United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Video: Former U.S. Commander and Diplomat on Iran

            On March 7, Admiral William Fallon, a retired four-star admiral and former head of U.S. Central Command, warned that “you can’t lock them [the Iranians] in a box” on the nuclear issue. He discussed U.S. policy on Iran with a former assistant secretary state, James Dobbins, and Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carol Giacomo, an editorial board member at The New York Times moderated the Council on Foreign Relations event. The following is a recording of the discussion.

Click here for a transcript of the discussion.


Khazaee: Threatening Iran Won’t Work

            On March 3, U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said that the recent talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers in Kazakhstan were “a turning point.” Iran feels that “both sides are getting closer to each other,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. But Khazaee also warned against threatening Iran during nuclear negotiations.

            The ambassador also commented on U.S. calls for direct talks with Iran. “We welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States,” he said. But Khazaee stipulated that Washington must be “serious” and “honest.”

            Zakaria asked Khazaee what he thought about the American thriller “Argo,” which was named best picture at the Oscars in February. “Whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.” The ambassador claimed the film’s content was “politically wrong and technically wrong.” The following are excerpts from Khazaee’s interview, with a link to the full transcript.
U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee
Nuclear Program and Negotiations
            “…[W]e have to have a realistic approach in the negotiation… But the feeling that Iranians have from the negotiation is that both sides are getting closer to each other. That's the main point…”

            “But when they decide to negotiate with each other with more comprehensive, simultaneous steps should be taken, these are the important points…”

            “…[M]y understanding is that Iranians will be able to enrich uranium at least at the 5 percent level if what they did for need TRR (Tehran Research Reactor) and for our more than 1 million patients it provided. So these are the good and positive signs that we can take. But, of course, we still have a far way to go ahead to fulfill Iranians' expectation from the other side for a confidence-building measures.”

            “But I think, over the last few years, it was a turning point in the negotiations between Iran and the 5 plus 1...”
            “But Iranians stood against the pressure and hegemony of outside countries against them [during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s]. So we are a nation that we have stood about eight years fighting and defending ourselves.”

            “So, therefore, with such a nation and the history that you know very well, talking about pressure, putting about -- threatening Iran is not going to work.”
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “Iran is for negotiation and definitely we welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States, as well as many other countries, all of the countries around the world…”
            “The clear message of Iran is that if we see that United States is serious and is honest about this proposal for negotiation, cooperation, direct talks with the Iranians, Iranians will accept it and we will welcome it definitely.”

            “There is doubt that that. I can confirm it here with you and also for your distinguished audience that Iran will come negotiation and direct talks with the United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently…”
            “The most important point is that some officials in United States should understand how to speak with the Iranians… But the point is that Iranians should make sure that American is not using pressure on Iran for negotiation.”

            “Negotiation should be for negotiation, talks to find common ground and solve if there's any misunderstanding or there is a problem that obviously exists…”
            “… I was member of the Festival Film Jury for five years when I was in Iran. From the technical point of view, to be honest with you, if I was a judge, the movie is a very weak movie.”
            “I'm not saying it is just a very weak or is not compatible with other kind of movies which Hollywood movies, but, compared to "Lincoln", compared to "Life of Pi", compared to the "Les Miserables", you know it did not deserve to receive Oscar prize first of all.

            “There are many mistakes in the movie. For instance, you are familiar with our culture. Even the producer or the director, they are not familiar with the Iranian culture…”

            “So even that much, the producer or director or (inaudible) of the movie were not familiar with the Iranian culture. And, to be honest with you, whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.”

            “It was politically wrong and technically wrong and I think the producer of the film that is known as the Ambassador of Peace as I heard should be ashamed of producing such a film that, from the technical point of view, political point of view, was wrong, as well as insulting a big nation like Iran.”

            “I would like to invite the producer and the director of the film to travel to Iran and then they travel to Iran, the day after they will apologize from the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film.”

Click here for the full transcript.


Khamenei Tweets: Iran Needs More Concessions

            On March 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that Western nations only acknowledged a “fraction” of Iran’s nuclear rights. “Western nations did not accomplish anything that can be construed as a concession.” His remarks to the Assembly of Experts, supplemented by several tweets, were his first public reaction to the nuclear talks in Kazakhstan held on February 26.

            Khamenei said Iran must wait until the next round of talks to assess the “integrity” of the world's six major powers — the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. Iran is scheduled to meet with them in Kazakhstan again in April.

            The Supreme Leader also tweeted a few comments on past diplomatic efforts. Khamenei claimed that he told Iranian officials to accept the 2010 nuclear deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But the United States “would not accept it,” he wrote. Khamenei argued that the United States wanted to claim that Iran “does not accept rational solutions.” The following are his remarks and tweets on diplomacy from March 7.


Iran’s Message: Now in English too

Helia Ighani and Garrett Nada

            Since 2007, Iran’s English-language media has increasingly become its chief propaganda tool. The turning point was the launch of Press TV, a news website and international television station that seeks to compete with the world’s most sophisticated media. Press TV even hired non-Iranian correspondents on five continents to widen its coverage – and, in principle, its credibility. The station frequently interviews American and other Western experts on its news and talk shows.
            Iran’s English-language media predates the 1979 revolution. Major Iranian papers published English dailies starting in the 1950s. They published original content on domestic news, stories from Western wire services, and op-eds from other papers.

            The English-language media became generally anti-Western after the 1979 revolution. Yet it now tends to be obsessed with American problems, from economic challenges like the “fiscal cliff” to foreign policy hurdles in Afghanistan. Several agencies covered the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 and 2012. They also devote space to American crime stories and scandals, such as the affair that triggered the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus.

            The English-language media focuses on news from Middle Eastern, Muslim and developing countries, notably China and India. It also highlights Iranian cultural and religious influence among Shiite communities in Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf. Domestic coverage is limited largely to political, economic and cultural news that reflects well on the regime.
            The English-language media differs significantly from its Farsi counterpart. Fars News, which is one of Iran’s largest news agencies, rarely mentions internal political tensions on its English website. It generally highlights Tehran’s leadership role in the Middle East, such as aid to the government of President Bashar Assad to quash the uprising. Fars describes Syrian rebels as “terrorists.”
            But the agency’s Farsi-language wire service is consumed with political infighting and economic mismanagement. It routinely blames President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the failing economy. It cites his combative language for compounding Western sanctions.
            Iran’s English-language media is largely conservative politically. Some outlets are state-controlled, while others are independent. But Iran’s English media lacks a strong reformist voice. The following profiles of the 11 most prominent news agencies that publish in English are based on information from their websites and open sources.
Press TV
            Iran’s most polished English-language news agency is Press TV. Press TV established its website in January 2007 to offer “an alternative perspective on world events.” It was the first Iranian international news network. It is both a 24-hour satellite channel and a website modeled on global outlets such as CNN, al Jazeera and the BBC. Press TV basically provides an Iranian perspective on global issues for English speakers. Its online mission statement describes its goal as “heeding the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world.”
            Press TV differs from other Iranian English-language media websites because it employs many non-Iranian contributors. Its anchors speak fluent English, often with British accents. Press TV reportedly operates in the United States through small companies or freelance journalists.
            In October 2012, the French-owned Eutelsat stopped hosting Iranian television stations, including Press TV, to comply with European Union sanctions. The United States also banned the satellite broadcast of Press TV in February 2013, in compliance with sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. But viewers can still access the live broadcast through Press TV’s website or mobile application.
            Press TV’s CEO, Mohammad Sarafraz, is also the deputy head of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting – Iran’s official radio and television organization.

Press TV website
YouTube page
Facebook page
Twitter feed

 Ettelaat (or “Information”)
            Ettelaat, which began publishing in 1926, is Iran’s oldest newspaper. It claims to be “the only international daily newspaper in Farsi.” From 1954 to 1978, Ettelaat published an English paper called Tehran Journal. The coverage was rarely critical of the government. During the monarchy, Ettelaat was hostile to the clerical opposition. In January 1978, Ettelaat published a controversial article saying that Ayatollah Khomeini was a British spy and a homosexual. In the build-up to the Islamic Revolution, the article sparked widespread protests in the holy city of Qom that resulted in the deaths of at least eight individuals.
            After the 1979 revolution, the new government purged Ettelaat’s staff and appointed Hojatoeslam Seyed Mahmoud Doaie as editor-in-chief. He still heads the paper, which now features an English page in its Farsi daily. Ettelaat also has an English website, which often reports on Tehran’s role in the Syrian conflict, economic advancements and trade relations with other countries. Ettelaat’s website also publishes electronic copies of its print newspaper.
Ettelaat website
A sample PDF of the English print edition of the news page (see final page).
IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency)
            Iran’s foreign ministry established the news service in 1934 under the name Pars Agency. By the 1950s, Pars had agreements with Western news wires like Agence France Press, the Associated Press and Reuters. After the 1979 revolution, the new government changed its name to the Islamic Republic News Agency. IRNA became Iran’s official news agency under the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
            IRNA launched its website in December 1996. The English-language page provides extensive coverage of international and domestic news. IRNA also publishes several papers and other periodicals, including The Iran Daily. The English-language paper covers both domestic and international news. As of 2011, IRNA had 60 domestic offices and 30 bureaus outside Iran.
            From 2010 to 2012, IRNA’s managing director was Ali Akbar Javanfekr. But in September 2012, Javanfekr was arrested for publishing material that was considered insulting to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Javanfekr was also President Ahmadinejad’s press advisor. In January 2013, Majid Amidi Sharaki replaced Javanfekr.
Kayhan (or “Universe”)
            Founded in February 1943, Kayhan was considered pro-monarchy before the revolution.
In 1959, the paper began publishing an English-language paper, Kayhan International. Kayhan International was separate from its Farsi counterpart. For two decades, it was one of the leading English papers in the Middle East. Foreigners living in Iran read its extensive coverage of domestic developments. Kayhan International had more features and was more independent than Ettelaat's Tehran Journal, another English-language paper.
            The new Islamic government seized ownership of Kayhan and its affiliates in 1979 and put them under the Office of the Supreme Leader’s supervision. The majority of the staff was fired. Kayhan then became a hard-line paper. Masoumeh Ebtekar —spokeswoman for the students during the 1979 hostage crisis— reportedly became editor-in-chief of Kayhan International in 1981 and headed the paper until 1983.
            Kayhan’s current editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, is reportedly a close confidant of the Supreme Leader. Kayhan International now publishes short stories from Western wire services or other Iranian agencies on its website. It is regularly updated but has less content and fewer features than Press TV, Fars and others. 
ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency)
            University students in Tehran founded ISNA in 1999, a time when the student movement was particularly vibrant and reformist. Its coverage gradually expanded beyond university events and student issues to include domestic and international topics. Many of its correspondents are still student volunteers. ISNA’s chief-of-staff, Ali Motaghian, is also the general manager of the president’s office of Communication Information, Scientific Research, and Technology.
            ISNA, which emerged during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, still has reformist leanings. It is widely considered to be more independent than other agencies.


Fars News Agency
            Fars News Agency is a wire service that is reportedly tied to the Revolutionary Guards. Its managing director is Saeed Noubari, the former chief of public relations of the Tehran Justice Department. The editor-in-chief, Abbas Darvish Tavangar, also heads the Association of Iranian Journalists and Reporters.
            Its English-language service was launched in 2006 and publishes different content than the Farsi-language website. Fars occasionally interviews Westerners, but its commentators are primarily Iranian. 


ABNA (Ahlul Bayt News Agency, or “People of the House”)
            ABNA was launched in March 2005 to cover worldwide Shiite news, unlike other Iranian news agencies that do not have an explicit religious focus. ABNA does not publish a print newspaper. Its website publishes articles on Iran’s Shiites and the role of the Supreme Leader. But it also covers Shiite communities in other parts of the world. ABNA publishes in more than a dozen languages, including Swahili, Chinese, and Bosnian.


Jam-e Jam (or “Cup of Life”)
            Jam-e Jam is an official publication of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Its Farsi daily has one of the widest circulations in Iran. Jam-e Jam launched its website in October 2002 as “the first Iranian cyber newspaper.” The English-language site covers domestic and international issues. Bijan Moghaddam is the current managing director.
Tehran Times
            Iran’s first English daily newspaper was established in 1979. Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti intended it to be “a loud voice of the Islamic revolution and the loudspeaker of the oppressed people of the world.” He was assassinated in 1981. Hamid Golpira is Tehran Times’ current senior editor.
Mehr News Agency (or “Kindness”)
            The Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization established Mehr in 2003 as a Farsi and English-language news service affiliated with The Tehran Times. Over the last decade, Mehr has hired correspondents in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. It now publishes in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and German. Mehr has reportedly partnered with over a dozen foreign news agencies to expand its coverage of world events. Mehr’s CEO and managing director is Reza Moghadasi.
Khabar Online (or “News Online”)
            Launched in 2008, Khabar claims to be the third most visited Iranian news site. Khabar’s Facebook page says it is moderately conservative. Khabar publishes articles on Iran’s politics, culture and economy. The website’s expansive cultural section publishes articles on the local film industry. Its chairman is Hossein Entezolmi and its managing director is Alireza Mazi.
Helia Ighani is a graduate student at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant in the Center for Conflict Management at the United States Institute of Peace.
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U.S. General: Iran buying time with talks

            On March 5, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said that he believes Iran is buying time with talks on its controversial nuclear program. But Marines Corps General James Mattis told the Senate Armed Service Committee that negotiations should continue because they are "critical to building international consensus.” 

            “Between economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and encouragement of behavior that does not cost them [Iran’s leaders] such a degree of political support… there may yet be a way to bring them to their senses,” Mattis said. He added that the United States would have “other options ready” if those methods fail.

            “Iran presents the most significant regional threat to stability and security,” Mattis said. The general also warned that Tehran’s “reckless behavior and bellicose rhetoric have created a high potential for miscalculation” that could spark a conflict.

            The nuclear program is not the only potential Iranian threat. Mattis noted that the Islamic Republic is also developing maritime assets, ballistic missiles, regional proxies and cyber-attack capabilities. The following are excerpts from the general’s prepared statement.

            …The ongoing events of the Arab Awakening, blatant brutality by the Iranian-backed Syrian regime and the spillover effects of refugees and violence into neighboring countries, coupled with Iran’s flagrant violation of United Nations security council resolutions, bellicose rhetoric and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, and the persistent threat from both Shia (Iranian supported) and Sunni (Al Qaeda and its affiliates) violent extremists demand international attention…
            Threat networks including those maintained by Iran are adjusting opportunistically, and are emboldened by regional developments – to include the Arab Spring and events such as those in Benghazi and Syria. These networks pursue a range of destabilizing activities that include but are not limited to the transfer of illicit arms, as well as the provision of financial, lethal, and material aid support to a range of malign actors seeking to undermine regional security…
Malign Iranian influence:

            Despite significant economic sanctions and increased diplomatic isolation within the global community, Iran continues to export instability and violence across the region
and beyond...
Potential nuclear threat. Iran continues to expand its nuclear enrichment capabilities,
which enable Iran to quickly produce weapons-grade nuclear material, should Tehran make that decision.
Counter Maritime threat. Iran is improving its counter maritime capabilities (mines, small boats, cruise missiles, submarines) to threaten sea-lanes vital to the global economy. The occasionally provocative behavior of the Revolutionary Guard Navy
is an issue with which we deal and we refine our operational approaches in sustaining our stabilizing maritime presence in the Persian Gulf.
Theater Ballistic Missiles. Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East and is increasing medium and short range ballistic missile inventories and capability with ranges up to about 2,000 kilometers, sufficient to strike targets with increasing precision throughout the region. While Iran has previously exaggerated its capabilities, there is consensus that Tehran has creatively adapted foreign technology to increase the quality and quantity of its arsenal.
Iranian Threat Network. Malign influence and activities (illicit weapons, financial aid,
trained personnel and training) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Gaza, Lebanon
and Yemen along with the 2011 attempt here in Washington to assassinate the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, indicate a long-term trend that has clear potential for murderous miscalculation that could spark a disastrous regional conflict. Iran continues to seek to establish nodes throughout the region through which to advance its destabilizing agenda.
Cyber. Given Iran’s growing capabilities in this sensitive domain, the U.S. must recognize and adapt now to defend against malicious cyber activity.
Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs):
            The focus of our military efforts over the past decade has largely been on Al Qaeda, its adherents and affiliates (AQAA), and we have achieved measurable successes in combating them. The AQAA “franchise” remains a threat however. An equally concerning long-term threat continues to emanate from the Iran-sponsored Shia brand of extremism wielded by groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah.
            In addition to the threat from these terrorists with which we are already familiar,
A clash brought on by these two brands of extremism could pour fuel on the simmering Sunni-Shia tensions we observe from Baluchistan to Syria and incite a worsening cycle of violence…
            As the crisis in Syria enters its third year, there is little evidence to suggest the conflict’s end is imminent. Russia and China’s regrettable vetoes in the U.N. and Iran and Hezbollah’s full support have helped the Asad regime to remain defiant in the face of international condemnation…
            Moreover, while the opposition has inflicted significant losses on Syria’s military and eroded Asad’s control over many parts of the country, the regime has responded with paramilitary operations assisted by sustained Iranian financial and lethal support. Hezbollah is now heavily committed as a critical partner of the Syrian regime, providing training and oversight to the Shabiha militia in conjunction with Iranian support. This cooperation between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah stands in contrast to the relative disunity of the Syrian Opposition – which is further encumbered by the malign influence of Al Nusrah/AQ-related groups…
Click here for the full statement.

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