United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

FM Zarif to Russia : State of Relations

Mark N. Katz

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will visit Russia on April 22 for a ministerial meeting of Caspian Sea countries. What is the status of relations between Tehran and Moscow?
      Moscow and Tehran have long appeared to have good relations but they are, in fact, often contentious. Iran values Russia’s role in tempering Western demands about its nuclear program and on other issues. At the same time, the Islamic Republic does not want to be drawn into defending Russia in the tense dispute over Ukraine, which pits Russia against the United States and Europe.
     Ironically, Moscow’s relations with Washington and the West today are worse than Tehran’s. Russia is actually concerned about losing influence in Iran, both because of President Hassan Rouhani’s more moderate tone on foreign policy and international tensions since the Crimea crisis erupted in February 2014.
On what issues do they collaborate? On what issues are they divided?
      Moscow and Tehran are often divided over the very issues on which they collaborate. 
      One of the biggest problems, for example, has been Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Russia was instrumental in completing the Bushehr reactor, but the long-delayed opening as well as numerous contract disputes became sources of tension. 
      Moscow has been helpful to Iran in delaying or limiting sanctions introduced by the West at the U.N. Security Council since 2006. But Tehran has also been annoyed that Russia voted to approve four resolutions that it could have vetoed. 
            Moscow has been an important arms supplier for Iran, but Tehran has been unhappy about the limits to cooperation. Tehran was furious in 2010 when Moscow canceled the S-300 air defense missile systems sold to Iran—even though Tehran had already paid for them. 
      Moscow and Tehran have been especially divided over how to draw the maritime boundaries in the Caspian Sea, an issue that will be discussed during the April 22 ministerial meeting. Given the failure of past meetings to make progress, prospects for this round are no better.
      One issue on which Moscow and Tehran have agreed is Syria. Both have supported the Assad regime’s campaign against the uprising launched in 2011. 
What is Russia’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program? What role has it played in the latest rounds of diplomacy?
            Moscow does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but it traditionally has not been as concerned as Washington. Moscow is far more concerned about maintaining and building Russia’s economic relationship with Tehran, especially in the area of petroleum, atomic energy and weaponry.
            Moscow fears a nuclear accord will improve Iranian-American relations, and that Tehran may then have less need for Russia for trade or as an ally. 
What is Iran’s stance on the unrest in Ukraine? And on Russia’s actions?
            The Iranian reaction to events in Crimea and Ukraine has been mixed. Some Iranian leaders have complained that the West is bullying Russia, while others warned about the general dangers of separatism, an issue about which Iran also feels vulnerable. Iran did not show up for a vote at the United Nations on Resolution 68/39 declaring that the Crimea referendum in March about joining Russia was invalid. Iran was one of 24 states that was absent for the vote. Events in Ukraine are not central to Iranian foreign policy. Tehran certainly does not want the Ukrainian crisis to jeopardize nuclear negotiations with the world’s six major powers.
Has the Iran-Russia relationship changed since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013? If so, how?
            Before Rouhani’s election, Moscow hoped to play the role of mediator between Iran and the West, thus making Russia important for both sides. But the improved atmosphere between Iran and the West since Rouhani took office has lessened the need for Russian mediation. Even Iran and the United States can—and have had—direct talks with each other.
Mark N. Katz, professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

Click here for his chapter on Iran-Russia relations.

Photo credits: President.ir


Obama Rules on UN Appointees

      On April 18, President Barack Obama signed Senate Resolution 2195 into law, banning appointees to the United Nations that have “engaged in espionage or terrorist activity directed against the United States or its allies.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) sponsored the bill in response to reports that Iran’s potential nominee for U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, was a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line — the group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The bill actually did not mention Aboutalebi by name. The White House previously told Tehran that Aboutalebi’s nomination was “not viable” but did not specify if it would bar him from entering the United States. The following is the full text Obama’s statement and information on the bill.

            Today I have signed into law S. 2195, an Act concerning visa limitations for certain representatives to the United Nations.  S. 2195 amends section 407 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, to provide that no individual may be admitted to the United States as a representative to the United Nations, if that individual has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity directed against the United States or its allies, and if that individual may pose a threat to United States national security interests.  As President Bush observed in signing the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, this provision "could constrain the exercise of my exclusive constitutional authority to receive within the United States certain foreign ambassadors to the United Nations." (Public Papers of the President, George Bush, Vol. I, 1990, page 240).  Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity, and I share the Congress's concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our Nation.  Nevertheless, as President Bush also observed, "curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution."  I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.


             On April 7, the Senate unanimously passed a bill by Ted Cruz (R-TX) barring known terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States as representatives to the United Nations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi as U.N. ambassador spurred the legislation. Aboutalebi was allegedly a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, the group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
            Cruz introduced the bill on April 1 and argued that it would be “unconscionable” for the United States “to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard for the status of our diplomats when they were stationed in his country” in the “name of international diplomatic protocol.”
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called the nomination “extremely troubling” in remarks to the press on April 2. “We're taking a close look at the case now, and we've raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran. But we do take our obligations as host nation for the United Nations very seriously,” she said. Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has introduced companion legislation, H.R. 4357 for consideration. The House would need to approve the measure before sending it to President Obama to sign it into law. On April 8, White House Spokesperson Jay Carney said the administration shares the Senate's concerns and that the U.S. government had informed Tehran that the "potential selection is not viable." The following is a statement by Cruz and the full text of S. 2195.  

S. 2195
To deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity against the United States and poses a threat to United States national security interests.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 407(a) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991 (8 U.S.C. 1102 note) is amended--
(1) by striking ``such individual has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities'' and inserting the following: ``such individual--
``(1) has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity (as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B)(iii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(iii)))''; and
(2) by striking ``allies and may pose'' and inserting the following: ``allies; and ``(2) may pose''.
Passed the Senate April 7, 2014.



U.N. Report: Iran Cut Nuclear Stockpile 75%

            Iran is ahead of schedule in implementing the interim nuclear deal, according to the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran has cut its most sensitive uranium stockpile by 75 percent and is set to dilute or convert the rest soon. Under the Joint Plan of Action, the Islamic Republic committed to stop enriching uranium beyond five percent and to neutralize its entire 20 percent stockpile. The period for implementation will end on July 20, 2014. The following is the full text of the IAEA report.

Status of Iran’s Nuclear Programme in relation to the Joint Plan of Action
Report by the Director General
1. As foreshadowed in GOV/2014/2, this report provides information on the status of the IslamicRepublic of Iran’s (Iran’s) nuclear programme in relation to the “voluntary measures” that Iran has agreed to undertake as part of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreed between the E3+3 and Iran on 24 November 2013.1 According to the JPA, the first step would be time-bound (six months) and renewable by mutual consent. The JPA took effect on 20 January 2014.
2. The Agency confirms that since 20 January 2014, Iran has:
i. not enriched uranium above 5% U-235 at any of its declared facilities;
ii. not operated cascades in an interconnected configuration at any of its declared facilities;
iii. completed the dilution – down to an enrichment level of no more than 5% U-235 – of
half of the nuclear material that had been in the form of UF6 enriched up to 20%
U-235 on 20 January 2014;
iv. fed 50.1 kg4 of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 into the conversion process at the Fuel
Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) for conversion into uranium oxide;
v. had no process line to reconvert uranium oxides back into UF6 at FPFP;
vi. not made “any further advances” to its activities at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP),
the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) or the Arak reactor (IR-40 Reactor), including the manufacture and testing of fuel for the IR-40 Reactor;
vii. provided an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor and agreed to hold a meeting with the Agency on 5 May 2014 to start discussions
aimed at agreeing on the conclusion of a Safeguards Approach for the reactor;
viii. continued the construction of the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) for the conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 into oxide and consequently has yet to begin converting to oxide the UF6 “newly enriched” up to 5% U-235;
ix. continued its safeguarded enrichment R&D practices at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP), without accumulating enriched uranium;
x. not carried out reprocessing related activities at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)
and the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) Facility or at
any of the other facilities to which the Agency has access;
xi. provided information and managed access to the uranium mine and mill at Gchine;
xii. continued to provide daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow;
xiii. provided regular managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor
production workshops and storage facilities, and provided information thereon.

Rand Report: The Days After a Nuclear Deal

            On April 3, the Rand Corporation convened a day-long conference on Iran in the days after a nuclear deal. Participants concluded that that an agreement could herald a new era for Iran and its relationship with the outside world. But experts warned that Tehran would still likely be cautious of relations with Washington and that Israel and Saudi Arabia would still be concerned about Iranian intentions in the region.

          Both Tel Aviv and Riyadh “are likely to adapt to the new reality of a deal rather than actively attempt to derail it,” according to the report. The following are excerpts from the perspective, which assumes that Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Iran will reach an agreement based on the Joint Plan of Action.

           In planning for the regional response to a final nuclear agreement, Israel and Saudi Arabia come to the forefront, as they are the two actors with the most capacity to affect the success and durability of the deal following its signing. Both also view Iran as a regional rival to a greater extent than other neighbors.
Israel Is More Likely to Adapt to a Final Deal Than Immediately Reject It
            Based on the dominant views toward Iran among Israel’s security establishment (where Iran is linked to most hostile actions against Israel), as well as the likely contours of a nuclear deal, Israel is not likely to embrace a final agreement. The Israeli responses to and actions after a final deal will thus largely fall into two general categories: rejection or adaptation. Although distinct in that Israeli rejection of a deal would lead to immediate confrontational actions while Israeli adaptation would allow for the implementation of the final deal to play out, these responses are not necessarily mutually exclusive -- rejection of a deal would lead to immediate confrontational actions while Israeli adaptation would allow for the implementation of the final deal to play out, these responses are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
            Israeli leaders could openly denounce a final deal along the lines that we outlined above because, in their view, such an agreement will not set the Iranian program back far enough to prevent its ultimate attainment of nuclear weapons, and also because Israel is
still concerned about an array of other Iranian actions in the region that are threatening to Israel. A number of Israeli steps aimed at derailing a deal could accompany public and acrimonious official rejection of a final nuclear agreement.
            Perhaps the Israeli course of action that should most likely be expected in the aftermath of a final deal it rejected would be encouraging the U.S. Congress to delay or prevent a lifting of sanctions against Iran in an attempt to slow or undermine the implementation of a final agreement.
            Rather than publicly rejecting a final deal and pursuing actions that could lead to the deal’s collapse and open rift with the United States, Israel might instead adapt to, even if it does not welcome, a final nuclear agreement.
            Particularly if Israel is able to influence the final deal in ways such that the details of the agreement would meet what some Israeli security analysts assess to be Israel’s minimum requirements (e.g., on levels of enrichment, the fate of the Arak reactor, and Iran’s
missile research), Israel’s official position could quietly shift away from the current maximalist positions expressed by Netanyahu. In this case, Israel could refrain from attempts to derail the deal and adapt Israeli security policies to the new reality through measures
such as continued missile-defense development, and possibly new debates about Israel’s current nuclear opacity posture, as Israel considers ways to further bolster its regional deterrence. Israel may also attempt to strengthen its de facto cooperation with Saudi
Arabia and other regional states wary of Iranian regional influence, although anti-Israel public opinion across the Arab world would limit the extent of such cooperation absent a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Might Adapt to a Deal but Increase Competition Against Iran Elsewhere in the Region
            Like Israel, Saudi Arabia may grudgingly accept a final nuclear deal along the lines of that described at the outset of this report, even if it has reservations about the fact that Iran will retain some residual nuclear program. Indeed, given that Riyadh does not have the
same military capabilities as Tel Aviv – namely, to launch a strike on Iranian nuclear infrastructure – it may be that Saudi acquiescence is more likely than the Israelis. Despite Saudi skepticism that genuine change is afoot in Tehran, the Kingdom does not have a recent history of seeking better relations with Iran when opportunities present themselves. For example, there was some warning of relations between the two Gulf rivals during the Rafsanjani and Khatami presidencies, and the combination of Rouhani and a final nuclear agreement could be the impetus for another thaw. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit to the GCC states in December 2013 raised the possibility of some warming in Iranian-GCC relations, although it is important to note that Zarif was not welcomed in either Riyadh or Manama.
Should Riyadh conclude that the final agreement is not in its best interests, it possesses several counters that could complicate implementation and diminish the chances that an agreement could translate into a broader Western-Iranian détente.
The most concerning, but also the least likely, is that Saudi Arabia will lay the groundwork for the acquisition of its own nuclear weapon to balance against an Iran it sees as a threshold
nuclear power given the advanced stage of the Iranian program.
The second Saudi counter, and one that is more likely, is that Saudi Arabia will further roil the regional waters in an effort to complicate the emergence of a broader détente between the United States and Iran, which many Saudis fear would come at the price of the United States recognizing an Iranian sphere of influence. The Kingdom is already engaged in strategic competition with Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and within the Arabian Peninsula when
it comes to countering Iranian influence among the GCC states’ Shi‘a populations.
Click here for the full report.

Khamenei’s Red Lines on Nuclear Talks

            On April 9, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei outlined six red lines on nuclear talks in an address to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The semi-official government website NuclearEnergy.ir pulled out his six points and distributed the graphic below. The following are excerpts from his speech marking National Nuclear Technology Day.  

Address to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
             The purpose of agreeing with these negotiations was to change the atmosphere of hostility that the camp of arrogance [the West] has created against Iran. These negotiations should continue, but everyone should know that despite this, the activities of the Islamic Republic in the area of nuclear research and development will not stop in any way. None of the nuclear achievements of the country can be given up. Besides, the relations of the International Atomic Energy Agency with Iran should be normal and ordinary relations.
       Another plot that global arrogance [the West] has tried very hard to implement against the Islamic Revolution is to influence the major policies of Iran and to shatter the willpower of the political management of the country. But the camp of arrogance has failed to do this until today and by Allah's favor, it will continue to fail in the future.
       The nuclear issue is an example of this, through which they tried to create an environment against the Islamic Republic and to spread lies. Their goal is to preserve the international environment against Iran with this excuse. This was why there was an agreement with the new plan of the administration for the nuclear issue. The purpose of this agreement was to remove the international environment against Iran, to seize the initiative from the other side and to reveal the truth for public opinion in the world. Of course, these negotiations do not mean that the Islamic Republic will compromise its scientific-nuclear movement.
             The nuclear achievements that have been made so far are, in fact, a message to the people of Iran that they can take the paths which lead to the lofty peaks of science and technology. Therefore, this scientific-nuclear movement should not be stopped in any way or slowed down.
             None of the nuclear achievements of the country can be given up. No one has the right to trade these achievements and no one will do this.
             At that time [a few years ago], a formula was devised for producing fuel. But the Americans created obstacles in the way of this process. This was contrary to what they had said to their friends in the regions and to a South American country - and these people believed what the Americans said. The Americans foolishly thought that they had put Iran in dire straits.
             At that time, I said that America does not want to solve this issue. Later on, everyone saw that when a nuclear agreement was in its final stages, the Americans did not allow it to be finalized.At that time, westerners began to ridicule our experts who had announced that they have the capability to produce fuel plates for the Tehran research reactor. But our youth accomplished this feat in less than the arranged time and as a result, the enemies were astonished.
             If some people think that the price of nuclear achievements has been sanctions and pressures, we should remind them that even before the nuclear excuse, sanctions and pressures existed against Iran.
             During the time when there was no nuclear excuse, a western court put Iran on a trial in absentia. Of course, in the present time, they do not have the courage to do this because of the national power of the country. Sanctions and pressures do not exist because of the nuclear issue. Rather, they are opposed to the independent identity - which originates from Islamic faith and belief - and the future prospects of the people of Iran and the Islamic Republic and to their refusal to be bullied by anyone.
             Therefore, if it is said that sanctions and pressures are the price that we have paid for our nuclear achievements, this is not true because even if sanctions did not exist, they would make another excuse, as the Americans bring up the issue of human rights in today's negotiations.
             Even if the issue of human rights is resolved, they will find another excuse. Therefore, the only way is to continue our path of progress with complete power and to stand up against their bullying.
             The negotiators of the country should not give in to any bullying of the other side. Besides, the relations of the International Atomic Energy Agency with Iran should be normal and ordinary relations.

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