United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Indicts Iranians Suspected of Cyberattacks

On March 24, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment against seven Iranian computer experts suspected of cyberattacks on American entities between 2011 and 2013. The alleged hackers targeted 46 American financial institutions, disrupting services and disabling bank websites. One of them is accused of attempting to access the control system of the Bowman Avenue Dam in New York in 2013. All of the suspects worked for private companies with links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hossein Jaberi Ansari criticized the indictments, claiming that the United States “is not in any position to charge citizens of other countries, not least Iran’s, without providing any documentary evidence." He added that “Iran has never had dangerous actions in cyberspace on its agenda nor has it ever supported such actions." The following is a press release from the Justice Department on the indictments.

A grand jury in the Southern District of New York indicted seven Iranian individuals who were employed by two Iran-based computer companies, ITSecTeam (ITSEC) and Mersad Company (MERSAD), that performed work on behalf of the Iranian Government, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, on computer hacking charges related to their involvement in an extensive campaign of over 176 days of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
 
Ahmad Fathi, 37; Hamid Firoozi, 34; Amin Shokohi, 25; Sadegh Ahmadzadegan, aka Nitr0jen26, 23; Omid Ghaffarinia, aka PLuS, 25; Sina Keissar, 25; and Nader Saedi, aka Turk Server, 26, launched DDoS attacks against 46 victims, primarily in the U.S financial sector, between late 2011 and mid-2013.  The attacks disabled victim bank websites, prevented customers from accessing their accounts online and collectively cost the victims tens of millions of dollars in remediation costs as they worked to neutralize and mitigate the attacks on their servers.  In addition, Firoozi is charged with obtaining unauthorized access into the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems of the Bowman Dam, located in Rye, New York, in August and September of 2013.
 
The indictment was announced today by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Director James B. Comey of the FBI, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.
 
“In unsealing this indictment, the Department of Justice is sending a powerful message: that we will not allow any individual, group, or nation to sabotage American financial institutions or undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “Through the work of our National Security Division, the FBI, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, we will continue to pursue national security cyber threats through the use of all available tools, including public criminal charges.  And as today’s unsealing makes clear, individuals who engage in computer hacking will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law.”
 
“The FBI will find those behind cyber intrusions and hold them accountable — wherever they are, and whoever they are,” said Director Comey.  “By calling out the individuals and nations who use cyber attacks to threaten American enterprise, as we have done in this indictment, we will change behavior.”
 
“Like past nation state-sponsored hackers, these defendants and their backers believed that they could attack our critical infrastructure without consequence, from behind a veil of cyber anonymity,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “This indictment once again shows there is no such veil – we can and will expose malicious cyber hackers engaging in unlawful acts that threaten our public safety and national security.”
 
“The charges announced today respond directly to a cyber-assault on New York, its institutions and its infrastructure,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “The alleged onslaught of cyber-attacks on 46 of our largest financial institutions, many headquartered in New York City, resulted in hundreds of thousands of customers being unable to access their accounts and tens of millions of dollars being spent by the companies trying to stay online through these attacks.  The infiltration of the Bowman Avenue dam represents a frightening new frontier in cybercrime.  These were no ordinary crimes, but calculated attacks by groups with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and designed specifically to harm America and its people.  We now live in a world where devastating attacks on our financial system, our infrastructure and our way of life can be launched from anywhere in the world, with a click of a mouse.  Confronting these types of cyber-attacks cannot be the job of just law enforcement.  The charges announced today should serve as a wake-up call for everyone responsible for the security of our financial markets and for guarding our infrastructure.  Our future security depends on heeding this call.”
 
According to the indictment unsealed today in federal court in New York City:
 
DDoS Attacks
The DDoS campaign began in approximately December 2011, and the attacks occurred only sporadically until September 2012, at which point they escalated in frequency to a near-weekly basis, between Tuesday and Thursdays during normal business hours in the United States.  On certain days during the campaign, victim computer servers were hit with as much as 140 gigabits of data per second and hundreds of thousands of customers were cut off from online access to their bank accounts. 
 
Fathi, Firoozi and Shokohi were responsible for ITSEC’s portion of the DDoS campaign against the U.S. financial sector and are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit and aid and abet computer hacking.  Fathi was the leader of ITSEC and was responsible for supervising and coordinating ITSEC’s portion of the DDoS campaign, along with managing computer intrusion and cyberattack projects being conducted for the government of Iran.  Firoozi was the network manager at ITSEC and, in that role, procured and managed computer servers that were used to coordinate and direct ITSEC’s portion of the DDoS campaign.  Shokohi is a computer hacker who helped build the botnet used by ITSEC to carry out its portion of the DDoS campaign and created malware used to direct the botnet to engage in those attacks.  During the time that he worked in support of the DDoS campaign, Shokohi received credit for his computer intrusion work from the Iranian government towards his completion of his mandatory military service requirement in Iran.
 
Ahmadzadegan, Ghaffarinia, Keissar and Saedi were responsible for managing the botnet used in MERSAD’s portion of the campaign, and are also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit and aid and abet computer hacking.  Ahmadzadegan was a co-founder of MERSAD and was responsible for managing the botnet used in MERSAD’s portion of the DDoS campaign.  He was also associated with Iranian hacking groups Sun Army and the Ashiyane Digital Security Team (ADST), and claimed responsibility for hacking servers belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in February 2012.  Ahmadzadegan has also provided training to Iranian intelligence personnel.  Ghaffarinia was a co-founder of MERSAD and created malicious computer code used to compromise computer servers and build MERSAD’s botnet.  Ghaffarinia was also associated with Sun Army and ADST, and has also claimed responsibility for hacking NASA servers in February 2012, as well as thousands of other servers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel.  Keissar procured computer servers used by MERSAD to access and manipulate MERSAD’s botnet, and also performed preliminary testing of the same botnet prior to its use in MERSAD’s portion of the DDoS campaign.  Saedi was an employee of MERSAD and a former Sun Army computer hacker who expressly touted himself as an expert in DDoS attacks.  Saedi wrote computer scripts used to locate vulnerable servers to build the MERSAD botnet used in its portion of the DDoS campaign.
 
For the purpose of carrying out the attacks, each group built and maintained their own botnets, which consisted of thousands of compromised computer systems owned by unwitting third parties that had been infected with the defendants’ malware, and subject to their remote command and control.  The defendants and/or their unindicted co-conspirators then sent orders to their botnets to direct significant amounts of malicious traffic at computer servers used to operate the websites for victim financial institutions, which overwhelmed victim servers and disabled them from customers seeking to legitimately access the websites or their online bank accounts.  Although the DDoS campaign caused damage to the financial sector victims and interfered with their customers’ ability to do online banking, the attacks did not affect or result in the theft of customer account data.
 
DDoS Botnet Remediation
Since the attacks, the Department of Justice and the FBI have worked together with the private sector to effectively neutralize and remediate the defendants’ botnets.  Specifically, through approximately 20 FBI Liaison Alert System (FLASH) messages, the FBI regularly provided updated information collected from the investigation regarding the identity of systems that been infected with the defendants’ malware and operating as bots within the malicious botnets.  In addition, the FBI conducted extensive direct outreach to Internet service providers responsible for hosting systems that have been infected with the defendants’ malware to provide them information and assistance in removing the malware to protect their customers and other potential victims of the defendants’ unlawful cyber activities.  Through these outreach efforts and the cooperation of the private sector, over 95 percent of the known part of the defendants’ botnets have been successfully remediated.
 
Bowman Dam Intrusion
Between Aug. 28, 2013, and Sept. 18, 2013, Firoozi repeatedly obtained unauthorized access to the SCADA systems of the Bowman Dam, and is charged with one substantive count of obtaining and aiding and abetting computer hacking.  This unauthorized access allowed him to repeatedly obtain information regarding the status and operation of the dam, including information about the water levels, temperature and status of the sluice gate, which is responsible for controlling water levels and flow rates.  Although that access would normally have permitted Firoozi to remotely operate and manipulate the Bowman Dam’s sluice gate, Firoozi did not have that capability because the sluice gate had been manually disconnected for maintenance at the time of the intrusion.
Remediation for the Bowman Dam intrusion cost over $30,000.
* * *
All seven defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit and aid and abet computer hacking.  Firoozi faces an additional five years in prison for obtaining and aiding and abetting unauthorized access to a protected computer at the Bowman Dam.
 
An indictment is merely an accusation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
 
The case was investigated by the FBI, including the Chicago; Cincinnati; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix; and San Francisco Field Offices.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy T. Howard of the Southern District of New York, with the substantial assistance of Deputy Chief Sean M. Newell of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
 
Click here to read the full indictment
 

US Imposes Sanctions Over Missile Program

On March 24, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned two Iranian companies for supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile program. It also blacklisted two British businessmen, two entities based in the United Kingdom and two entities based in the United Arab Emirates for helping an Iranian airline circumvent sanctions. The move comes after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched several ballistic missiles on March 8 and 9. The launches appeared to be inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which bans Iran from testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran, however, has argued that its missile program is defensive in nature. The following is the full text of the Treasury Department’s press release. 
 
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated entities and individuals for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program and U.S.-designated Iranian airline Mahan Air.  Specifically, OFAC designated two Iran-based entities directly involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program and updated the entry on the OFAC Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List for an entity that exercises operational control over Iran’s ballistic missiles.  OFAC also designated two individuals and two entities based in the United Kingdom (UK) and two entities based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that have facilitated Mahan Air’s efforts to circumvent sanctions.
 
These actions are taken pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13224 and 13382, which block any property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction of the designated entities and individuals.  In addition, foreign financial institutions or persons that facilitate significant transactions for or provide material or certain other support to the designated entities or individuals risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.
 
Today’s designations reflect the United States’ steadfast commitment to countering Iran’s ongoing development of ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism.  “Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism pose a continuing threat to the region, to the United States, and to our partners worldwide,” said Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  “We will continue to use all of our tools to counteract Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism, including through sanctions.”
 
Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group
 
Two subordinates of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) – Shahid Nuri Industries and Shahid Movahed Industries – are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 for being owned or controlled by, or acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, SHIG.  SHIG was listed in the Annex of E.O. 13382 on June 28, 2005 and is responsible for Iran’s liquid-fueled ballistic missile program.
 
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Al-Ghadir Missile Command
 
OFAC also updated its listing for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Missile Command to include the names IRGC Al-Ghadir Missile Command and IRGC Air Force Al-Ghadir Missile Command.  The IRGC Missile Command was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 on June 16, 2010.
 
The IRGC Al-Ghadir Missile Command is a specific element within the IRGC and appears to be the entity that has operational control of the ballistic missiles.  Officials from the IRGC Al-Ghadir Missile Command were involved in the October 10, 2015 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) launch.  The IRGC Al-Ghadir Missile Command officials were involved in other MRBM launches since as early as 2008.
 
On March 8 and 9, 2016, the IRGC conducted two successive days of ballistic missile tests.  A senior missile commander in the IRGC indicated on March 9 that Iran’s missile program would not stop under any circumstances.
 
UK-based individuals and companies supporting Mahan Air
 
Jeffrey John James Ashfield, Aviation Capital Solutions, and Aircraft, Avionics, Parts & Support Ltd. (AAPS) are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mahan Air.  John Edward Meadows is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of AAPS.
 
Jeffrey John James Ashfield is a UK-based businessman who as of late 2015 was directly involved in the negotiation of the purchase of U.S.-manufactured aircraft engines on behalf of Mahan Air, which was designated under E.O. 13224 in October 2011. 
 
Aviation Capital Solutions, owned and represented by Ashfield, has facilitated the purchase of aircraft engines and other services on behalf of Mahan Air.
 
AAPS has worked to provide aviation parts and financing to Mahan Air.  AAPS has facilitated millions of dollars in financial transactions with companies affiliated with Mahan Air, including Grandeur General Trading FZE, also designated today, and Sirjanco Trading LLC, which was designated in May 2013 for acting for or on behalf of Mahan Air.
 
John Edward Meadows is the UK based-director of AAPS and with AAPS has worked to provide aviation parts and financing to Mahan Air.
 
UAE-based companies supporting Mahan Air
 
Grandeur General Trading FZE and HSI Trading FZE are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mahan Air.
 
Since early 2011, Grandeur General Trading FZE has acted as a representative in maintenance agreements, negotiated the purchase of aircraft, and made a payment on behalf of Mahan Air.
 
Since 2015, HSI Trading FZE, a UAE-based trading company, has worked to provide financial assistance to Mahan Air by transferring funds to assist with Mahan Air’s business acquisitions.  HSI Trading FZE has also acted as an intermediary in negotiating the purchase of aircraft on behalf of Mahan Air.
 
Background on Mahan Air
 
Mahan Air was previously designated in October 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing financial, material, and technological support to the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).  The IRGC-QF was previously designated on October 25, 2007 pursuant to E.O. 13224 for its support to numerous terrorist groups.  Sanctions that apply to Mahan Air, the IRGC-QF, and any other person who remains designated in connection with Iran’s support for terrorism or Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery fall outside the scope of the relief provided in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and as such, were not lifted on Implementation Day.  In addition, secondary sanctions continue to apply to non-U.S. persons who knowingly facilitate significant financial transactions with or provide material or certain other support to those Iranian or Iran-related persons that remain or are placed on the SDN List.
 
Based in Tehran, Iran, Mahan Air has facilitated IRGC-QF transportation and arms and funds shipments.  Mahan Air also continues to support the Iranian government’s destabilizing actions in the region by conducting flights to Syria in order to transport fighters.  Mahan Air regularly uses the same aircraft it flies to Syria to fly commercial passenger routes to international destinations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
 
In order to support its illicit activity, Mahan Air often uses complicated transactions through a series of intermediary companies and individuals – such as the individuals and companies identified above – to negotiate sales contracts, and these companies deliberately fail to disclose Mahan Air as the end-user of the purchased equipment.  For example, these intermediaries may use false invoices to obtain aircraft maintenance services for Mahan Air.
 

For identifying information on today’s action, click here. 

 

Click here for more information.
 
Click here for more information on Iran's ballistic missile program.
 

U.S. Presidential Candidates on Iran

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 the candidates on Iran. 
 

Democrats
Republicans
Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State under Obama and former Senator from New York
 
Hillary Clinton
“For many years, we’ve all been rightly focused on the existential danger of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. After all, this remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel. That’s why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table, and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program.”
 
“Today Iran’s enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped spinning, Iran’s potential breakout time has increased and new verification measures are in place to help us deter and detect any cheating. I really believe the United States, Israel and the world are safer as a result.”
 
“This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region. We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen.”
 
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies are attempting to establish a position on the Golan from which to threaten Israel, and they continue to fund Palestinian terrorists. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is amassing an arsenal of increasingly sophisticated rockets and artillery that well may be able to hit every city in Israel.”
 
“Tonight, you will hear a lot of rhetoric from the other candidates about Iran, but there’s a big difference between talking about holding Tehran accountable and actually doing it. Our next president has to be able to hold together our global coalition and impose real consequences for even the smallest violations of this agreement.”
 
“We must maintain the legal and diplomatic architecture to turn all the sanctions back on if need. If I’m elected the leaders of Iran will have no doubt that if we see any indication that they are violating their commitment not to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, the United States will act to stop it, and that we will do so with force if necessary.”
 
“Iranian provocations, like the recent ballistic missile tests, are also unacceptable and should be answered firmly and quickly including with more sanctions.”
 
“Those missiles were stamped with words declaring, and I quote, “Israel should be wiped from the pages of history.” We know they could reach Israel or hit the tens of thousands of American troops stationed in the Middle East. This is a serious danger and it demands a serious response.” 
 
“The United States must also continue to enforce existing sanctions and impose additional sanctions as needed on Iran and the Revolutionary Guard for their sponsorship of terrorism, illegal arms transfers, human rights violations and other illicit behaviors like cyber attacks. We should continue to demand the safe return of Robert Levinson and all American citizens unjustly held in Iranian prisons.”
 
“And we must work closely with Israel and other partners to cut off the flow of money and arms from Iran to Hezbollah. If the Arab League can designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, surely it is time for our friends in Europe and the rest of the international community to do so as well and to do that now.”
 
“At the same time, America should always stand with those voices inside Iran calling for more openness. Now look, we know the supreme leader still calls the shots and that the hard-liners are intent on keeping their grip on power. But the Iranian people themselves deserve a better future, and they are trying to make their voices heard. They should know that America is not their enemy, they should know we will support their efforts to bring positive change to Iran.”
– March 21, 2016, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
 
"Iran should face sanctions for these activities and the international community must demonstrate that Iran's threats toward Israel will not be tolerated," referring to Iran's ballistic missile tests.
– March 9, 2016, according to the press
 
"I think we have achieved a great deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement to put a lid on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. That has to be enforced absolutely with consequences for Iran at the slightest deviation from their requirements under the agreement. I do not think we should promise or even look toward normalizing relations because we have a lot of other business to get done with Iran. Yes, they have to stop being the main state sponsor of terrorism. Yes, they have to stop trying to destabilize the Middle East, causing even more chaos. Yes, they've got to get out of Syria. They've got to quit sponsoring Hezbollah and Hamas. They have got to quit trying to ship rockets into Gaza that can be used against Israel. We have a lot of work to do with Iran before we ever say that they could move toward normalized relations with us.
– Feb. 11, 2016, in a Democratic debate
 
“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."
 
 
Bernie Sanders
Senator from Vermont
 
Bernie Sanders
“Now, I think all of us agree that Iran must not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That would just destabilize the entire region and create disastrous consequences.
 
“Where we may disagree is how to achieve that goal. I personally strongly supported the nuclear deal with the United States, France, China, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran because I believe it is the best hope to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
 
“You know it is very easy for politicians to go before the people and talk about how tough we are, and we want to wipe out everybody else. But I think if we have learned anything from history is that we pursue every diplomatic option before we resort to military intervention.”
 
“And interestingly enough, more often than not, diplomacy can achieve goals that military intervention cannot achieve. And that is why I supported the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table and allowed us to reach an agreement.
 
“But let me tell you what I firmly believe. The bottom line is this: if successfully implemented – and I think it can be – the nuclear deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And preventing Iran from getting the bomb makes the world a safer place.
 
“Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? Of course not.
 
“But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on with Iran developing nuclear weapons and the potential for military intervention by the United States and Israel growing greater by the day.
 
“I do not accept the idea that the “pro-Israel” position was to oppose the deal.
Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon will strengthen not only the United States’ security, but Israel’s security as well.”
 
“But let me be clear: if Iran does not live up to the agreement, we should re-impose sanctions and all options are back on the table.
 
“Moreover, the deal does not mean we let Iran’s aggressive acts go unchecked. The world must stand united in condemning Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests as well as its continued support for terrorism through groups like Hezbollah.
 
“Going forward, I believe we need a longer-term vision for dealing with Iran that balances two important objectives.
 
“First, we must counter the destabilizing behavior of Iran’s leaders.
 
“But secondly we must also leave the door open to more diplomacy to encourage Iranian moderates and the segments of the Iranian people – especially the younger generations – who want a better relationship with the West. While only a small step in the right direction, I was heartened by the results of the recent parliamentary elections in which Iranian voters elected moderates in what was, in part, a referendum on the nuclear deal.
 
“I know that some say there is just no dealing with Iran – in any way at all – for the foreseeable future. And that is the position of some. After all, Iran is in a competition with Saudi Arabia and its allies for influences over that region.
 
“But a more balanced approach toward Iran that serves our national security interests should hardly be a radical idea. We have serious concerns about the nature of the Iranian government, but we have to honest enough, and sometimes we are not, to admit that Saudi Arabia – a repressive regime in its own right – is hardly an example of Jeffersonian democracy.
 
“Balancing firmness with willingness to engage with diplomacy in dealing with Iran will not be easy. But it is the wisest course of action to help improve the long-term prospects of stability and peace in the Middle East – and to keep us safe.”
 – March 21, 2016, in a statement
 
“The point about foreign policy is not just to know that you can overthrow a terrible dictator, it's to understand what happens the day after… This has gone on 50 or 60 years where the United States has been involved in overthrowing governments. Mossadegh back in 1953. Nobody knows who Mossadegh was, democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. He was overthrown by British and American interests because he threatened oil interests of the British. And as a result of that, the shah of Iran came in, terrible dictator. The result of that, you had the Iranian Revolution coming in, and that is where we are today.”
 
“Iran is sponsoring terrorism in many parts of the world, destabilizing areas. Everybody knows that. But our goal is, in fact, to try over a period of time to, in fact, deal with our enemies, not just ignore that reality.”
– Feb. 11, 2016, in a Democratic debate
 
“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  
 
Donald Trump
CEO of the Trump Organization
 
Donald Trump
“My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
 
“I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making. And let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.”
 
“The problem here is fundamental. We’ve rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with $150 billion, and we received absolutely nothing in return.” *
 
“The biggest concern with the deal is not necessarily that Iran is going to violate it because already, you know, as you know, it has, the bigger problem is that they can keep the terms and still get the bomb by simply running out the clock. And of course, they’ll keep the billions and billions of dollars that we so stupidly and foolishly gave them.”
 
“The deal doesn’t even require Iran to dismantle its military nuclear capability. Yes, it places limits on its military nuclear program for only a certain number of years, but when those restrictions expire, Iran will have an industrial-sized, military nuclear capability ready to go and with zero provision for delay, no matter how bad Iran’s behavior is. Terrible, terrible situation that we are all placed in and especially Israel.” **
 
“When I’m president, I will adopt a strategy that focuses on three things when it comes to Iran. First, we will stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region.”
 
“Iran is a very big problem and will continue to be. But if I’m not elected president, I know how to deal with trouble. And believe me, that’s why I’m going to be elected president, folks.”
 
“Iran is a problem in Iraq, a problem in Syria, a problem in Lebanon, a problem in Yemen and will be a very, very major problem for Saudi Arabia. Literally every day, Iran provides more and better weapons to support their puppet states. Hezbollah, Lebanon received — and I’ll tell you what, it has received sophisticated anti-ship weapons, anti-aircraft weapons and GPS systems and rockets like very few people anywhere in the world and certainly very few countries have. Now they’re in Syria trying to establish another front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
 
“In Gaza, Iran is supporting Hamas and Islamic jihad.
 
“And in the West Bank, they’re openly offering Palestinians $7,000 per terror attack and $30,000 for every Palestinian terrorist’s home that’s been destroyed. A deplorable, deplorable situation.” 
 
“Iran is financing military forces throughout the Middle East and it’s absolutely incredible that we handed them over $150 billion to do even more toward the many horrible acts of terror.”
“Secondly, we will totally dismantle Iran’s global terror network which is big and powerful, but not powerful like us.”
 
“Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world. And we will work to dismantle that reach, believe me, believe me.”
 
“Third, at the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable. And we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”
“Iran has already, since the deal is in place, test-fired ballistic missiles three times. Those ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,250 miles, were designed to intimidate not only Israel, which is only 600 miles away, but also intended to frighten Europe and someday maybe hit even the United States. And we’re not going to let that happen. We’re not letting it happen. And we’re not letting it happen to Israel, believe me.”
– March 21, 2016, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
 
 
"As far as John Kerry is concerned, there has been no tougher critic of this man, I think he negotiated one of the worst deals in the history of our country, the Iran deal, where they get their $150 billion and all of the other things that take place. It is a disaster for this country, and speaking of Israel, it's a disaster for Israel. I'm no fan of John Kerry."
– Feb. 25, 2016, in a Republican debate
 
"Iran is taking over Iraq. They have wanted it for decades and decades and decades. They're taking it over."

"As you sit there and as I sit here, they are going in. They're taking over, and they just walk in and they can do whatever they want. They have essentially already taken it over."
—Feb. 21, 2016, on CBS Face the Nation
 
“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
 

*The deal requires Iran to reduce its uranium stockpile by 98 percent, redesign the Arak heavy water reactor so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, and commit to continuous verification and monitoring. Iran will receive about $55 billion in sanctions relief as a result of the deal, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. A large amount of Iran’s money that will be repatriated has already been committed elsewhere. Click here to read more on the nuclear deal.

**The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program found "no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009,” according to IAEA director general Yukiya Amano. Click here to read more on the IAEA report.
 

Photo credits: Ted Cruz [public domain as US Govt work]; John Kasich [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]

Part II: Khamenei, Rouhani on Nowruz

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani issued the televised statements to the Iranian people on the occasion of Nowruz, Persian New Year. Both focused on the importance of economic improvements for the coming year. Khamenei accused the United States of not fulfilling its pledges under the nuclear deal citing holdups on Iran regaining access to the banking system and its assets. Rouhani, however, said the nuclear agreement “broke the chains of sanctions” and “prepared the ground” for economic activity. The following are excerpts from their speeches. 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
 
 
President Hassan Rouhani

Nowruz means renewal and the end of obsolescence, Nowruz means washing hearts clear from grudges, Nowruz means the start of efflorescence and in these hours, we ask the Almighty God for Nowruz-like days for our country and spring-like seasons for all our lifetime.
We ask Him to familiarize our minds and tongues more with friendship and reconciliation which are the traditions of Nowruz; to keep away anger from our looks, conflict from our words, and fury from our behaviors and we shall ask him to let us sing the song of unity against any division and strife, no matter what religion we practice.
 
The past year, was a year replete with honor and memorable memories for our nation. From its beginning when the Supreme Leader of the Revolution said “the Year of Empathy and Rapport”, the same empathy and rapport and unity and integrity brought us the gift of great victories. What the world viewed as an excuse for pushing threats against the Iranian nation, namely nuclear activities, turned into a symbol for partnership between the world nations and beloved Iran. What the world viewed yesterday as a no-entry zone, now has turned into a valuable attempt before which everybody is humble and officially recognizes.
 
Our nation led the JCPOA to a proper end, broke the chains of sanctions, and prepared the ground for activities in economic fields. Sanctions aimed at banks, oil, finance, money, petrochemicals, insurance, transport, and all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted and the groundwork is readier for our people’s economic activities.
 
In the same year, the great nation of Iran marked a great epic and proved Iran’s national authority, peace, and stability to the whole world in Feb. 26 elections. The year that passed was the year of partnership, activity, success before the big powers and the year of paving the way for the country’s efflorescence in all fields.
 
Although the past year was accompanied with hardships and difficulties, I talked less to our dear nations about last year’s difficulties and instead we tried harder with my co-workers to get past the hardships. We may be able to claim that we had the best conditions among oil exporters; in terms of peace, ease of inflation and the stock market. With God’s attention, with all the hardships we did not reach to the Central Bank and with His favor and people’s attempts, we finished the year with all its ups and downs and in the current year which is our year of hope and attempt, without a doubt we all can create an Iran which is worthy of this great nation.
 
I once again reach the great Iranian nation; I hope and I am sure that with each other’s cooperation and domestic attempt and hard work and with constructive interaction with the world we can enter the path of prosperity, attempt, and growth and economic activity. God willing, we will be able to reach a growth level twice as the mean growth of 10 years.
We can reach the 5-per cent growth with public attempt and hard work; a growth that is more than our neighboring countries, a growth that can spark an economic boost and get our unemployed workers back to the factories and fields, a growth that can take our dear educated young people to businesses. What matters to our nation, is sustainable employment and this will begin with ‘JCPOA 2’ next year.
 
Although our great nation has always been pioneers, ‘JCPOA 2’ was begun in Feb. 26 of last year. ‘JCPOA 2’ is the same Joint National Action in the country which will start with unity, reconciliation and empathy; a JCPOA which will start with morality before economy. Our revolution was for Islam and morality, and our prophets’ appointment was for morality. Our prophet said that his appointment was only for competing moralities. In our revolutionary society, there should be no trace of lies, accusations, mistrust, bad language and irritability. In our society, there should be no trace of corruption. We should ask the Almighty God for a moral, happy, fervent year and a year for empathy and rapport for building our dear Islamic Iran.
 
O God, make these happy days a reason for our country’s durability and back our wisdom with our hope, letting us to walk our Iran through dilemmas that are the source of hardship for the people.
 
O God, help us to learn moderation and exhilaration from spring.
 
O God, empower our government to remain the guardian to martyrs’ blood and make the constitution the base for serving the people.
 
In the end, I would like to sincerely thank all of those who are not beside their families for the sake of serving their fellow countrymen and those who are trying to keep our borders and bring peace to our societies, all forces in paramedics, the police, and all those who serve the Nowruz travelers and our people; I would like to especially congratulate the New Year 1395 to them and finish my words with the name and memory of Her Holiness Fatima al-Zahra (SA), with whose birthday this year starts and finishes.
 
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo
 
Nowruz is a comprehensive cultural and social system which reflects joyfulness, togetherness, caring of nature, cultivation of soul and soil, moderation and compassion, and cleaning and caring of home and self. It heralds hope, happiness, light, life and love!
The beauty of Nowruz rests in the way that it links human being with nature. It calls for harmony with nature and respect for environment. Raising awareness on the environment and its protection is an integral part of Nowruz; and such opportunity needs to be appreciated in our common endeavor towards achieving sustainable development goals or SDGs.
 
Meanwhile, this aged celebrated festivity has another pleasant face. It stirs common sentiments of humanity and urges solidarity among people regardless of all seemingly divisive racial, ethnic, economic and political factors. It still connects and unifies nations in a way that no other means can do. In one word it promotes the culture of peace.
 
The narrative of Nowruz is based on moderation; moderation in the length of day and night; moderation in the way that human being should live. In fact, in a world filled with radicalism and extremism, ravaged by monsters of terrorism, war, death and destruction, Nowruz carries the messages of peace and reconciliation.
 
Following the footsteps of our ancestors, in these moments which correspond with the commencement of the first day of creation, we also celebrate this joyful occasion that calls for respect to nature and environment as well as friendship and cooperation among our nations. We praise Nowruz for the opportunity it offers to us to demonstrate the true beauties of togetherness, peace, friendship and solidarity among our peoples.
 
Let us pray that peace and righteousness prevail in the world. May God grants you and your beloved ones all the joy, happiness and prosperity you deserve.
—March 22, 2016, in a statement 
 
 

Part I: Obama, Kerry on Nowruz

On March 19, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following greetings to the Iranian people for Nowruz, Persian New Year.  

President Barack Obama
 
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
I am delighted to join President Obama in wishing a happy, healthy, and prosperous Nowruz to all our friends around the world who celebrate this holiday.  As Americans, we rejoice along with all those from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Central Asia to the Caucasus to communities here in the United States, who come together to celebrate the arrival of Spring and a new year.
 
Nowruz is a time of renewal and reconciliation – a chance for families to celebrate their heritage and culture; reflect on the past twelve months; and look forward to the year ahead.
 
For those of us in the United States, this day is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of hundreds of thousands of Iranian Americans, who have made their mark in business, public service, law, medicine, research, music, and more.
 
For the people of Iran, we hope this Nowruz will prove the start of a better future, defined by greater opportunity at home, increased engagement with the international community, and access to the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by others across the globe.
 
Looking back, this was a year of unprecedented diplomatic progress that reduced the risk of conflict.  Along with our international partners, we reached and successfully implemented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
 
Every new year, and every spring should commence in hope.  It is in that spirit that we embrace this day knowing that, even as stark differences remain between the governments of the United States and Iran, friendship between our peoples remains a goal well worth pursuing.  Saleh No Mobarak!
 
 

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