United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

House Foreign Affairs Committee Debates Nuke Talks

On March 19, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Chairmen Ed Royce defended Congress’ role in curtailing Iran’s nuclear program. “Congress built the sanctions structure that brought Iran to the table,” he said. “And if the President moves to dismantle it, we will have a say.” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who provided testimony at the hearing, acknowledged that sanctions have had an impact but have only been effective “when coupled with the type of robust diplomacy that is currently underway.” The following are excerpts of the chairman’s opening remarks and testimony from expert witnesses.

 
Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce
 
“This Committee has been at the forefront of examining the threat of a nuclear Iran. Much of the pressure that brought Tehran to the table was put in place by Congress over the objections of the Executive Branch – whether Republican or Democrat. And we’d have more pressure on Iran today if the Administration hadn’t pressured the Senate to sit on the Royce-Engel sanctions bill this Committee produced and passed in 2013.
 
Congress is proud of this role. And we want to see the Administration get a lasting and meaningful agreement. But unfortunately, the Administration’s negotiating strategy has been more about managing proliferation than preventing it.
 
Case in point: Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the key technology needed to developing a nuclear bomb. Reportedly, the Administration would be agreeable to leaving much of Iran’s enrichment capacity in place for a decade. If Congress will be asked to “roll-back” its sanctions on Iran – which will certainly fund its terrorist activities - there must be a substantial “roll-back” of Iran’s nuclear program.
 
And consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work - despite its commitment to do so. The IAEA is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military-related activities; including designing a nuclear payload for a missile. Iran hasn’t even begun to address these concerns. Last fall, over 350 Members wrote to the Secretary of State expressing deep concerns about this lack of cooperation. How can we expect Iran to uphold an agreement when they are not meeting their current commitments?
 
Indeed, we were not surprised to see Iran continue to illicitly procure nuclear technology during these negotiations. Or that Tehran was caught testing a more advanced centrifuge that would help produce bomb material quicker. This was certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the interim agreement. Iran’s deception is all the more reason that the Administration should obtain zero-notice, anywhere, anytime inspections on Iran’s declared and undeclared facilities.
 
There is also the fact that limits placed on Iran’s nuclear program as part of the final agreement now being negotiated will expire. That means, the “final” agreement is just another interim step, with the real final step being Iran treated as “any other” non-nuclear weapon state under the NonProliferation Treaty - licensing it to pursue industrial scale enrichment.
 
With a deep history of deception, covert procurement, and clandestine facilities, Iran is not “any other” country, to be conceded an industrial scale nuclear program. Any meaningful agreement must keep restrictions in place for decades – as over 360 Members of Congress – including every Member of this Committee - are demanding in a letter to the President.
 
Meanwhile, Iran is intensifying its destructive role in the region. Tehran is propping up Assad in Syria, while its proxy Hezbollah threatens Israel. Iranian-backed Shia militia are killing hopes for a unified, stable Iraq. And last month, an Iranian-backed militia displaced the government in Yemen, a key counterterrorism partner. Many of our allies and partners see Iran pocketing an advantageous nuclear agreement and ramping up its aggression in the region.
 
This Committee is prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine if it is in the long-term national security interests of the United States and our allies. Indeed, as Secretary Kerry testified not long ago, any agreement will have to “pass muster with Congress.” Yet that commitment has been muddied by the Administration’s insistence in recent weeks that Congress not play a role.
 
That’s not right. Congress built the sanctions structure that brought Iran to the table. And if the President moves to dismantle it, we will have a say.”

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken
 
“Any comprehensive arrangement must include tight constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and extraordinary monitoring and intrusive transparency measures that maximize the international community’s ability to detect any attempt by Iran to break out, overtly or covertly. As a practical matter, our goal is to ensure that, should Iran renege on its commitments, it would take at least one year to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That would provide us more than enough time to detect and act on any Iranian transgression.
 
In exchange, the international community would provide Iran with phased sanctions relief tied to verifiable actions on its part. Such relief would be structured so that it can be easily reversed, and sanctions can be quickly reimposed, if Iran were to violate its commitments.”
 
“Much has been said recently about the fact that a deal with Iran would have an eventual end date. On the contrary, we see the deal as creating a series of phases to ensure that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful going forward. While some constraints would be removed after a significant period of time, others would remain in effect longer, and some would last indefinitely. For example, Iran’s NPT obligation not to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon would continue indefinitely, as would its obligation to implement its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, a centerpiece of the proposed deal is that Iran would accept the Additional Protocol, which is not currently in place, as legally binding, and which would allow the IAEA to continue to have more stringent and intrusive access to nuclear-related information and locations indefinitely. The same is true regarding Iran’s implementation of Modified Code 3.1, which imposes an ongoing obligation to provide early notification of design information for any new nuclear facilities."
 
"Some have argued that Iran would be free to develop a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of a comprehensive joint plan of action. That is simply not true. To the contrary, Iran would be prohibited from developing a nuclear weapon in perpetuity – and we would have a much greater ability to detect any effort by Iran to do so and to take appropriate measures in response, with the support of the international community. Iran would be allowed to have a peaceful, civilian nuclear program continuously verified by the IAEA.”
 
“As we have said from the beginning, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, and it may be we will not know if a deal is possible until the last minute. So I cannot tell you where we will be a week from now, or by the end of the month. But what I can promise you, and what President Obama has pledged, is that we will not agree to a bad deal. What does that mean? As I noted earlier, an acceptable deal must effectively close down all four pathways Iran could take to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. It must include strict curbs on its nuclear program and robust transparency and monitoring measures that give the international community confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and the ability to promptly detect overt and covert breakout. It must include all the elements already spelled out in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). And, fundamentally, it must make the United States, our allies and partners in the Middle East, and the world safer.”
 
“If our international partners believe that the United States has acted prematurely by adding new sanctions now in the absence of a provocation by Iran – as most countries surely would – their willingness to enforce the existing sanctions regime or to add to it in the event negotiations fail will wane. And a fractured international consensus notwithstanding, even if we were to layer additional sanctions on Iran, their nuclear advances would far outpace any potential marginal pressure created by those sanctions. This is why the support of the international community remains crucial, and why new sanctions now are a dangerously imprudent step. Without full international compliance, the sanctions regime will be dramatically diluted. Up until now, we have kept other countries on board – despite the hardship it has caused to some of their economic interests – in large part because they are convinced we are serious about reaching a diplomatic solution. If they lose that conviction, the United States, not Iran, could be isolated, and the sanctions regime could collapse. Ultimately, the United States and its allies in the Middle East would be less safe.
 
In short, a collapse in negotiations caused by us, or perceived to be caused by us rather than by the Iranians, would lead to a growing Iranian nuclear program and a collapsing international sanctions regime. Now is not the time to provoke such a collapse.
 
Congress has a significant role to play in these discussions and has been playing it for years. It is existing congressional legislation that helped us get Iran to the negotiating table. The whole point of sanctions was to create this dynamic, and it has worked, but it has only worked when coupled with the type of robust diplomacy that is currently underway. Since signing the JPOA, we have been on the Hill dozens of times over the past year to update you and your staff about the progress of the talks – in all, more than 200 briefings, hearings, meetings and phone calls. And if a deal is finalized, Congress will certainly have a robust role to play in potentially taking action on future statutory sanctions relief once Iran has demonstrated a track record of living up to its commitments.”
 
“We will not relax our efforts to hold Iran accountable for its nefarious actions, regardless of the outcome of nuclear negotiations. But it is essential to understand that the most important thing we can do to keep Iran from feeling further emboldened to spread instability is to deny them the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. That is why the nuclear negotiations are so important, and why this is a challenge that must be dealt with now.”

Acting Undersecretary of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin
 
“As we speak, negotiators from the P5+1 are hard at work trying to secure a political framework for a comprehensive deal with Iran. We may get a deal; we may not. Regardless of whether or not the negotiations succeed, I want to assure this Committee that the Treasury Department, and the Administration more broadly, are prepared for what comes next.
 
If we are able to secure a comprehensive deal, we will structure the nuclear-related sanctions relief in a way that is staged and commensurate with verifiable steps on Iran’s part. We believe that legislative sanctions should be suspended first before they are terminated by Congress, so that we continue to retain important leverage years into a deal. Put simply, Iran will not receive comprehensive relief from nuclear-related sanctions absent proof that it has concretely and verifiably carried out what is expected of it as part of a comprehensive deal.
Moreover, even if we are able to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the United States will continue to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, its commission of human rights abuses, and its destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East, including through the active use of our financial tools.
 
Alternatively, if we determine that a comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be obtained, the Administration, working with Congress, can move to ratchet up the pressure on Iran from sanctions. Over the past decade, we have developed tremendous insight into Iran’s financial flows, its economy’s stress points, and how it attempts to evade sanctions. Our team stands ready to raise the costs on Iran substantially should it make clear that it is unwilling to address the international community’s concerns. Close cooperation with our international partners will be critical should we have to go that route.
 
In either eventuality, we are committed to working with Congress to ensure that our sanctions continue to serve our national security goals, whether to ensure that Iran abides by the conditions of a deal if it can accept those conditions, or to raise the costs substantially if Iran demonstrates that further negotiations are futile.”
 
Click here for the full transcripts
 

 

Iran's Influence in Latin America

On March 18, the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a joint hearing about Iran and Hezbollah’s involvement in Central and South America. The committees discussed Iran's attempts to expand its influence in Latin America during the last 30 years, as well as the Islamic Republic's alleged involvement in attacks in Peru and Uruguay and the mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The following are excerpted statements from the subcommittee chairmen and testimony of the witnesses.

Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Jeff Duncan
 
“Given the impending deadline for nuclear negotiations over Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I believe it is critical for the U.S. to re-examine Iran and Hezbollah’s activities in our own neighborhood. Congress has conducted sustained, rigorous oversight on this issue with multiple Committee hearings, classified briefings, and the passage of legislation I authored, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, into law in 2012. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration continues to ignore this threat even while Iran and Hezbollah expand their reach. Following a September 2014 Government Accountability Office report that found the State Department failed to follow this law, the Administration has taken no concrete action to address these problems.”

Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
 
“Iran and Hezbollah’s history of involvement in the Western Hemisphere has long been a source of concern for the United States. Given the nature of transnational criminal networks existing in Latin America and the rise of terrorism ideology being exported worldwide from Middle East, it is disturbing that the State Department has failed to fully allocate necessary resources and attention to properly address this potential threat to our nation. It is well known that Iran poses a security threat to regional affairs and has expanded its ties in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador. The United States needs a comprehensive understanding of Tehran’s efforts in Latin America in order to thwart any potential risk to our allies and U.S. national security.”
 
Jospeh M. Humire, Author of Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America
 
“Almost two years ago, I testified before another committee that Iran’s influence in the Western Hemisphere had grown tremendously over the last 30 years since the dawn of the Iranian revolution. At the time, there was sufficient evidence to make this statement; however, there was also evidence to suggest that Iran was reassessing its priorities, presence and activities in Latin America, due to the considerable political and economic changes happening both in the region and in Tehran.
 
A year and a half later, it is clear that the Islamic Republic maintains Latin America as a strategic priority for its global positioning and has become increasingly important as Iran enters its most critical stage in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Under Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic seeks to build on its momentum over the last decade and expand its operations to move past its typical associations with the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).”
 
“At the tactical level, Iran uses its cultural penetration to gain access to prominent individuals within the Islamic and indigenous communities throughout the region. The objective is to exploit their wealth and/or political connections, preferably both. Once such contact is established, Iran bolster’s its diplomatic presence, as is the case in Venezuela and Cuba, or establishes a new embassy, such as has occurred in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In Bolivia, it has been reported that there are no fewer than 145 accredited Iranian diplomats living in the Andean nation. A number that far outweighs their overt interest or commerce with the Plurinational state.”
 
Dardo Lopez-Dolz, Former Vice Minister of the Interior of Peru
 
“Iran and Hezbollah, two forces hostile to U.S. interests, have made significant inroads in Peru, almost without detection, in part because of our weak institutions, prevalent criminal enterprise, and various stateless areas. These elements are particularly weak in the southern mountainous region of my country.
 
As Peru’s Vice Minister of Interior in 2006, and through my work as an analyst of political and social conflict conducting various risk analyses for a variety of private sector clients—I have become very familiar with these sub-regions and the illicit actors that operate within them. In the case of Iran and Hezbollah, I began noticing their presence back in 2011. At this time, a connection was forming between the Islamic Republic and other activist movements in Peru controlled by Havana, Caracas and La Paz. These activist groups, have been operating in my country since at least 2005, and include the Casas de ALBA (Houses of ALBA) and the Casas de Amistad Peruano-Cubanos (Peruvian-Cuban Friendship Houses) — political/social organizations aimed at subverting and weakening our democratic institutions and spreading socialist ideology throughout the country.
 
Since the Iranian attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994, I have been concerned about the Iranian and radical Islamist presence in my country. But it wasn’t until a few years ago (circa 2011) that I began receiving information regarding the presence and activity of Iranian and Hezbollah operatives in Apurímac, Peru, which is a poor, not densely inhabited, remote region of the country. Apurímac is also a mineral rich region, with tremendous potential for strategic minerals such as uranium (Minera), but the region is also heavily involved in cocaine production.”
 
“Peru’s current government may show some sympathy towards Iran, but it is not openly an ally of Iran. Iran is recruiting and using clandestine entry into Peru, constructing networks with a growing capability for action in the southern Andean region, which puts at risk not only U.S. interests, but also undermines the very stability of democracy and economic growth of my country. These networks have links with subversive organizations; operate under the facade of self proclamed (not elected by citizens) fronts for environmental protection (usually forcing the population to back them by fear), and to promote an anti-investment climate that has already yielded their desired results by paralyzing major mining, energy and hydrocarbon projects. The arrest in October 2014 of a presumed Lebanese terrorist (Amadar), who confessed to being a member of Hezbollah, with clear evidence of having handled explosives, indicates they seem to be ready to move into an offensive phase using terror.”
 
Scott Modell, Senior Advisor at the Rapidan Group
 
“For more than three decades, Iran has sought to preserve the Islamic revolution at home and promote it abroad through a network of government and nongovernment organizations that I refer to as the “Iran Action Network” (IAN). The members of that network are involved in crafting and implementing the covert elements of Iran’s foreign policy agenda, from terrorism and other forms of political subversion to illicit finance, weapons and narcotics trafficking, and nuclear procurement and proliferation. They include the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its special operations wing, the Qods Force; the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS); Iran’s terror proxies, most notably Lebanese Hezbollah; a web of Islamic cultural centers, foundations, charities, and mosques; Iran’s ambassadors (often IRGC and MOIS officers) and other Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel; and an expanding global network of agents, middlemen, and facilitators involved in a wide range of illicit activities, from arms and drug trafficking to nuclear procurement.
 
While Iran’s most ambitious attempts to externalize its revolution have occurred in the Islamic world, since 2005 it has gone to considerable lengths to build influence in its geographic and strategic countries that can act as partners in a global network designed to oppose U.S. policies. Iran has relied mainly on a small group of “Bolivarian” nations led by Venezuela to blunt the impact of sanctions. They have facilitated Iran’s oil trade, provided access to the international banking system in the face of U.S. and EU sanctions, and given Iran avenues for illicit nuclear and conventional military procurement.
 
Former President Ahmadinejad saw Latin America as a series of “emerging markets” for exporting the Islamic Revolution. He relied on promises of economic assistance, mainly in the energy and construction sectors, and Iranian ideological appeals to fight U.S. imperialism. In doing so, he discovered a receptive audience in two of the region’s champions of the left, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Before long, diplomatic missions expanded, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) officers began to surface in greater numbers, and security pacts and intelligence sharing agreements were signed. Ahmadinejad found willing supporters of Iran’s quest to promote the interests of independent nations of the developing world.
 
His rhetorical outreach was a success: Within a few years, Iran was well on its way to having a wide array of diplomatic, commercial, and clandestine networks stretching across Latin America. Iran quickly made it clear that it was not merely seeking ways to irritate the United States in its own backyard, but rather to weaken it by creating alternative centers of power. Iran’s honorary membership in Latin America’s anti-U.S. club known as the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) is seen as proof that Ahmadinejad’s efforts were a success. Added strength through ALBA, which would go on to include intelligence, military, and other security-related exercises, facilitated the execution of Iran’s regional agenda, which included obtaining proscribed military technologies, providing cover for Iran’s nuclear program, and gaining access to the international banking system.
 
Yet, Iran’s growing reach into the Western Hemisphere also proved to be an uphill climb given the U.S.’s ability to counter with economic inducements such as trade or aid and the absence of social and political conditions that are amenable to Iran’s ideological overtures. In many cases, U.S. efforts to counter Iran in the Western Hemisphere have been enough to prevent Iran’s partnerships from having a significant and lasting impact. On the other hand, Iran’s efforts often unravel entirely on their own. Its poor track record of following through on aid and trade often leads its new Latin American partners – who tend to be weak militarily and economically – to question the political and economic wisdom of membership in an anti-U.S. coalition. The recent collapse in the price of oil has also forced Iran to downsize several of its missions across the continent.
 
While Tehran’s web of relationships in the western hemisphere has fallen short of what Ahmadinejad and Iran’s more ambitious hardliners had envisioned, there are reasons why it cannot be ignored. It began and continues with subversive intent, is largely covert and criminal in nature, and can be used to directly threaten U.S. interests in the future. Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires and its foiled plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States are vivid reminders of what Iran is capable of.
 
Perhaps the most daunting challenge related to the IAN in the Western Hemisphere is how to stop the transnational criminal networks of Iran’s closest terror proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah continues to play a key role in the projection of Iranian power, no longer limited to aiding Iran’s traditional goals of fighting Israel and protecting Lebanon, or supporting Iran’s latest operations in Syria and Iraq. It includes several countries in the Western Hemisphere, where Hezbollah has evolved into one of the region’s most significant drug trafficking organizations. Hezbollah’s criminal reach extends far beyond Latin America, from Guinea Bissau, Benin, and other West African crime states to a rapidly expanding criminal infrastructure in Thailand and China.”
 
Michael Shifter, President of Inter-American Dialogue
 
“In the past, Iran has clearly sought to expand its support in Latin America. But with its economy in dire straits, its ability to do so is severely limited. Economic projects in country after country have failed to materialize. There have been in the past myriad bilateral deals between Iran and Venezuela, including joint ventures to produce cars, tractors, and bicycles, and some cooperation in mining exploration and housing construction. Although President Maduro has declared that Iran is a strategic partner of Venezuela, few of these projects have had concrete results. One of the central aspects of their cooperation, oil industry cooperation, ended when the offices of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) in Venezuela and Bolivia— Iran’s other major ally in Latin America—were closed in 2014. In Nicaragua, similarly, Iran pledged construction of a dam and a $350 million deep-water port, as well as auto and cement projects—and none has come into being. Economic cooperation between Ecuador and Iran remains virtually nil.
 
Brazil, its largest trade partner in Latin America, had relatively strong political ties with Iran throughout the 2000s. The Brazilian government even supported the Iran’s position on the nuclear question in 2007 and 2008. Under Dilma Rousseff’s presidency, however, the relationship has notably cooled, in some measure because of her personal objections to Iran’s human rights record. During her first presidential campaign, Rousseff went so far as to call aspects of Iran’s human rights violations “medieval behavior.” When Ahmadinejad visited Rio de Janeiro as part of the Rio+20 conference in 2012, not only was he greeted with large protests, but President Rousseff refused his request for a meeting. This hardly suggests a strong alliance.
 
Moreover, while Ahmadinejad made improving ties with Latin America a foreign policy priority, Rouhani does not seem to share this objective. At the same time, the death of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in 2013 deprived Iran of one of its major backers in the region. Although Rouhani had promised to attend the G77 summit in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in June 2014, at the last minute he sent his first vice-president, Eshaq Yahanguir. Ahmadinejad, in contrast, had made numerous trips to the region during his presidency.
 
One crucial question, however, is whether, given the nature of the regime, Iran's involvement in the region should be regarded as benign. On this score there are admittedly ample grounds for skepticism, given the regime's demonstrated support for terrorist activities and organizations such as Hezbollah. A number of serious allegations in the past have been made about Iran’s current activities in Latin America. The first is that Iranian agents are sponsoring training camps for terrorists. Another allegation has to do with Iranian support for prospecting uranium in Venezuela and Ecuador. Yet, of all of these, arguably the most grave is a 2013 report on Iran’s activities in the region by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. As it is now widely known, early this year Mr. Nisman accused President Fernández de Kirchner of attempting to shield Iran in the investigation of accused involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy (1992) and the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires (1994) that killed 85 people. Nisman was found dead in his apartment in Buenos Aires immediately before he was set to testify in the Argentine Congress. The circumstances of his death remain disputed.
 
Click here for the full statements
 

Nowruz: Traditions for Persian New Year

Ironically, the most widely celebrated holiday in the Islamic Republic of Iran long predates the official religion. Nowruz, literally “New Day” in Farsi, marks the first day of spring and the Persian New Year. The holiday, which falls on March 20 this year, is widely celebrated across the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Nowruz is a national holiday celebrated by Iranians of virtually all ethnicities and religions. Celebrations may date back to Cyrus the Great’s reign in the sixth century B.C. Many of the season’s traditions have roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic faith still practiced by some 25,000 in Iran.
 
Shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, some hardliners unsuccessfully tried to suppress the holiday due to its pre-Islamic origins. But Iran has never severed connections to its pre-Islamic past. “Iran’s advancements after Islam are incomparable to its past. However, pre-Islamic history of Iran is also part of our history,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2008. Most Iranians still look to the ancient Persian Empire as a source of pride.
 

The following is an overview of traditions associated with Nowruz.

 
A Persian Santa Claus and Troubadour
 
Amoo, or “Uncle,” Nowruz, and his sidekick Haji Piruz are folk characters who herald the spring. Uncle Nowruz, like Santa Claus, hands out presents to children and is an older man with a white beard. Haji Piruz, his clownish assistant, sings joyous songs and plays a tambourine or drum in city streets and squares. Men and boys blacken their faces with soot, and wear bright red clothing and a conical hat to portray the character in hopes of earning some coins for providing entertainment. The following is a translation of one common song associated with Haji Piruz:
 
Wind and rain have gone.
Lord Nowurz has come.
Friends, convey this message.
The New Year has come again
This spring be your good luck
The tulip fields be your joy.
 
 
 
Nowruz is celebrated on the Spring Equinox, but the holiday includes many stages and weeks of preparation.
 
Spring Cleaning
 
           Iranians begin preparing their homes for Nowrouz weeks in advance. The annual spring cleaning is known in Farsi as khoneh takooni, or “shaking the house.” Families meticulously wash rugs, windows, curtains and repair furniture. They throw out or donate old household goods and purchase new clothing to greet the coming spring.
 
Haft Seen Table
 
            One of the most important Nowruz traditions is setting the haft seen table, which includes seven symbolic items all starting the with an “s” sound:
 
•  Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal
•  Samanu (sweet pudding): For affluence and fertility
•  Senjed (sweet, dried lotus tree fruit): For love  
•  Serkeh (vinegar): For patience and wisdom gained through aging
•  Sir (garlic): For medicine and maintaining good health
•  Sib (apples): For health and beauty
•  Sumac (crushed spice made from reddish berries): For recalling the sunrise
 
Additional items on the table include:
•  Mirror: To reflect on the past year
•  Live goldfish in a bowl: To represent new life
•  Orange in a bowl of water: To symbolize the Earth
•  Decorated eggs: For fertility
•  Coins: For future prosperity
•  Books of classical poetry and/or the Koran: For spirituality
 
Fire Jumping
 
On the last Wednesday of the year, Iranians set up bonfires in public places and leap over the flames in a ritual, Chahar Shanbeh Soori, thought to ensure good health for the year. People sing the following song addressing the fire while jumping:
Give me your beautiful red color
And take back my sickly pallor!
 
Since the 1979 revolution, hardliner clerics and public officials have warned against observing the ritual, citing safety hazards and roots in pre-Islamic traditions. In recent years, youth have begun using firecrackers and other fireworks.
 
On March 1, the head of Tehran’s police prevention unit said authorities would take legal action against people blocking the main streets or bothering others with bonfires. On March 13, Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leader and Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said the ritual is haram (forbidden) from a religious perspective and reminded the public that many festivals have turned into days of mourning because of unfortunate accidents.
 
On March 18, 2015 nearly 400 people were reportedly injured and three died in accidents related to the ritual.
 
Food
 
 On the Chahar Shanbeh Soori, some Iranians make wishes and distribute a special soup consisting of roasted garbanzo beans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and dried figs, apricots and raisins.
 
 Another soup, Ash-e-reshteh (left), is traditionally served around Nowrouz. The hearty mixture is filled with noodles and multiple types of beans. The noodle knots represent the many possibilities for the coming year, and untangling them is thought to bring good fortune.
 
Sabzi pollo mahi, is a common fish and rice dish served during Nowrouz. The rice is mixed with green herbs to symbolize the coming spring.
 
Several types of sweets are also ubiquitous at this time of year.
•  Baqlava: flaky pastry sweetened with rosewater
•  Naan bereng: cookies made from rice flour
•  Noghl: sugar-coated almonds
•  Samanu: a sweet pudding made from sprouted wheat
 
Many Iranians have found these foods and other items increasingly expensive since 2012. Tightened international sanctions imposed over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program have dramatically raised prices. “I didn’t buy nuts last year, because prices were very high and I won’t buy them this year either,” a 37-year-old mother of two told The National in 2014.
 
The Count Down
 
After Chahar Shanbeh Soori, Iranians wait with their families and friends for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs, Tahvil in Farsi. Elders distribute sweets and children receive coins. People begin making short visits to the homes of friends and family throughout the day and night. At each house visit, hosts provide nuts, sweets, dried fruits and tea to their guests.
 
 
 
 
 
Sizdah Bedar
 

On the 13th day of the new year, Iranians try to get rid of the bad luck associated with the number 13 by spending the day outside having fun with family and friends. Many people pack picnic lunches and head to parks or the countryside. The tradition is known as sizdah bedar, or “getting rid of the 13th.”

Iranians also discard the sabzeh grass from the Haft Seen table, which collected all the potential bad fortune of a family during Nowruz. Some unmarried girls knot grass blades symbolizing the union of a man and woman in hopes of finding a husband before the next Nowruz.
 
 
The United Nations includes Nowruz on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Click here for more information.
 
*A previous version of this article was published in 2014.
 
 

Photo credits: Persepolis by alisamii (http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisamii/4806644274) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Haji Firuz and Haft Seen Table by Robin Wright, Fire jumping by PersianDutchNetwork (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Ash-e-Reshteh  by AilinParsa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

All You Need to Know About Nuke Talk Issues

The following series details key aspects of Iran's nuclear program and the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the world's six major powers.

Part 1: ABCs of Issues

Part 2: ABCs of Sites

Part 3: ABCs from Khamenei

Part 4: ABCs of Talks So Far

Iran Nuke Program 1: ABCs of Issues
 

There’s no one single formula for a nuclear deal with Iran. The United States compares negotiations to solving a Rubik’s Cube™, because so many pieces are involved—and moving one moves all the others. (The world’s most popular puzzle has 43 quintillion permutations to solve it so all the colors match on the six faces.) These are some of the key issues in the Rubik’s Cube of a nuclear deal.

 

CENTRIFUGES: Since 2002, Iran has built centrifuges to enrich uranium, which can fuel both peaceful energy and deadly bombs. Tehran claims it is only for medical research and energy. But Iran’s abilities far exceed its current needs; Russia provides fuel for Iran’s single nuclear reactor.


Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges—up from less than 200 a decade ago. The vast majority of these are first-generation “IR-1” centrifuges, but Iran has begun installing much more sophisticated “IR-2” models. About 10,000 are enriching uranium at Iran’s two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow; the rest are installed but not operating. The more

A deal will try to reduce the number of Iran’s centrifuges. Outside experts suggest the goal could be to limit Iran to between 2,000 and 6,000 operating IR-1 centrifuges, and place constraints on research and development into more advanced machines.

ENRICHMENT: Uranium enriched to 90 percent is the purest form to fuel a weapon. Prior to the November 24 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) interim nuclear deal, Iran was enriching up to 20 percent level; under the JPOA, enrichment has been temporarily capped at five percent or less.

A final deal could seek to limit enrichment to five percent or less.
           
STOCKPILE: The larger the stockpile of uranium gas, the faster Iran could produce fuel for a bomb. Iran had 447 kg of uranium enriched at 20 percent before the interim deal went into effect in January. It has since begun “neutralizing” its 20 percent stockpile by diluting 104 kg to 3.5 percent enriched uranium and converting another 287 kg into uranium oxide powder. As of May, Iran had an estimated 56 kg of uranium gas enriched at 20 percent. It is due to dilute or oxidize all its 20 percent uranium gas by July 20.


A deal could seek to limit the stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium and require Iran to further reduce its stockpile of 20 percent uranium in oxide form. Iran may be allowed to keep some for research, but not enough to quickly build a bomb.

NATANZ: Iran’s primary enrichment facility includes three underground buildings, two of which are designed to hold 50,000 centrifuges, and six buildings built above ground.

A deal will try to limit the program at Natanz.
 
FORDO: The smaller, underground enrichment facility near Qom includes two halls; each could hold 1,500 centrifuges. Iran claims Fordow is to enrich uranium up to 20 percent— only for research. But skeptics contend the deeply-buried site, designed to survive aerial bombardment, is intended to take 20 percent enriched material from Natanz and enrich it to higher levels for use in a nuclear weapon.

A deal will try to end enrichment activities at Fordow, perhaps converting it to a research-only facility.
 
ARAK: The small heavy-water reactor, begun in the 1990s, is unfinished. Iran claims it is to produce medical isotopes and thermal power for civilian use. But the design would also produce plutonium that, if chemically reprocessed, could provide an alternative fuel to uranium for an atomic bomb. Nine kilograms of plutonium is enough material to fuel one or two nuclear weapons. After completion, Arak would need to run for 12 to 18 months to generate that much plutonium.

A deal will try to close Arak or redesign it in a way to substantially reduce plutonium output. A deal will also try prohibit Iran from building a reprocessing facility.
 
INSPECTIONS and VERIFICATION: Any deal will require considerable transparency into the nature and extent of Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure, as well as possible past military dimensions of its program. A deal will also involve extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Natanz, Fordow, Arak, centrifuge assembly facilities, uranium mines, research facilities—and possibly other sites—aimed at ensuring that Iran’s program remains solely for peaceful purposes.


It may also cover access to sites suspected of past work on bomb components, such as Parchin military base. And it is likely to require Tehran’s acceptance of the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol,” allowing inspections at both declared and undeclared sites—and maybe other intrusive measures.

 
          IRAN’S RED LINES:
Iran has its own configurations for the Rubik’s Cube of a deal. They include:
  • Preserving key elements of its nuclear program, including some uranium enrichment and research and development
  •  
  • Protecting Iran's "right" under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to a peaceful nuclear energy program to alleviate the drain on its oil sources and fuel modern development
  • Removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations

 

July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.

For more information, see:

David Albright and Andrea Stricker “Centrifuges: Key to Final Nuclear Deal
Robert Einhorn “Preventing a Nuclear Armed Iran
 

Photo credits: Rubik's Cube by by Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [edited by Iran Primer], President.ir

 

Iran Nuke Program 2: ABCs of Sites

The following is a rundown of Iran’s key nuclear sites. Each will be a subject at diplomatic talks between the Islamic Republic and the world's six major powers.

 

 

 

 

  

Bushehr Nuclear Facility
 The Bushehr facility contains Iran’s first nuclear power plant. Its light-water reactor was loaded with nuclear fuel in August 2010. It has an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Bushehr was originally launched in 1976 under contract with a German company, but after the 1979 revolution, Washington opposed it on the grounds that weapons grade plutonium could be extracted from the reactor’s waste, allowing Iran to construct nuclear weapons. Iran says the plant is for power-generation purposes only and will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
 
The theocracy halted construction of the Bushehr reactor after the 1979 revolution, and it was badly damaged during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. But Tehran decided to revive the project in 1990 to provide energy. The contract was awarded to Russia’s Rosatom Corp. To address international concerns, Moscow agreed to supply the enriched uranium fuel for the power plant and take back its plutonium-bearing spent fuel. In February 2005, Tehran and Moscow signed an agreement designed to ensure Iran could not divert enriched uranium for a weapons program.  In September 2013, Russia transferred operational control of some key facilities to Iran.
 
Natanz Fuel Enrichment Facility
This fuel enrichment facility is at the heart of Iran’s dispute with the United Nations. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, revealed the existence of the facility in 2002. It is located just outside the city of Natanz, approximately 130 miles south of Tehran.

The site consists of two facilities:
 
  • An above-ground pilot fuel enrichment plant (PFEP)
  • A larger, underground fuel enrichment plant with the capacity to hold up to 50,000 centrifuges (FEP). 
 
Activities at Natanz were suspended in 2004 following an agreement negotiated by Britain, France and Germany. But Iran restarted its uranium enrichment at the FEP after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. The international community is concerned that Iran may use the enrichment technology at Natanz for nuclear weapons. These activities were proscribed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696 in 2006. Iran rejects the legality of these resolutions.
 
Iran has not installed new centrifuges at either of the Natanz sites since the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action. And enrichment of uranium above five percent is no longer taking place at Natanz, according to a February 2014 U.N. report. About 160 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent still remains at the site but some of the stockpile is being downblended or converted to uranium oxide, which could not easily be used to fuel a nuclear weapon. 
        
Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility
The historic city of Isfahan is home to several nuclear-related sites, but the most significant facility is the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Plant. Isfahan also has a fuel fabrication laboratory, a uranium chemistry laboratory and a zirconium production plant. The conversion plant has been operational since 2006, and converts uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for Iran's enrichment facilities. The facility can also produce uranium metal and oxides for fuel and other purposes.
 
Tehran Nuclear Research Center
The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is a complex of several laboratories, including the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR produces radioisotopes for medical and research purposes. The United States supplied Iran with the 5-megawatt light-water reactor in 1967; it was fueled with highly enriched uranium (around 90 percent). In 1987, Argentina concluded a deal with Iran to change the core of the reactor so it could operate on low-enriched uranium (20 percent).
 
Arak Heavy Water Plant and Reactor
The Arak nuclear facility includes a heavy water production plant, which has been operational since 2006, and a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor still under construction. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, also revealed the existence of this facility in 2002.
Heavy water production plants are not subject to traditional safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, Tehran would be subject to declarations and complementary access for IAEA inspectors. Since Iran has signed but not yet ratified the Additional Protocol, the IAEA uses satellite imagery to monitor the facility. Iran's heavy-water-related activities are also proscribed by U.N. Resolution 1696, which Tehran rejects.
 
In December 2013, Iran provided the IAEA with information and access to the plant. Approximately 100 tons of reactor-grade heavy water have been produced at Arak since 2006. 
 
Qom Uranium Enrichment Facility (Fordo)
This secret uranium enrichment facility was made public in 2009 after the United States shared intelligence about it with allies, and Iran confirmed its existence. Construction of the uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom began around 2006, but Tehran maintained that it was not required to report its existence under the safeguard obligations until six months before it became operational. The plant has a few installed centrifuges, but Iran stopped all work once the site was publicized. The facility is located on a mountain on what was reportedly a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ missile site.

The facility’s revelation prompted concern that Iran intended to construct a potential breakout facility where it could make weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. Iran told the IAEA that the plant was intended to enrich uranium only to 5 percent, which is not enough for a nuclear weapon. The plant is believed to have room for 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
 
Parchin
Parchin is a military complex about 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The IAEA suspects Iran may have conducted experiments related to nuclear weapons production. U.N. inspectors visited the site twice in 2005 but did not find anything suspicious. But the IAEA later received additional evidence about alleged experiments. “We didn’t have enough information [back then],” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in 2012. “Extensive activities have taken place” at Parchin that have “seriously undermined” the IAEA’s ability to investigate possible military dimensions of Iran’s program, according to a February 2014 report.
 
Iran apparently undertook cleanup activities, according to satellite imagery analyzed by the Institute for Science and International Security. The IAEA noted that satellite imagery revealed “possible building material and debris” at Parchin in 2014.
           
Gchine Mine and Mill
The Gchine mine is located in southern Iran in Bandar Abbas. The associated mill is located at the same site. According to the IAEA, it began production in 2004 and has an estimated production capacity of 21 tons of uranium per year. The IAEA has questioned the mine’s ownership and relationship to Iran’s military. In January 2014, Iran provided the IAEA with managed access to the mine.
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.

 

Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Natanz via Iranian President's Office and The New York Times

 

Iran Nuke Program 3: ABCs from Khamenei

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has voiced his opposition to nuclear weapons on several occasions during the last decade. The following are excerpted remarks in reverse chronological order.

 

“Even now that reason - including religious and political reason - has made it clear that the Islamic Republic is not after nuclear weapons, American officials bring up the issue of nuclear weapons whenever they address the nuclear issue. This is while they themselves know that not having nuclear weapons is the definite policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
      April 9, 2014 in a speech to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
 
“We are against nuclear weapons not because of the U.S. or others, but because of our beliefs. And when we say no one should have nuclear weapons, we definitely do not pursue it ourselves either.”
      Sept. 17, 2013 in a meeting with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
 
“Nuclear weapons are neither a #security provider, nor a cause of consolidation of political power but rather a threat to both. The events of the 1990s proved that possessing such weapons would not save any regimes including the Soviet Union. Today as well, we know countries who are faced with fatal torrents of insecurity, despite having nuclear bombs.

“The bitter irony of our time is that the U.S. government has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and is the only government that has used them, while it bears the flag of anti-nukes struggle!”
            Aug. 30, 2012
 
“We do not possess a nuclear weapon and we will not build one, but
we will defend ourselves against any aggression, whether by the U.S. or the Zionist regime, with the same level [of force].”
            March 20, 2012 in a speech marking Nowruz, Persian New Year
 
“Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi (juridical) perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
            Feb. 22, 2012 in a speech to nuclear scientists
 
“Islam is opposed to nuclear weapons and that Tehran is not working to build them.”
            February 2010 at a ship-christening ceremony
 
“The Iranian people and their officials have declared times and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
      June 4, 2009 in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death
 
“Even though the Iranian nation does not have an atomic bomb and keeps no intention to possess the deadly weapon, the world acknowledges that it is a dignified nation because the dignity of the nation has emerged from its resolve, faith, good deed and bright goals.”
      Sept. 9, 2007 in a speech to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
 
Iran “is not, and the westerners know it well, after a nuclear weapon, because it stands contrary to the country's political and economic interests as well as Islam's statute.”
            Jan. 18, 2006 to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov’s visiting delegation
 
“No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons… [to] manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”
            Nov. 5, 2004 in a Friday sermon
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction," Khamenei said recently. "In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form.”
            October 2003, according to the San Francisco Chronicle
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
 
Photo credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook
 

Iran Nuke Program 4: ABCs of Talks So Far

The following is a rundown of key events in diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013.

2013
 
Sept. 26 – Foreign ministers from P5+1 countries (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) and Iran met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and agreed to hold a new round of talks in Geneva.
 
Sept. 27 – President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing.
 
Oct. 15-16 – Diplomats from P5+1 countries and Iran met in Geneva to solve the nuclear dispute. They committed to meeting in November to continue talks that were “substantive and forward looking.”
 
Nov. 7-10 – Iran and the P5+1 made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement. Foreign ministers rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal.
 
Nov. 11 – IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited Tehran. He and Iran’s chief of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement committing Tehran to take practical steps towards transparency within three months.
 
Nov. 24 – Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement that would significantly constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. Iran pledged to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium, halt enrichment above five percent and stop installing centrifuges. Tehran also committed to halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor.
 
Dec. 11 – Iran and the IAEA met in Vienna to review the status of the six actions Iran committed to in November as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement.  
 
 2014
 
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action, the interim nuclear deal, entered into force. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran reduced stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and halted construction on the heavy water reactor in Arak. The United States and the European Union announced steps to suspend a limited number of sanctions and allow the release of Iran’s oil revenues frozen in other countries.
 
March 19 –Iran and the six major powers held nuclear negotiations. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions as “substantive and useful.”
 
April 7-9 –Iran and the major powers met in Vienna for talks on a final nuclear agreement.
 
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds, after the IAEA verified Tehran was complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
 
May 13-16 – Iran and the major powers met in Vienna, but the talks ended without tangible progress. 

June 9-10 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns lead a team of officials to Geneva for bilateral talks with Iran to prepare for the next round of P5+1 talks.
 
July 3-19 – Iran and the world’s six major powers began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks from the deadline. On July 19, the two sides announced an extension through November 24, the one-year anniversary of the interim agreement. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. The major powers agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds to Iran.
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
 
Sept. 18-26 – Iran and six major world powers resumed talks in New York. Kerry and Zarif also discussed the threat posed by ISIS.
 

Oct. 14-16 – Iran and the six major powers made a “little progress” at talks in Vienna.

Nov. 9-11  Kerry, Zarif, and Ashton met for two days of trilateral talks in Oman, followed by a day of meetings between Iran and all six major powers.

Nov. 19-24 – Iran and six major powers held talks in Vienna. On November 19, the U.S. and Iranian teams held bilateral talks. Kerry, Ashton, and Zarif held another round of discussions on Nov. 21. The two sides missed the November 24 deadline for a deal and announced that talks would be extended until June 30, with the goal of a political agreement by March.

 
Dec. 17 Iran and the P5+1 held talks at the deputy level in Geneva. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters that the “intense negotiations” were “very useful and helpful.” No E.U. statement was released after the talks and the U.S. delegation did not provide comments to the press.
 
2015
 
Jan. 14, 16 – Kerry and Zarif met in Geneva to find ways to speed up negotiations. They meet again in Paris later in the week.
 
Jan. 15-17 – Iran and the U.S. hold bilateral talks in Geneva.
 
Jan. 18 – Iran and the P5+1 powers made limited progress in talks in Geneva. They agreed to meet again in early February.
 
Feb. 23Iran and the P5+1 concluded another round of talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program in Geneva. Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined the talks for the first time to provide technical expertise, but Secretary of State John Kerry noted that their presence was "no indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided."
 
March 2-5 – Iran and the P5+1 met in Montreux, Switzerland for another round of talks.
 
March 16-18 – Kerry and Zarif met in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Moniz and Salehi joined the talks to negotiate technical details. Zarif then flew to Brussels to meet with E.U. officials. The Iranian team returned to Switzerland for more talks with U.S. officials on March 17-18.
 
March 26-30 – Iran and the P5+1 met in Lausanne, Switzerland in the final days before the deadline for a political framework.
 

Photo Credits: EU External Action Service and  U.S. State Department via Flickr

 

 

Iran Nuke Program 1: ABCs of Issues

There’s no one single formula for a nuclear deal with Iran. The United States compares negotiations to solving a Rubik’s Cube™, because so many pieces are involved—and moving one moves all the others. (The world’s most popular puzzle has 43 quintillion permutations to solve it so all the colors match on the six faces.) These are some of the key issues in the Rubik’s Cube of a nuclear deal.

 

  

CENTRIFUGES: Since 2002, Iran has built centrifuges to enrich uranium, which can fuel both peaceful energy and deadly bombs. Tehran claims it is only for medical research and energy. But Iran’s abilities far exceed its current needs; Russia provides fuel for Iran’s single nuclear reactor.
Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges—up from less than 200 a decade ago. The vast majority of these are first-generation “IR-1” centrifuges, but Iran has begun installing much more sophisticated “IR-2” models. About 10,000 are enriching uranium at Iran’s two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow; the rest are installed but not operating. The more

A deal will try to reduce the number of Iran’s centrifuges. Outside experts suggest the goal could be to limit Iran to between 2,000 and 6,000 operating IR-1 centrifuges, and place constraints on research and development into more advanced machines.

ENRICHMENT: Uranium enriched to 90 percent is the purest form to fuel a weapon. Prior to the November 24 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) interim nuclear deal, Iran was enriching up to 20 percent level; under the JPOA, enrichment has been temporarily capped at five percent or less.

A final deal could seek to limit enrichment to five percent or less.
           
STOCKPILE: The larger the stockpile of uranium gas, the faster Iran could produce fuel for a bomb. Iran had 447 kg of uranium enriched at 20 percent before the interim deal went into effect in January. It has since begun “neutralizing” its 20 percent stockpile by diluting 104 kg to 3.5 percent enriched uranium and converting another 287 kg into uranium oxide powder. As of May, Iran had an estimated 56 kg of uranium gas enriched at 20 percent. It is due to dilute or oxidize all its 20 percent uranium gas by July 20.


A deal could seek to limit the stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium and require Iran to further reduce its stockpile of 20 percent uranium in oxide form. Iran may be allowed to keep some for research, but not enough to quickly build a bomb.

NATANZ: Iran’s primary enrichment facility includes three underground buildings, two of which are designed to hold 50,000 centrifuges, and six buildings built above ground.

A deal will try to limit the program at Natanz.
 
FORDO: The smaller, underground enrichment facility near Qom includes two halls; each could hold 1,500 centrifuges. Iran claims Fordow is to enrich uranium up to 20 percent— only for research. But skeptics contend the deeply-buried site, designed to survive aerial bombardment, is intended to take 20 percent enriched material from Natanz and enrich it to higher levels for use in a nuclear weapon.

A deal will try to end enrichment activities at Fordow, perhaps converting it to a research-only facility.
 
ARAK: The small heavy-water reactor, begun in the 1990s, is unfinished. Iran claims it is to produce medical isotopes and thermal power for civilian use. But the design would also produce plutonium that, if chemically reprocessed, could provide an alternative fuel to uranium for an atomic bomb. Nine kilograms of plutonium is enough material to fuel one or two nuclear weapons. After completion, Arak would need to run for 12 to 18 months to generate that much plutonium.

A deal will try to close Arak or redesign it in a way to substantially reduce plutonium output. A deal will also try prohibit Iran from building a reprocessing facility.
 
INSPECTIONS and VERIFICATION: Any deal will require considerable transparency into the nature and extent of Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure, as well as possible past military dimensions of its program. A deal will also involve extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Natanz, Fordow, Arak, centrifuge assembly facilities, uranium mines, research facilities—and possibly other sites—aimed at ensuring that Iran’s program remains solely for peaceful purposes.


It may also cover access to sites suspected of past work on bomb components, such as Parchin military base. And it is likely to require Tehran’s acceptance of the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol,” allowing inspections at both declared and undeclared sites—and maybe other intrusive measures.

 
          IRAN’S RED LINES:
Iran has its own configurations for the Rubik’s Cube of a deal. They include:
  • Preserving key elements of its nuclear program, including some uranium enrichment and research and development
  •  
  • Protecting Iran's "right" under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to a peaceful nuclear energy program to alleviate the drain on its oil sources and fuel modern development
  • Removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations

 

July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.

For more information, see:

David Albright and Andrea Stricker “Centrifuges: Key to Final Nuclear Deal
Robert Einhorn “Preventing a Nuclear Armed Iran
 

Photo credits: Rubik's Cube by by Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [edited by Iran Primer], President.ir

 

 

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