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Profile: New Security Council Chief

            On September 10, President Hassan Rouhani appointed former Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council -- effectively making him national security advisor. Shamkhani, a centrist, will replace hardliner Saeed Jalili, who was chief negotiator in talks on Iran’s controversial program between 2007 and 2013. Rouhani recently announced that the foreign ministry will lead future nuclear talks, so Shamkhani’s role will differ from his predecessor’s.
      Born in 1955, Shamkhani is an Arab from Ahvaz near the Iraqi border. He commanded the Revolutionary Guards Navy during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Shamkhani served as defense minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami between 1997 and 2005. As defense minister, he played a leading role in improving relations between Iran and Persian Gulf sheikhdoms. In 2004, Shamkhani received Saudi Arabia’s highest medal, the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud, from King Fahd for his efforts. Shamkhani directed the Iranian Armed Forces’ Center for Strategic Studies from 2005 until his appointment by Rouhani.
           
The following is a rare interview that Shamkhani gave while defense minister. It originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 15, 1988.

 
Ali Shamkhani
Iran's Top Defense Official Probes Depth of Detente With U.S.
By Robin Wright 
November 15, 1988
 
            TEHRAN — Ali Shamkhani might not be Iran's top military official today if only he had liked Los Angeles a bit more in the mid-1970s. After high school, Shamkhani went to Los Angeles with his father and two brothers. His brothers stayed, one to study medicine, the other mechanical engineering, but not Shamkhani. "I didn't approve of the culture," he explained during a recent conversation in his large office in Tehran's Defense Ministry Building No. 2.
            So, he went home to study engineering at Ahwaz University in the city where he was born--and charted a far different course. While at college, Shamkhani launched an underground movement to challenge Iran's monarchy. After the 1979 revolution, when he was still in his 20s, Shamkhani was rewarded with a job as deputy commander of the new Revolutionary Guards. During Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq, one of the century's grisliest conflicts, he led key ground offensives. Afterward, he was named commander of Iran's navy, reaching the rank of rear admiral before he hit 40. Last year, after a stunning presidential election upset by reformer Mohammad Khatami, Shamkhani was tapped to be defense minister. Today, Shamkhani, 43, heads a force of more than 500,000, the largest military in the Middle East.
            Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, head of the U.S. Central Command, said Khatami's victory had produced "a more polite and professional attitude" among Iran's naval forces in the Persian Gulf. In contrast, he said, a year earlier he "went to bed worrying that we would have a confrontation at sea" because of a "very hostile" Iranian navy. But Zinni also charged that Iran's naval buildup of antiship missiles and mine-laying submarines, plus a nuclear-weapons program that could be "on track within five years," will make Iran "a more significant problem than Iraq. . . . In the longer term, Iran is a greater threat." He also charged that the Islamic republic still has not abandoned efforts to build weapons of mass destruction or support extremist groups.
            In a CNN interview in January, Khatami proposed people-to-people exchanges with Americans to tear down "the wall of mistrust." Since then, both Tehran and Washington have launched the most serious efforts in two decades of hostilities to repair relations. But Zinni's warning underscores the fact that the biggest gap between the two countries remains in the defense arena.
      Iran is particularly angered that the U.S. Congress responded to Khatami's diplomatic overture with Radio Free Iran, launched this month and mandated to challenge the government. Tehran also labels Washington as hypocritical for selling billions in new arms to Iran's neighbors, despite Tehran's recent detente with Gulf Arabs, while criticizing Iran's efforts to rearm after its massive losses in the war with Iraq.
      Iran's fears stem from its eight-year war with Iraq. Despite its far larger population, Iran was forced to accept a U.N. cease-fire in 1988 after massive human and material losses. Iraq had been greatly helped in the conflict by its use of chemical weapons and access to U.S. satellite intelligence.
            In his limited spare time, Shamkhani, the only Arab in Iran's cabinet, likes to mountain climb at least three mornings a week, aides say. He gets up at 4 a.m. so that he can still arrive at the office by 7 a.m. Married to a teacher, he is the father of four children.
 
Question: Gen. Anthony Zinni, the U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, said recently that Iran will be a more significant long-term problem in the Gulf than Iraq. What is your reaction to this?
            The American military has a special view, and it's based on creating a hypothetical enemy and basing their policies on this hypothetical enemy. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was this enemy. After the Cold War, [Harvard professor Samuel] Huntington made up this theory about a clash of civilizations based on the suggestions or ideas from the Pentagon. We think this hypothesis does not apply to the current trends. Policies based on theories like Huntington's are from the 1940s. They're old-fashioned.
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi gave a speech in New York in September suggesting there might be ways, directly or indirectly, for Iran and the U.S. to cooperate in three areas: narcotics control, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Can this happen?
            Can you insult someone and at the same time claim to be his friend? Is it possible to point a pistol at someone and claim to be his friend? Is it logical to hold joint maneuvers if the enemy is someone whom you supposedly want to make friends with? This is exactly what the U.S. is doing.
It's insulting Iran through Radio Free Iran. The U.S. has a great presence in the Persian Gulf. In no period of its history has the Gulf seen such a large foreign [naval] presence. You're also holding joint maneuvers with Israel and Turkey near our borders, and the Israelis are threatening us in different ways. You think that some countries are providing Iran technical assistance, and you're exerting pressure on these countries. So, actually, you're not for the solution of long-standing problems between Iran and the U.S. You have just altered your dialect. But what you're doing is the same as before.
 
The U.S. is concerned about Iran's expanding missile program in cooperation with other governments. Why does Iran feel a need to expand its missile capability? What are Iran's goals?
            Why do the Israelis buy F-15s with a range of 4,000 kilometers? Why do the Israelis enjoy nuclear weapons? Why shouldn't we have [medium-range] Shahab-3 missiles? We are quite a large country. Your question generates some other questions for us. Why do you ask? It is our natural right.
            Our defensive strategy is one of deterrence. We have never started a war against anyone. And we wouldn't do so in the future. But it is also our natural right to prevent anyone from encroaching on our security. We have sustained great losses from our war with Iraq, and we could not neglect this experience.
 
Many Western governments are convinced, based on a pattern of acquisitions, that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear-weapons program.
            It was just two years ago that U.S. military experts claimed that Iran was going to buy $7 billion in military equipment. And they made different campaigns concerning this. At the end of the year, they announced that Iran hadn't done so. They attributed this failure to economic problems.
Don't you think it's unfair to make a lie and then make use of it as the basis for other lies? First of all, we didn't intend to make such large purchases, and on the other hand, our failure to make such purchases was not due to economic problems. The same case applies to Iran's nuclear drive and the campaign the U.S. is conducting.
            The Americans always make four allegations against us. One of them is about weapons of mass destruction, in other words, nuclear weapons. But Iran is one of the signatories of the Nonproliferation Treaty. We have not prevented any kind of [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspections. Our activities are for peaceful means. I have no information about the activities in that field, and I'm not interested.
 
Do the recent nuclear tests by Iran's neighbors Pakistan and India produce greater concern or interest in nuclear weapons?
            We won't breach our undertakings with the Nonproliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Of course, we're concerned. But it doesn't make any alterations in our plans. We won't make use of this natural right to build a nuclear weapon.
 
What are the major threats to Iran and how has recent diplomacy by Iran changed the perceptions of the threats?
            We feel threatened by two things: One is the foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf, especially the U.S. military presence. And second is the ethnic movements in Central Asia. We expect the American nation to alleviate one of these challenges by drawing back or evacuating from the Persian Gulf.
 
But the U.S. presence indirectly helps protect Iran from further Iraqi aggression.
            A powerful Iraq was made partly by the U.S. What guarantees can you give us not to create another Iraq? Have you ever stood in the rain? Have you opened the umbrella? The stick holds the umbrella. The U.S. was the stick for Iraq [during the Iran-Iraq War].
            I had two brothers martyred by Iraq in the war. Do you think we hold the American regret now as enough? We feel they are acting against our interests in the Gulf.
 
 
 
U.N. and U.S. officials say Iran has twice cut off Iraq's sanctions-busting oil shipments smuggled inside Iranian waters. But both times, Iran then allowed Iraq to resume shipments. Why?
            You expect too much. We have offered more than 2,500 martyrs to stop narcotics [from Afghanistan], to prevent transit to the West and the U.S. What have you done in return? In fact, we have offered these martyrs to protect you. Let me tell you, you have made our borders insecure. And if we just build up our forces to face this challenge [from Afghanistan], you make a campaign about Iran's military power.
            Naturally, we can't fight on several fronts. Our capabilities are limited. Our ability to control the developments in the Persian Gulf depends on the distribution of our forces.
We are always on a continuous basis controlling in accordance with the U.N. resolutions on Iraqi oil exports. If there has been some kind of smuggling of Iraqi oil, it has been because of some kind of faults resulting from problems and difficulties within the Iranian military because we can't centralize our forces. Ask the U.S. forces: Can they fight on three fronts?
 
Last year, President Khatami said that while Iran did not agree with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Iran would not sabotage it. The latest phase of the accord has been sharply criticized by Iran. Will Iran do anything to undermine the Wye accord?
            We just reiterate what President Khatami has said.
 
Following the murder of Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan, Iran deployed 200,000 troops on the border and conducted military exercises. What are the chances Iran will go to war? And given the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, is this a war Iran thinks it can win?
            It's quite a mistake to compare the Iranian position on Afghanistan to the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The Russians committed the same mistake as the British [colonial army] in 1818. What we are really after is to solve our problems through means other than confrontation. What we hope to achieve is the punishment of the assassins of our diplomats, the freeing of our prisoners, the prevention of genocide in Afghanistan and the prevention of narcotics trafficking.
            We have quite a good record during our eight years of defense against Iraq, including irregular warfare. And we think our forces can't be compared with the Soviet forces. But we hope it will not come to war. It's up to the Taliban [who rule Afghanistan] to alleviate our concerns and avoid confrontation. We also think that international organizations can play a great role.
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including “The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran” and “The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy.” She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center. See her chapter, “The Challenge of Iran” from "The Iran Primer."
 
 

U.S. Eases Sanctions for Medicine, Sports

            On September 10, the U.S. Treasury eased sanctions on humanitarian activity and athletic exchanges with Iran. Nongovernmental organizations can now provide disaster relief and conduct projects on environmental issues, human rights and democracy. And athletic exchanges will be easier to coordinate.
           
In May 2013, Iran’s national wrestling team visited the United States for friendly matches to raise the sports profile after the Olympic Committee recommended dropping the sport. It was the Iranian team’s first trip to the United States in a decade. The U.S., Iranian, and Russian wrestling federations successfully teamed up to salvage wrestling for the 2020 Olympics.
            
The following is the announcement released by the U.S. Treasury.  

            Today, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued two general licenses that authorize certain humanitarian-related activities by nongovernmental organizations in Iran and athletic exchanges involving Iran and the United States.  General License E authorizes the exportation of services and funds transfers by nongovernmental organizations in support of certain not-for-profit humanitarian activities designed to benefit the people of Iran, including activities related to humanitarian projects to meet basic human needs; non-commercial reconstruction projects in response to natural disasters for a period of up to two years; environmental and wildlife conservation projects; and human rights and democracy building projects.  General License F authorizes the importation and exportation of certain services in support of professional and amateur sporting activities and exchanges involving the United States and Iran.
 

Rouhani and Zarif Wish Jews Happy New Year

            On September 4, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used Twitter to wish a happy new year to the world’s Jews. “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah,” tweeted Rouhani. Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews—the second largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. “Happy Rosh Hashanah,” wrote Zarif. In ensuing Twitter conversations about the messages, both the president and foreign minister seemed to distance themselves from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.

            Zarif’s Rosh Hashanah message was only his second tweet on his account, opened on September 2. The tweet sparked a revealing exchange with Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.  She tweeted that the new year would be “even sweeter” if Zarif would “end Iran’s Holocaust denial.” Zarif, known for a dry sense of humor, tweeted back, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Zarif later confirmed to The Iran Primer that he knew that he was communicating with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s daughter. President Rouhani’s account retweeted Zarif’s reply to Pelosi.


            Iran’s Tasnim News Agency then asked the foreign minister about his statements on the Holocaust. Iranians condemn the “killing of Jews by Nazis, as we condemn the killing of Palestinians by the Zionists,” Zarif said. “Judaism is a divine religion that we respect in accordance with the teachings of our religion and our country’s constitution.” He added that Iran’s “Jewish compatriots are a recognized minority” and that they have a representative in parliament. “Jews aren’t our enemies,” Zarif clarified. He also claimed that “Zionists are a minority” among them. “The Zionists for 60 years used the Holocaust as a pretext for all the crimes against the Palestinians,” Zarif told Tasnim. Zarif posted the interview text on his Facebook account.
            Zarif and Rouhani’s tweets contrasted starkly with the tone of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly challenged Israel’s right to exist between 2005 and 2013. “We say that this fake regime [Israel] cannot logically continue to live,” Ahmadinejad said at the 2005 World Without Zionism conference in Tehran. “Open the doors (of Europe) and let the Jews go back to their own countries.”  

 
 

 

US Expands Sanctions, EU Court Voids Others

            On September 6, Iran faced new sanctions imposed by the United States as the top European court mandated the lifting of sanctions on key Iranian banks and business.
          
The European Court of Justice criticized the European Union for relying on alleged insufficient or inconclusive evidence linking seven banks and companies to Iran’s nuclear program. E.U. officials were given two months to appeal the ruling before trade and financial restrictions are lifted. The companies in question included the state-owned Iran Insurance Company and Post Bank. Private companies included the Iranian Offshore Engineering & Construction Company, the U.K-based Persian International Bank PLC and Dubai-based Good Luck Shipping Company.
            The U.S. Treasury meanwhile targeted six Iranians and four businesses that allegedly helped Tehran evade oil sanctions. “Our sanctions on Iran's oil sales are a critically important component of maintaining pressure on the Iranian government, and we will not allow Iran to relieve that pressure through evasion and circumvention," said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen. The U.S. Treasury targeted representatives of the National Iranian Oil Company and the Naftiran Intertrade Company based in the United Kingdom and Switzerland. One of the individuals, Seyed Seyyedi, ran a network of front companies in the United Arab Emirates. One company helped to secretly purchase oil tankers for the National Iranian Tanker Company. The following are excerpts from the U.S. Treasury press release.

            Seyed Seyyedi was identified pursuant to E.O. 13599 today for acting on behalf of various Government of Iran entities and front companies, including NIOC, NICO, as well as Sima General Trading. Treasury previously identified Sima General Trading as part of a network of Iranian government front companies in March 2013 for its role in the sanctions evasion scheme being carried out by the Greek businessman, Dimitris Cambis. Seyyedi's Sima General Trading helped finance a Cambis front company to purchase oil tankers while disguising the fact that the tankers were being purchased on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC). Cambis' front companies were used to deceive the international business community by obscuring the Iranian ownership of ships capable of carrying roughly 200 million U.S. dollars worth of oil per shipment. Treasury is also identifying the U.A.E. -based KASB International LLC, Petro Royal FZE, and AA Energy FZCO, each of which is controlled by Seyyedi and used by him to assist NICO and NICO front companies, such as Sima General Trading, in its sanctions evasion schemes.
 
            In addition to Seyed Seyyedi, Treasury is also identifying several other persons and entities for their links to the Government of Iran's operations to evade oil sanctions.
 
            Swiss Management Services Sarl is a Swiss company controlled by NICO Sarl and used by NICO to continue its operations on behalf of Iran following multiple U.S. sanctions actions targeting NICO and NICO Sarl. Mohmmad Moinie is Switzerland-based NICO Sarl's commercial director.
 
            Reza Parsaei is a director for NIOC International Affairs (London) Ltd. which was identified as an entity of the Government of Iran in July 2010. Parsaei has involved himself in a scheme to deceptively import Iranian oil into the EU. Parsaei also coordinates closely with another director for NIOC International Affairs (London) Ltd., Seyyed Mohamad Ali Khatibi Tabatabaei.
            Seyed Mohaddes and Mohammed Ziracchian Zadeh act as directors for the Iranian Oil Company (U.K.) Ltd., which was also identified as an entity of the Government of Iran in July 2010.
 
            Each of the individuals and companies sanctioned today were identified under E.O. 13599, which blocks the property of the Government of Iran, including those of individuals and entities identified as acting for or on behalf of the Government of Iran. Transactions by U.S. persons or through the United States with any of these entities are generally prohibited, and any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. Further, foreign persons and financial institutions that facilitate transactions for such persons or provide them with material support may also be exposed to sanctions.
 
 

US Renews Sanctions Waivers for 11 Nations

            On September 6, the United States extended Iran sanctions waivers to Japan and 10 E.U. countries for significantly reducing their crude oil purchases from Tehran. Japan’s imports of Iranian oil in June 2013 were down 38.1 percent compared to a year earlier. Washington had already extended the waivers three other times for the 11 countries. They can be renewed again after six months. In June 2013, the United States renewed waivers for nine other countries including China, India and South Korea —three of Iran’s biggest oil buyers. The State Department is scheduled to decide whether to extend those waivers in December 2013. The following is the full text of Secretary of State John Kerry’s press statement.

            The United States and the international community remain committed to maintaining pressure on the Iranian Government until it fully addresses concerns about its nuclear program. That is why today I am pleased to announce that, based on additional significant reductions in the volume of its crude oil purchases from Iran, Japan has again qualified for an exception to sanctions outlined in Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. 
            Additionally, 10 European Union countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom – have also qualified for a renewal of the NDAA exception because they have not purchased Iranian oil since July 1, 2012, pursuant to a decision made by the whole of the European Union in January 2012.  As a result, I will report to the Congress that exceptions to sanctions pursuant to Section 1245 of the NDAA for certain transactions will apply to the financial institutions based in these countries for a potentially renewable period of 180 days.
            Today’s determination is another example of the international community’s commitment to convince Iran to meet its international obligations.  A total of 20 countries and economies have continued to significantly reduce the volume of their crude oil purchases from Iran.  We have brought significant pressure to bear on the Iranian Government, and we will continue to work with our partners to ratchet up the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations.
 

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