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Iran & Region II: Salvaging Iraq

Alireza Nader

What is Iran doing in Iraq? How important is Iran in the ground war against ISIS?
The Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guards, is playing a huge role in helping the Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State, especially in Diyala. The Guards are working with the Iraqi central government but they are reportedly heavily reliant on Shiite militias with close ties to Iran. Iran is now arguably the most influential foreign actor in Iraq.
Which Iraqi militias is Iran supporting - and how?
Iran is supporting many different militias. Some of the biggest and most prominent are the Badr Organization, Asai’b Ahl al Haq (AAH), Kataib Hezbollah, and various Sadrist elements. They are all Shiite. Certain militias such as the Badr Organization and AAH appear to be taking direct orders from Tehran. The Sadrists have had tensions with Iran before, so they may not be the most reliable of the militias.
Where are Iranian forces concentrated? How many are there? What are they doing exactly?
Iranian forces have tried to keep a low profile in Iraq, so estimating the number of active Iranians is difficult. But since late 2014, the “martyrdom” of Iranian soldiers and officers has become more common, as has Iran’s publicity about its role. Senior Iranian generals—including General Qassem Soleimani, the Qods Force commander—are not only advising Iraqi forces and militias, but also visiting the front lines and allowing photographs near warzones.
What are the stakes for Iran in Iraq?
Iran does not want the Islamic State or Sunni jihadi and nationalist groups to take over Iraq. Tehran is particularly concerned that the Shiite-led government in Baghdad could be replaced by a regime hostile to Iran, as was the case during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and the subsequent eight-year war, which produced more than 1 million casualties, has always been a major factor in Tehran’s strategic thinking. Many politicians and military commanders now in power were part of the war generation.
Iraq and Iran share a 910-mile border that is mostly porous. Iraq’s territorial integrity is critical for Iran too. Shortly after ISIS took significant territory in northern Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi that Iran “considers Iraq's security and stability as its own.”
Iran is also concerned about the safety of Shiite holy sites in Sammara, Najaf, and Karbala. The rise of the Islamic State presents Iran with the opportunity to demonstrate to the Iraqis, the Arab world, and the United States that it is an important power in the Middle East and should be recognized and treated as such. From Tehran’s perspective, its intervention could even provide more leverage on other issues, including the nuclear negotiations. “The world has understood the reality that the first country to rush to the help of the Iraqi people in the battle against extremism and terror was the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in December.
How does Iran's role in Iraq today differ from its earlier activities during the U.S. intervention?
After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iran played a prominent but largely behind-the-scenes role in Iraq. Tehran armed, trained and funded a variety of militias, mostly Shiite but some Sunnis as well. Iranian-backed militias attacked both U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Iran also reportedly funded and advised candidates and brokered alliances, although with mixed success.
The dynamics shifted when the U.S. withdrew in 2011. After the Islamic State’s sudden seizure of a large chunk of Iraq in 2014, Iran and the United States actually shared the goal of driving the Sunni extremists out of Iraq. Tehran’s goals were to defeat ISIS, ensure Iraq’s territorial integrity, and maintain Shiite allies in the central government. By early 2015, Iran’s role was much more public than in the past. Tehran actively sought to make sure the world knew it was playing a major role.

How do Iran's actions and goals in Iraq differ from the United States?
Both the United States and Iran also share an interest in preserving the Iraqi state. But their goals are not totally aligned. In neighboring Syria, the Islamic State poses a serious threat to the Assad regime, which Iran supports and the United States opposes. Tehran has also pursued a sectarian agenda in its support of Shiite militias, which contributed to greater Sunni dissatisfaction and complicating the fight against ISIS.
In contrast, Washington has pushed for an inclusive, multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian government in Baghdad to address Sunnis grievances.
How are U.S. and Iranian actions affecting each other's strategies?
Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged that the net effect of Iranian strikes on ISIS “is positive.” But U.S. and Iranian officials have denied rumors that they are coordinating their activities directly, preferring to deal only with Iraqi security forces.
Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.


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Photo credits: Abadi and Rouhani via President.ir

Tags: Iraq, ISIS

Iran & Region I: Search for Stability

Nasser Hadian

What is Iran’s role in the region?
For at least the next 10 or 15 years, the orienting principle of Iran’s foreign policy should be stability. Instability in neighboring countries can create security problems for Iran, so the overarching objective is to act as a stabilizing force in the region. This possibly guides U.S. policy as well, since the United States would also like to see a more stable Middle East.
Look at what is happening in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is in transition. Iran is getting frightened. Considering the multi-ethnic nature of Iranian society, no matter how strong the state is, there is a reason to be concerned. Instability in the region might have a trickle-down effect on Iran’s security. So stabilizing the region will be the main guiding principle of Iran’s foreign policy for the next several years.
Iran is not necessarily looking for Islamic governance in any country. Iran would prefer a country with a revolutionary Islamic government, challenging the U.S. and the world order. But Iran is also realistic enough to know that’s not always a possibility. Iran basically wants a non-ideological government, whether it has an Islamic tone as in Turkey or under [former President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed] Morsi in Egypt, or a secular regime like Bashar Assad.
What are the top foreign policy issues for Iran today?
The nuclear issue is number one. The next priority is Iraq, followed by Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan, which are equal priorities. After that, Iran is worried about Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain are not top priorities right now. Iran doesn’t feel the same urgency to deal with those issues.
What is Iran’s role in Iraq?
Iran’s view is that the territorial integrity of Iraq should be preserved, so Iran is helping the central government logistically, financially, and politically. That’s exactly what Iran did by helping the transition process from Prime Minister Maliki to Prime Minister Abadi. And there’s a famous saying that Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called the Americans for help, and they didn’t come. They called the Turks, and they didn’t come. But when they called Iran, [Qods Force commander General] Qassem Soleimani was there eight hours later. The Qods Force and Revolutionary Guards are in Iraq in an advisory role, but they are not engaged in fighting.
Iran is also mobilizing Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iran is in contact with Sunni tribesmen to get their support for the central government. Iran also persuaded the Kurds to remain part of Iraq.
The Qods Forces are in close contact with a number of Iraqi militias. Those links are so strong that Iranian forces don’t need to fight in Iraq. For instance, the Badr Brigades brigades were organized in Iran. It’s not just up to Iran to order them around; they are very much within the Iranian power structure. They can influence and shape Iranian policy towards Iraq.
Where does Iran share interests with the United States?
Iran makes its policy decisions in Iraq independent of the United States. They can cooperate with one another on some issues. For instance, they have a shared interest in fighting ISIS, so they coordinate through the Iraqi government, but not directly with each other. Neither wants to create the impression among Sunnis that Shiites are cooperating with the West to suppress ISIS. So the United States and Iran are very careful to take a strong position against each other.

What is Iran doing in Syria, and to what extent is it wedded to the Assad regime?
One of Iran’s goals in Syria is reducing the power of the presidency. Iran is not committed to keeping Assad in power. It’s entirely feasible to see Assad stepping down when he finishes his term, if he can be persuaded to make a face-saving exit. But he would be allowed to finish his term, as a practical measure.
The sudden removal of Assad as a figurehead would mean there is a good chance the whole regime would collapse, which neither the United States nor Iran wants. It would make the situation even more chaotic. Finding a way for the regime to be preserved, but for Assad to leave, is one proposal Iran is considering. This could include reducing the power of the presidency, decentralizing power, and allowing the rational opposition to participate in government. Realistically, there are only two options: ISIS or Assad. It is wishful thinking that the Free Syrian Army could succeed, so adopting these measures is more practical and would help isolate and defeat ISIS.
The four key regional and international players – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States – have to deal with the issue. If the Saudis are reluctant, they could be replaced by the Turks. If they agree on a plan, Iran and Russia are in a position to persuade Assad to accept it, and the United States and Saudi Arabia are in a position to gain cooperation from the Free Syrian Army.
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.
Tension has defined relations with Saudi Arabia for some time. What does Iran want from Saudi Arabia?
Iran wants a normal relationship with Saudi Arabia, and it wants a Saudi government that is not against Iran in principle. It does not want Saudi Arabia to challenge Iran economically, politically, and militarily. Take Syria, for example. Iran supports Assad and Hezbollah as a way of deterring Israeli attacks against Iran. It’s not about the Saudis.
But why do the Saudis want Assad removed from power? It’s not because Saudi Arabia is democratic and Assad’s regime is not. It’s about reducing Iran’s influence. They want Assad to step down because he has a good relationship with Iran. Iran is not challenging the Saudis, but they are challenging Iran.
What does Iran want in Lebanon?
Iran would like to see a friendly and working government there, but it doesn’t matter if the government is being controlled by Sunnis, Christians, or Hezbollah – as long as Hezbollah remains a strong military force to deter Israeli attacks.
Iran has two modes of defense against Israel. One is conventional missiles, which are not very precise. The other is Hezbollah. So Hezbollah’s rockets and missiles have a far more reliable deterrent capability than Iran’s own missiles. If you want to see Iran support a different Hezbollah, or a different Syria, the Israeli threat has to be reduced. In the beginning, after the revolution, Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah was ideological. But now it is more pragmatic.
Iran does not want to see another confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah – it would be crazy to want that. Hezbollah’s position within Lebanese society would be jeopardized if it was perceived as fighting a proxy war. Iran is spending a lot of money there, not just for military purposes, but also for building infrastructure, schools, and roads. These efforts have been perceived positively by Christians, and even a small minority of Sunnis. Many of them have their own grievances against Israel. Thus Iranian support of Hezbollah has been welcomed by many in Lebanese society.
An Iranian general was recently killed on the Golan Heights – what was he doing there? What does Iran want from Israel?
The general was helping the Syrians, but that does not include attacks on Israel. Iran has basically been building infrastructure against the Israelis for deterrence. But Iranians and Israelis have both been very careful not to directly engage one another. The confrontation began only a few years ago with the killing of Iranian scientists. The Iranians attempted to retaliate in a very unwise and unsophisticated way in operations abroad. They were an indication that Iran never thought that Israel was going to take direct action against Iran. That’s why they were not prepared.
There is not a unified Iranian view in terms of what to do about Israel. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has proposed a referendum [among both Israelis and Palestinians] on the Palestinian issue. But former President Mohammad Khatami proposed de facto acceptance of two-state solution. There is actually not that much debate going on in Iran about what to do in Israel. There is so much urgent discussion about other issues that Israel is not as much of a priority as it once was.
What does Iran want in Bahrain?
What Iran wants is not necessarily a democratic Bahrain, but a fair government that respects the rights of Shiites and gives them more participation in the political process. It’s not about regime change. If Bahrain improves its treatment of Shiites, relations with Iran could improve.
It was very humiliating for Iran when the Saudis sent forces into Bahrain. The Bahraini government claimed that Iran was involved there, but it was not – so Iran was made the scapegoat. Iran engaged in the propaganda war very late, after the Saudis and Bahrainis, who took a strong position against Iran.
Iran is about to celebrate its 36th anniversary of the revolution. How is Iran’s foreign policy different than it used to be?
In the beginning, Iran’s view of the world was idealist, and in action it was principlist. As time passed, Iran became more realist. Iran was idealist throughout the hostage crisis, but in the end acted pragmatically. In the war with Iraq, Iran was still idealist and acted with principlist tendencies. But by the end of war, Iran was realist – no longer idealist. And Iran acted pragmatically to end it.
So in terms of foreign policy, Iran was idealist and acted principlist, and as time passed, Iran became realist in its views and then acted pragmatically. The trajectory of both has been moving from idealism and principlism to realism and pragmatism.
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
Photo credits: Leader.ir, Syria-Iran by RonenY [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons, Bashar al Assad by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


European Ministers: Avoid New Sanctions

On January 21, four foreign ministers warned against passing new sanctions legislation in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “Introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Philip Hammond of Britain, Laurent Fabius of France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Federica Mogherini of the European Union. Congress is currently weighing a bill to impose new sanctions if talks fail. The following is an excerpt from the op-ed, titled “Give diplomacy with Iran a chance.”

Our objective remains clear. We want a comprehensive solution that both recognizes the Iranian people’s right to access peaceful nuclear energy and allows the international community to verify that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. Any agreement must provide concrete, verifiable and long-lasting assurances that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful. Nothing less will do. It is now up to Iran to make a strategic choice between open-ended cooperation and further isolation…
In this context, our responsibility is to make sure diplomacy is given the best possible chance to succeed. Maintaining pressure on Iran through our existing sanctions is essential. But introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture. While many Iranians know how much they stand to gain by overcoming isolation and engaging with the world, there are also those in Tehran who oppose any nuclear deal. We should not give them new arguments. New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far. Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.
Let us be clear: If Iran violates its commitments or proves unwilling to agree to a comprehensive, verifiable understanding that meets the international community’s bottom line, we will have no choice but to further increase pressure on it. For the first time, however, we may have a real chance to resolve one of the world’s long-standing security threats — and the chance to do it peacefully. We can’t let that chance pass us by or do anything to derail our progress. We have a historic opportunity that might not come again. With the eyes of the world upon us, we must demonstrate our commitment to diplomacy to try to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue within the deadline we have set. That is the surest path to reaching a comprehensive, lasting solution that will make the world and the region safer.
Click here for the full article.
Tags: Sanctions

Supreme Leader: Letter to American Youth

In reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Iran’s supreme leader appealed to American and European youth to not blindly accept stereotypes of Muslims. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged them to study Islam for themselves in the following unusual letter.


In the name of God, the Beneficent the Merciful

To the Youth in Europe and North America,

The recent events in France and similar ones in some other Western countries have convinced me to directly talk to you about them. I am addressing you, [the youth], not because I overlook your parents, rather it is because the future of your nations and countries will be in your hands; and also I find that the sense of quest for truth is more vigorous and attentive in your hearts.

I don’t address your politicians and statesmen either in this writing because I believe that they have consciously separated the route of politics from the path of righteousness and truth.

I would like to talk to you about Islam, particularly the image that is presented to you as Islam. Many attempts have been made over the past two decades, almost since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, to place this great religion in the seat of a horrifying enemy. The provocation of a feeling of horror and hatred and its utilization has unfortunately a long record in the political history of the West.

Here, I don’t want to deal with the different phobias with which the Western nations have thus far been indoctrinated. A cursory review of recent critical studies of history would bring home to you the fact that the Western governments’ insincere and hypocritical treatment of other nations and cultures has been censured in new historiographies.

The histories of the United States and Europe are ashamed of slavery, embarrassed by the colonial period and chagrined at the oppression of people of color and non-Christians. Your researchers and historians are deeply ashamed of the bloodsheds wrought in the name of religion between the Catholics and Protestants or in the name of nationality and ethnicity during the First and Second World Wars. This approach is admirable.

By mentioning a fraction of this long list, I don’t want to reproach history; rather I would like you to ask your intellectuals as to why the public conscience in the West awakens and comes to its senses after a delay of several decades or centuries. Why should the revision of collective conscience apply to the distant past and not to the current problems? Why is it that attempts are made to prevent public awareness regarding an important issue such as the treatment of Islamic culture and thought?

You know well that humiliation and spreading hatred and illusionary fear of the “other” have been the common base of all those oppressive profiteers. Now, I would like you to ask yourself why the old policy of spreading “phobia” and hatred has targeted Islam and Muslims with an unprecedented intensity. Why does the power structure in the world want Islamic thought to be marginalized and remain latent? What concepts and values in Islam disturb the programs of the super powers and what interests are safeguarded in the shadow of distorting the image of Islam? Hence, my first request is: Study and research the incentives behind this widespread tarnishing of the image of Islam.

My second request is that in reaction to the flood of prejudgments and disinformation campaigns, try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion. The right logic requires that you understand the nature and essence of what they are frightening you about and want you to keep away from.

I don’t insist that you accept my reading or any other reading of Islam. What I want to say is: Don’t allow this dynamic and effective reality in today’s world to be introduced to you through resentments and prejudices. Don’t allow them to hypocritically introduce their own recruited terrorists as representatives of Islam.

Receive knowledge of Islam from its primary and original sources. Gain information about Islam through the Qur’an and the life of its great Prophet. I would like to ask you whether you have directly read the Qur’an of the Muslims. Have you studied the teachings of the Prophet of Islam and his humane, ethical doctrines? Have you ever received the message of Islam from any sources other than the media?

Have you ever asked yourself how and on the basis of which values has Islam established the greatest scientific and intellectual civilization of the world and raised the most distinguished scientists and intellectuals throughout several centuries?

I would like you not to allow the derogatory and offensive image-buildings to create an emotional gulf between you and the reality, taking away the possibility of an impartial judgment from you. Today, the communication media have removed the geographical borders. Hence, don’t allow them to besiege you within fabricated and mental borders.

Although no one can individually fill the created gaps, each one of you can construct a bridge of thought and fairness over the gaps to illuminate yourself and your surrounding environment. While this preplanned challenge between Islam and you, the youth, is undesirable, it can raise new questions in your curious and inquiring minds. Attempts to find answers to these questions will provide you with an appropriate opportunity to discover new truths.

Therefore, don’t miss the opportunity to gain proper, correct and unbiased understanding of Islam so that hopefully, due to your sense of responsibility toward the truth, future generations would write the history of this current interaction between Islam and the West with a clearer conscience and lesser resentment.

Congress: Heated Debate on New Sanctions

Several U.S. lawmakers have challenged the Obama administration’s approach to nuclear talks with Iran. President Obama "expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Republicans on January 21. "Two words: Hell no...We're going to do no such thing." To force Tehran’s hand at the negotiating table, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if no nuclear deal is reached by July 6.

But administration officials and several lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have warned that new legislation could derail talks. President Obama has repeatedly pledged to veto any new sanctions bill. And Seyyed Abbas Araghchi, a top Iranian negotiator, recently warned that “if more pressure is exerted, we will leave the negotiating table."
The following are excerpted remarks from U.S. lawmakers and administration officials.
Supporters of New Sanctions 
Sen. Bob Menendez
“The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Iran...And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization, when they're the ones with original sin."
 – Jan. 21, 2015, during a Senate hearing

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)
"[President Obama]expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Republicans on January 21. "Two words: Hell no...We're going to do no such thing."
 – Jan. 21, 2015 according to the press
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
“The surest way to preserve peace is to prepare for war…thus, it may be up to Congress to restore the credible threat of force.”
 – Jan. 13, 2015, according to the press
“We need a shift in policy to a clear-eyed and hard-nosed policy of strength based on America’s interests and the threat posed by Iran. The goal must be clear — regime change.”
“The United States should cease all appeasement, conciliation and concessions toward Iran, starting with these sham nuclear negotiations.”
“What started as an unwise policy has now descended into a dangerous farce.”
“One can only suspect an unspoken entente between the Obama administration and Iran: the U.S. won’t impose new sanctions on Iran and we will allow it to build threshold nuclear capabilities while Iran won’t assemble a bomb until 2017.”
– Jan. 13, 2015, according to the press
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
“I think you have to continue to maintain that pressure [through sanctions]. And I worry that … the Iranian regime, they think that they’re scoring points, they’re getting momentum. They look at the international stage and frankly look a lot better maybe than they did months ago because they have been engaged in negotiations and dialogue…So I worry that, over time, these sanctions, the current sanctions, have less significance.”
 – Jan. 13, 2015, according to the press
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
"These negotiations that are going on now are really not going to bear fruit.”
"I always hope that I wake up one morning and read that the supreme leader in Iran has become a normal person, but he is a radical cleric that shares a radical view of his theology.”
"[The negotiations] are nothing but an effort to buy time to gain some sanctions relief, but not give up any irreversible concessions on the part of the Iranian government."
 – Jan. 18, 2015, according to the press
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN)
“With the most recent foreign policy news being focused on countries like Cuba, North Korea, and Syria, attention has been diverted from the very real threat that a nuclear Iran presents to a safer and more peaceful world. Throughout recent negotiations with the United States, Iranian leaders have received sanction relief in exchange for a lot of talk but little action.
“I support efforts to achieve a long-term, verifiable agreement that ends Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but I fear that Iran’s intentions are to obfuscate, delay, and extend the clock while it continues down the path of nuclear weapons capability.
“Because of its longtime history of arming and supporting terrorist organizations, a nuclear-armed Iran is not only a threat to our strongest Middle East ally, Israel, but also the United States.
“As a Member of Congress, I have strongly advocated for economic sanctions. These sanctions have had their intended effect on the Iranian economy and ultimately brought Iran to the negotiating table. Now is not the time for sanctions relief but for increased economic pressure. As we enter the new year, Congress should pass additional sanctions to further make it clear the world will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.”
 – Dec. 30, 2014, in a statement
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)
“I also reject the premise that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be derailed by Congress passing carefully-crafted sanctions that only take effect if the regime fails to live up to its international obligations. After all, it was sanctions that drove Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015, in a statement
Opponents of New Sanctions
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
“I strongly support the president’s call to Congress to refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran. New sanctions now would violate the interim agreement, collapse the negotiations and take us out of lockstep with the international community.
“We have a responsibility to support the diplomatic negotiations and see them through. If they fail to achieve a deal, then we should consider sanctions and next steps, but we shouldn’t prejudge that outcome.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015 in a statement
Rep. David Price (D-NC)
“If my colleagues are serious about restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they will resist the temptation to intervene and instead let our negotiators finish the job.”
“While the JPOA is only a temporary agreement, Iran has complied with it and verifiably frozen and rolled back its nuclear program, demonstrating that it is willing to take negotiations seriously.
Congress could play an important oversight role while negotiators work to build on this progress and secure a verifiable and lasting nuclear agreement with Iran. But acting peremptorily to demand specific concessions from Iran could destabilize the diplomatic balance needed for negotiations to both continue and ultimately succeed. It would be unwise, for example, to lay out unrealistic or overly-specific requirements for a final agreement to be acceptable to Congress.”
“Imposing new or less flexible economic sanctions – which has been proposed by a number of my congressional colleagues, including Senators Kirk and Menendez – could do great damage to our prospects for a nuclear agreement with Iran. New punitive action could strengthen Iranian hard-liners and make their withdrawal from the negotiations more likely. Acting unilaterally could also undermine the stability of our international alliance, and thereby actually weaken the existing international sanctions regime.”
“The existing sanctions are, of course, a major reason that Iran is at the negotiating table, and Congress should stand ready to reimpose and strengthen them should Iran violate the terms of the JPOA or any future nuclear agreement. But taking punitive action now could send a message that Congress does not stand behind the negotiators.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015, in an op-ed for The Guardian
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
"There's not a rush on [passing a sanctions bill]. I mean these negotiations are going forward, I don't want to disrupt the negotiations. ... Our long-term allies are saying 'Don't do this.' So I don't know what the hurry is.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015, according to the press
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
"We all want the same thing. We want a non-nuclear Iran, and we prefer to get there diplomatically rather than by any other outcome. So this is really a question of strategy rather than end-goal.”
“I don’t want to do anything that makes people question whether we are negotiating fairly,” referencing new sanctions legislation
 – Jan. 20, 2015, according to the press
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
"I think there are some [Democrats] who are more anxious and want to create some incentive for the Iranians to do the right thing by putting pressure on them.”
"Others, like myself, feel that this is a once-in-a-political-lifetime opportunity (to get a deal with Iran). I just don't want to jeopardize the negotiations."
 – Jan. 21, 2015, according to the press

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
 “We often say that the purpose of sanctions is to get parties to the table. They are at the table, and so I'm confused by the notion that some would want to impose additional sanctions while negotiations are going on.”
– Jan. 21, 2015 during a Senate hearing
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
“Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.”
– Jan. 26, 2015 at a presidential forum
“My fear is that in eagerness, you know, to put more sanctions on those who are overly eager … could get us to a point where there are only two solutions: either Iran gets a bomb or there’s war, whereas right now we have a third solution which is a little better.”
“I’ve been talking with many Republicans and many Democrats to try to try find a way forward that does not ruin the chance for negotiations. I voted for sanctions in the past with the intention and the hope that we could find a peaceful outcome to this where Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.”
“My fear is that if new sanctions are placed on that, the sanctions coalition will break up.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015, according to the press
Administration officials
President Barack Obama
Congress “needs to show patience” while negotiations are underway because “the chances that this will become a military confrontation is heightened” if lawmakers try to pass new sanctions now.
“I will veto a bill that comes to my desk, and I will make this argument to the American people as to why I am doing so. I respectfully request for them to hold off for a few months to see if we have the possibility of solving a big problem without resorting potentially to war.”
“It’s my team that’s at the table. We are steeped in this stuff day in and day out. We don’t come to these assessments blindly.”
“If Iran proves unable to say yes [to a deal]… then we’re going to have to explore other options, and I would be the first to come to Congress and say we need to tighten the screws.”
 – Jan. 16, 2015, according to the press
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.  Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.  But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.  That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.  The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.
 – Jan. 20, 2015, in his State of the Union address
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power
“Some members of Congress believe that the time has come to ratchet up sanctions on Iran. They argue that this is the most effective way to achieve the goal of getting Iran to give up its nuclear program. We in the administration believe that, at this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal.”
"Some members of Congress believe that the time has come to ratchet up sanctions on Iran….They argue that this is the most effective way to achieve the goal of getting Iran to give up its nuclear program."
"We in the administration believe that, at this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal.”
"We are still at the negotiating table for one reason, and one reason alone…We assess that we still have a credible chance of reaching the agreement we want."
“If new sanctions were imposed, Iran would be able to blame the U.S. for sabotaging the negotiations and causing the collapse of the process, and we would lose the chance to peacefully resolve a major national security challenge.”
 – Jan. 12, 2015, in a speech at the University of Louisville
*Quotes from Arkansas News and Reuters
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf
"Even with a trigger [for new sanctions], if there's a bill that's signed into law, and it is US law, in our mind it is a violation of the Joint Plan of Action— which, as we've said, could encourage Iran to violate it.”
"A sanctions bill, trigger or not, that is passed and signed into law by the president, which we've said we will not do... would be a violation of the JPOA.”
“[If a deal does not come to pass] we could put initial sanctions on Iran in 24 hours."
"Sanctions alone do not stop Iran's nuclear program. It was through negotiations that we got to the Joint Plan of Action.”
 – Jan. 20, 2015, according to the press
Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen
“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time...To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement."
 – Jan. 21, 2015, during a Senate hearing
Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken
“It is our considered judgment and strongly held view that new sanctions, at this time, are both unnecessary and far from enhancing the prospects for successful negotiations, risk fatally undermining our diplomacy. There is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by acting precipitously.”
 – Jan. 21, 2015 during a Senate hearing
“The U.S. Congress has played a vital role in getting us to where we are today and will undoubtedly play an important role going forward. Sanctions were instrumental in bringing Iran to the table. But Iran’s program continued until negotiations made the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) possible. Sanctions did not stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations did, and it is in our interest not to deny ourselves the chance to achieve a long-term, comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
“Just as we have asked Iran to uphold its commitments under the JPOA, we have lived up to our commitment of providing Iran with limited relief – about $14 to $15 billion from the start of the JPOA through this June. But that relief is dwarfed by the vast amounts denied to Iran under the existing sanctions regime. For example, in 2014 alone, oil sanctions deprived Iran of more than $40 billion in oil revenue – well over twice the estimated value of the relief under the JPOA. And what oil revenues Iran is allowed to generate go into heavily restricted accounts that now encumber more than $100 billion dollars. Virtually the entire sanctions architecture remains in place. Indeed, throughout the existence of the JPOA, sanctions pressure on Iran has not decreased – it has increased.
"Congress is now considering legislation to impose additional sanctions on Iran, to be triggered by the failure of negotiations. I know that the intent of this legislation is to further increase pressure on Iran and, in so doing, to strengthen the hand of our negotiators to reach a comprehensive settlement. While the administration appreciates that intent, it is our considered judgment and strongly held view that new sanctions, at this time, are unnecessary and, far from enhancing the prospects for successful negotiations, risk fatally undermining our diplomacy and unraveling the sanctions regime so many in this body have worked so hard to establish."
“Those who are best placed to know – the diplomatic professionals who have been leading these negotiations and dealing directly with the Iranians and our international partners for the past several years – believe that the risks [of imposing new sanctions] are real, serious and totally unnecessary. That is their best judgment. Why run those risks and jeopardize the prospects for a deal that will either come together – or not – over the next two months? Why not be patient for a few more months to fully test diplomacy? There is nothing to be gained – and everything to be lost – by acting precipitously.”
 – Jan. 27, 2015 during a Senate hearing
Former Administration Officials
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft
“I think that the system, the regime, in Iran is different. We don't know how different and we don't know what the results will be. But this is -- their behavior is quite different from when Ahmadinejad was head of the government. And it seems to me that ought to try to take advantage of that.
The foreign minister has served in the U.N., at NATO. He's familiar with the West. The president -- they're talking different. And the mullahs are not nearly as vociferous as they were before.
Does that mean anything? We don't know. But it seems to me it's worth testing.
And I think two things are likely to happen if we increase the sanctions. They will break the talks. And a lot of the people who have now joined us in the sanctions would be in danger of leaving because most of the people who joined us in sanctions on Iran didn't do it to destroy Iran. They did it to help get a nuclear solution.”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski
“I think the breaking off of the negotiations or the collapse of the negotiations would rest and reverse the painful and difficult process of increasing moderation with then Iranian political life.
We're dealing with an old generation of revolutionaries, extremists and so forth. But there is in Iranian society significant change, which every visitor to Iran now notices, toward a more moderate attitude, a more moderate lifestyle, a more tempting inclination to emulate some Western standards, including even how in Tehran women are dressed.
All of that I think indicates that Iran is beginning to evolve into what it traditionally has been, a very civilized, important historically country. But we have to be very careful not to have this dramatic and suddenly reversed.
Not to mention the negative consequences for global stability that this would have. And the reduction and a willingness in Iranian, a willingness in some fashion to prevent the extremists and the fanatics that are attempting to seize control over the Muslim world from prevailing.”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee

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