United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Prospects for Sanctions Relief in Deal

           Credible sanctions relief will be a crucial factor in convincing Iran to sign a nuclear accord, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security. Elizabeth Rosenberg argues that overcoming private sector concerns about the durability of a deal will be more difficult than the legal work of removing sanctions. Uncertainty “stems from decades of illicit Iranian activities and isolation from international trade and financial transactions, and has resulted in an extremely cautious culture of compliance with Iran sanctions among private companies,” according to Rosenberg. The report warns that foreign investors will not immediately flood Iran the day after a deal. If banks and businesses, however, are too slow to begin transacting with their Iranian counterparts, Tehran “will see little incentive to implement its end of the bargain.” The following are excerpts from the report.

Relief in Practice: The Role of the Private Sector
            After years of Iran’s isolation and record of illicit activities, companies and banks are wary of the Iranian brand. They want to avoid bad business bets and the massive civil and criminal penalties that the United States has imposed on companies for violating sanctions. Notwithstanding these concerns, there is considerable investor enthusiasm for new business opportunities in Iran. The challenges to achieving these opportunities, however, will be a major speed bump on the path to expanding economic ties between Iran and the international financial system. They will also be a major impediment to the provision of credible sanctions relief to Iran. Though the P5+1 may create avenues for sanctions relief as part of a nuclear deal with Iran, the P5+1 cannot direct the manner in which the private sector deals with Iran or the speed at which that will occur.
            International banks represent the most cautious commercial sector when it comes to dealing with Iran. They are extremely careful about the legal and reputational risks that go along with sanctions evasion. Banks have paid a very high price for violating sanctions, both in financial penalties and in reputational damage. In June, the French bank BNP was fined $9 billion by U.S. regulators and ordered to temporarily halt U.S. dollar clearing. This followed a $1.9 billion penalty for HSBC in 2012 and penalties on Standard Chartered Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland and others. Overcoming the reticence of international banks to do business with Iran will require the P5+1 to issue clear regulatory guidance about which multilateral sanctions are lifted, and extensive signals about political support for a deal.
           Additionally, U.S. officials will need to conduct major outreach efforts to foreign banks and their regulators to explain the terms of a final deal and how U.S. sanctions on foreign entities will function under such an agreement. These steps, while technical, are essential to bolstering the credibility of sanctions relief offered to Iran under a nuclear agreement and the durability of a deal.
Laying the Groundwork for Future Business
            Iran is working hard to entice European companies to invest in Iran, and possibly U.S. companies as well, given their access to sophisticated technology and project management experience. Iran recently cancelled an oilfield development contract with China National Petroleum Corporation due to poor performance, a move that will free up energy sector opportunities for preferable European service providers. Iran needs substantial international energy company investments to stem high rates of production depletion, increase low rates of oilfield recovery and to significantly expand natural gas production for the export market.
Navigating Sanctions Relief Under a Final Nuclear Deal
           Navigating Iran sanctions under a potential final deal will be more, not less, complicated than it is at present. Sanctions prohibitions will change and incrementally lessen over the period of deal implementation. Penalties for violations, however, will not. The business environment in Iran is challenging, corrupt in certain sectors and unfamiliar to most potential international investors. Several economic sectors, including the ports, construction and energy sectors, are dominated by entities with extensive experience in illicit activity. This includes proliferation transactions as well as money laundering or support for terrorism. These factors will increase the burden and cost of due diligence on foreign investors to ensure that they do not inadvertently partner with sanctioned entities or engage in activities prohibited by sanctions. This will slow investment in Iran and increase the cost of doing business there, two factors that will directly undermine the credibility of sanctions relief to Iran.
            As the P5+1 and Iran enter the final stage of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, they will wrestle with the most challenging issues such as the components and pace of calibrated multilateral sanctions relief under a potential deal. Successful diplomacy with Iran requires a coordinated approach from the international community and major outreach to the private sector to offer sanctions relief on paper and in practice. Congress must also play a supportive, leadership role in implementing and overseeing a potential nuclear deal. These efforts will be critical to maintaining the P5+1’s collective economic leverage over Iran and to keep it moving towards successful, long-term implementation of a nuclear deal.
            Sanctions on Iran will be in place for a very long time to come, even in a best-case outcome of the nuclear talks. Taking the necessary steps under a potential deal to delineate sanctions relief from continued restrictive measures for the international private sector and national regulatory authorities is crucial to enhance the durability of a deal. It is also fundamental to clarifying and preserving the architecture of financial sanctions if negotiations fail and a buildup of sanctions is needed. Defense of national security necessitates rigorous efforts to adapt sanctions to support diplomatic aims. This has never been truer than the present moment, as the international community faces the potential for a final nuclear agreement with Iran.
Click here for the full text.
Elizabeth Rosenberg is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Energy, Environment and Security Program at CNAS. She was a panelist at USIP’s event on what the United States might cede on sanctions for a deal. Click here for a video and rundown of the main points.

Report: Iran’s Practical Nuclear Needs

            On July 14, quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir published the most detailed report to date on Iran’s “practical needs” for nuclear energy and an explanation for why it wants its own fuel reactors. It explains the logic behind Tehran’s stated need of a industrial scale uranium enrichment capacity of 190,000 separative work units, announced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier in July. But the authors emphasize that industrial-scale enrichment will not be necessary until after 2021, when Iran's fuel supply agreement with Russia expires. The report comes less than week before the July 20 deadline for the world’s six major powers and Iran to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. The following is NuclearEnergy.ir’s infographic followed by a summary of the report.

What Are Iran’s ‘Practical Needs’ and Why Does Iran Want to Fuel Reactors on Its Own?
            A new report prepared by the Iranian outlet NuclearEnergy.ir offers fresh insight into Iran’s practical enrichment needs and explains why Iran wants to fuel reactors on its own. The report comes amid intense talks between Iran and the P5+1 to reach an agreement by the July 20th deadline of the Joint Plan of Action. It features detailed step-by-step calculations of Iranian nuclear fuel requirements in terms of Separative Work Units (SWU). The report also details the motivations for Iran’s drive to domestically produce fuel, based on an empirical approach that provides an overview of past experiences.
            In the report, the authors substantiate the fuel requirements of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), Iran’s sole light water power reactor, providing an estimate of 190,738 SWU. This figure does not account for minimal waste of 10%, thus emphasizing the conservative nature of the 190,000 SWU raised as Iran’s fuel requirement. However, the authors underscore that this capacity will not be needed until the expiry of Iran’s fuel supply agreement with Russia, which expires in 2021. At present, Iran’s current total capacity, including installed but not operating centrifuges, is over 22,000 SWU. The report also reveals that the fuel requirements of the nascent Arak reactor have not yet been determined as the plant’s configuration is still subject to discussion. However, the authors posit that the Arak reactor’s SWU needs are negligible in comparison to the BNPP. Lastly, the authors estimate the annual fuel needs of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) at 830 SWU.
           The authors underscore that Iran will not need the capacity to fuel the BNPP until 2021, when the contract with Russia for fuel supplies expires. The report brings up four main motivations for Iran’s determination to end its reliance on a single source for fuel:
           Supply concerns; beginning with Iran’s experience of being denied a share of the output of European nuclear fuel consortium Eurodif, despite 10% ownership, the report proceeds with outlining a history of repeated disruptions in the supply of nuclear fuel to Iran. As the most recent example, the case of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), for which Iran was denied fuel in 2009 – thus compelling it to produce its own fuel – is highlighted as a key event underpinning Iranian supply concerns.
           Cost of idle reactors; the report also discusses the cost of idle reactors. Citing an estimate by prominent U.S.-based nuclear scientist Frank Von Hippel, the authors argue that if Iran realizes its plan to build 20 reactors, the cost of a future fuel supply cut could cost Iran $4 billion per year.
           Meeting the need for industrial-scale enrichment; the report outlines industrial-scale enrichment as a technological objective, even if Iran decides to import fuel for additional reactors. Founded on Iranian supply concerns, the authors posit that developing industrial-scale enrichment capacity and know-how will allow Iran to power its own reactors while thwarting the effects of potential supply cuts in the future, if it decides to import fuel for additional reactors.
           Enhancing its fuel fabrication capability; the authors posit that producing fuel rods for nuclear power plants, which Iran is not currently engaged in, will equip Iranian scientists with the know-how to not only fuel all reactors on Iranian soil, but more importantly, step in should Iran decide to import fuel for additional reactors and one day be faced with supply cuts. The report also clarifies that Iran is engaged in long-term negotiations with Russia on cooperative arrangements for domestic production of fuel for the BNNP after the expiry of the current supply contract.
           The report also addresses the legal and safety aspects of Iran producing fuel for the BNPP on its own.
           In relation to safety matters, the report emphasizes that Iran now has experience of nuclear fuel production and related safety aspects. Pointing out that Iran has conducted safety tests on finalized fuel assemblies for the Arak reactor, the authors posit that fuel for the BNPP could also be irradiated at the TRR.
           In relation to legal matters, the authors underscore that Iran is already in long-term negotiations with Russia over domestic production of fuel for the BNPP. Bringing up the example of the cutoff in fuel for TRR and subsequent unilateral production of fuel for that reactor, the authors argue that Iran could legally manufacture fuel for the BNPP through minute alterations to existing fuel designs.
           Lastly, the authors argue that “with the contract to supply fuel for the BNPP set to expire in 2021, the need to have a meaningful enrichment program that is capable of providing for the country’s fuel needs is ever more pressing.” The report further warns against efforts to reduce “the Iranian enrichment program to a symbolic and meaningless program”, arguing that it would “mean the effective scrapping of the entire fuel cycle, which employs thousands of Iranian scientists”, while pointing to that the latter has provided Iran with “an opportunity to develop advanced technology with a multitude of peaceful applications.”
Click here for the full report.

Report: UK Policy on Iran

            On July 14, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released a comprehensive report supporting the building of political, strategic, commercial and cultural ties with Iran. The report noted the reasons why relations between London and Tehran have been strained, including Iran’s human right violations and the nuclear issue.
The committee argued that the current nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers “are the most promising forum for reaching a settlement which assuages fears” of the international community. Most importantly, the report seemed to endorse a potential deal that would allow Iran a limited uranium enrichment capability. “We acknowledge that there is probably no prospect of a lasting deal which does not allow Iran to enrich uranium,” wrote the committee members.
The committee also acknowledged that the closing of its embassy after it was stormed by protestors in 2011 and that the subsequent prolonged silence resulted in other countries being seen as “better choice partners in international relations.” The following is the executive summary of the report.

             It would be in the UK’s interest to have a mature and constructive relationship with Iran on many levels: political, strategic, commercial and cultural. Yet this remains an ideal which is far from being achieved. Relations between the UK and Iran have been strained for years and suffer from lack of trust on both sides, born of a fear that one side is seeking to destabilise or thwart the other, and a perception on both sides that their interests rarely coincide. This perception has been reinforced by missed opportunities at various times by both countries.
             The challenges to the UK’s relationship with Iran are multiple and profound. Progress in pursuing the UK’s interests in Iran seems a remote prospect until a more trusting bilateral relationship has been established, and that will require at least partial resolution of concerns held by the UK about Iran’s role in regional security and stability.
Human rights standards
            We encourage the FCO to continue to take any opportunities that arise, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, to reiterate the UK’s objection to unacceptable practices, including executions, persecution of people on the grounds of their faith, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression. No concessions should be made on human rights in the interests of making progress in negotiations in other fields.
The Tehran Embassy
            We welcome the recent decision to re-open the Tehran Embassy. We understand why the Foreign Secretary adopted a cautious approach towards the revival of diplomatic relations; but we question whether the UK waited too long for assurances on security which were never going to be forthcoming from all quarters of the Iranian hierarchy.
             The lack of full diplomatic representation in Iran hinders the UK’s ability to shape events, gather information, build the personal contacts which are essential to constructive diplomatic relations, and reassure its regional allies that it could make fully informed assessments of Iranian opinion and intentions. We heard that the prolonged period of silence between the UK and Iran had resulted in the UK being less visible in the country, and that other countries are now looked at as better choice partners in international relations.
The purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme
            There is no convincing explanation for why Iran might need for civil purposes the stocks of enriched uranium which it held in January 2014. We believe that the primary reason for Iran's decision to build such a capacity to enrich uranium and to amass stocks to current levels was to give itself the option to develop a nuclear military capability. That has almost been achieved. While the Foreign and Commonwealth Office refers to the body of evidence pointing towards possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme, we are not aware of any unequivocal evidence that Iran has taken a decision to push ahead and develop a nuclear weapon.
Alternatives to negotiation and the Joint Plan of Action
             We do not believe that alternatives to negotiation offer a realistic prospect of a long-term, sustainable solution to current concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme. The negotiations on the Joint Plan of Action are the most promising forum for reaching a settlement which assuages fears about the scope and intention of the Iranian nuclear programme. We endorse the UK’s decision to take part in negotiations with Iran on its
nuclear programme through the framework of the Joint Plan of Action.
Should we trust President Rouhani?
             We believe that President Rouhani is not necessarily a reformist at heart: he is a pragmatist who hopes to improve standards of living in Iran by persuading the West to lift sanctions, while retaining in place as much of the country’s nuclear programme as possible. However, while Mr Rouhani has the impetus of his election victory and demonstrably high levels of public support, we believe that the P5+1 can have confidence that he is an authoritative representative of Iran, and we believe that he is genuinely committed to a sustainable deal. For now at least, he should be trusted, but he should be judged by his actions, not by his words.
The comprehensive agreement under the Joint Plan of Action
             We acknowledge that there is probably no prospect of a lasting deal which does not allow Iran to enrich uranium.
             Enrichment capacity should be limited to a level which Iran would not reject outright but which would still allow enough time for any attempt at breakout to be detected and referred to the UN Security Council—we suggest six months as an absolute minimum.
             Trust, which is essential if the plan is to succeed, may crumble unless the comprehensive agreement enshrines a right for the IAEA to make unannounced and intrusive inspections of all nuclear facilities, products, designs and records.
             International sanctions undoubtedly played a major part in preparing the ground for a
more amenable Iranian negotiating position. They may not have directly forced Iran to
make concessions; but the fatigue amongst large sections of the Iranian public with the
international isolation and disadvantage which flowed from sanctions was a factor in the election of President Rouhani, which paved the way for more fruitful negotiations.
             We doubt that any deal would have been achieved in Geneva in November 2013 had
limited sanctions relief not been offered.
             Modifying the design of the Arak reactor so that it produces less plutonium has value, but third-party monitoring of storage of the spent fuel—or preferably removal and third-party custody of it—would be instrumental in helping to allay concerns.
Facilitating humanitarian trade with Iran
             The UK should not assume that letters of comfort from the US Treasury to banks will be enough to reassure them that they will not be penalised commercially for facilitating
humanitarian trade under the Joint Plan of Action. Ministers should state publicly that
they encourage UK banks to provide the necessary facilities for trade in humanitarian
goods and will if required defend to the US Treasury their right to do so. If trade with Iran in humanitarian goods is facilitated under the Joint Plan of Action, even if only on a limited scale, vigilance will be needed if the diversion of funds and illicit trade which
occurred under the Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq is not to be repeated in Iran.
Click here for the full report.

Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Diplomacy

           Nearly two-thirds of the American public favors making a deal with Iran that would limit its uranium enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for some sanctions relief, according to a new study by the Program for Public Consultation. Only 35 percent of the public calls for stopping the current negotiations and increasing sanctions to halt Iran’s enrichment program. The study was fielded from June 28 to July 7, with a sample of 748 American adults who were briefed about the current negotiations. The following are excerpts from the report.

Presentation of Options and Evaluation of Arguments for Each
           Respondents were presented the two major options for dealing with Iran that are being promoted in the current discourse:
a) making a deal that allows Iran to enrich but only to a low level, provides more intrusive inspections and gradually lifts some sanctions;
b) not continuing the current negotiations, imposing more sanctions, and pressing Iran to agree to end all uranium enrichment.
          They then evaluated a series of arguments for and against each option. All arguments were found convincing by substantial majorities, with neither option having a clear advantage at this stage. Some arguments for each option were more persuasive than others.
Evaluation of Options Separately
           Both before and after hearing the pro and con arguments, respondents were asked to evaluate each policy option separately in terms of how acceptable or tolerable they would find it if the US pursued that approach. Before hearing pro and con arguments, negotiating limited enrichment was found acceptable by just under half and ‘just tolerable’ by a third, with those finding it acceptable rising several points after hearing the arguments. The option of increasing sanctions in hopes of stopping enrichment did not do as well: it was initially found acceptable by a third and ‘just tolerable’ by three in ten, with the number finding it acceptable dropping several points after the pro and con arguments.
Final Recommendation
         Asked for their final recommendation between the options, a six in ten majority recommended making a deal that allows limited uranium enrichment rather than ramping up sanctions in an effort to get Iran to terminate all enrichment. More than six in ten Republicans and Democrats took this position, as well just over half of independents. Those with higher levels of education were substantially more supportive.
US-Iran Cooperation on Iraq
           Six in ten favor the US and Iran working together to address the current crisis in Iraq.
Confidence-Building Measures
           Very large majorities favor a variety of confidence-building measures: direct talks between the US and Iran on issues of mutual concern; greater cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges; and providing more access to each other’s journalists. A more modest majority also favors greater trade, but views are divided on having more Americans and Iranians visiting each other’s countries as tourists.
Views of Iranian Government and Relations Between Islam and the West
           Interestingly, support for cooperative measures between the US and Iran is high, though a large majority has a negative view of the Iranian government and nearly half say that the Islamic and Western traditions are not compatible and reject the view that it is possible to find common ground.
Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
            Seven in ten favor a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone that would include Israel as well as Islamic countries, and three in four favor the general goal of eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons.
Click here for the full report.

Report: US Concerns and Responses to Iran

            Hassan Rouhani’s election to the presidency has improved prospects for ending 34 years of U.S.-Iran estrangement, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service’s Kenneth Katzman. But the United States will still have serious concerns about the Islamic Republic even if the world’s six major powers and Iran reach a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue. Support for extremist groups, human rights abuses, weapons programs and efforts to destabilize the region are key U.S. concerns that predate the nuclear issue. The following are excerpts from the report.

Human Rights Practices
Iran’s human rights record is scrutinized by the United Nations and multilateral groupings.
Media Freedoms

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has been active in blocking pro-reform websites and blogs and closing newspapers critical of the government, as well as arresting journalists and bloggers. However, some editors say that the government has become more tolerant of critical media since Rouhani took office. The Majles investigated the November 2012 death in custody of blogger, Sattar Beheshti; seven security officers were arrested and the Tehran “Cyber Police” commander was removed for the incident. Iran is setting up a national network that would have a virtual monopoly on Internet service for Iranians.

Labor Restrictions

Independent unions are legal but not allowed in practice. The sole authorized national labor organization is a state-controlled “Workers’ House” umbrella.


Women can vote in all elections and run in parliamentary and municipal elections. They are permitted to drive, and work outside the home, including owning their own businesses, although less than 20% of the workforce is female and women earn nearly 5 times less than men. Nine women are in the Majles, but women cannot serve as judges. There was one woman in the previous cabinet (Minister of Health) but she was fired in December 2012 for criticizing lack of funding for medicines. Masoumah Ebtekar, a prominent woman who has held the position of a vice president in previous governments, was scheduled to be the first woman to deliver the Friday Prayer at Tehran University in January 2014, but her appearance was cancelled. Women are required to be covered in public, generally with a garment called a chador, but enforcement has relaxed since Rouhani took office. Women do not have inheritance or divorce rights equal to that of men, and their court testimony carries half the weight of a male’s. Laws against rape are not enforced effectively.

Religious Freedom Overview

Each year since 1999, the State Department religious freedom report has named Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). No sanctions have been added under IRFA, on the grounds that Iran is already subject to extensive U.S. sanctions. Continued deterioration in religious freedom have been noted in the past few International Religious Freedom reports, stating that government rhetoric and actions creates a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups.

Arrests of Dual

Nationals and
Levinson/ the
American Hikers

Iran does not recognize dual nationality. An Iranian American journalist, Roxanna Saberi, was arrested in January 2009 allegedly because her press credentials had expired, and was released in May 12, 2009. Three American hikers (Sara Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal) were arrested in August 2009 after crossing into Iran from a hike in northern Iraq. They were released in 2010 and 2011 on $500,000 bail each—brokered by Oman. Several cases remain pending, which U.S. officials say the raise during at the margins of the nuclear negotiations.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, remains missing after a visit in 2005 to Kish Island to meet an Iranian source (Dawud Salahuddin, allegedly responsible for the 1980 killing in the United
States of an Iranian diplomat who had served the Shah’s government). Iran denies knowing his status or location. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released a one-year old taped statement by him. In January 2013, his family released recent photos of him, and they acknowledged in late 2013 that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work
for the CIA.
A former U.S. Marine, Amir Hekmati, was arrested in 2011 and remains in jail in Iran allegedly for spying for the United States. His family has been permitted to visit him there. On December 20, 2012, a U.S. Christian convert of Iranian origin, Rev. Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for “undermining national security” for setting up orphanages in Iran in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held January 22, 2013, and he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Qods Force
            Through its Qods (Jerusalem) Force (QF), the IRGC has a foreign policy role in exerting influence throughout the region by supporting pro-Iranian movements and leaders. The QF numbers approximately 10,000-15,000 personnel who provide advice, support, and arrange weapons deliveries to pro-Iranian factions or leaders in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Persian Gulf states, Gaza/West Bank, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. IRGC leaders have confirmed the QF is in Syria to assist the regime of Bashar al-Assad against an armed uprising, and it reportedly provided advisers to help the Iraqi government counter an offensive by Sunni Islamist extremists in June 2014. The QF commander, Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani reportedly has a direct and independent channel to Khamene’i. The QF commander during 1988-1995 was Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, who served as Defense minister during 2009-2013. He led the QF when it allegedly assisted two bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires and is wanted by Interpol for a role in the 1994 bombing there. He allegedly recruited Saudi Hezbollah activists later accused of the June 1996 Khobar Towers bombing; and assassinated Iranian dissident leaders in Europe in the early 1990s.
International Atomic Energy Agency Investigations into Past Nuclear Weapons Research
           Allegations that Iran might have researched a nuclear explosive device have caused experts and governments to question Iran’s assertions that it does not intend to construct a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been attempting to investigate information laid out in detail in an IAEA report of November 8, 2011, on Iran’s alleged research efforts on designs for a nuclear explosive device (“possible military dimensions,” PMD). Even though many questions about PMD persist, no IAEA report—or U.S. intelligence testimony or comments—has asserted that Iran has diverted any nuclear material for a nuclear weapons program.
           Iran’s cooperation in addressing these issues appears to be improving as an interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the international community—the “Joint Plan of Action.” (JPA)—is implemented and a comprehensive nuclear agreement is negotiated. And the JPA stipulates that clearing up such questions must be part of a comprehensive nuclear settlement.
Chemical and Biological Weapons
            Official U.S. reports and testimony state that Iran maintains the capability to produce chemical warfare (CW) agents and “probably” has the capability to produce some biological warfare agents for offensive purposes, if it made the decision to do so. This raises questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997.
Ballistic and Cruise Missiles and Warheads
            The Administration’s insistence that missile limitations be part of a comprehensive nuclear settlement is based, at least in part, on the apparent view that Iran’s ballistic missiles and its acquisition of indigenous production of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) provide capabilities for Iran to project power. DNI Clapper testified on March 12, 2013, that the intelligence community assesses that “Iran’s ballistic missiles are capable of delivering WMD.” There has been a long-standing U.S. estimate that Iran would likely not be able to fully develop a missile of intercontinental range until 2015, although that time frame is not far away and there have not been any recent reports that Iran is approaching that capability.
Support for International Terrorism
            Iran’s foreign policy has made use of groups that are named as terrorist organizations by the United States. Iran was placed on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism (“terrorism list”) in January 1984. The State Department report on international terrorism for 2013,36 released April 30, 2014, stated that Iran “continued its terrorist-related activity” in 2013 and that Iran “also increased its presence in Africa and attempted to smuggle arms” to oppositionists in Yemen and Bahrain. In 2012, Iran allegedly backed terrorist plots against Israeli diplomats and officials in such countries as India (in which the wife of an Israeli diplomat was wounded in an attack in Delhi in on February 13, 2012), Bulgaria (where a July 19, 2012, bombing killed five Israeli tourists), Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya. Other alleged plots took place in Azerbaijan and Cyprus.
            In 2011 and 2012, U.S. officials asserted that Iran might be planning acts of terrorism in the United States itself. The assessment was based largely on an alleged Iranian plot, revealed on October 11, 2011, by the Department of Justice, to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
            Some assert that Rouhani seeks to curb Iran’s support for militant movements in the region because their activities could injure his goals of broader international engagement. However, many doubt that Rouhani is able to curb Iranian support for terrorism. Rouhani is perceived as having no ability to remove the head of the Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani, who runs Iran’s external operations and reports directly to Khamene’i.
Supporting Militant Anti-Israel Groups
            Iran has long opposed Israel as a creation of the West and an oppressor of the Palestinian people and other Arabs. Former president Ahmadinejad went well beyond that to statements that Israel should be destroyed. The Supreme Leader has repeatedly called Israel a “cancerous tumor.” Iran has hosted numerous conferences to which anti-peace process terrorist organizations were invited (for example: April 24, 2001, and June 2-3, 2002).
President Rouhani has sought to soften Iran’s image on this issue, in part by publicly issuing greetings to the Jewish community on the occasion of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) in September 2013. Despite that outreach, in March 2014, Khamene’i questioned the Holocaust—an issue that Ahmadinejad had raised during his presidency and for which he had incurred major international criticism.
Iran’s support for Palestinian militant groups has long concerned U.S. administrations. The State Department report on terrorism for 2012 repeated previous year’s reports assertions that Iran provides funding, weapons, and training to Hamas, a faction of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). All are named as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) by the State Department for their use of violence against Israel. During the second Palestinian intifada (“uprising”) in January 2002, Israel intercepted a ship (the Karine A) carrying about 50 tons of Iranian-supplied arms bound for the Gaza Strip. The formal position of the Iranian Foreign Ministry is that Iran would not seek to block an Israeli-Palestinian settlement but that the process is too weighted toward Israel to yield a fair result.
           Syria’s Bashar Al Assad has been Iran’s closest Arab ally, and Iran would suffer a considerable strategic setback if the Sunni-led rebellion in Syria succeeds in toppling his regime. Syria is the main transit point for Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah, and both Iran and Syria have used Hezbollah as leverage against Israel to try to achieve regional and territorial aims. Rouhani has not sought to slow Iranian support to Assad and it is not clear he would be able to change Iran’s overall policy were he to try to do so. However, Iran’s support for the beleaguered Iraqi government as of June 2014 could be draining off Iranian resources that might otherwise go to Assad.
            U.S. officials and reports assert that, to try to prevent Assad’s downfall, Iran is providing substantial amounts of material support to the Syrian regime, including funds, weapons, and fighters. The State Department has said repeatedly that Iran has sent Qods Forces (QF) to Syria to advise the regime and fight alongside the Syrian military. Some experts say the Iranian direct intervention goes beyond QF personnel to include an unknown number of IRGC ground forces as well. The Iranian advisers also have helped Syria set up militia forces to ease the burden on the Syrian army. In May 2014, there were press reports that Iran was attempting to recruit Afghan refugees in Iran to fight in Syria.
Click here for the full report.
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