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U.S. Officials: Iran's Role in Iraq

In March, U.S. officials acknowledged that Iran’s involvement in Iraq could help defeat ISIS, but cautioned that it could also fuel sectarian conflict. Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias launched an offensive to drive ISIS out of Tikrit in February. Both the United States and Iran have repeatedly denied any direct collaboration with each other to defeat ISIS, instead coordinating through the Iraqi government. The following are excerpted remarks from U.S. officials on Iran’s involvement in Iraq.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey
 
“This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things.”
The involvement of Iranian-backed Shiites in Tikrit could be “a positive thing” but “it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”
March 3, before the Senate Armed Services Committee
 
"Iran and its proxies have been inside Iraq since 2004.”
 
"This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things. Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism."
 
"We're watching carefully. If this becomes an excuse to ethnic cleanse, then our campaign has a problem.”
 
"There's no doubt that the combination of the Popular Mobilisation forces and the Iraqi security forces, they’re going to run ISIL out of Tikrit.”
March 11, according to the press
 
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
 
"You asked about the battle for Tikrit and the presence of Iranian advisers on the ground. That is something we're watching very closely. It is something that is concerning to us, in particular because the sectarian danger in Iraq is the principal thing that can unravel the campaign against ISIS.
 
That's why it's so important that the -- that none of these battles -- and you named one, which is Tikrit -- there're actually several important battles going on, in some of which, the Iranians play no role at all.
 
But wherever they are, it's important that sectarianism not rear its ugly head as ISIL is pushed back outside of Iraq. So we're watching that very -- very closely, very carefully, and it's a return to sectarianism that would concern us very much in Iraq."
—March 11, 2015, in a press briefing
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
"With respect to Iraq, we absolutely have known of Iran’s engagement in the northeastern parts of Iraq and, indeed, we’ve had conversations with Prime Minister Abadi about it.  He doesn’t hide it, and we’re not blind to it.  We know that Iran has been engaged.  We know that General Soleimani has been on the ground.  We know that they have an interest.  We understand that.  And we fully understand some of their engagement with some of the militia.  At the same time, they are deeply opposed to Daesh [ISIS].  And while we are not coordinating with Iran – we do not have conversations with Iran about this – we work through the Iraqi Government.  We do so with the knowledge that they are also opposed to Daesh and are working for Daesh’s defeat.  
 
Now going forward, I would also note that part of this operation in Tikrit also involves significant participation by Sunni tribes and Sunni participants from the region.  And the governor in Salah al-Din province was well aware of what is happening and of this whole-of-government initiative, whole-of-coalition effort, to continue to press the fight against Daesh.  And even while the fighting in Tikrit is taking place, there are several other fights taking place nearby which involve significant Sunni participation, U.S. support, and others.
 
So what we made clear some months ago when we first announced the coalition, lots of countries will make lots of different kinds of contributions, and every country can make some kind of contribution, and all of us are committed to the defeat of Daesh.  And the sooner that can happen, the better.  
 
Now the real measure of the Tikrit operation will not be just in the clearing; it will be in how people are treated afterwards.  It will be in whether or not there is a inclusivity or whether there is, in fact, a breakdown into a kind of sectarian division.  So we’ll watch that carefully.  We will work with the Government of Iraq very carefully to do our best to minimize or avoid that.  But we are not surprised at all by the participation such as it has been with respect to the Tikrit operation itself."
March 14, according to the press

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
 
"We continue to emphasize that it's important that [Iran’s] actions don't raise ... sectarian tensions.”
—March 18, 2015, according to the press
 
QUESTION: Local media has reported in numerous articles that the Iranian Government is intervening – helping the Iraqi Government retake Tikrit. There are reports that Qasem Soleimani is there. So I just want to know whether you agree with any of these local reports that Iran plays a role in retaking Tikrit.
 
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken to this before. We’ve said previously we are aware Iran has sent some operatives into Iraq that are training and advising some Iraqi Security Forces. We also know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition and aircraft for Iraq’s armed forces.
 
QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to the Iranians being there fighting ISIS, are you?
 
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve addressed this many times, Said. We’ve been clear that Iran – Iraq can best counter the threat from ISIL with a government and security forces that are inclusive, and if the interests of all groups are respected. With respect to the activities of any country in Iraq, including Iran, we believe strongly that Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected and the Government of Iraq must focus on strengthening its internal political and security situation – institutions in an inclusive way. Clearly, that’s what our focus is on. We’re not coordinating with the Iranians; nothing has changed in that regard.
—March 9, 2015, in a press briefing
 

Khamenei on Nowruz: Nuke Deal Must Lift Sanctions

On March 20, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a statement on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, encouraging “close cooperation between the people and the administration.”  The next day he delivered a speech in Mashhad, criticizing President Obama’s Nowruz message for including “dishonest assertions.” He also focused on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, emphasizing that “Iran has managed to neutralize the so-called crippling sanctions,” but that sanctions relief must be part of any nuclear agreement.

The following is Khamenei’s Nowruz statement and excerpts from his speech in Mashhad.
 


Khamenei's Nowruz Statement, March 20

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful;O Conqueror of hearts and sight, O Planner of night and day, O Transformer of power and circumstances, Change our condition to the best of conditions. Greetings be upon Fatima, her father, her husband and her children.
The beginning of this year is concurrent with the days of the martyrdom anniversary of Hazrat Zahra (God's greetings be upon her). Our people's love and respect for the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) household and honorable daughter requires that certain considerations be taken into account by everyone. Of course, everyone will undoubtedly do so. We hope that these days and the new year will be imbued with Fatemi blessings. I hope that the auspicious name and memory of this great personality will exert its deep and permanent influence on the lives of our people in the year 1394. And I hope that the arrival of the spring - which is coincident with the beginning of the solar Hijri year - will be blessed for the people of Iran and for all those peoples who commemorate Norouz.
 
I would like to send my sincere greetings to the Imam of the Age (may our souls be sacrificed for his sake) and I use this opportunity to commemorate the memory of our magnanimous Imam (r.a.) and our martyrs. I hope that in the new year we will benefit from the blessings and prayers of those pure and dear personalities.
 
Let us take a brief look at the year 1393 and the new year which begins at this hour. The year 1393 was an eventful year for our country both in domestic, and in foreign and international arenas. We had certain challenges and achievements. It was because of these challenges that we named the year 1393 "The Year of National Determination and Jihadi Management". By taking a look at the year 1393, we can see that national determination thankfully showed itself. Our people showed their firm determination in enduring some the difficulties that they experienced as well as in the 22nd of Bahman, Quds Day and the magnificent Arbaeen rallies they showed their determination and displayed their effort . Thankfully, jihadi management was clear and visible in some areas. Whenever jihadi management showed itself in any area, it was followed by achievements. Of course, national determination and jihadi management were not particular to the year 1393. They are necessary for both this year and the coming years.
 
In the year 1394, we have great wishes for our dear people, all of which are attainable. Our great wishes for the people in this year are economic progress, regional and international power and dignity, scientific leaps in the real sense of the word, judiciary and economic justice, and faith and spirituality which is more important than other wishes and which prepares the ground for all of them to be attained. In my opinion, all these dreams and wishes are attainable. None of these wishes are things which are beyond the capacity of the people of Iran and the policies of the Islamic Republic. Our capacities are enormous. There are many things to be said in this regard. Insh'Allah, I will refer to the most important issues in this regard in the afternoon speech.
 
Now, what I like to say to our dear people is that this great and important potential can be realized, but there are certain conditions. One of the most important conditions is close cooperation between the people and the administration. If this close cooperation is shown bilaterally, all of our wishes will undoubtedly be attained and our people will witness its result. The administration is the people's employee and the people are its employer. The more cooperation and unity exists between the people and the administration, the better tasks will be carried out. They should trust each other. The administration should believe in the people in the true sense of the word. It should firmly believe in the value, significance and capabilities of the people. As for the people, they should trust the administration - which is their employee - in the real sense of the word.
 
I have certain pieces of advice in this regard which I will offer in the Saturday speech. This is why I believe that this year should be named the year of full cooperation between the administration and the people. I have chosen this name for the new year: "The Year of the Administration and the People, Harmony and Unanimity". I hope that this slogan will be implemented and that our dear, great, determined, courageous, insightful and wise people and our diligent administration implement both parts of this slogan so that they can witness its results in the future.
 
I ask Allah the Exalted to help our country make progress in all its great tasks. I ask Him to make us successful in rendering services to the people.
Greetings be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.
 
Translation via Khamenei.ir
 
Khamenei's Nowruz Speech in Mashhad, March 21
 
“Obama’s Nowrouz message included dishonest assertions and his claim of friendship for Iranian people was not sincere.”
 
“They [the Americans] say [to Iranian negotiators] ‘you come here and listen to what we say and implement them word for word’. But our nation will resist against it and will never accept this.”
 
“Iran and the US have opposite views on regional issues. We want security and calm in the region, but the arrogant powers led by the America pursue the policy of sowing insecurity in the region, which is quite the opposite of our goals.”
 
“America says ‘we sign the agreement and monitor [Iran's] behavior and then remove the sanctions’. This is erroneous and unacceptable and Iran will never accept this. This is the Americans’ ploy. Removal of sanctions should be part of any agreement.”
 
 
"Removal of sanctions is a part of the negotiations and not their result; therefore, as the honorable president (Rouhani) has clearly stated, the sanctions should be removed immediately after the agreement.”
 
"We will not negotiate with the US on domestic, regional and arms issues at all since the US policy in the region is based on stirring insecurity and confrontation with the regional states and Islamic Awakening which runs counter to the pivotal policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
 
 
Referring to remarks from U.S. lawmakers that an agreement could be reversible, "Such words are also unacceptable because if they believe that they will be entitled to re-impose the sanctions under some other pretext after the deal, then there is no reason for us to accept irreversible moves and undertakings."
 
"Now that Iran has entered negotiations with them they are surprised to see that Iran has managed to neutralize the so-called crippling sanctions."
 
"They thought that by the crippling sanctions the people will stage protest against the government, so they engineered the sanctions to divide the people and the government."
 
“If this friendly cooperation [between the government and the people] takes place on both sides, our wishes will certainly come true and our dear people will see the effects.”
 
“The government is meant to serve the nation and the nation demands services from the government. The more cordial the nation-government ties, the more cooperation and solidarity between them, the better jobs will go ahead.”
 
“The government should recognize the nation in the proper sense of the word and acknowledge the value, significance and capabilities of the nation. Reciprocally, the nation should trust the government… in the proper sense of the word.”
 
“We hope that… the blessed name of this great figure and her memory will leave a profound and lasting impression on the lives of our people.”
 
The Leader also expressed hope that Iran will experience “economic development, regional and international might and dignity, scientific breakthroughs in the real sense of the word, judicial and economic justice as well as faith and spirituality.”
 

US on Rouhani Mother’s Death

On March 20, Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following statement on the passing of President Hassan Rouhani’s mother.

We extend our deepest condolences to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Dr. Hassan Rouhani and his family on the passing of his mother, Mrs. Sakineh Peivandi. Such a loss is especially hard coming on the eve of Nowruz, traditionally a time when families gather together in joy and hope. We share in his grief and that of his brother, Presidential Special Advisor Hossein Fereydoun, who has been participating in the talks in Lausanne, and we keep their family in our thoughts.
 
Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif also issued the following remarks earlier in the day in Lausanne.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. I just wanted to say on behalf of all of the American delegation, we learned this morning of the passing of President Rouhani’s mother. And Hossein Fereydoun, who is a member – a very important member of the delegations, and he is the president’s brother – he is returning to Iran immediately. And we want to express our deepest condolences. We also, in the midst of this sad news, know that this is Nowruz, New Year in Iran. So we want to wish the people of Iran, even as they hear the sad news of the president’s mother, a Nowruz Mobarak. And we hope that this is a year that can bring us progress and peace.
 
FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Thank you, I appreciate that. In fact, Nowruz is the beginning of Spring, and in Farsi, it means “new day.” I hope this new day will be a new day for the entire world – a new era of greater understanding and peace.
 
Alan Eyre, the State Department’s Persian language spokesperson, also offered condolences.
 
The following is a picture of President Rouhani and his mother, who was 90 years old.

Obama, Kerry: Nowruz Greetings to Iranians

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have issued the following greetings to the Iranian people for Nowruz, Persian Year.

 
Hello!  To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak.
 
For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House.  It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States.  We even created our own Haft Seen, representing our hopes for the new year.
 
This year, that includes our hopes for progress between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international community, including the United States.  So I want to take this opportunity once again to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future.
 
This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.  Just over a year ago, we reached an initial understanding regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  And both sides have kept our commitments.  Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and even rolled it back in some areas.  The international community, including the United States, has provided Iran with some relief from sanctions.  Now, our diplomats—and our scientists—are engaged in negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution that resolves the world’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program.
 
The days and weeks ahead will be critical.  Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain.  And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution.  My message to you—the people of Iran—is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek.  
 
As I have said many times before, I believe that our countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully, with diplomacy.  Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.  Together with the international community, the United States has said that Iran should have access to peaceful nuclear energy, consistent with Iran’s international obligations.  So there is a way for Iran—if it is willing to take meaningful, verifiable steps—to assure the world that its nuclear program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes only.    
 
In this sense, Iran’s leaders have a choice between two paths.  If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it’s on today—a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve.
 
On the other hand, if Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path—the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people.  More trade and ties with the world.  More foreign investment and jobs, including for young Iranians.  More cultural exchanges and chances for Iranian students to travel abroad.  More partnerships in areas like science and technology and innovation.  In other words, a nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for you—the Iranian people, who, as heirs to a great civilization, have so much to give to the world.
 
This is what’s at stake today.  And this moment may not come again soon.  I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully—an opportunity we should not miss.  As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring.  Try to be joyful in your heart.  For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”
 
For decades, our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear.  Now it is early spring.  We have a chance—a chance—to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come.  Now it is up to all of us, Iranians and Americans, to seize this moment and the possibilities that can bloom in this new season.
 
Thank you, and Nowruzetan Pirooz.
 

Secretary of State John Kerry

It is my distinct pleasure to join President Obama in wishing a joyous and healthy Nowruz to all who celebrate around the world, throughout Asia and the Caucasus, to the Persian Gulf region, and to everyone celebrating here in the United States.
For centuries millions of people have gathered each year to rejoice in the arrival of Spring and partake in traditions that mark the vernal equinox as the beginning of a new year.
 
As I noted in my Nowruz greeting last year, the United States and Iran have endured many harsh winters. But now, with the coming of Spring, we can all embrace this opportunity to move toward a better future.
 
It is my sincere hope that if Iran’s leaders make the right choices – the necessary choices – in the ongoing nuclear talks, that this new year and this new Spring will mark a better future both for the Iranian people and for the world.
 
This Nowruz, as you reflect on the preceding year and look forward to a new one, may the spirit of reconciliation mend past differences and the spirit of hope lead the way towards new growth and opportunity.
 
Nowruz Mobarak!
 
Statement by President Obama on U.S. Citizens Detained or Missing in Iran
 
The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.
 
Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.
 
Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.
 
Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.
 
And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.
 
At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.  
 
In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides. 

 

Obama on Americans Missing or Detained in Iran

On March 20, President Barack Obama issued the following statement on U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran for the occasion of Nowruz, Persian New Year.

 
The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.
 
Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.
 
Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.
 
Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.
 
And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.
 
At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.  
 
In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides. 
 

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