United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Bio and Timelines: Americans Held in Iran

President Hassan Rouhani indicated that Tehran might free the Americans held in Iran if Washington releases Iranians held in the United States. "If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani told CNN on September 27, when he was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian officials deny it would be swap, labeling the exchange a humanitarian gesture by both countries. “I don’t particularly like the word exchange, but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it,” Rouhani told CBS’s "60 Minutes."

Three Iranian-Americans – Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini – are detained in Iran. A fourth American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing since 2007, when he was last sighted on an Iranian island. The following is a rundown of the American prisoners, followed by quotes from U.S. officials on their release.
Jason Rezaian
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014. On October 7, he reached 444 days in detention – the same amount of time U.S. hostages were held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981. Charges against him include espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” The indictment specifically cited writing to President Obama. According to Iranian press reports, Rezaian allegedly applied for a job with the administration. He reportedly wrote to Obama, “In Iran, I’m in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs.”
On May 26, 2014, Rezaian went on trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases. He denied the charges against him “I carried out all my activities legally and as a journalist,” he said. If convicted, Rezaian could face up to 20 years in prison.
Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His father moved to the United States from Iran in 1959, and his mother was from Chicago. Jason was born in California in 1976. He moved to Iran to work as a journalist in 2008, and became The Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yaganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, was also detained in 2014. She was released 10 weeks later, but the case has not formally been dismissed.
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Rezaian’s release.
Twitter account: @FreeJasonYegi
Amir Hekmati
Amir Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He was charged with espionage, waging war against God, and corrupting the earth. In January 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the first American to receive the death sentence in Iran since the revolution. But in March 2012, a retrial overturned the espionage conviction and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  
Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine and a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His parents were born in Iran. Hekmati was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1983 and grew up in Nebraska and Michigan. He served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005, including a six-month deployment to Iraq. He later worked as a government contractor doing linguistic and translation work.
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Hekmati’s release.
Saeed Abedini
Rev. Saeed Abedini was detained on Dec. 20, 2012 for “undermining national security.” He had been in Iran to visit family and construct orphanages in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held on Jan. 22, 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Abedini was born in Iran in 1980 and later converted to Christianity. In 2002, he met his future wife Naghmeh, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who was visiting Iran. The couple played a prominent role in establishing 100 underground churches in Iran for 2,000 Christian converts. Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity are not allowed to worship in established churches, although Christianity is legal in Iran and the constitution stipulates proportionate representation in parliament for various Christian minorities. Under pressure from the regime, the couple moved to the United States in 2005.
Abedini was ordained as a minister in 2008. During a trip to Iran in 2009, authorities reportedly threatened him with death for his conversion to Christianity and told him he could only return to Iran if he ceased his underground church activities. He became a American citizen in 2010. His family in Tehran has periodically been allowed to visit him in prison, but he has not been permitted to contact his wife and two children in the United States.
The following websites and social media accounts are dedicated to Abedini’s release.
Twitter: @SaveSaeed

Robert Levinson
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, during a visit to Kish Island. Initial reports indicated that he was researching a cigarette smuggling case as a private investigator. "He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran," the State Department said in 2007. In 2013, the Associated Press reported that he had been working on a private contract for U.S. intelligence.
Iran has denied knowing his status or location. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released statement he had taped a year earlier. In January 2013, his family released recent photos of him, and they acknowledged in late 2013 that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work for the CIA.
Levinson is an American citizen who was born in Flushing, New York in 1948. He served in the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for 28 years, where he focused on investigating organized crime in Russia. He retired from the FBI in 1998 and began working as a private investigator. He has seven children.
Statements from U.S. officials
President Barack Obama
On March 20, 2015, President Barack Obama issued the following statement on U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran for the occasion of Nowruz, Persian New Year.
The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.
Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.
Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.
Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.
And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.
At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.  
In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides.

Secretary of State John Kerry
On August 28, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement marking the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention in Iran. 
This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his relatives in Iran.
We repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Amir on humanitarian grounds. The Hekmati family needs Amir - their brother, their son, their uncle - to be home where he belongs. 
This is a milestone no family wants to mark, and the Hekmati family has shown inspiring perseverance in the face of this injustice. And as befits a former Marine, Amir has shown tremendous courage in the face of this unjust detention.    
As President Obama said recently in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we are not going to relent until we bring Amir home. I join the President in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.   
We also call on the government ‎of Iran to release Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families.
On August 29, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Tehran to release three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and one that went missing on Iranian soil.
The Unites States respectfully calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian to their families and work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson and bring him home.
Today marks the three-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his family in Iran.  Mr. Hekmati is the eldest son; he has long been separated from his family and they need him home.
Mr. Levinson went missing in March 2007 on Kish Island.  His family has endured years of painful separation and worry.  We are immensely concerned about his well-being and whereabouts.
On September 26, Mr. Abedini will have been detained for two years in Iran, on charges related to his religious beliefs.  Mrs. Abedini has spoken eloquently about the difficulties her family has faced during this challenging time.
Mr. Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, is being detained in an unknown location.  His love of Iran is seen in his reporting – portraits of the generosity and kindness of the Iranian people.
The United States remains committed to returning all of them to their families, friends, and loved ones.  We ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian and respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home.
On May 11, 2015, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to immediately release the detained and missing Americans. Concurrent Resolution 16 passed 90-0. On June 15, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar resolution, introduced by Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the Hekmati family in Congress.
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Saeed Abedini of Idaho is a Christian pastor unjustly detained in Iran since 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.
(2) Amir Hekmati of Michigan is a former United States Marine unjustly detained in 2011 while visiting his Iranian relatives and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
(3) Jason Rezaian of California is a Washington Post journalist credentialed by the Government of Iran. He was unjustly detained in 2014 and has been held without a trial.
(4) Robert Levinson of Florida is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) official who disappeared in 2007 in Iran. He is the longest held United States citizen in United States history.
(b) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that--
(1) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and
(2) the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.
Deputy State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke
“We’re aware of reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Iran. We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.”
“You asked about the closed nature of the trial….It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.
Now, you asked about contacts as well. We always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.”
“We call on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian immediately. This is independent of the nuclear negotiations. We also call for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as for Iran to cooperate in locating Robert Levinson, so that they can all be returned to their families.”
“The charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd. They should be dropped; he should be released.”
—May 26, 2015, according to the press
Photo credits: Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson via Facebook


Khamenei: Negotiations with US Forbidden

On October 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that further negotiations with the United States are “forbidden." In an address to Revolutionary Guards commanders, he claimed that talks expose Iran to U.S. influence and harm Iran’s national interests. The following are excerpted remarks from Khamenei on negotiating with the United States.


"Negotiations with the United States open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests.”
"Our negotiators were vigilant but the Americans took advantage of a few chances.”
"Through negotiations Americans seek to influence Iran ... but there are naive people in Iran who don't understand this.”
"We are in a critical situation now as the enemies are trying to change the mentality of our officials and our people on the revolution and our national interests.”
“The problem currently facing the country is due to certain individuals who are quite thoughtless or quite credulous and don’t understand these realities."
Translations via Reuters and Iran Front Page
Photo via Khamenei's facebook page

Javad Zarif on Syria Peace Plan

In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said prospects for progress on the Syrian crisis grew after meetings around the U.N. General Assembly. “I think it is important that everybody is coming around to the same concept that we need to focus on procedures and institutions rather than on individuals,” he said in an October 5 interview with Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Zarif later emphasized the need for a “comprehensive strategy” on Syria. At a University of Denver event, he charged that the United States had not been “serious” in the fight against ISIS. Zarif also cautioned that a political transition without President Bashar al Assad as a participant would be “short-sighted” and “misplaced.” The following are excerpts from Zarif’s remarks on Syria.
Interview with Robin Wright 
Wright: “Did you come away from this U.N. General Assembly session believing that there was any movement – genuine momentum – on a process to end the Syrian civil war?”
Zarif: “Well, I came out of this General Assembly with a true belief that there is a possibility. Whether the necessary political decision has been made to abandon preconditions that would only procrastinate this issue and only prolong the conflict, I don’t know. I mean I can only hope.”
“I think it is important that everybody is coming around to the same concept that we need to focus on procedures and institutions rather than on individuals. If that takes place, and if that’s understanding sinks in that we need to leave the decision about the individuals to the Syrian people-- but what we can help and facilitate is for Syrians to start talking and to move forward with the processes that are required, then we can get this crisis closer to a resolution. But if we want to get work done on one individual as we have been over the past four years, then there’s no possibility of finding a resolution. And I think, gradually and slowly, this understanding and appreciation is sinking in. And I hope that once everybody is ready to facilitate a solution, not to dictate preconditions, then we can move forward.”
“[T]he current international coalition is incapable of engaging in such a campaign because it has political inhibitions. It believes that any attempts against Daesh will necessarily lead to strengthening of the central government in Damascus. So they are less than serious in dealing with Daesh. And they have been, and they’re not hesitant in saying so. So there was a need to deal with this very serious global challenge and threat – straightforward. And the only people who were doing it, particularly in Iraq and Syria, were Iran through our military advisers and our support that we provided to the two governments, so I thought it was necessary for an international effort, and it shouldn’t just be Russia.
“Others should recognize the fact that the first and foremost threat to global peace and security, as well as to every single country in the region including those who are reluctant, is Daesh and terrorism and takfiri extremism, and they need to find ways of dealing with it -- without setting preconditions, whether this helps Assad or helps anybody else.”
Wright: Are there more advisors going in [to Syria from Iran]?
Zarif: “You don’t have any specific number of advisors at any specific time, you send advisors based on the required organizational support that you provide to the Syrian army.”
“We are not changing the nature of our presence in Syria. I would have been surprised if we did, but because it was happening during the time I was out of the country, I checked, and the policy stands that we are not changing the nature of our presence in Syria.” 
University of Denver event
Moderator: What can be done to kind of calm this region down, and what needs to be...the approach?
Zarif: Well, as I said, a big paradigm shift is required and it should start with all of us recognizing that the problems that are appearing in our region are problems that will affect all of us. That nobody will be immune. We cannot have extremism confined to one country. Some of our neighbors believe that extremists in the Syrian army could kill each other off…Now we have all these extremists attacking followers from all over the world. In one day there was a bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait, a bombing of a tourist resort in Tunisia, and a bombing of a factory in France. Three incidents in one week, three different targets, carried out by a single group in one day. That tells you that the victims and the regions are not confined to one group or one geography…the sooner we realize that this is a common threat the sooner that we can address it…
The group we now call ISIS, or Daesh or whatever, was the outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. These are the sons and daughters of Abu al Zarqawi…As was the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan who grew out of the Soviet invasion. You always have internal problems, you cannot just look at the outside forces and the outside causes as the only cause. You have dictatorship… you have no avenue for expression of frustration domestically, or you also have external elements that lead to it.
So I think what is taking place in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, in our region in general, requires a common approach by all of us…Iran is overwhelmingly Shia and our population is not vulnerable to an anti-Shia message that is being propagated by ISIS or Daesh. But unfortunately the population in some of our neighbors, who have either turned a blind eye to Daesh or who have actually supported it in the past, their population is sympathetic, at least.
Moderator: So among Sunni populations there is some sympathy for these extreme Sunni groups, is what you’re saying?
Zarif: Not all Sunni populations, but some who belong to the Salafi, Wahhabi inclinations in the Sunni world, which would be predominantly in Saudi Arabia and some Persian Gulf countries. So they are more vulnerable, and the sooner they realize that this extremist group is not even a temporary answer…they will not be able to deal seriously with this threat…
Moderator: So you regard radical Sunniism as a threat to moderate Sunniism as well as a threat to you. And a threat to us.
Zarif: Yes, it’s a threat to everybody in the world, and it is something that cannot be addressed only through military means. It may require certain military action, but more importantly it requires serious cultural, political, ideological, economic, and other measures.
Now let me address a few of them. You see people beheading innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria. You listen to them, they speak with perfect French or English accents. They were born and raised in France or in the United Kingdom. Why is it? Because the feeling of alienation, the feeling of disenfranchisement is so severe in some of these societies. These people are not the product of ideological upbringing. They were educated in the West. But the alienation, the Islamophobia, the feeling of suppression and humiliation is so pervasive that pushes them to commit these atrocities…
But you have to understand, there are economic motivations as well…The fact is that these groups are selling their oil. Who’s buying their oil? Who’s paying for it? Which bank does the transaction? …this is not just no longer the military, it is the financial – I mean, every month a thousand people enter Syria and Iraq. A thousand new people. This has become a revolving door. Extremists attract new followers, new recruits come from 82 countries, go to Iraq and Syria, they get trained, if they don’t die after a while they go back to their own societies and become the focus of a new extremist movement. So we’ve got to look at it from that perspective and see that we need a combined global comprehensive effort to deal with this. Just aerial bombardment could not do the job, as they haven’t done in the past.
Moderator: Let’s just look at Syria, because I think we’ve essentially been talking about Syria without mentioning Syria. It seems they need some political arrangements forward, but if you have elections in the current context don’t Sunnis just vote for Sunnis, Alawites vote for Alawites, and Kurds vote for Kurds?
Zarif: Well, I think what is necessary in Syria is to have…a comprehensive strategy to have political reform…even localized ceasefires, maybe, to end the fighting as much as you can…there are areas where people can be brought into a political process who are fighting each other. So you have to stop those fighting. It is impossible to stop the fighting with ISIS. Everyone should join forces in order to deal with ISIS, including others from outside —Iran, Russia, regional countries united in a coalition…
At the same time, begin a political process. That is, now Syria has a centralized power structure, all in one man. And that is why the fate of that individual has become the only issue that has created a political solution, President Assad. What we can do is to make sure that in Syria we have a political system that is not centralized, power is disbursed around various institutions of government. You insist on those efforts instead of on individuals. You insist on guarantees, instead of saying whether President Assad should run in an election or not run in an election. You should insist that they should be a free and fair.
Moderator: So who insists?
Zarif: Unfortunately, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some European countries have always insisted, up until a few months ago… that President Assad should just go, before the political process started. Now they’re insisting that President Assad can stay because they know that if he goes, the only replacement will be ISIS and terrorists. So they have come to this understanding that it is impossible to ask him to go right now, without…giving Damascus to ISIS on a platter…
What you need to do is to put emphasis on the process itself… Enable the Syrian people to decide. We in the outside world should facilitate the outcome, not dictate the outcome. No negotiations can lead to any conclusion if you want to conclude before negotiating… So this, I think, negotiations without preconditions, a national unity government in Syria is the answer…We should allow the outcome to take shape in the hands of and by the voice of the Syrian people and not by outsiders.
Moderator: Probably the biggest development in the last week was of course the Russian move to actually put troops on the ground, set up airbases, and begin air operations. Does this come as a surprise to you?
Zarif: A year ago, the United States decided to conduct air operations in Syria without the consent of the government of Syria… [The] U.S. and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. There is nothing in the charter that gives one privilege over another…The difference is they were there on the invitation of the government, which has a seat in the United Nations. So, if I were to compare the two, I guess, legally, at least the United States cannot blame Russia for being there…
Moderator: This is the moderate Syrian –
Zarif: Whatever you want to call them, moderate Syrian opposition. I call them paid hotel opposition, because all they do is sit in hotels and spend your money, which is fine. They love spending money…Did the people of Syria ask them to be there? …what has the United States and international coalition done in Iraq or Syria against ISIS? I mean, there’s been a [inaudible] bombardment of coalition effort… Not that the United States isn’t capable of doing it, but because the United States has inhibitions, has constraints, and most of those constraints are from allies in the region who do not want to undermine ISIS because it will strengthen the central government. And because of that, the United States and all of that coalition… cannot go all the way against ISIS because it would amount to strengthening the central government in Damascus. And for the same reason that they are not successful in Iraq… The militia in Iraq has been much more successful in liberating Iraqi territory from ISIS than the U.S. coalition.
Moderator: Why is that?
Zarif: The reason for that is the U.S. coalition. First of all, you cannot fight terrorists by air alone. You need to have a serious ground operation. Secondly, because in my view the United States is not capable of fighting ISIS because of the concerns that its allies in the region have…And because everything is being seen in that zero-sum mentality and paradigm, it has not been possible to have serious fight with ISIS…
If you look at what the United States is saying, the United States is saying that we are for a political solution without Assad and we will deal with ISIS in no time. That means that there is a political precondition for the international coalition to have a serious fight against ISIS. I think that is short sighted. I think that is misplaced… ISIS is a threat against all of us. It’s not an answer. We have to remember, ISIS is not an answer to anybody. It is an identity. And it is a deadly identity. And it is a deadly identity more for the countries that are supporting it, or have supported it in the past…
Moderator: You presumably have some contacts with the Saudis. Presumably you’ve been able to have some discussions about this, but no mutual understanding on these issues?
Zarif: Unfortunately, the Saudis are not prepared to discuss these issues with us. And, unfortunately, the recent tragedy in Saudi Arabia has…strained our relations.


Parliament Moves to Approve Nuclear Deal

On October 4, the Iranian parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the nuclear deal presented its preliminary report to the Parliament. It highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but  emphasized the harmful effects some provisions could have on Iranian security. The committee is working on final report, some 1,000 pages long, that will be sent to top officials in all government branches of in two months. 
  • Six U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran would be lifted 
  • Iran would reserve the right to keep its heavy water reactor in Arak as well as the enrichment facility in Fordow 
  • Iran could continue to develop its missile program without restrictions 
  • Economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted 

  • The JCPOA would require Iran to do more than other countries who are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty 
  • Iran would not be able to quickly resume its nuclear program due to required technical changes, such as limiting the number of centrifuges 
  • Inspection of military sites would create security risks 
  • The deal may would leave Iran more vulnerable to foreign intelligence  
  • Certain sanctions would not be terminated until eight years after implementation of the deal
Five of the 15 committee members, however, issued a joint statement criticizing the report for ignoring “very positive points” of the agreement. The committee is working on final report, some 1,000 pages long, that will be sent to top officials in all government branches of in two months. 

The report proposed introducing and voting on resolution, within the week, that would give the government permission to implement the JCPOA under certain conditions. The key issue regarding next steps was timing. Lawmakers voted against fast-tracking the bill to the extent recommended by the report. So 75 lawmakers instead introduced a bill that would allow for 20 days of review. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani would have preferred voting sooner rather than later. “The more it is delayed, it harms us,” he said. Hossein Sobhani-Nia, Deputy Head of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said that Parliament will make a decision on the bill within 10 days and that a timely decision on the matter would show that Iran is committed to its international responsibilities.
The Iranian Government’s Reciprocal and Proportional Action Bill specifies that the administration should stop its voluntary activities and “adopt reciprocal measures” if the other countries party to the agreement violate its terms. Iran should engage in these measures to “restore the rights of the Iranian nation,” particularly if sanctions are not removed. The motion stresses the importance of Iran’s security and the need to protect classified information during inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Larijani referred the motion to the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission for review, which quickly approved it. 



Assad Interview with Iranian Television

On October 4, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said that he was optimistic about the new cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria in the fight against ISIS. The other week, Iraq announced that the four countries would share intelligence. The “coalition has great chances of success,” he told Iranian Khabar TV channel.

In the wide-ranging interview, Assad also emphasized the importance of Iran’s support for his government and Tehran’s four-point peace plan for Syria. And he expressed openness to the possibility of a dialogue among all Syrians that could produce a referendum on the constitution. The following are excerpts on key issues from a translation by Syrian state media. 

Cooperation with Iran, Russia and Iraq on ISIS Fight
“Iran and Russia have suffered different kinds of terrorism. When these countries unite against terrorism and fight it militarily and in the areas of security and information, in addition to other aspects, this coalition will, no doubt, achieve real results on the ground, particularly that it enjoys international support from countries which do not have a direct role in these crises and in this region. This is with the exception of the West, which has always sought to support terrorism, colonization and stood against peoples’ causes, most countries of the world feel the real danger of terrorism.”
Iran’s Syria Peace Plan
“What has changed during this period was the announcement of President Putin’s initiative, particularly in his speech in the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s Collective Security Council in which he identified basically his perception of the initiative, especially in relation to fighting terrorism.
“Now, the discussion continues between us and our Iranian brothers at the foreign ministry in order to take into account this important change, so that it becomes not necessarily part of the Iranian initiative, but to make the initiative compatible with these important and positive changes on the Syrian arena, and probably on the Syrian-Iraqi arena. That is why I say that this initiative is very important and necessary, particularly after signing the Iranian nuclear deal, and with European officials starting to communicate with Iran. We believe that the Iranian role has become important for us in Syria through this initiative. Of course, when it is complete the details are integrated, it will be announced.”
Iranian Support for Syria
“It can be summarized in two words: First, what I said about adherence to principles. The Iranian people are principled. And the second word is loyalty, for the Iranian people have been loyal to Syria which supported Iran when it went through war for eight years. That war had the same objectives which they want to achieve in Syria today, but in a different form, using different tools and under different international circumstances. The Iranian people and leadership have not forgotten Syria’s position at that time. When most countries of the world tried impose sanctions against Iran, Syria was, I don’t want to say the only state, but one of the few states which stood by Iran, but it was the clearest in its position.”
Political Process in Syria
“Of course, we support any political move in parallel with fighting terrorism. But this needs a number of factors to succeed. When we talk about dialogue among the Syrians, this dialogue has two aspects: there is a dialogue on the future of Syria, and it includes all Syrians. Every Syrian has the right to express an opinion in this dialogue in order to know the shape of the Syria we want. Later, there are institutions, there is the public opinion, there is a referendum on a constitution which might be produced by this dialogue. Whatever the people decide, then, will be binding to us as a state and for me as an official. But there is also a dialogue which is specific to the crisis: how to put an end to terrorism and how to restore security. If we talk about political reform, it does not concern the terrorists, because terrorists do not fight for political reform. They fight because they receive money or because they have a perverted doctrine, or because they want to have a role in a state that becomes another state’s client.”
“That is why I say to them [members of the opposition]: if you believe that you are right why don’t you convince the Syrian people, and the Syrian people will decide, through their institutions or the elections, who the president should be. There were elections last year. Where were you? What did you do? What is your impact on the street? Nothing. Their impact is nothing. Every person who lends his decisions to another country is despised by the Syrian people, and his influence will be zero. He becomes a mere talking head in the media. All those who believe in such a proposition should take part in the elections and try to prove their viewpoints. We have no objection. As for me personally, I say once again that if my departure is the solution, I will never hesitate to do that.”

Iran Nuclear Deal
“It has a tremendous impact, not in the way some people see it in terms of Iran’s technical, scientific or political capabilities. It has a great and extensive impact on all developing countries, because Iran is a developing country which has broken the knowledge blockade imposed on developing countries in order for the West to monopolize knowledge in certain areas, particularly that oil resources are being exhausted, and the future becoming dependent on nuclear energy.”
“On the other hand, you and we are strategic allies; so if Iran is stronger, Syria will be stronger, and vice versa. From another perspective, had Iran abandoned its rights in the nuclear file, that concession would have been used as the new standard which will be applied to other countries, regardless of the legitimate international right of all countries to obtain nuclear energy. In the future, Syria or any other similar country might need nuclear energy. What Iran has won by its steadfastness and through the intelligence of its negotiators will be applied to all these other countries in the future.”
“The final aspect is that related to the crisis. Acknowledging the real weight of Iran and its regional role will give it an opportunity to use its increasing influence to persuade the West that their policies are wrong. Of course, I do not pin, nor do you I believe, great hopes on the West changing its colonialist world view and moving in the right direction, but any effort made by Iran must have its impact.”

Click here for a full transcript by the Syrian Arab News Agency.  


Photo credit:  Bashar_al-Assad.jpg: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr derivative work: César (Bashar_al-Assad.jpg) [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


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