Iran News Round Up January 6, 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
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this Iran News Round Up incorrectly stated that Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that the cessation of Tehran-Riyadh relations “will not impact” the Syria peace talks in Vienna and New York. Abdollahian in fact stated that the cessation of relations “will impact” the Syria peace talks.
Key takeaway: Iranian officials distanced the government and its ministries from responsibility for the January 2 attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad.
Rouhani administration spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said that the Iranian government is “suspicious” that “hands are at work to incite the people’s feelings.” Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) Commander Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari similarly labeled the attacks as “suspicious,” claiming that no pro-revolutionary or pro-government individual “would allow such aggression.” While Nobakht and Ashtari stopped short of identifying the perpetrators, Justice Minister Hojjat ol Eslam Mostafa Pour Mohammadi said it was possible that “infiltrators” were responsible for designing and supporting the attacks. IRGC Mohammad Rasoul Allah unit Commander Brigadier General Mohsen Kazemeini has also distanced the IRGC and the Basij from involvement in the attacks. Their responses come as Iran faces a growing backlash over the attacks. Qatar and Kuwait have each recalled their ambassadors, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Bahrain, and Djibouti have either severed or downgraded diplomatic ties.
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian stressed that the breaking of Tehran-Riyadh diplomatic ties “will not impact” the Syria peace talks in Vienna and New York and that Iran remains “committed” to the negotiations.
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.”
Reactions to Sheikh Nimr al Nimr’s Execution
- Rouhani calls for “immediate investigation” into Saudi embassy attack. President Hassan Rouhani wrote a letter to Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani on January 6, calling for an “immediate investigation” into the file on the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad. Rouhani stated that “such attacks on the country’s security and insult to the political order must be prevented by punishing the perpetrators of this apparent crime.” A spokesman for the Law Enforcement Forces had announced the arrest of 50 individuals the day after the attacks. (President.ir)
- Interior Minister announces creation of task force to investigate embassy attack. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced the formation of a “four-party task force” to investigate the attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate. The task force will be comprised of the Judiciary, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), and the governor of Tehran province. The task force will seek to identify “the key and interloping actors and possible organizers” behind the attacks and will announce its results within two weeks. (Tasnim News Agency)
- Rouhani spokesman: We suspect that outside forces incited embassy attack. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht condemned the January 2 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran as un-Islamic and stated that the Iranian government is “suspicious” that “hands are at work to incite the people’s feelings.” The Rouhani administration spokesman added, “It is necessary for military and security forces to work with greater precision so that some people -- it is unclear which government’s interests they are serving -- do not exploit the feelings of others.” (ILNA) (Entekhab)
- Justice Minister says embassy attack potentially orchestrated by “infiltrators.” Mostafa Pour Mohammadi referred to the threat of “enemy influence” in Iran and stated that the embassy attack “could have been designed and supported by infiltrators.” The Minister of Justice also condemned the embassy attack itself, stating that it was carried out by “a limited group of people,” and added, “We must not allow emotions to overcome thought, for the result will certainly not be in our interest.” (Mehr News Agency)
- Law Enforcement Forces Commander calls embassy and consulate attacks “suspicious.” Brig. Gen. Hossein Ashtari stated, “The fact that a group gathered to protest an action is normal, but an attack of this kind on an embassy is suspicious in my opinion because -- expressly in accordance with the Supreme Leader’s stance over the last few years -- no revolutionary person and friend of the political system [of Iran] would allow such aggression.” The Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) Commander insisted that “we are examining this issue in all of its dimensions, even the possibility of a delay of forces in the area” of the embassy at the time of the attacks. (Tasnim News Agency)
- Abdollahian: Breaking of Tehran-Riyadh ties “will impact” Syria peace talks. Hossein Amir Abdollahian stated that the cessation of diplomatic ties “will impact” the Syria peace talks in Vienna and New York during a trilateral meeting with Swiss and Syrian officials. The Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs stressed that Iran is “committed” to the negotiations. (IRNA) (E) (ISNA)
- Parliamentary candidates continue to hear results of first round of qualifications review. Ali Pourali Matlegh discussed the results of the first round of qualification reviews for candidates in the parliamentary elections on January 6. The Secretary of the Interior Ministry Election Headquarters told reporters that a total of 10,967 candidates have been accepted nationwide so far out of an original pool of 12,123. While 291 candidates have withdrawn from the race, a total of 810 candidates have been deemed to have insufficient qualifications and have been subsequently disqualified from the race. Candidates can still file complaints to have their disqualifications reviewed until January 9. Parliamentary candidates began to hear the results of the first round of qualification reviews yesterday, but candidates who have been approved must clear several additional stages of review before being given the final approval to run in the February elections.
- Several notable reformist candidates confirmed to reporters that they passed the first round of review. Among them are Elias Hazrati, the current managing editor of the daily newspaper Etemaad and the former campaign chief in Tehran for 2009 presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi; Mohammad Javad Haghshenas, who, along with Karroubi, co-founded the reformist National Trust Party; Abol Fazl Shakouri, a National Trust Party member; and Javad Eta’at, who briefly ran for president in 2009 before endorsing Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
- Principlist parliamentarian Hojjat ol Eslam Hamid Resaei’s website announced that Resaei has been disqualified from the parliamentary elections “based on false documents.” Resaei is a current parliamentary representative for Tehran. (IRNA) (Tabnak) (ILNA) (Rasaee.ir)
- Source denies Khomeini withdrew from Assembly of Experts race. An unnamed source “close to” the Khomeini family denied reports that Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has withdrawn his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts elections. Khomeini did not attend the January 5 examination in Qom for Assembly of Experts candidates; the examination is administered by the Guardian Council, the body in charge of vetting electoral candidates, and it is a mandatory component of the vetting process for candidates who are not current members of the Assembly of Experts. The source added that Khomeini did not receive a “text message or invitation” inviting him to take the exam and that he was giving a lecture on theology as the exam took place. (IRNA)
- Rafsanjani: I hope the vetting process will also be carried out well in later stages. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stated on January 6 that he hopes the “examination of candidates’ qualifications will also be carried out well in later stages [of the vetting process] so that the nation will create another epic in February.” The Expediency Discernment Council Chairman also referenced a recent statement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that “the people’s vote” is a “right”; Rafsanjani stated, “This sentence of his is very meaningful. You do not have the right to reject those who have the qualifications or bring the governance of those who do not have the qualifications onto the people.” (IRNA)
- Nategh Nouri denies supporting any specific faction. Principlist and former Parliament Speaker Hojjat ol Eslam Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri denied supporting “any specific political movement” in the upcoming elections in a statement released by his office. He has faced recent rumors of participating in a potential coalition between reformists and principlists. (Entekhab)
Military and Security
- Air Force Commander reiterates importance of missile program. IRGC Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said in a meeting of Friday prayer leaders that Iran will not sacrifice “even a moment” in developing its missile program capabilities. (Fars News Agency)
Regional Developments and Diplomacy