affiliated with Khatam al-Anbia, the economic wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-can support manufacture of the entire supply chain, then Iranian military officials need not worry about grounding or docking planes and ships for want of replacement parts. The excerpted article from an IRGC-affiliated publication suggests that, rather than simply create depth on a few platforms, the Iranian military is rapidly increasing Iranian capabilities on a broad range of platforms. As Iran's area of operations has shifted from the Persian Gulf to areas further afield-the northern Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and perhaps even the Mediterranean-it has taken pains to bolster its logistical capabilities and reach. It is in this context that Iran's new catamaran capability becomes important, if it works. As the excerpt notes, it can carry troops and helicopters, enabling long range operations in the ocean. Iran's new catamaran has many of the same capabilities as the HSV-2, a catamaran that the United States Navy Military Sealift Command leased in 2003... It is doubtful that the Iranian navy could operate a ship with more efficiency or greater capability than the US Navy. Still, any platform which would allow Iran to carry its helicopters further afield will complicate the operational environment among all the littoral states of the Middle East.

Does Trump's Rhetoric Serve Iran's Purpose? | Abdulrahman al-Rashed in Al Arabiya

A recent piece published by The Economist is entitled: "Donald Trump is helping Iran's radicals." It cites the Iranian Supreme Leader's statement: "Thank you, Mr. Trump, for showing the true face of America," adding that Mohammad Javad Zarif, "Iran's foreign minister, has lost his smile. Iran has difficult days ahead." The article concludes that the extremist wing within the Iranian regime benefits from Trump's extremist political rhetoric and gives this wing a chance to rise and strengthen its position at the expense of the moderate wing. These fears seem logical and reasonable but when applying them on the political reality within the Iranian regime, we realize they are not true... During three decades, nothing happened to prove that there's real competition between radicals and moderates inside the ruling command. Major events rather confirmed that the real governing figures were the radical ones while the moderate ones were just frontmen. Hassan Rowhani, the current president, and Zarif, his foreign minister, also represent the moderate face and they succeeded at swaying the administration of former president Barack Obama and convincing it that lifting sanctions and encouraging Iran's openness are in the interest of moderate figures, the region and the world. The nature of the regime in Tehran is religious and it has a revolutionary ideology. It has a political agenda that has not changed much since it attacked the American embassy in Tehran and held diplomats hostage.. Trump's extremist rhetoric is the outcome of the disappointment in Washington due to Iran's actions after signing the nuclear deal. Things will get worse unless there is a strict international position against Iran's adventures and unless Iran is forced to end the chaos which it funds in the region and the world. Those who know how the Iranian regime works cannot believe the excuses being made by Iran's friends and which stipulate that being lenient with Iran can lead to positive things... The same logic leads us to conclude that Iran will dominate through using power via its proxies and militias across the region and through encouraging and supporting the rebellious behavior of certain local parties in neighboring countries. Iran has not changed much since it announced it plans to export revolutions to the world. The only change that happened is that its financial and military situations improved a lot thanks to the nuclear deal it signed with the West.

Trump Draws Red Line with Iran | Andrew Malcolm in San Francisco Chronicle

In only 244 words, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, listed a series of Iranian transgressions, including funding global terrorism, flouting U.N. resolutions on ballistic missile tests and attacking ships in international waters. He could have also mentioned seizing American sailors. Flynn ended with: "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice"... The situation is particularly precarious because after President Barack Obama's numerous empty threats, the United States has scant credibility as an enforcer, especially in the Middle East. It will take some time - and perhaps the use of military force - for a Trump administration to be taken more seriously... In real estate negotiations and his recent campaign, Trump has seen unpredictability as a positive bargaining tool. Sending Flynn out to read carefully from a prepared text - and take no complicating questions - was a clear sign that Trump will employ such strategic ambiguity and threats in diplomacy. Let Iran imagine how bad the consequences might be, starting with renewed sanctions. A problem with ambiguity, of course, is that a paranoid opponent might overreact. More importantly, Trump must be prepared to impose consequences on his "notice." And then be prepared for the enemy's reaction to those consequences. Westerners have an expression for someone who talks a lot and does little. They say he's all hat and no cattle. Trump has that familiar red baseball cap. To avoid earning the same international reputation as Obama, we'll soon see whether the New Yorker has any cattle in his diplomatic herd.

Iran's Banking Sector Reforms | Tamer Badawi in Daily Star (Lebanon)

Amid concerns about more U.S. sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is striving to beef up public confidence before May's presidential elections by highlighting economic achievements like decreased inflation.