United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Charges Rezaian with Espionage

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, arrested nine months ago in Iran, is reportedly being charged with four crimes. A statement from Rezaian’s lawyer provided to The Post by his family said the charges include espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” One example of communication with a “hostile government” cited in the indictment included writing to President Obama. Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which is responsible for national security cases, has also accused Rezaian of collecting classified information.

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have called on Iran to release the journalist, who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. “If the reports are true, these charges are absurd, should be immediately dismissed, and Jason should be freed immediately so he can return home to his family,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on April 20.
 
But Iran’s government does not recognize dual citizenship. The maximum sentence would be 10 to 20 years in prison for the charges. Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan has only been able to divulge limited information because the trial has not yet begun. She has only met with her client once for 90 minutes since he was detained in July 2014.
 
“Jason is a journalist, and it is in the nature of his profession to gain access to information and publish” it, Ahsan said in a statement about the case. “My client, however, has never had any direct or indirect access to classified information to share with anyone.”
 
Rezaian and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, were detained in late July 2014. But Salehi was released on bail during the first week of October.
 
On the margins of nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. officials have repeatedly raised Rezaian’s case along with the status of three other Americans also detained or missing in Iran. “We raise it in every round of meetings we have,” State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf told the press on April 21. Saeed Abedini has been held for two and a half years on charges related to his religious beliefs. Amir Hekmati has been imprisoned on espionage charges for more than three and a half years. And Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island more than eight years ago.
 
The following are excerpted remarks by U.S. officials and members of Congress on the case.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
MR. EARNEST: Let me start by saying that while the United States is not aware of any official announcement yet from any Iranian judicial authorities, we have seen reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage and other security-related charges.  If the reports are true, these charges are absurd, should be immediately dismissed, and Jason should be freed immediately so he can return home to his family.  So we’re going to wait until we see some more official announcement from Iranian judicial authorities before we comment further on this case. 
 
More generally, let me repeat something that I said before, which is that the ongoing effort to try to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy will not, if it succeeds, resolve the wide range of other concerns we have about Iranian behavior.  I mentioned earlier in response to Nedra’s question our ongoing concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including shipping arms to the Houthis, for example.  We continue to be concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Iran’s language that currently emanates from their leadership that threatens our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.  And we continue to  have concerns about Mr. Rezaian and other Americans who are being unjustly detained in Iran.
 
One thing that we have done, Mike, that you know, in the context of the talks is raised on the sidelines of those talks our concern about the status of these American citizens.  And we’re going to continue to press that case as we move forward here.
 
QUESTION: Josh, on the Jason Rezaian case, why can’t you just say to the Iranians that as a condition of making this deal final, you’ve got to free Jason Rezaian?  I understand you’re going to resolve all of your issues with Iran, like supporting terrorism throughout the region -- all of those issues that are very complicated perhaps; some would argue maybe not.  But here you have one case of an American who’s been held prisoner since July of last year, now brought up on what you just said were absurd charges.  Why not say, look, we’re not going to sign a deal until you let him go?

MR. EARNEST: The reason for that, Jon, simply is that the effort to build the international community’s strong support for a diplomatic resolution, or a diplomatic agreement that would shut down every pathway that Iran has to a nuclear weapon is extraordinarily complicated.  And so we’re trying to focus on these issues one at a time.  And that’s why you continue to see regular, consistent and pretty forceful statements from the United States that these Americans should be released, while at the same time we are working with our P5+1 partners and other countries around the world to compel Iran to sign on to the dotted line and agree to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, and cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.
—April 20, 2015 during a press briefing 
 
QUESTION: Josh, coming back to another category of egregious behavior by Iran, we talked about Jason Rezaian yesterday.
… 
I understand -- we’ve been over this many times -- you're not going to make the release of these Americans a condition for having a final deal on the nuclear matter, but is the administration willing to impose some serious consequences on the Iranian government for taking these Americans under what appear to be specious charges?
 
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to speculate about any possible future action, but I will say something that's similar to what I said before, which is that we continue to be very concerned about the unjust detention of a number of Americans inside of Iran.  We have made those concerns known in quite public fashion.  We’ve also made those concerns known privately, directly with the Iranian leadership.  As recently as a month or two ago, Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of his nuclear negotiations with his Iranian counterpart raised his concerns about this unjust detention.
So we’ve made very clear to the Iranians that we're concerned about the treatment of Americans inside of Iran, and that this continues to be a high priority for U.S. foreign policy.
—April 21, 2015 during a press briefing 
 
State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
 
QUESTION:  I’m wondering if you have any thoughts/reaction to the charging of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian by Iran. And then I’d like to stay on Iran for a little bit.
 
MS HARF: So we are still not aware of any official announcement yet from Iranian judicial authorities. I understand these reports are coming from his lawyer. We have seen the reports, of course, from his lawyer and others that he has been charged with espionage and other security-related charges. If the reports are true, these charges are, as we’ve said in the past, patently absurd. He should immediately be freed so he can return to his family. The charges should immediately be dismissed. But again, no confirmation officially from Iranian judicial authorities yet.
 
QUESTION: Quick one on this one. Is it possible for him to renounce his Iranian citizenship? Do you know anything about that?
 
MS HARF: I don’t know, Said. But regardless of that specific fact, and I just don’t know the answers there, these charges that he’s allegedly been charged with are just absurd as I said and he should be freed immediately.
 
QUESTION: The other thing having to do with Iran – I realize that these are separate, the issue of the Americans detained – are separate from the nuclear talks. Although, as you and others have said as does come up – this issue does come up on the –
 
MS HARF: We always raise it in every round. That’s correct.
 
QUESTION: So I’m wondering: Does this give you any pause about going full-throttle ahead with the negotiations?
 
MS HARF: They really are separate issues.
 
QUESTION: Well, but they had been brought up on the –
 
MS HARF: On the sidelines. But not related to the nuclear issue, just because we were all in the same place.
 
It doesn’t make us not want to get this resolved diplomatically any less than we already do. We clearly believe this is important.
 
QUESTION: Understood, but is this something that now will be – that you will make the – you, meaning the Administration – will make a point of raising, since you say that these charges are –
 
MS HARF: Not as part of the nuclear talks. These are separate issues. We will continue raising his case and the other two Americans who were detained – and Robert Levinson who’s missing – we’ll continue raising them but they are not – their fate and the outcome of these cases should in no way be tied to the nuclear issue.
 
—April 21, 2015 during a State Department press briefing
 
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) 
 
“It appears that Mr. Rezaian is being persecuted because of his profession as a reporter and his American citizenship. Freedom of press is a right that should be guaranteed to all individuals regardless of their nationality. We urge the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Rezaian.  
 
“This case is just the latest example of the true nature of the Iranian regime. The Obama Administration should demand Mr. Rezaian’s immediate release along with all other Americans wrongfully imprisoned in Iran prior to concluding a nuclear deal with this brutal regime.”
—April 20, 2015 in a statement
 
Congressman Dan Kildee (R-MI)
 
“Unfortunately, Iran has a long history of imprisoning Americans on false charges. This includes innocent Americans like my constituent, Amir Hekmati, an American citizen and U.S. Marine who continues to be held as a political prisoner after being arrested on espionage charges. Today’s charges against Jason Rezaian, and similar charges previously imposed on Amir, are unequivocally untrue.
 
“Iran has repeatedly said it wants to rejoin the global community. Yet I simply cannot fathom how this is possible if they continue to hold American political prisoners under false pretenses.”
—April 20, 2015 in a statement 
 

Zarif Announces Peace Plan for Yemen

On April 14, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced a peace plan to resolve the conflict in Yemen at a press conference in Madrid. His four-point proposal includes an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, dialogue among Yemeni factions, and establishing a “broad-based” Yemeni government inclusive of all factions. Zarif also reiterated his opposition to the Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis, claiming that airstrikes “are simply not the answer.” Saudi military spokesperson Ahmed Asiri responded by calling on Iran to stop arming Houthi rebels.

The following are excerpted remarks from Iranian, Saudi, Yemeni, and U.S. officials on Zarif's proposed peace plan.
 
Iran
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
 
“[Air strikes] are simply not the answer... All operations should end on land and from the air.”
 
“This issue should be resolved by the Yemenis... Iran and Saudi Arabia need to talk but we cannot talk to determine the future of Yemen.”
April 14, 2015, according to the press
 
Saudi Arabia

Ambassador to the United States Adel bin Ahmed al Jubair
 
"Iran has no role to play in Yemen...Iran, last time I checked, does not have a border with Yemen."
April 15, 2015, according to the press
 
Military Spokesperson Brig Gen Ahmed Asiri
 
"The Iranian Foreign Minister knows which door to knock if there is a political proposal."
 
"Iranians have had a role in establishing and arming this militia; however one thing the Iranians can do is to stop their support of this militia, and they will receive the appropriate response to their political proposal."
April 15, 2015, according to the press
 
Yemen
 
Vice President Khaled Bahah
 
"No proposal can be accepted before the war in Aden is stopped."
April 16, 2015, in a press conference
 
"We haven't received any official proposals."
 
"Any initiative must be tied to sound intentions and ending the war machine."
 
United States

State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
 
"Obviously, Iran plays a role here given their support for the Houthi.  And I think what would be most helpful from the Iranian side at this point is to respect this newly imposed UN arms embargo that was just passed today and stop supporting the Houthi.  So broadly speaking, of course, we need to get back to the political dialogue, that that’s always what we said the way forward is.  So whatever Iran can do to push the Houthi to do that obviously is the direction we need to go in, and want to make sure going forward now that all countries understand what their obligations and responsibilities under this new UNSCR that, again, was just passed today.  So I know those are conversations at the UN that are happening right now.”
April 14, 2015, according to the press
 

 

Congress Acts: White House Reacts to Corker Bill

U.S. administration officials have indicated that President Obama would be willing to sign legislation that would give Congress the ability to approve or disapprove of a nuclear deal. The White House initially threatened to veto the Corker-Menendez bill, arguing that curbing the president’s powers could negatively impact negotiations. But after lawmakers made several changes, including shortening the review period for a final nuclear deal, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that "enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it.”

The “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” coauthored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) must still be passed in the full Senate and House of Representatives before becoming law. The following are excerpted remarks by U.S. officials.

 

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
“Despite the things about it that we don’t like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it.”
—April 15, 2015, according to the press
 
“If we arrived at a place where the bill that has passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support essentially is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions and not the decision about whether or not to enter into the agreement, that would certainly resolve some of the concerns we’ve expressed about the authority that is exercised by the President of the United States to conduct foreign policy.
 
The second thing is, as you pointed out, the reports indicate that the link to this terrorism certification measure has been removed.  That certainly would be consistent with the objections that we raised earlier.  Shortening the review period is obviously an important part of this.  We wouldn’t want an unnecessarily -- or at least an unreasonable delay when it comes to implementing the agreement.
 
The other thing that we would want members of the committee in bipartisan fashion to confirm is that this piece of legislation would be the one and only mechanism for codifying precisely what the appropriate congressional oversight is into this matter, and to be specific about the way that Congress would vote on the sanctions that Congress put into place.
 
And that bipartisan agreement is critical to making sure, frankly, that there isn’t an untoward effort to insert a different provision into some sort of must-pass piece of legislation that could really gum up the works here.  So getting bipartisan agreement on that is important.
 
And then, finally, if we could clarify Congress’s role by taking all of these steps -- shortening the review period, being clear about what it is that they're voting on, making clear that this is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions -- that that would actually achieve, at least in part, what the President has established as the priority here, which is to ensure that our negotiators have the time and space that's necessary to reach an agreement -- if one can be reached -- by the end of June.  And if presented with a compromise along the lines that I just laid out here, that would be the kind of compromise the President would be willing to sign.
—April 14, 2015, in a press briefing
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
“Yesterday there was a compromise reached in Washington regarding congressional input. We are confident about our ability for the president to negotiate an agreement and to do so with the ability to make the world safer.”
—April 15, 2015, according to the press

 

Congress Acts: Iran Reacts to Corker Bill

Iranian officials have dismissed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s approval of a bill that would give Congress the ability to approve or disapprove of a nuclear deal. “What the U.S. Senate, Congress and others say is not our problem,” President Hassan Rouhani said on April 15. In a televised speech, he also warned that without an “end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement” with the world’s six major powers.

The “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” coauthored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) must still be passed in the full Senate and House of Representatives before becoming law. The following are excerpted remarks by Iranian officials.
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
“What the U.S. Senate, Congress and others say is not our problem. We want mutual respect ... We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress.”
 
“If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement. The end of these negotiations and a signed deal must include a declaration of cancelling the oppressive sanctions on the great nation of Iran.”
 

—April 15, 2015 in a televised speech
 
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
 
“That [legislation] is an issue related to their domestic affairs. We are dealing with the American government.”
—April 15, 2015 in a press conference

 

Iran Nuclear Plan: Khamenei, Iran React

The following are excerpted statements by Iranian officials on the nuclear framework that was announced by the world’s six major powers and Iran on April 2.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“Some people would ask why Leader has not yet taken a position on the recent nuclear statement; I would tell them there is no place for taking position at all, since our nuclear negotiators as well as the government say nothing special has happened and no binding agreement has been signed by the two sides.”

 
“If asked about my position about the negotiations, I would say neither I support nor I oppose the negotiations, since nothing special has happened yet; the crux of the matter and which is the most troublesome part as well is when it comes to painful details, which would push the negotiators, country, and the nation to the wall.”
 
 
“If anyone said the Leader opposed nuclear deal, it is an inaccuracy; I support a deal which secures our national interests and rights; however, I have said before that no deal is better than a bad deal, since it is preferred to a deal which violates the national rights and glory and denigrates our people.”
 
“I would clearly address here an ambiguity: Sometimes it is said that Leader oversees the details of the negotiations; this is also an inaccuracy. The overall framework of the affairs is communicated to the President and, in some cases, to the foreign minister; however, the details are up to them.”
 
 
“I have never been optimistic about the US; this pessimism has not been based on a whim; rather, it is years of experience which indicates that we should be pessimistic about the US intentions.”
 
“Our concerns and mistrust of the US are illustrated with the recent conduct of the White House, when it prepared a statement only two hours after the Lausanne joint statement, which was a distorted, politically motivated statement, and one which should not be trusted.”
 
 
“The Leader’s words addressed to the nation are based on mutual trust and as people trust me, I also trust the nation; here, I would have a recommendation to our officials; our nuclear negotiators and other authorities should sit with the prominent critics of the nuclear statement to find out what they say and use in their words what would be effective in the negotiations process…I stress that negotiations with the US would not go beyond the nuclear issue; and if they continue to deviate from the straight path, our reaction would be mistrust of them which is informed by our experience of their conduct.”
 
 
“I strongly insist that our officials not underestimate our current nuclear achievements; the nuclear industry is a necessity for our country; that some of the so-called intellectuals object that ‘why we would need nuclear industry?’ I believe, is deceiving the public.”
 


President Hassan Rouhani

 
“This will open a new chapter in cooperation with the world…
 
All of us should be after an agreement based on a win-win approach, common respect and common goals. Some think we should either fight with the world or give in to the powers. We believe there is a third option – a solution. We can cooperate with the world…
 
If others respect us, they will receive the same respect from our side. There should be respect in order to receive respect. Sanctions and pressures are worthless. This indicates that the administration’s approach has been the right one...
 
The objective that we’ve achieved today has been due to our unity and solidarity. We have consulted with all the officials and authorities and always benefitted from the guidelines of the leader of the revolution. He has generously provided us with the guidelines. I deem it necessary here to appreciate the leader and the head of the three branches of government…In the next step we need their support… “
—April 3, 2015 in a speech
 
 
“We have never negotiated the suspension of sanctions and if it were the case, there would be no agreement.”
 
“The world knows that there is no way but to [reach] agreement and understanding with Iran because the great, courageous and resistant Iranian people have stood by their ideals despite hardships.”
 
The world has come to the realization that Iran will not “yield to pressure and sanctions.”
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has never sought to invade any country…but we will defend ourselves against anybody who intends to encroach upon the people’s rights.”
—April 5, 2015 in a meeting with a group of senior officials
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 

Good evening ladies and gentleman. Let me again thank you all for having followed our work. We’ve done significant work. If we look back at recent history, and if we succeed, we’ve taken a major step, but we’re still some time away from reaching where we want to be. If we succeed, this will be one of the few cases where an issue is resolved through diplomatic means, an issue of significance. And that would require an approach that would concentrate on a non-zero sum outcome, a win-win outcome. And that was my country’s approach to this from the very beginning.

We appreciate the work that every delegation has put to this. We have done significant work. We have made achievements. We have made progress. We have decided to take steps for a period of time to assure who had concerns, which we thought those concerns were misplaced anyway, that our program is exclusively peaceful, has always been and will always remain exclusively peaceful. Those--None of those measures include closing any of our facilities. The proud people off Iran would never accept that. Our facilities will continue. We will continue enriching. We will continue research and development. Our heavy water reactor will be modernized and we will continue the Fordo facility. We will have, as you will hear, centrifuges installed in Fordo but not enriching. We will remain committed to the agreement and we will not enrich in Fordo. We will continue, we will focus our enrichment in Natanz. And we will do other activities while keeping our centrifuges in Fordo for a time that we have agreed.   
 
At the same time, all Security Council resolutions will be terminated. All U.S. nuclear-related secondary sanctions as well as E.U. sanctions will be terminated -- while the term of art for each case may be terminate implementation or cease implementation or terminate application, whatever the word may be, so that people will not get into trouble with the legal institutions. But the effect of which will be, when we implement our measures, there won't be no sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And that, I think, would be a major step forward. We have stopped a cycle that was not in the interest of anybody. Not in the interest of non-proliferation and not in the interest of anybody to one that will, in fact, be a gain for all parties concerned. And I hope that at the end of this process we will all show that true dialogue and engagement with dignity we can, in fact, resolve problems, open new horizons and move forward.
—April 2, 2015 at a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland

 

 

—April 4, 2015 in an interview on national television
 
“I have told the western diplomats that Iran is capable of making an atom bomb anytime it wills, but the one and only fact that has stopped us from doing so is Ayatollah Khamenei’s Fatwa (an Islamic legal pronouncement) and not the sanctions and pressures levied at the country."
—April 7, 2015 in a briefing to parliament
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi
 
“[T]he language of threat and sanctions is not acceptable to us and the world has come to the conclusion that no threat and sanctions will work on the Iranian nation.”
“Iran’s nuclear program, including enrichment [activities], has been recognized in the recent statement in Lausanne and it is not seen as a threat anymore.”
—April 3, 2015 in a televised interview according to Press TV
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Mortea Sarmadi
 
“We have agreed on certain limitations which will not leave any impact on the normal course of our nuclear program; we have only excluded those parts that could cause concern in the international community. We have stopped 20%-grade uranium enrichment since we don’t need it for now.”
—April 6, 2015 during a visit to Tunisia via Anadolu news agency and Fars News
 
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi
 
“We have agreed that Iran must join an international consortium so that the nuclear waste which poses a great environmental risk to Iran and the world as a whole to be safely transported out of the country."
—April 7, 2015 in a briefing to parliament

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari
 
“The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps thanks the diplomacy machine for its sincere efforts and for its insistence on the red lines of the establishment.
 
“But, we are certain, as the esteemed president and foreign minister and members of the negotiating team have said the right to enrich uranium and maintain nuclear research and development and have all relevant sanctions lifted are the central demands of the Iranian people.
 
“In light of the idea of harmony and unanimity between the public and government, the Iranian people will support the diplomatic front as far as the nuclear issue is concerned and won’t allow the misleading interpretations of the [Lausanne] statement, particularly by the Americans, to dent the existing trust between them and their government.”
—April 7, 2015 in a meeting with IRGC commanders (translation via Iran Front Page)
 
Chairman of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi
 
“The Americans have acknowledged this (right) and the US president in his statement officially announced that they endorse Iran's enrichment.

“What Iran wanted eventually took place despite the plans proposed by the U.S., China and Russia; the Arak Heavy Water Reactor will continue to produce plutonium."
—April 5, 2015 in a statement
 
Basij Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi
 
“The comments made after the Lausanne negotiations once again showed the United States’ strong grudge against the Iranians and proved that the US officials are liars and untrustworthy.
 
“After 9 days of breathtaking nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, the US president and other officials now deny the principal agreements and present opposing interpretations.
 
“They cite Iran’s undertakings, but fabricate and deny the commitments that they have made to the Iranian delegation.
 
“The Americans do not want to lose their main pressure leverage, and they are in a rush to strike a deal because inefficiency of the sanctions is growing increasingly evident, and in the near future no one would comply with them.”
—April 6, 2015 in an address to Basij militia personnel
 
Kazzem Jalili, head of Parliament’s Research Center
 
“We should be concerned about the attitude of the westerners because the wall of mistrust has grown so tall inside Iran; we remember the Sa’adabad agreement, the modal plan [of action between Iran and the IAEA] and the like that all show the other side has not fulfilled its commitment.”
 
“We should not pay heed to the Western propaganda … ; rather we should only show care for the written text.”
—April 5, 2015 to reporters
 
Member of Parliament Ali Motahari
 
The deal framework represents a “new stage in the life of the Islamic Revolution, and I hope that the signing of the final deal will be in the interests of the people of Iran, and brings about economic prosperity.”
—April 2015 according to the press
 
Member of Parliament Gholam-Ali Jafarzade
 
""The AEOI chief told the closed-door session of the parliament today that the Islamic Republic of Iran has acquired such a (high level of) power in the nuclear technology that this very power has forced the western side to see no way out but sitting to the negotiating table with Iran."

—April 7, 2015 according to the press

Photo credit: President.ir

 

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