United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

In Tweets: Rouhani’s Trip to New York

            President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to New York for the 2014 U.N. General Assembly has been meticulously documented on his quasi-official Twitter account. The following are tweets in chronological order beginning with his arrival on September 22.

Report: Iran’s Effective Breakout

            The issue of Iran’s “breakout” capability, the time needed to obtain enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb, is a central issue in negotiations with the world’s six major powers. But a new report by the Arms Control Association argues that “effective breakout,” or the time needed to build a credible nuclear arsenal, should also be considered to find “the proper balance between verification and limitations” in a final deal. The following are highlights from the brief by Greg Thielmann with a link to the full text.

• One of the critical objectives of negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran is to lengthen the amount of time Iran would need to build a bomb if it chose to break out of its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.
• The common definition of the term “breakout” is the time between the moment that the international community recognizes that a dash for a bomb is underway and the point at which enough fissile material for one weapon has been accumulated. The length of this timeline is a function of several factors.
- The time elapsed between the start of a breakout attempt and the discovery of that attempt.
- If the uranium path is the shortest route, the amount and enrichment level of the breakout country’s uranium stockpile.
- The state (gas or solid) and form (powder or metal) of that stockpile, and
- If gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, their number and efficiency.
• Although this definition of breakout has some utility, it does not provide a reliable guide to effective-breakout timelines because it excludes important steps that would be required to build and deploy even one weapon and ignores Iran’s particular real-world requirements for building a credible nuclear arsenal with multiple weapons.
• In addition to limits on the capacity to enrich weapons grade material in a given time, P5+1 negotiators must seek other elements in a final deal, including strengthened international monitoring, that taken together, can dissuade Iran from seeking to break out of the NPT.
• A satisfactory compromise agreement will enable Iran to claim success in protecting its right to develop a peaceful and independent nuclear energy sector and convince Iran that pursuing the NPT breakout option is far too risky for the regime to seriously contemplate.
Click here for the full text. 
Tags: Reports

Report: Arab Minority Faces Discrimination

           Iran’s Arab minority has suffered from political, economic and cultural discrimination under multiple administrations, according to a new report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Arabs make up approximately two percent of Iran’s population of 80 million. But they are reportedly the majority in Khuzestan Province, which borders Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
            Arabs in the provincial capital Ahvaz and several towns held protests against Iran’s supreme leader in April 2011, following demonstrations across the Arab world. Widespread arrests and repression of political activists has further deteriorated relations between the minority and the central government. The following are excerpts from the report on two of the most recent confrontations between Arab protestors and the government.
The April 2005 Intifazeh
            On April 15, 2005, the Arab residents of Ahvaz took to the streets to protest a leaked memorandum ostensibly from the office of the President of the IRI that set forth a policy aimed at changing the ethnic makeup of the province.[63]
            The memorandum outlined measures meant to encourage the migration of Iranian citizens of Persian and Turkish ethnicities to Khuzestan province as well as the emigration of Arabs and the systematic replacement of Arabic place names with Persian equivalents. This official document bore the name and signature of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former chief of staff and Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in the government of then-President Mohammad Khatami.
            The protests quickly expanded beyond the control of those who had originally organized them.[64] Kathem Mojaddam, an Islamic Wefagh Party activist and one of the organizers of the April 2005 protests, recalls that several banks in Ahvaz had their windows smashed. As the protests expanded to neighboring cities and counties other property was also subjected to sabotage.[65] During this escalation,[66] Abtahi quickly dismissed the document as a forgery.[67] Abtahi suggested that Khatami’s domestic political rivals had forged the document to diminish the high level of support for the reformist movement among Arabs, demonstrated by the results of previous local elections.[68]
            While some endorse this theory,[69] many do not accept Abtahi’s denial. There is widespread sentiment that whether or not the document was genuine, and whether or not it was correctly attributed to Abtahi and officials from the IRI’s reformist movement, it outlined a policy that had already been in place for years—and that continues to function to this day.[70]
Over the course of the next two weeks, much of Khuzestan was rocked by what has since been dubbed by locals as the intifazeh.[71] IRI authorities—on instructions from Tehran—cracked down on the populace. According to multiple sources, “dozens” of protesters were killed[72] and an estimated 250-360 people were arrested[73]—including many Ahwazi Arabs who had not participated in any acts of sabotage or even in the peaceful protests that had taken place in the region.[74]
            Ahwazi Arab families have continued to suffer long after the deaths of protesters. The families of many who participated in the 2005 protests still endure routine harassment, arrests and violence at the hands of the IRI’s security services. Kathem Mojaddam’s wife returns to Iran annually and is regularly summoned by the local Intelligence Office for interrogation.[78]
            The intifazeh has taken on a significant historical importance among Arabs from the region. The IRI also tightened security in the province and quickly expelled foreign journalists that reported on the April 2005 unrest.[79] The experiences of many witnesses indicate that for several years after the April 2005 protests, arrests, interrogations, and convictions of Arabs in Khuzestan and elsewhere in Iran referenced the protests and the unrest that followed.[80]
Ahvaz Bombings of 2005-06 and the ensuing reprisals
            A few days before the June 2005 presidential election, at least four consecutive bombs exploded in Ahvaz in the space of three hours.[81] Government offices and the homes and headquarters of state employees were the apparent intended targets. There were at least 11 reported fatalities and scores injured.  A couple of hours after the first bomb went off in Ahvaz, a bomb went off in Tehran as well, killing two persons.
            Successive bombs went off in Ahvaz in October 2005, January 2006, February 2006 and March 2006. The security crackdown that had followed the April 2005 unrest intensified. The IRI authorities blamed a range of alleged perpetrators including the Mujahedin-e Khalq, separatist groups like the Ahwazi Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front and even foreign elements including the governments and armed forces of the UK, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the Shell Oil Company for the attacks.
            Despite the IRI’s allegations of foreign involvement, most of the individuals detained on suspicion of the bombings were residents of Ahvaz. While some of those arrested were avowed separatists with links to militant groups, others blamed for the attacks were ethnic Arab citizens who played a prominent role in local politics and who had no history of militant activity or support for militant causes. Many detainees were arrested on the basis of very little evidence and reported being subjected to physical and mental torture while in detention and being denied contact with their family and access to counsel.
Continuing political marginalization: the April 2011 Protests
            Following the unrest in Ahvaz in 2005-2006, the province of Khuzestan came under increasing security control.  While the 2005 protest events were commemorated annually, the next major period of unrest occurred six years later.
            On April 15, 2011, as the world watched the protests collectively dubbed the “Arab Spring”, Arab activists using Facebook organized a protest. The protest erupted against the backdrop of the arrests of 16 Arab cultural activists (three of whom are currently on death row, two of whom were executed at the end of January 2014).
            Many Arabs in Ahvaz, Abadan, Khorramshahr, Hamidieh, Mahshahr and Shadegan took to the streets in what was dubbed a “Day of Rage” to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 2005 protests.[82] Multiple sources allege the use of live ammunition to suppress the 2011 protests, and additionally that security services had begun raids against suspected organizers the day before the protests began.[83] Reports indicated that as many as 15 protesters were killed by security services and police during protests, with “tens” injured and “hundreds” arrested.[84]
            One report indicated that as many as 150 protesters were arrested, including 30 women, and that one protester died not as a result of live ammunition fire but from suffocation after inhaling Russian-made tear gas that was fired into the crowds.[85]
            Other reports indicated that nine protesters arrested in connection with the protests were executed within a month—three in public at Hamidieh junction and another six in prisons.[86]
            Another protest took place on June 21, 2012 in Ahvaz. At least 15 protesters were arrested on the same day,[87] and protests following the death of Arab poet Sattar al-Siahi[88] also occasioned another province-wide crackdown by IRI security services, during which it is alleged that nearly thirty people were arrested.[89]
            Five Arab cultural activists who founded and were leading members of al-Hiwar, the Arab cultural group established during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist presidency, were arrested in the April 2011 protests. They later received death sentences and were incarcerated in Karun prison. The five men—Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, his brother Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, Hashem Sha’baninejad Amouri and Hadi Rashedi—were convicted of muharibih, or “warring against God” for allegedly killing a law enforcement official.
            Their death sentences, as confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court in January 2013, are the most recent manifestation of the negative trend in relations between the Iranian state and the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority.[90] The men were nominated for the 2013 Civil Courage Prize.[91] At the end of January 2014, Hashem Sha’baninejad Amouri and Hadi Rashedi were executed in secret, without any prior notice to their families.[92]
Click here for the full report.
Click here for more information on Iran's ethnic minorities.
[75] Nirou-ye Entezami Jomhouri Eslami (NAJA), the force responsible for general policing throughout Iran. See their official website at: http://news.police.ir/. See Yegane Zede Shoresh Naja [Anti-Riot Police Unit], Iranian Engineers’ Club, http://www.iran-eng.com/showthread.php/322598-یگان-ضد-شورش-ناجا for photographs of the NAJA anti-riot forces. See also,Mamurāni Yigāni Vyzhi Ᾱmuzishi Zedi Shurish Mybynand [Special Units Officers Trained of Specific Anti Rebellion], Qudsonline(July 12, 2014), available at http://www.ghatreh.com/news/nn10353863/ماموران-یگان-ویژه-اموزش-ضدشورش-بینند. 
[76] IHRDC Interview with Kamil Alboshoka (Sept, 27, 2012) (on file with IHRDC).             
[77] IHRDC Interview with Hadi Batili (Oct. 8, 2012) (on file with IHRDC).
[78] Id.
[79] Cycle of Repression and Protest: Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan, Frontline (June 16, 2012, 18:32),  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/07/comment-cycle-of-repression-and-protest-iranian-arabs-in-khuzestan.html.
[80] IHRDC Interview with Kamil Alboshoka (Sept. 27, 2012); IHRDC Interview with Yousef Azizi Bani Torof (Sep. 29, 2012); IHRDC Witness Statement of Saied Alboghbaysh (Sept. 25, 2012), available at: http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/witness-testimony/1000000371-witness-statement-of-saied-alboghbaysh.html; IHRDC Interview with Ahmad Hamid (Jan. 8, 2012) (on file with IHRDC)
[81] See Akharin Akhbar az Enfejarhay-i Emrouz-i Ahvaz, [Latest news of today bombing in Ahvaz], Farsnews, 22 Khordad 1384, (June 12, 2005), available at: http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8403220224. According to this report, four bombs went off between 8 am and 11 am.  The first bomb went off at 8 am, the second bomb at 10:30 am, the third bomb at 10:50 am and the fourth bomb at 11 am.
[82] Golnaz Esfandiari, Iran’s Nobel Laureate Ebadi Warns of Unrest Among Ethnic Arabs in Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Apr. 19, 2011), http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_nobel_ebadi_warns_unrest_ethnic_arabs_in_iran/9498400.html.
[83] Iran: Outside the Spotlight, Arab Uprising Smolders in Country’s Southwest, Los Angles Times (Apr. 30, 2011), http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/04/iran-ahvaz-protests-violence-human-rights-arab-seperatism.html.
[84] See Widespread Detention of Ahwazi Activists Mark Anniversary of 2005 Crackdown, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Apr. 19, 2012), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/04/ahwaz-crackdown/. See also, Iran: Investigate Reported Killings of Demonstrators, Human Rights Watch (Apr. 29, 2011), http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/29/iran-investigate-reported-killings-demonstrators.
[85] 4 Koshteh va daha Bazdashti Dar Dargiriyhaye Shadid Mardom Ahwaz Ba Nirohaye Amniyati [4 Dead and Tens Injured During the Heavy Fights of Ahwazi People with the Security Forces], AlArabiya (Apr. 14, 2011), http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/04/14/145420.html.
[86] Only One Month to Find, Sentence and Execute Suspects, Says Ahwazi Activist, International Campaign For Human Rights in Iran (May 16, 2011), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2011/05/ahwaz-suspects-execute/.
[87] See Widespread Detentions of Ahwazi Activists Mark Anniversary of 2005 Crackdown, International Campaign For Human Rights in Iran (Apr. 19, 2012), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/04/ahwaz-crackdown/. See also, Iran: Investigate Reported Killings of Demonstrators, Human Rights Watch (Apr. 29, 2014) http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/29/iran-investigate-reported-killings-demonstrators. See also, Ebadi Draws UN Attention Crackdown to Crackdown on Protests in Ahvaz, Radio Zamaneh (Apr. 18, 2011, 16:09),http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/ebadi-draws-un-attention-crackdown-protests-ahvaz?page=2.  
[88] Although he was not in custody when he died, some Arab activists allege that Al-Siyahi died as a result of physical torture that he endured during interrogations at the Ahvaz Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) office the previous week. See, Satar Al Siyahi, Hamaseh Saraye Ahwazi Dargozasht [Satar Al Siyahi, Epic Ahwazi Died], Iranglobal (Nov. 12, 2012), http://www.iranglobal.info/node/12098.
[89] Iran: 29 Arrested in Ahvaz, El-Yasin, Human Rights and International Affairs (Nov. 20, 2012), http://ayahra.org/en/news/1360-iran-29-arrested-in-ahvaz.html.
[90] Death Sentences for Five Ahwazi Arabs Upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/news/inside-iran/1000000226-death-sentences-for-five-ahwazi-arabs-upheld-by-iran’s-supreme-court.html.
[91] Fa’alane Arab Mahkom Beh Edam, Kandidaye Jayezeh Beinolmelali Shoja’at Madani Shod/Anha Dar Etesabe Ghaza Be Sar Mibarand [Arab Activists Sentenced to Death, Were Nominated for the Award for Civil Courage/ They Are On a Hunger Strike], Justice For Iran (Mar. 17, 2013), http://justiceforiran.org/news/courage-award/?lang=en.
[92] IRI Executes Two Ahwazi Arab Men, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Jan. 31, 2014), http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/news/press-statements/1000000428-iri-executes-two-ahwazi-arab-men.html#.U0G70sfgXEs.


US & Iran Meet in New York

      U.S. and Iranian officials have met in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to discuss the nuclear talks and the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel for more than an hour on September 21. The two met one-on-one before they were joined by other senior officials. The following is a rundown of US-Iran meetings:

September 17-18
Press Office Director Jeff Rathke
            As you know, we have a team in New York right now for the P5+1 talks. The United States and Iran held bilateral consultations Wednesday and Thursday in New York. Those meetings were constructive, focused primarily on the nuclear issues. So with respect to your specific question, we’ve always said that the nuclear issues are separate from actions regarding ISIL, but discussion of this threat did arise on the margins of the meeting, as they have from time to time. They also happened during this – during the bilateral in this latest round. I don’t have any details on the specifics to share, but yes, it did come up.
September 21
            The following is attributable on background to a senior State Department official:

             Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif met for over an hour at the Waldorf Astoria today. They met one-on-one first, and then were joined by Deputy Secretary Burns and Under Secretary Sherman on the US side and Deputy FM Araghchi and Deputy FM Ravanchi on the Iranian side. They spent time reviewing the status of the EU-led P5+1 negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. They discussed both the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done. Secretary Kerry noted that this week is an opportunity to make additional progress and stressed that it is our intention to do so. Separate and apart from the nuclear issue, they also discussed the threat posed by ISIL.  Going forward, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif agreed to meet further as needed while in New York this week.


September 25- 26
           The following are excerpted remarks attributable to a senior administration official:
           We just finished a two-hour trilateral between Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Zarif, and High Representative Ashton. They do this just the three of them. This meeting followed on the discussions they had last night. Indeed, the discussions this week have been – over the last several days – have been very intense, have happened in all manner of format. There have been bilaterals, trilaterals, many meetings of heads of state with President Rouhani, meetings by every delegation bilaterally with Minister Zarif. There have been staggering numbers of hours among experts because these are highly technical negotiations, as I think you all know well. And there has been an enormous amount of work that has been undertaken.
           We have not come here tonight to announce we’ve reached agreement. We did not expect to reach agreement this week.
           And the way I would summarize this week is that we do not have an understanding on all major issues. We have some understandings that are helpful to move this process forward. We have an enormous amount of details still to work through because it is highly, highly, highly technical. We have still some very, very difficult understandings yet to reach. Everyone here has to make difficult decisions, and we continue to look for Iran to make some of the ones necessary for getting to a comprehensive agreement.

           I think that it is no secret that at the core of this agreement is where Iran is, and the Iranians have spoken to this themselves, on enrichment and their capacity, and they have a concern about where we are on sanctions relief. And these are issues that are under great discussion in tremendous detail because it is very complex. In addition, of course, we have to get agreements on any number of other items, from all of the facilities to the infrastructure, to research and development to transparency monitoring, the duration, PMD. You all know the list; it’s quite long. 

Updated US Report on Iran Sanctions

           The following is a summary from the Congressional Research Service’s latest edition of its report on Iran sanctions by Kenneth Katzman.

           Strict sanctions on Iran’s key energy and financial sectors harmed Iran’s economy. The economic pressure— coupled with the related June 14, 2013, election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president—contributed to Iran’s accepting a November 24, 2013, six-month interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action,” JPA) that halts expansion of its nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. On July 18, 2014, the interim agreement was extended until November 24, 2014. The economic pressure of sanctions included the following:
• Oil exports fund nearly half of Iran’s government expenditures and, by late 2013, sanctions had reduced Iran’s oil exports to about 1 million barrels per day—far below the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran exported during 2011.
• During 2012-2013, the loss of revenues from oil, coupled with the cut-off of Iran from the international banking system, caused a sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial; raised inflation to over 50%; and cut off Iran’s access to most of its hard currency held outside the country. Iran’s economy shrank by about 5% in 2013 as many Iranian firms reduced operations and loans became delinquent.
           The JPA agreement, including the approximately $7 billion in sanctions relief during the interim period, of which $4.2 billion ($700 million per month) was access to hard currency from oil sales, began implementation on January 20, 2014, and provisions of several laws and executive orders were waived or suspended that day. The JPA extension until November 24, 2014, continues all sanctions relief provisions, including $2.8 billion in access to hard currency ($700 million per month multiplied by four months of extension).
           Citing some improvements in Iran’s economy and renewed international business contacts with Iran, some in Congress believe that economic pressure on Iran needs to increase to shape a final nuclear deal and ensure that the Iran sanctions architecture does not collapse. On the other hand, many economic assessments indicate that the sanctions relief of the JPA has halted further deterioration in Iran’s economy but has not caused dramatic economic improvement.
           Sanctions have, to some extent, slowed Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and reduced its military power by hampering its acquisition of foreign technology and weaponry. However, the sanctions have not halted Iran’s provision of arms to the Assad government in Syria, the Iraqi government, and to pro-Iranian factions in the Middle East. Nor have sanctions altered Iran’s repression of dissent or monitoring of the Internet.
            A comprehensive nuclear agreement, if reached, would undoubtedly require significant easing of U.S. and third country sanctions on Iran—particularly those sanctions imposed since 2010 that are intended primarily to compel Iran to reach a nuclear agreement. The Administration has said that sanctions relief under a comprehensive deal would be implemented stepwise as Iran fulfills the terms of an agreement. Although it might be able to act on its own authority to suspend most sanctions on Iran to implement a comprehensive deal, the Administration has said it would work with Congress on longer term sanctions relief.
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