United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Nuclear Deal to Start January 20

            Iran and the world’s six major powers agreed to begin implementing the Geneva nuclear agreement on January 20. Iran and the so-called P5+1 —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States— had reached a historic interim agreement in November 2013. Tehran had committed to halting the most sensitive aspects of its nuclear program and allowing expanded U.N. nuclear inspections in return for modest sanctions relief. The first step towards a comprehensive deal is set to last for six months.
But Secretary of State John Kerry said negotiating a comprehensive agreement will be harder than implementing the interim deal. President Barack Obama warned members of Congress that he would veto any new sanctions that could risk derailing negotiations. And Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that passage of new U.S. sanctions would kill the Geneva deal. The following are statements by world leaders on implementing the agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
      “We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
      “On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.
      “As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.
            “Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.
            “Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
            “The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.
            “While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
            “As the United States has made clear many times, our absolute top priority in these negotiations is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have been clear that diplomacy is our preferred path because other options carry much greater costs and risks and are less likely to provide a lasting solution.
            “We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.
            “We are clear-eyed about the even greater challenges we all face in negotiating a comprehensive agreement. These negotiations will be very difficult, but they represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.”
            Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
U.S. President Barack Obama
           “Today’s agreement to implement the Joint Plan of Action announced in November marks the first time in a decade that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to specific actions that halt progress on its nuclear program and roll back key parts of the program.  Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.  Iran has agreed to limit its enrichment capability by not installing or starting up additional centrifuges or using next-generation centrifuges.  New and more frequent inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites will allow the world to verify that Iran is keeping its commitments.  Taken together, these and other steps will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
           “In return, over the next six months the United States and our P5+1 partners – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union –- will begin to implement modest relief so long as Iran fulfills its obligations and as we pursue a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear program.  Meanwhile, we will continue to vigorously enforce the broader sanctions regime, and if Iran fails to meet its commitments we will move to increase our sanctions.
           “Unprecedented sanctions and tough diplomacy helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and I’m grateful to our partners in Congress who share our goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation.
           “With today’s agreement, we have made concrete progress.  I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.  I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
E.U. High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton
      “I am pleased to announce that outstanding issues on the implementation of the initial measures were resolved and finalized in a meeting between EEAS Deputy Secretary General Helga Schmid, acting on my behalf, and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi on 9 and 10 January in Geneva. This was subsequently endorsed by all capitals.
           “The E3/EU+3 and Iran have now reached a common understanding on the implementation modalities for a first step of 6 months of initial measures as set out in the Geneva Joint Plan of Action of 24 November 2013.
           “The technical understandings on the concrete measures to be implemented by both sides had been worked out in three rounds of intensive technical experts’ meetings of the E3/EU+3 and Iran, partly also involving the IAEA.
           “Thanks to this agreement on the implementation modalities, the foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the 6 months period have been laid. The E3/EU+3 and Iran will now start the implementation of the first step on 20 January 2014. We will ask the IAEA to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs
      “Finally, the long marathon of the Geneva negotiations reached a point at which the two sides achieved a mutual understanding so that the first step based on the Geneva nuclear deal will be implemented on January 20th. This first step is inclusive of a combination of acts that the two sides will have to perform within the period of six months aimed at building trust so that we will reach the famous final step, or the comprehensive solution.
      “Based on the reached agreement, the two sides agreed to remain at the present time status, which means they would remain at the status of the previously imposed sanctions against our country, and we, too, in current status of our nuclear activities. Based on this agreement, they must not impose new unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral sanctions against our country, and in return.”
           “If the US congress wants to pressure us on new pretexts, we'd say with certainty that we won’t negotiate under pressure at all, and if new sanctions are imposed, the Geneva deal would be canceled.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 to Iranian television
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague
      “I welcome the fact that we have now reached E3+3 agreement with Iran on implementing the first step of the Joint Plan of Action agreed at Geneva on 24 November 2013. The entry into force of this agreement on 20 January is an important step towards peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, on which comprehensive negotiations will now start.”
            Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement


Photo credits: U.S. State Department, Change.gov, European External Action Service via Flickr, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, By English: Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

White House: New Sanctions Amount to War Resolution

            On January 9, the White House warned that a new Iran sanctions bill proposed in the Senate could push the United States toward war with Iran. The “Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act” is co-sponsored by more than one-half of the 100 Senators, largely Republican but including several key Democrats. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if passed, but the legislation may get enough bipartisan support to make it veto-proof. In response, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan issued the following statement:

            This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations. This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer. 
            If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.
            The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.

            Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has warned that new sanctions are in violation of the Geneva agreement signed by Iran and the world’s six major powers on November 24. He said new Congressional action would kill diplomacy.
            Robert Menendez (D- New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R – Illinois) introduced the resolution on December 19, which “requires further reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum and applies additional penalties to strategic elements of the Iranian economy, to include the engineering, mining and construction sectors.” Ten Democratic Senate committee chairs have circulated a joint letter warning that the Menendez resolution could undermine negotiations with Iran.
            The following are excerpts from the proposed bill with a link to the full text.
S. 1881
To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose
additional sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes.
Sec. 101. Applicability of sanctions with respect to petroleum  transactions.
Sec. 102. Ineligibility for exception to certain sanctions for countries that do not reduce purchases of petroleum from Iran or of Iranian origin to a de minimis level.
Sec. 103. Imposition of sanctions with respect to ports, special economic zones, and strategic sectors of Iran.
Sec. 104. Identification of, and imposition of sanctions with respect to, certain Iranian individuals.
Sec. 105. Imposition of sanctions with respect to transactions in foreign currencies with or for certain sanctioned persons.
Sec. 106. Sense of Congress on prospective sanctions.
(b) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--
(1) the Government of Iran must not be allowed to developor maintain nuclear weapon capabilities;
(2) all instruments of power and influence of the United States should remain on the table to prevent the Government of Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities;
(3) the Government of Iran does not have an absolute or inherent right to enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of  Nuclear Weapons, done at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968, and entered into force March 5, 1970 (commonly known as the ``Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty'');
(4) the imposition of sanctions under this Act, including sanctions on exports of petroleum from Iran, is triggered by violations by Iran of any interim or final agreement regarding its nuclear program, failure to reach a final agreement in a discernible time frame, or the breach of other conditions described in section 301;
(5) if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;
(6) the United States should continue to impose sanctions on the Government of Iran and its terrorist proxies for their continuing sponsorship of terrorism; and
(7) the United States should continue to impose sanctions on the Government of Iran for--
(A) its ongoing abuses of human rights; and
(B) its actions in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
It is the sense of Congress that, if additional sanctions are imposed pursuant to this Act and the Government of Iran continues to pursue an illicit nuclear weapons program, Congress should pursue additional stringent sanctions on Iran, such as sanctions on entities providing the Government of Iran access to assets of the Government of Iran held outside Iran, sanctions on Iran's energy sector, including its natural gas sector, and sanctions on entities providing certain underwriting, insurance, or reinsurance to the Government of Iran.
Click here for the full text.

Photos: People, Places and Political Sites

      Robin Wright captured a cross section of images from Iran on the eve of the revolution’s 35th anniversary. The pictures include exclusive images from inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran as well as leading ayatollahs and some of the many visual contradictions in the Islamic Republic. Click on the arrows to see the next slide in each series.


The Holy Shrine in Qom


The Clerics


The Girls of Iran


The Boys of Iran


U.S. Embassy in Tehran


Lingering Impact of the Iran-Iraq War


The Economy


The Art of Iran


Finding Marilyn Monroe in Tehran


The Billboards (and contradictions) of Iran



Inside Iran with Robin Wright and David Ignatius

            Two long-time Middle East experts have recently returned from Iran. Their discussions with cabinet members, ayatollahs, hardliners, members of parliament, economists, opposition figures and ordinary Iranians offer rare insights into Iran’s increasingly vibrant political scene since President Rouhani took office and the implications of the new nuclear agreement. Robin Wright and David Ignatius offer fresh perspectives on what’s next.


Iran’s Leaders Alarmed by Sunni-Shiite Tension

            Iran’s top religious and political leaders are alarmed by growing Sunni-Shiite tension in the Middle East. Tehran is especially worried about the influx of Sunni militants into Syria, al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq, and Sunni-Shiite clashes in Lebanon. Sectarian violence is “the most serious security threat not only to the region but to the world at large,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned in a November 2013 BBC interview. And in October 2013, President Hassan Rouhani called for Muslim unity and regional cooperation to prevent bloodshed.

      Other Iranian leaders are blaming the intra-Muslim fighting on the West, Israel and the Sunni Gulf states. Western intelligence services are fomenting “bloody sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts” in Syria and elsewhere with “the help of [Arab] petrodollars,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei charged in April 2013. Saudi Arabia is “fulfilling Zionists’ orders for fomenting sectarian war in the Muslim world,” claimed Reza Mohseni Sani, a member of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. 
           The Shiite theocracy has a strategic interest in preventing further Sunni-Shiite violence. Iran is the biggest Shiite country in the world. Some 89 percent of its 79 million people are Shiites. But overall, they are a minority in the Middle East. Outside of Iran, Shiites make up only 11 to 14 percent of the region’s Muslim population, according to the Pew Research Center. Bahrain and Iraq are the only other Arab countries with majority-Shiite populations, while Yemen is estimated to be 35 percent Shiite. The following is a rundown of remarks by top Iranian leaders on sectarianism.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
            “One of the great plights in the world of Islam today is the plight imposed intentionally and wickedly by the#arrogant powers to inflame discords among the Islamic nation and religious sects.
            “The arrogant and #imperialist system is highly experienced at sowing religious discords…
            “Confrontation of religious sects will not be limited to #Shia and #Sunni conflicts…”
            Nov. 11, 2013 in a meeting with Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) officials
Nov. 19, 2013 Facebook post
            “Any statements and actions that set fire between Muslims or insulting sanctities of any Muslim sects is a service to the camp of disbelievers and haram.”
            Oct. 14, 2013 at a ceremony marking the beginning of the Hajj
            “It is necessary that both Sunnis and Shiites understand, as well as everyone in Iran and the Muslim world, that the disagreement between Shiites and Sunnis is one of the tools and equipment of the enemy [used] against the Muslim community.”
            Aug. 21, 2013 Facebook posting with a quote from Aug. 8, 2006
President Hassan Rouhani
            The following tweet refers to President Rouhani’s call with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.
            “We should fight terrorism in unity. This terrorist attack [on the Iran-Iraq gas pipeline] revealed that terrorists targeted material and spiritual interests of different religions and ethnicities.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
      “I think we need to come to understand that a sectarian divide in the Islamic world is a threat to all of us.”
      “Some people have fanned the animosity for short-sighted political interests.”
     “This business of fear-mongering has been a prevalent business… Nobody should try to fan the flames of sectarian violence. We should reign it in, bring it to a close, try to avoid a conflict that would be detrimental to everybody's security.”
      “I think all of us... regardless of our differences on Syria, we need to work together on the sectarian issue.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 in an interview with the BBC
            “Iran believes that what is happening in Syria can have a huge impact on the future of our region and the future beyond the region. Because we believe that if the sectarian divide that some people are trying to fan in Syria becomes a major issue it will not recognize any boundaries. It will go beyond the boundaries of Syria. It will go beyond the boundaries of this region. You will find implications of this on the streets of Europe and America.”
            Dec. 7, 2013 in an interview with TIME magazine
Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan
      The “inhuman and dangerous phenomenon of takfiri terrorism” and extremism is spreading “from Syria to Iraq.”
      Dec. 1, 2013 according to Fars News Agency
Chairman of Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
            “The terrorist groups including al Qaeda and the al Nusra Front in Syria are serving the interests and policies of the United States and Britain through the brutal killing of this country’s [Syria] Muslim people.”
            Oct. 29, 2013 in a meeting with a member of Somalia’s parliament
Member of Parliament Ali Motahari
            “Western countries are after dispersion in the Islamic World and on account of such fact, Muslim scholars, both Shiites and Sunnis, should stand against such danger hand in hand. The takfiri movements are the brain child of Wahhabi credos, traced back to many years ago, which of its nature, reject other Islamic sects and denominations and do not even recognize the four main Islamic Schools of Sunni denominations.”
            “Intimidated by Muslim nations’ power, Western countries seek disunity in the Islamic world. And the more dispersion pervades Islamic countries, the more benefit they [Western countries] will reap.”
            Oct. 28, 2013 in an interview with Taqrib News Agency
Grand Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani
            “Our message to Sunni community is that we should not let the enemy to take advantage of our divide. We need to unify against the common enemy.”
            Dec. 28, 2013 in a meeting with members of Hezbollah, Lebanese Shiite militia and political party
Member of Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Mohammad Reza Mohseni Sani
“Saudi Arabia is the U.S. and the Zionist regime’s agent in the region… Fulfilling Zionists' orders for fomenting sectarian war in the Muslim world is Saudi Arabia’s mission.”
            Jan. 4, 2014 to Fars News Agency
Tehran's Interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami
            “Prominent Sunni clerics, who are highly disappointed with the conduct of the murderer takfiris [Muslims who declare other Muslims unbelievers] are advised to join Shiite clerics in announcing that those criminals’ deeds are totally unrelated to Islam. The Shiite and Sunni clerics will save Islam’s prestige if they do so.”
            Jan. 3, 2014 in a sermon
Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Spokesperson Hossein Naqavi Hosseini
            “The petrodollars of some regional governments are in the pockets of takfiri terrorists, Salafis and extremist groups… Saudi Arabia’s support of takfiris in Syria, terrorist activities in Iraq and Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia and even some European countries such as Serbia and Bosnia shows that a great threat [is jeopardizing] the region’s security.
            “Many al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups are being supported by the Saudi Arabian government, and what [Saudi Intelligence Chief] Bandar bin Sultan looks for in Saudi Arabia is worrying for the entire region, and the international community must deal with such moves.”
            Jan. 6, 2014 according to Press TV
Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri
            “The Iranian nation during history has played an important role in supporting Sunni Muslims to the point that imams of Sunni denomination and even the authors of Sunni reference books were all from Iran… Both Shiite and Sunni [sects] are necessary for a perfect understanding of Islam.
            “The crimes committed against the Iraqi nation by terrorists and takfiri groups are a tragedy…The disagreement between different Islamic denominations in Iraq is probably a result of the high rate of violence in the country.”
            Oct. 8, 2013 at Iraq’s Kufa University
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi
            “The Zionists are trying to stage a sectarian war among Muslims with the help and the support of the United States and Britain in a bid to delay their destruction.”
            Aug. 2, 2013 according to Tasnim News Agency

Photo credits: Khamenei.ir via Facebook, Mohammad Javad Zarif via US State Department, Hossein Dehqan via Ministry of Defense


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