United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Officials Warn Against Syria Strike

      Iran’s political and military leaders have condemned calls for Western military intervention following reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. Military action would drag the Middle East into “the abyss of violence and conflict,” warned Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on August 27. Some leaders have outlined potentially dangerous repercussions for the United States. “Syria will turn into a field of slaughter and a fiasco much more dangerous than Vietnam,” said Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
      But President Hassan Rouhani and other top officials have also taken strong stances against the general use of chemical weapons, remembering the repeated use by Iraq during the 1980-1988 war. The following are excerpted remarks by top Iranian diplomats, military officials, politicians and clerics on Syria.

 
Military Officials
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, Revolutionary Guards commander
            “The U.S. opinion about its ability to limit a military intervention to Syria is nothing more than an illusion. The reactions will go beyond Syrian borders.
“Just as U.S. meddling in the Muslim world has led to the spread of extremism, violence and terrorism, attacking Syria will intensify the spread of extremism.”
Aug. 31, 2013 to the press
            “Despite numerous bitter experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Americans, in case of a military measure against Syria, will complete the domino effect of their failure and will experience the most shameful historical defeat. Syria will turn into a field of slaughter and a fiasco much more dangerous than Vietnam…
            “The world’s people, especially regional Muslims, have not forgotten America’s false excuse for [its] military attack against Iraq.”
Aug. 28, 2013 in an interview with Tasnim Student Agency
 
Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, defense minister
            “Sowing the seeds of warmongering and violence has never resulted in lasting peace and security. [The United States wants to launch strikes] to rebuild the shattered morale of terrorists, weaken the operational capability of the Syrian armed forces and change the balance of operation in the favor of takfiris [Islamic extremists].”
Sept. 2, 2013 to the press
 
Brig. Gen. Esmail Kowsari, member of parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission
            “America does not [have the courage] nor the capability to attack Syria. Although, perhaps, it may be able to begin a war in a limited fashion, and this possibility is also unlikely. It will certainly not be the decision-maker of the war’s end.”
“Any measures based on attacking Syria will bring the occupying Zionist regime and Western-supported Arab countries to their deaths more quickly, so they do not commit such acts easily.” 
            August 30, 2013 in remarks to journalists
 
Politicians
Hassan Rouhani, president
            “We completely and strongly condemn use of chemical weapons in Syria because [the] Islamic Republic of Iran is itself victim of chemical weapons.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in a tweet via @HassanRouhani
“Any action on the Syrian crisis should be based on international law, lead to more stability in region and reduce terrorism. The Middle East doesn’t need another war.”
            Aug. 28, 2013 in a tweet via @HassanRouhani
 
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader
            “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region. The region has turned into a gunpowder stock. The United States’ intervention means nothing but warmongering and acts like a spark in a stockpile of gunpowder.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet
 
Ali Larijani, parliamentary speaker
            “The Americans do not see the wave of popular hatred of their warmongering policies and still pursue military action against Syria.
            “They say they have evidence of the use of chemical weapons so why are they not presenting this evidence to the Security Council?”
            Sept. 1, 2013 in an address to parliament
            “It is impossible for the Americans to prepare themselves in a span of a few days for military operations in Syria. They began their work several months ago and this measure was designed earlier, just like the 33-day war [2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah].”
            Aug. 30, 2013 in remarks to journalists
 
Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Expediency Council chairman and former president
            “It seems that the main target of U.S. adventurism in the region is not restricted to Syria, but it involves the entire Middle East region… their dangerous warmongering game could engulf the entire region.”
            Sept. 1, 2013 during an Expediency Council meeting
 
Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, Assembly of Experts member
            “If a war begins in Syria, this country will turn into a graveyard for American and Israeli forces.
            “America seeks war to preserve the Zionist regime, but before any action it [should] know that in case of invading Syria, Tel Aviv and the Zionist regime [are finished].”
            Aug. 30, 2013 in a sermon
 
Diplomats
Mohammad Javad Zarif, foreign minister
            “Iran, as a victim of chemical weapons, cannot in any way tolerate the use of chemical weapons. Iran is also not prepared to tolerate a group of countries… invading the region under an excuse… and drag it into the abyss of violence and conflict.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in an interview with Iranian state television
            “Only the U.N. Security Council, under special circumstances, can authorize a collective action… Mr. Obama cannot interpret and change the international law based on his own wish… warmongering is not in the interest of anyone.
            “Using force has very dangerous consequences… which are not within the control of the initiator.
            Sept. 1, 2013 in a phone conversation with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias José Jaua Milano
             “In that memo [sent via the Swiss embassy to the United States in late 2012 or early 2013], we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents. The Americans never replied to the memo.”
            Sept. 1, 2013 in an interview with Iranian weekly Aseman
 
Marziyeh Afkham, foreign ministry spokesperson
            “The Arab League [adopting this] position [calling for action] before the official announcement of the United Nations inspectors’ report shows that it is politically-motivated and a pre-determined judgment.
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that remarks and measures must focus on preventing the spread of the crisis and the region from entering into a phase for which no end is imaginable.”
            Sept. 2, 2013 to the press
 
 

Foreign Minister’s Facebook Essay on Chemical Weapons

      On August 30, Iran's new foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif posted an essay on his personal Facebook page strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But he also challenged the international response -- and hypocrisy -- in light of the world's lack of action in the 1980s when Iraq's Saddam Hussein repeatedly used chemical weapons against Iran.

 
Greetings to all friends,
 
The recent abhorrent developments in Syria once again highlight the fundamental legal, political and moral question on the utility and effectiveness of the use or threat of force to advance humanitarian causes or even national policies. This has been a constant intellectual and practical concern for me over the past three decades. A few thoughts on the current issue and wider implications:
 
1- Any use of chemical weapons must be condemned, regardless of its victims or culprits. This is Iran's unambiguous position as a victim of chemical warfare. But has it always been the position of those who are now talking about punishing their presumed culprit? How did they react when civilians in Iran and Iraq were victims of independently established massive and systematic use of advanced chemical weapons by their then-friend Saddam Hussein? So, it is prudent to take their assertions at face value now, particularly since the circumstances and available evidence indicate the likelihood of the use of chemical agents by extremist groups.
 
2- Violence, repression, killing and extremism are repugnant crimes and every actor with influence in Syria must compel the parties to come to the negotiating table. But is a threat to use force the solution? Or does it represent the paradigm and the mentality that have helped to create this humanitarian tragedy and political catastrophe?
 
3- Are all options really on the table as the US president repeatedly declares? Is every nation with military might allowed to resort to war or constantly threaten to do so against one or another adversary? Isn't the inadmissibility of resort to force or threat of force a peremptory norm of international law? Is there any place for international law and the UN Charter at least in words if not deeds?
 
4- Can one violate a peremptory norm of international law in order to punish - taking the claim at face value - a violation of law or even a crime?
 
5- Why in fact has the UN Charter -- and other sources of international law dating back to the 1928 Paris Accord - have prohibited the use or threat of force? Is this a wishful idealism of a bunch of lawyers? Or is it in fact a legal reflection of a political reality? In other words, is war a useful instrument to advance foreign policy or humanitarian responsibilities in the 20th and 21st centuries? Or have war and the use of force been prohibited because they lost their practical utility?
 
6- Have those who maintain "all options on the table" noticed what these options have brought them and others in the past 100 years? Have they examined empirical evidence of the outcome of wars in the 20th and 21st century, all of which were initiated by those who were assured that their military might will lead to "shock and awe" and a quick victory? Have they not examined the fact that initiators of wars were totally annihilated or failed to achieve their objectives in 85% of the cases?
and ...
Let us hope that we can avert another catastrophic adventurism

 

Khamenei Google+ : On Iran’s Lazy Youth

            On August 29, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office announced the launch of his English language Google Plus account. One of the first postings bemoaned the laziness of Iran’s youth and included a picture of Khamenei walking up a mountain road. Tehran has periodically blocked some Google services, including YouTube. But Google Plus remains one of the only Western social media sites accessible in Iran. Khamenei’s office opened his Farsi language Google Plus account in March 2012.

 

 

Rouhani Tweets: Women, Egypt, Econ & Sport

      During his first month in office, President Hassan Rouhani’s office tweeted extensively on women’s rights, job creation and foreign policy. He promised to take decisive action to fix the economy within 100 days. But Rouhani also warned, “I'm no miracle maker” in one tweet. “National unity, building bridges not walls, hard work, #dedication, #prudence and #hope however might lead to miracles,” he added. The following is a rundown of Rouhani’s tweets on key issues in August.

 
 
 
On Women
            Rouhani argued for increased women’s participation in society during the presidential campaign. In August, he went further by linking domestic security to women gaining equal opportunities. Rouhani also welcomed the appointment of the Foreign Ministry’s first female spokesperson, Marzieh Afkham.
On the Economy
            Rouhani pledged to take quick and decisive action on the economy within his first 100 days in office. One tweet indicated that his administration will share the results of new policies with the public. Rouhani previously claimed that job growth under Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s administration was exaggerated.
 
On Egypt
            Rouhani warned Egypt’s army to not “suppress” its own people, alluding to violent crackdowns on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
 
On Foreign Policy
            Rouhani’s tweets emphasized Iran’s desire to improve its relations with other Middle Eastern countries. His account posted a picture of him with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the first foreign head of state to visit Tehran since Rouhani’s inauguration.
 
On Sports
            Rouhani’s account has kept close track of Iranian teams competing internationally. @HassanRouhani has posted more than a dozen messages congratulating men’s and women’s teams on their wins. The men’s basketball team was the most recent victor.
 
On Syria
            Rouhani’s tweets encouraged outside powers to help facilitate dialogue between the regime and the opposition instead of arming the rebels.
 
 

Khamenei Comments: On Foreign Policy

      In August, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei focused particularly on regional conflicts and foreign policy. He urged Egyptians to avoid a civil war—and prevent the kind of conflict that is destroying Syria. Khamenei blamed the bloodshed in Syria and Iraq on foreign powers. “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region,” he warned. Through his official social media accounts, Khamenei responded to allegations that Syria used chemical weapons. He condemned the use of weapons of mass destruction by the United States in Japan and Iraq against Iran. The following are excerpts from the supreme leader’s speeches, sermons and social media.

 
Egypt
      “We are concerned about what is happening in Egypt. Considering the things that are being done in this country, the idea that a civil war may break out in Egypt is gaining strength on a daily basis and this is a disaster. It is necessary for the great people of Egypt and political, scientific and religious personalities in this country to take a look at the current situation and see what catastrophic consequences this situation may have. They should see the current situation in Syria. They should see the consequences of the presence of western and Zionist mercenaries and terrorists wherever they are active.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
Weapons of Mass Destruction
            “With its large stores for collecting extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, the corrupt Zionist regime is a serious threat for the region…  The region needs public security and this goal will be achieved only if there is a genuine effort to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being built in the region.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 at a meeting with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Graphic posted on Khamenei’s official Facebook page
 
Syria
            “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region. The region has turned into a gunpowder stock. The United States’ intervention means nothing but warmongering and acts like a spark in a stockpile of gunpowder.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet
 
Iraq
            “In Iraq, a democratic administration and government has come to power with the votes of the people. Because superpowers and the reactionary forces of the region are unhappy about this situation, they do not want to let the people of Iraq feel comfort. These explosions, these killings and these criminal and terrorist activities results from the assistance and financial, political and arms support of a number of regional and ultra-regional powers which do not want to let the Iraqi nation live its life the way it wants.”
             Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
Regional Problems
            “If it was not for the intervention of foreigners, if it was not for the hostile policies of global powers, the events that are taking place in West Asia and North Africa today would definitely not be as complex as they are in the present time. Today, the cure for these problems lies in the fact that nations should make a decision on their own. Others should not intervene.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 speech to representatives from Muslim countries for Eid al Fitr
 
New Israeli-Palestinian Talks
            “We believe that the world of Islam should not back down on the issue of Palestine... It should not let these negotiations which are conducted with the so-called mediation of America lead to more oppression against the people of Palestine and to the isolation of Muslim Palestinian fighters. In fact, America is not a mediator.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
 

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