United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Obama and Netanyahu Agree on Iran

            President Obama, on his first visit to Israel since taking office, warned that the time left to solve the Iranian nuclear issue “is not unlimited.” He said that the international community will increase pressure on the regime until it meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program. Obama arrived in Israel on March 20 for a three day visit. The president told Israeli college students that a nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism, undermine the non-proliferation regime, spark a regional arms race, and “embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.”

            The president repeated his preference for a diplomatic solution. “Peace is far more preferable to war,” he told the students in Jerusalem. In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama claimed Iranians would especially benefit from a nuclear deal that could allow them to “break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.” The question is, “will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity?” according to the president.
 
            Obama reiterated that [a]ll options are on the table,” until Iran meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program. Netanyahu argued that diplomacy and sanctions must be backed by a credible threat of military action. The president said he would not expect Israel’s prime minister to defer a security decision to another country. Each country "has to make its own decisions” on taking military action, Obama said during a joint press conference. Netanyahu agreed with the U.S. estimate that Iran would need about one year to build a nuclear bomb. The following are excerpts from remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
 
President Barack Obama
 
            “We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel. And we agree on our goal. We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
 
            “We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there’s still time to do so. Iran’s leaders must understand, however, that they have to meet their international obligations. And, meanwhile, the international community will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian government. The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps. And I will repeat: All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons…”
 
            “I think the only thing I would add is that our intelligence cooperation on this issue, the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments in terms of where Iran is right now.”
 
            “I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action, and Israel is differently situated than the United States. And I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country’s security and defer that to any other country -- any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.”
 
            “I have shared with Bibi, as I've said to the entire world, as I've said to the Iranian people and Iranian leaders, that I think there is time to resolve this issue diplomatically. The question is, will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity? Will they walk through that door?”
 
            “And it would be in everybody’s interests -- not just Israel’s interests, not just the United States’ interests -- it would be in the interest of the Iranian people if this gets resolved diplomatically. Because the truth of the matter is, is that the most permanent solution to the Iranian situation is ultimately going to be their decision that it is not worth it for them to pursue nuclear weapons. That will be the lasting change. If we can get that, that's good for everybody, including Iran, because it would allow them to break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.”
 
            “But I don't know whether they're going to be willing to take that step. And obviously, their past behavior indicates that, in the words of -- or a play on words on what Ronald Reagan said -- we can't even trust yet, much less verify. But we do have to test the proposition that this can be resolved diplomatically. And if it can't, then I’ve repeated to Bibi what I've said publicly, and that is, is that we will leave all options on the table in resolving it.” March 20, in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 
            “When I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat.  But this is not simply a challenge for Israel ― it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism. It would undermine the non-proliferation regime. It would spark an arms race in a volatile region. And it would embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.”
 
            “That’s why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in dire straits.  Its leadership is divided.  And its position ― in the region, and the world ― has only grown weaker.”
 
            “I do believe that all of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war.  And the inevitable costs, the unintended consequences that would come with war means that we have to do everything we can to try to resolve this diplomatically. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That’s what America will do, with clear eyes ― working with a world that’s united, and with the sense of urgency that’s required…”
 
            But Iran must know this time is not unlimited.  And I’ve made the position of the United States of America clear:  Iran must not get a nuclear weapon.  This is not a danger that can be contained, and as President, I’ve said all options are on the table for achieving our objectives.  America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” March 21, in remarks to Israeli college students in Jerusalem 
 
            “I'm convinced that you will do whatever is necessary to free the world's horizons and the skies of Jerusalem from the Iranian threat. Iran denies the Shoah [Holocaust] and calls for a new one. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and denies it.  The Iranian regime is the greatest danger to world peace. History has shown time and again that peace, prosperity and stable civil society cannot flourish when threats and belligerency abound…”
 
            “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the Iranian people are celebrating their New Year.  I wish them from the depths of my heart a happy holiday and a real freedom…” March 21, at a state dinner with Israeli officials 
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 
            “We had an opportunity today to begin discussing the wide range of issues that are critical to both our countries. And foremost among these is Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mr. President, you have made it clear that you are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I appreciate your forthright position on this point. I also appreciate that you have noted -- that you have acted to thwart the threat both through determined diplomacy and strong sanctions that are getting stronger yet.”
 
            “Notwithstanding our joint efforts and your great success in mobilizing the international community, diplomacy and sanctions so far have not stopped Iran’s nuclear program. And as you know, my view is that in order to stop Iran’s nuclear programs peacefully, diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action....”
 
            “I'm absolutely convinced that the President is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I appreciate that. And I also appreciate something that he said, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, that the Jewish people have come back to their own country to be the masters of their own fate. And I appreciate the fact that the President has reaffirmed -- more than any other President -- Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We just heard those important words now, and I think that sums up our -- I would say -- our common view.”
 
            “Iran is a grave threat to Israel, a grave threat to the world -- a nuclear Iran. The United States is committed to deal with it. Israel is committed to deal with it. We have different vulnerabilities, obviously, and different capabilities. We take that into account. But what we do maintain -- and the President I think is the first to do so -- is that Israel has a right to independently defend itself against any threat, including the Iranian threat…”
 
            “I think that there's a misunderstanding about time. If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon -- that is, to actually manufacture the weapon -- then it probably -- then it would take them about a year. I think that's correct. They could defer that a long time but still get through the enrichment process -- that is, to make a weapon you need two things; you need enriched uranium of a critical amount and then you need a weapon. You can't have the weapon without the enriched uranium, but you can have the enriched uranium without the weapon.”
 
            “Iran right now is enriching uranium. It’s pursuing it. It hasn’t yet reached the red line that I had described in my speech at the U.N. -- they're getting closer, though.”
 
            “And the question of manufacturing the weapon is a different thing. The President said correctly that we have -- on these issues that are a little arcane, they sound a little detailed to you -- but on these matters we share information and we have a common assessment. We have a common assessment.”
 
            “In any case, Iran gets to an immunity zone when they get through the enrichment process, in our view -- in our view -- and whatever time is left, there's not a lot of time. And every day that passes diminishes it. But we do have a common assessment. On the schedules, on intelligence, we share that intelligence and we don't have any argument about it. I think it's important to state that clearly.” March 20, in a joint press conference with President Obama
 
Click here for transcripts of Obama’s remarks in Israel.
 

Kerry’s Iran Connection on Nowruz

            On March 20, Secretary of State John Kerry sent “warm wishes for health and prosperity” to Iranians for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He noted the contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students in the United States. “I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family,” he said in a reference to his son-in-law Behrouz (Brian) Vala Nahed. The neurosurgeon married Kerry’s daughter Vanessa, also a physician, in 2009. The secretary said the United States wants to build more people-to-people ties to promote "greater understanding, peace, and progress."

            Kerry also emphasized that the United States is committed to resolving differences with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. “We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people…” The following is the full text of the press statement.
 
Message to the Iranian People on Nowruz
 
            It’s a privilege to join President Obama in sending warm wishes for health and prosperity to the people of Iran and all those who celebrate Nowruz around the world.
 
            As you gather with your loved ones around the Sofreh Haft-Seen, we are proud to note that many Americans will join you in celebrating Nowruz.  This year, we are once again reminded of the outstanding contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students here in the United States, which reflect the rich history of your culture. I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family, and grateful for how they have enriched my life.
 
            Despite the difficult history of the last decades between the United States and Iran, there is an opportunity to work diplomatically to reduce tensions and address the mistrust between our two countries, to the mutual benefit of both of our people. As President Obama has said, we are strongly committed to resolving the differences between Iran and the United States, and continuing to work toward a new day in our relationship. We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people so that Iran can begin to take its proper place in the community of nations, and the Iranian people can have access to the same opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by others around the world.
 
            Just last month, Americans and Iranians came together to demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship and camaraderie on the wrestling mats in Tehran. On this Nowruz, we would like to reaffirm our desire to continue building strong people-to-people ties to promote greater understanding, peace, and progress.
 
            May this New Year be filled with a renewed sense of hope and a new commitment to peace and fundamental freedoms. On behalf of the United States, we extend our best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year.  Nowruzetoon Mobarak!  
 
Click here for a Farsi translation.

U.S. General: Iran’s Influence Waning in Latin America

            Iran is “struggling to main influence” in Latin America, General John Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19. The region as a whole has not been receptive to Iran’s diplomatic and economic outreach. But the head of U.S. Southern Command warned that “limited intelligence capabilities” may not provide a full picture of all Iranian activities in Latin America.
 
            Iran’s proxy, the militant organization Hezbollah, has established a presence in Latin America, the general noted. General Kelly estimated that the Lebanese Shiite diaspora could generate up to “tens of millions of dollars” for Hezbollah through licit and illicit means. During a Pentagon news briefing on March 20, he advised U.S. allies in the region to deal cautiously with Iranians claiming to be journalists or peace workers ― who oftentimes are not “what they appear to be.” The following are excerpts from Kelly’s remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the press.
 
Iran in the Western Hemisphere
            … The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.
 
            Members and supporters of Iran’s partner, Lebanese Hezbollah, have an established presence in several countries in the region. The Lebanese Shi’a diaspora in our area of responsibility may generate as much as tens of millions of dollars for Hezbollah through both licit and illicit means. There is also precedent for Iranian and Hezbollah collusion to conduct attacks in the region, as evidenced in the 1992 and 1994 bombings in Argentina. In Venezuela, government officials have been sanctioned for providing financial support to Hezbollah, and for providing support to the FARC’s narcotics and arms trafficking activities in Colombia. We take Iranian activities very seriously and, along with U.S. government agencies and international partners, we remain vigilant to the activities of Iran and affiliated extremist groups and remain prepared to work with our partners to counter any direct threat to U.S. national security. I would be remiss, however, if I did not share with the Congress my assessment that U.S. Southern Command’s limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.
 
Click here for the full text.
 
Pentagon News Briefing
GEN. KELLY: “…[T]he last  five or six years there's been an increase in their establishment of embassies, you know, normal, you know, kind of country team embassies in Latin America, cultural centers too, and, you know, as -- as you probably know, there's a fair number of -- of Muslims that live in -- they're clustered in various places in -- in Latin America, but, you know, embassies, cultural centers. So all of that's above board. And -- and if that's what they want to do -- they don't -- they're not getting much traction by the way in terms of influence, although there are some Latin American countries that I won't go into that are -- that are concerned because they -- they -- although they haven't got much traction in certain places, they're getting traction in other places. 
 
The concern is that, you know, certainly they're looking, I would guess, for influence say for votes in the U.N. on sanctions or whatever, try to -- to warm up to people and gain friends. I mean, that's certainly the way international politics works. But also, and I've warned some of the -- made mention to some of our friends in -- in the region that these guys are very, very good at what they do, and very, very skilled at what they do, and that people should just be careful as to who they're dealing with, whether they claim to be an Iranian journalist or an Iranian, you know, peace worker or something, just -- just to be careful because these oftentimes are not what they -- what they appear to be or they're stated that they're -- what they're doing in their country…
 
QUESTION: What's your main concern? I mean, do you think these activities are -- could be related to terrorism, for example? 
 
GEN. KELLY: Yes. Not -- not accusing them of that, but that's kind of the business they're in in many parts of the world, we think. We do know that some terrorist organizations are able to skim -- skim off fairly substantial sums of money from the drug profits that come out of America. And so there has to be kind of a network for that to happen. 
 
So, that's kind of what we're looking at, but nothing to, you know, in a sense, nothing to be too concerned about right now, but -- but, you know, they're establishing an above-board network and I'll leave it go at that -- an above-board network of interaction with many countries in Latin America…
 
QUESTION: And as far as where this is all going, I mean, looking down the road, 10, 20 years, is the greatest -- one of the great fears that terrorists will use this, quote/unquote, "highway" to get into the United States? I mean, to go up through Africa and to Europe? 
 
GEN. KELLY: Yes. I mean, it's a very effective... 
 
QUESTION: Evidence, or, yes, that's sort of the fear? 

GEN. KELLY: I think the only evidence would be the -- the Iranian agent that was picked up by our guys on the way here to D.C. to kill the ambassador…
 
I would just say again the Iranians are very, very, very good at what they do. And you have to be very careful when you deal with them.
 
Click here for the full transcript.
 

Poll: U.S. Majority Would Consider Strike to Prevent Iran Nuke

            About 64 percent of surveyed Americans said it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons ― even if it means taking military action ― according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. About 80 percent of Republicans expressed that view, compared to 62 percent of Democrats, and 59 percent of independents. About a quarter of all respondents said it is more important to avoid a military conflict, even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons. The following table is an excerpt from the report.

            

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Cyrus Connects Ancient Iran and U.S. Democracy

Garrett Nada

            The 2,600-year-old Cyrus Cylinder, widely considered the world’s first human rights charter, is now on display in Washington, D.C. ― the first stop on its tour of five U.S. museums. The U.S. founding fathers were inspired by the Persian monarch Cyrus’ tolerant rule of the first multilingual empire, which spanned from Egypt to India. “The story of Persia — Iran — is part of the story of modern United States,” according to British Museum Director Neil MacGregor.
 
      The nine-inch long clay artifact was unearthed in 1879 by a British Museum team in modern Iraq. It features an account of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. But the cylinder is better known for the king’s proclamation of linguistic, racial and religious equality – a revolutionary concept in the ancient world. Cyrus also allowed slaves and deported peoples to return home to rebuild their temples.
 
 
Jefferson’s Model?
 
            Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, valued Cyrus the Great’s legacy. Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers read many ancient historical works in Greek and Latin. “In the 18th century, that model of religious tolerance based on a state with diverse cultures, but no single dominant religion, became a model for the founding fathers," said Julian Raby, the director of the Freer and Sackler galleries hosting the exhibition.
 
            The Cyrus model of governance may have influenced Jefferson’s writing of the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson owned two copies of the Cyropaedia, a partly fictional biography of Cyrus written by Xenophon, a student of Socrates in the fourth century B.C. Jefferson instructed his grandson to read the book after mastering Greek.
 
            Jefferson would have also been familiar with biblical references to Cyrus. Ezra and Chronicles both relate how Cyrus allowed the Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The cylinder’s text seems to validate the biblical account.  
 
Truman: I am Cyrus
 
            President Harry Truman saw himself as a modern Cyrus when he directed the United States to recognize the State of Israel in 1948 ― against the preference of many policymakers in Washington. Part of Truman’s support for the Jewish state was based on his reading of the Bible.
 
            In 1953, he was introduced as “the man who helped create the state of Israel” to a group of Jewish dignitaries in New York. Truman is said to have retorted, “What do you mean, ‘helped to create’? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.”
 
From Cyrus to the Shah and the United Nations
 
            In October 1971, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian monarchy by Cyrus. For the occasion, Iran presented the United Nations with a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder.
 
      U.N. Secretary General U Thant called the proclamation one of man’s “early attempts to establish peace in the world.” The model remains on display at U.N. headquarters in New York, with translations of the text in Farsi, English and French.
 
      The Cyrus Cylinder was also used as the emblem of the shah’s opulent celebration at the ancient capital of Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae. About 600 guests, including dozens of heads of state and members of royal families, attended the event, which took years to plan.
 
Cyrus and the Islamic Republic
 
            Cyrus the Great is widely seen as a national symbol of pride in Iran. Individuals ranging from Shirin Ebadi, a human rights activist and a former judge, to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admire Cyrus and value his legacy.
 
            In 2003, Ebadi became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. “I am an Iranian. A descendent of Cyrus the Great. The very emperor who proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago that ‘... he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it.’ And [he] promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all,” she said during her acceptance speech. “The Charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights.”
 
      The British Museum was due to loan the cylinder to Iran in fall 2009 at the request of Ahmadinejad’s government. But the museum hesitated given the tense political situation after the disputed June presidential election. The Iranian government reportedly threatened to cut ties with the British Museum if it did not lend the cylinder. Eventually the museum agreed to loan the object to Iran’s National Museum for four months.
 
      “The artifact has been an invaluable yardstick to evaluate the performance of politicians and rulers throughout history,” Ahmadinejad said at the unveiling ceremony in September 2010. “Talking about Iran is tantamount to talking about culture, human values, justice, love and sacrifice.”
 
      The opposition Jaras website criticized Ahmadinejad’s comments, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Jaras called the cylinder a “stranger in its own home,” given the government crackdown and accusations of electoral fraud in the 2009 presidential election.
 
            The Cyrus Cylinder exhibit was so popular with Iranians that it was extended for another three months. The following video by The Economist features an interview with Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor on the Cyrus Cylinder.
 

 
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
 
Photo credits: Cyrus Cylinder photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
1971 Emblem of Iranian Monarchy's Celebration via Wikimedia Commons
 
Photo of Ahmadinejad via President.ir

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