Iran News Round Up
The Iran News Round Up ran from February 2009-September 2018. Visit the Iran File for the latest analysis.
A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Project Iran Analysts Mehrdad Moarefian, Marie Donovan, Paul Bucala, and Caitlin Pendleton. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.
(E) = Article in English
Key takeaway: The Foreign Ministry indicated Iranian willingness to change the current state of its relations with Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari stated that Iran is ready to change the “current climate” between Saudi Arabia and Iran if Saudi Arabia shows “a definite will” for improving ties. Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary, and Expatriate Affairs Hassan Ghashghavi also noted that despite “bitter exchanges” between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the September 24 Hajj stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Tehran hopes there will be “more engagement than in the past.”
During a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri stated that Iran is “worried about the tension that has emerged” between Turkey and Russia and that Iran is ready to mediate between the two countries.
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stated that the Assembly of Expert is currently “examining” candidates to be the next Supreme Leader during an interview on December 13. The Expediency Discernment Council Chairman also discussed the possibility of choosing a “leadership council” in lieu of a single Supreme Leader.
IRGC Fajr Unit Propaganda and Public Relations Deputy Col. Ghader Shafiei denied reports that IRGC Brigadier General Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar had stepped down from his position as IRGC Fajr Unit (Fars province) Commander. News outlets also claimed last week that IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari had appointed Gheibparvar as commander of the Imam Hossein Battalions, replacing IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, who was killed on October 8 in Syria. Shafiei did not appear to address the reports of Gheibparvar’s appointment as Imam Hossein Battalions Commander.
Matthew McInnis and Jordan Olmstead analyze domestic criticism of President Hassan Rouhani’s economic policies in their latest blog, “Is Rouhani’s image as economic savior crumbling?”
- Rafsanjani: The Assembly of Experts almost elected a council of leaders rather than a single Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stated that the Assembly of Experts is currently “examining” candidates to be the next Supreme Leader during an interview on December 13. The Expediency Discernment Council Chairman said that the Assembly of Experts has tasked an internal committee with creating a list of “individuals who have the qualifications” to become the Supreme Leader.
- On electing a leadership council: Rafsanjani also discussed the possibility of choosing a “leadership council” as opposed to a single Supreme Leader. He stated, “In the Constitution, they wrote the leadership as being a council first. When Imam [Khomeini] passed away and we wanted to select the leadership, our Constitution was [in support of] a council. From that time [to now], we still have not revised the Constitution.”
- “Imam [Khomeini] had said, ‘A council is not very responsive, and I think that an individual can make decisions more effectively and quickly.’ This was limited to words and not in a [written] order.”
- Rafsanjani stated that the Assembly of Experts was considering three potential successors to the office of the Supreme Leader when Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini passed away in 1989. Rafsanjani added that the Assembly of Experts was also considering forming a leadership council at that time rather than a single leader, and that both he and current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were “supporters of a leadership council.” When the Assembly of Experts voted on whether to have a leadership council or a single Supreme Leader, “35 peoples voted for a council and 45 voted for an individual, so the individual [option] won.”
- Rafsanjani stated that when Khamenei was nominated to succeed Khomeini after the leadership council was defeated in a vote, Khamenei stated, “I do not agree with having an individual [leader]. Why are you nominating me? I don’t accept this.” Rafsanjani said he told Khamenei, “‘We have the same opinion, but we voted, and now it is law. If it isn’t you, then it must be someone else.’ He did not give a response to me; he went and sat in his seat… We said that we are taking his silence as consent… Thereafter, we reviewed the Constitution, and in place of a council, we had an individual.”
- On legal duties: Rafsanjani said the duties of the Assembly of Experts include both “oversight over the leadership” as well as “oversight over the institutions that are [also] under the purview of the leadership.” He stated, “In my opinion, it should not be this way... that if we want to execute our duties well, all the country’s work [must be] under the purview of the leadership and we must be heedless of it.”
- On the Guardian Council: “Of course, the Assembly of Experts itself can reform laws relating to its own elections and the rejection of qualifications… Currently in the Assembly of Experts, we gave supervision and the decision of rejection or acceptance of qualifications to the Guardian Council.”
- On political extremism: Rafsanjani described “extremism” in Iranian politics as being limited to statements instead of being “manifested in actions.” He added, however, that Iran has “had extremism in all eras of the Revolution… Sometimes it has been dependent on the right, and sometimes dependent on the left.” Rafsanjani also claimed that the state-owned media outlet IRIB “encourages extremism” by broadcasting the extremist messages of an unnamed “group in Parliament.”
- On the misuse of ‘influence’: While Rafsanjani emphasized the importance of safeguarding Iranian “political independence” and closing all paths of foreign influence in the country, he also criticized the “misuse” of the concept of foreign influence by “extremists.” Rafsanjani stated, “This is the same issue that Doctor Rouhani talked about. The Supreme Leader explained this concept as being that no country thinks it acceptable for others to influence it. This is the correct principle… But now the method of extremism is to say ‘this is influence’ at whatever they do not like.” (ILNA)
- Kowsari: The Principlists must be united for the elections. Principlist Parliamentarian Esmail Kowsari urged for unity ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections and claimed that the “clerical meetings” between Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, and Assembly of Experts Chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Yazd are the “best solution for achieving unity” within the Principlist camp. It has been rumored that these “three person meetings” have concluded without reaching “any specific result.” Kowsari, who is also a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Committee, added:
- “The Principlists are determined to achieve unity…and I hope that we will witness a comprehensive list of candidates from the Principlists.”
- Kowsari claimed that a “counter-revolutionary group” is seeking to divide the Principlists and stated that “this is one of the reasons why I say that unity among the Principlists is a serious necessity… Therefore, I hope that all the groups of the Principlist movement provide the groundwork for greater unity, considering the current conditions.” (Tasnim News Agency)
- Zarif: The JCPOA Supervisory Board is monitoring the “potential for influence” in the nuclear deal. Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Supervisory Board is “continuously and seriously” monitoring the implementation of the nuclear deal. The Foreign Minister added that the JCPOA Supervisory Board is “precisely” tracking the “potential for influence” in the nuclear deal’s implementation. Zarif expressed optimism about the implementation of the JCPOA, stating:
- “We must have our eyes open. However, there is no need for us to be skeptical of everything. The conversation about the past military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program is finally arranged to end. All the sanctions since 2003 which were officially approved in the IAEA Board of Governors will end and will officially be canceled. The agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors will be changed and will turn towards the implementation of the nuclear deal.” (Asiran)
Regional Developments and Diplomacy
Khatam ol Anbia Commander: We are ready to begin activities in Syria. IRGC Brig. Gen. Ebadollah Abdollahi stated during a press conference on December 14 that Khatam ol Anbia “has announced to top officials that we are ready to have a presence in Syria, but the conditions must be prepared.” The Khatam ol Anbia Commander added that Khatam ol Anbia already has ongoing projects relating to “water purification houses and gas pipelines” in Iraq. He stated that Khatam ol Anbia is prepared to construct a railway connecting southern Iran to Karbala, Iraq “in order to facilitate pilgrims’ travel.” When asked about Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh’s past comments on the benefits of foreign companies handling Iranian oil projects, Abdollahi dismissed the need for foreign countries, companies, or engineers in Iran. (Tasnim News Agency)
- Jahangiri: We are ready to mediate between Turkey and Russia. Eshagh Jahangiri met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an on the sidelines of a conference in Turkmenistan. The First Vice President stated, “We are worried about the tension that has emerged in the relationship between Turkey and Russia; we do not consider this tension to be beneficial for the region and we are ready to help remove this tension... Despite the difference in opinion about Syria, we must cooperate with each other in the fight against extremism and terrorism. ” Jahangiri, however, criticized some of Turkey’s recent rhetoric towards Iran. He claimed that Turkish officials “have expressed incorrect and negative statements about the Islamic Republic of Iran, the administration, and the Iranian people.”
- Jahangiri also pushed back on Turkey’s criticism of Iranian media reports on Turkey’s involvement in the oil trade with ISIS, stating, “Our media in Iran is not controlled by the government, and people even write articles about the administration.” (Tabnak)
- Abdollahian: Iranian advisors are continuing their operations “without any interruptions.” Hossein Amir Abdollahian rejected “Western reports” that Iran and Russia have “a difference in opinion on the Syrian issue.” The Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs stressed that Russia and Iran are “seriously” helping the Syrian army and added that Iranian advisors are continuing their operations in Syria “without any interruptions.” (IRNA)
Foreign Ministry: We are ready to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. Hossein Jaberi Ansari stated that Iran is ready to change the “current climate” between Saudi Arabia and Iran if Saudi Arabia shows “a definite will” for improving ties. The Foreign Ministry Spokesman also condemned the recent legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives for eliminating visa-free travel to the U.S. for citizens of 38 countries – including most EU countries -- who have traveled to Iran. He claimed that the legislation “violates the spirit of the nuclear agreement” and stated that the Foreign Ministry is “currently reviewing this issue.” He warned, “If America shows it is serious in implementing the JCPOA, this can provide opportunity for conversations about more cooperation in the future: however, the current behavior of America does not reflect this.” (Press TV)
Deputy Foreign Minister discusses Iran-Saudi relations. Hassan Ghashghavi indicated that despite “bitter exchanges” between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the September 24 Hajj stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Tehran hopes there will be “more engagement than in the past.” The Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary, and Expatriate Affairs noted that Saudi Arabia has appointed a new ambassador to Tehran. Ghashghavi also stated, “In addition to the meeting between the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to Riyadh and some Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, it can be stated that talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the level of bilateral relations and some regional issues have begun.” (Press TV)
Iran summons Nigerian chargé d'affaires. The chargé d'affaires was summoned on December 14 to the Foreign Ministry after soldiers besieged the house of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria-- a Shi’a movement accused of attempting to assassinate Nigeria’s army chief-- and allegedly killed Zakzaky’s wife and son. (Tasnim News Agency)
Parliamentarians condemn the “massacre” of Shiites in Nigeria. The National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission issued a statement condemning the “massacre” of Shiites in the Nigerian city of Zaria. The letter claimed that “Iran considers it its duty to defend the people of Nigeria and that country’s Muslim scholars, particularly Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky.” (IRNA)
Zarif holds telephone conversation with Nigerian counterpart. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed the ongoing clashes between government forces and Shiites in the Nigerian city of Zaria during a telephone conversation with Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama. (MFA)
- Larijani meets with Indonesian parliamentary delegation. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met with an Indonesian parliamentary delegation in Tehran to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. (Mehr News Agency) (E)
- Araghchi: Iran will respond if U.S. visa legislation violates the nuclear deal. Abbas Araghchi discussed U.S. visa legislation’s “various legal dimensions” during a press conference on December 13. The Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs warned that Iran would “take steps” if the legislation violates “the content of the JCPOA.” Araghchi is referring to legislation that would alter the Visa Waiver Program by requiring dual nationals or anyone who has travelled to Iran in the past five years to obtain a visa before travelling to the U.S. The legislation passed in the House and is set to be voted on by the Senate. (IRNA)
Casualties in Iraq and Syria
- IRGC Second Lieutenant killed in Syria. Ali Ashabi was from Semnan province. No unit affiliation was provided. (Afsaran) (Qasemsoleimani.ir)
- Three Iranians from Khuzestan killed in Syria.
- Ali Akbar Shirali and Mohammad Hadinejad were from Aghajari district, Khuzestan province
- Ayoub Rahimpour was from Omidyeh county, Khuzestan province. No rank was provided for the three individuals, but it appears that they were members of the IRGC Vali-e Asr unit, which is based in Khuzestan. (Basij News)
Military and Security?
- IRGC: Gheibparvar is still IRGC Fajr Unit Commander. IRGC Fajr Unit Propaganda and Public Relations Deputy Col. Ghader Shafiei stated, “Over the last few days, the news has reported the [IRGC] Fajr unit commander’s departure; it is hereby announced that this news is untrue…” He stated, “IRGC Fajr Unit of Fars [province] Commander Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar is still serving Fars province.” Shafiei encouraged interested parties to rely on the unit’s public relations staff for news about the unit. Iranian news outlets claimed last week that Gheibparvar had stepped down as IRGC Fajr unit Commander; it was also reported that IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari had appointed Gheibparvar as commander of the Imam Hossein Battalions, replacing IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who was killed on October 8 in Syria. (Defa Press)
- Sayyari: We have moved towards signing a cooperation agreement with the Chinese. Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari discussed Iran-China military cooperation after meeting with a Chinese military delegation in Tehran. The Artesh Navy Commander stated that the Chinese and Iranian officials discussed forming a naval cooperation agreement between the two countries and added that Iran and China are planning on holding joint search and rescue drills. (Defa Press) (Defa Press) ?
Reactions to the Nuclear Deal
Araghchi: We are signing an agreement with China to renovate the Arak reactor. Abbas Araghchi discussed progress under the nuclear deal during a session of the National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission on December 14. The Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs reportedly told the NSFP Commission that Iran is finalizing signatures on an agreement with China to renovate the Arak heavy water reactor. Arahgchi also stated that once the IAEA passes a resolution closing the file on the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will then fulfill two responsibilities: it will sell its enriched uranium to Russia, and it will exchange 10 tons of enriched uranium for approximately 140 tons of natural uranium. (Tasnim News Agency)
- Najafi: Iran expects the IAEA draft resolution to close the PMD file permanently. Reza Najafi discussed the IAEA Board of Governor’s draft resolution on Iran’s PMD file, which is expected to be voted upon on December 15. Iran’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA Board of Governors stated that Iran’s “predictions are that this resolution will be accepted with the consensus and unanimity of the member states of the Board of Governors, that past and present issues and the so-called PMD will be closed forever, and that the path will be opened for the implementation of the JCPOA.” Najafi added that Iran will deliver a speech during the session. (Fars News Agency)