United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani in Oman to Boost Trade, Gulf Ties

             On March 12, President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Oman for his first official visit to an Arab country since his August inauguration. The primary aim of the two-day trip was to expand economic ties between the two countries and ease tensions with other Gulf states. “Iran extends a hand of friendship and brotherhood to all regional countries, particularly its neighbors in the southern part of the Persian Gulf,” Rouhani told Iranian and Omani businessman in Muscat on March 13. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and several other high ranking officials accompanied the president.

      During Rouhani’s visit, Iran signed an agreement to export $10 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Oman and eventually build a $1 billion pipeline across the Gulf. In August, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding for Iran to sell gas to Oman for 25 years starting in 2015— a deal valued at $60 billion.
 
 
 
            President Rouhani told Sultan Qaboos bin Said (right) that the exemplary ties between their two countries can serve as a model for the region. In another meeting, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi emphasized that both countries are “convinced that the top priority is achieving real stability in the region.” Oman, unlike other Gulf sheikhdoms, has good relations with the Islamic Republic. Their cooperative relationship actually predates Iran’s 1979 revolution. The Shah of Iran provided troops to help Sultan Qaboos bin Said end a leftist revolt in 1973.
 
            But Oman is more than just a gas buyer and regional ally for Iran. The sultanate is also a key intermediary between Washington and Tehran. Over the past three years, Muscat has reportedly mediated on three occasions:
 
  September 2011: Muscat paid a $1 million bond to Tehran for the release of two American hikers arrested by Iranian authorities in 2009 who were sentenced to eight years imprisonment for spying.
 
•  April 2013: Oman worked with the United States to speed up the release of Iranian scientist Mojtaba Atarobi. The electrical engineering professor had been detained for more than a year in California for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions.
 
•  August 2013: President Barack Obama reportedly sent a letter to President Rouhani through Sultan Qaboos, who visited Tehran shortly after Rouhani’s inauguration. The exact contents of the letter and Rouhani’s reply are unknown but Obama’s remarks hinted that they discussed the nuclear dispute and Syria.
 
            The following is a joint statement released by Iran and Oman with excerpted remarks by Rouhani.
Iran-Oman Joint Statement
 
            Within the framework of deepening and cementing the existing friendship and cooperation relations between the Sultanate of Oman and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in response to the generous invitation by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran paid an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman heading a high level delegation during the period from March 12th to 13th. 2014. 
 
            His Majesty the Sultan gave an official welcome ceremony in the honour of the guest and his accompanying delegation in the presence of a number of their highness, the minsters and senior officials from both sides. The reception reflected the brotherly feeling and the deep-rooted relations. 
 
            Amidst an atmosphere characterized by goodwill, friendship and cooperation, the two parties held an official talk session that focused on developing the bilateral relations, discussing a number of regional international and Islamic World issues of common interest. The official talks came with the following results; 
 
1-The two sides expressed their satisfaction over the bilateral friendship relations based on confidence, mutual trust and renewed their strong will to develop these relations in all fields of common interest. 
 
2-Considering the historic, cultural bonds and good neighbouring relations, the two sides stressed the importance of implementing the cooperating program and developing relations in all available fields that serve the interests of both countries and friendly peoples. 
 
3-The two sides were delighted for the achieved agreement on the level of cooperation committees between the two countries in all possible fields. They stressed their keenness to hold the committees' meetings regularly to ensure developing and nurturing the bilateral cooperation relations. 
 
4-The two parties stressed the positive and fruitful role being played by the private sector in both countries in promoting bilateral cooperation hoping that these activities would increase the value of investments, as well as commercial and economic exchange between the Sultanate and the Islamic Republic of Iran. 
 
5-While the two sides talked on developing bilateral relations, they also touched on the regional, International and Islamic world issues.  They stressed the importance of doubling the efforts and exerting more offices to ensure stability and security of the region and the world based on collective cooperation. 
 
6-The two parties affirmed the importance of combatting all forms and types of terrorism and called for continuing cooperation and development in the region, as well as compliance with the U.N decisions related to having a world free of violence and extremism. 
 
7-The two sides welcomed the accords reached at the negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and 5+1 Group. They emphasised on the importance of continuing such talks to reach the prospective reconciliation. 
 
            At the end of the visit, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran expressed his thanks and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the government and the people of the Sultanate of Oman for the warm welcome and generous hospitality. 
 
            Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran has extended a kind invitation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran. The invitation was welcomed by His Majesty. The date of the visit will be arranged through diplomatic channels.
 
President Rouhani's Remarks
 
            “The sensitivity of the Strait of Hormuz waterway adds special importance to the southern littoral countries of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.
            “This visit aims to strengthen mutual relations… we seek to implement contracts in various fields of trade, economy, particularly in the oil and gas sectors as well as financial, banking and cultural issues between the two countries..”
            March 12, 2014 to reporters en route to Oman
 
     “Mutual interests require strengthening of bilateral ties, as there are numerous capacities for promoting economic cooperation.
      “We, as Muslim states, are duty-bound to help establish peace and security in the region and we have always underlined that peace and stability will only be established by the regional countries themselves.”
            March 12, 2014 to Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahad bin Mahmoud
 
            “One of the key policies of the [new] administration since it began its work more than six months ago has been constructive interaction with the world and other countries. Iran extends a hand of friendship and brotherhood to all regional countries, particularly its neighbors in the southern part of the Persian Gulf.
            “Relations with one country should not grow at the expense of another. We want to see the countries of the region live in peace, understanding and friendship.
            “Cooperation and rapprochement would benefit the whole region.
Iran is “open to investors from the region, especially Omanis.”
            March 13, 2014 in a meeting with Iranian and Omani businessmen
 
Photo credit: President.ir

 

Zarif and Ashton: Nuke Deal Prospects

            At a press conference on March 9, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton emphasized their commitment to securing a nuclear agreement before July 2014. The six-month deadline that the world’s six major powers and Iran agreed on can be extended by another six months by mutual consent. But Zarif told journalists that with “desire, commitment and willingness, a comprehensive deal can be reached ... in four or five months.” Ashton, however, warned that the road to a final agreement will be “difficult” and “challenging.” She added that there is “no guarantee” that the two sides will succeed.

            Ashton’s two-day trip to Iran marks the first visit by an E.U. foreign policy chief since 2008. The primary aim of the visit was to discuss new opportunities for improving Iran’s relationship with the European Union. Ashton discussed trade, human rights, the Syrian conflict and other pressing issues in her meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Zarif. The following are excerpted remarks by Ashton and Zarif.
 
 
 
E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Catherine Ashton
           
             “I think that [interim nuclear agreement] should give you a real indication of the approach that the international community wants to take. I want to commend Minister Zarif and his team for the work that they have done. I have been engaged in discussions with Iran for nearly four years and I think this interim agreement is really really important, but not as important as a comprehensive agreement that we are currently engaged in. Difficult, challenging, there is no guarantee it will succeed, but I think it’s very important with the support of the people of Iran for the work that is going on by the Minister and his team and with the support of the International Community for my work that we should aim to try and succeed.”
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “Iran is determined to reach an agreement ... We have shown goodwill and we have done our side. Now it is up to the other party to show the same goodwill and determination.
            “With desire, commitment and willingness a comprehensive deal can be reached ... in four or five months.
            “But that requires a recognition that Iran will only accept a solution that is respectful, that respects the rights of the Iranian people.
            “Iran finds it in its own interest to make sure that there are no ambiguities about Iran’s intentions, because we have no intention to seek nuclear weapons."
 

EU’s Ashton on Landmark Visit to Iran

            E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Tehran on March 8 for a two-day visit—the first visit by an E.U. high representative since 2008. The primary aim of the trip was to discuss new opportunities for improving Iran’s relationship with the European Union. Ashton discussed trade, human rights, the Syrian conflict, the nuclear talks, the Afghan drug trade and other common interests in meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and civil society activists. Ashton said she came away with “a real sense” that Iranians across the political spectrum are committed to the nuclear talks. The following are excerpted remarks by Ashton and Iranian leaders from the visit.

President Hassan Rouhani
 
      “The government of prudence and hope is determined, in the area of foreign policy, to have constructive interaction with the entire world, based on common interests and mutual respect.
 
      The government is “interested in establishing a new relationship with the European Union” which has many “common goals and interests.”
            “Your visit [to Iran] as the representative of the foreign policy of 28 European countries has a greater political connotation [than visits by individual country delegations].”
 
            “By passing the current stage [nuclear negotiations] properly,” Iran and the European Union will be able to discuss important strategic issues, such as establishing a “strategic relationship” in the areas of energy trade and the transit of goods.
 
            “We hope that we can take new and serious steps” using “the good atmosphere” that has been created in Iran-E.U. relations.”
            March 9, 2014 in a meeting with E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Catherine Ashton
 
            I have visited Iran to convey the “goodwill message” of the 28 member states of the European Union.
 
            For the first time, Iran and the European Union are discussing issues other than the nuclear dispute, which is a “start for expansion of cooperation.”
 
            “My presence shows that the European Union is willing, concurrent with nuclear negotiations, to have better, more effective, and more dynamic relations with Iran.”
            March 9, 2014 in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani
 
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
 
      “The Islamic Republic of Iran has made great efforts to establish stability and peace in the region including in Afghanistan and Iraq and it is currently ready to continue good cooperation with the European Union to settle the Syria crisis.
 
      “There is no need for options such as military [approaches] and arming… extremists and terrorists; and only the country’s people should be given the chance to consolidate democracy… in Syria through a gradual and peaceful process.
            March 9, 2014 in a meeting with E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
      “Iran is determined to reach an agreement ... We have shown goodwill and we have done our side. Now it is up to the other party to show the same goodwill and determination.
 
      “With desire, commitment and willingness a comprehensive deal can be reached ... in four or five months.
      
      “But that requires recognition that Iran will only accept a solution that is respectful, that respects the rights of the Iranian people.
 
            “Iran finds it in its own interest to make sure that there are no ambiguities about Iran’s intentions, because we have no intention to seek nuclear weapons.”
            March 9, 2014 in a joint press conference with E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton
 
            “Thank you Minister Zarif. You and I meet often now in the discussions on the nuclear issue, but this is as you rightly say the first occasion when we have met in the bilateral capacity of the High Representative of the European Union and the Foreign Minister of Iran. I want to say thank you for your invitation to come here and for your courtesy and a very useful and fruitful meeting.
 
            “As you have said, this was our opportunity to discuss issues of interest and concern to us in the region, to have an opportunity to talk about the terrible situation in Syria, to focus on areas of cooperation around the future of Afghanistan - especially we talked about the problems and challenges we face with the drugs trade - of course we raised the issue, as you have done with me, of the potential of our human rights dialogue in the future, and we talked about a way to move forward.
 
            “I consider it a really important occasion to be here in Iran and to have the opportunity to talk about these bilateral issues. And as you said, we also took a few moments to talk about issues concerning our next round of discussions in Vienna.
 
            “And I am very much looking forward to meeting with the President and with others whom I have not met yet, and to have a chance to talk with them as well on the basis of our bilateral discussions.
 
            “I came here yesterday on International Women’s day and I want to say too that it was a great privilege to meet with women from Iran, and to have the chance to celebrate with them International Women’s day and to talk about issues for women in Iran and in Europe, and indeed across the world. Thank you.
 
            “I think that [interim nuclear agreement] should give you a real indication of the approach that the international community wants to take. I want to commend Minister Zarif and his team for the work that they have done. I have been engaged in discussions with Iran for nearly four years and I think this interim agreement is really really important, but not as important as a comprehensive agreement that we are currently engaged in. Difficult, challenging, there is no guarantee it will succeed, but I think it’s very important with the support of the people of Iran for the work that is going on by the Minister and his team and with the support of the International Community for my work that we should aim to try and succeed.
            March 9, 2014 in a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Zarif
 
National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani
 
      “The outcome of the nuclear talks is a big test for founding new relations with the union [European Union].”
 
      “Negotiations and dialogue based on logic, mutual respect and guaranteeing interests have always been the fundamental strategy of Iran, and within this framework, we are ready for constructive cooperation and interaction with different countries.”
            March 9, 2014 in a meeting with E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
Supreme Leader’s Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Ali Akbar Velayati
 
      “The measures adopted by American officials under the pretext of [being under] pressure from the Zionists [Israelis] are not acceptable. Such actions by the Americans serve as an obstacle in the way of an international agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic [on the nuclear issue].”
            March 9, 2014 in a meeting with E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
 
E.U. High Representative Ashton
 
            “The main purpose of the visit was to, as E.U. High Representative, have a chance to talk to Iran about the potential for the relationship that we can have in the future. Many European Union countries’ ministers are coming here. Many have historical links and this was about joining up the whole of the EU in thinking through the issues that we would want to discuss. Not surprisingly there was a big focus on human rights: I met with women activists on International Women’s Day and talked to them about the situation that women find themselves in and some of the work that these women are engaged in, from journalists to those involved with Afghan refugees, people working across the spectrum of civil society and the importance of civil society.
 
            “And then thinking about some of the issues in the region, for example the real challenges of the drug trade from Afghanistan. Iran faces real difficulties there. There are ways in which we could work together to try and address that. And then looking into the future, the possibilities of all sorts of dialogues and discussions; again an example would be the environment. So that sort of group of different issues, things we may be able to talk about now because they’re important to the European Union to do now, but most importantly things that could be, depending on what happens with the nuclear talks -inevitably that’s been a backdrop to the conversations I’ve had.
 
            “One of the things that’s been very clear is the support that is given across the political spectrum for the work that is going on currently in Vienna to try and move forward on a comprehensive [nuclear] agreement. That does not mean that we’ll get an agreement; it does not mean that people are committed to any possible outcome at this stage, but I have had a real sense that people are committed to wanting to see the talks happen and that, I think, is encouraging of itself.”
 
            “It’s also been for me interesting to see during the visit that people have wanted to talk across a spectrum of different issues and have been willing to meet with me and engage and that, I think, is important. Not surprisingly a number of issues in the region have been big focal points, but I’m at least encouraged that we’ve been able to talk frankly about some of these issues and I hope that if we are successful with the negotiations, and it’s a big if, that we’ll be able to start to move forward on a range of different issues with Iran.
            March 9, 2014 in remarks after her visit
 

Photo credits: European External Action Service via Flickr
 
 

Kerry on Disappearance of Robert Levinson

            On March 9, Secretary of State Kerry asked Iran to work cooperatively to ensure the safe return of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson to the United States. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. He was reportedly investigating cigarette smuggling while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family first received evidence that he was alive in November 2010. In the 54-second video, Levinson asked for a U.S. government response to his captors' demands, which have not been publicized. In the past, Iranian officials have said they are ready to cooperate with the United States on this case. The following is Kerry’s statement on the seventh anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance.

 
            Robert Levinson disappeared seven years ago from Kish Island, Iran, during a business trip. He is one of the longest held American citizens in history.
 
            Nothing can bring those lost years – more than 2,500 days in all – back to all those who love him. Mr. Levinson’s disappearance has been heart-wrenching for his wife and children, who feel his absence especially deeply at the many family milestones missed these past seven years.
 
            The United States remains committed to the safe return of Mr. Levinson to his family. We appreciate the support and assistance from our international partners as we work to end this awful separation. Given Mr. Levinson’s health, age, and length of time in captivity, we mark this anniversary with a special sense of urgency.
 
            We respectfully ask the Government of Iran to work cooperatively with us on the investigation into his disappearance so we can ensure his safe return.
 
            The FBI has announced a $1 million reward for any information that could lead to his safe return. We call on anyone with information about this case to contact the FBI.
 
            This is the seventh year that Mr. Levinson has spent without his family. We remain committed to the hard work ahead to ensure that it’s his last.
 
 

Centrifuges: Key to Final Nuclear Deal

David Albright and Andrea Stricker

            In any nuclear deal, Iran will have to limit the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, a process that produces fuel for both peaceful nuclear energy and the world’s deadliest weapon. But the exact number is likely to be one of the most contentious issues during the six-month negotiations that finally get into real substance when talks resume in mid-March. Past positions reflect the controversies in brokering a future accord that ensures Tehran does not produce a bomb.
 
      Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges installed at the two pivotal enrichments sites—Natanz, which is near Kashan, and Fordo, which is deep in the mountains near the religious center of Qom. The new cap in a deal with the world’s six major powers will almost surely have to be a small fraction of Iran’s current capability—probably somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 IR-1 centrifuges. IR-1 is the first generation of centrifuges.
 
      The most telling negotiations about centrifuges took place in 2005, as the international community tried to convert a temporary suspension of Iran’s enrichment program, which had begun in 2003, into a long-term deal. Iran proposed to the three European powers—Britain, France and Germany—an initial cap of 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges. But Tehran also insisted that it be allowed to continue increasing the number of its centrifuges after a relatively short time. Iran’s proposal called for stages:
 
  Stage 2 —3,000 centrifuges in operation, a cap that would only be in place temporarily.
 
  Stage 3 —installation of 50,000 centrifuges, the number envisioned for Natanz, then the only enrichment site.
 
  Stage 4 —operation of all 50,000, alongside the parliament’s approval of the Additional Protocol, which allows complementary inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and makes hiding nuclear activities and facilities more difficult. 
 
            The Europeans rejected Iran’s proposal. The European Union had instead offered to supply a power reactor and all the enriched uranium fuel, which would nullify the need for any centrifuges at Natanz. In July 2005, Tehran indicated it might modify its offer, but it would not budge on the key issue of synchronizing the number of centrifuges at Natanz to the domestic production of enough enriched uranium for a large nuclear power reactor—another way of increasing the number of centrifuges to 50,000.
 
      The deadlock over numbers ultimately contributed to a breakdown in talks. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005, Iran ended the suspension of its program. It then resumed centrifuge installation and operation. Tensions soon mounted with the international community, producing four U.N. resolutions and a host of other unilateral sanctions by the United States, the European Union and other Western governments.
 
 
 
 
            The danger today is déjà vu. The new talks center on the same issues explored nine years ago. Although Tehran has engaged in the most serious diplomacy to date, its rhetoric today mirrors its position in 2005. The chief negotiator in 2005 is today Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.
 
            The talks today involve more players, including the United States, Russia and China, and tougher terms in light of Iran’s advances in the intervening decade. Washington, with European backing, not only wants a cap on the number of centrifuges. It also wants the cap to last far longer—more like 20 years. Their argument is that Iran has no need to produce any fuel. It already has produced enough for the small Tehran Research Reactor, which makes isotopes for cancer treatment and other medical uses.
 
     In other words, the world’s six major powers believe Iran’s ambitions far exceed its current needs. Iran only has one nuclear reactor for energy at Bushehr, which was built by Russia. The enriched uranium that fuels the Bushehr reactor also is provided by Russia. In general, any nuclear deal would also allow Iran to more economically and reliable obtain the fuel it might need from abroad for additional reactors.
 
 
 
            Any meaningful deal will almost certainly require that Iran accepts limits on its centrifuges—in terms of number and the quality of uranium they enrich—that will in turn increase the so-called break-out time. Break-out time is the timespan required to produce enough weapon-grade uranium to produce a weapon. Currently, the estimated breakout times are dangerously short.
 
            For negotiations to succeed, Tehran would probably have to accept a limited centrifuge program where the break-out time to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb would be in the range of six to 12 months. Another key condition would be capping at a relatively low level the amount of uranium enriched up to near 20 percent— the material that can most rapidly be further enriched to weapon-grade. In effect, these two conditions translate into a long-term cap on Iran’s centrifuges of no more than 4,000 IR-1 centrifuges. Both are central to achieving an irreversible long-term agreement.
 
David Albright is the president and Andrea Stricker a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).
 
Click here to read Albright and Stricker’s Iran Primer chapter on the nuclear program.
 
Photo credits: Catherine Ashton and Javad Zarif by Das österreichische Außenministerium via Flickr, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad via New York Times/President.ir, Bushehr via NuclearEnergy.ir
 

 

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