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 Shayda Pendleton. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.
(E) = Article in English
Key takeaway: IRGC Deputy Commander Hossein Salami dismissed reports that Iran has decreased its number of advisors in Syria.
IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Salami claimed that Iran has not decreased its number of advisors in Syria during an interview with Fars News Agency. The IRGC Deputy Commander added, “Our strategy in this regard [Iranian advisors in Syria] and our roles in the battlefield and in the political field have not decreased in any way. We are relying firmly on our previous lines, principles, goals, and strategy.” Salami also asserted that the IRGC will develop its missile capabilities regardless of international resolutions.
Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani redoubled his criticism of Rafsanjani’s December 13 remarks that the Assembly of Experts’ constitutional duty includes supervising the Supreme Leader. The Judiciary Head stated, “They cannot go pitch a tent in the office of the Supreme Leader and say, ‘We want to be here night and day, listen to your discussions, and see if you are managing or not.’” Larijani also blamed a “secretive movement” for advocating the notion that the Assembly of Experts has powers of “supervision” over the Supreme Leader and introducing the possibility of forming a “Leadership Council” instead of a single Supreme Leader.
Candidates continue to register for the Assembly of Experts and parliamentary elections. Secretary General of the Combatant Clergy Association Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, and Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani registered for the Assembly of Experts elections. Meanwhile, two former ministers under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the former First Vice President under Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Mohammad Reza Aref, registered for the parliamentary elections.
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi announced that Iran and Russia will begin constructing two nuclear power plants next week, presumably at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Matthew McInnis analyzes recent reports of Iran’s drawdown in Syria and explains that the movement is more likely to be a pre-planned redeployment, re-consolidation ahead of negotiations, or simply disinformation in his latest blog post, “Is Iran recalibrating in Syria?”
Military and Security
Salami: The number of IRGC forces has not decreased in Syria. IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami discussed Iran’s presence in Syria, the IRGC’s missile development, and Iran’s cyber operations during an interview with Fars News Agency. The IRGC Deputy Commander stated:
- On Iran’s presence in Syria: “The issue of a decrease or increase in forces is a fleeting issue and does not have a relationship to our defense strategy; in addition there has not been a decrease [in Iranian advisors in Syria].”
- “Our strategy in this regard [Iranian advisors in Syria] and our roles in the battlefield and in the political field have not decreased in any way. We are relying firmly on our previous lines, principles, goals, and strategy. We play our role according to the needs of the situation.”
- On Iran’s missile development: “The IRGC does not plan on developing its missile capabilities according to the paragraphs on some pages that were written by the world powers.”
- “The development of the IRGC’s defensive and deterrence capabilities is done according to our defensive needs. This is an independent and completely national decision and is no way related to the resolutions which have been issued.”
- On cyber operations: “In military conflict, one must also be equipped with offensive weapons for defense; the same applies to the cyber realm. Of course, our strategy is defensive in both spheres.”
- “Information wars, psychological operations, and cyber and cultural conflicts are the types of wars… which can influence and control individuals.”
- On the role of the IRGC: “The role and responsibility of the IRGC for defending the Islamic Revolution is greater than just military defense. We see the Islamic Revolution as an expansive front both in respect to geography and also in the type of conflict.”
- “Soft war and cultural conflict is an important part of today’s invisible wars, and it is truly taking shape between the world powers. This field is considered to be one of the duties of the IRGC.”
- “The IRGC must continue to upgrade its power and expand its knowledge base to advance to the frontlines of science.” (Fars News Agency)
- IRGC Navy Commander criticizes U.S. presence in Middle East. IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Fadavi met with a military delegation from Oman on December 21. The IRGC Navy Commander praised Tehran-Muscat relations for working to prevent foreign interference in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Fadavi also criticized U.S. presence in the Middle East for “exacerbating unrest” and “worsening the situation of every matter in which [the U.S.] interferes.” He attributed such effects to “differences between the Americans’ self-interest and global interests.” (Sepah News)
Candidates flock to register for elections. At least 474 Iranians have submitted their candidacies for the Assembly of Experts elections and 3,910 for the parliamentary elections as of December 22. Registration will close for the Assembly of Experts on December 23 and for Parliament on December 25.
- Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani and Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani registered for the Assembly of Experts elections.
- Two former ministers under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Hosseini and Mohammad Abbasi, registered for parliamentary elections. (YJC) (YJC)
- Kermani registers for Assembly of Experts elections. Secretary General of the Combatant Clergy Association Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani filed his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts elections on December 22. (Alef)
Prominent Reformist registers for Parliament elections. Mohammad Reza Aref, the former First Vice President under Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, filed his candidacy for the parliamentary elections on December 22. (Tabnak)
Judiciary Head: There are mysterious movements taking place behind the Supreme Leader’s back. Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani warned Iranians to be “vigilant” against plots both in Iran and abroad. The Judiciary Head claimed that a “secretive movement” is responsible for advocating both a Leadership Council in lieu of a single Supreme Leader and the notion that the Assembly of Experts has powers of “supervision” over the Supreme Leader. Larijani added that members of this movement “encourage those who think like them to enter the Assembly of Experts.”
- Larijani recognized articles 107 and 111 of the Constitution as granting the Assembly of Experts the authority to “install and remove” the Supreme Leader. Larijani, however, distinguished these two powers from “supervision” over the Supreme Leader. He rejected criticisms that it is dictatorial if the Assembly of Experts does not have the power to supervise the Supreme Leader by referencing the Assembly of Experts’ power to install and remove the Supreme Leader; he stated, “Everyone knows that the Assembly of Experts is chosen by the people… Therefore [the accusation of] dictatorship is meaningless.”
- “All of society has the right to criticize their government... but they do not have the right to refer to the president or the judiciary and say, ‘We want to oversee all of your matters, investigate all of your correspondences, and examine [your] organization’s financial documents.’ Permission for this type of supervision has not been given to society, although this supervision is done through legal channels.”
- “They cannot go pitch a tent in the office of the Supreme Leader and say, ‘We want to be here night and day, listen to your discussions, and see if you are managing or not.”
- “Tomorrow they will say, ‘We want to go to the IRGC and the Artesh and stay there in order to see how they are being managed; then we can understand whether it has been correct to install or remove the Supreme Leader.’ We are saying that this talk is incorrect and erroneous.”
- On regional issues: Larijani accused “hidden hands at work” for fueling divisions in the Islamic world and accused Saudi Arabia of aiding terrorist groups. He also dismissed charges of human rights violations in Iran by claiming that the countries making such accusations “created ISIS themselves.”
- Larijani condemned “the killing of innocent Shias in Nigeria and the imprisonment of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky,” the leader of the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). Larijani claimed that the killings had the support of Saudi Arabia and “some other countries.”
On the Visa Waiver Program: Larijani criticized changes to the Visa Waiver Program as “contradictory to the JCPOA” and indicative of “typical mischief from America after agreements.” He called for officials in foreign ministries to examine the issue. (Entekhab)
Ghalibaf’s and Velayati’s representatives attend Principlist Coalition meetings. Principlist Parliamentarian Reza Ashtiani Araghi stated, “Unity among the Principlists has advanced well; a wide spectrum of Principlists have participated in meetings of the Principlist Coalition.” The Society of Qom Seminary Teachers member told reporters that representatives of Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf have attended meetings for the Principlist Coalition. He added that Ali Larijani “has not been present at the meetings, but apparently it is arranged that he will send a representative to the meetings.” (Donya-e Eqtesad)
Shariatmadari: If the 2009 “sedition” had succeeded, the U.S. would not support ISIS now. Hossein Shariatmadari accused the U.S., the UK, and Israel of fomenting the 2009 presidential election protests in a speech at Tehran University on December 22. The managing editor of leading conservative news outlet Kayhan claimed that “suspicious trips began in the years leading up to the  sedition,” citing travel by George Soros and Richard Rorty. Shariatmadari claimed, “If the sedition had been victorious, America would not need to launch ISIS, and the leaders of the sedition would not need to play the role of ISIS.” (Raja News)
- “Smart filtering” begins for Telegram. Iranian users of the popular mobile messaging application Telegram have reported that messages are being selectively blocked, presumably by the Iranian government. The Iranian newspaper Shahrvand wrote, “It appears that this is the start of ‘smart filtering’ for Telegram in Iran.” (ITNA)
Reactions to the Nuclear Deal
- Iran and Russia set to construct two nuclear facilities next week. Behrouz Kamalvandi announced that Iran and Russia will begin construction of two joint nuclear facilities next week, presumably at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Spokesman also discussed China’s role in redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor and stated that “the presence of the Chinese [at the Arak reactor] does not mean that China is going to undertake the redesigning procedures; rather the task will be carried out by Iranian engineers with Chinese supervisors.” (Mehr News Agency) (E)
Regional Developments and Diplomacy
Araghchi: Kerry’s letter was a strong commitment. Abbas Araghchi discussed Secretary of State John Kerry’s December 19 letter to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reassuring Iran that the U.S. is committed to the JCPOA and that changes to the Visa Waiver Program will not hinder the implementation of the nuclear deal. The Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs referred to the letter and stated, “Kerry’s letter to Zarif was read as a legal commitment from America’s government that [the U.S.] will use all of its tools… for the successful implementation of the JCPOA…” (Tabnak)
Forty-eight parliamentarians issue statement to Rouhani over U.S. visa restrictions. Forty-eight parliamentarians issued a statement addressed to President Hassan Rouhani protesting the recent passage of the Visa Waiver Improvement Act of 2015, which will require dual nationals, or anyone who has travelled to Iran in the past five years to obtain a visa before entering the U.S. The letter claims that the new legislation “clearly violates articles 28 and 29 of the JCPOA and article 3 of Parliament’s resolution [on the JCPOA].” The letter also criticized the IAEA:
- “The IAEA report alleged that Iran pursued a nuclear weapon and accused Iran of providing false information and trying to hide its activities.”
- “Paragraph 10 of the IAEA resolution [closing Iran’s PMD file] commits Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and gives [inspectors] full access to its military facilities at the requested time of the IAEA… Paragraph 14 stipulates that the Iran file must remain on the IAEA agenda for ten years.”
- Notable signatories of the letter include Principlist Parliamentarians Ali Reza Zakani, Amir Hossein Qazi Zadeh, Javad Karimi Ghodousi, Mohammad Esmail Kowsari, Hamid Resaei, and Reza Ashtiani Araghi. (Fars News Agency)
- Zarif extols “the start of a new stage” of Tehran-Paris relations. Foreign Minister Zarif met with President of the French Senate Gérard Larcher in Tehran. Zarif praised President Rouhani’s forthcoming visit to France as “the start of a new stage of political and economic relations” between Iran and France. Zarif stressed the importance of finding a “political solution” to the crises in Syria and elsewhere in the region and of “all countries adopting a common strategy in which they play only a helpful and facilitating role, not the role of decision-maker.” He stated, “If all countries persist in respecting the will of the peoples in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere, the solution is simple and achievable.” (Mehr News Agency)
Jahangiri highlights effect of falling oil prices on Iran’s economy. Eshagh Jahangiri stated, “Over the last 10 years, Iran’s economy has been set with the price of oil at $100 per barrel with an annual income of $100 billion. Today, the price of oil has reached $30 per barrel. Certainly, the reduction of these incomes will be troublesome for Iran’s economy.” The First Vice President highlighted that Iran is entering a “new era” entailing the “arrival of foreign partners” and “new technologies.” Jahangiri stated that if Iran enters “this new economic era without a plan and without rationality, each opportunity in these conditions can become a threat.” (ILNA)
Nobakht: The government has set the annual budget. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht discussed the effects of declining oil prices on the 2016-2017 annual budget during a press conference on December 22. The Rouhani administration spokesman stated that the government has set the annual budget at 267 trillion toman. Nobakht added that falling oil prices will “strongly affect government revenues” and stated that oil revenues currently account for 66 trillion toman in the proposed budget; the remaining 201 trillion toman in the budget comes from “other sources.”
- Nobakht predicted that the government will be able to offer the budget to Parliament for review within “one to two weeks.” Parliament must still approve the budget before it is finalized. He added that the Resistance Economy Headquarters must also examine the budget and the 6th Five-Year Development Plan in order to assess their compliance with Resistance Economy policies.
- Nobakht denied that the government has any plans for the “liberalization of oil prices,” stating that such plans “certainly do not exist.”
- "Based on our predictions, next year the inflation rate will fall below 11 percent and economic growth will reach 5 to 6 percent."
On the Visa Waiver Program: Nobakht also discussed whether the recent legislation altering the U.S. Waiver Program violates the JCPOA. He stated, “Whenever the American government wants to deviate from its commitments, [we must remember that] the world is not just America… Other countries are condemning these actions by America.” (IRIB)
Parliamentarians issue statement to Rouhani on the economy. One hundred parliamentarians issued a statement addressed to President Hassan Rouhani and Economic and Finance Minister Ali Tayyeb Nia on the “deep and unprecedented” economic crisis in Iran. The statement claims that the “only solution” is “the practical implementation of Resistance Economy policies.” (IRINN)
- Tehran and Moscow to strengthen bilateral banking relations. Valiollah Seif met with a visiting Russian delegation on December 22 to discuss measures that will promote stronger banking ties between the Iranian and Russian central banks. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Head highlighted opportunities to facilitate joint Tehran-Moscow economic relations in the post-sanctions environment. (IRNA)