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Iran and Asia 2: Japan Is Torn, Oil Hungry But Anti-Nuke

 Garrett Nada

      As an oil- hungry island nation, Japan’s position on Iran is fraught with inherent tensions. It has to balance an existential thirst for oil — to fuel industries, cars and homes — against a moral abhorrence of nuclear weapons, especially as the only country devastated by the world’s deadliest bombs in World War II. Iran is the nexus of those top priorities — and policy challenges.
            Japan is heavily industrialized and increasingly dependent on imported oil. It buys some 90 percent of its fuel from the Middle East. Iran was one of Japan’s top two sources of oil before its 1979 revolution. Afterwards, for more than three decades well into the 20th century, Iran continued to rank third or fourth. The Fukushima nuclear disaster deepened Japan’s need for oil and natural gas. Before the 2011 crisis, 54 nuclear reactors provided about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity needs. As of early 2013, safety concerns and public pressure had kept shut all but two plants.
            At the same time, Japan is also deeply opposed to nuclear proliferation. It has joined in key international efforts to prevent Iran from getting a bomb. Since 2006, Tokyo has fully supported the four U.N. sanctions resolutions designed to prevent Iran from developing the world’s deadliest weapon. Since 2012, it has also complied with new U.S. sanctions that penalize other countries that buy Iran’s oil and gas.
             Japan has also imposed its own sanctions on Iran’s banks and banned investment in new Iranian energy projects. “We took those steps as they are necessary to push for nuclear non-proliferation and prevent its nuclear development,” then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said in 2010, after announcing new sanctions. “We have traditionally close relations with Iran and from that standpoint, we will patiently encourage the country towards a peaceful and diplomatic solution.”
             Japan intends to play a proactive role in solving the nuclear dispute because it “best understands the tragedy of the use of nuclear weapons and shoulders the responsibility to realize a world free of nuclear weapons,” according to its national security strategy.
       Beyond trade and security, Japan’s relationship with Iran has become a double-edged sword diplomatically, both as an asset and a liability. Historically, Tokyo has had strong relations with Iran, beginning in the late 1920s. Each country has hosted the other’s leaders during both the monarchy and the theocracy. Since the 1979 revolution, Japan has occasionally been a conduit for sensitive messages between Iran and Western nations.
       Japan and Iran share two cultural traits that inherently provide common bonds. Both countries emerged from ancient civilizations that each believes give them special standing in the world. “Iran is a country with a rich history” that Japan highly respects, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in a November 2013 visit to Tehran. The two countries also both share the eastern emphasis on respect and “face” as pivotal elements in diplomacy, politics and even trade.
             Horrific shared experiences with weapons of mass destruction also bind the two countries. “Iran and Japan are two countries that have suffered greatly from weapons of mass destruction,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a mid-2013 meeting with Masahiko Komura, the special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Two of Japan’s major cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, were the first and only targets of atomic weapons. Even survivors who were exposed to very low doses of radiation showed a high risk for cancers decades after the 1945 bombing. Similarly, Iran suffered more than 50,000 casualties from Iraq’s repeated use of chemical weapons during the 1980-1988 war, according to a 1991 CIA report. Respiratory diseases and other health issues are still killing Iranian veterans and civilians alike due to low-dose exposure.
             But relations also carry a price today. Tokyo cannot afford to cozy up to Tehran because of its close relationship with Washington, which is far more important politically, economically and for security. Japan still relies on the American military for its defense, and the United States is Japan’s second-largest trading partner, after China.
  Economic Ties

             In the past, Japan had occasionally defied its Western allies to maintain good relations with Iran. Japan was one of the few countries that purchased oil from Iran in 1953, after Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh nationalized the oil industry – then owned by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The United States and Britain were so opposed to Mossadegh that their intelligence services later jointly orchestrated a coup to restore the monarchy.
             After Iran’s 1979 revolution, Tehran exported its first oil shipments to Japan on March 5 – the twelfth anniversary of Mossadegh’s death. By 2003, the height of Japanese-Iranian trade since the revolution, Tokyo imported 683,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran -- or 16 percent of its crude oil imports.
             Japan’s total oil imports from Iran then began decreasing due to its own economic problems – long before the United States tightened sanctions in mid-2012. Japan suffered from more than a decade of high inflation between 2003 and 2013. The economy fell into recession three times since 2008. So oil consumption decreased.
            Sanctions have also taken a bite out of Japan’s oil purchases. Japanese imports from Iran fell 39 percent – from 314,129 barrels per day to 191,032 barrels per day – in 2012. Japanese oil companies continue to buy Iranian oil, but only with a special exemption from U.S. sanctions. Washington grants waivers to Japan and other countries every six months for curbing their crude oil purchases. Over the first 11 months of 2013, oil trade dropped another five percent to 178,139 barrels per day. In 2013, Japan imported less Iranian oil than at any time since 1981, when Iran was embroiled in a war with Iraq.
             But Tokyo and Tehran have not allowed the nuclear dispute to degrade their longstanding relationship. Iran still considers Japan an important trade partner and potential future investor in Iran’s energy sector. Inpex, a private Japanese oil company, used to own a 75 percent stake in developing the South Azadegan oil field. But it reduced its stake to 10 percent in 1996 and pulled out completely in 2010 to avoid U.S. sanctions.
            Among key figures for 2012, according to the Japan External Trade Organization and Ministry of Finance:
      ● Japan-Iran trade totaled about $8.66 billion
      ● Japan imported $8 billion worth of goods from Iran, 99 percent of which was crude oil.
      ● Japan exported $658 million of goods to Iran, largely machinery, metals, chemicals and non-metallic minerals.
             Japanese companies are risk averse because they could face sanctions ― and jeopardize their reputations ― just for doing for doing business with Iran. Toyota Motor Corporation voluntarily halted car exports to the Islamic Republic in 2010, citing the “the international environment.”
             But private Japanese companies are also yearning to do business with Iran again, given its market of 79 million consumers. Japanese products were popular in Iran, especially during the 1980s and early 1990s. But the import of cheaper goods from Korea, and later China, ramped up the competition. Japanese auto and electronics manufacturers particularly want to reenter the market. And for them, Iran appears comparatively more stable than the tumultuous Arab world since the 2011 uprisings began. The mid-2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, followed by his outreach to improve Iran’s relations with the world further, has further encouraged Japanese diplomats and businesses.
 Security Concerns
      Japanese opposition to Iran’s nuclear trajectory is somewhat complicated by its own unique nuclear program. Japan is the only non-weapons state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty that has major fuel cycle facilities that could enable to make a bomb ― the so-called “nuclear threshold.” For years, Iranian officials have claimed they are pursuing the “Japan model” of nuclear development.
             To defuse the issue, Japan is eager to see the temporary agreement between Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — produce a long-term deal. Tokyo repeatedly raises the issue in its interactions with Tehran. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a three-point statement on Rouhani’s election in mid-2013 that encouraged the new president to engage in serious dialogue to end the nuclear dispute.
             Tokyo prefers a peaceful settlement for its own energy security too. When tensions rise, Tehran has occasionally warned that it could block the Strait of Hormuz, an oil transit chokepoint through which some 20 percent of oil traded worldwide flows. The strait’s closure, or U.S. or Israeli military strikes on Iran, could endanger Japan’s energy supply. Japan’s first national security strategy, released in December 2013, prioritizes stability in the Middle East as “inseparably linked to the stable supply of energy, and therefore Japan’s very survival and prosperity.” So Tehran’s production of a nuclear bomb would be a disheartening defeat for Tokyo.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP. He traveled to Japan in January 2014.
Photo credits: President.ir, Map by Aridd at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org






Iran & South Asia #4: Issues, Facts & Figures

Garrett Nada

            The following is a rundown of key facts and figures on Iran’s relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Afghanistan and Iran


 Pakistan and Iran


India and Iran


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

Afghanistan-Iran: Azer News, Human Rights Watch, Tasnim News Agency via RFE/RL, The Telegraph, U.S. government resources
Pakistan-Iran: Dawn, Los Angeles Times, Tehran Times, The Nation, U.S. government resources

Photo Credits: President.ir, Manmohan Singh by World Economic Forum [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


Part II: Opposition to a Deal - Israel

Garrett Nada

            Israel is the most skeptical country about diplomacy to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generally dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures to the outside world as a deceptive “charm offensive.” In his U.N. address, Netanyahu called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and then went on a media blitz to warn world leaders against trusting the new president’s more conciliatory tone.

      Israel and Iran differ on a key issue: Iran insists that it retain the right to enrich uranium, a process for its peaceful nuclear energy program. But Israel insists that it end all enrichment because the fuel cycle could also be used to eventually develop a nuclear bomb.
      On November 8, Netanyahu warned against an interim agreement being discussed by world’s six major powers and Iran in Geneva. The agreement reportedly would relax some financial sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear program. “Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge,” Netanyahu said. “It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community."
           After the Geneva talks ended, Israel stepped up its campaign against what it considered premature sanctions relief for Iran. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that he would use a previously scheduled visit to Washington to warn Congress about the dangers of an interim deal. “Before the talks resume [on November 20], we will lobby dozens of members of the U.S. Congress to whom I will personally explain during a visit beginning on Tuesday that Israel's security is in jeopardy,” he said on November 10.
      In an English-language press conference, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz claimed that the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia were considering “significant relief for the Iranians.” He estimated that U.S. and E.U. sanctions had cost Iran some $100 billion annually and that the proposed sanctions relief package could be worth up to $40 billion— or 40 percent of the overall impact. But State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki dismissed the estimate as “inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based on reality” in a briefing on November 13.Two days later, Netanyahu's office released the above graphic warning against an interim deal ahead of the third round of talks since Rouhani took office.
            Israel is also concerned that a diplomatic deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—would allow Iran to reemerge as a regional powerhouse.
            Israel’s opposition to a deal are based on Iran’s potential to:
            • Improve its military capabilities
            • Ramp up support for extremist groups
            • Improve ties with the United States
            • Gain international legitimacy
The Military Balance
            Israel is concerned that Iran might use the knowledge and technology used for building a nuclear weapon as leverage to expand its sphere of influence. As an undeclared nuclear power, Israel would still have the military edge. It is widely reported to have at least 80 nuclear warheads, with materiel to make up between 155 to 190 more. And unlike the Gulf sheikhdoms, Israel is hundreds of miles from Iran. So it is not primarily worried about potential land or sea battles in the conventional sense. Jerusalem is mainly focused on how Iran could threaten it from a distance, particularly via long-range missiles, or by increasing its influence with Israel’s neighbors.
            Iran “continues to develop missiles of various ranges, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. These missiles pose a threat to the Middle East, Europe, the United States and other countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in his U.N. address on Oct. 1, 2013.
      The Islamic Republic has the largest and most diverse arsenal of long-range rockets and ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran already possesses missiles, such as the Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1, that are theoretically capable of hitting Israel. They are, however, also highly inaccurate. Israel is concerned that Tehran is capable of producing longer range missiles. In an unprecedented display in September, Tehran paraded 30 missiles with a range of 1,200 miles to mark the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion.
      For now, Israel’s missiles are much more advanced and accurate. The Jericho II, with its estimated 900-mile range, could hit Tehran. In July 2013, Israel reportedly tested a new generation missile that could be the Jericho III. It has a range of between 3,100 miles and 6,800 miles, capable of hitting all corners of Iran. Israel may still worry that an emboldened Iran could deliver missiles to proxies closer to Israel’s borders, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Side Effects of a Deal
            Israel and Iran were the two main pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East until the 1979 revolution. Since then, Israel and the United States have had a shared interest in containing Iran. They reportedly worked together on cyber warfare to slow or disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet worm reportedly attacked Iran’s centrifuges in late 2009 or early 2010, while the Flame virus collected information on Iranian officials in 2012.
            But Tehran’s new diplomatic initiative — including the first meeting between Iranian and American foreign ministers and a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani in September —unnerved Israeli leaders. They are concerned about the side-effects of any deal, including lifting sanctions and potential rapprochement with the United States.
            A deal that lifts the world’s toughest sanctions could in turn improve Iran’s economic health and generating new income to support extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. By October 2013, sanctions had cost Iran at least $100 billion just over the previous 18 months, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Foreign Policy magazine. In 2006, Israel fought its longest war with Hezbollah; it ended without a clear victory for either side. Israel has a strategic interest in making sure Tehran does not replenish Hezbollah’s stock of weapons.
International Legitimacy
     Israel is also concerned that a nuclear deal could lead to Iran’s acceptance by a wider international community. Tehran has had pariah status, particularly under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even Iran’s powerful allies Russia and China backed punitive U.N. sanctions when Tehran refused to comply with international resolutions. But a deal on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program could be a game changer—and even draw unwanted attention on Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons.
      President Rouhani has already called for Israeli transparency on its program. “Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed,” Rouhani said in his speech to a U.N. disarmament conference. “Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay.”
Iran's Take on Israel's Reaction
            Tehran is aware of Israel’s growing anxiety over nuclear negotiations and new U.S.-Iran interaction. In an October 3 tweet, President Rouhani’s office suggested that Israel was jealous of the attention Iran’s diplomatic overtures have received.
            Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif interpreted Israel’s media blitz as a “sign of the frustration of warmongers.” He also implied that Jerusalem’s position would be diminished by a nuclear agreement. On October 18, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Zionists have the most fear about the success of the talks.”
Garrett Nada is a senior program assistant at USIP.

Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

Iran Frees Top Human Rights Activist, Others

Garrett Nada

            In the first big move on human rights since President Hassan Rouhani took office, Iran released noted activist Nasrin Sotoudeh on September 18. The government did not make a formal announcement, but Rouhani’s office retweeted reports claiming that seven other female prisoners and four male prisoners were also freed. The move comes on the eve of Rouhani’s debut speech at the U.N. General Assembly, scheduled for September 24.
            President Rouhani had pledged to ease restrictions and political expression during his campaign.
            Mohsen Aminzadeh, a former deputy foreign minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, was among the male prisoners who were released. He was jailed in 2010 for organizing protests and spreading propaganda against the regime. Iran has some 800 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
      The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran talked to Sotoudeh shortly after she was freed. “When I was released, I did not sign for furlough. They told me, ‘You are free,’” Sotoudeh told the Campaign. “Other prisoners and lawyers should be released, too. They are there for political reasons belonging to a period that is over,” she added.
      Sotoudeh has been a political activist since the early 1990s and and defended some of Iran’s most prominent human rights activists, political dissidents and journalists. She played a prominent role after the disputed 2009 presidential election sparked the largest protests since the 1979 revolution. In one noted case, she worked with families who had members killed in the government crackdown after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. Sotoudeh had also long been a champion of women’s demands for greater rights.

            Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 on charges of acting against state security and spreading propaganda. In 2011, a court sentenced her to 11 years in prison and barred her from practicing law or leaving Iran for 20 years. An appeals court later reduced the sentence to six years. She was placed in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She twice went on long hunger strikes.
            Even from prison, Sotoudeh remained outspoken. She reportedly wrote a public letter to the head of Iran’s judiciary thanking him for imprisoning her, as she would have been horrified to be free when her clients were imprisoned.
            Human rights lawyers have been at the forefront of activism in Iran for more than a decade. Shirin Ebadi, who defended leading dissidents, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Sotoudeh was part of Ebadi’s Center for the Defense of Human Rights. Her arrest generated international attention. Last year, she was co-winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Union. She shared it with Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was under house arrest. As secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Iran to release her.
            President Barack Obama mentioned Sotoudeh in his 2011 message marking Nowruz, Persian New Year.
            "For nearly two years, there has been a campaign of intimidation and abuse. Young and old; men and women; rich and poor – the Iranian people have been persecuted. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience are in jail. The innocent have gone missing. Journalists have been silenced. Women tortured. Children sentenced to death.
            "The world has watched these unjust actions with alarm. We have seen Nasrin Sotoudeh jailed for defending human rights; Jaffar Panahi imprisoned and unable to make his films; Abdolreza Tajik thrown in jail for being a journalist. The Bahai community and Sufi Muslims punished for their faith; Mohammad Valian a young student, sentenced to death for throwing three stones.
            "These choices do not demonstrate strength, they show fear. For it is telling when a government is so afraid of its own citizens that it won’t even allow them the freedom to access information or to communicate with each other. But the future of Iran will not be shaped by fear. The future of Iran belongs to the young people – the youth who will determine their own destiny."
            In response to the release of prisoners, the U.S. State Department issued the following statement on September 18.
            "We welcome today’s reports that the Iranian Government has released several prisoners of conscience, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.  President Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to restore and expand freedoms for all Iranians, and called for expanded political and social freedoms, including freedom of expression.  In the months ahead, we hope he will continue to keep his promises to the Iranian people. 
            The United States will continue to urge the Iranian Government to take steps to improve the country’s human rights situation.  Accordingly, we renew our call today for Iran to release all prisoners of conscience in its custody." 
            Iranian news websites reported that seven other female political prisoners were released within the last day, including journalist Mahsa Amrabadi. Three other men in addition to Mohsen Aminzadeh were released, including reformist politician Feizollah Arabsorkhi.
            But Iran also still has many political prisoners either in prison or under house arrest—most notably former presidential candidates Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. In the past, Iran has released prisoners before appearances by senior officials abroad, but this is the most significant release. It is the latest in a series of significant moves by Tehran. Since Rouhani took office, Iran has reopened its House of Cinema and economic planning office.
            The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran recently published a report outlining 74 specific recommendations for Rouhani’s government to end systematic human rights abuses. It emphasizes the restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, and details recommendations to ameliorate the human rights situation in the country, including cooperating with U.N. human rights mechanisms and removing Internet censorship to allow free expression.
            “At a time when bloggers, journalists, and activists are being persecuted for expressing their opinions, Iran’s foreign minister has an official presence on social media websites that are blocked for ordinary Iranians,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Rouhani is in a position to ensure that all Iranians have freedom of expression. To assure the international community that he is serious, Rouhani should continue to take the necessary steps to stop the egregious human rights violations in Iran.”

Youth in Iran Part 4: Crazy for Sports

Garrett Nada

            Faced with few social options or outlets to let off steam, Iran’s young have turned almost fanatically to sports. The first post-revolution generation now includes some world-class athletes—both male and femaleas well as millions of diehard sports fans. Iran’s youth claimed 12 medals at the 2012 London Olympics—more than any other Middle Eastern country.
            But sports are not limited to top achievers. Street sports are just as popular. The concrete jungle of Tehran now has dedicated skate parks where amateur bikers and skaters hold impromptu competitions. And the girls are into as many athletics as the boys.

       The Iranian passion for sport was reflected in the street celebrations after Iran qualified for the 2014 World Cup by defeating South Korea. The celebrations on June 18 were similar to the outpouring after Hassan Rouhani won the presidential election three days earlier. Soccer reigns supreme among youth. But skateboarding, taekwondo, snowboarding and other sports are also gaining ground.
      Youth and sport are so intertwined that the government created a Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport in 2011, which has even allowed women to participate. Nine female athletes represented Iran in the 2012 London Olympics in archery, rowing, shooting, shot put, table tennis and taekwondo. At the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, skier Marjan Kalhor became the first Iranian female to compete in the Winter Olympics. But finding uniforms that conform to both international standards and Iran’s strict dress code has often posed a challenge. Many now complete in sports wearing long pants and hijab (headscarf).
            Elham Asghari wore an extra 13 pounds of clothing when she set a new women’s breaststroke record for swimming 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in the Caspian Sea. She wore a full diving suit, long cape and headscarf. But Iran’s sport ministry would not recognize the record set on June 11 because her “feminine features” were showing when she got out of the water. Asghari explained the controversy in a YouTube video subtitled in English. 
Skateboarding, BMX
            In athletics, young Iranians are no longer isolated. They keep up with the latest global trends through Facebook and YouTube. Skateboarding, rollerblading and BMXbicycle motocross are increasingly popular, especially in Tehran and other major cities. Security guards usually do not allow skaters to perform stunts in parks or public places, either for safety concerns or because they are a nuisance to some. So MJ Rahimi, a skateboard coach, built a skate park several years ago at Tehran’s Enghelab Sports Complex.
            Red Bull, an Austrian energy drink producer, then hosted Iran’s first major skateboard competition. Local newspapers, magazines and television stations covered the event. The government took interest and invested in additional skate parks. The T Sixty skate team shows off their tricks in the following video from the Tehran skate park.

            Bikers are as daring as their Western counterparts. Members of the ZanKo freestyle team offered training for young Iranians interested in BMX in the poster below.  

            Soccer is the most popular sport in Iran— outdoor for young males and mainly indoor futsal for young females. Iranians have taken their love of soccer off the field and into the streets. Freestyle football is a one-man sport that has more in common with breakdancing than soccer. Mohammad Akbari from the “PersianBall Crew” juggles, balances and spins a ball in the following video. 

            Women are banned from attending men’s matches, although some devoted fans have dressed as men to enter stadiums. But they have their own clubs and competitions. In July, the national Iranian women’s team won second place in futsal, a form of indoor soccer, at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. The feat even won the attention of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who tweeted his congratulations.
            Uniforms have been an issue in regular world-class soccer for women. The women’s national soccer team had hoped to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. But the team withdrew from a qualifying match in 2011 because the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) would not allow women to play with their necks covered. FIFA lifted the ban on headscarves in March 2012. 
            Snowboarders account for up to 30 percent of Iranians on the slopes, according to the World Snowboard Guide. More than a dozen resorts have helped popularize snow sports, especially among youth. In recent years, Hype, a Dubai-based energy drink company, has hosted snowboarding exhibitions in Iran such as the one in the following video. 


            Volleyball is increasingly popular as well. The men's national team competed in the Federation Internationale de Volleyball World League Finals for the first time in summer 2013. The team is now ranked 12 worldwide by the federation.

            But broadcasting matches is a problem for Iranian television because female fans at international matches are not wearing Islamic dress. Covering the volleyball games has been “more difficult than airing the [presidential] debates,” said Ezatollah Zarghami, head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), according to news website Asr Iran. IRIB broadcast a June 30 match in Sardinia versus Italy with a seven-second delay to check for images of women not wearing Islamic dress like the picture below.
            Volleyball is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s favorite sport, according to his Twitter account. 
            The Korean martial art gained ground in the 1960s, but young Iranians are now among the world’s top Taekwondo competitors. Mohammad Bagheri Motamed won a gold medal at the 2009 World Taekwondo Championships in Copenhagen and the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
            Women have also taken to the sport. In May 2013, four Iranian women won gold or silver medals at the Carthage International Open in Tunisia. Sara Khoshjamal Fekri faced off against a Tunisian opponent at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the photo below. 
            Iran’s caliber of basketball is constantly improving. The Super League, the equivalent of the National Basketball Association (NBA), has become more competitive with the hiring of foreign coaches and players, especially Americans and Europeans. Iranian-American Jonas Lalehzadeh (below) was the league’s top scorer for the 2012-2013 season. Click here for an interview with the six-foot-five-inch point guard.
            Iran’s national team competed in the 2008 Olympics, the first time since 1948. Now the Islamic Republic now has one of the top teams in Asia. Iran’s players are referred to as the “West Asian giants” on the continent. In August 2013, the men’s team won the International Basketball Federation Asia Championship—its third title in four years. Hamed Haddadi, the first Iranian player in the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA), scored 29 of the team’s 85 points against the Philippines national team.  
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.

Photo credits: Zanko (Freestyle) team via
FacebookSarah Khoshjamal by Bridget Coila from Beijing, China (other0065  Uploaded by Traleni) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Jonas Lalehzadeh via Facebook
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


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