United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Beats U.S. in Volleyball

In the middle of nuclear diplomacy, U.S. and Iranian volleyball teams faced off in Tehran in the Volleyball World League competition. In both matches, on June 19 and June 21, Iran’s national team defeated Team USA in three straight sets.


The Iranians bested the reigning champions in front of some 12,000 spectators in Azadi stadium. And many more watched the games live on state television, though the network muted the U.S. national anthem.


American players reportedly did not drink before sundown out of respect for the fasting month of Ramadan.
After the second match, U.S. coach John Speraw complimented the Iranian team.
“We got beat by a better volleyball team by significant margin. They outplayed us in every facet of the game: block, defense, passing, serving, and offense. So there is only one thing we can do, and that is to learn from this volleyball match to hope that we can improve. We are a team and have some physical gifts, some big players who can jump high and beat the ball, but we have to play the entire game much better if we hope to be as a team as well-coached and skilled as Iran.”
He also spoke about Iranian hospitality and the U.S.-Iran relationship.
“I think we are all aware that the portrait of the relationship between Iran and the United States is inaccurate in the media. Probably on both sides, my guess... it was a great trip and we look forward to coming here again. And I think we have much better understanding of what the environment is both inside the arena and outside.”
Iran’s coach, Slobodan Kovac, also had kind words for the U.S. team.
“I respect the USA. They are the best team of the world because they are very disciplined and we should learn from them.”

Tehran erupted after Sunday night.




Tags: Offbeat

Civil Society For a Deal but Doubtful Impact

On June 22, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that civil society broadly backs nuclear diplomacy, but is skeptical about how a deal might change either the political or economic environment at home. The following are highlights of the study, with a link to the report “High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations,”

Civil society in Iran remains steadfast and unequivocal in its support for the nuclear negotiations, and its members hope for an agreement that will end years of sanctions and isolation, according to a new study by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Expectations of the benefits of an accord to Iran’s economy and for political and cultural freedoms in the country, however, are more measured, reflecting uncertainties regarding the Rouhani administration’s ability to translate the lifting of sanctions into gains for ordinary Iranians.
“Iranian civil society has spoken, and they want peace and re-engagement with the world,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “If an accord is reached, the world must stand by the people of Iran in their next endeavor: the realization of their basic rights and freedoms.” Among the key findings in the 34-page study:
  • The respondents were unanimous in their support for an accord and in the belief that failure to reach an agreement would result in economic disaster, increased political and cultural repression, and possibly war.
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, but one-fifth of those fear these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.
  • Twenty-five percent of all respondents expect any economic benefits to reach only the wealthy and connected, due to entrenched corruption.
  • Sixty-one percent believe a deal would enable political and cultural reforms, as a politically strengthened Rouhani administration could now turn its focus to such issues.
  • Thirty-six percent expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms, citing either Rouhani’s lack of authority or his willingness given his meager record over the past two years.
“Evident throughout these interviews is a nation longing for a relief from the threat of war and thirsty for reform,” said Ghaemi, “Hope of achieving this has seemed to bring the first cracks of light into a collective consciousness in Iran that has been remarkably black for years.”The study’s findings contrasted with the Campaign’s July 2014 study of Iranian civil society’s views on the talks, indicating that since that time, for many, there is a growing gulf between what they hope for and what they expect.
A significant portion of the respondents questioned the Rouhani’s administration’s ability to shepherd the country back to economic health even if an accord is reached, questioning either its managerial competency or its ability to confront rampant corruption and powerful vested interests committed to maintaining the current economic structure.
Others questioned Rouhani’s willingness to enact economic, political, or cultural reforms, noting with dismay his lack of authority in the country and his meager record over the last two years even in areas under his direct control. Despite these fears—and the fact that this is a nation scarred by eight years of mismanagement, corruption, and repression under the former Ahmadinejad administration, the toughest sanctions regime that the international community as imposed on a country to date, and two years of little change under a president who was elected on a platform of reform—there was palpable sense of hope ran through the interviews.
“We are a society that wants to live with the rest of the world. We want to be connected to the entire world. These conditions of isolation from the rest of the world are intolerable,” said the Novelist Aboutorab Khosravi. Reflecting a sentiment held strongly by every respondent, the lawyer Nemat Ahmadi put it most succinctly: “People hope that when they wake up on the morning of July 1, they would hear that an agreement has been reached.” 
Click here for the full study.

IRGC Targets Internet Activists

On June 22, Reporters Without Borders issued a report entitled “Revolutionary Guards Target Internet Activists.” It addresses the recent spate of arrests as well as the pattern of prosecutions since President Rouhani was elected two years ago. Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The following are excerpts of the report:

In the two years since the moderate conservative Hassan Rouhani was installed as president, in June 2013, around 100 Internet activists have been arrested and given long jail terms, in most cases on information provided by the Revolutionary Guards.
This persecution of news and information providers is just the continuation of the unprecedented crackdown that began immediately after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June 2009, when at least 300 journalists and Internet activists were arrested arbitrarily, tortured and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
But this persecution is also a weapon in the power struggle being waged among the various government factions, a weapon used to keep constant pressure on President Rouhani, who was elected thanks to the support of progressives and who, during his campaign, promised the “release of all political prisoners” and more “free speech and media freedom.”
Several journalists and Internet activists who were convicted in 2009 and 2010 by rigged revolutionary courts have since been released on completing their sentences but many others are still in prison, where they are often subjected to appalling conditions.
They include Said Razavi Faghih, Saraj Mirdamadi, Masoud Bastani, Reza Entesari, Said Madani, Said Matinpour and Alireza Rajai. Unfortunately there has been no improvement in the inhuman treatment reserved for prisoners of conscience in Iran, especially in Tehran’s Evin prison and in Raja’i Shahr prison.
Furthermore, journalists are no longer able to work after completing their jail terms, regardless of whether their sentences included a post-release “ban on practicing the profession of journalist.”
Many newspaper executives and editors are given clear instructions not to hire them. One way or another, the regime prevents most independent journalists from working. Two journalists were recently fired from a media outlet by one of President Rouhani’s associates solely because they had been imprisoned.
Internet activists – easy targets
With more than 40 million Internet users, according to official figures, Iran is one of the region’s most connected countries. The level of government control of the Internet has been the subject of intense debate at the highest levels since Rouhani took over as president.
Compared with the Ahmadinejad era, Internet surveillance and control seem to have eased somewhat. This has not pleased the Revolutionary Guards despite benefitting their business interests as managers of Iran’s leading Internet Service Provider, the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), and the three leading mobile phone operators that are government offshoots. And this displeasure accounts for their current offensive against Internet activists.
The staff of the website Narenji (Orange in Persian) were among the first victims of the Revolutionary Guard offensive. After being arrested on 3 December 2013Ali Asghar Honarmand, Abass Vahedi, Ehsan Paknejad and Hossien Nozari were given sentences ranging from two to eleven years in prison for “collaborating with enemy media.” Six other Narenji activists have been released conditionally. All were subjected to months of solitary confinement to extract confessions, called “acts of self-accusation,” that were used as evidence against them.
Several people with dual citizenship have been given long jail terms because of what they were posting on Facebook and other social networks. They include Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual Iranian and British citizenship. A Tehran revolutionary court sentenced her to 20 years in prison on 27 May 2014. This was reduced to five years in April of this year. Farideh Shahgholi, a woman with dual Iranian and German citizenship, is serving a three-year jail term.
Nobakht was one of many Internet activists arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in 2013. They included Amir Gholestani, Masoud Ghasemkhani, Fariborz Kardarfar, Seyyed Masoud Seyyed Talebi, Amin (Faride) Akramipour, Mehdi Reyshahri and Naghmeh Shahi Savandi Shirazi. After being placed in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin prison and subjected to a great deal of pressure, they were given sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison…
On 8 June, judicial system spokesman Golamhossien Mohsseni Ejehi announced the arrests of “several individuals” for social network activity regarded as “actions against national security.”
The victims of the latest Revolutionary Guard-orchestrated round-up include Mahmud Moussavifarand Shayan AkbarPour, two Internet activists who ran the Rahian Facebook page and a blog called Rahi, which cannot currently be accessed.  After plainclothes men arrested them at their Tehran home on 31 May, their families reported them missing because they still do not know why they were arrested or where they were taken.
Click here for the full report.
Tags: Reports

US Report on Iran’s Support of Extremism

Iran increased its assistance to Shiite militias in Iraq, one of which is designated as a foreign terrorist organization, according to a new State Department report. In 2014, Tehran also continued supporting Palestinian militants in Gaza and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, which has played a key role in defending the Assad regime in Syria. Iran-backed militias have also exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq.
At a press conference, Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tina Kaidanow emphasized that sanctions relief as part of a nuclear deal with Iran would not impact terrorism related measures. “We have sanctions in place against Iran specifically related to the terrorism issue. That’s not going to change.”
Iran condemned the report as politically-motivated. “The growing and complicated scourge of terrorism is rooted in applying double standards and a political approach to this evil and inhumane phenomenon,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham said on June 20. Iran is actually the “biggest victim of terrorism,” she claimed.

The following is an excerpt from the Bureau of Counterterrorism’s annual report.

Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2014, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanese Hizballah, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. This year, Iran increased its assistance to Iraqi Shia militias, one of which is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), in response to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) incursion into Iraq, and has continued to support other militia groups in the region. Iran also attempted to smuggle weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. While its main effort focused on supporting goals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iran and its proxies also continued subtle efforts at growing influence elsewhere including in Africa, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.
Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Lebanese Hizballah, its primary beneficiary, and as a key pillar in its “resistance” front. In 2014, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training, and the facilitation of primarily Iraqi Shia and Afghan fighters to support the Asad regime’s brutal crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 191,000 people in Syria, according to August UN estimates. Iran publicly admits to sending members of the IRGC to Syria in an advisory role. There is consistent media reporting that some of these troops are IRGC-QF members and that they have taken part in direct combat operations. While Tehran has denied that IRGC-QF personnel participate in combat operations, in 2014 it acknowledged the deaths in Syria of two senior officers (Brigadier Generals Abdullah Eskandari and Jamar Dariswali). Tehran claimed they were volunteers who lost their lives while protecting holy shrines near Damascus.
Likewise in Iraq, despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran increased training and funding to Iraqi Shia militia groups in response to ISIL’s advance into Iraq. Many of these groups, such as Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians. The IRGC-QF, in concert with Lebanese Hizballah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device (IED) technology and other advanced weaponry. Similar to Hizballah fighters, many of these trained Shia militants have used these skills to fight for the Asad regime in Syria or against ISIL in Iraq.
Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). These Palestinian terrorist groups have been behind a number of deaths from attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank. Although Hamas’s ties to Tehran have been strained due to the Syrian civil war, in a November 25 speech, Supreme Leader Khamenei highlighted Iran’s military support to “Palestinian brothers” in Gaza and called for the West Bank to be similarly armed. In December, Hamas Deputy Leader Moussa Abu Marzouk announced bilateral relations with Iran and Hamas were “back on track.”
In March, Israeli naval forces boarded the Klos C cargo ship in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan. On board, they found 40 M-302 rockets, 180 mortars, and approximately 400,000 rounds of ammunition hidden within crates of cement labeled “Made in Iran” and believed to be destined to militants in the region.
Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has also assisted in rearming Lebanese Hizballah, in direct violation of UNSCR 1701. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC Aerospace Force stated in November that "The IRGC and Hezbollah are a single apparatus jointed together," and Lebanese Hizballah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem boasted that Iran had provided his organization with missiles that had “pinpoint accuracy” in separate November public remarks. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Lebanese Hizballah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. These trained fighters have used these skills in direct support of the Asad regime in Syria and, to a lesser extent, in support of operations against ISIL in Iraq. They have also continued to carry out attacks along the Lebanese border with Israel.
Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.
Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, coordinated by the EU), and Iran began on January 20, 2014. Iran has fulfilled the commitments that it made under the JPOA. The parties negotiated during 2014 to pursue a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution to restore confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.
Click here for more information.

Pew: Iran Unpopular around the World

Iran’s global image remains mostly negative in the run up to the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. The survey, conducted from March 25 to May 27, found that majorities or pluralities in 31 of 40 countries hold an unfavorable view of the Islamic Republic. About three-in-four Americans still hold unfavorable views of the Islamic Republic. “And in several Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Asia, ratings have declined considerably in recent years,” according to Pew. President Hassan Rouhani, elected two years ago, also still receives generally poor ratings. The following are excerpted results.

Low Marks for Iran in Middle East, Other Regions
Iran is viewed negatively by most nations surveyed, with a global median of 58% saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the country that borders Afghanistan in the east and Iraq in the west. Pakistan is the only country polled where a majority (57%) views Iran favorably.
Perhaps influenced by political and sectarian tensions in the Middle East, favorable views of majority-Shia Iran have declined precipitously in some Muslim-majority countries over the last decade.
Click here for more information.
Tags: Reports

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