United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Nowruz Greetings: From US to Israel

           On March 20, government officials from the United States, Great Britain and Israel sent Nowruz greetings to the Iranian people. The Persian New Year marks the Spring Equinox and the first day of spring. President Barack Obama said, "This Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world—including a better relationship with the United States and the American people, rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect." The following are videos and transcripts of statements by top leaders. 

U.S. President Barack Obama
           Dorood.  As you and your families gather around the Nowruz table, I want to extend my best wishes on this new spring and new year.  As always, this holiday is a chance to give gratitude for your blessings and to reflect on our hopes for the year ahead.
           As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Since taking office, I’ve offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
           Last year, you—the Iranian people—made your voice heard when you elected Dr. Hassan Rouhani as your new president.  During his campaign, he pledged to strengthen Iran’s economy, improve the lives of the Iranian people and engage constructively with the international community—and he was elected with your strong support. 
           Last fall, I spoke with President Rouhani.  It was the first conversation between an American president and an Iranian leader since 1979.  I conveyed to President Rouhani my deep respect for the Iranian people, just as he expressed his respect for the American people.  And I told him that I firmly believe that we can address the serious disagreements between our governments, reduce distrust and begin to move beyond our difficult history. 
           Since then, we’ve made progress.  For years, the international community has had concerns that Iran’s nuclear program could lead to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, which would be a threat to the region and to the world.  Under the initial agreement we reached in November, the Iranian government has agreed to limit key parts of its nuclear program.  Along with our international partners, the United States is giving Iran some relief from sanctions.  Now we’re engaged in intensive negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution that resolves the world’s concerns with the Iranian nuclear program. 
           As I’ve said before, I’m under no illusions.  This will be difficult.  But I’m committed to diplomacy because I believe there is the basis for a practical solution.  Iran’s highest officials, including Supreme Leader Khamenei, have said that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.  So there is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.  Iran would have access to peaceful nuclear energy.  And we will have addressed—peacefully, with diplomacy—one of the greatest challenges to international peace and security. 
           A comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue—and an Iran that upholds universal rights, at home and abroad—would help move Iran along the new path that so many Iranians seek.  After all, throughout your history the talents and genius of the Iranian people have led to great achievements in literature and the arts, science and technology.  But the economic hardship that so many Iranians have endured in recent years—because of the choices of Iranian leaders—has deprived your country and the world of the extraordinary skills and contributions you have to offer.  And you deserve better.
           If Iran meets its international obligations, we know where the path of dialogue and greater trust and cooperation can lead.  It will mean more opportunities for Iranians to trade and forge ties with the rest of the world.  It means more economic growth and jobs for Iranians, especially young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world.  It will mean more opportunities for Iranian students to travel abroad and build new partnerships that help you realize your incredible potential.  In short, real diplomatic progress this year can help open up new possibilities and prosperity for the Iranian people for years to come.       
           That’s the message the Iranian people sent at the ballot box last year.  I hope that the entire Iranian government hears that message too.  Because for the first time in many years, we have the opportunity to start down a new path.  If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world—including a better relationship with the United States and the American people, rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect.
           Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
      I'm privileged to join President Obama in wishing the people of Iran and all those who celebrate around the world -- from East Asia to the Persian Gulf region -- a happy, healthy, and prosperous Nowruz.
      All who celebrate Nowruz remember that it is not just an ancient tradition dating back over 3,000 years, but a time of renewal and hope. This season we reflect on the shared humanity that binds us together.
      My own family is stronger today because of the presence and love of Iranian-Americans, and I am proud of the family ties that we Americans have to Iran and its people. Here in America, we value the significant contributions that Iranian-Americans continue to make, whether it's in science, medicine, engineering, business, art, or so many other ways.
           On this Nowruz, we reaffirm our belief that strengthening cultural and academic ties between our two countries benefits our two peoples. Today, I am pleased to note that the Treasury Department will issue a new General License that will enhance educational ties between Iran and the United States through exchanges and the provision of new opportunities for Iranians to study in our country.
           It's not lost on any of us that the United States and Iran have endured harsh winters in our past, but gathering to welcome Spring and the New Year with friends and family is an opportunity to look forward to what can lie ahead with hard work and commitment. And it is our hope that the people of Iran will be able to fulfill their aspirations in their own society in the coming year.
           So as you gather with your loved ones around the Haft Seen Sofreh, the United States wishes you a joyous New Year filled with the hope for a better tomorrow.
           Nowruzetan Pirooz!
British Foreign Secretary William Hague
           I want to take this opportunity to wish all those celebrating around the world a happy Nowruz.
           Today people from many countries, communities and backgrounds, including here in the UK, will be gathering with their loved ones to celebrate the New Year and mark the start of spring.
           Nowruz signifies a new season and a time of harmony. It is an opportunity to look back on the year that has passed and look ahead to the year to come.
           So, however and wherever you are celebrating the New Year, I wish you health and happiness for the future.
           Nowruz is also a time for fresh starts. And in that spirit, I want to say to the Iranian people that the UK looks forward this year to improving relations with Iran.
           This is something our two governments have been working on over the last few months. Our diplomats are visiting each other’s countries after a gap of nearly two years.
           We are establishing new relationships and we’re talking to each other about a range of matters important to both our countries.
           Of course, this doesn’t mean we have resolved all our differences. We haven’t. There remain many pressing issues for us to address. But I firmly believe that constructive dialogue and improved co-operation between the UK and Iran is in all our interests.
           For that reason, we will continue our efforts to improve relations in ways that bring concrete benefits to both our peoples.
           Nowruzetan piruz.
Israeli President Shimon Peres



US Opens Way for Academic Exchanges

            On March 20, the U.S. Treasury authorized accredited U.S. academic institutions to hold academic exchanges with Iranian universities. The general license notably allowed the provision of on-line courses for Iranian students. The Treasury’s announcement coincided with Nowruz, Persian New Year, and followed the issuing of another general license in February which allowed Iranians to purchase American computers, cell phones, software, mobile applications and Internet services.

Publication of Iran General License G
           Today, the Office of Foreign Assets Control issued Iran General License G authorizing accredited U.S. academic institutions to establish and operate undergraduate and graduate academic exchange agreements with Iranian universities, including the provision of scholarships to participating Iranian students.  It also authorizes the export to Iran of certain additional educational services by U.S. academic institutions, including the provision of certain on-line courses, and by U.S. persons for certain academic study or non-for-profit educational activities in Iran, or the administration of university entrance and other examinations for Iranian students.

Click here for more information on the license.

Iran Complying with Interim Nuke Agreement

           On March 20, the U.N. nuclear watchdog released a new report detailing Iran’s implementation of the interim nuclear deal brokered in November 2013. Tehran has continued to comply with the agreement and has not enriched uranium to 20 percent. But it has not yet completed a facility to convert low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide, which would need to be reprocessed to be used to fuel a weapon. The following is an analysis by the Arms Control Association on Iran’s implementation with a link to the latest U.N. report.  

Iranian Actions                                 
By January 20, halt production of near-20% enriched uranium hexaflouride gas (UF6) and commit to only enrich up to 5%.
According to the January 20 IAEA report, Iran had halted enrichment to 20% UF6.
By January 20, disable the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran has been using to produce 20% enriched UF6.
According to the January 20 IAEA report, Iran had ceased operating its interconnected centrifuges enriching to 20% UF6. The February 20 IAEA report said that Iran is now using the four cascades at Fordow to enrich uranium to 5%.
On January 20, continue conversion of half of its stockpile of near-20% uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into uranium oxide powder as working stock for fabricating fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
In Progress
According to the February 20 IAEA report, Iran is in the process of converting half of its stockpile of 20% enriched UF6 gas to uranium oxide powder. An additional 49 kg were converted since the November IAEA report.
On January 20, begin dilution of half of its stockpile of 20% UF6 to no more than 5% enriched UF6 and complete dilution by April 20.
In Progress
According to remarks delievered to the IAEA Board of Governors on March 3, Iran completed dilution of half of its required dilution of 20% enriched uranium to 3.5%.
Continue only its safeguarded research and development practices, including its current enrichment reserach practices, which were not designated for accumulation of the enriched uranium.
In the February 20 IAEA report, the agency verified that Iran was continuing its safeguarded research and development practices at Natanz and was not using the research to accumulate uranium as it tested advanced models.
By April 20, provide the IAEA with:

  • plans for nuclear facilities
In Progress
Iran submited details on site selection for 16 nuclear power plants to the IAEA, its initial plans for 10 future enrichment sites, and a light water reactor.
  • descriptions of buildings located on nuclear sites
Not Yet Completed
  • the scale of operations for each location
Not Yet Completed
  • information on uranium mines and mills
In Progress
According to the February 20 IAEA report, the agency has received some infomation about Iran's mining and milling activities, and more will be forthcoming.
  • information on source material
Not Yet Completed
Submit an updated Design Information Questionaire (DIQ) for the reactor at Arak (IR-40).
Iran submitted at updated DIQ on the reactor to the IAEA on February 12, according to the agency's Feb. 20 report.
Take steps to conclude a safeguards approach with the IAEA for the Arak reactor.
In Progress
The IAEA's February 20 report notes that Iran agreed to take steps to work with the agency to conclude the safeguards agreement.
Allow daily IAEA inspector access at Fordow and Nantanz, including scheduled and unannounced inspections and access to surveillance information on a daily basis.
As of the February 20 IAEA report, the IAEA was able to install surveillance measures at Natanz and Fordow to facilitate daily monitoring and came to an agreement regarding the facilitation of daily access.
(Prior to the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA had acessed Fordow on a weekly basis, and Natanz on a biweekly basis.)
Allow the IAEA to conduct monthly inspections of the heavy water reactor at Arak and associated facilities.
In Progress
The IAEA was able to make its first monthly visit and access the heavy water reactor on Feb. 12, according to the agency's Feb. 20 IAEA report.
(Prior inspections were conducted at the reactor once every three months, and other facilities at the site were not included.)
Provide information to allow the IAEA inspectors managed access to:

  • centrifuge assembly workshops
The IAEA was able to visit the facility between February 3-7.
  • centrifuge rotor production
The IAEA was able to visit the facility between February 3-7.
  • workshops and storage facilities
The IAEA was able to visit the facility between February 3-7.
  • uranium mines and mills
In Progress
In a January 20 letter to the IAEA, Iran provided information about its uranium mines and mills, and the IAEA was able to access the Gchine mine on January 29.
Provide figures that will allow the IAEA to verify that centrifuge production will be dedicated to the replacement of damaged machines.
Not Yet Completed
Cap the size of the 5% enriched UF6 stockpile.
In Progress
Iran is constructing a plant to convert 5% enriched UF6 to uranium dioxide, a powder suitable for power plant fuel, which will enable it to maintain a cap on its stockpile of UF6, which is not to exceed the amount Iran had an the beginning of implementation of the deal. As of the Feb. 20 IAEA report, Iran had not yet completed the plant, nor provided a timeframe for its operaitons.
Iran Will Refrain From the Following Actions
Refrain from installing a reconversion line to reconvert uranium oxide powder to 20% UF6.
The January 20 IAEA report said that Iran does not have a reconversion line in place.
Refrain from reproccessing or constructing a facility capable of reprocessing materials.
In a January 18 letter to the IAEA, Iran said it will not engage in reprocessing or construct a reprocessing facility over the six months of the deal. The January 20 IAEA report confirmed that no reprocessing is taking place at the Tehran Reserach Reactor or MIX facility.
Refrain from making any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.
(This includes not installing new centrifuges and not feeding UF6 into the roughly half the centrifuges at Natanz that are installed but not yet enriching uranium.)
The IAEA verified in the February 20 report that Iran has not made any further advances and no new centrifuges are enriching uranium.
Refrain from making any further advances of its activities at Fordow.
(This includes not installing new centrifuges, not feeding UF6 into the three quarters at Fordow that  are installed but not yet enriching uranium, and not interconnecting the cascades.)
The IAEA verified that Iran has not made any further advances and no new centrifuges are enriching uranium.
Replacing existing centrifuges only with centrifuges of the same type.
As of the February 20 IAEA report, the agency did not report any violation of this restriction, and survelliance has been set up to monitor any changes.
Refrain from commissioning the heavy water reactor at Arak.
The February 20 IAEA report said that Iran had not conducted any activities to further the Arak reactor.
Refrain from transfering fuel or heavy water to the Arak reactor.
The February 20 IAEA report said that Iran had not conducted any activities to further the Arak reactor.
Refrain from testing additional fuel or producing more fuel.
The February 20 IAEA report said that Iran had not manufactured or tested any reactor fuel, and the number of fuel rods produced remains at 11.
Refrain from installing any additional reactor components at the Arak site.
The February 20 IAEA report said that Iran had not conducted any activities to further advance the Arak reactor.
Limit centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines.
Not Yet Verified
Refrain from constructing any new locations for enrichment.
In a January 18 letter to the IAEA Iran said it would not pursue any new uranium enrichment sites during the six months of the agreement.

Click here for the full U.N. report.


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 20,000 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 Iranian 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!
     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.
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.

Photo credits: Persepolis by 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


Iran Defeated the US: In Wrestling

            Iran defeated its two major rivals, Russia and the United States, at the 2014 Freestyle Wrestling World Cup in Los Angeles. On March 15, Iran defeated the host team 5-3 after beating Armenia 8-0 and Turkey 7-1. Iran went on to beat Russia 6-2 on March 16, taking the cup for the third time in a row.  “We were able to execute our plan,” Iran’s technical manager Ali Reza Razaie told TeamUSA.org. “For each of our matches we had a plan. Ninety percent of our plan came through today.”

            Only three U.S. athletes beat their Iranian counterparts. “I think we’re in a place now where that would give us some confidence,” U.S. coach Zeke Jones said after loss. “I think the next time we wrestle we will believe that we can beat them [the Iranians]. But we’re not going to do it if we don’t do the little things. We got to do the little things, fight for the center of the mat, control the tie-up, take charge of the whistle. Those are the things we talk about. They beat us to the punch on those things.”
            Both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei congratulated the team. “The victory of Iran’s national freestyle wrestling team… proves the athletic traits of the zealous and diligent Iranian youth in the international arena,” Rouhani wrote in a message.
            The crowd in Los Angeles was split between Iran and U.S. fans. But Iran’s supporters also chanted “USA, USA” during the third-place match between the United States and Ukraine, according to TeamUSA.org. “I think that the fact that we were able to host the World Cup here and Iranian team is here again in such an important city like Los Angeles, I think it's a true testament to our relationship with the Iranian [wrestling] federation, and the fact that wrestling is popular all over the world,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.
      The Iranian and the U.S. wrestling federations have “positive and strong relationship built on years of competition,” Bender told The Iran Primer in 2013. U.S. participation in Iran’s 1998 Takhti Cup marked the first visit by an American sports team since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The team has competed in Iran ten other times since then. And Iran’s national team has competed in the United States more than 10 times since 1996.
      The two federations actually teamed up to salvage wrestling for the 2020 Olympics after the Olympic Committee recommended dropping the sport in February 2013. The Iranian and American teams were scheduled to hold two friendly matches ― in New York on May 15 and in Los Angeles on May 19 ― to raise the sport’s profile before the committee makes a final decision in September. The Iranians beat the Americans 6 to 1 in New York.
Click here for more information on the U.S.-Iran wrestling relationship.

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