Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has continued to insist that the process of dismantling uranium enrichment centrifuges, reconfiguring the Arak heavy water plant, and removing enriched uranium from the country would be completed by the end of the year, well ahead of the six month timeframe projected by Western analysts. But Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that some of the world would not even begin until after the International Atomic Energy Agency presented its report on the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program on December 15.
In line with this, Iran’s National Security Council announced last week that it had halted dismantling of centrifuges, thus casting even more doubt on Rouhani’s timeframe. But on Monday the official narrative reversed again, according to the International Business Times. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran reported that Iran had once again begun dismantling the roughly 10,000 centrifuges that must be disabled before relief from US-led sanctions can go forward.
The supreme leader’s resistance to implementation has generally been understood to be connected the surge of anti-Western rhetoric, including Khamenei’s declaration that no negotiations would be permitted with the US beyond the nuclear agreement. This resistance to genuine cooperation was apparently reflected in Salehi’s remarks, in spite of the implicit compliance. The Iranian nuclear official made a point of stating that the dismantled centrifuges could be reassembled within two months if the regime decided to do so.
At the same time, the apparent return to active dismantling demonstrates the seriousness of Tehran’s need to finally secure sanctions relief. Even in the midst of an outpouring of anti-Western rhetoric, Iran is aggressively pursuing Western investment in its oil economy and other industries. The Middle East and North Africa Financial Network reported on Monday, for instance, that an Iranian industrial exhibition had been planned to attract attention from 217 firms from across the globe.
But many would-be investors are still holding back as they wait to make sure that all relevant sanctions will be removed and will pose no danger of returning and possibly making those investors subject to stiff fines.
Iran’s need for relief from these sanctions is arguably made stronger by the fact that smaller-scale Western activities may still limit the range of foreign investment in Iran or cut into the nation’s profits. While the Obama administration continues to champion the deal at the federal level, many of his critics in state governments are taking steps to pass divestment legislation in order to prevent companies from doing business with Iran and those states at the same time. The Associated Press reported on Monday that Wisconsin Republicans had initiated just this sort of legislation, bringing them in line with approximately half of all state governments in the US.
The pressure for these and related actions comes largely from persons who are skeptical about the effectiveness and the possible unintended consequences of the nuclear deal itself. But they are also supported by a range of activist groups and individuals who are generally urging a harder set of policies toward Iran in order to confront its overall behavior, especially including its record of human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch, for instance, has been pushing for the further isolation of the Islamic Republic in the realm of sports, in hopes of coordinating global protest against the regime’s ongoing ban on female attendance at male sporting events. Vice News reported on the group’s #Watch4Women campaign on Monday, pointing out that the International Volleyball Federation had so far ignored the request that Iran be banned from hosting international volleyball tournaments until it reverses its policy.
The article pointed out that FIFA had previously been lobbied to similarly ban Iran, but its refusal effectively encouraged the Islamic Republic to expand enforcement of the policy from soccer arenas to volleyball stadiums. This arguably highlights two trends: laxity about confronting Iran’s human rights issues on the global stage, and an associated expansion in those Iranian abuses.
Iran News Update has repeatedly made reference to an ongoing crackdown on political dissent, journalism, pro-Western attitudes, and any perceived resistance to the hardline ideology of the Iranian theocracy.
The stadium attendance policy is only a small part of the plight of women in Iran, and protests against this and other aspects of that situation have landed many women and human rights activists in jail, often on absurd pretexts such as shaking hands with persons of the opposite sex. Newsweek indicated on Monday that new Iranian legislation was set to even further expand the ability of the regime to attack those who are in violation of its repressive religious laws.
Women are already mandated to wear head coverings in public, and now the Iranian judiciary has declared that if women are caught unveiled or improperly veiled on traffic cameras, the cars in which they are either drivers or passengers will be impounded for one week and the offender will likely be subject to a fine.
In addition to highlighting the crackdown on women’s rights, this points to the overall climate of surveillance in Iran. This is already familiar to any number of activists who have been targeted for prosecution and sentenced to long prison terms for criticizing the government online. Major social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are banned across Iran, but citizens work around the obstruction, gaining access to banned information but also opening themselves up to scrutiny from security forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Recently, many Iranians have shifted their social media conversations onto the new Telegram app, believing that it was more secure. But others disputed this notion, assuming that the regime has access to citizens’ conversations despite Telegram’s apparent refusal to provide officials with specific tools for spying. On Monday, suspicions about Telegram were vindicated when the Daily Caller reported that the IRGC had arrested the members of at least 20 Telegram chat groups, on charges of “immoral conduct.”
This wave of social media arrests follows close on the heels of the arrests of several journalists last week alone, reflecting an effort to reassert moral dominance over Iranian society by Khamenei, the IRGC, and other hardliners. The journalist arrests were also apparently part of a project to portray dissent as being linked to the Western powers that might take action against Iran via sanctions and other efforts if they can be convinced to do so by human rights groups and other opponents of the regime.