United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Supreme Leader on Chemical Weapons

            Iran’s supreme leader has taken to social media to condemn chemical weapons used against Iran nearly three decades ago. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office released an infographic on the 27th anniversary of Iraq’s use of mustard gas and nerve agents near the village of Sumar, Iran. The infographic on Khamenei's Facebook page states:

•Iraq launched more than 570 chemical attacks on Iran from 1983 to 1988.
•Some 1 million people exposed to chemical fumes.
•Some 100,000 Iranians still suffer from acute complications as a result of exposure.
•Western companies provided Saddam Hussein with the material to produce the weapons.

War is tough and unfavorable but even war has its own rules.
 #Islam orders us to observe human values during wars.
            In 1980-88 war, #Iran was bombarded with Saddam’s chemical weapons for about 6 years and the UN was only a bystander to this crime.
Which countries provided Saddam’s arsenals with chemical weapons which he used against the Iranians for several years? 
             The arrogants knew Saddam would use chemical weapons on Iranian women and kids but they armed him with illegal weapons.
             Ayatollah Khamenei, 7/23/1997             

             The following is a list of instances of chemical weapon use by Iraq from the U.S. government*:
Use in Iran-Iraq war, 1983-1988 
  • August 1983 Haij Umran
Mustard , fewer than 100 Iranian/Kurdish casualties
  • October-November 1983 Panjwin
Mustard, 3,000 Iranian/Kurdish casualties
  • February-March 1984 Majnoon Island
Mustard, 2,500 Iranian casualties
  • March 1984 al-Basrah
Tabun, 50-100 Iranian casualties
  • March 1985 Hawizah Marsh
Mustard & Tabun, 3,000 Iranian casualties
  • February 1986 al-Faw
Mustard & Tabun, 8,000 to 10,000 Iranian casualties
  • December 1986 Um ar-Rasas
Mustard, 1,000s Iranian casualties
  • April 1987 al-Basrah
Mustard & Tabun, 5,000 Iranian casualties
  • October 1987 Sumar/Mehran
Mustard & nerve agent, 3,000 Iranian casualties
  • March 1988 Halabjah& Kurdish area
Mustard & nerve agent, 1,000s Kurdish/Iranian casualties
  • April 1988 al-Faw
Mustard & nerve agent, 1,000s Iranian casualties
  • May 1988 Fish Lake
Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties
  • June 1988 Majnoon Islands
Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties
  • July 1988 South-central border
Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties
*Numerous other smaller scale chemical weapons attacks occurred.


Report: Iran’s Evolving Rockets & Missiles

             Iran is developing more advanced rockets and missiles to compensate for shortcomings in its conventional forces, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Most of Tehran’s current arsenal suffers from poor accuracy and reliability. But Iran is improving its guidance systems. Future development of booster systems “might give Iran the ability to strike at targets throughout Europe and even in the US,” warns Anthony Cordesman. The following are excerpts from the report.

             Iran’s rocket and missile forces serve a wide range of Iranian strategic objectives. Iran’s forces range from relatively short-range artillery rockets that support its ground forces and limit the need for close air support to long-range missiles that can reach any target in the region and the development of booster systems that might give Iran the ability to strike at targets throughout Europe and even in the US.
             They are steadily evolving. While the lethality of most current systems is limited by a reliance on conventional warheads, poor accuracy, and uncertain reliability; Iran is developing steadily improved guidance systems, attempting to improve the lethality of its conventional warheads, and has at least studied arming its missiles with nuclear warheads.
The Broader Strategic Value of Iran’s Short Range Rockets and Missiles
             Iran has shown that even short-range artillery rockets can have a strategic impact and be used in irregular warfare and as an indirect form of power projection. Iran has played a major role in helping Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad create a major pool of steadily improving rockets that it can conceal, disperse and fire against Israel, and that Israel cannot easily seek out and destroy even in a land invasion.
The Near-Term Impact of the Iranian Missile Threat
             Iran’s existing missile forces give it the capability to attack targets in the Gulf and near its border with conventionally armed long-range missiles and rockets, and Iran can attack targets in Israel, throughout the region, and beyond with its longest-range ballistic missiles. However, the shortterm risks posed by Iran’s current conventionally armed rockets and missiles should not be exaggerated.
Shaping the Future Threat: Nuclear Warheads vs. Precision Conventional Warheads
             The Iranian missile threat may become far more serious in the future. Left to its own devices, Iran would probably deploy both nuclear-armed missile and highly accurate missiles with conventional warheads. Iran has powerful military incentives to deploy nuclear weapons, and Iran’s missile forces give it the potential ability to develop a major nuclear strike force.
Missiles, Political and Psychological Warfighting, and Wars of Intimidation
             At a minimum, Iran’s growing missile forces increase its deterrent and defensive ability to deter attack on Iran and compensate for its weaknesses in airpower. More broadly, Iran can use its missiles politically and strategically, and not simply to damage targets. Selective firings and “volleys” of conventionally armed, unguided long-range missiles and rockets can be used as political symbols or terror weapons.
Putting Iran’s Missile and Nuclear Programs in Perspective
             It is difficult to predict how aggressive Iran would become in exploiting its nuclear capability if Iran did acquire nuclear-armed missiles. Iran has so far been cautious in initiating any use of force that might threaten the survival regime. Its best strategy would be to limit its use of nuclear missile forces to pressure, deter, and intimidate.
             Iran is, however, clearly involved in an active competition with the US and with its Arab neighbors in an effort to win strategic influence and leverage. Iran faces US and Arab competition for influence and control over Iraq, the emerging threat of the Islamic State, and growing uncertainty over the future of its alliance with the Assad regime in Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran also still seems to see American influence behind all of these steadily growing pressures.
The Mid and Longer Term Risk of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon and a Nuclear-Armed Missile Threat
             It must be stressed that Iran cannot deploy either nuclear-armed missiles or precision strike missiles in a military vacuum where its neighbors and the US do not respond. If Iran does go nuclear, this decision will impact on a region that is already involved in a nuclear arms race. The prospect of combined Iranian missile and nuclear threat has already posed risks that have affected every aspect of US, Arab, Israeli and other military competition with Iran for at least the last decade. This competition has increasingly focused them on responding with on options like preventive strikes, proliferation, and extended deterrence as Iran has made enough progress towards a nuclear weapons capability so that there is a real prospect that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons and arm its missiles and aircraft with nuclear weapons within the next three to five years.
Click here for the full text.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Click here to read his chapter on Iran’s conventional military.

Rouhani Calls for Academic Freedom

      On October 7, President Hassan Rouhani warned that restrictions on academic freedom stifle innovation and lead to brain drain. “Let's let people express themselves,” he said at Tehran University during a ceremony marking the start of the new academic year. The president also highlighted the importance of expanding interaction with the outside world for the sake of scientific progress. Rouhani's efforts to open up universities have been stymied by hardliners in parliament, which impeached the reformist minister of higher education in August. Another reformist has been appointed in the interim. The following are quotes from Rouhani’s address.

            “Irrelevant restrictions will lead to lack of tolerance, the departure of honest, competent individuals and the promotion of ingratiating people.”
            “Let's not create a climate of flattery in the university… We should not be concerned about the expression of diverse views by university professors.”
            “I am here to listen, not to make a speech. It is a matter of regret that there was no speech by a student association representative in today's program.”
            “Governing and administering the country is not possible without tolerance. Let's let people express themselves.”
            “The interaction with the world is not limited to the foreign policy. It should also include economy as well as science and technology.”
            “Some people say that if we have contact with the outside world, if our teachers go abroad and their professors come here, maybe someone will be a spy among them. Stop making excuses!”
            “Our universities have empty seats in certain subjects. We either have to make them smaller or invite foreign students.”
            “I’m not saying let's start from those places that are scary to some people. I mean let's just start with our neighbors.”
            “Let our students go abroad for a term. At least create one university that has English as the main language so that we can attract foreign students.”
            “The administration is not subject to any constraints on funding research activities, either in the field of applied research needed by the country or in the field of research at the boundary of knowledge, which is necessary for the country.”
Translations via Reuters, AP and President.ir

What Rouhani's Week in New York Means for Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran

The following article was originally published by Iran@Brookings.

Suzanne Maloney

      Last week's New York visit by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani fell short of any expectations that might have been set by his historic American debut only a year ago. While there was plenty of pageantry — prime-time interviews, gala dinners, and sober speeches before august institutions — Tehran's annual American charm offensive fell short of the hype and historic breakthroughs that marked his September 2013 trip. Even more disappointing was the fact that the rare appearance of senior Iranian officials on American soil failed where it mattered most, in catalyzing new momentum on the stalled nuclear talks.

            These dashed hopes should not overshadow what Rouhani's New York trip did accomplish: it clarified for Americans and the world that Iran's strategy is to play out the clock on the approaching deadline for securing a comprehensive deal and to wield its role in the intensifying regional turmoil as leverage in securing more favorable terms. This strategy, while perfectly rational from an Iranian perspective, is almost certain to produce a disastrous outcome for Iran, the region, and the world.
What a Difference a Year Makes
            This September was always going to suffer by comparison to 2013, when Rouhani arrived in New York for United Nations General Assembly meetings fresh off his surprising electionand brandishing a strong early mandate for diplomatic outreach on the nuclear issue and beyond. That visit was a tour de force of affirmation and celebration, with an expertly crafted crescendo of ingratiating overtures that culminated in an unprecedented telephone conversation between President Barack Obama and Rouhani during his final moments in New York.
            This time, consistent with the dire regional context and his public character throughout his long career in Iran's security bureaucracy, Rouhani bared a more censorious style and less silky rhetoric. Instead, he scolded the West for "strategic blunders" that had caused the region's many woes, and suggested that Iran's assistance against regional extremists could be had for the small price of flexibility on the nuclear issue.
            In turn, he was received by his American interlocutors with a slightly harder edge. A record is tougher to defend than the mere promise of action, and journalists' questions often become more pointed when one of their own has been targeted. Instead of the patronizingly giddy praise for the Iranians' social media savvy, this year the CEO of Twitter took a highly public shot at Rouhani, encouraging him to make the technologies available to all of his citizens. (The latter move prompted a fitting counter response by Iranians, who launched a social media campaign to press Twitter to grant Iran-based users access to account verification services.)
A Deadline Looms, But a Nuclear Deal Remains Out of Reach
            Still, the tougher tone on both sides would simply be the stuff of atmospherics had the talks on the nuclear issue made meaningful progress. With less than two months before the expiration of the already extended deadline for the nuclear diplomacy, the negotiations that took place on the sidelines of UNGA represented the last best chance to overcome the stalemate on the core concern that has divided the parties since the outset — how to constrain Tehran's capacity to enrich uranium. Unfortunately, it appears to have been an opportunity lost, largely because of Iranian obduracy on the issue of enrichment. This is hardly the only outstanding issue; in reality, so long as any piece of the deal remains in play, none of the tentative arrangements brokered on particular elements — such as the Fordow enrichment facility or the Arak heavy water plant — can be considered definitive.
            U.S. officials are allergic to any conversation that contemplates the failure to get a deal by November 24, arguing that any public contemplation of what might follow is a distraction that dilutes pressure on Tehran for quick compromise. Increasingly, this is a futile concern; the expectation that the deadline will pass without a deal is already creeping into the policy discourse, as a new article by former White House official Gary Samore forecasts.
            And in any case, the insistence on avoiding any discussion of a potential failure is quite the opposite of American intentions. For their part, during a host of public and private meetings in New York featuring Rouhani or his talented foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranians openly acknowledged the prospect that the deadline will not be met. Timing hardly seems to be a motivating factor at this point. In a breakfast with reporters, Rouhani noted that "if there [is] no final agreement, there will perhaps be another way to go." 
The Islamic Republic and the Islamic State
            In addition to the Iranians' lack of urgency on the impending deadline, another aspect of their approach to the nuclear negotiations came through loud and clear during the New York visit — namely, the linkage that Tehran sees between the nuclear deal and regional instability.
It was inevitable that the question of Iran's stance toward the violent group that has dubbed itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) would arise during the delegation's New York visit. After all, Zarif arrived only a week after President Obama addressed the nation about the threat posed by ISIS and immediately following a conference led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to formalize an international coalition against ISIS. Out of deference to Washington's regional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, Iran was pointedly not invited to that gathering — despite the front-line role Iranian forces have already played in driving ISIS out of several Iraqi positions.
            Most of the attention paid to Rouhani's UNGA speech focused on his sanctimonious scolding of Washington and the world for the failure to pay heed to his warnings a year ago about extremism. Both Rouhani and Zarif insisted that Tehran can play a central role in combatting the rise of ISIS and other jihadist forces, and deprecated the still-evolving American strategy for its reliance on air power.
            However, the most significant aspect of their remarks on ISIS was the fairly unsubtle suggestions that "avoidance of excessive demands in the negotiations by our counterparts"could open the doors to Iranian assistance. Once again, as in so many previous iterations of the U.S.-Iranian flirtation (Iran-contra, goodwill-begets-goodwill), a quid pro quo is being dangled before Washington; for the small price of nuclear concessions, Iranian assistance against ISIS can be bought. "If our interlocutors are also equally motivated and flexible, and we can overcome the problem and reach a longstanding agreement within the time remaining," Rouhani cajoled in his UNGA speech, "then an entirely different environment will emerge for cooperation at regional and international levels, allowing for greater focus on some very important regional issues such as combating violence and extremism in the region."
UNGA Is Over, and So Is Rouhani's Honeymoon
            The attempt at linkage and the lack of urgency evident in the public remarks of Rouhani, Zarif and other Iranian officials last week suggest that Tehran is playing hardball. However, it is a dangerous bluff. Rouhani's government has begun to rehabilitate Iran's economy and restore some confidence among its people that the country is no longer headed toward a precipice; the rise of ISIS has reinforced its sense of regional primacy.
            However, this renewed sense of swagger should not be mistaken for actual leverage.Tehran has infinitely more to lose from the failure to secure a deal. Washington does not want to contemplate alternatives to diplomacy, and in the current chaotic environment, Obama is even less likely to move quickly toward a military solution to the nuclear impasse than ever before.
            Still, sanctions remain a devastating tool, and one that is only too tempting for a recalcitrant American Congress. Despite strains on the sanctions regime as a result of Ukraine and new threats to energy supplies, international adherence remains robust, simply because existing measures force the world to choose between doing business with Tehran and doing business in the United States. That cost-benefit assessment for most international firms won't change until the legal framework does — in other words, until there is a comprehensive deal. In the absence of one, the tightening of sanctions, and the corresponding toll on ordinary Iranians, is almost an inevitability.
            As for the campaign against ISIS, it would be a grave mistake to barter nuclear concession for an Iranian assist in that battle. That's not to disregard Tehran's formidable capabilities and its existing influence among crucial constituencies in both Iraq and Syria. However, the logistical and institutional barriers to direct bilateral cooperation on both sides remain steep, and ultimately Iran's interests — as identified by its leadership — will govern its campaign there, not some spurious tradeoffs in the nuclear talks.
            Iranian negotiators, like their American counterparts, have domestic politics to consider, particularly the hardliners who will resent every hint of compromise from revolutionary dogma. From this corner, the president's performance in New York mostly drew plaudits at home, with one notable exception — his meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government remains a much cherished bête noire for Iranian hardliners. (Rouhani has since denounced Cameron for implying that Tehran was "part of the problem" in Iraq and Syria.)
But a deal that satisfies the maximalist imperatives of hardliners in either capital is not a viable construct. The U.S. explicitly conceded this last November, and President Obama himself made a strenuous case for the interim deal and its hard-fought compromise of continuing Iranian enrichment over howls of opposition from Congress and U.S. regional allies. He has largely won the point; the demand for zero enrichment has mostly faded from the debate.
            Obama's political courage has not yet been matched in Tehran. Iran's leadership remains intent on  retaining its core nuclear infrastructure, and there is no political force willing or capable of pushing back publicly against the hardliners' wildly inflated definition of Iran's interests and requirements. Ironically, for much of the eight years that preceded his election to the presidency, Rouhani was that voice of reason, constantly prodding his predecessor to avoid boxing Iran into a corner.
            Today, as a president who lacks ultimate authority over nuclear policy and most other sensitive matters, Rouhani is trying to box Washington into a false choice between accepting Iran's unacceptable terms or seeking an even less attractive alternative to diplomacy. The Obama administration and its partners in the P5+1 should resist this ruse. The world cannot want a deal more than Tehran does, and we cannot pay any price to get one. In the end, the costs of continuing the impasse are felt hardest by the Iranian people, at least those who were not present at Rouhani's lavish closing reception at the New York luxury restaurant Cipriani last week.
Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. She is the author of “Iran’s Long Reach” (2008). Follow her on Twitter @MaloneySuzanne
Click here for the original posting on Iran@Brookings.  


Iran's Dinner Diplomacy

Robin Wright (for The New Yorker)

           Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, did not shake hands with Barack Obama at the United Nations this week, a year after their celebrated cell-phone chat. The two men didn’t even pass each other in the hallway. But Rouhani did give a quiet dinner at his hotel on Tuesday for twenty former American officials—including a secretary of state, three national-security advisers, and a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—from all six Administrations since the 1979 revolution.

Click here for the full article.

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