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The Iran Primer

UN: Iran Still Complying with Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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

Nasser Hadian: Iran’s Concerns about Iraq

Interview with Nasser Hadian

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


US Treasury: Iran’s Economy Still Suffering

            On June 18, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told the U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Development Group that Iran’s economy “remains in a state of distress.” Lew also emphasized that the “temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief provided by the Joint Plan of Action has been extremely limited.” The secretary met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while in Jerusalem. The following is an excerpt from his remarks.

Secretary Jacob J. Lew 
            “Let me say a few words about Iran, and the issues that both the United States and Israel face in dealing with Iran.  It is now clear that ongoing sanctions against Iran remain in place, and that the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief provided by the Joint Plan of Action has been extremely limited.  During the same six month period, Iran is losing a significant amount in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place, more than the value of the temporary relief.  Iran sanctions are the toughest the world community has imposed on any country and its economy is suffering a serious blow as a result – an impact that is not being reversed.  As we approach the last month of the agreed upon period for negotiations, Iran’s economy remains in a state of distress that brought the government to the negotiating table in the first place.  This sustained pressure gives us the opportunity to pursue a negotiated agreement with Iran, in conjunction with our P5+1 partners, that will assure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.  Make no mistake: we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.  We have always been clear that we will take the time to do this right, and we will not rush into a bad deal.  No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Pew: Iran Unpopular around the World

            Iran’s global image remains overwhelmingly negative one year after President Hassan Rouhani’s election, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Views of Iran in several Middle Eastern countries have particularly worsened in recent years. And about three-in-four Americans still hold unfavorable views of the Islamic Republic. Pew surveyed 40 countries between March 17 and May 25, 2014. In 29 of those nations, a majority or plurality have an unfavorable opinion of Iran. The following are excerpts from the Pew report.

      Attitudes toward Iran are mostly negative worldwide. The only nations in which at least half express a favorable view are Bangladesh (63%), Pakistan (63%) and Indonesia (51%).
      Ratings for Iran are low in the Middle East, and have been dropping steadily in recent years. In 2006, roughly half or more in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey had a positive opinion of Iran; today, fewer than one-in-five in all three countries hold this view. Similarly, Iran’s favorability rating among Palestinians has dropped from 55% in 2007 to 33% now.
      Among the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) that are engaged in ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran, public attitudes are mostly critical of Iran. Majorities in Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom and China give Iran an unfavorable rating. Russians are more divided, although, on balance, still mostly negative (44% favorable, 35% unfavorable).
Rouhani Unpopular
      Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is often described as less hardline than other leaders of the Iranian regime, but a year into his tenure, Rouhani receives poor marks throughout the Middle Eastern countries surveyed.
      Majorities in six nations express an unfavorable opinion of Rouhani, including roughly eight-in-ten in Jordan and Egypt and about nine-in-ten in Israel. In Tunisia, a 44%-plurality gives him a negative rating.
      When Pew Research asked the same question about then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012, the controversial Ahmadinejad received better ratings than Rouhani does today in Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt.
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