The Iran File is a weekly intelligence summary that synthesizes events from the past week and forecasts what to expect in the future.
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]
Key Takeaway: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed reservations about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iranian nuclear deal, to distance himself from the potential failure of the agreement and to direct blame toward the Rouhani administration.
Khamenei stated on May 22 that he lacked faith in the JCPOA based on its implementation and that he had repeatedly said this to President Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei’s remarks come after the Iranian regime, likely at his command, reneged on some of its JCPOA commitments to pressure Europe to offer Iran economic deliverables. The regime also quadrupled its low-enriched uranium (LEU) production rate, indicating that it may violate the deal’s limitation on LEU stockpiles in the near future. Khamenei may be increasingly inclined to abandon the JCPOA and could decide to do so after July 7, which marks the end of Iran’s 60-day deadline to Europe to provide Iran economic guarantees.
NUCLEAR DEAL DEVELOPMENTS
Supreme Leader Khamenei distances himself from the JCPOA. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei *stated on May 22 that he did not have much faith in the JCPOA based on its implementation. Khamenei noted that he frequently expressed his lack of confidence to President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Khamenei added that as supreme leader, he should not intervene in executive affairs unless it relates to the Islamic Revolution movement.
President Rouhani seeks expanded executive powers to combat US economic pressure. President Hassan Rouhani *stated on May 20 that he needs greater executive power to combat US economic pressure. Rouhani referenced the creation of the Supreme War Support Council during the Iran-Iraq War, which wielded expanded powers to address the conflict. Rouhani emphasized that Iran is currently in an economic war with the US as justification for granting him additional powers. Hardliners, including Guardian Council Spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei and Kayhan Managing Editor *Hossein Shariatmadari, criticized Rouhani in response.
Second Iranian cleric in slightly over a month is murdered. An unidentified assailant stabbed and killed Hojjat ol Eslam Mohammad Khorsand in Kazeroun, Fars Province, on May 29. Khorsand was the Kazeroun Friday prayer leader. Kazeroun previously experienced deadly and massive anti-regime protests in April and May 2018. Khorsand’s killing also comes after an Iranian man in Hamedan, Hamedan Province, shot and killed Hojjat ol Eslam Mostafa Ghassemi on April 27. It is not clear whether the murders are linked.
Larijani reelected as parliament speaker. Parliamentarians reelected Ali Larijani as parliament speaker on May 26. Larijani will serve in this position for the 12th straight year. Larijani received 155 votes, reformist-leaning Omid faction representative Mohammad Reza Aref received 105, and hardliner Seyyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi received nine votes.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS & DIPLOMACY
President Rouhani suggests talks with US are possible if Washington lifts sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani suggested that Iran may negotiate with the US if Washington “lift[s] the unjust sanctions and fulfills [its] commitments” to the JCPOA on May 29. Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have stated that Iran will not negotiate with the US.
Foreign Minister Zarif visits Iraq to discuss regional developments amid US-Iran tension. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif led a senior political delegation to Baghdad, Iraq, on May 25 and met with senior Iraqi officials to discuss regional developments. Zarif met separately with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul al Mehdi, President Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Ali al Hakim, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi. Al Hakim noted during a joint press conference that Iraq could serve as a mediator between Iran and the US to “reach a satisfactory solution.” Zarif’s visit follows the US announcement to deploy 1,500 troops and additional defense assets to the Middle East. Zarif’s visit also follows an increase in political and military tensions in the region including a rocket attack on May 19 near the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Iranian oil exports drop to 400,000 barrels per day. Iran’s oil exports fell to 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in late May 2019. The significant reduction in Iranian oil exports follows the Trump administration’s decision to not reissue sanctions waivers to buyers of Iranian oil. India and Turkey, two of the eight original waiver recipients, have ceased their importation of Iranian oil in compliance with US sanctions. Iran exported around 1 million bpd in April 2019. Iranian officials reportedly told Europe that Iran must sell 1.5 million bpd to ensure its continued commitment to the JCPOA.