Iran News Round Up - January 3, 2017

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Project Iran Analysts Marie Donovan, Paul Bucala, and Caitlin Shayda Pendleton with contributor Wali Miller. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.

(E) = Article in English

Excerpts of these translations may only be used with the expressed consent of the authors.

Key takeaway: President Hassan Rouhani and Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani accused each other of corruption, highlighting renewed tensions between Rouhani and the hardline Judiciary.

Larijani had claimed on January 2 that money was transferred to President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 election campaign from Babak Zanjani, a billionaire businessman sentenced to death in one of Iran’s largest corruption trials. Rouhani responded to Larijani’s claim on January 3 by stating that his administration expects transparency with the Judiciary’s accounts, likely referring to an ongoing controversy over Judiciary Head Larijani’s alleged misuse of public funds in private bank accounts. Larijani’s claims risk undermining Rouhani’s effort to portray himself as an anti-corruption candidate ahead of the May 2017 presidential election.

Iranian news outlets reported the death of a senior IRGC commander in Syria, as pro-regime forces intensified military operations around Damascus despite the nationwide ceasefire. The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, announced that Javad Turk Abadi, Iran’s former ambassador to Sudan, will be Iran’s new ambassador to Syria.

AEI Must-Reads

Domestic Politics

  • Rouhani administration responds to Judiciary head’s corruption allegation. Rouhani Administration Spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht denied that he had any information about money transferred to President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 election campaign from Babak Zanjani, a billionaire businessman sentenced to death in one of Iran’s largest corruption trials. Nobakht added that the Rouhani administration is cooperating fully with the Judiciary regarding Zanjani’s case. Nobakht was responding to recent claims by hardline Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who reportedly quoted Zanjani as saying that his money went to Rouhani’s campaign. Larijani also accused the Rouhani administration of refusing to cooperate fully with the Judiciary in prosecuting Zanjani.
    • President Hassan Rouhani responded to Larijani’s claims in remarks on January 3. He stated that the administration expects transparency with the Judiciary’s accounts, likely referring to an ongoing controversy over Judiciary Head Larijani’s alleged misuse of public funds in private bank accounts. Rouhani added, “Every institution must act within the scope of its own powers and responsibilities and respond to public opinion. The Judiciary has a very heavy weight on its shoulders in this regard and must be responsive.” Rouhani also emphasized that his administration is committed to investigating Zanjani’s case. (Mashregh News) (Entekhab) (Mehr News Agency)

Regional Developments & Diplomacy

  • Iran appoints new ambassador to Syria. The Foreign Ministry announced that Javad Turk Abadi, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Sudan, will be Iran’s new ambassador to Syria. Turk Abadi has also served as Iran’s ambassador to Bahrain and Nigeria. Iran’s previous ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Reza Raouf Sheibani, stepped down in October 2016. Reports at the time suggested that Hossein Sheikholeslam, the former international affairs deputy to Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, would be his successor. (Fars News Agency) (E)
     
  • Maliki: The PMU can fight in Syria after ISIS is defeated in Iraq. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki arrived in Tehran on December 31 to meet with Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani and other senior Iranian officials. During a press conference in Tehran on January 2, Maliki announced that the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) currently fighting in Iraq “can be deployed to Syria after the defeat of ISIS in Iraq if the Syrian government and people request [their involvement].” Maliki also criticized Saudi Arabia for being the “source” of terrorism in the region. (Quds Online)
     
  • Rouhani and Putin discuss Syria. President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian peace talks during a telephone conversation on December 31. This is reportedly the fourth time the two leaders discussed the conflict in Syria in the month of December. (ISNA)
    • Syrian foreign minister travels to Iran. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem and Syrian Security Council Secretary Maj. Gen. Ali Mamluk met with SNSC Secretary Ali Shamkhani in Tehran on December 31. (Khabar Online)

Military & Security

  • Senior IRGC Ground Forces commander: The Saberin unit “executes impossible tasks.” IRGC Brig. Gen. Morteza Mirian discussed the IRGC’s military activity during a televised interview on December 31. The head of the Armed Forces General Staff Ground Operations Directorate praised the IRGC Ground Forces Saberin units for performing “impossible tasks.” Each of the provincial IRGC units has a Saberin unit, which has special operations capabilities. They have also been extensively involved in Iran’s military activities in Syria. Mirian also claimed that Iran’s security forces foil “15 to 20 suicide attacks each year.” (Tasnim News Agency)
     
  • Sayyari calls for developing port facilities in southeastern Iran. Artesh Navy Commander RADM Habibollah Sayyari reiterated his previous calls for the development of military infrastructure along the Makran coast of southeastern Iran. Sayyari’s comments reflect the regime’s increasing emphasis on developing the ability to project naval power outside of the Persian Gulf. (Fars News Agency)

Casualties in Iraq & Syria

  • IRGC commander killed in Syria. Iranian news outlets reported that Gholam Ali Gholizadeh was killed in Syria. He was reportedly a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. Iranian news agencies referred to him as a sardar, a term usually used for individuals with the rank of IRGC brigadier general second class or brigadier general. (Fararu

Economy

  • Rouhani praises nuclear deal’s economic impact. President Hassan Rouhani claimed that the government would be able to pay only for government workers’ salaries if the nuclear deal had not been reached during a televised interview on January 1. Rouhani also reassured Iranians that his administration will not allow Iran’s currency, the rial, to continue weakening against foreign currencies. (Khabar Online)
     
  • Iran announces list of 29 energy companies eligible to bid in oil and gas projects. The National Iranian Oil Company publicized a list of international companies that are eligible to bid in oil and gas projects. The companies on the list include Total (France), Shell (Britain/The Netherlands), Eni (Italy), Gazprom (Russia), CNPC (China), Inpex (Japan), KOGAS (South Korea) and Petronas (Malaysia). Several preliminary agreements, including with Total and Gazprom, have already been signed. (Press TV) (E) (Fars News Agency)
     
  • Turkmenistan cuts gas exports to Iran. Iranian news outlets reported that Turkmenistan will halt its gas exports to Iran over Tehran’s outstanding debts from price increases on gas sales between 2007 and 2008. According to reports, Iran owes Turkmenistan nearly $1.8 billion from sales of natural gas during that time. The move has threatened the operations of several gas-powered electrical plants in northern Iran. (Press TV) (E) (Mehr News Agency)