United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Zarif Outlines New Foreign Policy

            In several interviews and speeches, Iran’s new foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has offered new insight on how foreign policy would take new directions under President Hassan Rouhani. The following are excerpts from public remarks, translated from Farsi, and an interview in English with Iranian website http://irdiplomacy.ir/en.

Parliamentary Hearing
      “We will not give up even an iota of the Iranian nation’s rights and we will widen the scope of our friendships in the world, while we will be ready to force other actors in the international arena to turn their hostile attitude and behavior into [interactive] relations [with Iran] based on cooperation.
      “In a region which is suffering from extremism, insecurity and instability, Iran is the harbor of stability, security and self-sprung peace without dependence on foreign powers.
      “The approach of moderation in the [Rouhani] administration’s foreign policy will be based on realism, self-belief and self-awareness in order to build mutual understanding and confidence with the purpose of upgrading the country’s capacity as well as its security and development.
            “By creating opportunities and reducing threats, the new administration will expand the circle of friendships across the region and the world… The administration of moderation is prepared to make other players in the international scene reconsider their hostile behavior toward Iran.
            “There have been questions about my communications with some current U.S. officials. Some of these officials were once against the warmongering [U.S.] government. I communicated with them in the framework of my duties. I'm proud if I have been able to create a divide among those pushing for a war.”
         
Interview with Iranian Diplomacy
 
One of the slogans of the government of “prudence and hope” was the issue of moderation. How would you define moderation in the area of foreign policy?
            In my opinion, moderation means realism and the creation of balance between the different needs of the country in the advancement of foreign policy and its goals in the framework of prudent and wise methods and with an appropriate dialogue. Moderation does not mean forgetting the values or leaving the principles aside. Moderation does not mean ignoring the rights of the country either. In other words, as I mentioned in my speech in the Parliament, moderation is rooted in self-belief; a person who believes in his capabilities, power, possibilities, and capacities can take steps on the path of moderation. But an individual who feels weakness and fear will generally pursue radicalism. The radicals of the world are cowards. Despite the fact that their slogans might be different, they have close and good relations with each other. Today, the world needs moderation and the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a powerful country, can advance its foreign policy with moderation.
 
Following his inauguration and in his first press conference, the President stated that one of his major priorities is to restart nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Do you have any new proposals for this task?
            We have had numerous discussions inside the government with the President with regard to how we should pursue the nuclear rights of the country and remove the oppressive sanctions imposed upon the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our basis for work is insisting on Iran’s rights and removing the logical concerns of the international community. As the Supreme Leader and the President himself have reiterated, this is easy provided that the objective is the resolution of the nuclear issue. We believe that the resolution of the nuclear issue requires political determination, and the election of Dr. Rouhani in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with his record in this dossier, indicates that the people of Iran demand the resolution of the nuclear issue at the appropriate time. We hope that this political determination for the resolution of the nuclear issue also exists on the other side. In that case, we do not have any concerns about reassuring the world of the peacefulness of our nuclear program for, based on the “fatwa” of the Supreme Leader and Iran’s strategic needs, nuclear weapons have no place in our national security and can even disrupt it.
 
There are rumors that the nuclear dossier might be transferred to the Foreign Ministry from the High Council of National Security. Do you confirm such speculations and is there a specific plan to transfer this dossier?
            I have not heard anything about this issue. This is a decision that is within the domain of the President’s authority. Nevertheless, considering my experiences in this case, I will make efforts to help in the advancement of this issue no matter what responsibility I might have. But decisions with regard to how we should pursue the nuclear dossier and the form and framework of negotiations are made at the higher levels of our political system.
 
As the Rouhani administration came to power, we witnessed the formation of anti-Iran movements in both the Congress and the Senate. On the other hand, in their wars of propaganda, the Israelis claim that the government in Iran has changed but the policies are the same as before. How do you intend to deal with such radicalism?
            It seems that the warmongers are concerned about the reduction of problems and are trying their hardest to find an excuse to intensify the crisis. The important point is for the decision-makers in Europe and the US to comprehend the nature and goals of the warmongers well and not allow the agenda of warmongering and tension-building – through oppressive pressures on the Iranian people which have no basis in international law – to prevent the usage of opportunities which can be used to find a solution. The same radical policy shows that the radicals are cowards and are concerned about negotiation and dialogue. Through resorting to hasty and pointless methods, these people close the door on moderation and balance. And cowards usually do not achieve their political objectives.
 
If bilateral talks with the US are proposed on the sidelines of meetings such as the UN General Assembly or P5+1 negotiations, would you accept such a proposal?
            The Supreme Leader has stated his opinion with regard to these negotiations several times. There is no issue with negotiation itself, but the question is what issues will be discussed in these talks and how much of a political determination does exist on the other side to resolve the problems. The issue is whether this political determination will take shape and whether the US administration is ready to stand against the pressure groups and prevent the radicals groups from gaining leadership of this movement. In fact, this issue is a test for the US administration to show its readiness to play a serious role in finding a solution.
 
Do you not consider bilateral talks between Tehran and Washington as the secret prerequisite for the improvement of relations between Iran and Europe?
            I consider political determination as the prerequisite for the improvement of relations. The methods can be evaluated but what is necessary is the formation of this political determination and its practical manifestation. Different methods can then be used to advance our goals. When it is not clear whether this political determination exists or not, the extent of the efficiency of new methods is not clear either. In Iran, the election of Mr. Rouhani shows that the people have decided to have constructive interaction with the world and, through his speeches and choices, Mr. Rouhani has also displayed his political determination to do so. Now, what is important is for the same determination to be formed on the other side.
 
You are taking over the position of foreign minister at a time when the Middle East is going through a critical period. There are different ongoing crises in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Iraq. What are your priorities on regional issues?
            Due to the mismanagement of certain players, which we have seen especially from outside the region during the past few years, conditions in the region are moving towards chaos and necessitate practical measures by everyone involved to contain the crisis. Fundamentalism, on one hand, and forgetting and ignoring the votes of the people, on the other, and, of course, the very clear intervention of foreign countries, have inflamed the region, the result of which is the killing of thousands of innocent people. Therefore, it is not only necessary for serious measures to be taken to end the crisis in Egypt, but the more serious need of the region and the world is for serious measures to be taken to prevent radicalism through local democratic models. I believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly after this year’s political epic, can play a significant role in this area.
 
Photo credit: Javad Zarif by Max Talbot-Minkin via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons
 

Youth in Iran Part 2: Parkour Fever

Garrett Nada

            Young Iranians are scaling walls, leaping staircases and flipping over benches. But they’re not running from the police. They’re practicing parkour, a blend of gymnastics, martial arts and plain old obstacle-course athletics. Participants are called traceurs, French for tracers. They have no equipment. They use nothing but their bodies.

      Parkour is attractive in Iran partly because it’s all about freedom and defying traditional limits. Some of Iran’s most daring traceurs are women. They too carve unorthodox paths through parks, allies and even rooftops.
      Now practiced worldwide, parkour is not competitive; it lacks set rules. But mastering the organic discipline requires out-of-the-box thinking. Top traceurs can run full-speed at nearly any obstacle and figure out a way around or over it.
      Iranian traceurs are gaining a reputation on the international circuit from their videos posted on Facebook and YouTube. Many Iranian teams—also called crews or clans—take inspiration from their Western counterparts. It’s one of several unconventional sports that are now creating a bridge across the otherwise deep international political divide.
            The sport was imported from France, where a small group of young men developed the discipline in the 1980s. It was heavily influenced by military obstacle course training, but took on a faster and freer form. Thousands of young Iranians have taken on the challenging discipline since the early 2000s, after Iranian state television broadcast Yamakasi, a French film about parkour’s young founders. The craze is now popular even in remote Iranian villages.

            Amirhossein Imani and his high school friends founded one of the first teams, Rahaa,  in 2003. They promoted parkour through a grassroots group called irPK. Imani visited London in 2004 to train under top parkour teams. Websites like parkour.ir, urbanfreeflow.ir and and forums began popping later that year. And the first parkour magazine was published in 2011.
            By mid-2013, the go-to website Parkour Iran listed nearly 50 rival teams and clans in its directory. Some have their own websites, Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Some include young women, who have taken to free parkour because the government has not adequately invested in women’s athletics.
            “It’s all about speed – unlike the lives of young Iranian women, which sometimes feel like they’re frozen,” a young female traceur told France 24 in mid-2013.
             Female athletes have added obstacles of cumbersome Islamic dress as well as keeping an eye out for authorities. “We fear getting in trouble with the police or basijis [volunteer militiamen], who could accuse us of copying a Western fad,” a 20-year-old university student told France 24. “We could also get in trouble for practicing sports outside designated facilities.”
            One of most noted female teams is Street Bax in Lahijan, a resort town on the Caspian Sea. Their video of girls parkour-ing across trees, walls, sand-dunes and staircases had more than 42,000 hits on Youtube.
 
            Iran’s Ministry of Youth and Sports has occasionally permitted parkour exhibitions as part of breakdance competitions. Some teams have also held independent competitions. Team Rahaa has built indoor parkour courses for several indoor jams.
            Iranian youth have also taken to freerunning, a parkour off-shoot with added flare. Freerunners do flips, spins and dance moves in between obstacles. Sebastien Foucan, one of parkour’s French originators, started the craze. Iranians are now signing up to compete in international competitions.
            Mohammad Rasouli from Tehran submitted the following video to qualify for Red Bull’s 2013 Art of Motion competition. The event, scheduled for September, will bring freerunners from all over the world to Santorini, Greece.
 


Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant in the Center for Conflict Management at the United States Institute of Peace. 

Click here for Youth in Iran Part 1: "The Determinators"

Photo Credit: Rahaa Professional Sports Team

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Report on Iran Talks:New Hope under Rouhani

            President Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory may signal a change in style and negotiating tactics on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, according to a new International Crisis Group report. Rouhani authored the only previous nuclear agreement between Tehran and the West in the 2000s. And in mid-2013, he repeatedly said that Iran could be more transparent about its nuclear program.
      But the report warns that striking a deal today is more difficult than in the past. Iran has expanded its nuclear program and the West has imposed several rounds of devastating sanctions since Rouhani was chief negotiator. Positions have hardened and trust has deteriorated. “Western doubts about Rouhani’s ability to deliver are matched by Tehran’s skepticism that the U.S. in particular can accept a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic or that President Barak Obama has the political muscle to lift sanctions,” according to the report. And Tehran’s core demands — recognition of its right to uranium enrichment and sanctions relief—are unlikely to change. The following is the report’s executive summary with a link to the full text at the end.

            In a region that recently has produced virtually nothing but bad news, Hassan Rouhani’s 4 August swearing in as Iran’s president offers a rare and welcome glimmer of hope. There are still far more questions than answers: about the extent of his authority; his views on his country’s nuclear program, with which he long has been associated; and the West’s ability to display requisite flexibility and patience. But, although both sides can be expected to show caution, now is the time to put more ambitious proposals on the table, complement the multilateral talks with a bilateral U.S.-Iranian channel and expand the dialogue to encompass regional security issues.
            Given his blunt criticism of the country’s trajectory, notably on the nuclear file, Rouhani’s election stunned almost all observers, and so one ought to be modest in offering retrospective interpretations of his victory. His promise of change arguably appealed to an electorate that traditionally has seized on presidential contests to try to turn the page; his more conservative rivals were deeply divided and burdened with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s desultory record; and the leadership’s quest for renewed legitimacy after the hit suffered in the controversial 2009 elections possibly led it to accept the triumph of a strong critic. Too, one could speculate that Rouhani’s success ultimately serves Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s interests, helping both to restore domestic faith in elections, one of the Islamic Republic’s political linchpins, and to reduce international pressure at a time when sanctions are inflicting unprecedented economic pain.
            Questions about how Iran got to this place are overshadowed, however, by speculation regarding where it might go from here. Some, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, see Rouhani as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, the gentle façade of a regime whose nuclear ambitions have not changed one iota; others would like to view him as the saviour charged with extricating Iran from its predicament, agreeing to far-reaching nuclear concessions in exchange for commensurate sanctions relief. In this respect as well, a healthy dose of humility is required given the opaqueness of the Islamic Republic’s decision-making.
            Several elements nonetheless can be of utility in seeking to make predictions. The first has to do with the nature of Iranian politics. Presidents are far from all-powerful, having to contend with myriad competing centres of authority and influence, overt and covert, of which the Supreme Leader is only the most obvious. Fundamentals have not changed: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei retains final say; friction between him and the president is all but inevitable; and factionalism will remain both a fact of life and a means of constraining Rouhani. At the same time, presidents are not mere figureheads; witness the differences in style and substance between Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and Ahmadinejad.
            Secondly, Rouhani is far from an unknown. He has been a fixture of the Islamic Republic since its beginnings, a consummate insider with a track record and voluminous writings. Those offer some clues regarding his preferred approach. He brought about the first and only nuclear agreement with the West, a significant achievement given the depths of mutual mistrust, yet he also openly justified the accord as allowing Iran to complete its nuclear infrastructure even while negotiating. He has bluntly criticised his successors, yet has focused more on their bluster and reckless negotiating style than on their ultimate goals. His negotiating experience also carries mixed messages: that he feels the West let him down, causing him to suffer bitter criticism at home, may well prompt him to greater caution. In particular, at a time when the U.S. and EU are intent on limiting the extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, Rouhani could be more inclined to offer concessions regarding that program’s transparency than its scope.
            That suggests a third point. The change in presidents will usher in important changes in style and negotiating tactics but certainly will not bring about significant changes in Iran’s bottom line demands: recognition of its right to enrich and meaningful sanctions relief. A deal today is thus harder to imagine than when Rouhani last was in charge of the nuclear dossier. Positions have hardened; trust has diminished; the nuclear program has substantially advanced; and sanctions have proliferated. Western doubts about Rouhani’s ability to deliver are matched by Tehran’s scepticism that the U.S. in particular can accept a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic or that President Barak Obama has the political muscle to lift sanctions.
            Such misgivings are unavoidable but should not be paralysing. Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany) have become stale; now is as promising a time as is likely to occur to refresh them. This could be achieved in three interlocking ways: altering the substance of a possible deal, combining a confidence-building agreement on Iran’s 20 per cent enrichment with presentation of the contours of a possible nuclear endgame, as Crisis Group has proposed; modifying modalities of the negotiations by complementing multilateral discussions with confidential, bilateral U.S.-Iranian engagement; and expanding the scope of those talks to include regional security matters.
            The promise embodied by Rouhani’s election can grow or quickly fizzle. As he takes office and comes face to face with myriad domestic and foreign challenges, it would be a good idea for the West to encourage him to move in the right direction.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Youth in Iran Part 1: "The Determinators"

Robin Wright
 
            They’re the determinators—the politically savvy, socially sassy, and media astute young of Iran. And they count, quite literally, as never before as a new president takes over.
       President Hassan Rouhani owes his election to the young, who are Iran’s largest voting bloc. At the last minute, vast numbers opted to back him rather than boycott the poll. They’re also now the centrist cleric’s biggest headache, as he has to meet their expectations. Two-thirds of Iran’s 75 million people are under 35—and they vote again in four years.
      But the Islamic Republic’s long-term survival may also be determined by the first post-revolution generation, born in the 1980s and now coming of age. For Iran’s baby boomers reflect the regime’s almost existential conundrum—and the nexus between economic and nuclear policies.
            To be credible, the world’s only modern theocracy must better the lives of its struggling young majority. And to jumpstart the economy, Tehran will have to compromise with the outside world on its controversial nuclear program to get punitive international sanctions lifted. It’s a huge—but increasingly inescapable—price to pay for keeping the determinators on board.
            The regime has limited time to act. Iran’s young are antsy because they are better educated and more skilled than any earlier generation. Literacy has almost doubled since the revolution—to over 95 percent, even among females. Iran won a U.N. award for closing the gender gap.
            Yet one of the theocracy’s biggest successes has proven to be one of its greatest vulnerabilities. It can’t absorb the post-revolution babies.
      Iran’s young face rampant unemployment, estimated officially at up to 30 percent but unofficially at up to 50 percent. During his first appearance at parliament, Iran’s new president acknowledged in June that 4 million university graduates were jobless—and a mushrooming problem.
      The core economic issue has had a rippling effect. In a country where the median age is 27, vast numbers can’t afford to marry or move out of their parents’ homes. One-third of females and one-half of all males between 20 and 34 are now unmarried, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.       
      Frustration is reflected in soaring drug use. The State Welfare Organization reported this year that almost 72 percent of Iran’s drug addicts are between 18 and 25.
            Born after both the monarchy and the revolution, the young often refer to themselves as the lost generation because they have little to do and even less to inspire them. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died when they were in diapers. And most were tots during the traumatic eight-year war with Iraq, which produced more than 1 million casualties in the 1980s. The conflict shaped the goals, fears and nationalism of their parents and the current political leadership.
            But for the young, the war is relegated to history—and the now fading public billboards of the previous generation’s war “martyrs.”
            Sixty percent of Iran’s young now say the Islamic Republic needs to adopt new ways of thinking to secure its future, according to an Intermedia Young Publics survey released in May. One-third of those polled between the ages of 16 and 25 said they would abandon Iran if given the option.
            The implications can’t be overstated. Iran’s post-revolution generation is the largest baby boom in Iran’s 5,000-year history. Its influence will only grow due to one of the world’s most unique population bumps.
            Iran’s twenty-somethings were born during a decade-long blip in between two ambitious family planning programs. The shah promoted birth control during his final decade. By the end of the 1970s, 37 percent of women practiced family planning.
            After the 1979 revolution, the ruling clerics reversed course and called on Iranian women to breed, breed, breed an Islamic generation. And they did. The population almost doubled from 34 to 62 million in about a decade.
            But the theocracy soon realized that it couldn’t feed, cloth, house, educate or eventually employ those swelling numbers—and voters. So it launched a novel (and free) birth control program, including required family planning classes for newlyweds. By the 1990s, the average family fell from six children to less than two—lower than during the monarchy.
            Iran’s 70 percent drop was “one of the most rapid and pronounced fertility declines ever recorded in human history,” according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. The birth rate plummeted so far that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned in 2010 that Iran would be stuck with a “dangerous” aging population in another 30 years.
      By actuarial standards, Iran’s baby boomers will have disproportionate clout for at least the next half century on most aspects of Iranian life. Politically, their impact could even be more enduring than the current ruling theocrats. They’ve already shown demonstrated in many forms how far they’re willing to go.
      In 2009, students led eight months of Green Movement protests after the disputed presidential reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They mobilized millions in cities across Iran during the “Where My Vote?” campaign, the largest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.
      The determinators may no longer be able to protest on the streets. But can make or break politicians. Their interest and energy turned the 2013 presidential campaign around in the final days, boosting Rouhani to a surprise, come-from-behind victory over five other candidates.
     
      Their voices resonate across Iran in other ways too. As the region’s largest network of bloggers, they boldly diss on their revolution, daring to post criticism, jibes, jokes and political cartoons on banned social media through circuitous routes.
      They’re increasingly creating an alternative culture, pushing boundaries further than any time since the 1979 revolution. The stereotype of their parents’ generation was a black-shrouded woman or a young man sporting a headband that vowed martyrdom for Islam.
 
 
 
      Images of the young today are more likely to be mall-hopping, increasingly in flashier fashions that defy conservative Islamic dress. Or they may be at play, including performing parkour, a holistic sport that combines running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling that resembles open-air gymnastics but in public places.
 
      In a telling sign of changing times, Iran’s young have even popularized rap as the rhythm of dissent in the world’s only modern theocracy. They hold back little in their warnings to the regime, as Yas, Iran’s leading hip-hop artist, rapped defiantly,
      “Listen to my words and see the agonies I suffered
      What my generation has seen, made our tears fall
      Those without such pains—how they saw ours,
      They became even more cruel, what a pity for our land!”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
 
This piece first appeared on www.foreignpolicy.com
 
Photo credits: Afshin Farzin from Rahaa Crew via Facebook, Basij volunteer via Wikimedia Commons, @HassanRouhani via Twitter, Hijab-3 by Pooyan Tabatabaei via Flickr, Isfahan University graduates by gire_3pich2005 (Own work) [FAL] via Wikimedia Commons, Coralin Design
 

 

 

Political Prisoners Letter to Obama

            In a letter dated August 8, more than 50 current and former political prisoners appealed to President Obama to seize the “last chance” to “turn a page and start a new era of mutual understanding between the United States and Iran. It described the election of new President Hassan Rouhani as a shift toward “moderation” and “rational” decision-making. The letter includes several prominent names and reformists who were detained after the disputed 2009 presidential election and Green Movement protests.
            The first signature is from Mohsen Mirdamadi, who was one of the three leaders of the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979. In 2000, he was elected to parliament and was chairman of its foreign affairs committee. He also led the largest reform party, the Islamic Participation Front. After the 2009 protests erupted, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to six years in prison. Another signatory is Faezeh Hashemi, another former member of parliament and daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Mr. President,

            We, the undersigned current and former political prisoners in Iran, are writing this letter to bring to your attention the devastating effects of crippling economic sanctions and the intensified efforts to diplomatically isolate Iran in the international community. These efforts are adversely affecting the lives of Iranian people and have resulted in severe constraints in the political life of our country. This letter reflects the serious concerns of the Iranian public about the bleak future that continued conflict between Iran and the United States of America could lead to. We share these concerns.
 
            The conflict over Iran's nuclear program has, in recent years, developed into a perilous contest with the United States and more generally with the West. This conflict has undermined trust and intensified animosity between the two parties.

            The conflict has resulted in imposing unprecedented 'crippling' sanctions whose main victims are the Iranian people that have to live under the unbearable pressure of crippling inflation and shortages of basic needs for a decent life. The sad thing is that there seems to be little hope of resolving this conflict.
 
            In the recent presidential election in Iran (14 June 2013), a politician was elected whose campaign promised were moderation and rational decision making in foreign and domestic policies. This administration has promised to pursue constructive engagement in international relations and intends to convey a message of positive change and mutual respect.
 
            We believe the time has come for our two countries to turn a page and start a new era of mutual understanding. In our view, the tenure of this government may be the last chance to bring this conflict to a reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution. It is clear that there are parties and actors in both camps who do not wish the conflict to come to a peaceful end and prefer to see it drag on longer. But reason calls for perseverance in diplomatic efforts with the aim of achieving a faster and less costly resolution to this conflict.
 
            President Rouhani is a politician known to be a firm believer in dialogue and constructive engagement in international relations, and enjoys a solid base of support in Iran. He also has a clear past record of negotiations with the EU troika over the nuclear issue. With the election of this president, the logical expectation is that past policies, and the imposition of economic sanctions in particular, start to change and give way to more constructive relations and mutual respect. Continuing with the pressure track of these past years will strengthen the belief in a significant part of the Iranian public that the United States is not genuinely interested in resolving the conflict.
 
            Recent presidential election: Using the limited opportunity that the Iranian electoral system provides the majority of the people of Iran have expressed their desire for genuine change in all aspects of politics, including the country's foreign policy, and ending the economic hardship that the policies of the previous government imposed on them. We believe that remaining indifferent to this change and continuing with the policies of the last decade, intensification of sanctions and further efforts to cut off Iran's ties to the international community and world markets, will lead a significant part of the people in Iran to doubt whether the Unites States is seriously interested in the diplomatic resolution of the conflict with Iran.
 
            Economic sanctions: Economic sanctions have been the key factor in creating a situation in which the purchasing power of more than half of Iranian households has been significantly reduced over the last two years. The sanctions have adversely affected the manufacturing and export sectors of the Iranian economy and significantly reduced employment and investment in the civilian sectors such as automotive, steel, petrochemical industries and even the construction sector.
 
            Mr President! All Iranian people, including the families of political prisoners and especially the low income groups, are suffering under the burden of rampant inflation and shortages of medical supplies and other basic necessities of life. The sanctions have now turned into a collective punishment imposed on the Iranian people as a whole, not the government only. The national economy has shrunk over the past couple of years and the strength of Iran as a nation-state is being reduced.
 
            The practical outcome of the intensification of sanctions and failure in achieving a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict between Iran and the United States will be further polarization and deepening of animosities. This will further undermine regional and international security.
 
            Continuing along this path, as intended by the proponents of the recent legislation in the US congress will lead to a de facto embargo of Iran which is the first step in declaring a real war. The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (passed on 31 July 2013, four days before the inauguration of President Rouhani) is the most recent example of these efforts. In such a war, supporters of the cause of democracy in Iran, people like us, who have paid the price of our belief in civil and political rights and liberties with the suffering our families have had to endure and the years of our lives spent in prison, will defend the independence and territorial integrity of Iran. Opposing democrats and popular forces in Iran has been tried in the past by the United States in the 1953 coup d'état against the government of Mohammad Mossadeq, and as a politician well informed of that sixty-year story you know how that regime change effort in Iran has affected relations between our two countries to this day.
 
            Mr Presisdent! We know and appreciate the fact that your administration has been pursuing a policy towards Iran that is both in form and content different from the policies advocated by some hard-line members of the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. But we see at the same time that the practical results of such policies are reflected in legislation passed by the US congress that you have had to sign as part of larger deals with the republican controlled House related to tax exemptions and sequestration. The Iran Freedom And Counter-Proliferation Act, passed on 2 January 2013 and enacted fifteen days after the election of Iran's moderate president, is the most recent case.
 
            Critical evaluation of the past: Perhaps it is prudent to critically evaluate the flawed policy of the Bush administration towards the government of President Khatami. In addition to complicating the nuclear issue that was much easier to resolve then, the outcome of that policy was strengthening a senselessly extremist political current in Iran and adding huge barriers to the resolution of the nuclear challenge. Today's impasse is, to a great extent, the outcome of that policy. An honest review of the turbulent past decade in the Middle East will make it easier to see that such a policy did not yield positive results. Adopting a failed approach will further complicate the situation and will make the resolution of the conflict even harder to achieve.
 
            Some people might believe that sanctions will promote democratization in Iran. We disagree with such a view. We think democracy is the desired end of indigenous developments. But sanctions and imposing hardship on the people and putting pressure on a new government that is moving, within the limits of possibility offered by the larger political system in Iran, in the direction of strengthening democratic trends is not the right course of action. The outcome of such a policy will, once again, be aiding extremism in indirect ways and weakening the rekindled democratic movement in Iran.
 
            Iran needs stability and hope in order to be able to tread its course towards moderation and democracy inside the country, and reducing tensions and constructive engagement in its foreign relations. The hope and enthusiasm that the presidential election brought about will crumble under the weight of the devastating effects of the sanctions on people's lives and the Iranian economy. The result will be radicalism and more constraints in domestic politics and dangerous prospects for regional security and International peace.
 
            Imposing sanctions and unjustified hardship on the Iranian people and targeting the entire economy and the basic needs of the people violates the fundamental rights of our citizens. We believe that such actions are incongruent with universal human rights principles and the spirit of the US constitution and its amendments.
 
            Mr. President! We believe it is time to replace sanctions with an effort to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution of the nuclear issue. To achieve such an end and given the chronic nature of the deep-rooted conflict, all sides concerned should strive for a dignified solution in which no party will be considered the loser. Such a solution should be based on genuinely addressing international concerns about Iran's nuclear program by the Iranian government on the one hand and acknowledging the legitimate rights of Iran to peaceful nuclear energy, in compliance with international legal standards, by the US and the West on the other.
 
            We, therefore, urge your administration and the new government in Iran to employ all possible means to build trust and ensure the success of diplomacy. We also demand an end to resorting to measures, through legislation or otherwise, that endanger the prospects of fruitful negotiations, reduce the possibility of the effective lifting of sanctions and make impossible the achievement of a permanent solution for the nuclear issue. We believe such a course of action characterized by good will and serious intentions in achieving a negotiated end to the conflict will allow both sides to move towards a brighter future instead of remaining frozen in the dark past. We hope the opportunity created by the Iranian people and reflected in the electoral victory of President Rouhani will be seized appropriately by the United States. We also hope reciprocal good will and adoption of appropriate measures by the new government in Iran will open a new window of understanding and constructive engagement between Iran and the United States in a way that the interests of both nations will be better served.
 
Signatories
1. Mohsen Mirdamadi, chairman of the national security and foreign policy committee of the sixth Iranian parliament, general secretary of Iran's Islamic Participation Front
2. Mohsen Aminzadeh, deputy foreign minister under the reformist government of President Khatami
3. Mostafa Taajzaadeh, deputy minister of the interior under the reformist government of President Khatami
4. Faezeh Hashemi, Sixth Majles deputy and head of the Women's Sport Organization
5. Abolfazl Ghadyaani, political activist and senior member of the Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization
6. Seyed Alireza Beheshti, former secretary of the cabinet and senior advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi
7. Alireza Rajaie, political activist (National-Religious Current) and secretary of the Iranian Journalists' Union
8. Abdollah Mo'meni, Spokesman of the Organization of Iranian University Graduates (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) and head of Mahdi Karroubi's Free Citizen election campaign
9. Mohammad Amin Hadavi, former member of the Representatives of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce
10. Feyzollah Arabsorkhi, deputy minister of commerce under the reformist government of President Khatami
11. Masood Pedram, political activist (National-Religious Current), political researcher
12. Mohammad Sadegh Rabbani Amlashi, former deputy chairman of Iran's Nuclear Energy Agency
13. Jiela Baniyaghoob, journalist and civil society activist
14. Narges Mohammadi, human rights activist and secretary of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights
15. Isa Saharkhiz, journalist and political activist
16. Bahman Ahmadi Amooyee, journalist
17. Keyvan Samimi, political activist (National-Religious Current) and journalist
18. Mehdi Mo'tamedi-Mehr, member of the political Bureau of Iran Liberation Movement
19. Emad Behavar, political activist and senior member of Iran Liberation Movement
20. Hasan Asadi Zeydabadi, senior human rights expert, member of the Organization of Iranian University Graduates (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat)
21. Bahareh Hedayat, member of the central committee of Iran's Student Union (Tahkim-e Vahdat)
22. Omid Kowkabi, PhD graduate of nuclear physics from Texas University at Austin
23. Farshid Fathi, Christian pastor
24. Masood Bastani, journalist
25. Mehdi Mahmoodian, political activist
26. Mohammad Seddiq Kaboodvand, CEO, Kurdistan Human Rights Organization
27. Mehdi Tahaghoghi, political activist, university professor, member of the Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization
28. Seyed Ahmad Hashemi, former director general under the reformist government or President Khatami
29. Siyavosh Hatam, senior member of Iran's Student Union (Tahkim-e Vahdat)
30. Mostafa Nili, student activist
31. Mostafa Badkoubeyee, poet and critic
32. Rahman Ghahramanpour, university professor and researcher at the Strategic Studies Center, Expediency Council
33. Hosein Ronaghi Maleki, human rights activist, critical blogger and member of the Countering Censorship in Iran
34. Abolfazl Abedini, human rights activist
35. Ali Khodabakhsh, press activist and former deputy Agriculture Jahad minister
36. Mehrdad Sarjooyee, journalist
37. Mohammad Hasan Yousefpour Seyfi, human rights and children's rights activist
38. Mehdi Khodayee, human rights activist
39. Mansoor Taghipour, human rights activist
40. Amin Chalaki, political activist
41. Alireza Seyedian, Christian pastor
42. Mostafa Bordbar, Christian convert
43. Ali Nazeri, Dentist, head of the Green Civil Society
44. Seyed Mahmood Bagheri, Teachers Guild activist
45. Mehdi Tajik, student activist and social protestor
46. Jafar Ganji, political activist
47. Ebrahim Banoli Zeydi, cultural activist and social protestor
48. Hosein Zarini, social protestor
49. Arash Saghar, journalist
50. Mostafa Rismanbaf, student activist and social protestor
51. Mohammad Ebrahimi, social protestor
52. Behzad Arabgol, social protestor
53. Kamiyar Parsa, university student and social protestor
54. Hamid Karvasi, social protestor
55. Nader Jani, social protestor

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