Iran Press Review: 26 March

Analysis by FDD

  • David Andrew Weinberg, Senior Fellow, writes in Al Arabiya: “Today’s Saudi-led international military intervention in Yemen, Operation Decisive Storm, is a decided setback for Iran’s regional ambitions. Officials in Tehran had been gloating about their proxies’ newfound dominance over four capitals in the Arab world – Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sanaa – but observers suggest that the assembly of a large multinational coalition to push back against Shi’ite insurgents in Yemen represents a new regional challenge for Tehran. Just hours after Saudi Arabia’s announcement of Decisive Storm, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (a widely anticipated presidential candidate from the Republican Party) characterized the conflict in Yemen and the Houthis’ march on Aden as follows: “this is about Iran.” He pointed to Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to make the case that Iranian involvement in Yemen represents “the latest piece in that puzzle” for “their master plan of regional dominance.””
  • Emanuele Ottolenghi, Senior Fellow, writes in Standpoint Magazine: “How bad is the nuclear deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran? The American public would not know the answer, had it not been for the speech that Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, delivered to a joint session of the US Congress on March 3. The Obama administration probably hoped that a dramatic change of course in America’s Middle East foreign policy, coupled with a milestone nuclear agreement that leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, could occur without a robust public debate. The administration kept crucial elements of the negotiations to itself for as long as it could. It failed to inform Israel and Gulf Arab allies about a back-channel with Iran it conducted in Oman until September 2013, when it was too late to reverse the basic contours of the interim nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).”
  • Ali Alfoneh, Senior Fellow, wrote in an FDD Policy Brief: “With the deadline for nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group drawing near, unanswered questions about the nature of the relationship between Tehran and Pyongyang are taking on new significance. Many questions remain about this relationship, but the memoirs of former president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now Expediency Council chairman, raise troubling new ones. Throughout the multivolume memoirs, published in Farsi over the past ten years, Rafsanjani is remarkably candid about his country’s procurement of conventional arms and ballistic missiles from Pyongyang. For example, Rafsanjani openly notes how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps received eight Scud B missiles in December 1986 and five more in March 1987.”
  • Emanuele Ottolenghi, Senior Fellow, and Saeed Ghasseminejad, Associate Fellow, wrote in Business Insider: “The Obama administration insists that the November 2013 interim nuclear deal with Iran gave Tehran’s economy only limited sanctions relief and that it can respond to Iranian misbehavior by snapping back sanctions at any time in. Iran’s economic windfall, however, goes well beyond the monthly cash transfers and temporary easing on trade stipulated in the Joint Plan of Action, or JPOA.”
  • Oren Adaki, Research Analyst, wrote in an FDD Policy Brief: “Reports surfaced last Friday about the arrival of an Iranian ship at the Houthi-controlled al-Saleef port in Hodeidah in northwestern Yemen, unloading more than 180 tons of weapons and equipment. This arms shipment was by no means the first. In October 2009 and January 2013, arms-laden Iranian ships were interdicted off the Yemeni coast carrying advanced weaponry such as C-4 explosives and man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). Reports suggest that there may be many more covert weapons transfers from Iran to its coreligionists in Yemen that go undocumented.”
  • Claudia Rosett, Journalist-in-Residence, wrote in Forbes: “If international sanctions on Iran are lifted pronto — a condition Iran is demanding as part of any nuclear deal — how hard might it be to reimpose them, in the likely event that Iran cheats? For a glimpse of just how tough it could be, take the case of Iran’s Bank Mellat, headquartered in Tehran, but with a branch in Seoul — where, during a recent trip to South Korea, I dropped by for a look. Occupying spacious quarters on the 13th and 14th floors of a high-rise office building in Seoul’s busy Gangnam district, this branch of Bank Mellat appeared to have no customers on the premises. That was no surprise, because for several years now, Bank Mellat in Seoul has been under sanctions by the U.S., United Nations and the South Korean government.”
  • FDD released a new monograph combining three full-length analysis about Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s President, Hojjat al-Eslam Hassan Rouhani, and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad-Javad Zarif. Senior Fellows Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ali Alfoneh initially produced these three independent pieces by drawing on Persian-language primary source material, and wove them together for this report.

Foreign Policy

  • Reuters reports: “Last month's court decision that cleared Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez of charges that she tried to derail the investigation into a deadly 1994 bombing was upheld by an appeals court on Thursday. The late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman had accused Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran's alleged involvement in the truck bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires. He alleged that she attempted to whitewash the attack in order to clinch a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.”

Military & Security

  • In a somewhat remarkable commentary, Jahan News criticizes the Iranian media, which has “elevated Qassem Suleimani into an exception... He is not an exception, and there are many men like him.”
  • Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the Deputy Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) elevates the importance of the Iran-Iraq War (called the ‘Holy Defense’ in Iran) and proclaims:
    • “The Holy Defense…presented the calculations of the great enemies with defeat.”
    • “By relying on Islam….the nation of Iran…stood before the great empires of the world and was victorious.”  
  • Reactions to developments in Yemen in the Iranian press:
  • President Hassan Rouhani discusses the nuclear negotiations and developments in Yemen with the British Prime Minister, in addition the French and Russian Presidents. Commenting Yemen, Rouhani condemned “any military intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states,” and urged the regional countries to “abstain from actions which could exacerbate the crisis.”
  • Marziyeh Afkham, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, condemns the “use of military force in Yemen which is involved in a domestic crisis and the fight against terrorism. This complicates the affairs more and leads to spreading of the crisis.”
  • Mohammad-Hassan Asfari, Parliamentary National Security Committee member, touts:
    • “The Army can hit targets 500 kilometers into Saudi soil.”
  • 52 Yemeni nationals receiving medical treatment in Iran declare their readiness to return to Yemen to fight against Saudi Arabia.
  • Sa’ad-Allah Zarei, an Iranian Middle East expert, notes:
  • “The action[s] of Saudi Arabia against the people of Yemen is an atrocious action and lacks any legal basis.”
  • “Ansar-Allah’s reactions to the military initiatives of Saudi Arabia will not be hasty. They are trying to increase their power in a political and security process and will improve the air defense systems to prevent future initiatives of Saudi Arabia.”
  • Another Middle East expert, Reza Sadr al-Hosseini, warns Saudi Arabia against the “vengeance” of the Yemeni people, and “their crushing response.”
  • Fars News Agency warns: “Yemen: The graveyard of Saudi mercenaries!”
  • “We plainly condemn the Saudi-American attack on the people and Army of Yemen and the infrastructure of this country.”  
  • Farhang News reports portions of Lebanese Hezbollah’s condemnation:
  • USA Today reported: “The United States began providing critical surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence to Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State militants in Tikrit, according to a Defense official. The support, which began Monday, is the first time the Iraqi government asked for American assistance in Tikrit, an offensive dominated by Shiite militias and their Iranian advisers.”

Nuclear Issue

  • Ali-Akbar Salehi, the Director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), addresses the press:
    • “In technical field, we have reached a common understanding... This common understanding serves the purpose of reaching an agreement.”
  •  Ali-Akbar Velayati, Iran’s former Foreign Minister and a current Advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, attended the funeral service of the mother of President Hassan Rouhani, and commented on the nuclear negotiations:
  • “The Supreme Leader has always emphasized the nuclear rights of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The lines which he clarified were the fundamental framework and the negotiations must proceed according to those... The negotiators have acted based on the framework defined by the Supreme Leader.”
  • AFP reports: “Iran's president Thursday appealed to global leaders including Barack Obama as negotiators raced against the clock to agree the outlines of a deal that puts an Iranian nuclear bomb out of reach. Hassan Rouhani wrote to the American president, US officials confirmed, as well as to the leaders of the five other powers heading efforts to resolve the 12-year standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.”
  • AP reports: “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press. The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.”
  • “We will do all we can for this round of negotiations.”
  • In a brief statement to the press, Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister commented on upcoming nuclear diplomacy:
  • The Hill reported: “Congress is growing hostile to the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, leaving President Obama with little political cover as he approaches a critical deadline in the talks. Administration officials say they’re hoping to finalize an agreement by the end of the month. Should a deal be reached, it would transform U.S. and Iranian relations and potentially give Obama the most important foreign policy achievement of his second term.

Economy & Trade

  • Bloomberg reported: Lifting oil sanctions on Iran could hit global markets long before the nation starts pumping more crude. That’s because the OPEC member has been stockpiling oil onshore and in supertankers in the Persian Gulf, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While estimates of the hoard by shipbrokers and government officials vary from as little as 7 million barrels to as much as 35 million, Barclays Plc and Societe Generale SA predict this crude would be first to be sold abroad if there’s an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.”

Daily Picture(s)

  • Fars News Agency displays pictures from the P5+1 and Iran nuclear negotiations underway in Switzerland.