United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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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Obama on Nowruz: New U.S.-Iran Relationship Possible

            On March 18, President Obama said there could be a “new relationship” with Iran if it meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program. But he noted that “overcoming decades of mistrust” would be difficult in a videotaped statement for Nowruz. The Persian New Year marks the beginning of spring and begins on March 20.

            Obama reiterated the U.S. preference to solve the nuclear issue peacefully and diplomatically. He warned that Iran’s isolation is not good for its people or the world. “Every day that you are cut off from us is a day we’re not working together, building together, innovating together—and building a future of peace and prosperity that is at the heart of this holiday,” he said. The following is the taped statement, including a full transcript.

 

            Dorood.  As you and your families come together to celebrate Nowruz, I want to extend my best wishes on this new spring and new year.  Around the world, and here in the United States, you are gathering at the Nowruz table—to give thanks for loved ones, reflect on your blessings and welcome all the possibilities of a new season.
 
            As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
 
            I have had no illusions about the difficulty of overcoming decades of mistrust.  It will take a serious and sustained effort to resolve the many differences between Iran and the United States.   This includes the world’s serious and growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond.

            Iran’s leaders say that their nuclear program is for medical research and electricity.  To date, however, they have been unable to convince the international community that their nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes.  That’s why the world is united in its resolve to address this issue and why Iran is now so isolated.  The people of Iran have paid a high and unnecessary price because of your leaders’ unwillingness to address this issue.
 
            As I’ve said all along, the United States prefers to resolve this matter peacefully, diplomatically.  Indeed, if—as Iran’s leaders say—their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution.  It’s a solution that would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while resolving once and for all the serious questions that the world has about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program.
 
            The United States, alongside the rest of the international community, is ready to reach such a solution.  Now is the time for the Iranian government to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions and work toward an enduring, long-term settlement of the nuclear issue.
 
            Finding a solution will be no easy task.  But if we can, the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States.  Whereas if the Iranian government continues down its current path, it will only further isolate Iran.  This is the choice now before Iran’s leaders.
 
            I hope they choose a better path—for the sake of the Iranian people and for the sake of the world.  Because there’s no good reason for Iranians to be denied the opportunities enjoyed by people in other countries, just as Iranians deserve the same freedoms and rights as people everywhere.
 
            Iran’s isolation isn’t good for the world either.  Just as your forbearers enriched the arts and sciences throughout history, all nations would benefit from the talents and creativity of the Iranian people, especially your young people.  Every day that you are cut off from us is a day we’re not working together, building together, innovating together—and building a future of peace and prosperity that is at the heart of this holiday. 
 
            As you gather with family and friends this Nowruz, many of you will turn to the poet Hafez who wrote: “Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering.”
 
            As a new spring begins, I remain hopeful that our two countries can move beyond tension.  And I will continue to work toward a new day between our nations that bears the fruit of friendship and peace.
 
            Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma  Mobarak.
 

Infographic: Internet Censorship

            The following infographic by the University of Pennsylvania’s Iran Media Program maps the diverse bodies involved in censoring the Internet. About 20 to 30 percent of Iranian users rely on illegal tools to bypass the national filter, according to government estimates. Click here to read about Iran's recent move to block virtual private networks, used by millions to access banned websites such as Facebook.

Click here for a pdf version.

 

Obama: Iran Over A Year Away From Nuke

            On March 13, President Obama said “it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon,” in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television. “But obviously we don’t want to cut it too close.” Obama noted that the United States “obviously has significant capabilities,” while emphasizing his preference for a diplomatic solution. Obama said Iran now recognizes the “severe cost” to continue on its current path. But it has yet to make “a fundamental decision to get right with the international community.” The following is a video of the interview broadcast on March 14, with excerpts below. The interview will start shortly after the commercial.

            “Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don't want to cut it too close…”
 
            “So when I'm consulting with Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] as I have over the last several years on this issue, my message to him will be the same as before: If we can resolve it diplomatically that is a more lasting solution. But if not I continue to keep all options on the table.”
 
            “What I have also said is that there is a window, not an infinite period of time, but a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically and it is in all of our interests…”
 
            “They (Iran) are not yet at the point, I think, where they have made a fundamental decision to get right with the international community ... I do think they are recognizing that there is a severe cost to continue on the path they are on and that there is another door open...”
 
            “A nuclear Iran would be “dangerous for the world. It would be dangerous for U.S. national security interests...”
 
            “When I say that all options are on the table, all options are on the table...”
 
            “The United States obviously has significant capabilities but our goal here is to make sure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or could trigger an arms race in the region…”

 

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