United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran and IAEA: On Past Military Dimensions

           On May 21, Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency reached an agreement on five additional measures to be implemented by August 25. Tehran committed to providing relevant information on past high explosive experiment and research and development. The new list of measures follows a list of seven that were agreed three months ago. The following includes the joint statement by Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, followed by an analysis of the announcement and a fact sheet on the possible military dimensions of the nuclear program by Iran Fact File.

           The Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed on the following practical measures to be implemented, pursuant to the Framework for Cooperation, by Iran by 25 August 2014.
1. Exchanging information with the Agency with respect to the allegations related to the initiation of high explosives, including the conduct of large scale high explosives experimentation in Iran.
2. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and explanations related to studies made and/or papers published in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials.
3. Providing mutually agreed information and arranging a technical visit to a centrifuge research and development centre.
4. Providing mutually agreed information and managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities.
5. Concluding the safeguards approach for the IR-40 reactor.
Iran and the IAEA Announce Progress
Jon Wolfsthal
      Iran has been accused of pursuing a suite of activities during the 1980s to 2000s related to the development of nuclear weapons. In a potential sign of further progress in resolving the nuclear standoff with the west, Iran has just agreed to provide additional information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s investigative agency for nuclear matters, on two of the most sensitive of these areas. While far from resolving the 20+ year stand off, any agreement to engage on these issues – issues Iran has steadfastly denied were part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons – may be a sign that Tehran’s leaders are willing to compromise in order to reach a boarder agreement on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
           The IAEA has documented a dozen areas where it has received or discovered evidence of a possible military dimensions to Iran’s past nuclear efforts.These areas are detailed in an IranFactFile fact sheet and drawn from an IAEA Director General report to the IAEA Board of Governors from 2011. The areas Iran has agreed to discuss include two of the most sensitive – that of developing fast acting explosive detonators and computer modeling and studies useful in producing a nuclear implosion device. The detonator issue related to Iran possible efforts to produce the non-nuclear components needed to produce a workable nuclear weapon, and the modeling and studies are an area where Iran could have advanced a nuclear design to the point of being usable either without a full test or for delivery by a ballistic missile.  To be sure, other areas uncovered by the IAEA are important in understanding Iran’s nuclear past, but these are two of the most important issues if a negotiated agreement with Iran is to truly restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon in the future. Some of the ongoing investigations by the IAEA relate purely to historical information that may not give Iran a quick start in pursuing some future nuclear efforts. The modeling and detonator issues, however, if fully investigated and resolved could delay any future effort by Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
            Observers would be wise to take today’s announcement from Vienna with a grain of salt. We have seen false starts between Iran and the IAEA before. However, given the ongoing historic talks between Iran and the United States, any additional signs of flexibility could be promising and may offer the hope of a real breakthrough.
Fact Sheet:
The Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Program
            The United States and a number of other countries have provided evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran secretly sought to develop the materials and technology to produce nuclear weapons over the past several decades. There is substantial evidence that Iran acquired expertise, information and technology from the nuclear black market run out of Pakistan by nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. The IAEA is trying to determine whether this evidence is accurate and how far Iran has progressed in developing nuclear weapons. There is no evidence that Iran has or has ever built a nuclear weapon or that it has enough nuclear material to do so now. The IAEA’s investigation is based on information provided by other countries and its own work. This information suggests that Iran has previously pursued development of a nuclear implosion device, a design similar to that used in the arsenals of most nuclear weapon states. (See figure one below.)
            An implosion device – in simplistic terms – involves compressing a sphere of uranium or plutonium into a smaller but symmetrical sphere through the use of shaped explosive lenses. The concept is similar to trying to compress a soccer ball into a baseball with dynamite.
            Each step in designing, testing, producing and delivering this kind of device requires highly specialized materials, equipment and expertise. Over the past decade, the IAEA has investigated the extent to which Tehran has pursued, developed and perfected many of the steps associated with the production of such a device.
Figure 1. Implosion Weapon Design Concept
Source: 2011 Nuclear Weapons Handbook, DOD
            The bulk of what the IAEA has learned is referred to by the Agency as the “possible military dimension” of Iran’s nuclear program. A detailed summary of the issues being assessed by the IAEA was reported by IAEA Director General Yukia Amano to the IAEA Board of Governors in November 2011[1] and is summarized below.
The Joint Plan of Action and the IAEA
            The political negotiations taking place between Iran on the one hand and the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany (known as the P-5+1) and the European Union on the other seek to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that will limit Iran’s nuclear program while enabling it to enjoy the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology. To do so, Iran must enable full and effective safeguards as implemented by the IAEA. To date, the Agency has reported that Iran is in full compliance with its obligations for special monitoring under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).
            Iran has, however, been found in non-compliance with its safeguard agreement obligations[2] required under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. For over a decade, the IAEA has been seeking to clarify a number of outstanding issues related to Iran’s past nuclear activities, catalogued below. It remains unclear whether a comprehensive settlement of the remaining issues with Iran can be achieved without Iran also satisfying all of the IAEA’s outstanding concerns about its nuclear past. At the very least, states will continue to have doubts about Iran’s peaceful intentions as long as the IAEA is not satisfied that its investigations are complete.
            The JPOA agreed to by Iran and the P-5+1 on November 24, 2013 states that a “Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures [under the JPOA] and address issues that may arise, with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures. The Joint Commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.” However, the State Department has recently clarified that the issue of past weapon-related activities is a matter for the IAEA to investigate and is not a matter for the special commission[3].
            IAEA and Iranian officials have continued to meet since the JPOA was completed and implemented. As yet, these discussions have not resolve the issues listed below. At some point the IAEA will likely be asked to judge whether its concerns have been addressed, and how any remaining unresolved issues might affect the IAEA’s ability to carry out its inspection mandate to verify that Iran’s nuclear activities are of an exclusively peaceful nature.
Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Program
            Much of the evidence that Iran pursued a secret nuclear weapons development program comes from the United States and other IAEA member states. IAEA reports indicate that at least ten member states have provided evidence to the IAEA related to Iran’s past nuclear activities. In addition, IAEA documents suggest that some of the evidence about Iran’s past activities come from interviews with Pakistani sources, including possibly A.Q. Khan. None of the publicly available evidence in and of itself proves that Iran had a nuclear weapon program. It is also not clear that Iran has continued any of these activities, and it is not publicly known how far this alleged work progressed before it was reportedly stopped in 2003[4].
Procurement Activities
            The IAEA has evidence that from the 1980s until the early 2000s, Iran acquired nuclear expertise and related materials outside of normal procurement channels, including through a black market network run by A. Q. Khan. Iranian officials claim they were forced to seek nuclear items on the black market because it was blocked from pursuing “legitimate” nuclear efforts by the United States and other western powers. However, the fact that much of the procurement efforts were run by military organizations, including the Ministry of Defense, has suggests that the nuclear efforts being pursued by Iran were military in nature. Moreover, the links between procurement and other military application programs, including ballistic missile programs, undermines but does not disprove Iran’s argument that its program is entirely peaceful. The IAEA continues to try to understand the full nature of Iran’s procurement activities.
Nuclear Material Acquisition Activities
            The IAEA has evidence that during the 1990s and early 2000s, Iran pursued the development of clandestine nuclear facilities for the processing and enrichment of uranium. The Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment sites were only declared after they were uncovered by western intelligence or outside sources. Iran also had an active program to acquire uranium outside of IAEA safeguards, for possible use in these previously clandestine facilities. The IAEA has evidence that Iran planned to secretly acquire and enrich uranium at non-declared nuclear facilities and this evidence remains under investigation by the IAEA.
Detonator Development
            The IAEA has evidence that Iran pursued studies and received documentation for the development of fast-functioning devices known as “exploding bridgewire detonators.” These devices have limited uses outside of detonating explosive charges associated with nuclear weapons. Iran acknowledges that it has developed EBW for civilian and conventional military applications, but has not explained to the IAEA what these applications are. As such, the IAEA continues to consider this effort a “matter of concern.” Moreover, as noted below, the IAEA has information that Iran has considered the reliability of EBW in the possible testing of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear Components for an Explosive Device
            Key to the IAEA’s investigation is a document reportedly provided to Iran by the Pakistani black marketers related to the conversion of uranium into metallic form and the shaping of uranium metal into hemispheres. It also appears likely that Iran acquired designs for nuclear weapons, as did other customers of the Pakistani network, including Libya. The IAEA also has evidence that Iran did work preparing to produce components for such a device. This matter remains of high interest to the IAEA.
Initiation of High Explosives
            IAEA member states have provided information that Iran had access to information about multipoint initiation systems. Such systems are necessary for the operation of an implosion device, such as the one Iran may have pursued.   Iran has acknowledged access to the information, but claims the document was “not understandable” to their experts and has not conducted activities referred to in the information. This stance is contradicted by information provide to the IAEA by member states and appears to be related to a possible experiment carried out by Iran in 2003[5].
Hydrodynamic Experiments
            Hydrodynamic experiments are full-scale model tests of nuclear implosion devices that substitute non-fissile materials to uranium or plutonium. Member states have provided information to the IAEA indicating Iran has manufactured “simulated nuclear explosive components using high density materials” – presumably to simulate uranium metal. This, together with Iran’s activities related to the use of high-speed diagnostic equipment, including flash x-ray technology, raise concerns about nuclear weapons-related work.
            This area of investigation has spawned one of the most contentious[6] areas of the IAEA’s work – that related to the facility at Parchin. The IAEA has received information from member states that Iran acquired information about, and may have built, a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. There is some evidence that Iran built and installed such a device at Parchin. Two visits to Parchin by the IAEA in 2005 failed to identify this site, but not all facilities were visited by the Agency at the time. Iran has since made large scale changes to the site, a move that could be related to concealment efforts of its past activities.
            Aside from site access, Iran has yet to fully explain or effectively refute the evidence that has been made available to the IAEA on this matter and it remains of concern to the IAEA. The Agency states that it has had direct access to the source of some of this expertise for Iran, believed to be a former Soviet weapons-scientist[7].
Neutron Initiation
            Iran may, according to evidence provided to the IAEA, have undertaken work to build neutron initiators for use in nuclear weapons. In an implosion device, a small source of additional neutrons can be inserted inside the sphere to be compressed, releasing a boost of neutrons at the exact moment of implosion.   This can help ensure that fission takes place and also increase the yield of a nuclear device.
Modeling and Calculations
            The design of nuclear weapons can be achieved by using advanced calculations and computer-based modeling. Iran has reportedly sought access to calculation and nuclear modeling training. The IAEA has evidence that representatives from Iran “met with officials from an institute in a nuclear-weapon state to request training courses in the fields of neutron cross section calculations using computer codes.” Such models can be used in civil as well military nuclear applications. Iran has denied these allegations in writing to the IAEA.
Nuclear Test Planning
            Iran may have made plans to test a nuclear device. There is evidence that Iran may have “conducted a number of practical tests to see whether its EBW firing equipment could function” over long distances between a firing point and a deep test shaft – commonly used in underground nuclear tests. The IAEA has also received documents from member states in Farsi discussing possible logistics associated with such a test.
Work to Modify a Missile Payload Area
            The IAEA has information that Iran conducted engineering studies on how to integrate a “new spherical payload into the existing payload chamber which would be mounted in the re-entry vehicle of the Shahab-3 missile.” The Shahab-3 missile is an Iranian version of the North Korean No-Dong system with a reported range of almost 1,300 kilometers or 800 miles. The work allegedly includes the production of component prototypes as well as modeling work on at least 14 different progressive design iterations. Iran has told the IAEA it believes the information it has received are forgeries, but the IAEA has stated the “quantity of the documentation, and the scope and contents of the work covered in the documentation, are sufficiently comprehensive and complex that in the Agency’s view, it is not likely to have been the result of forgery or fabrication.”
Fusing, Arming and Firing
            The alleged studies and documents noted above also indicate that Iran pursued design work on developing a prototype firing system to enable both air and ground detonation of the payload. Iran dismissed the information as an “animation game.” The Agency has worked with member state experts to determine that the most likely application of the designed air burst system would be for a nuclear system and that the alternative possible use (for chemical weapons-use) could be ruled out.
            Taken together, this information and analysis does not prove that Iran had a nuclear weapon program. However, US and other foreign officials are convinced of Iran’s past illegal activities. Regardless, if a final comprehensive settlement is to be reached, Iran and the IAEA will have to find a politically acceptable way to resolve the outstanding matters under investigation.
Click here for resources from Iran Fact File.


[1] IAEA Report, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” November 8, 2011 http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2011/gov2011-65.pdf
[2] September 24, 2005 IAEA Board of Governors Resolution GOV/2005/77 http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2005/gov2005-77.pdf
[3] February 17, 2014 Background Briefing, Senior Administration Official, Vienna, Austriahttp://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2014/02/20140218293187.html#axzz2tmkRefbb
[4] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities”, National Intelligence Estimate, National Intelligence Council, November 2007, http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/20071203_release.pdf
[5] Joby Warrick, “Russian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko’s aid to Iran offers peek at nuclear program” The Washington Post November 13, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-scientist-vyacheslav-danilenkos-aid-to-iran-offers-peek-at-nuclear-program/2011/11/12/gIQAeuiCJN_story.html
[6] http://www.sipri.org/media/expert-comments/the-iaea-and-parchin-do-the-claims-add-up
[7] Ibid


Iranian Women Flaunt Hijab on Facebook

            Since May 1, hundreds of women have flaunted Iran’s tough Islamic laws by posting their pictures without a hijab, or veil, on Facebook. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist based in London, sparked the movement by posting a photo of herself. “Hijab is being forced on women not only by the Morality Police, but also out of consideration for family, through wanting to keep a job and because of fear of judgment from others,” she wrote on her Facebook page. Alinejad created a separate page—“My Stealthy Freedom” –-after Iranian women responded by posting their photos, all free of hijab, on her page. Within three weeks, she received more than 1,000 photos, which produced more than 400,000 comments on Facebook.  “When I was in Iran, taking my veil off was like thumbing my nose at authority,” Alinejad told The Washington Post. The following is a sampling of the postings on “My Stealthy Freedom.”

            The caption reads: “Stealthy freedom means I have no share of freedom in my country.”
            The caption reads: “After a few years of being away from my nation, I stepped on its vast plains again; not stealthily though. Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls.”
      The caption posted with the photo reads: “Real freedom does not mean doing whatever we feel like doing; it means being able to do what we have the right to do.”




Click here to view the Facebook page. 


Report: Evin Prison Raid

            Security officials assaulted dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison on April 17, according to a report by Amnesty International. The perpetrators, who included Ministry of Intelligence officials and Revolutionary Guards, reportedly beat prisoners with batons over several hours. They were ostensibly searching the prisoners’ cells. Amnesty International based its findings on information from prisoners’ open letters and from family members who met with prisoners after the assault on Section 350. The following are excerpts from the report.

The April 17 Incident
           According to information received by Amnesty International, a large force of security officials, including uniformed prison guards and men in plain clothes, believed to be Ministry of Intelligence officials and members of the IRGC entered Section 350 of Evin Prison in the early hours of 17 April. Some reportedly wore masks and sunglasses apparently to conceal their identity, and some carried cameras or other recording equipment. Their aim, it appears was to conduct a search of Section 350. However, since previous searches of the prison section had reportedly resulted in the seizure of or damage to prisoners’ legitimate possessions, the prisoners demanded that they be allowed to remain present while the search operation was conducted. They made this demand peacefully, according to the information available to Amnesty International, but they were met with unwarranted use of force by the security officials, who beat them using batons.
           According to the prisoners’ accounts given to their families, which are consistent with this version of events, most of the prisoners were subjected to body searches and then forced into the prison yard, but others – those accommodated in rooms one and three of Section 350 – were kept indoors but outside these rooms while they were searched. Once room three had been searched, the prisoners who had been accommodated there sought to return to it but encountered security officials swearing and verbally abusing the inmates of room one, and then starting to beat them while making them run the gauntlet of baton-wielding prison guards. When inmates of room three protested against the beatings of other prisoners, the security officials started to beat them.
           According to information available to Amnesty International, prison guards blindfolded and handcuffed many prisoners before forcing them to run the gauntlet of the “baton tunnel”, where they were repeatedly struck on their backs, heads and faces. Some were then taken by minibus to another section of Evin Prison, Section 240, which is used to hold prisoners in solitary confinement. They did not receive medical attention, despite their injuries, but rather were subjected to forcible shaving of their heads and facial hair and then placed in solitary confinement. They launched a hunger strike in protest, which was joined by tens of prisoners who remained in Section 350 and spread to Raja’i Shahr Prison in north-west Tehran, where at least seven prisoners went on hunger strike to express their solidarity with the Evin Prison inmates.
Inadequate Official Response
            The first official comments in response to the reports of the assaults emerging from Evin Prison were made by Gholamhossein Esma’ili in his capacity as Head of Iran’s Prisons Organization. On the same day, he dismissed the reports, telling the media “we should not take note of the news of the anti-revolutionaries.” Three days later, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Iran’s Minister of Justice, told a press conference that the “inspection” that security officials had carried out in Section 350 of Evin Prison had been “aimed at finding sharp objects and illegal devices such as mobile phones and SIM-cards. A number of prohibited items were discovered in Section 350.” He added that, “in two rooms, prisoners resisted but no serious confrontation happened. One or two prisoners sustained minor bruises or injuries who were treated.”
            On 21 April, Iranian state television’s Channel Two broadcast what it described as a “documentary” in its “20:30” programme containing video footage apparently filmed during the course of the search of Section 350 on 17 April. In the programme, interviewed by a State-TV journalist, Gholamhossein Esma’ili denied that the officials conducting the search had used force and that anyone had been injured, while claiming that “the search was conducted in order to discover the secret channels of communications between prisoners and foreign media such as BBC and Voice of America.”
            On 20 April, a number of prisoners’ families gathered outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran to express concern for the safety of their relatives in Evin Prison and to protest against the lack of information from the authorities concerning the events three days earlier. Despite the early promises of an investigation made to the families by Tehran MP Ali Motahari, the reaction of the parliamentarians has thus far been divided. On 22 April, nine MPs used an open parliamentary session to issue a formal notice reprimanding the Minister of Justice over the alleged beatings of prisoners in Section 350 of Evin Prison. The same nine MPs urged the Parliament delegate an investigative committee to visit Evin Prison and examine the allegations. At the time of writing, however, it remains unclear whether the Parliament has acted on this recommendation or taken any other steps to investigate the alleged assaults at Evin Prison.
Calls for a Judicial Investigation
            Under the Executive Regulations for the Prisons Organization, the Prisons Organization, which functions under the direct authority of the Head of the Judiciary, is responsible for the management of all prison affairs. The Code of Criminal Procedures, asserts that the Prosecutor has responsibility for overseeing the conduct of law enforcement officials in prisons, including the heads of prisons, their deputies and other prison personnel.
             On 19 April 2014, 74 prisoners held in Section 350 addressed a letter to the Prosecutor of Tehran in which they described what had occurred at Evin Prison on 17 April and listed alleged breaches of Prison Regulations committed by security officials and prison guards, including beatings of prisoners resulting in injuries that had been documented by prison medics. They asked the Prosecutor to initiate a prompt judicial investigation. On 23 April, the prisoners sent the Prosecutor an Addendum to their initial letter urging him to act immediately in order to prevent the loss of forensic evidence with the passage of time.
            Under Iranian law, these letters of complaint could provide the legal ground for judicial officials to open official investigations into allegations made by prisoners; however, it remains unclear to Amnesty International whether the Tehran Prosecutor and his office have taken any steps in response to the Evin prisoners’ complaint and to investigate their allegations.
Arrests and Harassment of Prisoner’s Families
           Since 17 April, family members of some of the Section 350 prisoners have been arrested, harassed or subjected to intimidation by the security authorities apparently to deter or prevent them from continuing to speak out on behalf of their imprisoned relatives and to call for an independent investigation into the abuses allegedly committed against them by officials and guards at Evin Prison.
Click here for the full report. 

Tough Nuke Talks: No Progress in Vienna

            On May 16, the fourth round of nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers ended without any tangible progress. But negotiators from both sides emphasized that another round of talks will take place in June and that they still aim to draft a final agreement by the July 20 deadline. “In any negotiation there are good days and bad days, and there are ups and downs,” said a senior U.S. official. “Discussions are moving forward in a spirit of goodwill, but they are moving very slowly and with difficulty,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi. The following are excerpts from a State Department briefing and a press conference with Araqchi.

Senior U.S. Administration Official on Nuclear Talks
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Unlike the previous rounds, we are now in the drafting and negotiating phase, which is very different than the previous rounds.  And this is really an ongoing process and will be an ongoing process.  There are no longer discrete rounds with opening and closing sessions, discrete set agendas.  All the issues are on the table and we are negotiating on all of them. 
As we’ve said, it’s not really appropriate to assess where the negotiations are at each moment, but suffice to say again all the issues are on the table and are being discussed in an integrated and an interdependent way. 
The discussions this week have been useful, but they’ve also been at times difficult, which we knew they would be.  We’ve said this repeatedly throughout this process, that this would be difficult.  We are just at the beginning of the drafting process, and we have a significant way to go.  There are significant gaps.  These are complicated issues.  As we’ve said, if this were easy to solve, it would have been done a long time ago. 
This has, candidly, been a very slow and difficult process, and we are concerned with the short amount of time that is left.  But let me be very clear:  We believe we can still get it done.  It’s important to remember that we’re at the beginning, and the parties are all at the table talking in a serious way.  But we do not know yet, as we’ve always said, if we will be able at the end of this to conclude a comprehensive agreement.
In any negotiation there are good days and bad days, and there are ups and downs.  This has been a moment of great difficulty, but one that was not entirely unexpected.  If you remember, we had moments like this one when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action as well.  Many of you wrote in those moments that you didn’t know if we would be able to get this done, and you saw how that turned out.  So again, not entirely unexpected; we knew this would happen.
We’re focused now on how the process proceeds with the next step and how the discussions go from here.  We will be back in June talking at the political director level.  I’ll let the EU announce the dates for that.  And our experts will continue talking, as they do all the time every day about these issues.
Everyone is serious here.  We know that.  But we believe there needs to be some additional realism at this point.  As I said, significant gaps remain.  We need to see more progress being  made.  Time is not unlimited here, and we’re still tracking towards the July 20th date to see if we can get this done.
As we’ve said repeatedly and I will remind folks many times over the coming months, what we’re looking for in a comprehensive agreement is a package, not a checklist.  We’re focused on how all of the elements fit together to ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is for entirely peaceful purposes. 
And as we have always been clear, we will take the time to do this right.  We will not rush into a bad deal.  As the President and the Secretary and many other people have said, no deal is better than a bad deal.  We know this will take time.  We are committed to working to see if we can get it done.
QUESTION:  Are the two sides any closer on the end goals?  Is there agreement that Iran should have only what it needs for a peaceful program (inaudible) agreement that the idea of extending breakout time is a proper protocol?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, in terms of goals, I would start by pointing you back to the Joint Plan of Action, which began to outline what the goals were for a comprehensive plan of action and what that would look like.  We have been very clear throughout this process of what our goal is, what the P5+1’s goal is, and that hasn’t changed in any way – again, that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that their program is entirely for peaceful purposes.  Some of the details of what that might look like are in the JPOA if you go back and read it, so I don’t think I’d go much further than that.  Again, that’s what we’re focused on doing, that’s what we’re at the table talking about how to do.
QUESTION:  (Inaudible) process (inaudible) it seems like (inaudible) to say (inaudible) know what all the issues are (inaudible), let’s just throw (inaudible)?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On the first question – look, we’re not going to go through the nitty-gritty of how logistically we’re working through the issues.  As you know, many of them are related in some ways.  None of them operate in a vacuum, which is why we talk about this package.  But the process through which we work through them, both at the experts level and the political director level, we’re just not going to get into that level of detail to preserve the nature of the negotiations.
I would remind people that what was really different about this round from the previous rounds, process-wise, right, is that in the first round we set the agenda and the framework for how the six months was going to go.  In the second and third rounds, we put all of the issues on the table, we spent time laying out all of the issues and getting them out on the table.  Now we’re talking about ways to actually bridge those gaps.  So it shouldn’t be surprising to people that’s a more difficult conversation than putting the issue itself just on the table, right?  So I think when you’re getting your head around why maybe this was more difficult now, why it was different, I think that’s probably a part of it.
QUESTION:  The meetings seemed to start a day later than anticipated (inaudible) seems like something (inaudible) fair to say (inaudible) don’t have much time left.  You guys are the only ones who feel a sense of urgency.  How did you explain that to (inaudible)?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I obviously refer to the EU, who sets up the schedule for this, but it’s my understanding that it was just a scheduling issue.  But you’re right that we’re not going to resolve all of the differences in four days in Vienna.  That’s unrealistic, and we’re certainly not operating under that assumption.  That’s why in between the sessions when we meet, we have continual expert discussions on the phone, over email, some in person – you know experts were in New York last week for talks – and also at the political director level.  So it’s not like we just come to Vienna and then go back home and don’t work on it in between rounds.  
I also think you’ll see increasing in-person meetings probably at a high level coming over the next few months as well as we move forward in the process.
QUESTION:  (Inaudible) said in the past that (inaudible) Iran to make (inaudible).  Are you more or less optimistic now that you'll be able to do that? 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not about being optimistic or not optimistic; it’s about being realistic.  We’ve always said that.  The President said it’s 50-50.  I don’t think I’m probably going to disagree with him on this or anything else.  But we do know that there are tough decisions that have to be made.  We all need to be realistic about the issues at hand and how we can be assured we – not just the United States, but the international community - can be assured that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is entirely peaceful. So that’s part of why this is so hard.  But we’re going to keep working at it.
QUESTION:  The differences between the P5+1 meeting with Iran on things like centrifuges, (inaudible) issues like missiles, and we know that there are nuances within the P5+1 that – without talking about specific issues in general, is there a sense on your end that the Iranians have not shown or demonstrated a willingness to approach it in a holistic way, the way you guys are emphasizing must be made?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  you mentioned P5+1 unity.  We have remained unified as these talks have progressed.  We’ve said that for months now and that hasn’t changed.  Second, it’s just a fact that the issues are linked, right.  None of them operates in a vacuum.  It’s not like you can go down a checklist and say, “Okay, once we’ve dealt with this, we can deal with this,” because in so many ways, they’re linked.  So it’s just a fact that they’re related.
And we, as I said, are talking about these things in an interdependent way, in an interlinked way.  And as we made very clear in the JPOA, which everyone signed up to, all of our concerns have to be met in order to get to a comprehensive agreement, and that’s certainly what we’re working towards.
QUESTION:  The joint commission outlined in the JPOA, it set up to facilitate a condition (inaudible) issues of concern.  There’s an epistemological (inaudible) IAEA.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, let me correct one thing you’ve said.  The joint commission as set up in the JPOA was intended to address issues if they arose during implementation.  I don’t think it was specifically intended to address past and present issues.
QUESTION:  Well, it says the joint commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: .  We’ll work with them, but it’s my understanding – and correct me if I’m wrong, experts – that it was set up as part of the JPOA to address concerns if they arose during implementation.
QUESTION:  if it’s no comment, that’s fine, but there’s a bottleneck above past issues of concern that the IAEA is, of course, independent, and yet the IAEA is very conscious of requesting member input into the resolution issues.  The U.S., as the most influential, most powerful member of the agency, is in a position to weigh in on the secretariat to gauge the authenticity of Iran’s explanations.  So is there a plan?  Was the joint commission discussed?  What’s the (inaudible) of the joint commission’s (inaudible) to resolve these issues?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On the general question of past and present concerns in the IAEA, I mean, we said, every time we’re asked about this, that they have the lead role to play on these issues, and that they – that Iran needs to work with them.  Obviously, we work very closely with the IAEA, but we really need to see progress through that mechanism on some of these issues, which is really the best place to address them even as part of these discussions.
QUESTION:  But just as a follow-up, the IAEA then refers back to its membership.  So you’re facing a circular argument potentially that without some sort of outside intervention by the joint commission or membership the IAEA (inaudible).
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I will check with some of the experts on this.  I think you’re focused on the joint commission in a little way that’s not entirely correct in terms of the role it should be playing on this.  And I don’t think it’s circular just because we’re a member of the IAEA.  The IAEA is a body that is tasked with dealing with these issues and has been working with Iran on this for some time, even though we’re a member of it.  So they have a mandate separate and apart from what we’re doing here, but obviously related to it.  So if there’s more on the joint commission to share, I’m happy to get back to you on that.
QUESTION:  Araghchi, the Iranian negotiator, said that they – it hasn’t actually started the drafting process. 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I’m not going to get into sort of details about what’s on paper and what’s not.  As I said, we’ve started the negotiating drafting process, which is a process that will take some time.  But I’m not going to get into details about what that looks like inside the room.
QUESTION:  Mr. Araghchi was talking to the Iranian (inaudible) and he said if we cannot come up with an agreement by July 20th, that’s okay.  We know it’s not a catastrophe.  We still have six months.  I mean, does that suggest that the sense of urgency might not be there?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, the sense of urgency is certainly here among us.  I think it’s there in the room as well.  And as I said, we’re tracking towards July 20th.  That is the date we’re focused on right now. 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I’ll say a few things.  I have no – I’m not even going to pretend to get into the head of the Iranian negotiators.  I don’t think you want me to.  But I will say a few things.  Look, we have been clear that past and present concerns have to be addressed.  I am not going to outline what that will look like, entertain hypotheticals about what that might look like in terms of what the public discourse is at that time.
But I’ll say a few things about Congress, quite frankly, and you’ve heard others say this as well:  We believe if we can get a comprehensive agreement that ensures Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, that its program is entirely peaceful, that addresses the issues we laid out very clearly in the JPOA, that we will be able – that Congress will be supportive of it.  I’m not saying there won’t be tough conversations.  You all know the political system as well as I do.
But we know that this is the best chance we’ve ever had to resolve this diplomatically.  We have an obligation to test this moment, and if we can get to a comprehensive agreement that we are satisfied with, we will not make a bad deal.  We have been clear about that.  We will not rush into one; we will take the time to get a good one, and that if we do, we will be able to work with the United States Congress on that at that time.
QUESTION: With the long bilateral this morning, was this basically people are saying that you need to move more quickly, you need to make more progress?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, it was a long meeting.  We had a three-hour bilateral with the Iranian delegation this morning here at the Coburg.  And it won’t surprise you I’m not going to outline the details of what we talked about in that meeting.  It was a straightforward conversation.  Those conversations will continue.  But we say the same things privately that we say publicly, that we’re saying right now – that this process needs to move.  It needs to move faster.  We need to see progress.  Those are messages we’re certainly very clear about in all forms.
QUESTION:  So I noticed that you don’t use a lot of the words that [other senior US administration officials] usually use, like “productive,” “useful,” all those kinds of things.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think I was clear in the opening remarks that this is a difficult moment.  I think we use the words we find most appropriate.  But again, they’re reasons we all knew this moment would come.  Why we – we saw them when we did the JPOA.  This was not unexpected.  There is a path forward here for the negotiations, period.  But I appreciate the wordsmithing,  the work, the attention to the words.
QUESTION:  Can we go back to the issue of missiles?  Do you know the Iranians even said that they don’t want this to be part of the discussions.  It’s been an ongoing decision, but the Russians also came out and said that, again, that they don’t believe it should be part – it should be on the agenda, at least (inaudible) interview (inaudible) Russia Today, and their (inaudible) training with Iran is a well-known fact.  How difficult is that going to be for you going forward?  I mean, getting Russia and U.S. to agree on --
QUESTION:  I understand this is much, much (inaudible), but even though (inaudible) after that (inaudible) has the U.S. (inaudible) who, as I understand, hasn’t happened outside (inaudible) this year. 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think this is just a different negotiation.  It’s a much harder one.  It’s a comprehensive agreement that we’re trying to get.  The first step was a tough one to get, as you know.  But this – we’ve always said this would be harder.  We did not expect to get it done in the same amount of time that it took to do the Joint Plan of Action.  So I don’t think we’re surprised by it.  We’re focused on the meetings we’re having here with all of the work our experts are doing to really dig into the issues, and that’s what we’ll keep working on.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi
            “The nuclear talks ended an hour ago, and the negotiations were very serious.
            “It's a good atmosphere and discussions are moving forward in a spirit of goodwill, but they are moving very slowly and with difficulty.
            “Our discussions were more or less free from tension, and everyone favors attainment of a final agreement.
            “The generalities, the framework and principles have already been agreed in the Geneva deal. Thus, we intended to start drafting the deal, but we couldn't due to some major differences.
            “Drafting the deal will be impossible until we reach a single view about all issues.
            “The trend of the talks is good and constructive, but has not led to any specific result yet. The talks continue and have not failed.
            “Differences exist; were there no difference, there wouldn't be any need to negotiation. Our duty is resolving these differences, bringing views closer and working out a single text. There was no specific progress in the first session, and this is not unnatural; we hope to make up for that in other sessions.
            “We stand firm on our rights. We will have 6 more months if we fail to work out a deal by July 20.
            “Our defense equipment can no way go under discussion in the negotiations.
            “There is no push to obtain an agreement by July 20 at any price.
            “We [will only] concede to an agreement which will be in line with our interests, meet our demands and establish the Iranian nation's rights.
            “Yet, there is still a chance for striking a deal by July 20 only if our demands are met and our people's nuclear rights are observed.
            “If we come to conclude such an agreement by July 20, it will be good, but if we won't, that would not mean a catastrophe and that wouldn't be the end of the world, we will have 6 more months to negotiate.
            “We hope that the talks continue in a logical, rational and realistic manner and yield result within the deadline.
            “All parties, including the Russian side, want the talks to remain unaffected by any other issue, including the Ukrainian issue.

Rouhani Under Fire

Garrett Nada

      President Hassan Rouhani faces growing pressure from hardliners for trying to improve Iran’s pariah status and, even tepidly, open up Iranian society. In recent weeks, politicians and media critics have lambasted Rouhani in the run-up to the latest nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers, which began on May 13. “We fundamentally disapprove of this administration” which is made up of “radical reformists,” lawmaker Ruhollah Hosseinian told Arya News on April 23.

             The president countered with a tough defense of his foreign and domestic policies in a television address on April 29. Rouhani dismissed his critics and said that his government had created an atmosphere in which citizens could actually criticize policies – “even though sometimes [they] make a mountain out of a molehill.”
            Hardliners fear that nuclear talks could enhance Rouhani’s leverage on human rights and social issues. The president, who will mark the first anniversary of his election in mid-June, is under fire especially on four fronts.
Nuclear Talks
      Hardliners have accused the Rouhani administration’s negotiators of caving to Western demands. In the run-up to the mid-May negotiations between Iran and the six major world powers, Rouhani’s critics held a conference entitled “We’re Worried.” The event — advertised as “the great gathering of critics of a weak deal”— was held at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on May 3-4. Speakers vowed to retain Iran’s “nuclear rights” and warned the government of President Hassan Rouhani against giving too many concessions. They claimed that Iran’s negotiating team may sacrifice national interests to secure a final deal.
            More than 100 lawmakers, students, academics and activists attended the event, which was reportedly organized by Basij paramilitary. Officials of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration attended. Participants carried placards which vowed "Nuclear energy is our absolute right" and "Economic reform does not mean political capitulation."
The conference communique included several demands:
•Clear recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium
•Continued development of peaceful nuclear activities
•Refusal of additional measures requested by the United Nations beyond the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
•Imminent removal of financial and banking sanctions
•Release of Iran’s frozen properties
•Transparency on the negotiations and timelines
•Advance approval by parliament and the Supreme National Security Council of any deal with the U.N. nuclear watchdog
            The hardliners followed up the conference with a rally after Friday prayers on May 9. Demonstrators calling themselves the “Committee for the Preservation of Iran’s interests” reportedly chanted slogans including “Nuclear development is our absolute right!” and “No Compromise! No surrender! Battle with America!” The group issued a statement accusing the nuclear negotiators of acting with “haste” and lacking expertise.
Internet Censorship
            Rouhani campaigned for better access to information and less government oversight. After his June 2013 election, Rouhani warned, “In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine.” But hardliners have sabotaged efforts by his administration to ease web censorship.
      In one example, the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, part of the judiciary, moved to block WhatsApp, a popular and inexpensive mobile application. Committee secretary Abdolsamad Khorramabadi said the acquisition of WhatsApp by Mark Zuckerberg, whom he described as “the American Zionist manager of the blocked site Facebook,” was one reason for the ban.
            Rouhani reversed the decision. “Until the time that we have a replacement for these sites, the government opposes filtering them,” Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi told the press.
            But Rouhani has failed to unblock Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Last year, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati said that social media should be “accessible for everyone” and called for filtering to be reduced. In January, he told Al Jazeera that the judiciary was holding back the new government’s attempts to open up society. He has since been publicly chastised. Prosecutor General Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi told the press that Jannati “is not at the level to define the judiciary’s responsibilities.”
Women’s Dress Code
            Although he is a cleric, Rouhani has criticized police enforcement of Iran’s strict Islamic dress code, which requires women to cover their head and shoulders. “If there is a need for a warning on the hijab issue, the police should be the last to give it,” he told police academy graduates in October. “Our virtuous women should feel safe and relaxed in the presence of the police,” he added.
            But hardliners have fought against relaxation of dress code enforcement. On May 7, some 4,000 men and women reportedly took to Tehran’s streets to protest “bad veiling.” “Preserving public chastity, observing Islamic hijab and moral security are strategic matters which shall not be forgotten under the pretext of economic sanctions or government change,” the demonstrators warned in a statement. The group dispersed after Tehran’s police chief talked with the group, which did not have an official permit to gather. 
Cultural Issues
      Shortly after his election, Rouhani said, “A strong government does not mean a government that interferes and intervenes in all affairs.” But Khamenei and other conservatives have warned Rouhani’s government against loosening cultural controls. “Entrusting cultural issues to the people does not negate the regulatory role and guidance of the administration,” Khamenei said at High Council of Cultural Revolution meeting in December. In March, Khamenei said the Rouhani administration should pay attention to cultural issues and advised officials to not be “reckless.”
            Even the Revolutionary Guards have weighed in. In April, General Mohammad Ali Jafari said that cultural threats are “the most important threats presently facing the Islamic Revolution” and that the revolution’s “fundamental essence” is “opposing the dominant [Western] system.”
            On May 9, two influential hardliners warned Rouhani’s government against expanding freedoms. Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani told Rouhani’s culture and science ministers in a sermon to avoid “returning to the Reformist period in the fields of culture and morality.”
            Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, one of Rouhani’s harshest critics and the leader of the ultraconservative Endurance Front, warned against following the teachings of the West. He had earlier blamed “those who were educated in the United Kingdom, United States and France” for the cultural division in Iran. The comment appeared to be an indirect potshot at Rouhani and his cabinet, which includes several ministers who earned university degrees in the West—including the U.S.-educated head nuclear negotiator and foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Rouhani earned a law degree from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.

Photo credit: Rouhani via President.ir, Tehran bazaar photo by Robin Wright, Khamenei.ir via Facebook

Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP


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