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Putin in Tehran to Discuss Syria, Boost Ties

On November 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran for talks with Iranian leaders on the Syrian crisis, the fight against ISIS and implementing the nuclear deal. Putin’s visit, his first in eight years, was timed to coincide with an international gas summit. Presidential aid Yuri Ushakov said that Russian and Iranian leaders were to discuss “all topical issues of bilateral cooperation - trade and investment cooperation, nuclear energy, oil and gas production, military and technical cooperation.”
Putin reportedly went directly from the airport to meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Syrian conflict was a main topic of discussion. “No one outside of Syria can and should impose on its people some forms of government and who personally must govern it. This should only be decided by the Syrian people,” said Putin. Russian presidential press officer Dmitry Peskov said the meeting lasted more than 1.5 hours. “The meeting participants had a very detailed exchange of opinions, it was emphasized that Moscow and Tehran agree on the unacceptability of dictating political settlement options from the outside and that there is no alternative to the implementation of this political method by the people of Syria,” said Peskov.  

Moscow and Tehran have stepped up coordination in Syria since Russia launched an air campaign against forces opposed to the Bashar al Assad’s regime, including the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Both Russia and Iran support Assad’s government and oppose Sunni jihadist movements.

While in Tehran, Putin also signed a decree lifting the ban on supplying Iran with uranium enrichment equipment for its nuclear program. Russia has said it will help Iran export surplus enriched uranium and send raw uranium in exchange. It will also help Iran modify nuclear facilities at Arak and Fordo as part of implementing the nuclear deal reached in July 2015. Iran has committed to reduce its low-enriched uranium stockpile by some 98 percent to 300 kg for 15 years. 

The supreme leader’s remarks from his meeting with Putin were published in the following string of tweets on his official account. Putin's remarks are below. 

President Vladimir Putin 
“The expansion of the two countries’ relations, including in [the areas of] technology, aerospace, and advanced technologies has been enjoying a faster pace, and we are very happy to have a very active cooperation with the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on [issues of] security and the resolution of regional and global crises.” 
“We are committed that, unlike some, never stab our partners from the back and we would never act against our friends behind the scenes. Even if we have a difference, we would reach an agreement through dialogue.” 
“As Your Excellency [the Leader of the Islamic Revolution] stated, Americans want to bring to the negotiating table what they could not achieve in the battlefields of Syria, and we are cautious of this issue.” 
“Our cooperation in solving crises is very visible. Our views are very similar. A solution needs to be found that satisfies all religious and political forces in Syria. Nobody can or should force upon the Syrian people certain structures of power, state, or leaders from outside. That can only be decided by the Syrian people.”
“Nobody has the right to impose his views on the Syrian people and decide on their behalf on the government system and the destiny of the Syrian president.” 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is an independent and solid strong country with very good prospects, and we see you as a trustworthy and reliable ally in the region and the world.”
—Nov. 23, 2015, in a meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei via Tehran Times, Fars News and France 24
Putin then addressed the third Gas Exporting Countries Forum. 
Later in the day, President Hassan Rouhani and President Putin signed seven memoranda of understanding. Russia and Iran agreed to facilitate travel for their citizens to either country. The other memoranda were related to health, railways, banking and insurance, power generation and transmission, and groundwater exploration. They also held a joint press conference.
President Hassan Rouhani
“For many years, Iran and Russia have had good relations in the field of nuclear energy and today these relations will develop.”
“A lot of investment opportunities in different economic areas such as energy, oil and gas, electricity, railways, and infrastructure projects are ahead of the private and public sectors of both countries and by using them, Tehran-Moscow ties will cement more than before.”
“We have also decided to expand the already-existing cooperation on regional issues.”
“The available opportunities will certainly provide the basis for further collaboration in line with taking more serious steps to benefit the two nations as well as the region.”
—Nov. 23, 2015, in a joint press conference
President Vladimir Putin
“Good talks were conducted with ministers, heads of key organizations and institutes after the discussions with Iran’s Supreme Leader.”
“Various aspects of bilateral relations were discussed at the meetings including economy as well as the fight against terrorism.”
“We plan to make a list of goods required by both sides and further to use national currencies in payments between the two countries.”
“We discussed Russia’s plan to allocate a credit line worth five billion dollars to Iran as well. 25 priority projects in various fields particularly in energy, construction, manufacturing of marine terminals as well as communications will be carried out by Iran and Russia.”
“We saw that a large set of documents, which is supposed to stimulate cooperation in various spheres, was signed just now. We shall pay necessary attention to diversification of commodity nomenclature, [and] make greater use of national currencies in bilateral payments.”

“Currently, the construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant has been accomplished and we intend to begin phases two and three of the project.”

“We are planning to design a road map for the Iranian nuclear issue and will help with the conversion of enriched uranium and the production of stable isotopes.”

“Iran and Russia will pursue cooperation for finding a political solution to the Syrian issue.”
—Nov. 23, 2015, in a joint press conference

UN: Iran Dismantling Nuclear Equipment

Iran has uninstalled nearly a quarter of its uranium-enriching centrifuges since October 18, also known as the nuclear deal’s Adoption Day, according to a new U.N. watchdog report. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that Iran has removed 4,500 centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordo facilities. But it still has to uninstall another 10,000 centrifuges to reach the target of 5,000. Iran’s stock of low enriched uranium also increased to the equivalent of 12,639.6 kg, up by 460 kg since August. Under the nuclear agreement, Iran must eventually cut the stockpile to 300 kg. The following are excerpts from analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security and remarks by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.
Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report
By David Albright, Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, Andrea Stricker, and Daniel Schnur
November 18, 2015
This report covers the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) latest safeguards report on Iran dated November 18, 2015 and the reporting period since the last safeguards report from August 27, 2015, during which the interim Joint Plan of Action has remained in effect. It also discusses Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and IAEA/Iran Roadmap related activities and developments.
Key Findings:
1) Since October 18, 2015, also known as Adoption Day, Iran removed 4,112 IR-1 centrifuges and related infrastructure from the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) Hall A and stored them in Hall B. Iran has been removing an average of about 147 IR-1 centrifuges per day. At this rate, Iran would need another one and a half months to finish dismantling the required number of IR-1 centrifuges at the FEP under the JCPOA. It appears to be dismantling these centrifuges faster than expected.
2) Since October 18, 2015, Iran removed 160 IR-2m centrifuges and related infrastructure from the Natanz FEP Hall A and stored them in Hall B. The dismantlement rate of the IR-2m centrifuges was only on average 6 per day, suggesting possibly more care being taken in dismantling these centrifuges or a recent start to their dismantlement. The latter would suggest a commitment to dismantle the IR-1 centrifuges first.
3) Since October 18, 2015, Iran removed 258 IR-1 centrifuges and related infrastructure from the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. However, the removed centrifuges remained in the FFEP cascade hall.
4) Iran has started recovering uranium from its near 20 percent liquid, solid, and fuel items scrap. As of November 2015, Iran has fed 95.9 kg of this scrap into the uranium recovery process, recovered 44.7 kg of uranium in the form of oxide, and has so far used 30.4 kg of this recovered material to manufacture Teheran Research Reactor (TRR) fuel items. The IAEA also reported that Iran ceased this recovery effort on November 7, 2015. However, 39.4 kg of uranium in scrap fed into the recovery line are stuck in process.
5) After a lengthy delay, the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) finally started producing more LEU dioxide. As of November 9, 2015, the plant had produced 2,330 kg of uranium in the form of UO2 enriched up to 5 percent uranium 235.
6) Under the separate IAEA/Iran Roadmap, the IAEA reports that all of the activities set out for the period to October 15 were completed on schedule. The IAEA report does not contain any details on the status or any preliminary findings of its investigation about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear programs. The IAEA states that it will issue by December 15 a report to the IAEA Board of Governors regarding the PMD issue. The safeguards report provides no details about the controversial arrangement between the IAEA and Iran whereby Iran took environmental samples at the Parchin site under IAEA direction, albeit without IAEA inspectors being physically present during the sampling.
7) Based on the IAEA values in the report, Iran has in total the equivalent of 12,639.6 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride. The inventory is 8,305.6 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride and the equivalent of another 4,334 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride in various chemical forms at the EUPP. This stock of 3.5 percent LEU has increased by 460 kg since August 2015.
Remarks by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
Mr President,
As I mentioned, there have been important developments concerning the implementation of IAEA safeguards in Iran.
In July, Iran and the P5+1 countries agreed on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Security Council asked the IAEA to undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, and our Board of Governors authorised us to do so.
Iran will implement the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. This is a powerful verification tool that will give the Agency greater access to information and to locations in Iran.
Iran also agreed to implement a number of additional transparency measures. These go beyond the scope of the additional protocol and will help the Agency to better understand Iran’s nuclear activities.
Also in July, I signed a Road-map with Iran for the clarification of possible military dimensions to the country’s nuclear programme by the end of this year. Activities set out in the Road-map were completed by the target date of October 15th.
We are now finalising our analysis of all of the information at our disposal. I will present my final assessment on all past and present outstanding issues to the IAEA Board of Governors by December 15th. My report will be factual, objective and impartial. Our Member States will determine the appropriate response.
Mr President,
Much work remains to be done, but I believe the significant progress made on the Iran nuclear issue represents a real success for diplomacy. It demonstrates that even complex and challenging issues can be tackled effectively if all parties are committed to dialogue – not dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at achieving results.
In the case of Iran, the sustained efforts of the IAEA, the P5+1 countries, the Security Council – and, of course, Iran itself – have got us to where we are today. The IAEA was able to make a vital contribution by sticking to its technical mandate and not straying into politics. 
The agreements reached in July represent a clear net gain for the IAEA from the verification point of view.
The Agency will continue to implement safeguards in Iran with a view to being able to draw what we call the “broader conclusion” – that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities – in due course.
Click here for ISIS’s full analysis.
Click here for the full IAEA report.
Click here for Amano’s full statement.

Click here to read David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s chapter on Iran’s nuclear program. 


Photo credit: Yukiya Amano via Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au (CC 3.0) 

Tags: IAEA, Reports

Iran Attends Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

On November 14, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Vienna for a new round of peace talks on Syria with representatives from 17 countries, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that the talks had made "critical progress," which included a plan to hold U.N.-supervised elections in 18 months. But the parties differed on whether Syrian President Bashar al Assad should be allowed to participate. "Iran disagrees with those who say Bashar al Assad should not compete in the upcoming elections," said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian.
The talks were a continuation of discussions held in Vienna on October 30, which Iran also attended. The invitation for Iran to join the talks, which was backed by the United States, marks a major change after two earlier failed peace initiatives in 2012 and 2014. In January 2014, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon initially invited Iran to a conference in Geneva. But under U.S. pressure, he withdrew it one day later. His spokesperson cited Iranian public statements that were “not at all consistent” with oral assurances Tehran had given regarding the Geneva Communique, which calls for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections. 

The following is a statement released by the parties after the November 14 talks, followed by excerpted remarks from officials.

Statement of the International Syria Support Group
Meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015 as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States to discuss how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict. The participants began with a moment of silence for the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris and the recent attacks in Beirut, Iraq, Ankara, and Egypt. The members unanimously condemned in the strongest terms these brutal attacks against innocent civilians and stood with the people of France.
Subsequently, the participants engaged in a constructive dialogue to build upon the progress made in the October 30 gathering. The members of the ISSG expressed a unanimous sense of urgency to end the suffering of the Syrian people, the physical destruction of Syria, the destabilization of the region, and the resulting increase in terrorists drawn to the fighting in Syria.
The ISSG acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, and that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously. They stated their commitment to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communique in its entirety. The group reached a common understanding on several key issues.
The group agreed to support and work to implement a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards the transition under UN auspices on the basis of the Geneva Communique.
The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council pledged to support a UNSC resolution to empower a UN-endorsed ceasefire monitoring mission in those parts of the country where monitors would not come under threat of attacks from terrorists, and to support a political transition process in accordance with the Geneva Communique. All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence. The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist.
The participants welcomed UN Secretary General Ban’s statement that he has ordered the UN to accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire. The group agreed that the UN should lead the effort, in consultation with interested parties, to determine the requirements and modalities of a ceasefire.
The ISSG expressed willingness to take immediate steps to encourage confidence-building measures that would contribute to the viability of the political process and to pave the way for the nationwide ceasefire. In this context, and pursuant to clause 5 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG discussed the need to take steps to ensure expeditious humanitarian access throughout the territory of Syria pursuant to UNSCR 2165 and called for the granting of the UN’s pending requests for humanitarian deliveries. The ISSG expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries. The resolution of the refugee issue is important to the final settlement of the Syrian conflict. The ISSG also reaffirmed the devastating effects of the use of indiscriminate weapons on the civilian population and humanitarian access, as stated in UNSCR 2139. The ISSG agreed to press the parties to end immediately any use of such indiscriminate weapons.
The ISSG reaffirmed the importance of abiding by all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 2199 on stopping the illegal trade in oil, antiquities and hostages, from which terrorists benefit.
Pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, incorporated by reference in the Vienna statement of October 30, and in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118, the ISSG agreed on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices, as soon as possible, with a target date of January 1. The group welcomed efforts, working with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and others, to bring together the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition, chosen by Syrians, who will decide their negotiating representatives and define their negotiating positions, so as to enable the political process to begin. All the parties to the political process should adhere to the guiding principles identified at the October 30 meeting, including a commitment to Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character; to ensuring that State institutions remain intact; and to protecting the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination. ISSG members agreed that these principles are fundamental.
The ISSG members reaffirmed their support for the transition process contained in the 2012 Geneva Communique. In this respect they affirmed their support for a ceasefire as described above and for a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution. Free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months. These elections must be administered under UN supervision to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.
Regarding the fight against terrorism, and pursuant to clause 6 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG reiterated that Da’esh, Nusra, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants and endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be defeated. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan agreed to help develop among intelligence and military community representatives a common understanding of groups and individuals for possible determination as terrorists, with a target of completion by the beginning of the political process under UN auspices.
The participants expect to meet in approximately one month in order to review progress towards implementation of a ceasefire and the beginning of the political process.
—Nov. 14, 2015, via the European Union External Action Service
United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
"Today, Sergey Lavrov and I and Staffan joined representatives from the Arab League, China, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and the United Nations. And we did so because we all recognize the urgency of this moment. There can be no doubt: This crisis is not Syria’s alone to bear. The impacts of this war bleed into all of our nations: from the flood of desperate migrants seeking refuge within the region or in Europe or beyond; to the foreign terrorist fighters making their way into Syria to join the ranks of groups like Daesh; to self-radicalized fighters, living among us, their minds poisoned by Daesh’s propaganda and lies.
"Now, obviously, those of us who met in Vienna today – the International Support Group on Syria – do not agree on all the issues when it comes to Syria. We still differ, obviously, on the issue of what happens with Bashar al-Assad. But we are relying on the political process itself – led by Syrians, which it will be, going forward, and with Syrians negotiating with Syrians – that that can help to bring a close to this terrible chapter. We do agree on this: It is time for the bleeding in Syria to stop. It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide. It is time that we come together to help the Syrian people embark on the difficult but extraordinarily high imperative of rebuilding their country.
"I underscore: We did not come here to impose our collective will on the Syrian people. Exactly the opposite; the Syrian people will be – and must be – the validators of our efforts.
The Syrians will be the first to tell you that they need help from the international community, especially a consensus about how to achieve a political transition that will allow them to ultimately shape their own destiny.
"Building that consensus has been our goal here in Vienna; in fact, building the structure, the pathway to be able to achieve that. And while a lot of hard work obviously remains, we have made critical progress. Together, our nations have reached a common understanding, still beyond where we were two weeks ago, regarding a series of steps that we believe will accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict, certainly can accelerate it if people take advantage of this opportunity.
"Based on our shared belief in the necessity of a ceasefire and a parallel political process pursuant to the 2012 Geneva communique, we today discussed and laid out a path towards that political process and ceasefire and towards it on as rapid a path as possible.
We agreed on the need to begin formal negotiations between representatives of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime, under UN auspices, with a target date of the two sides actually sitting down negotiating with each other no later, hopefully, than a target date of around January 1st. That’s pushing. The group has agreed to work with Special Envoy de Mistura to assemble the broadest possible spectrum of the Syrian opposition – chosen by Syrians themselves – to define their negotiating positions and determine who their representatives to the talks will be.
"We agreed on the steps – that the steps outlined in the 2012 Geneva communique present the best path forward towards an actual political transition, and we support a Syrian-led transition process within a target of six months that will: establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance; set a schedule and a process for drafting a new constitution; and determine eligibility for voting and candidacy in elections.
"We also agreed that free and fair elections would then be held, pursuant to the new constitution, within 18 months. These elections, we believe, would take place – not we believe – we agreed would take place under UN supervision with an emphasis on transparency and accountability, and with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.
"But, as we underscored, this political process has to be accompanied by a ceasefire that will help to end the bloodshed as quickly as possible, and I might add that will help rapidly to define who wants to be considered a terrorist and who is not, understanding that Daesh and Nusrah are clearly and inexorably in that category now.
"We agreed that the ceasefire would come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition have taken initial steps towards the UN-supervised transition. The five permanent members of the Security Council pledged to support a Security Council resolution to empower a UN-endorsed ceasefire monitoring mission. And in coordination with our talks today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has ordered the UN to accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of that ceasefire, and the group agreed that the UN should lead the effort, in consultation with interested parties, in order to determine its requirements and its modalities.
"We also pledged to take all possible measures to ensure that all parties – including those currently supported by nations represented here in Vienna – that they will all firmly adhere to the ceasefire. In other words, each country that supports or has influence with or supplies anybody in the field will become an enforcer of the ceasefire. We also agreed to press the parties to immediately end the use of indiscriminate weapons.
"Now, let me be clear: the ceasefire, as I said a moment ago, does not apply either to Daesh or to Nusrah or to subsequently some group that in the days ahead may be determined by the support group as qualifying as a terrorist organization."
– Nov. 14, 2015, at a press conference in Vienna 
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken: First, all of the neighbors – Syria’s neighbors in this case – are invited to the meeting in Vienna on Friday, so that includes Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran. And it’s evident that Iran, one way or another, is going to have to be part of the conversation on Syria’s future.  
Marc Perelman (France 24)But it was not part of that conversation because of its supposedly destructive role in Syria, and that hasn’t changed. 
Blinken: Well there are two things. President Obama has been very clear that he is willing to engage with anyone who is willing to try to work for a peaceful outcome in Syria. And as Secretary Kerry has said, Iran one way or another is going to be playing a role. Now unfortunately to date, it’s played a negative role in terms of its support for Bashar al-Assad, in terms of its proxy, Hezbollah, which is helping to prop up the regime. So one of the big questions will be whether Iran is prepared to play a positive role in supporting a political transition. We don’t know the answer to that.  
Perelman: The political transition – you mentioned it. If you talk to Russia, if you talk to Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s two main backers, you’re effectively talking to or with him. This means there is no precondition that he must leave power to discuss. He will be part of a transition, he does not need to leave now.  
Blinken: Our position, and I think the position of most of our partners, is pretty clear. 
Perelman: No, it’s not. 
Blinken: Well we’ll see. And Vienna will help to clarify that as well. There is no future for Syria as a stable, secular, democratic, peaceful country with Assad as president. So any political transition must result in his departure among other things. The question is how exactly to define that process. That’s exactly what we’re working on. But there’s something new here, and that is Russia’s role. …
Perelman: From your conversations with the Russians, are they telling you that they can convince Assad to an acceptable transition – that he would leave power in one year, two years – is this what they’re telling you and is this why you’re trusting them to hold those conversations? 
Blinken: Well we’re at the beginning of this process.  
Perelman: But you’ve had talks. 
Blinken: We’ve had talks but the critical next step will be this meeting in Vienna. This is not going to be resolved in one meeting, or two meetings, or three meetings. But it is the beginning of an intensified process to see if we can get to a political transition process. That’s exactly what we’re working on. I can’t give you the answer now, we don’t know yet. But I think it’s fair to say that no one is wedded to Bashar al-Assad –  
Perelman: Including the Russians? 
Blinken: Well I think you’d have to ask them directly.  
Perelman: And the Iranians? 
Blinken: You’d have to ask them. But we’ll have an opportunity as a result of these conversations and discussions to test those propositions.  
Perelman: Are the Saudis on board with the Iranians being part of that? 
Blinken: Yes.  
Perelman: You know there are serious tensions between the countries…? 
Blinken: Yes. Yes. The answer’s yes.  
Perelman: So you think now the stars are aligned to maybe really find a political solution in the not so distant future in Syria? 
Blinken: Well they’re more aligned than they’ve been. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll get there. But it does mean that there’s a greater opportunity and I think it’s because there’s a growing recognition on the part of all sides that there is no military solution in Syria. And that’s a recognition that’s now growing on the Russians. We’ve known it for a long time. They’re now experiencing it. They cannot win in Syria. They can perhaps prevent Assad from losing, but they can’t win. And meanwhile, they will be bled and their influence will be eroded, and their reputation will be eroded.  

—Oct. 28, 2015 in an interview with France 24

State Department Counselor Tom Shannon
“The secretary thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff, determine whether or not ... their public commitment to fighting [Islamic State] and terrorism is a meaningful one and the extent to which they are prepared to work broadly with international community to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process he will have to go.”
—Oct. 29, 2015, to the press
State Department Spokesman John Kirby
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that [Iran is a key partner], but I just mean that you need key – as I said yesterday, there are many stakeholders in Syria and what’s going on. Iran, though we do not certainly by any means approve of the destabilizing activities that they continue to pursue in Syria, recognize that and always have recognize, that at some point in the discussion moving towards a political transition we have to have a conversion and a dialogue with Iran. And so I wouldn’t call them a partner necessarily. But obviously, there are many stakeholders in this, and so we do anticipate that Iran will be asked to participate. Now, whether they come or not, that’s up – that’s up to Iranian leaders.
[T]he goal is to come up with a framework – an agreed-upon, international, multilateral framework – for a successful political transition in Syria, which is – leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad and is – that is representative of and response to the Syrian people. That’s the overarching goal.
And as I said yesterday, that’s a difficult task, certainly given the ongoing violence that we’re seeing in Syria and all the different perspectives that many partners and participants in these meetings have and espouse. We understand that. So I can’t tell you exactly what the outcome of the meetings on Friday are going to be or if they’re – it’s the last chapter. I rather doubt that. I think there will be – there’ll continue to be more such discussions with varying degrees of participation internationally. So we just have to see.
But coming out of this last trip to Vienna, the Secretary felt optimistic that enough progress was being made towards laying down the foundation of what a political transition could look like that he felt it was really important to continue that momentum. And that’s what this next meeting in Vienna hopefully will do, will build on this momentum."
—Oct. 28, 2015 in a press briefing
White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest
"To exclude Iran and Russia from these conversations would be a missed opportunity."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“There has been no prerequisite for Iran's presence in the Vienna conference; if it were so we would never take part in the meeting.”
—Oct. 29, 2015 to the press in Vienna
"Those who tried to resolve the Syria crisis have come to the conclusion that without Iran being present, there is no way to reach a reasonable solution to the crisis."
—Oct. 29, 2015 to the press in Vienna
Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian
"Iran disagrees with those who say Bashar Assad should not compete in the upcoming elections.”
 – Nov. 16, 2015, according to the press

 “It is the Syrian people that should make a decision whether to elect him [Assad] or not.”
– Nov. 16, 2015, according to the press

“Some participants insisted that if the envisaged trend goes well in a six-month period, Bashar Assad should not contest the upcoming elections.”
“In response, we stressed unequivocally that only Assad himself can decide on his participation or non-participation in the elections and [that] it is only the people of Syria who can say whether they will vote for him or not.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran did not allow a clause on the ouster of President Assad to be included in the final statement of the Vienna-III talks; we emphasized that only the Syrian people enjoy the right to decide about this matter.”
– Nov. 15, 2015, according to the press
"Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever."
—Oct. 30, 2015, according to the press
"There is no change in the Islamic Republic of Iran's supportive policy for Syria."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
"The Saudi regime with its all-out support for the ISIL and its terrorist acts in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as well as numerous crimes, including its attacks on hospitals, schools and people's homes, is a war criminal and its presence in the Vienna multilateral talks is, thus, suspicious and illegitimate."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
United Kingdom
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

“Our discussions in Vienna have been constructive, and there is now momentum behind a process working towards peace for the people of Syria.
“We have agreed to work towards a ceasefire, and to chart a course that will see the Syrian people take charge of their own destiny. The UK remains opposed to Bashar al-Assad playing any part in the future of Syria.
“The terrible attacks in Paris have shown us that a united and strong response to solving the civil war in Syria is needed urgently, to ensure everyone is committed to combating the barbaric threat that ISIL and its followers pose.”
– Nov. 14, 2015, in a statement
European Union

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini



Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
"We have reiterated the principles that we have achieved on the 30th of October in Vienna, what the stakeholders see as the Syrian future. We have reiterated that Syrian future will be decided by Syrian people alone. This regards also the destiny of Mr. Assad and any other politician in this country.
"The last time when we met on the 30th of October in Vienna, we decided to do our homework on two areas. The first point is political process and acceleration of the beginning of this process. We have concluded some specific steps that we’re tasking our UN colleagues and Mr. de Mistura with, that is, to gather the opposition and the government no later than the 1st of January. The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic has already informed Mr. de Mistura on the composition of their delegation. And today, Mr. de Mistura has the task to find the composition of the Syrian opposition delegation, which should be representative and reflect the whole spectrum of political forces.
"One and a half year ago, efforts were taken to unify the opposition by our Egyptian colleagues. We also conducted some meetings in Moscow. And today, other representatives of the Syrian Support Group made the initiative to help Mr. de Mistura gather around an opposition delegation. And we welcome the efforts and will help in every way possible to gather the opposition and the government around the negotiation table.
"As John has said, this will be a Syrian-led process and the Syrians will decide which country they will live in. At the same time, we have outlined as a timetable two occasions. The first point is that within six months the Syrian delegations should decide on the joint opposition, the so-called unity government. And then the Syrian people should decide on the – a new constitution, and according to this new constitution the elections will take place, and all this within 18 months.
"That falls within the logic of the Geneva communique of the 30th of June, 2012, where it is stated that Syrians should decide on all the political reforms according to the mutual consent principle. Right after the Geneva communique was adopted, we tried to launch such a political process, but there were a lot of opponents at that point who said that external players – who said that Syrian cannot – the Syrians cannot agree between themselves so the mutual consent is impossible. We used to retort that we should at least try; and today, today I am happy to say that we managed today to at least start launching this political process.
"And the second point of homework which we agreed upon on the 30th of October is trying to find a unified, common list of terrorist organizations. We have mutual agreements, as John has said, that ISIS and al-Nusrah Front are terrorist organizations, but other terrorist groups should also become the legitimate goal that we should fight together with.
"Since the 30th of October, many participants of this group have drafted their own terrorist lists. And today, we have asked Jordan to coordinate the common list of terrorist groups which would be agreed upon in the UN Security Council. Russia would actively participate in this process. In the capital of Jordan, Amman, we have launched an information center also to fight terrorism and will try to do that.
"We all want to stop violence in Syria and the majority of delegations today were for an immediate ceasefire; but unfortunately, not all of them were prepared for that. That is why today we reiterated our commitment to create conditions for a ceasefire and will continue to work in the political vein. And we have acquired information today from the UN secretary general that he has already tasked UN to plan the monitoring mission. We’re prepared to work on that.
"We decided to accelerate efforts on humanitarian assistance, to accelerate efforts on access to those in need, and all that within the context of political process and to find agreements between those in the field. I mean governments and the armed groups, opposition groups, which are not terrorists.
"Overall, I am satisfied that the International Group for Syrian Support has taken place. We are grateful to our colleagues for supporting our proposal to let the secretary general of the League of Arab States to take part in our group, and he has already done that today. And we also managed to make headway on our linked proposal to include the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also to take part in this group.
"I find this fundamentally important because many tried to speculate on the Syrian conflict and tried to incite hatred among the Muslims. That is why I am convinced that the participation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will provide consolidation efforts and to affect positively this conflict."
– Nov. 14, 2015, at a press conference in Vienna
Foreign Ministry
“The [two] sides [Iranian and Russian foreign ministers] continued discussion of possible ways of settling the Syrian crisis with a focus on urgent steps towards establishing an intra-Syrian political dialogue.”
“The two diplomats stressed that there is no alternative to promoting this process by all key countries of the region.”
—Oct. 28, 2015 via Russia Today
Saudi Arabia
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
“There will be a meeting on Friday of a broad group of countries supporting the Syrian opposition as a broader group of countries from the region will meet to discuss the intentions of these countries in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, the most important element of which is the time and means of Bashar al Assad's exit.”
“If they're [Iranians] serious we will know, and if they're not serious we will also know and stop wasting time with them.”

—Oct. 28, 2015 in a press conference  

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Martin Schaefer
“Iran's inclusion in the talks is the only and proper way to settle the Syrian crisis.”

—Oct. 29, 2015, to the press 



Photo credit: US Dept of State via Flickr Commons 

Tags: Syria

Iran Reacts to Paris Attacks

Iranian leaders condemned the ISIS attacks in Paris on November 13, but differed over who was primarily at fault. President Hassan Rouhani denounced the attacks as “anti-human crimes" and offered his condolences to "the mourning French nation." Other officials, such as judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani, blamed the United States and Europe for "exporting terrorists to the region."

Iranian media differed widely in their coverage. Reformist newspapers ran cartoons and headlines expressing solidarity. Cartoonist Hadi Heidari published a widely distributed illustration in support of France, although he was reportedly arrested on November 16.
Many conservative newspapers, however, connected the attacks with the West's policies and intervention in the Middle East. A headline in Kayhan, a hardline newspaper, claimed, "ISIS's rabid dog bites its master." The following is a rundown of comments by Iranian leaders and newspapers.

Iranian Officials

President Hassan Rouhani

“Terrorist attacks, which killed and wounded a lot of innocent people in Paris, caused great sorrow and grief. I, on behalf of the great Iranian nation which has been a victim of scourge of terrorism, strongly condemn the anti-human crimes and condole the mourning French nation and government. Without a doubt, the most important message following these kinds of incidents is more serious resolve and determination in all-out combat against terrorist groups.”
– Nov. 14, 2015, in a message to French President Francois Hollande  
“Islam is the religion of peace and opposed to any act of terrorism. The terrorists’ attempts at contributing their atrocities to Islam is nothing but a big lie.”
“ISIL terrorists by carrying out this extremely shocking, brutal and despicable attack, have challenged all countries to battle, therefore a global unity for fighting ISIL is imperative.”
“We, as a country victimized by the scourge of terrorism, announce that we are ready to take any measures against terrorists in any part of the world.”
– Nov. 17, 2015, in a phone call with Hollande
“We hope that a group of countries trying to promote their objectives through instrumental use of terrorism, will be aware of the dangers of such a move.”
“Civilization and chronology of relations between the two great nations of Iran and France tell us with a loud voice that we should expand common relations in all fields.”
“Attacks of Daesh terrorists were like attack on all humanity and we should fight them in Syria and Iraq in a united and coordinated manner.” 
– Nov. 17, 2015, in a phone call with Hollande
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
"The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns, in the strongest terms, the terrorist attacks, atrocities against the people of France. We sympathise and express our solidarity with the government and the people of France in this moment of sorrow as they face the scourge of terrorism, which is a global scourge. It requires a global response. We have always stated that we need to forge an international consensus, international unity in dealing with this very dangerous phenomenon."
– Nov. 14, 2015, according to the press
“The Paris incidents once again demonstrated that terrorism and extremism are international threats and battling them requires concerted global cooperation.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will be seriously active in this field [counterterrorism].”
– Nov. 14, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian

"Certain regional and trans-regional states helped the ISIL to be born. We had warned that those countries which support the ISIL should know that these insecurities would spread to their countries too.”
"We cannot say explicitly that which country has played a role in the formation of the ISIL but (we can say that) ignoring those warnings ended in such consequences.”
– Nov. 16, 2015, according to the press

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani

"I extend condolences, on behalf of myself and the Iranian parliament, to the French nation, parliament and government, over these inhuman crimes that run counter to human principles crimes and wish the recovery of those affected by this incident and hope that we will witness restoration of tranquility and security for the nations through the international community's serious determination to fight terrorism."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has always underlined the need for a common solution by all countries and nations for fighting terrorist actions expressing hatred and condemns these terrorist acts in any form and in any region."
– Nov. 14, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari

“Those terrorist groups that committed the Paris crimes do not believe in ethical principles, and they are not loyal to any type of divine religions including Islam.”
– Nov. 14, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri

"The French people paid the price for their government's support for the ISIL and the Takfiri terrorism."
"The Paris and Beirut blasts are the two sides of the same coin and the international community expects the supporters of Takfiri terrorists, specially the US, France and other western governments, to give up their discriminatory approach and behavior and adopt a common and united position on these crimes."
– Nov. 14, 2015, according to the press
“The deadly terror attacks in Paris showed that if the French government and other Western and regional supporters of Takfiri terrorism had the necessary wisdom and foresight, they would have predicted the occurrence of such crimes in the heart of Europe.”
“Since the first months after the terrorist attacks were carried out by ISIL in Syria and neighboring countries, we repeatedly warned the European community that the scourge of terrorism would also catch up with them, and asked their people to pressure their governments into withdrawing their support for terrorists in the region.”
"If the West continues to support Takfiri terrorism, soon it will have to expect emergency situations in other parts of Europe.”
– Nov. 15, 2015, according to the press
Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani

“The US statesmen should not only be reprimanded but they should stand trial for supporting terrorist groups and creating Daesh."
“Europeans and Americans must stop exporting terrorists to the region."
– Nov. 16, 2015, according to the press
“Their [Daesh’s] recent mass killing of innocent citizens in Paris following Beirut and Yemen is despicable; however, the main question is still going unanswered that who fostered ISIL and what conditions and environment gave rise to the terrorist group, to which the US and countries supporting ISIL should provide responses.”
“The western countries and some of their regional allies fill the political gap in some countries including Iraq in search of their interests, which led them to speak of disintegration of Iraq; West and the regional supporters of terrorism, which are reactionary as well and rule with iron fists in their fellow countries, depriving the multitudes of people of their freedom, have actively supported Al-Qaeda and ISIL.”
“…the EU heads of countries supporting ISIL should know that now ISIL is spiraling out of control and reports had said the European youth have been under the influence of the ISIL, which even if only a fraction, would prove disastrous.”
– Nov. 16, 2015, in a meeting with judiciary officials
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi
“Of course, the recent bombings are a serious warning to us that needs the consideration of experts.
“The main priorities of the Intelligence Ministry are the provision of the country’s security and confronting the Takfiri movement.”
—Nov. 15, 2015 at a security conference in Tehran
Expediency Council Chairman and Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
“One of the grave mistakes of the West was that for a long time they merely focused on Iran while terrorists were growing up among Salafis or even in European countries or among other religions and now have emerged in the form of al Qaeda, Daesh and the likes.
“If the world seeks to avoid such insecurity challenges, it should adopt a national and international determination to deal with extremism.”
—Nov. 17, 2015 in an address at the University of Technical and Vocational Training
Lieutenant Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Hossein Salami
“Europe's security system has collapsed and the entire Europe is now in a security shock which shows that their deceptions have backfired.”
—Nov. 18, 2015, according to Fars News Agency
Supreme Leader's Deputy Chief of Office for International Affairs Ayatollah Mohsen Qomi 
“The West was punished by the incident in France for its unreasonable supports for these terrorist groups and it is clear that we are not pleased with the killing of innocent people but these conditions are the result of the West-created plights in the Middle-East.”
—Nov. 18, 2015, according to Fars News Agency 
Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gholam-Hossein Dehqani

“On behalf of the Member States of the Non- Aligned Movement, I would like to express the Movement’s sympathy with the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks committed by the terrorist group of Daesh (ISIL) during the last ten days in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. The Movement strongly condemns those terrorist attacks and extends its condolences to the governments and peoples of France, Lebanon and Iraq. Those terrorist attacks once again proved that the terrorism and violent extremism are global threats, and combating them requires global cooperation.”
– Nov. 16, 2015, in a statement
First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri
“The voice of humanity should rise against terrorism in every part of the world; the international reaction to the killing of people in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon should be as strong as its opposition to the incidents in Paris or other parts where innocent people are victimized.”
– Nov. 15, 2015, according to the press
Army Commander Major General Ataollah Salehi
“Today terrorism has emerged in the region under different names of al-Qaeda, Taliban, Somali pirates and the ISIL and we should be aware of it.
“The West is the culprit behind the spread of corruption and terrorism and the western officials should know that they are nourishing a viper in their bosoms.”
—Nov. 18, 2015, to reporters
Member of Parliament Esmail Kowsari
Iranian Media
Reformist Newspapers
Hardline Newspapers


Report: Little Progress on Internet Freedom

Iran is the world’s second most censored country, according to Freedom House’s 2015 “Freedom on The Net” report. Iran scored 87 on the study’s index (100 being the worst), tying with Syria and falling just behind China. Although President Hassan Rouhani has made some progress pushing through reforms, such as expanding 3G services, “major improvements to civil liberties remain blocked by the supreme leader and the country’s conservative establishment.” The following are excerpts from the report.
Key Developments: June 2014 - May 2015

  • The ICT ministry’s budget reached its highest level in history, reflecting increasing investments in both internet infrastructure and censorship tools (see Availability and Ease of Access).
  • An exclusive 3G contract issued to mobile operator RighTel was not renewed, thereby opening up licensing to all operators in a move that was not welcomed by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace and hardliners, who regard mobile internet as “un-Islamic” (see Regulatory Bodies).
  • While the administration of President Hassan Rouhani did not fulfill campaign promises to unblock popular social media platforms, the government managed to change content blocking procedures to give government ministers more say over hardliners appointed by the Supreme Leader. This enabled the ICT ministry to push back against attempts to block chatting apps WhatsApp and Viber (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • Several news sites were blocked throughout the year for publishing news on corruption or images of former political leaders that have fallen out of favor with the Supreme Leader (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • In August 2014, Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani was arrested on charges of insulting state officials and spreading propaganda for posting an image of a parliamentary vote on reproductive rights. She was released in December, only to be rearrested one month later after uploading a video describing the abuse she faced at the hands of prison guards. She was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison in August 2015 (see Prosecutions and Detentions).
  • In July and August 2014, authorities prevented an estimated 75 percent of users from connecting to Tor, an anonymous web-browsing tool used to evade censorship and surveillance (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).
Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013 promising to improve the lives of Iranians and ease restrictions on the use of the internet. The promises were particularly well received by Iranians, who during the final 18 months of former president Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s term saw conditions for internet freedom worsen. Upon the start of his presidency, the Rouhani administration increased the budget for SHOMA, Iran’s “national information network,” which aims to improve connectivity in Iran, while also enhancing the authorities’ ability to control the network and monitor citizens’ online activities. In a positive development, the Rouhani government made 3G licenses available to all mobile operators, creating the potential to diversify the market and increase access.
Rouhani’s administration has faced stiff resistance from hardliners demanding the maintenance of speed restrictions to prevent “un-Islamic behavior” and the filtering of messaging services such as WhatsApp and Viber. While Rouhani’s administration has successfully resisted some demands, many limits on content remain in place, and violations of user rights continue. In one case from July 2014, 8 Facebook activists were sentenced to a combined 127 years in prison for anti-government posts. In general, internet policy remains a contested space in Iran, with the hardliners viewing the internet as a threat to national security and favoring a “security-first” approach. . Internet policy in Iran will continue to be shaped by differing state bodies, but like many other aspects of policymaking in Iran, the sector is ultimately controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Despite these limitations, the internet remains the only viable means for Iranian citizens and dissenters to obtain news and organize themselves. Savvy users employ virtual private networks (VPNs) or other circumvention tools to access blocked content, turning to new services if existing ones are blocked by the authorities. This cat-and-mouse game largely continued over the past year.
Obstacles to Access
Most improvements to internet freedom that have come under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani relate to access and the ICT market. The ICT ministry’s budget reached its highest level in history, reflecting increasing investments in both internet infrastructure and censorship tools. National bandwidth increased by 2.5 times over the past year. The ICT ministry did not renew an exclusive 3G contract issued to mobile operator RighTel, thereby opening up licensing to all operators in a move that was not welcomed by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) and hardliners, who regard internet-enabled mobile phones as “un-Islamic.”
Limits on Content
Significant limits on content remain in place. While the administration of President Hassan Rouhani has not fulfilled campaign promises to unblock popular social media platforms, the government has succeeded in changing procedures behind the blocking of content to give government ministers more say over hardliners appointed by the Supreme Leader. In another positive move, the ICT ministry successfully pushed back against attempts to block chatting apps WhatsApp and Viber. Nonetheless, several news sites were blocked throughout the year for publishing news on corruption or images of former political leaders that have fallen out of favor with the Supreme Leader. The high level of self-censorship and the blocking of social media continued to stymie any significant digital activism.
Violations of User Rights
An undemocratic legal environment, harsh prison sentences, and rampant surveillance impede the rights of internet users in Iran. Several individuals were imprisoned for nonviolent speech that met the ire of authorities. Cartoonist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to more than 12 years for a YouTube video, eight young Facebook users received a combined 127 years for, and tech bloggers were handed 11 years each. At the same time, authorities have made it more difficult to evade censorship and surveillance by restricting access to popular circumvention tools.
Click here to read the full report.

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