United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Geneva Talks: Experts on Deal Terms

            The following briefs by nuclear proliferation experts analyze the potential terms of a deal to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute.

SIPRI: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Time for a more comprehensive approach to the Iran nuclear negotiations

Shannon Kile

Will the first step be the last step?
             Expectations of an imminent diplomatic breakthrough had been raised when foreign ministers from five of the countries joined in eleventh-hour negotiations on a deal that would have required Iran to suspend parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for partial relief from international economic sanctions.

             The failure of the parties to reach an agreement comes as something of an anti-climax in light of the expectations that had built up during the meeting. What should be kept in mind, however, is that the latest talks were about short-term suspension and sanctions-relief measures, envisioned to last for six months, and not a long-term final deal about the future of Iran’s nuclear programme.

             Herein lies a key shortcoming of the Geneva talks: namely, they have been focused on first steps in the absence of a common understanding among the parties about where the subsequent steps should ultimately lead. This raises the risk, or even the likelihood, that a modest interim agreement may turn out to be the only agreement reached if the negotiations later collapse over more permanent arrangements.

Reaching an agreement between the parties will be politically difficult
             The prospect of the talks building up to a breakdown suggests that the Geneva negotiators need to give priority to putting in place a more comprehensive framework agreement—one that lays out an explicit diplomatic end-game accepted by all parties. As many observers have noted, this is an exercise that is fraught with political difficulties. Any plausible long-term deal will require Iran to recognize that it will not be able to push ahead with an unconstrained nuclear programme. While the specific limitations would be determined through intensive negotiation, the United States and its allies would almost certainly insist that Iran dismantle a significant number of its current 19 000 uranium enrichment centrifuges, including the new advanced model being installed at Natanz, and to mothball the heavy-water nuclear reactor under construction at Arak.

             At the same time, the USA and its allies will have to accept that under any plausible deal Iran will not agree to give up all of its nuclear fuel cycle activities and, in particular, that it will insist on retaining a uranium enrichment programme in some form. This would not imply a recognition by these states of Iran’s claimed legal ‘right’ to enrich uranium. Rather, it would be an acknowledgement of political reality inside Iran, where the nuclear programme enjoys support across the ideological spectrum as a symbol of national pride and Islamic modernity in spite of debilitating international sanctions. As the just-concluded talks in Geneva have illustrated, this will be a difficult pill for the Americans and Europeans to swallow.

The need for a bolder diplomatic vision
             The deep mistrust and suspicion between Iran, on the one hand, and the USA and the European Union partners, on the other, makes the task of agreeing on a comprehensive approach for settling the nuclear issue especially challenging. Against this backdrop, perhaps the main positive outcomes of the Geneva meeting were the upbeat assessments offered by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who both noted that the talks had contributed to increasing mutual confidence and trust between the parties even if they did not resolve their long-standing differences. This gives a useful boost to the expert-level discussions now underway about possible transparency and confidence-building measures envisioned as the next step towards reaching a final deal. It also helps to set the stage for the upcoming round in the separate but parallel discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iranian nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

             It remains to be seen whether the generally conciliatory tone and atmosphere at the talks in Geneva will translate into an agreement committing the parties to concrete action. While a deal on even a modest set of interim measures would be a welcome first step, the parties must take care that this does not inadvertently become a last step because of misaligned incentives and incompatible goals for the nuclear end-game. What is needed now is a bolder diplomatic vision that will lead the way out of the current stalemate by charting an agreed comprehensive strategy for a long-term settlement of the nuclear issue.

            Click here to read the piece on SIPRI's website.

The Arms Control Association

Closing in on a Deal with Iran: Assessing the Nov. 7-9 Talks

Daryl G. Kimball and Kelsey Davenport

            After three days of intense, multidimensional talks in Geneva Nov. 7-9, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran are closing in on a breakthrough, “first phase” deal that would verifiably halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.
            Although the most recent round of talks did not end with an agreement, the talks succeeded in closing many–if not most–of the remaining gaps between the two sides.
They are closer now to resolving the  decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program than they have been since the 2005-2006 period when current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani led Iran’s negotiating team.
            According to Secretary of State John Kerry, who made an unscheduled appearance to participate in the meetings on Friday, the negotiators made “significant progress.”  Speaking on Saturday after talks ended, Kerry said that there was “no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than we were when we came.”
A First-Phase Agreement
            A meaningful “first phase” agreement would pause Iran’s nuclear progress and address the most urgent activities of proliferation concern, primarily the production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20 percent and the deployment of additional and/or more efficient centrifuges, plus additional transparency measures, in exchange for 20% enriched uranium fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor and/or medical isotopes, plus  limited and reversible relief from some the tough sanctions now in place against Iran.
P5+1 Issues?
            Reported differences that might exist between France and the other Western powers over how to handle the issue of the Arak heavy water reactor in a “phase one” and in the “final phase” of the negotiations can and should be resolved in the next few days.
            In an amateurish diplomatic blunder, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made comments to the press in the middle of the negotiations. His remarks implied that the proposal put forward by the the P5+1 team, which included his own diplomatic representative, would not have done enough to address Arak. In reality, Arak has been a proliferation concern for many years and one of the core concerns of the P5+1 negotiating proposals, including their April 2013 proposal.
            However, not all issues can or must be settled at once. Arak represents a long term proliferation risk but is not a near term risk. The “first phase” of the deal does not have include a final resolution on the partially completed reactor.
            Iran has reported that the Arak reactor will not become operational until mid-2014. Construction work has lagged behind schedule for years and its start up may not be possible until even later. Furthermore,  the reactor would have to be fully operational for at least year to produce spent fuel laden with plutonium and Iran does not have a spent fuel reprocessing facility to separate the plutonium.
            With the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspecting the Arak reactor on a regular basis, the international community would also be made aware of Iran’s activities well in advance if it were seeking to separate plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Rights and Responsibilities
            Comments from a senior U.S. official suggest that differences between Iran and the P5+1 over language regarding Iran’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Article IV right to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy were an eleventh hour stumbling block in Geneva.
To secure a deal, the P5+1 must eventually recognize Iran’s right under the Article IV of the NPT to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions. As Obama said in his Sept. 24 address to the United Nations, such recognition requires that Iran adequately and satisfactorily respond to the international community’s concern about the nature of its program.
To address those concerns, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani must follow through on his pledge for “greater transparency” by allowing broader IAEA access and more information about its current and past nuclear activities through steps such as implementation the additional protocol and fuller cooperation with the IAEA to resolve questions about suspected weapons-related experiments that may have been conducted over a decade ago. Iran took a step in this direction by signing an agreement Nov. 11 allowing the IAEA broader monitoring access to key nuclear sites.
Toward the Next Round of Talks
            With talks resuming on November 20 in Geneva, it is vital to maintain the momentum to work toward an agreement that addresses the most urgent proliferation concerns.
As Secretary of State Kerry said in an interview Nov. 10, freezing Iran’s nuclear progress  would “put more time back on the clock” and would open the way for a more comprehensive, more permanent agreement that rolls back Iran’s overall enrichment capacity–ideally to no more than 3,000-4,000 centrifuges–and provides more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program.
            Policymakers in Washington and leaders in Israel who genuinely want to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran should be careful not to insist on ideal but unrealistic demands, such as zero enrichment or the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.
Such a deal may have been possible in 2005 when Iran had fewer than 300 uranium enrichment centrifuges at one site; but it is not realistic now that Iran has 19,000 installed and 10,000 operating centrifuges at two sites.
            Pushing for everything and getting nothing is foolhardy and dangerous.
            In the absence of a meaningful, realistic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium and expand its other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle project. That, in turn, will increase the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such an attack would only delay, not stop, Iran’s nuclear pursuits, lead to a wider Middle East war, and likely push Iran’s leaders to openly seek the bomb.
            In the absence of a negotiated “first phase” agreement to pause Iran’s nuclear program, further sanctions against Iran would surely be legislated, but they would not halt or eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons potential.
            Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.
            Click here for the Arms Control Association's blog.

CNAS: Center for a New American Security

Excerpts from "Inflection Point: Requirements for an Enduring Diplomatic Solution to the Iranian Nuclear Challenge"

Colin Kahl

The Goals of an Enduring Diplomatic Solution
            According to U.S. intelligence officials, Iran has already mastered the basic knowledge and technology required to eventually develop nuclear weapons, should the regime decide to do so. Nothing, including the complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, will put this technological genie back in the bottle. Instead, negotiations should focus on a more concrete and achievable objective: placing meaningful and verifiable constraints on Iran’s ability to translate its accumulated knowledge and civilian nuclear capabilities into nuclear weapons.
            Specifically, diplomacy should aim to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear “breakout capability,” defined as the point at which Iran could produce fissile material for one or more nuclear weapons so quickly or so secretly that the international community could not detect it and respond in time.
            A final diplomatic agreement sufficient to prevent breakout should seek to:
Lengthen breakout timelines. The final agreement should include sufficient technical constraints to ensure the timeframe between the initiation of breakout and the production of fissile material for one or more weapons is sufficient to allow interdiction.
Shorten detection timelines. Verification mechanisms must be in place to ensure that breakout activities would be detected by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and through other means at the earliest possible stage.
Provide assurances against a covert nuclear infrastructure. Transparency and verification mechanisms should be sufficient to detect construction of covert fuel-cycle facilities and weaponization activities. In the aftermath of any agreement, the United
States (and the international community) must also maintain the will and capability to take effective action, including the use of military force if necessary, to prevent the acquisition of enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon if breakout is detected.
            An agreement that met these conditions would prevent and deter Iran from racing to a nuclear bomb and, should the regime nevertheless decide to do so, provide ample time for the United States and the international community to interdict the process before it was completed.
The Dangers of Pushing for a Maximalist Deal
            Attempting to keep Iran as far away from nuclear weapons as possible by demanding that the country completely abandon fuel-cycle activities, particularly the demand for zero enrichment, seems prudent and reasonable. All else being equal, the total absence of enrichment activities puts Iran further away from nuclear weapons than allowing some limited enrichment, and it would be easier to verify. Moreover, most countries with civilian nuclear power plants forgo domestic enrichment. (Although it is also the case that Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands have domestic enrichment capabilities while remaining compliant with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) But in reality, the quest for an optimal deal that requires a permanent end to Iranian enrichment at any level would likely doom diplomacy, making the far worse outcomes of unconstrained nuclearization or a military showdown over Tehran’s nuclear program much more likely.
            Regardless of pressure from the United States, U.S. allies, and the wider international community, the Iranian regime is unlikely to agree to permanently end all enrichment. Khamenei, the ultimate decider on the nuclear file, has invested far too much of the regime’s domestic legitimacy in defending Iran’s “rights” (defined as domestic enrichment) to completely capitulate now, even in the face of withering economic sanctions. The Islamic Republic has spent more than $100 billion over decades and enormous amounts of political capital to master the knowledge and centrifuge technology associated with uranium enrichment. The nuclear program and “resistance to arrogant powers” are firmly imbedded in the regime’s ideological raison d’etre…
            Nor are President Rouhani and his negotiating team likely to agree to halt enrichment and advocate for such a policy within the regime, since doing so would be political suicide. In 2003, during Rouhani’s previous role as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, he convinced Khamenei to accept a temporary suspension of enrichment. But further talks with the international community stalled in early 2005 over a failure to agree on Iran’s asserted right to enrichment, and Tehran ended its suspension shortly thereafter. Rouhani believes – as do the supreme leader and Rouhani’s critics in the Revolutionary Guard – that the West pocketed Iranian concessions and Tehran got nothing in return. The failure of Iran’s earlier approach under Rouhani facilitated the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his hardline policies, including the development of a much more robust uranium enrichment capability. Rouhani is unlikely to make that mistake again. And even if Rouhani and his lead negotiator, foreign minister Javad Zarif, were somehow convinced to do so, the Iranian president would be savaged by his right flank…
            Rouhani’s new moderate tone with the international community has also recast the Islamic Republic as the reasonable party, further mitigating the risks of a popular backlash, especially if further negotiations deadlock over “unreasonable” maximalist demands. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 13 percent of the Iranian public holds the regime responsible for the hardships produced by economic sanctions (46 percent blame the United States). The same poll found that 68 percent of Iranians support continuing the country’s nuclear program despite economic sanctions, a finding consistent with other surveys showing widespread support for maintaining Iran’s enrichment program even if it results in additional economic pressure. Consequently, if talks are seen to collapse because of Washington’s insistence on demands for zero enrichment, the Iranian public is likely to direct their ire at United Sates, not the regime, for the diplomatic failure.
            Given profound reasons for the regime to reject a maximalist deal, pursuing one would require the United States to go to the brink of the abyss with Iran, escalating economic and military threats to the point that the regime’s survival was acutely and imminently at stake. Yet pursuing such a high-risk strategy is unlikely to succeed, and the consequences of failure would be profound.
            First, it is unclear if any escalation of sanctions could bring the regime to its knees in time to prevent Iran from achieving a breakout capability. Although some analysts believe Tehran is on the ropes and that additional sanctions can force Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear program, they rarely explain how more sanctions would produce a sufficient threat to the regime fast enough to prevent Iran from crossing critical nuclear thresholds. Iran’s apparent willingness to negotiate under pressure is not, in and of itself, evidence that more pressure will produce total surrender on the nuclear issue…
            Second, and somewhat paradoxically, escalating sanctions at this moment could actually end up weakening international pressure on Iran. For better or worse, Rouhani has already succeeded in shifting international perceptions of Iran. If the United States, rather than Iran, comes across as the intransigent party, it will become much more difficult to maintain the international coalition currently isolating Tehran. In particular, if negotiations on a comprehensive framework collapse because of Washington’s unwillingness to make a deal on limited enrichment – a deal Russia and China and numerous other European and Asian nations support – it will likely become much harder to enforce sanctions…
            Third, issuing more explicit military threats (through a possible authorization of the use of military force, for example) is also unlikely to achieve a maximalist diplomatic outcome. There is little doubt that maintaining a credible military option affects the Iranian regime’s calculations, raising the potential costs associated with nuclearization. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States should reserve the option of using force as a last resort to preclude Iran from developing nuclear weapons...
            Finally, attempting to generate an existential crisis for the Islamic Republic could backfire by increasing the regime’s incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. This is especially true in the current diplomatic context. If the United States escalates economic or military pressure at the very moment that Iran has begun to finally negotiate in earnest, Khamenei will likely conclude that the real and irrevocable goal of U.S. policy is regime change rather than a nuclear accord…
Good Enough: Pushing for a Sufficient Deal
            A complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program – including a permanent end to uranium enrichment – is therefore not in the cards. Instead of pushing for an ideal-but-unachievable agreement, the United States and other world powers should push for a sufficient and achievable one: an accord that significantly limits fuel-cycle activities under stringent conditions and verification procedures designed to preclude Iran’s ability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons.
            A “sufficient” deal would have several major components:
• Significant constraints on uranium enrichment, including: a cap on enrichment at the 5 percent level sufficient for civilian nuclear power reactors but far from bomb-grade; neutralizing or otherwise limiting the size of Iran’s domestic stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to below one-bomb’s worth of material; limits on the number, quality and/or output of centrifuges; and setting limits on the size and number of enrichment facilities.
• Significant constraints on the plutonium track, including: dismantling Arak, converting Arak to a proliferation-resistant light water reactor or otherwise neutralizing the facility; and prohibiting the future construction of reprocessing facilities.
• An intrusive inspections regime, including: implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol, allowing inspections of undeclared facilities; requirements for early notification of new nuclear sites; more frequent inspections and 24/7 remote surveillance of key facilities; monitoring centrifuge research, development and production facilities, and uranium mines; and enhanced monitoring of trade in sensitive goods and technologies.
• Transparency into past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, including: cooperating with the IAEA investigation into past weapons-related research and development to confirm that these activities have been terminated; and providing IAEA access to key research facilities and scientists.
            Taken together, these measures would substantially lengthen breakout timelines, shorten detection timelines and provide assurances against an Iranian covert infrastructure. For these reasons, leading arms control experts believe that such a comprehensive agreement would be sufficient to prevent Iranian nuclear breakout. Furthermore, nothing about this proposal would take any options “off the table” in the event that Iran violated the agreement, reconstituted elements of its program and attempted to build nuclear weapons.
The Path to a Final Deal
            Achieving a comprehensive accord sufficient to prevent Iranian nuclear breakout will be difficult. But given the progress made thus far in Geneva, there is a plausible path forward. Ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 envision a two-step process toward a comprehensive agreement. During first phase, which is the subject of current negotiations, media reports suggest that Iran would be required to:
• Stop producing enriched uranium at the near-bomb-grade 20 percent level.
• Neutralize most of its existing 20 percent stockpile through some combination of oxidation, downblending and/or conversion to fuel assemblies.
• Agree not to activate advanced IR-2m centrifuges.
• Freeze or reduce the number of operational IR-1 centrifuges enriching to the 3.5 percent level.
• Halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor or, at the very least, refrain from loading fuel into the reactor.
• Agree to more intrusive inspections.
            In exchange for these initial Iranian steps to address the most urgent elements of their nuclear program, the Obama administration appears prepared to offer limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief. According to media reports, this may include: a temporary suspension of sanctions on trade with Iran in petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals; waiving proliferation designations of Iran’s auto industry; providing access to civilian aircraft parts; and/or a mechanism for releasing some Iranian funds tied up in overseas escrow accounts. Sanctions would only be suspended for the period of the agreement (approximately six months) and could be “turned back on” if Iran fails to honor the deal...
           Click here for the full text.


Iran Provides UN More Access to Nuclear Sites

            On November 11, Iran agreed to provide the U.N. nuclear watchdog with greater access to its nuclear sites. The joint statement signed in Tehran was intended to help verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s controversial nuclear program. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said the agreement was “an important step forward to start with, but much more needs to be done.” Previous talks had failed to produce a framework for cooperation.
            Iran committed to providing “managed access” within three months to its uranium mine at Gchine and a heavy water production plant. But the agreement did not specifically reference the Parchin military facility, where U.N. officials suspect Iran may have carried out weapons-related research. The following is the full text of the joint statement and a picture of Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi with Yukiya Amano.

Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation
            The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) have agreed today, 11 November 2013, to strengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA.
            In this regard, it was agreed that Iran and the IAEA will cooperate further with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues. It is foreseen that Iran's cooperation will include providing the IAEA with timely information about its nuclear facilities and in regard to the implementation of transparency measures. Activities will proceed in a step-by-step manner.
            The IAEA agreed to continue to take into account Iran's security concerns including through the use of managed access and the protection of confidential information.
As a first step, Iran and the IAEA agreed to the practical measures listed in the attached Annex. Iran will provide the access and information within three months from the date of this Statement. The IAEA will report to the Board of Governors on progress in the implementation of these measures.
Yukiya Amano
Director General
Place: Tehran
Date: 11 November 2013
Ali Akbar Salehi
Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
Place: Tehran
Date: 11 November 2013
Annex to the Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation of 11 November 2013
Initial Practical Measures to be Taken by Iran Within Three Months
  1. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Gchine mine in Bandar Abbas
  2. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Heavy Water Production Plant
  3. Providing information on all new research reactors
  4. Providing information with regard to the identification of 16 sites designated for the construction of nuclear power plants
  5. Clarification of the announcement made by Iran regarding additional enrichment facilities
  6. Further clarification of the announcement made by Iran with respect to laser enrichment technology


Rouhani at 100 Days: Easing Up is Hard to Do

Hanif Kashani and Robin Wright

            The honeymoon is over. President Hassan Rouhani marks 100 days in office on November 12, which is also his birthday. During his campaign against five rivals, Rouhani distinguished himself as the people’s champion and pledged to create a government of “prudence and hope.” And shortly after his election, Rouhani bluntly told his fellow clerics, “A strong government does not mean a government that interferes and intervenes in all affairs. It is not a government that limits the lives of people.”

      “We have to give people a free hand,” Rouhani said. “We shouldn't intervene so much in people's private lives and culture.”
      But for all his lofty promises, little has tangibly changed so far. Indeed, Iran’s new president faces growing opposition from hardliners over his promise to ease rigid government controls on Iranian society. 
      “People in all fields have been struggling,” Culture Minister Ali Jannati told Ghanoon newspaper shortly before his appointment. “Our friends in cinema, literature, music, and the press have all been dealing with the same issues. I imagine that ultimately this new government will have to make changes at a very basic level.”
            After his election, Rouhani pledged to ease up on television censorship. In an English-language tweet, the new president even chastised IRIB, the state-controlled television, for its poor news coverage. “When IRIB airs the birth of a panda in China but nothing about unpaid workers protesting, it is obvious that the people and youth will ignore it,” Rouhani tweeted.
            At a September 26 address to the Asia Society, Rouhani said his government’s objective “is to provide free access to information for the people…Presently even Iranian villages have access to satellite [dishes]. All you have to do is to look at their rooftops.”
            Yet just two days later, a Revolutionary Guards unit in Shiraz used a tank to crush 800 confiscated satellite dishes. Dishes have long been illegal in the Islamic Republic because they bring in foreign programs—including news, soap operas, music, talk shows and films­—but millions have defied the law and hidden dishes on their rooftops.
            New Culture Minister Ali Jannati criticized the crackdown. “Prohibiting satellites and jamming their signals won’t be effective,” he said on November 5. “We need to consider content that the viewers are attracted to.” But the ban has not been lifted.
            Rouhani, who is a self-described movie buff, also pledged to lift restrictions on Iran’s once vibrant movie industry. “We must allow cinema organizations to be free,” Rouhani said in a television interview during the campaign. “Let’s leave the cinema to those who know cinema, to filmmakers, artists.” Five weeks after his inauguration, his culture ministry reopened the House of Cinema, an alliance of motion picture guilds that had been shut down since January 2012.
            But the new government also has not yet loosened longstanding controls, which include approval of movie scripts and allocation of film supplies controlled by the culture ministry.
Social Media
            Rouhani opened one Facebook and two Twitter accounts—in English and Farsi—for his presidential campaign. Shortly after his election, he said that internet filtering was futile and pledged to minimize censorship. “In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine,” he said.
            In a highly unusual exchange, Rouhani had a Twitter conversation with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in October. Dorsey sent a tweet to Rouhani’s English-language account asking if Iranian citizens could see Rouhani’s posts. Referring to his CNN interview, the Iranian president replied, “Evening, @Jack. As I told @camanpour, my efforts geared 2 ensure my ppl'll comfortably b able 2 access all info globally as is their #right.
            The new culture minister also told reporters on November 5 that Facebook and other social networking sites should be “accessible for everyone…We must reduce the filtering of internet websites to a minimum.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is particularly active on Facebook. He has 550,000 followers and has engaged in unprecedented debates through detailed accounts of his work.
            Yet Twitter and Facebook have remained blocked for ordinary Iranians. They can only reach personal accounts to post or connect by going through foreign servers. Authorities have reportedly announced that some 5 million websites are blocked. In July 2013 alone, 67 internet cafes were reportedly shut down, according to the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
            The culture ministry has indicated that it may lift the ban on women singing solo in front of mixed audiences, which has been forbidden since the 1979 revolution. “Some religious authorities have said that so long as solo singing by women does not lead to corruption, it is admissible,” Jannati reportedly said in October. In late October, an all-female folklore band received official permission to perform at one of Tehran’s top halls.
            But the government’s action was the exception rather than a new rule. And females are still nervous about potential repercussions. “Why should I be kept under so much stress before my performance?” singer Jivad Sheikholeslami told the Financial Times. “If the female voice was against religion, God would have created us mute.”
            Shortly after his election, Rouhani criticized the state-controlled media. “There are a number of media in our country, but there is no variety,” he said. In a pointed reference to the closure of 40 newspapers between 2009 and 2013, Rouhani also said that good “government receives its legitimacy from the support of the people [and] isn’t afraid of a free media.”
            Press censorship seemed to loosen during the first three months of Rouhani’s presidency. In August, a few publications banned during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency were allowed to publish again. Reformist papers also took new risks. Shargh ran a front-page interview in September with Alan Eyre, the State Department’s top Iran watcher.
            Yet the judiciary continues to clampdown on the media, especially reformist publications. In October, the judiciary shut down popular reformist daily Bahar for a controversial article on early Islamic leadership and then arrested its editor Saeed Pourazizi. He was released on $80,000 bail.
            In November, the judiciary also blocked the reopening of reformist paper Ham-Mihan, which was closed in 2007 during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani warned on October 30 that the courts will continue to "act with determination against those who falsify the history and try to undermine the fundamentals of the regime."
            During the June 5 presidential campaign debate, Rouhani openly warned his rivals that “censorship kills creativity.” And after his inauguration, his new culture minister criticized the heavy censorship imposed on books during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. “Under such methods, censors would have rejected even the Koran, and would have argued that some of the words in it are against public morality,” Jannati said on October 8.
            Yet the government must still approve all manuscripts for publication. In October, more than 200 writers, poets and translators wrote an open letter to Jannati appealing for an end to censorship. They vowed to take responsibility for the consequences of anything they wrote. The letter was published by many publications, including Bahar, the newspaper that was subsequently banned.
Hanif Z. Kashani is a consultant for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program. 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.


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Rouhani at 100 Days: Few New Freedoms Yet

Hanif Kashani and Garrett Nada

            Iran’s new government has taken only token steps to restore basic freedoms or open up politically during Hassan Rouhani’s first 100 days in office. The cleric had campaigned on an ambitious platform that included free speech, release of political prisoners, and gender equality. He generally pledged to “break this security atmosphere.”
            “A successful domestic policy means peace of mind, security, prosperity,” he said in the June 7 presidential debate. “Freedoms should be protected.”
            After his inauguration, the government announced release of some 80 political prisoners in September, but by November only half had actually been freed. The United Nations reported in October that “hundreds of other prisoners detained solely for exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly” remain jailed. Up to 800 political prisoners and prisoners of consciousness may be behind bars in Iran, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
            The most telling case involves the detention of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two presidential candidates in 2009 who led protests against the disputed reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hardliners charged them with sedition, although they have never been tried.
      The slow pace of change has begun to alienate some of Rouhani’s supporters. After visiting Karroubi’s family on October 29, reformist leader and former interior minister Abdollah Nuri warned Rouhani, “Do not forget the substantial amount of supporters who voted for you because they are fed up with lawlessness, the violation of civil rights, harassment, and the narrow-mindedness of them [government officials].”
            The failure to deliver has also sparked growing criticism from the human rights community. “President Rouhani has an immense responsibility to uphold his promises to protect citizenship rights and use all means at his disposal to stop this latest onslaught against civil and human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “His silence in the face of such an affront is emboldening hardliners in the Judiciary and Intelligence who insist that Rouhani’s election will not change the status quo.”
Human Rights
            During the presidential campaign, Rouhani repeatedly pledged to work for the release of political prisoners. At a June 1 rally, his supporters chanted “Political prisoners must be released!” Rouhani replied, “Why just political prisoners? Let’s do something in which all prisoners [of conscience] will be released!”
            The judiciary, intelligence agencies and national security apparatus all play roles in arrests and trials, but the presidency has influence both through its popular mandate and a seat on the Supreme National Security Council. Since Rouhani’s inauguration, a handful of notable prisoners of conscience have been released, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist Isa Saharkhiz. Student activist Majid Tavakoli, jailed since the 2009 protests, received a temporary furlough from prison in October.
            Yet the Rouhani administration has not prevented new arrests or executions. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi dismissed government promises as “a big lie. Twelve or thirteen people have been released but these are people who had served their time,” she told the Associated Press in November.
            Recent high-profile arrests include actress and activist Pegah Ahangarani (below), who was sentenced to 18 months  in October on security charges. She campaigned for Rouhani as well as 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Human rights groups also reported that at least 125 executions had been carried out between Rouhani’s election in June and his first three months in office.
Presidential Candidates
            The continued detention of former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi is the most visible example of Rouhani’s failure on human rights. Both men worked closely with Rouhani in the 1980s, during the revolution’s first decade, when Mousavi was prime minister and Karroubi speaker of parliament. The opposition leaders (below) have been under house arrest since February 2011 for leading the Green Movement protests that challenged former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 reelection.
            During the presidential campaign, Rouhani promised action. “I don’t think it will be difficult to bring about a condition in the next year where not only those under house arrest but also those who have been detained after the 2009 election will be released,” Rouhani said in May.
      Hopes for the Mousavi and Karroubi’s release were dampened in late October. Mousavi’s daughters were attacked by female guards after visiting their father and mother. Nargess Mousavi wrote about the encounter on her Facebook page:
      “We couldn't believe it at first, but she [the guard] unabashedly repeated her demand [to search the daughters], even saying she wanted us to take off our underwear. To try and describe her treatment of us defies basic human decency. After refusing to take off our underclothes, she attacked us and smacked both my sister Zahra and myself in the ear with a great deal of force.”
            Rouhani’s silence on the incident prompted harsh criticism from some prominent supporters. “Our first condition was for you to try to release all political prisoners, particularly to end the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi,”Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib was quoted as saying on opposition websites. Dastgheib is a member of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful body charged with overseeing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Gender Equality
            Rouhani’s campaign platform promised women “equal rights and equal pay,” including equal opportunities for men and women in senior government positions. He also pledged financial support for female heads of households and promised to create a ministry of women’s affairs. In contrast, conservative candidate Saeed Jalili argued that the “main role for a woman is to be a mother.”
            During his first 100 days, Rouhani did appoint women to some prominent positions, including two vice presidencies. Elham Aminzadeh is vice president for legal affairs. Masoumeh Ebtekar is vice president and head of the Environmental Protection Organization. At the foreign ministry, Marzieh Afkham is Iran’s first female spokesperson. He vowed to appoint many more. “You’ll see women active everywhere,” Rouhani said during his New York visit in September (video below).
            Although he is a cleric, Rouhani also criticized police enforcement of Iran’s strict Islamic dress code, which requires women to cover their head and shoulders. “If there is a need for a warning on the hijab issue, the police should be the last to give it,” he told police academy graduates in October. “Our virtuous women should feel safe and relaxed in the presence of the police,” he added.
            But Rouhani is now trapped between hardliners who are pushing back on gender equality and women who want him to move further and faster. The Association of Iranian Women demanded that Rouhani address women’s issues and treatment of “feminism as a taboo subject” within the first 100 days of his presidency. “There is no excuse for the president to claim he is powerless to advance women’s rights in Iran,” prominent human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar told the Brookings Institution in October.
Academic Freedom
             During the campaign,Rouhani promised greater freedom of expression, especially on university campuses. In the June 5 presidential debate, he condemned the forced retirement of professors and expulsion of student activists since nationwide protests in 2009. His Twitter account even chastised hardline candidate Saeed Jalili, a close associate of former President Ahmadinejad.

             Since taking office in August, Rouhani has continued to press for more freedom in universities. “It would be a shame if professors could not express their opinions,” Rouhani saidat Tehran University on October 14. “University officials should respect freedom of expression, and we should not be involved in the bad and inappropriate tendency of sending teachers into early retirement. I call on the security services to pave the way to that diplomacy and to trust professors and students."
            In September, Rouhani dismissed Sadreddin Shariati, the president of Allameh Tabatabai University, for his role in the dismissal of faculty and politically active students. Shariati had also tried to segregate coed classrooms.
            But little has actually changed. The government also has not reversed policies that prohibit women from enrolling in 77 fields of study —including engineering, accounting, education, counseling, and chemistry— or that replace women’s studies curricula with courses on women’s rights in Islam at universities, according to a U.N. report in October. The government has also not canceled quotas that favor admission of men to universities. Few of the roughly 1,000 students who were expelled after the 2009 protests have been allowed to return to school, according to Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.
Hanif Z. Kashani is a consultant for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.


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Gallup: Most Iranians Say Sanctions Hurting

            Some 85 percent of Iranians said international sanctions have hurt their livelihoods, according to a new poll by Gallup World. Half of respondents said they have been hurt “a great deal.” A higher percentage of Iranians said that sanctions had hurt the country overall. Since early 2012, punitive measures have reduced Iranian oil exports by about 60 percent. And the soaring inflation rate has dramatically increased the cost of living for many Iranians.  
            Despite the economic burdens, 68 percent of Iranians said their country should continue to advance its nuclear power program. The following are excerpts from the new poll report.

           Despite the perceived economic toll, two in three (68%) Iranians say their country should continue to develop nuclear power despite the scale of sanctions against Iran. This higher support in the face of international pressure highlights the role Iranian nationalism plays in the nuclear standoff with the West. Support is lower when Iranians are asked if they approve or disapprove of their country developing nuclear capabilities for military (34%) and non-military purposes (56%).
           In a previous poll, Iranians held the United States chiefly responsible for the sanctions, with nearly half of Iranians (46%) pinning these sanctions on Washington. Another 13% considered their own government most responsible, followed by 9% who blamed Israel, and 6% each who blamed Western European countries and the United Nations.
            Iranians' blame has been similarly placed each time Gallup has asked this question in 2012 and 2013. Looking at the combined results of the two surveys, Iranians who blame their own government are significantly less likely than those who blame external actors to say that Iran should continue to develop nuclear power in the face of continued sanctions (39% vs. 76%).
Click here for the full report.

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