United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for US Drawdown

           The U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and Hassan Rouhani’s election to Iran’s presidency “may provide a new opportunity for greater U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan,” according to a new study by the RAND Corporation. The two countries had convergent interests in 2001, when Tehran cooperated with Washington to help bring down the Taliban. But any new cooperation will likely depend on the result of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Regardless, Iran “is poised to exercise substantial influence” in Afghanistan. The following are excerpts from the report.



            A state of rivalry between Iran and the United States, exacerbated by tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, has often meant competition in other areas, including Afghanistan. Tehran has viewed the decadelong U.S. presence in Afghanistan with anxiety. Iran’s fears of U.S. military strikes against its nuclear facilities, or perceived American plans to overthrow the Iranian regime, may have motivated it to provide measured military support to Afghan insurgents battling U.S. forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Iran also actively opposes the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) being negotiated between Afghanistan and the United States.
            U.S. policymakers may naturally think that Iran will seek to exploit the drawdown and undermine American interests in Afghanistan. However, the departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a new pragmatic government in Tehran, and a possible resolution to the nuclear crisis may provide greater cooperation between Tehran and Washington in Afghanistan.
            Iranian objectives in Afghanistan align with most U.S. interests. Therefore, Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States. Much like the United States, Iran wants to see a stable Afghanistan with a government free of Taliban control, and Iran seeks to stem the tide of Sunni extremism in the region.
            The extent to which Iran would be willing to directly cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan largely depends on the status of the Iranian nuclear dispute. It is important to note, however, that even if U.S.-Iran tensions remain, Iran’s activities in Afghanistan are unlikely to run counter to the overall objectives of the United States.
            The United States should attempt to cooperate with Iran in countering narcotics in Afghanistan and encourage efforts to bring Tehran and Kabul to an agreement over water sharing. Becausethe Taliban insurgency is largely funded through drug trafficking, counternarcotics effortswould contribute to Afghanistan’s security. Tensions over scarce water resources could also fuelinstability if left unaddressed.
            While many of the disagreements between the two countries appear intractable and beholden to political interests in Tehran and Washington, combating drug trafficking and addressing water-usage issues would be relatively uncontroversial and nonpolitical. It could also lead to increased mutual trust that would benefit broader U.S.-Iran relations. To this end, the United States could lend logistical or financial support to the UN-facilitated Triangular Initiative, which fosters coordination among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in countering the drug trade. With regards to the Iran-Afghan water dispute, the United States should become active—through the UN and development organizations—in facilitating a mutually agreed upon water-usage system.
            Iran is hedging its bets in order to be prepared for a variety of outcomes following the U.S. drawdown. Iran has maintained close ties with Afghanistan’s Tajik and Hazara populations in order to gain political influence and protect its interests after the U.S. drawdown.
            On the other hand, Iran appears to be open to engaging with the Taliban after the U.S. drawdown. The extent of engagement will depend on the Taliban’s posture toward Iran and its treatment of the Afghan Shia.
            Iran will continue attempting to build soft influence in Afghanistan, especially in the realms of education and the media. Iran has been building and buttressing pro-Iranian schools, mosques,and media centers. Much of this activity centers on western and northern Afghanistan, inaddition to Kabul. Afghan schools have received thousands of Iranian books, many of whichespouse the values of the Islamic republic.
            However, Iran will face challenges in winning over the Afghan populace. The Pashtuns, who are more closely affiliated with Pakistan, remain wary of the Iranians. Meanwhile, many of the Shia Hazara do not favor Iran’s system of governance. In recent years, Hazara political parties have made efforts not to be seen simply as Iranian proxies, and are likely to seek support from Western countries as well.
            Although set to remain generally positive, Iran-Afghan relations likely will experience strain over water disputes and the issue of refugees. Exacerbated by drought, water-sharing disputes are likely to persist as a significant sticking point between Tehran and Kabul as Afghanistan’s plan to boost its agricultural sector will lead to increased water usage upstream, affecting Iran’s supplies. Both countries suffer from a shortage of water, with Iran’s eastern provinces bordering Afghanistan being particularly water challenged.
            In recent years, the status of Afghan refugees in Iran has become a highly politicized issue. Iran has more Afghan refugees than any other country after Pakistan. As economic conditions in Iran have deteriorated, Afghan refugees have come to be seen by many as a burden and have been subjected to discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Iranian government. Numerous protests have erupted in Afghanistan over Iran’s treatment of refugees. Furthermore, Iran has attempted to use the threat of mass deportation of Afghans as a means of pressuring the Kabul government to adopt policies favorable to the Islamic Republic.
            Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces and ISAF from Afghanistan in 2016, Iranian and U.S. strategy there will be influenced in large part by the actions of Pakistan, India, and Russia. As the world’s only superpower, the United States will continue to play an important role in Afghanistan following the ISAF drawdown. It is important, however, to bear in mind that U.S. influence there will be determined in large part by its relations with regional actors and, in turn, their relations with one another. Iran’s overall interests in Afghanistan align with the core U.S., Indian, and Russian objectives in Afghanistan: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda. Therefore, Iranian cooperation with regional actors in Afghanistan could serve U.S. interests.
            In the event of a nuclear deal, it is prudent that the United States directly engage Iran in bilateral discussions regarding Afghanistan and pursue joint activities that would serve their mutual interests and build much-needed trust.
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Roundup of Briefings as Drafting Begins

            The world’s six major powers and Iran began drafting a final nuclear deal during a four-day round of talks that ended on June 20. “We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round,” said Michael Man, a spokesperson for E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that he was still hopeful about reaching an agreement by the July 20 deadline. But he warned that “major disputes remain” and that the other side should abandon its “excessive demands.” Iran and the P5+1 countries —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — plan to meet for two weeks starting on July 2. The following are excerpted remarks on the June talks held in Vienna, Austria.

Senior U.S. Official in a Background Briefing

QUESTION: It’s been said by diplomats from different sides that there still remains crucial differences in the talks. And do you think that’s why those brackets, as said by Iranian foreign minister, that are more than what’s in the text of the agreement, can you reach the deal by July 20th? And has there been any discussion on extending the deadline or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will honestly say to you that we have not had considerations of extension. We are all focused on reaching July 20th. As I’ve said before, if we get close and we need a few more days, I don’t think anyone will mind. But we are very focused on getting it done now. We have all agreed that time is not in anyone’s interest; it won’t help get there. And if indeed by the time we get to July 20th we are still very far apart, then I think we will all have to evaluate what that means and what is possible or not.
QUESTION: Have you seen any greater realism from Iran this week on the key issues? And secondly, you said earlier you’re not sure yet whether Iran is ready to take the steps you think it needs to take. Well, what is it that – I’m curious of why. What is it that you’re not sure that they’re ready to do? What are you seeing that makes you say that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are very, very difficult decisions to be taken here by Iran. If they weren’t, we would have resolved this issue a very long time ago. It is also been expected, as in most negotiations, that the very hardest things are not decided until the very end of the negotiation. That probably is true when you sit down with your partner at dinner to decide what restaurant you’re going to go to. Everybody has their favorite, and then you finally get down to what your daughter wants, and that’s where you go.
So it’s probably a bad metaphor, so you should probably drop that. But nonetheless, everyone understands these – this is very difficult. And when I say I’m not sure whether they can get there, I go back to what you’ve heard from me before, which is this is a Rubik’s cube. All the pieces have to fit together. You could – I don’t know how many squares there are on a Rubik’s cube; maybe somebody here knows. But you could get to 98 percent of them and the last 2 percent won’t slide into place, and you don’t have an agreement. Because all of these pieces have to fit together to reach the two objectives that I’ve outlined, and that is to ensure they don’t have a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION: The Iranian delegation invoked the 2005 – the March 2005 agreement in which they offered 3000 – to cap their program at 3000 centrifuges in 2005 and hold off on industrial capacity until trust was built. That option was obviously rejected in 2005. And though sanctions have imposed harsh penalties on Iran, it hasn’t stopped them from expanding to 19,000 installed centrifuges today, advancing beyond 20 percent (inaudible).
The implication of that example – obviously, Iran is – Iranians are very historically conscious. But to what extent does that example resonate with the P5+1 side and give incentive to prevent a repeat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everyone who is in the room is certainly aware of the long and difficult history of negotiations to resolve this problem. But we are at a different time, a different place in history. And we have to see what we can do to go forward, not go backwards. And history may be instructive up to a point, but as I said, the context is different, the circumstances are different, the program is different. The concerns are probably even more profound than they were in 2005.
QUESTION: You said there are still many serious gaps remain. Are these gaps – could these gaps be solved at your level, or you should call in the ministers to bridge these gaps and to reach the final deal? And when could it be happened?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that everyone would be right to expect that at the appropriate time that ministers may become engaged. And quite frankly, ministers are already engaged. Anyone who knows Secretary Kerry knows that he is engaged, not only in terms of being briefed, but also giving me instructions about how to proceed, talking with his counterparts – he talks with Minister Lavrov and the other ministers in the P5+1. He will be seeing the High Representative in Brussels this week when he is in Europe, most likely.
And so I think all of the ministers are already quite engaged. Virtually every minister over the course of this negotiation has had direct conversations with Minister Zarif, some more often than others, depending upon the relationship. Messages have gone back and forth urging action and focus and problem solving. So ministers are already quite engaged in this process. When and if they show up physically in Vienna, I’m sure they may well. And that will be at the point where we perhaps have reached the narrowing of the gaps to the place where very tough political decisions need to be made and need to be made at the level of a minister.
And indeed, I would fully suspect that President Obama, who is completely briefed on this subject and follows it very carefully, and also through our interagency process issues guidance for how I should proceed, will also be engaged, and has already in the G7 meeting that we just had, talked with his counterparts about this negotiation. I’m sure will talk with his counterparts as appropriate to try to bring this to closure, if we can get there.
Minister Zarif has mentioned about each country is a little bit being different in claiming what they would like to see in the – on the paper. And you also mentioned about each country having different national positions. When that is expressed in the meeting room, would that not cause – you said that the – on one hand you said that the P5+1 is united on the numbers and so on, but if each country started to express different views, then would that not be confusing? And how would that be resolved at the end? That’s the question number one.
And then number two is that Iran mentioned that the – that Iran is not – or its centrifuge do not really focus on the numbers but rather on the capacity. Is that the approach that everybody has agreed to take? Or is this what they want to convince the P5+1 to follow? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. We haven’t started to show that we have national positions. National positions are a fact in any multilateral negotiation. In the UN Security Council, everybody has a national position, and they aren’t identical. And what you try to do is where you can, if accommodating those national positions helps you reach the objective, you do. If they don’t, you try to find another route forward. So this is not an abnormal process, this is a very normal process.
So nothing is new here, and what we have tried to do in the proposal that we have put forth to Iran and that now we have a working document that we can use where we understand Iran’s positions, our positions, and now we’re working to see if we can, in fact, reach an agreement. We have tried to take into account in our coordination with each other each other’s national interests. But the national interest that overtakes all other national interests for every one of the countries sitting at the table is to make sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is entirely and exclusively peaceful. And because that is the paramount interest for every country sitting at the table, we have been able to maintain that unity.
QUESTION: Are you at a negotiating disadvantage since it’s more difficult for you to miss the July 20th deadline, because that would necessitate going back and asking Congress to sign on to more time, given that they’re so skeptical about a deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s no question Congress has been an important partner in Iran’s coming to the negotiating table. We consult with the Congress very, very frequently. I, in fact, will spend a good part of next week up on Capitol Hill in very close consultations with both the Senate and the House. We have to proceed forward together, and we all share the same objective, and that is one of the issues on which there is agreement across parties as well.
It is true that in the Joint Plan of Action there is no automatic extension. The language says that there can be one six-month extension if mutually agreed. There will be many issues involved if, in fact, that moment came. That moment is a hypothetical, and it is not something that we are contemplating at the moment at all.
QUESTION: Several of the countries went to go see Director General Amano of the IAEA. Can you tell us a little bit about how his program to go look at possible military dimensions fits in or doesn’t fit in to what a final agreement would look like, and how you deal with the fact that that process is probably going to be going on well beyond the time that you envision for an agreement if you can get one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The American delegation visited with the director general as well and sort of joked with him that he may rue the day that these talks take place in Vienna, because we all descend on him to have conversations.
Clearly, the IAEA is a crucial part of this agreement. They have been crucial to the monitoring verification of the Joint Plan of Action, and although I don’t think the report is coming out but is still restricted, I would expect that the report that’s just come out about the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action to continue to say that Iran and the E3+3 have all complied, continued to comply with the Joint Plan of Action. The IAEA had to increase its budget, and very glad that everybody came forth to put up the funds so that they could do the monitoring and verification for the Joint Plan of Action. And clearly, they will be the key agency for the monitoring and verification of a comprehensive joint plan of action.
We have said from the beginning that addressing possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program is part of any comprehensive agreement. We understand that the timetables aren’t identical, but the timetables of much of what will be in the agreement won’t be done by July 20th. Whatever Iran agrees to do is going to take them longer than July 20th to do. So it is how that issue will be addressed in the agreement, and what will be necessary by July 20th that is under discussion.
I want to say one other thing, which is we are all – and I think a message delivered by everyone who has visited with the director general this week is that we want to be very cognizant that the IAEA is an independent agency with its own mandate and authorities, and although several of us are members of the board of governors of the IAEA, nonetheless we all need to be conscious of its independent role.
            June 20, 2014 in a background briefing


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
      “Still we have not overcome disputes about major issues ... there has been progress, but major disputes remain.
      “We feel there are [still] maximalist stances. Iran will not give up the interests and the rights of the Iranian nation in the face of excessive demands.
      “The talks were intensive and still continue. The discussions started this morning with my meeting with Mrs. Ashton and now Mr. Araghchi and Ravanchi and the rest of our team are working on the introduction of the text (of the final deal) with Ashton's deputy.
            “The introduction deals with the goals, frameworks and mechanisms and the way differences can be resolved. We can't say that we have a common text as in many items there are different views over the content and the way the agreement should be written.
            “The opposite side has not attended the talks with the needed preparedness to enter serious negotiations on the basis of the realities.
            “We will continue the negotiations as long as they are useful and needed and until achievement of the results.
            “Position-taking would not lead to an agreement, we have come here to attain a solution. I am still hopeful about (attaining a) solution because I believe the issue is not complex.
           June 20, 2014 to the press
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to reach a solution and has offered logical proposals in this regard but the excessive demands by the other side could thwart the deal and in that case the world would come to know [who made] the negotiations reach an impasse.”
            June 26, 2014, according to press
           “One of the issues in the comprehensive nuclear accord with the G5+1 is sign up Additional Protocol, but we have not reached that stage in negotiations yet.”
            June 27, 2014 according to press
            “Iran is ready for a resolution and made rational proposals.
            “But the excessive demands of the other party could prevent an agreement.
            “At that time the world will know who was responsible for the deadlock in the nuclear negotiations.
           “We feel there are still maximalist stances on the other side, which I think should be dropped.”
            June 27, 2014 according to press
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
       “We have announced that we have entered the talks with seriousness and political will, and no change has occurred in Iran’s intention and willpower regarding acquisition of peaceful nuclear technology.
      “We are bracing for professional and tough talks and we hope that an agreement would be reached with the opposite party [showing] realism. Regardless of any conclusion we would reach in the nuclear talks, our national program will follow its normal course.”
      June 25, 2014 to the press
Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi
            “If the sanctions are removed, animosities will end and all issues pertaining to [Iran’s] nuclear dossier are resolved….we will be ready to sign the Additional Protocol; however, the parliament will be the final decision-maker in this regard.”
            June 2014 according to press
E.U. Spokesperson Michael Mann  
            “We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round in Vienna, beginning on 2 July.
            “We presented each other with a number of ideas on a range of issues, and we have begun the drafting process.
            “E3/EU+3 Political Directors will meet in Brussels next Thursday to continue discussions.”
            June 20, 2014 in a statement
            “The High Representative is focused on trying to get a deal as soon as possible. The most important thing is that it is a good and robust deal.”
            June 25, 2014, during an interview with Nasim Online news agency
Russian UN Envoy Vitaly Churkin
             “This is an issue [Iran’s ballistic missile program] that is outside their mandate. The [experts] should not interfere in this extremely sensitive process. And in particular it is unacceptable to pre-judge its outcome.”
            June 26, 2014, according to press
            “For our part, we will continue to do everything we can for the final closure of the complex issues related to Iran's nuclear program, with Tehran and removal of sanctions.”

            June 26, 2014, according to press


Senior Chinese Official Wang Qun
           “The fact that (we came up) with this text is progress ... in procedural terms.”
           June 20, 2014 to the press
Photo credit: European External Action Service via Flickr


UN: Iran Still Complying with Nuclear Deal

            The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has confirmed that Iran is still complying with the interim nuclear deal, which took effect on January 20. Tehran has not enriched uranium to above the five percent level. It has also diluted half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which could have been further enriched to 90 percent, weapons grade. Iran has also begun commissioning a facility to convert uranium enriched to five percent into oxide powder, which would be difficult to use to fuel a weapon. The following are excerpts from the International Atomic Energy Agency report.   

The Agency confirms that since 20 January 2014, Iran has:
i. not enriched uranium above 5% U-235 at any of its declared facilities;
ii. not operated cascades in an interconnected configuration at any of its declared facilities;
iii. completed the dilution – down to an enrichment level of no more than 5% U-235 – of half of the nuclear material that had been in the form of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 on 20 January 2014;
iv. fed 100 kg of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 into the conversion process at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) for conversion into uranium oxide;
v.had no process line to reconvert uranium oxides back into UF6 at FPFP;
vi. not made “any further advances” to its activities at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) or the Arak reactor (IR-40 Reactor), including the manufacture and testing of fuel for the IR-40 Reactor;
vii. provided an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor and agreed with the Agency on safeguards measures for the reactor;
viii. begun the commissioning of the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) – the facility to be used for the conversion to oxide of the UF6 “newly enriched” up to 5% U-235;
ix. continued its safeguarded enrichment R&D practices at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP), without accumulating enriched uranium;
x. not carried out reprocessing related activities at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) Facility or at any of the other facilities to which the Agency has access;
xi. provided information and managed access to the uranium mine and mill at Gchine,
to the Saghand Uranium Mine and the Ardakan Uranium Production Plant;
xii. continued to provide daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow;
xiii. provided regular managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and provided information thereon; and
xiv. provided, in relation to enhanced monitoring, the following: plans for nuclear facilities and a description of each building on each nuclear site;
-descriptions of the scale of operations being conducted for each location engaged in
specified nuclear activities; and
-information on uranium mines and mills, and on source material.
Click here for the full report.

Iranian Religious Scholars Oppose Nukes

           Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Shiite religious leaders oppose nuclear weapons based on thousand-year-old principles of Islamic law, according to a paper by Ayatollah Abolqasem Alidoost. Quasi-official Iranian website NuclearEnergy.ir. published a summary including a roundup of edicts, or fatwas, by contemporary scholars on weapons of mass destruction.The following are excerpts.

Summary of a paper presented by Ayatollah Abolqasem Alidoost at Conference on “Nuclear Jurisprudence”, Tehran March 2014
            Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are a relatively new phenomena in international affairs, and therefore, Islamic jurisprudence, including Shi’ite scholars, did not specifically address them in the previous centuries. However, Islamic jurisprudence has a number of well-established general principles that can be applied to this issue. These principles can, and have been, used as the basis for religious edicts on weapons of mass destruction by contemporary Islamic scholars, including Ayatollah Khamenei and other prominent jurists.
            The most prominent general principles that can be applied to weapons of mass destruction are principles governing differentiation of targets, protection of the environment and ensuring safety and security of non-combatants during war and conflict. Since by definition, WMD are indiscriminate, make no distinction between military and civilian targets, have a long-lasting, destructive impact on the earth and the environment, and endanger the health of everyone, including those of future generations, one can readily find several long-established general principles of Islamic and particularly Shi’ite Jurisprudence applicable to WMD. Reference in this regard can be made to texts and edicts which are over a thousand years old.
Traditional Shi’ite religious edicts on nonconventional weapons
            In the religious edicts (fatawa) of earlier Islamic and particularly Shi’ite scholars, Muslims were prohibited from using poison in times of war, or from contaminating their enemies’ drinking water with poison. The indiscriminate effect of poison was advanced as the jurisprudential basis for this ruling. The most prominent Shi’ite jurists, as early as 1,000 years ago, argued that poison acted indiscriminately and did not distinguish between combatants and civilians. They further contended that it had a destructive impact on the environment and living creatures. Applying the same principles that were used to explicitly prohibit the use of poison in warfare, one can readily establish that the use of more contemporary means of warfare with similar impact and consequences, including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, is also forbidden in Islamic legal tradition and doctrine.
            There are several narrations (Hadith) from Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), which explicitly prohibit the utilization of poison against infidels (Mushrekin) and their territories. It is thus evident that contemporary religious edicts, which ban the use of WMD, are pillared on principles as old as Islamic Sharia itself.
            As early as the time of the first compilations of Shi’ite jurisprudence by early Shi’ite scholars, the rules governing the use of various means of warfare available at that time were described in treatises dealing with the concept of Holy Struggle (jihad). In this regard, reference should be made to Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Hassan Tusi, also known as Sheikh Tusi, who is considered to be among the most preeminent Shi’ite scholars of all times and whom lived in the 11th century (5th century After Hijrah in the Islamic Calendar.) In his book, “A Concise Description of Islamic Law and Legal Opinions” (Al-Nihayah fi Mujarrad al-Fiqh wa al-Fatawa), Sheikh Tusi states that:
«یَجوزُ قِتال الکُفّارِ بِسائر ِاَنواعِ القَتل، الّا السّم؛ فَانّه لا یَجوز ان یلقی فی بِلادِهم السّم»
It is permissible to fight with infidels using all sorts of deadly tools except for poison. The dispensation of poison in their land is not permissible.
            Sheikh Tusi’s religious ruling, which was issued over a thousand years ago, has since been acknowledged and espoused by numerous other scholars, who have issued similar edicts (Fatawa) in their own treatises.

Contemporary Shi’ite religious edicts on WMD
            Among contemporary Islamic scholars, the prominent Najaf-based jurist, the late-Grand Ayatollah Khoei and a majority of his students, have issued religious edicts imposing restrictions in relation to the means and weapons of war, which can be directly interpreted as prohibiting the use of WMD.
            Many of the living Shi’ite Grand Ayatollahs have also expressed their edicts on this issue, which are generally consistent with the religious edict (fatwa) against WMD – including development, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons – issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. Below are some of the edicts (fatawa) related to WMD issued by senior Islamic clerics.
Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi
            “As Iran’s Supreme Leader has declared nuclear weapons to be impermissible (haram), I too as a source of emulation (marja taqlid), view such arms as impermissible.”
Grand Ayatollah Javadi Amoli
           “Scholars believe that possession and development of atomic weapons and WMDs are not permitted and have issued religious rulings in this regard.”
           “Mass killing and genocide are forbidden by divine religions.”
Grand Ayatollah Sobhani
           “Given the principles of Islam in regards to human beings and the respect it holds for mankind, utilizing atomic weapons is absolutely prohibited – even for deterrence purposes.”
Grand Ayatollah Nuri Hamedani
           “We do not allow the use of nuclear weapons.”
Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has on numerous occasions announced his legal understanding and resulting jurisprudence in relation to this topic. For instance, Ayatollah Khamenei has expressed the following:
           “In our opinion, in addition to nuclear weapons, other WMDs such as chemical and biological arms also pose a serious threat to humanity. We declare the use of such weapons as impermissible (haram) and believe that protecting mankind from this great disaster is a public duty.”
           “We do not believe in nor seek atomic bombs and weapons. Based on our religious principles, utilizing such WMDS is absolutely prohibited and impermissible. It is tantamount to pillage and genocide, which the Holy Qur’an forbids.”
           “The Iranian nation is opposed to such weapons based on its Islamic principles, as well as prudence and rationality.”
            “We do not want atomic bombs, and are even opposed to the possession of chemical weapons.”
           “There is also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, which everyone has accepted, including Iran.”
           “The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly announced that it is against using and developing nuclear weapons in accordance with its principles and Islamic jurisprudence.”
It is thus evident that Ayatollah Khamenei’s religious edict against nuclear weapons is deeply rooted in Islamic jurisprudence, and is not new or unique.
Click here for a PDF version with citations.

Nasser Hadian: Iran’s Concerns about Iraq

Interview with Nasser Hadian

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Sunni group, has taken control of much of eastern Syria and, most recently, northern Iraq. What are the implications for Iran?
            Stabilizing Iraq is extremely important to Iran for a number of reasons.
            First, in the long term, Iran is concerned that the insecurity in Iraq could spillover if the situation is not controlled and contained. Iran, however, is not immediately concerned with its own border security.
      Second, Tehran basically prefers the continuation of Nouri al Maliki’s government, which is the legitimate government in Baghdad. Iran has good relations with Iraq and does not want a disruption of the post-Saddam Hussein system.  
      Third, ISIS has targeted Shiites. It is now stirring up a sectarian war in which Iran would be obliged to protect not only its own citizens in Iraq, but also Iraqi Shiites. ISIS seems to have captured territory with logistical, intelligence and material support from Saudi Arabia and other countries. So Iran feels that it has to back up the government in Baghdad. Tehran, however, does not want the conflict to escalate.
What is Iran doing to support the central Iraqi government?
            Tehran is providing political support to Baghdad but is keen to prevent the conflict from turning into a full-blown sectarian war. So it is not sending troops. Reports in the media about Iran sending soldiers are purely guesses and have been denied by top officials. But Tehran is likely helping Iraq, under the table, by offering advice about how to fight the militants, and helping with logistics and intelligence gathering. Iran probably had military advisors in Iraq before the crisis anyway.  
      President Hassan Rouhani has suggested that Iran could consider joint action with the United States. But Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani has been careful not to associate Tehran with Washington at all on this issue because he is concerned that many Sunnis in the region would consider U.S.-Iran cooperation a conspiracy of Shiites and Americans against them.
      Maliki may be able to quell ISIS if he mobilizes militias to help the Iraqi armed forces. But if Iraq cannot solve this crisis within the next two to three months, the conflict could turn into a protracted war and last for several years. And ISIS may shift its forces if it finds Maliki’s government weaker than the Assad regime, resulting in a war of attrition. The oil-rich region is also an attractive base of operations for the militants, which have already stolen $425 million from banks across Iraq.
            An ISIS shift to Iraq would also have regional implications. It would make it much easier for Assad’s forces to suppress Syrian opposition forces. Unlike Iraq’s armed forces, the Syrian Army is relatively intact. The Syrian government is holding back the opposition, which is supported by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, and many Western nations. But the swift takeover of Mosul by ISIS showed that the Iraqi army is weak.
What are Iran’s core interests in Iraq? Do they overlap with U.S. concerns? If so, how could the two cooperate?
      Both Tehran and Washington are concerned with stabilizing Iraq and preventing the breakout of a sectarian war. They also want to ensure the safe passage of oil to international markets and preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq.
      Iran and the United States also want to see a more inclusive government in Baghdad. Even Iran would like to see the Shiites share more power with the Sunnis and Kurds to preserve the Iraqi state. Iran wants to see Kurdistan as part of Iraq, even if it continues to be an autonomous region.
      Iran’s influence in Iraq and its shared interests with the United States probably led Senator Lindsey Graham to suggest talking with Tehran about the crisis. But there is virtually no chance of publicized cooperation. The more likely scenario would be similar to U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001, when Tehran provided U.S. forces with intelligence that helped overthrow the Taliban.
            But not all U.S. interests totally align with Iran’s. Washington is likely concerned with ISIS spreading its operations to U.S. allies in the Gulf. 
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.
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Photo credits: President.ir and Ministry of Defense


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