United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Primer's Blog

Gallup:Iran No Longer Number One Enemy

            Half as many Americans view Iran as the United States’ greatest enemy as did two years ago, according to a new Gallup poll. Some 20 percent of Americans polled see China as the top U.S. enemy. About 16 percent of Americans see Iran as the greatest enemy. The same amount considers North Korea the number one enemy. The November 2013 interim nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers “may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran,” according to Gallop. The following are excerpts from the poll report.

 
After the top three countries, 9% of Americans mention Russia, 7% name Iraq, 5% Afghanistan, and 3% Syria.
 
Gallup first asked this open-ended question in 2001, and opinions have shifted over that time. In the 2001 survey -- 10 years after the Persian Gulf War but before the 2003 Iraq war began -- Americans named Iraq as the greatest U.S. enemy by a large margin.
 
By 2005, with the U.S. nearly two years into the Iraq war, Iraq and North Korea tied as the greatest enemy, with 22% mentioning each country. The next year, Iran surged to the top of the list, with 31% of all mentions, and it remained the most often cited enemy until this year.
 
The drop in mentions of Iran as the greatest enemy in this year's poll has been accompanied by increases in the percentages mentioning North Korea (from 10% in 2012 to 16%), Russia (from 2% to 9%), and Syria (from less than 1% to 3%). The percentage mentioning China, however, has stayed virtually the same. Thus, China now tops the list mainly because Americans' views on the nation's enemies are more divided among several countries rather than focused on one dominant country, as in recent years.
 
Iran reached an agreement last November with several of the world's largest nations, including the United States, to limit its nuclear activity. Those nations in return agreed to ease some of the sanctions on Iran. That agreement may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran.
 
This week, Iran and the same countries agreed to a framework for continued negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
 
Importantly, although Americans are less likely to regard Iran as the greatest U.S. enemy, their basic favorable and unfavorable opinions of Iran have improved only slightly this year, and remain overwhelmingly negative.
 
Key Subgroups' Perceptions of the Nation's Greatest Enemy Are Similar
 
Americans in all major subgroups are less likely now than in 2012 to name Iran as the United States' greatest enemy. Groups that were among the most likely to view Iran as the top enemy, such as men, older Americans, and college graduates, tend to show the greatest declines.
 
There are not major differences by subgroup in current perceptions of the greatest U.S. enemy. Older Americans and Republicans are a bit more likely than younger Americans and Democrats to name Iran as the top enemy. In turn, younger Americans and Democrats more commonly view North Korea as the No.1 enemy.
 
 
Implications
 
Americans' perceptions of the United States' greatest enemy have varied over time, usually in response to developments on the world stage. As such, the sharp drop in their likelihood of naming Iran as the United States' top enemy is probably tied to Iran's continued willingness to agree to international limitations on its nuclear capabilities.
 
However, Iran's reluctance to agree to limitations in the past has made U.S. and world leaders cautious about whether Iran will uphold its end of any agreement. Indeed, the Senate is preparing a measure to impose new sanctions on Iran if it does not curtail its nuclear program.
 
With fewer Americans currently regarding Iran as the greatest enemy, China now tops the list, ranking just slightly ahead of Iran and North Korea. Americans in general view China much more positively than Iran, though on balance, still negatively. They may regard China's emerging economic power to be as threatening, if not more so, than the potential military threats from Iran and North Korea.
 
 

State Dept: 2013 Human Rights Report on Iran

            On February 27, the State Department released its annual country reports on human rights practices. The following are excerpts from the Iran chapter.
 
Executive Summary
Despite high popular participation in the country’s June 14 presidential election, candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria, as well as limitations on civil society, print and electronic media, and election monitoring by credible nongovernmental observers, continued to undermine the freedom and fairness of the electoral system. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces frequently committed human rights abuses.
 
The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.
 
Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression, such as beatings and rape; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of security forces; denial of fair public trials, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the internet) and press; harassment of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; some restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.
 
The government took few steps to prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed abuses. Members of the security forces detained in connection with abuses were frequently released soon after their arrest, and judicial officials did not prosecute offenders. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
 
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government and its agents reportedly committed acts of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrests and trials lacking in due process. The government made limited attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during reported torture or other physical abuse, or after denying detainees medical treatment. Members of ethnic minority communities were disproportionately victims of such abuses…
 
b. Disappearance
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on those taken. In other cases authorities detained persons incommunicado before permitting them to contact family members…
 
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” but there were several credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners. On October 23, the UN special rapporteur cited allegations that members of religious minority communities, including Baha’is and Sufis, faced torture while in detention.
 
Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement, rape, sexual humiliation, threats of execution, sleep deprivation, and severe and repeated beatings. There were reports of severe overcrowding in many prisons and repeated denials of medical care for prisoners…
 
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
 
Prison conditions were reportedly often harsh and life threatening. There were reports that some prisoners committed suicide as a result of the harsh conditions, solitary confinement, and torture to which they were subjected. Prison authorities often refused medical treatment for injuries prisoners reportedly suffered at the hands of their abusers and from the poor sanitary conditions of prison life. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were common. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. The July 31 annual report of the UN high commissioner for human rights noted cases in which authorities subjected prisoners to torture, threats, and solitary confinement after charging them with contacting the Office of the Special Rapporteur…
 
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, these occurred frequently during the year.
 
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
 
Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the MOIS, law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, and the IRGC, which reported to the supreme leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations in cities and towns across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in crackdowns on political opposition elements without formal guidance or supervision from superiors.
The security forces were not considered fully effective in combating crime, and corruption and impunity remained problems. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and public demonstrations. There was no transparent mechanism to investigate or punish security force abuses, and there were no reports of government actions to discipline abusers…
 
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subject to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.” The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary, and the heads of the judiciary, the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness…
 
Political Prisoners and Detainees
 
Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. The ICHRI estimated there were 500 political prisoners in the country, including those arbitrarily detained for peaceful activities or the exercise of free expression. Other human rights activists estimated there could be more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
 
On September 19, the democracy promotion organization Freedom House reported that an estimated 800 dissidents, including journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, were imprisoned in the country. The CPJ listed 35 journalists imprisoned as of December 1. The ICHRI reported on August 21 that at least 29 students remained in prison on charges related to their political activities and that several of the students had not been allowed any furlough despite a legal furlough requirement…
 
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” The law states that anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state may be imprisoned for as long as one year; the law does not define “propaganda.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam; the latter offense is punishable by death. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and press, and it used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights issues. According to the CPJ, the government continued a campaign of press intimidation throughout the year…
 
Internet Freedom
 
The government restricted access to the internet. The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 26 percent of individuals used the internet during the year.
 
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the ministry, which, along with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office, composed the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. The same law that applies to traditional press applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary used the law to close websites during the year. NGOs reported that the government continued its restrictions on access to the internet during the year, especially in advance of the June 14 presidential election, as more citizens used it as a source for news and political debate. Internet traffic over mobile communication devices, including cell phones, was reportedly subject to the same restrictions as traffic operating over fixed-line connections…
 
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
 
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education based on political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula. Women were restricted from enrolling in several courses of study and faced limited program opportunities, quotas on program admission, and gender-segregated classes (see section 6, Women)…
 
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” The government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings to prevent antiregime protests. Such gatherings included public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings. According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty and groups viewed as critical of the regime experiencing harassment regardless of whether a permit was issued. The government sometimes slowed internet speeds or blocked e-mail or text messaging services to disrupt potential public gatherings or demonstrations…
 
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional or political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members…
 
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
 
Recent Elections: On June 14, voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. The Interior Ministry announced that Rouhani won 50.88 percent of the votes and that turnout was 72 percent of eligible voters. Although the government did not allow outside observers to monitor the election, several organizations observed that, while turnout was high and the official results appeared to be consistent with voter sentiment, the country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free and fair elections as a result of the supreme leader’s and Guardian Council’s preeminent roles in all political processes, including selecting which individuals were permitted to run…
 
Political Parties: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties with ideological and practical adherence to the system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment, violence, and sometimes imprisonment…
 
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women and persons of foreign origin from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council (a body responsible for mediating between the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Guardian Council and serving as a consultative council for the supreme leader); and as judges. On May 16, the Guardian Council disqualified all 30 women who registered as presidential candidates in the June 14 election. Women served as vice president for legal affairs, minister of environmental protection, minister of women and family affairs, and foreign ministry spokesperson…
 
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
 
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was a serious and ubiquitous problem. Officials in all three branches of government frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Many officials expected bribes for providing routine service. Individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for illegal construction.
 
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Women
 
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including execution, but it remained a problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were reports of government forces raping individuals in custody (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Sex within marriage is considered to be consensual by definition, and therefore spousal rape is not addressed, including in cases of forced marriage…
 
Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. By law health and maternity benefits are eliminated for a family after three children. There were no restrictions on the right of married persons to access contraceptives. It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Couples who plan to marry must take a class in family planning.
 
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law and all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in conformity with Islam. The government did not enforce the law, however, and provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Discrimination restricted women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights. The governmental Center for Women and Family continued to publish reports on women’s rights with a conservative religious slant and limited the debate on women’s issues to matters related to the home. The center did not raise ideas contrary to the government or its interpretation of Islam…
 
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
 
The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse (see also section 1.e.). These groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. Human rights organizations, including the ICHRI and the IHRDC, observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities…
 
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
 
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which may be punishable by death or flogging. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBT persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than for such conduct between women…
 
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. The government imprisoned, harassed, and restricted the activities of labor activists…
 
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men. Family members and others forced children to work. The government made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year.
 
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of minors younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of minors younger than 18, such as prohibitions on hard labor or night work; however, the law permits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses from the age of 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem.
 
There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, working as street vendors in major urban areas. Child labor was also reportedly used in the production of carpets. Children also worked as beggars, and there were reports that some children were forced into begging rings.
 
Click here for the full report.
 
 

Report: Iran Media Heavily Restricted

      Iran remains one of the world’s most restrictive countries in terms of media freedom, according to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. The report noted that at the end of 2013, “Iran continued to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel, with 50 journalists and netizens detained.” The Islamic Republic ranked 173rd out of 180 surveyed countries based on six general criteria including transparency, media independence and legislative framework. The index shows a worldwide decline in media freedom due to an increase in armed conflicts or “overly broad” interpretations of national security needs. Iran moved up one place from the previous year, when 179 countries were surveyed. The following is the bottom of the index and an excerpt from the report.   

170 Cuba
171 Lao People’s Democratic Republic
172 Sudan
173 Islamic Republic of Iran
174 Vietnam
175 China
176 Somalia
177 Syrian Arab Republic
178 Turkmenistan
179 Democratic People's Republic of Korea
180 Eritrea
 
            Iran, a major regional actor, is playing a key role in the Syrian conflict. The Iranian authorities continue to control news coverage strictly, especially when it concerns its ally, the Assad regime, the Revolutionary Guard presence in Syria and Iran’s financial aid. Any coverage of these subjects is regarded as “endangering national security.” Reporting on the nuclear issue, human rights and prisoners of conscience is also censored. At the end of 2013, Iran continued to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel, with 50 journalists and netizens detained. A few prisoners of conscience were released, but President Hassan Rouhani has not kept his campaign promises to “release all political prisoners” and bring about a change “in favour of free speech and media freedom.”
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Photo credit: Kai Hendry from Singapore, Malaysia [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rouhani Tweets: Economy, Nuke Negotiations

            President Hassan Rouhani discussed Iran’s domestic and foreign policy challenges in several statements, interviews and speeches during February 2014. On the economy, Rouhani predicted new growth from foreign investment in anticipation of sanctions relief for Iran's cooperation on the nuclear issue. On unemployment, Rouhani said that Iran needs to expand its knowledge-based economy while upgrading its oil and gas industry. On nuclear negotiations, the president reemphasized that Iran will respond in kind to “mutual respect” shown by the world’s six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The president’s semi-official Twitter account posted the following remarks in February 2014.

Economy

 

Nuclear Negotiations

 

Education

 

Civil Rights

 

Corruption

 

Foreign Relations

 

Presidential Election

 

35th Anniversary of Revolution

US Briefs Israel on Iran Nuke Talks

      On February 22, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (left) assured Israeli journalists that Washington is “clear-eyed about the enormous challenges that lay ahead” in final nuclear talks with Iran. The world’s six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States —hope to broker a comprehensive agreement with Iran by July 20.
      Sherman acknowledged that Washington and Jerusalem “don’t always agree on every single tactical approach” but emphasized that they both “share the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran” and “agree that diplomacy is the best option.” The following are excerpts from Sherman’s roundtable with journalists in Jerusalem.
 
State Department Roundtable with Journalists in Jerusalem
 
I work hard to talk with my Israeli counterparts before and after every round of the discussions with my European Union and P5+1 colleagues on the Iran nuclear issue, because I think it’s quite important that people here – you, government officials, and opinion leaders here in Israel – know how these negotiations are progressing, and for me to hear and my team to hear their views.
 
Everyone feels the urgency of resolving this issue. And here that feeling of necessity is at least, if not more, acute than anywhere else, and so the perspectives provided to me are truly invaluable.
 
As you know, we began the comprehensive negotiations this week in Vienna, where we had, quite frankly, constructive, useful, and workmanlike discussions. We feel we made progress; and although we cannot predict what is ahead, we do have a path forward for how these talks will proceed and an overall framework for undertaking them.
 
Significantly, the European Union, the P5+1, and Iran were able to agree to a framework that will guide our negotiations over the next five months. While I will not go into specifics – I know you’ll ask, but I will not go into specifics about any particular issue that’s on the table – we have made very clear that all of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed in order to get a comprehensive agreement done…
 
These conversations in Vienna obviously gave us additional insights into Iran’s perspective, and they, of course, heard ours loudly, clearly, and in a unified fashion. We have begun to see some areas of agreement, as well as areas in which we will have to work through very difficult issues. Again, I’m not going to outline what those specific areas are of either agreement or disagreement because we cannot negotiate this agreement in public. But we know the work that lies ahead, and we have begun it and are ready to do it.
 
I know that some in Israel have many questions about these negotiations. We all do. And there are some everywhere, certainly in my own country, and on any given day myself included, doubt whether we will ever be able to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon at the end of this process. Believe me, we don’t go into these talks with rose-colored glasses on, and we are clear-eyed about the enormous challenges that lay ahead. We do not know if, at the end of the day, we will be able to get this done diplomatically.
 
I also know that as close as our relationship is, we don’t always agree on every single tactical approach. But as we go forward with these negotiations, it is important to keep in mind that we do, in fact, share the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. And we do agree that diplomacy is the best option for achieving that goal, if it is achievable. And as we work every day towards that end, we will continue to talk to our partners in the region, here in Israel and throughout the region about how best to get there…
 
As we begin these next five months of talks, let me say this very clearly: It will be critical that our negotiators and our experts and our partners have the space required to get this done diplomatically and to do the complex, tough work this process demands. This negotiation will be difficult under the best of circumstances, and we cannot afford to do anything to make it harder.
 
Let me again remind people that nothing is agreed in these negotiations until everything is agreed. And the United States will hold our veto on any agreement until all of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program are met. Going forward, experts from the United States, the European Union, the rest of the P5+1, and Iran will be in virtually continuous discussions to work on the very complicated, technical details involved in this agreement. And I and the other political directors will meet regularly in Vienna, with the next round of the political director level talks beginning on March 17th.
 
We know this will be a difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right, but with the intent to complete a comprehensive agreement by July 20th. And we will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get the job done so that we can make the United States, Israel, the region, and indeed the entire world a safer place.
 
QUESTION: You mentioned [the] possibility to enrich [uranium]…?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I can’t elaborate, because that would be going into the specifics of the negotiation. Iran could choose not to have a domestic program. There are many reasons for them to get their needs met through international cooperation outside of their country. But if, at the end of the day, they do want to have a small, discrete, limited program that addresses practical needs, it is envisioned as a possibility in the Joint Plan of Action. But obviously the capacity, the scope, the facilities, the nature of it would have to be highly constrained, highly monitored, and verified on a quite regular basis…
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The reason for the first step [interim agreement] was to, in fact, put time on the clock, to stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program and to roll it back in specific ways so we would have this period of time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. So not to put time on the clock at all; quite the opposite, to put the constraints on Iran’s program to get the transparency that is necessary, to get Iran to make the commitments, decisions to deal with the infrastructure of their program in a way that ensures that they cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
 
But this is a very, very complex undertaking. And President Obama has said he gives it a 50-50 chance… Some people here might say zero as well. Iran doesn’t have a great record in the past. We all know that. We all know Iran’s history.
 
But at the same time, I will say this: Since the Joint Plan of Action was put into effect on January 20th and Iran was to undertake a number of commitments, there is no reason for me to believe – and the IAEA just issued a report; it’s a restricted report, so I can’t speak to it, though as member-state of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, I have seen it. I will say I have no reason to believe but that Iran has kept every commitment that they were supposed to take during the first month. So, so far that’s only one month in a very long road, but it certainly is a better sign than if they had not followed through on their commitments.
 
QUESTION: You were just talking about the limited possibility. You used the term “practical needs.” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz gave a speech this week in which he said he’s particularly been concerned about that term, because the way that term is placed there he believes would actually allow Iran to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon…
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, as I said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We have to be satisfied that, in fact, this is an exclusively peaceful program, if they have a domestic enrichment program that it is limited, that it is verified, that it is – has tremendous constraints on it. And unless we are satisfied, there will be no agreement. That is true of everyone who sits at the table. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
 
And everyone has to remember that the United States is engaged in this in the way we are because President Obama believes that this is a fundamental security concern for the United States. And so we will make sure it is an agreement that can stand up and can assure us that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that is an exclusively peaceful program, if there is a domestic, limited, constrained, verified, small, discrete enrichment program.
 
QUESTION: I’d like to go back to what you said…  about… the next five months… He [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] said that those talks are irrelevant. So you’d like to see him quiet for next five months?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I never tell a prime minister or a president that they should be quiet. I have tremendous admiration for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He, like all prime ministers and president, particularly of democracies, have to say it like they believe it is for the security of their country. That is his solemn responsibility. And so I respect the judgments he makes as the leader of this country. And I would not substitute mine for his where Israel is concerned, or for anyone in this room, for that matter, because you live here. This is your country, you are citizens of Israel; these are judgments you have to make for yourself.
In my own country, the President is the commander-in-chief; he’s the President of the United States. The one concrete example I can give you is he has asked our Congress not to pass additional sanctions legislation right now. We believe very strongly that if the Congress passed additional sanctions legislation, even if that legislation didn’t come into effect for six months or even a year, would send the wrong signal and would heap an additional requirement on this negotiation that might create real problems.
 
And so our view is if an action risks the negotiation and risks the diplomacy, then the onus becomes on the person who has created that risk, including if Iran takes actions that risk the diplomacy. So this is about everybody; that this is a very difficult negotiation, the consequences are enormous. And so we are asking everyone to be thoughtful about the steps that they take so that we have the time and the space to test whether, in fact, we can get to a comprehensive agreement. We don’t know if we can. But we ought to find out, because the options if we cannot are very difficult and very tough for all of us.
 
QUESTION: Are you comfortable with Israeli comments and actions here, on the Hill, using Israeli lobby organizations, so on, Israeli comments about the fact that – you heard all the comments – Iran gets everything for nothing, zero enrichments regarding Netanyahu’s position. Are you comfortable with these kind of statements?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: …People will make all kinds of comments. And quite frankly, I would like there to be zero enrichment, I would like there to be no facilities, I would like there not to be an indigenous program. I think I would like many things in life. But that does not mean I will always get them, and that is not necessarily the only path to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon and that the international community can have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. So that is certainly a path to that end, but it is not likely to – a negotiation doesn’t mean I get everything I want perfectly. What it means is will I get what I need to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon --
 
QUESTION: But is the Israeli position unrealistic?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No, I think the Israeli position is what it is. And as I said, I respect the prime minister’s perspective. I’m sure that next week when he comes to the United States and speaks with the President of the United States, they will have a vigorous and robust discussion. And we have, perhaps, on this a different point of view, but it’s more on tactics than on outcome. On the outcome that we all seek, it is exactly the same. And that outcome is that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that we all are confident in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. So the objective is identical, and that is what we are focused on.
 
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can tell us… whether you feel that they [Iranians] are playing for time or that they are in a rush to get a deal.
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think we will see as things go forward. What I can say about this – these three days, two-plus days, two and a half days, is that it was workmanlike. The Iranians were very engaged, very substantive. We had substantive exchanges on details. Our experts got into a discussion on one aspect in some detail. Our experts will be meeting again with Iran quite soon and will be digging into some of the other elements that are necessary in a comprehensive agreement.
 
There will be virtually continuous discussions from now till July 20th in one form or another, either the P5+1 and the European Union drafting ideas, establishing technical requirements, thinking through the various aspects of a comprehensive agreement, having expert meetings with Iran’s experts, having political level meetings at my level to work through where there are gaps, where there are decisions that have to get made. And I would suspect when we come down to the close here, you may even see the foreign ministers sitting in a room together, because there will be some very tough decisions that will have to get made. So there will be virtually continuous work on this throughout this process.
 
So I think people do understand that we have to work intensely, we have to take all the time that is necessary to get a good agreement. You know that Secretary Kerry has long said that a bad agreement is much worse than no agreement. So we are going for a good agreement, and not just a good agreement, but an agreement that reaches the objectives that I’ve laid out here about Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of the program. So we all know that we need to do this intensely, that we need to focus, that we need to try to get to that comprehensive agreement, or find out that we can’t.
 
QUESTION: I wanted to ask the Israeli prime minister – and we’ve been hearing a lot about this, about a strategic closeness between Israel and the moderate Gulf states on the way they perceive this, the whole negotiation process. You’ve been meeting with both – officials from both of them. How similar are the things that you hear in Jerusalem and how similar are the claims that are brought up and being discussed [in the Gulf]?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I’m going to leave here and go to Riyadh and meet with the GCC, as well as meet with Saudi Arabia bilaterally and then onto the UAE for some bilateral meetings on a number of issues. And you should ask them yourselves, and I’m sure you will. I’d like them to speak for themselves.
 
What I will say is that these talks are solely on Iran’s nuclear program. And I know there is great concern in the region about Iran’s destabilization activities in the region, Iran’s support for Hezbollah – which is an issue obviously for Israel, for Lebanon, and very, very painfully in Syria – and Iran’s providing military advisors and support to Syria.
 
And we’ve seen today that the UN Security Council has finally passed a resolution on humanitarian access for Syria, 15 to nothing. It is a robust UN Security Council resolution, and now we have to try to see if we can’t actually get some more help to people on the ground, who are being starved to death as a weapon of war, having barrel bombs dropped on civilians, horror after horror in Syria.
 
So I understand that the region is very concerned about Iran’s activities in the region and throughout the world, as are we, as well as Iran’s actions on human rights, which from an American point of view and an Israeli point of view are not what they should be, and according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
But this negotiation is solely focused on the nuclear negotiation. We are not going to make strategic decisions for people who live and work in this region without them. That’s not going to happen.
 
QUESTION: What can you say about the sanctions?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Iran did get some limited, targeted sanctions relief – auto kits, petrochemicals, gold, precious metals, a better channel to ensure humanitarian goods can get to Iran, and that’s pharmaceuticals, food, medical devices, which never were sanctioned but had a hard time getting in because of the financial sanctions. So we have done those things, and some businesses can legitimately use those small, targeted, limited sanctions to do business. But the major sanctions architecture remains in place. All the UN Security Council resolutions remain in place. And I think it’s taken a little while for businesses and governments to understand what they can and cannot do. I think it is very clear to people now what they can and cannot do.
 
And I hope what the people of Iran understand is that because they took this first step, they got limited, targeted sanctions relief for this six months. And if they seek – and I believe they do – to have all of the sanctions lifted, the path to do that is very clear; and that is a comprehensive agreement that will assure all of us that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful. So the irony of all of this is that the Iranian people and the Iranian Government understands they can get relief, but the only road to relief is to get that comprehensive agreement, to the full relief that they look for.
 
QUESTION: I want to go back to (inaudible) what’s going on in terms of (inaudible) and your impression of what kind of political pressure the Iranian negotiation team is under and how it affects the talks…?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think there is a reality to there being different points of view in Iran. Certainly, Iran is not the vigorous, robust democracy that Israel is or the United States of America is. Indeed, you know that the list of people who can run for president is decided, in essence, by the Guardian Council. So Iran is a different kind of government than what either Israel or the United States have or want.
 
But what I do think is real is there are different points of view. President Rouhani was elected. He is a conservative cleric, but he does – it appear – want to create some openings for Iran. He does want to get sanctions relief for his country. He does want to improve the economy. But how far he can go and what he can achieve I think remains to be seen.
 
So we need to work hard to test this opening. When we had the UN General Assembly, which was, I think, the first effort by this new government at a charm offensive, we heard a lot of good words, but there were no actions. The Joint Plan of Action put some concrete steps on the table, and Iran has taken those concrete steps.
 
So again, as I said a few moments ago, this is ultimately about verify, verify, verify; that we want to see if Iran will take those concrete steps, if they are real, if they can be verified and monitor, and give us the certainty that – as much certainty as one can get – that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
 
QUESTION: Just when you got back to the whole issue of Congress and sanctions – sorry to (inaudible) – do you have any messages that you’d like to say to AIPAC?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I’ve spoken quite directly to AIPAC. I’ve met with AIPAC. And they will have a vigorous debate, I’m sure, when they meet in Washington next week. And what I’ve said to them is I understand that sanctions with tremendous and terrific leadership by the United States Congress helped to bring Iran to the table. And I understand that it’s a little counterintuitive to believe that more of the same wouldn’t do more. But they are now at the negotiating table. We have taken a first step. We have verified the actions to date of that first step and will continue to do so.
 
We have an opportunity to see if we can get a comprehensive agreement to reach the objectives that I have laid out, and we have to give diplomacy a chance. And we believe very strongly that one of the reasons we are able to have the sanctions enforcement we have had is because the international community believes that we are committed to diplomacy in the first instance. And if we begin to take actions that look like it is putting new requirements on this diplomacy, we may lose the international cooperation we have had for that sanctions enforcement and the international community’s support for what we are trying to do. They will think, indeed, we have other objectives.
 
So we need to give this diplomacy a chance. We need to create the space for this diplomacy. And I would urge AIPAC to create this space. Yes, it’s fine for AIPAC to say – AIPAC will say whatever it wants to say. But it will be fine if AIPAC says if this doesn’t work, the Congress will take action, because the Congress will. And the Administration will support them to do so.
But that’s not where we are. Where we are now is trying to make this diplomacy work, this negotiation work with our partners – not only those in the room but throughout the world. And we should test this opportunity.
 
QUESTION: When you say that your international partners expect you to see the diplomatic way, you mean specifically like Russia, China?
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Look, everyone has had to swallow hard because these sanctions make it tough for everybody to do business. It makes it tough for our European partners to do business. They have put many constraints in place. So they have done so because they believed it was an important tool, but it’s not an ends in itself. Sanctions have never been an end in themselves. They have been a tool to get Iran to come to the table in a serious and focused way. We’re here now. We’re here now. So let’s see what we can get done. If we cannot get something done, we will all know what our options are.
 
QUESTION: What can you say about the plutonium channel? Can you say the same thing that you just said about the enrichment, they can have something that is small, discrete --
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We – there is – the Arak reactor is of concern. I’ve mentioned that before. And it is addressed in the Joint Plan of Action as something that must be resolved. And I think there are many ways to find the way forward on that facility.
 
QUESTION: On what you just said, I had the feeling, at least in Vienna, that there’s some kind of – that a lot of the barriers are down, and even on a person-to-person basis (inaudible) there’s more trust between the negotiators than there was, let’s say, at the beginning of the Geneva talks.
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, certainly, one would hope that we know each other a little bit better, we can listen to each other a little bit better, we understand each other a little bit better. But that is a long way still, Barak, from what I hope we get to someday, which is a more normal relationship. But that more normal relationship is going to take considerable time.
 
Click here for a full transcript.
 

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo