United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Khamenei: West Fueling Syria Conflict

            Western intelligence services are fomenting “bloody sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts” in Syria and countries in transition, Iran’s supreme leader said on April 29. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Western propaganda and “mercenary media” in the region are falsely portraying the Syrian conflict in sectarian terms – as Shiites vs. Sunnis. But the two sides are instead “supporters and opponents of anti-Zionist resistance,” he claimed. The following are excerpts from Khamenei’s opening speech at the World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening. The two-day event gathers nearly 700 clerics and scholars from around the world.

      U.S. and Western Role
      “[O]ne of the most dangerous things that threatens the movement of Islamic Awakening is the efforts to foment discord and turn these movements into bloody sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts. Currently, this plot is being seriously pursued by intelligence services of the West and Zionism with the help of petrodollars and bribed politicians from East Asia to North Africa and particularly in the Arab region. And the money that could have been spent to bring about happiness for mankind is being used to make threats, excommunicate, assassinate, bomb, shed Muslim blood and to kindle the fire of long-lasting grudges. Those who consider the unified power of Islam as an obstacle in the way of their evil goals have come to the conclusion that fanning the flames of conflicts inside the Islamic Ummah is the easiest way to achieve their satanic goal, and they have used differences of opinion in Islamic jurisprudence… as a pretext to excommunicate, shed blood and cause fitna [strife] and corruption.
            A vigilant look at the scene of domestic conflicts clearly reveals the enemy’s hands behind these tragedies. These deceptive hands undoubtedly take advantage of the ignorance, prejudice and superficiality that exists in our societies and they add fuel to the fire. The responsibility of religious and political reformers and outstanding personalities is very heavy in this regard.
            Currently, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, Syria, Pakistan, and Iraq and Lebanon are in one way or another involved in or exposed to these dangerous flames. It is necessary to be extremely careful and to look for a remedy. It would be naïve to think that all of these things are due to ideological and ethnic factors and motives…”
Ethnic and Religious Conflict
            “Propaganda campaigns of the West and dependent and mercenary media in the region pretend that the destructive war in Syria is a Shia-Sunni conflict and they create a safety margin for the Zionists and the enemies of resistance in Syria and Lebanon. This is while the two sides of the conflict in Syria are not Shia and Sunni, rather they are the supporters and opponents of anti-Zionist resistance. Neither the Syrian government is a Shia government, nor is the secular and anti-Islam opposition a Sunni group. The only achievement of the plotters of this calamitous scenario is that they have managed to make use of religious sentiments of simple-minded people to kindle this deadly fire. A look at the scene and those who are involved in it at different levels can clarify the issue for any just individual...”
Click here for the full text of the speech.
Photo Credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook

Latest on the Race: Leader’s Ideal President

            In a strong speech six weeks before the election, the supreme leader admonished presidential candidates against making empty promises or creating tension. Ayatollah Khamenei also defended the Guardian Council, which usually disqualifies 99 percent of candidates. In 2009, the council only cleared four out of more than 400 men and none of the 42 women who registered. Guardian Council members are “fair-minded, impartial, and insightful,” the supreme leader claimed. The next president must be “resistant against enemy pressure.” The following are excerpted remarks from Khamenei’s speech at an early May Day event.

      “Iran needs a president who is brave and fearless in the international arena and in the face of arrogant powers, and who has planning, wisdom and foresight in the domestic arena, and believes in the resistance economy… A president must be a person who, first and foremost, believes in God, the people, and the constitution, and, secondly, must have an indomitable spirit…
      The Iranian nation seeks to realize great objectives and [carry out] great tasks, and is not one to surrender. And no one can speak to it using the language of force. Therefore, [the president] must be brave, fearless and resistant against enemy pressure and should not back down…
      [Candidates] must not give people empty promises… but rather they must move forward with logical remarks based on the realities on the ground and reliance on God…  [Presidents] should not create unnecessary costs and problems for the people, and should not cause concerns for or create tension among the people…
            Those who plan to enter the election scene should enter the scene after a proper assessment, and it is the people who will decide in the end…  As the late Imam Khomeini always emphasized, the participation of the Guardian Council in the election through checking the qualifications (of candidates) by fair-minded, impartial, and insightful people is auspicious…
            They [Western nations] try to use economic pressure to create a rift between the nation and the Islamic establishment and dishearten the people.” April 27, in a speech to thousands of workers in Tehran
Photo Credit: Leader.ir


Part II: Sanctions Hit Iran’s Oil Production

            Iran’s oil production dropped 17 percent in 2012, according to a new according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But Iran managed to remain the second-largest crude oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on average. Consumption of liquid fuels fell one percent in 2012. The following is a chart and excerpt from the report.

            Iran's exports of crude oil and lease condensate declined to approximately 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, compared to 2.5 million bbl/d in 2011. This 39% decline in exports was coupled with a 17% drop in crude oil and condensate production and a 1% decline in liquid fuels consumption including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other products.
            While the world's supply of oil increased by about 2%, or 1.8 million bbl/d in 2012, oil production in Iran declined by nearly 700,000 bbl/d from the 2011 level. Most of the 2012 drop in production is attributable to tightened sanctions. A smaller decline in 2011 resulted mainly from declining production in aging fields. Iran remained the second-largest OPEC crude oil producer on average during 2012, but it exceeded Iraq's production only narrowly. In August 2012, Iran's monthly crude oil production fell below Iraq's for the first time since 1989.
            A new set of sanctions by the European Union became effective on April 1, 2013. The new sanctions bar EU insurance companies from providing coverage to any refiner and refinery operators that process crude oil of Iranian origin. The new provision will mostly affect refiners in South Korea and India, which rely heavily on European insurance providers. The new sanctions may further affect Iran's exports and production over the next few months as refiners try to find alternative suppliers of insurance.

Part I: Iran Oil Sales Plummet

Click here for the full report.

Part I: Iran Oil Sales Plummet

            In 2012, Iran’s oil exports dropped to their lowest level since 1986, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Exports declined 39 percent between from 2011 to 2012 alone due to tightened U.S. and E.U. sanctions. Production of crude oil and condensates also fell by 17 percent that year. The following is a chart and excerpt from the report

            In 2012, Iran's exports of crude oil and lease condensate dropped to their lowest level since 1986 (see chart above) as the United States and the European Union (EU) tightened sanctions targeting Iran's oil sector. Iran's 2012 net estimated oil export revenue, at $69 billion, was significantly lower than the $95 billion total generated in 2011. Oil exports make up 80% of Iran's total export earnings and 50% to 60% of its government revenue, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
            Sanctions affecting investment in Iran's oil sector have also been tightened, resulting in cancellation of new projects by several foreign companies; they also negatively affected existing projects. Following the implementation of sanctions in late-2011 and mid-2012, Iranian oil production dropped dramatically. Although Iran had been subject to four earlier rounds of United Nations sanctions, these much-tougher measures passed by the United States and the European Union have severely hampered Iran's ability to export its oil, which directly affected its production of petroleum and petroleum products.
            The U.S. and EU measures prohibited large-scale investment in the country's oil and gas sector, and cut off its access to European and U.S. sources of financial transactions. Further sanctions were implemented against the Central Bank of Iran, while the EU imposed an embargo on Iranian oil and banned European protection and indemnity clubs (P&I Clubs) from providing Iranian oil carriers with insurance and reinsurance. The implementation of insurance-related sanctions was particularly effective in stemming Iranian exports, which affected not only European importers but also Iran's Asian customers who were forced to temporarily halt imports.

Part II: Sanctions Hit Hard Iran's Oil Production

Click here for the full report.

Al Qaeda and Iran: Enemies with Benefits

Matthew Duss

            On April 22, Canadian authorities arrested two men who allegedly planned to derail a U.S.-bound passenger train. Officials said al Qaeda elements in Iran gave “direction and guidance” to Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35. But police have not found evidence of Iranian state sponsorship. And Tehran has denied any connection to the plot.
What has been the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda?
            Iran and al Qaeda have had a complex and rocky relationship for two decades. The Shiite theocracy and the Sunni terrorist organization are not natural allies. Al Qaeda’s hardline Salafi/Wahhabi interpretation of Islam believes that Shiites are heretics. In 2009, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula proclaimed that Shiites, particularly Iranians, posed more of a danger to Sunnis than Jews or Christians. Iran has likewise been hostile toward al Qaeda and its former Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.
            But countries and movements with seemingly inimical views can work together when circumstances warrant. The 9/11 Commission reported that Iran and al Qaeda contacts go back two decades, beginning when Osama bin Laden was based in Sudan. The report also noted “strong but indirect evidence" that al Qaeda played "some as yet unknown role" in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia, by the Iran-supported Saudi Hezbollah. A number of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran to Afghanistan, although there is no evidence that Tehran was aware of the plot.
            Some of the best information available on the al Qaeda-Iran relationship was found during the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Documents “show that the relationship is not one of alliance, but of indirect and unpleasant negotiations over the release of detained jihadis and their families, including members of Bin Laden’s family,” according to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. “The detention of prominent al Qa`ida members seems to have sparked a campaign of threats, taking hostages and indirect negotiations between al-Qa`ida and Iran that have been drawn out for years and may still be ongoing.”
            Iran and al Qaeda are clearly at odds in the Syrian civil war. Bashar Assad’s regime is Iran’s key Arab ally, and Tehran is expending considerable effort to prop up Damascus. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, has joined the anti-Assad insurgency. Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, has urged fighters from around the region to join the battle against Assad. The Nusra Front, one of Syria’s strongest rebel groups, recently pledged its allegiance to al Qaeda.
Are there known al Qaeda elements in Iran? Where? 
            Hundreds of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan fled west to Iran after the U.S.-led coalition intervention in October 2001, and many were detained by Iranian authorities in eastern Iran, near the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Iran claims to have extradited more than 500 to their home countries in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
            Some high-profile detainees, including top al Qaeda strategist Saif al Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, were held with their families under house arrest in Iran, possibly as insurance against al Qaeda attacks on Iranian interests or for use as bargaining chips. Al Adel and Abu Ghaith were given greater freedom to travel in exchange for the 2010 release of an Iranian diplomat who had been held in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Abu Gaith was captured in Jordan by the United States in February 2013.
            It’s unclear how close an eye Iranian security services are keeping on al Qaeda elements currently living in eastern Iran. The remote area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is sparsely populated and home to the Baloch ― a Sunni ethnic group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Pakistan and Iran. A 2011 U.S. Treasury Department report accused Tehran of having a secret deal with al Qaeda that allows the group to funnel funds and operatives through Iranian territory. But the report did not cite Iranian officials for complicity in terrorism.
Canadian police said there is no evidence of Iranian sponsorship so far. What is known about Iran’s role?
            It would mark a shift in strategy if Iran was actively involved in the planning of al Qaeda attacks. Canadian officials have claimed that al Qaeda leaders in Iran gave the two men considerable independence in planning and carrying out the alleged plot. The Iranian government probably would not have allowed them that operational freedom. Based on the evidence released by Canada, Tehran was probably not involved in any significant way.
            The costs would not have been worth the benefits to Iran either. Any proven Iranian role in a terrorist attack that derailed a passenger train would have further strengthened international opinion against Tehran. It is already isolated and faced with many layers of economic sanctions. The timing is also awkward. Iranian complicity could jeopardize negotiations over its controversial nuclear program with the United States and five major world powers. At the same time, Iranian strategy has been opaque even to those who have observed Iran for decades.
Matthew Duss is a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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