Golnaz Esfandiari – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 21 Sep 2021 05:20:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 Iranians Fear Turning Into Another ‘North Korea’ If Draconian Internet Censorship Bill Passes https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/iranians-draconian-censorship.html Sun, 15 Aug 2021 04:04:22 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199496 ( RFE/RL ) – Iranians are warning of public anger and drawing parallels with the world’s most oppressive regimes as legislation makes its way through the country’s parliament that could intensify online censorship and further restrict Internet access.

Iranian authorities already block tens of thousands of websites and regularly throttle or cut Internet connectivity during crucial periods, including a near-total shutdown for nearly a week amid antiestablishment protests following a disputed election in 2019.

On July 28, the draft of a bill to hand control of Iran’s Internet gateways to the armed forces and criminalize the use of virtual private networks (VPN) was sent for review to a parliamentary committee, despite fierce public criticism.

Of the 209 lawmakers present, 121 voted in a closed-door session to advance the bill.

The committee is expected to endorse the bill and could order several years of “experimental” implementation if the hard-line Guardians Council that vets all Iranian legislation gives its blessing.

End Of Foreign Platforms

Internet experts and media-freedom advocates fear the bill will put the final nail in the coffin of Internet freedom in Iran, where citizens are forced to access banned websites, including social media and news sites, via anti-filtering tools.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said last year when the draft was submitted to parliament that it could further buttress the “digital wall” that already exists in Iran.

The legislation could result in bans on the few social-media platforms that have not yet been filtered in Iran and are popular among Iranians, including Instagram and the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.

“What this bill could do is tighten or even eclipse the small [accessible] spaces…remaining online,” Mahsa Alimardani, a digital-rights researcher with the human rights organization ARTICLE19, told RFE/RL.

“If implemented as we see, we will see the end of foreign platforms that are the backbone of communications, e-commerce, freedom to access media not controlled by the strict censors of the Iranian authorities, and any sense of privacy,” Alimardani added.

‘Betrayal’ Bill

Many Iranians have publicly blasted the bill, which has alarmed ordinary citizens who use social media to make a living, communicate with each other, or in some cases access censored information.

It is officially called the Bill To Protect The Rights Of Users In Cyberspace And Organize Social Media.

Critics have used the hashtag #Betrayal_bill to condemn the bill and note that instead of protecting users it will further curb Internet access.

“What we’re seeing is North Korea,” journalist Javad Heydarian said on Twitter.

Reformist politician Azar Mansuri warned Iranian authorities that it would stoke popular “anger.”

It could also cause significant economic damage by depriving tens of thousands of Iranians of their current sources of income.

“What are you going to do about the large number of unemployed amid the coronavirus crisis and [U.S.] sanctions?” Mansuri asked.

Ordinary Iranians And The Clerical Establishment

Many warned that the bill would widen the gap between Iranians and the clerical establishment, which has recently faced angry protests over water shortages in the southwestern province of Khuzestan that spread to other cities.

Iranian Minister of Information and Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi cautioned that not only would the bill “not create a system for cybergovernance,” as claimed by supporters, but it would “undermine the country’s real-world governance system.”

“It’s like [authorities] are determined to fight the people. Every day [they] start a new game and [they] are happy about the torment they are inflicting on Iran,” Saeedeh Khashi, who lives in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of Iran’s poorest provinces, said on Twitter. She added that many women in the province use the Internet to make a living.

The bill, which has been pushed by hard-liners who have repeatedly bemoaned what they see as a lack of control of cyberspace, also prompted criticism from some conservatives.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and secretary of the Expediency Council, an institutional dispute arbitrator, questioned the necessity of the bill at a time when the country faces numerous economic problems. He said the bill would create “a serious challenge” for the recently elected hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office on August 5.

Others speculated that lawmakers had moved the bill forward knowing that Raisi and his team would support the measure.

“I think that because the future government agrees with this bill, it has advised its friends in the parliament to approve it sooner so that it doesn’t end up in its name,” Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as vice president under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, said on Twitter.

Amid the anger, some people suggested that the legislation was likely to fail in the same way a 1994 ban on private ownership of satellite equipment has missed its mark. That ban and police raids to enforce it have not prevented millions of Iranians from using satellite dishes to watch foreign networks for news and entertainment.

“History has shown that obscurantism has always failed technology,” Iranian entrepreneur Pedram Soltani said on Twitter, while posting a copy of the law that bans the domestic use of satellite equipment.

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Via RFE/RL

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Iran swears in new President Ebrahim Raisi”

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Iranian Voters sent a Message to Iran’s Leaders with Dismal Turnout For Presidential Election https://www.juancole.com/2021/07/iranian-presidential-election.html Sun, 04 Jul 2021 04:02:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198705 ( RFE/RL) – The Iranian leadership has a problem: a record number of voters — more than half of them — turned their back on the presidential election by not taking part in the vote.

Official turnout in the June 18 election was 48.8 percent, the lowest ever registered in the Islamic republic, which was established in 1979. In the capital, Tehran, only 26 percent of registered voters decided to participate.

By comparison, the turnout in the last two presidential elections — in 2013 and 2017 — was about 73 percent, while in 2009 nearly 85 percent of voters cast their ballots, according to official Interior Ministry statistics.

Low Turnout, Most Invalid Votes

The number of spoiled ballots in the presidential vote was 3.7 million — or about 12 percent of the total. That suggests that many people cast protest votes despite a fatwa by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning blank votes “if they result in the weakening of the Islamic establishment.” In previous elections, an average of about 2 percent of the votes were invalid.

Analysts say the message is loud and clear: Iranians have signaled their discontent to their leaders through an unprecedented election boycott.

“The historically low voter turnout plus the over 3 million void votes has been first and foremost a resounding rejection of the entire establishment — hard-line or moderate — by a majority of Iranians,” Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a scholar affiliated with the Free University of Berlin, told RFE/RL.

Many had said they would boycott the vote to protest the highly restricted choice of candidates. Others were unhappy with a deteriorating economy that has been crushed by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement, as well as state repression that includes the brutal 2019 crackdown on anti-establishment protests. Still others cite the unfulfilled promises by politicians to bring change.

Hard-line cleric and judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi received 62 percent of the vote in the June 18 election, in which only seven men, including two unknown moderates, were allowed to run. Three candidates dropped out of the race a day before the vote.

A Quasi-Referendum

“The real winner has been the boycott campaign that wanted to strip the Islamic republic of its ability to leverage voter turnout as proof of its legitimacy, especially to the outside world,” Fathollah-Nejad added. “What it got instead is a quasi-referendum against it.”

In Tehran, analyst Abbas Abdi said the spoiled ballots should not be counted as part of the vote, which he said would bring the turnout to around 43 percent. He suggested that a segment of those who cast invalid ballots were people who wanted to vote in the city-council elections held the same day as the presidential vote, but refused to vote for one of the four men running for president.

“Some [ in this group] voted correctly and wrote the name of one of the four [presidential candidates]. Some voted blank or wrote irrelevant names or phrases on the ballot…and threw it in the ballot box, and some put it in their pockets or tore it up,” he said.

Writing in the daily Hamshahri, sociologist Taghi Azad Armaki suggested that among those who cast invalid votes were people who still believe in voting but felt none of the candidates could represent them. “These citizens actually want a new candidate. They have practically crossed the reformist-fundamentalist dichotomy with invalid votes,” he wrote.

A Defeat For Reformists

The low turnout is widely seen as a defeat for those reformists who attempted to gather support for the only moderate candidate in the race, banker Abdolnaser Hemmati, who came in third with only 2.4 million votes. Those reformers called on Iranians to vote to preserve “the republican element” of Iran’s political system.

But as Tehran-based professor Sadegh Zibakalam noted, people turned their back on the reformists, who are seen as having failed to bring meaningful change to the country. “It’s not the government that took the message that the people are no longer with you, the reformists also took the message that people are no longer with you,” Zibakalam said at an online discussion organized by the Atlantic Council on June 20.

Khamenei turned a blind eye to the dismal turnout, praising what he described as the “enthusiastic and epic” people’s presence in the vote, while President-elect Raisi, whose path to the presidency was paved by the strict vetting of prominent moderates, said his win was “epic” and that Iranians had made an “extensive and meaningful” presence in the vote despite the deadly coronavirus pandemic and the “enemy’s psychological warfare.”

Cause For Alarm

Many warned that growing disillusionment and hopelessness was a cause for alarm and a potential recipe for future instability if the authorities fail to respond to the people’s grievances.

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami said the low turnout and the high percentage of invalid votes was “a sign of people’s frustration and despair and their distance from the establishment that should alarm everyone.”

Khatami, who voted in the presidential election, said he bowed to all those who boycotted the vote because of “the feeling of insult to their intelligence and their rights” or due to a lack of hope for any improvement in society.

The conservative daily Jomhuri Eslami called for action from the government. “The Islamic establishment must act in order not to lose the support of the people,” it said, and that those who believe in the system cannot be indifferent to “the bitter reality.”

The lowest turnout in a presidential election follows a record low turnout in the parliamentary elections held last year. There was also a high number of invalid ballots cast and another low turnout for the Tehran-city council elections, with the number of spoiled votes almost equaling the number garnered by the top candidate in the race.

RFE/RL

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “‘Iran first’: President-elect Raisi sets out his priorities”

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Meet The New Boss: Iran’s Raisi In His Own Words And Those Of Others https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/irans-raisi-others.html Thu, 24 Jun 2021 04:02:34 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198531 ( RFE/RL ) – Hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi has been declared the presumptive winner of Iran’s June 18 presidential vote, which was marred by the disqualification of prominent moderates that paved the way for Raisi’s path to presidency.

Concerns have been raised that Raisi’s rise to power could bring more social and political restrictions for Iranians, who already face strict limitations on their lives, including tight online and offline censorship.

Raisi’s presidency is likely to harden Iran’s tone toward the West. However, in view of Iran’s need for sanctions relief, analysts believe he will likely honor the 2015 nuclear agreement if ongoing talks in Vienna result in an agreement approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in Iran.

Here is a selection of some of Raisi’s recent remarks about foreign policy, Internet censorship, and other issues:

On The 2015 Nuclear Deal

“We will be committed to the [nuclear deal] as an agreement that was approved by the supreme leader, as any other agreement that governments should be committed to.”

On U.S. Sanctions

“We will pursue the removal of the unjust sanctions with full force. But the economy should not be conditional, and people’s [lives] should not be connected to international events. “

“If we solve many of the country’s problems based on existing solutions such as the resistance economy and neutralize sanctions, our economy will not be shaken.”

“These sanctions would create problems in any country. Even those who imposed them have admitted that the maximum pressure campaign did not impact our country and was doomed to fail, because our country is determined and our young people are active in many fields. They wanted to prevent our oil exports, but it was exported.”

On Iran’s Ties With The World

“We will interact with the world, with all countries that want to have ties with the Islamic republic. We will establish ties with neighboring countries as a priority.”

“We must pursue ties with the world with rationality. Rationality and prudence require that we put national interests first. National interests are central for us. We strongly believe that the oppressive sanctions should be lifted, and no effort will be spared in that regard.”

On Internet Censorship

Raisi, who as the head of the judiciary has played a key role in online and offline censorship, has sought to downplay concerns over Internet filtering even though, as reported by the fact-checking site Factnameh, under Raisi the judiciary has been looking into more restrictions, including blocking the popular Instagram.

“[Cyberspace] should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. It has facilitated contacts, made access easier… When we speak of filtering, it is as if a road has opened, and they want to shut it. An open road should not be closed. Many people make a living in this space. But, of course, the rules of the road should be respected. People’s rights should be respected in this space, and privacy shouldn’t be violated. We believe that cyberspace should be expanded.”

A Soldier Of Khamenei

Unlike the wife of Raisi’s moderate rival, Abdolnaser Hemmati, Raisi’s wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, did not play a prominent role in his campaign. Even on election day, Raisi was seen voting by himself. His wife, an assistant professor, did not appear in photos published by Iranian media.

Raisi’s wife, whose father is the ultraconservative Friday Prayers leader in Mashhad, Ahmad Alamolhoda, has said that her husband’s big advantage is that he considers himself “a soldier” of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and that his views on women’s issues are similar to those of Khamenei, who has spoken out against gender equality.

“He sees himself as the soldier of supreme leader, and his discourse in that regard is the discourse of the supreme leader,” Alamolhoda has said. “He believes that women should take the lead if development and progress is to take place in the field of women.”

Raisi ‘Won’t Build Walls Between Men And Women’

One of Raisi’s two daughters, Reyhaneh Sadat Raisi, was asked in an interview on state television about misconceptions Iranians could have about Raisi. She said that during the 2017 presidential election, in which her father was defeated by incumbent Hassan Rohani, misinformation was spread about him.

“In 2017, there was [an attempt] to damage [his image] with some people, saying he would create a wall between women and men. In fact, he will not build walls between men and women. He will create bridges to make men and women progress,” Reyhaneh Sadat Raisi said.

Amnesty: Raisi Should Be Investigated For Crimes Against Humanity

Raisi has never addressed his role in the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s, when he was reportedly a member of the so-called “death committee” that briefly interrogated prisoners about their religious beliefs and political affiliations before sending thousands to their deaths.

Here is what Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard has to say about Raisi’s involvement in the executions and other human rights abuses:

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission,’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988.”

“As head of the Iranian judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiraling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders, and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained. Under his watch, the judiciary has also granted blanket impunity to government officials and security forces responsible for unlawfully killing hundreds of men, women, and children and subjecting thousands of protesters to mass arrests and at least hundreds to enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment during and in the aftermath of the nationwide protests of November 2019.”

Via RFE/RL

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Iran elects new President”

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Disgruntled Iranians Say ‘No Way,’ Call For Boycott Of June Presidential Election https://www.juancole.com/2021/05/disgruntled-iranians-presidential.html Sat, 29 May 2021 04:02:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198066 ( RFE/RL ) – Less than a month before Iran’s June 18 presidential election, there are few signs of enthusiasm about the vote.

For many Iranians, voting in the Islamic republic has often been a choice between bad or worse.

Elections in Iran are tightly restricted, with candidates being preselected by hard-liners on the country’s unelected Guardians Council.

Frustrated by the limited powers of elected officials, their failure to deliver on promises, and the absence of meaningful change to the lives of ordinary citizens, some Iranians have concluded that staying away from the ballot box is the right choice this year.

SEE ALSO:

Who Are The Early Contenders For Iran’s Looming Presidential Vote?

Among them is Maryam (not her real name), a Tehran-based office manager who says she will not be lured to vote in June.

Fresh in her mind is the deadly November 2019 crackdown by authorities against antiestablishment protesters. According to Amnesty International, at least 300 people were killed.

She also remembers the deaths of many Iranians in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet near Tehran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) in January 2020, a tragedy that led to anger and protests against what was seen as an initial cover-up attempt.

“There is no way I will vote,” she says. “My vote has never brought any change anyway. Things have only gotten worse.”

At least 300 people were killed in the crackdown against antigovernment protests in Iran in November 2019, rights groups estimate.

Opinion polls and debates on social media suggest many others also will stay away from the polls due to a long list of grievances.

There is dissatisfaction with an ailing economy crushed by ongoing U.S. sanctions. State repression is on the rise, as well as poverty, corruption, and perceived nepotism.

Many politicians are seen as incompetent. There has also been frustration over the mishandling by authorities of the coronavirus pandemic and a slow vaccination drive.

Turnout for the 2019 parliamentary elections hit a new historical low for the Islamic republic, a disconcerting sign for leaders who often refer to high election turnout figures as a claim to their legitimacy.

Official opinion polls suggest turnout for the presidential vote could also hit a new low.

SEE ALSO:

Iran’s Lowest Election Turnout Since Islamic Revolution A Blow To Khamenei, Clerical Establishment

The results of one telephone poll published on May 15 by the state-owned Iranian Student Polling Agency (ISPA) predicted turnout in June could be as low as 40 percent. It said 43.8 percent of respondents indicated they will “definitely participate in the presidential election,” while only 5.5 percent said they were “very likely to participate.”

The ISPA concluded that “due to lack of cooperation with pollsters and slight conservatism in the telephone poll, the [expected] turnout is currently estimated at 40 percent.”

I couldn’t imagine that my 19-year-old innocent Reza would be killed in the street. I call on the people not to vote because one day their children could meet the same fate.” — Mother of Reza Moazami Goudarzi

Another poll by state-controlled television in early May found that 51 percent of voters in the survey said they don’t plan to vote in June. By comparison, only 30 percent said they would cast a ballot.

During Iran’s last presidential election in 2017, turnout was 73 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. Many said they had voted for the self-proclaimed moderate, incumbent President Hassan Rohani, in order to block hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi from winning.

Earlier this week, 230 activists within Iran signed an open letter calling for an election boycott in order to bring about “a nonviolent transition from the Islamic republic to the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

“We boycott the June 18 presidential election show so that the current anti-people establishment does not endure,” the letter said. Signatories included political activists such as jailed filmmaker Mohammad Nurizad and former political prisoner Heshmatollah Tabarzadi.

“The main barrier for a secular and democratic system is the Islamic republic,” Tabarzadi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in a telephone interview from Tehran. “[The authorities] know themselves that the majority of people do not support them.”

“The establishment does not react to these calls,” Tabarzadi said. “They have reached the conclusion that the best thing to do is to remain silent in reaction to these statements and campaigns because, as you see, there are many supporting these [boycott] calls.”

There have also been boycott calls on social media by some parents of children who have been killed in state repression, such as the November 2019 crackdown. They’ve been using the hashtag, in Persian, of #Notovoting.

“I’d like to tell the Iranian people that, as a mother, I didn’t think I would lose my son like this,” the mother of Reza Moazami Goudarzi said in a video posted online recently.

Goudarzi was shot dead in the crackdown against the November 2019 protests, which were sparked by a sudden rise in the price of gasoline.

“I couldn’t imagine that my 19-year-old innocent Reza would be killed in the street,” she said. “I call on the people not to vote because one day their children could meet the same fate.”

Mohammad Karimbeigi says he also won’t be voting because he wants to protest “42 years of injustice, inequality, killings, unemployment, and poverty.”

Karimbeigi is the father of Mostafa Karimbeigi, who was killed at the age of 26 in the 2009 crackdown against protesters who disputed Iran’s official presidential election results.

Berlin-based Iranian journalist Ehsan Mehrabi told RFE/RL that Iranian authorities appear to be bracing for a low turnout in June.

“Some of the hard-liners have said for months that, despite a decrease in turnout, what is important is electing an efficient [president],” Mehrabi said. “Therefore, it appears that authorities in the Islamic republic are ready, to some extent, for a lower turnout than usual.”

Mehrabi predicted that Iranian authorities also could try to blame the coronavirus pandemic for voter apathy.

Speaking to the Associated Press on May 19, Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei argued that a low turnout in June would not damage the legitimacy of the establishment.

“The public, social, and political expectations always desire a high turnout,” Kadkhodaei said. “Nevertheless, from the legal and lawful point of view, low turnout does not bring about any legal problems” with the election’s credibility.

RFE/RL Radio Farda reporter Roya Maleki contributed to this report

Via RFE/RL

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Seven candidates to run in presidential elections as Iran bars Ahmadinejad, Larijani”

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U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Could Bring Iran Opportunities, Threats https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/withdrawal-afghanistan-opportunities.html Tue, 27 Apr 2021 04:01:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197469 ( RFE/RL) – The announced withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan will grant Iran one of its biggest wishes and lead to the departure of all foreign forces, which Tehran has long blamed for insecurity in the region.

Analysts say the pullout of U.S.-led NATO forces from Afghanistan could potentially give Iran more room to maneuver within its war-torn neighbor, with which its shares cultural and religious ties.

But if Afghanistan spirals into chaos — as some Afghans fear — then Iran could be faced with the problems created by a humanitarian and security spillover as it did during the Afghan civil war, when Tehran was faced with an influx of refugees and, later, a hostile Taliban government.

“I think for the Iranians, I’d say, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,'” says Colin Clarke, director of research and policy at the Soufan Group. “In other words, while Iran has been beating the drum for a U.S. withdrawal for years, there are potential second-order effects that Tehran might struggle with.”

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14 announced that the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be leaving by September 11. NATO said it will follow Washington’s timetable and pull its remaining 7,000 non-U.S. soldiers out of Afghanistan by the same date.

Andrew Watkins, a senior Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the departure of U.S. and NATO forces will certainly leave something of a power vacuum, giving Tehran more space to seek influence both with Afghan officials and other power brokers in the country, including the Taliban.

But he adds that “it is unclear how much Iran’s essentially defensive, border-oriented interests in Afghanistan would expand, if at all.”

“Throughout the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, Iran has sought to gain influence among local actors and stymie U.S. interests, but via a low-risk, low-reward approach,” says Watkins, who notes that “Iran generally exercises more restraint on its eastern border than it often has westward looking to the [Persian Gulf and the Levant].”

Fear Of A Vacuum

Speaking on April 16, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the “responsible” departure of U.S. forces as a “positive move,” saying the “presence of foreign forces has never contributed to peace and stability in our region and [their] removal will lead to at least less grounds for violence.”

But Zarif also warned against a “vacuum” forming that the militant Taliban could try to fill. “That is a recipe for a new war in Afghanistan and we in the region cannot tolerate, with 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran, we cannot bear more burden,” he said in on online discussion with Afghan and Indian officials. He added that Iran and other countries in the region need “a stable Afghanistan, a peaceful Afghanistan.”

Analysts say that in the case of increased violence in Afghanistan, Tehran could work with regional allies to ensure stability, fortify its borders, as well as deploy its proxy forces, which have played a key role in promoting Iran’s interests in the region.

Tamim Asey, executive chairman of the Institute of War and Peace Studies in Kabul, says Tehran’s actions going forward will depend on its level of threat perception from Afghanistan, adding that Iran could work with regional powers that have similar interests in order to prevent the Taliban from returning to power.

“In fact, Iran could revive the axis of Iran, Russia, and India to support a second national resistance against the Taliban if Afghanistan plunges into a civil war,” Asey, a former Afghan deputy defense minister, told RFE/RL.

The Daesh Threat

The Soufan Group’s Clarke says Tehran could also secure its porous border with Afghanistan with more troops if the security situation worsens. “If a U.S. withdrawal leads to an immediate return to civil war in Afghanistan, as some have predicted, Iran is going to move quickly to fortify its border and ensure that spillover violence is mitigated,” he told RFE/RL.

In his April 16 comments, Zarif warned about the presence in Afghanistan of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, also known as Daesh, which has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks.

“Now we see the role of Daesh; we don’t know who’s supporting Daesh in Afghanistan but of course we have some circumstantial evidence about the people behind the transfer of Daesh from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan,” Zarif said.

He added that “Daesh is a threat to Afghanistan, to Iran, to Pakistan, to everybody — so we have a common threat.”

Clarke says one byproduct of a U.S. withdrawal could be an uptick in IS plots and attacks targeting “Iran and or Iranian assets in Afghanistan.”

“The Islamic State’s Afghan branch has repeatedly attacked sectarian targets and, if it hopes to rebound from a string of recent setbacks, it’ll likely resort to its playbook,” he says.

In that case, Clarke suggests Tehran could deploy the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which has fought in Syria. The militia — whose members are reportedly recruited and trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — is comprised mainly of men from Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority. Between 2,500 to 3,500 Fatemiyoun fighters are believed to have returned to Afghanistan.

In a December 2020 interview with Tolo TV, Zarif suggested the Fatemiyoun fighters could help Kabul’s fight against IS. “They are the best forces with a military background in the fight against Daesh. The Afghan government, if willing, can regroup them,” Zarif said in remarks that were criticized.

Watkins believes all sides in Afghanistan are likely to oppose the deployment of the Fatemiyoun Brigade. “Both Taliban and the Afghan state, and many other stakeholders, would see them as foreign proxies and threats to their authority. Not to mention, the brigade is made up of Hazaras, an ethnic minority that widely feels under siege around the country, and in need of community defense [not aggressive expansion],” he says.

Biden has said Washington will ask other regional states to “do more” to support Afghanistan.

RFE/RL

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Vice News: “The Reality of the US Withdrawal From Afghanistan”

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Amid Nuclear Standoff, Who’s In The Running To Take The Reins In Iran? https://www.juancole.com/2021/03/nuclear-standoff-running.html Tue, 16 Mar 2021 04:01:57 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=196672 (RFE/ RL ) – Iran will hold a presidential election in less than three months amid speculation that a hard-liner and a “military man” could succeed Hassan Rohani, who is serving his final term and is under heavy pressure from his hard-line opponents who have consolidated power in the Islamic republic.

As with all elections in Iran, potential candidates for the June 18 presidential vote must be vetted by the hard-line Guardians Council, whose members are directly and indirectly appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The country’s supreme authority has said publicly that the country should be led by a relatively young and ideologically hard-line president.

The presidential election follows last year’s parliamentary vote, which resulted in an increase in the number of hard-liners in the legislature due to a historically low turnout as well the disqualification of thousands of more moderate hopefuls.

For now, there seems to be minimal interest in the election among increasingly disenchanted Iranians who are struggling to make ends meet amid a continually deteriorating economy that has been crushed by U.S. sanctions and a deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“These elections are an important opportunity for conservatives to win control of the elected branches of government after being out of office for eight years,” Sanam Vakil, deputy director of Middle East program at Chatham House, told RFE/RL. “To achieve this, though, conservative factions should be unified in their support of a candidate. Moreover, the candidate has to energize Iran’s disaffected public. The competition is heating up between Iran’s factions as to which group will negotiate with the team of [U.S. President Joe Biden],” she added.

Multiple names for the presidency have been floated by the conservatives, who appear to be trying to gauge public sentiment for various hard-liners.

Baqer Qalibaf And Ebrahim Raisi

Parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf — a one-time aerospace commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), former Tehran police chief, as well as the former mayor of the capital — has already lost three bids for the presidency.

Qalibaf, 59, who has in the past positioned himself as a moderate, faced allegations of corruption during his tenure as mayor.

A member of the parliament’s presidium, Mohsen Pirhadi, said last month that Qalibaf is not planning to run. But he suggested Qalibaf could help judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi’s candidacy if he decides to run. “My understanding is that with the increased likelihood of Raisi standing [for president], Qalibaf is ready to assist him.”

Others have suggested that Raisi, 60, is looking to succeed octogenarian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is unlikely to jeopardize losing his influential post as judiciary chief.

The hard-line cleric, who lacks charisma and is notorious for his role in the mass executions of regime opponents in the 1980s, was defeated in the 2017 presidential election by Rohani.

Saeed Mohammad

Saeed Mohammad, 53, recently resigned from his powerful post as the head of the IRGC’s construction conglomerate, Khatam al-Anbia, citing the likelihood he would take part in the presidential election as the reason.

Mohammad has raised his profile in recent months by taking trips to a number of provinces and also on social media, where his hard-line supporters have been campaigning on his behalf and attempting to compare him with former IRGC Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in early 2020.

But he remains little known to the general public and has no political experience. In a recent online post he appeared maskless at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad amid the coronavirus pandemic and said he faces “a difficult road ahead.” The daily Sazandegi recently named him as Qalibaf’s most serious competitor.

Hossein Dehghan

Former IRGC commander Hossein Dehghan — a military adviser to Khamenei and ex-defense minister — is among the few who have officially announced he would be running for president.

Dehghan, 64, has served under a reformist, hard-line, and a moderate president during his career. He has worked to raise his profile and has given several interviews to Western media outlets in recent weeks, including The Guardian, in which he said his candidacy does not indicate a growing militarization in the Islamic republic.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a one-time protégé of Khamenei who fell out of favor with the supreme leader, has been unofficially campaigning for months. But he faces a major obstacle: the Guardians Council, which barred him from running in the last election.

Washington-based Iranian analyst Ali Afshari says that, if allowed to run, Ahmadinejad, 64, could be a “game-changer” in the election.

“There are indications that the establishment is determined to prevent him from returning to power. But due to his populistic mentality, he is able to make a segment of the society believe his false promises and increase the turnout.”

The names of Parviz Fattah (60 years old) — a former IRGC member who heads the giant Mostazafan Foundation, which has more than 150 holdings in key economic sectors — and Ezatollah Zarghami (61 years old), the former head of the unpopular state broadcaster, have also been mentioned as prospective presidential candidates.

Ali Larijani

Ali Larijani, 63, the former pragmatic parliament speaker who has come under pressure over his support for Rohani, is reportedly considering a run for president in the hope of getting support from a mix of conservatives and reformists.

But analysts say garnering public support could be a big challenge for Larijani, who is a former IRGC officer and left his post as parliament speaker last year.

Larijani served as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 2005 to 2007 under Ahmadinejad’s administration. He has also been a key person within Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, 61, is reportedly under pressure to run even though he has said he has no plans to.

Reformists believe that if Zarif could strike a deal with the United States that would result in the lifting of the crippling economic sanctions Washington has imposed on Iran then he would be attractive to the public and could garner support in the presidential vote.

Other Potential Candidates

There are also reports that reformists are pressuring Hassan Khomeini (48 years old), the grandson of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to run even though he lacks political experience.

“The main problem of the reformists is that their main candidates are unlikely to pass the Guardians Council vetting,” says Afshari, adding that the reformist camp has also lost much of its public support.

“Today the number of those who want to change the Islamic republic has increased significantly — they see participation in the election negatively,” he says.

Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, 63, and Mohammad Reza Aref, 69, who served as vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, are also being discussed as prospective pro-reform election candidates who may get past the restrictive vetting process.

RFE/ RL

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

PBS Hour: “Top Iranian official tells U.S. to ‘come back’ to nuclear deal”

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‘So Frustrated’: Iranians’ Fears Skyrocket That They Won’t Get Access To COVID-19 Vaccines https://www.juancole.com/2020/12/frustrated-iranians-skyrocket.html Thu, 31 Dec 2020 05:02:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195248 ( RFE/ RL ) – Amid the launch of mass COVID-19 vaccination drives in the West, there’s growing concern among Iranians that they could be left behind.

They fear U.S. sanctions and what some regard as the Iranian clerical establishment’s failure to prioritize the well-being of its citizens.

Iranians, including health workers, have taken to social media to call on their leaders to purchase vaccines against the coronavirus amid allegations by Iranian officials that U.S. sanctions are impeding their ability to procure them through COVAX, a global payment facility aimed at ensuring vaccine distribution around the world.

The concern over Iranians’ access to vaccines was also highlighted in a December 22 statement by more than two dozen rights groups and humanitarian organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), who called on “all stakeholders to ensure that Iranians have swift, unencumbered, and equitable access to safe, effective, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines.”

Without inoculations, many more Iranians are likely to die from the Middle East’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, which has already infected more than 1.1 million Iranians and claimed the lives of nearly 54,000, according to officials figures. Health officials have suggested that the country’s real coronavirus death toll could be twice that number.

Sanctions

Earlier this month, Iranian Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said in a social-media post that “inhumane sanctions by the U.S. government” were preventing the country from making any payment for vaccine doses via “the official channel of the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed stifling sanctions on Iran in 2018 after withdrawing the United States from a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal that exchanged sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has said the United States will rejoin the accord if Tehran returns to strict compliance, although there is at least one effort afoot among Republicans in the U.S. Senate to prevent that.

A COVAX spokesperson was quoted as saying that Iran has received a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to procure vaccines and that Tehran does not face any “legal barrier.”

Humanitarian goods, including medicine and food, are supposed to be exempt from U.S. sanctions. But HRW has documented that U.S. sanctions have constrained Iran’s ability to finance vital medicines.

Esfandiyar Batmanghelidj, the founder of Bourse And Bazaar, an opinion website focused on Iran’s economy that promotes business diplomacy between European countries and Iran, told RFE/RL that he thought Iran was seeking to use foreign-exchange reserves held in South Korea to make payments through the COVAX facility.

“U.S. sanctions exemptions and licenses technically permit these payments to be made for a humanitarian good such as vaccines. But there are only two banks that have engaged in Iran-related transactions since the tightening of oil-related sanctions in 2010: Woori Bank and Industrial Bank of Korea. And both banks have in the last decade come under significant pressure from U.S. authorities over their Iran business,” Batmanghelidj said.

A patient being treated for coronavirus at a hospital in Tehran.

“It is possible that the Trump administration has explicitly told these banks not to process these payments, but even without such a directive, bank executives will be strongly inclined to wait until the Biden administration is in office before proceeding,” he added.

HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehrifar argued that the United States and Iran must work together to provide Iranians access to vaccines quickly, adding that humanitarian exemptions have been insufficient to ensure Iran’s access to medicine in a timely manner.

“The U.S. Treasury should actively work with banks and financial mechanisms to ensure Iran’s money in the form of foreign currency can be used for purchasing vaccines,” Sepehrifar told RFE/RL.

“Iranian authorities should prioritize Iranians’ right to health and do everything in their power to ensure Iranians access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as possible,” she added.

Iranians Blaming Their Leaders

Speaking on December 22, government spokesman Ali Rabiei suggested that part of Iran’s problem was self-inflicted.

He pointed to a failure to comply with rules of the global anti-money-laundering- and anti-terrorism-funding task force — known as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — that are opposed by the country’s hard-liners.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently ordered a review of legislation that would bring the country into FATF compliance.

“Based on sanction laws and FATF principles, several possibilities for transferring money encountered problems,” Rabiei said, adding that the FATF blacklisting of Iran is affecting the country’s financial dealings.

Many Iranians have tweeted about the need to access vaccines quickly using the Farsi hashtag #Buy_vaccines. Some blamed their own leaders for any potential delay and accused them of prioritizing their own ambitions over the health of citizens.

Among them was prominent former political prisoner Zia Nabavi, who said “[Iranian authorities] consider nuclear energy, but not the right to life, an inalienable right.”

“When I see my parents who, in their 70s, have become so frustrated at not seeing their children and grandchildren for a long time, I can no longer remain silent and control myself,” economist Siamak Ghassemi wrote on social media.

A doctor in Tehran who did not want to be named said clinical trials for the Iranian vaccines have not started and added that the effort, even if successful, could take many more months.

“For now, we have to rely on foreign vaccines,” he said.

Speaking on December 23, President Hassan Rohani attempted to ease Iranians’ concerns.

“We don’t have any worries for the future, even regarding the production of vaccines or the purchase of vaccines,” he said.

Rohani added that the Central Bank and the Health Ministry were doing all they could to provide Iranians with vaccines.

Mostafa Ghanei, the head of the scientific committee at Iran’s National Headquarters for Combating the Coronavirus, told the official news agency IRNA earlier this month that Iran was unlikely to purchase the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine due to its price tag and a local lack of infrastructure.

But, without being specific, he suggested that the country has several other options.

Via RFE/ RL )

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

For breaking news update see The Arrogance of Superpower: Trump will “Let” Iranians import Coronavirus Vaccine – Informed Comment

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Iran says US wants vaccine payments to go via its banks”

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‘There Is No Insulin’: Desperate Iranians Tweet Calls For Life-Saving Drug https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/insulin-desperate-iranians.html Mon, 26 Oct 2020 04:01:10 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194049 (RFE/RL) – Tens of thousands of diabetics in Iran are said to be facing shortages of insulin, with many such patients and their loved ones complaining that the problem could have life-threatening consequences.

Some Iranians have taken to social media to protest the scarcity of insulin pens and highlight their plight or that of loved ones who need daily injections of what they describe as “oxygen” for diabetics.

Many are posting alongside the hashtag in Persian #Thereisnoinsulin.

The International Diabetes Federation estimates that there are 5.4 million cases of diabetes in an adult Iranian population of 57 million or so, many of whom never require insulin boosts.

According to official figures, Iranian diabetics require around 800,000 insulin pens per month.

Local media say many pharmacies have run out or are rationing insulin pens, which are a simpler alternative to syringes, although some are still said to be available on the black market at astronomical markups.

Journalist Niloofar Zolfagari, who said her father had enough insulin for just two more days, was among those publicly protesting the shortage.

“My heart is about to stop beating from stress that my diabetic father with heart disease has enough insulin only for the next two days and I can’t do anything,” Zolfagari tweeted on October 17. She wrote two days later that, “thanks to you,” she had managed to acquire enough insulin to last three weeks.

Officials: ‘Temporary’ Shortage

The authorities have described the shortage of insulin pens as “temporary” and blamed U.S. sanctions, smuggling, and growing demand.

“Sanctions have hampered the import of some drugs and medical equipment, and at times the import of insulin has been interrupted,” Mohammad Reza Shanesaz, who heads Iran’s Food and Drug Organization, said earlier this week.

Shanesaz added that while the country was facing a shortage of insulin pens, regular and NPH (neutral protamine Hagedorn) insulin — which he described as no different from insulin pens — were “abundantly” available and people can use them.

Iranian media say that for months, Health Ministry officials have called on doctors to prescribe their patients insulin injections using syringes.

“The real pressure is on children and the elderly,” said one woman in Tehran who suffers from Type 1 diabetes. She told RFE/RL she had been trying hard to regulate her blood sugar and reduce her need for insulin by exercising.

But critics, including the daily news site Entekhab, say the approach is impractical, since many patients have become accustomed to insulin pens. Issues like old age or infirmity and a lack of assistance prevent some sufferers from using a syringe to self-inject insulin.

A member of the national Diabetes Committee, Alireza Esteghamati, said 80 percent of diabetics who need insulin use pens not just because it’s easy to use but also due to “structural differences” and effectiveness.

Heidar Mohammadi, the director-general of medicine at the Food and Drug Organization, told the semiofficial Tasnim news agency earlier this week that increased demand for foreign-made insulin pens and smuggling were to blame for the current shortages.

He said supplies of imported insulin pens or those manufactured inside Iran had ended up in the hands of traffickers who profit off the price difference in Iran versus neighboring countries.

U.S. Sanctions And Incompetent, Uncaring Leadership

Many of the users tweeting about the shortage of insulin pens were critical of Iran’s leadership, which they accused of failing to prioritize the well-being of citizens. Some also blamed U.S. sanctions, which have restricted Iranian banking links around the world and contributed to a collapse of the national currency, a depletion of foreign-currency reserves, and skyrocketing prices.

“Bombs and missiles are available, but there is no insulin,” Kamran, who appeared to be alluding to Iran’s controversial missile program, tweeted.

Kamran, who said his father suffers from diabetes, called on Twitter users to be the voice of families grappling with the stress of insulin shortages amid a “bad coronavirus situation and a bad economy.”

“I understand that sanctions have been [choking us],” content producer and translator Mahsa Soltani tweeted. “But I know that officials who are leading the country to a point where patients are struggling to meet their basic needs are incompetent.”

A woman in Tehran who suffers from Type 1 diabetes told RFE/RL that she had been trying hard to regulate her blood sugar and reduce her need for insulin by exercising. “The real pressure is on children and the elderly,” she said.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said ordinary Iranians were caught in the heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which exited the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions two years ago aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a new deal.

“I believe sanctions are impacting patients like me,” the woman said. “The U.S. is trying to bring Iran to its knees to force it to give in to its demands. At the same time, the [Iranian] establishment has constantly proven that it doesn’t care about the lives of its people.”

U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran exclude food and medicine but, in practice, the restrictions have made it difficult for Tehran to purchase some medicine, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Despite existing humanitarian exemptions, broad U.S. sanctions on Iran have created obstacles, especially in terms of access to foreign currency and banking payments, for the Iranian government and importers to ensure a timely and steady flow of imported medicines and raw materials,” HRW researcher Tara Sepehrifar told RFE/RL.

“The direct impact of these sanctions as well as authorities’ decisions to allocate or not allocation subsidized currencies to different brands of drugs and problem of trafficking are ultimately resulting in increasingly difficult and unstable situation for Iranian patients,” she added.

Mette Kruse-Danielsen is a spokesperson for the world’s leading insulin producer, Novo Nordisk — a Danish firm with production facilities in Iran.

She told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that Iran’s insulin shortages have been exacerbated by the stockpiling of the medication by Iranian diabetes patients — one of the groups at higher risk of suffering complications from coronavirus.

“Sanctions against Iran mean limited banking route options, which makes it more challenging to run our business in the country, including the availability of products,” Kruse-Danielsen said.

“Due to the macroeconomic situation, [amplified] by an increase of stockpiling by patients due to COVID-19, we see occasional situations of stock-out at the pharmacy level,” she said.

In recent months, an increasing number of Iranians have taken to social media in hopes of finding various medicines, including for cancer patients.

Users routinely post photos of the medicine they need while calling on others to retweet, hoping for tips about pharmacies that may have supplies of the needed drug.

The online protest over insulin pens follows Iraqi media reports citing that country’s military intelligence as saying it thwarted “the largest-ever drug-smuggling operation from Iran to Iraq.”

Iranian officials dismissed the report and said the drugs were not Iranian and that Iraqi traders had purchased them from other countries for consumption in Iraq.

Hannah Kaviani, a broadcaster for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, contributed to this report.

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Via RFE/RL

Bonus Tweets added by Informed Comment (not connected to RFE/RL piece above):

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

کمبود انسولین در ایران Insulin deficiency in Iran

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Trying To Be Neutral: Iran Worried Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Could Turn Into Wider War https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/neutral-karabakh-conflict.html Sun, 18 Oct 2020 04:03:00 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193906 (RFE/RL ) – Sharing a frontier with both Armenia and Azerbaijan as they fight a bitter war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory, Tehran is closely watching the conflict amid growing concern it could spill over the border.

A number of artillery shells and rockets have recently landed in Iranian territory, including a residential area, only kilometers away from the battle zone, Iranian officials and media have reported.

Tehran is playing a delicate balancing act between its two neighbors, taking an official neutral stance while calling for an end to the hostilities and a dialogue between the countries despite strong domestic pressure for the Islamic republic to fully support Azerbaijan.


Iran shares a border with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. (file photo).

Tehran has assured Azerbaijan that it recognizes its territorial integrity — the ethnic-Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani land — and has also denied as “baseless rumors” reports claiming that it was assisting Armenia, which has traditionally shared strong ties with Tehran.

“We have very good relations with both nations,” Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on October 7, referring to Azerbaijan as a brother nation and Armenia as a neighbor. “The war should come to an end. We hope stability returns to the region.”

Growing Concern

An offer to mediate, expressions of concern, and visits by officials to the border region highlight Tehran’s growing concern over the fighting, which Rohani warned on October 7 could turn into a regional war.

A wider conflict could have unpredictable consequences for the Islamic republic, which has been working to keep its borders secure while engaging in proxy wars across the region.

“We won’t allow in all these years that we have been fighting — [assassinated commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Quds force Qasem] Soleimani has been…fighting to eradicate terrorists there so that they don’t come near our borders,” Rohani said earlier this week.

“Some are trying to bring terrorists from Syria to locations near [Iran’s] borders,” Rohani said, an apparent reference to reports that Turkey had recruited Islamist fighters to go to Azerbaijan and help in the war.

“It is unacceptable,” said Rohani, refraining from naming any specific country.

French President Emmanuel Macron has specifically accused Ankara of sending “Syrian fighters from Jihadist groups” to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh amid concerns that Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, could be pitted against each other.

The two countries have backed different warring sides in Syria — where Iran has been propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — as well as in Libya.

Touraj Atabaki, professor emeritus and chairman of the Social History of the Middle East and Central Asia at Leiden University, said that, for Iran, the growing presence in the region of its chief enemy, Israel, is a major source of concern.

Israel is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Azerbaijan has acknowledged using Israeli-made attack drones — or “kamikaze drones” — during the recent fighting with Armenian forces.

“The presence of Israel, although implicitly is a cause of concern for Iran, we see [Israel’s] shadow in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, therefore the Islamic republic wants to see an end to this conflict as soon as possible,”Atabaki told RFE/RL.

“The Islamic republic fears the consequences of a war, which could turn into a proxy conflict and Tehran could be dragged into it,” he said.

Speaking to the daily Hamshahri, Seyed Ali Saghaian, a former Iranian ambassador to Armenia, said the main reason for the current conflict are “third-party elements, particularly the Zionist regime,” a term used by Iranian officials to refer to Israel.

“Regional and transregional third-party elements are seeking influence and have prevented the resolution of the crisis,” Saghaian said.

With a large Azeri minority of an estimated 20 million — as well as over 100,000 Armenians — living in the country, Tehran is also wary of ethnic and social tensions at a time of economic crisis caused by crippling U.S. sanctions and state mismanagement that have caused widespread public dissatisfaction.

Protests In Several Cities

Earlier this week protests were reported in several Iranian cities — including the capital, Tehran, and the northwestern city of Tabriz — in support of Azerbaijan.

The protests came as four representatives of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who is an ethnic Azeri — in four of the country’s provinces with a large ethnic Azeri populations released a joint statement in support of Baku.

Protests Erupt In Iran Backing Azerbaijan In Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

The statement by Khamenei’s representatives in the provinces of West and East Azerbaijan, Ardebil, and Zanjan said that “there is no doubt” that the breakaway region belongs to Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Khamenei, accused Armenia of “occupying” Nagorno-Karabakh while calling on Yerevan to withdraw its forces.

“We call on Armenia to return those occupied parts to the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Velayati said in an October 6 interview with the hard-line daily Kayhan.

“More than 1 million [Azerbaijanis] have been displaced after the occupation of those areas and must return home soon,” he added.

A day later, government spokesman Ali Rabei urged Armenia to pull its forces from Nagorno-Karabakh while reiterating Iran’s stance that the conflict does not have a military solution.

“We want peace and dialogue in the region, with an evacuation from occupied territories and respect for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” he said.

Via RFE/RL

Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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