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Report on Iran Talks:New Hope under Rouhani

            President Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory may signal a change in style and negotiating tactics on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, according to a new International Crisis Group report. Rouhani authored the only previous nuclear agreement between Tehran and the West in the 2000s. And in mid-2013, he repeatedly said that Iran could be more transparent about its nuclear program.
      But the report warns that striking a deal today is more difficult than in the past. Iran has expanded its nuclear program and the West has imposed several rounds of devastating sanctions since Rouhani was chief negotiator. Positions have hardened and trust has deteriorated. “Western doubts about Rouhani’s ability to deliver are matched by Tehran’s skepticism that the U.S. in particular can accept a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic or that President Barak Obama has the political muscle to lift sanctions,” according to the report. And Tehran’s core demands — recognition of its right to uranium enrichment and sanctions relief—are unlikely to change. The following is the report’s executive summary with a link to the full text at the end.

            In a region that recently has produced virtually nothing but bad news, Hassan Rouhani’s 4 August swearing in as Iran’s president offers a rare and welcome glimmer of hope. There are still far more questions than answers: about the extent of his authority; his views on his country’s nuclear program, with which he long has been associated; and the West’s ability to display requisite flexibility and patience. But, although both sides can be expected to show caution, now is the time to put more ambitious proposals on the table, complement the multilateral talks with a bilateral U.S.-Iranian channel and expand the dialogue to encompass regional security issues.
            Given his blunt criticism of the country’s trajectory, notably on the nuclear file, Rouhani’s election stunned almost all observers, and so one ought to be modest in offering retrospective interpretations of his victory. His promise of change arguably appealed to an electorate that traditionally has seized on presidential contests to try to turn the page; his more conservative rivals were deeply divided and burdened with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s desultory record; and the leadership’s quest for renewed legitimacy after the hit suffered in the controversial 2009 elections possibly led it to accept the triumph of a strong critic. Too, one could speculate that Rouhani’s success ultimately serves Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s interests, helping both to restore domestic faith in elections, one of the Islamic Republic’s political linchpins, and to reduce international pressure at a time when sanctions are inflicting unprecedented economic pain.
            Questions about how Iran got to this place are overshadowed, however, by speculation regarding where it might go from here. Some, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, see Rouhani as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, the gentle façade of a regime whose nuclear ambitions have not changed one iota; others would like to view him as the saviour charged with extricating Iran from its predicament, agreeing to far-reaching nuclear concessions in exchange for commensurate sanctions relief. In this respect as well, a healthy dose of humility is required given the opaqueness of the Islamic Republic’s decision-making.
            Several elements nonetheless can be of utility in seeking to make predictions. The first has to do with the nature of Iranian politics. Presidents are far from all-powerful, having to contend with myriad competing centres of authority and influence, overt and covert, of which the Supreme Leader is only the most obvious. Fundamentals have not changed: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei retains final say; friction between him and the president is all but inevitable; and factionalism will remain both a fact of life and a means of constraining Rouhani. At the same time, presidents are not mere figureheads; witness the differences in style and substance between Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and Ahmadinejad.
            Secondly, Rouhani is far from an unknown. He has been a fixture of the Islamic Republic since its beginnings, a consummate insider with a track record and voluminous writings. Those offer some clues regarding his preferred approach. He brought about the first and only nuclear agreement with the West, a significant achievement given the depths of mutual mistrust, yet he also openly justified the accord as allowing Iran to complete its nuclear infrastructure even while negotiating. He has bluntly criticised his successors, yet has focused more on their bluster and reckless negotiating style than on their ultimate goals. His negotiating experience also carries mixed messages: that he feels the West let him down, causing him to suffer bitter criticism at home, may well prompt him to greater caution. In particular, at a time when the U.S. and EU are intent on limiting the extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, Rouhani could be more inclined to offer concessions regarding that program’s transparency than its scope.
            That suggests a third point. The change in presidents will usher in important changes in style and negotiating tactics but certainly will not bring about significant changes in Iran’s bottom line demands: recognition of its right to enrich and meaningful sanctions relief. A deal today is thus harder to imagine than when Rouhani last was in charge of the nuclear dossier. Positions have hardened; trust has diminished; the nuclear program has substantially advanced; and sanctions have proliferated. Western doubts about Rouhani’s ability to deliver are matched by Tehran’s scepticism that the U.S. in particular can accept a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic or that President Barak Obama has the political muscle to lift sanctions.
            Such misgivings are unavoidable but should not be paralysing. Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany) have become stale; now is as promising a time as is likely to occur to refresh them. This could be achieved in three interlocking ways: altering the substance of a possible deal, combining a confidence-building agreement on Iran’s 20 per cent enrichment with presentation of the contours of a possible nuclear endgame, as Crisis Group has proposed; modifying modalities of the negotiations by complementing multilateral discussions with confidential, bilateral U.S.-Iranian engagement; and expanding the scope of those talks to include regional security matters.
            The promise embodied by Rouhani’s election can grow or quickly fizzle. As he takes office and comes face to face with myriad domestic and foreign challenges, it would be a good idea for the West to encourage him to move in the right direction.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Youth in Iran Part 1: "The Determinators"

Robin Wright
 
            They’re the determinators—the politically savvy, socially sassy, and media astute young of Iran. And they count, quite literally, as never before as a new president takes over.
       President Hassan Rouhani owes his election to the young, who are Iran’s largest voting bloc. At the last minute, vast numbers opted to back him rather than boycott the poll. They’re also now the centrist cleric’s biggest headache, as he has to meet their expectations. Two-thirds of Iran’s 75 million people are under 35—and they vote again in four years.
      But the Islamic Republic’s long-term survival may also be determined by the first post-revolution generation, born in the 1980s and now coming of age. For Iran’s baby boomers reflect the regime’s almost existential conundrum—and the nexus between economic and nuclear policies.
            To be credible, the world’s only modern theocracy must better the lives of its struggling young majority. And to jumpstart the economy, Tehran will have to compromise with the outside world on its controversial nuclear program to get punitive international sanctions lifted. It’s a huge—but increasingly inescapable—price to pay for keeping the determinators on board.
            The regime has limited time to act. Iran’s young are antsy because they are better educated and more skilled than any earlier generation. Literacy has almost doubled since the revolution—to over 95 percent, even among females. Iran won a U.N. award for closing the gender gap.
            Yet one of the theocracy’s biggest successes has proven to be one of its greatest vulnerabilities. It can’t absorb the post-revolution babies.
      Iran’s young face rampant unemployment, estimated officially at up to 30 percent but unofficially at up to 50 percent. During his first appearance at parliament, Iran’s new president acknowledged in June that 4 million university graduates were jobless—and a mushrooming problem.
      The core economic issue has had a rippling effect. In a country where the median age is 27, vast numbers can’t afford to marry or move out of their parents’ homes. One-third of females and one-half of all males between 20 and 34 are now unmarried, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.       
      Frustration is reflected in soaring drug use. The State Welfare Organization reported this year that almost 72 percent of Iran’s drug addicts are between 18 and 25.
            Born after both the monarchy and the revolution, the young often refer to themselves as the lost generation because they have little to do and even less to inspire them. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died when they were in diapers. And most were tots during the traumatic eight-year war with Iraq, which produced more than 1 million casualties in the 1980s. The conflict shaped the goals, fears and nationalism of their parents and the current political leadership.
            But for the young, the war is relegated to history—and the now fading public billboards of the previous generation’s war “martyrs.”
            Sixty percent of Iran’s young now say the Islamic Republic needs to adopt new ways of thinking to secure its future, according to an Intermedia Young Publics survey released in May. One-third of those polled between the ages of 16 and 25 said they would abandon Iran if given the option.
            The implications can’t be overstated. Iran’s post-revolution generation is the largest baby boom in Iran’s 5,000-year history. Its influence will only grow due to one of the world’s most unique population bumps.
            Iran’s twenty-somethings were born during a decade-long blip in between two ambitious family planning programs. The shah promoted birth control during his final decade. By the end of the 1970s, 37 percent of women practiced family planning.
            After the 1979 revolution, the ruling clerics reversed course and called on Iranian women to breed, breed, breed an Islamic generation. And they did. The population almost doubled from 34 to 62 million in about a decade.
            But the theocracy soon realized that it couldn’t feed, cloth, house, educate or eventually employ those swelling numbers—and voters. So it launched a novel (and free) birth control program, including required family planning classes for newlyweds. By the 1990s, the average family fell from six children to less than two—lower than during the monarchy.
            Iran’s 70 percent drop was “one of the most rapid and pronounced fertility declines ever recorded in human history,” according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. The birth rate plummeted so far that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned in 2010 that Iran would be stuck with a “dangerous” aging population in another 30 years.
      By actuarial standards, Iran’s baby boomers will have disproportionate clout for at least the next half century on most aspects of Iranian life. Politically, their impact could even be more enduring than the current ruling theocrats. They’ve already shown demonstrated in many forms how far they’re willing to go.
      In 2009, students led eight months of Green Movement protests after the disputed presidential reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They mobilized millions in cities across Iran during the “Where My Vote?” campaign, the largest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.
      The determinators may no longer be able to protest on the streets. But can make or break politicians. Their interest and energy turned the 2013 presidential campaign around in the final days, boosting Rouhani to a surprise, come-from-behind victory over five other candidates.
     
      Their voices resonate across Iran in other ways too. As the region’s largest network of bloggers, they boldly diss on their revolution, daring to post criticism, jibes, jokes and political cartoons on banned social media through circuitous routes.
      They’re increasingly creating an alternative culture, pushing boundaries further than any time since the 1979 revolution. The stereotype of their parents’ generation was a black-shrouded woman or a young man sporting a headband that vowed martyrdom for Islam.
 
 
 
      Images of the young today are more likely to be mall-hopping, increasingly in flashier fashions that defy conservative Islamic dress. Or they may be at play, including performing parkour, a holistic sport that combines running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling that resembles open-air gymnastics but in public places.
 
      In a telling sign of changing times, Iran’s young have even popularized rap as the rhythm of dissent in the world’s only modern theocracy. They hold back little in their warnings to the regime, as Yas, Iran’s leading hip-hop artist, rapped defiantly,
      “Listen to my words and see the agonies I suffered
      What my generation has seen, made our tears fall
      Those without such pains—how they saw ours,
      They became even more cruel, what a pity for our land!”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
 
This piece first appeared on www.foreignpolicy.com
 
Photo credits: Afshin Farzin from Rahaa Crew via Facebook, Basij volunteer via Wikimedia Commons, @HassanRouhani via Twitter, Hijab-3 by Pooyan Tabatabaei via Flickr, Isfahan University graduates by gire_3pich2005 (Own work) [FAL] via Wikimedia Commons, Coralin Design
 

 

 

Political Prisoners Letter to Obama

            In a letter dated August 8, more than 50 current and former political prisoners appealed to President Obama to seize the “last chance” to “turn a page and start a new era of mutual understanding between the United States and Iran. It described the election of new President Hassan Rouhani as a shift toward “moderation” and “rational” decision-making. The letter includes several prominent names and reformists who were detained after the disputed 2009 presidential election and Green Movement protests.
            The first signature is from Mohsen Mirdamadi, who was one of the three leaders of the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979. In 2000, he was elected to parliament and was chairman of its foreign affairs committee. He also led the largest reform party, the Islamic Participation Front. After the 2009 protests erupted, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to six years in prison. Another signatory is Faezeh Hashemi, another former member of parliament and daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Mr. President,

            We, the undersigned current and former political prisoners in Iran, are writing this letter to bring to your attention the devastating effects of crippling economic sanctions and the intensified efforts to diplomatically isolate Iran in the international community. These efforts are adversely affecting the lives of Iranian people and have resulted in severe constraints in the political life of our country. This letter reflects the serious concerns of the Iranian public about the bleak future that continued conflict between Iran and the United States of America could lead to. We share these concerns.
 
            The conflict over Iran's nuclear program has, in recent years, developed into a perilous contest with the United States and more generally with the West. This conflict has undermined trust and intensified animosity between the two parties.

            The conflict has resulted in imposing unprecedented 'crippling' sanctions whose main victims are the Iranian people that have to live under the unbearable pressure of crippling inflation and shortages of basic needs for a decent life. The sad thing is that there seems to be little hope of resolving this conflict.
 
            In the recent presidential election in Iran (14 June 2013), a politician was elected whose campaign promised were moderation and rational decision making in foreign and domestic policies. This administration has promised to pursue constructive engagement in international relations and intends to convey a message of positive change and mutual respect.
 
            We believe the time has come for our two countries to turn a page and start a new era of mutual understanding. In our view, the tenure of this government may be the last chance to bring this conflict to a reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution. It is clear that there are parties and actors in both camps who do not wish the conflict to come to a peaceful end and prefer to see it drag on longer. But reason calls for perseverance in diplomatic efforts with the aim of achieving a faster and less costly resolution to this conflict.
 
            President Rouhani is a politician known to be a firm believer in dialogue and constructive engagement in international relations, and enjoys a solid base of support in Iran. He also has a clear past record of negotiations with the EU troika over the nuclear issue. With the election of this president, the logical expectation is that past policies, and the imposition of economic sanctions in particular, start to change and give way to more constructive relations and mutual respect. Continuing with the pressure track of these past years will strengthen the belief in a significant part of the Iranian public that the United States is not genuinely interested in resolving the conflict.
 
            Recent presidential election: Using the limited opportunity that the Iranian electoral system provides the majority of the people of Iran have expressed their desire for genuine change in all aspects of politics, including the country's foreign policy, and ending the economic hardship that the policies of the previous government imposed on them. We believe that remaining indifferent to this change and continuing with the policies of the last decade, intensification of sanctions and further efforts to cut off Iran's ties to the international community and world markets, will lead a significant part of the people in Iran to doubt whether the Unites States is seriously interested in the diplomatic resolution of the conflict with Iran.
 
            Economic sanctions: Economic sanctions have been the key factor in creating a situation in which the purchasing power of more than half of Iranian households has been significantly reduced over the last two years. The sanctions have adversely affected the manufacturing and export sectors of the Iranian economy and significantly reduced employment and investment in the civilian sectors such as automotive, steel, petrochemical industries and even the construction sector.
 
            Mr President! All Iranian people, including the families of political prisoners and especially the low income groups, are suffering under the burden of rampant inflation and shortages of medical supplies and other basic necessities of life. The sanctions have now turned into a collective punishment imposed on the Iranian people as a whole, not the government only. The national economy has shrunk over the past couple of years and the strength of Iran as a nation-state is being reduced.
 
            The practical outcome of the intensification of sanctions and failure in achieving a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict between Iran and the United States will be further polarization and deepening of animosities. This will further undermine regional and international security.
 
            Continuing along this path, as intended by the proponents of the recent legislation in the US congress will lead to a de facto embargo of Iran which is the first step in declaring a real war. The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (passed on 31 July 2013, four days before the inauguration of President Rouhani) is the most recent example of these efforts. In such a war, supporters of the cause of democracy in Iran, people like us, who have paid the price of our belief in civil and political rights and liberties with the suffering our families have had to endure and the years of our lives spent in prison, will defend the independence and territorial integrity of Iran. Opposing democrats and popular forces in Iran has been tried in the past by the United States in the 1953 coup d'état against the government of Mohammad Mossadeq, and as a politician well informed of that sixty-year story you know how that regime change effort in Iran has affected relations between our two countries to this day.
 
            Mr Presisdent! We know and appreciate the fact that your administration has been pursuing a policy towards Iran that is both in form and content different from the policies advocated by some hard-line members of the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. But we see at the same time that the practical results of such policies are reflected in legislation passed by the US congress that you have had to sign as part of larger deals with the republican controlled House related to tax exemptions and sequestration. The Iran Freedom And Counter-Proliferation Act, passed on 2 January 2013 and enacted fifteen days after the election of Iran's moderate president, is the most recent case.
 
            Critical evaluation of the past: Perhaps it is prudent to critically evaluate the flawed policy of the Bush administration towards the government of President Khatami. In addition to complicating the nuclear issue that was much easier to resolve then, the outcome of that policy was strengthening a senselessly extremist political current in Iran and adding huge barriers to the resolution of the nuclear challenge. Today's impasse is, to a great extent, the outcome of that policy. An honest review of the turbulent past decade in the Middle East will make it easier to see that such a policy did not yield positive results. Adopting a failed approach will further complicate the situation and will make the resolution of the conflict even harder to achieve.
 
            Some people might believe that sanctions will promote democratization in Iran. We disagree with such a view. We think democracy is the desired end of indigenous developments. But sanctions and imposing hardship on the people and putting pressure on a new government that is moving, within the limits of possibility offered by the larger political system in Iran, in the direction of strengthening democratic trends is not the right course of action. The outcome of such a policy will, once again, be aiding extremism in indirect ways and weakening the rekindled democratic movement in Iran.
 
            Iran needs stability and hope in order to be able to tread its course towards moderation and democracy inside the country, and reducing tensions and constructive engagement in its foreign relations. The hope and enthusiasm that the presidential election brought about will crumble under the weight of the devastating effects of the sanctions on people's lives and the Iranian economy. The result will be radicalism and more constraints in domestic politics and dangerous prospects for regional security and International peace.
 
            Imposing sanctions and unjustified hardship on the Iranian people and targeting the entire economy and the basic needs of the people violates the fundamental rights of our citizens. We believe that such actions are incongruent with universal human rights principles and the spirit of the US constitution and its amendments.
 
            Mr. President! We believe it is time to replace sanctions with an effort to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution of the nuclear issue. To achieve such an end and given the chronic nature of the deep-rooted conflict, all sides concerned should strive for a dignified solution in which no party will be considered the loser. Such a solution should be based on genuinely addressing international concerns about Iran's nuclear program by the Iranian government on the one hand and acknowledging the legitimate rights of Iran to peaceful nuclear energy, in compliance with international legal standards, by the US and the West on the other.
 
            We, therefore, urge your administration and the new government in Iran to employ all possible means to build trust and ensure the success of diplomacy. We also demand an end to resorting to measures, through legislation or otherwise, that endanger the prospects of fruitful negotiations, reduce the possibility of the effective lifting of sanctions and make impossible the achievement of a permanent solution for the nuclear issue. We believe such a course of action characterized by good will and serious intentions in achieving a negotiated end to the conflict will allow both sides to move towards a brighter future instead of remaining frozen in the dark past. We hope the opportunity created by the Iranian people and reflected in the electoral victory of President Rouhani will be seized appropriately by the United States. We also hope reciprocal good will and adoption of appropriate measures by the new government in Iran will open a new window of understanding and constructive engagement between Iran and the United States in a way that the interests of both nations will be better served.
 
Signatories
1. Mohsen Mirdamadi, chairman of the national security and foreign policy committee of the sixth Iranian parliament, general secretary of Iran's Islamic Participation Front
2. Mohsen Aminzadeh, deputy foreign minister under the reformist government of President Khatami
3. Mostafa Taajzaadeh, deputy minister of the interior under the reformist government of President Khatami
4. Faezeh Hashemi, Sixth Majles deputy and head of the Women's Sport Organization
5. Abolfazl Ghadyaani, political activist and senior member of the Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization
6. Seyed Alireza Beheshti, former secretary of the cabinet and senior advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi
7. Alireza Rajaie, political activist (National-Religious Current) and secretary of the Iranian Journalists' Union
8. Abdollah Mo'meni, Spokesman of the Organization of Iranian University Graduates (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) and head of Mahdi Karroubi's Free Citizen election campaign
9. Mohammad Amin Hadavi, former member of the Representatives of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce
10. Feyzollah Arabsorkhi, deputy minister of commerce under the reformist government of President Khatami
11. Masood Pedram, political activist (National-Religious Current), political researcher
12. Mohammad Sadegh Rabbani Amlashi, former deputy chairman of Iran's Nuclear Energy Agency
13. Jiela Baniyaghoob, journalist and civil society activist
14. Narges Mohammadi, human rights activist and secretary of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights
15. Isa Saharkhiz, journalist and political activist
16. Bahman Ahmadi Amooyee, journalist
17. Keyvan Samimi, political activist (National-Religious Current) and journalist
18. Mehdi Mo'tamedi-Mehr, member of the political Bureau of Iran Liberation Movement
19. Emad Behavar, political activist and senior member of Iran Liberation Movement
20. Hasan Asadi Zeydabadi, senior human rights expert, member of the Organization of Iranian University Graduates (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat)
21. Bahareh Hedayat, member of the central committee of Iran's Student Union (Tahkim-e Vahdat)
22. Omid Kowkabi, PhD graduate of nuclear physics from Texas University at Austin
23. Farshid Fathi, Christian pastor
24. Masood Bastani, journalist
25. Mehdi Mahmoodian, political activist
26. Mohammad Seddiq Kaboodvand, CEO, Kurdistan Human Rights Organization
27. Mehdi Tahaghoghi, political activist, university professor, member of the Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization
28. Seyed Ahmad Hashemi, former director general under the reformist government or President Khatami
29. Siyavosh Hatam, senior member of Iran's Student Union (Tahkim-e Vahdat)
30. Mostafa Nili, student activist
31. Mostafa Badkoubeyee, poet and critic
32. Rahman Ghahramanpour, university professor and researcher at the Strategic Studies Center, Expediency Council
33. Hosein Ronaghi Maleki, human rights activist, critical blogger and member of the Countering Censorship in Iran
34. Abolfazl Abedini, human rights activist
35. Ali Khodabakhsh, press activist and former deputy Agriculture Jahad minister
36. Mehrdad Sarjooyee, journalist
37. Mohammad Hasan Yousefpour Seyfi, human rights and children's rights activist
38. Mehdi Khodayee, human rights activist
39. Mansoor Taghipour, human rights activist
40. Amin Chalaki, political activist
41. Alireza Seyedian, Christian pastor
42. Mostafa Bordbar, Christian convert
43. Ali Nazeri, Dentist, head of the Green Civil Society
44. Seyed Mahmood Bagheri, Teachers Guild activist
45. Mehdi Tajik, student activist and social protestor
46. Jafar Ganji, political activist
47. Ebrahim Banoli Zeydi, cultural activist and social protestor
48. Hosein Zarini, social protestor
49. Arash Saghar, journalist
50. Mostafa Rismanbaf, student activist and social protestor
51. Mohammad Ebrahimi, social protestor
52. Behzad Arabgol, social protestor
53. Kamiyar Parsa, university student and social protestor
54. Hamid Karvasi, social protestor
55. Nader Jani, social protestor

President Rouhani’s First Press Conference

      President Hassan Rouhani met with local and international correspondents at his first press conference on August 6. He addressed the full range of challenges Iran faces on both domestic and foreign policy. Rouhani said Iran is prepared to enter “serious and substantive” negotiations on its controversial nuclear program. But he warned that Tehran would not relinquish its right to enrich uranium. Rouhani also expressed an openness to direct U.S. talks, stipulating that Washington must show goodwill and stop pressuring Tehran. The following are excerpts from his press conference.

Nuclear Program and Diplomacy
            “We will not dispense with the right of the nation [to nuclear technology]. However, we are for negotiations and interaction. We are prepared to seriously and without wasting any time enter negotiations.
            “If the other party prepares enough, like we are, I am confident that the concerns of both sides will be removed through negotiations within a short period.
            “We need to have negotiations without threats… Threats will not solve any problems apart from aggravating the situation and if anyone thinks that they can impose their wills and whims on Iranian nation through threats, they are making a very big mistake. So the solution to the nuclear issue needs political determination and political will.
            “Constructive interaction will allay mutual concerns. We seek a win-win game, which is possible.
             “Negotiations with the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) have not failed. We have not come to this conclusion. We need to pursue more serious and explicit negotiations with the P5+1.
            “Nobody in Iran has ever said that we should put aside uranium enrichment. Enrichment is the will of our people.
            “I did not say that I’m optimistic about nuclear talks. I said I’m not pessimistic. There is a difference.“
 
United States
            “So far we have not seen a practical response by U.S. officials [to the presidential election]. The recent statement by the White House demonstrates that a number of American officials still do not have the right and accurate understanding of the facts on the ground in the country regarding the election… So [U.S.] attitudes are contradictory and so are the messages. There is incongruity in their words and deeds.
            “Unfortunately there is a pressure group, a war mongering group, in the United States that stands opposed to holding constructive talks. It pursues the interests of a foreign country… so the interests of a foreign country are served and imposed on representatives in Congress so that even U.S. interests are not being considered.
            “To us, what matters, what counts, is a practical response on the part of the U.S. government — not statements or communiques. So the actions of the U.S. government will be watched carefully. Constructive and meaningful responses, if there are any, will definitely pave the
            “This dual approach [of sanctions and talks] will not yield results for them [American]… If the United States shows goodwill and intentions ... and without any secret agenda, if they approach this way, then the way will for interaction will be open.”
            “Provided that our national interests are met, we have no problems with negotiations with any nation that has good intentions, including the United States.
 
Sanctions
            “These sanctions are unfounded. We cannot even buy wheat for our people, we're facing problems, as other countries are being pressured not to deal with Iran. It doesn't have anything to do with nuclear program. They [sanctions] are about pressuring our people.
“We will never sit idle. We have our own plan, which you can call ‘economy of resistance’ or whatever. We will follow it and spare no effort regarding the removal of sanctions."
 
Economy
            “Economic issues are definitely among the priorities of the government… On the issue of subsidies, we are determined to continue the same amount of cash payments for now. Of course, given the economic situation, some other measures will be taken as well.
            “The gap between wages and prices causes pressure. The government must fill this gap, but this is dependent on future studies.
            “The ground should be paved for competition. Monopolies should be broken and shattered.
            “Transparency is necessary to remove corruption, and also informing the people.”
           
Foreign Policy
            “Our attitude toward the international community will be based on wisdom and each decision will be based on rationality.
            “We will prioritize the expansion of relations with neighbors as part of our agenda… Efforts will be made to bring about tranquility and stability in the region.
            “The world must realize that we do not want to threaten anyone or meddle in any other country’s affairs.”
 
Personal Freedoms
            “The basis for citizens’ rights will be based on chapter three of the constitution, where people’s rights are laid out. Our constitution is a progressive and dynamic one.
            “The atmosphere at universities needs to be more open… There should be freedom of expression and more enthusiasm, intermingled with a strong science-based atmosphere.
            “Hopefully the government, with the help of everyone and student activists, will be able to create a better atmosphere at universities for more synergy and dialogue based on knowledge and constructive criticism.”     
 
Syria

            “We condemn civil war in Syria. Negotiations should take place between all stakeholders and resolved democratically through elections.”

 

 

 

Iran Sanctions: Which way out?

Ali Vaez

      The United States has imposed several layers of sanctions against Iran—for widely diverse reasons—dating back to the 1979 revolution. Tehran now wants relief from sanctions as part of any diplomatic deal on its controversial nuclear program. But lifting sanctions is often harder than imposing them—and varies depending on the issues, origins and methods imposed.
 
What types of sanctions has the United States imposed on Iran?
            Sanctions have been the policy tool of choice used by six presidents to deal with Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, the White House has issued 16 executive orders and Congress has passed nine acts imposing punitive sanctions on Iran in four waves.
            The first wave of U.S. sanctions, from 1979 to 1995, was a response to the U.S. embassy hostage crisis and Tehran’s support for extremist groups in the region.
            The second wave of sanctions, from 1995 to 2006, sought to weaken the Islamic Republic by targeting its oil and gas industry and denying it access to nuclear and missile technology. U.S. sanctions also targeted any company in a third country that invested in Iran’s energy sector, a move to compel allies to adopt a unified stance against Iran.
            The third wave, from 2006 to 2010, was imposed chiefly due to concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but also included punitive measures for Iran’s human rights violations. Sanctions targeted almost every major chokepoint in Iran’s economy.
            The latest wave of sanctions since 2010 includes some of the toughest restrictions the United States has ever imposed on any country. They target Iran’s Central Bank and its ability to repatriate oil revenues  as well as many transportation, insurance, manufacturing and financial sectors.
            The first two waves of sanctions were unilaterally imposed by Washington. But the last two included similar measures imposed by U.S. allies and the United Nations, generating almost a global sanctions regime against Iran.
 
What would the United States need to do to lift sanctions?
      The standard for lifting U.S. sanctions is high. The president could nullify the White House executive orders imposed over the years. But nearly 60 percent of these sanctions have also been codified into law by Congress, which puts amending or repealing sanctions beyond the president’s control. Congress would also have to take action.
      For example, executive orders banning U.S. trade with Iran –under Executive Orders 12957, 12959 and 13059-- were subsequently written into the law when Congress passed the Iran Freedom Support Act in 2006 and the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act in 2010. Similarly, sanctions on Iran’s energy and petrochemical sector under Executive Order 13590 and human rights violators under Executive Order 13606 were subsequently codified into law through the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.
            The president could still exercise his waiver authority to exempt countries, entities and individuals from sanctions. He could also mandate greater flexibility in determining violations and enforcing penalties. The Clinton and Bush administrations opted for the latter option and never determined any country in violation of U.S. sanctions, which could have damaged relations with US allies.
           
What steps would Iran have to take to get sanctions lifted?
            Sanctions have become so extensive and so intricately woven that the United States will probably have a hard time offering significant or tangible relief unless Iran reverses major aspects of its domestic and foreign policies. The same applies to the 34-year-old state of emergency on Iran, which gives the president broad powers to unilaterally impose sanctions or other punitive measures.
            The 16 executive orders and nine Congressional acts are also not tied only to the nuclear issue. More than 80 percent of the sanctions are linked to Iran’s broader foreign or domestic policies. As such, not all have the same standards to be lifted.
 
            On Terrorism: Restoration of U.S.-Iran trade relations would first require that the United States remove Iran from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which Tehran has been on since the list was created in the 1980s. And the requirements are stiff. Tehran would notably have to cut ties to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that Tehran helped create in the early 1980s, as well as several other movements that use violence.
            Tehran would also have to provide assurances – and proof -- that it had abandoned international terrorism and support for extremist groups. The White House would then have to certify to Congress that Iran had not provided support for terrorism for at least six months, timing that could delay implementation of any diplomatic deal. Congress could block Iran’s removal from the list through a joint resolution , which would in turn be subject to a presidential veto. Congress could override the veto with a two-thirds majority, however.
 
            On Human Rights: Ending sanctions imposed for human rights violations under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act would require Iran to take several steps, including:
                 •  unconditional release of all political prisoners;
                 •  conducting a transparent investigation into the killings, arrests and abuse
                      of protestors after the disputed 2009 presidential election;
                 •  ending human rights violations;
                 •  and establishing an independent judiciary.
 
            On the Nuclear Program: The United States has no clear criteria for removing these sanctions. The basic demands by the world’s six major powers include:
                 •  halting all enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent,
                 •  neutralizing the current stockpile of uranium enrich to 20 percent
                 •  mothballing the new enrichment facility build into the mountains of Fordo.
                 •  accepting maximum level of transparency and intrusive inspections,
                 •  resolving all the outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy
                      Agency,
                 •  and abiding by the six UN Security Council resolutions demanding
                      suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
 
            But most US sanctions are multipurpose. For example, termination of measures under the Iran Sanctions Act , which is at the core of U.S. sanctions, requires:
                 •  that the president to certify that Iran has ceased efforts to design, develop or
                      acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missile
                      technology;
                 •  that Tehran has been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of
                      terrorism;
                 •  and that Iran poses no significant threat to U.S. national security interests or
                      its allies.
 
What obstacles would the White House face in lifting sanctions from Congress, political lobbies, public opinion or other players?
      Lifting U.S. sanctions could be complicated by politics, particularly discordant views between the White House and Congress. Some lawmakers seem less interested in a diplomatic resolution--or less convinced of its feasibility. They are not swayed by the views of U.S. allies. Others would actually prefer to impose additional sanctions.
      So in Washington’s highly politicized climate, Congress may not easily defer to the president on sanctions relief, especially given powerful lobbies on the issue.
      Easing sanctions may also not automatically alter or increase international trade with Iran, given economic realities and business wariness. Sanctions have significantly altered basic trade and consumption patterns that may be hard to change—and may limit or delay any benefits to Iran. Some companies and countries that have shifted away from Iran over the years are unlikely to rush back without solid assurances that sanctions relief is not just temporary. Uncertainty would make them hesitant to re-engage.
            For example, one possibility in a diplomatic deal would be short-term suspension of sanctions–as an interim step—so the two sides have time for building confidence between each other and for winning political support at home for concessions. One of Iran’s top priorities is to get sanctions relief so that it can export more oil, which accounts for up to 80 percent of its export earnings. But the international oil industry may hesitate to reengage during a short-term suspension. Iranian crude also has specific characteristics that would require reconfiguration of refineries, an expensive step without prospects of an enduring deal.
            All in all, the nature of multi-purpose and multi-layered sanctions has confused their strategic purpose, while constraining Washington’s ability to respond to positive actions with requisite nimbleness. Over time, as they has simultaneously grown and ossified, the sanctions have become a less-than-optimal tool to advance negotiations in a diplomatic process where a scalpel, rather than a chainsaw, is required.
 
Would the United States remove the diverse sanctions in the same way?
            The timing and means of removing sanctions will almost certainly vary.
                 •  Politically sensitive sanctions--notably for Iran’s human rights violations and
                      support of militant groups--are unlikely to be on the menu in the near future.
                 •  Restrictions on oil and financial transactions are the crown jewels of the
                      sanctions regime in the eyes of Western policy makers. Neither Washington
                      nor its European Union partners are likely to suspend them without significant
                      Iranian guarantees about Tehran’s nuclear concessions.
            But the reality of suspending sanctions is also not easy either. For instance, both the president and Congress would have to act to allowing Iran to reach its previous petroleum exports , including:
                 •  revoking Executive Order 13622,
                 •  using national security waiver to permit other states to buy more oil from Iran
                       under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012,
                 •  permitting financial transactions with Iran’s energy, shipping and port sectors,
                      which are all declared “entities of proliferation concern” under the Iran
                      Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012,
                 •  waiving sanctions under TRA and IFCA to allow the provision of insurance and
                      reinsurance for shipping Iranian oil,
                 •  and waiving the ban on repatriating Iran’s oil revenue under TRA. Waivers need
                      to be renewed every 120 or 180 days.
            Almost all Iranian major energy and shipping companies are also blacklisted by the Treasury Department, either as entities supporting terrorism (under Executive Order  13224) or for being involved in proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction under Executive Order  13382. Foreign companies will be more than reluctant to work with these companies unless they are delisted.
            The only remaining option would be to suspend other sanctions that tangibly affect Iran’s economic well-being. The United States could allow Iran to import or export specific goods that produce revenue or help Iran’s manufacturing sector.  The P5+1 world major powers – the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia--chose a similar route in the February and April 2013 negotiations with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Their offer to relax sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical sales and gold trade was meaningful, but it was not proportionate to the concessions expected from Tehran.  
            Given the complexities, another U.S. option might be to focus on European sanctions, which are more elastic and lack clear criteria for termination. Their repeal requires a unanimous decision by all 28 member states of the European Union. Building consensus, however, is not always a straight forward enterprise in Europe. Also, there is now so much overlap between the U.S. and EU sanctions that a unilateral EU removal of sanctions might have little impact on the ground. One-sided EU concessions also risk being seen by Tehran as a tactical ploy to maintain U.S. sanctions in place indefinitely.
            Diplomatic talks are expected to resume in the fall. The challenge for world’s six major powers will be devising a package of incentives, including some degree of sanctions relief that is achievable both politically and legally while also genuinely addressing Iranian concerns. The challenge for the new Iranian government will be to respond in kind.
 
Ali Vaez is the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst.
 
Click here to see Vaez discuss sanctions at a July 22 event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pete Souza photo of Barack Obama

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