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Anti-Americanism Grows in Iran — Again

Garrett Nada

The nuclear deal, announced in July, has not changed the anti-American rhetoric in Iran. Indeed, the pace of vitriol has noticeably increased. “US officials seek negotiation with #Iran; negotiation is means of infiltration and imposition of their wills,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in September, captured in a string of tweets on his English-language account 

Hardliners in Parliament have also taken a tough stand. On November 2, 192 out of 290 lawmakers signed a letter vowing not to abandon the slogan “Death to America (also translated as “Down with the USA”),” first popularized after the United States took in the ailing shah, in 1979. The U.S. decision led students to seize the American embassy and more than 50 hostages. On the 36th anniversary of the takeover, in 2015, the hardliners declared, “The honorable nation of Iran will under no circumstances be willing to put aside the ‘Death to America’ slogan because of the agreement on the nuclear issue; a slogan that has become a symbol of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the entirety of struggling nations have held Islamic Iran as a model for their own fight.” 

The former U.S. Embassy in Tehran is a focal point of anti-U.S. demonstrations. Iran also still holds mass rallies on the November 4 anniversary of the takeover. It even has a committee – complete with logo – charged with choreographing the events in front of the old embassy compound and televised nationally. 
In September, a branch of Revolutionary Guards, which controls the embassy, unveiled an enormous plaque quoting 100 anti-U.S. epithets by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He called the United States an “infidel,” “oppressor,” “colonizer,” “criminal,” and “bully.” It was widely noted by Iranians on social media.
The conflicting signals out of Tehran reflect a wider debate over the nature of Iran’s relationship with the United States. Hardliners have been particularly aggressive against their own government officials for contact with the United States since the nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s brief handshake with President Obama at the United Nations in September caused a firestorm. In an Instagram post, lawmaker Hamid Rasaee likened the encounter to embracing Satan (see below). The text reads, “Mr. Zarif! Did you sign the nuclear deal with the same hand?”
As the final arbitrator on all issues, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s comments have been particularly striking.
In a July 18 sermon, Khamenei chastised a string of U.S. presidents. “From the beginning of the Revolution until today, five other U.S. presidents died or were lost in history dreaming that they would force the Islamic Republic to surrender. You too will enjoy the same fate,” he said, apparently referring to President Obama. “You too will never achieve the dream.”
In November, the supreme leader’s office released the following video clip, “Satan’s Confessions,” which was based on the sermon.   
The supreme leader also has counseled against further diplomacy with the United States. Despite the end of sanctions, he warned in November for Iranians to “seriously avoid importing consumer goods from the United States." He also cautioned against getting sucked into the U.S. agenda in the Middle East. “U.S. goals in the region are diametrically opposed to Iran’s goals. Negotiation with the U.S. on the region is pointless,” he said in a speech, on November 1. On November 3, Khamenei said that the “Down with the USA” slogan still has strong support in Iran and does not mean death to the American nation, but rather “death to American policies” and “death to Arrogance.” He also warned that Washington has attempted to “beautify” its image and “pretend” that it is no longer hostile to Iran. The United States “will not hesitate” to destroy Iran if given the chance, he said.   

President Rouhani has taken a softer line. In an interview with CBS, he said the “Death to America” chant “is not a slogan against the American people.” He said it was a reaction to longstanding U.S. support for the shah as well as Saddam Hussein during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. “People will not forget these things. We cannot forget the past, but at the same time our gaze must be towards the future,” Rouhani said. He acknowledged the potential for future talks. “Many areas exist where in those areas it's possible that common goals, or common interests, may exist,” he told CBS. Hardliners have been concerned that the Islamic revolution will be compromised by Rouhani’s willingness to engage with the United States again. 


Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.


Click here to see pictures of the November 4 rallies.  


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Photo credit: Hassan Rouhani by Robin Wright 



Iran’s Growing Toll in Syria

Garrett Nada

Iran’s involvement in Syria is growing. So is the Iranian death toll.
For decades, the Islamic Republic has been a pivotal ally of the Assad dynasty and a source of arms, military advisers, and billions in financial aid. But it stepped up support after the uprising began in 2011. It helped create the National Defense Forces, a group of some 80,000 Alawites, Shiites and regime loyalists who bolster the Syrian army. In 2013, Tehran reported the first deaths in Syria. Iran’s support for the regime of President Bashar al Assad became even more critical to the regime’s survival after the 2014 rise of ISIS. By 2015, Iran was losing senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commanders deployed to aid Syrian government troops. In October, two generals, as well as several other Iranian troops, were killed. At least eight have been killed since 2013.
The presence of Iran and its allies, such as Hezbollah, has helped tip the military balance. “I think the balance of forces right now are in Assad’s advantage,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in October. He estimated that there were less than 2,000 Iranians operating in Syria and more than 1,000 in Iraq.
Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani is the best known IRGC officer to be killed. He was a hero of the Iran-Iraq war. He was held in such high esteem that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid a visit to his grieving family. Iran claimed that he was killed by ISIS on October 8. Brigadier General Reza Khavari, a senior IRGC commander of the Fatemiyoun Division, was killed in Hama province, in central Syria, on October 22. A bodyguard to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also killed in October. In April, Major General Hadi Kajbaf was killed near a rebel-held town south of Damascus.
Iran has repeatedly claimed that only a small number of troops are in Syria—and only in an advisory role. Iranian media reported that they are helping devise strategy against “takfiri” forces, referring to al Qaeda affiliates, the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist Sunni groups challenging the Damascus government. (Takfiri is a name for Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy).
“We do not have a direct role in the fighting,” Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Reza Shaybani, told The Guardian in September. In October, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker, “We haven’t changed the nature of our presence in Syria. It continues to be military advisers, and no more.”
But in early October 2015, Lebanese sources claimed that hundreds of Iranian troops entered Syrian in preparation for a major ground offensive. In mid-October, Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC commander of the elite Qods Force, was seen touring the front lines as pro-government forces amassed for a major campaign in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The Syrian army was bolstered by hundreds of troops from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Iran as well as Russian air power, according to Reuters.
Iran has also organized militiamen from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries to aid Syrian government troops. Between January 2013 and August 2015, funerals had been held for some 121 Afghan nationals and 20 Pakistani nationals who died fighting in Syria, according to Iran expert Ali Alfoneh. More have reportedly died since then. The Fatemiyoun military division, composed of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Syria, is reportedly the second largest foreign military force fighting for the regime, after the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.   
Iran has cultural as well as strategic interests in Syria, which is home to some 50 Shiite shrines and holy places. They have been sites of Iranian pilgrimages for centuries. Iran has committed to defending Shiite holy places from Sunni extremists. It called for volunteers to protect shrines in May 2013, after Sunni rebels reportedly ransacked the Damascus shrine of Hojr Ibn Oday, who was revered in early Shiite history. 
Iran is particularly attached to the Sayyidah Zaynab Shrine, near Damascus, another hallowed site for Shiites. Iranians have volunteered to protect the gold-domed structure, which houses the remains of Zaynab, who was the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and daughter of Ali, the fourth leader of the early Islamic empire. Shiite literally means “follower of Ali.” In June, Iranian state media noted that 400 volunteers or “martyred defenders” of the shrine had been killed.
The following is a rundown of some of the higher ranking Iranians and IRGC members who have been killed in Syria.
Nov. 16, 2015: First Lieutenant Imam Khazaeinejad was reportedly killed “in combat with ISIS.”
Nov. 9, 2015:  IRGC Major Mohammad Tahan from the Ghaem al Mohammad unit was reportedly killed. IRGC Commander Major General Ali Jafari wrote a letter of condolence to his family.
Nov. 9, 2015:  Major Mousa Jamshidian was reportedly killed. He was in the IRGC 8th Najaf Ashraf Armored Division. 
Nov. 3, 2015: Colonel Ezzatollah Soleimani was killed in Aleppo. Prior to his deployment to Syria, he was commander of the Hazrat Bani Hashem Brigade 44. Seyed Ali Hosseini Alemi from the Fatemiyoun Division and Captain Seyed Sajjad Hosseini from the Khordad 15 Artillery Division were also killed in Aleppo province.  
Oct. 25, 2015: IRGC Third Lieutenant Mohammad Zahiri was reportedly killed near Aleppo.
Oct. 24, 2015: IRGC member Milad Mostafavi was reportedly killed in Aleppo fighting ISIS.
Oct. 23, 2015: IRGC members Mostafa Sadrzadeh was reportedly killed in Aleppo fighting ISIS. Sajjad Tahernia and Ruhollah Emadi were killed near Aleppo.
Oct. 22, 2015: Brigadier General Reza Khavari, a senior IRGC commander of the Fatemiyoun Division was killed in Hama province, which is in central Syria. Mohammad Estehkami Jahromi, from the IRGC’s 33th Airborne Special Forces Brigade, was also killed.
Oct. 19, 2015: Basij force commander Nader Hamid reportedly died from his wounds several days after a clash with rebels in Quneitra province. Mehdi Alidoust, a member of the IRGC 17th Ali Ibn Abu Taleb Division, was killed
Oct. 17, 2015: IRGC commander Muslim Kheizab is reportedly killed while on an advisory mission in Syria.
Mid-October 2015: Abdollah Baqeri Niyaraki, an IRGC commander and who previously served as a bodyguard of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was killed defending a religious site near Aleppo with Amin Karimi.
Oct. 13, 2015: Colonel Farshad Hasounizadeh, the former commander of IRGC's Saberin Special Brigade, and Hajj Hamid Mohktar-band, the former commander of IRGC Hazrat Hojjat 1 Brigade, was killed in southern Syria.
Oct. 8, 2015: A top IRGC commander, Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, was killed during an attack by ISIS near Aleppo.
Late August 2015: Ahmad Hayari, commander of the Shoush Basij Imam Hossein Brigade, was killed in Latakia, an Assad regime stronghold in northwest Syria. 
July 11, 2015: IRGC Colonel Qassem Gharib and Colonel Abduk Karim Ghavabish were killed in Syria. 
April 2015: IRGC Major General, Hadi Kajbaf, was killed near a rebel-held town south of Damascus along with three other Iranians, including a mid-ranking Shiite cleric.
Jan. 18, 2015: IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Oct. 9, 2014: IRGC Brigadier General Jabbar Darisavi was killed near Aleppo.
May 26, 2014: Abdollah Eskandari, a retired senior IRGC Brigadier General, was killed while fighting south of Damascus, according to Iran’s defense ministry.
November 2013: IRGC Commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh was killed in Syria.
Oct. 31, 2013: Western media outlets aired video footage of IRGC members engaged in combat. 

August 2013: IRGC Brigadier General Esmail Haydari was killed in Syria.
Feb. 12, 2013: IRGC Brigadier General Hassan Shateri was killed while traveling from Damascus to Beirut.
Jan. 28, 2013: Ali Asgari Taqanaki, a Qods Force operative, was killed in Damascus. It was the earliest record of an Iran national to die in combat, according to Ali Alfoneh.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.
Photo credits: Zaynab Shrine via Wikimedia Commons [public domain];   



Tags: IRGC, Syria

Heated Debate in Iran on Nuclear Deal

Garrett Nada

The debate over the nuclear deal is heating up in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has been trying to sell the agreement since it was announced on July 14. But hardliners' criticism of the deal is mounting.
Part of the debate is over whether or not the agreement and its accompanying U.N. Security Council resolution have crossed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s guidelines. “Some parts of the [U.N. resolution] draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic's red lines, especially in Iran's military capabilities,” said Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards commander, on July 20.
Supreme Leader Khamenei has expressed serious skepticism about the intentions of the West, especially the United States. He has vowed that the deal will not open Iran to American influence. Khamenei, however, has not explicitly declared support for or opposition to the deal.
Powerful officials, especially in the military and parliament, have argued that the deal does not further Iran’s national interests.
Khamenei’s foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, said that the deal is not free of weak points. Yet in a televised exchange with a news anchor critical of the deal, Velayati defended Iran’s negotiating team. “Whatever I say about the deal won’t convince you … I don’t want to argue with you… If there is something that hasn't been achieved, definitely they [negotiators] could not have done more.”
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also defended the negotiating team. “There are those who claim that the [Rouhani] administration wanted to give the chalice of poison to our supreme leader. This is not criticism. This is an accusation, and it is destructive,” he told Etemad newspaper on August 26. “Whatever was achieved during the negotiations is the result of work by the supreme leader, the government and the negotiators.”
Among hardliners, Hossein Shariatmadari argued that the supreme leader’s position was clear. “One can definitely say that the supreme leader is not, by any means, satisfied with the text of the deal,” the editor of the hardline paper Kayhan wrote in an August 15 editorial. In the past, Shariatmadari has been regarded as the unofficial mouthpiece of the supreme leader’s office.
The editorial sparked a whole separate debate over who speaks for Khamenei. In a reflection of divisions among hardliners, Shariatmadari’s comment, prompted a swift retort from Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, the IRGC media advisor. “How come a revolutionary brother like you is insisting on instilling in his audience a feeling that the supreme leader’s line of thinking is like his?” Moghaddam-Far wrote in an Entekhab op-ed on August 16. (It was translated by Iran Front Page.) “Don’t you think it would be better if you expressed your own views, rather than talk on behalf of the supreme leader?”
Other top revolutionary names have also come under fire during the internal debate. Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, who was the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy hostage-takers, has (ironically) supported the nuclear agreement. “Everyone is going to benefit more or less [from the diplomacy],” she told BBC reporter Kim Ghattas in August. But Ebtekar added that the deal has given reformists “a lot of leverage among the Iranian political groups.”
A front-page article in the hardline newspaper Vatan Emrooz then attacked Ebtekar for her “partisan sentiment.” It also warned about possible U.S. attempts to influence Iran’s domestic politics through the nuclear deal.
The following is a sampling of remarks by supporters and critics of the deal in Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “is an unprecedented event in the history of the Islamic republic of Iran. Iran's goal was to attain its legal right to enrich uranium and today, the UNSC has explicitly accepted this."
"We were in a [football] field where our diplomats were on one side, and on the other, the six world powers were present. In this competition, the referee favored the other side; we won this competition."
—July 22, 2015, in a cabinet meeting
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“This is definitely a trade-off, and no one would claim a maximal gain for Iran in the JCPOA. However, the major issues of concern for Iran had been well-balanced vis-à-vis the Western demands, which is first to retain the enrichment right and second removal of sanctions, which will not be without its own consequences.”
—Aug. 8, 2015 in an address to Parliament’s Joint Budget Commission as reported by Khorosan
The nuclear deal is a “national achievement” that should lead to growth in production and prosperity in the cultural, defense and science fields.
—July 23, 2015 according to IRIB News
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iran achieved its goals of “maintaining Iran’s dignity and might, establishing the nuclear program [of the country], enrichment and retaining the heavy-water reactor.”
“For 12 years, great powers have tried to prevent an Iranian nuclear program. But today they should tolerate thousands of centrifuges spinning, plus the continuation of research and development. This shows our power.”
—July 21, 2015, in remarks to parliament via Iran Front Page and The New York Times
Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar
“This is ultimately a step forward. This agreement is a step for the future of not only Iran and the region, but for peace at the global level.” 
“I think that there is this internal debate and you can hear these different voices - some criticizing the agreement, and some opposing it entirely.”
“But in general... the majority of the Iranian people view this as a successful step forward.”
—August 2015 in an interview with the BBC
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, chief nuclear negotiator
“I completely support this agreement, and honest to God, I believe we should celebrate [it].”
—Aug. 9, 2015 at a public event in Tehran via Al Monitor
Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
“The armed forces have the most concerns about the effect of the deal on Iran's defense capabilities... but this agreement and the U.N. Security Council resolution have many advantages that the critics ignore.”
—August 8, 2015 according to Fars News Agency via Times of Oman
Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani 
“The text of the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is such that it serves the interests of the Islamic Republic.” 
—August 20, 2015, according to PressTV
Revolutionary Guards Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari
“Some parts of the [U.N. resolution] draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic's red lines, especially in Iran's military capabilities… We will never accept it.”
—July 20, 2015 via Reuters
Kayhan Editor Hossein Shariatmadari
“Even by simply looking at the deal you can see some vital red lines of the Islamic Republic have not been preserved.”
—July 2015 in an editorial
Ibrahim Karkhaneh, a member of the parliamentary committee to review the nuclear deal
“The limitations [imposed on Iran] go beyond the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
—Aug. 1, 2015 according to Fars New Agency
Foad Izadi, University of Tehran professor
“People realize that Iran has given away a lot of things. The nuclear program has become a symbol of national pride – and people didn’t like that the agreement came at a great price.”
—July 2015 in an interview with The Telegraph
Hossein Nejabat, a member of the parliamentary committee to review the nuclear deal
“We will not allow any intrusion to our defense and military installations… There are points of contention in the agreement.”
—July 26, 2015 via Tasnim News
Commander of Iran's Basij Force Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi
“Any Iranian who reads the Vienna documents will hate the US 100 times more [than in the past].”
“All paragraphs of the resolution that the U.S. proposed to the U.N. Security Council are full of enmity towards Iran and show the U.S.’ deep grudge against the Iranian nation.”
“The U.S. needs the agreement merely to legalize the sanctions and continue pressure against Iran.”
—July 21, 2015, according to Fars News Agency

Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.


Iranian Lawmakers on Nuclear Deal

On August 19, Iran’s parliament selected 15 members for a panel that will review the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Two dozen law makers volunteered to serve on the panel; 15 were then elected by the full parliament. The group includes 13 conservatives.
In an interview with Alef news, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the nuclear deal is not a treaty, and therefore does not require Parliament’s ratification. “As a person who has taught law for quite some time, I have to tell you that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is, in fact, under the management and supervision of the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions, which has nullified the previous resolutions,” he said in the interview, which was published on August 21.
Another senior member of the negotiating team, Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi, also does not see a need for ratification. “The JCPOA’s nature is not like a protocol or an international treaty. The other parties [to the deal], namely the six countries that negotiated with Iran, are not going to ratify it. Thus, there is no need for its ratification by the parliament,” he said on August 26.
In September, Iran's top nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano would visit Iran. Shortly after, the chairman of the parliamentary commission, Ali Reza Zakani, asked Zarif in a letter to invite Amano to parliament to answer lawmakers’ questions.
On August 16, a petition signed by 201 out of 290 members of parliament called on the government to formally submit the deal for review. The following is a translation of the petition, as published by Entekhab News and translated by Iran Front Page, along with key remarks by the 15 lawmakers on the review panel.
Petition Signed by 201 Lawmakers
In line with our legal obligations, we, the deputies of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, who have signed this petition announce that:
1. We thank the nuclear negotiating team for its tireless efforts in the course of the talks.
2. Under Articles 77 and 125 of the Constitution, the review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action falls under the purview of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and requires cooperation from all relevant institutions.
3. The executive branch should immediately present the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in the form of a bill.
4. Any voluntary measures and implementation of the deal – be it temporary, permanent or conditional – would be illegal before the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and subsequent confirmation of the Guardian Council.
Members of the 15-member panel to review the deal
Alaeddin Boroujerdi (Tehran), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Chairman
“We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same.”
—Aug. 9, 2015 to al Alam TV via Tasnim News Agency
Ibrahim Karkhaneh (Hamedan) 
“The limitations [imposed on Iran] go beyond the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
—Aug. 1, 2015 according to Fars New Agency
Ismail Kowsari (Tehran), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member
“The JCPOA [the final nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is an international treaty. Therefore, Parliament must ratify it.”
—Aug. 2, 2015 in remarks via the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency  
Hossein Naghavi Hosseini (Varamin), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member
“Ever since news about a confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA was made public, US lawmakers have been seeking to learn about its content.”
“What is surprising is that Amano, who is the director general of an independent international agency, and not a US government secretary, is summoned to the US Senate and he accepts to show up.”
—Aug. 2, 2015 according to Fars News Agency via Iran Front Page
Hossein Nejabat (Tehran) 
“We will not allow any intrusion to our defense and military installations.” 
“There are points of contention in the agreement.”
—July 26, 2015 via Tasnim News
Alireza Zakani (Tehran), Chairman of the JCPOA Committee
“The Administration’s only option is to send the JCPOA as a bill.”
—Aug. 19, 2015 in an interview with Tasnim News Agency
Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard (Tehran), First Vice-Speaker
Vahid Ahmadi (Kangavar) 
Mansour Arani (Aran and Bigdel) 
Mehrdad Bazrpash (Tehran) 
Mansour Haghighatpour (Ardebil) 
Seyyed Mahmoud Nabavian (Tehran) 
Masoud Pezeshkian (Tabriz) 
Gholamreza Tajgardoun (Gachsaran) 
Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi (Kerman) 
Other lawmakers
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“We should understand that the current situation is a new era; the negotiations should not be scaled down to merely facile verbal give and take and without difficulty; this has been one of the most difficult negotiations in the history of Revolution; talks had been in constant frequenting between negotiation venue and Tehran to be discussed by authorities and get rechanneled into another module, and it was a two-way street.”
“What appears on paper reflects only one side of the difficulties inherent in the negotiations. The deal is the end of a period; however, it is the onset of an eventful era; it should not be assumed that the path after the deal will be without its own difficulties; current propaganda raised about Parchin is quite superficial, aiming at wielding impact on international decision-making, and a solution to domestic concerns inside the United States.”
“We should be aware that the post-deal era is a new untrodden path with new challenges; we should understand well the JCPOA document, and act out of honesty and good faith in explaining its provisions.”
“This is definitely a trade-off, and no one would claim a maximal gain for Iran in the JCPOA; however, the major issues of concern for Iran had been well-balanced vis-à-vis the Western demands, which is first to retain the enrichment right and second removal of sanctions, which will not be without its own consequences.”
—Aug. 8, 2015 in an address to Parliament’s Joint Budget Commission as reported by Khorosan
The nuclear deal is a “national achievement” that should lead to growth in production and prosperity in the cultural, defense and science fields.
—July 23, 2015 according to IRIB News


Photo credit: JCPOA committee members via Islamic Parliament of Iran website, Ali Larijani via ICANA and Islamic Parliament of Iran website,

Tensions in Iran over Nuclear Talks

Garrett Nada

After a closed-door briefing at parliament, on May 24, conservative lawmaker Mehdi Koochakzadeh accused Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of treason and ignoring Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s limits in the nuclear negotiations. Zarif said Koochakzadeh had no right to speak for the supreme leader. In a meeting with lawmakers three days later, Khamenei warned them against insulting ministers.


The face-to face-argument on the floor of parliament, however, reflected the wider debate in Iran over the nuclear talks. Some hardliners have repeatedly accused Zarif and his negotiating team of making too many concessions in talks with the world’s six major powers —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Khamenei has periodically stepped in when criticism of Iran’s negotiating team has become particularly caustic. In 2013, he had warned officials not to call the negotiators “compromisers.”
Despite Khamenei’s support for Zarif and his team, hardliner lawmakers have repeatedly criticized their conduct. For example, more than 100 lawmakers, students, academics and activists attended a conference in 2014 titled “We’re Worried” — advertised as “the great gathering of critics of a weak deal.”
Earlier in May, Iran’s negotiators were more optimistic about brokering an agreement by the end of June. But just before the latest round of talks began in Vienna on May 27, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said the self-imposed deadline might be extended. The following are recent excerpted remarks by Iranian officials on the nuclear talks.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“There are many solutions to the nuclear issue all of which rely on the domestic capacities and reinforcing [domestic] production.
“If we boost production and use domestic potentialities, this will not only solve internal problems, but also facilitate settlement of foreign issues such as the nuclear one.”
—May 27, 2015 in a speech to lawmakers 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“Time and again, members of the [Iranian] negotiating delegation and I have stressed that [we] will certainly not allow the Western side to make excessive demands in the nuclear negotiations.
“Definitely, the negotiating team feels obliged to abide by the [Islamic] establishment’s red lines in all issues in the nuclear talks.”
—May 22, 2015 in an interview
“The Americans have adopted a carrot-and-stick policy over the past 30 years. We promise to effectively and properly defend Iran’s nuclear achievements.”
—May 24, 2015 in a closed door session of parliament

“The Iranian negotiating team will definitely abide by the Leader’s views on all issues pertaining to the nuclear negotiations.”
—May 25, 2015 according to Press TV 
“The nuclear negotiations can yield results if the other side shows pragmatism.”
—May 26, 2015 in a meeting with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
“The deadline might be extended and the talks might continue after the June 30 [deadline]. We are not bound to a specific time. We want a good deal that covers our demands.”
“The talks are serious, complicated and detailed. The pace of talks is slow as we have entered final stages.”
“Some solutions have been proposed and we are working on them. For us, the principle of simultaneity is very important.
“The final text of the deal will be about 60 pages including 20 pages of the main text and five attachments.”
“This question [of timing and phasing] is still under discussion. We need a timetable to start implementing the measures that both sides have undertaken, and that may take some months. First of all, we have to wait for – something about two months – for the American Congress and probably Iranian Majlis to review the agreement and decide, and whenever the U.S. government, the European governments and the Iranian government express their readiness to start the implementation of the agreement, we [will] actually start doing what we are supposed to do. And that may take two months before we do anything because of these initiatives by the Congress and Majlis.
“So we have already two months of waiting and then we need a timetable that we are still working on that. We should do something, the other side should do something. We insist on the principal of simultaneity. Everything that both sides are supposed to do should be at the same time and simultaneous. Of course, we have some differences here – how to manage that, how to fix everything in a simultaneous way. We’re working on this timetable and this is one of our differences that we have still kept in brackets and we are trying to resolve that.
“It [the agreement] will still be based on the principal that all economic and financial sanctions should be removed at once.”
—May 27, 2015 to the press via Reuters and Press TV
“Removal of sanctions in the economic sector is being discussed so that the other side will remove the sanctions structures in a document and declare that if Iran acts upon its undertakings, they will remove the sanctions.”
—May 24, 2015 in a closed-door session of parliament
Chairman of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
“The Islamic Republic is on one side of the scale, and all the [world’s major] powers are on the other side, and we must pass through this crisis while maintaining our [nuclear] capabilities. We have passed a bill which sets the conditions for inspections; we have to save our shouting for America, not the Foreign Minister of Iran.”
—May 29, 2015 to Fars News
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“It is the duty of Parliament to support the nuclear [negotiation] team” but the “Additional Protocol [of the International Atomic Energy Agency] has to be approved by Parliament.”
—May 24, 2015 following the argument between Koochakzadeh and Zarif
Supreme Leader's Deputy Representative to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Asoudi
“Tehran's strategy is resistance, and we will make the U.S. bow to Iran by using this strategy.
“The enemy has always made use of threats in negotiations, and negotiation under the shadow of threat is meaningless.
—May 24, 2015 in a speech
Member of Parliament Mehdi Koochakzadeh
“Mr. Zarif considers himself to be at the center of the world, and yelled that ‘those who compromise our unity call me a traitor.’”
 “We were just reminding him about the Supreme Leader's instructions.”
—May 24, 2015 in an interview with Shargh Daily


Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.


U.S.-Iran Trade After Sanctions

Garrett Nada

A gradual lifting of sanctions on Iran could reopen the Middle East’s second largest economy (after Saudi Arabia) to U.S. and Western companies. Many European companies were active in Iran until 2010, but American companies have avoided doing business in the Islamic Republic for decades, either by choice or due to sanctions.
As negotiators from Iran and the world’s six major powers work to finalize a nuclear deal by June 30, businesses are investigating their prospects in Iran. An agreement that lifts even some sanctions might, over time, allow American firms access to a consumer-rich market.
Iran’s population, at about 80 million, is the third-largest in the region, after Turkey’s 81 million and Egypt’s 86 million. Its consumer base is also young and well-educated. And the middle class has had a taste for U.S. goods dating back to the days of the Shah.
However, if a nuclear deal is signed, international companies are unlikely to flood Tehran immediately. The lifting of sanctions is likely to be a lengthy and uneven process for the United States and European countries. And some sanctions—imposed in response to alleged human-rights abuses and support for extremist groups by the Iranian government—will remain in place. The difficult business climate, rife with corruption, could be an additional obstacle.
Historical Context
Before the 1979 revolution, the United States and Iran had a close relationship based on energy trade and common Cold War-era security priorities. Bilateral trade peaked in 1978, when the United States exported $3.7 billion worth of goods to Iran and imported $2.9 billion worth of goods from Iran.
On the eve of the revolution, the United States and West Germany were Iran’s largest trading partners. Nearly 50,000 Americans worked and lived in Iran. In turn, American goods—mainly arms, industrial equipment, technology, and agricultural and consumer goods—accounted for some 16% of Iranian imports. Iran bought between 50% and 75% of its imported rice, wheat, and cereals from the United States in the 1970s.
U.S.-Iran trade plummeted after the 1979 revolution, especially when American hostages were held for 444 days at the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran. The Carter administration suspended Iranian oil imports in late 1979, and severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980. But U.S.-Iran trade resumed in 1981 after the hostages were released. U.S. exports totaled $300 million in 1981—down from $3.7 billion in 1978. Iranian exports to the United States totaled $64 million—down from $2.9 billion in 1978.
Through subsidiaries, American energy companies continued to buy Iranian oil—worth up to $3.5 billion a year—off the international market in Rotterdam until the mid-1990s, when sanctions were broadened.
Over the years, Washington has imposed waves of sanctions on Tehran over three broad issues: support for terrorism, failure to comply with United Nations on its nuclear program, and human-rights violations. Yet American companies have legally continued to export a wide array of goods under equally broad exceptions that covered food, medicine, and humanitarian goods.
U.S. Interests and Non-Oil Trade
Trade has fluctuated from year to year. It dipped after the Clinton administration imposed new sanctions in 1995. But trade increased slightly in 2000 when sanctions on carpets and caviar were lifted in modest outreach to Iran’s reformist government.
Major U.S. exports to Iran in recent years have included wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, dairy, pulpwood, plastics, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Iran is the region’s second-largest grain importer after Saudi Arabia. U.S. exports to Iran in 2014 ranged from medical instruments to chocolate, even bull semen.
The following is a sampling of American products exported to Iran in 2014, which totaled $182.1 million:
Non-electric medical instruments
Seeds, fruits and spores (for sowing)
Pharmaceutical products
Bull semen
Essential oils, perfume and cosmetics
Toiletries and cosmetics
Chocolate and products containing cocoa
Live Cattle
Plastic tableware and other household articles
Live chickens
Lamps, lighting fittings and parts

U.S. and Western businesses are already interested in reentering the market. “Iran is the last, large, untapped emerging market in the world,” Ramin Rabii of Turquoise Partners, an Iran-based investment firm, told the BBC. About 65% of the population is under 35 years old, and literacyamong 15- to 24-year-olds is 98%. Total adult literacy is 85%. About half of all Iranian households reportedly have internet access.

As of 2013, the World Bank classified Iran as an “upper middle-income” country. It estimated that per capita income—based on purchasing power parity (PPP)—was $15,610. Even under sanctions, Iran’s economy has been the second largest in the region, once again after Saudi Arabia, and its gross domestic product (GDP) was ranked 32nd worldwide in 2013.
Iran’s consumer culture has long been heavily influenced by Western trends. Western-style grocery stores and shopping malls have been gaining popularity over the past decade. American and European luxury brands are popular with the elite in major cities, especially Tehran, because of their reputations for quality.
Iconic beverage brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi have prospered in Iran for years at the expense of local rival Zamzam Cola. The presence of bootleg versions of American restaurants and coffee shops—from “Mash Donald’s” to “Pizza Hat”—suggests opportunities for U.S. franchises to expand and thrive.
American electronics brands, such as Apple and Dell, are still smuggled into Iran. Computer stores in Tehran are modeled after their U.S. counterparts and stock the latest merchandise. Apple iPods, iPhones, and iPads are particularly popular. An Iranian company that resells Dell products even offers warranties. Both Apple and Dell reportedly contacted potential Iranian distributors in 2014.
Iran is also one of the largest car markets in the Middle East. American cars were popular before the revolution. General Motors partnered with an Iranian company to produce cars for several years before 1979. The auto industry has historically been Iran’s largest non-oil industry. Domestic production peaked in 2011, at about 1.6 million vehicles per year, before tightened sanctions cut off imports of car parts and bank transfers that halved output. But auto sales rose 32% in 2014 over 2013. American cars and trucks have already begun to make a comeback.
With a female population of nearly 40 million, Iran is reportedly the second-largest cosmetics market in the Middle East. For more than a decade, Iranian merchants have sold big American clothing brands, such as Victoria’s Secret, in storefronts that mimic their U.S. counterparts—but without legal franchises.
Iran also represents a promising market for U.S. tobacco producers.Marlboro has especially been popular for years. Until 2006, cigarettesmade up a large share of American exports to Iran. Western brands are commonly smuggled into Iran to meet demand. About a quarter of Iran’s annual $11 billion cigarette imports are smuggled.
Until fall 2014, sanctions had prevented U.S. companies from selling aerospace parts to Iranian airlines. Iran Air’s aging fleet includes 12 Boeing aircraft, some of which are more than 30 years old. Boeing’s small sale of aircraft manuals, drawings and navigation charts to Iran Air in Oct. 2014 carried symbolic weight as the first publicly acknowledged transaction between U.S. and Iranian aerospace companies since the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis.
Iran has reportedly signed three contracts with Boeing since an interim nuclear deal was negotiated in late 2013. Two were extensions of existing agreements and one was a new contract between Iran Air and the American company. So far, Boeing has repaired seven of Iran Air’s plane engines, according to Iran Air CEO Farhad Parvaresh.
American music and movies are still popular in Iran. Bootlegging of Western tapes and later discs—especially of material that might otherwise be banned by the Iranian government for perceived immorality—has been common since the revolution. Smuggling DVDs and CDs has given way to illegal downloading, so some movies are now sold on memory sticks on Tehran’s streets. The latest American releases, even ones still in theaters, are popular. If Iran and the United States were to recognize each other’s copyrights, the American movie and music industries could benefit hugely.
Costs and Obstacles
For more than a year, Iran has been courting investors, hosting foreign trade delegations, and dispatching envoys abroad to investigate new business opportunities. But Western businesses are not likely to enter Iran too quickly if a nuclear deal is reached. American companies may hesitate to make serious investments until they are convinced of the long-term durability of any agreement, experts predict.
The complex layers of U.S. and European sanctions would also take time to unravel. Western sanctions linked to Iran’s support for terror and its human rights abuses will remain in place until Tehran’s behavior changes. And some two dozen U.S. states have enacted their own punitive measures on companies operating in certain sectors of Iran’s economy, according to Reuters. In more than half of those states, sanctions will remain in place unless Iran is removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism or if all federal sanctions on Iran are lifted.
International companies that have operations in the United States and European Union risk facing sanctions or punitive fines if they move into Iran before sanctions are lifted. Violating sanctions can be expensive and damage a company’s reputation.
In 2014, the French bank BNP Paribas pleaded guilty to two criminal charges for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan, and Cuba. It ended up agreeing to pay $9 billion to the U.S. government, a record fine for violating U.S. sanctions. U.S. regulators banned the bank from conducting certain transactions in U.S. dollars for a year.
Western companies would also initially face difficulties starting businesses or partnerships in Iran. Widespread corruption and significant government involvement in the economy have created a challenging business environment, even for European companies that were active in Iran before sanctions were ramped up in 2010. The line between the private and public sector also is not always clear because the Revolutionary Guards have affiliated companies working in many major industries.
Iran ranked 130 out of 189 economies in the 2015 World Bank report on business regulations and property rights protections. The Islamic Republic performed worse than the regional average in most categories. It ranked 62nd for starting a business, 89th for acquiring credit and 172nd for obtaining a construction permit.
Data from World Bank
U.S. producers may face difficult obstacles to selling and investing, but the Iranian market is too large to ignore, especially given the dearth of other emerging markets with a middle class eager and able to buy imported goods. “I am already seeing a rush to market by U.S. and E.U. companies,” a director of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce told The Wall Street Journal“And no one wants to be left behind.”
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP. This article first appeared on Quartz. 
*Values converted to real 2015 dollars using the average annual Consumer Price Index

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