United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Javad Zarif on Syria Peace Plan

In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said prospects for progress on the Syrian crisis grew after meetings around the U.N. General Assembly. “I think it is important that everybody is coming around to the same concept that we need to focus on procedures and institutions rather than on individuals,” he said in an October 5 interview with Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Zarif later emphasized the need for a “comprehensive strategy” on Syria. At a University of Denver event, he charged that the United States had not been “serious” in the fight against ISIS. Zarif also cautioned that a political transition without President Bashar al Assad as a participant would be “short-sighted” and “misplaced.”
UPDATE: On October 27, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that “we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend” upcoming peace talks on Syria. Officials “always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran,” he said. 
The following are excerpts from Zarif’s remarks on Syria.
Interview with Robin Wright 
Wright: “Did you come away from this U.N. General Assembly session believing that there was any movement – genuine momentum – on a process to end the Syrian civil war?”
Zarif: “Well, I came out of this General Assembly with a true belief that there is a possibility. Whether the necessary political decision has been made to abandon preconditions that would only procrastinate this issue and only prolong the conflict, I don’t know. I mean I can only hope.”
“I think it is important that everybody is coming around to the same concept that we need to focus on procedures and institutions rather than on individuals. If that takes place, and if that’s understanding sinks in that we need to leave the decision about the individuals to the Syrian people-- but what we can help and facilitate is for Syrians to start talking and to move forward with the processes that are required, then we can get this crisis closer to a resolution. But if we want to get work done on one individual as we have been over the past four years, then there’s no possibility of finding a resolution. And I think, gradually and slowly, this understanding and appreciation is sinking in. And I hope that once everybody is ready to facilitate a solution, not to dictate preconditions, then we can move forward.”
“[T]he current international coalition is incapable of engaging in such a campaign because it has political inhibitions. It believes that any attempts against Daesh will necessarily lead to strengthening of the central government in Damascus. So they are less than serious in dealing with Daesh. And they have been, and they’re not hesitant in saying so. So there was a need to deal with this very serious global challenge and threat – straightforward. And the only people who were doing it, particularly in Iraq and Syria, were Iran through our military advisers and our support that we provided to the two governments, so I thought it was necessary for an international effort, and it shouldn’t just be Russia.
“Others should recognize the fact that the first and foremost threat to global peace and security, as well as to every single country in the region including those who are reluctant, is Daesh and terrorism and takfiri extremism, and they need to find ways of dealing with it -- without setting preconditions, whether this helps Assad or helps anybody else.”
Wright: Are there more advisors going in [to Syria from Iran]?
Zarif: “You don’t have any specific number of advisors at any specific time, you send advisors based on the required organizational support that you provide to the Syrian army.”
“We are not changing the nature of our presence in Syria. I would have been surprised if we did, but because it was happening during the time I was out of the country, I checked, and the policy stands that we are not changing the nature of our presence in Syria.” 
University of Denver event
Moderator: What can be done to kind of calm this region down, and what needs to be...the approach?
Zarif: Well, as I said, a big paradigm shift is required and it should start with all of us recognizing that the problems that are appearing in our region are problems that will affect all of us. That nobody will be immune. We cannot have extremism confined to one country. Some of our neighbors believe that extremists in the Syrian army could kill each other off…Now we have all these extremists attacking followers from all over the world. In one day there was a bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait, a bombing of a tourist resort in Tunisia, and a bombing of a factory in France. Three incidents in one week, three different targets, carried out by a single group in one day. That tells you that the victims and the regions are not confined to one group or one geography…the sooner we realize that this is a common threat the sooner that we can address it…
The group we now call ISIS, or Daesh or whatever, was the outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. These are the sons and daughters of Abu al Zarqawi…As was the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan who grew out of the Soviet invasion. You always have internal problems, you cannot just look at the outside forces and the outside causes as the only cause. You have dictatorship… you have no avenue for expression of frustration domestically, or you also have external elements that lead to it.
So I think what is taking place in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, in our region in general, requires a common approach by all of us…Iran is overwhelmingly Shia and our population is not vulnerable to an anti-Shia message that is being propagated by ISIS or Daesh. But unfortunately the population in some of our neighbors, who have either turned a blind eye to Daesh or who have actually supported it in the past, their population is sympathetic, at least.
Moderator: So among Sunni populations there is some sympathy for these extreme Sunni groups, is what you’re saying?
Zarif: Not all Sunni populations, but some who belong to the Salafi, Wahhabi inclinations in the Sunni world, which would be predominantly in Saudi Arabia and some Persian Gulf countries. So they are more vulnerable, and the sooner they realize that this extremist group is not even a temporary answer…they will not be able to deal seriously with this threat…
Moderator: So you regard radical Sunniism as a threat to moderate Sunniism as well as a threat to you. And a threat to us.
Zarif: Yes, it’s a threat to everybody in the world, and it is something that cannot be addressed only through military means. It may require certain military action, but more importantly it requires serious cultural, political, ideological, economic, and other measures.
Now let me address a few of them. You see people beheading innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria. You listen to them, they speak with perfect French or English accents. They were born and raised in France or in the United Kingdom. Why is it? Because the feeling of alienation, the feeling of disenfranchisement is so severe in some of these societies. These people are not the product of ideological upbringing. They were educated in the West. But the alienation, the Islamophobia, the feeling of suppression and humiliation is so pervasive that pushes them to commit these atrocities…
But you have to understand, there are economic motivations as well…The fact is that these groups are selling their oil. Who’s buying their oil? Who’s paying for it? Which bank does the transaction? …this is not just no longer the military, it is the financial – I mean, every month a thousand people enter Syria and Iraq. A thousand new people. This has become a revolving door. Extremists attract new followers, new recruits come from 82 countries, go to Iraq and Syria, they get trained, if they don’t die after a while they go back to their own societies and become the focus of a new extremist movement. So we’ve got to look at it from that perspective and see that we need a combined global comprehensive effort to deal with this. Just aerial bombardment could not do the job, as they haven’t done in the past.
Moderator: Let’s just look at Syria, because I think we’ve essentially been talking about Syria without mentioning Syria. It seems they need some political arrangements forward, but if you have elections in the current context don’t Sunnis just vote for Sunnis, Alawites vote for Alawites, and Kurds vote for Kurds?
Zarif: Well, I think what is necessary in Syria is to have…a comprehensive strategy to have political reform…even localized ceasefires, maybe, to end the fighting as much as you can…there are areas where people can be brought into a political process who are fighting each other. So you have to stop those fighting. It is impossible to stop the fighting with ISIS. Everyone should join forces in order to deal with ISIS, including others from outside —Iran, Russia, regional countries united in a coalition…
At the same time, begin a political process. That is, now Syria has a centralized power structure, all in one man. And that is why the fate of that individual has become the only issue that has created a political solution, President Assad. What we can do is to make sure that in Syria we have a political system that is not centralized, power is disbursed around various institutions of government. You insist on those efforts instead of on individuals. You insist on guarantees, instead of saying whether President Assad should run in an election or not run in an election. You should insist that they should be a free and fair.
Moderator: So who insists?
Zarif: Unfortunately, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some European countries have always insisted, up until a few months ago… that President Assad should just go, before the political process started. Now they’re insisting that President Assad can stay because they know that if he goes, the only replacement will be ISIS and terrorists. So they have come to this understanding that it is impossible to ask him to go right now, without…giving Damascus to ISIS on a platter…
What you need to do is to put emphasis on the process itself… Enable the Syrian people to decide. We in the outside world should facilitate the outcome, not dictate the outcome. No negotiations can lead to any conclusion if you want to conclude before negotiating… So this, I think, negotiations without preconditions, a national unity government in Syria is the answer…We should allow the outcome to take shape in the hands of and by the voice of the Syrian people and not by outsiders.
Moderator: Probably the biggest development in the last week was of course the Russian move to actually put troops on the ground, set up airbases, and begin air operations. Does this come as a surprise to you?
Zarif: A year ago, the United States decided to conduct air operations in Syria without the consent of the government of Syria… [The] U.S. and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. There is nothing in the charter that gives one privilege over another…The difference is they were there on the invitation of the government, which has a seat in the United Nations. So, if I were to compare the two, I guess, legally, at least the United States cannot blame Russia for being there…
Moderator: This is the moderate Syrian –
Zarif: Whatever you want to call them, moderate Syrian opposition. I call them paid hotel opposition, because all they do is sit in hotels and spend your money, which is fine. They love spending money…Did the people of Syria ask them to be there? …what has the United States and international coalition done in Iraq or Syria against ISIS? I mean, there’s been a [inaudible] bombardment of coalition effort… Not that the United States isn’t capable of doing it, but because the United States has inhibitions, has constraints, and most of those constraints are from allies in the region who do not want to undermine ISIS because it will strengthen the central government. And because of that, the United States and all of that coalition… cannot go all the way against ISIS because it would amount to strengthening the central government in Damascus. And for the same reason that they are not successful in Iraq… The militia in Iraq has been much more successful in liberating Iraqi territory from ISIS than the U.S. coalition.
Moderator: Why is that?
Zarif: The reason for that is the U.S. coalition. First of all, you cannot fight terrorists by air alone. You need to have a serious ground operation. Secondly, because in my view the United States is not capable of fighting ISIS because of the concerns that its allies in the region have…And because everything is being seen in that zero-sum mentality and paradigm, it has not been possible to have serious fight with ISIS…
If you look at what the United States is saying, the United States is saying that we are for a political solution without Assad and we will deal with ISIS in no time. That means that there is a political precondition for the international coalition to have a serious fight against ISIS. I think that is short sighted. I think that is misplaced… ISIS is a threat against all of us. It’s not an answer. We have to remember, ISIS is not an answer to anybody. It is an identity. And it is a deadly identity. And it is a deadly identity more for the countries that are supporting it, or have supported it in the past…
Moderator: You presumably have some contacts with the Saudis. Presumably you’ve been able to have some discussions about this, but no mutual understanding on these issues?
Zarif: Unfortunately, the Saudis are not prepared to discuss these issues with us. And, unfortunately, the recent tragedy in Saudi Arabia has…strained our relations.


Parliament Moves to Approve Nuclear Deal

On October 4, the Iranian parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the nuclear deal presented its preliminary report to the Parliament. It highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but  emphasized the harmful effects some provisions could have on Iranian security. The committee is working on final report, some 1,000 pages long, that will be sent to top officials in all government branches of in two months. 
  • Six U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran would be lifted 
  • Iran would reserve the right to keep its heavy water reactor in Arak as well as the enrichment facility in Fordow 
  • Iran could continue to develop its missile program without restrictions 
  • Economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted 

  • The JCPOA would require Iran to do more than other countries who are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty 
  • Iran would not be able to quickly resume its nuclear program due to required technical changes, such as limiting the number of centrifuges 
  • Inspection of military sites would create security risks 
  • The deal may would leave Iran more vulnerable to foreign intelligence  
  • Certain sanctions would not be terminated until eight years after implementation of the deal
Five of the 15 committee members, however, issued a joint statement criticizing the report for ignoring “very positive points” of the agreement. The committee is working on final report, some 1,000 pages long, that will be sent to top officials in all government branches of in two months. 

The report proposed introducing and voting on resolution, within the week, that would give the government permission to implement the JCPOA under certain conditions. The key issue regarding next steps was timing. Lawmakers voted against fast-tracking the bill to the extent recommended by the report. So 75 lawmakers instead introduced a bill that would allow for 20 days of review. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani would have preferred voting sooner rather than later. “The more it is delayed, it harms us,” he said. Hossein Sobhani-Nia, Deputy Head of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said that Parliament will make a decision on the bill within 10 days and that a timely decision on the matter would show that Iran is committed to its international responsibilities.
The Iranian Government’s Reciprocal and Proportional Action Bill specifies that the administration should stop its voluntary activities and “adopt reciprocal measures” if the other countries party to the agreement violate its terms. Iran should engage in these measures to “restore the rights of the Iranian nation,” particularly if sanctions are not removed. The motion stresses the importance of Iran’s security and the need to protect classified information during inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Larijani referred the motion to the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission for review, which quickly approved it. 



Assad Interview with Iranian Television

On October 4, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said that he was optimistic about the new cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria in the fight against ISIS. The other week, Iraq announced that the four countries would share intelligence. The “coalition has great chances of success,” he told Iranian Khabar TV channel.

In the wide-ranging interview, Assad also emphasized the importance of Iran’s support for his government and Tehran’s four-point peace plan for Syria. And he expressed openness to the possibility of a dialogue among all Syrians that could produce a referendum on the constitution. The following are excerpts on key issues from a translation by Syrian state media. 

Cooperation with Iran, Russia and Iraq on ISIS Fight
“Iran and Russia have suffered different kinds of terrorism. When these countries unite against terrorism and fight it militarily and in the areas of security and information, in addition to other aspects, this coalition will, no doubt, achieve real results on the ground, particularly that it enjoys international support from countries which do not have a direct role in these crises and in this region. This is with the exception of the West, which has always sought to support terrorism, colonization and stood against peoples’ causes, most countries of the world feel the real danger of terrorism.”
Iran’s Syria Peace Plan
“What has changed during this period was the announcement of President Putin’s initiative, particularly in his speech in the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s Collective Security Council in which he identified basically his perception of the initiative, especially in relation to fighting terrorism.
“Now, the discussion continues between us and our Iranian brothers at the foreign ministry in order to take into account this important change, so that it becomes not necessarily part of the Iranian initiative, but to make the initiative compatible with these important and positive changes on the Syrian arena, and probably on the Syrian-Iraqi arena. That is why I say that this initiative is very important and necessary, particularly after signing the Iranian nuclear deal, and with European officials starting to communicate with Iran. We believe that the Iranian role has become important for us in Syria through this initiative. Of course, when it is complete the details are integrated, it will be announced.”
Iranian Support for Syria
“It can be summarized in two words: First, what I said about adherence to principles. The Iranian people are principled. And the second word is loyalty, for the Iranian people have been loyal to Syria which supported Iran when it went through war for eight years. That war had the same objectives which they want to achieve in Syria today, but in a different form, using different tools and under different international circumstances. The Iranian people and leadership have not forgotten Syria’s position at that time. When most countries of the world tried impose sanctions against Iran, Syria was, I don’t want to say the only state, but one of the few states which stood by Iran, but it was the clearest in its position.”
Political Process in Syria
“Of course, we support any political move in parallel with fighting terrorism. But this needs a number of factors to succeed. When we talk about dialogue among the Syrians, this dialogue has two aspects: there is a dialogue on the future of Syria, and it includes all Syrians. Every Syrian has the right to express an opinion in this dialogue in order to know the shape of the Syria we want. Later, there are institutions, there is the public opinion, there is a referendum on a constitution which might be produced by this dialogue. Whatever the people decide, then, will be binding to us as a state and for me as an official. But there is also a dialogue which is specific to the crisis: how to put an end to terrorism and how to restore security. If we talk about political reform, it does not concern the terrorists, because terrorists do not fight for political reform. They fight because they receive money or because they have a perverted doctrine, or because they want to have a role in a state that becomes another state’s client.”
“That is why I say to them [members of the opposition]: if you believe that you are right why don’t you convince the Syrian people, and the Syrian people will decide, through their institutions or the elections, who the president should be. There were elections last year. Where were you? What did you do? What is your impact on the street? Nothing. Their impact is nothing. Every person who lends his decisions to another country is despised by the Syrian people, and his influence will be zero. He becomes a mere talking head in the media. All those who believe in such a proposition should take part in the elections and try to prove their viewpoints. We have no objection. As for me personally, I say once again that if my departure is the solution, I will never hesitate to do that.”

Iran Nuclear Deal
“It has a tremendous impact, not in the way some people see it in terms of Iran’s technical, scientific or political capabilities. It has a great and extensive impact on all developing countries, because Iran is a developing country which has broken the knowledge blockade imposed on developing countries in order for the West to monopolize knowledge in certain areas, particularly that oil resources are being exhausted, and the future becoming dependent on nuclear energy.”
“On the other hand, you and we are strategic allies; so if Iran is stronger, Syria will be stronger, and vice versa. From another perspective, had Iran abandoned its rights in the nuclear file, that concession would have been used as the new standard which will be applied to other countries, regardless of the legitimate international right of all countries to obtain nuclear energy. In the future, Syria or any other similar country might need nuclear energy. What Iran has won by its steadfastness and through the intelligence of its negotiators will be applied to all these other countries in the future.”
“The final aspect is that related to the crisis. Acknowledging the real weight of Iran and its regional role will give it an opportunity to use its increasing influence to persuade the West that their policies are wrong. Of course, I do not pin, nor do you I believe, great hopes on the West changing its colonialist world view and moving in the right direction, but any effort made by Iran must have its impact.”

Click here for a full transcript by the Syrian Arab News Agency.  


Photo credit:  Bashar_al-Assad.jpg: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr derivative work: César (Bashar_al-Assad.jpg) [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


Economic Trends: August and September

Cameron Glenn

In August and September, Iran’s leaders tried to manage high expectations that the final nuclear deal will carry immediate economic benefits. The deal’s “Implementation Day,” when certain U.S., E.U., and U.N. sanctions will be lifted, will likely not occur until mid-2016. Additionally, the Islamic Republic may experience a severe budget deficit this fiscal year, as oil prices remained low around $45 per barrel. And several key non-oil industries – including automotive, steel, and cement production – are struggling from low demand and regional competition.
But European firms, many of which have been barred from doing business with Iran by sanctions, have continued to scope out investment and trade opportunities in Iran. In August and September, Tehran hosted a flurry of foreign trade delegations and signed several new contracts to boost foreign cooperation in energy, transportation, and other key sectors. Austrian President Heinz Fischer became the first European head of state to visit Iran since 2004. Austria and Iran hope to triple bilateral trade by 2020.
The following is a rundown of top economic stories with links.
Around 57 percent of Iranians think economic conditions are improving, according to an August 2015 poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. The figure is up from 32 percent in a May 2014 Gallup poll.
A plurality of Iranians, around 36 percent, believe that it will take about a year for Iran to see tangible changes in unemployment, living standards, foreign investments, and access to foreign medicines and medical equipment as a result of the nuclear deal.
On September 12, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri blamed high expectations for oversupply and low demand in several Iranian industries. “Unfortunately, some people are expecting a sudden fall in prices after the implementation of the nuclear agreement,” he said.
Iran hopes to lure back foreign oil companies by offering more favorable contract terms. In August, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh announced that Iran will introduce the Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC) as early as October. Unlike the “buy-back” contracts unpopular with foreign firms, the IPC allows companies to participate in all the stages of an oil or gas field’s lifecycle.
Foreign oil companies have sought opportunities to resume work in Iran since the nuclear deal was signed in July. Italian oil company ENI, for example, sent executives to Iran in August as part of a high-ranking business delegation. ENI had been active in Iran before sanctions were tightened in 2010.



At the same time, Iranian officials emphasized reducing Iran’s dependence on oil. “The oil market, in which prices drop from $100 to $40 in a blink of an eye, is not reliable at all,” Supreme Leader Khamenei said in a meeting with Rouhani and cabinet members on August 25. “We have to consider finding a suitable alternative.”
In September, government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said Iran may reduce oil revenues to only 30 percent of the state budget. Oil revenues have typically accounted for around 60 percent, but last year Tehran was forced to revise budget estimates after oil prices dropped in late 2014. Nobakht said that the fluctuations could cause the government to receive 22 percent less revenues this year than anticipated, causing the largest budget deficit since the Iran-Iraq war.
“The Iranian economy is based on a single product, a problem which has not been completely resolved yet,” Rouhani said in September. Iran hopes to reach $77.5 billion in non-oil exports in 2015.
In September, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh met with officials from Poland and Spain to discuss the possibility of exporting liquefied natural gas to the two countries. European companies estimated that Iran – which holds the world’s second largest natural gas reserves – could supply Europe with up to 35 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2030.
But Iran faces significant roadblocks, including a lack of infrastructure, the need for billions of dollars of investments, competition from other producers, and an excess of natural gas on the market. Alireza Kameli, managing director of the National Iranian Gas Export Company, said that exporting gas to Europe may not prove to be economical, and that the Islamic Republic should focus on exporting gas to its neighbors. In August and September, Iran also reached agreements to expand natural gas exports to Oman and Iraq.
Auto industry
In August, a social media campaign in Iran began calling for a boycott of Iranian-made cars due to poor quality and safety standards. In September, Minister of Trade, Mining, and Industry Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh called the boycott “sinful” and “anti-revolutionary,” arguing it would hurt the economy.
Iranian car production rose 8.7 percent in the first five months of the Iranian calendar year (March-August 2015), but sales of Iranian cars dropped 15 percent in the same period.
The automotive industry is Iran’s largest non-oil sector. Western automakers left Iran due to sanctions, but several companies – including Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Peugeot – have expressed interest in returning to Iran once sanctions are lifted.
Iranian cement exports – a key non-oil industry – declined by 30 percent in the first five months of the Iranian calendar year. Iran is the largest cement producer in the Middle East, but it has struggled in the past few years from low demand, sanctions, and competition from other cement producers such as Turkey.
Iran’s steel output grew 60 percent between 2007 and 2014, according to the World Steel Association. Iran imported billions of dollars in steel in the early 2000s, but increased domestic production after sanctions restricted imports. Iranian officials hope that lifting sanctions will allow it to increase steel exports to 10 million tons by 2025.
But Iran’s steel industry is also struggling due to low demand, high production costs, and competition from low-quality steel products from China. It has also been hampered by the recent decline in car sales.
Water and electricity
Iran hopes to earn $50 billion in investments for water and electricity projects once sanctions are lifted, according to Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian. The projects would take around 20 years to complete. The water and electricity sectors have suffered from lack of investment over the last few years and uneven implementation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s subsidy reform program.
United Kingdom
Central Bank of Iran Governor Valiollah Seif announced that two Iranian banks will open in Britain. Seif met with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in August, during his visit to Tehran to reopen the British embassy. A British economic delegation, which included oil and gas companies, visited Iran in early October.


European Union
Iran’s exports to the European Union increased 14 percent in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, according to the E.U. statistics office. Imports from Iran totaled 550 million euros, compared to 480 million euros in the first half of 2014. Masoud Khansari, president of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, said in September that eight major European trade delegations have visited Iran since the nuclear deal was signed, and the Islamic Republic plans to host at least 10 more in the near future.
United States
Iran plans to resume carpet exports to the United States once sanctions are lifted under the nuclear deal, according to Hamid Kargar, head of Iran’s National Carpet Center. Before sanctions were tightened in 2010, the Islamic Republic exported $80 million in carpets to the United States annually, and the U.S. market accounted for one fifth of Iran’s carpet exports.
Austrian firms signed contracts and memoranda of understanding with Iran totaling $89 million during Austrian President Heinz Fischer’s visit to Tehran in September. Fischer was the first European head of state to visit the Islamic Republic since 2004. Iran and Austria hope to increase bilateral trade from $300 million per year to $1 billion per year by 2020.

Trade between Turkey and Iran declined by 21.8 percent in the first seven months of 2015, compared to the same period last year. Turkey’s exports to Iran rose 22.1 percent, but imports dropped by 34.8 percent, due in part to falling oil prices. The two countries have sought to increase trade volume in 2015, signing a series of bilateral trade agreements earlier this year.


Other countries

In August and September, Iran also took steps to improve bilateral economic ties with several other nations. They included the following:

  • Iraq signed three deals on economic cooperation with Iran.
  • France opened a trade office in Tehran during a visit from a business delegation with representatives from Airbus, Renault, Peugeot, and Total.
  • Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding on labor cooperation with Iran.
  • South Korea’s export credit agency announced it would help finance $5 billion worth of projects by Korean firms in Iran.
  • Italy’s development ministry and export credit agency signed a memorandum of understanding "to facilitate future economic and commercial relations” with Iran.
  • South Africa – formerly the leading African importer of Iranian oil – signed a deal to increase oil imports from Iran once sanctions are lifted.
  • Officials in Bangladesh and China met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss improving trade ties.
  • A Spanish delegation visited Tehran to pursue cooperation in tourism, transportation, and energy.
  • Armenia negotiated a series of deals with Iran in railroads, gas, and electricity to implement once sanctions are lifted.
  • Serbian agricultural ministers hosted their counterparts from Iran and discussed opportunities for collaboration.


Cameron Glenn is a senior program assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.


Tags: Economy

Regional Leaders at UNGA: On Iran

Top officials from across the Middle East and South Asia discussed Iran during their visits to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Some leaders welcomed the nuclear deal or proposed new dialogue with Iran while others accused Tehran of meddling in the region. The following are excerpted remarks.

Saudi Arabia
Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir
“The Iranian president is the last to discuss democracy in Syria. If it was not for Iran, there would not be the destruction and killing we see today in Syria. Iran supports Bashar Al-Assad by sending thousands of militants and fueling sectarianism between Sunnis and Shiites in Syria and the whole region. They recruit Hezbollah and other militias in the area and send them to Syria to defend Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.”
“[T]he problem in Yemen was due to Houthis, along with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overthrowing the government. The Houthis have gone to war multiple times in Yemen.  Iran has relations with the Houthis, as it provides them with weapons and specialists, and Iran is one of the main reasons behind the war in Yemen. Iran is trying to fan the flames in Yemen by smuggling weapons to the Houthis in violation of UN Resolution 2216. Their last attempt was on Saturday, when an Iranian ship loaded with weapons was intercepted.  So, Iran is the last country to speak of stability and security in Yemen. Iran is one of the main reasons for what is happening in Yemen today.”
“We have previously said that it is unacceptable to use such human tragedy politically, which happened while people were performing a religious ritual.”
“The Iranians know very well that the Kingdom will do everything in its capacity to provide and facilitate visits to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The Iranians realize that the Kingdom is doing tremendous work for the service of the guests of Makkah. And I believe what they said contradicts the idea of sovereignty and non-interference. The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques was clear when he ordered a thorough investigation and will hold any individual or organization accountable if found guilty. This investigation is ongoing and we will make the results public.  The Iranians are the last to speak of Hajj and pilgrims, because they have caused chaos multiple times in the past, through protests in the 80s, which resulted in a number of death due to their riots.”
—Sept. 28, 2015 in an interview with Al-Arabiya in New York

“There are parties trying to worsen and escalate the crisis in Yemen through the smuggling of arms.”
“…We welcomed the recent agreement between the group of P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which prevents Iran from the acquisition of nuclear weapons. We also call on Iran to renounce its negative interventions in Arab affairs and we are desirous of building good neighborly relations with Iran based on mutual respect and good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of other countries. We also call on Iran to end its occupation of the three Arab islands of the United Arab Emirates.”

—Oct. 1, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly

President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour
“Three years ago I found myself at this very podium before you…At that time I told you that Iran was hindering the continuance of the [peace] process and that that country was training Houthi militias and providing them with weapons—this through boats and vessels—so as to impose the Iranian model in Yemen.”
“We find ourselves mixed in this battle for the legitimacy of the State, to prevent the country from falling into the hands of Iran.”
“We shall not allow the Houthis, nor anyone else, to repeat the Iranian experience in Yemen.”

—Sept. 29, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly


United Arab Emirates
Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
“The UAE believes that security and stability of the states of the region depend on the extent of their positive cooperation, which must take as its fundamental pillar respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. With regard to the statement by the President of Iran during this session’s general debate, I believe that Iran’s record does not qualify it to speak about the safety of the Hajj pilgrims and human rights, nor do its policies give it the right to refer to stability issues in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East. The UAE stands firm with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any Iranian attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Arab States.”
“In this regard, I reiterate the United Arab Emirates rejection of Iran’s continued occupation of the UAE three islands Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, and demand restoration of the UAE full sovereignty over these islands. We also stress that all actions and measures carried out by the Iranian authorities are contrary to international law and all norms and common values. From this platform, we renew our call to the international community to urge Iran to respond to the sincere and peaceful calls of the UAE to reach a just settlement for this issue, either through serious direct negotiations between our two countries or by referring the issue to the International Court of Justice.”
—Oct. 2, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani
“The agreement between Iran and the 5+1 Group is a positive and important step. As we look forward with hope that this nuclear agreement contributes to maintaining security and stability in our region, we further demand moving forward to disarm the entire region of nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction.”
“On this occasion, I assure that Iran is an important neighbor country, and that cooperation between it and our countries is in the interest of the region.”
“Bilateral relations between Qatar and Iran are growing and evolving steadily on the basis of common interests and good neighborliness. There is no dispute concerning bilateral relations between our two countries. At the level of the region there are various creeds and religions, but there is no, in my opinion, a Shiite-Sunni conflict in essence, but rather differences that are triggered by the political interests of countries, or the interests of political and social forces that foment internal sect-centric prejudices.”
“The existing disputes in my opinion, are political regional Arab-Iranian differences, rather than being a Sunni-Shiite disputes. This could be solved through dialogue, and initially agreeing on the rules governing the relationship between Iran and the Gulf States on the basis of non-interference in internal affairs. It is time to conduct a meaningful dialogue of this kind between countries that will always remain neighbors, and are not in need of mediation from anyone. We are ready to host a dialogue of this kind in Qatar.”
—Sept. 28, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“[A]fter three days of listening to world leaders praise the nuclear deal with Iran, I begin my speech today by saying: Ladies and Gentlemen, check your enthusiasm at the door. You see, this deal doesn't make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.
“Just look at what Iran has done in the last six months alone, since the framework agreement was announced in Lausanne. Iran boosted its supply of devastating weapons to Syria. Iran sent more soldiers of its Revolutionary Guard into Syria. Iran sent thousands of Afghani and Pakistani Shi’ite fighters to Syria. Iran did all this to prop up Assad's brutal regime. Iran also shipped tons of weapons and ammunitions to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, including another shipment just two days ago.

“Iran threatened to topple Jordan. Iran’s proxy Hezbollah smuggled into Lebanon SA-22 missiles to down our planes, and Yakhont cruise missiles to sink our ships. Iran supplied Hezbollah with precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles and attack drones so it can accurately hit any target in Israel. Iran aided Hamas and Islamic Jihad in building armed drones in Gaza.
“Iran also made clear its plans to open two new terror fronts against Israel, promising to arm Palestinians in the West Bank and sending its Revolutionary Guard generals to the Golan Heights, from which its operatives recently fired rockets on northern Israel.”
—Oct. 1, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly


Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates
“The Syrian Arab Republic would like to congratulate the Islamic Republic of Iran on its steadfastness and victory in achieving the historic agreement that fulfils the aspirations of the brotherly people of Iran, recognizes the right of Iran to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, lifts the sanctions imposed against it, as well as lifts the freeze on its assets, and leads to opening up of the international arena on this brotherly country. This agreement proves that the diligent and serious diplomatic approach is able to overcome all obstacles and result in peaceful and fair solutions for thorny files.”
“Imposing unethical unilateral coercive economic measures by the United States and the European Union contradicts the rules of international law and the principles of free trade. On this basis, we call for the lifting of the blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba for decades, as we renew our call to lift and stop all the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria and the peoples of other countries such as Iran, DPRK, Venezuela and Belarus.”
—Oct. 2, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
“We welcome the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1. This shows what diplomatic engagement and multilateralism can achieve. It augurs well for the peace and security of our region and beyond.”
—Sept. 30, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
President of the Council of Ministers
“We followed with great interest the recent agreement between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, hoping that this development will open a new page in international relations and will mark the beginning of an improvement in the regional environments, which will reflect positively on the political situation in Lebanon.”
—Sept. 30, 2015, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly



Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo