United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Who are Yemen's Houthis?

Cameron Glenn
 
Iran is widely accused of backing the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis took over the Yemeni capital city Sanaa (left) in September 2014. Since then, Yemeni officials and Sunni states have ramped up allegations that Iran has provided arms, training, and financial support to the Houthis. But Iranian officials have denied the claims. The following is an overview of the Houthi movement, including its origins, religious inspiration, and alleged links to Iran.
 
 
 
Where are the Houthis from? What role have they played in Yemen’s history?
 
The Houthis are a large clan originating from Yemen’s northwestern Saada province, who practice the Zaydi form of Shiism. Zaydis make up around 35 percent of Yemen’s population.
 
A Zaydi imamate ruled Yemen for 1,000 years, before being overthrown in 1962. Since then, the Zaydis – stripped of their political power – have struggled to restore their authority and influence in Yemen. In the 1980s, the Houthi clan began a movement to revive Zaydi traditions, feeling threatened by state-funded Salafist preachers who established a base in Houthi areas. Not all Zaydis, however, align with the Houthi movement.
 
Houthi insurgents have clashed with Yemen’s government for more than a decade. Since 2011, the Houthi movement has expanded beyond its Zaydi roots and become a wider movement opposed to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. The insurgents have also begun referring to themselves as Ansarullah, or “Party of God.”
 
How does Zaydism compare to the type of Shiism practiced in Iran?
 
Like other Shiites, Zaydis believe that only descendants of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, have the right to lead the Muslim community as imams - divinely-appointed successors of the Prophet. Most adherents of Zaydism reside in Yemen, and Zaydis make up around eight percent of the world’s 70 million Shiites.
 
But the Zaydis are distinct from the “Twelver” form of Shiism practiced by the majority of the world’s Shiites, including most Shiites in Iran. Twelver Shiites believe thetwelfth imam, whom they consider infallible, disappeared in 874AD and will one day return to usher in an age of justice as the Mahdi, or promised one. In the Mahdi’s absence, Twelver Shiites believe clerics can substitute for his authority on certain issues. The faithful are obliged to obey the clerics’ religious rulings, a power transferred to Iran’s theocracy after the 1979 revolution.
 
Zaydis, also known as “Fivers,” believe that Zayd, the great-grandson of Ali, was the rightful fifth imam. But Twelver Shiites consider Zayd’s brother, Mohammad al Baqir, the fifth imam. The Zaydis do not recognize the later Twelver imams, and instead believe anyone related to Ali is eligible to lead the Muslim community. They also reject the Twelver doctrine that the imam is infallible.
 
Who is supporting the Houthis? How?
 
Sunni states and the Yemeni government claim that Iran has been providing financial, military, and training support to the Houthis. But the extent of Iran’s role is disputed.
 
Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of arming the Houthis to fight a proxy war. “We are worried about…the tendencies of Iran in the region, which is one of the leading elements implanting instability in the region,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, citing Iran’s role in Yemen specifically.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry said on April 8 that the United States is “well aware of the support that Iran has been giving to Yemen.” But U.S. officials have stopped short of calling the Yemen conflict a proxy war. “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen,” said National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.
 
Some Iranian officials have expressed support for the Houthis’ cause and compared the group to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite political party and militia that has received arms, training, and funding from Tehran. “Iran supports the rightful struggles of Ansarullah in Yemen and considers this movement as part of the successful Islamic Awakening movements,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in October 2014.
 
But Tehran has denied providing arms or training to the Houthis. On March 31, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham (left) said “the allegations about sending weapons by the Islamic Republic of Iran to Yemen are completely fabricated and sheer lies.”
 
The Houthis also deny direct support from Iran, but Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam said in March 2015 that “Iran’s stance has been positive and the country has supported the Yemeni people.”
 
Regardless of Iran’s role, the Houthis have local sources of support as well. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and military units loyal to him – who fought the Houthis throughout the 2000s – have actually aligned with the Houthis and helped them rise to power, hoping to undermine Hadi and restore Saleh’s authority. The Houthis also reportedly receive funding through local supporters and sympathetic charities, as well as from illegal trade.
 
 
What are the Houthis’ political views?
 
The Houthis do not promote a coherent ideology, and their political platform is vague and contradictory. The original Houthi insurgents desired to imitate Hezbollah, to have power without actually ruling. “The Houthis have always been on the outside. They've been a militia group that's now starting to dabble in politics,” Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, who studied and lived in the country for years, told NPR’s “Fresh Air” in April 2015. “And they don't really know how to rule.”
 
The Houthi emblem (left) only offers a broad view of the group’s views. It is made of up entirely of the following phrases, “God is great, Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, victory to Islam.” But the Houthis’ Hezbollah-like denunciation of the United States and Israel often seems “largely for show,” according to Les Campbell at the National Democratic Institute. Their ties to former president Saleh threaten to expose the group as “just another group sharing in the spoils of corruption.”
 
The Houthis’ Zaydi roots do not necessarily dictate their approach to politics. Their leaders have claimed they are not attempting to revive the Zaydi imamate, but rather to seek greater political inclusion. Since 2011, they have used nationalist and populist language in their messaging rather than framing themselves as a strictly Zaydi movement. And they have cultivated a range of Sunni political allies.
 
The Houthis participated in the U.N.-sponsored National Dialogue Conference from 2013 to 2014. While they did not reject the reform agenda in principle, the Houthis opposed proposals to convert Yemen into a six-region federalist state. The proposal would link Saada with Sanaa, but the Houthis want Saada to be its own autonomous region.
 
What are the roots of the Houthis’ conflict with the central government?
 
Hussein Abdreddin al Houthi, a prominent Zaydi cleric and member of parliament from 1993 to 1997, became a strong critic of President Ali Abudllah Saleh in the 1990s. He accused the government of aligning too closely with the United States and Israel. Tensions mounted further after President Saleh reportedly cut funding to Hussein al Houthi in 2000. Frustrated by the Zaydis’ poor political and economic status, he began rallying supporters for anti-government demonstrations in the early 2000s.
 
The government issued a warrant for al Houthi’s arrest, and his followers began clashing violently with security forces. Al Houthi was killed by security forces in 2004. Since then, his relatives and supporters have waged six uprisings against the government, known as the Houthi wars. President Saleh accused Iran of supporting the rebellions. The Houthis signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2010, but joined the Arab Spring protests against Saleh one year later.

How did the Houthis rise to power?
 
After months of protests, President Saleh ceded power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour al Hadi in November 2011. But Hadi enjoyed little popular support in Yemen, and the Houthis took advantage of the power vacuum in the north. From 2012-2013, they gained followers and allies. They consolidated their territorial control, pushing south towards Sanaa.
 
In September 2014, the Houthis took over the capital. They initially agreed to a U.N.-brokered peace deal that required them to withdraw from Sanaa following the formation of a unity government.
 
But in January, the Houthis rejected the government’s newly drafted constitution and took over the presidential palace. President Hadi and his government resigned on January 22. The next month, the Houthis announced that a five-member presidential council would replace Hadi.
 
Hadi fled south to Aden and revoked his resignation, declaring himself the legitimate president of Yemen. In response, Houthi insurgents began bombing Hadi’s Aden headquarters.
 
At Hadi’s request, Saudi Arabia – along with a coalition of nine other Sunni nations – began launching airstrikes against Houthi positions on March 26. The Houthis remained defiant. “Our fighters will not evacuate from the main cities or the government institutions,” Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al Houthi said on April 19. “Anyone who thinks we will surrender is dreaming.”
 
On April 21, Saudi officials announced the end of the campaign, known as operation “Decisive Storm,” claiming they had successfully degraded the Houthis’ military infrastructure. The Houthis also agreed to meet several U.N. demands, including releasing the Yemeni Defense Minister, whom they were holding captive. But Saudi Arabia resumed airstrikes two days later, and the first month of the campaign had neither driven the Houthis from Sanaa nor restored Hadi to power.
 
 
What is the relationship between Houthis and other Islamists in Yemen?
 
The Houthis have a tense relationship with Islah, a Sunni Islamist party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Islah claims the Houthis are an Iranian proxy, and blames them for sparking unrest in Yemen. The Houthis, on the other hand, have accused Islah of cooperating with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
 
After the Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, Islah initially took a few steps towards reconciliation. In November, top Islah and Houthi leaders met to discuss a political partnership. Islah called on the Houthis to cease attacks on Islah members and to release Islah prisoners. In December, the United Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a deal between the two groups to cease hostilities.
 
But clashes between the Houthis and Islah continued. In the first four months of 2015, the Houthis kidnapped dozens of Islah party leaders and raided their offices. By April, more than 100 Islah leaders were detained by the Houthis. Tensions increased after Islah declared support for the Saudi-led airstrikes.
 
The Houthis are also at odds with Sunni extremist groups. On March 20, an ISIS affiliate calling itself the Sanaa Province claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on two Zaydi mosques that killed at least 135 people and injured more than 300 others. The group issued a statement that said “infidel Houthis should know that the soldiers of the Islamic State will not rest until they eradicate them.”
 
AQAP denied involvement in the mosque attacks, but has frequently targeted the Houthis. In April 2015, the group claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks that killed dozens of Houthis in Abyan, al Bayda’, and Lahij. AQAP has reportedly partnered with southern tribes to fight the Houthis.

Who are their leaders?
 
Abdul Malik al Houthi, brother of Hussein al Houthi, has been the group’s spiritual, military, and political leader since 2007. Little is known of his personal life, and he makes few public appearances. His brother-in-law, Youssef al Midani, is the deputy leader. Abdul Malik’s two brothers, Yahia and Abdul-Karim, are also senior leaders of the movement.
 
On April 14, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Abdul Malik al Houthi for engaging in acts that “threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen.” The same month, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo against the Houthis and blacklisted Abdul Malik al Houthi.
 
Cameron Glenn is a senior program assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace and contributing author to The Iran Primer.


Photo credits: Houthi logo by Takahara Osaka [public domain] via
Wikimedia Commons; Sanaa by Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: Yemen

North Korea & Iran Nuclear Deals Compared

Differences outweigh similarities in comparing the blueprint for a nuclear deal with Iran and the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, according to George Perkovich, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea (DPRK) failed to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But an Iran deal, if completed, would have the backing of the world’s six major powers and “contain much stronger elements to deter cheating and more meaningful incentives to motivate compliance than the Agreed Framework did,” argues Perkovich. The following are key excerpts from his latest analysis, “Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not the North Korea Deal.”
 
Nuclear Text and Context
 
Difference: Iran does not yet have sufficient fissile material for one or more nuclear weapons.
 
Before the Agreed Framework was completed in October 1994, the DPRK was estimated to have already produced more than enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon. By contrast, neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor any intelligence agency has offered evidence that Iran has acquired enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
 
Difference: The proposed deal with Iran explicitly addresses all pathways to the bomb.
 
The Agreed Framework focused specifically on the DPRK’s plutonium program. … As it turned out, the DPRK secretly imported uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan and developed a parallel route for acquiring weapons-usable fissile material.
 
The proposed agreement with Iran explicitly covers both the uranium and plutonium pathways to acquiring nuclear weapons, and includes extensive measures to verify that declared and undeclared pathways would be blocked.
 
Difference: A comprehensive agreement with Iran will be extensively detailed.
 
The Agreed Framework was only four pages long and omitted many important details. It specified three steps that the two sides would take to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” and was relatively vague in describing them. …
 
The parties negotiating a comprehensive agreement with Iran envision a much more focused and detailed document that does not call for full normalization. These details will address not only the parameters of activities that Iran may and may not undertake but also verification, dispute handling, and consequences of nonperformance. This should bolster all parties’ confidence that everyone knows what is required of them, that failures to fulfill terms will be detected quickly, that ambiguous behavior will be addressed through agreed procedures, and that nonfulfillment of terms will have consequences. All of this creates incentives for all parties not to renege.
 
Similarity: The proposed deal with Iran will reward bad behavior.
 
Like North Korea, Iran was caught violating its safeguards obligations under the NPT. And, as with North Korea, Iran from 2003 onward steadfastly resisted efforts by the IAEA, by Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and, eventually, by the UN Security Council to compel it to just comply with its NPT obligations and successive IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, the compliance framework gradually gave way to a negotiation framework in which Iran is offered benefits in return for agreeing to take measures to build international confidence that it will not acquire nuclear weapons and will provide the information the IAEA needs to conclude that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. As a result, under the reported terms of a prospective comprehensive agreement, Iran will retain a uranium enrichment program that can be seen as a reward for bad behavior.
 
Monitoring and Verification
 
Difference: The verification that is envisioned with Iran would be extensive in its scope and intensity.
 
The Agreed Framework contained no specific verification procedures beyond saying that the DPRK would “provide full cooperation” in allowing the IAEA “to monitor” the freeze on activities related to the DPRK’s graphite-moderated reactor, and that “before delivery of key nuclear components” of the replacement light-water reactors, the DPRK would “come into full compliance with its Safeguards Agreement.”
 
The proposed arrangement with Iran would allow international monitoring of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities from cradle to grave, as it were. The IAEA would verify activities at uranium mines and mills, all facilities involved in producing and storing centrifuge rotors, and all centrifuge assembly facilities. …
 
The United States has also said that Iran would establish and allow the monitoring of a dedicated procurement channel for “the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology.” …
 
Difference: Iran would be subjected to greatly enhanced U.S. intelligence capabilities, including cyberintelligence and overhead.
 
Basic technical capabilities to detect violations of commitments like those Iran would make under a comprehensive nuclear deal have improved significantly since 1994. This augments the deterrence of cheating, including by heightening the probability that such cheating could be detected in time to allow military interdiction.
 
Similarity: Iran will resist providing the IAEA with the transparency and cooperation sufficient to answer questions about past nuclear activities.
 
The IAEA is determined to gain Iranian cooperation in providing transparency and information necessary to assess past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions. The agency needs to resolve questions about these past activities to reach a conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran and that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. Without this broader conclusion, the agency cannot say that Iran has returned to good standing. Moreover, an understanding of what Iran did in the past will inform efforts to monitor and verify that its future activities are declared and wholly peaceful. …
 
Deterrent Factors
 
Difference: A final agreement with Iran would presumably be codified in a UN Security Council resolution.
 
As a bilateral agreement, the Agreed Framework was not an undertaking of the UN Security Council.
 
A comprehensive agreement with Iran would be codified in a legally binding UN Security Council resolution, the violation of which would, among other things, be a threat to international peace and security. This increases the risks that Iran would face in violating the agreement. Unlike existing Security Council resolutions that Tehran says were illegally imposed on it by others, Iran would be consenting to a resolution that endorses a nuclear agreement.
 
Difference: The P5+1 are unified in wanting to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and have worked in harness to achieve this outcome diplomatically.
 
The negotiations that produced the 1994 Agreed Framework were conducted by the United States and the DPRK alone. The other permanent members of the UN Security Council were not invested in it and in its enforcement.
 
Difference: In response to a U.S. military attack, Iran could not immediately cause massive military destruction of major cities in countries that are U.S. partners.
 
The DPRK had massive artillery capabilities that could gravely damage Seoul in the event of a U.S. military attack on North Korean nuclear facilities. To be sure, Iran could sustain asymmetric warfare in many locations for a long time, which gives it some means of deterring a military attack against its nuclear facilities. But Iran lacks conventional military means to retaliate effectively and massively against Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel, or against U.S. forces in the region. This further augments deterrence of an Iranian race to nuclear weapons, either by cheating on an agreement or after it expires.
 
Difference: Iranian leaders fear nuclear proliferation by their neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, and believe that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would greatly enhance the probability that Saudi Arabia would follow suit, perhaps with U.S. complicity.
 
The DPRK did not have such concerns. The U.S. nuclear guarantees that were extended to South Korea and Japan mitigated the risks that these states would seek their own nuclear weapons in response to the DPRK.
 
Incentives to Cooperate
 
Difference: Iran will not be required to roll back all of the capability it has acquired to produce and separate plutonium.
 
The Agreed Framework’s specific measures and general aim were to render the DPRK without capabilities that could be mobilized to produce nuclear weapons.
 
Seen from a technical nonproliferation angle, the key difference is that the proposed arrangement with Iran would leave it with more potential to produce nuclear weapons than the Agreed Framework was supposed to leave the DPRK.
 
Difference: Iran does not need nuclear weapons to guarantee its government’s survival or to compel economic payoffs.
 
The DPRK’s relative weakness compared with all its neighbors left its leaders feeling they had no better option than nuclear weapons to deter potential coercion and aggression against the country.
 
Iran, meanwhile, is the most populous country in its region and embodies a proud, accomplished civilization, endowed with significant natural and educated human resources. ...
 
Difference: Iran is not as autarkic as the DPRK was and is, so sanctions have a major impact on it.
 
In terms of economics, Iran’s illicit nuclear program has been a major problem rather than a solution. Iranian businesses and citizens feel that sanctions have hurt the country enormously. ...
 
Difference: Much of the Iranian population knows the West and wants more integration with it.
 
Iran’s young, urban population is modern and relatively well educated, often with direct or indirect knowledge of the Western world, unlike the population of the DPRK. ... This is a significant constituency that would be mobilized if the government acted in ways that caused any sanctions that had been lifted to be reimposed, for example by cheating on a nuclear deal.
 
Difference: Representatives of an elected government are conducting the negotiations for Iran and are part of the policy-shaping process.
 
Regime Characteristics
 
Similarity: The most important decisionmaker in Iran is an internationally isolated, ideological man who believes the United States seeks the overthrow of his government
 
Like Kim Jong-il in the DPRK in the mid-1990s, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran is the supreme leader. He has not left Iranian soil since 1989 and has little personal knowledge of the outside world. Like Kim Jong-il did, he projects a singular revolutionary ideology that narrates his government’s unique place and mission in the world. ...
 
Similarity: The government of Iran does and will continue to do condemnable things.
 
Iran, while different from the DPRK in many positive ways, also continues to act contrary at least to Western norms, threatening the interests of its own people and its neighbors as well as the broader international community. ...
 
Other Challenges to Implementation
 
Difference: Key U.S. partners in the Middle East fear a nuclear deal and eventual normalization of relations between the United States and Iran.
 
Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states express wariness of a possible nuclear deal with Iran for several reasons. Most obviously, they note that Iran will be left with significant capabilities to enrich uranium—capabilities that could be mobilized to produce nuclear weapons in violation of the proposed agreement and the NPT. …
 
Similarity: Implementation of a comprehensive nuclear arrangement with Iran will require at least passive cooperation by the U.S. Congress.
 
The Agreed Framework with the DPRK was an executive agreement, not a treaty. As such, and like thousands of other such agreements made by U.S. administrations since 1939, it was not presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification. …
 
The prospective nuclear agreement with Iran also will not take the form of a treaty. But it will entail commitments by the United States to suspend sanctions on Iran, which the U.S. Congress can impede. ...
 
Click here for the full text.
 
Tags: Reports

Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On April 23, Iran and the world’s six major powers began three days of nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Negotiators are working to draft a final agreement by June 30, but disagreements remain about the timing of sanctions relief, Iran’s nuclear research and development, and the scope of international inspections. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in New York on the sidelines of the 2015 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty conference on April 27. Kerry noted that the “hard work is far from over” but that negotiators are “closer than ever” to a final deal.

The following are excerpted remarks from officials on the status of the nuclear negotiations.
 
United States
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
“The United States and our P5+1 partners have come together with Iran around a series of parameters that, if finalized and implemented, will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon, and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.
 
I want you to know the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved. But we are, in fact, closer than ever to the good comprehensive deal that we have been seeking. And if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.
 
Now it’s important to remember that the NPT has always been at the heart of these negotiations. From day one we have been focused on bringing Iran back into compliance with its obligations under the treaty. And if ultimately the talks are successful, it will once again prove the power of diplomacy over conflict and reinforce the rule of law.
 
Now we have said from the beginning that any deal with Iran will rely not on promises, not on words, but on proof. It will arrive – rely on verification, which is really at the center of the NPT and the entire IAEA process. Obviously verification is at the heart of the NPT, and one of the most important things that we can do to support our nonproliferation goals is to strengthen the IAEA safeguards in order to ensure that the agency has exactly what it needs in order to be able to verify safeguard agreements. That’s why the United States is working to bring the Additional Protocol into force globally and to make it the standard, the global standard for safeguards compliance.”
 
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
 
"For a considerable time period, 10 years at a minimum, we will have I would say a very comfortable ability to detect any military activity related to the nuclear program and we would have adequate time to respond. Then over time we still have very strong constraints going forward.”
 
"The idea is that in the very long term, Iran hopefully will perform, will prove that it's a peaceful program, but even then as we go to 25 years, we will have access in a completely unprecedented way to their uranium supply chain."
—April 23, 2015 according to the press
 

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman

"We understand that Israel is in a tough neighborhood. That’s why we have given Israel more security assistance than any other Administration in history. And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that that neighborhood doesn’t become even tougher with a nuclear-armed Iran. We believe that the parameters, announced two weeks ago in Lausanne, offer the best chance at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and just as importantly, that the alternatives fall far short of what we’ll have if we’re able to turn the political framework into a comprehensive agreement.
 
Without such an agreement, Iran’s breakout time to get enough nuclear material for a weapon is two or three months – what it is right now. With this agreement it will be one year, up to six times as long as it is now, for at least 10 years. Without this agreement, Iran would expand its enrichment program to 100,000 centrifuges in the next few years. With this agreement, we will have limited Iran to operating about 5,000 centrifuges for at least the next decade. Without this agreement, Iran could produce two weapons’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium every single year. With this agreement, Iran is going to have zero weapons-grade plutonium, and not just for 10 years, but for the lifetime of the reactor.
 
Without this agreement, Iran would be able to expand its stockpile of currently 10 tons of enriched uranium. With this agreement, that stockpile will be reduced by 98 percent to only three kilograms[1] of a working stockpile. And without this agreement, the international community through the International Atomic Energy Agency would only have its pre-joint plan of action – the first step – insight and inspection into Iran’s declared nuclear program and no ability to look for undeclared nuclear activities.
 
But with this agreement, we will have the most extensive system of monitoring and verification we have ever negotiated for any country anywhere in the world. We will have eyes into every part of Iran’s nuclear program from cradle to grave. And if we detect Iran is trying to break its commitments or violating the agreement, we will have every single option on the table to respond to them that we have today. So when you look at the comparison between the agreement we are negotiating and the chance that we would succeed, the better course of action is abundantly clear."
—April 27, 2015 in a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Biennial Leadership Policy Conference
 

State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf

“The comprehensive deal we are seeking to negotiate with Iran is fundamentally different than what we did in terms of our approach to North Korea. In the early 1990s, North Korea had produced weapons-grade plutonium prior to agreeing to limited IAEA inspections. After the Agreed Framework, they agreed to more intrusive inspections; but in 2002, when they finally broke its commitments, its violations were detected by the IAEA. We’ve also said very publicly that one of the reasons we have the Additional Protocol now, which is a key part of what we’re negotiating with Iran, is in fact because of the lessons we learned from the North Korea situation.
 
So the restrictions, inspections, and verifications measures imposed by Iran – on Iran by a comprehensive plan of action will go far beyond those placed on North Korea in the 1990s and the 2000s. Any comprehensive deal with Iran would require at a minimum, again, implementation of the Additional Protocol, which constitutes a much greater level of monitoring and a wider scope of access on short notice than was ever attempted in North Korea. So there’s just fundamental differences when it comes to things like inspections, for example.”
 
“The Additional Protocol is something the IAEA developed for use around the world, which was developed, again, in the 1990s with the support of the U.S. but by the IAEA to prevent states from cheating on their safeguards agreements based on lessons learned in places like Iraq and in North Korea. So that’s just one piece of it, though. The North Korean nuclear program was at a different stage than Iran’s is, for example. So there are just a lot of technical differences as well.”
 
“If we were to detect cheating of any kind, we have all the options we have today we would have then to respond.”
—April 23, 2015 in a press briefing
 
Iran
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
"If the other side shows serious resolve, reaching a final agreement in the coming months will be possible.”
 
"No one in the world can continue pressures and sanctions against Iran in coming months and years."
—April 28, 2015 according to the press
 
“Iran is seeking two points in nuclear talks: First is dismissal of charges. We want to show to the world that ill-wishers told lies to world nations. Iran is after peaceful nuclear technology, not developing a destructive atomic bomb which is religiously banned according to the Supreme Leader’s edict.
 
“Second, we seek to remove the problems the ill-wishers have thrown our way.”
 
“With God’s grace and the support of the Supreme Leader and the Iranian nation, Iran will move toward constructive interaction with the world.”
—April 28, 2015 according to the press (via Iran Front Page)
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
“As we have stated since the beginning, we consider the US administration responsible for implementing the agreement and internal problems and conflicts in the US are not related to us and to the implementation of the agreement, and based on the international laws, the countries' internal problems don’t exempt them from implementing their undertakings and this is the main framework that we attach importance to.”
 
"We have said since the first day that agreement and sanctions aren’t compatible."
—April 28, 2015 according to the press
 
“Maintaining an uncertain and unstable situation is not acceptable to Iran and the Americans should take practical and confidence-building measures to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.”
—April 28, 2015 in a meeting on the sidelines of the 2015 U.N. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference


Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
 
“The progress is good... We are at preliminary stages and the pace is slow but it is good.”
 
"The Europeans and Americans made good clarifications about lifting of the sanctions.”
—April 24, 2015 according to the press
 
“This time we only worked on the question of sanctions but the fact is that we had worked on other issues some months ago; I think in July last year. We have already [drafted] some parts of our text. We had already done some drafting in the past, but then it was stopped because we had no solution on major issues. Now we have solutions in almost all issues. What we have to do is to write down these solutions in form of a draft of an agreement. We have also started now from the sanctions and we will go to other issues next time.”
 
“Some remarks by officials in the US created lots of question marks, and also the act by the Congress to introduce a new bill … [which] actually added to this complicated situation. We had very good discussions especially with the US delegation asking them to clarify their position regarding sanctions, to clarify what is going on in the Congress and I think the explanations by the US delegation was very useful.”
 
“We are working on a dispute settlement mechanism the details of which are still under consideration. We do attach great importance to the possibility of violation of commitments by either side, especially from the other side, who has unfortunately not a good record on implementing its commitments. We will certainly have a dispute settlement mechanism according to which if any violation would occur, if any misunderstanding emerges, we will go to that mechanism and try to resolve that before we come to a situation to terminate the agreement.”
 
“Now we have started to work on the draft of the JCPOA. Obviously at the beginning we need to talk about the frameworks and format of such a draft. We have made some progress but very slowly.… The focus of our discussions this time was on the question of sanctions and we tried to start drafting by in fact the question of sanctions and the related issues.”
 
“It is a very difficult job to reach a realistic agreement by June but we are hopeful. We think if all parties are serious, which they are, we can conclude these discussions and talks before the end of June. This is quite possible and we think the agreement is at reach, but of course at any time … unpredictable events may cause problems in the way, but if we go in a normal pace we can finish the job.”
—April 25, 2015 according to the press, via Iran Front Page
 

Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Hossein Salami

Inspections of military sites would be a “national humiliation.”
—April 23, 2015 according to the press

 

Photo credit: Moniz by Energy.gov via Flickr Commons (public domain as U.S. Government work); Zarif by Robin Wright

 

Kerry on Iran Soil

In another first, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran’s foreign minister at the Upper East Side residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador. The two were in New York to attend a U.N. conference on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty. It was the first time Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif have met since the world’s six major powers and Iran agreed on a blueprint for a nuclear deal on April 2. The following is a roundup of pictures from the event.

 

 

 

U.S. to Reform Jews on Iran Deal

On April 27, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman discussed ongoing nuclear talks with Iran at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Biennial Leadership Policy Conference. “We believe that the parameters, announced two weeks ago in Lausanne, offer the best chance at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” she said. The following are excerpts from her keynote address.

 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We will be working nonstop between now and the end of June to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security challenge peacefully, which will make Israel, the region, the United States, and, indeed, the world safer. 
 
I know that in the Jewish community here in America, a community I’m proud to be part of, there’s been a lot of discussion during the past few weeks about our relationship with Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, and a lot of interest and concern about our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Given the importance of these issues, I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking to you about them today, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
 
Every time I hear President Obama talk about issues that matter to American Jews, and some of you have heard directly, I’m always struck about how personally he feels about those issues and how personally he feels about his connection to the Jewish people and to Israel. This deep-seated feeling is what drives his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and his desire to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state.
 
It’s also what drives this Administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear threat. We understand that Israel is in a tough neighborhood. That’s why we have given Israel more security assistance than any other Administration in history. And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that that neighborhood doesn’t become even tougher with a nuclear-armed Iran. We believe that the parameters, announced two weeks ago in Lausanne, offer the best chance at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and just as importantly, that the alternatives fall far short of what we’ll have if we’re able to turn the political framework into a comprehensive agreement.
 
Without such an agreement, Iran’s breakout time to get enough nuclear material for a weapon is two or three months – what it is right now. With this agreement it will be one year, up to six times as long as it is now, for at least 10 years. Without this agreement, Iran would expand its enrichment program to 100,000 centrifuges in the next few years. With this agreement, we will have limited Iran to operating about 5,000 centrifuges for at least the next decade. Without this agreement, Iran could produce two weapons’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium every single year. With this agreement, Iran is going to have zero weapons-grade plutonium, and not just for 10 years, but for the lifetime of the reactor.
 
Without this agreement, Iran would be able to expand its stockpile of currently 10 tons of enriched uranium. With this agreement, that stockpile will be reduced by 98 percent to only three kilograms[1] of a working stockpile. And without this agreement, the international community through the International Atomic Energy Agency would only have its pre-joint plan of action – the first step – insight and inspection into Iran’s declared nuclear program and no ability to look for undeclared nuclear activities.
 
But with this agreement, we will have the most extensive system of monitoring and verification we have ever negotiated for any country anywhere in the world. We will have eyes into every part of Iran’s nuclear program from cradle to grave. And if we detect Iran is trying to break its commitments or violating the agreement, we will have every single option on the table to respond to them that we have today. So when you look at the comparison between the agreement we are negotiating and the chance that we would succeed, the better course of action is abundantly clear.
 
I could go on, but I want to have time to take your questions, and here’s the key point: Our shared values have provided a basis for partnership on critical domestic and foreign policy priorities over the past six-plus years, and they will continue to do so for the remainder of President Obama’s second term. We intend to use every single day of the rest of this Administration to work to make our country and the world a better and safer place, even when it’s hard to do. At the State Department, that means working as hard as we possibly can to achieve a good agreement with Iran that provides us and the world with the assurances that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon.

 

QUESTION: Thank you. That was a wonderful presentation. Before the first Gulf war, President Bush the elder had sanctions in place, and they were working. And he ended the sanctions shortly after he said they’re working, and we ended up in war. I’m very concerned that we have sanctions working and that we’ll end them too soon and we won’t get the deal and we won’t get the enforcement and we’ll end up in war and in an even more dangerous situation.
 
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. It’s a very good question. The sanctions that we have on Iran – which are U.S. sanctions, EU sanctions, UN Security Council sanctions – are quite vast and quite effective. But they are not effective at preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Sanctions have helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table, but just a few years ago Iran had only 164 centrifuges. As the sanctions came on and as they got more profound, Iran went to the state where they are today, which is to have 19,000 centrifuges, because Iran is in a resistance economy and a resistance culture, and they believed that if the world was going to put sanctions on them, they were going to keep marching forward with their program in the way that they felt they needed to. The only thing that has stopped Iran’s program – and, in fact, rolled it back – is what’s called the JPOA, the Joint Plan of Action, which was the first agreement that we reached, the first step, the interim agreement. That agreement stopped Iran’s program where it is so that we would have time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement, and it got rid of its entire 20 percent stockpile of enriched material. And that’s critical because you go from small enrichment – 3.5 percent, 5 percent – then you go to 20 percent, and then you go to 90 percent and highly enriched uranium, which is fissile material for a nuclear weapon. So the only thing – the only thing – that has stopped Iran’s nuclear program at all has been that first step negotiated agreement to provide time and space to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.
 
And secondly, it’s very important to understand that the reason we were able to keep sanctions together was because we were committed to trying to find a peaceful, diplomatic solution. So countries around the world, even good allies like Japan and South Korea, were willing to limit the amount of oil they imported from Iran because they believed we were working towards a peaceful solution. If they feel we aren’t working towards a peaceful solution, they are likely to break ranks and we won’t be able to keep the sanctions together anyway.
 
And then finally, many people say – and I understand the impulse, because you get frustrated and there’s so much going on in the region that is it not good – that people say, “Take military action against Iran.” Actually, our intelligence community has assessed and said publicly that if we took military action against Iran, it would only take away their program for maybe two years. They have mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, and you can’t bomb away knowledge. So even if we destroyed their facilities, they could recreate it.
 
So the really durable solution here is getting an agreement with enough transparency, monitoring, and verification to understand what is going on. 
 
QUESTION: Does the Administration have a plan in place to prevent the undermining of the agreement that you’re negotiating by the Congress? Because the Congress seems to be intent to do it. Would you perhaps consider having President Obama oppose the agreement, so that the Republicans could find a way to support it?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We’re working very hard with Congress. Senator Cardin, who is obviously my senator – and I’ve known Ben most of my life – worked very hard with Senator Corker to fashion a piece of legislation that gave the Congress a procedural way to look at this agreement without getting into the substance, per se. We’re very grateful, and grateful that Senator Corker and Senator Cardin were able to reach an agreement. This legislation will be on the floor of the Senate this week. There will be a lot of pretty awful amendments, quite frankly, and we’ll see where we end up.
 
The President has said that if the Corker-Cardin legislation stays where it is, he will not veto it; if it becomes something else, then he’ll have to consider his options.
 
Click here for a full transcript.
 

[1] Three hundred kilograms

 

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