Iran News Round Up January 13, 2016

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Project Iran Analysts Mehrdad Moarefian, Marie Donovan, Paul Bucala, and Caitlin Shayda Pendleton. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.

(E) = Article in English

Key takeaway: Iran released two U.S. Navy vessels and 10 sailors on January 13, following their overnight detention after a purported mechanical error caused the vessels to drift into Iranian territorial waters on January 12.

Iran released two U.S. Navy vessels and their crew members after the IRGC determined that they had breached Iranian territorial waters “unintentionally” on January 12. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jabari Ansari similarly stated that Iran “determined that the violation of Iranian territorial waters was not deliberate.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attributed the release to “dialogue and respect” between the U.S. and Iran, while Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief Major General Hassan Firouzabadi hailed the IRGC’s seizure of the vessels as a display of Iran’s power in the Persian Gulf.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated that he expects the IAEA will release its report confirming Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by January 15. The IAEA must verify that Iran has met its initial nuclear commitments under the JCPOA before Implementation Day, which will trigger the removal of economic and financial sanctions against Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry stated on January 13 that Foreign Minister Zarif told him Iran has removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and will fill it with concrete in the next few “hours,” preventing the reactor from producing the plutonium levels required for a nuclear weapon and fulfilling one of Iran’s major initial commitments under the JCPOA.

An Iranian fighter was reportedly killed in Syria. No rank or unit affiliation was provided.

Matthew McInnis analyzes Iranian reactions to the Saudi execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr and explains why Tehran is unlikely to seek further escalation in the conflict with Riyadh in his latest blog post, “Iran backs down after Saudi embassy attack.

Regional Developments and Diplomacy

  • Iran releases detained U.S. sailors. Iran released two U.S. Navy vessels and their crew members on January 13. Both Iranian and American officials have stated that a mechanical error caused the vessels to breach Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf on January 12.
    • The IRGC issued a statement asserting that the release was made following an “apology” from the 10 sailors and an investigation that determined the vessels had entered Iranian territory “inadvertently and unintentionally.” An initial IRGC statement provided shortly after the seizure reported that the American sailors were “in complete health” and being treated according to “Islamic conduct.
    • Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari stated that the U.S. assured Iran that the breach of Iranian territorial waters was an accident and not hostile; he added, “We determined that the violation of Iranian territorial waters was not deliberate.”
    • Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also publicly commented on the incident, stating on his Twitter feed, “I am pleased to see that dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the issue of the sailors. We should learn from this latest example.” Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Zarif immediately after learning of the sailors’ detainment.
    • IRGC Navy Commander Brig. Gen. Ali Fadavi claimed that the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, situated nearby in international waters, “demonstrated unprofessional behavior for a period of 40 minutes” after the two vessels were seized; Fadavi called the behavior “a demonstration of America’s lack of commitment in providing security and tranquility in the region.” While Fadavi also claimed that Foreign Minister Zarif emphasized “the necessity of an official apology from the American government” during his conversation with Secretary Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden maintained during a January 13 interview with CBS News that Iran neither sought nor received an apology for the incident.
    • Iranian state TV aired footage on January 13 of the sailors as they were being detained as well as of a sailor apologizing for mistakenly entering Iranian territorial waters. (Sepah News) (Sepah News) (MFA) (Tasnim News Agency) (Mehr News Agency)
  • Firouzabadi: The vessels incident should be “a lesson for the stone-throwers in Congress.” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi said the detainment and release of the two U.S. Navy vessels “demonstrated the awareness and precision of the Iranian armed forces regarding American movements in the region. It taught them how vulnerable they are against the Islamic Republic’s mighty forces.” The Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief added that the incident is also a lesson for Congress, whose members “draw up a new problem for Iran every day. Apparently they do not have the right information. They act with closed eyes and far from reality, to the detriment of the American nation... I hope this incident… is a lesson for the stone-throwers in America’s Congress.” (Sepah News)
  • Kowsari accuses U.S. military of conducting reconnaissance. Principlist Parliamentarian Mohammad Esmail Kowsari rejected the notion that the two U.S. naval vessels simply drifted into Iranian territorial waters. The National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFP) Parliamentary Commission member accused the U.S. of spying and stated, “It seems that the American military took this illegal action to investigate the region and Iran’s water basin…” Kowsari, who also heads the NSFP Parliamentary Commission’s Defense Affairs Committee, referred to “usual claims” about America’s overwhelming military preponderance and asked, “How can it be that their military accidently entered the Islamic Republic’s [maritime] boundary?” (ICANA)
  • Iran and Russia reiterate support for a political solution in Syria and Yemen. Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed regional developments in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Bogdanov on January 12. Both sides stressed the need for a political solution to the ongoing crises in Syria and Yemen. (Mashregh News)
  • IRCS closes center in Mogadishu following attack. Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) Health, Treatment and Rehabilitation Deputy Dr. Reza Raisi Karami stated that the IRCS  has temporarily closed its Health Center in Mogadishu, Somalia, after it was stormed by an unidentified “armed group” on January 12. Karami claimed that the center’s closure was due to the “Somali government’s inability to secure the center and its staff.” He also rejectedreports that the Health Center was looted, claiming that the center’s equipment was catalogued and the center was instead properly “handed over” to Somali health officials. Somalia’s severing of diplomatic ties with Iran last week was likely in response to the January 2 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad. Somali officials, however, claimed that it was in response to Iran’s interference in Somali affairs. (ISNA)

Reactions to the Nuclear Deal

  • Araghchi expects IAEA implementation report on Friday. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters that he expects the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to release its report confirming Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on January 15. Implementation Day, which will trigger the removal of economic and financial sanctions against Iran, cannot occur without verification from the IAEA that Iran has met its initial nuclear commitments outlined in the JCPOA. Araghchi added that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini will issue a joint statement “by Saturday or Sunday” regarding the JCPOA’s implementation and subsequent sanctions relief. (IRNA) (Fars News Agency)

Domestic Politics

  • Larijani: “I am not participating in any coalition.” Ali Larijani stated that he will not participate in the Principlist Coalition due to his position as Parliament Speaker. Larijani’s comments come amidst conflicting reports on Larijani’s formal status vis-à-vis the Principlist Coalition. (ILNA)


  • Parliamentarians send letter on annual budget to Rouhani. Thirteen parliamentarians, most of whom are members of the Parliamentary Economic Commission and the Budget and Planning Commission, released a statement to President Hassan Rouhani criticizing the delay in presenting the 1395 [2016-2017] budget for Parliament to approve. The parliamentarians noted that Parliament will not have sufficient time to approve the annual budget due to the delay and remarked, “The administration apparently does not want the budget bill to be approved in the ninth parliament.” The statement also urges the Rouhani administration to instead pass a three-month emergency bill in order to pay for necessary government expenditures. According to parliamentary procedure, the administration was required to submit the annual budget to Parliament for review by Azar 15 (≈ December 6). (Mehr News Agency)

Casualties in Iraq and Syria

  • Iranian fighter killed in Syria. Hossein Mohammad Azhand was reportedly killed in Syria. No rank or unit affiliation was reported. (Defa Press)