United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Obama Administration Resists New Sanctions

             Several U.S. lawmakers called for new sanctions on Iran following the decision to extend nuclear talks with the world's six major powers another seven months. But Obama administration officials have warned that new sanctions could derail the talks. A negotiated deal “is the best way to account for and close off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon,” Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum on December 7. The following are excerpted remarks from administrations officials on the extension of nuclear talks and pressure from Congress to impose new sanctions.
Secretary of State John Kerry
      “Ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon has been the heart of President Obama’s foreign policy from the moment that he took office.  It has not changed.  And when he talked to me about the prospect of becoming Secretary of State, I looked at him and I said, “Mr. President, I want to know for certain that what you’re saying about Iran and what the consequences may be if we can’t get where we need to go in a deal are actual – are real.  I mean, are we going to hold them accountable?”  And the President looked at me and he said, “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, and I will do whatever is necessary.”
            “The President has never changed on this.  And that policy will not change.  And while we may disagree on tactics from time to time, when it comes to the core strategic goal – no nuclear weapon – there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and the State of Israel.  And that is why, over the past year, we and our P5+1 partners have been engaged in intense and tough negotiations with the Iranian Government in hopes of finding a comprehensive, durable, and verifiable arrangement that resolves all of the international community’s concerns.
            “Now, I ask you to take a moment.  It is important to take a moment to remember how we got to this point.  We are here not because of the difficult history between the United States and Iran, though difficult it is.  And yesterday’s deeply disturbing charges against an American journalist who was simply doing his job is just the latest reminder of that.  Nor are we here because of the indefensible threats that Iranian leaders have periodically made against Israel, though indefensible they are.  We are not even here because of terrorist acts Iran has sponsored, or its destabilizing activities in the region, though we condemn them whenever and wherever they occur.
            “Rather, we are here for a few simple reasons – because systematically, over many years, Iran did not address the world’s concerns about an illicit nuclear program, and because the entire international community felt that it was imperative that Iran meet its international obligations.  So we spent several years building the broadest, deepest sanctions regime in history, in order to get the answers the world demands.  I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when we passed those, and I am proud of the impact that they’ve had, as is every member of Congress.  We wouldn’t be at the table without it.
            “But we are also here – excuse me – we’re also here because, ultimately, we believe that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement – thank you, Martin – we are convinced that the best way to create accountability is through a verified negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s legitimate concerns, proves that Iran’s program is peaceful, as it says it is, and gives the Iranian people, with whom we have no specific quarrel, the chance for a better future.
            “Now, obviously, this process takes time.  The stakes are high, the issues are complicated and technical, and if we are, in fact, to cut off all the pathways through which Iran could obtain enough fissile material for a bomb, every detail matters enormously. But it also takes time because we will not settle for just any agreement.  We want the right agreement.
            “Last year, I spoke here at the forum shortly after we signed the Joint Plan of Action that enabled us to begin formal negotiations.  And I remember distinctly many voices proclaimed we had made a tragic mistake.  We were admonished that Iran would cheat and the sanctions regime that we had painstakingly built over several years would crumble.  We were accused of jeopardizing the safety and security of our nation and our closest partners.  And in response, I shared with you at that time that the United States, our partners, including Israel and the entire world, would, in fact, become safer the day that the Joint Plan of Action was implemented.  And guess what.  That is exactly what happened.
            “One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full-speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium and ever-shortening breakout time.  Today, Iran has lived up to every commitment it made in the interim agreement.  Progress on its nuclear program has been rolled back for the first time in a decade.  How do we know that?  Because the IAEA and our partners have been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring the JPOA commitments.
            “Today, IAEA inspectors have daily access – daily access – to Iran’s enrichment facilities, including Fordow, and we have developed a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, its centrifuge production, its uranium mines and mills.  Iran’s entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has been diluted or converted – every ounce – and they have suspended all uranium enrichment above 5 percent.  All progress on the Arak plutonium reactor is frozen in place.  No new components have been put in that would allow them to commission it.  
            “And I can assure you, as we work now to reach a comprehensive deal, the United States continues to believe – as we have from day one and as Israel has said it also believes – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal.  And that’s why we had an extension. Now, we know that just like JPOA, any agreement will be subject to the legitimate scrutiny of our citizens, the Congress and our closest partners.
            “We also have no intention of negotiating forever.  And absent measurable progress, who knows how much longer this could go on?  As of now, with significant gaps still remaining, we do not know if we will be able to make it.
            “But we also know for sure that a negotiated settlement, a negotiated outcome, if it meets our standards, is the best way to account for and close off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon.  And in recent weeks, we have seen new ideas surface, flexibility emerge that could – I repeat, could – help resolve some issues that had been intractable.  And that is why, two weeks ago in Vienna, when we reached the most recent deadline that we’d set for the negotiation, we all agreed to extend them for this brief period of time.  By the way, though it said seven months, we’re not looking at seven months.  We are – I think the target is three, four months, and hopefully even sooner if that is possible.
            “Now, why are we doing this?  Because I believe, President Obama believes, the Administration deeply believes that it would be the height of irresponsibility, it would be against our own interests and those of our closest partners, to walk away from a table when and if a peaceful resolution might really be within reach.  If this effort fails, we have been crystal clear that we will do what we have to do.  But if we succeed in reaching an agreement, the entire world – including Israel – will be safer for it.”
            Dec. 7, 2014 at the Brooking Institution’s 2014 Saban Forum
National Security Advisor Susan Rice
            If additional sanctions are placed on Iran, “The P5+1 would fracture, the international community would blame the United States rather than Iran for the collapse of the negotiations, and the Iranians would conclude that there’s little point in pursuing this process at the negotiating table.”
            Dec. 2, 2014 according to the press
Vice President Joe Biden
            Existing sanctions have "frozen [Iran's nuclear] program. It's given us a shot for a peaceful solution...I tell you, I think it's a less than even shot but it's a shot, nonetheless."
            "This is not the time to risk a breakdown [by imposing new sanctions] when we still have a chance at a breakthrough."
            Dec. 6, 2014 at a Middle East forum hosted by the Brookings Institution


Kerry Calls on Iran to Release Jason Rezaian

             On December 7, Secretary of State John Kerry called for the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who has been detained in Iran since late July. Earlier in the day, Rezaian was formally charged in a 10-hour court session but was not told what he was being charged with. Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yaganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, was initially detained as well but was released in October. Rezaian is reportedly under physical and psychological stress from some 137 days in solitary confinement.
Rezaian’s family also released a statement in reaction to the unknown charges, calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to order the “immediate and unconditional release” of Jason. “In its ongoing disregard of Iran’s own laws, the Iranian judiciary has continued to deny Jason access to legal representation, denied his request for bail, and prevented access to review of his case file,” the statement read.
            Rezaian’s detention has sparked an international outcry from governments, human rights groups and others. In October, 135 Iranian journalists sent an open letter to Rouhani holding him accountable for not creating a more secure working environment for the media. The following is Kerry’s full statement on Rezaian, in which he also called on Tehran to release two other U.S. citizens and help find one that went missing on Iranian soil. 

Charges in Iran Against U.S. Citizen Jason Rezaian
            The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by reports that the Iranian judiciary has charged Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian with unspecified charges, and that the judge denied his request to be released on bail.  We are also distressed by reports that Jason was not allowed access to an attorney, which is a clear violation of Iran’s own laws and international norms.  I am personally dismayed and disturbed at these reports as I have repeatedly raised Jason's case, and the other cases of detained or missing U.S. citizens, directly with Iranian officials.

            We share the concerns of Mr. Rezaian’s family regarding reports that he is under physical and psychological distress, and is not receiving proper medical care.  The Iranian government continues to deny our repeated requests for Consular Access to Jason by our Protecting Power, the Swiss, so we are unable to check on his condition or ensure adequate legal representation. 

            Jason poses no threat to the Iranian government or to Iran’s national security.  We call on the Iranian government to drop any and all charges against Jason and release him immediately so that he can be reunited with his family. 

            Likewise, we again call for the release of U.S. citizens Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini, and ask for the Iranian government's cooperation in locating Robert Levinson, so that all may be returned to their families.

Khamenei: ISIS Product of Western Schemes

             In a recent address to Muslim scholars, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that The Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, is the product of the U.S., U.K. and Israeli intelligence services. ISIS is the latest takfiri (referring to Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy) movement, not unlike others that have risen up in previous centuries, according to Khamenei. He argued that ISIS is only Islamic on the surface, and that its operations actually align with U.S., European and Israeli goals in the region. Khamenei also warned that sectarian conflicts are mistakenly distracting Muslims from the fight for Palestine and damaging the reputation of Islam worldwide.
            The following are video clips and excerpts of his address to the World Congress on Extremist and Takfiri Movements, which gathered more than 600 Muslim scholars from some 80 countries held in Tehran in late November.

             First, the purpose of this congress is attending to the issue of takfirism which is a harmful and dangerous orientation in the world of Islam. Although this takfiri orientation is not new and although it has a historical background, it is a few years now that it has been revived and strengthened with the plots of arrogance, with the money of some regional governments and with the schemes of the intelligence services of colonialist countries such as America, England and the Zionist regime.

             The purpose of your meeting, your congress and your movement is to confront this orientation in a comprehensive way. The purpose is not to confront what is known today as ISIS. The orientation which is known as ISIS today is only one of the branches of the malevolent tree of takfirism, not the whole of it. The corruption - this act of destroying people and shedding the blood of innocent individuals - that this group of people is involved in is only part of the crimes of takfirism in the world of Islam. We should adopt this outlook towards the issue.

             I am sorry from the bottom of my heart that today, we have to focus our attention on the problems that arrogance has created in the world of Islam. This is while we should focus all our energy on confronting the plots of the Zionist regime and the move that they made against Holy Quds and al-Aqsa Mosque. This should move and stimulate the entire world of Islam. However, there is no other option. In fact, attending to the issue of takfirism is something that has been imposed on the ulama, activists and scholars of the world of Islam. The enemy has brought this to the world of Islam as a custom-made product and problem. Therefore, we have to attend to it. However, the main issue is the issue of the Zionist regime. The main issue is the issue of Quds. The main issue is the issue of the first qiblah for Muslims which is al-Aqsa Mosque. These are the main issues.

            There is an undeniable point which is the fact that the takfiri orientation and the governments which support and advocate it move completely in the direction of the goals of arrogance and Zionism. Their work is in line with the goals of America, the colonialist governments in Europe and the government of the usurping Zionist regime.

             Certain signs confirm this claim. The takfiri orientation is Islamic on the face of it, but in practice, it is at the service of the great colonialist, arrogant and political orientations that are working against the world of Islam. There are clear signs which cannot be ignored. I would like to mention a few of these signs: one is that the takfiri orientation managed to make the movement of Islamic Awakening deviate from its path. The movement of Islamic Awakening was an anti-American and anti-arrogance movement which was against the elements that America had installed in the region.

             Another sign is that those who support the takfiri orientation compromise with the Zionist regime so that it fights against Muslims. They do not even frown at the Zionist regime, but they deliver all sorts of blows to Islamic countries and nations and they hatch all sorts of plots against them.

             Another sign is that the seditious movement which the takfiri orientation launched in Islamic countries - including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and other countries - has led to the destruction of the valuable infrastructures of these countries. Notice how many roads, refineries, mines, airports, streets, cities and houses have been destroyed in these countries. Notice how long it takes and how much money is necessary for these countries to go back to their prior conditions. This has happened as a result of domestic wars and fratricide. These are the losses and the blows that the takfiri orientation has delivered to the world of Islam since a few years ago until today.

             Another sign is that the takfiri orientation damaged the reputation of Islam in the world and it painted an ugly picture of it. Everyone in the world saw on TV that someone is made to sit on the ground and they behead them with a sword without charging him with any crime: "Allah forbids you not - with regard to those who fight you not for your faith nor drive you out of your homes - from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you - with regard to those who fight you for your faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support others in driving you out - from turning to them for friendship and protection. And whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust" [The Holy Quran, 60: 8-9].

             These people did the exact opposite of this. They killed Muslims and innocent non-Muslims and the pictures were broadcast all over the world. The whole world saw this. These acts were done in the name of Islam. 


Report: Little Progress on Internet Freedom

             On December 4, Freedom House released its fifth annual "Freedom on the Net" report, a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 65 countries. The following are key developments surrounding Iran's internet freedom between May 2013 and May 2014.

            Iran ranked 156 out of 192 countries for internet speed and has the lowest average peak connection speed in the world. The new government promised to increase the average speed two-fold by the next year, and eight-fold by the end of President Rouhani’s first term.

            Although the new administration has embraced social media, major platforms like Twitter and Facebook remain blocked and inaccessible to Iranian citizens.
            While the election of Rouhani has resulted in enthusiasm, including a mild decrease in self-censorship online, significant constraints on speech and access to information remain present. Censorship was particularly heavy in the lead-up to the June 2013 presidential election, and Sunni-linked sites have come under target as regional sectarian tensions continue to enflame.
            Six Iranians were arrested for producing and appearing in a YouTube video entitled “Happy in Tehran,” featuring men and women dancing together, without headscarves, in a similar fashion to hundreds of homemade videos from around the world that mimic the “Happy” music video by popular American musician Pharrell Williams.
            Although there were no documented cases of deaths this year, Iranians continue to be receive lengthy prison terms for their online activities. Tech bloggers in Kerman, contributors to a Sufi website, and Facebook page administrators were jailed for up to 20 years.

Click here for the full report

US, UN Condemn Attack on Iranian Ambassador in Yemen

             On December 3, a car bomb exploded near the home of Iran’s ambassador to Yemen in the capital Sanaa. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack, which reportedly killed a Yemeni civilian and two soldiers and wounded 17 others. Iran’s ambassador, Hassan Sayed Nam, was not at in the house when the attack occurred. In Yemen, Iran is widely seen as the main backer of the Houthi movement, which took over took over Sanaa in September. Al Qaeda was also responsible for a suicide attack on a Houthi checkpoint on October 9, which killed 47.
            The following are statements by the
U.S. State Department and the U.N. Security Council condemning the most recent attack.
December 3, 2014
Bombing at the Iranian Ambassador’s Residence in Sanaa
            The United States condemns the bombing at the Iranian Ambassador’s residence in Sanaa earlier this morning and expresses its condolences to the families of the victims.
            Attacks on diplomatic facilities and against diplomats contravene all international norms and can never be justified or excused.  We urge the Yemeni authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

           On December 4, the following U.N. Security Council press statement was issued by Council President Mahamat Zene Cherif from Chad.
            The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the 3 December bomb attack at the residence of the Iranian Ambassador to Yemen, which caused a number of deaths and casualties.
            The members of the Security Council expressed their deep sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of those killed and injured by these heinous acts.
            The members of the Security Council condemned all acts of violence against diplomatic premises, which endanger innocent lives and seriously impede the normal work of diplomatic representatives and officials.
            The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of their motivation, wherever and whenever and by whomsoever committed.
            The members of the Security Council reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism, in accordance with its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations.
            The members of the Security Council underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Yemeni authorities in this regard.
            The members of the Security Council reminded States that they must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.
            The members of the Security Council recalled the fundamental principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises, and the obligations on host Governments, including under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to take all appropriate steps to protect diplomatic and consular premises against any intrusion or damage, and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of these missions or impairment of their dignity, and to prevent any attack on diplomatic agents and consular officers.

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