Insider news & Analysis in Iran

No Nuclear Compromise

 On Thursday, some outlets reported that Iran had finally lowered its demands for how many uranium enrichment centrifuges it would insist upon keeping in the country under an acceptable nuclear deal. Even if this information had been correct, such a deal still wouldn’t have been acceptable to Western negotiators, who have been struggled to reduce Iranian demands on that point by roughly a factor of ten.

 However, as it turns out, the claim of newfound concessions was erroneous, according to Deputy Foreign Minister and nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi. He has told the media that Iran is still maintaining the government’s declared red lines restricting any negotiation on point of centrifuge stockpiles or enrichment quantities. Furthermore, Araqchi also declared that any restrictions that are agreed upon would only be temporary, thus signaling that the Iranian regime is explicitly committed to resuming all the former dimensions of its nuclear program and continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon once the heat of diplomatic pressure has died down.

The conservative website Frontpage Mag has assembled a collection of quotations illustrating why this must be prevented. Coming from a variety of government officials, analysts, and media personalities, the quotations range from David Meyer’s factual observation that “Iran continues to aggressively expand its nuclear program, and funnel troops and weapons into Syria” to Senator John McCain’s statement that “[If Iran acquires] nuclear weapons, I think we could have Armageddon.”

 French Help with Sanctions Evasion

 But amidst ongoing nuclear negotiations, there may be significant complicating factors that will affect the West’s ability to prevent a nuclear Iran, even if those negotiations fail and economic sanctions technically remain in place in an attempt to pressure the regime to reconsider its uncompromising positions. Temporary sanctions relief has made certain companies, and even certain governments, over-eager when it comes to opening up the Iranian market to new business. There are indications that the perceived promise of that business may motivate those players to help Iran expand its already substantial apparatus for sanctions evasion.

 This may not have been the case with BNP Paribas, the French bank that has just agreed to pay nearly nine billion dollars in penalties for its defiance of US sanctions against Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. In that case, the company committed this crimes over an eight-year period, well before the current temporary sanctions relief made Iran a tantalizing prospect for investors.

 But at the same time that these crimes were being uncovered and punished, the French government was looking at possible ways of normalizing that behavior and profiting by allowing its businesses to evade sanctions on Iran without suffering any consequences. According to France24, the French Senate is considering channeling all transactions with Iran through Banque Postale, a firm that would not be subject to sanctions enforcement because it does no business with the US.

 The chairman of the Senate’s Finance Committee, Philippe Marini, expressed concern that the US is positioning itself to have a competitive advantage over other players by securing access to a de-sanctioned Iran at the earliest possible moment. Evidently, in the minds of some businessmen and politicians, this justifies helping Iran to evade those sanctions while they are still in place. Competition to compete within Iran in light of softer diplomatic relations may make sanctions enforcement more difficult over the long term.

 Courting Investment, Continuing to Interfere

 Of course, at the same time that foreign powers are contemplating these motives, Iran is continuing to actively court their investments. According to Tehran Times, Iran is seeking some 10 billion dollars from foreign investors to help it develop new offshore oil fields, which may give it access to as much as 96 billion additional barrels of oil, further increasing its attractiveness to foreign oil markets.

 Under the terms of the interim nuclear agreement that went into effect in January, Iran is supposed to hold its oil exports to one million barrels per day until the conclusion of negotiations, but it has refused to do so. At the same time, it has been hard at work deals that give it a role in the extraction or refinement of oil in partner countries from Iraq to Tunisia.

 Meanwhile, it has pursued partnerships in other areas that similarly give it leverage over the West and its regional adversaries. Vestnik Kavkaza, a news website for the Caucuses region, reports that Iran and Russia have signed a protocol designating the future cooperation of their nuclear oversight agencies. In absence of more information, this may represent an innocuous effort to guarantee best energy practices, or it may point to Iran seeking long-term outside help in the development of its nuclear weapons program.

 Political Prisoners

Amnesty International has issued a new call for action regarding the plight of specific political prisoners in Iran. It calls attention to a hunger strike by the human rights activist Latif Hassani, which is about to enter its seventh week. Hassani was imprisoned along with four other members of an Azerbaijani culture organization that advocates for the political rights of such minorities. They are serving nine-year prison terms for “forming an illegal group with the intent to harm national security,” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” All five men have engaged in long hunger strikes in the past, at great peril to their health, and have been tortured or otherwise punished for them. Hassani’s current action is in protest of the general treatment of political prisoners and the refusal of the authorities to transfer him to a prison closer to his family home.

 The National Council of Resistance of Iran is reporting that another political prisoner, 23 year-old Hamzeh Naroui, has died in prison as a result of ongoing tortures, thus suffering the same fate that befell his brother five months earlier. The NCRI also reports that five days previous to Naroui’s death, another prisoner, 40 year-old Habib Abbassi died under suspicious circumstances in solitary confinement, following a conflict with a guard.

 The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that a veteran Iranian journalist, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, is set to join the ranks of Iran’s political prisoners, as he has been charged with spreading propaganda and banned from travel, due to his interviews and reporting. It is his second travel ban in five years. The first was revoked in late 2013, prompting him to declare, as many others had done after Hassan Rouhani took the presidency, that the situation in Iran was improving. This optimism has clearly been proven false by the fact that he is facing a new ban, along with criminal charges, and that his attempts to re-open a reformist newspaper were blocked.

 Gender and Sexuality

 The Christian Post reports that this week Iranian television premiered its own version of the hit American sitcom “Modern Family.” The obvious problem that such an adaptation poses for Islamic State of Iran Broadcasting, which is responsible for the new series, is that “Modern Family” includes a homosexual couple in its cast of characters, and Iran is a nation where homosexuality can be punished by death and the former president denied that gays so much as exist within its borders.

 The Iranian version of the show simply removes the gay couple, replacing them with another husband and wife, as well as making other changes that bring the show into compliance with the strict censorship and morality laws of the Islamic Republic. The eldest child in the show is a girl in the American version, but a boy in the Iranian version, presumably because storylines involving nascent independence and sexuality would have been unacceptable to Iranian censors if they featured a female protagonist.

 This attempt to diminish female roles in the media is to be expected in a nation where women are not so much as allowed to go into public spaces as men are. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran points out that 130 women’s rights activists recently signed a petition calling for women to be allowed access to sports stadiums, where they had formerly been denied access and harassed, assaulted, and arrested by police. Some of these incidents came shortly after President Rouhani ordered his subordinates to investigate whether women had in fact been attending international volleyball games in Iranian stadium

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