Iran News Round Up

A selection of the latest news stories and articles published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Analysts.

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: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that the full implementation of the U.S. congressional legislative changes to the Visa Waiver Program would “certainly” violate the nuclear deal.

Foreign Minister Zarif stated that if the U.S. visa restrictions are “implemented as approved by Congress, this will certainly be a violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).” Zarif, however, noted that if the Obama administration “uses its resources to implement the nuclear deal as the U.S. Secretary of State stated, this will not lead to a violation of the JCPOA.” Zarif is referring to Secretary of State John Kerry’s December 19 letter in which he claimed that the Obama administration “has the authority to waive” the visa changes “so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran.” The changes to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program require dual nationals or anyone who has travelled to Iran in the past five years to obtain a visa before travelling to the U.S. [Kagan note: The Iranian reading of the JCPOA and the U.S. legislation is unjustifiable. Countries alter their visa requirements all the time, and changing a visa-waiver program does not constitute a hostile act or an attempt to disrupt trade and commerce.  Sovereign states determine the formalities through which people who cross their borders must go, and changing those formalities in ways that do not ban travel does not rise to the level at which any provision of the JCPOA should be triggered. The U.S. legislation does not ban travel nor does it specifically mention Iran. It requires individuals who have traveled to countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism (of which Iran is one) to obtain a visa to visit the U.S.]

President Hassan Rouhani praised his economic record and noted that the inflation rate in the country has reached 9.9 percent. He  stated, “This means that the inflation rate - which at the beginning of this administration was 45 percent - has now decreased to less than 10 percent.” Rouhani also promised that the economy will reach five percent economic growth next year. Rouhani has been under increasing pressure from his political rivals over the economic slowdown in the country.

Iranian news outlets reported that four Iranians were killed in Syria. IRGC Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, meanwhile, noted that “despite the publication of false and unfounded news of the withdrawal or reduction of Iranian advisory forces in Syria, our advisory presence…in Syria will continue until the appropriate time.”

Registration for the Assembly of Experts elections ended today. Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi filed his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts elections. Principlist Parliamentarians Gholam Ali Haddad Adel and Mohammad Esmail Kowsari, meanwhile, officially registered for the parliamentary elections. Registration will close for Parliament on December 25.

Matthew McInnis critiques the argument that the U.S. should hasten sanctions relief in order to empower moderate Iranian leaders or avoid raising the ire of hardliners in his latest blog post, “The U.S. can’t play Iranian domestic politics.”

Regional Developments and Diplomacy

  • Zarif: The full implementation of the U.S. visa law would be a breach of the nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the new U.S. visa restrictions during a press conference with his Mongolian counterpart Lundeg Purevsuren. Zarif stated:
    • “If the law is implemented as approved by Congress, this will certainly be a violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA].”
    • “However, if the [Obama] administration uses its resources to implement this law as the U.S. Secretary of State [John Kerry] stated, it will not lead to a violation of the JCPOA. We must see how this legislation is implemented.”
    • “The American government has taken on specific responsibilities according to the [JCPOA] terms. The American government itself must solve its internal difficulties in any way it knows. It is an international rule that internal decision-making cannot remove international commitments.”
    • Zarif stated that the JCPOA Supervisory Board will “receive the letter from the National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission” on the U.S. visa law and will “make a decision about this issue.” (Mehr News Agency) (Hamshahri)
       
  • Parliamentarian: Zarif will attend a NSFP Commission hearing. National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission member Bagher Hosseini told reporters that Foreign Minister Zarif will attend an NSFP Commission hearing next week on the U.S. visa law. Bagher Hosseini also noted that the NSFP Commission has sent an official letter to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) protesting the U.S. visa law as a “clear violation of the JCPOA.” (Ghatreh)
     
  • Nagdi condemns “anti-Iran” visa law. Basij Organization Commander IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi condemned the new U.S. visa restrictions and claimed that some individuals in Iran have become “apologists for this anti-Iran law.” (Basij News)
     
  • Jazayeri reiterates that Iran is not reducing its presence in Syria. IRGC Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri responded to reports that the IRGC is reducing its presence in Syria. The Armed Forces General Staff Headquarters Basij Affairs and Defense Culture Deputy stated: 
    • “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategies and policies are defined according to religious teachings, rationality, the Islamic ummah [community]’s interests, and national interests.”
    • “ ...despite the publication of false and unfounded news of the withdrawal or reduction of Iranian advisory forces in Syria – which is produced in line with psychological war against the ‘Resistance Front’- our advisory presence in various aspects and commensurate with the anti-takfiri terrorist battleground in Syria will continue until the appropriate time.”
    • “Syria has enjoyed great strategic value; in this sense, the safety of critical and vital parts of the Islamic world, Syria, and Iran’s national security are tied together in this point. Therefore, as it has been stated many times, our advisory presence in strategic, tactical, operational, and technical dimensions in Syria to help the government and people of this country…continues powerfully.” (Defa Press

 

Domestic Politics

  • Rouhani: “Extremism has never been able to yield favorable results.” President Hassan Rouhani discussed ideals of the Islamic Revolution during a meeting with Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) officials on December 22. Rouhani stated, “Extremism has never been able to yield favorable results, but the moderate path is the path of Islam; Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini guided the revolution on this path.” Rouhani also discussed the elections, stating,
    • “We must help so that all the individuals who are qualified according to law can compete in the elections…We must not allow a group to violate legal norms based on its interests to some individuals or a particular faction.”
    • President Rouhani also urged MOIS officials to “act impartially and according to law in reviewing the qualifications of candidates.” (President.ir)
       
  • Rafsanjani: Some people are weakening the popular base of Iran’s political system. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani discussed domestic political developments during a meeting with parliamentarians. He stated, “Unfortunately some people - whether knowingly or unknowingly -  are weakening the popular base of Iran’s political system with strange, irrational, and reckless language and behavior.” The Expediency Discernment Council Chairman added:
    • “Some people are attributing their own remarks to the Supreme leader…. Considering their illogical and irrational positions [on certain topics], this damages the lofty position of the Supreme Leader and the velayet-e faqih.”
    • “We must not allow for anything to impair the participation of the majority of the people in the elections in the name of defense and the [Islamic] Revolution.” (Entekhab)
       
  • ?Final day to register for the Assembly of Experts elections. Interior Ministry Election Headquarters Secretary Ali Pour Ali announced that candidates can file for the Assembly of Experts elections until 4:30 local time on December 23. (IRIB)
    • Nearly 800 candidates file their candidacy. As of December 23, 788 candidates have registered for the Assembly of Experts elections. (YJC)
    • Iranians continue to register for parliamentary elections. The number of registered candidates for the parliamentary elections reached 5,796 on December 23, the fifth day of registration. (YJC)
       
  • Reformist leader: We are less worried about the Guardian Council vetting these elections. Reformist political party Union of Islamic Iran People Party Secretary General Ali Shakourirad discussed the Principlist faction’s fears and the Guardian Council’s vetting process in the upcoming elections. He stated: 
    • “The upcoming elections have special significance for both sides…The Principlists – who dominated all branches of power eight years ago – feel that a gap in the fence of their power was created in 1392 [2012-2013] and the Reformists have been able to return to power. They [the Principlists] are concerned that the Reformists will rise in power and the Reformist faction will win more seats in the parliamentary elections…”
    • “Of course, there is some news and evidence that through the interaction of the administration and the Guardian Council, the review of [candidates’] qualifications will be more in compliance with the law than in the past; concerns in this area have decreased.”
    • “The Reformists have made a public call that anyone who sees himself as capable should go register…” (ISNA)
      ?
  • Prominent Principlist runs for reelection in Parliament. Principlist Parliamentarian Gholam Ali Haddad Adel filed his candidacy for the parliamentary elections on December 23. The former presidential candidate and father-in-law to Supreme Leader Khamenei’s son also discussed the Principlist Coalition on the sidelines of his registration. Haddad Adel expressed satisfaction with current trends in the Principlist Coalition and stated that “political activists, organizations, and the dear clergy” will attend upcoming Principlist Coalition meetings.  Haddad Adel added that he plans to provide more details in his upcoming press conference next week as the Principlist Coalition spokesman. (Fars News Agency)

Ayatollah Sedighi signs up for Assembly of Experts elections. Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi registered his candidacy on December 23. (Tasnim News Agency)
 

  • Kowsari registers for parliamentary elections. Principlist Parliamentarian Mohammad Esmail Kowsari registered for the parliamentary elections on December 23. Speaking with reporters, Kowsari praised the performance of the current Parliament, stating:
    • “It is different in various topics, but in general I would give an acceptable score to the performance of Parliament.”
    • “Parliament did not give permission for the work of the JCPOA commission to be completed. If it was allowed, many of the issues would have been solved and completed and presented to the people.”
    • In response to a question about whether he would run as a Principlist candidate, Kowsari stated, “I have not talked [about this] and I will not insist that I will certainly be on the [Principlist] list…I will accept the collective view on this issue.” (Fars News Agency)
       
  • Mesbahi Moghaddam: Larijani still has not provided a representative for the Principlist Coalition. Principlist Parliamentarian Hojjat ol Eslam Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam claimed that Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has not yet sent anyone to represent him at the Principlist Coalition meetings. He stated:
    • “Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, one or two weeks ago, met with Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani. Parliamentarian Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi Fard and I also met with Larijani a little while ago. I heard something from Larijani at this meeting about the benefit of unity among the Principlists.”
    • “Larijani told me that he himself could not attend the meetings with the Principlist Coalition but he would send a representative. However, Mr. Larijani still has not sent a representative.”
    • “The Followers of the Velayat are a faction, not a political party. When we invited Mr. Larijani [to join the Principlist Coalition] some of the Followers of the Velayat thought we had invited their faction. The Principlist Coalition only invites actual political parties, however.” (Tabnak)
       
  • Motahari: Haddad Adel was able to go on TV but not Zarif? Conservative Parliamentarian Ali Motahari wrote a letter protesting the last-minute decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) to cancel the broadcast of a highly-anticipated interview with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on December 21. Motahari claimed that the decision was political, noting that Principlist Parliamentarian Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, “who is a candidate for the parliamentary elections, had enough time to speak that night before Zarif’s interview.” Motahari urged IRIB President Mohammad Sarafraz to “pay sufficient attention to the principles of free-speech and impartiality in the managing of this institution.” (ILNA)

 

Economy

  • Rouhani: We will have five percent economic growth next year. President Hassan Rouhani discussed economic issues during a speech on December 23 in Rey city, Tehran province. He claimed that after sanctions relief, “We hope that our great people will witness peace and the opening of the country’s economic gates to the world.” Rouhani also stated:
    • “Next year we will reach 5 percent  economic growth.”
    • “The construction budget next year will be 90 percent  greater than the construction budget this year. This means that many of the non-finished projects in the country will be completed.”
    • “25 percent of our budget next year is reliant on oil. 75 percent of our budget relies upon non-oil sources [of revenue]. This is one of the achievements that our nation and political system have pursued for years.”
    • Rouhani noted that the inflation rate in the country has reached 9.9 percent  according to the Statistical Centre of Iran. He stated, “This means that the inflation rate, which at the beginning of this administration was 45 percent, has now decreased to less than 10 percent.”
    • “I hope that we can see the passion and the emotions of the great and revolutionary people of Iran that started at the beginning of this month [Dey] during the elections.” (President.ir)

 

Casualties in Iraq and Syria

  • Four Iranians killed in Syria.
    • Amir Lotfi was killed in the vicinity of Aleppo; he will be buried in Tehran. No further information on his rank or unit affiliation was provided.
    • Abdol Mehdi Kazemi was an IRGC member from Khomeini Shahr, Esfahan province. He is reported to have been the commander of a company in the 124th Imam Hossein Battalion. He also previously commanded an infantry company in the 154th Battalion of the IRGC 8th Najaf-e Ashraf Division.
    • Abdol Hossein Yousefian was from Shahin Shahr, Esfahan province. He is reported to have been a member of the 104th Imam Hossein Battalion. No information was reported on his rank.
    • IRGC 1st Lt. Ali Shah Shanaei was from the IRGC 14th Imam Hossein Division. (Fars News Agency) (Saheb News) (Tasnim News Agency) (Saheb News)
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