• Signs of a Spectacular Policy Shift in Iran

    Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supported by religious conservatives, has the last word on major Iranian policy decisions, including relations with the United States. His long-standing position has been “no talks, no relations with America,” especially after US unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May.

    But there are signs that this hard line is softening.

    Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s influential national security and foreign policy commission, said in a recent interview, “There is a new diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America. There is room for adopting the diplomacy of talk and lobbying by Iran with the [political] current which opposes [the policies of] Trump [toward Iran]… The diplomatic channel with America should not be closed because America is not just about Trump.”

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  • Iran’s Environmentalists Are Caught Up in a Political Power Struggle

    The family of Kavous Seyed Emami, a prominent environmentalist and professor at Tehran’s Imam Sadegh University, broke the horrific news on February 10 that he had died under suspicious circumstances while in detention. Iranian authorities claimed he had committed suicide.

    Only a few weeks earlier, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence arm had arrested Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian citizen, and seven other environmental activists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that works to conserve and protect endangered species in Iran.

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  • Iran’s Natural Gas: A Gateway to US-Iran Cooperation

    The broad economic sanctions that go back into effect against Iran on November 5 will not significantly impact Iran’s limited natural gas exports. Iran’s export potential could emerge as a gateway to cooperation under an appropriate US strategy.

    Multinational negotiations have focused on ways to increase oil production to compensate for Iranian oil lost to sanctions. However, more attention should be focused on natural gas. The global demand for natural gas is increasing, a shortage is looming, and Iran owns the second largest proved natural gas reserves in the world—totaling 33.2 trillion cubic meters or approximately a 17.2 percent share. Renewed economic sanctions will significantly hinder Iran’s ability to attract foreign investment necessary to monetize its vast reserves. However, some of Iran’s natural gas trading partners may not...

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  • FATF Legislation Reflects Continuing Political Divide in Iran

    Enacting legislation against money laundering and terrorism financing has been a long struggle between the Iranian parliament, which is dominated by moderate conservatives and reformists, and the Guardian Council, whose members are largely appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

    Parliament passed several laws in time for a meeting that began October 14 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global body that monitors financial transparency and counter-terrorism financing. Over 800 officials representing 204 institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, United Nations and World Bank, attended the meeting. Fulfilling the obligations set by FATF is crucial for Iran to avoid a FATF blacklist, continue to connect with the international banking system and benefit from trade relations with European countries and China at a time when Iran’s economy is facing resumed US sanctions.

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  • Why the Trump Administration Needs More Balance in the Middle East

    In quitting the Iran nuclear deal and doubling down on traditional US alliances, the Trump administration has forfeited key leverage and reduced its ability to resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

    Some readjustment in US policy after the Barack Obama administration was expected and potentially useful. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia felt that the US had slighted their interests in negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program but did not address Iran’s military and political intervention in Arab states.

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  • Iranian Crackdown on Corruption May Only Be Superficial

    Since the 1979 revolution, Azadi Square has been the beating heart for major demonstrations in Iran’s capital. So when the Iranian judiciary announced on September 24 that “financial corruptors” would be hung in the square—a first—it was seen as a dire warning to corrupt traders and government officials that they would be made an example of for the rest of the country.

    Weeks later on October 1, three men were sentenced to death for financial corruption. They included a gold dealer nicknamed the “sultan of coins” by Iranian media for collecting two tons worth of gold coins and selling them at inflated rates. The men are currently...

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  • Iran Can’t Fulfill Its Hopes of a Shia Corridor Without Iraq

    Since the Iranian regime seized power in 1979, its goal has been for Iran to become a regional power and to restore the Shias as the rulers of the Muslim world. A cornerstone of its strategy is to build and control a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

    To extend its power and influence, Iran arms and supports proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Syria.

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  • Sanctions or Liquidity—Which One Is More Dangerous for Iran’s Economy?

    The Iranian rial was traded at 150,000 against the US dollar on October 2, indicating a 12 percent appreciation in just one day. Bonbast, a website which tracks free market rates in Iran, stopped posting rates for the day, while state news agencies reported that the free market rial value kept appreciating as high as 80,000 rials.

    The surprising trend of the rial recovery continued until Shargh Daily reported on October 4 about the re-emergence of a multi-tier foreign exchange market. This included an official rate of 42,000 rials, a secondary market rate of 90,000 rials, a Central Bank-enforced rate of 95,000 rials—which banks and currency exchange offices use to buy foreign currency from Iranians standing in queues—and a free market rate of about 145,000 rials.

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  • How Iran and the Gulf Arab States Can Start a Dialogue Again

    It’s hard to overstate the regional impact of the rivalry between Iran and several Gulf Arab states—most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—bordering in recent years on enmity.

    While these countries haven’t come close to direct warfare, tensions have impacted many regional conflicts in the Middle East including in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, and festering instability in countries like Lebanon, Bahrain, and even among the Palestinians.

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  • The Hidden Message of Iran’s Syria Strikes: A View From Israel

    An unusual strategic event took place this week in the Middle East. For the second time in over a year, Iran fired ballistic missiles on targets in Syria, a country that borders Israel.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who never misses an opportunity to respond in the strongest terms—usually within hours—to any Iranian testing of its ballistic missile capabilities, chose a relatively muted response.

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