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The Iran Primer

Rouhani Visits Turkey to Boost Ties

           On June 9, Hassan Rouhani became the first Iranian president to officially visit Turkey in 18 years. The primary goal of the trip was to boost economic ties with Ankara. Rouhani was accompanied by a high profile 90-member trade delegation led by Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines Chairman Gholam-Hossein Shafei. Iranian ministers of foreign affairs, oil, finance and economy, interior, culture, telecommunications, and transport and urban development also went to Turkey, which is seeking a discount on natural gas imports from Iran. The two sides failed to agree on a price during the two-day visit. But the two countries signed 10 cooperation agreements on issues including tourism, joint ventures and customs cooperation.   

          Rouhani also discussed the growing threat of extremism in the region and the Syrian crisis. Relations between Ankara and Tehran have long been defined by competition and mutual suspicion. But the Syrian issue has particular strained relations since 2011. Turkey has taken the lead in supporting the Syrian opposition while Iran has remained a stalwart ally of the Assad regime. But Rouhani and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, agreed that instability “is in no one’s interest” and said they would cooperate on combating extremism and sectarianism. The following are excerpted remarks by Rouhani and Turkish leaders.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
          “Iran calls for a Middle East without any nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.
          “Iran and Turkey, the two important countries in the region, are determined to fight against extremism and terrorism. The fight against violence, extremism, sectarian conflicts and terrorism is Iran's major objective.
          “There is instability in our region and this situation is in no one's interest. Iran and Turkey are determined to increase their cooperation to establish safety and stability in the region.”
          June 9, 2014 in press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul
            “We have decided to improve relations in gas, oil and electricity, even though there are some snags.
            “Everybody acknowledges both Turkey and Iran’s geopolitical importance. When these two countries come together, a link between the Gulf of Oman, the Black Sea and to the Mediterranean will be possible. In other words, connecting the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s why relations between these two important countries are not only significant for Turkey and Iran but also for the development of entire region.
           “The price of the natural gas has multiple parameters and is fixed through a special formula. It’s not an easy thing. Everybody is focused only on the price, but there are other issues as well.
            “Violence and extremism rooted in our region are against the interests of all countries. The terrorist groups that have emerged in Syria and those – mainly Western countries - who have supported or tolerated them have already regretted that. Those who did not regret until today, will regret it tomorrow. The fight against terror is the duty of us all. It’s an obligation for the security and stability of our region.”
           June 9, 2014 in a joint press conference Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
           “Targeting $30 billion of annual trade balance requires increased activity of the private sector. Today the Turkish economy is moving in the right direction by ceding economic affairs to the private sector and Iran's private sector should also feel responsible and step onto the scene of action in a proper way.
           “Turkey is a bridge connecting to the West and Europe, while Iran is a bridge to the Far East; we should use these two countries as a bridge for regional development. A stable and developed Turkey makes us Iranians proud.”
           June 10, 2014 in a meeting with the Turkey-Iran Business Council
Turkish President Abdullah Gul
           “Our relations are not just about two countries. They are important for the region and the whole world.
           Turkey “strongly supported a deal that will help remove all the sanctions. We don’t want any country in our region to possess nuclear weapons. We maintain our desire for a Middle East cleared of weapons of mass destruction.”
           June 9, 2014 in a press conference with President Rouhani
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
           “I hope we will reach a deal so that we can provide more Iranian gas to Turkish consumers. I hope our ministers will close the deal fast.
           “Of course, we are looking ways how to provide cheaper gas to our people’s consumption and to produce cheaper electricity.”
           June 9, 2014 in a press conference with President Rouhani


Nuclear Timelines: U.S. Perspective

            The following factsheet outlines the U.S.-Iran tensions over timelines and terms of a final nuclear agreement.

1) How long will a deal last?
      The United States, along with the other five major powers, is looking for a deal measured in years, even decades, that will limit or curtail Iran’s current program and ensure its “break-out” time is a year or more. A long-term deal would also provide space for confidence-building and improving relations that might alter Tehran’s strategic calculus about the need for a bomb. 
      Iran wants a short-term deal that a) does not appear to compromise or intrude on its sovereignty, b) lifts sanctions related to nuclear issues as soon as possible and c) does not severely limit its capacity to enrich uranium, which it says would jeopardize its ability to provide “practical needs” for civil nuclear energy.
2) What are the possible phases of a deal—and over what kind of time periods?
      The U.S. is considering a deal that plays out in several action-for-action stages, modeled on the six-month Joint Plan of Action. The interim deal is sequentially releasing funds (eventually totaling up to $7 billion) as Iran limits its capabilities, including “down-blending” and converting its medium-enriched uranium stockpiles. All of these actions, however, have been reversible. The U.S. wants any new deal to include actions that are either irreversible or harder to reverse—and that last many years. It will likely seek to remove sanctions slowly in order to maintain leverage in later phases of the deal.
            Iran is likely to agree to a phased deal, but it is seeking the removal of sanctions at an early stage and the lifting of any limits on uranium enrichment much sooner than the six major powers want.
3) What are the goals in changing the breakout time for Iran to develop enough fissile material for nuclear weapons?  
          The U.S. estimates the “breakout” time—or the time to enrich enough uranium to fuel a bomb—is about two months. Actually building and fielding a bomb requires additional steps and time. But once Iran has enough fissile material, it could “weaponize” at smaller sites less detectable or vulnerable to airstrikes. So the U.S. wants new technical limits and safeguards to lengthen breakout time to a year or more.
            Iran has so far rejected proposals for lengthening breakout time. Tehran argues that its acceptance of more extensive international inspections and monitoring should provide sufficient confidence that its program is peaceful.

4) How long might new international monitoring last?
     The U.S. is pushing for more international inspections monitoring under terms of the Additional Protocol, which allows expanded access to information and inspections of undeclared sites. If ratified by Iran, the Additional Protocol would be unlimited in duration. The U.S. is thought to be seeking additional monitoring beyond the Additional Protocol that would last many years.
            Iran will likely agree to implement the Additional Protocol but will resist further intrusive measures that go beyond the practices applied to other signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
5) How long might it take the International Atomic Energy Agency to finish investigating Iran’s possible military dimensions (PMD), a diplomatic process separate from the Vienna talks? And how might that process impact the broader deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers?
      The U.S. and the IAEA want guarantees that Iran will finally answer long-standing questions about its activities with possible military dimensions (PMD) in the past. Iran’s failure to provide answers about its activities before 2003 has triggered a series of ever-tightening sanctions since 2006. The U.S. is likely to push for a provision in the comprehensive agreement that mandates Iranian cooperation to complete the PMD investigation by 2015.
      Iran has begun to provide some answers to the IAEA. But the investigation is now expected to extend beyond the July 20 deadline of the Vienna talks.
6) What is the timeline between detection of possible violations and response? 
            The U.S. believes the current IAEA inspections regime would likely detect any Iranian attempt to produce highly enriched uranium at its declared sites within days. The issue is instead how fast U.S. intelligence could determine if Iran did work at new secret facilities. The U.S. wants more extensive inspections of undeclared sites to detect and deter a possible “sneak-out” scenario.
            Technically, the U.S. could act militarily within days if deemed necessary. But depending on the violation, the U.S. also might want more time to take diplomatic actions at the U.N. or other diplomatic arenas to impose costs for any violations, which could slow a response.
           Iran claims it has no secret sites and no intention of building a bomb.
7) What are the possible timelines for sanctions relief under the deal?
     The U.S. president can use his authority to reduce some sanctions imposed by executive order and/or he can invoke legislative waivers on current sanctions legislation. These could be done fairly swiftly, in days or weeks. But Congress has to vote to remove sanctions that it imposed by law, which could be a lengthy, complicated and highly political process requiring many months. Sanctions relief could be sequenced to allow the president to issue initial waivers and other measures, leaving congressional legislation for a later stage.
      Iran has made clear it wants international and U.S.-imposed sanctions removed as soon as possible. President Hassan Rouhani needs to demonstrate that his policy of engagement can deliver sanctions relief, renewed foreign investment, and help improve Iran’s economy.
Photo credits: Amano and Zarif by Mueller / MSC [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


Nuclear Timelines: Iran's Perspective

            In a new report, a quasi-official Iranian website has published its own timeline of how long it would take to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb -- the so-called breakout time. It claims Tehran would need at least 18 months to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb. But that timeline differs drastically from the U.S. estimate. Secretary of State John Kerry has claimed that Iran only needs two months to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapon.
           The report comes as Iran is holding bilateral meetings with the world's six major powers before another round of nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a link to it on June 11.

           The report claims Iran would need more than seven years to produce one bomb’s worth of plutonium.The United States, however, has estimated that Tehran would only need 6 months to produce enough plutonium for a bomb. The following is an excerpt from the press release with a link to the full text.

How Long Would an Iranian ‘Breakout’ Really Take?
            In the report, the authors posit that with its current uranium enrichment capabilities, estimated at between 6860 and 10800 Separative Work Units (SWU), it would take Iran optimistically a minimum of 36 months and pessimistically more than 42 months to ‘break out’.
           The authors argue that it would take between 12 to 18 months to complete the first step of the uranium route, which is to produce enough high enriched uranium (HEU) for a single bomb. However, they underscore that “the prerequisite of the processes outlined as involved in high enriched uranium (HEU) production is a reconfiguration of cascade piping and other auxiliary equipment.” This, they say, would take a minimum of 6 months. The report states that as the IAEA is present in Iran, conducting announced and unannounced inspections, and has daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, “it can provide early warning to the international community at the very beginning of the reconfiguration of cascades.
           Thus, the mere production of enough fissile material for a single bomb is estimated at 18-24 months, in sharp contrast to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion in April that this process would take 2 months.
           The report, “How long would an Iranian ‘breakout’ really take?”, further argues that the subsequent step towards a bomb, which is the construction of a unit able to produce pure uranium metal, would take at least an additional 12 months. Following the latter, the authors argue that the metal would then have to be shaped, a process which “itself takes an additional 6 months and cannot be carried out in parallel with the conversion.” They thus argue that steps 2 and 3 would take a combined 18 months, at least half of which must be carried out after the production of enough fissile material for a bomb.
           The report does not account for the time needed to design a warhead system, stating that “Iran has no experience in this field, and thus has no experience of the complicated relevant mechanisms and technology.
           The report also provides a scientific review of the steps involved should Iran hypothetically adopt the plutonium route towards a bomb. The time needed to hypothetically develop a plutonium bomb is estimated at a minimum of 90 months, or 7.5 years.
           The authors point out that there is no significant amount of plutonium in Iran, and tie proliferation allegations to the commissioning of the Arak Heavy Water (IR-40) reactor, which is planned for 2015. They point out that “even after commissioning, the reactor must work for at least two years to produce the required fissile material.
           The authors further posit that plutonium would then need to be extracted from the irradiated fuel and purified to nuclear weapon grade. They underscore that Iran has no “hot cell”, which is needed for plutonium extraction and further processes. The time required for construction of such a facility is estimated at a minimum of 4 to 5 years, while the commissioning and operation would require another 1 to 2 years. The report states that “Iran has repeatedly said that it has no plan to engage in such activities.” Indeed, any Iranian attempt to engage in such activity will be detected by the IAEA, which is engaged in robust inspections in Arak.
           The authors further argue that the material “would then need to go through metallurgical processes, as with uranium metal, but with major differences”, estimating that this step would take a minimum of 6 months. Lastly, the report argues that the time and technology requirements for development of a uranium warhead are also valid for a plutonium device, and “will add to the hypothetical time of breakout with plutonium.”
Click here for the full report.


Tags: Nuclear

Rouhani: Mixed Bag One Year Later

Shaul Bakhash

One year after President Hassan Rouhani’s election, what are his administration’s main accomplishments?
      After the eight disastrous years of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, Rouhani’s signal achievement is simply to put government back into the hands of adults, of men and women of experience and common sense. Ahmadinejad managed to squander over $600 billion in oil revenues, to provide grounds for increasingly damaging sanctions against Iran, to exacerbate relations with almost all Persian Gulf countries and much of the international community, and to facilitate the penetration of the Revolutionary Guards into all major sectors of the Iranian economy achievement.
            Rouhani must deal with this crippling legacy. His government represents a return to sensible policies both at home and abroad. Already the effects are discernible. Serious negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are under way. The Persian Gulf states are re-engaging with Iran as evidenced by the Emir of Kuwait’s recent trip to Iran and the invitation extended to foreign minister Javad Zarif to visit Saudi Arabia. The United States and the EU feel, at the very least, that they have an interlocutor in Tehran with whom they can have a serious dialogue.
            At home, unlike the Ahmadinejad administration, the Rouhani team understands that sanctions are doing serious damage to Iran’s economy. Iran’s banking system is threatened by non-performing loans and other weaknesses. The current level of government spending and budget deficits simply cannot be sustained. The role of the state and the Revolutionary Guards in the economy needs to be curbed. And restrictions on basic freedoms need to be eased.
            Rouhani and his team have not begun to address, let alone resolve, these festering problems. But after eight years of denial by both the former president and the current supreme leader, a government is in office that comprehends the depth of the problems the country faces.

During his campaign, Rouhani pledged to create a government of “prudence and hope.” What is his strategy?
      Rouhani’s top priority is to resolve the nuclear issue and get sanctions lifted. He and his foreign minister seem to believe that a breakthrough on the nuclear front and the end to sanctions will open the door to much else. With the nuclear issue and sanctions out of the way, Iran’s economy can begin to recover and produce much-needed jobs for university graduates and workers.
      Major foreign investors can be drawn into Iran’s oil and other industries. Iran can begin to reintegrate into the international community and secure a place at the table in the discussion with the US and others on major regional issues. A political opening at home will be more feasible under more prosperous economic conditions. Such, at least, seems to be the game plan.
On what issues has Rouhani  fallen short?
      The record of the Rouhani government in the first year is clearly a mixed bag. On the home front, there is an easing of social and press restrictions—everyone agrees the environment is decidedly freerbut arrests of bloggers, dissidents and critics continue. Publications are closed down. Sporadic crackdowns on women and the young occur. Some political prisoners have been released, including the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, but many remain in prison—most notably the two Green Movement leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi.
            Rouhani clearly controls neither the security services nor the judiciary, which seem determined to flout his desire to open up the political system. For example, political prisoners at Evin Prison were attacked and beaten by guards in April, when they persisted in peaceful protests. Mostafa Tajzadeh, the outspoken member of the former Khatami government was nearing the end of this six-year prison term when the judiciary slapped on another one-year prison term for supposed anti-state activities.
            Rouhani’s appeal to Iranians to voluntarily give up the monthly government cash subsidy for all Iranians, which was instituted under Ahmadinejad, fell on death ears. Rouhani has talked about the need to reduce the Guards role in the economy, but he has done little on that score. 
What obstacles does Rouhani face on his domestic policy?
             An entrenched and narrow ruling elite, often described as hardliners or conservatives, control the principle instruments of power: the security agencies, the intelligence ministry, the military and the police, the judiciary, the Council of Guardians (which has the power to veto laws and candidates for elected office), and the Assembly of Experts, which will choose the next Supreme Leader. Connected to them is an economic elite, which has grown enormously wealthy on government contracts and quasi-monopolies of major import goods.
            These elites will resist any challenge to their hold on power and privilege. They also fear, perhaps with good reason, that any serious reform, whether political, economic or social, will open the floodgates and trigger a process of change that will end up threatening the whole system.
      The resistance has an ideological dimension as well. Like the Maoists in China or the Brezhnevites in the Soviet Union, Iran’s political and economic elites attack proposals for change as abandonment of revolutionary principles and disloyalty to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Such accusations are often self-serving—an easy way to besmirch the reputation of a rival—but they do reflect the rigidity and resistance to change that characterizes many in the conservative camp.
      In early June, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the powerful and arch-conservative religious leader, challenged Rouhani’s more liberal interpretation of Islam. He asked, mockingly, if the president had learned his Islam in England rather than at a seminary in Qum. He also seemed to sneer at Rouhani’s focus on getting sanctions lifted, “and not by resistance but through diplomacy, contrary to the line of the Imam [Khomeini].”
What obstacles does he face on foreign policy?
      The opposition Rouhani faces at home to his foreign policy agenda stem from similar sources. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wears his unyielding opposition to the United States and its hegemonic role in the world as a badge of honor. He said recently that this “war” between the Islamic Republic and “world arrogance” has no limit; it will be unending.  
      Critics on the right charge that Rouhani has already surrendered too much for too little in the nuclear negotiations. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard line Kayhan newspaper, wrote that the reported breakdown during the previous round of nuclear negotiations was a cause for celebration.
      On the nuclear issue, Khamenei has clearly allowed criticism to continue, but he has also not allowed such criticism to sabotage the negotiations. Iran will have to make extremely difficult concessions, but the need to get sanctions lifted could result in an agreement. Beyond the nuclear issue, however, Rouhani may have a hard time addressing other foreign policies that exacerbate Iran’s relations with the United States and European Union—even if he were so inclined.
            Some critical foreign policy issues also remain the domain of the Supreme Leader and his cohorts in the security agencies and the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s support for Hamas and Lebanon’s Hizballah, both strong opponents of Israel, are unlikely to end. Tehran’s official position--that Israel is an illegitimate state that should not exist—is also unlikely to change.  Iran’s alliance with President Bashar Assad in Syria is also firm.
            As it strives for improved relations with the West, Rouhani’s team may hope that it can move on some issues but isolate others. It seeks common ground with the West and even its Persian Gulf neighbors in trade and investment, on resistance to violent Islamic Salafists, and security arrangements for the Persian Gulf even while agreeing to disagree on Israel, the Palestinians, Syria and other issues. Those all await the future. 
Shaul Bakhash is the Clarence Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University.

Photo credits: President.ir, Mir Hossein Mousavi Facebook page, Assembly of Experts website, Khamenei.ir

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Flurry of Diplomacy As Final Push Begins

            Diplomacy is accelerating in the run-up to the July 20 deadline for a nuclear deal. Delegations from most of the world’s six major powers are holding separate meetings with Iranian negotiators. Top U.S. officials led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held talks with the Iranians from June 9 to 10. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi welcomed Burn’s attendance in remarks to the press. Negotiations hard and intense, but held in a positive atmosphere,” Araghchi said after the two days of meetings. 
           Araghchi said Iranian officials will also meet with a French delegation in Geneva, the Russians in Rome, and the Germans in Tehran before the next round of multilateral talks on June 16. The Iranian ministry is working to arrange other bilateral meetings with the remaining members of the world’s six major powers.
            Even some Israelis are now conceding that an agreement is increasingly likely before the end of 2014. Iran is serious about negotiations with the world’s six major powers on its nuclear program, according to. “Iran is abiding by the interim agreement and the pressures, mainly the economic crisis, are leading it toward a dialogue, which we regard as serious-minded, on a permanent agreement,” Israeli military intelligence analyst, Brigadier-General Itai Brun he told the annual Herziliya Conference on policy on June 9. The following are excerpted remarks on the final push for a nuclear deal.


Israeli Brigadier-General Itai Brun
            “It is very possible that Iran and the world powers that are negotiating with it are moving toward the signing, sometime during the year, of a permanent nuclear deal.
            “In the meantime, Iran is abiding by the interim agreement and the pressures, mainly the economic crisis, are leading it toward a dialogue, which we regard as serious-minded, on a permanent agreement.”
            June 9, to the Herzliya Conference
Israeli Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister
            “A good agreement with Iran is an agreement in which Iran may get the ability to present a developed civilian nuclear programme like other countries have - Sweden or South Korea or Spain - but without the ability to enrich uranium and without the ability to yield plutonium.
           “We opposed the interim deal because we saw problems and holes in it. Nor do we like the idea of extending the talks by half a year or a number of months.
            “But if the alternative that will be raised in the coming weeks, beginning with this imminent week, will be to try to seal an agreement at any price ... it would be preferable - though we are not keen on this - to extend the talks by a number of weeks or months to close up all of the holes on a matter that is so critical to our well-being and that of the world.”
            June 9, to the Herlizya Conference
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
           “We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point which is the number of centrifuges which allow [uranium] enrichment. We say there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands so we're not in the same framework.”
            June 10, to French Inter radio, according to Reuters
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
            “We think we've made progress during some rounds, but as we said coming out of the last one, we hadn't seen enough made. We hadn't seen enough realism, quite frankly, on the table.           
            “We are at a critical juncture in the talks. We know we don't have a lot of time left. That's why we've said diplomacy will intensify. People need to make tough choices.”
            June 10, to the press
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
      The U.S.-Iran talks were “hard and intense, but held in a positive atmosphere.” It is “too soon to judge” whether an time extension is necessary.
      “But the good thing is all parties are seriously committed to meet that goal [the July 20 deadline]. Whether we can do it or not is something else.”
      June 10, to Iranian media
      “We hope to reach a final agreement (by July 20) but, if this doesn't happen, then we have no choice but to extend the Geneva deal for six more months while we continue negotiations. It's still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. This hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20.
      “There are still gaps between Iran and the (six powers) in various issues and in order to bring our views closer, the other side must make tough decisions.”
      June 9, on the sidelines of talks with U.S. and E.U officials
            “Negotiations between Iran and the U.S. in the Swiss city of Geneva were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere.”
           June 9, after a five-hour bilateral session
            “We have always had bilateral discussions with the United States in the margin of the P5+1 group discussions, but since the talks have entered a serious phase, we want to have separate consultations.”
           June 8, according to IRNA and agencies
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying
            “We would like to maintain close communications with all related parties and play a constructive role in the all-round negotiation process. China maintains the direct engagement between six countries and Iran will help deepen mutual understanding and promote negotiation process.
            “As the negotiations go deeper, the issues involved will be more complicated and sensitive. All parties should seek common ground and resolve differences with a flexible and pragmatic attitude.”
           June 9, to the press

E.U. Foreign policy chief spokesperson Michael Mann
            “The E3/E.U.+3's diplomatic efforts to reach a comprehensive solution are now intensifying. They have always taken place at different levels and in different formats and included bilateral meetings in support of the central E3/E.U.+3 nuclear negotiations led by [High Representative] Ashton.”
           June 10, in remarks to Al-Monitor
The following is a list of U.S. officials that traveled to Geneva to meet with the Iranian team.
The Honorable William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Wendy R. Sherman
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Jake Sullivan
Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President
Ambassador Brooke Anderson
Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs on the Iran Nuclear Negotiations
James Timbie
Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Robert Malley
Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf States, National Security Council 
Paul Irwin
Director for Nonproliferation, National Security Council
Richard Nephew
Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy, Department of State


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