Iran president attempts reform push after unrest

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attempts to push for greater civil liberties in the wake of the deadly unrest that rocked Iran in recent days. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2018

Iran president attempts reform push after unrest

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani went all-in on Monday with a push for greater civil liberties in the wake of the deadly unrest that rocked Iran in recent days.
“The problem we have today is the gap between officials and the young generation,” he told officials, according to the presidency website.
“Our way of thinking is different to their way of thinking. Their view of the world and of life is different to our view. We want our grand-children’s generation to live as we lived, but we can’t impose that on them.”
It was a radical call to arms for change, one that has grown more pressing for the reformist faction as it became, for once, the target of the protests that swept the country for several days over the new year.
Although many of the slogans turned against the regime as a whole, chants of “Death to Rouhani” showed that many had lost faith in his promise of gradual reform.
Since May, his failure to appoint any women to his cabinet or make any progress on freeing political prisoners has left many disillusioned with the moderate president and his reformist allies.
Rouhani was quick to say the unrest called for urgent efforts to improve the government’s transparency and liberalize its conservative-skewed media.
He said Internet restrictions, including the block placed on Iran’s most popular social media app Telegram midway through the unrest, should “not be indefinite.”
“Saying that the complaints of the population are limited to economic questions is an insult and will send us down the wrong path,” he said Monday.
The reformist faction has backed this line, with many calling for greater freedom to protest peacefully.
Monday’s reformist papers all focused on the Tehran city council decision to set aside a dedicated place for protests on the model of Hyde Park in London or Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
But many dismissed the idea as a gimmick.
“What about other cities?” wrote conservative analyst Nasser Imani in the government’s Iran newspaper.
“The main problem is we lack a culture of criticism,” he said, calling for the security forces to “gradually have less fear of people’s rallies.”
Hard-liners, who have repeatedly attacked Rouhani’s austerity policies, say all the talk of civil liberties is a distraction from the “simple problems” of the poor.
“Are the demands not clear? Why must a worker who has not been paid for 10 months go to a certain place to shout for his rights?” demanded the hard-line Kayhan newspaper on Monday.
There was an unprecedented intervention from the head of the basij — the volunteer arm of the Revolutionary Guards — who called for “convincingly tangible” efforts to fix the budget in favor of the “young, disadvantaged and vulnerable.”
To Rouhani’s chagrin, the budget he announced in December has become the first victim of the protests, with parliamentarians already ruling out the unpopular hike in fuel and utility prices.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani described the increases as “absolutely not in the interests of the country.”
He called instead for emergency measures to support the poor and tackle unemployment, which currently stand at 12 percent, and closer to 30 percent for young people.
Rouhani has bristled under the criticism, saying Monday: “The task of parliament is to complete the budget, not to change the nature of its objectives.”
Iran’s limited finances simply could not deal with everything at once, he said: limiting inflation, capping taxes, reducing unemployment and looking after the poor.
“I don’t know a single economist with the wider public interest in mind who denies the need to increase fuel prices,” said reformist Abdollah Ramezanzadeh in a tweet.
Rouhani vowed to mend Iran’s battered economy during his campaign, and said the 2015 nuclear deal he secured from world powers had already relieved the country of crippling sanctions and allowed growth to return.
But with much of the resulting growth coming from oil sales — which produces few jobs — and renewed uncertainty about Iran’s international position since the arrival of US President Donald Trump, his wider policies look imperilled.


Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

Updated 07 December 2019

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

  • President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States”
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018

TEHRAN: Iran and the US conducted a prisoner exchange Saturday that saw a detained Princeton graduate student released for an Iranian scientist held by America, marking a potential breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the first announcement on the trade via Twitter. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif wrote. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government.”
In his tweet, Zarif confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that a deal was in the works to free Wang.
President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States.”
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks out for America's interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, accompanied the Iranian scientist to Switzerland to make the exchange and will return with Wang, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be released. The swap took place in Zurich and Hook and Wang are now en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said. Hook is expected to return to the US from Germany alone, as Wang is expected to be evaluated for several days.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland. Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims. Wang was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said the school was aware of Wang's release.
“We are working with the family and government officials to facilitate his return to the United States,” Chang said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court tried Wang. That court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine — was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Iran.
Other Americans held in Iran include the 81-year-old businessman Baquer Namazi who has been held for over two years and diagnosed with epilepsy.
Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, also a dual national who has been held for over three years, are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.
An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Also held is US Navy veteran Michael White.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.
“The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones,” Pompeo said in a statement.