United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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…”

 

Larijani: West Should Sell Uranium to Iran

            On March 12, Iran’s Human Rights Council Secretary Mohammad Javad Larijani said that there is no need to produce enriched uranium if the West sells it to Iran. Larijani, a key advisor to the supreme leader, suggested that Iran “think about new models” for approaching the United States. “Hostility” between the two countries needs management, he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

            Larijani also commented on the February talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Larijani said he is “a bit more cautious” than Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who was optimistic about prospects for progress.
 
            Amanpour asked Larijani about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent corruption allegations against his family. “This is part of our democratic structure…we have political rivalry,” he answered. “[U]nfortunately it’s common in the democratic world…this is not alarming.” There are five Larijani brothers, and two head the legislative and judicial branches of Iran’s government. The following are excerpts from CNN’s interview with Larijani.
 
Nuclear Program and Negotiations
            “They [Western countries] should sell it to us. If we can buy it like 15 years ago, we bought it some Argentina, then there is no need to produce it…”
            “…[W]e can upgrade our generators and upgrade our centrifuge devices and other techniques, this is an honest-to- God right. It could be done; it is done under NPT provisions.”
            “…[W]hat level of enrichment that we are entitled to do, this is another issue that also covered by NPT. So if the Western community wants Iran to stop development of this capability, this is -- this is very bad request…”
            “… But if they [Western countries] are concerned about moving in the direction of producing nuclear armament, this is a fantastic concern we are questioning with them. We are ready to accept all mechanisms under [the] NPT to supervise this direction of our development.”
            “I would like to share the [optimistic] view of Minister Salehi, but I'm a bit more cautious… They [the world’s six major powers] always asking the utmost
 
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “Dialogue is one of the part and parcels of this modality of interaction. Perhaps in my view, United States wants Iran to accept this leadership in the -- in the [world] affair[s] or regional affair[s]. But I think this is a very bad request”
            “But any initiative, leading any initiative is fantastic. So the basic is not that we are refraining or shying away from talking with the United States. The issue is that how we can restructure this relation after 35 years of hostility and, right now, unfortunately, it's at the peak of that.”
            “Well, my recommendation -- let me put it this way -- first will be toward the United States government that let us design in the new models of relation with Iran, acknowledging Iran what it is. We do not want to be more than what we are. And the line of hostility was a grand failure, not only for United States' interests in Iran, also in the region.”
            “For the Iranian side, my recommendation to the diplomatic machinery is that -- I mean, the -- also we should think about new models approach, even if United States considered an active hostile state, hostility needs also management.”
 
Political Infighting
            “… I mean, this is part of our democratic structure. Yes, we have political rivalry. And the use of this kind of technique, while I don't think it is ethical, but unfortunately it's common in the democratic world.”
            “Yes, there is competition; as you mentioned, we are a famous family in Iran and you can -- you can have similar to this kind of phenomenon in the United States and France and other places. I do not stipulate and do not accept this way of conduct anywhere with any adversary. But I think this is not alarming…”
 
Click here for the full transcript.
 

U.S. Sanctions Secret Iranian Oil Network

            On March 14, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a Greek businessman and 14 companies for helping Iran evade international oil sanctions. Dr. Dimitris Cambis used front companies and Iranian funds to purchase oil tankers and disguise the Iranian origin of crude oil. The vessels involved were capable of transporting about $200 million worth of oil per shipment. “Today we are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.

            The U.S. State Department concurrently imposed sanctions on two Iranian companies for providing insurance or reinsurance to the National Iranian Tanker Company. “These sanctions make clear the risks involved in working on behalf of certain Iranian entities, and will further hamper Iran’s ability to circumvent sanctions,” according to a statement by Spokesperson Victoria Nuland. The State Department took action based on the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.
 
            Iranian oil exports actually increased in February, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. They rose to 1.28 million barrels a day from 1.13 million barrels a day in January. New U.S. sanctions imposed on February 6 may not have had an immediate impact. The following are excerpts from statements by the Treasury and the State Department.
 
            The U.S. Department of the Treasury today imposed sanctions on a Greek businessman, Dr. Dimitris Cambis, who helped Iran evade international oil sanctions. Through several of his front companies, Cambis used Iranian funds to purchase oil tankers and disguised the Iranian origin of oil transported on these vessels. Cambis, and all of the companies listed today, have been identified as acting on behalf of the Government of Iran and are subject to sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13599, which blocks the property of the Government of Iran. The Department of State is taking concurrent action today against Cambis under the Iran Sanctions Act as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA).
 
            “Today we are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “We will continue to expose deceptive Iranian practices, and to sanction those individuals and entities who participate in these schemes.”
 
Click here for the full text.
 
Statement by U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland
 
            Today, the United States imposed sanctions on Greek national Dr. Dimitris Cambis and Impire Shipping for disguising the Iranian origin of crude oil by concealing the control of a vessel by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).  The United States also imposed sanctions on Kish Protection and Indemnity Club (Kish P&I), and Bimeh Markazi-Central Insurance of Iran (CII) for providing insurance or reinsurance to NITC.  The Department of State is acting under the Iran Sanctions Act, as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), and the TRA. The United States imposed a visa ban on the corporate officers of Impire Shipping, Kish P&I, and CII identified as:
 
Impire Shipping:
·         Dimitris Cambis -President
 
Kish P & I:
·         Mohammad Reza Mohammadi Banaei – Managing Director
 
CII:
·         Seyed Mohammad Karimi – President
·         Rahim Mosaddegh – Vice President
·         Mina Sadigh Noohi – Vice President
·         Esmaeil Mahdavi Nia – Vice President
·         Seyed Morteza Hasani Aghda – Superintendent
 
            These sanctions make clear the risks involved in working on behalf of certain Iranian entities, and will further hamper Iran’s ability to circumvent sanctions. Iran is failing to meet its international nuclear obligations, and as a result there has been an unprecedented international sanctions effort aimed at convincing Iran to change its behavior.  The sanctions announced today represent an important step toward that goal.
 
            Today’s sanctions action sends a clear message:  the United States will act resolutely against attempts to circumvent U.S. sanctions.  Moreover, any business that continues to support Iran’s energy sector, enable the movement of its oil tankers or facilitate Iran’s efforts to evade U.S. sanctions could face serious consequences.

Click here for the full text.
 

Gulf III: Iran’s Power in the Sea Lanes

Michael Connell

What is the record of interaction between the U.S. and Iranian navies in the Persian Gulf?
 
            The United States and Iran have never officially been at war, but several recent incidents between the U.S. and Iranian navies have had the potential to escalate into armed confrontations. In January 2012, three Revolutionary Guards speed boats harassed the USS New Orleans. The small craft came within 500 yards of the amphibious transport ship as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, Iranian small boats also harassed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak, operating east of Kuwait City.
 
      Most of the close encounters involved the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is distinct from the conventional Iranian Navy. In contrast, U.S. Navy commanders routinely say their interactions with the regular Iranian Navy are professional.
 
      The U.S. and Iranian navies had several hostile encounters in the 1980s. Iranian attacks on commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf triggered armed exchanges between their navies during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The United States responded in Operations Nimble Archer (October 1987) and Praying Mantis (April 1988).
 
What types of situations could spark a larger conflict?
 
            The United States and Iran are unlikely to initiate hostilities in the Gulf waters without provocation. But a minor incident between the U.S. and Iranian navies could flare into a major encounter. The other main danger is an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, which could pull the United States into a wider conflict.
 
            If Israel strikes, the Iranians have pledged to retaliate by attacking U.S. forces in the region. Whether they would actually do so is debatable. The Iranians could simply be posturing to deter Israel and the United States. Regardless, the United States is likely to maintain a robust presence in the region to deter an Iranian attack or — should that fail — to respond militarily.
 
How might such a conflict be diffused?
 
            Various options have been proposed that could mitigate the danger of an unintended escalation after a maritime incident in the Gulf, beyond routine bridge-to-bridge communications. These include:
 
· Creation of common “rules of the road” to govern interactions between the U.S. and Iranian navies, something akin to the Incident at Sea (INCSEA) arrangement that the U.S. and Soviet navies had during the Cold War,
· Establishing a direct hotline between U.S. and Iranian commanders in the Gulf. In late 2011, military officials in Washington broached this idea, but Iranian regular and IRGC Navy commanders rejected it.
 
How are Iran’s naval forces deployed in the Gulf?
 
            Iran has two independent naval forces with parallel chains of command. The conventional navy is called the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN). The second is the naval wing of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGCN). The two navies have overlapping functions and areas of responsibility, but they are distinct in terms of how they are trained and equipped— and more importantly also in how they fight.
 
      The backbone of the regular navy’s inventory consists of larger surface ships, including frigates and corvettes, and submarines. With its longer range surface assets, the IRIN is generally considered to be a conventional “green water” navy. It operates at a regional level, mainly in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman but also as far afield as the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
 
      The Revolutionary Guards naval force has a large inventory of small fast attack craft, and specializes in asymmetric, hit-and-run tactics. It is more akin to a guerrilla force at sea. Both navies maintain large arsenals of coastal defense and anti-ship cruise missiles and mines.
 
            In 2007, the two navies underwent a major reorganization of their responsibilities, with the IRGCN assuming control over operations in the Persian Gulf and the IRIN mainly focusing its efforts outside the Gulf. Both fleets are organized on geographic lines, with district commands along Iran’s southern and northern littorals.
 
            The first naval district for both commands is co-located in Bandar Abbas, near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting that both services have overlapping responsibilities in this strategically significant area. Recently, the Revolutionary Guards Navy set up an additional district command in Bandar Lengeh that is responsible for defending Iran’s numerous islands in the Gulf.
 
How do Iranian naval capabilities compare to U.S. naval capabilities?
 
            Iran’s military leaders recognize that the United States is a technologically superior adversary and that Iranian naval forces would suffer major losses in any conventional conflict. For this reason, they have developed an asymmetric strategy that plays to Iran’s strengths while taking advantage of their adversaries’ weaknesses, including the U.S. aversion to casualties.
 
            Geography plays a central role in this regard. The confined operating space in the Gulf and especially the narrow Strait of Hormuz complicates U.S. operations and mitigates some of the U.S. Navy’s technological advantages. In a conflict, Iran’s naval forces would seek to overwhelm their adversaries’ defenses with mines, coastal defense cruise missiles, and swarms of small boats. Submarines and frigates would form the outer ring of Iran’s layered defense strategy.
 
            While the U.S. Navy would almost certainly prevail in an extended conflict, Iran’s naval forces would likely seek to inflict enough casualties to raise the cost of victory to an unpalatable level.
 
Iran held a wide-ranging naval exercise in December 2012. What new capabilities did Iran demonstrate — and what was its message to its neighbors and the United States? 
 
            Velayat 91, a combined Iranian Navy and Air Force exercise, featured test launches of a variety of missile systems as well as naval and amphibious maneuvers. The extensive testing of anti-ship cruise missiles was particularly noteworthy. So were the testing of the new Ra’d air defense missile — an “optimized” version of the Russian S-200 — and several subsurface warfare drills. Iranian maneuvers also featured the IRIN’s new, domestically produced Tondar hovercraft.
 
            According to official statements, the exercise was intended to “send a message of friendship to neighboring countries.” But its primary purpose was undoubtedly to deter the United States and its allies from attacking Iran. Many of the weapons systems and platforms featured in the exercise play an important role in Iran’s anti-access, area denial strategy.

Read Gulf I: Iran's Power in the Air

Read Gulf II: Timeline of U.S-Iran Encounters
 
 
Michael Connell is director of Iranian Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, a non-profit institution that conducts research and analysis in Washington D.C.
 
Photo Credit: Suspected small craft of the IRGCN 080106-N-0000X-005.jpg by Navy.mil on Jan. 6, 2008
 
Department of Defense photo of Kilo-class submarine via Wikimedia Commons
 
 
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
 
 
 

Gulf II: Timeline of U.S.-Iran Encounters

Michael Connell
 

         Iranian and U.S. naval forces have had sporadic and sometimes hostile interactions since the 1980s.                 

·May 13, 1984: After repeated Iraqi attacks on Iranian shipping and refining facilities, Iran retaliated with attacks on neutral shipping. The tit-for-tat exchanges initiated the so-called Tanker War. The first vessel struck by Iran was the Kuwaiti tanker Umm Casbah. The United States responded by bolstering the capabilities of its Arab allies in the Gulf and increasing its own military presence in the region. Shortly afterward, Speaker of Parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared, “Either the Persian Gulf will be safe for all or no one.”
 
·July 24, 1987: The United States began to reflag and escort Kuwaiti tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks. The operation, codenamed “Ernest Will,” was the largest of its kind since World War II. On the first escort mission, the Kuwaiti tanker al Rekkah, reflagged as the MV Bridgeton, struck an Iranian mine, suffering minor damage.
 
·Sept. 19, 1987: U.S. forces attacked and captured the Iranian logistical vessel Iran Ajr ( above), after it was caught dropping mines in the Persian Gulf.
 
·Oct. 19, 1987: U.S. naval forces destroyed two Iranian oil platforms in the Rostam Oil Field. The operation—codenamed “Nimble Archer”—was in retaliation for an Iranian attack on the Kuwaiti-owned, U.S.-flagged tanker, the MV Sea Island City.
 
·April 14, 1988: The U.S. frigate Samuel B. Roberts, which was escorting tankers in the Gulf, struck an Iranian mine. It suffered extensive damage. U.S. forces retaliated with Operation Praying Mantis, destroying two Iranian oil platforms—both of which were believed to be important Revolutionary Guards Navy staging bases—and disabling or sinking several Iranian regular navy surface assets.
 
·July 3, 1988: The USS Vincennes, a Navy guided missile cruiser, shot down Iran Air Flight 655, bound from Bandar Abbas to Dubai, with the loss of all 290 of its passengers and crew. According to U.S. officials, the crew of the Vincennes, who were operating in a warzone, mistook the airliner for a hostile Iranian aircraft. Tehran claimed that the downing was deliberate.
 
·June 21, 2004: IRGC naval forces captured six British Royal Navy sailors and two Royal Marines in the disputed waters of the Shatt al-Arab, along the southern boundary between Iran and Iraq. Tehran claimed that the British had strayed into Iranian waters. The captured sailors and marines were released following negotiations. The British personnel had been operating as part of a U.S.-led naval coalition in the Gulf.
 
·March 23, 2007: Revolutionary Guard Navy forces seized 15 British Royal Navy personnel while the latter conducted a routine boarding of merchant vessels off the coast between Iraq and Iran. Britain claimed its personnel were operating in Iraqi territorial waters. But the Iranians claimed the British had illegally entered their territorial waters. The British personnel were released after 13 days.
 
·Jan. 6, 2008: Five high-speed Revolutionary Guard boats engaged in aggressive maneuvering against three U.S. vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. During the incident, one of the small boats placed what appeared to be small white boxes in the path of the three U.S. vessels. A threatening radio transmission also was heard on a commonly used maritime frequency. It was subsequently determined that the radio transmissions probably came from a third-party heckler, a concept known to mariners as the “Filipino Monkey.”
 
·Jan. 6, 2012: IRGC Navy small boats harassed the USS New Orleans, an amphibious transport ship, while the latter was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, Iranian small boats also harassed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak, which was operating 75 miles east of Kuwait City. U.S. Navy officials said the small boats came within several hundred yards of both vessels and did not respond to queries or whistles, as is standard for maritime protocol.
 
·Nov. 1, 2012: Iranian Air Force fighter jets fired on a U.S. Predator drone over the Gulf, but failed to bring it down. Iranian officials claimed that the Predator was conducting a reconnaissance mission near Bushehr, the site of Iran’s only nuclear power plant.
 
 
Michael Connell is director of Iranian Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, a non-profit institution that conducts research and analysis in Washington D.C.
 
Photo Credit: Ajr mine laying ship by Service Depicted, Command Shown: N1601 Camera Operator: PH3 CLEVELAND (ID:DNSC8712581) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
 

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