Iran News Round Up - January 27, 2016

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 Ken Hawrey. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.

Key takeaway: The Guardian Council announced that it has approved 166 of 794 candidates for the Assembly of Experts elections.

The candidates approved to run in the February 26 Assembly of Experts elections include Expediency Discernment Council Secretary Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has come under increasing criticism from the Principlist faction for suggesting the possibility of creating a triumvirate “Leadership Council” in lieu of a single Supreme Leader. Rejected candidates include Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as well as Reformist National Trust Party deputy secretary-general Rasoul Montakhab Nia. The Guardian Council will review any appeals by disqualified candidates by February 9, after which the Guardian Council will create a finalized list of candidates eligible to run.

The Parliament passed legislation aimed at reorganizing and increasing the Basij Organization’s influence at the local level on January 26. Among other review processes, the Guardian Council must approve the entire bill before it is implemented. The introduction of the bill ahead of the February 26 elections is one of the first high-profile indications that the regime may be strengthening its security apparatuses ahead of the elections.

President Hassan Rouhani arrived in France on January 27 for the second and final leg of his European tour. French officials, meanwhile, have reportedly asked the EU to impose new sanctions on Iran over its recent ballistic missile tests. The U.S. imposed a new round of ballistic-missile-related sanctions on Iran on January 17.

Iranian news outlets reported that two members of the Afghan Shia militia Fatimiyoun Brigade who were killed in Syria will be buried in Tehran on January 28.

Matthew McInnis explains the challenges facing President Hassan Rouhani following Implementation Day, including marshalling support for his budget and the Sixth Five-year Development Plan, dealing with dismal economic projections, and preparing his coalition for the February 26 elections, in his latest blog post, “After the nuclear deal, Rouhani’s real fights are just beginning.

Domestic Politics

  • Guardian Council approves 166 of 794 candidates for the Assembly of Experts election. Guardian Council member Siamak Rahpeyk announced the preliminary results of the qualification process on January 26 for the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with selecting the successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rahpeyk specified that even though 801 individuals had registered for the elections, only 794 candidates had officially completed their applications. Rahpeyk stated that the Guardian Council had not reviewed the qualifications of 421 candidates for several reasons, including failing to attend a mandatory religious examination and withdrawing from the race. Of the remaining candidates, Rahpeyk stated that 166 candidates have been successfully vetted to run for the Assembly of Experts and that the Guardian Council had rejected the qualifications of 207 candidates. In Hormozgan (1 seat), Semnan (1 seat), North Khorasan (1 seat), Bushehr (1 seat), West Azerbaijan (3 seats), and Ardabil (2 seats), the number of vetted candidates equals the number of seats in the province. It is therefore essentially guaranteed that these candidates will be elected to the Assembly of Experts.
    • The Guardian Council approved Expediency Discernment Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to run for the Assembly of Experts. Rafsanjani has come under increasing criticism from Principlists in the regime after he raised the possibility of creating a “Leadership Council” instead of a single Supreme Leader.
    • Ahmad Khomeini wrote on on his Instagram account that the Guardian Council disqualified his father Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Hassan Khomeini later wrote that he will discuss his disqualification on January 28.
    • The Guardian Council has also reportedly rejected the qualifications of Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Hojjat ol Eslam Kazem Sedighi.
    • Rasoul Montakhab Nia, the deputy secretary-general of the Reformist National Trust Party, announced that he was disqualified from running in the Assembly of Experts elections. His announcement contradicts his January 25 statement that he had been cleared to run. He attributed the contradictory statement to initial misinformation from an unnamed official that no candidates from Khuzestan province, including Montakhab Nia, had been disqualified. (IRNA) (hassankhomeini) (IRNA) (Tasnim News Agency)
       
  • Rouhani administration spokesman: Rouhani can discuss the disqualifications in meetings with Khamenei. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht discussed President Hassan Rouhani’s handling of the disqualification of parliamentary candidates during a January 26 press conference. The Rouhani administration spokesman told reporters that Rouhani has had “unofficial contact with those who have been influential” in the qualification review process and that his administration is “hopeful regarding the Guardian Council’s justice.” Nobakht added that Rouhani “can discuss important issues, including the disqualifications,” during regular meetings between him and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nobakht also discussed reestablishing direct flights between the U.S. and Iran, stating that the issue does not fall within the Iranian government’s “jurisdiction.” (Tasnim News Agency)
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  • Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance launches system to monitor mass text messages. Ali Jannati stated that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has launched a system to monitor the content of mass text messages, per a directive from the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC). The Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance said that those “who engage in activities in this area [of mass text messaging] must obtain permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.” The SCC is the highest government body tasked with developing the regime’s cyber policy. The president, relevant ministers, the IRGC commander, and other officials sit on the council. (Mehr News Agency)

Economy

  • Iranian stocks rally. Iranian news agencies have reported that the stocks at the Tehran Stock Exchange have skyrocketed in recent days, indicating an increase of market confidence in the wake of Implementation Day. (EghtesadOnline)
     
  • Iran signs signs multi-billion-dollar agreements with Italian steel firm. Italian steel firm Danieli announced on January 26 that it has signed “agreements worth about €5.7 billion in total with Iran.” Under the agreement, the two sides will establish a “joint steel production venture” called Persian Metallics. (Press TV) (E)

Military and Security

  • Parliament passes preliminary legislation to “strengthen” the Basij. Parliament passed legislation aimed at “strengthening” the Basij Organization with 150 votes in favor on January 26. According to Iranian Labor News Agency, the legislation is aimed at reorganizing and increasing the Basij Organization’s influence at the local level. The National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission has been tasked with reviewing discrete elements of the legislation, particularly whether the bill unnecessarily puts the functions of executive agencies under the purview of the armed forces. Parliament will vote on the legislation again following the NSFP Commission’s review, and the entire bill must also be approved by the Guardian Council before it is implemented.
    • Conservative Parliamentarian Ali Motahari spoke out against the Basij Organization legislation, saying that the presence of Basij units in “residential areas is not necessary” and added that they “do not preserve security.” (ILNA) (ANA)
       
  • US Navy cruiser moves away after warning during Artesh Navy exercises. Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Monterey was “near the Strait of Hormuz” when it received a warning from the Artesh Navy, which was conducting a naval exercise codenamed “Velayat 94,” on January 27. The Artesh Navy claimed that the Monterey “left the region immediately after receiving the warning.” Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari claimed that Artesh Navy maritime patrol aircraft delivered a warning, followed by another warning from Artesh Navy frigate Alborz. Sayyari stated, “It was predictable that the Americans would approach the area around our exercise in order to collect information about our tactical operations.”
    • The Velayat 94 Exercises, which began on January 21, were held in the Gulf of Oman and northern Indian Ocean. The exercises kicked off their fourth, “tactical” stage on January 27. Sayyari said that the exercise was geared towards establishing the security of the Indian Ocean, stating that Iran’s “role in shaping the security of the Indian Ocean is no secret.” (Fars News Agency) (E) (Press TV) (E) (Mehr News Agency) (Fars News Agency)
       
  • IRGC commander: Greater Tehran Basij enrolls volunteer Iranian fighters for Syrian conflict. The Mohammad Rasoul Allah unit (Greater Tehran) Commander IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohsen Kazemeini stated that the Greater Tehran Basij unit carries out enrollment for “volunteers” seeking to participate in Iranian “advisory activities in Syria.” He noted  that “of those individuals who see training, very few are sent to this country [Syria].” He added that 28 individuals from Tehran so far have “been martyred as defenders of the shrine,” a figure he remarked was “quite small” compared to the total number of Iranian casualties killed in Syria. (Shargh)
     
  • Cyber Police: We will be closely watching the elections. Hossein Ramezani, a senior official in the Iranian Cyber Police (FATA), told reporters that FATA is closely monitoring the activities of electoral candidates and their supporters in cyberspace. FATA is a special unit in the Law Enforcement Forces tasked with monitoring and investigating censorship violations in Iran. (IRIB)

Regional Developments and Diplomacy

  • Rouhani continues European tour. President Hassan Rouhani “emphasized the start of a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the EU, including France,” as he arrived in France on January 27. Rouhani is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande as well as with French businesses, marking a continuation of his focus on pursuing economic deals, including an anticipated deal with Airbus for the purchase of 114 aircraft, throughout his European trip.
    • Rouhani placed the responsibility of improving U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations on the U.S. during a press conference in Italy on January 27 before he departed for France. Rouhani stated, “It is possible to re-establish non-hostile ties between the two countries without tension. However, the key to this is not in Tehran, but in Washington. If it were in Tehran, I certainly would have used it.” When asked about economic relations, Rouhani referred to Congress and stated, “From our perspective, [Americans’] presence and activities in Iran’s economy are completely permissible. We welcome technological investment and joint production with them. If there is a problem, it is with their own internal regulations.” (President.ir) (President.ir)
       
  • Iranian embassy in Yemen reportedly damaged in Saudi airstrike. Iranian news outlets have circulated reports from “some sources” claiming that Saudi warplanes have struck and damaged the walls of the Iranian embassy in Sana’a on January 27. Iran also accused Saudi Arabia of damaging its embassy in Yemen on January 6, although officials had later specified that rocket fire struck an area “near” the embassy rather than the embassy itself. (Fars News Agency)
     
  • Canada to lift nuclear-related sanctions. Canada confirmed on January 26 that it intends to lift sanctions against Iran at an unspecified date. The removal of sanctions will likely allow Iran to do business with Bombardier, a Canadian multinational aerospace company. (IRNA)

Casualties in Syria and Iraq

  • Two Fatimiyoun members to be buried in Tehran. Iranian news outlets have reported that two members of the Afghan Shia militia Fatimiyoun Brigade who were killed in Syria will be buried in Tehran on January 28. (Tasnim News Agency)