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Obama on Iran in 2015

On Dec. 18, 2014, President Barack Obama discussed U.S. engagement with Iran in an interview with NPR News. He said that Iran has “a chance to get right with the world” by reaching a nuclear deal. Iran and the world's six major powers - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany - have extended the deadline for a nuclear deal to June 2015 after missing the November 2014 deadline.The following are the President’s remarks on Iran, excerpted from the full NPR interview.
 
 
NPR News: Let me ask a few questions, Mr. President, about America's place in the world and how you see it and how you'd like to move it if you can in the last couple of years that you have. We're speaking at a moment after you've announced that you're restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. You want to reopen an embassy there. Is there any scenario under which you can envision, in your final two years, opening a U.S. embassy in Tehran?
 
President Obama: I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps. You know, Cuba is a circumstance in which for 50 years, we have done the same thing over and over again and there hadn't been any change. And the question was, should we try something different with a relatively tiny country that doesn't pose any significant threat to us or our allies?
 
Tehran is a large, sophisticated country that has a track record of state-sponsored terrorism, that we know was attempting to develop a nuclear weapon — or at least the component parts that would be required to develop a nuclear weapon — that has engaged in disruptions to our allies, whose rhetoric is not only explicitly anti-American but also has been incendiary when it comes to its attitude towards the state of Israel.
 
So, there's a lot of history there that's different from the history between us and Cuba. And the strategic importance of Tehran is — or Iran — is different from what we face with Cuba.
 
Having said that, if we can get a deal on making sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon — and that deal is possible; we know the terms of what that would look like. If Iran recognizes that it is in its own interests, having already said that they're actually not interested in developing a nuclear weapon, to go ahead and prove that to the world, so that over time as it's verified, sanctions are removed, their economy begins to grow, they're reintegrated into the international community — if we can take that big first step, then my hope would be that that would serve as the basis for us trying to improve relations over time.
 
You know, I was asked very early in my presidential race back in 2007, would I meet with these various rogue regimes? And what I said then remains true: If I thought it advances American interests, yes; I believe in diplomacy, I believe in dialogue, I believe in engagement.
 
But in order for us to, I think, open that aperture with respect to Iran, we have to get this nuclear issue resolved — and there's a chance to do it, and the question's going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it. I think there are elements inside of Iran that recognize the opportunity and want to take it; I think there's some hardliners inside of Iran that are threatened by a resolution of this because they are so invested politically and emotionally in being anti-American or anti-Western that it's frightening for them to open themselves up to the world in this way.
 
NPR News: That raises a word that I want to bring up that former Secretary of State Clinton used in a speech the other day. She was criticized for having empathy or understanding for even enemies around the world. There are, though, military people who use empathy for the enemy, by which they mean not sympathy but understanding the enemy so you can outwit them. Do you feel that you have sufficient empathy for the Iranians, meaning do you feel you understand what it is they need to get a deal done and is it possible?
 
President Obama: I think we do, because if you look at the negotiations as they've proceeded, what we've said to the Iranians is that we are willing to recognize your ability to develop a modest nuclear power program for your energy needs — that there's a way of doing that that nevertheless gives the world assurances that you don't have breakout capacity.
 
And, you know, Iran suffered from a terrible war with Iraq in which millions of their countrymen were lost. They have legitimate defense concerns, but those have to be separated out from the adventurism, the support of organizations like Hezbollah, the threats they've directed towards Israel.
 
And so on the one hand, you need to understand what their legitimate needs and concerns are. On the other end, you don't need to tolerate or make excuses for positions that they've taken that violate international law, are contrary to U.S. interests, are contrary to the interests of our allies. They've got a chance to get right with the world. This is not just about us.
 
I mean, there's a reason why we've been able to get this far in the negotiations. We mobilized the international community at the start of my presidency — a classic example of American leadership. The sanctions worked because we didn't just get our usual allies' support of this; we got China in support of it; we have Russia that still is supportive of the position that the P5+1 has taken in negotiations.
 
So, when I came into office, the world was divided and Iran was in the driver's seat. Now the world's united because of the actions we've taken, and Iran's the one that's isolated.
 
They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it. Because if they do, there's incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of — inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody. That would be good for the United States, that would be good for the region, and most of all, it would be good for the Iranian people.
 
Click here for the full interview
 

US Targets Sanctions Evaders, Human Rights Abusers

           On December 30, the U.S. Department of the Treasury targeted nine individuals and entities for helping the Iranian government evade sanctions and for human rights abuses related to censorship. The Treasury also updated information related to 30 ships blocked for their affiliation with the sanctioned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. “Although we do not support the imposition of any new nuclear-related sanctions while negotiations are ongoing, throughout the JPOA [Joint Plan of Action] period we have made clear, by word and deed, that we will continue to enforce our existing sanctions. Today’s actions underscore this commitment,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. The following are excerpts from the press release.

 
Purchase or Acquisition of U.S. Bank Notes by the Government of Iran / Material Support to the Central Bank of Iran under Executive Order (E.O.) 13622
 
           Treasury designated the following five individuals and one entity under E.O. 13622 for materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for the purchase or acquisition of U.S. bank notes by the Government of Iran:  Hossein Zeidi, Seyed Kamal Yasini, Azizullah Asadullah Qulandary, Asadollah Seifi, Teymour Ameri, and Belfast General Trading.
 
          The Iranian government contracted with Zeidi and Yasini to convert Iranian funds denominated in non-Iranian local currency into U.S. dollars.  To date, these individuals and their network have effected the delivery of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. dollar bank notes to the Iranian government in violation of E.O. 13622.  UAE-based Zeidi was responsible for converting foreign currency into U.S. bank notes, and Yasini facilitated the delivery of U.S. bank notes to the Iranian government.
 
          Afghan national Qulandary worked with Yasini to convert Iranian government funds into U.S. dollars and deliver these bank notes to the Iranian government.  Qulandary, Yasini, and Belfast General Trading collaborated to deliver U.S. bank notes to Iran.  To date, Belfast General Trading has converted over $250 million, and Qulandary has dispatched couriers to hand carry this money to Tehran.
 
          Since mid-2014, Seifi and Ameri have each delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. bank notes to the Iranian government in contravention of E.O. 13622.
 
          Additionally, Asia Bank official Anahita Nasirbeik is being designated under E.O. 13622 for materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), or the purchase or acquisition of U.S. bank notes by the Iranian government.  In mid-2014, Asia Bank converted and facilitated the delivery from Moscow to Tehran of U.S. bank notes valued at more than $10 million to representatives of the Iranian government.  Nasirbeik coordinated the deposit, conversion, delivery, and payment of the U.S bank notes.  Asia Bank is an Iranian-owned bank that has provided support to the CBI and was designated by the Treasury Department under E.O. 13622 in August 2014.
 
Sanctions Related to Iran’s Support for Human Rights Abuses
 
          Iranian information technology firm Douran Software Technologies is being designated under E.O. 13628, which targets censorship or other activities that limit the freedom of expression or assembly of the Iranian people since the June 2009 election.  Douran Software Technologies acted on behalf of The Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content, which was previously designated under E.O. 13628, in connection with the filtering of prohibited web pages.  Douran Software Technologies is one of the main vendors for an Iranian government project to monitor computer activity.
 
          Iranian company Abyssec is being designated under E.O. 13553 for providing support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was designated under E.O. 13553 in June 2011 for committing serious human rights abuses.  Abyssec was used by the IRGC to train its employees in cyber tradecraft and to develop offensive information operations capabilities.  Abyssec assisted the IRGC with hacking projects involving web applications and web server services.  Abyssec was considered a critical component of the IRGC's cyber program.  E.O. 13553 targets human rights abuses perpetrated by officials of the Iranian government and persons acting on behalf of the Iranian government since the June 2009 election.
 
Click here for the full announcement.
 

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.
 
Highlights
 
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.
 
Chronology
 
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.

Highlights
 

● 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.
 
Chronology
 
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

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