United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

World Bank on Iran’s Economy and Business Regulations

Iran’s economy is projected to grow by 1.7 percent in 2015 and 6.1 percent in 2016, according to a new World Bank report. “The medium-term outlook is positive though risks remain from oil prices and geopolitical considerations,” according to the October edition of the Middle East and North Africa Economic Monitor. But starting a business is still relatively difficult in Iran. It ranked 118 out of 189 economies for ease of doing business in the Doing Business 2016 report by the World Bank. The following are excerpts from the two reports.

A nuclear deal was negotiated in July and has since been ratified by several bodies. On July 14 2015, the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) and Iran announced they had reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) relating to Iran’s nuclear program. The UN Security Council met on July 20, 2015 and voted unanimously to endorse the JCPOA. The European Union approved the JCPOA on the same date. It also now appears that the agreement will not be blocked by the US Congress. Implementation of the JCPOA will involve lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. The final adoption and implementation of the JCPOA could lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iran by the first quarter of 2016 thereby improving Iran’s access to trade, technology and finance.
Following two years of recession, the economy recovered during Iranian FY2014 (March 2014-March 2015). Despite the sharp drop in the price of oil, Iran’s main export, the economy expanded by 4.3 percent in 2014, after contracting by 6.6 percent and 1.9 percent in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This was due to the confidence-boosting impact of a new government (elected in July 2013), the initiation of talks to get a nuclear agreement, and the partial lifting of some sanctions in advance of a full agreement. As of August, 2015, the official and parallel market exchange rates were trading just 13 percent apart as compared to a gap of roughly 190 percent in the second quarter of 2012 when sanctions were tightened. The inflation rate declined from 45.1percent in 2012 to 15.6 percent in June 2015.
The fiscal and external positions are sound despite the collapse in oil prices. The deficit of the central government was 1.2 percent of GDP in 2014, which represents a marginal deterioration compared to the deficit of 0.9 percent of GDP recorded in 2013. Government revenue rose by 21.1 percent to reach 14.6 percent of GDP in 2014. Meanwhile, as the value of oil exports declined, the current account surplus deteriorated from a surplus of 6.0 percent of GDP in 2013 to 3.8 percent in 2014. Foreign exchange reserves are estimated at US$126.5 billion in 2014, which was equivalent to 18 months of imports.
The medium-term outlook is positive though risks remain from oil prices and geopolitical considerations. While growth will slow to 1.7 percent in 2015 due to low oil prices it is expected to soar to 6.1 percent in 2016 as the confidence-boosting effects of a succcessful nuclear agreement kick in. Much of the fillip to growth will come from increased oil production (rising to 3.6 million barrels per day in 2016) and from increased foreign and domestic investment. At the same time, the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq will also determine how economic prospects change as will the pace of implementation of the JCPOA.
Key Economic Indicators
Real GDP Growth (percent)
Inflation Rate (Percent)
Fiscal Balance (Percent of GDP)
Current Account Balance (Percent of GDP)
Click here for the full report.
Doing Business 2016 Rank: 118

Doing Business 2015 Rank: 119
DB 2016 Rank
DB 2015 Rank
Change in Rank
Starting a Business
Dealing with Construction Permits
Getting Electricity
Registering Property
Getting Credit
Protecting Minority Investors
Paying Taxes
Trading Across Borders
Enforcing Contracts
No change
Resolving Insolvency
Click here for the full report. 
Tags: Reports

Iran Attends Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

On October 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Vienna with a delegation of Iranians to participate in peace talks on Syria. Zarif met bilaterally with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss implementation of the nuclear deal. Kerry also used the meeting to raise the case of missing and detained U.S. citizens in Iran. Zarif also had a bilateral with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. 
On October 28, Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would lead a delegation to the Vienna peace talks on Syria. The invitation, backed by the United States, marks a major change after two earlier failed peace initiatives in 2012 and 2014. In January 2014, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon initially invited Iran to a conference in Geneva. But under U.S. pressure, he withdrew it one day later. His spokesperson cited Iranian public statements that were “not at all consistent” with oral assurances Tehran had given regarding the Geneva Communique, which calls for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections. 

The Syrian National Coalition, a Western-backed opposition group based in Turkey, opposed Iran’s participation in the Vienna talks. “Involving it in talks undermines the political process,” SNC Vice President Hisham Marwa told Reuters. “What’s important now is not to refuse talks, it is important to express our concern. Iran has only one project – to keep Assad in power... they don’t believe in the principle of the talks.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged Iran’s role in the conflict. It would be “hard to imagine a Syrian solution without Iran,” he told France 24. “I think it is fair to say that no one is wedded to Bashar al Assad,” Blinken posited. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian had previously told The Guardian that “we are not working for Assad to stay in power forever as president.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, along with Deputy Foreign Ministers Abdollahian, Abbas Aragchi and Majid Takht Ravanchi, will attend the Vienna conference on October 30, according to spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham. Zarif and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had discussed the Vienna conference earlier in the week. “We call for a widening of the dialogue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on October 28. Some 20 countries sent representatives to Vienna, including Britain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.  
The following are excerpted remarks by officials on the talks.
United States
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken: First, all of the neighbors – Syria’s neighbors in this case – are invited to the meeting in Vienna on Friday, so that includes Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran. And it’s evident that Iran, one way or another, is going to have to be part of the conversation on Syria’s future.  
Marc Perelman (France 24)But it was not part of that conversation because of its supposedly destructive role in Syria, and that hasn’t changed. 
Blinken: Well there are two things. President Obama has been very clear that he is willing to engage with anyone who is willing to try to work for a peaceful outcome in Syria. And as Secretary Kerry has said, Iran one way or another is going to be playing a role. Now unfortunately to date, it’s played a negative role in terms of its support for Bashar al-Assad, in terms of its proxy, Hezbollah, which is helping to prop up the regime. So one of the big questions will be whether Iran is prepared to play a positive role in supporting a political transition. We don’t know the answer to that.  
Perelman: The political transition – you mentioned it. If you talk to Russia, if you talk to Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s two main backers, you’re effectively talking to or with him. This means there is no precondition that he must leave power to discuss. He will be part of a transition, he does not need to leave now.  
Blinken: Our position, and I think the position of most of our partners, is pretty clear. 
Perelman: No, it’s not. 
Blinken: Well we’ll see. And Vienna will help to clarify that as well. There is no future for Syria as a stable, secular, democratic, peaceful country with Assad as president. So any political transition must result in his departure among other things. The question is how exactly to define that process. That’s exactly what we’re working on. But there’s something new here, and that is Russia’s role. …
Perelman: From your conversations with the Russians, are they telling you that they can convince Assad to an acceptable transition – that he would leave power in one year, two years – is this what they’re telling you and is this why you’re trusting them to hold those conversations? 
Blinken: Well we’re at the beginning of this process.  
Perelman: But you’ve had talks. 
Blinken: We’ve had talks but the critical next step will be this meeting in Vienna. This is not going to be resolved in one meeting, or two meetings, or three meetings. But it is the beginning of an intensified process to see if we can get to a political transition process. That’s exactly what we’re working on. I can’t give you the answer now, we don’t know yet. But I think it’s fair to say that no one is wedded to Bashar al-Assad –  
Perelman: Including the Russians? 
Blinken: Well I think you’d have to ask them directly.  
Perelman: And the Iranians? 
Blinken: You’d have to ask them. But we’ll have an opportunity as a result of these conversations and discussions to test those propositions.  
Perelman: Are the Saudis on board with the Iranians being part of that? 
Blinken: Yes.  
Perelman: You know there are serious tensions between the countries…? 
Blinken: Yes. Yes. The answer’s yes.  
Perelman: So you think now the stars are aligned to maybe really find a political solution in the not so distant future in Syria? 
Blinken: Well they’re more aligned than they’ve been. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll get there. But it does mean that there’s a greater opportunity and I think it’s because there’s a growing recognition on the part of all sides that there is no military solution in Syria. And that’s a recognition that’s now growing on the Russians. We’ve known it for a long time. They’re now experiencing it. They cannot win in Syria. They can perhaps prevent Assad from losing, but they can’t win. And meanwhile, they will be bled and their influence will be eroded, and their reputation will be eroded.  

—Oct. 28, 2015 in an interview with France 24

Secretary of State John Kerry
I just returned from meetings in Vienna that included a remarkable session, that broke some new ground, where we had the quartet of Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And I will head back to Vienna tonight to take the next step in our discussions with representatives from an ever broadening group of nations, including Iran, which will join one of these multilateral gatherings for the first time. And while finding a way forward on Syria will not be easy – it’s not going to be automatic – it is the most promising opportunity for a political opening where recognizing what is happening – that Syria is being destroyed; that Europe is being deeply impacted; that Jordan is being greatly put under enormous pressure, Lebanon, Turkey, the region; and so many millions of Syrians are displaced within Syria itself, most compelling of all, the tragedy that Syrians are living every single day – the best opportunity we have is to try to come to the table and recognize there has to be the political solution that everybody has talked about.”
"I am hopeful that we can find a way forward...it is very difficult."
—Oct. 30, 2015, according to the press
State Department Counselor Tom Shannon
“The secretary thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff, determine whether or not ... their public commitment to fighting [Islamic State] and terrorism is a meaningful one and the extent to which they are prepared to work broadly with international community to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process he will have to go.”
—Oct. 29, 2015, to the press
State Department Spokesman John Kirby
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that [Iran is a key partner], but I just mean that you need key – as I said yesterday, there are many stakeholders in Syria and what’s going on. Iran, though we do not certainly by any means approve of the destabilizing activities that they continue to pursue in Syria, recognize that and always have recognize, that at some point in the discussion moving towards a political transition we have to have a conversion and a dialogue with Iran. And so I wouldn’t call them a partner necessarily. But obviously, there are many stakeholders in this, and so we do anticipate that Iran will be asked to participate. Now, whether they come or not, that’s up – that’s up to Iranian leaders.
[T]he goal is to come up with a framework – an agreed-upon, international, multilateral framework – for a successful political transition in Syria, which is – leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad and is – that is representative of and response to the Syrian people. That’s the overarching goal.
And as I said yesterday, that’s a difficult task, certainly given the ongoing violence that we’re seeing in Syria and all the different perspectives that many partners and participants in these meetings have and espouse. We understand that. So I can’t tell you exactly what the outcome of the meetings on Friday are going to be or if they’re – it’s the last chapter. I rather doubt that. I think there will be – there’ll continue to be more such discussions with varying degrees of participation internationally. So we just have to see.
But coming out of this last trip to Vienna, the Secretary felt optimistic that enough progress was being made towards laying down the foundation of what a political transition could look like that he felt it was really important to continue that momentum. And that’s what this next meeting in Vienna hopefully will do, will build on this momentum."
—Oct. 28, 2015 in a press briefing
White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest
"To exclude Iran and Russia from these conversations would be a missed opportunity."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“There has been no prerequisite for Iran's presence in the Vienna conference; if it were so we would never take part in the meeting.”
—Oct. 29, 2015 to the press in Vienna
"Those who tried to resolve the Syria crisis have come to the conclusion that without Iran being present, there is no way to reach a reasonable solution to the crisis."
—Oct. 29, 2015 to the press in Vienna
Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian
"Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever."
—Oct. 30, 2015, according to the press
"There is no change in the Islamic Republic of Iran's supportive policy for Syria."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
"The Saudi regime with its all-out support for the ISIL and its terrorist acts in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as well as numerous crimes, including its attacks on hospitals, schools and people's homes, is a war criminal and its presence in the Vienna multilateral talks is, thus, suspicious and illegitimate."
—Oct. 29, 2015, according to the press
United Kingdom
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
European Union

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini


Foreign Ministry
“The [two] sides [Iranian and Russian foreign ministers] continued discussion of possible ways of settling the Syrian crisis with a focus on urgent steps towards establishing an intra-Syrian political dialogue.”
“The two diplomats stressed that there is no alternative to promoting this process by all key countries of the region.”
—Oct. 28, 2015 via Russia Today
Saudi Arabia
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
“There will be a meeting on Friday of a broad group of countries supporting the Syrian opposition as a broader group of countries from the region will meet to discuss the intentions of these countries in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, the most important element of which is the time and means of Bashar al Assad's exit.”
“If they're [Iranians] serious we will know, and if they're not serious we will also know and stop wasting time with them.”

—Oct. 28, 2015 in a press conference  

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Martin Schaefer
“Iran's inclusion in the talks is the only and proper way to settle the Syrian crisis.”

—Oct. 29, 2015, to the press 




Tags: Syria

Rising Iran-Saudi Tensions

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals, with both countries falling on different sides of Middle Eastern conflicts. In Syria, Iran backs President Bashar al Assad, while Saudi Arabia supports Sunni rebels. In Yemen, Iran is widely believed to support the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has controlled the capital, Sanaa, since September 2014. Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against the Houthis in March. Both countries have accused each other of contributing to turmoil in the region.

Tensions also flared in September when hundreds of pilgrims – including more than 400 Iranians – were killed in a stampede during a hajj ritual in Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's two holiest cities. Iranian officials accused the Saudi government of mismanagement that led to the tragedy. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir countered that "the Iranians should know better than to play politics."
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia base their political systems on Islam and Sharia. But Iran is the world’s largest Shiite country, while Saudi Arabia is the bastion of a conservative branch of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. The following are quotes illustrating the tension between Iranian and Saudi officials over regional issues, followed by statements on the Mina stampede.
On Syria and Yemen
Head of Iran’s Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani
“To prevent more tension in the region, Saudi rulers, who mostly act naively, must be convinced that it serves no country’s interests to stir friction in the region.”
– Oct. 18, 2015, according to the press
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
“The Saudi government's use of weapons which contain toxic and pathogenic gases in air and missile strikes against residential areas is aimed at genocide and breaking the legitimate resistance of the brave Yemeni people.”
– Oct. 6, 2015, according to the press
“Targeting residential areas, hospitals, service [providing] centers and the carnage of innocent women and children along with the inhumane blockade of the Yemeni people are flagrant examples of war crime.”
– Oct. 6, 2015, in a meeting with Yemen’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee
Supreme Leader's top Adviser for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati
"The remarks by the naive Saudi foreign minister finds no ears on the international scene since everyone knows that his comments don’t have any wise and fair basis."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran as the biggest regional power enters the scene and takes action wherever it feels that a neighboring country or one of its allies has been endangered or is posed to plots."
"Of course, Saudi Arabia is too little to implement such plots directly but it is supporting the terrorists in the Muslim regional states in the role of a proxy of the West, including the US."
– Oct. 27, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
"Attacks on residential areas, schools, and hospitals [in Yemen] are in flagrant violation of humanitarian laws and rules.”
– Oct. 7, 2015, according to the press
“Considering the fact that for seven months Saudi Arabia has been attempting to occupy Yemen using force, when it comes to Syria they are not in a position to make such comments…I recommend that [Jubeir] instead of passing the buck considers cooperation and constructive behaviour in the region,” referring to Jubeir’s comments that Iran was occupying Syrian territory.
– Oct. 21, 2015, according to the press
“Saudi authorities have yet provided no plausible response to demands for a thorough investigation into the Mina incident which killed thousands of Sunni and Shia Hajj pilgrims; this along with Saudi unsuccessful strikes against Yemen clearly demonstrates a crisis in the files and ranks of the Saudi regime inside; ethnically-motivated provocations against its own people by Saudi Arabia would just confound the crisis.”
“I recommend to Saudi officials to wisely abandon their adventurist approach in the region and come to the path of fairness and justice toward their own citizens.”
– Oct. 25, 2015, according to the press
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
"The Saudi officials' comments have broken the diplomatic norms and it seems that their anger-mingled behavior is affected by the result of the wrong moves they have made in the region.”
"All these events show that the Saudi government has been entangled in a political and ruling chaos."
– Oct. 26, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
"Saudi Foreign Minister Adil al-Ahmad al-Jubayr, whose country has taken a military, security, and excessive approach against Yemenis and for more than seven months has targeted the country's civilians by constant bombardments, lacks the competency to speak about Iran's regional role.”
"While the global community is appreciating Iran's constructive and stabilizing role in the region and has called for Iran's further participation and role in settlement of regional crises, unfortunately, the only country that is still looking at the regional developments with the win-lose approach and is insisting on removal of others is the Saudi Arabia…But its non-constructive and destructive approach does not lead to anywhere.”
"Using such arrogant, despicable, and out of diplomatic norms about the fate of other nations is an indication of diplomatic stagnation.”
"Unfortunately, the same outlook has resulted in the entanglement of some countries and peoples of the region including Syria and Yemen in a pre-designed war and extremism.”
"A country (Saudi Arabia) that has been striking the people and infrastructures of the Muslim country of Yemen for about 7 months from air and ground and has killed thousands of civilians, including women and children, is not in a position to speak bout the interference of another country, and such a country should make its statements based on the facts.”
"Saudi Arabia has opted for militarism which does not have any outcome other than massacre of the innocent people, and we hope that it would immediately change this approach in a bid to stop the killing of the innocent people and, rather, support political solutions to achieve stability and tranquility in the region.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Seyed Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabifard
“[The] Saudi regime has the least international prestige, and it provides boosts for terrorist groups in the region; we believe that the future belongs to Yemeni people, and they will be the ultimate victor.”
“[The] daily bombarding and siege on Yemeni people are telling examples of crime against humanity; we believe effective publicizing the events in Yemen is a necessity now; however, mainstream media refuse to attend their inherent duty to communicate the news of Yemen to the world thanks to Saudi’s corrupting them by purchasing them.”
– Oct. 8, 2015, according to the press
Saudi Arabia

Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
"It is difficult to have positive relations [with Tehran] when Saudi Arabia and its people are the target of continuous aggression by Iran.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
“We wish that Iran would change its policies and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
“We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
 “Iran must comply with the agreement it reached with the 5+1 countries on its nuclear deal and refrain from all negative tactics in order to restore peace in Syria and Yemen.”
– Oct. 20, 2015, according to the press
“Is this the way a responsible country aspiring to a nuclear deal should behave? It only confirms the concerns raised by Gulf countries,” in reference to reports of Iran smuggling arms to rebels in Yemen.
– Oct. 20, 2015, according to the press
"The question is: what must Iran do to be part of the solution in Syria? The answer is very simple:  It has to withdraw from Syria and it has to stop supplying weapons to Bashar al-Assad's regime and it has to withdraw the Shi'ite militias that it sent ... and then it can have a role.”
Iran is now an "occupier of Arab lands in Syria.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi
"As for those countries that have claimed recently to join in the fight against ISIS terrorism, they can’t do that at the same time as they support the terrorism of the Syrian regime and its terrorist foreign allies like Hezbollah and the Quds Force and other terrorist sectarian groups.”
– Oct. 1, 2015, according to the press 
On the Mina stampede
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
"The Saudi government should accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event and it should meet its obligations based on the principles of truth and fairness. The mismanagement and improper measures that caused this catastrophe should not be overlooked."
—Sept. 24, 2015, in a statement

“Ignorance of the time turned our Festive Day into grief by Mina deadly tragedy. May God accept these sacrifices and devotions from Muslim nations. Using advanced militray equipment, they bombard Yemeni people, yet they fail to act when humanity demands and show their courage only when facing the defenseless people."

“Saudi officials fail to do their duties and act against their responsibilities and show slyness in some cases; if Iran wants to react, Saudi Arabia’s conditions will not be good. In case of reaction, our response will be firm and severe."

“Saudi Arabia evades its duties in helping transfer of corpses of Hajj pilgrims; however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been self-restraint observing principles of Islamic ethics and the spirit of fraternity in the Islamic world; they should understand though that disrespect of tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would precipitate Iran’s ‘severe and strong’ reaction." 

—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to army cadets



President Hassan Rouhani


“We demand Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Iranian Hajj Headquarters and the Supreme Leader’s permanent delegation to Mecca and Medina in order to deliver medical help to Iranian pilgrims.”
“I have tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the Saudi authorities and take necessary actions.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in remarks to the press
"Saudi Arabia should act upon its legal and international responsibilities vis a vis the foreign nationals and Hajj pilgrims and the aspects of the incident should be clarified precisely.”
"The Saudi media display animations instead of showing the footages of reality (of what happened in Mina), and this is an insult to the Islamic societies.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"If we can change the dynamics and establish good relations between us and Saudi Arabia it will certainly benefit everyone involved. These days, though, it is important to keep in mind that our conditions have become much tougher, because a number of our pilgrims to Hajj were killed in Mina. Thus far 170 Iranian pilgrims have been killed. Dear lives, precious lives, lost.
"This lack of proper management, responsible management, of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is extremely sad. We do not know all of the underlying causes, the root causes, so we do not want to pass judgement. But the Saudi Arabian government has made itself quite occupied and concerned elsewhere – Syria, Yemen, the region as whole – and it seems to have forgotten Mecca itself, how to manage it. It seems to have forgotten Mina. It seems to have forgotten the millions of pilgrims that every year go to their country."
—Sept. 27, 2015, in a meeting with American think tanks, academics, and NGOs
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
"The weak management of the Saudi government and lack of capability of the Saudi Hajj officials have certainly been the cause of the tragic incident in Mina.”
"The change in Saudi Arabia's security preferences and seeing its security in the war on the Yemeni people and helping the Al Khalifa in suppressing the Bahraini people have played important roles in the emergence of this tragedy.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati
"What has happened is suspicious because some high-ranking technical, scientific and political figures of the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone missing or been martyred in the incident and the Saudi government should account for the event.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press

Head of the Judiciary Sadeq Amoli Larijani
“The Saudi government could not easily free itself from the heavy burden and responsibility of the Mina incident; the event is extremely terrible in terms of the scope of the fatalities, and all Islamic countries should devise effective measures to prevent the repetition of similar issues in the future. Contrary to the ongoing trend where Hajj pilgrims received improved services and better facilities, in recent years, the problems stymied the process, with insecurities rising considerably.”
“Saudis’ attribution of the event to heavenly preordained affairs is mere an attempt to bring other strange and ludicrous causes into the event; the real issue is their sheer incompetence in meeting the challenges on Hajj pilgrims’ security, while the heavenly providence has been on the place; Islamic countries would not easily close the case, and the bitter memory of the event will linger on for years to come.”
“The event indicates that Saudi officials are among the most irresponsible and heedless officials ever to rule a country; they should compensate for all aspects of the disaster; the general expectation from a ‘strong government’ is to transparently address all facets of the event, and bring the perpetrators and contributors to justice, along with providing apologies to the multitudes of pilgrims’ families.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, in a meeting with judiciary officials
Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
“The officials in the Saudi government in charge of maintaining order in this huge ritual are responsible for the incident and should be accountable to the Muslims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri 
"Given the usurper Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the crane crash incident at the Grand Mosque (in the holy city of Mecca) and the death of thousands of people in Mina were the result of deliberate crime.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"In the very first hours after the Mina catastrophe, the country’s armed forces expressed their readiness to provide any (necessary) assistance to the relevant bodies and are fully prepared at the moment, too."
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are ready to perform any mission in this regard."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
"As Iran's interior minister I ask you to order the concerned Saudi Hajj officials to do their utmost cooperation with the Iranian relief workers stationed in Mecca and Mina to organize the affairs of the Iranian pilgrims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a letter to Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef
Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi
"This year's hajj ceremony was disorganized as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of Parliament’s National Security Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
“It’s not the first time that the Saudi government has shown its incompetence during the hajj.”
“Two tragic incidents have taken place in a short time, the Saudi government is not capable of managing hajj pilgrimage.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Supreme Leader’s Representative on Hajj Affairs Seyed-Ali Ghaziaskar
“This incident is unprecedented in the history of hajj. Saudi officials do not let our medical team and doctors to reach the affected areas and hospitals to help.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht 

"The Saudi government has nothing to say and that's why the foreign minister of this country goes into hiding and does not speak with our foreign minister, so we are forced to use other means at our disposal to solve this problem." 
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Minister of Intelligence Seyyed Mohammad Alavi
"The negligence of Al Saud rulers caused this incident and the unwise conduct that they displayed after the Mina tragedy gave this tragedy the appearance of a crime and Muslim world will not forgive them for their behavior."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press


Judiciary Spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei

"The Saudi rulers cannot shrug off responsibility for the Mina tragedy and they should be accountable for what happened in Mina last Thursday."

"All material and emotional losses of the Mina incident should be compensated for."
—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to Basij forces

Saudi Arabia
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
"I believe that the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty."
– Sept. 27, 2015, according to the press
“And we will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back. If mistakes were made, who made them will be held accountable.”
“And we will make sure that we will learn from this and we will make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I want repeat again this is not a situation with which to play politics.”
“I would hope Iranian leaders would be more sensible and more thoughtful with regards to those who perished in this tragedy, and wait until we see the results of the investigation.”
– Sept. 27, 2015, according to the press
“The Iranians know very well that the Kingdom will do everything in its capacity to provide and facilitate visits to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The Iranians realize that the Kingdom is doing tremendous work for the service of the guests of Makkah. And I believe what they said contradicts the idea of sovereignty and non-interference. The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques was clear when he ordered a thorough investigation and will hold any individual or organization accountable if found guilty. This investigation is ongoing and we will make the results public.  The Iranians are the last to speak of Hajj and pilgrims, because they have caused chaos multiple times in the past, through protests in the 80s, which resulted in a number of death due to their riots.”
– Sept. 28, 2015, according to the press

Iran’s Growing Toll in Syria

Garrett Nada

Iran’s involvement in Syria is growing. So is the Iranian death toll.
For decades, the Islamic Republic has been a pivotal ally of the Assad dynasty and a source of arms, military advisers, and billions in financial aid. But it stepped up support after the uprising began in 2011. It helped create the National Defense Forces, a group of some 80,000 Alawites, Shiites and regime loyalists who bolster the Syrian army. In 2013, Tehran reported the first deaths in Syria. Iran’s support for the regime of President Bashar al Assad became even more critical to the regime’s survival after the 2014 rise of ISIS. By 2015, Iran was losing senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commanders deployed to aid Syrian government troops. In October, two generals, as well as several other Iranian troops, were killed. At least eight have been killed since 2013.
The presence of Iran and its allies, such as Hezbollah, has helped tip the military balance. “I think the balance of forces right now are in Assad’s advantage,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in October. He estimated that there were less than 2,000 Iranians operating in Syria and more than 1,000 in Iraq.
Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani is the best known IRGC officer to be killed. He was a hero of the Iran-Iraq war. He was held in such high esteem that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid a visit to his grieving family. Iran claimed that he was killed by ISIS on October 8. Brigadier General Reza Khavari, a senior IRGC commander of the Fatemiyoun Division, was killed in Hama province, in central Syria, on October 22. A bodyguard to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also killed in October. In April, Major General Hadi Kajbaf was killed near a rebel-held town south of Damascus.
Iran has repeatedly claimed that only a small number of troops are in Syria—and only in an advisory role. Iranian media reported that they are helping devise strategy against “takfiri” forces, referring to al Qaeda affiliates, the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist Sunni groups challenging the Damascus government. (Takfiri is a name for Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy).
“We do not have a direct role in the fighting,” Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Reza Shaybani, told The Guardian in September. In October, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker, “We haven’t changed the nature of our presence in Syria. It continues to be military advisers, and no more.”
But in early October 2015, Lebanese sources claimed that hundreds of Iranian troops entered Syrian in preparation for a major ground offensive. In mid-October, Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC commander of the elite Qods Force, was seen touring the front lines as pro-government forces amassed for a major campaign in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The Syrian army was bolstered by hundreds of troops from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Iran as well as Russian air power, according to Reuters.
Iran has also organized militiamen from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries to aid Syrian government troops. Between January 2013 and August 2015, funerals had been held for some 121 Afghan nationals and 20 Pakistani nationals who died fighting in Syria, according to Iran expert Ali Alfoneh. More have reportedly died since then. The Fatemiyoun military division, composed of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Syria, is reportedly the second largest foreign military force fighting for the regime, after the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.   
Iran has cultural as well as strategic interests in Syria, which is home to some 50 Shiite shrines and holy places. They have been sites of Iranian pilgrimages for centuries. Iran has committed to defending Shiite holy places from Sunni extremists. It called for volunteers to protect shrines in May 2013, after Sunni rebels reportedly ransacked the Damascus shrine of Hojr Ibn Oday, who was revered in early Shiite history. 
Iran is particularly attached to the Sayyidah Zaynab Shrine, near Damascus, another hallowed site for Shiites. Iranians have volunteered to protect the gold-domed structure, which houses the remains of Zaynab, who was the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and daughter of Ali, the fourth leader of the early Islamic empire. Shiite literally means “follower of Ali.” In June, Iranian state media noted that 400 volunteers or “martyred defenders” of the shrine had been killed.
The following is a rundown of some of the higher ranking Iranians and IRGC members who have been killed in Syria.
Nov. 16, 2015: First Lieutenant Imam Khazaeinejad was reportedly killed “in combat with ISIS.”
Nov. 9, 2015:  IRGC Major Mohammad Tahan from the Ghaem al Mohammad unit was reportedly killed. IRGC Commander Major General Ali Jafari wrote a letter of condolence to his family.
Nov. 9, 2015:  Major Mousa Jamshidian was reportedly killed. He was in the IRGC 8th Najaf Ashraf Armored Division. 
Nov. 3, 2015: Colonel Ezzatollah Soleimani was killed in Aleppo. Prior to his deployment to Syria, he was commander of the Hazrat Bani Hashem Brigade 44. Seyed Ali Hosseini Alemi from the Fatemiyoun Division and Captain Seyed Sajjad Hosseini from the Khordad 15 Artillery Division were also killed in Aleppo province.  
Oct. 25, 2015: IRGC Third Lieutenant Mohammad Zahiri was reportedly killed near Aleppo.
Oct. 24, 2015: IRGC member Milad Mostafavi was reportedly killed in Aleppo fighting ISIS.
Oct. 23, 2015: IRGC members Mostafa Sadrzadeh was reportedly killed in Aleppo fighting ISIS. Sajjad Tahernia and Ruhollah Emadi were killed near Aleppo.
Oct. 22, 2015: Brigadier General Reza Khavari, a senior IRGC commander of the Fatemiyoun Division was killed in Hama province, which is in central Syria. Mohammad Estehkami Jahromi, from the IRGC’s 33th Airborne Special Forces Brigade, was also killed.
Oct. 19, 2015: Basij force commander Nader Hamid reportedly died from his wounds several days after a clash with rebels in Quneitra province. Mehdi Alidoust, a member of the IRGC 17th Ali Ibn Abu Taleb Division, was killed
Oct. 17, 2015: IRGC commander Muslim Kheizab is reportedly killed while on an advisory mission in Syria.
Mid-October 2015: Abdollah Baqeri Niyaraki, an IRGC commander and who previously served as a bodyguard of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was killed defending a religious site near Aleppo with Amin Karimi.
Oct. 13, 2015: Colonel Farshad Hasounizadeh, the former commander of IRGC's Saberin Special Brigade, and Hajj Hamid Mohktar-band, the former commander of IRGC Hazrat Hojjat 1 Brigade, was killed in southern Syria.
Oct. 8, 2015: A top IRGC commander, Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, was killed during an attack by ISIS near Aleppo.
Late August 2015: Ahmad Hayari, commander of the Shoush Basij Imam Hossein Brigade, was killed in Latakia, an Assad regime stronghold in northwest Syria. 
July 11, 2015: IRGC Colonel Qassem Gharib and Colonel Abduk Karim Ghavabish were killed in Syria. 
April 2015: IRGC Major General, Hadi Kajbaf, was killed near a rebel-held town south of Damascus along with three other Iranians, including a mid-ranking Shiite cleric.
Jan. 18, 2015: IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Oct. 9, 2014: IRGC Brigadier General Jabbar Darisavi was killed near Aleppo.
May 26, 2014: Abdollah Eskandari, a retired senior IRGC Brigadier General, was killed while fighting south of Damascus, according to Iran’s defense ministry.
November 2013: IRGC Commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh was killed in Syria.
Oct. 31, 2013: Western media outlets aired video footage of IRGC members engaged in combat. 

August 2013: IRGC Brigadier General Esmail Haydari was killed in Syria.
Feb. 12, 2013: IRGC Brigadier General Hassan Shateri was killed while traveling from Damascus to Beirut.
Jan. 28, 2013: Ali Asgari Taqanaki, a Qods Force operative, was killed in Damascus. It was the earliest record of an Iran national to die in combat, according to Ali Alfoneh.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.
Photo credits: Zaynab Shrine via Wikimedia Commons [public domain];   



Tags: IRGC, Syria

Khamenei Approves Nuclear Deal

On October 21, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers. In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, he laid out conditions for implementing the deal, warning that that any new sanctions would be considered a violation of the agreement.

The following are tweets from Khamenei’s official Twitter account followed by the full text of the letter.
The following is the full text of Khamenei's letter, via leader.ir
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful 
Your Excellency,  Mr Rouhani,
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of the Supreme National Security Council
May God bestow success upon you.
Greetings to You 
The agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has already been cleared through legal channels following precise and responsible examinations in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, [parliamentary] ad hoc committees and other committees as well as the Supreme National Security Council. Since the agreement is waiting for my view, I deem it necessary to remind several points so that Your Excellency and other officials directly or indirectly involved in the issue would have enough time to comply with and safeguard national interests and the country’s best interests.
1. Before anything else, I deem it necessary to extend my gratitude to all those involved in this challenging procedure throughout all its periods, including the recent nuclear negotiating team whose members tried their best in explaining the positive points and incorporating all those points [into the agreement], critics who reminded all of us of weak points through their appreciable meticulousness, and particularly the chairman and members of the Majlis ad hoc committee [set up to review the JCPOA] as well as the senior members of the SNSC who covered some voids by including their important considerations, and finally the Speaker of Majlis and Members of Parliament who adopted a cautious bill to show the right way of implementation [of the agreement] to the administration, and also national media and the country’s journalists who despite all their differences of view presented a complete image of this agreement to public opinion. This voluminous collection of activity and endeavors and thoughts [spent] on an issue which is thought to be among the unforgettable and instructive issues of the Islamic Republic, deserves appreciation and is a source of satisfaction. Therefore, one can say with certainty that the divine reward for these responsible contributions will, God willing, include assistance and mercy and guidance by Almighty God because the divine promises of assistance in exchange for assisting His religion are unbreakable. 
2. Enjoying decades-long background of presence in the very details of the affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, you must have naturally realized that the government of the United States of America, neither in the nuclear issue nor in any other issue, had been pursuing no other approach but hostility and disturbance, and is unlikely to do otherwise in the future either. The remarks by the US President [Barack Obama] in two letters addressed to me on the point that [Washington] has no intention of subverting the Islamic Republic of Iran turned out to be unreal and his open threats of military and even nuclear strike, which can result in a lengthy indictment against him in international courts, laid bare the real intentions of US leaders. Political pundits and public opinion of many nations clearly understand that the case of his never-ending hostility is the nature and identity of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is born out of the Islamic Revolution. Insistence on rightful Islamic stances and opposition to the hegemonic and arrogant system, perseverance against excessive demands and encroachment upon oppressed nations, revelations on the US support for medieval dictators and suppression of independent nations, incessant defense for the Palestinian nation and patriotic resistance groups, rational and globally popular yelling at the usurping Zionist regime constitute the main items which make the US regime’s enmity against the Islamic Republic inevitable, and this enmity will continue as long as the Islamic Republic [continues to] disappoint them with its internal and sustainable strength.  
The behavior and words of the US government in the nuclear issue and its prolonged and boring negotiations showed that this (nuclear issue) was also another link in their chain of hostile enmity with the Islamic Republic. Their deception through flip-flopping between their initial remarks that came after Iran accepted to hold direct talks with them and their constant non-compliance with their pledges throughout two-year-long negotiations and their alignment with the demands of the Zionist regime and their bullying diplomacy regarding relations with European governments and bodies involved in the negotiations are all indicative of the fact that the US’s deceitful involvement in the nuclear negotiations has been done not with the intention of a fair settlement [of the case], but with the ill intention of pushing ahead with its hostile objectives about the Islamic Republic.  
Doubtlessly, vigilance vis-à-vis the hostile intentions of the US government and instances of resistance on the part of the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran throughout the negotiations managed, in numerous cases, to prevent heavy damage from being inflicted [upon Iran]. 
However, the outcome of the negotiations, which is enshrined in the JCPOA, has numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses that could inflict big damage on the present and the future of the country in the absence of meticulous and constant monitoring. 
3. The nine-point provisions entailed in the recent bill adopted by the Majlis and the 10-point instructions outlined in the resolution of the Supreme National Security Council carry helpful and effective points which must be taken into consideration. Meantime, there are some other necessary points which are announced here while some of the points mentioned in the two documents are highlighted.  
First, since Iran has accepted to negotiate basically for the objective of removal of unjust economic and financial sanctions and its enforcement (the lifting of sanctions) is tied to Iran’s future actions under the JCPOA, it is necessary that solid and sufficient guarantees be arranged to avoid any infraction by the opposite parties. Written declaration by the US president and the European Union for the lifting of the sanctions is among them. In the statements of the EU and the US president, it must be reiterated that these sanctions will be fully lifted. Any declaration that the structure of the sanctions will remain in force shall imply non-compliance with the JCPOA.   
Second, throughout the eight-year period, any imposition of sanctions at any level and under any pretext (including repetitive and fabricated pretexts of terrorism and human rights) on the part of any of the countries involved in the negotiations will constitute a violation of the JCPOA and the [Iranian] government would be obligated to take the necessary action as per Clause 3 of the Majlis bill and stop its activities committed under the JCPOA .
Third, the measures related to what is mentioned in the next two clauses will start only after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announces [the conclusion of] the past and future issues (including the so-called Possible Military Dimensions or PMD of Iran’s nuclear program).
Fourth, measures to renovate the Arak plant by preserving its heavy [water] nature will start only after a firm and secure agreement has been signed on an alternative plan, along with sufficient guarantees for its implementation.  
Fifth, the deal with a foreign government for swapping enriched uranium with yellow cake will start only after a secure agreement has been clinched to that effect, along with sufficient guarantees [for its implementation]. The aforesaid deal and exchange must be done on a gradual basis and on numerous occasions.  
Sixth, by virtue of the Majlis bill, the plan and the necessary preparations for mid-term development of the atomic energy industry, which includes the method of advancement in different periods of time for 15 years for the final objective of 190,000 SWU, must be drawn up and carefully reviewed by the Supreme National Security Council. This plan must allay any concern stemming from some points entailed in the JCPOA appendices.  
Seventh, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran must organize research and development in different aspects such that after the end of the eight-year period, there would be no shortage of technology for the level of [uranium] enrichment entailed in the JCPOA.
Eighth, it must be noted that on the ambiguous points in the JCPOA document, the interpretation provided by the opposite party is not acceptable and the reference would be the text of the negotiations.   
Ninth, the existence of complications and ambiguities in the text of the JCPOA and the suspicion of breach of promise, infractions and deception by the opposite party, particularly the US, require that a well-informed and smart panel be established to monitor the progress of affairs and [gauge] the opposite party’s commitment and realization of what was mentioned above. The composition and the tasks of this would-be panel should be determined and approved by the Supreme National Security Council. 
In witness whereof, Resolution 634, dated August 10, 2015, of the Supreme National Security Council, is endorsed pending the observation of the aforementioned points. 
In conclusion, as it has been notified in numerous meetings to you and other government officials and also to our dear people in public gatherings, although the lifting of sanctions is a necessary job in order to remove injustice [imposed on people] and regain the rights of the Iranian nation, economic overture and better livelihood and surmounting the current challenges will not be easy unless the Economy of Resistance is taken seriously and followed up on entirely. It is hoped that this objective will be pursued with full seriousness and special attention would be paid to enhancing national production. You should also watch out so that unbridled imports would not follow the lifting of sanctions, and particularly importing any consumer materials from the US must be seriously avoided. 
I pray to Almighty God for your and other contributors’ success. 


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