- Iran's Guardian Council bars most candidates seeking to run for Assembly of Experts including leading reformist
Iran’s Guardian Council has disqualified the majority of the candidates seeking to run for a seat on the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body responsible for selecting the next Supreme Leader, including relatively moderate figures whose candidacies had been viewed as bellwethers for regime moderation. Among those disqualified was Hassan Khomeini, the reformist grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been described by David Ignatius of the Washington Post as “a political barometer closely watched by U.S. officials” looking to evaluate the degree to which Iran’s political system would see reform and moderation in the aftermath of last year’s nuclear deal between Tehran and the P5+1 global powers. Khomeini was reportedly disqualified based on religious qualifications, and his son wrote on social media that the Guardian Council had refused to “accept the testimonies of tens of top clerics and Islamic jurisprudents in support of his qualification.”
The Guardian Council vets the candidates for Iran’s parliament and the Assembly of Experts, and the latest disqualifications follow a previous round in which the body excluded almost two-thirds of all the candidates who applied to run in Iran’s parliamentary election, including 99% of candidates from relatively moderate parties. Those elections had been separately watched for signals of moderation, and Ignatius had similarly argued that the moderates’ strategy was to register so many candidates for the parliament that “a total purge would undermine the election’s credibility.”
The Guardian Council’s actions are in tension with predictions by advocates of the Iran deal, including from inside the Obama administration that the nuclear deal would empower reformers and lead to a more moderate foreign policy. Additionally there have been increasingly harsh crackdowns on those opposed to Iran’s regime including youths, poets, and filmmakers. Secretary of State John Kerry assessed in August that the deal would be “a step towards bringing Iran into some kind of compliance, ultimately, with the norms of international behavior” and that the Iranians had told him that after the deal, "we may be able to work things in different places." However, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, former U.S. officials “have voiced concerns that the Obama administration’s hopes for improved relations with Tehran weren’t being matched by Iranian actions in the region.” The officials listed Iran’s ballistic missile tests in October and November, the live firing of rockets near U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, and the seizure and detention by the IRGC of 10 American sailors, as well as the kidnapping of US citizens in Baghdad as the latest examples of Iranian provocations.
The United States dropped a $10 million claim against an Iran-born engineer convicted of sanctions-related offenses in order to facilitate the release of five Americans held by the Islamic Republic, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Nader Modanlo is one of the seven Iranians who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted in exchange for the freedom of five U.S. citizens held by Iran. Modanlo, who had extensive and established connections to the Iranian regime, initially refused his freedom, saying he preferred to file an appeal in court. His refusal led the U.S. to surrender a $10 million claim against him in an effort to make the clemency agreement even more compelling.
A Maryland jury found that Modanlo had taken a $10 million payment from Iran for his help in launching the country’s first satellite in 2005. Modanlo claimed that the money was a loan from a Swiss company.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that, just as Iran freed American prisoners Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and two others, the U.S. wired a payment of $1.7 billion to Iran. While the White House emphasized that the money was meant to settle an Iranian claim against the U.S., its timing heightened concerns that it was a ransom payment.
The American fund used to pay the $1.7 billion to Iran was the same one used by the U.S. to pay its own citizens and companies who were seeking damages against the Islamic Republic. “[The] US paid twice—to Iran and US citizens. Iran has never paid at all,” wrote Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The Journal‘s report came shortly after an Iranian general claimed that the payment was ransom.
At the same time that the deal to free the five American hostages held by Iran was being finalized, three American contractors were abducted in Iraq. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the men were taken by Iran-backed Shiite militias. (via TheTower.org)