United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Europe Reaches Out to Iran

Since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14, 2015, at least a dozen European nations have reached out to Iran with high-profile phone calls and visits. "Expansion of relations with E.U. members is among Tehran's main policies," Rouhani said before his visit to Europe in January 2016. Around half of the 140 economic delegations that visited Iran between March and December 2015 were from European countries. The following is a rundown of European outreach to Iran since the deal.

European Union

On April 16, 2016, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and seven other high ranking E.U. officials visited Iran to discuss implementation of the nuclear deal, boost economic ties, and increase cooperation on humanitarian, environmental and social issues. It was the first visit of E.U. officials since the implementation phase of the nuclear deal began and key sanctions were removed. Mogherini and her counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, agreed to begin structured dialogues on solving regional crises, fighting ISIS, stabilizing Afghanistan, and human rights. “Our dialogue will be open, critical at times, because we both know that we clearly have different positions on certain files,” Mogherini noted. 
 
Previously, on July 28, 2015, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had traveled Tehran for a one-day visit with senior Iranian officials. She was accompanied by deputy E.U. foreign policy chief Helga Schmid. Mogherini said the nuclear deal “has the capacity to pave the ground for wider cooperation between Iran and the West.”
 
After meeting with Mogherini, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and the European Union had agreed to hold talks “over different issues, including energy cooperation…human rights, confronting terrorism, and regional issues.”
 
 
Mogherini’s visit coincided with her op-ed in The Guardian, in which she argued that cooperation between Iran and the West could help defeat ISIS. The following is an excerpt.
 
“The Vienna deal tells us that we all have much to earn if we choose cooperation over confrontation. Making the most out of this opportunity is entirely up to us. But nothing good will happen if we do not work hard for it. We Europeans have a long tradition of cultural and economic relationship with Iran. Before sanctions began in 2005, cooperation between our parts of the world spanned many areas, from energy to trade. But our shared interests go well beyond the economy.
 
“Last week Europe’s foreign ministers tasked me with exploring “ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework” in the wake of the Vienna deal. Isis (also known as Da’esh) is spreading its vicious and apocalyptic ideology in the Middle East and beyond. There is nothing more worrisome to Isis than cooperation between “the west” and the Muslim world, for it defies the narrative of a clash of civilisations the group is trying to revive. An alliance of civilisations can be our most powerful weapon in the fight against terror.”
—July 28, 2015, in an op-ed published by The Guardian
 
On November 7, 2015, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz met with officials in Tehran, at the invitation of the Iranian parliament. It was the first time a head of the European Parliament had visited Iran. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is an element of stability in a region full of instability," Schulz said during the visit.
 

 

Italy

An Italian delegation led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrived in Tehran on April 12, 2016 for a two-day visit. Renzi met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, and other officials. Italy reportedly extended Iran 5 billion euros in credit lines and guarantees for exports – one of the most significant economic deals since the nuclear deal. Italy, which used to be one of Iran’s major trade partners, has been trying to revive economic ties with Iran.
 
During the visit, Renzi said that “We are in Iran, but not only to sign economic contracts. There are many economic opportunities for both countries which should be taken seriously, but more than anything else, there is a common feeling between the two great civilizations of Persia and Rome.” President Rouhani added that "Today, after the lifting of sanctions, Italy is a forerunner in the development of Iran-EU ties."
 
Renzi’s visit followed Rouhani’s trip to Italy on Jan. 25, 2016, during which he invited Renzi and President Sergio Mattarella to visit Tehran. Iran and Italy reportedly signed around $18.4 billion in deals for cooperation in energy, infrastructure, shipbuilding, and mining. Rouhani said during his visit that Iran was "more eager to have Italians before any other European nations to start a constructive interaction with their Iranian partners in the economic fields." 
 

Previously, on Aug. 4, 2015, Gentiloni and Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi traveled to Iran for a two-day visit, accompanied by Italian businessmen and economic activists. They met with Minister of Industry, Mines, and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh and other officials. During the August visit, investment back Mediobanca, Italy’s development ministry, and export credit agency SACE signed a memorandum of understanding “to facilitate future economic and commercial relations between the two countries.”

Austria

President Rouhani was scheduled to travel to Austria to meet with President Heinz Fischer and other officials in late March. But on March 29, President Rouhani abruptly canceled the visit. The trip was postponed due to “security reasons,” according to the president’s website.
 
Austria’s Interior Ministry claimed to have found “no concrete signs of a security threat.” But Fischer issued a statement asserting that “Every nation has to decide for itself about the safety and security of its head of state.” He added that “The quality of the relations with Iran won’t be touched by this delay and the cooperation in the realm of politics, business, culture, and science will be continued in a comprehensive manner.” The Austrian Chamber of Commerce had said that up to $2.3 billion in deals would have been signed during the visit.
 
Austria was among the first nations to reach out to Iran following the nuclear deal. Fischer spoke to Rouhani by phone on July 15, 2015, the day after the deal was signed. Rouhani said the agreement would “lay the groundwork for the expansion of ties between Tehran and Vienna.”
 
Fischer then visited Tehran from Sept. 7 to 9, 2015, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, and Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner. Fischer said that he expected bilateral trade between Austria and Iran to reach $335 million in 2015.
 
Fischer met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his visit. Khamenei praised Austria for not complying with "the United States' hostile policies towards Iran."
 
 
United Kingdom

On February 4, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in London for a conference to raise money for humanitarian aid in Syria. He met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other officials on the sidelines of the conference. It was the first visit to the United Kingdom by an Iranian foreign minister in 12 years.
 
"Iran and Britain have had traditionally good commercial and economic relations and I think those can resume," Zarif said in an address at Chatham House. "We need to work together on moving the political relations forward."
 
The United Kingdom has taken steps to improve ties with Iran since the nuclear deal was signed. "You (President Rouhani) had a very constructive role in striking this final deal," British Prime Minister David Cameron said on July 16, 2015. During the conversation, Rouhani added that “I think there exists the necessary potential to rebuild relations between Iran and Britain.”
 
The British government also relaxed its travel warnings for Iran shortly after the deal was announced. “The risk to British nationals has changed, in part due to decreasing hostility under President Rouhani's Government,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on July 25.
 
 
On August 23, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond traveled to Tehran to reopen the British Embassy, which had been closed since 2011. The Iranian embassy in London was reopened the same day. In a joint press conference with Hammond, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and Britain had “entered a new phase of relations based on mutual respect.”
 
Hammond was the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Iran in 12 years. He met with Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, and other officials during his visit. Hammond was accompanied by a group of British business leaders hoping to reestablish ties in Iran.
 
 
On Jan. 19, 2016, David Cameron congratulated Rouhani on the implementation of the nuclear deal during a phone call. The two leaders also discussed expanding trade ties, the conflict in Syria, and the four dual British-Iranian nationals held in Iran.
 
France
 
On July 23, French President Francois Hollande and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in a phone conversation. A statement released by Hollande’s office “expressed the wish for Iran to contribute positively to the resolution of crises in the Middle East.” Hollande also emphasized increasing tourism between the two countries, since it "can play a major role in advancement of cooperation between Iran and France."
 
 
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius visited Tehran on July 29, 2015, meeting with Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, and other senior officials. It was the first visit to Iran by a French foreign minister in 12 years. He also extended an invitation for President Hassan Rouhani to visit President Hollande in France in November. "Things will, we hope, be able to change," Fabius said during his visit. In late September, a French delegation with representatives from more than 100 companies visited Tehran and opened a trade office.
 
 
Rouhani traveled to France on Jan. 27, 2016 for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President Francois Hollande, and a group of French business leaders. On January 28, French and Iranian officials signed 20 agreements for economic, political, and cultural cooperation. French automaker Peugeot announced it had reached a deal with Iran Khodro worth $436 million to manufacture 200,000 cars per year in Iran. Energy company Total also reportedly signed a deal to buy up to 200,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil per day. And Airbus finalized a deal to deliver more than 100 commercial jets to Iran.
 
Rouhani was the first Iranian president to visit to France since 1999. Despite taking a tough stance during the nuclear negotiations, France was among the first European countries to seek improved ties with Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. Rouhani’s visit, however, prompted protests from French human rights groups against executions in Iran.
 
Belgium
 
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and an economic delegation visited Tehran on November 9, meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The officials discussed expanding economic and political ties. During the visit, Rouhani said that Iran "can become a center for organizing and expanding economic relations between Belgium, the European Union, and the whole region."
 
 

Spain

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo met with Iranian officials in Tehran from September 7 to 9. He was accompanied by Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister Jose Manuel Soria, Public Works and Transport Minister Ana Maria Pastor Julian, and a delegation of business officials.

Following a meeting with Soria, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said the two countries discussed the possibility of exporting crude oil and natural gas to Spain. Additionally, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Garcia-Margallo, and said that Iran and Spain "agreed to negotiate about human rights and refugee issues.”

 

Germany
 
On July 20, German vice chancellor and economics minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran for a three-day visit, hoping to resume “economic contacts with Iran, which were traditionally good.” He was the first high-ranking Western official to visit Iran since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14.
 
Gabriel also emphasized the need to cooperate with Iran on issues like human rights and its relationship with Israel. "You can't have a good economic relationship with Germany in the long-term if we don't discuss such issues too and try to move them along,” he said.
 
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Tehran in October 2015 to discuss trade ties and attempt to de-escalate the growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He traveled to Iran again on Feb. 2, 2016 for meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.

 

 

Switzerland
 
Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Yves Rossier arrived in Tehran on July 21 for a four-day trip to meet with Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Rouhani’s chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian. “Iran welcomes the expansion of economic and banking relations with Switzerland,” Nahavandian said.
 
On August 12, Switzerland became the first nation to lift sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal was announced.
 
Serbia
 
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic arrived in Tehran on August 3 for a three-day visit. Dacic held a series of meetings with senior Iranian officials and explored opportunities for greater economic cooperation with Iran. Zarif welcomed a proposal by Dacic to hold the 14th Iran-Serbia Joint Economic Committee, adding that an Iranian delegation would visit Belgrade in the future.
 
 
Poland
 
On October 10-11, Polish Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz visited Tehran, where he met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemni Rafsanjani, and other officials. Iran and Poland "can further contribute to regional and international security through mutual cooperation," Borusewicz said during the visit. And Rouhani said that "Iran sees no obstacles in the way of expanding relations and cooperation with Poland."

The Netherlands

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met with Rouhani, Zarif, and other officials in Tehran on September 21 and 22. It was the first time in 14 years that a Dutch foreign minister had visited Iran. The officials discussed expanding political and economic ties, and Koenders announced that at least three other Dutch ministers planned to visit Iran in the near future.

This post has been updated.

Iran and Islamic Conference: Tensions at the Summit

Tensions between Iran and other Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia, erupted at the 13th summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) of 57 countries. The final communique, issued April 15, “deplored Iran’s interference” in the affairs of other countries and its “continued support for terrorism.” President Hassan Rouhani skipped the closing meeting, reportedly in protest. The five key resolutions are listed below, followed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s address to the organization.
 

Rouhani and Saudi King Salman both attended the summit in Istanbul, Turkey. But they did not meet—or even greet each other. In one video, Salman appeared to snub an attempt by Rouhani to shake hands. Iran and Saudi Arabia, long-time rivals, support opposing actors in both the Syria and Yemen conflicts. Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric prompted protestors in Tehran to attack its embassy in January. Riyadh then cut diplomatic ties with Iran.

Rouhani’s speech at the summit on April 14 attempted to be conciliatory. “It is crystal clear that neither Saudi Arabia is regarded as Iran's problem nor Iran is regarded as Saudi's problem. The main issue is ignorance, prejudice and violence, which are now regarded as the main hurdle and root cause of discord in the Islamic World,” he said. But he also warned the OIC not to issue a divisive message. Rouhani lamented that the Islamic countries are spending billions on military arsenals to fight each other instead of using those resources to create jobs and boost economic growth.
 

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi alleged that the OIC’s decision-making process is biased against Iran. He noted that the clauses on Iran were added to the final statement during a pre-summit meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No Iranian envoys participated because Saudi Arabia would not grant them a visa, Araghchi said. In a televised interview, he said the OIC is dominated by certain countries that use “financial resources, threats, and bribery.” He added that the OIC “will definitely regret the stances it adopted against Iran and Hezbollah in future.” 

30. The Conference stressed the need for the cooperative relations between Islamic States and the Islamic Republic of Iran to be based on the principle of good-neighborliness, non-interference in their domestic affairs, respect for their independence and territorial sovereignty, resolving differences by peaceful means in accordance with the OIC and the UN charters and the principles of international law, and refraining from the use or threat of force.
 
31. The Conference condemned the aggressions against the missions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and Mashhad in Iran, which constitute a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and international law which guarantees the inviolability of diplomatic missions. 
 
32. The Conference rejected Iran’s inflammatory statements on the execution of judicial decisions against the perpetrators of terrorist crimes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering those statements a blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a contravention of the United Nations Charter, the OIC Charter and of all international covenants. 
 
33. The Conference deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the States of the region and other Member States including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism.
105. The Conference condemned Hizbollah for conducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen and for supporting terrorist movements and groups undermining the security and stability of OIC Member States.
 
President Rouhani’s Address to the OIC
 
Today, we have convened with the motto of ‘Unity and Solidarity for Justice and Peace’ in the beautiful and historical city of Istanbul and it is a great opportunity to ponder the common fate of all Muslims in the world.
 
Some centuries ago, when the Islamic civilization was at its zenith of power, no one assumed that one day, they (Muslim) would become so weak in dealing with the western civilisation which owed Muslims very much in terms of scientific growth or the day that the Islamic civilisation which encompassed all schools of thought and tribes and had established peaceful coexistence among them, maybe no one assumed that sectarian violence and extremism would rampant among Muslims in a way that assassination of one Muslim with the hands of another Muslim to become so habitual.
 
The truth is that the decline of the Islamic civilization started when the big powers in the Islamic civilization fruitlessly confronted one another instead of exercising synergy and prepared the grounds for aggression of the foreigners.
 
And today history is repeating itself. Widespread political, economic, cultural and especially intellectual and doctrinal aggression has stiffened, but in a new form in which they have brought Islam against Islam and branch against branch, as well as extremist and takfiri groups which everyone knows where and how they have been formed and how they are being backed, killing Muslims and non-Muslims in large numbers through the most violent and cruel way possible. Pure violence has prevailed over Islamic kindness and ignorant values have replaced Islamic moral values. Regretfully, since these atrocities occur under the name of Islam, the main victims are the Islamic principles and values.
 
The Muslim World does not deserve to be target of insecurity, violence and organized terrorism which will bring it backwardness and lack of development. Rather, it deserves to have a significant place; and this is not possible unless we ponder our surrounding world with more concern.
Our deeds and not our claims or titles will be judged by the Muslims.
 
Some anti-Islam groups are rendering financial and military aid to defame Islam and this should be prevented.
 
When hundreds of billions of US dollars from the pocket of Islamic Ummah is spent on military arsenals, how can we talk about Islamic unity and persuade the youths to talk about blessings of Islam?
 
Islam has taught us that crimes under any name or title are regarded as crime and that it makes no difference it occurs in Palestine, Lahore, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul or New York. What matters, is that we know the roots and grounds and attempt to confront it by firm resolve.
 
Excellencies,
 
The Islamic Republic of Iran avoids any tension and instability in the region and always seeks solidarity and unity among Islamic Ummah. Iran is to help other countries to resolve their disputes through negotiations under a constructive atmosphere.
 
Honourable Leaders of the Islamic Countries;
 
It is crystal clear that neither Saudi Arabia is regarded as Iran's problem nor Iran is regarded as Saudi's problem, the main issue is ignorance, prejudice and violence which are now regarded as main hurdle and root cause of discords in the Islamic World.
 
The Islamic Republic of Iran has always backed Muslim countries and Muslims against aggressions, threats, occupation and terrorism.
The day Saddam invaded Kuwait, it was Iran that condemned the move before others and sheltered Kuwaiti and Iraqi refugees.
 
When takfiri terrorists approached the gates of Baghdad and Irbil, it was Iran that helped Iraqi nation and government against their savage atrocities.
When Damascus was on the verge of occupation and annihilation, it was Iran that stood by Syrian people.
 
When Gaza was under attack by the Zionists, Iran and Hizbullah stood by Palestinian nation the same as they backed Lebanese nation.
 
If one day terrorists want to attack any Islamic states or religious place, and in case we are requested to confront them, Iran will never hesitate.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen;
 
No divisive message should be sent from the OIC Summit which has been held with the name of unity; and any divisive measure is definitely invalid in that it does not accompany the consensus of this organisation and the Islamic Ummah and is in contrast with its founding philosophy.
 
It is our duty to seriously deal with any violence, extremism by resorting to the Holy Quran, Islamic World should be an exemplary model for a moderate society.
 
I appreciate your attention. Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you all.

 

 

Iran on Nuclear Deal: “Nothing Has Happened”

On April 15, Valiollah Seif, Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, said that “almost nothing” has happened since the nuclear deal was implemented in January. “Unless serious efforts are made by our partners to make the JCPOA work, in my view they have not honored their obligations,” he said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations. The day before, Seif held the first bilateral meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, opening a new channel for U.S.-Iran interaction. The following is a copy of Seif’s prepared remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, followed by a transcript of the question and answer session.

 
Seif: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here today and have this discussion to the sidelines of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings. Allow me first to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for the excellent arrangement made for this meeting. I will briefly present an overview of recent economic and financial developments in Iran, the progress made in strengthening the resilience of our economy, including the banking system, and our expectations for better economic ties with our partners in light of the significant trade and investment opportunities our country offers. I will also highlight the challenges we face in this post-sanctions environment, which we need to address to move forward.
 
As you know, following the intensified negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the entry into effect January 2016 of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has opened a new era for the Iranian economy and relations with the rest the world. On our side, we were working not only to address the negative effects the sanctions by making the economy more resilient, but also ensure that will be in a better position to respond to increased trade and investment once the sanctions are lifted. Over the past two years, we have made significant progress restoring macroeconomic stability, improving fiscal management, strengthening the banking system, stabilizing FX market and advancing growth-enhancing structural reforms. We achieved all this during a period when the unilateral sanctions continued. This also evidences the fact that, contrary to baseless allegations that some people make, sanctions did
not and could not force us to engage into negotiations with our P5+1 colleague or to compromise our legitimate rights to continue our peaceful nuclear activities.
 
As noted, the outcome of these efforts is very positive. Even though growth stagnated in 2015/16, reflecting the sharp decline in oil prices and wait-and-see attitude on the part of consumers and investors, it is expected to rebound to about 5 percent 2016/17. Inflation has dropped below 12 percent and is projected to decline further to single digits by end 2016/17 as the central bank tightened monetary policy and enhanced credibility; the foreign exchange market has stabilized and steps are being taken to unify the exchange rates once the normal account relations with foreign banks are adequately restored.
 
Let me now turn to the Iranian banking sector, which has a critical role to play not only in the Iranian economy, but also in facilitating a successful transition to a more dynamic engagement with the rest of the world. With a history of nine decades and extensive correspondent and account relationship with many Asian and European banks in recent decades, and even with the US banks prior to 1995, our banking system can draw on its rich experience and expertise.
 
This does not mean that our banking system does not face many challenges. It does, and we are addressing them. State-owned as well as private banks are being restructured and recapitalized to make them more robust financially. Shadow credit institutions are obliged to consolidate and apply for a banking license. NPLs are being monitored closely and additional steps will be taken to repair and strengthen bank balance sheets. We are addressing these problems with assistance from the International Monetary Fund, and we are also strengthening the central bank’s supervisory powers and extending them to all banking and credit institutions. Iranian banks overseas are subject to stringent supervision by home and host supervisors.
 
While reduction in international financial transactions between Iranian and foreign banks has adversely impacted service delivery, the central bank is strengthening regulation and supervision to ensure proper risk management practices in banks and compliance with international standards, including on corporate governance, anti money-laundering and capital and liquidity requirements set by the Basel Committee. In addition, Iranian banks are increasingly preparing their financial statements in line with the international financial reporting standards, or IFRS.
 
We also attach high priority to enhancing the AML/CFT framework, through improvement of KYC policies and procedures, to ensure prevention of financial crime, and facilitate the re-integration of the Iranian banking system into the global economy. Following the passage of the AML law and its implementing regulations several years ago, the recent enactment of the CFT law will remove an important obstacle in the way of Iranian banks’ re-engagement with their foreign counterparts. We remain committed to further strengthening the AML/CFT framework, and we have requested an IMF assessment against the FATF standards, and intend to join the Eurasian AML/CFT group.
 
I am sure many you are aware
of the Iranian economy’s potential, with a population of about 80 million, a young and well-educated work force, and an entrepreneurial business class.
The economy is also endowed with vast reserves of oil and gas. Ranked
18th globally in GDP in PPP terms, the $1.4 trillion, Iranian economy is well diversified, and enjoys a broad domestic industrial base. As cited elsewhere, Iran has the consumer potential of Turkey, the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the natural gas reserves of Russia, and the mineral reserves of Australia. Over the past 25 years, the country has completed five development plans, and has attracted billions dollars investment from over 50 countries, primarily in the energy sector, petrochemicals, mining, steel industry, telecommunications, car manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. Iran also has a large investment potential in information technology and aviation industry.
 
So far I have talked about, in a very brief manner, the extensive opportunities that my country offers to potential investors in different business sectors of the country. Let me also give you snap shot what has happened since 3 months ago, the date of implementation of the JCPOA. Almost nothing. Under JCPOA, EU and the United States are committed to taking all administrative and regulatory measures necessary to ensure successful and effective lifting of sanctions to enable Iran to reintegrate into the international markets. We are not discounting what has been done such as, OFAC’s guidance documents, recent visits to other countries encouraging the financial community working with us, general and specific licenses issued to encourage engagement in trade and investment. However, these have proved to be insufficient. After passage of 3 months, in general we are not able to use our frozen funds abroad. Unless serious efforts are made by our partners to make the JCPOA work, in my view they have not honored their obligations. If, according to our partners, it is our conduct which prevents international banks engaging into business with us, they were fully aware of our conducts before signing the JCPOA; we have not changed them. They signed it just for us to deliver our commitments and do nothing on the grounds that Iran is responsible for. This is not correct; this is a misstatement of facts. They need to do what ever is needed to honor their commitments. If it means more face to face contacts with the international banks assuring them they do not penalize them working in Iran, if it means making changes to their laws and regulations to give access to the U.S. financial systems, allow U Turn, what ever is needed, they need to do that; otherwise the JCPOA breaks up under its own terms.
 
Moderated Question and Answer Session
 
Moderator: Thank you kindly. I’m going to ask a few questions and then open it up. And could I start by asking you just in brief: Was it sanctions that brought Iran to the nuclear bargaining table?
 
Seif: It seems that we have a kind of misunderstanding here and sometimes people have this misconception. Iran’s economic performance, especially over the past two years clearly shows that Iran was never in a bad economic condition, and I think that these two are usually confused. One is related to mismanagement we have had in the past, and the other one is sanctions. I don’t deny the fact that sanctions have had a cost for our economy, but the truth is, over the past two and a half years since President Rouhani has taken office, the economic achievements we have had show that we have never been in a very bad economic condition. Inflation was over 40 percent, but through good management of resources right now is less than 12 percent. And when our economy was going through a recession, right now we have three percent growth (it was for last year) and these are some of the examples that show that we could have economic growth even during sanctions. So when you look at the stability in the market especially in foreign exchange markets – this is something we enjoy and we have a very positive record over the past two years and we see that volatility has dropped dramatically and we have relative stability.
 
Moderator: A question that I think would be of concern especially for Americans looking at potential business related in any way to Iran. For a foreign investor in Iran today, to what extent would they be supporting or working with or enriching the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, if they start to do business with you? Is it actually possible to disentangle this from the general economy?
 
Seif: It seems that here we have had some exaggerations. Iran’s economy is very transparent and the financial data is readily accessible and you can easily have access, I mean you can go through KYC (Know Your Customer) and there are some services you can use – any foreign investor can benefit from those services for identification of their customers. So what you said is that foreign investment should have the discretion and also the ability to know who he is dealing with, and this is something completely possible. You can buy the services available inside the country there are different firms, they are credible firms, and they are providing Know Your Customer services. Even for Iran, when we are trying to invest in a foreign country, it could be a European country or a neighbor, we usually have Know Your Customer and we try to use the local services available in that country. So these companies and firms they are providing for the knowledge gap you have so you can make proper decisions.
 
Moderator: And the IRGC, do you think that they should have access to U.S. dollars? In other words, if Iran gains access to U.S. dollars, U-Turn transactions, and so on, should the IRGC be entitled to be a part of that?
 
Seif: The services that are provided in the society can be used by anyone and of course you can get information – You see what we are talking about would be about the banks that would be helping us in converting different currencies and to provide access to financial services of the U.S. So that you convert one foreign currency into another and to settle a transaction and these banks they are obligated to provide services they have to their foreign partner and to provide the assurance that – because remember we are talking about Know Your Customer here – and you know that you also should know the customer of your customers so you can have complete coverage for the bank that is providing the service.
 
Moderator: Now that Iran and the P5+1 have agreed that Iran will have a peaceful nuclear program, could you tell us – in the question of how Iran uses the resources that it has available which you were talking about – what is the cost to Iran of the nuclear program, of the missile program, of the military generally? If you could just break that out: how much is Iran spending per year, however you might sum it up?
 
Seif: Well how much we are spending on diverse types of activities is something that I cannot provide you with any figure. But you know every country makes a number of decisions based on its priorities and will invest accordingly. These are in fact permissible activities. And when it comes to peaceful nuclear activities, we have the right and also this is the need of every country to provide a better future for itself and to fully benefit from its potential resources and the talents it has domestically. Fortunately after many years we could prove that Iran has never tried to leave the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and all the activities have focused on those areas that are let’s say peaceful and humanitarian. So when it comes to the missile activities, Iran remember is located in a very high-risk part of the world and you know Iran’s neighbors are not safe. We have the growth of ISIS and those counties that have promoted ISIS and its growth and to commit its atrocities and I’m sure you are fully aware of what ISIS is doing to innocent civilians, to women, to children. These are the things you see. Who is responsible for that? The question is how should Iran guarantee that it will not be the next target. And if Iran is the target of an invasion, who will protect Iran? Who is protecting Yemen at the moment? The point here is based on experience, based on our history. Iran has come to the conclusion that we should rely on our own capabilities, those capabilities that can be used for defensive purposes. Defense against any kind of invasion. I think that these are some natural developments Iran is pursuing but they have political interpretations and negative interpretations outside Iran.
 
Moderator: May I press you as someone involved in finance and money, simply can you give us a figure for how much Iran has invested in its nuclear program? How much has it cost?
 
Seif: This question is something I don’t have the response to, but definitely we have done some investments and of course it has been worth the effort. Any kind of investment done, first you go through feasibility studies and economic benefits of that investment and whether it is compatible with the costs or not. And Iran wanted to move in the right direction but nobody cooperated with Iran and Iran had to rely on its own domestic resources and that’s why we went through the course we went through. But unfortunately it was surrounded by misunderstandings and those people who have had those misrepresentations of Iran’s nuclear activities were themselves aware of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities but due to their political approach they wanted to create problems for Iran.
 
Moderator: During the period of intensive sanctions, it was clear that some countries were helping Iran carry on. Was China the most helpful, or were there other countries that were important players such as Russia?
 
Seif: Well I think that you want to know which countries have had the biggest help provided. Well Iran has had a lot of economic ties with other countries and there were countries that had positive economic relations with Iran, they continued to work with Iran. China was one of them, Russia was one of them. Some other countries also worked with Iran. It doesn’t change anything. You know Iran under any circumstances, due to its economic potentials, has the ability to run its economy without needing anyone and not to become dependent and sacrifice its values.
 
Moderator: I have two more questions I want to try and get in before I open it up to our members. First is: This must be of concerns to you. Iran on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 130 out of 167 countries. It’s worse than Russia or Pakistan. Just in brief, why is corruption such a problem and what are the chief obstacles for you in trying to deal with it to get rid of it?
 
Seif: I can give you the assurance that this ranking itself is politically motivated. And Iran’s domestic conditions – if you come and live in Iran and see what kind of relations we have you will realize that many countries that have a higher ranking than Iran, or they have a better standing, are in a worse condition. But due to the political nature of this approach, Iran is ranked as what it is. Over the past two years we have – based on reports we have provided – we have made some improvements and I would like to ask you to pay attention to the fact that Iran is being treated politically and sometimes you see that it will have negative consequences. This is something we need to avoid. There are certain organizations that should work based on facts and justice and when you see that they have a biased perspective you cannot trust their findings.
 
Moderator: This is a question about North Korea. Will sanctions stop – you have a lot of experience on how sanctions actually work in practice – will sanctions stop North Korea’s nuclear program?
 
Seif: Well regarding Iran, I told you that it didn’t have any impact on our viewpoints. And I told you that sanctions were costly for our people, they increased the cost of transaction in our country – 10 to 15 percent increased cost of transaction. This is based on general research we conducted. And you know that this itself can lead to corruption and when you don’t have a transparent banking system and it cannot provide the services needed for  legitimate business practices, then transactions will be diverted to a non-transparent channel through exchange bureaus or some people who have some expertise in these kinds of non-transparent types of interactions. Sanctions I think will never work and I think that this is something which doesn’t belong to modern times. The world economy is changing. I don’t know about North Korea, I don’t know what’s happening to it, but I think that if North Korea is acting the way we were acting or we have been acting, I’m sure they can survive and they can run their economy and they wouldn’t be – I mean sanctions do not have a determining effect, sanctions only put pressure on people. It doesn’t change the course of policies. But it only will impose certain costs and create a context for non-transparency and corruption.
 
Audience Question and Answer Session
 
Question: Thank you Governor. [inaudible] You’ve spoken about the diversity and richness of the Iranian economy and mentioned as an example business and the oil and natural gas, and you know comparing them to Saudi Arabia and Russia, both of which are suffering, struggling quite a bit because of the collapse of oil and gas prices as well as minerals. So would this situation at hand and the prospects for continued depressed energy prices – what to you see the future of the Iranian economy, and what kind of vision do you have in an environment that is changing quite a bit and especially with Iran consuming half of its oil production locally?
 
Seif: It was a very good example you provided, taking into account the vast natural oil and gas resources we have and also the dependence we had on oil revenues. If you compare what we did when we were confronted with the shocking oil prices and compare Iran to other countries, you see we were the least affected country. It didn’t change our inflation, and this is exactly when we decreased inflation from 40 percent to 12 percent. So it didn’t do anything to our inflation, it didn’t have any impact on our exchange rates, and we had our economic stability, we pushed forward with our economic plans. Compare us with other oil rich countries. You see our economy is stable. If in the past we had some economic mismanagement, it should not be confused with the effects of sanctions. And taking into account the policies we have had with respect to resilient economy and also the measures we have taken to this regard. So this resiliency is something which is part of our economy and our country is very robust as a result of the policy we have implemented and also the diversity of our economy. So we see that we are running the economy and the objectives – we have five development plans, the sixth one is being ratified by Iranian parliament – so the objectives we have, the long term objectives, the outlook we have for the next 20 years, and I think that we will be the number one economy and a robust economy in the region.
 
Question: Thank you very much governor. I’d like to follow up on this question. You’ve answered a big part of it but let’s put some numbers on it. Looking forward, if oil stays at $40 a barrel, you have a program, what specifically might we see if oil went up to say $50-55 a barrel by the end of the year? Would that – would we see any specific differences in Iranian economic programs and investments? Thank you.
 
Seif:  Thank you. Definitely an increase in oil prices based on the policies we have and also the plans we have will expedite Iran’s economic development, job creation, and also promotion of exports. And of course we have learned our lessons and the excess income will not be spent on imports of consumer products and destruction of the economy. This is the main direction we have taken and definitely in the course of the implementation we are highly determined.
 
Question: Thank you. Let me ask you about your meeting yesterday with Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew. This is the first time you’ve had a bilateral meeting with him. Could you tell us about the nature of the conversation and if you made any progress on your points, if you had any U.S. response. And secondly, looking at the bigger picture, this is the third channel that the United States has developed after the diplomatic channel, after the channel with Brett McGurk, with the intelligence officers on the prisoner swap, and now a channel with the Treasury. What does this reflect about the developing dialogue between Tehran and Washington?
 
Seif: With respect to what I’ve said, you definitely know what I’ve been talking about. And we don’t talk about something specific here unless we are talking about adherence to the nuclear agreement, so a commitment to what we are obliged to implement. It was our expectation that after the implementation of the JCPOA, we could see Iran getting reconnected into the international economy. Unfortunately, the context doesn’t show that. And we are asking our partners in the discussions and negotiations on the agreement to abide by their commitments, so that we have tangible results to present to our people.
 
I don’t call it a third channel. There was a need for a specific meeting related to banking issues and also the expectations we had regarding what each one is supposed to do based on the JCPOA. And we wanted a speedy implementation of what was promised. I hoped that these discussions would lead to the resolving of what we’ve been expecting.
 
Question: My question is related to the sanctions and the fact that several of the sanctions require Congressional approval in the U.S., and the reality of the U.S. political system. What do you think is the outlook for the financial aspects of the nuclear accord given those political realities, and the fact that there is likely to be some form of check on Iran’s ability to integrate the international financial system going forward, and how you’re going to navigate through that?
 
Seif: I don’t have any specific thoughts on that. I think that the current U.S. administration I think that the current U.S. administration has accepted this commitment. And Iran is relying on this commitment. And we expect that not only the U.S., but also our European counterparts will abide by their commitments at any time. Otherwise, you can’t talk about international relations. That would—I mean, this is a kind of accepted principle in international relations. So based on the expectations we have, the commitments are accepted and we expect those commitments to be fully respected. Otherwise, that would be against the concept of being committed.
 
Question: Just a quick question to follow-up on one of the questions here. You have said several times that Iran is not getting reconnected with the global economy, that the West isn’t living up to its commitments. Can you be more specific? Do you think that the U.S. administration is deliberately trying to frustrate Iran’s efforts to reintegrate? Or is because Iran’s financial system is so out of step with the global standards that it’s just very difficult for you to reintegrate, as you’d like?
 
Seif: What is important is the result of the nuclear agreement, or JCPOA. If you look at the results, you can see whether you have made any progress or not. What we see is that the impact we were expecting to get is not what we see, at least on a tangible basis. And for having normal banking relations, we do not still have a normal condition. We are still in an abnormal condition. I don’t want to say that no improvement has been made. But I said in the opening remark that taking into account the scope of the activities we were supposed to engage in, and also the expectations we had, nothing has happened. And we hope that our—the other side of the agreement will abide by its responsibilities.
 
You see, from the Iranian side, we have fully implemented what we were supposed to do—I mean, completely. And there is not even one single case that you say that we did not go through. But the other part, has not acted on its commitments. So that’s what we’re expecting, a speedy implementation of those expectations.
 
Question: What is the answer you get from major European banks when you ask to restore correspondent relations with them? Why are they so hesitant? Do they tell you that they’re afraid of new sanctions coming down, uncertainty about the American political system? And how long do you think it’ll take before Iranians will be able to actually do banking with top-tier banks in Europe? Thank you.
 
Seif: I think we must make a distinction here. Remember, Iranian banks, whether they have accepted international standards or not, whether they are up to the standards or not, this is one issue. And the second question is why big European banks or medium-sized European banks, they are hesitating. Now, in the FATF list we have two countries. One is Iran. The other one is North Korea. These are—in fact, these two countries are in fact collaborating. Do you really think that Iran’s economy is similar to that of the North Korea? And many other countries—many—are not in that list. Do you think that their condition is better than Iranian banks?
 
We all know that this is not the case. And this is the political behavior Iran is receiving. And you see it here also. So one of the reasons that we don’t see a speedy expansion of ties between Iran and international banks is FATF, which is wrong, in the list. You know, last week my colleagues from the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance, they had a presentation in FATF meeting in Paris. And the participants were surprised. They couldn’t imagine that we have taken so many measures.
 
And when it comes, for example, to anti-money laundering law was passed many years ago in our parliament. And before the nuclear agreement, we had made proposals for combatting the financing of terrorism. It was presented to the parliament and last month it was ratified by the parliament. And now our banks are supposed to comply with these standards. But in an ideal world—well, it’s not yet 100 percent compatible with international standards. But this is something natural. And of course, many of—and this is the case for many countries across the globe. So I think this approach is wrong.
 
The second issue is why European banks are hesitating or maybe they don’t have the courage to—maybe I should use the word—they don’t have the courage to work with Iranian banks, it’s because of the heavy penalties that they have been going through or impose upon them. And also, they have been asked not to work with Iranian banks. And they are afraid. This is quite natural. If these threats are removed, that small weakness related to lack of full compatibility with FATF standards would be immediately—I mean, would be bridged in a very short time, and Iranian banks can reestablish their connections with international banks.
 
And the biggest European banks have had a very good relationship with working with Iranian banks. I mean, there’s a kind of positive history we have. And that memory is still attractive to them. But this is ignored at the moment. And we want both sides of this agreement, especially the U.S., to take the required measures to remove the obstacles.
 
Question: And it’s interesting to hear your catalogue how much the Obama administration is doing to try and encourage foreign investment in Iran. You mentioned OFAC guidelines, licenses, visits. And you also talked about how businesses can access the very open financial data from Iran and can also know their customer. And as a result, they know of the IRGC’s vast influence in the Iranian economy. So my question is, you didn’t talk about what Iran is doing. There’s always two parties involved in financial transactions. What is Iran doing in terms of addressing issues that many businesses are worried about, such as ballistic missile launches, the fact that Iran remains a jurisdiction of money laundering, and the fact that it’s the world’s largest state sponsor of terror? So specific policies and then results of that that your government is doing.
 
Seif: Well, I think that I have talked about that before, and I think it’s very clear. I mean, when you talk about Iran’s missile activities we only are benefitting from our previous experience, and we want to protect our own citizens, and to reduce the threat of any aggression. This is a fact you need to recognize.
 
And it seems that you have—you are fully informed of ISIS activities in the region and also the types of crimes being committed by that terrorist organization. Iran has this experience, and also we have an experience of being the object of an aggression, and no one came to our help. And the first reaction was—we expected the international community to respond, but no one responded when we were invaded by Iraq. So Iran has to depend on its own internal capabilities, and not to provide any opportunity for any aggression against our country. So this is something normal.
 
But I want to ask you this question. Over the course of the past few years, do you have any history of Iran’s aggression against any of its neighbors? Why in an artificial way people are promoting Iran-phobia? What Iran has done which is strange that has become the object of so much media pressure? Iran’s actions clearly indicates that we are following on our own—following our principles, and we don’t allow for any aggressor to commit any aggression. And we are using all of the resources we have to stop that, and we had eight years of an imposed war that we managed. And remember, we did not receive any foreign assistance while our counterpart—I mean, the aggressor—was supported by every country. And see what has happened now. So this is experience we have had, and so that’s why we boosted our defense capabilities, and we are following down this path very carefully. And we always say that we don’t have any other intentions, save peaceful intentions. That’s it.
 
Question: You’ve mentioned the SFT law that was recently passed. I was wondering if you’d give us a little bit more details in terms of what it contains, and also tell us a bit more about other efforts that are undergoing in Iran on the path to joining the Eurasian Group, which you’ve mentioned at the beginning. Thank you.
 
Seif: Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have taken a number of measures to promote our banking sector standards. And most of them focus on more transparency, increased transparency.
 
One of the measures we have taken is obligating banks when it come to the minimum disclosure requirements for our banks’ financial statements and balance sheets. So our banks need to disclose certain items that are needed to be disclosed, and they can help in the KYC process.
 
And as I pointed out, we have the anti-money-laundering law being used in our banks, and our banks need to comply with that. The CFT was ratified last month, as I pointed out, and this will be a preventive measure that will fight financing of terrorism. And this is very crucial for a country because you know that our country is, in fact, surrounded by different terrorist activities. And based on our own priorities and to protect our own safety, we needed to fight this, and we are compatible with the international standards.
 
And when we explained what we have done to FATF in Paris, as I said, the participants were surprised when they learned about the progress and achievements we have had. And after this presentation and the presentation we had, we are sure that the process for Iran to be taken out of that list would be facilitated. And I hope that those political considerations I said will not act as a hindrance here.
 
Question: One of the things that we see quite a bit in the media coverage of Iran, reporting coming out of presentations and speeches being made, is the rather substantial reference to the resistance economy—the idea of resisting engagement with the international economy. How do you reconcile that, plus the role played by the IRGC, with the idea of creating an open-market, integrated economy to the rest of the world? It does seem to be a contradiction. So explain it to us.
 
Seif: I think that there is a kind of serious misunderstanding here, or maybe—let me explain this. When we talk about resilient economy, it goes to creating a sense of stability in the economy and providing the context for dynamic growth, and also avoiding any possible shock that might undermine the economy or present volatility in the economy that would have an impact on the living standards of people. So that’s our definition of resilient economy. So we rely on our domestic resources to create jobs for productive purposes, for promotion of exports, and in no way—no one has this interpretation that it is related to IRGC’s activities or other types of activities.
 
So the kind of plans or the plans we have for different obligations and responsibilities of different parts of the government, we are following on this agenda, and we are creating an economic condition where our economy would be safe from different shocks and will—we would not—we will be able to reach the objectives we have set for ourselves. As I said, you can compare the effect of the oil-price shock on our economy and with that effect on other oil-exporting countries’ economies, and you see that our economy is resilient here when it comes to such shocks.
 
And, you know, that drop in the price of oil was a political measure. Our enemies, based on their political approach, might try to target our weaknesses. And they thought that this is one of our weaknesses, so if they drop the price of oil then our economy will collapse, and then we will not be able to manage our economy. But you see what happened is that this economy is perfectly stable and has been managed properly, and the economic objectives we have set for ourselves, we could reach them. So we had decreasing pattern of inflation drop, and our economic growth is continuing. I said that any increase in oil prices will expedite our development and progress, but it cannot reverse it. That’s a fact.
 
Question: Well, if you think that Republicans win in presidential elections and the new administration tears the agreement into pieces, based on your agreement with European and Japan, which of these countries do you think that will restore the sanctions? Or do they continue with normal economic relations?
 
Seif: So what is now evident is that, in international contexts, we have demonstrated that we abide by our commitments. And our economic and business partners have acknowledged the fact that working with Iran has never been a risk. But whether another country interferes in this and distorts the natural course of events, that would be in contradiction to international regulations and laws.
 
The U.S. administration has certain obligations vis-à-vis Iran, and we expect the U.S. to respect these responsibilities and commitments. Whether a third country will—what will do as a result of American interference is something that you should ask that country. And we expect our business partners to abide by the contents of the agreements we signed, and to avoid any measure that will result in a sense of mistrust in international contexts.
 

Treasury on Outstanding Iran Issues

On April 14, the United States and Iran held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the annual spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with Iranian Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif. The United States needs to deliver on its obligations under the nuclear deal with Tehran so the Iranian people feel the economic benefits of the ground-breaking diplomacy, but the Treasury Department “will not provide Iran access to the U.S. financial system, and we will not restore the “U-turn” authorization, Acting Treasury Under Secretary Adam Szubin said on April 13. That authorization allowed certain U.S. dollar transactions involving Iran to be cleared through a U.S. bank. The following is a transcript of Szubin’s remarks at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Annual Forum. 
 
Today, I’d like to take stock of our Iran sanctions program, and describe how it helped pave the way to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the diplomatic achievement we reached with our key partners and Iran.
 
I’ll begin with a brief overview of our Iran nuclear sanctions, describing our decade-long effort to determine whether diplomacy could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  I’ll lay out what made this a sanctions success story, explaining how our persistent sanctions and diplomatic efforts helped remove the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program under the deal we ultimately struck.  And I’ll close by outlining the role sanctions continue to play in our approach to Iran.

I. Iran Sanctions:  An Overview
 
First:  a brief history of our Iran sanctions.
 
Since I started at Treasury, 12 years ago, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon has been a national security priority of the highest order.  By the time we reached the JCPOA, that meant convincing Iran to fully and transparently restrain and re-orient its nuclear program in a way that cuts off its potential pathways to develop a bomb. 
 
A key first step was designing a sophisticated, targeted sanctions regime. 
 
We began by exposing and sanctioning the banks that Iran was using to advance its nuclear program.  In response, Iran soon moved its illicit procurement activity to other banks and front companies.
 
Our sanctions followed.  By 2008, our own sanctions list included more than a hundred targets linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
 
That was a start.  But we needed to persuade our partners to join us in this effort.  So at President Obama’s direction, we traveled the world to enlist support for a global approach to Iran’s nuclear program, including sanctions and a viable path to a diplomatic solution, clarifying both our willingness to negotiate with Iran and the limited but critical objective of the JCPOA negotiations: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we found that the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon was seen as a serious security threat all over the globe.  Not just by our traditional allies, but also by China, Russia, and others with close business ties to Iran. 
 
By 2010, the State Department and our talented team at the UN had secured four UN Security Council resolutions to address Iran’s non-compliance with its international obligations.  With these resolutions as a foundation, and buttressed by a sustained diplomatic campaign, many other countries adopted their own domestic sanctions that applied even greater pressure on Iran.  We saw strong sanctions imposed by the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the list goes on.
 
With the international community behind us, Congress then passed – with overwhelming bipartisan support – the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (“CISADA”) of 2010.  The resulting secondary sanctions first targeted Iran’s financial sector, and forced foreign banks to choose:  they could either do business with U.S. banks, or Iranian ones.  But not both. For almost all foreign banks, the choice was clear.
 
The pressure increased after 2010, as Iran continued to expand its nuclear activities without adequate international oversight, despite calls to the contrary from the UN Security Council and IAEA. 
 
We continued to work with our international partners to cooperate on tighter sanctions, including the EU embargo on Iran’s oil.  Congress complemented this approach with expanded secondary sanctions that targeted Iran’s energy sector, restricting Iran’s ability to generate revenue through oil sales.
 
As the international community remained united in applying and expanding this pressure, we ultimately reached a critical turning point in November 2013 with Iran’s agreement to the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).
 
The JPOA halted progress on Iran’s nuclear program, rolled it back in many respects, and provided for enhanced inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.  In exchange, Iran received limited and reversible sanctions relief.
 
Most importantly, the JPOA gave us time and space to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that dealt with Iran’s nuclear program in its entirety.
 
And after nearly two more years of tough negotiations – and with the tremendous leadership of our colleagues from the White House, the State Department, the Energy Department, and the rest of the P5+1 – we reached the JCPOA.
 
It is worth recapping this history because it demonstrates some essential points. 
 
First, our sanctions are not meant as punishments, or ends in themselves.  They are specific, targeted efforts to improve our national security by helping to change another country’s calculations about its actions.  Some of our sanctions on Iran were aimed at preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  Those are the sanctions we used to reinforce our diplomatic efforts in negotiating the JCPOA, which achieves that objective, and those are the sanctions we relieved on Implementation Day.
 
Second, our sanctions regimes are more effective, by far, when they are part of a broad international effort with clear support from key partners, rather than a step taken by the United States alone. This was perhaps the biggest factor in increasing the pressure we were able to generate on Iran over time. In the early years of our sanctions effort, before we had clarified our approach and objectives, the United States was somewhat isolated from a skeptical international community. By the time we reached the interim agreement, a sound strategy and deft diplomacy meant the U.S. and a broad range of partners stood as one.

II. The JCPOA:  A Sanctions Success Story
 
Our nuclear-related sanctions campaign against Iran was as unprecedented as it was effective.  It combined clear objectives, the broadest possible international coalition, and an investment in the resources necessary to implement those sanctions across the globe. 
This effort, coupled with serious diplomacy, worked as intended. 
 
The JCPOA represents a tremendous diplomatic breakthrough – a peaceful means of effectively cutting off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon.  Iran has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent; removed 2/3 of its centrifuges; disabled its reactor at Arak, filling it with concrete; and accepted a robust and comprehensive transparency regime.
 
In January, on Implementation Day, the IAEA verified that Iran had done all this, pushing its breakout time from less than 90 days to beyond one year.  We know that Iran has kept its commitments under the deal – not by taking Iran’s word for it – but by verifying its compliance through unprecedented access and inspections.
 
None of this was preordained.  In fact, in the early days of our Iran sanctions program – I’m thinking back to 2006, 2008, and 2010 – many questioned whether sanctions would be able to make any real impact on Iran’s strategic calculus. 
 
Later, many said that Iran would never actually negotiate in good faith, or comply with the commitments it made under the interim JPOA.  And most recently, as we neared a final agreement, many predicted that Iran would never really agree to shut down its centrifuges; to disable its plutonium reactor; to ship out its uranium; or to allow real-time monitoring of its nuclear sites.      
 
These predictions were simply wrong.  Our strategy worked.  For two years, Iran complied with the terms of the JPOA.  And, in the time since we finalized the JCPOA, Iran has complied with all of the nuclear-related commitments made by its negotiators.      
 
This is a massive accomplishment.  It is a sea change in terms of both what Iran’s nuclear program looks like, and what we know about it through inspections and real-time access.  And it is the most powerful example we’ve got of how a persistent and broad-based sanctions effort, coupled with serious diplomacy, can succeed.

III. The Benefits of the Bargain
 
From the outset of the negotiations, we were clear – with Iran, and with our international partners – that our nuclear-related sanctions would be lifted if Iran meaningfully and transparently reoriented its nuclear program under a verifiable diplomatic agreement.   
Lifting nuclear sanctions was the incentive for Iran to change its strategic calculus on nuclear issues.  And since Iran has kept its end of the deal, we must uphold ours, not just in letter but also in spirit. 
 
We’ve done so by lifting the sanctions we promised to lift, once Iran delivered on its nuclear-related commitments – first with the JPOA, and then again with the JCPOA.  We’ve also issued guidance to banks and governments around the world explaining the scope of the sanctions relief we have provided to Iran in the JCPOA, so that they understand what is currently permissible and what is not.
 
It is important to keep our promises, and to ensure that the Iranian people see the economic benefits of this deal.  To do otherwise would undermine not just Iran’s incentive to stick to the deal and undermine its long-term viability, but also our own international credibility, and our corresponding ability to use sanctions to help change behavior in the future.
 
We have been, and will continue to be, very careful to deliver on the promises we made to Iran throughout the negotiations.  That means proactively providing clear guidance about the type of commerce that is now permitted. 
 
Let me reiterate what Secretary Lew, Secretary Kerry, and the President have all made clear: we are not standing and will not stand in the way of permissible business activities involving Iran or the kinds of transactions that Iran is entitled to work towards under the JCPOA.  What that means is very clear in the JCPOA itself and in the regulatory documents, public guidance, and FAQs we have issued. 
 
We understand, though, that many questions persist – in part because of the remaining primary embargo and non-nuclear sanctions on Iran, which I will return to in a moment. 
 
When governments and companies come to us with questions, we answer them honestly, and with precision.  That’s what we do for all of our sanctions programs – it is our responsibility as a transparent regulator.  It is what we have done specifically on Iran since Implementation Day, and what we’ll continue to do.
 
More than that, in the context of an international agreement, it is especially important that the sanctions relief we agreed to under the JCPOA is well understood around the world.  It is not in our interest to create artificial barriers to transactions that we agreed in good faith to allow so long as Iran is upholding its end of the deal.
 
For example, we issued General License I to allow civil aviation firms to explore business opportunities with less regulatory burden. 
 
We have also seen indications that some non-U.S. banks lack an understanding about the scope of U.S. sanctions with regard to Iranian funds that were formerly restrained.  We will continue to take steps to clarify our policy as necessary.  We are in no way blocking Iran’s access to these funds, and we are not encouraging banks or other partners to do so.  We will continue to work in good faith with Iran, foreign banks, and other partners to ensure that Iran has practical access to the funds unblocked by the JPOA and JCPOA. 
 
The JCPOA needs to work for all participants. It’s in our national security interest that the JCPOA is in effect and is adhered to by everyone.
 
Some misinformation persists.  For example, claims were made that Iran would receive a $150 billion or $100 billion windfall.  Those have proven wrong, as we said they would.  And more recent claims that we are about to provide Iran access to the U.S. financial system are also untrue.  We will not provide Iran access to the U.S. financial system and we will not restore the “U-turn” authorization.
 
IV. The Way Forward:  Combating the Threats That Remain
 
Now, we did not guarantee economic outcomes, or a flood of immediate business into Iran.  Nor could we.  That outcome depends on the business judgment of thousands of market participants.  Ultimately, the JCPOA is an international arrangement, not a cashier’s check. 
It’s worth remembering that our nuclear-related sanctions were not the only impediment to international business returning to Iran.  As President Obama said recently:  “Iran has to understand what every country in the world understands, which is businesses want to go where they feel safe, where they don’t see massive controversy, where they can be confident that transactions are going to operate normally.” 
 
If Iran wants to take full advantage of its economic potential, it’s up to Iran to cure systemic problems in its markets.
 
To its credit, Iran has publicly recognized that its financial transparency measures lag behind international standards, and has begun an attempt to improve them.  But it’s only just begun; problems remain. 
 
We also have not promised to change the primary U.S. embargo on Iran – which long predates our concerns with Iran’s nuclear program – beyond what was agreed in the JCPOA with regard to the sale of civil aviation goods and services and the purchase of agricultural products and carpets as well as longstanding humanitarian exceptions.
 
Finally, and crucially, we have not promised to lift any non-nuclear sanctions, which are designed to counter Iran’s actions that concern us outside of the nuclear file.  Quite the contrary:  as we made clear to Iran from the beginning, the JCPOA did not affect our non-nuclear sanctions. 
 
Unfortunately, those sanctions remain necessary. 
 
Iran continues to support terrorist groups and militant proxies in the region.  It continues to abuse human rights at home.  And it continues to conduct ballistic missile tests, in defiance of UN Resolution 2231. 
 
Under our current sanctions regime, more than 200 Iran-linked firms and individuals remain sanctioned on non-nuclear grounds.  That number includes the IRGC, the IRGC-Qods Force, and their subsidiaries and senior officials.  It includes Mahan Air, Iran’s second largest airline, which acts on behalf of the IRGC-Qods Force and carries deadly weapons to Hizballah.  And it includes major Iranian defense entities, like MODAFL, DIO, and AIO – which have done much of Iran’s ballistic missile work. 
 
Ballistic missile testing is a key example.  Shortly after we lifted nuclear-related sanctions in line with the JCPOA, we imposed sanctions on 11 individuals and entities for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program.  And, after Iran conducted yet more ballistic missile tests last month, we imposed sanctions against additional entities involved in the missile program.
 
Thanks to the President and Congress, we have all the sanctions authorities we need already in place to address Iran’s destabilizing activities.  We will continue to use existing sanctions as a tool, among others at our disposal, to oppose Iranian actions that threaten our interests.  Along these lines, new mandatory non-nuclear sanctions legislation would needlessly risk undermining our unity with international partners.  As Secretary Lew has recently stated, it is important to make sure our sanctions tools remain effective and are not overused.   We must continue to balance the costs and benefits of our sanctions regime in our favor.
 
We are clear-eyed about the nature of the threats posed by Iran, and we will continue to combat these threats – including by enforcing existing sanctions, and by designating new targets when appropriate. 
 
As we do so, we always keep in mind that such sanctions are not mere means to punish or vent frustration.  They are intended to push Iran toward a shift in policies - on terrorism and destabilization, on ballistic missiles, and on human rights.
 
We don’t expect to see this shift overnight.  But remember, we didn’t get to the JCPOA overnight either.  We spent more than a decade building a sustained, global sanctions campaign targeting Iran’s illicit nuclear activity, and then we used hard-nosed diplomacy to achieve our national security objective.
 
I want to be clear.  We don’t relish these sanctions.  In fact, as someone who’s spent his career designing and enforcing sanctions against Iran, I hope to one day see a world where we have no sanctions whatsoever targeting its conduct – because it has changed.
 
I might be out of a job in this scenario – although something tells me many of you would help us find plenty of sanctions targets elsewhere in the world.  But I’d be thrilled.  Because this scenario would mean that Iran had chosen to step off the destructive path of destabilization, and to instead continue down the path of progress embodied in the JCPOA.  
 
That choice is Iran’s to make. 
 
V. Conclusion
 
Let me close by turning back to the JCPOA.
 
At nearly every major turning point in our long and winding negotiation history, some questioned whether Iran would fully and transparently restrain and re-orient its nuclear program without the use of force.  The JCPOA is a resounding answer.  It shows that a defined and determined sanctions program can be sophisticated, can be powerful, and – when done right – can help us achieve important and difficult national security objectives even with long-time adversaries.
 
In the case of Iran’s nuclear program, we got the policy right.  We combined a clear strategic objective with strong sanctions and deft diplomacy, which resulted in a deal that removed the threat posed by an Iranian bomb – a most destabilizing threat in an already unstable region.
That is a testament to the importance of knowing when and how to use sanctions as foreign policy tools. And it is also a testament to the importance of meaningful sanctions relief as a foreign policy tool.  While Iran continues to implement its commitments, we will continue living up to the letter and spirit of our commitments under the JCPOA.
 
Thank you again for hosting me today.
 
 

Click here for the full transcript.  

 

US Report: Iran's Human Rights Abuses

Iran's most significant human rights issue is the restriction of civil liberties, according to the State Department's 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The report also criticized Iran's government for a wide range abuses, including cruel punishments, arbitrary violations of privacy, poor prison conditions, lack of due process, corruption and more. The government reportedly executed 964 people in 2015, including four individuals who were charged while they were under age 18. "Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces," the report noted. Since the United States does not have an embassy in Iran, the report draws heavily on non-U.S. government sources. The following is the executive summary followed by excerpts from the full report.
 
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
 
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on “velayat-e faqih” (“guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent”). Shia clergy, most notably the “supreme jurisprudent” (or supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominated key power structures. While mechanisms for popular election existed within the structure of the state, the supreme leader held significant influence over the legislative and executive branches of government (through various unelected councils under his authority) and held constitutional authority over the judiciary, the government-run media, and the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controlled the internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2013 voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. Despite high popular participation following open debates, candidate vetting by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria and restrictions on the media limited the freedom and fairness of the election. In the last parliamentary elections in 2012, the government controlled candidate vetting and media reporting. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
 
The most significant human rights problems were severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech (including via the internet), religion, and press; limitations on citizens’ ability to choose the government peacefully through free and fair elections; and abuse of due process combined with escalating use of capital punishment for crimes that do not meet the threshold of most serious crime or are committed by juvenile offenders.
 
Other reported human rights problems included disregard for the physical integrity of persons, whom authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed; disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of the security forces; denial of fair public trial, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; harassment and arrest of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.
 
The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, who committed abuses. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
 
Click here for the full report.
 
 

  

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