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Iran Speaker, in NY, on Nuclear Deal

On September 1, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said that the nuclear agreement between Iran and the world’s six major powers is a “good deal,” even though it may have shortcomings. “And it is a beginning for a better understanding for other issues as well. I mean, the regional and international issues, and I think because there was not such a proper understanding in the past, there were some challenges between us [Iran and the United States],” he said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Larijani arrived in New York on August 29 to participate in the Fourth World Conference of Parliament Speakers at the United Nations. The following is a transcript of the interview.  

AMANPOUR: Dr. Larijani welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us from New York today.

LARIJANI: Okay, it’s good to be here. I’m ready to answer your questions.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, can you tell me, as Speaker of the Iranian parliament, and a former chief nuclear negotiator, do you support this deal that has been reached with the United States and other world powers?

LARIJANI: In general, I think this is an acceptable agreement. There might be some shortcomings in it, but overall I think it’s a good deal.
AMANPOUR: The Supreme Leader has not yet said whether he fully backs it or not. He’s praised the negotiators, but will it be accepted by Iran and the institutions?
LARIJANI: I cannot tell you for sure now; we have to look into the positives and the negatives of the deal, but I can tell you that the Parliament will pass its judgement in a month.
AMANPOUR: Well that time is around-about the time that the U.S. Parliament – the United States Congress – will also come to its judgement. What is your view of the incredibly divisive debate inside the United States on this deal?
LARIJANI: Yes, I have heard about those hot debates going on in the U.S. Congress, and I believe that there are some people over there who are exaggerating things and they are saying things like, “The deal is hugely in favor of Iran.” But anyway, I should tell you that the Americans continued to bully us even during the negotiations. But ultimately – and thank God – the Islamic Republic of Iran managed to fulfill some of its demands and to put several things in the deal which are in our favor. And it is a beginning for a better understanding for other issues as well. I mean, the regional and international issues, and I think because there was not such a proper understanding in the past, there were some challenges between us.
AMANPOUR: You speak fairly positively, yet the head of the Revolutionary Guard has today called United States still “The Great Satan” despite this deal. Do you believe that? Is the United States still “The Great Satan” for Iran?
LARIJANI: You know, it was the U.S., I mean the former President of the U.S., that started different wars in my region which resulted in huge damages. So I just wanted to remind you that it is because of such actions that people in Iran are using those terms or are pessimistic about the relationship between Iran and the U.S. And as I said, if the U.S. chooses to adopt a more realistic approach and attitude towards Iran, then those habits and those terms will naturally change.
AMANPOUR: Many many people say that if it wasn’t for Iran’s military support to the Assad regime along with Hezbollah, that this war would’ve been over a long time ago. Iran now promises to deliver a peace plan to end the war. When will we see it?
LARIJANI: If not for Iranian help in Syria, the terrorists would have advanced even further and you should have no doubt that Syria would end up in a situation that was much worse than the situation in Libya. And you know that we rushed to the help of Iraqis when they were attacked by ISIS. I believe that Iran and Hezbollah acted very responsibly. We were the ones who helped Iraqis. And let me tell you about Syria – that from the very beginning we always said that the Syrian crisis needs a political solution. Now we are ready to contribute to such a solution – a solution that is based on democracy and a national reconciliation government in which even the minorities have their rights. But I think we need to do more about this so that this mechanism will become operational in that country.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Larijani, how quickly do you expect sanctions to be lifted against Iran, and can you understand the very serious concerns that people in the United States, legislators in the United States, and governments around the region in the Middle East, they are very worried that if so much more money pours into Iran it will be used to fund the kinds of operations that they all find very very threatening?
LARIJANI: I believe that there is a number of neighbors – Iran neighbors – that have their own internal problems and they are trying to hide those problems behind a kind of “Iranophobia”. Let me ask you a question: in the last 200 years, has Iran invaded another country? Have we invaded or attacked an Arab country? But actually it was Iran that was attacked by an Arab country. I mean by Iraq and by Saddam Hussein. And when it happened, many Arab countries supported Saddam Hussein, but let me tell you that Iran does not have any intention to attack any other country – I mean if they really want to have a lasting security and political stability they have to enter a kind of cooperation with Iran, and let me tell you that this is Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategy, to have cooperation, coordination, and collaboration with its neighbors.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Israel, and also to American Jews, because there is a very strong opposition in Israel and deep divisions inside the United States amongst the Jewish community. Even President Obama calls the Iranian government and the Iranian system anti-Semitic and committed to Israel’s destruction. Can you say anything that would reassure Israel that you are not committed to the destruction of that country?
LARIJANI: You see, what you said, what they say, that Iran is anti-Semitic, is all wrong. We don’t have any problem with Judaism. We believe that it is a heavenly religion. We have so much respect for the Jews, for the Prophet of God Moses, peace be upon him, and for his heavenly book Torah. We believe that Moses was a great prophet. And you know that there are Jews living in Iran, like a small minority – 20,000 Jews – but they have their own representative in the Iranian Parliament. We do try to respect the rights of all religious minorities, like the Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Jews, and they are represented in the Iranian Parliament. We are in no way anti-Semitic; actually we respect Jews and Judaism, but we have problems with Israel because we always ask ourselves questions: Why should some people make other people displaced, drive them out of their homes, and these people, these Palestinians, these Muslims, need to leave their motherland and go in camps, live in other countries, live in poverty, and then, why should we replace them with Jews from other places in the world? Why so much violence against Muslims in Palestine? This is a bitter truth of our time. They are forcing a nation out of their homes and replacing them with another one. This is wrong, this is an oppression, and this is not something that we can tolerate.
AMANPOUR: Well, can I just get it straight: Does Iran envision attacking Israel then?
LARIJANI: Several years ago, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, came up with a solution for this problem, which I think is totally compatible with democratic principles. He said that the solution actually lies in a referendum; there should be a referendum in occupied territories, and the people – all people, Muslims, Jews, and Christians – should participate in that referendum and they should choose their own destiny. Whatever they decide should be implemented, and this solution is the one that Iran will adhere to. This is our vision and I think this is something that is, as I said, compatible with democratic principles.
AMANPOUR: One last question: You have just struck a deal with the United States and other world powers and yet you hold several Americans in prison or in captivity, including our colleague, the journalist Jason Rezaian. Your own brother is the head of the Iranian judiciary, and no doubt you will hear a lot about Jason Rezaian while you’re in the United States. Do you agree, that on humanitarian grounds, he should be released right now, he is just a journalist?
LARIJANI: We don’t want anybody to be kept in prison, on the other hand I am the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, I cannot impose anything from the legislative branch on the judiciary branch. But I can tell you that justice stands above all other institutions in Iran and just like any other parts of the world but I think more diplomatic efforts are needed.
AMANPOUR: We hope you do so. Dr. Larijani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
LARIJANI: All the best.


Poll: Rouhani Approval Rating Improves

Some 54 percent of Iranians approved of President Hassan Rouhani’s performance in late August, according to a newly released poll by iPOS (Information and Public Opinion Solutions).

His rating was up six percent compared to May, before the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers was announced on July 14. Some 24 percent of Iranians disapproved of his performance in the August poll, down from 33 percent in May. The following are key results.

Other options included responses such as "I have no idea", "not interested in this topic", and "I don’t know."
Rouhani Job Performance Ratings Based on Gender, Age, Educational Level and Location






The results were based on telephone interviews conducted August 22-24 with a random sample of 654 adults. iPOS is a private research and consultancy service provider based in McLean, Virginia.

Click here for more information.


Tags: Reports

How Iran Feels About the U.S. Debate

Interview with Nasser Hadian

How has the debate over the nuclear deal played out in Iran?
There are four major reactions to the deal among Iran’s political elites.
First, there are those who support the deal unconditionally, because they are tired of the economic and political situation in Iran. They want to normalize relations with the rest of the world. They believe that the costs of Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the benefits, so they back the deal no matter what. For them, the content of the deal – meaning the weight or composition of what was given and taken – is not all that important.  
Second, there are those who support the deal, but with conditions. They do not necessarily think the deal was balanced in terms of content--and what each side received. But they think the strategic achievements that would result from the deal are worth the costs. So they support it.

Third, there are those who are critical of the deal, but have legitimate reasons for opposing it. They think it would have been possible to get a better deal from Iran’s perspective.
Fourth, there are those who oppose the deal unconditionally – not just this deal, but any deal. People who fall in this group have a wide range of reasons for opposing the deal. Some take this stance because they do not believe the United States is trustworthy. Others have issues with the nature of the American political system. Some also oppose any deal because it threatens their personal interests. They would like the hostile relationship with the United States to continue because they are benefiting from it in some way. Another group opposes the deal for ideological reasons. Any rapprochement with the United States would run counter to their beliefs.
Others worry about what might happen if the current situation changes. They might be suffering, but they are used to the way things are. They are concerned about what changes the deal might bring. Finally, some people are against the deal because they oppose the political system in Iran. They feel that the deal strengthens the regime and its chances for survival.
What would happen if Congress disapproves the deal?
If there’s no deal, all political elites – except those who support the deal unconditionally – may ask for a return of the nuclear program. That could mean increasing the number of centrifuges, operating second-generation centrifuges, resuming uranium enrichment up to 20 percent, and resuming activities at Fordow [enrichment facility]. This could all happen very quickly.  But Iran would probably not go to the extreme of expelling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency or violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
If Congress disapproves of the deal, Iran could well be in a better situation, both domestically and internationally, than it was before the negotiations. Iranians believe that President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif negotiated rationally and offered significant concessions. So the Iranian government could be in a stronger position in the eyes of many Iranian citizens, even if the deal falls through.
Additionally, those who hold negative views of the United States – particularly the Supreme Leader – could be vindicated. He and many others have insisted that Iran cannot trust the United States. They could argue that although Iran gave up significant concessions, the United States still would not comply with its side of the deal.
Iran may also be better off internationally. Russia and China have perceived Iran as serious in its outreach to resolve the nuclear dispute. Europe may find it hard to sustain sanction too. Several senior European officials have visited Iran since the July 14 agreement. So Iran could improve its standing in the international community if the United States – and specifically Congress – rejected the deal.
If rejection of the deal is followed by a military attack, Iran may then decide to weaponize its nuclear program. Right now, only a small minority of Iranians support weaponization, although that could change if Iran is attacked. Nothing would be a stronger radicalizing force in Iran than military action.
If the deal is not implemented, would Iran return to the negotiating table?
It’s wishful thinking that Iran might return quickly to the negotiating table. The idea that America cannot be trusted would probably be ingrained in the Iranian psyche for the foreseeable future. I would go as far as to say that the impact of Congress not allowing the deal to proceed would be similar to the 1953 coup. In other words, the impact of rejecting the deal would not fade in just a couple years. It would shape the Iranian mindset for a very long time. And then a major question would loom: With whom Iran should eventually negotiate – the administration, Congress, or party leaders?
One alternative scenario is possible, however. Iran might return to the negotiating table under very different conditions – if it has 40,000 centrifuges and can also operationalize second-generation centrifuges. Its uranium stockpile could then increase to 25,000 kilograms or 30,000 kilograms. Iran could also have 1,000 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent. It might even try to enrich uranium up to 60 percent or 65 percent. Iran might also try to finish and operationalize the heavy water reactor at Arak. That could happen no sooner than 18 months to two years after it resumes its program, which was curtailed during the 20 months of diplomatic negotiations. Iran may continue to suffer under sanctions, but greater capabilities could give it more leverage in future diplomacy.
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.

Photo credits: U.S. State Department via Flickr, NuclearEnergy.ir, Khamenei.ir

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Moniz on Science of Iran Deal

 The final nuclear deal will permanently improve the international community’s capability to verify Iran’s activities, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — is built upon a foundation of deep nuclear science and technology in both limiting Iran’s nuclear program and introducing necessary verification measures,” he wrote in a new article. From February to July, Moniz played a key role in the negotiations between Iran and the world's six major powers. The following are excerpts from his piece on Medium.com.

The Iran Nuclear Deal
Here’s the top line. With the agreement, there will be an extensive and extended rollback for 15 years of Iranian nuclear activities with a permanent improvement in verification capability by the international community. This is the fundamental architecture of the agreement. This would also include unique verification options for 25 years that could become the basis for the strengthened global nonproliferation verification regime highlighted earlier in the support letter from the scientific community.
Without the agreement, the Iranian nuclear program is likely to go right back to a rapid expansion and, without a strong verification program, the nuclear weapons concern will be magnified.
With the agreement, the international unity that was so critical for both sanctions effectiveness and the negotiation process will be preserved.
Without the agreement, international unity, which arose from the shared commitment to bring Iran to the negotiating table, will likely unravel, along with economic sanctions. American leadership on global issues will suffer.
With the agreement, Iran’s commitment within the JCPOA is to never acquire or develop nuclear weapons or to engage in the development of key nuclear weaponization capabilities — a feature highlighted in the scientists’ letter as unique.
Without the agreement, the world will have far less insight into possible covert weaponization activities.
With the agreement, reprocessing activities that could lead to plutonium separation will not be pursued — without it, they will not be proscribed.
With the agreement, the scope and scale of the Iranian nuclear program will be rolled back in multiple dimensions. Not only will the number of centrifuges engaged in enrichment be scaled back very substantially, but the stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent for 15 years. This alone accounts for a significant extension of the time to reach a weapon-equivalent of highly enriched uranium should Iran decide to “break out” through uranium enrichment.
With the agreement, Iran’s potential “plutonium factory”, the Arak reactor, will be redesigned to allow effective peaceful uses but not rapid accumulation of plutonium suitable for weapons. All the plutonium-bearing spent fuel for the lifetime of the Arak reactor will be removed from Iran, greatly complicating any Iranian attempts to make nuclear weapons from plutonium. These uranium and plutonium measures underscore the statement of U.S. military leaders that this agreement is more effective than military action in pulling Iran back from the nuclear weapons threshold over a significant period.
Without the agreement, Iran will likely resume expansion of its enrichment program and buildup of huge stocks of enriched uranium, and the Arak reactor will be completed as now designed, providing a potential plutonium pathway to a bomb.
With the agreement, significant verification measures are put in place, including daily access to Iran’s major nuclear facilities for international inspectors. Most important, the Additional Protocol that allows inspector access to suspicious sites anywhere will be permanently followed by Iran and supplemented with special measures for as long as 25 years.
Two unique measures in the agreement are a fixed time frame for providing access to suspicious sites and full uranium supply chain surveillance. These provide a very significant deterrence value against cheating, since the odds of getting caught — with the concomitant strong response from the international community — are raised substantially. The sanctions regime has already shown Iran the severe consequences of not following their Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, and the stakes are raised substantially with the JCPOA.
Without the agreement, all of these verification benefits would be sacrificed.
Our Director of National Intelligence General Clapper has stated that, while there can never be 100% certitude in detecting any particular covert activity, the intelligence community will gain much greater visibility into the Iranian nuclear program with the JCPOA.
Although future Iranian behavior is most important, resolution of possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s previous activities, up to 2003, has attracted attention. It should be emphasized that the IAEA has already done substantial work on PMD. The JCPOA achieves the objective of requiring Iran to promptly cooperate with the IAEA so that the IAEA can finally finish the job, in particular through access to the military site Parchin. The U.S. intelligence community and the IAEA have already published reports that identify Iranian activity associated with nuclear weapons technologies up to 2003, but completing the PMD report is viewed as important for the integrity of the IAEA process going forward.
With the agreement, Iran and the IAEA developed the protocol for Parchin inspection, a site that has been visited previously by the IAEA. This protocol by standard practice is confidential between the country and the IAEA; indeed the confidentiality ultimately is to the benefit of all countries, including the United States. Terming this protocol a “secret side agreement” is a severe distortion and serves no legitimate purpose. The IAEA has a strong self-interest in assuring the integrity of the inspection process and producing a complete PMD report in December for the Board of Governors, which includes the United States.
Director General Amano has rightfully objected to characterizations that Iran will “self-inspect”. He has been clear that the negotiated procedure for Parchin inspection, specifically designed for closing out the existing PMD issue, does not compromise the integrity of the safeguards system. Given available information, a “red team” of DOE national laboratory experts that I convened supported the integrity of the protocol.
With the agreement, the international unity exhibited in the P5+1 negotiations and in the application of economic sanctions has extraordinary value in looking forward to implementation of the JCPOA and denial of any Iranian aspirations to a nuclear weapons program.
Without the agreement, the loss of this unity would weaken U.S. moral authority and collective backing for any response — diplomatic, financial, or military — to potential Iranian actions that do not comply with the JCPOA. The idea of renegotiation lacks credibility. As designed, sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table — and now is the time to harvest the fruits of that negotiation.
Without the agreement, the U.S. standing in negotiating other regional issues in collaboration of major powers would be seriously compromised. …

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Kerry on Amir Hekmati’s Detention in Iran

On August 28, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement marking the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention in Iran. Iranian authorities arrested Hekmati—a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born in Arizona and a former Marine— in August 2011 for allegedly working for the CIA. A 2012 retrial overturned the espionage conviction and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  The following is the full text of Kerry’s statement and information on recent Congressional action on this issue.

Four-Year Anniversary of the Detention of Amir Hekmati
This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his relatives in Iran.
We repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Amir on humanitarian grounds. The Hekmati family needs Amir - their brother, their son, their uncle - to be home where he belongs. 
This is a milestone no family wants to mark, and the Hekmati family has shown inspiring perseverance in the face of this injustice. And as befits a former Marine, Amir has shown tremendous courage in the face of this unjust detention.    
As President Obama said recently in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we are not going to relent until we bring Amir home. I join the President in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.   
We also call on the government ‎of Iran to release Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families.
Congress Calls on Iran to Release U.S. Citizens
On May 11, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to immediately release three Americans held there and to help locate another who is missing. Concurrent Resolution 16 passed 90-0. On June 15, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar resolution, introduced by Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the Hekmati family in Congress. The full text of the Senate resolution is below, followed by statements from Kildee’s office.
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Saeed Abedini of Idaho is a Christian pastor unjustly detained in Iran since 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.
(2) Amir Hekmati of Michigan is a former United States Marine unjustly detained in 2011 while visiting his Iranian relatives and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
(3) Jason Rezaian of California is a Washington Post journalist credentialed by the Government of Iran. He was unjustly detained in 2014 and has been held without a trial.
(4) Robert Levinson of Florida is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) official who disappeared in 2007 in Iran. He is the longest held United States citizen in United States history.
(b) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that--
(1) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and
(2) the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.
Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI)
“I applaud the Senate for taking bipartisan action to tell Iran that it cannot continue to hold innocent political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. It is important that Congress speaks with one voice on this important matter telling Iran that it must release the Americans it holds if they expect to be accepted or trusted in the international community. Iran says it seeks to reengage other world nations, and the world is now watching and waiting to see if their words will be matched by actions. Iran can act today to release Amir and the other American political prisoners they hold.”
—May 12, 2015 in a statement
“Today Congress spoke with one voice to tell Iran that it cannot continue to hold American political prisoners like Amir Hekmati if they are serious about reengaging the global community,” Congressman Kildee said. “The world needs to know Amir’s name because he is a real person – not just a pawn in a geopolitical struggle between Iran and the rest of the world. He is innocent, yet has been held prisoner in Iran for 1,386 days. It is long past time for him to be reunited with his family in Michigan.
“I thank Chairman Ed Royce, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and every Member of Congress for unanimously supporting this bipartisan resolution. The onus is now on Iran to do what is right and release Amir and the other Americans it holds.”
—June 15, 2015 in a statement


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