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Politics in 2014: Rouhani's Tough Year

            It was a year of political paradoxes for President Hassan Rouhani. He faced challenges from the other two branches of government—the judiciary and parliament—as well as limits on his powers by the virtually omnipotent Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
      Throughout the year, Rouhani made eloquent pledges to expand freedoms in the press, speech, education, and individual rights. But little actually changed. The challenges were reflected in human rights. Under the judiciary, the number of executions, including of non-violent criminals, actually went up in 2014. Journalists were detained. And several newspapers were ordered to close. Rouhani was unable to win the release of two former colleagues and presidential candidates—Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi—who had been imprisoned since 2011.
      Parliament, a bastion of conservatives and hardliners, impeached Rouhani’s minister of science, research and technology in August. It then blocked approval of three other nominees despite Rouhani’s personal appeal on the floor of parliament. The position is key for its power to supervise most state-run universities. After diplomatic talks on Iran’s nuclear program were extended, several law-makers shouted “Down with America” on the floor of parliament.
            The paradoxes of 2014 were also reflected in social media. Top government officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif—all had active accounts. Khamenei had Facebook, Twitter and Youtube accounts. But ordinary Iranians were banned from using them all. Iran was even working on its own infrastructure to control access to all internet content. It also began filtering mobile phone applications, shutting down virtual private networks, and cracking down on on-line activists.
Iranians still receiveded harsh prison sentences for online activism. Major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook remained blocked.
Four journalists, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were detained in July. In October, 135 journalists wrote Rouhani a letter criticizing his administration for failing to improve the media’s working environment.
Iran still had the highest execution rate per capita in the world. More than 850 people were executed between July 2013 and July 2014.
Feb. 20 The judiciary banned newly launched reformist newspaper Aseman for publishing an article allegedly insulting Islamic law.
March 6 – Khamenei warned Rouhani against loosening the administration’s grip on cultural issues.
April 26 The judiciary shut down reformist newspaper Ebtekar for “spreading lies,” according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. It was the third such publication to be banned since the beginning of the year. But Ebtekar was allowed to reopen just four days later. 
June 2 – Amnesty International claimed that Iranian universities had seen no meaningful improvement in academic freedom since Rouhani’s inauguration.
June 5 – Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential ultraconservative cleric, challenged Rouhani’s more liberal interpretation of Islam. Yazdi asked, mockingly, if the president had learned his Islam in England rather than at a seminary in Qom.
June 23 – Iranian police arrested two people for appearing singing and dancing in London-based Ajam Band’s World Cup music video.
June 26 – Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli was summoned by parliament to explain why the ministry was not cracking down on dress code violations, such as women wearing leggings.
July 22 – Four journalists were detained in Tehran, including dual US-Iranian citizen and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. His wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi, was also arrested.
Aug. 19 – Human Rights Watch reported that more than 60 prisoners in Karaj, near Tehran, were being detained for exercising freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.
Sept. 18 – Six young Iranians received a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment and 91 lashes for appearing in a video dancing along to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” that went viral in May.
Sept. 20 – Iran’s judiciary wrote a letter to Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi giving him one month to shut down WhatsApp, Viber, and Tango. Jokes about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had been circulating on the messaging apps.
Early October – Yeganeh Salehi, wife of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, was released on bail.
Oct. 3 – More than 130 journalists wrote a letter criticizing Rouhani for not fulfilling campaign promises to create a better working environment for the media.
Oct. 7 – Rouhani called for greater academic freedom during a speech at Tehran University. He claimed that restrictions in academia stifle innovation, and that Iran should increase interaction with the rest of the world for the sake of scientific progress.
Oct. 21 – Iranian police arrested four men suspected of carrying out acid attacks on women in Isfahan.
Oct. 22 – Thousands of Iranians protested in Isfahan against the acid attacks.
Oct. 25 – Iran executed a woman convicted of killing a man trying to sexually assault her, despite Rouhani’s efforts to commute her sentence.
Oct. 27 – Four journalists from the Iranian Students News Agency were arrested for their connecting the acid attacks to the government’s strict dress code in their news coverage.
Nov. 3 – An Iranian woman, who was arrested in June after attempting to attend a men’s volleyball match, was sentenced to a year in prison.
Nov. 11 Iran’s committee for filtering the internet announced a two-month deadline for Iran’s government to regularize the use of Instagram. If authorities fail to gain access to the site’s contents, it will likely be blocked.
Nov. 18 – The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Iran to end human rights abuses.
Nov. 26 – Iran’s parliament approved President Rouhani’s fifth candidate for education minister. Parliament rejected Rouhani’s earlier picks due to their suspected links to the 2009 protests.
Parliament also approved Mohammad Farhadi as the new minister of science, research and technology. In August, conservative lawmakers sacked Reza Faraji Dana on charges of trying to bring back reformist professors and students purged under Ahmadinejad.
Dec. 1 – Iran’s Interior Ministry approved the reformist “Voice of Iranians” party led by Sadegh Kharazi.
Dec. 7 – Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was formally charged during a court session. The court did not specify the charges.
Dec. 8 – Rouhani denounced corruption in what was widely interpreted as criticism of the Revolutionary Guards. “If guns, money, newspapers and propaganda all gather in one place, one can be confident of corruption there,” he said at a conference.

Photo credits: President Rouhani by Robin Wright,

Diplomacy in 2014: Better Ties, But No Deal

Cameron Glenn
            Tehran reached out to the world in 2014. But President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to improve relations stalled, as hardliners in parliament pushed back.
            The world initially responded. Western diplomats and businessmen flocked to Iran, hopeful that Rouhani’s presidency would generate new opportunities. Prospects of a nuclear deal also changed the diplomatic ground rules: The Islamic Republic was no longer automatically the pariah. Sanctions were eased, and Tehran had new potential for investment for the first time in years.
            In a major reversal, even Washington and Tehran opened a direct dialogue—on the sidelines of nuclear talks—after 35 years of tension. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif met frequently one-on-one; they called each other by their first names. Kerry said Zarif “approached these negotiations in good faith and with seriousness of purpose, and that’s what it takes to try to resolve the kind of difficult issues here.”
            But Rouhani’s administration faced opposition from hardliners at home. One group of politicians, academics, and activists held the “We’re Worried” conference in May to protest a potential nuclear deal. A few members of parliament reportedly chanted “Down with America” after the latest extension of talks in November.
            In the Middle East, Iran attempted to better its relations with Sunni Gulf neighbors even as it continued arming and supporting Shiite allies. In Iraq, it walked away from Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a long-time ally, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seized a wide swath of territory. Tehran also provided arms and advice to Iraq’s Kurdish militia to help contain ISIS. In November, Iranian jets conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq.
            Iran also armed Shiite groups. In Yemen, Tehran reportedly funded Houthis, also known as Partisans of God, a Zaidi Shiite rebel group that seized control of the capital of Sanaa in September. The Islamic Republic also continued to send major arms to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that is Iran’s most important ally in the region.


● On January 20, Iran and the world’s six major powers implemented the Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement that constrained Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. On July 19, the two sides extended nuclear talks until November 24. After missing the second deadline, negotiators announced another extension of seven months.

● By late April, hundreds of politicians and businesspeople from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America had visited Iran to build new ties in anticipation of a nuclear deal.

● On June 17, Britain announced its intention to re-open its embassy in Tehran. But hardliners in Iran mounted resistance against restoring diplomatic ties, particularly in September after British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized Iran’s “support for terrorist organizations.”
● In December, Iranian officials confirmed they conducted airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government.
Jan. 6 – Former U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw met Zarif, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani.
Relations between the two countries had been strained since November 2011, when student protestors angered at London’s imposition of sanctions stormed the U.K. Embassy in Tehran.
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action, the interim nuclear deal, entered into force. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran reduced stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and halted construction on the heavy water reactor in Arak. The United States and the European Union announced steps to suspend a limited number of sanctions and allow the release of Iran’s oil revenues frozen in other countries.
Jan. 26 – South Korean speaker of the national assembly Kang Change Hee met Rouhani to discuss expanded trade and Korean investment in Iran’s energy sector.
Jan. 27 – A delegation of global leaders led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, known as “The Elders,” visited Iran to encourage new dialogue between Tehran and the outside world.
Jan. 29 – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran to strengthen bilateral economic ties and discuss the Syrian crisis.
Feb. 2 – Kerry and Zarif discussed upcoming nuclear negotiations on the margins of the Munich Security Conference.
Feb. 3 – Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt visited Iran. More than 100 French businesspeople arrived in Tehran to discuss economic ties.
Feb. 20 – Britain officially restored diplomatic ties with Iran; both countries appointed non-resident charges d’affaires as a first step in re-opening their embassies.
Feb. 28 – Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski visited Iran.
March 1 – Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Magallo visited Tehran to discuss expanding economic ties.
March 5 – Zarif met with Japan’s prime minister and foreign minister in Tokyo. Japan expressed interest in investing in Iran’s oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals industry.
March 7 – Bahraini officials accused Iran of playing a role in a March 3 bombing north of Manama.
March 8 – E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Tehran to discuss improving relations. It was the first visit by an E.U. high representative since 2008.
March 12 – Rouhani visited Oman to discuss economic ties and tensions with Gulf states. Rouhani signed an agreement to export $10 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Oman and build a $1 billion pipeline across the Gulf.
March 15 – Greek Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos visited Iran.
March 16-17 – Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei met Zarif and business leaders. Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov visited Tehran.
March 19 –Iran and the six major powers held nuclear negotiaitions. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions as “substantive and useful.”
March 27 – Rouhani and Zarif visited Kabul to discuss cooperation with Afghanistan.
April 7-9 –Iran and the major powers met in Vienna for talks on a final nuclear agreement.
April 9 – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev met Rouhani to discuss boosting bilateral ties.
April 16 – A delegation of Swiss lawmakers met Iranian parliamentarians.
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds, after the IAEA verified Tehran was complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
April 22 – A French parliamentary delegation met Iranian members of parliament to discuss economic opportunities. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs met with Rouhani, Zarif.
April 26 – Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz met Zarif and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani to discuss strengthening economic and cultural cooperation.
April 27 – Senior British diplomat Simon Gass visited Tehran to discuss boosting ties and reopening diplomatic missions.
April 28 – Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos Lopez visited Rouhani in Tehran to discuss strengthening bilateral economic ties.
May 3-4 – More than 100 lawmakers, students, academics, and activists held a conference entitled “We’re Worried” and accused Rouhani’s administration of caving to Western demands in the nuclear talks.
May 13-16 – Iran and the major powers met in Vienna, but the talks ended without tangible progress. 
June 9-10 A U.S. team held bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva to prepare for the next round of nuclear talks. Rouhani visited Turkey in the first visit by an Iranian leader in 18 years. The two sides failed to agree on a price for natural gas imports from Iran, but signed ten cooperation agreements on other issues.
June 17 – Britain announced that it intended to reopen its embassy in Tehran.
July 3-19 Iran and the world’s six major powers began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks from the deadline. On July 19, the two sides announced an extension through November 24, the one-year anniversary of the interim agreement. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. The major powers agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds to Iran.
Sept. 18-26 – Iran and six major world powers resumed talks in New York. Kerry and Zarif also discussed the threat posed by ISIS.
Sept. 22-25 – Rouhani met several world leaders in New York during the U.N General Assembly. He called for international cooperation against ISIS. On September 24, he held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the first meeting between an Iranian president and a British prime minister since the 1979 revolution. 
Sept. 25 – Chairman of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Bouroujerdi urged parliament to block the reopening of the British embassy in Tehran, after British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Iran’s “support for terrorist organizations.”
Oct. 14-16 – Iran and the six major powers made a “little progress” at talks in Vienna.
Oct. 21 – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi made his first visit to Iran since taking office in September. “Choosing Iran as my first destination after taking office indicates the depth of ties,” he said.
Nov. 9-11 Kerry, Zarif, and Ashton met for two days of trilateral talks in Oman, followed by a day of meetings between Iran and all six major powers.
Nov. 19-24 – Iran and six major powers held talks in Vienna. On November 19, the U.S. and Iranian teams held bilateral talks. Kerry, Ashton, and Zarif held another round of discussions on Nov. 21. The two sides missed the November 24 deadline for a deal and announced that talks would be extended until June 30, with the goal of a political agreement by March.
Nov. 25 - Lawmakers chanted “Down with America” after Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard expressed support for the extension of nuclear talks.
Nov. 26 – Bahraini officials denounced Iran’s interference in Bahrain’s domestic affairs after the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the raid of a Shiite cleric’s home.
Dec. 3 – A car bomb exploded in Sanaa, Yemen, allegedly targeting the Iranian ambassador. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dec. 5 – Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour confirmed that Iran had conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi government. Rahimpour also said that Iran had been assisting Kurdish fighters in the north.

Photo Credits: EU External Action Service and  U.S. State Department via Flickr


Tags: Diplomacy

Report: Fog Recedes from Nuclear Talks

             Iran and the world’s six major powers failed to reach a final nuclear deal in November due to disagreement on sanctions and the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group. The following is an excerpt on the redlines of the two sides.

Redlines: Clearer but Clashing
           While neither side publicly discussed an extension in the run-up to the November deadline, both saw it coming. The parties had made progress over the twelve months of talks and particularly during the rush to the end, but they were trying to resolve a nuclear crisis that had been more than twelve years in the making. Most arms control negotiations have taken substantially longer than one year to conclude. That said, procedural shortcomings and unwise tactical decisions – as well as fundamental misunderstandings – delayed the talks.
            In both their structure and substantive focus, in contradistinction with the first step
November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), these talks were unwieldy and not conducive to decision-making. At the core of the crisis is the regional competition, with its attendant animosity and mistrust, between the U.S. and Iran. The JPOA negotiations reflected this reality: they were predominantly negotiated by Washington and Tehran via a bilateral backchannel. The comprehensive talks, by contrast, were conducted mainly in a multilateral framework, which included a plethora of actors with competing interests. The JPOA, a political agreement, took three months to negotiate; only after it had been concluded did the negotiators turn to the technical implementation plan, which took another two months. By contrast the comprehensive talks, until the very last round, tried to address simultaneously both political questions and technical annexes, which diluted focus and further prolonged the process.
           The lack of focus was complicated by the negotiating strategy that both sides adopted. Their opening postures mixed maximalist bluster on certain issues with more realistic positions on others, obscuring for their rival what was negotiable and what was not.
           During the last round in Vienna (18-24 November), the parties corrected course by incorporating bilateral meetings of high-level U.S.-Iranian officials and by focusing on securing a political agreement before fleshing out the technical details. Highlighting that at heart this is a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, the two countries’ foreign ministers held productive meetings without the EU coordinator. Most importantly, by the end of the final round, the parties had gained a better appreciation of each other’s true positions.
           Two pairs of incongruous redlines lie at the heart of the disagreement. One relates to the scale and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Tehran’s redline is recognition of its right to industrial-scale enrichment, because, it argues, it will need to take over the fuelling of its sole nuclear power plant in Bushehr by 2021 when the reactor’s fuel supply agreement with Russia expires.14 The P5+1 – beyond its refusal to recognise such a right lest it prompt proliferation of dual-use technologies – views this demand with suspicion given what it sees as Iran’s minimal practical needs in the near future. The P5+1’s own redline is curbing the enrichment program for a sufficiently long period (measured in “two digits”, according to a senior U.S. official) that it prolongs Iran’s nominal breakout time to one year.
           Iran rejects breakout time as a relevant calculation and views the P5+1’s stringent
restrictions as a pretext for forcing it to forego enrichment altogether. Its negotiators appear amenable to creative trade-offs that could lengthen its breakout time, but insist that as confidence increases, its program should evolve without regard for breakout time. The P5+1, for its part, is willing to countenance growth but, in the words of a U.S. official, its view of “how much evolution over how much time” is “light-years” away from what Iran aspires to.
           The second pair of redlines concerns sanctions relief. While Iran appears amenable to accepting the suspension – as opposed to the outright lifting – of some sanctions in the early stages of the agreement, it expects any irreversible concessions it makes to be reciprocated with commensurate measures, namely terminating – not just suspending – sanctions. Tehran is also convinced that merely suspending sanctions would not bring economic relief, as foreign investors would hesitate to return so long as the threat of renewed sanctions persists.
            The P5+1, however, is reluctant to take such decisive measures because sanctions are more difficult to turn on and off than centrifuges. The group argues that once the UN sanctions are terminated, they will prove extremely difficult to reinstate in the event of an Iranian violation, given the divisions in the Security Council. Restoring EU restrictions also could prove thorny because they take their legitimacy from UN sanctions; since their resuscitation would require a consensus decision by all 28 member states, any outlier could block it.
           Too, interaction among various U.S., EU and UN sanctions complicates matters, as removing one piece might not be effective without removal of others. For instance, suspending restrictions on insuring Iranian oil shipments would necessitate modifications in both U.S. and EU legislation; even were that accomplished, such a change likely would have minimal practical effect because – assuming elimination of transportation obstacles – Iran could not access the oil revenues as long as financial restrictions remained in place. Likewise, any EU reversal would hinge on parallel steps in Washington to neutralise overlapping secondary sanctions.
            As for the U.S., the problem lies not in re-imposing sanctions but in terminating them in the first place. The power to do so is vested in Congress, which is highly skeptical of Iran’s intentions and therefore unlikely to comply with a presidential request to rapidly lift sanctions. The incoming Republican-dominated Congress appears both determined to deny Iran substantial upfront sanctions relief and hostile to an unrestrained Iranian nuclear program, even at the back-end of the deal. Given these political obstacles, the P5+1 insists on maintaining its sanctions leverage until Tehran conclusively demonstrates its commitment to a nuclear agreement and confirms the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities by resolving its outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Click herefor the full report.
Tags: Reports

Iran Hosts Conference Against Extremism

            From December 9 to 10, Iran's Institute for Political and International Studies hosted a conference on countering violence and extremism in Tehran. The gathering was inspired by President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 address to the United Nations, in which he proposed the “world against violence and extremism” (WAVE) initiative. In his opening address to the conference, Rouhani outlined ten strategies to counter violent extremist groups. They included calling on nations to cease support to terrorist groups, aiding developing countries, and combating extremism online. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters at the conference that the Foreign Ministry will take steps to implement Rouhani’s proposals.
            Officials, parliamentarians, and academics from more than 50 countries participated in closed-door panel discussions during the conference. They issued a closing statement calling on the international community to reduce extremist violence around the world. The following are quotes from Rouhani and Zarif during the conference, along with the full text of the participants’ closing statement.
President Hassan Rouhani
            “Today, no one has any doubt or can deny that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a vanguard in fighting terrorists in the region and in campaigning violence, extremism and terrorism everywhere in its bid to take the compassionate voice of Islam to the entire world.”
            “If countries in the region agree, they could eliminate anti-Islamic groups like Daesh [IS] and liberate thousands of men, women and children who have lost their homes...In this case, there would be no need for the presence of foreigners.”
            “A world free of violence is materialized when the governments cooperate with each other and have coordinated policy-making and if so, the extremist groups will be marginalized.”
            “The roots of violence can be dried up in the region through cooperation among governments.”
            “We all believe in the strength of the United Nations. The organization is already playing a huge role in the field but unfortunately the UN suffers sustainable shortcomings in facing many obstacles along the way. The UN can bring together world leaders and lead the way for a better future.”
            "The countries which facilitated the formation of terrorism with logistic and financial support must openly denounce it and cease their direct and indirect financial support. There must be regional collaboration to change general education and religious schools in order to prevent extremist and violent interpretation from religious doctrine."
            Dec. 9, 2014 in his address at the conference (Translations from WAVE, Al-Monitor, and Aletejah TV)
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “We will pursue Mr. Rouhani’s proposals in different international meetings, including this meeting, and God willing we will follow up (his) viewpoints at the UN and other international bodies in a bid to achieve our common goal that is fighting against extremism and violence as well as campaigning against the anti-Islam and anti-human moves.”
            Dec. 9, 2014 in comments to reporters at the conference
Declaration and Plan of Action of the First International Conference on World Against Violence and Extremism
            The Honorable Foreign Ministers, former high-ranking officials, Members of Parliaments, Scholars, Researchers, and Representatives of Civil Society of more than 50 countries congregated for the first Conference of “A World Against Violence and Extremism” on 9-10 December 2014 in Tehran,
            Guided by the principles and values of the divine religions and the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and on the occasion of the first year of the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution A/RES/68/127 of 18 December 2013 entitled “A World Against Violence and Violent Extremism” and with the aim of taking a further step towards the realization of the lofty goals enshrined in that Resolution initiated by the proposal of H.E. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
            Recalling the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and other UN organs on combating violence and violent extremism;
            Alarming by the acts of intolerance, violent extremism, violence, including sectarian violence, and terrorism in various parts of the world, which claim innocent lives, cause destruction and displace people, and rejecting the use of violence, regardless of any motivation,
            Convinced that wars and armed conflicts can lead to radicalization and the spread of violent extremism and disrupt development of human societies and thwart the well-being of humankind;
            Recognizing the importance of national and regional characteristics and diverse, historical, cultural and religious backgrounds of all States;
            Reaffirming that violent extremism constitutes a serious common concern for all Member States, threatening the security and well-being of human societies, and convinced that there is no justification for violent extremism, whatever the motivation;
            Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to countering violent extremism and addressing the conditions conducive to its spread;
            Recognizing, the nature, principle, values and objectives of monotheistic divine religions as a collection of guiding instructions in spiritual, social, cultural, economic sphere of human life development, adherence to which will result in human salvation and happiness;
            Recognizing that the nature, principles, values and objectives of the divine religions are inherently against all forms of violence and violent extremism and promote justice, peace, the equality of human beings and non-discrimination;
            Underlining that violent extremism and violence is a global challenge and is not and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization, culture, race, and ethnic group and therefore, the countering and elimination of which requires a firm determination and cooperation of all members of the international community;
            Expressing grave concern that extremist and terrorist groups have begun to reach out to youth or deprived minorities by using the Internet and other modern technologies in an attempt to indoctrinate them with radical messages and recruit them.
            Rejecting the tactical and instrumental use of and financing extremist groups for any reason;
            Underlining the importance of promotion of further understanding, awareness and tolerance through genuine dialogue, encouragement of the culture of peace and moderation and harmonization among cultures that can help the common efforts to counter violence and violent extremism;
            Stresses that selective approaches in countering violence and violent extremism jeopardize the unity of international community in combating such horrific phenomenon;
            Have agreed on the following Plan of Action:
            Welcome the proposal made by H.E Hassan Rouhani that the United Nations proclaim the 18th December of each year as the day of “A World against Violence and Extremism”, and request the Secretary General of the United Nations to recommend, in its report to the General Assembly at its seventieth session, a recommendation to that effect.
            Stress on the importance of the public condemnation of all forms of extremism, violent extremism and terrorism by all States, religious leaders, politicians, and scholars.
            Emphasize on the need for taking actions to eradicate poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment, as the main sources of feeding extremism and its recruitment. In this context, assisting the countries that have been victimized by violent extremism is of the vital importance to address the root causes of violence and terrorism.
            Request the countries that their borders are used for transit by radical and extremist groups, to take the steps necessary to enhance control over their borders including through enacting legislation or adopting administrative and law enforcement measures;
            Request the Secretary-General of the United Nations to address, in its report to the General Assembly at its Seventieth Session, the efficient ways by which the United Nations could assist Member States, upon their request, to encounter extremism including through generating public awareness about the dangers of intolerance, as well as in fostering understanding and non-violence.
            Underlines establishing and developing the culture of peace and tolerance through:
            Planning diverse policies and actions with the purpose of creating a better understanding and finding mutual grounds in order to deepen the culture of understanding and peace as the basic condition for countering extremism for future generations;
            Forging relations and institutionalize regular dialogue among leaders of all divine religions;
            Promoting novel educational texts based on the culture of peace and friendship among various societies;
            Forging relations among intellectuals, think tanks and artists to promote peace and friendship among different societies;
            Considering that education at all levels is one of the most effective elements in every sustainable and successful strategy to counter extremism. Therefore, requests all States to plan and execute policies and effective initiatives for the promoting principles of tolerance, respect for others and their ideas and cultural diversity in their educational systems;
            Encouraging the inclusion of research programs on diverse cultures, religions and various civilizations in university curriculum, and also the exchange of knowledge, information, and scholarships among academics, researchers and students as provisions of great capability with the purpose of deepening understanding and tolerance among different societies.
            Underline that media should function as a mechanism for universalizing the idea of tolerance, respect for cultural diversity, the right to cultural development and promotion of human rights and values;
            Underline the enhancement of the role and capacity building of academics, religious scholars, academic institutions as well as research centers in order to promote public awareness of values regarding various cultures and respect for cultural diversity, to enrich intercultural dialogue, and respect human rights and prevent the development of fertile grounds for the growth of extremist, Takfiri and violent ideologies.
            Take note of the need for establishing a research institute to study the global trends and developments on violence and extremism and plan the proper reaction to counter such horrific phenomenon;
            Stress on the effective implementation of this Action Plan and in that line welcomes the follow-up Conference on World against Violence and Extremism to be held in Iran in 2015.

Obama Administration Resists New Sanctions

             Several U.S. lawmakers called for new sanctions on Iran following the decision to extend nuclear talks with the world's six major powers another seven months. But Obama administration officials have warned that new sanctions could derail the talks. A negotiated deal “is the best way to account for and close off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon,” Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum on December 7. The following are excerpted remarks from administrations officials on the extension of nuclear talks and pressure from Congress to impose new sanctions.
Secretary of State John Kerry
      “Ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon has been the heart of President Obama’s foreign policy from the moment that he took office.  It has not changed.  And when he talked to me about the prospect of becoming Secretary of State, I looked at him and I said, “Mr. President, I want to know for certain that what you’re saying about Iran and what the consequences may be if we can’t get where we need to go in a deal are actual – are real.  I mean, are we going to hold them accountable?”  And the President looked at me and he said, “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, and I will do whatever is necessary.”
            “The President has never changed on this.  And that policy will not change.  And while we may disagree on tactics from time to time, when it comes to the core strategic goal – no nuclear weapon – there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and the State of Israel.  And that is why, over the past year, we and our P5+1 partners have been engaged in intense and tough negotiations with the Iranian Government in hopes of finding a comprehensive, durable, and verifiable arrangement that resolves all of the international community’s concerns.
            “Now, I ask you to take a moment.  It is important to take a moment to remember how we got to this point.  We are here not because of the difficult history between the United States and Iran, though difficult it is.  And yesterday’s deeply disturbing charges against an American journalist who was simply doing his job is just the latest reminder of that.  Nor are we here because of the indefensible threats that Iranian leaders have periodically made against Israel, though indefensible they are.  We are not even here because of terrorist acts Iran has sponsored, or its destabilizing activities in the region, though we condemn them whenever and wherever they occur.
            “Rather, we are here for a few simple reasons – because systematically, over many years, Iran did not address the world’s concerns about an illicit nuclear program, and because the entire international community felt that it was imperative that Iran meet its international obligations.  So we spent several years building the broadest, deepest sanctions regime in history, in order to get the answers the world demands.  I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when we passed those, and I am proud of the impact that they’ve had, as is every member of Congress.  We wouldn’t be at the table without it.
            “But we are also here – excuse me – we’re also here because, ultimately, we believe that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement – thank you, Martin – we are convinced that the best way to create accountability is through a verified negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s legitimate concerns, proves that Iran’s program is peaceful, as it says it is, and gives the Iranian people, with whom we have no specific quarrel, the chance for a better future.
            “Now, obviously, this process takes time.  The stakes are high, the issues are complicated and technical, and if we are, in fact, to cut off all the pathways through which Iran could obtain enough fissile material for a bomb, every detail matters enormously. But it also takes time because we will not settle for just any agreement.  We want the right agreement.
            “Last year, I spoke here at the forum shortly after we signed the Joint Plan of Action that enabled us to begin formal negotiations.  And I remember distinctly many voices proclaimed we had made a tragic mistake.  We were admonished that Iran would cheat and the sanctions regime that we had painstakingly built over several years would crumble.  We were accused of jeopardizing the safety and security of our nation and our closest partners.  And in response, I shared with you at that time that the United States, our partners, including Israel and the entire world, would, in fact, become safer the day that the Joint Plan of Action was implemented.  And guess what.  That is exactly what happened.
            “One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full-speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium and ever-shortening breakout time.  Today, Iran has lived up to every commitment it made in the interim agreement.  Progress on its nuclear program has been rolled back for the first time in a decade.  How do we know that?  Because the IAEA and our partners have been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring the JPOA commitments.
            “Today, IAEA inspectors have daily access – daily access – to Iran’s enrichment facilities, including Fordow, and we have developed a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, its centrifuge production, its uranium mines and mills.  Iran’s entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has been diluted or converted – every ounce – and they have suspended all uranium enrichment above 5 percent.  All progress on the Arak plutonium reactor is frozen in place.  No new components have been put in that would allow them to commission it.  
            “And I can assure you, as we work now to reach a comprehensive deal, the United States continues to believe – as we have from day one and as Israel has said it also believes – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal.  And that’s why we had an extension. Now, we know that just like JPOA, any agreement will be subject to the legitimate scrutiny of our citizens, the Congress and our closest partners.
            “We also have no intention of negotiating forever.  And absent measurable progress, who knows how much longer this could go on?  As of now, with significant gaps still remaining, we do not know if we will be able to make it.
            “But we also know for sure that a negotiated settlement, a negotiated outcome, if it meets our standards, is the best way to account for and close off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon.  And in recent weeks, we have seen new ideas surface, flexibility emerge that could – I repeat, could – help resolve some issues that had been intractable.  And that is why, two weeks ago in Vienna, when we reached the most recent deadline that we’d set for the negotiation, we all agreed to extend them for this brief period of time.  By the way, though it said seven months, we’re not looking at seven months.  We are – I think the target is three, four months, and hopefully even sooner if that is possible.
            “Now, why are we doing this?  Because I believe, President Obama believes, the Administration deeply believes that it would be the height of irresponsibility, it would be against our own interests and those of our closest partners, to walk away from a table when and if a peaceful resolution might really be within reach.  If this effort fails, we have been crystal clear that we will do what we have to do.  But if we succeed in reaching an agreement, the entire world – including Israel – will be safer for it.”
            Dec. 7, 2014 at the Brooking Institution’s 2014 Saban Forum
National Security Advisor Susan Rice
            If additional sanctions are placed on Iran, “The P5+1 would fracture, the international community would blame the United States rather than Iran for the collapse of the negotiations, and the Iranians would conclude that there’s little point in pursuing this process at the negotiating table.”
            Dec. 2, 2014 according to the press
Vice President Joe Biden
            Existing sanctions have "frozen [Iran's nuclear] program. It's given us a shot for a peaceful solution...I tell you, I think it's a less than even shot but it's a shot, nonetheless."
            "This is not the time to risk a breakdown [by imposing new sanctions] when we still have a chance at a breakthrough."
            Dec. 6, 2014 at a Middle East forum hosted by the Brookings Institution


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