United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran on Saudi Airstrikes in Yemen

On March 26, Saudi Arabia began conducting airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen, which drew strong condemnation from Iranian officials. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded an “immediate halt” to Saudi military actions. Iran is widely seen as the main backer of the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis have controlled the capital city Sanaa since September 2014.

Saudi Arabia carried out the strikes with a coalition of nine other nations. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan contributed jets to the operation, while Pakistan and Egypt provided naval support. The United States did not contribute warplanes, but provided intelligence and logistical support, according to a senior State Department official.

The following are excerpted remarks from Iranian officials on the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen.

President Hassan Rouhani
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
"We want an immediate halt to Saudi Arabia's military operations in Yemen.”
"We will make all our efforts to control the crisis in Yemen."
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
"The Saudi-led airstrikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen's sovereignty."
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian

"We condemn foreign interference with the situation in Yemen by any country, be it Iran, Saudi Arabia, or the United States.”
"Carrying out airstrikes and starting a war is easy. Putting an end to a war and quitting a war is hard." 
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham
"Iran wants an immediate halt to all military aggressions and air strikes against Yemen and its people."
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
"Resorting to military acts against Yemen which is entangled in an internal crisis and fighting terrorism will further complicate the situation, spread the range of crisis and destroy opportunities to settle the internal differences in Yemen peacefully.”
"This aggression will merely result in the spread of terrorism and extremism and will spread insecurity to the entire region."
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
“These operations are a dangerous step and completely contrary to international obligations in respecting the national sovereignty of other countries.”
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
Head of Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaedin Boroujerdi
“The fact that Saudi Arabia has fanned the flames of a new war in the region shows its carelessness."
“The smoke of this fire will go into the eyes of Saudi Arabia as war is never limited to one place only. We hope this military operation will be halted immediately and the Yemen problem solved through political means.”
“America, which leads the fire mongering in the region, has supported this act and no doubt Saudi Arabia and some countries in the Arab cooperation council would not get involved without America's permission."
“Having imposed long years of crisis in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, America has in practice started another crisis and massacre on the Islamic world and this act is strongly condemned."
—March 26, 2015, according to the press
Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir made the following statement about the airstrikes on March 26.
“The Kingdom Saudi Arabia has launched military operations in Yemen, as part of a coalition of over ten countries in response to a direct request from the legitimate government of Yemen. The operation will be limited in nature, and designed to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis and a Houthi violent and extremist militia. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have tried to facilitate a peaceful transition of government in Yemen, but the Houthis have continuously undercut the process by occupying territory and seizing weapons belonging to the government. In spite of repeated efforts by the GCC, Group of 10 countries and the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General to seek a peaceful way to implement the GCC initiatives and the outcomes of the national dialogue that define the political transition in Yemen, the Houthis have reneged on every single agreement they have made and continue their quest to take over the country by violent means. They captured the capital city of Sanaa, they placed the legitimate president, prime minister and cabinet members under house arrest, they seized the security services and they continue to expand their occupation of the country.
President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen made a request to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to convene a conference under the auspices of the GCC to which all Yemeni political factions seeking to preserve security and stability in Yemen would be invited. The Houthis rejected this invitation and continued their violent onslaught in Yemen to the point where they were threatening to occupy the city of Aden, which had become the temporary capital for the legitimate government of President Hadi after he was able to escape from Sanaa. In a letter, dated March 24, 2015, President Hadi made, based on the principle of self-defense, enshrined in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, as well as in the Arab League charter’s collective defense mechanism, a request for immediate support - by all means necessary - including military intervention to protect Yemen and its people from the continued Houthi aggression and to support it in fighting al Qaeda and ISIS.â€‌
Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the Kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC, launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government.”
“We will do whatever is necessary to protect the legitimate government in Yemen, prevent it from falling and to encounter the dangers of the militia. The situation in Yemen is dangerous and has never happened in history that a militia was able to control air forces or ballistic missiles and heavy weapons and this is a very dangerous situation and we will do everything we can to protect the Yemeni people and the legitimate government in Yemen.”
—March 26, 2015, in a press conference
Photo credit: Zarif by Robin Wright; Afkham via Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On March 26, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resumed talks in Lausanne, Switzerland over Iran's controversial nuclear program. Representatives from Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany are scheduled to join the talks on March 27. Negotiators aim to reach an agreement on a framework as early as March 29, and a senior state department official said the two sides "can see a path forward" towards a deal. The following are excerpted remarks from officials involved in the talks.
United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
"Now, what happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable? And that could happen. Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want, if they want, if that’s what they choose. And the sanctions will not hold, because those other people who deem the plan to be reasonable will walk away and say, “You do your thing, we’ll do ours. You’re not willing to be reasonable, we’re going to do what we think is reasonable.” And then you have no sanctions regime at all.
So then there would be no visible, agreed-upon checks on Iran’s nuclear program. I thought that was the whole purpose of putting the sanctions in place, was to get agreed-upon checks on the program. Now, obviously, you have to know that they are agreed; you have to know that you can enforce them; you have to know you have the insight. And that’s our job – to provide an agreement that is as good as we’ve said it will be, that will get the job done, that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon: the pathway at Fordow, the pathway at Natanz, the pathway at Arak, and finally, the covert pathway, which is the hardest of all but which I can assure you we are deeply focused on.
So this is not a choice, as some think it is, between the Iran of long ago and the Iran of today. It’s not a choice between this moment and getting them to give up their entire nuclear program, as some think. It’s not going to happen. It’s a choice between a regime that has already developed its ability to master the nuclear cycle, that has already proven its ability to enrich, that has gone from 164 centrifuges in 2003 to over 19,000 today – but is only spinning 9,400 of them, but which would have the ability to free, if we don’t have an agreement, just to expand its program full speed ahead, and you know we can’t accept that. So where does that take you?
Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table, and I have yet to see anybody do that. So we’ll see where we go."
—March 25, 2015, in a speech to the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference
Senior State Department Official
“In terms of setting expectations, as you all know and have heard us say many times, we are focused on getting a political framework that addresses all of the major elements of a comprehensive deal done by the end of March. That is the date we are focused on. We made – I think we would say we made more progress in the last round than we had made in the previous rounds, which often happens once you’re getting closer to a deadline, I would say. And we can see a path forward here to get to an agreement. We can see what that path might look like. That doesn’t mean we’ll get there. And I think if you asked many people in the delegation, we truly do not know if we will be able to do this. But I do think it’s important that we see a path forward. We’ve discussed all of the substantive issues at the political and expert level that will need to be part of this.”
We do not know what form this will take if we can get there at the end of March. I know that’s a big question people have. But regardless, we have always said it needs to have specifics. We will need to communicate as many specifics as possible to the public in some form or fashion. What that will look like we truly just do not know at this point yet. Obviously, we’ll be communicating that to Congress as well. But I think what folks are focused on right now is the substance of what we are trying to work towards in a political framework, and as we get closer here, I think to conversations about form for some sort of public announcement will be a part of the discussion, but we truly do not know at this point.
But I do want to underscore that we believe and know that we will have to share as many specific details publicly as we can, with the caveat that the work of doing annexes if we can get to a political framework is very tough work. It involves a lot of details that are very important to the implementation of this deal, so noting that as well.”
“If we get to March 31st and don’t have a political understanding, we will have to evaluate where we are, we will have to look at what we think the path forward is, and we will make decisions based on that going forward. But unlike the previous two extensions, the day after the deadline it does not automatically expire.”
“We very much believe we can get this done by the 31st. We see a path to do that. I don’t think we would have said that even before the last round probably. So to set expectation – not to set them too high, because I think there is a good chance that we cannot get this done. But yeah, we plan for all outcomes.”
—March 25, 2015, in a press briefing


President Hassan Rouhani

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

"This (removal of sanctions) is a viewpoint that the government has insisted on since the very beginning."

The negotiations are "good" and "We are making every effort to continue on this path."
—March 25, 2015, according to the press

Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-e Ravanchi

"The talks have reached a point where serious decisions need to be made."

He expressed hope that the "other side will be able to make this tough decision."

"One or two fundamental issues remain which we hope will be settled as well."
—March 25, 2015, according to the press

Foreign Ministry Director General for Political and International Affairs Hamid Baeedinejad

"The remaining issues are not only the sanctions, but include a whole raft of issues and we are currently in the final stages of [settling] them."

"All these issues are interrelated. Sanctions, [uranium] enrichment and research development are issues which should be resolved together and in single package."
—March 25, 2015, according to the press

U.S. Officials: Iran's Role in Iraq

In March, U.S. officials acknowledged that Iran’s involvement in Iraq could help defeat ISIS, but cautioned that it could also fuel sectarian conflict. Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias launched an offensive to drive ISIS out of Tikrit in February. Both the United States and Iran have repeatedly denied any direct collaboration with each other to defeat ISIS, instead coordinating through the Iraqi government. The following are excerpted remarks from U.S. officials on Iran’s involvement in Iraq.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey
“This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things.”
The involvement of Iranian-backed Shiites in Tikrit could be “a positive thing” but “it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”
March 3, before the Senate Armed Services Committee
"Iran and its proxies have been inside Iraq since 2004.”
"This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things. Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism."
"We're watching carefully. If this becomes an excuse to ethnic cleanse, then our campaign has a problem.”
"There's no doubt that the combination of the Popular Mobilisation forces and the Iraqi security forces, they’re going to run ISIL out of Tikrit.”
March 11, according to the press
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
"You asked about the battle for Tikrit and the presence of Iranian advisers on the ground. That is something we're watching very closely. It is something that is concerning to us, in particular because the sectarian danger in Iraq is the principal thing that can unravel the campaign against ISIS.
That's why it's so important that the -- that none of these battles -- and you named one, which is Tikrit -- there're actually several important battles going on, in some of which, the Iranians play no role at all.
But wherever they are, it's important that sectarianism not rear its ugly head as ISIL is pushed back outside of Iraq. So we're watching that very -- very closely, very carefully, and it's a return to sectarianism that would concern us very much in Iraq."
—March 11, 2015, in a press briefing
Secretary of State John Kerry
"With respect to Iraq, we absolutely have known of Iran’s engagement in the northeastern parts of Iraq and, indeed, we’ve had conversations with Prime Minister Abadi about it.  He doesn’t hide it, and we’re not blind to it.  We know that Iran has been engaged.  We know that General Soleimani has been on the ground.  We know that they have an interest.  We understand that.  And we fully understand some of their engagement with some of the militia.  At the same time, they are deeply opposed to Daesh [ISIS].  And while we are not coordinating with Iran – we do not have conversations with Iran about this – we work through the Iraqi Government.  We do so with the knowledge that they are also opposed to Daesh and are working for Daesh’s defeat.  
Now going forward, I would also note that part of this operation in Tikrit also involves significant participation by Sunni tribes and Sunni participants from the region.  And the governor in Salah al-Din province was well aware of what is happening and of this whole-of-government initiative, whole-of-coalition effort, to continue to press the fight against Daesh.  And even while the fighting in Tikrit is taking place, there are several other fights taking place nearby which involve significant Sunni participation, U.S. support, and others.
So what we made clear some months ago when we first announced the coalition, lots of countries will make lots of different kinds of contributions, and every country can make some kind of contribution, and all of us are committed to the defeat of Daesh.  And the sooner that can happen, the better.  
Now the real measure of the Tikrit operation will not be just in the clearing; it will be in how people are treated afterwards.  It will be in whether or not there is a inclusivity or whether there is, in fact, a breakdown into a kind of sectarian division.  So we’ll watch that carefully.  We will work with the Government of Iraq very carefully to do our best to minimize or avoid that.  But we are not surprised at all by the participation such as it has been with respect to the Tikrit operation itself."
March 14, according to the press

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
"We continue to emphasize that it's important that [Iran’s] actions don't raise ... sectarian tensions.”
—March 18, 2015, according to the press
QUESTION: Local media has reported in numerous articles that the Iranian Government is intervening – helping the Iraqi Government retake Tikrit. There are reports that Qasem Soleimani is there. So I just want to know whether you agree with any of these local reports that Iran plays a role in retaking Tikrit.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken to this before. We’ve said previously we are aware Iran has sent some operatives into Iraq that are training and advising some Iraqi Security Forces. We also know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition and aircraft for Iraq’s armed forces.
QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to the Iranians being there fighting ISIS, are you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve addressed this many times, Said. We’ve been clear that Iran – Iraq can best counter the threat from ISIL with a government and security forces that are inclusive, and if the interests of all groups are respected. With respect to the activities of any country in Iraq, including Iran, we believe strongly that Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected and the Government of Iraq must focus on strengthening its internal political and security situation – institutions in an inclusive way. Clearly, that’s what our focus is on. We’re not coordinating with the Iranians; nothing has changed in that regard.
—March 9, 2015, in a press briefing

Khamenei on Nowruz: Nuke Deal Must Lift Sanctions

On March 20, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a statement on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, encouraging “close cooperation between the people and the administration.”  The next day he delivered a speech in Mashhad, criticizing President Obama’s Nowruz message for including “dishonest assertions.” He also focused on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, emphasizing that “Iran has managed to neutralize the so-called crippling sanctions,” but that sanctions relief must be part of any nuclear agreement.

The following is Khamenei’s Nowruz statement and excerpts from his speech in Mashhad.

Khamenei's Nowruz Statement, March 20

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful;O Conqueror of hearts and sight, O Planner of night and day, O Transformer of power and circumstances, Change our condition to the best of conditions. Greetings be upon Fatima, her father, her husband and her children.
The beginning of this year is concurrent with the days of the martyrdom anniversary of Hazrat Zahra (God's greetings be upon her). Our people's love and respect for the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) household and honorable daughter requires that certain considerations be taken into account by everyone. Of course, everyone will undoubtedly do so. We hope that these days and the new year will be imbued with Fatemi blessings. I hope that the auspicious name and memory of this great personality will exert its deep and permanent influence on the lives of our people in the year 1394. And I hope that the arrival of the spring - which is coincident with the beginning of the solar Hijri year - will be blessed for the people of Iran and for all those peoples who commemorate Norouz.
I would like to send my sincere greetings to the Imam of the Age (may our souls be sacrificed for his sake) and I use this opportunity to commemorate the memory of our magnanimous Imam (r.a.) and our martyrs. I hope that in the new year we will benefit from the blessings and prayers of those pure and dear personalities.
Let us take a brief look at the year 1393 and the new year which begins at this hour. The year 1393 was an eventful year for our country both in domestic, and in foreign and international arenas. We had certain challenges and achievements. It was because of these challenges that we named the year 1393 "The Year of National Determination and Jihadi Management". By taking a look at the year 1393, we can see that national determination thankfully showed itself. Our people showed their firm determination in enduring some the difficulties that they experienced as well as in the 22nd of Bahman, Quds Day and the magnificent Arbaeen rallies they showed their determination and displayed their effort . Thankfully, jihadi management was clear and visible in some areas. Whenever jihadi management showed itself in any area, it was followed by achievements. Of course, national determination and jihadi management were not particular to the year 1393. They are necessary for both this year and the coming years.
In the year 1394, we have great wishes for our dear people, all of which are attainable. Our great wishes for the people in this year are economic progress, regional and international power and dignity, scientific leaps in the real sense of the word, judiciary and economic justice, and faith and spirituality which is more important than other wishes and which prepares the ground for all of them to be attained. In my opinion, all these dreams and wishes are attainable. None of these wishes are things which are beyond the capacity of the people of Iran and the policies of the Islamic Republic. Our capacities are enormous. There are many things to be said in this regard. Insh'Allah, I will refer to the most important issues in this regard in the afternoon speech.
Now, what I like to say to our dear people is that this great and important potential can be realized, but there are certain conditions. One of the most important conditions is close cooperation between the people and the administration. If this close cooperation is shown bilaterally, all of our wishes will undoubtedly be attained and our people will witness its result. The administration is the people's employee and the people are its employer. The more cooperation and unity exists between the people and the administration, the better tasks will be carried out. They should trust each other. The administration should believe in the people in the true sense of the word. It should firmly believe in the value, significance and capabilities of the people. As for the people, they should trust the administration - which is their employee - in the real sense of the word.
I have certain pieces of advice in this regard which I will offer in the Saturday speech. This is why I believe that this year should be named the year of full cooperation between the administration and the people. I have chosen this name for the new year: "The Year of the Administration and the People, Harmony and Unanimity". I hope that this slogan will be implemented and that our dear, great, determined, courageous, insightful and wise people and our diligent administration implement both parts of this slogan so that they can witness its results in the future.
I ask Allah the Exalted to help our country make progress in all its great tasks. I ask Him to make us successful in rendering services to the people.
Greetings be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.
Translation via Khamenei.ir
Khamenei's Nowruz Speech in Mashhad, March 21
“Obama’s Nowrouz message included dishonest assertions and his claim of friendship for Iranian people was not sincere.”
“They [the Americans] say [to Iranian negotiators] ‘you come here and listen to what we say and implement them word for word’. But our nation will resist against it and will never accept this.”
“Iran and the US have opposite views on regional issues. We want security and calm in the region, but the arrogant powers led by the America pursue the policy of sowing insecurity in the region, which is quite the opposite of our goals.”
“America says ‘we sign the agreement and monitor [Iran's] behavior and then remove the sanctions’. This is erroneous and unacceptable and Iran will never accept this. This is the Americans’ ploy. Removal of sanctions should be part of any agreement.”
"Removal of sanctions is a part of the negotiations and not their result; therefore, as the honorable president (Rouhani) has clearly stated, the sanctions should be removed immediately after the agreement.”
"We will not negotiate with the US on domestic, regional and arms issues at all since the US policy in the region is based on stirring insecurity and confrontation with the regional states and Islamic Awakening which runs counter to the pivotal policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Referring to remarks from U.S. lawmakers that an agreement could be reversible, "Such words are also unacceptable because if they believe that they will be entitled to re-impose the sanctions under some other pretext after the deal, then there is no reason for us to accept irreversible moves and undertakings."
"Now that Iran has entered negotiations with them they are surprised to see that Iran has managed to neutralize the so-called crippling sanctions."
"They thought that by the crippling sanctions the people will stage protest against the government, so they engineered the sanctions to divide the people and the government."
“If this friendly cooperation [between the government and the people] takes place on both sides, our wishes will certainly come true and our dear people will see the effects.”
“The government is meant to serve the nation and the nation demands services from the government. The more cordial the nation-government ties, the more cooperation and solidarity between them, the better jobs will go ahead.”
“The government should recognize the nation in the proper sense of the word and acknowledge the value, significance and capabilities of the nation. Reciprocally, the nation should trust the government… in the proper sense of the word.”
“We hope that… the blessed name of this great figure and her memory will leave a profound and lasting impression on the lives of our people.”
The Leader also expressed hope that Iran will experience “economic development, regional and international might and dignity, scientific breakthroughs in the real sense of the word, judicial and economic justice as well as faith and spirituality.”

US on Rouhani Mother’s Death

On March 20, Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following statement on the passing of President Hassan Rouhani’s mother.

We extend our deepest condolences to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Dr. Hassan Rouhani and his family on the passing of his mother, Mrs. Sakineh Peivandi. Such a loss is especially hard coming on the eve of Nowruz, traditionally a time when families gather together in joy and hope. We share in his grief and that of his brother, Presidential Special Advisor Hossein Fereydoun, who has been participating in the talks in Lausanne, and we keep their family in our thoughts.
Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif also issued the following remarks earlier in the day in Lausanne.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. I just wanted to say on behalf of all of the American delegation, we learned this morning of the passing of President Rouhani’s mother. And Hossein Fereydoun, who is a member – a very important member of the delegations, and he is the president’s brother – he is returning to Iran immediately. And we want to express our deepest condolences. We also, in the midst of this sad news, know that this is Nowruz, New Year in Iran. So we want to wish the people of Iran, even as they hear the sad news of the president’s mother, a Nowruz Mobarak. And we hope that this is a year that can bring us progress and peace.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Thank you, I appreciate that. In fact, Nowruz is the beginning of Spring, and in Farsi, it means “new day.” I hope this new day will be a new day for the entire world – a new era of greater understanding and peace.
Alan Eyre, the State Department’s Persian language spokesperson, also offered condolences.
The following is a picture of President Rouhani and his mother, who was 90 years old.

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