United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

U.S. Intelligence Assessment of Iran

On February 9, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, warned lawmakers that Iran has the “means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles,” including intercontinental ballistic missiles. He briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the threat Iran could pose to U.S. interests and the Middle East.

Clapper explained that the nuclear deal has “extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year.” He noted, however, that Tehran could eventually choose to expand its nuclear infrastructure and that it “does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon.” Clapper also highlighted Iran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni conflicts. The following are relevant sections from the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  

Iran Adhering to Deal To Preserve Capabilities and Gain Sanctions Relief
Iran probably views the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a means to remove sanctions while preserving some of its nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure. We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its nuclear energy and technology goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so. Its pursuit of these goals will dictate its level of adherence to the JCPOA over time. We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
We also continue to assess that Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue. Iran’s implementation of the JCPOA, however, has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year. The JCPOA has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly through improved access by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and investigative authorities under the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement.
As a result, the international community is well postured to quickly detect changes to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities designed to shorten the time Iran would need to produce fissile material. Further, the JCPOA provides tools for the IAEA to investigate possible breaches of prohibitions on specific R&D activities that could contribute to the development of a nuclear weapon.
We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including ICBMs.
Since January, Tehran met the demands for implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), exchanged detainees, and released 10 US sailors. Despite these developments, the Islamic Republic of Iran presents an enduring threat to US national interests because of its support to regional terrorist and militant groups and the Asad regime, as well as its development of advanced military capabilities. Tehran views itself as leading the “axis of resistance”—which includes the Asad regime and subnational groups aligned with Iran, especially Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi Shia militants. Their intent is to thwart US, Saudi, and Israeli influence, bolster its allies, and fight ISIL’s expansion. Tehran might even use American citizens detained when entering Iranian territories as bargaining pieces to achieve financial or political concessions in line with their strategic intentions.
Iran’s involvement in the Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni conflicts deepened in 2015. In Syria, Iran more openly acknowledged the deaths of Iranian “martyrs,” increased Iranian troop levels, and took more of a frontline role against “terrorists.” In Iraq, Iranian combat forces employed rockets, artillery, and drones against ISIL. Iran also supported Huthi rebels in Yemen by attempting to ship lethal aid to the Huthis. Tehran will almost certainly remain active throughout the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East in 2016 to support its regional partners and extend its regional influence. Iranian officials believe that engaging adversaries away from its borders will help prevent instability from spilling into Iran and reduce ISIL’s threat to Iran and its regional partners. Iran has also increased cooperation with Russia in the region.
Supreme Leader Khamenei continues to view the United States as a major threat to Iran, and we assess that his views will not change, despite implementation of the JCPOA deal.  In October 2015, Khamenei publicly claimed the United States was using the JCPOA to “infiltrate and penetrate” Iran.  His statement prompted the Iranian hardliner-dominated security services to crack down on journalists and businessmen with suspected ties to the West. The crackdown was intended by hardliners to demonstrate to President Ruhani and to Washington that a broader opening to the West following JCPOA would not be tolerated. Iran released several US citizens in January 2016 who were being held in Iran; however, it might attempt to use any additional US citizens as bargaining chips for US concessions.
Iran’s military and security services are keen to demonstrate that their regional power ambitions have not been altered by the JCPOA deal.  One week prior to JCPOA Adoption Day, Iran publicized the launch of its new “long-range” and more accurate ballistic missile called the “Emad.”  Iran also publicizes development of its domestically produced weapons systems, submarines and surface combatants, artillery, and UAVs to deter potential adversaries and strengthen its regional influence and prestige.  Iran’s involvement in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts has enabled its forces to gain valuable on-the-ground experience in counterinsurgency operations. 
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Anti-Iran Moves in Congress

Since late 2015, U.S. lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen legislative measures against Iran. The bills largely target areas outside the scope of the nuclear deal, such as ballistic missiles, terrorism, and human rights. But President Obama has promised to veto legislation – like the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act – that the administration believes could potentially derail the deal.
Congress has long sought to establish greater oversight of the nuclear deal. In May 2015, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation sponsored by Bob Corker (R-TN) that required Congress to review and vote on the agreement. The deal came to a vote in September 2015. But Congress ultimately failed to block it, as Senate Democrats filibustered a resolution of disapproval and prevented it from coming to a vote. The following is a rundown of recent Congressional actions on Iran.
The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act (H.R.3662)
Status: The bill, sponsored by Steve Russell (R-OK) and 20 other Republicans, was introduced in the House on Oct. 1, 2015. The House voted and passed the legislation on Jan. 13, 2016, but Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) nullified the vote since 137 representatives were not present. A second vote was held on February 2, which passed the House with a vote of 246-181. A total of 243 Republicans and three Democrats voted in favor, and 181 Democrats voted against. On February 3, the bill was referred to the Senate Banking Committee.
Content: The legislation prohibits removing sanctions on certain entities until the president confirms that they have no link to ballistic missiles or terrorism. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) supported the legislation, arguing that “This bill is about ensuring that the president keeps his promise.” But Foreign Affairs Committee member Eliot Engel (D-NY), who opposed the nuclear deal, argued that the legislation would instead “establish an impossible standard for the president.” President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, fearing that it could disrupt implementation of the nuclear deal.
The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R.158)
Status: Candace Miller (R-MI) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced the bill in the House on Jan. 6, 2015. It was amended and passed on Dec. 8, 2015 with a vote of 407-19 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Content: The bill was proposed by Congress to make it more difficult for terrorists who hold E.U. or other citizenships to enter the United States. Citizens of 38 countries, including many E.U. states, do not need visas to travel to the United States. But the new measure bars citizens of those countries who are also dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan from participating in the program. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said on December 22 that “Our message to them [Iran] is clear: as long as you fuel networks of terror, individuals connected to your country will not be allowed to enter ours without closer scrutiny.”
Iranian officials condemned the bill. “This visa-waiver thing is absurd,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker. “Has anybody in the West been targeted by any Iranian national, anybody of Iranian origin, or anyone travelling to Iran?” Secretary of State John Kerry, however, noted that the Obama administration can waive the visa requirements so as not to “interfere with the legitimate business interest of Iran.”  
Although the bill passed the House with a bipartisan majority, some lawmakers opposed the bill on the grounds that it could have negative consequences for journalists and aid workers. Barbara Lee (D-CA) argued that the legislation would “allow for the arbitrary discrimination of individuals based on their nationality.”
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The Zero Tolerance for Terror Act (H.R.4333), the Iran Ballistic Missile Prevention and Sanctions Act of 2016 (H.R.4342), and other actions on ballistic missiles
Status: Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and five other lawmakers introduced the Zero Tolerance for Terror Act in the House on January 6. Kennedy, along with John Delaney (D-MD) and 11 other lawmakers, also introduced the Iran Ballistic Missile Prevention and Sanctions Act of 2016 on January 7.
Content: Both pieces of legislation called on the U.S. Treasury to impose sanctions on Iran for ballistic missile activities. They were part of a larger push by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to urge President Obama to take action after alleged Iranian ballistic missiles launches in October and November 2015. Ballistic missiles restrictions are not included in the final nuclear deal, but a 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles.
“Condemnations of Iran's blatant disregard for its international obligations are not enough,” wrote Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and 35 other Republican senators in December 2015. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) organized a similar letter signed by 20 other Democrats. “If there are no consequences for this violation, Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” it said.
New ballistic missile sanctions were originally set to go into effect on Dec. 30, 2015, but the Obama administration delayed them for two weeks. Iranian officials warned that the supreme leader would view new sanctions as a violation of the nuclear deal, but U.S. officials denied that Iran’s defiance played a part in the delay. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said that finalizing sanctions “is not something that we would negotiate with the Iranian government.” Behind the scenes, Secretary of State John Kerry was in the midst of negotiating a prisoner swap with Iran that resulted in the release of four Americans. On January 17 – right after the nuclear deal was implemented – the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on 11 individuals and entities for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program.
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Iran Sanctions Relief Oversight Act of 2015 (S.1682)
Status: Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill in the Senate on June 25, 2016, originally pushing to add it as an amendment to the 2016 defense budget.
Content: The bill extends the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA), which targets Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and human rights violations, through Dec. 31, 2026. The ISA is currently set to expire in December 2016. The bill pitched by Kirk and Menendez has not progressed beyond the Senate Banking Committee, but other lawmakers have also proposed extending ISA. In late January 2016, after Implementation Day, Bob Corker (R-TN) began preparing three pieces of legislation against Iran – one of which was the reauthorization of ISA. Corker argued that renewing ISA is essential for the possibility of “snap back” sanctions if Iran violates the nuclear deal, but the administration has urged Congress to delay renewing the legislation until closer to its expiration date. 
Urging the President and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to submit to Congress the text of all side agreements entered into between the IAEA and Iran with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (H.R.553)
Status: Co-sponsored by Ryan Zinke (R-MT) and 30 other representatives, the bill was introduced in the House on Dec. 3, 2015.
Content: The bill requires Congress to receive the text of “side agreements” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as a condition for the Congress to approve funding for the agency. In July 2015, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi agreed on a road map to resolve “past and present outstanding issues” on Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement – which was not made public – culminated in a final report released in December 2015.
Some U.S. lawmakers have insisted that Congress have access to the full text of the agreement between Iran and the IAEA. “Congress has the constitutional responsibility to control the power of the purse,” Zinke said in December 2015. “If we are expected to foot the bill for these side deals, we should know what measures are included in them.”

Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015 (S.2119)
Status: The bill was introduced in the Senate on Oct. 1, 2015, sponsored by Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and seven other Democrats.
Content: The legislation requires the President to report to Congress every 180 days on two topics: Iranian nuclear research and development, and how Iran uses funds received as part of sanctions relief.
Ending Iran's Nuclear Weapon Program Before Sanctions Relief Act of 2015 (S.2429 and H.R.4344)
Status: The bill was introduced in the Senate on Dec. 18, 2015 by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and 12 other Republicans, and in the House on Jan. 7, 2016 by Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Peter Roskam (R-IL), and two other Republicans.
Content: It requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to submit a report to Congress on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. It also calls for delaying sanctions relief until 90 days after the report is submitted, or once the DNI, State Department, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense certify that Iran has ceased all military dimensions of its nuclear activities.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Sanctions Implementation and Review Act (H.R.4312)
Status: The bill was introduced on Dec. 18, 2015, by Brad Sherman (D-CA) and five other Democrats.
Content: The legislation proposes amendments to the Iran Threat Reduction and Syrian Human Rights Act of 2012, which would prohibit transactions with foreigners who knowingly engage in deals with the Revolutionary Guards or other sanctioned entities if the property involved is linked to the United States.
Quarantining the Ayatollah's State-Sponsored Aggression and Militancy (QASSAM) Act (H.R.4258)
Status: The bill was introduced in the House on Dec. 15, 2015 by Peter Roskam (R-IL) and three other Republicans.
Content: It aims to impose sanctions on any entity – either within the United States or owned by an American – if the Revolutionary Guards own at least 20 percent of it.

IRGC Sanctions Act (H.R.4257)
Status: The bill was introduced on Dec. 15, 2015 by Devin Nunes (R-CA) and 19 other Republicans.
Content: It seeks to amend three existing laws to require congressional approval to remove a country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
IRGC Terrorist Designation Act (H.R.3646 and S.2094)
Status: The bill was introduced in the House on Sept. 29, 2015 by Michael McCaul (R-TX) and 13 other lawmakers and in the Senate by Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Content: It calls upon the State Department to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.
Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act (H.R.3457 and S.2086)
Status: The bill was introduced in the House on Sept. 9, 2015 by Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and two other Republicans and in the Senate on Sept. 28, 2015 by Pat Toomey (R-PA) and two other Republicans. It passed the House by a vote of 251-173 on Oct. 1, 2015.
Content: It calls for preventing sanctions relief until Iran addresses judgments in the cases of U.S. victims of Iran-backed terror groups.
Reaffirming the right for the United States to use all available options, including the use of military force, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon (H.Res.600)
Status: Seth Moulton (D-MA), Jospeh Kennedy (D-MA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), and two others introduced the resolution in the House on Feb. 3, 2016.
Content: It reaffirms the right to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, emphasizing that the nuclear deal does not preclude additional sanctions on Iran for terrorism, ballistic missile, or human rights violations.

Europe Reaches Out to Iran

Since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14, 2015, at least a dozen European nations have reached out to Iran with high-profile phone calls and visits. "Expansion of relations with E.U. members is among Tehran's main policies," Rouhani said before his visit to Europe in January 2016. Around half of the 140 economic delegations that visited Iran between March and December 2015 were from European countries. The following is a rundown of European outreach to Iran since the deal.

United Kingdom

On February 4, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in London for a conference to raise money for humanitarian aid in Syria. He met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other officials on the sidelines of the conference. It was the first visit to the United Kingdom by an Iranian foreign minister in 12 years.
"Iran and Britain have had traditionally good commercial and economic relations and I think those can resume," Zarif said in an address at Chatham House. "We need to work together on moving the political relations forward."
The United Kingdom has taken steps to improve ties with Iran since the nuclear deal was signed. "You (President Rouhani) had a very constructive role in striking this final deal," British Prime Minister David Cameron said on July 16, 2015. During the conversation, Rouhani added that “I think there exists the necessary potential to rebuild relations between Iran and Britain.”
The British government also relaxed its travel warnings for Iran shortly after the deal was announced. “The risk to British nationals has changed, in part due to decreasing hostility under President Rouhani's Government,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on July 25.
On August 23, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond traveled to Tehran to reopen the British Embassy, which had been closed since 2011. The Iranian embassy in London was reopened the same day. In a joint press conference with Hammond, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and Britain had “entered a new phase of relations based on mutual respect.”
Hammond was the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Iran in 12 years. He met with Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, and other officials during his visit. Hammond was accompanied by a group of British business leaders hoping to reestablish ties in Iran.
On Jan. 19, 2016, David Cameron congratulated Rouhani on the implementation of the nuclear deal during a phone call. The two leaders also discussed expanding trade ties, the conflict in Syria, and the four dual British-Iranian nationals held in Iran.
Rouhani traveled to Italy on Jan. 25, 2016, after accepting an invitation from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. During his visit, Rouhani met with Renzi, President Sergio Mattarella, and a group of 500 Italian businessmen. Iran and Italy reportedly signed around $18.4 billion in deals for cooperation in energy, infrastructure, shipbuilding, and mining.
Rouhani said during his visit that Iran was "more eager to have Italians before any other European nations to start a constructive interaction with their Iranian partners in the economic fields." During his meetings, Rouhani invited Mattarella and Renzi to visit Iran.
Previously, on Aug. 4, 2015, Gentiloni and Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi traveled to Iran for a two-day visit, accompanied by Italian businessmen and economic activists. They met with Minister of Industry, Mines, and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh and other officials.
Italy, which used to be one of Iran’s major trade partners, has been trying to revive economic ties with Iran. During the August visit, investment back Mediobanca, Italy’s development ministry, and export credit agency SACE signed a memorandum of understanding “to facilitate future economic and commercial relations between the two countries.”
On July 23, French President Francois Hollande and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in a phone conversation. A statement released by Hollande’s office “expressed the wish for Iran to contribute positively to the resolution of crises in the Middle East.” Hollande also emphasized increasing tourism between the two countries, since it "can play a major role in advancement of cooperation between Iran and France."
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius visited Tehran on July 29, 2015, meeting with Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, and other senior officials. It was the first visit to Iran by a French foreign minister in 12 years. He also extended an invitation for President Hassan Rouhani to visit President Hollande in France in November. "Things will, we hope, be able to change," Fabius said during his visit. In late September, a French delegation with representatives from more than 100 companies visited Tehran and opened a trade office.
Rouhani traveled to France on Jan. 27, 2016 for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President Francois Hollande, and a group of French business leaders. On January 28, French and Iranian officials signed 20 agreements for economic, political, and cultural cooperation. French automaker Peugeot announced it had reached a deal with Iran Khodro worth $436 million to manufacture 200,000 cars per year in Iran. Energy company Total also reportedly signed a deal to buy up to 200,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil per day. And Airbus finalized a deal to deliver more than 100 commercial jets to Iran.
Rouhani was the first Iranian president to visit to France since 1999. Despite taking a tough stance during the nuclear negotiations, France was among the first European countries to seek improved ties with Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. Rouhani’s visit, however, prompted protests from French human rights groups against executions in Iran.
European Union
On November 7, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz met with officials in Tehran, at the invitation of the Iranian parliament. It was the first time a head of the European Parliament had visited Iran. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is an element of stability in a region full of instability," Schulz said during the visit.
Previously, on July 28, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had traveled Tehran for a one-day visit with senior Iranian officials. She was accompanied by deputy E.U. foreign policy chief Helga Schmid. Mogherini said the nuclear deal “has the capacity to pave the ground for wider cooperation between Iran and the West.”
After meeting with Mogherini, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and the European Union had agreed to hold talks “over different issues, including energy cooperation…human rights, confronting terrorism, and regional issues.”
Mogherini’s visit coincided with her op-ed in The Guardian, in which she argued that cooperation between Iran and the West could help defeat ISIS. The following is an excerpt.
“The Vienna deal tells us that we all have much to earn if we choose cooperation over confrontation. Making the most out of this opportunity is entirely up to us. But nothing good will happen if we do not work hard for it. We Europeans have a long tradition of cultural and economic relationship with Iran. Before sanctions began in 2005, cooperation between our parts of the world spanned many areas, from energy to trade. But our shared interests go well beyond the economy.
“Last week Europe’s foreign ministers tasked me with exploring “ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework” in the wake of the Vienna deal. Isis (also known as Da’esh) is spreading its vicious and apocalyptic ideology in the Middle East and beyond. There is nothing more worrisome to Isis than cooperation between “the west” and the Muslim world, for it defies the narrative of a clash of civilisations the group is trying to revive. An alliance of civilisations can be our most powerful weapon in the fight against terror.”
—July 28, 2015, in an op-ed published by The Guardian
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and an economic delegation visited Tehran on November 9, meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The officials discussed expanding economic and political ties. During the visit, Rouhani said that Iran "can become a center for organizing and expanding economic relations between Belgium, the European Union, and the whole region."
Austrian President Heinz Fischer visited Tehran from September 7 to 9, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, and Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner. Fischer said that he expected bilateral trade between Austria and Iran to reach $335 million in 2015.
Fischer met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his visit. Khamenei praised Austria for not complying with "the United States' hostile policies towards Iran."
Fischer had spoken to Rouhani by phone on July 15, following the announcement of the final nuclear deal. Rouhani said the deal “will lay the groundwork for the expansion of ties between Tehran and Vienna.”


Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo met with Iranian officials in Tehran from September 7 to 9. He was accompanied by Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister Jose Manuel Soria, Public Works and Transport Minister Ana Maria Pastor Julian, and a delegation of business officials.

Following a meeting with Soria, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said the two countries discussed the possibility of exporting crude oil and natural gas to Spain. Additionally, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Garcia-Margallo, and said that Iran and Spain "agreed to negotiate about human rights and refugee issues.”


On July 20, German vice chancellor and economics minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran for a three-day visit, hoping to resume “economic contacts with Iran, which were traditionally good.” He was the first high-ranking Western official to visit Iran since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14.
Gabriel also emphasized the need to cooperate with Iran on issues like human rights and its relationship with Israel. "You can't have a good economic relationship with Germany in the long-term if we don't discuss such issues too and try to move them along,” he said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Tehran in October 2015 to discuss trade ties and attempt to de-escalate the growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He traveled to Iran again on Feb. 2, 2016 for meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.



Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Yves Rossier arrived in Tehran on July 21 for a four-day trip to meet with Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Rouhani’s chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian. “Iran welcomes the expansion of economic and banking relations with Switzerland,” Nahavandian said.
On August 12, Switzerland became the first nation to lift sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal was announced.
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic arrived in Tehran on August 3 for a three-day visit. Dacic held a series of meetings with senior Iranian officials and explored opportunities for greater economic cooperation with Iran. Zarif welcomed a proposal by Dacic to hold the 14th Iran-Serbia Joint Economic Committee, adding that an Iranian delegation would visit Belgrade in the future.
On October 10-11, Polish Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz visited Tehran, where he met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemni Rafsanjani, and other officials. Iran and Poland "can further contribute to regional and international security through mutual cooperation," Borusewicz said during the visit. And Rouhani said that "Iran sees no obstacles in the way of expanding relations and cooperation with Poland."

The Netherlands

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met with Rouhani, Zarif, and other officials in Tehran on September 21 and 22. It was the first time in 14 years that a Dutch foreign minister had visited Iran. The officials discussed expanding political and economic ties, and Koenders announced that at least three other Dutch ministers planned to visit Iran in the near future.

U.S. Presidential Candidates on Iran

Virtually every U.S. presidential candidate has highlighted U.S. policy towards Iran, which has been a frequent topic in the Democratic and Republican debates in late 2015 and early 2016. The following are excerpted remarks from all the candidates on Iran. Click the name of each candidate to learn more.




Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State under Obama and former Senator from New York

“I'm very pleased we got that nuclear agreement. It puts a lid on the nuclear weapons program. We have to enforce it, there have to be consequences attached to it. But that is not our only problem with Iran. We have to figure out how to deal with Iran as the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
“They are destabilizing governments in the region. They continue to support Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon against Israel. A lot of work that we have do is going to be incredibly hard. I'm prepared to do that work, but I believe, just as I did with imposing the sanctions, you have to get action for action.
“If we were to normalize relations right now, we would remove one of the biggest pieces of leverage we have to try to influence and change Iranian behavior. The president doesn't think we should. I certainly don't think we should. I believe we have to take this step by step to try to reign in Iranian aggression, their support for terrorism and the other bad behavior that can come back and haunt us.”
—Feb. 4, 2016, at a Democratic town hall in New Hampshire
"I'm very proud of the Iran Nuclear Agreement. I was very pleased to be part of what the president put into action when he took office. I was responsible for getting those sanctions imposed which put the pressure on Iran. It brought them to the negotiating table which resulted in this agreement.
"And so, they have been so far, following their requirements under the agreement. But I think we still have to carefully watch them. We've had one good day over 36 year and I think we need more good days before we move more rapidly toward any kind of normalization. And we have to be sure that they are truly going to implement the agreement. And then, we have to go after them on a lot of their other bad behavior in the region which is causing enormous problems in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere."
—Jan. 17, 2016, in a Democratic debate
"I think it would be a grave mistake to ask for any more Iranian troops inside Syria. That is like asking the arsonist to come and pour more gas on the fire.
"The Iranians getting more of a presence in Syria, linking with Hezbollah, their proxy in Lebanon, would threaten Israel and would make it more difficult for us to move on a path to have a transition that at some point would deal with Assad's future."
Dec. 19, 2015, in a Democratic debate
“My [Iran] strategy will be based on five strong pillars.
“First, I will deepen America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including our longstanding tradition of guaranteeing Israel’s qualitative military edge."
“Second, I will reaffirm that the Persian Gulf is a region of vital interest to the United States. We don’t want any of Iran’s neighbors to develop or acquire a nuclear weapons program either, so we want them to feel and be secure. I will sustain a robust military presence in the region, especially our air and naval forces."
“Third, I will build a coalition to counter Iran’s proxies, particularly Hezbollah. That means enforcing and strengthening the rules prohibiting the transfers of weapons to Hezbollah, looking at new ways to choke off their funding, and pressing our partners to treat Hezbollah as the terrorist organization it is."
“Across the board, I will vigorously enforce and strengthen if necessary the American sanctions on Iran and its Revolutionary Guard for its sponsorship of terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and other destabilizing activities."
“Fourth, I’ll stand, as I always have, against Iran’s abuses of home, from its detention of political prisoners to its crackdown on freedom of expression, including online."
“Fifth, just as the nuclear agreement needs to be embedded in a broader Iran policy, our broader Iran policy needs to be embedded in a comprehensive regional strategy that promotes stability and counters extremism."
Question: Madam Secretary, you talked about how you would use American muscle to contain Iran. Can you tell us how you might use the new diplomatic channel to engage Iran on issues, whether it’s support for extremist groups or specifically dealing with the crisis in Syria? Would you be willing to use that diplomatic channel to engage Iran?
Clinton: “Yes, I would…and I would because I think that we have to attempt to do that."
“It takes a while…to figure out who’s at the table, what the conversation is about, how seriously it’ll be taken, who’s backing you up."
“So if there were a way to construct such a channel, I would be open to it. But I’m just laying out some of the difficulties of us being able to do that on this suite of other issues that are complex and touch many of the region’s vital interests.
“Just as I said diplomacy is a balancing of risks, it’s also the constant evaluation of where the opportunities are, where the openings are, what possibly could happen now that didn’t happen before. So I’m open, but I am very sober about how it would have to be constructed and what it would actually cover and who would have to be either at the table or in the first chair behind so that they didn’t feel that they were being left out or negotiated over.”
—Sept. 9, 2015 in an address at the Brookings Institution

Bernie Sanders
Senator from Vermont

“Who said That think we should normalize relations with Iran tomorrow? I never said that. I think we should move forward as quickly as we can.
“And you're right. They are a sponsor of terrorism around the world and we have to address that. But you know, a number of years ago, people were saying normal relationship with Cuba, what a bad and silly idea. They're Communists, they are our enemy. Well guess what? Change has come.
“So please don't suggest that I think we normalize relations with Tehran tomorrow. We don't. But I would like to see us move forward, and hopefully some day that will happen. And I would say if I might, Madam Secretary -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong. When you ran against Senator Obama you thought him naive because he thought it was a good idea to talk to our enemies. I think those are exactly the people you have to talk to and you have to negotiate with.”
—Feb. 4, 2016, at a Democratic town hall in New Hampshire
"I think what we've got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran. Understanding that Iran's behavior in so many ways is something that we disagree with; their support terrorism, the anti-American rhetoric that we're hearing from of their leadership is something that is not acceptable.
"On the other hand, the fact that we've managed to reach an agreement, something that I've very strongly supported that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and we did that without going to war. And that I believe we're seeing a fall in our relationships with Iran is a very positive step. So if your question is, do I want to see that relationship become more positive in the future? Yes.
"Can I tell that we should open an embassy in Tehran tomorrow? No, I don't think we should. But I think the goal has go to be as we've done with Cuba, to move in warm relations with a very powerful and important country in this world."
—Jan. 17, 2016, in a Democratic debate
“I believe this approach [the nuclear deal] is the best way forward if we are to accomplish what we all want to accomplish—that is making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon – an occurrence which would destabilize the region, lead to a nuclear arms race in the area, and would endanger the existence of Israel.
“It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength and our capabilities to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.
“I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort. It is easy to go to war, it not so easy to comprehend the unintended consequences of that war."
“I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region."
“Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? No, it does not. But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.
“Let us not forget that if Iran does not live up to the agreement, sanctions may be reimposed. If Iran moves toward a nuclear weapon, all available options remain on the table. I think it is incumbent upon us, however, to give the negotiated agreement a chance to succeed, and it is for these reasons that I will support the agreement.”
—Sept 9, 2015, in a statement  



Jeb Bush
Former Governor of Florida
“The overall relationship with Iran is flawed…they’re our enemy.”
"We show a weakness in the way we negotiated with Iran. The net result is our allies, like Saudi Arabia and others now, no longer think we have their back. It creates insecurity."
—Jan. 19, 2016, in an interview with CNBC
“As it relates to Iran, we need to confront their ambitions across the board. We should reimpose sanctions, they’ve already violated sanctions after this agreement was signed by testing medium-range missiles.”

Jan. 14, 2016, in a Republican debate

“It's not a strategy to tear up an agreement. A strategy would be how do we confront Iran? And, the first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel's back. If we do that, it's going to create a healthier deterrent effect than anything else I can think of.”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate

Ben Carson
Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital
“The Saudis have been one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and I think it’s unfortunate that we put them in the position we have by showing the support to Iran that we have with this foolish deal."
—Jan. 3, 2016, in an interview
“My biggest problem with the whole Iranian situation is that I believe that the Congress should have never agreed to anything outside of a treaty. You know, it fits all the requirements for a treaty.”
“I think we let the Iranians know that there’s a new sheriff in town, and that we’re not abiding by that, and we begin to use whatever powers we have to slow down the process. But you know, this is a longer term problem, because our allies right now don’t have a whole lot of respect for us…We’re going to have to very quickly get back to a point where people actually believe what we say, that our friends recognize that we’re their friends, and that our enemies recognize that we’re their enemies. And there has to be consequences for being an enemy of the United States.”
“The Ayatollah has said, you know, very specifically, that there’s going to be a lot of money that’s going to be made available. And I think that it can only be a band thing for us. You know, all of this, you know, he’s got relationships with, you know, many terrorist organizations. And it seems almost like we’re facilitating the funding of those organizations. And it’s very hard for me to understand how we can calmly sit by when the Iranians are actually calling for the destruction of Israel, and you know, down with the USA.”
—Sept. 11, 2015, in an interview

Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey
“It’s absolutely disgraceful that Secretary Kerry and others said in their response to what’s going on in Iran that this was a good thing; it showed how the relationship was getting better.”
“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.”
“We have the Russians and the Iranians working together, not to fight ISIS, but to prop up Assad. The fact of the matter is we’re not going to have peace — we are not going to have peace in Syria. We’re not going to be able to rebuild it unless we put a no-fly zone there, make it safe for those folks so we don’t have to be talking about Syrian refugees anymore.”
Jan. 14, 2016, in a Republican debate
“Around the world, I will not shake hands with, I will not meet with, and I will not agree to anything with a country that says death to us and death to Israel and holds our hostages while we sign agreements with them.”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate
"I believe that the American people are going to look back on this and say this is the single worst thing this president has ever done and every death Iran causes is now on Barack Obama's head."
—Sept. 2, 2015, in an interview


Ted Cruz
Senator from Texas

“In that State of the Union, President Obama didn’t so much as mention the 10 sailors that had been captured by Iran. President Obama’s preparing to send $100 billion or more to the Ayatollah Khamenei. And I’ll tell you, it was heartbreaking.”
Jan. 14, 2016, in a Republican debate
“The single biggest national security threat facing America right now is the threat of a nuclear Iran. We've seen six and a half years of President Obama leading from behind. Weakness is provocative, and this Iranian nuclear deal is nothing short of catastrophic.
“This deal, on its face, will send over $100 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, making the Obama administration the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.
“This deal abandons four American hostages in Iran, and this deal will only accelerate Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons. You'd better believe it. If I am elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”
“We won't know under this agreement -- there are several facilities in Iran they designate as military facilities that are off limits all together. Beyond that, the other facilities, we give them 24 days notice before inspecting them. That is designed to allow them to hide the evidence.
“And most astonishingly, this agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves. That makes no sense whatsoever.”
“President Obama is violating federal law by not handing over the side deals, and we ought to see the United States Congress stand up together and say, ‘Hand over this treaty, and protect this country.’”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate
Carly Fiorina
Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
“On day one in the Oval Office, I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him we will stand with the state of Israel.
“The second, to the supreme leader, to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we, the United States of America, will make it as difficult as possible and move money around the global financial system.
“We can do that, we don't need anyone's cooperation to do it. And every ally and every adversary we have in this world will know that the United States in America is back in the leadership business, which is how we must stand with our allies.”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate
John Kasich
Governor of Ohio
"Look, we don't know what's going to happen in ten months. And if I were president of the United States right now, I'd be lining up our allies to say that, if one crossed T or one dotted I does not occur, they are -- violate the agreement, we slap back on sanctions.
"We can slap on sanctions alone, on day one, but it's not gonna be anywhere near as effective. But the president needs to be laying the groundwork right now for the ability to slap those sanctions back on worldwide.
"And I'll tell you what I'm worried about -- I'm worried about money. You read about all the companies now that are doing business -- about to do business in Iran, and if we don't get this settled now, with other countries in the world, about sanctions, then Iran could violate that agreement, and we're the only ones putting the sanctions on.
"We need to move aggressively now. But I would say this to you, Bret. Number one, if they violate it, we need to move against them. And number two, if we find out they're developing a nuclear weapon and we know how to get to it, we're gonna go take it out. That is what we have to do. We cannot let things get farther down the road, like we did with North Korea.
—Jan. 28, 2016 in a Republican debate
“Let me suggest to you we believe that we operate better in the world when our allies work with us. President Bush did it in the Gulf War. We work better when we are unified.
“Secondly, nobody's trusting Iran. They violate the deal, we put on the sanctions, and we have the high moral ground to talk to our allies in Europe to get them to go with us.
“If they don't go with us, we slap the sanctions on anyway. If they fund these radical groups that threaten Israel and all of the West, then we should rip up the deal and put the sanctions back on. If we think they're getting close to a -- to developing a nuclear weapon and we get that information, you better believe that I would do everything in my power as the commander-in-chief to stop them having a nuclear weapon.
“We can have it, and we can have our allies, and we can be strong as a country, and we can project across this globe with unity, not just doing it alone. That is not what gets us where we want to get as a nation.”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate
Marco Rubio
Senator from Florida
"Well, let me first describe Iran because they're not just a normal nation state. And we have no quarrel with the Iranian people. But the Iranian leader, their supreme leader is a radical Shia cleric who has an apocalyptic vision of the future.
"He views himself not simply as the leader of Iran, but as the leader of all Muslims -- all Shia Muslims on the planet. And they have a desire not simply to conquer the Middle East and to become the dominant power in that region, but ultimately to be able to hold America hostage.
"That is why they're building an -- right now, developing long- range missiles capable of reaching the United States, and that is why there's going -- they're going to use those $100 billion to expand their conventional capabilities and to one day buy or build a nuclear weapon.
"We will -- when I am president of the United States, on my first day in office, we are canceling the deal with Iran, and nations will have to make a choice. They can do business with Iran, or they can do business with America, and I am very confident they're going to choose America before they choose the Iranian economy.
—Jan. 28, 2016 in a Republican debate
“On the issue of Barack Obama, Barack Obama does not believe that America is a great global power. Barack Obama believes that America is a arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size. And that’s how you get a foreign policy where we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel and we gut our military and we go around the world like he has done on 10 separate occasions and apologized for America.”
—Jan. 14, 2016, in a Republican debate
“Anyone who is paying attention to what Khamenei says knows that they will not comply. There is a reason Khamenei refers to Israel as the little Satan, and America as the great Satan.
“In the middle of negotiating this treaty, Khamenei led the assembled masses in chanting, death to America. I'm reminded of a great editorial cartoon. It shows the Ayatollah Khamenei saying, "Death to all Americans," and then it shows John Kerry coming back, saying, "Can we meet ya half way?"
“We need a commander-in-chief who will stand up and protect this country. And I'll tell you, I can't wait to stand on that debate stage with Hillary Clinton and to make abundantly clear if you vote for Hillary, you are voting for the Ayatollah Khomeini to possess a nuclear weapon and if you elect me as president, under no circumstances will a theocratic ayatollah who chants death to America ever be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate

Donald Trump
CEO of the Trump Organization
“I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They’re tough, they’re strong, they’re great people. Half of them had tears pouring down their face. They were watching the humiliation of our young ten sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up.
“And Iranian wise guys having guns to their heads. It was a terrible sight. A terrible sight. And the only reason we got them back is because we owed them with a stupid deal, $150 billion. If I’m president, there won’t be stupid deals anymore.”

Jan. 14, 2016, in a Republican debate

“We're talking about Iran. The agreement was terrible. It was incompetent. I've never seen anything like it. One of the worst contracts of any kind I've ever seen.”

—Sept. 16, 2015, in a Republican debate

"It is hard to believe a president of the United States would actually put his name on an agreement with the terrorist state Iran that is so bad, so poorly constructed and so terribly negotiated that it increases uncertainty and reduces security for America and our allies, including Israel."
—Sept. 8, 2015, in an op-ed


Photo credits: Jeb Bush [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Ben Carson by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Chris Christie by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Ted Cruz [public domain as US Govt work]; Carly Fiorina by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0]; Mike Huckabee by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0]; John Kasich [public domain as US Govt work]; Rand Paul [public domain as US Govt work]; Marco Rubio by Gage Skidmore  [CC BY-SA 2.0]; Donald Trump by Michael Vadon  [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Hillary Clinton [public domain as US Govt work]; Martin O'Malle[CC BY 2.0]; Bernie Sanders [public domain as US Govt work]; Rick Santorum by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

UN Report: Child Rights Abuses

On January 29, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a report urging Iran to reform its laws on executions of minors and several other issues. Iran executes youth who committed a crime while under age 18, in violation of international standards. The age of criminal responsibility is nine lunar years for girls and 15 for boys. The Committee expressed serious concern about reports of increasing numbers of girls being forced into marriage at 10 and below. The following are excerpts from the report.
The Committee expresses grave concern about the persisting discrimination against girls in the State party’s legislation and in practice in many aspects of life, including the discriminatory treatment of girls in family relations, criminal justice system, property rights, compensation for physical injury, among others. The Committee is particularly concerned that under the State party’s legislation there is an obligatory male guardianship over girls, which is incompatible with the Convention. The Committee is further concerned that gender stereotypes and patriarchal values place severe limitations on girls’ enjoyment of their rights under the Convention.
The Committee urges the State party to revise its legislation in order to ensure that girls enjoy the same rights and entitlements as boys in all aspects of life, especially in family relations, criminal and civil justice system and property rights, and take measures to eliminate any forms of discrimination in practice. It also urges the State party to carry out awareness raising activities with a view to changing patriarchal values and gender stereotypes, which undermine girls’ rights.
The Committee is also concerned about the continuous discrimination against children belonging to religious minorities, especially Bahai’ children and Sunni children, as well as children who belong to minority ethnic and linguistic groups, children born out of wedlock and to a certain extent, asylum seeking and refugee children. Furthermore, it is concerned that children who belong to the LGBTI group face continuous discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or identity and that the same sex sexual behaviour of adolescents above the actual age of criminal responsibility is criminalized and punished with penalties ranging from flogging to death penalty.
The Committee recommends that the State party take effective measures, including accountability, to put an end to discrimination against religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities, children born out of wedlock and asylum seeking and refugee children and ensure that those responsible for any forms of discrimination against such groups are held accountable. Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the State party decriminalize same sex relations and take measures to eliminate discrimination against LGBTI children.
Right to life, survival and development
The Committee takes note of the Supreme Court Order 737 (2015) and article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code of 2013 providing for a possibility of retrial and exempting, in special conditions, children below the age of 18 years from hudud and qisas punishments involving death sentence “if they do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age” and applying correctional measures instead. However, the Committee expresses serious concern that such exemptions are under full discretion of judges who are allowed, but not mandated to seek forensic expert opinion and that several persons have been re-sentenced to death following such re-trials. The Committee deplores that the State party continues to execute children and those who have committed a crime while under 18 years of age, despite its previous recommendations and numerous criticisms by human rights treaty bodies.
The Committee strongly urges the State party as a matter of utmost priority to:
(a)        End the execution of children and persons who committed a crime under the age of 18;
(b)       Take legislative measures to abolish the death sentence for the crimes of hudud and qisas for persons who committed a crime under the age of 18 years in the Islamic Penal Code without leaving any discretion to the courts; and
c)         Commute all existing sentences for offenders on death row who committed a crime under the age of 18 years.
The Committee is seriously concerned that article 301 combined with article 612 of the Islamic Penal Code (2013), provides for lighter punishment if a murder is committed by a father or a paternal grandfather of the victim (“crimes committed in the name of so called honour”). In such cases, judges have a full discretion and can even decide to release the perpetrator without any punishment paving a way for total impunity for killing one’s child.
The Committee strongly urges the State party to repeal article 301 of the Islamic Penal Code, and ensure that all perpetrators of murders committed in the name of so-called “honour” receive penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The Committee urges the State party to carry out prompt and thorough investigations into all these cases, prosecute perpetrators and ensure that those found guilty are given appropriate sentences.
The Committee is concerned that a number of children have been killed or wounded due to landmines placed during the Iran Iraq war in Western Azerbaijan, Ilam, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Khuzestan.
The Committee urges the State party to clear its entire territory from landmines and all remnants of the war as soon as possible with a support of international organizations.

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