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Overview: Iran Analysis Weekly Report September 18, 2016

18 Sept., 2016

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Foreign Ministry officials announced Iran’s support for the Syrian ceasefire plan brokered by the U.S. and Russia. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi stated that Iran “always welcomes a ceasefire in Syria.” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari also praised the ceasefire, stating, “Iran welcomes any kind of ceasefire and peace plan that ends or limits the human tragedy in Syria and that is based upon the Syrian nation’s votes.” The Syrian government and rebels reportedly violated the ceasefire within an hour after came into effect at sunset on September 12, however.

Meanwhile, Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati stressed that the newly-brokered Syrian ceasefire must not “be used as a vacuum” upon which groups such as Jabhat Fatah al Sham, the successor of Syrian al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, could capitalize. Defense Minister IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan also stated that all parties involved in the ceasefire “must submit to the will” of the Assad regime.
Moreover, Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami criticized the newly-brokered Syrian ceasefire. He claimed that the U.S. and its allies “want a ceasefire so that they can reinforce their own positions.”

Khatami’s remarks follow comments by Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati, who stressed that the ceasefire must not “be used as a vacuum” upon which anti-regime groups could capitalize.
IRGC Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri denied that IRGC Navy vessels have violated international norms during recent interactions with U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. He stated, “Iranian vessels always act according to international laws and regulations based on defined standards. The Americans’ claims have no truth and stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s soldiers.” Senior American officials including U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel have expressed concern about the recent uptick in Iranian vessels’ harassment of U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. An anonymous American defense official recently told CNN that there have been 31 “unsafe” encounters between U.S. and Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf so far in 2016, up from 23 incidents in all of 2015.

According to three unnamed U.S. defense officials the Iranian military “threatened to shoot down” two U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft that were flying near Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.

The senior military advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against escalating tensions with Saudi Arabia. IRGC Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi stated that Iran “should never move towards tensions with Saudi Arabia” during remarks on September 13. Safavi also claimed that Saudi Arabia “wants to have tense relations with Iran,” indicating that he does not expect a complete de-escalation in tensions, however. Iran and Saudi Arabia have escalated criticism of each other over the past week leading up to the anniversary of the 2015 Hajj stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, where over 2,400 pilgrims, including over 460 Iranians, died. Safavi also stated that Iran needs to improve its relations with other Persian Gulf States, including “Oman, Kuwait, and even Qatar.” President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, discussed regional issues in a telephone conversation with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani.

In a response to a recent claim by a U.S. former official, IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani issued a statement downplaying divisions between the IRGC and the Rouhani administration. Soleimani asked for Iranians to ignore “the enemy’s remarks, which are made with the goal of sowing discord and creating confrontation.” He did not mention any American by name, but Iranian media reported that he was referring to recent remarks by former American diplomat Dennis Ross. Ross recently called for the U.S. to “affect the balance of power” between the IRGC and President Hassan Rouhani by blocking the IRGC’s activities in the Middle East and reducing its influence. Soleimani also appeared to deny that he will be entering politics, vowing that he will remain “a soldier until the end of my life, God willing.” Iranian law prohibits active IRGC members from holding political office.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Head Ali Akbar Salehi warned that the U.S. presidential elections could bring “difficult days” for the nuclear deal. Salehi stated, “Looking toward the American presidential elections this year, it is possible that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] has more difficult days ahead of it… I do not rule out that the new American administration may create complications for the implementation of the JCPOA.” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has endorsed the deal but promised to “confront” Iran “across the board.” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has publicly condemned the deal and claimed that he would “renegotiate” the agreement. In March, the managing editor of hardline newspaper Kayhan and close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Hossein Shariatmadari, stated that “crazy Trump’s wisest plan is to tear up the JCPOA.”

On the economic note, Kazem Jalali, the moderate-conservative head of the Parliament Research Center, criticized the Statistical Center of Iran’s work during a televised debate with the Statistical Center’s head, Omid Ali Parsa, on September 14. The two institutions released differing statistics on the growth of the Iranian economy last year.
Jalali accused the Statistical Center of publishing false statistics, stating, “Sometimes statistics are incorrect, and sometimes there have been manipulation and interference in them. Professional institutions do not accept the Statistical Center’s statistics.” Parsa denied that his center received an order to “manipulate the statistics.” Jalali also criticized the “politicization” of statistics and referred to the differing statistics given by the Statistical Center, the Rouhani administration, and the Central Bank of Iran for the year 1391 (2012-2013). He stated, “No center accepted the statistics of any other center. This must change.”

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