United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Khamenei Comments on US, New Parliament

The tweets from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei covered a wide range of subjects in May 2016, from opposition to U.S. policies to the new Parliament’s priorities. He urged lawmakers to build up Iran’s “resistance economy” (self-sufficiency) and “strengthen Islamic culture.” Khamenei’s tweets also highlighted his meeting with the family of a top Hezbollah commander killed in Syria. The following is a collection of his monthly tweets.
The United States and the West
Nuclear Program
Parliamentary Election
Killing of Mustafa Badreddine
Mustafa Badeddine, a top military commander in Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia and political party, was killed in an explosion in Damascus. Hezbollah, a key ally of Iran’s which has fought to defend the Assad regime, said Sunni Islamist rebels were responsible for the artillery fire that killed the veteran operative, an active member since the early 1980s. He was accused of helping to plan the 1983 truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut. 

Report: Iran Deal’s Impact on Proliferation

The nuclear deal with Iran is unlikely to trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, according to new analysis by Robert Einhorn, who served as the secretary of state’s special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, and Richard Nephew, who served as the principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department and director for Iran at the National Security Council. The following are excerpts from the executive summary. 
The global nuclear nonproliferation regime has been remarkably resilient, with no new entrants to the nuclear club in the last 25 years. But observers believe that could change and that we may be heading toward a “cascade of proliferation,” especially in the Middle East. The presumed trigger for a possible Middle East nuclear weapons competition is Iran, which has violated nonproliferation obligations, conducted activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons, and pursued sensitive dual-use nuclear technologies without a persuasive peaceful justification. Tehran’s nuclear program—combined with provocative behavior widely believed to support a goal of establishing regional hegemony—has raised acute concerns among Iran’s neighbors and could prompt some of them to respond by seeking nuclear weapons capabilities of their own.
Will regional states seek to acquire nuclear weapons?
U.S. supporters of the JCPOA argue that the removal of the near-term risk of a nuclear-armed Iran will sharply reduce the incentive for regional states to acquire their own fissile material production capabilities or nuclear weapons. Opponents claim that, by legitimizing Iran’s enrichment program, permitting Iran to ramp up its nuclear infrastructure after 10-15 years, and facilitating an economic recovery that will enable Iran to greatly boost the resources devoted to its nuclear program, the JCPOA itself will be the catalyst for proliferation in the region.
Whether states in the region eventually opt for nuclear weapons will depend on a range of factors, some related to the JCPOA and some not. Among the key factors will be their perceptions of Iran’s future nuclear capabilities and intentions, their assessment of Iran’s regional behavior, their view of the evolving conventional military balance with Iran, their confidence in the United States as a security partner, their evaluation of how the United States and other countries would react to their pursuit of nuclear weapons or a latent nuclear weapons capability, and, not least, the feasibility—in terms of their technical expertise, physical infrastructure, and financial resources—of succeeding in the effort to acquire fuel cycle facilities or nuclear weapons.
In assessing the probability of proliferation in the Middle East, it is necessary to focus on how these various factors may affect nuclear decision-making in individual countries, especially in the countries often cited as the most likely to go for a latent or actual nuclear weapons capability: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Turkey.

Saudi Arabia is widely considered to be the most likely regional state to pursue the nuclear option, an impression reinforced by occasional remarks by prominent Saudis that the Kingdom will match whatever nuclear capability Iran attains. The Saudis regard Iran as an implacable foe, not just an external threat determined to achieve regional hegemony but also an existential threat intent on undermining the Saudi monarchy. Moreover, while their concerns about Iran have grown, their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the security of its regional partners has been shaken. They cite what they regard as evidence of Washington’s unreliability, such as not preventing former Egyptian President Mubarak’s ouster, failing to enforce the red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons, giving lukewarm support to Syrian rebels, and accepting a greater Iranian regional role.
Animated by what they see as a waning U.S. commitment to Gulf security, the Saudis have beefed up their conventional defense capabilities, explored cooperation with Russia and other potential partners, and adopted a more assertive, independent role in regional conflicts, most dramatically in waging their aggressive military campaign in Yemen. Still, senior Saudis maintain that they have no choice but to rely heavily on the United States for their security.
While confident that they can handle the current conventional military threat from Iran, the Saudis worry about the military implications of a post-sanctions Iranian economic recovery, and they regard a future Iranian nuclear weapons capability as a game-changer. These concerns, together with their uncertainty about the future U.S. role, may motivate the Saudis to consider their own nuclear options.
But while the Saudis appear to be motivated to acquire nuclear weapons, their ability to do so is very much in doubt, at least for the foreseeable future. While they clearly have the necessary financial resources, the Saudis lack the human and physical infrastructure and have had to postpone their ambitious nuclear power plans for eight years while they train the required personnel. Although Riyadh is not willing to formally renounce the acquisition of an enrichment capability, Saudi nuclear energy officials state they have no plans for enrichment and do not anticipate pursuing an enrichment program for at least 25 years.
Given the Kingdom’s difficulty in developing an indigenous nuclear weapons capability, speculation has turned to the possibility of the Kingdom receiving support from a foreign power, usually Pakistan, which received generous financial support from Saudi Arabia in acquiring its own nuclear arsenal. But while rumors abound about a Pakistani commitment to help Saudi obtain nuclear weapons, the truth is hard to pin down. Senior Saudis and Pakistanis deny such an understanding exists. If it does exist, it was probably a vague, unwritten assurance long ago between a Pakistani leader and Saudi king, without operational details or the circumstances in which it would be activated. In any event, the Saudis would find it hard to rely on such an assurance now, especially in the wake of Islamabad’s rejection of the Saudi request to take part in the Yemen campaign. Pakistan is highly unlikely to become the Saudis’ nuclear accomplice.
So Saudi Arabia may be motivated to make a run at nuclear weapons, but its prospects for success are very limited.

Like the Saudis, the Emiratis believe Iran poses a severe threat to regional security, has increased its aggressiveness since the completion of the JCPOA, is still trying to export revolution, and will resume its quest for nuclear weapons when JCPOA restrictions expire. Also like Riyadh, Abu Dhabi has lost considerable confidence in the reliability of the United States as a security partner, has explored defense cooperation with other outside powers, and has played an increasingly assertive, independent military role in the region, especially in the Yemen campaign. But like Saudi Arabia, it knows it has no real choice but to rely heavily on the United States for its security.
Moreover, perhaps because of traditionally strong economic ties between the UAE and Iran, the Emiratis take a more pragmatic approach to Tehran than do the Saudis. While the Saudis tend to see the struggle with Iran as irreconcilable, the Emiratis tend to believe that if Iran’s regional designs can be countered and a regional balance established, a modus vivendi with Iran can eventually be achieved.
The ambitious UAE nuclear energy program—including a project well underway by a South Korea-led consortium to build four power reactors—is the best indication that Abu Dhabi has no current intention to pursue an independent nuclear path. In negotiations on a U.S.-UAE civil nuclear agreement required for the project, the Emiratis accepted a legally binding renunciation of enrichment and reprocessing ( the so-called “gold standard”), effectively precluding the pursuit of nuclear weapons. …

Although Egypt flirted with nuclear weapons development in the 1950s and 1960s and failed to report to the IAEA on some sensitive nuclear experiments it carried out between 1990 and 2003, Cairo today appears to lack both the inclination and the wherewithal to make a push for nuclear weapons.
Although Tehran and Cairo have occasionally sparred on regional issues and Iran is actively supporting causes that undermine the interests of Egypt’s main Arab allies and benefactors, Egypt does not see Iran as a direct military threat. Its principal security concern is the turbulent regional security environment—extremist ideology, the fragmentation of Syria and Iraq, and instability in Libya—and its adverse impact on internal security. Unlike the Gulf Arabs, the Egyptians are supportive of the JCPOA and believe a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have a positive effect on regional stability. …

Because of its emergence in the last decade as a rising power, its large and growing scientific and industrial base, and its ambition to be an influential regional player, Turkey is usually included on a short list of countries that may decide, in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, to pursue a latent or actual nuclear weapons capability. But its pursuit of nuclear weapons is highly improbable.
Turkey has maintained reasonably good relations with Iran, and it resisted efforts to restrict its engagement with Tehran even at the height of the global sanctions campaign. Although Turkey and Iran have taken opposing sides in the Syrian war, most Turks do not see Iran as a direct military threat. Instead, Ankara sees instability and terrorism emanating from that conflict and from within Turkey’s borders as their principal security threats, concerns that cannot be addressed by the possession of nuclear weapons. …

Although Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Turkey are most often mentioned as potential aspirants to the nuclear club, three other regional countries merit observation, given their past interest in nuclear weapons: Iraq, Syria, and Libya. But none of them are likely to revive their nuclear weapons ambitions in the foreseeable future.
Iraq’s nuclear infrastructure was decimated by two wars and a decade of sanctions, and it is severely constrained by its conflict with ISIS, its internal political and religious differences, and an economy struggling to grow in the face of low oil prices. Israeli’s destruction of Syria’s al-Kibar reactor in 2007 effectively ended Damascus’s nuclear weapons program. Moreover, consumed by civil war and its survival as a unitary state very much in question, Syria lacks the basic attributes needed to pursue a successful nuclear weapons program, including human and physical infrastructure, financial resources, and a disciplined leadership. With most of the sensitive equipment acquired through Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’s black market network shipped out of the country in 2004, the absence of sufficient indigenous technical expertise, and the country in a state of disarray, the likelihood of Libya embarking on a renewed nuclear weapons effort in the foreseeable future is remote. …
Click here for the full paper.
Tags: Reports

Larijani Re-elected Speaker of Parliament

On May 31, lawmakers re-elected conservative Ali Larijani as Speaker of Parliament. He has held the position since 2008. Larijani received 237 votes out of 273. A reformist lawmaker, Mostafa Kavakebian came in at a distant second with 11 votes. Larijani’s main competitor for the speakership, Mohammad Reza Aref, did not end up running. In the 2016 parliamentary election, Aref, a former vice president under Mohammad Khatami, headed the “List of Hope,” a coalition that included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. On May 29, Aref lost the vote for the temporary speakership, receiving 103 votes compared to Larijani’s 173 votes. He withdrew his candidacy for the permanent speakership the following day.
Aref’s allies, however, did win the elections to become deputy speakers of the Majles (Parliament). Masoud Pezeskhian, a reformist lawmaker from Tabriz, received 158 votes to become the First Vice Speaker of the Majles. Ali Motahari, a moderate conservative who also ran on the List of Hope, received 133 votes to become the Second Vice Speaker.
Overall, a significant shift in domestic politics is unlikely to occur given Larijani’s victory along with the recent election of hardliner cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as chairman of the Assembly of Experts. That body will eventually choose Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s successor, the next supreme leader. The following are profiles of Larijani and Motahari.
Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani
Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. He served as Speaker of Parliament between 2008 and 2016. Many of his allies did not win reelection. As election results were announced in February, Larijani praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani is considered a principlist, but more pragmatic than other hardliners. He opted not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats while the “List of Hope” won all 30. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity,” he said. “Therefore we seek to act independently.” Yet he won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.”
Born in 1957, Larijani is the son of Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli and son-in-law of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari. His father was a prominent religious authority.  Larijani studied mathematics and computer science at Sharif University of Technology. He earned advanced degrees in philosophy from Tehran University. After serving as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, he held a variety of positions in the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Telecommunications. From 1991 to 1993, he served as Minister of Guidance and Islamic Culture. From 1994 to 2004, he was President of IRIB.
In 2004, Larijani became an advisor to Khamenei. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful run for president. Later that year, Khamenei appointed him Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, replacing Rouhani. In that capacity, Larijani acted as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. But he resigned in 2007, reportedly over tactical disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the nuclear talks. In 2008, Larijani ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Qom. He went on to become Speaker of Parliament and held the position for two sessions. Larijani is also a member of the Expediency Council.
Larijani has been attacked by hardliners for cooperating with Rouhani’s government in recent years. He supported the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers, referring to it as a “national achievement” even though Iran did not get everything it wanted. In May 2016, he lauded the Rouhani administration for acting more lawfully and more cooperatively with Parliament than the Ahmadinejad administration. Larijani favors consensus in politics and could act as a broker between hardliners and the other factions.
Second Vice Speaker of Parliament Ali Motahari
Ali Motahari is a moderate conservative who fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” His name was also included on the “List of Hope.” He could become a kingmaker in the next Parliament because he straddles reformists and hardliners. In an interview before the elections, he said that hardliners do not place enough emphasis on freedoms while reformists do not pay enough attention to cultural issues. He has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in 2011. Although he has taken a conservative stance on cultural issues, like the dress code for women, Motahari has largely been supportive of President Rouhani. In March 2015, he was physically attacked by alleged hardliner critics. 
Born in 1958, Motahari is the son of the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a leading theologian and political activist who was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is also the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani. Motahari studied mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Tabriz. He worked at IRIB and studied philosophy at the graduate level before going on to publish books and academic articles and eventually teach at various universities. In 2008, he ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Tehran. Motahari was a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad.

Motahari is known for being outspoken. After the post-election disqualification of Minoo Khaleghi, a female reformist candidate from Isfahan, he called for her reinstatement. The Guardian Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. Critics of the disqualification argued that the Guardian Council does not have the power to disqualify someone after an election. Motahari said that the Interior Ministry must allow Khaleghi to take her seat or else Parliament will impeach the interior minister. He wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council head, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, insisting on her reinstatement. 

Click here for more information on other key players in the new Majles.



Economic Trends: April and May

Cameron Glenn

In April and May, the Iranian economy showed signs of improvement. Oil exports reached 2.3 million barrels per day, nearly double the amount prior to implementation of the nuclear deal in January. Inflation dropped to historic lows. Iranian officials and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that the economy could grow between four and five percent this year. Tehran continued to host a flurry of foreign trade delegations and ink trade and investment deals.

Despite the improvements, several Iranian officials – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Central Bank governor Valiollah Seif – accused the United States of hindering economic progress by failing to honor its commitments under the nuclear deal. Some international banks and investors are still wary of doing business in Iran because of remaining U.S. sanctions for terrorism and human rights abuses. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, insisted that banks have the right to pursue business with Iran legally. “We want to make it clear that legitimate business, which is clear under the definition of the agreement, is available to banks,” he said on May 12.
At the same time, hardliners and reformists in Iran are debating an even more fundamental question: how much the Islamic Republic should open up its economy to the rest of the world. In April, protesters gathered outside the Ministry of Economic Affairs, accusing President Hassan Rouhani of undermining Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s call for a “resistance economy” focused on domestic production. Rouhani, however, has insisted that his policies to pursue international trade and investment are not at odds with Khamenei’s vision for the economy.
The following is a rundown of economic developments in April and May.
Growth & Economic Outlook
On May 15, International Monetary Fund (IMF) First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton arrived in Tehran to discuss economic developments and policy initiatives following sanctions relief. He told Iranians that “your ultimate success depends on what you do at home” in a speech at the Central Bank on May 17. Lipton highlighted areas for improvement in the banking sector that could help attract more foreign investment. He also emphasized the need to build a strong and flexible economy that will be less dependent on the oil sector.
The World Bank expects Iran’s economy to grow by 4.2 percent in 2016 and 4.6 percent in 2017, “as a result of the lifting of the sanctions and a more business-oriented environment,” according to its Spring 2016 Middle East and North Africa Economic Monitor Report. The report added that low oil prices, slow global growth, remaining U.S. sanctions, and the need for structural reforms present challenges for Iran's economic outlook.
On May 24, Economic Minister Ali Tayyebnia made a similar growth prediction, claiming that the Iranian economy would reach 5 percent growth in the next year. “This year marks the beginning of the end of the zero growth era, as the country is in a unique position to achieve decent growth and generate jobs,” he said at the 26th annual Conference on Monetary and Exchange Rate Policies in Tehran.
Central Bank of Iran chief Valiollah Seif predicted in May that inflation would drop to single digits by the end of the summer. “Our main objective is now to preserve the low inflation rate and keep it at that level,” Seif said.
Oil & Gas
In April and May, Iran ramped up oil and gas production, which has been increasing since the nuclear deal was implemented in January. On April 6, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh predicted that Iran’s oil production would rise to 4 million barrels per day by March 2017. On May 1, Rouhani announced that oil exports had reached 2.3 million barrels per day – nearly twice as much as before the nuclear deal.
Oil exports to China, India, Japan, and South Korea increased 50 percent in March compared to the same period in 2015. On April 8, the National Iranian Oil Company announced that Iran’s oil exports to Europe had reached their highest levels since 2011, accounting for 35 percent of exports.
As in past months, Iranian officials maintained that the Islamic Republic would increase oil output in spite of calls by several major oil producers – including Russia and OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Venezuela – to freeze production in response to low prices. Zanganeh said in April that Iran would only participate in talks about production freezes after the target of 4 million barrels per day is met. On April 17, Central Bank governor Valiollah Seif said that “What Saudi Arabia is asking Iran to do is not a very fair [or] logical request.” Deputy Oil Minister Rokneddin Javadi reiterated Iran’s stance on May 22, stating that Iran did not plan to freeze its oil outputs.
Iran has also been increasing its natural gas production, reaching around 130 million cubic meters per day in May. Deputy Oil Minister Hamidreza Araqi announced on May 25 that output had risen by 23 billion cubic meters in the past year, due to the development of phases 15 and 16 of the South Pars field – the largest gas field in the world. Ali-Akbar Sha’banpour, managing director of Pars Oil and Gas Company, said that Iran’s natural gas production will likely surpass 500 million cubic meters per day once phases 17-21 of development projects in the South Pars field are completed.
Echoing a trend in the past few months, Iran pushed for greater diversification of its economy. In the last Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 19, Iran had a non-oil trade surplus for the first time since the 1979 revolution. Non-oil exports totaled $42.4 billion, and imports totaled $41.5 billion. In the first month of the Iranian year (March 20-April 19), non-oil exports were up around 8 percent compared to the same period a year ago, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration. China, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, South Korea, and India were the top destinations for Iran’s non-oil exports. Only around 25 percent of Iran’s budget for this fiscal year relies on oil revenues, compared to 60 percent in past years.
Economic policy
On April 13, demonstrators gathered outside the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Tehran, protesting Rouhani’s economic policies for not adhering to the guidelines of the “resistance economy.” 
In March, Khamenei had declared that the theme of the upcoming year would be “The Resistance Economy: Action and Implementation.” Focusing on domestic production, Khamenei argued, is Iran’s best defense against sanctions and the way to properly address other problems such as unemployment.
Rouhani has denied that the “resistance economy” contradicts his policies. “Resistance Economy is both interior and exterior; here, our ambassadors and foreign envoys can play a crucial role in bringing boom and competition to the hard-hit economy,” he said in a speech on May 15.
Subsidy reform
On April 13, Iran’s outgoing parliament approved a bill to cancel monthly cash payments to 24 million Iranians. The cash payments – established under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to replace subsidies – have strained the state budget, since all Iranians had been eligible to receive them, regardless of income.
The bill was introduced by Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative politician who lost his seat in the February 2016 parliamentary elections. Although Rouhani has encouraged restricting the handouts to only the poorest Iranians, the extent of the cuts was larger than the number proposed by his administration and may be unpopular to implement.
Auto industry
In April, Iran banned the import of U.S.-made cars. The Islamic Republic does not import American cars directly, but it had imported cars manufactured by Chevrolet via other countries. “Americans themselves don’t use U.S.-made cars,” Khamenei said on April 27. “We have seen this reflected in American media. They argue that fuel consumption is high and the cars are heavy.”
International sanctions took a toll on Iran’s auto industry, and production plummeted from 1.65 million units in 2011 to 740,000 in 2013. Now that sanctions have been lifted, officials hope to increase domestic production to 1.6 million cars by 2018 and 3 million by 2025.
Iran produced 5.5 million tons of steel in the first four months of the year, a 1.5 percent increase from the same period last year, according to the World Steel Association. Despite the increase, many of Iran’s steel producers are operating below capacity, in part due to the uptick in steel imports, according to Mahmoud Akbari, sales manager of the Mobarakeh Steel Company. Imports totaled more than 3 million tons between March and December 2015, an 86 percent increase from the same period in 2014.
Iran is the largest steel producer in the Middle East and the 14th largest worldwide. But in recent years, the industry has struggled struggled from low demand, high production costs, and competition from low-cost steel products from China.
Despite the lifting or suspension of certain U.S., E.U., and U.N. sanctions, investors still run the risk of violating remaining U.S. sanctions on Iranian entities for terrorism and human rights violations. Even accidental violations carry heavy penalties.
Some Iranian officials claimed in April and May that U.S. banking restrictions constitute a violation of the nuclear deal. “The United States needs to do way more. They have to send a message that doing business with Iran will not cost them [European banks],” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker in April. On April 15, Valiollah Seif, Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, said that “almost nothing” has happened since the nuclear deal was implemented in January. “Unless serious efforts are made by our partners to make the JCPOA work, in my view they have not honored their obligations,” he said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations. 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of taking deceptive measures to scare investors away from Iran. “On paper, the Americans say banks can trade with Iran but in practice they act in such an Iranophobic way that no trade can take place with Iran,” he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister for International and Legal Affairs Seyyed Abbas Araghchi acknowledged that economic improvements take time, claiming that it would be “naïve” to expect changes overnight. “We should allocate a reasonable time to recover from the shock of sanctions and rebuild our economy,” he said on May 29. But he also pointed to “sabotage by other governments” as an impediment.
Secretary Kerry, however, refuted the idea that the United States was engaged in undue interference in Iran’s economy. On May 10, he said that European businesses “should not use the United States as an excuse” for not dealing with Iran. “I think it’s important to have clarity, and the clarity is that European banks, as long as it’s not a designated entity, are absolutely free to open accounts for Iran, trade, exchange money, facilitate a legitimate business agreement, bankroll it, lend money,” he told reporters in London.
South Korea
On May 2, Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first president to visit Iran, accompanied by a delegation of ministers, economic officials and businessmen. South Korea, the world’s fifth largest oil importer, is one of the largest buyers of Iranian oil, though sanctions led to a decline in imports in recent years, hovering around 100,000 barrels per day before the nuclear deal. Since sanctions were lifted in January, however, Iranian oil exports to South Korea have more than quadrupled to 400,000 barrels a day.
During the visit, officials signed 19 memoranda of understanding and cooperation documents to strengthen bilateral ties in fields ranging from energy to science, culture and more. In a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani said they intended to triple bilateral trade to some $18 billion. The trade volume last reached that level in 2011, before international sanctions were imposed on Iran for its nuclear activities.
India and Afghanistan
On May 23, Iran signed a trilateral agreement with India and Afghanistan to develop the strategic Chabahar port in southeastern Iran. India pledged to invest up to $500 million in the port, which will expand India’s trade with Iran and other Central Asian countries while bypassing land routes in Pakistan. 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran to sign the deal. Both leaders also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Iran in 15 years. During his visit, he signed 12 cooperation documents with the Islamic Republic to strengthen bilateral ties in economics, trade, transportation, science, culture, and academia. Before sanctions were tightened in 2012, Iran had been India’s second largest supplier of crude oil
In late May, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost, said that Iran welcomed China and Pakistan to participate in the port agreement as well.
In early April, Iran’s Ambassador to Berlin Ali Majedi said that Iran is close to finalizing a deal with Volkswagen to invest in Iran’s auto industry. German auto part maker Bosch later announced in May that it plans to open an office in Tehran by the end of the year and hire 50 additional staff.
In late May, Chairman of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce Masoud Khansari met with a German economic delegation to discuss expanding bilateral ties and banking relations. “Iran’s economy in the post-sanctions era is rapidly moving towards privatization, and now is a good time for foreign companies, especially those from Germany, to take advantage of investment opportunities,” Khansari said.

Yves Rossier, state secretary at the Swiss Foreign Ministry, said on May 24 that Switzerland is prepared to help Iran reenter the international market. “Due to its (Iran’s) absence in financial markets, Tehran is lagging behind in finance and technology, especially when it comes to the country’s internal infrastructure,” he told Sputnik news. “[Switzerland’s help] is mostly about technical and technological support to assist Iran in getting back to international financial markets.”
On May 3, an Iranian delegation led by CBI Monitoring Deputy Hamid Tehranfar met with a Swiss delegation in Bern to explore opportunities in financial and banking cooperation.


Iran by the Numbers: Women

Katayoun Kishi 

Iran has closed some gender gaps, although Iranian women still do not have equal rights and protections under the law and in practice. Female literacy has almost quadrupled since 1980 and was within ten percentage points of male literacy in 2015. Since 2000, women have made up about half of all university students and have increased as a percentage of students enrolled in primary education. The adolescent fertility rate has dropped precipitously since 1980, due to better reproductive health and sexual education for women.
Women are increasingly participating in the political sphere, despite legal and societal impediments. President Hassan Rouhani appointed four women as vice presidents and three women as governors following his 2013 election. Women won an all-time high number of seats in the 2016 parliamentary election.
  • Women in Parliament: Went up to 17 seats in 2016 – the highest in the history of the Islamic Republic. Not as high, however, as the 22 seats held by women in the last parliament under the shah.
  • Women in University: Increased slightly since 1996, but has generally remained at about half of students.
  • Female Primary Education: Female enrollment in primary education generally increased from a low of 40 percent in 1982 to a high of 50 percent in 2014.
  • Adolescent Fertility Rate: As high as 140 births per thousand women aged 15-19 in 1982, to as low as 27 births per thousand in 2014. 


(1980-2016): The Iran Primer; The Iran Primer source: Ministry of Interior


Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics


Source: World Bank; World Bank source: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics


Source: World Bank; World Bank source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects


Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.


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