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The Iran Primer

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Report: Iran is Top Low-Cost Tourist Destination

Iran is the most attractive tourist destination in the world in terms of price competitiveness, one of the 14 indicators in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index. Price competitiveness measures purchasing power parity, the cost of access to transportation and hotel services, and fuel price levels.

The index also quantifies each country's enabling environment, travel and tourism policy, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources to measure its attractiveness as a tourist destination. Iran ranks 97th out of 141 countries across all categories.

Iran has pushed to increase tourism over the past few years. Director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Masoud Soltanifar said the nation’s annual income from tourism is around $6.5 billion. But Iran plans to attract “20 million tourists by 2025, which will earn the country $30 billion [annually],” he said.
The following is excerpted data from the World Economic Forum Report.
Rank (out of 141)
Score (1-7)
Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index
Enabling Environment
Business Environment
Safety and Security
Health and Hygiene
Human Resources and Labor Market
ICT Readiness
T&T Policy and Enabling Conditions
Prioritization of Travel & Tourism
International Openness
Price Competitiveness
Environmental Sustainability
Air Transport Infrastructure
Ground and Port Infrastructure
Tourist Service Infrastructure
Natural and Cultural Resources
Natural Resources
Cultural Resources and Business Travel
Click here to read the full report.


Senate 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. A similar resolution was also introduced in the House of Representatives on April 30 by Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the family of one of the imprisoned Americans. That resolution currently has 43 cosponsors. The full text of the Senate resolution is below, followed by a statement 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
*Congressman Kildee represents the Hekmati family in Congress.

Iranian Generals Dismiss US Military Option

Three top Iranian military commanders have dismissed remarks by U.S. officials who have claimed Washington retains the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Jafari, said Western powers would attack Iran if they thought it would be successful. “The military option… is no more than a mockery,” he said on May 7. The IRGC’s deputy commander, Hossein Salami, even welcomed war with the United States, claiming it would be a chance to display Iran’s true military power. The remarks appeared to be in reaction to recent statements by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted that Washington has a credible military option. The following are excerpted remarks.

IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari
“The military option which the Westerners are constantly talking about is no more than a mockery, and they do know that if the military option against the Islamic Republic of Iran could yield results, they would use it time and again, and today they have shifted their focus to other types of threat and to the soft war front.
“Today, the Islamic Iran's pride and might has made the world's biggest materialistic and military powers kneel down before the Islamic Republic's might.
“They [enemies of Islam] could not drop their grudge against Islam and the Islamic Revolution and thus, they created ISIL.”
—May 7, 2015 according to Press TV
IRGC Lieutenant Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami
“We have prepared ourselves for the most dangerous scenarios and this is no big deal and is simple to digest for us; we welcome war with the U.S. as we do believe that it will be the scene for our success to display the real potentials of our power.
“We warn their pilots that their first flight (to target Iran) will be their last one and no one will be allowed to go back safe and sound and they should call their flights as their last flight.
“When the arrogant powers grow united in different directions to weaken the Islamic community, we should use our different capacities to fight against the enemy, and the Islamic Iran has gained many experiences in fighting against the enemy so far.
“War against Iran will mobilize the Muslim world against the U.S., an issue which is very well known by the enemy.
—May 6, 2015 in an interview with state television (translation via Fars News Agency)
IRGC Lieutenant Commander Ground Force General Abdollah Araqi
“Today, the world arrogance is present in the region, has deployed its warships in the Persian Gulf and has military bases in the regional states, but we are not afraid of this [U.S.] presence and its so-called options on the table.”
—May 7, 2015 in a speech in Qazvin (translation via Fars News Agency)
Photo credits: Ali Jafari via President.ir

“Madam Secretary” and the Real Iran Deal

In a new article for The New Yorker, Robin Wright reports that officials involved in nuclear talks say that diplomacy is further along than was indicated by the so-called blueprint for a deal, which was announced in Lausanne on April 2. “What is more striking, after eighteen months of negotiations, is the changing climate, whether in popular culture, public opinion, or diplomacy,” according to Wright. “In the case of ‘Madam Secretary,’ an American TV drama dared to build a whole season around rapprochement with Iran.”

Click here to read the full article.

Report: Gulf States Outspend Iran on Military

The Arab Gulf states have a “decisive advantage over Iran in both the size of their recent military spending and the size and quality of their arms transfers and imports of military technology,” according to a new report by Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report draws on official sources as well as research by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The following are excerpts from the executive summary.
•    The limits to Iran’s military expenditures have been a matter of necessity more than intent, and this necessity has resulted from international pressure and sanctions as the limits imposed by Iran’s GDP and its need to support a large native population. Iran has been subject to expanding and crippling sanctions, leading to a devalued currency, significant reductions in oil exports, trade disruptions, higher inflation, and a shrinking economy; challenges that some GCC Gulf States are not facing. 
•    It is scarcely surprising that the GCC collectively spends more on their military than Iran. Saudi Arabia, alone, spent nearly $56.5 billion on its military in 2012, compared to Iran’s $10.6 billion. Collectively, the GCC spent nearly $98.5 billion on their militaries, outspending Iran nearly 10:1. This spending superiority allows the GCC to invest in newer technology, weaponry and defense acquisitions.
•    IISS estimates of total military expenditures show that that the GCC, as a whole, spends far more than Iran on its military. Saudi Arabia alone spent about 5.5 times more than Iran on its military and the United Arab Emirates spent almost twice as much as Iran during this period. And, as a whole, the GCC combined spent just over 9 times more than Iran on its military.
•    SIPRI data show a similar Arab lead over Iran. Saudi Arabia spends some 4-5 times as much as Iran, and the UAE alone has outspent Iran since 2007. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE – the two Arab Gulf states with the most modern Arab Gulf military forces are combined – they have consistently spent more than six times as much as Iran.
•    Data issued by the Congressional Research Service show that the GCC took $38.5 billion worth of new arms transfers between 2004 and 2011: 35 times Iran’s deliveries of only $1.1 billion.  The size of new orders during 2004-2011 has been less favorable, but the Gulf states still ordered $106.1 billion worth of arms to Iran’s $9 billion – an uneven spending ratio of almost twelve-to-one (12:1).
•    SIPRI data also indicate that the Arab Gulf states in the GCC have a massive lead over Iran in arms imports. The gap is so great in given periods that the GCC states lead Iran by nearly 7:1 during 1997-2007, 10:1 in 2004-2008, 33:1 in 2009-2013, and 27.5:1 in 2007-2014.
•    The Arab Gulf states had a clear advantage between 2004 and 2008 in terms of both total spending on arms imports and access to modern US and European arms. Saudi Arabia’s expenditures alone were twice as large as Iran’s, and the UAE was more than seven times larger.
•    The gap between Iran and the Arab Gulf states widened sharply from 2009-2014, during which Saudi Arabia’s arms imports have been more than 18 times larger than Iran’s. The UAE’s imports are 16 times larger.
The GCC advantage in importing weapons and military technology has been partially offset by the lack of standardized, and to some extent interoperability in GCC and allied forces that come from each country buying a different mix of weapons and equipment from different suppliers, as well as from the lack of standardization in doctrine, training, supply, and logistics. 
At the same time, the GCC states benefit from access to outside training facilities, military experience, and access to advanced US Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (IS&R) capabilities and Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and battle management capabilities (C4I/BM). They also do not face technological risk since they can choose between proven systems while any Iranian produced systems that are not exact copies of foreign systems mean Iran must assume the risk of problems in performance, delivery delays, and cost escalation.
Click here for the full report.
Click here to read Anthony Cordesman’s chapter on Iran’s conventional military.
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