United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Political Spectrum in Iran’s New Parliament

Garrett Nada
 
Iran’s new Majles, which holds its first session on May 28, has wider political diversity than any parliament in a dozen years. Some 60 percent of lawmakers are newcomers. Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani form the largest faction, but not a majority. Hardliners held on to more than a quarter of Parliament’s 290 seats. The balance of power, however, is yet to be determined because independents won more than a quarter of the seats; many of their affiliations are unclear or could shift.
 
The social and professional make-up of parliament is also changing. Women won a record number of seats in the February election and April runoff. For the first time, females will outnumber clerics.
 
 
Iran’s system does not have formal parties, but it does have factions and coalitions that run together. The largest bloc in the parliament is the Faction of Hope, most of whom are aligned with Rouhani. The group claims support of up to 168 members. Hardliners claim to have at least 150 members. Some candidates ran as independents or even on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. Politicians also changed their positions closer to the election. Iranians jokingly referred to them as “Hezb-e Bad,” or “Party of the Wind.”
 
Iranian politics are also notoriously fluid. Even within factions, candidates do not necessarily have the same positions on all issues. Two lawmakers who may agree on foreign policy may differ on economic or social issues. But the variety of views is limited by the Guardian Council’s heavy vetting. It disqualified some 60 percent of the 12,000 people who registered to run. The last three parliaments were dominated by conservatives.
 
The new Majles’ priority is likely to be improving the economy. In March 2016, a majority of Iranians said they want lawmakers to focus on reducing unemployment, according to a poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), working in conjunction with the Program for Public Consultation and IranPoll.com. The second priority for Iranians was attending to the problems of the poor.
 
 
Sanctions relief has yet to have a significant impact. Businesses began to move into the Iranian market after sanctions were lifted in January. Many banks and businesses, however, still have reservations about doing business with Iran due to lack of clarity on sanctions and also due to Iran’s need for banking and economic reform. Although Rouhani succeeded in cutting inflation from 14 percent in 2015 to 8 percent as of May 2016, Iran still can do more to create jobs and ensure sustainable growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
 
Another issue that Parliament could debate early on is Rouhani’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights. In April 2016, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker it could be the first initiative Rouhani tries to put before the Majles. The draft, published in late 2013, was viewed as a major step towards fulfilling his promises to improve the human rights situation. But rights groups pointed out deficiencies, and Rouhani has yet to make headway on the issue. The Citizens’ Bill of Rights does not require parliamentary approval, according to Zarif. But Rouhani “may want to put in place certain procedures and guarantees and mechanisms, so that may require parliamentary approval,” he said.
 

The following are profiles of key lawmakers who illustrate the diversity of Iran’s incoming Majles and have differing views on these issues. 

Mohammad Reza Aref
 
Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist, garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. Aref headed the “List of Hope,” a coalition that included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. Their slogan was “Hope, peace, and economic prosperity.” The group associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. Candidates on the slate advocated greater personal and political freedoms. After the election, the coalition renamed itself the “Faction of Hope.” Aref is its leader.
 
Born in 1951, Aref studied electrical engineering and did graduate work at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He was a professor at Isfahan University of Technology from 1981 to 1994. He then served as president of Tehran University from 1994 until 1997, when he was appointed telecommunications minister under former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2001, President Khatami appointed him to be one of his vice presidents. In 2002, Aref became a member of the powerful Expediency Council, the body charged with resolving disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. In 2013, Aref ran for president but eventually dropped out of the race to support Rouhani, a centrist candidate.
On May 19, Aref announced that he would run for Speaker of Parliament. Former Presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indicated support for Aref. His agenda on legislative priorities differ significantly from Ali Larijani, who was speaker for the previous eight years. 
 
 
Ali Larijani
 
Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. He served as Speaker of Parliament between 2008 and 2016. Many of his allies did not win reelection. As election results were announced in February, Larijani praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani is considered a principlist, but more pragmatic than other hardliners. He opted not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats while the “List of Hope” won all 30. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity,” he said. “Therefore we seek to act independently.” Yet he won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.”
 
Born in 1957, Larijani is the son of Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli and son-in-law of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari. His father was a prominent religious authority.  Larijani studied mathematics and computer science at Sharif University of Technology. He earned advanced degrees in philosophy from Tehran University. After serving as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, he held a variety of positions in the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Telecommunications. From 1991 to 1993, he served as Minister of Guidance and Islamic Culture. From 1994 to 2004, he was President of IRIB.
 
In 2004, Larijani became an advisor to Khamenei. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful run for president. Later that year, Khamenei appointed him Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, replacing Rouhani. In that capacity, Larijani acted as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. But he resigned in 2007, reportedly over tactical disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the nuclear talks. In 2008, Larijani ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Qom. He went on to become Speaker of Parliament and held the position for two sessions. Larijani is also a member of the Expediency Council.
 
Larijani is the presumed conservative candidate for the speakership in the next Parliament, although he was attacked by hardliners for cooperating with Rouhani’s government. He supported the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers, referring to it as a “national achievement” even though Iran did not get everything it wanted. In May 2016, he lauded the Rouhani administration for acting more lawfully and more cooperatively with Parliament than the Ahmadinejad administration. Larijani favors consensus in politics and could act as a broker between hardliners and the other factions.
 
Ali Motahari
 
Ali Motahari is a moderate conservative who fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” His name was also included on the “List of Hope.” He could become a kingmaker in the next Parliament because he straddles reformists and hardliners. In an interview before the elections, he said that hardliners do not place enough emphasis on freedoms while reformists do not pay enough attention to cultural issues. He has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in 2011. Although he has taken a conservative stance on cultural issues, like the dress code for women, Motahari has largely been supportive of President Rouhani. In March 2015, he was physically attacked by alleged hardliner critics. 
 
 
Born in 1958, Motahari is the son of the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a leading theologian and political activist who was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is also the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani. Motahari studied mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Tabriz. He worked at IRIB and studied philosophy at the graduate level before going on to publish books and academic articles and eventually teach at various universities. In 2008, he ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Tehran. Motahari was a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad.
 
Motahari is known for being outspoken. After the post-election disqualification of Minoo Khaleghi, a female reformist candidate from Isfahan, he called for her reinstatement. The Guardian Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. Critics of the disqualification argued that the Guardian Council does not have the power to disqualify someone after an election. Motahari said that the Interior Ministry must allow Khaleghi to take her seat or else Parliament will impeach the interior minister. He wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council head, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, insisting on her reinstatement.
 
Alaeddin Boroujerdi
 
Alaedddin Boroujerdi is a conservative lawmaker from Boroujerd in the western province of Lorestan. Like Larijani, he chose to run as independent rather than join the hardliner Grand Coalition of Principlists list. Boroujerdi kept his seat after winning in the April runoff.
 
Born in 1950, Boroujerdi majored in laboratory sciences at the University of Tabriz and did graduate work in international relations at Tehran University. Throughout the 1970s, he worked at the Red Crescent in Dubai and was later apprehended and interrogated by the shah’s SAVAK secret police upon returning to Iran for organizing against the monarchy. After the revolution, he began climbing the diplomatic ranks in 1981. Boroujerdi served as deputy foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs in the 1990s, deputy international affairs advisor to the supreme leader and deputy minister of foreign affairs.
 
In 2000, the veteran diplomat won a seat in Parliament. In 2007, he was named Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. In 2011, he was reportedly detained for 24 hours on allegations of financial fraud. But Boroujerdi denied the charges and accused the “deviant current”—supporters of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei—of targeting individuals loyal to the supreme leader.
 
In the previous Parliament, Boroujerdi chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. He was on the 15-member panel of lawmakers that reviewed the nuclear deal. Boroujerdi had reservations, but ended up supporting the deal even while emphasizing his misgivings about Washington. “We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same,” he said in August 2015.
 
In early May 2016, Boroujerdi announced his support for Larijani. “As far as I know him, he is the best speakership option for the tenth Parliament,” he said. Boroujerdi also extoled Larijani’s views on foreign policy.
 
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
 
 
Photo credits: Mohammad Reza Aref by Foad Ashtari [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Tasnim News Agency and Wikimedia Commons; Ali Larijani and Alaeddin Boroujerdi via ICANA and Parliran.ir
 
 

Jannati Elected Assembly of Experts Chief

On May 24, hardliner cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was elected chairman of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 clerics and scholars tasked with overseeing and appointing the supreme leader. He has been a strong critic of President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to improve relations with the West and expand international trade.
 
 
Jannati, at age 89, won the chairmanship with 51 votes and will serve a two-year term. He finished ahead of two other candidates: Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, who won 21 votes, and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a former judiciary chief who received 13 votes. Jannati also chairs the Guardian Council, the powerful clerical body that vets candidates in Iran’s elections as well as all legislation to ensure it is compatible with Islam.
 
Jannati was one of the few hardliners reelected to the Assembly of Experts during the February elections, and the only hardliner to secure one of Tehran’s Assembly seats. He finished last, in 16th place, among the Tehran candidates who won seats. In Tehran, two key hardliners – both of which had been potential contenders to replace Supreme Leader Khamenei – lost their seats in the elections. Former Assembly of Experts chairman Mohammad Yazdi finished in 17th place, just missing the cut off for Tehran’s 16 available seats. Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the Assembly’s most hardline clerics, finished in 19th place and also lost his seat. 
 
 
Candidates aligned with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani, who have urged reforms in the past, won major gains. Rafsanjani placed first in the race for the 16 available seats in Tehran. Senior clerics backed by reformists and centrists – but who are not necessarily reformists themselves – won 59 percent of seats in Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the Interior Ministry reported. They previously only held around 23 percent of the clerical body.
 
The Assembly of Experts has served largely as a rubber stamp organization. But this election could be significant since the supreme leader, who has been in power a quarter century, is now 76. The next supreme leader also may emerge from the new Assembly, which is comparable to the College of Cardinals in its powers to select the top religious authority. The supreme leader has the last word on political, economic and social life as well as national security issues. In December, the Assembly reportedly began drafting a list of potential successors.
 
Click here for more information on the Assembly of Experts 
 

 

Iran Deepens Ties with India, Afghanistan

On May 23, Iran signed a trilateral agreement with India and Afghanistan to develop the strategic Chabahar port in southeastern Iran. India pledged to invest up to $500 million in the port, which will expand India’s trade with Iran and other Central Asian countries while bypassing land routes in Pakistan. 
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran to sign the deal. Both leaders also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
 
Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Iran in 15 years. During his visit, he signed 12 cooperation documents with the Islamic Republic to strengthen bilateral ties in economics, trade, transportation, science, culture, and academia. Before sanctions were tightened in 2012, Iran had been India’s second largest supplier of crude oil. The following are quotes from officials on the Chabahar agreement and Iran’s relations with India and Afghanistan.
 
Iran
 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
 
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
On the Chabahar agreement:
 
“Today, this message is transferred to the region and the world from the side of Tehran, New Delhi and Kabul that progress and development of the countries of the region will gain momentum through joint cooperation and regional opportunities.”
 
“The symbol of this trilateral cooperation is the word ‘Chabahar’, a spring for the three countries, and by joint investment and activity, we can connect India to Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus through a safe path.”
 
“This document is not just an economic document, but rather a political and regional document and its message is that the countries of the region should use the regional opportunities for the region.”
 
“In this trilateral agreement, there is room for other countries of the region and they can join the document in the future.”
 – May 23, 2016, in a ceremony for signing the Chabahar agreement
 
 
On relations with India:
 
“From the viewpoint of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ties with India, as one of the most powerful counties in the region and an emerging economy in the world, is of special significance.”
 
“Today, in the post-JCPOA era and after the lift of sanctions, there are new opportunities that can be used to develop Iran-India ties that we should make the best use of.”
 
“A great deal of goods can be transferred from the countries of the region to Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe through Chabahar port and Iran welcomes Indian companies’ investment in Chabahar port and Chabahar-Zahedan railway construction.”
 
“There are good opportunities for cooperation [between Iran and India] in different fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, IT and space.”
 
“Iran can be a trustable source of energy for satisfy India’s needs for oil and gas.”
 
“Iran’s exports to India should be diversified by planning and effort and the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to participate in different fields of investment in India.”
 
“Iranian banks are ready to develop relations with major Indian banks at bilateral level and international monetary system.”
 
“Iran and India have very close cultures and can promote the peaceful Islam, which is based on peaceful coexistence, in the world.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting with Indian officials
 
“Iran’s relations with India has always been of significance and today, strengthening these ties will be beneficial to both nations, as well as the entire region.”
 
“Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Iran in post-JCPOA and post-sanctions era prepares the ground for further development of economic ties between the two countries.”
 
“Today, the executive officials of both countries decided to turn the commercial ties between Iran and India into comprehensive economic ties.”
 
“With regard to the energy capacity in Iran and the large number of mines in India, as well as strategic Chabahar port, we can have greater cooperation in different fields, such as aluminum and petrochemical industries.”
 
“Regarding the role of banks in the economic ties between the two countries, today we had very important discussions about the ways of organizing relations between banks and we hope that banking facilities can prepare the ground for further economic ties between the two countries."
 
“India’s advancements in modern technologies, especially ICT, biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as aerospace, motivated us to agree to develop ties in modern technologies, academic issues and science and technology parks.”
– May 23, 2016, in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Modi
 
 
On relations with Afghanistan:
 
“Afghanistan’s stability, security and development is very important to the Islamic Republic of Iran and we are ready to cooperate in any area with our friend and neighboring country.”
 
“Without a doubt, despair is one of the factors and root causes of formation and strengthening of terrorism and if the society is hopeful of the future, we can significantly stop terrorism from developing and spreading, as well as production and distribution of narcotics.”
 
“The document that is going to be signed today by Iran, India and Afghanistan, will be the ground for development of all three countries, as well as the region.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting with President Ghani
 
India
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
 
 
“Today the world is witnessing a historic event not only for the three countries, but also for the nations of the region.”
– May 23, 2016, in a ceremony for signing the Chabahar agreement
 
“We seek comprehensive ties with Iran in all fields.”
 
“Indian companies willing to invest in Chabahar, can have good cooperation with the young population of Iran in the fields of technology, information and nanotechnology.”
 
“New Delhi is ready to cooperate with Iran in promoting the true Islam and combating terrorism.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting with President Rouhani
 
“The achievements of this meeting and the agreements signed, start a new chapter in strategic cooperation between the two countries and, without a doubt, welfare of the two nations depends on extensive economic cooperation between Iran and India.”
 
“We will spare no effort for bright Tehran-New Delhi ties.”
– May 23, 2016, in a joint press conference with President Rouhani
 
"We have agreed to consult closely and regularly on combating threats of terrorism, radicalism, drug trafficking and cyber crime. We have also agreed to enhance interaction between our defense and security institutions on regional and maritime security.”
– May 23, 2016, according to the press
 
“Connection is a human need and today, we express our deep gratitude for President Rouhani to hosting this great event; economic cooperation is a priority for New Delhi. We all stand with other two countries for the single objective of bringing new ways of success.”
 
“Iran and India have a record of historical trade and have shared culture and rituals thank to cultural exchanges of the past centuries.”
 
“We have not cut the ties even in the harshest time of history and today’s meeting will be a new chapter in bilateral cooperation.”
 
“Chabahar corridor, with participation of three countries, would transform the region in terms of economy and trade routes, setting new trends and eliminating huge barriers to regional trade.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting after the signing of the Chabahar agreement
 
Afghanistan
 
President Ashraf Ghani
 
 
“Some countries in the region export terrorism and our three countries’ export is belief, joint cooperation and using regional opportunities for people’s welfare and stability for the region.”
– May 23, 2016, in a ceremony for signing the Chabahar agreement
 
“Kabul seeks regional cooperation with Iran, in bilateral and multilateral context.”
 
“Today a significant step in the relations and bilateral and regional cooperation among the three countries will be taken and this transit line will significantly affect regional cooperation.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting with President Rouhani
 
“The Asian continent has been growing in the way to become a great economic pole and to meet the demands of welfare of nations entails regional cooperation; geography is not destiny, but human resolution does change this destiny; today, our wills are strong in Chabahar, with economic, cultural and political development in the horizon.”
– May 23, 2016, in a meeting after the signing of the Chabahar agreement
 

US, EU Encourage Investment in Iran

On May 19, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union and the United States released a joint statement encouraging European banks and businesses to invest in Iran. “We will not stand in the way of permitted business activity with Iran,” they said. As part of the nuclear deal that was implemented in January 2016, Iran received sanctions relief in return for significantly limiting its nuclear program. But many banks and businesses still have reservations about doing business with Iran, due to the lack of clarity on sanctions and also due to Iran’s need for banking and economic reform.  
 
Iranian officials have argued that the United States, in particular, has fallen short of its obligations under the nuclear deal. “The United States needs to do way more. They have to send a message that doing business with Iran will not cost them [European banks],” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker in April. Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif met on May 17 in Vienna to discuss implementation issues. 
 
In their joint statement, the United States and its European partners said they are committed to providing clarity on sanctions-related issues. They also noted, however, that ultimately “businesses will make their own decisions about commercial activity with Iran.” They encouraged Iran to follow recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, which in February 2016 expressed “concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system.” The following is the full text of the joint European and U.S. statement
 
Statement by France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Post-JCPOA Business with Iran
 
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the European Union and the United States have lifted economic and financial nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran’s significant curtailment of its nuclear program. This commitment to lift sanctions was fulfilled on Implementation Day, January 16, 2016, and, as a result, there are now extensive economic opportunities for companies and financial institutions in Europe and around the world to do business in Iran.
 
The interest of European and other global firms in Iran is high, and it is in our interest and the interest of the international community to ensure that the JCPOA works for all participants, including by delivering benefit to the Iranian people. This includes the reengagement of European banks and businesses in Iran.
 
We will not stand in the way of permitted business activity with Iran, and we will not stand in the way of international firms or financial institutions' engaging with Iran, as long as they follow all applicable laws. In the JCPOA, all parties pledged to take steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance and energy. In this context, the EU and its Member States are exploring possible areas of cooperation with Iran, including the use of export credits to facilitate trade, project financing, and investment in Iran. Importantly, the due diligence required for sanctions compliance is by no means unique to business opportunities in Iran.
 

Our governments have provided extensive guidance on the scope of sanctions lifted and those that remain in place and will continue to do so including through additional guidance. We understand that firms may continue to have specific sanctions-related questions or concerns about doing business in Iran, and we stand ready to provide expeditious clarifications.  We encourage firms to approach our governments to address remaining questions, rather than forgo opportunities due to misperceptions or lack of information.  

While we are committed to providing clarity on sanctions-related issues, businesses will make their own decisions about commercial activity with Iran. There are factors within Iran’s control that have influenced companies’ decision-making and hindered Iran’s economic progress. For Iran to realize the economic improvement it desires, it will also have to take steps to create an environment conducive to international investment particularly regarding the compliance with FATF recommendations. We are ready to fully support Iran's efforts in this process.
 
On our part, we are committed to continue actively engaging with the private sector in order to clarify all sanctions-related matters and ensure that permissible business is not prevented by the lack of information. It is in our interest and the interest of the international community to ensure that the JCPOA works for all participants.
 
 

Parliament Seeks Damages from US

On May 17, Iran’s Parliament approved a bill obligating the government to seek compensation from the United States for 63 years of “spiritual and material damage.” The bill passed with 174 votes in favor, seven votes against and four abstentions. The outgoing Parliament (Majles), which is dominated by hardliners, blamed Washington for several actions against Iran:
 
·  CIA-led 1953 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh’s government and restored the monarchy
·   Death of 223,600 soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War (implicating the Washington for supporting Saddam Hussein)
·   Destruction of oil platforms in the late 1980s
·   Assassination of 17,000 people by U.S.-backed groups
·   Blocking , confiscating or seizing of Iranian assets

With a new Majles due to convene on May 27, outgoing hardliners are running out of time to challenge the president’s foreign policy. Hassan Rouhani’s supporters— a loose group of reformists, centrists and moderate conservatives —will outnumber hardliners in the new Majles.
 
Hardliner lawmaker Hamid Rasaee proposed an amendment to have Iran seize U.S. assets passing through the Strait of Hormuz. “If the US should seek to misappropriate the Iranian nation’s assets, the strait must be turned into an insecure place for them and US vessels banned from passing through it,” he said, according to Press TV.
 
The bill is a response to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. On April 20, it upheld a judgment that held Iran financially responsible for terrorist attacks dating back to the 1983 Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut. The lead plaintiff, Deborah Peterson, is the sister of Lance Cpl. James C. Knipple, who was killed in Beirut. The court ruled 6-2 in favor of more than 1,300 relatives of the 241 service members who were killed in Lebanon as well as other victims of attacks that courts have linked to Iran, such as the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
 
Iran refused to comply with past judgments, which led lawyers to search for Iranian assets held in the United States. This case, Bank Markazi (Iran’s central bank) v. Peterson, involved some $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accumulating interest, held by Citibank in New York.
 
Iranian officials have condemned the judgment. On April 21, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said the ruling “amounts to appropriation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s property.” He warned that it “increases the distrust between Tehran and Washington.” In an April interview with The New Yorker, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it is “highway robbery” and vowed to get the assets back.
 
Ibrahim Karkhaneh, the head of parliament’s nuclear committee, blamed Rouhani’s administration for recent U.S. court decisions. “The Islamic Republic of Iran until now has not taken significant action against these unjust actions, and day by day these sentences in America are increasing,” he said.
 

Rouhani, however, did appoint a working group headed by Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayebnia to review the Supreme Court case. In a statement on May 16, it concluded, “America’s judicial system violated the principle of state immunity,” and called on the executive branch to take further action. The Supreme National Security Council voted on May 17 to file a complaint with the International Court of Justice against the United States about the Supreme Court ruling. 

 

Photo credit: Mohammad Javad Zarif by Robin Wright 

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