Iran: new sanctions as nuclear deal implemented

Iran and the European Union formally confirmed Jan. 16 that Tehran has kept its commitments under the nuclear deal reached withe world powers in July. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the agreement at a press conference in Vienna, as the European Council issued a statement saying it has "lifted all economic and financial sanctions against Iran related to the nuclear program." In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order revoking sanctions on transactions by non-US citizens with the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company. A White House official said Iran will have access to some $50 billion worth of assets that were frozen by the US. Iranian President Hassan Rohani tweeted: "Congrats on this glorious victory!" Average Iranians took to social media to express joy and relief at the lifting of sanctions and the easing of Iran's international isolation.

Four Iranian-Americans held in Iran were also freed in a prisoner exchange as part of the deal, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The seven Iranians freed under the swap had been held on sanctions violations.

However, Obama simultaneously imposed new sanctions against 11 entities and individuals linked to Iran's missile program, barring them from using the US banking system. These sanctions were triggered by Iran conducting a ballistic missile test last October, violating a United Nations ban. Security Council resolution 1929 of June 2010 prohibits Tehran from conducting tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. 

On Jan. 1, Rouhani anticipated the new sanctions, and voiced defiance: "Apparently, the US government is considering adding new individuals and institutions to the list of its previous oppressive sanctions. It's necessary to continue with greater speed and seriousness the plan for production of various missiles needed by the armed forces within the approved defence policies." (RFE/RLBBC News, NYT, Jan. 17; Al Jazeera, Jan. 1; AFP, Dec. 15)

  1. Iran pours concrete into nuclear reactor

    Iran has removed the core of its plutonium reactor at Arak and filled it with concrete as part of the deal takong effect, the Washington Post reported Jan. 11. Regardless of the various political problems with the deal (and its implicit legitimization of "peaceful" nuclear power), this is very good to see. In our yearly assessment of the Obama administration's policies and performance, we split the difference and called the nuclear deal "neutral." We are now tempted to change our assassment to "positive." 

    We've also been waiting for Iran's progressive and secularist dissidents to weigh in on the deal. We now note that Frieda Afary has done so, coming out forthrightly in favor in a statement on her website.

  2. ‘Moderate’ gains in Iran?

    Iran held elections Feb. 26 to choose a new Majlis, or parliament, as well as the "Assembly of Experts"—a body of religious scholars whose main job is to choose the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The NY Times headlines "Iranian President and Moderates Make Strong Gains in Elections," and states: "The voting was seen as a referendum of sorts on the nuclear deal, and virtually every prominent critic of the pact was defeated."

    Vox writes that "moderates and moderate conservatives" together won enough seats to obtain a coalition majority over the "hard-line bloc" in the Majlis, and made similar gains in the Assembly of Experts.

    The Guardian also notes that women are set to have a record 20 seats in the 290-seat Majlis. (Up from nine in the current Majlis.) Most are from the "reformist-backed" bloc known as the "list of hope."

    Leave it to right-wing Zionist commentator Colin Rubenstein to throw some cold water on all this, in a commentary for the Austrailia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Apparently 80% (645 out for 801) of candidates for the 88-Member Assembly of Experts were barred from running. Of the 12,100 announced candidates for the Majlis, 55% were eventually allowed to run, but the most "moderate" candidates seem to have been targeted by the "vetting" process overseen by the 12-member Guardian Council.

    As we've stated before, we do hate the word "moderate"—because it is inherently relative and subjective, and merely implies a supposed lack of "extremism." There would be much more clarity on what the Iranian "moderates" actually stand for if reportage would use postive descriptives—such as "secular" or "progressive." Is Iran really changing in this direction? We'll have to wait and see….