Tehran Declares Ballistic Missile Program ‘Non-Negotiable’


London – Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said on Tuesday that his country’s policy on developing the national ballistic missiles program is not negotiable.

Nobakht’s commentary was delivered following a neat roll back on anti-ballistic-missile-program sentiment by Iran’s re-elected ‘moderate’ President Hassan Rouhani.

“The Iranian nation has decided to be powerful. Our missiles are for peace and for defense … American officials should know that whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission,” Rouhani said in a news conference, broadcast live on state TV.

Second Deputy of the Parliament Ali Motahari urged the quick formation of a qualified administration that would include popular personalities like Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

Motahari’s suggestions come amid talks on replacing the current conservative parliament chairman Ali Larijani.

Addressing the parliament on Tuesday, Nobakht said that the government’s commitment on advancing its ballistic missile program is stronger than ever, with its 2017 budget continuing to fund the initiative.
Iran will continue to invest in its missile program, Nobakht said.

Nobakht said that Iran’s missile program—which the US intelligence community suspects could be used to fire a nuclear-armed weapon— will not cease.

“Stronger defense power will further protect the internal and regional security, therefore, it is natural that the country’s defensive missile program is among the Islamic Republic’s unchangeable policies and fortunately, strengthening the defense power has been clearly foreseen in the sixth development program and this year’s budget,” the official was quoted as saying in Iran’s state-controlled media.

Iran maintains that its missile program is defensive in nature, despite mounting evidence that Tehran is building intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Nobakht’s remarks are seen as the Iranian government’s second try at easing tensions and reconcile with the elitist Revolutionary Guards.

Rouhani previously strained relations with the military force by adopting a rhetoric highlighting a growing difference between the government and the Revolutionary Guards over Iran’s missile program and the role of the Revolutionary Guards inside the country, particularly in national economy.

Rouhani accused the Revolutionary Guard of reviewing ballistic missiles on the eve of a nuclear deal to derail the agreement.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is a branch of Iran’s Armed Forces founded after the Iranian Revolution which solely responds to directives by the acting supreme leader and not the president, in this case being Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani Flirts with Iranian Revolutionary Guards


London – In the third day following his reelection for a second term, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to defuse tension between him and the Revolutionary Guards when he defended the forces’ development of advanced ballistic missiles, an issued he had previously opposed.

During his presidential campaign early this month, Rouhani criticized the Guards for “showing pictures of underground ballistic missile sites and writing anti-Israel slogans on them, while the JCPOA nuclear deal had entered into effect in January 2016.”

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Rouhani spoke with a softer tone with Iran’s Guards. He said that the production of Iran’s ballistic missiles “was for peace and for defense,” and “to avoid that some parties in the region make false equations.”

The president said Iranians love the armed forces, but they opposed its transformation “from a national apparatus into a party apparatus.”

Rouhani also tried to take the middle ground when he retracted his “discontent” from the missiles program.

He said: “American officials should know that whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission. We have accepted the nuclear agreement and Resolution 2231 in order not to lose our defense force.”

As part of his attack on the Riyadh Summit held last weekend, Rouhani said that his country would continue to play an “advisory” role in Iran and Iraqi and said regional stability could not be achieved in the Middle East “without Tehran’s help.”

Rouhani said the Iranian people “voted for moderation as they know a prosperous economy can be achieved and jobs can be created through investment.”

He added that the presidential elections proved that no political movement or wing could be excluded from the country.

Khamenei Does Not Congratulate Rouhani on His Second Term

Supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran

London- President Hassan Rouhani pledged, during a televised speech delivered on Saturday evening, to deliver on his promises by expanding internal freedoms and opening Iran to the world.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said after the announcement of his victory in the presidential race for a second term, referring to the “revolutionary” slogans of his main challenger, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani won Friday’s election with more than 57 percent of the votes, which equal 23.5 million, against Raisi, who received 38 percent and two other candidates: Mostafa Hashemitaba and Mostafa Mirsalim.

On Saturday, Rouhani said that Iranians said ‘No’ to those who wanted to take Iran back to the past.

However, the President said: “The election is now over. I am the president of the nation and I need assistance from every single Iranian, even those who oppose me and my policies.”

Following the announcement of the results, Khamenei issued a statement praising Iranians for their big turnout in the election and called for the improvement of the country’s economic situation. However, Khamenei did not congratulate Rouhani on his victory, unlike in the 2013 election.

Raisi also has not congratulated Rouhani, but instead called on the new president to respect the opinions of 16 million voters who supported him and who had called for a change in Iran, Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced that around 73 percent of eligible voters, which equal 41.2 million, had participated in the election.

Several Iranian media outlets broadcasted segments of the celebrations staged by Rouhani’s supporters after the announcement of the results.

Pro-Rouhani media outlets mocked reformists who had raised the slogan of “Rouhani will leave at the end of this week,” during their presidential campaigns.

Last Friday, in addition to the presidential election, Iranian voters also participated in the Village Councils Elections.

Iran: Supreme Leader’s Choice Faces Test of Ballot Boxes

London- Iranians headed to the polls on Friday to choose their 12th President among four contenders.

The race, however, is expected to be limited to a reformist, incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, and his main challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and former prosecutor-general.

Raisi’s candidacy is twice more delicate for being supported by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his linked apparatuses, such as the “Revolutionary Guards” and the judiciary.

Four eligible candidates out of the six chosen by the Iranian Guardian Council, are running in Friday’s elections – Conservative candidates Raisi and Mostafa Mirsalim, in addition to Rouhani and Mostafa Hashemitaba, who are moderates.

Earlier, two candidates announced pulling out from the race: First, Tehran’s hardline mayor Mohammed Baqer Ghalibaf, who pledged his support for Raisi, and then Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist supporting Rouhani.

According to some reports, Raisi, who might replace Khamanei as the next supreme leader, entered the presidential race to enhance his chances for later winning the seat of the number one man in the regime.

Friday’s elections come following long campaigns that saw unprecedented verbal attacks mainly between Rouhani and Raisi, who exchanged accusations on corruption, administrative and human rights violations and the economic and social crisis that has lately hit Iran.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes, a run-off will be held next week.

But, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli expected the presidential race be settled during the first round.

Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, head of the auditing office of Khamenei, announced on Friday his resignation amid reports that his decision could be linked to a “a dismissal rather than a resignation.”

Last week, Nouri publicly endorsed Rouhani for the election.

Iran: Ethnic Minorities’ Rage Undermines Legitimacy of May 19 Elections

Iranians shop in Tehran's ancient Grand Bazaar on January 16, 2016, Iran

London- With less than a day left for the Iranian presidential elections, anger bubbling up among Iran’s non-Persian minorities on deteriorating living conditions threatens to undermine the legitimacy of holding elections in the first place.

Small ethnic pockets in Iran present one of the most debated subjects on which electoral campaigns focused, alongside other national concerns such as the trembling economy, social strife, and overall security.

Presidential candidate President Rouhani who is seeking another mandate and Iranian Supreme Leader protégé Ebrahim Raisi have come head-to-head in fierce debates each riding the wave on freedoms, fighting corruption, resolving dilemmas faced by non-Persian nationalities and the rights of religious minorities.

Being a first in post-2009 election history, the escalating arguments prompted Khamenei to deliver a direct warning against the consequences of stirring “ideological, geographic, national,” sentiment.

A “Great earthquake” could collapse the Iranian fabric, he justified.

The withdrawal of other conservative candidates has turned Friday’s election into an unexpectedly tight two-horse race between moderate pragmatist cleric Rouhani and hardline conservative cleric Raisi.

Khamenei’s call for muffling election rhetoric was echoed in last Friday’s sermon across the nation. In Tehran, cleric Kazem Siddiqui called on campaigners and candidates to not involve national and sectarian challenges in their speeches.

“Regardless of officials who were appointed or relieved from duty, the Baloch people stood in solidarity with the regime,” he said.

He added that Baloch people in eastern Iran are struck with poverty and in order to solve their problems they have resorted to smuggling.

Had we been more determined on eradicating economic challenges they wouldn’t need to resort to paralegal means to survive, said Siddiqui in a thinly-veiled jab at Rouhani’s failed delivery on promises on bettering the economy.

Four years ago, Rouhani chose to appoint former security minister Ali Younesi as special delegate for non-Persian Iranians and religious minorities.

Rohani–after playing the chords of ‘liberties’ in a bet to soften criticism on his economic shortcoming– raised the roof of his promises to ethnic minorities in the election season.

Rouhani’s administration has tried to limit the demands of the Arabs, Kurds, Baloch and Turks to their right to hold cultural programs and organize festivals.

Lifting restrictions on minorities was attempted through collaboration between Younesi, Iranian intelligence, and in coordination with the Revolutionary Guard. It was an attempt to defuse tensions and bottle the genie that Former Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had released.

Despite the effort spent by Rouhani, improving the living conditions of non-Persian minorities in Iran is considered by far the biggest challenge facing decision-making circles in Tehran.

Rouhani Calls for Army Neutrality Ahead of Presidential Elections

London- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the need for the Iranian Army to remain neutral during Friday’s parliamentary elections.

In his last electoral speech in the city of Mashhad on Wednesday, Rouhani who is running for the elections as a “reformist” candidate, said that the armed forces should not engage within any party or political group and “stay away from political games”, in line with the recommendations of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei.

The president criticized the interference of the judiciary and media institutions in the electoral process.

He also strongly defended his government’s achievements with regards to the nuclear deal and the openness to the international community.

Rouhani and his ultra-conservative opponent Ebrahim Raisi held dueling rallies in northeastern Iran on Wednesday, the final day of campaigning before the presidential elections.

Addressing his supporters, Raisi said: “We follow the culture of ability and action.”

He added that, if elected president, he would seek to resolve the country’s economic and living problems.

Meanwhile, Rouhani’s government received a strong support on Tuesday when four French-Italian made ATR 72-600s planes landed in Tehran, within a deal which forms part of plans to rebuild the airline’s fleet.

Another sign of support to the current Iranian government was highlighted on Wednesday, when Reuters said that US President Donald Trump extended wide sanctions relief for Iran called for under the 2015 international nuclear deal.

During his presidential campaign, Trump criticized the nuclear agreement and went on to say that he would “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran”; however, Wednesday’s actions demonstrated that he has decided, at least for now, to keep it, according to Reuters.

“The United States continues to waive sanctions as required to continue implementing US sanctions-lifting commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the State Department said in a statement published by Reuters, referring to the deal by its formal name.

A push for Rouhani Following Jahangiri’s Withdrawal, Mousavi’s Support


London – Iran’s vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday he is dropping out from the May 19 presidential election to support his ally, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.

After Jahangiri’s announcement, there are four candidates left out of the six chosen by the Iranian Guardian Council to run in May’s elections. The run-up to Iran’s race is now between two conservative candidates, Ebrahim Raisi and Mostafa Mirsalim, in addition to two moderates: Rouhani and Mostafa Hashemitaba.

The real competition remains between Rouhani and former prosecutor-general, Raisi, who is supported by a coalition of conservatives called the “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces.”

On Monday, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf withdrew from the presidential race for the benefit of Raisi, who welcomed Ghalibaf’s decision and considered the step as “revolutionary.”

Meanwhile, one day after Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karoubi had announced his support for Rouhani, another reformist leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who is under house arrest since February 2011, also said he would participate in the elections and vote for Rouhani.

Mousavi is under house arrest after he protested against the results of the 2009 presidential elections, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected for a second term.

Also on Tuesday, Rouhani said in a speech delivered from the city of Zanjan, west Tehran, that all Iranians should participate in the elections to break what he said was “the monopolization of power by one particulate group.”

Rouhani also hinted that the military forces were participating in the electoral campaign of Raisi in an illegal way.

He said those forces were telling voters they should fear the scenario of Rouhani’s reelection, because the outgoing president plans to cut off all financial aids intended to citizens.

Separately, reformist member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi uncovered that security forces in civilian uniforms were sent to central Tehran ahead of cracking down the “Green Revolution Strife,” spreading fears among the reformist movement that those forces could onslaught Rouhani’s supporters in case Raisi won the elections, a development which could trigger demonstrations across the country, similar to what happened during the 2009 elections.

Karoubi Supports Rouhani, Tehran Mayor Withdraws from Presidential Race


London – Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karoubi announced on Monday his support for President Hassan Rouhani, who is running for a second presidential term in next Friday’s election.

Karoubi and another reformist leader Mirhossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest since February 2011 after they protested against the results of the 2009 presidential elections in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected for a second term.

The website “Saham News,” which is close to Karoubi, reported on Monday that during a meeting with his family members on Sunday, the reformist opposition leader recommended supporting Rouhani during this week’s race, adding that “this election is a real confrontation between a real Islamic Republic and a ceremonial one.”

Meanwhile, in a heavyweight surprise, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf withdrew on Monday from the presidential race in favor of former Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi, who welcomed his decision and considered the step as “revolutionary.”

The withdrawal of Qalibaf is expected to enhance the chances of the two conservative candidates, Raisi and Mostafa Mirsalim in confronting Rouhani, who is supported by the coalition of moderates and reformists.

According to the latest polls, Rouhani is shown in the lead in the run-up to the May 19 election.

Rouhani, in a speech on Monday, told supporters he needed a strong mandate to push for political freedoms and the release of opposition leaders.

Qalibaf and Raisi are supported by a coalition of conservatives called the “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces.”
On Monday, Tasnim news agency quoted a source from the conservative coalition as saying that Qalibaf’s electoral campaign would continue to work in support of Raisi until the end of the elections.

Separately, head of Iran’s judicial system Sadeq Larijani criticized some presidential candidates for distorting the image of the regime’s legal apparatus during their presidential campaigns, saying that some candidates are acting as if they oppose the regime.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf: Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Golden Child


London – Twelve years after running as mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qaliba will attempt for a third time to run for the presidency in Iran. He had in recent months however faced real estate corruption scandals, but that has not deterred him from registering in the elections.

Qalibaf is one of hundreds of thousands of Iranian teenagers, who were swallowed up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ brainwashing machine in the early days of its formation. He is also one of the few residents from the town of Torqabeh who survived the Iraqi-Iranian war to later find himself occupying one of the highest military positions in the body tasked with protecting the trinity of the supreme leader, regime and revolution.

Qalibaf was born to a middle class family in August 1961 in Torqabeh near Mashhad, the second largest Iranian city. Qalibaf means carpet weaver in Persian. When he was 17, Ayatollah al-Khomeini formed the Wilayat al-Faqih regime after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was created in 1980 at the beginning of the Iraqi-Iranian war. Qalibaf soon joined the ranks of the fighters in the southwestern fronts of the country.

Two years after joining the Guards, he became the commander of the “Imam Reza” brigade of fighters hailing from Khorasan before commanding, at the age of 22, the “Khorasan Victory” legion, one of the most prominent Guard legions during the war.

At the end of the war, he assumed the command of the “Khatem al-Anbiya” group, the economic branch of the Guards, before becoming commander of Guard air force between 1997 and 2000. Qalibaf was among the commander who received military training in North Korea in 1995. He also holds a doctorate in geopolitics from the conservative Tarbiat Modares University.

‘Pincers’ General

Days after the eruption of student protests in July 1999, the most prominent commanders of the Revolutionary Guards issued a strongly worded letter to then president Mohammed Khatami, threatening to intervene to quell the rallies if the government did not. The letter held greater significance in that it threatened to stage a military coup against the “reformist” government. This marked the most blatant form of Iranian Revolutionary Guards meddling in government affairs since its establishment.

In a recording that was later leaked by Iranian media, Qalibaf was heard as saying that he left his office, baton in hand, and headed to the streets to confront the students. He acknowledged that he and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Guards’ Quds Force, wrote the message to Khatami. “When there is a need to go down to the streets, we strike with a baton. We will be among those striking with the baton,” Qalibaf said at the time.

After the student protests, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei selected Qalibaf to head the Iranian police force. In his new position, he modernized the force by arming it with the latest equipment, but this period also saw a spike in restrictions imposed on activists, artists and intellectuals.

During the 2013 presidential debates, Qalibaf attempted to strike a blow to then candidate Hassan Rouhani by speaking about the need to adopt political openness, accusing him of preventing the issuing of permits to hold political activities when he served as secretary general of the national security council. Rouhani retaliated with a greater blow by saying: “It is true that we should be competing, but not in this way. I did not want to say this, but you are forcing me to. You once said: ‘Allow the students to draw near. We have the pincer plan attack.’ We said that we will not issue permits so that you will not be able to use them to carry out mass arrests.”

The label of “pincer” has followed Qalibaf wherever he goes.

His military background has benefitted his rivals in all three of the presidential races he entered. His competitors have always referred to his security and military record and his lack of clear political rhetoric. His portrayal as a candidate who makes orders in a military fashion has harmed his chances in winning the votes of those seeking more political and social freedoms in Iran.

First Electoral Failure

In 2005, Qalibaf left the police force and his military background behind to officially enter the political arena by running for president. The experience was however a complete failure as he came in fourth behind former Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Akbar Hashemi and reformist Mehdi Karroubi.

Three months after his defeat, the capital’s municipal council, which is dominated by conservatives, voted for him as Tehran mayor to succeed Ahmadinejad.

Second Presidential Run

In 2013, Qalibaf again attempted to run for president, under the slogan of “Life – People – Change.” This time around, he advanced to the second round, but he lost by a wide margin to eventual winner Hassan Rouhani.

During the 12 years he served as Tehran mayor, he sought to raise income through selling land around the capital and turning the agricultural property into commercial ones. He is therefore facing accusations that his measures targeted the poor in Tehran and its suburbs.

Third Presidential Run

In this year’s elections, Qalibaf toned down his usual rhetoric, which he had been adopting for the past eight years, and instead rehashed those of Ahmadinejad by focusing on issues that concern the middle and lower classes, specifically their livelihoods. The media has meanwhile portrayed him as a modest man, who prefers the simple life, as opposed to the image of the charismatic man, who wears expensive suits. This is the same image that Soleimani seeks to project to Iranians. During the second presidential debate that took place on May 5, Qalibaf defended Ahmadinejad’s government performance, saying that it addressed the poor classes more than Rouhani’s administration. Ahmadinejad did not shy away from voicing his displeasure with Qalibaf’s approach, accusing him of usurping his electoral platform.

Qalibaf’s electoral run pits him against another conservative, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the former general prosecutor. The two candidates were unveiled by the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, which is comprised of a group of conservative parties seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections defeat. The Front had announced that one of the candidates will withdraw from the race in favor of the one who has a better chance of winning. In this case, Raisi is seen as the victor against Qalibaf after he received the backing of three of the most important religious groups in Iran, while no conservative party has announced its support for Qalibaf.

Qalibaf should not however be underestimated. He has the ability to carry out electoral campaigns throughout Iran and owns several media outlets that will promote his electoral platform.

He has however been faced with real estate corruption scandals and accused of shortcomings in handling a fire that broke out in a Tehran mall that saw the deaths of 15 fire fighters and 10 citizens.

Should he be elected president, Qalibaf has vowed to create four million job opportunities, but his rivals have portrayed him as a “general”, who is seeking to curb freedoms, eliminate women from the workforce and reinstate the security policies of Ahmadinejad.

The candidate enjoys the support of the most prominent and influential Revolutionary Guards members and he has good ties with Soleimani. Raisi also enjoys similar support among the Guards. Observers see this as a factor that may force Qalibaf to withdraw from the race in favor of the better candidate. It was said that the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces had promised Qalibaf that he could be appointed vice president if he is not elected president.

We can say that the aspirations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ “Khorasan golden child” have stumbled in face of the aspirations of Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary’s “Khorasan golden child.” Raisi is eying becoming Iran’s next supreme leader, a position occupied by another Khorasan native, Ali Khamenei. Fate could play in Qalibaf’s favor where Raisi could don Khamenei’s cape and he would replace him in the presidential seat.

Corruption Scandals Dominate Final Iranian Presidential Debate


London – A week before the presidential elections in Iran, the six candidates faced off in a final televised debate that was dominated by issues of economy and accusations of corruption.

Outgoing President Hassan Touhani and his Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri exchanged accusations with hardline former General Prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi and conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

The debate witnessed heated arguments between Rouhani and Qalibaf over last summer’s real estate scandals and the astronomical salaries of senior state officials.

Hinting that Rouhani’s brother, Hussein Fere, may be involved in corruption, Raisi said: “There is no difference in combating corruption, whether from under my turban or Rouhani’s or from under the jackets of Jahangiri or Qalibaf.”

Turning to Rouhani, he declared that the general prosecution and the top aide of the judicial council head had informed him that they possess documents that prove that some people in his closest circle are involved in corruption.

For his part, Rouhani retaliated by accusing Raisi of issuing sentences against clerics, referring to the former general prosecutor’s role in a special trial of clergymen.

In addition, he said that Qalibaf had been charged in the past for rejecting an investigation with him that was looking into violations committed before the 2005 presidential elections.

Returning to the corruption scandals, Qalibaf said that Rouhani and Jahangiri received “highly subsidized” properties from the government.

Qalibaf, a veteran member of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, also said Rouhani administration had facilitated large loans to “particular individuals” through state-run banks while average citizens still struggle to secure small loans.

He added that Rouhani’s administration had given “extraordinary payments” to senior officials.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on May 19, a second round run-off would be held a week later. Qalibaf has made a run-off more likely by resisting calls from other hardliners to step aside.