United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Election Timeline, Quotes & Factoids

Iran is scheduled to hold elections on February 26 for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The following is a chronology of events related to the polls, which have the potential to shift the political balance of power.
 
Dec. 17, 2015: The candidate registration period for Assembly of Experts election began.
 

Dec. 18, 2015: Hassan Khomeini, the 43-year-old grandson of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, registered for the Assembly of Experts election.  

 

Dec. 19, 2015: The candidate registration period for the parliamentary election began.
 
Dec. 23, 2015: The candidate registration period for the Assembly of Experts election ended. Some 800 people registered in total. Sixteen women registered their candidacies, marking the first time in history that women had vied for those seats.
 
Dec. 25, 2015: The candidate registration period for the parliamentary election ended. More than 12,000 people registered, more than double compared to the previous election. Women comprised 12 percent of registered parliamentary candidates, an increase of four percentage points since the last election.
 
Jan. 4, 2016: In a meeting with prayer leaders, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that opponents of the Islamic Republic might try to infiltrate Iran’s governing institutions following implementation of the nuclear deal. “If the agents of penetration somehow manage to enter the Islamic Consultative Majles parliament], the Assembly of Experts or the other foundations of the Islamic Republic, they will weaken the bases of the system and will eat them from the inside like termites.” 

 

Jan. 5, 2016: The Guardian Council invited 537 of those who registered for the Assembly of Experts election to take the qualification tests required for candidacy – among them were 10 women candidates. Some 400 ended up taking the exam. Hassan Khomeini did not take the exam. He reportedly was not specifically invited.
 
Jan. 9, 2016: Khamenei urged all Iranians to participate in the upcoming elections, even those who do not support the system of government. “There might be people who do not accept me, but they also participate in elections,” he said in a speech.
 
Jan. 17, 2016: The Guardian Council announced that less than half of those who registered for the parliamentary elections will be allowed to run. About 4,700 out of 12,000 were preliminarily approved.
 
In a press conference, President Hassan Rouhani said he was unhappy with news of disqualifications. “Hopefully the Guardian Council will look into it. And as the president, I will also use all my executive powers in this regard,” he said.
 
Jan. 18, 2016: A Reformist leader said that out of more than 3,000 reformist candidates that registered, only 30 were approved.
 
Lawmakers Mohammad Reza Tabesh said parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani was discussing the disqualifications with the Guardian Council and also seeking to create a working group that would allow rejected candidates to personally protest during a special hearing.
 
Jan. 20, 2016: Khamenei elaborated regarding the political participation of those who do not accept Iran’s system of government. He said that they should vote, but would not be allowed into parliament. His remarks were interpreted as tacit approval of the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify nearly all of the reformist candidates.
 
Jan. 21, 2016: Rouhani stepped his criticism of the candidate vetting process. “If there is one faction and the other is not there, they don't need the February 26 elections, they go to the parliament,” he told election officials. “As the supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution indicated and ordered all to act according to the essence of the constitution, not the essence of a specific political taste, so I urgently asked the Interior and Intelligence Ministers to diligently cooperate and consult with the electoral supervisory Guardian Council in this regard.”
 
Jan. 26, 2016: The Guardian Council announced that 166 Assembly of Experts candidates were eligible to run. Out of the some 800 who originally registered, 373 were vetted. The others had withdrawn, refused to take the qualification exam or were not allowed to be vetted. It was the also the last day for the Guardian Council to inform Assembly of Experts candidates of their qualification or disqualification.
 
Hassan Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, announced his father’s disqualification in an Instagram post. He wrote that the Guardian Council “failed to prove” that his father was qualified. Ahmad added that the group also refused to accept testimonies of tens of top clerics who could vouch for his father’s qualifications. Therefore, the reason for Khomeini’s disqualification is “clear for all,” Ahmad wrote, perhaps implying that the council’s ruling was a political one. Khomeini has connections to influential reformist and centrist political elites. Khomeini later verified his disqualification by reposting what his son wrote.  
 

• ديشب ديگر قطعى شد كه شوراى نگهبان نتوانسته صلاحيت علمى بابا را احراز كند و نتوانستند از شهادت ده ها مرجع و عالم و فقيه به اجتهاد پى ببرند. به نظرم براى همگان علت عدم احراز ، احراز شده است ، مخصوصا كه برخى ديگر هم بدون امتحان اجتهادشان احراز شده است بگذريم؛ قبل از خواب با بابا صحبت كردم از اوضاع سؤال نمودم. يك بيت از حافظ خواند: سر ارادت ما و آستان حضرت دوست كه هر چه بر سر ما مى رود ارادت اوست

A photo posted by سيد احمد خمينى (@ahmadkhomeini) on

 
Jan. 29, 2016: Khomeini reportedly announced to a group of students and clerics that he would appeal the Guardian Council's decision. He noted that he was surprised by the Council’s rejection, and that he would appeal at the request of members of the public and political leadership. 
 
Jan. 30, 2016: Appeals from disqualified Assembly of Experts candidates were due to the Guardian Council.
 
Feb. 1, 2016: Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify Khomeini and many reformist candidates at a ceremony commemorating Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran in 1979. According to state news, Rafsanjani referred to hardliners on the Guardian Council, saying, “They disqualified the grandson of Imam Khomeini, who is the most similar person to his grandfather…Who decided you are qualified to judge the others? Who gave you the right to take all the guns, have all the Friday prayer platform and run state television?” He added, “Without Imam Khomeini, none of these people [on the vetting panel] would have existed."
 
Feb. 2, 2016: Hardliners reacted harshly to Rafsanjani’s remarks. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of hardline Kayhan newspaper, said that Rafsanjani should be feel indebted to the Khomeini family, rather than the Guardian Council. Shariatmadari claimed that Rafsanjani had persuaded the young Khomeini to register for the Assembly of Experts election. Some reformists also criticized Rafsanjani’s remarks while others defended them. 
 
 
Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant, and Garrett Nada, assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, contributed to this chronology. 
 

 

Khomeini Grandson to Appeal Disqualification

Seyyed Hassan Khomeini plans to appeal the Guardian Council’s decision to bar him from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts. A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he is widely considered the heir apparent of the late revolutionary leader’s legacy. The young Khomeini’s long-anticipated entrance into politics could have important consequences. The 86-member Assembly of Experts, which will increase its membership to 88 this election, is the only constitutional body with the authority to appoint, supervise and dismiss the supreme leader.
 
The group of clerics has historically served as a rubber stamp organization that has never seriously questioned the actions of Iran’s previous or current supreme leader. But the stakes are higher for the February 2016 election. The next assembly may be faced with the question of what to do should the 76-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pass away due to illness or old age.
 
Khomeini registered for the election on Dec. 18, 2015. In January 2016, he missed the written exam intended to test candidates’ knowledge of Islam. Members of his family claimed that he never received an invitation to attend. The Guardian Council announced that all candidates had received a text message invitation, and that missing the exam would not necessarily disqualify a candidate.
 
On Jan. 26, 2016, the Guardian Council announced that it had finished vetting 801 would-be candidates and that 166 would be allowed to run. The group, however, did not specify who had passed the screening. 
 
Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, reported that his father had been disqualified in an Instagram post on Jan. 26, 2016. He wrote that the Guardian Council “failed to prove” that his father was qualified. Ahmad added that the group also refused to accept testimonies of tens of top clerics who could vouch for his father’s qualifications. Therefore, the reason for Khomeini’s disqualification is “clear for all,” Ahmad wrote, perhaps implying that the council’s ruling was a political one. Khomeini has connections to influential reformist and centrist political elites. Khomeini later verified his disqualification by reposting what his son wrote.
 
 

• ديشب ديگر قطعى شد كه شوراى نگهبان نتوانسته صلاحيت علمى بابا را احراز كند و نتوانستند از شهادت ده ها مرجع و عالم و فقيه به اجتهاد پى ببرند. به نظرم براى همگان علت عدم احراز ، احراز شده است ، مخصوصا كه برخى ديگر هم بدون امتحان اجتهادشان احراز شده است بگذريم؛ قبل از خواب با بابا صحبت كردم از اوضاع سؤال نمودم. يك بيت از حافظ خواند: سر ارادت ما و آستان حضرت دوست كه هر چه بر سر ما مى رود ارادت اوست

A photo posted by سيد احمد خمينى (@ahmadkhomeini) on

 
 
On Jan. 29, 2016, Khomeini reportedly announced to a group of students and clerics that he would appeal the Guardian Council's decision. He noted that he was surprised by the Council’s decision, and that he would appeal at the request of members of the public and political leadership. 
 

Khomeini would likely be popular with voters. He has spoken out against extremism and supported the nuclear deal, which was broadly welcomed by the Iranian public. At age 43, Khomeini is significantly younger than the mostly elderly members of the Assembly of Experts. The youth vote is increasingly important in Iran, where more than 60 percent of its 80 million people are under 30 years old. Through his 18-year-old son Ahmad’s popular Instagram account, the Iranian public has gained some insight into Khomeini’s family life.  

 

Khomeini is also known for being an avid fan of soccer, Iran’s most popular sport. He played in his youth until he began to focus on his religious studies in his 20s. Khomeini’s deep knowledge of Iran’s league became widely known due to his 2014 appearance on a state television soccer program. In December 2015, he met with some of Iran’s top players in his office. “I was good in defense, and if I had continued football I might have achieved something,” he told them, according to Reuters.
 
In addition to Khomeini’s revered pedigree, his family is connected to prominent reformists through marriage. His cousin, Zahra Eshraghi is married to former deputy speaker of parliament Reza Khatami, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Khomeini also has the support of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who chairs the Expediency Council. In August 2015, Rafsanjani said it was Khomeini’s turn to come forward to “protect the revolution.”
 
Khomeini’s candidacy, however must be approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful unelected institution that vets candidates’ Islamic credentials. The conservative group has previously rejected the candidacy of another Khomeini grandchild, Zahra Eshraghi, for parliament. Even if Khomeini makes the cut and wins a seat on the assembly, it will likely still be dominated by elderly conservatives in the near term.
 
Born in 1972, Khomeini is a mid-ranking cleric, a hojatoleslam. He spent much of his childhood in the holy city of Qom in Iran. He also visited his grandfather in exile in Iraq and France in the 1970s. Khomeini became a cleric in 1993 and then taught courses on Islam. In 1995, he was appointed as caretaker of Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Qom, where his father Ahmad is also buried. He heads the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, an organization that preserves the late leader’s original publications and achievements.
 
Khomeini kept a relatively low profile until 2002, when a university professor was sentenced to death for insulting Islam. Professor Hashem Aghajari argued that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own. Khomeini reportedly protested the sentence with about 1,000 students in November 2002. 
 
Khomeini has spoken out against military interference in politics. He also criticized the disqualification of nearly 2,000 candidates from running for parliament in 2008. Most of them were reformists. Khomeini’s comments prompted a harsh reaction from conservatives, who accused him of corruption.
 
Khomeini reportedly supported reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009. Hassan reportedly went on a trip outside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s August 2009 inauguration ceremony. Conservative publications criticized Khomeini’s move and interpreted his absence as opposition to the election results. Khomeini also met with political prisoners Alireza Beheshti and Mohammadreza Jalaeipour shortly after their release in 2009, which also suggested sympathies with the reformist camp.
 
In June 2010, Khomeini spoke at a ceremony marking his grandfather’s death. But his speech was cut short by hardliners chanting “Death to Mousavi!” and shouting slogans in support of Iran’s current supreme leader. The incident may have been the first time a Khomeini family member had been insulted in a public venue.
 
In a May 2013 letter, Khomeini called former President Rafsanjani’s disqualification from running in the presidential election “unbelievable.”
 
In August 2015, Khomeini gave a speech to reformists suggesting he would stand for election. “Imam [Khomeini] told my father ‘I am not asking you not to accept responsibilities in the Islamic Republic. If necessary, do whatever is needed and take on responsibilities, but if there are others [who can take control], let them do it,’” he said, according to The Guardian. Khomeini said that he would therefore play a role in politics if necessary.
 

Click here for more information on the Assembly of Experts. 


  

Tags: Profiles

US Issues New Travel Warning for Iran

On January 29, the U.S. State Department issued new guidance warning Americans to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.” The updated travel warning comes less than two weeks after Iran released four Iranian-Americans in exchange for six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian held in the United States. Iran also released a fifth American separate from the swap. The following is the full text. 
 
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. This replaces the Travel Warning for Iran of August 5, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans, in Iran.  All U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel.    
 
Various elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.  Since the United States and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to address the international community's concerns over Iran's nuclear program on July 14, 2015, Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.  
 
The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran.  The Swiss government, acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.  The range of consular services provided by the Foreign Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is limited and may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates. 
 
The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals. The Iranian authorities make the determination of a dual national’s Iranian citizenship without regard to the dual national’s personal wishes.  Consular access to U.S. citizens without dual nationality is often denied as well. 
 
Iranian authorities have unjustly detained or imprisoned U.S. citizens, particularly Iranian-Americans, including journalists, businessmen and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security.  Iranian authorities have also prevented the departure, in some cases for months, of a number of Iranian-American citizens who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons. 
 
The Iranian government continues to repress some minority religious and ethnic groups, including Christians, Baha'i, Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, and others.  Consequently, some areas within the country where these minorities reside, including the Baluchistan border area near Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kurdish northwest of the country, and areas near the Iraqi border, remain unsafe. Iranian authorities have detained and harassed U.S. citizens, particularly those of Iranian origin.  Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, religious activists, and persons who encourage Muslims to convert are subject to arrest and prosecution.
 

The U.S. government’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Iran in the event of an emergency is extremely limited.  U.S. citizens in Iran should ensure that they have updated documentation at all times and make their own plans in the event of an emergency. For more information, see "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis" at the Department's website."  

 

Click here for more information. 
 

Iran Reaches Out to East and West

Cameron Glenn

In the two weeks following implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran reached out to Europe and Asia in a series of high-profile visits. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran on January 22 and 23, marking the first Chinese presidential visit to Iran in 14 years. On January 25, President Hassan Rouhani embarked on a five-day trip to Italy, the Vatican, and France. The trip - which is Rouhani's first visit to Europe - was originally scheduled for November 2015, but it was postponed due to the ISIS attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. 
 
"Expansion of relations with E.U. members is among Tehran's main policies," Rouhani said before his trip. While in Europe, he even appeared to hint at improving ties with the United States. "It's possible that Iran and the United States might have friendly relations," he said at a press conference on January 27. "But the key to that is in Washington's hands, not Tehran's." 
 
Both France and Italy were major trade partners with Iran before sanctions were tightened in 2010 and 2012. China is Iran’s largest trade partner and sustained economic ties even under sanctions. Officials and businessmen in all three countries are eager to establish a stronger foothold in the Iranian market. The following is a rundown of Iran’s high-profile diplomatic visits since Implementation Day. 
 
China
 
 
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran on January 22-23, following visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The president, accompanied by a large business delegation, met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
 
Chinese and Iranian officials signed 17 agreements in energy, industry, transportation, technology, and other fields. The two countries also released a joint statement outlining broad goals for cooperation in politics, economics, cultural affairs, security issues, and foreign policy. The statement called for completing a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement between the two countries. 
 
China continued to trade with Iran even after sanctions were tightened in 2012, but it was forced to cut back its Iranian oil imports. Iran is keen to secure Chinese investment in its ailing oil and gas industry. President Xi also considers Iran to be a crucial component to his “One Belt One Road” initiative, which aims to build transportation infrastructure across Central Asia and is framed as a renewal of the Silk Road.  
 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
 
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget China’s cooperation during the time of sanctions.”
 
America’s policies have “caused independent countries to pursue more cooperation with one another. The agreement between Iran and China for developing a 25-year strategic relation is within this framework. With the serious follow-up by both sides, agreements will definitely pass through the stage of implementation.”
 
“These hostile policies have caused the people of Iran and the officials of our country to look for developing relations with independent countries.”
– Jan. 23, 2016, in a meeting with President Xi
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
“China has always stood by the Iranian nation during their hard time and this amicable behavior is an asset that we should use to develop bilateral relations more than before.”
 
“In order to develop ties between the two countries, both sides have got complete political resolve and it is necessary that this resolve strengthen in other areas, especially economy.”
 
“Geographically, Iran has got the capacity to become a hub for China’s economic activities in the Middle East and Central Asia and Caucasus.”
 
“We speculate that the amount of economic transactions between Tehran and Beijing rise to $600bn in 10 years.”
 
“Tehran and Beijing can boost effective cooperation for establishing security and stability of the region and we believe that there is no military solution to the issues of the region, including those of Syrian, Iraq, and Yemen and they should be settled politically.”
 
“Countries’ national borders should be respected and any country’s future should be left for the people of that country to decide for.”
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is still determined to continue the path of JCPOA and we are willing to foster ties and cooperation with China. We are also eager to develop peaceful nuclear cooperation by renovation of Arak reactor, as well as other sectors.”
– Jan. 23, 2016, in a meeting with President Xi
 
President Xi Jinping
 
“Tehran-Beijing ties are in a very important and strategic conditions, and today, China’s full and growing resolve to develop ties and cooperation in different sectors.”
 
“China is determined to develop ties between the two countries based on mutual trust and common interests, and to do this, we are trying to compose the 25-year Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement with Iran.”
 
“China is seeking mutual interest and win-win situation in its relations with Iran and we are ready to use the new opportunity to outline a long-term vision in bilateral regional and international ties.”
 
“Beijing is ready to boost ties in peaceful nuclear energy with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
– Jan. 23, 2016, in a meeting with Khamenei and Rouhani
 
Italy
 
 
On January 25, Rouhani arrived in Rome and met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Iran and Italy signed around $18.4 billion in deals for cooperation in energy, infrastructure, shipbuilding, and mining. The two countries signed 14 MoUs, including a deal with the Parsian Oil & Gas Development Company to upgrade the Pars Shiraz and Tabriz refineries. Iran also signed 5.7 billion euros in contracts with steel firm Danieli. During his meetings, Rouhani invited Mattarella and Renzi to visit Iran. Rouhani also addressed a group of 500 Italian business leaders during his visit. On January 27, Iran and Italy issued a joint statement outlining a roadmap for bilateral cooperation.
 
Italy was Iran’s largest European trade partner before sanctions were tightened in 2010. Sanctions forced Italy to cut bilateral trade to one fifth of its previous volume.
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
 
“The two countries could not make the best use of mutual opportunities and capacities due to the unjust and erroneous sanctions; it is about time to compensate for that and we should develop ties through interaction and in line with mutual interests.”
 
“For the Islamic Republic of Iran, cementing ties with Europe, especially Italy, is of high significance and in the new atmosphere the level of these ties should rise more.”
 
“Tehran and Rome can have fruitful consultation and cooperation in a lot of regional issues, including combatting terrorism, extremism, and violence, as before.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a meeting with President Mattarella
 
"The reason I have chosen Italy as my first destination after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to travel proves Iran's willing to start a new chapter in its mutual and regional relations with Italy as an old friend.”
 
"After JCPOA, we are more eager to have Italians before any other European nations to start a constructive interaction with their Iranian partners in the economic fields.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a meeting with Prime Minister Renzi
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes foreign entrepreneurs and investors, especially from Italy.”
 
“The EU and Iran were affected by the sanctions and now, considering the new chapter in Iran’s ties and interaction with the world, it is time to compensate for the loss.”
 
“Today, conditions are set for investing, transferring technology, and aiming at new joint and export markets and the Islamic Republic of Iran is pursuing its economic interactions with a win-win approach.”
 
“Iran is not after invading any country or meddle with their internal affairs, however, it will defend its territory; on the other hand, Iran’s rules and regulations are completely trustable for investment.”
 
“The people of Iran have experienced Italy’s industry and services and trust on them; in addition, the type of Italy’s industry is consistent with Iran’s demands.”
– Jan. 26, 2016, in a meeting with Italian businessmen
 
President Sergio Mattarella
 
“Various industrial and trade companies are willing to cooperate with Iran and we are seeking to compensate for the opportunities that the sanctions took them away from Italy [and we are willing to do so] by investment and active presence.”
 
“Without a doubt, the new circumstances enables Iran to play its main and stability-creating role in the region more and better than before.”
 
“Italy, like Iran, believes that diplomacy is the best way to achieve sustainable peace.”
 
“Italy considers Iran’s role in settling the crises in the region as effective.”
 
“Italy welcomes Iran’s constructive role in solving issues of the countries of the region through diplomatic ways and supports it. We believe that to reach fruitful solutions, we need Iran’s effective role.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a meeting with President Rouhani

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
 
"As a new chapter of Iran and Italy cooperation has started, Italy is not looking to start only an economic interaction with Iran, but seeks a close cooperation with it to create stability and development in the region and over the world, too.”
 
"Italy is committed to expanding cultural, educational and academic relations and cooperation with Iran.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a meeting with President Rouhani
 
"We should fight terrorism all together, with the presence of Iran at the negotiating table.”
“Iran plays a fundamental role in the stability of the Middle East region which is struggling with years of extremism and terrorism.”
 
"I am sure this visit will be a fundamental part of our ability to overcome together the challenge of fighting terrorism, atrocity and evil that we all have to confront together.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a joint press conference with President Rouhani
 
Iran and Italy "held friendly and constructive talks geared towards enhancing bilateral cooperation and deepening consultation on the main regional and international issues.”
– Jan. 25, 2016, in a statement
 
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni
 
“This trip stems from deep, amicable, and ancient friendship between the two Italian and Iranian nation.”
 
“Today, various economic companies of Italy are eager to develop the level of their cooperation and ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran more than before.”
– Jan. 26, 2016, in a meeting with Rouhani
 
The Vatican
 
 
On January 26, Rouhani met with Pope Francis in Vatican City. The meeting, which occurred behind closed doors, reportedly covered religion and regional conflicts.  "The parties highlighted the importance of inter-religious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace," the Vatican said in a statement.
 
The meeting between Rouhani and the Pope was the first of its kind since 1999.

President Hassan Rouhani
 
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is honoured with believing in all the divine messengers, especially Jesus Christ (PBUH), respecting all divine religions and the coexistence of Jews and Christians beside Muslims in Iran.”
 
"Propagating Islamophobia and doing actions to offend sanctities not only instigate and arouse negative emotions of Muslims but also helps terrorist groups as well.”
– Jan. 26, 2016, in a meeting with Pope Francis
 
The Vatican
 
Today, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in audience His Excellency Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.
 
During the cordial discussions, common spiritual values emerged and reference was made to the good state of relations between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the life of the Church in the country and the action of the Holy See to favour the promotion of the dignity of the human person and religious freedom.
 
Attention then turned to the conclusion and application of the Nuclear Accord and the important role that Iran is called upon to fulfil, along with other countries in the Region, to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking. In this respect, the Parties highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace.
– Jan. 26, 2016, in a statement
 
France
 
Rouhani Hollande
 
Rouhani arrived in France on January 27 for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President Francois Hollande, and a group of French business leaders. On January 28, French and Iranian officials signed 20 agreements for economic, political, and cultural cooperation. French automaker Peugeot announced it had reached a deal with Iran Khodro worth $436 million to manufacture 200,000 cars per year in Iran. Energy company Total also reportedly signed a deal to buy up to 200,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil per day. And Airbus finalized a deal to deliver more than 100 commercial jets to Iran.
 
Rouhani was the first Iranian president to visit to France since 1999. Despite taking a tough stance during the nuclear negotiations, France was among the first European countries to seek improved ties with Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. Rouhani’s visit, however, prompted protests from French human rights groups against executions in Iran.
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
 
"The Islamic Republic of Iran seeks deepening Tehran-Paris ties to the benefit of the two nations and countries and this trip is an important step in doing so.”
– Jan. 27, 2016, in statements to the press
 
“Today with the new circumstances following the nuclear agreement, we can develop the level of economic cooperation between the two countries more than ever before.”
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran had good economic ties with France not many years ago and interactions between economic delegations of both countries in the recent months have set the ground for more economic cooperation and activities.”
 
“The government is determined to provide the private sector with more space.”
 
“Iran is also willing to have more cooperation with France in tourism industry.”
 
“In the process of both countries’ cooperation, it is important that we take our steps more carefully and, at the same time, quickly”.
– Jan. 27, 2016, in a meeting with French business leaders
 
"Tehran and Paris can do a lot to solve regional and international issues in light of their mutual ties and take great measures for the benefit of the two nations, peace and stability.”
– Jan. 28, 2016, in a meeting with the President of the French Senate
 
"During the course of the wrong and unjust sanctions on Iran, the two nations of Iran and France were hurt, so we should do our best to compensate loses and the lagging behind through starting a close and extensive relations.”
 
"As the JCPOA once again proved the powerful role of diplomacy and negotiations, so we can resolve other regional and international issues by adopting such an approaches.”
 
"Nowadays the region is that much more insecure and in danger by emerging criminals and terrorist groups that implies a close and all out cooperation among all to remove the threats to all human beings.”
– Jan. 28, 2016, in a meeting with the President of the French Senate
 
"Being in Paris reminds us the good memory of the Islamic Revolution time dated back to 1979, because Iranians in exile especially those in France did too much and played an effective role to help establishment of a religious democracy in their homeland.”
– Jan. 28, 2016, in an address to Iranian nationals in France
 
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
 
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls
 
"France has for a long time turned itself towards Iran, fascinated by its history, attracted by its culture, seduced by this great nation which is so incomparable.”
– Jan. 28, 2016, according to the press
 
“The session is an indication that both countries are resolved to improve relations of both public and private sectors of economy. This is a good start to extend political relations and consolidate trade in line with common economic interests.”
– Jan. 28, 2016, according to the press
 
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
 
“Both countries had historical cooperation with each other and today we should start a new chapter in our cooperation and develop our ties at all levels.”
 
“Iran is a great country with a bright prospect and today major French companies are seriously determined to start cooperation with Iran.”
– Jan. 27, 2016, in a meeting with French business leaders
 
"This visit, which we hope is successful, will allow us to address the international situation and regional crises where we hope Iran can play a positive role, notably in Syria and Lebanon.”
– Jan. 27, 2016, in a statement
 
French Senate President Gerard Larcher
 
“France trusts Iran’s positive role in solving regional problems and battling terrorism.”
– Jan. 27, 2016, in a meeting with Rouhani
 
 
Photo credits: president.ir
 

Report: No Improvement in Human Rights

Iran’s human rights situation did not significantly improve in 2015, according to a new report by Freedom House. The brokering of the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers in July 2015 raised hopes that President Hassan Rouhani would gain enough leverage to enact domestic reforms that he had promised. But the monitoring group noted that hardliners “in control of key state institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the judiciary, appeared determined to prevent any attempts at reform.”
 
For both civil liberties and political rights, Iran received a score of 6 out of 7, with 7 being the worst. Iran has received the same scores each year since 1998, when Freedom House first assessed the situation there. For 2015, Iran received an aggregate score of 17 out of 100, with 100 being the most free, based on 25 indicators. The monitoring group classified Iran as “not free” along with most other countries in the region. The following are excerpts from the report on Iran.

 
 
With elections for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts scheduled for February 2016, hard-liners launched a new crackdown in 2015. At least four journalists were arrested, while several intellectuals, artists, and human rights activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American, was sentenced to an unspecified prison term following a closed-door trial on widely criticized espionage charges. There was also a surge in executions during the year, with estimates indicating that the number easily exceeded the reported total for 2014.
 
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES: 

Political Rights: 7 / 40
 
A. Electoral Process: 3 / 12
 
The supreme leader, who has no fixed term, is the highest authority in the country. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces and appoints the head of the judiciary, the heads of state broadcast media, and the Expediency Council—a body tasked with mediating disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament. He also appoints six of the members of the Guardian Council; the other six are jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary and confirmed by the parliament, all for six-year terms. The supreme leader is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, which also monitors his work. However, in practice his decisions appear to go unchallenged by the assembly, whose proceedings are kept confidential. The current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, succeeded Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
 
Elections in Iran are not free and fair, according to international standards. The Guardian Council, controlled by conservatives, vets all candidates for the parliament, president, and the Assembly of Experts—a body of 86 clerics who are elected to eight-year terms by popular vote. The council has in the past rejected candidates who are not considered insiders or deemed fully loyal to the clerical establishment, as well as women seeking to run in the presidential election. As a result, Iranian voters are given a limited choice of candidates.
...
 
As the country prepared for the 2016 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections in 2015, officials renewed a debate over the role of the Guardian Council. Rouhani suggested in August that the council’s proper function is to supervise rather than administer elections. His comments appeared to reflect concern that the body would bar moderate and reformist candidates from running. Hard-line officials hit back, including the IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jaafari, who warned against weakening the “pillars of the revolution.”
 
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 2 / 16
 
Only political parties and factions loyal to the establishment and to the state ideology are permitted to operate. Reformist parties and politicians have come under increased state repression, especially since 2009.
 
In 2015, two new reformist parties—Nedaye Iranian (Voice of Iranians) and Ettehad Mellat Iran (Iranian National Unity)—were established ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections. Hard-liners were critical of the decision to allow the two parties to operate, noting that some of their members belonged to the banned Participation Front (Mosharekat). The head of Ettehad Mellat and at least one other member of the party were summoned to court in 2015 in what was seen as a warning to the reformists.
… 
 
CFunctioning of Government: 2 / 12
 
The elected president’s powers are limited by the supreme leader and other unelected authorities. The powers of the elected parliament are similarly restricted by the supreme leader and the unelected Guardian Council, which must approve all bills before they can become law. The council often rejects bills it deems un-Islamic. Nevertheless, the parliament has been a platform for heated political debate and criticism of the government, and legislators have frequently challenged presidents and their policies.
Corruption remains endemic at all levels of the bureaucracy, despite regular calls by authorities to tackle the problem. Powerful actors involved in the economy, including the IRGC and bonyads (endowed foundations), are above scrutiny. In its 2014 Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International ranked Iran 136 out of 175 countries and territories.
 
Civil Liberties: 10 / 60
 
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 2 / 16
 
Freedom of expression and access to information remain severely limited both online and offline. However, some journalists and citizens say the situation improved slightly after Rouhani took office. The state broadcasting company is tightly controlled by hard-liners and influenced by the security apparatus. News and analysis are heavily censored, while critics and opposition members are rarely, if ever, given a platform on state-controlled television, which remains a major source of information for many Iranians. State television has a record of airing confessions extracted from political prisoners under duress, and it routinely carries reports aimed at discrediting dissidents and opposition activists.
… 
 
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 1 / 12
 
The constitution states that public demonstrations may be held if they are not “detrimental to the fundamental principle of Islam.” In practice, only state-sanctioned demonstrations are typically permitted, while other gatherings have in recent years been forcibly dispersed by security personnel, who detain participants. In what appeared to be a softening of the government’s stance, police did not disrupt protests by animal rights activists in Shiraz in April 2015, or a months-long protest by prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh against a decision to ban her from practicing law. Sotoudeh said she and her supporters received threats but were allowed to continue their picketing outside the Iranian Bar Association in Tehran. 
 
Nongovernmental organizations that work on nonpolitical issues such as poverty and the environment are allowed to operate relatively freely. Reports suggest that their number has increased in the past two years. Other groups, especially those that have highlighted human rights violations, have been suppressed. …
 
Iran does not permit the creation of labor unions; only state-sponsored labor councils are allowed. Labor rights groups have come under pressure in recent years, and more than a dozen activists have been sentenced to prison. …
 
F. Rule of Law: 3 / 16
 
The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members. The head of the judiciary is appointed by the supreme leader for a five-year term. Under the current head, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, human rights advocates and political activists have been subjected to unfair trials, and the security apparatus’s influence over judges has reportedly grown.
Iran, after China, carries out the largest number of executions in the world each year, and the annual total has increased under Larijani. Convicts can be executed for offenses other than murder, such as drug trafficking, and for crimes they committed when they were less than 18 years old. According to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, at least 694 individuals were reportedly executed in the first seven months of 2015, compared with 753 for all of 2014. Others put the total for 2015 at nearly 1,000. As in previous years, Iran refused to allow a visit to the country by the UN special rapporteur.
 
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 4 / 16
 
Freedom of movement is restricted, particularly for women and perceived opponents of the regime. Women are banned from certain public places, such as sports stadiums, and can obtain a passport to travel abroad only with the permission of their fathers or husbands. Many journalists and activists have been prevented from leaving the country.
 
Iranians have the legal right to own property and establish private businesses. However, powerful institutions like the IRGC play a dominant role in the economy, and bribery is said to be widespread in the business environment, including for registration and obtaining business licenses.
 
The government interferes in most aspects of citizens’ private lives. Home parties are often raided and citizens detained or fined for drinking alcohol or mingling with members of the opposite sex. Women are regularly harassed and detained by the police for not fully observing the obligatory Islamic dress code. …
 
Scoring Key: X / Y 
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
 

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