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After Flap, Iran Appoints New U.N. Envoy

Iran has nominated career diplomatic Gholamali Khoshroo as its U.N. envoy, according to state media. The appointment comes ten months after the United States rejected Iran’s first candidate, Hamid Aboutalebi, for his alleged involvement in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and 444-day hostage crisis from 1979 to 1981. Aboutalebi, however, claimed that he only acted as a translator. Khoshroo reportedly accompanied Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where they met with Secretary of State John Kerry, and to Saudi Arabia this month.

Khoshroo is currently Iran’s ambassador to Switzerland. He previously served as a deputy foreign minister from 2002 to 2005 under reformist President Mohammad Khatami. He was also a special adviser to Khatami on his “Dialogue Among Civilizations” initiative. During his seven years as senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam, Khoshroo wrote about issues such as Boko Haram's brutality and "profound ignorance of Islam." Born in 1955, Khoshroo was trained as a sociologist before entering the Foreign Ministry. He studied at Tehran University and at the New School for Social Research in New York City.  
Khoshroo discusses the importance of dialogue in the World Public Forum video below, which is followed by his official curriculum vitae from Iran’s Foreign Ministry. An additional interview in English is at the bottom.
Gholamali Khoshroo
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Swiss Confederation
Born January 16, 1955
Diplomat by vocation, Sociologist by education,
1981-1989 Dean of the School for International Relations (affiliated to Foreign Ministry),
1989-1995 Ambassador and Deputy of the Permanent Mission of I.R of Iran, U.N, New York
1995-1997 Dean of the School for International Relations,
1995-2014 Board member of the Encyclopedia of the World of Islam,
1997-1999 Deputy Foreign Minister for Research and Training,
1999-2002   Ambassador to Australia,
2002-2005   Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs,
2005- 2014 Assistant Secretary General of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly,
2007- 2014 Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam ,
2010-​ 2014 Member of Policy Making Council of “Iran Diplomacy”.
In recent years, he has extensively worked on current developments of contemporary political Islam and its implication for western societies. He has also contributed to various forums and seminars on how to promote dialogue and moderation among nations and how to contain extremism and sectarian violence. As a sociologist he studied at Tehran University and New School for Social Research, New York, U.S.A. He has published several articles and book on political and cultural affairs.


Kirk, Menendez Introduce New Sanctions Bill

On January 27, Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, legislation that would automatically impose sanctions on Iran if talks with the world’s six major powers fail to yield a deal by June 30. President Barack Obama, however, has repeatedly threatened to veto such a bill, arguing that new sanctions legislation could derail talks. If all 54 Senate Republicans vote for the bill, Kirk and Menendez would still need the support of at least 13 Democrats to override a veto.

On the same day, Menendez and nine other Democrats sent a letter to Obama saying they would delay support for sanctions legislation until March 24 if Republicans brought the bill to the floor for a vote. The world’s six major powers and Iran are due to reach a political agreement by the end of March, so the move gives the administration more time for negotiating while postposing a clash between the Senate and the president.
The following are excerpts from the press release on the bill.
Summary of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015: 
  • Sanctions will be implemented only after the June 30th negotiations deadline, but only if the negotiations fail to produce a deal.
  • The Kirk-Menendez legislation increases the current congressional oversight of the negotiations and requires the Administration to formally submit any new nuclear agreement text or extension to Congress within five days.
  • Congress is allotted 30 days to review any nuclear agreement before the President can waive, defer or suspend sanctions.
  • Subject to a report and certification, the President can only waive sanctions if it is in the vital national security interest of the United States and/or a waiver would make a long-term comprehensive solution with Iran more likely. 
  • If there is no final agreement by July 6, 2015, Kirk-Menendez would re-impose sanctions that have been waived while the negotiations have been ongoing, which would begin in August and run through December. 
  • New sanctions would close loopholes in existing petroleum sanctions, enhance sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and financial transactions, and impose further sanctions on Iran’s senior government officials, family members and other individuals for weapons of mass destruction proliferation, terrorism sponsorship and other illicit activities, and on Iran’s shipbuilding, automotive, construction, engineering and mining sectors. 
You can see a copy of the legislative text here.
A total of 16 Senators will co-sponsor the Kirk-Menendez legislation, including: Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Additional co-sponsors will be added this week.
Click here for the full press release.

Democrats: Dueling Moves on Iran Sanctions

On January 26, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced a resolution in support of ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. It also “affirms that support for the prompt reimposition of suspended sanctions as well as the imposition of additional sanctions against Iran would be strong and widespread in the Senate” if talks fail or Tehran does not fulfill its commitments. The resolution, cosponsored by nine other Democrats, is intended to “provide an option in support of diplomacy” and contrasts with another bill under consideration, according to Feinstein.

The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, co-sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), would automatically impose sanctions if a deal is not reached by the June 30 deadline. On January 27, Menendez and nine other Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Obama in support of the bill, introduced the same day. They also expressed skepticism that Iran is “committed to making the concessions required to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24 – the deadline agreed upon for a political framework agreement.” 
Senator Feinstein and her colleagues, along with the Obama administration, have repeatedly warned that passage of such a bill could jeopardize diplomacy and compromise the international consensus on the Iran nuclear issue. The following are statements by Feinstein and Murphy on their resolution followed by the letter from Menendez and his colleagues to the president.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
“Enacting new sanctions before the end of the negotiating period would gravely undermine our efforts to reach an agreement with Iran. For those who agree that the sanctions bill in the Banking Committee is detrimental, this resolution provides an option in support of diplomacy. The resolution states that if negotiations fail or if Iran violates any agreement, then it is appropriate for Congress to swiftly pass sanctions.
“Whether or not Iran is willing to make the compromises necessary to rejoin the community of nations remains to be seen. But we have an obligation to give our negotiators the time and space needed to test that possibility. We must see this diplomatic opening through.
“This is not just a matter for the United States, it’s the major world powers that have come together in negotiation with Iran. With the international community united and a temporary accord in place, this is the best chance we have to resolve this matter peacefully. The opportunity is there. To torpedo it would be reckless and dangerous.” 
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)
“There should be no doubt that the United States Congress stands ready and willing to pass new sanctions if Iran fails to live up to its end of the bargain in these negotiations. Senator Feinstein and I introduced this resolution because we strongly believe that a comprehensive diplomatic agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and that passing new sanctions legislation at this time would be counterproductive.
“But this resolution makes clear that if Iran walks away from the table, or if talks fall through because they’re no longer negotiating in good faith, the United States will not hesitate to respond with debilitating new sanctions.”
In addition to Senators Feinstein and Murphy, the resolution is cosponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Tester (D-MT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Dear Mr. President:
We remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability, in accordance with the timeline that the P5+1 and Iran negotiating teams have set for themselves: March 24, 2015 for a political framework agreement and June 30, 2015 to conclude negotiations on the technical annexes of the comprehensive deal. 
Congress has always been a partner in the shared goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability.  We remain appreciative of your leadership in seeking to protect the United States, and our allies and partners, from the threat of a nuclear Iran.  For more than two decades, the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government have worked together in a bipartisan way to implement sanctions legislation that successfully ratcheted up pressure on Iran’s nuclear program.  This pressure proved to be decisive in compelling Iranian leadership to enter the latest round of nuclear negotiations in September 2013. 
We remain deeply skeptical that Iran is committed to making the concessions required to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24 – the deadline agreed upon for a political framework agreement.  Considering Iran’s history in nuclear negotiations and after two extensions of the Joint Plan of Action, we are concerned that Iran is intentionally extending the negotiations to improve its leverage at the negotiating table.
We are Democratic supporters of the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2015 – a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran only if Iran fails to reach a comprehensive agreement by the June 30 deadline.  This bill also includes monthly waivers after June 30 to provide additional negotiating flexibility.  We believe that this bill, as introduced, is reasonable and pragmatic, respects the nuclear negotiating timeline, and sends a strong signal to Iran and to the international community that endless negotiations under the interim agreement are dangerous, unacceptable, and could leave Iran with a threshold nuclear weapon capability. 
In acknowledgement of your concern regarding congressional action on legislation at this moment, we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24.  After March 24, we will only vote for this legislation on the Senate floor if Iran fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement.  This deadline is the critical test of Iranian intentions.  We expect that your Administration will consult closely with Members of Congress in the coming months, and look forward to working with you to achieve our shared goal of reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability.

Iran & Region V: Yemen's Houthis

On January 22, Yemeni president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned under pressure from the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis have controlled the capital city Sanaa (left) since September 2014. In Yemen, Iran is widely seen as the main backer of the Houthi movement. University of Tehran professor Nasser Hadian told The Iran Primer that the Iranian Qods force has likely been advising the Houthis militarily, but that Iran’s influence in Yemen is not as strong as many believe. The following is an excerpt from Hadian's interview on Iran's goals in the region followed by key quotes by Iranian officials on Yemen.

In Yemen, the Houthis have emerged over the last 6 months as a dominant player. They now control the capital. What is Iran doing in Yemen? What does Iran want to see happen?
I cannot imagine that Iran is not involved in Yemen, especially since the Houthis seized power so quickly. But it’s probably not to the extent that the West believes. Iran is probably advising the Houthis militarily, likely through the Qods force. But Iran’s plate is already full dealing with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Iran cannot play a very active role in Yemen. And the Houthis actually don’t need that much help. They are probably receiving money, but not arms – they are already well armed. The point is that they have their own grievances, their own organization, and their own reasons to rebel. So Iran is probably not spending that many resources in Yemen.
Iran is not concerned about who is in power in Yemen as long as the government has a good, friendly relationship with Iran. Iran is not necessarily looking for an Islamic government or a Houthi government – it realizes the Houthis are a minority.
The rise of the Houthis is more an indication of the failure of Saudi Arabia’s influence than the success of Iran’s policy. Yemen and Saudi Arabia are linked to one another, and the Saudis have channeled a lot of resources to Yemen.
Iran does not consider Saudi Arabia a threat, but the Saudis felt threatened by Iran even under the shah. Since the revolution, they have taken all sorts of measures to contain Iran’s influence. They are spending money in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, principally to counter Iran. The formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council was part of that as well. They want to contain Iran and limit its resources. For the Saudis, the cost of that action is what’s going on in Yemen.
Key Quotes by Iranian Officials
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“Misunderstandings among Yemeni political groups need to be removed through talks.”
“Iran always tries to help establish stability in all countries. As for Yemen [the Islamic Republic] will tap into all its potential to help establish lasting peace [in the Arab country].”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, according to Iran Front Page

Chief of the Joint Staff of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Lieutenant Gen. Hossein Salami
After noting that the Houthis are inspired by Iran's Islamic Republic: "The Iranian Islamic Revolution is not only working on spreading the culture that wakes up and develops the mentality of the Muslim world, but it is also working toward activating confrontation, which has pulled the rug from under the foreign forces in the region."
The region is still searching for "a new political and security order. The Islamic Republic of Iran is contributing to producing this order. We have advanced on the enemy in this regard and we have the initiative in shaping this order."
– Jan. 1, 2015, according to the press

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham
"Full implementation of the approvals made in the national talks and the Peace and Partnership Agreement can bring tranquility and stability back to Yemen.”
"We again want all signatories of the agreements to remain committed to what they have undertaken.”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, according to the press

The Supreme Leader's Representative in the Qods Force and Revolutionary Guards Ali Shirazi
“The Houthi group is a similar copy to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and this group will come into action against enemies of Islam."
“The Islamic republic directly supports the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the popular forces in Syria and Iraq...officials in the country have reiterated this many times.”
“A coup against Ansarallah [also known as Houthis] means a coup against the people. Ansarallah is not a small group or a special party as it represents the Yemeni people and its awakening.”
“Hezbollah was formed in Lebanon as a popular force like al-Basij. Similarly popular forces were also formed in Syria and Iraq, and today we are watching the formation of Ansarallah in Yemen,”
 – Jan. 26, 2015, according to the press
Photo credits: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Mosque Minaret, Sana'a) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Iran & Region III: Goals in Syria

Alireza Nader

What is Iran doing in Syria? How important is Iran in the ground war?
Iran is playing a crucial role in buttressing President Bashar Assad, through military advice, provision of weapons, and funding of the cash-strapped Syrian government. The Assad regime might not survive without support of Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah.
Where are Iranian forces concentrated? How many are there? What are they doing exactly?
Some Iranians have been killed in Syria, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi in January 2015. But Iran does not appear to be committing major ground forces to the conflict. Tehran instead prefers to recruit Shiite militias from across the Middle East and even Afghanistan to fight in places like Damascus and Aleppo. Iran’s profile in Syria is lower than its profile in Iraq.
What are the stakes for Iran in Syria?
Iran has sought to protect the dozens of Shiite holy sites in Syria, especially the Zeinab Shrine near Damascus. Tehran used the holy sites to recruit fighters to aid Assad. More importantly, Syria is the geopolitical lynchpin for Iranian influence in the Levant and the wider Arab world. If the Syrian regime fell, the flow of arms and aid to Iran’s most important Arab ally — the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah — would be affected. Hezbollah, which has thousands of rockets aimed at Israel, is the main Iranian deterrence against Israel.

How does Iran's role in Syria today differ from its earlier activities before the war?
Iran and Syria have been close allies since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Each has provided the other with critical assistance at various times. Syria was one of only two Arab nations (Libya was the other) to support Iran during the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. It was an important conduit for weapons to an isolated Iran.
Over the last decade, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have trained, equipped, and aided Syria’s security and military forces. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims and tourists visited Syria before its civil war, and Iranian companies made significant investments in the Syrian economy.
But in the past few years, Iran has played an active role in Syria that few could have imagined before the civil war. “The deep, strategic and historic relations between the people of Syria and Iran ... will not be shaken by any force in the world,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saidshortly after his 2013 inauguration. Tehran appears to be willing to spend billions of dollars to prop up the Assad regime despite its own floundering economy. For now, Iran is fully committed to the fight.

How do Iran's actions and goals in Syria differ from the United States?
Iran has opposed U.S. policies on Syria since the conflict broke out. In 2013, Tehran condemned the U.S. move to provide non-lethal aid to rebels for the first time. Iranian officials criticized U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) targets in 2014, despite a shared interest in defeating the militants. Rouhani said the bombardments were illegal because they had not been sanctioned by the Syrian government.
Tehran has also argued that the best way to defeat ISIS is to support the Assad government. It has challenged U.S. support for anti-government rebels. “You cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in reaction to the airstrikes.
Tehran generally opposes any type of foreign intervention in Syria. But officials have warned the United States in particular not to deploy its forces in the region again.

Tehran welcomed the Assad’s reelection to the presidency in June 2014, while the Washington dismissed the poll. “The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. But Tehran may not be fully committed to Bashar Assad as the only leader for Syria, although it wants a pro-Iranian regime in Damascus.  

How are U.S. and Iranian actions affecting each other's strategies?
The divide between Iran and the United States in Syria appears to be unbridgeable, but Iran may be flexible in Syria as long as its interests are protected. This may not be palatable for the United States and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have long sought to overthrow the Alawite-led regime.
Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.
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Photo credits: Leader.ir, Grave of volunteer by Robin Wright
Tags: ISIS, Syria

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