Eye on Iran: In Iran, Rouhani Begins 2nd Term With Signs He’s Yielding to Hard-Liners

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In Iran, Rouhani Begins 2nd Term With Signs He’s Yielding to Hard-Liners | New York Times

Now, as Iran prepares for his second inauguration on Saturday, some of the forces that helped give Mr. Rouhani a 24 million-vote mandate in May are concerned he will not fulfill his promise of appointing women and young politicians to his 18-member cabinet, and instead is running nominations by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei… [M]any of Mr. Rouhani’s leading supporters in the May election had hoped the new cabinet would represent a new generation of women, youths and daring politicians, ready to implement Mr. Rouhani’s agenda and curb the influence of hard-liners. Instead, although all the positions are not yet filled, it looks like the ministers will be a delicate mix of older technocrats, don’t-rock-the-boat moderates and even some hard-liners. Reformists are now saying the 18 slots will all be filled by men, dashing hopes built up during Mr. Rouhani’s campaign.

Trump Keeps Scaring Investors Away from Iran | CNN Money

Iran hoped that agreeing to curtail its nuclear program would encourage foreign firms to pour tens of billions into the country. But a flood of major investment has not materialized -- and that's largely because of the United States.

Iran Pledges to Press On With Missile Program, Slams Sanctions | Associated Press

Iran's supreme leader on Thursday slammed the new U.S. sanctions on Tehran signed by President Donald Trump the previous day, and vowed his country would continue its missile program despite international pressure.

U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS

Rouhani Starts Second Term With Trump's Shadow Hanging Over Tehran | Bloomberg

Hassan Rouhani this week officially starts his second term at the helm of Iran’s government, with the optimism of his landslide victory in May now eclipsed by a deepening standoff with the U.S… The success of the next four years will to a large extent depend “on how much the U.S. will push against Iran, and how much other partners and allies will push back against the U.S,” said Bassiri Tabrizi. Rouhani and his team “are aware that they have only one card to play,” she said. “They knew in 2013 it was the nuclear deal or nothing. Now they know it’s fixing the economy or nothing.”

Iran’s Ties to U.S. Universities — an Infiltration to Fear | Washington Times

Rep. Dan Donovan wants the feds to look into some curious grants given to the likes of Columbia, Harvard and Princeton that came from a foundation with a pro-Iran, anti-Israel slant. This is an investigation that should definitely go forth, and the sooner, the far better.
The Alavi Foundation was deemed in June by jurors in Manhattan’s federal court of illegally managing 650 Fifth Ave. on behalf of Iran. Now, it’s this same group, the Alavi Foundation, that’s been tied to the funding of certain professors at these Ivy American schools — and others around the U.S. — who are decidedly anti-Israel and pro-Iran in their teachings.

Iran Hawks, Bannon Loyalists Booted in White House Purge | Al Monitor

A faction of Iran hawks in the Donald Trump administration appears to have been dealt a blow in recent days. Several officials allied with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon have been removed from the National Security Council (NSC). Among them are NSC senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was removed Aug. 2; NSC senior director for the Middle East Derek Harvey, who was asked to resign last week; and NSC director for strategic planning Rich Higgins, reportedly for writing and circulating a bizarre memo alleging a conspiracy of globalists, leftists and Islamists trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic.

SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT

Will Iran Retaliate Against U.S. Sanctions? | Omer Carmi for the American Interest

Yesterday President Donald Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which includes actions against Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its affiliated entities. Coming at a time of political ferment in Iran, the new U.S. legislation provides an opportunity for hardliners and moderates to demonstrate their political bona fides as they calibrate their response. In recent weeks, senior IRGC commanders have threatened that a new round of U.S. sanctions would trigger a harsh response against American interests in the region. Thus, the key question before U.S. national security officials is whether an Iranian group will feel forced to respond to the sanctions by attacking U.S. forces directly or indirectly, further escalating tensions between the two countries.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Shell Submits Iran Oil and Gas Field Studies | Pipeline Oil & Gas Magazine

Royal Dutch Shell submitted feasibility studies to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for developing Iran's Azadegan and Yadavaran oilfields. Shell and NIOC met on Wednesday to discuss a proposal for developing South Azadegan and Yadavaran oilfields in Iran, oil ministry’s Shana news agency said.

Iran to Boost Oil Exports to China Further In August | OilPrice.com

Iran’s crude oil exports to China could hit an 11-month high this month, according to sources who spoke to Reuters. But overall, Iran’s total oil and condensate exports for the month could fall by 4 percent on an annual basis to 2.37 million barrels daily. In July, according to TankerTrackers, Iran exported an average 605,699 bpd to China, with its market share standing at 26.82 percent. Overall exports averaged 2.26 million bpd. Energy data provider Kpler calculated the average daily crude exports for July at 2.476 million bpd.

Iran Pursuing Offshore Gas Exports to the UAE | Offshore Magazine

Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh says Iran is open to reviving a program to export gas to the UAE, according to news service Shana. In 2001, Sharjah-based Crescent Petroleum signed terms to import gas from the Salman field in the Persian Gulf through a pipeline to be built jointly built by the company and Iran.

SYRIA CONFLICT

Rex Tillerson: US Wants Iran Out of Syria | Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A condition of U.S. cooperation with Russia in the Syria arena is the removal of Iranian forces from the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “The direct presence of Iranian military forces inside of Syria, they must leave and go home, whether those are Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces or whether those are paid militias, foreign fighters, that Iran has brought into Syria in this battle,” Tillerson said Wednesday in a wide-ranging news conference. The other condition, Tillerson said, was that the end result should be a unified Syria with “new leadership” — the removal of the Assad regime.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Russia, Not The U.S., Is Now Calling The Shots In The Middle East With Iran and Iraq | Newsweek

Russia's deputy foreign minister met Wednesday with leading diplomats from Iran and Iraq to discuss combating Islamist extremist groups and the future of Syria. With the U.S. minimizing efforts to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq expressing weariness of the U.S.'s extended presence in its country, Russia has become an increasingly important power broker in the region. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met in Moscow with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari and Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Nazar Khairallah to emphasize the "principled position of the three countries" on Syria. All three expressed support for Assad in a lengthy war pitting his armed forces against jihadists and opposition groups, according to Syria's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper and Iran's semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

Rouhani Vows to Improve Iran’s Relations with Outside World | Financial Times

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Thursday said his new government would work to improve relations with the outside world as he seeks to attract foreign investment to tackle high unemployment and boost the economy. Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony, Mr Rouhani, who won a landslide victory at elections in May, said he wanted to embark on an “economic revolution”. “With more self-confidence than before [after the election] . . . we insist on constructive and effective interaction with the world,” he said.

Spain Police Bust Huge Iran-UK Immigration Ring | BBC News

The gang allegedly supplied fake Spanish passports to Iranian nationals so they could fly into the UK. More than 100 people were arrested across Europe, including the suspected ringleader, who was apprehended at London's Heathrow airport.

IRAQ CRISIS

Iraq's Kirkuk Province Spurns Plan to Ship Its Oil to Iran | Bloomberg

Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk refuses to cooperate with any plans to ship its oil to neighboring Iran because the central government didn’t consult with it on the matter, Kirkuk provincial officials said. The central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government both pump crude from different wells at Kirkuk’s oil fields, which straddle their respective areas of control. Kurdish forces took control of some fields in Kirkuk in June 2014 after the Iraqi army fled from Islamic State militants, but the government in Baghdad doesn’t recognize Kurdish control of the area.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Amnesty Urges EU’s Mogherini to Press Iran to Free Activists | AFP

Amnesty International urges EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini to use a visit to Iran this weekend to demand that Tehran immediately release all imprisoned human rights activists. London-based Amnesty calls on the European Union to take a tougher stance as the group published a report accusing Iran of a “vicious crackdown” that it says has dashed hopes of rights reform under President Hassan Rouhani.

Recent Violations of Religious Freedom in Iran | Voice Of America Editorial

The Iranian people’s right to religious freedom continues to be violated. The Center for Human Rights in Iran reports recent abuses involving individuals of several different faiths. Since June, a revolutionary court in Tehran has issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts, as well as the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran. They were found guilty of crimes against national security after trials that lacked basic due process. Among the eleven are Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, sentenced to ten years for organizing house churches and preaching what the authorities referred to as “Zionist Christianity,” and Victor Bet Tamraz, former leader of Iran’s Assyrian Pentecostal church.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Rouhani, Reformists Battle over Cabinet Picks | Al-Monitor

President Hassan Rouhani attended his endorsement ceremony Aug. 3 with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the heads of the other two branches of government. The more significant day for Rouhani, however, will be his swearing-in ceremony Aug. 5, when, in front of an open session of parliament, he will introduce his new Cabinet. Reports that Rouhani consulted with Khamenei over potential candidates have caused the president considerable controversy before his second term has even started. The first source of controversy was with the supreme leader’s office, which denied that Khamenei was involved in choosing every Cabinet position. A statement on the supreme leader's website announced that all administrations coordinate with Khamenei for ministry positions in foreign affairs, defense and intelligence due to Khamenei’s constitutional duties in those areas. In Iran, the supreme leader is the commander in chief.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Iran Counts on E.U. Support If U.S. Decides To Abandon Nuclear Deal | Ahmad Majidyar for Middle East Institute

As the Trump administration is ratcheting up economic sanctions on Iran and working with Washington’s Arab allies to push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region, Iranian officials are reaching out to potential allies around the world to minimize the impact of U.S.-led efforts to contain the Islamic Republic. Tehran, in particular, is trying to drive a wedge between the United States and major European powers. On June 27, for example, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blasted the Trump administration’s travel ban and new U.S. sanctions on Iran in a meeting with his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Berlin. The foreign minister of Germany, which is a signatory to the Iran nuclear accord, agreed with Zarif that the deal should be fully implemented by all parties involved. "We stand behind this agreement and want to support all the parties in their efforts to fulfill it," Gabriel said. "As the Federal Republic of Germany and as Europeans we would oppose any attempts to call it into question." When French President Emmanuel Macron won the elections in France, President Hassan Rouhani congratulated him and urged the new government in Paris to play a more active role in the implementation of the nuclear agreement... Several Iranian lawmakers expressed the hope that the Macron government will cultivate closer ties with Tehran. Hossein Taghva-Hosseini, the spokesman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the parliament, also emphasized that Tehran should exploit the widening gulf between the European Union and the United States to "work with Brussels to challenge Washington’s unilateralism."

The Trump Administration Needs to Take the Next Step for Iran’s Hostages | U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey for Washington Post

The Trump administration must intensify and maintain pressure on Iran until every American hostage is released. Last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution I introduced with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Theodore E. Deutch (D-Fla.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) that urges President Trump to take meaningful action to secure the release of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents held hostage by Iran. Two of these prisoners, Siamak and Baquer Namazi, were constituents of mine when they last lived in the United States.

North Korea and Iran’s Presidential Inauguration | Majid Rafizadeh for Arab News

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is about to inaugurate Hassan Rouhani for his second four-year term as president.  One of the invitees to the inauguration is North Korea, whose ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam flew to Tehran earlier this week via Russia… Relations between North Korea and Iran are deeper than commonly recognized. They cooperate on various levels, including in military and nuclear programs. Iran is a client of North Korean arms and weapons. The former also relies on the latter’s specialists and engineers for proliferation and advancement of Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities and nuclear program, which are supervised by Khamenei’s office and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US recently blacklisted for its expansive role in terrorism… In the next four years, Rouhani will continue to try to strike business deals and earn revenue for the ruling clerics, strengthen military and nuclear cooperation with North Korea and facilitate the IRGC’s military adventurism. To pressure Iran over its regional expansionism, aggression and human rights abuses, foreign leaders must decline its invitation to attend the inauguration as Tehran will use attendance to project international legitimacy and credibility.

Iran and Al Qaeda Exploit Syria Ceasefire | Genevieve Casagrande for the Institute for the Study of War

The U.S., Russia, Jordan “de-escalation zone” in Southwest Syria advances the interests of U.S. enemies and adversaries, including Iran and al Qaeda. The U.S. likely sought to leverage the agreement to drive a wedge within the Russo-Iranian Coalition, while reducing violence and testing a potential partnership with Russia to improve security in Syria. The deal has temporarily reduced violence, but at great cost to long-term U.S. interests in Syria. The Russo-Iranian coalition is exploiting the agreement to consolidate in the south. Al Qaeda will likewise leverage the deal and the recent cut to U.S. support to vetted Syrian opposition groups to preserve and expand its influence in Southern Syria.

Iran’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons and Regional Domination | Tony Duheaume for Al Arabiya

[T]hrough the millions of dollars handed back to Iran, the regime has strengthened both its internal defenses through the application of new air defense systems, as well as updating arms and equipment for its armed forces, making it a much bigger threat to its neighbors than ever before. As well as this, the amount of money it has had returned through the Iran Deal, has helped tremendously in bankrolling its military campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. So, by participating in this new game of diplomacy, which it has been playing very well, Iran’s clerical leadership is planning to be in the nuclear deceit game for the long haul. If they can keep the West playing along with them, the mullahs will be able to build up Iran’s inner security, and with its new strengthened military, it will have the ability to repel both internal dissent, and any outside invader, showing its neighbours that it is a country to be both feared and reckoned with. Then no sooner is its economy booming, with its armed forces the most sophisticated in the Middle East, and its air defences second to none, the regime will finish building its long sought after nuclear weapon. Having reached the stage where it feels no outside force can stop it, the true belligerence of its leadership will take over, and their long sought after nuke will be revealed to the world. But at least, now that Donald Trump is in charge of the White House, fresh sanctions have been put in place; but only time will tell how far the new president will go in confronting Iran, and in what form this confrontation will take.

Kuwait: A Case Study in the Futility of Accommodating the Iranian Regime | Arabia Foundation

On July 20, 2017, the Kuwaiti government ordered the expulsion of three-quarters of Iran’s diplomatic staff, including Ambassador Alireza Enayati, as well as the closure of the Islamic Republic’s cultural, trade, and military missions in Kuwait City. Kuwait’s decision followed last month’s Supreme Court ruling that found twenty-one Shia’a nationals and one Iranian citizen guilty of plotting “hostile acts” against the state, smuggling explosives and weapons, and receiving training and support from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Following the conviction, sixteen members of this “Abdali cell” (named for the border town where cell members gathered) escaped from prison to Iran… That Iran is divided between “moderates” and “hard-liners,” and that a policy of accommodation empowers the former at the expense of the latter, is the fundamental pillar of the Iran engagement narrative… But what the Saudis and the GCC have been advancing, and what some Iran watchers ignore, is that, on matters of regional policy, the difference between these two groups is one of tactics, not strategy… Both parties are united behind the principle of revolutionary expansionism because both parties believe that this is the only policy capable of upholding the religio-political legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, which keeps both “moderates” and “hard-liners” in power. Kuwait learned the Iranian approach the hard way. Those Western analysts who continuously criticize Saudi Arabia’s deep mistrust of the Iranian regime would do well to evaluate this “case study” very carefully.

Iran and Pakistan: An Interview with Alex Vatanka | Lawfare

So much of U.S. policy in South and West Asia has been determined by Washington’s relationship with two countries: Iran and Pakistan. But the relationship between these two regional powers has been in many ways as influential as their swings from allies to frenemies to adversaries with the United States. The ties between Iran and Pakistan run deep, and have shifted over time from a deep affinity to regional rivalry and proxy conflict. Underneath it all has been the two countries’ pragmatic self-interest. “Neither country has ever genuinely considered optimum relations as an end in itself,” Alex Vatanka writes in the introduction to his book, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence. “For both Iran and Pakistan, bilateral closeness was always meant to reap something strategically larger.” But over the past seven decades, since Pakistan’s inception, their relationship has been buffeted by global and regional competition, by the Cold War, the scramble for Afghanistan, and the Iran-Saudi rivalry.