United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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. 
 

New Congressional Letter to Obama

A new letter to President Obama on a potential Iran nuclear deal signed by some 367 members of Congress was released on March 23. The letter emphasizes, “Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation.” It also highlights concerns about the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and calls for decades-long verifiable constraints on the program. But the letter lacked language supporting Senate legislation that would allow Congress 60 days to weigh in on a deal before implementation.

The bipartisan letter comes as Iran and the world’s six major powers attempt to negotiate a framework by the end of March. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, began circulating the letter on March 2 for signatures. The following is the full text.

 
Dear Mr. President:
 
As the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran nears, we write to you to underscore the grave and urgent issues that have arisen in these negotiations.  While we hope the Administration is able to achieve a lasting and meaningful agreement, we understand that there are several difficult issues that remain unresolved.
 
No issue will be harder to resolve with the Iranian regime than the status of its uranium enrichment program.  This is the key technology Iran would need to develop a nuclear bomb – technology that Iran has been permitted to continue to research and develop under the interim arrangement.  Many of us wrote to you a year ago, calling for dismantlement of significant portions of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, “such that Iran will not be able to develop, build, or acquire a nuclear weapon.” A final comprehensive nuclear agreement must constrain Iran’s nuclear infrastructure so that Iran has no pathway to a bomb, and that agreement must be long-lasting.  
 
International inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work, despite its international obligations to do so.  Of the 12 sets of questions that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been seeking, Tehran has answered just part of one.  Just last week, the IAEA reported that it is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military related activities, including designing a nuclear payload for a missile.  Indeed, inspectors had amassed “over a thousand pages” which showed “research, development and testing activities” on technologies needed to develop a nuclear weapon.  Last fall, over 350 Members of the House wrote to the Secretary of State expressing deep concerns about this lack of cooperation.  The potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program should be treated as a fundamental test of Tehran’s intention to uphold the final comprehensive agreement.  Unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s past program it will be impossible for the international community to judge Iran’s future breakout time with certainty.
 
Iran’s record of clandestine activity and intransigence prevents any trust in Iran.  Indeed, a top State Department negotiator has told Congress that, “deception is part of [Iran’s] DNA.”  Even during the period of negotiations, Iran has illicitly procured nuclear technology, which your Administration quickly sanctioned.  Additionally, because of the strict inspections regime under the Joint Plan of Action, Tehran was caught testing a more advanced centrifuge that would have helped produce bomb material more quickly.  Given Iran’s decades of deception, negotiators must obtain maximum commitments to transparency by Iran.  Any inspection and verification regime must allow for short notice access to suspect locations, and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.
   
Finally, while the negotiations with Iran have focused exclusively on Iran’s nuclear program, it is critical that we also consider Iran’s destabilizing role in the region.  Iran is boosting Assad in Syria, supporting sectarian elements in Iraq that undercut hopes for a unified and stable country, and providing assistance to Hezbollah, which continues to threaten Israel.  And last month, an Iranian-backed militia displaced the government in Yemen, a key counterterrorism partner.  Iran’s Supreme Leader has also called for an expansion of his country’s ballistic missile program, yet another dimension of the potential threat posed by Iran.  Iran’s role in fomenting instability in the region—not to mention Iran’s horrendous repression at home—demonstrates the risks of negotiating with a partner we cannot trust.   
 
The United States has had a longstanding interest in preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.  Over the last twenty years, Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation imposing sanctions on Iran to prevent that outcome, ultimately forcing Iran into negotiations.   Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation.  In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.
 
Resolving the nuclear crisis with Iran remains of grave importance to our nation’s security.  As the Administration continues to negotiate with Iran, we are prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine its long-term impact on the United States and our allies.    We remain hopeful that a diplomatic solution preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon may yet be reached, and we want to work with you to assure such a result.
 
Click here for a PDF version.  
 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Debates Nuke Talks

On March 19, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Chairmen Ed Royce defended Congress’ role in curtailing Iran’s nuclear program. “Congress built the sanctions structure that brought Iran to the table,” he said. “And if the President moves to dismantle it, we will have a say.” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who provided testimony at the hearing, acknowledged that sanctions have had an impact but have only been effective “when coupled with the type of robust diplomacy that is currently underway.” The following are excerpts of the chairman’s opening remarks and testimony from expert witnesses.

 
Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce
 
“This Committee has been at the forefront of examining the threat of a nuclear Iran. Much of the pressure that brought Tehran to the table was put in place by Congress over the objections of the Executive Branch – whether Republican or Democrat. And we’d have more pressure on Iran today if the Administration hadn’t pressured the Senate to sit on the Royce-Engel sanctions bill this Committee produced and passed in 2013.
 
Congress is proud of this role. And we want to see the Administration get a lasting and meaningful agreement. But unfortunately, the Administration’s negotiating strategy has been more about managing proliferation than preventing it.
 
Case in point: Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the key technology needed to developing a nuclear bomb. Reportedly, the Administration would be agreeable to leaving much of Iran’s enrichment capacity in place for a decade. If Congress will be asked to “roll-back” its sanctions on Iran – which will certainly fund its terrorist activities - there must be a substantial “roll-back” of Iran’s nuclear program.
 
And consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work - despite its commitment to do so. The IAEA is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military-related activities; including designing a nuclear payload for a missile. Iran hasn’t even begun to address these concerns. Last fall, over 350 Members wrote to the Secretary of State expressing deep concerns about this lack of cooperation. How can we expect Iran to uphold an agreement when they are not meeting their current commitments?
 
Indeed, we were not surprised to see Iran continue to illicitly procure nuclear technology during these negotiations. Or that Tehran was caught testing a more advanced centrifuge that would help produce bomb material quicker. This was certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the interim agreement. Iran’s deception is all the more reason that the Administration should obtain zero-notice, anywhere, anytime inspections on Iran’s declared and undeclared facilities.
 
There is also the fact that limits placed on Iran’s nuclear program as part of the final agreement now being negotiated will expire. That means, the “final” agreement is just another interim step, with the real final step being Iran treated as “any other” non-nuclear weapon state under the NonProliferation Treaty - licensing it to pursue industrial scale enrichment.
 
With a deep history of deception, covert procurement, and clandestine facilities, Iran is not “any other” country, to be conceded an industrial scale nuclear program. Any meaningful agreement must keep restrictions in place for decades – as over 360 Members of Congress – including every Member of this Committee - are demanding in a letter to the President.
 
Meanwhile, Iran is intensifying its destructive role in the region. Tehran is propping up Assad in Syria, while its proxy Hezbollah threatens Israel. Iranian-backed Shia militia are killing hopes for a unified, stable Iraq. And last month, an Iranian-backed militia displaced the government in Yemen, a key counterterrorism partner. Many of our allies and partners see Iran pocketing an advantageous nuclear agreement and ramping up its aggression in the region.
 
This Committee is prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine if it is in the long-term national security interests of the United States and our allies. Indeed, as Secretary Kerry testified not long ago, any agreement will have to “pass muster with Congress.” Yet that commitment has been muddied by the Administration’s insistence in recent weeks that Congress not play a role.
 
That’s not right. Congress built the sanctions structure that brought Iran to the table. And if the President moves to dismantle it, we will have a say.”

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken
 
“Any comprehensive arrangement must include tight constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and extraordinary monitoring and intrusive transparency measures that maximize the international community’s ability to detect any attempt by Iran to break out, overtly or covertly. As a practical matter, our goal is to ensure that, should Iran renege on its commitments, it would take at least one year to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That would provide us more than enough time to detect and act on any Iranian transgression.
 
In exchange, the international community would provide Iran with phased sanctions relief tied to verifiable actions on its part. Such relief would be structured so that it can be easily reversed, and sanctions can be quickly reimposed, if Iran were to violate its commitments.”
 
“Much has been said recently about the fact that a deal with Iran would have an eventual end date. On the contrary, we see the deal as creating a series of phases to ensure that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful going forward. While some constraints would be removed after a significant period of time, others would remain in effect longer, and some would last indefinitely. For example, Iran’s NPT obligation not to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon would continue indefinitely, as would its obligation to implement its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, a centerpiece of the proposed deal is that Iran would accept the Additional Protocol, which is not currently in place, as legally binding, and which would allow the IAEA to continue to have more stringent and intrusive access to nuclear-related information and locations indefinitely. The same is true regarding Iran’s implementation of Modified Code 3.1, which imposes an ongoing obligation to provide early notification of design information for any new nuclear facilities."
 
"Some have argued that Iran would be free to develop a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of a comprehensive joint plan of action. That is simply not true. To the contrary, Iran would be prohibited from developing a nuclear weapon in perpetuity – and we would have a much greater ability to detect any effort by Iran to do so and to take appropriate measures in response, with the support of the international community. Iran would be allowed to have a peaceful, civilian nuclear program continuously verified by the IAEA.”
 
“As we have said from the beginning, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, and it may be we will not know if a deal is possible until the last minute. So I cannot tell you where we will be a week from now, or by the end of the month. But what I can promise you, and what President Obama has pledged, is that we will not agree to a bad deal. What does that mean? As I noted earlier, an acceptable deal must effectively close down all four pathways Iran could take to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. It must include strict curbs on its nuclear program and robust transparency and monitoring measures that give the international community confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and the ability to promptly detect overt and covert breakout. It must include all the elements already spelled out in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). And, fundamentally, it must make the United States, our allies and partners in the Middle East, and the world safer.”
 
“If our international partners believe that the United States has acted prematurely by adding new sanctions now in the absence of a provocation by Iran – as most countries surely would – their willingness to enforce the existing sanctions regime or to add to it in the event negotiations fail will wane. And a fractured international consensus notwithstanding, even if we were to layer additional sanctions on Iran, their nuclear advances would far outpace any potential marginal pressure created by those sanctions. This is why the support of the international community remains crucial, and why new sanctions now are a dangerously imprudent step. Without full international compliance, the sanctions regime will be dramatically diluted. Up until now, we have kept other countries on board – despite the hardship it has caused to some of their economic interests – in large part because they are convinced we are serious about reaching a diplomatic solution. If they lose that conviction, the United States, not Iran, could be isolated, and the sanctions regime could collapse. Ultimately, the United States and its allies in the Middle East would be less safe.
 
In short, a collapse in negotiations caused by us, or perceived to be caused by us rather than by the Iranians, would lead to a growing Iranian nuclear program and a collapsing international sanctions regime. Now is not the time to provoke such a collapse.
 
Congress has a significant role to play in these discussions and has been playing it for years. It is existing congressional legislation that helped us get Iran to the negotiating table. The whole point of sanctions was to create this dynamic, and it has worked, but it has only worked when coupled with the type of robust diplomacy that is currently underway. Since signing the JPOA, we have been on the Hill dozens of times over the past year to update you and your staff about the progress of the talks – in all, more than 200 briefings, hearings, meetings and phone calls. And if a deal is finalized, Congress will certainly have a robust role to play in potentially taking action on future statutory sanctions relief once Iran has demonstrated a track record of living up to its commitments.”
 
“We will not relax our efforts to hold Iran accountable for its nefarious actions, regardless of the outcome of nuclear negotiations. But it is essential to understand that the most important thing we can do to keep Iran from feeling further emboldened to spread instability is to deny them the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. That is why the nuclear negotiations are so important, and why this is a challenge that must be dealt with now.”

Acting Undersecretary of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin
 
“As we speak, negotiators from the P5+1 are hard at work trying to secure a political framework for a comprehensive deal with Iran. We may get a deal; we may not. Regardless of whether or not the negotiations succeed, I want to assure this Committee that the Treasury Department, and the Administration more broadly, are prepared for what comes next.
 
If we are able to secure a comprehensive deal, we will structure the nuclear-related sanctions relief in a way that is staged and commensurate with verifiable steps on Iran’s part. We believe that legislative sanctions should be suspended first before they are terminated by Congress, so that we continue to retain important leverage years into a deal. Put simply, Iran will not receive comprehensive relief from nuclear-related sanctions absent proof that it has concretely and verifiably carried out what is expected of it as part of a comprehensive deal.
Moreover, even if we are able to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the United States will continue to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, its commission of human rights abuses, and its destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East, including through the active use of our financial tools.
 
Alternatively, if we determine that a comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be obtained, the Administration, working with Congress, can move to ratchet up the pressure on Iran from sanctions. Over the past decade, we have developed tremendous insight into Iran’s financial flows, its economy’s stress points, and how it attempts to evade sanctions. Our team stands ready to raise the costs on Iran substantially should it make clear that it is unwilling to address the international community’s concerns. Close cooperation with our international partners will be critical should we have to go that route.
 
In either eventuality, we are committed to working with Congress to ensure that our sanctions continue to serve our national security goals, whether to ensure that Iran abides by the conditions of a deal if it can accept those conditions, or to raise the costs substantially if Iran demonstrates that further negotiations are futile.”
 
Click here for the full transcripts
 

 

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