United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Kerry Chastises Iran on Election

            On May 24, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Iran for limiting candidates allowed to run for president. He also expressed concern about "troubling signs" that the regime is slowing internet access and the free flow of information during the campaign. The secretary also said “the clock is ticking” on negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers on its controversial nuclear program. But he also noted that the Obama administration remains committed to a “peaceful resolution” that will in turn lift sanctions on Iran and begin better relations. The following is an excerpt from Kerry's press conference during his Middle East tour.

            I can’t think of anybody in the world looking at Iran’s election who wouldn’t be amazed by a process by which an unelected Guardian Council, which is unaccountable to the Iranian people, has actually disqualified hundreds of candidates, potential candidates, according to very vague criteria, which the Iranian people are not privileged to know or judge by.  The council narrowed a list of almost 700 potential candidates down to the sort of officials of their choice based solely on who represents the regime’s interests, obviously, rather than who might represent some different point of view among the Iranian people.  That is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections.  The lack of transparency obviously makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change of any legitimate kind. 
            So in addition to that, there are some troubling signs that Iranian Government is now taking steps to slow down or even cut off internet access, which is the process by which people can take part in the sharing of information and the exchange of ideas in an election.  So ultimately, the Iranian people will be prevented not only from choosing someone who might have reflected their point of view, but also taking part in a way that is essential to any kind of legitimate democracy. 
            So we’ll have to see what develops, but it’s our hope still that the Supreme Leader and the Iranian leadership will come to the table in a serious way with a serious offer in order to prove that their nuclear program, which they profess is peaceful, is indeed peaceful.  And I would reiterate – and I’ve said this before, and now it is almost a month or so even later – the clock is clearly ticking.  And even today there are reports from the IAEA of its dissatisfaction with its access, and we know of the continued efforts of Iranian development of its program. 
            So this is an issue which is very, very much on our radar screen.  We think about it and look at it every single day, take stock of it on a regular basis, and our hope is, for the sake of the region, the world, the Iranian people, ourselves, that we can have a peaceful resolution.  But it is going to have to be demonstrated much more affirmatively than it has been to date that Iran is interested in that kind of a solution and that they are, indeed, prepared to prove that their program is peaceful.
            I will repeat what I’ve said previously:  Notwithstanding my criticism that I just made of the election process, the President of the United States has from day one said that he is open to trying to work towards a relationship with Iran that sees them rejoin the community of nations, lift sanctions, move to participation in international organizations, and assume a role like other nations that is responsible and accountable to the rule of law that we live by in the international community.  That is the preferred hope of the American people and I think people in the world. 
            The Iranian leadership needs to make its decisions whether or not it wants to go down that road or the alternative.  And the alternative is obviously one that none of us are looking for or want to contemplate.  But the President has made it clear it is not one that he shies away from, if that is the only option that is left to him.

US Targets Iran Oil, Sanctions Evaders

            On May 31, the United States targeted Iranian petrochemical companies for the first time. It also imposed sanctions on five foreign companies helping Iran evade sanctions on its oil and air industries. The Treasury and the State Department targeted Ferland Company Limited, a Cyprus and Ukraine based company that was involved in an illicit ship-to-ship transfer of Iranian oil. The Treasury also sanctioned eight Iranian petrochemical companies, and several companies and individuals involved in Iran’s aircraft procurement network. “We are committed to intensifying the pressure against Iran, not only by adopting new sanctions, but also by actively enforcing our sanctions and preventing sanctions evasion,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. The following are excerpts from the press releases, with links to the full text at the end.

Targeting Sanctions Evaders
            The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Cyprus and Ukraine-based Ferland Company Limited (Ferland) because it has facilitated deceptive transactions for or on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), which was identified by Treasury as a Government of Iran entity in July 2012. This Treasury action is the first use of sanctions pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13608, which targets Foreign Sanctions Evaders, including those that facilitate deceptive transactions for or on behalf of persons sanctioned in connection with Iran or Syria. As a result of Treasury’s action, transactions with Ferland that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are generally prohibited, including transactions by U.S. persons, wherever located.
            In March 2013, Ferland and NITC cooperated in a scheme to sell Iranian crude oil deceptively in order to help Iran evade international sanctions which also involved a vessel owned by Dimitris Cambis. The scheme involved ship-to-ship transfers of oil between three oil tankers: Blackstone, a NITC vessel, Zap, a vessel controlled by Dimitris Cambis, and Aldawha, which was chartered by Ferland. Treasury identified Cambis and his business network, which includes the Zap and other vessels, as working on behalf of Iran in March 2013.  For details on that action click here. The Blackstone conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of oil with the Zap on March 12. The Zap then conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of oil, between March 15 and 17, with the Aldawha off Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The details of the ship-to-ship operations were arranged by a NITC manager and a representative of Ferland. Ferland later furnished a falsified certificate of origin as part of its cargo documentation, claiming that the crude oil loaded onto the Aldawha was a “product of Iraq.”
Petrochemical Companies
            The Treasury Department is also identifying eight Iranian petrochemical companies that are owned or controlled by the Government of Iran, including Bandar Imam Petrochemical Company, Bou Ali Sina Petrochemical Company, Mobin Petrochemical Company, Nouri Petrochemical Company, Pars Petrochemical Company, Shahid Tondgooyan Petrochemical Company, Shazand Petrochemical Company, and Tabriz Petrochemical Company. These identifications made pursuant to E.O. 13599, which targets the government of Iran.
The Department of State also sanctioned two companies for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of petrochemical products from Iran.
Aircraft Procurement and Support Network
            Today, the Treasury Department also designated key companies and individuals located in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the U.A.E. that are leasing and selling aircraft to Mahan Air and Iran Air as they attempt to circumvent sanctions and support Iran’s worldwide illicit activities. Mahan Air was designated in October, 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing financial, material and technological support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and has transported personnel, weapons and goods on behalf of Lebanese Hizballah. Iran Air was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in June 2011 for providing support and services to Iran’s IRGC, Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces (MODAFL), and Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO)…
Statement by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
            Companies Sanctioned under Iran Sanctions Authorities
The Administration took action today under a variety of authorities against companies helping Iran to evade U.S. sanctions and doing illicit business with Iran.
Executive Orders 13622 and 13599:
            The Administration imposed sanctions today under Executive Orders (E.O.) 13622 and 13599 on a series of companies related to Iran’s petrochemical industry.  These actions underscore U.S. resolve to cut off funds from the Iranian petrochemical sector as the second largest revenue source for Iran’s illicit nuclear program.  
            The Department of State imposed sanctions on Jam Petrochemical Company and Niksima Food and Beverage JLT pursuant to E.O. 13622 for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of petrochemical products from Iran.  Jam Petrochemical Company is an Iranian manufacturer and seller of petrochemicals.  Niksima Food and Beverage JLT received payments on behalf of Jam Petrochemical Company.  The sanctions selected for both companies prohibit: financial transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction, transactions with respect to property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction, and foreign exchange transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
In addition to these entities, the Department of the Treasury also identified eight Iranian petrochemical companies as owned or controlled by the Government of Iran.


US Report on Iran's Support of Extremism

            Iran significantly increased its sponsorship of terrorism in 2012, according to a new report by the State Department. It claims that attacks in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East were linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force or Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The armed wing of the extremist Shiite political movement has also facilitated the training of Syrian government forces by Iran’s Qods Force. The following excerpts detail actions linked to Iran in several Middle Eastern countries . A link to the full report is included at the end.

            In 2012, there was a clear resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah, who remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region... In fact, Hizballah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.
            Israel faced a wave of plots and attacks against its interests abroad that Israeli officials linked to Iran and Hizballah. Arms smuggling continued from Iran through Egypt into Gaza to Palestinian terrorist organizations…
            On the Northern Border, Israeli security officials remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel from Hizballah and its Iranian patron, arguing that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, continued to transfer arms to Hizballah in Lebanon… Terrorist plots were also uncovered against Israeli targets in Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Cyprus, and an attack was foiled in Georgia. Israeli officials publicly linked many of these plots and attacks to Hizballah and its Iranian sponsors…
            On October 6, the Israeli Air Force shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that entered Israeli airspace, and the IDF posted a video clip of the interception online. According to press, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in televised remarks on October 11, acknowledged that the group had sent the drone, and claimed its parts were manufactured in Iran and assembled by Hizballah in Lebanon.
            On May 28, Kuwait’s Court of Appeals commuted the death sentences of three defendants (two Iranians and a Kuwaiti), convicted of belonging to an Iranian espionage cell, to life in prison. The court also upheld the life imprisonment sentence for the fourth defendant (a stateless man) and the acquittal of two other Iranians, but overturned the life sentence imposed by a lower court against a Syrian defendant and acquitted him. The cell’s seven members (four Iranians, a Kuwaiti, a Syrian, and a stateless man) were apprehended in May 2010 on charges of espionage, terrorist plotting, and vandalism. The Court of Appeal’s verdicts are not final, and are expected to be challenged at the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court equivalent), whose rulings are final.
            Hizballah, with deep roots among Lebanon’s Shia community and significant backing from the Iranian government, remained the most dangerous and prominent terrorist group in Lebanon… Hizballah has directly trained Syrian government personnel inside Syria, has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, and played a substantial role in efforts to expel Syrian opposition forces from areas within Syria…
            Yemeni government officials accused some pro-secessionist members of the Southern Movement (Hirak), of carrying out violent acts in the south. Senior security and military officials accused Hirak in the south and Houthi groups in the north of receiving weapons and funding from Iran in an effort to destabilize Yemen. They also accused Iranian elements of raising political and sectarian tensions through disinformation that promoted and encouraged violent extremism.
Click here for the full report.

US Lifts Sanctions

            On May 30, the United States authorized the export of cell phones, computers and internet equipment to Iran. The export of such consumer electronics and communications tools had been banned since 1992. “As the Iranian government attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world, the United States will continue to take action to help the Iranian people exercise their universal human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
            Even activist groups that oppose the Iranian regime have welcomed the U.S. move. “It is a critical step in providing Iranian citizens with safe and secure access to communications tools, enhancing their freedom of expression and access to information, which the Iranian government is trying to deny them at every turn,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
            The U.S. Treasury simultaneously designated an individual and two entities in Iran for censorship. The State Department also imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 Iranian officials and other individuals who participated in political repression. The following are excerpts from the press release.

            The people of Iran should be able to communicate and access information without being subject to reprisals by their government. To help facilitate the free flow of information in Iran and with Iranians, the Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Department of State, is issuing a General License today authorizing the exportation to Iran of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications.  This license allows U.S. persons to provide the Iranian people with safer, more sophisticated personal communications equipment to communicate with each other and with the outside world.  This General License aims to empower the Iranian people as their government intensifies its efforts to stifle their access to information. The General License would not authorize the export of any equipment to the Iranian government or to any individual or entity on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.  The license can be found on OFAC’s Web site here
            The U.S. Department of the Treasury today also designated an individual and entities in Iran for contributing to serious human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime, including through the use of communications technology to silence and intimidate the Iranian people.  Those designated include the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content, the government entity charged with filtering the flow of information to the Iranian people as well Asghar Mir-Hejazi, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Supreme Leader, who has used his influence behind the scenes to empower elements from Iran’s intelligence services in carrying out violent crackdowns against the Iranian people.  U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with those designated today, and any assets of those persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen. 
            Also today, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 other officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals who participated in the commission of human rights abuses related to political repression in Iran.  The individuals subject to these new U.S. visa restrictions include government ministers; military, intelligence, and law enforcement officers; judiciary and prison officials; and authorities from Iran’s information technology sector.  These restrictions cover those who have played a role in the ongoing repression of students, human rights defenders, lawyers, artists, journalists, religious and ethnic minorities, and other members of Iranian civil society.  The State Department previously imposed the same restrictions on more than 50 Iranian officials and other individuals involved in similar activities.
The Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content
            The Department of the Treasury designated the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC) pursuant to E.O. 13628 because it has engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran or that limit access to print or broadcast media.
            The CDICC, which falls under the Ministry of Justice of Iran, replaced a previous oversight committee after the adoption of the Cyber Crimes Law of 2009.  With the creation of the CDICC, the filtering process in Iran has become more systematic and uniform.  The Iranian authorities apply filtering on information they deem against the regime’s national beliefs and safety, and the filtering usually occurs without warning.
            Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, the head of the CDICC, said in May 2012 that the only legal authority in the country with decision-making powers on the matter of filtering was the CDICC, even though he had denied the very existence of the CDICC a month earlier.
            In a February 2013 meeting, the CDICC has assembled a list of “examples of cyber crimes” related to the upcoming presidential election. Some of the crimes listed include vague notions such as:
•           Disturbing the public and creating conflict in society;
•           Promotion of boycotting the election;
•           Publishing insulting content about the election and candidates;
•           Publishing any contents against the regime, government, judicial, legislature, and governmental organizations; and
•           Publishing untrue information regarding election results.
            The CDICC is empowered to identify sites that carry forbidden content and report the information to the Telecommunication Company of Iran and other major Internet service providers (ISP) for blocking.  The CDICC is headed by the prosecutor general and other members are representatives from 12 government bodies.  Laws identifying violations that might result in a website being marked for filtering are very broadly defined and range from insulting religious figures and government officials to distributing pornographic content and illegal circumvention tools.
            The CDICC’s expert council ordered the filtering of content surrounding the Majlis elections and Valentine’s Day in early February 2012.  The CDICC’s council approved the proposal to filter content and ISPs and website administrators were warned via e-mail about their obligation to block this illegal content on their networks.
Also, the CDICC’s expert council ordered the filtering of a popular Persian-language financial website, meshgal.org, in January 2012.
            This action was taken pursuant to E.O. 13628, which implements the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), by giving Treasury the authority to designate those who engage in censorship or other activities that limit the freedom of expression of the Iranian people.
Ofogh Saberin Engineering Development Company
            Ofogh Saberin was designated pursuant to E.O. 13628 because it has provided material support to censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including the facilitation or support of international frequency manipulation by the Government of Iran or an entity owned or controlled by the Government of Iran that would jam or restrict an international signal.
            The Iranian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) placed the electronic warfare entity Ofogh Saberin in charge of a project to override and spoof commercial satellite communication frequencies emanating from what the Iranian government deemed were subversive Western media sources.
Asghar Mir-Hejazi
            Asghar Mir-Hejazi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for supporting the commission of serious human rights abuses in Iran on or after June 12, 2009, as well as providing material support to the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).   Mir-Hejazi is the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Supreme Leader, and is closely involved in all discussions and deliberations related to military and foreign affairs. After the disputed 2009 election, Mir-Hejazi played a leading role in suppressing the unrest in Iran.
            Following the disputed June 12, 2009 presidential election and the massive protests it provoked, the government unleashed the most widespread crackdown in a decade. Both ordinary protestors and prominent opposition figures faced detention without trial, harsh treatment including sexual violence and denial of due process. Security forces were responsible for at least 30 deaths, according to official sources. Security forces also arrested dozens of leading government critics, including human rights lawyers, whom the government held without charge, many of them in solitary confinement. Security forces used beatings, threats against family members, sleep deprivation, and fake executions to intimidate detainees and to force them to confess that they instigated post-election riots and were plotting a coup. The IRGC, Basij, and the MOIS were responsible for many serious human rights violations.
            Mir-Hejazi, since the beginning of Khamenei's leadership, has been chief of the Supreme Leader's Office's Intelligence and Security Division, and is considered the working brain behind the scenes of important events. He is considered one of the primary officials in the oppression following the June 2009 post-election unrest. On March 23, 2012, the European Union added Mir-Hejazi to its restrictive measures (sanctions) list directed against certain persons and entities in view of the situation following the June 2009 elections in Iran.  .


Latest on the Race: Khomeini Daughter Defends Rafsanjani

      The daughter of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has urged the supreme leader to allow Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to run for president. The Guardian Council ― the powerful body charged with vetting candidates ― has blocked the former president from running. “Please intervene in this important matter” and “prevent dictatorship,” Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini has written in a letter published online. She has warned that the rift between Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the “biggest harm” to Iran. Mostafavi has stated that her father had also considered Rafsanjani for the position of supreme leader, implying that he is capable of leading Iran.

            Khomeini’s most prominent daughter heads a party that advocates for women’s rights and increased political participation. The following is a translation of her letter.

             Since the day that I heard the Imam [Khomeini] approve your leadership, I've always repeated that view when needed. I also heard him confirm the qualifications of brother Hashemi [Rafsanjani], whose name the imam mentioned after yours. Fortunately, you were deservedly elected by the Assembly of Experts. Therefore, I did not think it was necessary to mention Khomeini’s comments. But unfortunately, today I see that the Guardian Council has rejected his [Rafsanjani’s] qualifications for the presidency ― so as a sister, I would like to point out that this action does nothing more than create a split between two companions of the imam and neglect the enthusiasm of people on the street for the system.
             I'm not claiming that Mr. Hashemi is the same person today that he was yesterday, as individuals do change: “And I do not acquit myself. The human soul is certainly prone to evil.” (The Koran, Yusuf 12: 53) But your gradual separation from one another is the biggest harm to the revolution and the system, since the Imam always said, “These two are good when they are together.”
             Please intervene in this important matter, and do not let one action undo all our previous efforts. Demonstrate why the imam used to say that “the supreme leader’s role is to prevent people from doing whatever they want” and to “prevent dictatorship.” 
             Please embody the true philosophy of the supreme leader. I'm certain that this is the request of many who are concerned about the situation in Islamic Iran ― their hearts want to hear the echo of unity and solidarity.
Zahra Mostafavi

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