United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Revolution II: Street Celebrations

On February 11, Iranians celebrated the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. The popular uprising, led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, led to the ouster of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and ended centuries of monarchical rule. Large street rallies across the country are held each year to celebrate the revolution and Iran’s subsequent achievements. The following are pictures from Tehran and across the Islamic Republic.


Anti-American slogans were a common theme in the rallies.


Demonstrators also praised Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani attended a rally in Tehran. Multiple reports have surfaced in the past few months claiming that he was killed in Syria.



House Hearing: Nuclear Deal Implementation

CongressOn February 11, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing to evaluate the status of the nuclear deal and its consequences. Stephen Mull, the State Department’s lead coordinator on the nuclear deal, and John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, provided testimony. The following are excerpted remarks from the hearing.
Committee Chairman Rep. Edward Royce
January 16th – so called “Implementation Day” – marked an historic turning point in the Middle East. In a snap, Iran’s record was cleared, and its pariah status dropped -- reconnecting Iran to the international trade and financial system. Now, with access to $100 billion in unfrozen assets and sanctions wiped away, Iran has instantly become the dominate country in the region. Tehran achieved this all without having to end its aggression against its neighbors or swear-off its support for terrorism.
The Iranian economy was hemorrhaging before the deal. Now Iranian leaders are predicting swift growth. They’re probably right, as European countries, seeing the sanctions dam broken, sprint into the Iranian market to cut billions in deals – making a mockery of the Administration’s claim that sanctions could “snapback” if Iran cheats. You tell me if these companies are going to turn back when Iran stiffs international inspectors.
The Revolutionary Guards – already Iran’s “most powerful economic actor” in the words of the Treasury Department – will only grow more powerful with international investment. Just hours after the agreement’s implementation, the regime disqualified 2,967 of roughly 3,000 moderate candidates from running in parliamentary elections later this month. And after the Administration finally responded to Iran’s missile tests with minor sanctions, Iran’s “moderate” president ordered the military to accelerate its intercontinental ballistic missile program. That’s aimed here -- at the United States -- and designed to carry a nuclear warhead.
Worse, the administration continues to go out of its way to appease the Iranian regime, and even thanked Iran after it recently seized 10 U.S. sailors in a highly provocative act. It appears the Administration is determined to protect this deal at all costs. Just look at how the Obama administration backed away from a new bipartisan U.S. law ending visa waiver travel for those who have visited Iran. After an outcry from Tehran, the Administration has now decided to basically ignore the law – and Iran’s ongoing sponsorship of terrorism – by stretching a narrow national security waiver far beyond reason. President Obama signed this bill into law, but has essentially allowed Iran’s Supreme Leader to veto it.
And in an unusual move, the State Department settled a decades-old financial settlement the day after ‘implementation day,’ sending Tehran a check for $1.7 billion. As you know Mr. Ambassador, the Committee eagerly awaits answers from the State Department to the many questions surrounding that surprise payment. The Administration had countless opportunities to seek Committee input on this matter in advance – but purposefully did not, I must conclude.
Iran has never complied with any of its past nuclear-related agreements. We’re watching this to see if this time will be different. But even if Iran meets all the Administration’s expectations, in a few short years the accord will leave it the dominate power in the Middle East, and only steps away from the capability to produce nuclear weapons on an industrial scale. All the while, Iran’s leaders chant “Death to America.” Many of us are struggling to see how this tilt toward Iran makes us safer.
Click here for the full statement
Stephen Mull
Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation, U.S. Department of State
To reach Implementation Day, Iran had to verifiably complete key nuclear steps that substantially rolled back its nuclear program, placed its nuclear program under a comprehensive IAEA monitoring and verification regime, cut off all of its pathways to weapons-grade nuclear material, and lengthened its “breakout time” for enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon from 2 to 3 months before the JCPOA to at least a year at present – if Iran were to change course, abandon the JCPOA and spring toward a bomb.. Let me highlight some examples.
In keeping with its commitments under the JCPOA, Iran has dismantled two-thirds of its installed centrifuge capacity including all of its most advanced centrifuge machines. Before the JCPOA, Iran had over 19,000 centrifuges. Today, it has just 6,104 of only its most primitive, first-generation centrifuges. And of those 6,104 machines, only 5,060 of them can be used to enrich uranium for the next decade.
Iran shipped out almost all of its enriched uranium stockpile. Pre-JCPOA, Iran had approximately 12,000 kilograms of enriched uranium. Now, Iran can have no more than 300 kilograms of up to 3.67% enriched uranium for the next 15 years. This, combined with Iran’s dismantlement of two-thirds of its centrifuges, has effectively cut off Iran’s uranium pathway to a nuclear weapon.
Iran removed the core of its Arak reactor and rendered it inoperable by filling it with concrete. This cut off the path by which Iran could have produced significant amounts of weapons grade plutonium. Now, the Arak reactor will be redesigned, in cooperation with a working group established under the JCPOA, ensuring that the reactor is used solely for peaceful purposes going forward.
Iran placed its nuclear program under an unprecedented IAEA verification and monitoring regime. Its key declared nuclear facilities are now under continuous monitoring using modern technologies like electronic seals and online enrichment monitors that can detect and report cheating. The IAEA also has oversight of Iran’s entire nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mills to enrichment facilities and centrifuge production plants, ensuring that Iran cannot divert nuclear materials to a potential covert program without detection.
Furthermore, any goods and technology potentially usable for nuclear purposes must now go through a procurement channel administered by the United Nations Security Council, creating yet another layer of transparency and monitoring into Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran is now also provisionally applying the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. This, along with the JCPOA’s special provision to address disputes regarding IAEA access to an undeclared location within a short period of time, ensures that the IAEA will have the access it needs to verify Iran’s commitments.
And finally, Iran has committed not to engage in activities, including at the research and development level, which could potentially contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.
These are just some of many steps Iran had to take to substantially roll back its nuclear program and reassure the world of the exclusively peaceful nature of the program before reaching Implementation Day. And just as Iran had commitments to meet, so too did the United States and our P5+1 and European Union partners.
On January 16, the United States and EU lifted nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. As a result of these actions, there are now more opportunities for legitimate business in Iran that is consistent with the JCPOA, and international banks and companies are beginning to explore those opportunities. As they proceed, it will be important that they have a clear understanding of the changed regulatory and sanctions environment with respect to Iran, and we are working closely with our colleagues at the Department of the Treasury to engage the international business community to answer their questions about the sanctions that have been lifted as well as those that remain in place.
But I want to emphasize, however, that this relief of nuclear-related sanctions is predicated on Iran’s continued compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA. If Iran cheats or fails to meet its end of the bargain, the United States has an array of means to respond, including the ability to re-impose sanctions unilaterally, in part or in full, at any time.
As you know, our government both engages with Iran on its nuclear program and works with partners around the world to oppose Iran’s actions on a host of issues unrelated to this nuclear deal. For example, we continue to have concerns and take actions to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, and threats from its ballistic missile program. All U.S. sanctions on Iran that are not nuclear-related remain in effect. As evidenced just a few weeks ago when we designated for sanctions a number of individuals and entities for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program, the JCPOA in no way limits our ability or will to use these tools to respond to Iran’s other destabilizing activities.
This is precisely why our allies and nations around the world support this deal – it eliminates the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, gives the international community unprecedented tools to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful moving forward, and does not limit our ability to respond to Iran’s destabilizing policies and actions. In short, it makes the world safer.
The JCPOA has received broad international support, including from our allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and over 100 countries around the world. It has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and multinational organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
And we have recently seen signs that Israel, our close partner and friend with whom we have had extensive consultations and more than a few disagreements over the JCPOA, is now publicly acknowledging the positive benefits of the JCPOA.
Speaking at an annual security conference in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot acknowledged that the JCPOA reduces the immediate Iranian threat to Israel because it “rolls back Iran’s nuclear capability and deepens the monitoring capabilities” of the international community into Tehran’s activities. In those same remarks, Eisenkot also said that he believes that, “Iran will make great efforts to fulfill their side of the bargain.”
Of course, we will remain vigilant regarding Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. The JCPOA was not built on a prediction of what the future will bring. It was built on verification instead of trust, and my team and I will continue working every day to confirm that Iran is living up to its JCPOA commitments.
Click here to read the full statement
John Smith
Acting Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury
On Implementation Day, the United States took actions with respect to sanctions in two key areas. The first, and most significant, was to effectuate the lifting of nuclear-related secondary sanctions, which are sanctions that are directed toward non-U.S. persons for activity wholly outside of U.S. jurisdiction. The sanctions that were lifted applied to Iran’s banking, financial, insurance, energy, petrochemical, and automotive sectors; shipping and shipbuilding sectors and port operators; trade in gold and precious metals; trade in certain materials and software; and associated services for each of these categories. In addition, OFAC removed more than 400 individuals and entities from the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (the “SDN List”), meaning that secondary sanctions no longer attach to significant transactions with, or the provision of material support to, those individuals and entities.
The second area concerns three relatively narrow exceptions to our primary embargo on Iran. On Implementation Day, OFAC issued: (1) a Statement of Licensing Policy establishing a favorable licensing policy with respect to exports or re-exports to Iran of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to be used exclusively for commercial passenger aviation; (2) a general license authorizing the importation into the United States of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs, including pistachios and caviar; and (3) a general license authorizing U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entities to engage in activities involving Iran that are consistent with the JCPOA and applicable U.S. laws and regulations.
To give effect to U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions on Implementation Day, the President issued an Executive Order that revoked four Iran sanctions-related Executive orders and sections of a fifth, a series of waiver determinations and findings with respect to relevant statutory sanctions issued by the State Department came into effect; and OFAC took the actions that I just outlined.
To assist the public in understanding all the sanctions modifications effective on Implementation Day, OFAC published on its website a summary of the actions taken, as well as hyperlinks to documents that explain in detail the contours of the sanctions lifting. These documents are: (1) a guidance document that describes in detail the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions under the JCPOA and the sanctions that remain; (2) a set of more than 85 frequently asked questions; (3) the texts of the Statement of Licensing Policy and two general licenses; and (4) information on the changes we made to the various sanctions lists administered by OFAC.
While we have fulfilled our Implementation Day commitments to lift the sanctions specified in the JCPOA, OFAC continues to administer a robust sanctions regime targeting Iran outside of the nuclear arena, and its troubling activities. Broadly, the U.S. primary embargo on Iran is still in place. This means that U.S. persons generally remain prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings with Iran or Iranian entities, unless such activities are exempt from regulation or authorized by OFAC. Limited exceptions include longstanding general licenses that authorize U.S. persons to engage in certain activities involving Iran, such as the export of agricultural products, medicine, and medical supplies to Iran, as well as certain items to facilitate Iranian persons’ access to communications and the Internet. U.S. persons must also continue to block the assets of the Government of Iran and Iranian financial institutions. Furthermore, we have retained sanctions authorities targeting Iran’s support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, and its destabilizing activities in the region. And, we will continue to exercise these authorities to counter Iran’s behavior, as we did on January 17, when OFAC designated eleven individuals and entities in connection with their support to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
In addition, secondary sanctions continue to attach to the more than 200 Iran-related individuals and entities that remain on the SDN List, as well as any such persons we add to the SDN List in the future. This means that non-U.S. persons who conduct significant transactions with, or provide material support to, designated parties may face being cut off from the U.S. financial system. Further even after Implementation Day, secondary sanctions continue to attach to significant financial transactions, including those by foreign financial institutions with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or any individual or entity sanctioned in connection with Iran’s support for international terrorism or its ballistic missile program. Finally, of the more than 400 individuals and entities that were taken off the SDN List on Implementation Day, roughly 200 of those were placed on a new OFAC list – the E.O. 13599 list – to indicate that they remain blocked persons under U.S. law. These individuals and entities are those OFAC has previously identified as the Government of Iran or Iranian financial institutions. While secondary sanctions no longer apply to most transactions involving individuals and entities on the E.O. 13599 list, U.S. persons continue to have an obligation to block property in which such persons have an interest and are prohibited generally from dealing with them.
In addition to the sanctions that we have in place to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, we also have avenues to swiftly respond if Iran stops complying with its commitments under the JCPOA. The JCPOA contains a dispute resolution mechanism whereby any JCPOA participant can refer any instances of alleged non-compliance to the Joint Commission, which provides a multilateral forum for addressing issues that arise. If we are unable to address these issues, the United States has the ability to quickly re-impose all of the national and multilateral sanctions that are lifted. At the UN, we have established a snapback mechanism that provides the unilateral ability to re-impose UN sanctions that were in place on Iran prior to Implementation Day without the worry of a veto by any member of the P-5. Finally, the United States has a range of options short of full snapback to respond to smaller breaches of the JCPOA, should we so choose.
Click here for the full statement

Khomeini Grandson Disqualified in Elections

Seyyed Hassan Khomeini lost his appeal of the Guardian Council’s decision to bar him from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts. A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he is widely considered the heir apparent of the late revolutionary leader’s legacy. The young Khomeini’s long-anticipated entrance into politics could have important consequences. The 86-member Assembly of Experts, which will increase its membership to 88 this election, is the only constitutional body with the authority to appoint, supervise and dismiss the supreme leader.
The group of clerics has historically served as a rubber stamp organization that has never seriously questioned the actions of Iran’s previous or current supreme leader. But the stakes are higher for the February 2016 election. The next assembly may be faced with the question of what to do should the 76-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pass away due to illness or old age.
Khomeini registered for the election on Dec. 18, 2015. In January 2016, he missed the written exam intended to test candidates’ knowledge of Islam. Members of his family claimed that he never received an invitation to attend. The Guardian Council announced that all candidates had received a text message invitation, and that missing the exam would not necessarily disqualify a candidate.
On Jan. 26, 2016, the Guardian Council announced that it had finished vetting 801 would-be candidates and that 166 would be allowed to run. The group, however, did not specify who had passed the screening. 
Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, reported that his father had been disqualified in an Instagram post on Jan. 26, 2016. He wrote that the Guardian Council “failed to prove” that his father was qualified. Ahmad added that the group also refused to accept testimonies of tens of top clerics who could vouch for his father’s qualifications. Therefore, the reason for Khomeini’s disqualification is “clear for all,” Ahmad wrote, perhaps implying that the council’s ruling was a political one. Khomeini has connections to influential reformist and centrist political elites. Khomeini later verified his disqualification by reposting what his son wrote.

• ديشب ديگر قطعى شد كه شوراى نگهبان نتوانسته صلاحيت علمى بابا را احراز كند و نتوانستند از شهادت ده ها مرجع و عالم و فقيه به اجتهاد پى ببرند. به نظرم براى همگان علت عدم احراز ، احراز شده است ، مخصوصا كه برخى ديگر هم بدون امتحان اجتهادشان احراز شده است بگذريم؛ قبل از خواب با بابا صحبت كردم از اوضاع سؤال نمودم. يك بيت از حافظ خواند: سر ارادت ما و آستان حضرت دوست كه هر چه بر سر ما مى رود ارادت اوست

A photo posted by سيد احمد خمينى (@ahmadkhomeini) on

On Jan. 29, 2016, Khomeini reportedly announced to a group of students and clerics that he would appeal the Guardian Council's decision. He noted that he was surprised by the Council’s decision, and that he would appeal at the request of members of the public and political leadership. But on February 10, the Guardian Council announced that his appeal was rejected. The council reportedly said that Khomeini "has not enough Islamic knowledge to distinguish the next supreme leader."

Khomeini would likely have been popular with voters. He has spoken out against extremism and supported the nuclear deal, which was broadly welcomed by the Iranian public. At age 43, Khomeini is significantly younger than the mostly elderly members of the Assembly of Experts. The youth vote is increasingly important in Iran, where more than 60 percent of its 80 million people are under 30 years old. Through his 18-year-old son Ahmad’s popular Instagram account, the Iranian public has gained some insight into Khomeini’s family life.  


Khomeini is also known for being an avid fan of soccer, Iran’s most popular sport. He played in his youth until he began to focus on his religious studies in his 20s. Khomeini’s deep knowledge of Iran’s league became widely known due to his 2014 appearance on a state television soccer program. In December 2015, he met with some of Iran’s top players in his office. “I was good in defense, and if I had continued football I might have achieved something,” he told them, according to Reuters.
In addition to Khomeini’s revered pedigree, his family is connected to prominent reformists through marriage. His cousin, Zahra Eshraghi is married to former deputy speaker of parliament Reza Khatami, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Khomeini also has the support of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who chairs the Expediency Council. In August 2015, Rafsanjani said it was Khomeini’s turn to come forward to “protect the revolution.”
Khomeini’s candidacy, however must be approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful unelected institution that vets candidates’ Islamic credentials. The conservative group has previously rejected the candidacy of another Khomeini grandchild, Zahra Eshraghi, for parliament. Even if Khomeini makes the cut and wins a seat on the assembly, it will likely still be dominated by elderly conservatives in the near term.
Born in 1972, Khomeini is a mid-ranking cleric, a hojatoleslam. He spent much of his childhood in the holy city of Qom in Iran. He also visited his grandfather in exile in Iraq and France in the 1970s. Khomeini became a cleric in 1993 and then taught courses on Islam. In 1995, he was appointed as caretaker of Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Qom, where his father Ahmad is also buried. He heads the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, an organization that preserves the late leader’s original publications and achievements.
Khomeini kept a relatively low profile until 2002, when a university professor was sentenced to death for insulting Islam. Professor Hashem Aghajari argued that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own. Khomeini reportedly protested the sentence with about 1,000 students in November 2002. 
Khomeini has spoken out against military interference in politics. He also criticized the disqualification of nearly 2,000 candidates from running for parliament in 2008. Most of them were reformists. Khomeini’s comments prompted a harsh reaction from conservatives, who accused him of corruption.
Khomeini reportedly supported reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009. Hassan reportedly went on a trip outside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s August 2009 inauguration ceremony. Conservative publications criticized Khomeini’s move and interpreted his absence as opposition to the election results. Khomeini also met with political prisoners Alireza Beheshti and Mohammadreza Jalaeipour shortly after their release in 2009, which also suggested sympathies with the reformist camp.
In June 2010, Khomeini spoke at a ceremony marking his grandfather’s death. But his speech was cut short by hardliners chanting “Death to Mousavi!” and shouting slogans in support of Iran’s current supreme leader. The incident may have been the first time a Khomeini family member had been insulted in a public venue.
In a May 2013 letter, Khomeini called former President Rafsanjani’s disqualification from running in the presidential election “unbelievable.”
In August 2015, Khomeini gave a speech to reformists suggesting he would stand for election. “Imam [Khomeini] told my father ‘I am not asking you not to accept responsibilities in the Islamic Republic. If necessary, do whatever is needed and take on responsibilities, but if there are others [who can take control], let them do it,’” he said, according to The Guardian. Khomeini said that he would therefore play a role in politics if necessary.

Click here for more information on the Assembly of Experts. 

This article partly was based on previous research by Helia Ighani, who was a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Garrett Nada, assistant editor of The Iran Primer. Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, also contributed.   

Tags: Profiles

Rouhani on Women’s Rights

On February 7, President Hassan Rouhani said that women should play a significant role in politics and other fields. “We should believe in women’s presence and capabilities and know that our country’s women can have roles in science, knowledge, economy, politics, and arts just like men,” he said at a national conference titled “Women, Moderation and Development.”
Since taking office in 2013, Rouhani has appointed four women as vice presidents and three women as governors. But he has not named women to his cabinet or revived the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The following are excerpted remarks from the recent conference.
“After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, our country’s women have been effectively active in all areas and we will undoubtedly witness their effective presence at the ballot box.”
“We should believe in women’s presence and capabilities and know that our country’s women can have roles in science, knowledge, economy, politics, and arts just like men.”

“The government sees it as a duty to provide the groundwork for women’s capabilities to demonstrate and let them to step on the path of perfection and be able to demonstrate their talents; this way, the gap and disproportion between men and women can be replaced with moderation.”

“Women being alongside men in science and knowledge, but witnessing a disproportion [absence] in economy and politics, is not acceptable.”

“Unfortunately, some people have radical ideas; at times, they even think radically in the name of religion and explain religion radically.”

“Moderation is not a slogan, but rather the path of thinking and discourse and today we should revitalise this discourse.”
“A major proportion of today’s problems in the world stems from fanaticism and extremism and some view the world radically. It is true that we should not fully trust everyone and strangers, but anyway, anything has got a point of moderation. Unfortunately, some do not know any way other than radicalism.”
“I receive a lot of messages and letters, asking me why I do not make a move in the current conditions. I am aware of all issues and understand that what many of them wanted are not there for them to see, but we should look at the lofty goal we have; and tactfulness means that we should have foresight and do not forget the main goal and the [expected] result.”
“Of course, I have not remained silent wherever I saw a problem and I will pay the price personally; but it is very important that we should pay attention to the end and the result with tactfulness, patience, and forbearance and go to the ballot box unitedly.”
“I feel that if we do not think about some issues and processes, the society may face despair and do not attend the elections.”
“Although sometimes choosing become difficult, everybody should go to the ballot box for the February 25 elections. Women also have a great responsibility in this field and should play their significant and effective role just like all other fields.”
“At the time when people decorated the streets with their presence for the victory of the Islamic movement, women had significant and active roles in all of those fields.”
“Some people were expressing doubts about women sitting at the same table as men to present news, and also their presence in the elections, but today we have passed through all of these stages.”
“How some viewed women is not particular of Iran, and we are witnessing the same procedures in the world’s history in a way that a few centuries back, women and girls were prohibited from entering universities in UK, and in the twentieth century, in most of the European countries women did not have the right to vote.”
“Fortunately in the field of economy, women’s role is becoming stronger and the existing gaps can be filled.”
“In political and management fields, we are still distant from a desirable point and we should make progress in this path by planning and joining hands.”
“We do not accept feminist ideas; and we do not accept ossification either.”

Click here for information on the women’s movement in Iran. 


Photo credits: President.ir



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. 
Click here for the full assessment.

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